Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Doctor Ehrmstuhl on the phone

The other day, I stopped during hours at the office of Doctor Ehrmstuhl and was pleased to find him at his desk. His office was generously lined with books and could have been tidy until he left off shelf space and began stacking along the floor. He motioned for me to come in and he seemed pleased to see me. It had been a while. Nevertheless, he was in animated conversation with someone on the phone. I waited so long that I finally took down some of it, and so here it is. These are my notes, remember, so factual mistakes or exaggerations are my own.


I too was taught that differences between traditions, and especially between east and west, are due to the different emphases along what, for lack of a better term, is called the Christ event: birth-to-ascension. Over that, I lay the linguistic, political, and geographic differences that have shaped and separated both halves. I would add, on my own, that the east seems to properly begin with the community whereas the west has been fascinated by the individual and individualism to our very day. (He drummed his fingers on the table in muted staccato.)

You are right that the east is not as interested in how to be cleansed and more in how to live a holy life. The high example of that for EO are the monks of Mount Athos. EO kept the monasticism that Luther democratized in the West. It also retained a Neoplatonic core that the west gave up for Aristotelianism in the fourteenth century w Thomas Aquinas.

Let's separate mysticism from theosis (deification is a Latin term which doesn't quite ring with the right overtones.) Theosis, the doctrine that the new humanity is made like God, is definitely front-and-center in EO. Funny enough, it is in the west as well. A couple of decades ago, scholars started finding it in the Reformers--especially Calvin. Theosis has been in the west all this time as well. When we talk about the imago Dei's renewal in the sanctification process, the end goal where this is going is Christlikeness or theosis. I asked Tom Wright about it probably ten years ago now, and he affirmed that theosis is not only permissible but biblical. That said, it is NOT becoming a God or God, it is becoming like God: being made in the image of his Son.

That is why I don't like deification. It doesn't leave enough difference in the undertones and it suggests that one, in our own track, can improve and improve until one finally arrives at divinity. This is a kind of Mormon or New Age or New Thought or some brand of Wesleyan perfectionism. I prefer theosis because it keeps a note of distinction in between that which is by nature and that which is by grace.

(At this point, Dr. Ehrmstuhl remembered me. We exchanged some whispered pleasantries, and he assured me he was almost done. But, whomever he was talking to seems to have hit a nerve, and the doctor's attention swiveled back to the conversation.)

Mysticism is a style of discipleship which often refers to saints in the tradition who emphasized prayer and ascetic discipline, figures like Theresa of Avila, San Juan de la Cruz, Francois Fenelon, Catherine of Siena, or anchorites like Richard Rolle or Julian of Norwich, and many others. But mysticism is a slippery word. Evelyn Underhill lays it all out in her work on mysticism. There are dangers here. You could be a neopagan and practice this, or a Buddhist or whatever. A deep question in my project is what to do with mysticism in the Christian tradition. Should we jettison it or not? Should mysticism even exists where the Solas exist? The short answer: a highly qualified yes. I do not agree with the hesychastic approach of the EO. They seek the uncreated light born of the energies of the Trinity. I think it is the ever-flowing agape life of the Spirit (Augustine's maestro) who calls us in the solas always higher up and further in. When theology turns its gaze there, it becomes apophatic--it can only say what is not.

(Here, his interlocutor took up the challenge. The Doctor swiveled in his chair. He finally broke in:) There is a Mount Athos documentary on YouTube. It is good. (More from the other side.) Hesychasm has nothing to do with the solas. I was using the solas as a part/whole to mean the framework of Reformed theology. Oh yes, a synecdoche--good catch! What I mean by that is that, because of that Neoplatonic core, EO developed a mysticism that is different than the mysticism of the West. And so I do not find their way into prayer a live option. What I know of it seems a way wholly apart from scripture. It risks keeping the divine Jesus and not the man. Or it might avoid Jesus altogether and try to climb on the rope of the Spirit alone. Therefore, it rings alarms in my head, not least of which is the alarm of gnosticism. I am not saying that EO monks are gnostics. They would probably be quick to shut that down. I'm just saying that it makes me nervous.

The whole essences and energies things comes out of Neoplatonic problems with the doctrine of the Trinity: how does the ineffable God have anything to do with finitude? The thinker here is Gregory of Palamas. (The doctor got up and rummaged around on his shelves.) The general understanding these days is that this language is strange to Western ears, but that it is orthodox. Trinitarian thinkers, EO or Western, are getting at the same thing. I read Palamas in that slim Classics of Western Theology volume. His isn't language I'm adopting anytime soon, but okay. One is stuck with the tradition you grew up with. I am okay attempting to be an informed Westerner.

(Here, again, his interlocutor took up the conversation for some distance.) Your thoughts on individualism and monasticism are good ones. I am not a good guide wading out any deeper into EO waters. I will say this, though. The danger with monasticism is that it has a tendency to create spiritual hierarchies (classism) in the church, and that is going on in EO. I prefer monasticism without hierarchy, and there are models for that even in Protestantism. My own denomination, for example, has various monasteries scattered about, as do other Protestant denominations.

Oh, I completely agree that the path of awakening, purgation, and union is the established way. But it has to be found correctly. Simply put: if it is not in Jesus, it is not available. He is the foundation stone. But not to worry: Paul's language of union with Christ, of being buried with him and raised with him, of being made alive in him: that is the invitation. So the mystic way is not to know nothing and to realize nothing, but to know Christ, following the pull of the Spirit, and to be remade after his image. It is to be invited, because the church has been invited, to the meal that the Trinity has set.


At this point, I got a phone call from my wife. The doctor and I nodded genially, and he may have apologized. And I left.

Hermeneutics is love's desire to know

I haven’t read Hans-Georg Gadamer, best known for his work Truth and Method (New York: Crossroads, 1989), but Roger P. Ebertz, who teaches philosophy at the University of Dubuque, has. And on this Ebertz and I very much agree: Gadamer’s hermeneutic model of knowing is superior to the absolute I (the ego or cogito) of Descartes and Kant and the Enlightenment project.

This makes me a postmodernist of a sort. It means I have made the hermeneutical turn. And I hope it means that I have skipped the turn to the subject as best I can, though as an American, doing that completely is impossible. Nevertheless, I have leapt over it and grasped for the context and community of hermeneutics. I agree with Heidegger that human beings, that I, am thrown into the already spinning world and I cannot deny that or rise wholly above it. There is no absolute viewpoint. There is no point of superior knowing. As I said before, the way human beings are in the world is tensed. We are history all the way down. “In all understanding,” quoting Gadamer, “whether we are aware of it or not, the efficacy of history is at work” (301).

Ebertz outlines several Gadamerian themes that clarify the hermeneutical model of knowing. Let me reproduce them here.

1. We each stand facing the world from a historical and linguistic position as a member of communities. Gadamer calls this qualification prejudice, meaning our knowing is bounded by our finitude. Our finitude, in the context of knowledge, is called our horizon.

2. We may as well accept our prejudice as we acquire knowledge. Descartes looked for a method to remove all prejudice from knowing. Gadamer says this is impossible.

3. Without our prejudice, we cannot understand. After all, we can’t begin from nowhere. “Prejudices are biases of our openness to the world. They are simply conditions whereby we experience something—whereby what we encounter says something to us” (9).

4. Our prejudice helps us recognize what is new to us. And here Gadamer raises the question of authority and tradition. Both are connected to language, “for language is . . . the reservoir of tradition and the medium in and through which we exist and perceive our world” (29). And both allow us to recognize and be open to the new.

5. Every cultural object, such as another person, a text, a painting, a piece of writing, is an other, and every other has its own horizon. Gadamer called others texts and made the interpretation of a text stand in for the requirement all others make upon us.

6. Bridging the unknown between oneself and the other is the hermeneutical task. Gadamer calls the goal of hermeneutics the “fusion of horizons.” This cannot be a complete fusion. It is just an agreement about the subject matter at hand. It is a loving act.

7. Questions are the spade and trowel of hermeneutics. “Questioning . . . and being questioned . . . is at the core of interpretation. It is a dialogue.” Gadamer calls it play. In play, we risk ourselves, we risk our prejudices. Change may be required. Also, love.

8. Change is always happening. No horizon is ever fixed. Horizons are always being formed and reformed. Others will pull us up short and interrogate us. That’s the nature of the task. Love opens our arms in vulnerability and expectation.

I want to make sure and say that all of this is absolutely in community. Our tools and limitations weren’t invented by us. We grew up in them. And no one seeks understanding alone, but as part of a formal or informal community of seekers. I added love to the above principles because I want to highlight the ethical and personal dimension of the discussion.

I also want to say, as a theologian, that the above is not a recipe for relativism or rampant perspectivalism or psychologism. I confess that the triune God made the world, and that he has spoken to us in flesh and bone in the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. Here, let me quote Ebertz:

To say that each person’s view of reality is relative to his or her historical, cultural situation does not imply that there is no independent reality which we each view. To say that our language shapes or influences the way we view reality does not imply that reality is entirely constructed by culture and language. As a Christian, I believe there is a reality that transcends my beliefs and culture, my worldview. There is in fact “a God who is there,” as Francis Schaeffer used to say, and a reality that God has created. We can thus affirm that there is a truth, and that it is God’s truth. But this does not entail that any human being can ever grasp that truth fully and see reality without seeing it from his or her own perspective. Since we are finite and fallen, this perspective can never perfectly represent reality.(18)

Now a few words about theology as craft. As I construct my own theology, as I interrogate my prejudice, I seek after God’s wisdom knowing I can never fully contain it. What I can hope to attain is a life given shape by the confession "Jesus is Lord." I can seek as one among others who are also seeking, inhabiting and contributing to a tradition. As Ebertz says, “It is both out of our tradition that we understand the world and into our tradition that we contribute our unique development of that tradition in light of our own experience and work” (28). Finally, I must be suspicious of claims to have arrived as one is suspicious of any idol-—and even my heart may attempt such a claim! To be historical means that knowledge of oneself and others can never be complete (302). Therefore, humility and love seeking understanding are essential to the theological task.

Finally, I mean for this entry to work together with the entry just before it on Augustine and time. In that article, the subject matter of time and eternity is a little different, yes, but the bones are the same: God's is the only absolute seat of being and knowing. Our being and knowing is always qualified. (Ebertz says that is because we are finite and fallen. I think it would be true even if we weren't fallen. Polk says, for example, that once you are in a body, you are limited.)


Roger P. Ebertz, "Beyond Worldview Analysis: Insights from Hans-Georg Gadamer on Christian Scholarship," Christian Scholar's Review 36:1 (Fall 2006).

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed. New York: Crossroads, 1989.

----------, Philosophical Hermeneutics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Jean Grondin, The Philosophy of Gadamer, trans. Kathryn Plant. Continental European Philosophy (Montreal, Ithaca: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003.

----------, "Gadamer's Basic Understanding of Understanding," in The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer ed. Robert J. Dostal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Note also Brice Wachterhauser's article in that same volume "Getting It Right: Relativism, Realism and Truth."

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Thielicke and the Father's heart

Helmut Thielicke (1908-19086) was a German, Lutheran theologian who helped his nation recover after World War II. He did what Bonhoeffer hoped to do. Thielicke was prolific. He wrote a giant book on ethics, a systematic theology, and many other works. Today, I am reading one of his lesser books, I Believe (Ich Glaube. Das Bekenntnis der Christen) Fortress, 1968. And in it, he discusses what it is like to live as one who calls God "Father."
When I deeply love God, my conscience become more delicately adjusted, much more sensitive and responsive. Nor is this any wonder, for now my conduct is no longer determined by whether I should do this or that (my duty, for example), but I do it to please God. At first it is hard for me (even after I have become a Christian!) to work with someone who is disagreeable or whose character is dubious. It irks me to be open to someone like that, to give him a chance, and to speak an encouraging word to him. But now (even thought it still goes against the grain) I remember that Jesus Christ himself died for this man and that God grieves over him and wants to save him. Because I love God, my heart with beat with the Father's heart. Thus, I cannot do otherwise than accept and be "there" for this person with whom my Father does not think himself to good to associate. And when I fail to do this, when I simply cannot manage it, then I do not merely have a sense of moral failure, but rather I am sad because I have grieved God. When you love someone very much, his pain becomes your own pain. This is the reason why there is no more sensitive conscience than that of a person who loves God. It registers every shadow that passes over the heart of God. (6,7)

At first, this sounds no different than any other popular preacher's appeal printed in a thousand middlebrow paperbacks. But there is more to it than devotional good feeling. There is an ethic here. He soundly dismisses the Kantian deontology of mussen and duty. And, in its place, suggests a relational ethic that seems more like the personalism of Buber or Habermas. There isn't enough in this quotation to make it a Christian ethic, unless we give it the benefit of unspoken context. Nevertheless, if one squints a little, if the language is altered here and there, Thielicke could be an Eckhart or a Theresa of Avila. He could be a devoted lowland Beguine. Or, were the language developed and made sophisticated, maybe even an Augustine.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Widow's Mite 3: Return to the Questions

Having begun an initial exegesis and then reviewed the setting of the pericope, Mark 12:41-44, against the narrative structure of its Gospel, I am at a severe and dangerous place. Often, having done a little spade work, I feel I know where I am going. But that is danger made deadly by effort. The level of Bible understanding is so slipshod and lazy in our day that a little work feels more than it is. There remain many questions--a sign the work is unfinished. Ignore them and risk finding what you came for; the first sin was substituting human words for God's. Ergo, it is best to let application come slowly. And, besides, eisegesis is boring. The quest is in the questions.

Therefore, let us return to the original observations and add additional ones based on our investigation. As we discovered, the episode with the widow is the denoument of a two-part interaction between Jesus and the scribes in the Jerusalem temple. Our text is larger. The original pericope of 41-44 now begins at verse 28 (Mark 12:28-44). New material means new observations; the exegetical process begins again.

Observations about Mark 12:28-44

Pericope 1: The Greatest Commandment (28-34)

  • Where does this exchange take place? In the temple (Mk. 11.27)
  • Why is the location important? God has come back to the temple after leaving it in Ezekiel 10. It is the center pole of Israel's identity as a polis in an era when religion and politics were not separated and as a people in covenant with Yahweh. Interrogating Israel's righteosness anywhere else would be meaningless. For Jesus to do it makes it nothing less than a sign that the last days have come and the day of the Lord has dawned.
  • Why does the scribe ask Jesus a question? the scribe wants to know where Jesus stands in relationship to that which is most central to their religious identity—keeping the Law. He has overheard Jesus throw off the materialism of the Sadduccees and re-affirm the importance of Moses's prophetic office in the Torah, not to mention its supernatural character. Jesus begins with the transcendent, ruling reality of Yahweh interpreting their question about the dead around that. So, then, the scribe's follow-up question is not sarcastic or rhetorical. It is genuine. The scribe is asking if this infamous teacher is one one of his kind of people. He is establishing his bona fides. In that sense, he is acting properly as a keeper of the Law for the people both living in Jerusalem and for the readers of this Gospel.
  • Who were the scribes? The beauracratic, professional class of lawyers and religious leaders that interpreted the cultic and legal life of the people. Because of their education and training in the law, scribes were often appointed as trustees for widows and orphans. Sociologically, the rabbis were the successor to the prophets, who mediated the divine will. So one can expect a possible conflict between who is the real prophet; who really speaks on behalf of Yahweh for the people? There is a subtext of Jesus's teaching vis-a-vis the Pharisees. Jesus did not teach like them, quoting and citing authorities. Jesus spoke on his own authority. He spoke like a prophet directly commissioned by God.
  • Why did he ask this question? Was this a common question? Was this a “sure to trick them” question? Was this an “establish your orthodoxy” question? What kind of question is this? Allow me to quote from the Pulpit Commentary about this: "The question was one much mooted amongst the Jews in the time of our Lord. "For many," says Beds, "thought that the first commandment in the Law related to offerings and sacrifices, with regard to which so much is said in Leviticus, and that the right worship of God consisted in the due offering of these." I quote this because Corban--which comes up in Mark 7--is the underlying question of this entire exchange with the scribes. Here is more about corban: "The Greek word korban [קָרְבָּן qorbān] is related to the term korbanas, signifying the “temple treasury.” In Jewish practice, therefore, the word “corban” had been coined as a sort of “vow” term. According to the prevailing tradition, one could designate his financial resources as “corban,” which, practically speaking, was a way of “tagging” them, suggesting, “this belongs to God,” and thus was not to be used for personal interests. There is a passage in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus, that illustrates the fact that funds from the temple treasury were “corban,” hence could not be used for secular purposes, e.g., city improvements, as in the building of an aqueduct for water supply (Wars 2.9.4). Thus, in the manner just described, the covetous, ungrateful Jews callously neglected parental responsibility by an appeal to this perverted human tradition. In so doing, they flouted the law of God." Also, this bit from Wikipedia of all places: "The Septuagint generally translates the term in Koine Greek as δῶρον "gift", θυσία "sacrifice", or προσφορά "offering up". By the Second Temple period, Hellenistic Jewish texts use korban specifically to mean a vow. The New Testament preserves korban once as a transliterated loan-word for a vow, once also a related noun, κορβανάς "temple treasury", otherwise using δῶρον, θυσία or προσφορά and other terms drawn from the Septuagint."
  • What was the relationship between the scribes and commandments? The core duty of the scribal class was to maintain and copy religious records and scriptures. The scribes were experts in the Torah. It was their job to interpret it for the people and safeguard its orthodoxy against especially Hellenistic influences.
  • What commandment does Jesus quote? He quotes the Shema: Deut. 6:4-5. The Shema was a portion of Scripture quoted both morning and evening by devout Jews and worn in phylacteries on the arm and forehead by the Pharisees. He doesn't just quote it, though. He reinterprets it so that there is a blurring and uniting of the oneness of Yahweh and his Messiah.
  • What language does he quote it in? Jesus likely knew some Greek, and he knew Hebrew well enough to read and speak it when necessary. But Aramaic was the lingua franca of first century Jewish life.
  • Why does he say these are a “commandment” and not “commandments”?
  • Is it significant that (a) the sacrificial system is mentioned, and (b) a scribe says that system is not primary but secondary to ethics?
  • How would the scribe have understood the Kingdom of God? Though the phrase "kingdom of God" is not found in OT or other Jewish literature, its content is clearly there. He would have understood it to be the realized moment of the rule of God, and Christians see that in the very presence of the King himself. Given that Jesus is evaluating Israel for her covenant faithfulness, his commendation is no empty gesture.
  • Why does he go on to quote the second command? Because love of God and neighbor is the substratum on which any specific commandments required by the Jewish law would rest. If he'd only quoted the first, he'd only have referenced the first table of the law. By quoting the second, he includes the second table--the entire law. He also further explains the principle of his own judgment which he is doing now as God come back to his temple and as king come to his people. // Bill Mounce, commenting on this verse, says that the Greek conjunction kai ties the second together to the first. "God is 'one' and we are to love him." he says. "The single greatest commandment is both the theology of monotheism as well as the recognition that the one God is worthy of our love. Intellectual assent of monotheism is insufficient in and of itself. The commandment is both theology and praxis; all good theology leads to praxis."
  • Why is it that this pericope concludes this way? Why was this question and answer so final that there was no need to repeat it? Because everyone agreed that Jesus's answer is true. Nothing more needs to be said. Jesus has established his right to act as a member of the scribal cast, and he has correctly interpreted the discipline. This is the principle by which Israel's righteousness is to be judged. And those in Israel who are trained in the Law agree.
  • Jesus is first interrogated and, in the process, interrogates.

Pericope 2: Whose Son is He? (35-37)

  • Why does this pericope exist? Having established his right to speak as a scribe and having established the principle of judgment to everyone's agreement, Jesus now does to the scribal class what he did to the other classes: he judges them on their own turf. Here, he takes them to task for not recognizing him. The Shema is the ultimate principle of judgment, but for those who should know better. Recognizing the Messiah, which Jesus said the Jewish leadership should have done (also John's prologue), is the penultimate principle.
  • Could anyone teach anything in the temple? There is at least an informal policing going on. Anyone putting out their shingle would be publicly cross-examined by established teachers. Failure would have at least meant ridicule. And anyone not getting the hint may have faced a sliding scale of expulsion from the temple or worse. People did not separate religious teaching from political speech; look at what ISIS did to imams it did not agree with.
  • What were people’s thoughts on the Messiah at the time?
  • Was Jesus bringing up a common problem?
  • Is Jesus's teaching style reflective of a kind of teaching? Jesus is employing a rabbinic method of teaching called haggadah, which is primarily wisdom instruction for living a God-fearing life. (now quoting some online research): Of the haggadic methods of interpretation, the most frequently used by Jesus is remez. Remez, or hinting, is a very rabbinic way of making a statement or declaration about something or someone by alluding to an Old Testament verse or passage of Scripture. Jesus hints at a biblical verse or passage just by mentioning one key word or phrase in the passage. His listeners, knowing the Bible by heart, much in the same way hear a key phrase and can recall the whole passage. Often, the point being taught is found in the biblical passage immediately before or just after the “hint” from that passage. However, it was unnecessary, in fact a waste of time, to quote a long passage from the Bible which the listeners all knew from memory. The moment the “hint” was given, the whole passage hinted at immediately burst into the mind of each listener.
  • What do we learn about Jesus’s awareness of himself from his use of this psalm.
  • Is this Psalm, Psalm 110, addressed elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel?
  • Was Jesus siding with a certain line of argumentation?
  • Why this psalm? What was this particular point important to bring up in this place? Four Davidic Psalms (2, 118, 110, and 22), each cited or alluded to at least twice, in this order, and at critical junctures in Mark's narrative, play a key role in his Gospel. In contemporary understanding Psalm 2 was associated with the future messianic purging of Jerusalem and especially the temple (e.g.4QFlor, Pss Sol 17). Psalm 118, concluding the Egyptian Hallel, spoke of Israel's future deliverance under a Davidic king with the restored temple as the goal of Israel's return from exile. Psalm 110's surprisingly elevated royal designation, uniquely expressed in Melchizedekian priestking terms, contributed to several portraits of exalted heavenly deliverers, some messianic, who would preside over Israel's restoration (e.g.11QMelch, 1 Enoch) while Psalm 22's Davidic suffering and vindication described the deliverance of righteous Zion (e.g.4QPs). Drawing from the dual perspective of their original contexts and contemporary interpretations, this paper proposes that Mark's careful arrangement of his psalm citations presents Jesus as both Israel's Davidic Messiah (Pss. 2, 118) and the temple's Lord (Ps. 110) who, coming to purge Jerusalem but rejected by the temple authorities, announces the present structure's destruction and, through his death and vindication (Ps. 22), its replacement with a new people-temple centered on himself.
  • Should this pericope be part of the previous one?

Pericope 3: Jesus's Condemnation of the Scribes (38-40)

  • What is the difference between the material above and these open judgments?
  • Is this a rhetorical form--first trounce their teaching and then trounce them?
  • The fourfold things they like: long robes, marketplace respect, best seats at synagogue, best seat at banquets. Why are these so wrong?
  • Why are widow's houses and long prayers even mentioned? The former makes some sense, but the latter?
  • Where did condemnation come up? The "greater" condemnation? What is the lesser one? Are we assuming he was talking about condemnation?

Pericope 4: The Lord's Doom Upon Jerusalem / The Widow's Mite (41-44)

  • Why does this story exist here? Because, quoting again from the Pulpit Commentary: "The Greek word korban is related to the term korbanas, signifying the “temple treasury.” The charge is that the scribes, and indeed all of Israel's rulers, have made a corban (a vow -- kind of like a making a covenant) with the world system instead of living by their covenant vow to Yahweh. Therefore, the judgment will be made in the korbanas of the temple where the world system and Jewish devotion meet each other. It is a deeply ironic location.
  • The people in the story are the crowds, rich people, Jesus, his disciples, temple benefactors, and the widow.
  • The place is the temple treasury (Where is that?)
  • Why does the temple have a treasury?
  • What narrative requirement does each person in the story fulfil? What purpose do they serve?
  • Money is important to the story and how much or little of it there is.
  • Economic class is part of this: some live in abundance, but the widow lives in poverty.
  • The story has Jesus going through a series of postures: he sits, he watches, he calls, he speaks.
  • Jesus praises the largest gift, but based on a value completely other than its commercial value.
  • No one is concerned about what happens to this widow after Jesus's pronouncement. Odd if her character is the point.
  • The author makes a point to tell the reader how much the widow's coins were worth.
  • Even if the commercial value of the coins is not important or, indeed, if money is not the object, is there still an implicit teaching about money?
  • There is a lot of the verb "put" in this story.
  • The dramatic engine of the story is fueled by compare and contrast: wealth and poverty, large and small, the crowd and the individual, Jesus and the disciples, a wide view versus a narrow view, the value of the crowd and Jesus's value, watching silently and speaking aloud.
  • The story doubles up on its description of the amount the widow put into the treasury: everything she had, all she had to live on.
  • Are these two adjectival phrases about the widow's gift meant to give us more information about the widow, or is this just repetition for emphasis?
  • Jesus begins his teaching with "Truly, I tell you." Is this important?
  • The disciples are not present in the story until Jesus calls them.
  • The reaction of the disciples nor of anyone else is recorded. Audience reaction is assumed.
  • Why are all the verbs in the simple past tense save the ones in Jesus's pronouncement. Those are all in the perfect tense?
  • Is there a reason Jesus contrasts the verbs "have contributed" and "has put in" in the final comparison?
  • Does giving tithe to the temple equate one-to-one to contemporary church tithing or to charitable giving today?
  • What did this story mean to Jews or God-fearing gentiles who circulated it a decade or two before the temple's destruction?
  • What status or position in society did widows have in first-century Palestine?
  • Who is Jesus at this point in the Gospel narrative?
  • What more does this story tell us about Mark's Jesus? How does this story advance the story about Jesus that Mark's gospel is telling?
  • There is a kind of implicit narrative blocking that shapes the story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Whatever you think it is, it is worse

Two generations ago, theologians talked about how all theology had to be done in the shadow of Auschwitz. This means that those seeking to think clearly in the work of theology cannot be naive. It does not do to be naive about human potential. One cannot simply posit a benign State or politic. Anthropology does not work from good material. No, whatever you think it is, it is worse.

Epistemology must ask about truth in a room of unapologetic liars. Soteriology must ask about salvation for narcissistic savages. We thought modernity always changed because the market was on its way to perfection. Turns out, constant change is because the center never did hold--nothing did. Social justice will never arrive. Politics will never be just. Ethics is a room full of sinners trying to assuage their guilt. The Bible, of course, is not surprised. As it is written:

There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one. Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of vipers is under their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Theologians must call things what they are. And, in so doing, must realize that whatever they think it is, it is worse.

For this reason, eschatology is fundamental to theology and all theology must be fundamentally eschatological.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Polk on Augustine and Time

In a 1991 article in Augustinian Studies, Danne W. Polk talks about Augustine, Husserl (and to a lesse extent Heidegger), phenomenology, theological anthropology, and the relationship between time and eternity. And because I have written posts and a paper or two about all of them, it seems only fair to write one more. Allow me to begin by summarizing Polk's paper. It is a phenomenological anthropology in which Polk puts the time-awarness of human beingness under the microscope. And, after examination, Polk contrasts it with the being of God so that the being of God is revealed as the ground of the becoming of everything else. Here is a rough outline (Heideggarian language added by me in square brackets):
  1. Human beings are time-trapped creatures [da-Sein]; God is not
  2. As bodied things, humans beings interact with the world from a particular point of view [Geworfenheit, thrownness]; God sees it all
  3. Human beings interact with all things as they arrive and disappear in the flow of time [held out into the nothing]; All things are present to God
    • Attention, expectation, and memory
  4. For human beings, the present is not an objective point but a subjective synthesis; God's eternity is timeless
    • A critique of Aristotle's objective and static model of time
  5. God's being supports beings; eternity is the spoke of time's wheel


Human Beings are time-trapped creatures; God is not

The way human being are in the world is tensed. We move. We have extension. There is a a before and an after, a future that flows into a past. Time is dramatic; time is storied. Our lives are stories, and we tell stories about our lives. Polk says that Aristotle described a cosmic or objective time existing outside us. But Augustine, and much later Edmund Husserl and other phenomenologists such as Heiddeger and Merleau-Ponty, did not understand time like that. They said time is intimate and basic to human experience. Time is subjective to us, an insight that Husserl attributed to Augustine's Confessiones.

Temporality (pro tempore)--what Augustine would call "subjective time" and what Husserl would call "immanent time"--is so close to us that any attempt at uncovering the essence of the human person, or in more modern terms, a description of human existence, must include an equal attempt at a personal or 'authentic' portrayal of the way time in fact appears to us. For Husserl, this amounts to a 'pure' description of how "external" or "transcendent" objects come to be constituted within the continual flow of experience. . . . [Later, Heidegger would say that the] human subject as it exists in time (or as time) is . . . the phenomenological question par excellance.

If Aristotle is right about time being objective, we cannot know. How could we know? We have no access to objectivity. But we know time because we are time. "This field of presence is not the presence of God, but rather, it is the presence of ourselves in the existential unfolding of our own experience" (66)

And why are humans so trapped in time? We are so because our bodies fix us in place. Our bodies locate us. We cannot know nor do we experience time as an objective whole, but only in our fixed locatedness. This qualifies all human knowing.

Things come and go

Time, then, cannot be understood objectively. We only understand it from our perspective. And the same goes for everything else. Things come into our awarness--they come in from the future--and they pass out again--they recede into the past. Objects take time to be. "Neither thoughts nor objects are able to stand still, at least not in the radical sense that it would take to understand the object as God understands it."

Objects (including human beings) are "measured" by birth and death. That is, nascency and finality are the limits or boundaries between which the process of becoming takes place. These limits, and what goes on between them, keep us from knowing the object (or person) as a whole. . . . And it is this existential situatedness which marks off the contrast between time and eternity. (67)

Attention, expectation, and memory

So, then, our perception of an object is achieved by a synthesis in the mind. "Consciousness is a 'bond' which holds the object with its elements of being and non-being together (Husserl's Zeiterlebnisse, internal time-consciousness). We give conscious attention to things (for Husserl, intentionality). We anticipate or expect them. And we hold their passing by us in memory until they are gone into nothingness. Trying to hold anything in stasis, in an unmoving now, is impossible. The now is too thin, too transitory. We synthesize to form a whole. "Memory is the power of synthetically preserving the meaning of an object as it takes its time to make an appearance" (75). Through anticipation and memory, the mind dilates. The sliver of the present is thickened to behold the world. Say a friend recites a psalm. "We do not receive all the words and silences at once, but rather we gather them together in our minds to make a meaningful and understandable unity which fills itself out in its passing, moving from anticipation into the present and then into the past." In the psalm, "each moment exists in relation to all the others." (71)[2] Attention is necessary for this. Without attention, there can be no unity of experience.[1] The whole appearance takes time. Things occur in the realm of becoming, not in a fixed point of time, no matter how slight.

God's Time / Human Time

Objectivity, such as Aristotle's present now, is unavailable to us. Aristotle presumed a now or a present moment as an objective point. Standing apart, high on a height, the world could be examined objectively. But, of course, there is no now from which Aristotle may stand objectively and judge the world. Such objectivity could only be achieved if we could stop time's flow. And that, for Augustine, would be to step into eternity, for only God sees things as they are.

What seems to be present if we could stop the flow is eternity, stillness, sameness, it is the absolute ground of God. But for us, the flow of time continually pushes us off the center point of the exact now. (75)

Augustine said that eternity hides behind the flow of time. And when we raise the question of objectivity (or, rather, when we ask the question about the difference between objectivity and subjectivity), we stand at the rift between being and becoming. Augustine would say that we ask even how time and eternity are compatible, and with that, whether it is possible for God and creation to interact at all.[3]

Being and Becoming

Underneath this reflection on phenomenological, subjective time and experience versus Aristotle's objective time is the deep problem of how being and becoming might connect. Aristotle's objective now was upgraded by Augustine into God's timelessness, an eternity that for timely thing is like a distant star peeking out between rolling clouds. Nothing moves for God. Worlds stand still. Unchanging eternity supports and gives meaning to finitude and change. Eternity supports faith.[4] Consider this Lenten collect:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The thing is, Augustine's Neoplatonic metaphysics have been severely challenged in the twentieth century. There is a great suspicion that says the entire machinery of God's eternity is imported from Greek metaphysics, not the Bible. It is an ontology or onto-theology that has exposed Christian metaphysics to a host of dangers and defeats under the withering blows of Enlightenment ideas, under Spinoza's interrogation of substantia and Kant's critiques.[5] Many say its should be abandoned. A new metaphysics and a new doctrine of God should be built. I do not know. To run the other way seems to me to run into panentheism and process theology. Centuries of theological ground would be overturned. And God would not be eternal but, now, everlasting. God is not being but the most becoming of all becomings. God comes to resemble modernity; God becomes the wave that has us all.

Also to be considered is hamartiology. Augustine's teaching that sin (αμαρτια) is not being is, to my knowledge, the most useful understanding of sin that we have. [Augustine equates temporality with fallenness. "The experience of time indicates that the sould is 'distended,' fallen from the otium, the restful contemplation of eternal truth, into the busy negotium of temporal activity." (Robert O'Connel Art and the Christian Intelligence in Saint Augustine 72.] If being is eliminated as a category to Christian metaphysics, then this helpful explanation of how sin works with disorder is abandoned as well.

Therefore, I hardly know what to do. This is a major question that I have not yet solved. And, the thing is, I have done twenty years of work in an attempt to try and solve it. I'm afraid it is beyond me to understand the metaphysical philosophy necessary to choose wisely. So where does this leave things? I have only the incarnation. Augustine sought answers everywhere but in the narrative life of Jesus.


Danne W. Polk. "Temporal Impermanence and the Disparity of Time and Eternity" Augustinian Studies 22 (1991) 63-82.

See the pattern Opening a Closed Circle for God || Creation; Eternity || Time.

Works Cited

Augustine. Confessions
Ibid., De Musica
Edmund Husserl. The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness
Ibid., Phenomenological Psychology
Ibid., Ideas
Maurice Mereau-Ponty. Phenomenology of Perception
Heidegger. Being and Time


[1] Paying attention--allowing something to unfold itself under sustained contemplation--is learning to see things Coram Deo in the light of the resurrection. This is the theologian's calling a thing what it is. This is what the arts help us to do. Individually, we will never see a thing as it is [its absolute quiddity] with even a fully restored imago. But the community can together over time begin to take steps to reflect God's complete knowing. We are allowed, by grace, to name the cosmos. Human beings are Michelangelo, seeing the David inside the stone. / Here is where I can connect with the contemplative tradition, with the arts, with the ethics of being for others (Bonhoeffer or even Levinas), an ethics that gives others the attention/the respect to become what they are. Simone Weil's work on attention is worth noting. And the scientific method comes sheepishly to the table.

[2] Augustine is reminding me--such as how each and every moment in his psalm singing exists in relation to all the others--of Leibniz's Monadology. In his speculative metaphysics, the cosmos is made of innumerable points called monads. Each monad reflected from its position the entirety of the cosmos. Every monad forms an absolute relation with the others, yet each is its own individual thing. Each has its particular perspective. Each is its own center of the map of the whole. There is absolute individuality and absolute relation. Polk refers to the Confessions (XI, 18): "An essential difference between eternity and temporality is that eternity has no particular perspective while temporality is always situationally located." For more on Leibniz, see my introduction to his Discourse on Metaphysics.

[3] Augustine drew a line between everlasting being and finite non-being. God was on one side; creation on the other. Now quoting from Polk (69) "Being," he thought, "is what it is because of itself, and time at best is only an image of the eternal sameness of Being. This means that objects are not only inadequate because of the way they appear, but because they lack the quality of true existence, 'for what is forever changing is not, since it does not abide.' But objects in the world do abive for a time, they are given a quasi-existence in 'my' time, and it is in this sense that an object is 'not wholly without being; rather, it is not supremely existent.' In this way, earth and sky exist as objects for me. In a sense, they are intimations of objects, subtle and delicate announcements of stability, which even though inadequate, participate in the ontological categories of the good and the beautiful. [Elsewhere, Augustine refers to time as a trace (vestigium or copy (imitatio) of eternity.] Still, in reference to subjective time, the world and things exist, but this realm of becoming is basically and essentially a lack of immutable Being. Unlike the objects of creation, Being has perfect self-identity which, for Augustine, is none other than the absolute being of God. By this ultimate standard, temporal objects are equivalent to nothingness just as our knowledge in comparision to God is equivalent to ignorance." Later Polk says "Augustine does not hold that objects are ever 'really real,' becuase all things are created, except for God, therefore all things are in some way mutable. That is, all things lack Being. (City of God VIII, 6). "Objects do show themselves, but they do so in tiem where faculties such as memory and expectation must be employed in order to hold the object together." (78) This makes objectivity a problem. // C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce comes to mind. As does Einstein's universe, where everything is exactly this: moving and subject to constant entropy. God, however, calls order from dissolving chaos. This order needn't be thought of as unchanging Being. Perhaps it need only be good enough, and that is as much as any created thing may be. // I cannot help but quote another lengthy bit from Polk--and I quote this because I hear it echo in liturgy even though it is talking about Augustine's view that the flow of time reflects Being's influence in its going:

In his early work, De Musica, Augustine does portray time as an image of eternity, but he moves away from this view toward an exploration of a radical difference between time and eternity in Confessions: 'times are ordered and made and changed, imitating eternity as they do when the turn of the heavens comes back to the same state and the heavenly bodies to the same place, and in days and months and years and centuries and others revolutions of the stars obey the laws of equality, unity, and order. So terrestrial things are subject to celestial, and their time circuits join together in harmonious seccession for a poem of the universe. (VI, 11.29)

Note also how the entire machinery of Augustine's anthropology of anticipation and memory come together in the singing of a psalm (Confessions XI, 28):

Suppose that I am going to recite a psalm that I know. Before I begin, my faculty of expectation is engaged by the whole of it. But once I have begun, as much of the psalm as I have removed from my province of expectation and relegated to the past now engages my memory, and the scope of the action which I am performing is divided between the two faculties of memory and expectation, the one looking back to the part which I have already recited, the other looking forward to the part which I have still to recite. But my faculty of attention is present all the while, and through it passes what was the future in the process of becoming the past. As the process continues, the province of memory is extended in proportion as that of expectation is reduced, until the whole of my expectation is absorbed. This happens when I have finished and it has all passed into the province of memory.

[4] Because temporality has its source in eternity, God's providence is making of flux his economy--the fortunes of our lives included. // It is good to remember that, like Plato, Augustine believed in the natural immortality of the soul. That belief is the (pagan) flaw in the Western mystical tradition. Because their anthropology is flawed and their exegesis is at best dated, how can they be guides for spiritual practice? For ethical practice, of course, but not for guiding the soul. Augustine wrongly taught an inward journey because the soul participated in God's eternity. Perhaps a robust pneumatology might alter the flooring but keep the walls in place?

[5] See the posts Onto-Theology and Its Fate; On Panenthism; The Three Options; Heraclitus's Chiasmus as a philosophical step toward sacrament; You have to set aside a block of time; Padgett versus Wood on time and eternity; Hannah's Natality and Juergen's Novum.


Excursis: By reading this article, I am set up to make a leap forward. I am set to unify two arguments that, until this point, I had always considered very different. These arguments are arguments about time and arguments about interpretation. The former argument is represented by Augustine and phenomenology. The latter is represented by Hans-Georg Gadamer and hermeneutics. I can now bring them into relationship one another in a vertical and a horizontal. Phenomenology occupies the vertical around the question of God's being; hermeneutics occupies the horizontal with ethical praxis at the center. Both are, of course, united in the one living One. He occupies both and transcends each. At the juxtaposing center is the perfect quiddity of shalom.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Two thoughts for those beginning to study the Biblical languages

It is very, very hard when you begin learning Biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek) not to talk about them any time you get around the Bible. The urge is innocent. "The word in the Greek is epistrepho which means . . . ." All of my teachers warned their students against being too ready with "in the Hebrew" etc. Why? Three reasons. First, for general audiences, it rarely adds anything to understanding that isn't better done by good teaching. I have never used a Greek word in a sermon where it added more than thinking ahead of time of what I want to say and saying it--in other words: good planning. Second, using the language in this way suggests a knowledge barrier your hearer cannot cross but you can, which subtly restricts only the word of God to you. Now, there is an element of truth to this, but it is about finding the right balance. The right use of responsible knowing is the creation of clear understanding--not making oneself look clever. And this is really hard, because you make the effort to learn. Three, aside from making you look clever, as I said, there is a suggestion that the Bible hasn't really been made available to regular believers. (A denial of its sufficiency.) This is not a doubt you want to seed in human hearts, so be careful.

That said, if your audience is knowledgeable, by all means let your nerd flag fly. OR if someone asks you (it will happen), "What is this verb in Greek?" Then you can answer. The one who asks deserves an answer in kind. Finally, there are times in writing when it is useful and important to use the original languages.

I am not perfect. There are times I cross a line. It is innocently easy to do. You will too. But at least keep the line in mind.


When you step through the door into the languages, your relationship with the Bible changes. One change is that you realize there is no such thing as a translation that carries all of the meaning from the source language to the target language. Every translation--no matter how much honest work goes into it--is an earnest negotiation. Scraps are left on the floor.

Two parts of the doctrine of scripture bear on this directly. One is inspiration. Inspiration says that the words of distinct, historical human beings were also, by the Spirit, the words of God. The second is sufficiency. The scriptures sufficiently teach all that is required for life and salvation. A translation can do this very well and support the work of making disciples, of preaching, of private study in whatever culture it serves. We are all products of this fact.

Nevertheless, it is not wrong to say that those who can should be encouraged to put aside (not throw away) familiar translations, to take courage, and to begin with the languages. As a teacher of mine once said, "To read the Bible in translation is to kiss one's spouse through the veil." Or, another: Chapman's Homer is good; Homer's Homer is better.

We received the Bible as members of a community who read, learn, and inwardly digest it. And our community deeply needs people who can say, "The Greek word there is apokalupsis which means an unveiling of what was hidden."

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A few paragraphs of the doctrine of vocation

A friend at work asked me why his work--and, really, work in general--is valuable. I wrote this short response.


You have asked a great question--and reminded us why theology is good tool for good living. At creation, the triune God brought the order of creation out of a watery chaos of swirling darkness. Human beings were created as part of God's ordering. Humans were created as an image of God. And, being that image, they were to serve as priests.

It is no accident that the first pair was made in a temple garden atop a sacred mountain. Human beings image God--that is what priests do. But let us be more specific. Priestcraft is a complicated affair. Humans were to demonstrate the divine character to the created cosmos; think of personal and social ethics, political decisions, and judgments. They were to represent the needs of the cosmos before the creator; the first pair were intended to join the divine council. On the council, they would intercede and do the work we tend to think of as prayer-work today but far more openly. And they were to act as celebrants and lead all creation in worship before God.

That last function seems to capture more of what we think of when we use the word worship today. We think of an activity--worshipping. This is true. But I want to broaden it out. In a broader sense worship also involves reminding creation that it exists coram Deo, before the face of God, all the time. The sacrifice of praise is not only ecstatic song but reverent living in the details.

The sum total of this work--what occurs when human beings are acting in their capacity as imago Dei and doing the work of priestcraft--is shalom. They re-created the ordered harmony that God began in creation. This is what sits behind the creation mandate in Genesis 1.28.

God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.' God said, 'See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.' And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (NRSV)
God gave humans the ordering baton: go out into the wild and order it. I like the word order better than subdue, as subdue has given license to some ecologically sinful acts, plus, order connects what humans are commanded to do with what God did in creation.[1] There is, perhaps, an even better word in the verb to garden or, taking a nod from Genesis 2:15, "to till it and to keep it." The big idea is to be priests over it. Bring its wildness and the nations that will come from your going into its wildness into shalom.[2] And in your ordering, the seventh day peace will be made possible. What must not escape is the connection between the ordering/gardening work that human beings are commanded to do and their priestly mantel of worship. The two--work and worship--are the same thing.[3]

Now, we know that the image of God in human beings was deeply marred and twisted by the fall of the human race into sin and rebellion. But, in Christ, our new Adam proleptically restores that image in those who are his. What this means is that the whole restoration is certain, but its fulness isn't immediate. The imago is not wholly restored in us in this age. But we, by grace, can begin to function by grace in our priestly duties; we can begin to act as image bearers again. That is Biblical theology that gives context for human life and work.

There is a connection here between priesthood, governance, and wisdom. Widom literature is about how to live rightly, how to judge rightly, and how all things are done as worship before the face of God. Work and worship are a correct ordering of things, a correct proportion, a correct judgment. Work at its core is governance. And worship puts all things in their rightful places. There is no Enlightenment separation between devotion and labor, Sunday and the weekdays. Thomas Carlyle said, "Laborare est Orare, work is worship." Both are done with wisdom before God.

Additionally, everything we do, because it images our maker, is missional, because we do it in this age and so demonstrate/announce God's foolish wisdom before the Principalities and Powers. We are guided by the moral law and bear the Spirit's fruit "for the healing of the nations." And what we do here continues into and is valued in the next age as well in a way that is not wholly clear.

So, then, the work of our minds and hands and the communities we make and live within are meaningful because they please and satisfy the divine will for us. Exactly what those will be for each of us personally is a hermeneutical process that requires wisdom. As we know, this gets very granular: a work, community, activity, or aim that is ok for one isn't ok for another. And this removes human reckoning of value from wealth or status or race or nationality--none of that matters. What matters is worship.

This is the framework we must keep in mind as we live our lives moment by moment in this age and into the next.

Addendum: Hospitality

Coming back to this post after a time, I wish to add a part that--incredibly--was missed. That is the reason for shalom. I talked a lot about getting to shalom, but said nothing about the purpose for it. So let me say that the purpose for shalom is hospitality. I made some comments to a friend the other day about hospitality. Let me reproduce them here: "Shalom is for the purpose of hospitality. Work itself has no purpose apart from it. Childrearing. City building. It goes and goes. Theology itself is ultimately governed by the eucharistic meal, not the sermon's rhetorical and logistical demands. Isn't priest another word for server? Isn't Pentecost a festival of first fruits? Missionary work is just a dinner invitation. Jesus died for hospitality. We say "for my sins" -- but that is what we are saved from. We say "so we can do good works" or even "so, as priests of the restored imago we can get about the business of good works or loving God and our neighbor or pursuing the creation mandate"--this is true in the way that cars are combustion engines. Until we get to the Eucharistic meal--until we get to hospitality--we have not yet arrived at what is meant by "a new heaven and a new earth" where God lives with people and where there is no war anymore."


[1] A reader keeping their wits about them should not miss the connection to Jesus's Great Commission to "go into all the world and make disciples."

[2] There is a LOT to this word. Timothy Kellner, in his article for the NIV Study Bible, says, "Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being — physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right — with God, with(in) oneself, and with others." He doesn't include ecological peace in his list, but he should. We should think of it as the arrival in time (the fullness) of the seventh-day restful order that God's ordering work of creation intended. The vehicle for bringing such order: the priestly Kingdom of God heralded in the first incarnation of the second Adam, Jesus (Yeshua). The Bible Project also released a short study on shalom.

[3] The Hebrew word here is עֲבוֹדָה – /ah-vo-DAH/ - combines what we might think of as work with worship (Ex 8.1; 12.31; Josh 24.15). בַד (ʿā·ḇǎḏ): v.; … work, labor, do, i.e., expend considerable energy and intensity in a task or function … give considerable energy and intensity to give aid to another (Lev 25:46; 2Sa 16:19); … worship, serve, minister, work in ministry, i.e., give energy and devotion to God or a god, including ceremonies (Ex 23:24, 25); cultivate, plow, i.e., work soil (with or without an animal) as part of the agricultural process (Ge 4:2; Isa 30:24); plowed, be cultivated (Dt 21:4; Ecc 5:8; Eze 36:9, 34 from Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc. See also Dr. Carmen Imes's discussion of this word in Exodus 3.12, 18.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Highlightegen Geist

The most important thing about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is recognizing its pattern.

So, let's think of preparing a recipe. You know what you want to make, say, chicken with creamy spinach. Some people don't, but I always follow a recipe. I assemble the ingredients, in this case chicken, garlic, baby spinach, wine, Djon mustard, heavy cream. Where necessary, I cut and prepare the ingredients ahead of time, following mise in place. Then the cooking and the tasty result. I have, if you will, created (in a derivative way) chicken with creamy spinach.

We see the same thing in Genesis at the creation. God the Father has decided the dish. The ingredients are God the Son. And the cooking--the bringing the ingredients to the desired result--is God the Spirit.

The Spirit is the energetic mover that uses the Son to bring the Father's desire to its realization.

That is the pattern of the Holy Spirit, his dynamic motif. His work always conforms to this shape. And anything that says it is him but that does not conform to this pattern is not him at all.


Above, I talked about the fundamental pattern of the Holy Spirit: that he perfects or completes or brings into being the will of the Father enacted by means of the Son. I want to develop this insight. In this email, I want to make one point of clarification:

Good, orthodox trinitarian theology does not separate the persons.

Let's hear from a foundational theologian on this point.

Gregory of Nyssa is an important theologian of the ancient church. He lived from 335-395 AD. And he wrote a letter about the Trinity that has been read ever since. The letter is called "On not three gods." Let's read what he says about not separating the persons.

"In the case of the Divine nature we do not similarly learn that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit. . . . the operation is not divided with regard to the number of those who fulfil it, because the action of each concerning anything is not separate and peculiar, but whatever comes to pass, in reference either to the acts of His providence for us, or to the government and constitution of the universe, comes to pass by the action of the Three, yet what does come to pass is not three things."

Gregory says that we cannot pull the act of one person of the Trinity, such as the Holy Spirit, apart from the rest. They always work together.


We talked about food earlier. Let's think about a picnic basket. L and I still own a picnic basket. Kara was seven when we last used it. The idea, of course, is that you pack a meal into the basket. Then, when you get to some green destination, an entire spread of food and drink comes out of it. The feast spreads out much larger than the basket. The basket held the meal in miniature. And if you'd looked inside, you'd known what was coming. That is why I'm beginning with the Trinity. When we ask about the Holy Spirit, we must begin with the triune God.

In this email, I want to say that God is love. Not that he acts lovingly--of course he does--but that God IS love.

When I wrote in parts one and two, I wrote about the pattern the persons assume when they act and how they all act together. I talked about the Trinity at work (ad extra). I want to look quickly at the Godhead as it is in itself (ad intra).

Theology describes the forever life of the triune persons as an unbreakable, ever-flowing, giving and receiving, absolute reciprocating, captivating, totally transparent, intimate, and interpersonal fellowship or community (koinonia) of love (agape). The persons interpenetrate each other without losing their own distinctiveness, called, in Greek, perichoresis, in Latin, circumincession. The word is derived from the preposition peri, meaning around, and chorea which refers to a dance, such as a round dance with its music. That is why some call the divine life the perichoretic dance. It is my favorite bit of theology.

So, God IS love. And this love is the reason why, as I wrote last, one never acts without the others. The persons are always in unity. But, as I said, in their actions, they assume an identifiable pattern: the Father the creator, the Son, redeemer, the Spirit glorifier.

The Godhead of itself is ineffable. We know only what we've been told, and that is not much. How three can be one and one three is a great mystery. In our day, unlike in the past, it is not so hard. We have quantum physics as well as the nature of light to thank for allowing us to see that truth can be paradoxically complicated.

Now, then, we will discuss the Holy Spirit as he works with the Godhead in the world.


Yes, I said that we'd move on to talking about the work of God in creation (called the sending or the mission or, in Latin, the missio Dei). But I can't help myself. There is a little more I must say about the Trinity, including the matter of origin.

We can tell the persons of the Trinity apart by how they act (the pattern), of course. They have different ways of operating in the world. But what about in the inner life of the Godhead?

The persons are distinguished in the triune life by their origin. The Father is unbegotten. The Son is begotten from the Father. And the Spirit proceeds (or is aspirated -- traditions use one or the other term) from the Father.[1] Now, this begotten or proceeding is not in time. We are just making a logical differentiation, not a temporal one. There was never a time when the Son or the Spirit were not. The Godhead is from eternity and to eternity, without beginning or end. And the Godhead, rather than being a simple, undifferentiated monad, is absolutely personal and relational.

Thus, theology has always seen in the relationship of the three persons the very definition of love and the very source of ever-flowing life. They each gaze upon each other as a beloved like themselves. And they make the other: the Father cannot be the Father save the Son, and the Son cannot be the Son without the Father. Similarly, the Spirit cannot be the Gift of the each to the other save there is reciprocity.

As St. Augustine (354-430 AD) said, "Now when I, who am asking about this, love anything, there are three things present: I myself, what I love, and love itself. For I cannot love love unless I love a lover; for there is no love where nothing is loved. So there are three things: the lover, the loved and the love." Augustine and many theologians in the West surmised that so great is the love between the Father and the Son that it becomes a third Person all of itself.

Another theologian in the twelfth century in Paris, France, named Richard of St. Victor, had another way of thinking about the love between the triune persons. He wrote:

"That love must be mutual is required by the fact that supreme happiness cannot exist without the mutuality of love... the nature of true charity reveals that three persons, not two, are necessary. For charity to be excellent, as well as perfect, it must desire that the love it experiences be a love shared with another. Thus charity is not only mutual love between two; it is fully shared love among three."
And, quoting Richard a little more:
"When one person gives love to another and he alone loves only the other, there certainly is love (dilectio) but it is not a shared love (condilectio). When two love each other mutually and give to each other the affection of supreme longing; when the affection of the first goes out to the second and the affection of the second goes out to the first and tends as it were in diverse ways-- in this case there certainly is love (dilectio) on both sides, but it is not shared love (condilectio). Shared love (condilectio) is properly said to exist when a third person is loved by two persons harmoniously and in community, and the affection of the two persons is fused into one affection by the flame of love for a third. From these things it is evident that shared love (condilectio) would have no place in Divinity itself if a third person were lacking to the other two persons."

From the beginning, Christians have been gazing at this ever-flowing dynamic relationship of absolute love and thinking about ways we could understand what is going on. Either way, it is vital when we talk about a doctrine of God to understand the kind of God we are talking about. And I hope you find this as interesting as I do.

A century or so after Richard of St. Victor, in Italy, St. Catherine of Siena prayed: "O eternal Trinity! O Godhead! That Godhead, your divine nature, gave the price of your son's blood its value. You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea: the more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you."


Creation. I have been so nervous about writing this one. How to keep from jumping into a theology of creation and, instead, to keep to our thread: the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I am going to try. There is a lot here.


Not from necessity, but from love's overflow the world was created. "By wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations" (Prov 3.19 NRSV) The Greeks, after Pythagoras, saw a wise order embedded in the universe. They called this order the logos. John's Gospel picks this up and begins, "The logos became flesh and tabernacled among us." The dark water-chaos of Genesis is made logos-orderly by the activity (in Greek, the dunamis) of the Spirit.

The Spirit always works to the pattern of the Son. The Spirit is never the point. The exaltation of the Son is the will of the Father, who has put everything under his Son's feet. (The Scriptures about the exaltation of the Son are innumerable. The New Testament often quotes, for example, Psalm 2.6: "I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.") And the Son, obedient to the will of the Father, glorifies him. In creation, the mutual adoration of the persons is pressed into the wet clay of mud and history.

Couple of things.

  1. Matter is good; bodies are good; time is good, as in fit for the divine purpose.
  2. The Spirit works not just upon but with things. Aristotle would say that God uses not just primary but secondary actions in accomplishing his will.
  3. The kind of work: a place is made for a thing: the expanse for the sun and moon, the sky for the birds, etc. The creative work is orderly. Please remember that this is not a scientific text. It is a theological one. Though, per #1, normal means of making things (geology, natural selection) don't discount the Spirit's guidance.
  4. Human beings are made as a community. The Godhead does not work in solitaries but in communities. Recall that the first pair are a married pair (Adam's covenant oath "bone of my bone"), and the command to human beings is to make larger and richer communities and to garden the world--bringing order to chaos and reflecting what the Spirit did bringing order from watery chaos. Human beings are made male + female = the imago Dei, the image of God. Like priests, they should reflect to all creation the character of their maker.
  5. God enters history and the world of things and knowledge. God chooses to reveal himself. No one else can make him or can use some reason or mathematics or philosophy to reason him out. The revealer is the Spirit. The revealed is the Son.
  6. The Bible says there were heavenly hosts rejoicing in and perhaps helping with creation (cf. Job 38:4-7). God's overflowing love means he likes communities. Think of Job's heavenly court. It shouldn't surprise us to discover communities other than our own. Christianity says there is plenty of life out there. Christians are supernaturalists, quite literally, there is more out there than matter. Lest you wonder if that has any bearing on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it will.
  7. The triune persons move through creation toward rest, which is theological shorthand for the experience of the divine life (Heb. 4). This rest is promised to all creation, not just to human beings (Rom. 8:22).
  8. Colossians 1:15-20 shouldn't be missed. In the Son, all things hold together. And recall that the persons work as one for they are one.
  9. When we think of creation and the Spirit, we should read Psalm 104. And we should understand that this, combined with God's mandate to human beings and Colossians 1, form the basis of a Christian doctrine of creation care.


That last bit on creation was not small. So, I thought I'd do a few follow-up paragraphs that each focus on one element.

The Ghent Altarpiece is a large complex of many connected paintings that make up, well, an altarpiece. It is located in St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. Fully opened, it measures eleven feet wide and fifteen feet high. It depicts all sorts of peoples and animals and instruments--all creation--gathered around a central figure: the living lamb who was slain. The Father and the Spirit are also present, but they are part of the circle around the lamb. The point is obvious: it is all about Jesus.

So, as we think about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, we must keep this in mind. The Holy Spirit affects the will of the Father to give to the Son "a name which is above every name." The way this happens develops as the story of God's people in history develops. In Exodus, he is hardening the heart of Pharaoh. In Judges, he is strengthening the arm of Samson. He is anointing David in 1 Samuel. And in Luke's gospel, he is resurrecting the dead Jesus. "The wind blows where it wills," Jesus said of the Spirit. But his will is not capricious. The Trinity wills together. And that will is the unquestioned peaceful rule of the God-man, Jesus, over creation.


"The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth. Come, let us adore him!" (a call to worship, Book of Common Prayer)

"[All creatures] look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground." (Ps 104.27-30 NRSV)

Here is the second of my mini-explorations underneath the category of creation, which occurs in the process of our exploration of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. And this one could fill a hundred books. So, let me sum it up: God is separate from the world; God respects the things he makes.

The Spirit, with the Son, both shapes and holds the cosmos together. Speaking of the work of the Son, Paul in Colossians writes: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

The Spirit is the energy of this creation and this holding together, though always working to the blueprint of wisdom, the logos, and toward the supremacy of the Son.

So, the living world is living because its source is life itself. BUT the world is not God. We do not and should not worship creation or any creature. Pantheists say the cosmos == godself. But this is not so. "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." (Ex. 20.4a NRSV)

God is different from the creation. And, the things he makes, he respects. He governs the world through various laws, such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He says that matter is good--at least good enough for his purpose in creating it. And now I want to jump into science and such. The method science, called methodological naturalism, doesn't have to bracket God, but, instead, presupposes his governance, called his general providence. As I read somewhere: "God’s general providence results in a creation that is extraordinarily consistent (i.e., God is not capricious) and this enables science to work." This is an important clarification because a purely philosophical naturalism has no way of explaining why the material world is subject to discovery. As Einstein said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible." This door I'm drawing here is an important one for those who are afraid that following Jesus means lobotomizing their minds. Not so. And it is important for those who are troubled with how evil rages in this world God made. But we do not have time to go into any of that. I simply point it out.

So, more directly to our aim: why is God's relationship with matter important for understanding the work of the Holy Spirit? Simply put, the Spirit works not only like some kind of magic, such as in the healing of a blind man or in the raising of the dead. But, perhaps most often, the Spirit works through the ordinary stuff of men and things.

So often in the Bible, people are drawn to fireworks when what they should be after is in the ordinary. Naaman's reluctance to baptize himself in the Jordan River. Jesus's irritation with the crowds who crave the miracles but ignore his teachings and, ultimately, himself. People say that the world we are in is a disenchanted world, but that is only because they misunderstand what enchantment is. They tell fairy stories and think the absence of fairies proves something. All they did was expose the silly nature of idolatry and miss the real nature of God's authority and responsibility as creator of this vast-beyond-vast cosmos he has made.


In one of the letters that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about knowledge. Corinth was a rich city. Everyone was sophisticated and educated. The schools were full of young men studying how to speak well and with authority in their future careers in government or law. But Paul had none of that polish. Instead, he talked about the cross. "I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God (τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ) to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2.1-2 NRSV). Wisdom comes from the crucified Jesus and not philosophical or rhetorical sophistication. And he goes on to say:

"[God has revealed his wisdom (σοφίας)] to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (v 10-11).

The Spirit reveals Jesus to us. Here is the now-familiar pattern: the Spirit points to Jesus as the Father wills. The Spirit does this revealing in three ways.

First, the Spirit affects the creation of reasonable human beings in a reasonable world out of the love of a reasonable God.[2]

Second, the Spirit reveals God. We could and would not know him but for his loving desire to be in dialogue and community with us. The Spirit makes this happen. He inspires chosen individuals (prophets and apostles) to use their reason to speak and write his words to his people--scripture. "No prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1.21a)

Third, he illuminates sin-darkened humans to recognize the truth with their hearts and to understand it with their minds. Through the scriptural preaching of God's people, human beings all over the world, sophisticated and smooth-talking people, see wisdom where it really is revealed: in the crucified Jesus.


Let's look sideways. Following along in the footsteps of pneumatology, we are almost at the Jordan on a very special day. But, let's pause a moment and look quickly at a neighboring line of thought. Let's look at theological anthropology, or the way the Bible thinks about human beings. And especially what the Spirit does to human beings in the OT.

I'm going to give you a couple of scriptures here, but let me just lead with the punchline. Human beings were created to image God. Unpacked a bit, this means human beings are meant to be priests. If we think about how ancient people defined priests, they would say that priests represent the character and will of a deity to the world. Priests rule, in a way, because they make judgments based on the wisdom and will of the god. Priests build and serve in a temple where a deity meets and rules his people. And priests represent the needs and desires of the outside world to the deity. Obviously, human beings fell from their priestly calling. But the Spirit who made order from chaos begins to restore human beings to their high calling.

In Exodus 31, Bezalel is given the Spirit so that Bezelel can build and adorn the tabernacle.

In many cases, judges and then kings received the Spirit so they could properly judge the people. Deuteronomy 17 makes the kingship in Israel a priestly office. The king served under and as an extension of God's word.

Actual priests (Levites) performed an office to which they were divinely separated (sanctified) and anointed.

And, finally, prophets received the Spirit so that they could speak to the people.

Put these together and we see that the Spirit's work bends toward restoring human beings (and it is always "them," the individual is not in view) to their created office.

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2.9 NET).

"Then he said to me, 'These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple . . . '" (Rev. 7.14b-15a NRSV).


We have finally arrived at the coming and work of Jesus himself. Looking out from the high point of things, the coming and work of Jesus is the visible part of the missio Dei--the Trinity's action to redeem the cosmos. The Philippian hymn takes it from this point of view:

"[Jesus], though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross."

Or John 5: 19, 22, 23b:

"Jesus said to them, 'Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. . . . Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.'"

This is how a theologian might talk about Jesus's work looking from above, so to speak. But Mark's Gospel has a different approach. It begins on the ground from below. In the first fifteen verses of chapter 1, Mark tells us exactly who Jesus is and what he is up to. He is the coming one (Deut 18:15; Daniel 7:13) who is greater than the final prophet, John. His coming begins the last days. He is coming in the power of the Spirit to announce his kingship, to overthrow all hostile powers, spiritual and earthly, and to forgive the sins of the faithful and give them the Holy Spirit.

In the center of Mark's outline is the baptism of Jesus. There are a lot of references to creation. The persons of the Trinity are all there: God is declaring. Jesus is obeying. The Spirit is anointing him to do what he is there to do.

So, here is our principle. As we ask, What does this tell us about the person and work of the Holy Spirit? So, we answer: the giving of the Spirit in Jesus's baptism tells us the Spirit's missio work is to do the will of the Father through the instrument of the Son for the glory of God. No less. No more.


Our goal in this series is to follow the threads of a Biblical theology of the Holy Spirit. Last time, we arrived at the person and ministry of Jesus. As you can guess, Jesus being the very center of the entire Bible, there is a lot more to be said about him and his ministry than about the work of the Spirit, and I was quite nervous about being sucked into Christology. Therefore, I tried to keep my comments trimmed to only what was absolutely necessary. I focused on only one text: Mark's introduction to Jesus and his ministry in chapter one of his Gospel. And of that, I focused on his Baptism because the Trinity is so visible there--and so the Spirit is--and Jesus is anointed so obviously there with the Spirit for his work. I mentioned that there is a lot of creation language. The subtext in mentioning that is that what God did -- creation -- he is doing again: so the actors in one event act their roles again in the next. The ending of all of that was a principle: that "the giving of the Spirit in Jesus's baptism tells us the Spirit's missio work is to do the will of the Father through the instrument of the Son for the glory of God. No less. No more."

This bit adds a little about Jesus. Jesus is God incarnate. He is the divine Son made real man from a real woman in a real place at a real time: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and adopted son of Joseph, who was probably born around 3 BC in Bethlehem, a town we can still visit today. So, in his first advent, his life, death in Jerusalem, resurrection, and ascension from the Mount of Olives, in all the things he knew and all the miracles he did--was that just the Son manifesting his godself as the second person of the Trinity or was it the Holy Spirit?

We have spoken about how you cannot legitimately pull the Trinity apart. They are tightly intertwined and unified in everything that they do. Nevertheless, theology, following scripture, does see one or another figure prominently in this or that activity. At Jesus's baptism (as at creation) it is the Father who pronounces, it is the Son who, like the orderly creation, comes out of watery chaos, it is the Spirit over the waters that affects the divine will. Therefore, it is not complete speculation to ask this question about the origin of Jesus's miraculous power and insight. And, actually, I say that it is very important that we do so.

Recall that at the beginning of the last email, I posted a bit of the Christ hymn of Philippians 2. The Son emptied himself of his divine splendor and became a real human being. His glory is in his obedience. In his love, he identifies with his people "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." Indeed, he becomes the new human being, the new Adam. Speaking of the saving work of Jesus, an early theologian said, "That which is not assumed [by Jesus] is not atoned for." So, he took all of what we are and gives us all of what is his. This is the gospel: that in him our sins are killed and with him we, his people, have joy together and life eternal. (One might say the church is invited by grace--not by nature--into the triune fellowship.)

Because this is the gospel, I am inclined to agree with theologians who say that Jesus, in his humility, depended upon the Spirit and communed with the Father as a human being. He did not use his power (Jn 10:18), but walked in obedience, following the Spirit. After his baptism in Mark's Gospel, Jesus is compelled by the Spirit to do what Adam failed to do, confront Satan in the wilderness (not in his own power but in his obedient dependence upon the word of God) and call people back into fellowship with God and with one another: "The Kingdom of God has come near! Come, follow me!" We--the church--walk in the footsteps he made. And, therefore, we should expect the Spirit to be with us as it was with him. It may be more, for Jesus said, "you will do greater works than these," but it will certainly not be less.


69. On Sunday

O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Continuing our review of pneumatology, we had arrived at the work of Jesus. I wrote, "The giving of the Spirit in Jesus's baptism tells us the Spirit's missio work is to do the will of the Father through the instrument of the Son for the glory of God. No less. No more." And I also said that the danger we face here is to drown in the orchestral swell of the work of Jesus and miss our humble and careful trace after the Holy Spirit. Yet, we should say at least what that work is, and prayer 69 "On Sunday" from the Book of Common Prayer is a beautiful confession of part of that--keeping in mind that it is the whole church that is praying and we individuals pray it as we are in that company.

I say part of that, because it remembers the existential situation of salvation, but ignores the sociological or political nature of it. For that, we go to that Old Testament teaching of God gathering his people back from all the nations so that he can be forever good to them. Here is Jeremiah 32:37-41:

"I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety. They shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for all time, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul."

Isaiah -- Isaiah and Jeremiah are active under the shadow and reality of the destruction and exile of the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah -- devotes chapter 35 and many other places to this return from exile:

"the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

Jesus's victory makes this possible--to share by grace the community of his very self with his beloved people, his bride. The valley of the shadow of death is done. Now there is the city of God.

"Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals!
Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
a quiet habitation, an immovable tent (Isa. 33.20)."
"And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes." (Rev. 21.2-3 NRSV)

With Jesus's enthronment upon his ascension, the way is open to anyone who will RSVP his divine invitation. And, as the Son was willingly sent and the Spirit with him, so the church will be sent to inform the Powers that they can no longer hold his people captive--they rule no more--and to publish the divine welcome. And they will do this as the new humanity. The image of God is restored in them. They are restored to their intended priesthood. And they are empowered by the same Spirit to announce his reign and welcome.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. (Rev. 22.17 NRSV)

Now we know the purpose of the work of the Son. And now we are ready to talk about the Spirit's work in and through the church--us.


Last time, we talked about the resurrection of Jesus and a bit about the ascension. As we turn to consider Pentecost, I want to say just a little more about the latter.

After being with his people for forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascends into glory. The clouds mentioned in Acts are a theological not an aesthetic detail. They refer to Daniel 7:13ff. Jesus is the Son of Man coming in the clouds. He receives dominion from the Father. He is enthroned at the Father's right hand.

I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.

Daniel is picking up some of that covenant with David language. Jesus told his people to wait for the Spirit to come at Pentecost, a harvest festival. The Spirit comes on his people because Jesus has begun to reign. As Hebrews 10:12-13 says:

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.”

Previously, we noted how the Spirit is always working through the Son to accomplish the will of the Father. But now, by grace, the Spirit is going to work through the church, this kingdom of priests that Jesus has redeemed, his body, the elect, the co-heirs. Through them by grace the Spirit is going to accomplish the will of the Father, which, in this case, is to extend and complete the reign of Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God as it says in Psalm 2 and many other places. Don't mistake the shock: the church is acting--not according to being but according to gracious inclusion--as a fourth member of the Trinity. It has been welcomed into the perichoretic dance in a way that truly boggles the mind.

The announcement that Jesus is king (and no one else) is going to require a clear commission, an equipping for that mission, and an expectation of deadly conflict both spiritual and material. I have brought up Jesus's baptism in Mark. We see those same things there which we will see in Pentecost: Jesus is clearly commissioned by the Father's public voice from heaven and John's witness. Jesus is equipped by his education in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and the giving of the Spirit. And the Spirit thrusts Jesus immediately into the wilderness where he, in obedience and suffering, begins his cosmic conflict with Satan. Pentecost is going to replicate Jesus's pattern in the lives of his people. (I can't help but interject here that Jesus's life replicated the history of Israel. The Bible is cool like that.) Next time we finally get into the church and, therefore, us.

Now, let me say a quick word about a long-standing division in the church called the Great Schism. Back in 1054 CE, differences came to a head that were long-brewing between the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East. As is typical with human beings, there were a lot of reasons for this split. But the biggest symbolic reason was the Latin insistence that the Roman Pope was supreme. The Easterners disagreed. But the Latins were undeterred, and in their "supremecy," they insisted that a clause be inserted into the Nicene Creed (shorthand for the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed adopted by the whole church in 325 AD). This clause is called the filioque /fill-ee-OH-quay/ because those are the words that were added: "and the son." The amended text says that the Spirit proceeds "from the father and the son." I realize that this seems quite trivial, but it wasn't. The Latin church was being innovative with the most ancient of creeds without even running it by the East. The Western church had the pope after all, and the Eastern church said, yeah, there's the real problem.

Anyway, people throughout the church have been burdened about it ever since. Jesus prayed to the father that his church would be one, and untold numbers have prayed ever since for healing. The twentieth century saw a theological warming occur, and, just a few years ago, a new statement came out published by the Anglican Oriental-Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC). The statement said--and I don't have it with me so I'm just paraphrasing--that the original wording of the creed should stand as a statement of the origin of the Spirit. The Spirit proceeds from the Father alone; we discussed this some months ago. Nevertheless, following language in the Book of Acts and other places in the New Testament, when it comes to the mission of the Spirit in the church, it is fine to say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. So, then, if you open up a Book of Common Prayer or just pull it up on the internet and say the Nicene Creed and say that line "He proceeds from the Father and the Son," you are talking about the Spirit's missio work right now, not his existence in the triune life. His everlasting origin is the Father alone, but he is sent missionally by the Father and the Son.


[1] Here, following the 2018 ecumenical statement on the filoque published by the Anglican Oriental-Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC), I consider the filioque a historical assertion, agree that the Spirit aspirates eternally from the Father alone, and is only poured out through the Son in the pursuit of the redemption of God's world and people following Jesus's assumption on Pentecost. In this, I haven't deviated from the points made in Why I Like the Filioque, but I have qualified them. The title of that post was meant to be cheeky in a kind of friendly way. The truth is, my trinitarianism, like the AOOIC, follow the Orthodox.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture in 2006 in which he made a point worth footnoting. “The fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.” So that “not to act 'with logos' is contrary to God’s nature." For Christians, reasonable action is godly action. Christian theology does not threaten the dialogue necessary to a free society of mutual respect and responsible political action. Instead, such dialogue is part-and-parcel of its deepest theological confession.