P is for Perichoresis

Perichoresis is the most beautiful and elegant picture of the Christian godhead that many Christians may be completly unaware of.P-Perichoresis

The easiest way to break down the word is:

  • Peri – as in perimeter
  • Choresis – as in choreograph (from the Greek word to ‘give away’ or ‘make room’)

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. 

Resurrection – whether physical, spiritual or poetic – Really Matters!

I awoke to a provocative text from my friend on the East coast yesterday morning. He had a 3 hour head start on me and I assume he was at an Easter sunrise service.

My friend knows that I now minister in a context where not everyone believes in physical resurrection, preferring a more ‘spiritual’ interpretation or even a poetic one.

He wanted to know how you preach hope without a physical resurrection. I informed him that it is was almost no different. For all the energy and effort we put into defending the Evidence That Demands a Verdict reading of the Easter story, the reality is that:

  1. You can say almost everything you used to say
  2. It has the same impact on how people live their lives either way

That was a sobering realization for me a couple of years ago.

Side Note: This is why I get into it with Tripp when he insists on THE resurrection and scoffs at my preference for Resurrection. [you can read about his disdain for my friend ‘Al’ here]

I thought it would be fun put my response here and compare notes with others who have been on both sides of this fence.

Here is what I said about preaching hope on Easter:Palouse2TreeSunsetFusion2_2

“In the same way that the disciples experienced the presence of Christ after Easter, we experience God’s presence with us.

Through the presence of God’s holy spirit we both re-member Christ and are empowered to obey Jesus’ teaching and as we do this we are the Body of Christ and the presence of God in the world.

We know that in Christ there is a life beyond death and the grave does not have the last word.”

It is strangely both encouraging and discouraging a the same time to realize.

  • Encouraging that living as Easter people, no matter your view of resurrection, means living out the life of God in the world and bringing/being good news to the world.
  • Discouraging that so much time and energy is expended on getting this right when in the end we all basically live the same way, serve with grace, and spend our time, talents and treasure in almost identical ways.

Living as Easter people is a privilege and joy! We proclaim good news in the Gospel of incarnation and emanuel.
We live into the new life and know that there is life beyond death! It is actually really good news that we have share – no matter if our view is physical, spiritual or poetic.

The Authority Question – Pentecostals & Methodists

Last week, at the Phyllis Tickle event, the ‘authority question’ came up, as it will/should whenever someone starts talking about ‘the Spirit’pentecost01

I was sitting out in the audience for the Fuller Seminary part of the evening. A little debate/concern arose about the issue of authority – especially as it relates to the rapidly growing pentecostalism of the Southern Hemisphere.

I leaned over to the pastor sitting beside me and jokingly said “I pastored a charismatic church for a decade, and now I am at a Methodist church … this seems like the easiest thing in the world to navigate.”  The pastor requested that I blog about it.

Let’s get all the parts on the table and see how they come together:

Element 1: in the past we talked about seats or locations. Where does authority reside? Answers have included leaders, scripture, the collective, bylaws, reason, etc. Traditionally we have talked about authority in a static sense.

Element 2: in the Methodist tradition we have the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason. (for an interesting side-read, John Cobb questions the sequence of those four elements)

Elements 3: I read a fascinating article a while ago about developments in neuroscience. Researches have long looked for which part of the brain memories reside in. It turns out that memories are not located in any one place but in the connection made between different parts of the brain.

 

Proposal: Authority, like memory, is not located in any one place. It is uniquely comprised of the connection between component parts. Depending on the collected aspects, the authority that emerges will be unique to that organization, congregation and movement.

Authority, therefor, doesn’t exist (per se) in that same sense that we used to conceptualize it … OR perhaps I should say it doesn’t reside somewhere – but in the connection and configuration of collected elements.

 

The reason that ‘the authority question’ is so elusive is because it is different in every place and is changing all the time

Authority will look different if you are Catholic charismatic in S. America than if you are a non-denominational megachurch in N. America. This is due to its emergent nature as an evolving concept.

Thoughts?

Drop ‘The’

It has happened again. The word ‘the’ has become a stumbling block.

The first incident occurred on TNT when I spoke up about my friendship with ‘Al’ – as in incarnational, etc. – and Tripp professed his love for the word ‘the’. ?Tripp wants to talk about the incarnation and the resurrection. ?I am more interested in a more generic, and I would add more fruitful, discussion about concepts like incarnation and resurrection.
You can read more about ‘Al’ here.

The second occasion was a little less contentious and I loved the feedback I got from the suggestion to Add An ‘S’ As A Test. ?It turns our that simple making something plural can be a great way to get away from the certitude or dogmatic cul de sac that conversation can get caught up in.
You can read more about Adding An ‘S’ here.

Last week a third incident emerged. At the Phyllis Tickle event to celebrate her new book and her life’s work, Barry Taylor (who I have studied with) offered a profound challenge. ?Phyllis’ new book is about Age of the Spirit. It became clear in the Q&R at Fuller Seminary that the Spirit was going to be a point of concern for people. You have questions about the modern pentecostal movement at one end and concern about early Trinitarian formulations at the other.
What Barry Taylor suggested at the Live3D event afterward was dropping the ‘the’ in Age of the Spirit. Why not just talk about the Age of Spirit?

Dropping ‘the’ is sometimes necessary when adding an ‘s’.fundamentals

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that this is a cure-all formula for getting out of any theological pickle/quandary that you find yourself in. ?What I am saying is that dropping ‘the’ can sometimes open up greater possibilities AND provide much needed clarity to doctrinal or historical gridlock.

The bottom line: We are moving out of an era built around certainty and on propositional truth. Things are becoming more fractured, de-centered and relational (there is Al again). This can be a good thing – shifting from certainty.
(Now, in fairness, Phyllis had a great trinitarian answer to Barry’s concern that you will be able to hear later when the podcast comes out.)
There is a lager issue at hand, however, and that is the way in which we hold truth. I’m going to suggest in a post later this week that we revisit not just our conceptions of God and religious experiences – but that we hold our interpretations of them differently. Until then, I want to encourage you to do a little experiment and drop ‘the’.
Let me know how it goes.

Starter Suggestion: if you are someone who uses the phrase ‘the church’, try and replace that phrase with the word ‘churches’ and see if the sentence still makes sense. It probably won’t – which means that you will have to go back and look at the assumptions that underly the sentence.

Pastoring the Process

What a week! On top of interacting with concerns of Roger Olson and Tony Jones about process thought, I have received amazing emails, tweets, blog and Facebook comments.

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Here are the 4 biggest themes that emerged from those interactions.

 

How does Process affect your field of Practical Theology?

The first thing to understand that Practical Theology is kinda sociology with a theological lens. We use interviews, case studies & ethnographies (qualitative methods) to investigate how religion is lived out on the ground.

So a Practical Theologian does not need to subscribe to any particular school of thought per se. We do have to locate ourselves philosophically but no one approach is required.

Having said that … I am primarily concerned with pastoral theology and as a pastor, process theology has deeply impacted the way that I think, believe, lead and facilitate my interactions with the community of faith.

 

Doesn’t it seem weird to base so much on the philosophy of one guy in the 20th century?

Not exactly. Once you understand that all of christian history and specifically western theology is based and embedded with philosophy from day 1. If you don’t know how the Gospel of John or the Nicene Creed is laced with philosophical frameworks, this will be eye-opening to you.

Having said that, the philosophical approach that come from thinkers like Alfred North Whitehead is notable in a number a ways. It is naturalist (vs. empiricist) and it is advantageous in the areas of:

A) creation-care

B) give and take (symbiotic) relationship we have with the earth & the rest of creation

C) the realistic (not idealistic) way that things are after the industrial revolution

D) emergent thought and evolutionary history

When you put that all together, THEN add the fact that Whitehead had a Bible – what you end up with is an approach that is far more compatible with the way that the world actually works than anything we have inherited from centuries past.

 

Does it really matter?

100% Yes! Are you kidding me? When people question the nature of God’s power – why God doesn’t do the things that a god is supposed to do – when God, who could do anything if ‘he’ wanted to, doesn’t do them … both the world and the faith that we have inherited doesn’t make any sense.

Giving people both a permission to ask questions and a framework to process different approaches is a gift in the 21st century.

There is no school of thought that I have found more fruitful in engaging than process. Engaging biblical scholarship is a great starter. Asking big question about the nature of human violence (like memetic theory) is a catalyst. The pièce de résistance is found an alternative framework that not only asks different questions but allows for different answers.

 

Does it change how you pastor? 

Absolutely! If the nature of God’s power is not coercive but persuasive, then it affects everything.

  • The way you view administration
  • The way you counsel people
  • The way you preach
  • The way you recruit help
  • The way you pray
  • The way you empower & delegate
  • The way you do hospital visitation
  • The way you respond to criticism
  • The way discipleship is defined*
  • The way the community conceives of itself and participates
  • The way you perceive outsiders

I actually can not think of one aspect of church-life that is untouched  by this upgrade in operating-systems.

 

As you can tell, I am having a blast, so feel free to keep the conversation rolling! What else do we want to address? 

 

* In last night’s response “Is God Unique?” I made the case – based on the Advent podcast with John Cobb – that following Jesus in discipleship looks a little different. 

Jesus was as open to and as faithful to the will of God as Mother Theresa was to her calling, Francis of Assisi was to being Francis, maybe even Buddha was to be Buddha … That is not what makes Jesus unique.

WHAT makes Jesus unique is WHAT God called Jesus to. It is possible that all of these people were equally open & available to god as Jesus was. The difference is what God called Jesus to.

Jesus played a unique role in human history. No has ever – or will ever – play that role. What God did in Jesus has impacted all of humanity. Jesus is unique.

NOW having said that … the art of following Jesus is being open to and available to the presence of God the way that Jesus was open to available to the will of God is Jesus’ life.

Being like Jesus is not doing what Jesus did (walking on water) but being available to God the way the Jesus was available to God. This is discipleship.

 

Grace Ji-Sun Kim and the Transformative Spirit

Grace Ji-Sun Kim is the author of  “Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit“, “The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology”  and “The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology“.800px-Dr_Grace_Ji-Sun_Kim_1

She is also the Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program at Moravian Theological Seminary. 

More information can be found on her website http://gracejisunkim.wordpress.com/

If you are feeling inspired and wanting to follow up with this interview, you may wish to revisit the conversation that we had with Andrew Sung-Park way back in episode 94.

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