The Dangers of Forgiveness

[This is another reposting from the blog I have over at “Context with Lorna Dueck“]

 

Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person—or to ourselves. But it is surrounded by dangers.

One danger is that we feel we cannot forgive until the offender repents. But if that is so, then the victim is still subject to the offender’s power. That can’t be right.

Consider this passage from Luke’s Gospel: “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’” (23:34). Jesus is asking God to forgive the soldiers as they are crucifying him. It’s impossible to imagine less repentant people whom Jesus nonetheless wants forgiven right then and there.

So we are free to forgive unilaterally. And that is soul-freeing news.

A second danger is that we might feel that we have to “forgive and forget.”

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Do Sports Matter to God?

With the National Football League season just underway, pennant races on in MLB, university and high school teams soon moving from practice to competition, and, yes, minor hockey starting already in some locales (!), it’s time to revisit a column I posted for “Context with Lorna Dueck” a while ago…

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“It’s only a game.”

And games don’t matter much, right? Not compared to wars, earthquakes, epidemics, political campaigns, scientific discoveries, and all the other subjects that appear first in the newspaper, on the evening TV broadcast, or in your Google News feed.

Then again: Name the president of China, one of the most powerful people in the world.

Hmm. Not coming immediately to mind?

How about the president of India, one of the most populous nations in the world?

Nothing?

How about naming instead not just one or two, but five players on your favourite sports team?

No problem, right?

Yes, the “hard news” gets the front window, but once we’ve taken a quick look at it, millions of us head on back to the sports department, and it’s a well-funded, prime-time department indeed.

When playing sports consumes so much Canadian attention and wealth, week after week and season after season, and when watching sports ranks among our society’s chief uses of leisure time and money, how can God not care about sports?

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Theology and the University

The following is the penultimate draft of an essay recently published in the Canadian journal Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses. (The actual citation is “Putting God in God’s Place: Does Theology Belong in the University?” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses  45:3 (2016): 377–396.) As I understand the terms of the publishing agreement, I can publish this version on my website, while the final (“official”) version has to be obtained from the journal site itself.

Putting God in God’s Place: Does Theology Belong in the University?

When the University of Oxford was founded in the Middle Ages, it included, as did the other major European universities of that era, the teaching of theology. Oxford still includes theology in its curriculum, and so do many others. Does theology belong in the university? Apparently so.

Some might prefer, however, that more be said to justify the continued inclusion of theology in the secular university today. It is true that major universities in Europe continue to teach theology, while in the United States, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and other leading institutions offer degrees in theology. In Canada, McGill, Queen’s, Toronto, McMaster, and other universities offer courses in theology taught by professors whose major research work is in theology. So far, so good.

At the same time, however, many universities, including equally prestigious ones, do not make room for theology as a legitimate academic discipline. The University of Paris, when it was reconstituted at the end of the nineteenth century, no longer included a faculty of theology. Many British universities offer religious studies, but not theology. In the United States, Princeton, Columbia, and Stanford are among the leading universities that do not feature theology. In Canada, the legitimacy of theology has been a bone of contention since the middle of the last century as formerly religious universities came under the control of provincial governments, whole new universities were founded with some including religiously affiliated colleges and others not, and religious studies came into its own as an alternative to theological (= clerical) education. And the North American can glance Down Under and see New Zealand’s variegated educational landscape as being somewhat similar, while Australian universities that are not themselves confessional (such as the Australian Catholic University or various small colleges affiliated with the University of Divinity) make little or no room for theology at all.

One certainly can understand why theology would be suspect in the context of the contemporary secular—by which we shall mean here “not religiously affiliated or controlled”—university. By “theology,” I should make clear, I mean constructive theology, what is otherwise called systematic, normative, or doctrinal theology—not merely “history-of-ideas” social-scientific descriptions of the beliefs Christians or Christian institutions have held through the history of that religion. If we understand theology, that is, to be the articulation of the key truth-claims of the scriptures and other key texts and traditions of a particular theistic religion (and, by extension, the parallel doctrinal work in non-theistic religions), one can easily imagine a variety of reasons to hesitate over both the teaching and the scholarly production of theology on a secular campus. Religious beliefs can be passionately held—and who wants to offend? They can be violently held—and who wants to provoke? They can be obdurately held—and who wants to waste time in futile disputation?[1]

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