A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On Questioning the Questions, On Debating the Debate

One of the things I have learned as a student of Stanley Hauerwas is to continually question the questions being posed for debate on any issue and not to simply accept the terminology and definitions that frame so much modern theological and ethical discussion. Taken too far, of course, it can be forgotten that there are theological and moral issues that are currently framed quite well.


On this blog I have questioned such notions and their accompanying terminology. I have questioned the language of rights, fundamentalism, sectarianism, the politics of left and right, modern expressions of conservatism and progressivism, the dichotomy of church and state, the church's almost unexamined understanding of how it is politically involved, and other such matters. I get push back from my readers when I question such things and for that I am grateful. Such discussion and the back and forth of debate is critical as Christians seek to live as faithful disciples. But the point of this post is to reinforce my view that if Christians continually argue within the conceptual framework of modernity, our discussions will often fall short of the kind of theological and moral reflection that will offer something different to the world than simply the same old discussions that everyone can have apart from Christian convictions.

For example, I have suggested in past posts that the way the current debate over abortion is framed is unhelpful, and from a Christian perspective, quite problematic. There is no such thing as a right to life nor is there such a thing as a right to choose, and Christians should simply reject this conceptual framework. Choice is not a right; choice is a given, and the issue is not the choice itself, but what choices are made. Life is not a right; life is a gift from God. That is biblical. With this conceptual framework, the issue of abortion can now be seen in a different light. As Hauerwas also argues, the major issue for Christians when it comes to abortion is not whether life begins at conception, but that we hope it does, because Christians believe that God is redeeming this world and we should stand ready to welcome children into the world as a sign of that hope.

Abortion is only one example. The overall point, however, is that the followers of Jesus do not have to simply accept the questions and the terminology as they have been handed to us from modernity. That doesn't mean that modern philosophical reflection has gotten everything wrong, but it has drifted far enough away from Christian theological and doctrinal moorings that Christians should be wary when they are subtly informed, even by fellow Christians, that they have to play the rules of the debate game by the rules as they are already laid out in front of them. As Hauerwas also notes, "the way things are are not the way they have to be."

Once we truly begin to question the questions and debate the debate itself, we can also begin to inject the kind of wisdom and reflection into the discussion that will move us out of the box of an often stunted and myopic modern worldview, into something that might even allow us to peer over the horizon to glimpse the Kingdom of God in fresh ways. It might also mean that our theology and doctrine will no longer seem to be beside the point to be rejected in favor of a solely pragmatic argument and solution.

It could happen...

3 comments:

Steve Mittelstaedt said...

It is true that "there are theological and moral issues that are currently framed quite well." But I suspect that, in line with what you say about modernity, very little of that framing is recent.

One of the problems in modern Christianity is that we seem to view faith through the lens of cognitive belief, rather than as allegiance to the risen Christ. Faith becomes no more than a set of propositions to be argued. It is faith as ideology.

Quincy Wheeler said...

I appreciate this greatly, Dr. Bevere! I think Jesus shows us a very similar dynamic in his re-framing of every discussion from a kingdom/Gospel framework. Thanks for leading us, His followers, in learning how to do the same.

Robert Hunt said...

I've used this post as an example of something I think is problematic: the privileging of a so-called conceptual framework of scripture over the conceptual framework of modernity. Faith in Christ isn't the same as adopting the conceptual framework of scripture. It may be just the opposite. In any case I quote the column above extensively, so its only fair that those who disagree or believe I've misrepresented it have a chance to do so. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/roberthunt/2016/07/you-are-asking-the-wrong-questions/