Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is the key to Anglican futures, love or truth?

It would be quite a good undergraduate theology class essay topic to ask "Is truth or love more important in the Johannine writings?"

From a correspondent this morning comes a contribution to that essay in respect of truth. It is by Rod Dreher - a sharp thinker - and found here.

Truth or love?


If 'both', how are we Anglicans going to re-establish the importance of truth (where it has been neglected) and love (where it has been undernourished)?


carl jacobs said...

Without Truth, how do you know what love is? The only way these two things get set in opposition to each other is if one is defined non-Scripturally. In practice this means a definition of love that reduces to indulgence. This false definition is then used to trump truth for the sake of human freedom.

Otherwise (to quote one of my heroes) "There is no conflict."


Father Ron Smith said...

How, Peter, does the article and your assessment, cohere with the advice of Jesus, in John 13:34-35:

"I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples" - (Jesus)

Interestingly, Jesus did not say that by their 'truth' people would know them as Jesus' disciples, - possibly aware that human beings cannot fully know 'The Truth'.

One only has to look at the number of different 'truths' that are embraced and declared 'de rigueur' by different parts of the Church.

One man's 'truth' is another person's apostasy. Discernment can be quite elusive - even to the most 'spiritual' of us.

This is why I rely upon the sacramental life of the Church - mediating Christ Himself in the Holy Spirit, to all who believe on Him as 'The Bread of life'.

Anonymous said...

If love is un-truth-ful, is it really love?

Father Ron Smith said...

If Truth is unloving, is it really Jesus: "The Way, The Truth and The Lief?

Bryden Black said...

How, Peter, does the article and your assessment, cohere with the advice of Jesus, in John 13:34-35: "I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples" - Ron Smith

A good and necessary question indeed Ron. The answer to which is also contained in the body of Johannine literature. For Carl is correct: only false definitions of love contradict the truth - AND vice versa, false definitions of truth contradict love! The reality is God is Love - a Love that brooks no darkness or lies, but is absolutely faithful to itself and its own determination. A Love often described by Christian mystics as the Fire of Love.

E.g. the entire scope of 1 Jn 4 integrates well both the truth, its due acknowledgement and recognition, and love, both together. In fact, the entire First Letter seeks to address just this. For the truth is Ron the Church needs - demands even - such an integration. Just as a duly ordained ministry is one of word + sacrament, sacrament + word, together!

Father Ron Smith said...

" Just as a duly ordained ministry is one of word + sacrament, sacrament + word, together!" - B.B.

Couldn't agree more. And The Word is Love: "They'll know you're my disciples by your LOVE" - Jesus is Love Incarnate.

Bryden Black said...

Sorry Ron; once more the body of Johannine literature would not be so reductionist but more expansive.

E.g. Jn 1:14 - And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

We need I suggest to just acknowledge this breadth and depth - and move on! In which light, there is much from John that would engage with our 21st C context, as per Peter's initial proposal.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Words, words!! No amount of theological speculation can replace actual experience of The Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist. Through this the Holy Spirit Herself teaches us.

DO this to remember me! - Jesus - Not: 'Think about this...."

Anonymous said...

The Holy Spirit is spoken of by our Lord in the masculine gender ('ekeinos', John 14.26; 15.26; 16.13, 14), as anyone with a basic knowledge of NT Greek should know. A disciple is not above his teacher.


MichaelA said...

Love or truth...

Sounds like 'chicken or beef?'!

Or, as Eddie Izzard put it 'cake or death?' (and yes, he's an Anglican!)

Bryden Black said...

I’m intrigued Ron that you keep returning to the Eucharist as if it were the panacea for all ills, theological and/or speculative! And this despite the awkward history of interpretation around this ‘sacrament of unity’ ...

Back again to the Johannine corpus. Jn 4 is decisive for any views (setting up chs 5-10 incidently). You know the story ... At 12 Noon, as opposed to Nicodemus in ch.3 being “by night”, this Woman asks Jesus a question; Jesus tosses back his rejoinder that boils down to two things: his identity, and the nature of the gift he gives. Delightfully, the gift catches the climax well. For “worship in Spirit and in truth” is exactly what Jesus does bring/enable, both the Holy Spirit and the truth being the gift, as many a commentator will endorse. Yet again, as the Upper Room will underline, the Holy Spirit, the Other Paraclete, is himself “the Spirit of Truth”. Truth is always ultimately Personal. Yet not over and against words that are about the Personal - for otherwise this Evangelist would never have embarked upon his writing a Gospel! No-one may rend asunder what God has joined together: for God simply Is!

QED. As the Early Fathers were fond of pointing out: “We worship” - “With him and in him and through him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory be unto you, Father Almighty, now and forever!” And the people said “Amen!” Or if one is African: they intone it with movement and dance ...! This is the truth of the matter, the res.

Anonymous said...

"DO this to remember me!"

Which are words from Holy Scripture. The sacraments derive their authority from the prior authority of Scripture, and do no exist apart from Scripture. 'Word and Sacrament' means Bible and Sacrament. Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Bible, are all equally means of grace and cannot be separated. Any "Jesus" that exists apart from the Bible is not the real Jesus, but a human creation.

"The Truth will set you free" and the only place to find that truth is in the Word of God written, which is also the only place we can know who the Word made flesh is and what He taught.

I have generally found that those who want to minimize Scripture do so because they want to invent their own Jesus.

Both truth and love are equally important, and I would argue that Scripture does not separate the two, but holds them as equally important and inter-related.

Love without truth is not love at all, but self-indulgence and/or self-delusion.

Sadly, parts of the Church have bought into what I call "Beatles theology" in which it is claimed that "all you need is love" and theological truth is not relevant. This is not Biblical by any stretch, and can only be maintained by very, very selectively quoting Jesus and also ignoring Jesus when He teaches that truth and moral discipline are also important. In fact, Jesus warns about Hell and the coming Judgement just as much, if not more, as He speaks of love.

Tim Chesterton said...

I'm all for love being the greatest commandment, and of course we have the authority of Jesus on that.

However, the problem is that we think we know what 'love' is, and if we don't also do our best to grow in our understanding of the truth that is in Jesus, then we can end up reading love as mere sentiment. Love without thinking is not real love. Jesus told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The mind is needed, because sometimes we have to give a lot of thought as to what exactly real love requires.

Father Ron Smith said...

"However, the problem is that we think we know what 'love' is".
- Tim Chesterton -

Well, Tim, Jesus obviously was of a different understanding to you, when he said that: "They will know you're my disciples by your love." If Jesus didn't think we could really understand what love is, why would he bother saying that, do you think? Was Jesus giving an impossible instruction to his disciples?

I guess that being 'en Christo' is the best way of experiencing what Jesus was talking about here. The experience of the love of God in Christ is the pre-requisite to understanding what love really is.

If we do not experience the 'great love of God as revealed in the Son' in the ministry of the Church, perhaps the Church is missing out on the Great Commission.

It must be very difficult to love others with the love of God, if you have not experienced that love for yourself. This is the core of the Gospel message that "God so loved the world.....". One can experience such love through the love of others who know God.

Tim Chesterton said...

Hello Ron:

I'm very sure that there are many areas of my life where I am 'of a different understanding than Jesus'! Hopefully I'll grow and learn to align myself more with his understanding!

However, I spend a lot of time in the folk music community and amongst songwriters, and the common understanding of 'love' there is that it is an irresistible emotional force, not a decision to act in a certain kind of way. If you say "I fell in love with someone else", that is seen as sufficient grounds for leaving a marriage and trading your partner in on a younger model.

Anyone who spends any time at all listening to popular culture (music, movies, novels) knows that this understanding of love is the dominant one in our culture. So when I say "we don't always know what love is", I don't think I'm stating anything radical. It's as plain as can be that the modern cultural understanding of love is poles apart from agapé,.

Father Ron Smith said...

So, Tim, let me get this right. Are you actually saying that it is impossible for Christians (or anyone else) in this modern world is not able to experience 'agape' love - the love of God?

I know it is not necessarily experienced by everyone - not even everyone, perhaps in the Church. However. I have experienced it in my own life, and I can tell you, it passes all human understanding. I just gladly accept it. The clue is - it often comes through our experience of the love of others, whose love of us is unearned.

I actually experienced the depth of God's love in today's Mass - together with my fellow communicants. The preaching was all about Joy in The Lord.

"Come down, O Love divine....!"

MichaelA said...

"One man's 'truth' is another person's apostasy. Discernment can be quite elusive - even to the most 'spiritual' of us."

That is most unfortunate, Fr Ron, since Christ said: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free".

So if someone not only doesn't know the truth, but doesn't think it can be known, that person must still be a slave!

MichaelA said...

"So, Tim, let me get this right. Are you actually saying that it is impossible for Christians (or anyone else) in this modern world is not able to experience 'agape' love - the love of God?"

Setting up straw men again, Fr Ron? Tim didn't suggest anything of the kind.

Mind you, it is a point worth pondering - the person who thinks they can know love without knowing truth is probably deluding themselves....

Father Ron Smith said...

Precisely, Michael. At least, you've got that last sentence right.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron. My apologies; I do not seem to be able to make myself clear. I am also quite surprised to discover that I am apparently saying something controversial.

Let me try a slightly different tack. My experience as a pastor is that most people in the modern world understand 'love' as an emotion - i.e. 'I love you' means 'I feel love toward you'. So, for instance, the well-known hit song by Bonnie Raitt - 'I can't make you love me when you don't / you can't make your heart feel something it won't'.

On the other hand, it seems clear to me that when Jesus commands us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, he is talking about love as an action. This is made even clearer by his use of the story of the good Samaritan to illustrate what neighbour love looks like.

When people who have been catechized by the mass media hear the command to love, they hear it as a command to feel something. This they find very confusing, because a command to feel something doesn't make sense. Hence, if we preachers want to give people accurate guidance about what discipleship is all about, we have to start by teaching them (and ourselves) what agapé means.

Once again, I am rather surprised that this is controversial. I was not aware of saying anything that C.S. Lewis didn't say years ago in The Four Loves.

Tim Chesterton

Father Ron Smith said...

Tim, what I do understand is that agape is the love that exists at the heart of the Most Holy Trinity. As Creator, only God has the power to disseminate this kind of love. For Christians, who are 'en Christo', such love is part of us by grace alone. Inasmuch as we act in a Christ-like manner to others, we are exercising agape.

I agree with you, that the world's most frequent expression of love is in the experience of emotions connected with liking - or even lusting. This, as you say, cannot be commanded. It is instinctual.

I suspect, though, that agape love has to be exerted to be of value. And therein lies our human weak-ness. Without the grace of God we are incapable of such love.

Of this agape, Jesus said, in his New Commandment, that "This is my commandment ; love one another, as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love, than to lay down his life for his friends".
(John !5: 12, 13).

Perfect love - shown by Jesus in his ultimate kenosis - is this radical given-up-ness for others. We all fall short. Kyrie Eleison!

Anonymous said...

I have question - How effective was this to the disciples. Did they learn anything from this saying.

Bryden Black said...

I have come across this brilliant summary of the matter - from Dante! NB especially lines 34ff

Dante on Truth and Love in Purgatory Canto Eighteen

The soul, which is created quick to love, 19
once readiness is wakened into act,
will move toward anything that pleases it.
Now when cognition, from some outward fact, 22
draws forth a lovely image to display
within your soul, with power to attract,
And when your soul is turned and bends that way, 25
such leaning of the soul is natural love,
binding itself to you initially
Through the delight of beauty. Then, as fire 28
rises according to its inborn form,
that in the fiery realm it may endure,
So the rapt soul arises in desire - 3l
a motion of the spirit that will not rest
so long as the beloved brings it joy.
And therefore you should find it manifest 34
how hidden is the truth from those who preach
that all love, in itself, is worthy of praise,
For they may see the goodness of the matter, 37
but they neglect the form. Not every seal
is good, although the wax it stamps may be.”
“Your words and my own wit in following you,” 40
said I, “uncover for me what love is,
but now I feel an even greater doubt,
For if love’s offered from outside of us, 43
and if the soul is moved by love alone,
how, then, can it be meritorious,
Should we go right or wrong?” And he replied, 46
“I’ll tell you everything that reason sees;
beyond that, wait for Beatrice still, for faith
Must do the work. Every substantial form - 49
distinct from matter, yet united with it -
contains within itself its proper power,