Saturday, January 21, 2017

Turning Tables and Punching Arius: The Violence of the Peacemaker

One of my major concerns, ever since becoming a Christian, was over the ethics of violence. This is so on account of my own personal background. Before I was a confessing Christian, previously living in vain imaginings and the darkness of my own mind, I was slated to join the Marine Corps. I had all my papers signed, but a number of events deterred this. Over that time, during which I became a Christian, I became more uneasy with what being in the military meant. I struggled over questions of war, of peace, and what Scriptures said. I eventually found the two routes as incompatible.

Initially, I gravitated towards almost dogmatic pacifism and non-violence. I struggled with some of the implications, but I pushed ahead. I struggled to walk the line of the reality of violence in the Old Testament, at times bordering on Marcionite tendencies. But through growth, maturity, and wisdom, I've learned to think a number of these issues outside of the boxes people place over them.

One of these is the very definition and issue of violence. Usually the question is boxed in around absolutes: violence, yes or no? Of course, if one says no, which I was prone to do, it unleashes a torrent of questions, both fair and unfair. There's the problem over non-physical coercion and violence. Isn't shouting a kind of violence, a forcing of one's voice into another's consciousness? How violent is persuasion and argument? What about the crisis and demand of conversion? I find arguments about the violent non-violence of verbal, symbolic, and non-physical acts as casuistic. It encourages, under the surface, passive-aggression, manipulation, dissembling, and psychological warfare. I've seen this take place, in Christian and liberal groups, and it is truly horrible. Listening to way some people talk or gesture, I'd rather get punched

The question, more properly formulated is the nature, use, and authority of violence. In this light, there's nothing inherently wrong or sinful in violence in se. This, of course, opens the floodgates to evil teachers, but it must be done if we ever want to progress. Yes, I still argue voluntary professional military service is still sinful, especially in the current context of the United States. But I'm not going to get roped into impossible corners to try and box out of. Instead, it's a question to what extent people are given force for and how it is used.

The model of violence for the Christian is Christ turning over tables. We might nod our heads, but most of us are inherently uncomfortable with this act. It's a combination of liberal sensibility, whinging for civility, and our evil value over the sanctity of private property. Both of these Christ violates with ease and ferocity. His pure and purifying rage ought to model the purposes of violence. It is the tearing down, destruction, of evil accretions. It is the humiliation of the money changers. It is an attack upon an institution. This is a paradigm worthy of meditation.

Symbolic violence can bring about a feeling of liberty, a form of repentance and an attack upon the false gods that feed upon us. Violence in quelling our passions, or otherwise called the mortification of sin, is something all Christians are called to. Our vocation is a spiritual war against powers and principalities, but it is a spiritual war waged in the flesh. Of course, false gods command power over our hearts, but when it came to Greek Christians destroying Pagan temples or Dutch Reformers smashing stained glass windows, I can't argue with them methodologically. They might be wrong in practice, but not in principle. Physical actions may be goads to realize spiritual reality.

Thus, this leads us to the recent video where an Alt-Right White Nationalist was punched on TV. Against a liberal sentiment, Christians should not be appalled or offended by the action because it was violence. We ought to ask, what was the violence, and what was it for? It's similar to an episode where bishop Nicholas of Smyrna, apocryphally, punched Arius when he said that "There was a time when the Son was not". Whether this actually happened is irrelevant, the story communicates that even though Nicholas was jailed, an angel approached him and he was commended for his defense of Christ. This is not a question of whether someone should or should not get punched for denying the full divinity of Christ, it's a question of method.

There's something right and just about a foul, rebellious, and petulant child being slapped by his or her mother for speaking evil against her. Ideally, the violence is not to destroy the child, rather the exposure of humiliation, shock, and anger is to drive the child back onto the path of life. Again, not every act of child-discipline is good, many times it's destructive or vindictive, but it's a question of method and principle, not concrete practices. In other words, maybe a White Nationalist should be humiliated on national tv, maybe a Christ-denier ought to be physically challenged with the weight of his declaration in front of his peers. This is not the whole story, but it's worth meditating before blanket condemnation of force and violence. It's a correction of offensive boundary setting, a strong declaration of righteousness. Ultimately, the principle is repentance and liberation, even when people don't understand or want it.

This is something to thought through carefully, but thought through nonetheless. Again, if it's not clear, this does not validate the voluntary professional military, modern policing, the penal system of incarceration, or the modern state's death penalty. These are all things I see as demonically inspired, sin fueled, death-worshiping institutions, many times being driven along by pawns and peons who barely understand the chessboard they are standing on.

But being a peace-maker does not mean becoming doctrinaire pacifist or non-violent, in the purest sense of the term. Christ is the Prince of Peace, He did not revile His accusers even as they reviled Him, He taught us to turn the other cheek when slapped, and even restored the ear of His enemy which Peter had lopped off. Christ told us the Kingdom was seized by the violent, He turned the tables of the money-changers, He came as a sword, diving families, and the cause of the rising and falling of many in Israel. All of this is what it means to be a Peacemaker, perfectly revealed and formed in the life of Christ which we are to imitate. Let us attend to Wisdom. Amen.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Under This Leaden Sky

One thing I like is pulp-detective shows and films. I have to be careful because the bleakness can overwhelm the soul, but they do a good job of bracing my soul. The best ones are the ones that are self-defeating. The difference, for me, between a detective show and a cop show, is that the former does not valorize any institution. Usually the police are part of the problem, and sometimes the detective has unwittingly, or wittingly, been participating in corruption for whatever reason. I suppose this is my own personal attraction to the story of Samson.

However, I like these because, through those broken eyes and gravely voices, one sees the World as the World. In other words, this is to recognize the Fall in-itself. One thing Marxism, as a political theory, does, at its root, is to offer a similar appraisal. It sees clearly things in light of the Fall. This is an examination of things tightly wound in the bonds of necessity, where life is a fragile and fleeting reality. This is the world ruled by the god of This Age, the Devil. Sergei Bulgakov, an ex-Marxist who turned to Christ, appreciated this similar feature about this. In This Age, where Mammon rules, things seem desolate. Here's a quote from him, it's worthy of reflection:
In the current empirical world, "life lives" only in a constant struggle with death. The "organic" world, the kingdom of life in its various forms, is surrounded by a hostile atmosphere of death, of the deadened and mechanistic, of stifling necessity. Under "the heavy shroud of graying skies", under this leaden sky, on a poisoned, plague-ridden earth, life seems a sort of accident, an oversight or indulgence of the part of death. Encircled by a ring of death, constantly threatened by the yawning abyss of nonbeing, life timidly and stingily huddles in the corners of the universe, saving itself from final extermination only through terrible struggle. For if it cannot be completely exterminated, life is constantly in the process of being destroyed as it becomes the prey of nonbeing, waiting to strike from all sides and in all guises. Life is not separated from nonbeing by an impenetrable wall that would make these attempts futile. It is imperfect in itself, for it is fragile, temporary, mortal.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Puritans: Right and Wrong

I saw a snippet of a John Piper sermon, and I sat there with a kind of thorough disgust, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The point of the sermon was to blast the Prosperity Gospel and to highlight the kind of faith that only desires God, despite all horrible tragedies. I started writing out some of my ideas, and I realized I was rehashing a diatribe that I had, reading over it, severe second thoughts about. This post is to explain what's wrong with all of this.

My first reaction was a kind of eyes rolling: targeting the Prosperity Gospel is easy and usually doesn't get to real issues. Yes, Americans chasing BMWs and McMansions is sinful and yet the Prosperity Gospel provides a dual means to justify this and call greed a form of virtuous prayer. But, there are plenty of people across the globe who don't have the same material access, and I struggle to hand-waive their attraction to false doctrine. But that's not my real problem, it was in how I heard Piper and how I wanted to respond.

Piper said that he'd want to see the faith of someone who crashed their car in an accident, their daughter die, and be able to look up and say "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, Blessed be the Lord". My gut turned inside of me. I felt a sense of outrage and vengeful anger. And yet, given such a set of circumstances, which is more common than perhaps I want to admit, what is a person supposed to do? Piper set up this macabre scene for pastoral reasons. People die in car accidents, and there are survivors. What do they do? According to Piper, the Prosperity Gospel teaches that they are doubly damned: they lost and God, if He was not blessing, had turned His back. It was a dual alienation, a failure to follow God and now a heartbreaking loss. In Piper's vision, even if the worst were to happen, it was all in God's hands anyway, and He hasn't abandoned you.

This is what Piper was trying to say, and yet I felt acid in my blood. I was angry and enraged. Why? I knew a girl once who turned towards a kind of atheism, in part, because, in the wake of a sudden and tragic death, she'd rather believe in impersonal chaos than anything Divine that had intended any of it. I'm not going to discuss the merits of her claim, but merely the fact that my feelings revealed I was in the same boat. Given the car crash, in my mood, what would've I said? I would've veered towards confusion and a gesture that things just happen. In the moment of crisis, what good is a hang-wringing Christianity like that? I believe in God until reality intrudes, and in comes despair, platitudes, and moving on? Was that the sum total of my faith? May God keep me from it!

I believe my emotional reaction was residual effects of my own secular Stoic philosophy in my teens and my time immersed among a liberal higher education environment that substitutes intellectual vitality, revolution, and the flames of challenge and expansion for the saccharine feeling of tolerance, self-seeking, and high pitch whine, barely discernible, of trying to fix the world. But it still highlighted a problem with Piper, even as he offered some good and hearty truths along with it.

Piper's reasoning fits within the broader schema of bare-bones Calvinism, but is bizarre when compared with richer forms of Calvinism. Over the years, I've had conflicting thoughts and evaluations of the Puritans. But, with my eyes open, I see the Puritans understood what it means to live in a world directed by God. Only the rich and powerful could afford to be Arminians and live lives of action and doing. For the commoner, they were at the mercy of prelacy and possibility. The Puritans pushed a fiery insistence upon God's true presence in the World, setting the courses of things. Despite stupid, ahistorical, apologists, Puritans were not lazy or anomians. They were severely active in trying to alter the course of English society. The example of the Puritans can be expanded to other groups of Calvinists on the Continent who, even as a minority, exercised immense influence through perseverance.

I bring this up, not to justify the actions of the Puritans or to collapse a theological postulate into a social phenomenon. Instead, the Puritans brought a biblical truth to bear in such a way that empowered Christians to walk in the Spirit as the holy apostle Paul commends us to. The Puritans were, relatively and depending on what, a force for unleashing the power of the Gospel.

But the Puritans, and Calvinists more generally, seem to have little place for spiritual warfare. Unlike the form of clericalism and prelacy that dominated monastics in Latin Europe, Eastern Christian monastics were individual or collective peoples who were empowered to act and to do, but were well aware they were in a war-zone. They not only fought against the darkness, but knew their lives and the lives of all things were in the hands of the Living God. This offered a different sense of the Christian life, not professionalized, though always under siege of becoming so. The Puritans had a demonology that did not properly understand the Christian way of combating the Devil.

The problem with the Puritans was that they most had ejected this from their spirituality. They mained a demonology that could accuse Indian nations of being minions of Satan, and thus justify slaughter and destruction, along with the burning of witches. This was a demonology of a world at war, but they failed to properly grasp the nature of the demonic. In this way, they failed to see the mature light of the Gospel and fought with carnal weapons. They were Judaizers of the demonic.

John Piper presented us with a world where it is merely a matter of God willing that so-and-so crashes his car and gets his daughter killed. At least the Puritans had the good enough sense to see that Piper was merely Job's friend, peddling bad advice. At least the Puritans would know enough to rebuke John Piper for being a blind, bourgeois justifier of the status-quo. And even though he claims Calvinism, he is a terrible Calvinist, in any rich or biblically deep sense of the word. He is just one of those soft-handed Evangelicals that emerged out of Puritanism.

The real problem is not an issue of God's sovereignty, but how we have to see this all as a battle for our souls, a war waged against the devil and his demons. If we forsake this, we not only affirm the status-quo, becoming arch-conservatives, but we might slide into equating God with the devil. The insistence of many a Calvinist that God was with him, however lowly he was, is something every Christian should learn, and never be tempted to seeing things as "random" or sadly chaotic. This doesn't allow us to stand our ground for the truth. But neither ought we to forget that this world is a battle, not just against the flesh or the world, but also the devil, who reigns and threatens with the fear of death. Even if the Puritans were wrong, they knew something that a two-dimensional Calvinist like Piper will forget when he screams about pious feelings and untimely deaths.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Of Riddles and Regulae: Thoughts on Ecclesiology, Canon, and Theological Method

This post is response, elaboration, and provocation to my blessed acquaintance Proto on a series he wrote on Fundamentalism, Modernity, and Biblicism (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Fundamentalists depended on a naive Common Sense Realism that was taken beyond the empirical world into describing metaphysics and God's God-World relationship. It resulted in a parallel, but opposition, movement along the lines of Modernism. Fundamentalism inadvertently used the same tools as the Modernizers they tried to break from. Their Dispensationalism certainly had a different view and different goals from the Social Gospel of the Mainline, but they possessed similar hermeneutical roots. Fundamentalists and Modernists worked on different points on the same spectrum.

Proto emphasizes, in contrast to Fundamentalism, a seemingly naive Biblicism. He's right to do so. This is the Apostolic method that had maintained, in different levels and varieties, throughout all of Church history. Even during the heady days of giddy Enlightenment optimism, a form of Biblicism remained. It takes the Bible not only as infallible word, but the source of its own interpretive power. That is to say, the Bible provides the reader with the tools to understand it. This subtle doctrine is what became the battling point over the centuries. It is crucial to understand this. Without it, the Scripture becomes fit within another systemic matrix of interpretation, even if it is considered the infallible source. However, it ceases to be an infallible structuring, but only an infallible source.

This last point is key. No fact is an uninterpreted fact, and a clutch of infallible, unassailable, facts in one source, the Bible, still leaves someone bereft. What does one do with these facts? It's why Fundamentalism tends to always turn on, and return to, what appears to the outsider as really bizarre, and arbitrary, interpretive structures. It requires these to make all these facts fit together. A naive Common Sense realism covers over the imposition over the text. This is why Fundamentalism is generally laughed off the stage of most intellectual platforms. It's not that they are fought by enemies of the Truth, necessarily, but they're unaware of what they're doing.

But this leaves a fundamental problem. When we talk about the Bible, we are talking about something that is and isn't a single book. The Scriptures were a series of books and letters, recognized for their God given authority, by the People of God. This leaves us with an epistemological problem. If we rely upon the Bible as a base of interpretive understanding, a kind of Foundationalism, we catch a circular loop of reasoning. As any two-bit Atheist critic will point out, the Bible doesn't tell us what constitutes the Bible, so how can we seek reliance upon it for its own validity? The rest of this post will try to think this through.

Some of the earliest Christian writers and defenders, fighting with their interlocutors, appealed to what is called the regula fidei, or what we will canon (coming from a Greek word for rule). The idea is that there is a derived short-hand, a key if you will, to understanding and unlocking the meaning of Scriptures. It is within this context that holy Irenaeus appeals to apostolic succession. Despite apologists, it was succession for the purpose of the rule. It is not a mechanical exchange of office that one later sees in Augustine's defense. Rather, it is an appeal to united teaching because Irenaeus' teachers go back to the Apostles. To import this into our context now is far too complicated than I intend to investigate. But I mention it only for the sake of appreciating that the key to understanding Scripture is something that is intra-Scriptural and extra-Scriptural simultaneously. Unlike a stupid Roman apology who posits two stream of truth, Scripture and Oral Tradition, the reality is that the two coincide inseparably with one another. This dialectical gap is what we must consider as Canon. It occupies a space precisely inside and outside of Scripture simultaneously.

Again, this is not to say Tradition is something separated from Holy Scripture, but something that coexists within and without it. In other words, the Church did not write the Bible, but the Bible did not make the Church. These are twin errors that result from an inability to think Canonically, which is what the Scriptures appeal to. This makes the dialectic even more complex and complicated. However, it's necessary if one wants understanding and clarity when discussing these issues.

A key example of how this sort of reasoning played out is in holy Athanasius' debate with his Arian opponents over the interpretation of Proverbs 8, where Wisdom is said to be created. Athanasius is masterful in his explication, and this is important. It's not enough to assert the divinity of Christ as a nude fact. Rather, we have to see how to argue this truth from within the Scriptures, adjusting one's ability to argue and reason canonically, standing above, under, and within the text at a single juncture. We are reading, we are being spoken to, and we dwell and dance in world of figures that have a sense of permanence and weight within the Mind of God. It's in this space that we must dwell if we want to seek God with our understanding and our mind.

The Scripture is not created, but given, and it is given within the context of God's People, who receive, passively, and recognize, actively. This sort of epistemic paradox is apparent in the apocryphal origin of the Septuagint. At the behest of Ptolemy, Greek Pharaoh of Egypt, seventy rabbis embarked on individually, and alone, translating the whole of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. When they came back together, they witnessed a miracle: they had all translated the text exactly the same. This was proof that God supervened in the production of the text. The rabbis  translated and interpreted, using their reason and submitting to the authoritative meaning of the text. Out of this emerged God's work. It is the dialectic of the Canon that allows for Christianity to be a truly evangelistic faith, and not merely a conquering one. Unlike Islam, the fullness of the Word of God can be present in many languages, translation is not a corrupting act. This work of translation can only occur through an appeal to Canon.

It is not for nothing that Athanasius, among other Greek-speaking Christians, refers to the writers of Scripture, in shorthand, as haggoi, or the Holy ones. This is to say that to write Scripture, these diverse individuals and people were in some sense walking with God. This makes a claim upon theological process that is constantly under threat. Theology cannot be an academic discipline, it cannot be Queen of the Sciences, even though it always is being made into it, one way or another. Instead, an analytical perspective must melt away before actual presence with the Living God. It is from this that the purest and most precise definition of theology, literally knowledge of God, is not a science, but a transformative and salvific event. Hence, the Apostles speak rightly when they talk about a saving knowledge of the Truth.

This enters into our discussion of Canon because it was to holy authors that the text was created, and it was to holy people that the text was received and recognized. Even though it's frustrating and jagged for our modern sensibilities, this deprives Scriptural interpretation and Canonical reasoning from the domain of both analytical science and common sense. The Bible neither affirms an elite aristocracy of the scholar, nor does it support a democratic of basic Human sensibility. Holy living opens the eyes, giving truth to those who know the truth, and veiling truth whose eyes are veiled. This hermeneutical key can be abused in obscurantist and high-handed ways, but it contains within itself regulative principles to constantly undermine these. The Holy Spirit, who dwells, leads, and purifies the people of God, individually and collectively, is always at work. He is the One who makes these authors and people holy, not they themselves.

It's for this reason that I think it is paramount to be simultaneous biblicist and serious about Church history and tradition. A symbol like the Niceaean Creed cannot be disregarded or ignored. Unlike, perhaps, some confessional statements, this is not a summary or a rewriting of the Scripture. Rather, we must look at this as a tool to canonically situate the Scripture. It is a confession of faith because it is simultaneously intra-Biblical and extra-Biblical. This is how Athanasius defends Nicaea and the use of "substance" language. There ought to be caution about extra-Biblical language, but, per his argument, it is shorthand for a list of ideas that flow together throughout Scripture. Shorthand is not a replacement for the full glory of a text, but neither does it make it superfluous. There is plenty of Theological language that operates this way (e.g. Trinity, hypostatic union, essence-energies, covenant of works/covenant of grace, etc.).

Thus, the constant problem is that we are apt to give up on this difficult and life-changing method for subordinating the text to methods we're more comfortable with. Whether it's Neo-Platonic metaphysics, Aristotelian categories, common-sense empiricism, whatever, it's a route that always threatened to emerge and array the text along its own logic and for its own purposes. It might be Arius trying to defend God's unoriginate honor, Eusebius of Caesarea hailing a new Imperial synthesis of Christianity into a new political order, the Modernist reliance upon Kantian dichotomies, or the Fundamentalist's folksy, Pramatic, appeal to empirical analysis, it's all a threat to the integrity of the Scripture.

These are preliminary thoughts, may God give us good wisdom and never avert our eyes from the Glory He places before, namely in the Person of His Son, the Immortal and Eternal God and Savior to which we turn. Amen

Saturday, January 7, 2017

When the Gates of Hell Prevail, or Why Clericalism is Evil

I believe that Christ commissioned the Apostles as a select, elect, group of Twelve. I believe that the Christ ordains officers of His Church, that they have been designated in names like Overseer [episkopos], Elder/Priest [presbyteros], and Deacon [diakonos]. I believe these officers help protect the life of Christ's Body and are necessary to any healthy church. However, I think Clericalism is straight from the pit of hell.

What do I mean by clericalism? This is the explicit, implicit, or functional idea that God's People, deeply and truly, is constituted by these ordained officers. In fact, these officers become the locus of ecclesiastical life, defining and delimiting the boundaries of what we call 'Church'. These officers cease to be officers or ranks, but separate, a class, distinct and different, at a, or almost at a, ontological level. They cease to be leading or structuring elements in the government of a church, they are the government of the church.

There are many problems with clericalism. It lacks firm biblical foundation. It collapses ecclesiastical realities into organizational structures, which, then, become coterminous with sociological measurements, analysis, and realities (in other words, they are kingdoms of this world). It creates absurd theological conclusions about ecclesiology. But I want to focus on what I think is the nexus of it all. This is the claim or distinction of professional Christians.

This is the idea that there are separable classes of Christians. I am not talking about mature/immature (which is a Biblical distinctive), but a kind of Christianity within Christianity. This has been formulated as 'ecclesiola in ecclesia' (a little church in the church). Ironically, this idea arose in resistance to a certain kind of clericalism, but I argue that the two have the same root and result in the same kind of boundary policing that is disgraceful among Christians.

I have been tempted over the years with both old and new types of clericalisms. The older is probably the most obvious and the most clearly disgusting to the one with biblical sensibilities. This is  the idea that the ordained embody and possess the church in their person. This is the Roman Catholic or the Anglo-Catholic who talks of an indelible mark of grace, an ontological shift from lay to priest. This perspective makes the priest into a kind of boat that carries his parish or his ministry into salvation. Yes the people might essentially be pagans (and are perhaps sneered at as such), but the priest's job is to carry them into God's kingdom. This results in preaching as moralizing and the Supper as magic. Both still exist in the modern West. Even though Vatican II has sought to change some of these tendencies, Roman Catholics tend to remain rather entrenched in this mode of being. The real Christians, the ones doing the basics of being and acting as Christians, are the professionals, the clergy. They do the praying, the loving, the serving, and lay people tack on as helpers, occasionally. But the intelligent and zealous ones are marked for joining the priesthood, it is the logical next step.

While the most grotesque forms of this are in the above traditions, many Protestants and others, do the same thing. This comes across with little to no expectation from the congregation to know or do anything. They are just the stupid sheep, or dream on until they need help or their time is at an end. I claim that whatever compassion that one tries to justify this under is really a form of extreme contempt. Of course, in prior days, this was represented in the high-handedness of clerical power, where the clergy many times were a literally different class, accessing certain political and economic privileges. Now a days, the price-tag of a seminary education and milieu of high education can mark a class distinction between the middle-class and bourgeois cleric and the working class congregants. All in all, it's a similar expectation and distinction that the minister does Christianity full-time where everyone else is a volunteer or part-time employee. This is a dour and utilitarian strip-down of clericalism. You keep praying, and I'll put a check in the basket. The grey hues of this economized way of life is pathetic.

But of course, there's the new kind of clericalism that one sees emerging with certain ideas about monasticism, but also among the Pietists and into the modern day Evangelical. This is rooted in the idea that there is a division between what Christ commands and what we can get by with. In Roman Catholic practice, this was that the monks lived under the Counsel of Divine Perfection, while others didn't, or didn't have to. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount was for the elite, not for the regular joe Christian. The monk was the escape valve for those who wanted to take Christianity seriously (which meant diverse things).

The Piestist shift represents a half-way between that and the Evangelical invert. The Pietists originally saw themselves as an inner church, serious Christians, within a broader state apparatus. Serious Christians would go to these conventicles during the week or night, in addition to regular Sunday worship. However, they sought to remain within, while crafting the judgmentalism that would invert the model. They considered themselves the real movers and shakers within a moribund ecclesiastical institute.

The Evangelical inversion was the Pietism of Spener and others taken to a new limit. They were schismatics that broke with the state-church to turn their conventicles into a new ecclesiastical domain. The problem, however, was that they were among a sea of state-church people that they considered unwashed masses. These were the dreaded 'nominal' Christians, baptized, catechized, but otherwise deprived of spiritual life and vitality. This continues to the present, with the occasional spirals into accusations, anxiety over one's own state, and burn-out. The emotional fervor of the New Lights and George Whitfiled turned New England and the Mid-Atlantic into the burned over districts. This inverts the monastic form, where now a ordained and/or lay cadre of elite bar people from the congregation and set a standard for what designates Christian from non-Christian, with varying levels of arbitrary and impossible performance.

The new clericalism might deceptively not look like clericalism, since it does not or has no clerical class. But the clerical class is those who hit the standard. It's a church of the spiritual elite, which many times only masks and hides the spiritual immaturity of a great many members. Unlike the monasticism, which was a vent within a larger social organism, the Evangelical Inversion invites endless schism and arbitrary tyranny, where from a single pastor or a mob of Holy Rollers. But these people, with the exception of a few bodies, don't consign the whole world to damnation. They still have a place for the nominals, depending on how this is defined. They made a declaration of faith, in some way, shape or form, and thus they'll be saved. Perhaps it's why Evangelicalism functions, weirdly, as a state-church in America. It's also why Evangelicalism is so easily wed to the same vision of a Christian Society. The Evangelical Inversion re-presents the same division, where there are professional Christians.

All of this makes a faux-version of Christ's Church and invites pain, confusion, malice, arrogance, division, and love gone cold. Both forms of this clericalism are easy to be sucked into, especially for those who have strong interests, intellect, and ambition. Personally, I applied and was accepted into Princeton Theological Seminary and I considered it because (because!) I desired an intellectual challenge and the chance to study theological texts. But, I turned it down. The main reason was mundane (I was offered full tuition and stipend elsewhere to do something else), but the other reason, which has become stronger in my mind since, was that this was to make a mockery of theology. The great sin of clericalism when it comes to knowledge of God is how it turns theology into an academic discipline. Thus, a godless man could, easily and theoretically, gain the same mastery over Christian theology as a Christian. He can read the Bible, read Barth, think creatively, rework doctrines in new and interesting ways. This is a disturbing conclusion, but is the current trend and trajectory of a lot of American seminaries that give high academic value. These are the same MDivs that most denominations, which functional like little companies or corporations, look at and approve. This is part and parcel to a kind of clericalism.

There is an alternative to this. I will list three things that I think are key:

1) The Biblical offices that I affirm are not a separate class of Christians, and they are not to be ignored. Instead, we must see them within the integrated whole of a church. These is no church without Christians, out of and over which these offices exercise their function and authority. The whole church, of the diverse churches, a part of one Church, are a semblance of parts, lay, deacon, elder, bishop, are members of One Body whose Head is Christ.

2) The reality of maturity and immaturity in the life of a church. Everyone is working at different stages, and Christ is calling them into different forms of life. They must all obey Him, but what this means is different. The monastic life as the perfect life, particularly in Western Europe, is a bastardization of this concept. A church body will have different maturity levels. This means that lay people may be more spiritually mature and wise than a deacon or a bishop. Hopefully this is not always true or true a majority of the time, but it's quite possible. The idea is that the body is a place to grow and be integrated. This fights against Anabaptistic strains of a Church of the Perfect, while simultaneously fighting against supposed Nominalism. There is no Nominalism in the Bible, there is strength and weakness, belonging or apostasy. This is stricter and looser at the same time.

3) Theology is the knowledge of God. This is only possible through walking with and experiencing God. This is not a flight of the emotions or existential crisis. But it does mean that to know God is to walk after Him. This is a long process and difficult, not accomplished in a couple years of schooling, but in a life time of practice. This is what everyone is called to, in different levels and measures. Every Christian is to know God, no one is a professional here. This means everyone must practice disciplines of prayer, fasting, repentance, virtue, service and friend, and Bible-reading (among others). These are not optional and a church must call all members to this, not hold the plebs in contempt through a sick form of pity.

These three things are starter issues, but they only skim on solutions to the problem of clericalism and professionalization of Christianity that is rampant. Clericalism tries to make churches into something else, which the Devil easily gobbles up. It's a serious problem, and may God give us the help to defeat it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Motherhood, Holiness, and the Ever-Virginity of Mary

Peter Leithart posted an analysis of Joseph's abstention from Mary during her pregnancy with Jesus and how this fits into the theology of Mary's life-long virginity here.

For most of my time as a Christian, I have tended towards a perhaps typical neglect of Mary that is due many Protestants. I didn't really care one way or another. But I think this is, fundamentally, contrary to the Scriptures. So, I had to reassess. When it comes to Mary, Rome is blasphemous, but I am rethinking the claim of "ever-virginity". But I'm not assessing particular claims here. Instead, I want to look at a strange confluence in Leithart's post. In it, he gives reasons why it might be biblical to think so. But the real kicker, which is disturbing, is in this quote:
Temples are holy only when the Holy One inhabits them. Once Yahweh abandoned the temple, it was an empty shell for demolition and burning. If Mary was holy because the Holy One lived in her, then His birth exodus from her body would have ended her temporary holiness. She would have reverted to normal “common” status. And Joseph would have known her as his wife.
Prior to this, he qualifies his assessment of Joseph abstaining because Mary, bearing Jesus in the womb, was holy, and like holy things in the Old Testament, there was a purity to her that made sexual intercourse disastrous, a profanation of the Temple. After Christ, and the sanctification of all of those in Him through His ever-effective atoning sacrifice, sex is not a profanation of holy things, namely the bodies of Christians. I'm not sure about that reasoning, but let's proceed.

What's disturbing about this is how instrumentalized the person of Mary. It is as if the moment Jesus left the womb, Mary became common. His comparison to the temple that was destroyed is shocking (which is completely erroneous: God's presence left the temple on account of the sins of the people). This kind of logic demotes status and place to physical and spatial properties. It's this kind of logic one sees in Conservative opponents of abortion who don't care once the baby is out of the womb. Rather, Mary is always Jesus' mother, and that relationship would maintain the holiness implicit in her being the ark of God's presence. Motherhood is not rolled up once someone pumps the baby out. Mary's body is not a machine.

If there's a moment of translation, it is at the cross, where Jesus commends Mary to be a mother to John. This moment functions as one of the last words because it represents Christ's atoning victory, a holiness that would spill out of His side, the birth of His Mate, the New Eve, the Church. At this point, Mary would be translated into the consolation of Israel, the rising and falling of many souls, the Messianic Israel, dead, resurrected, and ascended.

Leithart's theology, ironically, rests upon the same modernized notions of anthropology that he claims to fight against.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Curse is the Cure for Sin

I was listening to Slavoj Zizek discuss Hegel's claim, "The Spirit is strong enough to heal its own wounds". He elaborates this as not the typical view of Hegelian synthesis in the divine life (i.e. God others himself in the Creation which he redeems in fully recognizing himself in the other, and thus atonement viz. process theology and panentheism). Rather, Zizek claims Hegel is saying that all problems can be solved by an appeal to the problem. The space can be a wound and an opening. He applies this to colonialism, in how the only way for a people to overcome the trauma and tragedy of colonization is to move forward. The freedom of a society ruptured allows for the downtrodden and weak to move into a more equitable society.

Now, I can think of a number of biblical parallels to this dialectical oddity play out in God's strange relationship to creation (e.g. Eve born out of Adam's wounded side; Christ's pierced side pouring out water and blood, a synecdoche for the Church etc.) But I thought of this even more fundamentally as the curse God lays upon the Creation in the very beginning.

Now, many modern Christians tend to emphasize a kind of detached way of thinking through Genesis 3. They use an appeal to ontology or law-code in order to distance God from the Fall. Thus, Adam sins and then things just fall a part because of repercussions for his actions. Or Adam falls and ontologically creation falls with him. But this seems to be a way of saying, "mistakes were made". This was something I was prone to, I was uncomfortable with God being the one who said, "Cursed is the ground for your sake".

But isn't that wording strange? For Adam's sake the ground is cursed? This I think is the purposes of hardship on the Earth. The holy apostle Paul said that God consigned the world to disobedience in order to liberate it. God's curse upon the earth and upon the woman was the very means for God's salvation of mankind from the grip of sin. The curse was, strangely, the cure. This is the symbolic logic in the fact that Moses' bronze serpent healed the disobedient, envenomed, Israelites. Thus, in a strange way, God's curse was His blessing for Mankind. It was the way it came into the problem of Adam and Eve's sin.

Honestly, in personal reflection, I am embarrassed at my reticence of the Biblical text. My stupid liberal sensibilities kept me from recognizing the plain truth. I might not have understood the Bible at that very moment, but my hesitancy was my shame. Let this be a lesson to all (myself included) to allow the possibility of God's wisdom despite what seems odd or grotesques. It might be the very truth that sets us free.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Athanasian Revolution I: Creativity, Creation and Christology

I've mentioned what I believe is the Athanasian Revolution in other posts. This is the fundamental shift where a more properly Biblical description of the God-World relationship defeated Hellenistic metaphysics. I call it Athanasian because it was Athanasius, in his battles with the Arians, that most perfectly marked the move. It didn't begin with Athanasius, and it didn't end with him. In some ways, the Revolution has been constantly attacked and undermined, and remains a dormant, but recurring, source of energy for renewed Christians to attack perversions in theological practice.

I would summarize this in a double move:

1) The emphasis on the radical disconnect and otherness between God and Creation. God is eternal, creation came into being from nothing. This is the essence of the creatio ex nihilo. Creatures are separated by an infinite gulf between them and God. He is Wholly Other. There is nothing alike, and Man cannot reason from creation to understand greater principles

2) But as implicit in the above, God does not relate to Creation as Other, but as Creator. Unless we are willing to say God somehow changed, that is He had a new idea and then created it (or more radically, He had the idea of creation itself), then we somehow have to reckon the concept of creation as an eternal, but unactualized idea, in the mind of God. Thus, even as creation is ever distinct from God, it is not alien to Him.

These two moves undermine the Middle and Neo Platonic syntheses of Hellenistic philosophy. This is the destruction of Chain-of-Being metaphysics which always threatens to recur, verging towards a kind of panentheism. Creation is radically different from God, so much so that Creation going into nothing is not merely a slide on the Chain, but a real defeat of God's creative work, a serious threat. It also explains God's redemption not in terms of a predestined magnetism of all things returning to the source, but as a radical act of love and compassion on what is fundamentally not-God to fulfill its purpose in bearing God's glory.

One place where Athanasius reveals this mode of thinking is when he says the Arians are utterly absurd for holding a non-eternal Christ who is the source of creation (Contra Arianos, 2:2). Arius had bit the bullet and said there was a time when God was not Creator, but Asterius, his disciple, tried to rectify this oddity by claiming that God was indeed Creator, but this Creatorship was in the potentiality of the World being created. However, Athanasius claims, the Bible consistently ascribes the creation of the world to Christ, the Word of God by which all things were made. So how can Creation be an eternal quality, but the means of God creating it was not eternal? How can creation exist, and creativity not exist? If the latter doesn't exist, then the former can certainly not exist, because the idea of creation, and creating, cannot exist without creativity. For Athansius, the Arians postulate a mindless god, who is sterile and barren, and thus certainly not God.

The argument is for the eternity of Christ, the Word of God, but it does more than this. It also highlights a primitive essence-energies distinction which is key to Eastern Orthodox theology (and I think a necessity in plainly Christian theology), but one in which Christ is given a certain primacy that later theological elaborations can obscure. However, if the creative energies of God are situated in Christ, the Word of God, who is the agent of creation, then we see that Christ holds them together in His own Person and Being. This is, precisely, what Maximus the Confessor gets right in his discussion of Logos/logoi.

In other words, if God is truly Creator, He is eternally Creator, unless we are to say God changes. However, this Creatorship is potentiality, not necessity. This is as the Arian Asterius says, against Origen's seeming conclusion that the world must somehow be eternal (this was a constant problem among Medieval theologians who read Plato and Aristotle). However, this potentiality necessitates an actual potency, the eternal, and fecund, Word of God. Thus, we can say Christ is Eternal, and thus God, creation is not eternal, and God's status as Creator is eternal, without it necessitating an eternal world.

This is all argumentation for how we, as Christians, declare in the Gospel that the eternal God, in His love and compassion for the warped things He made, sent His Son into the world, the Eternal Word of God who was with God and is God, to save and redeem. The Christ-event utterly overthrows Hellenistic philosophy and baffles it, and yet it makes a certain sense within the parameters of a revealed logic. It is a mystery unveiled to us, that angels, through the ages, had desired to look into. This is the recovery of a Biblical way of thinking applied to how we  understand the rudiments of how and why God conducts His saving mission for us.