Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2010

Thought this was relevant to the triune creation stuff I’ve been blogging.  This is what you get when you mess with “Let us“…

It’s also a good reminder not to make “nothing” into a big black something.  To say that God creates out of nothing is not to imagine a gigantic, universe-shaped hole into which creation then slots.  It means that before creation, the Father, Son and Spirit were all of reality.  When He creates God is massively relativized by the cosmos.  Creation is the beginning of the Lord’s humbling that climaxes at the cross.

.

Read Full Post »

…continued from here

Creation

Where has creation come from?  There are three popular options.

1) Maybe it’s come out of some problem in the heavenly realms.  Perhaps it’s the body of a slain monster as in the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish – literally a monstrosity.  Perhaps, as the Gnostics would have it, creation arises after a member of the spiritual realm has been sin-binned for some misdemeanor.  Again, this being who is outside the spiritual constitutes creation.  Perhaps – a popular one today – it’s arisen from explosions and endless struggle.  In these variations on a theme the underlying belief is that fall precedes creation and gives rise to it.

2) Another option is to say that creation has always existed.  It’s just an immovable, eternal fact – godlike in its own right.  Here, if you believe in God, he’s got his hands tied and basically does his best with the materials available.

3) A third option is to say creation is a matter of the will.  There is first a God (or some power or principle), and creation exists alongside as a demonstration of his power.  To get to the heart of all things is not to find a heart at all but only force.

Interestingly our modern creation myth is a synthesis of all these errors.  We are the result of explosions, chaos, death and struggle; God (if he exists) is a far-off clockmaker and really the only way to live in such a world is to acknowledge that might is right and propagate our selfish genes.

But there is another way to see creation.  And the trinity is crucial.

As Irenaeus and Athanasius saw it, the Father of all was first Father of the Son Whom He loves.  And this Father-Son love in the Spirit provides the key to understanding creation rightly.  Robert Jenson puts it well:

The Father’s love of the Son is… the possibility of creation.  Insofar as to be a creature is to be other than God, we may say that the Father’s love of the Son as other than himself is the possibility of creation’s otherness from God. (R.Jenson: Systematic Theology, vol 2, p48.)

The massive significance of this can be seen when we ask the question, what is it like to be ‘other’ than God?

With option 1) above, to be other than God is to be a cosmic embarrassment, the fruit of a defect.  With option 2) to be other than God means to be a cog in an impersonal machine.  With option 3) to be other than God is to be a slave.  But with the triune God, to be Other than God is to be beloved and included.

In eternity the Son has been Other to God.  He is the Father’s eternal complement as Body to Head (1 Cor 11:3).  Otherness is therefore not competitive or defective but corresponding and desired.  And creation that is in Christ and through Christ and for Christ is the extension of this eternal love-for-otherness.  Colin Gunton says:

To create in the Son means to create by the mediation of the One who is the way of God out into that which is not Himself.  (Triune Creator, p144)

Before creation there was not nothing and there were not wars, there was a Loving Father eternally anointing His Son in the Spirit.  And as Irenaeus has said, that Son is called Christ “since through Him the Father anoints and adorns all things.” (Demonstration §53)

That’s worth meditating on!

For Irenaeus, even our individual formation in the womb comes through Christ.  (Ad. Her. IV.31.2; V.15.3)

The Father of Jesus brought all things into existence from nothing through His two hands – the Son and the Spirit, His Word and Wisdom.

For the hands of God in Scripture see, for e.g. Isaiah 48:13, 51:9; Psalm 98:1; Ezekiel 3:14,16; Daniel 5:5; 10:10f; Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20.

So Irenaeus says:

This hand of God which formed us at the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back His own, and taking up the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life.  (Ad. Her. V.15.2);

And, because God is rational, he therefore created what is made by his Word, and, as God is Spirit, so he disposed everything by his Spirit. (Demonstration. 5.);

For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things. (Ad. Her. IV.20.1)

On all these points, Athanasius was in agreement.

The key advance which Athanasius made with regard to a Christological doctrine of creation was his definitive differentiation between the Son’s eternal generation from the Father and creation’s in-time manufacture.  Irenaeus would surely have agreed with Athanasius on these points but he didn’t have an Arius forcing him to articulate his position in quite the same way.

The issue arose because for Arius the world was willed by a God who is not essentially Father and therefore not essentially Lover.  The world is a product of will.  And Christ too is the off-shoot of this will since he must be made as a demi-god mediator in order to (somehow!) bridge the infinite otherness-gap of God and creation.  All of this is the absurdity of unitarianism.  Yet it was Arius who found trinitarian thinking absurd.

He would ask Athanasius, “Why do you say there was a time when creation began to exist, but not a time when the Son began to exist? What convincing distinction can be made between begetting and making?”

Athanasius answers that there is a crucial distinction between what is begotten and what is willed.  Paternity is a matter of essence, not will. As soon as a father has a son he is a father.  Therefore the Father has always been Father just as the Son has always existed.  Yet creating is a matter of will not essence – one can be a maker before one actually makes.  Therefore, just because God has always been Maker does not mean that there has always been something that is made (i.e. creation).

So creation has a beginning in time but the Son does not.  Jesus is the Father’s Son by nature (or essence), creation is God’s handiwork by will. He is Begotten not Made as the creed now says.

But here’s the good bit – the Father has willed a commitment to the creation that is very much tied to His essential commitment to the Son.  The creature is lovingly and purposefully willed by the Father as that which is ‘after’ His eternal Image Whom He loves. His love for the creature corresponds to His love for the Son, for when He beholds the creation He delights ‘in seeing the works made after His own Image; even this rejoicing of God is on account of His own Image.’ (Contra Arianus. II.82)

Because of the mediation of the Son, creation could never be a matter of indifference to the Father.  The love with which He has loved the Son is now bound up in the world He has made for Him.  But precisely because it is for Him then Athanasius has successfully reversed Arius’ heretical proposition:

It is not He who was created for us, but we are created for Him. (Contra Arianus, II.31)

A properly trinitarian account of creation has therefore preserved the honour of Christ as Divine Creator but also the honour of the world as beloved creature.

Where have we gotten to?

I do not live in a monstrous reality arising from chaos.  I don’t live in a grand, impersonal machine.  And I don’t exist for the magnification of might.  I am from the Father, created purposefully out of His overflowing love through the Son, and – by the Spirit – for Him.

It’s that “for Him that’s we’ll discuss next time.  We will consider the purpose for creation.

More to come…

.

Read Full Post »

…continued from here

To know Christ is to know the ‘one Lord… through Whom all things came and through Whom we live.’ (1 Cor 8:6).  Therefore, without a Christological doctrine of creation, it is not simply that Christ’s work will be incomprehensible, Christ Himself will be blasphemed.

Thus, against the heresies of the sub-Apostolic era, it fell to theologians such as Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200) and Athanasius (c. 297 – 373) to uphold the continuity of creation and redemption.  They were able to do so precisely because, for them, Christ and His work was not a metaphysical conundrum to be solved – how can the Creator-Word become flesh? Instead, the Word-become-flesh was the Rock upon which they built (cf Col 2:8f; John 14:6; Matthew 11:25-27; Colossians 1:15; John 1:18)

Trevor Hart makes this analysis of Irenaeus:

[he made] the person of the Incarnate Son his dogmatic starting point, rather than the dualistic framework provided by the categories of Greek thought.

(T. Hart, ‘Irenaeus, recapitulation and physical redemption’, Christ in Our Place, Ed: Trevor Hart and Daniel Thimell, Paternoster, 1989. p.179)

Athanasius’ starting point is similarly Christocentric:

The first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.  (De incarn. 1)

These men were not concerned to hold creation and redemption together in an abstract sense (so as to keep a balanced theological ledger).  Rather their commitment to Christ as Beginning and End of all things forced them to think through creation and redemption as the one divine work of the One Divine Word.  The Bishops of Lyon and Alexandria were therefore able to maintain the coherence of creation and redemption in Christ and therefore to guard the gospel that still speaks powerfully today into our confusions.

To begin with, we will look at the confusions of their day as the context for their theology.

Heresies

The early Church was assailed on all sides by those who divorced their understanding of Christ and His work from their understanding of the creator God.  Those heresies which were most pernicious were precisely those which insisted on the centrality of Christ to redemption.  Yet immediately the question must be raised ‘Redemption from what? And to what? And by Whom?’

The answers given by Marcion (c.80 – c. 160) were disturbing.  Christ saves us from the Creator God of the Old Testament who is bad (viz. involvement with creation), capricious, legalistic and not the Father of Jesus.  The death of Christ purchases salvation and His soul’s rising from death gives hope for our own soulish afterlife.

The Gnostic, Valentinus (in Rome from c. 136-165), provided Irenaeus with his chief ‘whipping boy’.  He taught that the creator is not the Supreme Being but, as Irenaeus caricatures, ‘the fruit of a defect’ existing in a long chain of deity (the pleroma) which kept the created order at a great (almost by definition, unbridgeable) distance.  Christ is simply one emanation from this pleroma (lit. ‘fullness’) as opposed to the One in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (Col 2:9).  He came to save the true pneumatikoi (the ‘spiritual’) from this material world through imparting secret gnosis (‘knowledge’).

Arius (c. 250 – c. 336), was perhaps the most serious threat to orthodox Christianity because his account of Christ’s saving work was so apparently Scriptural.  The ‘what’ of the cross was set forth plainly.  Yet the ‘Who’ of the cross proved the decisive error.  Arius committed the fundamental mistake outlined in the introduction – that of deciding his doctrines of God, of man and of creation in advance of considering the God-Man Creator.  For him, the Divine Being is unitary and without distinctions, must be un-begotten, can have no contact with creation and can never partake in human (i.e. changeable) existence.  Of course he could subscribe to none of these views if Christ were his dogmatic foundation. Thus it fell naturally to Athanasius, whose Christocentricity we have noted, to defeat this terrible heresy.

All of these heresies fail, not only on the point of Christ’s identity but also on the goal of His redemption.  And such failures have contemporary echoes.  If God and the created order are necessarily incompatible then you may have an earthy salvation but not true fellowship with God (think of Islam where paradise is exceedingly carnal but a place from which Allah is conspicuously absent).  On the other hand you might have a spiritual future but only by escaping the creation (think of Buddhism or the new age movement).  But how do you have both?

You need to affirm what Irenaeus and Athanasius saw so clearly: creation and salvation are part of the one divine work of the one divine Word.

More to come…

.

Read Full Post »

Famously Adolf Von Harnack asserted in the History of Dogma that much of Christian theology betrayed the “work of the Greek spirit on the soil of the gospel.”  Now to be fair, the old liberal didn’t have much gospel himself but the observation has something to it.

On the one hand we have the Scriptures beginning with a very good creation, full of promises of land and seed and a Saviour taking flesh to renew heaven and earth.  On the other we have a Hellenizing spirit which pits body and soul, earth and heaven, time and eternity against each other.   When this spirit meets this gospel – and Harnack was right, this is a perennial danger – it always yields bad fruit.

But in this series I want to look at two towering exceptions in the history of theology – Irenaeus and Athanasius.  In their day they resisted ‘the Greek spirit’ and called the church back to the fertile soil of the gospel.  There they found the Fountainhead of those unities which escaped the philosophers of this age.  In Jesus Christ they saw creation and salvation held together as one work performed by one Word.  And from there flowed a unified account of all reality.

In our own day we would do well to hear their voices.  Because we too find it completely obvious to fall for the old dualisms.

In the realm of the body, we see self-harm and eating disorders, promiscuity and confusion over sexual identity, compulsive dieting and body-building, cosmetic surgery and gender re-assignment.  These are problems commonly found in the world but also in our churches.  We seem deeply uncomfortable with our bodily existence.

In the realm of the environment, we see the extremes of those who simply consume the earth and those who worship it.

In worship there are the ritualists who consider their sacramental practice to work ex opere operato and there are the low church minimalists running scared from anything physical.

And theologically, as we consider the relationship of creation and redemption, some mistake political harmony, social justice or economic liberation for salvation.  In reaction, some cut loose creation from salvation with an anti-physical gospel and an escapist eschatology.  And some will dissolve any final distinction between creation and redemption and opt for universalism.

In view of this, the proper co-ordination of creation and redemption (and its attendant co-ordinations of body and soul, time and eternity, etc, etc) is a vital task for us all.

Irenaeus and Athanasius are going to help us massively.  And they will help because they put Jesus Christ at the centre of their thinking.

More to come…

.

Read Full Post »

Happy Friday

You can watch whole episodes of the IT Crowd here.

.

Read Full Post »

Mike Reeves talks about Adam and Christ in these great audios on sin and evil.  Once we frame creation and salvation as the story of two men we see things much clearer.

For one thing we’re able to honour Christ not only as Substitute but also as Representative.  And we need both.

You see Christ drinks the cup so that – in one sense – we don’t have to (Mark 10:38).  But in another sense we do drink the cup He drinks and are baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised (Mark 10:39).  He does die for us so that we do not face that same judging fire – this is His substitution.  But we also die in Him experiencing it as a purifying fire – this is His representation.

We tend to be good at ‘substitution’ talk but not so good at ‘representation’ talk.  Consider this fairly common way of conceiving salvation and judgement…

salvation-judgement1

Here the key players are the saved and the damned.  Christ is not in the picture.  But of course once we’ve set things up like this, Christ becomes extremely necessary.  But He’s necessary in that the cross becomes the accounting tool required to balance the justice books.  Without the cross the story doesn’t work.  So in that sense Christ is central.  But in effect, He’s a peripheral figure only required because other factors are calling the shots.

When things are viewed like this, Christ is very much thought of as ‘substitute’ but not really ‘representative’.  And, when the details are pressed, even His substitution will start to look very unlike the biblical portrait.

We need a better formulation.  We’ll think of 1 Peter 4 and then tie this back to Adam and Christ.

In 1 Peter 4:17 it says that judgement begins with the house of God.  It doesn’t say ‘Judgement avoids the house of God.’  It begins there.  It begins with Christ, the true Temple of God.  It continues with the church, the temple of God in another sense.  But then it flows out to the world – God’s house in yet another sense.

salvation-judgement2

Here humanity is judged.  And this is where Adam and Christ will be so helpful for us.

The LORD pronounces His curse on Adam.  And all humanity is in him.  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12)  It is a universal judgement.  No exceptions.  The only path to salvation is the path through judgement.

But Adam is a type of the One to come (Rom 5:14).  He was only ever setting the scene for Christ to take centre stage.  And He does so, assuming the very humanity of Adam as substitute and representative.

salvation-judgement31

Here centre stage is not occupied by the two bodies of people (the damned and the saved).  What’s driving everything is the two humanities (Adam and Christ).  And the former is expressly a type of the Latter.  And the Latter expressly assumes the fate of the former.  So that in all things Christ will have the preeminence! (Col 1:18)

These diagrams were originally used in a blog post on judgement and salvation in Isaiah and for a sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).

.

Read Full Post »

Here’s a terrific excerpt from One Million Tiny Plays About Britain by Craig Taylor.  It was a Guardian column that sadly was never allowed to reach its goal…

.

Two old women finish their tea at a cafe in Lichfield. One holds the bill…

Anna Oh, you. Now don’t be so utterly ridiculous.

Eva I insist. I insist, my dear.

Anna Absolutely not and I won’t hear another word from silly old you.

Eva Well, I won’t hand it over.

Anna You give it to me right now.

Eva I won’t. I won’t, and that’s the end of it.

Anna I can’t have you paying for this, can I?

Eva You paid for the last tea.

Anna And that was nearly a year ago, silly.

Eva Exactly. Just put that wallet away now, you troublemaker.

Anna That’s enough. Give it to me.

Eva I’m going to pay and that’s that.

Anna Then I’m putting some money in your purse.

Eva You’re going nowhere near my purse.

Anna I need to say thank you.

Eva Then a simple thank you’s enough.

Anna You know how I feel about this, dear.

Eva Well, fair is fair.

Anna I don’t believe it is fair, if you don’t mind.

Eva Then you can take me out for a nice meal next time, can’t you?

Anna This is my treat.

Eva It is completely my treat and I want to pay. The end.

Anna No. [Pause]

Eva Now sit down. I’m just going to put it on my credit card and we’ll go on with our lovely afternoon.

Anna Tell me how much it is.

Eva And we’ll see the dahlias out in Biddulph.

Anna I’ll sit right here then. I’ll just sit.

Eva Well, you’re being silly.

Anna You’re being silly.

Eva I don’t want your money. A simple thank you is fine.

Anna I’d like to give you some money.

Eva Just say thank you now. Just say it.

.

The anger is palpable.

And notice that their civility isn’t actually a cover for their rage – it is precisely the vehicle for it.  Far from hiding their hostility, their manners are the menacing thing.  They will kill each other with ‘kindness.’

But what is this ‘kindness’ that they hurl at each other?

‘Fair is fair.’ ‘I want to pay.’ ‘I don’t want your money.’

They may as well say ‘I don’t want your friendship.’  For what friendship is founded on ‘fairness’ and ‘payment’?  No these are not the words of friends.  And this is not a demonstration of good manners.  Here their manners are their weapons.  And they destroy themselves and each other by them.

What is the essence of this ‘friendship’?  What throbs away at the heart of this ‘civility’?   It is their refusal to receive in gratitude.  The turning of gift into duty.  A determination to achieve what can only be given.

And by this mentality, however cultured, they despise the gratuity of God’s little pleasures and they despise each other.  Here is the clenched fist in the presence of grace.  It is the deepest perversion of all our natures.

And it’s all amply illustrated by two old ladies in a tea shop.

.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »