Justice: Consequence and Form
We live in a society of conflict. There have been no governments, nor systems, nor rule, nor markets that have sought to make everyone equal in the eyes of everyone. In each case, there was always some form of someone being bettered at the expense of another. Instead of trying to avoid this reality, we must embrace it and make it our own. Justice is helping friends and harming enemies as justice is not a moral stance between right [friends] and wrong [enemies], but is, in fact, treating beneficial action with beneficial action and detrimental action with detrimental action. In doing so, justice helps refine the forms of the friend and the enemy in the life of the just man; making each further choice an easier step towards absolute choices in life.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and Polemarchus defined friends and enemies as, “The man who seems to be, and is, good, is a friend . . . while the man who seems good, and is not, seems to be but is not a friend. And we’ll take the same position about the enemy” (Plato, 334e10-335a2). I would define it thusly: the man who seems to be, and is, good to us, is a friend, while the man who seems good, and is not, to us, is not a friend. The same definition can be made for the enemy. Value judgments on whether someone is good or bad have always been viewed through the lens of the man making the statement. There are no actions that are inherently evil in themselves, but it is the motive of the man behind the action that dictates its value. To harm a friend for one’s own gain is clearly bad, while harming an enemy is a simple fact of dealings in life. One cannot be expected to relinquish his work and life to another who is out to harm him as well. To be a just man, you need not divine who is inherently good or bad, but simply respond in kind to the actions brought against you.
To illustrate the irrelevancy of the matter in terms of morality, let us look at two men working the same field. If a farmer, a grower of grains and vegetables, and a shepherd are forced to use the same field, each must, to the best of their ability, excel in their respective arts: the farmer must care for his crops and the shepherd must care for his sheep. This means that they will be forced to be at odds as the farmer will have to deter the work of the shepherd to save his crops while the shepherd must deter the work of the farmer to save his livestock. Neither are worse than the other, but are simply doing their respective work. One can go on to surmise if two men have friends in contract who are at odds, the men will help their friend, at the expense of the opposing partner. No one would fault the man for helping his friend, but in doing so, he has created an enemy in the opposing partner. Neither person is any less just because of this, but would fulfill justice by helping their friends and harming their enemies.
Moreover, by harming the enemy, you compel that person to become more hostile towards you, thus making him a better enemy. Because friends and enemies are not inherently moral or immoral, you would want to know who will treat you well and who will treat you ill, despite their intentions. In a world in pursuit of forms, you are helping create the form of the enemy and, in the converse situation, the form of the friend. By pursuing justice, you are refining the world around you to better imitate Plato’s world of forms (Plato, 584b12-584c7). With every just choice you make, you make for yourself an easier and more absolute just choice the next time you are faced with a decision towards friends and enemies.
The human being is given the ability to be many things at once: friend, artist, poet, enemy – the entire time being universally just to his world at large. Through helping friends and harming enemies, justice deals out the consequence for every action done to another and furthers the forms of the friend and enemy in life. In this fashion, the just man does unto others what is done to him.
For the sake of clarity, let’s define church in a really narrow way today; in about the same way that we say we are going ‘to do church (insert descriptor here) today.’ In other words, today, church is going to mean communal times of worship, fellowship and learning, the norm being the Sunday service.
Depending on your faith tradition, church can mean something very different to you compared to your christian neighbour (whom you are to love) down the street. Take, for instance, the difference between your general post-brethren community bible chapel vs. your general Canadian Reform church. Big difference. At the former, you will generally find full-band worship music (generally contemporary works by Hillsong, Matt Redman and a whole slew of others worship artists), lots of talk about evangelism through community projects and maybe, if you’re lucky, a drama before the sermon. At the latter, on the other hand, you’ll find organ-and-piano-singing of the psalms (with a few hip new hymns that were written 60 years ago), rigid liturgy, lots of talk about the covenant and piety, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get out after an hour, to come back after lunch for round 2.
Are they both right in the way they do church? Yes. Wholeheartedly Yes.
People do what their traditions and passions guide them to do. I’ve run the gamut from attending Roman Catholic Mass weekly to attending Conferences at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (the Toronto Blessing, for those in the charismatic ‘know’). I’ve found meaning and a love for our Lord in both. Personally, I like new takes on hold hymns – the re-working and refining of tradition to blend the old with the new. Now, few people do that in their entirety (well, none as far as I have seen, at least), but it works.
What doesn’t work, however, is when people impress form on others to suit their own views. A Presbyterian goes on about those heretical Pentecostals. The Heretical Pentecostal goes on about those dead Baptists. The Dead Baptist goes on about the Devil’s Roman Catholic. You can see where I’m going with this. This impression of form on others oppresses the content as a whole.
The thing that people should keep aware of, when being concerned with another faith tradition laying claim to Christianity, is through adherence to doctrine (Nicene, Apostolic or Chalcedon – take your pick) and through the fruits of their labours. And the latter you can’t really weigh too heavily upon, as each tradition has their own preconceptions involved with that as well, but that’s another post. Let’s go with love as a standard, that’s a good one.
Ultimately, I’m just saying that everyone needs to leave each other alone and quit griping about the church down the street. Do your thing; they’ll do theirs. Maybe you guys can get together and bowl or something. Bowling is a neutral, christian standard for fun.
Or so I have been told.
(originally published in the Canon25, Fall 2006)
The popular church press these days seems to consistently touch upon what is commonly known as the “Emerging Church” – the subject generally being quite negative. Generally, these critiques revolve around how the “Emerging Church” disavows truth, loves disorganization and loves rebelling for the sake of rebelling. Frankly, this is simple untrue.
Before we go any further, let us first make sure we know who were are talking about. Its most important to remember that “Emerging Church” is not and should not be a title, but a description. The emerging Church is a porous description that blankets most churches who are trying to become conversant with postmodernism – those who are reshaping themselves to reach out to the disillusioned people of the 21st Century. Essentially we’re talking about people who do church for the emerging generations. Get it? Good.
Here’s the rub: most people think far too small when it comes to the emerging church. Essentially, when people hear of the “Emerging Church”, most tend to think of the American contingent – or conversation – known as Emergent (http://www.emergentvillage.com), led by Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian and its subsequent sequels. Almost all of the major problems that are arising amongst mainline evangelicals about the emerging church stem from Emergent’s statements on relativity, the agnostic views towards certain orthodoxies and fringe worship and prayer practices. While not necessary putting any of these down at this time –mostly because these are also misrepresented – that is not the subject at hand.
While Emergent and its followers are the most vocal and well-known people in the emerging sphere, their’s is a vocal minority. Their ideologies and practices represent very little of the totality that is emerging in the world. Simply stopping at blogs like Andrew Jones’ Tall Skinny Kiwi (http://www.tallskinnykiwi.com), one can see the world trends of the emerging church.
So what are the main ideas that seem to encompass what it is to be emerging? Scot McKnight, author of the scholastic blog, Jesus Creed (http://www.jesuscreed.org) and self-proclaimed emerging follower, says in a paper to the Westminster Theological Seminary on October 26-27, 2006, that there are 4 ‘rivers’ that flow into ‘Lake Emerging’: postmodernism, praxis (practice), postevangelical and politics.
Postmodernism should not be seen as moral relativism and denial of absolute truth, but of a time to re-assess what is actually being taught to society, or the church, and to quest for what is actually truth, and not generally-accepted truths. Christian postmodernists believe in absolute truth, they just don’t believe that we, as a people, know everything.
One of those ‘in-the-know’ words amongst emerging thinkers is ‘praxis’. Praxis – essentially, practice – is the short form for orthopraxy or ‘right practice’. The emerging church phenomenon places a very large emphasis on doing. They are primarily a missional people, reaching out to their community while they feel the evangelical community is still trying to get people to come to them. Emerging leaders want their congregants and leaders to go out and live like Jesus the way Jesus actually lived: healing the sick; embracing the fringe peoples; helping people see the light of God. Not only do they go out and ‘do’, but they also explore different ways of worship, much the same way Tyndale attempts to explore new ways of worship each week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
As for post-evangelical, Scot McKnight, echoing D.A. Carson is correct in saying that the emerging phenomenon is a rejection of many, if not most, evangelical ideologies. It is important to know that these ideologies are not the ‘ideals’ that are whimsically called upon by prominent christian writers, but the generally-accepted facts of Christianity by the majority of evangelicals. This is seen through through 3 ‘post’s:  post-bible-study-piety, the – for lack of a nicer term – phariseeism of our theological gnosis;  post-systematic-theology, the need to get away from firm lines and statements and to return to the biblical narrative as our starting point; and  post-in-vs.-out, the most controversial element, which can be best stated by reading C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, chapter 15, about Emeth the Calormene.
The Final stream of McKnight’s description of emerging is politics. Generally, emerging politics lean left, usually quite left, when it comes to the political spectrum. The importance of the social gospel is paramount to this group. Most evangelicals see ‘social gospel’ as bad word at best, but emerging churches see it as important as the ‘spiritual gospel’. Emerging canadians would most likely tend towards voting Green Party, if that helps frame the political sphere.
These are the 4 emphases the emerging church ‘movement’ are taking hold of: postmodernism, praxis, postevangelicalism and politics. It’s important to note that these are emphases and not hard and fast rules or policies. Everyone part of the emerging church will expend different amounts of energy on each of the emphases. This is what makes the emerging church so hard to define, it’s like trying to describe something as porous as a historical movement, while it’s happening. So as people criticize the emerging church movement, one can either take it as it is told to them or they can learn for themselves what the emerging church really is. As Scot McKnight says in his WTS paper,
In other words, if you define emerging as Brian McLaren, and then narrow Brian to his sometimes incautious – even if nearly always probing and suggestive – comments about postmodernity and epistemology, and then roll out the implications of what Brian would seem then to believe, and then close with two chapters about what the Bible says about truth, you will give the impression that emerging is about hard postmodernism and, if you got your guts about you, you should avoid these folks like the bubonic plague. Which is what some are doing… which is fine … unless you want to be accurate. <
(Originally published in the Canon25, Spring 2007)
I love the internet. I remember the first time I was on the internet. I was in the fifth grade and I was waiting in my mother’s office at the local public library and she quickly showed me how to search on Yahoo (www.yahoo.com). I spent the next 2 hours looking up articles and homepages on Super Mario Bros. and Reboot, an old cartoon. After that, I fell in love with what is now known as Web 1.0.
Didn’t know that the world-wide web is known as Web 1.0? Well, technically, it’s not, but its important to know that the web that I surfed on when I was ten is no longer the same organism that once was. Originally, through hypertext documents [ ".html"s, as it were], the content and the form of the internet was the same. Everything that you saw on the screen was part of one document, wholly separate from everything else and easily separated from other, similar documents. Essentially, what you saw in the ‘code’ of the page is what you saw in your web browser. You saw what I wanted you to see through the content I’ve inputed into the form.
This, however, has changed as Web 2.0 emerges on the horizon. With an allusion to software upgrades, people are beginning to see the Web as something new; something that has, in a sense, evolved. Over the last ten years, developers and coders have been creating new ways to view hypertext. In fact, according to the World-Wide Web Consortium, we are now using Hypertext 4.0 – but that’s an aside; more importantly we are beginning to see the fruits of ten years’ labour in Web 2.0.
The crux of Web 2.0 is that content has now been separated from form. What does this mean? It means that content no longer has to be written into the code of the page. What you see in the code is no longer what you have to see on the screen. Hypertext has now become only the framework of what the coder wishes, they no longer have to be the author. Authorship has been moved from coder to viewer. The viewers and users of the sites are now the creators of content.
This is nothing particularly new for most people our age – we’ve been part of Web 2.0 since its inception and are the strongest contributors. For examples of Web 2.0, think of social networks like Facebook (www.facebook.com), artistic content contributor sites like DeviantArt (www.deviantart.com) or even simply blogs like those found on Google’s own Blogger (www.blogger.com). But how does this change interaction with others?
Message boards and wholly web-created communities are no longer just for geeks. It is quite possible to be a ‘real person’ in the ‘real-world’ and create online friendships. I’ve been blessed with such a community, The Block (www.theblock.us). Originally, the members of the block met on the message board of L.A. Symphony and after being repeatedly asked to talk more about the group (whose musical prowess seemed to be declining at an alarming rate) we set off on our own and created our own space. After some four or five shifts in site and management, we now stand as a independent community whose members have only The Block as their connection.
The Block is community whose individuals comprise most walks of life [though they generally are Gen X'ers or Echo generation in age] and seek to support one another as best they can. While not explicitly Christian in nature, The vision of The Block is to be an online community, set to encourage one another in their daily lives and give them an open and safe forum with which to discuss pretty much whatever they want. I encourage you to come and join us sometime.
The reason I bring this up is because I have had many important and lasting relationships stem from my time at The Block. Flesh-and-Blood communities are no longer the only way to be supported in our shrinking world of rising communication. While some Blockheads [to coin a term] have met at least some others through an annual meeting, many remain only a screen name and a picture. This hasn’t stopped us from helping each other through relationship issues, financial problems, spiritual problems, easing others through the maturation process – basically everything a ‘brick-and mortar’ community would do for each other.
Essentially, what I’m getting at is that with the advent of user-driven content inherent in Web 2.0, community and communication are being redefined. The internet is moving beyond its information-driven origins – it’s becoming the world’s community– and I invite you to join. – WK