Jordan Peterson, The Apostle Paul, Hierarchies, and the Fate of the Patriarchy

I have friends on both sides of the “Jordan Peterson” fan-club and the “Jordan Peterson” hate-club. I was recently talking to one of them about the existence, and perhaps inevitability, of hierarchies. I happen to think that much of the biblical texts make little sense outside of a robust ancient hierarchy. I’m less convinced of Peterson’s claim (as far as I call tell) that hierarchies are biological and a little more open to the idea that hierarchies are ontological (or at the very that they served an important intellectual foundation for pre-modern civilization, philosophy, and religion. Thanks, Charles Taylor.)
To be sure, I think the biblical authors’ views on God and social ethics, are built on a presumptions of hierarchy (notice: there is a large jump between a hierarchy and a patriarchy), partly because I’m not so sure that a lack of hierarchies was a live option in the philosophical or liturgical world of ancient people. I also wonder if the most basic of theistic convictions, that of a strong creature/creation divide, is possible without a hierarchy of ontology. (Before you sharpen the pitchforks, there is again a big difference from an eternal belief in or current support of the patriarchy).
As I’ve been thinking about these thing, I found the following quote from John M. G. Barclay fascinating:
“The second characteristic of Paul’s social strategy is that the hallmark of his alternative system of value is that it is directed specifically against rivalry: the greatest honor is for those who work against the competitive spirit of honor itself. Nearly all the characteristics catalogued as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23) are directed toward the construction of community, from love downward. “Spirit-people” are so designated because they work with sensitivity to repair the community (Gal. 6:1-2). What counts among believers, according to Paul, is precisely the antithesis to arrogance and competition.
The rubric that governs the ethos of the community is a formula of reciprocity as creative as it is paradoxical. The Galatian freedom will not become an opportunity for “the flesh” inasmuch as they are “slaves to one another through love” (Gal. 5:13). This is a remarkable expression since it adjusts an inherently hierarchical relationship (slavery) not by canceling it, in the name of “equality,” but by making it reciprocal, a hierarchy that turns both ways…. The same structure of relations is outlined in the matching phrase in Gal. 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Burden-bearing, the world of slaves, is made a task for all, in relation to all. Submission to the interests of others is saved from becoming a charter for the crushing of the weak by being turned also into the reverse, such that service and honor continually exchanged. This reciprocity of relations, which does not eradicate but continually inverts a hierarchal order, is indeed the hallmark of Pauline social ethics, not only with respect to the church as a “body” (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31) but also in marriage (1 Cor. 7:3-4) and in the continual competition to be the first not to receive honor but to give it to others (Rom. 12:10). This policy turns competition on its head. What matters is not to gain superiority but to cede it, and in ceding it to be honored in return. To this extent, Brigitte Kahl is right to point to Galatians 5-6 as evidence that Paul strongly resists the combative ethos ever present in Romanized culture — through Paul’s policy is less the eradication of hierarchy than its continual subversion.
(some emphasis mine)
John M. G. Barclay, “Grace and the Counter-Cultural Reckoning of Worth: Community Construction in Galatians 5-6,” in Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter, ed. Mark W. Elliot, Scott J. Hafemann, N.T. Wright, and John Frederick (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 313.
Of course, questions remain:
1) This is very idealistic (as most of Paul’s pneumatological ethical instructions are). Can we expect this to work, outside of a Spirit-Surrendered individual who is embedded in a Spirit-Surrendered local congregation?
2) Does this really have anything meaningful say to secular discourse concerning just policies in a modern liberal democracy?
3) From the vantage point of a hermeneutics of suspicion, in what ways could this teaching (or interpretation) be used to continue to oppress the marginalized under the name of Jesus?
Overall, what are you thoughts on this reading of Galatians 5-6? 
How can you see this implemented in our churches?
How can you see this implemented, if at all, in our current political arena?

 

The gracefulness of God in disappointing us

“But we are too easily deceived by our desires – especially by our desires for the transcendence and eternity that determine the ultimate meaning of our lives. The Gospels teach us that many of those who crowded around Jesus, including some of his closest disciples and dearest friends, were drawn to him by false hopes and vain expectations. The hard truth is that we too often find ourselves attracted to what we wrongly think is God. At times, like Simon the Sorcerer, we come seeking God for those powers we find useful, imagining that by professing belief in God we have secured a resource that will afford us the life we want for ourselves (Acts 8:9-25). But for most of us, at least most of the time, the deception is far more subtle, less complete. Our desires are not so much out-and-out corrupt as ever-so-slightly bent. We delight in the justice of God, but at least in part because we imagine it means grief for our enemies. We delight in the power of God, but at least in part because we imagine it means we are protected from sufferings others have to face….

We are always, until the end, living at the risk of these deceptions and countless others like them. But we do not need to panic or to despair. If we desire what is good in ways that are not good, we can rest assured that God will gracefully disappoint us. If what we find delightful in God is in fact an illusion, God has promised to go on revealing his true beauty until we find that beauty truly desirable.” – Chris E.W. Green

[From Surprised by God: How and Why What We Think about the Divine Matters, pp.21-22. These short theological essays are devotional, wise, and challenging. I highly recommend this book for all.]

Andrew Louth on the Eastern Orthodox Hope for Universal Salvation

Andrew Louth in “Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology” writes the following about “Universal Salvation” in his last chapter of the book, The last things and eternal life:

“There is a deeper reason for Origen’s conviction of final restoration for all: for him it is inconceivable that Christ is to remain in sorrow for all eternity (after commenting on how Christ weeps over his sins as he wept over Jerusalem), on account of the failure of any rational creature to respond to his love and benefit from his sacrifice.

Whereas in Western theology, such a conviction rapidly dies out, in Orthodox theology hope in universal salvation, based on a conviction of the boundlessness of God’s love, has never gone away. St Gregory of Nyssa interprets the words of the apostle Paul’s teaching that God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15.28) to mean the ‘complete annihilation of evil.’ St Maximos the Confessor likewise holds out the hope of the salvation of all. The grounds for this are principally the long-suffering love of God for all creation, and also the conviction that evil is without substance, but is rather a corruption of distortion of what is good. These two motives find striking expression in St Maximos’ contemporary, St Isaac the Syrian, who asserts that,

‘there exists within the Creator a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, a love which is without alteration, timeless and everlasting… No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernatural kingdom’

and then adds, quoting Diodore of Tarsus, ‘not even the immense wickedness of the demons can overcome the measure of God’s goodness.’ The pain of hell is the result of love: ‘those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love… The sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment,’ Evil and hell cannot be eternal: “Sin, Gehenna, and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will.  There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.’

The Orthodox hope, amounting to a conviction among many theologians, is that there is nothing beyond the infinite love of God, that there is no limit to our hope in the power of his love, at least regards as a legitimate hope the universal salvation of all rational creatures, maybe even of the devil and his demons.”

silouan-of-mount-athos-01

‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in hell in everlasting fire’.
Obviously upset, the Staretz said,
‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?”
‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault’, said the hermit.
The Staretz answered with a sorrowful countenance:
‘Love could not bear that, he said, “We must pray for all.”

– Saint Silouan of Athose (one of the greatest Orthodox saints in recent times)

On Our Current Divisiveness and the Role of Cultural Narrative

I

Are we seeing the predominant form and structure of our cultural narrative assumptions (I speak as an American) being deconstructed (intentionally or otherwise) into intuitive narratives of inherent divisiveness? I’m not one to romanticize the past, and beyond the innocence of my childhood, I don’t know what “good ole’ days” I would prefer to go back to. However, it seems to me that while I was coming of age the majority of past narratives presented in literature, media, and pop culture in general were all grounded in some basic common principles and ideals. The ideal that America would continue to strive to live up to it’s greatest ideas arising from a narrative of unity. The narratival principle that dysfunctional or unjust or harmful individual or communal relationships were the result of something that went wrong and needed to be fixed, with no exceptions. I grew up watching Boy Meets World and the original “classics” on MTV (including the first gruesome forays into reality T.V) and these shows portrayed narratives based on fundamentally agreed upon structures of unity (no matter how off base) – disagreements and divisions were simply a departure from this norm and would usually be fixed (or would be used as entertainment as they experienced a lack of ability be resolved). I know I am politically naive in terms of lived experience, because of my age, to partisan politics before the Obama Administration. But as a kid, I didn’t like George Bush or the war in Afghanistan and it wasn’t something that created tension, fear, or arguments that threatened to tear the family apart. It was a disagreement that made sense inside of the larger narrative of unity that agreed that human flourishing (or whatever political, spiritual, or humanistic term you prefer) was the ultimate goal and hopeful outcome of the collective narrative of humanity.

II

The Christian Scriptures present turning humanity against God, and ultimately against each other, as the oldest and greatest trick of the one eventually referred to as The Satan. The serpent seized on a division between Adam and Eve and created one between them and God. Cain and Abel divided themselves into a murderer and victim. Generations later, Cain’s legacy, Lamech, revered in his reputation as a mass murderer. Not long after that, the whole world was filled with violence which caused the cosmos to respond in like kind with the violence of the Great Flood. Humanity then tried to unite themselves, but not of a desire for the common good or to further God’s dreams for his creation. Their faux unity resulted in the largest original act of true division. Not diversity, division. It occurs to me that one could read the primordial account of humanity in Gen. 1-11 as the gradual division of humanity and the story of salvation from Gen. 12 onwards as the story of gradual unity. The church, God’s vision for humanity, his alternative society, is a community characterized by unity (albeit unity in diversity, much like the Triune God himself). This is perhaps the hallmark of the early Christian communities – here there were no slaves and masters, Jews and gentiles, males or females – there was a people united in Christ. How truly radical, today as it was then.

III

Division, of the destructive and irredeemable kind, has existed as long as the primordial tales of Genesis 3-11. It’s not a new plot twist onto the scene of the human theater. But might it have evolved? Might the principalities and powers manipulated it into a greater weapon against the world and the church than they previously thought possible?

IV

The majority of political commenters, both on the right (usually in praise of a diverting strategy from mistakes and miscues of a leader they must endorse) and on the left (usually in a cringe-worthy hand-wringing that risks losing its effectiveness), are noting that divisiveness is being used as a tool. I can’t give credit to Trump, or Obama, or the Tea-Party, or rifts created in the cultural eras of Modernism or Post-Modernism, or the Media to creating this tool or being its sole users. I propose that this tool of dividing people against one another is not longer being employed on occasion as much as it is now forming a new shared narrative to be taken advantage of. Divisiveness is not longer a norm outside a more mature narrative of (at least pretend) unity. Divisiveness is the foundation and structure of the assumed cultural narrative. All issues, crises, topics, and opinions are enslaved to competing inside the gym of a world of inevitable and dehumanizing division. The NFL protests are no longer capable of being an impetus for discussion of anything meaningful, they are identity markers of what side of the division you are on (see the repeated phrase “Our Heritage”). The Harvey Weinstein scandal receiving little attention by the self-proclaimed media defenders of truth, morality, and scorched-earth comedians is not serious material for producers, celebrities, and audiences that aren’t looking or able for a real discussion or cultural progress but just entertainment that serves to confirm the identity the of audience as they are enslaved to define themselves as players of the narrative of division. The examples go on Ad infinitum.

V

I think the term “post-truth” captures the reality, in my opinion, that I see and experience more each day. We are in a time, space, community, and culture where evidence and facts are barely seen as opinions to be used solely to support already drawn conclusions, usually as reinforced markers of one’s identity in the narrative of division. This is a time when emotion and tribalism are more determinative of communities and opinions than discussion and education. (A lesson is to be learned, I think. The Modern and Post-Modern world was always too temped to a reductionist anthropology were humans were at their core rational, thinking creatures. We are perhaps more creatures of love (or worship, if you will) – which can be and often is closely related to emotion. I mourn the loss of critical thinking, but am not surprised by the anthropology that is increasingly establishing its dominance. Perhaps a post-truth society was inevitable in a culture that so wrongly estimated the irreducible nature and motivations of humans.

POSTSCRIPT

My very broad and inclusive statements and conclusions are obviously, and thankfully, not descriptive of many thoughtful people. They are nothing more than my stream-of-consiousness hypotheses, in all truth, though I fear many of my observations (if not larger commentary or conclusions) are in fact obvious and undeniable.  For my part, my pessimism on the human nature, apart from participation in the person of the Risen Jesus and the transformational work of the Holy Spirit, remains. I think I can propose a solution – both sides (politically, economically, racially) focusing on agreeing to a unifying underlying narrative as much, if not more than the issues, at least for a time being. To be clear, I am speaking pragmatically. I believe this not advisable, possible, or a live option for me because of m my conviction that ignoring systemic injustices in our society is a moral evil off the table as a choice for my private and public influence. Still, I can’t help but wonder if our just cause in fighting for these issues unwittingly deepens a narrative of division that will keep, further, and create new and perhaps worse problems that we can’t yet imagine.

My true hope, is in the church as witness, where unity in diversity is the norm. Where the narrative of one of the Almighty Father’s inevitable progress towards creaturely unity and an unmistakable call for justice and righteousness reigns. Where the narrative that in Christ there are no destructive walls of division. Where the narrative that through the Holy Spirit, equality for all is not only a dream but a possibility. Let us develop this narrative, fight for it, and pray for it’s development.
There will be differences and there will be divisions, but they can and will be productive  conflicts when they arise from a narrative of unity, or better put, a narrative of cruciform love.

 

Interview with Jeffrey D. Arthurs on “Preaching as Reminding”

5007364_01Jeffrey D. Arthurs is the Professor of Preaching and Communication at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has a new book, Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness, coming out next month. You might know him from his previous two books: Preaching With Variety: How to Recreate the Dynamics of Biblical Genres and Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture.

InterVarsity Press was kind enough to provide me with an advanced copy to review (full review to come).

I read the book in two days as it captivated me as someone who is obsessed with the art of preaching and so I immediately asked for an interview with Dr. Arthurs so that I could discuss his thoughts with the author himself. He graciously agreed to the interview – I hope you enjoy it and I recommend you order a copy of the book sooner rather than later! 



Dr. Arthurs – first let me say thanks for agreeing to let me ask you a few questions about your upcoming book “Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness.” 
I enjoyed your use of neuroscientific research in regard to memory and find it to be a fascinating academic field myself with many overlaps into important theological conversations. As we move away from the “computer metaphor” approach to speaking and thinking about memory, do you have an alternative metaphor that you believe best matches the current science and is most helpful in regard to your thesis of preaching as reminding?

That’s a great question. You are a good interviewer! I hadn’t thought of this—a new metaphor—but maybe the one I used in the book captures current research on memory: a quilt (or is “sampler” the right word?) Our memories are made up of patches of clothe sewed into one coherent unit.

The subtitle of your book suggests that we are collectively a people tempted to be forgetful. Do you think this is a recent development, inherent to the human nature, or a mixture of both with perhaps technology and modern culture highlighting our propensity to forget things of ultimate concern?

I think it is most likely a mixture of both. The Bible is clear that humans are “prone to wander, Lord we feel it!”—we are prone to forget the God we love and his covenant. But our media saturated culture makes it increasingly difficult to concentrate, meditate, and retain what we have learned. Our phones jiggle, chime, beep, and flash, calling for immediate and brief attention. Our movies and videos jump, swirl, whirl, and sweep us into a fragmented multi-perspectival experience. If you want to meditate, slow down, and truly observe, go to the art gallery, not the movie theater. Plato worried that the  technology of his day—alphabetic script!—would ruin memory. He must be rolling over in his grave today.

On a similar note, there are many who increasingly feel that more traditional ways of “reminding” are not as useful now because of the technological and high-paced culture we live in. There is an increasing trend away from religious services that involve or center around a sermon or preacher. What are your thoughts on this development towards replacing a traditional speaker or preacher with more interactive and decentralized communication during services or events?

This is another good question and a big one. I feel that the Bible (NT in particular) gives us principles for worship services, not precise forms we must use. So worship leaders need to be aware of those principles and find ways to contextualize them in the crazy 21st century. Concerning the specific point you raise above—replacing a traditional speaker (I assume you mean monologic, authoritative teaching by an ordained officer of the Church) with decentralized communication: I’m a big proponent of using dialogue in preaching, but we must be careful to preserve one of the principles of NT worship—public teaching by a commissioned pastor. This is commanded in the Pastoral Epistles and is modeled by the early Church. If that can be done while using dialogue (and I think it can), then that probably helps contextualize preaching for the 21st century West.

In discussing delivery (expression, energy, emotion, and other nonverbal communication), as a tool for stirring memory, I couldn’t help but wonder how much this goes both ways in terms of the speaker and the audience (for lack of a better word). I’ve experienced times when I think my preaching quality was either increased or decreased based on the atmosphere and the energy/responses of the listeners. Do you agree that this is a two-way street? How can one best prepare and listen to a sermon – especially in hopes to help them deliver to the best of their ability? How do you deal with an audience that tends towards lowering your deliverability?

Great insight. Yes, energy and communication go both ways. The old communication model of Speaker—Message—Receiver is simplistic and mechanistic. In reality both “speakers” and “receivers” send messages. To be sure, the “speaker” is the primary sender, but receivers count! To prepare to listen to a sermon, pray for your own heart and for the preacher, reduce/eliminate distractions (e.g. turn off your phone), look at the speaker, concentrate with a view toward summarizing the sermon to someone who was not present, sharing your reflections as well as the bare content.

Can you recommend some preachers who highlight many of the skills you lift up in the book for someone like me who is interested in reading more excellent scholarship on the various components of preaching?

I would imagine that John Ortberg, Haddon Robinson, and E. K. Bailey are probably familiar to most readers of this blog. Lesser known, but worth reading, are authors Craig Oliver (Atlanta, GA) and Bobby Warrenburg (Beverly Farms, MA). Many African-American expository preachers (such as E.K Bailey and Craig Oliver) also employ many of the skills in my book successfully and admirably.

Dr. Arthurs, thanks again for talking to me. It was a pleasure.
Blessings on you and your work! 


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