The seductions of Kenosis

Professor Kilby (of Durham University at the Centre for Catholic Studies conference on Suffering, Diminishment and the Christian Life, January 2018, Durham) discusses problems related to applications of the notion of kenotic suffering and loss to our understanding of God.

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No, not that Dr. Who

who

You’ll never guess who wrote this:

But consider even this, whether God can be said to foreknow and predestine in respect to those who are not yet in existence, or in respect to those who indeed exist but are not yet “conformed to the image of his Son,” and it is then more suitable to speak of foreknowledge than in the case where what is not yet in existence is about to happen. For in this it is more a question of choice than of the foreknowledge of the Creator. For where will the foreknowledge appear since what is future depends on the decision of the agent?

The author agrees that we can meaningfully talk about God’s knowledge of his overall choice and determination to execute his will in and through Christ – a kind of providential determination of the shape of creation’s movements vis-à-vis its final end (from, in, through and for Christ). We can also meaningfully talk about foreknowledge, this author suggests, more specifically with respect to the shape and form which the individual lives of religious believers take in conformity to Christ. These are ways of apprehending/knowing creation that are not essentially at odds with what we’ve described as ‘open theism’ or the ‘open future’ in its generic form (i.e., minus the excess baggage many attempt to pile on-board). But this author then asks: How can we meaningfully talk of God foreknowing the specific choices of people who don’t even exist?

Any guesses about who might have written this? He’s a popular, well-published Christian philosopher-theologian nobody associates with open theism.

“There are no women on my theology bookshelf…”

I’m thinking about limiting my devotional and theological reading during 2019 to women.

maggi dawn

Last year on Twitter, someone wrote to me “there are no women on my theology bookshelf. Who should I read?”.

I followed up with a blog list, and was pleased to discover that without even looking up from my screen I could easily think of well over a hundred female theologians, ecclesiastical historians, biblical scholars, sociologists of religion, and others who figure on the theological landscape. More names appeared when I actually looked at my own bookshelf.

Replies flooded in through the comments, adding many more names of women authors – both academic and devotional, theoretical and practical, in every area of the theological landscape. Now the academic year is about to begin again, one or two people have mentioned the post again as a resource – so, incomplete though it is, here is the updated blog post with names added from the comments section.

10897776_469733266514841_7639664988515007378_nWhen people ask about “women…

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My God, My God, why does this keep coming up?

Christ_Mary_cross

My interest in Jesus’ so-called Cry of Dereliction borders on the obsessive. I apologize. But I do think how one imagines the Father-Son relation at this moment has a great deal to do with how we imagine and relate to God. Jesus apparently thought so:

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16.31-33)

Jesus explicitly offers his own upcoming suffering as grounds upon which he wants the disciples to understand how they will know his peace in their own afflictions. How the Father would be with Jesus in his suffering is how God will be with them in their suffering. There’s no room in this for penal aspirations to weave their dark magic.

A year ago I ran across some thoughts about the Cross by R. C. Sproul:

…the Father had imputed to [Jesus] every sin of every one of his people…the most intense, dense concentration of evil ever experienced on this planet was exhibited. Jesus was the ultimate obscenity. So what happened? God is too holy to look at sin. He could not bear to look at that concentrated monumental condensation of evil, so he averted his eyes from his Son. The light of his countenance was turned off. All blessedness was removed from his Son, whom he loved, and in its place was the full measure of the divine curse… It was as if there was a cry from heaven, as if Jesus heard the words “God damn you,” because that’s what it meant to be cursed and under the anathema of the Father… [and] every person who has not been covered by the righteousness of Christ draws every breath under the curse of God.

I followed this quote back then with the words “Finally Sproul and Greg [Boyd] agree on something.” That got me in a bit of hot water with some friends. I clarified then, but having run into Sproul’s comments again recently, I thought I’d bring the comparison up here – since Sproul and Greg sharing so fundamental a view would surprise fans of both.

True, Greg has very deep and genuine pastoral sensibilities for people. He wouldn’t express himself as Sproul does (viz., the Father saying “God damn you!” to Jesus). But I’m not comparing their sentiments. I’m comparing only the structure and logic of the exchange that defines the “curse-wrath-abandonment” paradigm for each. On that score they agree. God “makes Jesus to become sin” (2Cor 5) and Jesus becomes “cursed” (Gal 3) for us, two key passages repeatedly used by Greg to structure his understanding of how Christ saves us. And this “curse” is God’s just wrath-as-withdrawal/abandonment. Greg and Sproul would disagree about election, God’s universal love, God as essential love, and many other things. But the basic structure of the exchange that defines atonement seems to me the same in each:

– Jesus “becomes sin” on the Cross (2Cor 5) and is “cursed” (Gal 3.13)
– In such a cursed state, Jesus suffers God’s wrath, that wrath being the Father’s withdrawal of filial intimacy, bringing Christ into an experience of the despair (as ‘godforsakenness’) we deserve.

Note too that the godforsakeness which Jesus suffers is not due to anything human beings do to him. It is due to the Father’s withdrawal. This is the key similarity between Sproul and Greg – it is what transpires between Father and Son which saves us. And because the divine filiation is infinitely valuable, God’s suffering its loss in that moment is infinite. Like I said, finally Sproul and Greg agree on something.

Freedom as creative liberty among loving options

A recent Tweet by Fr Aidan Kimel prompted my return to this previous post. Comparing God’s creation of the universe to Picasso’s statement “To know what you’re going to draw you have to begin drawing,” Fr Aidan writes: “I wonder if the same applies to God’s creation of the universe. No premeditation. No deliberation. Just the spontaneous let it be.”

I totally agree. David Hart, however, doesn’t like talk of “spontaneity” because he believes it an “irrational” mode of willing, something we cannot attribute to God. But I’ve disagreed. Spontaneity can indeed be a rational mode of acting where the scope of acting is bound within and expressive of the same unfailing love as its rationale. We have to say something like this applies to God’s determination to create if we say God creates freely and unnecessarily, for not creating is, presumably, as consistent with and expressive of who and what God is as creating.

An Open Orthodoxy

jazz_pianist

I want to try to express something I’m unable to make sense of in David Bentley Hart’s view of choice and freedom. I’ll start with very briefly stating his view of human “freedom” as the flourishing of created nature in its telos or end in God as the Good (with which I agree). Then I’ll summarize his qualified view of “libertarian” choice as the “possibility of freedom, not its realization” (with which I also agree). Thirdly, I’ll re-introduce (having done so previously) his response to my question regarding the nature of human choice once the will is perfected in the Good. This is where my difficulty gets introduced. Lastly, I’ll try to express what I think is an inconsistency or at least an unresolved issue (or perhaps my own stupidity) at the heart of his objection to a certain understanding of creative liberty as spontaneous.

First, what is true…

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To he or not to he, that is the question

Classical Theism

Ran across this illustration today. Notice the top left explanation:

God is referred to as He to metaphorically illustrate metaphysical ultimacy, since “She” would metaphorically signify motherhood, which would indicate the world as pantheistically emanating from God as a child “emanates” from the womb which is not Classical Theism.

I have friends on both sides of the gender language debate as it relates to pronouns for God. I’m not at all comfortable referring to God as “it” (or any combination of “he” and “she”) because of God’s personal nature. And I find the above defense of “he” (an capitalized to boot) convincing. On some days I find it ridiculous. On occasions I’ve used “she” to refer to God which can, I think, be done while avoid the pantheism referred to in the illustration. Maybe there’s a future post for this on the back burner.

The Cross: Substitution & Participation

Al Kimel over at Eclectic Orthodoxy was good enough to publish some of my reflections on the Cross.

Eclectic Orthodoxy

by Thomas Belt

Fr Aidan has been a friend and sparring partner for several years now, during which time Eclectic Orthodox (EO) has become one of the best theological blogs around, so it’s a special joy to be invited to contribute a post in celebration of EO’s sixth birthday – and such mature conversations for a six-year old!

I’m Evangelical, though perhaps barely so, and am thus the odd man out around Orthodox campfires, but I’m steadily learning to appreciate the warmth of the theological vision of the Fathers. Lord knows my Evangelical upbringing bequeathed me no real sense of transcendence. To make up for that loss I had to venture beyond the resources of my denominational identity and step into the deeper streams of tradition. If I were asked to name an issue upon which Orthodoxy has exercised a particular influence, no one here will be surprised to hear me…

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