Tonight the Oikonomia Retreat came to a close with dinner and a presentation by Greg Forster titled “Can we Know the World and Still Love the World?” As director of the Network, Greg often spends his time “reporting,” facilitating or deferring to other guest presentations. However he lends his “voice,” often with passion, at the close of the conference. Greg opened with a clear call to “love the world.” Greg noted the Apostle Paul says love is the greatest of the theological virtues. We need to realize that love in the fullest sense means not only loving what is good, but loving people and communities that are not good. Loving not only what is holy, but loving people and communities that are unholy. After all, it’s . . . the gospel. Jesus very patiently explains to us, in our spiritual denseness, that he did not come to save the righteous. But precisely because this truth is so central and basic to our faith, there’s a danger of taking it for granted. Yet we need to be reminded.
Of course, Forster noted, we all know First John 2, where John warns us “do not love the world.” However, Greg believes what John means by “do not love the world” in that passage is “do not love the rebellion against God that the world wants to seduce you with” So, we have to have a very clear discernment of the evil of the world, and be on our guard. But the very same John also writes, in his gospel, that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (Jn 3:16) and Jesus admonishes us, as disciples, s love your enemy so you can be like your Father in heaven, who gives . . . the gift of rain . . . to the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). Forster reminded us that rain, in an agrarian society, also mean life. So, while we can “know” that we live in a broken, fragmented, sinful, yet governed world, we are called to love the world. To love the world because God loves it. Not to compromise with the world’s sin, but to love an unholy world in spite of its sin.
This compassionate call to the members of the Oikonomia Network basically challenged us to use wisdom in “knowing” the world; neither giving in to superficial libertarian optimism, nor to superficial redistribution mandates. Neither paternalism take seriously the fullness of the depth of “knowing” the limits of the “world” but neither movement truly embraces full love either.
To gain a sense of tone in Forster’s presentations, one often has to find videos captured at other events since he tend to preclude capturing his own ideas at the retreat. Greg is not shy, merely modest at times. However, Greg’s comments can carry their own stinging critique of other public figures often identified and accessible in the church. Tonight was one such rejoinder against a third group Greg identified.
Forster reserved, yet also demonstrated, considerable critique (probably as much as I have observed in Greg) for paternalists who seem to love only “the Church” (particularly a medieval view of church and life) but seem to despise (at least in their rhetoric) the world, specifically its economic systems. Forster’s list of these Church (versus cultured) despisers of economics included a number of popular theologians.
- Alasdair MacIntyre
- Stanley Hauerwas
- Wendell Berry
- Steve Long
- Daniel Bell and everyone associated with that whole “radical orthodoxy” school
Greg’s passion (and a bit of a Jeremiad in its own right against this theological trend) tended to rest with what Forster saw as a limit of their love. He asserts these theorists seem always ready to denounce everything outside the walls of the church as evil. Anything outside the church that appears to be good must be debunked – unmasked. Any appearance of good must be shown to be somehow a disguise for demonic activity. Otherwise we won’t really know the world. Forster thinks these theorists have unconsciously, unintentionally, fallen into a way of thinking where in order to know the world you have to hate the world. Of course they would call it faithfulness to the truth. But somehow their “truth” always involves debunking and tearing things down. Somehow, “faithfulness to the truth” never involves encouraging and building things up.
Forster noted we often have to stand against things we find in the world. But, must we throw stones at the world and then go home? Instead, in the midst of our “knowing” we also have to be “loving” as God loves. Greg offered a challenge yet, implicitly an affirmation, of the work of the network. Building on Steven Garber’s new writing, Visions of Vocation, Greg asked:
- Can we really know the world…
- …can we see clearly all its darkness and evil…
- …and still really love the world?
- Sacrifice our own interests to serve the needs of unholy people in an unholy world?
- Can we know the world and still love the world?
Reflecting back over the three days together, I get the sense that this year’s retreat remained focused on the core task of the Oikonomia Network, theological education, in service to their organization’s efforts in faith, work, and economics. The Network recognizes the challenges that face us in engaging our culture, facing our challenges, organizing for effective education and providing sound economic as well as theological practice to our world. The organization continues to grow in resources and networks (see my Vocational Discipleship menu tab for a representative samples), yet there is work left to be done. To be sure there still needs to be substantive engagement around the warrants and backing that undergird both economic thinking and theological convictions. Increasingly resources surface in this area but additional thinking about metaphors that serve both economics (entrepreneurship) and theology (debt) deserve greater exploration. Nevertheless, the overall focus on the practice of vocation, the need for a work/faith integration, remains a clarion call from this organization… a call we need to heed in theological education for the sake of our seminaries, the church, those humble people who live out vocation daily in work, and for the sake of the Kingdom of God. May our “work” continue to be faithful in this endeavor, and may we both “know and love” for the sake of God’s world.