Thursday, October 18, 2012

A book review on that heretic Miroslav Volf's Magnum Opus

Exclusion and Embrace, written by Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf, is an attempt to flesh out and expound "the tension between the message of the cross and the world of violence..." (10). The book in actuality is a compilation of diverse themes, stretching from the place a Christian ought to occupy in the world to the question of pacifism to the proper understanding of gender identity. Much could be said in appraisal of this work, but for the sake of brevity we shall limit ourself to two inter-connected issues.

First, in the fourth chapter, a surprising assertion is made which demands a response: “A human father can in no way read off his responsibilities as a father from God the Father" (171). As Volf explains a few sentences earlier: "For God to be the model of masculinity one must first project maleness onto God and then use the projection to legitimize certain allegedly specifically male characteristics and activities." And because the concept of father is specifically male, it follows that it is a human projection rather than a divine revelation of God in se. Yet Volf freely admits that all gender ascriptions in the sacred scripture pertaining to deity are “projected onto God” (176, pp.2). The title “God the Father” is (from his viewpoint) then a human projection, for it is gendered. But if the title comes from the creaturely sphere, it should have no trouble linking up with the creaturely sphere of human fathers! In other words, a human father should legitimately read off his responsibilities from God the Father, because he has met with the ideal of fatherliness from the realm of human ideology! There is no eternal divide! This is, at least, the presupposition of Volf along with his ceaselessly steady concatenation of Postmodern yesmen. We on the other hand do not see it as the Protestant mandate to make such avant-garde calculations about the Eternal Name of God. With all due respect, it seems that Volf's shameless ability to tell us what we can learn from the gendered language of God in scripture and what we cannot is nothing but infantile tampering. If the Haustefeln of the New Testament can freely link husbandry with Christ's relation to the church, and Master/Slave relations with the Divine Mastery of Christians (cf. Col. 4:1, Eph. 5:22-33), it is no exegetical stretch to imagine that the Fatherhood of God has something normative to say about real, human, flesh-and-blood fathers. Volf has an agenda to bear on this subject that is deconstructive, or destructive. It seems apparent that he would rather teach us what our itching feminist ears wish to hear in place of the sacred truths of scripture, which cannot be added to or subtracted from.

In terms of the usefulness or relevance of Volf's work, we can only add the pointed question: from what context? From the context of the world and the way it speaks and acts? Of this we may heartily affirm. This book makes it quite clear that Volf is far more at home in the sayings and writings of postmodern philosophers and sociologists than he is in the sacred scripture. Volf is not afraid, for instance, to reject scripture altogether when it does not agree with his cultural milieu. This is admitted more or less by him on p.182 when he says that the scriptural words and commands pertaining to men and women are "not divinely sanctioned models but culturally situated examples" and thus of "limited normative value in a different cultural context." How convenient! The plumb line for constructing right gender identities is not what the Word of God unequivocally says, but what one Luce Iragaray demands when she fulminates against all "oppositional logic of the same" (cf. p.176, where the phrase is taken up and never explained). Perhaps there will come a day when it is not culturally palatable to speak of equality between male and female? Shall the scriptural words of hierarchy resume their divinely-sanctioned normativity and so-called "egalitarian" texts like Gal. 3:28 be pushed to the periphery? Probably. Like the truth and memory and history discussed in ch. VI which is so subjective and tenuous, Volf presents us with a Bible that is as flaccid as meat glue and about just as nourishing. Sadly, it must be asked whether his God (or should we say his Feuerbachian projection of the postmodern communal ideal?) is much better.

If someone is setting out to embrace a work of theology that actually possesses something of substance, we recommend the exclusion of Volf's work.


No comments: