Miroslav Volf and Evan Rosa consider audience questions and feedback about hopes and fears going into 2022. A reflective conversation about politics and theology, the aims of theological writing, suffering and the problem of evil, the loss of the middle ground in our polarized era (and Miroslav questions whether "middle" is even a Christian category), the primordial goodness of the world and seeing suffering with one eye squinted; and whether theology is for the religious only, or indeed, for the life of the world. NOTE: For the Life of the World will run highlights, readings, lectures, and other best-of features until May 1, 2022, when we'll be back with new conversations.
- Finding light in darkness: “how do we find and recognize the moments of of light?”
- Idea of primordial goodness, positivity more powerful than negativity
- “Where the light gets in” Leonard Cohen
- WWII and joy in times of darkness
- Chrysostem – the beauty before God of the singer who doesn’t know how to sing
- Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, by Josef Pieper
- “A writer is his life.” – Hannah Arendt
- The writing process as a spiritual exercise: “What are our true aspirations?” Miroslav Volf
- “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means, what I want and what I fear.” Joan Didion.
- Writing in relation to reading
- “There are those who write books and there are those who read them”. – Paul Tillich
- The Burnout Society, by Byung-Chul Han
- Our cultural problem of “struggling to achieve in competitive environments”
- The Unique and Universal Christ, by Drew Collins
- Homo Novus, by Oliver Dyer
- The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, by Paul Bloom
- The idea of the pleasure of pain and suffering
- Martin Luther, Carl Barth, and Jurgen Moltmann as a sources of inspiration
- Horrendous Evils, by Keith DeRose
- The course “The Problem of Evil” cotaught by Miroslav Volf and Keith DeRose
- “I, myself am more interested in the suffering side of things. and I'm interested more in the especially forms of resilience that are embedded or that are there in the Christian faith in the face of suffering, because I think that Christian faith, other faiths as well, but certainly Christian faith, arose out of the situations of suffering and so presents something that a kind of resource that we often leave by the wayside, when we think of it simply as a kind of intellectual problem.” Miroslav Volf
- Faith and suffering: “faith can both emerge and be extremely alive in situations that when you step back, you might think would disprove faith.” Miroslav Volf
- "I can with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing," Flannery O’Connor
- Seeing the negative ‘”rightly and truthfully and not to be too impressed by it.” Miroslav Volf
- "is this an evil world ruled by the Prince of Darkness with some pockets of goodness? Or is it a good world ruled by Jesus, the king of Kings with some pockets of darkness?"
- The negative as a backdrop to the positive. Not pockets of evil, instead a twisting of the whole world in both directions
- The Church correlated with the polarization of American culture
- “tend to the beauty of the world within do not let the circumstances encroach upon the integrity of the self” Miroslav Volf
- The loss of the political middle ground
- “Christians are unreliable allies,” Ron Williams
- “How do you expect the Church worldwide to look in 2022?”“I…hope that the Church will not be too impressed by the burgeoning nationalism, which is not simply a U.S. phenomenon and problem, but is actually a worldwide problem. So that we are then finding analogous types of polarizations and analogous types of alignment between Christian faith and politics in other parts of the world. And I think we have to resist that we have to push against the notion of kind of political Christianity. And I know that there are some significant movements both in Catholic and Protestant circles to return to Christendom. I think this is profoundly mistaken. It was profoundly mistaken from the beginning and it is even more profoundly mistaken now and we have to push back. So for me, that means a return to engaged prophetic Christianity in the footsteps of Jesus.” Miroslav Volf
- "is theology for the religious only, or is such a way of thinking obsolete?"“I would want to hope that Christian faith isn't simply for the religious, but that it is for everyone. It's interesting that, in the world to come, if we are to follow the Book of Revelation, there is not going to be a designated sacred space. That is to say the religiosity is not the most fundamental thing. It serves now to differentiate one from the other, but fundamentally it is an orientation towards, toward God, revealed in Jesus Christ. And that can be a very much a kind of secular reality, worldly reality. And once one takes it as a worldly reality, then in principle, it becomes possible for everyone to be interested. And I think for centuries, that's what Christian faith was about. Any form of mission presupposes that it's not simply there for the religious, but for everyone.” Miroslav Volf
- This is the 100th episode, Miroslav looks back.
- “When I think about interviews with Charles Taylor or Marilynne Robinson or Chris Wiman, or for that matter, Willie Jennings or Carrie Day, I can go on and on. Those were very useful and often, especially with Willie and with Carrie, to the moment speaking to the moment in a way that was quite, quite extraordinary.”
- " Ignore these walls.” Yvonne Mamarede of Zimbabwe
- This podcast featured theologian Miroslav Volf
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Production Assistance by Martin Chan, Nathan Jowers, and Logan Ledman
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
- Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
Miroslav Volf: My concern was always, how do we, in this situation of global, national, familial, and personal types of darkness, how do we find and recognize the moments of light? How do we latch onto them? And maybe even more importantly, how do we not lose what I think is a basic Christian conviction. And that is the conviction in what I've called primordial goodness, that is to say that goodness is always most fundamental than anything evil that happens in the world.
Evan Rosa: This is for the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity. I'm Evan Rosa, with the Yale Center For Faith and Culture. Happy New Year! And as it happens, happy 100th episode of For the Life of the World, March 28th, 2020, seems like, um, well, it seems like some quantity of time ago. Almost two years ago, in fact, and that day with all sorts of uncertainty in the world, we launched this podcast with an episode entitled, 'Faith in a Time of Pandemic.' And some of you have been with us this entire time. And for that, we are incredibly grateful. Maybe you're newer. We're just as grateful that you are here now with us. We're excited about the next 100 episodes of For the Life of the World, conversations, stories, topical series, and other podcast goodies are all in the works. But for now, we're going to pause, sort of, over the next four months, we'll run highlights, summaries, lectures, readings, and other 'best of' features from our first 100 episodes, as well as a backlog of resources by the Yale Center For Faith and Culture. And we'll be back with brand new interviews, reflections and fresh content on May 1st. You can still expect an episode to release every Saturday and we'll be combing through past episodes for the best moments from our amazing guests over the past two years. Today, for our 100th episode, Miroslav Volf joins me to answer questions from some of you, a big thank you to all of you who responded over social media with thoughtful and honest concerns, questions, hopes, and fears as we enter 2022. And along the way, throughout the conversation, I quiz him about what he's been reading and teaching recently, some of his writing habits, and into some interesting theological and political territory, talking about the loss of the middle ground in our polarized era. And here Miroslav questions whether middle is even a Christian category. We talk about the primordial goodness of the world, and seeing suffering with one eye squinted and whether theology is for the religious only or indeed for the life of the world. Thanks for listening friends.
Evan Rosa: Miroslav, Happy new Year.
Miroslav Volf: Happy New Year to you too. Hope It's happier than the last one.
Evan Rosa: indeed. It's also still Christmas, so Merry Christmas in this season. I've often thought Christians ought to celebrate Christmas for the full 12 days of the season, but it's so easy to forget.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, we front-loaded quite a bit these days, and you know, get into the Christmas spirit. I always liked the idea of having your Christmas tree unveiled on the morning of the Christmas day itself, and then going into 12 days of Christmas, because you're kind of waiting for something it's an advent time, anticipation of what is coming, so that when the day comes, you experience kind of this sense of here the problem is is with us at this day. And in any case, in some ways, joy ends up being more in anticipation often than it is in the reality itself.
Evan Rosa: It's so true. It's so true. And I mentioned this on a recent episode where, I know you have a young one, is Mira four now?
Miroslav Volf: She is Four, yep.
Evan Rosa: I've got a three-year-old, Gus, and I don't know about Mira, but every day, Gus, Gus is full of anticipation for Christmas. And it's, it's pretty amazing to see that season through the eyes of a young child. And I love that depiction of joy, joy in the anticipation and not just in the fulfillment. So you recently asked your followers and our listeners, of course, to weigh in with a few questions, concerns, hopes, and fears as we are entering 2022. And the response from many of our friends showed so much concern for both the future of humanity and the future of Christianity, but, there's these worries, the worries that are out there, the fears that are out there, include the rise of authoritarian government, the continued breakdown of public discourse, the widening gap between the left and the right, certainly in America. But you know, this is apparent and in our, on the international scene as well, proliferation of conspiracy theories and the post-truth element, violence, and war, and these fears are even on a personal level. Some folks responded with just kind of bearing their heart about worries that their plans and their careers might be foiled by catastrophes that are out of their control. And, and yet there was also a very palpable, real hope and commitment to finding the good and the true and the beautiful in the future that is before us. But I wanted to ask you as we were going, we're going to discuss some of these things in this episode. What are some of your personal concerns, hopes, and fears, as we look at the year ahead and where you find yourself.
Miroslav Volf: You know, generally I reflect about this past two years and a kind of a dark cloud in which we are enveloped and in which we have to live. My concern was always, how do we, in this situation of global, national, familial, and personal types of darkness, how do we find and recognize the moments of of light? How do we latch onto them? And maybe even more importantly, how do we come to, how do we not lose what I think is a basic Christian conviction. And that is the conviction in what I've called primordial goodness, that is to say that goodness is always most fundamental than anything evil that happens in the world. And I feel that we're in danger of losing that perspective. And the negative has such an incredible power to make itself more important and more threatening than it is. And that's part of its power, I think. And that makes it then easy for us to forget, and not to recognize, even small rays of light and seeing the small rays of light, something big that, that may come up. As I'm speaking now, I'm thinking about the Magi and the star that appears, right? I mean, think of that. There's a light, there is a star that appears, and there's this little child that's at the end of this long journey, there is a kind of a search to find nothing there. Search to find something that turns out to actually be something, but it looks like nothing. And being in the situation in which we find ourselves, my question is, how many times do we pass about something, by something, that's really important? And we deem it to be nothing because darkness has enveloped us and the thing that we are observing.
Evan Rosa: It's really a kind of challenge of the attention and turning the attention and our focus to align more deeply with our priorities and align more deeply with, with our values and principles. But that attention, like just missing something, it seems like we, we do so often have our heads somewhere else.
And then we miss these very significant moments where, you know, to quote Leonard Cohen, where the light gets in.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. Yeah. In some ways I think it's, it's kind of the fears that always surround us, especially in difficult times as these are, they divert our attention away from what might be actually our salvation.
Evan Rosa: Hmm. Do you have things that you practice like with your family, with yourself or with friends that kind of helped to cultivate attuned attention to just the sorts of rays of light that you're talking about there?
Miroslav Volf: So I'm often brought back to the situation in which I was raised, and to the difficulties of that situation. And back to my, for instance, my nanny, who was a woman who lost everything during the Second World War didn't have a place to live, joined our family because we had three rooms in the house and she had none and ended up being the angel of my childhood because she was the joyous, most joyous, person that I've ever encountered in my life, even until now.
Evan Rosa: Wow.
Miroslav Volf: She was singing always.
And to me, she ends up being this extraordinary flower that has grown in a rather nasty and dark environment. Her ability to transcend those circumstances, not to deny them, but to be oneself with joy, not withstanding those. So I think looking back at situations of this sort, or even biblical traditions where one finds a similar experience, that's a source of encouragement, that's a source for me, that kind of draws me to discover something more than what meets my eye in my ordinary state of being.
Evan Rosa: I'm just thinking about your description of her singing and that is a beautiful thing, right? To fill your, to fill the mundane or to fill one's, or to pass one's, time with singing. Of course, there's, there's the wonder and the gift of a singing performance, but, there's a lot of singing in my house, lots of kids are just belting it out and I love hearing it. That is a gift.
Miroslav Volf: I know, in some ways this music that, that occurs from a joyful heart, that happens, is the most beautiful sound you can have. And I think there were also Christian leaders, Chrysostom, the early Christian Church father, he was always emphasizing the beauty before God of the singer who doesn't know how to sing, but sings out of the beauty of art mirrum. My daughters sings out of tune, and I love to listen to it.
Evan Rosa: This reminds me of, at least the title of, a Josef Pieper book, and it's Only the Lover Sings.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah.
Evan Rosa: So, I had a few, we are going to get to some listener questions, but I just wanted to kind of do a little bit of catching up with you and what you've been doing. You've been writing a lot this year, and you recently shared this pretty cool Hannah Arendt quote: "A writer is his life." And you say that's true of theologians and even more of ministers. And you rightly indicate, what a responsibility. I wonder if you could say a little bit about your approach to writing and why that really stuck out to you in this year of writing for you?
Miroslav Volf: Well, this has been with me, this kind of thought has been with me for quite some time and Arendt is not the only one to emphasize it. And some of us who write quite a bit, we're in danger of having writing become our life. So, rather than writer is his, her life, this kind of impact that life has on writing. I think it's particularly significant when we deal with normative issues or even, especially, writing about God, is writing about what concerns us ultimately and what concerns the writer ultimately as well. And it's hard to write truthfully, unless that, which you write about, unless with that which you write about, you want to somehow align your life, unless you aspire to that, to what you are writing. And, there, there is a kind of twisting that occurs, in the very writing itself, by a life that resists the very character of the thing a person is writing. And in that sense to me, it seems really important to attend to, what are our aspirations? I think we shouldn't think of it in terms of some kind of special holiness, that I need to, one needs to, achieve in order to be able to write well, I think of it more in terms of what are our true, deepest aspirations. And so for me then, writing becomes also a kind of spiritual exercise, as a way of being able to align myself with the subject matter with which I am always taken, because it's, I mean, it is my faith. And hence I think especially therefore theologians, and I mean, not religious studies scholars, and they're important, I mean theologians, that take up this normative side and explicate of faith and explicate it, for them it's very important to align life with their aspirations, with the subject matter of their writing.
Evan Rosa: There's this quote, well, yeah, the quote is often attributed to many people, I believe it was Joan Didion. but there are versions that say Stephen King said it and Dylan, Thomas has a version. And, but it's, I write to find out what I think. I think, and I've got the one that's attributed to Joan Didion that is, "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means, what I want and what I fear," and what I hear in you, as well as you're adding this additional and perhaps more central dimension, that you're writing what you want to be or what you want to become.
Miroslav Volf: I think both are true, in some ways I'm also writing to think, to find out what is it that I precisely think so that kind of discovery in the process of writing seems really important. But on the other hand, there is this, for me, I think more important side, namely that the shaping of life, so that who ought I be in this situation here are now interfacing these texts, interfacing God's Revelation. That to me is also a very important question.
Evan Rosa: And of course writing is deeply related to reading. And I'd love to hear a little bit about your process too, because I know enough about the way you write, that it's tied up in what you're reading and, and you use use the act and the practice of reading to support that writing process. What have you been reading? How do you see it influencing the way you write? And I think a lot of our listeners would just be really fascinated to know some of the particulars of your like writing habits and like what helps and what doesn't and whatever.
Miroslav Volf: Well, I think for me, the most important thing is to start a project, the procrastination, if it happens when it happens, it happens at a very beginning. Once I start writing, it seems to me that the, or at least my experience is that the project itself is pulling me. And so, that ends up having the power of its own. And maybe that's because I'm a kind of person that, that, that loves closure. I can't quite live in unfinished, unclosed, untied, things. And so once I started, then I'm on the hook, myself. And the reading often is associated as I go searching in the writing itself, because I start relatively early to write, rather than, having everything finished, and then I'm, it's just the writing process itself.
Evan Rosa: it sounds like you're describing a dialogue.
Miroslav Volf: It is a discovery, in a sense in dialogue with, with others. and that means that reading ends up being eclectic, but it means also that in the process of writing, I find there is also a little bit less reading than what I normally would do. I always think of the saying, that's attributed to Paul Tillich, who said in his thick German accent, "There are those who write books and there are those who read them," and the too need not be the same. And he experienced it, that once you, when you write, often you're so taken into the, in the formulation of things and into thinking through things thatthat there's less time for writing. But there are also wonderful books that, one always discovers and can draw on. I mean, recently I was reading a book, which I found a very interesting short book, called Burnout Society, which is kind of the discussion of the society of achievement, and our primary problem, maybe he over emphasizes that, is kind of this struggle to achieve in competitive environments, and creates a lot of kind of typically modern maladies, things things of that sort. And our colleague, Drew Collins, has written this wonderful book, The Unique and Universal Christ. Which is a wonderful critique of the, kind of, this typical approach to theology of religion: exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist approaches. Recently I was flipping through the pages of the book by our friend from Switzerland, Oliver Dyer, entitled Homo Novus. Which is about, it's in German unfortunately, but it's about possibilities of completion in, of, creation a new creation in the context of, in a trans human age. So he's engaging awhole transhumanist project. And I think it's a very important project for us to engage, whether we are working on theologies of creation or on eschatological topics, things like that. Or I was reading recently, it's very interesting, a book by Paul Bloom, Sweet Spot. I think his most recent book, which is about pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning. Where he tries to retrieve this idea or counter, rather, the idea that we are simply pleasure seeking animals and try to avoid pain. The pain is always purely instrumental and he talks about pleasures in pain itself, but also, in suffering. And also about the importance of certain forms of chosen suffering for the question of meaning. So it's a very interesting book, things like that. It's a very eclectic.
Evan Rosa: I want to come back to that question of suffering and pain in a moment. But before that, I just want to ask, besides scripture, are there books that, that just seem to recur in your life, whether they're ancient or contemporary texts, are there, what are like the two, or three, or however many, that you just are always turning back to you and you always find yourself, if not actually picking up and reading, that you kind of feel tempted to?
Miroslav Volf: Well, so, so most, I think probably I would name Luther, Martin Luther, as a person to whom I always go back to just about on any topic. And, that doesn't mean I necessarily always agree with him, but he's my constant dialogue partner. Even where I disagree, I kind of disagree in a Luther way. rIght? You know this joke, that I've heard some sociologists tell about how one is inflected, even when one kind of abandons something? I think it was in the time of troubles in Northern Ireland, when there were, there were kind of a line separating, on the line that was posed there, and a person was passing and they wanted to know whether he was Catholic or Protestant. He said, I'm an atheist. And he said, are you a catholic atheist or a protestant atheist? Because even what we push against can be inflected by that from which we come to it. And so, so it is also with some of the great figures, and for me that is experienced with Martin Luther. I find also Carl Barth always a reference point, and Jurgen Moltmann is sometimes unmentioned, but he is, he is a very important presence in what I do.
Evan Rosa: Yeah, absolutely. So you were teaching this past semester a course on suffering and the problem of evil. Is that right?
Miroslav Volf: It was "problem of evil," was the course. And it's I co-taught that with a very good colleague and friend of mine, who is Keith DeRose, and Keith is writi ng a book on the problem of evil, entitled Horrendous Evils. And he's taking this as a kind of intellectual problem of the problem of evil and he's pushing against the, what became a dominant way of us thinking about the problem of evil, which is, which is, a kind of free will defense, of God, emphasis on the free will. And he's pushing against that, not in a sense of denying the importance of that, that question of free will, but emphasizing inadequacies of it and is trying to find alternatives. And returning more to what looks like some version of John Hick's 'soul making theodicy,' and it was a very interesting thing to do. We were reading his manuscript, and he's a great thinker, and, and it's a very important topic. Now I, myself am more interested in the suffering side of things. and I'm interested more in the especially forms of resilience that are embedded or that are there in the Christian faith in the face of suffering, because I think that Christian faith, other faiths as well, but certainly Christian faith, arose out of the situations of suffering and so presents something that a kind of resource that we often leave by the wayside, when we think of it simply as a kind of intellectual problem, rather than simply that. I'm not dismissing it, but, if we think of it as a resource for living, then it becomes also very interesting and, and it kind of clarifies the character of the problem that we need to address.
Evan Rosa: This is really good because clarifying the character of the problem, I think, is so important because the problem of evil, as you described it, the intellectual problem, as opposed to maybe the existential problem, is so often a problem for what we think of as the existence of God, and that's how it's always been leveraged. In so far as an intellectual problem around the rationality of belief in a perfect God, it does, I mean, that's important so far as that goes, in the in the project of philosophy of religion or philosophical theology matters, but there is that existential aspect of it where there's this other very important existential side of the equation, which does come down to suffering. And wonder if you could say a little bit more about what you took out of that course and doing that reading, where do you see it going for you?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, my, my exploration of this, of the theme, obviously it has to be aware and being framed by the larger issue of the problem of evil, but concentrated, where I want to concentrate is, on the kind of paradox that faith can both emerge and be extremely alive in situations that when you step back, you might think would disprove faith. An example for me, as I mentioned earlier, my nanny, who, if she stepped back, she might have had all reasons to say, all this thing about faith didn't help me very much, I lost everything that, that I have, but on the other hand, she ends up being this most joyous person just because she didn't do that. And there's a quality of life that emerged out of, out of that suffering that is absolutely extraordinary. So that's a kind of a practical engagement with it. We'll still have to then ask the question, whether she's just believing in an illusion and the illusion helped her, survive. That will be an important question to ask, but it's important also to identify, that's what I mean by clarifying the issue. The same is true of my father who finds God in the, at the end of the death march. And whose world changes in that finding of God. Now that, to me, those to me, are really interesting and important questions. And I think they're important today because many of us feel oppressed by the situation in which we find ourselves. It's very hard under this dark cloud to have the beauty of the character shine. And yet I've seen that happen. And that's what fascinates me.
Evan Rosa: Yeah. It reminds me of this Flannery O'Connor quote, that I learned from Jessica Hooten Wilson. And it's, "I can with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing," and I love the kind of embodied, no pun intended, but the visual there of having to squint one, one eye and it's this, it's both, it kind of, it shows like the human capacity or the human drive, the motivation to try to find the meaning and the blessing in, what was in O'Connor's case, a lot of pain, physical pain from lupus and, a lot of feeling socially ostracized and struggling with romantic love and things like that. And, does that connect for you at all? The one eye squinted?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. Knowing what person is doing with one eye squinted, right? Refusing to take the full field of vision and therefore concentrate on something that is, that is significant or on the gestalt of reality, that, that is at the moment, significant. But there's also this other thing that, I mean, we're talking about earlier that I'm always struck by, is, I don't want to assume that the negative that I see, that I see it rightly. I think I need to learn how to re-see the negative, and not just how not to, how to, how to see the whole thing from the perspective in the gestalt that is given to it by the positive, because this negativity, and the power, its own power and self insinuation to me is, is a significant problem. I see it in daily life as being very significant and that's where I want to partly also, also pushed to see, to see it rightly and truthfully and not to be too impressed by it.
Evan Rosa: That's right. But to carry on the metaphor, yeah, it's like, I had no idea, I completely forgot it in the moment, but yeah, it does connect one eye squinted with the rays of light that kind of make it through the cracks of the world. And that's just like the refraction there, that light, when it passes through a particular filter, it can take on, you know, it can reveal a spectrum of color.
Miroslav Volf: That's a good way to think about.
Evan Rosa: And, and it is about the mode of reception even.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, very, very much, very much agreed. And, I think that the faith, faith in God, for my perspective, faith in God, plays a very significant role in that. And it's almost like there is this fundamental trust in the goodness of what is, and that fundamental trust makes the knowing, a certain kind of knowing, possible that otherwise wouldn't be. And that's given with the idea of creation, especially if you think of, the good Creator creating world that is, that is very good. And then it allows you also, which I think is really important, to see the negative for what it is both not to underplay it, and not to overplay it, because there is also no point in underplaying the evil, the kind of rosy picture of reality is a false picture of reality. And my interest then is to find ways in which we can fully acknowledge what is, nonetheless, see the world, as a gift, and live in it in a joyful kind of way.
Evan Rosa: You know, one of our listener questions, did pick up on this particular theme. So it might be worth just asking and seeing if that's, if the, if this is a connection or make a comment, Jared Holsing asked about this kind of, these two different ways of thinking about evil in the created order. And it's this quote, "is this an evil world ruled by the Prince of Darkness with some pockets of goodness? Or is it a good world ruled by Jesus, the king of Kings with some pockets of darkness?" Lots of Evangelicals speak as though it's the former, that it's mostly ruled by the Prince of Darkness. But Jared is holding out for the latter. Where would you weigh in?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, no, I think I'd be very much on his side. I think that's also what I would mean by the claim that goodness or creation is primordial. The goodness of creation cannot be undone. And so the negative is only properly perceived against the backdrop of the positive. And in that sense, I would agree with him. What I'm a little bit stumbling over is the word pockets or the image of pockets. So as if evils is a kind of identifiable simply and completely isolated thing there, and the good also is that, right? As if there is not a twisting of the world as a whole, without it thereby becoming fully evil. Without thereby being completely, in classical terminology, completely sinful. Turning into the sinful reality itself. And that's where Luther comes in for me. So that you have this idea that you're simultaneously just about in everything, both the justified and, and sinner. But the primacy is given to the goodness and to justification rather than to one's sinfulness. But I think that's how we need to think about it. And otherwise it's very hard to justify God's creation of the world. It's very hard to hope for the salvation of the world. In some significant sense, the world is not in its nature, such that, the primacy belongs to the good.
Evan Rosa: What do you make of the implications? Is there any, if you were to consider the world essentially ruled by evil with only pockets of goodness or, if you make evil primordial, what does that do to, to one's expression of Christianity?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, that would be, that would be, that would be really interesting. I mean, one can imagine without primordial, goodness being lost, but pockets of the world being ruled by such sinister forces that they kind of choke the true life in its varied expression. And the question becomes, what does one do in situations of this sort? And in some ways, what is the ray of light then?
Evan Rosa: Yeah.
Miroslav Volf: And this simple being it we'll have to the suffice. And we know of situations in many places where that's exactly what people, the only thing they could do, there's nothing that could be changed. That's sometimes in the modern setting for us, in terms of our expectation, it's hard to imagine. But, there are situations in which nothing can change, what can change is the interior self. And there, I would say, tend to the beauty of the world within do not let the circumstances encroach upon the integrity of the self, even though you cannot express it in ways that, you might want, even though the circle, in which that is the case is relatively limited.
Evan Rosa: I wonder if this is a good segue to thinking about the way we see the Church, and not just the culture, but the Church seems to be at least correlated with the polarization of American political culture. And of course this has expression internationally as well. And we did get plenty of responses, folks that are worried about, what are the Christian options for us, if depolarizing attempts, prove, futile. And another, we are looking at well, we're looking at a worry here that this is the end of the middle ground. And, and so moving a little away from, from a theology of, good and evil and suffering, more into political and public theology here. What do you say about that?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's, that's really the loss of the middle ground is I think a very interesting question because obviously the loss of the middle ground has its own effects on how each end relates to, to the other, it tends to make each of the ends extreme and in that sense, something like the the middle ground, there would be interest in having something like that, that middle ground. But, I'm thinking that middle is not a Christian category. Neither is left Christian category nor is right Christian category and certainly middle, then isn't a Christian category. And I think that might point if that's true, that might point us in the way, to proceed in a situation of high polarization. Then concentration is on, substantively, what the Christian faith is about and will not be, highly inflected or highly shaped by what actual polarities are. And then you might align with one group on one thing and with the other group on the other and on a third thing align with none of them. And that would seem to me in general to be the right kind of stance to have. Sometimes alliances are then more possible than not. But nonetheless, I think Carl Barth was right. And I think recently, maybe a few years back Ron Williams invoked that, claim of Carl Barth, that he said that Christians are unreliable allies in political domain. And I think that's exactly right. And the reason for that is, is that political interests cannot define Christian commitments. There is a Lord to whom we are responsible. There is God of the universe to whom one is responsible, and that may or may not align. And if it doesn't too bad for the alliance, it doesn't align. And I think we have to have courage to go there.
Evan Rosa: indeed. Do you react similarly to the, if we were to replace the term, middle ground with common ground? And here, I'll tell you where I'm going with this, is, common life in the Polis, right in public, where it's a sort of shared. It might not mean, it might not mean, these kind of platforms of agreement or little islands of agreement, you might say where, well I'm with you on abortion or I'm with you on gay marriage or I'm with you on a budget ceiling, but instead is more about, the kind of interaction that's there.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, and I mean, I think the interest in the common life, and interest in making the common life possible, would be one of the substantive commitments that one would have. So, if it's not a common ground in terms of let's create a compromise solutions so that we can negotiate our way. sometimes compromises are possible, but on some of the fundamental issues, it's very hard to make those compromises. And then the question becomes, well, how does one live together, even when compromises are not possible? Are there modalities in which we can agree, in living together? And that's also, I think, a strong Christian interest and motivation, at least how I would, think of it. And the more we think of creating and patterns of relating, which make it possible for us to differ on significant issues, I think the better we will be in the long run.
Evan Rosa: A pastor in Orange County, California, an Arabic pastor, his name's Adel Malik, asked, as the pandemic transfers our lives to uncertainty and Christianity in the U S becomes weaker as a result of the marriage between Evangelicals and Trump, how do you expect the Church worldwide to look in 2022?
Miroslav Volf: I don't know how the Church worldwide is going to look. I am hoping that the Church worldwide will not try to align itself with a church in the U.S., or for that matter in some other Western countries. I also hope that the church will not be too impressed by the burgeoning nationalism, which is not simply a U.S. phenomenon and problem, but is actually a worldwide problem. So that we are then finding analogous types of polarizations and analogous types of alignment between Christian faith and politics in other parts of the world. And I think we have to resist that we have to push against the notion of kind of political Christianity. And I know that there are some significant movements both in Catholic and Protestant circles to return to Christendom. I think this is profoundly mistaken. It was profoundly mistaken from the beginning and it is even more profoundly mistaken now and we have to push back. So for me, that means a return to engaged prophetic Christianity in the footsteps of Jesus.
Evan Rosa: One factor here that does, that kind of strikes me about pastor Adel's question here is his pointing out lives of uncertainty. I wonder if you'd comment on living with uncertainty and how to balance that with a robust commitment to truth seeking. What is the role of uncertainty for you? What is the, how does that factor in in public theology in particular?
Miroslav Volf: Well, uncertainty, I think makes things more difficult. I think it creates polarizations and that makes it more likely that you would have alignments of faith and Christian faith and nationalism. And it makes it also more likely that people will be fearful in reacting to and setting oneself apart from precisely that alignment of faith and politics. And we see that also in, in many circles, people are afraid to express what they, what they think, because there'll be significant losses for them, whether economically whether, socially, their friends are going to abandon them. And in that sense, that creates, a difficult environment. And so, on the one hand, while I want to advocate for a kind of reliance on the gospel and a certain kind of principle disloyalty, at the same time, I can understand why that might be difficult for people, that may create a situation of persecution. And indeed it has created situations of persecution in many countries with authoritarian regimes.
Evan Rosa: Yeah. The presence of uncertainty really put someone to the test. If you're uncertain where your next paycheck is going to come from, if you're uncertain whether you'll be sick, whether, whether an entrepreneurial endeavor is going to fail, uncertainty really pushes someone to, to take a stand. And, but that's a, that's a challenging place to be in, that's very difficult. So putting things back in a theological context. David Moore on Facebook asks a wonderful provocative question: "is theology for the religious only, or is such a way of thinking obsolete?"
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. So that, that's a very challenging question. And I think it's a very important question given also a certain kind of crisis in which the ology finds itself. So, so my basic argument would be, or my basic position, would be, is Christian faith only for religious, or is that way of thinking, namely a Christian way of thinking, obsolete? And depending how you answer that question, I think you will have answered the question about theology, because I think the theology is the kind of thinking side of the faith itself. And I would want to hope that Christian faith isn't simply for the religious, but that it is for everyone. It's interesting that, in the world to come, if we are to follow the Book of Revelation, there is not going to be a designated sacred space. That is to say the religiosity is not the most fundamental thing. It serves now to differentiate one from the other, but fundamentally it is an orientation towards, toward God, revealed in Jesus Christ. And that can be a very much a kind of secular reality, worldly reality. And once one takes it as a worldly reality, then in principle, it becomes possible for everyone to be interested. And I think for centuries, that's what Christian faith was about. Any form of mission presupposes that it's not simply there for the religious, but for everyone.
Evan Rosa: Hmm. So Miroslav, this is the 100th episode of For the Life of the World. It's falling on January 1st, 2022. You've been on many podcasts, but this was your first foray into podcasting yourself, interviewing people and bringing them on the show. And I'm just wondering, as you think back to 2020, when we launched the show basically at the dawn of a global pandemic, what are some of the standout moments to you? Some of the guests that you remember, or just moments that felt like light was coming through?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, no, if you'd have asked me, I wouldn't have said that they were as many as a hundred episodes. So I want to thank you and congratulate you for all the hard work that you've put into doing all this work. And the most interesting episodes for me to do were the interview episodes. I found that in terms of podcasts, I almost need a live audience to be able to speak directly, so that it's a little bit more difficult for me to, to give a lecture or to speak simply on the podcast. And so the interview ends up as a much more interesting, or doable, format for me. And obviously it gives us the opportunity to have this extraordinary conversation with people who are great intellectuals, great writers, and who have deep insight into what is going on in various different worlds which we all inhabit. So when I think about interviews with Charles Taylor or Marilynne Robinson or Chris Wiman, or for that matter, Willie Jennings or Carrie Day, I can go on and on. Those were very useful and often, especially with Willie and with Carrie, to the moment speaking to the moment in a way that was quite, quite extraordinary. And that side of things, speaking to the issues of the moment, seemed to me really interesting and really important in the podcast.
Evan Rosa: Yeah. There is a place for scripted, narrative storytelling in podcasting, and those are wonderful and fun to try to create and produce. But, but I think you're right, that there is something beautiful about dialogue as it happens, extemporaneously, intuitively, and, and when you really do inhabit a moment with someone, when you're fully present to it, when you're paying attention and listening, and that, that allows for something deeper to come out. And I'll just note one myself, what listeners might not recognize is I'm sitting in on a lot of these conversations, almost all of them, in fact, listening to, each of you and producing, and there was a moment when you were interviewing pastor Yvonne Mamarede of Zimbabwe and he was describing his experience in prison. And " ignore these walls" were three, were the three words, and I just kind of witnessed you kind of like really be impacted by that. And that was a special moment for me because we were hearing someone whose theology was truly lived, whose commitments were uncompromising and he was opening up in a way that you really do have to be truly present to, to kind of tell the truth in that way and to bear witness in that way. That was a special moment.
Miroslav Volf: And for him to have received those words as an almost reversed kind of prophetism for somebody who was a de facto criminal in that, in that prison, and then advice to the pastor, "ignore these walls." It's beautiful.
Evan Rosa: That's beautiful. Thank you so much for being a part of this. And, it's just a joy to be doing it with you and the team here. Listeners, thank you for your questions. Thank you for responding to this call. We hope that your 2022 is full of peace and goodness, and, and the kind of challenges, the kind of suffering that can draw a deeper faith and draw out a deeper goodness and connection.
Miroslav Volf: All the best, thank you, Evan, for all your hard work and beautiful results.
Evan Rosa: Thanks Miroslav.
Thanks friends. We will be back next week, so keep an eye out for highlights, readings, lectures, and other 'best of' moments from the past 100 episodes of For the Life of the World. And on May 1st, we'll be back with brand new episodes. Thanks for listening friends. Peace.
For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center For Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured theologian Miroslav Volf. Production assistance by Martin Chan, Nathan Jowers and Logan Ledman. I'm Evan Rosa, and I edit and produce the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu. New episodes drop every Saturday, sometimes midweek. If you're new to the show, welcome friend, hit subscribe in your favorite podcast listening app, and we'd love your feedback. Ratings and reviews in Apple podcasts are particularly helpful, but we're just as happy to hear from you by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We read each comment and do our best to respond and improve the show, bringing you the people and topics that you want to hear. And if you're a regular listener, it's a huge honor that you stick with us from week to week. So I'll ask you to step up and join us. Help us share the show. Behind those three dots in your podcast app, there's an option to share this episode by text or email or social media. If you took a brief moment to send your favorite episode to a friend or share with the world, not only would you be supporting the show, you'd be sparking up a great conversation around stuff that matters with people that matter. Thanks for listening today, friends, we'll be back with more this coming week.