For a good laugh, read this book review by Roger Olson….hilarious. He doesn’t hold anything back when discussing the new book on his old friend Stanley Grenz’s theology. It is so bold it could have been in SBET!
Roger Olson has an interesting post on the current situation in evangelicalism and the radical change, as he sees it, from what evangelicalism was in the 70′s. We’ve batted around the nature of evangelicalism and fundamentalism here quite a bit, and I was wondering your thoughts. Do you resonate with this? If you were around in the 70′s to see this shift, do you agree with his position?
I’ve been reading a well written, helpfully conceived and clear minded work on divine simplicity (no easy task). Furthermore, it was a former dissertation under Lewis Ayres (and yes, I said it is well written and clear). The volume is entitled Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity (Oxford, 2009) written by Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, and it is in the “Oxford Early Christian Studies” series. Radde-Gallwitz notes that much of the contemporary dissatisfaction with divine simplicity (most notably in the philosophy of religion sector in the analytic philosophy sphere) starts with the assumption that Aquinas’ view on divine simplicity is the standard and definitive statement. Going back to the Cappadocians and focusing on Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, Radde-Gallwitz seeks to show that the early adoption of the position was not simply (pun intended) the uncritial acceptance of Neo-Platonic thought.
Central to the debates were epistemological questions concerning the knowledge of God. For Eunomius, for instance, knowledge of God necessitated knowledge of God’s essence. Basil’s attack on Eunomius focuses, in contrast, on how knowledge of God does not depend on a knowledge of God’s essence. Continue reading
I’ve been perusing some of Evagrius of Ponticus’ writings (as you do), and in light of our vigorous interchange in the comments of my “God and Motion” post, I thought I would add some thoughts from Evagrius. Evagrius is interesting, in part, because he was heavily influenced by the Cappadocians. In fact, the letter from which I will quote was thought to be written by Basil. You often find this letter in Basil’s works as “Letter 8″. The following are some thoughts from the letter that represent Evagrius’ trinitarian theology:
Number is a property of quantity; and quantity is linked to bodily nature; therefore, number is a property of bodily nature. We have affirmed our faith that our Lord is the fashioner [demiorges] of bodies. So every number designates those things that have been allotted a material and circumscribed nature; but ‘One and Only’ is the designation of the simple and uncircumscribed essence.”
“And yet we, in keeping with right reason, do not say the Son is either like or unlike the Father; each term is equally inapplicable. For the terms ‘like’ and ‘unlike’ are used only with respect to qualities, whereas the divine is free from quality. But as we confess the identity of their nature, we also accept the identity of their essence and disavow the idea fo a composite nature – for the Father, who is God by his essence, has begotten the Son, who is God by his essence. Thus, the identity of their essence is shown: for one who is God by essence has the same essence as another who is God by essence.”
“So, too, those who fight God seize on the verse, ‘The Son can do nothing of himself’ [Jn 5:19] in order to destroy those who listen to them. But to me even this passage attests chiefly that the Son is of the same nature as the Father. For if every rational creature with free will can do of itself what it wills and has equal inclination toward the good and the bad, whereas the Son can do nothing of himself, then the Son is no creature; and if no creature, then he is of one essence with the Father…You say that the Holy Spirit is a creature. But every creature is its creator’s slave. ‘For all things are your slaves’, he says [Ps 118:91]. If he is a slave, then he possesses holiness as an adjunct – but everything that possesses holiness as an adjunct admits of evil; whereas the Holy Spirit, being holy by essence, has been proclaimed ‘the fount of holiness’; so, then, the Holy Spirit is no creature. But if he is no creature, he is of one essence with God.”
What do you think about this? Evagrius’ concern seems to be to utilize the creature/Creator distinction, in part, to highlight the essential unity of God as One. This reminds me of some of the post-Reformation anti-trinitarian polemics, where the individuality of the three are assumed, and the polemical issues revolve around unity. Any thoughts?
In this post I am looking at Simon Oliver’s Philosophy, God and Motion. You might wonder why motion matters to theology at all. Oliver offers a terse overview of some options concerning the nature of motion: “For Plato, in wholly undualistic fashion, motion is the eternal stability of the Forms; it is, for Aristotle, the means of our passage from potency to actuality, it is, for Grosseteste, the means of the propagation of the universe from the simple, eternal light; it is, for Aquinas, the means of our participation in the eternal dynamism of the Trinitarian life of God” (2). I will, as far as I am able, provide an economic overview of the chapters with some concluding thoughts.
Chapter 1: Plato’s Timaeus
Oliver looks at Plato’s Timaeus to examine Plato’s cosmology of change and becoming, focusing his attention on the nature and purpose of motion in the treatise. The Demiurge forms a hierarchy of motions, based on the World soul’s division into sameness and difference. The sameness governs the motion of the universe, with all other motion participating in it. Mankind comes to move away from base opinion, furthermore, by participation in the motion, symmetry and proportion of the World Soul, which is the “ontological condition of possibility” for knowledge of the forms. Reason itself is a motion, and with all motion knows perfection cyclically, and obtains that perfection as a participation in the forms – most specifically the form of the good. Motion is, therefore, teleologically oriented towards a deeper participation in the Forms, and motion is the mediation between the forms and the cosmos. Oliver provides a nice summary: Continue reading
In the volume Life in the Spirit (see previous post), Bruce Hindmarsh suggests that evangelicalism be seen as a school of spirituality. I think this is interesting. I think this kind of delineation would explain why evangelicalism seems to be more interested in lifestyle and experience than in doctrine. What do we think about this? I think there is a lot of traction in seeing evangelicalism as a school of spirituality rather than a school of doctrine or a sociological movement building on the revivals or something like that. If this is right, it makes sense that we see a return to Spiritual classics, since those were the very texts used to start this school. When we read Scougal, Wesley, Edwards, etc., we are seeing reflection on Fenelon, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Thomas a’ Kempis.
I wonder if this could help to explain why evangelicalism has always seemed to stand at ends with dogmatic theology and much of Reformed/Lutheran theology/ecclesiology? Is there a sense where this school bought into the idea that this spirituality, rather than being monastic was supposed to saturate life (be the city on the hill) and also attract outsiders?
I’m still thinking about this but would love to hear some thoughts. What are the downsides to this kind of categorization? Upsides?
I read a paper in Glasgow at a conference last year which is now being turned into a book. My paper was on the beatific vision in Jonathan Edwards, and as I revisit the topic I’ve been thinking more and more about the tradition which uses the beatific as an organizing principle. I wanted to start a conversation here about this kind of teleology of the Christian life. What are its upsides? What are the pitfalls? Richard Bauckham notes that this tradition can lead to an individualized and intellectualized account of glory, and by implication, life under God in general, but notes that this isn’t necessary. What are the competing options, and do those offer a more holistic account of the Christian life?
This is my final look at Life in the Trinity by Donald Fairbairn. Here, I will briefly mention the remaining chapters in the volume and then pose some thought on the overall use of it in the classroom (or at least my general thoughts on its useability, etc.). Fairbairn continues with a helpful look at Patristic exegesis, focusing his attention on the use of the Old Testament. Next, he tackles the incarnation, focusing on Chalcedon and the emphasis on the identity of the Son of God as the same Lord Jesus who took on flesh. In his words, “The one who is consubstantial with the Father is the same one who is consubstantil with us” (145). Building upon these conclusions, he focuses his next chapter, “Redemption,” on the idea that God the Son died for humanity. He advances his discussion with a look at natures and persons. Walking through sidebars of Athanasius, Cyril and Irenaeus, Fairbairn addresses the issues of Chalcedon, attempting to allow the “metaphyics” of natures and persons to guide the discussion.
Fairbairn shifts gears a bit in the last two chapters, tackling the issues involved in “becoming Christian” and “being Christian.” Becoming a Christian, for Fairbairn, is entering the Son’s relationship to the Father – in other words, becoming a child of God. In the former, he addresses election, justification and reconciliation, while in the latter he focuses on sanctification, issues of living in a fallen world and the eschatological orientation of the Christian life. Throughout each of these chapters, Fairbairn attempts to weave in theosis as the central thread which holds together the whole. Continue reading
Fairbairn starts the third chapter with a discussion of the Trinity. There are several helpful elements to this. First, he does a great job of recognizing that his audience, if the book is used as he envisions it (as an intro text), will have little to know technical knowledge of the Trinity. He does an excellent job of explaining technical terms and distinctions, as well as walking the reader through the development of trinitarian dogma. Second, he has patristic quotations interspersed throughout each chapter which he references in his discussion. I think this will be a helpful way to introduce students to some of the key thinkers without over-burdening them with lengthy and arcane readings. Lastly, his discussion of the Trinity is not simply to explain what trinitarian dogma is – but also how it functions. In his development, theosis, being grounded in a patristic reading of the immanent and economic Trinity, orients the theological task and highlights the particularity of Christianity:
Only Christianity affirms that within God there is love and fellowship. Only the Christian God has such fellowship to share with humanity. Thus only Christianity is willing to say that people are and always will be lower than God, but at the same time, we are not meant to be merely servants. We are meant to be Christ’s “friends”…We are meant to remain creatures and thus remain lower than God but at the same time to share in the fellowship and love that have existed from all eternity between the persons of the Trinity” (56-57). Continue reading
I am starting a new blog series based on Kent’s increasingly read post on choosing a theology text. This series will look at various volumes for classroom use, sometimes offering one-off reviews and, such as in this case, more in-depth reviews. Here, I am going to be doing a series of posts looking at Donald Fairbairn’s volume Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers. This volume seems like a good place to start, because Fairbairn wrote the text to be used in classrooms as a secondarily theological text (to be used in parallel with primarily doctrinal texts).
Fairbairn starts, in my opinion, exactly where he should – on the bifurcation of theology and the Christian life. In his explication, he makes an important point:
Theologians have unintentionally given the impression that the doctrines, the ideas about God, are the subject of our study [rather than God himself]. As a result, students and others unwittingly substitute truths about God for God” (5).
To remedy the division between God himself and doctrine, Fairbairn suggests a return to theosis as the thread which ties theological grammar to God himself – as language centered around the relationship of Father to Son shared in by believers in the consummation of all things, and known through a glass darkly in our pilgrim existence. Continue reading
I’ve been meaning to put down some thoughts for a while now on IVP’s newer volume Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective, but have found it difficult to do so. This volume is last years Wheaton Theology Conference which focused its attention on spiritual formation. There is a lot of good stuff here, but it is a bit random, so I will simply make some highlights. Jeffrey Greenman begins the volume with a look at some of the classic issues in spiritual formation as well as the contemporary challenges. This is a helpful introduction, in many ways, and seeks to, along the lines of McGrath (in his Christian Spirituality) delineate evangelical distinctives. Greeman suggests Bebbington’s quadrilaterial as a way to do so.
Lawrence Cunningham provides a trinitarian read of Catholic spirituality, focusing on the concept of “the way” as a trope for the Christian life. Following Cunningham’s suggestions, Kelly Kapic offers a trinitarian read of Owen’s spirituality, taking time to focus on Owen’s Communion with God. Kapic states,
God in Christ by his Spirit has extended himself to us, drawing us into his loving embrace, into a divine giving and receiving, and this divine movement necessarily has a trinitarian shape. Owen’s premise is fairly simple: we have communion with God, and yet there is no God but the divine persons. All our approaches to God are always approaches to a divine person: this movement does not take us away from God since this is the only way we actually worship him” (102). Continue reading
In the movie High Fidelity, John Cusack’s character reflects upon his life and recognizes he suffers from a certain kind of neurosis – one which assumes at the youthful age of 25 that his present singleness is inevitably unending. I, like many others, tend to assume the same thing about theology. Present ignorance somehow leads to the belief that I must give myself to an onslaught of neurotic reading habits to somehow make up for lost time – lest I be “single” (read ignorant) forever. This disposition is enslaved to a subconscious belief that there is a hidden wormhole in the fabric of the creature-Creator distinction which I can access through sheer fortitude, and, in a moment always eluding my grasp, will one day deliver me to an infinite knowledge of all things.
But, in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, there is a sabbath rest for the people of God. Sabbath, for those of us who suffer from this kind of theological anxiety, is a submission to finitude – a time to rest in our calling as broken witnesses and to put down our strategies to undo our creatureliness. It is a sacrifice of our desire for transcendence and an acceptance of the real messy, broken finitude of our existence. This, I suggest, should be spurred on by our relation to the ecclesial community in which we partake as theologians – feeling the weight of the mundane as we secretly wish to disappear to our office and read something interesting (as opposed to, to use Eugene Peterson’s example, talk to some lady about her cat). Continue reading
If theology is to have meaning for our problematic times, if it is to be a troubler of man’s conscience and a comfort to troubled men, then it is more than imperative that our theological reflection be reflection in the Word. Only as a real theology of the Word shall theology avoid the destructive luxury of being a beautiful system with which the instructed few may be entertained, but which stands aloof from the tumult of life. It can and shall have – without any pretensions – living significance for the practice of faith, for the preaching and the confessing of the Church in the modern world.”
Faith and Justification, 10
I noticed that Tony Jones has a new book out called: The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community. The basic gist of the book is that the Didache provides a helpful way to think about community life. Which, in and of itself – fair enough. I’m not really concerned to comment on the volume itself (as far as I know it is insightful), but instead the reactions from the volume. It is a worth while exercise to go to Amazon and look at the comments, just to get a feel for what many evangelicals think about theology and, more importantly, ecclesiology. The general concensus seems to be that Jones’ volume is not a work of theology (which is why it is deemed valuable), but a practical work which goes beyond the point in time where everything went wrong (Nicea?). It is hard to know what the issue here is, but this is such a standard failure in theology by evangelicals that it needs to be noted – that if we could only find a really really old document, then it would be correct. I would point out the errors but they are just too obvious.
So, it would seem, that this is just theology fail at its finest? But not so fast. I think what Jones and guys like McLaren are doing is true prophetic utterance – not in achievement but in error. In other words, theology fail is prophetic utterance, because it should expose the wrongheaded notions of an a-theological approach to, well, theology. I think their voices are exactly what the evangelical world needs to hear, because their errors are simply the errors of the bulk of evangelicals. I have no doubt that we are close to one of these guys picking up Strauss, but now utilizing the Didache (or fill in the blank with whatever cultural assumption you want) as the “criteria by which to distinguish the unhistorical in the Gospel narrative.” This would be remarkably similar to McLaren’s recent project which, in the words of one of his more generous interpreters, is simply von Harnack reimagined.
So why are children of evangelicalism returning to accounts of ecclesiology, Scripture and theology proper that fail to start with specifically theological Christian commitments, looking instead to reconstruct and baptize a time in history that was too early to have lost the plot (as it were)? This, again, is the prophetic utterance of judgment on the horizon of evangelicalism unless it is willing, like Ninevah, to repent, and in the case of evangelicalism, repent of a biblicism absent from any theological moorings.