Christianity 201

July 19, 2013

Miroslav Volf Quotations

We haven’t done anything in our quotations series for quite some time. Today’s author may be unfamiliar to you.  Wikipedia‘s article on Miroslav Volf begins:

Miroslav Volf (born September 25, 1956 in Osijek, Croatia, ) is a Croatian Protestant theologian, public intellectual, and public speaker who is often recognized as “one of the most celebrated theologians of our day”.Having taught at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in his native Osijek, Croatia (1979–80, 1983–90), and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (1990–1998), Volf currently serves as the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

and continues

…Since Volf considers theology to be an articulation of a way of life, his theological writing is marked by a sense of the unity between systematic theology and biblical interpretation, between dogmatics and ethics, and between what is called “church theology” (e.g., Karl Barth and, later, Stanley Hauerwas) and “political/public theology” (e.g., Jürgen Moltmann and David Tracy). His contributions to theology have for the most part been topical; he wrote on human work, the nature of Christian community, the problem of otherness, violence and reconciliation, the question of memory, and the public role of faith, to name a few issues. But in all his writings, he sought to bring the integrated whole of Christian convictions to bear on the topics at hand… 

Volf writes about a variety of topics and I could not begin to include here all of the various places where he is quoted. This is a sample:


“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of
humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one
can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”

“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communio. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a “foursome,” as it were– for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.”
After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity

Miroslav VolfWe do not need for all of our lived life to be gathered and rendered meaningful in order to be truly and fully redeemed…. no need to take all of our experiences, distinct in time, and bind them together in a single volume so that each experience draws meaning from the whole as well as contributes meaning to the whole. It suffices to leave some experiences untouched…, treat others with the care of a healing hand and then abandon them to the darkness of non-remembrance…, and reframe the rest.

Well, different things happen whether it [religion] is pushed out [of the public square] or whether it leaves voluntarily. When it is pushed out, I think it leads a sort of subterranean existence. It often becomes insular, often becomes unaware of what bearing religious thoughts have on public life because they are not tested in the public realm. That is to the detriment of positions of Christians themselves. If faith retreats from the public realms – and in some areas it has to retreat because the conditions are not there, and some accounts of the Christian faith are such that Christians are not encouraged to take responsibility – I think this is a kind of diminution of the Christian faith. Sometimes it is an understandable diminution of the role of faith but it is a diminution nonetheless, because God is the God of all of reality, of all aspects of life. Our faith has bearing on all aspects of life. When faith is pushed out or retreats from the public sphere, it idles. That is especially true of the prophetic faiths. Christianity is a prophetic faith.

They make up two of the largest religious groups worldwide, comprising more than half of humanity. They are at each other’s throats, if not literally, then in their imaginations. And we need to find ways we can believe peacefully together.

Both groups [Muslims and Christians] are monotheists. They believe in one God, one God who is a sovereign Lord and to whom they are to be obedient. For both faiths, God embodies what’s ultimately important and valuable. If our understandings of God clash, it will be hard for us to live in peace—not impossible, but hard. So exploring to what extent Christians and Muslims have similar conceptions of God is foundational to exploring whether we inhabit a common moral universe, within which there are some profound differences that can be negotiated, discussed, and adjudicated…

…I don’t think we need to agree with anyone in order to love the person. The command for Christians to love the other person, to be benevolent and beneficent toward them, is independent of what the other believes. But will we be able to forge common bonds of social life in some ways? Will we be able to inhabit common space? That is a question distinct from whether I’m able to love somebody.

Christians often understand the doctrine of the Trinity as if there were three separate divine agents who form a kind of loving troika and as if, when they want to do something in the world, they deliberate as a committee. Muslims understand what Christians mean by the Trinity in a similar way. They claim that Christians associate another being—Jesus Christ—with God; Christians, in their view, believe in one God and then add to that one God a divine associate.

But as I argue in my book, this is all wrong… Christians who know what they are talking about believe that there is one and only one God who has no associates—no divine troika, no divine committee of three. The Word and the Spirit are distinct but inseparable from the Speaker of the Word and Breather of the Spirit, and no divine “person”—neither Father, nor Son, nor the Spirit—ever acts independently in any activity. The Holy Three who are the Holy One interpenetrate each other in a way that creatures do not. Consequently, you cannot count God in the same way you count things in the world, and of course, you cannot count when it comes to God simply because God is not one of the things to be counted but is a source of all things that can be counted. Therefore, what Muslims deny about the Trinity, we Christians, when we know what we are talking about, do not affirm; Muslims are not contesting what we believe about the divine Trinity. So where some Muslims and Christians think there is an unbridgeable gulf, there is actually much commonality (though also some significant difference).

Christians believe that there will be a Judgment Day at the end. And it is my belief that on that day justice will be done and there will be a reconciliation between those who have profoundly injured one another takes place.

I think evangelicals would do better if they concentrated less on bolstering the formal authority of the Scripture – which I certainly would want to affirm – and more on displaying how biblical texts can shape lives in salutary ways, how they are fruitful texts, how they are texts one can live according to.

Christ’s indwelling presence has freed us from exclusive orientation toward ourselves and opened us up in two directions: toward God, to receive the good things in faith, and toward our neighbor, to pass them on in love.

God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves. If evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.

Sources: Goodreads, Ryan Dueck’s blog, John Pattison intereview, Christianity Today interview, Near Emmaus blog, Brainy Quote, Ray Choi, Resources for Study

1 Comment »

  1. […] Miroslav Volf Quotations […]

    Pingback by Miroslav Volf on Forgiveness | Abnormal Anabaptist — March 19, 2014 @ 9:21 am | Reply

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