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Review of Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox

On Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox (Conciliar Press, 1992)

This book presents an engaging story and defense of the transition of a group of evangelicals into the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Parts One and Three tell the story and Part Two presents a defense of Orthodox positions on issues sensitive to many evangelicals. The key point in their journey he says was letting history judge them instead of the other way around. This meant giving priority to the faith and practice of the ancient, undivided church.

The group of leaders that Peter represents did careful historical research, were open to what they found, and were willing to change if necessary.  Their guiding desire was to find the one, true church if possible. They ended up starting their own Evangelical Orthodox Church that eventually merged with (if that’s the right term) the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

He addresses several issues that are hot buttons for some evangelicals: tradition, liturgy, calling priests “father”, the Virgin Mary, and the cross. Their background is apparently the anti-liturgical wing of evangelicals who are suspicious of all tradition and liturgy because they are associated with dead ritualism. But there are many evangelicals in Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist communions, for example, who don’t have such attitudes. Though admittedly the high church “smells and bells” type of liturgy he defends is the liturgy of only a few evangelicals.

The only issue he addresses that comes close to a core evangelical issue concerns the Virgin Mary. Both Catholics and Orthodox consider Mary the first Christian and the model for all Christians. He calls her the greatest woman who ever lived, a model of obedience, purity and holiness, royalty and intercession, and the mother of God. He distinguishes Orthodox teaching from Catholic teachings of her Immaculate Conception and Assumption. And he criticizes Protestants for slighting her.

Let’s consider this in detail. Gillquist asserts that Mary is the “most blessed” (which he uses interchangeably with “greatest”) of all woman. With all due respect, being the most blessed sinner is still infinitely less than being the Sinless One. But it’s a point that one can accept without accepting his other assertions.

The importance of the identity of the first Christian is in what it means to be a Christian. He asserts that in her role as mother of our Savior she is the first to accept Christ as her Savior. He doesn’t elaborate but the argument seems to be that a good work may translate into salvation. A parallel might be Zaccaeus who gave half of his goods to the poor: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.’” Was Zaccaeus the first to give away his goods? Probably not. Is that what it takes to become a Christian? Of course not.

In fact Scripture doesn’t support Gillquist’s assertion. It shows that Jesus’ family didn’t understand him any sooner than the apostles. When he was found in the temple at age twelve, Jesus said to his mother: “‘Why were you searching for me?” he asked. Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Luke 2.49-50. While getting flak in Nazareth, Jesus said: “Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Mark 6.4

The first one to profess Jesus as the Christ was of course the apostle Peter. In the rest of the New Testament it is the profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ that is the key act that makes one a Christian. Acts 2.36; 10.43; Rom. 10.9. Baptism is also part of becoming a Christian but the first Christian baptisms were not until the Acts of the Apostles.

Gillquist then asserts that Mary is our “supreme example, or prototype”. He says, “Everything we aspire to become in Christ she already is.” The only defense he offers is to assert that hers was the first ‘decision’ made for Christ. That’s quite a jump from first to ultimate! Does the first man on the moon know all there is to know about the moon? Is any sinner already perfected? The logic is impenetrable.

Gillquist goes on to assert that Mary is our model of obedience because of a few acts of obedience record in Scripture. What about Abraham, etc., etc.? He says she’s our model of purity and holiness but in defense merely asserts this isn’t unthinkable. He says she’s our model of royalty and intercession but his defense is only that we’re all kings (Rev. 1.6) and we’re all called to pray (Eph. 6.18).

In the next section he affirms Mary’s title as the mother of God (p.106). He starts by quoting Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary: “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk.1.:35, Gillquist’s emphasis) I’m left wondering why Elizabeth isn’t the first Christian.

Then he explains the Nestorian heresy. We needn’t go into the details except to note that dogmatizing the title (and anathematizing “mother of Jesus”) was an effort to protect the doctrine of the Incarnation. This was analogous to the Jews “building a hedge around Torah.” The logic of these protective dogmas is this: if God says X, we must say X + Y to make sure we’re not even close to denying or failing to do X. Such an approach led to Pharisaic dogmas that put heavy burdens on the people and were condemned by Jesus. (Mt. 23) The same motive led Catholics to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Once the Orthodox have accepted the logic of protective dogmas, they really have no grounds for disagreeing with the Catholics.

Next he says we must honor Mary and call her blessed. No Christian would deny that though he takes this to mean that she must be honored in the liturgy in certain ways. Other ways apparently don’t match some unspecified standard.

Then he asserts that Mary is ever-virgin. It’s not clear whether this is a dogma but as long as it’s not, evangelicals would have no problem with someone believing it. Otherwise, it lacks positive Scriptural support (explaining away problem verses isn’t enough).

Finally, he distinguishes Orthodox from Catholic doctrines. But they are very close. Both Catholics and Orthodox read much about Mary into a few Scriptural remarks. Such eisegesis may seem pious to some but does little to promote the faith.

May 2002

Three streams movement

The three streams concept was introduced in the book, “The Household of God” by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin of the Church of South India in the1940’s. The movement developed further from the “third wave” of the Spirit in the 1980’s. The basic idea is that the church has been needlessly divided because of differences that should flow together rather than apart. There is the Catholic stream, the Evangelical stream, and the Charismatic stream.

Catholic Stream

This is the catholic and orthodox stream which is the most traditional and liturgical.  It’s roots are in the church of the first millennium. There is formality and mysticism, devotion and communion, inwardness and community. It is a theology of the Father, a gospel of victory over evil. It is sacramental, focused on the Eucharist. It has a kingly, top-down authority structure.

Evangelical Stream

This is the biblical and evangelistic stream from the Reformation but with roots in earlier theologians such as St. Augustine. There is decision and consecration, dedication and sanctification, explication and education, outwardness and commonality. It is a theology of the Son, a gospel of sacrifice for sin. It is Bible-based, focused on the Word. It has a priestly, bottom-up authority structure.

Charismatic Stream

This is the Pentecostal and Charismatic stream from the twentieth century but with roots in the primitive church. There is anointing and envisioning, infilling and enthusiasm, fervor and power, informality and spontaneity. It is a theology of the Spirit, a gospel of overcoming the curse of the law. It is Spirit-filled, focused on Praise. It has a prophetic, egalitarian authority structure.

Three Streams

These three streams have grown apart for the most part. The evangelical stream and the liturgical stream parted after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The charismatic stream was rejected by the other streams in the Pentecostal movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, combinations of the streams have joined together somewhat. Some protestant churches such as Lutherans and Anglicans retain a strong sacramental element. The Vatican II reforms opened the Catholic Church to more evangelical and charismatic elements. The charismatic movement in the latter half of the twentieth century flowed through most denominations.

The three streams movement seeks to unite these streams as much a possible. It honors every stream rather than exalting one over the other. It accepts the strengths of each stream. It allows each stream to complement and correct the others. It seeks to unite the church with multiplicity-in-unity.

The movement is most active in some Anglican or Anglican-like churches but is relevant to all churches.

January 2008

The Eucharistic presence

I

The Medium, the Message, and the Meaning of God is God. One cannot communicate with God apart from the Spirit of God and the Word of God.

The ultimate meaning of God is not outside of God. There is no-one and nothing beyond God that God points to. The meaning of God is God.

God is im-mediate, ever here and now. God has no mediator or medium (small m). The mediator of God is God the Mediator, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The medium of God is God the Medium, the Holy Spirit.

The Way to God is God, the Truth of God is God, and the Life of God is God. One cannot find God or know God or live in God apart from God the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Gospel is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus Christ. It is not merely the way He described but the Way He lived and lives. It is not merely the truth He taught but the Truth that He lived and lives. It is not merely the story of His life, or the fact of His life, but His Life itself.

II

God is omni-present though obscured to the five sense faculties. By the spiritual faculty of faith we can perceive the omni-presence of God. But the Scriptures speak of special manifestations of God’s presence that are perceived by sense faculties and by faith.

Consider the Burning Bush of Moses, for example. God was present in the Burning Bush to Moses’ senses and his spirit. Moses saw a bush that was burning and revelation showed it to be a manifestation of God. The ground of the Burning Bush was holy ground.

The Burning Bush was a token of God. A token of God is not God but presents God, makes God present. God was present in the Burning Bush in a sense beyond His omni-presence in all bushes. This meaning of God’s presence is called the Real Presence of God.

God in Christ has established tokens of remembrance in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharistic Feast. God is present in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine in a sense beyond His omni-presence in all bread and wine. God reveals Himself in the Bread and Wine.

We partake of the Flesh and Blood of God in the Eucharistic Feast. As the sense faculties perceive the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, the spiritual faculty perceives the Flesh and Blood of God. The ground of the Eucharistic Bread and Wine is holy ground. In the Eucharistic Feast is the Real Presence of God.

2008

Faith and works

“Faith” is usually contrasted to “works” as if there were an antithesis, which is said to come from the second chapter of the Epistle of James.  Someone works for something they don’t have but hope to gain.  To work for something one cannot gain would be foolish.  It would also be foolish to work for something one already has.  So works relate to something that someone (w1) does not yet have and (w2) has reason to believe they will gain by works.

Faith is analogous because it relates to something that someone (f1) does not fully appear to have but (f2) has reason to believe they do have and will fully appear to have in the future.  The difference is that in faith there is an apparent divergence between circumstances at two different times whereas for works there is a real divergence between the circumstances at two different times.  What changes over time for faith is the appearance but not the underlying reality.

Faith also lacks the idea of gain which is a key element of works.  For works the change is effected by something one does to gain the desired object.  For faith there is no underlying change.  Whatever gain there may be is in the past for faith but in the future for works.

One may say in faith, “I have this now and even though it does not fully appear that way, it will be obvious to all sometime in the future.”  For example, when a Presidential election takes place in the USA, the person elected does not take office immediately but is inaugurated a few months later.  Between the election and the inauguration the President-elect does not yet appear to be the President.  But they can and do begin to take on aspects of that office such as increased security guards, press entourage, and new significance of their words and actions.  The President-elect may speak and act in faith about their administration as if it were a reality.

Not acting may also have consequences. President-elect Abraham Lincoln received many requests to speak or comment on the unprecedented crisis of Secession, but refused and remained publicly silent for several months until he gave speeches while enroute to Washington, DC, for the inaugural ceremonies. Some historians argue that his seeming passivity while president-elect helped precipitate the Civil War.

When James asks someone to show him their faith (James 2.18), he is asking for something behind and beyond the appearances to come out.  How can one demonstrate faith?  By doing things that others would expect to see in order that the appearance and reality are not divergent (or at least less so).  If you say you have faith, then show it by your actions.

James goes on to assert that if someone does not show some of what others would expect to see if they were saved, then the appearance must accurately reflect the reality that they are not saved.  On the other hand, if someone does show some of what others would expect to see if they were saved, then the appearance must accurately reflect the reality that they are saved.  So a complete divergence between appearance and reality is not possible.  James concludes in verse 2.24, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

Thus a Christian asserts by faith in Jesus Christ that they are saved and, while acknowledging that the appearance and reality are not fully synchronized, asserts that the appearance will match the reality sometime in the future.

January 2008

Creedal ecumenism

Creeds began as a way for the Church to exclude heretics. A council of Bishops would meet and come to agreement on a creed. A creed affirmed propositions that a heretic would not affirm. A creed might also deny propositions that a heretic would affirm. But a creed was not a theology. It did not systematize or explain theological matters.

Creeds began as a way for the Church to exclude heretics. A council of Bishops would meet and come to agreement on a creed. A creed affirmed propositions that a heretic would not affirm. A creed might also deny propositions that a heretic would affirm. But a creed was not a theology. It did not systematize or explain theological matters.

As long as the Church was undivided, creeds were a way for the Church to separate out the heretics from the true teachers. The other way was through an ordination process that connected the ordinand to the apostles. When the Church divided into East and West, and then into Catholic and Protestant, a common ordination process ended. The ancient creeds remained, at least the three ecumenical creeds which are accepted by nearly all Christians.

Three creeds–the Apostles, the Nicene (Niceno-Constantinopolitan), and the Athanasian creed–form the basic tenets for Christian orthodoxy, apart from the Filioque controversy. The Filioque clause was added to the Nicene creed in the West but not the East.

Other theological issues have arisen and creeds could have been a way to steer the Church through them but divisions in the Church have prevented that. The East asserts that without an undivided Church, there can be no valid council and hence no new creeds. Catholics have added creeds that others do not accept. Protestants have moved away from creeds to confessions or statements of faith or denials of creeds, as in the anti-creed, “no creed but the Bible.”

Non-creedal Christians have implicit creeds, just as non-liturgical churches have implicit liturgies. A statement of faith usually gives some highlights and leaves many questions unanswered but it is a kind of creed. The avoidance of creeds may come from a fear of limiting the faith too much but it is also deficient to say too little. Those who say, “No creed but the Bible,” are asserting a very long creed that leaves open many questions of interpretation.

Creeds are a way for Christians to agree on the key propositions of Christianity. Theologies are revised over time but creeds remain. Short of the age to come, Christians are not likely to agree on a theology but may agree on creeds. As long as we don’t expect too much from creeds, they are a useful ecumenical instrument.

2008

All the literalists

Literalism means adherence to the explicit sense of a given text or doctrine. It is practiced by some Christians, who are called biblical literalists. But as Conrad Hyers (professor of comparative religion at Gustavus Adolphus College) noted, “one often finds a literalist understanding of Bible and faith being assumed by those who have no religious inclinations, or who are avowedly antireligious in sentiment.” (Hyers, Conrad “Biblical Literalism: Constricting the Cosmic Dance“, Christian Century, August 4-11, 1982, p. 823.)

Those who believe that Christ is objectively present in the Eucharist — are they not promoting a literal interpretation of Christ’s words, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”? And those who believe in the social gospel — are they not taking what the Bible says about justice for the poor as literally true? Other religions also have literal interpreters, such as Islam’s Wahhabi (who prefer to be called “unitarians”). Ideological movements such as Marxism and scientism have their literalists, too.

Someone who exhibits literalism in some way is often assumed to be a wooden literalist, which is a literalist who ignores figurative language. While this may occur in some cases, even an extreme literalist such as Finis Jennings Dake acknowledges non-literal language. Dake stated his hermeneutic as follows: “Take the Bible literally wherein it is at all possible; if symbolic, figurative or typical language is used, then look for the literal truth it intends to convey. Statements of fact and historical accounts are accepted as such.” (Dake, Dake Annotated Reference Bible, Introduction).

Literalism is often associated with theologically conservative Christians who follow an historical-grammatical hermeneutic that strives to discover the meaning of a passage as the original author would have intended and what the original hearers would have understood. This is not literalism in a literal sense so the word literalism is being applied rather indiscriminately.

In a post-modern age in which all sorts of teachings that were formerly considered heresies are tolerated and promoted, literalism seems to be the last remaining heresy. It was first associated with Christian fundamentalism, which has been vilified since the early 20th century. With the rise of “Islamic fundamentalism,” literalism became associated with terroristic movements. It’s not difficult to imagine that literalism may one day be outlawed — literally!

January 2010

Historical sciences

Ben Jeffares wrote a useful article “Testing times: regularities in the historical sciences”  (http://www.ege.fcen.uba.ar/ecodes/Integrantes/Javier/cursos/PDFs/(02)%20Jeffares%202008.pdf):

Abstract

The historical sciences, such as geology, evolutionary biology, and archaeology, appear to have no means to test hypotheses. However, on closer examination, reasoning in the historical sciences relies upon regularities, regularities that can be tested. I outline the role of regularities in the historical sciences, and in the process, blur the distinction between the historical sciences and the experimental sciences: all sciences deploy theories about the world in their investigations.

This is based on his dissertation “Testing Times: Confirmation in the Historical Sciences”  (http://philpapers.org/archive/JEFTTC.pdf) which concludes:

To conclude, I will outline what I take to be the confirmation strategies of a good historical science. Firstly, a good historical science will utilise the understandings of regularities that the sciences in general use. These regularities will be well tested, using all the apparatus of experimentation, repeated observations, and intervention in processes that allow us to understand the relevant variables. They will be regularities that are well confirmed. Secondly, historical scientists will engage in research to determine how these regularities leave traces that can act as evidence for their occurrence. This dispersal of consequences also utilises regularities that can be tested, observed, and understood.

Utilising these regularities in dispersal allows researchers to choose between alternative hypotheses. Hypotheses about the past should have distinct signatures of downstream consequences. They should also make predictions about additional lines of evidence.

From the side of history Robert A. Hurley wrote “The Science of Stories: Human History and the Narrative Philosophy of Science” (http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/2227/thesis.pdf?sequence=2) which argues that history is an epistemic narrative, different from literary narrative but essentially the same as the historical sciences.

September 2014

First-order science

I would define a first-order science as an ancient and limited form of each science that is valid within its limits and simplifications.  Each first-order science is a limiting case of a higher-order science known today (the correspondence principles).  These are sciences of unaided observation and common sense.  In particular:

First-order physics is the science of constant, uniform motion (linear, circular, or cyclic).  Gravity and acceleration are ignored, as in STR.

First-order chemistry is the science of the four elements widely used in ancient cultures: earth, water, air, and fire.  These are emblematic of the four phases of matter and a simplified table of elements.

First-order biology is the science of the common classes of living things: plants, fish, birds, land animals, and mankind.  While finer distinctions (kinds) are acknowledged, they are not given a comprehensive treatment within first-order biology.  Darwinism is precluded because it doesn’t satisfy a correspondence principle (it requires denying the appearance of design).

First-order mathematics, medicine, meteorology, geology, etc. are similarly limited treatments of higher-order sciences known today.

Here’s my thesis:  the Bible was written with first-order science in view.  The point is that this is perfectly legitimate; it is not a science that has been rejected but a limited and simplified science that is still valid today.  The false ideas of the Babylonians etc. are not in the Bible.

For example, Genesis 1 is clearly written in terms of first-order chemistry and biology as defined above.  In first-order physics the geocentric and heliocentric frames of reference are interchangeable so geocentric language is legitimate.  The Bible uses round numbers so we should not expect a decimal approximation for pi (1 Kings 7:23).

The conclusion is that we should interpret the Bible’s statements about the physical world in terms of first-order science, which has been known for centuries and is still valid today.  We may take the first-order science in the Bible and expand it into higher-order models that are consistent with the best science known today.  That is one way to understand what creationists are doing.

August 2014

 

Metaphysics vs. scientism

The “new atheists” have caused a stir but have also shown their ignorance when they step outside their domain of scientific expertise and talk about metaphysics while denigrating philosophy.  One result is that philosophers are now taking them on — and they have come out slugging.  I’m seeing a new generation of philosophers, mostly Christians, who are pulverizing the puny arguments of the atheists.

One example is the philosopher Edward Feser.  He wrote a book “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheists”.  You can see his blog at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/.  IDers have also tussled with him a bit — and lost.  I’m reading his latest book which is on metaphysics, and he crushes scientism in chapter 0 (I thought only mathematicians had a chapter 0).  He goes on to show how metaphysics properly done is a true science.

One point of relevance here is how Feser goes back to what science, particularly physics, has been doing but people are so used to it they’ve forgotten.  It has to do with qualities.  The early scientists distinguished between primary and secondary qualities.  Primary qualities are things like quantity, extension, etc. that can be measured.  The other qualities were at first ignored but later explained in terms of primary qualities.  For example, color has been redefined as merely something perceived but not real because it’s a secondary quality.

This has advantages in terms of physical science and technology but there’s nothing inherently primary about primary qualities.  Other qualities could just as well be chosen.  My wife is an artist and color is primary for her art.  But scientism takes the methodological exclusion or redefinition of certain qualities as a discovery that they don’t really exist, which is clearly false.

The warning for creationists is against taking the Bible to refer to the world as redefined by physics.  For example, color is a real quality just as much as mass or position.  Physics doesn’t say that but we should.

BTW some atheistic philosophers understand these things.  Thomas Nagel is one, and his latest book “Mind and Cosmos” is subtitled, “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False”.

August 2014