Between the Lines presents conversations that we have shared with our authors about their book, its inspiration, and its reception.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, PhD – Part 1

We recently had the chance to talk with Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, PhD, about her book, Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness.

Kathryn Greene-McCreight (PhD., Yale University) is Priest Associate at The Episcopal Church at Yale. Her previous books include Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvin, and Barth Read the Plain Sense of Genesis 1–3 and Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine: A Narrative Analysis and Appraisal.  She also serves on the board of the Elm City Chapter of NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and on the Patient and Advisory Council of Yale Psychiatric Hospital.

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1. What makes this book different from any other narrative of mental illness? You’ve written theological books before—how does this one differ from your other work?

A colleague once referred to the book as a memoir, but I corrected her. It is not a memoir. If it fits a genre, I might say it is a theodicy, but that doesn’t work either. Modern philosophical theodicy dwells on the level of theory. There is nothing wrong per se with theories about God’s relation to human suffering—unless you are in the midst of suffering, in which case theories are the last thing you need. Don’t try to give a theory to someone in the death throes of stage four cancer or to someone at the window ledge ready to jump.

Darkness asks questions about God’s relation to human suffering but from within a specific life, the life of a Christian trying to live faithfully with and in spite of a mental illness. The larger framework is not philosophical. The framework in which the questions are asked and lived out is orthodox Christian confession and practice.

I suppose I would say that, more properly, the book is a lament; it is a prayer; it is a testimony. It is an offering for the upbuilding of the Church in love of God and love of neighbor, especially in love of those neighbors who happen to live with mental illnesses.

 

2. Why did you title your book Darkness Is My Only Companion?

The phrase “Darkness is my only companion” is from the final verse of Psalm 88 in the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP) psalter. Because I pray the psalms from the Book of Common Prayer, I memorized the verse as it is translated there: “My friend and neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion.” When I prayed, it rang out to me. As hard as this may be for others to understand, it even reassured me. I could feel completely alone and in pain and in darkness, but that was okay. My complete despair was not a sign of my lack of faith. If the psalmist could cry out in such misery, then I felt it was okay for me to say it too.

But here is where things get muddy. You can blame the negativity of my title on the odd translation of the 1979 revision of the 1928 prayerbook’s psalter. The 1979 BCP modernized Coverdale’s long-cherished translation of the psalter, which had laid the foundation for the classical tradition of English psalmody from the sixteenth century onward. Here is Coverdale’s translation: “My lovers and friends hast thou put away from me, and hid mine acquaintance out of my sight.” Coverdale’s translation is closer, it seems to me, to the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Vulgate than is the 1979 BCP. In fact, I don’t quite see how or why the translators came to render the verse as they did. Here it is in the RSV: “Thou hast caused lover and friend to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” The NRSV is not much different. “You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” The other English translations I checked do not understand darkness itself to be the psalmist’s companion.

If I were to have written it now, I think I would have entitled it using the first part of John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness.” Or maybe Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” I would choose these not so much because they are more uplifting than “Darkness is my only companion,” but because I don’t like the 1979 BCP translation of Psalm 88:19! But this didn’t occur to me at the time.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger – Part 2

We recently had the chance to talk with Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger about their Brazos book, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction.

Brad Harper (PhD, St. Louis University) is professor of theology at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. He is the college adviser for The Institute for Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and the book review editor forCultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture. He has also worked as a pastor and church planter.

Paul Louis Metzger (PhD, King’s College London) is professor of Christian theology and theology of culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary and director of its Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins. He is the editor of the journal Cultural Encounters and the author of Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church.

Last week, Brad and Paul explained what ecclesiology is, why evangelicals should care about it, and how it affects how we experience the church.

In today’s post, Brad and Paul address what evangelicals can learn from other ecclesiologies and how ecclesiology can inform our worship and the role of women in our churches.

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What can evangelicals learn from other ecclesiologies?

Here again, we find a question with deep and broad implications. We often tell our students that if they want to do theology well they need to listen vertically (to two thousand years of church history) and horizontally (across the spectrum of traditions). From the Catholic and Orthodox traditions especially, evangelicals can learn that being a Christian is not just about inviting Jesus into our hearts as individuals.

It also entails being constituted and shaped by the saved community: in other words, the saved community is indispensable to our growth as believers. In the early church, if a person were asked what it means to be a Christian, his first response may not have been “I have accepted Jesus as Savior” but rather “I belong to them,” pointing to the church.

From the Pentecostal tradition, non-Pentecostal believers can be challenged to think about what it means that the church is the locus not just of the presence of the Holy Spirit but also of the Spirit’s unique activity.

Again, the list here could be long. If evangelicals wish to influence other ecclesiologies in the spheres of rigorous engagement of Scripture, personal spiritual formation, the priesthood of all believers, and evangelistic mission to the surrounding world, it would be good for us to learn from those in other traditions so as to communicate our values more effectively. Moreover, learning from the unique insights of other traditions helps us to become more well-rounded and so strengthen our particular strengths and remove our blind spots. Otherwise, unguarded strengths can often become glaring weaknesses.

 

 

How can ecclesiology inform our worship?

One of many ways that ecclesiology can inform our worship is in the area of worship styles and music, which have become a battleground for the evangelical church in the last several decades. The common practice of “traditional” and “contemporary” worship services often ends up separating the church along generational or consumerist lines. Instead, we need a strong understanding of the biblical principle that the church is meant to be a community that brings diverse persons together. What would it look like for the church to use music, worship, and liturgical styles that focused on bringing its generations together rather than allowing them to separate along preference lines?

Another area where ecclesiology can inform our worship is in the sphere of individual participation. All too often, praise choruses in evangelical circles emphasize the individual believer and fail to account for the community of faith. Individual believers are not the body and bride of Christ; only the community of believers constitutes the body and bride. While taking seriously the need for individual participation, we must also account for the fact that the whole is greater than the sum of individual parts.

Lastly, the study of ecclesiology will help us recognize the connection between the visible and invisible church. All too often evangelicals have emphasized the invisible church (those who are saved by faith) and have failed to account for the need to make visible our spiritual transformation. If evangelicals take seriously the connection between the visible and invisible church, it will help our movement come to terms with the pressing need to bring people from diverse ecclesial heritages and other backgrounds together in visible worship. Our oneness is intended to signify to the world God’s unity, God’s sending of his Son, and his love for the church in his Son (John 17:23). How else will we demonstrate to the world that we are one?

 

How can ecclesiology inform the role of women in our churches?

One way ecclesiology can cause us to rethink the role of women in the church is to recognize the biblical idea that the church and the family are not the same institutions and operate by different structures. Too often, evangelicals simply collapse these two institutions into each other so that the relationships between husbands, wives, and children in the family are inserted directly into the church when, in fact, the church is built on a different structure. While the church is to recognize and respect the structure of the family, leadership in the church is built on issues of calling, gifting, and communal affirmation, not just on whether someone is a father, wife, male, or female. Regarding communal affirmation, we need to move beyond production and consumption language so often present in the church and society today. In view of the triune God of holy, communal love who saves and shapes the church, we are called to view men and women together in communal terms (not reducing them to mere producers and consumers) where we share in life and ministry together for the sake of cultivating deeper communion in the body. Much more work needs to be done in this area. But these points alone could have a major impact on the role of women in the church.

 

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger – Part 1

We recently had the chance to talk with Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger about their Brazos book, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction.

Brad Harper (PhD, St. Louis University) is professor of theology at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. He is the college adviser for The Institute for Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and the book review editor forCultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture. He has also worked as a pastor and church planter.

Paul Louis Metzger (PhD, King’s College London) is professor of Christian theology and theology of culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary and director of its Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins. He is the editor of the journal Cultural Encounters and the author of Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church.

In today’s post, Brad and Paul explain what ecclesiology is, why evangelicals should care about it, and how it affects how we experience the church.

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What is ecclesiology, and why should evangelicals care about it?

Ecclesiology is the study of the nature, mission, and life of the church. Evangelicals should care about it for several reasons.

1. The church alone is the bride and body of Christ—now and for eternity. The church is the kingdom community of the triune God. As such, it is very different from other social groupings such as national, regional, or local governments; NGOs; businesses; and nuclear families. As important as these other social groupings are, they should never displace the significance of the church for the individual believer.

2. We belong to the church as God’s people. As God’s people, we are not just a worldwide community of individual believers. We are a community unified under the lordship of Jesus Christ and by a biblical structure which includes, among other things, pastoral leadership, accountability and discipline, and the Word and Sacraments.

3. The Scriptures indicate that the church is a place of God’s unique presence and activity, a place where he engages us as he does nowhere else.

4. The church is not simply a localized and contextualized community for the present. It is also Christ’s community for all eternity. The church is the concrete embodiment of Christ’s eschatological kingdom. We should be participating now in the community that will be our eternal destiny.

 

 

 

How can the study of ecclesiology affect how we experience the church?

Answers to this question could take up many pages, so we will just suggest a few examples: All too often, the church in North America operates by way of pragmatic impulses rather than careful reflection that would benefit sustainable practices that cultivate healthy church growth for the long haul. Careful consideration of what the Scriptures and church leaders throughout the ages and across the globe have to say about the identity, mission, and life of the church can guard against short-term fixes that hurt long-term communal gains. Moreover, the study of the nature and role of church leadership can make a huge difference in how we experience church. For example, if the Bible invests pastors or elders with significant authority in the areas of doctrinal teaching and proper moral behavior, this will tend to cultivate unity of belief and behavior in the church. If, on the other hand, the authority of the Bible as understood by church members is valued over the authority of pastoral leadership, the church has more freedom to question pastoral teaching; having said that, such an emphasis may also give way to greater openness to doctrinal and ethical error.

The study of the Sacraments is also an area which can significantly affect the way we experience church. Something as simple as coming to the conviction that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated weekly instead of monthly or quarterly makes a significant difference in believers’ ecclesial experience. Further, if the sacraments are understood to be significant moments of the reception of grace rather than merely a time to remember Christ, this will likely affect the attitude of the believer in partaking in them. Lastly, it is important that we take to heart the significance of the table for calling sinners who are saints and saints who are sinners together to serve one another and to receive and offer forgiveness to one another as equals at the foot of the cross. Thus, in addition to confessing our sins to God, we confess our sins to one another so that we might be healed (James 5:16). Here we see the vertical as well as the horizontal significance of the table.

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Next week, Brad and Paul will address what evangelicals can learn from other ecclesiologies and how ecclesiology can inform our worship and the role of women in our churches.

 

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung – Part 2

We recently had the chance to talk with Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung about her Brazos book, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College where she has taught ethics and the history of ancient and medieval philosophy for fifteen years. She specializes in research on the seven deadly sins and spiritual formation. Her books include Glittering Vices (Brazos Press, 2009), Aquinas’s Ethics (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), and a book on vainglory, forthcoming from Eerdmans in 2014. She has published other articles on virtue and vice in the Thomist, ACPQMedieval Philosophy and Theology, and Faith and Philosophy. She recently received the C. S. Lewis Book Prize from the University of St. Thomas Philosophy of Religion Project for Glittering Vices and the Character Project Book and Essay prize for her chapter on courage in Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, edited by M. Austin and D. Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). She spent her recent sabbatical working hard on a book on the vice of sloth.

Last week, Rebecca spoke about: how to distinguish virtues and vices;  how vice is different than sin; how vices and virtues are related to character; and what we can learn from studying the vices today.

In today’s post,Rebecca addresses the danger in “psychologizing” vices, and she explains how the study of personal vices can enrich our spiritual formation.

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What does it mean for vices to be, in your words, “psychologized,” and what is the danger in that?

This is a very tricky issue, especially since we are still learning so much about how brain chemistry works. I don’t ever want to use sin, vice, guilt, and blame language for something that is primarily a mental illness or out of the person’s control and perhaps best treated with medication. That’s so damaging to people who are already struggling. But the flip side is that nowadays we tend to use the language of addiction and mental illness for almost everything, including spiritual problems. That’s unhelpful in two ways.

First, we may not get to the root of the problem, offering remedies that fall short of bringing people back to spiritual health. Marriage counseling can help you communicate your needs better, but what if your real problem is that you are expecting your spouse to be God and fulfill all your needs? Second, there’s a danger that we will excuse ourselves from responsibility when we shouldn’t or will deflate the significance and severity of the problem.

It’s very easy to overuse the language of addiction to say that we can’t help what we’re doing and to affirm “natural” desires that we really need to discipline and reorder. We ignore the spiritual roots of certain problems at our own peril.

While discernment is difficult in these matters, spiritual categories remain essential: gluttony is not an eating disorder, clinical depression is not sloth, pride is not equivalent to self-esteem. The capital vices are attachments that essentially idolize created goods, driven by a prideful desire to create and secure happiness for ourselves. If that’s the root of your problem, you need healing from the Great Physician, not just a better counselor. (And that’s in no way meant to denigrate the helpfulness of good counseling.)

 

You’ve written that “a study of personal vices can be a catalyst for spiritual growth.” How so, and what can we learn from our church fathers that could enrich our own spiritual formation?

This may be the most important thing to say about any study of the vices: the frame is living more faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ, trying to take on his character. That’s the vocational “big picture” and the positive project. Discipleship brings with it the rhythm of dying to our old sinful nature and rising, created anew, with a Christ-like self. But this isn’t a once-and-for-all event. Sanctification is a process. Studying the vices helps us resist the lure of quick self-help solutions; facing the depths of the disorders within us shows us how much we will need grace for a lifelong journey.

The vice lists and the insights of the tradition help us see what we need to die to and the ways that it still subtly maintains a grip on us. The virtue lists help us see what we are striving for and give us specific names for new patterns and goals. Spiritual disciplines are ways of being more intentional about participating in the Spirit’s life-changing work in us.

The Christian tradition gives us “best practices” that wean us off our old attachments and bringing us closer to God in love. What’s damaging your ability to love God and others wholeheartedly? What would a life of joy and gratitude look like instead? The church fathers’ cumulative wisdom on such matters is a treasure I’ve tried to translate forward in the book.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung – Part 1

We recently had the chance to talk with Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung about her Brazos book, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College where she has taught ethics and the history of ancient and medieval philosophy for fifteen years. She specializes in research on the seven deadly sins and spiritual formation. Her books include Glittering Vices (Brazos Press, 2009), Aquinas’s Ethics (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), and a book on vainglory, forthcoming from Eerdmans in 2014. She has published other articles on virtue and vice in the Thomist, ACPQMedieval Philosophy and Theology, and Faith and Philosophy. She recently received the C. S. Lewis Book Prize from the University of St. Thomas Philosophy of Religion Project for Glittering Vices and the Character Project Book and Essay prize for her chapter on courage in Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, edited by M. Austin and D. Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). She spent her recent sabbatical working hard on a book on the vice of sloth.

In today’s post, Rebecca talks about how to distinguish virtues and vices;  how vice is different than sin; how vices and virtues are related to character; and what we can learn from studying the vices today.

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How are virtues and vices distinguished? Is vice different than sin? How are vices and virtues related to character?

Virtues and vices are good and bad habits, the building blocks of our moral character. That means they are dispositional patterns of perceiving, thinking, feeling, and responding, rather than single acts. While “sin” can refer to a general condition (our sinful fallen condition), a bad habit, or a single evil act, “vice” is a more specific term, describing the cumulative “groove” our actions wear in us over time.

Virtue- and vice-talk also prompts us to probe the motives and ways of seeing the world lying behind our behavior, rather than just focusing on what others can see from the outside. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks us not just to avoid the outright actions of murder and adultery but to look inward to see how we are misshaped by wrath and lust. This is heart-level diagnostic work.

On this approach it’s not enough to ask, “Is this individual act wrong?” We also need to ask, “If I do this sort of thing regularly, what sort of person will I become?” The Christian project of becoming more faithful disciples means imitating Jesus’s character and patterning ours after his likeness (described, for example in Col. 3).

 

You’ve written that the discovery of vices in ourselves can be “not only illuminating but liberating.” What can we learn from studying the vices today?

Names help us notice and identify things. Sometimes we feel like we are struggling but can’t figure out why. Or we don’t realize how toxic something is until someone with more expertise or experience gives us a new lens for looking at ourselves or out world. To borrow a metaphor from John Cassian in the fourth century, studying the vices can be like getting a medical diagnosis. It can be a relief to know what’s wrong and what the roots of the disease are. Then, with the help of a wise physician, you’re better able to find the right medicine and the right regimens to help you regain your health.

For example, a new vice term like “vainglory” opens our eyes to the ways we are drawn into attention-seeking practices in life-distorting ways. Witness the recent rise in addictive social media and crazed celebrity culture. What needs and desires are we using these things to fill? Why are they such a dominant part of the fabric of our lives? How can we break free of excess here? The tradition can speak to these questions, and it gives us a name to point them out.The aim of this sort of self-examination and spiritual direction is ultimately positive and directed at your spiritual flourishing. We are asking, “How can I be well?” To answer that, we need to know what’s getting in the way, so we can replace unhealthy and damaging habits with healthy, life-giving ones.

Between the Lines: Edith Humphrey Responding to Critics of Grand Entrance

Edith M. Humphrey (PhD, McGill University) is the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the author of several books, including Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven and Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit. She has also authored numerous articles on the literary and rhetorical study of the Bible.

In today’s post, Edith Humprey responds to critics of Grand Entrance.

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Though Grand Entrance made its appearance two years ago, I continue to get feedback, both positive and “suggestive,” for which I am grateful. One of my dear friends in the Anglican/Episcopal world called it “refreshment for a weary church” (Dan Muth, The Living Church [February 2013], 16–17), and Roman Catholics have appreciated its description of worship in other contexts as “most intriguing” (cf. Timothy O’Malley, Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization [Winter 2012], 86–87). I am so glad, for this is exactly what I hoped the book would accomplish!

The constructive criticisms have, however, been even more welcome, and I would like to respond to two of these here.

First, there is Grand Entrance’s minimal consideration of the Ascension, which “struck” Tim Perry, for example, “as odd” (http://anglicanplanet.net/tap-review/2011/12/30/grand-entrance-worship-on-earth-as-in-heaven.html).

The second concern is the book’s lack of critique concerning worship in my own liturgical (specifically Eastern) tradition—a weakness registered by Lutheran pastor Clint Schnekloth (review in Word and World Theology for Christian Ministry, summer 2012). I am thankful to both Tim, who is a friend, and Pastor Schnekloth, whom I would love to meet, for these insights.

So, what about the Ascension? I agree entirely with Tim Perry that this climax to the life of our Lord has a significant bearing on worship. This is why, in one of the study questions, I ask, “Why does Peter’s speech in Acts 2 refer to the Ascension . . . when he talks about Christ’s ‘entrance into glory,’ rather than referring back to the Transfiguration?”

At the height of the Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians remember not only Jesus’s passion and death but also his resurrection, ascension, and coming again. (Yes, we remember his coming again! But that is the topic for another day.) As a result, whenever I speak of salvation history in my books (as in Grand Entrance), I list all the key moments, including the Ascension.

The premise of the book, that worship is something into which we enter—a greater company, a greater action, a greater space—depends on the fact that Jesus has gone before us, through the veil, so that we can indeed worship with that great host, as he intercedes on our behalf.

And so we “lift up” our hearts, in a spiritual ascension, while God catches us up mystically to his throne. We “mystically represent the cherubim,” taking on the role of those angels who are God’s throne, just as holy Mary was historically and particularly and especially the God-bearer, the Theotokos, enthroning him in her womb and in her arms. The Church exemplifies the worshipping posture of holy Mary, offering Christ to the world and exalting Him.

A closer consideration of how Jesus’s Ascension is related to the scene in Hebrews, where we are described as approaching the holy mountain and the great assembly of angels and firstborn, would be very worthwhile. On the other hand, I want to leave some room for the unimaginable ecstasy to come, when we will see Him as he is, because we shall be like him.

Truly, our worship both joins us to the cross and brings us forward to the New Creation and the heavenly banquet, where we will be truly glorified. In another sense, we look forward in hope and cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

In stressing our spiritual ascension as part of our worship, I do not want to forget that there is a good deal more to come—then, our bodies will be raised and glorified with His, and the Entrance will be ever further in and further up.

And what about my seeming naiveté concerning my new ecclesial home? Can I simply plead here the reserve of a newcomer? It is not fair to ask a newlywed still in love to expose her spouse’s faults! Indeed, during the writing Grand Entrance, I was ineluctably drawn to Orthodox worship, not only positively, by its beauty, but also because it avoids the very pitfalls that I document in chapter six. As Tim Perry puts it, the book demonstrates “deep personal investment.”

Ironically, I have been criticized by some for being too irenic towards contemporary worship in the West. Further, there is a challenge latent in my book for Orthodox who are so enamored with the Eastern liturgies that they discount the long tradition of, say, the Gregorian Western rite—though they ought not to, since this is approved for use in ROCA, the OCA, and my own Antiochian jurisdiction.

However, for those readers who want to see a new insider’s gentle critique (not of the principles but of the practicalities) of Eastern Orthodox worship, I recommend my newest book, Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says (Baker Academic), in which I attempt to make some careful distinctions between Holy Tradition and mutable traditions in the Church, which can be clung to in a deadly traditionalistic fashion.

As Jaroslav Pelikan of blessed memory quipped, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

Between the Lines: Charles E. Gutenson on Christians and the Common Good

Charles E. Gutenson (PhD, Southern Methodist University) is the chief operating officer of Sojourners. He formerly served as associate professor of philosophical theology at Asbury Theological Seminary and has worked as a pastor and a corporate executive.

In today’s post, Charles Gutenson discusses the questions that led him to write Christians and the Common Good: How Faith Intersects with Public Life.

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Do you suppose God’s expectations for our lives extend beyond the realm of the so-called personal? Does it matter to God how we structure our public life? If God does care, how are we to discern what those expectations are? Do we begin our reasoning from a set of neutral presuppositions, ignoring what we can learn from the Scriptures? Or can we, as persons of faith, as followers of Jesus, appeal to what is revealed in Scripture in an attempt to discern God’s expectations?

These are the questions that drove me to write Christians and the Common Good. In particular, I wanted to move beyond an abstract discussion of “guiding principles” and instead take a look at what we might learn from the biblical texts about answers to these questions.

However, this territory is fraught with landmines and misperceptions that have to be carefully navigated, which is why the first part of the book deals with how one might appropriate Scripture. In short, we have to be cautious and attentive to the overall biblical narrative, not just a couple of favorite texts here and there.

My goal was both to lay out a framework for reading Scripture and to develop a robust picture of the life that pleases God by appealing to many places within the overarching story of Scripture. The picture that emerges is, it seems to me, quite clear—a picture of a life that we share with each other in what I called relationships of interdependency. We are neither completely dependent on others nor fully independent from them. Instead, God calls us to lives in which we do have obligations to those around us—in fact, much deeper obligations that we normally would like to admit or accept.

Because I believe there is much for us to learn from Scripture about these questions, all of this had to be addressed before we could begin to think about different kinds of policies and institutions that might enable the way of living together that God intended.

One of the common misperceptions I was most interested in exposing is the belief that there are only two positions on the theo-political spectrum—liberal/progressive and conservative. I realize this misperception often serves the agenda of those who perpetuate it, but it is false.

When one identifies theological/political positions, there are at least four: conservative/conservative, progressive/progressive, progressive/conservative, and conservative/progressive. And, as strange as it might sound, even that is too simplistic, because persons are rarely, if ever, monolithic in their political or theological positions. Among American Christians, you will find individuals all along this broad and rich spectrum, which means the attempts to paint God as a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian is, at best, misguided.

While these initial tasks had to be undertaken first, what I took to be perhaps the most important goal of Christians and the Common Good was to provide an analysis that moved beyond abstraction in order to talk about specific policies and their relationship, as I saw it, to the life that pleases God.

I was careful to present those relationships in a tentative, dialogue-inviting framework, recognizing that there are Christians who will come down differently than I on these issues. But I have long felt we are past the point where we need more abstract discussion about first principles—abstract discussion that often, unfortunately, provides little by way of concrete suggestion.

We, as Christians, need to look long and hard at particular and specific public policies, critiquing them from the perspective of the way in which God’s revelation indicates he wants us to live together. Will we all agree? Of course not, but we desperately need to have the discussions, and we need to air the debates. Agreements forged across theological and political boundaries are not just good for civil and respectful dialogue; they also are often the best solutions, because they take advantage of the best thinking of all sides.

If you have a passion for the intersection of Christian faith and political engagement, or if you just really want to begin to parse the specific issues in the debate, I’d recommend you consider Christians and the Common Good. Then, as you think through the issues, be in touch with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts—whether you share my conclusions or not.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 4 – plus two videos

Schut_KevinWe recently had the chance to talk with Kevin Schut about his new Brazos book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.

In part 1, Kevin spoke about common misconceptions about video games.

In part 2, Kevin explained the importance of the “magic circle.”

In part 3, Kevin discussed ethics and video games.

In today’s fourth and final post, Kevin addresses violence and video games and whether we should fear “game addiction.”

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Does playing violent video games make people act violently? Does “game addiction” really exist?

Of Games and God

Experts in the field of media effects argue over the effects of violence in games. Some argue there’s no clear evidence of any kind of effect. Those who see evidence for effects certainly don’t go so far as to say that playing games will make anyone physically brutal. Rather, they’d argue there’s proof that playing video games has a statistically-significant impact on short-term aggressive attitudes. In other words, playing a violent game jacks up a player for at least a little while.

Everyone agrees, however, there is currently no evidence on the long-term effects of playing violent games. The thing is, I would prefer that this be a moral discussion than an effects-based one anyway. I could imagine a world where there’s clear evidence that playing violent games has no effects on people, but I’m not sure that would make it right.

That said, I personally don’t think that playing violence is necessarily wrong, but it often is. Of Games and God has an extensive discussion of these issues.

Game addiction is not a clinical term… yet. There are mounds of anecdotal evidence that many gamers behave toward games in many of the same ways addicts deal with drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Video game designers often employ the principles of behavioral psychology, making games that are ideally suited to compulsive play—there are open discussions about this in the game industry. Even those of us who have our game-playing largely under control know the temptation to play just a little more than we should.

All this is to say that I think game addiction is real, even if it’s not a clinical term right now. However, I also think that just about anything can be addictive, including reading, stamp-collecting, and cooking. Most cultural activities that are potentially good also carry risk, and I think that’s true with video games. In Of God and Games I talk extensively about the difference between healthy and unhealthy escape.

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In this video, Kevin Schut explains what Of Games and God is about.

 

In this video, Kevin Schut answers the question, “Are video games dangerous or wonderful?”

 

For more information on Of Games and God, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 3 – plus a video

Schut_KevinWe recently had the chance to talk with Kevin Schut about his new Brazos book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.

In part 1, Kevin spoke about common misconceptions about video games.

In part 2, Kevin explained the importance of the “magic circle.”

In today’s post, Kevin discusses ethics and video games.

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Is it ethical to do bad things in an imaginary video game world? 

This is really the significance of the magic circle idea: Do the things I do in a video game matter?

Of Games and God

We can look at it in a bunch of different ways. We could argue that everything in a video game is an imaginary symbol or sign, and therefore nothing good or evil is actually happening.

For example, if I’m playing the grim post-nuclear-apocalypse Fallout: New Vegas and I start killing innocent bystanders, I can just say that it doesn’t really mean anything because those people are nothing, just pixels on a flat, artificial screen.

But if the magic circle is a false idea—or only partially true in the above sense—then maybe there’s a connection between doing wrong actions in a video game and a wrong action.

I spend many pages in the book wrestling with this, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. I think anyone who wants to argue that shooting someone in a video game is the moral equivalent of shooting someone with a physical gun has a pretty weak grasp on the trauma of actual physical violence.

Yet representations are powerful. Novels matter, movies matter, and so do games, at least partly because what happens in them resonates with what we know to be true.

Evil in a story is somehow like evil in everyday life. I believe it’s the same in a video game. But the exact nature of the relationship between imaginary and real things is very, very complicated.

The long and the short of it is that I don’t have a short answer to the question—and neither does the book! But I think the book raises many of the issues that matter.

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In this video, Kevin Schut talks about what prompted him to write Of Games and God.

For more information on Of Games and God, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 2 – plus a video and a giveaway

Schut_Kevin

We recently had the chance to talk with Kevin Schut about his new Brazos book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.

Last week, Kevin spoke about common misconceptions about video games.

In today’s post, Kevin explains the importance of the “magic circle.”

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In your book you refer to the “magic circle.” What is this? And what are its ramifications for how we play video games?

The “magic circle” is, in a nutshell, the idea that what happens in a game, stays in a game.

Dutch sociologist Johan Huizinga wrote an important book about games in the mid-twentieth century called Homo Ludens (“Man the Player”). One of his key concepts that today’s game theorists have seized upon is this idea that when we play a game, we suspend the normal rules of society—we step into a “magic circle.”

Of Games and God

So, for example, we would normally think of killing someone else as bad. Yet in chess, that’s the whole point of the game. Players enter into a kind of special contract where they agree that what normally applies doesn’t now.

The implications are that games don’t really affect real life. If a game is in a magic circle, then what we do in a game is separate from what I do at work, with my family, and in my church—separate from how I think and talk in general. There’s certainly something to this. I have no trouble distinguishing between the buccaneers I was just battling in Sid Meier’s Pirates and the people walking down my street—I don’t start swordfights in my local mall. Humans have a great capacity for imagination and are quite able to keep that separate from everyday life… in a sense.

There’s the problem, however: A lot of scholars and commentators are starting to point out that video games are never really, truly, completely separate. Yes, a game is a different sort of social place than the mall. But the only reason we understand the game at all is because we have society and culture outside the game. A “knight” means nothing if we’ve never heard of the guy in shining armor, and rules governing the pawn don’t work if we can’t speak a language.

Likewise, some game stories and characters ring true to us in ways that stay with us after we’re finished playing, which is partly why many of us play the games in the first place.

I don’t think Huizinga meant it this way, but if we use the concept of the magic circle to pretend that we can do whatever we want in a game and that it will have no impact on the rest of our life, I think that’s probably a bad way of looking at it.

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In this video, Kevin Schut introduces Of Games and God.

 

For more information on Of Games and God, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

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Enter to win one of five copies of Of Games and God:

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