Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Theology of the Kaiser's Kitchen

"Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." -- quote often misattributed to Kaiser Otto von Bismarck

I had always heard the quote above in the variant form: "If you enjoy sausages, stay out of the Kaiser's kitchen." An admittedly odd phrase, but the principal is apt. We like things until we see how the come to be. Church history, for example, is one of these things. We would like to belive that the Church has always, peacefully, believed what She does now -- however, the history is much different. It is a history, much like that of the Old or New Testaments, that reveal a fundamentally human element, yet one that is guided by God to a proper fulfillment: for example, Constantine was an Arian sympathesizer, yet allowed the Nicean Council to condemn it (this, by the way, is the exact opposite of the "popular" understanding that floats around on, say, the History Channel -- if you ask Gnostic scholars, you'll get Gnostic answers).

The study of the Bible is the same way. One of the corollaries of common, naive belief (and I don't mean naive perjoratively here) is that the Bible is the Bible is the Bible. Truth be told, textual issues make up some of the hardest to deal with part of scholarship: there is no one text of the Bible for the people of God. Just in the world of the Old Testament, there is the Masoretic Text (Hebrew), the Old Greek, the Septuagint (which has variant text bases), the Peshitta, the Targums, Symmachus, Lucian, Apollos, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Vulgate. (It is important to note that while all these are different -- and often in different languages -- they agree on the large majority of things: textual criticism is a very careful science that is easily overblown in the popular imagination). Which of these is the "inspired Word of God"? If we look to the New Testament for answers, the answer is: sometimes the MT, sometimes the LXX, sometimes something different that nobody has (usually due to gezera scheva interpretation -- something the Church could do well with reclaiming). This has led historical-critical scholars toward conjectural emendation to produce some sort of Ur-text to rule them all (if only the had read their Lord of the Rings! Is the eclectic, critical text the "inspired Word of God"? I still have my doubts.

Maybe it is best to say that God always inspires His Word, not in a passive way, but in the active way of His Spirit guides the Church through the reading of the Scriptures, even if we are unsure of the exact text basis for all things. Being in the Kaiser's kitchen, seeing how the sausage is made, can turn us off from the sausage itself. We must remember, though, that the Lord of the Kitchen can still delight and satisfy all comers with His delectable flesh. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Implications of the Incarnation

The Incarnation, God's taking on of created matter in the body and soul of Jesus, means that Christianity is inherently an anti-dualistic faith (St. Irenaeus was right, in other words, to fight so ferociously against Gnosticism). That is, Christianity not only sees the created order (the kosmos) as essentially 'good' (Gen. 1), but as reestablished in its goodness due to Christ's coming "in the flesh" (I Jn.) and the eschatological work of the Spirit in the Church (Rom. 8).

This can be seen, firstly, in the interaction between Christ and the woman with an issue of blood (Mk. 5). In the Levitical standards, if a person comes into contact with someone who is 'unclean' (breaks the blood boundary, e.g., not necessarily a 'sinful' person), then they become unclean themselves. However, notice that Christ not only does not become unclean, but rather cleanses this poor woman. He, in the flesh, has brought healing and holiness to this woman. Her flesh is made clean by coming into contact with Christ (notice, as well, the role of allegiance or faith in the encounter -- her faith was an active faith).

More can be said, though. Some of the seemingly insignificant details of the Gospels become radiant when viewed through the Incarnation. When Christ goes down into the waters of the Jordan, his presence blesses all waters: the holiness of God has been brought down to the mundane level. Because of this reality, we can be thankful for all waters. When Christ eats with his disciples after the Resurrection, even though food was not technically necessary, he blesses food and eating forever, which we receive with thankfulness. When he is crucified on a tree, he blesses all trees, for which we can be thankful. Christ restores the world to its wholeness and fulness, even reversing the curse on the ground (Gen. 3) by wearing the thorns upon his blood-sweat brow and by being entombed in the earth.

The Incarnation, then, is the foundation for an ecological ethic: if Christ has made the whole world holy, then we must treat all things as such. All things have meaning in relation to God, especially as God has revealed Himself through the Incarnation. This is why the Apostle Paul might tell us that the whole creation eagerly awaits its release into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Christ, by his coming, has brought Jubilee -- the whole world has reverted to its rightful owner, the Lord Himself, and we are His tenants and stewards of this great, awesome, and mysterious place that has been cleansed for God's Presence by the body and blood of Christ himself.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Christology and Soteriology

Another thing that should go without saying: whatever your Christology is (your beliefs about who Jesus Christ is, how he is related to God the Father, how he is related to mankind, what he has done, etc.) determines what your soteriology is (the teachings about what 'salvation' is).

I've been reading, in fits and starts, through R.P.C Hanson's "The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God" about the early 4th century Arian controversy. One of the problems he brings up, as he is detailing the history of interpretation, is that often scholars have assumed that Arius had no soteriology, that is, he was concerned only with the oddly impenetrable philosophical dogmas concerning the immutable, Platonic/Aristotelian High God (the Father) and the lesser, "second," mutable god (the Son). However, looking at the Patristic preoccupation with the "economy of salvation" (how God is working to save His creation in time -- often translated, interestingly enough, by the word Incarnation), it is hard to believe that Arius and the Arians could have made a sufficient splash into the turbulent theological waters of the time without a rival soteriology -- a rival economy to the pro-Nicenes.

I won't go into details of what that rival economy is, Hanson does a much better job than I could. The main point that I want to explore is: what soteriology does classical Christianity, that is, Christianity bounded by the creeds, produce? The Creeds, as is well known, are concerned either with the relation between Father and Son (Nicene, for example) or the relation between the Divine Person of the Word/Son and the assumed human nature in the history of Jesus the Messiah (Chalcedon, for example). That these are implicitly soteriology is not always obvious to those of us who aren't Eastern Orthodox, but they are. For the Trinitarian creeds (the first category), the assumption is that only God can save us, Jesus Christ saves us, therefore Jesus Christ must be God. The form this takes is the (seemingly still) controversial homoousias -- Jesus, the Word/Son, is of the same substance as the Father (the East would take this in a different -- and I think better -- direction than the West: God the Father is the Monarch from whom the Son and Spirit are respectively generated and spirated, instead of a (seemingly) autonomous and impersonal substance in which all three are implicated). The Christological creeds, then, take this soteriology further: certainly only God can save us, but mankind (humanity as such) must be brought by this action from death to life, so the Son must assume a full human nature (complete with body and soul: will included) that is brought through death to life, both in the fact that God has assumed it (the effects of the Divine Person of the Word on the body in the Incarnation) and the cross/resurrection event. If this does not happen, then we cannot be saved in the fullest sense: we cannot have a real union with Christ through the Spirit, who is the Life of God Himself (it is important here to remember that Patristic theologians never forgot that spirit can also mean "breath," that is, the very principle of life in an animate being: God's Spirit is His Life which He shares with us who are joined to Christ through faith and baptism.

This means that the concept of 'salvation' needs to be carefully explained. Certainly there is not an emphasis on salvation as a one-time event/experience of being "born again," as we find in modern evangelicalism broadly. Instead, the one event of salvation is that of the Incarnation (broadly conceived to include everything from the "incarnation proper" -- the miraculous conception of the Lord -- to his death, resurrection, ascension, and Session at the right hand of the Father) that, as both a historical, time-bounded reality and as the eternal reality of God as Trinity (see my post The Reality of Worship on this) is much broader and inclusive and objective than a subjective "born again" experience. 'Salvation,' as far as the human believer is concerned, entails being brought into the worshipping community of God (this is the real import of justification), and being conformed to the image of the Son progressively (sanctification or theosis). It is, then, a "once for all" event that reverberates throughout every moment of creational history: 'salvation' must be both entrance into the Church and growth into sainthood.

The creeds, by and large, assume the first aspect of salvation: Jesus Christ has come, he has died, he has risen, he will come again. The second aspect, the theotic aspect, is what they are concerned to safeguard. Our union with Christ, the progressive submission of our wills to the will of God (hence why monothelitism was such a threat!), must be maintained. If Christ is to not only be our Savior, but our model ("walk as he walked" as John says), then his humanity must be full and we must be conformed to that humanity. The 'how' of that I've attempted to explain in my Real Predestination series: the Spirit works in us and we work with the Spirit (asceticism and God's work are closely united). So man, by both the work and the hypostatic union of Christ, is brought to conformity with the Son in his glorified, resurrected humanity which must, if it is to overcome death and corruption, be united to God Himself through the indwelling of the Spirit.

The Reformed tradition, for the most part, does not make much of theosis. However, if we are to call ourselves orthodox, we must wrestle with the implications of the creeds we claim to profess. Part of the reason, it seems to me, that Calvin and his successors are often accused of Nestorianism is because we have not, by and large, connected our Christology to our soteriology.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Theology for the Unimpressed

Theology is a discipline of listening attentively before ever speaking.

One of the detriments of the Reformed tradition is that we often speak before we listen. I've been part of and privy to many conversations that, had we known all the facts, had we consulted the sources, had we a hint of sense to shut up now and again, could have saved much strife, much fear, and much hurt to various brothers and sisters in the Lord (and even folks not in the Lord, whom we are never commanded to hurt). I'm trying to parse out whether this is just an unfortunately pitfall that is totally unnecessary for those in the Reformed tradition, or if it is part-and-parcel of the experience (yet still totally indefensible and sinful -- but since when does following God lead to sin?).

In other words, as I draw towards the end of another part of my theological education, I find I have much more to learn. Much of it cannot be learned from books (theology is, in that way, like farming -- those who learn it from books quickly find that they are destroying themselves and the land and those people who depend on the land), but books and writings are always nearby. Much of it needs to be learned through listening and participating in the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in worship: the communal reading of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread.

Lex orandi, lex credendi.