1. Theology is for a way of life. We only speak of God at the point of intersection between God and humanity. Theology guides the church into a way of viewing the Christian faith in the context of our tradition and particular practices. It is intended to be a relevant practice; often theology refuses to be relevant. Volf seeks to maintain relevance by speaking about how God relates to particular issues of our world.
2. Is theology “systematic”? Theology helps us to see how things “fit” together; it aids our understanding of Christianity in that it provides consistency to our beliefs. But we must be careful about this… our Scriptures aren’t neat and orderly like we would like them to be, and we shouldn’t attempt to cram everything into the same suitcase of theology…yet we can’t leave these things behind, either! Volf suggests letting them “dangle out of the suitcase,” or, taking these things as carry-ons luggage. The complex things of the faith are seen as resources and not competitors to our theology. This requires patience, and humility, as well as a respect for our Scripture.
3. Christians are in the precarious position of attempting to avoid both sectarianism (by defining ourselves as what the world is NOT) and radical accomodation (reshaping our faith based on the surrounding culture). This is where Volf’s(admittedly messy) idea of “embrace” (opening ourselves to the “other”) and “double vision” (Attempting to see/understand the world through the “other’s” eyes)can be helpful tools for theology. It is good for Christians to enter into the world, into the “pluralistic marketplace,” and with an attitude of humility and respect, attempt to both proclaim and learn.
4. Volf is a pacifist, but he does not shy away (as many Christians do) from the idea of a God who seeks justice. God in his holiness demands justice, and becomes violent in reponse… that violence being directed towards the violence of humanity. Volf speaks about justice in terms of the violence that we invoke towards one another– and that there will be a “leveling” of the playing field one day. God is patient with those who perpetrate violence, and does everything he can to penetrate their hearts (e.g. die for them on a cross). Yet the incessance of perpetrators, combined with the impatience of the victims who cry out, “How long, o Lord?” allows the possibility/justification for a divine violence. (Volf is hopeful, however, that God’s mercy (invoked by the perpetrator’s surrender) will be the last word.)
5. Christians, however, follow the model of Christ and submit to the violence of the world, and in doing so enacting violence upon violence. This is the only option for us; seeking justice through violence is in the hands of God alone; we do not take up the sword. (We must also consider how we perpetrate violence of various kinds–by excluding others, unjust economic systems, pride and ignorance, racism and prejudice, insistence on a Western perspective, refusing to show love to the least of these, etc.– and repent.)
6. Indifference is a scary thing; Volf states that those who are indifferent to God, even as a self-proclaimed “Christian,” is farther away from God than the staunch atheist (e.g. Nietzche), who takes God seriously enough to deny him! Indifference is a drug that numbs us from “feeling,” from loving.
7. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. There is no exit from God’s relationship to us.
8. Volf spoke on atonement theories a little bit: There are two traditional views popular today: the substitutionary atonement theory (e.g. Anselm), and the identification theory (e.g. like Abelard). (Christus Victor is closely related to the former; think Narnia.) These are traditional conservative and liberal understandings, respectively. Volf likes the term inclusive substitution; Christ performs a substitutionary act in which we are present with him at the cross. (echo of Paul: “I have been crucified w/ Christ”) In an important sense, the violence rendered to Christ was rendered to us as well. In some sense, therefore, we do identify with Christ, although it is not a mere identification. (Complicated idea, I know. What do you expect from atonement theories?)
9. Chew on this: God takes the anger of God onto God.
10. The church has an important role in His plan for the world’s redemption. Yet the Gospel remains above the church–thankfully, considering the number of times the church has failed the Gospel in our history. Volf states (and I share this sentiment) that his experience with the church would not lead to a faith in God; it is his confrontation with the Gospel that has resulted in faith.
We also had “breakout” groups during the conference; mine discussed social justice, Volf, and emergent. I have some thoughts from that convo, but I’ll save them for later.