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"

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Mercy is the Face of God

Righteousness is a dirty word for many English speakers. Usually, righteousness connotes what is in fact self-righteousness. Most people, even Christians, tend to run away from the word. We never really want to be righteous. Even people who highlight the fact that we are 'justus et peccator' (just and sinner) tend to emphasize the 'peccator'. Many young Evangelicals will highlight this, and not necessarily for bad motives. Sometimes it's to avoid genuine accusation and hiding in our sins viz. a doctrine of the Fall. Othertimes it's an effort to evangelize, by trying to attack the 'holier-than-thou' attitude most Pagans and Agnostics expect from Christians.

In the past I've critiqued this approach. It is wrong, because it gives away that righteousness could be anything else besides what people expect it to mean. Righteousness becomes, inadvertently, only a legal fiction because anything else would turn you into a snarling, kill-joy jerk. This is the critique I used to offer.

But these Christians have a point. Sometimes it's easy to jump over the reason why things came about in order to correct it. Again, this disposition, whether implicit or explicit, needs correcting. But we must be patient with this. We need to be patient with the Pagans who seriously have a point. Why else could Billy Joel sing "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints; the sinners are much more fun". Yes, we could dismiss him as a foolish entertainer who was ignorant. But that song touches on something true. Some stupid Evangelicals might blame-shift and say that he's talking about Roman Catholics. True, but this attitude is shared by many Evangelicals.

How often might we hear of righteousness? Godliness? Piety? Holiness? These are all dirty words that litter the Scripture. Again, many Evangelicals cringe at them, even if they don't know why. It's the same reason why that "Jesus hates Religion" spoken-word could go viral on Youtube. What is it that even sympathetic Pagans are feeling? Many times this conversation reflects generational differences. Millenials will think they are reinventing the wheel, and older peoples will shake their heads, both rightly and wrong. Yes, many Millenials are stupid and lack critical thinking skills to be able to properly discern good and bad argumentation. Yes, growingly popular theologies/philosophies feed into the tautological loop many are stuck in. I speak as a Millenial. But to hand-wave them (us) would be foolish. They (we) have a point

I'd argue that all of these words have gained a certain dirtiness about them is because they have been detached from any definition. They lack their central place in mercy. Forgiveness is a component of mercy, yet also within mercy is charity and giving. Mercy is the love that doesn't ask in return.

But lest we misconstrue this, let me offer an idea. Some read Jesus' story of the Widow with the Two Pennies in a way that disconnect her action from what this woman sees. Sometimes the emphasis is upon the selflessness of the deed, that she'd give her all, and thus her gift is worth more than any amount of wealth that priests, scribes, or a Pharisaical rabbi could offer. But that's not all. It's not that she merely laid down dead on altar. She did, in a way, but she did so with resurrection in mind. She offered her all, which was nothing, on God's altar because she trusted He would provide.

That's the thing about mercy, as I'm defining it. Mercy is predicated upon strength, though not necessarily your own. One can only true give Himself in the expectation of receiving himself. Forgiveness can only truly occur when we know that God can restore what was lost, since even our petty justice can hardly accomplish this. Mercy is willing to absorb debt, damage, even death, because it knows that the infinite God gives, repairs, and resurrects. Where sin abounds, grace abounds the more. In this way, mercy is conditioned by the life of Christ as the rock upon which virtue is built. It is in His work that mercy becomes our work.

This does not mean relinquishing the work of restoration. But it does give up the power of guilt or shame. And how often are those the everlasting strings that remain? We forgive you, but will never let you forget your crime. Forgive, but never forget is a way of cutting out the radical demand of mercy. In fact, mercy asks us to join in the act of blotting out sins. This is offensive because most episodes never let go. Forgiveness many times invites an attitude of superiority, patronizing, snark. Sin remains eternally as an unbridgeable gap between the righteous and the forgiven sinner. If God were to treat us this way He'd be Satan.

If piety, righteousness, holiness, virtue etc. are not defined according to the merciful heart, then they are worthless terms. As stated above, what makes mercy truly a Christian virtue is the grounded promise and act of Christ. Pagans are capable of telling stories of justice and vengeance, they are able to tell tales of romance and affection for kin, but a robust mercy will always escape such stories. They might whisper of such a desperate need in the Human heart, and try to feed our lust with the blood of the guilty, but such is inadequate. It is living according to the elementary principles of the World that St. Paul talks about.

The Lord's Prayer is rooted in many requests from God, but there is nothing of transformative virtue except this: forgive us our trespasses/sins as we forgive those who trespass/sin against us. It is truly this that St. James, brother of the Lord, references when he speaks of the "royal Law" and that "faith without works is dead". Christ tells us the parable of the man who refused to forgive a small debt, after his large debt was forgiven, and is cast into the darkness.

I thunder this: if piety is not defined according to mercy, it is meaningless. If righteousness is not defined according to mercy, it is evil. If holiness is not defined according to mercy, it is to belong to the Devil. If godliness is not defined according to mercy, it is to bear the devil's image.

Yes, one might see that I'm using the word 'mercy' in a way that the Apostles speak of love. That's not untrue. But no one means anything when they speak of love. It is the easiest word to masquerade anything through. Granted, all language is able to twist and morph in a way to create deception. But mercy still connotes a tenderness that offends, a strange willingness to cover over sins. Or, if you'd like, mercy is the engine that powers the car of love. Without it, it is hardly a car.

I need mercy, abundant mercy. I need deep forgiveness in my life. O God help me. And yet, I not only desire it, but wish to be a vessel of it. May I be merciful to others. In such may I shine the very face of God. That is my prayer. I'll end with the reconciliation of Jacob and Essau (Gen. 33):
Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and there, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants.  And he put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last. Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, “Who are these with you?”
So he said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and bowed down.  And Leah also came near with her children, and they bowed down. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed down.
 Then Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company which I met?”
And he said, “These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.”
 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself." And Jacob said, “No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me.  Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” So he urged him, and he took it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Problem of Monism and Dualism

I want to continue describing my position of 'foldedness'. I want to do this by examining what we might call the "elementary pattern of creation". By this, I mean there seems to be a kind of repetitive fabric within Creation, something God seems to have imbued within created reality. I will has out two popular paradigms, and then reflect upon what I think is a better way to think about it, namely Duality. But I will return to this later.

Allow me first to discuss dualism. Platonic metaphysics is built upon this premise, at least as we discover in Plato or even later Platonists. As we will see, I am not saying Plato is completely wrong, as is popular today. I'll return to this later. However, Plato posits a fundamental dichotomy between the world of the Ideal, the realm of the Forms, and the material world. The former is ethereal and eternal; the latter is corruptible and degrading.

The Human soul, in its reigning intellectual capacities and rightly-ordered affections, belongs to the realm of the forms. It exists as a kind of god, but one trapped in the shifting material world. Unlike Gnostics, who ascribe the world of matter to the intervention of an idiot or evil god, Plato did not see this world as necessarily evil. Rather, this world was merely deficient, a plane of shadows and simulacra. The created world was to be transcended not because it was horribly wicked, but because it is not the true home of the Soul.

But beyond Plato, dualism has many manifestations. It requires hard boundaries. As it is clear from above, Gnosticism is never too far away from any particular kind of dualism. In some ways, Plato is saved by his lack of interest in discovering cosmic origins. Plato thought it worthy to bring the forms to bear on shapeless form (even politics c.f. Republic). But why we ended up the way we did, Plato does not speculate except through "myths", fictitious stories to help the non-philosophic masses have a basic account that they can grasp.

One might say that the Gnostics lacked the sophistication to withhold speculation. Or perhaps they were engaging in a similar enterprise to Plato. They probably did both. But Gnosticism, beyond Plato, injected a kind of antagonism into the relations between the world above and the world below. Dualism doesn't require this, but combined with a certain reading of Scripture, such is inevitable. The world is carved up into the domain of God vs. the domain of the Devil, the Elect vs. the Reprobate. Yes, particular brands of Calvinism revolve around this kind of  dualism. These are hard-lines that are uncrossable. More could be said, but I will pause here and move on to Monism.

Another major philosophical pattern requires an erasure of all boundaries. Thus, reality is actually just One, and only held apart by false divisions and distinctions.The first major philosopher of this, Empedocles, invited a kind of radical skepticism in his wake. All is One, there is no Many, that is an illusion. Everything is not only connected, but identically the same. Anything that would contradict this is only a shade, a false image and misperception of the reality. This we see also in the early modern philosophy of Spinoza. He was accused of both being a pantheist (God is the All) and an atheist. If God is the collective sum of all things, it's not hard to see how that is, essentially, an evacuation of the theological. If everything is holy, then nothing is.

However, there are forms of Monism that do not require such radical commitments. I mentioned Calvinism before, which, many times, was relatively politically benign in its application. At least in its traditional forms. Kuyper was not the first or only, but he is representative of a shift towards a triumphalistic Calvinism that turned Dualism into a Monistic battle cry. All things belong to the Lords, and yet there remains a domain of the Devil. Therefore, Christian soldiers must charge into the breach and conquer. Christ calls 'Mine' over all things, and therefore Christians must bring all things to heel.

This kind of postmillenial monistic doctrine developed among the Puritans (before Kuyper's Dutch Neo-Calvinism). And while this sort of Puritanism was still being formulated, one sees how it was deployed to an exterminatory politics. The agents of Satan (New England Indians) were no longer contended to exist as opposite, they must be destroyed. This sort of eradicatory monism is not merely a Calvinistic doctrine, though it certainly has taken shape there. But its also present in certain radical Nationalisms. Germans were called upon to eradicate all "lesser races" in newly incorporated territories.

Monism as the erasure of all boundaries exists in many forms. One sees a form of monism in the sexuality chaos of the modern era, as the diversity of "orientations" really collapses into a singular notion of "desire" as the chief eraser. One sees this in certain theologies that not only erase boundaries between God and creation (pantheism), but also Israel/Church and World (Sphere Sovereignty, Erastianism, Social Gospel, Caesaropapism), this age and the age to come (deniers of a future resurrection or Christ's Second Coming), even the revealed boundaries of God (Modalism, Unitarianism).

In the last category, we can see a monistically defined doctrine of Divine Simplicity sees the collapse of all categories into one another. Thus, Love is Justice is Mercy is Uncreate is Spirit is God. "Is" operates as a giant equal-sign. Usually proponents of this are careful not to apply this to the Trinity Himself, but sometimes it's not clear.

Dualism and Monism are both particularly complicated attempts to understand the "elementary pattern" of creation. The problem both face can be summed up in an analysis of Human relationship with God. Dualism keeps man utterly separated from God, so to say that Man participates in the Life of God becomes not quite that. Roman Catholics invented the doctrine of "created grace" to avoid this problem. Many Protestants haven't quite figured this out, though some have learned from Aquinas. Since some Protestant theologies (not all, but quite a few) are in danger of collapsing the fullness of the Gospel into forgiveness, paradise seems to be not much different than Muslim conceptions, Man always alienated from God.

On the other hand, Monism would inevitably collapse man into God. While rarely would this result in a kind of transcendence of both God and Man into something else, it usually involves the erasure of Man. In ancient Asian paganism, as per the Buddhist vision, this is  Nirvana, the snuffing out of Human individual consciousness. Man, a drop of water, is returned to the Ocean of Being. In Hegelian metaphysics, the created Other assists God discover Himself and thus, in synthesis, absorbs Creation into His self-transcendence. Mankind, all Human history, and all things are instrumentalized. Certain Thomistic notions of the Beatific Vision have a hard-time explaining how this does not end up in an identification of Man with God, as Man becomes collapsed into God as Man sees God as He is in Himself. In a way, paradise becomes a kind of death, and death a kind of paradise.

In my next post, I will discuss what I consider to be a better option. I've listed many different philosophies and theologians, and I do not hold myself to be more intelligent. But I must boldly speak and lean upon the Word of God to complete this endeavor.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Allure of Glory

As per a previous post, I argued that the idea between inner-outer, in its Platonic and Kantian forms, is too hard a boundary. Instead, I posited the idea of 'foldedness' that better accounts for created realities. My inner-life is not different than my outer-life, but the one is folded within the other. There is no radical disjuncture between the two. Even though Augustine tried to resolve this, he could not let go of certain Platonic metaphysics, even as he tried to reorganize them.

In line with this thought, sometimes I see certain ripples in creation of something deeply strange and bewildering. Imagine, if you will, a sprawling and endless ocean. Perhaps you've seen the ocean calm, and that itself is rather beautiful. But as the tides change, or some other effect, the waves and ripples of the waters sparkle and dazzle. The light of the sun or the moon dances upon the waters, like a troop of faeries enjoying their utter freedom. In that moment, one not only sees the waters, but one sees the beauty of light.

God's presence, His Glory, is many times described by, accompanied by, or is merely light. But this light is not the kind of light that we know, but Light. It is the Uncreated Light of His Eternal presence. And this Light burns through creation, sustaining and preserving it. Even in the twilight of death's reign through sin, the Light of Creation, God's flashing  presence, remains. Beauty still flashes through things. Is it any wonder that many pagans assign their greatest deities as the sun or the moon? In the ignorance of their minds, they've confused the creation with the Creator, but surely, as St. Paul says, Creation itself testifies of its origin and greatest desire.

It is seeing this glory that is the cause of all wonder and affect in the Christian life. We now see that Light, namely Jesus Christ, that Light who went into the World, the Name of God, the Glory of God, who goes forth into all creation, beyond all and yet nearer to all than even ourselves (Augustine). We see Christ as the Light that we've many times seen ripples of in all sorts of moments. We see that the Light is indeed a Person, One who comes to us, to speak to even sinners, even me.

Christ is the Logos, the Word, the governing Reason, of all created things. St. Maximus, following a number of wise Christians, posited that all created things have recourse to a certain ideal that they are to embody. These many governing principles, logoi (plural of logos), are throughout the world. However, as Maximus was rise to add, while every logos has recourse to the Logos, namely Jesus Christ, they are neither individually the Logos, nor if they were all added together would they constitute the Logos. Christ is not the sum total of all the glories within Creation, as if God could merely be added up through the exercise of the mind. However all of these logoi find their place securely in Christ. The many logoi, perhaps, might be described as Christ's garment. They are His, but they are not, constitutively, Him.

Why is this important? Because many times in the Christian life there is a kind of zero-sum game. While I could accuse syncretics and Pluralists, I have more beef with a kind of aniconic, anti-aesthetes, who distrust everything. This is a kind of radical Calvinism, but not strictly Calvinism. It's seen, as a reverberation, in the Utilitarian, ugly approaches many Evangelicals take to life. They not only misunderstand created realities (e.g. there are some really bad "Christian" movies), but they misunderstand the Lord of all creation.

Again, I ask, why is this important? Because if the Christian cannot see the glory of God echo throughout Creation, the great shining Light that enlightens the world and makes all things shine, then we will have an impoverished view of things. And I'm not talking as if this is an intellectual problem. Life will be robbed of joy, our eyes will slowly close towards a cosmic hope for all things, we will have no compelling reason to offer those who know not, or reject, Christ.

I am not refuting that this present age, the world as it is, is horribly broken and full of corruption. It is and creation is still a war zone. But it is land that the Lord of Beauty still has a claim to. It was right before His darkest hour that Christ Jesus shone in the fullness of Light on Mt. Tabor before Peter, James, and John. It is that Light, the presence of Christ, that dances and shines so brightly and beautifully. It is this Glory, this washing of joyful peace, that He comes to bring. It is this Glory that sets our hearts burning, like the disciples going to Emmaus. This is the Allure of Glory.

An undervalued theologian, a truly deep and lovely Christian, who has helped me, and many others, see this is Origen. Despite his shoddy treatment in centuries past, he influenced many of the most profound and inspiring Christian theologians. Origen brought the gospel into every created realm, evangelizing every pursuit of learning, revealing Christ was truly the Light that shone in every corner. This was an imperial vision, but not one like later Kuyperians, who, in a monistic twist, sought to conquer the world.

 I'm not sure what Origen would think of my folded distinction, but I certainly hope he'd approve. Christ did not need to be hoisted atop buildings and Christians did not need to "take over" all founts of culture. Christ was already king over all such realities. Our role was to faithfully follow Christ and, in our lives, be a ripple, revealing the dancing of the Eternal Light. Origen, in the limited capacity that I've read him, has opened my eyes to seeing Christ as the true King, the Reason upon which this creation turns, despite its rebellious and evil state. And Origen knew there was much evil afoot, he was tortured for his faith, and yet refused to close his eyes to the beauty of the Only Begotten.

Origen taught me how to see the true Glory, the incorruptible One that is changeless. Unlike those trying to seize power, many times through politics or cultural influence, we ought to not follow such foolishness. In setting our hearts on the Glory, moving behind the folds of things, our flesh will be spiritualized, rather than in pursuing corruptible ends, our souls becomes fleshy. In otherwords, instead of seeing things rightly, we make God into a corruptible image. Dominionism is a form of idolatry.

I hope it is in this spirit that you might approach whatever it is that you do. Whether its a song, or a piece of literature, a tree, or a Human smile, may we see the Matchless Glory and revel in it. It's this glory that overwhelmed sin and death in the death of Christ. When Christ died, death died, and Christ rose free and gloriously (John Chrysostom). That's my hope.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Who was the Reformation For?

I was reading an essay on the state of the Church in England in the early 18th century. One of the interesting things was the attitude of many Anglican ministers to the idea of international missions. Many parish priests were exhausted in their own task. For them England was hardly evangelized, there was no more energy to exert in the conversion of the many Nations of America. Anglican ministers complain of the vast ignorance and practice of superstition (i.e. many a parishioner had no idea Jesus was divine).

This account gave me some sympathy for the myopic state of Anglican missions throughout the 18th century, and it made me rethink the mindset of the Englishmen that would settle without the Americas and the Caribbean. But most importantly, as these ordained missionaries in England pointed out, parts of England were hardly Christian. And this was from those who were apart of the establishment, not dissenters! For these ministers, the Reformation was still continuing on.

As the above example should show, this was not a conversion away from Roman Catholicism, as if it was ingrained. Rather, it was conversion to Christ plain and simple. Yet, simultaneously, there was widespread affection for the Church of England because of its role as the center of many communities, and a certain sentimental reserve for it. I suppose a modern similarity is how many non-practicing and non-believing people still feel it's necessary to have a pastor of sorts to marry them. It's more superstition and a feeling of tradition than any concrete or tangible belief. America in this regard, like 18th century England, is a "Christian" nation, but this has to do with the ingraining of cultural signifiers without any real content. And of course, I dispute that a Christian nation is a categorical confusion, as it mistakes the nature of the Church for the many nations that come and pass as dust in the wind.

The other thing I'll bring up is a recent interview I heard that had Peter Leithart talking about his newest book. The book and its content itself is mostly irrelevant, but he made a passing comment that made me think. He was saying how, since we live in a post-Christian culture, the kinds of things the Reformation was addressing (i.e. justification by faith) don't quite make as much sense. The question of the nature of God and the nature of our sins and punishment are no longer in the forefront of our collective cultural sensibility. The Reformers' answers only fit properly in their own particular context of a heavily Christianized society, and can not be deployed as universal signifiers.

Now, both I and Leithart are on the same page as regards this. There was a cultural context to the Reformation's answers and they cannot be dropped as if they answer every question of the Human heart (at least in their most common forms). We are both believe the Reformation was a necessary good. But given the above description of England, I now have to ask: who exactly did the Reformation address?

One can examine medieval society and culture and see how many Christian practices and theologies blended with folk practices in strange ways. The Eucharist was considered a kind of fetish of white-magic that allowed the user to bring about good luck, love, success etc etc. Christ's sacramental body became a magical ornament. Given this example, what exactly were many European commoners, or even nobility without theological education, thinking? What did the Reformation mean exactly?

I won't deny the spread of a general numinous feel of being in a world of spirits and a great God over all. And I have no intention to collapse the Reformation's successes into mere socio-political realities (e.g. Dutch resentment against the Spanish, German frustration with Italian dominance vis. the tithe, the opening up of the Americas and a general quest for exploration etc etc.). But what exactly did Luther 'mean' to regular people? While I won't deny that there were a number of people who understood what Luther was responding to, I have to wonder about the majority. Did the Reformation really make sense to most people? Or was it more confined to the debating and polemical theologians?

While I have no proof one way or the another, experience tells me to be skeptical. Especially considering that Luther unleashed all sorts of social anarchic forces and lamented later in life over the current state of moral debauchery. For all its effects, Luther couldn't understand that telling people they were free from the magic of the Church meant they could return to pagan bliss, and hence German princes had to crack down on villages and towns when this spilled out of control. While Munster was not Luther's fault, it'd be hard pressed to deny he didn't have an impact, if not intellectually than culturally.

Of course, I do not look at the Reformation as some golden age of restoration. It had many pitfalls and the Reformers were not absolutely correct in every issue they broached. Most recognized this over time, hence a constant refrain to continue the Reformation. The Reformation was good, but it had much evil. Yet, if we can say that the spirit of the Reformation was to unleash the gospel, than it was distinct failure, as many Europeans were hardly Christian before and after. But perhaps it was a necessary failure, for slowly unmoored from ecclesiastical discipline, mission-minded Christians now saw, in a vast way, the blindness of many of their European brethren. Subsequent efforts were of mixed results.

We ought to consider the specific teachings of the Reformation and reanalyze them through the prism of the Scripture. And this done for the sake of mission, thinking hard about particular contexts. Again, this is the spirit of the Reformation, the recognition of the need to be always reforming, never settling for comfort.