Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: Sabbath as Resistance

by Walter Brueggemann.

Brueggemann uses the Sabbath as a prism through which we understand economics and social relations and the ideological assumptions embedded in each.

“The demands of market ideology pertain as much to consumption as they do to production” (Brueggemann xii).  It is “Pharaoh’s insatiable script.”    

“Wherever YHWH governs as an alternative to Pharaoh, there the restfulness of YHWH effectively counters the restless anxiety of Pharaoh” (xiii).

Sabbath and the First Commandment

God is embedded in a narrative and cannot be known outside that narrative (2).  The Sabbath commandment is drawn into the Exodus, whose narrative matrix is that of YHWH.  

The economics of Pharaoh:
  • every socioeconomic system will be legitimized by some god (3).
  • The system is designed to create endless surplus, and thus endless storerooms.  
  • it makes a fetish of the market.  The market generates a desire for commodities of a social value, making us want even more commodities, which takes on a life of its own.
  • It creates anxiety.
  • Pharaoh is anxious about the food monopoly (26).  
  • It is an ontology of violence (30-31).

The Sabbath is a commitment to covenant (relationship) rather than commodity (bricks).  Most of the ten commandments have something to do with the horizontal “Other,” my neighbor.  The economics of Pharaoh does not allow for neighborliness.  The economics of the Sabbath demands it.

Thesis:  “Sabbath is a bodily act of testimony to alternative and resistance to pervading values and assumptions behind those values” (21).

Resistance to Anxiety

Anxiety makes neighborliness impossible (26).  God counters anxiety with neighborliness.

Resistance to Coercion

The prosperity of the land will eventually lead to two economic systems: possession or inheritance (38).

The aim of market ideology is to make us forget our rootage and to let ourselves be defined by alien expectations (39). The Sabbath makes us remember that God broke the cycle of coercive production.

Resistance to Exclusivism

Whom does Brueggemann think are the “Insiders?”  Brueggemann suggests that Isaiah 56 reworks Dt 23 so that Sabbath is the criterion of membership (54).  A Sabbath person is defined by justice, mercy, and compassion, and not competition, achievement, and production.

Sabbath and the Tenth Commandment

The 10th commandment rejects an attitude of “and a forced action to secure what is craved” (71).  Given that the term “neighbor” occurs 3x in the commandment, it is also about preserving the neighborhood.  

Brueggemann speculates, albeit with some justification, that these were agrarian peasants and the commandment ultimately applied to protecting them against urban elites, which in today’s terms meant:
  • state power
  • corporate wealth
  • legal sharpness
  • credentialed religion

In conclusion, the tenth commandment, and Sabbath-practice in general, is a safeguard for a certain way of organizing social power in the interest of the neighborhood (77).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Os Guinness--Power Apologetics?

He notes,

Part of the church, particularly the charismatic or Pentecostal streams, sees signs and wonders as key to apologetics. Signs contradict naturalism, and raise up hopes and dreams of greater things. What do you think of that?
 I believe passionately in it. As Peter Berger says, we live in a world without windows. We need to go back to the New Testament. Our Lord is the Father’s greatest gift, and the Holy Spirit is Jesus’s greatest gift to us. You can see apologetics accompanying deliverance and healings right down to the fifth century. Augustine started a little skeptical, and then became a passionate believer through experience. He records more than 70 miracles in Hippo.
And then sadly, in the centuries that followed, signs were specialized to certain people (the saints) and certain places (the healing centers). Then it was surrounded with superstition and moneymaking. The Reformation came along and, in throwing out all the corruptions, tended to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It stressed the Word and not the Spirit. Then came the Enlightenment. Many of the more sophisticated people in the church today frankly are operational atheists, and don’t have a living sense of the Holy Spirit. Reviving that sense is absolutely a key part of apologetics.

Miracles as Jesus's Donum to the Church

Musings from Milbank's (in)famous essay, "Alternative Protestantism."

Premise: The gift of Christ is the gift of the Spirit to the Church (38).  It is a gift that is beyond law.  It is a divine indwelling power.

Premise 2: What about the Spirit as donum is withdrawn from the church?  In other words, do we have the full Spirit/donum today?  You have to answer yes.  Should we then expect the full donum?  Certainly, why not?  Ergo, cessationism is false.

If aspects of the Spirit-donum have been withdrawn, we need evidence that it has.   Was Jesus crossing his fingers when he promised us his donum?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A trinitarian question of relation?

I fear if I ask this question on Puritanboard I will be banned, so I will ask it here.

If persons = relations, as Thomas says, then does the converse hold:

(P1) Relations = Persons

This raises the next question:

(P2) Is now the relation between the person yet another person?

If you keep repeating this you have the infinite hypostases of Gnosticism.

Bulgakov on the Ontology of Death

  • not the annihilation of life but of a particular state of life.  If death equals complete nonbeing, then God has failed.
  • man is susceptible to death because of his ontological complexity.
  • Man is ultimately (originally) God-earth, an incarnate Godlike spirit.
  • Body and Soul and Spirit
    • Death’s dividing sickle passes between the spirit and the soul on one hand and the spirit and the body on the other.
    • The soul is an intermediate principle connecting the spirit with the creaturely world.  It is creaturely, like blood (but not blood).
    • The supraphysical energy of life (which finds it substratum in the blood) abides.
  • Death is a temporary cessation of the action of the soul upon the body.  The soul does not die but is relatively potentialized.
  • In death, an individual is separated only from his body, not his soul.
    • after death the soul abides in a supracorporeal shell, preserving some tenuous connection with spirit.
    • man was originally meant to see the spiritual world; the fall veiled that.  Flesh is separated from spirit by a wall of sensuality.
    • By tearing away man from his flesh, death opens for him the “gates of the spiritual world” (359).  This is why the dying can often see angels, demons, and appearances of departed loved ones.
    • Death divides human life into two halves
      • psychic-corporeal being (what we call “alive”)
      • spiritual-psychic body.
  • Since death is not complete nonbeing/cessation, it is necessarily a continuing of life.
  • What about the “judgment?”
    • first of all, self-consciousness and self-judgment.
    • it is not yet perfect self-knowledge, which can only happen at the final judgment with the totality of humanity (social knowing).
    • An existential self-determination follows this judgment.
  • He has an interesting take on the salvation of infants and the like:
    • First, he has already established that death is a new mode of existence.
    • Secondly, the afterlife is not a merely passive state (otherwise man is a mere object and not a knowing subject).
    • Therefore, he will live in this world with other spiritual, incorporeal beings.
    • Even the “Rich Man” in the Lazarus parable felt something new:  love towards his brothers.  Thus, there are degrees of change.
    • Acting in relation to others is an acting upon ourselves (365).
    • Thus, it seems beyond argument that the human spirit can undergo change in the afterlife.
  • The spirit is not a mere object which receives actions without inwardly transforming them.
  • Concerning the pangs of hell, the state of disincarnation after death does not admit corporeal pains.  
  • Further, since we are spirit, and spirit is freedom, it seems we would have a sort of freedom in the afterlife.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Notes on Bulgakov, Part 1

From Bride of the Lamb.  I'll polish it in my review.

Bulgakov says he rejects pantheism and monism.  He makes several incisive criticisms against cosmic dualisms (the two creating entities annul one another).

Creation Out of Nothing

What do we mean by the word “nothing?”  Are we reifying “nothing?”  Bulgakov says there is “no extra-divine ground of creation” (Bulgakov 6).   We must distinguish two different types of “nothing:”
  1. pre-creaturely nothing, ontological zero. The negation of all being
  2. Ontic, creaturely nothing, me on. It is a mode of creaturely being.  

More on nothing (116ff)
  • nothing is no-thing, not just something.
  • Its existence can only be posited by extreme abstraction.  
  • All creation has a non-creaturely, creaturely character.  
    • The positive force of its being is the creaturely Sophia, which is the image of the divine Sophia (117).


Aquinas has a difficulty with calling creation “good.”  Rather, it is imperfect.  It is only one type of many possible worlds.  There is a non-correspondence between ideas and things, as the former is always larger than the latter.  The divine ideas are suspended in mid-air.  They aren’t entirely accidents, because God doesn’t have accidents, but to the degree that they actualize creation, they can’t be fully God, either.  

Creatio and God as Cause

Motion cannot be explained on the basis of the motion itself (???).  

“The strength of the causal series lies in its continuity” (35) and if a gap were introduced, it would fail.  And there is a gap between God and creation.  Both causality and mover belong to the world of unitary being.  “It is not possible to transcend the world.”  

But the Christian faith does not need any of this.  It has the doctrine of creation, which is personal and presupposes a personal God (37).  

Divine Sophia is the en-hypostatic life of the Trinity.  
  • It is the Divine World.
  • Not a hypostasis, but a hypostasizedness

Creation of the World

  • a self-positing of God (46).
    • But the world is not a piece of God.
    • Rather, Divine Sophia has a creaturely Sophianic mode of existence in which the world exists.
  • Divine Sophia exists in a dual mode
    • eternal (proper mode)
    • creaturely
      • contains multiplicity
      • relative nothingness
  • There can be no divine principle of existence which exists in the “nothing” (ouk on).  
    • “Nothing” is a modus of reality.  It cannot exist by itself and for itself.

Divine Prototypes
  • These are the plan of creation (55).
  • The problem Patristics faced with this was how to relate these prototypes, which were divine, to creation.  Bulgakov suggests Sophia is the relation.
  • Ideas are the “seeds” of being.
  • Creation

Temporality of Creation

What do we mean when we say that the world is created “in time?”  How do eternity and temporality interact without the former subsuming the latter?  Is the latter merely an illusion?
  • Temporality is not yet time; time is the mode of its existence (70).
  • Time is the abstract measure of temporality, but it is not the unique measure.
  • With respect to creation, we must not speak of the beginning of time (which is contradictory), but of the emergence of temporality.
  • Time is a relation within becoming.

Therefore, we say that creation is beginningless, but not eternal.    It can’t have a beginning in time since time, too, is created.  Therefore, we say that creation and time emerge from temporality.

The World Soul and its Hypostases

world soul: the creaturely Sophia (79).  It is here that Bulgakov’s project shines in all its brilliance but also threatens to come undone.  He admits that the existence of the world-soul marks a “loss of clarity” and one wonders if he is reverting back to Aristotle’s chain of being.  But it is a lively chain, for he assures us: “There is no place for dead matter in the world.”
  • We are speaking of the world soul, not the world spirit.  The difference between soul and spirit is that the soul is not hypostatic, whereas the Spirit is.  
  • The soul corresponds to the spirit’s nature.  It is the spirit’s hypostatizedness.
  • This is not Neo-Platonism, for he does not see the World Soul as a hypostasis.  
  • The World-Soul is a connected, multi-organic unity
  • It is the world’s inner entelechy which unifies.
  • Therefore, there is an “inner life principle” in the world.  If this were not so, then why would we enjoin creation to praise God if creation is merely dead matter?
  • It is the actualization of creaturely being (197).  The world-soul actualizes creation’s instincts for power.
    • In its proper being it is divided into heaven and earth


Angels are how God usually relates nature (199).  They are the bearers of the sophicanic prototypes of creation and the earth’s reality.  Creation arises through the elemental forces of the world soul but its formation presupposes angelic activity and participation (Rev. 7:1, 14:18; 16:5; and fight battles).

Angels are the sophicanic heaven of the world, the creaturely bridge between Divine Sophia and Creaturely sophia, metaxu.  Angels contain the assurance that creation is a ladder of life.

Main Point

The connection of God and the world is grounded in Sophianicity.  “The divine Sophia is one, though she has two forms of being” (223).  Bulgakov argues that the Western insistence on speaking of God as First Cause and creation as Second Cause has the effect of subsuming the latter under the former.  Rather, God is not the cause of the world but the Creator.
  • In the creation of the world God repeats or doubles his own Being.  This is the Divine Sophia positing the Creaturely Sophia’s mode of existence (222).
  • It is the self-repetition of the Divine Sophia.

Bulgakov thinks he solves the main aporia--that of divine and human freedom--in placing this interaction within the realm of creaturely Sophia (231).

The Church

Holds to a highly qualified apostolic succession (280-282).

The Eucharist
  • He suggests that Ignatius’s stringent appeal to the bishop suggests that his position is new and far from indisputable (284).
  • The initial emphasis was not on the Bishop, but on the koinonia.

History and Knowledge

  • mankind finds its unity in Adam and is the gnoseological subject, The Universal-I.  It is realized in the particular cognitive acts of individuals.  This is what Hegel was getting at when he said knowledge is social.  If knowledge is atomized, it can’t be transmitted.
  • If there is a transcendental subject, then there is a transcendental object.  This is the world in its integral unity, creaturely Sophia.

Expanding Being in History

We know from revelation that spiritual hierarchies participate together with man in the world.  “They act within the limits of the world.”  


What does Bulgakov mean by alluding to an “ontological hierarchy” in creation (53)? Elsewhere, he rightly rejects the Aristotelian chain of being.  I think he means something along the lines that creation is not a nominalistic bundle of atoms (a string of pearls without the string).  

Public Apology to R. Phillips

A few years ago Robin Phillips wrote an article arguing that Reformed liturgics is nominalistic.  What he meant by that was if something is beautiful and glorious in worship, then it takes away glory from God.  Practically speaking, for a church to be "glory to God," it needs to be ugly as sin.

I responded that is a false straw man.  And went back and forth for a while.  I think when you look at the Magisterial Protestants, Phillips' argument falls flat.  However, when you frame it towards RPW-advocates today, he is spot-on.

But it isn't just ugly church buildings.  It's what you say in the liturgy.  When the liturgy commands you to command angels to praise God, are you really commanding angels, or is it just "Mere words?"  If it is just words saying what angels already do, which seems to be the response I am getting, than it is nominalism, since the thing is just "mere words."

We'll see if this gets me in trouble

I posted this on a reformed message board a day after I saw I didn't have access to the book review section.

I don't think we should pray to angels as such.  They are part of the stoichea and because of Christ's resurrection we are no longer under their cosmic rulership.  However, we still (or at least many Reformed do) invoke angels in our liturgy.  In the doxology we invoke, command the universe to praise God, including "Above ye, Heavenly Host."

For the application.  Our culture is currently battling Moloch the Dismemberer.  Is it wrong to ask God to send Michael the Archangel to fight Moloch?
b8c7304d896b3c01aeb0e061f7f84ca9.jpg (692×870)

Stay liturgical, my friends

Friday, July 24, 2015

Christ of the Celts: Healing Creation

I checked this book out from the library because 1) I am part Celt and thought it would be interesting and 2) I was interested in the argument made by others that the Celtic church had Eastern strands distinct from Latin Christianity and maybe this guy could elucidate. The book failed miserably on both points.

Have you seen the movie "Meet the Robinsons?" In the movie the frog tells the bad guy, after one of his plans fails, "I just don't think this plan was thought through." That's how this book is. A relatively good idea, strung together by some gnostic texts and cliched feminist arguments, with a little Erigena and St Irenaeus thrown in for giggles.

His initial argument isn't that off the mark, however. Quoting Erigena and St Irenaeus Newell says that Celtic Christianity sees the cosmos as a unified whole and points to Christ as the Eternal Memory and the one in whom all of reality is recapitulated. A bit Platonic, to be sure, but definitely orthodox and exciting. Had he stayed on this level he would be okay. Unfortunately, Newell kept writing.

I don't think he understood the initial contradiction between quoting (to make the same argument) the gnostic Gospels of St Thomas and the savage anti-gnostic writings of St Irenaeus. But to be fair, Newell says he opposes gnosticism. I want to believe him but he uses every cliched gnostic and feminist argument in the book. He sets up the pure Celtic/feminine/anti-virgin Mary Church over against the evil Imperial church (think Republican Party) of Constantine. And those meany Constantinians are trying to take over the world and strip-mine matter, introduce original sin, and keep women in the kitchen! N.T. Wright has already refuted this nonsense and I won't waste time here.

 The book from page 60 onward is pure paganism.


It's a shame, really. There really is much promise in studying Celtic Christianity.  For example, how did John Scotus Eriugena come by the knowledge of Maximus the Confessor?  

We need sane, serious people to write books on this topic. Legitimate Cetlic expressions such as Erigena and St Irenaeus, and perhaps a Celticized form of St Maximus the Confessor is a good argument against gnosticism and imperialism. Newell needs to read some basic intro texts on Church history.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

So...about icons and images

My recent reflections on being an Augustinian High Church Protestant have me re-examining the role of icons.  The problem in the icon debates is whole worldviews, even ontologies, are wrapped up in the yes and no answers.  I'll try to deconstruct those and provide tentative answers.
  • With the Tradition I agree that an Incarnation that can't be imaged is incoherent.  As long as Calvinists say "the divine nature can't be imaged," they will forever lose the debate.
  • With some aspects of the Western Tradition and in line with Reformed sympathies, I reject veneration of icons.  God promised multi-generation curses for those who bow down to man-originated pesels. I understand Damascene's argument.  I just don't think it squares with Moses.
  • I don't think having icons of biblical characters or even great saints on the church walls, provided they aren't worshiped, is a bad idea.  It is certainly a better idea than fluorescent lights and bright white walls (which C.S. Lewis cogently argued can itself be a form of idolatry).
  • Even better, get rid of fluorescent lights altogether and use candles. It saves on the energy bills, doesn't generate migraines, isn't ugly as sin, and fits in with the general tradition of church aesthetics.