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Justification and Drivenness

May 28th, 2007

Wow, it would do some of our brethren well to listen to Tim Keller speak about the relationship of sabbath to justification.  A lack of understanding about justification leads to drivenness.  If we don’t know we are justified, we will be driven people looking for significance in what we accomplish.

“Luther on Christ’s death and substitution”, Trinitarian Theology, N. T. Wright

March 20th, 2007

I have been re-reading Luther on Galatians.  I read this the other day as he comments on 2:20:

“Faith also must be purely taught:namely, that you are so entirely joined to Christ, that he and you are made as it were one person; so that you may boldly say, I am now one with Christ, that is to say, Christ’s righteousness victory and life are mine.  And again Christ may say, I am that sinner, that is his sins and his death are Mine, because he is united and joined unto Me, and I to him.”

More theology from Mars

March 3rd, 2007

A good friend sent me this link.  This reminds me of my undergrad days studying under post-bultmannians.

Resurrection not essential? (More of Those Wacky Academics!)

by Dan Phillips

Remember the lively discussion we had about whether being able to wave around a doctoral sheepskin entitles one to a “pass” from the First and Second great commandments? (I argued for the “No” position.)

Today, I’m really wondering how those leaning in the opposite direction will, mm, “explain” the latest emulation from everyone’s favorite oil-and-water man, the Bishop of Durham, the Right Hon. Rev. Dr. Nicholas T. Wright.

Offered yet another opportunity to sound the trumpet with a clear and hard-hitting witness to the waiting world, here’s what Wright told The Australian (h-t James White), emphases and bracketed comments added:

“I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection,” he says carefully, citing another eminent scholar, American theologian Marcus Borg, co-author with Wright of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.

“But the view I take of them – and they know this – is that they are very, very muddled. They would probably return the compliment.

“Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. [My advice: don’t even try to make sense of those two statements. That way lies madness.] The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection. [In other words, Jesus and Paul were both wrong: some folks really do have a legitimate pretext for unbelief (John 9:41; 15:22-24; Romans 1:20; 3:19).]

“I actually think that’s a major problem and it affects most of whatever else he does, and I think that it means he has all sorts of flaws as a teacher, but I don’t want to say he isn’t a Christian. [Well, I guess if you don’t want to say something, and you’re an academic, you don’t have to… is that it?]

“I do think, however, that churches that lose their grip on the bodily resurrection are in deep trouble and that for healthy Christian life individually and corporately, belief in the bodily resurrection is foundational.” [But they can still love Jesus and believe passionately in Him… while calling Him a liar about arguably the central vindicating event of His earthly ministry.]

With our other recent discussion of Dynamic Equivalent versions fresh in my mind, I guess I have to allow that perhaps the good Bishop is reading out of a DE version of 1 Corinthians 15:14 that reads, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is not as helpful as it might be, but still healthy and foundational; and your faith is in deep trouble, though you can still love Jesus and believe in Him passionately.” Perhaps it also re-envisions verse 17 as really meaning, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith may still be passionate, and you can stop worrying about your sins.”

One must seriously ask the question: if Wright has a view of Christianity that pencils in the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an optional add-on, and embraces Marcus Borg as a “passionate” lover of Jesus… can there possibly be any doctrine that isn’t optional?

http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2006/04/resurrection-not-essential-more-of.html

Wow, we have an Obama discussion about Liberation Theology

March 3rd, 2007

Fox News tries to take on Barak Obama and fails. Again.

, , , , , , , , , , , Video of Hannity and Colmes trying to assert that Obamas church is part of a black separatist movement.
Result? Hannity simply doesn’t understand liberation theology.

Obama, Trinitarian Theology and Christianity

March 2nd, 2007

Barack Obama thanked God when he announced for president. Last night we learned that his God is the Black Theologian, James Cone’s “god”. He is the “god of the oppressed” be that latin, asian, indian or black. There is a distinct racist overtone in this theology, for which, Obama will publicly need to respond. That is informative and troubling. Informative because we know where Obama and his church stand on issues of historic Christian orthodoxy, troubling because he is so persuasive and charismatic in his demeanor. Watch as evangelicaldom in its short-sightedness relative to history of theology issues evaluates [and probably patronizes] him. I personally heard Cone in the ’70’s and read his stuff–Martin Luther, John Wesley and John Calvin–he ain’t.

February 7, Trinitarian Theology Blog Survey

February 8th, 2007

http://trinitarianunion.blogspot.com/index.html

Trinitarian Ruminations

The Gnostics spoke of God as the Demiurge and the most high God. But for the Gnostics, God the creator is evil, while the Logos and lower beings are not identical to God but are emanations which God uses to create because of his ultimate transcendence of his apathy towards creation. So the Gnostics formed their language of difference between god and his emanations by appropriating a standing language of energia, and dunamis which spoke of the power and attributes of God. Stating that there were differences of energies between the son and the Father, Arius argued that because of this it would be impossible for the Son to be God in the same way the Father was or even at all. For those qualities that would be essential for constituting deity the son or the Spirit could not be without. In light of this the Monarchians explained that there is not difference between the Father and the Son and this applied not only to their energies but also their being or hypostasis. In other words the Monarchians concluded about the identity of being and hypostasis from the identity of the energy in God. It was this that would give way to modalism and sabellianism, which the Father and the Son share all hypostatic properties and because of this are the same person.
Against this the church emphasized the hypostatic properties of the persons, which were not interchangeable and were unique to each one. Hence you had the dictum, whatever is not shared by all, is hypostatically united to 1 of the persons. So while the father and the son have all things in common, the hypostatic properties of Father and Son are unique and as such incommunicable. So the Father really exists and can be distinguished from the Son and likewise the Spirit from the Father and the Son. Hence the hypostatic properties of these two persons of the Holy Trinity are to be understood in terms of the Father being the Father and the Son being the Son and the fact that the manner of existence of the Son from the Father is specified by “birth” whereby the Father begets the Son, and the son is begotten by the Father. TO be born is the sons hypostatic property in relation to the Father, where to ‘give birth’ is the hypostatic property of the Father in relation to the son.
In other words the Trinitarian reality of the God head was a metaphysically established reality via ‘Economia’ which through the history of salvation showed us that God is triune.
The Apostolic Fathers offer helpful insights into the development of Biblical Trinitarian theology; though none explicitly stated the doctrine of the Trinity in its mature form, there were definitely themes which informed later Trinitarian articulation and can be understood from these later formulations to in fact hold seminally the Trinitarian reality. 1 Clement is said by Fortman to speak of the Father, of Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit which were coordinated together in an oath. The Oath is, “As God lives, and the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit.” (1st Clement 22:1). Fortman says of the previous, “Christ is not called God, but his divinity is implied by his coordination with God in the oath. Whether he is viewed as Son of God from eternity is not clear. The Holy Spirit is not called God, but His divinity and personality are implied by His coordination with the Father and the Son in the oath as the object of the faith and hope of the elect and in the attribution to him of the Divine function of inspiration.” (Forman, “The Triune God” pg. 38) Here we can see the echoes of scripture and the later dogmatic formulation. SO while someone may ask, was Clement a Trinitarian, we may respond that it would not be anachronistic to call him one because of the origination of his teaching from scripture. But if by the question we think of the doctrinal formulations of the early church, then we would have to appeal to anachronism and state that though in the mature sense no, it would be wrong to say that it is not seen in his writings or that his writing were not in some sense used in the later doctrinal formulations.
Ignatius of Antioch it is said delves deeper into the Trinitarian mystery than his predecessors, but he still did not have anything like a systematic theology developed in regards to the topic. Fortman again expresses that the fundamental methodology that was driving his theological formulations were economic considerations. Recognizing that God was manifest in the person of Christ, a economic consideration will move to structuring articulation from what is revealed in the saving economy to predication about God in esse. While Ignatius was concerned the most with Christ, whom he says was “from eternity with the Father and at last has appeared to us” (Magn 6:1) also reflects on the Holy Spirit and recognizes the Spirit as the principle of the Lords virginal conception and that through the Holy Spirit God confirmed his word to the churches. Fortman again writes, “It has been argued that for Ignatius there is no Trinity before the birth of Jesus, but before the birth there was only God and a pre-existent Christ, who is called either the Logos or the Holy Spirit. There is however, no solid evidence that Ignatius either in intention or in words made any such identification either in his letter to the Smyrnaeans or in that to the Magnesians. On the contrary when Ignatius writes that our God Jesus Christ was born of Mary and of the Holy Spirit, he seems to indicate that before this birth both our God Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit pre-existed distinctly and that there was a Trinity before his birth.” (Fortman, pg. 40)
I would be remiss if I did not look into the Trinitarian thought of Tertullian who is considered by some to have had a fairly profound effect on the Trinitarian thought of Augustine. Tertullian writing against Praxeas, seems to be battling a type of theological Trinitarianism that has affinities for Modalism which collapses the distinctions into each other, from which you derive a Patripassianism and other such heresies. So in his writings you get a direct refutation of this type of thinking and a direct Trinitarian direction that definitely sets the stage for other Fathers to come. Tertullian was the first to use the Trinitas and did a good deal of work in establishing the personal realities of each person. He writes, “The three are three not in condition but in degree; not in substance but in form; not in power, but in aspect; and of one substance, and of one condition and of one power, inasmuch as he is one God.” (AP 2 [PL 2:180]) Here is a foundational statement that reflects what would become standard definitional language in Trinitarian dialogue, that they are three but they are one in substance. As Letham says, “Tertullian coins a new vocabulary, a lasting tradition to the western church.” This is correct the language of Tertullian has been in some ways, with later modifications of course, considered properly orthodox in its formulation of the three persons and the one substance.
Quoting Letham again, he says about Tertullian, “The one God exists in three distinct persons. The names Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not ciphers, referring to the one God under different guises, but represent real, eternal distinctions. The Trinity does not subvert the monarchy. The numerical order and distribution of the Trinity, they assume to be a division of the Unity; whereas the unity which derives the Trinity out of itself is so far from being destroyed, that it is actually supported by it.” (Letham, “The Holy Trinity” pg. 98 Here you can seen Tertullian (through Letham) working to manifest the real ontological distinctions among the three persons while at the same time trying to unite these persons in an un-expressible unity. It is his language here that gives creedal formulation to the Trinitarian echoes that we have looked at thus far in the though of some of the earlier teachers and fathers.
Augustine was the one inheritor of the language, who was able, through use and pervasive theological influence to make it the standard for a large portion of Christendom. It should be noted that Augustine chronologically follows the Cappadocians and others in their theological formulations of person and triadology, and because of his knowledge of Greek (it was not very good) his insights are to some extent (a large extent maybe) innovative in their own way. Not to say that he did not inherit his Trinitarian theology from the deposit of faith that had been handed down through the church, but rather his illustrations and the relationship between the persons given is psychological relationships and the hypostatic relations between the Father Son and Spirit were never articulated in such a way before. It is this that has made him such a profound influence in the history of dogma, and has given his magisterial work, “De Trinitate” a lasting significance that can still be seen today in theological writings on the subject, or the material being produced yearly which gives attention to his thought on the Trinity.
It is said by Fortman that Augustine is not so much a controversialist, but truly contemplative and intensely personal. In the makeup of his work the first 7 chapters are given to establishing the doctrine of the Trinity according to the scriptures and the fathers and the last 8 he gives to analogies in which he thinks will add some light on the issue. Historically the doctrine of the Trinity had been approached from two different ways; one was to emphasize the persons, as it was the economical distinctions of the persons by which anyone even knew what the Trinity was. It was because of the plurality emphasis that a branch of Christendom (Orthodox) has been given the title of emphasizing the plurality at the sake of the unity. There was also the methodology of emphasizing the unity (though not eradicating the plurality) and finding in substance metaphysics a unifying feature that would help the three to coalesce into a unity. Augustine emphasizes the latter, “one divine nature subsisting in three persons.” SO his theologizing started by emphasizing the unity that existed among the persons through the sharing of the one divine nature. Thus in De Trinitate (DT from here on) he will unite the persons in unity of substance, which for Augustine also signifies unity of will (DT 2:9).So at any point in which one of the persons is working, it can also be stipulated that all of the other three persons are working as well. This can be seen in Tertullian’s use of ‘three persons” and “one power.” (A good book to read on dunamis and its use in the Trinitarian formulations is: “The Power of God” by Michael Barnes. Here he looks at Dunamis in its historical context and how exactly this word was employed by theologians to signify unity in the God head.)
Now in light of the theological methodology of Augustine, it has been said (Adolf Von Harnack), that Augustine’s theology represents a more acute form of modalism than it does an orthodox Trinitarian theology. Harnack states that only the mere assertion from Augustine that his theology is not Modalistic does not save it from the charge…any more than my assertion of “being a duck” makes me a duck. Augustine tried to jettison this complaint or at least unwittingly so, through his language of the three being “subsistent relations” within the one essence. Now this does not speak of relations as an ontological category of determinative being, but rather ‘relations’ refers to the distance or the relations that each of the persons sustain to the others. Hence the relation between the Father and the Son is that of Paternity and Filiation, and the relationship between the Father and Spirit and son is from procession. You can see how Augustine structured his theological methodology from a dialectical mindset where each person could and would be distinguished through his dialectical relation to the other persons. Oddly enough it is because of this reality that you find the Spirit in the thought of Augustine proceeding from the Father and the Son, because one again to keep from collapsing the distinctions between the persons into nothing there must be a way (in the thought of Augustine) to distinguish between the Son and the Spirit, hence the relation of origin and procession.
One of Augustine’s most famous illustrations is viewing the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son. Here and throughout the last 8 books of DT there is an emphasis on love and thought which Augustine thinks helps to structure and give illustrative manifestation of the Trinitarian reality. Whether or not one thinks that Augustine succeeded in his attempts, one must acknowledge the depth of his learning and the profundity of his thought on Christendom in general and the west in particular.

Most Recent blog post on Trinitarian theology

January 23rd, 2007

Theology and the Unborn Child

(Neil here). Today marks the March for Life. It occurs on the fifth day of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. If you read the reflections in my previous post, you will see that the South African writers of the readings and reflections for this year’s Week suggest that we ask ourselves today, “Are the churches hampered by their divisions from hearing the cries of those who suffer?”

I would like to discuss a small part of a 2000 lecture before a Presbyterian pro-life group by the Reverend Thomas F. Torrance (and also see here), a former moderator of the Church of Scotland and surely one of the most distinguished theologians of the past century. Torrance tells us that we fully grasp the importance of the person and being of the unborn child when we see him or her in the light of Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Torrance writes

[L]eading theologians in the early Church, followed by John Calvin at the Reformation, rightly traced the root of our redemption, not only to the death and resurrection of Christ, but to his very conception and birth of the Virgin Mary. It was because in Jesus the Creator Word of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that Christians came to regard the unborn fetus in a new light sanctified by the Lord Jesus as an embryonic person.

The unborn child is not unimportant because, when we think of our redemption – of God becoming “one of us and one with us,” we must actually begin by thinking of a particular unborn child “conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.” As Torrance says of Jesus, “In becoming a human being for us, he also became an embryo for the sake of all embryos …”

Furthermore, Torrance tells us, whenever we think of God’s mercy, we must actually envision the love of a mother for her unborn child:

It is significant that the term “compassion,” so often ascribed to the Lord Jesus in the Gospels (and echoed by
St Paul), is a rendering in Greek of the Hebrew expression (rahamim) for womb. As Savior, the Lord Jesus bears toward all those in weakness, pain, and need, but in a divinely intensified degree, something like the visceral feeling which a mother has toward the babe in her womb.

This might sound like a sectarian argument, politically ineffective. But recognition of God’s “womb-love” can direct us to the possibility that the love of a mother for her unborn child is not something unimportant, something that can be “gotten over,” but a personalizing relation that actually constitutes the unborn child as a human person. This realization could, presumably, be admissible in the public sphere, even if we were often led to it theologically.

For, as Torrance writes:

First, the kind of interrelation discerned between the preborn child and his/her mother indicates the development already of what must be called personal relations. The unborn child is in parvo a personal being. The concept of person was not known in ancient culture, in the East or in the West, but comes from Christian theology. It derives from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one Being, three Persons. In him the divine Persons are who they are through their interrelations in being and act with one another. While that notion of “person” applied originally and strictly to the Triune nature of God, it came to be applied to creaturely human beings in such a way that the relations between human being constitute what they are as persons. Persons are what and who they are in the interpersonal relations of their One Being with each other. Unfortunately that concept of the persons and of the personal within dualist patterns of thought, ancient and modern, came to be defined in individualist and rationalist patterns of thought, and then in legal and psychological ways when its profound ontological significance became submerged. That is particularly evident in the romantic and subjectivist notion of “personality.” As a result, the personal became excluded from scientific thinking, so that even the personal participation of the scientifst’s mind, as Schrödinger and Polanyi lamented, was excluded from scientific thought, although it is actually through the mind of the scientists as person that all scientific research takes place and scientific knowledge is achieved.

There is another side, however, to the history of the person and the personal evident in the scientific work of James Clerk Maxwell. When faced with the problem of explaining the behavior of the electromagnetic field, he found that he could not do that in a mechanistic way. Then he took over the idea from Trinitarian theology that relations between persons belong to what persons actually are, and applied that dynamic interrelation to explain how particles of light are what they actually and dynamically are. And in doing so he advanced the epoch-making concept of the continuous electrodynamic field, which Einstein claimed brought about the greatest change in the rational structure of science, and on which his own and all subsequent science rests. Why, then should we not think of the personal being of the unborn child in that kind of dynamic and ontological way, in interrelation with his/her mother? If that kind of interrelational way of thinking was so effective in the scientific account of the behavior of inanimate light particles with one another in a continuous dynamic field, why should we not think of it as applying effectively to a deeper understanding of the interrelation of the body and soul and personal life of the fetus in relation to the mother?

It is surely now evident that it is through loving personalizing relation with the mother that the tiny personal being of the fetus is nourished, and its embryonic response to the mother, especially in recognition of her voice. Is that not after all what we read in the Gospel account of how the embryonic being of John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when she was greeted by the Virgin Mary? I believe that through fuller understanding of the unborn child in the unity of body and soul, and in the personal relatedness of the child to the mother particularly, we can deepen and advance what we learn from the researches of medical scientists in our understanding of the personal life and behavior of the unborn child. In that event is not abortion an act of murder, and a grave sin against the Lord Jesus?

(I would leave you with Torrance’s eloquence, but I want to clearly say here that this post is not meant to pass judgment on anyone, nor to dismiss the concerns that could not be recognized in its relatively short length.)

How much do we need the Bible?

December 20th, 2006

Only 9 % of evangelicals and charismatics pray and read the Bible between Sundays, according to a Barna survey.

More on Christianity Today, Trinitarian Theology and N. T. Wright

December 18th, 2006

I am somewhat stunned that more has not been discussed about Wright’s statement concerning Jesus ignorance of his own Deity.  To find it in a letter to an editor in Christianity Today is disturbing at best and a much broader statement about where we are in theology in the church today.

Christianity Today, N. T. Wright and trinitarian theology

December 16th, 2006

Mid-December 2006, letters to the editor of Christianity Today highlighted something for me  that to  this point was unknown about Wright. Randy Newman of Christian Leadership Ministries’ Academic Initiative wrote of his disappointment with James Sires’ review of Wright’s book “Simply Christian”.  Newman’s main criticism was aimed at page 119 where he addresses Wright’s statement, “I do not think Jesus knew he was divine..in the same way that we know we are cold or hot, happy or sad, male or female.”

Wow, that says it all doesn’t it.

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