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Archive for the ‘Trinity’ Category

So, there I am, in my office (the Starbucks of St. Helens, OR, USA) minding my own business (by which I mean that of everyone around me), and I end up in a conversation with a cute little girl (probably about 7 years old). She’s all dressed up, lookin’ pretty, and she’s flanked by a small crowd of nicely dressed women (and a similarly dressed little boy of about 8 years of age). Okay, so there I am, talking to this little one. I asked her why she was dressed up so nicely. She said (with some help from the little boy and an older girl, probably 16, behind her) that they were off to share the good news with people. Somewhat surprised, I said, “Oh! Good! I believe the Good News that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. Is that the Good News you’re telling people?” Then retorts the little sweetie, “Well, Jesus didn’t die on a cross; he died on a wooden stake.” This, of course, zeroed me in on the fact that they were not preaching the Good News, at all. Anyhoo, the boy pipes up and says, “The Bible says that it wasn’t a cross, but a stake.” So, I reply: “I bet you’re reading the New World Translation, aren’t you?” He nods.

Okay, so from there, I ask the threesome in front of me: “So, how is it that one can get to heaven?” Again, the boy pipes up and says, “By serving Jehovah.” I reply, “Isn’t it because Jesus died for your sins?!” “Oh, yeah.” That speaks for itself. But the JWs are not alone in propounding this particular soul-damning error. They are renowned, however, for the following one. (more…)

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Cur Deus HomoCur Deus Homo by St. Anselm of Canterbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anselm’s famous book was on one hand exactly what I thought it’d be, and on the other hand refreshingly different from what I expected.

Cur Deus Homo is often referenced in discussions of why the incarnation of the Son of God factored into the atonement which he purchased. It is quite common (praise the Lord) for people to speak of the Savior needing to be man because only a human could pay for human sin and also needing to be God, as only God could do the job of reconciling sinful men to an infinitely holy God. I totally expected to find this explained in Anselm’s book, and I was not disappointed.

I was also refreshed by a few things that I did not expect. The first thing that I didn’t expect was Anselm’s lucid style. This book is set as a dialog ‘twixt Anselm and Boso, a curious and educated inquirer. I think the style of the dialog is excellent and should be used more often. What’s more, I’ve heard Anselm referred to as the Augustine of the Middle Ages. With his clear writing style and the way in which he handles ideas, I can understand why Anselm enjoys that high distinction. Augustine, too, was a fabulous and lucid writer. I find that usually the great ones are far easier to understand than their handlers. Finally, the way in which Anselm conceives of the redemption purchased by the God-man is at once very similar, but also quite foreign to the contemporary discussion of the matter. I don’t want to go into detail here in this short review, but suffice it to say that there is great benefit in reading ancient writers. If nothing else, they can help us to see how our thinking is both modern and all-too-provincial.

One weakness of Anselm’s approach, it seems to me, is that he’s self-consciously and explicitly attempting to give a rational accounting of how the incarnation factors into the atonement. Thus, while he does occasionally refer to Scripture, and even call it the only rock on which we’re to build a sturdy house, reason is his guiding light in this book. In Cur Deus Homo he’s trying to show how the biblical doctrine and the church teaching regarding atonement through the God-man is rational. To that degree, I guess I have no beef. I would just like to see him root his work more deeply in the Scripture, which is, after all, the sword of the Spirit. His reliance upon reason, however, is part of what’s earned him another one of his titles (valid or not): the father of scholasticism.

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I thank my friend and brother, Billy Birch, for responding to my post yesterday. I have to admit, however, a certain amount of disappointment with the response. Even with all my warm-hearted tenderness, he didn’t answer my question. Here is the question I asked him:

What exactly, in the final analysis, did Christ actually do on the cross for one who never believes and ends up in hell? Billy cannot retreat into words like “provisional” or “potential” unless he both 1) define EXACTLY what’s meant by such language, and 2) show that such a concept is expressly set down in Scripture or can be deduced by good and necessary consequence.

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Honestly, I do not try to focus on issues of Calvinism and Arminianism… Facebook makes me do it! A friend of mine and a brother in Christ, Mr. Billy Birch, has posted on the Arminian view of 1 Timothy 2. This post was shared by some other friends on FB. I want to respond to it and take a crack at showing that 1 Tim 2 does not support the Arminian position.

First, hermeneutics. Not that I noticed Billy using the term “hermeneutics” incorrectly, but (as a general note), hermeneutics is a singular noun and takes a singular verb. (E.g., Billy’s hermeneutics is all messed up – just kidding!) More substantively, folks like to speak of hermeneutics as grammatico-historical, but the reality is that our hermeneutics includes our theological assessment, too. Now, admitting this is not tantamount to saying that our theology dictates our exegesis. Rather, it does means that our theology both aids and is reformed by our exegesis. There’s no way around this, and it is as it should be. We’ll pick this topic back up at the end of this article.

I think the best place to start is in verse 1 of 1 Timothy chapter 2. (more…)

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I’ve long been a fan of Martin Luther’s way with words. Granted, I don’t read German, but I marvel at his ability to turn a phrase, even when that phrase is translated into English. As to native Anglophones, we have one better (I think) than Luther.

G.K. Chesterton

I first read Gilbert Keith Chesterton as a seminary student. The fourth chapter of Orthodoxy (free audio here), in particular, modified my view of the whole world. This fabulous fourth chapter he decided to call “The Ethics of Elfland.” If you don’t want to read the whole book (really, you should read Heretics first and then Orthodoxy, both in their entirety), you absolutely should read this chapter. The upshot is that the world is magical, and that the “scientific” view of the world is actually excessively romantic and irrational. The correct view of the world should yield gratitude (and awe) – see Romans 1:21. Chesterton, even before his conversion, felt the desire to give thanks for the numerous amazing gifts all around and in him – the ones we all take for granted. Chesterton (as it typical) captures this with more flair than a waiter at Choctchkies: (more…)

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One of the great heroes of the 3rd century

The 3rd century opened with a relatively weak Roman government, which (at least for the first half of the century) gave Christianity room to grow and thrive. That growth came with significant internal growing pains, i.e., pains of heresy. The second half of the century started with the short reign of Emperor Decius (AD 201-251), who re-instituted persecutions of the Christian church with zeal. This produced a short but messy period of time full of martyrs and lapsi. Roman persecutions then largely ceased until the early fourth century under Diocletian.

Internal opposition (heresy): the most important heresy of this period is called Gnosticism. It was the great intellectual plague of the church that started in earnest in the 2nd century and flourished in the 3rd. Gnosticism is far too large and involved to address here. The major aspects of Gnosticism: 1) a curious pantheon, including a demiurge; 2) a loathing and denigration of the physical world (exalting rather in the immaterial); and 3) an emphasis on special spiritual knowledge (gnosis – from which it takes its name). Funny enough, the church still struggles with gnostic issues, especially the downplaying of this world (e.g., Amillennialism).

Another major heresy of the 3rd century has to do with Trinitarianism. In this period, we find the rise of two forms of Unitarian theology: Dynamic and Modalistic Monarchialism. Dynamic Monarchialism taught that Jesus received the power of Christ at his baptism, before which he was as any other man. After which, he wrought many signs. This made him closer to God than other humans (also called Adoptionism). Modalistic Monarchialism taught that God has different energies/modes/faces under which he shows himself – now the Father, now the Son, now the Spirit – not three distinct persons, but one person under different energies/modes/faces. This heresy was called Patripassians in the West and Sabellianism in the East.

Now, a couple of villains of the third century (think about naming your dogs or roadkill after these men):

  • Sabellius (fl. ca. 215) – from Libya; went to Rome and taught; excommunicated in 220; denied the real distinctions between the persons of the Godhead; espoused Modalistic view of God.
  • Mani (d. 277) – From Persia (modern-day Iraq), took elements of Zoroastrianism and infused with Christian terminology and some Buddhist-style asceticism to come up with Manichaeism, a rival religion to Christianity.

A few champions of the century (think about naming your children after these):

  • Irenaeus barely made the 3rd century!

    Irenaeus (d. ca. 202) – bishop in Gaul (France) the early formulator of Catholic orthodoxy; stressed that Scripture and church tradition provided a full and consistent Christianity; contra Gnosticism that only had bits and pieces of the teaching of Jesus, but no full understanding and thus much misunderstanding. Irenaeus was to the Apostolic Fathers and the earlier Apologists as John Calvin was to the Reformation – a systematizer presenting a broad and complete picture.

  • Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215) – not to be confused with Clement of Rome (d. 100) – the first great teacher of the Catechetical School in Alexandria (center of Christian scholarship with massive libraries); scholar of philosophy and classic literature.
  • Origen (ca. 185-254) – seriously ascetic; castrated himself!; followed Clement as head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria; he’s the massive scholar of the first three centuries of the Church; very early textual scholar (Hexapla); explored the philosophical import and roots of Christian though (de Principiis); wrote over 6000 works; a good bit of his theology we’d think is loopy, if not downright heretical (denial of physical resurrection, some sort of universalism, subordinationist in his Christology…); run out of Alexandria, imprisoned and tortured under Decius (ca. 250), released at about 69 years of age and died in Tyre – probably martyred.
  • Tertullian (ca. 160-220) – born in Carthage; brought up Pagan; trained as a lawyer; converted ca. 198; first major writer in Latin; seems to have coined “Trinity” (trinitas) and Trinitarian terminology: “three Persons, one Substance”; was a Montanist (though probably mild) and wrote against heresies (e.g., Gnosticism, Monarchianism); fountainhead of Western (Latin) Christianity.
  • Cyprian (ca. 200-258) – grew up wealthy with great classical education in Africa, probably Carthage; converted and gave away money; studied Bible and the Fathers (his favorite Tertullian); became Bishop of Carthage, wrote from hiding for 1.5 years during Decius’ persecutions (ca. 250); returned and was martyred by beheading 258. Central figure of the controversy over the lapsed (martyrs, confessors, libellatici, lapsi); Famous quote: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.”

Thus continues our story… more to come.

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Anselm of Canterbury

The first thing that struck me when reading Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (free!) was his humility. Funny enough, the same humility struck me in just the same way when I picked up St. Augustine’s Trinity. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of that same humility in myself. The great teachers always have more to teach than merely what they write.

Anselm’s is asked by Boso (his dialog partner in the book) to discuss the incarnation with these words: “I desire that you should discover to me, what, as you know, many beside myself ask, for what necessity and cause God, who is omnipotent, should have assumed the littleness and weakness of human nature for the sake of its renewal?” Anselm answers thusly:

You ask of me a thing which is above me, and therefore I tremble to take in hand subjects too lofty for me, lest, when some one may have thought or even seen that I do no satisfy him, he will rather believe that I am in error with regard to the substance of the truth, than that my intellect is not able to grasp it. CDH 1, 2

Two things stand out: 1) He recognizes the vast loftiness of the subject and is rightly reticent to take it up. As I mentioned, I found the same humility in Augustine when he took up the subject of the Holy Trinity. This, by itself, is commendable and worth emulating. 2) He’s concerned that his poor articulation may have a negative effect upon someone else. This is a lesson I don’t know that I’ve ever learned. One wonders how many one’s turned off this or that doctrine simply by speaking poorly about it. All that’s in God’s hands, to be sure, but it’s still a gut check for a guy like me.

As to Anselm’s faith, that is (not so surprisingly) in the Augustinian tradition, too. Anselm’s faith seeks understanding. He does not turn that on its head and have understanding seeking faith. He holds to that most excellent principle (which was his motto): “faith seeking understanding.” This concept is, to me, a no brainer. For example, one of the first things we learn about God is that he’s infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Intellect: *POOF* – is that to be understood unto belief? Impossible. But it can be received in faith and pursued to understand more deeply. Anselm’s a great example for us that Christianity is always faith seeking understanding; it couldn’t be any other way.

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