Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christ the priest was cut off

Some introductory notes on penal substitution, largely derived from the relevant sections of Horton's The Christian Faith.  Below might seem like basic Sunday School proof-texts.  In large part it is.  I am well aware of the nuanced discussions of this issue.  My point is that if you posit a God who isn't wrathful and a Savior who can't take the guilt of another to himself, then a lot of the Bible just won't make sense.  At least the guys at OB admit they can't deal with "wrath" or Isaiah 53.  

Rooted in the Covenant

Our understanding of penal substitution must first be rooted in the covenant.  Jesus is the Melchizidekian High Priest, and a change in priesthood requires a change in covenant (Hebr. 5:6, 10). This presupposes that we are already talking about the covenant.  If any discussion of the atonement doesn't have the covenant in mind, it's already deficient.

It is Bloody

Instead of shying away from criticisms that the Reformed model makes God look mean, let's throw the criticisms back at them.  Quick question (and for the moment we are assuming God's ordained power):  Can God forgive me without bloodshed?  See here for the answer.  Furthermore, in the Old Covenant our sins were transferred to the animal victim (Lev. 1:4).  

It Makes Peace

Christ's death secured our peace with God.  True, God did love us while we were yet sinners, but he could not fellowship with us.  If we were already in a relation-of-peace, then why did Christ need to die? Why would Paul bother to write Romans 5:1?

It is a United Action

This is to rebut the charge that an angry Father killed his Son.  People who parrot this charge are a) either ignorant of basic Reformed theology or b) willfully portraying something else.  The first is to be pitied.  The second is to be called to repentance.  
  1. The Father gave his only Son out of divine love (John 3:16).
  2. The Spirit vindicated the Son's death by raising him from the dead (Romans 4:25).
  3. Jesus himself is a willing sacrifice (John 10:11).
Yet, it was a Judicial Punishment

The Greek words anti and huper are substitutionary.  There is no getting around it.  Pace Anselm, Jesus pays the price to God's justice (not his feudal dignity) and is able to buy back his people (1 Cor. 6:20).

And God's Simplicity

God's simplicity prevents us from exalting anyone attribute (e.g., "love") over another attribute.  God's wrath is not arbitrary or capricious, but is a judicious response to the violation of his law and covenant.  He is righteous and his law requires that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Propitiation or Expiation?

Since the mid 19th century liberal theologians, embarrassed by passages that say God is wrathful, said hilasmos means expiation (clearing me from guilt or bringing me to a state of rectitude), not propitiation (placating a wrathful God).  Linguistically, the word can probably go either way (and in previous times the distinction between expiation and propitiation was not always sharply defined).  Truthfully, I think the word is best glossed as "mercy-firmament," but that's for another day.

If all it means is hilasmos then it is rather anti-climactic in Romans.  In Romans 1:18 Paul says the "wrath" of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness. In chapter 1 he lists how Pagans are guilty before God.  In chapter 2 he lists how Jews are guilty.  He draws it together in chapter 3.  With this background of "wrath" and guilt, which is the more probable translation, expiation or propitiation?  

Penal Substitution: Cutting and Judgment

A piece on Penal Substitution (hereafter PSA) is here.  The good thing about the piece is it is a) almost vitriolically anti-Western and b) shallow in analysis.   The guys at OB like it, but I think most honest seekers will come away disappointed.   

I do want to address a potential weakness in Reformed treatments of PSA, however.  Reformed theology on one level has always assumed a substance-metaphysics.  That was their received heritage from the medieval church.  I don't fault them for that.  However, Reformed thinkers also developed a robust idea of the covenant.   Throughout the centuries Covenant Theology was continually honed.  While I don't endorse his ethical system, Meredith Kline's work on Ancient Near Eastern treaties is the coup-etat.

It's not surprising that you don't really see a full PSA in the Fathers, given their commitment to a form of impassibility and substance-metaphysics.  If God is completely impassible and the divine essence is stasis, then there can't be any perturbations whatsoever.  This is why you really don't ever see the Orthodox talk about God's wrath as anything more than an anthropomorphism.  If God's substance is utterly impassible and beyond being, then it can't feel anything like wrath.  

Similarly, if the Son is of the same substance with the Father (and I believe he is), then how can the Father "cut" off the Son?  How can the Son experience God's wrath?  Some Reformed writers have opted for the Nestorian route. I don't think that is necessary.  Instead of a substance-ontology, we need a Covenantal Ontology.

A Covenantal Ontology

A covenantal ontology isn't worried about things like essences, beings, enses, however important they may be in their own rights.   Rather, a covenantal ontology sees speech-acts, cuttings, judgments, presence, and promise.  In other words, what you see in the Bible.  

A Covenantal Ontology also means an Eschatological Ontology

  1. Words and signs create a covenant.  They do not “fuse” essences (101).
  2. There is no nature-grace problem but a sin-grace problem.
  3. Eschatology creates a tension:  we have a foretaste of the future feast now, which creates in us a painful longing for the Age to Come.   Eschatological presence intensifies Jesus’s ascended absence.  This actually helps us on the doctrine of assurance.  Assurance is mercilessly attacked by Anchoretic traditions (Trent even condemns to hell any who speak of it), since how can we, as finite humans, “infallibly” know something in the future?   Eschatology and a covenantal ontology can help.  Who are we to ridicule assurance when the King of heaven feeds us from his banquet and promises to strengthen our faith?  Any questioning of assurance is merely treason against the King.  Because of eschatology, assurance will remain in tension–but it is still real assurance because God says it is! (Speech-Act theory).

I am leaning on Michael Horton's discussion of a Covenantal Ontology in Covenant and Salvation (Westminster/John Knox)


The following are key points of a covenantal (or federal) ontology, taken from Horton:
  1. Mediation is not a principle or process, but a person, Jesus (183).  This explicitly denies participationist ontologies, ladders, chain-of-being, etc.
  2. The relationship which God guarantees to his people by means of Covenant is seen in the term echo, “having” (184).
  3. For example, we have “eternal life” (John 5:24), the Spirit of Christ as the deposit of the consummation.
  4. Our union with Christ is by the Spirit and not a fusion of essences.
  5. Eschatology is the locus of a federal ontology.  It is an announcement of the good news from afar off (Isaiah 52:7ff).   Participation (realist?) ontologies, by contrast, struggle with the concept of good news. Horton writes, “It is unclear how the gospel as good news would figure into his [John Milbank, but also any Dionysian construction] account of redemption, since ‘news’ implies an extrinsic annoucnement of something new, something that does not simply derive from the nature of things (169).  What he means is that those who who hold to participationist ontologies–chain of being–see a continuum between God and man.  Any saving that happens to man happens within that continuum.   The announcement of good news, by contrast, comes from without.   To borrow Horton’s delightful phrase, a federal ontology is meeting a stranger, whereas a participationist ontology is overcoming estrangement.

Difficulties with a Patristic-Prism Hermeneutics

This piece by Keener is golden.  I'll just highlight a few points.   
Some writers have expressed the conviction that any legitimate interpretation of a passage should already appear in the church fathers, and questioned any interpretation that does not.


On many issues, there was no universal patristic view, and everyone who studies the church fathers recognizes that they often differed among themselves. For example, many early interpreters, such as Papias, appear to have been premillennial. By the time of Eusebius, however, premillennialists were viewed as schismatics; amillennialism prevailed by this period.


Second, their ancient setting was not always the decisive advantage we wish it to be, since it was not the same as the settings in which the biblical books were written. For some examples: whereas the Hebrew Bible addresses various ancient Near Eastern settings and the New Testament presupposes a Jewish context (most thoroughly in the Gospels and Revelation), only a few of the church fathers (such as Jerome) knew the Jewish context well. Many, in fact, were unfortunately decisively anti-Jewish (including Chrysostom, otherwise one of my favorite commentators).

Likewise, even Greek culture changed. Stoicism was the dominant philosophy for the milieu addressed in Paul’s letters, but Platonism dominated the patristic period. Most church fathers wrote after the second sophistic, a different rhetorical situation than prevailed among the biblical writers. (Indeed, some of the best-known church fathers were more homileticians than exegetes, their homilies marked by efforts to communicate in their context and not just explaining texts’ meanings.)

 Once some Fathers used biblical texts polemically against Gnostics or Manicheans, sometimes in understandable ways in their settings, subsequent interpreters sometimes applied these texts only to these settings, as if these were the texts’ original settings.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Theonomy Files: The Collapse of Christian Reconstruction

I suppose the inevitable question, one loaded with irony, is that given Christian Reconstruction’s commitment to the bible and postmillennialism, how come the movement fractured immediately and society is not reconstructed?  Before we get into the individual faults of the men and camps, it is important to first note perhaps why they were prone to fracturing.

The easiest answer is that the American Reformed church didn’t want that kind of thinking within it.  I don’t mean the more wacky elements of CR.  Let’s stick with a mainstream figure like Greg Bahnsen.  Bahnsen stayed within the communion of the local Presbyterian church.  Bahnsen never associated himself within the wilder elements of CR.  Yet he was probably hated the most by so-called Reformed Institutions.  I think they correctly realized that if Bahnsen’s views on civil government are correct, then much of the Presbyterian mindset today needs to be revamped.  It was understood, however, that remaining good Americans was preferable.   Theonomy was blackballed.  It was never officially condemned, but still..
As a result, many CR leaders knew they wouldn’t be welcomed in the presbyteries.   So they reasoned:  too bad for the presbyteries!  For all the problems and limitations in local presbyteries, they do keep individuals from going off the deep end.   We will soon see why.
  1. Rushdoony:  On one hand it’s a good t hing that Rushdoony’s (and by the way, it is spelled “Rushdoony.”  A number of moderators on Puritanboard adamantly insisted it was spelled “Rushdooney,” the typing of the cover of his books notwithstanding) errors are so easy to see.   Being egregious errors and out in the open, they are fairly easy to avoid.  His main errors are the dietary laws, ecclesiology, and shallow readings of some Reformed sources.  I won’t bother refuting the dietary laws.   I suspect his personal experiences drove his ecclesiology.  I don’t know the whole story, though Gary North has documented it here.   Evidently he got angry at some obviously wrong practices of a part of the OPC and separated himself from church bodies for the greater part of a decade.A bit more minor issue but one more prevalent is that many young CRs began their study of theology by beginning with Rushdoony.  As a result, many simply parroted his slogans without really understanding all the theology and philosophy behind it.  Their grasp of Reformed theology was very tenuous beyond the basics.   Once they came across sharp Anchorite apologists, they were toast.  They didn’t have the strong foundation in Turretin, Hodge, and Owen that older men had.  Had they begun with the latter and had a decent foundation, then they could have approached Rushdoony with the sense of applying some of his legitimate insights.Finally, people who really follow Rushdoony have a hard time accepting any criticism of the man.
  2. Was the home-church movement an inevitable spin off from Rushdoony?  That he endorsed something like it is clear, but most Reformed people understand he is wrong on that point.  I think one of the dangers of the home church movement is that apart from any presbyterial oversight, there is nothing stopping the members fromembodying outrageous positions.
  3. Gary North:  Gary North held the high ground until 2,000.  His Y2K debacle lost him his credibility.  Others have pointed out his refusal to condemn the Federal Vision, though truth be told, would it have mattered?  Most people stopped listening to him in 2,000.   Would his condemning FV in 2003 have changed anything?  It’s a shame that he got tied in with y2K predictions and Federal Vision associations.   Many of his key arguments were never refuted (or even addressed).  I have in mind the judicial sanctions in history argument.  It’s ultimately why I can’t hold to historic premillennialism in the long run (see future post).Another of his problems would be the Tyler connection.  This really isn’t that big a problem compared to Rushdoony.   Tyler had the bizarre mixture of independent congregationalism and quasi-sacerdotal episcopalianism.  Aside from some caustic and hilarious rhetoric aimed at the Institutional Reformed, there isn’t much to accuse him of.
  4. Was Federal Vision inevitable?  This is hard to answer.  If you read Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics carefully, you will notice how mainstream and normal his method and footnotes are.  He is citing standard P&R and evangelical textbooks on hermeneutics and the Sermon on the Mount.   All of this is wildly at odds with the later Federal Visionists.  This would explain why Federal Vision advocates at least two generations afterwards rejected Bahnsen (some even ridiculed him).   Jim Jordan very clearly rejected theonomy. So to say that Bahnsen led to the Federal Vision is a classic instance of the correlation = causation fallacy.
Gary North notes that CR split into two camps:  Tyler Ecclesiasticalism and Rushdoony’s Home Church Patriarchalism (those theonomists remaining faithful to the local church and presbytery held to a theoretical theonomy, but kept it at that.  The exception would be the micro-Presbyterians like Joe Morecraft).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reading Goals for 2015

These are sets I intend to finish more so than individual books.

Jonathan Edwards, Works volume 1.  This includes Freedom of the Will, Religious Affections, The End for Which God Created the World and True Virtue.   I am maybe 20% of the way through.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics.  I am on volume II.1.   Volume 3 (all four or so volumes) is fairly short and Volume 4 is where he explodes, so it should be interesting reading.

reread Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics volumes 1-3.  I do not have Volume 4.  I should probably get it.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae.  I am halfway through the whole thing.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology.  I just need to finish volume 3.

Honorable Mention

Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics.  I should get this.  I kind of want to get this.  I just don't know if it will happen, price-wise, until it gets cheaper.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Classical Metaphysics: Some Terminology

I mention classical metaphysics or substance ontology a lot. I suppose it's fair that I define my terms.  Bruce McCormack notes,

  1. The order of knowing runs in the opposite direction to the order of being.   This means before we "know" God we are operating with some abstract notion of "being" or "person" and projecting that onto God. As McCormack argues, "The consequence of this methodological decision is that the way taken to the knowledge of God controls and determines the kind of God-concept one is able to generate" (187). This leads to:
  2. Metaphysical thinking in "the strictest sense of the term."  We are beginning "from below" and through an inferential process determining what God can be.
  3. Which means that we have a fully-formed (or mostly formed) concept of what God is before any consideration of his self-revelation in Christ.  As McCormack notes, "the content of Christology will be made to conform to a prior understanding of God" (188).  Natural theology has now given us a definition of God apart from God's decision to elect, save, create, etc.  There is now a metaphysical "gap" between God in the abstract and the Triune God.  
McCormack, Bruce.  "The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism." Engaging the Doctrine of God, ed. Bruce McCormack, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.

We see this playing out with great confusion in the Nestorian debate.  John McGuckin writes,

Ousia: Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.
Physis: Nature, make up of a thing. (In earlier Christian thought the concrete reality or existent.)
Hypostasis: The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)
Prosopon: The observable character, defining properties, manifestation of a reality.
Even at first sight it is clear that the words bear a range of meanings that overlap in some areas so as to be synonymous.  This is particularly so with the terms Physis and Hypostasis which in the fifth century simultaneously bore ancient Christian meanings and more modern applications.. In relation to Physis, Cyril tended to use the antique meaning, Nestorius the modern. In relation to Hypostasis the opposite was the case.”

True, both Cyril and Nestorius used the terms to different ends, but neither challenged the metaphysical grammar--and neither gave a satisfactory solution.

John Anthony McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, SVS, 2004,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Neo-Church Fathers, hellenism, or extra nos proclamation


To help put the below in context, here is a picture of Chain of Being


"Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved." -St. Makarios the Great.
“Struggle until death to fulfil the commandments: purified through them, you will enter into life.”
—St Thalassios the Libyan

Response:  if all he means by this is struggle in sanctification, no problem.   

A person must first spend a long time in ascetic practice. He must begin by purifying his body from the actual committing of sin, whether great or small, and then purge his soul of every form of desire or anger. His moral impulses need to be disciplined by good habit, so that he does not do anything whatsoever through his five senses that is contrary to the purpose of his intellect, [This is very good Hellenistic philosophy, but very bad Hebraic revelation--JBA]  nor does his inner self consent to any such thing. It is then, when finally he becomes subject to himself, that God makes all things subject to him through dispassion and by the grace of the Holy Spirit. For a man must first submit to the law of God, and then he will rule as an intelligent being over all around him. His intellect will reign as it was originally created to reign, with judgment and self-restraint, with courage and justice. Now he will calm his wrath with the gentleness of his desire, now quieten his desire with the austerity of his wrath; and he will know that he is a king. All the limbs of his body, no longer abducted by ignorance and forgetfulness, will act in accordance with God’s commandment. Then through his devotion to God he will achieve spiritual insight and will begin to anticipate the snares prepared by the devil and his secret and stealthy attacks.St Peter of Damaskos

If this is true, and if this is being used as the ground of salvation, and this is the purported biblical teaching, then why did Paul worry about being accused of antinominism.  At least Roman Catholicism pretends to give grace a role.

“Forgiveness of sins is betokened by freedom from the passions; he who has not yet been granted freedom from the passions has not yet received forgiveness.”
—St Thalassios the Libyan

It's hard to imagine Paul being accused of antinominianism in Romans 6 if he were preaching the above.

The only path to salvation is the  unwavering following of the instructions of the Holy Fathers
~Ignatios Briannchaninov

Seems like Jesus got replaced.

“Chastity's wings are greater and lighter than the wings of marriage. Intercourse, while pure, is lower. Its house of refuge is modest* darkness. Confidence belongs entirely to chastity, which light enfolds.”
—St Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity

Notice the language of higher/lower.  Spiritual (mind) stuff is higher on the scale than passional stuff.  This is Hellenism with a vengeance and it is foreign to the Bible.  My whole outlook on life is one total negation of this mentality.  

“Since Elijah repressed the desire of his body, he could withhold the rain from the adulterers. Since he restrained his body, he could restrain the dew from the whoremongers who released and sent forth their streams. Since the hidden fire, bodily desire, did not prevail in him, the fire of the high place obeyed him, and since on earth he conquered fleshly desire, he went up to the place where holiness dwells and is at peace. Elisha, too, who killed his body, revived the dead. That which is by nature mortal gains life by chastity, which is beyond nature. He revived the boy since he refined himself like a newly wind infant. Moses, who divided and separated himself from his wife, divided the sea before the harlot. Zipporah maintained chastity, although she was the daughter of pagan priests; with a calf the daughter of Abraham went whoring.”—St Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity

This is funny since Elijah called down fire on men.  Was he doing it Jedi-style, with the passions neutral?  

Introducing Theo Speech-acts

When Reformed thinkers started structuring theology around the covenants, they made a huge breakthrough.  We see a further breakthrough in the idea of speech-acts.   As Reformed people we should welcome this idea, since we hold to the priority of the Word.

As Horton notes,

The Father’s speaking is the locutionary act; the Son is the content or illocutionary act that is performed by the speaking, and the Spirit’s work is the perlocutionary effect (157)

There is your Filioque, if you are interested.

Locution:  Speaking
Illocution: the act performed by the speaking.
Perlocution:  the effect performed by the speech-act.

Effectual Calling as a Case Study

While I hate reducing the entirety of Reformed dogmatics to a mnemonic device, if there is any point that should be maintained at all costs, it is effectual calling.  Quite simply, it is the only way to make sense of the God-world relation.  How does God relate to the world?  Descartes brutally pressed this on the modern world and people, Christian or not, could really only respond "causally."

But we say communicatively.  Divine speech is the "nexus" of the God-world relation.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Table as Feast, or the god of grape juice

Feast, not transformation.  Table, not altar.  

Zechariah 9:15, “The Lord of hosts will protect them,
and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones,
and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine,
and be full like a bowl,
drenched like the corners of the altar.
“But the passage pictures Israel drunk with another kind of wine: filled with the wine of Yahweh’s Spirit, Israel would be bold, wild, untamed, boisterous in battle. This suggests one dimension of the symbolism of wine in the Lord’s Supper: it loosens our inhibitions so that we wil fight the Lord’s battles in a kind of drunken frenzy. If this sounds impious, how much more Psalm 78:65, where the Divine Warrior himself is described as a mighty man overcome with wine? Yahweh fights like Samson, but far more ferociously than Samson: He fights like a drunken Samson!" (Leithart, Blessed are the Hungry).

But that's not how the American Christian fights.

“Grape juice at the communion table symbolizes the historical impotence of Christ’s blood, Christ’s gospel, Christ’s church, and Christ’s expanding kingdom. Grape juice stays ‘bottled up’, confined to the historical skins of Palestine.”
~Gary North

Also bad is any attempt to deny the drinking motion of a cup in communion.

A Covenant Ontology as Chiasm

Much of my project consists in rejecting the view that there is an entity behind the entity that is the real entity.  When played out in terms of creation and soteriology, this means that deliverance is the overcoming of estrangement (Tillich/Horton) and the rescue from finitude. (I would quote some examples from Orthodox Bridge where they say precisely this, but people would then call shenannigans since it isn’t a scholarly venue.  Fair enough)   A narratival ontology by contrast is dynamic, forward-moving, and is redeemed by thespoken word whose echoes (literally, since sound is the vibration of air) redeem the cosmos.
Another interesting thought:  narrative and covenant are related.  We really can’t know the existence of a covenant pact except in the narrative from which it arises. Have we not also seen that covenant is a category that can also answer ontological questions?  Which model is more relevant to biblical life, participationist schemes or narratival schemes?  Ontologians (forgive the neologism) speak of ousias, overcoming the carapaces of embodiment (Milbank), entities behind the ousia, etc.   A covenantal narrative speaks of blood, cutting, hair, flesh, presence, and genital emissions.   Which model is relevant not only to the biblical narrative but also to real life?

Reformed theology is accused of being nominalist.  It’s hard to see how this is so.  On the other hand, it is not immediately clear why we should favor philosophical realism in its ancient or medieval forms.   The contrast between these two systems allows the Reformed to posit a more robust ontology:  verbalism.   Realism, whether Platonic or Thomist, sees the forms as extra/intra mental realities.   That’s well and good, but at the end of the day the forms are either still in my mind or in Plato’s world above the world. And that’s it.  The Covenantalist sees ultimate reality in the spoken Word.    Imaging Creator Yahweh, our words, whether good or bad, create new situations and new realities.  To be sure, we can’t create physical entities ex nihilo, but the situations are no less real because of that.   In terms of salvation, these spoken realities approach us extra nos.

(Recommended reading:)
Horton, Michael, Four Volume Series on Covenant
Leithart, Peter.  Brightest Heaven of Invention, pp. 223ff

In Practice
  • A participationist model will approach the Lord’s Feast asking how the elements change.  A covenantalist will ask is this not a manifestation of the joy of the kingdomand of Yahweh’s victory?  A covenantalist approach let’s Yahweh feed us and isn’t worried about the elements changing our ontological status.
  • A participationist model is vertical.  It is more interested in the Forms and in moving to a higher degree of finitude (which will ultimately be overcome).  A covenantalist is horizontal:  it is focused on the in-breaking of Yahweh’s kingdom in history.  I understand that the anchorites speak of Kingdom in their eucharistic services.  That may be so, but it is ultimately dwarfed by a focus on what the elements do.  Incidentally, this is the real value of what the word “rite” really meant.  When Yahweh spoke of signs, it usually meant “sit back and watch this.”  It meant Yahweh was acting mightily for his people’s deliverance.
Nota Bene:   is not the idea (oops) of Sign eschatological?  It points to the final reality but is not the final reality; yet, the final reality is in some small way present in the sign.  Never lose the tension between the sign and the thing signified, for that tension is in its essence eschatological.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Instrumentalization thesis

One of the repeated and more annoying complaints against Reformed theology is that we teach the human nature (primarily, the will) is completely passive in salvation.   That has been demonstrated to be false on a number of occasions.  To repeat the charge is simply willful ignorance.  It does raise some problematic concerns for the Anchorites on the subject both of human nature and the patrum consensus.  Athanasius, like Apollinarius and Cyril, held to a divinization soteriology.  As both Sergii Bulgakov and Bruce McCormack make clear, divinization soteriologies demand seeing the human nature of Christ as an instrument (in short:  Christ uses the human nature to divinize it).   Athanasius scholar Khaled Anatolios makes this repeatedly clear (Coherence, p.71ff).

Instruments by their very definition are passive.  There is no such thing as an active instrument (contra McGuckin who sees Cyrillian Christology as an “omnipotent instrument”).   If the human nature is an instrument, and will is a faculty of nature, then how can the will be active?  Because Reformed theology does not demand aninstrumentalization thesis, we are not obligated to view the human nature as a passive recipient.  At least in the mode of conversion we posit that the human will is active.
This raises a deeper problem for the patrum consensus:  Here and elsewhere Athanasius is saying things that sound a lot like what Anchorites charge Reformed theology with teaching.   Of course, one father doesn’t equal the patrum consensus. I grant that. But if any father should be representative on Christology, then surely it is Athanasius!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

More judicial and legal categories

From Michael Horton's The Christian Faith

First of all, the Spirit's ongoing ministry is judicial...to 'convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (Jn. 16:8).
p. 556

There is no serious way you can simply say, "Judicial and legal language is simply a metaphor for relational and love language."  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Raise what up?

Old Jamestown Church has some interesting comments on Joseph Farrell and Maximus the Confessor.  When it comes to philosophy, Farrell/Maximus (and I speak of the earlier Farrell; the more recent Farrell probably wouldn't care) these two are probably the biggest guns Orthodoxy has to offer.  Responding to the Reformed/Augustinian reading of John 6, Farrell (via Fr Kimel) writes,

Farrell cites St Augustine’s exegesis of John 6:39 (“This is the will of the Father who hath sent me, that of all that he hath given me I shall lose nothing”) as an example. Who are the “all”? According to Augustine, the “all” are the specific individuals who have been divinely elected to salvation: this “number is so certain that one can neither be added to them nor taken away from them.” For Augustine, predestination pertains to persons. Maximus, on the other hand, interprets “all” as referring to the human nature assumed by Christ in the Incarnation.

OJC remarks,


Let's take a look at that verse in context:
38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
39 And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
That Maximus could find human nature and not individuals in verse 39 is a testament to his wholly philosophical and theological approach to the text, one that is devoid of every necessary exegetical control.  The text CLEARLY refers to individuals.  There is nothing in this passage that suggests human nature is being resurrected; everything in it points topersons being resurrected.  And this just highlights the fundamental problem with Eastern Orthodoxy (and to a lesser but significant extent Anglo-Catholicism), which is that its theology is structured more around the mystical and philosophical nature of Greek theology rather than the exegetical nature of Augustine's later theology.  Any number of Augustine scholars will tell you that while he started out as a strong Neoplatonist, and that Neoplatonism did continue to exercise a deleterious effect in some of his theology, in later years he turned from a philosophical theologian to a much more exegetical one, and in his struggle against Pelagianism he resorted to all of the apostolic material -- including verses such as John 6:39 -- which buttress the case for the view of unconditional election reflected in Article XVII and in the theology of the (Augustinian) Reformers generally. 

Jesus and Legal Categories

If Jesus is King, then his Word is Law.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reposting an old anti-Dugin article

I wrote this some months ago.  With the ruble crashing and the existential crisis that will put Russia in, perhaps some Orthodox polemics will fizzle out.  

In a fascinating article by Vladimir Moss, we have a capable discussion of the Orthodox political theorist Alexander Dugin, particularly his relation to Vladimir Putin. Moss’s article is important because it is written by a conservative Orthodox scholar who hates globalism, modernist Orthodoxy, yet has suspicions about Putin’s conservative Christianity. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his twice-humiliating Obama (e.g., Syria and Ukraine) have forced conservatives to reevaluate their Russophobia and the future of international conservative thought.

I want to build upon Moss’s analysis, with which I mostly agree. My goal is to show tensions in Russian history that Moss doesn’t note and ponder the implications for Orthodox engagement today.

Who is Dugin?

Back in my Russophilic days I was watching Dugin’s career really take off.  Dugin had abandoned the National Bolshevism Party (!!) and started his own Party.  Eventually, he saw that Russia’s future was with Putin and cast his lot there.  My Orthodox friends were emailing me pdfs of Dugin’s books long before they were in print.  I was leaving any form of Orthodoxy at that point so I really wasn’t interested.

Leaving aside Dugin’s own political views, Moss highlights his “eschatological ecclesiology.”  Moss rightly notes that Dugin’s views cannot be understood apart from his Old Ritualist beliefs.  The Old Ritualists separated from the Moscow Patriarch NIKON in the 1660s because they saw Nikon modifying the liturgy (and they were correct–this has huge and embarrassing implications for semper ubique and an always united church).

Old Ritualists see the world as corrupt and expect a future, purifying catastrophe (a common theme among many Christian sects), even sacrificing themselves in the fire.  I hope you make the connection between their own suicidal deaths by fire and Dugin’s call for nuclear war.  It is not accidental.

Dugin’s own analysis of Revelation is bizarre (yet no more arbitrary and subjective than Reformed amillennialism) and while entertaining, largely beyond the scope of this essay. However, it does break down Christian history into three phases: Pre-Constantinian, Constantinian (and later Muscovite) and post-1660 Muscovite.  The middle period is the Millennial Reign and the Third Period is the Age of Antichrist.  This means, as Moss notes, that little good can be seen in the post-1660 Orthodox Church (which argument by the Old Ritualists is one reason I never joined).

Dugin’s analysis is strained when he comes to the Soviet era.  He can’t simply defend it because of its atheism, but he does give it moderate praise.  He sees God’s exercising a strange power through the Soviet world, but that doesn’t bother Dugin since he’s already identified America as the Antichrist (which is odd, given his dating of 1666 as the beginning of Antichrist).

Contra Moss, Dugin is correct to note that the “spiritual conformism” of the Nikonite patriarchs is no less revolutionary than the Sovietism of the Church. With exception of Fr. Raphael Johnson, very few American Orthodox have owned up to this problem.  Dugin sees the future Philadelphian Church as a combination of the Old Ritualists, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the ROCA church.  This is problematic, to say the least, since all of these churches have condemned each other for “schisming from the true faith” (this is a huge psychological problem for convertskii.  Quite frankly, for any honest inquirer this problem is insurmountable).

Dugin’s eschatology allows him to see Putin in a new, monarchical role, especially in opposing America.  There are many aspects of American liberalism that should be rightly opposed, but one gets nervous in reading the nuclear overtones of Dugin’s proposal! The rest of the article is an analysis of Orthodox and Dispensationalist eschatologies, which do not concern us here.

Orthodoxy Today

So what do converts to Orthodoxy say about Dugin’s analysis?  Few likely have heard of them and that’s expected.  However, everyone in America has to face up to Putin’s Russia, whether good or bad.  Some convertskii have pointed out many goods of Putin’s Russia: it refuses to tolerate sodomy and speaks out for oppressed Christians in the Middle East, much to the anger of the Beltway Alliance.

I suspect American Orthodox will break down in several lines on this question. The hard-core convertskii will understandably praise Putin(and by extension Dugin).  They will see Russia as the last bulwark against the New World Order.  The more moderate convertskii, those perhaps enamored with Schmemann, Thomas Nelson Publishing, and Ancient Faith Radio, might find Dugin’s analysis embarrassing.  Yet he can’t simply be dismissed:  if you accept Putin as a normative figure you have to account for Dugin’s influence on him.

Is Putin King Arthur Redivivus?

I used to think he was.  I like him better than Obama, to be sure, but I do not think the future belongs to Russia, no matter if it is secular, Orthodox, or Communist.  Putin divorced his wife and has taken up with a young and attractive gymnast.  Hardly the actions of the leader of conservative Christendom. While Russia’s own situation has improved since the 1990s, it’s future is far from certain.  The abortion, suicide, divorce, and prostitution rates in Russia are abysmal.  Civilizations have been destroyed for far less (Boer Afrika had its problems, but they didn’t have the decadence of today’s Russia, either, yet they were destroyed by the Marxist torturer Nelson Mandela.  Maybe South Africa did sin.  She was formally covenanted to God).

I thought about doing a sociological analysis on Russia’s birth-rate and related variables. I used to have the info for that, but those days are long gone.  I will give a snapshot analysis:
  • While Russia’s energy reserves are formidable, she needs markets. While she has Western Europe by the balls, energetically speaking, her economy is fragile and severe enough sanctions could tip the scale.
  • Even though her birth rate has improved, much of it is from Central Asian Muslims, not white Orthodox Christians.
  • Most importantly–religiously–she does not appear to have the “want-to” to survive.  Though Bulgakov and Dostoevsky could speak in eschatological veins, Orthodox theology is more inward, mystical, and onto-focused; overcoming estrangement. I realize I am speaking in generalities, but history’s bears it out.  Where is the “Protestant” work-ethic–so famous and so maligned–among the Slavic lands?  It was the Protestant understanding of the Covenant and the law of God that allowed them dominion in Europe and the New World.
  • Finally,and I realize few will share my analysis, God doesn’t reward the worship of images.  Civilizations that are built on language and communications are healthier than those built on fetishism.
A Contrast

Even the best of civilizations fall.  If the criteria of success is longetivity, then few will last.  However, we can analyze the nature of their lasting and the religious impulses within it.

Covenanteroes

While I reject as naive those narratives that say the Covenanters produced modern republicanism, the impulses which drove the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians did create a New World.  Jock Purves writes,
The United States of America, too, is a great result of the further development of the Reformation in the orderings of the most High.  It might have been settled by the Spanish or Portugese, and therefore, now been as South America, Romish, backward and dark. But in genius and constitution, in its strong depths and grand heights, it is a Protestant land.  This is because of a people, such a people, in moral and spiritual stature incomparable, the finest expositors of Scripture ever known, the English Puritans (42).
Whatever else you say about Protestantism, ask why all of the economic and political developments for the common good in the modern world happened in historically Protestant lands? Whenever there is a crop shortage in Russia, why does it always turn into a catastrophe?  Even under the decimating reigns of the Clintons and Obamas, America hasn’t had that.

I can only wonder what would have happened if King James I hadn’t murdered Sir Walter Raleigh at the behest of the Spanish Ambassador. Raleigh was talking of settling Latin America.

Only religion can bring life to a land.  I hope and pray that Orthodoxy in Russia stops women becoming Prostitutes and aborting their babies.  But it will take more than 10% of the population.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Is Knowing a dominating? On God's Essence

Classical theism has said that we can know that God is but not what God is.  We cannot know  God’s essence.  They had a reason for saying this:  in the Hellenistic world (which was never fully rejected in Christendom and received a shot in the arm in Descartes, even until our present day) to know something was to “master” it and bring it under one’s control--it is to subsume all under “The Same” (Smith 31).

Thus, when the Fathers said we cannot know God’s essence (cf. Basil, Letters 231 and 234) they meant we cannot bring it under our grasp, seizing and dominating it.  And this is virtually the position of Christendom, East or West.  Later Western thought nuanced this approach with the valid distinction between apprehending and comprehending.  If the field of debate is Hellenism’s view of knowledge as domination, then I fully agree with the tradition on this point.  

But why should we let idolaters determine how we can talk about God?  I understand the distinction between knowing what/that God is, and I agree with the value it seeks to protect, but with Barth I think it is simply “impracticable” (II.1/187).  Jesus said if we know him, we know the Father.  Presumably we know the person of the Father.  Can we know the person of the Father without knowing what the Father is?  This is where classical metaphysics comes undone.  No one is saying we can “fully exhaust God’s essence.”  But neither do I think Jesus is saying, “You can know the Father but I am holding back on you. You can only have me in reserve.”

We can’t separate person from nature (assuming classical metaphysics for a moment).  If we know Jesus, and if Jesus is homousios with the Father, then does it really make sense to speak of a free-floating, abstract essence behind the two?  If you still maintain that the above classical metaphysics is a coherent model, then the only thing left is the frozen theology of Palamism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  They at least are consistent.  They posit that the persons and the nature is hyperousia, beyond being (Palamas, Triads 2.iii.8; 3.iii.17-20).  Still, I must cut this option off at the pass.  I echo Robert Jenson:  if the Persons are eclipsed by the energies and remain in the realm of hyperousia and “above” the biblical narrative, in such case that we can no longer identity the persons by their hypostatic propria, we can only conclude that Palamism, despite its best intentions, is a more frozen form of modalism than anything Augustine or Aquinas ever dreamed of.


Barth, Karl.  Church Dogmatics.
Palamas, Gregory.  The Triads, ed. John Meyendorff.

Smith, James K. A., jacques derrida: live theory.  

A broadside across the Cyrillene bow

Some EO and RCC converts were attacking Protestantism's doctrine of man and the atonement on Facebook.  Granted, there are some difficulties and I am not fully satisified with Hodge's approach. but I noticed that both sides in the debate hold to an out-dated substance metaphysics.   This runs into problems when we apply it to Christology.   Take the great Father Cyril of Alexandria, whom they use to attack Protestantism.  Let's see what happens:

Dr Bruce McCormack illustrates some key gains with Cyril’s Christology. Like Apollinaris he understood that the Logos had to instrumentalize the human nature.  Unlike Apollinaris he avoided truncating that human nature.  The problem, though, as Lutherans were keen to pick up on, is locating the “acting agent.”  Normally Cyril locates the acting agent as the Logos asarkos.  However, when we get to the communicatio idiomata, it seems Cyril is locating the acting agent as the whole Christ, which is an entirely different term.  Anchorites are using a sliding scale.

Orthodox and Lutherans hold to a real communication of attributes.  Good.    There is a problem, though.  St Maximus said the relationship was tantum…quantum.   This means if there is a real communication, it’s a two-way street.  However, if we attribute human attributes to the divine (which is how John Milbank reads Andrew Louth’s reading of Maximus), how can we seriously maintain any doctrine of divine impassibility?

 Continuing McCormack’s argument.  We admit that the person of the Logos is the acting agent of the union, denying activity to the human nature; this is consistent with the principle that persons act, not natures.  However, when one communicates this to the modern world, using modern terminology, we find that we are equivocating on the term “human.”  In today’s language humanity means, among other things, a self-activating nature.  And that is Nestorianism.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Event, Identity, and the End of Classical Metaphysics

If we posit a God beyond the God revealed, then we are left with the worst form of nominalism (I know, I just said the n-word) and skepticism.  This is one of the reasons I reject Palamism.  There is no such thing as a God-in-itself.  Ousias do not have interiorieties.
McCormack writes,
“For Barth, the triunity of God consists in the fact that God is one Subject in three modes of being. One Subject! To say then that ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God’ is to say, ‘God determined to be God in a second mode of being.’ It lies close to hand to recognize that it is precisely the primal decision of God in election which constitutes the event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being. Election thus has a certain logical priority even over the triunity of God. [Quoting Eberhard J√ľngel:] ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God. In that here one of the three modes of being is determined to be the God who elects, we have to understand God’s primal decision as an event in the being of God which differentiates the modes of God’s being.’ So the event in which God constitutes himself as triune is identical with the event in which he chooses to be God for the human race. Thus the ‘gap’ between ‘the eternal Son’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ is overcome, the distinction between them eliminated…. There is no ‘eternal Son’ if by that is meant a mode of being in God which is not identical with Jesus Christ” (pp. 218-19).
As Ben Meyers summarizes,
The event in which God chooses to be “God for us” is identical with the event in which God “gives himself his own being.” And this event of election is not located in any timeless eternity. God’s eternal decision coincides with the temporal event in which this decision reaches its goal. This coincidence – this event of utter singularity – is God’s being. Time, then, “is not alien to the innermost being of God” (p. 222). The time of Jesus Christ is the time of God’s decision – it is the primal time, the time of God’s eternal movement into history. There is no still-more-primal divine being which lurks behind this movement into history; God’s being is this movement, this effectual decision.

Bruce McCormack suggests that the best model for understanding Karl Barth’s theology is Realdialektik–God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  It is dialectical in the sense that it posits both a veiling and unveiling of God. God is unveiled in Jesus’s flesh, but since it is in Jesus’s flesh, God is in a sense veiled (McCormack 145).   This is another way of using Luther’s Deus absconditus.  Interestingly, this dialectic solves the postmodern problem of “Presence-Absence.”

What is Classical Metaphysics?

Barth’s project is in many ways an attempt to overcome the limitations of classical metaphysics.  Among other things, classical metaphysics (and it doesn’t matter whether you have in mind Eastern and Western models) saw the essence of God as an abstract something behind all of God’s acts and relations (140).  This view is particularly susceptible to Heidegger’s critique of “Being.”  It is also susceptible, particularly in its Cappadocian form, to Tillich’s critique:

The Cappadocian “Solution” and Further Problem

According to the Cappadocians, the Father is both the ground of divinity and a particular hypostasis of that divinity.  Taken together, we can now speak of a quaternity.  Secondly, the distinctions between the relations are empty of content.  What do the words “unbegotten,” “begotten,” and “proceeding” mean when any analogy between the divine essence and created reality is ruled illegitimate, as the Cappadocians insist (Tillich 77-78)?  The Augustinian-Thomist tradition at least tried to move this forward, even if its solution was equally unsatisfactory.

Further, with regard to the Person of Christ, essentialism connotes an abstracted human nature which is acted upon (McCormack 206).  Further, in essentialist forms of metaphysics the idea of a person is that which is complete in itself apart from its actions and relations (211).  A wedge is now driven between essence and existence.  Christologically, this means that nothing which happens in and through the human nature affects the person of the union, for the PErson is already complete anterior to these actions and relations.

Election and the Trinity

Barth navigates beyond this impasse with his now famous actualism.  Rather than first positing a Trinity and then positing a decision to elect, which necessarily creates a metaphysical “gap” in the Trinity, Barth posits Jesus of Nazareth not only as the object of election (which is common to every dogmatics scheme), but also the subject of election.  How can this be?  How can someone be both the elector and the elected?
For Barth the Trinity is One Subject in Three Simultaneous Modes of being (218).  To say that Jesus Christ is the electing God is to say that God determined to be God in a second (not being used in a temporal sense) mode of being…this lies close to the decision that [Election] constitutes an event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being (218).  Election is the event which differentiates God’s modes of being…So the event in which God is triune is identical with the event in which He chooses to be God for the human race” (ibid.)

Participation, not Theosis

Barth’s actualist ontology allows him to affirm the juridicalism within the Scriptures (which is markedly absent from many Eastern treatises) and the language of participating in the divine but without recourse to the theosis views so dependent on classical metaphysics.
Barth is historically-oriented, not metaphysically.  The divine does not metaphysically indwell the human so as to heal the potential loss of being.  Rather, the exaltation occurs in the history of Jesus Christ.  “The link which joins the human and divine is not an abstract concept of being, but history” (230).

For Barth, God’s ontology is the act of determining to enter human history (238).  God’s essence and human essence can be placed in motion–they can be actualized in history.

Exaltation, not indwelling

The terms describing Jesus’s history are agreement, service, obedience–they speak of the man Jesus standing before God, not being indwelt.

Reworking the Categories

If Barth’s criticisms of classical ontology hold, then a humble reworking of some categories is in order.  Instead of hypostasis, Barth uses the term “identification.”  The identification in question is an act of love.  Jesus is God, but God as self-differentiation.

This may seem obscure, but it bears great promise.  Both East and West have struggled with defining “person.”  A good Eastern theologian will not even define it, since, as John Behr notes, you cannot give a common definition to something which is by definition not-common.  Eastern Orthodox like to say how “personal” their theology is, yet ask them to define “person.”   The West actually does define it, but the problems aren’t entirely gone.  If person = relation, then how come the relations between the persons are not themselves persons, and ad infinitum all the way back to Gnosticism?  Given these huge problems, we should not so quickly dismiss Barth’s proposal. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Realdialektik

Summary of notes from McCormack’s Orthodox and Modern.

God is indirectly identical with the creaturely medium of his revelation, the creaturely medium being Jesus’s flesh (110).   If revelation is Self-revelation, then it involves the “whole” God, albeit his whole being is hidden in a creaturely veil.  McCormack is clear there is no impartation of divine attributes to Jesus’s flesh.
  • Principal consequence of indirect revelation: God is both the subject and object of revelation.
  • Two moments:  objective (God veils himself in a creaturely medium) and subjective (God gives us faith to know and understand).  “The objective moment is Christological; the subjective moment is pneumatological” (111).
A word on Kant’s epistemology:
  • a subjective foundationalism
  • Barth was willing to grant this insofar as it dealt with empirical reality.   However, Barth said that God entered into the Phenomenal (143).
Critical Realism

“Critical:”  Going beyond Kant, this would see God as an object to human knowledge without ceasing to be Subject.  “In other words, it is the hiddenness of God who is fully present in revelation which calls into question the constructive activities of the human knower” (159).
“Realism:”  the being of God is something complete, especially in the revelation-process, yet it is only indirectly identical (159).

Theses on Barth’s Theological Epistemology (McCormack 168-180)

Thesis 1:  Trinitarian structure of God’s Self-Revelation
  • The subject of the knowledge of God is the Triune God
  • Revelation proceeds from the Father, is objectively fulfilled in the Son, and is subjectively  fulfilled in us by the Spirit
Thesis 2:  Revelation is a rational event that occurs through the normal processes of human cognition (CD I/1: 135)..

Thesis 3:  If the above thesis is true, then the charge that Barth posits a distinction between “propositional” and “person” revelation must be dismissed.   The Word of God (Jesus Christ) is inherently verbal.  (Evangelicalism gets it wrong by hysterically overacting against Barth, thinking he is denying the Bible.  They forget that Jesus was Logos before the Word of God was conventionally understood as “Bible.”  Anchoretism gets it wrong because they forget the Jesus is inherently verbal, not a wooden two-dimensional figure).
Thesis 4:  Because revelation is inherently verbal, its primary witness will take the form of text.

Skipping Thesis 5

Thesis 6:  God’s revelation is surrounded by an external and internal limitation:  The external limitation is the hiddenness of God in his self-revelation.  The internal is the ultimate inadequacy of human thought to bear witness.
  • Here I add a cautious critique of Barth.  If human thought is inadequate to bear witness to God’s revelation, then what’s the point of even trying?  Even more, Barth himself will reject this line of thought in other theses.
Theses 7-8:  God’s hiddenness is a hiddenness in Revelation.

Thesis 9:  The hiddenness of God in revelation is the hiddenness of the whole God in revelation.  There is no “behind the back” of God when God reveals himself.  He doesn’t hold back.

Thesis 17:  The dialectic of veiling/unveiling is not static.  Veiling is ordered towards unveiling.  The stand together in an “ordered history” (179).