Friday, May 27, 2022

James White on Hermeneutics

Here is a good primer on the basics of hermeneutics and biblical exegesis by Dr James White.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Eastern and the Western views on the Trinity?

In the classical Latin Trinitarian doctrine, “Father, Son and Spirit are only ‘relatively’ distinct.” Whatever the interpretation given to the idea of “relation” implies in this statement, it is clear that Western thought recognized the ontological primacy of essential unity over personal diversity inn God; that is, that God is essentially one, except in the divine Persons, who are defined in terms of relations. In Byzantine thought, however—to use an expression from Maximus the Confessor—“God is identically monad and triad,” and there is probably a tendency in both worship and philosophical formulations (as distinct from doctrinal statements) to give a certain pre-eminence to the personal diversity over essential unity. A reference to the Nicaean “consubstantial” was the Byzantine response to the accusation of “tritheism.” (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, 184)

In light of the 2016 controversy over the Trinity, and the subsequent rise of Neo-Thomism in conservative Evangelicalism, does any of these look familiar?

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Meyendorff on Nicaea and the issue of subordination

It is common in the Neo-Thomist revival to assert that subordination of any kind is contrary to Nicene orthodoxy. Now, whether that is so can be discussed. It is however, interesting to read what an Eastern Orthodox theologian has said about the matter.

By accepting Nicaea, the Cappadocian Fathers eliminated the ontological subordinationism of Origen and Arius, but they preserved indeed, together with their understanding of hypostatic life, a Biblical and Orthodox subordinationism, maintaining the personal identity of the Father as the ultimate origin of all divine being and action: … (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, 183)

Now, that is interesting and food for thought.

Meyendorff on the reception of the Fifth and Sixth "Ecumenical" Councils in the West

... although the Quinisext is invested with “ecumenical” authority in the Byzantine Church tradition, it has never been received as such in the West. Actually, since it explicitly condemns several Latin liturgical and canonical practices, it already clearly implies an understanding of Church tradition and authority differing from that of the Latin Church. (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, 82)

Are the fifth and sixth councils ecumenical? It seems that John Meyendorff does not think that the Western Church has ever received it as ecumenical. This is not to say that the West has not approved of parts of these councils, but I doubt they endorsed them wholly.

The impact of Pseudo-Dionysius in EO liturgy and sacramentology

Fortunately Dionysian theology has had practically no effect upon such central texts as the baptismal prayer and Eucharistic canons. It served principally to develop and explain the extremely rich fringes with which Byzantium now adorned the central sacramental actions of the Christian faith, without modifying its very hear, and thus leaving the door open to authentic liturgical and sacramental theology which would still inspire the mainstream of Byzantine spirituality. (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: historical trends and doctrinal themes, 30-31)

So, according to John Meyendorff, the impact of the Neoplatonic Pseudo-Dionysian error in Eastern Orthodoxy is seen in its liturgy and view of the sacraments, and thus presumably into its view of icons? I guess that is why the liturgy must re-enact the celestial hierarchy.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A hypothesis on energies and will in medieval Constantinople

This dynamic conception of created nature constitutes Maximus' main argument against the "Monoenergists" of the seventh century, whose Christology considered Christ's humanity as having lost its geniunely human "energy" or will because of its union with divinity. But, for Maximus, created nature would lose its very existence if it were deprived of its proper energy, its proper purpose, and its proper dynamic identity. This proper movement of nature, however, can be fully itself only if it follows its proper goal (skopos), which consists in striving for God, entering into communion with Him, and thus fulfilling the logos, or divine purpose, though which and for which it is created. (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Thoeology: historical trends and doctrinal themes, 133)

When it comes to the issue of will, it is interesting how Eastern theologians like Vladimir Lossky have distinguished between "will" and "choice." To understand why that is so, we have to look at what happened during the 6th century controversies over monoenergism and monothelitism, which are not exactly topics most people are interested in. Most certainly, the writings of Maximus would be helpful. But in the meantime, from what Meyendorff has written, it seems there is more than meets the eye in this distinction between will and choice.

In the controversy over monoenergism and monothelitism, nature is associated with energy, and energy to will. Therefore, just as there are two natures in Christ, so likewise there are two energies and two wills. In Meyendorff's book, the picture that seems to emerge is as follows: The workings or energes are identified by where they come from, as energies are the dynamic movement (kinesis) of natures. Therefore, in the case of Christ, he must have a human energy because the human nature will "imprint" as such when energy proceeds from it. But energy must be properly directed, and the will directs the energy according to the proper goal (skopos) of its movement (kinesis). In other words, the will moves the energies to its final cause.

This is of course just a preliminary picture for now. But such a picture would make sense of why the Byzatines held that Christ has two wills. If however, we define 'will' differently, then there is no reason why we cannot tie 'will' to person instead of nature, and so better preserve the dynamism of the three Persons.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Ryan Mullins on the New Classical Theists on impassibility

Theologian Ryan Mullins in his latest podcast deals with some bad arguments by classical theists, albeit on the issue of impassibility. You can listen to it here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

What does repentance and faith look like in a fascist or communist?

The furore over Tim Keller's promotion of third way-ism is just another glipmse into the corruption that is mainstream evangelical Christianity in America. After David Wood wrote a sympathatic critique of Keller, the liberal David French, a political commentator who claims to be conservative while corrupting the faith, has attacked such criticism of Keller's compromise as "moral devolution" of the "new Christian right." Rod Dreher in turn criticized French as misreading American society and for creating a false dichotomy between love of enemies and truth.

As a non-American, I try not to comment much on American social issues. However, insofar as it deals with morality, it is an issue that transcends national borders. On this, there is a larger issue than politics here. The issue is what intellectual sin looks like, and what repentance looks like as it pertains to intellectual sin. That sadly has been missing from the discussion so far.

Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God (WSC Q14). The human person is a whole person, involving the intellect, the will, emotions, and actions. We are to worship God will all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Lk. 10:27), precisely because we are whole human persons. Sin affects all our faculties, thus affecting the intellect, the will, the emotions, and our actions. Therefore, it stands to reason that repentance ought to affect all our faculties too, including the intellect.

Intellectual sins therefore are sins that ought to be repented as the person turns to Christ. On intellectual sins, there are sins due to ignorance, and sins due to sloth. But there are also grievous sins due to extreme rebellion. Just as in practice, there are sins that would call into question one's profession of faith (e.g. incest e.g. 1 Cor. 5:1), so likewise there are grievous intellectual sins that would call into question one's profession of faith. An example of grievious intellectual sin is belief in any system that denies Jesus is God.

Intellectual sins are present when one holds to systems that expressly rejects biblical standards and supplant biblical morality, regardless of whether one goes all the way into full-fledged conversion to that system of belief. In fact, holding to anti-biblical systems while paying lip service to the true God is the very definition of syncretism. Anti-biblical systems currently in vogue are fascism and communism, or a fusion of the two - corporate wokeism. These systems are so anti-biblical they call good evil and evil good. For example, what God calls abomination, they celebrate as virtuous under the vacuous slogan "love is love."

What does repentance and faith look like therefore for a fascist or communist? Given the extreme anti-biblical nature of theses systems, part of being a Christian is to repent of these anti-Christian sysytems of beliefs. There is no way one can be a repentant Christian and still hold that homosexuality is good or neutral in society. Therefore, a Marxist or woke person who has undergone the new birth will renounce their fomer beliefs as false, and turn in new life in the life-giving truths of Scripture.

The furore over Keller "third way-ism" obscures this most important fact: What currently goes under the label progressivism is sin. The solution is not conservatism (a sociological conversion), but true biblical repentance from all these anti-biblical ideologies. When David French promotes Drag Queen Story Hour, his main sin was not going against the sensibilities of conservatives, but in normalizing wickedness in the eyes of God. The issue is not sociological, but harmatiological. That is why Keller's third-way, and French's "moral winsomeness" fails, because they ultimately rejects what God says as sociological and political, rejecting the final authority of God's Word for their own political positions. Just because one side politicizes biblical morality does not mean God's standards suddenly become political, and attempting a compromise with an anti-biblical position under the guise of "third way" and "not being political," "not being partisan," moral witness," and all other empty slogans, is sin. The key issue is not "Is it political?," but "What does God say."

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

The Communicatio Idiomatum and the person of Christ

The Communicatio Idiomatum helps inform us how predication works between the two natures of Christ, and the one person of Christ. Every other person has one nature, so there is no precedent for a person having two natures. Jesus Christ is sui generis in this regard. The Reformed version of the Commincatio makes predication in the direction of the natures to the person. What is true of the natures is true of the one person. The Lutheran version on the other hand asserts that there is a sharing between the two natures, thus the humanity of Christ can be ubiquitous allowing for the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation with the body of Christ being 'in, with, and under' the elements of the Lord's Supper.

The Communicatio is by and large a philosophical concept derived from centuries of trying to explain how the God-man. However, it is present in seed form in Acts 20:28, where the Church of God is obtained with God's own blood. But we know God is spirit and has no blood, so the only way to understand this is to predicate the divine nature here as true of the one person. Along this line, Jesus is both mutable and immutable, both passible and impassible, both glorious forever, and yet not glorious during His incarnation.

As what is true of the natures is predicated of the one person, it is clear that we can say things about the one person of Christ that we cannot say of God. Jesus hungered, Jesus thirst, Jesus prayed to the Father. While it is in the human nature that at least the first two is true, it is also true that it is the one person who did this. It is contrary to Reformed orthodoxy, and contrary to common sense, to claim that the human nature has agency to so something which the one person does not. In fact, it is fundamentally Nestorian to assert that the human nature has an agency that the "one person" does not, because it means that the human nature is a separate human person. This makes Jesus into two persons: one divine, one human, and that is contrary to Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

Classical Theists are more than welcome to argue for their case. However, being over-zealous to the point of rejecting Chalcedon certainly shows the inbalance on the side of many of these new Thomists. Put is simply, it is never right to be more Thomstic than Thomas, and more "orthodox" than Chalcedon. The minute you ascribe agency to the human nature that is not that of the one person, you have lost it, period.

Confusion over the Kingship of Christ over the nations

The "third-way" campaign by those who are seeking to get Christians out of the public square continues. Using elements common to the 2-Kingdom theory, they assert that Christians are currently exiles and they are to live as among a pagan people, not to engage in activism to bring in a "Christian nation." All of this sound very pious, but the problem is that it is just unbiblical nonsense, and 2-Kingdom theory does not even teach that to be the case. 2-Kingdom theory merely asserts that there is the Kingdom of the church and the Kingdom of the world, and God rules both. 2-Kingdom by itself does not say how Christians ought to behave in the public square, unless one ignores the explicit words of its main proponent Dr VanDrunen.

The model for Christian living in the world is indeed the exilic model (c.f. 1 Peter 1:1-2). The Church today is not a theocracy, where Church and State are linked. Old Testament Israel is not our paradigm for living today. As exiles in the world, we are not seeking to dominate the world neither are we seeking to advance God's Kingdom by political means. However, does this imply that Christians are to be quietists and be totally apolitical?

Christians are in two kingdoms: the kingdom of the church, and the kingdom of the world. That means that we are to be engaged in each. Concerning our current presence in the world, we are to engage in it according to natural law, or the law God has instituted in creation. Concerning issues of morality and law therefore, our engagement is to be strictly creational and moral, not cultic, as in to say not of religion. Therefore, just as God condemns pagan nations for engaging in egregious behavior (Obadiah, c.f. Gen 16:15), and especially extreme perverse behavior (Gen 19:23-29), so likewise Christians even in the exile can speak up against such perversion. We note here the categorical difference between egregious violation of natural law and idolatry. Idolatry is sin, but is a sin against God not as Creator. There is therefore no inconsistency for Christians in exilic living among non-Christians, and addressing the wickedness of rank immorality in the world.

The problem of those promoting a "third way" is that they promote a view of sin that is unbiblical. They hold all sins to be equal in kind, though not in intensity. Therefore, who is to say one sin is worse than another? That is why they end up tolerating gross immorality since they see no difference between gross immorality and sin. In their view, someone who mutilates his body as a "transgender" is just as sinful as a glutton, and if the church can tolerate the latter as a member of the church, why not the former? Such people do not understand sin correctly, and it shows. Turning around to attack others as trying to confuse the Kingdom of God with the Church is a false accusation for the most part. In fact, taking their position implies that Christians must tolerate, even celebrate, all manner of sin and filth in society, with no limits whatsoever, a view that certainly goes against the injunction to sek the welfare of the place we are in (Jer. 29:7)

The fact of the matter is that Christ is king over BOTH kingdoms. Those who use the exile motif as an excuse to attack those of us who engage with society are functionally living in denial of the kingship of Christ over creation. They can ssert all they want that they are biblical, but actions sometimes do speak louder than words.