Friday, November 19, 2010

T. F. Torrance Retreat

I had the opportunity to participate in the first annual (probably) T. F. Torrance Retreat this week at the Firbush Retreat Center on Loch Tay (pictured) here in Scotland. It was an absolutely glorious experience. The setting was beautiful, perhaps more so for the horrific weather, the wind and rain beating down on the beautiful lake (loch) and mountains. There were spectacular, if wet and muddy, walks through forests and down by the lake. But more importantly and equally wonderful were the paper and discussion sessions. These were given by scholars and pastors intimately familiar with, and some related to, Torrance and his work. All were fantastic, as were the Q&A sessions due to the makeup of the group of about 25 people, roughly 1/3 doctoral students doing dissertations on Torrance, and the other 2/3 being pastors and professors of theology. Us students were eating up all the anecdotes about Torrance given by those who had personally known him.

As I said, the papers were great. Bob Walker, nephew and student of TFT and organizer of the event, gave three papers:
  • An introduction to the material in Incarnation and Atonement, the two volumes of Christology lectures Torrance gave at New College, University of Edinburgh edited by Bob.
  • Resurrection, Ascension and Eschatology
  • The Holy Spirit: The Completion of Atonement and the Apostolic Foundation of the Church
These papers were all outstanding and faithful restatements of TFT's thinking on each of these topics. The conversation after each was deep and engaging and Bob's extensive knowledge of his uncle's writings and thought was impressive as he interacted with the questions.

David Torrance, younger brother of T. F. and J. B. Torrance and a remarkable theologian and pastor in his own right, gave a paper on the Vicarious Humanity of Jesus and another on The Doctrine of the Church. These were unquestionably the highlight of the week for me, though I really cannot offer much of a helpful summary of either paper beyond what could be guessed by anyone with a knowledge of Torrance theology by the titles. David is very much a pastor with a profound theological mind. That is to say, he is not first a theologian who might be distinguished by a pastoral bent, but a minister of Jesus Christ who has a profound grasp of the inner coherence of God's love in the Gospel and an ability to articulate it in a way that is both intellectually satisfying but more importantly, spiritually potent. I have an ever increasing sense that T. F. Torrance was the same sort of man. Though David did not have the academic career of his brothers or nephews (Iain and Alan in particular), he very well could have, having been offered teaching jobs such as a chair in systematic theology at the University of Edinburgh but turning them down because of his calling to parish ministry. The papers he gave, the Q&A sessions afterward, and a few personal conversations I was able to have with him, all gave me a clear sense of the kind of theologian, or rather minister of the Gospel, I want to be.

Offering balance with a more traditional Calvinist perspective, Andrew McGowan, minister in Inverness and former principal and professor of Reformed Theology at Highland Theological College, gave a paper on Participation in Christ. While agreeing with TFT that Reformed soteriology needs to have a greater stress on the inclusion of the believer in the person and work of Christ than the Westminster Confession gave it, having itself a more exclusively forensic understanding, he then distinguished between four ways of understanding that inclusion: deification in the traditional Eastern Orthodox sense, theosis as differentiated from deification by Myk Habbets in his recently published dissertation (McGowan thinks Habbets characterizes TFT's position inaccurately on this point), participation in Christ as advocated by Julie Canlis, Bruce McCormack, and TFT (McGowan thinking TFT's position is better understood as participation than theosis), and communion with Christ, which McGowan advocates. The conversations that followed were lively. I greatly appreciated McGowan's willingness to be the sole voice of critique of TFT's understandings of election and soteriology as his clear thinking and commitment to his tradition made for a much more interesting discussion than would have been possible without him.

Last but certainly not least was Bruce Ritchie's remarkable paper on the Gospel and the Question of Universalism in Torrance's thought. This one might need its own post. It was intensely interesting. Ritchie acknowledged that Torrance's position here is explicitly and self-consciously inconsistent - Christ has reconciled all humanity to himself through his life, death and resurrection, accomplishing universal atonement, yet people may still end up in hell by rejecting the grace Christ gives them and thus falsifying its work for them. Ritchie told of being a student of Torrance's and hearing him answer the question whether anyone would end up in hell with a clear statement that yes, Scripture clearly teaches that those who deny the Gospel will end up in hell. But then, after gathering his things and preparing to leave the class, he grew a mischievous grin and said the Scripture also said in Revelation 20:14 that in the end death and hell would be destroyed, briskly leaving the room after saying this. Though Torrance apparently left open the possibility of eternal salvation, he didn't press this possibility explicitly in his more well known writings as Barth did at the end of Church Dogmatics IV.3.1 for example. More often he pressed the more clear biblical teaching that hell would be the ultimate destiny awaiting those who cut themselves off from the Gospel by refusing it. Ritchie explored three possible ways of reconciling Torrance's seemingly irreconcilable claims of Christ's universal atonement and the reality of hell for the reprobate. The first two don't really matter as they were dismissed, but the third was a development of one of TFT's most difficult but also most helpful themes, that of the primacy of existence-statements over coherence-statements in their necessary coordination as the church attempts to develop a consistent articulation of the inner logic of the Gospel of Christ as it confronts us in Scripture. When we speak of the mystery of humanity's lingering ability to reject our reconciliation to God in Christ, we come up against an impossible possibility, that is a reality we can speak of in existence-statements (statements that immediately refer to that which is objectively real) but cannot coordinate with our existence-statements about the grace of God through coherence-statements (statements that do not directly refer to objective reality but articulate the pattern by which these external realities are related to one another). Sin, when understood from within the logic of God's grace, has no rationality; it cannot be made sense of or integrated into a logical system. It is like a surd in mathematics, a number that can be expressed but is nevertheless irrational. Thus, the logic of grace does tend toward universalism, but our responsibility is to take in the whole testimony of Scripture, which clearly takes sin and hell seriously. While the task of theology is to seek and articulate the inner coherence of the biblical testimony in Christ, it must not do so at the expense of the biblical testimony itself, running roughshod over certain biblical themes in the interest of building a coherent system based on other biblical themes. This is what universalism does by extending the logic of grace to the point where it has no room to acknowledge the horrible impossible possibility of damnation. But this is also what limited atonement does by so trying to coordinate the reality of hell with the reality of grace that it seeks to make the two logically compatible, which is impossible, but ends up perverting the logic of grace so that God's love is not truly universal, God does not truly love the world (John 3:16) but only "the elect" - here once again the demand for logical consistency trumps Scripture. Like I said, this one might just need its own post.

At any rate, this retreat was a truly glorious experience. The fellowship, praying and taking communion together (rarities in university theology), the setting, the formal and informal conversations, and the spiritual and intellectual stimulation were all invigorating. I hope this is the kind of spiritual community the expansion of Torrance study will multiply.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Happily Ever Tales

My amazingly talented (and beautiful) wife Rachel has started a new blog where she shares her own original children's stories, poems and illustrations, as well as children's book reviews. It is called Happily Ever Tales ( This is a great place to go with your kids and read stories!

Also, for those interested in offering us a little bit of financial support while we're living in Scotland and work on my PhD (which is crazy expensive!), there is a donate button. But feel free to just drop by and check out Rachel's stuff. Its beautiful!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Go Somewhere Else!

I have been characteristically neglectful of the blog here lately. That has been due primarily to being busy writing my dissertation and conference papers (ok, a conference paper). I did attend AAR a few weeks ago and give a paper - I feel like I should give some kind of summary of the conference from my perspective, but I need to divert all brain power to dissertation at present. Here is a great summary from my new friend, Brad East, who very graciously arranged housing for myself a some friends during AAR. My own AAR experience was very tied up with questions about the nature of the Eucharist or Communion. I attended three seminars on the topic and though the paper I gave was on Scripture and had nothing to do with the Eucharist, it came up as a possible analogy for thinking about Scripture in the Q&A. My brain has definitely been spinning on the subject and I think I'm getting closer to a clear position. I will try to write something on this in the next few weeks, but don't hold me to it.

Rather than offer anything interesting of my own right now, I'll indulge in the cheapest kind of blogging I can think of - pointing you to interesting discussion going on elsewhere.
  • The previously mentioned Brad East is having a fascinating discussion over at his blog Resident Theology with "Theologian of Love" Thomas Oord on whether Oord's theological commitment to a the notion that God is "non-coercive all the way down" ought to lead him to a political commitment to pacifism.
  • David Guretzki over at Theomentary says using "incarnational" language about the church is blasphemous, citing a passage from Barth in CD IV.3.2, and I think he is absolutely right.
  • Daniel Kirk at Storied Theology has sparked a conversation way too long to follow, but interesting (and at times infuriating) to scan, by calling for a moratorium on the word "homophobic".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Quiet Time

I have maintained a habit of silently reading Scripture and praying each morning (more or less) for several years. I say this here to make it clear at the outset that what follows is not meant to be an attack on this practice (as I myself practice it) but some thoughts about how we might most helpfully think about that practice in a broader understanding of the place of Scripture reading in the life of the individual Christian and the Christian community. In particular, I want to say that while having "my quiet time" every morning is an immensely helpful and rewarding thing to do, it is best understood as secondary and supplementary to the corporate hearing of Scripture.

As I understand the prevailing historical scholarship (I'm a theologian, not a historian), reading in the ancient Mediterranean world was entirely an out-loud affair. People just didn't read silently. Even when reading privately, as in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40, people would read out loud so that Philip was able to hear the Ethiopian reading Isaiah in his chariot. That then means not only that "quiet time" as a reading practice would have been a foreign concept, but also that the privacy we associate with this practice ("my quiet time") would have been equally foreign. Philip could hear the Ethiopian and even butt in. Can you imagine sitting in your comfy chair reading the Bible out loud to yourself? Even if you knew no one was around to overhear you it would be weird, but I do my reading in my office at my desk with other people close by - that would just be way too awkward. But this just reinforces how privately we conceive of the spiritual practice of reading Scripture.

At a seminar I attended yesterday, a specialist in early Christian literature claimed that the Scriptures were not even intended primarily to be read but memorized and recited in public performance. He claimed that reading was just too mentally taxing to be thought of as something people would do regularly and for extended periods. That is true even in our culture where we have a language with clean type, word spacing, commas, periods and both an upper and lower case. The Greek and Hebrew languages Scripture was written in had none of these things. It was written in all caps with no spaces between words or punctuation of any kind. Hebrew didn't even have vowels - ppl wld rcgnz th wrds jst frm th cnsnnts nd cntxt. That kind of reading is hard to do, so often scholars would have someone read texts out loud to them, leaving their mind free from the duty of translating the visual text into spoken words and able to concentrate on the meaning of the words. That sounds awesome to me, thinking back to high school and how much I hated when it was my turn to read; I could understand what was going on fine when someone else was reading and I could just scan along, but when I had to read it out loud I had a much harder time both making the sounds and understanding their meaning. All of that to say that the original authors and recipients of Scripture didn't have in mind our notion of private quiet time - their alone time would have been for praying, as Jesus often does and tells his followers to do in Matthew 6:6, though I still doubt all of that was done quietly.

Why does any of this matter? Well, I think it matters for how we think about God and about the way Scripture reading is meant to form our thinking about God.

The second commandment says not to make an image to represent God, that is, an idol. John Calvin seized on the implications of this for how we conceive of God - He is inherently invisible and is to be thought of in entirely non-visual terms. Similarly, Martin Luther, pressing the point that we know God through his Word, told his congregation that if they wanted to see God they should put their eyes in their ears. We are to know God not through what we see, but through what we hear, through hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word that was with God and was God from the beginning.

As God made himself known in this way to Israel, Jewish culture developed in a very aural way, having their children commit huge portions of the Torah if not the whole thing to memory. The Bible came to be within that primarily aural way of thinking. I mean haven't you ever wondered why none of the Gospel writers says a single thing about how Jesus looked? However, we live in a very visual culture, quite like the Greco-Roman culture into which the Gospel went out from its Jewish roots. We are visual thinkers in ways we don't even really realize. We say things like "see what I mean?" or "look at it this way", framing conceptual communication in visual categories. We hear with our eyes. For us, seeing, rather than hearing, is believing.

Thus, reading for us is primarily visual. We think of the act of reading as going from seeing letters to thinking the thoughts that they signify. We take the thoughts from the page into our minds with our eyes. For the ancients, the visible function of letters was not to communicate directly but to preserve a record of what is otherwise a totally oral and aural affair. The visible letters were to be translated into sounds before they could serve the function of communicating events and concepts. I think the transition of the Christian faith and its engagement with Scripture from a primarily aural culture to a primarily visual culture may be behind much of modern the controversies surrounding Scripture. We have gone from understanding its aural content as the Word of God to conceiving of the visible letters of the "original autographs" as the Word (Letters?) of God.

One reason for that is control. When we think of reading the Bible in visual terms, we put ourselves in a position of control, making our own decisions about what to read, underlining what we find important (again not disparaging any of this, just wanting to set it in context). This corresponds to control we have over our vision in general, choosing where to point our eyes, what to focus on, even having eyelids that can shield us from things we don't want to see. Hearing is different. We don't have earlids. Sound comes to us and demands our attention in a different way than vision does. When we hear Scripture being read to us, we have far less control over it. It comes to us and determines our hearing. We can of course choose to tune out and ignore it, but we can't choose to skip what is being said when we don't like it and go to a passage we prefer. This better corresponds to our actual situation before God. God comes to us in his Gospel and calls us to respond. We can choose to listen or not to, but we can't make him what we want him to be.

So, what I am suggesting is certainly not that we abandon the long established and demonstrably fruitful practice of private silent Scripture reading, but that we think of it as supplementing our communal hearing of the Word. Our primary approach to Scripture ought to center around its public reading in community which we hear together as the Word of God addressing us and evoking our response of worship. Our private reading then helps fill in our knowledge of the broader sweep of the biblical story and its rich diversity of literature so that when we hear a passage in group Bible study or in Sunday morning worship we know what is going on. It also functions as a way we live our private lives in organic connection to our corporate worship, being in private who we are at church on Sundays. The point is that in this understanding, the corporate reading is primary and our private reading is a secondary extension from it.

Approaching Scripture like this helps us to think about God in a way appropriate to his invisible nature by building into us habits of thought that make room for conceiving of him through what we hear in his Word rather than what we see. God has come to us and made himself knowable to us not through the controlled private silence of visible text but by his Word in public and noisy proclamation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Demons as Fallen Angles?

Robin Parry over at Theological Scribbles has an interesting summary of a paper from Dale Martin on the history of demonology, tracing it through the Septuagint and New Testament and showing that the view that demons are fallen angels does not appear in a fully articulated form until Tertullian (2nd/3rd centurty AD).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Torrance on Knowing God as Sinful People

In the preface to Theological Science, Torrance shares the following personal reflection on knowing God as a sinner:
If I may be allowed to speak personally for a moment, I find the presence of God bearing upon my existence and thought so powerfully that I cannot but be convinced of His overwhelming reality and rationality. To doubt the existence of God would be an act of sheer irrationality, for it would mean that my reason had become unhinged from its bond with real being. Yet in knowing God I am deeply aware that my relation to Him has been damaged, that disorder has resulted in my mind, and that it is I who obstruct knowledge of God by getting in between Him and myself, as it were. But I am also aware that His presence presses unrelentingly upon me through the disorder of my mind, for He will not let Himself be thwarted by it, challenging and repairing it, and requiring of me on my part to yield my thoughts to His healing and controlling revelation.
It is only in knowing God that we know we are sinners, that our prideful habits of thinking are the reason we are not able to know God on our own mental power, and thus that we know God only because of the power of his grace.

(PS - The artist that drew this picture of Torrance is HOT!)

Monday, August 9, 2010


"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" 1 Cor 15:19.

Does this verse call into question the kind of preaching which addresses itself from beginning to end to those problems we're having with our spouse, kids, job, drug habit, porn addiction, indictment for murder, etc? Of course I see the need to address these concerns in preaching the gospel; Christ's triumph over death certainly has implications for those things we deal with while alive that make us want to die. But our teaching on these day-to-day topics needs to be always and everywhere explicitly tied to our future hope; otherwise all we have is over-hyped advice on how to feel better that usually just doesn't work. As Paul goes on to say,

"If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die" 1 Cor 15:32.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hauerwas On What Ordained Ministers Actually Do

I've got nothing new to say, but Jason over at Per Crucem ad Lucem posted some thoughts from Stanley Hauerwas on what those that work in professional church ministry are actually paid to do, and his answer is to teach people to speak the Christian language. I think it is worth a quick read for those, like myself, who are preparing for and pursuing the pastorate as a profession.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Mystery Hidden for Long Ages Past

I just finished reading through Romans. It'll be the rest of my life and more before I feel like I totally understand that book - not because of the complexity but because of the depth of the Gospel it presents in its shattering simplicity.

Paul ends the letter by giving glory to God for the Gospel, which he describes in a startling way for anyone interested in the theology of Scripture and its interpretation.
Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him - to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Rom 16:25-27)
I understand Paul to be saying that the good news (proclamation) of Jesus Christ, God's provision of a vicarious righteousness in fulfilment of his promises given to Israel throughout its existence, is now revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures as a mystery that had been hidden for a long time before. It is striking to think of this mystery being revealed in Paul's time through Scriptures that had been written hundreds of years earlier. It is not that the revelation had been given earlier and was now illumined by the coming of Christ. Paul says in his introduction that the Gospel had been promised before hand through the OT(1:2), but in light of the letter's conclusion I have to think that the promise was given as mystery hidden until its fulfilment. Though the texts had been written long before, they only revealed that mystery at the resurrection of Christ (1:4). The coming of Christ truly opened the Scriptures to his followers and gave it meaning it could not have previously had. I take Paul here to be prohibiting us from imagining that if those Jews living prior to the resurrection of Christ had just read the relevant messianic texts from the Old Testament (passages from Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and a few smatterings from the Minor Prophets) more clearly, they would have understood that God was going to send his Son to provide a righteousness through faith in Christ's vicarious death and resurrection before it happened. No, this was impossible to conceive, and thus impossible for the Old Testament to reveal, until it happened. But when it did happen, these texts written long ago in ages past revealed what had now just recently happened. Staggering.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Barth on Scripture and the Legitimate Form of Apostolic Succession

In between my regular diet of T. F. Torrance and books on theology of Scripture, I'm slowly making my way through Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics I.1. Barth is famous for being odd on Scripture, but I find him wonderfully odd. In fact, his oddness makes more 'normal' accounts of Scripture (by which I mean those that start from humanity's need for an infallible source of truth, e.g. Warfield) seem odd. In I.1, his approach to speaking about what Scripture is really took me by a wonderful surprise. Scripture comes in the middle of his introduction of the threefold form of the Word of God, which he briefly introduces in in I.1 in the order of knowing (Church Proclamation, Holy Scripture, Jesus Christ) and will largely expand in the opposite order of being (Jesus Christ, Holy Scripture, Church Proclamation) in I.2 - I'll get through it all eventually.

What I found wonderfully odd in its first appearance in I.1 is that Barth's way of getting to speaking of what Scripture is was in contrast to the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession. He makes a plea that Protestants be careful to reject the Roman doctrine for the right reasons; apostolic succession cannot be fully rejected as such, but only in its peculiar Roman form in which the manner of succession relates to formal office rather than spiritual service. That is, the spiritual service of the Roman pontiff is seen as included within and guaranteed by the possession of the formal office of the bishop of Rome. As wrong as this is, it is right, argues Barth, that we see the present Church as succeeding the apostles. The Church's proclamation of the Gospel, which is what makes the Church what it is, must rest on a basis external to itself; the Church does not contain its own Gospel, but points past itself to an expectation of a future revelation of God in Christ based on the decisive past revelation of God in Christ. This basis of the Church's proclamation in Jesus Christ is passed from Christ to the world by the apostles so that the Church cannot point to itself as the proper validation of its message but must point to the apostles and therefore seek to succeed them as proclaimers of Christ. However, this succession has to take the proper form. In Roman Catholicism, the current successor of Peter in essence replaces Peter so that in pointing to apostolic testimony for the validation of its proclamation, the Church merely points to itself as the apostolic Church. Barth, however, argues that the current Church in its succession of the apostles cannot seek to replace them but must stand always under them. Scripture is what allows us to succeed the apostles in this way.

Now that I've set it up, here is the paragraph that made me happy and I wanted to share:
The apostolic succession of the Church must mean that it is guided by the Canon, that is, by the prophetic and apostolic word as the necessary rule of every word that is valid in the Church. It must mean that the Church enters into the succession of the prophets and apostles in their office of proclamation, and does so in such a way that their proclamation freely and independently precedes, while that of the Church is related to it, is ventured in obedience on the basis of it, is measured by it, and replaces it only as and to the extent that it conforms to it. It must mean that the Church always admits the free power of their proclamation over it. As far as the idea of a living succession is concerned everything depends on the antecessor being regarded as alive and having free power over against the successor. But if, as here, the antecessor has long since died, this can happen only if his proclamation has been fixed in writing and if it is acknowledged that he still has life and free power over the Church to-day in this written word of his. On the written nature of the Canon, on its character as scriptura sacra, hangs his autonomy and independence, and consequently his free power over against the Church and the living nature of the succession.
Love it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hauerwas on Spontaneous Prayer

I've been reading Stanley Hauerwas's recently published memoirs, Hannah's Child. This, I confess, is the first Hauerwas book I've read, but it certainly won't be the last. Throughout the book he goes back and forth between narrating the major events of his life and offering theological reflection on them. I found this short paragraph against spontaneous prayer worth sharing:
I do not trust prayer to spontaneity. Most "spontaneous prayers" turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous. Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, "Lord, we just ask you..." Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much. I pray that God will save us from that "just." (255)
He goes on to explain that, because of his distrust of spontaneous prayer, he writes the prayers he prays before the classes he teaches and offers the following, a prayer he wrote for a class he would be teaching on Columbus Day, as an example:
Dear God, our lives are made possible by the murders of he past - civilization is built on slaughters. Acknowledging our debt to killers frightens and depresses us. We fear judging, so we say, "That's in the past." We fear to judge because in judging we are judged. Help us, however, to learn to say "no," to say, "Sinners though we are, that was and is wrong." May we do so with love. Amen. (256)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Announcement

Check out this announcement for a book called Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Toward Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda, which I'll be contributing a chapter to!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Scripture as Spectacles

Scripture, as the spectacles through which we perceive Christ (Calvin), must be attuned to Christ in order to present him clearly, but no matter how strongly we articulate that attuning, be it in terms of inerrancy, infallibility, clarity, or inspiration, it is not a power in Scripture that enables it to present Christ to us but a power in God through Christ in the Spirit. It was the work of the triune God that brought the Scripture into being in the first place and in light of that we must confess its fittingness to be the vessel Christ presents himself to us through, and, moreover, our statements about this fittingness ought not to be vague and abstract but concrete and literary, according to the nature of Scripture as text. Biblically, the chief given category in which to speak of this is inspiration, but we need other terms to clarify what we mean by inspiration. The terms ‘infallibility’ and ‘inerrancy’ are two of the most common descriptions of Scripture in Protestant theology meant to concretely clarify what we mean when we speak of Scripture’s inspiration. I would argue that the preference for, and in many quarters the demand for confessing, such terms is a product of modernist scientific epistemologies that stress the antimony between certainty and the possibility of error. Such categories are not thus wrong or wholly inappropriate, but it ought to be questioned whether they are the most helpful or important descriptions of Scripture as the spectacles through which we perceive Christ.

I question these terms collectively and individually: collectively because they are both morally neutral. Scriptures fittingness for Christ’s self-presentation might be described more adequately by terms like ‘faithfulness’ and ‘obedience’, terms that recognize the inherently moral-laden character of knowledge, than ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’ which fail to bring this reality to view. (‘Infallibility’ may escape this charge if it is seen as the Gospel that seeks the conversion of sinners to repentance and faith which is unable to fail.)

In regard to ‘inerrancy’ in particular, I do not question it because I think factual accuracy has nothing to do with being faithful and obedient in human testimony to Christ, but because a narrow focus on factual accuracy has often had the historical tendency to get people off on rabbit trails in quests to harmonize apparently conflicting accounts in Scripture or other such distractions. Of course being faithful and obedient to Christ must mean that the biblical authors testify in truth and not in falsehood, but the oft repeated notion that if it were proven that Scripture contained even one error we could not trust it is, whether or not such a statement is valid, quite unhelpful in the sense that it beckons us to read Scripture with an eye only to its factual accuracy and not to the Truth that calls us to repentance and faith. This is a subtle distinction and not a radical dichotomy I mean to make. We must trust the factual accuracy of Scripture because its authors were inspired by the Spirit to testify truthfully to Christ, not because its inerrancy is what it means to be inspired. Moreover, in regard to the statement about the Bible not having even one error, I think such language slips into stating the relation between truth and fact as identical where the relation might be a bit more complex than that. I’ve certainly encountered innumerable postmodern approaches to this in which truth and fact have seemingly no relation, and I adamantly resist such a position, but at the same time the fact that Matthew and Mark both have Jesus meeting with his disciples in Galilee after the resurrection while Luke and John have him meeting them in Jerusalem should force us neither to despair of the truth of Scripture nor to seek refuge in some convoluted harmony of the two accounts. There may be an inherent ambiguity and mystery here in the relation of truth and factual accuracy that simply eludes explicit articulation. We must hold firmly to the truth and accuracy of Scripture but in such a way that allows for such tensions and ambiguities. Personally, I am not uncomfortable speaking of some such tensions as errors, as long as we fully understand that in using such language we are consciously using it according to modern definition, that is, we are not foisting our standards on Scripture but simply acknowledging that if such accounts were to be composed within our modern context, we would regard at least one of them as in error. I have found that most conservative Reformed theologians, who as a category are those who tend to stress the inerrancy of Scripture most, are considerably careful in their definition of inerrancy to allow for such tensions and ambiguities, but in practice such care rarely transfers to the ministers whose training includes the reading of such theologians or even to the wider discussions about Scripture in the works of those theologians themselves. I find that when this approach trickles into ministerial contexts, the result is an overemphasis on factual accuracy which tends to produce the fruit of self-assuredness since a factually errorless book in my hands is a tool I can exploit in argumentation, rather than focusing on the Truth of the Gospel which relentlessly calls me to renounce myself in repentance and faith. Speaking of the ‘faithfulness’ and ‘obedience’ of Scripture, on the other hand, addresses not only what Scripture is but what I must be in order to understand it aright.

I question infallibility in particular because, as I said in the beginning, it is not a power in Scripture that makes us see Christ in it but a power in Christ. Spectacles do not make us see. If there is no light or if my eyes are shut, no glasses, no matter how clear, can make me see. It is the light objectively and the openness of my eyes subjectively that allow me to see – spectacles are lenses through which I am helped to see. Accordingly, that we see Christ in Scripture is due to his own divine infallibility that illuminates himself for us and opens our eyes to see him there. Scripture’s faithfulness and obedience to that infallibility allow it to share in it, but we must always recognize that infallibility is never a property which we can ascribe to Scripture in itself but only as it serves the Gospel which gave rise to it and is real independently of it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Torrance mp3s

Jason over at Per Crucem ad Lucem has links to 10 T. F. Torrance lectures plus Q&A from 1981 at Fuller Seminar. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Torrance on the Appropriate Circularity of Christian Thinking

I have again been quite negligent with you, my precious blog. Here is a bit of Torrance just to show I still care. This paragraph (yep, its a single paragraph) captures quite well what I was unable to say well to my friend Andy last night on the phone about why atheists prove that they just don't get it when they reject Christianity on the grounds that they find no evidence for God. Have a read:
Now it may be objected, quite understandably, that by claiming to interpret the resurrection within a framework of thought, of which the resurrection, along with the incarnation, is itself a constitutive determinant, I am operating with an essentially circular procedure. I agree, but reject the implication that this is a vicious circularity artificially intruded into the ground of knowledge. What we are concerned with here is the proper circularity inherent in any coherent system operating with ultimate axioms or beliefs which cannot be derived or justified from any other ground than that which they themselves constitute. It is the case, of course, that the primary axioms of any deductive system are held to be justified if they are included within the consistency of all the axioms and propositions of the system, but, as Kurt Godel has demonstrated, any such consistent formal system must have one or more propositions that are not provable within it but may be proved with reference to a wider and higher system. However, when we are concerned with a conceptual system or a framework of thought which includes among its constitutive axioms one or more ultimates, for which, in the nature of the case, there is no higher and wider system with reference to which they can be proved, then we cannot but operate with a complete circularity of the conceptual system. This must be a proper form of circularity, however, for the system must be one which is internally consistent and which rests upon the grounds posited by the constitutive axioms, without any alien additions, so that the conclusions we reach are found to be anticipated in the basic presuppositions. Such a system, of course, even if entirely consistent with itself, could conceivably be false, and must therefore be open to reasonable doubt: but that means that the system stands or falls with respect to its power as a whole to command our acceptance. And here another important factor must also be taken into account, the capacity of the system to function as a heuristic instrument in opening up new avenues of knowledge which could not otherwise be anticipated, and as an interpretative frame of thought to cope with a wider range of elements not originally in view. Nevertheless, in the last analysis we are thrown back upon the question whether we are prepared to commit ourselves to belief in the ultimates which are constitutive of the system. (Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection, pp. 14-15)
What adds difficulty to understanding this passage is that Torrance is otherwise a good Barthian and rejects the notion of a comprehensive theological 'system', so how is one to be persuaded by the Christian conceptual system as a whole if the Word of God is impossible to humanly systematize? That difficulty aside, I find this account of the inherent circularity in all conceptual systems built upon axioms having to do with ultimate reality very compelling.

In the paragraphs that follow (I considered including them, but I didn't want to overtax my loyal readership) Torrance draws on logic and physics as conceptual systems that fit the description he has given and then discusses what happens when an ultimate reality is newly recognized but cannot be fitted into the conceptual system in current use. In that context, says Torrance, 'we are faced with a serious dilemma, of rejecting what has thus become disclosed as absurd, or committing ourselves to a radical reconstruction of that conceptual system, indeed a logical reconstruction of the axiomatic premises of that system.' Such a reconstruction has occurred in the last century in the field of physics in its difficult transition from the Newtonian to the Einsteinian conceptual framework. Torrance argues that it was something similar to this which happened as the early Church came to acknowledge the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These were realities that could not be fitted into their current ways of thinking, indeed appeared ridiculous in their current ways of thinking, but because of their inherent persuasive power demanded that the Church revise its entire way of thinking around these new realities as its basic starting point. The new wine needed new wineskins.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Defence of Christianese

Since I haven't posted anything in a while, here's a quick thought. Anyone involved in Church culture is aware of a fear among Christians of using language that alienates outsiders because of its foreignness. We tend to call such language "Christianese". Reading T. F. Torrance's brilliant little book, The Mediation of Christ today, I came to a familiar passage in which he argues that there are certain concepts and words in the Old Testament that have permanent currency for the Church. These concepts and words have such permanency because they form the matrix through which Christ interprets himself to us through his apostles in the New Testament.
...only as we are able to appropriate and understand the Old Testament in its mediation of permanent structures of thought, conceptual tools, as I called them earlier, shall we be in a position really to understand Jesus even though we must allow him to fill them with new content and reshape them in mediating his own self-revelation to us through them.
Among these permanent structures let met refer to the Word and Name of God, to revelation, mercy, truth, holiness, to messiah, saviour, to prophet, priest and king, father, son, servant, to covenant, sacrifice, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, atonement, and those basic patterns of worship which we find set out in the ancient liturgy or in the Psalms. (Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, p. 18)
It seems like Torrance's lists here corresponds almost exactly with the 'Christianese' so many Christians are so desperate to avoid. But if Torrance is right, avoiding such concepts and language makes it impossible for us to speak the gospel in a meaningful way. Use of such language doesn't just make Christians awkward; it is part of what makes us Christians.

If this list of Torrance's really does correspond to the 'Christianese' we don't want to use, this might tell us something about Christianity's continuing discomfort with its roots in Judaism. This list, after all, represents the vocabulary Christianity inherited from Judaism. This language thus might be more appropriately called 'Jewishese' than 'Christianese'. Either way, the discomfort many Christians have today with the particular language we have inherited in the Church certainly mirrors Old Testament Israel's discomfort with their own cultural-religious-national peculiarity as the people of God.

We often speak of wanting to avoid 'Christianese' out of love for those we seek to reach with the message of Christ, and I'm not totally denying a measure of truth in this, but I am suggesting that the primary reason we seek to avoid 'Christianese' is because we don't like the peculiarity of being God's people, we don't like being different for God's sake. Somehow we got the idea that to be good representatives of God we should sound like everyone else; we certainly didn't get that idea from the Bible.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Two Testaments pt 2: Christ and Preceding Jewish Tradition

In part 1 of the Two Testaments, "Christ the Lord of Scripture", I argued that the Bible is the Word of God in a sense derived from its content, and that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God is the Bible's content. In other words, there are not two Word's of God, Scripture and Christ, but only one, Christ; the Bible can be spoken of as the Word of God to us only because that is where we meet and hear Christ, the incarnate Word of God, speaking to us.

In this post I'd like to try to speak about the difference the Old Testament and the New Testament. If you recall from last post, my reason for laying all of this out is to clarify why, while I'm predisposed to take everything in Scripture at more or less face value, I'm not compelled to take all the stories from the Old Testament, particularly those from its earlier parts, absolutely literally, while I take New Testament accounts basically literally.

In part 1 I wrote that Christ bound himself to the testimony of his apostles, as we see in Luke 10:16, a verse that is becoming more and more important to me theologically: "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." Christ spoke these words to a group of 70 (or 72) of his followers as he sent them out on a mission to towns he would be going through in Judea on his way to Jerusalem. In Luke's second writing, the book of Acts, just before Jesus ascends to heaven, he tells his apostles "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Thus Christ binds himself to the apostles' testimony about him as their ministry of testimony expands beyond Judea into the whole world. This sets the church and all of its tradition in motion. All of us who believe in Christ today and are thus a part of his church are a part of that ongoing tradition of speaking of Christ as Lord to the ends of the earth. (More on this in part 3.)

However, early in the church's life it recognized the need to set apart the first generation's testimony as uniquely authoritative. It saw that though Christ himself is our Lord and example for how we must live, in a certain sense it is the apostles that are really our model. Though Christ reveals both God and our true humanity to us, he is himself not a Christian; as a union of God and humanity in one man there is a sense in which he is something we cannot be. The apostles are the first Christians and establish the pattern for how subsequent Christians are to live. In this sense Christ's statements in Luke 10:16 and Acts 1:8 quoted above apply uniquely to the apostles; it is in their testimony to Christ that he is to be heard - he is heard in our testimony only to the degree that our testimony conforms to theirs. Thus the writings of the apostles were set apart by the early church as a recognition of their unique authority in order to guard the church's testimony to Christ from slipping into error by holding it up to the standard of the apostles' testimony. This is what the New Testament is. To read it is to read the first Christians proclamation of the gospel that took place before their eyes and in their lives. At least for us Gentiles, as we come to faith in Christ, we come to hear him in the apostolic testimony of the New Testament.

So what of the Old Testament? Why do we read it if it comes before Christ and doesn't explicitly testify to him by name? We read the Old Testament because Christ binds himself to it, but in a significantly different way than the New Testament. Christ doesn't come from out of nowhere. He doesn't come onto the scene of humanity and try to start over from scratch. He comes in fulfilment of promises God had been making to a particular people for thousands of years. We read the Old Testament because we recognize that Jesus is a Jew, and we cannot understand him as such unless we read the Jewish Scriptures he read and regarded as authoritative. Almost everything Jesus says about himself he appropriates from the Old Testament.

But whereas the New Testament is something like a time capsule, the testimony of a single generation frozen in time, the generation of those who were eyewitnesses of Christ's life on earth, the Old Testament is a collection of writings composed and edited over hundreds if not thousands of years. It is a sample taken from a very living tradition and most of it is probably taken from fairly late in that tradition's life. The stories it contains were told and retold generation after generation as a part of Israel's culture and tradition, a culture and tradition that God had bound himself to and promised to bless all nations through. Jesus, as the fulfilment of those promises, binds himself to that culture and tradition as the context he is to be understood in, as when he opens the scroll of Isaiah and reads vv. 61:1-2, pointing to himself as their fulfilment. In this light, we Christians must then read the Old Testament as God's preface to his Gospel, the introduction of appropriate conceptual and linguistic (to borrow some language from Torrance) and religious practices with which to understand God's Messiah when he was to come. The Old Testament is thus indispensable to us, as it was to Christ and his apostles.

The Old Testament thus stands as the promise and the New Testament testifies to the promise's fulfilment. Christ binds himself to the Old Testament by standing within its tradition and drawing it to its long awaited fulfilment. Christ binds himself to the New Testament by promising to be present in the apostle's testimony as they take his good news to the ends of the earth. Christ is thus Lord over both testaments and both exist to testify to him. The differences between the two, however, the centuries long tradition of the Old and the eye-witness time capsule of the New, must be borne in mind as we read of their varying testimonies to his coming and his having come. In this light, while the history of God's covenant of promise with Israel which the Old Testament enshrines must be understood as a real history with certain crucial and defining moments (the exodus of Moses, the kingly reign of David, the exile), it would seem right to suspend judgement about (not reject) the historicity of discrete narratives from particularly early in Israel's history.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Two Testaments pt 1: Christ the Lord of Scripture

What is the Bible? It is divine revelation. It is God's inspired Word. Certainly these statements separate me from all liberal theologies that reject from the outset the possibility of divine revelation and focus instead on the subjective religious experiences of humans. However, my aim in these posts will be to draw out how one can be faithful to these statements, faithful to the divine authority of Scripture, without being a fundamentalist.

A fundamentalist approaches the Bible in basically the same way a Muslim approaches the Qu'ran. Christian fundamentalism and Islam have essentially the same notion of divine revelation: God bestowing facts about himself and his will to human beings. Both of these religious movements claim that God has bestowed these facts, and thus revealed himself, through a book. My contention is that this notion of revelation is radically unbiblical.

It is unbiblical because it is impersonal. Revelation in Scripture begins with God's covenant with Israel, a relationship God establishes with a particular people that is to be one of love and trust (their trust in Him). God gives Israel the Law (Torah) not as a set of universal facts about his will but as the terms of their relationship, much like marriage vows, giving concrete expression of what it ought to look like for Israel to live a life of love and trust in Yahweh. But the New Testament goes further in the personal direction of revelation; we could even say that the New Testament radically personalizes the Jewish understanding of divine revelation.

Two classic texts help us to see how radical the New Testament notion of revelation is. The first is John 1:1-3, 14: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." In Christ, the Word of God that is eternally with God and is God, God has not just given us facts about himself which could be contained in a book, but given us his very Self. God thus reveals himself to us through himself, himself made one of us, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He took on a human existence and revealed himself as God in that form to his apostles ("We have seen his glory"). This kind of revelation cannot be understood simply as the giving of facts, but as fellowship, personal and intimate communion in which God reveals himself to us through his personal presence, much as a newly wed couple reveal themselves to each other through time spent in intimate personal encounter (we are the bride of Christ after all, Rev 19:7).

Second is Hebrews 1:1-3: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." This gives us much the same picture as the one we saw in John, but here we see an emphasis on the superiority of the personal revelation of Christ as the Son over the previous "many ways" God had spoke to Israel through the prophets. I might be so bold as to paraphrase, "In the past God sent messengers to give us messages from him, but now he has personally come among us himself in the person of God the Son, making his glory known to us directly."

Taking these two passages together, what emerges is an understanding of revelation that is firmly tied to Christ as the Word and Son of God, the exact representation of God's being. So how is the Bible the Word of God if only Christ reveals God and thus only Christ is the Word? This is where fundamentalism gets off track. It basically believes in two Words of God, Christ and the Bible. By understanding the Bible itself as the Word of God in a direct and unqualified way, fundamentalism treats every word in the Bible as God's direct speech. It that understanding, no differentiation can made between any two parts of the Bible; no part of it stands over the rest as the having more importance because every word is God's Word. In effect, its authority is flattened out so that all of its historical narrative must be taken strictly literally. Questioning whether or not there really was a talking serpent in a literal garden of Eden or whether or not Samson's power was contained in his hair impugns the Christian faith exactly as much as questioning the deity of Christ or his resurrection from the dead. In fact, for fundamentalism, and this is its most serious crime, the reliability of Scripture replaces the Lordship of Christ as the foundation of Christian faith.

To illustrate, when a fundamentalist sings "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so", when he/she ought to mean by that something like "Jesus loves me this I know because He tells me so through the Bible", what he/she actually means is "Jesus loves me, and the reason I know that is because the Bible tells me so, and anything the Bible says has to be true because its God wrote it." In other words, God has revealed everything we need to know about him and his will in a book, and that book happens to tell me that God wants me to believe in Jesus.

No, our faith is not in the Bible as such but in Christ, the incarnate Word of God. The Bible, however, is the Word of God to us because that is where Christ makes himself known to us. As we saw above, when we take the prologues of John and Hebrews together, we see that Christ, as the Word and Son of God, is the revelation of God. As such, he is both the promise of the Old Testament ("Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" Luke 24:44) and the content of the New Testament, as he commits himself and his gospel to apostles who are its source ("He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me" Luke 10:16). Thus, the Bible has a definite center, a definite focus on Jesus Christ as its true content. The Bible can never be understood as God's Word apart from that central content; it is that content, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, that makes the Bible the Word of God. When we read the Bible, our faith does not stop at the words we read; those words point past themselves to the incarnate, crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who reveals God to us and he does this as we encounter him in Scripture. Christ stands behind the Bible as its essential message; we hear him when we hear its message. Christ is thus the Lord over Scripture and it is submissive to him; as he speaks through it to us, his church, we submit to Scripture because in it we hear the voice of our Lord. This is what my theological hero T. F. Torrance calls the "depth dimension of Scripture".

More to come.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Prayer and Children

Dr. Myk Habets, lecturer in systematic theology at Carey Baptist College in Auckland, New Zealand, has graciously offered the following article originally published in New Zealand's The Baptist magazine as a guest post.

Prayer Sydney Style

During the day I teach systematic theology at Carey Baptist College and I publish books and articles on the doctrine of the Trinity and other related topics. Outside of work I am a husband and the father of two lovely little children – a three-year-old daughter named Sydney, and a one-year old-son named Liam. At bedtime my wife and I tuck Sydney in and then pray with her before she goes off to sleep. Early on in this routine I had to ask myself a question – How will I lead Sydney in prayer? Theology is produced by worship and worship is the product of theology, so prayer is an aspect of both theology and worship, something I lecture on all the time to adults. But how to inculcate in my three-year-old daughter good theological habits was the question. Now I don’t believe there is any one right answer to this question so what follows is not a ‘this is what you should do,’ or ‘this is the correct way.’ Rather, what follows is the way that I have adopted in teaching my daughter how to pray that is biblical, God-honouring, and theologically robust.

First some rules of Trinitarian theology the church has found to be faithful to Scripture. 1), God is one being, three persons. 2), each person has a distinct identity and yet each is fully God. 3), it is appropriate to think of the action of the triune God as one and undivided and yet to think of the work of the three divine persons as distinct. 4), Jesus is physically at the right hand of the Father. 5), God is Spirit and thus the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are everywhere present at all times.

That leaves us with prayer Sydney style. This is what I did not want to pray, not because it is incorrect, but because it is ambiguous and teaches, in my opinion, bad habits which rear their ugly fruit in later life. ‘Dear God, thank you for…, Dear God, we ask for…’ The word ‘God’ is perfectly fine, but it lacks any specificity and is, at best, impersonal, at worst it is an idea or concept divorced from the triune God of the Bible. So this is what we pray. ‘Dear God the Father in heaven, and God Jesus Christ in heaven, and God the Holy Spirit who lives inside me. We thank you for…We ask you for…’ Now that Sydney is getting older, we pray the following, ‘Dear God the Father in heaven, and everywhere, God Jesus Christ who is in heaven, and everywhere by his Spirit, and God the Holy Spirit, who is in my heart and the hearts of those who love him. We thank you for…We ask you for…’

I trust it is obvious what I am doing but let me spell it out briefly for the sake of clarity. I am using the word God in reference to the triune God who is intensely personal. This will (hopefully!) avoid Sydney having any ideas that God is an impersonal force, or energy or that he is static. I am using the personal names for God – Father, Son/Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit – in personal ways and in differentiated ways, so that she develops the habit of thinking of God as three persons but one being (not that this language is available to her at present). And I am making it clear that the triune God is personally present to her and at the same time universally present in creation and beyond. I am hoping this will forestall any individualistic notions of her Christianity and yet develop within her an intimacy with the triune God of grace.

Well this is what I am doing and why I am doing it. So if you see Sydney around church or Carey, why not ask her where the Holy Spirit is (or the Father or Jesus) and see what she says? Perhaps a follow up article in a few years is required to see how my experiment is going. I do pray to the triune God that she develops the mind of Christ in worship and comes to know and love God for who he really is, despite my theological and parental limitations.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't Judge a Church By Its Website: "What We Believe" pt. 2

Reading Torrance's article "The Deposit of Faith" this week put a thought in my head about church doctrinal statements. Among a few other things Torrance is doing in this essay, one of them is to contrast the early ecumenical doctrinal statements, particularly the Nicene Creed, with those of the scholastic Reformed tradition, particularly the Westminster Confession. The key difference he wants to draw is that the Nicene Creed in its brevity is meant for worship - it is not primarily intended to give precise definition to the nature of God in any of his three persons or the relations between them, but to humbly and worshipfully point to the reality of the triune God in a way which both acknowledges the basic ineffability of that reality but also explicitly rules out the heresy of those such as the Arians who insist on interpreting biblical statements in mythological and anthropomorphic terms. On the other hand, the Westminster Confession and others like it with their far more cumbersome length in attempt to give precise articulation to every matter of the Reformed faith, are, in Torrance's words, "of more use to the lecture hall than the Church", being "essentially constitutional documents rather than declarations of faith before God." His point seems to be that while both share the concern to guard against heresy in these statements, Nicaea approaches this task in the form of a statement of faith meant to be used in corporate worship, carefully but humbly and transparently (in the sense of pointing to a truth it cannot fully express or contain) professing belief in the one triune God of the Bible, while Westminster seeks to exhaust the truth content of the Gospel through precise and extended formulations of doctrine which contain that truth in themselves.

Now, whether Torrance is right in this charge is certainly up for debate. What I'm interested in at this point is using this discussion as a springboard to ask: What are we doing with our church doctrinal statements? I am convinced that it is a good idea for each church to have them, and I come from a church tradition that is prone to keep them fairly short, which I think is a good idea. My sense is, though, that the only real reason we have them, or at least the only real way we use them (apart from having applicants sign them) is to give prospective visitors a way to see if we are heretics. This isn't a bad thing, but the concern I have is how much we separate this aspect (doctrine) from worship. The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds are such great examples of celebratory doctrine, or if you like, propositional worship. Given the absolutely theologically destitute state of most of our modern worship, it seems like a great idea to bring these kinds of (or perhaps precisely these) statements of faith back into the life of the church, poetically and theologically rich statements of faith that we don't merely post on our church websites or keep copies of behind the secretaries desk in the church office, but adopt or craft with the explicit intention of use in corporate worship (and of course we can throw them up on the website too). Those reading this that come from a liturgical background are probably saying "duh!", but I'm hoping those that come from backgrounds like mine which were built on a negative reaction against the bells and smells of high church liturgy will recognize our need to take greater pains in centering our worship more explicitly around the God and Gospel of Scripture. I'm not sure singing "Jesus I am so in love with you" is helpful by itself either in guarding against heresy or even in specifically drawing our minds to the Jesus of the Gospels rather than the Jesus of our psychology.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Apostles and Inspiration

I'm working on a paper right now on the relationship between Christ and the New Testament in Torrance. For Torrance, the inspiration of the New Testament is not dealt with in terms of the Spirit's operation in and through the apostles in the particular acts of composing their distinctively inspired and authoritative documents, but in terms of the whole sweep of revelation and reconciliation accomplished in Christ as including the preparation, empowerment, and authorization of the apostles to mediate the ongoing presence of the risen Christ through power of the Holy Spirit. The preparation and empowerment included learning from Christ as disciples under a rabbi, encountering Christ in his crucified and resurrected form as the firstborn of the new creation they were given to share in, and their baptism in the Holy Spirit in which their understanding of Christ was bound to Christ's own understanding of himself. Thus for Torrance, "the apostolate, expressly formed and created by the human end of revelation, belongs to the once for all nature of the incarnation, and is caught up in its finality and authority" (Atonement, 329-330). Torrance's concept of "onto-relations", or relations that contribute to one's identity, seems at play here; a description of the historical Jesus Christ that does not include his relationship with the apostles, his calling of them and the struggle of teaching them, the drama of their being brought into more and more intimate union with him, would be so incomplete as to be false. Christ binds them into such intimate union with them that he can tell them "whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me." Torrance's doctrine of the inspiration of the New Testament derives from this relation between Christ and his apostles, those he sends in his name.

As I follow Torrance through this narration of inspiration, I become aware that the doctrine of Scripture I grew up with puts far less emphasis on this relation between Christ and his apostles and far more on the work of the Holy Spirit in the particular moments of inspiration. Have any of you wrestled with a similar tension? Let me pose it as a question: do you believe the New Testament books are more inspired by God than their authors were when they weren't writing those books? Do you believe that the apostle's (or other writer's of the New Testament) were given temporary infallibility when writing the New Testament documents but then lost it as soon as they stopped writing/dictating? Or are the New Testament documents the product of an ongoing ministry in which Christ was in control of his Gospel in the mouths and lives of the apostles through the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Do we worry that this latter view makes human bias and corruption too much of an obstacle for God to reveal himself through? If so, doesn't reacting with a "higher" view of Scripture (one free of the human influence of the apostles) actually mean a lower view of God's self-revealing power?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Torrance on Time and the Resurrection

Given Andy Snyder's argument that the roughly 2000 years since the resurrection makes it irrelevant by its historical distance, I thought I'd share this great paragraph from T. F. Torrance on the subject from his new book, Atonement.
The kind of time we have in this passing world is the time of an existence that crumbles away into the dust, time that runs backward into nothingness. Hence the kind of historical happening we have in this world is happening that decays and to that extent is illusory, running away into the darkness and forgetfulness of the past. As happening within this kind of time, and as event within this kind of history, the resurrection, by being what it is, resists and overcomes corruption and decay, and is therefore a new kind of historical happening which instead of tumbling down into the grave and oblivion rises out of the death of what is past into continuing being and reality. This is temporal happening that runs not backwards but forwards, and overcomes all illusion and privation or loss of being. This is fully real historical happening, so real that it remains happening and does not slip away from us, but keeps pace with us and, as we tumble down in decay and lapse into death and the dust of past history, outruns us and even comes to meet us out of the future. That is how we are to think of the risen Jesus Christ. He is not dead but alive, more real than any of us. Hence he does not need to be made real for us, because he does not decay or become fixed in the past. He lives on in the present as real live continuous happening, encountering us here and now in the present and waiting for us in the future. (Atonement, 246, emphasis his).
This is the kind of thing I am just not able to get across to the non-believer: the totally radical newness of God's act in Jesus Christ which makes all of our attempts to measure the likelihood or evidence for God's existence totally irrelevant. Jesus is risen! He is alive here and now and active among us. This cannot be deduced from other realities because it is God's new creation, transcending all old realities and recreating them according to God's redemption in Jesus. "But why? How do you know?" Why do the blind insist on staying blind?