A Talking-Theology Rather Than A Thinking-Theology

Photo credit, Mikhail Shankov circa. 1995

I am a proponent of what we have called Dialogical Theology. This form of theology is given its most pointed development, as far as I’m aware, by Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance. There are different aspects of this type of theology, but the primary point of interest for me, at least in this post, has to do with the conversational nature of theology. For Athanasian Reformed types doing theology as if God has spoken (Deus dixit), and continues to speak with us, is the basis for all subsequent theologizing. We are not theologians of an artifact; we are not archeologists seeking relics to serve as means of grace between us and God; we are theologians first and foremost because we have come to personally know the living and triune God as we have been confronted by Him, and continue to be, afresh and anew, through the voice of the living Christ.

Contrariwise, my sense with much that passes as Christian theology these days doesn’t start with this dialog between the theologian and the LORD in the way I have been describing. This stems, I’d argue, from a theological methodology at odds with the biblical way of engaging and/or encountering God in Christ therein. That is, classical theology tends towards starting with God as object rather than subject; to think What God is rather than Who He has personally revealed Himself to be by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. As such, classical theology, or neo-classical theism, because of its awry taxis vis-à-vis God, starts with their thoughts about God, and bring those to the God revealed in Christ. Once they synthesize their thoughts, or that of the god of the philosophers, with the God revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in Jesus Christ, they feel that they have established a solid foundation from whence the conversation between them and God can get started. This is not the way of the Man from Nazareth.

Jesus, the Son of Man, didn’t approach God through the god of the philosophers prior to starting discussion with His Father. He simply worshipped, praised, lamented, petitioned, and con-versated with the Father, by the Spirit, from the get-go. This is the model of dialogical theology. It is one that starts from within the center of God for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. The dialog is an evangel-shaped discussion that starts from the within the mysterium Trinitatis, as that is given for us in God’s Self-revelation in the Logos ensarkos, Jesus Christ. This is the condition, the basis of dialogical theology; it is the simple, but profound notion that we have an immediate audience with the triune God through the torn veil, the broken body of Jesus Christ. It starts from the premise that we are co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and daughters of the living God, and that God is thus our Father. As such, dialogical theology is a talking-theology, it isn’t a “thinking” theology, per se. That is, it isn’t the theology of the schoolmen, but instead the theology of the paideia, the children of the living God.

The above might sound ‘more-pious-than-thou.’ But that isn’t my fault, I am simply pointing out that the theology of neo-classists is not the theological way revealed in Jesus Christ. Dialogical theology is a theology of immediacy before God as that is supplied for through the mediatorial humanity of Jesus Christ. Neo-classical theology, or the speculative way, is a theology of mediacy that comes through abstract human speculation about God, which then becomes the self-proclaimed holy ground upon which the theologian must think God; and at some point, gets around to talking with God. Some might call what I’m referring to as neo-classical theology, as foundationalism, if we were having a discussion about postmodernity; but we aren’t. My suggestion to all, as Christians, those would-be theologians: just start talking to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and authoritatively borne witness to in Holy Scripture. In this discussion, the theologian will be transformed from glory to glory, able to behold the Glory of the living God with that much greater clarity and intimacy. Soli Deo Gloria 

 

 

A Devotional Reflection on Jesus Pro Me / Pro Nobis

I was going to write on the homoousios; this is related, but more devotional. The post I had in mind will come later, here is what it will argue later: If you affirm the two/natures::one person Christology of Chalcedon, this necessarily commits you to a theological hermeneutic/exegesis of ALL of Holy Scripture. What I will be writing in this post will be in reference to how I love Jesus.  

Holy Scripture shapes the type of encounter I have with its reality. Whether it be through lists of genealogies, lists that index various sins, lists that state the Fruit of the Spirit, literature that goes into great prose about salvation history, Hebrew Poetry that elevates the heart into the fresh atmosphere of God’s inner sanctum, so on and so forth. Scripture as God’s signum (sign) brings me into its res (reality) every time I read a word off its pages. Scripture is lively and active full of the resurrection energy of its ascended reality in Jesus Christ. Thus, I seek to read and meditate on its words all the days of my life that I may be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. It is in this ontic relation with the living and triune God in and through the prosopon (face) of Christ that I find my daily sustenance in order to make trek into the wild west of this rabid world. As I meditate on Scripture I hear God’s still small voice, and it sounds just like Jesus’ voice. This is the warp and woof of my theological existence. Indeed, as the Psalmist, King David bore his heart ‘what have I on this earth, LORD; all I have is You, and Your Word to serve as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. When I think theologically I am only thinking about the One I’ve encountered in the pages of this antique Holy Book known as the Bible. I gain my life and reason for living as I inhabit the canon of Holy Writ; not because the text itself is Holy, but the One it finds its reality from is. It is through Holy Scripture that I have come to encounter afresh and anew the One who was dead but is now alive! As a result, I live. I don’t live because of a power resident in me, but I live as I find ecstatic existence, moment by moment, by the life-giving reality of the Son of God. It is through His vicarious humanity, from His life pro me as the imago Dei wherein I find mine. As I find my life from Christ’s life pro me, it is here that Scripture’s reality moves and breathes through me by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Not as if I am spirated with Apostolic breath; no, as if I am participatio Christi, and through this participation with Christ ‘I am as He is in this world.’ Through this analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith/relation) the Son of God, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Ancient of Days with His white flowing hair is borne witness to through my broken vessel. This is the miracle of new creation breaking into this world of futility that brings the Light of Hope that all humanity, indeed, all of creation screams out for.  

Knowing, through Holy Scripture’s reality, that I am in bond, indeed, a slave of the risen Christ’s, I find rest for my soul; indeed, for the very limbs of my body. As I’ve come to taste and see that God is good, it is in this tasting that I continue to live fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). But this isn’t a life of a self-generated faith, it is the vicarious faith of Christ that I know God from. As for Calvin, as for the Apostle Paul, the faith of Christ is the knowledge of God pro me. It is as God’s being for me as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has freely chosen to be pro me, it is from His being in becoming for me in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ that I am transformed from glory to glory; a transformation that is confronted by the Holy Godman of Jesus Christ, and in His confrontation of my old Adam, he brings me into the theological knowledge of God as He just is the Greater and Second Adam; an Adam who while a man of dust, has through his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension re-created the natural dust He assumed and miraculously made it heavenly dust. This heavenly dusted Godman now sits at the Right Hand of the Father, and He has taken me with Him. I now find my inhabitatio Dei in the very life of the God who was, is, and always will be. In this ascendent and exalted status, through the vision of God mediated by the faith of Christ, as I am seated in the heavenly places with my Lord and Savior, it is here that I know Who God is. Indeed, I have come to know God as a Who, as my Father, Brother, and Holy Comforter rather than an abstract What. My status in the ascended Christ, my status as an adopted son of God by grace, in and from the nature of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, allows me to speak to God face-to-face as it were. I don’t know God as the philosophers know the Pure Being or the Unmoved Mover; I know God as the Son of the Father; and in this knowing I know Him as a son knows His Heavenly Father, as a co-heir with Christ. amen  

  

Jesus’s Eternal Life as the End and Beginning of All Things: Applied to the death of Ron Grow

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. –II Corinthians 4

I am continuing to process my grief at the loss of my dad. My dad suffered like Job in many ways. Although much, if not most of my dad’s suffering was brought on by the [bad] choices he made. Nonetheless, he suffered immensely, and he did so as a child of the living God. He struggled with prescription drug addiction; deep doubts about his salvation (which actually led to the drug addiction); he endured unending sense of loss; he went through a divorce from my mom after 36 years of marriage that he never recovered from; he lost many close to him, the last was his cousin, Tommy, who was like a brother to him (Tommy wasn’t a Christian when he killed himself approx 3 years ago). My dad suffered immensely, and in ways that my short list does not adequately capture (I didn’t even mention all the physical stuff he dealt with). But in this all there was redemption. You see, my dad is the type of person that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, came for. Jesus came for the bruised reed, the smoldering wick, the downcast and broken; my dad qualified. The wisdom of God, a staurological wisdom, is of the sort that assumes sinful humanity all the way down. In this assumption the Son ensarkos takes all the blights, even our unbelief and disobediences, and puts these many deaths to death in His singular death for us. The Son of God, the Christ penetrates so deeply into the warp and woof of our sinful beings that he captures our bone marrow itself and redeems it. He did this for my dad. Even in, especially in my dad’s broken and tattered status, the Son of God, who is the Christ, vanquished all the dark nights of the soul at their very fountainhead, and brought eternal life as a well-spring that flows throughout all the ages. My dad’s sinful and battered status was assumed by the Son of God in the incarnation, and redeemed from the inside/out. And yet, and this is the Wisdom, God was able to use all of the suffering, even of the self-inflicted sort that my dad suffered from, and bring new creation through the resurrected and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. There is no loss where Jesus Christ sets His foot, there is only always gain. My dad experienced this gain in seedling form in 1970, and now in penultimate blossomed form in his currently intermediate status now.

Samuel Rutherford (1600 – 1661), Scottish theologian and pastor, wrote the following with reference to trial and tribulation vis-à-vis eternity:

For your afflictions are not eternal; time will end them, and so shall you at length see the Lord’s salvation. His love sleepeth not, but is still working for you. His salvation will not tarry or linger; and suffering for Him is the noblest cross that is out of Heaven. . . and this is the fruit, the flower and bloom growing out of your cross, that ye be a dead man to time, to clay, to gold, to country, to friends, wife, children, and all pieces of created nothings; for in them there is not a seat nor bottom for soul’s love. Oh, what room is for your love (if it were as broad as the sea) up in heaven, and in God!

We may indeed think, Cannot God bring us to heaven with ease and prosperity? Who doubteth but He can? But His infinite wisdom thinketh and decreeth the contrary; and we cannot see a reason of it, yet He hath a most just reason. We never with our eyes saw our own soul; yet we have a soul. We see many rivers, but we know not their first spring and original fountain; yet they have a beginning. Madam, when ye are come to the other side of the water, and have set down your foot on the shore of glorious eternity, and look back again to the waters and to your wearisome journey, and shall see, in that clear glass of endless glory, nearer to the bottom of God’s wisdom, ye shall then be forced to say, “If God had done otherwise with me than He hath done, I had never come to the enjoying of this crown of glory.”[1]

Don’t lose hope. God in Christ is hope. No matter what our plights in this vanquished life Christ is its end; and if He is its end He is its beginning too. Jesus is, indeed, the Alpha and Omega of God for the world; Jesus is this world’s telos, and only reason for existence. It is as we are participatio Christi that we begin to experience what this existence is all about. Unfortunately, since we still inhabit these bodies of death, our experience is shaped by bouts of death. But as Christians, even as we are constantly being given over to the death of Christ, it is only so that His life might be made manifest through the mortal members of our bodies; our bodies of death. This is what Rutherford is on about; he understood that this life isn’t our life at all, but Christ’s! Our lives, according to the Apostle Paul, aren’t ours, they are Christ’s. This means, once we are born again of the imperishable seed of baby Jesus’s life that no matter what sort of peril or trauma enters our lives, it isn’t ours, and it belongs to Christ. The Christian understands that we never live in abstraction from Christ; the Christian knows that the ground of their human being is Christ’s human being for them. The Christian recognizes that there is a correspondence between our lives and Christ’s, and this precisely because the Son freely chose to make His all circumscribing life correspond to ours; that by His poverty for us we might be made rich through the election of His resurrected humanity pro nobis.

My dad knows this hope. He travailed and kicked in suffering such that I could hardly bear it. There is a paradox in his loss. I miss him in ways that are hard to articulate. But when I think of his suffering, and the state he would be in right now, if he had survived, I find great joy in knowing that he has finally been released from the surely bonds that his body of death shrouded him in. Thankfully, those bonds were Christ’s, and Christ shrugged them off once and for all in the resurrection. My dad lives in the resurrection fully now. Maranatha!


[1] Samuel Rutherford, Selections from His Letters, cited by Nick Needham, 2000 Years Of Christ’s Power: Volume 4: The Age Of Religious Conflict (London: Christian Focus Publications, LTD, 2017), 440.

The God of the Sinners not the Metaphysicians: Luther’s God is Concrete Love

I grew up a Christian, came to Christ as a very young child; it was real. By time I got out of high school I had become very lukewarm (not realizing I had, of course). The Lord, through some extremely difficult and prolonged circumstances got a hold of me and brought me to the point where I knew my reality was either going to have to be Him, or insanity. I chose life, not death. From that point on I came to habitually inhabit Holy Scripture; read through it non-stop, memorize it, meditate on it. Then I went to school and was formally trained in biblical studies and theology; I learned of philosophical, metaphysical, and grammatical approaches to think God—some of these ways having greater value than others, some having almost no value at all. But the Lord always kept me close to Him, and He did that through this sort of relational and experiential reading of His Word. No matter how prominent these other ways have attempted to rise up, and habituate me in their ways of thinking God, I have always come back to this personal-relational understanding of God; and as that comes through afresh and anew in encounter with His face in Jesus Christ as realized by meditation upon Scripture.

I am sure there are many people out there who have a vibrant relationship with Christ who are also enslaved to highly metaphysical ways for attempting to think God, but I typically fail to see the evidence of that. When they talk about God I don’t recognize the God they are talking about. When they work out the minutiae and ‘angels on a pinhead’ in relation to the inner-workings of God, I do not recognize that as a discussion of the God that I know. I didn’t commit myself to a God who is a math problem, a Gordian Knot, or a quantum algorithm; I committed myself to a God who has a face, and His name is, Jesus Christ! This might sound all so melodramatic to the metaphysicians, but I assure you: it is not! I do understand the theo-metaphysicians fear; that is, they might fear that the God I know might be sublated to my experiences, to our collective experiences—thus falling prey to the Schleiermacherean collapse to the subject, turning theology into anthropology. But I am not talking about that when I refer to experience. I am referring to the fact that I am a constant sinner, who also is now justified (the simul). The God I am referring to confronts humanity, by assuming our humanity, and invites us into a participatory relationship with Him through Christ. The God I am referring to desires fellowship with us, and He has made the way for that to happen through the sending of His sin into the ‘far country’ of our fallen humanity, and raising us up with Him in the new creation of His resurrected humanity. The God I am referring to is all about being in union with us, that we might be in union with Him; this is a personal God, who does what He does because in His inner life is triune and eternal love. This isn’t a God who is accessible to metaphysicians or philosophers; they might talk about some pure being or monad, but that has zero correlation with the God who calls us sons and daughters.

Mark Mattes, a Lutheran theologian, makes these points crystal clear as he describes some of these very themes in Martin Luther’s theology:

The doctrine of justification bears on how God’s goodness is to be understood. Unlike his contemporaries and forebears, Luther has no confidence in either metaphysics or mysticism to establish God’s goodness, in spite of the fact that both approaches influenced his theological development. Luther’s is a highly experiential theology—not that experience is a criterion for truth but that sinners can never detach emotionally when doing theology, and at some point in their lives all sinners will do theology.[1]

And:

Luther was vitally concerned to address the question of God’s goodness. It bears on salvation. His point was that people do not need merely an incentive and an example to be good. They need in fact to be made good from the core of their being, their hearts. Counterintuitively, God does this by granting sinners his favor and promising them new, eternal life in Christ. As believers’ status with respect to God is changed, so is their identity. The law accuses old beings who seek to be their own gods for themselves and so control their lots and the lots of others to death. Humbled by the law, despairing of self, sinners can look to none other than Christ for salvation. In Christ they have a new identity and a new calling—to serve as Christ served in the world—and so to help especially those in need. The gospel promise unites believers with Christ, and Christ impels believers to serve their neighbors freely.

All this grounded in God’s own goodness. Outside of Christ, God is encountered as sheer power, a terror and threat to humans because such omnipotence jeopardizes sinners’ own quest for power, status, and authority. But Luther admonishes sinners not to neutralize this power by harmonizing it with some modicum of human power, such as establishing a free will. Instead, only God has a free will (though humans indeed make choices with respect to temporal matters). If we are to see the content or center of God and find him as good, then se must cling to the gospel alone. It establishes God as wholly love and goodness, indeed overflowing generosity, and serves as a basis from which to affirm life and explore mystery in the world. Goodness can no longer be established as a transcendental through metaphysics. Instead, goodness as a proper name for God and as a means by which every creature can participate in God is established only on the basis of how God acts in Christ, and that is to reconcile, redeem, and renew. Insofar as beauty is tied to goodness, it too will only be established through the gospel and not through metaphysics.[2]

We can see how Matte’s conception of Luther was to think God in purely concrete and relational terms; and this, because Luther was so beat down by his personal sense of sinfulness juxtaposed with a sense of God’s grandeur and holiness. When Luther had his break through of a solafidian, it transformed his whole understanding of just who this God is for him; indeed, he finally realized that God was for him in Christ, and not against him as the theo-metaphysicians had drowned him with. Luther was groomed in a theological world where the conception of God was one that took shape under the specter of Aristotle’s categories. Once he realized that Aristotle’s god was not commensurate with the God he encountered in the New Testament, Jesus Christ, he was able to chart out contra mundum. As Heiko Oberman called Luther, he was now a man between God and the devil. This is what happens when are able to push off the god of the mathematicians and metaphysicians; we are able to realize that God is purely interested in having an ongoing and personal fellowship with each and every one of us. You realize that you are free to press on for that upward call, and live a poured-out life for and from God, and thus for others. This is where the power of God is realized in the Christian’s life. This is why Luther began to be a ‘man between God and the devil,’ a theologian who had epic almost hand-to-hand combat with the devil himself.

This has been my experience too. As I dug into the Bible years and years ago now, I came to encounter this God of Luther’s. I have experienced heavy spiritual warfare, not typically when attempting to think God along with the metaphysicians, but when attempting to proclaim this God who desires to have fellowship with all who will. None of this is to say that God isn’t high and transcendent; it is just to say that to confuse what the metaphysicians are talking about with that doctrine is rubbish. God’s transcendence comes down for us, before it goes up. God’s life is independent and extra from ours, but He has freely chosen, as revealed in the incarnation, to not be God without us. So, for us, to think God’s transcendence we always must think it from who God has revealed Himself to be, not who we speculate Him to be from our own resources and powers. God resists the philosopher’s machinations, and is only and always known by the sinners.

 

[1] Mark C. Mattes, Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017), 54.

[2] Ibid., 66-7. [emboldening mine]

The Determination of the Church’s Witness as the Ground of Theology for the Church and the World: A Reflection Prompted by Robert Jenson

Theology is as Barth would intone early on in his Göttingen Dogmatics, Deus dixit ‘God has spoken.’ In other words, theology, genuinely Christian theology cannot be done from a prethought framework that comes as a prius to God’s speaking to us first. If so, if this was indeed the Christian theological way then how could we ever determine whether or not we were actually hearing from God rather than men and women? This is an important point that I’m afraid much of the theological endeavor has failed to appreciate; not that it hasn’t appreciated it in principle, but I don’t think it has attended to this type of reception-from-God nature of theology that real Christian theology must attend to and be determined by. In other words, so much of the theological task through the centuries, the type that has been done in and from the church, I would contend, has been underdetermined by the church’s reality in Jesus Christ; and instead has focused too much on the mediatorial nature of the church; thus getting lost in its own self-referential and traditioned ways rather than actually doing theology in intentional terms such that the Lord of the Church is both the object and subject of the theologian’s grammar and articulation. Yes, the theologian, in the best of cases, speaks for and to the church, for her edification, but this can only be done as it works from and attempts to elucidate the good news it has received and continues to receive as it reflects upon the Word of God not only written but proclaimed ever afresh anew. Robert Jenson says it this way:

The characterization of theology as reflection internal to the attempt to speak gospel must therefore be amplified. We do not in any unmediated way have this gospel that we are to speak; we have it only as we receive it. To state the full case we must therefore say that theology is reflection internal to the act of tradition, to the turn from hearing something to speaking it. Theology is an act of interpretation: it begins with a received word and issues in a new word essentially related to the old word. Theology’s question is always: In that we have heard and seen such-and-such discourse as gospel, what shall we now say and do that gospel may again be spoken?[1]

We don’t presume that we could ever speak the Gospel, or think it out loud with all its effervescent realities in face outwith our location and situadedness within the church; it’s just that the church itself, depository as she is, has an instrumental function. The church is made up of a thousand voices, that only have gravitas and foundation as it repeats for each and successive period, in the lingua franca of her admirers, what gives her first and last orientation; an orientation that comes from, over and again the fact that God has spoken, and that he speaks. The church operates in such a way that she goes on mission, starting in Jerusalem and going as far as Samaria and Timbuktu; she seeks to bear witness to the Gospel reality, the always already determinate reality of the church, as she exegetes and translates the depth dimension of the Gospel as that is given as gracious gift through the womb of Mary.

As Jenson underscores, there is a continuity between the ‘old word’ and the ‘new word’; and I would want to suggest that this continuity is sustained because the old word and the new word are always and only circumscribed by the first and last Word of God, Jesus Christ. As the church seeks to speak the new word from the old word we have the freedom, because he who the Son has set free is free indeed, to imagine creative grammars that seek to ‘amplify’ the Word given in the broken body and shed blood of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. This is the gift the church has, as it seeks to do theology only after God has spoken, we have the gift of prophecy which is the spirit of Christ to speak the evangel in gracious ways wherein those we speak to will have manifest ways and endless tributaries to imagine a way from the Way that explicates what it means that Jesus is supreme; that all things have been reconciled by his shed blood, and given new life from his dead body born again as the firstborn from the dead.

Even as I am writing this post I can only really conclude that the process the church has been invited to, of being sanctified from glory to glory, as she seeks to get lost not in the substructures of the church, but instead in the effulgent reality of the Church’s Head and primary Voice, is a doxological act. The act of speaking the old words in new words from the Word is an inherently worshipful endeavor consisting of seeking Christ first, his righteousness and then all these other words will be given to us to speak in concert with the words already spoken before. We will, as genuine Christian theologians, continue to speak these words, upon their reception by the Spirit, not without the past words but with and from them as they have found their fresh and vivacious grammarizations from the plenitude of the first and last Word spoken in the eternal Logos, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. If the church collapses that voice into her own voice, conflates the two without distinction, we will no longer genuinely be bearing witness to the Church’s reality, but instead we will sadly only be found to be bearing witness to ourselves; there’s nothing truly doxological about that.

“What shall we now say and do that the gospel may be spoken?” We must attend deeply to the voice of God in Jesus Christ. Meditate on the rivulets the Gospel opens in the sanctuaries of our hearts and minds, and allow the Spirit to kindle anew and afresh the songs, hymns and spiritual songs that repose in and from the heart of God in Jesus Christ. As we participate in the interpenetration of God’s Triune life, from the anchor of our souls in Jesus Christ, we might come to know how we ought to respond to Jenson’s question.

 

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 14.

The Mystery of Godliness in Flesh: Engaging with K Sonderegger’s “Immutable-Mutability” in the Hypostatic Union

Katherine Sonderegger’s recently released (2015) Systematic Theology. Volume 1, The Doctrine of God is a theology text that is textured and dripping with doxological prose towards a God who you sense is truly holy as you work your way through it. She is someone I would say who writes in the same type of reverent style as John Webster did in his writings; with a kind of poetic and sacred flare.

jesusblackFor the rest of this post I wanted to share with you some of Sonderegger’s thinking on the immutability of God, or what she calls “Immutable mutability.” Here she has just been working through the Old Testament book of Numbers, and offers her thoughts on how God is both immutable and mutable (in a qualified way), using the themes of God’s stooping down to meet His covenant people where they are. She reifies the Torah revelation of God, the tabernacling God, by bringing Christ as the substance of that reality into the cultic picture offered by the salvation-history disclosed for us in Numbers. You will notice as you read this quote from her that she brings prayer or intercession into this discussion, just briefly, as she has previously been discussing that within the context of Numbers and God’s immutability. You will also notice that she refers to “omni” theology, i.e. God’s “all-knowingness,” and God’s “all-powerfulness,” so on and so forth. These are surely classical grammarisms for referring to the Christian God, but ones, that I think there might be better language for; at the very least, just as the language of immutability should be, I think so should the language of the “omnis” be qualified and conditioned from within a Christ concentrated frame of God’s Self-explication.

Furthermore, what you will also see in Sonderegger’s following quote is a reference to Barth. Sonderegger, ultimately, is not a fan of Barth’s Christ concentrated or principial approach for doing theology; indeed, as you read the whole of her Systematic Theology she makes that clear. That said, as is illustrated even here, she does make constructive appeal to Barth here and there (when she is not critiquing his Trinitarian approach to a doctrine of God). If you are familiar with Barth studies you will also see that she defers to a more Bruce McCormack reading of Barth wherein the Logos asarkos is essentially nullified. Of course as George Hunsinger and Paul Molnar are only too ready to argue, it is not the case that Barth has this allergy to the Logos asarkos lurking in his theology, or in particular, in his touchstone doctrine of election. Even so, Sonderegger, as you will see, works constructively with her reading of Barth and attempts to somewhat synthesize (that might be too strong of a word), constructively, her understanding of God’s “immutable-mutability” in the Incarnation with Barth’s concentration on the Logos ensarkos. These are technical things, in regard to Barth, that are indeed important, but for the purposes of this post, don’t let that deter you from being enriched from what Sonderegger offers here. As you read this your appetite might be whetted, as mine is, for her volume 2 which is focusing on Christology. What you will read is a rare flourish into some Christological thematic; for the most part in this volume 1 of hers she avoids much if any discussion of Christology (which that in and of itself should tell you volumes about how she differs from Barth — Barth wouldn’t even attempt to develop a doctrine of God without first starting with Jesus Christ — Sonderegger believes Barth is in serious error here, of course I disagree with her!). Here is Sonderegger:

In the mystery of the Incarnation, creaturely time is bent. It is taken up into the eternal, even as our flesh is taken up into Deity. What takes place under Caesar Augustus, in a shed in David’s city, takes place in another sense, yet altogether really, in the wilderness beyond the Jordan. Just this is what we mean when we say that time and eternity have met in Christ. Time and its order, its direction and impulse, are not destroyed—precisely not that! No, the movement from death to life, from exile to return, cannot be shaken: it is the Lord’s promise to His creatures. But our time is taken up into His, and in that way, receives as communicated, the Eternity that is God.

Our intercessions and commerce with the Lord God take place in that bent and hallowed time. The Mutability that is also the Lord’s Power is the Incarnation as it exists—“preexists”—in eternity. We want to be precise here. We do not purpose that the Divine Son is mutability within the Godhead, nor a “readiness” for Incarnation among the Triune Persons. No! This is a rather rarified form of Arianism, but Arianism, all the same. What we hear in the book of Numbers, rather, and aim to set out here, is the conviction that God’s very Nature, His own fiery Omnipotence, is “disposed” to Incarnation, the entire Godhead. Perfect Power is Humility in jus this sense. The fiery Dynamism that just is Omnipotence is Life, Movement, Energy. It eternally consists in and anticipates the Incarnation through its Divine Mutability. Just this is spiritual Nature. Though we must take up this task more directly in Divine Omniscience, even here we must say that the act of Incarnation is no novelty in God, no decision to be realized or adopted, no remedy. Rather this Mutability is the Divine Power in its dynamic Life. It is Eternal: immutable Mutability. This is what Barth means, I believe, when says that Christ makes us His contemporaries: we are drawn, as by the good Teacher, to His time, the eternal temporality. Perhaps this gives us another avenue into the perplexing doctrine of the Logos Ensarkos, beloved by Barth. Even as the apostle tells us that the Mind of Christ is exemplified and enacted by the lowering of Christ into the form of a slave, so the Humility of the Lord God is exemplified and enacted in His lowly readiness to hear, to bend down to His creatures in the dust, to have real commerce with those who are perishing. He will do this. It is not too little a thing for Him to take the form of a slave, to attend to us, to turn His Face toward us. That is His Goodness, His astonishing Humility. He asks, in that merciful exchange, What will you have me do for you? For just this reason the Incarnate Christ ask this very thing of the supplicants who come His way. He hears. He communicates His own Life to us in prayer, His own Vitality and Blessing. And as we cannot say, from our exiled home, east of Eden, just how the Eternal Word could become and live and die as one of us; just so we cannot say, as creatures of the earth, how the Eternal can assume our time, our days and years, into His Presence, so that we may speak and He may hear. But with the full realism that is the Incarnation, we may affirm, Yes, the Lord God, the omnipotent One, is mutable in just this way.[1]

What stands out to me most about this is the strong appeal to mystery that Sonderegger relies on in her constructive offering relative to how she tries to frame God’s “immutable-mutability” embodied by and within the hypostatic union of God and humanity in the singular person of Jesus Christ. This appeal to mystery, as J.N.D. Kelly reminds us is very patristic, and sounds somewhat like what Leo famously summarized in his Tome, which helped lead to the Chalcedonian settlement (we will have to explore how Leo brought all of this to summary in the next post).

I realize this has been somewhat of a fragmented post, but it is a blog post after all. Hopefully at the very least you’ve been given something to think about as a result of reading Sonderegger’s thoughts. Like I noted, I don’t fully endorse her approach, but her thinking on things is worth engaging with and being edified by at some level.

 

[1] Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology. Volume 1, The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 297-99.

God’s Plight as Our Plight in Christ; Death Couldn’t Hold Him Down

I have read loads of theology books over the years, but I can’t ever recall being moved to tears as a result of reading them. That just changed as I’m finishing up Robert Dale Dawson’s book (published PhD dissertation) The Resurrection in Karl Barth. In the closing chapter he is offering up some critical constructive points in regard to Barth’s theology of resurrection and doctrine of christcrucifiedGod (prior to this, the whole of the book is affirmative of Barth in every way). Here, in the quote I am going to share from Dawson, he is offering a word of development relative to what he sees as somewhat of a lack in Barth’s relating of resurrection and Trinity. So that’s the context of the quote, but the quote really stands on its own, materially. The reality of what is being communicated is so deep, profound, and worship-inducing that indeed it actually did cause me to cry for a moment; because of the depth of love that God has for us. As you read this quote just reflect on what is being communicated, and allow it to cause worship. Dawson is reflecting on what has happened on the cross, and in the Triune life (as that implicates the being of God):

For what then is the Son appealing to the Father, except that the Father should restore him (and all who are gathered in him) to eternal life and fellowship with the Father? That is, he commends his Spirit into the hands of the Father in order that he may, by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, be raised (that is, begotten as ever and always) into the being and perichoretic fellowship of the Trinity; that he may yet again and despite all assume his place as the Son of God bound eternally both to the Father and to humankind, the God-man who is alive and forevermore. This is not to say the Trinity has been dissolved in the death of the Son of God and remade in his resurrection, but that the Son of God has so bound himself to humankind that death’s threat against humanity must now also become a threat directly against the trinitarian being of God, a threat which can never be victorious for God simply lives in his freedom to exist as Trinity. The God-man has so bound himself to sinful men that he takes their plight, even their death and destruction, upon himself, such that their end is inextricably bound up with his. Yet it is the very nature of the being of God to will to be God not in isolation, not imprisoned in monadic aloneness, but in fellowship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because it is the will and essence of God to be God in this manner, death has no victory, for God precisely in this moment reaffirms his eternal trinitarian being, this time with human being bound to himself in the being of the second Person. The resurrection is the outward form of God’s reaffirmation of himself as trinitarian being. That is God so binds himself to humankind in Jesus Christ that the very trinitarian being of God is threatened, by virtue of the fact that the God-man, the Son of God and the Son of Man, goes into death. The Son of God surely dies, and humankind with him, but not without hope. Beacause it is the very nature of God to elect himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that is, because God continues to elect himself as the Father who is the fount of the eternal begetting of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit, the threat of the dissolution of God as Trinity is utterly – in the grace and freedom of the Father – nullified. What is more, the thread of the dissolution of creation and humankind is also removed forevermore. In other words, God removes the thread of death against humanity by securing human being in his own trinitarian life, against which death has no avail.[1]

[1] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 222.

The Sina Qua Non of the Gospel, The Trinity

The Holy Trinity is the absolute ground and grammar of all epistemology, theology, and worship; so says our thesis one from chapter fifteen in our volume one Evangelical Calvinism book. Torrance beautifully illustrates this in what he writes below:

trinity-iconWhile the Lord Jesus Christ constitutes the pivotal centre of our knowledge of God, God’s distinctive self-revelation as Holy Trinity, One Being, Three Persons, creates the overall framework within which all Christian theology is to be formulated. Understandably, therefore, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity has been called the innermost heart of Christian faith and worship, the central dogma of classical theology, the fundamental grammar of our knowledge of God. It belongs to the Gospel of God’s saving and redeeming love in Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again and has given us the Holy Spirit who has shed the love of God abroad in our hearts. The doctrine of the Trinity enshrines the essentially Christian conception of God: it constitutes the ultimate evangelical expression of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who though he was rich for our sakes became poor that we through his poverty might become rich, of the Love of God who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, for it is in that personal sacrifice of the Father to which everything in the Gospel goes back, and of the Communion of the Holy Spirit through whom and in whom we are made to participate in the eternal Communion of the Father and the Son and are united with one another in the redeemed life of the people of God. Through Christ and in the Spirit God has communicated himself to us in such a wonderful way that we may really know him and have communion with in his inner life as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[1]

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, 2.

 

Silence, Suffering, and Worship Coram Deo with Reference to Sonderegger

We ought to be silent before the LORD God! I have once again come to the so called ‘Minor Prophets’ or more Tanakhnic the ‘Book of the Twelve’ and have been reminded of a verse or two that simply has never left me from the time that I first read through these sections of Holy slaughteredlambWrit with attention over twenty years ago now (and continuously since then). The theme is silence before God, simply because he is God and alone inhabits his holy temple; the whole earth ought to be silent before him!

“But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Habakkuk 2.20

“Be silent in the presence of the Lord God; For the day of the Lord is at hand, For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests.” Zephaniah 1.7

I love this concept, and mandate! It conjures for me this idea that God is truly omnipotent (to use that ancient language), and that he is the One in control; not me, not my problems, and definitely not this earth or world system that ‘appears’ to structure it. God is God, and for that reason alone we ought to sit with our hand over our mouth in prone prostration (if not physically all the time, at least attitudinally). This idea of God’s immensity, to the point that I am left speechless, brings health to my broken and aching bones; it lets me know that I am not reliant on politicians, teachers, doctors (of any kind), et al. to order my life aright. I am contingent and fully dependent upon the One who outsources any resource I might conceive of on my own, and this is universally true not just for me but for the theater of God’s total creation (whether that creation recognizes it or not – so there is an objective mind independent of God’s reality that He is whether we recognize it or not … and in this I find total peace and comfort).

To help me brighten this theme up even more let me appeal to my new favorite theologian, Katherine Sonderegger. She “coincidentally” just happens to be writing on this same theme as I am currently reading through her new Systematic Theology, Vol. 1. I am going to quote her at serious length (just know I am doing this for you reader, you need to read what she has to say on this at length and let it penetrate the depth of your soul; you need to hear this as much as I do, we all need it!)

… It is the searing, personal encounter with the Living I, the God who is. Before the free Holiness of this God, His sovereign, personal Power, we fall silent. “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” Job says as he too finally falls silent before the Lord (Job 42:5-6). Our silence is the terrible correspondence, in human scale, to the personal Freedom of God. In its own frightening incompatibility, this is faith’s compatibilism: that in our anguished silence, the Aseity of God, His very own Mystery as infinite I, is signaled and buried deep.

Thou hast given us up to be butchered like sheep and hast scattered us among the nations. Thou hast sold thy people for next to nothing and had no profit from the sale. All this has befallen us, but we do not forget thee and have not betrayed thy covenant; we have not gone back on our purpose, nor have our feet strayed from thy path. Because of thee we are done to death all day long, and are treated as sheep for the slaughter.

So Abraham Herschel begins his remarkable book, The Prophets, with this searing citation from Psalm 44, dedicated to the Jews who were murdered in Shoah. Just this psalm erupts in the middle of the apostle Paul’s hymn to divine consolation in Romans 8, a lament in the very heart of the highest confirmation of the Lord’s Presence and benevolent Power. Just so may we dare to imagine our Lord Jesus Christ when He falls to the ground with great terror and shuddering lament in the night of His arrest. He carried a psalm on His lips as He leaves the supper, St. John tells us, preparing to encounter in prayer the Lord who will expose Him to the taunts of neighbors, to the mockery and contempt of all around, and make Him a byword among the nations, and the peoples shake their heads at Him (cf. Ps. 44:13-14). It has been a commonplace of patristic and medieval exegetes to explain our Lord’s grave terror in Gethsemane as an expression, natural to the flesh, of flight before certain cruelty and death. And so indeed it is! But something more terrible is here. As the people Israel remained faithful to the covenant and its Lord, so Jesus Christ Himself Israel and an Israelite, remains faithful, the faithful Witness, even as the torrent of God breaks over Him, sending Him down, broken and stretched out upon the earth. There are, to be sure, many elements at work in the problem of suffering; but this is the brutal core. To trust God, to believe and rest in His Promise, to rely and call upon His Goodness and to be broken on God: that is the serious heart of this problem that makes all else stand in the shade. The element of sacrifice, so closely intertwined with atonement and with sacrament, takes its point of departure from this terrible and holy self-giving of Christ on the cross. “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise,” (Ps. 51:17). And in all this suffering, the very Word of God is mute, and opens not His mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughter.[1]

In a world full of its own self-generated noise and clamor this is not the score being heard in the heavenly repose of God’s own triune life. There is a silence in His life, a silence that characterizes the Son’s relationship to the Father, a silence that speaks of God’s own character; and we would do well to participate in Him through Christ in that way. We would do well to understand that we are constantly being given over to death for His sake that we might also experience the life that He has always and eternally shared among Himself (Godself). At some point the gift of gab just isn’t a gift (at least not in the Kingdom of the Son); at some point being silent is all that is left to do before a Holy God. Jesus demonstrates this for us in His vicarious humanity (true humanity) at the cross; He commits Himself into the Father’s hands and is quiet, we ought to as well.

[1] Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), Loc. 3568, 3575, 3582, 359 Kindle Edition.

Against Polemics: Augustine on the Superabundance of God’s Life, and Rest In Him

I once read a book by Peter Leithart, his book on Athanasius; an excellent book! He prologued his book on Athanasius, ironically, with a reflection by Augustine; and it is brilliant, I love it. Here it is:

visioaugustine

[W]hat is the nature of things? What are things, ultimately and in their most basic structures and essence? You, O Lord, know, for you made them all, sustain them all in existence, direct and guide all things to your good ends. You know every thing, love every thing, are good to every thing. You know them all more nearly than they know themselves. But how shall we know?

Should I even ask, O Lord? Should I even ask? You have spoken, and you have acted, and you have called us to believe. You have taught us that we walk by faith and not by sight, by trust in your good promises of goodness, and not by understanding. It is enough that you know the nature of things. Should I ask?

If I ask, will I receive an answer? You are beyond all my thoughts, greater than all that I can say, incomprehensible in your eternal communion as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You cannot be encompassed with any concept, bounded by anything greater than yourself, since you are greater than all. All my efforts to encompass you are acts of idolatry and not true worship. And you made all things and all things shine with the bright radiance of your glory. Your world seems as incomprehensible as you yourself.

Should I even ask? Can I ask? Dare I ask?

Have not some of your servants turned to such idols? Have they not bound you in forms and substances and concepts of their own imagining and bowed to worship what their own hands have made? Have they not turned your glory, the glory of the incorruptible God, into idols more ethereal than four-footed beasts and crawling creatures, and worshiped and served the creature rather than you, the Creator? Have not your servants all but denied that you were Creator, following vain philosophers who spoke of eternal matter and changeless forms? Have they not said that you are subject to time and development, denying that you are eternally complete and fulfilled? Have they not danced and sung before other gods? They asked, what is the nature of things? And were they not turned from your ways?

Dare I ask?

Yet, I cannot escape the question, for others have spoken before me. Others have asked, what is the nature of things? and have given answers. Are their answers true? Should I, O Lord, ignore their questions and answers and devote myself to prayer and service to the poor? Or shall I seek to answer? Shall I seek to determine if they speak the truth? How can I not? Can I tell whether their answers are true without asking the same questions? If a philosopher says that all things exist by participation in forms, should I, O Lord, believe him? If another says that matter is eternal, shall I, O Lord, accept that? If yet another says that all substances are informed matter, shall I receive that? If another says that we can know nothing of things beyond their phenomenal appearances, what shall I say? If the philosophers are correct about the nature of things, do they also describe your nature, O God? Are you one of the the things whose nature these philosophers describe?

If you would not have me believe these philosophers, I would know why. And if they are false, I would know what truth to speak in place of their falsehoods. [Peter J. Leithart, Athanasius, xv-xvi]

Augustine is not being anti-intellectual, but he is seeking to find rest in God’s own Revelation, and confident that God is able to speak and communicate Himself to us through Christ in contrast to the un-restful quest provided by the Philosophers.

I often feel, as I engage with people online, as if there really is not this kind of posture of doxology and rest in our discourse; a looking away from ourselves (including our philosophical and exegetical arguments), and a looking to the One who sustains all of reality by the Word of His power conditioned by the life of love that He is in the intercourse of His life. What Augustine rightfully notes, is that even though Christian grammar uses the forms provided by the Philosophers, it does so in a non-correlationist way, such that these forms or these kinds of metaphysics are evangelized (as Leithart would say) in a way that the original philosophical context is given a new pretext and thus new context that is determined to be what it is by the reality being referred to in God’s life in Jesus Christ. It is not that we don’t engage with ideas, it is just that we do so from a posture of Confession, and most of all Faith. Which presupposes that we can trust the Revelation of God to be more than adequate in moving beyond the normal and mundane reflections of the Philosophers, and actually provide a way into the Holy of holies through the torn veil of Christ’s body for us. There is rest here from the wranglings of men and women who are trapped by trying to gain approval from other men and women; we have rest where the Father has rest, in His dearly beloved Son (Hebrews 3).

I just feel burdened by being in a state of polemic, and not in a state of doxology.