Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Book Review: Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf

This is probably one of the best books I've read!

Volf's "Exclusion and Embrace" was written during the internecine wars and "ethnic cleansing" in former Yugoslavia. His basic point is that emphasis on ethnic identity promotes exclusion and forces one to differentiate and exclude oneself from the "other". He argues for differentiation not at the expense of inclusion. According to him exclusion is the root of the problem in communal warfare. His solution is Christ's embrace of the "other" on the Cross. This emphasis on the Cross in the introduction sets the stage for Volf as he fleshes out his ideas in book. The language can be technical at times especially for the untrained eye; Volf interacts with secular writers like Eduard Said, Nieztche etc.

One of Volf's major contributions in this book is the idea that liberating the victim from the oppressor is not enough. The victim must also "embrace" and forgive the oppressor if he is to be free from the oppression. Christ as the supreme victim or scapegoat is the best example of this principle; he embraced his enemies on the cross. Liberating the oppressed without a strategy to embrace the oppresor can predispose the victim to resent and hate his oppressor. Volf has probably seen some of this in his homeland, Yugoslavia. Hence the assertion that liberation needs to include the restoration of the oppressor. How does this work in the real world? He seems to be advocating pacifism; Volf later clarifies his position and gives a tour de force in the last chapter of the book.

The last chapter Violence and Peace is passionate and probably the most engaging in the book. Volf does a superb job of expositing the christian view of non violence within the backdrop of sorting out the apparent contradiction between Christ, the willing lamb of God, of the Gospels and Christ, the fiery judge seated on the white horse, of Revelations executing judgement. A non violent approach according to him only makes sense if unrepentant oppressors are judged by the Christ of the Revelations. Temporal non violence only makes sense if evil is finally judged. An embrace assumes that parties in conflict are willing to mutually forgive each other. If the oppressor however refuses the embrace of the oppressed then judgement rightly awaits him or her. The Biblical texts take into consideration such an outcome. This healthy dose of realism acts a counter weight to some of the idealism in the earlier chapters. Seldom have I read such passion for God's judgement from an academic theologian.

Volf's work has helped me gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding inter ethnic feuds and the regional conflicts of Bolivia within a christian perspective. The chapter on Gender Identity was interesting but not very meaty. The one on Oppression and Justice is a classic and should be read by all would be reformers.

I heartily recommend this book!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brother you are reading some real heavy stuff.

I have often wondered what would happen if George Bush took the route of reconciliation and forgiveness after 9/11.

It certainly won't be worse than this.....