cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
Yes, I'm still working on my Wittgenstein and metatheics series. (And my atonement theology series, too, for that matter, although at present the metaethics one has the precedence.) I promise.




Fred Clark wrote about patripassianism recently, and got an "Amen!" from Tony Jones. I share their instinct that God the Parent can known, and more importantly has known, suffering, but am uncomfortable with Clark's description of Trinitarian theological reasoning:
one is “allowed” to recite the lawyerly formulations of the Athanasian Creed, but if you stray at all from that narrow path or attempt to say anything more — any positive statements, clarifications, analogies, applications — you’re screwed. [. . . T]his doctrine creates so many different ways in which you can be screwed that it’s hard not to suspect this was the intention — a doctrine more useful for generating and then condemning heresies than for avoiding error.
A lot of this comes down to Clark being much more Protestant than I am, so traditional notions of heresy and orthodoxy don't hold the same authority for him as for me. But I do think the best articulation of the pure theology of the Trinity is found in the Athanasian articulation (although admittedly it's light on the practical implications), and that it's important to be mindful of the ancient heresies precisely because God defies the categories we are liable to try to place God in if we're not eternally vigilant.

Insofar as patripassianism is by definition a form of modalism, confusing or conflating in some sense the distinction in persons between God the Parent and God the Begotten, then it represents a damaging heresy and should be denounced. That strikes me as pretty straight forward. But does it?

I think it's possible to meaningfully still speak about God the Parent being present with and sharing the suffering of God the Begotten upon the Cross (or, if our theology requires God the Parent to forsake God the Begotten in order for God to experience the absence of God, then surely the Parent suffers in the act of forsaking the beloved Child!) without falling into modalism, without confusing the distinction in persons between the Parent and the Begotten. The question then becomes a defitional one, whether a suffering Parent still constitutes heretical patripassianism even when it isn't modalist. I suspect the answer should be no, but the trail goes pretty much cold at the Wikipedia article, and without reading the primary texts in which member (or better yet, ecumenical councils) of the early Church denounce the heresy it's impossible to say.




In a talk on theodicy, Roger Olson says, "Well, theology has four criteria: revelation, including Jesus Christ and Scripture, tradition, reason and experience." Now, Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to the world. That's central to my faith. But I don't know how much sense it makes to talk about Jesus Christ as a subcategory of revelation when we are talking about criteria of theology. The revelation which was the historical Jesus is mediated to us through scripture and tradition. And the revelation of the Risen Christ is mediated to us through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience--the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a variation of the Anglican three-legged stool. So I'm not sure what sense it makes to talk of Jesus as a separate revelation when we're talking about our work as a theologians. In a sense, what Christian theology does is precisely try to arrive at the revelation of Jesus Christ through the tools of scripture, tradition, reason, experience, etc.

Furthermore, the way Olson formulates the Quadrilateral implies that tradition, reason, and experience are not also forms of revelation. I suppose I can understood why a non-liberal ("post-conservative") evangelical Protestant wouldn't classify them as such, but as a post-liberal Anglo-Catholic I absolutely would. Again, scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are the means we have by which we come to terms with the revelation of God to the world: the person of Jesus Christ.




My twitter feed seemed to be, well, a-twitter with comments about Christological and/or Messianic themes in Man of Steel, the Superman mythos in general, and the superhero genre even more in general. I'll put forth Five Reasons Why Superman Isn't Jesus and Five Reasons Why Jesus Isn't Superman, both from Pop Theology at Patheos, as semi-representative. I tend to think the question is mostly silly (although the theology is usually right-on). No, Jesus isn't a superhero. He certainly isn't the "first superhero"; Gilgamesh and Herakles not only fit the "superhero" mold much better than Jesus, but they pre-date the birth of Jesus by several centuries.

At the same time, it's silly to think that how we tell superhero stories isn't influenced by the story of Jesus. I haven't seen Man of Steel yet, but the fact that there will be parallels, both in terms of imagery and of plot, between Superman and Christ, is pretty much inevitable. That doesn't make Jesus a superhero. It doesn't mean Snyder was somehow blaspheming in creating the movie, or that we are in seeing such parallels. It does mean that the great secular myths of the postmodern era do--as arguably all myths do--have a complicated, messy relationship with what Lewis famously called the "true myth": the Christian narrative.
cjbanning: (Trinity)
As preached to the Church of the Ascension during our service of Morning Prayer, this twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, November 18, 2012.

1 Samuel 2:1-10
1 Samuel 1:4-20
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

In Joss Whedon’s 2005 science-fiction film Serenity, the disheveled spaceship captain and smuggler Malcolm Reynolds, who had lost his Christian faith in an interplanetary civil war, kneels down in front of a statue of the Buddha while disguised as a woman and mockingly says, “Dear Buddha, please bring me a pony and a plastic rocket.” This comment is, I think, evocative of the discomfort both Christians and non-Christians alike sometimes have with petitionary prayer. After all, isn’t Christianity a religion about selflessness and self-sacrifice and love of neighbor? How could we possibly make that fit with getting down on our knees and giving God our grocery list of needs and wants?

That sentiment might only be intensified over these last few weeks as so many so relatively close to us find themselves without their homes or livelihoods. When they have lost so much, we might be wary to bring our own petty wants before the LORD. I think this is what prompted one of my friends to post as their facebook status:
I don't care if your electricity is restored, please stop praying
- God
I should note this was almost immediately after the hurricane, before the utter seriousness of people going weeks without power made itself clear. But when I objected that I couldn’t imagine God ever saying “please stop praying,” no matter how superficial the subject of the prayers might be, I was told, “but it was still funny.” I’ve listened to friends complain about their mother-in-law’s habit of praying for finding good parking spaces, or their sibling’s prayers for the success of his business. Countless times I’ve encountered critics pointing to two groups of fans of rival sports teams, or rival political candidates, praying to the same God that their respective team will win, as if that was nothing more than an absurdity.

It would be wonderful if we were all perfect people whose only desires were high-minded, for world peace and an end to global poverty. But we’re not perfect people; we’re human beings, our very nature wounded by the reality of sin.

But that’s okay. Because that’s where Jesus Christ, who is a perfect person, the only perfect person, comes in. And because of this, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” This refers, of course, to our ultimate hope, that we will come to share in Christ’s resurrection. But it also applies to all of our little hopes, our petty desires, our secret wishes, our hopes for the future. We approach God as who we are, wanting what we want, and it is a good and rightful thing to put those needs and desires before the LORD, that God’s will might be done. We trust in Jesus to wash us clean.

For me the best example of this is found in Psalm 137, in which the psalmist prays that the heads of babies might be dashed upon the rocks. Clearly, this is not a righteous desire for a person to have. But given the historical context of the psalm, amidst the Babylonian captivity, it is arguably a very human one. And so Scripture provides us with this example set among many examples of how to pray of a person in their human brokenness reaching out to God from within that human brokenness.

The great Hindu activist Mahatma Gandhi put it this way: “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The God who took on our human nature and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mother in order to suffer a painful death on a cross wants to be invited into our suffering, our longing, our weakness. Don’t get me wrong, God is present with us in our suffering whether we extend that invitation or not, whether we are aware of it or not. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t appreciate being given the invitation anyway.

These are the dynamics at work in our Hebrew scripture passage this morning.

By many standards, Hannah had a comfortable life, with a husband who loved and supported her. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy her. She wanted a son--a daughter wasn’t good enough!--in order to keep her husband’s other wife from mocking her.

And so, as is good and right, she brought her desire before the LORD, that God’s will might be done. And “in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the LORD.’”

No doubt Penninah too prayed to the LORD, asking God that she might earn the love and favor of her husband which had been given to Hannah instead. And yet, unlike Hannah, Penninah did not receive what she had asked for. Indeed, there is a story found in the Jewish midrash which provides a fate even worse for Penninah: “Hannah would give birth to one child, and Peninnah would bury two; Hannah bore four, and Peninnah buried eight. When Hannah was pregnant with her fifth child, Peninnah feared that now she would bury her last two children.”

God did not give Hannah what she asked for and deny Penninah because God loved Penninah any less than Hannah. Nor was it because Hannah knew some special way to pray in order to ensure the result she wanted, to force God’s hand. No, it’s just that, in this fallen world, it’s a simple fact that we don’t always get what we want, no matter how hard we pray, no matter who we are.

And no matter what the Rolling Stones might say, neither do we even always get what we need. Every fifteen seconds, a child dies from hunger-related causes somewhere on Planet Earth. That’s a problem worth praying over. But prayer alone isn’t going to the solve the problem.

Prayer is not a magic spell or a letter to Santa. God is not a genie in a bottle.

Hurricane Sandy did not hit the shores of our region because people didn’t pray hard enough. Nor was it to punish the godlessness of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. Barack Obama was not re-elected President because God likes Democrats better than Republicans. Nor was it to pave the way for the Antichrist, as Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffries suggested before the election.

Our Lord Jesus Christ warns us against this type of superstitious thinking in today’s Gospel passage. The earliest written of the four canonical gospels, St. Mark’s gospel was probably written in the immediate wake of the Roman destruction of the Jewish temple, the center of Jewish life and religion. Like a flood-displaced North Jerseyan or our Texan pastor, the Jewish community found their very world turned upside down and inside out. Part of the evangelist’s task, then, was to help them understand how to make sense of the significance of this sort of event of seeming apocalyptic proportions in terms of their Christian faith and practice. And Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.”

Do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.

Jesus warns us against those who come in the name of Christ and yet lead many astray, the pastors and pundits who would turn hurricanes into instruments of a wrathful God and elections into the first phase of the apocalypse, who would have us make a false choice between religion and science, who twist and pervert our faith so it stands in opposition to the God-given gift of human reason, who use our scriptures and traditions as weapons with which to bludgeon.

Hurricane Sandy hit our shores because a tropical storm came in contact with a cold front which intensified it and propelled it towards our region. Barack Obama was re-elected President, for better or worse, because he received more votes in the electoral college than did his opponent.

Do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.

Christian prayer is not--or at least should not be--an attempt to flatter a capricious deity into giving us what we want. Instead, it is a chance to enter into relationship with the Triune God who, as Parent, Child, and Spirit, always exists in and as relationship. True relationship works both ways, which means that in some mysterious way I do not pretend to understand, our prayers have the ability to transform God. But equally important is the fact that we need to be open to being transformed ourselves when we pray. This is the very essence of prayer.

Amen.
cjbanning: (Symposium)
A theology of the Atonement must, like any other theological endeavor, have as its starting place Who Christ Is, firmly rooted both in the hypostatic union and in the Holy Trinity as perichoretic dialectic. Without a firm appreciation of the full humanity and full divinity of the One who is God's Eternally Begotten, consubstantial with God the Parent in the unity of the Holy Spirit, the full meaning and power of the Cross simply cannot be hoped to be grasped: " the Cross was required for the world's redemption [. . .] because of the transcendence of the very bounds of sense which the Cross represents: the death of the immortal, ever-living God; the helplessness of the omnipotent Ruler of the Universe while undergoing cruel torture; the questioning cry from the omniscient Overseer" (as I put it in my 2010 post, On Atonement).

Here's Tony Jones:
Am I just too evangelical, looking as I am for cosmic import and redemption in the death of at Galilean peasant two millennia ago?

I think not.

If Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity — which I believe he was — then his crucifixion matters. And it matters more than as an example of someone who demonstrated “a Jesus-like revolutionary resistance in relation to a culture of unprecedented social inequality—and of unprecedented and appalling economic, racial, military, penal, environmental, and psychological violence.” (Oh, wait, that quote was about us, not Jesus.)
Amen!

Atonement theologies insufficiently rooted in these mysteries end up subject to what I think of as the "Life of Brian problem." I first proposed this thought experiment--based of course on Monty Python's 1979 comedy film The Life of Brian in which a man named Brian lives a life strangely parallel to that of Jesus Christ--while I was in undergrad reading René Girard's The Scapegoat. Why is Jesus' death on a cross salvific when Brian's is not?



I never really figured out in undergrad whether Girard's theology held an answer to the Life of Brian problem or not. But Tony Jones' description seems to indicate that it does--and that that answer is located precisely in the hypostatic union: "the scapegoat is not one us us who is sacrificed to appease an angry deity. Instead, the deity himself [sic] enters our society, becomes the scapegoat, and thereby eliminates the need for any future scapegoats or sacrifices"--although I still don't claim to understand how exactly it all works. In particular, the explanation seems to conflate Jesus' divinity with Jesus' sinlessness; Wikipedia states that "the difference [. . .] is that [Jesus] was resurrected from the dead and shown to be innocent"--is the only difference between Jesus and Brian that Brian committed some (presumably fairly minor) sin? (Or is crucifixion considered to be in some way some sort of reasonable response to the mere stain of original sin?) I don't get it--which ultimately says more about me than Girard, perhaps.

One way for non-Trinitarians and other holders of unorthodox Christologies to escape the Life of Brian problem is to ground the uniqueness of the Cross of Jesus in Christ's sinlessness or in a sort of quasi-divinity rather than in full, actual divinity. But for an orthodox Trinitarian, I think any answer to the question "Why is the Cross of Jesus special?" other than "Because Jesus is the Begotten One of God, consubstantial with God the Parent in the unity of the Holy Spirit" is indicative of an atonement theory which is somehow deficient. It might perhaps provide us with a true and important piece of the puzzle, but it will also be lacking in some major way.

One example of this which seems particularly clear for me is the "moral exemplar" theory. Here's Tony's description:
So God sent his [sic] son, Jesus, as the perfect example of a moral life. Jesus’ teachings and his healing miracles form the core of this message, and his death is as a martyr for this cause: the crucifixion both calls attention to Jesus’ life and message, and it is an act of self-sacrifice, one of the highest virtues of the moral life.
I think Tony's way of phrasing here is telling: "God sent his son." Now, this is a perfectly orthodox way of phrasing the relationship between Jesus and the one Jesus called Abba--it had better be, after all, since it's the main way of phrasing it used by the Christian Scriptures themselves. And if Tony is right that this "view of the atonement was the first post-biblical view articulated in the very earliest, post-Apostolic church" then I suppose we shouldn't be surprised it doesn't depend on an elaborate, sophisticated account of the Trinity which stresses Jesus' consubstantiality with God the Parent. But I do think that ultimately proves to be a weakness. While the moral exemplar theory is certainly true so far as it goes, it fails to adequately capture the fullness of the Atonement precisely because it fails to capture the fullness of Who Jesus Is. You can replace "his son" with "a prophet" or "an angel" or whatever and the sense of Tony's description isn't really changed.

Perhaps strangely, I think the most popular types of atonement theology--substitutionary theories, which include both the classic "ransom" view and the Reformed view of "penal substitution"--also fall prey to this criticism (as well as other logical criticisms we'll examine in future posts). As far as I can see, there is nothing preventing a Unitarian or quasi-Arian from holding a substitutionary account of the atonement; indeed, Jehovah's Witnesses typically advocate a version of the ransom theory. (And there is no contradiction I can see between the quasi-Arian understanding of Jesus as angel with penal substitution.) This indicates that these views, too, are ultimately lacking something crucial.
cjbanning: (Trinity)
As preached to the Church of the Ascension in Gloucester City during the Celebration of Christmas Lessons and Carols on Jan. 1, 2012 C.E.

Genesis 3:1-15
Isaiah 40:1-11
Numbers 6:22-27
Galatians 4:4-7
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

So here we are, the Eight Day of our voyage through the (relatively short) season of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Name. “When the eight day arrived for the child’s circumcision, [the child] was named Jesus.” This, the first shedding of Jesus’ blood, stands of course as a prefiguring of the Cross. It also stands as a powerful testimony to the truth of the Incarnation, that God became fully human, suffering out of love all the pains and frailties that we suffer out of sin.

We know that we are subject to injury, to pain, to illness, to temptation, and ultimately to death because of sin, because of our own turning away from God’s Love. The account of the Fall found in the Book of Genesis expresses this important truth in figurative terms. Yet Jesus was without the stain of that sin, and still Jesus’ blood was able to be shed, first at the circumcision and ultimately at the crucifixion.

Just as “in the free, overflowing rapture of [God’s] love, God makes a creation that is other than [God]self” (Jürgen Moltmann) in the Genesis accounts, in the Incarnation our loving God empties Godself, taking the form of a slave.

Think of the sacrifice! The omnipresent Christ becoming limited to a single human body in a single place; the omniscient Christ needing to learn and grow as human children do; the omnipotent Christ made weak and helpless. And then, on the eighth day, well, you know.

Fiction writers from Anne Rice in Out of Egypt to Nikos Kazantzakis in The Last Temptation of Christ have written novels trying to imagine what that sort of experience for the young Christ would have been like as Christ “grew in size and strength” (Invlusive Bible) and “increased in wisdom and in years” (NRSV), as two different translations of Luke 2:40 put it. There is no definitive answer to that question, of course, but we should not be surprised that so many authors’ pens have been inspired by the powerfulness of Christ’s sacrifice, confronting and conquering the worst of our human natures-- fear, doubt, depression, reluctance, and perhaps, as in The Last Temptation, even lust--out of love rather than out of sin.

It’s true that here in the western Church we are more likely to talk about Jesus having two natures, one human and one divine, united in one person--what’s called the Definition of Chalcedon--while our siblings-in-Christ in Eastern Orthodoxy are more likely to speak of the humanity and divinity united in a single nature. But the underlying core doctrine--that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine--represents a central orthodoxy for the entire Church catholic in all her branches: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant alike.

But . . . so what? Hopefully I am my own harshest critic, but I can just imagine a hypothetical parishioner sitting in their pew, going, “Well, it was fun, reading lessons and and singing Christmas carols, but then we had to let the theology geek get up and talk.” Well, that hopefully fictional parishioner would be in good company: no less a personage than the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther himself once wrote: “What is it to me that Christ had two natures?” He did not, of course, mean that the doctrine was altogether unimportant, but his comments represent a tendency we sometime see in some parts of Christianity to view the Incarnation as a mere prerequisite to the Cross, something God had to do in order to accomplish the plan of salvation just as it might be necessary for a high school student to take Algebra I before she can take Algebra II. Roger Olson speaks of it as a “rescue mission”: “its only purpose being to get God the Son onto the cross to change God’s attitude toward us from wrath to love. This,” Olson says, “does not take the truth of the incarnation seriously enough.”

Richard Rohr writes of the Incarnation as “God [. . .] saying yes to humanity in the enfleshment of [God’s] Son in our midst. [. . . A]ll questions of inherent dignity, worthiness, and belovedness were resolved once and forever—and for everything that was human, material, physical, and in the whole of creation.” Rohr reminds us that for St. Francis, St. Clare, and the community they led at Asissi, “incarnation was already redemption.”

Earlier I mentioned the Definition of Chalcedon, the formula we in the western Church use to grasp as best as we are able the holy mystery which is Jesus’ full humanity and full divinity. The full text of the definition as composed at the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451 of the Common Era can be found on page 864 of your Prayer Book, albeit in incredibly small type, but part of that definition--and I’m tweaking the translation a bit here--states that Jesus is “truly God and truly human, of a rational soul and body, of one being with the One whom Jesus called 'Abba' according to the divinity of Christ, and of one being with us according to Christ’s humanity.”

Let’s say that again: by virtue of Jesus’ humanity, we are one in being with Christ. We share Christ’s essence, Christ’s substance, Christ’s being. Talk about a weighty message!

So when Mary and Joseph bring their infant child to be presented at the temple, in a sense it is all of humanity which is being presented before God. When that infant’s blood is shed according to the covenant made with Sarah and Abraham, all of humanity is bound in a New Covenant. And when that child is given the name Jesus--meaning “the LORD brings salvation”--that becomes our name, our promise, our truth.

Amen.
cjbanning: (Symposium)
[librarything.com profile] myopicbookworm at LibraryThing passed on the following article from the BBC: Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world. I find myself mostly encouraged by the ability of these Dutch churches to live out a Christianity which encourages questioning, critical reasoning, and faith-enriching doubt, but I do find myself left with a couple of criticisms.

1. Liberal historicism and the Ebionite heresy. I find myself frustrated with the Rev. Kirsten Slattenaar's quoted comments:
"I think 'Son of God' is a kind of title," she says. "I don't think he was a god or a half god. I think he was a man, but he was a special man because he was very good in living from out of love, from out of the spirit of God he found inside himself."

Mrs Slattenaar acknowledges that she's changing what the Church has said, but, she insists, not the "real meaning of Christianity".

She says that there "is not only one answer" and complains that "a lot of traditional beliefs are outside people and have grown into rigid things that you can't touch any more".
This, I think, is not only admittedly and unequivocally heretical, but falls into the sort of "liberal historism" which represents one of my main criticisms of contemporary liberal theology, as I've discussed in my posts Historicity and Faith and Why the Quest for the Historical Jesus is a Spiritual Dead End. In the latter post, I wrote:
My bias is to think that properly understood (where "properly understood" of course means "understood the way Cole wants it to be understood") Chalcedonian Christology presents us with the antidotes to both types of fundamentalism. Worship of the Word-Made-Flesh, eternally begotten from God the Mother, both fully human AND fully divine, two natures in one person: this, I think, is about as far removed from a cult of personality as it is possible to get.

Of course, there are those who would argue that my account of "Word made flesh" is implicitly docetist. I'd argue that the fact that "made flesh" is in the title automatically negates any possibility of a fall into the docetist heresy (not that I'm any advocate for orthodoxy for orthodoxy's sake, exactly), but I understand the argument that the "made flesh" is meaningless without an emphasis on the particularity of the incarnated human being within history. I understand it--but I still think it's wrong.
I much prefer the Rev. Klaas Hendrikse's approach. If you click on the image above his quote "You don't have to believe that Jesus was physically resurrected," a video will play (after a short advertisement) in which he explains the different spiritual meanings "life" and "death" can hold even if there was never an actual historical figure named Yeshua bar Yosef, from Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate. This requires a reevaluation, but not an abandonment, of Christian orthodoxy.

As one of the parishioners at Exodus Church puts it, this "is using the Bible in a metaphorical way so I can bring it to my own way of thinking, my own way of doing." I'd object to the typically Protestant, individualist emphasis on "my own way of thinking"--I think we need to always do our thinking within the context of the sacramental lives of our community, drawing on our catholic tradition--but I can't argue with the need to be open to questions and challenges.

2. Antipathy towards Tradition. After all, at its heart, that's what the Church is: constantly in conversation, questioning and challenging. Another parishioner of Exodus Church "believes traditional Christianity places God in too restricted a box," and there is of course a sense in which that has been true for the entire life of the Church of Rome. Yet Exodus Church seems to be reacting most strongly to something which is not "traditional" at all--the sort of reactionary, legalistic, conservative Protestantism which has flourished (to a degree) in the last two hundred years (and which seems to have overtaken the Church of Rome in many ways over the last two or four papacies). If we examine Christian tradition in its fullness, the questioning, critical spirit (dare I even say Spirit?) has been pushing forth the evolution of the Church since her earliest days.

At the end, challenging the tradition is the tradition.
cjbanning: (Trinity)
1. Godhead. The apophatic denial of God's non-existence.
2. Trinity. God is one Being in three Persons.
3. Chalcedonian Christology. Hypostatic union: Jesus Christ is two natures, one human and one divine, united into one Person.
4. Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as complementary sources of revelation.
5. The Sacraments. The seven sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, ordination, marriage, healing) are the means of sanctifying grace, rites in which God is uniquely active, visible signs of an invisible reality.
6. Ex opere operato. The seven sacraments are efficacious in and of themselves, by the very fact of the actions’ being performed, because Christ is at work in them in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies.
7. Baptismal Regeneration. The salvation of baptized persons (including those baptized by blood or desire, as well as by water) is uniquely mediated through the sacrament.
8. Real Presence. Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist. (Radical transignification.)
9. Perseverance of Eucharistic Presence. Real Presence is not dependent on the act of drinking or eating and continues in the consecrated hosts beyond the celebration of the Eucharist.
10. Adorableness of the Eucharist. Worship may be properly rendered to the Blessed Sacrament.
11. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church of Jesus Christ.
12. Apostolic Succession. The spiritual authority placed on the apostles by Christ is passed through history via the institutional rites of the Church, i.e. the consecration of bishops. The one Church of Christ subsists in the apostolic churches as governed by the historic episcopate.
13. Ordained Presbyterate. God specially calls some people (of all genders, races, and sexualities) to undergo the sacrament of ordination; to represent Christ and the Church of Christ, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.
14. Free Will. God has willed that human persons remain under the control of their own decisions. For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within a human being.
15. Sin. The existence of corporate evil—sexism and racism, transphobia and homophobia; poverty and hunger; totalitarianism and fascism—such that human freedom is curtailed and diminished.
16. Sola gratia. Since human freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God's grace can the Church bring the relationship between God and human beings into full flower.
17. Resistability of Grace. The free wills of human beings may cooperate with God so as to prepare and dispose themselves for the attainment of salvation; human wills can also refuse complying, if they please.
18. Universal Potential for Redemption. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are for the benefit of all humankind, not just an elect.
19. Kingdom of Heaven. Through grace, humans are called to use their free will to pray for peace, fight for justice, and build God’s Kin(g)dom on Earth.
20. Intercession of Saints. It is proper to pray to the Saints and ask for their intercessions.
cjbanning: (St. Thomas)
In my experience, progressive Christians generally have--at best--an ambivalent relationship with St. Paul. Admittedly, often it seems as if the apostle is the source of much which, from the perspective of 21st-century progressive Christiaity, seems to be problematic about soi-disant "traditional" Christianity: oppressive gender roles, prudishness about sexuality, resistance towards secular reason, and so forth.

One way some Christians (including "Jesus followers" and others who might resist the term) have navigated the issue is to try and make a distinction between the religion of Jesus and that of Paul. N.T. Wright summarizes this "old argument," en passant to refuting it, thusly: "Paul was the real founder of Christianity, misrepresenting Jesus and inventing a theology in which a 'Christ' figure, nothing really to do with the Jesus of history, becomes central." Since St. Paul thus represents in this account a corruption of the true Christian message, the Christian is thus free to ignore him to a greater or lesser degree.

There are a number of problems with this train of thought. Firstly, it is historically uninformed insofar as it assumes that the Gospel accounts of Jesus, which postdate the Pauline epistles, provide a more reliable record of the actual ministry and teachings of the historical Jesus, largely because we like the Gospel version better (assuming there is indeed a disparity between the Gospel and Pauline understandings of Christ). Secondly, insofar as we assume (instead of or in addition to the previous assumption) that the true message of the historical Jesus, when liberated from its Pauline filter, would automatically look like 21st-century liberal progressivism (or 1960's/1970's-era hippiedom), we fairly clearly open ourselves to accusations of intellectual dishonesty.

Depending on one's Christology, the notion that the historical Jesus would have thought and acted like a 21st-century progressive isn't exactly incoherent, of course; insofar as 21st-century progressives have gotten their general account of life, the universe, and everything more right than have those who have come before us (and as a 21st-century progressive, there is certainly a sense in which I think it is true), then it would make sense that it more perfectly align with a God's-eye view of the universe. The problem is that this reasoning is that it's bad Christology, bad metaphysics, and simply isn't informed by our secular understanding of history (which requires us to assume that the historical Jesus would have thought and acted like--surprise!--a first-century Jew) and thus has to be accepted on the basis of blind, unmotivated belief (not faith, which is fundamentally experiential rather than cogitational).

Most fundamentally, I think the sort of fetishization of the historical Jesus one often sees in liberal or progressive circles ultimately falls prey to what my friend Ruth Ellen, in her sermon "the cancer sermon (no snazzy title)" places under the category of "angel worship." She's responding to St. Paul's urging in Col. 2:18-19 to
not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
Ruth Ellen reminds us that
there's a deeper kind of angel worship that arises when we begin worshiping the messenger instead of living the message. When we start worshiping the Bible instead of the living Word that is Christ, when we devote our energy to preserving the edifice of the church instead of living as Christ's Body -- then we are worshiping angels instead of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the angel worship has become cancerous.

I'm 100% agreed with her that Bibliolatry is cancerous in this type of way. However, I think the "quest for the historical Jesus" also becomes the type of angelogical project that Ruth Ellen talks about, a type of "worshiping the messenger," when it represents (as I think it usually does) an attempt to avoid having to engage in Spirit-driven dialectical conversation with the Risen Christ in the context of our contemporary world and culture, here and now. By trying to determine what we would or would not hear if we were able to travel via TARDIS to the times and places at which Yeshua bar Yosef would have taught, I think we "empty out" Christianity and the empty shell which is left is little more than a cult of personality. The attempt to recover some type of uncorrupted pre-Pauline Gospel message can quickly develop into its own type of fundamentalism when it becomes little more than a search for rules and principles to follow handed down by a millenia-old source.

My bias is to think that properly understood (where "properly understood" of course means "understood the way Cole wants it to be understood") Chalcedonian Christology presents us with the antidotes to both types of fundamentalism. Worship of the Word-Made-Flesh, eternally begotten from God the Mother, both fully human AND fully divine, two natures in one person: this, I think, is about as far removed from a cult of personality as it is possible to get.

Of course, there are those who would argue that my account of "Word made flesh" is implicitly docetist. I'd argue that the fact that "made flesh" is in the title automatically negates any possibility of a fall into the docetist heresy (not that I'm any advocate for orthodoxy for orthodoxy's sake, exactly), but I understand the argument that the "made flesh" is meaningless without an emphasis on the particularity of the incarnated human being within history. I understand it--but I still think it's wrong.

Following a Chalcedonian-Christological Jesus means more than simply following the ethical principles the historical Jesus would have exemplified in his life, then (even if we did have a reliable mechanism for extrapolating those principles apart from the post-Pauline Christian tradition, which we don't). We don't just follow Jesus. We worship Christ. More importantly, we are part of Christ's Body--"Christ has no hands on Earth but ours" (St. Teresa de Avilla)--and it falls to us, the Church, with the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to build God's Kingdom--a kingdom which is marked primarily by sexual, economic, and political liberation, because Christ IS liberation; that's the essence of the Sacred Heart.



So where does this leave St. Paul?

I've already written about my view of the role of Scripture, both in the essay History and Christ and in my Our Lenten Collage post Going Deep with Scripture. I'll briefly quote from the latter:
[T]he Bible is [. . . ] a gift from God, a tool for understanding God and seeing God and discerning God's will. As Christians, the Bible is part of our inheritance, the lens through which we understand the transcendent. It is a shared language and history which binds us together as sisters and brothers in Christ. It's the core of the basis for our entire religious symbology (with additions made here and there, sure). Its stories inform who we are, both culturally and spiritually. These are the documents which we as a Church look to as foundational.
This understanding of Scripture does not require St. Paul to be a completely reliable witness. Instead, it recognizes that within his writing there exists the potentiality for inspiration.

I adhere to the faitly common tenet of contemporary literary criticism that meaning does not inhere within a text, but rather within the dialectical engagement which exists between a reader and a text. When we engage with St. Paul, we enter into a process which opens us up for inspiration--whether or not we agree with what St. Paul has written.

As a series of Catholic (in the non-Roman sense) councils and synods presided over by the Holy Spirit, their eventual consensus as to which works are the canonical books of the Bible, eventually codified in the Vulgate version of St. Jerome and accepted at large by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, is binding. And it includes Saint Paul.

Returning to "Going Deep with Scripture," I find that I wrote:
When I read Scripture [. . .] I can know that I am turning to the same book that billions (yes, billions) of Christians have turned to over nearly two thousand years, since befoire Scripture was even Scripture. I'm walking in the footprints of the Saints.

Our challenge today is not fundamentally different than theirs was: to use Scripture constructively, to find within it ethical solutions to the unique challenges which face us in our lives, and not to use it as an instrument of hate or war. (Obviously, at various moments in history the Church has fallen short of this challenge.) This is not a passive processs of God telling us what to do and us doing it, and to treat it that way is (I believe) a cop-out, an abdication of moral responsibility. The paradigm for our encounters with Scripture should be not Sinai, but Penuel.

I don't believe there is a "pure" or interpretation-free reading of the Bible. Our task is to, guided by the Holy Spirit and the evolving teaching of Mother Church, choose those interpretations which are most ethical, loving, and empowering to all human beings, drawing on in our discernment all the resources God has given us.
Now, the actual process of finding these "best readings" is a time-consuming process, and one I haven't really approached in any systematic way when it comes to the epistles. But that's not because I don't think the process is worthwhile.
cjbanning: (Default)
In Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Volume 1, Donald G. Bloesch argues that "real incarnation means that Jesus entered into our historical and cultural limitations though he also transcended the times in which he lived and indeed all historical time in the message that he embodied." He worries that assuming the onmniscience of Jesus of Nazareth "betrays a Monophysite tendency" (140)--that is, it expresses the heretical notion that "the human nature [of Jesus] merged into the divine [nature]" rather than it being the case that "the Son of God adopted human nature and united it with his divine nature in the unity of one person" (128).

Bishop Wright echoes this point: "If we are to locate [. . .] Jesus [. . .] within the world of first-century Judaism, within the turbulent theological and political movements and expectations of the time (and if we are not than we should admit that we know very little about [Jesus]) then we must face the fact that [he was not] teaching a timeless system of religion or ethics, or even a timeless message about how human beings are saved" (178-9).

Thus, asking the question "WWJD" is revealed to be a deeply misleading act, or at least one which might yield answers which would not always perfectly coincide with those to "What does God want me to do?" or "What would the Risen Christ have me do?" (This is sort of the flip side of the fact that asking "What would the Only Child of God, Eternally Begotten from. and of One Being with, the Parent God, do?" doesn't seem very helpful either.)

Note that both Bishop Wright and Prof. Bloesch are far more conservative than I am, theologically--I'm not citing radically revisionist liberal theologians here, but rather well-respected conservative theologians whose location within the orthodoxy of the faith is relatively uncontested. The Scriptural evidence for the non-omniscience of Jesus is, in my opinion, overwhelming--there are relevant passages through all four Gospels (including in St. John, whose Christology is so high that the Johannine community would become the main source of docetism in the early Church) and in the epistles.

But my fundamental argument relies less on proof-texts than it does on poetry. The gravity of the Christ myth in many ways resides precisely within the humanity of Jesus: for me, the central moment of the Passion is Gethsamane, where Jesus, afraid to die, prays to the Parent God:
My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.

If this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, your will be done.
Tim Rice re-interprets the prayer in the garden this way:
GETHSAMENE lyrics )
This is moving stuff precisely because of the power of the paradox: God, omniscient and omnipotent, self-emptied (kenosis) so as to suffer fear and doubt.
cjbanning: (The Bishop)
More for my benefit and reference than anything else.
We, then, following the holy Church, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Child God, Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in humanity; truly god and truly human, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Parent God according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the humanity; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Parent God according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the humanity; one and the same Christ, Child God, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Child God, and only begotten, God the Word, Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Christ, and Jesus Christ has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Church has handed down to us.
Altered from the translation found at Wikipedia; if anyone knows of a more contemporary-sounding translation, please let me know.

I'm not completely comfortable with the hierarchy implicit even in a nongendered Parent/Child distinction, but I'm not sure how to capture the relationship between those two Persons of the trinity otherwise, so.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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