Posted on: November 21st, 2007 Pubs in Heaven?

On the flight back from San Diego yesterday my friend Nathan and I had a feisty but friendly little debate / conversation about the relationship between church (as eucharistic community), heaven (which, as de Lubac points out on page 113 of Catholicism, has always been “looked on under the analogy of a city”), and the larger culture of human civilization within time (what Catherine Pickstock might describe as “the liturgical city”).

Nathan seemed to come close to denying that there is some kind of overflow from the eucharist to the larger culture. I replied that for Thomas it was important that the Eucharist presupposes and relies upon a whole economy of farming, trade, exchange: “grape and grain” as I have heard Catherine Pickstock put it. One might also remember the OT imagery, rich in the prophetic literature, of the rivers flowing out from the Temple on Zion (here an ectype of Eden) into the rest of the outlying land, particularly to the East, one might imagine.

This led to a conversation on the nature of heaven. I said, “I really want to sit down and have a pint with Ignatius, and ask him, ‘What was it like when they were dragging you through all those cities to your death in Rome?'” Nathan replied something to the effect of, “You won’t have a pint in heaven with Ignatius b/c ‘pintness’ will be utterly fulfilled in your full unity within the trinity, together with Ignatius. There won’t be pints — or pubs — in heaven.”

Nor, he argued, as the discussion continued, will there be parks or museums or hike & bike trails or cigar lounges. We discussed NT Wright and how there is something in his eschatology (perhaps it is too millenarian?; perhaps it is not “performative” enough?) which disallows him to see that, as de Lubac says, creation is a prelude to redemption.

And yet, this somehow seems deficient to me. Surely creation (bodies, eating, dancing, wine, etc.) will never be eclipsed, but rather fulfilled, albeit in ways that we cannot possibly imagine.

I must admit that, while I still want there to be a “both / and” somewhere in all this (“both” pubs in the new heavens and the new earth “and” mystical, eternal perichoretic participation in the full unity of the Triune God … “both” the ultimacy of the eucharistic inbreaking of that reality “and” Pickstock’s liturgical city in a way that has medieval Christendom as a precedent), the following quotation from Gregory of Nyssa seems to favor Nathan’s perspective:

Far from remaining separate, all will become a single entity, since they are united to that Good which is one alone; so that, bound together by the bond of peace, in the words of the Apostle, in the unity of the Spirit, all will be one body and one spirit, by reason of the hope in which they were called. And it is in the bond of unity that glory consists.

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Posted on: November 18th, 2007 Encouragement for Pastors (like me)

“The pastoral ministry is too adventuresome and demanding to be sustained by trivial, psychological self-improvement advice. What pastors, as well as the laity they serve, need is a theological rationale for ministry which is so cosmic, so eschatological, and therefore countercultural, that they are enabled to keep at Christian ministry in a world determined to live as if God were dead. Anything less misreads both the scandal of the gospel and the corruption of our culture.” — Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens 145

This self-interested motivation is precisely one of the reasons I insist on preaching and teaching the theology of the likes of NT Wright, Radical Orthodoxy, and the Federal Vision. Without such a cosmic, eschatological, countercultural perspective, ministry in this world would be just too depressing.

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Posted on: November 18th, 2007 Deification & Scripture

John Milbank says that Henri de Lubac sees the Christian understanding of the supernatural (supernaturalis / hyperphues) as infused with “the new Christian understanding of salvation as deification.” For de Lubac (and Danielou) “it was important to show that the authentic Latin patristic understanding of the operation of grace (especially that of Augustine) was not essentially different from the Greek patristic notion of deification.” (The Suspended Middle 16)

(I might add that David Bradshaw would probably take issue with de Lubac here; see this post.)

Does the Bible teach deification? There are several places to look, but it seems to me that 2 Pet 1:3-4 comes about as close as any to an all-out statement of deification or theosis:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

Part of what is so intriguing about this text is the use of “divine nature” (theias physews), a use of physis with few (if any) parallels or precedents in the NT.

If, however, this passage cannot simply be read as an affirmation of the theosis, then is there some other set of texts, or some other hermeneutic reality, from which the affirmation of deification does arise? At this level, one wants to resist a simplistic version of sola scriptura.

Discussing this very passage in the context of Romans 5:5 (“God has shed is love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit”), Gregory of Nyssa says:

Paul calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Love; it is said of God himself that he is love, and the Son is called the Son of Love. Now … if this is so we should be certain that both the Son and the Holy Spirit come from that one foundation of Godhead which is the Fatherhood of God, and that of his abundance bounteous love is infused into the very heart of the saints so as to make them partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter the Apostle taught. And this is so, so that by this gift of the Holy Spirit there may be fulfilled the words of our Lord, ‘That they may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee. That is to say: Let them be made partakers of the divine nature in the abundance of love diffused by the Holy Spirit.”

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Posted on: November 18th, 2007 _Aristotle East & West_ (review for _WTJ_)

The story of the development of the Christian doctrine of God, beginning with the doctrinal disputes of the fourth century, is long and complex. Certain key themes, however, emerge again and again: ousia, hypostasis, energeia among the most important. In this book Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw lucidly and compellingly deals with all of them, focusing particularly, however, on the ancient concept of energeia (i.e., the “energies” of God), genealogically tracing its evolution from Aristotle through the Medieval Greek speaking theologian Gregory Palamas.

Readers will find the book immensely relevant to such discussions as the relationship between faith and reason (which, according to Bradshaw, has been rent in the West but held intact in Eastern Christianity); the pervasive influence of ancient Greek thought upon Christian theology; the origins of modern, western nihilism; and the nature of the theological issues dividing Eastern and Western branches of the Christian church.

The primary thesis of the book, attempting to indict central streams of Western Christianity in one grand sweep, is that the West, beginning with Augustine, has failed to assimilate the Greek understanding of God’s energeia, a failure due in part to the exigencies of language (none of the major Latin renderings of this term – operatio, actus, and actualitas – fully capture its semantic nuances), in part to historical accident (e.g., Augustine had access only to certain “Neo-Platonist” philosophers), in part due to more pernicious reasons such as Augustine’s absolutization of Plato’s version of divine simplicity unique to his middle dialogues.

Of particular interest is the way in which Greek and Latin theology received the classical heritage. It is perhaps tempting for many to assume that the Greek speaking East is somehow more saturated with Greek thought, but this is not the case: “It is only by seeing both the eastern and western traditions as developments out of a shared heritage in classical metaphysics that they can be properly understood.” (xii)

The book is divided into five parts: the development of energeia from Aristotle through Plotinus (chs. 1- 4; note that this includes Paul’s letters, in which ten occurrences of the term are treated in the book); preliminary developments in the West (ch. 5); preliminary developments in the East (ch. 6); the growth of the Eastern tradition (chs. 7 – 8); and a systematic comparison of Augustine, Aquinas, and Palamas (ch. 9).

Beyond the general point that Christian notions of teleology have their roots in Aristotle, Bradshaw’s articulation of Aristotle’s doctrine of God (i.e., the Prime Mover) already foreshadows how the West has (allegedly) impaired the right use of ancient thought. For Bradshaw shows us how Aristotle’s theos is not simply transcendent (as he is usually viewed in the West) but also radically immanent in his relation to the world (the first heavens, for example, being moved as objects of the Prime Mover’s love). Bradshaw rehearses various other modes of participation between the creation and the divine (with energeia acting as a connecting thread) in the thought of the Hellenistic schools, Philo of Alexandria, and especially Plotinus, whose theory of two acts proved to be formative for subsequent thought. Of particular note here is the development of the concept of theurgy beginning with Porphyry but truly coming into its own in the philosophic outlook of his disciple Iamblichus, those thought – significantly – remained virtually unknown in the West.

Moving to a treatment of these ideas in a specifically Christian context, the influence of energeia is exerted most fully in the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth century. Among the most important examples is the Neo-Platonist logic behind Athanasius’ theological critique of Egyptian bishop Serapion’s denial of the deity of the Holy Spirit. Well known is Athanasius’ affirmation that “the external works of the Trinity are undivided” (in Latin, Opera ad extra trinitatis indivisa sunt.). Less appreciated is that this doctrine relies on a philosophical presupposition of Neo-Platonism: that energeia is revelatory of essence implying in this case that if we know that the three persons of the Trinity perform their works (Greek energeiai) in unison, then we know (or so Neo-Platonist thinking would hold) that their ousia must be unitary as well. In this way Serapion’s theology is demonstrated to fall short of Scriptural implications.

Here lies the primary benefit of this book. Modern western Christians of an orthodox persuasion readily accept Athanasius’ conclusions here (and elsewhere), but ought we to embrace the Greek presuppositions upon which these conclusions depend? For these presuppositions, Bradshaw shows, lead to some rather far reaching consequences, most of which center on the ancient understanding of methexis or participation (at this point the book traffics in the domain of the theological development known as Radical Orthodoxy, with its insistence on the centrality of participation in the Christian life). God mysteriously interacts with his creation in ways that shed new light on such things as the body’s role in prayer (just as the energies mitigate against a God / world dualism, so also do they mitigate against a mind / body, or even a soul / body dualism), the nature of the sacraments (the main connection here being that of theurgy), and the meaning of sanctification (hence the Orthodox understanding of theosis).

Critical reaction to this book centers on three basic points:

First, Bradshaw’s (indeed that of the mainstream Orthodox tradition) reading of Neo-Platonist teaching in the writings of St. Paul needs justification. To load, for example, Paul’s use of energeia in Ephesians 1:19 with classical philosophical meaning seems a bit suspect. What might be the Hebraic background of this idea? Even if such a query lies outside the scope of Bradshaw’s book, this is a question that must asked when grappling with these issues. (To say this is not to totalize authorial intent at the expense of other interpretive postures: such ecclesial and corporate “reader response” may well be legitimate, especially given the dual authorship of Scripture, but such a move ought at least to be explicitly articulated and examined.)

Second, Bradshaw’s genealogy of western nihilism as stemming from Augustine is tenuous (although shared with other compelling Orthodox theologians such as Christos Yannaras). It is true that Western theology and practice is more centralized, monarchical, and centered on the impersonal ousia of God (seen in the papal tendencies of Rome) than the Eastern commitment to the equal ultimacy of the tri-personhood of God. And yet, one must strain to trace modern nihilism in the west all the way back to a supposed Augustinian source. More plausible, it seems to me, is the genealogy of nihilism put forth by Radical Orthodoxy, beginning as it does with Duns Scotus and late medieval nominalism.

Third, the same objections to this account of the divine energies tend to crop up over and over again throughout the history of the church: that this view of God’s energeia reifies what are properly merely logical distinctions, that it compromises the simplicity of God, and that it comes dangerously close to pantheism. To his credit Bradshaw does not avoid these criticism, engaging as he does in a lengthy response to one of the more recent critiques of this Neo-Platonist heritage, that of Rowan Williams. And despite the fact that Williams has modified his views on this particular issue, Bradshaw does overcome several real objections.

However, Bradshaw does not sufficiently bring out the fact that, in all likelihood, important figures usually associated with Eastern Orthodoxy would likely have objections to this view, wanting to protect the simplicity of God. In particular, to say that God decides something other than what he is does not seem to be consistent with the Cappadocian Fathers or Maximus. This, of course, does not mean that it is not true, but nevertheless full context here would be helpful.

This book is the product of a lucid mind and a faithful imagination engaged with his tradition and is worthy of deep respect.

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Posted on: November 17th, 2007 _Catholicism_ (IV): The Church as the Body of Christ

The key word in this section is the word “analogy.” I once heard RC Sproul say that “theology is the making of distinctions.” As important as distinctions are, however, I would argue, and de Lubac and others would agree, that to think theologically is to think analogically. The analogies which help us understand what the church is proliferate:

First, the church is like the human body. That is to say, the church is decidedly eschatological in its nature. Just as the human body which I now am will one day be transformed into a more glorious resurrection body (analogous, by the way, to the body of the man Jesus Christ) so also the visible, embodied church of today will one day be transformed and transfigured into something far more glorious, in full consummation with Jesus Christ. In this connection, de Lubac stresses that the church is not merely a vestibule of the Heavenly city / church, any more than the tabernacle was a mere vestibule of the temple of the old covenant of Israel. Augustine: “The church of today is the kingdom of Christ and the heavenly kingdom.” (Is this, perhaps, included in what BB Warfield rejected when he described Calvinism as “the triumph of Augustine’s soteriology over his ecclesiology?” I suspect that it is.)

Second, the church is like Christ. In Christology we reject, on the one hand, the monophysite tendency to merge or to confuse the two natures of Christ that form the duality of his person, and on the other hand the Nestorian tendency to separate those two natures thereby destroying the unity of the person of Christ. In precisely the same way, in ecclesiology we reject the tendency, on one hand, to separate the visible, embodied church from its eschatological fulfillment as well as its mystical divinity (not to mention its eschatological fulfillment, present in an “already / not-yet” way), and on the other hand to simply identify the visible, embodied church with its mystical divinity. There is some kind of hypostatic union going on here just as in the person of Christ. De Lubac suggests that these two reductionistic tendencies, being the two halves of a false dichotomy, include one another, and that Protestant theology / ecclesiology is guilty of both of them.

Finally, the church is (like) a sacrament. Christ is the sacrament of God, and the church is the sacrament of Christ, making him fully present in the world. “She not only carries on his work, but is his very continuation, in a sense far more real than in which it can be said that any human institution is its founder’s continuation.” (p 76)

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Posted on: November 16th, 2007 _Catholicism_ (III): Israel according to the Spirit

A couple of excerpts serve to summarize this portion of chapter 2, “The Church:”

Thus, just as the Jews put all their trust for so long not in an individual reward beyond the grave but in their common destiny as a race and in the glory of their earthly Jerusalem, so for the Christian all his hope must be bent on the coming of the Kingdom and the glory of the one Jerusalem; and as Yahweh bestowed adoption on no individual as such, but only insofar as he bestowed universal adoption on the people of the Jews, so the Christian obtains adoption only in proportion as he is a member of that social structure brought to life by the Spirit of Christ.”

Where Christ is, and there alone, can be found the true Israel, and it is only through incorporation in Christ that participation in the blessings of Abraham may be obtained.” (This is a quotation from Irenaeus, Against Heresies.)

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Posted on: November 14th, 2007 Limping Toward the Grave

In his essay “Merit versus Maturity: What did Christ do for Us?” James Jordan provocatively suggests that, from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, Man (Adam) was supposed to lay down his life for his wife. Reading Scripture with Scripture, it makes a lot of sense to see the First Man (Rom 5:12ff) as called to defend his bride against evil and danger by sacrificing his own life. Had the man done this, then surely God would have raised him from the dead and ushered him, together with his wife, into a new, more real, more glorious way of life and state of existence.

Tim Keller’s understanding of the story in Genesis 32 comports interestingly with this view of the central role of death in the Christian life, albeit in a different context, that of prayer. Preaches Keller (in his sermon “Thy Kindgom; Thy Will,” preached in 1995):

[Jacob] spent most of his life lying & cheating to get what he wanted, and never being happy. Never getting the wife he wanted, the career he wanted. Never getting what he wanted. And he was always fighting with his father & with his uncle & he was always fighting and lying and cheating. And he was always unhappy. One night he was out in the desert alone, and a mysterious stranger pounced on him, and began to wrestle with him. Now, Jacob began to wrestle back. And they wrestled all night. Hours went by. And we understand from the text that Jacob suddenly realized who he was wrestling with. This was not an ordinary human being. This was God himself, come to wrestle with Jacob. And Jacob suddenly had an epiphany, a flash of recognition. Suddenly his whole life flashed before his eyes and he realized that, his whole life, he had not really been fighting with his father, or brother, or uncle. He had been fighting with God.

And right now, he was in the ultimate dream. He had the opportunity to “pin God.” “Finally I will get from God what I deserve,” he thought. “Finally, the blessings I have always wanted.”

That’s how most people see prayer. The opportunity to pin God, to come to God and say, “I have been a Christian for five years, and I have said no to all kinds of temptations all over the place and I insist that you give me this day my daily bread.” That’s pinning God. My will be done. Look what I’ve done.

Jacob says, “I’ve got the opportunity to pin God,” and he wrestles and he struggles and struggles and it seems like, gosh, he’s making some progress, but at one point in the night the mystical stranger shows how much power he really has, and that he has not really been using any of it. He reaches out and he touches Jacob’s thigh and his thigh goes absolutely dead. And Jacob is permanently crippled.

Suddenly Jacob realizes the folly of trying to wrestle God into submission to his will, but, he does not let go. A change happens in him, an ultimate change. Now, blinded with tears and absolutely lame, he’s still holding on, and you know he says now? He says, “Bless me.” And God says, “The sun is about to rise and you are not able to see my face.” Jacob says, “I want you to bless me, I want to see your face.” God says, “No, you can’t. It will kill you. But, today I give you a new name, because you have finally been changed,” showing that Jacob had just been reborn at that moment.

“I give you a new name. You used to be called “Jacob,” but now you are called “Israel,” which means ‘you have triumphed.’ You have wrestled with God, and you have triumphed.” And then he disappears.

You might be thinking, “What?! He has triumphed!? He was lame the rest of his life! Triumphed?! How could he have triumphed?”

The point is that Jacob finally figured out what life was all about. Life is not about getting things from God. It is about getting God. And he changed from saying “I’m gonna pin God. God, give me blessings.” to finally saying, “All I really need is God. All I want is you. In your face I’ll have everything.”

You see, God is saying, “I don’t want you to seek things; I want you to seek me. And I don’t want you to give me your requests until you have given me yourself. I don’t want your requests. I want you. And I don’t want you primarily to be asking for things. I want you to be asking for me.”

And until Jacob realized that, there was no freedom in his life. Don’t you see? Prayer is the victory of the lame. prayer is the victory of the losers. The ones who surrenders and says, “Thy will be done. If I can just have you. If I can just please you. If I can just have you, then all the other requests are just gravy. And when Jacob realized that, God turned around and he said, “At last. I have been waiting all your life. I’ve been waiting to hear you say that. Now you’ve triumphed.”

What it means to say, “Thy will be done” is to say “Lord if I can only have you. If I have you and nothing else, that’s enough. I mainly want you, and I mainly want to give you me, in this prayer.”

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Posted on: November 9th, 2007 Best All-time Luther Quotation

“I did not learn my theology all at once, but I had to search deeper for it, where my temptations took me. … Not understanding, reading, or speculation, but living—nay, dying and being damned—make a theologian.”

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Posted on: November 9th, 2007 Gregory of Nyssa on the Great Miracle of the Cross

There were at that time all kinds of miracles: God on the Cross, the sun darkened … the veil of the temple rent … water and blood flowing from his side, the earth quaking, stones breaking, the dead rising…. Who can extol such wonders? But one is to be compared with the miracle of my salvation: minute drops of blood making the world new, working the salvation of all men, as the drops of fig-juice one by one curdle the milk, reuniting mankind, knitting them together as one.”

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Posted on: November 9th, 2007 _Catholicism_ (II): the Fathers on Sin as Individualization

For those of you who have read William Cavanaugh on the rise of the modern nation state, this will sound familiar.

In addition, this comports quite nicely with John Zizioulas’ theology of person (prosopon / hypostasis) in Being and Communion, where he teaches that there is really no such thing as a solitary individual, but only persons, who are always already in relationship with others, imaging the triune life of God.

According to de Lubac, if Adam / the human race was created as an integral whole (thus reflecting the unity of God), as the last post argues, then the fall must mean a shattering of that unity.

Thus, de Lubac shows (pp 33ff) how, according to the Fathers, Adam’s sin is about the break up of the human race as much as anything else.

In discussing the fall of man, de Lubac offers the following quotations:

“Where there is sin, there is multiplicity.” – Origen

“And now, we rend each other like wild beasts.” – Maximus

“Satan has broken us up.” – Cyril of Alexandria

“Adam himself is therefore now spread out over the whole face of the earth. Originally one, he has fallen, and, breaking up as it were, he has filled the whole earth with pieces.” – Augustine

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Posted on: November 9th, 2007 _Catholisicm_ (I): the Fathers on the Unity of God(‘s Image)

For the next few weeks I plan to blog about Henri de Lubac’s _Catholicism_, this text being so important for a proper understanding of the corporate / social / political character of salvation and the church. As we will see, de Lubac’s command of theologians who have gone before him is masterful, and the majority of the ink he spills in his books is either paraphrasing them or directly quoting from them, especially from the church fathers.

John Milbank describes this work, a “foundational” text for the ressourcement theology of the first half of the 20th century, as stressing “the social character of the church as the true universal community in embryo, rather than as a mere external machinery for the saving of individual souls.” (John Milbank, The Suspended Middle 2)

From pp. 30-32 of Catholicism:

“So when the pagan philosophers jeered at what they considered the extravagant claim put forward by Christians, those latest barbarians, of uniting all men in the same faith [as did Celsus, in Origen, Contra Celsum … or Porphyry, Ad Marsellam. It must be added that Origen himself sees very well the obstacles to such unity, to the point of conceding that it can never be fully achieved in this world. Yet he knows that there is complicity between the deepest nature of man and the law of the Logos, which is none other than the religion of Christ.], it was easy for the Fathers to answer them that this claim was not, after all, so extravagant, since all men were made in the one image of the one God…. In the language of the first centuries Adam was not generally called the “father of the human race;” he was only the “first made,” “the first begotten by God,” as is recalled by the final sentences, so solemnly in their simplicity, of the genealogy of Jesus according to Luke: “who was of Henos, who was of Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.” To believe in this one God was, therefore, to believe at the same time in a common Father of all: unus Deus et Pater omnium [here de Lubac footnotes, among other sources, Acts 17:26-28].

Again and again Irenaeus dwells on this dual correspondence:

“There is but one God the Father, and one Logos the Son, and one Spirit, and one salvation only for all who believe in him…. There is but one salvation as there is but one God…. There is one only Son who fulfills the will of the Father, and one human race in which the mysteries of God are fulfilled.” [from Adv. Heareses]

Clement of Alexandria, in pages brimming over with poetry, after exposing the baseness of the pagan mystery cults, extols the mysteries of the Logos and displays the “divine Choregus” calling all men to him:

“Be instructed in these mysteries and you shall dance with the choir of angels before the uncreated God, whilst the Logos will sing the sacred hymns with us. This eternal Jesus, the one high priest, intercedes for men and calls on them: “Hearken,” he cries, “all you peoples, or rather all you who are endowed with reason, barbarians or Greeks! I summon the whole human race, I who am its author by the will of the Father! Come unto me and gather together as one well-ordered unity under the one God, and under the one Logos of God.” [from Protreptic]”

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Posted on: November 9th, 2007 Martin Luther Quotations

 “We are beggars. This is true.” (Luther’s last words)

“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong. Sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”

“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

“The fewer the words, the better the prayer.”

“Reason is the enemy of faith.”

“There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow.”

“Christians are rare people on earth.”

“Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail”

“I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understandingsharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.”

“Who loves not women, wine and song, Remains a fool his whole life long.”

“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”

“Medicine makes people ill, mathematics makes them sad, and theology makes them sinful.”

“The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been spared?”

“Who waits until circumstances completely favor his undertaking will never accomplish anything.”

“Faith does not inquire whether there are good works to be done, but even before asking questions, faith has done the works already.”

“He who believes in God is not careful for the morrow, but labors joyfully and with a great heart. “For He giveth His beloved, as in sleep.” They must work and watch, yet never be careful or anxious, but commit all to Him, and live in serene tranquility; with a quiet heart, as one who sleeps safely and quietly.”

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Posted on: November 8th, 2007 Mother Kirk

Turretin follows Calvin and Cyprian and many others:

“The church is the primary work of the Holy Trinity…. since there is no salvation out of the church…nothing ought to be dearer to our hearts than that this mother may be known.” — Francis Turretin

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Posted on: November 8th, 2007 Westminster & Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness

I hesitate even to talk about this on my blog, since “outsiders” to the micro-debates of the PCA (and, dare I say it, the Reformed tradition) might feel alienated or not be able to connect.

Nevertheless, I do want to comment on an interesting article by Jeffrey K. Jue: “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Westminster Standards.”

Jue apparently thinks that the (Reformed) Church should not allow its ministers to deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the believer. But his article proves just the opposite. By excellently summarizing the debate held on the floor of the Assembly, with plenty of quotations on both sides of the issue, Jue demonstrates that Richard Vines and Thomas Gataker both staunchly denied that the Bible teaches that the active (meritorious) obedience of Christ is imputed to the believer.

In addition, despite the fact that Gataker and Vines were in the minority on this opinion, Jue cannot deny that it was their (and perhaps others’, such as Richard Baxter’s) objection which led to the final, open-to-interpretation wording of the Confession itself, specifically the omission of the word “whole” in describing the obedience of Christ which is imputed to the believer in WCOF 11:1. (See Daniel Kirk’s article, “The Sufficiency of the Cross” in the Scottish Bulletin of Theology.)

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Posted on: November 7th, 2007 McLaren, Milbank, & Changing the Church

Today I picked up a copy of, and started reading, Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change.

First impression: I can’t help noticing a familiar vibe, reminiscent of John Shelby Spong’s Why Christianity Must Change or Die, which I read several years ago in college.

McLaren (typical of other “emergent” authors such as Donald Miller) offers a passionate call for believers to reject “mainstream” patterns of Christianity. In particular “emergent” authors have done a great job of conceiving of and articulating the meaning of the Bible in narratival ways.

However, as best I can tell, there is minimal ecclesiology (including as pertains to the sacraments and liturgy) in McLaren’s approach.

The radical act that Christians are called up on to perform is to believe more “wildly,” rejecting the “framing narratives” that dominate our culture.

A superior alternative to the program of the Emergent Church leaders is that of Radical Orthodoxy, with its emphasis on liturgy, participation, and the genealogy of nihilism. Drawing on the deep pre-modern roots of the faith, RO is able to offer a critique of postmodern secularity which “emergent” theology cannot.

For an excellent introduction to Radical Orthodoxy, listen to this.

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Posted on: November 7th, 2007 Global Anglican Communion

My dad (a parishioner at the Falls Church) was in Austin with us a few days ago.

The impetus for my thinking about these things was a conversation he & I had, in which he sort of represented TFC’s perspective on how things are shaking out globally in the Anglican Communion.

So, Bishop Robert Duncan is actually, as of the last week or so, formally leading the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church. That is truly a new and unique development of historical proportions, especially since he is one of the “Camp Allen Bishops,” together with the Bishop of Texas, Don Wimberly.

Meanwhile, the Global South Primates have denounced what the House of Bishops said (based on the report given by the Communion Sub-group of the Joint Standing Committee to the Archbishop of Canterbury) in New Orleans in late September.

So we await the Primates’ response to New Orleans.

Based solely on the constitution / polity of ECUSA, ought they to submit to the Primates? Maybe not.

But do the bonds of peace outweigh the constitutional stuff? Yes. All sides would agree, I would hope.

The real question, putting it charitably is: “To the extent that ECUSA really believes that it needs to prophetically minister to gays & lesbians, will that commitment outweigh its commitment to global unity?”

My default position in all of this is that the Windsor Report is spot on, and that the Episcopal Church should submit fully to it, as the Camp Allen bishops say.

However, if the Episcopal House of Bishops were to argue in a unified way that this is an unacceptable encroachment on their independence and autonomy, I think that would then open up a quite intriguing conversation about the way we conceive of the church in the USA.

In other words, this whole debate, the impetus (“presenting issue” is the language of the Windsor report) of which was issues related to human sexuality, might be about the practice of “American religion” as much as it is about anything else.

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Posted on: November 7th, 2007 Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott has a new book out which I have not yet read.

I love, though, this paragraph from her Plan B:

You’ve got to love this in a God — consistently assembling the motleyest people to bring, into the lonely and freightening world, a commitment to caring and community. It’s a centuries-long reality show — Moses the stutterer, Rahab the hooker, David the adulterer, Mary the homeless teenager. Not to mention all the mealy-mouthed disciples. Not to mention a raging insecure narcissist like me.”

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Posted on: November 6th, 2007 “Books, Books, & More Books!”

Bella on a date with Daddy at Barnes & Noble.


bella & book, 2bella & book, 3bella & book, 1



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Posted on: November 6th, 2007 Welcome Back, Self.

It has been six months since my last blog post. (Thanks to Tommy Crawford for helping to resurrect my blog.) A lot has happened in six months:

  1. I traveled to England and met three of my favorite theological thinkers: Andrew Louth, Catherine Pickstock, and John Milbank. This was a wonderful and quite helpful time for me. I spent about an hour with Andrew Louth, about two hours with Catherine Pickstock, and about four hours with John Milbank. While I have decided not to pursue graduate work at this time, nevertheless the conversations and relationships that began clearly showed me a theological and relational trajectory that I need to follow. I am so psyched that John Milbank has traded several email with me before and after our meeting, some of which are really really long! I will never forget the tour of Southwell Cathedral he gave me, especially our conversation about the Green Man, of which there are many in the 13th century chapter house of the minster.
  2. My wife got pregnant! (Yeah!)  When we went to the oldest pub in Europe, “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem,” Bouquet sat in a chair inside the pub above which a sign reads, “Warning: Legend has it that any woman who sits in this chair will become pregnant shortly thereafter.” My wife sat in the chair, wiggled around and (partly due to the fervent prayer of dear friends) tested positive for pregnancy the day we arrived back in Austin from the UK.
  3. I survived summer Greek at UT. This 12-semester hour course in classical Greek (which meets 30 hours / week for class, on top of necessary studying) was one of the highlights of my life. We read Herodotus, Lysius (“sophist” who figures prominently in Plato’s Phaedrus), Homer, tragedian Euripedes, and Plato’s Apology, about the trial of Socrates.
  4. The PCA General Assembly took a horribly depressing action in its meeting this summer. Swayed by an emotional appeal to fear by RC Sproul (one factor among many) the General Assembly passed an overture which in effect condemns the theological position of the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” (one of whose chief proponents is Bishop NT Wright) as well as the “Auburn Avenue” theology, otherwise known as “the Federal Vision.” (Thankfully, our presbytery, the South Texas Presbytery of the PCA, decided to resist and to defeat an attempt to do something similar at the level of presbytery.)
  5. I firmed up my decision to leave Christ the King Church in my role as assistant pastor next summer, 2008. We will deeply miss our wonderful friends and brothers. We will also look forward to building the Kingdom, in concert with them, in new and different ways in the future. (More on that to come. Stay tuned.)
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