Monday, November 26, 2007

Sundays are for Volf

I have decided to borrow an idea from Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed by starting a series of posts on a specific book. Whereas McKnight chooses brand new books that everyone should read, I have selected a book that just about everyone I know has read (except me): Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (Abingdon, 1996). The plan is to post something every Sunday on a successive chapter in Volf, but the fact that I am publishing the first Sunday post on Monday evening is not a good sign! I don't know what this will look like--I don't expect to provide chapter summaries; I do promise to keep the posts short. My primary goal is to encourage my own disciplined reading in an area that is not strictly required for course prep or research, but the book is significant enough that revisiting its contents may still be of value to those who have read it once already. So without further ado...

The book begins as follows: "After I finished my lecture Professor Jürgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: 'But can you embrace a cetnik?' It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbain fighters called 'cetnik' had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a cetnik...? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wnated to say. "No, I cannot--but as a follower of christ I think I should be able to.' In a sense this book is the product of the struggle between the truth of my argument and the force of Moltmann's objection" (9).

Volf concludes his introduction with a handy summary of the metaphor of embrace and, I suspect, the book as a whole: "the will to give ourselves to others and 'welcome' them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity. The will to embrace precedes any 'truth' about others and any construction of their 'justice.'...I immediately continue to argue, however, that the embrace itself--full reconciliation--cannot take place until the truth has been said and justice done" (29).

Other notes:
  • I like this: "Instead of reflecting on the kind of society we ought to create in order to accommodate individual or communal heterogeneity, I will explore what kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others" (20-21). Reminds me of this.
  • And I like Volf's description of the theologian's task: "When not acting as helpmates of economists, political scientists, social philosophers, etc.--and it is part of their responsibility to act as [sic. in?] this way--theologians should concentrate less on social arrangements and more on fostering the kind of social agents capable of envisioning and creating just, truthful, and peaceful societies, and on shaping a cultural climate in which such agents will thrive" (21).
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Hmm...Short, I fear, is relative.

1 comment:

Andrew V said...

Excellent! I read that book in university, and I found it extremely profound. It led me down an interesting path of other books Volf refers to, including Bauman's Modernity and the Holocaust... I look forward to your notes!