Saturday, September 22, 2012

Peter Waldo and the Waldensians

The Waldensians were not only forerunners but also witnesses to the presence of Christ’s Word and Spirit in the church through the centuries. They gave expression to aspects of Apostolic religion that were threatened with extinction in the dominant church. They remind us that in every era, Christ fulfills His promise: “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

HT: Scott Clark

“Family Feud”; or, “Our American Christian Heritage”

Steven Wedgeworth has posted a brilliant review of John Frame’s The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology.

It’s brilliant not merely because he addresses (in an irenic way) the substance of all the contentions that are made in that book, not least of which is Two Kingdoms theology. He discusses the issue of who is the proper bearer of “the Reformed tradition”. He brings a sharp focus to bear upon “Christless Christianity” (and it’s “Gospel-Driven” counterpart, the “Lost Soul of Protestantism, and more). He discusses Protestant Scholasticism and Richard Muller (the real heroes of this story); and lots, lots more. (The whole thing is more than 7500 words, but still, I highly recommend giving it a look).

But beyond the issues, he talks about something that’s a lot deeper:

Michael Horton, who ends up bearing the brunt of the critique, described the book as “a new low in intra-Reformed polemics.”

To be the nastiest and most unfair polemicist in the Reformed community would be quite the accomplishment. Prof. Frame would have to outpace several of the Escondido men themselves, along with any number of Clarkians and theonomists – and that would only take into account the American cranksters! As biting and even sometimes inflammatory as some of Prof. Frame’s writing may be, this book does not take the prize for nastiness. And it is certainly a long way off from the battles of those golden years of Reformed confession-writing. We should never forget that the debates carried out by our Reformed ancestors, even the men now idolized by the Reformed gatekeepers, at times involved literal hatchet jobs.

Wedgeworth is spot-on when he says “We should never forget that the debates carried out by our Reformed ancestors, even the men now idolized by the Reformed gatekeepers, at times involved literal hatchet jobs”.

I’ve been hanging out at D.G. Hart’s blog recently because of his fun interactions with Bryan Cross. I came to Reformed theology largely through Hart’s books about Machen, whom I came to regard as the heir of Calvin through “Old Princeton” (though I tend to tune out Hart’s disagreements with Turretinfan over 2K views). While I agree with Steve Hays that “natural law” fails to address some very difficult moral issues, I don’t think anyone is going to hell over the Westminster “Two Kingdoms” theology, either.

I’ve known Scott Clark for about as long as there has been an Internet through which we could email. I’ve met Michael Horton. I write for a blog where Steve Hays, who calls himself a Biblicist, has been strongly influenced by the writings of John Frame (and presumably his “Something Close to Biblicism), which I like a lot, and with which I fundamentally agree. Clark writes scathingly about Frame. Clark is not well-regarded by Hays, but I’ve learned more about historical theology from Scott Clark than anyone else, I think.

Cyril of Alexandria was apparently a pretty good theologian. But he was just simply a thug as well. He can be a lesson for folks today.

Yes, I cringe when I watch Joel Osteen. But I found the graphic nearby on the front page of his website. I can honestly say, I know someone who has turned to Christ because of Joel Osteen. And while Osteen’s particular messaging is, I think, not helpful in ways that have been amply described, what would happen if he were to do a sermon series on, for example, “the history of the Reformation”? His audience is probably bigger than several whole Reformed denominations.

American Christianity certainly has its problems. But Christianity has always had problems. And despite the problems in American Christianity, it is our Christianity now.

I’m no fan of things like “bishops”, but I’m a very big fan of an old fart who goes by the handle “Embryo Parson”. There was a time when I despised him, but our more recent friendship shows us how (“in the Lord”) such transformations are possible. And I do think he has a very healthy attitude toward American Christianity.

Wedgeworth does not simply point out the problems. He points to a solution:

Instead, we do need a Reformed ressourcement. It needs to move forward by building upon the tradition. It should be a Reformed irenicism that is really Reformed, having clearly-stated and definitively Reformational principles. It should be an irenic catholicity that achieves peace through courageous and rational dialogue and debate, charitable but assertive. And it must always be truth-telling, with regards to itself and its opponents. Prof. Frame possesses the latter qualities of peace and honest integrity. The Escondido men aspire towards the former qualities of consistency with the great Reformed tradition, ….


We think we have begun to point to a way beyond the dead ends and impasses of ultra-confessionalism on the one hand, and a Neo-Calvinism so “neo” it is no longer really Calvinist on the other. And we are finding that many young pastors and churchmen, seeing the problems of the two opposing camps which have so far dominated the American Reformed world, are quite ready to step out onto that road.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Essential Works in New Testament Textual Criticism

Tommy Wasserman at the cleverly-named Evangelical Textual Criticism blog has provided his list of Top Ten Essential Works in New Testament Textual Criticism. You get more than a baker's dozen: there are really about 46 (by my admittedly quick count) publications listed, with the top ten being marked by asterisk.

Daniel Wallace on “the fragment”

Hurtado: more thoughts on the “wife” fragment:

That the fragment may derive from a larger text is a reasonable possibility, but an inference, not a datum. That this larger text might have been some sort of “Jesus book” (my term, which I really do commend over “gospel”, which is used so widely that it has no generic content other than a book about Jesus, so why not “Jesus book”?) is also plausible, though again an inference, and not the only plausible one. (It could derive, e.g., from a sermon, a treatise of some sort, or something else.)

Whatever that larger text, it’s unlikely that it was wholly given over to Jesus’ marital status. So, it’s a bit misleading to refer to a supposed “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. It’s just not helpful. It plays to the news media, but it’s close to being chaff.

As part of this blogpost, he also links to this interview with Simon Gathercole, who analyzes the text a bit and comes to this conclusion:

Harvard Professor Karen King, who is the person who has been entrusted with the text, has rightly warned us that this does not say anything about the historical Jesus. She is correct that “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus”. But she is also right that this is a fascinating discovery which offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate, but only if it is genuine.

How the early church lost its understanding of grace

Salvation is all grace.

Bavinck begins his discussion of “The Scriptural View of Salvation” (pgs 491 ff.) noting that “In the Old Testament already, it is God who immediately after the fall, out of grace, puts enmity between humanity and the serpent and brings humanity to his side (Gen. 3:15). It is he who elects Abraham and the people of Israel born to him to be his possession (Gen 12:1; Exod. 15:13, 16,; 19:4; 20:2; Deut 7:7f.), who makes a covenant with them and gives his laws to them (Gen. 15:1; 17:2; Exod. 2:24-25; Deut 4:5-13), who gives the blood on the altar for atonement (Lev. 17:11), and does all that is needed for his vineyard (Isa. 5; Jer 2:21). To be sure, Israel incurs some obligation with the law, but the covenant relationship “did not depend on the observance of the law as an antecedent condition; it was not a covenant of works, but rested solely in God’s electing love” (493-494).

In Christ, God consolidated His own reign in the The Kingdom of God, with the ascension (2 Cor 3:17-18) and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who dwells “at Christ’s initiative in the church as in his temple” (500).

Here, Bavinck picks up the “historical-theological” account of salvation through the earliest church:

That faith in Christ was the way to salvation was, of course, a certainty in the church from the beginning. Believers, after all, knew themselves to have been placed in a special relationship to God and continuously preserved in it by his grace. They were the elect of God adopted by Jesus Christ to be his own people. By the agency of Christ they had taken refuge in his mercy and were the new people with whom God had established his covenant. And this Christ not only was the revelation of God by whom they had learned to know God but also gave his blood for their sins. He gave himself up to purify them by the forgiveness of sins, to vivify them by his wounds. In that way, then, he is the Lord and high priest of their confession, the object of their faith who also continually preserves them and builds them up in the faith.

He speaks of “grace” being “anterior to our works”, and traces this through Justin and Irenaeus and Origen. “The moral corruption of humanity and the necessity of the grace of the Holy Spirit have been even more strongly expressed by the Latin fathers (Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose), on whose pronouncements Augustine therefore based himself. Tertullian says, ‘This will be the power of the grace of God, more potent indeed than nature, exercising its sway over the faculty that underlies itself within us—even the freedom of our own will.’ From Cyprian come the words that are repeatedly cited by Augustine: ‘We must boast in nothing since nothing is our own.’”

Yet in those first centuries, the doctrine of the application of salvation was not at all developed and in part already steered in wrong directions early on. Although there are a few “testimonies of evangelical truth” here and there, on the whole the gospel was soon construed as a new law. Faith and repentance were generally regarded as the necessary way to salvation but were ultimately the product of human freedom. Though salvation had objectively been acquired by Christ, to become participants in it the free cooperation of humans was needed. Faith as a rule was no more than the conviction of the truth of Christianity, and repentance soon acquired the character of a penance that satisfies for sins. The sins committed before one’s baptism were indeed forgiven in baptism, but those committed after baptism had to be made good by penance. Penitence was frequently still viewed as sincere contrition over sin, but the emphasis shifted increasingly to the external acts in which it had to manifest itself, such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and so on, and these good works were viewed as a “satisfaction of work.” Soteriology was altogether externalized. Not the application of salvation by the Holy Spirit to the heart of the sinner but the achievement of so-called good—often totally arbitrary—works was regarded as the way of salvation. Christian discipleship consisted in copying the life and suffering of Christ, which was vividly portrayed before people’s eyes. Martyrs, ascetics, and monks were the best Christians (508).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Canadian dance moves

More reason to doubt "the Jesus's Wife" fragment

Larry Hurtado has provided a link to this blog post by Dirk Jongkind which suggests that "the Gospel of Jesus's Wife" fragment has indeed been tampered with:

Let's assume for the sake of the argument that the fragment is genuine. And let's assume that originally it was written somewhere in Egypt before the eighth century. Then we are still faced with a massive issue. Why does the fragment look so neatly rectangular?

The answer given by Roger Bagnall in the NYT is the following:

"The piece is torn into a rough rectangle, so that the document is missing its adjoining text on the left, right, top and bottom — most likely the work of a dealer who divided up a larger piece to maximize his profit, Dr. Bagnall said."...

So clearly, Bagnall thinks that current shape of the fragment is modern, and that it was deliberately forced into its current shape 'to maximize profit'.

Is it too far-fetched to suggest that the lamentable loss of the words immediately following the famed words 'My wife' might not have been accidental, but perhaps made in order 'to maximize profit'?...

Here we have a fragment which has been deliberately altered, 'most likely' by a modern dealer seeking to maximize profit, who gets rid of 'something'. And this 'something' might well be in the same league as the oil refinery – it might be a spoiler that affected the value of this fragment negatively. The fragment may have been torn in the shape it is now in order to coax the reader into a certain interpretation.

Whatever the reason, that even supporters of authenticity of the fragment such as Bagnall believe that there has been modern interference with this manuscript, should give some reason to pause and think again.

Hurtado says "This is just the sort of testing of scholarly claims that characterizes good scholarly discussion.... Dirk does raise an interesting point about the curious shape and dimensions of the fragment, and that all agree that it has this shape and size likely because someone (in the current scene) shaped it."

WSCal Professor R. Scott Clark’s “Heidelblog” is back.

Clark re-introduced the blog about a week ago, with a picture of Alfred E. Newman and a blog post entitled “As I was saying”:

The last HB post was in May 2011. Much has happened since. It’s not possible to fill in the blank created by the interim so I won’t try. The two concerns, however, that animated the HB from 2006-2011 continue to fuel my teaching and writing: 1) getting the gospel right (and getting it out) and 2) getting worship right (to the glory of God and the edification of the church). I remain committed to Recovering the Reformed Confession.

As I look about it does not seem that the world has changed much since May, 2011 but I have changed, however, mainly through loss, which has been sobering and saddening. I’m sure that I am worse for it. Nevertheless, as I continue to learn the greatness of my sin and misery I also learn the magnificence of the mystery of grace (unconditional acceptance with God on the ground of Christ’s righteousness imputed and received through trusting in Christ alone) and grace is sustaining.

For some of the interim I’ve been helping to finish work on a long-term translation project that should (Dv) appear in 2013. I’ve been working on a project that considers the relations between the Reformed faith, rhetoric, love, truth, and ethos in the late modern era.

In response to the several email queries I’ve received: I don’t know what happened to Jason Stellman. We have not talked. He has my mobile number and a standing invitation to call any time.

In case you’re troubled by Jason’s apparent defection from the biblical, evangelical, faith and are tempted to follow him you should know this: whatever her apologists may say, Rome is not home. She is a way station to other even more unhappy destinations. She is most certainly not a path to the faith and practice of the Scriptures nor is she a path back to the early church. The Patristic (100-500 AD) and medieval (500-1500 AD) churches in the West were gradually Romanized but they were not the Roman Church we know today.

Properly speaking, there is no “Roman Catholic Church.” Such a claim may be clever marketing but it’s oxymoronic. A church is either Roman (local) or catholic (universal). By definition she cannot be both simultaneously any more than Jesus’ humanity can be at the right hand of the Father and in Berlin at the same time.

As a matter of history, the Roman communion came into being in 1547, midway through the Council of Trent, when that council condemned the Holy Gospel. From a historian’s perspective, Rome is a sect, whose identity, theology, piety, and practice is so tied to Trent that it would be entirely unrecognizable to the apostolic and early post-apostolic (Patristic) church and to much of the medieval church. Were most of the theologians of the first nine or ten centuries to look at Rome in the 21st century, they would be shocked and disappointed to learn that doctrines that were marginal in their day have become Romanist orthodoxy and orthopraxy. There would be much face-palming and head slapping from the host of Patristic and early medieval theologians.

The whole archive seems to be back in place. I for one am glad of that, because I had cited a number of his articles on Reformation History. Those links had been broken when he took the site down.

Welcome back Scott.

Small Bible Study Groups Attract Roman Catholics

While a small number of Protestants are converting to Rome based on highly convoluted methods of reasoning, far more Roman Catholics are finding the reality of Christ in the fellowship of small Bible study groups in evangelical Protestant churches. Chris Castaldo points this out in a Gospel Coalition article entitled Small Groups that Attract Catholics. In the article, Castaldo says:

The [small Bible-study group] movement is probably bigger than you realize. More than 10 million men and women in the United States were raised Catholic and now worship in an evangelical Protestant church. A great deal can be said about the dynamics surrounding the movement, but our concern here is to understand their point of entry.

Noting that “Catholic small groups are uncommon”, he suggests that “the fundamental reason is the Catholic legacy of clericalism”. He cites one Roman Catholic author:

In a 1906 encyclical, Pius X said that the "one duty" of the laity “is to allow themselves to be led, and like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.” In 1907 the American hierarchy followed suit with a similar directive: “The Church is not a republic or a democracy, but a monarchy . . . all her authority is from above and rests in her Hierarchy. . . [While] the faithful of the laity have divinely given rights to receive all the blessed ministrations of the Church, they have absolutely no right whatever to rule and govern.”

He continues, “To be sure, Vatican II (1962-1965) initiated a trajectory of equipping Catholic laity for service, as evidenced in current movements such as the "New Evangelization" of Pope John Paul II, but old patterns die hard, especially when they have been reinforced through centuries.”

Elsewhere, Castaldo reminds readers that many similar small groups were at the heart and soul of the Protestant Reformation:

Here is one example of a Bible study group which met in Naples, Italy, in between 1536-41. Led by the Spaniard, Juan De Valdés, this circle of friends often picnicked together in the countryside each Sunday. It comprised influential theologians and laypeople alike, including Bernardino Ochino, General of the Capuchins and the most famous preacher in Italy, Peter Martyr Vermigli, then abbot, soon to be Reformed theologian, Pietro Carnesecchi, a canon lawyer, and the Countess of Fondi, Giulia da Gonzaga. So what did this group do in their meetings?

Fortunately, we have some idea from extant writings, the most important of which is the work of Valdés titled One Hundred and Ten Divine Considerations , a volume that functioned as a basis of discussion and tool for discipleship among the group’s members. In their gatherings, they studied books of the Bible (starting with Romans followed by 1 Corinthians). The discussed theology, and especially wrestled through the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They read pseudonymous works from Northern Reformers, such as Luther, Bucer, and Zwingli. They prayed, debated, and conducted evangelistic outreach. Vermigli, for instance, shared the gospel with Galeazzo Caracciolo, a convert who became a Reformer and went on to found the Italian Church in Calvin’s Geneva. By most standards, this was a thriving small group.

Perhaps the most poignant summary of Valdés Neapolitan fellowship was expressed decades later by one of its members, Pietro Carnesecchi, before he was publically beheaded and burned for heresy by the Inquisition (1567). Describing the quality of friendship, theological interaction, and enthusiasm for biblical renewal, Carnesecchi described the Valdésian gatherings as a “regno di Dio,” “kingdom of God.”

Here is the theological pearl—when the rule of Christ is treasured as our preeminent value, now as it was then, we will find our small groups generating spiritual fruit which transforms today and endures through every tomorrow.

One key reason why the Roman Catholic Church survived the Protestant Reformation was because it had the power of the inquisition to have people “publically beheaded and burned for heresy”. Without that power now, how will Roman Catholic ideas survive when pressed by Protestant phenomena such as these small Bible Study groups?

Possible forgery, possible Gnostic text, definitely late

No doubt many of you have seen the stories about the fragment from “ the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”. The CNN story cites Darrell Bock:

"There's no indication we have that Jesus was married," said Darrell Bock, a senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. "One could say the text is silent on Jesus' marital status is because there was nothing to say." …

Bock agreed with the notion that the text fragment shared similarities with those gospels, called the Gnostic Gospels, which were the writings of an early outlier sect of Christians. He said the text could be referring to a gnostic rite of marriage but "it's a small text with very little context. We don't know what's wrapped around it to know what it's saying."

Bock said it's likely to be a gnostic text if it proves to be authentic. "The whole text needs vetting. She's doing the right thing to release it and let scholars take a look at," he said, adding "it's a little bit like trying to analyze the game in the first quarter."

"It's a historical curiosity but doesn't really tell us who Jesus was," Bock said. "It's one small speck of a text in a mountain of texts of about Jesus."

Michael Kruger has provided an article for The Gospel Coalition. He says:

Here are several considerations.

Forgery is not uncommon in the antiquities market. I am not an expert in Coptic palaeography (my work is in Greek manuscripts), but I had concerns about the initial appearance of the manuscript. In particular, the sloppy nature of the scribal hand, and the wide and undifferentiated strokes of the pen seemed problematic. In addition, the color of the ink seems off---it's too dark, almost as if it were painted. Ancient inks tend to be lighter in color, though there are exceptions. This scenario is exacerbated by the ambiguity about the place of its discovery and the identity of its anonymous owner.

However, according to Karen King's forthcoming paper, this manuscript was examined by Roger Bagnall and AnnMarie Luijendijk, two reputable scholars, who both found it to be authentic and attributed the odd style to the blunt pen of the scribe. Other indications of authenticity are the use of the nomina sacra (abbreviations of certain words) and the faded ink on the back of the page (something that would have required considerable time). But my friend and Coptic scholar, Christian Askeland, is skeptical of its authenticity due to, among other things, the odd formation of some of its letters (particularly the epsilon) and omissions in the Coptic text. Other scholars have also expressed skepticism about the fragment.

At this point, there is no way to know whether it is genuine or a forgery. We cannot be certain until more scholars have an opportunity to examine it.

Assuming for the moment that the manuscript is genuine, questions remain about its composition. First, what kind of document are we dealing with here? At first glance, the document appears to be composed as a gospel-like text that contained stories and sayings of Jesus. In fact, Jesus seems to be doing what he often does in other gospel texts: he is having a conversation with his disciples. Some scholars have suggested this fragment may be a magical text like an amulet, particularly given its small size. However, amulets normally did not have writing on the back of the page (the verso). If the writing on the back of this fragment is continuous with the front (which is unknown at this point) then it may simply be a miniature codex. Miniature codices were popular in early Christianity and often contained apocryphal texts. …

Most important, there is nothing that would indicate that the composition of this gospel should be dated to the first century. It was produced long after the time of the apostles, along with all other known apocryphal gospels.

Historical Value
The key question is whether this particular gospel account can tell us anything about what Jesus was really like. Does this text prove that Jesus had a wife? Does this gospel provide reliable historical information? No and no. There is no reason to think this gospel retains authentic tradition about Jesus. It is a late production, not based on eyewitness testimony, and likely draws on other apocryphal works like Thomas and Phillip.

Moreover---and this is critical---we do not have a single historical source in all of early Christianity that suggests Jesus was married. None. There is nothing about Jesus being married in the canonical gospels, in apocryphal gospels, in the church fathers, or anywhere else. Even if this new gospel claims that Jesus was married, it is out of step with all the other credible historical evidence we have about his life. As King herself noted, "This is the only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife. It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married".

Conspiracies and the Canonical Gospels
Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory. It would certainly be far more entertaining for our culture if one could show that apocryphal books were really the Scripture of the early church and that they have been suppressed by the political machinations of the later church (e.g., Constantine). But the truth is far less sensational. While apocryphal books were given some scriptural status from time to time, the overwhelming majority of early Christians preferred the books now in our New Testament canon. Thus, we are reminded again that the canon was not arbitrarily "created" by the church in the fourth or fifth century. The affirmations of the later church simply reflected what had already been the case for many, many years.

When it comes to these sorts of questions I like to remind my students of a simple---but often overlooked---fact: of all the gospels in early Christianity, only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are dated to the first century. Sure, there are minority attempts to put books like the Gospel of Thomas in the first century---but such attempts have not been well received by biblical scholars. Thus, if we really want to know what Jesus was like, our best bet is to rely on books that were at least written during the time period when eyewitnesses were still alive. And only four gospels meet that standard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This is the most hilarious thing I've seen in a long time

Grace and Salvation: Is it Personal? Or is it Mystical?

Several weeks ago, I went round and round with some of gang at Called to Communion on the topic of Grace in the New Testament.

Grace in the New Testament: An Overview

Grace Part 1: Ancient Greek Conceptions of Grace

Grace Part 2: Biblical (OT and NT) Conceptions of Grace

And I worked through the letter of First Clement and showed how Clement misunderstands not only “grace” but also a number of other things in the New Testament.

Just a short while ago I came across a work by Donald Fairbairn, who picks up some of these “misunderstandings” and traces them further through church history.

Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of (among other things), a work called Grace and Christology in the Early Church (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press ©2002), in which he traces a “personal” (in contrast with a “mediated”) view of grace through a number of fourth and fifth century church fathers.

More recently, he’s published a work entitled Patristic Soteriology: Three Trajectories, which again traces three “trajectories” of salvation (and hence grace) through patristic soteriology.

One of these is the Western, or “personal” understanding, as espoused by Irenaeus and later Cyril of Alexandria (in a more “precise” way). The other two are those espoused first by Origen, and later modified by Gregory of Nyssa. Here are some of his comments on both of those “trajectories”.

First, he describes the view of Irenaeus and the “personal” understanding of salvation:

The centrality of a personal understanding of salvation in Irenaeus’s thought, the gift (described as eternal life, adoption, and incorruption) is connected to the Logos himself, to Christ. To be united to Christ is to share in his eternal life, his incorruption. Moreover, we again see that adoption lies at the heart of Irenaeus’s soteriology. When we receive the Logos, the true Son of God, he makes us adopted sons and daughters, and then we are able to share in the Son’s incorruption.

The centrality of a personal understanding of salvation in Irenaeus’s thought is further illustrated by his later work Demonstratio praedicationis apostolicae (written ca. 190). As he introduces the three articles of faith (that is, the three persons of the Trinity), Irenaeus writes that the Son “became a man amongst men, visible and palpable, in order to abolish death, to demonstrate life, and to effect communion between God and man.” Later, he writes of Christ’s preeminence: “Thus, in this way, is the Word of God preeminent in all things, for He is true man and ‘Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God,’ calling man back again to communion
with God, that by communion with Him we may receive participation in incorruptibility.” Here one should note the order of the statements: communion with God is foundational, and incorruptibility is the result of sharing communion with God …. Participation, for Irenaeus, does not mean merely sharing in some qualities of God, and it emphatically does not mean virtual absorption into God’s being. Instead, Irenaeus uses the idea of participation in a decidedly personal way: through our union with the natural Son of God, we become adopted sons and daughters, and thus we share fellowship or communion with God. Sharing in God’s qualities (such as incorruptibility) follows from this primarily personal way of looking at salvation. By using the idea of participation in God to refer to adoption and communion, Irenaeus plots what I call a personal trajectory, which part of the Church will subsequently follow in describing salvation [emphasis added].

This sounds very much like Calvin’s [monergistic] doctrine of Union with Christ – a thing effected by God’s grace, to which man can never aspire on his own efforts.

Eastern writers Origen and Gregory of Nyssa went in a different direction:

Here one should recognize how sharp the difference between Irenaeus and Origen is, even though both are arguing against the same opponent, Gnosticism. Irenaeus’s rejection of Gnostic dualism enables him to accentuate the importance of the whole person, body and soul. He is then able to describe salvation in personal terms, as the communion of a human being with God through adoption into God’s family, with the result that the whole person shares God’s incorruption. In contrast, Origen’s rejection of Gnostic fatalism pushes him, ironically, toward somewhat of an acceptance of Gnostic dualism: he postulates a cosmos in which the very existence of the physical realm is a result of sin. In such a cosmos, the pre-existence of the souls gives those souls a kinship with God that the bodies, created later, can never have. This, in turn, prevents him from seeing human beings as whole persons, and thus makes it difficult for him to see salvation in personal terms. As a result, in Origen’s system salvation becomes the task of the human soul to achieve mystical union with God, and this soteriology bears an unmistakable resemblance to the Middle Platonic philosophy that had seeped into second-century Alexandrian Christianity through Philo and Clement.

This strong emphasis on salvation as the task of the human soul leads Origen to view participation in God primarily as sharing in God’s holiness, wisdom, and other qualities, not as sharing in his personal fellowship.

Fairbairn calls this the “mystical” trajectory, and it seems to lead to such things as the “chain of being” types of theology (to which a lot of Eastern theologians and some Medieval western theologians adhered).

There are several ways in which Origen’s understanding of salvation serves to plot what I am calling the mystical trajectory. His focus on the free human action to ascend to God, in contrast to a paradigm in which God’s downward action is the primary focus, promotes a view of Christian life in which our action is the key to union with God. His depiction of salvation as participation in God’s qualities, as purification so that we can see God as he really is, creates a climate in which the personal dimensions of salvation are underemphasized. And his insistence that the final state of believers (and indeed, of all creatures) will be immaterial paves the way for a view of salvation that comes dangerously close to blurring the distinctions between individual creatures, and even the distinction between God and all creatures [emphasis added].

That sounds very much like the kinds of things I’ve cited Joseph Ratzinger as saying.

Of Gregory of Nyssa, who provided “a minimalist correction” to Origen, he says, “Gregory continues to see through Origen’s eyes in many ways”.

Where does this “mystical trajectory” lead?

it seems to me that what I am calling the mystical trajectory was the one that gained preeminence during the Byzantine period. The emphases of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa were echoed prominently in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius early in the sixth century [upon whom Aquinas relied, mistakenly thinking that “Pseudo” Dionysius was the real Dionysius from Acts 17]. Later, Maximus the Confessor (ca. 580–662) launched an extensive critique of Origen’s cosmology, allegedly solving once-for-all the problems inherent in it, but in my opinion he did not significantly depart from the overall vision of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. This trajectory may be traced further through Gregory Palamas (ca. 1269–1359), who crystallized the distinction between God’s essence (in which we do not share) and his energies (in which we do share through salvation). With Palamas the Eastern Orthodox Church was locked onto a trajectory in which salvation consists more of participation in God’s qualities, his energies, rather than participation in a relationship [between persons].

Finally, he discusses Cyril of Alexandria, who distinguishes between “unity of substance (which God does not share with us at all), and unity of fellowship (which is the heart of what he does share with us)”:

like Irenaeus and Athanasius, and unlike Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, he places his dominant emphasis on salvation as personal participation. In fact, Cyril’s treatment of this theme is more extensive than that of other patristic writers. He emphasizes that Christians receive both the status of adopted sons and communion with the Father and the Son. More important, Cyril develops technical terminology to emphasize that believers do not share in any way at all in the substance of God, but that we nevertheless do participate in the fellowship that the persons of the Trinity have with one another because they are of the same substance. By developing this terminology, Cyril guards against a mystical concept of salvation (in which the distinction between the saved person and God is blurred) and also affirms the most personal concept of salvation possible. …

…[I]t should be clear that Cyril of Alexandria represents the same trajectory as Irenaeus and Athanasius, but he is considerably more precise than either of them. He guards sedulously against any idea of mystical absorption into God, and he tirelessly promotes a personal concept of participation in which we share in the very love between the Father and the Son. Cyril also places a great deal of emphasis on our human inability to rise up to God, and thus on God’s downward action through the incarnation and crucifixion in order to make us his adopted sons and daughters. These emphases stand in marked contrast to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. Virtually all Greek Fathers use the words “participation” and “deification,” but as I have sought to show, there are at least two quite different ways of understanding these concepts in the patristic period. And I believe that the personal participatory way of understanding salvation deserves a great deal of our attention. We should not let the problems of the mystical pattern lead us to write off altogether the concept of salvation as participation.

Of course, I’m certain that understanding these “trajectories” will require a great deal more study. He applies this to a current evangelical understanding:

Of course, evangelical spirituality, the typical concept of Christian life present among the people in evangelical churches, is abundantly personal. We focus on Jesus as our friend. We speak about “a personal relationship with Christ” or “knowing God personally.” Evangelical sermons and Bible studies stress that Christ is there for us, pulling for us. But I fear that this personal spirituality is often rather distantly removed from the primarily juridical theology common in evangelicalism. Most laypeople—and perhaps even many pastors—are unable to connect the juridical and the personal aspects of evangelical faith, and these aspects remain in separate boxes in people’s minds, relegated to separate sermons from evangelical pulpits.

This is just a very broad-brush view, but my hope is that many more Reformed and Evangelical scholars will follow these threads through history.

Meanwhile, around the turn of the third century, Tertullian asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” The context for this notes that importing secular ideas into Christs teaching is mixing chalk and cheese together.

It seems important to be able to understand how they got mixed, and what the effects were.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Innocence of Mormons

A Broadway Spoof Play about Mormons has NO MORMONS RIOTING IN THE STREETS:

On the other hand, if you can afford to shell out several hundred bucks for a seat, then you can watch a Mormon missionary get his holy book stuffed—well, I can't tell you about that, either. Let's just say it has New York City audiences roaring with laughter.

The "Book of Mormon"—a performance of which Hillary Clinton attended last year, without registering a complaint—comes to mind as the administration falls over itself denouncing "Innocence of Muslims." This is a film that may or may not exist; whose makers are likely not who they say they are; whose actors claim to have known neither the plot nor purpose of the film; and which has never been seen by any member of the public except as a video clip on the Internet.

No matter. The film, the administration says, is "hateful and offensive" (Susan Rice), "reprehensible and disgusting" (Jay Carney) and, in a twist, "disgusting and reprehensible" (Hillary Clinton). Mr. Carney, the White House spokesman, also lays sole blame on the film for inciting the riots that have swept the Muslim world and claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff in Libya.

So let's get this straight: In the consensus view of modern American liberalism, it is hilarious to mock Mormons and Mormonism but outrageous to mock Muslims and Islam. Why? Maybe it's because nobody has ever been harmed, much less killed, making fun of Mormons....

President Obama came to office promising that he would start a new conversation with the Muslim world, one that lectured less and listened more. After nearly four years of listening, we can now hear more clearly where the U.S. stands in the estimation of that world: equally despised but considerably less feared. Just imagine what four more years of instinctive deference will do.

On the bright side, dear liberals, you'll still be able to mock Mormons. They tend not to punch back, which is part of what makes so many of them so successful in life.

The Mind of a Sex Abuser

or, how child molesters get away with it:

Photo caption: Jerry Sandusky built a sophisticated grooming operation, outsourcing to child-care professionals the task of locating vulnerable children—all the while playing the role of lovable goofball.

The New Yorker Magazine provided this graphic look inside the mind of a typical child abuser: someone who plans and schemes. These are not chance meetings; there is a pattern of deceit that goes on as they live their lives and search for their next victim.

Now imagine the 6115 priests all accused of child molestation, and what’s going through their minds, as they’re going through their daily routines, saying Mass, hearing confessions, and serving as the local mouthpiece for the Magisterium du jour, etc. Of course, Roman Catholics need not worry about this, because these men, once ordained, are priests, their "sacraments" "valid", no matter how, uh, dirty their hands have been.

Graphic Warning: this is the New Yorker Magazine:

We now know what Sandusky was really doing with the Second Mile. He was setting up a pipeline of young troubled boys. Just as important, though, he was establishing his bona fides. Psychologists call this “grooming”—the process by which child molesters ingratiate themselves into the communities they wish to exploit. “Many molesters confirmed that they would spend anywhere from two to three years getting established in a new community before molesting any children,” van Dam writes. One pedophile she interviewed would hang out in bars, looking for adults who seemed to be having difficulties at home. He would lend a comforting ear, and then start to help out. As he told van Dam:

I was just a friend doing things a friend would do. Helping them move, going to baseball games with them. What I found myself doing was getting close to the kids, becoming more of a father figure or a mentor, doing things for them that the parents weren’t doing because the parents were out getting drunk all the time. And, of course, it made it easy for me to baby-sit. They’d say, “Oh yeah. We can off-load the kids with Jimmy.”...

The pedophile is often imagined as the dishevelled old man baldly offering candy to preschoolers. But the truth is that most of the time we have no clue what we are dealing with. A fellow-teacher at Mr. Clay’s school, whose son was one of those who complained of being fondled, went directly to Clay after she heard the allegations. “I didn’t do anything to those little boys,” Clay responded. “I’m innocent. . . . Would you and your husband stand beside me if it goes to court?” Of course, they said. People didn’t believe that Clay was a pedophile because people liked Clay—without realizing that Clay was in the business of being likable.

Did anyone at Penn State understand what they were dealing with, either?

Do Roman Catholics who seek to give their “Church” a pass for the sex abuse scandal, because they are misled to believe that this is “the Church that Christ Founded®” understand what they are dealing with?

Sentencing date set for child molester Jerry Sandusky

Sandusky Sentencing Date Set

Nearly three months after he was found guilty, Jerry Sandusky now knows when he will be sentenced.

McKean County Senior Judge John M. Cleland issued an order Monday morning setting Mr. Sandusky's sentencing for Oct. 9.

The judge also will conduct a hearing that day to determine if Mr. Sandusky is a sexually violent predator, a designation sought by the state attorney general's office that would require a lifetime of registration as a sex offender.

Mr. Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator for the Penn State University football team, was found guilty in June on 45 of 48 counts against him after a two-week trial in Centre County.

Prosecutors said he abused 10 boys over a 15-year period, including several on Penn State's campus. The victims came from Mr. Sandusky's charity for disadvantaged youth, The Second Mile.

Meanwhile, hundreds if not thousands of pedophile priests, and hundreds of their “enabling” bishops continue to remain at large.

There have been only 37 criminal trials for pedophile priests.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

They’re coming for us now

In his article, The tangled web of conflicting rights, George Will, in his usual understated way, points out the way that the firm hand of government is already trampling upon the rights of Christians to follow their consciences. In reality, the rights of Christian photographers not to photograph a “gay marriage” is clearly trampled upon.

In 2006, Vanessa Willock e-mailed Elane Photography about photographing a “commitment ceremony” that she and her partner were planning. Willock said that this would be a “same-gender ceremony.” Elane Photography responded that it photographed “traditional weddings.” The Huguenins [the photographers] are Christians who, for religious reasons, disapprove of same-sex unions. Willock sent a second e-mail asking whether this meant that the company “does not offer photography services to same-sex couples.” Elane Photography responded that “you are correct.”

Willock could then have said regarding Elane Photography what many same-sex couples have long hoped a tolerant society would say regarding them — “live and let live.” Willock could have hired a photographer with no objections to such events. Instead, Willock and her partner set out to break the Huguenins to the state’s saddle.

Willock’s partner, without disclosing her relationship with Willock, e-mailed Elane Photography. She said that she was getting married — actually, she and Willock were having a “commitment ceremony” because New Mexico does not recognize same-sex marriages — and asked whether the company would travel to photograph it. The company said yes. Willock’s partner never responded.

Instead, Willock, spoiling for a fight, filed a discrimination claim with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, charging that Elane Photography is a “public accommodation,” akin to a hotel or restaurant, that denied her its services because of her sexual orientation. The commission found against Elane and ordered it to pay $6,600 in attorney fees.

Noting that this web of “conflicting rights” grows more tangled, Will asks the question, “In jurisdictions … which ban discrimination on the basis of political affiliation or ideology, would a photographer, even a Jewish photographer, be compelled to record a Nazi Party ceremony?”