Where is Jesus?

resurrection_side_cs_500A friend asks:

Where is Christ’s resurrected body right now?

Fascinating when you think about it. I’ll risk putting my own speculations out there.

I suggest that Christ’s resurrected body is a disposition of all material reality that guarantees creation’s eventual perfection and glorification in him and that this disposition is free to particularize on occasion.

In the One Logos all things are one and so are inseparable both from the Logos in whom they inhere and from each other. We are all connected, and as deeply as our created essences go, we are there equally connected. I think of how entangled quantum particles are immediately implicated in one another’s experiences regardless of the distance that separates them, and their connection is not accountable for any given physical reality within the system.

So what about Jesus’ body? No one of our bodies (because our bodies are each animated by created, finite persons) can mediate life to all other material bodies and bring them to fulfillment. Only the Logos, an infinite Person, in whom all things are sustained, can stand in that kind of relation to material realities. All things inhere in him, not in us. In a real sense, then, Christ’s resurrected body now just is the entire material cosmos (dispositionally speaking), and in a more accomplished sense as the Church embodies God’s intentions for human existence. The Church is that portion of the fallen, material, sentient world being redeemed and brought into union with God.

Thinking of the double-slit experiment. We know that matter fundamentally is a superposition (a wave-function, a disposition for a range of concrete manifestation) which collapses/particularizes under sufficient conditions. Consider thinking of Christ’s glorified body as dispositionally everywhere (superpositioned throughout the cosmos), but which like other created material realities can collapse, in Christ’s case into a ‘particular’ manifestation of the risen Christ in his hypostatic uniqueness. Christ can ‘show up’ here or there. How? Because by virtue of being the Logos, his body is dispositionally-possibly everywhere his Person is, and particularly-concretely anywhere he wills. Can Christ’s body not be ‘particularized’ anywhere and still be a “body”? I think so, yes. The wave function is constitutive of the material order.

So where is Jesus right now? He’s everywhere dispositionally (inherent in all things, a transcendent wave function which is the material world’s receptivity to God and now the universal possibility of his particular manifestation). Where is Jesus’ body ‘collapsed into particularity’? Wherever and whenever he wills it to be. Maybe nowhere right now.

God’s duration is without loss

glass2I’ve been reading and listening to reflections on God and time. I get such headaches when I dwell on this question, but four core convictions come to mind as I consider these conversations again.

(1) Creation as irreducible becoming or processu operis (a work in progress). We exist entirely as an act of “becoming,” an ever-moving process in which we determine ourselves in the present by relating our perceived past (the data of past experience; i.e., memory) to perceived possibilities at which we aim ourselves in the hope of becoming what we wish to be. We are a perpetual hourglass that negotiates between the perceived effects of the past and the perceived possibilities of the future.

(2) God’s self-constituting triune perfections and beatitude are actus purus. In our view, God cannot be reduced to the “becoming” described in (1) above, even if the process is qualified by saying it occurs “necessarily.” God’s self-constituting triune act (the Father’s begetting of the Son, the proceeding of the Spirit, the triune fullness and beatitude of this knowing and loving) cannot itself be subject to temporal becoming; it cannot supervene upon a process that prehends ‘past’ data from which God’s ‘present’ is determined in light of some desire to become in the ‘future’ what he is not ‘now’. To borrow Whitehead’s language (but not how he understands it), we suggest that God’s essential triune act is the “epochal immediacy of an occasion’s subjective indivisible unity,” an infinite specious present, an indivisible occasion of plenitude not composed of successive temporal moments upon whose unending process it supervenes (i.e., it has neither past which it remembers nor future changes it anticipates).

(3) God’s free self-expression in creation is contingent and involves duration. If God cannot be reduced to a processu operis, neither can he be reduced to actus purus as a totum simul. If God’s self-constituting, triune fullness is the living immediacy of an infinite ‘specious present’, it is not on that account intolerant of contingent self-expressive modes of willing and knowing. Thus we believe God’s free self-expression in creation (the creating, sustaining, and knowledge of the world in its contingent temporal actualities) involves temporal duration for God. Time flows from God as we “live and move and have our being in God.”

(4) God’s duration is without loss. The phrase is Robert Jenson’s. I don’t include in it all that he does. I employ it only to say that God’s duration as expressed in (3) is without loss (because it’s asymmetrically related) to the triune fullness expressed in (2). God’s self-expressive act in creation, with its duration and change, is purely expressive of his triune identity. God does not constitute himself dialectically within the economy of creation, though his knowledge of and relation to the world involve change and reciprocal relations such as prayer within an open horizon whose precise unfolding even God does not immutably (fore)know. This openness (for free, creaturely becoming in love) just is God’s free, creative self-expression. Free creaturely self-expression (ultimately in unfailing love and union with God) perfectly manifests free divine self-expression because the latter grounds and guarantees the former. But the entire economy of creation, even the Incarnation itself, only expresses or manifests (rather than determines or alters) God’s self-constituting triune fullness.

Divine Sophia and the experience of wonder

54bc1ecec0311_-_hbz-sophia-loren-20-1964-rexusa-210677bq-xlBack in 2013 at Biola’s Art Symposium, David Bentley Hart suggested that true beauty isn’t always reducible to the predictably neat and tidy forms of beauty classically understood as ‘right proportionality’. An example Hart gives of disproportionate beauty is Sophia Loren’s face, “magnificently beautiful,” he says, but “nothing in it of classical proportion.” Conversely, he notes, objects that possess all the ideal features of proportionality often “bore us with their banality.” Rembrandt’s obscure canvases are beautiful, while the glittery canvases of Thomas Kinkade are repellent.

It was while listening through Hart’s Biola presentation, together with working with staff on our upcoming Advent sermon series, that I got to thinking again on the experience of “wonder” (which Aristotle believed to be the beginning of philosophy).

The reason Hart’s talk and our Advent series planning meeting got connected in my mind is because our Advent theme is “Capture the Wonder.” There ya go. So obviously I asked: What really is the experience of wonder? Why do we desire the experience of wonder so irresistibly? And what ought an Advent sermon series branded “Capture the Wonder” urge upon listeners regarding the satisfaction of this desire?

As I thought on our theme I couldn’t help but invert it to “Captured by Wonder.” It seems to me there’s a mistaken presumption in the standard phrase. A more proper perspective on the order of grace and creation, I think, sees the experience of wonder not as captured by us, but as capturing us. After all, “there is no one who seeks God.” (Rom 3.11) It is God who seeks, his beauty that captures, his wonder that entices, enthralls, and defines us. Wonder precedes us, creates us, arouses our desire, draws out our hunger. There’s a real danger (a threat to true wonder) then in supposing that God is found by us or that wonder is somehow captured by us at all. At best these are as true of the experience of God as is “sunrise” a true description of what the earth and sun actually do when we look eastward every morning. The deeper, more revealing narrative is that we, not the sun, are doing the moving. Similarly, our search for meaning and fulfillment ends precisely in the realization that we are sought by God, captured by him, and that if there is any evading going on it is we who evade the wonder that frees and fulfills us. The “advent” of Christmas, then, is creation’s arrival at its intended end, earth’s being caught up into heaven, humanity taken up into divinity. We don’t capture the wonder. It captures us.

What is ‘wonder’? Synonyms pop up—awe, astonishment, fascination, amazement. These all describe a certain ineffable pleasure, the satisfying of an appetite of the heart, a beatitude possessed (or let us now say, as possessing us) in the perceiving of beauty. It might be some event in the natural order of things or encountered through a work of art. But the proper order of grace and creation is important. Why am I so inclined to invert “capture the wonder” to “captured by the wonder”? Because a proper perspective on the relation is precisely where ‘grace’ is encountered. There’s a gratuity and graciousness to our existence that is present and offered to us in every experience of wonder. We intuitively know when we experience the beauty of a sunset, or are caught up in the rapture of a musical composition, or sit before a Renoir unable to exhaust the ways it mystifies us, that we are being addressed and possessed by something not under our control, something we do not define but which defines us precisely in its power to draw us out of ourselves and in drawing us out of ourselves define our most inward depths. This is as true for the artist who paints or composes as it is for the art aficionado, as true for Monet as for the tourist who visits him in the Musée d’Orsay.

da408ced982d40d63e022733cf831ad9First of all, then, the experience of wonder is an experience of grace, the realization that I am at home in the world, that I am welcome in it, and that the truest thing about my being here at all is the experienced beauty of the world in its gracious giftedness and goodness.

Secondly, the experience of wonder is also beautifying. When we wonder at some beauty, we are made beautiful. The experience of beauty is itself beautiful. So anyone experiencing beauty is beautiful to the extent one perceives and opens oneself to beauty’s transforming wonder, for there is something beautiful in/to us as well, in our very openness to the world. In our experience of wonder we reflect the beauty around us and so experience not only the world but ourselves as beautiful. We wonder at ourselves wondering and so become all wonder. We experience ourselves as painted into being.

Not only is the experience of wonder firstly an experience of the grace that gives and welcomes our being, and not only is it a beautifying (sanctifying) wonder, but, thirdly, wonder is also an experience of the essential unity of all things. Not only are there beautiful things in the world, but all beautiful things are a single, unified beautiful “thing,” a single beautiful act of being.

Fourthly, every experience of wonder is irreducible to itself (and I confess here the influence of David Hart’s piece “The Mirror of the Infinite” on Gregory of Nyssa’s doctrine of creation). That is, no beauty in creation that excites true wonder in us, not even the whole of creation contemplated as a single beautiful thing, can offer an account of itself. The experience of wonder is an experience of transcendence and thus a token and reflection of an Artist (not just art), a primal Gift Giver (not just gift), a Beautiful One who makes beautiful (but who is not made beautiful by the things he makes).

Finally, in all this I was drawn back to Celia Deane-Drummond’s comments about divine wonder, about the fact that God also ‘wonders’, that he is wonderful, that he is a God of Wonder, and to comments I then made:

I imagine God to be ‘wonderful’, to experience and know himself with an infinite sense of wonder, not because he is forever discovering things about himself he hasn’t always known, but because there is nothing possibly boring or redundant about God. God is never bored with himself. That is (partly I suppose) his infinitude. The Father’s eternal begetting of his Logos is an exclamatory act (!), an eternal “Wow!” whose utterance is God’s own existence.

The pain of spiritual liberty

3024663674_21f73c1864A friend, the brilliant Dr. Brian Moore, commented over at Eclectic Orthodoxy:

“There is not enough attention to the philosophical and theological importance of unhappiness.”

I’ve been inclining to similar thoughts for months. As a believer in God’s undiminishing beatitude, how am I to articulate a theology of ‘unhappiness’ as ever being a proper participation in God’s life? I have an idea of where an answer might lie, but I was curious, so I asked Brian to elaborate. He did, and his response is one of the best things I’ve read in a while.

Charles Williams had a favorite dictum, “This is Thou, Neither is this Thou.” Unhappiness is the whole person which is desire…trapped in anguish, incomplete, finite; in heightened states, a kind of terror before the suffocating limitations of the finite, resistance to the closure of ideology, the vulgarization of nature into banal truisms and cheap cleverness utilized to create desire for false goods or inordinate desire for lesser ones. Unhappiness can be a protest and refusal against the society of Nietzsche’s “last men.” It is the freedom of the soul that prefers the pain of spiritual liberty to the slothful contentment of a “success” that is merely a form of cowardice, resignation to the prescribed limits of a “trousered ape,” the wisdom of a mere “shrewd animal.” In some ways unhappiness can be akin to holy poverty, a marginalization engendered by a search for integrity and the holy. Unhappiness is an enduring awareness of transcendence as intrinsically necessary for human life.

Though it is not a simple moral equation. Unhappiness can also be whining and solipsistic protest against the real, the despairing egotism that wants to retreat into a lonely independence because lost in ingratitude, refusing the gift of being, unable to grow into the courteous receptivity that allows a gift to be given. Theologically, unhappiness can be both of Christ or anti-Christ, just as happiness may be either profound, mysterious, dynamically open with child-like wonder or it can be a shallow, emotive condition indifferent to virtue, a kind of blissful living death, what Glaucon called a “city of pigs” in the Republic, but also the “fevered city” he prefers, though the latter is equally sick as Socrates understands.”

I pledge allegiance to…

keithgreennocompromisecoverThis is the cover over Keith Green’s 1978 album “No Compromise.” I love the freedom the guy is exercising by not bowing. This album rocked my world. I was 18 at the time.

We don’t venture into political or cultural commentary here as a rule, so this will be an exception. This Presidential election process was so divisive and exhausting, I couldn’t wait until Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, for it to be over. I looked forward to listening to election-free news! I was wrong. It’s not over. As I write, the results continue to manifest how polarized and fragmented we are. Not a few Trump supporters (the racists among them) sense themselves empowered and emboldened to vent their hatred. Given the nature of this empowering relationship they derive from Trump’s victory, I can’t imagine such violent racism will subside at all. Why should they? They have seized their time, their hour. Reciprocal examples of such violence on the losing side are so exceptional as to not be worth mentioning.

My interest in sharing my own feelings at this point is purely selfish – I’m thinking through my own ecclesiology, and writing is partly how I process and discover. What really is the Church? How really is the Church to exist in a fallen world? Not new questions by any means. There’s a single answer to both: the Church just is a particular way of being (in the fallen world). This election cycle and its consequences have me pondering that “way of being” relative to the world in which I (and my evangelical siblings) live, i.e., the American world – constitutional freedoms, rule of law, representative government, democratic process, etc.

Let me just rant for a bit by reworking some comments I recently made in a conversation about all this, then I’ll end by sharing a couple of conclusions.

The ‘Cyrus’ argument in favor of Trump is already old. Cyrus the Great was the 6th century (BCE) King of Persia, a pagan idolater, who was nevertheless used by God to end Israel’s Babylonian captivity and restore them to their homeland. Fair enough. I get that. God is always at work providentially to bring good out of the selfish and evil agendas around us. White evangelicals who view Trump in such terms, as I’m reading this line of defense, trust that God will work providentially to bring blessing on the Church and build God’s Kingdom by raising Trump up to secure anti-abortion Justices, forestall the pro-LGBT cultural agenda, perhaps protect the tax-exempt status that faith communities and their institutions enjoy. Other evangelicals who voted for Trump say the verdict is still out on whether Trump will be a Cyrus or just another Babylonian king who is bad news for religious believers.

This is where I struggle. It seems to me that:

  • IF God can use Trump in spite of Trump’s being an evil, racist, womanizing, bigoted, misogynist,
  • THEN why can’t God do the same with Hillary?

How is divine providence in this case a reason either to have voted for Trump or an explanation of his victory any more than it would be a reason to vote for Hillary or an explanation of her victory had she won (and she did win the popular vote by the way)?

In other words:

  • IF God can make a racist, bigoted, vile, misogynist, greedy, gluttonous, self-consumed, narcissistic philanderer like Trump a providential instrument of his purposes,
  • THEN God should be able to do the same with a lying, cheating, power-hungry, pro-abortion, tax-and-spend democrat like Hillary.

God’s sovereign, right? The ‘Cyrus’ argument works for Hillary as much as for Trump, which just means it’s not an argument for why God raised up Trump “instead” of Hillary.

These options bring me to an alternative biblical perspective on the election. I suggest Rom 1 (which I suspect evangelicals would be quoting had Hillary won) instead of passages about Cyrus the pagan setting God’s people free. Providence also gives us what we deserve as a form of judgment. And there’s no need to suppose both Hillary and Trump didn’t represent God “giving us over” (Ps 81.12; Rm 1.24-29) to what we have become (evangelicals included).

But aren’t we exercising our right and freedom when we vote? Aren’t we being guided in our choice by our values? Doesn’t that mean one of available choices represents God’s blessing and the good fortune and well-being of the Church?

No. None of those things follows. The fact that we had a choice between Hillary and Trump seems to me like King David getting to choose which particular form judgment God would send upon Israel (2Sam 24.13). You know the story. God is going to judge Israel. It’s not going to be pretty. But he gives David a few options and lets David choose which judgment it’s to be. Just because you have a choice, and your choice is in some measure good because it’s guided by your values, doesn’t mean it’s not ‘judgment’ – whatever you choose. There’s every reason to mourn when you get what you choose in such cases. That’s what we have here. Hillary would have brought it in one form. Trump will bring it in another.

Think about it: 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump. I think that’s the news, not that Trump actually won. Given the high morals and values that evangelicals claim guide them, it’s interesting to note that 41% of white evangelicals thought Trump was “a good role model” and 67% of them thought he was “honest.”

Please just think about that for a moment: 41% of white evangelicals think Donald Trump is “a good role model.” Don’t race by that fact on your way to turn it into some defense of what evangelicalism really is. Those opinions are what we evangelicals (as a movement) really are. That is what we’ve become. Let it sink in. Own it. When you have, you’ll begin to ponder new answers to the question – What really is the Church and how is it really to exist in the world?


I can only guess why 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump. It’s because whereas white evangelicals are dispositionally inclined to share Trump’s sins (racism, narcissism, lack of empathy for minorities, greed, to name a few) they are constitutionally averse to Hillary’s sins (giving LGBT folk the legal right to marry, being pro-abortion, taxing the wealthy to help the poor, to name a few) because, after all, as we all know, gay sex trumps all other Republican sins combined. No imaginable sin can be as horrible as loving someone of the same sex. You can subjugate, discriminate against, and objectify the already born, but not the unborn. You can systemically confine those living to a kind of living death, but you can’t systemically prevent the unborn from their opportunity to be as miserable, trapped, and objectified as their parents. After all, unborn blacks have every right to grow up in the world of white privilege their parents exist in.

I’m not suggesting that a vote for Hillary doesn’t implicate one in her failures. Where Hillary supporters call upon God and gospel to defend her as “the” Christian vote, the same marriage of faith and State exists. But let’s not flatter ourselves; we are after all simply choosing the flavor of our judgment.

I suppose I’m mostly grieved over evangelicals’ failure to perceive how completely irrelevant and vacuous their moral voice has become in American society. In terms of being a prophetic voice of conscience to the world, evangelicals have no moral credibility.

Let me end by sharing a couple of convictions that appear clearer to me as a result of this election season:

First, I think Christian believers who vote at all are necessarily complicit in the sins and failures of those they vote for (whomever they vote for). To participate (even democratically) in a political system by definition implicates you systemically in that system – for good and for evil. When you pick up a stick, you pick up both ends. I don’t know where I’ll come out on this, but I’m contemplating the effects upon faith of such participation at all. I don’t see how we live fully within the redeeming power of our truest identity as Christ’s Body in the world and then forge alliances between that identity and any State. I’m not convinced such participation doesn’t necessarily erode our faith, compromise our identity, and undermine our mission.

This means something has to be said about ‘how’ the Church speaks prophetically and morally about systemic injustice, racism, poverty, how we present a ‘way of being’ in the world that is ‘the world to come’. I’m considering the possibility that this ‘way of being’ precludes (for me) participation in those structures, at least participation that reduces my ‘way of being’ to a binary choice between options which that system determines, and that this is just another way to say the Church doesn’t require the State or its apparatuses to be who and what Christ calls the Church to be. ‘Voting’ is apparently one way of contributing your “voice.” Perhaps there are other ways to speaking, ways of being a “voice” which are better than (and in the end compromised by) filling in the State’s ballot. I think by and large evangelicals just view the State (reforming it, cleansing it, legislating it righteously) as their “Temple,” believe they are its priests, and – now – see Trump is their Cyrus. That’s not a viable way to be the Church in the world for me.

Second, I can’t in good conscience put my hand over my heart and pledge my allegiance to the Republic. I’m coming to see that part of the ‘way of being’ in the world which I understand the Church to be involves certain exclusive allegiances to Christ which are impossibly collapsed into any political agenda or platform. There’s so much to say here about the “already-not yet” nature of God’s re-creation of the cosmos in Christ, and the Church’s role in that. I can’t say much here, but I don’t see how my pledging my allegiance to the State is compatible with properly pledging my allegiance to Christ. Does that mean I don’t value constitutional freedoms? Not at all. I do value worshiping, believing, and speaking my mind freely. Does it mean I wouldn’t sacrifice to protect or secure those freedom? Not at all. Do I not love and appreciate a State that recognizes those freedoms? I do. Will I ‘pledge my allegiance’ to that State? Well, what’s meant by such allegiance? What’s involved in it? Here’s what I’ll pledge: I pledge to love, serve and remind the world in which I live of one thing – Christ is Kyrios (Lord) and allegiance to him trumps (no pun intended) all other allegiances. If the State is OK  with that, we’re good. Unfortunately it is the nature of the State to be intolerant of such arrangements.

Mirroring the Infinite: No tain, no pain

mirror-art-kaleidoscope-3-468x468A couple of lines from David Bentley Hart’s “The Mirror of the Infinite: Gregory of Nyssa on the Vestigia Trinitatis” (Modern Theology 18:4 | October 2002) from a piece I read some time ago but which I picked this week in an attempt to occupy my mind with something as far and as different as possible from the madness which is American politics.

It’s a splendid piece. The first quote below is from Section I which summarizes trinitarian theology. The second quote is from the first half or so of Section II. Enjoy!

Our being is synthetic and bounded; just as (again to borrow a later theological vocabulary) the dynamic inseparability but incommensurability in us of essence and existence is an ineffably distant analogy of the dynamic identity of essence and existence in God, the constant pendulation between inner and outer that constitutes our identity is an ineffably distant analogy of that boundless bright diaphaneity of coinherence, in which the exteriority of relations and the interiority of identity in God are one, each Person wholly reflecting and containing and indwelling each of the others. Because for us personality is synthetic, composite, successive, and finite, we are related always in some sense “over against,” in a fragmentary way, and to be with others always involves for us a kind of death, the limit of our being. In God, though, given the simplicity of his essence, there is an absolute coincidence of relation and unity. For God, the “inwardness” of the other is each Person’s own inwardness, the “outwardness” of the other is each Person’s outwardness and manifestation.

One word came to mind upon finishing this paragraph—“fractal.” Can you see why? Fractals both contain and are contained by their content and form. They are a “coincidence of relation and unity,” a visual diaphaneity of coinherence. This shouldn’t surprise me, I thought. Wouldn’t the source and ground and giver of a world whose being and nature manifest such fractality need to be infinite as well?

mirror1A second more lengthy portion spoke to me. Honestly, after this past year’s election cycle and particularly the role my own faith tradition played in the final result, I have wanted to give up on the Church (which my entire adult life has been dedicated to vocationally). I’m still struggling. I know it sounds weird, but I was enjoying this next portion of Hart for the escape that it provided my wanting to leave all thought of the church behind when the passage came to an uncomfortable rest in the final sentence’s nearly final word: “church.” “Crap,” I thought. There’s no escaping Christ’s Body in the earth.

Certainly if one were to attempt to isolate the one motif that pervades Gregory’s thought most thoroughly, and that might best capture in a single figure the rationality that unifies it throughout, it would be that of the mirror: the surface in which light is gathered, creating depths where none previously existed, and by which it is reflected back to the source of its radiance. One might say, to being with, that for Gregory all knowledge consists in theoria of the reflected, and this is in some sense so even within the life of God: the Son is the eternal image in which the Father contemplates and loves his essence, and thus the Father can never be conceived of without his Son, for were he alone he would have no light, truth, wisdom,, life, holiness, or power; “if ever the brightness of the Father’s glory did not shine forth, that glory would be dark and blind.” This “mirroring” is that one original act of knowledge in which each of the Persons shares; the Only Begotten, says Gregory, who dwells in the Father, sees the Father in himself, while the Spirit searches out the deeps of God. God himself is, one is tempted to say, an eternal play of the invisible and the visible, the hidden Father made luminously manifest in the infinite icon of his beauty, God “speculating” upon himself by way of his absolute self-giving, in the other. And it is from this original “circle of glory” that the “logic” of created being unfolds: a specular ontology, according to which creation is constituted as simply another inflection of an infinite light receiving God’s effulgence as that primordial gift that completes itself in summoning its own return into existence. Creation is only as the answer of light to light, a created participation in the self-donating movement of the Trinity, existing solely as the manifestation—the reflection—of the splendor of a God whose own being is manifestation: recognition and delight.

Even “material” nature, for Gregory, is entirely subsumed in this economy of reflectivity: the physical world, he says, in its interminable dialectic of constancy and change stands on the one hand in absolute contrast to divine reality, but, on the other hand, it mirrors within its extraordinary intricacy, magnitude, and inscrutability the incomprehensibility and majesty of God. And the beauty that perdures in the midst of the world’s ceaseless becoming excites in the soul a longing for the infinite beauty that it reflects. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that, for Gregory, apart from that reflex of light that lies at creation’s heart, there is no world to speak of at all. Gregory, like Basil before him, in various places denies that the world possesses any material substrate apart from the intelligible acts that constitute its perceptible qualities: the world of bodies is a confluence of “thoughts,” “bare concepts,” “words,” noetic “potentialities,” proceeding from the divine nature; its esse, one might say, is percipi. The phenomenal realm is not, says Gregory, formed from any underlying matter at all, for “the divine will is the matter and substance of created things (υλη και ουσια των δημιουργηματων),” the “matter, form (κατασκευη), and power (δυναμις) of the world.” The here below, it seems, is like a mirror without tain, a depth that is pure surface, and a surface composed entirely of the light that it reflects. Otherwise said, the physical world is a “primordial, archetypal, and true music,” a purely rhythmic and harmonious complication of movements—in which, adds Gregory, human nature can discover an image of itself.

The intelligible creation, however, is an even more thoroughly specular reality. For one thing, all talk of human “nature” most properly refers, in Gregory’s thought, not merely to some abstract set of properties instantiated in any given individual, but to the pleroma of all persons who come into existence throughout time, who together constitute, as in a single body, the one humanity that God first willed in fashioning a creature in his image, the ideal anthropos who dwells eternally in the wisdom and foresight of God, comprehended “altogether in its own plenitude.” This alone is truly that “God like thing (το θεοεικελον χρημα)” in whom God has condescended to impress his likeness. When, eschatologically, its temporal unfolding is complete and it is united to the Logos as his pure and glorious body, subjected to the Father, the form of Christ will be proclaimed, made visible in a body stamped with his shape, in whose every part the divine image will shine with equal brightness. Humanity, then, is nothing, either ideally or collectively, apart from its power to display in itself the “form and fashion” of its creator; and this final beauty—this unveiling of the divine likeness—can be glimpsed even now in the church, which Gregory describes as the mirror in which the face of the sun of righteousness, Christ, has become visible within creation…. (bold emphasis mine)

Boiling down the Great Apostasy

boilingI used to think the Great Apostasy (2Th 2.3) would be an explicitly heterodox, violent, and Christ-rejecting explosion of unbelief on the part of professing believers who up and walk out of the Church. But I can now see that it will be (and in fact already is) a principled, Bible-based, morally-defended, Christ-confessing, church-attending, hymn-singing, hands-raised abandonment of the Cross on the part of those walking in. The Great Apostasy won’t empty church buildings as much as it will redefine what it means to remain in them.

Jacob’s Ladder


Black. Lives. Matter.
Take the hopes and dreams of the System, make ‘em shatter,
Lettin’ loose on the beat like I got a weak bladder;
Stay in with the people, while I’m climbing Jacob’s Ladder.

Going up yet down like an Escher picture,
Drinkin’ Living water, no extra mixture;
Black. Male. Endangered Species.
Original glory, yet treated like feces.

Hooded king walkin’ in the nighttime, fearless;
Police targets on me, but my peace is peerless.
I don’t fear death at all, so it’s all whatever,
But it’s a damn shame I gotta worry ‘bout a sweater…

…with a hood, because of my melanin,
Cops ready to swoop down on me like a pelican;
But in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil
‘Cause the Love who will raise me from death has no equal.

(Dwayne Polk)

What is the Bible?—Part 5


Listening to debates over inerrancy and the nature of the Bible this week got me thinking through our What is the Bible? series. (Start the series here.) I thought I’d add a thought.

When the Spirit inspired Jeremiah (31.33) to say the day would come God would “write the law upon our hearts,” I take him to mean that the day would come when we would no longer relate to God through texts of Scripture (with all due respect to the scriptural traditions in our possession), when morality wouldn’t be based on an appeal to texts, when we would no longer relate to God as an act of obedience to a text, when the animation of spiritual appetite, the inclination of the heart and mind to what is good and holy, and the conformity of our characters to Christ would be an inward operation of the Spirit written in our hearts. Essentially we become the law. You might not be accustomed to thinking of Jeremiah’s promise in this way, so let me try to describe what I mean.

Where your treasure is, there you heart will be (MT 6). You are your heart. And Jeremiah’s promise is that texts are to cease being an external regulating force for faith and be relocated within the human heart. God’s voice to us will be his voice in us. So what about texts? Are we just to throw them out? I don’t see the need for that, but nevertheless there is a fundamental reorienting of how we relate to texts. That much is clear in Jeremiah’s vision of the reconstituted people of God. Every community (good and bad ones, whether cultural, political, or religious) survives from generation to generation in and as the narrative it perpetuates, and that narrative tells the story of the events that create the community, establish its identity, and define the vision that inspires and animates it. Communities, and the Christian community is no exception, perpetuate themselves narratively.

Jeremiah isn’t suggesting this essential, narrative function of social identity and cohesiveness is done away with. To the extent the Scriptures store or house the narratives that describe the foundational events which establish Christian community (as creation, fall, incarnation, mission and glorification), they remain a defining reference point. The Church exists as this never-ceasing rehearsal of the gospel narrative, always appropriating its ethic, vision and hope in each generation and for each new day. What Jeremiah promises is that this appropriation will succeed in a lived integration of that narrative wrought in us supernaturally by the Spirit of God. And it follows naturally that once one ‘becomes’ the appropriation of divine intention through the Spirit writing those intentions upon one’s very heart, it becomes as true to say ‘People’ as it does to say ‘Scripture’, for we will have become our Scripture. (2Cor 3.2 comes to mind: “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by everyone.”) And nobody for whom this is her lived reality will be much concerned with debates over inerrancy. You only need a certain kind of inerrant text if all you’ve got is text and the Spirit is not inscribing God’s intentions upon your heart.

However, Jeremiah isn’t saying God will erase the law and let you make up your own. He’s promising a way of relating to God (a new ‘covenant’) that flows from an inner operation of the Spirit in the heart. What’s Paul say? Regarding instructions to Titus on how to instruct those who gave credence to myths and mere human commands, he makes the interesting statement that “to the pure all things are pure.” What sort of perspective, born of what sort of inner reality, would make that true for the pure in heart? To hearts shaped by an inner presence of the Spirit, those hearts naturally will the good without having to be corralled by textual authority. The text is referenced to celebrate those events that created the Church and its faith to begin with, yes, but beyond that all texts are per se schoolmasters “until” (Gal 3.24) Christ is known by faith.

Jeremiah is making an essentially aesthetic statement. He’s prophesying a work of art. Think of the relationship between a musical score, say, a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, and its actual performance. Its text (the music printed on the page) is law/torah (word, instruction, direction, prescription). But the text can be ingested, inscribed upon the heart, and once this is accomplished one becomes the text one plays and there’s no longer a distinction between the two. The text moves from the page back into the heart from whence it first sprang, and the distinction between the two disappears. That’s Jeremiah’s vision.

(For a musical demonstration of the change Jeremiah foresaw, watch Valentina Lasitsa play Rachmoninoff’s III Piano Concerto; no score, no conductor, not even the accompanying orchestration, just her and the music. Or is it her as the music?