Thursday, September 29, 2016

Man De-Formed: Sexed Identity, Masculinity, and Worship

I wrote two previous articles, which may seem at odds, but I've decided to elaborate on some ideas to connect them in a way that might make sense for thinking about anthropology, gender, and Christian worship. First, I wrote an article about Zinzendorf's theological anthropology that emphasized Christ's full Humanity through His penis, a distinguishing member of His male sex. I wrote another article about the heresy of Bridal Mysticism, a form of piety that changes the biblical figure of the Bride from the Church to the individual Soul.

Now, I have recently been convinced on the anthropological value of a theory of practice. I acquired this from Bourdieu. The concept, in short, is that if we want to understand Human behavior, we need to look at the common and everyday if we want to understand how a particular society functions. This is the kind of stuff that people assume, that takes on a kind of "natural" feel about it. There are assumed rules and values that people hold implicitly and become ingrained through doing. This is incredibly value for my own work, but also useful in analyzing our current world today.

While Zinzendorf's theory is a helpful reminder, and I still fully agree with the main thrust of the article, we need to take it in stride with the much more fundamental fact of Moravian worship. Part of the tragedy of the Thirty Years War was the spread of a hyper-focus on interiority in the Christian life. Comenius represents this through his dual allegory, Labyrinth of the World/Paradise of the Heart. The first part, which is the majority, reveals the corruption and horror of life according to This Age. This is a magnificent critique, and it leaves one totally in horror. But the solution is weak: Christ meets the Pilgrim in the Chamber of his Heart, where a kind of wedding takes place and renewal begins. From this, the Pilgrim now can see the world differently, walk differently, recognize fellow pilgrims, and press on.

Quite frankly, this is a terrible solution. I am not denying the renewal of the interior that Christ effects, but there are some major problems. Firstly, the kind of individualism runs against the social dimension of the Church, which exists beyond the sum of its parts. But secondly, this form of piety invites the homoerotic Bridal Mysticism that I discussed before.

This kind of pious structure went into the Moravians' self construction. Zinzendorf's emphasis on the full Humanness of Christ was a statement, and an interesting one, but Moravian worship practice emphasized a collective individualization, where each Christian was to be wrapped up by the Bridegroom. It was this practice that led to the Sifting Time, which according to recent scholarship was a radical outworking of Zinzendorf's liturgical innovations by his son. This resulted in gender-bending and homoeroticism, as Christian Renatus declared that all the brothers of his settlement (Herrnhag) were sisters. Zinzendorf cracked down on his son, but one ought to contemplate the the chain of events.

Perhaps this turn reflects the problem of Evangelical piety more broadly. Now there were other turns in Evangelical theology, reflecting different errors and problems that have come home to roost in the 21st century particularly, I want to emphasize on the gender element.

Beyond the homoeroticism of Bridal Mysticism, there is a particular gender ideology at work that accompanies this individualizing. The male represents the active and the female represents the passive. Thus, worship represents the ultimate emasculation, a clarion call for men to renounce their maleness before the truly male god who makes women of them in their passivity. To put it crudely, worship becomes a spiritual prison-shower scene.

None of this has to be explicitly stated, but is enacted through particular liturgical forms of worship. A social imagination that sees gender in this way, and the enactment of such through piety can only be the horror of horrors. We see this not only in the absurd "worship" music that sounds like bad pop music with a heavenly boyfriend, but also in a call for a certain passivity in life. Christianity in this form, without Church or a biblical piety, becomes an agent of annihilating masculinity, while simultaneously reinforcing it in the realm of politics. Men avoid worship, but enact the same principles through government and economics. In a sense, these realms become a means for men to become gods over women, while avoiding their feminization through worship. This creates some of the abuses of the American patriarchal system that is meeting its death-knell in the gender insanity of 21st century America.

This American Evangelical Christianity, strangely, became a mechanism that both dominated, but was also disregarded. And in turn, it has been disparaged and hated by the new guard that has taken over America politics. In some ways, I am glad, for it gives space for those who want to think about the future of the Church. The vision of the Christian society has brought about an onslaught on Christ's Church while also entrenching a dominating Babylon.

The Moravians represent one strange example of this phenomenon, and the Sifting Time ought to reveal a kind of prophecy for what was to come. Now a days only strong forms of gendered identity for men come through rigidity and violence, and hence men go streaming into the army, the police, or the gangs, if not some sort of pseudo-martial organization. There's something to this that Christians ought to pay attention to, but suffice to say this leaves men in the Church as either with little place for a masculine existence or one that is hidden or compromised by these other factors.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Figuralism and Allegory in Tolkien and Lewis

My dear acquaintance Proto wrote a piece about the cosmology of Tolkien and Lewis and its interplay with Christian theology, Medieval context, and the demonic ideology of Dominionism. I wanted to add some additional thoughts:

I grew up with Lewis and Tolkien, like many boys, and fell in love with the stories. This was long before I converted, and in both cases I had little to no understanding of the quite obvious parallels in their works. In the years that I've been a Christian, I've learned to appreciate these fantasies for their interesting cosmological discussions and play in a beautiful world.

However, I want to root my discussion in a brief tiff between Tolkien and Lewis over the latter's Narnia chronicles. Tolkien thought that Lewis was being lazy and not creative with his particular world. At first, when I heard about this, I thought that Tolkien was being a snob. This was a case of intellectual elitism, or literary pride. And, in addition, I chalked this up to Tolkien's lack of evangelistic zeal that motivated Lewis. Narnia was trying to reach more people, bringing down Christian symbols into an easily digestible form. Tolkien was not being a missionary in his fiction.

Or so I thought. I now see problems with this rebuttal of mine. And in a reversal, I think Tolkien was right, though perhaps for the wrong reasons, to disparage Narnia.

The problem with Narnia is with the very fact of its parallels and cosmological paralleling of the Bible. This is the danger with allegory. Best exemplified by St. Paul, allegory is how one situation reveals the Real. Sarah and Hagar show the interplay of God's free city and those who seized upon the promises to build God's promise in their own image, corrupting it. Thus, Hagar becomes the mother of the shackled and the earthy. It is not opened up to God's creative transformation, but is another attempt at Babel. It's man for God, but working against Him.

Allegory is not, in and of itself, bad. But the warning that should be present is the connecting of the Real with historical event. Aesop's allegorical stories may be true or may not be true, but by connecting fantasy through this is to highlight the moralism of the task. It's a kind of argument for the world that exists. But isn't this part of the purpose of the Bible? In some sense, Narnia's function as a tool of evangelism through allegory is an absurd doubling. Why not read of Christ's passion and not Aslan's? Because, as the lion says, "find me in your own world"? It's in this that Narnia functions as a kind of propagandistic fashion. In some ways, that should offend Christian ethics, it is a trick. It's a clever turn.

Despite a previous post highlighting Lewis' spy career, I am not imputing this sort of methodology at the heart of Narnia. But what is the point of Narnia besides a shadow commentary on the inadequacy of the Bible or a kind of shadow evangelism through ignorant parents. The functionalism of modern day Evangelicals, when it comes to art, is disturbing. This explains, perhaps, in part why Evangelicalism can't make good art, as all art functions as propaganda. Narnia is an amended Bible.

I am being harsh, I admit, but I think it's for good purpose. All art makes an argument, that is without a doubt, but there's a difference between art-has-argument and art-is-argument. This is a collapse of any metaphysic of Beauty and denying creation as having any integrity derived from God's will and act. God's pronouncement of good upon the creation is not merely a judgement per Human words, but the fundamental ontological creative-judgement of the Word. It's in such a vein that the Word of God took flesh for the sake of redemption and transformation. Despite whatever Lewis' intentions, Narnia has taken on a major role of a propaganda tool and a replacement Scripture among quite a few Evangelicals. This fits into the kind of domionist-mindset.

However, Tolkien's Middle Earth was different. It took a long time to realize that Middle Earth was shaped by serious Christian convictions. It's because his tale is not an allegory, as I've defined it. Instead, his world provides the backdrop for an interplay of different figures. This is still making an argument as to the Real, but it's in a different key. There is no Christ figure in Middle Earth, but there are different characters that embody the figures that Christ assumes. Tolkien paints a fantastical picture that mixes and matches these figures in ways that explore different angles or themes. This is what makes fantasy good.

This sounds somewhat like Lewis, but Middle Earth is not suppose to be merely another world, colonized with the same narrative. It's different. It instantiates these figures into different contexts and allows a different kind of play. This might be misunderstood as Neo-Platonic, but it isn't necessarily. Christian orthodoxy and Neo-Platonism share a metaphysical commitment to a Real, whether it's the realm of Forms, Emanations or, in the Christian case, the Mind of God. Tolkien is not trying to write another Gospel in this, but is allowing a mind soaked in the figures of Scripture to play and create. Tolkien is arguing for a particular reality, but that's not why he is writing. There's something about Middle Earth that resonates, perhaps, because it merely reflects how things really are or how things ought to be, without trying to replicate particular narratival themes.

Tolkien's reprimand to Lewis that he was too obvious was not an appeal to cleverness only. It also has to do with the very fabric of art. Narnia comes off as an alternative world, whereas Middle Earth is a fantasy. I know the distinction I'm trying to draw is very subtle, but it's important. Aslan pretends to being Christ in a way that Frodo or Aragorn do not and cannot. Narnia ends up turning the Bible on its head as another fictional world. While wisdom, courage, salvation can take form in a wholly fictious world, Christ cannot. Nor should we ask for such, except in the very particularities of His life.

Hopefully, this might help rethink how we assess art, recognize propaganda, and proclaim the Gospel.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Known Unknown: the Holy Spirit, Participation, & History

I'm revisiting an idea that I briefly addressed before. In this post, I spoke about the neglect of the Holy Spirit in confessional doctrines. The Apostle's Creed merely affirms belief, and later Constantinopolitan Creed we have a little more ("...the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who Proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets"). But, as per my other post, I commended we move beyond.

I think I put my finger on something important, but in reflection, I'm not sure I had it right. I was right to critique the theology that undergirded the painting of the Resurrection, where the Holy Spirit is nullified before a Zeus-like Father and a half-dead, paisley green, Son, fresh out of the tomb. The Holy Spirit was reduced to the effect of the Father's cape.

But I'm still missing something, and it's in the theological exposition of the very Scripture I seek to highlight.

I was in a conference where I heard the complaints and critiques of not sufficient inclusion of the Holy Spirit in the Reformed tradition. I think that's somewhat fair to make. But the solutions were hardly better than mere recognition and a pastiche of Bible quotes about the Holy Spirit from the Gospels and Acts. Though the speaker was impassioned, there was, perhaps, more heat than fire. Especially, considering, she was more or less speaking to a sympathetic audience. The agreed upon castigation did not really get at anything besides saying that the Holy Spirit was, in fact, God.

But it was that very lack of explication that is the problem. Ephraim Radner highlighted this for me in his theologico-historical work on the Jansenists. Suffice to say, Radner recognized a continuing problem in a certain Augustinian formula of Trinitarian relations that, surprisingly, Jansenists, even as staunch Augustinians, somehow avoided making, while their opponents, mainly the Jesuits, followed Augustine's trajectory. What this resulted into was a functional account of the Holy Spirit.

Augustine relegated the Holy Spirit to being the Bond of Love that united Father and Son. In this way, Augustine would call the Holy Spirit Love Itself. Biblical references to God as love were referring to this reality. But, of course, problematically this means the Holy Spirit becomes devoid of a fully functioning Personhood. Instead, the Holy Spirit is an attribute or a relation (Augustine had less problem with this latter idea). This conceptual arrangement would form other sorts of attributal connections to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is "Will", "Desire", "Holiness" etc etc. This solves certain intellectual problems of why the Holy Spirit, but it's a cheap way out.

Practically, Radner argues, this sort of thinking led to the collapse of the Holy Spirit into His own fruits. If the presence of the Holy Spirit produced spiritual virtues, discourse about this became very close to collapsing Holy Spirit into these features. Hence, the Holy Spirit is Love. But, this is not all. Perhaps, this manifested itself in other kinds of collapses. One sees this in Rome's notion of the Church's indwelling of the Spirit leads to a fuzzy thinking about the Magisterium's infallible teaching authority. One also might see this in forms of Providential thinking, where the Holy Spirit is Providence. It's not a hard skip to see how this blurred the boundaries between Christian theology and Stoic and/or Heraclitan philosophy. Hence, the early modern/modern World saw the return to a theory of the World-Soul, whether it was in Hegel or Neo-Platonists. Among certain Protestants, the boundary was porous and fuzzy, people not sure of what they were actually saying.

Radner saw this thinking reversed among the Jansenists who'd rather speak of the movement of the Spirit. Or, perhaps in Genesis' terms, the hovering. The first thing this purchases is the fact that the Holy Spirit is never collapsed into any gift. The Holy Spirit might endow love, maintain Christ's Church, and guide the government of Creation. But, there is a functional gap, an eschatological caution, that is maintained. Creation cannot swallow God up, even the Holy Spirit.

However, the second point is more important. This notion of the Holy Spirit's movement keeps us aware that God has created history, time, and utilizes it. While time is created, it existed before the Fall. This has run roughshod over certain Platonic elements among Theologians, who've tried to reject this in ways and forms. Radner highlights a certain kind of participationism that tries to void time as a kind of accident or merely subjective organization of reality.

However, all of this begs the question of time's meaning. Radner's historical approach is quite radical in this dimension. He sees all of history following certain figures of Scripture that are being hammered out through the progression of time. And most primally, this figure is the figure of Christ. History is the forming of Christ's shape, and this is the Holy Spirit's role, revealing and conforming, judging and convicting. And this is the only way we see the work of the Holy Spirit, invisible and unseen, but leaving finger prints. And of what? Christ.

It's in this way that history is not negated or ignored, and yet hopeful perseverance is held out. Temporal suffering was assumed by Christ, and He images it for all people. The Holy Spirit reveals such through insight, wisdom, prophecy, yea, even miracles and dreams. This is the Holy Spirit's movement over peoples and events. Even Jacob's ladder had the ascending and descending of angels.

So, just as we are confronted with the Father, who is Blinding and Unknowable Light, so we are with the Holy Spirit. We are told numerous times in Scripture that we only know the Father through the Son, and we come to the Son through the Holy Spirit's work. That work is not separate. It's for this reason I think it's improper to speak of Christ and His Spirit as two-hands (pace Irenaeus), though I may misunderstand the weight of this metaphor. And it's also wrong, per the Filoque, to speak of the Holy Spirit coming from Father and Son. Rather, it's through the Son, from the Father. Why does this matter? Because it emphasizes that the Holy Spirit, in the history of salvation, is to bring to Christ.

Thus, the Holy Spirit speaks through the prophets. But what does He say? Christ, and the fullness thereof. He is both silent and speaking. He continues to move, revealing the Lord of All. And in this way, we can say we know and we don't know the Holy Spirit. For all we know, and all we are lifted up into, is Christ. And discerning this, and making sense of this, in time and space, for ourselves and others, is to see the residue of the Spirit's work, like the wind rustling the leaves.

All of this is important because it keeps all theology within the parameters of Christology, not unhinged and bound to invite in alien notions. The Holy Spirit is not a particular feeling, mood, set of acts, course of events, or institutional guarantee. But these things might be finger-prints and promises of Christ. And in this world, in the context of the flesh the Son of God assumed, it means looking like a cross. All suffering is assumed by God, none of it neglected or missed. None of it is erased due to inconvenience, for the Logos has assumed the insanity of This Age. The tears of men are stored in a bottle, and it was such a drink that Christ received on that sponge, the taste of vinegar and gall.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, namely bringing Christ to bear upon our world.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Priesthood of All States

Per Nicholas Popper's work on Walter Raleigh and the transformation of historical culture, he highlights how for a new elite in the court of Elizabeth I and James I, like other European countries, began to develop a particular a new historical culture. No longer was history merely an exercise of rhetorical and moral training. Instead, history was a discipline that searched the fragments of the past for information for the future. In this way, the historian was someone who accrued expertise from the Past. This new scholarly elite would inform princes of what pitfalls lay ahead. Popper would refer to this as the Historian becoming a prophet of the sovereign and a minister of the State.

In this telling, minister does not refer to something political as it does theo-political. This coincides with the general turn to the burgeoning state in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. This feature coincided with the Reformation among Northern European (hence Protestant) peoples. This is the deepest and darkest abiding legacy of the Reformation and, I believe, its heart and soul.

As some scholars point out, Luther in a lot of ways was not much of a theological radical. Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux were just as insistence on the power of grace. Erasmus, and others before him, were just as, if not more so, vicious in attacking the moral turpitude of the Church. Contrary to myth, Luther's 95 theses was not the dawn of a new era, but a regular request for debate on a matter of ecclesiatical and theological importance. However, if we're to pick a revolutionary moment, it was the kidnapping from Worms and the sequestering of Luther in Wartburg Castle by Frederick the Wise, the Duke of Saxony. From there, Luther worked on translating the New Testament into German and began a more radical phase of his writing career.

Why was this important? Because Luther gained patronage. This was the reversal of the Investiture Controversy, where the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope battled over the rights of appointing Bishops. The Emperor lost his right over the Church in his lands, but this led to his losing political authority over Church lands. The Pope became a kind of Temporal lord that princes had to appease through the Tithe, a functional tax over all Christian citizenry. Luther's kidnapping and patronage turned the tides as German princes now broke with Rome and joined new state-church apparatuses that they had control over.

Of course, this was not quite Luther's vision. Nor was it Calvin who suffered much frustration at the hands of Geneva's political elite. Zwingli is perhaps the exception, as this was his vision. In fact, we might say that Luther and Calvin, despite their post-facto popularity, were but pawns in a larger political scheme. Zwingli was, in fact, at one with this new arrangement, being simultaneously a pastor and a patriot. He sought to lead Zurich in bringing all the Swiss cantons together in resisting Rome and the Holy Roman Emperor and becoming an autonomous federation. He died on the field of battle.

The real legacy of the Reformation is the assumption of priestly authority by the State. While Rome was power hungry and greedy, signaled by the corrupt Medici banker-family assuming the papacy in the person of Leo X, the Reformers only caused a reversal. Now princes had authority to do with the Church as saw fit. It's more complicated than that, but it highlights a certain direction.

Of course, Rome was not exempt either. Long before the Reformation, the houses of France saw Papal oversight as annoyance and coerced the bishop of Rome to move to Avignon. This is referred to as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, where French royal politics guided the hand of Church policy. On the eve of the Reformation, Italian city-states enforced their desires through the Church and, in the collapse of German solidarity, the Roman Church fell squarely into the hands of the ascendant Spanish monarch. Eventually French princes would join in jockeying for power, with the rogue Cardinal Richelieu trying to play Catholics and Protestants against one another for the glory of the House of Bourbon.

All of this resulted in a certain kind of chaplaincy of the State. The State stood as the mediator between God and Man, something Hobbes merely articulated, rather than invent whole-cloth. And this was everyone. Yes it was the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Reformed. But it was also the Presbyterians (in Scotland), Puritan Congregationalists (in New England & Cromwell's Protectorate), hell, even Quakers (William Penn's Pennsylvania). The State assumed a religious purpose. It's not so hard to see, when stripped of Christian garb, how the more obscene deifications later on occurred. The machinery was all there, whether in the age of Revolutions (France & America), or the Romantic theo-logical conjurations of 1848, or throughout the 20th century in Fascist, and psuedo-Communist, States. The representative of the State, whether prince, president, or party, wields near religious authority over the direction and purpose of the Church.

Sadly, it was groups who were disenfranchised and broken by the threat of power that realized what had gone horribly wrong. The Reformation merely inaugurated the wide-spread of the Priesthood of all States, one that we (the Church) still suffer. May God bring life to His Church and save us from the horror of Babylon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What are the Scriptures for?

This is a short reflection, mixed of dogmatic thinking and personal experience, on the role of the Scripture in the life of the Church and the life of the individual Christian:

The question of the Scriptures is one that can be overwrought and confusing. I came to faith through the soul-care of a beloved friend who had a very high view of the Bible. I thank God for that because otherwise I think I might have remained in my demon-worshiping Christo-Americanism. The actual words of Scripture, whether I stumbled into them myself, or my friend read them, shattered the illusion that I was any kind of Christian. My faith in Christ was an illusion I constructed from my own arrogant fantasies, some vague cultural familiarity with Christianity, and 2-bit philosophy. I was confronted with the very Word of God, and could not avoid this through sophism or selectivity.

I may not be on the same page as where my beloved friend was when we talked, but I needed that. I absolutely did not need anything that possessed tricks and nuance that evaded the fact that I was coming face to face with the God who speaks. I'd much rather have preferred a mute god then the One who would call my life into a crisis. Still, to this day, and despite some struggles, I would call the Bible the Word of God. No, Christ is the Logos, the Word of God, and the Bible is not Christ, but it is His raiment, the swaddling cloth He wears (per Luther). If Mary is the Mother of God, than the Bible is the Word of God, heralding, revealing, and drawing Man towards our Lord and Savior.

But of course, the problem is what role does the Bible have in our lives? How do we read it? As a pagan, I had high reverence of the Bible, I would've called it a holy book and full of God's light, but I dared not to open it. George Washington instituted the Presidential Oath's use of the Bible, even though the man can hardly be said to have been a Christian, in any orthodox sense.

While the Bible was written by diverse authors through a long span of time, it is believed (and constituted in such a way) to be a unified corpus. While there are many books, it speaks with a singular, though multiform and symphonic, voice. We might say that though it has many authors, it has One editor, namely the Holy Spirit. In this vein we might say that, due to its Divine editorialship, it is infallible and authoritative. God does not lie, God is not confused and divided within Himself. But none of this actually helps us read it. Thus, inerrantist obsession in the modern Evangelical world, while understandable given the climate of Biblical criticism, is unhelpful. What good is an infallible witness if we can't read it?

The Reformation, among with others, have affirmed the perspecuity of Scripture, which I believe to a degree, but given the diverse sects of every degree, clearly this is not the case. That is unless one wants to take the high-ground, asserting the truthful reading at the expense of all the deluded and blind. This is stated by the ultra-Reformed Presbyterian, the Mormon, and the Quaker. This is severely problematic and can only result in division or, ultimately, bloodshed. Roman Catholics, and others, will step in and offer the possibility of a Magisterium of sorts, but this only compounds the problem. If the Pope authoritatively can interpret, ex cathedra, how are we to interpret what he says? If we argue for a consensus of the Fathers, what if they disagree? Vincent of Lerin's Canon (we ought to believe what is everywhere, always, by everyone) is helpful for fostering a peaceable spirit. But this is many times a gloss for more complicated problems: how would we actually know what this is?

Let's look at this another way, and I'll lead in with my own personal affect.

What is Scripture even doing? I've been tempted in two directions, both of which are severely problematic. The first had me take Scripture as a guide for all positive affirmations in a proscriptive sort of way. Scripture would tell me, explicitly, what all I needed to do. This fell apart quickly for me as there is much "data" of Scripture that is seemingly useless or trapped infinitely in the past. While the Old Testament might tell me of the coming Christ, what help is beyond that? The New Testament seemed to provide forms, but there are severe gaps as to what that might actually mean for enforcement. The problem with this is that I am left with a pristine book of a secure past, but everything outside of it is problematic.

We might call this the Fundamentalist type of Biblical reasoning, and I found it severely limiting. Not only does one waste the entirety of Church history, but it keeps it trapped in a bubble. The Bible is pristine, but barely thrives in the modern world. I see many Evangelicals possess this hermeneutic and deal with this problem by crowbarring the Bible into all sorts of bizarre hobby horses. These little projects involves trying to validate the Bible through science, or politics, or moral reform, or what have you. This does little to actually bring the Word of God to bear upon the present day.

Many Evangelicals get sick and restless with this view. They'll move onto higher Church traditions or into a kind of salad-bar Emergent path. In this, the Scripture actually loses its spine in a lot of ways. One way is a pseudo-Barthian divorce of the spirit of Scripture from the text, locking away the truth in existential experiences. This is not unique, as it is a similar mood for some of the Allegorical "spiritual" readings of Scripture. The Bible becomes a kind of open book, peering behind words of this and that.

For me, this lead to a dual result. Firstly, it made me uninterested in reading the Bible. Call me fickle, but I found it more edifying to read theological works by others. I am not saying such is not good and helpful for reading the Scripture and seeking God. But what I am saying is that they are no replacement, because quickly you're adrift in an ocean of confusion. You go looking for some authoritative understanding and you get lost in a flood of opinions. For this reason some find rest in a constructed sense of Magisterium or Consensu Patrum, it's the only way to make sense of the vast ocean of tradition that sometimes speaks at cross purposes. Secondly, I began to wonder why the Bible was even useful. Couldn't I find the same allegorical truths in Homer or Dr. Seuss? Perhaps the Bible contains all the Truth, and I'm not denying that one can be edified by Homer or by Dr. Seuss. But it robs the Bible of its place as the measure for the life of the Church.

Of course, I discovered accidentally a better way to see things, and one that has been more common than not in Christian tradition. The Bible contains many typologies that remain in play for the life of Christ's Church, possessing ideas and words that make sense of things for us then, now, and tomorrow. Thus Old Testament figures can speak to us still as being types for larger entities and movements. We see this in the deployment of the person of Jacob being a representative for the whole of Israel, and then namely Christ Himself. Thus, Christians, as Christ's Body (another Scriptural type), still interact with the truth of this for us now.

This sort of Biblical reasoning applies a kind of Realism to the Scripture, revealing how these ideas are not free-floating, divorced from their own historical fulfillment, but they exist outside of their particular context. In other words, David is not just an accident and the figure of David remains in play throughoutthe life of the Scripture and beyond. This type helps us understand ourselves and our current predicament even now.

This sort of reasoning is open to all kinds of abuse. We see this in Puritans calling the King of England (Edward) as the new Josiah, or as Mary Tudor a Jezebel. But even if there was confusion in the application, this does not invalidate the method itself. The process of engaging in such thinking involves a communal effort in seeking the Scripture as good Bereans. This itself is a type for how the Church ought to be together and consider the truth in weighing things. Thus, the life of the Church jumps off the pages of Scripture and moves beyond it, but wholly within its frameworks. The Church extends through time and space but under the government of the Spirit, the author and possessor of all such figures and types.

I think this makes more sense of Christian history and what we are to do now. Primitivist movements are deluded in thinking they can get back to the First Century. The Church grows and develops, but always in accordance with the figures of Scripture. There was no wholesale corruption over the first centuries after the Apostolic Age. There was not even a closure of the Apostolic Age. We still live in the era of the Apostles, but, as per the ontology of the Scripture, we live among the figures without necessarily the persons. Jacob still was acting on the pages of Scripture, even though he was dead and buried for centuries. There have been those (individuals and groups) who've taken the role of Peter in bravado and failure, turning against Christ and then turning to Him in repentance. There have been those (individuals and groups) who have taken the figure of Judas, betraying the Christ for a bag of silver.

An example, perhaps, that use to vex me. I wondered how the early Church went so wrong so quickly. One looks at how the rise of bishops occurred. Was this vanity and arrogance strong-arming the Church from its non-hierarchical stance? No, Christ commissioned Apostles, there was always an authority structure. So, whence Bishops? Well, St. Paul talks about "offices" of the Church in his letters to Timothy and Titus (Pastoral Epistles). If we look at these things as figures, we see ways that keep us to the text and Spirit of the Scripture. The figure of Episkope, Oversight, is one frequent in Paul's epistles. How do we bring such about, a necessity, in the life of the Church? How do we consider how a congregation might merely become a sect and separate from others? The Apostolic Age that we live in, revealed in the New Testament and hidden in the Old, instructs us how through figures and types. The rise of bishops was/is a way to be faithful to this, but of course we must keep ourselves accountable. In what way might the "office" of Overseer/Bishop overreach its purpose? Medieval Rome reveals such examples.

It's in the above sense that we might appreciate, though possibly (or certainly) disagree with, Anglican apologists who said the Church of England is in the form of the Primitive Church. They did not mean literally, but perhaps in the spirit of figures and types that we know from Scripture. I do not really think any Anglican apologist thought the Apostles had cathedrals, stoles, or incense. But, they might argue, this is only fulfilling types in the proper form of worship.

In this way, I've rediscovered some of my original love for the Bible, though I hope it grows and overtakes my original zeal. The strict boundaries of a Fundamentalist approach murder the text, but they are not wrong to rely upon the Scripture. Of course, it led them to misunderstand the past in pretty disastrous ways. The spiritual/Allegorical approach is not wrong to see that the text is beyond the ink, but can often dissolve the very words themselves, which coinhere (directly!) with one another. In this way, I am a kind of Biblicist and literalist when it comes to the Bible. I am not ashamed of the Scripture, and I can offer reasons why this is so.

I hope this piece is helpful for anyone who struggles with this question. If you need more clarification, please comment.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Duality: Distinction without Division

As per my other post, having looked at some of the problems with both dualism and monism, I will try to articulate a way forward. But before getting in, I will define my terms, briefly, again.

Monism is the idea that sees Oneness over all difference. This might be because difference is an illusion, or a problem to be overcome (whether by man or God). No orthodox form of Christianity (i.e. accepting an infinitely qualitative Creator-creation distinction) is strictly Monistic. However, certain forms have tended this way by either adopting a form of Pantheism or Panentheism. There are also movements that have sought to collapse all difference in Creation through conquest or certain eschatological theologies.

Dualism is the idea that sees a strict, sharp, and thick dichotomy between things. Certain forms of difference become permanently fixed. Sometimes this borders on a kind of Manichaeism (i.e. equi-potent forces of Good & Evil, God & Devil) or theologies of the Wholly Other between God and Man. This sprouts up throughout Christian theology commonly, and is the vague framework most confused pop understandings use for Christian theology.

As one can see, both sides have things going for them. What I'm offering is the idea of Duality. While similar to Dualism, the difference is in the permanence and sharpness of the line that separates. It also accounts that not all difference is division, that features may complement and be together yet separate. Thus, one might say that Duality is a soft form of Dualism, but I'd hesitate on that. Dualism tends towards polarities, while duality will tend to reveal symphony, synthesis, cooperation, participation, and interaction. Instead of trying to define a principle of duality, I will give examples throughout the Scripture to highlight what I mean.

The First: Creation. When God created, He set up many boundaries between certain realities. He set darkness from light, waters above from waters below, land from water, beast from man. While these boundaries exist, they can be traversed. In fact, the hope is a rightful kind of transcending of boundaries. But more often than not, these boundaries are transgressed. The wickedness of the Earth invites the flood that wipes out all of Mankind (except Noah and his kin). Man's sin makes him more bestial, worshiping his belly as god, among all sorts of other beasts. Thus the boundary is permeable.

The Second: Man & Woman. God separated the Woman from Man's side as a suitable partner. This is the beginning of sexual differentiation and marriage. Despite modern advocates, genders are binary. However, as is true and now a dominant belief, genders are cultural. Men are not born male, and women are not born female; these are genders to grow into, as a sign of maturity. The border is permeable, and as per creation, sexual confusion is a kind of creational confusion. This ought to be the prime argument Christians used to explain marriage and justify the particular gender duality. Of course, most modern advocates for LGBTQIA+ decry the notion of created sexuality and God's intention for not only men and women, but also male and female. There is not merely one or the other, but it is something one must become, but become as per the pattern of Creation. The boundary is a permeable one, for both ruin and glory. I will return to the latter later.

The Third: Israel/Church: When God called Abraham, and blessed him with the promise of seed, this was the foundation of Israel, the holy people of God. Israel was separated from all the other Nations, and given temporary Sinai-Torah proclamations about how to police this boundary. Of course, Israelites might forsake this and begin to act like the Gentiles. This did not make them not Israelites, but Israelites who sinned. They were called to something, and rejected it. The boundary, as the borders of Israel, were permeable. Israelites were not immediately cut off for their sins, acting contrary to who they were, even if they were met with judgement.

But lest we forget, Israel was tasked with a mission. Israel was distinct, but was to operate as a Priest for the Nations. It was to Israel that others would come, and eventually lay down their treasures in the Temple and worship the True God. The destiny for Israel was transcending of the boundaries, where the other nations would come in. Israel was to eventually blur the boundaries, and such is the function of Israel's transcendence into what we commonly call Church, the Body of Christ. Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, an Israel in the Flesh, who broke down the boundaries in His body. In Him, the border is transcended as Israelite(Jew) and the Nations(Gentile) are gathered in as One. Now the boundary is fuzzy, but distinction still remains, as Jews still the one's to whom the promise was given.

As per the above examples, all of Creation is to be united, while maintaining distinctions. The sexual differences of gender are not to be erased, but transcended in their incorporation into Christ (no male or female in Christ). There is no more division, even if there remain distinction. Thus while we will remain men and women, we will not give or be given in marriage in the Resurrection. The old order of things will come to a conclusion as we enter into another age. These blurring of boundaries, distinction without division occur elsewhere.

The Fourth: Heaven and Earth. Creation was divided into Heaven and Earth, or as we might conceive of it, spiritual and physical. However, it's perhaps less helpful to think this way. In a Dualistic paradigm, matter is of a fundamental different nature than spirit. But perhaps not. As St. Gregory of Nyssa postulated, and modern physics is coming to grips with, perhaps the differences between energy and matter are not so different after all. It has to do with "density" (something Christians who reappropriated the Platonists knew).

What we know as physical matter is just "heavier" and "thicker" than what we know as light and flame. And perhaps as others have considered, Angels and the realm of Heaven are a more refined matter that possesses more refined bodies. Of course, God dwells in Heaven, but He is beyond Heaven as well. He dwells in both Heaven and Earth, and beyond all created realities. In the Parousia, Christ will reunite Heaven and Earth and the current boundaries will blur. Heaven will descend down to Earth in the New Heavens and Earth. Distinction will remain, but we will be blessed with spiritual bodies, material of more refined essence. St, Origen nor other Christians who utilized Plato and other Platonists were not Gnostics. They actually might have grasped created reality better than the Modern age has.

The Fifth: Logoi and Created Things: This is a kind of addendum of the previous topic. However, a question that has plagued philosophy is whether or not things are "Real" or are nominal. In other words, does a "Tree" really exist or are the collection of things we call trees just a Human convention for similar, but different, discrete objects? While this is not a big deal, when it comes to the big transcendentals (Good, Truth, Beauty) it gets dicey. We're prone to get gored on Socrates(Plato)'s Euthyphro dilemma: are things good because the Divine Authority says so, or does the Divine Authority say so because they are good? The former makes them arbitrary (and the side many Christians would rather get speared on), the latter makes the Divine Authority unnecessary (and actually rather creaturely). Of course, many philosophically astute Christians would say that God contains the transcendentals. But the paradigm of duality helps make sense of this, as individual instances of the Real make them not merely simulacra (illusions to be overlooked to see the Real). Why does this matter? Because when God created, He did not merely randomly compiled molecules, but had a plan for the Creation (thus the things pre-existed in the mind of Christ, the Logos). However, as they participate, they have an independent identity from the Real. Thus, things can participate fully or slip away. The dying of the Created order reveals the blurring of boundaries as things cease to be the Real things they are intended to be. But, in Christ's return, the groaning creation is to find unity with the Heavenly Ideals from which they draw being. This section is for the more philosophically inclined, but it's worth further reflection.

The Sixth: Heaven and Hell: I don't like these terms, but they are so common. I'd prefer, as per Scripture, the Resurrection to life and the resurrection to damnation. But, of course, what does damnation really mean? I am relatively agnostic on this, not wanting to get into the debates over the nature of Hell. However, if we appreciate an eschatological erasure of division without distinction, we can posit some theories that have circulated. Will damnation be eternal destruction, a closing of the door upon the age with those who've rejected Christ locked on the other-side. Does this mean obliteration or what? As per N.T. Wright, are the damned locked into the bestial state that they've chosen? Is damnation eternal, but the ability to cross not (i.e. like C.S. Lewis's  The Great Divorce or George Macdonald's Lillith)? Could there be still a hope for a final salvation of all, even the Demons? To dogmatically rule on this is foolish, as Christ is rather adamant about judgement. Those who refuse the life of mercy, to reject Christ's Second Adamhood and the restoration, and transfiguration, of Human nature, refuse the destiny of Man. But thinking this through, with tentative thoughts, suffused with hope, ought to be considered carefully.

The Seventh: God and Man: As per St. Athanasius, and others, God became Man, so Man might become a god. The idea was not a confusion or erasure of the infinite Creator-creation distinction. Far be it! Rather, it was that Man transcended his own nature in his nature's transcendent calling as Image of God. Thus, man is opened up infinitely towards an Infinite God. We move towards God infinitely, even as He is Infinite and can meet us in the distance. This is a way to get around the problem of either man being eternally distant from God or the seeming problem of collapsing Man into God. It's hard to imagine distinct men and women in Paradise, while also saying that we are united with God and become "partakers of the Divine Nature" (as per St. Peter). We truly see God as He is, but that does not mean we become erased in the process. As radical as it might seem, we become sons of God by grace as Christ is the Son of God by Nature, per Maximus. This might need to be qualified depending on who you are talking to, but it rings with truth. If Christ is fully Human, there our Human nature, like His, becomes transfigured for our own individual personal instantiations of it.

I hope this clears up, somewhat, what I'm talking about. The above are all reasons why Duality, and the distinction without division, remains very important. Not only does it avoid philosophical problems, but it provides a logic for Christians trying to answer difficult questions for our modern age. It has import for thinking and talking about homosexuality and marriage, Christian hop and the resurrection, spiritual realities (angels, demons, etc.), the Church and the State, and many others. In fact, it's sort of applying Christ's hypostatic union (100% Man, 100% God, together, without confusion but without division) to created realities. It shows how, perhaps, Christology is not foreign to the rest of the Scriptural narrative, but also helps one understand it. Reworking St. Augustine's formula, Christology, revealed in the New Testament, is hidden in the Old Testament.

I hope this is a helpful paradigm.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Health of the Soul

It's very easy in life to neglect one's own health. Most visibly, one sees this in someone who works too hard or is too focused elsewhere to pay attention to their body. One sees this also in addicts. The body is neglected for some other thing. This is not wholly bad, for sometimes we sacrifice physical functions for a greater good.

But often, especially in the Evangelical world, we do not understand or appreciate soul-care. Most Evangelicals don't know what it is, and it becomes the domain of psychology. Yet this is fundamental to the role of the pastorate and a a necessary in the gifts of Christian leadership. This is therapeutic, but not necessarily what most mean by the word 'therapy'. This is about what the Patristics referred to as overcoming the passions. It is learning how to recognize the torrents of evil in one's soul and resist and bring healing.

Reflect on St. Isaac of Nineveh's words. See this warning, and turn back to the mercy of God. Living according to this is more important than all else:

"Many have accomplished mighty acts, raised the dead, toiled for the conversion of the erring, and have wrought great wonders; and by their hands they have led many to the knowledge of God. Yet after these things, these same men who quickened others, fell into vile and abominable passions and slew themselves, becoming a stumbling-block for many when their acts were made manifest. For they were still sickly in soul, and instead of caring for their soul’s health, they committed themselves to the sea of this world in order to heal the souls of others, being yet in ill health; and, in the manner I have stated, they lost their souls and fell away from their hope in God. The infirmity of their senses was not able to confront or resist the flame of things which customarily make wild the vehemence of the passions"