God and Trinity

Two chapters from Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction focuses on the doctrines of God and of the Trinity.

The first concern addressed is the doctrine of God. McGrath offers the minor theory that God might not be male and quickly moves forward. He identifies the “personhood” of God through such philosophers as Tertullian, Spinoza, and Buber. These offered what God’s love towards man looked like while retaining His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence (199-203). McGrath discusses the emotions of God, namely the possibility for God to suffer. Continue reading “God and Trinity”

Simon Chan

In his text Spiritual Theology  Simon Chan addresses these topics: nature of spiritual theology, doctrine of God, nature of sin, and elements in salvation.

Chan states that spiritual theology is quite different from spirituality: “spirituality is the lived reality, whereas spiritual theology is the systematic reflection and formalization of that reality” (16). Spirituality could be a cause someone believes in; spiritual theology desires growth using the Bible and experience as anchors (18). Spirituality must be comprehensive, cohesive, and evocable to be a significant system (22-24). Chan discusses the ecclesiologies within various liturgically diverse traditions recognizing inherent benefits and insufficiencies (30-39). Continue reading “Simon Chan”

Amos

We recall Joshua asking the people, “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (24:15).

We recall God destroying two peoples with fire from the heavens: “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Gen. 19:24). Continue reading “Amos”

Lamentations

Nestled amongst the major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel lies the small but powerful book of Lamentations. While the prophets offer the dooming judgment of Almighty God upon Israel and Judah, trapped within the chaos and devastation of their own making, Lamentations allows a glimpse of the raw, exposed emotions of Jerusalem and their cry to The Almighty. This book is a nation — an entire race of people — in agony and despair recognizing its responsibility and ownership in its current depravity and rejection by God. Continue reading “Lamentations”

Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah makes its mark upon the canon by speaking of the iniquity of the people in clear and devastating terms, the anguish and fury of God, and the subsequent ripple effect that iniquity causes throughout the land and the ages.

The book opens with a series of lamentations from the people to God. These repeatedly elaborate upon the suffering of the people. Yet it is in verse 2:19 that the reader glimpses the heart of God and His desire to separate Himself from His people because of their sin and His heartache at their denial of Him: “Your wickedness will punish you, and your apostasies will convict you.” It is as a direct result of their sin that they are punished lest anyone claim otherwise; this shows God’s desire for clarity as well as complete burden of blame upon the people. Continue reading “Jeremiah”

Margery Kempe

Described as “a ‘wet blanket in any company which was innocently enjoying itself,’ ” such is Margery Kempe according to a source included in Anthony Bale’s introduction to her Book. Bale offers an objective — if not twinged with tongue-in-cheek — observation of Kempe’s colorful life. Continue reading “Margery Kempe”

Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is distinct from other texts in the canon in that it offers to bridge the gap between the laws from God and the motivational behavior of the people. To put this writing into context of the Old Testament so far (succinctly): the Pentateuch seeks to establish creation, God’s relationship with man, and His laws and consequences of breaking said laws. Proverbs enters the canon as a behavioral-based text for those seeking to follow and delight in God, specifically the benefits of adhering to God’s commands. Continue reading “Proverbs”

Chronicles (in two threads)

Historical Challenge of Chronicles
The inconsistencies within the text of Chronicles versus Samuel-Kings does not imply that one is truth and the other lies.  Inconsistencies also occur in the creation narrative.   What comes to mind, however, if we allow the inconsistencies to occur and still regard the whole text as valid is that we must accept the entire canon as the Word of God.  It isn’t a textbook or an encyclopedia.  If we are to believe the entire text as God’s Word, we must allow variations to exist for a purpose. Continue reading “Chronicles (in two threads)”

Walter Hilton

Most likely written to an anchoress, Walter Hilton offers instruction and guidance concerning the spiritual journey towards God in his Ladder (or Scale) of Perfection. This text, however, is prefaced by Clifton Wolters in the introduction; Wolters reflects on Ladder and Hilton specifically with a sense of objectivity mingled with admiration. Wolters, familiar with Hilton’s medieval writings, deposits the mystic’s guiding ideas into several larger topics: the mystic life and the age of Hilton’s “contemporaries,” the path of contemplation including its stages as well as its potential frustrations, and the joining of one’s spirituality with Christ. Continue reading “Walter Hilton”

Joshua

While not the only theme of the book of Joshua, a strong current within the text is a handbook, if you will, regarding the qualities necessary in righteous leadership. Joshua is not the first significant leader of the Old Testament; he follows Abraham, Noah, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. However, his lot is given to him from the former leadership of Moses — the one who lead the people of God out from the hands of Pharoah. He came to leadership having apprenticed under Moses and learned the habits of leadership, and consequences of failure, vicariously through Moses. Continue reading “Joshua”

The Cloud of Unknowing

“The quality of the contemplative effort which measures all progress in the interior life of the solitary is immediately related to the reflex conscious awareness of the self in its relationship to God, the supreme and single object of its desire” (64). While James Walsh in writing the Introduction to The Cloud of Unknowing understands that the author is not directly writing his text to a single individual nor is the author writing strictly for a solitary contemplative as Walter Hilton did in The Scale of Perfection, Walsh does bring forward the author’s intention of addressing all who desire to love God with intentionality and of single purpose. Continue reading “The Cloud of Unknowing”

Genesis

The book of Genesis offers identity, purpose, and hope to God’s chosen people through the land; this tangible gift from God allows the people to suffer and thrive according to their obedience to Him and commitment to His promise.

God gave to Adam the gift of land in the garden of Eden, to tend it and care for it.  It was in this place where God came to man and walked with him, shared a relationship.  At the time of the falling out, God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden and cursed the ground to which Adam would seek for food (Gen. 3:17).  So sacred was this place that upon being driven from Paradise, God sent a cherubim to guard the land and the tree. Continue reading “Genesis”

Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament

Aquinas speaks to the relation between nature and grace concerning the sacraments.  However, we should first understand the value of grace according to Aquinas and his predecessors.

In Question 2, Article 10, he references Augustine:  “By the same grace every man is made a Christian, from the beginning of his faith, as this man from His beginning was made Christ.”  Aquinas follows by underscoring the unity of nature and grace, “But this man became Christ by union with the Divine Nature.  Therefore this union was by grace.”  He continues in Question 7, Article 11 by stating that grace is taken in two ways:  the will of God graciously given and as the free gift of God.  Finally, he speaks to the unending effect of grace because of its unity with the Divine Nature.

Aquinas later addresses sacrament and grace in Question 38, Article 6.  He again references Augustine in reminding us that “our sacraments are signs of present grace,” and he contrasts our present grace with the Old Law which were signs of a future grace.

Understanding the nature of grace and what a sacrament is a signifier of, Continue reading “Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament”

Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304

Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.” What were you doing when you were 12 years old? I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were. I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band. I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission. My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304. This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith. Continue reading “Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304”

A cuppa tea with…Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Silent Meditation vs Empty Chatter

In this chapter Thomas moves further into meditative prayer…what it is and certainly what it is not.  He encourages us that interior prayer is simple, silent, and often expressed through small acts.  He cautions us that we convince ourselves that to have a “true prayer life” we must be engaged in “compulsive routines” filled with wordy, repetitive prayers.  This behavior, Thomas states, builds barriers between our own spirits and the Holy Spirit who desires to commune with us.

Thomas brings in St. John of the Cross, “The more spiritual a thing is the more wearisome they find it.”  In other words, we continue in behavior that “stimulates [us] psychologically” but is in effect empty, worthless, and counter-productive.

God’s response is to enshroud us in “darkness” and “night” which feels lonely and isolating and horrible and painful.  It breaks our confidence.  It confuses our minds.  It makes us doubt our faith.

But it is this painful darkness that God uses to re-direct us back to His purity and simplicity and grace.  Thomas encourages us, “It is precisely in this way that, being led into the ‘dark night of faith,’ one passes from meditation, in the sense of active ‘mental prayer,’ to contemplation, or a deeper and simpler intuitive form of receptivity.”

When those dark times come, and we shuffle through the arid desert of our soul, Thomas directs us to turn to the Psalms or Holy Scripture rather than falling back “to the conventional machinery of discursive ‘mental prayer.”

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Inertia.  Coldness.  Confusion.

Thomas speaks of these as we all experience them at some point (or many points) in our prayer life.  What do we do when faced with these empty spaces, these times when nothing seems to matter and nothing gains traction?

He warns that this might be a time when we have separated our prayer life, our ascetic life, from the rest of our existence.  This is folly and “bad theology.”

“Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life.”  We will fail to move forward in an ascetic journey if we cleave the two parts.

Another error is blaming ourselves when we “feel” separated from God.  There will be moments and times of elevation; there will be moment and times of “the night of the senses.”

He warns against discouragement and helplessness.  We must not rely upon feelings for fulfillment as they are immature.  Instead, during those times of night in the soul, we are to remain faithful and remember that God has given us the Spirit who will intercede for us with words and groans that we cannot utter (Romans 8:11-27).

“Our efforts…are directed to an obedient and opperative submission to grace…which implies our receptiveness to the hidden action of the Holy Spirit.”

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

 

Thomas suggests instead of seeking a “method” of prayer, we should choose a “life” of prayer.  It should be intentional behavior to life and not akin to the enthusiasm of acquiring a new skill.  God calls us to life with HIm; prayer is that response.  In meditation we face the harsh realities of ourselves and the nothingness we are apart from God.  Additionally, “It would be a mistake to suppose that mere good will is…a sufficient guarantee that all our efforts will finally attain to a good result.”   Merton recommends spiritual direction coupled with humility.  That spiritual direction will help us to recognize God’s grace and movement in our lives, to learn humility and patience, and to remove those obstacles barring us from moving deeper in prayer.

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

imageThomas mentions the various forms of contemplative prayer including psalmodia, lectio, oratio, contemplatio.  These prayers are a way to turn from the world to God, but “to separate meditation from prayer, reading, and contemplation, is to falsify our picture of the monastic way of prayer.”  Singing hymns and songs of praise, sharing in the liturgy, and fellowship with our brothers and sisters certainly have their places.  It is the movement within contemplative prayer, however, which offers “watchful listening” and presents a prayer of the heart involving the whole man.  St. Basil wrote that the work of the hands is in itself a meditation, thankfulness, and glorification to God.  “In the ‘prayer of the heart’ we seek God himself present in the depths of our being and meet him there by invoking the name of Jesus in faith, wonder, and love.”

John 17:6-19

Pray with me.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Many of you have children. When you had your first child and became a parent, no one gave you an instruction book. I am reminded of the film that came out in the late 80s called Parenthood with Steve Martin. Steve’s character and his wife Mary Steenburgen have another couple over one afternoon for lunch. Steve’s little boy comes stumbling into the kitchen with a bucket on his head. The little boy missed the hallway and hit the wall instead. Oblivious to the notion that he could actually take the bucket off his head and see his way down the hall, he continued to bonk his bucket-covered head against the wall. The visiting couple, unsure whether to hysterically laugh or help this little mess, look to Steve and Mary, and Mary just shrugs her shoulders and says, Continue reading “John 17:6-19”

St. Teresa of Avila

St Teresa of Avila

Before the days of cell phones and texting, many children knew when it was time to go indoors in the evening by the sunset.  When that last sliver of the sun sank into the horizon, we knew we had to stop playing hide and seek or riding our bikes or fishing for crawdads at the creek.  Before that sun completely went away for the night, we had to be in the yard and on our way through our front doors.  When I was little, about 6 or 7, I wanted to play outside past dark.  Jimmy and Shawn, my next door neighbors, and Clint, the kid across the street, could all stay outside and play, but my mom was a meanie and made me go inside.  I’d hear them screaming and laughing in the street while I had to get ready for a bath and bed.  Ugh!

So, in protest one night, I got out my Big Chief Tablet and a crayon and wrote a letter to my mom saying I was going to run away.  I didn’t get to play like my friends could, so I was going to run away, and I’d be able to stay outside and play all night long if I wanted.  I decided I’d run away during the night so she wouldn’t know.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make up my mind to take either Julie, my stuffed dog, or Rosie, my baby doll, and since I didn’t have enough room for both of them in my satchel, I crawled in bed with both of them and went to sleep.  Apparently, the thought of leaving one of my treasures behind caused me more torture than my mean mom’s rule of having to go inside at dark time.

Teresa of Avila, our saint for this day, also found herself caught between what she wanted to do and where she was placed.  A young girl born into the turmoil of the church during the Reformation, her very devout and pious father placed the rebellious and boy-crazy Teresa in a convent.  There she learned the methods of a life of prayer, yet it was years after her entrance into the convent and an illness so severe that she was left paralyzed for three years that she finally discovered what a penitent life meant and how prayer could truly change a person.  Tormented throughout much of her life, she felt caught between a carefree, uncommitted life and that of a pious, devoted relationship with God the Father.  Feeling the pull of humanity that could draw her away from her prayers and devotion, she believed she constantly walked the fine line between Christ’s grace and hell’s temptations.

It was clear that Teresa was given a unique gift:  passion.  enthusiasm to found new convents, desire to learn more of Christ, devotion to God’s mercy through the burning power of prayer.  She believed that through prayer God was able to touch the human soul and potentially transform the spirit and body.  Shunned by many of her peers as diabolical rather than divine, she often wandered the Spanish countryside establishing a church and then being forced to leave after only a short time.  Her passion was so strong and consuming that she felt a physical change after each encounter with God.  Fr. John-Julian says that it is only when one makes a relentless and unswervingly concrete commitment to prayer that it becomes possible for God even to begin to act significantly in that life.

Similar to Saint Teresa, we too can feel the pangs of the touch of God.  Additionally, we can feel conflicted between the pull and temptations of this life and the intense peace and passion of God.  For me and for us all, I hope that we desire such purity and union with our Creator that can only come from a life devoted to unceasing and transformative prayer.

Last McGrath and a Smidge of Eschatology

Christian Theology

In completion of McGrath’s Christian Theology, he discusses the doctrine of the church and the sacraments, Christianity against the backdrop of world religions, and eschatology.

First, McGrath presents the populations of the church through the ages.  Isidore states the church is “‘the assembly of saints joined together by correct faith and an excellent manner of life’” (377).  Donatus expresses that the church is a body of “holy” believers “contingent upon the purity of the church and its minsters” (380) and that schism is “totally and absolutely unjustified” (379).  Conversely, Augustine posits it is a “mix of saints and sinners” (379) in a “hospital” for healing and “renewal” (381).  Calvin distinguishes the visible church (community of believers both “elect and reprobate”) and invisible (pure elect known by God) (383).  Reformers such as Simons echo Isidore viewing the church as righteous (384).  McGrath discusses Christ’s presence in the church (385-388) and illustrates the work of the church through the Nicene Creed: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic (391-399).

Next, McGrath discusses the sacraments: what constitutes sacrament, why celebrate it, and what does that celebration do for the believer?  Augustine states “that sacraments do not merely signify grace; in some way, they evoke or enable what they signify” (401).  McGrath submits Hugh’s criteria of sacrament: a “material” component, a “likeness” to the referent, “authorization to signify,” and ability of the sacrament to benefit the participant (403).  Ultimately, the sacraments must offer grace, strengthen faith, unify the church body, and inspire God’s love to the believer (407-411).  Discussion and debate ensued regarding the presence of Christ at the Eucharist (414-420) and similar discussion regarding the age of baptism, triggering the underlying discussion of original sin and, according to Augustine, its guilt and disease (421).

McGrath reviews religion in society (necessary or irrelevant) and where Christianity resides alongside other religions.  Religious consideration can be either through a detached or a committed approach (426).  McGrath states “religions show a marked tendency to depend on the particular purposes and prejudices of individual scholars” (427).  He illustrates purposes of religion: Feuerbach’s “divine predicates are thus recognized as human predicates” (428), Marx’s “‘religion is the self-consciousness…of people who either have not found themselves or who have already lost themselves again’” (429), Freud’s “religion arises through inner psychological pressures” (431), Barth’s criticism of religion as a human institution (433), and Bonhoeffer who argues for “‘religionless Christianity’” (433).  McGrath concludes the chapter identifying salvation through exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism with other religions (435-443).

McGrath completes the text discussing eschatology.  Joachim posits three ages: Father (Old Testament), Son (New Testament), and Spirit (renewal of the church) (448).  McGrath illustrates the positions of eschatology: the Enlightenment, Bultmann, Moltmann, Thielicke, dispensationalism, and Benedict XVI (451-456).  He also discusses the “places” of the end of days: hell, heaven, purgatory.  He also offers the theories of the millennium: amillennialism, premillennialsim, and postmillenialism (457-462).  He concludes by addressing the Christian resurrection body: in earthly form or in spiritual form (462).

Ultimately, McGrath offers evaluation of the body of Christ, how that body corresponds to the faiths, and non-faiths, of the world, and the hope that the body awaits.

“And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”

Pain

My Systematic Theology class had an online discussion thread going last week regarding the reading for Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology.  The thread began with a question of natural catastrophes on the planet and where God is (if anywhere) in that event.  McGrath speaks of “influence and persuasion” regarding God’s nudging man to righteousness.  Numerous examples were posited in the thread:  Moses, Noah, Lot, Job, etc.  We also discussed “natural evil” and what that term means:  can a volcano BE “evil”?   Evil implies a motive to perform an action contrary to good.  But the aftermath of a tsunami or Hurricane Katrina or massive tornadoes certainly aren’t a good thing, right?

On the heels of that discussion for my class, I came across this post from “Christianity Today”.  The article discusses the concept of pain and a theory of why God allows it to happen.  Of course C.S. Lewis discussed pain and its purpose in his The Problem of Pain.  In that work, Lewis writes, “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do what he wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either the goodness, or power, or both.”  As shocking as this brief passage is if we take it at face value, Lewis continues in support of God’s plan, that He isn’t a masochistic puppet master.

I find the article comforting and encouraging.  I also, selfishly, appreciate the author’s view of pain when I reflect on my classwork because I find I’m not so far from the mark.  It’s a good gauge to reinforce that I’m on the right track.

That’s a “Win!” in my book!!

(title comes from Job 42:17)

Fill ‘er up!

Half-full or half-empty

“Fill me with your Holy Spirit.”  “Make me more like you.”  “Show me your way.”

These are all phrases that I’ve said in my life at some point or another.  Heartfelt.  Impassioned.  Sincere.

But these are inaccurate.

In order to be like Christ, the divine, I must be empty.  Void.  Bare.  Nothing.

If I ask to be filled with the Spirit, it will be adding pure snow to a toxic wasteland.

Instead, I must search those parts that are wrong, purge them, and He will have room to fill.  I have to get out of the way.  There are no conditions.  No rationality.  No opportunity to say, “You can take this but not that.”

It doesn’t work like that.

“Seek, and you shall find.”

There is no limit to what Christ can do if I am nothing.

I should study Aikido…

Kenosis

brain-fog

It’s Tuesday, right?  My mind is a jumbled mess!  Dimensions of theological study.  Sacred theology.  Natural theology.  Spiritual theology.  Philosophical theology.  Nothing moves outside of God = unmoved mover >>> Aristotle.  Recidivism vs. Relativism.  Fukuyama.  Adler.  Barth.  Solzhenitsyn.  Nietzsche.  Aquinas.  Lewis.  Pannenberg.  Jungel.  Plato.  The “mystery” of faith.  Wisdom of God (Truth).  Holiness of God (Good).  Glory of God (Beauty).  Salutis.  Cognoscendi.  Essendi.   Incarnation of the Word.   There is no conversation without mutual acceptance of exaltation.

Pope Francis as Time’s “Person of the Year”?

Pope FrancisI read a post this morning on a website/blog I follow for youth ministers call MorethanDodgeBall.com.  This post questioned the reasons Pope Francis was named person for the year for one of two reasons:  “because of how he embodies Jesus Christ or because of how he embodies Jesus Christ in ways that are ‘nice’ and universally accepted.”  I responded to the article by saying that the Pope should be named “Person of the Year” because he embodies Christ while he reveals his humanity, because I believe he would behave in this manner of life whether he was Pope or not, and because I truly don’t believe he cares if Time magazine names him person of the year or not!  Follow the link above or here to see more…