Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Lowell Green Book on Erlangen Published.

Check this out:

Lowell Green, who actually spent some time studying at Erlangen has written a book about the Erlangen school.  Of course, much of what was written and argued for by these folks in the name of Confessional Lutheranism is quite problematic.  Nevertheless, many of the thinkers associated with this school I have found quite useful and interesting down through the years.  Notably, Theodosius Harnack, Werner Elert, Paul Althaus, Franz Delitzsch, and of course Herman Sasse.  So, I encourage you to check it out.  I just received my copy today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Offices of Christ and Trinitarian Relationships.

I've been thinking about this. Ok. If the humanity of Christ is anhypostasis, and the offices of Christ are his according to both natures, then logically doesn't that mean that each office is simply incorporation of the humanity of Jesus into the Trinitarian relationship which the Son operates? Here's what I mean:

1. The Son eternally receives himself and all his glory from the Father's act of begetting. The anhypostatic humanity of Christ therefore participates in his event and this is what makes him Lord of all. Hence, the exercise of the kingly office is simply the incorporation of the human nature in the eternal event of generation of the person of the Son.

2. The Son eternally returns himself to the Father by the procession of the Holy Spirit. In time, this return of the Logos to the Father takes the form of offering of Christ to the Father. Because of the genus majestaticum and apostelestamaticum, the humanity is incorporated into the eternal action of the Logos in it's own temporal self-giving to the Father.

3. The Father's eternal love and approval of the Son, along with the Son's eternal return of him to the Father constitute the procession of the Spirit. So too, the gospel (content of the prophetic office) is the product of the Son's self-giving through his humanity to the Father and the Father's approval of it (active and passive righteousness).

Sound good or not? Tell me what you think.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Joseph Ratzinger doesn't get the Augsburg Confession: Part 2

Now that we've dealt with the issue of who's theological position is dependent on sound exegesis (i.e. both!) let's examine further Ratzi's claims regarding the mutability of exegesis.  

It would be my thesis that systematic and exegetical theology are interconnected, yet separated disciplines.  They are not identical with one another.  Now, I realize that people who I respect a great deal (David Scaer would be one of them!) think that they actually should be identical.  Nevertheless, I would argue otherwise.  Here's why:

1. Exegesis deals with full historical meaning of a given text, systematic theology deals with the articles of the faith.  Though infallible and inerrant, everything in the biblical text does not deal with the articles of the faith.  They are related to the articles of the faith, but if certain aspects of them were different (for example the number of divisions of singers that David established in Chronicles), the articles of the faith would be no different. 

2. According to the the dogmatic methodology that Melanchthon employs in the CA, what are the articles of the faith based on?  Well, the sedes doctrinae, namely, the clear passages which gathered together mutually clarify one another and form the loci communes ("theological common places").  So, dogmatic theology deals with these.  Now, this does not exclude insights from the exegesis of the total text from informing how we understand the loci communes.  Nevertheless, dogmatic theology is primarily interested in the articles of the faith and not the overall historical meaning of a given book of the Bible.

3. This, I think, clarifies Ratzinger objection to the idea of the CA as a permanent symbol of the Church-catholic.  What if better exegesis comes along?  How does one mean this?  The sedes doctrinae are perfectly clear and therefore better exegesis can't come along with regard to them.  For example: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  What does that mean?  Perhaps does it mean that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth?  Yes, of course!  How does one improve on this?  It's impossible.  

Now, let's go to exegetical theology.  If we go to exegetical theology, we will say is "well, of course we now understand that the text is rejecting certain cosmologies of the ANE and whereas in those cosmologies and creation stories the gods master chaos, YHWH just speaks and peacefully gives creation its being ex nihillo.  So the purpose of the text is partially polemical against paganism, etc."  Now, by knowing about the ANE background which Genesis is trying to polemically correct, we have in one respect advanced in our exegesis over the Reformers.  They knew nothing about said background and therefore they didn't have the insight in this regard which we have on this particular point.  

But if we return to dogmatics, has anything changed?  No, of course not.  The sedes still says the same thing.  God made the heavens and the earth.  So, the doctrine remains.  For this reason, the Ratzi's objection is wrong.  First, when better exegesis comes along it does not destroy the article at all- which is what the CA is concerned with.  Secondly, because exegesis deals with a different aspect of the text than doctrinal theology, an advance in exegesis does not actually change the article in the least.  Furthermore, contrary to the Catholic claim, there is not a bit of ambiguity in the article.  

What is most interesting in his treatment in The Principles of Catholic Theology, is that he never argues against the Lutheran exegesis itself, he simply says that lacking a magisterial authority it's necessarily doubtful.  Interesting!  He also admits the content of the CA is "mostly Catholic."  How interesting!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reformed Christology and the "CNN" theory of the Second Coming.

I was looking over Schmid's Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church for my book and noticed that David Hollaz (Preus describes him as being part of the "bronze age" of Lutheran orthodoxy) made a very interesting argument about the omnipresence of Christ's human nature.  He observed that it would be impossible for Jesus to fulfill his promise that "every eye will see me, even they that pierced me" without reference to the omnipresence of his human nature.

This apparently has never occurred to the Reformed- but it has occurred to their eschatologically obsessed cousins, the Evangelical Dispensationalists!

According to them, because their is no communication of glory to Christ's human nature, the prophecy that every "eye will see him" will be fulfilled via CNN (or they would probably prefer Fox News).  

The idea is that we'll all be watching the battle of Armageddon on TV, and so at the last moment, before the EU, the Chinese and the Russian (or whoever) blow themselves up with Atomic weapons, Jesus will intervene and we'll all see him.  

See, who needs the communicatio idiommatum when you got CNN?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Joseph Ratzinger Doesn't Get the Augsburg Confession: Part 1

In spite of supposedly being our first Lutheran Pope (why he get this label is beyond me), I've been reading Joseph Ratzinger lately and I really don't think he gets Lutheranism.  In particular, I've been reading the Principles of Catholic Theology, a piece he wrote some time in the early 80s.  Surveying the book, it's interesting to observe how little these principles have to do with Jesus.  In fact, other than the crowing about Nicea as the definitive council of the Church, there wasn't much talk about Jesus at all.  Mostly a lot of talk about the Church and its tradition, and the plausibility of faith (in the Catholic sense) in the modern world.  

Throughout the book there's also a lot polemics against Luther.  I guess makes sense, because he's German, right?  Or perhaps he takes a special interest in Luther- he seems to have read him a great deal, even if he's misinterprets him frequently.

All that aside, I'd like to focus on one aspect of his critique of Lutheranism, that is, his criticism of the Augustana.  In particular, Ratzi thinks that the Augustana can't really function as dogma because it's simply based on the exegesis of Luther and Melanchthon.  What happens, says he, if better exegesis comes about?  Can you really hang your hat on the Augustana then or have certainty about the truth of its content?  Obvious not!  Because of this, the Augustana cannot create continuity with the Church-catholic and destroys any stability in truth.  So goes Ratzinger.

I would respond to Ratzi in a number of ways and make the following arguments.  I plan to divide these over several post since they are long and somewhat more complex than the average post.  So here's round one of my observations.

1. The Lutheran and the Roman Catholic positions equally rest on exegesis.  The Catholic tradition has lulled Protestant back to it with the claims of objectivity exegesis, opposed to the subjectivity which gives rise to so many sects.  The Church magisterium has the Spirit and so it can speak definitively, whereas Protestant never can.  This is an attractive claim when one swims in a sea of sects and in a western society in a state of moral anarchy.  The problem though with the Catholic claim to objectivity in the realm of exegesis is twofold.

A. Papal and conciliar documents are still documents.  If they're documents, then someone has to interpret them.  So you really haven't improved over the question of how one interprets Scripture, you've simply pushed it to a different level.  

Well, says the Papal apologist, the Church will do that as well!  Not so fast.  Obviously there are fairly profound differences in how different Bishops and Catholic theologians interpret the these documents.  Vatican II (for example) gave rise to several schools of thought, all claiming to be the true voice of the council.  Consequently, you don't really get uniform agreement or objectivity at the end of the day.  

Furthermore, it's also a bizarre claim to make because you're saying that the Pope or a council's word is intrinsically less ambiguous than God's own Word.  If that's the case, why didn't God just cut out the middle man and make his own Word clear enough for people to understand to begin with?  This all quite strange to me.

B. As I noted, both positions stand or fall on how good one's exegesis is.  Melanchthon does claim in the Augustana to be expounding Biblical truth and gives all sorts of arguments for this in the Apology.  But what is the basis of Catholic claims?  Matthew 16 of course!  In Matthew 16, Jesus supposedly establishes the Papacy.  Therefore Catholics have the right exegesis, because Jesus gave Peter the special ability to teach and preach infallibly and lead the Church.  Ah, but how do you know that your exegesis of Matthew 16 is the right exegesis?  Well, you can make the argument using word-studies and contextual clues and what not- in other words do exegesis just like Melanchthon.  So at the end of the day, the Catholic argument as to why their position is true is no better than the Lutheran in the sense that both have to make the exegetical argument.  Now, the Catholic come back and say "ah, but we have the Spirit, and therefore our exegesis of Matthew 16 is right!"- But again, the only reason to claim that would be a specific reading of Matthew 16.  Move past the exegetical argument and all you have is "We have the Spirit and magisterial authority, because we say we do."  

So much for objectivity.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Triune Identity as Self-Giving according to Luther

Great Luther quote from the debate with Zwingli.  God's being is defined by being self-giving.

These are the three persons and one God, who has given himself to us all wholly and completely, with all that he is and has.  The Father gives himself to us, with heaven and earth and all that creatures, in order that they may serve us and benefit us.  But this gift has become obscured and useless through Adam's fall.  Therefore the Son himself subsequently gave himself and bestowed all his works, sufferings, wisdom, and righteousness, and reconciled us to the Father, in order that restored to life and righteousness, we might also know and have the Father and his gifts.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Justification by Faith and Jesus' Identity as the "Son of Man"

More from chapter 4 of the Christology book:

It is interesting to observe that, at least according to Oswald Bayer's reconstruction, Luther came to his realization of the nature of the gospel (the "Reformation Breakthrough" as it is called) by way of the recognition of God own self-donating presence in the words "I absolve you" (ego te absolve!).[1]  In other words, just as the flesh of Jesus is identical with the presence of God (genus majestaticum), so too the word of absolution that Jesus entrusted to the Church is identical with his own presence forgiving the sinner.  In this, election and the question of what the attitude of God is to the sinner thereby ceased to be an issue.  God's own electing power and forgiveness are identical with the word of absolution.  Thereby the certainty of faith and Christian freedom are grounded in the sacramentality of the Word.

If Bayer's reconstruction is to be believed, then Luther's Reformation breakthrough was rooted in Jesus' own self-understanding and activity in his ministry as we have described it in chapter two.  As it should be recalled, Jesus' own designation as the Son of Man was a significant one in light of the use of the term in Second Temple Judaism.  Though there was of course much debate about the term's usage,[2]a significant amount of  the literature of period, as well as the Gospels themselves (particularly Mt. 25) identify the Son of Man with a cosmic judge who will come at the end of time in order to meet out judgment regarding both salvation and damnation.  What is peculiar about Jesus as the Son of Man is that he comes in the midst of history rather than at its end.  As Matthew 25 shows, this present advent in judgment does not exclude a future one.  Rather what this does suggest is that Jesus' own present judgment is a proleptic realization in the midst of history of what his judgment will be at the end of time.  Just as Luther had realized that he could rely on the word of absolution in the present, so people who believed in Jesus' Word came to realize that they could be certain of God's final verdict on them in the present. 

Jesus made his verdict known in a number of ways.  In some cases we have recorded for us in the Gospels, he simply tells people that their sins are forgiven.  In others, he combines his Word of absolution with a common meal or healing.  Ultimately though, he uses his redeeming Word to indicate his fellowship and solidarity with sinners and thereby establishes a community of those whom will be vindicated in the coming kingdom (the Church), of whom he is the messianic agent.  Hence, Jesus' own presence and word are identical with God's own presence.  There is no “likeness and unlikeness . . . a partial correspondence and agreement”[3] between God's eternal Word and his human word.  Rather his human word is identical with the divine Word, because he is God in the flesh.  Being in contact with the man Jesus is identical with being in contact with God.  This fact stands in complete coherence with his own claims of special access and perfect knowledge of Father (Mt. 11:25-7, Jn 10:15), as well as ultimately of divinity (Jn 8:58, 14:9-10).

Jesus himself passes on this Word of grace to his disciples.  In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus gives his Word to the apostles and commissions them to preach eschatological salvation and judgment to the regions of northern Palestine.  Contained in the word of proclamation is the presence of his very being.  He himself acts through their word, as both judge and comforter: "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me" (Mt 10:40).  Because of his sacramental presence in the Word, there is no ambiguity where one stands in relationship to him: “one who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16).  Rejection of Jesus' redemptive Word causes one to stand under divine judgment: "And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town" (Mt 10:14-5).

This continues in the life of the Church.  Later in the Gospel history we are told that the presence of Jesus' Name in the midst those gathered together (the Divine Service) is identical with the presence of Jesus himself: "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (18:20).  In this, Jesus' Name takes on the role God's own Name, and each liturgical gathering in it makes the gathered community the new eschatological Temple/Tabernacle ("house for my name" 2 Sam 7:13).

By the end of the Gospel histories, how this Name among the "two or three" is to be spoke becomes clear.  Not only are the disciples given the ability to forgive in the Name of Jesus, but they are given Jesus' Name in the form the sacraments.  In Matthew 28:19, they are commissioned to baptize in the Triune name (which includes that of Jesus).  Before his death, Jesus confirms his new testament of forgiveness, by offering them his own body and blood to consume (26:26-9).  As we observed earlier, Jesus' presence at common meals mediated directly the divine presence of forgiveness to those who he ate with him.  This is now fulfilled in Jesus' giving an even greater share in himself than was possible in the common meals.  He does so by literally giving the sacrificed substance of his being for them to masticate on.  This flesh and blood is something living (Jn 6:53-8).  It is not a dead sign, but a living divine promise of that this sacrificed flesh and blood pleads for them before the Father.  By this saving bodily presence, they know that they are truly forgiven, for they have tasted the Lord and known that he is good (Ps 34:8).  Conversely, much like Jesus promises that those who rejected his presence in the preaching of the apostles would be destroyed (Mt 10:14-5), so Paul tells us that those who disbeliever his promise and as a result treat the Eucharist as ordinary food (to be gobbled up or swilled) will suffer divine judgment (1 Cor 11:27-32).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Google Books is Great!

Google books is great! What I like most about it is how you can use the search engine to look for a phrase in multiple books. Then it highlights it for you on the page in yellow. Yesterday I found Luther's description of the ambitio divinitatis in WA 37:504. Also, I was looking over my second chapter of the Christology book and discovered I had left out a citation to Charles Gieschen's Angelomorphic Christology. Do I have to run over to Calvin College library for one citation? No! I just google book search it, and there it is! I highly encourage anyone to use it for research. It's great!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lutheran CORE Theological Conference: Enthusiasm is the solution to Enthusiasm?

Check this out:

Lutheran CORE (as if you're shouting the second half) had a highly disappointing theological conference. Someone named David Neff covered it for Christianity Today.

Guess what? They're all disappointed the the ELCA is institutionally liberal and, that we in the LCMS (and by proxy the WELS and ELS) are (get this!) Fundamentalists! Wow, I've never heard that before. What a devastating critique.

So, being the enlightened, creedally orthodox folks as they are, but not wanting to be too orthodox and get the label of "Fundamentalists," they've decided to try to come together to forge a path forward and create a via media between liberalism and evil, evil fundamentalism. By which they mean make a church body that resembles the ALC ca. 1980, which within a similar time spade will look like the ELCA ca. August 2009.

Of all the presentations, I find Carl Braaten's the most interesting because of the theological sleight-of-hand. His argument is that the ELCA is Gnostic because (to put it briefly, he gives a number of reasons) they rely on the inner word or spirit, and not, the external Word. In order to counteract this, Braaten suggests that we undertake the same tactics as the early Church: Insist that the Word is to be found in the canon of Scripture, have clear creedal rules which the Scriptures are to be read on the basis of, have Bishop who will enforce those readings.

Couple of observations about this.

1. In light of the Lutheran Reformation, it is difficult disagree with canon, creed, and teaching office as the proper structure of authority. What one should take exception to is where the later two derive their authority. As Sasse notes, obviously we need creeds and confessions because the Word is always being challenged. In the beginning the Apostolic keygma as a guide to the OT was enough, then the NT was enough, then the Apostles creed was enough, so on and so forth. Nevertheless, Sasse observes that the regula fidei must be derived from Christ and the biblical authority which he established. Similarly, the office of ministry must be predicated not on some abstract concept of apostolic succession (as in Catholicism), but rather on the basis of call of the true visible Church (that is, the Church that holds to scriptural truth) to properly teach the gospel and administer the sacraments.

Braaten by contrast wants to make the regula fidei and the teaching office independent of the Scriptures and talks about the movement of the Spirit in Church history. Because Braaten does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and believes in the the HCM, he takes it for granted that the Bible doesn't really say what creedal orthodoxy says that it does. In his book Mother Church, he tells us all that Roman Catholics have now accepted that dogma evolves by the motion of the Spirit apart from the Word, so we Lutheran should accept it as well. He makes a similar argument about the hierarchy of the Church and insists that we need to figure out a way of reuniting with the Catholics so that we can have a clear and unambiguous teaching authority. In this schema, the Church is able to add meaning to the Bible because of its history of Spirit-guided reading. The regula fidei is not then a simple exposition of the content of the Bible, but rather something impose on it.

As one can observe, most of their problems could be solved by a return to the traditional Lutheran doctrine of plenary and verbal inspiration. Promoting the special inspiration of the Church Fathers and the Bishop simply makes up for a deficiency of the Bible. Nevertheless, not wanting to be laughed at by other mainline Protestants and have the social stigma of being "Fundamentalists," they can't.

Granted the LCMS has a lot of problems. We have nothing to brag about. But we don't have sermons promoting state-run socialism every week and we have yet to vote for gay marriage and ordination- neither does that even remain a remote possibility in the near future!

2. This is why I refer to this as a sort of sleight-of-hand on Braaten's part. Why use the term "Gnosticism" instead of Enthusiasm? Well, because that would damage Braaten's own theological proposal! In other words, instead of returning to the Word, Braaten wants another sort of Enthusiasm, a high-churchy one, rather than the Liberal one proposed by the institutional leadership of the ELCA.

3. Of course, appeals to the Spirit apart from the Word is what caused this whole mess in the first place, so why would more of the same be the solution?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

finitum non capax infiniti?

This is another section of my book. I discuss the irrationality of the Reformed denial of the communication of attributes.

Historically, one strategy that Reformed theology has used to combat the exegetical arguments of Lutheranism is the philosophically based maxim that the "finite is not capable of the infinite" (finitum non capax infiniti). It goes without saying that as a result Lutherans have frequently charged the Reformed with a certain degree of crass rationalism. This principle has no basis in Scripture, and demonstrably contradicts the teachings of Scripture. That this later difficulty attends the Reformed insistence on this maxim has been made abundantly clear from exegetical arguments made above.

One cogent explanation for the Reformed’s easy acceptance of philosophical rationalism relates to the theological antecedents of the southern Reformation in the philosophical frameworks they inherited from the earlier scholastics. It should not go unnoticed that Zwingli was a student of the Thomas Wyttenbach at the University of Basel.[1] Richard Muller has also shown that the majority of the Reformed theologians of the first generations were trained in the via antiqua, which taught that there was a definite continuity between human and divine reason.[2] By contrast, Luther matriculated at the University of Erfurt where the theological soup du jour was via moderna, with its characteristic emphasis on the discontinuity of human and divine rationality.[3]

On another level though, it is rather surprising that for all their rationalism the Reformed would adopt such a clearly self-contradictory argument. In other words, simply taken from the perspective of human reason, the argument that the finite is not capable of the infinite is a blatant absurdity.

In order to see this, it is important to observe what is meant by the Lutheran capax. As the Swedish Lutheran theologian Gustaf Aulén notes, the Lutheran argument is not that the finite has some sort of inherent capability of containing the infinite, but rather that the infinite God is capable of communicating himself to the finite.[4] Seen from this perspective, the Lutheran teaching does not entail positing a sort of intrinsic capacity of creation for infinite self-transcendence, in the manner that we might find in later German Idealism.[5] Rather, the accent falls exclusively on the capacities of the sovereignty and power of the infinite creator God. Hence denial of the Lutheran capax does not somehow keep creaturely capacities within their own proper range, but rather openly denigrates divine capacities. As David Scaer has noted,[6] if the infinite were not capable of communicating itself to the finite, it would by definition not be infinite. That is to say, if the infinite is truly infinite, then it must logically contain an infinite number of possibilities and one of these possibilities must be being contained by the finite. Seen in light of this, that the Reformed would make this argument, especially with their emphasis on the infinite power and glory of God is extremely puzzling.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seriously? Calvin's argument against the communication of attributes

I was looking back over Calvin's Institutes for my Christology book. One of Luther and later Lutherans (Chemnitz, Brenz, Heshusius) better arguments against Calvin and Zwingli was the resurrection encounters with Christ. Calvin and Zwingli claimed that for Jesus to have a real body it had to always be circumscribed. They never denied that God could theretically make it uncircumscribed, but that would to their minds abrogate Christ's true humanity and violate Chalcedon. The Lutherans pointed out that after the resurrection Jesus could walk throuhg walls and appear and disappear at will. If that's the case, it means that his body could and can have more than one presence while remaining a human body.

Calvin attempted to counter this argument uses the following ad hoc argument. Yes, he's serious about this:

"They object that Christ went forth from the closed sepulcher [Matt. 28:6] and went in to his disciples through closed doors [John 20:19]. This gives no more support to their error. For just as the water, like a solid pavement, provided Christ with a path as he walked on the lake [Matt. 14:25], so it is no wonder if the hardness of the stone yielded at his approach. Yet it is more probable that the stone was removed at his command, and immediately after he passed through, returned to its place. And to enter through closed doors means not just penetrating through solid matter but opening an entrance for himself by divine power, so that he suddenly stood among his disciples clearly, in a wonderful way, although the doors were locked."

This sort of defeats the entire purpose of these texts. The point the Evangelists are trying to make is that Jesus as one triumphant over death had a body that had moved past the dominion of the limitations of the old creation- hence Paul's description of the resurrected body as a "spiritual body." Calvin's ad hoc argument violates the rhetorical purpose the texts. Beyond that, this is mere filmsy speculation and hardly a basis to refute the Lutheran position.

Post Script: Define irony. I'm writing this from the library of Calvin College!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Language and Moral Agency.

Werner Elert begins his book The Christian Ethos, by describing the imago dei as being the fact that human beings are "responsible" subjects.  In other words, humanity is created in such a way as to be moral subjects who can respond to God's Word towards them and thereby correspond to it.  This, I think, is a fairly good description of traditional Lutheran understanding of the imago dei as the original holiness of humanity.  This holiness is humanity's ability to trust and obey God's Word and respond to it in a continuous sacrifice of praise.  Sin breaks down the dialogue, and thereby obliterates the image of God within us. 

This got me thinking about the question of moral agency and language.  In fact, I've come to the conclusion that moral agency is inherently tied up with language. 

Some might object that animals possess language, but not moral agency.  This is to a certain extent true.  But I think that communication and language are rather two different things.  Animals have the former, but not the later.  My cat, Eleanor Aquinas, can communicate with me (in fact as you might have noticed she follows this blog).  She tells me that's she hungry by crying or that she missed me while I was a work (again by crying) or that she loves me by lying next to me while I'm reading or trying to sleep. 

This isn't exactly what I mean by language though.  Language is not mere communication, but rather a dialogical address.  The basis of such dialogical address is both command and promise.  That is something Eleanor can't really do.  

Moral agency only works if we can understand a series of commandments that oblige us.  This means being able to know right from wrong and also being able to pledge ourselves to be obedient to said commandments.  Similarly, because moral agency means obedience it means recognition of authority and the ability to pledge our allegiance to that authority.  It also means other people's ability to pledge themselves to us in form of a contract or promise.  

This mutual pledge in the form of covenant or contact can take a very a very trivial form or a very significant one.  For example, if I go to McDonald's, I expect them to bring me my cheese burger to me after I've pledge my money.  There is a moral relationship here via contract.  On a much more complex level, there is a series of moral contracts between husbands and wives, as well as rulers and ruled.  In either case, language must exist in some form.  Otherwise there is no ability of the parties to pledge themselves to one another or command one another regarding their mutual expectations for the relationship.

This has two implications for the doctrine of God.  First, God is the most perfect moral agent because he has a Word (the Second Person of the Trinity) which is stands in absolute fidelity to his being, in that he is a precise representation of the Father.  The Son is a direct copy of the Father's will and therefore, in him, God is stands in absolute fidelity to his own nature and command.  Similarly, he is the very self of the Father and therefore the direct presence of the Father's own promise.  In Christ, therefore, God is not only true to himself in perfect holiness, he is also true to us in the form of his fulfillment of his promises of redemption.  The gospel is literal giving of the Father's very self to us in Word and sacrament for the forgiveness of sins.

The second implication is that all of our speaking as moral agents presupposes God's own speaking.  To command, we must have God's own prior command, or our moral maxims are but arbitrary preferences and therefore possess no transcendental basis.  Secondly, as Burke points out, all contracts presuppose a transcendental basis in the form of divine guarantee to enforce them.  This is the reason why we still swear on a Bible.  Scripture promises that those who do not fulfill their moral contracts will suffer in either this life or in the next.  Again, this later presupposition is necessary because without it all contracts will only be arbitrarily enforced to to the extent that one party can coerce the other into doing so.    

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Stephen Hawking Thinks that God didn't Create the Universe

Hawkings thinks that God didn't create the world because you can explain the whole creation with natural laws.

Beyond this being a tired argument, I think I should make a couple observations:

1. Even if you were to buy into big-bang cosmology (this is questionable), big-bang cosmology cannot be explained by reference to natural laws. According to those who advocate it, the laws of the universe were created by the big-bang. Consequently, the big-bang cannot explain the existence of the laws of the universe by the admission of those who advocate it.

2. Hawkings argument regarding the instrumentality of natural laws is irrelevant. As Aristotle would put it, instrumental causes are fine and dandy, but for instrumental causes to function, there must be a formal cause. This is something that the new Atheists don't get and I've said about evolution as well. Macro-evolution is, as modern genetics shows, pretty much impossible. But even if you bought into it, you couldn't escape design. Why? Because evolution is a process that has laws, structure and a goal. Consequently it has a design and therefore requires a designer. Similarly, all the natural laws that function as causes, are in fact designed and therefore need a formal cause and a designer.

3. In other words, put in the form of Aristotle's concept of cause, Hawkings wrongly views God as a single instrumental cause along with others. Since all instrumental causes are accounted for, then God is not necessary. The point I would make is that the whole thing doesn't make any sense without divine causation. God is the formal and final cause of everything. Each instrumental and material cause is designed and sustained by God the creator.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lutheran Christology, Yeah!

I haven't been posting that much lately because I've been working hard on my Christology book and teaching as well. Going over the Christology material, it's very gratifying to see how well Lutheran Christology fits the biblical data. I mean, I didn't somehow doubt it or think that things were more ambiguous. But, it's one thing to just think about it out there as true and have a lot of the proof texts memorized, and then, quite another thing to go through it all systematically and have it all laid out there for you all at once. It's pretty impressive.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dispensationalism and Reformed Christology.

They've been doing a number of interviews of with the Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa on Issues, etc. lately. They're very interesting. Espinosa did his Ph.D in historical theology in Britain. I believe he defended last year.

In any case, his doctoral dissertation was about the historical origins of the Dispensationalist theology. He's been really thorough in his study. He's traced the Rapture concept back to the 15th century. Also, he discovered that Hal Lindsey's weird identification of "Rosh" with Russia in the later chapters in Ezekiel came from some obscure German scholar in the 19th century.

Any way, what I find most interesting is his theological critique of what's going on in Dispensationalism. The question is not really if they make bad exegetical arguments (they obviously do), but rather why they would make them in the first place. The guys who came up with this stuff are really smart people and so, you've got to explain why someone so bright would want to believe in a bad argument.

Espinosa's argument is that the problem lies in Reformed Christology. In other words, being that for the majority of Reformed-Evangelicals (all of whom share the same Calvinistic Christology) do not believe that Jesus is here on earth with us in the Eucharist and the Divine Service, but is rather trapped in heaven, they miss and long for his real presence. Hence, they remain disinterested in what goes on in the divine service (apart from the need to have a weekly personal finance/marriage seminar/bad gospel-music stage show) and are obsessed with the coming of Christ in some sort of imaginary future kingdom on earth. Through his 1,000 reign on earth, apparently, they will finally be able to enjoy his real presence.

Now, as Lutherans we know from Revelation 4-6, our Eucharistic practice will be fulfilled in heaven, and therefore we should long for his second coming. Nevertheless, we don't have to worry or obsess over it or feel anguish at his absence. Instead, for the time being, we have heaven on earth in the Divine Service by the direct presence of the God-man Jesus in,under, and with the elements.

This, I think is one of the best critiques I've seen of Dispensationalism. I'd be very interested to read the dissertation itself.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Enthusiasm in Both Kingdoms?

On Friday my wife and I went to the movie, The Last Exorcism. As the horror genre goes, I thought it was quite good, though I was a little disappointed by the ending which I considered to be somewhat over the top.

One interesting aspect of the film (and I'm not giving anything away, because this is revealed immediately) is the loss of faith by the main character, Rev. Cotton Marcus. The premise of the movie is that this southern preacher who has made his whole career on the basis of exorcisms has a crisis of faith and is not going to do exorcisms any more- except for this last one.

The interesting point is why Rev. Marcus loses his faith. He loses his faith because his son has some sort of disease when he's born. Doctors save his son and he's very grateful. What causes him trouble is that he realizes that he's more grateful to the doctors than to God. He concludes that God had nothing to do with the cure of his son, but rather the doctors did. Hence he begins to lose his faith.

What's fascinating about this is that his belief that the God works without means comes through in both kingdoms. In other words, Lutheran typically think of Enthusiasm as working primarily in the kingdom of the the right hand. The Spirit zaps people without the Word or baptism and they get the Holy Ghost fever and they're saved, right? Rev. Marcus' fictional example (based on many real examples) suggests that belief that God works without means in the kingdom of the right translates into the kingdom of the left as well. From the Lutheran perspective, the doctors were masks of God and therefore Marcus should be grateful to God. From the perspective of Enthusiasm, human or created agents exclude divine agency from working.

It's easy to find a lot of examples of this in real life. There are many, many sects where the idea that one does not rely on secular doctor (or in the case of mental illness) on secular psychologists is very strong.

I would also suggest that one can detect a milder form of this in the activities of the Christian Right in the United States. I of course do not disagree with people like Pat Robertson or Jerry Fallwell that abortion should be illegal or that gay marriage is a bad idea. The point though is that they believe that they tend to think that God cannot work through secular people or the organs of a functionally secular government to achieve God's order.

It should not go unnoticed that Thomas Munzter's Enthusiasm led to an insistence on the need for the creation of a earthly theocracy. In other words, the secular princes in Germany couldn't be means of God's order. Only a spiritually inspired leadership could directly implement it, and that meant Munzter.