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Life at the end of the twentieth century presents us with a disturbing reality. Otherness, the simple fact of being different in some way, has come to be defined as in and of itself evil. Miroslav Volf contends that if the healing word of the gospel is to be heard today, Christian theology must find ways of speaking that address the hatred of the other. Reaching back to th Life at the end of the twentieth century presents us with a disturbing reality. Otherness, the simple fact of being different in some way, has come to be defined as in and of itself evil. Miroslav Volf contends that if the healing word of the gospel is to be heard today, Christian theology must find ways of speaking that address the hatred of the other. Reaching back to the New Testament metaphor of salvation as reconciliation, Volf proposes the idea of embrace as a theological response to the problem of exclusion. Increasingly we see that exclusion has become the primary sin, skewing our perceptions of reality and causing us to react out of fear and anger to all those who are not within our (ever-narrowing) circle. In light of this, Christians must learn that salvation comes, not only as we are reconciled to God, and not only as we "learn to live with one another," but as we take the dangerous and costly step of opening ourselves to the other, of enfolding him or her in the same embrace with which we have been enfolded by God. Is there any hope of embracing our enemies? Of opening the door to reconciliation? Miroslav Volf, a Yale University theologian, has won the 2002 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon, 1996). Volf argues that exclusion of people who are alien or different is among the most intractable problems in the world today. He writes, It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference. The issue is urgent. The ghettos and battlefields throughout the world in the living rooms, in inner cities, or on the mountain ranges testify indisputably to its importance. A Croatian by birth, Volf takes as a starting point for his analysis the recent civil war and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, but he readily finds other examples of cultural, ethnic, and racial conflict to illustrate his points. And, since September 11, one can scarcely help but plug the new world players into his incisive descriptions of the dynamics of interethnic and international strife. Exclusion happens, Volf argues, wherever impenetrable barriers are set up that prevent a creative encounter with the other. It is easy to assume that exclusion is the problem or practice of barbarians who live over there, but Volf persuades us that exclusion is all too often our practice here as well. Modern western societies, including American society, typically recite their histories as narratives of inclusion, and Volf celebrates the truth in these narratives. But he points out that these narratives conveniently omit certain groups who disturb the integrity of their happy ending plots. Therefore such narratives of inclusion invite long and gruesome counter-narratives of exclusion the brutal histories of slavery and of the decimation of Native American populations come readily to mind, but more current examples could also be found. Most proposed solutions to the problem of exclusion have focused on social arrangements what kind of society ought we to create in order to accommodate individual or communal difference? Volf focuses, rather, on what kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others. In addressing the topic, Volf stresses the social implications of divine self-giving. The Christian scriptures attest that God does not abandon the godless to their evil, but gives of Godself to bring them into communion. We are called to do likewise whoever our enemies and whoever we may be. The divine mandate to embrace as God has embraced is summarized in Paul’s injunction to the Romans: Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you (Romans 15:7). Susan R. Garrett, Coordinator of the Religion Award, said that the Grawemeyer selection committee praised Volf s book on many counts. These included its profound interpretation of certain pivotal passages of Scripture and its brilliant engagement with contemporary theology, philosophy, critical theory, and feminist theory. Volf s focus is not on social strategies or programs but, rather, on showing us new ways to understand ourselves and our relation to our enemies. He helps us to imagine new possibilities for living against violence, injustice, and deception. Garrett added that, although addressed primarily to Christians, Volf's theological statement opens itself to religious pluralism by upholding the importance of different religious and cultural traditions for the formation of personal and group identity. The call to embrace the other is never a call to remake the other into one s own image. Volf who had just delivered a lecture on the topic of Exclusion and Embrace at a prayer breakfast for the United Nations when the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center will present a lecture and receive his award in Louisville during the first week of April, 2002. The annual Religion Award, which includes a cash prize of $200,000, is given jointly by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville to the authors or originators of creative works that contribute significantly to an understanding of the relationship between human beings and the divine, and ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community. The Grawemeyer awards given also by the University of Louisville in the fields of musical composition, education, psychology, and world order honor the virtue of accessibility: works chosen for the awards must be comprehensible to thinking persons who are not specialists in the various fields."


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Life at the end of the twentieth century presents us with a disturbing reality. Otherness, the simple fact of being different in some way, has come to be defined as in and of itself evil. Miroslav Volf contends that if the healing word of the gospel is to be heard today, Christian theology must find ways of speaking that address the hatred of the other. Reaching back to th Life at the end of the twentieth century presents us with a disturbing reality. Otherness, the simple fact of being different in some way, has come to be defined as in and of itself evil. Miroslav Volf contends that if the healing word of the gospel is to be heard today, Christian theology must find ways of speaking that address the hatred of the other. Reaching back to the New Testament metaphor of salvation as reconciliation, Volf proposes the idea of embrace as a theological response to the problem of exclusion. Increasingly we see that exclusion has become the primary sin, skewing our perceptions of reality and causing us to react out of fear and anger to all those who are not within our (ever-narrowing) circle. In light of this, Christians must learn that salvation comes, not only as we are reconciled to God, and not only as we "learn to live with one another," but as we take the dangerous and costly step of opening ourselves to the other, of enfolding him or her in the same embrace with which we have been enfolded by God. Is there any hope of embracing our enemies? Of opening the door to reconciliation? Miroslav Volf, a Yale University theologian, has won the 2002 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon, 1996). Volf argues that exclusion of people who are alien or different is among the most intractable problems in the world today. He writes, It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference. The issue is urgent. The ghettos and battlefields throughout the world in the living rooms, in inner cities, or on the mountain ranges testify indisputably to its importance. A Croatian by birth, Volf takes as a starting point for his analysis the recent civil war and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, but he readily finds other examples of cultural, ethnic, and racial conflict to illustrate his points. And, since September 11, one can scarcely help but plug the new world players into his incisive descriptions of the dynamics of interethnic and international strife. Exclusion happens, Volf argues, wherever impenetrable barriers are set up that prevent a creative encounter with the other. It is easy to assume that exclusion is the problem or practice of barbarians who live over there, but Volf persuades us that exclusion is all too often our practice here as well. Modern western societies, including American society, typically recite their histories as narratives of inclusion, and Volf celebrates the truth in these narratives. But he points out that these narratives conveniently omit certain groups who disturb the integrity of their happy ending plots. Therefore such narratives of inclusion invite long and gruesome counter-narratives of exclusion the brutal histories of slavery and of the decimation of Native American populations come readily to mind, but more current examples could also be found. Most proposed solutions to the problem of exclusion have focused on social arrangements what kind of society ought we to create in order to accommodate individual or communal difference? Volf focuses, rather, on what kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others. In addressing the topic, Volf stresses the social implications of divine self-giving. The Christian scriptures attest that God does not abandon the godless to their evil, but gives of Godself to bring them into communion. We are called to do likewise whoever our enemies and whoever we may be. The divine mandate to embrace as God has embraced is summarized in Paul’s injunction to the Romans: Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you (Romans 15:7). Susan R. Garrett, Coordinator of the Religion Award, said that the Grawemeyer selection committee praised Volf s book on many counts. These included its profound interpretation of certain pivotal passages of Scripture and its brilliant engagement with contemporary theology, philosophy, critical theory, and feminist theory. Volf s focus is not on social strategies or programs but, rather, on showing us new ways to understand ourselves and our relation to our enemies. He helps us to imagine new possibilities for living against violence, injustice, and deception. Garrett added that, although addressed primarily to Christians, Volf's theological statement opens itself to religious pluralism by upholding the importance of different religious and cultural traditions for the formation of personal and group identity. The call to embrace the other is never a call to remake the other into one s own image. Volf who had just delivered a lecture on the topic of Exclusion and Embrace at a prayer breakfast for the United Nations when the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center will present a lecture and receive his award in Louisville during the first week of April, 2002. The annual Religion Award, which includes a cash prize of $200,000, is given jointly by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville to the authors or originators of creative works that contribute significantly to an understanding of the relationship between human beings and the divine, and ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community. The Grawemeyer awards given also by the University of Louisville in the fields of musical composition, education, psychology, and world order honor the virtue of accessibility: works chosen for the awards must be comprehensible to thinking persons who are not specialists in the various fields."

30 review for Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    Volf's book needs to be read slowly for it is both profound and challenging. This book is a theology of reconciliation. Volf puts forth exclusion of the other as the problem (ch. 2). When we exclude others, keeping them at a distance, we are able to view ourselves as right and just and the other as evil and unjust. This often then leads to violence. The solution to this is to embrace, which does not pretend evil does not exist but seeks to model God's embrace of hostile humanity by embracing the Volf's book needs to be read slowly for it is both profound and challenging. This book is a theology of reconciliation. Volf puts forth exclusion of the other as the problem (ch. 2). When we exclude others, keeping them at a distance, we are able to view ourselves as right and just and the other as evil and unjust. This often then leads to violence. The solution to this is to embrace, which does not pretend evil does not exist but seeks to model God's embrace of hostile humanity by embracing the other even in their wrongdoing (ch. 3). This embrace then is the model for how to deal with the clashing of justices in the real world (ch. 5). Embrace also informs how we understand truth as rather than assuming our own truth or hopelessly giving up the search for truth we seek to see the world from the view of the other which then helps us sharpen our own view of truth (ch. 6). Finally, he deals with the thorny issue of violence, arguing that the crucified Jesus of the Gospels and the Lamb riding to victory on a white horse of Revelation are two sides of the same coin (ch. 7). Precisely because evil exists in the world, and because people refuse the embrace of God, judgment by God is necessary. To those who wonder why God cannot simply save all, Volf points out that God forcing people into an embrace would itself be violence. This was my favorite chapter in the book. We Christians are to live nonviolently, taking up our crosses, and trusting God as the only one with the right to judge. Overall, an amazing book. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jonny

    Absolutely incredible. One of the best books I've ever read. Brilliantly researched, beautifully articulated, and deeply biblical, Volf's book addresses issues of identity, gender, justice, truth, and violence in an Orthodox but never cloying lens. Highly highly recommended. Absolutely incredible. One of the best books I've ever read. Brilliantly researched, beautifully articulated, and deeply biblical, Volf's book addresses issues of identity, gender, justice, truth, and violence in an Orthodox but never cloying lens. Highly highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Exclusion of the "other" who is different and the violence which can often arise from this has been part of the human story ever since Cain and Abel. This is especially troubling when the other who is different has perpetrated injustice against us or when peoples with radically differing perspectives live side by side. Is there any alternative to estrangement, discord, revenge and violence? Miroslav Volf thinks so. How is this possible? The answer is in embrace, which Volf ultimately founds in th Exclusion of the "other" who is different and the violence which can often arise from this has been part of the human story ever since Cain and Abel. This is especially troubling when the other who is different has perpetrated injustice against us or when peoples with radically differing perspectives live side by side. Is there any alternative to estrangement, discord, revenge and violence? Miroslav Volf thinks so. How is this possible? The answer is in embrace, which Volf ultimately founds in the reconciling work of the cross of Christ--his outstretched arms being the first embrace. He speaks of the drama of embrace, act one of which is opening one's arms, which means of an openness of oneself to the other. Act two is waiting, which recognizes that embrace cannot be imposed without violence and must be reciprocal. Act three is closing the arms in which each makes space for the other while maintaining one's own self. Act four is opening the arms once again, which preserves the difference of the other. Volf movingly illustrates the nature of embrace in the parable of the prodigal. Volf explores the intricacies of gender identity and relationships, the challenges of embrace in situations of oppression and injustice and violence. His engagement with post-modern writers teases out how efforts to fight oppression, injustice, and violence often simply perpetuate all three where the oppressed becomes the oppressor, that no one has a corner on justice and that violence begets violence. Only the open arms that offer forgiveness and by which one opens oneself to the other including seeing with the "double vision" that looks from the perspective of the other as well as one's own--only this can bring peace, reconciliation, and an escape from violence. This is an incredibly rich book that deserves multiple readings and is vitally important for any of us engaging a diverse, multicultural world.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Tim Keller on this book: Miroslav Volf wrote a book called Exclusion & Embrace, and he makes a case there that Christianity gives you the most non-oppressive basis for self-image and identity. In traditional cultures, you feel good about yourself if you are doing what your parents want. In Western cultures, you feel good about yourself if you are achieving and you went to Harvard and you got an M.B.A. and now you’re at Goldman Sachs and you're doing well. But I can tell you this, I'll say as a pas Tim Keller on this book: Miroslav Volf wrote a book called Exclusion & Embrace, and he makes a case there that Christianity gives you the most non-oppressive basis for self-image and identity. In traditional cultures, you feel good about yourself if you are doing what your parents want. In Western cultures, you feel good about yourself if you are achieving and you went to Harvard and you got an M.B.A. and now you’re at Goldman Sachs and you're doing well. But I can tell you this, I'll say as a pastor, at some point you are going to find that your identity is going to crush you, because it’s based on achievement or it's based on parental expectations. It is enslaving, it will crush you, you will identify with your work, and you will also look down your nose at people because your identity is based not only on performance but also on difference. It is based on the idea that I am better than other people who haven’t got what I've got. So Christianity gives you a basis of identity that is based on the love of God, it is a gift, it is not something you earn. It is not something that goes up or down based on your performance. It is something you can actually experience. It is extraordinarily non-oppressive. It is extraordinarily different.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Imes

    Excellent book. So much to ponder.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Wesley

    I think Miroslav Volf and I probably disagree on a good number of things. There were parts I found Pelagian and there appeared a James Martin-esque faux pas that included an embarrassingly bad reading of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (see p. 214). However, it is important to read outside our echo chambers. On top of that, Volf is thoughtful and writes beautifully with concern for the problems facing us in our ever-divided, increasingly partisan world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Butler

    this book rocks, seriously loved it. while the book is filled with great insights, here's a few that stood out to me: how do we reconcile the tension between God's identification with the oppressed and its ensuing demand for justice with God's embrace of the oppressor and call for forgiveness? Volf, personally coming from a context of genocide, is very vulnerable about the dramatic tension in attempting to reconcile himself with both the God who identifies with the suffering, exploited, abused an this book rocks, seriously loved it. while the book is filled with great insights, here's a few that stood out to me: how do we reconcile the tension between God's identification with the oppressed and its ensuing demand for justice with God's embrace of the oppressor and call for forgiveness? Volf, personally coming from a context of genocide, is very vulnerable about the dramatic tension in attempting to reconcile himself with both the God who identifies with the suffering, exploited, abused and victimized and delivers the needy (thereby critiquing the powers of victimization and holding them to account) and the God who forgives the victimizers, perpetrators, oppressors and calls us not towards revenge or isolated neutrality but towards reconciliation. whereas moltmann and similar theological movements have done the crucial work of reemphasizing recently lost emphases on God's solidarity with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed, Volf picks up the crucial theme of atonement for the perpetrator. volf places God's self-donation or self-giving love as the broader context under which God's solidarity with the oppressed and atonement for the perpetrator must be placed. volf explores a theology of reconciliation in the face of the challenge of "otherness" in contemporary society, in which boundaries are often created in which we exclude the other in our collective identities. "embrace" is employed as a metaphor (along the lines of the prodigal son story and in the context of Christ's embrace of our wretched humanity on the cross) to explore God's posture towards the offender, framing reconciliation for those who have been violated to have a posture of embrace towards those who have violated them. using trinitarian language, we must make space in ourselves for the other in whom are identities are constituted--both positively and negatively. for the victim, a posture of embrace thus entails repentance for what the sin has done to our own lives. this could easily be misunderstood as "blaming the victim" and this is where i think volf's discussion is perhaps at its most powerful, still being able to call evil evil and call it to account, while nonetheless recognizing that there is a different kind of evil, even on a lesser scale, that victimization does to us and from which we need God's healing. the result of this healing will be the strength to have a posture of embrace towards those who have wounded us and a willingness towards reconciliation. and yet for the offender to enter and receive the embrace offered calls for acknowledgement of the offense in repentance. the call to enter the kingdom and be reconciled to God comes first with the call to repent. God's all-embracing love requires nothing of us for it to be there but everything from us in order to enter it. there is no "cheap grace" here in which the offender is free to abuse again and again under the name of "love" and "reconciliation" which are more fluffy distortions of the self-sacrificial nature such words truly mean in their biblical framework. given his backdrop from the genocide in the former yugoslavia his story lends such a powerful voice to address the issue of "otherness" and reconciliation in today's world. i also love that he goes "through" postmodern thought rather than "around" it, drawing meaningfully from its major thinkers' often brilliant insights but unintimidated to freely critique its destructive weaknesses. i also loved the last chapter (7?) where he attempts to reconcile the Crucified Messiah with the Rider on the White Horse, how do we reconcile the vulnerable suffering Messiah revealing God in weakness, humility and identification with the outcast, marginalized and broken and embracing humanity in its wickedness and rebellion, with the Rider on a White Horse who comes with a sword to strike down the nations and treads in the bloody winepress of his wrath? Volf argues that God's violence is a "violence to end all violence" which is hope for the oppressed and victimized around the world who seek to embrace the oppressor to no avail; Volf lambasts the Western sentimentality which has shirked from affirming the justice of God's violence and claims (this was striking to me) to truly reclaim a non-violent proactive resistance to oppression and injustice in our world we actually need a stronger reclamation of God's justice, a "more violent" God (properly framed as a "violence to end all violence" in the context of his loving pursuit to restore his creation and set the world to rights from the hands of human brutality) as the grounding of God being powerful enough to redeem creation from humanity's sin and ground our hope. overall this book really challenged me alot to wrestle with the question of reconciliation in our world and to have a broader view of God's all-embracing, self-giving love, not only for the victimized and oppressed, but for the unjust and oppressors--and of course the lines of both these categories run through all our own identities.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Porter Sprigg

    This book is so important. I have wrestled a lot with how to love my "enemy" whether that be the family member I'm angry at or the fellow citizen who is my political opposite. This book provides a powerful challenge to those who so quickly write off "the other." Volf compellingly argues that justice goes hand in hand with a desire to embrace our enemy, no matter how despicable their actions. We must also truly strive to see the justice and truth in their positions, even if from our position it s This book is so important. I have wrestled a lot with how to love my "enemy" whether that be the family member I'm angry at or the fellow citizen who is my political opposite. This book provides a powerful challenge to those who so quickly write off "the other." Volf compellingly argues that justice goes hand in hand with a desire to embrace our enemy, no matter how despicable their actions. We must also truly strive to see the justice and truth in their positions, even if from our position it seems like they have absolutely none. This is not easy pie-in-the-sky empathy. It's brutally difficult empathy. But as Christians who look to take up their crosses and obey Jesus, there is no other way. Read this book! The text itself is pretty dense but its message is nothing short of radical.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Ward

    Philosophically dense, but extremely compelling theology. Volf, a Croatian national, wrote this book as his response to his internal struggle watching the Serbian genocide of the early 90s. How could he embrace those who were killing his people? But as a Christian, he must, mustn't he? Is God on the side of the poor and oppressed? Where is his justice, and what does it look like? Can we find empathy for our enemies? These difficult questions permeate his exploration of exclusion (hate) and embrac Philosophically dense, but extremely compelling theology. Volf, a Croatian national, wrote this book as his response to his internal struggle watching the Serbian genocide of the early 90s. How could he embrace those who were killing his people? But as a Christian, he must, mustn't he? Is God on the side of the poor and oppressed? Where is his justice, and what does it look like? Can we find empathy for our enemies? These difficult questions permeate his exploration of exclusion (hate) and embrace (love). Volf grapples with the very difficult realities of subscribing to, and practicing, nonviolence in a world where doing so often means our own obliteration. Is that the inevitable end of a Christian? Maybe, but Volf shows us in profound fashion how the willingness to embrace even our enemies can lead to healing and reconciliation and maybe, just maybe, put an end to the perpetual cycles of violence that define this world.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    4.5 stars - I particularly love the use of metaphor as metaphysics in this book. Not perfect, but a resonant book I think, and one was very meaningful for me at the time I read it

  11. 4 out of 5

    Peter Kerry Powers

    Some years ago my wife, Shannon, occasionally wrote reviews of classic books for a publication for gifted high school students. Although I don't think there is an official genre know as the re-review, I think there probably ought to be. In a day and age when most people fail to read even one book a year, much less a relatively challenging and completely serious and comprehensive work of theology, perhaps we readers ought to take it as part of our role to reintroduce books from decades past to re Some years ago my wife, Shannon, occasionally wrote reviews of classic books for a publication for gifted high school students. Although I don't think there is an official genre know as the re-review, I think there probably ought to be. In a day and age when most people fail to read even one book a year, much less a relatively challenging and completely serious and comprehensive work of theology, perhaps we readers ought to take it as part of our role to reintroduce books from decades past to readers for whom they will be new, if not unheard of. It's in that spirit that I take a few minutes to write out some thoughts on Volf's Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, a book first published in 1996. Still in print and available 22 years later from Abingdon Press, I felt Volf's wrestling with questions of identity and the possibility of embrace spoke to our own period, if only because in the age of Trump we seem to be wrestling more starkly, and perhaps more helplessly, with the questions that drive Volf's reflections. Can we all just get along, much less embrace, in the face of random police shooting in the name of civil order, family separations in the name of national security, lethal white unity rallies with good people on all sides on all sides, and the general belief that we are so hopelessly separated by our different identities that empathy is beside the point and, in the words of Roxane Gay, we should all just stay in our lanes? I would like to think a work of theology could solve all this; indeed, Volf indicates that it is the real work of theologians to be about the business of helping to form subjects who could bring about the world of embrace that he imagines. There is a generosity of vision in Volf's book that I find admirable, even compelling. His central concept of embrace is not a campfire Kumbaya version of hugging it out, but a compelling narrative of what it means, or at least ought to mean, to be a fully realized human being. For Volf, the notion of embrace is inherent in the mutual and overspilling love of the Trinity, as well as the fundamental character of God's engagement with human beings; the incarnation is a metaphysical embrace of humanness, and the cross is an appeal to be embraced in return. Human beings are only fully realized as human beings when we actually seek to give up our separateness and embrace others as we find them. As he puts it: the most basic thought that it [the metaphor of embrace] seeks to express is important: the will to give ourselves to others and “welcome” them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity. The will to embrace precedes any “truth” about others and any construction of their “justice.” This will is absolutely indiscriminate and strictly immutable; it transcends the moral mapping of the social world into “good” and “evil” It is unfortunate, of course, that we often experience our religion most fundamentally as an act of exclusion, whether in the practice of shunning, hellfire and brimstone preachers, or the simple and more mundane acts of making sure our church services and gatherings for fellowship feel comfortable for the already comfortable, and uncomfortable for the already discomfited or destitute. And so Volf's work is surely a challenge to the good and the just and the true among us. He notes with approval Nietzsche's reminder that the crucifixion was an act of the righteous: Nietzsche underscored the connection between the self-perceived “goodness” of Jesus’ enemeies and their pursuit of his death; crucifixion was a deed of “the good and just,” not of the wicked, as we might have thought. “The good and just” could not understand Jesus because their spirit was “imprisoned in their good conscience” and they crucified him because they construed as evil his rejection of their notions of good (61) At the same time, Volf's prescriptions sit only uncomfortably with current conceptions of justice and empowerment, not least because the proper goal of a world formed by the concept and practice of embrace is not freedom or self-realization, at least not as these terms have been typically thought of in both our modern and post-modern socialites. Volf's work asks us to imagine the ideal of embrace not as the coming together of two fundamentally separate individuals "hugging it out" when it comes to their differences, but rather as a complex dance in which we realize that we cannot be what we ought to be until we learn to genuinely love those that we have despised, and even more that we find it in in ourselves to love those who have despised us. As he puts it: At the core of the Christian faith lies the persuasion that the “others” need not be perceived as innocent in order to be loved, but ought to be embraced even when they are perceived as wrongdoers. As I read it, the story of the cross is about God who desires to embrace precisely the “sons and daughters of hell.” (85). This kind of call sounds strange to our age of tribalism, though perhaps no stranger than any age where we find it easy to love those like us, less easy to love those unlike us, and not possible at all to love those who do not love us. On the other hand, perhaps it is not so different from the famous proclamation from Martin Luther King, Jr. that "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Volf has a complicated, and I think useful, description of embrace as a fourfold process: The four structural elements in the movement of embrace are opening the arms, waiting, closing the arms, and opening them again. For embrace to happen, all four must be there and they must follow one another on an unbroken timeline; stopping with the first two (opening the arms and waiting) would abort the embrace, and stopping with the third (closing the arms) would pervert it from an act of love to an act of oppression and, paradoxically, exclusion. The four elements are then the four essential steps of an integrated movement. (141) This structure seems to me to both recognize and respect the integrity of others in their freedom. Embrace cannot be forced; nor is embrace is limitless. Nevertheless, in Volf's understanding, embrace is necessary to our full humanities, to forgiveness, and ultimately to justice and the task of creating the kind of society in which we might hope to live and flourish as human beings. As I said at the outset, I think Volf's book is worth reading since it is eerily contemporary in its impulses and in its wrestling. We can learn from him even where we disagree. I do think that if the book were written now, he might have to ask harder questions about the relationship between justice and love, between embrace and power. It's very clear in Volf's work that he subordinates justice to love, saying that embrace has to shape the definition of justice, that embrace is "about love shaping the very content of justice." This is well and good, but it remains unclear that embrace is possible outside the possibility or at least the horizon of justice. From my own position situated within the matrices of power as a white male American middle class human being--all affording me pleasures and potentialities and possibilities that others do not possess in an unjust world--what does it mean for me to offer embrace in the absence of justice. Is it possible to expect embrace outside the quest or journey toward justice. Volf's book reflects on repentance as a part of this process, but I think he could use even more thinking here in the particular ways that repentance is properly not simply from the self and toward the other (ultimately God), but is also and must be a turning away from injustice and my participation in it and toward justice, away from a life in which embrace might be colored with the expectation of inevitable betrayal and toward a life mutuality that in some ways must accompany embrace. Although I think we would do well to wonder whether subordinating justice is any more appropriate as a Christian ethic than would be the subordinating of one person of the Trinity to another, I do think the Volf's wrestling is worth our reckoning with. It is surely the case that 20 years later we are no closer to the beloved community that embrace would supposedly make possible than we were when Volf wrote this very good and important book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alan Rathbun

    This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s message is clear and good, but it is academic through and through. I’m thankful I read it on my Kindle because I had to look up the meaning of a word every 4 or 5 pages. I had previously read “Free of Charge” and “A Public Faith” and loved them. A friend and I decided to tackle this book and it was a long and slow read. Having said that, it’s message is clearly articulated. The only way for us to overcome violence in this world is through trusting i This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s message is clear and good, but it is academic through and through. I’m thankful I read it on my Kindle because I had to look up the meaning of a word every 4 or 5 pages. I had previously read “Free of Charge” and “A Public Faith” and loved them. A friend and I decided to tackle this book and it was a long and slow read. Having said that, it’s message is clearly articulated. The only way for us to overcome violence in this world is through trusting in The One who will overcome it before the next. When we do trust Him, we are empowered to live non-violent lives and to love and embrace our enemies and cling to truth. If you want to wade into deep academic waters in a discussion about violence and non-violence, then dig and persevere through this book. If you want to wrestle with the concepts and grow in mercy and non-violence without the academic bent, then read “Free of Charge”.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lesa

    This was an excellent book. Slow-going & theologically packed, but worth it. Appreciated the idea that in conflict, forgiveness is not the final end goal; embrace should follow.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mike Blyth

    I love this book and include it in the top 10 books that have influenced my life. Living in the fault zone between Muslim and Christian civilizations, and having gone through religious riots and killings in our town, the book's message is especially relevant. Reconciliation is something still being worked on. The book is loaded with insights and nuances that cannot be boiled down to a simple message. However, it is definitely not for everyone. Much of it is extremely academic and as a doctor I co I love this book and include it in the top 10 books that have influenced my life. Living in the fault zone between Muslim and Christian civilizations, and having gone through religious riots and killings in our town, the book's message is especially relevant. Reconciliation is something still being worked on. The book is loaded with insights and nuances that cannot be boiled down to a simple message. However, it is definitely not for everyone. Much of it is extremely academic and as a doctor I could only understand it because I had been doing some reading about postmodern culture, criticism and thinking. As an outsider to Volf's academic discipline, I had the feeling I was reading a message of vital importance encased in something that the academy might accept. If so, I think it was 100% appropriate and hopefully successful. Unfortunately it also limits the audience. It's not a book I can easily get my colleagues to read. I would dearly love to see a rewrite for non-specialists, and have even started editing a readable version for friends here. Finally, I think that there is something to Rev. Thomas Scarborough's criticism (review on Amazon). I do not agree that the book is in any way shallow, but it does not deal satisfactorily with the difficult problem of what to do when "the other" apparently wants nothing except your own destruction, and where "justice" might seem to require the destruction or at least constraint of "the other." This can be a problem, for example, in extremely abusive family relationships, and appears to be true in some political and religious conflicts. Volf addressed this after September 11 in an interview with Christianity Today, and doubtless in other writings and addresses, but I did not get much understanding of this from the book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Marlow

    This is a dense and academic read, but a rewarding one. Volf explores what the cross means for his home country of Croatia, having emerged from the bitterness of the 90s civil war with Sarajevo. To oversimplify, Volf focuses on sin as ‘exclusion’ and reconciliation as ‘embrace’. His thesis is that the cross has a dual element for both victims and perpetrators of evil. For victims of crime and suffering, the cross is a embrace - a message from God of solidarity. Christ identifies with victims of i This is a dense and academic read, but a rewarding one. Volf explores what the cross means for his home country of Croatia, having emerged from the bitterness of the 90s civil war with Sarajevo. To oversimplify, Volf focuses on sin as ‘exclusion’ and reconciliation as ‘embrace’. His thesis is that the cross has a dual element for both victims and perpetrators of evil. For victims of crime and suffering, the cross is a embrace - a message from God of solidarity. Christ identifies with victims of injustice and those who suffer. For perpetrators of suffering, it is not only a message of forgiveness, but of how costly forgiveness is - that it involves battle with dark powers; blood, pain and sorrow. For perpetrators, the cross is not only something that they 'receive' - ie they don't simply 'benefit' from the blessings of forgiveness - but it's a call to live differently, and to pour out their life in repentance and sacrifice for others, as Jesus did. For the victims, it is at once a display of God’s loving identification with those who suffer, but also a call not to respond in a vengeful fashion, perpetuating a further cycle of exclusion, but to embrace and forgive, (whilst recognising the struggle to forgive evil). What grounds this book is his real-life examples of those caught up in hideous war crimes - this is lived-out theology. I tend to struggle with academic theology books (with the exception of biblical studies), but I was glad to have persevered with this. An important book and timely book on the cross and the 'other' - highly recommended for lovers of theology.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve Penner

    This was a very popular book in the'90's. I finally cracked it open and got about half way through it before putting it away. It was not because it was a bad book in terms of content. Actually it has very good content. It was just very difficult to read because it was very heavy theologically and the vocabulary and writing style made it a struggle. Volf is from Serbia and was there during the wars that followed the break up of the old Yugoslavia. Some of the stories he shares are heartwrenching This was a very popular book in the'90's. I finally cracked it open and got about half way through it before putting it away. It was not because it was a bad book in terms of content. Actually it has very good content. It was just very difficult to read because it was very heavy theologically and the vocabulary and writing style made it a struggle. Volf is from Serbia and was there during the wars that followed the break up of the old Yugoslavia. Some of the stories he shares are heartwrenching to the nth degree. His counsel for Christians to be involved in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation for themselves and others surely should be heeded by many of us. I would love to know of a simplified version of this theologically thick book. Many would benefit. But in this form, I think it will likely be read in colleges and seminaries, but not beyond.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Daunavan Buyer

    Exclusion and Embrace is not a book that should be approached lightly. This work is extremely thought provoking and, at times, challenging. Not for the faint of heart, Volf presents a thesis that is radically different from popular thinking, in either liberal or conservative circles: that at the heart of the cross, Jesus is modelling is a radical inclusion and opening of Himself to the other, and this is what followers of Christ are called to emulate. At the level of gender, truth, and peace: em Exclusion and Embrace is not a book that should be approached lightly. This work is extremely thought provoking and, at times, challenging. Not for the faint of heart, Volf presents a thesis that is radically different from popular thinking, in either liberal or conservative circles: that at the heart of the cross, Jesus is modelling is a radical inclusion and opening of Himself to the other, and this is what followers of Christ are called to emulate. At the level of gender, truth, and peace: embracing the other is absolutely essential to taking up the cross of Christ. The reason I did not give five stars is because of the difficulty of this book to read at times. Some of the content is necessary for proving the thesis while other aspects seem to be unnecessary. That said, this book is extremely well written.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    A very deep and theological book, this explore how Christians can forgive in the face of great evil. Volf is Croation and the book flows out of his experiences as a Christian in the Balkans in the mid and late nineties. Basically the embrace of forgiveness is only made possible at times by appropriate exclusion. This book gave me a new perspective on my parents divorce when it was happening because I could see how divorce as exclusion (in order to put a stop to unhealthy relationships) can make A very deep and theological book, this explore how Christians can forgive in the face of great evil. Volf is Croation and the book flows out of his experiences as a Christian in the Balkans in the mid and late nineties. Basically the embrace of forgiveness is only made possible at times by appropriate exclusion. This book gave me a new perspective on my parents divorce when it was happening because I could see how divorce as exclusion (in order to put a stop to unhealthy relationships) can make room for embrace and forgiveness. This book needs to be read far slower than I did and he uses pretty sophisticated theological vocab and models.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Roland Clark

    The idea of embrace is central to Volf’s theology of reconciliation. “Reconciliation with the other will succeed only if the self, guided by the narrative of the triune God, is ready to receive the other into itself and undertake a readjustment of its identity in light of the other’s alterity,” Volf says. This requires a sort of “double vision,” where instead of trying to see things from nowhere, which is clearly impossible, we approach truth both from our perspective and, stepping out of oursel The idea of embrace is central to Volf’s theology of reconciliation. “Reconciliation with the other will succeed only if the self, guided by the narrative of the triune God, is ready to receive the other into itself and undertake a readjustment of its identity in light of the other’s alterity,” Volf says. This requires a sort of “double vision,” where instead of trying to see things from nowhere, which is clearly impossible, we approach truth both from our perspective and, stepping out of ourselves, from the perspective of our enemies. See my full review here: http://wordsbecamebooks.com/2015/02/2...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rod White

    This is one of the best books ever. I want to start reading it again right now. It is very thick, full of theological intricacies. But underneath it all is a deep understanding of God and a very practical desire to breed reconciliation back into the world. If you would like to understand how to work with the modern and post-modern philosophies that dominate us in this era as a Christian, read this book. If you want to be a wise peacemaker and a better lover-of-enemies, rad this book. If you dare This is one of the best books ever. I want to start reading it again right now. It is very thick, full of theological intricacies. But underneath it all is a deep understanding of God and a very practical desire to breed reconciliation back into the world. If you would like to understand how to work with the modern and post-modern philosophies that dominate us in this era as a Christian, read this book. If you want to be a wise peacemaker and a better lover-of-enemies, rad this book. If you dare to have a believer's opinion about truth and about world politics, read this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Neil White

    I was first exposed to Exclusion and Embrace in my final year of seminary (2004) and sixteen years later my well marked copy of this profound work continues to challenge and inspire. This examination of violence and reconciliation, of identity and exclusion, is a theology of the cross in conversation with both modernity and postmodernity. One of the most influential works of theology for me as a pastor and thinker.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul,

    I like the big idea of the book, namely that sin can be pictured by exclusion and the proper response of Christians is the embrace. That being said, much of this book is so speculative, so derivative, so far removed from the text of the Bible that I am unsure of its truth or usefulness. Worth reading, but keep your thinking hat on.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Miroslav Volf is a very thought provoking theologian. His works are not a quick read, but full of wisdom and information for reflection. This is my favorite of his books, and, although I rarely re-read books, this one is also on my read again list. I am sure I will get even more from it on the second go around.

  24. 4 out of 5

    David Carlson

    I like the idea of the book. He says that religious violence stems from a loose attachment to religious symbol with a lack in depth of thought, devotion and substance. However, this is a very hard read. Like the German army in Russia, I did not make it to the end.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Becky Lai

    A difficult but immensely worthwhile read. Excruciatingly relevant in 2020 as I wrestle with the realities of White Supremacy in so many aspects of my life. Volf is refreshingly nuanced with his perspective as a Croatian Protestant theologian. His writing is unflinching in critiquing the shallow analysis of much of American Protestant theology and so so challenging as a non white person that still struggles with racist attitudes while also experiencing racism at the same time. I found myself res A difficult but immensely worthwhile read. Excruciatingly relevant in 2020 as I wrestle with the realities of White Supremacy in so many aspects of my life. Volf is refreshingly nuanced with his perspective as a Croatian Protestant theologian. His writing is unflinching in critiquing the shallow analysis of much of American Protestant theology and so so challenging as a non white person that still struggles with racist attitudes while also experiencing racism at the same time. I found myself resistant but undeniably compelled by Volf’s argument that embrace and making room for the other as the good news of the Bible. I think it’s only possible to consider this idea because Volf is so heavy handed in condemning exclusion... not merely as a not-nice thing to do but something that is rooted in the dehumanization of people who are unlike us. His examples of wartime in his home country and other global conflicts do not mince words about violence and the difficulty of ideas like forgiveness without accountability. I am still pondering his suggestion of “forgetting”. I am enamored with his suggestion of repentance for the victim being an exhortation to not be shaped by the world’s cruelty and violence. What an expansive understanding of the word repent — so different from the usual moral flourishing, ticket to heaven chatter we get from American evangelical sermons. Loved his take on the Tower of Babel being a condemnation of imperialism and forced assimilation... and Pentecost being the ability to understand difference and not a scenario in which everyone was made the same. Loved the metaphor of a physical embrace and what the parts of reconciliation are, both the depth and the limits. While not an easy read, it is written in my favorite structure: here are these various/famous takes (Christian and otherwise) on this topic, here’s where I agree and disagree. I often found myself revising my conviction a few times as I read. I ultimately disagree with Volf’s comments about divine justice necessitating violence that enables human non-violence but I will continue to ponder it. I am disappointed at the narrow view of the possibilities within eschatology and his insistence that it *must* be that... but maybe that’s I qualm I have with theologians in general. The reluctance to say “there is a lot of uncertainty here”. I wonder what Volf would make of the survivors of violence leading the transformative justice and abolition movement today. I wonder what it is about Volf’s own lived experiences that cause him to doubt human capacity for non-violence. No easy answers. I highlighted many sections and plan to return often to this text. Highly recommend for any Christian who’s trying to be honest about what’s hard about holding scripture with high regards these days and who craves depth when talking about love, justice, and what we’re called to.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Anieta

    Theologian Miroslav Volf's is also a Croatian whose theology and faith differed from that of the predominant religion of his culture. He thus writes from biblical text, strong rational argument, and experience. The beginning chapters of Exclusion and Embrace are deep, but worth wading through as the remainder of the book clarifies and expands on the premises outlined at the beginning. Ultimately this book is about redeeming memory without removing boundary. Even so living out truth with integrit Theologian Miroslav Volf's is also a Croatian whose theology and faith differed from that of the predominant religion of his culture. He thus writes from biblical text, strong rational argument, and experience. The beginning chapters of Exclusion and Embrace are deep, but worth wading through as the remainder of the book clarifies and expands on the premises outlined at the beginning. Ultimately this book is about redeeming memory without removing boundary. Even so living out truth with integrity and strong character calls us to "break the cycle of violence by refusing to be caught up in the automatism of revenge...by trying to love [our] enemies [we] may end up hanging on a cross". But costly acts of "nonretaliation become a seed from which the fragile fruit of Pentecostal peace grows--a peace between people from different cultural spaces gatherined in one place who understand each other's language and share in each other's goods (Volf, p. 306). This is theology and premise strongly antithetical to the global call of protectionism, a call to be the "disciples of the cruicified." Quoting Wikipedia, as it speaks more clearly than I can, Volf's Exclusion and Embrace "deals with the challenges of reconciliation in contexts of persisting enmity in which no clear line can be drawn between victims and perpetrators and in which today's victims become tomorrow's perpetrators—conditions that arguably describe the majority of the world's conflicts. ...] Embrace is marked by two key stances: acting with generosity toward the perpetrator and maintaining porous boundaries of flexible identities. Even though it is a modality of grace, "embrace" does not stand in contrast to justice; it includes justice as a dimension of grace extended toward wrongdoers. "Embrace" also does not stand in contrast to boundary maintenance. On the contrary, it presumes that it is essential to maintain the self's boundaries (and therefore pass judgment), but suggests that these boundaries ought to be porous, so that the self, while not being obliterated, can make a journey with the other in reconciliation and mutual enrichment. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miroslav Volf.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joel Wentz

    Easily one of the most important and challenging theological texts I've read. Volf writes with passion and clarity, and a steadfast refusal to offer simple or cliche responses to the problems of identity, conflict, justice, oppression, forgiveness and reconciliation. The careful way he parses the difference between "exclusion" and "judgement," the ways exclusion feeds our refusal to forgive the "other," and the powerful meditation on the act of embrace (an act which must be done with complete op Easily one of the most important and challenging theological texts I've read. Volf writes with passion and clarity, and a steadfast refusal to offer simple or cliche responses to the problems of identity, conflict, justice, oppression, forgiveness and reconciliation. The careful way he parses the difference between "exclusion" and "judgement," the ways exclusion feeds our refusal to forgive the "other," and the powerful meditation on the act of embrace (an act which must be done with complete openness and vulnerability, a willingness to change, and a refusal to subsume the other), are but a few of the most impactful elements of this book. Most chapters conclude with meditations on various biblical texts: the prodigal son, Cain and Abel, Jesus and Pilate, and while not an exegetical commentary, Volf brings powerful insights to the themes of exclusion and embrace in these well-worn narratives. Another aspect that I so deeply appreciated about this book is the fact the Volf is deeply conversant with so many different philosophical-theological streams of thought. He engages with modernism, postmodernism, feminism, and both liberal and conservative theologians. He delicately brings out areas of resonance, as well as lucid critiques, of all the thinkers he mentions. The result is a comprehensive and compelling theological argument that is deeply, deeply relevant to the ways people are engaging the world today. The act of reading this book will indelibly change you - much like the pure act of embrace that Volf is contending for in this work. More people need to wrestle with this text today. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    A truly brilliant book on the psychology, theology and practice of exclusion of others and the redemptive and restorative practice of inclusion. This incredibly dense and theologically deep treatise is riveting and inspiring. Page after page of illuminating presentations make it incredibly enjoyable to read, despite it's density. In fact, it was only in the last eleven pages i found myself remotely disappointed. Volf's final analysis that we are to trust in God's violent justice, and therefore e A truly brilliant book on the psychology, theology and practice of exclusion of others and the redemptive and restorative practice of inclusion. This incredibly dense and theologically deep treatise is riveting and inspiring. Page after page of illuminating presentations make it incredibly enjoyable to read, despite it's density. In fact, it was only in the last eleven pages i found myself remotely disappointed. Volf's final analysis that we are to trust in God's violent justice, and therefore eschew our own, was a bit of a letdown. He argues that the Rider on the White horse can be interpreted no other way than a final act of just violence, which God alone is capable of meting out. On the one hand, Volf gives a great theological argument for Christian non-violence, but in the end seems to embrace the necessity of violence, albeit, God's just violence carried out by Him alone. i had to wonder why one would not prefer the ultimate nonviolent choice of annihilation for the unredeemable rather than the necessity of violent overthrow. If nothing is impossible with God, except perhaps the complete redemption of creation, then would God not prefer cessation of existence for the violent over the unlikely necessity of violent overthrow? Wouldn't it make more sense that the closest God comes to violence is to stop thinking about us and therefore chooses something more like euthanasia over murder? i would highly recommend this book, but stop when you get to page 295.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Austin Mathews

    Though written over 20 years ago now, Volf’s critique of liberal postmodernism and its relativizing of truth, justice, and violence is as poignant as ever. On the cross Jesus embraced us, and it is the same Christ who will return to expel those who stubbornly refuse the gift of grace and reconciliation offered by that profound and inviting embrace. We have a God who suffered violence, and who alone is permitted to deal it at the end of time. Therefore, with “double vision” and the primacy of lov Though written over 20 years ago now, Volf’s critique of liberal postmodernism and its relativizing of truth, justice, and violence is as poignant as ever. On the cross Jesus embraced us, and it is the same Christ who will return to expel those who stubbornly refuse the gift of grace and reconciliation offered by that profound and inviting embrace. We have a God who suffered violence, and who alone is permitted to deal it at the end of time. Therefore, with “double vision” and the primacy of love, “no one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace” (85). Volf argues seemingly against every kind and frame of counter-argument, and places himself firmly within the Christian Scriptures and traditions, himself arguing from the nonsense of the Serb-Croat conflicts and ethnic cleanings of his people. This is a book that seems to have at once laid the foundation for a contemporary praxis of reconciliation, while simultaneously dispelling ill-conceptions about “just”, violent liberation, a God of love who would not judge, and inter-religious dialogue as the creator of peace among all peoples. Though some chapters shine brighter than others (Gender Identity is lamentably outdated, given contemporary questions and identities), the main thrust of the book (indeed, the first half), and especially the last chapter, continue to inspire and instruct in 2018 and beyond.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Kooman

    No other book have I dog-eared the corners of pages than Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Volf has a rare ability to make plain very complex concepts. He pulls from, engages, challenges, and often undresses major schools of thought and the brightest thinkers among them. His passage examining the parable of the prodigal so engaged and impacted me, I had to pick myself up off the floor. Published in the mid 90s, the publisher describes the book as follows: "Life at the end of the twentieth century presents u No other book have I dog-eared the corners of pages than Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Volf has a rare ability to make plain very complex concepts. He pulls from, engages, challenges, and often undresses major schools of thought and the brightest thinkers among them. His passage examining the parable of the prodigal so engaged and impacted me, I had to pick myself up off the floor. Published in the mid 90s, the publisher describes the book as follows: "Life at the end of the twentieth century presents us with a disturbing reality. Otherness, the simple fact of being different in some way, has come to be defined as in and of itself evil." Does that description not seem even more pertinent today? Volf urges that healing and reconciliation depends on finding ways of speaking that address the hatred of the other and proposes the idea of embrace as a theological response to the problem of exclusion. If you're interested in the concepts of identity and justice, then this is a book of note. And it's an important read for anyone who wonders if reconciliation and justice are possible on this planet.

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