the thoughts, emotions, and life of harris bechtol.

09 May 2009

co-contributor to a blog

For anyone who might still follow this blog, or rather the death of this blog, I have become a co-contributor to a blog with some friends of mine. I am trying to post about once a month on it. Hopefully some day I will have time to add tidbits of knowledge to my blog here, but for now I will be posting hopefully every month at Leave it to the Prose. I hope you enjoy.


25 December 2007

a season to remember the beginning of forgiveness

Like any overachieving seminary student would do for the holidays, I composed a reading list to work through over the holidays. I think I am actually going to finish my list before my next quarter starts. Exciting!

Currently, I am reading through James William McClendon's Ethics: Systematic Theology Vol. 1. He separates his book into three large sections so that he can give a preliminary account for how a Christian community can start to embody an ethic that mirrors that of Jesus' life and the narratives in the Bible. In the second section on the Christian community as a community of "watch-care," McClendon talks about the importance of forgiveness. He writes, "Christian community is exactly one in which forgiveness not punishment is the norm. Such forgiveness has as its goal...the restoration of a rupture in the community" (227). After showing the importance of forgiveness for Christian communities, McClendon dives into the content behind the word forgiveness. He answers the question, "What does forgiveness actually do?" His answer to this question has some interesting implications for looking at Jesus as the incarnation of God, the message of this holiday season that I have celebrated since my childhood days.

McClendon follows a definition of forgiveness that separates forgiveness into an act and an attitude. Forgiveness, to be forgiveness, has to have both. He calls the act of forgiveness, the structural and judicial side of forgiveness where a person who has been wronged grants the wrong doer for his or her infraction. This act of pardon is two-sided because one person says "I forgive," while the other person receives the "I forgive" and reciprocates by saying "I accept your forgiveness." 

From a Christological perspective, the implications for the act of forgiveness are quite obvious and not very surprising. If you are more along the lines of the Arminian camp when it comes to salvation, a camp that I identify with, then you, like me, would say something to the effect, "God has forgiven me through Jesus' life and death. So, the ball is in my court to accept this forgiveness." Again, this implication is not very surprising, and I have heard similar things from different theologians about forgiveness (e.g. Miroslav Volf), but McClendon's account of forgiveness really started to rock my world when he writes about the attitude of forgiveness.

McClendon characterizes the attitude of forgiveness as "the relinquishing of ongoing resentment by establishing new ties between forgiver and forgiven" (227). McClendon exegetes Isaiah 43:25 in order to flesh out this attitudinal aspect of forgiveness. In this Isaiah passage, God tells Israel through the prophet, "I will not remember your sins." McClendon says that this cannot be a literal forgetting of sins because a few verses later (v. 27) God recounts many of Israel's sins. How could God say that God will not remember sins while at the same time recounting all those sins? Seems paradoxical or inconsistent does it not?  McClendon explains this seemingly paradoxical statement from God by saying that to forget in this passage, or "not remember," must mean that God is not going to harbor resentment for Israel's sin even though God knows and remembers these sins. Thus, for McClendon, forgiveness, rather than being an attitude of forgetfulness, is a special kind of remembrance—one that remembers the wrong doing without holding resentment for the wrong doing.

McClendon then brings this attitude of forgiveness into the Christological realm. He writes, "[I]f we follow Jesus' way, the forgiving one takes the offense up into his or her own life ([like] he took all our offenses upon him), [and] makes the other's story part of his or her own story" (228). By blending or combining our story with another, according to McClendon, we are no longer able to separate ourselves from our neighbor so that we truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Thus, forgiving as an attitude is remembering that the forgiven and the forgiver are united together through Christ.

McClendon ends his discussion on the attitude of forgiveness with a sentence that has changed the way I see Jesus as God incarnate and the effect of Jesus' death on the cross. He writes, "[From the attitudinal perspective,] forgiveness is this: one takes another's life up into one's own, making the offender a part of one's own story in such a way that the cost of doing so overcomes the power of injury, healing it in a new bond of union between them" (229). Rather than looking at Jesus' life and death as the victory of God over Satan where Jesus is the bait that Satan swallows whereby Satan loses all power and control over us (Christus Victor view of salvation), or looking at Jesus as the substitution for our sins whereby Jesus gets us "off the hook" with God, McClendon's view gives a different perspective on the effect of Jesus' life and death: the blending of people's lives and their stories with Jesus' life and story whereby redemption and forgiveness occurs.

Soren Kierkegaard, under the pseudonym of Johannes Climacus, argues in Philosophical Fragments that the only way for God to pull humans out of their situation of sin and untruth was to become a God-man, which is Climacus' word for Jesus as fully human and fully God. Combining Kierkegaard and McClendon, by becoming this God-man, Jesus took up our life and life stories into his life and life story with the effect that his story becomes our story. He redeems our narratives through his own narrative. My prayer is that we can remember this blending of narratives that began with the birth of Jesus, the birth that we celebrate on this day, and that from the forgiveness we receive from Jesus we can mirror that same forgiveness in our own life. Merry Christmas. peace

09 September 2007

jesus, pharisees, and spirituality

In the spring quarter, I took a Gospels class with a great professor at Fuller, Dr. Thompson. After covering some background information about the Gospels, Dr. Thompson a new and better way of looking at the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.

When most Christians talk about the Pharisees they paint the picture that the Pharisees were against whatever Jesus was for. For example, Jesus clearly has a preferential option for the poor in the Gospels. Consequently, people assume that the Pharisees, along with other first-century Jews, did not have a preferential option for the poor. Thus, the Pharisees really get a bad rap from us when we talk about them. I had never thought about this before I took Dr. Thompson's class, and I was intrigued by her observations.

A few instances in the Gospels blow me away with regard to the Jesus-Pharisee relationship. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus eats with the poor, oppressed, marginalized, tax collectors, and even Pharisees. If you know anything about first century Palestine, then you know that to eat with someone was to acknowledge publicly that you stand in solidarity with that person or that you include these people with whom you are dining as part of your family. Thus, first century Palestinians made sure they did not eat with the wrong types of people. Jesus, however, obliterated the boundaries of this social custom. Thus, when Jesus ate with the Pharisees, he was acknowledging on some level that they were included in God's kingdom.

One passage in Matthew is especially interesting, and I think it has direct implications for our spirituality today. In Matthew 23, Jesus exhorts the crowd and his disciples to follow the Pharisees teachings, but not to follow the Pharisees actions. Jesus does denounce the Pharisees for their actions in this passage, but he supports the Pharisees teachings.  Apparently, Jesus agreed with much of the Pharisaical teachings, but he disagreed with how the Pharisees embodied those teachings. As you read Matthew 23, it becomes evident that when the Pharisees were embodying their teachings, they were doing it for their own gain and exaltation. Jesus demands that when following the Pharisees teachings the people must embody these teachings in a life of humility and servant hood. Only through humility and servant hood does true exaltation occur.

What does this say about our spirituality? I recently read Satisfy Your Soul by Bruce Demarest where an argument for a holistic spirituality is given. The author argues that our Christian spirituality needs to become more than noetic or propositional knowledge. Rather, our spirituality must be holistic in the sense that it involves head knowledge, heart knowledge, and praxis. Spirituality is not complete until the head and heart knowledge bleeds over into our practice. I have lived most of my life, especially this past year, with an emphasis on the head knowledge aspect of my faith. This book convicted me in a way that I have not experienced in many years.

Unfortunately, I feel like the discipline and routine that many Christians were raised with and told is necessary in order to be a Christian is on the downfall. In other words, I feel like the spiritual disciplines are seen as unimportant or less important as parts of the Christian life. I know that I do not read the Bible, pray, and practice solitude as much as I should, and I am in seminary of all places. Much of this reticence toward spiritual disciplines may have developed because of the negative view towards the legalistic Pharisees who cared so much about following the Law (Torah) that they neglected to purify their motives for following Torah.

However, I feel like Jesus' relationship towards the Pharisees, especially his exhortation in Matthew 23, shows that the discipline and order of the Pharisees' life was not bad. Consequently, I think a revamping and redefinition of the spiritual disciples is necessary in order for our spirituality to continue to develop and mature.

May our spirituality involve those traditional practices of reading Scripture, prayer, and solitude, but may we not limit our spirituality to our inner life. Our spirituality should bleed into our everyday life where we are living humbly and as servants for one another, even for our enemies and those on the outside of society. May our spirituality not build an external facade for people to gawk at. Rather, may our spirituality reveal itself through genuine, authentic love and service because these are the characteristics of those people who have experienced God and choose to live as participants in God's kingdom. peace

02 July 2007

god, necessity, and relationality

Does God need us? In what sense is our existence necessary to or for God? Ultimately, what purpose do humans serve as God's creations? These questions have been percolating in my head since I started here at Fuller. One of the first classes I took, Christian Ethics, spurred these thoughts. During class, my ethics professor claimed, "God does not need you and I." This statement bothers me. If I were to adopt this mentality/philosophy/whatever you want to call it, I think I would be driven to nihilism or a belief that our purpose in this life is futile. I argue that God does need us. However, I need to substantiate "need" or God's necessity for us in order to provide a Biblical account of God's necessity. In doing so, a tension arises between the God of the philosophers and the relational God revealed through Scripture. Elucidating this tension provides insight into God's necessity for us.

If you know anything about the proofs for God's existence, at least the traditional proofs, you know that they do not provide a relational God professed by theists. Rather, the proofs of God's existence generally provide the God of the philosophers or of deism. The God of the philosophers is the highest being, the first cause of all that exists, and the unmoved mover. In other words, God is not necessitated, required to exist, or forced to act based on anything external to God's self. I can agree with many of these conclusions because God is the Alpha and Omega of everything that exists. However, this God is only the God of deism because no relationality comes about through God as the highest being, first cause, and unmoved mover. God is merely the Being that put everything into motion and sits back observing, not interacting with, what God created. Isn't something lacking as shown to us in the Bible? Of course! Throughout the entire Bible, we see God in relation with God's creation. God is a relational God who is actively involved with creation and created humans to be in relation with God's self. 

We see this first in the book of Genesis where Adam and Eve are in close relational contact with their Creator. John Calvin, speaking about natural theology, maintains that knowledge about God could be attained by Adam and Eve simply by observing the nature around them because they, without sin, were in such close proximity to God that they could see the fingerprints of God all around them. This is not a post to discuss natural theology, but I like how Calvin's view emphasizes the intended relational proximity between Creator and created.

Moreover, when we turn to many of the prophets, we see a God who is intimately involved with the lives of "His people, Israel." In Hosea, God announces that He reared Israel like a child, gave it nourishment, and held it in His arms. In Jonah, we learn that Jonah's resistance to God most likely comes from Jonah's knowledge that if the wicked repent from their ways, then God will forgive them and not punish them. This shows that God reacts to the things we do. God is relationally involved in the lives of God's creation.

In the New Testament, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being....And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father" (John 1:1, 3, 14) Need I say more?

This brings us back to the questions with which this post began:
Does God need us? In what sense is our existence necessary to or for God? Ultimately, what purpose do humans serve as God's creations? If we follow the God of the philosophers, then the answer is a definitive, NO! God as the unmoved mover and First cause needs nothing. This god is completely self-sufficient. However, if we follow the God revealed through Scripture, then the answer is, at least for me, a definitive, YES! God entered into a relationship with us when God created us. Thus, God needs us.

To what extent does God need us? Or, in what sense is our existence necessary to or for God? For this, I turn to Anselm of Canterbury. In Anselm's Cur Deus Homo, he lays out his understanding for why it was "fitting" or necessary for God to become human. In other words, why was the incarnation necessary from God's end. I do not want to explain his reasoning—mainly because I already wrote a paper about it, which I will send to you if you would like—but I do want to borrow his explanation of God being necessitated or required to do something. Anselm argues that God is not necessitated by any external force (i.e. from humans, justice, morality, etc.). However, God is internally necessitated by God's self. In the same way, God does not need us to the extent that we force this necessity upon God. Rather, God needs us in an internal sense because God created us and entered into a relationship with us. Therefore, God needs us to participate and interact within this relationship. I could lay out what I think this participation looks like, but I feel like that would be superfluous for a blog post—after all, this post is getting quite long. Moreover, doesn't our participation depend on our context?Thus, I end with a question for you:

What does your participation look like with the relational God who needs us? peace

28 June 2007

tag...i'm it!

So, I have officially been tagged to say what I like about this man Jesus. I feel like this is one of those emails that you get that says, "If you send this to ten of your friends (including me who sent it to you), then your wildest dreams will come true." Trust me, these emails don't work. I send the emails...nothing happens. Actually, I never obey these emails because I think they are ridiculous. When I first was "tagged," I had that immediate response, "This is ridiculous." Then, I thought to myself, "Self, I can say a few things I like about this Jesus character. After all, I am at seminary studying about him. Sure, go ahead and partake in this silly game of tag."

So, without further ado...

1. "The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him....And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and humans" (Lk. 2:40, 52). I never noticed these two passages in Luke's Gospel until I took my Gospels class this past quarter. I think these verses are amazing and say a great deal about the humanity of Jesus. Jesus was not born with all the wisdom and knowledge of the world. Rather, he was human, and he had to come about learning things in the same way we do. Fortunate for him—and us as well—he was quite the bad ass at increasing in said wisdom.

2. "And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. And he opened the book and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord'" (Lk. 4:17-19; cf. Isa 61:1-2). Likewise, this verse is great. Luke's Gospel is known for conveying Jesus' ministry of release to those on the outskirts of society. This ministry of release was not only a release from sin, but also from the earthly oppression that these marginalized people experienced. He met the powers of his day head on, and he sought to change the lives of those who are oppressed. We can always learn a great deal from this teaching of Jesus. On the one hand, most of us theorize or even feel strongly about helping the poor and bettering their situation. On the other hand, many of us, myself included, rarely get beyond our theory. Theory without practice is dead (sound's like something I've heard without works...hmmm). Jesus' ministry reminds us of the importance of an actualized faith—a faith that is not afraid of "getting dirty."

3. Playing off of #2, Jesus did not shy away from being radical or revolutionary. Of course, he operated within the confines of his culture and society, but he challenged so many of the cultural boundaries while operating within their confines. Case in point, in first century Palestine, anytime someone defamed the temple or made an offense against the temple, that person was put to death. If you mess with the temple, then you are messing with God. If you mess with God, then you gonna' die! When Jesus cleansed the temple, he was not simply giving us a good sunday school story to tell; rather, he was giving the finger to the powers that be. He had to have known he was getting himself into trouble.

4. Jesus, on some level, was mysterious. All of his talk about being the Son of Man and son of God, namely in John's Gospel, is crazy talk. I appreciate this about Jesus because it reminds me that mystery is part of the journey we find ourselves on. I personally wish mystery weren't part of our story, but it is. I constantly need a reminder of this because I am a lover of knowledge.

5. Jesus: Jew boy. During my junior year at Baylor, Matt Singleton and I wanted to name one of the sunday school classes at UBC with this title. We thought it was hilarious, but it didn't fly with the whole group. Jesus was a Jew. I think many people forget or don't know that Jesus has his roots in Judaism and studying the Torah. I love that Jesus was a Jew.


01 May 2007

a letter is all you are

So I should be studying Greek or finishing my paper on Friederich Schleiermacher's definition of religion as feeling or the pre-conceptual awareness that everything in this world is unified into a Whole through God. Nonetheless, I don't "feel" like doing that right now. Instead, I shall vent...

For those of you who know me, you know that I put my heart into my school work because I truly love learning and school. However, sometimes my love for learning is not reciprocated. I recently got a paper back in my historical theology class over John Wesley's doctrine of salvation. I wrote a great paper, but the TA did not read my paper with care. Thus, he said I didn't explain things that I had clearly explained. I am going to talk to my professor about this paper, but I was furious when I received my paper and read the TA's comments. Through my anger and frustration I began to ask, "Harris, why do you let a grade define who you are? Why does a letter on a paper or test give you an identity?" This was a profound epiphany for me because much of my self-image has been defined by the silly letters on papers and tests that I have written and taken. This is my attempt to break from this vicious cycle.

Thus, I came home on Sunday night, and in a fit of passion I wrote the following poem.

A letter is all you are.
Two or three strokes and a superfluous mathematical sign,
A letter is all you are.

No power do you have,
Despite what you may think.
A letter is all you are.

Have you defined me in the past?
Oh, I cannot doubt.
But I tell you now:
A letter is all you are.

Without ink on a page,
Without / or \ or – or | or 3 or +,
You have no existence.

You are mere speculation, an opinion.
I tell you now, you have no control over me
Because a letter is all you are.


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20 March 2007

aquinas, natural theology, and music

In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas gives five proofs for the existence of God. In his proofs, he uses the universal characteristics of reason and observation to prove that God is the unmoved mover, first cause, first necessity, the cause of the gradation of beings, and that which guides all beings to their natural end/goal (their telos).

I will not enumerate all of these proofs, but here is one argument laid out: if we look at the world around us, we see that all things are in motion. Whatever is put into motion must be put into motion by something else. Likewise, this something else must be put into motion by another something in order for it to put the whatever into motion. Moreover, this something else must be put into motion.....GET THE PICTURE? This pattern cannot eternally recur. Thus, there must be something that begins all the motion in the world. This something is what we call God. God is the unmoved mover from which all motion emanates.

I am not huge fan of these proofs for God's existence because they assume what they are trying to prove from the beginning of their proof, namely that God exists. Nonetheless, these proofs depict great thinking and intelligence. Thus, in order to appear as a great thinker and intelligent, I thought up my own proof for God's existence.

At the beginning of March, I went to see The Submarines and Josh Ritter in concert at this incredible concert venue in Hollywood called the El Rey. Incredible venue. As The Submarines were playing, I was totally captivated by the female singer. Her voice blew me away in how it mixed perfectly with the poppy-mellow loops and guitar that were playing through speakers. I leaned over to my friend Elizabeth and said, "This is so great. (She agreed). Beautiful music makes me believe in God." I have had many such experiences at various concerts where I feel the reality of the presence of God when I am listening to live music. I cannot explain it, but these experiences are about as tangible as God gets for me. With that said, here is my proof for the existence of God:

If we listen to music, observing how each aspect of the music blends together to form a complete whole, we see that music is a beautiful art form. The musicians create this art form, but the music cannot be created out of nothing. Thus, something must exist from which inspiration for music and its beauty flows. This something is God. God is the first beauty from which all beautiful music flows.

In short, beautiful music exists. Thus, God exists. HAHA! peace