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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

“Finitude includes doubt. The true is the whole (Hegel). But no finite being has the whole; therefore, it is an expression of the acceptance of his finitude that he accepts the fact that doubt belongs to his essential being.” (Tillich, ST 1, p. 10).

A text from the Epistle of Peter opened the service in the Middle Ages on the eight day after Easter. The day is therefore known by opening words of the Latin translation of the text: Quasi modo geniti infantes. Although the introitus would normally be chosen from the Psalms of the Old Testament, during Eastertide the text often came from the New Testament, like today:

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Coming out of baptism at the Easter Vigil, the words would definitely make sense. That night the newly baptised Christian would partake in the Holy Eucharist for the first time, and they would certainly taste that the Lord is good (Ps. 34).Mortensrud kirke

The day is also known as the day of the apostle Thomas (aram. twin), because he on the 8th day, according to the Gospel of John, met the risen Lord and believed. While Judas did not believe, Thomas, despite his doubts, came to believe that the Lord was risen and once again among his apostles. Paul Tillich has tried to stress the fact that somehow faith always includes doubt in some form or other. Doubt may be described as the twin of faith. Thomas is according to John 20:24 also called Dydimus (i.e. “Twin, called the twin”). What kind of doubt is it that Thomas displays? How can he be a help to the newborn Christian, barely come out of the baptism a week before? Thomas displays a curious and healthy scepticism that is required by all people of faith. It is a scepticism that is founded in trust as a basic phenomenon on one hand (the Lord is good!) and on the other hand the struggle to grow intellectually, spiritually and humanly. That is why the exhortation of Paul the apostle on leaving the childishness behind does not necessarily contradicts the word of Jesus Christ on becoming children.

To put it differently, Thomas’ doubt is not total doubt (Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 48), which Tillich describes as existential despair. That is the way of Judas, not Thomas.

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“Doubt, and not certitude, is our human situation, whether we affirm or deny God. And perhaps the difference between them is not so great as one usually thinks. They are probably very similar in their mixture of faith and doubt. Therefore, the denial of God, if serious, should not shake us. What should trouble everyone who takes life seriously is the existence of indifference. For he who is indifferent, when hearing the name of God, and feels, at the same time, that the meaning of his life is being questioned, denies his true humanity.” (Paul J. Tillich, The Eternal Now, 2003)

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Learning from Secular Nations | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

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Today I came across a review of a book, “Society without God” by Phil Zuckerman, describing the Scandinavian (particularly Sweden and Denmark) way of life in relation to religion and faith in God. The review puts forth the question on what good life really is, questioning the some of the conclusions the author of the book makes.

Although she makes some valid points she there are points where she misses the mark. First of all, I think the values of the welfare states of Scandinavia is religious. The heritage of Scandinavia is very much a Lutheran and pietistic one, meaning that the values that forms the basis of the welfare state have a lot in common with Christian (and humanistic) values. I would go as far to say that it is a secularised attempt to utilise Christian values in a modern society. The pietistic heritage institutionalised Christian care and founded diaconal institutions that are still around today, and the modern welfare state of the Scandinavian type evolved out of this institutionalised system. Recently, the Danish philosopher and theologian Knud E. Løgstrup provided a theoretical basis for the welfare state, in his ontological-ethical phenomenology.  

 

South Bork

Many stones ...

The second point is one that Zuckerman makes. There is a difference between religious faith and a particular type of faith in God. As most Danes, Swedes and Norwegians see themselves as Christians, it is not a traditional form of Christian religion. It is more a more secularised faith, and the very devout variety is not the favoured. The Scandinavian God is culturally important, but personally it is a very private matter. But, as the review also makes clear, if you ask the average Scandinavian what the meaning of being is, you probably wouldn’t get an answer that points to something transcendent and beyond their life. Family matter, job matter, friends matter, – as they do all over the created earth. The transcendent is taken care of by the Church (that in most Scandinavian countries enjoys a close relationship to the state). You baptise your child, you participate in the confirmation, you marry in a church and you are laid to rest by a minister. And some even go to Church during Christmas. The church represents the liminal in people’s life; they choose to become members of it, because they feel it represents something they are. When facing the liminal in their lives, Scandinavians also tend to ponder what the meaning of all is. They may not be aware of their soul all the time, but it does not mean it is totally lost for them.

Zuckerman’s main thesis is that societies do not have to be religious to function well. I think he is right about this (and nod if you think religion played too great a part in say, the recent American general election), but I think he comes up short when it comes to people. People with a mature and realistic faith live enriched lives. And religious faith can play a positive role in a society and politics, the protest of Church in both Germany and Norway during WWII shows that Christian faith at times responds to the duty to oppose inhumanity and injustice. Something that is very much in line with Scripture.

(Richard Dawkins also seem to have discovered this book, but not read it yet).

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was incarcerated during WW2 and killed in the last days of the war, once wrote a poem (in his famous letters from prison) called “Who am I?”. It is a beutiful poem, full of existensial power.  One that hung over my desk during my postgraduate degree.

Somewhat more trivial is a list of blogs, assembled by a blogger called NT Wrong (clearly playing on N.T. “Tom” Wright). The point with the list is to categorise bibliobloggers (Biblical Studies Blogs) according to how liberal or conservative they are. I found the list quite intriguing and used it (once again) to contemplate on the question “Who am I?”. The interesting part is that when I scrolled through the list of biblioblogs that I subscribe to, I found out that most of those blogs are in the category “very conservative” to “fairly conservative”. That I am no longer in the category “very conservative” (I do have a background in IFES) hardly comes as any surprise, I’ve read to much theology and taken some big personal steps since back when I was a part of IFES. But my main surprise in the list is that the honourable bishop Spong is seens as “conservative liberal”, in my view he is “very liberal”. So where does that leave me?

I guess I’ll leave that to Dietrich to answer, he puts it best in the last lines of his poem:

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!
4th March 1946

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Today is allegedly the day when Doctor Martin Luther hung his famous 95 theses on the door of the Church in Wittenberg, the spark that spun to a great reformation and schism in the Church. One of my favourite paintings of this event is one where a small Luther uses a small hammer, nailing his flyers to the huge church door. The blows that shook the great Church.

Today even Catholic theologians and church historians value his work as a church reformer. Cardinal Walter Kasper recently said, in connection with the upcoming Luther Decade, that the Catholic Church can learn a lot from Luther (1). Luther was according to Kasper “full of the power of faith”, something that is clearly seen in his thesis. He believed that he was right, and his conscience drove him to fight for his cause. He was a reformer, and the reformation he and other reformers undertook was to change a world.

Luther’s view of God’s righteousness and how the human being were to be reconciled with his creator, shifted the focus from the Church as an institution to the individual and his or hers saving faith. The way I see it, Luther made possible the modern understanding of the human being. That is one of the things to keep in mind as we wait for 2017.

(1) Ekklesia.co.uk, 24 September

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This past weekend my old alma mater and former place of work, MF Norwegian School of Theology (Det teologiske Menighetsfakultet) celebrated its 100th anniversary. I did not have time to attend the celebrations back in Norway, although I really wish that I could have.

MF is the largest theological school/faculty of theology in Norway. Today most of the priests are trained at the school and currently all the bishops in the Church of Norway has a background from MF. The school is also the second largest theological faculty in Northern Europe with around 900-1000 students, only surpassed by the theological faculty at the University of Helsinki in Finland (with around 1800 students).

The school was established in 1907-08 against the classical liberal theology, that at the end of the 19th century gained influence at the faculty of theology at the University of Oslo. Professors at the university, people from lay organisations and the Church of Norway all joined together to establish a faculty that would both honour the sound and solid scholarly interest of the faculty and the deep commitment to the faith of the church (of the Lutheran tendency). Today many lament the fact that MF also includes more diversity and a richer understanding of Christian truth, while others, me included, judge it as better equipped to face the challanges of the future: to train priests, ministers, pastors, catechists, deacons, teachers etc. for the future of God’s Church. Because the Gospel of Christ is for all generations.

A 100 years is not much when comparing to the old universities of Europe. But MF is very much in that tradition. It may very well be a nova creatura, but its spirit is as old as the Church itself.

At the beginning and end of every academic semester the faculty og students sing together Grundtvig’s hymn God’s Word is Our Heritage (tune: Ein Feste Burg):

God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations.

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As I’m really busy these days and don’t have much time to read and study, but I’m still reading Williams book on Dostoevsky (which is really a gem). Here is another great quote:

“To settle for “the truth” in the sense of that ensamble of finished propositions we can securely defend is one of the ways of removing ourselves from the narrative continuum of our lives; to opt for Christ in the face of this is to accept that we shall not arrive within history at a stage where there are no choices and no commitments to be made. The truth of defensible propositions, a truth demanding assent as if belief were caused by facts, generates a diminished view of what is human; it educates us in ignoring aspects of human narrative that we disapprove of or find impenetrable. Meaning comes by the exercise of freedom – but not any sort of exercise of freedom. By taking the step of loving attention in the mundane requirements of live together, something is disclosed. But that step is itself enabled by a prior disclosure, the presence of gratuity in and behind the phenomena of the world: of some unconditional love. The narrative of Christ sets that before us, and the concrete historical reality of Christ is what has communicated to human nature a new capacity for reflecting and echoing that love” (p. 43f)

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