New creation and ‘Gnosticism': à Brakel once more

a brakelAside from frustrations experienced when someone advocates a pretribulational rapture, I would consider myself someone who doesn’t get riled up about eschatology very easily. Christ will return, and the dead shall rise (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christ will judge all, and God will bring creation out of its bondage to decay so that all those whose names are written in the book of life will dwell there with God forever (Rev. 20:11-15; 21-22). These are central to our Christian hope. Yet, there are still interesting questions to be discussed in the ambit of the main concerns.

In reading through à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, I came across his discussion of the nature of the new creation and paused for some reflection. Will this heaven and earth be purged of sin and death and restored by God, or will God annihilate the current creation and start over completely? According to à Brakel, respectable folk can disagree on this one, but he provides some compelling reasons to hold that the ‘structural edifice’ or ‘substance’ of the current heavens and the earth will remain and simply be purged and restored to a right condition.

These reasons include: (1) Peter expects restoration (apokatastasis) in Acts 3:21. (2) Paul’s reference to the ‘whole creation’ in Romans 8:18-25 is broader than the company of Christian believers, and the ‘whole creation’ is to be delivered, not annihilated. (3) The ‘folding up’ and ‘changing’ of creation in Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1 assumes that what is changed ‘continues to exist in essence’. (4) Peter (2 Pet. 3) likens the destruction of creation to the perishing of the old world in the flood of Noah, which was not an annihilation of all things (4:353-5). Because of Revelation 21:1, à Brakel is prepared to allow that the sea may be omitted from the new creation, but even here ‘[w]hether this refers to substance or characteristics, we shall leave unanswered’ (4:355). Indeed, there’s quite a lot that à Brakel is prepared to leave ‘unanswered’: Continue reading

Gunton Saves the World

I don’t agree with everything that the late Colin Gunton said about the doctrine of God, but he makes a significant point about divine freedom in the immanent Trinity in relation to the integrity of the world as contingent order:

In face of both of these polemics against the doctrine of the ontological Trinity, and against any suggestion that it is only the freedom of God that is at stake here, it can be argued that on the contrary that doctrine serves as a foundation for the relative independence and so integrity of worldly reality also, and thus for human freedom.  It is because God is a communion of love prior to and in independence of the creation that he can enable the creation to be itself (Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. xviii).

Ultimately, Gunton writes, the elision of the immanent Trinity has a propensity to ‘the pantheism which results from any attempt to bring God and the world too close’.  In other words (and to go a bit beyond Gunton’s own phrasing), the moment we negate the fullness of God’s being in its antecedence to the world, the world takes on a character that it was never meant to have and must bear the unfortunate burden of assisting in the project of God’s own self-realization.

What do you think about this point?  What are some ways of drawing out the implications of the preservation (or forfeiture) of God’s freedom in se for our understanding of creation?

Once more on anonymous blogging

Our discussion of NT Wright’s comments on anonymous blogging came to mind as I was reading Graham Ward’s The Postmodern God.

Surfing the net is the ultimate postmodern experience … Time and space as conceived by empiricists collapse into omnipresence and multilocality. And the ride is continuous, for the electronic tide maintains you on the crest of impending satisfaction, far above any ocean floor, fast forwarding toward endless pleasures yet to be located and bookmarked. Time disappears, boredom is deflated. The drug of the ever new, instant access to a vast sea of endless desire which circulates globally; browsing through hours without commitment of any theme imaginable … Cyberspace is an undefined spatiality, like the contours of a perfume, and you are an adventurer, a navigator in uncharted waters, discovering the hero inside yourself. You act anonymously, simply the unnamed, unidentifiable viewpoint of so many interactive network games, and where an identity is needed, you can construct one (xv).

Has Ward got it right? Is cyberspace the “undefined spatiality” and we the “unnamed, unidentifiable” adventurers who construct identities of our own chosing only when required?

If so (I have not given this much thought before now), then perhaps anonymous blogging is symptomatic of a more basic issue: cyberspace and its allure of “omnipresence and multilocality”.  Is it an overreaction to say that what cyberspace offers (albeit an illusion) threatens to erode a properly Christian account of human embodiedness? Human creatures stand within the temporal frame and limited by finite bodies, and at least according to a Christian doctrine of creation, these limitations are God’s blessing, part and parcel of the world over which he said, “It is very good.”

My comments are spare, but they at least gesture in the direction of a Christian, theological account of cyberspace. I am sure work has been done in this area, but I have not come across it. Any suggestions?

The Christology of Irenaeus – resources?

I will be reading during January break on Irenaeus’ Christology, so I am fishing about for exceptionally good secondary sources (books, articles, etc.).  What do you suggest?

I am particularly interested to explore the relationship between creation and recapitulation in Irenaeus’ thought. I am aware of the divergent trajectories in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions concerning creation, incarnation, and glorification, but I want to spend some time with Irenaeus on this. The following passages generated my curiosity (again):

[The Son recapitulated] the long line of human beings and furnished in us in compendio with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam – namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God – that we might recover in Christ Jesus…God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that he might kill sin, deprive death of its power and vivify man” (Against Heresies, III.xviii.7, ANF I, p. 446, 448).

Suggestions on secondary literature?

“Dappled things” & Doctrines of Creation

In a letter to Robert Bridges dated October 25, 1879, Gerard Manley Hopkins penned hopkins-1.jpg“Pied Beauty”:

Glory to God for the dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches wings; Landscape plotted and pierced – fold, fallow, and plough; And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

Wrapped up in his idiosyncratic vocabulary and unique sense for rhythm and pacing, Hopkins captures something one rarely finds in doctrines of creation: note of dappled things. In his own way, Hopkins reminds us that the triune God “father[ed] forth” the diversity and difference in creation, the “couple-colour as a brindled cow” and the “finches wings.” Continue reading