Saturday, March 8, 2014

Markus Bockmuehl on the Relationship Between 'Natural' Principles and Kingdom Principles in the Gospels

In his book Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics [2003, (122-126)], Markus Bockmuehl takes time to explore the concept of natural law in documents that were influential in forming early Christian ethics. In the excerpt below, Bockmuehl explains how in the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates a tension between the good order that God originally created and currently exists, and the good new order of the Kingdom of God that is both coming and is now here. (Emphasis below is his.)

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The Jesus tradition, then, does contain a number of measured moral appeals to the created order. Against this, however, must be set several important passages in which Jesus takes up a seemingly 'natural' state of affairs only to subject it to subversion and critique. On the one hand, of course, we find a respect for common customs and institutions, and an ethic that is indeed deeply compatible with universal social needs and human aspirations. On the other hand, the disciples are repeatedly challenged not to give unquestioning assent to the seemingly natural assumptions of the status quo: despite a hearty affirmation of creation, mere allegiance to existing conventions is not good enough.

One of the key subersive texts in this regard appears in the context of the second great statement about the Graeco-Roman political system, a kind of foil to the earlier passage about paying taxes to Caesar:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller on How Laying Claim To Nothing Makes Us Heirs Of Everything

The words in the title sum up a spiritual dynamic that C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller (among others) are compelled to address as they consider Jesus and Christianity.

In a certain chapter of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis seeks to persuade us that becoming transformed by surrendering to God is a far deeper and more necessary thing than simply being "nice." In doing so, he writes:
Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates' tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick's would be like if he became one. Miss Bates and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so. [...]
The manager is going to put in new machinery: before Christ has finished with Miss Bates, she is going to be very "nice" indeed. But if we left it at that, it would sound as though Christ's only aim was to pull Miss Bates up to the same level on which Dick had been all along. We have been talking, in fact, as if Dick were all right; as if Christianity was something nasty people needed and nice ones could afford to do without; and as if niceness was all that God demanded. But this would be a fatal mistake. The truth is that in God's eyes Dick Firkin needs "saving" every bit as much as Miss Bates. In one sense (I will explain what sense in a moment) niceness hardly comes into the question.