Wednesday, September 20, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

You can read the text here. Throughout I am deeply indebted to Thiselton's marvelous treatment of this section.

As we had seen earlier, the Corinthians were having trouble with factionalism. The antidote, in Paul's mind, is a reminder about the gospel they had received. Paul preached a powerful message, but only to those who saw it that way, to those who were transformed by it. Most did not see it that way. The message of a crucified Messiah seemed like the message of a failed Messiah to the Jews. To the Gentiles it sounded like a sure way to humiliation, not to an elevated status. But that wasn't God's way of seeing things, and that's all that matters is how God sees things. For the Corinthians, Paul's proclamation was a transformative event, one that should change the way they see and evaluate things. God subverts the ways of the world because he does not value what they value. The power of his love overcomes the folly of worldly pride.

Paul goes on to remind them further, that they are a mixed group. While a few of them may have been of high status, most of them weren't. God did not bestow grace upon them because they were worthy of it, but because of his love for them. Grace did not depend on status, but in the long run, status will depend on grace. By being in Christ the Corinthians get to share in his victorious status, a status which only comes through union with him because he paid for it by redeeming us, which then undercuts all pride.

This is the background for why Paul preached as he did in Corinth. He was not trying to get a following for himself as one skilled in rhetoric. He preached in a manner faithful to the message, and he did not try to emphasize anything but the message of Jesus, the crucified Lord. He did not want their allegiance to Jesus to rely on anything he brought to the table, but to rely solely on the work of the Spirit to give them eyes to see reality the way God sees it. All of the power came from the Spirit of Christ, otherwise the centrality of Christ would have been compromised and the footing of the Corinthians new found allegiance would have been shaky.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

You can read the text here.

In the next section Paul addresses one of his major concerns in the letter, one which he has already hinted at, namely, unity. The issue here isn't theological, so when Paul says he wants them all to be in agreement, he isn't talking about some doctrinal issue. The word has more political overtones. He wants them to all take the same side, or be on the same team, working towards a common goal.[1]

The Corinthians had been at odds with one another. They had split into factions that magnified one spiritual leader or another.[2] No matter how great the teacher, s/he is not to replace Jesus as the one to follow. Schism elevates the teacher over Jesus.[3] Our unity is in Jesus, not in a teacher or person. Same with our status. It is God who confers our status as co-heirs with Christ. It is a status that is given freely and makes relative all other statuses that we possess.

Paul's role was to preach the gospel of Jesus, and not in a way that sought to get people to follow him over others, and certainly not in a way that took the focus off of Jesus and put it on himself and what he could do for the Corinthians.[4]


---------------------------
[1] Thiselton hammers this point home.

[2] See Thisleton's very lengthy excursus on the different factions. In the end we really don't know much about them.

[3] I know that Paul is not referencing doctrinal differences, but most new denominational movements started as a following of a charismatic and gifted individual, and to that extent are under the condemnation of this text.

[4] In terms of them attaining status by patronizing and following a gifted teacher.

Monday, August 21, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

You can read the text here. For those following along at home, for this series I'll be leaning on the commentaries of Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner. I'd love to be wrapped up by the end of June, but no promises.

Paul opens the first extant letter we have between him and the Corinthians by mentioning his calling by God to his apostleship.[1] Paul has been called, just like them, for a purpose. Paul's calling is to be an authoritative representative of Jesus, theirs is holiness. The Corinthian call is the same call that goes out to all Christians everywhere: to be holy in Christ. After all they and we are God's church, not the church of any particular personality. Jesus was their Lord. These are the two foundations of unity, belonging to God and holiness. As Thiselton notes, this picture minimizes notions of autonomy of the local church. All churches are part of a whole.

Paul is grateful for the work that he has seen carried out in the Corinthians. They have been given the Spirit as a seal of union with Christ. Through the Spirit they have experienced an abundance from the Father, an abundance we call grace.[3] The Spirit manifest in concrete ways for the Corinthians, in knowledge and speech.[4] These gifts have a purpose: making the Corinthians holier while they wait for the return of Jesus so that they will receive a favorable verdict on that day.[5] The gifts are also a sign that God is with them collectively, helping them and guiding them collectively, to give them peace and comfort that they will collectively attain life in the age to come.

This passage is very powerful in the way it emphasizes the non-individualistic nature of the Christian life. We are not saved alone. We are not even independent churches. We are integrally part of a whole due to our union with Christ. So how do we deal with the challenges this non-independence creates? Stay tuned!


------------------------------
[1] There is disagreement between Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner on whether or not Paul's claim to apostleship is a claim to authority.

[2] Ciampa and Rosner push back against understanding 'sanctified' in moral terms. They stress the root meaning of being 'set apart.' I don't see this as an either or. Being set apart can both be in terms of status but also in terms of quality.

[3] To use Barclay's very useful taxonomy, the perfections of grace on display in this passage is are superabundance, efficacy, and, subtly, incongruity.

[4] Though Thiselton does push back against this, I think it is likely that Paul has in mind the issues he addresses later in the letter related to knowledge and tongues.

[5] Thiselton prefers to put it as 'unimpeachable' over blameless, which I find helpful.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Another Personal Update

About 2 weeks back I finished up my Masters of Applied Statistics, so that means that I will have a lot more time on my hands. This will mean a significant increase in posting to this blog. I am going to start a series on 1 Corinthians much the series I had done on Paul's Thessalonian correspondence. I would expect a post most weeks, even if not quite weekly. I'll also do occasional book reviews. These won't be at quite the same regularity as they used to be for two reasons. First, my wife is no longer a professor, so I don't have library access anymore and have to buy anything I want to read. Second, most of my reading will still be focused on the Exploring the Christian Way of Life series.

The timing of finishing school is good for me in that regard. By early next year I'll be up to Karl Barth who will be followed by Balthasar. Reading those two will take an inordinate amount of time. If I am able to complete a review of their Christology by the end of 2018 and finish my fourth paper, that would be an accomplishment. The next paper, which will focus on modern theologians and current Christian experience and movement of the Spirit, will take another six to nine months. Then I plan to edit all five papers into a cohesive whole (including a thorough rewrite of the first two) issuing a pdf hopefully by the middle of 2020.

Thanks if you've stuck with this blog and me though there hasn't been much content the past three years. I hope and pray it provides nutritious food for thought and conversation.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Penal Substitution (at least Calvin's version) Contradicts the Trinity?

I have been working on my next paper on Christology. Calvin's doctrine of penal substitution is central to his Christology. This has got me thinking. Does it implicitly deny the Trinity (at least an Orthodox version like Aquinas's)? Consider the following argument. It seems sound to me:

1.       The only distinctions between persons in the Trinity is the way they relate to each other.
2.       Calvin’s doctrine of penal substitution affirms a debt payment made from Son to Father.
3.       Debt payment is a financial metaphor that necessarily depends on the concept of accounts or stores of a commodity that can be used for payment.
4.       For the payment to be real (i.e., not fictive) the Son and Father must have separate accounts.

5.       Conclusion: Points 1 and 4 are in contradiction to each other since separate accounts go beyond relations.

I'd love to hear rebuttals.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that is impossible and not fitting given the topic. Things like the incarnation are held by faith with reason to help one understand better.[3] We will cover three main topics, pre-existence, the two natures, and the mission of the Son and his relation to the other members of the Trinity before we move into a brief discussion of Jesus as king.[4]

One can get a sense for how settled the topic of the pre-existence of the Son was by Aquinas day by how brief and straight-forward his presentation was. The Son pre-existed as a divine person in eternity past.[5] Only his human nature was created.[6] On the other hand, the humanity of the Son and the union between the human and divine receives extended discussion.

Aquinas devotes the first nineteen questions in Tertia Pars to the incarnation and to understanding how the two natures co-exist. For Aquinas it was important that the natures were indeed two. In the incarnation we did not have two natures joining together to make something new. Neither however do we have two persons. The single person of the incarnate Son possessed two united natures.[7] They are so united, that “words which are said of Christ either in his divine or his human nature may be said of either God or man.”[8] He also extensively delves into questions surrounding the divine attributes that Jesus possessed and what his limitations were. One that clearly was a big deal was the extent of Jesus’ knowledge.[9] Aquinas was clearly concerned to affirm the full humanity of Jesus while not undermining his divinity.[10] Humanity required potentiality when it came to knowledge.[11] What is interesting, however, is how Aquinas believed Jesus learned.[12] It was only via discovery, because it would be improper for him, also being divine, to be taught anything.[13] In his divine nature, Jesus possessed complete knowledge as is necessary given his role as the judge of man.[14]

So how did Aquinas understand the mission of the Son and the relation between Father and Son? The relation is what makes the person of the Godhead.[15] What makes the Son, the Son, in distinction from the Father, is the way he relates to the Father.[16] Aquinas cites Augustine when discussing the issue of subordination, saying that the Son is only subordinate “in the form of a servant” because, in his human nature, he did not attain to the goodness of the Father.[17] Human nature is inherently inferior to divine nature. Jesus’ prayer of agony in the garden in Mt. 26:39 can be understood along these lines. It was a demonstration of the submission of a sensual human will to the will of God.[18]
 
The Son is sent by the Father, and this in no way implies subordination, but is linked to his mission. The Son was not sent to a place where he was not before, since God is everywhere, but is best understood as consisting in “… a new mode of presence in the person sent, his rendering himself in an innovative way.”[19] In other words, he was sent into a new mode of being or revelation, not a new location.[20] The Father, especially his wisdom, was revealed in the incarnation. For this reason the Son came as a human, a rational creature.[21] The Father sends the Son and works through him as one united cause.[22]

Eschatology makes up the conclusion of Aquinas’ work on Christology. Jesus will return as the divine judge and he is sitting at the right hand of the Father, possessing judicial power.[23] The Son is co-regent with the Father. For Aquinas, 1 Cor. 8:6 is programmatic and he interprets the verse as describing their unity of governance.[24] This is an ongoing governance of all of creation. His rule is very much in the here and now and will be displayed dramatically upon his return.

As we can see there has been both consistency and variation among the greatest theologians of the church up to the time of the Reformation. No one would object to our statement that Jesus is the divine king, though some would emphasize that more than others. For some it’s an afterthought outside of eschatology, while others emphasize the importance of Jesus rule now.

His divinity garnered a lot more discussion. Clearly the Father acts through the Son and there is a complete unity of wills between them. Many of the earliest theologians found hierarchy in this relationship with the Son being subordinate to the Father. Over time the church refined its understanding of their relationship and any distinction between Father and Son was understood as reducible to the way they relate to each other. As the focus on the Son’s divinity increased through the centuries, we also see more discussion on what it meant for him to be human. All tried to preserve his humanity, some succeeded better than others. Also, was his humanity divinized, were his natures mixed into something new, or were his two natures in contact but always distinct? Here no consensus formed among the theologians we consulted, though over time divinization clearly fell out of favor.

--------------------------------------------------
[1] I will abbreviate Summa Theologiae as ST and all quotations from the Summa are from Shapcote’s translation.
[2] Wawrykow 2005 p. 233.
[3] Wawrykow 2005 p. 228 and also Emery 2007 pp.25-26. I appreciate that I never sensed any of the hand waving of Augustine anywhere in the portions of ST that I read.
[4] My treatment of Aquinas is very selective, otherwise it could easily turn into a paper of its own.
[5] ST.TP.Q16.A9
[6] ST.TP.Q16.A10
[7] ST.TP.Q2.A6, c.f., ST.TP.Q17. Aquinas pushes back hard against a Christology of mixture. Aquinas also makes clear that the union is not eternal (presumably he believes it begins in the incarnation) in ST.TP.Q2.A7. Also see the strong affirmation of ST.TP.Q16.A1 that in Jesus, ‘God is man,’ i.e., Jesus was a member of the Trinity. Wawrykow 2005 has a nice discussion on pp. 225-27. It is also important to note that Aquinas pushes back against the notion of a divinized human nature. Christ as man is not God. See ST.TP.Q16.A3, A7, A11.
[8] ST.TP.Q16.A4 with due qualifications.
[9] ST.TP.Q9-Q12.
[10] See esp. Gondreau 2005 passim, esp. p. 255.
[11] ST.TP.Q9.A1.
[12] I.e., he gained empirical knowledge.
[13] ST.TP.Q9.A4. Davies 2014 p. 303, c.f., Gondreau 2005 p. 267. This is a place where I think his balancing act falls apart. I see no reason why Jesus couldn’t be taught. However, I appreciate the point Gondreau makes, that even going this far was groundbreaking.
[14] ST.TP.Q10.A2. Davies 2014 p. 302. Other discussion points include omnipotence (he didn’t have it) and Christ’s “defects.” Sinfulness was obviously not one of them. Jesus did not even have the capacity to sin. Pain and fear were (though the discussion on his fear is pretty complex). See ST.TP.Q13-Q15.
[15] More precisely, “…the person cannot be known independently of the relative property which constitutes it as such.” Emery 2007 p. 120.
[16] The word distinction is intentionally chosen here. For Aquinas, there are no differences between persons in the Trinity, only distinctions. See Emery 2007, pp. 134-35. This move by Aquinas, though not completely innovative on his part, provides the most satisfactory classical explanation of the Trinity of anyone I have read to date. See Emery 2007, pp. 87-96 for a full presentation.
[17] ST.TP.Q20.A1.
[18] ST.TP.Q21.A2.
[19] Emery 2007 p. 367, emphasis original.
[20] On the importance of revelation to the divine mission see Emery 2007, pp. 200-04.
[21] Emery explains that this was also the way to redeem all of creation, as Aquinas understood humanity as summing up all of the created order. This is an interesting suggestion if humans are indeed the end of the evolutionary processes that God used to bring life to this earth. His coming as a creature was necessary for mediation to take place at all, see ST.TP.Q26,A2.
[22] Emery 2005, p. 71. C.f., Wittman 2016, p. 154.
[23] ST.PP.Q58-Q59. Davies 2014, p. 322. It is important to Aquinas to affirm that the Son will return while possessing both a divine and human nature.
[24] ST.PP.Q103.A3.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Calvin on Loving Your Neighbor

I ran across this paragraph yesterday when reading Calvin's Institutes. This is from book 2, chapter 6, section 55. It needs to be heard today as much as at any other time. Emphasis mine.

But I say: we ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in themselves. When we turn aside from such contemplation, it is no wonder we become entangled in many errors. Therefore, if we rightly direct our love, we must first turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love, but to God, who bids us to extend to all men the love we bear to him, that this may be an unchanging principle: whatever the character of the man, we must yet love him because we love God.

Calvin nailed the interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It's amazing how it still speaks today and rebukes us on both the left and the right. Donald Trump is unquestionably of low moral character, yet I must find a way to see him with the love of God and pray for him. I am not permitted to hate him, even if I denounce the reprehensible things he says and does. That is not easy!

For my Christian brothers and sisters who have embraced him, they need to check themselves to ensure that they are embracing the whole human race without exception, not acting with hatred towards Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, or "liberals." Instead they too need to do the hard work of extending love even if it is not natural or easy. Of course extending love is different than agreeing, but exclusion and oppression are not love.

As we saw in the Super Bowl a couple of days ago, the country longs for healing. How can we as the church bring God's healing if it doesn't start in our hearts and communities first? If only we would focus more on love than on being right!