Monday, 13 March 2006

Miroslav Volf

At Metalepsis, Bryan Lee is offering 40 days of Lenten reflections on Miroslav Volf’s new book, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. And Chris Tilling points out a great podcast conversation with Volf. I’m embarrassed to say that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Volf’s new book, but hopefully I’ll get to it soon!


Anonymous said...

It's a good book. There are also some reflections posted on this site which are more devotional in nature:

Neil said...

Thanks for the post and your blog, from which I have learned much. I've been reading the book as well. Here is an longer excerpt from the first chapter that you might enjoy (please forgive me if I am breaking comments box etiquette):

One of the more profound statements ever made by a Christian theologian is the final thesis of Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, written in 1518, barely six months after he had nailed his epoch-making Ninety-five Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. The Ninety-five Theses were a call to arms against church abuses. The final thesis of the Heidelberg Disputation summed up the "ideology" that generated the call. Luther formulated it as a contrast between two kinds of love, human and divine: "The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it."

Consider, first, what Luther calls human love, but which is better described as distorted love. It's elicited by the object of love; it's basically passive in the sense that it depends on the object of love. Its only activity, says Luther, consists in "receiving something" (57). A person sees beauty - or goodness or truth - and wants to have it. As a consequence, people who love in this way seek their "own good" in those they love; they don't bestow any good on them. A man may shower a woman with gifts, but he may be doing it so that he can ingratiate himself to her, enjoy her, keep her, or even worse, so that he can display her as a trophy. When we love in this way, we are receivers, not givers.

Contrast this kind of possessive love with divine love. First, divine love never had to come into being at all; it wasn't elicited by its object. It simply is. It doesn't depend on the truth, beauty, or goodness of the beloved. Second, as Luther stated, because God's love isn't caused by its object, it can love those who are not lovable, "sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong." Luther concluded, "rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good." Such divine love is supremely manifested on the cross on which Jesus Christ took the sin of the world upon himself. "This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person" (57). Unlike merely human love, divine love gives and doesn't receive.

Some theologians claim that all God's desires culminate in a single desire: to assert and to maintain God's own glory. On its own, the idea of a glory-seeking God seems to say that God, far from being only a giver, is the ultimate receiver. As the great twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth disapprovingly put it, such a God would be "in holy self-seeking ... preoccupied with Himself." In creating and redeeming, such a God would give, but only in order to get glory; the whole creation would be a means to this end. In Luther's terms, here we would have a God demonstrating human rather than divine love.

But we don't have to give up on the idea that God seeks God's own glory. We just need to say that God's glory, which is God's very being, is God's love, the creative love that wants to confer good upon the beloved. Now the problem of a self-seeking God has disappeared, and the divinity of God's love is vindicated. In seeking God's own glory, God merely insists on being toward human beings the God who gives. This is exactly how Luther thought about God. So should we.

MM said...

Awesome plug! I am currently in Volf's seminar on Grace at YDS, where we are going through all of his recent work... this forum will be a fun place to re-hash some section discussions. Volf is an amazing follower of Christ, with the language and imagination to go along with it. Thanks-

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for this excerpt, Neil. This is beautiful stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I have been considering exploring Volf of late anyway.


Jim Bonewald said...

It's a good book. There are also some reflections posted on this site which are more devotional in nature:

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