This year’s Payton Lectures were delivered by Miroslav Volf, Fuller alum and former Fuller faculty member. Dr. Volf has authored numerous texts that have shifted the landscape of Christian theology, perhaps most notably Exclusion and Embrace, in which he explores the relationship between justice and forgiveness, nationality and faith. Two more recent but no less important works are Volf’s A Public Faith, which considers the ways we might bring the Christian vision to bear in the public sphere, and Allah: A Christian Response, which has sounded a clarion call for reframing Muslim-Christian dialogue. Each of these has offered compelling and constructive ways for the Christian community to respond faithfully to an increasingly globalized world.
But if I had to choose only one of Volf’s books to take with me to a desert island, it would be The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. It represents Volf at his integrative best—equal parts personal, theological, philosophical, and pastoral. At its core, the book asks the question of how Christians are to remember those who have wronged them. As people called neither to disregard nor to hate our enemies, but rather to love them, how should we remember both the wrongdoing and the wrongdoer?
According to Volf, “[t]his may seem an unusual way of casting the problem of memory of wrongs suffered. Yet, to embrace the heart of the Christian faith is precisely to be pulled beyond the zone of comfort into the risky territory marked by the commitment to love one’s enemies. There memory must be guided by the vow to be benevolent and beneficent, even to the wrongdoer.”
Loving one’s enemies is indeed risky territory, especially in a time when the wrongdoings seem so egregious. How do we remember the perpetrators of 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombings? What does Christian benevolence look like when it comes to those who have been responsible for the recent onslaught of mass shootings? What kind of a person could ever love—truly love—the militants who have kidnapped and threatened to sell 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria? In this current cultural context—one brimming with violence, randomness, and chaos—I cannot think of a question that is any more difficult or pressing. But as Volf helpfully reminds us, if the Christian community is to enact and embody the gospel in the world, there is perhaps no question that is any more important.