(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Exclusion and Embrace differs from the many ethical and philosophical responses to the post-Cold War communal crises of the 1990’s, such as the works of Michael Ignatieff, by its explicit Christianity. Miroslav Volf suggests that Jesus Christ epitomized the promise of creative nonviolence when, as the Son of God, equipped with all the power imaginable, he did not choose to retaliate against his enemies. Christ’s forgiveness of those who crucified him stands as the paradigm for the unconditional acceptance of the other.

It is all too easy to urge people to forgive each other, but far harder to provide a practical rationale, other than mere adherence to precept, to do so. Equally, it is far easier to urge forgiveness when the injured group does not include onself. As a Croat who grew up in a country that eventually became engaged in communal violence with the Serbs, Volf realizes he has to ask harder questions and demand more complex answers than overly easy paradigms of forgiveness assume. Too often, people suppose that reconciliation can be accomplished in one gesture: a handshake, a kiss, even a treaty. However, literature—for example, Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e., English translation, 1611), in which King Priam forgives the man who killed his son, yet the Trojan War goes on—shows this is too much to ask.

Volf argues that the victims have to give up any impulse for further revenge and the perpetrators of oppression must also repent of their acts. He suggests that privileged Westerners often emphasize the rhetoric of unilateral peace and forgiveness, all the while presuming a social stability that people who have been the objects of communal violence have lost forever. For oppressed people, Volf suggests, rhetoric of a wrathful God will not seem as alien. To overcome violence, people must not merely wish it away but also see when it is part of God’s plan and when it is not. This involves seeing reconciliation as a general drama, not a...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Baum, Gregory. “Liberating Victims and Victimizers.” Review of Exclusion and Embrace. The Christian Century 115 (February 4-11, 1998): 117-119. Review focuses on Volf’s themes of radical forgiveness and unconditional acceptance of Jesus Christ as a prerequisite to accepting the other.

Hatch, John B. “Reconciliation: Building a Bridge from Complicity to Coherence in the Rhetoric of Race Relations.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 6, no. 4 (2003): 737-764. Situates Volf’s theology in the context of race relations in America.

Jones, J. Gregory. “Finding the Will to Embrace the Enemy.” Christianity Today 41 (April, 1997) 29-32. Writing from an evangelical Christian perspective, Jones hails Volf’s subtle, nonretributive treatment of the issue of sin and repentance, and notes the extent to which Volf remains above binary opposition. Jones, though, finds Volf’s exposition lacks a core sense of Christian theological assertion.

Miller, Kevin D. “The Clumsy Embrace.” Christianity Today 42 (October, 1998): 65-70. This profile-interview of Volf specifically discusses his theology in light of the warfare in the former Yugoslavia, focusing especially on his exposition on the parable of the prodigal son.

Oppenheimer, Mark. “Embracing Theology.” Christian Century 120 (January 11, 2003): 18-23. A biographical profile of Volf, especially informative on his Pentecostal youth in Croatia; also includes an explication of his major ideas, including his theology of forgiveness.