October

MacDonald’s poem moves me to tears and transformation. This kind of absolutely honesty confession goes straight to every honest heart which cannot but join in confessing. Every truth becomes every honest heart’s truth. Great find Fr Aidan!

Eclectic Orthodoxy

by George MacDonald

1.

REMEMBER, Lord, thou hast not made me good.
Or if thou didst, it was so long ago
I have forgotten–and never understood,
I humbly think. At best it was a crude,
A rough-hewn goodness, that did need this woe,
This sin, these harms of all kinds fierce and rude,
To shape it out, making it live and grow.

2.

But thou art making me, I thank thee, sire.
What thou hast done and doest thou know’st well,
And I will help thee:–gently in thy fire
I will lie burning; on thy potter’s-wheel
I will whirl patient, though my brain should reel;
Thy grace shall be enough the grief to quell,
And growing strength perfect through weakness dire.

3.

I have not knowledge, wisdom, insight, thought,
Nor understanding, fit to justify
Thee in thy work, O Perfect. Thou hast brought
Me up to this–and, lo! what thou…

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Can open theism escape modernity?

solipsism_by_sehroyal-d96wkitThis may be an ill-fitting comparison, but let me give it a go.

Dwayne and I started this blog in order to:

…explore the relationship between the open view of the future and Eastern Orthodox theology. We wonder what would come of a conversation between the two. So we aim to clarify the theological values of the open view, define its core claims and convictions, establish its diversities, and situate it relative to the values, experience and vision of the ancient Eastern Fathers.

That still pretty much expresses our interest. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but we still affirm open theism’s (apparently only) core, defining claim, viz., divine epistemic openness regarding future contingents, and we are (I think) farther down the road to understanding and appreciating Orthodoxy’s theological values and spirituality than when we began. We’ve grown in important ways, though it seems to me we stand like the last Two Witnesses of Revelation crying out between two ends of a spectrum whose via media we jokingly call our Babylon. Perhaps it’s a hopeless venture. But it’s doing wonders for us if for nobody else.

Early on open theism declared itself squarely within classical theism’s belief in creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) or God’s freedom relative to creation, even if open theists didn’t unpack this belief in all the classical ways. Today the lines between open theism and Process-inclined theologies are increasingly blurred (intentionally and unintentionally) and open theism as a theological movement (to the extent the word “movement” applies) is all but defunct. The preferred form of identifying open and process theologies (Christian and otherwise) seems to be “Relational theologies,” which nicely reduces all the invited views to one common denominator, I think.

This is all fine I suppose, if that’s what captures your interest. My own interests are in appropriating the insights and spirituality of the past in light of the prevailing existential despair (in and outside the Church) brought on by modernity but doing so in fresh terms and analogies. As a matter of fact I’m convinced of the open view’s core claim regarding God’s knowledge of the future, and that obviously inclines my interests and explorations, but back in our earliest days I suggested that the fundamental weakness of open theism was its failure to adequately think through God’s transcendence of the world:

…the fundamental theological question which stands behind all the relevant standard disagreements between open theism and Orthodoxy has to do with one’s understanding of and motivation for embracing or rejecting the reality one believes is named by the word “transcendence.”

solipsism-julie-de-waroquier-3I still think this is true. Transcendence for open theism (and for most evangelicals of my acquaintance), it seems to me, is just the inexhaustibility of the known. It’s a quantitative transcendence. God is known, and God is just what is known as he’s known, and transcendence is the name we give to our inability to measure how much of this God there is, how big the mountain of “the known” is. If God is infinite, it’s in this immeasurably repetitious sense purged of uncomfortable mysteries. God ends up being an infinite set of the best of us. My Orthodox friends perhaps think I’m as empty handed as any open theist when it comes to possessing a true notion of transcendence because I think God’s knowledge of the world’s changing actualities also changes. But I’m confident in any event that salvation is personal transformation in Christ precisely in terms of God’s transcendent immediacy, which I was never in a position even to conceive within the scope and horizon of open theism’s conversations. Part of our reason for starting An Open Orthodoxy was to explore that horizon.

What I’d like to do here is set aside theology proper for a moment and turn to a recent article by Michael Hanby which brings divine transcendence to bear upon the political and social spheres. Some interesting parallels might make themselves evident. Hanby writes:

However much one insists upon the classical and Christian elements in the American Founding—and I fully concede the presence of these elements—there is no disputing that the United States is a quintessentially modern nation, both in the character of its theoretical first principles—and indeed the fact that it was self-consciously founded on theoretical first principles—and in the fact that we have no shared tradition and no common memory from before the modern age. It is a subject worthy of reflection that the common “culture” we share even now is largely the product of a culture industry, itself a technological achievement whose advent roughly coincides with the completion and consolidation of American continental expansion at the turn of the twentieth century.

There are many ways to characterize modernity, but perhaps one of the most succinct and insightful comes from the late Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce. I paraphrase, but for Del Noce modernity (and especially late modernity) is predicated upon the attempted elimination of every form of transcendence: the transcendence of truth over pragmatic function, the transcendence of the orders of being and nature over the order of historical construction, the transcendence of the civitas dei over the civitas terrena, the transcendence of eternity over time, the transcendence of God over creation. Every form of transcendence save one, that is. For once real transcendence is eliminated or suppressed, political order itself becomes the transcendental horizon, assuming sovereignty over nature, truth, and morality—over anything that would precede, exceed, and limit it. Politics then becomes “the matter of ultimate concern,” even for those who strive to prevent the ultimacy of politics. The political order becomes that to which all meaningful (i.e. public) arguments are referred, while religion becomes a domesticated amalgam of congregationalism, pietism, moralism, and pragmatism.

I feel like Hanby’s comments about the effects of being without any transformative notion of transcendence upon politics and culture can be applied to the Church, its unity within a proper tradition of worship, spiritual exercise, the transformation it offers and, to the extent it wishes to inform that transformation, to open theism especially, since open theists seek to understand and articulate a doctrine of God and creation more intentionally and passionately than your average evangelical church-goer.

Tying a Trinity Knot—Part 4

knot3I’m trying to process Unitarian objections to Trinitarianism. I’ve been exploring this conversation in the context of Dale Tuggy’s writings. Here’s my struggle. Dale sees Trinitarianism and Unitarianism both as viable expressions of Christian faith because both share the earliest belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The earliest believers, Dale points out, didn’t have any developed belief in the Trinity. The faith was defined as trusting in Christ (his life, death, and resurrection) as God’s means of salvation—period. Beliefs outside of that act of faith shouldn’t be subject to condemnation.

How later conciliar expressions of the faith can legitimately be viewed as authoritative is an extremely important issue and I’m very interested in it. However, that’s a separate question unrelated to my interest here regarding the Unitarian’s openness to embrace Trinitarians as Christian believers. I don’t see how Dale can maintain that Trinitarian faith is compatibly biblical, Christian monotheism. Why do I suppose this? Because surely monotheism is essential to biblical faith generally and to the NT proclamation of the gospel and participation in its salvation specifically. But Dale has made it clear, or so I understand, that he knows of no trinitarian version of the faith that successfully qualifies as monotheistic. The Unitarian’s rejection of Trinitarianism isn’t the rejection of one adiaphoron in favor of another more preferred adiaphoron. I don’t see how Unitarians can regard Trinitarianism as other than polytheism and thus as not viably Christian. So I should think Unitarians are bound to treat Trinitarians the way Orthodox Trinitarians treat Unitarians, i.e., as something other than Christian however historically related Unitarianism might be to Christianity and its first confessions. But in accepting the other as compatibly Christian, Trinitarians and Unitarians both compromise their commitment to what each must believe is fundamental to his/her view of God. Orthodox Trinitarians concede this already. My point here is that Unitarians also cannot maintain that their Unitarianism is adiaphorous to Christian monotheism.

Get thee behind me Satan, I think.

temptations_of_christ_san_marco

Back in the early 2000s, Greg Boyd and some friends (myself included) discussed the peccability/impeccability of Jesus, that is, whether Jesus was genuinely capable of sin (peccable = vulnerable to or capable of choosing sinfully; impeccable = not capable of choosing sinfully). It’s a question all Christians get around to eventually. Greg argued for the impeccability of the God-Man. His reasons were pretty straightforward:

Jesus is God.
God can’t sin.
Therefore Jesus can’t sin.

Years later in response to Dwayne and me, Greg clarified his Christology regarding Chalcedon (ReKnew, Jan/2014) and said that in becoming flesh, God sets aside the exercise of any divine attribute that contradicts what it means to be ‘human’ (‘omnipresence’, ‘omniscience’, and ‘omnipotence’ didn’t make the cut). But Greg argued passionately that God cannot set aside his perfect, loving, character; thus the impeccability of Jesus. Indeed, for Greg the one thing (actually the only thing) that makes Jesus divine is his perfectly loving character. For Greg, there’s no divinity apart from this essential benevolence and full divinity wherever you have it (whatever else you might not have).

However, to take the human journey does entail, Greg agreed, being capable of experiencing temptation. Greg leaned on the familiar passages in Hebrews which make it clear that Jesus suffered temptation. So in the end Greg’s position was the Jesus was not peccable, i.e., he could not sin, but he could and did genuinely suffer temptation to sin. To clarify, I’m just narrating the flow of an old conversation here. I’m not engaging Greg’s Christology at this point. Maybe I’ll weigh in on the question later. But for now I just want to reflect on Greg’s logic.

Greg was pressed to explain his commitment to Jesus’ impeccable character and goodness, and thus his inability to choose sinfully, on the one hand, and the reality of his temptations, on the other. After all, James 1 makes it clear that God’s impeccability precludes the capacity to be tempted. And if God cannot be tempted to do evil, he cannot do evil. And yet Hebrews makes it clear that the God-Man was tempted.

Greg eventually offered the following solution: Jesus was in fact incapable of choosing sin (impeccable), but he didn’t know this. Jesus was ignorant of his impeccability. He mistakenly believed himself capable of sinning. And being unaware of his impeccability was enough, Greg argued, to produce the required feeling of being drawn toward sin or, as temptationwe say, tempted. Even if Jesus could not in fact have followed through in choosing to sin, his ignorance of this fact permitted in him all the psychological aspects of temptation required to (a) fulfill an essential aspect of human being, and so (b) provide us the comfort, encouragement and inspiration we require as Hebrews 4 describes.

I’m not interested in agreeing or disagreeing at this point. I only want to show how Greg’s Christological move here is inconsistent with his kenotic view of the Incarnation and, more specifically, his objection to Chalcedonian Christology on the basis that it essentially makes Jesus’ suffering on the Cross a charade.

First, if it’s true that Jesus only thinks he’s capable of sinning when he’s not, as Greg holds, then clearly Greg doesn’t think Jesus’ false belief in his own peccability disqualifies his experience as genuine temptation. His temptations are no charade given his impeccability. This is similar to how an Orthodox person might make sense of a Chalcedonian view of Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross.

With respect to Christ’s suffering on the Cross as the God-Man, Greg argues that it is not enough for Jesus’ human subjectivity to suffer while the divine nature suffers not. With respect to Christ’s suffering temptations as the God-Man, however, Greg holds to the imperturbability of the divine nature with respect to its essential goodness. Jesus is impeccable and cannot sin, so his experience of temptation is grounded in his ignorance regarding his divine nature.

So in relating Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to his genuine temptations, on the one hand, and his actual impeccability, on the other, Greg stands in the same challenging place that an Orthodox believer stands in relating Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to God’s essential, unbroken triune beatitude, on the one hand, and the integrity of his being tempted, on the other.

Second, if a human nature can be created impeccable, incapable of sinning (as was Jesus on Greg’s account) without sacrificing the reality of temptation required to qualify Jesus as a true and representative champion of the human journey, then why wouldn’t God have created us all like that? If God can give a human nature perfect benevolence without jeopardizing the genuineness of those struggles and temptations necessary to human spiritual development and personal becoming, why would a benevolent God not give us all this immunity? If one can be truly tempted and develop as a human being without risking sinful choosing, why aren’t we all impeccable from the get-go? (I have my own answers to these questions. I’m asking them of Greg’s position.)

Third, if Greg’s argument against Chalcedon stands, namely, if it’s not enough for Jesus to suffer in his human nature on the Cross but not in his divine nature since that would make his suffering a charade, then the same logic should apply to Greg’s construal of Jesus’ suffering temptation while being impeccable. Jesus’ temptations then would be a charade if in fact he was incapable of sin given his divine nature (to say nothing of the fact that James 1 not only makes ‘willing sinfully’ an impossibility for the divine nature, but also ‘being tempted’ at all). And if the charade Greg thinks is involved in Chalcedonian Christology empties Jesus’ life of its existential import for us, then so would his account of Jesus’ temptations fail for the same reason. If Greg’s claim is true that the integrity of Jesus’ temptations is not jeopardized by Jesus’ being nevertheless incapable of sin, then why cannot other types of human suffering (not just suffering temptation) be attributed to the God-Man without effecting change in the divine nature?

On the waters of the Void

void0

The Real You

Suffering love – I know that is my life motto,
Losing everything, but still I win like a lotto,
Tears flow from my eyes, making streams in hidden grottoes,
But still I stick to the beat heavy, staccato.

On the waters of the Void in a perfect storm
But shining bright, like Freeza in perfect form;
Out on the deep, no boat, but I’m stroking.
In death’s face, I’m jokin, high like I be smoking.

Stay by me, locin, Lord you know I want to wild out,
But I’ll endure the pain like a man, take the child out,
Purge me with hyssop, melt me with the holy flame,
Break my chains, set me down, clothed and wholly sane.

You let me break my heart into bloody pieces;
All my false selves runnin’ free, I’ve lost the leashes;
You speak to me and say “Let them go, and then let me heal you.
Fall into my love, and I’ll release the real you.”

(Dwayne Polk)
(“locin,” pronounced “low-kin” is a gang term that means “going loco”)

Economics of atonement

atonement

Most Christians I know, even those who don’t adopt a penal-substitutionary theory of the sufferings of Christ, believe that God’s sufferings in Christ accomplish or effect something in God which makes our theosis a possibility for God. God contemplates his suffering (not just the incarnation as such, but his suffering as such) and the contemplation of this pain is that about God which opens space in God for us. I used to see things this way myself. I now think this is entirely mistaken. I don’t think violence or evil do anything on the divine side of the equation (so to speak) to create space in God for us or otherwise make it possible for God to forgive us or to secure our union with him. The sufferings of Christ are entirely an economic manifestation within our fallen context exclusively for our sake because we, not God, require it.

Ajna’s Song

Little Girl

If you know our blog much at all you probably know Dwayne and I work this together. I do the writing/posting, but we pretty much talk every day to process things so that whatever I end up writing has Dwayne in it as well. And though neither of us has shared much about the circumstances of his personal life, this post will be an exception. Dwayne has two beautiful children who suffer with autism. The oldest is a daughter, Ajna. She’s eight years old, but her condition prevents her from forming complete sentences, enjoying conversations, and her motor skills remain underdeveloped.

That said, let me switch to something very unrelated for a moment. I have a rich dream life. I have a highly active imagination, have traveled the world, living half my life overseas, and my dreams often involve dramatic encounters with highly symbolic narratives that involve family and close friends. I don’t always remember all the specifics of my dreams, but when I do recall enough that impresses or moves me, I take time to access the meaning and relevance. I take dreams seriously.

Back to Dwayne. So last night my dream included him and his daughter Ajna. As close as Dwayne is to me, he’s never made an appearance in my dreams, and it’s very strange that Ajna would show up. I’ve never spent time even trying to engage her on any level. So what occurred in this dream seemed very unusual to me and I thought I’d share it here.

_______________________________

My wife Anita and I were having dinner at somebody’s home. Dwayne was there, as was Ajna. There were a few other people I know who were there as well. Small apartment, loving atmosphere, great conversation. Dwayne was sitting opposite me at the dinner table. Ajna sat at my side of the table on my left. After dinner we were all still at the table enjoying dessert when Ajna leaned over on me, placed her arms around my neck and shoulder, and began singing very softly in my ear. It was barely above a whisper and everybody went quiet to listen. It was a new song. She was making it up as she sang it. Unrehearsed. But at different points I knew it as well and sang right along with her on just a line or two.

Others were slightly humming as well, totally into the moment. It was like we were being sung, like God was live-streaming through us. The beat and feel of it was just like those slow R&B love songs I know Dwayne likes. Everybody’s speech and movements were at normal speed up until Ajna began to sing, at which time everything went to slow motion, though the words and rhythm of the song didn’t slow at all. It was like a music video where the audio remains normal speed but the video is slowed way down though the audio stays synced with the lips of the person singing.

Ajna was perfect – physically and mentally. She had perfect pitch, and there was no autism present whatsoever. Perfect. Beautiful, piercing eyes like pieces of the darkest coal floating in seas of the whitest milk. Her eyes didn’t wander left and right as they’re prone to do now because of her autism. They were focused intently on me and those at the table. Actually, it seemed as though she was the most mature, developed body (as an eight year old of course) in the room, as if Ajna was the Platonic form for eight year old girls while the rest of us were imperfect semblances of our perfected forms. The only other thing I remember in the dream is everybody having a great time afterwards (back at normal speed) and Ajna playing games. Perfect poise, no need for diapers due to her autism, not having to be attended to because of motor imbalances. She was talking perfectly about what was going on in the room. Well, not talking exactly, because she didn’t talk when she spoke. If she said anything at all, she sang it. She was either laughing or singing, never just talking.

I remember bits and pieces of what she sang into my ear. It’s nothing I’ve heard before, but it was all in rhyme. I’m not a poet, though I like to try my hand at rhymes now and then. Typically I have to work hard through several edits to get things to rhyme. But Ajna’s song was finished. Who composed it? I have no idea. I don’t know how this stuff works. I remember the chorus best, and I even remember the tune/melody of the chorus. Been singing it all morning. I remember the verse lyrics less. They were a bit scattered and disjointed when I tried to recall them after waking up, but the main themes were there. As soon as I showered and could sit down to type out what I remembered, my fingers straight-up typed out what you see below without struggling to compose or edit as is typically the case with me and poetry. It was like somebody was live-streaming through me.

So here you have Ajna’s Song. Enjoy. I hope it speaks to whomever needs it.

Verse 1
A face is a beautiful thing,
Makes my heart wanna sing;
I don’t despise a pair of eyes,
a nose, and mouth that tell no lies.

Verse 2
Ears tuned to hear the harmonies
Of life blowing through the trees;
Faces tell the truth of One,
Reflect the beauties of the Son.

Chorus
Somebody’s with you, somebody’s holding
      you are the apple of his eye –
Somebody sees you, somebody knows, his
      love for you is not a lie.
Somebody’s walking beside you
Somebody’s talking inside you.