Tag Archives: orthodoxy

Some interesting things elsewhere VII


It’s still the first 2 weeks of the school-year over here, which are utter chaos for me as a teacher of protestant religion in Flemish secondary schools, so not much has been happening on this blog. I left this SITE-list half finished at the end of August, so maybe it’s time to finish it and publish it before it loses all relevancy in this constantly changing world.

The random picture today is quite cute. Having small children makes one like cute pictures of fuzzy apes…

Ray Hollenbach on how Jesus welcomes sinners at His table. Who do we welcome at our table?

Morgan Guyton actually has written a lot of posts that are worth reading since my last SITE-list. This one is about submission and leadership.

Thank you Lord for hearing me @ godspace.

2 interesting posts by Jonalyn on soulation. One about egalitarian marriages and one about friendships between men ans women. I still don’t have no idea who the mentioned Sally and Harry are, and I don’t think they’d interest me…

Roger Olson on the problems with John Pipers view of Gods sovereignity and sin.

Busyness as moral lazyness on internetmonk

An orthodox approach to sacrifice and atonement (I guess you all know I find those things very interesting)

Andrew Jones of Tall skinny Kiwi on homeschooling with the whole planet as a home… I wish I could go to all those places to learn those things…

shalom

Bram

fallible language V: speaking about creation


We’re still in a series that I’ve begun last winter, about fallibility of language (find part I, part II, part III and part IV here) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes.

We’ve been talking about God and theology, but today we’re going to go to a more specific discussion, that is very important for certain people in my own broad tribe of evangelicalism: speaking about Creation.

I’ve always found the 2 most vocal major streams of thought within contemporary Christianity equally irritating; at one hand you have the very militant creationists, who claim to know scientifically exactly how God has made the world in a lot more details than the bible can provide. And if you don’t follow them you don’t believe in the bible and you’ll lose your faith. On the other side you have those who have an equally big faith in science and who know that science has the last word in everything, and if there’s anything in Christianity or the bible that goes against the findings of modern science we should get rid of it…

To be honest, I find both positions to be equally impotent and signs of a quite uncritical synchretism with the arrogant optimism of the enlightenment that we human beings can and will know everything. My thoughts on how Creation has happened may have shifted over the years, but one of the things I’ve always known is that the circumstances of how God made the world are not likely to be found out completely by our science, the visible does not stem from what we can see, and neither that any description of it will ever be complete and able to scientifically nail down what happened.

Vinoth Ramachandra, writing from an Evangelical but non-Western Point of View, puts it this way in his excellent but quite heavy book ‘subverting global myths':

Creationism and evolutions are simply mirror images of each other. The former reduces the Christian doctrine of creation to the level of a scientific account of chronological origins, and the latter elevated the biological theory of revolution into a total worldview. Paradoxically,creationist and evolutionists have more in common than they each realize: Both work within a “universe-as-machine” picture of the world, so that Gods relationship with the world can only be conceived in the form of ingeneer-type interventions which have to be scientifically inexplicable.

But the whole “universe as a machine” framework is just a modern way we think we make sense of the world… And Creation is something that happened outside of the things that we know and have words for, and something that was not witnessed by us. So I’d expect science to be able to find out something, but not at all even the main thing. Only of you’re a purely materialist Christian you could believe such a thing… (We’ve actually had discussions about evolution and spiritual beings here on this blog a while ago) But neither would I believe that an God-inspired description would be ever complete, it would just be an assurance that indeed God is the Creator. (the question about the origin of angels and demons is still there btw, genesis doesn’t say a word about this!)

With all of this in mind, I found the Orthodox way of looking at the subject of Creation much more interesting. Let’s go back to ‘light from the Christian East':

For one thing, the Orthodox emphasis on our human inability to conceive of and speak about God and creation together could help us escape the sometimes acrimonious “creation versus evolution” arguments that so often have bedeviled reflection on the creation among Western Christians over the last century or so. From the perspectives of Orthodoxy, the first chapters of Genesis do not explain creation. Creation was God’s act, and no amount of human intellectual ingenuity could ever account for it, nor any human words capture it. The terse affirmations made in Genesis 1-2 do not amount to explanations or even descriptions, from an Orthodox perspective; they confront us with the declaration that all that is came from God. In presenting the entire universe as God’s creative handiwork, Orthodoxy excludes all thought of an evolutionary process operating outside of God, to be sure. Equally, it precludes any arrogant claim to comprehend from the first chapters of Genesis how God brought everything into existence. What Scripture presents is the declaration that God made all that is, without any attempt to clarify how all came into being. The opening chapters of Genesis present what must be wondered at, not what can be fathomed. They offer stimulation for common praise by all those who believe in him, not material with which we should brow-beat fellow believers whose ideas about the way in which God may have accomplished that work differ from ours.
Further, even if God had explained it to us, could we have understood it? What language could God borrow to explain to mere creatures the act of creation so that we could comprehend it? If his ways and thoughts are beyond ours (Is 55:8-9), should we not offer humble praise for his creation and what hè has told us about it, rather than fighting among ourselves as to who best comprehends how God brought all things into existence? Is the beginning of Scripture intended to satisfy our intellectual curiosity about “how,” or is it to invite us to celebrate “what” and “who”? Western Christians could learn a bit more humility in speaking about creation and God from their brothers and sisters in Eastern Orthodoxy. (Payton)

Now that’s a bit like what I think about the subject, but much more eloquently worded…

what do you think?

Shalom

Bram

see also this post and the discussion under it, on evolutionary creationism and angels…

fallible language IV: The bible contains everything?


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fallible language III: experience of God?


Let’s go back now to a series that I’ve begun last winter but left unfinished, about fallibility of language (find part I and part II here, as well as the apophatic interlude featuring our Friend Rollins) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes. This was not (as you would expect from a postmodern like me) from a postmodern viewpoint, but I started from the thought of G.K. Chesterton and mostly from the classical Orthodox tradition, on which I was reading a quite good book, and the church fathers.

I have been writing about the fallibility of language, and about how difficult it is to speak about God, as a created being. One of the most important things here is that we as Christians are in the first place not just expected to know about God (which requires human language) but after all and more important, we are to know God Himself. Christianity is not a gnostic sect in which we are saved by mere knowledge, but a restored relationship with the Source of all Creation (‘God’) through Christ… And relationality entails a completely different sort of ‘knowing’ than academic publishing!

I could say a lot about this, but other people have said much more intelligent things about this subject than I’ll ever do. I do know that in certain protestant circles knowledge of God by any form of ‘personal experience’ is frowned upon, while other traditions, from the Charismatics and Quakers to the Eastern Orthodox, see it as normative in very different ways. Surely, not only experience is important,without wisdom and guidance we don’t even know what we’re following, so we need reason, tradition, scripture and experience or are in problems. But experience is in no way unimportant here. Let’s for example go back to the Orthodox tradition, where speaking about God is considered to be utterly impossible by one who has not experienced God:

Personal experience is requisite to any valid talk about God, from an Orthodox perspective. Such mystical experience of God in the divine energies not only draws us to God, it also confirms within us the appropriateness of both positive and negative theology. We must speak about God because we are Christian; but we must also rise above these concepts, because God is transcendent. Personal experience of God draws us into union with him about whom theology speaks. Without that experience, any such talk about God is vacuous and presumptuous, according to Orthodoxy. (Payton, Light from the East, p 84)

We have to notice here that the goal surely is not just to talk of God, or to be able to make money by writing books about God; He is the Ultimate Reality… And the goal of our life is to be united to Him, and outside of Him we or anything else cannot even exist…

I got a gut feeling that the more we experience of God, the less we will be able to talk about it and the less intellectual systems we will be able to proclaim with absolute modern certainty… Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds of the middle ages, wasn’t able to write anymore after a mystical experience with Christ. When they asked him to resume his writing works, he said that he couldn’t because ‘”all that I have written seems like straw to me”

And this leaves us not with less, but with even more problems in speaking about God, and the paradox of Peter Rollins:

“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking”

Which might make it quite complicating, but who did ever say that it was easy??? It isn’t, and I have a long Way to go here, and maybe not much right to say anything about God… Who just IS beyond all we can say or understand…

What’s your experience here?

shalom

Bram

‘Saint’ Constantine the not-so-great vs the sermon on the mount… (E. Stanley Jones)


Regular readers of this blog will know how much I appreciate certain other Christian traditions. Traditions that I love deeply are quite incompatible streams in Church history like for example the Orthodox tradition, Franciscanism, certain strands of anabaptism and the quakers… I guess I do have my disagreements with every tradition (including my own tribe) as they do among each other too, but I believe that we need all of them (probably even those whom I do not like and don’t feel much affinity with, like fundamentalism and Calvinism) to complete the Church of Christ. And I am very likely to be wrong myself on some things too…

I like for example  the Orthodox for their connection with the early Church and the church fathers, which makes them the keepers of a lot of treasures that we modern Western Christians have lost long ago but are needing right now. But on the other hand I could never agree with some other things, like their veneration of someone like emperor Constantine the Great as a saint, and some of the nationalism going on in some Orthodox churches… Which is why I (as a postmodern generic charismatic and more-or-less Wesleyan evangelical) do think we need the Anabaptist testimony too…

The next piece from E.Stanley Jones in my opinion shows why we need to recover the emphasis on the enemy-love and the rest of the sermon on the mount, and it offers -very daringly- a critique to the emphasis of the ancient creeds. (I do not say that the next piece describes all of the fathers, I have read a lot from them that would qualify for good Lovers in the path of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.)

Suppose we had written it in our creeds and had repeated each time with conviction:

“I believe in the Sermon on the Mount and in its way of life, and I intend, God helping me, to embody it” !

What would have happened? I feel sure that if this had been our main emphasis, the history of Christendom would have been different. With emphasis on doctrines which left unaffected our way of life the Christian Church could accept Constantine as its prize convert. And yet Constantine, after his alleged conversion, murdered his conquered colleague and brother-in-law Licinius ; sentenced to death his eleven-year-old nephew, killed his eldest son, Crispus; brought about the death of his second wife; took the nails that were supposed to come from the cross of Christ and tised one in his war helmet and another on the bridle of his war horse. Yet he was canonized by the Greek Church and his memory celebrated “as equal to the apostles.” He talked and presided at the opening of the Council of Nicea, which was called to frame a creed, and he was hailed as “a .bishop of bishops.” Could this have happened if the men who had gathered there had made the Sermon on the Mount an essential part of the Creed? It had no place in it, so Constantine could be at home. What had happened was that the Christian Church had been conquered by a pagan warrior. And the church allowed itself to be thus conquered, for this ideal of Christ did not have possession of its soul.

E. Stanley Jones, the Christ of the Mount

As someone who borders on paleo-orthodoxy this is something I wrestle with, but I indeed do miss in the creeds the emphasis on Jesus as the Way, and on Christians as followers of the Way, which is Christ. And where do we find a better description of the Way of Christ than in the sermon on the mount?

And there is something highly disturbing about Constantine in a lot of ways…

So what do you think?

shalom

Bram

Scott Morizot on just war and the orthodox view on killing humans


Scott Morizot is one of those people I wish would write a book. He blogs about faith, and sometimes about gluten-free diet -which is also interesting to me, since my wife can’t eat wheat due to a mild gluten intolerance…- and when he writes about something, there’s a big chance that it’s worth reading.  (I’m not reading all his links about American politics though, I don’t want to get too frustrated about a continent that’s not mine…) He’s very interesting because he writes from a perspective that I’d call ‘classical christianity’, which is more in line with the church fathers, and very close to the eastern orthodox, even if he’s not EO himself.

Due to circumstances he’s not blogging that frequently nowadays, but there’s stuff in his archives that I really recommend, like his series on heaven and hell and on original sin. He also has a series on sola scriptura that’s very challenging.  And a lot of commentary on ancient texts and other interesting stuff. (did I mention the gluten-free diet?)

Recently I was reading a discussion on the Jesus creed blog on muslims, christians and war (also recommended, both this post and the blog itself) which contained some comments that are just too good to be hidden in a blog comment discussion. So I will quote them here, so I have access to them when I want, and so that you all can be enlightened by them:

Which Christian just war theory? ;-) The first thoughts are on it were expressed by Augustine. I’m not sure I would call it a developed theory, per se. He was struggling in his part of the world with the real and (for him) immediate question of what to do when the nation itself is predominantly Christian and the barbarians are at the gate, as it were. His thoughts were expressed in three points.

St. Thomas Aquinas fleshed it out more in his Summa Theologica, but as I recall (been some years since I read it) stuck with essentially the same three points Augustine used.

Without looking them up (always a dangerous thing), I believe Augustine’s original three tenets were:

1. War must only be waged for a good purpose, not for power or gain.
2. War must only be waged by a properly instituted state.
3. The central goal must always be peace, even in the midst of violence.

More modern versions have many more points (and clarifications of points). As a former soldier and in trying to develop an understanding of historical Christian perspectives on war once I found myself one, I read all that I could find once upon a time (including a really good paper published through West Point).

Personally, I prefer the Orthodox understanding and approach to the attempts in Western theology. The basic Orthodox approach is that Christians are called to love and killing another human being is always evil. It is never good. However, we live in a broken world and sometimes people (and states) are placed in situations where it seems the only options they have are evil (whether that’s reality or merely our broken perception is always hard to say). They can kill or engage in war, which is evil, or they can refrain and by not opposing evil with violence allow worse evil to occur.

Regardless, killing another human being damages a person’s humanity deeply. A priest who sheds blood is deposed (though the possibility of restoration through repentance and economia remains open). A communicant who takes a life was typically restricted from communion for a period of time for repentance and restoration (traditionally 1-3 years) even though their action may have been “justified” or even required by their circumstances. The focus is always on healing the damage and not on determining whether or not it was “justified”.

I think that’s a better approach. Within the Christian perspective, violence always runs counter to love. That was, after all, God’s charge against humanity in the story of Noah — the world was “full of violence.” If we do not act, in and through Christ, to heal and be healed of violence, who else will?

The second one is a lot later in the discussion.

I came back and read the comments and, as often seems to be case, they seem to be a back and forth around the wrong question: When is it justified or right to kill another human being? It’s as though if a sufficient justification can be found, it somehow ameliorates the effects or consequences of the act.

But how can that be true? In the Christian perspective, Christ joined the divine nature wholly and inseparably, but without confusion, to our common human nature. It’s through that act, joining us in suffering (though without sin), even to death, and then defeating death that mankind was redeemed and our healing begun. It is no longer the nature of man to die, which is why the NT and early Christians typically called what happens to us now “sleep” indicating its new and impermanent nature.

This also means that when you kill another, you not only attempt to kill a human being, part of the humanity that in nature has been joined with Christ, but you damage yourself as well. Sin is like a disease, running rampant in our mortal bodies. We are either being healed or we are falling under its sway. Unless someone can explain how you can kill another human being as an act of love toward that human being (willfully acting for their good), then clearly your act is “missing the mark” — the very definition of sin in the NT. Surely no Christian disputes that point? What is the foremost command of our Lord, after all — repeated again and again by him and by his apostles?

With that said, are there situations where our choices appear constricted to the lesser of two evils? Certainly. But a lesser evil is still evil. It seems to me that much of just war arguments consist largely of trying to rationalize evil, even the lesser evil in a particular situation, into good.

And that’s a problem on multiple levels. When people begin to feel the evil they are doing is justified or even righteous, things can become topsy-turvy. We see that repeatedly in Christian history. The Crusades. The Inquisition. The usual litany of charges. They had convinced themselves that what they were doing was good and that’s a very dangerous place to be. We are no less subject to such temptation. We must guard against it. And when we recognize and acknowledge that it is evil and a failure of love to kill another, that’s a start.

But it also has a more insidious effect. If we do not recognize that the perhaps necessary act of a person defending innocents, a police officer upholding law, or a soldier fighting (within the bounds of conscience) according to the dictates of his nation, is still sin, we may not act to heal the person suffering from the effects of that sin. For unacknowledged (or even justified) sin is then left free to wreak its havoc unchecked and unchallenged. One who has committed violence or killed another human being has damaged themselves. They require healing, but healing can only begin if a mirror is held in front of them so they can see that damage. And for Christians, the mirror is always Christ. He shows us as we are in his light.

When Christians try to argue that killing others is ever “right” we have lost our way. There are times it is necessary (or at least I lack the imagination to see any way it can always be avoided). But it’s a necessity that must be covered in tears of repentance and sorrow. When we kill, we have made the world a little darker, even if it would have grown even darker had we not.

I especially love that last paragraph. This is really important stuff, that we need to talk about more. That we need to live more.

what do you people think?

shalom

Bram

Substitutionary atonement and Christus victor


I was reading this article by Mark Galli of Christianity today on ‘the problem with christus victor atonenement‘, and, to be honest I found it a very strange article.

Update: While I’m writing here about the nature for substitutionary atonement, the framing of the gospel in christus Victor atonement like explained here by Ed Cyezewski is equally important, or even more important. Why do I always miss the most important part??

Firstly he does seem to impose a dichotomy between Christus victor atonement and what he calls ‘substitutionaty atonement’, and secondly he does seem for some reason to equate the second term with ‘penal substitution atonement’.

What’s behind the lingo and why do I find this strange? Let’s start with the second one. ‘Substitutionary atonement’ means in simple words that Jesus saved us by taking our place. That surely is an important idea in christian theology, from the beginning on, but it shouldn’t at all be equated with the so-called theory of penal substitution, which says that Jesus died in our place to take the punishment for our sins. The latter one is a relatively new invention in the history of Christianity, dating from the time of the reformers, and one only embraced by some protestants. Even the satisfaction model of Anselm, one of its precursors, did not see Jesus taking punishment in our place, but doing penance in our place as far as I understand. This article by Derek Flood on substitutionary atonement and the church father, which I linked to before, is very interesting for those who have time to read it all… The problem is that some christians for a reason unknown to me seen to equate the gospel with the idea of penal substitution. (what was the gospel then for all christians in the first 1500 years?)

I never really understood substitutionary atonement in the penal way, and I still have a lot of problems with that theory. (Some version of it could rightly be called ‘divine child abuse… God punishing Jesus in our place because he isn’t able to forgive us otherwise) but yet I’ve always seen the atonement as substitutionary. Jesus died for our sins.

Growing up as a pentecostel kid my idea of atonement was that Jesus on the cross endured all sin, disease and pain of the world, in our place. He absorbed it, and there destroyed it, and then rose from the death. That’s clearly substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal.

The second thing that shaped my understanding of atonement is probably the story of Edmund in the narnia book, who betrays the others and gets enslaved by the witch. Aslan then gives himself in Edmunds place to get killed by the evil one. This could be called classical Ransom atonement,(Jesus liberating us from enslavement to the devil by taking our place) which is probably the most important atonement theory of the first millenium, and it’s purely a substitution model of atonement, but still not penal substitution.

Now for the dichotomy Galli creates, I don’t know where he gets that idea to separate Christus Victor from substitutionary as if they can be opposites..I would think that Christus victor atonement and this Ransom motif are closely connected and two sides of the , same coin. Jesus on the cross suffered evil, sin and death in our place, and destroyed it and came out as Victorious!!

And here do we come to something else Galli seems to overlook: the definition of justice (and sin). Penal substitution seems operates on the idea that God needs to punish because He is just, and that He can’t forgive without having punished someone (and so Jesus taking the punishment in our place) but I don’t see why this would be. Why would the omnipotent God not be able to forgive? The problem with sin is tha it destroys, not only individuals and their relationship to God, but the whole of creation, and so it needs to be destroyed. There also is a lot of power in the Eastern orthodox emphasis on Jesus destroying death. But the question here is how do we view Gods justice: Is justice punishing the bad guys (everybody in this fallen world) or is it first and foremost setting things right? I would go with the second one, and say that Gods justice first and foremost is restorative, not only for individuals but for the whole of creation!

For those who like to read more on this discussiopn: Read more here on the covenant of love blog for the first post in a series on the subject. I also have a quote  from Scott Morizot (who I respect for his knowledge on the orthodox church and the church fathers) from a comment on the Jesus Creed blog:

Galli’s post is interesting. If Christus Victor is “clearly a secondary atonement theme” and substitutionary atonement is the primary and dominant theme, why did it take the Church a thousand years to come up with the latter? From an historical perspective, the claim seems absurd. I would also say he clearly misses the point even of the Orthodox prayer he quotes. The “consequent wrath of God” is not interwoven into it. The prayer thanks God for his goodness and long-suffering and for *not* being angry.

There’s a reason Passover is and has always been the dominant theme. The Paschal lamb in the Exodus story guarded those protected by its blood from the angel of death — from death, not from the collection of a debt for sins committed. So Christ breaks the bonds of sin and death and frees us from the powers who used them to enslave us for all time.

It is, I suppose, possible that some Protestants are taking some of the Christus Victor themes in a more shallow way than they have traditionally been taken. I don’t particularly have an opinion on that. But Galli’s characterization of the traditional Christus Victor view of Christ and the atonement is flatly wrong.

To finally close this post:  as we’re coming closer to Easter we shoul realise that the big day is not good friday, but easter. Christus Victor should be very important for all Christians, unless they have a truly ‘good friday only’-gospel.

Jesus is Lord, and Victor over death, sin and evil

He who was God, became the least of us and suffered with us

All praises to the slain lamb!!

shalom

Bram

related posts:
Rethinking my childhood atonement theory
Psalm 51 and atonement theories
Rob Bell on atonement or the bible versus (reformed) tradition