Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Re-examining foundations (2): Passions re-directed

However, there is something else that has hugely contributed to this journey that you would never guess: a running injury. God knows I would roll the clock back two years, avoid that gnarly descent and not twist my ankle, and continue to live my passion of running for him with others. God knows I would still probably drop this whole trinitarian investigation to have my left ankle restored. And God knows how hard it has been to accept my most capable years (from an athletics perspective) evaporate in front of me.

Will he curse me? This is the challenge that the story of Job brings the biblical believer faced with any trial or loss. I resolve to glorify God in all the trials and tasks he sets me.

Re-examining foundations (1):Beautiful Trinity, worrying implementation

[excerpt from my paper on the Trinity]

This may come as a surprise to people reading this, but I find the trinity a truly beautiful concept, and when clearly articulated, theologically relaxing. On beauty, I have read The Trinity and Beauty by Ray Mayhew, relying mainly on Hans Urs von Balthasar and Clark Pinnock. Despite a few flaws in this article, some of the flow, of the interaction, the intrinsic love and the mutual submission are nothing short of captivating and deeply inspiring. Theologically, I find I can also relax in what I would define as a structured Trinitarian environment - where prayer and glory are directed ultimately to the Father, where the Father is central while not precluding His precious Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. I cannot express with enough sincerity that in its structured, awe-inspiring, worship-inducing, historical sense, I am not antitrinitarian, any more than I am in the inspiring and beautiful sense. That is not at all the origin.

It is that which I personally do feel concern over that caused me to re-examine this Christian foundation - not the foundation itself.

My initial personal concern then, which is not the prime subject of this paper, was with a temptation and tendency I noticed to relegate the Father to a third person of the trinity or worse, some kind of helpful additional teaching.  For several years, sensing that Jesus was rapidly taking over Trinitarian doxology and theology in my own church tradition, this prompted me to (naïvely) attempt to bring this back to centre stage with the regular opportunities I had as a worship leader. On the few occasions I preached I doubt I ever left it out either. I did not sense the same concern within me when visiting other, more theologically structured churches.

So if I am "anti" something, I am "anti" an emphasis or exaltation of Jesus at the expense of believers' understanding and relationship with their God the Father. I do not think they have invented a word for that yet, although I believe it was Dale Tuggy or Stephen Holmes who spoke of one strand of Christianity that can "collapse" the trinity into its second member, the person of Jesus Christ. (I could definitely explore some ideas I have for this but the paper is already long enough so unless specifically asked, or I have time to blog on the topic, I leave this as a simple observation for now).

Monday, 23 February 2015

Good from evil, it's tricky!

Evil. It is a big problem on every level, theology and philosophy included. In conversation recently with friends I was thinking out loud a bit too much, as I articulated that, since my (maternal) grandparents met through the war, in one sense, me, my children, my siblings, my mother and her siblings and her siblings children, and her siblings' children's children, owe our lives to Hitler's campaign!

At the present time it is doubtless unlikely that more people "owe" their lives to Adolf Hitler's evil campaign than those who lost their lives. But since one number is static and the other growing, it is startling to think that one day - it is almost a statistical certainty - more lives (God-planned, God-intended) than deaths can be traced to that pivotal period. 

This is not "love wins", this is just one of the crazy paradoxes of evil in our world. 

It is the problem of evil.

Friday, 13 February 2015

It's so not obvious

It strikes me as amazing how unwilling some people are to examine their own lenses. They are often keen to know and teach the truth, yet they should know that information entering and processed by our minds is so powerfully affected by the lenses. Here is an example: I can be 100% certain that of those who believe in the 4th-Century version of the doctrine of the Trinity, of three consubstantial, co-eternal, coequal persons in one supreme God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (who are not each other), each and every one were taught it. OK maybe a slightly expanded version for some, but there we go. I cannot be nearly so sure of other central doctrines: the creation, Jesus Christ, Lord and saviour, the resurrection, the second coming. Why? Because someone reading this might believe in those aspects of the Christian faith simply from having found them in a Bible.

And yet, along with (or perhaps crowning) those more explicit statements of belief, the Trinity is central to most mainstream churches and is interwoven, at times very poorly indeed, into our doxology and prayer-life. It is everywhere, in fact. Except one crucial place - at least in its "everywhereness".

I want to put this now into perspective. Let us imagine that we are among the 3000 mentioned in Acts that rapidly became followers of the Way, but that this all happened at the close of 2014. We now follow Jesus, he is our true Lord, we can call on him, although we mainly still devote our pray lives to God, whom Jesus so powerfully revealed as Father, we receive God's Holy Spirit, we see God working powerfully in many ways and many lives and situations are transformed. We have life. We have joy. We have forgiveness. We experience belonging and hope. The Messiah has come at last as God had promised, he has even shown us what God is like. Yes, for within a decade or three, in fact we have powerful teachers who even expound that Jesus perfectly represented and reflected God here on Earth. Some of us have started to "fall asleep" already, but our children are getting the picture, Jesus Christ's reign and kingdom and authority are forever, because they are God-appointed. However, in almost every case, our leading spiritual authorities of the Way are careful to make distinctions between God himself and Jesus. No-one believes in or talks about anything like the Holy Trinity... in fact, for people to believe and discuss that this is central (and required) is going to take another 300 years, approximately the year 2314.

So for people who think that this is a simple affair, or was a simple affair, they are missing out a crucial point: this doctrine, as beautiful and defensible as we might find it now, is not obvious, since neither our children, nor our children's children would have believed in it with the same scriptures we have and use now. Our children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's would be starting to make that breakthrough however three centuries from now.

Food for thought.

UPDATE: An exchange with Trinities collaborator Chad McIntosh, leads me to think that while I may have agreement from my trinitarian friends about some kind of a progressive revelation over the first three centuries (so possibly OK on the not-obvious argument), I probably do not have their agreement that it is not natural. My couter-argument to that is probably going to centre around McIntosh's own group-persons theory. If we were made for this kind of relationship with the One who is Three, and that is natural, then why would some church traditions need to either:
- simply collapse the trinity into Christ, who is Father, is the Son and the Holy Spirit, or
- name this group-identity "Jesus", while still keeping some underlying (or annexed) understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit distinctions ?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Little chicks!

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

This passage is found in Matthew 23:37. It has been a verse that I have always held dear, for it is incredible really to see Jesus so compassionate and loving in the midst of pronouncing judgement. Also, it is a verse I have always taken to mean, in the context of some Old Testament references, and even since I tried to put down my "Nicene goggles", as a good passage in support the eternal Lord Jesus, eternal not just forward in time, but back as well - what Tuggy refers to as the "pre-human Jesus" (I don't like this title I must confess).

So for me - along with a bunch of other passages, this passage I have always maintained as a suggestive passage of something like Nicea.

H O W E V E R, today I am reconsidering that position on this passage, because of some light shed from commentaries which provide a more obvious alternative suggestion that I never considered before. This is R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew from The New International Commentary of the New Testament, a well respected and recent scholarly series, taken from page 883:

"The same charge of killing the prophets which Jesus has directed to the scribes and Pharisees in vv. 29-32 (and by implication to the chief priests and elders in 21:34-36) is now applied to the city as a whole; the specific mention of stoning (cf. 21:35) reflects what happened to the Zechariah of v.35, according to 2 Chr 24:21 (and to Jeremiah according to later legend, Liv. Pro. 2:1). But it will soon be the fate of Stephen as well, also in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58-59), and since Jesus has just spoken in v. 34 of how his own emissaries will soon be treated, there may be a future as well as a past dimension to this charge.

Jesus' words suggest a more frequent and extended appeal to Jerusalem than has been recorded just in chs. 21-22; this is one of the hints which occur int he Synoptic Gospels that the writers were aware of Jesus' previous visits to Jerusalem (as the Fourth Gospel records them) even though they have chosen to record only the one climactic arrival. His appeal to them as Messiah should have been unifying and protective, like the instinctive action of a mother bird, but it has instead been counterproductive, and will result not in safety but in destruction. The blame is placed firmly on their choice, like the Jerusalem of Isaiah's day who refused God's offer of security through trusting  him (Isa 30:15-16).

The almost wistful note of this lament over Jerusalem provides an important counterbalance to the sharpness of the preceding polemic. As Jesus contemplates what lies ahead of the people he came to save, it gives him no pleasure. He had "wanted" to gather them, not condemn them."

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Matthew 21: The Parable of the Tenants, the question of SENDING, and the limits of analogy and poetic language

I came across this in my main study today and considered whether or not it is of any use to us in the quest for the truth of 4th and 5th century creeds in the pages of Scripture. At first I thought there might be some mileage in developing the whole idea of “sending”. Trinitarians get quite excited about the Johannine passages that speak of Jesus being sent into the world… they presume from his pre-human-but-utterly-alive-continuously-begotten state into flesh, rather than God’s personified word being enfleshed in the man Jesus.

So in this parable, the owner of the vineyard “sends” multiple servants, before finally sending his son, who is killed. Of course, none of these sons pre-existed because they were "sent".

I am, however, cautious about using this example for the very reasons that Stephen Holmes is keen to highlight. He looks at our tendency = to disregard the dis-analogies in the use of metaphor (see Trinities episodes 42 and 43). It reminded me of John 1:6, and I thought, wow God does a lot of sending and birthing supernaturally to other people too! If any of these non-Jesus references had been said of Jesus, I am sure they would have been paraded in similar ways to John 1:2's English "he" (see this post and also how I attempt to bring clarification through it, and the French "elle" in reference to the Logos to the slightly side-tracked Trinities discussion here).

However, Holmes' words of warning have left an indelible mark on me, and we need to be careful to see this picture as ... a picture, not a statement of hard fact, but conveying truth about God's love for mankind and his judgement for those who reject it, I guess. This same logic, should, I feel, also be applied to passages like Isaiah 9, which do not work in the details, but do function in a broader wider way. I mention this example as a side response to my friend D., whom I have asked to send me some more info on Isaiah 9.