Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Certain Point of View

    I was recently having a discussion with my brother and sister in law.  During our conversation, we spoke about the way some people have particular tastes, and anyone who disagrees with these opinions are wrong or “stupid.”  Granted, we all have tastes and opinions that we hold very dear; however, we live in a world with divers opinions.  In many ways, it's a matter of opinion.  The same could be true with Sacred Scripture.
    Ever since I was very young, my dad always taught my brother and me a lot of the theology he was learning.  One program he enjoyed was “The Bible Answer Man” with Walter Martin.  He even purchased some of his tapes.  Usually these teachings deal with various cults (Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon's, etc.).  However, other teachers like John MacArthur taught against the Charismatic movement or Pentecostalism.  Anyway, this is a rather round about way of stating that much Christian dialogue deals with differing interpretations of Scripture and the Christian experience.  In other words, Christians slamming other Christians.
    While I don't mean to demean the contributions of all of these faith perspectives, I am greatly perturbed by this line of reasoning that claims that certain views are “orthodoxy” while others are outside the revealed truth of Scripture.  Moreover, such reasoning fail to recognize the messiness of interpretation and the limits of human understanding.  In her essay entitled "De profundis: Augustine's Reading of Orthodoxy" Carol Harrison refers to diversity as the “dark side” (254) of Christian doctrine.
    This subliminal layer to doctrine is “an unavoidable undercurrent of ambiguity, difficulty, and obscurity; of fluidity, change, and flexibility that, unless it is acknowledged and consciously appreciated, can only lead to unexplained conflict, disagreement, and potentially dangerous fractures and divisions” (254).  In other words, Harrison challenges the notion that Scriptural truth is so “plain.”  Understanding Scripture often emerges from adversity and not simple musings.  Moreover, the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements represent a reaction towards the more modern and rationalistic  Christian practices of Protestant churches.  Whether they simply inherited the Romantic religious view is not something I can speak to; however, they do have a foot stand on in their interpretation and help remind us of God's continual influence and involvement in history.  In some ways, they stand in the mystical tradition of Western and Eastern mystics.  God is more existential than intellectual.  Of course, there's no reason to have one at the expense of the other.  Both can contribute to our understanding of God.  However, in what way can we justify this apparent compromise?  Harrison turns to St. Augustine for some insight.

     According to Harrison, Augustine felt that there was a certain “improvisation” (255) to interpreting Scripture.  Using the 2 great commandments of loving God and loving neighbor as his foundation, Augustine declares that these commandments serves as “rules that effectively enable [us] to freely improvise on the particular details of scripture to arrive at new, shifting, diverse meanings, which, nevertheless, resonate with the faith and do not diverge from its truth – in other words, which are orthodox” (255-56).  Therefore, ideas and doctrines are constantly changing to fit the needs of the present community.  For example, when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he stated that “all men are created equal;” however, in practice African slaves were not covered by this ideal.  When Lincoln became president, he quoted this exact line from Jefferson to include those who were enslaved.  While this might not be the best example, we note that it shows how events and development alter the way we view important truths within a society.  This does not mean that we find every absurd interpretation to be valid.  What we mean is that varying interpretations of Scripture should be weighed equally because we know that we are finite of understanding.  This prevents the “me and my Bible” routine and allows the community of Christ's body to determine and grow from their different practices.
    While such an approach does not terminate the arguing and fighting over different views of Scripture, I do think it might help cool some heads about how they debate such issues.  People feel strongly about their faith views, and they should.  There is nothing wrong with debate; however, we should be open to different views because ultimately all knowledge and wisdom comes from God.  As Christ told Peter, “[Flesh] and blood hath not revealed [my Messianic identity] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (St. Matt. 16:17).  It is God who reveals Himself to humanity and not our powers of deduction or reason.  Therefore, if God has chosen to grant someone one understanding of Scripture, then does it not behoove us to have an open ear?  We must not allow our need to be right or correct to silence the voice of God in our fellow brothers and sisters.  Such an attitude does not love her or his neighbor, which demonstrates a lack of loving God.  The authority of Scripture is not something to be wielded by His Church (though at times it may be mediated through her), but through Him that speaks.

Matthew Jimenez is a graduate student at USC with a MA in Theology and the Arts.  He currently lives in Carson, California.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Vivi Ornitier and the Meaning of Life

I just watched the finale of the video game Final Fantasy IX. I remember fondly playing the game back during my undergrad days; however, I was never able to complete the quest. Nevertheless one character really stood out to me – the little black mage Vivi.
     I found Vivi's story really compelling. Throughout the game, we discover that Vivi is a product of the villainous Kuja, who creates black mages for the Alexandrian Empire. Moreover, Vivi discovers that the mages expire after one year. Naturally, this sends Vivi on an existential quest in the midst of stopping the Kuja from destroying the planet they inhabit. In fact, Kuja's quest stems from his own disillusionment with mortality.
     For Christians who hold to the promise of the resurrection, questions of mortality seem misplaced. Yet, the older I get the more I understand the course of my own life running its course. Just as there was life before me there will be life without me. The idea of death (or “stopping” as the black mages understand it) unravels anyone who thinks about it long enough. I must admit my own night terrors thinking about the prospect of non-existence. Reviewing a game like this causes me to further reflect on this issue as well as the validity of video games. Granted, not every game is this dense (FF IX is surprisingly lighthearted despite this theme). The game then presents the player with facing their own purpose in light of death.
While death is a frightening thing, it can enable us to view life with greater gravity. Speaking from personal experience, I often took life for granted and assumed that things would simply fall into place due to some master plan. As an adult, I realize that life is a struggle. Now, I know that my struggles pale in comparison to many in the world, but these are still personal struggles. Anyway, death allows me to remember the short existence that we have on this planet. As Paul directs us, we should “[make] the most of our time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5.15). While Paul may have other things in mind, I think there is a principle that we shouldn't overlook. We should make the most of the lives we have been given. If we believe in God, then we understand life to be a gift. Thus we should not waste the gift given to us. 
    How, then, should we spend this gift? Well, for Vivi life existed on touching the lives around us. The little mage found friends, adventure and a home. He was grateful for what little life he had and his life touches any gamer well after the credits roll. I do believe that the game makes a great point. Life is too short for grudges and strife. We should enjoy the company of our friends and family knowing that it won't last forever. I know I have greatly neglected many of my friends. I should rectify that. Moreover, as I get older so do my folks. I must admit that I had a recent altercation with my father. I guess we both feel very strongly about things, but I can't help realizing that I still want a sense of approval from him. Funny thing is that I already have that approval. So, why fight? Why not enjoy the rest of my time with him.
     I know I sound like I'm pushing my folks into the grave, but I really think that death ought to make us celebrate life. So, as I re-watch the end of this game I notice Vivi's thoughts appear before various scenes of all the other characters in the game. As they all reconnect with friends and love ones, we see the point of life – relationships. God created a man and a woman to grow together in love. Unfortunately, pride and will defeated such devotion and plunged humanity into a cycle of covetousness and violence. As Christians we believe that Jesus' death and resurrection frees us from this catastrophe and reconciles us back to God and each other. He has torn down the hostility. May we then enjoy life in spite of death and live in peace with each other (Eph. 2.11-22).

Matthew Jimenez received his BA in English Literature at Biola University. He received his MAT in Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. He currently teaches Sunday School at Calvary Community Church in Torrance, CA.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Howard Thurman meets Gandhi

I started this morning to watch and listen to Youtube videos of Howard Thurman.  I have often seen his books on my suggested Amazon reading list but with the structure of PhD studies I have tried to basically focus on what will actually go in my dissertation for the time being.  At this point, I just have to finish writing the dissertation so I have been free to read and write generally what I want.  

Listening to Thurman speak has been a real treat.  I have also started rereading James Cone so for the last week my love of theology has been renewed somewhat.  There are a number of Youtube videos featuring Thurman but an interview where he reflects on his life is amazing and grabbed my attention.

I was simply glued to my computer screen when Thurman talked about his meeting with Gandhi.  There is just so much important history here (of course it is the kind typically missing in History class).  The way Gandhi requested to hear the hymn below "Were You There" from Thurman's group illustrates the way Christianity as generally practiced among the British could never be an option for him.  

When I have students read Gandhi's biography and see his discussion on religion they have a hard time identifying with him.  How can he like Jesus but see Christians as hypocrites they often ask?  The dynamic of colonialism is something I and my students can never truly understand and no manner of apologetics can convince someone of Gandhi's experience that official Christianity has too many problems to be profitable for his cause.  However, like Bonhoeffer, Gandhi recognized the authenticity of Black theology.  

I thought it interesting that Gandhi would have thought that they would turn out to be attracted to Islam instead (good point for those out there that paint a negative picture of Muslims).  However, as the conversation developed the theme of human suffering and misery found in the crucified Christ is what linked Gandhi and Thurman (and Bonhoeffer, King).

On another level, this discussion also reminded me of my general dislike of Christian music.  I actually enjoy older hymns and spirituals because of the identification with the suffering Christ (granted, a lot of hymns are also NOT very good).  I have seen Black, Hispanic communities that can identify with the gospel in these songs (the same goes for people at the Mission I go to every now and then).  It is to take the narrative of the Bible and apply it to the experiences of the people.  There is no detached attainment of truth here.

Were You There
Were you there when they crucified my Lord
Oh were you there when they crucified my Lord
(Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when they crucified my Lord

Were you there when they nailed him to the cross
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross
(Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross

(Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb

Well were you there when the stone was rolled away
Were you there when the stone was rolled away
(Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when the stone was rolled away

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Shadow Knows: Jungian Psychology and Final Fantasy IV

I've been doing a bit of reading in Jungian psychology. Jung, of course, is well known for his relationship with Freud and his unique perspective into the human psyche. If I'm reading Jung correctly, the Swiss psychologist asserts that various personalities make up the fabric of the human psyche. In order to define these “personalities” Jung used archetypal language. One of these personalities is the Shadow.

This personality represents the darker aspects of the unconscious and presents itself in divers guises like a demon or foreigner. However, the Shadow represents those aspects of our personality that creates guilt, denial or projection – or so says the Short Introduction to Jung. Jung believed that the Western obsession with morality created a large Shadow that would ultimately threaten society. Once more, on a personal level, projection often leads to hostility towards other undesirable persons despite the fact that the Shadow belongs to the accusers. In order to create wholeness, the Shadow needs to be brought to consciousness. The Shadow is not necessarily “bad”, but it needs to be acknowledged and controlled. I found a good example of this in Square-Enix's game Final Fantasy IV and its sequel The After Years.

In Final Fantasy IV and the After Years, 2 major characters confront their own Shadow in a mirror chamber. One character is the protagonist Cecil Harvey. The other character is Kain Highwind. Nevertheless, both characters resolve their issues in drastically different ways.

In the original game, Cecil leads Baron's Red Wings, an air fleet comprised of specially designed airships. The game opens with Cecil leading his fleet in order to steal a crystal from a town. This is done to bolster the power of the Kingdom of Baron. Cecil, however, becomes riddled with guilt over obeying this command. To make a long story short, he eventually begins a quest to find redemption. Furthermore, he needs to face his Shadow, which he defeats passively (just defend and heal and you'll be all right). Nonetheless, in the After Years Cecil becomes controlled by dark forces and must defeat his Shadow once again. The objectives appears to be obliteration of the Shadow ( see here:; nevertheless, the first attempt apparently failed. Even Kain observes that the return of the Shadow isn't really unprecedented, and Cecil along with his family need to defeat the Shadow again (see here: With that, we can turn to Kain.

Kain is probably the coolest character in the game and the most flawed. In the first game he spends most of his time under the influence of dark forces. However, we learn that the dark forces utilize existing angst and jealousies in order to manipulate him. Eventually, he is freed from that control, but he is left with the need to expunge himself of his Shadow. Unfortunately, things don't go over so well for Kain. His Shadow breaks loose and tries to abduct Cecil's wife Rosa, whom Kain also loves, and murder Cecil. Then, the other Kain (we'll call him Persona Kain) catches up with Shadow Kain. The 2 face off and Persona Kain defeats the Shadow; nevertheless, Persona Kain does not destroy the Shadow. Rather, he acknowledges his Shadow's existence and owns him. At this point Kain becomes whole (represented by becoming a Holy Dragoon). Then, a voice proclaims that justice has been done (see here:

I think a lot can be gained from these insights. Many Christians have grown up in very conservative homes, which tend to be highly moralistic. Moreover, morality can often lead to both condemning attitudes and hypocrisy. For Jung, the emphasis on Persona masks and hides the Shadow. This gives the Shadow power over out unconscious. I believe that if we are more honest about our own personal demons we might be better equipped to handle some of the issues facing American Christianity and politics today.

 Matthew Jimenez received his BA in English Literature at Biola University. He received his MAT in Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. He currently teaches Sunday School at Calvary Community Church in Torrance, CA.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Makes Barth's thought Dialectical?

Since Bruce McCormack's work on Barth, one should read Barth less as a representative of neo-orthodoxy and more of a modern/orthodox thinker.  Kenneth Oakes recently even sees no problem in calling him orthodox/liberal because of Barth's continual use of the theoretical format he learned from the Neo-Kantians and Wilhelm Herrmann specifically.

McCormack has insisted that Barth was a dialectically critical-realistic (Realdialektik) theologian.  God's existence is the transcendent real that humans come in contact in a dialectically veiled/unveiled revelation with God as both the Object (Sache) and Subject of the matter.  Barth interpreter Paul La Montagne lists 7 points to illustrate what exactly this means:

1. Barth takes God's existence and God's self-revelation for granted.
2. His theology is nonfoundationalist (not anti).
3. His theology is critical and self-critical (This is a KEY point often ignored by Barth's readers).
4. We cannot speak of God, but we refer to God in our theology.
5. Our knowledge of God is mediated and indirect.
6. Our language of God is fallible; it is actualistic witness at its best.
7. Theology as a science is of a hypothetical character.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Beginning of Historicism: Chladenius & Möser

Johann Martin Chladenius and Justus Möser are two names that one does not hear in many households (especially the ones inhabited by Anglo-Americans).  However, in Beiser's new book on the German Historicist tradition, he makes the claim that these two are the grandfathers of Historicism. This is important because most  begin with Herder.

So what is so significant about both of them?  They both begin to look at history outside of simple confessional history or the history of the elite.  They also notice the importance of context and perspective in viewing the past. Because of their attention to history some may place them outside of the eighteenth century Enlightenment and see them as forerunners of nineteenth century movements.

Möser especially deserves mention here because he rejects Wolffian rationalism for its emphasis on reason and turns to the action and emotions of real historical actors. Chladenius seems to turn away from the relativism and perspectivism that may form from a historicist understanding of history because of his orthodox Lutheranism.  All in all, they are both pioneers in asking critical, modern questions about history.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Barth's Nietzschean View of History

I am half way done with Richard E. Burnett's book Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis.  The main reason I am reading this book is because he spends a fair amount of time describing what Barth's reading style (his hermeneutics) is like.  He does this by seeing Barth's Romans (I and II) as breaking from the hermeneutical tradition of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey and also the higher criticism of his contemporaries.

The Eureka moment I had is when Burnett pointed out that Barth quotes (in his unpublished preface to Romans) Nietzsche's book The Use and Abuse of History.   Here is the quote (see page 114):

"You may only interpret the past out of the highest power of the present: only in the strongest efforts of your noblest qualities will you divinize what in the past is great, worth knowing and preserving.  Like through like!    Or else you will pull the past down to yourself!  It is the mature and preeminent man who writes history.  He that has not passed through some greater and nobler experience than his contemporaries will be incapable of interpreting the greatness and nobility of the past. The voices of the past speak in oracles; and only the master of the present and the architect of the future can hope to decipher their meaning."

This helps one of my recent points (which is probably not too original) that Barth follows in the genealogy with Nietzsche's and Burckhardt's school of history.  For these three, they held a skeptical view of the progressive reading of history at the end of the nineteenth century, and they wanted a separation between science (its appeal to objective, detachment) and the other disciplines in the humanities.  Following this quote, Barth appeals to Nietzsche in the way the dynamic between the past and present is important for practicing history; thus, their is no detachment with regard to the past.