Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jenson on the Theology of the Church

Robert Jenson's Systematic Theology (p. vii):
Systematic Theology ITheology is the church's enterprise of thought, and the only church conceivably in question is the unique and unitary church of the creeds. Therefore theology may be impossible in the situation of a divided church, its proper agent not being extant - unless, of course, one is willing to say that a particular confessional or jurisdictional body simply is the one church. To live as the church in the situation of a divided church - if this can happen at all - must at least mean that we live in radical self-contradiction and that by every churchly act we contradict that contradiction. Also theology must make this double contradiction at and by every step of its way.

We commonly speak of such things as "Roman Catholic" or "Baptist" or "Lutheran" theology. Such labels can be used in a harmless historically descriptive sense, as one can say that "Orthodox theology" tends to a Cyrillean Christology. They may be used in a somewhat more ominous descriptive sense, as someone might say that "Reformed theology" cannot accept certain ways of asserting papal primacy. But a theologian who described her or his own works as "Lutheran" or "Reformed" or whatever such, and meant by that label to identify the church the work was to serve, would either deny the name of the church to all but his or her own allegiance or desecrate the theological enterprise. [source]

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Again, Let the Reader Understand

Psalm lxix:
To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. Of David.

Save me, O God!
    For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
    must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
    O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
    O God of Israel.
For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
    that dishonor has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my brothers,
    an alien to my mother's sons.

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
    and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting,
    it became my reproach.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
    I became a byword to them.
I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
    and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
    At an acceptable time, O God,
    in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
Deliver me
    from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
    and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
    or the deep swallow me up,
    or the pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
    according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Hide not your face from your servant;
    for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
    ransom me because of my enemies!

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
    and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.

Let their own table before them become a snare;
    and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
    and make their loins tremble continually.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
    and let your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp be a desolation;
    let no one dwell in their tents.
For they persecute him whom you have struck down,
    and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.
Add to them punishment upon punishment;
    may they have no acquittal from you.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
    let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

But I am afflicted and in pain;
    let your salvation, O God, set me on high!

I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
    or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
    you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
    and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
    the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
    and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
    the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
    and those who love his name shall dwell in it. [source]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Vos at his spunkiest ("Christian Faith and Truthfulness of Bible History" from Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, p. 460):
I think we are all to some extent conscious of how much more interesting and congenial it is to study the Bible from the point of view of the human experience of the people of God than from that of divine procedure of redemption and revelation. [source]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Radner, Briefly

Via facebook, Dan Brinkmann, the good man who married Cathleen and I, noticed my posted copy of Ephraim Radner's comments on the nature of biblical types. He thought to probe a bit, asking:
Can you sum this up in your own words?
And what does it mean to you personally?
How does it impact you emotionally?
How do you apply it practically?
All worthwhile questions, I took a little time between building legos and grocery shopping to give him a fairly lengthy answer.
In my own words, what Radner is addressing is a very popular, well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided approach to typological interpretation of the Old Testament. I share in his frustration as it becomes very tiresome to hear over and over that each sort of sacrifice in Leviticus ultimately pictures "the wretchedness of sin" or "its bloody consequences" or "the wrath of God that Christ suffered on the Cross for us." It's not that these things are wrong, per se; but it makes reading the vague figures of the Old Testament rather redundant in light of the relative clarity of the New Testament. Even the most bizarre typological readings of Leviticus (Radner gives us some good examples) stem from the same interpretive principle: That the Old Testament says in shadowy images what the New Testament says quite clearly. Ultimately, this makes it fairly challenging to defend spending much time reading the Old Testament literature, save for the possible historical material it may provide.

Radner's point is that, while it is certainly defensible to inform our readings of Leviticus by the events of the Gospel Narratives, it is equally important for us to read our Gospels in light of the details of Leviticus (though this obviously applies to far more than just the book of Leviticus). There is a complex interplay between the themes and content of the Old Testament and the themes and content of the New Testament. While it is encouraging to see people eager to see Christ in the pages of the Old Testament, it would be even more exciting to see a people eager to see things like Exodus patterns, Paschal imagery, and Tabernacle-Temple allusions in the New. Understanding the Exodus, for example, (and its various repetitions throughout the Old Testament!) teaches us important things about Baptism. Things like this are what Radner's after.

Personally, it means a lot. For one, seeing it in publication by a reputable publisher is encouraging because it affirms sentiments that I have already been persuaded by. Also, applying what Radner says to my own Bible reading forces me to really slow down. I spend a lot more time attending to every detail of OT narrative, knowing full well that, with every reading, there is something I haven't seen yet. It assures me that reading the Bible is hardly something I can do lazily.

Additionally, I should note that seeking to find harmony between the Old and the New Testament has been a quest of mine for many years now. It's something that has played a significant role in preventing my apostasy during the university years, and it's something that, as a result of its importance to my faith, has had a great deal to do with my theological and spiritual development. (The details are boring.)

Emotionally, in addition to the warm feelings of affirmation, it has made Bible study something that I get very excited about. Practically, I do this by, well, doing it. I try my darndest to be fair to Scripture, making a very concerted effort to hear it on its own terms rather than importing what are often unhelpful (unhelpful because they mask more than they reveal) biases into the text. This may from time to time leave me unsatisfied with a passage. I have come across things before that, for the life of me, I could not make sense of in a way that cohered with the fullness of the context - but I'm thankful for these times. I'd rather walk away from Scripture befuddled by it than do violence to it for the sake of making my life easier.

Hope I fairly answered your questions, Dan. I'd love to hear some feedback.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Radner on Typology

This is a fantastic excerpt from Ephraim Radner's commentary on Leviticus (pp. 57-59). It's the preface to the chapter on Leviticus iv, 1 - v, 13. For all you lazy/busy folks out there, I'll embolden the part that most sums up the whole (but you really should read it all if you can, especially since I spent an hour typing it up - with one hand - in a dimly lit room!):
levThe sacrifices of Lev. 1-3 are given generally. They lay out the form of human history that is gathered up in and by Christ, but they do so with a sweep that universalizes the character of that history of redemption. As the next chapters unfold, we are taken to a more concrete plane, one in which the forms of history are particularized in the actions and consequences of individuals or groups in time. The sacrifices enjoined in this section will take the form of those outlined already - for example, the sin offering of Lev. 4 explicitly partakes of the forms of both the peace offering (Lev. 4:10) and the burnt offering (4:4, 12). They are sacrifices, then, that specify, that elaborate, that engage in the particular stories of the larger history. But they do not alter it or provide alternatives.

The Christian tradition has therefore to tended to read these details almost, in musical terms, as improvisations upon the central themes of the types of Christ's death that were seen as originally laid out in the first chapters. As already noted, Origen was explicit in this claim, and when he comes to these chapters he uses it to bolster his summarizing exposition: "Almost every victim is that is offered partakes of some aspect of the image of Christ, for in him every sacrifice is 'recapitulated'" (Homilies on Leviticus 3.5). This is temporally proved, he says, by the historical fact that, once Jesus died upon the cross, all these particular sacrifices "ceased" (at least for the church).

Origen is well aware of the redundancy this may create in Christian interpretation of a book like Leviticus: everything will inevitably sound the same theme, over and over again. In response, the Christian reader of the book's details will engage in a kind of jouissance, to use Roland Barthe's description, of interpretive experiment, so long as it remains tethered within the central christic figuration that the text exposes. The sacrifices are, in each case, the same offering of himself, but seen from the perspectives of redeemed and fallen flesh respectively. (And this accounts, therefore, for the different treatment of and emphasis upon the fleshly details of skin and excrement in Lev. 4 in contrast to Lev. 1 and Lev. 3.) Similarly, and on a more specific basis, Origen will take up the differing aspects of a particular sacrifice, as in 4:1-12, and relate each to elements of Christ's own self and mission: the kidneys that are burnt refer to Christ's freedom from carnal perturbation; the seven sprinklings of blood by the priest represent the seven gifts of the Spirit; the four horns of the altar that are touched by blood are tied to the four-gospel renditions of the passion; the lobe of the liver stands for human rage, consumed at the altar; and the blood that is poured at the base of the altar points to the final grace of Israel's conversion, which takes place after all the nations are brought in by the church (Homilies on Leviticus 3.5).

In all this, history is explicated and fills out the core meaning of the sacrifice as being Christ's. Still, we might wonder if this history has already been somehow circumscribed by the tight typological fit given it, and in the unidirectional fashion with which is applied, so that Leviticus itself ceases to elucidate in its own right even the figure of Christ, by the time of the Reformation (e.g., Calvin 1996: 2.345).

By the time we reach Calvin, we see something of this pinched character emerge more clearly. If the sacrifices of Leviticus exist for the purpose of indicating Jesus, on what basis do they offer any divine sustenance today for those who know Christ clearly and therefore need no further signs drawn from the obscure reaches of the past? The pedagogical theory - the law as training wheels for the infantile Jews - is dusted off, and the clear sacraments of Christ are retrojected into the Israelites' life as a kind of image staring out from the murky depths of time, but the details of the text - the kinds of animals, the actions taken, the parts of the bodies cut - are important only because they demand care in worship, and of course all people must be careful in their devotion to God. It is a good lesson to bear in mind.

There is an incipient, and understandable, hermeneutic at work in Calvin, comparable to the contemporary practice of engaging foreign culture on the basis of some purported and radically shared existential experience. The Israelites did things so strange to us that we are left trying to find some basic, if only general, bridge by which to make any sense of it (e.g., just like us in our best moments, they tried to be scrupulous in their devotion, they were held to an external account for their behavior, they recognized a God beyond their own manipulation, and so on). The irony is that this kind of fallback on a putative species of common human religiosity derives from a tenacious Christocentricity. The problem, however, is not with the typological framework itself that Calvin uses, which is both inevitable and necessary, but with the historical meaning of its linkages. Not only should the character of the sacrifices be elucidated by the figure of Christ; but, if the subjecting and formative power of the word at work and visible in the Scriptures is to be honored, the figure of Christ ought to be, in a sense, explicated by the sacrifices.

In this case, the movement into the sin offering, and its peculiar character in Lev. 4, represents not simply a restatement of the central dogma of atonement, but rather a detailing of sin's shape as it is engaged by Jesus. And thus, the contours of the Christ are here clarified in a way that would be impossible apart from the fullness of the Scriptures given in this book in particular. Christ's ingathering journey goes through this landscape nor only contingently, but essentially. [source]
This has been said much more simply (though by highlighting a different aspect of biblical interpretation) by the long-hidden Dennis Hou as:
[T]here is the temptation to swallow up the uniqueness of every person and event by typological categories. Everyone is a new Adam, or Moses, or Israel; everything is a new creation, or exodus, or tabernacle. Yes, Joseph is a type of Christ, but so is every other human being that ever was, is, or will be. God makes these categorial cups run over with glory in each individual's life, for life is repetition with difference, so we must never flatten redemptive history into a line or rob particulars of their particularity. How is Joseph a type of Christ in a way that Benjamin isn't? If Solomon is a new Adam, what makes him greater than Adam? Christ recapitulates Adam and Israel, but in fulfilling these roles, does He not also exceed and redefine them? [source]

The Mighty Burden

A mysterious excerpt from a hidden manuscript written by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named:
With Rieff, we can well ask, Where are the priests? Who is manning the boundaries?

And the answer is that this dimension of pastoral ministry has all but evaporated. Pastors see themselves as proponents of Christianity, teaching "religious" things or assisting people on their personal spiritual journeys. Pastors have lost any sense that they are overseers of a new city and that they thererfore have responsibilities for governance.

In part, this is an effect of the degeneration of the pastoral vocation. If the tension between duty and desire has lost its existential edge in the twenty-first century, it is not because desire has become more vigorous. Instead, the tension has eased because duty has been collapsed into desire. Since Hume, moderns have been forbidden to derive an "ought" from an "is," but it has become second nature to derive an "ought" from a "feels." The consequences lie strewn on the surface of today's social landscape, too obvious to require enumeration.

Historically, a pastoral candidate's desires often had little to do with the Church's call to service in pastoral office. Far from seeking out positions of leadership, the greatest of the church fathers resisted with all their strength. Augustine had to be dragged into the cathedral for his ordination to the bishopric of Hippo. When he was a deacon, John Chrysostom made a pact with a friend that they would enter the priesthood together, but when the friend went forward John was nowhere to be found. Martin of Tours was carried from his cell and conducted to his ordination under guard. Gregory the Great, so we are told by his earliest biographer, fled from Rome to hide in the woods when rumours began to circulate that he was being considered for bishop. A humble anchorite saw in a vision where Gregory was hiding, and the Romans trooped out to bring him back for ordination. Calvin was persuaded to remain in Geneva only because Farel's warnings made leaving even more terrifying than staying. So common was such resistance to ordination that as late as the nineteenth century the patriarchs-elect of Alexandria were led to their ordination wearing shackles.

In the modern church, calling has been reduced to little more than a strong desire to hold position of ecclesiastical leadership. The terror of responsibility for the Church described by many of the leading pastoral writers if earlier centuries is seldom expressed during ordination exams. Candidates with even slight reservations about entering into the ministry are treated with more than a little suspicion.

This dramatic shift in the Church's understanding of calling is part and parcel of what David F. Wells has identified as the professionalization of the clergy, the reduction of the ministry to technical and managerial competence. Pastoral ministry, Wells charges, has been detached from its theological moorings, and has become another career option for the upwardly mobile "helping professional." One might well recoil from a duty imposed by divine vocation; but one aggressively markets oneself for a career. It is no accident that so many pastors disdain the clerical collar, which is, after all, the collar of the slave.

The Church will find herself in a healthier, if more intense and serious, condition when pastoral candidates begin again to appear for their ordination exams wearing chains.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vos on the Distinction between the Reformed and the Lutherans

Read this in a really interesting essay on the "Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology" from Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (pp. 246-247). The paragraph is long, and Vos' prose can be tedious at times, but for what it's worth, it does seem to highlight an important advantage the Reformed have over the Lutherans (though I'd be interested to hear some Lutheran feedback on the issue).
VosLet us now consider how the requirement of God's honor is reckoned with in this doctrine of the covenant of redemption. After the fall man will never again be able to work in a manner pleasing to God except a completed work of God be performed on his behalf. Earning eternal life has forever been taken out of his hands. Everything that subjectively happens within him can only be a principle and phenomenon of eternal life itself and in no way a prerequisite for eternal life. The obtaining of eternal life thus comes to lie in God, as a work that is His alone, in which His glory shines and of which nothing, without detracting from that glory, can be attributed to the creature. On this point the entire Reformation, both Lutheran and Calvinist, took exception to Rome, which failed to appreciate this fundamental truth. Yet the reasons which had driven both sides to this protest were different. With Luther it was the thirst for peace and stability for a restless conscience which could find no tranquility in Rome's salvation by works. As long as the sinner himself has to do something for his acquittal, his work remains unstable. Thus the sola fide became the shibboleth of the German Reformation, justification, its principle doctrine. One will agree that, despite all the purity with which this doctrine develops and in which, in developed form, it is given anew to the church, the highest point is still not reached, namely that point from which the Scripture itself views the matter when, in the words of Paul, it sees the heart of Abraham's faith in his "giving God the glory" (Romans 4:20). Even in its doctrine of justification Lutheranism did not catch hold of this idea in its fulness. Not a purely theological, but a partly anthropological motif ran through it. It was different with the Reformed. They, too, felt the same necessity to leave the waves of Rome's salvation by works and once again stand on solid ground. But beside and behind this necessity there lay a deeper longing: a thirst for the glory of God that did non primarily meditate on its own peace. When the Reformed takes the obtaining of salvation completely out of man's hands, he does this so that the glory which God gets from it might be uncurtailed. What is more important for him is the realization that God glorifies Himself in the salvation of sinners, whereas the Lutheran is satisfied when it merely becomes evident that man brings nothing of his own instability into the picture. For the Reformed the center of gravity does not lie in justification as such, but in the principle by which the latter is to be judged and which the Scripture everywhere applies when it teaches us to regard the work of salvation in its totality as being exclusively a work of God. [source]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Parable Explained

The Eucharist, being that moment when the Word heard becomes the Word embodied and consumed, that moment of feasting together upon the Body of Christ (under the form of Bread and Wine) as the Body of Christ gathered to give thanks, that moment when the Holy Communion of Saints gather to partake in Holy Communion, that moment when the Lord's People gather on the Lord's Day to partake of the Lord's Supper, is the consummation of Christian Liturgy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

34.2 Miles

This is what Nick and I did today.
And hardly without incident, too. I snapped the brake line to my front tire and my rear brake barely worked at all, so we had to stop at a bike shop on the way home (so as to keep me from getting hit by a car). They fixed me up pretty good, after giving me a good shaming for letting the poor girl really let herself go over the past fifteen years or so.

Friday, July 3, 2009

MJ/WH Intertextuality

Am I the only person in the world who noticed that
I have the stuff that you want; I am the thing that you need
from "Dirty Diana" shows up five years later as
I've got the stuff that you want; I've got the thing that you need
in "Queen of the Night"?

I mean, quibble if you want with the slight differences between the two, but the rhythmic similarities and common aural tone really betray some sort of intentional link (conscious or otherwise).