A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Law-Freedom-Spirit-Flesh: A Preliminary Summary

The thing that has primarily occupied my thoughts for the last several months has been a theology of freedom, law, Spirit, and flesh. Forgive me for including so much biographical information. If you would like, you can simply skip down to the end and get to the theological/biblical portion of this post; but for me, my theology and my walk of faith have come together in a way that makes it difficult to separate the two; theology has been both theoretical and biographical.

Within the last year, several events and conversations have kind of converged on me to make me rethink the essence of my theology of sanctification and my own personal spiritual walk. I was raised by parents whose profession was always ministry in conservative communities of faith, and I have always taken my faith very seriously, even from a very young age. And yet, it is no exaggeration for me to say that I have subjected the entirety of my thinking on Christianity, spirituality, and faith to a complete rethinking.

Law and Religion
A major factor that has spurred me on to rethink my approach to faith is my own experiences within a community of faith. I believe that many of the people that I have rubbed shoulders with in the church have been sincere and good people, but for me, remaining in the institutionalized church became unbearable. It was something that I think gradually built up within me over the course of a few years, and it culminated in me stepping away from the religious scene last fall.

Personally, I felt like I had gradually grown very complacent, even though I was doing everything "right," at least by the standards of my church: going to church every Sunday, helping to lead a ministry in the church, active in the life of the church, taking classes in seminary, and generally having a desire to make a difference in the world and advance the kingdom of God.

So, why the complacency in my life? Well, a complete answer to that question may not be possible in this life, but my complacency and general state of spiritual depression was one of the motivations for me to rethink many of my presumptions about the Christian life and my theology of sanctification.

This brings me to my next point: rethinking theology.

Galatians 5: Paul's Theology of Freedom
Paul's theology in Galatians 5 is foreshadowed in various ways in what he writes prior to specifically addressing a theology of freedom. Paul is dealing with a church that is moving (or has moved) itself back under law. One of the primary ways in which they have done this is through an emphasis on the importance of circumcision. Paul seems baffled that they would prefer a lifestyle of law, especially after tasting freedom: "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (3:3)

I think it is important to note that in chapter two, Paul says that he has died, and Christ now lives in him. So, the issue of freedom, then, cannot be reduced to a I'm-in-it-for-me approach to life that puts one's self at the center. What freedom is not is a self-absorbed and self-centered lifestyle that takes no account for one's actions.

In 5:1 Paul makes the profound announcement that Christ has set us free for freedom. Law brings us under bondage and slavery (chap. 4), but Christ set us free for freedom. The contrast is important: Law and Freedom are set against one another; they are opposed to one another. The direction of the believer's life should be away from law/bondage/slavery and into freedom.

I find it interesting that Paul is both redundant as well as redundant: we have been set free for freedom. This repetition seems to me to make the point that being set free means that one must then cultivate a life of freedom. If a slave is set free, he may be free in principal but having a free mindset is another thing. Conversely, a slave might be free in their mind/perspective but a slave in the reality. The Galatians declared themselves free and then lived in slavery to law.

Moving along in chapter five, Paul clearly states that living by the Spirit results in not "gratifying" the desires of the flesh (5:16). There is a certain conflict involved between the Spirit and the flesh; this struggle is so great that there is a sense in which we have no control (v. 17). Being out of control does not eliminate choice or responsibility, because there is still an exhortation to "live by the Spirit" (v. 16), but Paul does highlight the fact that the spiritual life is not a matter of formulaic repetition or even good intentions. There is something chaotic and unpredictable that lies beneath, and it appears as though this chaos must be worked out in each individual life. (And, I would also add, this working out is best within the context of a community of freedom and openness where free individuals can challenge each other and point out blind spots.)

In verse 18, Paul drops the bomb: If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.

Paul is urging his readers not to use the measuring stick of law. After all, if one is led by the Spirit, why re-introduce a new standard? The life of being led by the Spirit is contrasted with a life lived by the law. This is a bomb of nuclear proportions because it undermines the work of the religious institutions. Religious institutions invariably work to establish and maintain the importance and primacy of law: sexual norms, societal/cultural laws, spiritual laws, moral laws, and laws/norms of all kinds. Institutions are formed around core values, and these values (almost without exception) uphold law. Paul here suggests that being led by the Spirit takes the believer beyond law.

So, in summary, I see Paul comparing and contrasting these four ideas as follows: The life of the Spirit is one of freedom that moves away from a life of living under the law according to the flesh. Spirit is tied to freedom, and law is tied to flesh. These seem to be two very distinct ways of living life; two economies or states of mind. It is by the Spirit that the believer moves into true freedom, which necessarily moves the believer out of a life and a mindset dominated by a struggle between the law and the flesh.

Psychology of Law
My good friend John Doyle (aka Ktismatics) has a very intriguing post in which he ties together Paul's theology with the psychological/philosophical musings of Jacques Lacan. John notes the Lacanian perspective that, "When there is no lack — when everything demanded is surrendered — desire is stymied. Nothing is left to be desired. Desire springs from lack…Satisfaction buries desire." [Freedom from Desire] John then ties this to Romans chapter 7 and finds a remarkable parallel between the two viewpoints. Paul says in Romans 7, "I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COVET.' But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment,
produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead."

Where is the parallel between Pauline theology and Lacanian psychology? In this: prohibiting something creates a lack of that thing, and this lack generates desire. Says John,

The Greek word translated as “covet” here is the same word that’s translated as “desire” in Galatians 5. I would not have known about desiring if the Law had not said, “you shall not desire.” This I think is precisely what Lacan has in mind. When there is no gap between demand and surrender, when nothing prohibits fulfillment, then there is no desire. Desire is created by the Law, by the prohibition it inserts between you and what you want.

So, on this Pauline-Lacanian theory, law will necessarily stimulate desire; the two are connected, and the struggle between them will always exist. For Paul, though, the life of the believer is to go beyond this law-desire death trap; Paul wants us to leave law and desire behind and usher in freedom through a walk with the Spirit.

John sums up this Paul-Lacan reflection by saying, "The Law-bound person can never do what he wants, not just because what he wants is prohibited, but because his wants are themselves distorted by the prohibitions attached to them by the Law. Under the Law want is inextricably bound to the desire to sin. There is no freedom in this kind of desire. But the Spirit releases want from prohibition, fulfillment from violation. Only in the Spirit are you free to 'do the things that you please.'”

Contemporary Religious Life
I see Paul presenting the believer with a real choice: either Spirit/freedom or law/flesh. If this interpretation is correct, then the implications are radical, because historically (and from my experiences), most Protestant visions of the Christian life retain the law as central to the life of the believer: they want the Spirit to fulfill the law, they do not want to go above and beyond law. But if the above interpretation of Paul is correct, then Paul is suggesting that one cannot have it both ways: either live by the Spirit in freedom, or forever allow one's self to be enmeshed in the struggle between the flesh and the law.

Most Protestants preach freedom, but retain law. To me, this is a confused approach. it is like a slave who is set free from his master, but still remains a slave in his mind and never has the perspective of a free man. Paul seems to suggest that we are free and not only should we be free in theory but free in fact. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Is there a law-desire struggle that is part of the structure of our world? If there is, then it would appear as though those of us who uphold the highest moral standards would be perhaps undermining the very morals we seek to protect. Perhaps the higher one's standard of law, the greater one's desire increases. There is clearly a culture war in the United States that has been going on from the inception of our nation. There are many who see themselves as defenders of truth and morality, and they form communities of faith to hold themselves to the rigorous standards of law. Despite what good intentions they may have, is it possible that relying so heavily on law actually puts individuals in a no-win situation?

For me, questions remain: Is it at all possible to avoid law? And what does it mean to "walk with the Spirit" and live in freedom? But despite these remaining queries, I think Paul is presenting us with a radical freedom and an intriguing reflection of our humanness. These are my preliminary thoughts.

104 comments:

tamie said...

I found you! Yay! Hey...I was wondering if I could send you a book. It's about theology and theopraxis and lots of other relevant things...if you give me permission to send you the book, let me know where to send it.

As to this post...I'd love for you to describe some concrete examples, examples of where you can imagine that life might look quite different if lived from a posture of genuine and radical freedom, rather than from a posture that is trying to be subservient to some form of law.

One of my favorite teachers says that the way of God/love is not reducible to the moral order. It's not really opposed to the moral order, but it's not reducible to it.

I've been reading a book written by a conservative Christian (something I haven't done in a long time) about sexuality and I've really been struck by how she's really prescribing another law-bound approach. It's a more sophisticated kind of legalism, perhaps, but it's definitely legalism. You know, I think that legalism is so profoundly tempting for people who want to be good--and who are deathly afraid that they *aren't* good, and so they believe that they have to bind themselves up in all these rules, so that they can force themselves to be good.

You could do all kinds of interesting things, psychologically, with this mindset in people. Why are people so afraid that they won't be good? (I think that theology is largely to blame here--the doctrine of original sin, which tells us that we are, at core, deprave. What if we're not? What if our truest true desires are for intimacy, love, wholeness, etc.?)

Well, that's enough from me for now. Looking forward to hearing back from you.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hi Tamie!

Glad you found me!

You speculated on how radical and genuine freedom might look in concrete examples. This is interesting to me because there is a sense in which one's life might look no different, at least from the outside. So, for example, two people might give the same amount of money to the same charitable cause; one does so from a sense of obligation and duty (Kantian deontology!), while the other does so out of a sense of love. As I understand Kant, these actions have the same merit and there's no use speculating as to who gave out of "love" or "freedom;" Kant isn't interested in the psychology or the spirit of the person giving.

So, two people doing the same thing: one out of duty, one out of love. I can appreciate Kant's focus on the action, but for me, the psyche and spirit of an individual is important. I'm not necessarily saying that one person is "better" than the other, but simply that living life based on obligation to impersonal moral laws seems to lack an important relational element. One is living up to abstract standards rather than acting out of love, which has a relational element.

Now, opening up the relational element does not ipso facto mean we are living in freedom, nor does it eliminate law/obligation. I think that the vast majority of relationships are based on laws and obligations that we impose on each other. Husband will love wife if she does these things and not those things. Wife will love husband if he does certain things and not others. The Pastor loves nconditionally, until a member of the flock gets out of line! The corporation cares deeply about the personal lives of their employees, but if an employee's personal life cuts their productivity, then it may be time to terminate the relationship. The corporate example sounds harsh, but it strikes me as a more explicit example of what we do to each other implicitely all the time.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. - 1 Corinthians 13

Everyone has a record book. If it is not explicitely stated, then it is stored deep in the psyche/soul.

So, maybe it is at this point freedom comes in to play. Freedom and love go hand in hand. Those who love unconditionally (if such a thing is possible) are free, and those who are free can love unconditionally (again, if such a thing is possible). If unconditional love is possible, then I'm guessing one must somehow rise above the complex obligations and laws we impose on each other and truly be prepared to "lay down their lives for their brothers."

If such love is possible in our lives, we probably only experience brief moments of unconditional love. Or maybe we only approach unconditional love.

Tamie, I fear I've become even less concrete and even more abstract!

But I can't help but thing that the psyche/soul of a person makes a difference. For example, in relationships (marriage, friendship, etc.) we crave love that does not come from obligation. When a husband looks deep into his wife's eyes, he usually doesn't say, "I love you because I promised I would." Somehow that feels hollow. Certain cases of the love of a mother for her child seems to be the closest thing to unconditional love that I can think of.

Okay, I think this is my point: Unconditional love seems to say that there is no law/obligation that one must live up to in order to earn love. The moment we receive love, we are set free by a person. The moment we give unconditional love, we set others free.

Jonathan Erdman said...

One of my most treasured cinematic experiences comes from the 1998 screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.

The movie opens with Valjean, the former convict, seeking a place to stay for the night. Bishop Myriel takes him in, but Valjean steals from the Bishop. Valjean is caught and is taken back to Bishop Myriel to return the goods; but to Valjean's shock, the Bishop tells them that the goods were given to Valjean, not stolen. In addition, the Bishop gives Valjean silver as well. Valjean is dumbstruck and the Bishop says to him:

Jean Valjean, my brother,
you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I've bought your soul. I've ransomed you from fear and hatred. Now I give you back to God.


Valjean is set free with an act of love. He lives his life in freedom....Javert, on the other hand......

tamie said...

By the way, I was by no means humoring you the other night at Mad Anthony's. It was a great time all around.

tamie said...

Love. Call it cliche if you must, but it really is entirely about love. That's what Jesus was trying to tell us, I really do believe. But we read Jesus with a Pharisaic hermeneutic, and so we mostly miss the point. But I think that Jesus was simply trying to tell us: You are all God's children, equally loved no matter what. There is absolutely nothing you have to do to get loved (not even accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior); there is nothing you can do to get un-loved (not even if you are a lifelong Buddhist, or a raving lunatic axe murderer). You are loved, loved, loved. The end. There's no caveat, no footnote, no postscript. God loves you utterly, without conditions.

If we really knew that, we would be free. If we really knew that, we'd be transformed.

Now, as for whether it's possible for *us* to love another person unconditionally. Well, call me crazy, but I think it's possible. I've met people who I actually believe do love others unconditionally. I've read about people who have reached that place spiritually (Nelson Mandela; the Dalai Lama; Adyashanti). Not that they love everyone that way all the time, but that they are genuinely able to forgive and love people who have caused them tremendous pain.

So yeah, I think it's possible. I think it's what the parable of the prodigal son is all about. But you don't achieve unconditional love by following rules, or demanding that others follow rules. Nope. It's a whole different thing.

By the way, I agree with you and disagree with Kant. I'm tired, so I won't explain all the reasons. And I don't think that we should wait to do good until we're in the right mood. But nevertheless, I agree with you that "good" done from a guilty conscience (which is so often what "duty" amounts to) is just so damn qualitatively different from good done from a joyful and generous place.

Okay. It's late here and I want to write on my blog, and then do some work.

You're a good man, Charlie Brown. Keep on talking.

ktismatics said...

I disagree! Just kidding.

There's a tendency to connect freedom with license; i.e., if it feels good do it. But is it really the prohibitions that keep people from killing, stealing, screwing, lying, etc.? Is that what we all REALLY feel like doing? On some level it'd be interesting to get free enough to see if that's really true.

I like in particular the way you connect freedom and love here. In a sense you could say that the contemporary American ethos already values individual freedom above all: the entrepreneurial spirit, find your passion, etc. But on some level that's the law, or at least the expectation, of our individualistic culture. It keeps people striving and competing instead of cooperating, earning and buying instead of doing something worthwhile together.

"Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good works," says the writer of Hebrews (10:24). "Stimulate" -- in Greek this is "paroxysmos." Here's how my Webster's dictionary defines "paroxysm": (1) a fit, attack, or sudden recurrence of symptoms: convusion. (2) a sudden violent emotion or action: outburst. This sounds like the sort of impulsive urge the law is designed to repress, doesn't it?

Then there's the phrase "good works." We're used to thinking of this in terms of justification -- saved by faith not by works, etc. But in practical terms "works" are what we do 40+ hours a week. If we worked not out of duty or desire to make a buck or a name for ourselves, but out of paroxysms of love, what sorts of jobs would we do? What would happen to the economy?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

I wonder the same thing: Is it really the prohibition that keeps us from being bad? It seems as though this is how we are trained to function; most of us do and don't do because of expectations/obligations/prohibitions/law/etc. This seems to be the way our world operates.

From a Lacanian perspective, if we remove law, do we then eliminate desire? Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Lacan hold that we can never eliminate desire?

Another question: Is it desirable to eliminate desire? Speaking of the elimination of desire reminds me of various Eastern religions/psychologies as well as the ascetic Christian movements where one retreats from the world of desire in order to eliminate desire.

As you (Ktismatics) have pointed out, it does not seem as though Paul says that desire is inherently sinful or wrong. Rather, it is the "desires of the flesh (sarx)" that are sinful. For Paul, these are "obvious" (5:19-21): "porneia, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."

So, the "flesh" primarily seems to be desire that so dominates the person that the result is some sort of exclusion, expulsion, or abuse of the other; that, or an abuse of one's self. The point of freedom, then, is not to be free from desire in an absolute sense (Eastern thought or Christian asceticism), but freedom from desire that dominates and/or is linked with law/obligation.

Melody said...

Sure, Paul is adament about us not being under the law. That's pretty much the point. But I don't see too many Christians freakin' out about keeping Passover or avoiding poly-cotton blends. So as far as pinning our hopes on keeping up with the OT law, I think most of us are in the clear.

Not what you're talking about, is it?

There are Christians who don't keep the law, but still think that what we do affects our salvation in much the same way as under the law. Two good friends of mine were haunted by this growing up and eventually left the church entirely because they couldn't keep up. With a very few word changes Galatians could have been written to their churches.

But this still isn't what you're talking about. I mean, you'd have a problem with it...but it's not what you're talking about.

But what you are talking about is what I would wager both of us grew up with, which would be the belief that we didn't do anything to earn salvation and can't do anything to lose it, but if you are really walking with God you will x,y, & z and you certain will not a, b, or c.

Which is not exactly the same type of thing. Is it? I mean, Paul has his own little list towards the end of chapter 5,

"Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God"

Emphasis mine. So, Jon? What is this verse doing at the end of Paul's rant about freedom? It's a whole bunch of things we're not supposed to do - and he leaves room to tack on more. Paul even says that people who practice these things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

I can beat sorcery or carousing...but outbursts of anger and jealousy are more than enough to keep me out of an inheritance.

Now, mostly I think that this is Paul saying that there is no way that we are every going to be Spirit led to verbally destroy someone or to obsess over what they have that we don't - God doesn't roll that way - but I need to know how this is any different than the church saying that God doesn't lead people to murder, lie, steal, sleep around, get drunk - the list, as you know, goes on.

What is the difference? How is this less free than what Paul is talking about - because this "bomb" you're talking about is awfully anti-climatic. I mean, maybe not for the Galatians, but for anyone who goes to an evangelical church...it sounds the same, to me.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

You make some very very useful distinctions in your comment about what I am and am not saying.

The specific question you raise is whether or not Paul is really talking about a radical freedom, or whether he does something of a bait-and-switch move: It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set you free.....oh, and by the way, you can't do this, that, or the other....

Given the way Paul writes in Galatians 5, I can see how someone could easily interpret Paul as doing a bait-and-switch: here is your freedom, and here are your rules (effectively ending the freedom before it is really lived). On the bait-and-switch interpretation of Galatians 5, we qualify freedom by saying something like "freedom with limits." This is a term I heard in church recently, actually; and this is the mindset of most American conservatives/Evangelicals.

I think it makes more sense not to read the law back in to freedom, but to read Paul's list in light of what he just said about freedom/law/flesh/Spirit. I don't think Paul is setting down prescriptive rules as much as he is being descriptive about what a life of Spirit/freedom looks like and what a life of being bound to law/flesh looks like. I think Paul is describing how these different ways of thinking/living play out in real life.

So, for example, most of the things Paul lists I would not say are "wrong" in an absolute sense. Is it wrong to get angry? Well, that's not Paul's point. He is simply saying that if a person chooses to live in a constant battle between the flesh and the law, then the flesh wins; if the flesh wins, then fits of anger might be one way that the flesh would manifest itself.

In this sense, Paul sounds very psychological. He is talking about our perspectives and our mindsets and how this affects the lives we live. The point is no longer about living up to a law: DO NOT BE GIVEN OVER TO FITS OF ANGER. That's the wrong mindset; the point is to be free from bondage to a law/obligation/prohibition and to be united with the Spirit as an end in itself.

When we go over to Romans, we find Paul using similar thoughts to talk about being dead to sin. Deadness to sin seems to be tied in with the fact that we leave behind the law-flesh struggle and simply live in the knowledge of God's grace: there is no condemnation, so sin is no longer something to worry about. What we have tended to do in our American conservative/evangelical circles is to continue to emphasize sin (don't do that!) to the point that we brought ourselves back under law (bait-and-switch); we give grace and then we take it back. "If you really (I mean REALLY) understood grace, you wouldn't be doing all those bad things!" That's the wrong perspective. It's not about what we do or do not do; the first priority is to live in the freedom and union with the Spirit.

ktismatics said...

Regarding Lacan on desire... There are natural urges, instincts, passions, etc. that abate once they're satisfied. But desire stems from lack, from the frustration of failing to getting these passions,instincts, etc. fulfilled. Here's a familiar illustration from Bruce Fink's book on Lacan:

Consider, for example, a male who repeatedly gets "hung up" on women who refuse his advances, manifest disinterest in him, or dump him. He meets a woman at a party, is vaguely attracted to her, and asks her out a couple of times. He remains somewhat indifferent to her until the day she says she does not want to see him anymore. Suddenly he comes alive: he desires her passionately, and pursues her doggedly. She becomes the focus of all his attention, all his love, all his desire. She is it, his one and only. And the more she refuses him and remains disinterested, the more his desire blossoms.

Prior to her refusal, his desire is half asleep, barely in play. Refusal by a woman is not so much the ardently sought object of his desire as what arouses his desire, bringing it to life. It is the cause of his desire. Though his desire is slumbering at the outset, he becomes intrigued, indeed captivated, by the refusal. What demonstrates that she (the real, live, flesh-and-blood woman) is not what captivates him is the fact that the moment she succumbs to his never-ending endeavors to win her back, "she's history" -- he has no further use for her.


In this example the woman represents the law. It's not herself but her prohibition that inflames his desire. When he "breaks the law" -- gets her to succumb to his advances -- his desire isn't satisfied; it's frustrated. His desire shifts to some other woman who lays down the law. He doesn't need to renounce his heterosexuality; he needs to get over his hangup on prohibition and violation. He doesn't need to break the law; he needs to die to the law, to the perverse attraction it holds for him.

Regarding the don't-do list in Gal. 5:19-21. Jonathan referred to these as the "desires" of the flesh; Melody's is better with the "deeds" of the flesh. This is the same word Paul uses for "works." So immorality, sensuality, etc. aren't the spontaneous outgrowth of natural passions. They're work: they demand effort to push against resistance and frustration, they require energy to keep them fueled. Die to the Law and these sorts of perverse works die too.

paul maurice martin said...

I'm forgetting who said it, but I think "Love and do what you will" is the spirit and the goal for us. And that Jesus exemplifies this, and how one's own will is then aligned with God's.

Of course you have to understand what love is...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

Good correction on "works of the flesh." I think that in my mind I was applying the words of 5:16 to vv. 19-21. In 5:16 Paul says "Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." So, I would agree with you in your above analysis about "works" of the flesh, but obviously Paul also believes there are "desires" of the flesh. What are your thoughts? Is Paul here (5:16) referring to desire in general, or to a specific kind of desire? Perhaps the kind of desire aroused by prohibition?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hello Paul,

I had a look at your website and biography; very inspiring.

I'm glad you stopped by.

ktismatics said...

"Paul also believes there are "desires" of the flesh. What are your thoughts? Is Paul here (5:16) referring to desire in general, or to a specific kind of desire? Perhaps the kind of desire aroused by prohibition?"

Lacan makes a distinction between natural instincts and attractions on the one hand, and desires on the other. Desires are what happens when instincts are "aroused by prohibition," as you say. Natural urges and attractions get distracted from seeking their fulfillment and instead obsess on the prohibition itself. It's this distraction, induced by the law, that distorts the natural drives, which can be fulfilled, into desires that can never be fulfilled.

Bact to Fink's example. You might be attracted to women as sources of satisfaction for sex, companionship, conversation, mutual support. These are natural drives that can be satisfied by establishing a real relationship with a real woman. If you're attracted to someone and she doesn't return your affections, blocks the completion of the circuit if you will, then you move on and try again with somebody else. But if you get captivated by the rejection, the refusal, the short circuit, then the object of your affection shifts from the woman herself to her function as the source of prohibition, of your lack of fulfillment. That she's placed herself behind this barrier of prohibition must mean that she is the one after all -- the one who will complete the circuit, who will complete you. But it's not her that creates this obsessive desire; it's the prohibition, the barrier between you and her, that becomes the real attraction.

If you manage to break through the barrier and complete your seduction, you discover that the woman isn't so special after all. She hasn't changed; she really could fulfill your natural drives toward sex, companionship, etc. But your drives have been distorted into desires. It was the prohibition that made her the special object of your desire. Once the prohibition is gone, so is the desire. And so you try to find another woman who rejects you, who is protected behind the magic barrier of prohibition, who attracts your desire as the forbidden fruit. And of course this kind of desire can never be fulfilled; it becomes a self-perpetuating addiction, an addiction to your own lack and to the ever-vanishing object always promises but fails to complete your lack. You work hard at fulfilling these unachievable desires, but your work bears no fruit that can satisfy your appetite.

This last bit gets at another part of the perversion of desire. If she's prohibited to you, that means she's being held in reserve for somebody more special than you. She's pledged to the only one who can get behind the barrier of the Law: that's the Big Other = God. So part of the attraction of the forbidden fruit is to become like God, who made the barrier of prohibition and who can go behind it and pluck the fruit if he wants to. Just like the Serpent said...

ktismatics said...

There's the complement to this dynamic: instead of desiring to pluck the always-unattainable object of desire, you might want to BE that object of unattainable desire. You place yourself behind the prohibition, knowing that the other's desire is attracted by the prohibition itself and will disappear if that prohibition is ever relaxed and you make yourself attainable. Your instincts for sex, affection, etc. get distorted by desiring to be the object of the other's desire. You seek to become the forbidden fruit that's so attractive to the eye and that promises to be so delicious but that's always tantalizingly out of reach.

samlcarr said...

Frankly, I find that I am in a state of confusion.

I am sure that Paul is following Jesus own teaching quite consciously. Jesus way was to differentiate between those who should know better and those who had not had that level of opportunity yet. For the former Jesus directly and quite definitely challenged them to a fight. For the latter, he had only an endless invitation to extend.

Those who use the law to control others get the stick, those who are being controlled by this misuse of the law get the offer of freedom, of sonship.

Paul alternately pleads and threatens. When he is pleading, he is in the invitation mode and when he threatens he is in the 'where's my stick' mode. In Galatians Paul is certainly incensed that the controller-controlling is creeping back in. For Paul, as for Jesus, this is the ultimate insult, it is taking on oneself God's authority, it is idolatry.

Another thought on the 'list of sins' that Paul not too infrequently utilises is that I think he is pointing out rather slyly that those who tend to talk the loudest about 'purity' and 'obedience' are almost always the worst of offenders themselves. Certainly we see this in Rom 2:1f. As with his other teaching I see here a clear echo of Jesus' "you will know a tree by its fruit".

Freedom, then is itself a result of some other process. Somehow, being 'in Christ' is what produces freedom. But, it would be ultimately contradictory if this 'being in' was itself a helplessness, or the result of denial.

I know this is abstract, but there's something that I'm not quite getting here and I don't know exactly what that is.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

So, if this Lacanian perspective is similar to Paul's point of view, then perhaps we understand the "desires of the flesh" (5:16) to be desire for those things that are prohibited, not necessarily "natural instincts."

Having a sex drive is one thing; having a sex drive that is frustrated because it cannot have what it wants takes the sex drive to another level of consuming and self-absorbed lust.

What about anger? Anger was mentioned by Melody earlier. Is there a sense in which one's anger is frustrated by prohibition and inflamed all the more?

And what about love? Is there a need for love that is a natural instinct? Is there a point at which love becomes a "desire" in the consuming, desires-of-the-flesh way?

The tree in the Garden was prohibited; however (1) the fruit was pleasing to the eye (2) the fruit was good for food and (3) the fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom. All good things, but the prohibition made it even more appealing. They knew that the penalty was death; the serpent said that they could escape the penalty. The allure was so great that they took the risk: better to die than to not know what lay behind the prohibition.

ktismatics said...

"Is there a sense in which one's anger is frustrated by prohibition and inflamed all the more?"

Anger at frustration, at being blocked from what you want, seems pretty natural. I suppose the distortion comes when you get some sort of pleasure from this angry frustration. Fight Club is kind of like that, pleasure in getting beat up, don't you think? It's arguably the case that the feeling of guilt is like this too: you crave the attention of Dad or God even if it's negative attention, so you break the law in order to receive this guilty pain-pleasure. You could also make the case that the feeling of guilt is frustrated anger at the Lawgiver turned inward on the self, which means you're sort of taking on the role of the Lawgiver-as-punisher, even though you're only punishing yourself. It's a split-self thing, if that makes sense.

ktismatics said...

I have anger issues myself, so I suspect I derive some pleasure from getting pissed off that I don't acknowledge. Surely some of it has to do with refusing to confront some truth about myself, and anger is a good distraction. And there's probably also some perverse pleasure to be had from causing others psychological pain. But anger at frustration, such that I'd seek out frustrating experiences just so I could get angry? It might be an opportunity to express my sense of outrage and injustice at being thwarted.

The Law plays a big role in Lacan: it includes all the socially-acceptable norms, expectations, ideals, ways of seeing the world, etc. Language, the way we categorize the world and our experiences in words, is Law-bound, understandable to others. But there are things in our experience, in ourselves, that aren't acceptable to others, even to ourselves. When this secret part of ourselves runs into the prohibitions of society, we can't "speak our minds" and expect to be heard, understood, accepted. Anger is a way for this part of ourselves to express itself, to show the part of ourselves that the Law would deny, to demonstrate our resistance and resentment of having to deny some part of our own reality even if we can't say it clearly in words. Little kids do this all the time, and I don't thing I've ever outgrown it.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Wow. It is really helpful to think about anger in terms of law. As you say, we must speak of law in very general terms, but nonetheless, when we view law as all forms of obligations/prohibitions/expectations/etc. then anger in many cases seems to be the result of having the law block our desires or it may simply be failing to meet the law. As you say, we can despise ourselves for failing to live up to our own expectations and laws.

Kind of makes a person long to be free. I must admit, I honestly don't think I know a lot about freedom beyond the theoretical discussion.

tamie said...

Well, maybe you should try experimenting with freedom. You *are* free, after all (just like your thing about the slave being freed...the slave *is* freed; it's just a matter of the slave living into that freedom).

Maybe you should set aside some day, maybe a Saturday when you have nothing else to do, and you should say to yourself: today I am completely free. I can do absolutely anything I want. And see what happens.

Just an idea. Because I think that we can have the discussion ad nauseum, and it threatens to become just another interesting intellectual game, rather than an embodied reality extending from the love and radical grace of God.

samlcarr said...

My most fundamental doubt on freedom is whether it is at all possible in relationships. Tamie's idea is good, but leaves this aspect tantalisingly dangling.

The ultimate test is of course the relationship with God. Does god make us more free? If so how... if not why not?

tamie said...

samlcarr: why do you doubt that freedom is possible in relationships? i mean, what, particularly, makes you feel like it might not be possible? (i myself believe that it is utterly possible, though i suppose that we might need some definitions here.)

as for god, what makes you doubt that relationship with god would not be free? (i'm hardly surprised that someone would think that relationship with god wouldn't involve freedom, since most models we've all heard are pretty much the opposite of freedom...but i think that our models are all wrong.)

Melody said...

Jon,
I agree that Paul is being descriptive - that makes complete and total sense.

I don't know that I at all agree about what he's describing though.

You suggest that Paul is "being descriptive about what a life of Spirit/freedom looks like and what a life of being bound to law/flesh looks like...Paul is describing how these different ways of thinking/living play out in real life."

I don't understand how you're dividing this up - it's as if you think that somehow when we leave the law behind we leave behind all the desires of the flesh, but Paul prefaces his lists with,

"For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law"

So we have these things that happen when we give in to the flesh, that's list A, right? And so, no it's not perscriptive where we have to be careful to not do these things or else our grace or justification or what-have-you gets cut off, but on the other hand these are things that would indicate something is wrong, yes?

And while being loving & joyful is not going to increase God's grace or favor towards us...these would be things to aim for, yes?

You also suggest that "He is simply saying that if a person chooses to live in a constant battle between the flesh and the law, then the flesh wins; if the flesh wins, then fits of anger might be one way that the flesh would manifest itself."

So,are you're saying that if a person was trying to obey the law and failed (inevitably) that would produce a fit of anger? Or are you saying that they would fail by having a fit of anger?

And in either case, do you suggest that we would magically leave behind all thoughts of contention, jealousy, envy, drunkeness, or what-have-you if we just stopped thinking about whether our actions were good or bad?

Or is this just a if-you-follow-God-everthing-else-will-fall-into-place kind of deal?

And what about the fact that earlier in the book Paul talks about cursing people who tell a different gospel or about getting up in Peter's face over hypocrisy?

That doesn't really suggest freedom from obligation.

Anyhow, those are my questions. I think I have some more, but it's too late to coherantly phrase them.

ponnvandu said...

Tamie, sorry, but I was thinking those questions from a context that started on Dr. John Doyle's Ktismatics? blog. Here is a sample link from there, and then there are the various lively discussions that have contributed to revolutions in my case and apparently with Jon too.

If my 'self' is defined in and by relationships then I do need to figure out what freedom actually means in these contexts. There is always something like an 'impingement syndrome' that kicks in in relationships.

Beyond the obvious (for me), my being itself is at least partially dependant, but does this mean that I am also less free?

If I become completely surrendered to God, then in what sense am I free. Paul seems to argue that true freedom requires complete surrender, in what way can this be true and wha are the practical implications?

samlcarr said...

Oops, I was signed in with wordpress. that last is still 'samlcarr'

ktismatics said...

"For the flesh lusts (or turns its desire) against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law"

Here's how I'd propose reading these verses in context. "The flesh" is the perversion of natural human wants as they bump up against law. In this sense the flesh and the law are bound to one another, each provoking the other. The spirit is some kind of spontaneous inner drive that's motivated by and aimed toward God -- call it Godly desire.

BOTH the flesh AND the law are pitted against the spirit: law by trying to constrain and categorize the freedom of the spirit; flesh by pitting itself against these constraints. The "desires of the flesh" don't just violate law; they also distract you from what you really want, what you'd freely go after if you weren't so distracted by law. The lusts of the flesh are bound up by conflict with law, so pursuing these desires by fighting law paradoxically keeps you from being free. The lusts of the flesh are "works" because they're motivated by conflict and so they require effort to keep pursuing them. And this pursuit is futile because you're not even going after what you really want.

In contrast to the lusts of the flesh are the lusts or desires of the spirit. These are the things you really do want, which are also the things God really wants for you, things you would freely go after if you weren't so locked up in the fleshly conflicting desires to enslave yourself and to fight against the constraints of law.

The solution to the law-flesh problem isn't to enlist spirit in the side of law in its battle against flesh. To do that would be to assert that the flesh is a kind of instinctively free expression of a carnal human tendency toward evil, and that the spirit is the latest means God has come up with to restrain the exercise of that freedom. But the flesh isn't free; it's bound up with the law. The solution is to be led by -- to let yourself go along with -- the free desires of the spirit. That way you don't just gain the ability to subject yourself without reservation to the law. You die to law, and in that act you also die to flesh, because from a motivational standpoint law and flesh are two sides of the same coin.

chris van allsburg said...

i'm reading a good book right now about justification called A Faith That is Never Alone, that deals with the nature of saving faith, and faith's relation to good works. I think this theme fits well with what you've posted about here.

I have learned in the past years that a life of repentance and humility are congruent with a faith that justifies. the details concern however, the relation between justification and sanctification, but having a "living, active, obedient faith" is what counts. Faith working itself through love (Galatians 5 or 6?)

samlcarr said...

sorry folks but there was supposed to be a link in that last comment of mine (ponnvandu) that does not seem to be working. So, here's the location itself again
http://ktismatics.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/triangular-knowledge-davidson/
Indeed in its older avataram Ktismatics contains a virtual mine of fascinating information on 'the self'!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

Thanks for the clarification questions. I'll try to respond to another of your points in another comment.

You said: So we have these things that happen when we give in to the flesh, that's list A, right? And so, no it's not prescriptive where we have to be careful to not do these things or else our grace or justification or what-have-you gets cut off, but on the other hand these are things that would indicate something is wrong, yes?

Maybe.

M: And while being loving & joyful is not going to increase God's grace or favor towards us...these would be things to aim for, yes?

I'd say no. "Aiming" for qualities or works misses the point. The sole aim is a life of walking with the Spirit in a mindset of freedom.

You mentioned Paul getting angry at Peter (Galatians 2): And what about the fact that earlier in the book Paul talks about cursing people who tell a different gospel or about getting up in Peter's face over hypocrisy?

So, Paul himself wasn't a very nice person on certain occasions. But anger in and of itself is not an issue to focus on. Neither is getting really really angry. I would also suggest (contra most evangelicals) that it isn't even so much a matter of what you get angry about or whether your anger is "in control." The point of living the life of freedom through the Spirit is to leave behind the measuring stick ("aiming" for a certain behavior or what have you) and to stop being motivated by obligations (i.e., laws). So, if someone says to me that they have an "anger problem," I'm not going to look at the anger as the problem. The question (from a Galatians 5 standpoint) is to what degree one's anger is the product of living a life under obligation/law and not realizing an ideal of freedom through a walk with the Spirit.

Let's talk about the positive side: what if a someone is manifesting the "fruits of the spirit"? Well, if these are used to measure our "success" as a Christian, then they are not fruits of the Spirit. Why? Because they are now being used as an obligation: "I must be joyful." We can produce joy by human effort, but that's not the point of those who follow Jesus; the point is to leave behind the obligations and walk in freedom with the Spirit. This is the only aim; this, in itself, is an end in and of itself.

The behaviors, attitudes, and actions of our lives are not evaluated as "good" or "bad," but merely as a starting point to evaluate and discuss whether or not we are living freely. From this perspective, "joy" could actually be a negative thing if we have become more joyful as a result of being motivated by social expectations. The classic case of this is the always cheerful pastor's wife, who always has something encouraging to say and never seems to have any real problems. She is ready at hand with a Bible verse and a prayer. But she is motivated by expectations (i.e., law), not by freedom in the Spirit. One might suggest that there is a sense in which her "joy" is a sin.

ktismatics said...

"if these are used to measure our "success" as a Christian, then they are not fruits of the Spirit. Why? Because they are now being used as an obligation: "I must be joyful."

This is exactly what Lacanian analyst Jacques-Alain Miller and philosopher Slovoj Zizek say is the current state of SECULAR culture. Enjoy! becomes a societal expectation, even an obligation. If you're not happy all the time then you must be doing something wrong. "Be happy" might not be part of the Law of Moses, but Paul is talking to Gentiles most of the time, so for him Law has a broader context than just those specific "thou shalt not" obligations of the OT.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Aristotle talked about eudaimonia as the primary, common pursuit of human beings. This is usually translated as "happiness," but it is not the way in which our culture/society uses the term. It refers more to "human flourishing," not necessarily to a particular emotional feeling of happiness.

But it is interesting how different cultures can construe happiness in different ways. Here in America, we just want each other to be happy; that is, we want an emotional state of joy.

Happiness may be the common pursuit of all humankind, but we certainly can define happiness in different ways, can't we?

It is also interesting how Christian culture "Christianizes" secular concepts/ideas....or is it secular culture that "secularizes" Christian concepts/ideas.....or is there a more chaotic overlap between the two than most of us realize.......

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

You also said: So,are you're saying that if a person was trying to obey the law and failed (inevitably) that would produce a fit of anger? Or are you saying that they would fail by having a fit of anger?

I'm actually not sure I can confidently answer that one. What do you think? I definitely think that failing to fulfill law (and the failure to live up to expectations/obligations that we or others place on ourselves) produces frustration and anger; but anger seems like it can generate more anger; this can then lead to more feelings of having failed to live up to an expectation (such as, "don't allow anger to control you") which in turn leads to more frustration and anger.

M: And in either case, do you suggest that we would magically leave behind all thoughts of contention, jealousy, envy, drunkeness, or what-have-you if we just stopped thinking about whether our actions were good or bad?

Or is this just a if-you-follow-God-everthing-else-will-fall-into-place kind of deal?


I'm not here to suggest a magic pill that will solve all of our problems. (That's the job of popular level Christian writers and preachers!) I just think that the old way of doing things (based on living up to law) is self-defeating, and I think we can do better.

I think the practical applications for each person have to be worked out in real time and in real life. But I do want to maintain some of Paul's optimism, b/c even though there is no magic wand to wave over us, there is a positive vision: "consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ." (Romans something or other) The point is to live in a free perspective and in state of supernaturally connecting with the Spirit of God. To worry if we have "arrived" or if we have "made it" or if we are "on the right track" is self-defeating and it usually means that we are trying to live up to yet another standard and/or measuring stick.

Dr. Doyle sums it up well in a previous comment he made:

"The solution to the law-flesh problem isn't to enlist spirit in the side of law in its battle against flesh. To do that would be to assert that the flesh is a kind of instinctively free expression of a carnal human tendency toward evil, and that the spirit is the latest means God has come up with to restrain the exercise of that freedom. But the flesh isn't free; it's bound up with the law. The solution is to be led by -- to let yourself go along with -- the free desires of the spirit. That way you don't just gain the ability to subject yourself without reservation to the law. You die to law, and in that act you also die to flesh, because from a motivational standpoint law and flesh are two sides of the same coin."

Law and flesh as two sides of the same coin is a helpful way to think about it, I think. Most Protestant theologies (since Calvin) have tried to use law as a primary sanctification tool. This has been self-defeating, I think, because it only helps to awaken the desires of the flesh.

ktismatics said...

I'm worried about this "Dr. Doyle" talk...

samlcarr said...

I guess I'm uncomfortable with the categories that I am using and that I take for granted must be what Paul meant. I think Paul has delved rather deeply into Jesus kingdom teachings and especially on the complex of thought centered on sonship/slavery/freedom/obedience/desire/flesh/spirit.

I am having difficulty seeing the two-sided alternatives that seem to be clear to most of you and particularly the flesh-spirit divide. is this in Paul's thought really two sided or is it a continuum or are they two unrelated parts of ourselves that happen to be in opposition on the issue of obedience?

chris van allsburg said...

dude, I had a dream that your blog got deleted. bogus. but, you were industrious and resourceful enough to start a new, better one. and maybe a 2nd and 3rd, i can't remember.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris,

I'm glad that Theos Project is making it into people's dreams.....we are infiltrating the subconscious!

What made the new blog better? Multimedia? Guest bloggers? More pictures? Theos Project tee shirts? An endorsement from John Piper? Giveaways and handouts? A logo? A good marketing slogan?

samlcarr said...

The unleashed freedom of the Erdmanian Tornado!

Melody said...

Jon,

You said that aiming for qualities or works misses the point and that The sole aim is a life of walking with the Spirit in a mindset of freedom.

I agree that walking in the Spirit is important. I agree that being free is important. But the sole aim? It seems like the NT would be a lot shorter. There'd be a lot to cut out.

Plus, seems to talk a lot about avoiding or aiming for things.

In verse 25-26 Paul encourages them to keep in step with the Spirit by not becoming concieted, provoking and envying each other.

When he writes the Corinthians he's horrified at their sexual immorality, and tells them to put out the fellow who's sleeping with his father's wife.

In the next chapter he admonishes them for taking each other to court and then warns them again to flee sexual immorality.

He tells the Romans to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. (ch. 12)

And if we remind to the Gospels we see Jesus commanding love. Yes, the love is a byproduct of following Him, but he still commands it (John 13:13:34-35)

I skimmed forward a little bit and saw Jesus talking about how the helper convicts the world of sin, righetousness, & judgement (16:7-13). If we're free to not worry about it - why are we being convicted?

My point about Paul was not that he wasn't very nice, but more along the lines of he's condemning certain behaviors as ungodly in the same letter as he talks about freedom. It just seems to indicate that this freedom does not indicate doing whatever suites us.

The question (from a Galatians 5 standpoint) is to what degree one's anger is the product of living a life under obligation/law and not realizing an ideal of freedom through a walk with the Spirit.

I'm really not sure what you're envisioning when you talk about the ideal of freedom through a walk with the Spirit. From your post it would seem that you're not even sure, so I guess I can't hope for much of a response on that one.

Who feels an obligation to be joyful? You either are or you aren't. Patience now, that I can see an obligation to, but are you really going to say that someone is in bondange because they think they should be more patient? Or loving? Or kind?

Does freedom mean that I don't need to worry about these things when I interact with people?

You talk about the point of following Jesus being to leave bhind obligations. It feels like you're just making stuff up. I re-read most of the book of John today, half of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and I've reread Galations six or seven times since you first posted this. I haven't seen anything about leaving behind obligations. Not once. Leaving behind the law - the actual handed down from God to the Isrealites law - yes. Obligations? No.

Melody said...

Jon,

I'm actually not sure I can confidently answer that one. What do you think?

I'm asking you what you meant by what you said and you're not confident you know?

Yes, failure to live up to expectations could produce outbursts or anger...or jealousy, or contention or what-have-you. Do you think it could also produce adultery or sorcery or idolitry? I know the first thing I want to do when I screw up is to conjur up a spirit or sacrifice dead animals.

You said, I just think that the old way of doing things (based on living up to law) is self-defeating, and I think we can do better.

Do better how? What are we trying to do better at?

I mean, if the goal was to paint a house and you said, "I think we can do better than brushes, let's use rollers" that would make sense because the goal would be the same but you'd have a different method.

But what you're saying is more like, "I think we can do better than painting the house, let's sit on the couch." It might be an admirable thing that the couch should be sat on, but it has nothing to do with painting the house and, frankly, it doesn't seem to have much of a point.

I mean, optimistic? It just seems lame. Like, "Woo, we're sitting on the couch - now what?" Woo, we're free. Now what? Are we trying to be like Christ or is that just so last century?

I guess I really, really, really just don't understand.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

I'm reading "law" in Galatians and Romans as involving a sense of obligation to something impersonal. A law is something of an impersonal middle party. For example, I respect my neighbor's property because by law I must do so; I respect my neighbor's wife b/c adultery is "wrong" (i.e., it is morally illegal); I go to church b/c I am obligated to go as a good Christian; and on and on.

Galatians is primarily concerned with returning to various Jewish Laws as a measure of one's success and as a spiritual obligation. To me, it is no different to bind one's self to the above regulations (respect your neighbor, don't covet your neighbor's wife, etc.) as it is to bind one's self to circumcision. What's the difference?

From what I have read thus far, most scholars (though not all) hold that Paul uses "law" in a variety of sense in his letters. Even in Romans, it is highly unlikely that he is referring only to the Mosaic Law each and every time he uses the term law. There is a broader sense in which Paul uses the term law. My post and subsequent comments are based on a more general sense of law that includes obligations and expectations that are placed on us by others, ourselves, our culture, or our religious institutions.

Paul's letter was written to the Galatians, but I find in Galatians 5 a theology that seems easy to expand and apply to the various ways in which we bind ourselves to law. The primary motivation for the believer (according to Paul in Gal 5) is to live a life of walking with the Spirit. Yes, it is impossible to define in advance what this looks like. Yes, it is vague. But I think that's the point.

Having said that, I am in no way suggesting that we not analyze specific behaviors. After all, "faith" without works is dead, as we see in James 2. The work most closely associated with faith is love. But again, "love" is difficult to define in advance of encountering a situation and opportunity to show love. Love is also difficult to regulate with laws. Laws (Mosaic and otherwise) are merely imperfect attempts to regulate love. Paul I think, is suggesting that we live a life in step with the Spirit so as to rise above the desires/works of the flesh and be prepared to encounter situations and opportunities to put love into action. The community of Christ (and Scripture) is here to help us retrospectively examine ourselves critically in order to expose hypocricy, selfishness, and "fleshly" motivations. But Scripture and the community is NOT here to law down laws. This would COMPLETELY undercut freedom and the freedom of walking with the Spirit.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

One last thing, then. Paul is obviously not advocating that a believer do whatever. The life of the believer is not a freedom to live "in the flesh." The freedom in Galatians 5 is to rise above the common struggle of the ordinary human being who finds themselves caught in the crossfire of the battle between the flesh and the law. Paul suggests that we go beyond this and live by the Spirit.

It is not a freedom for the flesh, but it IS a freedom from law and the corresponding obligations and bondage that law produces. In this sense, Paul's suggestion is radical and it will never be embraced by contemporary Christian institutions. Today's religious institutions cannot exist if their people are free.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

One more thought on Love and Law.

You said, "We see Jesus commanding love. Yes, the love is a byproduct of following Him, but he still commands it (John 13:13:34-35)"

I think there is irony at work here. In the Gospel of John (in the whole book!) I do not find any real command given; only the "command" to love. But love cannot be commanded, can it? My friends with children agreed with me when I suggested that commanding their children to love their siblings was a bit absurd. You can't force a selfish little boy to love his little brother or sister; you can only command them to act like they love their sibling: share your toys, be nice, help your sister clean up her toys, etc.

My interpretation: By leaving only one "command" to love, Jesus was in effect removing all laws and obligations and suggesting that we operate from a radically new perspective, a non-command-based perspective. I think Paul picks up on this general thought when he talks about living in freedom by the Spirit: the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love (Galatians 5:6)

Melody said...

Jon,

So a sense of obligation to treat people well because we care about them or because God cares about them (I'm being realistic here, often times I don't care for any other reason) is ok, but it's not ok if it's just a rule we have to follow?

To me, it is no different to bind one's self to the above regulations (respect your neighbor, don't covet your neighbor's wife, etc.) as it is to bind one's self to circumcision. What's the difference?

Well, respecting your neighbor or not coveting your neighbor's wife would be a kindness to someone...circumcision is a random ritual that goes along with cutting up doves and pouring their blood over things. It doesn't have an inherant value.

But again, "love" is difficult to define in advance of encountering a situation and opportunity to show love.

Sometimes, yes. I have found myself in situations where love looked much different than I had expected. But most of the time? I know without thinking about it that gossiping is not loving. I don't have to ponder if making a friend feel guilty because they've inconvenienced me -is loving. I'm having trouble coming up with an instance in which adultery is loving.

I'm not saying love should be "regulated" but are you really suggesting that encountered with adultery or murder we tilt our little santified heads and say, "Well, love is difficult to define,"?

I realize that Paul is not advocating that we do whatever, but what you're suggesting is a little less clear.

If we're not free to live in the flesh then doing fleshly things would be a fairly clear sign that one was not living the spirit and you seem to what to say that this is not the case.

You can't force a selfish little boy to love his little brother or sister; you can only command them to act like they love their sibling: share your toys, be nice, help your sister clean up her toys, etc.

Forcing them to love their siblings and commanding them to love are two different things. God, as far as I know, has never forced anyone to do anything. We've always been free to ignore His commands.

tamie said...

Melody...it seems to me that there are in fact instances in which one can experience love in an adulterous relationship, and also instances in which murder is preferrable to not-murder. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestled with this question when he plotted to kill Hitler. An extreme example, but it does show that sometimes if you are trying to follow God you might just find yourself feeling that you need to kill someone. And in the case of adultery, I suspect that many people who find themselves in adulterous relationships experience love within those relationships, love that can teach them important lessons...would we prescribe this as a path for someone? Probably not. But neither can we say that there has never been grace or love found within that context.

This doesn't mean that we should say it's okay to murder or okay to be unfaithful. What it does mean is that we can't legislate or regulate the places where God shows up. And this complicates trying to prescribe behavior or make rules around how to best be in relationship with God. Perhaps we can make general, overall rules...but inevitably, many of us will find God precisely outside of the boundaries of respectable behavior.



On another note, I'm so fascinated by this whole discussion because it seems to have struck *such* a chord with people. I wonder what this means. Jonathan...maybe time for you to write another post on what you think it means.

Melody said...

Tamie,

I guess I would have thought that love for their families would be more important than love for a person they're hurting their families with.

I'm not even sure I can call it loving to engage a person in such a relationship. There's a certain amount of affection there, but what kind of love is that?

I might say something nasty about someone - in order to make a friend feel better. But is that really the kind of love Jesus is talking about?

And some lessons, are best avoided. Adam & Eve learned an important lesson when they were banished from Eden. Well hurray learning.

Yes, God shows up in dark places. Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. It's true. But to acknowledge that does not require us to reclassify sin as love - and to do so would greatly diminish the wonder of God's grace.

ktismatics said...

Here's another dream related to this post. I was either watching a musical or acting in one. A woman was singing some sort of happy song, walking along in the great outdoors. She approached a small house or cabin, opened the door, and stepped in. Without missing a beat, without changing the tune, the woman's affect and lyrics suddenly shifted: now she was singing about her love, her secret love, presumably her adulterous love. I don't recall if she was singing to herself or to her lover. When I woke up this morning my first thought was: I should tell Melody about this...

Melody said...

Um...ok

Craig said...

You’ve got an interesting conversation started here. I’ve been working on a post on this very topic so I figure I might as well jump into the conversation here. My apologies if this turns into a long comment. There is a lot of ground already covered here and a number of important points need addressing.

I’ll start by recommending Wright’s “Climax of the Covenant”. He has a number of stimulating ideas in the book and most of what I’m arguing here grows out of his and Richard Hays very detailed work. Wright’s argument is essentially that Lutheran readings of the law have tended to focus on the negative aspects of the law to the exclusion of the positive aspects of the law. This creates trouble when it comes to ethics. How is it that Paul can say we are no longer bound to the ethnic proscriptions in the law (Food, Sabbath, Holy Days) and yet also continue to uphold the ethical proscriptions the law puts forth? In Wright’s view and in the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) the ethnic proscriptions of the law were the works of the law that Galatians were in danger of taking on as the means of trying to attain righteousness. This should be keep distinct from the righteous requirements of the law (δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου) which life in Christ fulfills.

In Romans 8.4 Wright argues that the δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου (righteous requirements of the law) are the positive things required by the law; the life that the law always wanted to give but wasn’t able to because of the Adamic “flesh” that rendered the law incapable of giving that life and instead brought curses (exile). The law then serves a positive function in that it gives a shape and clarity to what a life lived out in love is supposed to look and it condemns unrighteousness. Notice how this works out in a number of places. Paul describes the law as spiritual (πνευματικός - Rom 7.14) he talks about being under God and Christ’s law (1 Cor 9.21), he mentions the law of the Spirit versus the law of sin and death (Rom 8.2) etc. He desires to do good, in his inner being he delights in God’s law. (Rom 7.21-23) etc.

I think we are on the same page in a number of respects. In your comments you make a great point about Paul not setting down prescriptive rules as much as he is offering a descriptive account of what a life of Spirit/freedom looks like versus law/flesh. I think where we differ is in the way that gets worked out in relationship to the law. The law is spiritual. I take this to mean that the law and the life of the spirit aren’t opposed to each other, they are in harmony. Life in Christ brings about the righteousness the law always desired but couldn’t bring about because of the Adamic ‘flesh’ (see esp. Rom 2.12-16, 25-27). Those who are in Christ and walk by the Spirit do the things the law requires. I don’t’ think Paul therefore wouldn’t be opposed to ‘working’ out one’s salvation in Christ (Phil 3.12), he even admonishes the Romans to “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another”.

With this relationship between the law and the Spirit in mind I find myself at odds with what you wrote when you wrote: “The life of being led by the Spirit is contrasted with a life lived by the law. This is a bomb of nuclear proportions because it undermines the work of the religious institutions. Religious institutions invariably work to establish and maintain the importance and primacy of law: sexual norms, societal/cultural laws, spiritual laws, moral laws, and laws/norms of all kinds.” This is precisely what Paul DIDN’T write. It’s not the Spirit which is opposed to the law, it’s the Adamic ‘flesh’ that’s opposed to the Spirit. The Church can do nothing other than preach righteousness of which the law has much to say about. I don’t think though that we are completely at odds here. I don’t think that Paul opposes the law, which is where I’m disagreeing with you. But I would agree with you that Paul opposes trying to obtain the righteousness that the law requires by trying to live under the law. That’s an important clarification and lead to a far different application then what you are trying to suggest above in regards to the churches work. Paul after all says to Timothy “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” (1 Tim 2.8 see esp v9-11, I’m leaving aside of course the issue of authorship, even if Paul didn’t pen this I take this to be in sync with what Paul would say)


What this means then is that Paul would surely take issue with Tamie’s insistence that love and grace can be experienced in an adulterous relationship. That’s clearly outside of the boundaries of the righteous requirements of the law and a lifestyle that Paul would clearly see as at odds with life in the Spirit (see for example again 1 Cor 5-6). This is a concrete example of what Paul has in mind when he talks about the law being spiritual (πνευματικός).

Well I’m sure I could keep going on and there are a number of exegetical point I’m sure I could fine tune and clarify, but this is already a long post so I’ll stop now hoping that I’ve at least provided some fodder for discussion and hopefully clarified some issues which needed to be addressed.

tamie said...

You know, I gotta admit that I never was a big fan of the Apostle Paul. He doesn't have a very good sense of humor, for one thing. Jesus on the other hand, I'm rather compelled by Jesus. Maybe someone can convince me about Paul sometime, but to be honest I just don't care all that much about what Paul says. Maybe it's because I'm frustrated by how much he's been used to oppress women, and black people, and just people in general. Maybe it's because I've been hit over the head one too many times by Paul's words.

It seems to me that so many of Jesus' parables are telling us that grace and love are indeed found in precisely all the "wrong" places. That God shows up in the wrong places all the time, probably far more often than S/He shows up in church. This is why (or at least one of the reasons) the parables were so offensive to our buddies the Pharisees, who sure were hellbent on spirituality equaling law-following.

Again, I do not mean to suggest that we should go around promoting adultery, but it seems rather naive to suggest that love and grace are never experienced within such a relationship. The love and presence of God saturates all things, all people, all circumstance, and God can be seen and experienced in a Las Vegas casino, as well as in a Buddhist monastery. Maybe the conditions are better in the monastery, but then again maybe not. Maybe indeed we wish that we didn't have to learn some lessons in the dark corners of the soul and world. But I would suggest that we simply do sometimes have to learn that way, that it is part of the journey. In this way, God is offensive, I agree. Jesus was offensive, a fact that I feel is lost on most of us most of the time. It seems to me that we cannot understand God's love until we understand, on a visceral level, our own brokenness. This was the issue with the Pharisees. They thought they could rule-follow their way into the love of God, but Jesus came along and said that God loves you because God loves you. Nothing you can do can make God love you more, and nothing you can do can make God love you less. If you really get this, in your bones, then you are free. You really *are* free to act however the hell you want, because it simply cannot diminish the love of God. And that freedom is what this whole discussion has been about. But we are terrified of that freedom, because we really do not understand the love of God.

It would be very odd, of course, if you really really really understood your freedom, but chose to use it to murder your neighbors. One might raise one's eyebrows. It is quite likely that a truly free person would dance around joyously, in rapturous wonder. But who knows. It seems to me that most of us have tiny glimpses of our freedom, moments of rapturous wonder, and then we're back to the grind, the fear, the conviction that we just have to find the rule book and follow the rules and then everything will be okay.

Melody said...

Tamie,
I'm not saying grace and love could never be experienced in an adulterous relationship. I just don't think it lends itself to such. So if we're embracing grace and pursuing love - are we going to chase after it in the unlikely places?

Yes, God shows up in the wrong places all the time. Jesus said that it is the sick, not the healthy, who have need of a doctor.

A doctor is most likely to be seen in the mist of sick people - but no one would say, "Sometimes you just have to get malaria to learn how to be well" or "Sometimes you just have to get the plague before you can be healthy"

Tamie, you said,Jesus came along and said that God loves you because God loves you. Nothing you can do can make God love you more, and nothing you can do can make God love you less.

I don't know of any recorded instance of Jesus stating or implying this. I would agree that we can't make God love us more or less...I just can't agree that Jesus said it.

Even so, not being able to diminish God's love does not make us free to do anything we please.

Neither can I diminish the brightness of the sun or the wetness of the ocean. What difference does it make?

Things are not right or wrong based on how much God loves us.

Craig said...

Tamie,

Do you have any particular parables in mind about God's love showing up in the wrong places? I could only think of the parable of the good Samaritan, but in my opinion that parable is best read as a parabolic critique of covenantal nomism.

The key distinction I would want to make in regards to adultery is that God's love finds us in the wrong places and calls us out. God's love isn't found in the wrong places. If it's found in the wrong places, one might be inclined to stay in those wrong places which would be quite contrary to God's love and grace. It would be completely at odds with the righteous requirements of the law, which are God given. On this point I find Paul and Jesus very much so in concert.

I think Oliver O'Donovan expressed this well when he wrote: "Yet to preach the Gospel, whether to Christians or non-Christians, is not a simple matter of offering reassurance and comfort. The Gospel, too, has its 'hard words'. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is not comfort without demand, any more than it is demand without comfort. It is never less than that demanding comfort by which God makes more of us than we thought it possible to become."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Craig,

You have some great thoughts here, and I hope you will be able to follow up with my response. Although I will primarily occupy myself with explorations of our differences, I do want to note that we start with a good deal of common ground that I will be consciously taking for granted; but the issues you raise go to some issues I am in the process of exploring and wrestling through, and so I greatly value your feedback. Also, don't apologize for long comments!

As far as I can see, our disagreement centers on what the relationship is between the law and the flesh. My position is that the law and the flesh are tied to each other in a destructive way. As soon as we begin to live under law, we risk inflaming the desires of the flesh. The majority of Protestant theology since the Reformation (with important exceptions) views the Spirit as working through the law to produce sanctification. A while back, my friend John Doyle (aka "Ktismatics") suggested a different reading of Paul: that law and flesh are connected with each other. I haven't really recovered since.

Are you familiar with Calvin's "third way"? Calvin distinguished three uses of the law. The first two were obsolete, relating to the Old Covenant; the third was what we might think of as a "moral law" (cf. C.S. Lewis et al.). I have been recently reading a defense of this third way by Jonathan Bayes in his published dissertation, The Weakness of the Law. (Incidentally, I work in the editing department at Eisenbrauns, so my link to the book is also a shameless piece of promotional marketing! Bayes' work is a fine book, though.)

Craig: In Romans 8.4 Wright argues that the δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου (righteous requirements of the law) are the positive things required by the law; the life that the law always wanted to give but wasn’t able to because of the Adamic “flesh” that rendered the law incapable of giving that life and instead brought curses (exile).

At this point, I read Romans 8 in terms of justification (atonement?). But I'm certainly open to discussing this further, b/c my exegetical research is quite weak; however, I understand that commentators are divided on how to take 8:4: Are the righteous requirements met through Christ's atonement? Or do believers live out the righteous requirements of the law through the Spirit? As I understand it, the linguistic/contextual arguments can go either way.

As a general question to you, I wonder this: If Christ fulfills the righteous requirements of the law, then why do we have to even mention the law? Or use it at all (Calvin)? It seems to me that if Christ's work on the cross is in any way redemptive or atoning, then Christ fulfilled the law for the express purpose of removing our sense of obligation to it. This is a point that is both theologically important but also charged with practical significance for living the Christian life.

Here is Romans 8:4 cited in context: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (NIV)

There is no condemnation, I think, because of Christ. Therefore, because the righteous requirements of the law are met (by Christ) we can live a new life "according to the Spirit."

Craig: The law is spiritual. I take this to mean that the law and the life of the spirit aren’t opposed to each other, they are in harmony. Life in Christ brings about the righteousness the law always desired but couldn’t bring about because of the Adamic ‘flesh’ (see esp. Rom 2.12-16, 25-27).

1 Corinthians 9:21 is interesting b/c Paul mentions being under "the law of Christ." This is also mentioned by Paul in Galatians 6. But what is the law of Christ? Is it a set of ethics? Is it a set of moral laws? Or is it the law of love? Christ said if we love him we will keep his commands. Yet in the whole Gospel of John the only "command" is love. But as I have said in some of the above comments, "love" is not a command in the sense that we usually think of it. Love is something more difficult to define and regulate. Laws that regulate love are usually only imperfect representations. Hence, one can sum up the law and the prophets by saying, "love God and love your neighbor."

Also, while it may be true that in Romans Paul suggests that the power of the law was weakened by the flesh, it seems as though in Galatians Paul's point is very different: the law is weakened not by the flesh but by the very purpose of the law itself. This is a point I glean from Bayes: in Galatians Paul's point is that the law was never meant to function for justification but to lead us to Christ.

Craig (quoting my post; emphasis added): “The life of being led by the Spirit is contrasted with a life lived by the law. This is a bomb of nuclear proportions because it undermines the work of the religious institutions. Religious institutions invariably work to establish and maintain the importance and primacy of law: sexual norms, societal/cultural laws, spiritual laws, moral laws, and laws/norms of all kinds.” This is precisely what Paul DIDN’T write. It’s not the Spirit which is opposed to the law, it’s the Adamic ‘flesh’ that’s opposed to the Spirit. The Church can do nothing other than preach righteousness of which the law has much to say about. I don’t think though that we are completely at odds here. I don’t think that Paul opposes the law, which is where I’m disagreeing with you. But I would agree with you that Paul opposes trying to obtain the righteousness that the law requires by trying to live under the law. That’s an important clarification and lead to a far different application then what you are trying to suggest above in regards to the churches work. Paul after all says to Timothy “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” (1 Tim 2.8 see esp v9-11, I’m leaving aside of course the issue of authorship, even if Paul didn’t pen this I take this to be in sync with what Paul would say)

As a small correction, it is 1 Tim chapter one, not chapter two, that you are referencing. In 1 Timothy the "use" of the law is for condemnation; I do not see any suggestion that believers should use the law on themselves or even apply it to those who are to be condemned. What, specifically, do you believe Paul is referring to as "proper use"? I'm not sure he's entirely clear, and as such I'm a bit confused as to what is going on:

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law[a] is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

I do agree with you that the Spirit is not "opposed" to the law; but the fullness of the believer's freedom in the Spirit must go above and beyond law. In this sense, I am with Paul and am not an antinomian. I am, however, a metanomian. That is, I believe that we must go above and beyond law. Those who debate antinomianism are missing the point, I suggest. The point is not that the law is bad; as you say, the law is "good" and even "spiritual." However, the law is only a poor reflection of the reality of love. Also, as I mentioned in the post, the law increases the desires of the flesh. So, even a believer can inflame the flesh if the law is brought back into the picture. Paul's point in Galatians is metanomian: Just live by the Spirit in freedom; that is all you need.

If we bring back the law for any purpose, we bring ourselves back under a mindset of death and back into a flesh-law battle that only ends in defeat. So, that brings me all the way back around to the start: it seems as though the flesh and the law are tied together. We can't have one without the other. Paul seems to suggest this in Romans 7: as soon as someone tells me not to covet, the flesh roars to life and I find myself coveting! Do you have a different interpretation of Romans 7?

Thanks for the Wright reference, Craig, as well as your insightful commentary. I look forward to hearing back from you. Specifically, I am curious as to whether you agree that law and flesh are tied together; and, if you do not agree that the law is bound up with the flesh, then how should the believer "use" the law.

daniel said...

David danced. And lost his relationship with his first wife Michal over that freedom expression.

Michal was Saul's daughter and was given to David after he slayed Goliath as you recall.

I'm interested in this dramatically, this response and interaction. There are three people involved here - David, God and Michal. 2 Samuel chapter 6.

I'm wondering what else besides what was recorded were David and Michal likely to say to each other?

The law vs. freedom argument.

Perhaps between Tamie, Kt, Melody and Craig we can come up with something?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Here's my follow up to the debate Tamie started. A possible slippery scenario.

tamie said...

This would really be so much easier if we were all sitting down over a long dinner! I posted a sermon over on my blog which I think explains what I'm trying to say. Please read it! I would love your feedback.

Okay.

Craig, I agree with you that Jesus demands much. It is interesting to note, however, that when Jesus is faced with an adulterous woman, it is the men who are trying to stone her that he corrects. When he meets the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman who is basically a slut and a liar, he doesn't rebuke her. In other words, it's the self-righteous people, the "good" people, who Jesus reserves most of his harsh words for. Why? There are some complicated reasons, but I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that the people condemning the sinful women were not coming from a place of love.

Craig, you asked for a parable of God's love showing up in the wrong places. I think of the parable of the prodigal son, which I referenced in the sermon I just posted. I'd like to recommend Robert Farrar Capon's book, _Between Noon and Three_, which explains how offensive the actions of the *father* are in that parable. The prodigal son has shamed and humiliated and dishonored his father by asking for his inheritance before his father has died. It's hard for us in our culture to understand how offensive it was, but that's been written about elsewhere. Let's just say that what the son did was an ultimate betrayal. At the very best, the father could have been expected to not do his son harm, but he never never should have welcomed his son back, prepared a costly feast for him, and forgiven and embraced him *before* the son even repented. Especially when his other son had been faithful all those years, and he'd never prepared a feast for him. What the father did was deeply offensive. And yet Jesus is saying that this is what God is like. Capon's book suggests that the level of offense is akin to Jesus comparing God to an adulterer. That Jesus is saying that God is like the adulterer who comes and ravishes his (forbidden) lover, and in that very adulterous love, the beloved finally recognizes she is loved.

Of course, we have to remember the VERY important point that Jesus' parables were not prescriptions for how we should act; they were descriptions of how God acts.

I think that the point here is, in response to what Melody wrote, that we are ALL sick people, and we all need a doctor. Which is why it is lucky for us that God shows up in the dark places, because we are, each and every one of us, in a dark place somewhere in our lives. It's not a matter of whether we should recommend to others that they get sick so that they can visit the good doctor. It's that we recognize that every single one of us is sick already. We may not choose to engage in adultery; our particular brand of sickness may be self-righteousness, hate, or judgment.

Yes, it is true that God in God's infinite love wants our freedom and joy, and those things seem to be more fully experienced in non-adulterous relationships, as well as in non-judgmental and non-self-righteous relationships. But Jesus's friends and beloveds were the very broken people. Jesus' opponents didn't get mad because he berated the sinners and told them to stop sinning; his opponents got mad because he loved the sinners passionately and accepted them just as they were.

It is true that we don't have record of Jesus telling people they were loved, although I'd like to think that the Gospel writers just forgot to write it down because they assumed we knew. But Jesus' parables, teachings, and actions all testify that he was trying to get us to understand the radical love of God.

As for whether God's love determines what is right and wrong...no, I don't think it does. It just makes right and wrong not the top important thing.

Okay. I feel like I maybe said all this better in the sermon I just posted, which is maybe shameless self-promotion, but what're you gonna do.

Craig said...

Jonathan,

I’m quite positive that we are much closer in our views that we are at odds. I took the illocutionary force of your quote I quoted to be going in antinomian direction, though I doubted that was what you were trying to say as I hopefully clarified. I’m glad to see that I was correct to think that you weren’t arguing for antinomian position, and instead you were advocating a metanomian position. But I still wonder if your quote isn’t dangerously running the risk of going in the direction of antinomianism? This I hope to clarify in due course as I explore some of the subtle ways in which we differ.

I would agree with you about the connectedness of the law and the flesh. Where people are in Adam, the law can only provoke and condemn them. The law cannot produce the righteousness it demands. In this sense I would agree that with your quote, if the church is preaching righteousness by observing the law and its works, it is preaching another Gospel. Righteousness comes from Christ and not from the law. I think where we differ is in the relationship between life in the Spirit and the law. Because Christ has dealt with the sinful Adamic nature, those who are in him have had that old self crucified, and it no longer holds sway over them. I should probably qualify that in many ways, but for now I will note that we live after the crucifixion, but before the final resurrection, (i.e. our Adamic nature has been crucified with Christ and is dead, but we haven’t received resurrected bodies yet so the Adamic ‘Flesh’ is always wanting to try and come back to life.) The result of having our Adamic nature crucified is that our lives, in Christ, aren’t at odds with the righteousness the law demands in as much as we walk in the Spirit.

I’m not as familiar with Calvin as I wished I were so I can’t say I have all of the finer nuances of Calvin’s three ways worked out. I found a definition of Calvin’s three uses of the law after a quick google search and so I’m drawing on this definition of Calvin’s three uses. If the blogger is accurate in their way of understanding Calvin’s three uses of the law, I think though I would be advocating the first two uses of Calvin’s positions(pedagogical and civil), and I would qualification his third use. I think its point one and two where we come into disagreement.

Let me first qualify Calvin’s third use before I return to points one and two. The qualification I would put on Calvin’s third use of the law is that any preaching of the law which implies that righteousness can be obtained by trying to observe the Mosaic law is another Gospel. Because of the Adamic flesh, righteous can’t come from the law. The law has no way of dealing with the Adamic flesh which is at odds with the law. This is where Paul says that anyone who lets himself be circumcised is obligated to obey the whole law, kosher, Sabbath and the whole ‘works’. Life in the Spirit though, isn’t at odds with the law. Once the sinful flesh is crucified (though not done away with) the life of the believer and the law are able to be in harmony, and so the law can help inform what righteousness looks like. I’m in perfect agreement with you here that the righteousness of the Spirit is a righteousness that goes above and beyond the law, I would qualify that by saying it’s a righteousness that never goes outside of the righteous requirements of the law.

That last point needs some careful qualifications. This is where I would probably prefer Wright to Calvin, though I don’t think they’re at odds here, I only want to say that Wright is more helpful in understanding Paul’s negative and positive views of the law. Wright makes a distinction between the works of the law, and the righteous requirements of the law. He writes:

“The NP [New Perspective] enables us, at a stroke, to make sense of one area which has long been controverted in Paul. Why does Paul insist, in I Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14, that one must not divide the community over issues of what you eat and which holy days you keep, while also insisting, in several places, including I Corinthians 5 and 6, that there are certain types of behaviour for which there must be zero tolerance? This has been a problem for those who think that the key issue in his theology is ‘keeping rules’ over against ‘trusting God’. But when we line up the matter in a post-NP way, the answer is: because food and holy days are things which threaten to divide the community along ethnic lines, whereas sexual ethics (or their non-observance) would divide the community in terms of what it means to be a renewed-in-Christ human being. Personal holiness matters even more for the Christian than it did for the Jew, because in Christ we have died to sin and come alive into God’s new world; but personal holiness has nothing to do with the ‘works of the law’ by which ethnic Israel was demarcated.”

It’s then, the ‘works of the law’, the ways in which the torah marked out the Jewish people ethnically, which a believer is not obligated to obey any longer. You can see this working itself out in Eph 2.14-15 where Paul talks about Christ destroying the barrier, the wall of hostility that separated Jews and Gentiles. What Paul doesn’t say in v15 is that Jesus destroyed the law, he καταργήσας the law; caused the law to be rendered idle (see LSJ lexical entry for some further nuances of καταργέω). The wall of hostility is no longer needed because gentiles have had their Adamic self crucified in Christ and are holy. The laws need for marking out Jews as holy from Gentile are no longer need because of this. This understanding of the law commends itself particularly well with Jesus’ vocational self understand in relationship to the law in Matt 5.17 – 21.

What Paul isn’t opposed to is the Jews continuing to keep their ethnic heritage so long as Jews recognize that the righteousness which has been wrought in Christ nullifies the need for Jews to keep a barrier between themselves and gentiles. This is why Paul comes down so harshly on Peter in Galatians. This makes possible for Paul to have the freedom to live like one under the law (1 Cor 9.25) in order to convince those under the law of the righteousness in Christ which the law was never able to produce only to point two. This is where I would call you into question when you write: “So, even a believer can inflame the flesh if the law is brought back into the picture.” Paul doesn’t seem be concerned about this as he lives like one under the law with his Jewish brothers. The reason for this, which I’ve been trying to argue all along, is that in Christ the Adamic ‘flesh’ has been crucified and is no longer alive, hence isn’t able to be provoked by the law any longer.

This brings me back to Calvin’s first and second use of the law. The church still should promote civil laws because the law still has a pedagogical value to those who aren’t in Christ, and should continue to preach on the law to show those who are in Christ the ways in which they are out of step with the spirit. (I hope to develop this point in a blog post soon in relationship to modern Christianity, Free Markets, and the Levitical codes, but it has been slow in coming) This is what I would argue Paul refers to in 1 Tim 1 (thanks for pointing out my mistype there) when he refers to a positive use of the law. The righteousness the law demands is given witness to in the law and hence is still useful for those who are still in Adam and not in Christ.

I’m make one final point here. In Romans 8.4 you are correct, interpreters have argued that the 8.4 refers to justification as it is often talked about in reformed PCA circles. But I think you’ll see in Climax of the Covenant that this particular understanding of 8.4 really doesn’t work and it creates a number of other exegetical problems which force an interpreter to distort the text into directions it really doesn’t want to go. See above Wright’s quote about Paul’s insistence that Paul is crystal clear that there are ways in which it is absolutely inappropriate for a believer to act. This is where I again find myself at odds with some of the ways in which you’re working out our life in Christ with the law. You wrote that “there is no condemnation, so sin is no longer something to worry about. What we have tended to do in our American conservative/evangelical circles is to continue to emphasize sin… That's the wrong perspective. It's not about what we do or do not do; the first priority is to live in the freedom and union with the Spirit.”

Thanks for the shameless plug for Bayes’ book. Shameless plug for stimulating reads are just fine my book. Bayes’ work’s now on my wish list to read some day.

Craig said...

Tamie, a couple of points.

One, in the narrative logic of the prodigal son, the son had repented when he came to his senses and returned to the father, he was all ready to throw himself on the mercy of his father who rightly could have shunned him. This doesn't at all diminish the radicalness of the Father's welcome which you have highlighted so well and which Jesus continually highlights in the Parable of the lost coin, the lost sheep, etc. But it’s a fundamental part of the parable that the son turned back towards the father. I would agree with what you’re probably rightly reacting against in someone like Phelps. Jesus' ministry was so unlike what you see in someone like Fred Phelps that I wonder if Phelps has ever even bothered to read through the Bible with any seriousness.

The book you mention does gets it right in understanding how unexpected and shocking the father’s welcome was to his son, I agree with you that far too few people understand how culturally against the grain the father was cutting. But the book hits the wrong notes when it paints God as the adulterer. God’s not like the adulterer who comes and ravishes his forbidden lover, rather God’s love is so unexpectedly shocking that it’s like the man who continually goes after his adulterous wife, again and again calling her back to be his beloved:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3.1, Hosea in general hits the tension of the demanding grace O’Donovan talks about)

This, though, brings me to my second point, just like God’s love Hosea was called to live out in prophetic witness against Israel, Jesus' welcome to sinners was a welcoming of repentance. He wasn’t just going out and finding his lost coin just to leave it lost. I appreciate your dislike of Paul for the ways in which he has been misread, but any serious reading of Jesus has to take into account that he wasn't all warm and fuzzy, he is just as equally difficult to truly listen to. A pastor I served under tells the story of when he first started to read the Sermon on the Mount with seriousness. He was so outraged at the righteousness Jesus demanded that he put down his bible and didn't pick it up again for an entire year because he was sure what Jesus demanded from him as a sinner was utterly unlivable.

This outrageousness of Jesus, seen in the sermon of the mount, the parable of the narrow door (lk 13.22-30), the parable of the great banquet (lk 14.15-23), the parable of the tenants (lk 20.9-16), the parable of the ten minas, etc. and in his outrageous welcoming of sinners into repentance, are all there in the gospel building up to Zacchaeus’ story. Jesus was causing quite a stir by embodying both the love and demand of God which Hosea acted out in his marriage to Gomer. Zacchaeus, recognizing this, wanted to size up this Jesus fellow. I would agree that Jesus’ love compels Zaccheaus to good works, but Jesus’ love and his call to repentance are inseparable. He came, after all, as a doctor to call the sick. What sort of doctor wouldn’t tell his patients to quit the lifestyle that were making them sick in the first place? A love that doesn’t call drug dealers out of drug dealing isn’t really a love at all.

One final point to your sermon, we are NOT free in Christ to screw up our lives. We were bought at a costly price, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

I don’t think we are actually that far apart in our understanding of God’s love, but let me offer a final summary of the point I’m trying to make because I think this is critical. A love of God which says I love you right where you’re at, isn’t the love of God. The love of God is the love that finds you right where you’re at, BUT it calls, even demands of you to leave that place of sin and brokenness precisely because God’s love is a true love, and not a false love content with sin and brokenness.

This is turning into a fantastic discussion. I think my schedule is getting busier here in the next few days so I doubt I'll be able to keep posting, but even if I'm not able to continue on in this discussion, it has been a pleasure dialoging on this topic.

tamie said...

I like to think of the Parable of the Prodigal like this: Yes, the son did repent and turn, but I do not think that the father's love and forgiveness were contingent on the son's turning. Rather, it was the son's turning that allowed him to understand that he was forgiven and loved all along. When the son came down the road toward his father, as far as his father knew he could have been returning just to try and insult his father further. The father didn't know the son's motives when he ran out joyfully to embrace and love him. God's love is the always-present fact. It's our own blindnesses and lostness that doesn't allow us to understand this. But our lostness does not change the fact.

Again, all of this speaks to God, and isn't necessarily a prescription for how we should act in any given circumstance. But I do wholeheartedly believe that it is the way God is.

I can't dismiss the importance of repentance. I have much to repent of, certainly. Also, there are so many people who I wish would repent. CEOs of exploitive corporations; Halliburton; the Taliban; our president...etc. etc. Yes, Jesus demanded the people change their lives...especially the people in power who were exploiting the powerless. If we could have a conversation about *that*, about the need for the repentance among the powerful, the need for the repentance of entire systems of oppression and degredation...then I could really be on board. This is not to disregard the personal, but...why do we debate personal sins till the cows come home, but rarely touch on the horrific public sins. The folks who were lost in private sin, Jesus was so gentle with. As Rachel Price says in the Poisonwood Bible, regarding the fornicating relationship she's in, "We have relations any old time we feel like it, which by the way I don't think is the worst sin there is when there's people getting hurt, cheated, or killed left and right in this world..."

There are so many facets of this conversation. I know.

I guess, when I look at my own life and consider who has compelled me to change for the better...it's always been the people who loved and accepted me exactly as I was, who did not demand that I change, who did not point out that I was sinning. They were just present to me, just loved me, that was all. The folks who felt self-righteously compelled to point out that I was sinning--I felt angry and defensive around them, and I certainly did not turn to them when the time did come when I was ready to repent. Nope. I turned to the people who I knew would love me no matter what, because their love wasn't dependent on me acting a certain way.

I mean, imagine if we actually felt responsible to point out each other's sin all the time, and call each other to repentance. It would just be endless, and it would be horrible, and anti-relationship. We're all broken and hobbling. Can't we just hold each other with grace?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Craig,

Yes, my position is in danger of becoming (or being interpreted as) antinomianism. But it is a risk I will take! I don't think there is much safe ground when discussing a radical theology of freedom.

You mentioned: Paul doesn’t seem be concerned about this as he lives like one under the law with his Jewish brothers. The reason for this, which I’ve been trying to argue all along, is that in Christ the Adamic ‘flesh’ has been crucified and is no longer alive, hence isn’t able to be provoked by the law any longer.

Yes, Paul went through the motions of certain ceremonial laws, but he was never ever putting himself "under" law. As you noted, Paul reserves his harshest words for those who want to bring themselves "under" law. Paying to have someone's head shaved or what not is one thing; but when it comes to relying on the law for either justification or sanctification, Paul never backs down. So, in Galatians chap. 2, Paul rips into Peter publicly (so much for the supposed Matthew 18 "command" to confront privately!).

When I talk about the danger of bringing the law back into the picture, I am talking about being "under" law. I think that there was a time of transition in the book of Acts, and Paul (as you say) was respectful of the ethnic practices. I think I more or less agree with your view (via Wright)....not so sure, though, that Paul had in mind a "moral law" in the same sense that the modern Christian (e.g., C.S. Lewis) has in mind.

Craig, I am wondering if it is theologically accurate to say that Paul suggests that the flesh has been crucified. I know that in Romans Paul wants us to reckon ourselves dead to sin; and in Galatians 2 Paul says that he has been crucified with Christ; but the "flesh" (whatever that is) is still a force to be reckoned with. Why else would Paul address it in Galatians 5? In 5:13 we are encouraged not to use our freedom to indulge the flesh. This implies that our freedom could be used for such purposes, but Paul suggests that such freedom is best directed toward love (selfless) as opposed to flesh (selfish).

Next Paul says the following: "6So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law."

It seems to me that there are two possibilities in the life of the believer: flesh and Spirit. Living by the flesh is a real possibility for the believer; but the point is to move above and beyond the flesh. We move beyond a life of gratifying the flesh by the work of the Spirit, and once we move beyond the flesh, then we also can say that we are no longer "under law."

Wouldn't you agree that in Galatians 5 it is Paul's intent to push the believer not into the law as a means of dealing with the flesh, but into a life of freedom and walking with the Spirit? Isn't it the Spirit that moves us beyond flesh? And doesn't 5:18 mean that if we are free and walking with the Spirit that we are no longer under law?

You did note that the flesh is "crucified" but not "done away with." I guess I'm confused as to what you mean by this distinction. Here is what you said in context: "Once the sinful flesh is crucified (though not done away with) the life of the believer and the law are able to be in harmony, and so the law can help inform what righteousness looks like. I’m in perfect agreement with you here that the righteousness of the Spirit is a righteousness that goes above and beyond the law, I would qualify that by saying it’s a righteousness that never goes outside of the righteous requirements of the law."

First, why would we need the law to inform us, if we have the Spirit to inform us? Second, why can't the Spirit go outside of the "righteous requirements of the law"? I ask sincerely. Maybe the law is only a "shadow" of the reality? Maybe the real thing is found in Christ and in a life with the Spirit? Maybe the law was never meant to be a perfect expression of love, but only to point the way to Christ (the perfect expression of love) and to join us in a dynamic life with he and the Spirit. The law may have been good and righteous for its time period; but if a believer is walking with the Spirit in freedom (and not walking according to the flesh), then I think that going beyond the law does in fact mean that we are outside of the righteous requirements of the law, because those requirements were only for their time period (pre-Christ).

Jonathan Erdman said...

Craig,

I see where you get the "crucified the flesh" language: It's in Gal 5:24.

ktismatics said...

The law is good, man is good, the combination isn't good. This is evident in the Garden, where Eve (created good) is attracted to the Tree at least in part because it's off-limits.

Even if you believe that the Bible justifies some sort of fallen human nature as a result of Adam and Eve (which I think is debatable), there remains the idea that the death/resurrection of Christ bring about a "new creation." So in Gal. 6:15 Paul says "there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision but a new creation." Circumcision stands for the Law, but it's also a ritual act performed on the flesh (v. 12-13) -- the implication being that the following the Law is just as much an act of the flesh as is disobeying the Law.

Also 2 Cor. 5:16-17. We knew Christ "according to the flesh," but we don't any more. Clearly Paul doesn't mean that we lusted after Christ or some such nonsense: he means that we regarded Christ from an ordinary mortal perspective as a Jewish guy who lived and died. Part of dying with Christ (v. 14-15) is dying to this ordinary mortal point of view, which includes dying to the ordinary mortal outlook on following the law.

It seems that Wright reads the Epistles through Christ's life in the flesh as it were, recorded in the Gospels. But Paul says it's the death and resurrection that changed everything, by which everyone died to the law and through which the new creation is ushered in.

daniel said...

My brother Timothy wrote a song on freedom check it out - www.myspace.com/timothyhutchinson

Jason Hesiak said...

from Rome: The Book of Foundations, by Michel Serres (the quote refers to the "AUC", which is Ab urbe condita, which is "from the founding of Rome", which wikipedia says is typically set at 753 BC, but I remember something about 7thirty-something bc, but whatever):

S.'s lyrical discourse proceeds by juxtaposition and metaphor, especially aural and visual ones (evocations of noise, light, and fluidity are especially frequent). Two images recur throughout Rome: the black box and the white box. The black box is Cacus' cave, into which all tracks lead: of the oxen, of Hercules, of Cacus, of the shepherds who try to rescue Cacus; whose floor is crisscrossed with an infinite number of tracks, an "ichnography" of the possible, the raw material of history before a particular narrative follows one of the traces. In the black box there is also noise -- the lowing of the oxen, the victory cries of Hercules, the death cries of Cacus -- and confusion and above all, murder, the quintessential founding gesture of Rome. The white box, on the other hand, is the blank ("blanc") space with no defining parts, no determining marks, the silent, trackless, definitionless space that is the pendant to the cave. It is the river Albula before Tiberinus dies in it, giving it a name and pulling it into history; the white-robed vestal Rhea before she is violated by Mars; the city Alba whose people are divided and murdered by Romans (Horatius divides and slaughters the trio of Alban Curiatii; Tullus divides the traitorous Mettius Fufetius who cannot distinguish between enemy and friend). The black box is the object, the res, that absorbs all possibilities; it is Rome, which ceaselessly repeats its foundation and never stops killing. Its white counterpart reflects all possibilities; it is the joker, the blank element that can take on any meaning and that consequently triggers change, bifurcation, movement (32-6); it is the element of total capability which "is in Rome as the potential is in power" (47).

S. connects the two boxes to our theories of scientific knowledge, which use the language of light and exposure. He contends that when you open the black box, when you unravel the tracks or expose the bodies, you are left not with truth but with the blank white, something without meaning (71-6). Reason and logic, far from being the only way to uncover truth, depend on concealment and exclusion, as history depends on interpretation -- events of themselves are only so many crossing tracks, until one narrative thread is chosen. S. approaches the text and the world by listening to all the possible kinds of explanation -- myth, history, poetry, science -- and tries to understand their relations to one another.

It makes sense that building a structure takes more skill than tearing one down, that Penelope weaves in the daylight but can only dissolve -- analyze -- her work at night (79-80). S.'s analogies for the process of criticism are particularly revealing if one thinks about the critical tool most frequently applied to the AUC, the division of its narrative into its constituent parts (Claudius, Valerius, Polybius, etc.). This undoing of the AUC's narrative threads is a task which has produced, to my mind, a Livy who is a true blank: an empty space, characterless, whose worth lies primarily in the histories of others that he has woven together, Ariadne-like, into a textile that must be destroyed in order to be read. S.'s constructive approach to the text has much more to offer.

Jason Hesiak said...

oops that quote and the following are from:
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1992/03.03.14.html

(the very next paragraph after the last quote ends is as follows)As Rome repeatedly founds itself on murder, it does so by constructing a collective, a multitude centered on a single sacrificial victim (S. is much influenced by Girard's scapegoat, around which the community constitutes itself). Chapters 3 and 4, on empire and suffrage, explore the nature of the collective and its relationship to the sacrificial object that provides its identity. Empire, which S. images as the diasparagmos of Romulus (he tentatively derives imperium from pars), is the sharing of power into parts, the guilty division of the king's body; suffrage, election by acclamation, is the lapidation of Tarpeia, the hurling of thousands of bracelets -- or voices/votes -- onto the victim. In either case, the violence that destroys the object allows the collective to divide itself from the disorder that characterized it when it was pure multiplicity. Not only human societies but human sciences are formed this way: the act of exclusion, the constitution of a group by means of the scapegoat, is what begins history, politics, language -- any ordered system (107-108). Each system is only stable while it has confidence in its central object (113). When it loses that confidence kings are killed, the plebs revolt, a new collective is formed.

What I am getting at is the question of "the institution." Although Rome "repeatedly founds itself on murder", does that render institution of the Church unworthy? Or rather, as Girand suggests, is the Church FOUNDED on "good sacrafice"?

Jason Hesiak said...

i mean erdman...i understand that your issue is about more than "institutionalizatin"...its primarily about law and freedom for you, i think...but i don't understand why that's a reason to stop going to church. so because the institution of money gives rules of economic exchange...and since Christ sets us free...we are should barter with each other or something (or, the analogy to leaving the church in that instance would be more like not interacting economically with anyone...or only with people who don't use money or something)?

Or what about the institutions of marriage and family? Since the institution of marriage governs sex and such things, we shouldn't get married? Christ sets us free to decide when to engage in sexual and with whom (as individuals, free from the "herd"?)?

I'm asking...there's something in me Erdman that wants to challenge you...not sure if that's me or God to be honest...but at the same time I just don't understand and am genuinely asking qeustions for understanding.

I've been reading Thomas a Kempis' Of The Imitation of Christ lately. Even outside of that, it seems to me that one of the primary things the gospel calls us to is humility. Kempis even has a whole chapter/section title based on the idea of "submitting to authority". In other words, I would think that the gospel would call us to a kind of humility that leads to submitting to and serving the church rather than leaving it because of its "institutionaliztion." But I say that hesitantly, because I don't fully understand what you're saying Erdmanian.

ktismatics said...

Hey Jason. I'm not following your discussion of Rome or its relevance here, but it seems that it's related to calling the Erdmanian back to church. So I'll sidestep that exhortation and return to the main point of the post.

In Ephesians 2:15 Paul says that Christ created Jew and Gentile into one "new man." What was it that had previously kept the two old men apart? Paul doesn’t blame the Gentiles’ sinfulness or unbelief. Instead, he says that the dividing wall was the Law: the commandments and ordinances that distinguished Israel from its neighbors. As in the Galatians 6 passage I mentioned in my last comment, Paul here associates the Law with the flesh: circumcision is "performed in the flesh by human hands" (v. 11); Jesus "abolished in the flesh" the enmity between Jew and Gentile, which is the Law itself (v. 15). In destroying the barrier and in creating the one new man, God reconciles Jew and Gentile to one another and establishes peace (v. 15f). Here's the passage:

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph. 2:13-16)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

Let's take Wal-Mart as an example. Are they an "evil" institution? Perhaps. But perhaps not. Based on what I see, I would say they represent a good deal of both good and evil. They provide affordable goods, they employ a lot of people, and they cater to our fast paced lifestyle by providing everything in one place. Downside: they squeezed out the mom and pops store and have cheated their workers.

How people respond to the institution is up to them. But I start with the assumption that Jesus came to this world to bring light to the darkness; he came to redeem individuals so that they could imitate his life of sacrifice and live a life of love in the Christian community and in the world.

The church is the collection of all believers, regardless of whether they like it or not. The church as an institution is not the church. So, what someone does with the institution is up to them. In my case, I think that my church (as an institution) has lost its way. They disagree with me. So, I choose not to attend Sunday morning services b/c for me it is only frustrating. I am still a member of my church (institution), but I choose not to support their mission right now b/c it just doesn't line up with the NT and it doesn't (in my opinion) make a significant difference in our culture and community.

That's my general position, Jason. What do you think? Did that answer your questions? I am glad you felt free to challenge me...that's a good thing!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

What is interesting is that for many Protestants follow Calvin/Kant in saying that there is a moral law. The moral law is absolute and unchanging. What Paul is talking about here (in Ephesians 2) is not the moral law, but the aspects of the Mosaic law that were a matter of ceremony or ritual. This is clearly Wright's position as articulated above by Craig.

I'm not convinced about the existence of an absolute/universal moral law. Further, I'm not convinced that Paul had any such distinctions in his mind. Categorizing the law as "moral" or "non-moral" strikes me as a very Modern move and not one that Paul himself would have had in mind.

I think distinguishing categories of laws may be useful in some contexts, but in terms of discussing Paul's theology of freedom, I think it has pushed most commentators and theologians off point.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

I think as a general rule, the institution tends to operate based on conformity rather than promoting freedom. Usually the freer we are, the more of a threat we are to the institution.

It doesn't have to be that way, but that just seems to be how the institution operates.

Jason Hesiak said...

Doyle...howdy :) to be clear i wasn't ehorting the erdmanian. i'm not sure what it was...but at this point it stands as a question. maybe in the end it is an ehortation i don't know. BUT...that said...i think i get the point of the post and of your comment...and of Paul...but what I don't understand is how that leads to leaving the "institutional" church. and the connection to Rome is that Rome is where all this "institutional" stuff came from. and all that said...i'm going to go back and reread the post and all the comments later. can't now, working. kinda feel bad for being on here so much today, actually. although it is fun :)

Jason Hesiak said...

erdman...yeah but conformity to what? a certain fashion? a certain morality? if a morality...then what morality? don't smoke don't cuss yada yada...or morality of sex in/out of marriage? or conformity to "be a nice guy"? conformity to what? and if its the b.s. ones like conformity to fasion or "don't 'cuss'", then i still don't see that as a reason to leaave.

or maybe you're talking about conformity to consumerism? for me that one becomes an issue of submission/humility...because for me i know its my pride that makes me want to go away from that entirely.

Jason Hesiak said...

i missed your wal-mart comment before! oops...

but i don't read it as his coming to redeem individuals. i see it as cosmic, and humans and each particular human is part of that.

and i can understand the whole "not making a significant difference in the community" thing! as for the disagreement...on what? this freedom/Law theology stuff? where most "conservatives" return to the argument that "Jesus came to fulfill the Law"...that's your church, and you disagree?

Jason Hesiak said...

oh and why is the church as an institution not the church!? where would you find a church that is not institutional? i mean i can see the idea of not relying on such a systematic way of...establishing authority and trust...of...communicating God's truth and doing God's work...where this is a perversion of how to bring God's kingdom...but...this "institutionality" is just the way it is now. that's why i referred to the whole submission thing with thomas a kempis. that's been important for me lately. its not like God's kingdom is no longer God's kingdom because the church became institutional. for me the church is still the/a main place for me to go to encounter God and grow with a group of believers...even though i don't think like most all of them. i would certainly prefer to go to the insitution of the church than to do it alone as an individual.

Jason Hesiak said...

was reading the early comments (and post) at lunch and liked them a lot...

Jonathan Erdman said...

No, I'm not saying I don't attend church b/c of a theological disagreement or anything silly like that.....nor do i want to be too harsh on my church.....for me it's first and foremost a personal thing......I just find the services weak and unproductive. Middle age, baby boomer white guys spend most of the service preaching at me. We also spend time singing rehearsed songs. It all seems more like a stadium show. And I don't really enjoy the show anymore, so I don't go. The disagreement (that I spoke of earlier) is that the elders in my church believe the show is the main purpose of our existence as a church. But I think the body of Christ should be something more dynamic, less institutional, and more fellowship oriented. Also, I think the church should be focused on what happens outside the building, not inside the building. Our church leaders seems mezmorized by what happens inside the walls. I don't think it has always been that way; I think it just keeps moving that direction more and more as time goes by and more people come to our services. I'm not being judgmental here b/c if I were a preacher or worship leader I would do the exact same thing: people are coming to hear me preach/play, so God must be at work. I may sound harsh, but I don't blame them b/c I would do the exact same thing. So, it's more a personal thing, and if someone gets something from the services, then I'm all for it. But our church is just like all others in America in that (by and large) it is losing the young (under 30) crowd.

To quote the Beatles, "You tell me it's the institution....weeeeel ya' know.....ya' better free your mind instead...."

Regarding the term "institution"

Jason, I don't hold the term "institution" and "non-institution" as binary opposites; these distinctions do not hold absolutely. I have poststructuralist sympathies, so I don't concretize dichotomies. However, it is helpful in some cases to use dichotomies. In the case of the body of Christ, I think it is self-evident that some congregations are more institutionalized and some are less institutionalized. All gatherings may have some form of organization/leadership that make them "institutionalized" and surely even the most institutionalized form of Christianity contains some elements of freedom. So, it comes down to an individual level again: are we as believers cultivating each other's freedom? Or has the institution become an end in and of itself?

ktismatics said...

Like Hesiak, I too have glossed over some prior comments, I'll go back to the overlap with Craig on Eph. 2. He emphasizes that Paul isn't saying that Christ "destroyed" the Law but that He "caused it to be rendered idle." That's fair enough: in Eph. 2:15 you could say that Christ made irrelevant the enmity between Jews and Gentiles which the Law produced. However, Paul goes on to say in v. 16 that Christ "put to death" the enmity, which Paul previously equates with the Law -- so I wouldn't get too comfortable with softening the blow that Paul is wielding here.

But why is it merely the ritual aspects of Law that Paul is talking about here? The original contention is that Law stimulates desire. So let's say the Gentiles desired access to God but were prevented by the Law from gaining access. And so the Gentiles resent the Jews. On the other side, the Law prohibits the Jews from associating with the Gentiles, which may have increased the desire of the Jews to do that very thing -- intermarry, build idols, etc. So the Jews resent the Gentiles for not being under obligation to the Law. It also makes the Gentiles equivalent to the forbidden fruit, reserved for God's pleasure alone. The Law generates resentment on both sides of the divide.

And now here's the link to Jason's references to Rene Girard, though in a different context. Girard attributes most interpersonal conflict to "mimetic desire" Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:

Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person — the model — for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. Through the object, one is drawn to the model, whom Girard calls the mediator: it is in fact the model who is sought. René Girard calls desire "metaphysical" in the measure that, as soon as a desire is something more than a simple need or appetite, "all desire is a desire to be," it is an aspiration, the dream of a fullness attributed to the mediator.

So for Girard, we desire what the other desires, to be what the other is. Jews desire what Gentiles have and vice versa, Jews desire to be Gentiles and vice versa. And the Law is the mediator that marks the separation and stimulates the mimetic rivalry: on the one side are the chosen who are desired by the outsiders, on the other are the prohibited ones who are desired by the law-followers. And so there is rivalry based on this mimetic desire - what Paul calls the enmity. See also , which links him to Hegel. The connection with Lacan is also clear, though it's not clear whether either was influenced by the other in arriving at their ideas. I recommend Girard if you've not read any of his stuff: Violence and the Sacred and Things Hidden Since the Foundataion of the World are both excellent.

Now here's another interesting thing. Wright makes reference to Paul's insistence on strict morality in 1 Cor. 5. The specific situation that sets Paul off is "that someone has his father's wife." Does this particular violation sound familiar? It's the Oedipus complex. For Freud and Lacan it's the boy's desire for his mother, for his father's wife, that's foundational to all other instances of mimetic desire. And it's also foundational to all law -- the incest taboo. The boy admires the father, the father desires his wife, therefore to imitate the father the boy desires the father's wife = the boy's mother. So in 1 Cor. 5 Paul is, intentionally or not, drawing attention to the original source of a situation where the father's prohibition brings out the desire to violate that prohibition.

ktismatics said...

I see the html linkage apparatus is failing me again, Erdman. It worked fine in preview (same complaint as before). Anyhow, the link is to my post on Girard.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Damn, you make for some interesting psyche commentary, Ktismatics! I failed to recognize that we were dealing with a Pauline commentary on the Oedipus Complex! I will think that one through and get back.

Jason Hesiak said...

a. haven't gotten to craig's comment's yet...look foward to it.

b. erdmanian why don't you just find a church you enjoy and in which you are edified? (you pessimistic and depressed about the possibilities :)?

c. if the institution is the/an end in and of itself...then...who's your daddy?
:))) sudden goofiness has overcome me. anyway...seems like the whole "living by the Spirit" rather than "under the Law" thing is to give ourselves to (being with) "the Father (in heaven)." Girard's "good sacrafice" isn't founded on "enmity" but is offered joyfully in love.

ktismatics said...

"Girard's "good sacrafice" isn't founded on "enmity" but is offered joyfully in love."

Yes Hesiak, the good sacrifice is meant to end the enmity caused by mimetic desire. The mediator of mimetic desire is the Law; the mediator of love and freedom is the scapegoat.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason, I stay at the church b/c I believe the body of Christ is more than a once-a-week meeting. I love the people and I'm a member and have been here for over a decade now. Besides this, all the churches in our town are the same.

Jason Hesiak said...

aren't there scapegoat's in both good and bad sacrafice? is the Law paul's scapegoat? kidding kidding...JESUS is the "good" scapegoat.

erdman...OH. so you didn't stop going to church!! you just stopped going on sundays. duuhh. oh ok i get it. jeez why didn't you just say so long ago?!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hesiak: Church is not something you "go to." That's the whole problem here in America: we think it's a once-a-week event, instead of a dynamic community.

Jason Hesiak said...

well i propose that we all learn greek and call it ecclesia.

Jonathan Erdman said...

So, Paul clearly has a problem with the Oedipal scenario in Corinth. And yet I do find it interesting that Paul's primary appeal is not to the wrongness of the action. Granted, Paul "passes judgment," but in 5:5 he says, "hand this man over to Satan, so that the flesh may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." So, for Paul it's still a matter of the flesh. Presumably, Paul has in mind something like what he talks about in Galatians and Romans: that the primary point of the believer's life is to transcend the flesh-law body of death by living in the Spirit. Apparently, Paul found this situation incredible and passed judgment on both the sin and the hubris of the church (5:2).

Thus, I think that Wright's suggestion that this is Paul upholding the so-called "moral law" may be a hasty conclusion. Paul still seems to be concerned about living in the flesh vs. living in the Spirit. So, between Paul closing this tirade and launching into a new one, he comments in 6:17, 19 that "he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit....your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."

The NIV takes a good deal of interpretive liberty and translates sarx as "sexual immorality." That's unfortunate, in my mind; it helps promote the illusion that Paul has a "moral law" in mind.

What do you think, Ktismatics? Is Paul affirming an anti-Oedipal Law? Do you see an inconsistency between Paul's treatment of the Corinthians and his idealized vision of freedom in Galatians 5 (cf. Romans)? Is Paul merely upholding the classic incest taboo?

Jason Hesiak said...

NIV blows.

ktismatics said...

Well I'm not personally committed to Paul's infallibility. I think he's being inconsistent here, especially by telling his readers not even to associate with a "brother" whom he regards as immoral, which sounds quite legalistic to me. Jesus wouldn't have done it this way, even if he was still wrapped up in perfection according to the law -- he still associated with the sinners.

I suspect you'd agree that the sexual urge is quite general and can be attracted to practically anyone. It should certainly be possible for someone to be attracted to his father's wife -- that's what happened to Oedipus, who was raised by someone other than his biological parents. The law, however, forbids this sort of union. As we've already discussed, it's possible that the prohibition itself generates a desire to break the law, to have what's forbidden by the lawmaker (= the father), to be like the lawmaker to whom the prohibition does not apply. So you'd think the thing for Paul to do would be to get this guy into analysis, so he could separate his natural urges from his desires.

ktismatics said...

I can't help but wonder whether Paul had in mind the way things were supposed to go, and he'd use whatever rhetorical weapons he had at his disposal to reinforce his opinion. So let's say the church at Corinth was sort of loosey-goosey, with people speaking in tongues willy-nilly and acting like libertines with respect to law and social convention. Paul wants a more orderly church, so he warns that the immoral types won't inherit the kingdom. On the other hand, when the threat comes from legalists, like at Ephesus and Galatia, he reverses his argument entirely. Still, I can't think of a passage where Paul systematically defends law, but I can find several where he dismantles it.

Freedom in the spirit presumably means acting according to love for one another rather than merely indulging one's personal appetites. Maybe Paul hadn't quite put his finger on how that works, so when pushed to the wall he'd resort to the old paradigm. I'm not clear either on what it means to be guided by the spirit of love.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

Yes, I agree. There does not appear to be any explicit defense by Paul of the law; I don't see any "freedom within limits" stuff. As I've been studying those who defend the use of the law by the believer (Calvin's so-called "Third Way" or "Third Use"), they typically have to point to implications; there isn't any explicit statement by Paul that law should be brought into the picture, except perhaps references to the "law of Christ" (see Gal 6:2)....but that seems like something entirely different to me; it seems like the law of love and freedom, which is not really a law at all.

So, I can't help but think you might be on to something: maybe Paul didn't have this freedom thing completely worked out in his own dealings with the churches; maybe he sometimes resorted to a legalistic tone.

I don't know that I would describe him as completely unjustified in rebuking the church at Corinth. For example, I think it is part of the love relationship to point out times when we indulge the flesh. Paul seems baffled that this guy would do such a thing and that the church at Corinth would still be proud of themselves. Were they cultivating a fellowship of love and respect and freedom? Or were they just having a good time and indulging the flesh?

Paul's sense of frustration comes through loud and clear in his tone. And I think there may be a place for expressing shock when we deal with each other.....Still, it feels like a legalistic thing to me and that's not the spirit of Galatians 5. Maybe with the Corinthians Paul felt desperate? And desperate times called for desperate measures?

tamie said...

Hey Jonathan, you should come visit me in Flagstaff and I will hook you up w/ my friend Dave, who is constantly annoyed when people say they "go to church." He's always saying that we "go be the church," wherever we are. Anyway, here is the website of the thing he's trying to start in Flag: http://flagstaffabbey.ning.com/

Jason Hesiak said...

read some more comments during lunch, and liked them again. REALLY liked the part about the Garden and prohibition and the desire to be like God and get behind the curtain (from where the prohibition came), so to speak. Still haven’t gotten to Craig’s stuff. Guys…I think I needed to hear this. Just what the doctor ordered. Thanks…so far.

Jason Hesiak said...

was reading more at lunch...stopped at the funniest comment yet...

"The unleashed freedom of the Erdmanian Tornado"...

...thank you sam!

:))

Jason Hesiak said...

Well, respecting your neighbor or not coveting your neighbor's wife would be a kindness to someone...circumcision is a random ritual that goes along with cutting up doves and pouring their blood over things. It doesn't have an inherant value.

this sounds like a nautural statement to the modern ear, but its simply not true. i think i...at least partially...agree with the Erdmanian that there isn't really a categorical difference between moral and ritual law. i think we now just don't uderstand the ritual laws of the o.t. i mean after all...we're having a conversation about the righteousness of Christ that we inherit...and one of the prime illustrations of that in the N.T. is from some "random ritual" involving an unblemished lamb :)

and it seems like maybe its possible for the flesh to attach itself to the law...in the sense that a desire to fulfill the law with good works can and or does inflame the desires of the flesh or even become a desire of the flesh...but at the same time that doesn't seem to be a necessary and/or foundational relationship between flesh and law. in other words...i am reading erdman/doyle and craig...and to me its both/and/or....so far. i'm not done yet...

i suppose maybe you could make the argument that if what the flesh does is render the law incapable of blessing BECAUSE the law always wanted to point the way to LIFE (and hence that the division is not between spirit and law but between spirit and flesh)...then you can't swing both ways here. i guess you could say...either the spirit helps us fulfill the law or the spirit stands in opposition to living under the law.

i dunno...i guess...it seems to me that the law can sort of stand between spirit and flesh...can sort of be a battle GROUND...or a kind of medium...or mediator...of both/and spirit and/or flesh...but its a question of either who is winning the battle (spirit or flesh) or what/who the source is that/who is being channeled through the "medium."

BUT...HA...the medium is still the message :) we are people of Law. we will have some relation to Law either way. break it or be broken by it. so i still stand by my previous humility comment :) humility being like rule number 1 or 2 in the universe (not sure which one)...kidding kidding...

for clarity...no one is suggesting...right?...that the "law of sin and death" in romans 8: 3 is the O.T. "Law"...right?

i just got a little further...erdmanian clarifies "i agree that Spirit is not 'opposed' to the law"...but in the same paragraph says "the law increases the desires of the flesh." the point i was making in this comment...above...drawing off of craig...could also go like this...why can't the Law increase the work of the Spirit in our heart and in our life? i see no reason why it can't be so. but i also see no reason why the law can't...or doesn't..."increase the desires of the flesh." i mean...insofar as the Law increases the desires of the flesh...the absence of the law can be a carrot on a stick that increases the desires of the law, can it not?

got further...even craig says in his next comment: "Because of the Adamic flesh, righteous can’t come from the law." ok...for clarity i think what i was suggesting above is a bit different from righteousness actually coming from the law. in my source/meium illustration, the law is not the source.

further borrowing from craig...to further make my point/question about "why can't the Law ALSO help increase the work and presence of the Spirit in our heart and life?" (AND the flesh renders the law incapable of producing righteousness)...this strikes me as similar to the idea that Paul had harsh words for Jews who tried to say that gentiles NEEDED jewish ethnic rituals to make them (gentiles) holy...while paul also said its fine for the jews to continue to participate in those such "ethnic cleansing" (ok, bad joke on the ethnic cleansing thing, i know).

all right i'm done...and i have another queation...

doyle, you said: It seems that Wright reads the Epistles through Christ's life in the flesh as it were, recorded in the Gospels. But Paul says it's the death and resurrection that changed everything, by which everyone died to the law and through which the new creation is ushered in.

the reason that christ's death and resurrection "ushers in" the "new creation"...which in terms of this conversation...is because...we are talking bout living the SPIRIT...which was given at pentacost...after the resurrection? "you have not yet recieved the spirit...it will be better for you that I go" sort of thing?

Jason Hesiak said...

Thus, I think that Wright's suggestion that this is Paul upholding the so-called "moral law" may be a hasty conclusion. Paul still seems to be concerned about living in the flesh vs. living in the Spirit.

before i say this...i haven't read much on wright's position on all this...so i'm going off of what craig said. it seems to me that wright's position is...or at least can be...different from modern "moral law". maybe wright says something elsewhere that equates him more with a more modern moral law...but from the conversation here it sounds like wright and/or craig are simply suggesting that there are certain actions that are not within the limits of a (actual) life in the spirit (after all, an acutal life is lived within a particular, limited space and time :)...

Jason Hesiak said...

oh btw i meant to mention...if the Law is a battle GROUND...or a kind of medium...as i was saying...

...i forgot to explain why i put GROUND in caps...it is related to my saying we are a people of Law. the whole thing i've talked about incessantly before about geometry and "rule" and "ratios" of...for example...the human body. they are part of how we are/were MADE...originally...BEFORE even the "prohibition" not to eat from that one tree! its as if THE Law is a figure that grew from the ground of how were were made. which would make sense then...as to why we sort of "just know" the Law when we are truly free :)!!

Jason Hesiak said...

i wonder if i'm missing something. i really liked the whole thing about...it made a lot fo sense to me...the whole thing about the dude who keeps going after the woman who rejects him. its not the woman he's attracted to, but the (law of) rejection. this illustration illustrates how law is tied to flesh and curse. but i feel i might be missing something...how might that example be related to my question that maybe the Law can also help increas the presence of the Spirit in my life (as long as the spirit is the source of the blessing and not the Law)? it seems as if...ok maybe this is precisely what craig was referring to on the whole "negative" vs. "positive" reading/emphasis of the law?

as a side note...sort of...i am reminded of the many times when david took joy in meditating on the Law...it was like honey, ect. this is actually the kind of thing i have in mind with my question.

btw on the antinominism thing...doyle did explicitly say that the referenced law-of-rejection-abiding dude didn't need to break the law...the dude just needed to not live under it. so i'm not too sure that's the issue here. although maybe it is if...if...if what's a stake is a life without limit or a life with limit (on good/bad actions) is what determines if antinominism is the issue...then maybe that is the issue, i dunno.

Jason Hesiak said...

oh and another thought/question i have...i wonder if or how much there is a correlation between this "stress" of the "Erdmanian Tornado" (and "Doctor Doyle") on the "negative" side of the law...and deconstruction...which the Erdmanian says is fundamental to the being of the world (or something like that :)???

Jonathan Erdman said...

THIS IS COMMENT #

99

please stop here and comment no more

Jonathan Erdman said...

Regarding the so-called "categories" of the OT law....Jason, you expressed some agreement that there may be no "real" difference between moral and ceremonial parts of the OT law.

A friend of mine emailed me this link. It is to Justin Taylor's post summarizing an article by David Dorsey (that came out a few years back).

Here is Justin's summary:

I've done a fair bit of reading on Christ and the law over the years, but today I reread an article that I remember being especially provocative and insightful. Written 17 years ago by David Dorsey, it's called, “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise,” JETS 34 (1991): 321-34.

Dorsey intends to propose a "compromise view that in my opinion is more in keeping with the spirit of both the OT and the NT, is less encumbered by logical fallacies, and best accounts for the apparent ambivalence of the NT on the issue of the law." What, then, is his view? "Simply stated it holds that, legally, none of the 613 stipulations of the Sinaitic covenant are binding upon NT Christians, including the so-called moral laws, while in a revelatory and pedagogical sense all 613 laws are binding upon us, including all the ceremonial and civil laws."

Jason Hesiak said...

erdman your "comment no more after this comment 99" rule has been broken. you blasphemer.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason, you are a law breaker.

Jason Hesiak said...

i'm a soul rebel

Jason Hesiak said...

this is funny...and relevant...

http://www.videosift.com/video/Monty-Pythons-International-Philosophy-sketch-Archimedes-playing-soccer

pertinent line (mainly): "nietche gets a yellow card...and nietche accuses confucius of having no free will"