Sunday, August 13, 2017

From the Arms of Robbers: Divine Violence and Salvation

Many people have deep unease, to put it lightly, over the violent sections of the Old Testament. There God seems to be the war-master, bearing the title Lord of Hosts. Well, that's because He is. God is a warrior who has no problem entering into the thick of combat, getting His robes bloodied fighting for Israel against her enemies, enemies that resist not Israel per se, but Israel's God.

Now this unease arises not only from current sensibilities, a mix of philosophy and custom, but also from the New Testament's peace ethic. As I noticed elsewhere, there is a new work by Greg Boyd on the theme of divine violence in the Old Testament. I like Boyd, but the work is not worth a penny. Ten years of intellectual fervor and wrestling for incoherence and stuttering. All of it trying to run away from the plain reality of the text; all of it rooted in stupid indignation. For it is the same Jesus that brings life, restores, forgives, heals, and takes the sword from St. Peter who killed the rebellious Israelites in the Wilderness (ala. St. Jude). Scholarship can be a form of institutionalized, engraved, madness.

Yet it is clear that divine violence does not go away in the New Testament, but it is fulfilled. As St. Paul will notice, we wage war not against flesh and blood. This Greg Boyd understands, without knowing the sense of Scripture's unity. Boyd knows that we are in a cosmic war, but fails to appreciate how this violence is in fact pedagogical. Christian saints ought to be as violent as the Israelite saints. Yet our violence is given a fulfilled form, revealed in the life of Christ. We have better weapons than the Israelites; bronze swords and chariots do not attack the true evil. The wars of the Lord in Canaan were meant for us, as everything in Israel's history. Those who invoke just-war, realpolitik or crusades are Judaizers; while those who despise all violence are gnostics. Neither understands Christ as Lord of Hosts. And at least theonomists believe God is the proper authorizing force to usher war. I can't understand those who herald war, but rightly see Christ as not bringing a sword. These people are half-converted at best; at least in the crusades, one thought he killed for God, but what worth is it to kill for prince, country, or state? That is sheer lunacy or disguised Paganism. If one sees the abundance of American paraphanalia in churches, and keeps in mind that the Romans believed Rome herself, the city and its government, was a god, one can sadly say the latter is prevalent.

Peacemaking is a form of warfare. Baptism is the drowning of judgement upon the sons of Adam, the soldiers of Pharaoh's army. Prayer and fasting is to wear the armor of God to combat Satan and his forces. Apologetics is taking all thoughts captive for Christ. Repentance is a daily battle. The victory is guaranteed on account of Christ, who like holy Moses keeps his arms raised for us to crush our sinful passions, inner demons, and selfishness.. This is all the form of love in a sinful world. I conclude with some words from Blaise Pascal:

498. It is true there is difficulty in entering into godliness. But this difficulty does not
arise from the religion which begins in us, but from the irreligion which is still there. If our
senses were not opposed to penitence, and if our corruption were not opposed to the purity
of God, there would be nothing in this painful to us. We suffer only in proportion as the
vice which is natural to us resists supernatural grace. Our heart feels torn asunder between
these opposed efforts. But it would be very unfair to impute this violence to God, who is
drawing us on, instead of to the world, which is holding us back. It is as a child, which a
mother tears from the arms of robbers, in the pain it suffers, should love the loving and legitimate
violence of her who procures its liberty, and detest only the impetuous and tyrannical
violence of those who detain it unjustly. The most cruel war which God can make with
men in this life is to leave them without that war which He came to bring. "I came to send
war," He says, "and to teach them of this war. I came to bring fire and the sword." Before
Him the world lived in this false peace.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"To the Pure, All Things are Pure": Belief and Unbelief in the Shadow of the Cross

Discourses on humility are a source of pride in the vain and of humility in the
humble. So those on scepticism cause believers to affirm. Few men speak humbly of humility,
chastely of chastity, few doubtingly of scepticism. We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction;
we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.

The above quote is from Blaise Pascal in reference to philosophy. For Pascal, the ultimate utility of philosophy is that it reveals the confusions and contradictions of man. All schools of philosophy are valid, because each tells a certain point. To quote another brilliant insight: "If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, till he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster." Philosophy at its best reveals the Gordian knot with desperation; it has no answer besides chopping at it with a sword, mutilating mankind in the process.

However, more to the point, Pascal as a Jansenist believed that fundamentally Scripture reveals two categories of man: belief and unbelief. We might say that all of mankind is revealed when Jesus is on the cross between the two thieves. There is one who repents and throws himself upon the mercy of Christ, the other scoffs and mocks. In the moment of crucifixion, both die, but both see radically different worlds. To the one, there is translucence, Light that is shining through all, even the horror; to the other the world is opaque, fully enthralled to the devil and oriented only towards suffering, confusion, and death.

Pascal's Jansenist vision is stark, but helps make sense of St. Paul's sense that "to the pure, all things are pure", and that while all things are not beneficial, all things are lawful, according to the law of Christ. Libertines like to quote these without appreciating the Apostle's qualifiers. This is not merely according to some utilitarian purpose, but how all of created life exists through proper sight. Per the example above, in unbelief, a story of humility involves the two-sides of pride, arrogance and despair. One reads these and is stirred towards competition, sneering, or complacency, the other turns to tears, fear of judgement, and horror. Both reject a life of faith. Thus, one can hold together both the life of Antony, the first desert monk, and Luther's Reformational breakthrough, a total rejection of monastic life. While Antony can reveal a life turned against lust for wealth and prestige, Luther does the opposite, showing how a monastic life based in pride (in his case the despair side) becomes a tool of Satan.

Protestantism has a tendency to downplay many "monkish" practices. Fasting is mostly disdained, celibacy as anything but a precursor to marriage is seen as freakish, among other practices. Yet these are firmly advocated within the New Testament canon. I understand the whiplash of the Reformers, even if this pendulum swing has become institutionalized into both worldly asceticism (the Bourgeois practices of restraint documented by Weber) and a conscientious rejection of restraint. Fasting in unbelief is arrogant and vile, and so is feasting. All things not of faith are sin. The Jansenists understood the radical dichotomy in the wake of the Messiah. This is key to unlocking both a Christian sense of anti-thesis, and also a Christian sense of being, and remaining, firmly within the World.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Let the Queen Rest: Mariology, Biblical Theology, and Leaps of Logic

I've been reading a lot of great Biblical theology over at "Apologia Pro Ortho Doxa", which is a great source that I've linked to the sidebar. It's definitely worth checking out and soaking yourself in. However, I find it interesting that there are some gaps that one is almost swept across without noticing it.

For example, on a recent post on Mariology, he goes through a list of titles. There's a lot that's solid biblical connecting that has been enlightening. He does a good job connecting numerous Scriptural passages, with their concurrent types, patterns, themes, and logic, to argue that the Bible presents a pretty developed high Mariology. On this, I think he's right. There's sufficient warrant to call Mary Queen-Mother of Heaven, the Ark, Theotokos, etc. It's even warranted to consider Mary as the Ever-Virgin. All of this reflects early piety and ought not to scandalize biblically minded Christians. On the last point, a number of Reformers maintained a belief in Mary's perpetual virginity.

However, right in the middle of the article is the question of Mary's Dormition. The Orthodox do not go as far as Rome: though Mary lived a sinless life, she still was under the curse and was in-sin and had to die. Yet, after three days of laying in uncorrupting slumber, she was raised to life and assumed into Heaven to join her Son. The author makes a weak appeal to a reference in Revelation referring to the presence of the Ark. While, yes, it may be a reference to Mary, it's much more probably a reference to Christ. While there are references to Mary as the Ark carrying God's Glory, namely Christ, it is also equally valid to see how Christ, who was the Image of the Father, was Himself the Tabernacle as well. The classic opening lines of John 1, "The Word took flesh, and tabernacled amongst us", is proof enough. Even if this is a reference to Mary, since Christ bears her humanity, her flesh, this would still only mean that Christ, in the flesh, was present in the Heavenlies, centered in the throne of God's temple.

Of course, the cash-out for our friend is that this affirms Orthodoxy and (partially) Rome's doctrine. While I'm not opposed to post-facto reasoning as a jump start to a question, there is danger in it. There are several other posts that make other hops (or leaps) from certain biblical constellations to certain doctrines. One can see this similar leap appear over other doctrines. Yes, even God commands Abimelech to ask Abraham to pray for him in order to lift impending judgement, and yes the saints replace angels in God's divine chambers in Revelation. There may even be a distinction between greater and lesser prophets. Yet, nowhere in Scripture is it clear that God's people communicate with the reposed, or should call on their name for help. Considering this was strictly prohibited in the Old Covenant, one would expect some treatment of this. The same with iconodulia of the Orthodox variety, with canonical standards and rubrics. I understand the logic, employed most powerfully by John Damascene. But considering how crucial they are to proper worship, it makes sense that the legend of St. Luke as a painter must exist if Orthodoxy wants to remain grounded in Scripture. If the New Testament Church lacked icons, then the worship was, at best, improved upon, if not, at worst, inferior. These are a few examples of the leap.

Of course, this negation does not offer a strong and grounded alternative. Many Protestants may not pray to, or invoke, Mary or the saints, but they do not offer reverence for their holy lives lived and offered to God as a sweet incense, turning to smoke and becoming that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds Christ. In other words, there needs to be a robust biblical theology, but one that remains within the logic of the text. While Scripture may draw together a picture of Mary, the humble-but-exalted Queen-Mother of the Heavenly Man, there is little warrant to beseech her throne. The pattern ends there; we are turned to Christ as our mediator, our greatest prophet.

The blog is still brilliant. It's a good place to cut your teeth on biblical patterns and canonical reasoning. However, even so, it's easy to be swept across a gap to something else. Indeed, as many Fundamentalists know, the prophets excoriate the offering of sweetcakes to the Queen of Heaven. Perhaps that's a typological warning.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Felling the Donar Oak: A Personal Allegory

The story of the Donar Oak is a fascinating one. In it, St. Boniface, a missionary among pagan Germanic peoples, came to a challenge of faith. The pagans held that a certain tree in the village was holy, consecrated to Thor. Boniface offered a challenge to their god: if he cut down the tree, or at least attempted it, Thor in his fury would crush him. This would be proof of the god's power and mastery. However, if Boniface's God was true, then no such harm would befall him. As the story goes, Boniface swung at the tree, making a deep cut, which was followed from a gale force that blasted the tree down, splitting it into four pieces, forming a cross. These pieces were used for the construction of a church, which many Pagans, in awe, renounced their god and turned to Christ.

I don't know if this story is true, though on historical grounds, not because I don't believe the Spirit works miracles. However, I enjoy the story a lot, and have a picture of it I like to ponder. As I was looking at it, I had a flash of insight about it. I recognized the story as an allegorical reflection of my own life.

I've always found the Norse gods interesting. First and foremost, the gods are mortal; they suffer pain and can die. In fact, they not only can die, but are ultimately doomed to die. The gods, among their many allies, including the honorable dead allowed into Valhalla, know they will perish. They know the prophesy of Ragnarok, where the Ice Giants will rise up against Asgard. The gods and their allies will put up a valiant fight, but they will lose. All of the worlds will be consumed in ultimate destruction, and the Giant Serpent, coiled around the World Tree, on which all worlds dwell, will be destroyed.

I've been drawn to the kind of existential dread this cosmic view produces. There's a kind of stoic nihilism about it. Similarly to the Stoics themselves, there is the belief that one day the entire world will be engulfed in a conflagration. However, unlike the Stoics who believed this was the end point of an endless cycle, where out of the ash the entire process would begin anew, the Norse had no such belief (though there are some glosses that a new humanity would be born from the ashes). There was a hard-faced determination to face death, despising it as it claims you. It's not that the gods or the warriors of Valhalla wanted to perish, but there was, perhaps, a kind of grim glee in knowing that one died without giving an inch. At least that is the warrior's illusion.

In someways, this Pagan view of things was the seed of the German Enlightenment. This began with Kant, but sprouted truly with Fichte and Romanticism, with its blending, twisting and turning, within the rationalism left over from the French and Scottish Enlightenments. Herder, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger. These men and many others, in diverse and sometimes contrasting ways, produced the mood of what we might call the neo-Pagan, or perhaps the post-Christian. It was less about explicit rejection of Christ (though there was sometimes that), but it was more proceeding through Him to something new. Beginning in the German Enlightenment, continental philosophy is a kind of rebirth of something old and ancient.

I'm constantly lured to continental philosophy, a veritable labyrinth and maze for the mind. It is forgotten that philosophy has almost always never been severed from some larger holistic project. Rather, philosophy has always been attached to cult, not as something standing outside of it. While Socrates lampooned the foolish devotions of the prols and their justifications, he believed himself possessed of a spirit that spoke to him. Plato turned Socrates into a cult-leader, seeing man's origin and end, and lifting him up. While Plato did believe in the utility of false myth, this was for the purposes of double-doctrine, a manufactured street religion exists for pedagogy while the philosophers worship at the true cult. Elites of all times and places have set a part mystical and magical rites to seek the secrets of the cosmos. Neo-Platonism was not a mere philosophy, but a religion. The Renaissance revival of antiquity studies came with a revival of Hermeticism and esoteric cult rites. Again, this is not necessarily hostile to Christianity, but it reconfigures Christian doctrines, symbols and rites into a different picture.

One must keep all of this in mind when one examines continental philosophy. It occurs to me that perhaps the style of writing is so strange, verbose, and winding for its experiential weight. It has a sacred aura; the word has some goal to accomplish, and to grasp the word, one must study, not merely read, the text. The Bible is similar, and one has to enter into it, wrestle with it, be present within it, to gain understanding. Of course, the Bible leads to Christ. The post-Christianity above rather leads to anti-Christ. One emerges through a torch lit labyrinth to find men wearing animal masks, naked virgins, and a bloody altar. At the center stands the oak, adorned with symbols of the god.

All of this has led me into sins, of both arrogance and cowardice. I've polluted my mind with foolish readings, I've compromised time and again in social settings, I've neglected weighty things for vain conjuring. In the depths of my heart there is a Donar Oak, consecrated to those pathetic, nihilistic gods of yore, full of madness and lust.

But I'm not this oak. Rather, by the blood of Christ and radiant light, I am Boniface. The Christian's life is a life of repentance, every day turning to our God and King. Everyday Boniface must lay an axe to the root of the Donar Oak. Everyday I have to drive out these dispositions. A fool like Schliermacher tried to etch a cross on the Donar Oak; Christ hands us an axe. The only answer for these things is destruction. The inner druid, the harrying of Satan, must be humiliated by the Gospel everyday. And victory belongs not to my swinging, but to the bolt of Divine fire which blows apart the tree. The Lord lifts my hands, and supplies me with heavenly aid.

And as the tree fell, it formed the shape of a cross. The wood was collected and repurposed to build a house for the church. Thus, continental philosophy is not totally useless, it can serve a purpose. But to a purist, for someone who reads the texts as a devotee, who builds their career as a philosopher, expositor, and builder, this is anathema. The reading I have done is not a waste, it can be split open, ripped apart, mutilated, losing all shape and form of its organic beginning, and turned to the comfort of God's purposes. Indeed, Ragnarok has come, but it is in the form of the cross, and I find myself not with the gods and their Asgardian allies, but against them, breaking their teeth, triumphing over them. Worship and praise must be erected in my heart, and the demons banished. My existential constitution is turned inside out, and the core of it is radically undermined. For the axe is laid to the root.

This is an allegorical interpretation of a saintly story. It may sound odd and seemingly conjectured. Rather, while it is a post-Biblical hagiographical story, it parallels with numerous Scriptural themes (namely holy Elijah versus the Baal priests). In addition, the flash of insight connected a lot of dots in my mind. Much of the details of my struggles have been left out, though I will say, being mostly of Germanic heritage, this story has a certain fittingness for me. It marks the struggles I've had and, time and again, God's gracious aid especially in times of darkness. May this story bless you as well as it has me.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Be we as heroic as we like": Eternal Questions and Human Vanity

I don't have much of a gloss to add to this. Pascal responds to those who have no desire to understand eternal questions, those Dawkins-types who shout, "There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life". Here, Pascal's thought radiates with fire and clarity. It is concise, full of power and grace, the perfect twinning of intellect and emotion. It's worthy of reflection.

In order to attack [doctrine of God's existence, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but
without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of
her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I
venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are
of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when
they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some
priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books
and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is
insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we
should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all.

The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us and which
touches us so profoundly that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing
what it is. All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there
are or are not eternal joys to hope for, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and
judgment unless we regulate our course by our view of this point which ought to be our ultimate
end. Thus our first interest and our first duty is to enlighten ourselves on this subject,
whereon depends all our conduct. Therefore among those who do not believe, I make a vast
difference between those who strive with all their power to inform themselves and those
who live without troubling or thinking about it.

I can have only compassion for those who sincerely bewail their doubt, who regard it
as the greatest of misfortunes, and who, sparing no effort to escape it, make of this inquiry
their principal and most serious occupation.

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and
who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince
them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion
is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although
obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look
upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves
me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say
this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to
have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see
what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and
lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly,
that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years
under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy.

There is nothing more real than this, nothing more terrible. Be we as heroic as we like,
that is the end which awaits the world. Let us reflect on this and then say whether it is not
beyond doubt that there is no good in this life but in the hope of another; that we are happy
only in proportion as we draw near it; and that, as there are no more woes for those who
have complete assurance of eternity, so there is no more happiness for those who have no
insight into it.

Surely then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty
to seek when we are in such doubt; and thus the doubter who does not seek is altogether
completely unhappy and completely wrong. And if besides this he is easy and content,
professes to be so, and indeed boasts of it; if it is this state itself which is the subject of his
joy and vanity, I have no words to describe so silly a creature.

How can people hold these opinions? What joy can we find in the expectation of nothing
but hopeless misery? What reason for boasting that we are in impenetrable darkness?

[...]

Nothing reveals more an extreme weakness of mind than not to know the misery of a godless man. Nothing is more indicative of a bad disposition of heart than not to desire the truth of eternal promises. Nothing is more dastardly than to act with bravado before God. Let them then leave these impieties to those who are sufficiently ill-bred to be really capable of them. Let them at least
be honest men, if they cannot be Christians. Finally, let them recognise that there are two
kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because
they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Apostles were Fishermen

Sometimes I'll hear the refrain that the Apostles were fishermen, blue-collar toughs, who went out into the world with no education and turned it inside out. This is usually an anti-intellectual barb, thrown out at professional theologians and seminarians. The apostles lacked education, so why waste time with so much nonsense? The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles all that they needed. Instead, Christians ought to focus on missions and evangelism.

Now this concept has ancient pedigree, going back to St. Gregory of Nazianzus. And I would agree with the concept on the surface of it. Indeed, seminaries can be all too worldly, fitting comfortably within the education-industrial complex that is imploding all around the United States. Ministry has become perverted into a "career" or "profession" that one gains skills in. In a way, this a particular problem spawned from the Reformation's concept of vocation. However, I despise the anti-intellectual bent of this phrase, and its mechanical and misanthropic view of Human being and development. Here are some points on why the Apostles were not merely fishermen.

1) They were Jews. What this means is that they were immersed in the Scriptures from birth. Especially for those living in the Hellenic age, Jews felt a particular type of defensiveness and anti-thesis; the world they lived in was foreign and strange. The system of synagogues helped inculcate living as God's chosen people. The average Jew would memorize large portions of the Torah, even if they were illiterate, from congregational readings. Thus, the Apostles would've been deeply sculpted by the Scriptures and possess great familiarity with them, even if, as the Gospels testify, they did not understand them. Sadly, the same can not be said for many Christians of all stripes. There are many who are biblically illiterate, not having any basic sense or grasp of chronology, signification, pattern, or logic. While the Apostles were not formally educated, their minds were not foreign to the Scripture, but were rather molded by it.

2) They were taught by Jesus. When Christ rose from the grave, He remained for forty days before His Ascension and the coming of the Spirit. In this time, the Gospels repeatedly testify to the fact that Jesus instructed the disciples on the meaning of Scripture, teaching them that the Christ was to die and rise on the third day. Obviously, this does not mean that Christ Jesus merely taught them this as cipher or a code. Rather, He taught the Twelve to see with new eyes, not how to apply an alien fact on top of the text, but to see how this very truth emerges from the entire body of Scripture. I think it's fair to say that Christ did not sit down, have one Bible study with the Twelve, and they never needed to think about it again. Rather, they spent the rest of their lives in the text, growing, learning, perceiving. What we have left of their teachings in the gospels and letters of the New Testament is Spirit-breathed, infallible, the manifestation of what Christ had taught the Apostles, worked out through their lives and in their own pens.

Pursuing a healthy and strong life of the mind is key to good teaching in Christ's Body. This does not mean formal, accredited, academic instruction (though that's not necessarily a bad thing). However, it doesn't mean an unreflective, anti-intellectual, turns towards pride. What I mean is that one must not only sit down with the Bible, but learn how to read and see. This is the benefit of tradition, particularly a living tradition. Teachers of the faith teach us, who in return teach others, and so on. The perspicuity of Scripture is not in opposition to the fact that one needs guidance in understanding it. This is clear in the number of atheist blogs that claim to have all sorts of proof-texts for the incoherency, immorality, ineptitude, and inadequacy of the biblical text. In some ways, this is God's judgement on unfaithful mutilation of His holy writ.

While you may not need to read philosophy, literary theory, biology, etc. to become a faithful teacher of the flock, you need to be an intellectual, mentally captive to the Word of God. You must be learned, and to do so is not a self-proclaimed task or title, but done by sitting at the feet of those who've gone before, whether living or dead, preserved in writings. Part of learning is purgative, a purification process which helps drive out our own vanities and conceits to make room for hearing another voice. Learning is a receptive activity, involving submission and patience. These are necessary virtues. While the Spirit gives teaching as a gift to His church, I have no idea why some would presume to think this is in opposition to temporal striving and struggle. Instead, may we listen for the Shepherd, in the midst of His flock, teach us, and may we devote our whole mind to loving God to His glory, and our good.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Illusion of a Vocation So-Called

A most important thread in American life is work. It's usually one of the first things people ask you after your name, "Where do you work?", "What do you do?" etc. And this is not inherently bad, work is a part of creaturely life. However, the mistaken is to confuse God's calling, our vocation, with this sort of thing.

To even use the word "vocation" is to conjure up an evil theological ghost, created during the Reformation and mutated to the present day. Many of the Reformers wanted to abolish the secular-religious distinction for peoples, where the latter were the truest Christians and the latter submitted to the Church and followed a watered-down ethical code. This was just as evil, and why many Reformers blasted monkery as a grave error. However, due to maintaining the structure of Christendom, the Holy Society, Church and State formed into a single nation, this began to mutate into the idea of a certain sort of professionalism. It's not that you happen to be a merchant, but God called you to be a merchant, in a special way, and not in His general providence.

While the idea is that God cares about you in all your pursuits, it turns into a sanctification of worldliness. It's not as much a calling for you to follow Christ in your mundane and normal affairs, or to act according to the truths of the faith in all that you do, from the home to the worksite. Rather, one's religion becomes attached to a certain profession, whether it's "blue-collar" or "white-collar" type of work. This only continued the problems of Medieval society. It's part of the reason, or so I think, why "Sunday-Christian" is a phenomenon and why men are many times absent from devotional and ecclesiological life. But I digress.

For reflection, here are some words from Pascal, on the illusion of finding some purpose or transcendental meaning in our common labors:

97. The most important affair in life is the choice of a calling; chance decides it. Custom
makes men masons, soldiers, slaters. "He is a good slater," says one, and, speaking of soldiers,
remarks, "They are perfect fools." But others affirm, "There is nothing great but war; the rest
of men are good for nothing." We choose our callings according as we hear this or that
praised or despised in our childhood, for we naturally love truth and hate folly. These words
move us; the only error is in their application. So great is the force of custom that, out of
those whom nature has only made men, are created all conditions of men. For some districts
are full of masons, others of soldiers, etc. Certainly nature is not so uniform. It is custom
then which does this, for it constrains nature. But sometimes nature gains the ascendancy
and preserves man's instinct, in spite of all custom, good or bad.

98. Bias leading to error.—It is a deplorable thing to see all men deliberating on means
alone, and not on the end. Each thinks how he will acquit himself in his condition; but as
for the choice of condition, or of country, chance gives them to us. It is a pitiable thing to see so many Turks, heretics, and infidels follow the way of their fathers for the sole reason that each has been imbued with the prejudice that it is the best. And that fixes for each man his condition of locksmith, soldier, etc. Hence savages care nothing for Providence.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Successors to the Apostles: An Apology for the Figure of the Bishop

This post is an argument for necessary role of bishops, as the common English translation for the Greek, in the life of the Church. However, I think how many have argued for bishops is woeful. This is an initial sketch, so bear with me. Part of this is post facto reasoning, based on the longevity of the separate role of bishops throughout Christian history. Yet, I hope to open up new avenues of discussion. Now, on with the show.

My position depends on figuration, seeing the words and concepts of Scripture as being Real, finding their universal ground in Christ Himself, in an almost naively surface sense. That means, contrary to Platonizers, there is no hidden Real behind the text of Scripture. The very words of Scripture reflect this Real. However, they do this because they find their referent in Christ Jesus, who is both Author and Subject of the totality of Scripture. All the diverse forms, arcs, and models of Scriptures are found in Christ, either as reflections of His glory or as shadows cast in a sinful World. Thus, our discussion of bishops refers not a monarchical principle, but to the fact that Christ is our ultimate bishop (c.f. 1 Peter 2:25).

Now I also believe that Scripture, in its totality, has purpose. There are no mere loose bits, even if the authors of Scripture did not intend much by them. Thus, there's a reason why St. Paul ends his letters the way he does, even to ask St. Timothy to bring him pen and parchment. I don't know what this means or why it's included, but I take that if, indeed, all of Scripture is inspired, then this too fits within the canon of Scripture.

Given the above, I assume explanations of Apostolic authority, and St. Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus are significant. As some research has postulated, Timothy and Titus were not merely elders of the Church, but had a special warrant, from Paul himself, to act in his authority. Thus, as Christ commissioned Paul, thus Paul commissioned Timothy and Titus with Apostolic authority (see this for some more details). However, I am not a dispensationalist. Yes, there are two covenants, but I believe as much because Scripture testifies between a temporary form and an eternal fulfilled form. However, I do not believe that there is a distinct Apostolic period which closed at the death of St. John. Rather, we are still living in the age of the Apostles, though indeed there are no more Apostles. In similar vein, the Israelites in, say, 10 BC, lived in the age of holy Moses, being still under the Torah, and awaiting the Christ to come. Moses was dead, there was not another law-giver, but it was still Moses' age. As an aside, it is perhaps fitting to not think that the age of Moses ended, as much as it was eclipsed or swallowed up, the way Moses and Elijah vanished before the three Apostles on Mt. Tabor, leaving only Christ.

Thus, I go even a step further to say that the bishops are successors to the Apostles. But what I mean by this is different than what Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox mean by this. I do not claim that there is an unbroken chain of bishops that organizationally preserve Christ's Church. I also do not believe in Augustine's mechanical theory of grace being passed along through ordination. Rather, it is that bishops function in the Apostolic role, not as direct emissaries of Christ, but as emissaries of the Apostles, whose writings have been preserved as Scripture. Thus, I say more than some who advocate bishops as merely good government, or fitting to a particular time and place.

What role did the Apostles play? If we look at the life of  Paul, we see someone not shackled to particular place as the head of a community. Rather, he circled a region, expanding in its mission, where he maintained oversight of the communion he shepherded. As an Apostle, he received a distinct and special commission from Christ, as did the rest of the Apostles. Bishops, as successors to the Apostles, possess a vocation similar to the Apostles, given the task of oversight, maintaining communities' health in worship, teaching, and sociability. The role of the bishop involves pastoring pastors,  watching over a multiplicity. Christ, the Bishop of bishops, exercises this role when he commends and rebukes the churches of Asia.

It should be obvious that the development of bishops as princes or provincial governors is an abhorrent mutation of the Biblical figure. Rather, I take the Waldensian "Uncle" as a good example. The Waldensians were "heretics" during the Middle Ages. While groups of them existed across the south of France, the Cottian Alps, and into the Black Forest, Uncles, distinguishing themselves from the Roman titular "Father", traveled to support these groups. The Uncle would preach, recite Scripture, solve communal difficulties, and report news from the faithful. In recompense, some groups of Waldensians offered food and money to the Uncle, as he traveled, in a circuit, to other congregations. This particular circuit, to put it crudely, was his diocese.

The bishop has a distinctly missionary role as well. In someways, the modern circuit preacher, from the Wesleys to the Revivalist living out of his car, fulfill a similar function. Of course, self-appointed authority can be dangerous, and lead to personality cults. However, the circuit preacher inadvertently provides oversight in his visits, bringing the community together and shaking up its constitution. Even groups without bishops recognize the need for this outside accountability to diverse congregations connected together. Presbyterians have enacted the role of bishop through bureaucratic mechanisms and panels of elders who oversee a certain geographic region. Sometimes a session elder pops in to make sure the preaching meets an orthodox standard or the community is not in pure anarchy.

In a similar way to the countryside, many early bishops had a role in smaller geographic circumference of the city. They exercised oversight over the many churches of a city, too big to gather as a single corporate entity. Of course, with the creation of specific areas and buildings for worship, the bishop's wandering style was reduced to a "throne", from which he preached and exercises his role over the Christians of the city. This is not exactly a bad thing, but its contingently static form morphed to permanency as bishops were considered ecclesiastical governors. From this, the diocesan structure emerged as a parallel to Imperial provinces. Again, not in an of itself a bad thing, but easily a slip into thinking Christ's churches are conjoined to particular temporal government, which is but the City of Man, doomed to frustration and failure, and manifesting the Devil's reign over this present age.

Oversight is key to the functioning and health of Christ's Church. It is a means of missionary expansion and the unity of multiple congregations. The insider-outsider life of the bishop exercises a key check against congregational inbreeding, stagnation, and corruption. The bishop is both close enough to form discerning judgements, but distant enough to not be sucked into local politiking. In addition, the personal nature of the office helps curb denominationalism, the dying modus vivendi of most of modern Christianity. Oversight is contained in an office inhabited by a man, not a superstructure of clerks and bureaucrats, many times lost in stacks of papers, and wrapped into the mindset of a corporation.

Now, not all bishops fulfill their role, some function very well as higher ranked bureaucrats with fancy robes. But Christ's many churches, as they are becoming His Bride, fail in many forms they are to inhabit. Offices exist for a function, and their abuse does not signal their uselessness. Rather, as Christ was Bishop, Presbyter/Priest/Elder, and Deacon of His people, fulfilling these roles in their diverse forms, they remain indestructible against Human corruption, vanity, and sin. These three roles are not essential for a church to be a church, but they are crucial to the well-functioning of the church, especially as it grows and connects with others.

This was a brief, tentative, and incomplete sketch of why I think Christians ought to reconsider the office of the bishop, as many assume it in its grotesque Medieval form as the norm. As long as Christ reigns, such will never be the norm. And, as it has appeared through some of my historical examples, the office of the bishop continues to be exercised, even if it lacks the explicit name. I hope to recover such a glorious name to keep such roles within a biblical grammar. The Father's purposes cannot be stopped, even in the face of Human weakness, which many times becomes the very means the Spirit brings them about.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Augustine Reconsidered: A Review

Over a year ago, I wrote a post Against Augustine which was exasperation over the African bishop's theology. St. Augustine is a titan in the Western church and his influence bends conversations in certain ways, sometimes unhelpfully. I mentioned in the post that these words might those of a jilted lover, someone heart-broken by continual failures. This was true, I was angry with some of the dead-ends my intellectual pursuit was trapped within. After some time of reflection, I want to revisit some of Augustine's doctrine, and with a cooler temper, consider them anew.

The Two Cities and Political Theology: I would argue that the City of God is the best work Augustine ever penned, despite its, at time, rambling, ad hoc, format. While the Two Cities model he offers has a broad conceptual range, it remains one of the most Biblically grounded formulations of the Church in a larger world. Sadly, one form of this was revealed when Augustine, not inconsistently, called for the state to suppress the Donatists. This was certainly one of the most shameful episodes of Augustine's life. However, this is so because City of God promises something better than this. Radical Augustinian not only recognizes temporal kingdoms as penultimate, but also pessimistically sees their foundation in the reign of the Devil. While Christians may safely live and function within the Roman world, its foundation remains a murdered brother (i.e. Romulus killing Remus). In this way, one can see the foundation of all Cities of Man as recapitulating Cain's sin. The diverse churches, founded in Jesus Christ, are representations of the City of God, one whose king shed His own blood to save His many brethren. Augustine's work remains absolutely crucial for Chrisitans faithfully assessing the world around them.

Sex, Sexuality, and Concupiscense: I still stand by my mostly negative assessment of Augustine on this. While he was a competent explore of man's psyche, and he was rather adept at unpacking desire, he never solved this problem. Despite apologies for his superior view over contemporaries, Augustine injected an essential sinfulness into all postlapsarian sexual encounters. This radical pessimism rewrites most of the Scriptures more benign sense of sex within the confines of proper order. Western theology has suffered for a long time under the weight of Augustine's unresolved tensions. While Luther represented a forceful rejection of Augustine, this was still mired in anthropological pessimism. Since, for Luther, all Human works, always, remained tainted by mortal sin, openly engaging in marital concupiscence was a means to flaunt the Devil's accusations. Ironically, on account of their reputation, English Puritans recovered a more robust view of Human sexuality within the bonds of matrimony. In today's age, full of warped desires and hyper-eroticisation, Augustine's complex understanding of desire may be needed, but his teaching about marriage and sex needs to be finally put to rest as defunct and blind.

Predestination: Augusitne engages in a bit of mythologizing about the elect replacing fallen angels in Heaven as a reason for God's saving grace. This is goofy. However, he is basically right. I think Augusitnian predestination needs to be reformatted along figural lines, and not through a trembling reflection on God's inscrutable will. Rather, predestination needs to be Christ shaped all the way down: the elect united with Christ, figuring His death and resurrection, and the reprobate figuring the shadows Christ's passion cast (i.e. the forms of Pilate, Herod, Judas, the Temple Hierarchy, the mocking and sneering mob of Pharisees and peasants). Augustine is still too much enthralled to Plotinian metaphysics. But, when it comes down to the debate with Pelagius, he is absolutely right. While we were dead in our sins, lost and rebellious, God intervened and saved us. Soli Deo Gloria.

Sacraments: Generally, I find Augustine a helpful expositor of "sacraments", maintaining both the materiality of God's provision, while also not lapsing into a kind of idolatry. This depends upon his view of semiotics and the distinction, but unity, of sign and thing signified. Per a Biblical example, the bronze serpent Moses held in the desert actually saved. If Israelites did not look to it, they would've died from the snake venom. However, when a temptation to venerate the bronze serpent takes hold of Jerusalem, Hezekiah had the bronze serpent melted down (c.f. 2 Kings 18:4). God is present in material artifacts, as He commands and promises, but they are not reducible to Him. However, Augustine's mechanical notion of grace is bizarre, and has become a justification for a warped view of ordination and apostolic succession.

Trinity & Triads: At this point, Augustine is mostly a roadblock. In short, Augustine was able to find a way to integrate Neo-Platonic triadology and Nicaean Christology through a working definition of person as relation. While Augustine remains staunchly anti-Arian, he has more in common than he'd like to admit. This would not be such a problem if Augustine was not so influential in what became Latin theology. As can be seen in both texts and arts, Augustine's theology resulted in a reductive role for the Holy Spirit as vinculum caritatis, the binding cord of love between the Father and the Son. While the filioque is not itself a problematic phrasing, its interpretation followed a Neo-Platonic scheme that has been unable to understand unity and distinction without the creation of a fourth thing. There is no genus of God that lays behind the back of the Persons that we can more simply refer to. The New Testament did not merely make an addition to the more simple formula of one God in the Old Testament. The Trinity is not merely an irrational numbers game, 1+1+1=1. The Apostles clearly have no problem of intelligently describing things without throwing their hands up in confusion. Perhaps our Hellenistic metaphysics are defunct and incapable, which is exactly what Athanasius argued. I think Augustine's Neo-Platonic articulation of Nicaea only caused more problems later down the line. We'd be better off turning to Athanasius and Gregory Nazianzen for better thoughts.

So, all in all, Augustine has left much of a legacy, both good and bad, in his wake. However, he was also a great pastoral figure, and is worthy of emulation in how he combined intelligence, devotion to the Scriptures, and ordained leadership. To conclude, I will quote from Peter Brown's biography of the African bishop. May it stir your soul as it did mine, and continues to do.

"For Augustine’s doctrine of predestination…was a doctrine for fighting men. A monk might waste his leisure worrying about his ultimate identity: to Augustine, such an anxiety was misplaced. A doctrine of predestination divorced from action was inconceivable to him. He had never written to deny freedom, merely to make it more effective in the harsh environment of a fallen world."
"Predestination…had only one meaning for Augustine: it was a doctrine of survival, a fierce insistence that God alone could provide men with an irreducible inner core."


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dead and Alive, You're Coming With Me

One of the slogans of Luther's theology is simul justus et peccator, simultaneously justified and sinner. This means that the Christian is caught between two radically different states of life. On the one hand, we still live according to Adam, full of sin, hated by God, and doomed to perish. Luther's primary purpose for the Law is to strike terror into our Adam, and bring him kicking and screaming to the executioner's block. On the other hand, Christ has justified us through His blood, and paradise is opened to us, where we see the friendly heart of God, His abiding love to save Humanity. Now, Luther held to a doctrine of a mystical union with Christ, though I don't know Luther enough to know how, exactly, he understood this. There are vying interpretations of this, but even if this is understood in the most extrinsic sense, where legally we are declared righteous and so on, this reflects a totally different vision of Humanity.

In Paul and the Gift, Barclay wants to put a more helpful nuance on this. Rather than talk of simul justus et peccator, Barclay thinks it would be more Pauline to say simul mortuus et vivens, both dead and living. This captures, I think, a better sense of St. Paul's sense of the larger pattern of Scripture, and makes better sense of our calling to be Christians, little Christs.

Barclay follows recent scholarship in interpreting Romans 7 as an explication of Human life before conversion. This might be true, but there's no reason why we understand that to mean that our life according to the flesh doesn't follow after us. This is because we are dead in our sins, but alive in Christ. This is the Adam-Christ type applied to our lives, but restraining its use to a more limited form. 

What I mean by this is that Adam's sin in the Garden was monumental, but it was not a fall from perfection to oblivion. His sin was highhanded rebellion against God, but it was not the pinnacle of corruption. In fact, Scripture testifies that it gets worse, as people manifest Adam's sin in fuller and more depraved ways. Scripture reveals development and maturity within static categories. Sin is a developing, or more accurately degrading, concept within the more static category of death. We may talk of dying as a process leading up to death, but we do not become more or less dead. Adam's sin in Eden ushered in the reign of death, where our sins climax. Adam remained a Man of Dust, and cut off from God's communion, was doomed. Living according to the Flesh thus means living according to an empty vessel, one gnawing with decay and rot. Adam's sin becomes more developed, growing in its pride and lust, becoming more Satanic in its bondage to death. This approach is a combination of Irenaean, Athanasian and Augustinian themes, which helpfully complement one another.

This is why St. Paul can say that Death is the final enemy, and yet focus so much on the sins of mankind. The wages of sin is death, and we are reaping such a harvest. However, Christ has brought eternal life, but through the cross. Thus, the salvation of God manifests in our world as Christ on the cross, or, as Chrysostom put it, trampling down death by death.

The Christian life is not one of radical schizophrenia or inhabiting a dual states, even if life in Christ reveals a dual movement. While we are still afflicted with sins, and will be throughout this side of glory, we now repurpose them. We put to death the deeds of the flesh, we mortify our sins, so that we may sow our bodies of corruption and reap a harvest of incorruption. The work of Christ radically repurpose our corrupted and evil state, where repentance turns the body of death into the vessel of God's redemption. The Christian life is thus not a contradiction, not a mere double inhabiting of Heavenly glory and Hellbound sludge. Rather, we live in the reign of Christ's cross, where putting to death the deeds of the flesh is a moment of victory and conquest. 

Just as Christ reigned from the wood, so we are coheirs with Christ in Heavenly glory through putting our sins to death. Christ's ascension and reign is an anchor, and sure hope, not only of future glory, but the very flow of that glory. The Christian must follow his Lord through the waters of baptism, manifest in life through a life of repentance and putting sins to death. This is the path to glory. This is why horror of Romans 7 erupts suddenly into the joy of Romans 8. Our body of death is reconfigured by Christ into the mechanism of redemption.

It's not that Luther was wrong, but simul justus et peccator does not grasp the full depth of St. Paul's insistence that, indeed, while we are dead in the flesh, we are alive with Christ. While Christ was without sin, He became sin, and thus entered into our plight to deliver us. While death and resurrection are distinct, they are two movements in a single act. Hence, Union with Christ is the heart of salvation, encompassing even our sins for our good and God's glory.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

God for the Ungodly: The Incongruity of Grace

John Barclay's Paul and the Gift attempts (successfully I think) reframe the debate between the old and new perspectives, by recognizing the value in both. Barclay argues that while, indeed, St. Paul was a Jew among his fellow Jews, he was a radical Jew who offered a stunning interpretation of the Scripture to his contemporaries. Like the New Perspective, the Apostle Paul was not abnormal for his times, but he did not merely fit Jesus into a generally agreed upon reading of Israel's covenantal history. Rather, like the Old Perspective, St. Paul offered a radical interpretation, which was still strictly Jewish, but shocked his contemporaries. The revelation of Christ was thus not merely the crowning moment of Israel's history, but a stunning revelation of the whole, revealing the purpose of Israel definitively. Jews in the Second Temple period had no unanimous understanding of their own history and their own telos. The Messiah reveals this.

A major point in Barclay's work is that grace is a multivalent word, possessing a range of meanings. It's not enough tot talk about grace, you have to define exactly what this means. Thus, Barclay agrees with E.P. Sanders' seminal claim that Second Temple Judaism was a religion of grace, but countering that this claim is insufficient as an explanation. A helpful part of the book is how Barclay utilizes anthropological studies on the idea of "gift" to recognize that giving does not negate reciprocity, in fact, it is only modern definitions that has fundamentally rewired the concept. As a general aside, I think this sort of thing is necessary to demystify some aspects of the faith. While there are clear paradoxes and miracles in Scripture, we ought to make sure that this is not a paradigm haphazardly applied.

This last point is crucial (pun intended) for Barclay, because he sees in Luther both a deep understanding and misunderstanding of the Apostle Paul. Barclay argues that for St. Paul, grace was most radically taken to its logical conclusion (perfected) in its incongruity. This is to say that God poured His favor upon the sick and the sinner, the weak and the powerless, the idolator and the gentile. This was the stunning revelation of the cross: God for the ungodly. The grace of God came to those who had nothing to offer, who were unworthy of anything but death. However, the gift of Christ, and all that entails (forgiveness of sins, adoption, eternal life, etc.), elicits an expectation of response, of living in Christ. Barclay interprets Luther as insisting that grace has no return, that it is purely non-circular, God gives and there is no expectation of return.

Now, Barclay is not a Luther scholar, and I don't really care if he gets Luther right, in himself. I'm sure there are quotes to the contrary that one could marshal. However, he does grasp a certain interpretation of Luther that became secularized and became a hallmark of the Modern world in Kant's ethics. This is how grace became an individualizing concept, where the gift was never to be recognized as such, being totally alien and anonymous. Unlike the near universal understanding of gift as formative of social bonds through immersion into a relationship, Kant shifts attention to the motive of the giver, and the pure gratuity of the act. Thus, we turn totally inward, towards our subjective experience of giving as the ethical grounds. This is the root of Santa Clause ethics, good for goodness' sake.

Barclay says to be mistrustful of any attempts to describe a "pure" gift in this way, and I think he's right. Not only is this not ever true (most times people expect something in return, even if it's gratitude or acknowledgement), but its conceptual priority masks selfishness. While our subsequent actions in light of being in Christ do not merit anything from God, there is an expectation of new life. Clearly, when a liberator comes to free slaves, he has an expectation that the slaves would go and live freely, not sell themselves back into slavery the first moment they can. If the liberator did not care, because all he cared for was the sheer fact of liberating, there would seem as if something were amiss. And, as Scripture testifies, God's Word never comes back void.

This incongruity, and not non-circularity, is the sheer gold of Luther's theology of the cross. Here we can call evil evil, recognizing the truth of things without plying a fiction. I was a sinner, totally worthless, powerless, and dead, yet the Father gave Christ for me to renew me in the Image of His Son. The crucifixion of God reveals the depths He will go, but not self-abnegation. Long ago, I wrote about the "Agapists", who pit a totally selfless love against a self-recovering love. When Scripture refers to agape, it is not a disinterested love, but rather a love that is willing to give in order to get, to sacrifice in order to save. The miracle in all of this is that the Son of God reveals that God is willing to do this even to the scum of the Earth, obliterating all our social hierarchies and categories of worth.

While Barclay's work is a good investigation of St. Paul, it has limited value with a theological reading of Scripture, which is interpreted and studied as a whole. However, it grasps the theological fact that God's love, in This Age, is a gift that goes to the depths, even for me. That's good news.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Not All Perfections Are Good: Musings on Intellectual Failure of Nerve

I blew through John Barclay's Paul and the Gift, and will have additional posts on this fantastic tome. However, one section really struck me, but not for obvious reasons. The context of the quote is a summary conclusion of a historical review of a number of theologians interpreting the Apostle Paul's doctrine of grace. He analyzed them according to six types of perfecting, or taking to logical conclusions/extremes, found in grace. However, the key point resides outside of this. Barclay writes:
"Since no perfection of grace can be regarded as its core characteristic, or its sine qua non, we are under no pressure to prove or to disprove that Paul is the bearer of some 'essential' meaning. Nor can we assume that the more perfections of grace, the better. In fact, we may be wary of the tendency to pile perfections on top of each other, or to extend single perfections to a greater and greater extreme. Such tendencies may serve ideological interests, but there is no reason to think that the greater the number of perfections, the better the concept of grace" (187)
Moderation? Spoken like a true Englishman! But I jest. Barclay's point is that there is no essential meaning to grace that St. Paul is the bearer of. In fact, as Barclay is at paints to show, there are diverse ways of understanding "grace", and in that way we may call both Augustine and Pelagius theologians of grace, though they defined their terms very differently. There's no essential core to grace, where if we pile up extremes, we get to a pure concept. As he says, it's tempting to do it, continually radicalizing further and further, to make our particular point. However, this doesn't help us understand what St. Paul is actually saying.

This all cut me to the quick. Why? Because there's a certain kind of temptation to make the Gospel of Christ amenable to those outside, hostile, or indifferent to the Church. Reading many non/a-Christian authors, I can find myself straining to accommodate. What I mean by accommodate is that I find a reading of events that might conform to a pattern that evades judgement.

As long as I've been a Christian, I've struggled with this. The earliest I remember is that when someone pulled up the Crusades, or some other bloody episode, I could claim, with all my Evangelical zeal, that they were not true Christians, if they were, they would've known Christ's commands. This has only expanded, where I've tried to situate myself on a perch immune to attacks. When I've read critiques of Protestantism, I try to find myself outside of Protestantism. When I've heard critiques of Western theological development, I found myself building a fortress on the banks of the Bosporus. When Christianity is accused of x, I find some opinion that can make me immune to criticism.

Now, I'm not hanging my head and surrendering. Not every example of bloodshed in the name of Christ is legitimate, and some of them fit within a Biblical prophetic outlook on such things (Christ was not shy of talking about coming apostasies, faith growing cold, false prophets etc.) None of this is my point. Instead, I am talking about the temptation to incline oneself to another's views almost uncritically. There's a certain virtue in reading your opponents charitably, but they are still opponents and you're locked in an intellectual combat nonetheless.

Instead of seeking to understand the Scriptures on their own terms, I assume that the faith must not fit such-and-such's horrible paradigm, or damning criticism, and thus is radically outside the critique. This is nothing more than a sophisticated variety of "Christianity is not a religion". While this may be true, depending on definitions, this is a radicalization of concepts which might lead to unbiblical, non-Christians, and frankly demonic practices. In debate with someone over this particular claim, it'd be easy to throw away baptism, the Lord's Supper, and any real doctrine of Church in order to salvage immunity to the critic's venom. What I will struggle to reckon is that the sophisticated interlocutor, who is much more intelligent, well-read, and popular, might just be wrong, not necessarily in factual detail but in the conclusions, whether moral or otherwise. I am reluctant to admit that, indeed, the godless do not understand Christ or His Holy Scripture.

Per the Barclay quote, radicalizing is no virtue, and so looking for theological justifications to fit this or that is no help on the quest for truth. For example, some might say that the absolute power and sovereignty of God in the Bible has become a pillar for despotism, brainwashing, and societal oppression. Well, the temptation may be to agree that they're right, and prove that the Bible does not in fact paint that portrait. But this would be untrue, and I'd only handcuff myself to contorted doctrine. So what if it's true? The Sovereignty of God does not mean that Christians should declare themselves regional sovereigns vis. Divine Right of Kings. For all we know, such is not a logical consequence of the sovereignty of God, but its very abuse and manipulation. But, with research, intellectual cut, and persuasive rhetoric, the case can be made that might back some like me into a corner where we'd dare to pioneer novelties to save ourselves.

This is the phenomenon I see a lot of Evangelicals doing. I do not question their motives, as I have no idea what they are. However, I heard both Scot McKnight and Greg Boyd in two different interviews, promoting each of their books, sound like fools. The former tried to reconcile a form of evolutionary theory with the Genesis account through defining imago Dei as "consciousness." Yes, we're back to a certain German's attempt to refute Christianity's Cultured Despisers. I've heard him at conferences, multiple time, metaphorically bang his chest as "I'm a Bible man" in opposition to his theologian interlocutors. But it seems like this has only led to shallow end of theological liberalism, 200 years late to the party.

The latter, who I admire, has handcuffed himself to a bizarre reading of the New Testament that has him saying that God accommodated Himself to Israelite projections of an evil and bloodthirsty God in order to reach them; this was a veritable "crucifixion", foreshadowing God's later crucifixion in Christ Jesus. He spent 10 years writing this book, and it perplexes me, but I understand. In an effort to soothe the conscience and reach out into the World, to disprove the critics, inner and outer, who accuse Christianity of being a religion of blood and violence, you chart an almost novel path (i.e. the review says Boyd utilizes Origen, but from the interview alone, it seems very unlikely to be a good interpretation of an incredibly complicated figure). All of this only proves Luther's snarl that reason is a whore, or, in Cranmer's more accurate appraisal, what the heart loves, the will desires, and the mind justifies.

There's nothing particularly good about finding a safe spot. I confess that I've struggled with, and given in to, the temptation to radicalize for ideological purposes, both in conversation and in writing. A couple of my posts over the life of this blog reflect this, though they remain interesting thought pieces and interactions. However, the truth of things remains, despite wicked abuse and contortions, and remains despite critics.

Lord have mercy.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Faith is not a Faculty, or The Error of Reformational Transubstantiation

Here's a great post on the Biblical form of a doctrine of Imputation: here

The point of the brief review article of an article is that imputation is fundamentally separated from the act of sin. Hence, there is a crime done and a following act of assigning blame, the two do not magically happen together. Hence, why the imputation of sin to Christ may have ontological dimensions, but it also follows the Torah's logic of sin and guilt. In this way, while the Incarnation may be a stunning miracle, imputation is not (though it's a wonderful gift).

However, the main point of my article is to highlight one thing written:

"The regenerated heart of the believer has been infused with a new faculty, faith. This account is gnostic to the core. It locates salvation in the human heart. It drives a wedge between faith and faithfulness. It distorts the sacraments into rituals of individualistic gnosis, so that Presbyterians hunch over and ponder during the Lord’s Supper, as though by their thinking they could confect God."
As I've stated elsewhere, this is the problem with many varieties of Reformed theology about the Lord's Supper, which reflected ideas of the Taborites in the Hussite reformation. This is the idea that faith draws down Christ into the sacrament (though, usually understood in a non-material way; it is less about eating than participation). This is nothing but a gnostic form of transubstantiation, that depends upon the same logic, but jettisoning physical experience. Though, it should be said that transubstantiation is no valorization of the material, since it involves the eradication of material substance (hence bread is voided as bread, and becomes the Body).

Almost all Reformational figures attacked the idea of private masses because they rejected the idea that the priest, with his ordained assistants, was the worshiper, which lay people flocked in order to gain the benefits of the Church. However, most also assaulted the individualized nature of the Supper, as the benefit happened in an individualized, interior, locus. It's not that the benefits of the Lord's Supper don't touch on an individual level (one, and one alone, eats or drinks to salvation or damnation). Rather, it's that the Supper is something that happens with the whole community. I'm not saying Calvin's idea about the congregation being moved up to the Heavenlies is right, that seems to be a forced reading of the text based on a metaphysics of space and distance. However, he is right to see that the whole act is grounded in words of promise to all, than to an almost magical sense that an ordained person makes it so. Christ shows up in the bread and the wine because He promised His disciples that's where He'll be, in a totally Realist sense.

This is part and parcel to see a conjoining, not a divorce, of the Word and metaphysics. We don't need categories of substance to figure out what happens in the Supper. Instead, there's something Real, in an almost superficial way, about Jesus' words. When we gather with bread and wine, in His Name, something special is occurring.  Faith is thus not a substance or an ability, something we use to effect a new state of things. Rather, the Word makes it so, and we can either see through trusting and obeying our Lord, or blind ourselves through distrust and disobedience. But it is still so, nonetheless, whether to our salvation or to our judgement.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

When the Emperor Permits the Desecration of Icons

As many commentators point out, both friendly and hostile, Christians, particularly "conservative" Evangelicals, in the United States have near equal divorce rates to those who are not. As some have pointed out, the real root of the gay marriage problem is in the changing attitude towards divorce, and to the institution of marriage itself. Defanging the legislation was not only grounded in disdain for the permanence of marriage or the growing absolute primacy of romance as the grounds of marriage. But either way, taking the bite out of the marital contract allowed marital dissolution a free-flow, which became a reality as divorce became more and more socially permissive. However, this is not the problem. On an unrelated note, Petr Chelcicky comments on his contemporary situation of confusing the Law of God with man made laws:

Now concerning the second difference between the rule of the law of Christ and the pagan rule, the Master Adversary says[381] that the civil or state law of the pagans is (real) law by virtue of the sinfulness of men and for the purpose of obtaining justice through compulsion, while the law of the holy gospel exists for the (sole) purpose of obtaining spiritual gifts of grace… [ Civil law administers justice through compulsion, while the law of Christ establishes justice through love. ]
[ But while law checks – to a certain degree – injustice within one’s own country, it does nothing when iniquities are committed abroad. ] The straying Christians like to depend on secular power; they even seek it and cherish it since it serves their inclinations… Thus a material-minded people asks to have secular power (over them) because it enables them to rest in peace around fleshpots, under the protection of (state) authority; and if, peradventure, some hardship or threat to life or property should come about, these things will be defended by authority of the king, through war, driving away the disturber, and revenge… [ These Christians who have strayed from the law of Christ and are under the jurisdiction of the civil law are regarded as just and good as long as they live up to the standards of the civil courts and offices. But righteousness by law has nothing in common with righteousness in the eyes of God. ] The truth of Jesus is nothing but foolishness[382] to proud men, an oddity, an offense, a pain, and a shame.
Following Chelcicky's logic, Christians, the little Christs, the people of God, ought to live their lives in accordance with God's law. This has nothing to do with, or contradicts, the fact that Christ fulfills the law, we are always at war with sins that plague us, that fact that Christ's blood shed is the forgiveness of sins and the sure promise of pardon. However, Chelcicky is at war with the problem of "Sunday Christians". And one can see that real problem is that the Kingdom of God is removed from our day to day, public, lives.

As I stated before, the Reformation reformatted the Two Swords doctrine, but did not fundamentally maintain a deep sense of antithesis, one grounded not only in the heart, but also in the material and immaterial structures of our world. Spiritual is understood to be something other than common life, which is then placed under diverse rules and laws that have only tangential reference to Christ. This is the origin of Jesus as Beautiful Soul, which reaches its political theological climax in Niebuhr's claim that while Jesus' ethic is important as an ideal, it's not practical or practiceable in the hard situations of real life, the world of politics and economics.

Chelcicky doesn't refute that in the pagan world, Christ's law will be marked foolishness, and hence while Christians could theoretically hold these civil functions, they'd be hated and scorned. As Chelcicky said elsewhere, indeed a Christian could be a king, but if he was a Christian he'd know only preaching the gospel is the true path to bringing about righteousness, not the coercion of the sword. That is, the king would appear rather unkingly, even though Christ teaches us not to war against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. For a king to reflect David is to mistake the kingship of Israel as typological of Christ's reign. Christ Jesus is not a different kind of king than David, rather He is the fulfillment, the filling full, of David's form.

When Christ's kingship is mistaken as having no impingement upon our lives, that He is merely spiritual in the sense that Christ's words have no real bearing on our public lives, we are in grave error. And the facts of divorce are proof of this. We no longer live in accordance with Christ's law as true, looking to Him in faith, but turn to civil law as our boundary. While the temptation to do so is always there, the fact many self-professing Christians can do so with a good conscience is because of doctrine that says America is a Christian country (and thus its laws are holy?) or that all law is merely neutral, lest it govern our worship or spiritual lives, and we need not concern ourselves of it, obedience is enough.

The second sounds innocuous enough, but it becomes license to dissolve our lives, and churches, into the surrounding civil life. While men like Wycliffe and Luther were right to oppose the Pope's temporal claims as a prince, especially his meddling in the affairs of princes, they (especially Luther) resulted in unleashing a kind of anarchy. From his perch in the monastery and university, I do not think Luther understood that the coercive conjoining of Papal and Imperial law was all that kept the thin veneer of Christian virtue over most peoples. He lamented that many had no desire for the things of God, only to be free from all constraint. Very quickly most facets of the Magisterial Reformation hitched their wagons to princely reform movements, and recreated the same alliance between state and church, though perhaps with new power differentials. In both cases, whether under Roman or Reformational governments, the church became a spiritual province, with temporal benefits, that subdued itself fully to the needs of civil power.

What does this have to do with divorce? Because of the legacy of segregating Christ's law from common life means that we hide in the boundaries of civil law. It should keep us in awe that even though Henry VIII was absolute master of England, he was still enraged that William Tyndale, a nobody with no civil power, wrote against him. Why did Henry care? Because he knew Tyndale, standing on Scripture and claims of Christ's church, might cause people to undermine the king's stature. Tyndale was not explicitly being political, but he refused to call evil good because the king demanded it. And Tyndale did not take the sword, he was eventually martyred for his fidelity to Christ the King.

St. Paul tells us marriage is a mystery of Christ and His Church. In this way, marriage is a sacrament, if we are to use such a category, because it forms out of common materials (the ordinary civil function of marriage) an icon of Christ's work, a promise to an otherwise common fact. If Christians are ever to appear demographically different, it will be because we care more for Christ's law than the terror of civil judgement. Many are beginning to wake up to this fact, but I'm afraid it's grounded in present day hostility, not the binding teaching of the Apostles. Even if the Emperor tells us it's permitted to desecrate Christ's icons, we should rather obey God, and not hide under theological skirts, fleeing to the coercive features of the state. May God curse such people with a bad conscience, so that they might repent; and may God bless His churches so we may soak ourselves into the life of Christ.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Confusion of Constantine

Leithart recently wrote two review articles about the Church of England in the Victorian era. These articles send mixed messages, especially in light of Leithart's larger body of work and thought.

The first article described how the Church was afflicted with a plague of absentee ministers and absentee parishes. The former collected their salaries and pursued their own interests, the latter were jacking up the parish record numbers. Thus, the numbers of the Church of England were highly inflated and don't reflect church life in the slightest.

The second article described how an Evangelical layman was able to procure the ability to administer preferment. This was an old practice of the English church, where a church was staffed by men selected by the wealthy lay property owner who donated land to the building of said church. This process was a means to subvert episcopal hostility to evangelical ministers. Thus lay people helped the gospel go forth, despite the intransigence of her bishops.

These stories seem to militate against each other, and reveal the confusion of a church's involvement in the formation of a national identity and deeply intertwined with the functions of social prestige. I don't know if Leithart is bemused, or supportive, by the Evangelical layman's triumphing over stodgy bishops. But either way, both of these aspects are due to the fact that the church was tied in with the structures and institutions of the nation in such a binding way. This is the problem of, as Hooker put it , the church as the nation at prayer. This was mostly a fiction that was only ever true viz. coercion. The Glorious Revolution, and the resulting toleration that resulted, led to the Church of England only existing in national prominence as the legally established church. As ministers complained throughout the eighteenth century, many ceased to show up on Sundays now that coercion was severely diminished. If anything, this actually freed the Church of England to realize some of the problems of being attached to the nation and to the state, though many of these lessons went mostly unlearned. The current beauty of much of the Anglican Communion is the blossoming of it in the Global South, which has risen up to challenge the vile apostasy found in most of the West, most notable in putrid state of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.

When the Church of England ceased to be English of essence and was such only by accident, it was freed to obey Christ's commission and reveal His glory. Constantine is not really the problem. Christians should praise an emperor (or whatever governing authority) who eases over persecutions and appreciate any gifts. But Constantine was not merely a passing phenomenon, but a mistaken image of Christ. Constantine is less a problem than Eusebeius' immortalization of him, which has become the defacto model of Sacralist Christendom ever since. National life becomes Christianized, which means actual people hardly are. Hence, the parishes empty and powerful "lay" people, lazy and blind, turn churches into Pagan dominions, little play things in the hands of a national life. The occasional Evangelical layman is only a set up for a greater tragedy, as the general anemia of the Church of England today shows. When will Leithart admit that, as it turns out, the Anabaptists were right the whole time about the relation of the Church to the nation? How many tragedies will it take to wake up?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A City in the Distance: Reflections on Church, State and Society

I am frequently disturbed by the American ideology of Progress. That is to say, the idea of an endless advance forward for its own sake is very bizarre. I want to ask: Why? Is this a blind faith, leap in the dark, for a meaning to be later found? Or is Progress its own reward? And again, why? There doesn't seem to be anything inherently rewarding about progress, except when conceptualized competitively. No one cares to get to Pacman level 1000 unless one kept score. And even then, so what? In the movie The Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan says to Ozymandias, "The world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than the world's smartest termite." In the grand scale of everything, progress is eclipsed and obliterated.

Of course, no one lives for that, not exactly. Even psychotic atheists, who revel in this sort of thing, like DeGrasse Tyson,  utilize man's epiphenomenal status in the Universe as a means to spur a kind of existential epicureanism. What I mean by that is the value of life is forged in experiences, of bliss, love, and acceptance, and when we, the collective Human race, get off our horse and realize how worthless and speck-like we are, then we get about enjoying our lives. Thus, all law and government is primarily for the purposes of providing restraint on those who might interrupt this quest. Humanity is broken up and atomized, to the point that to talk about nature is nothing but a peculiar short-hand for a nominal pattern of behavior.

While the idea of progress for its own sake is incredibly peculiar, it pales in comparison to the above. In some ways, Kant provided the scaffolding for this new modus vivendi when he tried to save the Enlightenment from Hume's scalpel. The division of the noumenal from the phenomenal unveils a world that is ultimately a shell. Marxists provide the saner of the two options, positing the non-existence of the phenomenal and reducing all things to material causes. While this seems wildly implausible, it is far and above better than the opposite, which seems to be more of the case today, outside a couple of cynical and reclusive academics that remain. Instead, the noumenal has taken an absolute importance. Some have thus referred to our age as "gnostic".

This might be hard to believe when many consider our age as hyper materialistic, but this is a critical error. The ease in which American society easily chases after material objects means anything but a materialist society, for the material is at best a conduit for the real benefits of the immaterial. People do not horde money, but lust after the new gem of experience. This is the new watchword that functions similarly, but crassly, to the Plotinian Pagan quest of salvation. Yes, America much more resembles a cargo-cult than the austere ascesis of the late Roman world, but they mirror one another. Experience is the opening up of the noumenal world within the world of phenomena. That is to say, the really Real appears amidst a bunch of useless, dead, and empty objects. These objects merely obstruct or assist us in the quest for the true treasure of experience. Some experiences build towards other experiences, but ultimately it's a quest for the interruption of all things and receiving the point of it all.

This sounds esoteric and abstract, but let me talk about this more in terms of time. According to Greek distinctions, employed later by Existentialist theologians, there are two kinds of time: kairos and chronos. The latter is the normal pace of things, moment to moment, past and future, where the present is merely the funnel through which the one becomes the other. The former, however, is an interruption, a breaking point, where normal time is shattered. Kairotic time is best thought of as the Moment for which we crave. There are plenty of songs, usually about orgasm or drug use, that document the quest for this moment, the experience of meaning. There is a distinction between reality as material, objective experience, and the real reality of the subjective experience. The moment is punctilliar, but in a wholly tangential sense. It is the moment when time is opened to timelessness. All who do and act for "experience" have this sense lurking somewhere in the background. As much as people care about things, they are merely shells carrying the goods inside of them. The divorce can be stark. As one recent song put it, "I remember back in Oakland, I was lying there in rapture on the bathroom floor."

The existential metaphysics make all of this different from classic Epicureanism, but it is on a sliding scale of similarity. Some argue for experience upon repeatable, usually licit, forms of gentle accumulation (e.g. you climbed a mountain, went skydiving, had a wedding, saw a birth, drank $500 whiskey, visited Bali, etc.), which fits more of the Epicurean desire for maximal happiness. Of course, there are those who are the crash course for the kairotic experience, and risking it all for briefly scraping it, and thus escaping the horror of the mundane, is totally worth it. Usually this sort of thing results in potent drug-use, socially radical sex, violence, etc. Thus, the dirty secret that ecstasy and agony are twin sisters practiced by those who crave this sort of life.

Both of these are pursued en masse, but neither of them really make sense of society or polity. I'm not talking about whether society is possible, ala. Lockean push and pull in the Original Contract. Rather, it doesn't make any sense. Society has no purpose, but to provide cover for all this experiential search. The kairotic moment of experience, the border-straddling of subliminal rapture, refers to nothing but to the subjective which some understand in strictly physicalist terms (i.e. brain chemistry, hormones, and nerve stimulation).

The maddening part is that people don't have any real objective sense to their lives. And this is very helpful for social policy, because the parameters of life are concrete and permanent, there is no deep-seated unrest or angst about this on the large scale. Now, this might become a factor if people are deprived of the means to go on this search; poverty, suffering, and hardship have the strange blessing of sobering people up.

For the strictly materialist, this is why Marx could say religion is the opiate of the people, cowing their energies for their own fantasies of the internal life divorced from material reality. Marx may have woeful philosophic presuppositions, but it shows the horrible error of the bourgeois Protestant theology of the day. While Kierkegaard, in many ways I suppose, is still part of the problem, his cries and shrieks that there was hardly a Christian in Denmark were an attack on this function division. When Christ is made conformable to Kant, the end is a disaster. The rise of the Social Gospel and the postmillenialist attempt to build the Kingdom on Earth was a reaction to this form of liberal theology.

However, this reaction within liberal theology is still tethered to the same impulses of the former. In terms of the faith, I'm not sure which is worse. All attempts at Sacralism, including the liberal Social Gospel movement, turn Christ's Church and His Gospel into a Pagan cult (meant in the traditional, not pejorative, sense), but at least they touch upon the discerned wisdom that Human life cannot be separated from objective, physical reality. The Christian Existentialist, which we might call the heresy, imaged in early Gnostics, cuts through reality, severing the life of Christ from the mundane. Kant may be the chief wizard for modern understandings of this fact, but he is not to be blamed as an innovator, or introducing something radically new. Instead, he allowed a form of Christianity to survive in tact while also allowing the pursuit of newly minted "Enlightened" forums to seek after. In a way, Kant typifies the logical conclusion of Lutheran Two Kingdoms theology, which I will from here on refer to as simply Two Kingdoms.

From the start I will say that Two Kingdoms is a critical error. It has a solid and long tradition, and develops as an interpretation of Augustine's theology of the Two Cities. Augustine's approach was a radical alternative to the other major political theology of Eusebeius of Caesarea's veneration of Constantine. The Eusebeian theology welded Roman Society to the faith as a story of conquest: Christ and His Martyrs overcame Rome, culminating in the conversion of the Emperor. Constantine's conversion heralded the creation of a Christian civilization, where Church integrated into Empire. This does not mean total capitulation, where the church is a toady of imperial design. Rather, it means that both emperor and bishop have a role within a larger society that one may call Christendom. Though there was not a strict divide between "temporal" or "spiritual", the boundaries of offices were understood.

Two Swords is an Augustinian spin on this idea, which became the de facto doctrine of Western Europe, once Germanic kings began to Romanize. In Two Swords, the king has temporal power and the church has spiritual power, wieleded by the two hands of the singular Christendom. It is less comprehensive than the Eusebian doctrine, at least how it played out in the Eastern Roman Empire, focusing rather on nodes of authority than a comprehensive sense of civilization. It's not that there wasn't a sense of Christian civilization, but it was less cohesive, focusing more on those at the top. Two Swords could become more or less Eusebian. In fact, it wasn't until the high days of the Imperial Papacy when Eusebian doctrine came back into play, full force. Rather, it was the Pope as Vicar of Christ who made room for the Christian princes of Europe. At its zenith, the role of bishop and emperor fused. After the Reformation, popes were now seen as having a spiritual power that undergirded temporal authority, and could be withdrawn through excommunication.

However, the Middle Ages also contained a more Augustinian sense of the Two Swords, which I think fully blossoms in the Lutheran enshrinement of Two Kingdoms. In this, the temporal and spiritual are strictly divided, but with the latter taking a more important place. As Augustine taught, the temporal was penultimate, while the spiritual was ultimate. In the Two Swords paradigm, this meant that the former was to encase and protect the realization of the latter. It was the religious life, questing for salvation, praying for the souls of the dead, accumulating heavenly merit, that was the really real. The penultimate order of the temporal sword helped protect the real workers.

It make sense that this was how Luther understood his world as an Augustinian monk. However, he radicalizes this notion when he blows out its foundation through his discovery of sola fide. This doctrine is biblical and life-giving, and removed the social purpose of Medieval monasticism. If Christ chooses the weak and beggarly, and accomplishes this work fully and firmly, then doctrines of purgatory, indulgences, and penance (at least understood in their Medieval form) are meaningless, if not potentially damning. However, Luther seems to follow Augustinian sense of the Two Swords, not abandoning a doctrine of Christendom, though the role of the spiritual is now overhauled. This is Two Kingdoms emending of Two Swords.

While later Lutheranism crystalizes this into a doctrine, Luther's body of work is not thoroughly consistent, and develops over his life. In his early days, Luther can appear pretty radical, totally secularizing all temporal authority, it being irrelevant whether one is ruled by a Papist, an Evangelical, or a Turk. Later on, as Luther gains momentum through the support of princes, Luther attempts to rebuild a sense of Christendom, where temporal rulers have a distinctly Christian role to play. They become aids to the work of the Church, which is focused on manifesting the drama of justification in the mass, bringing again and again God's terror against sin and His gracious word of reconciliation, to Christians. Princes could even function as emergency-bishops, having the authority of the church to bring about reforms. This is not the madness of the English Act of Supremacy, putting the king as the supreme head of the church of England. Luther hadn't confused temporal and spiritual power, but the role of the prince was to maintain order. Luther's emerging Two Kingdoms had flexibility for both a more Two Swords variety, with the temporal playing a role in a larger Christendom, and more Augustinian approach, where there was less concern for any distinct ideology of the temporal arm. This reflected Lutheran geography, those under Evangelical princes and those still under Papist princes. The latter desired tolerance, at least for themselves, and not a fully functioning arm of Christian enforcement.

This brief summary of some twists and turns of Augustine's doctrine was a set up for the real value of Augustine's Two Cities. In fact, while Augustine acknowledged the presence of a Christian emperor, he didn't make any distinct place for it. He was much more cynical about the possibility of its sustenance, though he certainly took advantage of it in the suppression of the Donatists. In this, he looks a lot more like a Lutheran. However, the deep division was Augustine had a much more optimistic sense of the Church than Luther. For Augustine, the City was a materialization of a blueprint, the love of the heart manifest in actions. Thus, there were two cities, one of man based in self-love, and one of God based in love of Christ. The kingdoms of this world, including Rome, even Rome with Christian emperors, were founded in self-love and their structures, both material (e.g. buildings, monuments, etc.) and immaterial (e.g. institutions, civic rites), manifested this. The Church was a part of, if not the, manifestation of the City of God, since Christians were those who had the love of God in their heart. Luther, on the contrary, was much more pessimistic about this, recognizing that all Christians are afflicted with sin. They were simul iustus et peccator, not merely lovers and friends of God who still struggled against their sins. While Augustine recognized that hypocrites, liars, and apostates could and would be in churches, even their leadership, this did not lead him to believe that all holiness on Earth was invisible as it did Luther.

Later Lutheranism has not been so cynical, but a stench of it has followed the development of the Lutheran church and has, perhaps, been part of the reason for its anemia. If holiness is invisible, even to Christians who are constantly beset by the Old Adam and his sins, then when Two Kingdoms is uncoupled from a Christian state, malaise about the role of the church can set in. All one sees is the kingdom of the world, with the exception of word and sacrament, and this can lead to a turn inwards. Perhaps Pietism's development is proof of this, as their reaction to "dead' Lutheran Orthdoxoy led to an emphasis upon subjective experiences of crushing law and liberating gospel, despair and rejoicing. Faith becomes increasingly experiential because a physical manifestation is wholly invisible in any objective sense. Living by faith becomes understood as an atomized act. In the English world, the reverberations of Pietism melded with, and influenced, wings of Reformed theology to create the Evangelicalism of the Great Awakenings. When secularized, it is easy to see how an unmoored mutation Two Kingdoms becomes the modern day modus vivendi of experience.

Sacralist attacks on Two Kingdoms will tell a similar story, and they are right at points. But, they beg the question that their approach is right approach. Of course, I would accuse them of Judaizing, mistaking the empty Torah of Israel for the fulfilled Torah of Israel's Christ. They are no better than those who sought to retain circumcision for Christians in St. Paul's day. While most are not open Eusebeans, they keep his spirit with an Augustinian gloss over it. However, I will say, once again, I much rather appreciate the emphases of the Sacralists, even if they are more dangerous. They, at least, do not divorce matter and spirit, and more properly recognize Creation as God's gift, not a stumbling block.

Augustine's doctrine of Two Cities is absolutely necessary, and it is because it does not obviate the intermeshing, though distinct, of matter and spirit. Christ's Gospel manifests in temporal form and in visible ways, hence why Pagans were shocked to see the love of Christians for one another as they perished. Augustine keeps both sides of the Biblical account in tact: the crowds see Christ heal the sick and rejoice, while also turning on him and bringing about His crucifixion. He both trusts the power of God, while also retaining healthy pessimism. The City of God intermixes with the City of Man, but the two remain distinct. Augustine, perhaps unknowingly, provides a political theology for the Church of the Underground, who do not put their trust in princes. Churches are thus politically engaged, but oriented towards giving and a willingness to suffer shame, scorn, and attack. It is not about control, but about witness. Hence, the congregation was a distinct society from the Roman world, but the former was not poised to conquer the latter. Thus, the Christian faith was not oriented away from, but within creation as the site of God's work. Chronos, linear and experienced time, was not disregarded as a problem, but was recognized as the place where the Creator God appeared, in the flesh. The radical nature of the Kingdom of God is not in a divorce between matter and spirit, but in a new interaction, where sin was overcome by the cross of Christ, and the folly and weakness of God stormed the Devil's palace.

If Christians are to escape from anemia of modern existentialism, with its aimlessness and purposelessness, literally without an end, a telos, then we must return to a vision of faith that does not pry a part spirit and matter, eternity and time, kairos and chronos. The latter is not merely an empty vessel, a means to an end, but the site of God's redeeming work. The Kingdom thus comes with power, but a power shaped by cross, a spiritual force that appears in the flesh. The Church of God, holy, one, catholic, and apostolic, may be an article of faith, the churches of God are visible, even if weak and unimpressive by the standards of This Age. We may still be pilgrims, not yet arriving at our city in a distance, but our tents and homes within the walls of Babylon reflect a Kingdom that is, indeed, not of This World.