28 March 2004

collect for lent 5

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

27 March 2004

the BCP on infant salvation

I noticed the other day that the various traditional editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer state, in their rubrics, that we:

...know for truth, that it is certain by God's word, that children being Baptized (if they depart out of this life in their infancy) are undoubtedly saved (1549 BCP)
or (more strongly) we:

...know for truth, that it is certain by God's word, that children being baptized, have all things necessary for their salvation, and be undoubtedly saved (1552 and 1559 BCP)
or, again with a slight emendation:

It is certain by God's Word, that children which are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are undoubtedly saved (1662 BCP)
In the 1549, 1552, and 1559 BCPs, these statements appear in the preface to Confirmation, while in the 1662 BCP, it appears after the service for the public Baptism of infants.

It would be interesting to read an account of why the BCP's statement varies from edition to edition. I'd also like to know how this statement was received by the wider English church of the Reformation.

25 March 2004

collect for the feast of the annunciation

Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

24 March 2004

brief hiatus

I won't be posting any much new for a bit. After the recent flurry of interactions (which I don't in the least regret, but thought were helpful and necessary), I'm behind on various things, including grading and several lectures.

21 March 2004

collect for lent 4

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

20 March 2004

sacraments and assurance

Over on Barb's blog there's been some discussion in the comments on one post in particular, in response to a brief reflection that had been written by Peter Leithart. This is offered as what I hope is a helpful and clarifying reply and speaking very much from within my own confessional bounds.

It seems to me that there are three fundamental issues at question here with regard to what Scripture teaches as that has been understood in the Reformed tradition. The first is the nature of the sacraments. The second is the kind of assurance of salvation that the sacraments provide. And the third concerns how we are to interpret the experience of those who receive the sacraments, but not unto salvation.

Certainly, Rick Phillips is right that a sacrament in general, and baptism in particular, is "a sign and seal of the covenant of grace." Rick, however, goes on to add that baptism, therefore, is "not something that makes me a saint. I believe that Jesus makes me a saint by the work he accomplished and by the application of that work to me by the Holy Spirit."

Rick seems to be affirming, then, (and correct me if I'm mistaken) that baptism cannot be "the application of [Christ's] work to me by the Holy Spirit" nor "the application of redemption through the Holy Spirit."

But I fail to see how this follows from the affirmation that sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace, unless we are [a] taking that to be a complete definition of a sacrament and [b] are understanding sacraments to be signs and seals to the exclusion of being actions by which God applies redemption through the Holy Spirit.

As a Presbyterian, however, it seems to me that this runs afoul of our subordinate Standards as well as historic Reformed sacramental theology.

According to the Westminster Confession of Faith "sacraments" are not simply "holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace," but also, in some manner, include the reality signified and sealed. This is because sacraments, most basically, are not just signs and seals, but actions by which the covenant of grace is signed and sealed.

This is explicit in both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which define a sacrament as a "holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church" (WLC 162; cf. WSC 92). Similarly, the Confession speaks of sacraments "rightly used" and being "administered" and "dispensed" (WCF 27.3, 4). Thus the basic definition of a sacrament is that of an "ordinance" or sacred action, of which one aspect is the sign and seal.

The other aspect of a sacrament is the thing signified. When the Larger Catechism asks "What are the two parts of a sacrament" the answer given is: "The parts of a sacrament are two; the one an outward and sensible sign, used according to Christ's own appointment; the other an inward and spiritual grace thereby signified" (WLC 163). Likewise, the Confession states that "there is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified" (WCF 27.2). The sign and thing signified thus are together "in the sacrament" and constitute the sacrament in their union. Thus, "sacrament" encompasses both aspects.

It is this dual aspect of a sacrament that allows our Standards to speak of sacraments as "effectual means of salvation" (WLC 161) by which grace--that is, Christ and benefits of the covenant--are not only "signified," "sealed," and "represented," but also "exhibited," "applied," and "conferred." (see WCF 27.1, 3, 5; WLC 162, 165, 167, etc.; WSC 91, 92). Thus is it Christ himself who is present in his sacraments, by the power of the Spirit, to communicate grace.

This understanding is the common understanding of sacraments among Reformed divines. For instance, Franciscus Junius, the highly regarded late 16th century Reformed scholastic, writes in his Theses Theologicae:The genus of sacraments is not 'sign,' since invisible grace cannot be included in a sign, yet that is the primary point of a sacrament; rather a sacrament is a sacred action, comprehending the operations of God and of man. An action is either natural or voluntary. The voluntary is either theoretical or practical, and the practical is either ethical or ecclesiastical, and ecclesiastical actions we call 'ceremonies' and we affirm that whatever involves the sacraments is rightly placed under this title." (50.8)Junius defines baptism, in particular, as "a sacred action of God washing those that are his own, inwardly, with the washing of the Spirit, and, outwardly, with the washing of water." Here we see, together, the two sides of the single action that comprises baptism. Junius states that the water and the Spirit are united as "relatives." He gives the following analogy:...as a man in human actions produces, with his soul and his body, both the inward and the outward action in one and the same operation--in which the soul is said to be the form of the body--so also, in a manner of speaking, his inward action is the form and his external action is the material part of the action. Even so, after the same manner, God performs, by his Spirit and by water, both an internal and an external action in one and the same operation, in which the inward washing by the Spirit is the formal part and the external washing with water is the material part of his action.I don't wish to belabor the point, so I'll allow these quotations to suffice, which are fairly typical across a wide range of Reformed theology from the period leading up the writing of the Westminster Standards.

Regarding the first point--the nature of the sacraments--I think that Reformed teaching, in its understanding of Scripture, would invite us to look to baptism, inasmuch as it is a sacred action with two aspects, precisely as "the application of redemption through the Holy Spirit" of which the application of water in the Triune name is the representation, sign, and seal. By looking to baptism, we are not looking anywhere but to Christ and the working of the Spirit, because baptism is one of the places in which Christ has promised to be, for baptism "contains...a promise of benefit" (WCF 27.3).

That addresses with the first issue and brings us immediately to the second: the kind of assurance that the sacraments provide.

When Reformed theology speaks of sacraments as "conferring grace" or "applying Christ and the benefits of the new covenant," it always presupposes the context of faith or, with regard to its administration, the profession of faith. There is no "promise of benefit" for those who are not "worthy receivers" (WCF 27.3), which, in this context, means particularly those who receive the sacrament apart from faith. As such, when people receive the sacraments, the intention is "to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces" (WLC 94).

Thus, the sacraments "become effectual means of salvation...only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them" (WSC 91). So it is in the believing reception of the sacraments that the Spirit works, Christ is effectually received and applied, grace conferred, and so on. As Charles Hodge writes, God is pleased to connect the benefits of redemption with the believing reception of the truth. And he is pleased to connect these same benefits with the believing reception of baptism. That is, as the Spirit works with and by the truth, so he works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace. Therefore, as we are said to be saved by the word, with equal propriety we are said to be saved by baptism..." (Commentary on Ephesians)Thus baptism and the eucharist are designed by God to be means of assurance since, in the sacraments, by faith, we find Christ. Assurance in Reformed theology is always the "assurance of faith" (WCF 18.2) and not an assurance to be found outside of or apart from faith, whether in some experience or other piece of information, taken in abstraction from Christ and his promises. After all, saving faith, in its principle acts, is a matter of "accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone" for salvation (WCF 14.2) and assurance is "founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation" (WCF 18.2).

Thus, if Reformed theology tells us that the sacraments are given in order to strengthen and increase faith, it can only be because Christ and his promises are present in his sacraments, as we have already seen. To encourage God's people to draw assurance from baptism is, therefore, decidedly not to encourage them to "rest their assurance on a ritual," but upon Christ himself, who is to be found in the places he promises to be, among them baptism.

It is in this context that we must understand the Larger Catechism's teaching on "improving our baptism" (WLC 167). "Improving our baptism" does not mean adding something of our own to baptism, as if we could somehow, in our own strength and works, improve upon what God has already signified, sealed, and promised to us in it. Rather, it means returning to our baptism in faith and thereby entering more fully into what God has already given us in it. The Catechism suggests that while the improving of our baptisms is something to be pursued "all our life long," it is something that pertains especially to "the time of temptation" and "when we are present at the administration of [baptism] to others."

Among other things, the Catechism teaches us that improving our baptism requires a "serious and thankful consideration of the nature of [baptism], and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby." This remembrance of baptism is one that is done in faith, so that it involves also "growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us" in baptism. Entering more fully into baptism likewise means "drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace."

Thus baptism and its remembrance in faith are importantly instrumental to assurance of salvation, as well as the strenthening, increase, and confirmation of faith. Thus being baptized and improving that baptism must be counted among "the right use of ordinary means" by which assurance is attained (WCF 18.3).

These observations are consonant with the wider Reformed tradition. Calvin, for instance, writes:...we must realize that at whatever time we were baptized, we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life. Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may alway be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins. (Institutes, 4.15.3)He writes again later:Therefore, there is no doubt that all pious folk throughout life, whenever they are troubled by a consciousness of their faults, may venture to remind themselves of their baptism, that from it they may be confirmed in assurance of that sole and perpetual cleansing which we have in Christ's blood" (Institutes, 4.15.4)And Calvin's comments here are echoed by many other Reformed divines and Confessions (e.g., Scots Confessions, 21; Second Helvetic Confession, 20).

We are left, then, with the third topic: how we are to interpret the experience of those who receive the sacraments, but not unto salvation. This is, in large part, the question of how we interpret biblical language in which, for instance, Paul addresses his audience as the "saints" and "faithful," when even some of the baptized might, in the end, prove unholy and faithless. The question is potentially more puzzling (at least from within the parameters of Reformed theology) when Paul addresses his hearers as "elect." It's not clear, however, that what we say to this last observation necessarily stands or falls with the prior ones.

Of course, there may not be single correct way to handle the answer. After all, if some person were to simply stumble off the street into a church that received Paul's letter, we cannot imagine Paul was addressing him among the "saints" and "faithful." What is clear, however, is that Paul uses such terminology interchangably with that of "the church" and addresses himself to the company of the baptized, including, on occasion, even children.

What if someone in his intended audience were to later fall away from the faith? Paul never addresses that question directly. He might say he had been speaking only in general terms of the church as a whole (after all, he never speaks of a "saint" in the singular), as that company of people set apart by God, without drawing conclusions about particular individuals. He might say he had been making a judgment of charity. He might say that even those who later prove unfaithful, were sanctified insofar as they were set apart by God in baptism unto holiness, a holiness they repudiated. In whatever way we answer this question it will be a matter of theological reflection and conclusions from wider Pauline (and biblical) patterns and principles.

We might, then, turn to the question of how the Westminster Standards and the Reformed tradition handle the question of those who recieve the sacraments, or are purported to be "saints," and yet do not believe unto salvation. On the particulars of this matter, our Standards are relatively silent, though much is said by way of suggestion and inference.

The Confession does affirm that there are some who are "called by the ministry of the word" and who have "some common operations of the Spirit," and yet "never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved" (10.4). By "common operations of the Spirit" the Confession means those operations of the Spirit that are common to both [a] those baptized who do believe unto salvation and [b] those baptized who do not believe unto salvation who remain part of the visible church in response to the general call of the Gospel.

The kinds of operations the Confession has in mind might be suggested by the prooftexts appended to it, which refer to the parable of the Sower, in particular the soil which represents those who receive the word "with joy" (Matthew 13:20-21), excerising what the Reformed tradition has called "temporary faith" (see, e.g., the Canons of Dort, 3-4.9). As the Confession frames things, this response, though temporary, is seen as a work of the Spirit. This stands to reason since elsewhere the Spirit is said to be present and working in the visible church (WCF 25.3), and to speak in the Holy Scriptures and in their preaching (WCF 1.10; WLC 159 and 160).

Among the other "common operations" of the Spirit, the Confession's prooftexts include prophesy, exorcism, miracles (Matthew 7:22), enlightenment, tasting of the heavenly gift, partaking of the Holy Spirit, tasting the good word of God and the powers of the world to come (Hebrews 6:4).

It is also important to note in this connection that the Confession teaches that baptism solemnly admits an individual into the visible church (28.1). The visible church, however, is said to enjoy a number of significant privileges. Among these are "being under God's special care and government," "enjoying the communion of the saints," possessing the "ordinary means of salvation," receiving "offers of grace by Christ...in the ministry of the gospel" (WLC 63), being "the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God," and being a place in which God is present and at work through his Spirit (WCF 25.2-3).

Thus, while some professing believers may not, in the end, be saved, nor do they "truly" come to Christ, there is also a sense in which they do receive many common benefits (some share of the Spirit, some kind of adoption as members of God's family, etc.) and thus, in some lesser way, do come to Christ (whether we call that "externally" or "sacramentally" or something else). The prooftexts provided by the Westminster Assembly fill out this picture even further.

The Confession's prooftexts on chapter 25.2-3, concerning the visible church, quote 1 Timothy 4:10, which speaks of God as "the Savior of all men, especially those who believe," implying thereby that Christ can be seen as the proffered Savior of all the baptized. The visible church is also compared to Israel which, both faithful and unfaithful, received "adoption...covenants...promises" (Romans 9:4). Likewise, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 is applied to the visible church: "all the members of that body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...we all are baptized into one body." This suggests that not only does baptism solemnly admit one into the visible church, but that it also brings one into a relationship with Christ (Christus totus, head and body) which did not obtain before.

The Westminster Standards, therefore, in their explicit teaching and, indirectly, in their prooftexts, assume the widespread position of the Reformed tradition: that grace is "offered" and "presented" to all who hear the Word, and in a special way to those to whom the sacraments are administered. In fact, we already saw this above, since it is a corollary of the "sacramental union" between sign and thing signified. This has generally not been a matter of dispute among Reformed theologians (with the exception of a few, such as our Protestant Reformed brethren who tend to deny the free offer of the Gospel).

Whether or not we can speak of Christ being "given" to all to whom the sacraments are administered is perhaps a bit more controversial. Yet Calvin can speak of Christ being truly "given" to all who partake of the Supper, even though all do not receive him there, since there is an objectivity to the sacramental presentation of Christ for us.

Calvin writes: "the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the worthiness of men, and that nothing is taken away from the promises of God, or falls to the ground, through the wickedness of men" (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:27). And so, he says, "Christ's body is presented to the wicked no less than to the good" so that unbelief does nothing to "impair to alter anything as to the nature of the sacrament." In the Institutes Calvin similarly says that "the flesh and blood of Christ are no less truly given to the unworthy than to God's elect believers" but that unbelievers reject the proffered gift (4.17.33).

Along similar lines, the French Reformed divine, Louis Daille, states in his Exposition of the Epistle to the Colossians (on chapter 2):If we meet with any baptized persons, as these are but too many, in whom the old man is so far from being buried that he lives and reigns with absolute power and the new man has neither life nor action at all, it must not be imputed to Jesus Christ who always accompanies his sacraments with his saving power. Rather, it is the person in his own unbelief who repels the operation of the grace of Christ and deprives it of all the effect...In a similar vein, in connection with the free offer of the Gospel, the Marrow men (Thomas Boston, et al) distinguished between the giving of Christ in possession (which involves actually receiving him) and a gift of Christ as warranted men to receive him.

The Reformed scholastics (Turretin, Junius, Forbes, Witsius, etc.) could speak of those who do not believe unto salvation as, nevertheless, being given (and even receiving) grace and gifts "passively," "sacramentally," "extrinsically," "conditionally," "federally," "visibly," and so on. These are in distinction from receiving such grace and gifts "actively," "spiritually," "intrinsically," "absolutely," "intimately," "mystically," and so on. Turretin speaks of those who "by baptism are initiated into Christ...but who adhere to him by continguity of external communion, [rather] than inhere by continuity of internal communion" (Institutes 15.16.29). He goes on to speak of them as "sanctified," though only federally and sacramentally (based on Heb 10:29). Augustine is often quoted by Reformed divines, where he speaks of those "who on account of grace received even temporarily, are called by us sons of God and yet are not such in the sight of God" from the perspective of their final end (Admonition and Grace 20)

Not all of those distinctions are without difficulties of their own, given some of the historically-conditioned assumptions they make about issues of ontology and the like. Nevertheless, it is clear that some such distinctions must be made and can be applied, at least retrospectively, once temporary faith fails.

Some of the current disputes in conservative Reformed circles, however, concern just these matters and how we are to theologically reflect upon them, what language we should use to describe them, the nature of the reality of which we speak, and the implications of all of this for pastoral practice. Moreover, the question here is, in large part, one of the relationship between soteriology and ecclesiology. And it's beyond the scope of a blog entry and my abilities to attempt to resolve those difficulties.

19 March 2004

reading milbank

In the comments below Courtney Huntington asked about where to start if one wanted to get into reading John Milbank.

Fortunately, I have already devised a 12-step program for just that purpose. I've tested it and have found positive results. Here it is:

Step One: Pour yourself a generous glass of good quality scotch.

Step Two: Drink it slowly while listening to John Tavener.

Step Three: Pour yourself more scotch (cheaper stuff is ok now).

Step Four: Drink it morely quickly than the first one.

Step Five: Begin reading either "An Essay Against Secular Order" (Journal of Religious Ethics 15.2 Fall 1987) or "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism" (in The Postmodern God, ed. by Graham Ward).

Step Six: Give up after several paragraphs.

Step Seven: Switch to gin.

Step Eight: Re-read those several paragraphs.

Step Nine: Bludgeon yourself over the head repeatedly in frustration using a nearby blunt implement.

Step Ten: Try reading once again, this time refusing to stop until you get to the end.

Step Eleven: Enjoy the satisfaction of having finished the essay, even if you're not quite sure it meant anything at all.

Step Twelve: Buy a copy of either Theology and Social Theory or Being Reconciled and admit yourself to the nearest mental health clinic for observation.

Good luck. Feel free to report back on your results. I'll add them to my database.

univ of nottingham

In case you're interested and weren't aware.

a baptismal taxonomy (part one)

I have a lot more materials on Reformed views of baptism that I may reproduce here eventually, particularly since I haven't given much attention to English, Dutch, and German Reformed traditions (though they've been an object of study).

I'm at a point, however, where I think I can set out something like a taxonomy of available options within the Reformed tradition on the various issues involved in the theology of baptism, with a particular focus on infant baptism.

I'll go through a number of these issues, then, explaining the range of opinions and listing which theologians fell on which side of them. I am less familiar, however, with the American Reformed scene or patterns of theological development after around 1730 or so. Thus, I will be mostly sticking with English-speaking and continental Reformed theology between 1520 and 1730 or thereabouts.

A couple preliminary remarks, however, may be in order, as a matter of background explanation for the kind of theological diversity I will be outlining.

The tradition that has come to be grouped together as "Reformed" has always included a wide range of theological variety, including from the start, not only Calvin and Bucer, but also Zwingli and Oecolampadius. In large part the alliances between these various groups was not only a matter of ecumenical concern, but also political necessity.

Moreover, the writings of a single figure like Calvin, if not treated diachronically and with attention to their rhetorical contexts, can produce what seems sometimes to be a bewildering set of opinions that remain in internal tension with one another.

As a result, sometimes theologically disparate parties (e.g., Zwingli and Calvin on the eucharist), found themselves to be ecclesiastical bedfellows. As this diversity played itself out in subsequent decades, the results were rather mixed.

On one hand, at the expense of his own sacramental distinctives, Calvin was able to produce the Consensus Tigurinus together with Bullinger. On the other hand, a high church Anglican Calvinist like Archbishop John Whitgift could end up being very nasty indeed towards his Puritan opponents with whom he, nonetheless, had many theological commonalities.

Some Reformed could hold that in baptism, all covenant children received remission of original sin and the beginnings of regeneration while other Reformed maintained that only elect infants enjoyed these benefits and baptism merely pointed to their reception, whenever that might be, whether past or future.

Moreover, various parties within the Reformed tradition could all appeal to previous theologians and authorities--and sometimes the very same ones--in support of their disparate views. In short, on the question of baptism, the Reformed tradition is something of a mess.

With these background considerations in mind, we can begin to construct taxonomy of those views in future posts.

last day of winter

And it's snowing, appropriately enough...though not enough to cancel classes.

17 March 2004

feast of st padraig

Almighty God, in your providence you chose your servant Padraig to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.I wasn't able to get out to buy myself some Guinness today, so I'm sitting here with a cocktail made with Bailey's--it's called a "Mad Russian," but who cares, because today everyone's Irish anyway.

15 March 2004

caputo on the move

It looks like Jack Caputo is leaving the philosophy department at Villanova and moving to the religion department at Syracuse. Though I don't see eye-to-eye with Caputo on a number of things, I'm sad to see him leave the Philadelphia area.

14 March 2004

modernity and violence

Friday night I went to hear a lecture at the International Institute for Culture, given by David L. Schindler of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, where he is Academic Dean and Professor of Fundamental Theology. I was tired and didn't take notes and it's been a couple days, but here's something like a summary of his remarks as my muddied memory recalls them.

Schindler was speaking on the topic of modernity and argued for the thesis that the logic of modernity (or liberalism, taken in the broadest sense, implicating also what we call "conservativism") involves an inherent violence of a peculiar sort. Moreover, this has pressing implications for the ethical issues of our day, particularly those involving, e.g., human embryos.

As Schindler sees it, liberal modernity involves three important components that contribute to its (often hidden) violence: [1] a formal notion of freedom that sees it in terms of pure choice, apart from and prior to any specific ends or value; [2] an approach to social and cultural institutions that conceives them abstractly and juridically as providing protected space for the pursuit of freedom; [3] a view of the natural world that approaches it in instrumental terms as neutral and manipulable matter, so that it comes to have value through human choices.

Schindler offered an alternative picture, rooted in the Christian tradition, particularly a kind of Thomism much indebted to de Lubac and von Balthasar, and drawing upon John Paul II's writings, particular his encyclical Veritatis Splendor and his book The Theology of the Body.

Briefly, he proposed that: [1] the natural world, as an analogical revelation of God own Trinitarian life, is already ordered in a particular way toward its own self-giving and therefore has value in itself apart from what we choose to do with it; [2] human freedom precisely as human freedom is always already graced and thereby ordered toward God as its eschatological end and in whom its true freedom is found; [3] human institutions, therefore, cannot provide a space for the empty exercise of freedom apart from truth, but must be open to that truth, or otherwise do violence to what it is to be human.

Approaches that propose a kind of empty neutrality when it comes to human freedom, nature, and institutions are not, in fact, neutral since such a purported neutrality runs counter to the truth of reality in relation to God, both with regard to human beings and the cosmos. Moreover, the pursuit of ends in terms of this sort of modernist liberalism actually exercises a kind of violence toward the natural world and towards ourselves.

Various applications might be made here to ethical issues, particularly those involving birth technologies and the use of human embryos for research. From the standpoint of liberal values, it is difficult to see why we shouldn't pursue such avenues of technology and research, especially given human compassion toward the difficulties they might help solve.

Nonetheless, there is a certain logic at work that allows, e.g., the embryo to be seen merely as a speck of living matter, which we can choose to manipulate and to which we give value through the ways we come to use it. Schindler suggested, however, that a properly Christian ethic would call us to step back and regard the embryo in its own integrity, not as neutral matter, but as already a "gift" and as something against which we can potentially exercise violence.

Hmmm...that has all come out a bit garbled, but I think the gist of his remarks are preserved. In any case, it was a thoughtful talk and expands on some themes Schinlder has helpfully explored in his various writings.

collect for lent 3

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

11 March 2004


You gotta love groovy children's television from the '70s.

openness of god

I'm currently working on some lectures I'll be giving in Tokyo over the summer. I need to complete them soon so my hosts can get busy on translating them. Semi-technical theological and philosophical discussions don't lend themselves to translation on the fly.

There will be two lectures. In the first I spend most of my time explaining why some perceive tensions in the biblical text. On one hand, Scripture presents God as the wholly other creator (omnipotent), standing in need of nothing (aseity), all-sufficient in himself (pure act), who knows the end from the beginning (omnisceince), and is entirely consistent and faithful to himself and to his own word (immutability).

On the other hand, the God we encounter in Scripture is a God who is responsive to his creatures, acting in history on their behalf to save and to judge, who grieves, regrets, and, as the God of all love and compassion enters into the suffering of his creatures in the person of Jesus Christ. How do we hold all of this together?

"Classical theism" has maintained that God is immutable, impassible, independent of his ceation, and so on. Often, particularly I think within early modern philosophical conceptions, the God of classical theism has come across is an immobile, inert, unmoved diety who remains aloof, even if he is the sovereign will that stands behinds all that occurs.

In response to such notions there have been a number of critiques of the God of classical theism, first in various forms of process theology, then also in theology of figures such as Barth and Moltmann, and finally in our own day among "open theists" such as Clark Pinnock, William Hasker, Greg Boyd, John Sanders, and others. The latter group maintains that God's love requires his being responsive to his creatures, that creatures therefore truly influence God, that human freedom sets a limit on God's sovereignty, that God learns the future at it comes to pass, and thus that God is dependent upon the world in various respects.

To the extent that certain kinds of modernist theologies (including certain strands of Calvinism) have presented the God whom the open theists critique, their critique is warranted and such modernist theologies have not always been as faithful to the Scriptural data regarding God as one would wish. Moreover, to the degree that many open theists point to the person of Jesus Christ as the place where God is definitively and fully revealed, I concur and their emphasis is a helpful corrective to some theologies that take "the one God" as a starting point with little or no attention to the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation.

While I very much appreciate the concerns of the open theists, I want to maintain: [1] they have mischaracterized the bulk of "classical theism," when properly understood in its historical and philosophical context; and [2] classical theism, understood correctly, especially with a greater emphasis on Trinity and Incarnation, quite adequately accounts for the concerns of open theism.

In terms of the perceived tensions in the biblical picture of God sketch above, I want to say that the tension is only apparent and that the one description of God does not need to be qualified at the expense of the other, whether on the side of classical or open theism. Rather, we must say that God is compassionate because he is all sufficient. God is responsive because he is immutable. God can be said to suffer because he is pure act.

Now, that requires a lot of unpacking and unfolding. The key here, I think, is the doctrine of the Trinity. When we describe God as, e.g., "pure act" we only do so with reference to God's eternally full self-actualization that is the eternal procession of the divine Persons, revealed in Jesus Christ. Eternal life--the very life of God--is also an eternal dying to self, each of the divine Persons wholly pouring himself out for the Others in what St. Maximus called the "eternal movement of love."

Thus God is the supremely dynamic event from which all other events find their meaning and origin. If time is, as Augustine suggests, the moving image of eternity, caught up most focally in the work of Jesus Christ as the center and meaning of all history, then the sufferings of the Cross tell us something of the eternal inner life of God.

This still doesn't resolve all the difficulties (which is why my lectures will be considerably longer than this blog entry), but it does suggest some directions into which we may attempt to think through these issues. Moreover, we can do so in such a way that we do not compromise the biblical picture of God that classical theism has sought to safeguard, but rather draw out further and more deeply the riches that classical theism always already contained.

10 March 2004


I made some nice sourdough bread today--the kind where you use a starter dough that you let sit around and rot for five days. Good stuff, turned out well.

clothes shopping

A local department store was having an end of season sale earlier this week and we got a flyer in the mail giving us an extra 30% off the sale price. I needed some nicer tan or khaki pants since most of mine are either cargo and carpenter pants or getting pretty worn out. So I thought I'd hit the sale.

What a frustrating experience. I wear something between 30"x30" and a 32"x32", depending on make, cut, etc. I can usually find stuff in the young men's section, but that section often contains mostly more casual clothes while the regular men's section seems to gravitate towards larger sizes.

I did finally find one pair of pants that fit nicely, after trying on 8 or 9 and digging through lots of piles. Unfortunately, they weren't as inexpensive as I had hoped. I got them anyway. Not that you should care or anything.

09 March 2004

french reformed on baptism (part ii)

Daniel Chamier (1564-1621) studied both at the University of Orange and at Geneva during the time of Beza. He was ordained at Montpellier and pastored later at Montelimar. Later in his life he also served as professor of divinity at Montpellier, where he had helped establish an academy, and at Montauban. He was killed when Louis XIII sieged Montauban in 1621. By the time of his death he had established himself as one of the most prominent theologians of his generation, the author of numerous theological works, particularly polemical disputations with Roman Catholic theologians.

In the fourth volume of his Panstratiae catholicae, entitled "De Sacramentis," Chamier clarified what is and is not a matter of dispute between the Reformed and the Roman Catholics with regard to baptism. He writes:The question between them and us is not [1] whether justification from all our sins is offered and conferred in baptism, for this, neither side denies; nor [2] whether any sanctification at all be then conferred, for that, both allow. (5.4.10)Chamier goes on to explain that the primary point of difference "concerns the quantity and measure of sanctification." While the teaching of his Roman Catholic interlocutors suggested that the soul of the baptized is entirely cleansed from sins so that "complete sanctification is then given," Chamier insists that in baptism "it is only begun and is daily perfected by degrees."

As Chamier continues, he makes a distinction between the "present effects" of baptism and those "which are future." The present effects he defines as "that which is assigned to be wrought in the very instant of right administration of baptism," while future effects are those "which follow after the celebration is ended" (5.4.16). In explaining this further, Chamier says:So far be it from us that we should teach that baptism effects nothing upon infants until they come to age; but on the contrary, we know that the effect of baptism, which is performed by God himself, occurs in view of the very celebration of baptism. So we say that, either there is then some effect, in truth and indeed, when the sacrament is administered, or else there will never follow afterwards any at all.Chamier then explains those immediate effects of baptism in terms of the remission of sins and adoption, of which baptism is the "moral cause" in virtue of its divine institution, apart from which "the external administration of the outward sign" would have no effect.

Franciscus Junius (1545-1602) was the Latinized name of Francois du Jon, a native of Bourges, though he lived the better part of his life outside of France. Junius is probably best known for writing the notations on Revelation for the 1576 edition of the Geneva Bible. Nevertheless, he was an internationally known theologian in his day who was instrumental in the development of Reformed scholastic methodology. In addition to pastoring a number of different congregations, Junius also served as a professor of divinity at Neustadt, Heidelberg, and Leyden. As with many of his contemporaries, he was the author of a number of polemical works.

Junius' most extensive treatment of the sacraments, including baptism, is to be found in his Theses Theologicae. In general he defines as sacrament as "a sacred action, divinely instituted, in which Christ in the Gospel and all his benefits are publicly offered to the faithful." By the administration of the sacraments "Christ hands himself over to us in the Gospel" so that "our faith is thus confirmed and Jesus Christ with all his benefits is applied and united to us." Moreover, in the sacraments, the recipients "declare to God their own gratitude and loyalty, are mutually bound together in love, and are distinguished from unbelievers as God's own peculiar people."

As Junius makes various distinctions with regard to the sacraments he states, citing Galatians 2:27 and Romans 6:3, that the "internal material" of the sacrament "is chiefly Christ himself, into whom we must be ingrafted by faith." From this ingrafting into Christ, then, flows all "his benefits, which, as it were, are the vital juices poured out by the root into all his own branches, and so at last they form and produce in us the fruit of good works."

Junius defines baptism, in particular, as "a sacred action of God washing those that are his own, inwardly, with the washing of the Spirit, and, outwardly, with the washing of water." The two sides of the action that comprise baptism, the water and the Spirit, are united as "relatives." He gives the following analogy:...as a man in human actions produces, with his soul and his body, both the inward and the outward action in one and the same operation--in which the soul is said to be the form of the body--so also, in a manner of speaking, his inward action is the form and his external action is the material part of the action. Even so, after the same manner, God performs, by his Spirit and by water, both an internal and an external action in one and the same operation, in which the inward washing by the Spirit is the formal part and the external washing with water is the material part of his action.With regard to the baptism of infants, Junius examines the argument against infant baptism "that baptism is to be the sign of faith, repentance, and regeneration, but as infants are not capable of these, neither should we baptize them." He begins his reply by suggesting that rather than prerequisites for baptism, "one is led from baptism into the communion of Christ" in faith, repentance, and regeneration. Besides, he insists, even infants, though they are not capable of the full exercise of faith and repentance, nonetheless can "have faith in its basic principle" and thus "have the Spirit of faith." Concerning infant regeneration, Junius writes:Regeneration is considered, in one way, as it is in its foundation--that is, in Christ in principle--and, in another way, as it is active in us. The former regeneration (which can also be called transplanting from the old Adam into the new) is as a cause, from which the latter arises as its fruit. Of the former Christ speaks in John 3, while the Apostle joins both together in Romans 6. In the former manner, elect infants are regenerated when they are ingrafted into Christ, which is sealed to them when they are baptized.Junius, like Chamier, then, affirms that God acts in baptism to offer and communicate Christ and his benefits--washing from sin and regeneration--to believers and their children.

07 March 2004

french reformed on baptism (part i)

I've been trying to research the baptismal doctrines of the 16th and 17th century French Reformed. I've collected a number of different writings, but, unlike the bulk of Scottish divines, many of the relevant texts need to be translated from either French or Latin. Other texts, though I have their titles, are difficult to access.

Thus, these posts will be occasional, as I find more sources and have time to do translation, where necessary. For this reason, also, my posts will not survey relevant authors chronologically, but rather in a more haphazard fashion.

I've already referred on this blog to both Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713) and the Gallican Confession regarding baptism. Moreover, some texts have already been translated into English and are more readily accessible. Thus, that is where I will begin.

Jean Daille (1594-1670) studied philosophy at Poitiers and Saumur, after which he was appointed by Phillipe du Plessis-Mornay as a tutor for his grandsons. In 1626 Daille was called to be a minister of the church at Charenton, where he served for many years. Daille was involved in a number of important French Reformed synods and was the author of numerous works, both expository and polemical.

The following is taken from his Exposition of the Epistle to the Colossians, particularly his comments on chapter 2. He writes,And thus you see what are the fruits of our communion with Jesus Christ, namely, the destruction of our old man and the creation of the new, signified by the apostle in these words: we are buried and risen with him again.Daille goes on to consider the various means by which God makes us partakers of these fruits, namely, the word and the sacraments, beginning with baptism. Regarding Paul's statement that we are "buried with Christ in baptism, wherein also you are raised with him," Daille comments,Thus so I take these words--rendered "wherein," not "in whom"--and referring this term not to Jesus Christ, but to baptism, as if it had been said, "in which baptism you are also risen again together with the Lord..." though, in reality, it makes no difference which of these two ways it is taken, since both amount to the same meaning, whether you say that we are risen again in baptism or in Jesus Christ.What is true of baptism is true of "all the means of which God makes use in religion" for they "have no other tendency than to communicate Jesus Christ to us as dead, buried, and risen again for us, to the end of destroying our old man and vivifying the new." Daille adds, "Nor do these means ever fail to produce these two effects in any of those who receive them as they ought..."

Regarding the sacraments in general, then, Daille maintains that "the sacraments of Christ are not vain and hollow pictures, in which the benefits of his death and resurrection are nakedly portrayed, as in a piece of art." Rather, he insists, "They are effectual means, which he accompanies with his power and fills with his grace, effectively accomplishing those things in us by his heavenly power which are set before us in the sacrament, when we receive it as we ought."

With regard to baptism in particular, the effect is that of washing from sin and new life. Daille say that God "washes and regenerates that man within who is rightly consecrated by baptism."

According to Daille, in Colossians 2, Paul is focusing on baptism in particularbecause it is the first seal which we receive of our Savior and the proper sacrament of our regeneration, which contains the initiation and beginnings of our spiritual life in the house of God. Consequently, when treating the same subject in his Epistle to the Romans (6:3-4), he makes mention of baptism in the same manner: "Do you not know," he says, "that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism."

...It is not only in this place that the apostle attributes so great an effect to baptism; he speaks thus of it constantly, as, for example, when he says that Christ sanctifies the church, "cleansing it with the washing of water by the word" (Eph 5.26), and "as many as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ" (Gal 3:27), and again, "by one Spirit we all are baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13).
With regard to the mode of baptism, Daille suggests that it is not essential and that immersion, pouring, or sprinkling are all equally efficacious. Whatever the mode, "the power of holy baptism is still the same: that Jesus, whom in it we put on, communicates to us, by the power of his Spirit, the mystical image of his burial and resurrection, that is, as we have shown, the annihilation of the old man and the creation of the new."

Concerning the baptism of infants and the efficacy of baptism, Daille says, "if the infirmity of infancy prevents the effect from appearing at the instant the children are baptized, yet his power does yet accompany his institution, to preserve itself in them, and to bring forth its fruits upon them in their season..." Thus baptism is not effective only when the water is upon the recipient, but is the ongoing sign standing over the whole Christian life, as is clear from Daille's later exhortations to live out our baptism in faith, for instance: "by faith in the Gospel, mortify and destroy sin, according to the intention of your baptism."

We see this same emphasis on the objective character and efficacy of the sacrament with regard to how Daille describes those who receive baptism and remain in unbelief. He writes,If we meet with any baptized persons, as these are but too many, in whom the old man is so far from being buried that he lives and reigns with absolute power and the new man has neither life nor action at all, it must not be imputed to Jesus Christ who always accompanies his sacraments with his saving power. Rather, it is the person in his own unbelief who repels the operation of the grace of Christ and deprives it of all the effect, which it would have assuredly produced in them, if their unworthiness had not frustrated its efficacy towards them. For I acknowledge that neither baptism nor the word works in any but such as receive them with faith.In conclusion, then, we see several emphases in Daille's doctrine of baptism. First, that baptism is an efficacious means of grace for those who receive it rightly, in which God, by the power of his Spirit, communicates Christ and all his benefits.

Second, in particular these benefits are death to sin--understood in terms of the forgiveness of the sins and the breaking of sin's power, crucifying the old man--and newness of life or regeneration--understood in terms of ongoing renewal of the new man in Christ.

Finally, Daille maintains the objectivity of the sacrament as a means by which God is active and truly offers and presents Christ the recipient of the sacrament in the saving power of his Spirit. Nonetheless, the offered gift may not be received unto salvation when received in unbelief. Therefore, we must all the more believe the Gospel and trust in Christ as he is communicated to us in this holy sacrament.

collect for lent 2

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astry from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

06 March 2004

gibson's passion

I did finally see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ this week, during my "spring break." I don't have much to add to what others have already said.

I'd give it 3 stars out of 5, if I were forced to do a ratings scale. The Passion was a bit better than mediocre as films go, though it certainly had potential to be much better, judging from those moments in the film that really came together.

On the whole, I thought the narrative juxtaposing with flashbacks was the best artistic feature of the film, along with some moments of cinematography and the deployment of biblical symbolism (e.g., snakes, flies, water, the raven, etc.). Though there are many films in general that I think are much better than The Passion, even in terms of dealing with theological themes, with regard to the aspects I've mentioned, Gibson's film was better conceived and produced than most other films directly about Jesus (though Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ and Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew are also well-done).

There are some difficulties in the film with regard to whether or not Gibson's Jesus was actually "crucifiable," given what we see in the various flashbacks and allusions to his life and ministry. Would these teachings and actions be sufficient to provide motivation for the Jewish leaders to plot against Jesus or for the Romans to be willing to allow the crucifixion to happen? I suppose that once one has assembled the various bits and pieces together in context, some motivations could be surmised (e.g., "love your enemies" is a politically subversive claim in a world of imperial occupation in which symbols of ethnic identity can become the premise for violence).

And yet this aspect of the film remains rather "thin," though I realize that it wasn't really Gibson's primary focus. Still, something like a flaskback depiction of the Temple incident where Jesus overturned the tables would have helped pulled things together in terms of the motivations of the leaders who plot against him. If anything about the film is genuinely anti-semitic, it is the cartoonish way in which the Jewish religious leaders are portrayed, over against the Romans who, it seems to me, were far more developed, interesting, and believable.

While I've seen various Protestant commentators defend the film against being overly "Roman Catholic," the film to me seemed quite steeped Catholic piety, built around the fourteen Stations of the Cross and the Five Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary (though the stations were somewhat re-sequenced). This explains, in large part, where the focus of the film lies in the scourging and the way of the cross. I don't see this as necessarily a defect, however, but simply as a relatively successful aspect of the artistic and emotional grammar of the film.

Another aspect of the film emerging, I think, from Gibson's more Roman Catholic sensibilities was the continual presence of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the other main character, remaining alongside and following the same path as Jesus, all the way through. It seems to me that this was an expression of her complete involvement in the sufferings of Christ, accepting them in her own co-suffering (as Luke tells us, "a sword will pierce your heart too"), to the point of wishing to die with her Son. This could be construed in terms of the theology of Mary as co-redemptrix and is very much in keeping with the piety of the sacred and immaculate hearts. Again, while I don't agree with a great deal of this kind of theological development, I think it is woven into the symbolic world of the film and the first question is whether or not, cinematically speaking, it is well done--and for the most part, I think it is.

There are other elements of the film that struck me as similarly Roman Catholic in their typology, but I suspect, however, most of this would be lost on a typical Protestant audience. After all, these Catholic teachings are rooted in reflection upon the biblical text and thus resonate with various biblical themes that, as a Protestant, I would sometimes take in different directions. As such, they still communicate even apart from the specific shape of Catholic piety.

All in all I would recommend seeing the film, if you are so inclined. It is thought-provoking and its presentation of the Gospel narrative does highlight various aspects of the biblical text that are due further reflection.

03 March 2004

so kerry it is

It's frustrating that the Pennsylvania primary isn't until April. This means that in national elections our votes never really make much difference, though, of course, there are a number of statewide and local issues still to decide.

Though Kerry has virtually wrapped up the nomination, I'm still not quite sure who I will vote for in the primary. After all, even the candidates who've dropped out will likely still appear on the ballot. And given that things are already pretty much settled, I can throw away my vote with a clear conscience on whomever I actually like best.

01 March 2004

random claire stuff

Well, she's 18 months old now and coming up with new quirks all the time.

Recently she's taken to running upstairs right after eating, climbing onto the stool by the bathroom sink, grabbing her toothbrush and brushing her teeth for like 8 minutes straight. If you try to get her out of the bathroom before she's decided she's done, she'll throw a tantrum. I guess I shouldn't complain.

Claire also habitually says "thank you" any time you fetch her anything she wants or hand her some toy or other artifact. We never taught this, but had ourselves always said "thank you" when she handed us stuff. I suppose she just picked it up from our modelling. Pretty cool.

She also continues to have peculiar tastes. I made a pretty spicy pork vindaloo the other night for dinner and she couldn't get enough of it. She also seems to enjoy curry, pad thai, lamb with lots of garlic, tandoori chicken, garbanzo beans, and raw red peppers, among other things.

I should add that Claire has broccoli cravings. Often when she sees me fixing food in the kitchen, she'll come to the kitchen door and ask me, "Brocky? Brocky?" She always seems disappointed when broccoli doesn't feature on the night's menu.

She knows now to say "amen" at the end of prayers. At church I like to point to various things and ask her what they are and she rightly answers, "font," "pulpit," "bible," "altar," and so on. The pulpit at Tenth also has little cherub faces on the corners that she points to and says, "baby."

In fact, she really likes the word "baby" a lot. On Ash Wednesday we attended liturgy at a local Episcopal parish and there was a couple with a baby there. The parish has a "soft space" in the back corner of their gothic stone nave with a rug and some padded pews, designed for the very little ones. She spent quite of bit of time with baby Libby back there, handing her toys, saying "baby," and kissing her.

I've noticed that Claire is much easier to keep in church with us in an Anglican context where there's more continually going on (processions, standing, kneeling, responses, etc.) and the homily is shorter. I often bring her in for the final hymn at Tenth Presbyterian, but she's never sat through the whole service there as she has in Anglican and Lutheran churches.

There's something appropriately "childish" about liturgy that I'm beginning to think is very important in terms of spiritual formation. I wonder if traditional Presbyterian worship assumes a kind of intellectualism that is overly exclusive.

Claire's gotten into naming body parts too. At this point she can manage "knee" (her personal favorite), "nose," "mouth," "tummy," "hair," "ear," "eye," "chin," "foot," and "butt." Clever girl. It's incredible how her vocabulary has suddenly multiplied.

Anyway, just some random stuff.