Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Reading List.

A shorter list this year (only 61- down from 78 last year).  Several reasons for this.  First, more teaching duties.  Secondly, I completed writing one book and am almost finished with a second.  Lastly, many of these books are considerably longer than my normal reading.  For example, the Charles Hodge systematic theology alone was roughly 2,700 pages long.  I invite all my readers to add their own lists.  I'd be interesting is seeing what you read!

1. The City of God- St. Augustine.
2. On the Church- Johann Gerhard
3. Foundations of Dogmatics, vol. 1- Otto Weber
4. Foundations of Dogmatics, vol. 2- Otto Weber
5. The Shalom Church- Craig Nessan
6. Truman- David Mcculloch
4. The Stripping of the Altars- Eomon Duffy
5. Systematic Theology, vol. 1- Charles Hodge
6. Systematic Theology, vol. 2- Charles Hodge
7. Systematic Theology, vol. 3- Charles Hodge
8. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology fo Pilgrims on the Way- Micheal Horton
9. Introduction to Christianity- Joseph Ratzinger
10. Foundations of the Christian Faith- Karl Rahner
11. The Glory of the Lord, vol. 7- Hans Urs von Balthasar
12. Theo-Logic, vol. 2- Hans Urs von Balthasar
13. The Federalist Papers- Madison, Hamiliton, Etc.
14. Righteous Indignation- Andrew Breitbart
15. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare- Stephen Greenblatt
16. Oprah: The Unauthorized Biography (yes, I read this)- Kitty Kelly
17. Freud: A Very Short Introduction- Anthony Storr
18. The Bondage of the Will- Martin Luther
19. Victory according to Mark- Mark Horne
20. The Division of Christendom- Hans Hillerbrand
21. Pater Bernardus- Franz Posset
22. The Real Luther- Franz Posset
23. The Roots of Obama's Rage- D'nesh D'souza
24. Divine Complexity: The Rise of Creedal Christianity- Paul Hinlicky
25. Jesus: A Brief History- W. Tatum Barnes
26. Luther for Armchair Theologians- Steven Paulson
27. Lutheran Theology- Steven Paulson.
28. Love Wins- Rob Bell
29. The Case for a Creator- Lee Strobel
30. The Case for the Faith- Lee Strobel
31. How to Read the Bible- James Kugel
32.Reformed Dogmatics as Illustrated from the Sources- Heinrich Heppe
33. The Case for Christianity: St. Justin Martyr's Arguments for Religious Liberty and Judicial Justice- Robert Haddad.
34. A History of Doubt- Jennifer Michael Hecht 
35. Decartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason- Russell Shorto
36. The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee- Sarah Silverman.
37. Canon and Creed- Robert W. Jenson
38. No Apologies: The Case for American Greatness- Mitt Romney
39. Introduction to Scholastic Theology- Ulrich Leinsle
40. The Four: A Survey of the Four Gospels- Peter Leithart
41. The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions- Karen Armstrong
42. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith- Jon Krakauer
43. Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America- Anne Coulter
44. The King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus- Timothy Keller
45. Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, and Hope in Western Literature- Peter Leithart
46. Defending Constantine: The Twilight of the Empire and the Dawn of Christianity- Peter Leithart
47. The Freedom of a Christian- Martin Luther
48. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church- Martin Luther
49. Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation- Martin Luther 
50. Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology- Lewis Ayres
51. Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion- Janet Reitman.
52. A Short Systematic Theology- Paul Zahl
53. The Westminster Handbook to Martin Luther- Denis Janz
54. Churchill- Paul Johnson
55. Augustine and the Trinity- Lewis Ayres
56. The Revolution: A Manifesto- Ron Paul
57. Commentary on Luther's Catechisms: The Creed- Albrecht Peters
58. The Interpretation of Dreams- Sigmund Freud
59. The Secret Teachings of Jesus Christ- Brian McLaren
60. Light in Darkness: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ's Descent into Hell- Alyssa Lyra Pitstick
61. Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus' Great Discovery to the War on Terror- Michael Allen and Larry Schweikart

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Odd Trends in Contemporary Reformed Trinitarian Theology.

As is well known, the Reformed reject the Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes within the hypostatic union.  The Lutheran position is very hard to deny because 1.) it rests on such incredibly clear biblical passages (not least the narrative of Jesus' resurrected life in the NT)  2.) Ecumenically, it has wide patristic support and is simply an further explication of the teaching of the enhypostasis-anhypostasis Christology of the fifth ecumenical council (something that Reformed have historically agreed with!).  

Regarding this last point, Gerhard points out that since the human nature is anhypostasis, it can only be spoken of as the human nature of the Logos- even in the abstract.  Hence, the divine glory is communicated to it hypostatically in that it participates in person of the Logos and therefore also his the eternal reception of himself from the Father.  In that the Logos receives within his hypostasis the fullness of the glory of the divine ousia, so the human nature which subsists within the person of the Son also receives it through its unity with the divine person of the Son.  Hence, this communication of glory is, as Gerhard notes, "hypostatic" rather than substantial (which would be Docetic) or accidental (which would be Nestorian).

The logic of this position is undeniable if you buy into the catholic-ecumenical theology of the first six ecumenical councils.  Calvin, wishing to get around the idea of hypostatic reception of the divine glory while at the same time maintaining the doctrine of the ancient Church developed an unusual Trinitarian theology.  Interestingly enough in his recent systematic theology, Michael Horton endorses Calvin's rather strange position. 

Calvin makes the argument that the divine nature is incapable of self-communication.  Well (you will ask), how can that be?  Obvious the Father (the font of divinity) communicates himself in the Son and the Son and the Father do so in the procession of the Spirit.  Calvin responses by saying that communication in the form of begetting and procession are a function of the person and not the divine nature.  The divine nature is what all three persons share in common.  You can see where this goes!  For this reason, the later Reformed orthodox could claim that the even though the human nature participated in the hypostasis of the Son, he did not receive the divine glory of God's ousia.  This is because the divine person became incarnate and not the divine nature.  If the divine nature became incarnate, they claimed, then all three person would be incarnate.

Let's examine what's wrong with this.  Most fundamentally it seems to strangely make the divine nature a fourth thing along side the persons.  Actually, in terms of classical Trinitarian theology, Thomas Aquinas' description of the relationship between the divine persons and the ousia is probably the best.  The divine persons are "subsisting relations."  In other words, what makes a person a person within the Godhead is his relationship of begetting and procession to the others.  The person "subsist" in these relations.  Moreover, since the Father is the font of divinity, the divine nature is not something abstract alongside the persons, but possesses its reality in and through the subsisting relationships.  In other words, there is no separating the divine persons and nature the way Calvin wishes to.  The divine nature only possesses its actuality through the concrete subsisting relations of the Trinitarian persons.  Hence, participation in second person of the Trinity is necessarily participation in the divine nature which is exists in its fullness in the Son as he possesses his reality through his relationship to the Father and Spirit.

Now it gets weird.  A small minority modern Reformed Trinitarian thinkers have taken Calvin's odd Trinitarian theology to a next level.  These folks would be: Charles Hodge, Robert Reymond, and Loraine Boettner.  According to these theologians, there are no relationships of procession or begetting in the Trinity.  Reymond in particular makes the rather bizarre claim that "Father" and "Son" language simply refer to unity of substance (what about the Spirit then?).  All claim that "begetting" and "procession" language refers to temporal activity and not eternal relationships.  Begetting would then be the act of Incarnation, whereas procession would be the sending of the Holy Spirit.  Boettner claims that apply such language to the eternal reality of God confuses the immanent with the economic Trinity.  Of course, without collapsing the immanent and economic Trinity into one another (as modern theologians after Hegel have tended to do), one may legitimately ask doesn't God's temporal activity reflect his eternal being?  If not, then why not?  Is he different in himself than he is in his Word and work?

How then are we to conceive the unity of the Trinity apart from subsisting relations?  All of these thinkers seem to think of the Trinity as three persons somehow fused together into a single entity without any relations to subsist in.  True to the Reformed fixation on the concept of covenant, Reymond talks of a "covenantal" relationship between the persons (this has lead to charges of Tri-theism from other Reformed theologians).  This is an especially odd way of thinking insofar as it also calls into question the simplicity of the divine nature.  In other words, because of divine aseity, God isn't made of up other stuff compounded together to make God-God (unlike creatures!).  If God is "made up" of three persons existing alongside one another in some sort of undefined ontological unity (rather than subsisting through self-communicating fecundity of the single divine nature itself) then God would in a sense seem to be compounded rather than simple.

Although most contemporary Reformed theologians have rejected these views, it is not hard to see how Calvin's odd Trinitarian theology led to these conclusions.  Unless we view the divine nature as existing in and through the persons and there subsisting relations to one another, it is hard to conceptualize the unity of the divine substance or the logic of the distinctions of the persons.  Moreover, if one accepts the classical Trinitarian theology in this description of the divine being, it is difficult to see how one could reject the Lutheran understanding of the hypostatic union and the communication of glory.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Analogy of Being.

In light of the last post my wife and I have been having a discussion regarding the analogy of being. Here is my position in outline.

First, let's define the analogy of being. The analogy of being presupposes that there is a similarity between God and his creatures. God of course does not exist as his creatures exist. He is infinite, eternal, and non-contingent. Nevertheless, he can be said to exist, as can his creatures even if there existence is profoundly different. Hence there is an analogy of being existing between them. Moreover, God's attributes (wisdom, power, goodness, etc.)though infinite and eternal, can be observed as existing in analogous manner in creatures who also possess them. There is a similarity with a still greater dissimilarity between God's reality and his creatures. Such a claim about God allowed the Medieval theologians (particularly Thomists) to claim that their doctrinal statements about God's nature were realistically true, while at the same time allowing for divine mystery.

My difficulty, which I expressed in the last post, is that to my thinking that this amounts to a theology of glory. In other words, the knowledge of God is a matter is seeing past created thing and into God's eternal being. This allows creatures to "see" God (for ancient philosophy the act of cognition is identified with seeing and not with hearing) and thereby attempt to correspond to God's glory. For Thomas in particular, the human creature is supposed to see God's being and thereby gradually become similar to it by the power of grace.

My alternative is not to talk about creatures as analogues for God, but as divine "masks" in accordance with Luther. This is not a Barthian rejection of natural theology, but a revisioning of natural theology by Luther in terms of divine presence and action, rather than ontological likeness and distance.

Luther often speaks in terms that sound (without actually meaning to be) pantheistic or panentheistic. For example, Luther talks about how God channels his goodness to his creatures through created means. When the "fool eats bread, he does not realize that he is eating God in the bread." Luther says that God "wraps himself up" in his creatures. The point here is not that God somehow is identical with the substance of the bread, but rather that God's goodness is active and present through the bread. The bread (or any other creatures) is a mask of God's presence and action. The created entity is a medium of God's goodness in that God can be recognized as creating, sustaining, and acting through the bread to give his goodness to his creatures. It is not analogical of God's goodness because there is no distance of "likeness and unlikeness" between God's creative and sustaining action and its manifestation in the creature. God's graciousness is literally and concretely manifest in that he gives the good through the bread, not a similitude to the good. Moreover, since one only comes into contact with the good that God is giving in, under, and with the creature, it is is impossible to strip away the creature to get to God's naked goodness inside. Hence, the creaturely mask is not as an "image" or analogue for God's goodness. It does not bid us to draw our minds away from the created medium to God "above" the medium (which is the point of analogy), but rather God's actual presence in the bread. I take this to be what Paul means in Romans 1 when he states that God's power and glory are known "in that which was made" (ESV). We can say this with regard to God's activity in creation as we do with regard to redemption. For example, we do not say that the Lord's Supper "reflects" God's willingness to forgive or the presence of Christ, but rather it is these things. In a similar manner, in the OT, the covenant was circumcision.

This is all very consistently with Lutheranism's insistence that the "finite is capable of the infinite." As Gustaf Wingren points out, God's creatures are not alien to him in that made them precisely for the purpose of acting through them. Analogy supposes that the finite can only "reflect" or "echo" the infinite by similitude. For Lutherans, the infinite God can be known truly and directly through the created medium in that it is capable of serving as a vehicle of his infinity. This also corresponds to how Lutherans understand the Incarnation. For Lutherans, the man Christ is the presence of God, whereas for the Reformed and Catholics Christ's humanity reflects God. Denying the genus majestaticum, both Reformed and Catholics talk about the "creatured gifts" (i.e. created analogues of God's divinity in Jesus' humanity) given to the man Jesus.

For this reason, our language about God should be characterized as "sacramental" and not analogical. God cannot, as Luther states, be spoken of apart from the masks of his creaturely coverings. Whenever we speak about God, we are speaking about his presence and activity wrapped in his creatures, not his eternal and hidden being. This is why the analogy as a theological method ultimately does not work. It ignores the means through which God has made himself present to us and seeks to look into his hidden being through the creaturely medium as if they were transparent.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good Question from a Reader.

Here's a good question from a reader on the last post:

"Is there any correspondence between "how" and "what" God is? I'm thinking about goodness, or holiness - are these only describing how God is but never what he is?"

My response is as follows:

Good question.
Well, what do we mean when we predicate those things of God?  What we mean is that under his masks he acts in accordance with these terms.  For example, we may say that God is just.  What tells us this?  Well, his just action through his masks- smashing Pharaoh for example.  How does he do this?  Through the plagues and through a Word of attached to them telling us what he means to accomplish by them.
Notice though that the mask is never pulled away.  We never "see" God as just or holy.  We listen and he tells us that what he is doing is such.  This is why his actions under his mask may seem bad to vision, but we "hear" God's Word about the event and we trust and believe that under the covering that they are good and just.
Case-in-point: Jesus.  Go through the Gospels.  Every step of the way Jesus looks to those who do not believe his Word as though he is a sinner.  His mother makes what is, to human reason, a dubious claim of virgin birth (we can only infer what most people thought!), he is baptized with sinners, he associates with sinners.  He claims to be God (the sin of Adam) and he is condemned to death- that's what happens to sinner!  But all along, God testifies of what he really is under his covering of sin and death "my beloved son, etc."
When we believe these words, then we suffer God's action and are able to trust that he is what he says he is.  Nevertheless, that only comes about on the basis of trusting in his self-testimony.  God is always, as Luther says in the Genesis commentary "wrapped up" in a covering.  We deal with God in the covering alone this side of eternity.
Some theologians have attempted to use the "how" to infer the "what" through analogy (Aquinas and Barth).  For them, we can "think-after God" (nachdanken).  We can, they say, pull away the mask and talk about God in himself.  That way God's actions in creation which so often seem contradictory (wrath and grace) can be smoothed out into a unified system of nature being completed by grace.  Nevertheless, this is the theology of glory.  Faced with what Luther called the "nude God," we can only seek to self-justify.  This is why theologies that work on the basis of analogy are necessarily legalistic.

A Good Insight from the Church Fathers.

A good insight from the Fathers: Basil of Ceasarea says that we cannot know what God is, but we can know how God is: i.e., Trinity, redeemer, creator, etc. Johann Gerhard says much the same thing. This works well with Luther's insistence that when we deal with God we deal only with him under his masks (larva Dei). Dealing with him under his masks, we can very easily talk about how he is by his actions. Nevertheless, we cannot pull away his masks in this life and see what is he. That will only happen in heaven.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The End of Sacrifice.

Peter Leithart has recently written a book in defense of Constantine.  What Leithart thinks is significant about Constantine is that he ushered in an political order that did not have sacrifice.  In fact he banned sacrifice all together.  All civilizations were sacrificing civilizations up to that point.  The myth of origins of most civilizations was an act of cosmic sacrifice.  The gods of order usually killed a cosmic monster and his or her body became the universe.  Similarly, the city or nation itself was often built on an act of primal violence.  Cain killed Abel and then founded the first city (something that Augustine notes).  So too, Romulus killed Remus and founded Rome.  The point is that order only happens when there's violence.  Violence means subduing the other so they'll behave and do what you want.  On a political level, this means beating people into submission or killing them so that they won't revolt against you.  The social practice of sacrifice in political settings embodies this reality.  It's interesting that as Leithart notes the Christian in many cases were killed in ways that resembled the Roman act of sacrifice.  So, in other words, the Christian were sacrificed to keep the political order going.

Religiously, sacrifice usually means forcing the gods to do what you want them to do by subduing them through a pleasing offering.  The irony here is that the gods in many civilization (particularly ancient Sumer) were thought to get sleepy from eating the oblations.  Hence, the logical extension of the pacification of the gods is to make them literally sleep- or perhaps even die.  To my mind this seems to express the essence of Original sin.  Humans wish to be God, so they try to pacify the God.  The ultimate act of pacifying God would be to kill him- hence the crucifixion! 

Christianity is different for two reasons.  First, Christianity says that the world is not rooted in violence, but in God's peaceful act of giving (creation ex nihilo).  Secondly, sacrifice does happen, but at the end of history and not that the beginning.  In other words, in a sense the pagan myths are right.  Human community after the Fall does have to be rooted in some group of orderly people forcing disorderly people to be orderly.  Moreover, evil really does need to be punished.  Hence the curse and condemnation of the law.  In the punishment of sin in the cross, the point is to restore the primal peace between God and humans.  Sacrifice is an interim measure to deal with evil, it is not the very basis of reality.  Of course the sacrifice of cross does found a community, but one based on the end of sacrifice and therefore the end of the project of human self-justification.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Robert Jenson on Atonement: Part 2

More of a discussion on Jenson.  This deals specifically with his atonement theology.

In light of his history of divine self-actualization, the meaning of the work of Christ comes into focus.  Humanity’s true destiny is integration into the life of the Trinity: “God will let the redeemed see him: the Father by the Spirit will make Christ’s eyes their eyes.  Under all rubrics, the redeemed will be appropriated to God’s own being.”[14]  Therefore, the work of Christ is cast not so much as atonement for sin or defeat of demonic forces, but rather as God’s self-identification with sinful humanity and his reconciliation with them through their integration with the divine being.  In response to Jenson’s descriptions, one is at times more than tempted to see specters of Hegel’s “Speculative Good Friday.”[15] 

In entering into a more general discussion of atonement, Jenson first rejects both Anselm and other theories of substitutionary atonement.  For Jenson, atonement must be about our reconciliation with God, rather than his reconciliation with us.[16]  Nowhere, claims Jenson, does the New Testament speak about God’s reconciliation to us; rather it consistently speaks about our reconciliation to God.[17] Similarly, subjective theories of atonement (here Jenson mentions Schleiermacher) are problematic in that they make the communication of consciousness the real goal of redemption.  Such conceptions of the work of the work of Christ make no distinction between reconciliation as a subjective and objective event.[18]  For the tradition of Protestant Liberalism, Jesus died merely following his vocational duty to communicate his religious consciousness.  Ultimately then, it is completely irrelevant whether he died on the cross or “in bed.”[19] 

Lastly, Jenson reviews Gustaf Aulén and his promotion of the conquest motif.  Aulén’s theological construction is doubtless appealing due to its richness.  Most attractive to Jenson is that it makes the resurrection a true victory.[20]  According to Jenson this makes the conquest motif superior to Anselm’s theory of atonement where resurrection is irrelevant because all is already accomplished on the cross.[21] Nonetheless, Jenson believes that Aulén’s theory is deficient for two reasons.  First, it constructs a theory from “bits of Biblical and Patristic language,” while abandoning the actual narrative of Jesus’ Passion we discover in the Gospels. Instead, the conquest motif replaces the Gospel-narrative with a new and invented story of Jesus’ struggle against demonic forces. Secondly, this theory suffers from the weakness of being unable to give a coherent answer to the question of why God bothers to enter into the struggle of redemption in the first place.  What sense does it make for Jesus to do battle with Satan, when “victory is easily attained.”  This also creates the similar problem of how what Jesus “does for himself” (i.e., defeating the demonic forces) becomes “actual”[22] for us. 

Over against these theories of atonement, Jenson proposes a modified version of Gerhard Forde’s view that we will discuss in future chapters.  Crucifixion is what it actually “costs” God to remain a loving and forgiving Father.  Jesus reveals the Father to us and identifies with us in our sin and brokenness.  He wishes for us to share in his relationship with this loving Father.  We do not want to share this relationship in that we “do not want there to be a Father.”  The ultimate result of this rejection is the crucifixion of Christ by sinful humanity.  In that Jesus is raised from the dead in the power of the Spirit, humanity’s sinful status is made manifest.  We are truly the wicked vineyard keepers of Jesus’ parable.  Nonetheless, the Son finds “his own identity in the totus Christus, in the Son identified with us.”[23]  This theme of the totus Christus (originating in Augustine[24]) is extremely important to Jenson.  Classically, the terms refers to Christ and the Church together as single body and subject, a theme that Jenson exploits in the development of his ecclesiology.  The concept has been especially important for modern Roman Catholic ecclesiologies which Jenson often appears to be channeling.[25]  By Jesus’ suffering crucifixion, he identifies to the end with the effects of human sin that are present in the members of his mystical body.  He moves to identify with the very depths of human existence and thereby integrates sinful humanity into the life of God.

This brings Jenson to the nature of sacrifice.  The idea that Christ’s death was a sacrifice is an important idea in the Scriptures and also in the history of the Church.  What therefore, asks Jenson, is the meaning and significance of this concept?  According to him, we should not exclusively identify sacrifice with propitiation.  Rather, we should look at sacrifice as a kind of prayer, a “prayer spoken not only with language, but with words and gestures.”  Christ’s death was a prayer whereby he gave himself over to us in love and prayed for us to the Father.  Through participating in him, his one prayer incorporates many prayers of his body, the people of God.  His resurrection represents not so much his acceptance, but rather of his body the Church as it subsists in him as the totus Christus.  In the power of his resurrection, Christ now becomes the true priest able to baptize with the Spirit.  The Church is reconciled “only when we are actually brought together with him and his Father in one community; that is, in that their communal Spirit becomes that of a community in and by which we live.”[26]  The resurrection therefore structures the being and identity of the Son, thereby manifesting him as the true Logos of creation.  Echoing Pannenberg, for Jenson, the resurrection confirms Jesus’ status as the originator and goal of creation, thereby making him the true Logos of creation.  

The demonic forces of the old creation are also defeated by this death of the Son.  Although Jenson does not deny that that Jesus was one performed exorcisms and who strove with actual demons, he believes that it is more important that Jesus’ victory was primarily over the unholy alliance of the high priest and the Roman procurator.  This being said, Jenson is reticent about how exact this victory is accomplished.[27]  One may infer that Jenson believes that Jesus’ resurrection overcame and defeated the sinful actions of these governing authorities, but he does not directly state this. 

Ultimately, for Jenson, the sacrificial and conquest motifs are but minor and passing themes.  The main accent consistently falls on the theme of the Son’s integration of humanity into the trinitarian relationship.  This can be observed in how Jenson deals with the resurrection and the overall concept of sacrifice.  Reconciliation primarily consists of Christ identification with humanity.  By his resurrection and giving of the Spirit, draws humanity into the inner life of God.  In the power of the Spirit, the visible Church becomes something of the prolongation of the Incarnation: “The Church is ontologically the risen Christ’s human body.”[28]  Indeed, Jenson goes so far as to state “the Church is the risen Christ’s Ego.”[29]  Thereby the bond of humanity established in the Incarnation is universally communicated through the ministry of the Church.