Thursday, March 31, 2011

Can Science and Philosophy Prove the Soul?

More on Strobel.

Strobel at one point in the book interviewed J.P. Mooreland, who is an Evangelical philosopher that claims that science and philosophy can prove the existence of the soul.  He offers a number of arguments.  

First, most cultures around the world are aware of the existence of a soul and talk in terms of soul/body dualism.  In other words, it appears to be a general intuition of human beings that they have a soul.  I suspect that this possibly is tied up with our moral awareness that Paul described in Romans 2.  If there is a soul, then humans are moral agents with volition rather than material objects that have no control where and what pushes them around.  If they are moral agents, then they are accountable to a moral legislator and judge, which again, most cultures are all too aware that we will face in the afterlife.  

A second argument has to do with the fact that our thoughts and consciousness are simply not material.  One cannot cut open a person's head and see their consciousness or thoughts.  One can also see in the brain the effects of consciousness, but not consciousness itself.  One of the better points that Mooreland makes is that the decisions of consciousness and activities of consciousness actually change the brain by burning new neural pathways.  For example, people who worry a lot (like myself!) actually have the visible effects on their brains.  This goes for people who are addicted to certain activities as well (food, gaming, pornography).  This is of course different than drug addiction because it is a chosen activity and state of mind, rather than a substance introduced into the brain that gives off certain obvious chemical effects. 

Materialist scientists admit that they cannot account for consciousness, but they are confident that conscious could emerge from material causes.  Why?  Because they are materialists.  In fact, if you think about it doesn't make a lot of sense.  How could a bunch on things without consciousness give rise to consciousness?  Unconscious matter is unconscious matter is unconscious matter.  Mooreland states that only consciousness and mind could create consciousness and mind.  Hence to account for our conscious minds, there must be a creator God who is a conscious mind himself. 

Materialists don't buy this though.  One odd explanation made by these folks is the idea that there is a "pre-conscious potentiality" in inanimate matter.  Sounds like a weird sort of pantheism!  This is an interesting argument, because as the Roman Catholic theologian Henri De Lubac said in his book The Drama of Atheistic Humanism, materialism actually represents a kind of mysticism.  There is, notes De Lubac, in the atheistic worldview, a single substance that mystically self-evolves into the meaning, consciousness, and purpose we find in the universe.  This makes matter possess certain God-like qualities.  Since everything is the same thing (i.e. God-like matter), then we are all aspects of God-rather like Hindu "Atman is Brahman."

One last note: If consciousness necessitate the soul, then I think this validates the idea that animals have souls- contra Decartes!  In the Bible, animals certainly do have the breath of life.  I have observed my cat having emotions.  She is certainly aware of her environment.  I've seen her and other cats dream as well (they seem to be chasing some sort of animal, possibly prey).  This also means that I do not think it is illegitimate to think that animals have an afterlife as well.  The Bible seems to suggest that there are animals in the new creation- why not animals that we know now?  This is of course speculative, but I don't think its illegitimate speculation.  One might also make a similar argument for plants having a primitive soul, as Aristotle claimed, but that's way off the map.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Steven Paulson's New Book.

I just received this in the mail the other day. I'm about 50 pages into it. Fantastic stuff! Paulson was probably my favorite prof in seminary. I don't think its wrong to say that he's my favorite prof of all time. It's hard to see why he's in the ELCA (other than the fact that he's Norweigen). In any case, I highly recommend it. The paperback is only 16 bucks.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Not Digging on Lee Strobel's Approach to Evolution and Divine Causation

I'm currently listening to the book on tape of Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator. It's like The Case for Christ book (he goes around and interviews people again), but this time its arguing for the Creationism/ID. I like the book to the extent that the people he interviews (both scientists and natural theologians) are pretty interesting. They give some good information as well. His opening chapter did not please me though. I think he has a flawed understanding of divine causation. In the first chapter of the book he says that theistic evolution doesn't work because it leaves no room for divine causation and therefore destroys the Christian doctrine of creation. In other words, since evolution could (if it was believable) explain how everything came to be without reference to God, then God would be unnecessary. Of course, I can explain how my house came into existence casually without reference to God, but the Bible tells me that "unless God builds the house, the builder builds in vain."

Strobel seems to work from the idea that some things happen because God acts and then the rest of the time creation just sort of sits out there independently and does things on its own. It's a very Modernistic understanding of divine and human agency. In other words, for post-18th century folks, creation is an autonomous realm. It hums along on its own. For theistic people, God somehow enters into the realm occasionally and that's a miracle. Again, the rest of the time it just hums along on its own, while God sits by passively.

This isn't the classical Christian understanding divine causation. God is intimately involved in everything within creation- both in his sustaining of creation and his providential care. The Bible repeatedly tells everything is sustained every moment of every day by God's Word. God is then the cause of every cause, even if he is not the maker of every decision (the classical way that the Lutheran scholastics put this (following Thomas Aquinas) was that God concurres in all acts materially, but not formally). That being so, God still works with our fallen wills and their bad effects to direct events to his good end.

From a Christian theological perspective, a better series of reasons for rejecting evolution might be the following: 1. It contradicts the authority of Scripture. 2. It is rooted in an alien Epicurean worldview that is antithetical to that of Biblical Christianity. 3. Promotes the notion that the right performance (i.e. autopoesis- works of the law) and violence, rather than God's peaceful and trustworthy giving are at the heart of and indeed the driving force behind creation. 4. It lacks evidence (no transitional species, lack of an explanation for the origin of life, genetically impossible, etc.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Early Catholic Response to "Freedom of a Christian"

I found this when I was doing research for my new article and came across this response to Luther's use of the mystical marriage motif in Freedom of a Christian. It embodies the Catholic problem with Luther's understanding of justification. It was written by the Dominican inquisitor Jacob Hochstraten in 1526:

Luther] lists no preconditions for the spiritual marriage of the soul with Christ except only that we believe Christ . . . and trust that he will bestow all [that he promises]. Not a single word is said about the mutual love by which the soul loves Christ . . . nor do we hear anything about the other divine commandments, to which the keeper of which eternal life is both promised and owed. What else do those who boast of such a base spectacle do than make of the soul . . . a prostitute and an adulteress, who knowingly and wittingly connives to deceive her husband [Christ] and, daily committing fornication upon fornication and adultery upon adultery, makes of most chaste of men a pimp? As Christ does not take the trouble . . . to choose . . . a pure and honorable lover! As if Christ requires of her only belief and trust and has no interest in her righteousness and the other virtues! As if a certain mingling of righteousness with iniquity and Christ with Belial were possible

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Are Hierarchies Intrinsically Oppressive?

On "Brother of John the Steadfast" recently there was a discussion of a Concordia Bronx professor who claimed that the orders of creation doctrine of historic Lutheranism was bad because hierarchies are intrinsically oppressive.  Let's bracket a number of issues that were brought up (why is a woman teaching theology in the Concordia system, why did she make the bizarre claim that the "orders of creation" are not really authentically Lutheran, when Luther scholars like Oswald Bayer and Werner Elert note that the concept is the center of Luther's theology, etc.) and focus instead on the question of whether or not social hierarchies are intrinsically oppressive or not.  

1. First, statement like "the orders of creation are bad, because hierarchies are bad" fails on several logical and theological levels.  Let's approach this from the perspective of the first use of the law understood in a broad sense of the law as a basis not just for coercion in the post-lapasarian world, but also its general use in creation prior to the Fall.  Logically, hierarchy comes with the the diversity of creation.  Creatures have different roles and this automatically creates hierarchy.  Parents are not children.  Not all citizen serve in government, etc.  Even if I call the TV repair man, I am in a sense subordinated to his superior judgments about TVs.  So, even if we abrogate some hierarchies (I personally think its good that Americans don't have a hereditary nobility for example, at least not officially!), this doesn't do away with hierarchy.  It's simply part of living in creation.  

This leads us into the theological question.  If diversity in creation (what Elert calls our "Fatedness" within the created orders) necessarily leads to hierarchy, then a rejection of hierarchy is a revolt against the Creator.  This of course was what the whole theology of Gnosticism was all about.  The Creator, as we recall, was evil.  Why was he evil?  Because he enfleshed people and oppressed them with evil hierarchs named "Archons."  Secretly, people were divine, but matter and the diversity of creation prevented them from living out their God-potential.  

Modern Americans think this way as well.  American live in a society that is extremely flexible, so they assume that people self-create by their actions (autopoesis).  We can be anything we put our minds to.  We have unlimited freedom.  But this ignores our created nature and therefore our determinacy.  If we are determinate, then we have only a certain amount of potential.  If we had unlimited potential, then we would be God!  Low and behold American run into this!  Hence the interest in therapy.  Though for people very serious problems counseling can be extremely helpful (I by no means wish to reject psychology!), most of the people who end up at the therapist in American culture don't really need it.  Rather, the sad-godlings who visit the therapist sob about the fact that the evil Archons of their parents or whoever have destroyed their divine potential.  Similarly, religions that Americans invent are always Gnostic- think Scientology and Mormonism.  Scientology is all about reaching your God-potential and overcoming the evil Galactic Lord Xenu's cruel plot to take away your success at acting (apparently, he plotted to make Mission Impossible 4 really bad!).

The point is this: Not only is it literally impossible not to have hierarchies from a practical perspective, but our human revolt against those hierarchies is a part of our divine ambition.  We do not wish to be God's determinate creatures, situated in our particular role in creation within the hierarchies of life.  Rather, we wish to have unlimited freedom, which would only be possible only if we were God.

2. Let's now approach the question from the perspective the second use of the law.  Are hierarchies oppressive?  For the fallen creature, under the accusation of the law, yes!  Our old nature will not submit to our role with the orders of creation and therefore the law threats and accuses us.  It says "you are not the creature that God demands, therefore you are condemned!"

The solution of all fallen humans, but particular American Gnostics who try to outright deny God's law.  They think that simply running around with their hands over their ears screaming "la, la, la, NO LAW!  la, la, la!" will somehow abrogate the law.  The law though, is everywhere.  The law of nature and hierarchy structures pervades everything we do.  Denying the law for the sake of freedom from the law cannot get ride of the law.  All it will do at best is either 1. Block out the law a little bit through self-delusion.  2.  Create a new law which will be equally oppressive.  

I see this second version of antinomianism in my students all the time.  I gave a paper a number of times which asked "What do you believe about yourself, God, and the world?"  One girl wrote: "I don't believe in God, I believe in myself."  Delightfully honest!  Next sentence: "I want to be a lawyer.  I know that when my life is finished, that I will look back on my accomplishments and feel satisfied!"  Great!  One problem: now that you are your own God, you still have to act in the world and so you have to justify yourself before your own eyes.  You want to be a lawyer?  You are enslaved to that law- you must justify yourself by accomplishing this thing!  Again, there is no freedom from the law, only a shift in the law.  It's just a different law.  You could very well fail, and then you would still be condemned.  Not only that, God will eventually get to you.  You will die, and then what will be of all your potential?

This can also be seen in the law's social use.  For example, in the ELCA, they have abandoned the hierarchy of men being the ones who are allowed to teach theology, just as they have abandoned the restriction on heretical persons teaching in their colleges and seminaries.  Why was this done?  For freedom from the authoritarianism and stodginess of the old-time restrictions on what counted as truth and what proper social roles were!  Result?  There's just a new hierarchy.  Now only women and heretics can get theology teaching jobs.  So in terms of hierarchies, what's the difference?  

The only abrogation of the oppression of the law is to be found in Christ- first by Christ dying for us and then with the old self-justifying person dying as well in baptism.  Through abrogation of the accusation of the law, we are renewed in the freedom to trust in God the creator and law-giver.  Through our renewal by faith, the inner person no longer has to fight against his or her role in the created hierarchy.  The new person in Christ has real freedom from the law and not just a muting or re-explanation of the law.  They no longer need to justify themselves against the law or the orders of creation to get freedom.  Whereas the old attempts at self-justification only masked the law, faith does away with it by receiving Christ's fulfillment of law.  Ultimately, the law's accusation never goes away except in its fulfillment.  It only morphs and therefore continues the law's oppression.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who reads this blog?

I've been having the experience lately of recommending my blog to people on Facebook and having them tell me they already read it. Gene Veith had an exercise a while back where he asked people to name and introduce themselves. I know a few of you (particularly those who regularly comment), but I get far more hits in a given day than people who comment (obviously!). So if you regularly read this blog, comment who you are and something about yourself (location, job, etc.). I'd be interested to see who's reading!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

That Whole Rob Bell Thing.

There seems to be a furor on the Internet right now over Rob Bell. I've seen some former seminary classmates say some correct and not so correct things about it on Facebook. Also, I guess that Bell is now on cable news.

A couple of thoughts.

1. Isn't this whole thing with Universalism kind of cliched at this point? Why all the furor? He's only voicing what pretty much all mainline Protestant clergy actually believe- is it a big deal because he's kinda, sorta an Evangelical?

Many so-called conservative folks in the LCMS and other Evangelicals believe all this too. It's part of being in America with a lot of cultural diversity. Original sin dictates that people are habitual self-justifiers. In the old days, people would only know people from their own religion. They also held that they were going to heaven because they were nice. It was easy to say "hey, the Hindus are badies, and their going t hell- but all the nice people I know are going to heaven!" Now that the Hindus live next door and are in empirical reality really nice folks. So they feel they can't damn them to hell. Why? Because that would mean that niceness doesn't get you to heaven and the project of self-justification would be broken.

Guess what? As this country gets more diverse, you're going to see way more Evangelical types buying into this. They already are!

2. One thing that disturbed me is Lutherans trying to defend Bell. This happened on Pr. McCain's website and on Facebook. This is highly disturbing. Lutherans can never buy into the Universalism because it militates against what the entire purpose of the preaching office is: to proclaim Christ through the Biblical Word of law and gospel. To put it succinctly: When Christ is preached, things change!

What Bell offers is nothing but a better concept of God. Humans are afraid of the hidden and wrathful God, so Bell says "let's tell them that's all an illusion. Look! No hidden and wrathful God! Jazz-hands!"

That's pure non-sense and anyone who has suffered under the hidden God (that would be everyone) and is honest (not everyone, at least not Rob Bell) knows that this merely means a re-narration of reality. Let's pretend things are different, when their not! Sinners don't need a better concept of God. All that leads to is more self-justification. What sinners need is to be killed and made alive. That happens through God changing his relationship to us through the proclamation of law and gospel.

The law doesn't pretend that God's judgment is an illusion, but executes that full judgment on the sinner. The gospel is a real resurrecting word. It is the last word of our relationship with God.

Faith is meaningful then because it is, as Luther puts it, "something omnipotent." It actually changes God's relationship to us by the power of the word of absolution. In Bell's mind, faith is nothing but enlightenment. There was a big misunderstanding. We thought God was wrathful, but I guess he really wasn't after all.

Though people might think that Bell's false gospel is antinomian, it's precisely the opposite. It's hyper legalistic. If God's grace is a given, why preach it? Word and sacrament don't really change anything. There's no move from law to gospel! Just enlightenment and the clearing up of the big misunderstanding.

What's left then? Well, a big weekly pep-talk about the law. Hence week-after-week of seminars on "godly marriage" and "godly management of money"- you get the idea! One can sort of see this in Church Dogmatics vol. 14 where Barth, after espouses a quasi-universalism (there is still an "impossible possibility" that some might not be saved) everything descends into legalism. The sacraments (baptism is really the only one he discusses) are about showing people that you're part of a community that's going to obey the law. Barth is mainly interested in preaching law. There's nothing left. Grace is boring, since it's already a given.

You see this works itself out in mainline Protestant preaching. It's all about social justice, because hey, what's the point otherwise? We're all going to heaven anyways-right? So they need a justification about why they should continue to meet in this building every week.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Day Was the Crucifixion?: A Response to a Somewhat Disappointing Interview

I was listening this morning to an interview on Issues, etc. with Jeff Kloha about chronological difficulties in the Gospels regarding the passion. Most of it was quite good. I have one rather large objection to what was said. When Wilken asked him about the disparity between John and the Synoptics about when Passover was, Kloha suggested that John is going for the "theological significance" of the event of Christ's death and therefore should not really be taken literally when he says that Jesus died on the Passover itself. I thought Wilken should have pressed him on this a bit more, but he didn't.

First, I would acknowledge that the Gospel do rearrange chronology in order to make theological points. This is widely accepted among people who acknowledge the doctrine of plenary and verbal inspiration for a long time, namely from the beginning of the Church! There's no problem in this, because the goal of the Gospel authors is not only to give us a historical account of what went on, but also its theological significance. I agree with David Scaer for example, that it might be that the 5 great discourses in Matthew (the new Torah) could simply be compendiums of Jesus' general teaching and not full versions of speeches that Jesus necessarily gave all at once. I'm certain we can think of other examples of this. The bottom line though this that at the end of the day, Scripture really is truthful in what Jesus literally taught and did, even if it might be rearranged or presented a particular way for theological accent.

This is why Kloha's solution bothered me. The issue isn't that the Gospel writers rearranged things for theological purpose (which they obvious did!), the issue is whether they were truthful about the facts they present. If we think about Kloha's solution, John was quite literally untruthful when he says that the high priest didn't want to go into meet Pilate in order that he not be defiled so that he might eat the Passover. It doesn't matter if it points to some other great theological truth. It's not a rearrangement of material, it's simply a falsehood. Neither does it impress me when people say "well, it doesn't really need to be true" or "it merely illustrates a theological truth, etc." Indeed, I went to a mainline Protestant seminary where this was the exegetical soup du jour. I know where this goes. In the end, the Bible becomes a series of stories which illustrate general, abstract theological truths, and not a really, literal history that happen "pro me." Ultimately, these truth end up illustrating morality and so we move from a faith of the gospel to one of the law.

Furthermore, it's not that there aren't any other solutions to the problem. There are several that could be offered. As an alternative to Kloha's solution, I would make the following suggests that might solve the problem:

1. D.A. Carson and N. T. Wright have suggested that Jesus simply held Passover a day earlier since he wanted to die at the same time that the Passover lambs were being killed in the Temple. This would make what the Synoptics say true, that is, that the last Supper was a Passover meal (just an intentionally early one)- while not contradicting John's statement that Jesus died on the day that most Jews were eating the Passover.

2. David Scaer points out that the Passover festival was a lengthy affair, with several days of feasting. The term "eating the Passover" in Second Temple Judaism has several connotations, not just the eating of the lamb. On the day after the eating of the lamb, the priest slaughtered several bulls which they would then feasted on. Hence, John may be referring to their participation in this sacrificial feast when he says that they did not want to defile themselves for the "eating of the Passover."

3. Jesus and his disciples may have followed the Qumranic calender, rather than the one used by the Hasmonean Temple aristocracy. The Essences at Qumran had a different calender. That's one of the reasons they thought that the Temple was defiled. All the rituals were being performed on the wrong days and therefore didn't actually work. Impurity was building up to unmanageable levels and so God was just going to have to blow everything up and start all over again.

Anyways, Jesus and his followers began in John's anti-Temple movement (why go to the Temple to get your sins forgiven when you can be baptized? Why go to the Temple when Jesus as the new Temple can forgive your sins?). Jesus' movement was of course a continuation of John's. This follows a typical pattern among Second Temple Jewish messianic and anti-Temple movements. As N. T. Wright points out, in this period, if the leader of a movement died or was killed, his relative took over. John started the movement, Jesus took it over as the one who fulfilled John's eschatological preaching. James and Jesus' relatives took it over after he ascended. Eusebius tells us that Jesus' relatives were still running the Church in Palestine in the early 2nd century.

Any how, some scholars have suggested that John might have spent some time with the Essences at Qumran. This would make sense for a number of reasons. 1. They shared John's antipathy for the Temple. 2. Sociologically, they were from the priestly caste, as was John. 3. John's parent were very old, as Luke notes, and they might have died when he was young, meaning that he might have needed a place to live. 4. The Qumranic community understood themselves as "a voice crying in the wilderness, making a path for the Lord" as did John. 5. The Qumranic community placed special importance on ritual bathing, as did John- though in a somewhat different form (i.e., once, not multiple times. Also of course John's baptism was divinely instituted, whereas the Essences was not).

If John was a member of the Essence sect for a time, he might have maintained a different ritual calender than the Temple aristocracy. This might also have become the practice of Jesus and his followers not because they attached any theological significance to it, but because it had become their habit eating it on that particular day when John was around. This could then solve the problem as to why Jesus ate the Passover a day before the Priests.

In any case, any of these solutions is a better than that offered by Kloha. I worry that his solution ultimately calls into question the infallibility of Scripture.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

More on The Shalom Church: Why are Mainline Protestants So Obsessed with Peace?

I continue the bear the cross of the Craig Nessan book just so that I can put it on my CV!

In any case, there was a rather interesting moment in the book when he discusses his belief that the Church's responsibility is to engage in "peace-making" (i.e. support the UN, nuclear freeze, etc.). He loudly endorses pacifism, citing Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and some Dutch-American guy who got thrown out of his pastoral office for not wanting the US to get involved with WWI (he was against Korean and WWII as well!).

He says that these figures dispel "the myth of salvific violence" which suggest that violence is sometimes necessary to solve problems. Most people believe this myth, namely because violence is empirically necessary to solve a certain class of problems. Also, Nessan never seems to mention that all these figures lived in constitutional democracies, which operated within the English common law tradition. As George Orwell remarked, "all of Russia Gandhis disappear in the middle of the night."

But I digress. I'm probably preaching to the choir!

Anyways, Nessan tries to trace the concept of God being a god of peace throughout the Bible in order to endorse his position. He faces a couple of problems: 1. Most of his citations of "peace" in the Bible have to do with the existential peace between God and sinners that happens through justification. It has precious little to do with actual political peace, which the Bible doesn't really view as being possible this side of the Second Coming: "wars and rumors of wars, etc." This leads into his second problem 2. God throughout the Bible endorses violence and encourages it under certain circumstances. Granted, all violence is at odds with God's original intention for creation, but between the Fall and the Second Coming, it's really necessary, as common sense shows.

In order to save himself from this boggle, Nessan waves his hand and says "Hey, you could read the Bible as endorsing violence, but that would be bad. So let's read it as saying that God is for peace at all costs. That sounds better!"

Now to someone like myself who believes that God inspired the authors of Scripture to the point of determining their very grammar and word-choice, this sounds presumptuous and massively blasphemous. How does he know? How can he deal with this texts so cavalierly?

The answer is twofold. First, he doesn't really believe in the inspiration of the text. Mainline Protestants talk a good game on inspiration, but then don't buy inerrancy. What's the point of the doctrine of inspiration if it doesn't somehow guarantee the truthfulness of the text? God somehow was out to lunch for part of the text, but not the good stuff you just happen to like?

The second point is that mainline Protestants are obsessed with the concept of "Peace" and therefore he knows that everyone will automatically agree with him without much thought.

But why are they so obsessed with this concept? Part of it is merely cultural. Most of the people writing the church-documents of the mainline denominations are aging hippies, who see Jesus as a Donovan roadie, going around affirming everyone with his peace and love against the mean, mean, buzz-killing Pharisees (symbols of conservative Christians and Republicans in their imaginations).

There's something else going on here though. What I suspect is that it is part of a larger cultural phenomenon of Epicureanism redvivus.

Let me explain. Epicureanism teaches that the goal of the ethical life is to get pleasure and fulfill our physical needs. This makes sense, because the world is just made up of atoms moving around and we have no soul that survives. The gods exist, but in another realm and they don't care about us. Later people tried to use this philosophy to endorse their indulgent behavior (particularly sexual), but Epicurus himself argued that one should simply try to drag down our needs to the lowest level possible so that they would be easy to fulfill. Also, this goes hand-in-hand with an obsession with the concept of "Peace." Peace is necessary to fulfill our most basic sensual needs. Also, all wars are pretty much pointless because there are no higher spiritual ideals to die for. Why mess things up for yourself? You can eat and have sex whether you live under Hitler or George Washington.

In the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes revived this philosophy (as did Baruch Spinoza!) in order to bolster his argument in Leviathan. Having a tyranny, argued Hobbes, is better than having a war of "all against all." So, just keep your head down and obey the state authority no matter what (unless they tell you to kill yourself!).

One can of course also see the influence of Epicurus on Marx and Darwin as well. Both were materialists. Marx in particular believed that the fulfillment of human physical needs (i.e. economics) was the driving force of history. Religion or other spiritual realities were just super-structural masks for these forces. Darwin's grandfather oversaw the revival of Epicurean philosophy in Britain in the late 18th century! Logically speaking, evolution makes no sense unless you buy the idea of Epicurus that atoms can just fly together in a way that looks meaningful and intentional, but isn't (i.e., the whole universe).

Fast forward to the 60s and low and behold, you have a culture of young people who are strongly influenced by Marx and Darwin, who are obsessed with sensual self-indulgence and with the concept of peace. As we can see, the two are connected. Why worry about the soul-destroying nature of Communism, if there's no soul? Let's just do LSD, and sit around pretending to have read Heidegger in order to facilitate our next sexual encounter!

Well, you know the rest of the story. Many of these folks became mainline Protestant clergy, put out endless social statements, endorse a nuclear freeze in the 80s and state-run socialism and abortion, etc. Yada, Yada, Yada.

Again, this makes Nessan and other mainline Protestant clergy's obsession with "social justice" (i.e. spending more money on federal entitlements) make sense. Spiritual realities that the Church has always believed in don't really matter. Only the fulfillment of physical needs does, since implicitly, that's all we are!

The point is that not only does the Bible endorse violence as necessary this side of the eschaton, but because spiritual realities and ideals are more important than our physical self-indulgence, we should never endorse peace at all costs. Once we forget that God's truth and justice are more important than physical life, then we are really enslaved to those who can kill the "body but not the soul." This freedom of the gospel, is the recognition that because of Jesus' resurrection, our physical life in this world will only find consummation in the next. That makes us free to die for God's own truth. Christians are the most dangerous citizens of any tyranny!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Shalom Church: Painful to Read!

One of my many hats is that of a book reviewer for Anglican-Episcopal Historical Review (don't ask me how I got the job, it's a long story). They give you a list of books to review every few months. This time I didn't read the choices closely enough and I gave as one of my choices (you give several and you end up getting one) as The Shalom Church by Craig Nessan. I thought it was something else- namely a book written by an old seminary mate with a similar name. But it wasn't. It was a big, tedious mainline Protestant manifesto about how the Church needs to work to promote the UN and state-run socialism.

It's sooo bad. I mean bad. I mean it's painful to read. It's especially bad since he attempts to invoke Luther's two kingdom doctrine in order to reject Luther's two kingdoms doctrine.

His basic idea is that God rules the world and opposes the Devil in two ways- law and gospel (good so far!). I suspect he really doesn't believe in the Devil, but he is a useful trope for other evil Archons in his Gnostic universe like White males and Capitalists. He then claims that the political use of the law is equally the business of the Church as is the gospel and the second use of the law.

Also, the political use of the law isn't just a way to restrain Satan, it's a way of defeating him. This is an interesting distortion of Luther, because Luther would say only the Word of God does that. The political action of the kingdom of the world can only restrain Satan prior to the final apocalyptic break.

Nevertheless, how do we defeat Satan using the law according to Nessan? By supporting the UN and having state-run socialism. Bear in mind this isn't very surprising at all. In fact, this is more or less what pretty much every mainline Protestant minister in America believes. That's why its so annoying. Having heard the sermon version of thesis over and over again in the ELCA for years, it's galling having the read 300 pages of it.

Another annoying aspect is the use of poetic rhetoric to make something that's pretty banal not so banal sounding. Whenever I talk with mainline Protestants I try to get technical on them about what they mean by such rhetorical and poetical flourishes like "the reign of peace and justice" or perhaps prayers that state "oh Lord, we're crying out for peace and justice!"

What are they talking about? Increasing federal spending on entitlements- yes, that's about it! That's when the kingdom comes- when we have more federal entitlements! And they wonder why their churches are going empty! But you see how it works- they dress up something that's so, so banal as something beautiful and life transforming, but it's not. It's boring.

This also accounts for why Nessan is so weak on the gospel. For Nessan the gospel loses its teeth, because he rejects substitutionary atonement in favor of a Schleiermachrian "Jesus died to stay true to his mission" doctrine. Same old story I've heard a million times. Jesus went around affirming everyone ("the Lord's Supper is a table where all are welcome") and people didn't like that affirmation, so they killed him- because they were meanies, I guess. God raised him to show he like's this sort of affirmation of people, so that's the Church's mission now. So spread the message of affirmation by being cool with homosexuality and having state-run socialism. Yeah!

All sounds like Bonhoeffer's "justification of sin and not the justification of the sinner." Since it is supposed to inculcate a practice (ironically, the practice is that of antinomianism), at the end of the day, this all really just law after all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Omnipresence of Christ and the Perichoresis of the Ages.

Re-reading The Babylonian Captivity of the Church for my Luther class, it occurred to me that the working assumption of Luther's entire approach to the sacraments is in fact his Christology of the omnipresent Christ. Catholicism and the Reformed necessarily work from the perspective of the absent Christ. Christ dragged down from heaven at the command of the priest, Christ substituted for with an earthly vicar, the Pope. Conversely, for the Reformed, a totally absent Christ. Minus the mechanism of an institutional Church and its special power to make Christ present, he remains trapped in heaven.

Luther by contrast believes that Christ already present according to his humanity and divinity. The issue is not whether he is present, but whether he will communicate himself and his benefits to the believer. The promise announces and communicates his presence "pro te." There is therefore no need for substitute Christ (Pope and priest acting in persona Christi). Christ is present and ruling- the question is, will it be law or gospel? The promise of the Word makes all the difference.

The second point I noticed was the issue of time. I was meditating on this issue in light of the question of penance and baptism, the thing which initiated the Reformation. The conclusion I came to was that both Roman Catholics and Reformed folks view revelation and the presence of Christ within the straight jacket of time, just as they view Jesus' humanity bound by straight jacket of space.

How do I mean this? Think about the what Catholicism says about baptism. Baptism forgives all sins, all temporal and eternal punishment in one shot. After that, it's up to you to maintain that. Of course, we know that doesn't work. People fall. So, penance repairs baptism- but of course not that well. You are disconnected from your baptism by time. There's no breaking through.

One can also make this observation about how Church and ministry are understood. The historic episcopacy is needed because otherwise the historical chain between Christ and the believer is broken. Jesus is "back there"- only a chain of historical succession can connect us to that history.

The Reformed think the same way. Why the obsession with the Lord's Supper as "memorial?"- because that's all they got! In other words, memory now serves as the mechanism whereby the absent, historical Christ is brought to the believer- just as the historical chain of the institutional Church functions for the Catholic.

Oswald Bayer observes that this is not the case for Luther. Though Luther obvious believes in a linear view of history (he's not a Hindu or Buddhist after all!), he nevertheless the holds to what might be called a perichoresis of the ages (my term, not Bayer's). In The Babylonian Captivity, Luther rejects confession and absolution as something different than baptism. Why? Because it is a return to one's baptism. In one's baptism, one's reality is determined eternally before God. We can reject the faith and fall away from that promise, but there a certain unreality in that action. The action is a sort of unreality because our true identity is established by that Word of promise. This is not to say we can't fall away and be damned. The issue is that our old self isn't really our true essence anymore- the new person of faith is. That Word of promise and that event are present to us throughout our lives. In a word, time doesn't separate us from our baptism, but it is rather a present reality through the promise of the gospel. It penetrates our present existence in a manner that doesn't contradict the linear nature of time, but rather transcends it.

This inner penetration of the person's existence also opens one up to one's larger context in the life of faith within the whole history of salvation. In that I am an old being sold under sin, the Fall is and remains until the last judgment a present reality to me. So too, my daily return to my baptism unites me with both the crucifixion, resurrection, and the last judgment. The promise of baptism is present and already actualized in the cross. "I am crucified with Christ" says Paul. In other words, my own destruction and resurrection in the flesh of Jesus is something already real and actualized. As a reality present to me and penetrating into my present existence, it determines me now. The same is true of the last judgment. As Jesus says, those who hear his voice have already "passed from death to life." As a result of the crucifixion and my baptism into it, I'm already past all that.

But how can this be? Bayer doesn't give an answer, but my response would be: it's Luther's Christology! The risen, omnipresent Christ, present to faith in the Word, unites us with the past, present, and future of salvation history through Word and sacrament. By these means, linear time doesn't cease, but it ceases to be the barrier that it is for the Catholics and the Reformed. There is a perichoresis of the ages.