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

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Slaves and Heirs

One of the key distinctions for most versions of Christianity is a stark distinction between "saved" and "unsaved." There are the B.C. days, meaning "before Christ," and there are the "I'm a new creation" days that come after salvation. The salvation experience, then, is a complete ontological change, a drastic transformation from one spiritual state-of-being to another.

This ontological transformation is clearly an important part of the theology of the Apostle Paul. "Behold, all things have become new." Those who are of the faith are "a new creation." The language of the Apostle Paul is clearly aimed at transforming our belief about ourselves, to conceive of ourselves as radically different. Holy. Chosen. Loved.

I have always been a bit suspicious of this stark dichotomy between "believer" and "unbeliever." Common experience shows that "believers" are not quite as perfect as they would like to be, and "unbelievers" are not quite as "depraved" as many Christians would like them to be.

Apart from common experience, though, my recent study of Galatians shows that in the writings of the Apostle Paul, himself, there may be reason to question this dichotomy. I would like to turn your attention to Galatians chapter 4.

In Galatians 4, Paul begins by talking about how an "heir" (kleronomos) is no different from a "slave" (doulos), at least while the heir is still "under age" (nepios). In one sense, the heir is still the "ruler of all," but in another sense the heir is like the slave; this is true, until the time is set for the heir to receive the inheritance and actually assume their position as the ruler and lord.

For Paul, this is an analogy for the Galatians. They were at one time "under the elemental spiritual forces of this world" (hupo ta stoichia tou kosmou). This time period, though, was the time period of being "under age" (nepios). Paul uses this same word, nepios, to describe the situation of the Galatians when they were not yet believers. If the analogy holds, then, it seems that the Galatians, although not yet believers were still heirs. They were just still nepios, they were under aged and had not yet discovered the fullness of who they are.

This passage lead me to consider that the believer/unbeliever dichotomy might not be as sound as many like to believe. Is it possible that those who are living "under the elemental spiritual forces of this world" are simply not yet of age? Not yet come into the fullness of who they are? And if we take this a step further, perhaps wisdom and humility would suggest that none of us have completely arrived in this regard. That we are all coming into our own as heirs. While there may be a specific time at which the "heir" becomes "master" and assumes the control of the inheritance and the position of lord, it is equally true that becoming a wise, discerning, and benevolent is a life-long process. Theologians sometimes speak of this as "already, not-yet."

While a person may have a spiritual conversion experience, this does not yet mean that a person has fully come into their own as a person of faith. In fact, observation often reveals that if someone believes themselves to have "arrived," then this is often indicative of pride and ego-assertiveness. When pride and ego become the dominant sources of motivation in life, then one can actually experience a good deal of personal and spiritual regress. In this sense, making a sharp dichotomy between "believer" (those who have arrived or are farther along) and "unbeliever" (those who still need a bit of work to get on down the road a bit) might be counter productive.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On surviving without faith

"If you have a particular faith or religion, that is good. But you can survive without it."
The Dalai Lama
From the Vancouver Sun, September 26, 2009

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Book

Well, my dear blogging friends, Tamie and I are in the process of a six week road trip. We are primarily camping and visiting friends in the pacific northwest. (You can get trip updates at her blog.)

We very much enjoyed our stay in Minneapolis/St. Paul with a few of Tamie's good friends, Dave and Kacey. The Twin Cities are a wonderful metro area. Of special interest to myself is how much the natural environment is integrated into the city. There are many lakes within the city, the Mississippi River, many trees, and an extensive system of biking/walking trails for alternative commuting. The Twin Cities are definitely an urban area that I could see myself inhabiting.

But to the main point of this blog post, which is to leak a bit of information: I have been working on the beginning phase of thinking through a book. This is my first shot at writing a book, and as such I am excited about the venture. The topic is grace, and the book will be an attempt to weave together many threats: theological writings on grace, philosophical issues, a New Testament exegesis of the Apostle Paul's thoughts on grace, and the implications that grace has for spiritual and psychological transformation.

Much of my personal pilgrimage in recent years has continually come back to the issue of grace. Everything in the lives we live in this world seems to contain conditions, everything has a catch. In philosophical and theological terms, everything is involved in an economy of reciprocity. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

My point is not necessarily to say that this situation (this economy of reciprocity) is wrong. Even Paul (see Romans 4) does not say that the economy of exchange is wrong: the one who works for his wages gets what he works for, nothing more, nothing less. But grace seems to move beyond reciprocity, which creates a problem because we have no reference for a non-reciprocal reception of anything! Normal experience teaches us that there is no gift given that has no strings attached. This is the world we inhabit, this is the perspective that colors the way we view others (and the relationships we cultivate). There is no free lunch.

Protestant Christianity of all stripes carries this idea into their idea of grace, albeit in a way that I consider to be somewhat disingenuous: God gives you the "free" gift of salvation.....therefore....you should should be grateful and do __________. Where many Christians differ is in the way they fill in the blank. But there always seems to be a blank. The result of this is that most Christians carry forward some brand of guilt--guilt for not being good enough or making enough "spiritual progress," moral failings, etc.

But Christianity is not going to be my sole focus. I hope to write a book whose relevance reaches non-Christians and the non-religious. Paul's gospel of grace, after all, was originally aimed at the "uncircumcision," the non-chosen ones. (See Galatians 2 for Paul's own description of his mission.) In its pure form, Paul's gospel of grace seems to have been a quite radical form of non-reciprocity. My hope, then, is to understand how this radical notion of grace might open up dialog between faiths and between those of faith and those without faith.

I want to reimagine what grace might be if we stripped it down bare. What if grace truly became the centrality of theology, doctrine, practice, and spirituality? What if there never were strings attached? Can we even begin to thing this way?

More and more I am realizing that this project is about using language to describe what is beyond and deeper than language. As such, one of the main focuses of this book will be to write what we might call creative theology; that is, using writing ot inspire the imagination, to open up possibilities and new beginnings, not just to close off the topic by presenting the conclusive word on the subject. Grace is to big for that, too deep. I hope that the writing will not merely be the transfer of theoretical information (as important as that is) but rather the kind of language that generates the spiritual and psychological creativity of the reader, leading the reader to both go deeper into herself and at the same time farther beyond herself than she could have envisioned.

Therefore, I look froward in the future to post questions and comments about grace. I am interested in your thoughts and questions on this project.

What about grace is of interest to you? How does grace relate to your experiences?

I think it would be fantastic to generate discussion prior to the writing of a book, so that the book possibly might be something that grows out of conversation and dialog.

You can leave comments here, or email me at erdman31@gmail.com.

Friday, October 02, 2009


"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"

"I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life."

"It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."

"Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well."

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."