You can read the original posts here:
S is for Salvation (Micky)
T is for Theopoetics (Callid)
You can follow the rest of series here [link]
Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri
You can read the original posts here:
S is for Salvation (Micky)
T is for Theopoetics (Callid)
You can follow the rest of series here [link]
Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri
I was out of town this week on a youth service trip and want to thank Micky and Callid for taking S and T in our ABC’s of Theology series.
You can also hear Callid and Kristina Keefe-Perry chat about M N and O on a little TNT podcast. I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify a couple of things before we make the turn toward the final series of letters.
I will do this in reverse order. Callid (and a few FB friends) were questioning the selection of ‘theopoetics’ over words like trinity, theosis and theodicy. We covered trinitarian matters in P is for Perichoresis. While I love the Eastern notion of theosis (becoming like God), this series is really focused on concepts that we need to engage going forward in the 21st century.
I am a big fan of theosis and love those who embrace/reclaim this ancient notion. They are often paired with both mystic appreciation and a commitment to spiritual disciplines.
Theodicy (the problem of evil) is a big one. After the events of the 20th Century – specifically WWII – there can be no doubt about the centrality of evil and human nature to any theological consideration.
The simple fact is that the 20th Century – between technology and war – changed the world and radically altered what we call society. The reality of living in the 21st century are very different than they were in the 12th – let alone the 2nd. The questions of the 21st century are not answered by repeating inherited answers or by parroting ancient thought.
Farming, hygiene, reading, telephones, banks, travel (airplanes) …. there are thousands of examples of how different our existence is from those in previous centuries. Even the way was imagine our self (identity) and community (belonging) has changed.
So theodicy is a major issue, but I wanted to add something to our theological tool-belt that will help us going forward. Theopoetics is one of the most important ideas – and one of the most vibrant contemporary conversations – that we can engage in. It impacts everything from how we read Genesis and Revelation to how we approach the ancient creeds and how we conceptualize our god-thoughts and convey ourselves in god-talk. That was the thinking behind selecting theopoetics for T.
Salvation: In S is for Salvation Micky shared her video. I provide the opening response and folks had several questions about it.
What we are talking about in salvation happens at 3 levels:
Salvation therefore impacts everyone and everything. It is not only about a tiny part of you (your soul) after it leaves your body. It is about your body and the earth that it comes from … and every other body on that earth.
Revelation: Folks liked my take on the book of Revelation … but then wanted to know what to do with it. Here are some suggestions:
Once you are relieved of the notion that Revelation is about the future, you can get down to the series task of examining, critiquing and challenging the existing structures and systems of our day. Tripp and I chat about this stuff for the last 20 min of this week’s TNT.
Later today the podcast for P Q & R will come out.
You can catch up on the whole series below:
ABC Podcast (TNT)
DEF Podcast (TNT)
GHI Podcast (TNT)
Podcast for J K L (TNT)
M is for Metaphor (and metaphysics)
Podcast for M N O (TNT)
Podcast for P Q R (TNT)
Podcast for S T U (TNT)
“They drive me nuts, I hate listening to them talk! … What did they say? Tell me everything.”
I am both attracted to and repelled by the work and findings of this movement.
Before we go any further, lets see how Justo L. González introduces it:
Historical Jesus: Often contrasted with “the Christ of faith,” the phrase “historical Jesus” is somewhat ambiguous, for sometimes it refers to those things about Jesus that can be proved through rigorous historical research, and sometimes it simply means the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The phrase itself, “historical Jesus,” was popularized by the title of the English translation of a hook by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1910). In this book, Schweitzer reviewed a process, begun by Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768), which sought to discover the Jesus behind the Gospels by means of the newly developed tools of historical research. After reviewing this quest of almost two centuries, Schweitzer concluded that what each of the scholars involved had discovered was not in fact Jesus of Nazareth as he lived in the first century, but rather a modern image of Jesus, as much informed by modern bourgeois perspectives as by historical research itself.
Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1905-1916). Kindle Edition.
González goes on to explain that much of the quest was abandoned after Schweitzer’s findings but has recently reappeared in a minimalist expression (what are the bare facts that can be validated?).
Grenz is clear about this historical quest – that its proponents think Jesus:
All of this was “projected onto him by his disciples, the Gospel writers and the early church. The true historical Jesus, in contrast, preached a simple, largely ethical message as capsulized in the dictum of the “fatherhood of God” and the “brotherhood of humankind.”
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1089-1093). Kindle Edition.
A modern manifestation of this quest is seen in the Jesus Seminar.
You can hear our podcast about with John Dominic Crossan from this past May.
I am deeply indebted to those in Historical Jesus research. I never knew any of this stuff (like Empire) as an evangelical pastor. It has been both eye-opening and disorienting (not to mention the theological whiplash).
I have problems with so many of the conclusions reached but am so grateful for the depth of engagement and sincerity of scholarship. My faith has been enriched and informed in ways I could never have imagined.
There is just something about the whole enterprise that gets under my skin and rubs me the wrong way. It is possible to be grateful for a pebble in your shoe as you journey?
Even as I write this I am thinking, “I don’t like where y’all take this… but I need to know what you know. I just want to draw different conclusions than you do.”
This, of course, is the danger of venturing outside your comfort zone.
Artwork for this series by Jesse Turri
The easiest way to break down the word is:
It is the dance of the godhead. The picture is of movement and inter-relatedness. It is the constant exchange of moving around the edge – always providing space in the center. The concept is also known as cicumincession or interpenetration.
Circumincession: The theological concept, also referred to as perichoresis, affirming that the divine *essence is shared by each of the three persons of the *Trinity in a manner that avoids blurring the distinctions among them. By extension, this idea suggests that any essential characteristic that belongs to one of the three is shared by the others. Circumincession also affirms that the action of one of the persons of the Trinity is also fully the action of the other two persons.
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 254-256). Kindle Edition.
In the gospels God points to Jesus and says “this is son in whom I am well pleased”. Jesus says “I do only that which I see the father doing”. The spirit anoints Jesus and empowers him to point people to God. Jesus leaves and sends/is replaced by the presence of Holy Spirit. This Paraclete leads into all truth and reminds us of what Jesus said (John 14:26).
Admittedly, talk about the Trinity gets complicated quickly. This is why so much contention surrounded the early churches’ councils and creeds. The filioque clause caused a schism between Easter and Western branches of the church in the 11th century.
Modern arguments abound regarding the hierarchy of Father-Son-Spirit. Contemporary conflicts multiply about the gendered language of trinitarian thought and moving toward formulations such as Creator-Redeemer-Comforter.
In fact, the list of early century heresies and modern attempts to revive or reformulate theories about the Trinity can make ones head spin. It takes upper level philosophy and vocabulary to explain how 3 can be 1 or how a monotheistic religion has 3 persons in the godhead. It gets even more complicated when one has to explain exactly what happened on the cross and where exactly ‘god’ was.
It can be done but it is sticky and messy to say the least.
Then there is the whole matter of the ‘economic’ trinity and the ‘ontological’ trinity. That is for another time. Suffice to say that examination and exploration of trinitarian theories are deep.
One sure thing is that we have a beautiful legacy in this perichoretic picture of the inner-life and dance of god from the 3rd century.
Artwork for the series provided by Jesse Turri
* another complicated distinction many may not know is that when speaking of the Trinity use of the phrase ‘person’ does not , in any way, conotate the modern/contemporary understudying of personhood. God is not a person in that sense. Theologians use it as a ‘super-category’ – almost like a place holder that they know needs to be defined, clarified and expanded later.
It is an unfortunate quirk in the English language that leads negatives – or negations – to begin with the letter ‘I’.
The resulting effect is that some of the most problematic and even disturbing words in the theological tool-shed begin with ‘I’.
These are just a sample, but are the 4 that we will focus on today.
These four ‘I’ words are just a sample of the kinds of words that lay-people can find both intimidating and infuriating about theology. Some have even lost their faith over these ‘I’ words.
Don’t even get me started on irresistible grace and infralapsarian – two concepts that hard-core Calvinists will bring up.
I say this in all seriousness. There is something about ‘I’ words which exhibit the most intense aspect of the difficulties when delving into theology. Many people point to words like these as an example of exactly why they are not interested in theology.
I have named 6 problematic ‘I’ words so far – but I will offer 2 more (inspiration and incarnation) as examples of ‘keeping it simple’ as an antidote to becoming disillusioned.
Let’s deal with the Bible first and then with God.
We live in a unique time of history where those who claim to believe the Bible the most attempt to place two words not found in scripture upon the Bible:
Inerrancy: The idea that Scripture is completely free from error. It is generally agreed by all theologians who use the term that inerrancy at least refers to the trustworthy and authoritative nature of Scripture as God’s Word, which informs humankind of the need for and the way to *salvation. Some theologians, however, affirm that the Bible is also completely accurate in whatever it teaches about other subjects, such as science and history.
This is admittedly a tough line to hold. The more that one learns about Biblical scholarship or historical criticism the tougher it gets. Inerrancy is an outside idea imposed upon the Bible that the Bible itself and thus has a tough time living up to its claim. It does not, however, mean that the Bible is not trustworthy!! This is my point! One can trust the Biblical narrative without having to elevate it to the level of inerrant.
Infallibility: The characteristic of being incapable of failing to accomplish a predetermined purpose. In Protestant theology infallibility is usually associated with Scripture. The Bible will not fail in its ultimate purpose of revealing God and the way of *salvation to humans. In Roman Catholic theology infallibility is also extended to the teaching of the church (“*magisterium” or “*dogma”) under the authority of the pope as the chief teacher and earthly head of the body of Christ.
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 726-731). Kindle Edition.
Infallibility is better than inerrancy. Infallible can simply mean that the Bible will accomplish that which it is meant to accomplish. That seems fair enough on the surface.
Here is my contention: Why do we need to assert that it is guaranteed to accomplish the task? Where does that need for certainty come from?
Why isn’t it enough to say that the Bible is ‘inspired’ and leave it at that?
Inspiration: A term used by many theologians to designate the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the human authors of the Bible to record what God desired to have written in the Scriptures. Theories explaining how God “superintended” the process of Scripture formation vary from dictation (the human authors wrote as secretaries, recording word for word what God said) to ecstatic writing (the human authors wrote at the peak of their human creativity). Most *evangelical theories of inspiration maintain that the Holy Spirit divinely guided the writing of Scripture, while at the same time allowing elements of the authors’ culture and historical context to come through, at least in matters of style, grammar and choice of words.
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 731-736). Kindle Edition.
2 Timothy 3:16 talks about scripture being ‘god breathed’ . I think that should suffice and that attempts to impose external expectations upon the scriptures are futile (impotent?). Whenever someone wants to talk about the ‘original’ texts, one only has to ask about them to see this folly.
It’s like calling the Bible ‘the Word of God’. The problem is that the New Testament refers to Jesus as the Word of God. Christians rightly refer to the testimony about Jesus as the scriptures. In this sense, they are words about the Word.
The problem starts when we want to upgrade the concept beyond its capability to sustain that we which we are attempting to assert upon it.
I would love if Christians would simply be satisfied with believing that the Bible is inspired by God’s Spirit and not attempt to make a claim on it that it can not sustain.
Now let’s talk about God.
The God that is revealed in Christ is, for the Christian, both informative and formative. It both sets a precedent and provides an interpretive lens.
As with the Bible (above) it is disastrous when we import foreign concepts of God (in this instance from Greek ideals) and impose them upon the revealed nature of Christ seen in the incarnation.
Immutability: The characteristic of not experiencing change or development. Certain understandings of God posit the divine reality as incapable of experiencing change in any way. Some theologians, however, assert that this concept owes more to Greek philosophical influence than to explicit biblical teaching. Many contemporary theologians distinguish between God’s eternally unchanging, faithful character and God’s ability to respond in different ways to changing human beings in their temporal, earthly situation.
Impassibility: The characteristic, usually associated with God, of being unaffected by earthly, temporal circumstances, particularly the experience of suffering and its effects. Many contemporary theologians reject the idea of divine impassibility, suggesting that it reflects Greek philosophical, rather than biblical, concerns. However, the Bible clearly teaches that God cannot be swayed in any way to be unfaithful to what God has promised. Still, it is seemingly impossible to associate pure impassibility with God in light of the fact that Jesus Christ, as the fullest manifestation of God, experienced suffering on the cross.
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 704-709). Kindle Edition.
You can see why these concepts are contentious. They are imported from somewhere else and then imposed upon the narrative of Scripture. In my opinion they are incompatible and thus unsustainable.
Our great hope is found in the in-carnate god. We will return to this concept in two days with the letter ‘K’ for kenosis.
I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, questions and comments.
BIG thanks to Jesse Turri for providing the artwork for each letter!
If you are interested you can see the early post about reading the Bible according to Genre or check out the art of Hermeneutics (interoperation). You may also want to look into the temptation of Fideism.
Having said that, my recent travels have given me reason to pause. In three different states – in three different regions of the country – I have had the pleasure of attending three different worship services. It was not lost on me that although they are three different denominational backgrounds, they all sang almost identical worship sets.
Now, the uniformity in contexts that proudly eschew liturgy is fascinating enough – but will have to wait.
What I want to focus on today is that in all three services the exact same song appeared … and it is a troubling song in the context of public worship.
I know that looking at contemporary worship music is a delicate affair. I have at times comforted those who are worried about worship. I have at other times needed to be reminded of the poetics involved corporate singing.
It is with appropriate caution that I offer a modest critique of this very popular song. I only bring it up because it is so emblematic of a larger issue that needs addressing.
The song is “How He Loves Us”. Here is how the song starts:
He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
Right off the bat we have 4 problems:
1) Who is ‘He’? The song never references God at all. It never introduces a character and then refers to ‘him’ by pronoun the rest of the time. There is no referent for ‘he’. It is odd to introduce a pronoun without an antecedent.
Herein lies the problem: the assumed ‘you’ (or in this case ‘he’) of modern worship music is too comfortable. I don’t mean in a ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ sort of way. I mean in an christendom assumption that everyone in the room means/thinks the same thing.
This presumption of identity is the exact thing that we need to be correcting/ deconstructing with good and meaningful worship! Instead, we go early and often to therapeutic songs about belonging, identity and longing.
2) Mercy Doesn’t Bend Trees. I get the imagery of the hurricane. It is fine to allude to imagery and even use allegory. Music is expressive! I get that. But if you are going to employ a device … stick with it.
‘He’ is a hurricane, I am a tree. Fine. Wind bends trees. Got it. What is the mercy part? Mercy doesn’t bend trees. That line doesn’t make any sense.
Herein lies the problem: the thoughtless jumping into and out of poetic devices is distracting to anyone who is actually thinking about what they are singing. If your going to employ imagery – go with it. Stick with it. As worshipers we will give you plenty of permission to be creative. Just don’t be distracting.
3) Who are you singing to? The next line of the song then shifts voices/audiences.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
We were just singing about ‘Him’ and now you (singular) are singing to ‘You’. What happened there? It is like this song loses its train of thought or switches into and out of storytelling mode impulsively.
Herein lies the problem: contemporary worship songs have become so emotive that what may be appropriate for the song writer’s personal/private experience may not be as suitable for public/corporate worship.
4) He Loves Us. The chorus then has another shift in voice and audience and now ‘we‘ are signing about ‘Him’. The music swells and settles into a powerful and constant sway. The audience comes together into full-throated unity. It is an amazing crescendo and it resonates deeply in our hearts as we remind each other of the deepest truth in the universe: God is love (I John 4:8) and that love is for the whole world (John 3:16).
Herein lies the problem: the chorus is beautiful and deep and meaningful and true. So my concern about the distracting and scattered nature of the song up to this point may lead someone to ask “You don’t like that song? I love that song! It means so much to me and I experienced God’s love when we sang it.” And that is the problem! Because songs are so powerful and people’s experience in/of them is so profound and meaningful … we need to be more careful with the stuff we throw up on the powerpoint projector.
My concern is not with the sincere congregant who throws themselves whole-heartedly into a worship chorus and isn’t analyzing every detail of the progression and theology. God bless them!
My concern is with the leadership that chooses and orchestrates the worship gathering! We need to love, lead and protect people because they are vulnerable when they on their knees – with their eyes closed – and their hands raised to heaven. That is a vulnerable position and we are asking them to offer their whole hearts to God – we can’t be this sloppy and unquestioning in our song selection.
I could go on with my critique of this song. It gets weirder and more erratic. I don’t want to beat a dead horse though.
Let me close with this: If you were to take the lyrics of a song and plug them into one of those ‘word bubble’ generators, if ‘He’ is the biggest word + ‘God’ never appears in the song = the song is making assumptions we cannot afford to make in the 21st century.
In a post-modern post-christendom context, people are coming in with both great needs and massive assumptions. We are missing the very opportunity that worship of the living God provides when we don’t challenge those assumptions (of both God’s identity as well as our own identity) and meet those needs of forgiveness, acceptance and belonging.
It is time to ask again what the purpose of worship is and then select songs accordingly. Otherwise we are missing an opportunity to teach about God and introduce people to that God who loves them so very much.
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, concerns and corrections.
John Dominic Crossan is back on the podcast. Crossan is a legendary New Testament scholar, Jesus Seminar provocateur, and popular lecturer all across the progressive church. We will discuss the last 30 years of historical Jesus research, its role in the academy, the growing audience in the public square, changes in the church and his two most recent books The Power of Parable & The Greatest Prayer.
We recently re-published Crossan’s first visit to the podcast over 5 plus years ago on the new Barrel Aged podcast stream. Go check out his discussion of God and Empire which remains my favorite book of his.
A question was posed to me on twitter about propitiation in connection with last month’s pre-Easter posts (and good Friday). I got permission from Michael Hardin to use a large amount of text from his book A Jesus Driven Life. You can also listen to my interview with Hardin for more.
Here is Hardin (formatted for a blog):
Observe three critical areas where the early fathers missed important aspects of the non-sacrificial hermeneutic witnessed to in the Hebrew Bible and exploited in the New Testament.
That is, they missed the insight that there was a development away from all sacrifice, and that God neither wanted nor desired sacrifices (Psalm 40; Jer. 7; Amos 5; Psalm 51, etc).
Had they perceived this they would not have laid the framework for the later church to speak of God in almost schizophrenic terms. In what appears to become a tortured discussion in later Christian theology, the work of the Son somehow appeases the wrath and hatred of the father who loves (sic) humanity. God’s anger and mercy battle like mythological Titans. And this battle is still reflected in contemporary doctrines of the atonement.
Only in I Clement and a century later in Irenaeus are Cain and Abel even mentioned. The crucial role of imitation in Genesis that issues in violence and sacrifice and the unmasking of the victim in Genesis 4 is muted when Augustine interprets Genesis 3 through his neo-Platonist glasses and blames humanity’s fall on sexual desire. The other significant person to pick up on this some 1500 years later also, namely Sigmund Freud, like Augustine, missed the founding murder. Sexual desire, like before, became the culprit.
There is no wholesale appropriation of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament. In short, the church’s indulgence in dualistic categories set up conflict in all of its subsequent theological discussion.
The disastrous dualism that plagued early Christian controversies continues to do so to the present day.
Colin Gunton claims that what the doctrine of impassability (that God the Father cannot suffer) was to the church fathers, post-Kantian dualism is to modern theology (the split between what you know and what is really there). God is ‘beyond’ and there is no bridge between there and here; hence, there can be no suffering God. Indeed the patripassionist debate of the second and third centuries (could God suffer, did the Father also suffer or just the Son?) is, according to Jaroslav Pelikan, the same issue that faced Marcion and the Gnostics, viz., “the crucifixion and death of the one who was called God.”
It is no mistake that the very crisis of bringing together the two Testaments, and the two different understandings of God, was also the time when the church turned to the Platonic notion of the unchanging God.
Either God changes or God doesn’t change. Or we have got God wrong. And this last is tough to admit.
So tough in fact as to be unthinkable for those who were transforming Christianity from a persecuted movement into an institution of power.
The point of exploring this issue is to note that the troublesome problem of the violence of God in the Hebrew Bible played a key role in how the early church understood God. While it is true that the ethics they taught were nonviolent (as we saw in The Didache and the Gospel of Matthew), they could not see what Jesus also taught was the theology of a nonviolent God.
Their Platonism blinded them. (1)
On Romans 3
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [hilasterion], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
There are several key questions we must resolve in order to interpret this text.
The KJV translates this term as “propitiation” while the RSV uses “expiation.”
To propitiate a god is to make a sacrifice to appease wrath, anger or a curse. We are already familiar with this as the sacrificial principle.
On the other hand, to expiate sin is to remove it; it looks to the object causing sin rather than God as the object to be appeased.
There has been quite a bit of ink spilled over which translation best captures hilasterion. Those who reject an angry divinity prefer expiation while those like neo-Reformed thinkers John Piper and Thomas Schreiner believe that God’s wrath needs to be assuaged and justice satisfied prefer propitiation.
The way out of this dilemma is to follow the logic of Paul’s subversion of the sacrificial process. Robert Hamerton-Kelly points out that, “The major new element is that Paul inverts the traditional understanding of sacrifice so that God is the offerer, not the receiver, and the scapegoat goes into the sacred precinct rather than out of it. Christ is a divine offering to humankind, not a human offering to God. In the normal order of sacrifice, humans give and the god receives; here the god gives and humans receive. The usual explanation of this passage is that human sin deserved divine punishment, but in mercy God substituted a propitiatory offering to bear the divine wrath instead of humanity. We must insist on the fact that the recipients are human, otherwise we fall into the absurdity of God’s giving a propitiatory gift to God.
Normally the offerer goes from profane to sacred space to make the offering; here the offerer comes out of sacred space into profane, publically to set forth (proetheto) the propitiation (hilasterion) there. These inversions of the normal order of sacrifice mean that it is not God who needs to be propitiated, but humanity, and not in the recesses of the Sacred, but in the full light of day.”
The point of this is that if one insists on translating hilasterion as propitiation then one must also take into consideration the subversion of the sacrificial principle. There is therefore, in this passage no justification for arguing that God’s wrath must be propitiated. We humans are the ones who need to be appeased.
Whether we translate hilasterion as ‘propitiation’ or ‘expiation’, in neither case do we need speak of God’s wrath being appeased, it is not in the text itself, it can only come from prior assumptions regarding sacrifice in general. (2)
1: Hardin, Michael (2013-09-26). The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity With Jesus, 2nd Edition Revised and Expanded (Kindle Locations 3641-3683). JDL Press. Kindle Edition.
2: Locations 6240-6278.
Unfolded is back!
It’s not a stretch to say that this year we’ve had along, hard winter, and I (Jesse) wrote a story about it. Give it a listen, I think it is one of our best episodes yet! Matt once again kills it on the 1’s and 2’s.
We hope you enjoy.
Also, please remember to…
Talk to Us
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