Boersma on Hospitality, 1


Notes on chapter one from Boersma’s Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition.

Hans Boersma uses concepts like violence and hospitality, particularly in their recent philosophical venues, as a set of ciphers to explore the atonement.  He succeeds brilliantly. I wish I read this book in seminary. It might, just might, have staved off a number of bad decisions later on.

Asking “Is the Atonement violent” sounds funny, and it is, but feminist and postmodern theologians think it is an important question.  Unfortunately, they answer it.

Hospitality:  It is God’s work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ (Boersma 15). God comes to us in Christ to invite us into his eternal fellowship.  Hospitality is a metaphor for the love of God (17).

Violence, then, is any exclusionary practice.  Theologically, it could be something legitimate like church discipline, but raised to doctrine of God levels, it could be something more problematic:  the decree of election which excludes others from God’s presence. Boersma will deal with this later.

Problem: Does “violence” negate God’s hospitality in Jesus Christ?

Chapter 1: The Possibility of Hospitality

Levinas: Western metaphysics focused on essences, analysis, etc., which had the effect of dismissing alterity (Otherness).  It reduced everything to the One (28). It seems that Levinas is saying that our first response to the Other shouldn’t be questioning or analysis, but invitation and hospitality.  Perhaps. This makes sense when people knock on my door, but I don’t know what it looks like in theology.

Derrida: sees “messianicity as an absolute openness to the future” (30).  “Pure hospitality means I forego all judging, analyzing, and classification of the other.”

Is the Derridean model coherent?  Not really. Boersma points out that hospitality always takes place within the finite limits of space and time.  By definition it will be limited in character (31). There is always this fear in postmodern literature that the limits of temporality are negative.  Boersma wonders why. I think it goes back to the old Origenist problematic: the Fall and Finitude are linked.

Postmodernism isn’t on any firmer ground when it challenges violence.  What is violence? It is something like “anything that contravenes the rights of another, or causes injury to the life, well-being, etc., of another” (quoted in Boersma 44).  The problem is that this definition rules out all forms of corrective punishment. It also rules out self-defense, but perhaps worst of all, it is self-defeating when postmodernists try to “protest” systemic injustices. Boersma lists a number of defeaters:

  1. If I physically restrain my wife from crossing the road when a car is coming, am I offering violence?
  2. When the govt forces my kids to go to school, is that an act of violence?
  3. If I engage in economic boycotts, knowing that such boycotts will jeopardize the well-being of the average worker, how is that not violence?

Postmodernism cannot give a coherent reason why their good acts of physical resistance aren’t violent, yet “the other side” (Alterity!) is violent.  The takeaway is that there can be good acts of violence. “Hospitality does not exclude all violence” (48).

Nonetheless, hospitality bespeaks the very essence of God.  Violence is one of the ways he safeguards it.


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in American Theology, Philosophy, theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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