An Introduction to Dr. MacLeod
|The world has entered a new chapter in its history. Call it "one world
order" or the rise of corporate hegemony, whatever; but our world seems
to have taken a bad turn tilting it towards more control of people by
those whose God is power or money. The Bible calls this the worship of
Mammon. Money, or materialism, seems to have come to take first place in
the affairs of mankind as it never has before. Spirituality and the
worship of God seem to have taken a backseat as so called "progress"
seems to be a blind force.
The Rev. Dr. James MacLeod (1937- ) a noted Presbyterian minister, is one of the voices "crying in the wilderness" for a return to the recognition of the dual nature (both material and spiritual) of man. He gives reasoned and insightful comments (Reasoning Together) on what it means to be a Christian today. He is a conservative Christian and places great emphasis upon rediscovering the immanent spirituality of the New Testament Church. Also offered is “A Season of Grace”, meditations dedicated to the southern writer Flannery O’Connor.
Dr MacLeod believes modern Christianity will not suffice for the situation mankind is in because it has been watered down by liberalism and creedally intellectualized into near oblivion by people wanting to argue about what they believe, rather than applying what they do believe. He is ecumenically aware. His view is "love first, creed second." It is by applying love to people, not in debating creeds, that common solutions to our spiritual problems will be more likely found.
The situation of the world today is graver than it has ever been because now mankind has the technology to destroy it. And if people continue in a non-spiritually aware way, the earth can be ruined and destroyed. Not enough people seem painfully aware of this. As evidence of that point, look at "9-11".
Our current versions of Christianity suffer from the same imbalances and flaws that plague the rest of our contemporary thought and institutions. We have let unbalanced thinking take control, and in so doing have set mankind apart from its nature which is to believe in God. The result is uncertain values, vague or little belief, and no faith in ourselves. Not much of a future should be expected as long as these circumstances continue.
Furthermore Christianity has become a bargain basement of creeds, a convoluted exercise in intellectual definitions, having no real core, no real foundation. The foundation of all creeds is a personal relationship with God, but how many are enjoying a personal relationship with God? Few - very few.
Dr. MacLeod endeavors in his writings to get us to the heart of Christianity, a relationship with God. Without this motivating loving relationship with God, creeds are empty, life is empty, and words are so much empty argumentativeness.
He reasons with a sincere and appealing thoughtfulness that can be quite breathtaking in its scope. Yes, I would say that he has an intellectual side, but his intellectual ability is only one component of his thinking which is balanced by an intimate knowledge of God and His ways, supported by a striking ability to quote Biblical chapter and verse.
I would put the writings of Dr. MacLeod in with other writers on Christianity such as Kierkegaard, Thomas Merton and C. S. Lewis. Ecumenical always, he was a good friend who served as a pallbearer for the writer, Flannery O'Connor. He also came under the influence of a teacher of his, the historian Arnold J. Toynbee. So do not think Dr. MacLeod will always be an easy read. Sometimes he is not, and understanding takes concentrative effort on the part of the reader. Dr. Macleod is one of those with intellect, but he also recognizes the sublimity of religion and man's need of it. He tries to help you, but you must yourself fulfill the instructions given in Philippians 2:12 "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling".
Two commonly held view points that affect the way we see religion are the too liberal view and the too literal perspective, neither of which Dr. MacLeod fully approves. The word, "liberal" has a number of definitions, and the political one is not the one he is disturbed by. But "religious" liberals do bother him, because they often deny the ability of God to have a personal relationship with man, the very existence of God, and some beliefs necessary for a better faith. But some too liberal beliefs deny needful doctrines and stress the relativity (therefore equality and sameness) of all values. This Dr. MacLeod does not accept.
Dr. MacLeod insists that a hierarchy of values and a sense of laddering priorities are absolute essentials in any religion. For him, all religions have grace because they believe in God, and nearly any values are good, because they establish a moral foundation. Although some religions and values may share grace, some are ahead of others in grace.
Because everything that has life has grace, Dr. MacLeod might say, "Work with anybody but don't think every work is equal". He is for tolerance out of Christian charity, but not if it means to us the acceptance of an immoral relativism. Ultimately Dr. MacLeod is disturbed by religious liberalism because it may lead to belief in nothing, while not knowing the real value of anything.
He is also concerned that as a Greek philosopher said long ago, people take the attitude, "we are now so intellectually developed that we no longer need God because we are so smart that we can solve our own problems." Intellectual arrogance has become something of a cult today. Science, in its place, is good; but science as the ultimate answer is not acceptable. After all, what is technology in the hands of sinful people bent on selfishness and egotism? It is a threat, not a blessing.
The literalists are missing the point also. The literalists say that if we follow the letter of the law, go to church, and believe in a creed, we are then all right. But this is not true. What gives a real spirit to religion is a personal relationship with God. Without it, the law and religion are very little but meaningless conventionality. Religion is sickened by meaningless conventionality.
It is law fulfilled by the Spirit of knowing God and His grace that we should seek. This is very similar to seeking to fulfill natural law by divine law. Turning the other cheek, for example, is to interject grace and order into what otherwise promises to be a blind and vindictive fight, when the impulsive but natural slap of nature is followed by another impulsive but natural slap. To go further than a natural response and give a divinely inspired response, is the true fulfillment of natural law
Dr. MacLeod feels God has a dry ironical sense of humor because God uses irony in getting His spiritual points across. For some wonderful reason it is God's plan to defeat the materialistic and mighty through the spiritually weak. God's will is that those doing evil may be caught in the traps of their own devising. God used evil to do good as in the story of Joseph being kidnapped by his brothers.
Dr. MacLeod quotes ample scripture to show the irony of God at work. He suggests that to catch a glimpse of God working, look for irony. Irony may, just may, be a sign of God's spiritual workings. Dr. MacLeod challenges believers to look for God working, but the believer must remember that as God often works indirectly through man and nature as His instruments of grace, God workings may not appear perfect. But they may at times be briefly seen as in glimpsing "through a glass darkly". But irony remains always for Dr. MacLeod a spiritual attendant of God's Will.
Irony is shown in Jesus Himself. His whole story is one of irony. The Jews expected a powerful literal “Hitlerized” Messiah, but instead the great spiritual King came as a humble carpenter gathering disciples among the common folk, not the formally schooled elite. Instead of associating only with the wealthy, Jesus taught the poor, spoke of a spiritual relationship with God, and preached an invisible Kingdom. This was a highly ironic answer to the literal minds and desires of non-spiritual persons and literal thinkers.
Dr. MacLeod also uses warm literary images in his writings as he writes of universal human values, natural law and divine grace. Not only in "Reasoning Together" but in "A Season of Grace" will readers find spiritually refreshing ideas, audacious thinking, and sometimes inspirational moments.
Dr. MacLeod urges us to avoid the too liberal, which is diluted and too intellectual. Also avoid the too literal answers that are not ironic and are spiritually flat. Instead, look for fulfillment found in the spiritual irony of God who answers our prayers, but not exactly in the ways we often have in mind. This is because God's ways are not our ways, and what we want from God is not always what God wants from us.
A great gift is being offered to us, according to MacLeod. That gift is to look spiritually at the world in a new way of seeing what is going on. Dr. MacLeod tries to make us aware of the spiritual way of doing things through his writings. But he is careful to say his way is not the way. You must find your own way to fulfill the grace you have access to. He suggests. He advises. But you must recognize your own spiritual nature.
This synoptic statement of some of my views has been worked out, on, and with Tom Pumroy - a good friend, a clever web master, a competent editor, a good thinker in grace. I am happy to have these points presented by him as an insight into my works. I also wish to thank his wife, Sam Wainford Pumroy, for her aid and encouragement in this good effort. JLM
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.