What is Miroslav Volf's background?
Miroslav Volf was born on September 25, 1956, in Osijek, Croatia, Yugoslavia. At five, he moved to Novi Sad, Serbia, Yugoslavia, where his father became a Protestant minister, raising Miroslav within the Protestant tradition. Volf’s mother was highly spiritual and his nanny taught him to have an open mind and heart when interacting with others. Miroslav was the only openly Christian student during his elementary through high school years.
Volf studied philosophy and classical Greek at the University of Zagreb, theology at Zagreb’s Evangelical-Theological Seminary, and obtained an M.A. at Fuller Theological School in Pasadena, CA. He studied under Jürgen Moltmann, obtaining a doctoral and post-doctoral degree from the University of Tübingen, Germany. During his college career, he graduated summa cum laude for all his degrees, was granted various scholarships, and received several prestigious awards.
Volf taught systematic theology in Osijek, Croatia, and Pasadena, California. In 1998, he accepted a teaching position at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, as the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology. A position he still holds at the time of this writing. Miroslav Volf is the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
Sojourners reports that “He has written or edited 15 books and over 70 scholarly articles. His most notable books include Exclusion and Embrace (one of Christianity Today’s 100 most important religious books of the 20th century); After Our Likeness (1998), in which he explores the Trinitarian nature of ecclesial community; Allah: A Christian Response (2011), whether Muslims and Christians have a common God; and A Public Faith: On How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (2011), concerning Christian-Muslim relations and is a member of the Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum (Sojourners).”
Miroslav Volf’s most popular book is Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996). In the Introduction of Exclusion and Embrace, Volf recounts that day in Pasadena, 1992, when he received an invitation to speak at the “Gesellschaft fu Evangelische Theologie” in Potsdam, Germany. The theme was timely: “God’s Spirit and God’s People in the Social and Cultural Upheavals in Europe (Volf, 13).” The reader is instantly emersed in the world conflicts of the time, the riots of Los Angeles, the bombs being dropped in Sarajevo, and the neo-Nazis that marched through the streets of Berlin. A melting pot of ethnicities resided within all three cities, at times in peaceful coexistence and other times fighting amongst themselves. Volf illuminates his version of Exclusion and Embrace, providing a roadmap for the coexistence of all races and religions living upon one earth under many faiths. This leads me to the next topic, the historical context that influenced Volf and his beliefs.
How did historical context affect Miroslav Volf?
During his childhood, Yugoslavia was a country of Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Islam traditions, with a small minority making up the Protestant community. Politically, Yugoslavia had a Marxist ideology that put Christian ministers under constant surveillance. Being a Christian in Yugoslavia during Volf’s childhood was rare and often foreign to other Yugoslavian citizen. Volf was bullied and singled out at school and among his peers. He gained a sense of otherness during this time, helping to strengthen his empathy for the outcast, including people of different religions and cultures. This otherness kindled within him a need to fight for those who were seen as outcasts because of their religious beliefs, furthering his determination to lobby, preach, and teach the acceptance and coexistence of all humans in one world.
As Miroslav Volf traveled to an independent Croatia for the first time, he exclaims, “I was free to be who I am (Volf, 16).” Volf returned to his place of birth, once a child of ridicule because of his Christian faith, he now felt new freedom, he finally felt as if he belonged. He now has space to be who he truly is, a Christian Croat. As he moved around the world from Yugoslavia, Germany, and California, he always felt like an outsider, helping to define his need and struggle to understand ethnic identity. He asks questions like, how does the perpetrator, who is often a victim, and the one that is hurt relate to each other? Why does exclusion happen? How can both sides begin to embrace the other? Is forgiveness possible? Volf’s Christian upbringing helped influence his decision to explore and understand Jesus’s ability to forgive those who had beaten, slandered, and executed him. Not because people are innocent and beyond evil, but because God’s love is unconditional.
Is it possible for those beaten, isolated, mocked, and who have lost family members to ethnic cleanings, such as the Holocaust and Srebrenica massacre? As the Russia – Ukraine war continues, the world watches in unbelief as Putin effectively annihilates an entire country. The modern age has ushered in the invention of new technology, new allegiances, and new perspectives concerning how we as Christians should relate and live our lives.
During the last hundred years, the global migration of countless religious societies, including their religious beliefs, cultures, and tight-knit communities, has caused an increase in hatred, and fighting between varying groups. Although this issue of right and wrong religions has been around since the beginning of time, the ability to travel across the world in a matter of hours or to communicate with one another five thousand miles away within seconds has increased the transfer of knowledge, culture, and political influence. Volf attempts to define and develop concepts of identity, inclusion, and forgiveness with the hope for the peaceful coexistence of all people.
What is Miroslav Volf’s importance to church history?
Miroslav Volf deserves continued attention and study within the church as a peacebuilder, interfaith, and coexistence proponent. The moment I read his argument concerning the “scandal of the church” in Christ’s suffering on the cross, my whole perspective of God’s sacrifice for my sins had changed (Volf, 26). Volf describes a moment often read through the context of Christ’s time into a moment of the current context. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Volf explains that we perpetuate the scandal when we do not “give yourself for the other” because we must also forgive our persecutor (Volf, 26). The sacrifice requires being offended continually in the shameless giving of ourselves.
In an age of self-identity, we always strive for the self, to obtain more wealth and status, and to establish our place in society, faith, and ethnicity. But in an increasingly diverse world, we are all part of the body of Christ. Volf argues that “other cultures are not a threat to the pristine purity of our cultural identity, but a potential source of enrichment (Volf, 52).” He explains how Christians can relate to other cultures and religions with the sensitivity to love unconditionally, learn new insights, and share our beliefs in the way we live our lives. By preaching at or forcing another to practice Christianity, Evangelism often turns people away from the possibility of experiencing the underlying foundation of Christ’s teaching and sacrifice for all of humanity. Volf offers the book of Acts to describe a world of varying faiths and cultures, not a world of likeness or carbon copies of one belief. For Volf, in “The Lukan claim” of Acts 2:17-18, “that ‘all’ spoke contains a critical edge: even those who had no voice have been given a voice (Volf, 228).” From Volf’s perspective, Jesus returns not for English speakers alone, but for all who speak, including those who have no voice. Volf provides yet another voice that speaks for those who cannot, giving all who feel lost and unheard the knowledge that they are genuinely not forgotten by God.
How does a study of Miroslav Volf apply to church ministry?
My ministry and outlook on “the other” have expanded while studying Miroslav Volf. He has broadened my perspective on the diversity of the world. I often ask how can we advise warring Christians to approach and forgive those who have wronged them, hurt them, and slandered them in some way? I often overlook my own identity need. Volf provides his audience with the knowledge that it is not only the other’s struggle with identity but also an individual’s struggle. I must admit that many others provide this same perspective as Volf. However, Volf provides me with an outlook more easily understood in the interactions of other Christians and those who practice another religion.
Volf describes the tower of Babel in Genesis, but he counters that with Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost found in Acts. At the end of time, “God declares, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…and they shall prophesy.’ (Acts 2:17-18). What a powerful statement! Many of us look to the minister, President, and others to be the only ones who prophesy, who can speak in God’s name. However, according to the prophet Joel, Peter, and Luke, all flesh will talk with God’s spirit.
Next Wednesday, I must turn in a sermon around the themes of Memorial Day, Pacifism, Just War, and Peacemaking. I have never written or given a sermon, so this has been heavy on my heart for months. How do I, someone who has never taught from a Biblical perspective, discuss this theme to an audience and relate it to war? I have prayed, worried, and searched in many places since January. Until I wrote this paper on Miroslav Volf, I had no idea how to approach the subject, but Volf has provided me with something that I feel is relevant to all four areas of the paper.
“Miroslav Volf.” 2012. Sojourners. October 18, 2012. https://sojo.net/biography/miroslav-volf.
Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace a Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.