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Volf @ Yale, Part 2

February 15, 2006

[I was looking for a photo to spice up the blog and found this interview, which was quite interesting, and which offered a nice view of MV's background and family life.]

The second session with Miroslav Volf took place on Tuesday morning; here’s some of what struck me:

One of the extraordinary features of early Christianity (in John’s epistles, for example) is the co-incidence of censure and love. So too, truth is always given with a call to action. Truth leads to love. What is problematic is a “possession of truth”, where a person feels that they have mastered that truth. Instead, we ought to see ourselves as “seekers of truth”– to think of my understanding as provisional, and to humbly submit it to others while learning from them as well. So that we have a kind of ‘reflective mode’–where we work on the development of our faith– and an ‘active mode’ where we take what we know (as best as we know it) and put it into practice. MV described this as ‘Pascal’s Wager enacted’. In all of this, we realize that we are witnesses to something much larger than ourselves and something which we will never truly comprehend. But still, especially. when engaged in things like prayer and preaching, we must work out of this ‘active mode’ where we act in spite of our (relative) uncertainty.

When MV was taking some questions about the conclusion of Exclusion and Embrace, where he explores John’s Revelation and what he calls the ‘Divine Exclusion’ of those who will not yield to God’s love, my mind wandered a bit. I thought about how this vivid description of Divine Exclusion actually helps to alleviate our desire for revenge. “I hope they burn in hell forever,” is a natural and easy thing to say for those who have suffered greatly at the hand of others, but it is awful to consider. In allowing God alone to deal in punishment and retribution, we can free ourselves up to find some way to embrace our enemy. When I tuned back in to the conversation, MV was explaining that he personally hopes that Divine Retribution will not happen, though he imagines that it may be necessary.

Then we got into some very interesting insight about atheism and theism. “Nietzsche’s anger is better than Christian indifference,” he said. It is more difficult for MV to imagine half-drunk consumers coming to an evangelistic service than hard-core atheists and/or sober unbelievers. He noted his respect for pastors who preach to saints anesthetized by a consumer culture– that he’d prefer to argue with his atheist friends in the cafe than to try to wake up the saints. As such, he sees Habakkuk and Job (where people boldly accuse God of unkindness and injustice) as an embrace of faith. That his relative who suffers with severe disabilities and a related anger toward God has a much more honest and real and healthy relationship with God than those who frequently line the pews. That he sees Nietzsche’s descent into insanity as a kind of inability to maintain the faith of atheism. In the end, for all of his promotion of superman and a kind of non-moral view of the world, it was his own embrace of a horse that was being horribly mistreated that pushed Nietzsche over the edge.

Questioned about theories of atonement, MV cited Barth’s understanding: God is a judge who is judged in our place. He lets the wrong rest on himself in the person of Jesus Christ. We must combine the idea of the anger of God toward injustice and exclusion with the idea of God as One who takes the sin of the world on himself. Herein we see illustrated the mystery of the Trinity. So the idea here is less of retribution for sin, and more of containment– a Divine constraint of sin.

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One Response to “Volf @ Yale, Part 2”

  1. Trish Groe says:


    i am going to have to read and re-read your insight. Thank you for transcribing your thoughts.

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