27 June 2003

new blog

A friend of mine, a Christian musicologist named Richard Wattenbarger (and fellow-member at Tenth PCA), appears to have started his own blog: musicology man.

book arrival

Yesterday I received a book I had ordered from amazon earlier this week: William T. Cavanaugh's Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism (T&T Clark, 2002).

The book looks pretty interesting and consists of three chapters discussing, in turn, the modern nation-state, civil society, and globalization. The first chapter seems to incorporate Cavanaugh's pervious article that debunked the "wars of religion" interpretation of history that has often served to legitimize the modern secular State.

Reading through the introduction is a bit odd since it almost seems as if he's been poking around the ideas in my own head, though that's largely attributable, I suppose, to our drawing upon common sources. While I can hardly hope to be the scholar that Cavanaugh is, I hope that I can more biblically ground some of the things he is arguing for more philosophically and theologically.

26 June 2003

and, yes...

...I have resorted to talking about the weather. It's sad, I know.

heat wave

After the gloomiest springtime on record--nearly two solid months with day after day of heavy clouds, cool temperatures, and rain showers--after all that we have been hit here in the East with a sudden heat wave.

In addition to lots of sun and high humidity, Monday was 87 degrees, Tuesday 94, Wednesday 97, and today is supposed to hit 100. We've finally turned on the A/C (an expense we like to avoid).

The weekend is supposed to still be sunny, but a bit cooler with lower humidity, which is nice given that the last couple months of weekends have been pretty much rained out.

24 June 2003

nt wright quote

Bishop-elect Wright has sometimes been criticized as part of a "new perspective on Paul" and sometimes because of the ways in which his approach may stretch traditional systematic-theological constructs. Wright briefly addresses these concerns in his recent commentary on Romans:The question of an ordo salutis, the sequence of events that takes a person from outright unbelief through to final salvation, has been hugely influential in some circles, and I recognize that my insistence on letting Paul say what he means by his own key terms does violence to many such well-beloved frameworks of thought. This is not, by the way, a matter of the so-called 'new perspective' on Paul, though insights from Sanders, Dunn, and others, critically sifted and factored in where appropriate, must make their contribution. It is a matter of exegesis; and when we exegete Paul we find that when he talks about what later theology denotes as 'conversion' and 'regeneration' he speaks of God's 'call' through which, by the work of the Spirit, people come to faith. (481)Note several things here:

First, Wright wants to make it clear that his views are not the result of a commitment so some supposed "new perspective" and, in fact, he seems to want to distance himself somewhat from that loosely constituted movement.

Second, Wright insists that the discussion must take place on the level of exegesis--not that of systematics, even if the two, of course, influence one another. Thus, it won't do simply to wave his claims away from the point of a view of a popular system without, at the same time, doing the difficult work of challenging his exegesis.

Third, though the term ordo salutis probably has the greatest currency within Reformed dogmatics, it seems clear to me from the wider context of this quotation that Wright's primary target is not so much that of dogmatics per se, as it is the particalar way in which that dogmatics has trickled down into popular parlance and piety.

I don't have a great interest in defending the whole of Wright's work, but I would like to see him get a fair hearing and to receive substantive exegetical interaction, particularly within conservative Reformed circles.


I see that Paul Ordoveza's blog is back up again after a bit of a post-gradution break (and, again, congrats on the degree from MICA).

there is another king: ix

(continued...blah, blah, blah...)


As resurrected Lord, the justification received by Jesus is, in turn, shared with those who receive the Gospel in faith, thereby becoming the messiah’s people and partaking in the forgiveness and vindication he secured and received. Thus the church becomes the locus of a new humanity, where we begin to live out what Jesus has done so that God’s justice is manifest (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, insofar as the as the church is a forgiven and forgiving community of people sharing an ordered common life together, the church also is the practice of a new politics.

That the church is, in some sense, a “political” community should be evident even from the political, social, and economic terminology that the New Testament applies to the church: assembly, kingdom, city, nation, citizenship, community, people, partnership, warfare, and so on. The New Testament is rife with political terminology applied to the church, thereby presenting the church itself as the center of a new kind of human community. But the kind of community the church is supposed to be is not the kind of “political” community the world envisions. It is a community that instead follows the way of the cross, one whose weapons are not the world's weapons, and one in which authority is neither by might nor power, but by the Spirit of God, through one-anothering service and openness to risk.

The New Testament draws out this new ecclesial politics in various stories and images. As one example, in Acts we find the Christian ekklesia juxtaposed against that of pagan Ephesus and apostate Jerusalem. In common Greek usage, the ekklesia of a polis was the ordered assembly of its citizens gathered for official business. But Luke ironically narrates the ekklesia of Ephesus as a riot where “some cried one thing, and some another, for the assembly was confused and most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32, cf. 19:38, 41). The chaos at Ephesus is paralleled in Acts 21 by similar events in Jerusalem, showing that even the city of Yahweh had devolved to the level of a pagan city-state.

Luke’s portrayal is all more ironic in that the Greek polis was founded on the aspiration to master chaos, to order society, and to exercise justice, all interwoven with the cult of the patron deity, social class and status, and forms of ritual inclusion and exclusion. Jerusalem finds itself acting the part of a Greek polis, accusing Paul of bringing disorder, discarding the law, and defiling ritual boundaries. In both cases, however, Luke shows the purported aims of the respective ekklesiai to deconstruct into their opposites in the face of the Christian Gospel: Ephesus falling into disarray, miscarrying justice in the heat of human passions and Jerusalem disregarding the legal requirements of Torah, provoking the intervention of Gentile authority.

Both episodes, thereby, uncover the real workings of merely human politics, as Peter Leithart argues,In these two incidents Luke pronounces his (and the Lord's) verdict on the old world's ways of ordering human life, on the cultures of the old creation. When the people come together in ekklesia, the true character of their civilization is revealed and unmasked. In the assembly, it becomes clear that the future hopes of the world for peace and justice cannot lie with either of the ancient ekklesiai, with either the city-state of the Greeks or the temple city of the Jews.Adamic humanity, left to itself, can only erect temporary measures towards order, measures that, in the face of the Gospel, are revealed as possessing an underlying and inherent violence.

In between the two accounts, however, Luke tells us what happened when the Christian ekklesia of Troas came together at the end of Passover, on the first day of the week, to break bread, representing a liturgical alternative to Ephesus and Jerusalem (Acts 20:6-12). Instead of shouting and chaos, we find the people of God gathered, listening to and dialoguing with Paul, a scene so tranquil that poor Eutychus falls asleep. Leithart comments,This is not a place of chaos and confusion but a new life, a new order of human life and society. Its assembly is a passage, a Passover, a transitus that moves its participants from death to new life, signified when (at midnight!) Eutychus goes through the window to his death but is raised to new life and is received into the feast.The breaking of bread together here, in eucharist, is a sacramental alternative to both the temples of Diana and of Israel, offering not merely one way of being a community among other options, but rather “an alternative ekklesia, which formed the heart of an alternative polis, an alternative city, an alternative culture, a new world.”

21 June 2003

claire pics

Claire's updated her site again with some more pics. And one of them proves she's not always a perfect little giggly girl.

(if you've loaded the pics before, you might have to refresh since the pages have changed)

the big day

Well, FedEx should be coming by soon, I hope, with our copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. *rubs hands in glee*

Update: The phoenix has landed. Harry arrived at 10am, all 870 pages (!) of Rowling's new book. :-)

20 June 2003

there is another king: viii

(ironically enuf in lite of da next p0st down, this bit ain't very well writ yet n still in progress, but i thot i shud p0st sumthin)

In this context we can reflect upon the Good News of the kingdom as involving the “forgiveness of sin” and Paul’s Gospel as directly concerning “justification.” These two, closely related categories are the obverse side, as it were, of Jesus’ death and resurrection by which he was vindicated as Israel’s messiah and Lord of the world.

Since Israel remained in disarray and as exiles in their own land as a result of her sin and apostasy, “forgiveness of sins” is part and parcel of return from that exile, of the vindication and restoration, and advancement of the kingdom that Israel expected and her God had promised. This eschatology, however, was realized in an unexpected way in Jesus as Israel’s messiah, through the way of the cross, leading to his own resurrection and enthronement, events by which God declared that sin had been forgiven and that Jesus was in the right before the divine court. Since Israel represented all of adamic humanity, Israel’s restoration in the messiah’s resurrection, in turn, was also the means by which the human race as a whole was, in the person of Jesus, restored from its exile from paradise, forgiven and vindicated before the divine court, and advanced to the kind of dominion-through-service for which it was created.

Thus the end of history is already accomplished in the midst of history in the person of Jesus as messiah: the true Israel and the true humanity. Moreover, as Paul emphasizes in Romans, these events reveal the remarkable “righteousness” or “justice of God” (e.g., Rom 1:16-17), God’s own faithfulness to his covenant promises to Israel and the human race, acting as righteous judge, setting the world aright. As such, the doctrine of justification has political implications for both Israel and the wider world.

With regard to Israel, it shows that God’s justice—yearned for by the psalmists and prophets—is not a vindictive justice that favored Israel at the expense of the Gentile nations or one that condoned Israel’s own apostasy. Rather, it shows that Jew and Gentile alike were bound over to sin so that God could shower mercy upon all. This would have profound implications for Israel’s relationship with the Gentiles, relativizing ethnic, political, and ritual boundaries, particularly as Jew and Gentile were woven together in the church.

With regard to the wider world, Paul’s message of justification—particularly as addressed to the church at Rome—questions prevailing notions of justice, Rome’s divinized pretensions to house the goddess Iustitia, and the exercise of that virtue within the empire. The Gospel then calls upon those seeking a true measure of justice to place their ultimate allegiance with Jesus as Lord and savior, rather than the emperor or senate (and Paul’s comments on the civil magistracy in Romans 13 must be read in this wider context, designed to preclude misreading his polemic as negating all human civil authority under God).

Thus, once again, the Gospel and the doctrine of justification it entails, reveal a reconfiguration of political values. With these points in hand, we can now turn to how the Gospel takes shape in the people of God as the church.


Like AKMA, it seems that...

[take the test] - [by krystaljungle.com]

Students, consider yourselves warned.

18 June 2003

radical orthodoxy and the reformed tradition

Here is the more detailed schedule for the upcoming conference on "Creation, Covenant, and Participation: Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition" to be held at Calvin College, Prince Conference Center, September 11-13, 2003.


Thursday, September 11
5:00-7:00pm - Registration, Fireside Room

7:30pm Plenary Address, Oak Room
— Graham Ward, “Why Barth Needed Hegel: Apologetics and Reformed Theology” [Reception to follow]
Friday, September 12
8-9am - Registration/Book Exhibit, Fireside Room

9:00-10:15am - Concurrent Sessions
Session I: “Between Thomas and Zwingli: Introducing Calvin’s Doctrine of the Eucharist to RO,” Oak Room
Speaker: Laura Smit, Calvin College
Respondent: Graham Ward, University of Manchester

Session II: “Waning Matter: The World Reformed and the Politics of Truth,” Willow Room
Speaker: Creston Davis, University of Virginia
Respondent: Jim Olthuis, Institute for Christian Studies

10:15-10:45am - Break

10:45am-12:00pm - Concurrent Sessions
Session III: “Good Cities or Cities of the Good?: Radical Augustinians, Social Structures, and Normative Critique,” Oak Room
Speaker: Lambert Zuidervaart, Institute for Christian Studies
Respondent: Graham Ward

Session IV: “Univocity, Analogy and the Mystery of Being according to John Duns Scotus,” Willow Room
Speaker: Robert Sweetman, Institute for Christian Studies
Respondent: John Milbank

12:00-1:30pm - Lunch

2:00-3:15pm - Concurrent Sessions
Session V: “The Invisible and the Sublime: A Critical Reading of the Aesthetics of Radical Orthodoxy,” Willow Room
Speaker: Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin, Institute for Christian Studies
Respondent: Graham Ward

Session VI: “Suspended Communities or Covenantal Communities?: Reformed Reflections on the Social Thought of RO,” Oak Room
Speaker: Jonathan Chaplin, Institute for Christian Studies
Respondent: John Milbank

3:15-3:45pm - Break

3:45-5:00pm - Concurrent Sessions
Session VII: “Being Bound to God: Covenant or Participation?,” Oak Room
Speaker: Justin Holcomb, University of Virginia
Respondent: Graham Ward

Session VIII: “Being Reconciled: Cultural-Ecclesial Practice as Atonement in Radical Orthodoxy,” Willow Room
Speaker: Hans Boersma, Trinity Western University
Respondent: John Milbank

5:00-7:00pm - Dinner

7:30pm - Plenary Address, Oak Room
— John Milbank, “Alternative Protestantism”
Saturday, September 13
8-9am - Registration/Book Exhibit

9:00-10:15am - Concurrent Sessions
Session IX: “This is My Body: The Eucharist as Privileged Ontological/Epistemic Site,” Oak Room
Speaker: George Vandervelde, Institute for Christian Studies
Respondent: Graham Ward

Session X: "In Adam / In Christ: The Imago Dei and Participation in God,” Willow Room
Speaker: Michael Horton, Westminster Theological Seminary in California
Respondent: John Milbank

10:15-10:45am - Break

10:45am-12:00pm - Concurrent Roundtable Discussions
Session VII: Radical Orthodoxy and the Emerging Church: A Roundtable Discussion, Oak Room
Moderator: John Witvliet, Calvin College
Speaker: Robert Webber, Northern Seminary
Panelists: Michael Horton and local pastors

Session VIII: Radical Orthodoxy: A Graduate Student Panel, Willow Room
Moderator: James H. Olthuis, Institute for Christian Studies
Panelists: Jerry Stutzman, Calvin Seminary; Luke Moord, Ward, Milbank

12:00-1:30pm - Lunch

2:00-4:30pm - Concluding Roundtable, Oak Room
Moderator: Creston Davis
Panelists: John Milbank, Graham Ward, James K.A. Smith, James Olthuis
I'm very much looking forward to this.

16 June 2003

va beach

Laurel and I spent the weekend at Virginia Beach visiting with 3 out of 4 of her siblings and their families, along with her mom, in a sort of family reunion. We stayed at a Holiday Trav-L-Park campground in cabins.

Here are some pics:

nephew, niece, and claire

a cabin at night

three nephews and a niece

Claire went to the beach for the first time while on this trip. Though she seemed to enjoy splashing in the ocean for about ten minutes (despite how cold the water was), she quickly decided she didn't care in the least for the hot sun, muggy atmosphere, or vast quantities of sand.

On the other hand, Claire did enjoy the swimming pools at the campground as she kicked her way through the water in her inflatable fish-shaped floatation device.

And most importantly, we managed to all make it home without sunburns.

there is another king: vii

(and you thought i was channelling n.t. wright already...)

First, let us consider the variegated politics of Second Temple Judaism. The landscape here is likely familiar: while some Jews colluded with the Romans and others retreated into the wilderness, the hopes of many were lodged in political and religious liberation from Roman dominance through the leadership of a revolutionary messiah. Within this matrix of revolutionary hope, rituals and sites such as Torah observance, ancestral traditions, the national homeland, and the Temple itself could serve as powerful symbols of that hope and catalysts for action.

It was just such politicized symbols that Jesus drew upon as part of the Good News of God’s reign, rejecting, relativizing, and redefining those symbols around himself, thereby calling into question dominant Jewish notions of identity and ambition, proposing a different “way” of being the people of God. In doing this, however, Jesus was proposing another kind of politics, one which the Gospel-writers present as the politics of the true messiah and, therefore, of Israel’s God, restoring his people and establishing his justice. Indeed, the “way” which Jesus followed is the very “way of Yahweh,” which is, paradoxically, the way of the cross.

This was a reversal of all expectations. Rather than overthrowing the Romans and restoring Israel’s power and symbols in the way expected, this messiah would “be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him…” (Mk 10:33-34; cf. 8:31; 9:31). In his words to his disciples, Jesus made the politics of this reversal explicit, You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; rather, whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all. For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10:42-45).It is precisely in the apparent shame and defeat of the cross that Jesus, in fact, had victory over the principalities and powers, putting them to open shame on the way to reconciling all things to himself (Col 2:13-15).

Jesus, thereby, revealed the way of service—service unto death—as the true way of being the messianic king. And, insofar as the messiah was the summation and representative of Israel, Jesus lived out in his own life what Israel had been called to do and be for the world—called to service among the nations as a light and witness to the God who was the creator of the whole world, a God revealed supremely in Jesus. The way of the messiah and of Israel, then, was not to be the way of ethnic pride or nationalistic fervor, of pharisaic zeal or violent revolution.

Nonetheless, in this reversal of expectations, all Israel’s hopes were strangely fulfilled, her restoration found in the new community of believers in Jesus, and, as Israel’s messiah, through his death and resurrection, Jesus became Lord and savior of the world, including Rome. Israel, after all, was called by God to bear his purposes for the whole human race in Adam, so that when Israel’s true son and king is made Lord, his rule is not merely that of a Jewish monarch, but moreover, as the true human, embodies the eschatological dominion that the race of Adam was always intended by God to receive. Where Eden’s guardian, Adam, failed to lay down his life for his bride in the face of a bestial serpent, Jesus was faithful unto death, as a servant, and thus became Lord of all, from Israel to the “farthest corners” of the world.

This trajectory is clear not only in the overall shape of Paul’s Gospel of the Jewish messiah who is Lord, but also, for instance, in the unfolding narrative of Luke-Acts, with the ascension of the messiah as divine ruler at its thematic center (functioning against the backdrop of Daniel 7). As the royal proclamation of this messiah goes out to Israel in Acts 1-12, it culminates in the sudden death of Herod, Israel’s false king (and local agent of Rome) who arrogates to himself royal and divine titles that rightly belong to Jesus. Acts 13-28 narrate this same royal proclamation as it makes its way to Rome, to another throne where there sits another ruler who makes similar royal pretenses to divinity. Thus Jesus reveals the nature of all truly human rule to be, in the first instance, that of cruciform service—not of Roman identity or divine aspirations, of imperial power or military violence.

12 June 2003

there is another king: vi

(once again, continued from below)


We can begin by considering the term “Gospel”, which, as is commonly recognized, not only finds its way into the New Testament from the prophetic literature of Israel, but also would have significant resonances within the Roman world to which the New Testament addressed itself.

From the perspective of Isaiah 40 and 52, the “Gospel” was the message of Israel’s God returning, enthroned in his holy city on behalf of his people, to redeem them, to judge their enemies, and, in so doing, to set the whole world aright. This vision of Israel’s restoration was one that, elsewhere in prophetic literature, was filled out in terms of Israel’s anointed king and representative, the messiah, in whom her destiny was set and who would be the agent of Yahweh’s justice, establishing true order. In either case, it challenged Israel’s ultimate allegiances to any other gods or sovereigns and called her to trust her God and his justice, even in the midst of exile.

From the perspective of the wider world of the New Testament, a “Gospel” was the proclamation and celebration of an emperor or king, whether his birth or his rule, and, in Paul’s day, it would have had particular relevance with regard to news of the Caesars. Like Israel’s “Gospel”, this royal summons was intended to elicit a response of allegiance and fidelity.

When the New Testament presents a Gospel about Jesus, then we must see both perspectives in play, giving us a prophetic message that is irreducibly and immediately political. The proclamation of Jesus as messianic king, savior, and Lord constituted not only a theological message, but also a political confrontation both with Israel’s aspirations and collusions as well as with a wider empire, especially where rulers expected worship and sacrifice as well as taxes. And the “obedience of faith” which this message engendered represented not only a personal appropriation of some “private” religious truth, but also a very public shift in political allegiances, that “there is another king, this Jesus.”

The remarkable content and implications of this New Testament Gospel, however, need to be explored further, so that the precise significance and contours of its politics can be better appreciated.

In focusing the Gospel upon Jesus, the New Testament presents the man of Nazareth as the fulfillment of both Yahweh’s return and Israel’s messianic expectations, the two prophetic threads intertwined and each deepening the meaning of the other. Thus, when Paul says in Romans that the “Gospel” proclaims that by Jesus’ resurrection the Spirit declared him to be messianic “son of God”, this points through and beyond the title of Israel’s king and representative (1 Sa 7:14; Ps 2:7; 89:4, 26-27; cf. Ex 4:22), to Jesus’ divine sonship as Yahweh in the flesh (see, e.g., Rom 10:13, quoting Joel 3:5). As such Paul’s Gospel subverted not only Israel’s understanding of her own God, her political hopes, and her messianic expectations, but also the imperial good news of Caesar and his claims to divine sonship. We will examine the Jewish and imperial contexts in turn.

11 June 2003


Maybe I amuse easily or have been warped by studying philosophy, but I found this comic strip funny.

(from partiallyclips.com...i'll warn you though that a lot of the strips are bit twisted)

10 June 2003

there is another king: v


Gospel as Politics

We start with the simple observation that Jesus (and John the baptizer before him) came with the Good News of a kingdom—the reign of God—proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. Paul summarized this same Gospel in terms of the one who “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus, the messianic king, our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4), then going on to expound justification. Such a Gospel not only presents itself as a fulfillment of the political aspirations of Israel (no matter how much it may challenge and redefine those aspirations), but also, insofar as it became Good News for all people, Jew and Gentile alike, it relativized or undercut any claim by Caesar to be ultimate Lord, ruler, savior, or divine son.

In the follow sections, then, I will argue that this Gospel (even the very term “Gospel”) is fraught with politically disruptive claims and thereby gives rise to a new kind of civil community in the church, which practices two politically redefining rites: baptism and eucharist. Thus the Gospel is politics and, in its politics, both repositions the relationship between the Christian community and any particular civil governing regime in a way that lies beyond the “secular,” as well as shapes and forms how Christians are to act politically.

new life

New Life Youth and Family Services is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, having been founded in 1953 by Walter Haman, a secret service agent and bodyguard to presidents Roosevelt and Truman who left his position in order to found a Christian home for wayward boys. With the purchase of a 71 acre property in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania--generously sold far below market by John Clemens--Haman began New Life Boys Ranch, taking a handful of boys into his home along with his own two sons, Walt Jr. and Jim.

Since that time the institution has expanded to a large residential facility for delinquent and dependent boys (ages 11-17), as well as providing day treatment services to both boys and girls. An occupational skills building was constructed in 1984 providing automotive, woodshop, mechanical drawing, computer, and graphic arts classrooms. New Life has also expanded into two neighboring counties providing local day treatment services, early intervention programs, visitation oversight, alternative education contracting with local school districts, truancy prevention, and diagnostic and assessment services to shelter and detention centers.

My father has been working at New Life for the past 37 years (since he was 26 years old) as a teacher, pastor, principal, and currently, as executive director of educational services. I began volunteering at New Life during the summers when I was still in junior high, acting as a teacher's aide, and later was employed there full-time during the summers for 10 years, teaching art history and technique every summer and, during various years, providing classes in social studies, English, elementary German, Latin, and philosophy.

Even after 50 years New Life continues to provide faith-based multi-services to its clients and their families, ministering the love and healing of Christ effectively and maintaining a continual witness to the wider communities it serves.

07 June 2003

there is another king: iv

(this is only a draft still, but comments are welcome)

Before turning to that account, however, we can note that there were several important shifts that John Duns Scotus (and later, Ockham and nominalism) introduced into wider questions as they had been explicated within pre-modern thought. The major Scotistic shift was the positing of a univocal notion of “Being” and with that, underming the analogical use of language.

Unlike his medieval predecessors, Scotus maintained that it is possible to consider “Being” in abstraction from the question of created or uncreated being. In doing this Scotus established the separation of philosophy (ontology and epistemology) from theology and, indeed, founded the possibility of constructing a philosophical ontology that is unconstrained by and transcendentally prior to theology itself, philosophy thereby being permitted to set the conditions for theology. Ockham, in turn, represents a further radicalization of the steps that Scotus had already taken, positing an entirely equivocal notion of “Being” in dialectical tension with its univocity.

Other separations and dichotomies (nature/grace, nature/supernature, faith/reason) flow from these basic shifts in the following ways. First, God and creation can be set within one undifferentiated chain of Being. This, however, introduces serious difficulties into language and its ability to refer since “Being” can now refer univocally to two different realities—created and uncreated—and thus language, and our ideas and concepts expressed in language, become a mask over reality rather than a medium by which reality is able to reveal itself to us in the context of the event of knowing.

This in turn begins to shift epistemology into a direction in which the subject and object of knowledge become increasingly related extrinsically and externally, rather than maintaining the kind of interior intentional connection that was found in earlier thought. Thus it is the case that either the world exterior to the mind remains philosophically unknowable or it becomes approachable only through experimental manipulations devised by reason, perhaps guaranteed by divine fiat (as was true both for Ockham and, later, Descartes). Thus late medieval thought unwittingly founded what would develop into the claims of Enlightenment reason.

With regard to nature and supernature (and its concomitant, nature and grace), there is a twofold separation and fission between God and the creation (even if Scotus’ original intent was to safeguard the gratuity of grace). First, since God and creation are both situated within a single extension, it is possible to explain and think about the world in relation to Being without reference to God and thus the world becomes the self-enclosed system of “nature,” a material reality that remains complete in itself and at our disposal. It is this “nature” that opens up the space for the secular and politics as one expression of the exercise of power over that realm.

Second, this entails that the operation of grace must be seen as an extrinsic operation that is super-added from outside of the creation and thus is, experientially, unknowable except by faith (even if otherwise guaranteed by revealed facts such as “propositional revelation” or by grace-given experiences such as “being born again” or externally imposed present authority such as “papal infallibility” or automated sacramental mechanisms). Religion, thus, begins to be pushed to the margins of what is distinctively human, a development that will have significant implications for the Renaissance isolation of the “secular” as a particular space of human existence, under the sole scrutiny of human reason. Such a space exists in distinction from the privatized and interiorized realm of a grace accessible only by faith, a site that was constructed by late medieval theology and philosophy.

By the time the “modern” fully emerged, it arrived with a well-formed secular sphere to which politics is proper, leaving us with the various negotiations between that sphere and “religion” to which I already referred above. Regularly enough, political theology has been complicit—often unwittingly—with these modernist assumptions, even within those traditions that most wish to be consciously “biblicist” in their approach.

In the Reformed tradition, for instance, certain theonomic, pluralist, and klinean approaches are arguably all infected to varying degrees (and often in opposite ways) by the erection of secular social space. In the case of some theonomic thought, the rhetoric and strategy remains very much one of power, taking over present political structures (even if emphasizing bottom-up efforts, limited government, and rule of law) without substantially questioning the nature and constitution of modern social space and its underpinnings (e.g., an abstract opposition between the individual and society, the market as a neutral mechanism of exchange). In the case of some pluralisms (however “principled”) and klineanism, there are varying degrees of retreat from theological engagement with the political, staking out a sealed sphere of kingdom work (often centered on personal, individual salvation) and only entering the secular sphere on the basis of a naturalistic “common grace” that remains neutral to Jesus.

Obviously these claims cannot be taken to characterize all versions of the positions in question or to constitute a substantive critique of them. Nonetheless, these kinds of critiques will be borne out, I think, by the more positive account I will provide below. With this genealogical sketch of the modern and its effects in mind, however, we can now turn to the biblical text, hopefully with ears better attuned to hear the politics of the Gospel.

06 June 2003


Blogger seems to be working again. And thanks to Jon, comments are working again, though at the moment the number of comments isn't showing up.

Be forewarned. Blogger is switching over to a new system. One morning you'll wake up and you will have been switched. Fortunately, the new system, once fully functional, does seem to be an improvement. Go here for more info.

05 June 2003

there is another king: iii

For pre-modern, medieval thought (which finds its highest expressions in Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure), the kinds of sharp distinctions drawn within the modern were unknown or drawn quite differently. Fundamental to this medieval conception of the world was a conception of language and thought (and, indeed, reality itself) as functioning analogically, grounded upon the doctrine of creation. Since the creation comes from God, is directed towards God, and stands in relation to God, it is like God and revelatory of God. Nevertheless, this revelatory likeness is only analogous—implying both likeness and unlikeness. Since everything is created by God it images him (supremely human beings); but since everything is created by God it images him only within the greater and absolute divide between Creator and creature. The Fourth Lateran Council had formulated this in the following way: for every similarity between God and the creature there is an even greater dissimilarity (maior dissimulitudo in tanta similitudine).

Thus, for example, when we say “God exists” and “creatures exist” we are using the term “exists” analogously, not univocally (and not equivocally either, since a real likeness is there). For God to “exist” is for him to exist non-derivatively, independently, originally, a se, and so on. For us to "exist" is to exist derivatively, dependently, createdly, in deus, and so on. In God, existence and essence are co-terminous and identical. In the creature, there is a real distinction between existence and essence (i.e., we don't have to exist) that gives primacy of act over form as the concrete and particular subsistence of things. Nevertheless, because of creation, there are real analogies between the divine existence and creaturely existence.

This analogical view of language has implications for many areas of thought and practice, including not only epistemology and metaphysics, but also (and more importantly for our present purposes) political theology and philosophy. But I begin with a metaphysical observation, that within this pre-modern perspective the “natural” is not the self-contained world of manipulable matter that is the opposite of “artificial” (as it became in later thought) and thus the “supernatural” is not conceived some second story of “stuff” that is somehow added on top of a more basic nature. On the contrary, natura has to do with kinds of things, their origins and ends, and what they do (including making “artificial” things), as they are organized in relation to one another in a single whole. All things within their fundamental relations to other things within this whole are “natural.” Those very same things, however, are equally conceived as “supernatural” in terms of their absolute origins (since all creation is ultimately pure gift, i.e., grace) and in terms of their final end (since life within God is the graciously given goal of all creation). “Natural” and “supernatural”, therefore, are adjectival or adverbial on such a conception and have no reference to a distinction in substance. They are also temporal, pointing backward and forward in the unfolding of time, rather than spatial. Nature, indeed, is always-already “graced.”

Let us turn now to another observation, this time epistemological. Given what we have already seen about the term “exists” and the relationship between nature and the supernatural, it is clear that on such a pre-modern doctrine of analogy, the question of “Being” cannot be raised apart from the question of created or uncreated being and so there is no possibility of a philosophical ontology that is prior to and unconstrained by theology. Indeed, all of created being must be seen as symbolically disclosing the divine, pointing to transcendent reality, not just as some undifferentiated “God of the Philosophers” but as the Triune God of Scripture. This is the case, in part, because all of the perfections of God (truth, being, goodness, beauty, etc.) are only manifest in the generation of the Logos in the Spirit. Thus our knowledge of God, ourselves, and the world is an analogous manifestation in us of God’s own Trinitarian knowledge of these things and thereby, as it were, our thinking God’s thoughts after him.

With regard to the political, there are significant implications following from these observations, foremost that it is impossible to construct some kind of “natural” or wholly “common grace” politics that remains neutral to and outside of theological concerns and the operation of grace in history. On the other hand, there can be no simplistic identification between the structures, role, and significance of the various overlapping organizations of, for instance, church and civil orders. Rather, their relationship must be conceived analogically, within the eschatological tension of creation’s origin and end. Thus the pre-modern notion of the “saeculum” was not that of the modern spatialized “secular.” Rather, it was temporal, referring to those aspects of the present order of things that will one day pass away when the telos of the creation is consummated.

This also implies that “politics” is not to be confined to the functioning of power within a secular realm, but must, first of all, refer very broadly to the whole organization of a “polis,” a way of life of a people who share a common life, including various analogous and overlapping structures of rule and authority (what one might see as an irreducibly “gothic” social space). These implications will be drawn out further below in relation to the Gospel, church, and sacraments.

04 June 2003


It seems that Laurel has gotten an article on hospitality published over at meshereth.org. Cool.