Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trinitarian Taxis and the Threefold Office of Christ.

From the book.  This is in a chapter introducing the work of Christ.  I describe how the threefold office is rooted in the taxis or order of the immanent Trinity.  Enjoy.

Operating from the perspective of taxis, we begin first with the Father (the fount of divinity) and the manifestation of this role in the office of king.  As the Son of the Father, the Logos inherits all that is the Father's in an eternal event of generation.  Christ's human nature asanhypostasis is incorporated into that eternal event of reception of the fullness of divine glory by the Logos.  The communication in time of the fullness of divine glory to the human nature (genus majestaticum) therefore must be properly understood as the humanity's participation in the eternal event of the Logos' reception of himself in the act of begetting.  As a result, the humanity of Jesus not only receives the fullness of divine glory, but the fullness of divine sovereignty in creation: "The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession" (Ps 2:7-8).[1] 

Just as the Father is the fount of divinity and all divine sovereignty, the kingly office is the fount of the priestly and prophetic.  Being free lord of all, the Son is thereby eternally capable of returning himself fully to the Father in the eternal procession of the Spirit.  Thiscorresponds to Christ's priestly office, wherein the man Jesus participates in the eternal act of procession by offering up his life, that is his "life breathe" (the biblical description of life given and received, see Gen 2:7) to the Father.  Luke describes Jesus’ priestly act on the cross in this manner: "Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last" (Lk 23:47, emphasis added).  Jesus is capable of returning all to the Father because he possesses all.  The giving up of Jesus' human spirit in the exercise of the priestly office cannot be separated from the eternal return of the Son's Spirit to the Father, because of the communication of actions within the hypostatic union (genus apotelesmaticum).  For this reason, his humanity’s return of its spirit to the Father is united to the Son’s eternal return of himself to the Father in the procession of the Holy Spirit. 

As we have seen, the Son's reception of all from the Father from eternity (kingly office) results in his freedom to return all to the Father (priestly office) through procession of the Spirit through the Son (ex Patre per Filium procedit).  In an identical fashion, as the eternal object of the Father's self-donation and love, the Son also received the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father from eternity.  In time, the expression of this is dual procession (filioque) is not only enacted in the Son's offering himself up the Father by way of his active and passive obedience through his assumed humanity, but also in the Father giving the Son the Spirit "without measure"(Jn 3:34).  In the Gospel histories, the visible manifestation of this occurs in his conception, his baptism, his revivification and his resurrection.  The Spirit is given by the Father to the Son because he is "well pleased" (Mk 1:11) first with the Son's active obedience, and later his passive obedience.  The fulfillment of this positive response to this self-offering of the Son in the form of the twofold obedience is his revivification and resurrection in the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:11, 1 Pt 3:18).  From this we can observe that the dual anointing of the Son's humanity with the "oil of gladness" (Psalm 45:7, i.e. the glory of the Son and the Spirit) is in fact a participation of the human nature in the eternal event of begetting and procession within the life of the Trinity. 

Hence, the content of the Spirit's reality is the mutual love and self-offering of the Father and the Son.  In time, this mutual love and self-offering, operates through the dynamic unfolding of the Son's active and passive righteousness.  Therefore, just as the taxis of the Spirit is the result of love of the Father and the Son in eternity, the prophetic office of Christ is the result of the Son's offering of himself to the Father through the human nature and the Father’s affirmation of it.  The content of Christ's prophetic ministry is dependent on his having won forgiveness through his priestly office, since his message is one of forgiveness and universal jubilee.  The Father approves of this proclamation, and therefore anoints and raises the Son, thereby validating his message.  By offering himself up, the Son receives the inheritance of the eternal testament which he shares with us through the ministry of the gospel made effect by the agency of the Spirit (Isa 61:1-3, Mt. 11:28, Rom 8:17, Rev. 5:1-10).[2]  In the narratives of the Gospels, it should be noted that the offering up of Christ’s life-breath to the Father (Lk 23:47) results in his “breathing” the promise of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit onto his disciples: “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Jn 20:22-3).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Two Notes on the New Atheists.

I have a couple of thoughts about the new atheists. I had these thoughts when I was talking about them on the way to a wedding on Sunday with my wife. There's a local company called "Modernist Design." And the commercial on the radio goes like this: "What was your modernistic moment?" And then someone chimes in and says "well, when they designed blah, blah for me." I turned to my wife and said "well, it was when I began to believe in a mechanistic view of nature and the instrumentality of reason." And we laughed and both got the joke, and again realized that there's no conceivable way that we could ever be married to anyone else. But I digress.

Anyways, we started talking about modernism and then atheism, and voila!

1. The new atheism is essentially a post-modern atheism. It's weird, because atheism is pretty modernistic. In fact, people like Christopher Hitchens remind me an old fashion 19th century Catholic, trying to hold onto the old faith in the face of a new philosophical situation. He wants modernism to be true, but it's on its last legs. That's why he's obsessed with people like Thomas Paine. What's post-modern about the new atheists is that they secretly know that the modernist doctrine of progress is bunk. Since that's the case, materialism as a worldview is not going to inevitably win. Look at Islam, look at Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. Theistic belief is on the rise. Worldviews determine the plausibility of God, not inevitable historical forces towards secularity. So, that's why they're evangelistic in their atheism. They realize that modernism is one worldview among many, and its supremacy is not inevitable. Past atheists weren't evangelistic because they figured they would win out eventually because science would just de-mystify everything. But that didn't happen- so they've got to educate people.

2. The new atheism doesn't work without Rob Bell style theism to attack. In other words, Christianity in the west has attempted to make God into this wonderful, groovy, love-machine. He's good because he's the sort of God we want him to be. He fulfills our desires. Almost everyone in the modern west believes in this God. Because this is the case, the only God that could exist would be a God like me. After all, he's a bundle of things that fulfill my desires- so why won't he desire the same things as I desire? If that's the case, and the world then doesn't match up to my desires, then God must not exist. If you think about it, that's their main argument. Like Hume, they focus on the problem of evil as the main argument against God's existence. But, if you're an atheist, there's no objective good, so there's no objective evil. There's just stuff I don't like in the world- those things are evil becasue of my subjective opinion about them. So, at it's heart, God can't exist because he does and allows stuff I don't like. Put another way, God can't exist because he's not me! This argument (though illogical- I don't like Chinese food, so it must not exist!) works for people in the modern west, who are, to say the least, massively egocentric.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Recent Downfall of Popular Religious Figures.

Two big stories in both the Protestant and Catholic world recently: First, the end of the Crystal Cathedral (it's going to be knocked down and turned into apartments by an Orange county developer- Babylon the great has fallen, salvation belongs to our God, hallelujah!).  Secondly, Father John Corapi has been dismissed from the Eternal Word Network for habitual drug use and having sexual relationships with several women over the years.  About the later part of the accusation, yes, I know what joke or sarcastic quip you the reader were thinking of.  But I'm not going there!  So don't even try!

I actually don't feel terribly sad about the Crystal Cathedral (who would!), but the Corapi story kind of does make me sad.  This is true for a number of reasons:  First, I have a certain amount of fondness for Corapi because it was from him that I learned my popular Catholicism and my Catholic catechism.  When I was at Marquette, I sought to educate myself by reading the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles in their entirety.  I also watched a 24 part series on the Catholic catechism, which featured Corapi as the speaker (it was part of their library of spirituality.  From the checkout cards I discovered that I was the only one to have ever watch it!).  He would bellow about the evils of birth control or putting vanilla in bread that was going to be consecrated for the Lord's Supper and it was all very entertaining- even if I disagreed with it and found some of the things he obsessed on rather odd.  He could also been irritatingly legalistic at times, but I think that goes with the territory.  

Secondly, he had a very compelling story.  He had been a millionaire and cocaine addict who had eventually became homeless, returned to Christianity and then earned a doctorate in theology.  I'm not certain if the story is true (he still claims it's not), but it would be in keeping with him falling back into old habits.  On the other hand, having had some friends and relatives who have been falsely accused of things in the past, I now take everything I read in the media with a grain of salt. Let's hope that it's not true.  If it is, let's hope that God uses it was a way to finally teach him about justification by faith alone! 

Endless Revisions!!!

When you're an author and you write a book, you have to deal with the fact that you're writing improves over time.  I'm deep in making the final revisions on my book right now.  It's a little slow going.  I'm a better writer than I was even a year ago and I read back over what I wrote and think "Golly did I write that?  That sounds really bad!"  But I think in about a week and a half or two maybe I might have a finished manuscript.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Some Lessons from Eamon Duffy's "The Stripping of the Altars."

Sorry I haven't blogged much lately, I've been working up my final draft of the Christology book.  Anyways, I've also been reading Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, about popular religion in England in the 15th and 16th centuries and how it was transformed by the Reformation.  

One interesting point that one finds in Duffy (though I don't think it is his intention to highlight this) is that worship in the pre-Reformation English Church was pretty much entertainment.  Sound familiar?  Now it's a different sort of entertainment, but it's still that.  The English Church in particular went to great lengths to engage in what might be called pageantry.  For example, on Candlemas, they would literally have people dress up like Mary and Joseph and present the infant Jesus to people dressed like Anna and Simeon in the church service.  On Good Friday, they would consecrate a host, put it in a special monstrance, and then bury it until Easter morning in a special crypt they built in the Church.  In other words, Jesus would literally rise from a tomb all over again!  

This brings up an important point about our present situation.  When worship is entertainment or pageantry, it's bad- whether it's liturgical or not.  Traditional Lutheran liturgical worship is good because it centers on Word and sacrament.  But if it's not doing that, it's just as bad as Contemporary pop-rock worship.

Now some people might find this a puzzling point to make in our context, but I don't think it is.  I won't name any names, but there are definitely pastors in the LCMS who hold that certain liturgical forms are simply good for their sake.  They go on and on about the history of the liturgical form, and don't talk too much about whether or not the form promotes Word and sacrament.  

One LCMS theologian (who will not be named) wrote a book where he discusses how Christian worship when properly understood is a liturgical "script" meant to reenact the events of holy week.  Thinking like this is as problematic as Church-Growth talk.  Both assume that the worship's purpose is to do something to make the Word work.  Language of "reenactment" presupposes a theology of an absent Christ.  If Christ isn't present in the Word, converting and justifying sinners, then we need to stand in for him and do his work for him through our worship.  

This approach is obvious attempted by the Church-Growth movement with it's boyfriend Jesus songs.  But it is oddly enough also the approach of those hyper-liturgical folks in the late Middle Ages and some people in LCMS.  From this perspective, since Jesus is absent in the historical past, liturgy must serve the function of reenacting the events so as to make them present.  In this, the power of the Word is denigrated.  Ultimately, this approach to Christian worship works from the same faulty assumptions as Church-Growth and should be resisted.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

The 9 Oddest Things Luther Ever Said.

Luther said a lot of odd things. That's ok, so do I- although I lack his brilliance and consequently find it harder to get away with. I thought I would give short list of the top strange statements in Luther. Some are in Table Talk and consequently might be apocryphal. But I have a rather hard time believing people made them up. So here they are:

1. Satan is responsible for bad beer. (Table Talk)
2. Luther's next door neighbour growing up was a witch. She caused nose bleeds in his brother and him. Their mother had to appease her with pastries. (Table Talk)
3. A woman in Luther's town growing up gave birth to a mouse. (Table Talk)
4. Witches cause calves to be born with two heads. (Galatians Commentary, 1531)
5. Witches cause crop damage and hail (Galatians Commentary, 1531).
6. The per capita witchcraft rate has declined since the beginning of the Reformation (Galatians commentary, 1531).
7. The Pope has his breakfast served to him by seven naked girls. (Table talk).
8. The world will only last for another 50 years, since the world can only last for 6,000 years (Chronicle of the Years of the world, 1541).
9. Luther said he got married to spite the Devil and the Pope (Letter, 1525).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Confusing the Masks of God.

Luther famous described creatures as masks of God (larva Dei).  Above these masks God is hidden; nevertheless God binds himself to be present in these masks in a particular way.  In his mask of the government, family, police, teachers, etc, he binds himself to act as law.  Through Word and sacrament he binds himself to the gospel and promises to work salvation.  This is a slight simplification, since obviously God's grace is expressed in his preservation of the created order through the kingdom of the left, and his judgment is also present in Word and sacrament.  Nevertheless, the basic point is clear: God wills to work salvation in one sphere and not in others.

The overwhelming problem with our culture (and with humanity under the power of sin in general) is that we look for God in the wrong places.  For example, in the political sphere we look for God's salvation.  People (particularly in American politics- rooted in the Reformed tradition) look for God's salvation and grace in politics.  They use religious language to describe their political programs.  They make unreasonable assumptions about the possibilities of the application of God's law and human nature (I have several examples in mind on the left and the right!).  God corrects this misperception though by destroying all these messianic projects.  

Similarly, in the kingdom of the right, people try to approach God according to the law, when he wants to be found as gospel.  The human motive here is not only the idolatrous claim that we can control God with our good works (something present in most world religions), but in a more subtle form of trying to provide moral order.  Most Protestant denominations have this problem.  Most Lutheran have this problem!!!  Though the Church does have a role in teaching morality and clarifying God's law (so that we do not engage in self-chosen works!) its primary role is not to provide moral order.  That is the role of parents- if that doesn't work, the government.  Parents, who's vocation it is to be a law to their children, want to be their friends.  They want "grace" in their relationship with their children and so they burden the church with the role that it was not meant to provide.  They try to inculcate morality by forcing their children through confirmation or whatever.  As a result, the gospel is watered down and people come to view the Church as either as a useful way of getting people to be moral or as an oppressor taking away freedom.  Either option results in idolatry and works righteousness.  Either option looks for God in the wrong places.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Emergent Adulthood" and the Orders of Creation.

I saw this interesting David Brooks piece in the NYT:

It's a good piece. Brooks' main point is that when people give college students graduations speeches they communicate the wrong message: "The sky is the limit" "be yourself" "express yourself." All of this is what Brooks refers to as "Boomer theology." It presupposes what Charles Taylor (the Roman Catholic Canadian philosopher- not the African dictator!) the "punctuated self." In this vision, the "self" wills spontaneously. We are the authors of our own desires (somehow). The self is unlimited.

In large part, notes Brooks, this is counter-productive. We find meaning precisely by limiting ourselves, by suppressing our desires, etc. For example, being a research scientist means limiting yourself to years of slaving in labs, not doing what you want, having to work under others you might not like, etc.. Nevertheless, you learn valuable skill, and you forge you identity by your work.

What Brooks is hitting on here is something that Lutheran theology has always claimed in the doctrine of the orders of creation. In this vision, the self is a determined and limited self. God has situated it within the orders of creation. Hence we lose ourselves and let us say, become less "real" when we withdraw from those orders. This what happened with the entry of sin. Sin was the attractive suggestions that we could withdraw from the situated-ness of creation and become divine and unlimited.

This is precisely the problem in our society and it is presently manifesting itself in a phenomenon known as "emergent adulthood." Since Gen-Yers believe that the self is more real when it is less encumbered by the orders of creation, the less likely they are to settle down into them. In other words, this scheme is the opposite of historic Lutheran ethics. It claims that the more our decisions are limited and more ensconced in our creaturely situated-ness the less real we are. This means later and later marriage or no marriage at all- statistics are bearing this out! It also means being 30 and still not really being certain about what you want to do for a living.

Of course, in my view this is the Boomer generation's chickens coming home to roust. The "me-generation" simply gave rise to a generation even less responsible then themselves (if that was possible!). The unlimited self has not done American society well. In the political system we are up to our necks in debt because our both left-wing and right-wing messianic projects. There is no sense that the government and the nation are limited in what they can accomplish or that we should be responsible with our resources. A 4th of the housing market is under water because people thought they could buy our house than they could afford.

Perhaps at this point, Americans will begin to see the advantages in the vision of the limited self. But I doubt it.