I’m re-reading Exclusion and Embrace, by Miroslav Volf, one of my favorite professors in seminary. I’m being reminded how central this book’s ideas have become in my own life.

His basic premise is that living as a follower of Christ requires us to be willing to embrace those who are other. We cannot cut ourselves off from the possibility of relationship with others, no matter how unjust, evil, corrupt, or wounding they have been. What passes as “peace” in our world is most often not embrace (restored relationship), but rather exclusion (you live over there, and I live over here; the hope for real relationship between us is now impossible because of the evil that has gone on between us).

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

…as God does not abandon the godless to their evil but gives the divine self for them in order to receive them into divine communion through atonement, so also should we–“whoever our enemies and whoever we may be.”(p. 23)

Sin is…the kind of purity that wants the world cleansed of the other rather than the heart cleansed of the evil that drives people out by calling those who are clean “unclean” and refusing to help make clean those who are unclean. (p. 74)

After arguing persuasively for the noninnocence of us all, even while we maintain the innocence and rightness of our “side”, Volf gives this life-altering summation:

The question is how to live with integrity and bring healing to a world of inescapable noninnocence that often parades as its opposite. The answer: in the name of the one truly innocent victim and what he stood for, the crucified Messiah of God, we should demask as inescapably sinful the world constructed around exclusive moral polarities–here, on our side, “the just,” “the pure,” “the innocent,” “the true,” “the good,” and there, on the other side, “the unjust,” “the corrupt,” “the guilty,” “the liars,” “the evil,”–and then seek to transform the world in which justice and injustice, goodness and evil, innocence and guilt, purity and corruption, truth and deception crisscross and intersect, guided by the recognition that the economy of undeserved grace has primacy over the economy of moral deserts. Under the conditions of pervasive noninnocence, the work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, even demonic, no one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace, because at the deepest level the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it. (pp. 84-85, italics his)

It’s because I believe this so strongly that I have trouble with black and white explanations of the world. It’s because of this that I’m committed to understanding and embracing those who do see the world that way.

4 thoughts on “Quotes

  1. Gregg, your ol’ man got so absorbed in thinking about the ramifications of Volf’s (and your) thoughts on this, that I hope you don’t mind that I linked this post on my own inept blog. We have his book, and I have perused it. But now I’m going to read it word for word. Thanks for the post.


  2. As you know, this book has challenged me on several levels. I’m almost finished reading it and I can’t wait to read it through again. In it, Volf wrote, “We, the others – we the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace.” (129) I love that! At the same time, it’s made me think about the arms-wide-open embrace of Christ on the cross recently and feel challenged to study the cross. I often look the other way when it comes to the cross. I hate the crucifixion story yet in it Jesus embraces all of humanity and now asks me to do the same without reserve. That level of “self-giving is the risky and hard work of love” (189) according to Volf, and that level of self-giving is something I want to be better at as I work, play and serve.

    The whole chapter on gender identity intrigued me, especially the sentence he borrowed from Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, “I take it for granted that men and women are “equally saved, equally Spirit-filled and equally sent.”” (170) I wondered out loud to my husband why that idea seems so obviously true yet novel to me. I’m sure it’s not coincidence that the same week I read this chapter I heard a friend speak her heart’s desire to be a missionary – a calling she has been denied for years now because 20 years ago she divorced an abusive husband. She is equally saved, equally Spirit-filled and equally sent by God, but not by man.

    And speaking of injustice….the very next chapter addresses oppression and justice saying, “Often the only resource of the powerless is the power of their desperate cry…If justice is what we are after then we will interrupt the powerful rhetoric of the smooth-tongued and strain our ear to hear the feeble and crackling voice of “those who cannot speak” (Proverbs 31:8). The stammering of the needy are an eloquent testimony of their violated rights, the spellbinding oratory of the powerful may well bespeak their bad conscience.” (219, 220) I’ve had to examine my own heart…


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