Category Archives: Theology

The Optimism of Total Depravity

Sometimes optimism shows up where we didn’t think to look for it:

Even though problems of theodicy are more troubling and more popular for debate, I maintain that for dour theologies, the problem of pleasure can be just as much of a problem to explain.  Perhaps the reason that the doctrine of total depravity isn’t immediately obvious is that for most people, they’ve found meaningful relationships and genuine pleasure among those that are outside the church.  If total depravity is taken without an awareness of God’s presence and distribution of common grace in the world, it’s difficult to explain why this is.  The traditional evangelical response that I grew up with is a denial that it exists, and it’s been my experience that this doesn’t survive many genuine encounters with friends and neighbors, coworkers, and the decent people that we don’t see on Sunday mornings.

If people are really that bad, how do we explain the happiness that we encounter in the world?  Rain falls on the just and unjust alike, and perhaps the presence of God – and His gifts to us – are more present everywhere in the world than we’re typically inclined to think.

Easter and the Body of Christ

It’s worth noting that there are two different things in Christian theology are referred to as being the body of Christ: (a) The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion, or however your particular church tradition refers to it, and (b) the church, which is instructed to be the hands and feet of Christ to the world.

I’d never really thought about the significance that both of these things are referred to by the same metaphor, 1 but it was mentioned in a sermon this last Easter, and is worth pondering.

I don’t think that regarding both of these as the body of Christ is accidental:  both of these institutions were established by our Lord to minister:  the Eucharist is physical food that provides spiritual nourishment, and the church is – or at least should be – providing physical actions to the surrounding communities that result in spiritual benefits.  The Eucharist is the body of Christ for the church, and the church is the body of Christ to the world.  What the Eucharist is to the church, the church should be for the world.

Those that wish to denigrate the church have have a strong case that there are swaths of it within which Jesus would probably not be welcome:  stories abound of evangelicals endorsing Trump to the existence of Joel Osteen to the numerous moral failings of members of the clergy.  For me, it’s easy to become cynical and forget that the church was Jesus’s answer to suffering in the world.  If we are willing to take the Eucharist seriously, and not the church, perhaps we’ve missed Jesus’s point in using similar language.

Notes:

  1. I’m aware that some faith traditions – Catholics, most notably – don’t think that the Eucharist as the body of Christ is a metaphor at all, but I don’t really have a better way of referring to this, considering that most traditions see it as a metaphor, and all faith traditions seems to this, when referring to the church, as a metaphor.