Questioning Inspiration

I am reading through A. T. B. McGowan’s volume on scripture, and he argues that we should jettison the term “inspiration” from our theological vocabulary – thinking it does not do justice to the original Greek, the appropriation of the term, or the contemporary usage. He prefers “Divine Spiration”. What do we think? It has the advantage of pushing back the discussion on the doctrine of God and focusing the questions on the sui generis reality of the Scriptural text, rather than starting, as many have, with natural parallels. What would be the advantage to holding on to inspiration over divine spiration? Any thoughts?

Theological Anthropology and Christian Formation

After my reviews of Jamie Smith’s work here and here, I’ve decided to do something of a series of book reviews here on theological anthropology, culminating in the new two volume Eccentric Existence by Kelsey. I have already looked at Cortez’s book on the subject in the Guide for the Perplexed series (here), and I will return to Cortez with a look at his dissertation-turned-monograph Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies. Here, I am looking at a new volume from Baker Academic entitled God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation by Nonna Verna Harrison.

Harrison’s work follows along similar contours as many new volumes, which seek to bring Patristic teaching to the church today. The best example of this I have seen thus far was Fairbairn’s volume Life in the Trinity, which I reviewed here, here and here. I say best, because Fairbairn does not simply seek to offer tidbits from the Patristics, but to grasp the center of their theology and utilize their insights, in a holistic fashion, for modern theology. Harrison’s book, on the other hand, takes on a different feel. Throughout, one is left wondering if she is merely wielding her own thoughts and proof-texting Patristic sources to make her point. In the end, one is never sure, since her interaction with the Patristic material is used to answer specific questions outside the contours of their own work. Continue reading

Choosing Theology Textbooks: Master List

I began to notice that a lot of our ruminations around here revolved around the classroom – either looking for books to use now, or else thinking about books to use in the future. In light of this, I thought it would be helpful to have a master list of posts on books that are user-friendly, especially for introductory courses, which can be hard to find. This list will also help us to round out areas we might not have talked much about. You can find the list on the tab at the top of the Theology Forum homepage. We’ll keep it updated, so hopefully it be a helpful resource.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism

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?

Divine Simplicity and Theological Epistemology

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

Evagrius and the Persons and Essence

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.”

Quoted from A.M. Casiday, Evagrius Ponticus in The Early Church Fathers Series by Routledge.

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?

God and Motion

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

Evangelicalism as a School

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?

The Teleology of the Christian Life

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?

Choosing a Theology Textbook: Life in the Trinity – Part 3

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

Choosing a Theology Textbook: Life in the Trinity – Part 2

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

Choosing a Theology Text: Life in the Trinity

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

Life in the Spirit

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