Everywhere Eucharist

Fr Aidan over at Eclectic Orthodoxy is in a wonderful series on the Eucharist, not a subject on the top of the list for most Evangelicals. It would be nice to see that change since so much of our larger cosmology and beliefs about divine-human relationality (even re: the eschatological destiny of creation) can be manifest in how we view the bread and the cup of communion. I’ve posted my thoughts to a particular post of his and thought I’d put them up here as well. But you’ll have to read his post to get the context of my comments.

As I understand what Fr Aidan has shared, I’d want to say that what he describes as becoming true of the relationship between the glorified humanity of Christ and the bread and wine in the Eucharist, is in my view already true universally, so that in the Eucharist we are celebrating what is everywhere true and not what becomes true on occasion. I’m open to changing my mind, but that’s where I am at present. Everything he says about the union of the world in Christ’s resurrected humanity as ‘occurring’ in the Eucharist I’d want to say occurs universally as a consequence of Incarnation/Resurrection and that the celebration of the Eucharist is where and how we declare “here and now” what is in fact true everywhere.

But this means the entire created order, via Incarnation, really is Christ’s body—now. The Church is where that body gets steadily transformed into the full exercise of its God-given capacities for relationship with God. Why isn’t the whole universe now as immortal and gloried as Christ now is? Good question. I think the answer may be because in the end the universal body that Christ seeks is the concrete union of hypostatically (‘personally’, if I may) distinct others. This means the glorification of the rest of the material order awaits the hypostatic (personal) surrender of all human beings. When we are sufficiently defined in our own personal reality by the transcendent reality of Christ’s risen presence, glorification follows. It’s not that we then ‘become’ his body (which nobody is actually saying); it’s that our understanding and perceptions of ourselves catch up to the truth of his already abiding presence, and the increasing vision of Christ comes all-defining. In short, the Eucharist is a celebration where we declare this to be so, not an event which achieves a divine presence not already the case everywhere.

God is not more present in creation when Incarnate than God is present in sustaining things generally. Rather, in Christ creation becomes uniquely (hypostatically) present to God (which is not the case with God’s sustaining presence in the world generally). It is this hypostatic/personal presence of creation within God that brings creation to its fulfillment. But this fulfillment already achieved as Christ is the truth of all things presently. So though we can make a distinction between God’s sustaining presence in the world and God’s incarnate-hypostatic presence, these are coterminous realities. The distinction, as I understand it, is that where the sustaining presence of God is fully realized asymmetrically in our mere existence as such, our hypostatic/personal mode of our existence is a transforming work of synergy, a free participation by us in the Incarnate reality of Christ. The bread and the wine are how we recognize and celebrate the universal truth of Christ’s presence in all things and in celebrating it increasingly transform our vision of things. “Glorification,” then, is when both the sustaining presence of God that gives us being and the hypostatized presence of the Incarnate One are indistinguishable in their effect.

Just thinking out loud.


Whatcha reading? 10

51EbAaHzUHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Free books are always good news. Blackwell’s A Companion to Philosophy of Religion (2nd ed, 2010) has been available online for free download for a while.

Patrick Sherry’s entry “Beauty” is inviting. I’ve believed for years now (from reading the Old Testament) that God’s ‘glory’ just is his ‘beauty’, the two being perfectly convertible. Sherry touches on that. And references to Weil (“The beautiful is the experimental proof that the incarnation is possible”) are never disappointing. And the answer to the question you are likely to have at the end of Sherry’s contribution is — don’t be mad at me — Boyd’s Trinity & Process.

Then there is an update from Richard Creel (“Immutability and Impassibility”) on his views. He hasn’t to my knowledge said anything new on the subject since his 1986’s Divine Impassibility. Creel, an open theist, advocates divine impassibility (grounded in God’s essential divine bliss). In his contribution to this volume he softens his 1986 position a bit.

I’m also in the middle of Rob Lister’s God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (2013), a book every open theist should read if just to appreciate the diversity and nuances of competing positions. Lister argues for a qualified impassibilist view (of which there are apparently several). The best part about Lister’s book may be the footnotes. Excellent patristic sources to run down. (Rod Thomas may enjoy Lister’s reading of Clement.) He’s no friend of open theists; dismisses them whenever they enter the conversation. But surprisingly he has good to say about Creel’s position even though he recognizes Creel’s view on divine epistemic openness regarding the future. Lister apparently doesn’t connect Creel’s view on divine knowledge of the indeterminate future as essentially ‘open theism’ and sees no incompatibility with God’s being mutable with respect to his knowledge of the world and immutable with respect to his beatitude. I wonder if Lister not categorizing Creel among open theists is evidence of how much ‘open theism’ (the movement) is associated with theological claims that have nothing to do with the open view of the future per se, so that Creel’s views on God’s epistemic openness regarding the open future pass under Lister’s radar simply because Creel promoted a more traditional view on impassibility. Just a thought.

Happy reading.

Is annihilationism possible?

void_of_non_existence_by_PeterioWe’re not a theological paparazzi endlessly pursuing commentary on Greg Boyd. But of all open theist thinkers/writers, Greg’s growing published works, blog entries and public speaking mean his views and positions are presented to thousands of readers and listeners around the world. There is hardly a more popular, more regularly followed, more influential open theist thinker on the planet. Plus we just have more fun engaging his ideas!

In this post we’d like to bring Greg’s present position on hell into conversation with arguments made in — you guessed it — his own (earlier) Trinity & Process (T&P). We’re not here to argue for or against specific views of hell or for or against the specific claims Greg makes in T&P which we’ll argue make his annihilationism impossible. We just thought it would be interesting to set the two side by side. If we’re very lucky, Greg might (somewhere, sometime) unpack his present position on annihilation in terms of arguments he makes in T&P which, as we will show, make his annihilationism (metaphysically speaking) an impossibility. But apart from any specific engagement from him, hey, it’s still educational to consider the similarities and differences.

Greg’s position(s) on hell have appeared variously in Satan and the Problem of Evil, in several podcast sermons, in the film/documentary Hellbound? and more recently on radio. He is “inclined” to annihilationism. Generally speaking this is the view that the condemned wicked who finally reject Christ cease to exist. There are a couple of qualifications to Greg’s version of this view which are worth noting. First, the annihilation of the lost is not a positive act on God’s part. God doesn’t exterminate people. That would be the ultimate violence. All the violence of the Old Testament combined wouldn’t compare to the violence of pushing the metaphysical button on somebody and positively exterminating them. Greg is absolute in his rejection of the belief that God ever does violence. Even in the case of annihilation as judgment, the consequence in question (passing into non-existence) has to be “organic” to creaturely choice. Existence being what it is (dependent upon God as “ground” of being), it simply follows naturally/organically that if we irrevocably sever ourselves from that ground, we have no being. We pass into non-existence.

This leads to the second important feature of Greg’s annihilationism. While some annihilationists believe the extermination of the wicked is judgment for a lifetime of sin (regardless of the actual dispositional state of the wicked — and we’ll get to ‘dispositions’ in just a sec), Greg insists that annihilation follows only on the condition that a person become irrevocably solidified against God. That is, one’s very being (will, character, disposition) must have become irrevocably fixed against God, rendering all future prospects of Godward movement impossible, for annihilation even to be possible. Greg is clear that so long as there is any possibility of Godward movement, God (being unconditional love) would not withdrawal himself and so foreclose upon that possibility. Annihilation only follows when the person in question irrevocably solidifies in their rejection of God. God then removes himself absolutely (from any role in sustaining a person’s existence). Final irrevocability is simply coterminous with a person’s passing into non-existence.

Of all versions of annihilation on the market, Greg’s has definite advantages. It avoids the problem of supposing that an unconditional divine love would ever cease pursuing the well-being and good of anyone, even those in hell, so long as there was hope. It also emphasizes the organic nature of (in Greg’s view, all) divine judgment. God doesn’t positively pull the plug on creaturely existence. He merely withdrawals himself from creaturely existence and let’s the consequence of his withdrawal follow naturally (never mind for the moment whether or not this really absolves God from the doing of violence). And it also denies that finite sins committed in this life can in themselves be just grounds for annihilation. One has to be irrevocably fixed in one’s disposition against God. At that point, divine withdrawal resulting in a persons’s non-existence is an act of mercy and love.

However, we’d like to suggest that the irrevocable solidification (by whatever terms it’s defined) Greg’s view requires is, given Greg’s own arguments in T&P, impossible. We’re not here renewing our objections to Greg’s passibilism or his view of the dissolution of God’s triune actuality on the Cross. All that aside, this is an entirely different issue about arguments he makes in T&P regarding what invariantly constitutes human existence per se and how that in turn makes irrevocable solidification against God impossible. It is Greg’s dispositional ontology, viewed in aesthetic terms as an irreducible appetite for aesthetic satisfaction, which makes irrevocable solidification against God a metaphysical impossibility.

In Ch. 3 of T&P Greg introduces the concept of ‘dispositions’ as a central feature of his response to Hartshorne’s Process metaphysics. Dispositions are those ‘powers’ or ‘capacities’ that define us essentially. It would take too much space to unpack all that Greg has to say about dispositions, but essentially he argues that all created subjects are irreducibly dispositions toward some aesthetic satisfaction. Greg also understands dispositions in terms of Whitehead’s “divine subjective aims” (which aims are God, present in the created subject, offering that subject her telos, which itself is understood as an experience of value or aesthetic satisfaction).

“It is the insight of Whitehead and Hartshorne that there is an aesthetic dimension to all experience which, I believe, can furnish us with another very fruitful model of dispositions. If beauty is indeed a priori, and if becoming is, therefore, essentially a becoming towards ‘aesthetic satisfaction’, then it is reasonable to construct a model of dispositions which reflects this dimension of reality. I believe that the Process concept of a ‘subjective aim towards aesthetic satisfaction’ furnishes us with just such a model.”

These subjective aims as well are the “eschatological essence” (a phrase Greg appropriates from Pannenberg) of created entities, and they’re defined as aesthetic in nature. That is, the divine subjective aim for subjects is their divinely intended aesthetic enjoyment grounded in a dispositional appetite for such enjoyment. This dispositional appetite (a) is the creature’s “essence,” and (b) defines what a thing ought to be or what its God intended telos is, its possibility for being (and in this sense is equivalent to Maximus the Confessor’s notion of the logoi of created things). There is a great deal of argument Greg goes into to establish the need for positing such dispositions which we can’t mention here. Simply said, in terms of Greg’s arguments, human being (indeed, all subjective experience) already possesses a certain irrevocability, i.e., it is irrevocably a dispositional appetite for some measure of aesthetic enjoyment. This is Greg’s dispositional-ordinal interpretation of autonomy.

“Thus, we may say that what all beings, experiential or non-experiential, have in common is not that they are experiential centers, but that they are essentially dispositions towards an actualization which is defined by a generally determinate aesthetic role to play in relation to other actualizations. This role may, from the perspective of aesthetic experience, be strictly contributive (“matter”), or both contributive and receptive (experiencing subjects).”

Butterflies_Becoming_Fire_2The dispositional essence of humanity just is its openness to becoming with respect to God’s subjective aim. This openness is our essential existence, and this is what makes Greg’s annihilationism impossible. Given our dispositional essence, there simply is no mechanism by which we can dispose ourselves out of our groundedness in God’s subjective aims, out of our logos, out of the dispositional openness to our God-defined possibilities. And the reason is simple: We don’t determine the dispositional ground of our openness to God. It is God’s gracious gift to us, the act of his unconditional love of us and the very expression of his positive regard for us, his “image in us.” As our ‘ground’, our dispositional essence precedes any free exercise of its capacities by us and thus already is the possibility of our becoming. Dispositional subjects that we are, we are aysemmetrically related to our ground. There simply is no way, given Greg’s arguments in T&P, for Greg to suppose we can ever dispositionally foreclose upon such becoming in an irrevocable way. Annihilationism, understood as involving an irrevocable dispositional foreclosure, is a metaphysical impossibility. The creature may remain free (dispositionally) to say no to God on occasion, and even to solidify to a great degree. But she is not capable of uttering an irrevocable ‘no’, that is, to use her God-given and God-sustained capacities to render those same capacities permanently incapable of responding positively to God. We cannot irrevocably foreclose upon the very dispositional capacities that define our essential freedom and choice to begin with. So the irrevocability Greg’s annihilationism requires is not, given his own work, a metaphysical possibility.

In what is the irrevocability of our openness to Godward becoming grounded? Good question. The only answer can be that it is grounded in the unconditional love of God’s subjective aims for us. So long as we are loved unconditionally, we are unconditionally open (to whatever minimal measure) to Godward becoming. For God’s love of us is the possibility of our freedom to move in his direction. “Wherever the Spirit is, there is freedom.” To exist at all is to be invited Godward, and God’s invitations constitute our freedom to respond. In short, existence is invariantly an invitation to Godward becoming independent of any response on our part. To suppose then (as Greg now does) that a person can employ her dispositional God-given essence to irrevocably remove herself from the empowering reach of God’s invitation is utter metaphysical nonsense (given his own T&P that is).

(Pictures here and here.)

Hard copy of Hart on analogia entis

whiteBack here I asked for help finding the manuscript version of a Hart lecture the audio version of which I had downloaded. This past week a friend put me in touch with the printed version. Thanks much!

“The destiny of Christian metaphysics : reflections on the ‘analogia entis’” by David Bentley Hart in Thomas Joseph White (ed), The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God? (Eerdmans, 2010).

The printed version is much fuller than the audio (in which Hart had to leave out portions). Reading through it today, and without agreeing with every line, I have to say it’s the best thing I’ve read this year.