Friday, August 31, 2007

I'm Getting One!

Trinity & Covenant Part VI

This is the final installment and a continuation of Trinity & Covenant Part V

When I speak of the inter-trinitiarian relations as covenantal and argue that these relations are the ground of God’s external covenantal relations with humanity, I am not simply saying that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit entered into some sort of pre-temporal pact with one another to save us.

I am speaking of something richer than the contractual agreement that dominates older attempts to conceive of the eternal ground of God’s covenant. I am not arguing simply that the Persons of the Godhead came to some agreement about what each of them would do to save the elect, but that the form and manner in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally relate to one another is covenantal. That what we know and experience as God’s covenant with us is the Trinity’s astonishing and gratuitous act of opening up these family relations to embrace persons other than themselves. That creation itself is an act of covenantal inclusion.

For example, the Father creates people after his Image, that is, he creates sons like his eternal Son. Adam is a son of God, the spitting image of God (Gen. 1:26; 5:1; Luke 3:38). But then, you see, according to the Bible the original Image of God the Father is God the Son (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2). And so if there is another image, another son, then that other son is given the privilege of participating in the eternal Father-Son relationship in a limited, creaturely, but profound manner. The human son is created to relate to God the Father as he relates to the divine Son.

In other words, I am arguing that when God created man, the form of his relations with man was not something ad hoc, but an expression of the eternal personal relations between the Persons of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created non-divine persons in order that these human creatures might graciously enter into something of the blessed covenant, the communal life that they themselves enjoy.

The covenant is, therefore, not simply an external means, not merely a remedial arrangement by which God accomplishes salvation for fallen men, rather it is also the goal of creation. He created us for and now saves us to participate in his covenantal life. The Persons of the Trinity possess the fullness of life and blessedness as they love and serve one another sacrificially. This is the origin and eschatological goal of creation and redemption.

To say this in yet another way, the origin of the covenant is not simply in the will of God with reference to his creatures. That is, the covenant is not an arrangement conceived for man with no prior existence. God does not impose some arrangement de novo on his creatures. The covenant the gift of God. It is the gift of divine life. Our destiny is to enjoy God as redeemed creatures brought into an enjoyment of his rich covenantal life. Herman Hoeksema puts it nicely:
The presentation, however, of the counsel of peace must necessarily be changed when the idea of a covenant is not found in a contract or agreement, but is conceived as a living, spontaneous relation and communion, a communion of friendship. . . this covenant [then] is not perceived as a means to an end, as a way unto salvation, but as the very end itself, as the very highest that can ever be reached by the creature; not as a way to life, but as the highest form of life itself; not as a condition, but as the very essence of religion; not as a means unto salvation, but as the highest bliss itself.” (Reformed Dogmatics, p. 318).
The eternal covenant is the eternal form of the fullness of God’s relational life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is the origin and ground of God’s purposes for humanity. A definition of the covenant: God’s covenant is the bond of union, communion, self-giving love, and humble receptivity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into which God sovereignly and graciously brings Christians and their children through Jesus Christ, so that they can live with him and enjoy mutual love and faithfulness forever.

In closing, I return to my favorite Jonathan Edwards formulations:
“The end, the ultimate end of the creation of God was to provide a spouse for His Son, Jesus Christ, that might enjoy Him, and on whom He might pour forth His love. Heaven and earth were created in order that the Son of God might communicate His love to His spouse and bring that bride into the very family life of the Trinity.”

“There was, as it were, an eternal society or family in the Godhead, in the Trinity of Persons. It seems to be God’s design to admit the church into the divine family as his Son’s wife.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Trinity & Covenant Part V

Continued from Trinity & Covenant Part IV

Okay. Let's try to apply what I've been saying to the traditional Reformed formulations on the pactum salutis.

Understanding the relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as covenantal is not entirely new. Reformed theologians have typically affirmed that the inter-trinitarian relations are properly described as covenantal. Many Reformed theologians, since the 17th century, have spoken of an eternal “covenant of redemption” (pactum salutis), sometimes called the “counsel of peace” (consilium pacis from Zech. 6:13).

That there is a pre-temporal covenant between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has long been the majority position in the Reformed theological circles. It was held and taught by the primary authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, Caspar Olevian (1536-87) and Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83), as well the Westminster Divines (WCF 8.1-2; WLC 31), and also by J. H. Heidegger (1633-98), G. Voetius (1589-1676), John Owen (1616-83), Francis Turretin (1623-87), P. van Mastricht (1630-1706), Charles Hodge (1797-1878), A. A. Hodge (1823-1886), R. L. Dabney, and later Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). Consider Dabneys comments in his Lectures in Systematic Theology:
If there is any gospel remedy for sin, then there must have been, from eternity, such a remedial plan in the Divine mind. But the question is, was this part of the eternal decree, in any proper sense a covenant? Has it properly the form of an eternal compact between persons of the Trinity? This is purely a question of revelation, to be decided not so much by finding the words, covenant, compact, agreement, applied to it in Scripture, as the substance of the thing asserted. Calvinists hold that in the one, eternal decree of the Trinity, which is one in essence and attributes, and harmonious in will and thought, this remedial purpose (or part of the plan) has from eternity held the form of a concert or agreement between the Father and Son, for the redemption of believers (p. 431).
Dabney correctly reminds us that the absence of the word “covenant” itself is not sufficient evidence to conclude the absence of a covenant. One must look for defining characteristics of the covenantal relations.

Nevertheless, this quotation reveals the central weakness, I believe, of the Reformed tradition on God’s eternal covenantal relations. God’s eternal covenant is too often conceived of solely as a “remedial plan in the Divine mind.” I want to argue that the eternal covenant is the very life and glory of God’s eternal inner-trinitarian relations.

The typical Reformed scholastic characterization of the eternal covenant is that it is some sort of agreement or compact between the Persons of the Godhead for the sake of accomplishing an external purpose—the redemption of the elect. For almost all of our theologians the covenant is a “remedial plan,” an arrangement to deal with a particular problem—man’s sin and God’s desire to save his elect. The covenant is the means by which the Persons of the Father and Son decreed to accomplish salvation for the elect.

The covenant, on this understanding, is something external to God’s being and life, something that came into being in view of the sin of the human creature. The Son entered into covenant with the Father in order to become our Federal Head. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The covenant is the means of bringing salvation to God’s elect.

But I believe that the eternal covenant is much more than this. When I speak of the inter-trinitiarian relations as covenantal and argue that these relations are the ground of God’s external covenantal relations with humanity, I am not simply saying that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit entered into some sort of pre-temporal pact with one another to save us. I am speaking of something richer than the contractual agreement that dominates older attempts to conceive of the eternal ground of God’s covenant. I am not arguing simply that the Persons of the Godhead came to some agreement about what each of them would do to save the elect, but that the form and manner in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally relate to one another is covenantal. That what we know and experience as God’s covenant with us is the Trinity’s astonishing and gratuitous act of opening up these family relations to embrace persons other than themselves. That creation itself is an act of covenantal inclusion.

To be continued

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Terrorist Training Recruitment Video

If you are light on your feet, the Taliban needs you.

I have to take a break for a few days, so talk amongst yourselves.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

Oh my, No. Please!

How can I not respond to this? I must address such blasphemous effrontery. But now I'm beginning to sound a bit like Ignatius Riley. Oh, just wait. I have something to say about him in my next post.

But for now, let me point out what an incredibly awesome game Rainbow Six Vegas truly is. Halo and Halo 2 prostrate themselves low. This is the best shooter I've ever played, hands down. I'm talking about the single-player, story line part of the game. I'm not sure about multiplayer or the Xbox life game play. Bracketing those, the game play is perfect. The sets are visually stunning. The controls are just right. Everything about this game is just right.

The only small critique I have is the same one I have with every shooter - you are always constrained to go one way. I wish one day that we will have the memory and processing power to have more freedom in the environments we inhabit in these games. But besides that, this game is pure fun. I'm about finished, so I hope they come up with a sequel soon.

But I've got Ghost Recon 2 in the queue. That's supposed to be just as good or better. We'll see.

Jesus' Biblicism

Modern conservative Reformed denominations have a huge problem. It used to be that "Reformed" was short for "Reformed According to the Word." Reformed Christians were the loudest to profess to be "Bible-believing Christians."

Now, however, in many circles, "Reformed" appears to be the proudly worn badge of hyper-traditionalists. For them the supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined. . . and in whose sentence we are to rest is no longer the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. No. Now all theological controversies are resolved by an appeal to the authority of the decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, and doctrines of men.

If you didn't get the irony of my last two sentences, please read the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapt. 1, par. 10.

Are we followers of Jesus or not? Did Jesus ever once seek to correct the Pharisees or Sadducees by appealing to their traditions or great teachers? No. Just the opposite. He berated them for their loyalty to tradition. He warned them that their traditions "made void the word of God" (Matt. 15:6). He cited the Hebrew Scriptures. Over and over again.

If the reformation of Jesus was anything, it was fresh return to the Hebrew Scriptures as the authority for his church and kingdom.

In Matthew 19:1-12 the Pharisees lay a trap for Jesus. They ask him a question about divorce designed to make him take sides about what tradition school of thought in their little sect was right. Did Jesus know about their internal squabbles about the grounds for a man divorcing a wife? Sure he did. They expected Jesus to say that one side or the other was correct, but he doesn't. When Jesus answered them he did not ask them if they had read this or that Jewish authority on the subject. He asked them, "Have you not read. . ." And then he directed them to the Scriptures, God's Word. He goes all the way back to Genesis, to what God said and God did in the beginning.

Jesus would be derisively labeled as a "biblicist" by many Reformed partisans.

More often than not theological controversies that Christians fight over, that have divided Christian brothers, are best resolved with a fresh look at God's Word. One comes to God's word not looking for a proof text to back one's tradition or confession, but one examines the Bible for fresh insight, new categories, and an authoritative Word that cuts to the heart of the issue. After all, that used to be what it meant to be "Reformed."

Two great essays by John Frame on this subject:

A Defense of Something Close to Biblicism


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Trinity & Covenant Part IV

Continued from Trinity & Covenant Part III

Let's move from Christology to Trinitarian theology. Now we're getting to the good stuff. I argued in the last post that God the Son converses with, loves, obeys, serves, glorifies, and offers himself to God the Father. God and God. God relating to God.

Indeed, given the way that the Son of God himself speaks of the Personal agency and relations of God the Holy Spirit (John 14-16), the church has rightly concluded that there is a complex three-way set of personal relations—God and God and God. God begotten of God. God and God sending God. God being sent by God and God. God glorifying God and God. But not three gods, one God. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speaking to, obeying, loving, serving, glorifying, offering themselves to one another.

As difficult as it was for the fledgling, post-apostolic church to make this confession in the face of Greek philosophical paganism with its inert, static, lifeless conception of God—the impersonal one, the undifferentiated monad—she courageously did so. Even so, the fuller implications of what she confessed when she called on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would not be worked out for many centuries.

She was tempted on the right and left by heretics that would shield the eternal Godhead from these personal actions. God was above all that, they said. Nevertheless, the church, bound by the Holy Scripture, against human reason and the philosophical “common sense” of the day, stuck to her guns. The God we worship, the God who has delivered us from sin and death is the God who speaks to God, the God who serves God, the God who loves and obeys God, the God who sacrifices himself to God, and all for us.

But even with this shocking trinitarian confession we are not yet ready to announce that the riddle has been thoroughly solved. We have not yet plumbed the depths of the revelation of God in Christ. There is more to learn. We are back to some of our original questions. What does this startling slice of the life of God unveiled to us during the three-year ministry of the Son in the flesh reveal about God’s being and life as God? How can obedience, service, sacrifice be predicated of the relations between the Persons of the Trinity? What does the interaction between God and God and God tell us about the way he relates to us and the way we relate to him? And ultimately what does it reveal about our eschatological hope—the end, the goal of our redemption?

It was the Reformed church and her theologians who recognized that that the way in which God the Son and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit relate to one another is strikingly parallel to the way God relates to us and the way we are expected to relate to God. That obeying, glorifying, serving, and sacrificing describe covenantal relations. Even the climax of the covenant—“God with us” and “God in us” is first of all a divine reality and relationship. How so?

The language of John 14-17, especially the language Jesus uses to indicate that the Father is with him (16:32) and that he and the Father and Spirit with be with the disciples (17:24)—this is covenantal language. In the OT, God’s covenant with the Patriarchs and Israel promised that God would dwell with them and he did so in some sense in the Tabernacle and Temple, just as he was with Adam in the Garden.

When God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s promise to be “with” and “in” the community of believers after Jesus’ departure this is just the covenantal language of the older age come to fulfillment in Christ. The word “covenant” may not be used, but the substance and language of the covenant is clearly present.

But what is striking about this language is that with the incarnation of God the Son, we get more information on the origin and ground of God’s covenantal promise to be with us. The language of God’s being “in” and “with” us is grounded in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s being “in” and “with” one another. Consider John 17:21:
. . . even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
may they also may be in us.
What this means is that the covenantal promise of “God with us” is first of all that which is experienced in the eternal inter-personal life of God the Father and Son. Just as the Father is “in” the Son and the Son is “in” the Father, so too will believers be covenantally united “with” and “in” the divine community. Just as the Word is with God the Father (John. 1:1), so the promise of the covenant is that we also with be “with” God.

Moreover, just as the Father and Son are “in” and “with” one another—covenantally united in love and service—so too will believers in the new age be “in” and “with” one another, covenantally united one with another in a way that is analogous to the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What else could John 17:22 and 26 mean?
. . . that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us

. . . that the love with which thou hast loved me
may be in them, and I in them”
There you have it. As we noted at the beginning of these reflections on the covenant, in John 17 the relations between Father and Son are all mixed up, so to speak, with their relations to us. What might at first seem like the Son’s actions toward us also turn out to be the Son’s actions toward his Father. And vice versa—the Father’s active way of relating to the Son is the way he relates to us.

What does this mean for our understanding of the covenant? The eternal covenantal love between Father and Son is the origin and ground of the covenant that binds together God and believers as well as believers with believers. God’s covenantal life is graciously opened outward to embrace created men and women.

In other words, our covenant unity with God and with one another is grounded in God’s covenantal unity with God—that is, the mutual covenantal relations between God and God and God. From eternity the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a fullness of covenantal life, love, glory in their personal relations with one another; and it is this covenantal personal fellowship of the Trinity that is the life of the covenant into which we are graciously admitted.

Let it sink in.

So is my reasoning really just pure "speculation"? Should what I have argued for in these posts—God's covenantal life is the origin and ground of his covenant with us—be dismissed as speculative simply because the Bible never explicitly applies the word "covenant" to the inter-Personal relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Next time: Reforming the traditional pactum salutis.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I'm Just Trying to Help

Trinity & Covenant Part III

Continued from More on Covenant & Trinity

One Lord Jesus Christ

We must begin with Christology. First, the Reformed tradition has agreed with the historic creeds and confessions and concluded that the words and actions of Jesus in the flesh are the words and actions of God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. That although he spoke with a human mouth and acted with the fleshy legs and arms of our humanity, Jesus’ words and acts are the words and acts of a divine personal agent, the eternal Son of God. This is demanded by the Bible. Consider how John puts it in the first chapter of his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made . . . . He was in the world. . . . he came to his own. . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
There is one divine Person, the Son of God, who assumed to himself our human nature in order to speak and work on our behalf. For example, when Jesus speaks, he speaks using the larynx and lips and of our flesh, but the One who speaks is God the Son, the Eternal word. When Jesus eats and touches even when he spreads out his arms to be nailed to the cross beam that will lift him up from the earth, it is God the Son who eats, touches, and feels the nails driven into his hands and feet. This may seem like an obvious point, but it is not often appreciated in our circles. We often speak as if there were two subjects or two agents, one human and one divine. That sometimes Jesus the man is speaking and acting and that at other times God the Son is speaking and acting. This is not the case. Through Jesus ministry there is one personal agent, one subject—the eternal Son of God who speaks and acts in the flesh. Sure enough, he is “God and man in two distinct natures” but he is not two persons. Rather he is “one Person forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 21).

This is not the place to delineate the precise way in which God the Son united with and lived out his life united to our humanity. I only want to emphasize that there is one divine Person who acts in union with our humanity. Otherwise stated, everything Jesus says and does God the Son says and does.

Do not shrink back from this confession. It was the eternal Son of God who suffered and died in the flesh for us. Indeed, the eternal Son of God assumed our nature just so he could live and die in the flesh. It was the Person of the eternal Son who experienced suffering and death on the cross in the flesh.

To fail to affirm this surprising truth is to tinker with the Nestorian heresy. Unfortunately, too much of popular Reformed theology is often found to be slouching toward Nestorianism. Christ is not a union of two persons, one divine and one human. Rather he is one divine Person, and this divine agent acts, speaks, and experiences human life in the flesh. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor.5:19). Happily, our hymnody often keeps us orthodox even when our human reasoning attempts to sidestep this astonishing truth.
Amazing Grace, how can it be that thou my God should die for me.
Alas! And did my savior bleed and did my Sovereign die!
When Christ, the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.
Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God.
We are now well on the way to solving the riddle of Jesus’ personal interaction with the Father. But the riddle is not entirely solved. To affirm one divine Personal agent means not only that everything Jesus said and did and experienced in relation to us was that of the eternal Son of God. It also means that the words and acts of Jesus spoken and performed in relation to God the Father are the words and actions of God to God, God for God. What we hear and see in the biblical record of Jesus interaction with the Father is God interacting with God. Not simply God and man, but God and God. But that raises more questions. How is it that God converses with God? That God loves God? That God obeys God? That God serves God? That God glorifies God? That God offers himself to God? What does this tell us about the nature and life of God?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Contemporary Novelists

I don't know about you, but whenever I'm visiting a Borders or Barnes & Noble I typically scan the shelves for my favorite living contemporary novelists and writers to see if they've published anything new.

Here's my list (in the order in which they come to me):

Umberto Eco
James P. Blaylock
Gene Wolfe
Tim Powers
William Gibson
Cormac McCarthy
Vernor Vinge
Ray Bradbury
John C. Wright
John Crowley
Tom Wolfe

Of course, I have other favorite authors that I don't expect new books from and therefore I don't scan the book shelves for them. They're dead.

Does anyone else do the same thing in these bookstores?

Oh, and I just saw that William Gibson has a new novel Spook Country. I hope to get a copy today. Cool.

I thought Apple was a GREEN company!

Can anyone verify this? A 300-page itemized bill! Amazing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on Trinity & Covenant

Everyone who reads the story of Jesus in the Gospels with an eye on the astonishing interaction between Jesus and the Father is faced with some difficult questions. I called attention to this in my previous post. But let me try to flesh this out some more.

What are we to make of Jesus' conversations with the Father? Who’s talking to whom? Who is listening to whom? What does their conversation and behavior toward one another tell us about the form of their relationship?

Were Jesus’ words and actions in relation to the Father human words and actions directed to God? Was a man talking to God the Father? Was a man giving and receiving from God the Father? Was Jesus’ obedience to the Father the performance of a duty that the human creature owes to its Creator and God? Was Jesus’ offering himself on the cross to the Father as a sacrifice, a self-offering of a man?

How shall we answer these questions about Jesus’ words and actions? A human conversation with God the Father? Yes. A human obedience to God the Father? Absolutely. The self-offering of man to God the Father on the cross? Surely. But is that all we can or should say? Have we fully adequately answered these questions when we identify Jesus’ words and actions as simply human speech and acts directed to God the Father? Is there more?

When Jesus speaks to and acts with reference to his Father was this an instance of God relating to God? Was God talking to God? Was God obeying God? Was God offering himself to God? God the Son to God the Father? May we speak of the sacrifice of God to God? The obedience of God to God? Can we talk meaningfully about God’s obedience or God’s sacrifice or are these categories limited to the relational acts performed by created humanity with reference to God? Human creatures can sacrifice to and obey one another. They can, of course, sacrifice to and obey God. Human creatures can also speak to God.

But can God sacrifice to and obey God? Is it possible that Jesus’ conversations with and obedience to his Father reveal something more than simply the human creature’s proper response to his Creator?

The answers we give to these questions will have vast implications for our theology, especially for our understanding of the nature and character of the covenant. That may not be immediately evident to everyone reading the first few paragraphs of this post. Questions like these may strike many readers as esoteric and speculative. Nevertheless, I hope to show that that answers we give to questions like these ought to govern how with think about God’s own covenantal life as well as our covenantal relations with the Triune God.

In order to unpack the significance of Jesus’ words and actions in relation to the Father we must move carefully through a series of theological affirmations which the Christian church has arrived at after careful reflection on the biblical record. Although it has been the Reformed church that has been most attuned to the central place of the covenant in God’s relations with man, nevertheless, I want to suggest that our tradition’s exposition of the character of the covenant has not always been securely grounded in orthodox Christology and Trinitarian theology.

This is not to say that traditional Reformed theologians have been unorthodox in their understanding of Christ and the Trinity, only that we have not always adequately constructed our theology of the covenant, especially the eternal covenant between the Persons of the Godhead, with these considerations in mind. Which is to say that the Reformed teaching on the covenant, especially the place of the inter-trinitarian covenant, sometimes called the pactum salutis or Covenant of Redemption, may profit from a careful reevaluation of the nature of the Son’s personal interaction with the Father as recorded in the Scriptures.

I hope to demonstrate that some of the traditional ways of characterizing the pactum salutis have not always adequately taken into account certain biblical and theological data concerning the interaction of Father, Son, and Spirit. Careful attention to this data will help to restore the importance of God’s covenantal life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for our understanding of creation, redemption, and the eschatological end of history.

Now, let's see if I can live up to that claim in the coming posts.

Covenant & Trinity

David Booth has asked some good questions here. His questions are about the first affirmation in the Federal Vision Joint Statement that reads: "We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations."

I responded on his blog already, but let me add something here. David asks if calling God's eternal, inter-Personal relations "covenantal" makes any difference. Let me put this in a way that makes the significance crucial.

When the disciples and apostles pondered everything Jesus had said and done, especially what he had said to his Father and done on the cross in obedience to his Father they were confronted with a riddle. The riddle of all riddles. How would they understand the meaning of his conversation with the Father? What would they make of his obedience to the Father? What would they judge its significance to be? Did Jesus speak with God the Father simply as a created man? Did he obey his Father as human or was there something more going on, something more amazing being revealed?

Were his words and actions in relation to the Father merely human actions? Or was he truly the eternal God talking, acting, obeying, serving, suffering, and dying in the flesh? When they call him "Lord," what kind of lord was he? When they refer to his "obedience" and "service" what kind of obedience was this? The obedience of a man? Surely, at least! But was it also the obedience of God? Can we talk meaningfully about God's obedience or is this just a category, a relationship for creatures.

A great deal depends on one's answer to these questions. If obedience is strictly speaking a human or creaturely duty, then it is easy to conceive of our obedience as a function of who's got more power. Since God has the power, we must submit and obey. If a king or a employer has more power, then we must obey. But is that the only way to understand obedience--as a way of relating to one more powerful and dangerous than oneself?

To put this in the context of the current discussion about the nature of the covenant the quesetion is: is covenant obedience restricted to the creature's response to his almighty Creator? If the answer is yes, then it would be blasphemous and dangerous to push this dimension of the covenant back into God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "equal in power and glory" as our Westminster Shorter Catechism nicely puts it. Sovereign human lords make treaties with vassals and those subservient vassals must obey without question or suffer severe repercussions. But can such a relation make sense of Jesus obedience to the Father?

If we accept these categories, then Jesus' obedience to his Father must be the obedience of his human nature, of the creature to the Creator. But does this really work? Christologically, this is suspect because Jesus is not a human person at all. Rather, he is a divine Person. The eternal Son. And as the eternal Son he assumed a human nature and lives his divine life as the Person of the Son in union with his assumed human nature. Can we be content with assigning his obedience to his assumed created nature? This appears to divide the natures in a way that seems too Nestorian. [I recognize that this paragraph assumes an awful lot and might need to be fleshed out a bit.]

But if it is the eternal Son who obeys the Father, then we have obedience, as it were, expressed in the relations of Father and Son. And if the incarnation of the Son reveals the true nature of God, as John tells us in chapter one of his Gospel, then the true God is obedient. According to the New Testament it is not simply the human nature of Jesus that has this obedient orientation, but it is Christ Jesus who lives as morphe theou, who in accordance with his divine mode of life becomes obedient unto death, pouring himself out for us (Phil. 2). That's my take, anyway, on Philippians 2. God the Son living as a man humbles himself and is obedient unto death.

It is the Person of the God the Son who is an obedient Servant—Servant of his Father on our behalf. There is nothing accidental or alien about this way of living and relating to the Father. This is not simply a foil for his divine glory, as if divine glory is really primarily about power. His "lordship" has nothing to do with the way fallen human political tyrants perceive glory—pushing people around and manipulating others.

In other words, Jesus does not become for a time something that he is not. The Son does not become a man so that he might be submissive and obedient. He does not need to be a man so that he can be a servant. He does not assume a role that does not express who he is. Obedience and service characterize at some crucial level the eternal, inter-trinitarian personal relations. The Son becomes a man because he is submissive to the Father. He, the Son, gave himself up (Gal. 2:20, Eph. 5:2). He, the eternal Son, humbled himself (Phil. 2:7). He, the divine Son, emptied himself, pouring out his life to the Father for us (Phil. 2:8; Isa. 53:13).

But doesn't God's covenant with the human creature involve man's obedience? If obedience is a necessary dimension of covenantal relations, then the Son's relations with the Father are covenantal. More than that, is it too much of a stretch to conclude that God's expectation of obedience from man is not something utterly foreign to God himself? That God's own covenantal life includes obedience—at least the obedience of the Son to the Father, but also the obedience of the Spirit to Father and Son, and possibly even the obedience of Father to the will of the Son and Spirit.

To state this in a way that some might find shocking, God does not ask his creatures to do something that he himself is not willing to do.

You see, we have to clean up our thinking a bit. Obedience, especially an obedience that willingly serves and puts oneself at another's disposal in order to see the other glorified, is a divine mode of life. Maybe this is why John says "God is love" and that "love is obedience to the command of the other." Father, Son, and Spirit love one another so much that they are obedient servants one to the other. And this eternal covenantal submission and service is the ground of the human creature's covenantal obedience to God. To be godly means to be obedient and imaging God means obedient, self-sacrificial service to God and to other human creatures.

If our conception of the covenant degenerates into purely external, extrinsic acts of God, acts that are only loosely related to the real life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, if they only assumed these roles in order to get something accomplished, then we know and worship an unknown god behind the purely economic, covenantal relations expressed in his covenantal dealings with us.

Think about this. The submission/obedience/service of the covenant is not external to God, but expressive of his true life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this is not myth, but history. God's history. This is the solution to the riddle of Christ's conversation with and obedience to the Father. What is recorded in the New Testament Scriptures—what the Son said to his Father and to us, as well as what the Son did in obedience to his Father in time and space is nothing else but the history of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit's covenantal relations with each other pro nobis.

Presbyterians & Liturgy - Part VIII

Continued from Part VII

Terminology & Glory

The terminology we use to describe what happens on the Lord’s Day can be confusing. We’ve inherited the designation “worship service,” which, to my mind, often leads to confusion about what's really happening in the congregation.

“Service” comes from the Latin serviium, as in servitium Dei (“the service of God” or “God’s service”). This older way of designating the Christian liturgy is delightfully ambiguous. In the “Divine Service” or “the service of God” who is serving whom? Is God serving us? Or are we serving God? Or is it both?

Classically, the “Divine Service” was thought to include both God’s service to us and our service to God. Even so, our fathers in the faith considered God’s service to us (the forgiveness of sins, the ministry [service!] of the Word, the Sacraments, etc.) as primary and our service to him as secondary response.

But the priority of God's service to us is exactly what is lost when we call our corporate, Sunday assembly “worship.” This term comes to us by way of the Anglo-Saxon word “worth-ship,” which simply meant to accord someone his proper worth. What we appear to be emphasizing with this term is not God’s gifts and ministry to us through his Word and Sacraments, but our ascribing “worth” to him.

Sadly, many people that preach and teach about "worship" have a tendency to miss this. We are too ready to accept the misleading definition of liturgy as “the work of the people,” which is in fact only half of the story, and the second half at that!

What happens on Sunday is the continuation of the service of the ascended Lord Jesus for his people. “For who is greater: the one at the table or the one who serves? The one at the table, surely. Yet here am I among you as the one who serves! (Luke 22:27; see also Matt. 20:28; John 13:5-16; Phil. 2:7-8).

Without this understanding, our worship inevitably degenerates into Pelagianism with a Calvinistic veneer. The worship service is not first of all for God. Rather, first, we receive from God, then, secondly, we give back to him with gratitude precisely that which he graciously continues to give us.


After all, God stands in no need of our service or praise. He has not created us primarily so as to get glory for himself, but to distribute and share the fullness of his glory with his creatures. This needs to be carefully considered. The true God is not like the pagan gods who need to suck up as much of the glory and praise as they can. With the true God the determination of the amount of glory possessed by him and us is not a zero sum game. If he has all glory, that does not imply that we have none. If we possess glory, it does not come at the expense of his glory. Only when we refuse to acknowledge the source of our glory and assert our own over against his do we then fall under the condemnation of the prophets.

Thomas Howard rightly challenges this distortion:
“If God alone is all-glorious, then no one else is glorious at all. No exaltation may be admitted for any other creature, since this would endanger the exclusive prerogative of God. But this is to imagine a paltry court. What king surrounds himself with warped, dwarfish, worthless creatures? The more glorious the king, the more glorious are the titles and honors he bestows. The plumes, cockades, coronets, diadems, mantles, and rosettes that deck his retinue testify to one thing alone, his own majesty and munificence. He is a very great king to have figures of such immense dignity in his train, or even better, to have raised them to such dignity. These great lords and ladies, mantled and crowned with the highest possible honor and rank are, precisely, his vassals. This glittering array is his court! All glory to him, and in him, glory and honor to these others” (Evangelical Is Not Enough [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984], p. 87).
It is this cruder form of the doctrine that is too often the popular view. If anyone has an ounce of glory, then it must be confiscated by God. This is pagan. Rather, we must say that if anyone has an once or two pounds of glory, it has been bestowed on him by God from the plentitude of his own glory and so all glory in the world must ultimately redound to him. “For of Him and through Him and to Him [are] all things, to whom [be] glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

This mistaken view of the relationship between God's glory and ours leads to all sorts of errors. Our churches cannot be beautiful (glorious), but must look like whitewashed meeting halls or worse otherwise we might be deflecting people from the God who alone has all glory. Nonsense. Beauty is not dangerous in this way. God bestows beauty and glory on his people. What kind of God is projected by churches that make their environment of worship ugly? A husband who keeps his wife looking ugly, not allowing her to beautify herself, does not really love his wife. How much worse would it be if he wanted to draw attention to his own good looks by keeping her drab looking?

The Father desires to glorify his Son's bride. The Son is dedicated to beatifying her as well. The Glory Spirit is directly involved in the makeover. What do you think this means for Christian liturgy? Think about it like this. What do we do with wedding ceremonies? Typically, the parents and the couple are dedicated to making the service beautiful. Time and care are taken to make sure everything is done just right to glorify the bride and insure that the ceremony is glorious. Why don't we have the same attitude towards our Lord's Day services? Where is the corresponding concern for beauty and significance in the liturgy of the church?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

You Know You Want One

Seriously. This is an outrage. How could anyone even think about eating such a fine-looking burger with no mayonnaise! Unbelievable. Drop the ketchup and give me two bowls on the side – one with mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, for goodness sake!) and the other with mustard. They'd be dipping bowls, of course.

Stephen King on Harry Potter

SPOILERS for book 7

. . . These books ceased to be specifically for children halfway through the series; by Goblet of Fire, Rowling was writing for everyone, and knew it.

The clearest sign of how adult the books had become by the conclusion arrives — and splendidly — in Deathly Hallows, when Mrs. Weasley sees the odious Bellatrix Lestrange trying to finish off Ginny with a Killing Curse. ''NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!'' she cries. It's the most shocking bitch in recent fiction; since there's virtually no cursing (of the linguistic kind, anyway) in the Potter books, this one hits home with almost fatal force. It is totally correct in its context — perfect, really — but it is also a quintessentially adult response to a child's peril.

Read the rest of King's excellent analysis.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Trinity & Church - Part XV

Continued from Part XIV


A second theological control is needed. We must control our theologizing about the church so that we remain within the “center” of confessional, indeed biblical Christianity. McFadyen, for example, has criticized overly simplistic construals of the relation of Trinity to humanity. Being created in the image of God does not mean that the divine and human community are merely related as analogans and analogatum. This would leave us “with an entirely static picture of a Platonist universe in which the Triune God’s sociality and communication is restricted to the ideal world of pure forms." Rather, “the dialogical openness within the trinitarian being of God overflows into all God’s external relationships,” which willful gift enables humanity “to join in the fullness of divine life in a manner appropriate to its own creaturely existence” (Alistair I. McFadyen, “The Trinity and Human Individuality: The Conditions for Relevance,” Theology 95 [1992]: 12, 15 95 (1992): 12, 15).

What this means for Reformed pastors is that we must be careful to maintain a proper Christological and Pneumatological grounding of our conception of the church along the lines provided for us in the New Testament. Indeed, the perichoretic loving relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are only known to us “in Christ.” Which is not to say that it is only the love of Christ that we know, but that the love of the Father for Christ, the love of Christ for the Father, and the loving service of the Spirit for Father and Son in all its eternal glory is only revealed in the redemptive economic actions of God for us.

Remembering this will help insure that we don’t “begin” with speculation about the eternal relations apart from or “before” the cross and then attempt to present some idealistic program of communio for our ecclesiastical communities. A pure, idealized imitatio trinitatis is always in danger of marginalizing the cross—the outward turning of eternal divine love for sinful man. Even the cross can be transformed into a cipher for human relationality, as it comes dangerously close to being in the trinitarian theology of Moltmann and LaCugna. Modern trinitarians, like Moltmann, evidence a penchant for transforming biblical and classical theological language that refers to God’s ontologically distinct existence into Hegelian categories. So Moltmann claims that “God” is a retrospective description of “the unity of the dialectical history of Father and Son and Spirit in the cross of Golgotha. . . . In that case ‘God’ is not another nature or a heavenly person or a moral authority, but in fact an ‘event.’” But then there really is no independent Triune existence distinct from human society from which humanity might derive a model. The Trinity and the cross become ciphers for the eschatological end-point of human social evolution, which is always cast in egalitarian form.

Nevertheless, that divine love that is so wonderfully revealed in the cross of Jesus is not merely the love of God simpliciter, that is, an undifferentiated love of “God” ad extra, but is most profoundly presented in the New Testament as the rich interaction of love and service of the Three, one for another in self-effacing service for sinful humanity—a rich, multifaceted love which alone is worthy of the designation “divine love” in the distinctively Christian sense. And it is that Christ-centered, Spirit-enabled trinitarian sense of “love” (no amor incurvatus in se) and not the immanent Trinity in the abstract that ought to be modeled or imaged among believers in their ecclesiastical communities, according to Paul’s own admonition in Philippians 2:5-11:
Adopt this frame of mind in your community—
which indeed [is proper for those who are] in Christ Jesus.
Precisely because He existed in the form of God,
He did not regard equality with God something to be seized.
but poured himself out [unto death, Isa. 53:12],
having taken the form of the Servant [Isa. 52:13; 53:11],
having been made in the likeness of men.
And having been discovered to be a man,
He humbled himself,
becoming obedient unto death—even death on the cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him. . .

Can I lease one of these new Suburbans?

Thank God for Electricity

I was in Columbia, MO, last night for the installation of Thom Smith as associate pastor of Christ our King Presbyterian Church. After the service I was planning on staying the night with the pastor and driving back to STL in the morning.

But then the phone calls came. The air condioner wasn't working at home. The breakers kept flipping. I walked my wife through the fix for that on the phone. Fifteen minutes later she called and said the kitchen sink was backed up. She couldn't fix that herself so I got in the car and drove home. I got home about a quarter to midnight and began working on the kitchen sink.

At about 12:45 AM I noticed on the weather radar that there was a huge thunderstorm approaching from the NW. I could already hear rumblings and the wind had suddenly picked up outside. So I went around the house unplugging the computers and stuff. I had just pulled the plug on the Xbox 360 when the lights went out. I twas about 1 AM. I forgot to have a flashlight ready so I groped around and finally found one.

Of course, no power meant no air condo for the night. And no fans. Blah. Yuck. Not fun.

Got up this morning and it was still off. Bummer. There's nothing to do with no power. No computer. No TV. No opening the fridge. No ice. No cold water. No fun at all.

I was dreading two or three days without power because I had heard that there were about 35,000 homes out in the STL area. This seems to be happening once or twice a year these days. Last year about this time we were without power for 4 days and the temperature was close to 100 every day. What a mess.

Unbelievably, the power came back on this morning at 10:20 AM. Amazing. Without electricity nothing seems right, everything is off kilter and out of wack.

“I am an expert of electricity. My father occupied the chair of applied electricity at the state prison" - W. C. Fields.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Presbyterians & liturgy - Part VII

Continued from Part VI

God's service to us through the minister

Consider the disappearance of the pastor as the Lord’s representative and spokesman in so many worship services. Many pastors no longer lead the Lord's Day service. This departure of the leadership of the pastor in contemporary worship follows from the kind of one-sided conception of the Lord’s Day service that I have been critiquing.

If what the people are doing in worship is merely getting together to praise and pray and offer God all kinds of human devotion, then we can all just do it together and anyone can lead us. If, however, the Lord himself is meeting us and giving us his gifts, then the ordained minister will be prominent so that the people can be left in no doubt that it is the Lord himself who is speaking, forgiving, baptizing, offering us food and drink, and finally blessing us and sending us out into the world to further his kingdom.

Of course, this is not to say that the Lord serves us in worship exclusively through the pastor, since the Lord is at work even in the corporate praying, reciting, and the singing of the congregation. How many times have we been truly served by God as we listened to and joined in with the united voice of the church in prayer and praise? The Lord, then, serves us on the Lord’s Day as his Spirit speaks through both the voice of the minister as well as the voices of his people. But there ought to be certain priority given to the words and actions of the minister on the Lord's Day.

This is why the pastor who leads worship must be an ordained man. By virtue of his office, he must represent the Husband to the bride. A woman cannot do so. It would upset the entire fabric of God-ordained role relationships within the church and home. The symbolism of male headship must be maintained in the corporate liturgy of the church.

The church submits to her Lord as she receives from him the Word and Sacraments by the mouth and hands of the pastor. The pattern of male headship is rooted deeply in the created order (Gen. 2:15-24; 3:15-19; 1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Peter 3:1-7) as well as in the re-created order of the Church (1 Cor. 11:3-16; 14:33-35; Eph. 5:22-33). These role relationships are non-negotiable. C. S. Lewis says, “I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men make very bad priests. This is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the rolls. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforth ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter” (cited in Credenda Agenda 11/2 [1999]: 3).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Holy Cow! Rick Ankiel is Back!

How cool is that?

In case you don't know the story read this or this.

Trinity & Church - Part XIV

Continued from Part XIII

Some Cautions and Controls

We must be cautious how we use the doctrine of Triune fellowship in constructing a theological model of the church. The implications of the fact that the nature of God is “being in communion” ought not to be carelessly applied to ecclesiastical pragmatics. Gunton summarizes the dangers:
. . . the temptation must be resisted to draw conclusions of a logicising kind: appealing directly to the unity of the three as one God as a model for a unified church; or, conversely (and, I believe, more creatively, though still inadequately) arguing from the distinctions of the persons for an ecclesiology of diversity, along the lines of the expression currently popular in ecumenical circles of ‘reconciled diversity.’ That would be to move too quickly, playing with abstract and mathematically determined concepts and exercising no theological control over their employment.
We might add two “controls” that reflect orthodox confessional commitments and that would help those who would appropriate the insights of modern social trinitarianism to discern the wheat from the chaff. One is methodological and the other theological.

The first might sound rather simplistic, but it is nonetheless crucial. For orthodox theologians the Bible must be allowed to control, indeed, veto, if necessary, our trinitarian theologizing about the nature and life of the Church. In other words, ecclesiastical speculations arrived at by “deduction” from the doctrine of the Trinity must be subject to those passages in the Bible that speak directly to questions about the life and structure of the church. This biblical control is violated, for example, when idealistic visions of human ecclesiastical communion are presented as if fully realizable before the eschaton. Some Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical visions approach this when they ignore what confessional Reformation confessions declare about the biblical doctrine of human sinfulness. According to one Orthodox theologian (Nicholas Fedorov), his trinitarian social program is achievable by us before the eschaton because the resurrection power of Christ is “capable of transfiguring nature” and because “God has placed in our hands all the means for regulating cosmic disorders" (Miroslav Volf, “‘The Trinity is Our Social Program’: The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Shape of Social Engagement,” Modern Theology 14 (July 1998): 403-404).

Certainly the resurrected Christ is able and indeed does to some degree “transfigure nature,” and this means that people can, through Christ’s gracious power, learn to live in self-denying love one with others as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live. But the question is: has God completely given over “all the means” necessary for achieving such a goal? The biblical doctrine of depravity ought to control all such chimerical proposals. We do not expect that our efforts will actually achieve what is reserved for the eschatological future. Reformed pastors and theologicans will want to incorporate our calling to image the divine life into the already-not-yet character of our participation in the God’s trinitarian communal life.

A second example of the need for biblical control comes from Colin Gunton’s speculation. Although Gunton himself cautioned against “moving too quickly” from Trinity to ecclesiology, he himself does not submit his applications to biblical control. Ironically, Gunton offers his own trinitarian speculations about proper male-female relations in the church as an illustration of the “caution” needed in “arguing directly to the church from the immanent Trinity.”

Based on his own understanding of immanent trinitarian personal relations, Gunton argues against any relational subordination of women to men (presumably in marital as well as ecclesiastical relationships). Then, surprisingly, after quoting 1 Cor. 11:7 (“A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man”), Gunton says, “Paul’s exegesis and theology are both questionable.” Paul misuses “trinitarian attributions” because he moves “directly” from them to relations in the church. “Rather, we should not claim such detailed knowledge of the inner constitution of the godhead that we can attempt direct and logical readings-off of that kind" (The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. 73-75).

What Gunton fails to see is that his own “logicising” has elevated his own pet conception of trinitarian relations to a position where it trumps biblical statements. His call for an “indirect kind” of trinitarian theologizing about the church has conveniently permitted him to avoid direct Scriptural evidence of Paul’s own inspired trinitarian logic. This kind of “indirect” theologizing produces ecclesiastical theologies that are not subject to the control of direct statements in the Bible concerning the life and order of the church. This is exactly the kind of trinitarian theologizing about the church that sours Reformed pastors to the whole project.

I'l deal with the second "theological" control in the next post.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Taste Test

I decided today that I like Coke Zero better than Diet Coke Plus. I've been drinking DCP for about a month—one a day, usually at lunch.

But yesterday and today I found two cans of Coke Zero in the back of the fridge. Ah, CZ is much better, much closer to the taste of real Coke, which I'm too old to be enjoying everyday now. I'll get my vitamins and minerals somewhere else.

Presbyterians & Liturgy - Part VI

Continued from Part V

A few more thoughts on God's service to us

First, remember that the tabernacle, temple, sacrifices, and priesthood of Israel were God’s service to Israel and mankind. God did not need their praise. This liturgical setup was his gracious gift to his people and the world. When the Israelites came to the conclusion that they were doing something for God, giving something to him, they were rebuked by the Lord. Consider Psalm 50:8-15:
I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are continually before Me. I will not take a bull from your house, nor goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
According to Psalm 50, the way we glorify God is by calling upon him in the day of trouble and allowing him to deliver us. By depending upon his divine service, we ultimately glorify him. Well, this is what the Sunday morning service is. It is the Lord’s service to us, not first of all our service to him.

Second, if the only purpose of the Lord's Day worship is that individuals are getting together to praise and pray and offer God all kinds of human devotion, then this is dangerously lop-sided. As Calvinists we should be able to see the Pelagian danger lurking in such a one-sided conception. And since Pelagianism goes hand in hand with a Unitarian understanding of God, it is no surprise that worship framed in these terms tends to ignore the Trinity.

In the traditional liturgy the service of God on our behalf has a very definite Trinitarian shape to it. God’s service to us is to graciously draw us into the presence of the Father in Spiritual union with the God-man Jesus Christ. The man Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. He is the priest. He offers himself as man before the Father and he does so as the Representative Man, the High Priest of Redeemed humanity. He assists us in our approach to God. That's what priests do.

John Thompson says it like this: “Jesus Christ is thus the one true worshiper. . . By the Holy Spirit we are drawn into the worship and response Christ offers to the Father. Ours is a response to a response. The Spirit enables this and so gives what he demands, the worship of our hearts and lives.” (Modern Trinitarian Perspectives [New York: Oxford University Press, 1994], p. 100).

Again, what this means is that "worship" is not foundationally what we do. Rather it is what we are graciously given as well as what we are given to do in Christ. Worship is the service of the Triune God to the congregation.

T. F. Torrance is correct, I believe, when he says that there is something grotesquely Unitarian, even Pelagian, about the popular view of worship in evangelicalism. God is at a distance and we come and do all kinds of things before him to please him. Consider this: there is a profound sense in which our worship is not merely coram Deo or Coram Trinitate or even ad Deum or ad Trinitatem, but in Trinitate (that is, “by means of” the Trinity or even in the spatial sense of “in”). A Trinitarian conception of worship recognizes the two movements of God: 1) God to humanity—from the Father, through the Son by the Spirit to redeem man; and 2) Humanity to God—in reverse direction—by the Spirit through the Son to the Father. Just so, our response is included in this since we only respond in union with the priestly response of Jesus Christ. Even our response is a gift.

Only a carefully constructed liturgy will insure that the congregation does not lapse into what amounts to Pelagian and Unitarian "worship." Traditionally, Christian liturgy has sought to embody the service of God for his people as well as the appropriate response of praise from his people. More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

One Minute Painting

The 1 Minute Painting - video powered by Metacafe

God Suffers For Us

Most modern scholars recognize that behind Arius's campaign to differentiate Jesus from God was the Hellenistic theological conviction that the high God cannot suffer. Rowan Williams argues that Arius had the right idea about divine suffering, but the wrong idea of God, which “puts the unavoidable question of what the respective schemes in the long term make possible for theology.” One must honestly admit, according to Williams, the “odd conclusion that the Nicene fathers achieved not only more than they knew but a good deal more than they wanted.” (Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition [London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 198]), p. 22). Now, what does that mean?

The Arians recognized the importance of the genuine sufferings and death of Christ as God. R.P.C. Hanson notes that “at the heart of the Arian Gospel was a God who suffered” (The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988], p. 121). Unfortunately, they would not (or could not) go the whole way with this insight because they too were under the control of the Greek philosophical impassability axiom. The Arians argued that God must have suffered in Christ, but only a god whose divinity was somehow reduced could suffer. Therefore, the Son was god (theos), but not the one high and immutable God (o theos). He was something of a demigod: created by the high God, but not of the same substance or being as the impassible God.

Although Hanson praises the Arians for not “shying away from the scandal of the cross,” in fact, their own theological program was its own attempt to explain away the scandal of the crucified God. If the Nicene theologians, as Rowan Williams argues, did not fully understand the implications of contending for the homoousios of the Father and Son, they nevertheless rightly emphasized the unity of the one Lord Jesus Christ in such a way that eventually the question of God’s participation in the suffering and death of Jesus would have to be addressed.

We're still addressing this issue. Many Christians are uncomfortable with affirming that God the Son experienced death as a man (the theopaschite formula). They feel the need to distance God from the suffering of the man Jesus. This is a huge mistake. It's pretty close to Peter insisting that what Jesus had said about his suffering and death in Jerusalem would "never happen" to him (Matt. 16:22). Jesus pushes Peter aside as a Satan, saying that he does not have "his mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (16:23). Indeed.

God the Son lived as a man, suffered, and experienced death. There is no Gospel if this is not the case.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Trinity & Church - Part XIII

Continued from Part XII

Methodological Challenges

In keeping with my purpose to provide a few prima facie arguments, I will move on from this brief discussion of the image of God without attempting to work out the details of how human community images the triune Creator’s social life. The broad outline seems clear enough, but the particulars need to be worked through carefully by orthodox Reformation theologians. I want to conclude with a few comments that hopefully will remind us of our need to be self-conscious about our theological methodology when we attempt to flesh out the concrete implications of God’s triune life for human community. Augustine’s warning, spoken with reference to trinitarian theology proper, will also need to be heeded when we do trinitarian anthropology and ecclesiology: “For nowhere else is a mistake more dangerous, or the search more laborious, or discovery more advantageous” (De Trin. 1.5).

First, it seems likely that different theologies of the Trinity may generate correspondingly different ecclesiologies. Doubtless, it will be very difficult to trace the lines of influence, especially when we are attempting to wed various historical ecclesiologies with distinct trinitarian emphases. I think it is safe to say that differing ecclesiologies do not always have their origin in differing conceptions of God’s triune nature. They may. But we cannot make such a universal claim without a careful investigation. After all, the Medieval church gives evidence of quite a rich variety of ecclesiologies, but none of them seems to have been spawned by some newly formulated, distinctive view of the Trinity. Even if we argue that there is within each distinctive ecclesiology an implied or hidden concept of the Trinity, one can ask whether it is fair to subject any given ecclesiology to trinitarian “decoding” in order to discover features unacknowledged by its adherents (see Scott H. Hendrix, “In Quest of the VERA ECCELESIA: The Crisis of Late Medieval Ecclesiology,” Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 7 (1976): 347-378).

But what of the opposite claim—that distinctive ecclesiologies will generate corresponding trinitarian distinctives? Maybe “ecclesiologies” is not the word we are looking for. The questions is: will distinctive ways of living in the church as a community tend to produce accounts of the Father, Son, and Spirit that “image” an ecclesiastical community’s experience ? It is sometimes argued, for example, that hierarchical relations in the church gave rise to hierarchical conceptions of the Trinity. This thesis seems more likely than that made in the previous paragraph, but it would appear to be very difficult to prove. As a polemic against hierarchical ecclesiastical government it has a powerful attraction and is similar to Harnack’s thesis that the early church developed her distinctive dogmatic formulations because of her “hidden” and often unselfconscious loyalties to Hellenistic intellectual culture. But will it hold up under scrutiny?

The problem is that the formulation of the creedal dogma of the Trinity in the early church, according to her own explicit witness, was developed for other reasons. Rather than an attempt to ground her hierarchical power in God’s nature and life, the dogmatic trinitarian formulations were designed to defend, explain, and safeguard the reality of salvation through Jesus. Whatever evidence of “hierarchical” or relational subordination early trinitarian theologians identified seems to have been grounded more in their desire to be faithful to the scriptural data than by an attempt to justify their own ecclesiastical power.

Having said that, we should not discount the possibility that distinctive trinitarian motifs are being used in the modern church to justify particular forms of ecclesiastical life. Free church ecclesiologies, for example, seek an ontological grounding in a conception God’s egalitarian relationality. Hierarchical forms of ecclesiastical life seek justification in the eternally God’s ordered sociality. Such “trinities” run the risk of being projections of an author’s own presupposed ideal human society. Although it would be an overstatement to deny any legitimate link between ecclesiology and trinitarian formulations, justifiable connections must be identified with great care.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Presbyterians & Liturgy - Part V

Misunderstanding the Purpose of the Lord’s Day Service

In my last post on this topic, I said that one of the reasons Presbyterians don't understand and appreciate liturgy is their inadequate appreciation for what ought to happen on the Lord's Day. Presbyterians don’t like liturgy because they have not been careful to discover the fundamental purpose of the Lord’s Day assembly.

We are assembled together by God to be served by him. The Lord’s Day worship is first of all God’s service to us. He draws us into his life-giving presence. He gives to us. We come to receive gifts from the Lord.

Once I had a conversation with a Presbyterian minister who was conducting seminars on Reformed worship all across the country. He knew of my interest in worship and was interested in telling me what he does. “The first and most important point I make in my seminars,” he said, “is that Reformed worship is giving glory to God. We don’t come to get anything from God, we come to give him our praise and honor. This is what sets apart Reformed worship!”

Well, I thought, that may be true, and if it is, it is one of the reasons why Reformed people cannot seem to connect with a liturgically structured service. They don’t come to receive anything from God (with the possible exception of the sermon) during the worship; instead, they come to give to him praise and honor. Although this has become a popular shibboleth in Reformed circles, it must not be permitted to go unchallenged. The purpose of the Lord’s Day assembly is not simply “Praise.”

Many modern Reformed works on worship take this position. The first sentence in John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truth (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1996) is: “Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord” (p. 1, his emphasis). He assumes this definition throughout the book. I could quote other recent Reformed authors to the same effect. Most of them define worship as what the people of God do, the work they perform on the Lord’s Day, specifically the adoration, praise, and honor that they ascribe to God.

Certainly there are numerous passages that exhort us to “Praise the Lord” and to “worship” him. I would caution you, however, that in many cases the word “worship” has not served us very well. It is not the most helpful translation of words used to designate “bowing down” or “prostrating oneself” (e.g. Psalm 95:6).

For example, when we are called to “prostrate” ourselves before God, this does not exactly correspond with the way we use the word “worship.” To fall down before God is to allow oneself to be lifted up by him. It is to give one’s self over to the Lord’s service. In effect, falling down before God puts us in the position to be served by God. Much more, therefore, is often going on in these passages than merely ascribing “worth” or “praise” to God.

Moreover, too often in our circles the giving of praise or glorifying of God is set over against the worshiper’s expectation of receiving anything from God in church. It is precisely this one-sidedness of “worship as praise” that I believe is a real problem in Reformed churches.

This attitude is sometimes linked with the super-spiritual-sounding assertion that “we just gather together to give praise to God taking no interest in what we might get from him.” I submit that this is unbiblical rubbish, and may, indeed often does, easily slip into doxological hubris.

For us, as creatures of God, there can be no such thing as “disinterested praise.” We simply cannot love or praise God for who he is apart from what he has given us or what we continue to receive from him. We are not his equals. The notion that pure love and worship of God can only be given when it is unmixed with all thoughts of what we receive, has no biblical grounding. To be sure, it sounds very spiritual and pious. It even comes across as self-denial.

In fact, however, there is no such worship in the Bible for the simple fact that we cannot approach God as disinterested, self-sufficient beings. We are created beings. Dependent creatures. Beings who must continually receive both our life and redemption from God. Our “worship” of God, for this reason, necessarily and primarily involves our passive reception of his gifts as well as our thanksgiving and petitions. We cannot pretend that we do not depend upon him. We will always be receivers and petitioners before God. Our receptive posture is as ineradicable as our nature as dependent creatures. We must be served by him. Recognizing this is true spirituality. Opening oneself up to this is the first movement in our “worship,” indeed, the presupposition of all corporate worship. It is faith’s posture before our all-sufficient, beneficent Lord. Praise follows after this and alone can never be the exclusive purpose for our gathering together on the Lord’s Day.

So, above all else, when we gather on the Lord’s Day, we are being called together by the Lord in order to get, to receive. This is crucial. The Lord gives, we receive. Since faith is receptive and passive in nature, faith-full worship must be about receiving from God. He gives, and by faith we receive. We are given his forgiveness, his instruction, his nourishment, his benediction, etc. We come as those who receive first and then, second, only in reciprocal exchange do we give back what is appropriate as grateful praise and adoration.

More and more I am discovering how crucial (at least in our current situation) such a conception of worship is. Too often in current Reformed and evangelical circles worship or liturgy is described first of all as the “work of the people.” While I do not deny that we “work” during worship, I do regard this definition as dangerously one-sided. Whatever we “do” in worship must always be the faithful response to God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, knowledge, and glory—gifts we receive in the service!

Much of what goes by the name “contemporary” worship has evacuated the Sunday service of God’s service to man! It is all about what we do. The reduction of Christian worship to “praise” and “giving worth to God” by well-intentioned pastors desirous of purging the church of superficial worship forms will only continue to feed the very thing that they oppose.

I have more to say about this, so I'll finish my thoughts in another post.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

This Weekend

. . . my wife and I celebrated our 28th anniversary. So even though it was the hottest weekend of the year so far (over 95 degrees) my wife and I spent two nights at the Omni Majestic in downtown STL. The accommodations were very, very nice. The room was spacious and they even brought us 2 bottles of champagne to celebrate. I think the second one was a mistake, but I didn't complain.

Friday evening we strolled down Washington Avenue and had a beer or two at one of the local pubs. Downtown St. Louis is nothing compared to, say, Chicago, but there are a few blocks that show some signs of hope. We ate dinner at Mosaic, a modern "fusion" restaurant. Everything is tapas, which, if you don't know (as I didn't), means that servings come in small portions. For me, that sounded scary - girly-sized portions of food on little plates surrounded by colorful, but inedible vegetable "decorations." Uh oh. Well, it wasn't like that at all. We started with some yummy hummus. Then we sampled their three soups - all quite good. For an entree I had New Zealand Lamb "Saltimbocca". Very tasty. An adequate portion. Chris had the Wild Mushroom and Pancetta Napoleon. No meat. Can you imagine it? But we both liked the food, the atmosphere, and the service a whole lot. I recommend Mosaic. It was a pleasant surprise. They are moving to a new location in a few weeks. I think they'll be on Washington Ave a block east of where they are now.

I must say, however, in the interest of "full disclosure" that about 2 hours later I ordered a 1/2 pound burger from room service at the hotel. Chris ate a nice portion of it, too.

Yesterday we saw a movie - The Bourne Ultimatum. Great action flick. Lot's of fun. But it's till hard to beat the very first Bourne film.

For dinner we ate at the St. Louis Gast House, a relatively new German restaurant on Chouteau. Hey, what's the deal? There's so much German history and tradition in St. Louis, but where are all the German restaurants? It was easier to find good German cuisine in Houston or in Niceville, FL, for that matter, than in St. Louis. That's just weird. The Gast House is just one of a few German restaurants in town. I think it's less than a year old. It was okay, but not great. The service was a little slow on Saturday. I have to cut them some slack because there were two huge parties. Even so, the food was mostly sehr gut. But don't get steak. Get sometime German. Chris's strip steak was not very good. I had some the German sampler - some wienerschnitzel, a link of weisswurst, some kartoffel knödel (potato dumplings) with spätzle and sauerkraut on the side, and something else that I can't remember. My food was delicious. The best part was they served Warsteiner Dunkel and Bitburger beers on tap.

Oh, and before we went to dinner we opened a bottle of Jordan 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon. Very nice.

Lunch was Greek both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday we ate hummus and gyros at Olympia, one of the well-known Greek places in town. Hummus was fine, but the pita bread was a bit hard and tasteless. The gyros weren't bad, but not great. Sunday afternoon had the same at Mediterranean House Apollonia (6836 Gravois Avenue). The hummus was great and the bread was super - grilled and moist. I thought my gyro at Apollonia was better than Olympia's. If you're in St. Louis, check it out.

Hey, all this talk about food might obscure the most important point about this weekend, my wonderful wife! Happy anniversary, Sweetie! What a woman!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Trinity & Church - Part XII

Continued from Part XI

Three Persons

A prima facie argument for my thesis (the church ought to image the social life of God) can also be made from the very the language we use in the doctrine of the Trinity. If the members of the Trinity are “persons,” and they interact as Persons one with another, it would be difficult to believe that their interaction would not be paradigmatic for human social relations.

To put it another way, it would seem as if one would have to deny that the Three are “persons” in any normal sense of the word in order to deny that their several relations one with another are exemplary for human relations. How can we avoid affirming the Trinity as image if we use personal language to describe the members of the Trinity and their complex relations one with another?

I am not suggesting that the word “person” can be univocally applied to both God and created humanity. Our language and conception of personhood is theomorphic (not anthropomorphic) since we are created in the image of God. We need not worry about projecting “personhood” and “personality” onto the divine nature since God himself has described his life and work to us using the language of personality and personhood. If we bracket all personal language in our theologizing about God, we will not arrive at a purified, transcendent being worthy of the divine nature, but with abstract, lifeless philosophical categories that in the end will work to depersonalize his existence and relations with creation.

It is interesting to note that much of the Western trinitarian theological tradition after Augustine has only affirmed that the Three are “persons” with great hesitation. One might legitimately ask whether the absence of a trinitarian-informed ecclesiology in the West has had something to do with this tendency.

Augustine himself laid the ground work for substituting more abstract, philosophical terms to describe the Three and their relations when he predicated “personhood” to the Three only as a necessitas loquendi (“a necessary manner of speaking”; De Trin. 5.9, 92). On one level, the entire Western tradition fails to articulate adequately immanent personal relations within the Godhead. The West has always tended toward Modalism. Thus there is a powerful propensity in post-Augustinian theology to de-personalize the eternal fullness of God’s inner life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So much of pre-modern trinitarian theology’s discussion of the intra-divine strikes one as reality oddly modalistic . For example, Aquinas speaks of “subsistent relations,” Barth of seinsweise (“mode of being”), and Rahner of “three distinct manners of subsisting.” Cornelius Plantinga rightly questions these terminological attempts to define more philosophically the relations of the Three. The Trinity consists of “real persons, just as they are in the Gospel of John.” He questions substituting paternity, filiation, and spiration for the concrete personal names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think he's right.

In addition to this terminological confusion, there is an undercurrent throughout this history that trumps the language of inter-personal relations with terms which imply ontological and/or hypostatic relations of causation among the Three. Much of this scholastic philosophizing has only served to obfuscate the inter-personal relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so realistically narrated in the Bible. This, in turn, historically has bracketed trinitarian theology from any significant interaction with anthropology and ecclesiology.

Whether the Augustinian trinitarian heritage is as bad as some have suggested, nevertheless, the reluctance to speak of God’s inter-trinitarian relations in fully personal terms has perhaps led to a corresponding lack of interest in developing trinitarian-informed theologies of the nature and life of the Church. Modern trinitarian theology has steadily moved away from Augustine’s analysis of the Trinity in terms of an individual’s inner consciousness toward more and more creative reflection upon the insights of the Cappadocian Fathers. Their trinitarian constructions emphasized the “social” or personal unity of Father, Son, and Spirit, who exists as one being in communion. The persons of the Godhead are not best understood in the abstract, scholastic, even a-historical categories of subsistent relations, but as dynamically interacting personal subjects. A refashioning of traditional trinitarian theological categories in more personalist and relational terms has set the stage for the current interest in trinitarian ecclesiology.


This has got to be a joke. But I don't know.
Virtual Pastor, a UK company, began pioneering the "virtual pastor model" in 2005, and has created a dozen lifelike, on-screen avatars which preach, joke and give personal anecdotes as if they were real people. All their sermons and personal stories are scavenged from the Internet.

When a church subscribes to Virtual Pastor, each person in a congregation helps "shape" their pastor by entering likes and dislikes into a response box during services. This live feedback is fed into the company’s servers and helps to change the pastor’s sermon topics, hair style and more in following weeks. The result is a pastor perfectly tailored to the will of the congregation.
Read the whole news story here.

HT: Angie

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Guns & Games

Since I'm on vacation this week I've got time to play a few more games than usual. Jeffrey and I are playing through Gears of War together. It's okay, but not great.

One thing I really love about the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games is their attention to historical detail, especially when it comes to guns. Shooting futuristic weapons in Gears and Halo is fine, but using WWII era rifles and machine guns is really cool. I just finished playing through Call of Duty 2 for the Xbox 360.

You might think, for example, that the best guns are the big machine guns, the BAR or the Thompson. They are fine for some situations. But the game has done a great job of making you appreciate the utility of the legendary M1 Garrand. Sometimes said to be the rifle that won WWII, it was a great semi-auto infantry rifle chambered for a 30-06 round. If you've ever actually fired one, you'll know that the kick is minimal, a lot like the AR-15 because they both have gas-powered systems that eat the recoil.

Anyway, I found myself carrying two weapons - the Tompson to clear out houses or for close combat, but once you get out into the open or are firing from a window, the M1 is the rifle to have. I used some of the discarded German rifles and submachine guns, but none of them worked as well as the American weapons.

Interestingly, a study was done by the Army's Continental Command Operations Research Office (ORO) in the 1950's analyzing the statistics from over 3 million casualty reports from WWII and the Korean war. Here's what they found:

• In combat, nearly random shots produced more casualties than did aimed fire.

• Rifle fire was seldom used effectively at distances greater than 300 yards.

• The majority of rifle fire casualties were produced at ranges of 100 yards or closer.

Add to this the research results of Gen. Marshall: he discovered that four-fifths of all foot soldiers in WWII never fired a round in any given battle. Think about it. There was one exception to this rule. The soldier who carried the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) or the Thompson almost always fired. And once men heard the automatic fire (from their side) they usually engaged.

By the way, studies like these led to the development of the AR-15, the most effective combat weapon for the foot soldier in modern warfare.

The Call of Duty 2 game has stunning graphics on a HD monitor. The lighting, muzzle flashes, etc. are done quite well. Sometimes I would just stop and look around and admire the graphics. At one point you find yourself on the outskirts of a French village just before a thunderstorm. They recreated the green-yellow atmosphere so well it was uncanny.

And the sound effects are wonderful. You even get the little metallic ping when the M1's clip is finished and shoots out of the top of the rifle.

Well, I hope my Call of Duty 3 comes before my vacation is over.

How did they do this?