Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Look Thirsty

Modern Theological critique of Trinitarian Doctrine asserts the doctrine is aloof from Christian experience, that it is presented only as one more set of propositions about the divine being which are to be accepted along with a variety of other topics with pat answers and descriptions for memorization and recapitulation. Critics claim that these propositions are not only disconnected from Christian experience, but Trinitarian propositions are essentially irrelevant to the remainder of Christian teaching.

In Retrieving Nicaea, Khaled Anatolios counters that, while the modern critique is not without merit with regard to how Trinitarian teaching is presented even by orthodox Christians in these days, the modern correctives suggested have not taken sufficient account of the pervasive manner in which the Trinitarian doctrine is holistically expressed in 3rd, 4th, and 5th century patristic theology. For the teachers involved in these discussions, from Origen to Augustine, ones conception of the Triune God (in particular, how one related the primacy of God and the primacy of Christ to the creation) would of necessity further impact cosmology, anthropology, soteriology, scriptural hermeneutics, epistemology, worship, sanctification, and sacramental theology. The point here is that Anatolios shows that all of these teachers recognized the relevance of Trinitarian assertions relative to the entire body of Christian teaching.

The Baptismal formula as the locus for baptismal theology is a good example distinguishing Nicene theology from other formulations. Anatolios demonstrates that the proponents of various theological formulations in these discussions shared a common heritage of presuppositions and practices. He reviews a list of these on pages 36-38. The very first of them is a shared creedal and liturgical heritage in the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The New Testament references to the Trinity, particularly the Baptismal formula from Matthew 28 provided a foundational practical theology with which every Christian was familiar from their own baptism, especially if they had been baptized as adults. The baptismal formula as a common theological heritage not only for the learned and the bishops, but also for all the baptized gave testimony to the practical reality of God’s Trinitarian presence throughout the Church’s life together.

Arius, Eusebius, and Eunomius have nowhere to go in describing the Holy Spirit once they have made the Son essentially subordinate to the Father. As they protect the divine prerogative of the one true God by conceding the Son as essentially separate no matter how united in purpose, the Triune relationship of the Holy Spirit has become exhausted to the extent that they are not able to continue articulating a theology of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is a cursory thought appended as a conclusion, a Spirit greater than all other angelic spirits. The baptismal formula for these is retained as a matter of tradition, but their theological contemplation has not extended to the practical theological soteriological moment when the Triune God saves sinners from death by His name.

By contrast, the pro-Nicene fathers have no qualms about extending their descriptions of the divine essence to the very extent Christ Jesus described in the baptismal formula in Matthew 28. While the anti-Nicene theologians avoid, stumble over, or dismiss the Holy Spirit as to the Divine Essence once they have subordinated the Son, the pro-Nicene theologians employ a robust theology of the Holy Spirit as their argument’s coup de grace.  Athanasius, Gregory, and Augustine all follow up their defense of the divinity of the Son by detailing Jesus’ words and promises regarding the Holy Spirit’s person and work. A primary reason for His ascension is so that the Church may receive the Holy Spirit for her mission. The Holy Spirit will convert, teach, remind, anoint, comfort, vivify, reconcile, and unify sinners into the Body of Christ.

They are able to bring their argument full circle from the Baptismal formula itself, through all the various theological topics identified previously, right back to the baptismal experience every Christian has had. In this manner, their Trinitarian theology is supremely relevant to their hearers and readers. God the Father’s adoption, God the Son’s salvific work, and God the Holy Spirit’s regeneration are all signed, sealed, and delivered by water and the Word. If moderns have come to believe the doctrine of the Trinity irrelevant to the faith and life of Christians, a return to Scriptural Baptism may well slake their thirst.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Nicene Way toward Spiritual Formation - Cyril of Jerusalem

Our Lord directed His Church to make disciples of all nations baptizing and teaching. Cyril of Jerusalem considers the moment of Baptism a sharp line of demarcation. Baptism is a liturgical[1], sacramental, pedagogical, and apologetic “line in the sand” for His catechumens.[2] The central sacrament of the Christian initiation into the mysteries of Christian faith is also bound to the central Christian narrative in Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Feast of the Resurrection. The act of baptism, while surrounded by mystery within Cyril’s ministry, is still public enough that the newly baptized will face overt challenges to their new life in Christ.[3]

Challenges to reject their new confession, by false teaching or by immoral living, will come from within and without. The challenges from within are construed primarily as moral temptations; special reference is given to violence and sexual immorality.[4] Moral temptations can initiate from the flesh, but significant weight is given the Devil as tempter and so to the benefit of spiritual warfare conducted through the exorcisms awaiting the enrollees during the baptismal liturgy.[5]

Challenges from without will emerge once they enroll themselves for Baptism including heresies from others in the church, Jews[6], and pagans, each posing different arguments against the revelation of salvation by God from sin and death in Christ Jesus incarnation[7], sacrificial death on the cross[8], and resurrection.

Cyril is working to equip lay people with faithful answers to contemporary questions about the nature of biblical faith.[9] His primary concern in these writings is not polemical, but pastoral; though, he cannot completely leave aside warning his hearers of errors they are likely to encounter.[10] He argues forcefully for the truth through some reasoned arguments and many rounds of typological proof texts.[11] While he warns his hearers that these concerns are often simply deceptions and arguments about words, he still provides them basic language for both identifying errors and professing the truth.[12]

Cyril is able to employ philosophical argumentation[13], but when there is a need to elaborate on a teaching, he regularly employs a wide range of analogies.[14]  By means of these analogies, His teaching encourages his hearers to appreciate that their new faith can be illuminated in popular ways, while its truth is affirmed by Scripture.[15] Apologetically and experientially, Cyril gives his hearers scripts which they can effectively use to confirm their faith.

[1] Mystagogic Catechesis #2 interprets all the baptized’s actions in the baptism liturgy in light of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Cyril wants each Christian to identify with Christ drawing direct lines of teaching between the Passion Narrative and their Baptismal experience concluding that Jesus’ purpose in becoming man was “for us and for our salvation” p. 175
[2] p. 95, no. 15 “For all your misdeeds will be forgiven, even fornication, adultery or any other form of licentiousness. What sin is greater than crucifying Christ? Yet even this can be washed away by baptism.” Cyril goes on to prove this assertion with the Biblical example from Acts 2 as Peter offers forgiveness of sins through Baptism into Christ Jesus to those who had crucified Him.
Mystagogic Catechesis #1 equates the ritual actions with the Biblical narrative
[3] p. 82, no. 10 “You are being given weapons to use against the powers ranged against you, weapons against heresies, against Jews and Samaritans and pagans. You have many enemies…You must learn how to shoot down the Greek, how to fight against the heretic, the Jew and the Samaritan.”
[4] P. 147, no. 34 Cyril concludes catechesis 12 on the virgin birth with an exhortation to chastity.
[5] p. 82, no. 9, after describing the process to purify gold by fire, Cyril relates that purification process to liturgical exorcisms in the Baptismal rite.
p. 170-172, Mystogogic Chatechesis #1 details the right of Exorcism making plain that the baptized is removed from the kingdom Satan and into the Kingdom of God just as certainly as the people of Israel under Moses departed Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and arrived at Mt. Sinai in order to focus the biblical narrative through Christ and to the newly baptized.
[6] P. 122, citations from Exodus 33-34 and Psalm 110 are united to Luke 2:10-11 by common use of the term “Lord”
p. 125, no. 14, “The Jews accept that he is Jesus, but do not yet accept that He is Lord…” yet, he then goes on to cite Hebrew Prophets and Jewish New Testament believers as evidence that Jewish unbelief is not cast in stone.
[7] Catechesis 12 sets the purpose for the incarnation squarely on the foundation of God’s mercy, and the forgiveness of sins. Cyril recounts sections of the OT which testify to sin and prophetic words anticipating God’s mercy and immanent presence with His people.
[8] In Catechesis 13 the cross provides an open door to several OT/NT prophetic moves: First Adam/Second Adam, Tree of the Garden/Tree of the Cross, Day of Atonement lamb, and Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The cross also provides Cyril an opportunity to connect with his audience regarding his hometown; he is able to recount the passion narrative and Jesus’ way of sorrows as though he was an eye witness.
[9] p. 141, no. 5, “So because of the strength of this opposition [questioning the virgin birth] and the many forms the resistance takes, listen, and by Christ’s grace and with the help of your prayers I shall answer each of these difficulties.”
p. 161, no. 37 “If you ever get into a controversy and have no arguments to put forward, let your faith remain unshaken.”
[10] p. 131-134, nos. 7-13
p. 136, no. 18, “To make the point more precisely, we must not separate, we must not make a compound [of God]. Nor should you say that the Son was ever alien to the Father, or listen to those who say that the Father is at one time Father, at another Son. These teachings are outlandish and blasphemous, and not the teachings of the Church.”
[11] p. 91, Cyril identifies instances of water in the OT narrative typologically with Baptism to elucidate various baptismal motifs and promises: Regeneration, New Creation, defeating spiritual enemies, death and resurrection, crossing from earth to heaven, uncleanness to purification – implying prospective admission into the presence of God. John the Baptizer, the transitional figure, prophesies to the distinct Spirit-giving work which Jesus’ Baptism initiates for the Church at Pentecost. All of these are narrative biblical arguments which rely on the Scriptural text for Baptism’s theological significance.
p. 123-4 Jesus is typologically compared with Aaron as High Priest, Melchizedek the priest of God Most High, and Joshua the son of Nun
[12] In Catechesis 11, Cyril incorporates the philosophical/disputed terms into a running commentary on biblical texts distinguishing between Jesus’ Sonship by nature and the believer’s sonship by adoption. This distinction between nature and adoption is easy to grasp, affirms the truth, and gives hearers a script that they can use outside the church to explain their faith. Distinguishing between nature and adoption translates the technical terms into popular, yet biblical, terminology.
[13] p. 130, no. 4, “begotten”, “inscrutable”, “incomprehensible”
[14] p. 138, no. 22, the illustration of the King and the King’s son who exercises authority in the name of the King
[15] For an example of Cyril’s flexibility in moving from one mode of argumentation to another, p. 121, nos. 5-7 shows Cyril relating the biblical titles of Christ to pastoral concerns including analogies between Christ and various other human helpers; Biblical evidence for the divinity of Christ from Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 19; followed by citing Paul’s analogous use of the Wilderness Wandering Rock that was Christ, 1 Corinthians 10.

Sunday Morning Ministries Cross Cultures

This morning, I preached God's word to God's people from God's text in God's house.

I did it only by God's grace.

I know it was only by God's grace because I am getting to appreciate again the insurmountable barriers each one of those moves demands. They are insurmountable by any human measure; still, the homily goes out and God condescends to act through it.

By any human measure, the level of noise which disturbs the transmission of any heavenly word to any human ear (to say nothing of heart, mind, soul, or the rest of the body) would make any reasonable person not only doubt that such a thing is possible, but likely stand back and respond like Bill Cosby's Noah, "Yeah, right!"

First off, there is the Biblical Event itself - this concern begins with narratives from the history sections of the Bible. The Old Testament history, the Gospels, and Acts are all given from God's point of view. The details we want to be there often aren't and the questions we want answered are left hanging. Instead of providing a complete account as we would imagine it, God shares what saves.

Gospel writer, John, freely admits that he hasn't written everything down, but has written down what promotes faith, hope, and love in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. (John 20:31) So we know from the start that we don't have everything that happened, but we are promised that we have everything that we need for God's purpose.

So the biblical event in history contains details that are not given in the text, now what are we to do with that? We can judge that the text is worthless, because it is obviously not a complete record. On the other hand, we can judge that the details we have been given are the ones that matter. Even more to the point, they are the details that matter not just for me, but that there is actually something in this book for everyone. (This is something to keep in mind when we read something we don't understand)

So I am totally dependent on God's grace for the text I read to begin working on my sermon. 

Thank God for the text.

In later posts in this series, I will take up
  • the author
  • the audience
  • the Pastor as hearer and reader in his own culture
  • the contemporary hearer, and
  • the worship setting
each with its own part to play as the sermon moves from heaven to earth and through culture to culture.

Biblical Event <noise> Author <noise> Author's Ideal Hearer <noise> Pastor <noise> Contemporary Hearer <noise> Worship Context