The Table Video

Jeannine Brown & Wyndy Corbin Reuschling

Love, Action, and the Temptation to Abstract

Professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary
June 9, 2017

While humanity seems drawn to the simplicity and safety of abstract theories, Corbin Reuschling, Rosa, and Brown discuss how the parables and the Christian faith call us to particulars.


It’s so tempting, even with justice, right, to think of love as a theory and even justice as a theory. So all of the ink spilled, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but all of the discussions that end up to be quite abstract, so the grand theories of love and the grand theories of justice that, when I read scripture, and when I think about the claims that come to me through scripture, there’s a very active component. You know, we’re not taught to ideate about justice, we are called to do it.

called to do it, yes.

And it’s within the context of this theological context about God’s intentions for humanity and what this restorative work looks like. And I think we do the same with love, you know, kind of the grand theorizing, when the painful, I think, part of scripture and that seems to me it comes to us in the parables, is when people are asking Jesus the greatest commands, Jesus has answers and the references back to grand teachings of the faith, but often Jesus seems to give the response to love in the parables. Which makes it painful, ’cause it’s just concrete. So we have somebody like the good samaritan.

Right, who is my neighbor?

That’s right, that’s right, and I think, so I don’t know, Evan, so maybe part of the answer to your first question is that I think as humans, we seem to both crave simplicity, and we kind of like abstractions because abstractions make very few claims on us.

And I would say the academy as well, of which we are a part, likes abstraction a little bit too much as well. I mean, we need it, it’s part of how we think critically, and yet pulling to the most abstract way of understanding something isn’t the ideal that it sometimes presumes to be. So this kind of grounding it in really particular actions, what I love about the gospels besides Jesus’ teaching on the parables as illustrations of love is just the way, for example in Matthew again, justice is actually something attributed to Jesus, and then we get to see, what’s just about what he’s doing, what’s merciful about what he’s doing?

How is he fulfilling covenant loyalty to his tradition, to the Old Testament, to Judaism? So this kind of sense of we get to see Jesus in particularities, and he also has harsh words for varieties of people, right? Especially Pharisees, Jewish leaders that we hear. And so how do we reconcile that with the loving thing to do and say?

See, you have to jump in and think particularly, even as we look at the scriptures, because they don’t allow us these more abstract places unless we decide that’s where we’re gonna go with this conversation, we’re gonna take what’s in scripture and kind of principalize it out and then think about it theoretically. And some level of that is necessary to pull out and explore and look across, but I always tell my students, “let’s stay at about 30 feet off the ground, “instead of 10,000 feet, between “our world and the scriptures.”

So we’re just kind of moving back and forth rather than way up there to the abstract place and then what does that mean for our reading of scripture or meaning for our life in this world? It feels like it loses something on the way down between 10,000 feet and the ground.

Perhaps that’s because there’s such this great call and need for loving action. The experience of love, the giving and receiving of it in specific, every day life environments. Those places that abstraction it feels like it’s too high off the ground to notice or it’s too inflated to make it into these areas of nuance and complexity where there’s just this primal call as Jean Vanier would say, a primal call just to be loved, and to give and receive it.

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