Thursday, December 12, 2013, 10:20 AM
I tweeted, “In Christ’s body, there are no vestigial organs.” One might respond by pointing out that some members of the visible church are dead, some so cancerous that they take over other body parts.
We might then say, “the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every healthy (or elect) joint supplies, according to the proper working of each healthy (or elect) part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
I prefer Paul’s version: “every joint supplies . . . the proper working of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:16).
Are dead limbs then an illusion? Is the body of Christ impervious to infection?
Not at all: Even the dead limbs contribute to the growth of the body in love, insofar as they provide openings for the other members to revive them. Even the bacteria and viruses of the body of Christ further the growth and maturation of the body by strengthening the church’s immune system.
A pastor who deal faithfully with a rebellious thumb or a deaf ear becomes a better pastor, more courageous, more cunning, more Christlike. And so that thumb and that useless ear have their part in building the body.
Thursday, December 12, 2013, 7:53 AM
Peter Brown gives thumbs up to Kyle Harper’s From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity: “Not only does it measure the exact nature of the tension between the familiar and the deeply unfamiliar that lies behind our image of the sexual morality of Greeks and Romans of the Roman Empire of the classical period. It also goes on to evoke the sheer, unexpected strangeness of the very different sexual code elaborated in early Christian circles, and its sudden, largely unforeseen undermining of a very ancient social equilibrium in the two centuries that followed the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in 312. As Harper makes plain on the first page of his dense and vivid book, ‘Few periods of premodern history have witnessed such brisk and consequential ideological change. Sex was at the center of it all.’”
Brown sets up Harper’s book with a brief review of the literature.
Thursday, December 12, 2013, 7:23 AM
Keith Miller has a perceptive review of Geordie Grieg’s book about Lucian Freud, Breakfast with Lucian: The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter.
He is perceptive on the paintings: “A large irony of Freud’s career is that while he was, or seemed, pathologically afraid of being (or seeming) middle-class, his work was stolidly bourgeois in its narrowness of affect and laboured execution, its exaltation of a disillusioned materialism, its retro existentialism. A ‘real’ painter in a period dominated by abstractionists and conceptualists, he began as a kind of neo-Romantic, an anguished young exquisite. Then he switched from soft sable brushes to stubby hog bristle, and the spidery, opalescent elegance and surrealist grace notes of the early 1950s gave way to a joyless, staccato technique and a palette of municipal drabness – though unexplained guest appearances from animals continued to feature. Occasionally in his ‘mature’ paintings there’s a pleasing sense of movement, the loaded brush careering over layers of wet-in-wet paint like a five-year-old mucking around with leftover cake mix; more often, the paint mounts up in a curdled mass, the sitters’ eyes (such a strong feature of the early pictures) all but disappearing under stippled encrustations of raw umber and Chemnitz white. The effect is not so much the pitiless inquest into the human predicament that his admirers claim to see as the ceiling of a working men’s club.”
And he is perceptive on the painter: “His strong appetite for daughters of the nobility is distinctly reminiscent of the rock stars of the 1960s, whose wicked elder brothers he in some ways resembles (in middle age they have all started to dress like him, too, with those annoying thin scarves). Some of his many children seem to think very highly of him; some don’t even know they are his children. But I do feel sorry for the ones to whom he made himself known, while not troubling to disguise his indifference. Still, Freud left a pre-tax estate of £96 million, as Geordie Greig does not fail to inform us; and, as someone once said, you haven’t completely failed as a parent if your kids can afford their own analysis. Lucian Freud, by the way, was dismissive of his grandfather’s achievements in that field; he did rate him highly as a zoologist, though, praising his important contribution to the study of sexual difference in eels.”
Thursday, December 12, 2013, 7:06 AM
When Moses strikes the rock in the wilderness, it pours out water. When the Angel of Yahweh strikes a rock in Gideon’s presence, it bursts into flame and eats up the sacrificial meat and bread (Judges 6:21).
In both cases, we can say with Paul “the Rock was Christ.” That’s explicit with the Rock in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10).
When His food is placed in an altar, Yahweh “eats” it in His fiery presence, a sign of acceptance and communion between Yahweh and the worshiper, a sign of covenant renewed. Gideon’s Rock is an altar, Christ the altar, Christ who blazes with the fire of the Spirit, so that He might be consumed and return to the Father.
Thursday, December 12, 2013, 5:07 AM
“Is anyone sick? He must call for the elders of the ecclesia and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).
Elders? Why not the physicians?
Only two passages in the Old Testament mention elders in connection with anointing, both of them accounts of the consecration of David as king (2 Samuel 5:3; 1 Chronicles 11:3). To be anointed by the elders of the assembly is to be acknowledged as king.
And so too the sick member of the church: By the anointing, his sickness is made royal, identified as a specific form of union with the Suffering King, the new David, who is the Head of the church.
See the anointed man at church, and you see what it means to take a cross to follow Jesus.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 11:21 AM
A third of the way through John Grisham’s Pelican Brief many years ago, I recognized Darby Sharp, the novel’s protagonist: She was Julia Roberts. Sure nuff, Roberts played the role in the film, no doubt just as Grisham had hoped she would.
As it turns out, Grisham has some tradition behind him. According to Bart van Es’s Shakespeare in Company, the Bard himself did it – writing characters, revising scripts, to fit them to his actors.
Charles Nicholl writes in his TLS review of the book: “Shakespeare’s achievement as a writer was in crucial ways communal; that the contributions of his playhouse colleagues, indeed his whole immersion in the business and practice of the theatre, are woven into the fabric of his plays; and that in a broadly chronological framework one can see his literary skills evolving in response to certain changes in his working conditions.” Not a new insight, Nicholl admits, but one that van Es pursues “with great vigour and clarity, and with much telling documentary detail.”
Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 10:18 AM
Lopez (Gift and the Unity of Being) ends a discussion of the home as a paradigm of giving with this lovely summary:
“In spousal love, the husband gives himself and, in giving himself, receives his wife, who, in receiving the husband, gives herself. Through the parents, the child is given to himself, and in so doing they accept him as given to them. The child receives the gift of himself in giving himself to the parents and others. Since the original evidence of being given to oneself remains the permanent determination of the gift that the person one is, one does not grow out of childhood. To be sure, infancy fades away in adolescence, which disappears into adulthood. Yet childhood, as indicating the identity of the gift that acknowledges the priority of its being given, grows ever deeper. Leaping out of childhood not only represents a denial of the gift but also calls forth its opposite: chaotic being” (34).
Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 10:10 AM
Again drawing on the work of Luigi Giussani, Lopez (Gift and the Unity of Being, 29-30) discusses the centrality of birth, the retrieval which is “the crucial cultural problem today.” According to Giussani, “every evil originates with the lie according to which man theoretically and practically attempts to define himself, forgetting, erasing from his memory his own birth.”
Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 9:43 AM
Lopez (Gift and the Unity of Being, 25) makes the crucial point that “give is also a logos, ‘a word, an invitation,’ that speaks of another.” This is essential to the gift: Quoting Luigi Giusanni, he writes that “the gift whose meaning is not also given is not really a gift.”
This has important implications for understanding gifts: “To say that the gift has its own logos not only means that truth and goodness are coexistent in the singular as it is given to itself and to another. It also means that originary experience, to discover the meaning of any given being or circumstance, must listen carefully to the logos that speaks within and through the gift. Man must not impose an aleatory meaning on his own experience. Just as life is larger than our experience of it, so the logos that speaks in the gift cannot be enclosed in a human concept. . . . The inseparability of gift from its own logos indicates that the mystery pronounces himself to man in infinitely different ways without repetition. Every finite being-gift is a whole, an integral singular being, a word infinitely other than the mystery and yet a word that communicates this mysterious other on which it constitutively depends.”
The connection of gift and logos means that “finite being is a sign, a word-gift” and a communication “that brings man to the transcendent ground of both reality and the human being.” “All is gift” means also “all is sign.”
Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 9:36 AM
Antonio Lopez argues in his Gift and the Unity of Being for the priority of reception to creativity. This is not, he insists, “a diminishment of man’s greatness,” but rather “indicates his true stature.” He explains using the analogy of a traveler and the way:
“The traveler begins to walk because, in a certain sense, he has already been given what he has yet to find. The initiative to look for the meaning of one’s own enigma is a response to the invitation of the land where one hopes to find the sense of existence. In fact, after having gained some experience, one realizes both that he has been put on the path and that existence itself is always this already-being-on-the-path. For this reason, although one is involved in the discover, the logos of what is seen is not imposed externally by the traveler. The content of experience is greater than the experience itself; rather than being produced or predetermined, this content is also welcomed” (16). In short, reality “precedes the traveler and gives itself to be known” (21).
It’s precisely in receiving this gift that we are the creative discoverers and travelers that we are.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 9:21 AM
I affirm, and explain at the Trinity House site.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 7:08 AM
I find Gorman’s definition of justification in terms of the restoration of right covenant relations less than convincing, mainly because, though he recognizes a legal/forensic aspect to the language of justification (Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, 54) he minimizes it in Paul. Justification is, as Gorman says, closely linked with reconciliation, nearly identical in some passages, but justification still retains the connotations of the courtroom. It highlights the judicial dimension of reconciliation, God’s judgment against sin and His judgment in favor of His people, a judgment that is necessary for the achievement of reconciliation.
Gorman does recognize the wide-ranging consequences of taking “pistis christou” subjectively, as the faithfulness of Christ in the cross rather than as the human response of faith to the gospel message. If the subjective genitive is correct, then passages in Paul that have been traditionally taken as “application of redemption” passages are actually “accomplishment of redemption”; passages often used for ordo salutis are really abut historia salutis. As Gorman says, it implies that “Christ’s faithful death embodies the righteousness of God (Rom 3:22), constitutes the means of justification (Gal 2:16; 3:22; Phil 3:9) as well as the mode of justification (Rom 3:26), and somehow even provides the manner of living in the present (Gal 2:20)” (59). The cross is not merely the foundation of justification; it is the accomplishment of justification. Justification – for Gorman, the restoration of right covenant relations, God-ward and man-to-man – happens on the cross. We share in that justification – that restoration of right covenant relations – by union in Christ’s death and resurrection, by sharing in the justification accomplished by Jesus on the cross.
Gorman’s conclusions regarding pistis christou seem to work even if we emphasize the forensic dimension of justification, though it’s necessary to stress more fully the role of the resurrection in justification. What happens on the cross is the condemnation/judgment of sin (Roman 8:1-4); in the resurrection God and His Messiah are vindicated/justified. That act of “justification” takes place extra nos, and we share in it by union with the crucified and risen Messiah.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 6:54 AM
Michael Gorman makes the interesting suggestion (Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, 73-4) that “the first half of Romans is essentially an expansion of Galatians 2:15-21,” moving from “justification” to “participation.”
From that he concludes that, contrary to common treatments, Romans 5-8 is not about the consequences of justification, but are, like the latter verses of Galatians 2, a filling-out of the meaning of justification. As he says, “Romans 6 does not supplement justification by faith or merely explain its effects or consequences; rather, it defines justification by faith. . . . Following 5:1-11, Paul provides three sets of quite fully developed antitheses that contrast pre- and post-justification existence: life in Adam vs. life in Christ (5:12-21), slaver to sin vs. slaver to God (6:1-7:6), and life in the flesh vs. life in the Spirit (7:7-8:39). . . . The first part of ch. 6 is an extended definition of justification by faith as resurrection by co-crucixion that explains what happens in baptism when one moves from Adam to Christ, from sin to God, from the flesh to the Spirit – that is, when one is justified by faith, restored to right covenant relations, and crucified, buried, and resurrected with Christ.”
Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 6:30 AM
It’s typical for Protestants to criticize Catholics for “objectifying” the sacraments and making them purely mechanical channels of grace, where faith is irrelevant. That’s a caricature of genuine Catholic teaching, but put that to the side. There’s a case to be made for the opposite view, though, that Catholic sacramental theology is not objective enough.
Consider two statements by Catholic theologians on the relation of sacraments and its effects, the first from Karl Adam’s The Spirit of Catholicism: “The effective cause of grace is exclusively Christ himself, who proclaims and effects his gracious will through signs determined by himself. Primarily, therefore, and in actu primo, grace is a free gift and favor, a thing already guaranteed by the sacramental act apart from all personal effort. But whether I shall effectively grasp this grace which is thus provided and profit by it, that is to say, whether it will set up in me the state of justification or perfect that state, that depends on the earnestness with which I have opened my soul to the grace offered me and prepare myself for the reception of the sacrament. Therefore the Catholic conception of a sacrament, so far as regards the personal appropriation of the sacramental grace, presupposes the ethico-religious cooperation of the recipient” (26-27). Adam’s statement, obviously, reflects a Catholic understanding of justification not as a forensic status before God but as a transformation of the person that involves a synergism of grace and pious effort.
The second is from Piet Fransen:
Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 6:03 AM
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A remarkable statement from Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics on the necessary, incessant development of doctrine:
“We need to overcome our astonishment over the fact that the New Testament nowhere explicitly mentions infant baptism. . . .The validity of infant baptism does not lapse on that account . . . For also that which can be deduced from Scripture by legitimate inference is as binding as that which is expressly stated in it. This is how the church acts every minute of the day in the ministry of the Word, in the practice of life, in the development of doctrine. It never stops with the letter but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit deduces from the data of Scripture the inferences and applications that make possible and foster its life and development.”