Gracious Forbearance

Dr. Matt Towles has taught English at Liberty University since 2007. Before coming to Liberty, Matt taught at every level, from elementary school through high school to college. He also serves as Elder and as Lead of LifeGroups at Blue Ridge Community Church.

It’s a kind of confession, I suppose, to say it like this: the death of Luke Perry horrified me. The news alert from TMZ had me fishing through my memory. I realized that I’d never seen a single episode of Beverly Hills 90210, but I had certainly seen him in the movies 8 Seconds and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He wasn’t a stranger, but he was just a celebrity—I knew him, but I didn’t. Yet there I was, horrified. Luke Perry died of a stroke at the age of 52.

It’s embarrassing, really; the death of a teenage heartthrob from my high school years troubled me more than it probably troubled most married 43-year-old men with a full-time job and kids. I have a mortgage for mercy’s sake. I can’t go in an afternoon funk over the death of a celebrity that I’d never met. I have work to do, a wife to cherish, children to love.

And that’s where my connection to him clarifies. When I was 42, I had a couple strokes of my own. A year and a half later, there are times when I don’t move very well, I get tired easily, or my emotions rise to the surface more quickly than they did before. I’m not conspicuously disabled, though my physical abilities are truly blunted in ways that I notice and mourn over: my left side doesn’t work as well as my right, I get tongue tied easily when I’m tired, and my memory for names (though I was never all that great) has gotten worse.

And it occurred to me: Luke Perry got the easy way out. He didn’t have to work through emotional or relational issues like I do. He didn’t have to face life after nearly stroking out in a McDonald’s parking lot like I did. He got to die and not deal with the rest. Of course, it’s terrible to think like that. Death isn’t usually seen as the easy way out. But there I was, horrified by the death of a stranger, and in a terribly selfish way.

Millions of people heard about Luke Perry’s death by stroke and probably did what I did: they searched their memories, found one, and remembered. They put it all together to form something rational, real. (The word [re] member means, quite literally, to put it back together). Trauma disregards the normal process of piecing things together, so when I put my memory of Luke Perry together, I immediately made it personal, without so much as a straight logical thread to follow into or out of my fog of horror.

Even now, though, I really can’t make a step-by-step rational argument for why I was frustrated that Luke Perry got to die from his stroke, but I didn’t from mine. To crib from Blaise Pascal, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things.” (Pensees 277). I have emotions, brand-new, strong emotions, and I have no idea why. Like, none. My wife, on the other hand, handles emotions like a professional—really. She is in training to get her license in Professional Counseling (with a concentration in trauma, no less). Yet in our conversations, she has made the real and consistent choice to be my wife, not my counselor. I’ve been to counseling. I’m not very good at it.

“What were you thinking when that happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did you feel?”
“I don’t know.”
“That must have been terrible.”
“I know.”

Just multiply that snippet about a thousand times, and you’ll begin to understand why I’m drawing up papers to recommend my wife for sainthood.

“Luke Perry. The 90210 guy.”
“I remember that show.”
“He died of a stroke.”
“Oh, no. That’s terrible.” Silence. “You going home?”

Going home. That’s our code for leaving work and driving home and taking off my shoes and sleeping. I’m not sure why being barefoot clarifies my thoughts, but it does.

I didn’t want to tell her I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t want to admit that my afternoon was ruined by the death of that guy in that one show that neither of us had ever watched. I didn’t want to tell her that living was harder. I wasn’t suicidal, but I still lived in the daily shadow of a life I still needed to live. As John Cougar Mellencamp put it, “Oh yeah, life goes on. Long after the thrill of living is gone.” I didn’t want to die, but I certainly didn’t want to live this way. And I was horrified by the reminder that there were other options, besides fighting each day for a life as a dad, husband, teacher, brother, son, elder, and friend.

But she already knew that. She knew that having a stroke and then not dying is tough. It’s one thing to be thrilled to be alive (which I am) and also to see someone die and think he got the easy way out.

That’s terrible. She meant it was terrible for me to face. My horrified response to Luke Perry’s death is most certainly human—the death rate is 100%; we’re all going to die—so each of us must cultivate some appropriate response to death, even the death of someone we do not know. John Donne’s now-famous proclamation that “No man is an island, entire of itself,” assumes the positive comfort of a community of people marching toward its individual and collective demise. Yet, Donne reminds us that though death is a human reality, there isn’t much comfort in the dreaded reality of our lives, no matter how good life may be: “any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee." According to Donne, we live in the midst of the caroling of the bells, announcing the death of another human. As a consequence, we are not only reminded of our death, we are diminished by the death of someone else.

Terrible, indeed. Yet the person I knew who could best help me when I needed it the most might also be hurt the deepest by my confession. I had nothing, really, but a scattered mind, mixed with embarrassment that such a shallow pop-culture icon ruined my day. That, and a phone.

She probably could have done all kinds of things. Reminded me that I should have this handled by now. Reminded me of people with REAL trauma who have had to deal with much WORSE things than a couple strokes. Reminded me that a little prayer and a spoonful of sugar…

She could have done all kinds of things.

Yet she answered the phone. And she didn’t try to fix it or counsel me or anything like that. She listened. And then she gave me grace, even if it meant for her hearing something that was incredibly painful to hear. She listened. She took the time to give me grace. I was trying my very best to be the very best husband and person I could be, but the only thing I could muster up the energy to do was to call her. I couldn’t even think about going home and taking off my shoes and napping.

Where I live in the United States, the Christian faith puts quite a bit of emphasis on having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Though I’d like to admit that I believe that truth—a relationship with Jesus is important—it’s an incomplete truth. We need a community of believers who have the courage to proclaim, however they may, a paraphrase of the Apostle’s Creed: “This is my faith. I’m proud to profess it.” The locus of our faith is in the resurrected Christ, but the evidence of our faith is found, quite often, in how we interact with one another.

We should not wonder, then, that there may be times when the pain of someone else becomes the focus of our ministry for that hour, that day, or even that season. We serve a risen Christ whose body carried the horrors of the cross in addition to the horrors of humanity. It’s no wonder that we ourselves might recognize the pain that each of us carries. We know how to pray and to serve and to carry those burdens. I know my wife knows, because she has learned from the man acquainted with grief, Jesus himself.

Mailbag: Does Christianity Fail as a Moral Guide?

Editor’s note: This reply is part of a longer conversation. The first part may be found here. Here Randy replies to Heath’s latest comment:

Moral Apologetics: Thank you kindly for your lengthy response and interest. I admit I am somewhat flattered by this. You wrote a long reply here and I read through it several times. But in the end I found it unpersuasive. The original premise “If humanity’s deep and unshakeable moral intuitions are correct, the “Morals of the Story demonstrates that the rational observer should embrace Christian theism in response.”

The rational observer would first question the premise that humanity has ever held “deep and unshakeable” moralities. The historical record just doesn’t support this. I hope that sometime in the future we will have such deep, unshakeable morals. But clearly we do not.

Christian theology, in my opinion, has been an abject failure as a moral guide. I find it impossible to believe that a world filled with evil is the work of an Author combining infinite power with perfect goodness and righteousness. I find Christianity to be among the greatest enemies of morality, first by setting up factitious excellencies— belief in creeds, devotional feelings and ceremonies not connected to the good of humankind. These are accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues.

And then there is the problem of a redeemer. In this unseemly dogma, the son of god suffered and “died” for our “sins.”

Vicarious virtue. If I owe Paul money and god forgives me, that doesn’t pay Paul.

Hello Heath,

I have read your response to the answer Jonathan gave and thought I would chime in!

The original premise is an if-then conditional, meaning that someone can affirm it even if the antecedent (the “if” part) is false; one should really only reject the premise if you think the moral intuitions are correct but that people shouldn’t embrace Christian theism in response (or, rather, are not rational in doing so). This means that questioning whether there is such a morality isn’t, strictly speaking, relevant to the truth of the original premise.


It seems your argument against objective morality is that history doesn’t support this, and we “clearly” do not have them. Perhaps you have misunderstood the original claim. The original claim is simply that the common human experience is that there is some X such that X is good, and there is some Y such that Y is evil, and so on. The claim is not that we all share the same content of those moral beliefs (as that is what is historically false). In fact, it seems you implicitly recognize there is a perception of evil and good when you later claim the world is “filled with evil”—how could it be filled with something that so clearly does not exist? The original claim is that if our intuitions are correct, then Christian theism is the way to go—and our intuitions are that some things are really good and some really evil. Even if we’re mistaken about the implications—the content—it doesn’t follow that we’re mistaken about the reality of the categories at all. In fact, if we reject the categories of good and evil, then an interesting result is that we’ve never made any moral progress: it makes no moral difference whether we have African-Americans as slaves or not; it makes no moral difference whether we bully homosexuals for fun or not. The (morally horrible) list goes on.

The next claim is that Christianity has failed as a moral guide. That is, Christianity has failed to tell us the correct ways to live. You list the problem of evil, but this isn’t directly relevant to this claim of Christianity being a moral guide (it could turn out that someone who is deeply evil or hypocritical could nonetheless give you great moral advice). Within this same claim, you mention that “belief in creeds, devotional feelings and ceremonies” are “not connected to the good of human kind.” But why think this? It seems you suggest these are “substitutes for genuine virtues.” But Heath, remember, your view commits you to saying there are no virtues! But in any case, we can amend the claim to saying that if there were virtues, the ones that Christianity would espouse are replaced by creeds, feelings, and ceremonies. But the mere fact that Christianity embraces creeds, feelings, and ceremonies doesn’t entail that they replace any virtues whatsoever! In fact, there is a long and rich tradition, both intellectual and existential, of virtue ethics and living the right kind of Christian life. I’m afraid you may be taking late 20th and early 21st-century stereotypes of Western Christianity and applying them to the entire foundations of the church.

But let us also not forget that these kinds of activities do not at all seem to be divorced from the good of human kind. Consider the creeds: the creeds encapsulate essential Christian doctrine, and reinforce common but perhaps non-essential doctrines. From these creeds and their entailments and associated doctrines, we commit to believe and practice the idea that all are made in the image of God, that Jesus came to live among us in the ultimate act of love and sacrifice for humans, that we should be involved in caring for the poor (see much of the Old Testament and James 1), and that we ought to live in community with others’ needs placed before our own (Philippians 2:4). Next, let us consider “devotional feelings.” It’s not perfectly clear to me what is meant here, but I suspect the idea of reading one’s Bible and praying—perhaps even having an emotional experience while doing so—is in view. If so, I can assure you that many people have had their attitudes and conduct changed by these habitual activities. Given that none of us is a social island, becoming a virtuous person does in fact connect to the good of all. Although I am not sure what ceremonies you reference, I can say that participating in ecclesiastical activities is designed to bring us closer to each other (and hence our communities) and closer to our God. This brings us to the last point: if Christianity is true, then God is the highest good (and its source). Being involved with and close to him is the highest good, and will in turn precipitate the highest goods if we do so.

I’d like to return to the problem of evil. Your formulation is apparently that, given omnipotence and omnibenevolence, the world should not be “filled” with evil. I take “filled with evil” to mean something like “there is a large amount and high degree of evil in the world.” One of the common responses to this is called a “free-will defense.” People have freedom, and they sometimes (often!) exercise it for evil instead of the good. Omnipotence does not entail the ability to do the logically impossible, and forcing someone to freely do something certainly qualifies. If a loving relationship requires freedom to enter it (as I and many others think it does), then what this means is that God typically allows free choices to be made, and God cannot force a free decision (since this isn’t a thing to be done, and omnipotence entails the ability to do all things). The result is the world we have. But the good news is we aren’t left with such a world: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the “down payment” ensuring that one day the evils of the world will be rectified. One day, God will make everything right: this is referred to as redemption and restoration. Christian theology provides for the restoration of all that had once gone wrong, and redemption for those who have wronged each other and God; how beautiful is that?

This leads us to what you have called “the problem of a redeemer.” You have stated that “If I owe Paul money and god forgives me, that doesn’t pay Paul.” True enough. But the basis of that forgiveness is Christ’s paying the penalty for sins. So perhaps you mean if Christ pays the penalty for sins but I sin against another human (by, say, stealing her wallet), this doesn’t give her back her money. True enough again! All sins are ultimately against God (in other words, stealing the wallet is against the woman, but also against God). The penalty for sin is separation from God; the remedy is life through the Son of God. The sin is paid for by Christ; if a person does not accept, they endure separation from God. Suppose you do not accept and are separated by God. Justice is served since you are “serving your sentence.” Suppose you do accept, and restore her wallet. Justice is served, since Jesus died in your place and he had lived a perfect life on the Christian story; further, the woman has her wallet. Suppose you are unable to restore her wallet. The good news is that this affects your justice in no way; Christ’s perfect sacrifice is still perfect. What about her? She’s in the same boat—she can accept or reject Christ. If she accepts him, the effects of being with God forever far outweigh anything that can happen in this life. If she rejects him, it will be due to sins that she will be separated from God (for example, the sin of understanding and yet rejecting Jesus).

So, to recap, we’ve seen there isn’t a reason against accepting that we have the sense that there are objective categories of good and evil, that Christianity does contribute to the good of human kind, the problem of evil has a reasonable response dealing with creaturely freedom and the expected restoration of all things, and that salvation is offered through the perfect sacrifice of the God-man, Christ Jesus. I hope this at least points you in the right direction, and if you are interested, I’d love to talk more!

Randy

What's a Body to Do? "Summary and Conclusions" (Part 4)

 

A Twilight Musing

What, then, are the practical implications of all of this for our life together within the Body of Christ?

(1) In the first place, we had better all get it right in regard to what power means within the Body. There can be no question about God's expectation that those in authority will encourage and enhance the ability of those in their charge to realize their full potential, perhaps even enabling them to achieve a fuller potential than they realize is possible. We are one in Christ, joint-heirs and brothers and sisters of Him and of each other, without regard to our earthly, circumstantial relationships. No exercise of authority by husband, elder, employer, or parent is to involve demeaning or devaluing those who, under God, submit to them; and with the exception of parents' responsibility to keep their children under control, in none of these situations is an individual in power authorized to demand submission from others. (It should be noted that elders may sometimes have to exercise leadership in disciplining a wayward member, but in my opinion this should be done only in cases of disruptive behavior or bringing shame on the church, and never without consultation with other mature members of the Body, so that the disciplined member is the subject of congregational action, not just excommunication by the elders.) If the attitudes of mutual submission and putting others' welfare above our own governed every member of the Body, there would be no arguments about relative advantages enjoyed by or denied to anyone.

(2) Given our frailty and flaws in the flesh, disputes and accusations will arise, and those in authority will too often abuse their power and advantage. What are those for whom God has commanded submission to do? One form of this question was poignantly expressed to me by a dear sister in Christ: "How do I separate my own continual need for humbling and molding, obey Jesus' command to 'bless those who persecute,' but still stand up against what really, honestly seems to me to be sinful, destructive power structures in our church?" The first thing to be said is that submission doesn't mean not being able or willing to voice opposition to "sinful, destructive power structures" or to a leader’s obsessive and inordinate use of power. If those involved in such behavior are not willing to listen to respectfully presented objections, then they, like the sowers of dissension, are "self-condemned" for their lack of humility and of concern for those for whom they have been given responsibility. Husbands and church leaders, they must remold themselves to fit the paradigm by which they actively cultivate the ability of their wives and the women of the congregation to contribute to family, community, and congregational life in such a way as to demonstrate and appreciate their value as co-workers in God's vineyard, not to humiliate them. Precisely what the effects of this paradigm are may differ between specific families and congregations, but what in all instances it must mean is that women are given equal honor with men; that whatever submission they offer is taken as the voluntary fruit of their relationship with God, and not imposed upon them; and that any limits imposed upon their activity within the congregation be determined through communication and dialogue with them, not by edict from the leaders.

In this context, I must hasten to add that women should not put themselves or their children in jeopardy when a husband has proven to be abusive. When a husband so grossly perverts his power and his physical or social advantage over those who are weaker, those who are in danger are not obligated to be enablers of his abuse, and he must be curbed by the discipline and control of both civil and church authorities. As Paul used all legal means to avoid unjust treatment, so in such cases should contemporary women in free societies avail themselves of all legal means to deliver themselves and their children from physical abuse. Preachers and elders who pressure wives to continue to live with their husbands under such circumstances are not reflecting the biblical principle of submission, but are making yet another legalistic application of it which demeans and injures the weak and brings reproach and shame on the church.

(3) The third point to be made here is that joint prayer is a marvelous leveler in the fellowship of the Body. It is very difficult for people to go on their knees together before God, sincerely submitting themselves anew to Him, and at the same time maintain the barriers to communication often raised by perceived abuses of or challenges to power. In times of prayer like this, we have a tangible manifestation of our being "all one in Christ Jesus," where we are "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female"--that is, where all the distinctions of authority and submission are set aside as we come humbly before the Lord as equals in our experience (and need) of His grace.

I know of no better place to conclude this study than "on our knees together before God," and this is the prayer that I would leave with you:

Dear Father, enable us to think as Jesus thought, and thereby act as He acted: in humility, servanthood, obedience, and submission to the will of God. Help us also to know the power and strength of allowing these qualities to govern our lives; the freedom of grace that comes from trusting you for the outcome as we obey You; the sweetness of fellowship as You blend us together in the Body of Christ; and the certainty of our final redemption when all submission will be subsumed in our glorious eternal worship together before Your throne. In the Name of Jesus Christ, our King, amen.

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

What's a Body to Do? "Legalistic Insistence on Submission Ruled Out" (Part 3)

In view of the principles of freely given submission through the grace of God and mutual submission in love, we must conclude that a legalistic insistence on the submission of others is an attempt to enslave those whom God has set free, and that it has no place in the Body of Christ. The possibility of submitting again to a "yoke of slavery" from which we have been delivered is a subject that Paul addresses with a great deal of feeling, and that leads us to two related final principles flowing from the example of Jesus as obedient servant.

  1. Submission according to the model of Christ is, spiritually speaking, a free and voluntary act, empowered and given meaning by the grace of God, and not by any principle of law. Christ set us free from the Law, so all acts of humility, obedience, and submission will be expressions of spiritual freedom, whatever our exterior circumstances may be (Rom. 5:18-21; Rom. 6:12-19; Gal. 3:23-4:7; 5:16-25; James 4:7-10; I John 2:3-5).

Paul's teaching on grace continually stresses our deliverance from bondage to sin through the sacrifice of Christ and our freedom in the grace of God. In Romans 6 he says,

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:12-14)

We are no longer subject to the rule of sin because we have been delivered from slavery to it. Even the perfect Law of God delivered through Moses has served its purpose of making evident our slavery to sin and pointing us to Christ, and it is now set aside (Gal. 3:23-25).  And in the freedom of our new life, we can, by the grace of God, offer to Him ourselves and our bodies to be used "as instruments of righteousness," because we "have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Rom. 6:18). Walking in this new-found freedom of grace is in another place described as living in and being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25), which is God's new life within us, marking us as legitimate, free-born children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:13-17; Gal. 4:6-7).

It is significant that Paul chooses the context of these arguments affirming that we live under grace and not under law in which to make his most egalitarian statement about the relationship between those who are in Christ. Having been delivered from the authority and power of the Law, Paul says, "You are all sons [i.e., children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-29). Consequently, whenever submission is practiced in the Body of Christ, it is not to be seen as in any way devaluing the one submitting, nor conferring superiority on the one being submitted to. Any submission which is forced and not freely given seeks to devalue the one submitting and compromises our deliverance from slavery to the Law. In a case of this sort, the submitter can act in free obedience to the will of God and experience the freedom of grace, while one who tries to enforce submission has stepped outside of grace by refusing to submit to God's instructions to those having power. It is those instructions that underlie the final principle springing from the servant-example of Jesus:

  1. Any attempt within the Body of Christ to enforce submission from others (with the exception of parents controlling children--I Tim. 3:4) is a divisive work of the flesh, and not of the Spirit, and is a denial of the freedom we have through God's grace. (Rom. 8:5-8; Rom. 16:17-19; II Cor. 11:4-9; Gal. 2:4-12; 4:8-11; 4:23-5:1; 5:24-26; Col. 2:20-23)

One kind of submission is not only forbidden in the New Testament, but is characterized as a betrayal of the freedom Christ died to obtain for us. In presenting his allegory of the two wives who bore children to Abraham, Paul says, "Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman[Hagar], but of the free woman [Sarah]. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 4:31-5:1). The "yoke of slavery" in this instance took the form of insisting that those males who had accepted Christ had to be circumcised, thus tying them to the Law based on merit which was set aside by the death of Christ. Earlier in the letter, he spoke of the work of false teachers whose purpose was to spy on the "freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves." Paul is adamant in his resistance to this attempt, saying, "We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" (Gal. 2:4-5). When even Peter was carried away by the "circumcision group" (2:12), trying to "force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs" (2:14), Paul "opposed him to his face" (2:11) in order to defend the principle of grace as the source of salvation, and not law-keeping.

The Judaizing teachers who came in for such scathing words in the letter to the Galatians were challenging and seeking to replace both Paul's message and his authority, both of which, he makes clear, were given to him by God Himself (Gal. 1:8-12). The foundation of Paul's message, the "truth of the gospel," both as originally delivered to the Galatians and in his letter to them, is that one "is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (2:16). The charge against the false teachers is not merely that they are voicing a differing opinion, but that they are attempting to use their influence to re-enslave people to the attainment of righteousness by their own efforts, instead of relying on God through faith in Christ. They are not people who have a real concern about brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather people whose objective is to exercise control over others through requiring circumcision; as Paul puts it, "they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh" (Gal. 6:13). In other words, they are the sort of people described in Romans 16 who "cause divisions and put obstacles in your way" (v. 17), and those in Titus who foment "foolish controversies and quarrels about the law" which "are unprofitable and useless." Such a person is to be warned once, "and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned" (Titus 2:9-11).

Motivation and attitude are everything here in evaluating the character of these disruptive teachers and assessing the danger that they pose. They were obviously more concerned with exercising power and coercing people than with following God's way of grace, humility, and service. In the same way, if a member of the Body of Christ today seeks to gain power over others by demanding a kind of submission which would be a regression to law-keeping and a renunciation of the freedom of grace that we all have in Christ, that person is a sower of dissension and disharmony, a divisive person who is "self-condemned." While one who refuses to submit to a divinely appointed authority may miss an opportunity for growth and cause the Body to have a weaker testimony to the world, the wielder of fleshly power in the Body who is able and willing to reject the freedom of God's grace inflicts even greater damage on both himself and the Body by demanding legalistic conformity from others for his own satisfaction and aggrandizement.

 

Image :Dirck van baburen - Christ washing the apostles feet. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

What’s a Body to Do? (Part 2)

 

A Twilight Musing

Theological Principles Based on Jesus’ Example and Teaching on Submission 

  1. All submission to others must be a direct outgrowth of, and subordinate to, our submission to the Lord. (Rom. 13:1-7; I Cor. 10:28-33; I Pet. 2:13-16, 18-19).

When we submit to civil authorities, it is not only out of fear of punishment, but "also because of conscience" (Rom. 13:5). As Peter puts it, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men" (I Pet. 2:13). When Paul urged the Corinthian believers not to eat meat offered to idols out of deference to the tender consciences of others, it was not that he was allowing himself to be coerced by the "tender conscience" people ("why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?" [I Cor. 10:29]), but that he chose to uphold an underlying spiritual principle: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Paul seeks not to cause anyone to stumble, but to “try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved" (I Cor. 10:31-33).

The same principle is made explicit in Ephesians: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:21-22).  Children are to obey their parents "in the Lord" (Eph. 6:1), and servants are to obey their masters "wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men" (Eph. 6:7). In the most explicit admonition to submit to spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17), the rationale is that as these men "watch over you," they "must give an account" to the Lord of us all for the discharge of their responsibilities, and submission to them is to the "advantage" of the whole Body.

In many of the exhortations to submission in the New Testament, the people being submitted to were not necessarily worthy of the submission, and that was not the reason for the requirement; rather, the principle was to be voluntarily subject to them as a part of our submission to the Lord. Who of us in our right mind would contend that we are worthy of being submitted to? Since only God is worthy of our ultimate submission, we run the risk of a kind of idolatry if submission to another is not a direct consequence of our being submitted to Him. In that context, an act of submission becomes a manifestation of trust in God, and not primarily in the human being to whom secondary submission is being rendered. Accordingly, those being submitted to are given instructions focusing on their need of humility, sensitivity, and a special awareness of the awesome responsibility connected with the position that God has allowed them to occupy. The next principle shifts the spotlight from the submitters to the people exercising authority.

  1. New Testament admonitions to submit are balanced by instructions to those being submitted to, urging them to act with tenderness, compassion, and loving care toward those under their authority, seeking always to build them up and affirm their value, and never to exercise authority in a demeaning or self-exalting way (Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-4:1; I Tim. 6:17-19; James 5:1-6; I Pet 3:7-8; 5:1-3)

The most detailed and emphatic teaching of this sort is to husbands, coming after an unambiguous admonition to wives to submit to their husbands (stated twice--Eph. 5:22, 24). Taken out of context, this adminition is often seen as a liability for wives and a license for husbands; it is neither, as the subsequent instructions to husbands make clear:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph. 5:25-28)

As a preacher friend of mine tells couples he counsels, for a husband to be the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church means that, like Christ, the husband is to be first in line for the cross; or as C. S. Lewis refers to it in his marvelous little book, The Four Loves (in the chapter entitled "Eros"), if the husband wears a crown, it is a crown of thorns. Far from authorizing a man to demand and enforce the submission of his wife, Paul instructs the husband to give himself up for his wife as did Christ for the church, even going so far as to cover her faults, if necessary, in order to present her "without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Eph. 5:27). That doesn't sound like a license to be lord and master in any worldly sense of the exercise of power.

In I Peter 3:7 is another balancing command to husbands, following six verses on wifely submission beginning, "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands"; the writer continues, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." The next verse, moreover, is another admonition to mutual submission: "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers [and sisters], be compassionate and humble" (I Pet. 3:8). The rationale here is that the husband is to be especially considerate of his wife because of her societal and physical vulnerability to being abused, and respectful of her because she is a "partner" and is as much an heir of God's kingdom as he is. Describing wives as "the weaker partner" does not imply any kind of inferiority of intelligence or character or ability, for in these areas women often prove to be superior to their husbands, and even to men in general; but rather it refers to physical, emotional, and social vulnerability. It would seem evident that the ease with which women have been mistreated by men throughout history indicates that they are in many ways inherently at a disadvantage in dealing with men, from having less physical strength to their function in the structure of the family, in which their special responsibility for the bearing and nurturing of children creates the need of special support in these activities. In our own society, the large number of single mothers shows the susceptibility of women to being abandoned.  So the obligation of the husband as set forth in this passage is to be especially aware of how his physical, emotional, and social advantage needs to be used for his wife's benefit and support (not for boosting his ego), so that both of them can experience shared and unhindered prayers as fellow-heirs of the Kingdom of God (3:7).

I have concentrated on the counter-balanced divine instructions to wives and husbands both because they are the most detailed of such instructions and because there is so much misunderstanding and controversy surrounding them. But the principle of mutual submission is reinforced in the New Testament teaching regarding other relationships in which power might be (and often is) exercised in an ungodly way. Immediately following the husband-wife passage in Ephesians are two such teachings (which are also set forth in the same pattern in Col. 3:18-4:1):

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise -- "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Eph. 6:1-9)

Even though children are unequivocally instructed to obey their parents, and elsewhere parents are given the charge to require such obedience, there is nevertheless the caution to fathers (as those ultimately responsible for enforcing parental authority) not to "exasperate" their children, but, "instead," to "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Training and instruction are processes that require patience and understanding, and whatever firmness may be required to keep children at the task of learning, they are always to be encouraged and valued in such a way as to engender and build on the hope that they are both capable of learning and worth the trouble of teaching. Any heavy-handed use of authority that would demean them or deprive them of hope (or embitter and discourage them, as in Col. 3:21) is prohibited. In the slave-master relationship, masters are to eschew the impersonal and devaluing treatment ("Do not threaten them") that might be tolerated or even expected in the worldly view of things, but that has no place in the Body of Christ, since slave and master stand as equals before God.

Abuse of the poor by the rich is scorchingly attacked in the book of James (2:5-7; 5:1-5), and, in a more positive way, the rich are encouraged by Paul to act responsibly and generously with the wealth and power that God has given them (I Tim. 6:17-19). Even the duly appointed spiritual leaders of the Body of Christ are not to "lord it over" those in their charge, but are to be examples to the flock (I Pet. 5:2-3).

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

What’s a Body to Do? (Part 1)

(The following is the first part of an article I wrote several years ago that I think goes along with my recent thoughts on preserving and cultivating harmony between Christian brothers and sisters.  The remaining three parts of the article will be posted in succeeding weeks.)

 

“What’s a Body to Do?”

The Example and Teaching of Jesus

Tensions and conflicts within social organizations develop because people have desires and objectives that clash with each other. Because different groups and individuals feel that they have an absolute right to satisfy those desires and pursue those objectives, even at the expense of others, the outcome of such conflicts is usually determined by which group or individual most effectively exercises power over the others. In one vein of worldly wisdom, this enforcement of a hierarchy is the only way to bring order to the society. There is another vein of worldly wisdom, however, that is less cynical, and that, indeed, expresses a kind of egalitarian idealism, based on the humanistic principle that "all men [read 'people'] are created equal" and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" as individuals. This Enlightenment ideal, soaringly and memorably expressed in our country's Declaration of Independence and associated with the throwing off of tyranny, has evolved in our society into a kind of free-standing, self-validating individualism that trumps every other value and concern. Although the principle of individual rights is generally seen as a noble challenge to the raw exercise of arbitrarily established power, its dominance poses a serious challenge to God's way of dealing with relationships between people in the church, the Body of Christ. God makes no apology for speaking of His people as His Kingdom, with an absolute ruler and subjects who are to submit completely to His authority and will. But how are we to deal with this uncompromising terminology for the society of God's people and the biblical principles that are drawn from it in an age where individual freedom and rights are assumed to be unchallengeable ideals? And how are the concepts of servanthood, obedience, and submission which are central to the New Testament church to be implemented without compromising the worth of individuals, which is also a vital part of the Gospel message?

An organism, not an organization

Perhaps close to the core of the problem is that the designation "church" has been attached to Christian societies in such a way as to define them as primarily political entities; it seems rather natural to speak of "Church polity," but it is awkward to speak of "Body polity." There is certainly nothing wrong with the word "church"--it is a biblical term that describes the aggregate of those who belong to Christ—but the word has been appropriated and applied in ways that picture the church primarily as an organization, and not as the organism it truly is, i.e., the Body of Christ. I think it is necessary to emphasize the Church as Body in order to correct the impression that the dynamic of politics that obtains in human social organizations is appropriate and applicable to the Body of Christ. Within Christ’s Body, people relate to one another according to the model of their Master and King, and not according to the wisdom of the world.

Let me set out first what I see to be the implications of New Testament teaching on relationships in the Body of Christ for dealing with the seemingly contradictory principles of hierarchy and submission to authority, on the one hand; and assertions of the equality of all Christians on the other.   In Part 2 of this article, I will make some applications of this teaching to practical difficulties commonly experienced in the Body of Christ, based on the primary principles in the headings below.  I shall begin, though, with the foundation truth upon which all of those applications are built:

Jesus is the model for free and positive submission and obedience.

When the boy Jesus was found in the Temple by his parents after a three-day search, he gently chided them for not knowing that they would find Him there; but afterward, "He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51). Even this early, He established the practice of being in voluntary submission in a circumstance where He had more understanding than those who had temporary authority over Him. I wonder if Jesus didn't find it increasingly incongruent to be under the governance of Mary and Joseph.   Although they had been chosen for their dedication to God, they were subject to human limitations which must have been apparent to Jesus as He grew up.  His obedience in this situation must have been preparation for the profound obedience to His Father in Heaven which, the writer of Hebrews tells us (Heb. 5:7-10), He had to learn through suffering, even though He was the Son of God.

Toward the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus had occasion to demonstrate graphically to His disciples the lesson of achieving greatness through being a servant. Having already remonstrated with them about their competing for superior position in God's Kingdom (see Matt. 20:24-28), He gave an object lesson at the Last Supper to underline His previous statement that "whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve"  (Matt. 20:27-28).  John tells us that

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him!  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:3-5, 12-17)

The contrast between what Jesus was (the almighty Son of God) and what He voluntarily became (a servant to sinful mankind) is strikingly spotlighted in the prelude to the foot washing scene, which states that He was acutely aware "that the Father had put all things under his power." The fleshly mind finds it hard to understand and accept Jesus's lesson here: that voluntary submission to others in servanthood is not an act of weakness, but of strength; not a surrendering of individual worth, but an affirmation of it in a more profound way than any human exercise of power and prerogative could establish.

Jesus's final act of submission came in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He prayed to be delivered from the bitter cup that He was about to drink, but ended with the words, "Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39). As Paul says in Philippians, though Jesus was one with God, He

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death --even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6-11)

Thus, Jesus's voluntary submission to the will of the Father, and His humble and obedient servanthood, led to the fulfillment of God's plans for Him and for mankind: that Jesus Christ be exalted and honored as God's anointed King and the savior of the world. Even at the end of time and the eternal consummation of all things, Jesus will "be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all" (I Cor. 15:28). He is both our model of positive servanthood and obedience, and the One who enables those who follow His example to experience the fulfillment of God's purposes in their lives--to be exalted in God's way, not in the way of the world.

The life of Jesus, then, is the foundation of biblical teaching on submission, and from this foundation flow several other theoretical principles of Body life.

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Irenaeus of Lyons: A Guide for Staying the Course

sveti-irenej.jpg

Early Christian thinkers carved out the contours of the faith—formulating doctrine, countering heresy, navigating differences between Eastern and Western traditions. For this, the church will ever be in their debt, owing much to their courage of conviction, fortitude of character, clarity of mind, and passion for truth. Irenaeus of Lyons, whose feast day is today, is one such figure.

Known as the “first great Catholic theologian,” Irenaeus traced his spiritual lineage directly back to the Apostle John, through Polycarp of Smyrna, under whose tutelage he sat as a child. This heritage uniquely poised Irenaeus for combatting the Gnosticism of his day, in that he could draw from both scripture and apostolic authority to delineate the essentials of the Christian faith. Irenaeus’ seminal work in this vein is Against Heresies, a masterful text consisting of five books that articulate Christianity’s basic doctrines, a proto-Mere Christianity if you will.

Gnosticism, the predominant heresy of the 2nd century church, promoted dualism, a doctrine wherein the material world was created and governed by the demiurge—a lesser creative being whom the Gnostics equated with Yahweh of the Old Testament—and Christ, as a representative from the spirit world governed by the supreme deity, offers human beings secret knowledge (gnosis) that makes possible man’s redemption. Contra Christian teaching, the Gnostics looked less to salvation from sin than to deliverance from the ignorance of which sin is a consequence. Against the Gnostics’ claim of exclusive knowledge about spiritual matters, Irenaeus proclaimed the universal availability of the gospel message; the good news is for all, and this good news runs throughout the whole of God’s special revelation.

In addition to Against Heresies, only one other of Irenaeus’ writings survives: The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, a short work addressed to his friend Marcianus which serves as a primer to and an apologetic for the baptismal confession and Rule of Faith, forerunners to the Apostles’ Creed. The essay also establishes an important link between the Old Testament (OT) and the work of Christ, enumerating the many OT prophecies fulfilled by Christ and offering a holistic interpretation of both the Old and soon-to-be-established New Testament. For Irenaeus, God’s redemptive plan governs the entirety of scripture, a dominant theme in both of his extant works.

As J. Armitage Robinson has noted, “The wonder of Irenaeus is the largeness of his outlook. No theologian had arisen since St. Paul and St. John who had grasped so much of the purpose of God for His world.” In explaining and defending the Apostolic message, Irenaeus traces God’s salvific purpose through scripture—revealing the organic connections between Christianity and its Jewish heritage, the fall of Adam and the resurrection of Jesus, the giving of the Law and the offer of grace, creation and the eschaton, along the way fitting key biblical figures within that story.

For two millennia the creed has been an anchor keeping us moored to the word and the Word.

The aforementioned Rule of Faith, which functioned so centrally in The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, affirms belief “in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race.”

A slightly different version, the Old Roman Creed, reads as follows:

I believe in God the Father almighty; and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord, Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried, on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, whence He will come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh (the life everlasting).

For 2,000 years Christians have joined this refrain, week after week adding their voices, reaffirming its life-giving truths. For two millennia the creed has been an anchor keeping us moored to the word and the Word.

In this world of change and flux, and amidst the vicissitudes, variables, and vagaries of life, so invariant a creed has remained a constant, a stable shore at the edge of a sea’s worth of maelstroms featuring the howling winds and shifting sands of unsound doctrines. Such seems Irenaeus’ motivation for explaining and defending it so many years ago, as he admonishes Marcianus: “Wherefore it is needful for you and for all who care for their own salvation to make your course unswerving, firm and sure by means of faith, that you falter not, nor be retarded and detained in material desires, nor turn aside and wander from the right.”

Perhaps at such a time as this, in the hour in which we find ourselves, when the church feels under siege from multiple directions, various of its classical commitments disparaged and impugned by some, castigated as outdated and archaic by others, Irenaeus serves as a powerful reminder to walk in the way of righteousness, stand on the bedrock of orthodoxy, keeping our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, focusing on what can draw us together as believers rather than on what so easily divides, and, most importantly of all, encouraging fidelity to Christ and faithfulness to His mission amidst the deafening din of a cacophony of voices as we serve the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

 

 

Basil of Caesarea: Faith Enacted

Russian icon of Basil of Caesarea

Russian icon of Basil of Caesarea

“[E]very man is divided against himself who does not make his life conform to his words.” – Basil the Great, Address on Greek Literature

Church history is replete with exemplars of the Christian faith, people whose lives—as much as their words—have provided later generations precepts by which we live and inspiration for doing so. Basil of Caesarea, whose feast day is today, is such a figure. His writings range from dogmatic to exegetical, from homiletical to liturgical, and their significance positioned him as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs of the Eastern Church.

But the beauty of Basil’s life emanates from its marriage of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. By any definition, the man was a saint. Living during the fourth century, a period marked by theological conflicts and growing tensions between the eastern and western branches of Christianity, Basil was committed to truth, unity, and service. As the contemporary church faces its own doctrinal conflicts and political pressures, we would do well to reflect on how a luminary like Basil remained faithful while navigating the treacherous spiritual waters of his day.

Faith is obedient action; obedient action in turn builds faith. Such is the lesson of Basil’s life.

Basil’s father and mother were devout Christians. Both had come from families accustomed to martyrdom, and they ensured that their ten children were grounded in the church throughout their childhood. As he matured, Basil turned toward secular education, leaving his youthful faith behind him. Through his training in Constantinople and later in Athens, Basil became well-versed in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and medicine. So well prepared in the education of the time was he that on returning home to Caesarea Basil was offered charge of the education of the youth there.

But returning home also resurrected for Basil the memories of his religious upbringing and brought him to a turning point in which he surrendered his life to God in service for others. This turning point determined the shape of the rest of his life and made possible the rich legacy he left for the church today.

In explaining his conversion, Basil credited a renewed relationship with the Bishop of Caesarea and the ministry of his sister Macrina who had organized a religious community devoted to serving the poor. Through their examples, Basil learned the dynamic relationship between faith and practice, that each informs the other. This truth was reinforced by the scriptures he read as a means to understand better the heart of the gospel. There he saw that “a great means of reaching perfection was the selling of one's goods, the sharing of them with the poor, the giving up of all care for this life, and the refusal to allow the soul to be turned by any sympathy towards things of earth” (Epistle 223, Against Eustathius of Sebasteia). Faith is obedient action; obedient action in turn builds faith. Such is the lesson of Basil’s life.

As his words testify, the bishop took literally Christ’s directions to the rich young ruler of Mark 10, that eternal, abundant life comes not merely through the law but through abnegation of one’s privilege, absolute submission to God and others: “One thing you lack,” [Jesus] said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And so, following his sister’s lead and inspired by his travels throughout Egypt and Asia Minor, Basil founded a monastery in Cappadocia (modern-day central Turkey) and is known now as the father of eastern monasticism. Basil’s form of monasticism was an engaged one, as there, too, he transformed faith to practice—particularly as he developed in spiritual maturity.

Six years after his conversion, theological controversies and political challenges increased, and Basil took a more active role in the church, becoming ordained and participating in a number of highly public discussions and writing in defense of orthodoxy. He ascended to the bishopric of Caesarea in 370, and in this role, he became even more active resisting Arianism, tirelessly writing against it and rebuking the unorthodox face-to-face (including the Emperor Valens who was reportedly much annoyed with Basil’s indifference to his office and his opinions).

To firm in his convictions was Basil that, despite the many frays he entered, he remained unflappable—calmly, persistently, and confidently defending sound doctrine and, consequently, winning both arguments and people. The Catholic Encyclopedia, drawing on Gregory of Nazanzius’s description, offers him as a model for civil disagreement: “By years of tactful conduct, however, ‘blending his correction with consideration and his gentleness with firmness,’ he finally overcame most of his opponents.” Or, in the parlance of today, for Basil truth need not be sacrificed for love.

It seems that Basil could emerge from these contentious debates with his reputation as a servant unscathed because he did not envision those with whom he disagreed as enemies. Paul Schroeder, in overviewing Basil’s social vision, explains that his anthropology governed all his engagements with others—that we are social creatures who have obligations to one another and that living in proper relation with others is both virtuous and spiritually formative. This theologically robust social vision fully manifested itself in the Basiliad, the creation of which was one of Basil’s most notable achievements. An institution that embodied the Bishop’s philanthropic vision, at the Basiliad the poor and sick were housed and fed, orphans were cared for, and the unskilled were trained.

Reflection on Basil’s life and writings shows that this mission of justice was not at odds with his defense of orthodoxy but part and parcel of it. Truth, rightly understood, leads to love, rightly practiced. Basil reminds us of how deeply consistent and resonant the two in fact are. The matchless Christian life is one that seamlessly marries them.

 

Comment

Marybeth Baggett

Marybeth Davis Baggett lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, and teaches English at Liberty University. Having earned her Ph.D. in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marybeth’s professional interests include literary theory, contemporary American literature, science fiction, and dystopian literature. She also writes and edits for Christ and Pop Culture. Her most recent publication was a chapter called “What Means Utopia to Us? Reconsidering More’s Message,” in Hope and the Longing for Utopia: Futures and Illusions in Theology and the Arts. Marybeth's most recent book is The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God, coauthored with her husband, David.