Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The case for grace

After years of writing speculative theology, Augustine returned in later life to the causa gratiae,* the case for grace. He was convinced that humanity, despite our many achievements, could be most aptly compared to a little child before God: totally dependent. Why did he write so much about grace?

First and foremost because no subject gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped?

- Augustine, Epistle 186.7.39.

It is his insistence of the priority of divine grace that was Augustine's most significant legacy, particularly once a brilliant young Augustinian monk caught onto the idea...
*I include the Latin to show jm and MPJ that I am learning/can copy things out of books.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Augustine on self-criticism II

‘We, who preach and write books, write in a manner altogether different from the manner in which the canon of Scriptures has been written. We write while we make progress. We learn something new every day. We dictate at the same time as we explore. We speak as we still knock for understanding. … I urge your charity, on my behalf and in my own case, that you should not take any previous book or preaching of mine as Holy Scripture. … If anyone criticises me when I have said what is right, he does not do right. But I would be more angry with the one who praises me and takes what I have written for Gospel truth (canonicum) than the one who criticises me unfairly.’

- Augustine, Sermon 347.62.

Notice his assumption that it is wrong to criticise him when he is right, though worse to fail to criticise him when he is not. An interesting conundrum for his congregation.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Augustine on self-criticism

Cicero, the prince of Roman orators, says of someone that "He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall." High praise indeed! - but more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man ... If God permit me, I shall gather together and point out, in a work specially devoted to this purpose, all the things which justly displease me in my books: then men will see that I am far from being a biased judge in my own case. ... For I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress - by writing.

-Augustine, Epistle 143.2-3.

Augustine kept his promise too, publishing a book called Retractiones (Retractions). In a massive exercise in self-criticism, during the last years of his life the old bishop went back through all his published books pointing things he'd said over which he had now changed his mind (along the way gaving historians invaluable autobiographical information about the dating and purpose of many of them). And that was no small task, as he'd been a prolific wrier. Leaving aside everything of doubtful authenticity, his surviving output includes over 100 books and lengthy treatises, more than 200 hundred letters and over 500 sermons.

The composition of so much by someone with a demanding full time position of public responsibility (and he was no slouch as a bishop!) is astounding. Its preservation by countless monks and scribes and academics for hundreds of years is a minor miracle, particularly since Hippo (the location of his Episcopal See and library) was under seige by Vandals as Augustine lay dying, and fell into their hands not long after he died. Thanks to this heroic scribal effort, we now have more writings from the hand of Augustine and know more about his life than any other figure from antiquity.

I really should have picked someone more obscure for my project...
Ten points for the city. Twenty for who is buried directly underneath the gold dome. Hint: the tenuous link between the picture and the post is the lack of self-criticism exercised by the guy under the dome. I was really suprised to find how popular he remains in this city.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the World XIII

Aliens and strangers
Augustine writes movingly of the civitas Dei peregrina, the pilgrim City of God. By this, he refers to that society of people scattered among the nations on earth who love God more than self, who glory in him, rather than seeking their own glory, who confess Christ and yearn for home, finding themselves homeless wanderers in this world. Indeed, the Latin term peregrina, often translated 'pilgrim' might perhaps be better rendered 'resident alien' or 'sojourner'. It is a word closer to the experience of Tom Hanks in The Terminal than the merry pilgrim-cum-tourists of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

To confess Christ is to put yourself on the wrong side of those powers that crucified him, and so to find oneself misunderstood as a rebel. Misunderstood, because just as Christ was a prophet calling the nation back to its true identity, calling humanity back to its Creator, so those who take up their cross and follow him are doing so out of faithfulness to that Creator and thus in solidarity with the groaning creation.

And like the creation, those with the Spirit - the firstfruits of the future presence of God - yearn for the redemption of our bodies, for a transformed world where death is no more, where Christ's gracious kingdom is unopposed, where the riches of God's kindness are poured out with unspeakable joy. We long for the day when the oppressor is no more and the earth is inherited by the meek.

Because of this, we can never feel at home in a world where the rich devour the poor, where unborn strangers are turned back at the borders of life, where Christ is crowned with thorns and anointed with spittle. We are aliens, citizens of the civitas Dei peregrina.

But this is not because our home is elsewhere. It is elsewhen.

And so I wonder whether when Christians are called 'aliens and strangers', this is less like the Jewish exiles in Babylon, who pined for Zion and could not sing for grief, and more like Abraham. Abraham and his immediate descendents are repeatedly called 'aliens' and 'strangers' (Gen 17.8; 21.23, 34; 23.4; 26.3; 28.4; 37.1), though they are already living in the land that God had promised them. Though strangers, the land belongs to them by promise.

For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

- 1 Corinthians 3.21-23

Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for guessing the country in the above pic.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Moltmann on dualism

In the world of late antiquity, Christianity encountered the Platonic dualism of soul and body in the form of the Gnostic contempt for the body, and its other-worldly longing for redemption. The soul, condemned to life-long incarceration in the body, yearns to be freed from this prison. It does not long for the prison to be changed into a home in which it likes to live. In this gnostic form, the Christian hope no longer gazes forward to a future when everything will be created anew. It looks upwards, to the soul’s escape from the body and from this earth, to the haven of blessed spirits.’

- Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 90.

Ten points for naming the city whose medieval wall I was standing on to take this pic. I'm still updating the leaderboard and links for these points.

Augustine on human inertia

Why is it that we remember with such difficulty, but forget so easily? Why is it that we learn with such difficulty, yet so easily remain ignorant? Why is it that we are vigorous with such difficulty, yet so easily inert?

- Augustine, The City of God Bk XXII, chapter 22.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Barth on great hope and little hopes

"Hope seizes, or rather is seized by, the promise of the future. To that extent, it is the great hope, the expectation of the eternal life, which has still to be manifested and given to us, confidence in the coming Jesus Christ as the end and new beginning of all things, the joy in anticipation of the perfect being of man and all creatures in the service of God which is pledged because it is already actualized in Him. As it seizes the promise of the future it is in every respect – not only hope which derives from Him but also hope in Him as the eternally living One. He, the content of the promise and object of hope, cannot be replaced by any other. If there is also a small hope for today and tomorrow, if there are also temporal, penultimate, provisional and detailed hopes for the immediate future, it is only because He is the future One who shows himself in every future.
"Where there is the great hope, necessarily there are also small hopes for the immediate future. These hopes have their basis and strength only in the great hope. They are small, relative and conditioned. In their detailed content, they may be mistaken and open to correction. But within these limits they are genuine hopes. And it is certainly in these many little hopes that the Christian lives from day to day if he really lives in the great hope. And perhaps he is most clearly distinguished from the non-Christian by the fact that, directed to the great hope, and without any illusions, he does not fail and is never weary to love daily in these little hopes. But this necessarily means that he is daily willing and ready for the small and provisional and imperfect service of God which the immediate future will demand of him because a great and final and perfect being in the service of God is the future of the world and all men, and therefore his future also."

- Karl Barth Church Dogmatics IV/1, 120-122.

Ten points for guessing the city. I'd say naming, but unless you're really good, it will be a guess.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Links to stuff

How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie.
• Sally posts on new Xbox games from Burger King.
• For anyone who has tried to learn Hebrew.
What would Jesus do? (make sure you also checking out the video on tithing); H/T D. W. Congdon.

N. T. Wright - ok, also silly
• Latest pictures of the pop-star bishop; H/T Hebel.
• And a very unauthorised bio: N.T. Wright - the real story; H/T Al.

• Great video on the beauty myth.
Justin reflects on interesting differences between US and Australian citizenship by comparing the Australian pledge with the American oath.

Deadly serious
On a much more serious note about America, check out this video of Obermann on the latest legislation from Bush; H/T D. W. Congdon.
For those of you concerned that I am at present (meant to be) working on a 15,000 word project due alarmingly soon, don't fret, this is one of those posts that has gradually grown over the last few weeks and is now finally seeing the light of day. Expect more quotes next week...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moltmann on love and death

Christian faith starts from the assumption that it is impossible to reconcile life and death without the future of God. Should we accept death as a natural part of life? Then we must renounce love, which desires the life of the beloved and not his death. Should we renounce the body because it is mortal? Then we must renounce love altogether. If we accept death and if we repress death we cannot love life. Consciously or unconsciously, the knowledge of death destroys love’s ability to affirm life…. Surprising though it may sound, it is hope for the resurrection of the body which is the foundation and motivation for what Bonhoeffer called ‘Christianity’s profound this-worldliness’. It is precisely this hope which – contrary to what Nietzsche said – moves men and women to ‘remain true to the earth’, even in the face of individual, collective and universal death.

- Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 264

Five points for the picture. It would be ten, but I think this one will be all-too-easy, especially since another well-known theo-blogger recently used an almost identical shot. An extra five points for saying who it was and providing a link.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Augustine on being a Christian emperor

What is the church to say to Caesar when he converts? This was not something directly pondered in the New Testament, but thinking about it has caused quite a headache ever since Constantine decided to throw his lot in with the all-conquering Galilean. Augustine offered one of the most influentual accounts in the following passage:

We say that they are happy if they rule justly; if they are not lifted by the talk of those who accord them sublime honours or pray their respects with an excessive humility, but remember that they are only men; if they make their power the handmaid of His majesty by using it to spread His worship to the greatest possible extent; if they fear, love and worship God; if they love that Kingdom which they are not afraid to share with others more than their own; if they are slow to punish and swift to pardon; if they resort to punishment only when it is necessary to the government and defence of the commonwealth, and never to gratify their own enmity; if they grant pardon, not so that unjust men may enjoy impunity, but in the hope of bringing about their correction; if they compensate for whatever severe measures they may be forced to decree with the gentleness of mercy and the generosity of benevolence; if their own self-indulgence is as much restrained as it might have been unchecked; if they prefer to govern wicked desires more than any people whatsoever; if they do all these things not out of craving for empty glory, but from love of eternal felicity; and if, for their sins, they do not neglect to offer to their true God the sacrifices of humility and contrition and prayer. We say that, for the time being, such Christian emperors are happy in hope and that, in time to come, when that to which we now look forward as has arrived, they will be so in possession.

- Augustine, The City of God book 5, chapter 24.

UPDATE: For a very accessible summary of contemporary scholarship on City of God that happily confounds reading Augustine as either a secular liberal before his time or a dastardly apologist for Christendom, check out this lecture. He includes a lengthy summary of the elusive Rowan Williams article that has been mentioned in the comments.

Heaven: not the end of the world XII

Spirituality as groaning
I have been arguing that going to heaven (either at death or at the end) is an inadequate way of expressing the Christian hope for the resurrection of the dead. Christ's resurrection was the first fruits, the model and ground and proof of a coming universal restoration, a renewal of all things. Having made a good universe (summed up in the phrase 'heaven(s) and earth'), God doesn't intend to abandon it. Perhaps the lengthiest expression of this theme is found in what is rightly the most famous chapter of the New Testament:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
- Romans 8.18-27
Paul personifies the created order as a woman in labour pains, frustrated by bondage to decay, yearning and waiting and groaning - in pain, but hopeful. Each of the rich images he uses here could be explored at much greater length, but I'd like to briefly pick up the idea of groaning.

This groaning, an expression of 'eager longing', is the only activity available to the prisoner, to the woman bearing a child. The primary focus is on the imminent future, and the knowledge of the difference between now and then ironically serves to make the present pain simultaneously trivial and much worse.

Trivial, because in comparison to the glorious anticipated state, the sufferings of the 'now' pale into insignificance. When the child arrives, the sweat and tears have all been worth it (or so I am told...). At the first breath of freedom, the years in chains fade into a bad dream.

And yet - not yet. The night, though far gone, is not yet over. And so the inescapable failings of the present are exacerbated by the knowledge that they will not last. One must not become accustomed to them, to explain them as just the way things are. There is a possibility, a promise, of something different. Moltmann puts it like this:
[F]aith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. (more...)

- Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 7.

And so it is not just creation that groans. We too, who have the first taste of freedom, in whom the Spirit has begun the miracle of making a heart of stone beat again, who with our first gasping breaths of new air cry "Abba, Father!", we too groan and yearn and cry and wait with eager longing for a world made new. Such groaning is part of spiritual maturity. The more we get a sense of the scope and sheer grace of God's intended liberation, the more fervently we strain against the present chains.

Indeed, this maturity is precisely spiritual, because the Spirit also groans with 'sighs too deep for words'. Our hope-filled discontentment is thus not only deeply in tune with the earth itself, it is also divine.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
For ten points, pick the city, which is the same as here and here.

Fighting over pacifism

For those who've been away recently, or don't get out (into the blogosphere) much, this post by Kim Fabricius over at Ben Myers's Faith and Theology has got many blogs talking (see here for a string of links). Josh of Theologoumenon offers this important quote from Miroslav Volf.

On this issue I remain unhappily undecided, blown about by every wind...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Moltmann on disturbing hope

"...But on the other hand, all this must inevitably mean that the man who thus hopes will never be able to reconcile himself with the laws and constraints of this earth, neither with the inevitability of death nor with the evil that constantly bears further evil. The raising of Christ is not merely a consolation to him in a life that is full of distress and doomed to die, but it is also God’s contradiction of suffering and death, of humiliation and offence, and of the wickedness of evil. Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering. If Paul calls death the ‘last enemy’ (I Cor. 15.26), then the opposite is also true: that the risen Christ, and with him the resurrection hope, must be declared to be the enemy of death and of a world that puts up with death. Faith takes up this contradiction and thus becomes itself a contradiction to the world of death. That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. If we had before our eyes only what we see, then we should cheerfully or reluctantly reconcile ourselves with things as they happen to be. That we do not reconcile ourselves, that there is no pleasant harmony between us and reality, is due to our unquenchable hope. This hope keeps man unreconciled, until the great day of the fulfillment of all the promises of God. It keeps him in statu viatoris, in that unresolved openness to world questions which has its origin in the promise of God in the resurrection of Christ and can therefore be resolved only when the same God fulfils his promise. This hope makes the Christian Church a constant disturbance in human society, seeking as the latter does to stabilize itself into a ‘continuing city’. It makes the Church the source of continual new impulses towards the realization of righteousness, freedom and humanity here in the light of the promised future that is to come. This Church is committed to ‘answer for the hope’ that is in it (I Peter 3.15). It is called in question ‘on account of the hope and resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 23.6). Wherever that happens, Christianity embraces its true nature and becomes a witness of the future of Christ...."

- Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 7.

The full introduction to this important book can be found online here. The next (and almost last) post in my heaven series will pick up on these ideas.
Ten points for picking which city this ruin lies a few minutes outside of.

Augustine on distractions

Someone who is troubled in his heart by a bad conscience is like a man who leaves his house and cannot live in it because of a burst pipe or smoke. He who does not have a quiet heart cannot live joyously in his own heart. Such men go out of themselves... they seek rest in trivia: in spectacles, in luxuries, in evils of every kind. Why do they wish themselves well outwardly? Because things are not well with them inwardly.

- Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos 100.4.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A picture is worth a thousand posts

I'd love to hear some feedback on the pictures on this blog. Are they worth it? Do they slow down your connection too much (esp if you're still in the dark ages of dial-up)? Which is your favourite? What would you like to see more/less of?
I think the easiest way to find all the photos is to follow the archive links to each of the months I've been blogging (or try here: May; June; July; August; September; October). If you want to comment on a photo, please link to it, or at least include the title of the post. If you've never commented before, here's an easy chance to dip your toe in the water!

Dangerous influences?

My recent post on the 14 most influential religious figures in the Christian tradition has generated many suggestions and much discussion. In particular, christian a has made a provocative suggestion, that 'influence' might be merely the scars left upon the health of Christian teaching by the novelty-peddlers.:

I love this kind of activity and appreciate people's suggestions, but perhaps there's an ominous side to the "most influential" question.

History by its very nature loves to record the influential. But the easiest way I can be influential is to succeed in getting people to move away from what the last most influential figure (or an earlier unchallenged one) taught.

The coming of the Christ and the testimony of the apostles leaves so much room for Spirit-inspired Christian thinking and influence, but I reckon it leaves even more room for deficient thinking and harmful influence….and surely it’s deficient thinking and harmful influence that stands out in the pages of history and attracts the attention of church historians, rather than the faithful Christian thinkers who thought of new ways to make the same truths more coherent and more relevant to the struggles of their contemporaries.

Often we look at a list like the ones people have written and think “I admire these people” when in fact we should be thinking “I’ve ended up thinking like these people….is that good or bad?”

What do people think? Am I being too cynical ;-)
Christian makes a very good point. I never intended this to be the fourteen people you wish were most influential, but it can quickly become so.

Part of what the exercise invites us to do is to look beyond our own local situation and struggles, to focus instead on the historical church over space and time and to ask about its shape and history - both the glorious and the shameful. Thus, the suggestions to include Arius (or mine to include Hegel and Kant - amongst others) indicate a desire to acknowledge the problematic innovations/renovations of the tradition, in order to become conscious of them. Indeed, it has very often been the faithful Christian thinkers who thought of new ways to make the same truths more coherent and more relevant to the struggles of their contemporaries who have, in hindsight, also exhibited deficient thinking and harmful influence. Arius was trying to be biblical! The task, privilege, burden of handing on tradition, of gospel ministry (for the two are one), is utterly dangerous, utterly necessary.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gregory of Nazianzus on hope

Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 329-389), the fourth-century bishop of Constantinople, preached at the funeral of his brother Caesarius. After considering various possibilities concerning his brother's present state, he bursts out with the real content of his hope:

‘Why am I faint-hearted in my hopes? Why do I behave like a mere creature of the day? I await the voice of the Archangel, the last trumpet, the transformation of the heavens, the transfigurations of the earth, the liberation of the elements, the renovation of the universe. Then I shall see Caesarius himself, no longer in exile, no longer laid upon a bier, no longer the object of mourning and pity, but brilliant, glorious, heavenly, such as in my dreams I have often beheld you, dearest and most loving of brothers, pictured thus by my desire, if not by the very truth.’

- Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration, 7.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Top 14 Christian thinkers?

Have your say...
Who are the top fourteen most influential Christian thinkers* of all time? Excluding Old Testament figures, yet including Jesus (who I'm assuming will go in #1 position) and Paul and co., who would make the cut?

Why fourteen? Why not? Actually, a friend asked me my opinion for a project she's currently working on. I won't include her list, but off the top of my head I suggested (roughly in order of importance, rather than chronological order):
1. Jesus the Christ
2. Paul/Saul of Tarsus
3. John the evangelist
4. Augustine of Hippo
5. Thomas Aquinas
6. Martin Luther
7. Karl Barth
8. John Calvin
9. G. W. F. Hegel
10. Friedrich Schleiermacher
11. Immanuel Kant
12. Athanasius of Alexandria
13. Jonathan Edwards
14. John Wesley
*UPDATE: A clarification: the larger project is to select the 50 most influential religious figures in history, and 14 spaces have been allocated to the Christian movement. Thus, this is not just about thinkers (despite my title and opening), nor does it exclude Jesus, who was not (by definition) a Christian. Apologies for any confusion. Ten points for the location of the picture. Bonus points for knowing/guessing how you have to be positioned to see it.

Augustine on resurrection again

‘If faith in the resurrection of the dead is taken away, all Christian doctrine perishes.’

- Augustine, Sermon 361.2.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world XI

The end of the world: replacement or renewal?
At the start of this series, I was asked about 2 Peter 3 (and 1 Corinthians 15.35ff., which I think I've now said something about, even if discussion continues). Here is Peter's wonderful vision of the end:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. - 2 Peter 3.10-13.
Two initial things to note: first, how positive the final image is - a world in which righteousness dwells, in which justice belongs. Our experiences of justice now remain partial, provisional and imperfectible, but this is a world set to rights. Second, Peter speaks of a new heavens and a new earth, that is, of a whole new created order, not simply of 'heaven'.

However, doesn't Peter’s vision differ from my earlier claims? If 'the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire' (v.7) and 'the heavens will pass away' and 'the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved' and 'the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn' and 'we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth,' doesn't this mean the end of the world in a 'goodbye earth' kind of way? If the universe gets thrown in the garbage bin, how can we still speak of renewal or liberation? Isn't this replacement?

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Peter's language, like that of Revelation, is apocalyptic in tone. While this term is sometimes used as a synonym for 'catastrophic', it can refer technically to a genre in which major world events are invested with their full theological meaning through using 'earthshattering' language. These dramatic metaphors and pictures emphasise the significance of the events being spoken of, rather than necessarily giving a literal prediction. The second half of Daniel, most of Revelation, and numerous extra-canonical books from around the time of the New Testament give us plenty of examples.

Even if we take these images more straightforwardly, notice that the passage still doesn’t quite claim that the universe will be destroyed. Some translations do say that the earth will be 'burned up' in verse 10, but there is some confusion over this verb* and it is probably better rendered 'exposed' (as above) or 'laid bare'. It is an image of judgement, rather than destruction; there will be nowhere to hide. The eradication of the heavens is not a prediction that outer space or the earth's atmosphere will kick the bucket while the planet itself survives, but is part of the image of exposure. The 'curtain' of the heavens is ripped back so that the earth and all the works done on it are utterly disclosed to divine judgement. You can run but you can't hide.
*See discussion in comments.

Third, immediately prior to this passage in 2 Peter 3.5-7, Peter uses the deluge (Genesis 6-9) as an pattern of what to expect. Back then, he says, the world 'perished' in the flood (v.6). However we read the flood account, the world was not literally annihilated; it 'perished' in that the old order of things passed away and a new beginning was made.

Thus, I take it that while Peter certainly emphasises the remarkable discontinuity between now and then (in order to highlight the importance of the future divine judgement and its implications for our present behaviour - a topic for a future series), the decisive event is nonetheless a renewal and transformation of this world, not simply its destruction and replacement. Our paradigm: Jesus' own resurrection.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Thanks to Erro for many of the thoughts and references for this post. I'll be very impressed if anyone can pick artist, title or location of this painting. Ten points each.

Christianity and politics again

A few months ago, I stirred the pot by linking to a couple of articles that argued for why Christians (in Australia) should vote for the Greens and why Christians shouldn't just vote for Christians. After setting the (still unbroken) record for most comments on a post for this blog, it seems that most people worked out I wasn't necessarily endorsing those pieces of advice (but nor do I ignore them). The discussion has started again. Come and join in to push the record even higher.

In related news, Kevin Rudd's recent comments about church and state have sparked a fresh public debate in Australia, with many commentators sadly showing their lack of familiarity with history, the nature of the 'separation' of church and state, and even what kind of thing each of these entites are. Peter Jensen's brief reply in The Australian has been the best thing I've read in response. (In a distant second comes this reply from Phillip Adams. H/T CraigS).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world X

Images of the future
Of course, resurrection is not the only way the New Testament speaks of our future life. Sometimes it is pictured as a banquet (Matt 8.11, 22.2; 25.10; Rev. 19.9) or described as an ‘inheritance’ (Matt. 25.34; Rom. 8.17; 1 Pet. 1.4). However, I personally take these images more metaphorically than resurrection, because once again, I think that it is only in Jesus and the Spirit that we get a picture of the future. Thus his resurrection (and the Christian experience of present inner 'resurrection'/renewal by the Spirit) is our primary access to the future: we will be like him. Of course, our knowledge of Jesus' resurrection (and even of our own inner experience) is incomplete - the risen Jesus did not fit any previous paradigms and the new Christians reached for the language of 'resurrection', while acknowledging also radical transformation. And so even our most concrete knowledge of the future is more evocative than exhaustive.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
For ten points, pick the city (this one really does require random guessing - no shame in being wrong).

Dan on separation and reconciliation

Dan of On Journeying with those in Exile has an honest and insightful post on separation and the imperfectibility of reconciliation. He also gives regular brief reviews of the many books he reads each month, and frequent reflections on his ministry amongst the poor in Canada.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Augustine on bodily resurrection

"The bodies of the saints, then, shall rise again free from blemish and deformity, just as they will be also free from corruption, encumbrance, or handicap. Their facility [facilitas] will be as complete as their felicity [felicitas]. This is why their bodies are called "spiritual", though undoubtedly they will be bodies and not spirits. For just as now the body is called "animate" [animale], though it is a body and not a "spirit" [anima], so then it will be a "spiritual body," but still a body and not a spirit.

"Accordingly, then, as far as the corruption which weighs down the soul and the vices through which "the flesh lusts against the spirit" (Gal 5:17) are concerned, there will be no "flesh," but only body, since there are bodies that are called "heavenly bodies." (1 Cor 15:40). This is why it is said, "Flesh and blood shall not inherit the Kingdom of God," and then, as if to expound what was said, it adds, "Neither shall corruption inherit incorruption." (1 Cor 15:50). What the writer first called "flesh and blood" he later called "corruption," and what he first called "the Kingdom of God" he then later called "incorruption."

"But, as far as the substance of the resurrection body is concerned, it will even then still be "flesh." This is why the body of Christ is called "flesh" even after the resurrection. Wherefore the apostle also says, "What is sown a natural body [corpus animale] rises as a spiritual body [corpus spirituale]." (1 Cor 15:44). For there will then be such a concord between flesh and spirit—the spirit quickening the servant flesh without any need of sustenance therefrom—that there will be no further conflict within ourselves. And just as there will be no more external enemies to bear with, so neither shall we have to bear with ourselves as enemies within.'

- Augustine, Enchiridion, §91.

My most recent heavenly post has started a discussion on the nature of the resurrection body. Come and join in.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Marty on AIDS

Marty starts a new series on a Christian response to the AIDS crisis.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world IX

The Christian hope: The Resurrection of the Dead
So if going to heaven when you die is not held out as the Christian hope (as this series has been claiming), then (a) what happens when you die? and (b) what is the Christian hope? I'll leave (a) for the moment (though I think the brief answer is that the Bible says surprisingly little other than a promise of being "with Christ" (Phil 1.23)), but want to be very clear on (b).

The Christian hope is for the resurrection of the dead, for what happened to Christ to happen to us, and in some way to the entire cosmos. Again, our knowledge of the future is found in that one bit of the future that has already arrived: our risen Lord. What God did to him, he promises to us.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. - 1 Corinthians 15.19-28.
The enemy (death) is defeated in God's victory (resurrection). This happens first to Christ ("the first fruits", that first portion of the crop to ripen, which symbolises and guarantees the rest), and then is to happen to "those who belong to Christ" and/or "all".* For death to be defeated, this can't simply be a reinterpretation of death ("I like to think of death as..."), nor simply an ignoring of death ("Death doesn't matter. It's not an event that happens to me, since I won't be there to experience it!"). Death is real and is painful. God neither ignores nor downplays it; he doesn't call it something else ("a doorway to another existence") or explain it away as a good part of a grander plan. He defeats it; destroys it. This is what it is to be liberated from the fear of death: not to hear that it doesn't matter, that God will remember us, that we rejoin the circle of life, that we go to a better place. We are liberated by and in the living one, who died and is alive forevermore. The body, the breath, the complex bundle of nerves and knees that we live in and as - returned! And not just returned as though God were to reanimate a cadaver but transformed, set free from its bondage to decay, never to die again.
*A discussion for another day.

But what of the language of a "spiritual" body a little later in this chapter, doesn't that undermine my point about the physicality of the resurrection? I don't think so. The passage in question contrasts two kinds of body: our present body and our future one. Unfortunately, at this point, some translations (e.g. NRSV) make a grievious error in calling the former "physical" and the latter "spiritual".* I'm happy to discuss this in detail in comments, but the adjectives used simply can't mean what most of us would hear in that contrast (touchable/physical/solid vs non-physical/ghostly/ethereal). Better might be to call the former "living" and the latter "breathing", or the former "powered by soul" and the latter "powered by Spirit" (this too may be misleading, given the muddled and sometimes contradicatory use of these words in our culture). Whatever words we use, we are still speaking of bodies. Paul's point, I take it, is much the same as what I was trying to say in the final sentences of the previous paragraph: this is no mere continuation or resuscitation of our present, often somewhat embarrassing, bodies. This is a thorough overhaul into a condition in which we can bear the full weight of sharing in the glory of God. Even the canonical authors struggled to find words, apart from pointing to their experience of the risen Christ.
*I'm really not one of those people who has gained a little knowledge of Greek and am now forever grumpy with the stupidity of Bible translators. There are very few places where I question the mainstream modern translations (which on the whole are very good). This just happens to be one of them.

So let us stop referring to our hope as going to heaven, and begin consciously speaking of resurrection, a (re)new(ed) life in a (re)new(ed) body on a (re)new(ed) earth. There is more to our hope - there is the coming of God to dwell permanently with us, there is final justice and healing for the nations - but there is not less.

I was recently talking with some Christian friends for whom such thoughts were new, who said that they had never really looked at 1 Corinthians 15. They were a little sceptical and asked what I called this new way of thinking, this disturbingly novel teaching. I said "the resurrection of the body and the life of the age to come".
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Five points each for the city, artist, sculpture and its original intended location. But only one per customer.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

My blog in a post

D. W. Congdon over at The Fire and the Rose continues his series on the heresies of American Evangelicalism. His latest post, on eschatology, summarises many of the key concerns and motifs that drive my own writing here. Go and read it; you've then got permission to have a holiday from reading mine.

Lewis on limits of knowledge

"Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them – never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?"

- C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, p. 54.

If you hadn't guessed, a higher proportion of quotes recently means that I'm in essay mode. I'll get back to my heaven series soon...

Monday, October 02, 2006

MacDonald on contentment

"Let me, if I may, be ever welcomed to my room in winter by a glowing hearth, in summer by a vase of flowers; if I may not, let me then think how nice they would be, and bury myself in my work. I do not think that the road to contentment lies in despising what we have not got. Let us all acknowledge all good, all delight that the world holds, and be content without it."

- George MacDonald