Finding Community

Michael Allen Gillespie in The Theological Origins of Modernity explored the contribution of Francesco Petrarch—a monumental 14th century figure—in The Solitary Life: “At the heart of this [Petrarch’s] claim [that a public life is incompatible with virtue] is his conviction that social life is dominated by the opinions and values of the multitude, who are invariably slaves to their passions.  Man in society is thus not a free being who seeks his own good but a slave who desires the praise and fears the blame of others and who consequently wants only what others want” (59-60).

This insight is certainly out of step with the modern myth of personal freedom.  Yet it is remarkably prescient if measured by the way that life today is defined by fads and fashions.  One only needs to travel in a bus, train, or airplane to watch fellow travelers sample the latest lines of clothing.  The advertisements of autos, prestigious watches, luxurious homes, and any number of consumer goods are supplemented by the star power of movie actors who show off the good life, all to indicate—whether overtly or covertly—what others “should want.”

Of course this is nothing new.  Jesus was scathing as he attacked the scholarly work of the Bible teachers of his day (see John 5) for missing the point of Moses’ writings—which anticipated the coming Messiah—when he, the Messiah, was standing in their midst talking to them.  The problem: “You do not have the love of God in you.”  John later (in John 12) summarized the reluctance of many leaders in Christ’s day.  They had come to believe that Jesus was, indeed, all that he claimed to be, yet they still refused to say so in public.  Why not?  Because they loved the glory they received from each other rather than the glory that comes from God.

Jesus made the same point elsewhere when he warned that no one can serve two masters, “for you will love the one and hate the other.”  Luther also caught the point when he compared the human will as riding the donkey of desire: any given person is carried wherever his desires carry him.  And, as Petrarch points out, we are slaves to fashion as our desires are formed by our cultural surroundings.  A basic reality of life, then, is that we always do whatever our favorite crowd calls for us to do.  A corollary to this is that our sense of personal freedom is a bit of naïve puffery!

This affective insight certainly aligns itself with Christ’s call in John 8 to “abide in my word” in order to be set free from the desires of his ultimate enemy.  So here’s a question for us to ponder.  How does Christ’s love set us free?  Does it come from an intellectual alignment with biblical teachings?  Is it a function of “determining” how to love others in light of Christ’s model of love?  Or is it the fruit of having our self-defining referential community as the Triune community of God?  If we read the Bible relationally this final option is where we’re invited to land.  But, if that’s true, how do we get there?

Any thoughts are welcome!


12 Responses to Finding Community

  1. Bobby Grow July 13, 2010 at 1:02 am #

    That’s a good question, Ron!

    It seems it’s a matter of Spirit-shaped perspective. First we must recognize the Trinitarian and thus relational shape of Scripture’s disclosure; and then secondly as we participate in God’s life through the Spirit-inspired Scriptures — which points us to our union with Christ — we necessarily become people who think of the “other” (which means that we find our truest meaning of personhood as we are grounded in Christ, and then share this reality with others).

    I think the simplest way this works it way out —- in re. to reading the Bible relationally — is that we realize that Scripture’s disclosure is grounded in God’s triune life; which then calls us to participate with Him through reading Scripture with “others” (of course it’s not just “reading,” but then the call is to “live out” these Scriptures with *others* or the so called “community of faith”).

    Sorry a bit of a ramble; just trying to put some of my abstract thoughts into concrete words here :-) .

  2. Alan Homersley July 13, 2010 at 10:50 am #


    Christ’s love set us free becuase it complelled him to die on the cross in my place….I am set free not by my own actions and thoughts but by the Love of Christ and his work on the Cross. I am free now, I woke up free, I was free whilst I slept in my bed and dreamt of sking without my ski boots and skis….. what am I free from? I am free from the power of sin and death….. and have the hope of Eternal life with Christ, based on the sacrifice of Christ which has already been made, making me Right with God. :-) Wow!

    I think perhaps your pose has a flaw….If our freedom comes from our actions (or perhaps as a consequence or function of our actions) e.g. ” Does it come from an intellectual alignment with biblical teachings? Is it a function of “determining” how to love others in light of Christ’s model of love? then we are not free at all.. If what I do defines my freedom then how much do I have to do to be free, can I do more to be more free? If my freedom is a function of something that I can work out and obtain more of, then I am still in the ‘Gymnasium’……

    I am 100% free right here right now…..if I take on again a yoke of slavery then Gods word will point this out and then through Faith in Jesus I can rest at his feet and be free…. and I no longer have to obey the ways of the master of this world but I am free to live out a Christ like life :-) Amen….. (I had better get on with it then!)

    But coming back to Francesco Petrarch claim [that a public life is incompatible with virtue]. I think this to is flawed. I would suggest that pulic life is not the real issue but that the want for notoriety within public life is. (Jesus Christ was a public figure). But then again Virtue is a ‘Gymnaium’ word… that by my actions (my lack of public life etc) I can become more virtous….. more righteous (self righteous) and obtain some higher spirituality. Which I cannot. Martin Luther spent many years grappling with this concept and when God revealed to him that Freedom (salvation) is a function of Chirst’s work on the Cross and by Grace we recieve that freedom, it blew him away and this radical thinking had a transforming affect on Christendom…..

    Now, knowing your writings as I do Ron then I am sure you meant all this and your pose was more drawing….. :-) Your last scenario “Or is it the fruit of having our self-defining referential community as the Triune community of God? ” is possbily a posh way of saying what I said, and I have to admit that I dont quite understand it.

    But alas I have a another problem, in that by writing this comment my heart is tainted by the desire to be ‘noted’ by my comment, to be seen as ‘someone’ of thought, to perhaps obtain notoriety within the Cordeo blog kingdom…… therfore knowing this and as I type and hit the Submit key, am I a better or worse Christian?

  3. Ron Frost July 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    Thanks, Alan, for the pushback here. I’m not sure that I’m catching your main concern as well as I might but let me offer some thoughts and also invite your own restatement.

    Let me say just a bit more about the options I see at stake here. On the one hand we’ve been raised in our Western world with a premise that a free will is the platform for our personal and moral responsibility. Petrarch, on the other hand, views life as a set of reciprocal relations: we exist in community and we are always making choices within the reciprocity of our given communities. Petrach, I should note, doesn’t land in a happy place with his own version of life . . . he swings between Stoic and Epicurean options in his own sense of community.

    Luther, on the other hand, knew of Petrarch’s work and it may well have allowed him to read the Bible in the terms that emerge in his debate with Erasmus. Erasmus believed, fiercely, in the free will. Luther countered by insisting that our will is always in bondage. The only question is: to whom are we bonded? To the Triune One or to the world?

  4. Alan Homersley July 14, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    Hi Ron, perhaps I misunderstood your original question and apologies for the pushback.

    To respond this time, I had to look up what Stoic and Epicurean options were, and I think I perhaps undertstand what you are trying to draw out.

    Hmm ok, I believe scripture teaches that all are in bondage to sin, and within that bondage we have freedom to chose which sins we commit, but none the less we are slaves to the master of this world. But when we accept christ we are set free from that bondage, into a freedom that allows us to both sin and not sin, to chose, if we wish, to serve the living God (to have the knowledge of good and eveil). I think scripture teaches that we are predestined and in that sense we are bonded to the Triune God, but if all that happened was the switching of who we were in bondage to then we would not be free indeed.

    I love the film ‘The Matrix’ and I think it has large parallels in the real world (and a lot of religious overtones due to the authors being of Catholic origin). I see scripture as teaching a Paradox. That is the paradox of Predestination and freewill. I see that God has created a ‘matrix’ or construct where both Predesination and freewill exist. And i see that this truth is so far beyound our understanding that it can’t even be described in our language.

    I love the picture given by Carl Sagan on a 6th dimension. He gets the listener to imagine a world of 2 dimensions and then asks them to imagine a 3D apple passing through this 2D world and what would the inhabitants of this 2D world see. They could never describe an ‘apple’ and would only ever see a slice of it. So they might say an apple was an ever changing body. He then takes an inhabitant of this 2D world out into the third dimension and shows them his world. And when he puts them back into his own world the 2D person can remember how wonderful it was but can;t describe where he has been becuse he has no concept of ‘up’……..
    2 Cor 12:2… the third heaven……. Wow! :-) and God is not even contained in that heaven 2 Chronicles 6:18……

    We also see inconsistencies in the bible that show this paradox.

    James 1:13 God does not cause anyone to sin…..
    2Sam 24 God incites David to take a cenus, which was a sin….and he punishes Isreal for it…. Although we are told in 1 Chron 21 v1 that it was Satan who did the inciting…..

    This is part of the Paradox of God and his creation. If he is soverign and created all things the way he wanted knowing how that would turn out then he is soverign over sin, and yet our Sin is down to our choice (evil desires)


    Mal 3 : 6 … the Lord does not change….
    Exodus 4v24 The Lord was about to Kill moses but Zipporahs actions change Gods actions…..

    Now our Minds try and explain these away with either one or the other being a misinterpretation depending on out leaning…. but I believe they highlight the paradox of this world that we live in wher God is Soverign in all things and we are free in Christ to Serve him (or not) as we please…….

    NB although I do see the bible has a strong leaning towards to ‘Lord being soverign in all things’…..

    I believe Luther was more right than Erasmus, but that both have their truths…. I think Gods design is more complex and wonderful than we can ever understand or even imagine…… and the reason it is not explained in the bible is that we don;t need to know (or can’t ever know or understand) its complexities…..

    Well not sure if that is all clear….. and I might have even confused myself…. but please come back with any comments and anything you think I have wrong here… :-)

  5. Ron Frost July 14, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Well, I AM a bit boggled by the paradoxical connections here, Alan, and I’ll need to check out the Matrix again (I’ve seen it once & found it intriguing as you do here).

    That said, I’m not convinced that the Scriptures are creating some of the tensions you noted as much as our own categories do when we put too much weight on the function of our choosing. the question of how we choose must always be linked to a discussion of our hearts, even after conversion. Yet we’re still very inconsistent in our walk (per Romans 5-8).

    Paul Helm in his book on Providence points to the compatiblity of two hearts having a shared set of values, while both are fully free. I think that’s a way forward here: if we have a shared and reciprocal love of God, in Christ, we are fully free while full “bound” to him.

    I’d love to have some others engage us here.

  6. Huw July 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Great post, and a fascinating ensuing discussion… now my head hurts! :)

  7. Bobby Grow July 14, 2010 at 11:50 pm #

    In re. to Alan,

    I think, not to get too off topic here, that if we ground election and “free-will” in the God-man then the tension you present goes away. Probably too much to explain here, but thought I would mention how the hypostatic union is very helpful in resolving the issues you’ve brought up.

    What Ron says: “if we have a shared and reciprocal love of God, in Christ, we are fully free while full “bound” to him.”, I think is in line with what I’m getting at here. Our freedom is a “product” of our union with Christ; and this is brought to pass by the creative and communicative work of the Holy Spirit.

    I don’t think we just want to say that we have “freewill” apart from grounding that in the humanity of Christ for us. Anyway, I could say more, but I don’t want to steer this discussion too far afield. :-)

  8. Alan Homersley July 15, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    Can I ask what Hypostatic union is?

  9. Peter Mead July 15, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    Of course, the hypostatic union refers to “how” Jesus is fully God and fully man (i.e. not a 50:50 blend of divine and human, but 100:100).

  10. Alan Homersley July 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    ahhhh, another paradox then :-) Thanks Peter

  11. Bobby Grow July 15, 2010 at 6:49 pm #


    How are you defining paradox? I don’t really think of the hypostatic union as a “paradox.” We certainly cannot understand all of what’s going on there, but there is enough revealed to understand some of the deeper implications of the “union;” esp. in re. to a discussion on salvation and free-will and values.

  12. Alan homersley July 16, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Hi Bobby,

    by Paradox, I was meaning something that by all our understanding and thinking it cannot be true and yet it is…. two things being true, when they shouldn’t be?

    Our thinking, science, logic etc tells us that God who is all powerful, all mighty and is not contained by the universe cannot be contained by a human body. So how can Jesus Christ be 100% God and 100% man…. it can;t be true, it doesn’t fit….. and yet it is true and I 100% believe it :-)

    I belive our minds allow us to accept the thought, becuase God has designed us to be able to accpet things that go against logic, but our inner self always lean towards a 50:50 , or 80:80 split and (I think) this I believe is due to our inherent sinful nature and needing to understand God and Label it…..

    This I think is also borne out in our understanding of Predestination and freewill. I see people often have an outward acceptance of such things…. but inwardly, their instinctive responses to life show a leaning…. so for example if some one has a leaning toward freewill, they might have to tendency to fight for human rights and have a strong zelous attituide towards preaching the gospel, as it depends on them…. where as some one with a leaning towards Predestination, might be more relaxed about it, based on the understanding that God will fullfill his will, whatever we do………

    the truth lies in 100% of both. As Paul writes about. It is God who calls it is God who predestines it is God who saves, but Paul discharged his duty and if people didn;t accept once he had preached their blood was not on his hands….

    I don’t even suggest that I understand all this, just that I, by faith, accept it… and like you say the ‘hypostatic union’ gives us some insight into this paradox,

    Anyone, else? Is this sounding totally off beam?

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