Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two Quotes That Struck Me This Weekend

From the Gospel reading on Sunday:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. [John xii, 24]
From my recently acquired Uncle Ken, in reaction to hearing about "drinking games":
Drinking is a very serious business. It's not a game.
Both of these, of course, pertain to the Eucharist.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Heresy and Theological Creativity

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (pp. 127-8):
ftlotwTo condemn a heresy is relatively easy. What is much more difficult is to detect the question it implies, and to give this question an adequate answer. Such, however, was always the Church’s dealing with ‘heresies’ - they always provoked an effort of creativity within the Church so that the condemnation became ultimately a widening and deepening of the Christian faith itself. To fight Arianism, St. Athanasius advocated the term consubstantial, which earlier, and within a different theological context, was condemned as heretical. Because of this he was violently opposed, not only by Arians but by ‘conservatives,’ who saw in him an innovator and a ‘modernist.’ Ultimately, however, it became clear that it was he who saved Orthodoxy, and the blind ‘conservatives’ consciously and unconsciously helped the Arians.” [source]
And Rev Doc Peter comments:
This suggests a way of distinguishing between genuine zeal for orthodoxy and heresy-hunting: If the church makes creative and innovative use of the tradition, it is deeply orthodox; if it say[s] - relentlessly and loudly - what has always been said, probably not. [source]

Worship in Spirit

The usual suspect:
What does the Spirit do?

Throughout Scripture, the Spirit works with the physical world to bring it to fulfillment. The Spirit hovers over the physical creation to mold it into a cosmos; the Spirit fills judges and kings to do what kings do – fight battles; the Spirit is the agent of the incarnation of the incarnation, and through the Spirit the Father raises the Son from the dead as the Last Adam, and He will raise our bodies too.

The Spirit does not make bodies invisible. The Spirit brings the body out of darkness into light. The Spirit restores us from our alienation and isolation, and knits us back together with the creation and with one another.

The Spirit’s work is to make matter become fully what it is. The Spirit makes matter matter. [source]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Tri-Corporeality of Christ

The eternal Son is still incarnate as the specific man, Jesus the Christ. That’s true. And it’s true also that this Jesus has specific features that we don’t know.

But Jesus has a triple, not a single, body. His natural body is in heaven, but He has given us a Eucharistic body and a corporate body on earth. He’s left behind His body as food, and His body as the church. [source]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Really Good Question

Leithart contra Bultmania:
But what if ancient peoples really were powerless before invisible powers? What if ancient peoples really couldn’t control the universe? What if, prior to Jesus, everyone really was under guardians and managers, elementary principles and angelic rulers? What if God kept us safely under tutors while we were children, waiting for the time when he would give us our inheritance? What if the Father sent the Son to make us sons, to restore us to Adamic dominion? [source]

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Anyway, it's got to be said again, "faith comes through hearing." Paul's not being haphazard in his word choice here, either. He could have said that faith comes from reading Scripture, but he didn't. It comes from hearing the word of Christ - that is, the audibly preached Gospel. This may seem like subtle nitpicking to some, but to me, it's incredibly practical.

In ascribing the generation of faith to the audibly preached word, the Holy Apostle is tapping into an unmistakable pan-biblical theme of the audibility (over against the visibility) of God's Word. The essential creed of Israel was the Shema ("Hear"), drawn firstly from the Deuteronomic prelude to the "Greatest Commandment":
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [Deuteronomy vi, 4]
Hearing the voice of God is literally all over the Bible. And as it's mentioned, it's mentioned as a truly audible voice.

Reading, on the other hand, cannot boast this same level of biblical significance. While Scripture certainly has something to say about the role of the reading of Scripture, the connection between belief and quiet, private reading is minimal if present at all. There's a good reason for this, I think.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [Hebrews i, 1]
Hearing and reading are, in terms of mechanics and experience, two different things. While reading requires a significant amount of intentionality behind it, hearing is much more involuntary. Reading is work, labor - the product of much learning, even - but even an infant hears its mother's voice, whether it wants to or not. Much more, reading entails the use of the eyes placed over the text. It, to some extent, reduces the force of the text, placing the reader into somewhat of an evaluative role. Consider the role of vision in the Creation narrative: God "saw" and said it was good.

Whether we intend it or not, whenever we read the Bible (or anything for that matter) we are poised to subject it to a much more interpretive faculty, one which is far more vulnerable to any number of psychological agendas. This is most obvious in that it is in the nature of reading that we must first choose to read, before we begin to read. Any number of motives might underpin our decision to read something, but this element of selection, choosing what to read, what not to read, when to start, when to stop, should have some pretty clear effects. To choose a pretty basic example, someone who chooses never to read the Gospels will likely have a different take on the Torah, or even the Prophets. And it's that choice, that exercise of control or will, that makes reading so much an active exercise. When one reads the Bible to himself, he is as much choosing his own adventure as is the author "behind the text." Most dangerously, with the text so far below the reader, so subject to his psyche, one may create with incredible ease an emotive distance between himself and the text that wholly objectifies, rendering it personally meaningless. That there are agnostic Bible scholars should be sure proof of this.

Hearing, on the other hand, is different. While there are some ways in which one "intervenes" in the act of hearing, on the whole, the action is far more passive. It is precisely this weakness, this passivity, that proves aural faculties so virtuous for stirring up faith in the hearts of God's people. For in choosing to hear the word of God rather than to read it (that is, rather than to scrutinize it - or at the very least, to scrutinize about it), we are choosing to employ our bodies as best we can to receive the word of God in full passivity, full submission, making ourselves wholly vulnerable to the will of the Father.

The most prevalent temptation here, though, is to smooth out these differences, overlooking the fact that hearing is not precisely the same thing as seeing/reading, assuming instead that, one way or another, they both convey the same information. But this is wrong. While we should never affirm something as dully simplistic as "the medium is the message," we should certainly realize that the message can never be wholly separated from it's medium. The various media we employ to communicate communicate all sorts of things beyond the raw information we intend to convey. For example, a type-written note conveys an inarticulable sense of formality that a note scribbled in pencil never can.

It is at this point we should realize how, to choose a masterful case-in-point, the printing revolution that has allowed present day Christians to have multiple copies of the Bible per person, has had a great deal more to do with our ideas about Scripture reading than any biblical theology of Scripture. That is to say, Gutenberg's printing press inadvertently stole the Bible from us. We should not be so self-confident to think that technological progress cannot yield ideological regress.

Obviously, I'm not opposed to reading the Bible. I think there's some real value to it and I do it myself quite a bit. I go to something like three bible studies a week. But I don't think it's commanded in Scripture and I would never chasten a fellow believer for failing to do so. The way I apply all this practically is by frequently leaving my Bible closed during a worship service, and spending time, instead, on listening. That after all, is what we're told to do.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Some Minor Details

I once thought that the substance of Christ's work was pretty much the Crucifixion. About five years ago, I discovered that Jesus did more than die for our sins - he also rose for them in the Resurrection. This, I found, via P. Andrew Sandlin, then later, to a richer extent through N.T. Wright. It was only in the last couple of years that I discovered that even this was an insufficient account of Christ's work. I've since come to see that to really talk about the "person and work of Christ," we've got to talk about all kinds of things, like the possibly endless significance of the Incarnation, the Ascension, and Pentecost.

There is a temptation to downplay the important particularity of these special events by summing up all of them under the the rubric of "the active and passive obedience of Christ." That, after all, is a much simpler paradigm. It's shorter to say, and so-simple-it-can't-be-wrong - and of course it's not. Christ did suffer the wrath due unto us, and - though there are more elegant ways to say this - he did "earn" us salvation - but that's really where the rub is, isn't it?

IMHO, this is what the FV and the NPP controversies are all about - not whether or not Christ is our only access to the Father, not whether or not there truly is a "covenant of works" - but to me it's always been a matter of whether or not there was a better way to say "he met the righteous requirements of the Law." To be sure, he did and he did. But Christ was more than just righteous. Or to say it even more precisely, the righteousness of the Law is more than binary categories of good actions versus bad ones. The Law was a tutor unto a way of being, specifically unto a way of being truly human. Christ is the resurrected Adam, and as such has become the prophetic priest-king of Creation that Adam failed to be(come).

The whole thing comes down to questions of anthropology (what is man?) and stems from a reading of Scripture which I think most Reformed seminary professors would affirm (though almost certainly with a litany of qualifications to shield themselves from criticism) - that reading, of course, finding its root in the eschatological hermeneutics of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith Kline, the patron saints of both Westminster East and West. (Though we all know it was the Kline-ians who finally put the FVers to shame.) The gist of this interpretive approach is that, given the fact that the Gospel was predestined in the symphonic structure of (redemptive) history, and given the fact that the eternal magnificence of the Gospel so much more surpasses the grace of the Creation, it is taken for granted that man was always created for "bigger, better things" (in scriptural tongue this sounds like "from glory to glory") than to just till a garden while the Lord would watch over his shoulder to make sure Adam didn't screw up. The general description (under this reading) of the arrangement of the Covenant of WorksTM (the Edenic Covenant, the Adamic Covenant, the Covenant of Creation) is that it was a probationary covenant - that is, it was a test - and as such would have ultimately yielded some sort of glorification of Adam. This is affirmed by Kline-ians and FVers alike. And while James Jordan argues against any category of "merit" to be imposed upon this arrangement (preferring instead "maturity"), Meredith Kline (Jordan's estranged father) anticipates this criticism and argues instead for both, turning the proverbial Van Tillian table on Jordan, stating that God is powerful enough to hold together merit and maturity in mysterious simultaneity (cf. Kingdom Prologue, somewhere around the middle).

And still, I think that Kline's polemics againsts the "scholastics" (read: systematic theologians) is a copout here. I think the fact that he acknowledges this duality in the heart of God, offers a real challenge to his position, and shows that Jordan and the grace-hating Federal Visionists have a point, but that point is no more pointed than my own here, that we are whining over semantics and that, at the end of the day, we've got to pay greater attention to the specifics of the biblical narrative. If the doctrine of "active obedience of Christ" is an incomplete doctrine, then we should walk the via media between the FVers and the Kline-ians together and acknowledge the validity of the traditional language, while pointing to a possible improvement in light of Holy Writ.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gospel Truth

The only acceptable form of citation in printed media is that of the footnote. Not the parenthetical citation, not endnotes, and definitely, definitely not recurring endnotes at the end of every chapter. To allow your book to be so organized is essentially to punch your readers in the crotch with brass knuckles. Its not ok and and it never won’t be not ok. [source]

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Proverbially Thinking

On my way home, today, from a weekly reading of the Proverbs with a friend, I was thinking about the theological import of the book itself. The whole thing is written from the posture of a Father to a Son - so the Trinitiarian and Christological insight is obviously immense. Exercising through the Proverbs is an exercise in learning how to be a Son (of God). And if we have to pick a central theme, the Father can't highlight enough the glory-beauty of the Woman adorned with the Spirit of Wisdom. (Which is to say the Father can't highlight enough the glory-beauty of the Church adorned with the Spirit of Christ - which is to say, again, that the Trinitarian and Christological insight is obviously immense.)

On a related note, there is a real risk that Christians can pigeon hole the whole book of Proverbs as the book of "practical stuff" - "wisdom" they call it. This is to miss the whole point, though. In no pardonable way can we reduce the book to a trivial collection of sage advice, or a mere outline of moral character. (Though, to be sure, the book is a collection of sage advice and an outline of moral character). Rather, especially given the revelation of the Gospel in Jesus Christ, we should see that the book of Proverbs explodes our idolatrous concepts of sagacity and morality, showing us instead that true wisdom is found in the foolishness of the Cross, and true morality is found in the Church's participation in the life of the Triune God.