Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Reading List.

Here's my annual reading list. Bear in mind that most of the histories on here were books on tape. I count them because all are unabridged (I don't listen to things which are abridged) and because I have a very good auditory memory. In fact, if I could listen to everything on tape I probably would, since I retain it better (I have never taken notes in any of my courses- it interferes with my memory of the lectures). This also explains how I get through so much material every year. I'm listen to a history or novel while I read a regular theology book. I also operate with the proviso that any spare moment is a moment when I should be reading. I learned this technique for getting through large amounts of material while writing my M.A. thesis and it has served my intellectual development well.

BTW, I would invite you to add your own list.

1. Atheist Delusions- David Bentley Hart
2. On Christ- Johann Gerhard
3. The History of the Suffering and Death of the Lord Jesus Christ- Johann Gerhard
4. I Buried My Heart At Wounded Knee- Dee Brown
5. The Godless Church of Liberalism- Anne Coulter
6. Slander- Anne Coulter
7. The Complete Timotheus Verinus- Valentine Loescher
8. Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. 1- Adolf Hoenecke
9.Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. 2- Adolf Hoenecke
10.Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. 3- Adolf Hoenecke
11. Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. 4- Adolf Hoenecke
12. The Sentences: Book 1- Peter Lombard
13.The Sentences: Book 2- Peter Lombard
14. The Sentences: Book 3- Peter Lombard
15. The Sentences: Book 4- Peter Lombard
16. Luther and the Beloved Community- Paul Hinlicky
17. Paths Not Taken- Paul Hinlicky
18. The Theology of Martin Luther: Its Historical and Systematic Development, vol. 1- Julius Kostlin
19. The Theology of Martin Luther: Its Historical and Systematic Development, vol. 2- Julius Kostlin
20. The Christian Faith- Werner Elert
21. Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith- Robert Kolb
22. Luther: Right or Wrong?- Harry McSoreley
23. The Dawn of the Reformation- Heiko Oberman
24. The Impact of the Reformation- Heiko Oberman
25. The Two Reformations- Heiko Oberman
26. Luther as Nominalist- Graham White.
27. Creation and Redemption- Regin Prenter
28. A Father Who Keeps His Promises- Scott Hahn
29. Kinship By Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God's Saving Promises- Scott Hahn
30. The Historical Reliability of the Old Testament- K. A. Kitchener
31. The Protestant Reformation: The Birth of a Revolution- Steven Ozment
32. Commentary on the Last Words of David- Martin Luther
33. Commentary on Song of Songs- Martin Luther
34. Commentary on Ecclesiastes- Martin Luther
35. Commentary on Genesis, vol. 2- Martin Luther
36. Commentary on Genesis, vol. 3- Martin Luther
37. Commentary on Gensis, vol. 4- Martin Luther
38. The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War- Jim Mann
39. Liberal Fascism- Jonah Goldberg
40. God's Battalions: A Defense of the Crusades- Rodney Stark
41. The Politician: The Rise and Fall of John Edwards- Andrew Young
42. Game Change: The 2008 Election- John Heiliemann
43. 1776- David McCollough
44. The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945- Michael Beschloss
45. The Sociopath Next Door- Martha Stout
46. Luther and Islam: A Study in Sixteenth Century Polemics and Apologetics- Adam Francisco
47. Doctrine is Life: On Scripture- Robert Preus
48. Doctrine is Life: Justification and the Lutheran Confessions- Robert Preus
49. The Principles of Catholic Theology- Joseph Ratzinger
50. Introduction to Christianity- Joseph Ratzinger.
51. The Glory of the Lord: vol. 5- Hans Urs von Balthasar
52. The Glory of the Lord: vol. 6- Hans Urs von Balthasar
53. The Glory of the Lord: vol. 7- Hans Urs von Balthasar
54. The Erlangen Theology- Lowell Green
55. Savage Kingdom: The Establishment of Jamestown- Benjamin Woolley
56. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for God- Francis Collins
57. The Evolution of God- Robert Wright
58. The Faith- Charles Colson
59. Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution- T. J. English
60. Luther and the Scriptures- Michael Reu
61. Hermeneutica Sacra- Johann Konrad Danhauer
62. The Clavis Scripturum- Matthias Flacius
63. A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East- Patrick Tyler
64. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq- Thomas Ricks
65. The Harmony of the Four Evangelists: Vol. 1- Martin Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, and Polycarp Lesyer.
66. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot- Russell Kirk
67. The New Testament in His Blood- Burnell Eckhardt
68. The Lost History of Christianity- Philip Jenkins
69. Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement.- Irene Spencer
70. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt- Anne Rice
71. Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana- Anne Rice
72. The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afganistan- Gregory Feifer
73. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War- Nathaniel Philbrick
74. Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins- Richard Muller
75. After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition- Richard Muller
76. God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius- Richard Muller
77. 1968- Mark Kurlansky
78. Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to Questions Everyone is Asking- Darrell Bock.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Calvin the Aristotetlian?

I'm in the midst grading and also reading Richard Muller's Christ and the Decree, on the interrelationship between Christology and election in early Reformed thought. One of the more interesting point (and one that Muller has brought up before in his published works) is that Calvin has a fundamentally Aristotelian understanding of divine causation. As an interesting illustration of this, I recall that at the beginning of the commentary of Ezekiel, Calvin claims that the wheels and beasts that the Prophets see around the chariot of the divine kavod are in fact an image of the movement of the casual structure of the universe-bigger things move smaller things until we get to the biggest thing- the unmoved, mover of Aristotle, i.e. the Biblical God.

One interesting thing about this Aristotelian concept of causation is that it distinguishes Calvin's concept of predestination from that of Aquinas (ironically!), Augustine, and most of the other Reformed folks who wrote on the subject in the 16th century (Calvin's lieutenant Theodore De Beza is an exception). For the most part, these folks tend to think of reprobation as something passively permitted by God. In other words, since the human race is a "mass of perdition" (to use Augustine's phrase) left to its own devices it will do itself in. No need for a decree of reprobation. Humans will simply throw themselves off the cliff- no need for God to push them and then jump up and down on their fingers until they finally fall off.

Interestingly enough, this makes for a sort of consensus on the issue of election in the 16th century between the Reformed, Lutherans, and Thomists. The Lutherans would of course also want to say that paradoxically God seriously intends the salvation of the lost (whereas Reformed and Thomists would not), though God's predestination is the sole cause of salvation- whereas the Thomists would like to emphasize the agency of the human will in the process of conversion, although they would agree without divine grace humans could do nothing. At the end of the day, they would probably all agree that God 1. Foresees the fall, he doesn't cause it 2. He saves a certain number by predestination 3. The damned damn themselves by their own choices.

By contrast, Calvin and Beza are much, much more keen on the idea that God is out to get people and that there is no such thing as God's permissive will. According to Calvin, everything actively willed by God and there's no denying this. Muller notes the Aristotelian influence here. That is to say, if God is the mover of all that is moved (Aritotle's "unmoved, mover"), there no permissive will or meaningful secondary causes. God would have to be the active mover of every cause, and there is no permissive or passive willing in God.

Would not Luther agree with this? To an extent. But Luther would likely also endorse the idea (paradoxically) that God cannot be the cause of evil, whereas Calvin and Beza are all too happy to go down the road of Zwingli and think that God is the author of the Fall- though it should be born in mind that for Calvin, although God decree the Fall, he did not some how bring about that decree by the "necessity of compulsion." Also, in all fairness to Beza and Calvin, they are somewhat more guarded about this in their rhetoric than Zwingli. Nevertheless, its hard to see how they aren't endorsing Zwingli's position in "On Divine Providence", where he argues that God is quite literally the author of sin.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Director of Robocop is a member of the Jesus Seminar


Here's his book on the historical Jesus:

Apparently he's also going to make a movie about Jesus.

Hopefully he will bring all the gravitas that he brought to Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troops to his treatment of the life of the central figure of human history.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Hiddenness of Revelation

More from chapter five.

Christ's agency in the prophecy of the Old and New Testaments is an act of kenosis, since it means self-subjection to a promise.  As we have previously observed, the process of kenosis begins in the Old Testament with the protevanglium.  Christ is present and active in the promise in the Garden of Eden of the savior and in the condemnation of Adam and Eve.  From the beginning then the Word of God is both law and gospel.  Since every promise of God to humans after the Fall also assumes their condemnation and fallenness, every act of grace and self-donation is necessarily concealed under a corresponding act of judgment.  The self-surrendering promise of the savior accessible to hearing is then concealed under Adam and Eve's actual visible situation of exile from the Garden of Eden. 

This dissonance between sight and hearing continues and deepens in the later history of salvation.  As Paul observed regarding Abraham: "He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb" (Rom 4:19).  In the later history of Israel itself, the dissonance takes the form of primarily of the tension between the visible judgment of YHWH based on the Sinaitic covenant in the form of exile, with the corresponding continued audibly accessible assertion by prophets of the promise of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  This tension is simply a continuation and a deepening of the original tension between the law and the gospel proclaimed to Adam and Eve. 

With each manifestation of divine judgment, Israel entered deeper and deeper into the judgment of the exile.  In each temporal judgment, God manifests in greater and greater degrees his fidelity to his word of law against the ever increasing manifestation of human sin. With increasing judgment, Israel simultaneously received greater and greater promises of restoration from the prophets.  This is not to say (for example) that Isaiah prophesied anything that was not already implicitly present in the promise Adam and Eve, Abraham and Jacob.  Rather, the promises of redemption became more and more definite and concrete.  For example, Isaiah 53 is far more exact in its prophecy of redemption through Christ than is Genesis 3:15, but not less reflection of the same reality: ". . . you shall bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15), ". . . with his stripes we are healed" (Isa 53:5).  Nevertheless, the greater and more exact the promises, the greater the disparity between vision and the promise became, as Israel enter into the Babylonian exile and was removed from the land. 

Finally, the promise of the prophetic works of the exile (Ezekiel and Daniel) was that the end to cosmic exile was dawning and God's kingdom would finally be established (Ezek 37-48, Daniel 2, 7, 12).  As we have already noted, this took the form of ultimate eschatological resolution: eternal exile (in hell) and the promise of eternal restoration (in the kingdom of God).  All the promises of protevanglium would come true: sin would be judged, the dead would be restored to life and YHWH would return in person.  In this, a final climax of history, God’s faithfulness to his Word as law and gospel would come about. 

Jesus entered into the midst of Judaism's apocalyptic anticipation of its final restoration.[1]  He claimed within his ministry that he had come to announce and bring about the kingdom of God and the final end to exile.  Having entered into total solidarity with suffering Israel and humanity under the law, Christ represents the ultimate fulfillment of promise and therefore the climax of dissonance between hearing and vision.  Only in this manner could he end all the pretensions of humanity and establish them in true receptivity to the Word of God.  It is for this reason that he only elects the poor and the morally degenerate.  He is the mighty and righteous one hidden the midst of sin and weakness. 

The dissonance between visible manifestation and audible promise does not merely characterize Jesus' ministry among the outcastes, but is present at every stage of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.  Beginning with his birth to the Virgin Mary, Jesus gives the appearance even to his earthly father of being conceived in a morally impure manner (Mt 1:19).  Nevertheless, Joseph is given a promise of Mary’s purity and Jesus’ messianic identity through the word and promise of angel in his dream.  In being baptized with those confessing their sins, he is attested by his Father’s voice from heaven that he is not a sinner (contrary to appearance), but a "beloved Son" and is given the Holy Spirit hidden in the form of a dove.  In the Transfiguration, his true identity is revealed and attested by the law and prophets (represented by Moses and Elijah), but he immediately tells those in his inner circle to “tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mk 9:9).  Even faced with the direct revelation of his glory, the apostolic witness must remain veiled.  When the Transfiguration is revealed, it is made manifest like the earlier revelations with a word and witness, and therefore not an immediate vision of his glory.  Before the Sanhedrin, Jesus claims that he is himself is God, in that he claims that in being vindicated he will ultimately share in YHWH’s glory cloud and throne (Mk 14:62).[2]  He is charged in both the Synoptic (Mt 26:65, Mk 16:64) and Johannine (Jn 10:33, 19:7) with blasphemy because of his claims regarding his own divinity.  To vision, he is the greatest sinner.  Whereas Adam merely wished to be God and grasped at divinity, Jesus directly claims to be him.  Nevertheless, Jesus' appearance as a blasphemer stands in contradiction to reality, which is revealed audibly in his own self-testimony and that of the prophets.  Rather than being a human being who is exalting himself, he is God lowering himself in a kenotic act of self-donation.  Rather than being one who grasps at divinity (Phil 2:6), he is the midst his disciples as “one who serves” (Lk 22:26). 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Battle of the Incarnate Logos.

More from chapter five.

Luther's emphasis on the battle with Satan ultimately being a battle of two words (God and Satan's) is in many respects a novel understanding of the activity of Satan in the history Christian thought.[1]  Although the Patristic theologians rightly took the Devil very seriously, they did not comprehend the real source of Satan's power in his corruption of and opposition to the Word.  For many of the Church Fathers (particularly those we examined above), the Devil was a malevolent force to be overpowered (Irenaeus, Athanasius) or tricked (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, etc.) by a still more powerful or crafty supreme deity.  Despite the element of biblical truth in their accounts, this often led to their descriptions of the work of Christ to become grotesquely mythological.[2]  Similarly, many theories of penal satisfaction (at least as we have observed them in Anselm) make the Devil the catalyst of the need for satisfaction, but little more.  The defeat of the Devil sideshow to the main event of satisfaction.  Hence, there is often a lack of emphasis on Christ ratification of his testament through his death and resurrection, and its significance for the defeat of the Devil.  Lastly, theories of moral influence have moved even farther away from the biblical concept of Satan.  For this group of thinkers, bondage to the Devil eliminates the possibility of moral influence, because an enslaved person cannot be influenced to change their state of bondage.  As a result, the concept of Satan becomes either superfluous or detrimental to human moral agency. 

 In Luther we find that the nature of the Devil and his false mediation become properly defined.  For the Reformer, God is not only opposes the Devil, but the Devil also functions as a mask of God’s own wrath.  This is the case because the "the whole creation is a face or mask of God."[3]  Satan distorts the Word of God[4] and holds humans in his bondage.[5]  Human belief in Satan's false word incurs God's wrath, while bondage to Satan is a manifestation of this very same wrath.  There is a great deal of biblical support for the view that Satan's power comes from his ability to rule over humans because of their sin.  He is often pictured as an accuser in the heavenly court (Jb 1:6-8, 2:1-7; Zech. 3:1-10; Rev. 12:10). In fact, the word "Satan" can mean "adversary" or even "accuser" in the original Hebrew.[6]  In effect, the Bible pictures Satan as God's enemy who nonetheless maintains his power because of God's wrath against sin.

Standing in Luther's tradition, we may say that although God is just and faithful, unbelief in his graciousness only becomes reinforced in sinful humans because they perceive his law and wrath (Rom 1:18-32) and as a result stand in self-justifying opposition to it (6:7-25). Because of this humans only become more and more ensnared in the power of Satan's false word, because they perceive God in his wrath as untrustworthy.  Therefore, God’s war against the Devil is both a war against his own activity as wrath, as well as human unbelief.  Fulfilling the law, Christ's Word of the gospel undoes God's own wrath and therefore his permissive will to allow the Devil to function as the "god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4).  This is why Jesus' healing miracles and exorcisms (i.e. acts of opposition to the manifestations of the reign of Satan) are always preceded by the forgiveness of sins.  Through the forgiveness of sins, God both defeats the power of Satan and overcomes human unbelief.  God does not wish to have a wrathful relationship with humanity, but rather one of grace and self-donation, wherein humans assume the role of receivers of all his goodness.  By defeating the Devil, God in Christ reestablishes himself as a gracious giver and humans as grateful receivers of his goodness.

This view of the history of salvation as a mirabile duellum between the word of Christ's grace and the power of Satan is dramatized well in Luther's most famous hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God (1527/1528?).  The hymn pictures the Devil overpowering God’s creation: “The old knavish foe/He means earnest now/ Force and cunning slay His horrid policy/ On earth there's nothing like him.”[7]  In order to prevail, Christ must utterly donate himself to human beings by entering into the battlefield of creation himself: “Ask'st though who is this?/ Jesus Christ it is/Lord of Host alone,/ And God but him is none/ So he must win the battle.”[8]  How does Luther describe Satan's defeat?  He does not describe the crucifixion and resurrection, as he does in other hymns such as Dear Christians One and All Rejoice[9] or Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands.[10]  Rather, without excluding the work of sacrificial atonement as a necessary basis, he emphasizes in this hymn Christ's prophetic Word of grace as the thing that ultimately undoes Satan: “Let him [Satan] rage his worst/ No hurt brings about/ His doom it is gone out/ One word can overturn him./ The word they shall allow to stand.”[11]  God's omnipotent Word of grace cannot be overturned.  It is the very thing that overthrows the Devil's rule.  Indeed, even if "the world with devils swarm” and take “life/ Wealth, name, child and wife”[12] the divine promise of grace cannot be abrogated.  God by his omnipotent Word has promised believers the kingdom of his glory: “Let everything go/ They have no profit so/ The kingdom ours remaineth.”[13]  In the end, all Christians are heirs of the kingdom and become "lords of all."  They thereby reestablished in their proper role as receivers of all of God's goodness.  In the same manner, God reestablishes his relationship with humans as one of self-donation by entering into the field of battle with Satan.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Julian Assange and the "Impossible Heresy"

As many of you have probably read by now (it's all over the Internet) Julan Assange has been arrested. He's not been arrested on espionage charges (though those are likely coming in the US at least), but rather because of a sexual assault. Nevertheless, it must be born in mind that this is not a sexual assault in the sense that we use the term in Britain or the US. Rather, under Swedish law the concept of sexual assault is very broad indeed. It can apparently mean in this context that the woman felt the experience of sex is not something she liked or wanted after the fact or in the midst of it (one woman is apparently complaining that he didn't wear a condom, though she agreed to have unprotected sex with him anyways. The other feels (although she cannot prove it) that he "sabotaged" his condom while having sex with her and there made it break). This apparently need not be verbalized. Neither must there be coercion involved.

This brings us to our point. I think this case illustrates what Gerhard Forde referred to as the "impossible heresy," that is, antinomianism. Julian Assange is a neo-anarchist believes that there is no objective morality. He apparently doesn't even really believe in the legitimacy of governmental power (though that logically follows, people are often not consistent about these things). But the law has come back to bite him whether he rejected it or not.

Here's how I see it. Back in the day, people believed sex outside of marriage was wrong. This would of course include rape, but a bunch of other things to. Then people decided that God's law didn't matter. The highest good was personal satisfaction and autonomy, so people should just be able to act on their impulses. The result? Because personal autonomy and personal satisfaction are the highest good, it becomes the new ideal and the new law. Hence, sexual behavior didn't now become free and unimpeded, rather it simply submitted to the new law. Hence, if Julian Assange doesn't wear a condom (which is actually what's he's being charged with) and it undermines the personal satisfaction and happiness of the woman involved (even though in this case, she apparently agree to engage in sexual intercourse with him anyways) then he's guilty against the law of personal fulfillment and satisfaction.

There is no escaping the law this side of death for the external person. Eliminate God's commandments, and you'll only make up new self-chosen works. These will inevitably accuse and threaten you as much as the real commandments. For the inner person, the only way the law can end is in Jesus and the freedom of the gospel he gives. Only then do we have the real freedom that does not involve rejecting the law, but its fulfillment on our behalf in Christ.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Handel the Exegete.

On Saturday my wife and I attended Handel's Messiah at Calvin College's (my wife's alma mater) new "Covenant Fine Arts Center." It was very well done, though of course out of my loyalty to Luther College, I have to say that it wasn't as good as the performance that I attended in college (bear in mind of course that Luther is a huge music school- we had 12 choirs and we continue to have a yearly PBS special).

After the performance, my wife made the insightful observation that Handel uses virtually no New Testament texts throughout most of the piece. Granted towards the end you get texts from 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20, but mostly it's the OT prophets throughout.

I think this speaks to Handel's keen understanding of prophecy and commitment to biblical realism. The texts he strings together from the prophets aren't really inappropriately used either. Rather, he finds messianic texts that anticipate the coming of Christ and its revelation of absolute judgment and grace. He then strings together texts that anticipate the healing and offer of grace that Christ brings about. Then he moves on to texts of humiliation and crucifixion, and finally to vindication and the universal dominion.

This is all very brilliantly executed and shows that the pattern established in the OT of humiliation followed by vindication and glorification finds fulfillment in Jesus in the NT. From this we find that Handel is not only a great composer, but also a great exegete.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christ's Fulfillment of Sacrifice: The Confirmation of a Testament.

More from the book.

This brings us to the final aspect of Christ's fulfillment of all sacrifice: His death confirms and enacts a testament.  It is no accident that Jesus offered himself up on Golgotha which is a hillock in the vicinity of Mt. Moriah where both the Abrahmic (Gen 22) and the Davidic (2 Sam 24) covenants were confirmed by sacrifice. Both acts of sacrifice prefigured Christ in different ways.  In the first case, a father offered up his only son, whereas in the second a king offered himself up for the salvation of his people.  Jesus is both the true Son of the Father and the true king of Israel.  Also, in both cases, a substitute saved the originally intended victim.  Christ fulfilled all these types in his substitutionary sacrifice on the altar of the cross.  By his death he also fulfills the promises of universal dominion to a son of David and of universal blessing to all nations present in both the Abrahmic and Davidic covenants, which themselves are restatements and continuations of the protevangelium.  The new testament of forgiveness could not come about except for Christ's substitutionary death.  As book of Revelation makes clear, it is only because of his death that the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pt 1:18-20, Rev 13:8) is worthy to open the book of the testament (Rev 5:4-11).  We find a similar witness in Paul (Gal 4:15).  The author of Hebrews agrees and writes: "For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive"(Heb 9:17).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Seriously? The RCC Catechism's Blantant Misuse of 1 Peter 4:6

I'm almost done with my Christology book and I'm dealing with the "descent into hell" right now. I was contrasting the Lutheran understanding with medieval/patristic/RCC position. They advocate a view which is a bit cartoonish in my understanding.

Their idea is that before Jesus showed up, no one could go to heaven. This is obviously untrue in light of Genesis 15 and Romans 4, as well as Peter and Revelation's description of Jesus as "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Obviously God's foreknowledge, as well as heaven and hell are outside of time and space, so why would Jesus have to die in historical time before we reap the benefits?

Anyways, because no one could go to heaven, Adam, Noah, and Abraham had to be held in a place called "Limbo of the Fathers"- which until the 1930s or so, they believed was literally at the center of the earth. While Jesus was dead on holy Saturday, he descended to them, and broke down the door and then took them all to heaven. This is referred to as the "Harrowing of Hell."

Again, the 1 Peter 3:18-22 is quite clear that it was the damned who Jesus preached to- namely all those nasty people who got killed during the flood (among others). There's nothing about Jesus helping the righteous of the OT get to heaven.

To validate this view I discovered that the RCC catechism totally misuses 1 Peter 4:6 "the gospel has been preached to the dead"- in other words, the dead of the OT heard the good news of the gospel and then got to go to heaven. But read the context! It's referring to the spiritually dead. The passage is very, very clearly talking about the Church practice of preaching to all people, even the spiritually dead. It doesn't even mention Jesus once or his descent to hell. It's really unbelievable that they would be this brazen.

Another interesting surprise: I was looking around elsewhere and when they discuss purgatory and practice of saying Masses for the dead, guess what Biblical verses they use to justify the practice? 2 Maccabees. Who also used this exegetical argument? Eck during the Leipzig debate against Luther!

Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Apocalypse of Retribution.

My wife and I went to see Faster this weekend (yes, the one with the Rock).  A couple of interesting Christian themes, though I think that the basic theological worldview was a bit confused (I realize that this is shocking in light of the fact that it was a movie staring a former pro-wrestler).  

Anyways, the whole thing was your typical revenge fantasy.  I suspect that in honor-shame cultures without common-law constitutions these stories are less prevalent.  If someone made a movie about revenge in say, Afghanistan, people would probably say "yeah, so what?"  But in America, most of us know the Sermon on the Mount and believe in the Bill of Rights, and so the idea of just abandoning all that and taking people out is just not something we do.  Nevertheless, we secretly wish that it was that way, and so hence the genre.

One aspect of the film which was a little less ambiguous was the idea that forgiveness is necessary since otherwise there is simply an unending cycle of revenge.  This was balanced out with a pagan sense of violence and tragedy.  At certain points the Rock seems resolved to this violent and tragic nature of reality (like a Homeric hero).  When called on the phone by the son of one of his victims (who BTW, cut his brother's throat) he is informed that the young man is going to take revenge on him, much like he has taken revenge.  The Rock informs him "that's fine.  You do what you have to do."  The tragic, pagan drama of reality continues on and all we can do is play the role the Fates have assigned us.  Our end will be tragic whatever happens.  So just take the revenge that you have been assigned and then take your place in line so that revenge can happen to you.  

In other words, in this scenario, retribution never ends.  Also, retribution is never really just in an absolute sense.  By taking revenge and becoming the agent of justice from one perspective, there is yet another perspective within which one becomes a villain- simply to have justice exacted again.  This is an unending cycle.

This brings us to the Bible.  I do not consider it to be an accident that the first sacrifices (Cain and Abel) or the permission to kill animals in sacrifice (Genesis 9) are connected with the first murder and also the permission on God's part to allow judicial retribution.  

If we turn to Leviticus and Numbers, judicial killing stands in correspondence to sacrifice.  An eye is taken for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.  If we willfully sin, says God, we are to be killed, since God as the source of life is being rejected.  As a result, the removal of that life is the necessary consequence.  Unwilling or accidental sin can be met with bloody sacrifice- which is also nevertheless the removal life.  

Nonetheless, as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, sacrifices could never actually wash away sin.  Neither, I might add, could civil retribution ever really take away sin and make things right again.  Yes, of course the government is a good and approved by God when it kills to maintain order in the civil society.  But this isn't really justice in the ultimate sense and it was never meant to be so by God (otherwise there would be no Hell!).  As we know, civil government can restrain sin, but really can't deal with it.  Although justice may be done in a relative sense coram mundo, coram deo the agent of death and retribution is always a guilty as the victim.  Eventually in his death (however that takes place) he too will be the object of divine retribution because "the wages of sin is death."

In both the cases of sacrifice and political retribution, things are essentially the same.  Both the victim and the executioner/priest are equally unholy, and therefore retribution must continue with futility, on and on and on and on.  It is for this reason that for retribution to properly end, there must be a final and eschatological act of retribution.  Namely, Jesus the holy victim must take all our sins upon himself and simultaneously actualize an existence beyond the law of retribution that we may receive.  Fulfilling all retribution in the cross, he makes it possible also for us to forgive and not take retribution as the parable of the ungrateful servant shows.  This retribution is real and ultimate, because Christ takes all sin upon himself.  At the same time, the agent of that retribution is God himself, who is ultimately holy and therefore acting in an undeniably holy manner.  He can only be absolutely just in relation to his object of justice- unlike human executioners!  

Having taken on all retribution, we no long must play the role within the sad pagan drama of revenge.  In other words, any wrong that has been done to us has been punished in Jesus and therefore we no longer have to demand payment (this of course does not mean that we should not ask the governing authorities to correct injustice, we simply do no wish them to do so out of revenge).  Any punishment that we deserve has been suffered for by Jesus and therefore we are no longer the object of retribution ourselves.  This means that freedom from guilt ultimately translates into freedom to forgive the other, whom we no longer need to settle a score with.  

Christ's own sacrifice therefore mean true justice and true forgiveness.  It is the eschatological end of all retribution and dawning of true freedom.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Krauth on Sacrament and Sacrifice.

Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology: As Represented in the Augsburg Confession and in the History and the Literature of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 591.

"The idea of sacrifice under the Old Dispensation sheds light upon the nature of the Lord's Supper. . . . Sacrifice through the portion burnt, is received of God by the element of fire; the portion reserved is partaken of by men, is communicated to them, and received by them.  The eating of the portion of the sacrifice, by the offerer, is as real a part of the whole sacred act as the burning of the other part is.  Man offers to God; this is sacrifice.  God gives back to man; this is sacrament.  The oblation, or the thing offered, supplies both sacrifice and sacrament, but with the difference, that under the Old Dispensation God received part and man received part; but under the New, God receives all and gives back all: Jesus Christ, in His own divine person, makes that complete which was narrowed under the Old Covenant by the necessary limitations of mere matter."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

McSoreley's Argument About "Facere quod in se est"

In his book Luther: Right or Wrong? Harry McSoreley argues that Facre quod in se est was a principle held by the majority of the medieval Scholastics.  The phrase means that God gives grace to those who do what is within them.  McSoreley's claim is that for the Occamists this meant doing what is within you could be accomplished without divine grace (this is the generally accepted interpretation), whereas for the young Thomas (who posits such a principle in the Sentences commentary, but abandoned it in the Summa), this preparation occurred as a result of divine grace. 

For my part, I am a bit skeptical about McSoreley's absolution of the young Thomas on this point.  My reading of Thomas (as well as others) would suggest that he became more Augustinian as he grew older and that his immature theology is in fact Semi-Pelagian.  Some scholars even claim that he discovered a copy of the Council of Orange I and II mid-career, and therefore he changed his mind.  I don't think this is true either, I think he just read more Augustine's anti-Pelagian writings.

In any case, the principle of Facre quod in se est would indeed make sense as being a common Scholastic principle, even if one posited that it occurred via the assistance of divine grace.  In other words, if one accepts the premise of Aristotelian metaphysics that matter must be disposed to the form (in this case, the habits of created grace), then one would have to posit some sort of preparation for justification.  Hence, although Trent rejects the idea that Facere quod in se est works on the basis of humanity's natural powers alone, it never the less insists on a lengthy and extremely complicated series of stages wherein one is prepared for justification by divine grace through "prevenient," "healing," and "elevating" grace.  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

David Chrytraeus on the Rationale for the Incarnation

From David Chrytraeus, A Summary of the Christian Faith, trans. Richard Dinda (Malone, Tx: Repristination Press, 2000), 37-8.  

Echoing Luther's theologic, (and also Athanasius and Anselm's), Chrytraeus writes: 

"Why was it necessary that there be a unity between the two natures, divine and human, in Christ our Mediator? . . . First, it was necessary that He be a man because man had sinned and the course of justice would demand that he pay the penalty.  He had to be a man to be able to suffer and die on behalf of man.  Again that was necessary in order for Him to show His love for people to people with the assumption of human nature, and to glorify that love for people (which the devil had terribly torn apart and crushed) by His being taken up and placed at the right hand of God the Father.  Second, he had to be God to provide a ransom or payment for sins and to be a merit sufficient for new righteousness and life.  He had to be God to be able to sustain the burden of the wrath of God and its punishments, to overcome death and the devil, and to restore righteousness and life.  Again, He had to be God in order to enter into the Holy of Holies, to look into the heart of the Father, to be present to the hearts of those who call upon Him and everywhere in the Church, to listen to those who call upon Him and defend and preserve them, and to give the wisdom of God and His Holy Spirit to those who ask for such gifts.  Because at the first creation the Logos, the Son of God, had given to people the life and light which was the image of God; it was fitting for divine wisdom that the image of God which had been corrupted be restored in us with the same Word with which it had been created."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kenosis in the Old Testament

More from chapter five.

By giving his Word of law and gospel to our first parents God begins to speak forth the new narrative of creation.  The new narrative is constituted by the kenosis of the Son and his recapitulation of Adam.  Since God is present and active in his Word, the new narrative of creation is played out in the history of the Old Testament by the giving of the divine Word, within which the Son is present.  Being present in his Word of promise he subjects himself to Israel and humanity, and thereby enters into his kenotic existence.[1]  Similarly, the Son (as our exegetical findings have clearly shown) was the Angel of YHWH and the kavod, who dwelt with Israel in the cult.  In this, he was always present in both Word and sacrament (i.e. the cult).  This self-donating act was a true kenosis, in that in his presence with Israel, the Son subjected himself to the creation through his presence and promise.  As the sin of humanity increased, his grace also increased (Rom 5:20). Ezekiel tells us that in sending Israel into exile, the kavod (the pre-incarnate Son) entered into exile with them (Ezek 10-11- this is also assumed by the kavod's return, predicted in Isa 40).  In other words, as God’s judgment against sin in Israel’s history increased, so too did the depth of the Son’s kenosis.  The final act of divine judgment coincides then with the final and overwhelming act of grace, as the prophets predicted and Christ confirmed (Mal 3:2, Is 61:2, 63, Mt 3, Mk 1, Lk 3).  The Son must finally enter into humanity and thereby also its existence under the law and the condemnation of sin (Gal 4:4).  As von Balthasar again observes:

It is that wrath [the wrath divine retribution against sin] which the Son must face in his Passion.  The fearful, divinely grounded wrath which blazes up throughout the Old Testament and finally consumes faithless Jerusalem in the fire of divine glory (Ezekiel 10, 2), Jesus must bring to its eschatological end.[2] 

Hence, theologians like I. A. Dorner[3] and Wolfhart Pannenberg[4] are in a sense correct to see the Incarnation is the culmination of the process of the two natures coming together into a single theandric subject.  What they are mistaken about is that this does not happen in the life of Christ, who was always a single theandric subject, with no increase or decrease in this reality.  Rather, the history of Israel is the arena for the process of the Word becoming flesh.  The Old Testament is the story of God binding himself to Israel and humanity by his promise of redemption (Gen. 3:15, 15, 17, 22, etc.).  This bond manifests itself in greater and greater degrees, until it culminates in the total identification of the two in the Incarnation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Freud and Luther

In Freud's early writings he discusses the two impulses of the human creature- the ID and the Super-Ego.  The ID is desire.  In fact, it is an infinite and unending desire.  It contains the sensual impulses (this is often wrongly understood as something purely sexual).  Our appetites for Freud first find their fulfillment in our parent of the opposite sex.  As we mature, we break away and find a marital partner who fulfills these needs and also other channels (such as work) to sublimate our unfulfilled desire.  The bottom line is that desire as the need for mastery of an object for our fulfillment is in fact infinite.  It is never satisfied and goes on forever.

One can say something similar regarding the Super-ego.  The Super-ego is the moral law implanted in us by society and thereby also represents something infinite.  The law of our culture constantly demands we obey our society's norms.  It never leaves us.  A healthy person can negotiate between these two impulses- but ultimately the task is never finished.

The infinite nature of this task probably is one of the reasons why Freud began to describe a third category of desire after the First World War.  He wanted to understand why irrational violence existed.  He concluded that it was the result of something called "death impulses."  The desires of the libido are of course life impulses, whereas the unconscious desire for the death is the opposite.  Since law and desire are infinite tasks, the human subject acts in such a way to be rid of them by willing their own death.  This partially is fulfilled in the routine fulfillment of desire.  For example, the Freud noted that the French refer to orgasms as the "little death."  Nevertheless, much like salmon swimming up river to die, human have an impulse to eventually end themselves and ride themselves of these infinite impulses.

Though of course Freud was atheistic in his outlook, its interesting implications for the study of religion and theology.  My mentor in high school once commented that Freud is Augustine minus God.  How many of the world's theologies deals with the problem of the infinity of desire is an important and should be explored.  As a result, I think we can clarify some points in Luther's theology.

Two of the most honest non-Christian religions in dealing with the problem of the infinity of desire and law are Hinduism and Buddhism.  Both share a doctrine of karma, making the task of the law continue through several lives and in fact forever.  In the same manner, the Buddhist claim is that desire is the origin of all suffering.  Since desire never has permanent fulfillment and therefore lead necessarily to attachment and privation.  

In both cases the ultimate release is the disillusion of personal identity.  In the case of mainstream Hinduism, the recognition that "atman (the self) is Brahman (God/ultimate reality)."  Buddhism prefers the opposite.  The self is in fact illusion or nothingness, and the sooner we realize it the better.  In realizing this or becoming "enlightened," we thereby free ourselves both from karma and from desire.  That is to say, we free ourselves from being subjected to these impulses by becoming non-subjects.

On the other hand, Catholicism is a bit more problematic in its outlook.  The claim of Aquinas is that the infinity of desire will one day be fulfilled by the infinitely desirable thing, namely, the vision of God.  What about the infinity of the moral task?  No problem.  It will continue on in purgatory, and somehow be finished at some point- somehow.  The point is that the infinite human impulse for mastery and self-justification is something that can be realistically fulfilled- rather than ended snuffed out.

How does this relate to Luther?  As I read Luther, I see the New Testament's solution to this problem.  Luther's solution is not fulfillment of desire and self-justification, but rather death and resurrection- first Christ's and then ours.  

For Luther our infinite desire is in fact expression of our desire to master God.  We try to master God through our good works and to justify ourselves.  Desire is itself the impulse to master the other and therefore a will to be God.  In the same manner, so is our will to fulfill the infinite task of law and to justify ourselves.  So, both ID and Super-ego are in fact simply two aspect of what Luther called the "divine ambition."

Conventional means of resolving this don't work.  Our desire goes on forever.  In the same manner, we will never be able to justify ourselves.  We cannot erase the bad things we do, even if we go on doing good works forever.  Time ensures that they are never erased.  Even if we are good people (which is impossible!), we might not be at some point in the future.  So we must be ever vigilant.  There is never an end to it.

Jesus as the true God-man ends all this.  He gives us himself and therefore ends our desire to master him.  He offers up his person as an infinite payment for sins and thereby ends our infinite moral task.  Having surrendered himself to us and extinguished our need to master God, he re-creates us.  

His death is our death, just as his resurrection is our resurrection.  He kills us in the waters of baptism and incorporates the corpse of our old being into the new creation.  In our new creation, our old desires and moral tasks are shrunk down to their proper size.  They are shrunk to the size of the dimensions of our earthly life, and thereby are freed to use these impulses for our vocation in the created realm.  This is the end of our divine ambition.  This because now, the infinite law of God no longer hangs over us.  It has been paid for by his infinite righteousness. 

 In this, we become happy creatures and not unhappy gods.    

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Historical Proofs of Christ's Intentions Regarding His Death

More from the book.

The second category of sacrifice that Christ fulfills is that of atoning sacrifice.  As our exegetical findings in chapter two make clear, the New Testament writings clearly and consistently teach that Jesus' death was a sacrifice for sin, in according with the types of the Levitical cult and the prophecies of the Old Testament (particularly Isaiah 53, etc.).  Nevertheless, in modern theology, this aspect of Jesus' work has been frequently rejected.  It has suffered this rejection for two main reasons.  First, it is often doubted by many New Testament scholars (and others) that Jesus actually regarded his death as the final sacrifice for sin.[1]  Even if we did not possess an infallible witness in the New Testament writings (as we do, Lk 10:16, Jn 16:12-6), there are in fact very good reasons within the historical documents themselves to believe that Jesus held his death to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

To begin with, the earliest traditions regarding the death of Jesus that we possess come to us from writings of St. Paul, dating from the 50s of the first century.[2]  Paul delivers to his congregation the tradition that Jesus' death was a sacrifice for sins which he has clearly received from the earliest disciples.  He states explicitly: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4, Emphasis added).  In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul begins by referring to the tradition that he has received that Christ died as a sacrifice for sin, and then proceeds to speak of it within a body of traditions that refer to Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the apostles.  Paul ends by affirming the unity of his proclamation with that of the original disciples of Jesus by stating: “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Cor. 15:11).  Hence Paul himself both testifies of this understanding of the death of Jesus as being the earliest tradition and one he received directly from the other apostles.

Not only does Paul attest that the earliest disciples understood Jesus' death as a sacrifice for sins (which is strongly suggests that Jesus himself did as well), but he also more directly affirms that this was Jesus' own self-understanding by recounting the words of institution at the last supper.  As we observed in chapter two, the words of institution clearly attest Jesus' understanding of his death as a sacrifice for sins in that it presents his flesh and blood as something separated.[3]  The act of atoning sacrifice for the Jews was in fact the act of separating body from blood (Lev 17:11).  Therefore, in the words of institution Jesus presented his physical substance as something sacrificed for sins: "this is my body" "this is my blood" etc.

The veracity Paul's own witness to these words and the narrative of institution in 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 cannot be doubted. According to the passages in 1 Corinthians mentioned above, Galatians 1-2, and Acts, the Apostle clearly knew Jesus' original followers and therefore those who had been in Jesus' own presence when he spoken the words of institution.  Unless we are to believe that they intentionally lied about what Jesus had said, the words must be understood as historical and therefore Jesus without a doubt understood his death to be a sacrifice for sins. 

Beyond Paul's own witness to the words of institution, there is the attestation of them by the Synoptic tradition.  The Synoptic Gospels record the words in a very nearly identical form.  There is some variation, but this is not surprising.  Such variation is doubtless due to how the words were translated from Aramaic and there was also probably some stylization of them due to liturgical usage.  What is important though is that this dual witness to the words gives us multiple attestation of their veracity.  Multiple attestation is generally one of the criterion used by liberal scholars use for the verification of the authentic words of Jesus in Gospel research.[4]  For this reason, the data shows that the words of institution must be considered historical and therefore Jesus must have considered his death a priestly act of sacrifice for sin.[5]

The Gospels give further historical evidence that Jesus intended his death to be a sacrifice for sin.  For example, as N. T. Wright has pointed out, it cannot credibly be believed that the early Church invented Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane that his vocation of dying might be changed (Mk 14:32-42, Mt 26:36-46, Lk 22:39-46.).[6]  In fact, there is fairly good evidence that such a portrayal of Jesus stands in rather stark contradiction to the portrayals of heroic martyrdom found elsewhere in the immediate environment.  For example, Josephus’ portrayal of the binding of Isaac[7] and much later, Eusebius’ source for the martyrdom of St. Polycarp.[8]  In both of these histories, the hero goes unflinchingly to his death and does not attempt to ask God for a reprieve.  Josephus tells us that it “pleased” Isaac to hear of his impending death.  Raymond Brown has made a similar comparison of Jesus to the brave and stoic martyrs of 2 Maccabees.[9]  If one connects the fact of the words of institution with such a plea, then one cannot escape the conclusion that Jesus believed that the Father willed his death as a sacrifice for sins.   

Beyond the veracity of the earliest tradition, it should be noted that although Jesus' conception of his death as a sacrifice for sins was unique, it possesses some close parallels within the Judaism of his time.  Not only is the idea of the necessity of the Israel’s eschatological suffering for sin as prelude to the eschaton a staple of apocalyptic Jewish thought (as Wright has shown),[10] but the idea of vicarious and representative suffering has also been found among variety of Jewish apocalyptic literature, as well as at Qumran.[11]  Both Ben Whitherington III[12] and more recently Brant Pitre,[13] have demonstrated that Jesus’ claim to be the bringer and embodiment of the kingdom necessitated within the Jewish apocalyptic worldview his suffering of what have been typically referred to as “the Messianic woes.”[14]  Pitre in particular makes this judgment after surveying a large number of Second Temple Jewish eschatological literature which refers to representative and atoning suffering.[15]  This makes Jesus' belief that he was to be the final sacrifice for sins perfectly coherent with his message of the coming of God's kingdom.  This also shows that the frequent assertion that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom whereas later Christianity proclaimed his death and atonement is utterly false.[16]  In fact, since Jesus' death is the only thing that can bring the kingdom, the two are mutually dependent on one another and therefore represent the same proclamation simply stated two different ways.