Friday, March 31, 2006

Top 5 Reasons I'm not a Roman Catholic

4 Lent
John Donne

  1. ...
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. ...
Oh, dammit.

Technorati Tags: ,


4 Lent
John Donne

I've decided that I like Stanley Hauerwas' writings so much, I shall hereafter refer to him in the space (and in every day conversation) simply as "Stan." As if we liked to hang out and throw darts and shoot pool, or something.

Technorati Tags: ,

Thursday, March 30, 2006


4 Lent

I went for Indian food the other night with Brad, Jen, and Patrick. We've all been spending time together every day since the end of term. I don't think we realized how much fun we are, but there you go. We talked a bit about pluralism and sectarianism in Christian political engagement (okay, so maybe we're boring) and talked a bit about how we might offer the particular truth of Christianity in the public square.

I continue to learn that people are weird about religion everywhere, not just in the States.

Jen: I visited the Metropolitan Temple in Belfast with my friend, and she got really upset with me when I wouldn't pray the same prayer as the rest of the congregation. We were all supposed to say that we're "guilty sinners, deserving of hell."

Kyle: I ain't guilty. I'm baptized, bitches.

I am at this moment (well, not right this very moment) working on the outline for my first essay. I hope to chat with my tutor about it this afternoon and get to drafting by the end of the week.

Technorati Tags: ,

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Just Being a Jerk

4 Lent
John Keble

That's right, I'll admit it.

When I found this, I felt like someone had given me a present.

Maybe I've been working too hard.

Canton (OH) Baptist Church has an online exhibit of their Christian Hall of Fame. If you care to check out the background, I'll let you click on it. (Note that it won't work in Firefox. It will in IE, and I don't know about Netscape or Safari.) They are (apparently) a run-of-the-mill fundamentalist, independent Baptist church. The paintings are nice, but I especially love the little biographies.

I will now proceed to make fun of them. If that's not your cup of tea, you might go read something more productive. I thought about actually debunking these claims, but they're so very silly that I'd look ridiculous if I did anything but laugh at them.

Ignatius of Antioch:
"He was the first man to use the term 'catholic,' but he never used it in any letter as referring to anything more than the body of born-again believers who were in Christ by the Holy Spirit."
Somehow, I don't see Ignatius using that kind of language. Or anybody else until sometime in the last couple centuries.
"At no time does he suggest that such a term applies to anything Roman or connected with Rome, nor does he ever connect it with anyone who thinks that water baptism is a part of salvation."
Oooo, snap. That's a point, but do you think they read the letter in which he addresses the Roman church as "the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who formed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love"? Compared to the other letters, it sounds like they were his favorites, at any rate.

I should note that in none of his extant letters does Ignatius say what he does think baptism is.

Polycarp of Smyrna:
"Polycarp was born in Smyrna and later became Bishop there. He was a disciple of the Apostle John and also a friend of Ignatius. He was a very dedicated student of the Pauline Epistles and the Gospel of John."
So far, so good.
"He had very little to say about sacraments or ritual."
Well, we have one letter from Polycarp. It essentially reiterates Paul's ethical teachings. So in fairness, Polycarp just had very little to say.
"He maintained that each church was independent of any outside human authority."
What the hell? When? Where? Maybe they have a letter that I don't. Besides all that, the Church's authority wasn't a human authority, kitten, you just have to go back and read Ignatius to know that "where the Bishop is, there is the Catholic Church..."
"He never referred to the ministers as priests..."
Oh, yes he did. How about: "Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi:" from the introduction,
"...let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always 'providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;' abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin."
Okay, maybe except for when he talked about priests, he didn't refer to ministers as priests. Oh, and he only mentions "ministers" once, and he called them deacons.
"...and and he never taught that water baptism had anything to do with salvation."
Like I said: one letter.

Tertullian of Carthage:
"Tertullian was born of heathen parents in Carthage, Africa. He studied law and lived an exceedingly sinful life until he recieved the Lord Jesus at the age of thirty. He became an intense, hard-hitting defender of the fundamentals of the Christian faith against the traditions of Romanism."
That's just precious. Okay, so this might be just a little bit anachronistic. Maybe just a little? Speaking of which, this one is my favorite, because he's wearing an Anglican clerical collar, for some reason, which is a bit of kit that finds its origin in around the 19th century.

"He joined the Montanists, a group of pre-millenial, Bible believing Christians"

The Bible (not that they had one!) isn't the only thing they believed! HA!
"and spent the rest of his life writing and preaching primitive Christianity as opposed to Romanism with its ecclesiastical traditions and ceremonies contrary to the scriptures."
Oh, the pain, the pain! Hahahaha

Ooo, I think I just peed a little.

And yes, it gets better...

Patrick of Ireland:
"Patrick was born in Scotland. His father was a Roman Centurion and also a deacon in a local New Testament church. Patrick was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave, but he escaped."
He was probably kidnapped by Papists.
"After his conversion to Christ, he studied on the mainland in Gaul and then returned to the heathen tribes in Ireland as a missionary. He began scores of churches and baptized (immersed) thousands of converts."
Wait, sorry, how did he baptize them?
"He is largely responsible for the large number of Bible-believing Christians in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England."
Okay, now that's just silly. First, I'm not sure how many "bible-believing Christians" there are in those places, and second, I'm not sure if Patrick would want credit for them...
"Patrick, his father and his grandfather were proud of the fact that they were not controlled by the Roman church, and that they were responsible only to God."
Hell, what were they, Anglicans?
"Patrick was later canonized by the Roman church as a political move to control the Irish churches. He was thereafter known as Saint Patrick."
Those bastards! I wondered why they did that! Could that explain why +John Henry Newman is continuing down the canonization process?

I think it's safe to say that if Church history teaches anything, it's that you've got to watch out for the Papists.

Benedict XVI and Cardinal O'Malley, from you know who

Ecclesiology VII: "We Behold What We Are / May We Become What We See"

5 Lent
"The Body of Christ, you are told, and you answer 'Amen'. Be members then of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true. Why is this mystery accomplished with bread? We shall say nothing of our own about it, rather let us here the Apostle, who speaking of this sacrament says: 'We being many are one body, one bread.' Understand then rejoice. United, devotion, charity! One bread: and what is this one bread? One body made up of many. Consider that the bread is not made of one grain alone, but of many. During the time of exorcism, you were, so to say, in the mill. At baptism you were wetted with water. Then the Holy Spirit came into you like the fire which bakes the dough. Be then what you see and receive what you are."
Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ecclesiology VI: Christ in the Sacrament

"Show me the icons that you venerate, that I may be able to understand your faith."

John of Damascus, Doctor of the Church

It is not enough to make the devotional life our main concern, and allow an occasional lecture or preachment on social matters to be added as a make-weight. The social life must be brought right into the heart of our devotion, and our devotion right into the heart of our social life. There is only one spiritual life, and that is the sacramental life -- sacramental in its fullest, its widest, and its deepest sense, which means the consecration of the whole man and all his human relationships to God. There must be free and open passage between the sanctuary and the street. We must destroy within ourselves our present feeling that we descend to a lower level when we leave the song of the angels and the archangels and begin to study economic conditions, questions of wages, hours and housing. It is hard, very hard, but it must be done. It must be done not only for the sake of the street, but for the sake of the sanctuary, too. If the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament obscures the Omnipresence of God in the world, then the Sacrament is idolatrous, and our worship is actual sin, for all sin at its roots is the denial of the Omnipresence of God. I have been to Mass in churches where I felt it was sinful, sinful because there was no passion for social righteousness behind it. When ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make long prayers I will not hear you; your hands ate full of blood . . . Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek judgement. Relieve the oppressed. Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Rev. G. A. Studdert-Kennedy, at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, London.

I recall you in the last place to the Christ of the Blessed Sacrament. I beg you, brethren, not to yield one inch to those who would for any reason or specious excuse deprive you of your Tabernacles. I beg you, do not yield, but remember when you struggle, or, as Father Frere told us today, when you fight for the Church -- do remember that the Church is the body of Christ, and you fight in the presence of Christ. Do not forget that. I want you to make your stand for the Tabernacle, not for your own sakes but for the sake of truth first, and in the second place for the sake of reunion hereafter. But for the truth, because the one great thing that England needs to learn is that Christ is found in and amid matter -- Spirit through matter -- God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums.

Now mark that -- this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary -- but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen tonight your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly -- it is madness -- to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.

There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

Rt. Rev. Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar, at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, London.
Technorati Tags: ,

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ecclesiology V: More on Mother Church and Salvation

4 Lent
Anglican Bishops at Lambeth 1998 (ENS)
I said before,
Folks, we were baptized into the Body of Christ. It is in and through our mystical, sacramental, and nitty-gritty daily communion with Christ, and our brothers and sisters in that Communion, that God transforms us, re-makes us, and gives us new life. Jesus and his Church cannot be separated; his plan for our salvation – the remaking and redemption of our lives – is enacted through the life we share together. You step out of that, you refuse that, you short-circuit what God’s trying to do in you – and the people God wants to be with you. There is no salvation outside the Church.
And of course, we chatted about it a bit more in the comments. I want to try to put that together a bit better, and offer a bit from Hauerwas that might make it a little more clear.

Marshall said (in the comments),
"... let me raise a question related to salvation outside the Church. First, if Christ has saved and is saving, then we need to temper our statments about the limitations of how and when Christ might do that for any individual. Therefore, we can't know that Christ hasn't saved someone outside "the Church."

Which raises the related issue: how do we understand "the Church?" We have wrestled over the issue of the Visible vs. the invisible Church. We have spoken of the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. Where in those taxonomies do we want to say Christ cannot work or is not working? Yes, certainly, those living experience the presence of Christ primarily through the Body, present in the world through the Church. On the other hand, lack of that Body didn't stop Jesus from reaching Paul. We believe profoundly that Christ saves in and through the Church; but I wouldn't want to exclude Christ doing something in addition."
I think I agree with that. I should also note that I never mean to equate "salvation" and what some people call "justification."
By "salvation" I mean the holistic process by which God is gathering up all the fallen bits of creation and placing them under the headship of Christ. Goin' to heaven, goin' to hell, I don't really do much business with all that.

My understanding of the Scriptures and Tradition is that the primary locus of God's redemptive activity is the Church. Does God do some other things? Probably, but I think the point of it is to bring people to the fullness of salvation in the fellowship of his Church.

No church = less good.
God does not have some kind "Plan B" for redemption that isn't the Church. It is the eschatological community. It is
"the people of God who are constituted by God's saving act in Jesus, through whom the "end" is brought to the here and now, and the healing and completion that marks "the end" starts raining into our lives here and now as we live together as the Church." The other thing just seems to roll of the tongue more smoothly, don't you think?
And a reminder from Stanley Hauerwas:
"... salvation is not individualistic - it's not something one person receives for himself or herself alone. Salvation is the reign of God. It is a political alternative to the way the world is constituted. That's a very important part of the story that has been lost to accounts of salvation that are centered in the individual. But without an understanding that salvation is the reign of God, the need for the church to mediate salvation makes no sense at all.

"Christianity: It's Not a Religion: It's an Adventure" (1991), in The Hauerwas Reader
As always, just a few thoughts...

Technorati Tags: ,

Ecclesiology IV: Sacraments

4 Lent
"A sacrament is a means of grace, a means through which the Holy Spirit indwells our lives in order to renew us and transform us. And the Spirit's indwelling of our lives occurs through our indwelling of the gospel story. As we indwell the story so we are indwelt through the story and so we are changed; this story becomes our story, the defining truth of our lives."
John E. Colwell, Promise and Presence: An Exploration of Sacramental Theology (Paternoster: Milton Keynes, 2005), 158.
"The participants' absorption into the story is made possible through their absorption of the story in and through its ritual enactment. They are not simply witnesses of the story, but characters within it. They do not simply recall the forgiveness of sins but ask and receive forgiveness; they do not they do not repeat the praise of others but give praise themeslves; they do not merely remember the night ion which Jesus was betrayed but, mindful of their own daily betrayal, gather with the apostles at that night's table, themselves called by the one who in that darkness called his disciples t eat with him. Above all, they don ot merely remember the giving of the brad and the passing of the cup, but receiving the bread nad passing the cup amongst themselves, they too share in that night's food."
Nicholas Wolterstorff, "Sacrament as Action, not Presence," in The Sacramental Word: Incarnation, Sacrament and Poetry, edited by David Brown and Ann Loades (London: SPCK, 1996), 124.

Technorati Tags: ,

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Justin Martyr

3 Lent

Justin Martyr's First Apology is addressed to the Emperor and his household. Justin offers a lengthy and careful defense of the Christian faith in response to laws that made Christian practice a punishable offense.

He says of the martyrs, "…they conquer you by lavishing their own lives rather than obey in what you require them to do" (1 Apol. 70).

Regarding the ethical lives of the Christians, he says
"…We, who formerly gave loose to fornication, now strive only after purity; we, who took delight in arts of magic, now dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we, who loved the path to riches and possessions above any other, now produce what we have in common, and give to every one who needs; we, who hated and destroyed one another, and would not make use even of the same fire with those of another tribe, because of their different customs; now, since the coming of Christ, live together, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly, that all who have lived in accordance with the good precepts of Christ, may come to a good hope of obtaining from God, the Ruler of all things, the same reward as ourselves" (14).
Early Christian writers often appealed to the post-exorcism, post-baptismal ethics of Christian converts as evidence of both the religion's goodness and the power of their god.

Justin quotes a great deal of Scripture and New Testament writings regarding Christian ethics and the wisdom of the prophets. He argues that the greatest Greek philosophers were essentially Christians, because in their best writings they were inspired by the Logos, or had copied from the Jewish prophets outright.


Quoting almost the entire Sermon on the Mount, he argues that Christians are quietists, and since their kingdom is a heavenly one, they are no threat to the peace and safety of the Empire.

Somehow, I think the author of Revelation would disagree. I know I do.

He rambles a bit, and talks about what occurs in the Eucharistic assemblies. He emphasizes the care of widows and orphans. There are funny bits; he tries to shame his Roman readers by reminding them that the gods they celebrate in their civic religion tend to be pretty immoral in the stories that are told about them. After all, people declare themselves to be gods all the time, and say all kinds of things that corrupt youths (24-26). Yet who gets killed for it? Fine upstanding people like Socrates. And oh yeah, the Christians.

I didn't really fall in love with this one, as you might have guessed by now.

Next up: Cyprian of Carthage...

Technorati Tags: ,

Ecclesiology III: Bearing Witness

3 Lent
"…the Church is the body called to be the community of the last times, that is to say, to realize in its life the promised and inaugurated reconciliation of all things. It therefore becomes an echo of the life of the Trinity when it is enabled by the Spirit to order its life to where that reconciliation takes place in time, that is to say, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus."
Colin E. Gunton, "The Church on Earth: The Roots of Community," in On Being the Church: Essays on the Christian Community, eds. Collin E. Gunton and Daniel W. Hardy (T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1989), 79.
"The renewal of the contemporary Church that is appropriate will not focus on strategies, ecstatic experiences or signs of apparent power, but will rather issue from a more focused indwelling of the gospel story through the common life, worship and sacraments of the Church, and from the consequent presence of the Spirit, shaping the community of the Church in coherence with the gospel it proclaims."
John E. Colwell, Living the Christian Story: The Distinctiveness of Christian Ethics, (Clark: London, 2002), 165.

Technorati Tags: ,

Friday, March 24, 2006

Flannery O'Connor on the Eucharist

"Well, if it's just a symbol, all I can say is to hell with it."

Flannery O'Connor

Can I dedicate this to Alan's Catholicism WOW retreat?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ecclesiology II: Cynicism and the Gospel

"... cynicism has become the primary virtue of U.S. public life. Cynicism ensures that there's absolutely nothing worth dedicating one's life to in a way that totally encompasses it. One always wants to be able to disassociate oneself from one's engagements at any given moment."

Stanley Hauerwas, "Christianity: It's Not a Religion: It's an Adventure" (1991), in The Hauerwas Reader.
If this is true (and I don't think the point is a controversial one), does the truth of the Gospel offer freedom from this? It surely will come as no shock to you, but I believe deeply that it is the fact of the Church itself that enables us to appropriate and live into the truth of the Gospel and be healed from our cynicism. More on that as I write it...

Technorati Tags: ,

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On Being Catholic: The Vincentian Canon

From Chapter 4 of the Commitorium, by Vincent of Lerins, 434:
"Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent."
This is the famous rule of catholicity. It's a pretty nice idea, but even a cursory glance at church history makes the notion that something was believed "everywhere, always and by all" mere wishful thinking.

As it happened, Church Councils in the search for unanimity would decide what should be believed "everywhere, always and by all." But this is the ancient definition of catholicity. Heresy is defined over and against catholicity, beliefs that contradict the consensus of the faithful.


So as a post-protestant who wants to care about catholicity, does Vincent's canon offer me any guidance?

I've learned to think about catholicity in terms of "living in dialogue" with the ancient faith; it's not as if the Church Fathers were a theologically homogenous group. I must say that the precariousness of my own catholicity makes me very reluctant to call people heretics. Is that as it should be?

What do you think about Vincent's canon? What does "catholicity" mean to you? Do you care about it? Is a claim to "catholicity" such as I have described sufficient?

Ecclesiology I: Politics

3 Lent
One of the criticisms of your book [Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony] is that it is socially irresponsible to suggest that the Church quit trying to influence the government.

Willimon: Politicians love words like "responsibility." But once you accept something like the Gulf War in the name of political responsibility, then everything else goes down easy. We are the Church, and maybe the most "responsible" thing we could have done in the war with Iraq is to have said, "Here is a country ruled by a despot. We'd better make that a major area of evangelism this year, so we are going to send 1,000 missionaries to Iraq." That would have screwed up things beautifully. The government would have said, "How are we going to bomb Iraq with all those damn missionaries running loose?" And we would have said, "That's your problem. But if you hit one of our missionaries, there's going to be hell to pay." That is political responsibility from the viewpoint of the Church.

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live: Exercises for Christian Practice (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 114-15.
I don't post this because of any particular opinion I have about the war in Iraq, but because Willimon puts forth the very interesting notion that the Church should have it's own agenda and be it's own frame of reference regardless of the nation-states around it.

The Church of God is it's own ekklesia, it's own polis.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On Purgatory: "Even the mercy of the Lord burns"

This is a recycled post, but I have a different and larger readership now.

This, I think, is the basic question of Purgatory: is the process of formation into the likeness of Christ, that process we're going about now, and that God is doing in us, a process that will continue in some sense after we die? Will there be an instantaneous completion of sanctification, or a process that takes up some "time" after death? Alan offered some discussion on it last year, as well as a good article by an Asbury prof if you want to read on the idea further.

Alan Creech: "Logical Heavenly Conclusions"

Just in case you're naughty and don't click, this is what Alan says:
I think if we stick with the strict Catholic interpretation of purgatory we might be left wanting. If we have a transformational view of holistic salvation, it's a logical conclusion. To me, both you guys, it's not about "payment for sins" at all. That, as George pointed out, was taken care of, but we're still in the process of being fully remade in the image of God. To me, "purgatory" is just about entering the other dimension (on God's end of it because of Jesus) but it's about where in the proverbial "hallway" we enter at. Picture a long hallway that gets wider toward the end - depending on our level of transformation, we enter further down the hallway. This is about what we're metaphysically ready to handle, not about what we're worthy for (key distinction). So, we keep on cooperating and being transformed until it's completely done. He said He wouldn't stop till it was done. Then, we'll be ready for the fullness of God's presence. I don't look at this as a dogmatic doctrine, but as helpful to understand the ongoing journey.
And from the introduction of Walls' article,
It is here that "an indiscreet theological question" must be faced. If salvation essentially involves transformation - and, at that same time, we cannot be united with God unless we are holy - what becomes of those who plead the atonement of Christ for salvation but die before they have been thoroughly transformed? These people will have accepted the truth about God and themselves through repentance and faith, but their character will not have been made perfect. Their sanctification has begun but it remains incomplete. Such people do not seem to be ready for a heaven of perfect love and fellowship with God, but neither should they be consigned to hell.
So that's the playing field, that's what we're going on about. It's not a matter of reading the bible as if it were some kind of code book that's trying to impart to us the secret gnosis regarding what's going to happen when we die. Rather, it's about looking at the bigger picture of what God's doing in us.

My take?
Purgatory makes sense to me. "Love's redeeming work" surely won't be finished like the final touches on an assembly line, but rather with the loving hands of a master artisan.

And frankly, I think I deserve the extra attention.
I'd like to offer this bit from Flannery O'Connor which sheds some disturbing light on the nature of the transformation:
"A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from th earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives ... and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. ... They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away."
from "Revelation," in The Complete Stories

Technorati Tags: ,

Weakness and Power

3 Lent

From the conclusion of my homily:
I suggest to you that this inversion of wisdom and foolishness and power and weakness means that we can stop trying to be “wise,” or to win “signs” from God. We can cease trying so desperately to be spiritual, and trying not to be thick. Power is found in joining ourselves to the salvation that Christ has accomplished. It is not spiritual victories or warm fuzzies or a feeling of “excitement for the Lord” that makes us safe in Christ. Christ alone makes us safe in Christ. We already find ourselves in the temple of the Living God, encountering the thin place where the boundaries between heaven and earth disappear. We are called to join ourselves to the rhythm of the liturgy, welcoming into our lives the ongoing presence of the salvation that was worked out in another place two thousand years ago.

We are freed from our searches for wisdom, those fool-proof, fail-safe, forty day or ten step plans that promise to make life with Jesus finally “work” for us. No more measuring spiritual growth: “getting results” will not bring us home from exile. Rather, we must open our eyes and see that we have already been carried home. It is our inability to make discipleship work and our willingness to be with him in all of our self-recriminations that we can begin to understand ourselves as recipients of grace. We must understand this, as people who join Christ in making up the temple of God: our need and destitution do not drive God away, but necessitate God’s presence. It is safe for us to be fools. It is safe for us to be failures. We have just remembered a long story of promise, failure, apostasy and hope. The truth is that God’s faithfulness is always so much more than our strengths and weaknesses. Whatever we lack, our gracious Master has supplied. He has given us his own life to eat and drink, that by our participation in him, we die and are raised up anew.
Technorati Tags: ,

Friday, March 17, 2006

Flannery O'Connor on Hope and the Church

2 Lent
"I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it."

- Flannery O'Connor, in "Habit of Being"
Technorati Tags: , ,

Reading the Bible, VII: Authority

Just what is the Bible for?
The authority of Scripture within the Church... cannot be reduced in some legalistic manner in terms of supposedly inerrant propositional truths or supposedly absolute rules; the authority of Scripture within the Church consists rather in its recollection of God's mediated speaking through this text and its prayerful expectation of God's future mediated speaking through this text.

John E. Colwell, Promise and Presence: An Exploration of Sacramental Theology, 103.
I think Colwell's got a good point, because I don't find that the Scriptures want, on the whole, to be considered in the catagory of "propositional truths" and "absolute rules." Are they in there? Certainly. But the Bible does not seek to be "timeless truths for living," but rather the foundational text for the Communities of the Resurrection, the firstfruits of the recreation and redemption of the entire world.
These texts are foundational to the life of the church, not on the legalistic and biblicistic grounds that they possess an inherant, absolute authority to which we are bound to submit, but on the grounds that in them we encounter the particular life upon which the communal life of the church is founded; the life that is the light not only of the church but also of the world. For that reason and in that sense, preaching, worship and sacraments must conform to these texts.

Frances Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology, 1. Cited in Colwell.
I think Watson's bit, meanwhile, stops short of where it needs to go. I do think that we are indeed bound to submit to the apostolic proclamation of Jesus as recieved in the canon of Scripture. I don't know just where I sit on my theology of the canon or of Scripture altogether, but by virtue of whatever God and the Church did by which we have the Bible, we are called to build our lives according to the broader biblical narrative of salvation in Christ.

Technorati Tags: ,

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Reading the Bible, VI: Systemization

2 Lent
One of the characteristics of the Bible is precisely the absence of a sense of systematization and the presence, on the contrary, of things held in dynamic tension. The Bible is a repository of many ways of interpreting the same events and reflecting upon the same problems. In itself it urges us to avoid excessive simplification and narrowness of spirit.

- The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission, 1994
This is why an overemphasis on "doctrine" and "systematic theology" freaks me out. If you need a chart to explain your theology, it's probably wrong. When we start going around and systematizing what the Bible is not interested in systematizing, we run a serious risk of replacing the authority of the Scripture with our own systems.

That's what we call an idol, boys and girls.

It seems to me that the Bible is interested in telling the story of God and his people. Telling and retelling it. Sometimes different emphases are put in different places. There were editors. I don't think it hurts anything to affirm that. Am I wrong?

Technorati Tags: ,

Doing Theology: Finding Answers

2 Lent

Speaking of "Truth," N.T. Wright's article, "My Pilgrimage in Theology" is worth a read, particularly these first paragraphs:
Most theological students associate John Wenham with Greek grammar. Not me. I was in an undergraduate audience which he addressed in 1970. He urged Bible-loving Christians to consider theological study and a ministry of teaching and writing. His model was that of the stream from which Christians drink. The stream is polluted by bad theology. Our task is to feed in good theology. ‘Trickle-down’ theories are risky, but I think this one works. I had been heading for parish ministry; from that day on I knew God was calling me to an academic, though still very much church-related, vocation.

As so often, I attacked this vocation the wrong way. When I began theology, I assumed that all writers not published by the . . . Press, or perhaps the . . . of . . . Trust, were suspect. If I read the right books I would find the ‘answers’. Fortunately, after two years of soaking myself in the Bible itself, I was so gripped with the excitement of exegesis, and the new horizons it opened up that I didn’t worry so much about ‘sound’ answers. I continue to respect the Reformers, and men like Charles Simeon, of 200 years ago, John Stott, Jim Packer and Michael Green, at whose feet I was privileged to sit, and whose work in a variety of ways created space for me to do things differently. Where I disagree with them it is because I have done what they told me to: to read Scripture and emerge with a more biblical theology. The evangelical tradition at its best encourages critique from within. It sends us back to the Scripture which stands over against all traditions, our own included.
While we're on the topic of Bishop Tom's writings, check out this other article, "Farewell to the Rapture." HT: (TitusOneNine)
The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre. Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.” This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.
The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines, and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation. This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels. But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account.
On that note, I'd like to reaffirm that just because somebody doesn't believe some aspect of the Christian faith in the same way you do, doesn't mean s/he doesn't believe it at all.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ignatius of Antioch: Regarding the Eucharist

2 Lent

Ignatius of Antioch

I noted in the last post that Ignatius was concerned to combat the influence of docetism in the churches. In this letter to the Church at Smyrna, he draws what seems to him an obvious connection between right believing and right behavior (Ig. Smyr. 6.2):
"Now note well those who hold heretical opinions about the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us; note how contrary they are to the mind of God. They have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the oppressed, none for the prisoner or the one released, none for the hungry or thirsty."
The bishop does not offer an explicit rationale for connecting one to the other; indeed, this could appear to be an outright character assassination. I would rather suggest that this denunciation is grounded in the nature of the Docetic/Gnostic heresies: if material, physical existence is considered evil or unimportant, then Christian life and mission are essentially a matter of waiting out our present imprisonment in anticipation that God will free us from it. Therefore, there is no reason to build a positive, redemptive and redeemed common life here and now, and no impetus to alleviate the suffering of others. That would not be a Christian faith. Christian faith is a matter of believing in who Jesus is and what he has done and what he is doing and joining him in that. The Kingdom agenda is one of restoration and healing for the entire world that starts here and now in the Church.

The bottom line is that Jesus had a physical body, and this matters. It's how he saved us. We are his physical Body, who lead physical, redeemed lives in the present, and this leads to physical, redeemed lives in the future.

Ignatius continues speaking of his opponents:
"They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up."
Whaaaat? The Docetists refuse the Holy Communion because since Jesus had no actual flesh and blood, it cannot be a participation in his flesh and blood. The really interesting thing here is that as early as c. AD 110, the head pastor of one of the first Christian churches took for granted that bread and wine, broken and blessed, was indeed the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Let's consider one more snippet of Ignatius' thought on the matter (Ig. Eph. 20.2):
"Continue to gather together, each and every one of you, collectively and individually by name, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who physically was a descendant of David, who is Son of man and Son of god, in order that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ."
Leaving aside the matter of Ignatius' enthusiasm for the monarchical episcopate, I want to make some observations about what we do and don't see in these words regarding the Eucharist.

There is no reason to suppose that Ignatius had read enough Aristotle to have in mind a technical and complicated theology that approaches anything like a Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. Indeed, any attempt to talk about the beliefs of early churches or the even the New Testament in terms of Reformation-era categories is to force people who lived more than fourteen centuries before the Enlightenment into the values and epistemology of that age. That's just poor history, to say nothing of lazy theologizing.

I find it provocative that so early in the life of the churches, one of its best-known bishops had a clearly mystical, clearly supernatural view of the cultic meal, and that Ignatius and other commentators who were so well versed in the apostolic writings would be so comfortable with it (See also Jared's essay, "Restoration, or Why I Look at the Exit Door," and To the Quiet: "Thoughts on the Eucharist").

I don't suggest that early writings are meant to be treated as canon, but that we must do business with them, as it were. Regarding the cultic practice of the Eucharist, I offer three affirmations and four denials:
  • I believe in the mystical presence of Christ in and at the Eucharist, and that in our eating, we consume the life of God, and take the new life of Jesus into ourselves in a greater fullness.

  • I believe that we make present again the ongoing salvation action of God in Christ at the atonement, and in so doing offer ourselves as sacrifices to God for the good of the world. The celebration of the holy mysteries shapes our live into a cruciform pattern.

  • I believe that this meal is an eschatological action, which makes more real and more present the ultimate salvation and judgment of our God.

  • I deny that faithfulness to and consistency with the Holy Scriptures ties me to an impoverished and minimalist theology of the sacraments. Indeed, I believe the opposite to be true: rich, sacramental theology grows out of the Scripture-reading and worship life of the Church.

  • I deny the Enlightenment, modernist denial of the supernatural and mystical that has been taken up by so many faithful and well-meaning Protestant Christians.

  • I deny the notion that any development in the life of the Church, regardless of how early or how broad, should be uncritically accepted and unconditionally obeyed.

  • I deny the notion that any development in the life of the Church beyond the letter of the New Testament must be a deviation or a plunge down a slippery slope toward the abuses of medieval Roman Catholicism.
There, I feel much better now. Have fun with that.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spiritual or Unspiritual?

Ignatius to the Ephesians

One of Ignatius' primary concerns is the early heresy called docetism: the idea that Jesus only seemed to have a physical, human body, rather than really possessing one. The idea finds its root in the Gnostic dualism that says material life is evil, while spiritual and disembodied life is good. This notion often slips into contemporary Christian thought; it's dangerous, because it is a denial of the goodness of Creation in its fullness, as well as God's redemption of it.

If we have a dualistic view of creation and redemption that sees physical and material life as evil or somehow "less spiritual" (rather than seeing our lives in a holistic way), we can devalue and degrade aspects of our own lives and God's good call on them, as well as
"Those who are carnal cannot do spiritual things, nor can those who are spiritual do carnal things, just as faith cannot do the things of unfaithfulness, nor unfaithfulness the things of faith. Moreover, even those things which you do carnally are, in fact, spiritual, for you do everything in Jesus Christ." Ig. Eph. 8.2.
Update: I just read the letter to the Smyrneans. I like the way our boy brings this home (2):
"For he suffered all these things for our sakes, in order that we might be saved; and he truly suffered just as he truly raised himself - not, as certain unbelievers say, that he suffered in appearance only (it is they who exist in appearance only!). Indeed their fate will be determined by what they think: they will become disembodied and demonic."
Technorati Tags: ,

Friday, March 10, 2006

More Links: Religious Bits

Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
1 Lent

8 Hilary

It's time for some links. You must read this piece from To the Quiet, "Thoughts on the Eucharist." It's a good starting point for conversation on what the Eucharist is and does.

Aly Hawkins at Addison Road has written a wonderful reflection on her experience at the Imposition of the Ashes.
In short, the Body of Christ was there yesterday morning, bright and early to receive the gift of the ashes…and She was breathtaking. Sure, the service was music-free and the priest was one screwdriver short of a toolbox and the squirrelly kids were pretty much out of control. But we were all there because we all needed a little Grace. And Grace was there to be gotten, to be eaten, gobbled up with relish and reverence and humility and whatever awe we could muster up before returning to our workaday lives of computers and construction and customer service…reminding us that from dust we came and to dust we shall return.

And reminding us that dust is not the end. We have a Hope, and He is alive and kickin’ in the bodies and minds and hearts of all those who roused themselves before 8 AM, drawn like little magnets to the pole of Our Lady of the Assumption, and in all who share in the Communion of the Saints. It is a beautiful thing, sharing in a Communion big enough to contain all the strange folk I saw (and didn’t see) on Wednesday morning. A beautiful, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Long may She bask in the Grace of Our Lord, and long may She share that Grace with all who long for its nourishing bread.
You might also want to check out Chris Erdman: "True Community May Appear in Surprising Places."
In my experience, qualities like availability and vulnerability, accountability and mutuality are necessary for true community—that sense of welcome and belonging, of openness and integration into a common way of life, gently and sometimes subtly bound together by a shared sense of identity and mission. But these are not guarantees that I’ll experience that indescribable quality I know as true when I feel it.

Community is a fallen “power”—a structure of creation. And is experienced in all the brokenness of human life lived on this side of what is called “the Fall” in theological shorthand. But it is also in the process of being transformed by God’s new creation. And there are signs of grace in this world—often in surprising places. And maybe that’s the elusive quality of true community—it simply cannot be controlled, engineered, packaged. It appears as Christ does, incognito. And we recognize it (and miss it) in the same way we recognize and miss Christ among us.
(HT: One House)

The past week has seen commemoration days for some interesting saints. If you'd like to read some nice, short pieces on them, check out these entries:

To the Quiet: Saint John of God (March 8)
Monastic Mumblings: Gregory of Nyssa (March 9)
Monastic Mumblings: The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 10)

There is good news in California: "Inmate Who Became Priest Paroled by Governor," from the LA Times (HT: TitusOneNine). Also check out the earlier background piece, "Serving God - And Time," as well as GetReligion's coverage of that story.

These links are a little old, but they're worth a look:

It seems Annie Lamott has gotten a little illiberal in regard to the rights of the unborn. Amy Welborn provides the story, and a little commentary:
"Oh, so sorry, Annie. Sorry that the Catholics were cool to your Gospel of Choice."
Father at Canterbury Tales has given us all what we really wanted:

"The POD Guide to Rome"
Okay folks. I know you well enough. Let's just be honest. You don't want to hear about great food or what a great time I had with my wife. You want relics, churches, POD sightings, cassocks, shrines, Roman intrigue, fiddlebacks, Latin Masses, and other provocative subjects.
and also "Roman Liturgical Items"

POD, by the way, is an acronymn for "Pious and Overly Devotional."

Like this. (HT: All Too Common)

On that note, this is certainly worth another look: "I Can Only Imagine."

Inclusion? Exclusion? It's all a word game, and the Inclusivists are a very exclusive group of people. Check out Dean Paul Zahl's "Doublethink and the Church." HT: TitusOneNine.
...Recently, someone at a conference was regaling his listeners about a recent episcopal consecration in the Pacific Northwest, and saying how wonderful it was to see every ethnicity and every gender possibility and every “identity” represented so extravagantly at the service. I raised my hand and asked, “How many theological traditionalists were present?” The speaker paused, and then said – before he had time to suppress it – “Well, uh… none.”
That's all I've got for now.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Polycarp: "To Save Your Whole Body"

+Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp to the Philippians

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians is thought to date around the time of Ignatius' martyrdom, about AD 110. The text itself isn't earth-shattering, and begins in a Pauline fashion: "Polycarp and the presbyters with him to the church of God that sojourns at Philippi: may mercy and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Savior be yours in abundance." The rest of the letter is essentially an exhortation in which Polycarp reminds the Philippian church of the ethical content of much of the New Testament, with ample quotations.

It may have been the case that he wrote them on the occasion of their distress over a local finanicial scandal involving one of their priests. (He also mentions their request for copies of Ignatius' letters.) I think his statement on the scandal is noteworthy:
"I have been deeply grieved for Valens, who once was a presbyter among you, because he so fails to understand the office that was entrusted to him. ... I am deeply grieved for him and for his wife; may the Lord grant them true repentance. You, therefore, for your part must be reasonable in this matter, and do not regard such people as enemies, but, as sick and straying members, restore them, in order that you may save your body in its entirety. For by doing this you build up one another."
I am always struck by the simple, organic ecclesiology present in some of these writings. Polycarp does not give the church permission to throw up their hands and walk away, but makes very clear that the errant member is still very much a part of them. We can't help but in some way to bear the sins and errors(as well as the joys!) of those with whom we are joined in the Christian community.

Lord, help us. Teach us to build up one another, and never to write off or dismiss one another, but rather work to "save our body in its entirety."

Technorati Tags: ,

Post Script: Oh, and I'm a little behind on this. I'll offer some reflections on +Ignatius of Antioch soon, if you're on the edge of your seat. If you're interested in highlights from part II of the Epistle to Diognetus, go see Mike.

Reading the Bible V: "No Such Thing as Sola Scriptura"

1 Lent
8 Hilary

Alan has written an article on what to do with Tradition in a practical way: "discernment and tradition > 2" (see also Part I).

As I've said before, the notion "sola scriptura" as most contemporary Christians describe it is a false and hurtful teaching, though propagated by devout and faithful people. It usually means that one should not see "tradition" (whatever that might be) as a source of authority, and that only Scripture itself should be authoritative. Unfortunately, the notion that I can stand as an "objective" reader who does not bring any presuppositions to the text, and have the intellectual wherewithal to discern the mind of God from it all by myself is one born of post-Enlightenment, modernist arrogance. We have been deceived. We must realize that the Canon of Scripture does not exist in a vacuum, and cannot be read as if it did. The fact of the Canon itself is a development of Tradition.

As one of Alan's commentators put the matter,
There is no such thing as sola scriptura. That's right, not even for those who trumpet it all the time, it doesn't exist. In my experience, what really exists instead is always some version of "only scripture as I or my group interprets it." And that is unavoidable. You see there is no meaning or teaching without interpretation no matter who you are. As if the scripture existed in some interpretation free pure vacuum. Of course it does not. So the minute you begin interpretation, and then codify that interpretation as doctrine, then you have a sacred tradition. In fact, everyone has a sacred tradition in addition to scripture. At least the Catholics are honest about it from the get go.
I agree completely.

Along those lines, Jared directed me to an article by Travis Stanley, who writes out of the Campbellite tradition:
As a young boy, I was taught to “search the scriptures,” like the Bereans did [context: Acts 17:9-11]. I remember being told in VBS: Be a Berean! ... I was taught to distrust the “traditions of men.” Christ was the true authority, and anything “man” would say must accord with the teachings of Christ. I actually took these teachings to heart, though some may doubt my sincerity. I still deeply desire to be a Berean. I don’t simply trust the traditions which are handed down to me, but desire to put everything to the test. I am doing my best to live out these truth-seeking virtues instilled in me as a youth. Though it is easy and safe to accept the traditions and beliefs that are handed down to me, for me, I have to place everything on the table.

Why, then, is my desire to “question authority” viewed harshly by many of the very people that desire to instill in me the discipline of “searching the scriptures” to see if the things I am taught are true? Am I only allowed to “search the scriptures” so long as I come down on the “right side” of the issue at hand?
I think what many of my contemporaries need is the grace to question, to doubt, to hope, to pray and to listen. There is a serious tyrannical edge to tradition that masquerades as "no tradition" at all. It hides behind such rhetoric because it's purpose is to control others' lives. To call a tradition a tradition is to open it up to questioning, to dialogue, and the possibility of a healthy and informed submission to Scripture, and indeed to Tradition.

Tom Mohan did well to remind us of C.S. Lewis' assertion that "the devil always overplays his hand."

I welcome comments and rebuttals. I will delete ad hominem attacks. That means you, seminarians.

Technorati Tags: ,

Monday, March 06, 2006

Just Stuff

1 Lent
8 Hilary

I had a pretty quiet day; stayed out of college, for better or worse. I read some scripture and said the offices today. I didn't make it to the gym like I wanted, but perhaps tomorrow. I am behind in the Greek I'm supposedly trying to learn. I vacuumed the hallway, bought groceries, and put cards in the mail for my other friends' March birthdays. I replaced the bell on my bike, which had been vandalized along with my front light two weeks ago. I got a citation for the latter issue, which will be forgiven me (along with the thirty pound fine!) if I show up at the police station with a receipt for the replacement light.

I had a little sushi for lunch. The Japanese restaurant a few doors down is overpriced, but the company was pleasant. I made stir fry for dinner and went downstairs for the "Christian Arts Tea and Coffee House." Yes, it's an acronym, but that's alright. We watched "Crash," and it's a deeply moving film. Tomorrow, I will make a tuna bake.

I spent most of the day slogging through that terrible book on Biblical Interpretation by Bray. I'm only sticking with it because I think I have to write a critique on it. Pants. As they say.

I was convinced to go to a club called "Filth" on Saturday night. Why don't you just use your imagination for that one?

I read a bit of Isaiah today.

I bought a box of English Breakfast tea, and I will, predictably, have it at breakfast tomorrow. I also bought some proper "brew" coffee. As they say. Because, you see, in England, "coffee" can mean instant coffee. I don't know why that is. One learns to live with these things.

Reading the Bible IV: What is Scripture For?

1 Lent
8 Hilary
(2 days before my birthday)

An official Anglican perspective:
"The Church is not 'over' the Holy Scriptures, but 'under' them, in the sense that the process of canonization was not one whereby the Church conferred authority on the books but one whereby the Church acknowledged them to possess authority. And why? The books were recognized as giving the witness of the Apostles to the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of the Lord and the interpretation by the Apostles of these events. To that apostolic authority the Church must ever bow."

- The Lambeth Conference 1958, II.5, London: SPCK)
If we're going to talk about the authority of Scripture, we have to consider just what Scripture has in mind to do, and what it actually does. We cannot decide, "this is the kind of authority I'd like" and project that onto the Canon, whether we imagine it to be "basic instructions before leaving earth" or a collection of interesting religious propostions. It really is neither of those things.

Technorati Tags: ,

Reading the Bible IIIA: The Genesis Myths

1 Lent
8 Hilary

Adam Stacy: "Is it fair to call or label Genesis 1-11 a myth?"

Go offer your two pence (or $0.035, if you like) and follow the discussion.

Technorati Tags: ,

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Safe to Die

Saturday Evening after Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

The Holy Spirit whispers to us in the prayers of the Church. This liturgy wraps around us like a thick, soft blanket. It makes us warm. Perhaps it smothers us...? It guards us, and carries us close to the heart of God.

We hear that we really are safe. We are safe, because it really is alright to die.

May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.


Technorati Tags: ,

Reading the Bible II: Reading and Submission

Acquiring literary competency with Scripture should make us suspicious of our interpretations. The “hermeneutic of suspicion” has become a byword in contemporary biblical scholarship, the chief object of suspicion being the text itself, viewed as a social product. But if we are reading from a confessional perspective – that is, as members of a community that regularly confesses its sins as well as its faith – then it is well to begin by suspecting our own interpretations. Most of them have probably not been reconsidered in a long time – years in our own lives, generations in the church. Whenever we pick up the Bible, read it, put it down, and say, “That’s just what I thought,” we are probably in trouble. The technical term for that kind of reading is “proof-texting.” Using the text to confirm our presuppositions is sinful; it is an act of resistance against God’s fresh speaking to us, an effective denial that the bible is the world of the living God. The only alternative to proof-texting is reading with a few to what the NT calls metanoia, “repentance” – literally, “change of mind.”
Ellen F. Davis, “Teaching the Bible Confessionally in the Church, in The Art of Reading Scripture, edited by Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

I've been doing some thinking about what the "authority of scripture" means. I'm going to post some brief thoughts over the next few days, and might have something substative to say about it in a few weeks time.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Great Lent
The Epistle to Diognetus

The Epistle to Diognetus is to be commended for its appreciation that Christians are "aliens" who "take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners" (Ep. Dio. 5:5). However, in the author's explanation of what this means, he loses important aspects of what it really means to be such: specifically, Christians are not just non-citizens compliant with to the government under which they live, but citizens of heaven, members of the Christian colony on earth. We live here, raising up symbols of resurrection life in the life we share together, and wait for Jesus to come and transform the entire world accordingly. For more on this, you might check out Tom Wright's commentary on Philippians 3:20, reproduced by Michael F. Bird at Euangelion.

So no, I don't think the epistle's notion that the soul is trapped by the body is correct, or that the Church awaits its removal from the earth. Rather, we await our resurrection, and the coming of Christ in glory that brings God's reign to earth in a complete and final way: heaven come to earth.

Ben's commentary
Mike's commentary
Technorati Tags: ,

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

One in Christ, One in the Eucharist

The Didache

This early document, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, dates back to around AD 100. (See The Way of the Fathers: "The Time Capsule" for more background.) It begins with a discussion of the Two Ways, one of Life, and one of Death. There follows ethical, and then liturgical instruction.

From an early Eucharistic prayer:
As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered, became one mass, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into They Kingdom. (9.4)
And yes, you might take note that we have a record of prayers of consecration over the braead and wine (apparently in the context of a communal meal) as well as a post-communion prayer circa 100. I find it interesting that there's not a particular sacramental theology, but the prayers give thanks for Jesus and connect the bread and wine to the unity of the Church and God's provision in creation. There is further instruction on the sheltering of itinerant prophets, and warning against those who "trade in Christ" (12.5).

I've been doing some reading on the eschatological nature of the Eucharist: the rite itself is a sign and symbol of the new world that was inaugurated by the Risen Lord. For those who are part of the community, the Eucharist is a participation of redemption, and for those at odds, it is a sign of judgment. In the cross, we have been reconciled to God and to one another, and we offer ourselves on the altar. Therefore,
"On the Lord's own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: 'In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations'" (Didache 14).
Ben Finger is also blogging the Didache.
Find the reading plan here.

Technorati Tags: , ,