Related Observations

1 – Seeing the Philadelphia airport, one of the better large airports that I’ve been in, one is struck by how reduced the aesthetic requirements now are. It seems the criterion is one: it has to look new. Anything built has only to look new, and that makes it a great building. The problem is: it can only look new for so long.

2 – The internet roach motel is doing some programmatic Biblicism on the Trinity. I guess I notice because I keep going to look for anybody with a clue on this recent debate. I’m not impressed with any fundamentalist comment on the situation to date. Am I foolish to keep looking? Here’s a question about theological method: how does, and how should, history inform your theological method? I was talking to a staunch covenant theologian I know and observing the literalism with which someone like Snoeberger reads—in some comments on his blog—the Nicene Creed. “They read the creeds the way they read the Bible,” he then observed. I don’t want it to seem anti-dispensational; I’m not that because I am indifferent, and dispensationalists are not all of the wonder-crushing variety that Detroit represents. There are some who read and understand poetry; Tozer was a dispensationalist, after all, and I do not wish him otherwise. But it is a good question: Nicaea has a whole culture of theology that is developed in order to obtain stable meanings for the specific terms. This culture follows it ever after. The implications of what it means are drawn out over time, but still flow from Nicaea so that we speak of Nicene Orthodoxy. Interpreting Scripture does the same (because theology is Scripture interpreted correctly): it builds a tradition of interpretation, a culture that carries with it assumptions. Does your theological method take that into account, or is it a continual rejection of the actual contribution that those accrued things bring? And here’s another related question: are you attached to the church throughout the ages? Is that important to you? How is it, if you affirm it, more than an affirmation?

3 – Speaking of teaching Church History: could your approach to Church history be characterized as an affirmation of something you belong to, or mostly as a denial of something alien to your identity as a Christian? Both will be present, but which dominate and characterize what you do?

4 – When I went to consult commentaries for the passage I spoke from on Sunday, I noticed that Craig Blomberg did not even seem to understand the Gospel, at least not from his commentary on the last half of Matthew 19. Perhaps I did not read him carefully, but what I saw was moralism, economic theory, and quite distant from, for example, Calvin. Calvin is irritating on the Gospels since he has that harmony going on, but at least he understands the message. I had a conversation with someone about the passage earlier in the week, and he was influenced by the idea that you should not read your theology into the text. Of course, you can’t use your theology to distort what the text is saying, but the relationship is not one of complete malleability on the side of your theology. Theology, after all, is the careful product of Scriptural interpretation. If you don’t bring your theology to the interpretation of the text, aren’t you operating on the assumption that what is clearly taught elsewhere might contradict what is taught here? You will never have sophisticated theology until something that is clearly taught begins to adumbrate other passages, bringing out further implication. That, come to think of it, is a good definition of Biblicism: theology refusing sophistication.

Gabriel’s Theodicy

You have to see this. It is so intense it is at first like a black hole. You cannot read it once and get it. But there is such an intensity of meaning there once it starts coming together as you re-read it that it blazes.

I say it because if you don’t stop to try and understand it, you may ignore it. What actually drew my attention was that ‘so’ in the first line. It was the heuristic device, and I still find it hard to accept, but it kept me there. I haven’t commented on it because I was consulting with the poet laureate of fundamentalism.

It is astonishingly intense. It is worth understanding. It is a great insight and hard to see how else it could be put.

I detect no formal principle, and that surprises me. That’s why I wanted to consult the poet laureate of fundamentalism about it, to make sure I wasn’t missing it. I am not sure, but I wonder if perhaps there was originally more regular meter that got chiseled away as the block was sculpted. It is a good final product.

Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology by Lewis Ayres

Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology

12        “Pro-Nicene theologies combined both doctrinal propositions and a complex of intellectual theological strategies. Together these doctrines and the strategies within which those doctrines were intended to be read constitute a theological culture.”

20        “The greater one’s ability to place theologies within the traditions that nurtured them, the better one understands their dynamics.”

36        “Understanding this moral aspect of education helps to clarify the ambiguous feelings of many intellectual Christians toward Roman education. Roman educators wanted students to learn the right lessons from the right texts. Education in reading technique, therefore, became a contested cultural area and Christians eventually if slowly sought to adapt these teaching techniques by focusing them on Scripture.”

39        “The better we understand the process of adapting (and transforming) technical terminologies and persuasive non-Christian ideas to read the resource of the plain sense [of Scripture], the better we understand early Christian ‘theology’.”

84        One of the things that had to be overcome was that individual terminology and creeds were being used to mean different things, even though the terms were the same or similar. What was needed was a consensus of assumptions and practices within which the specific terminology and formulations could function: a theological culture.

94        “A standard connotation of the term homoousios was membership in a class” –so that it coordinated two beings, rather than identifying them. Same species.

162      “We also see here the very fluidity of credal formulation in the early fourth century becoming an open point of appeal.”

236      3 central principles for pro-Nicene theology: (1) “a clear version of the person and nature distinction, entailing the principle that whatever is predicated of the divine nature is predicated of the three persons equally and understood to be one”; (2) “clear expression that the eternal generation of the Son occurs within the unitary and incomprehensible divine being;” (3) “clear expression that the persons work inseparably.”

237      “There is no one original Nicene theology that continues unchanged through the century. Extensive influence of Athanasius’ theology on the Cappadocians is difficult to prove. Western accounts are not simply dependent on eastern translations and there was a significant and persistent non-Nicene presence in parts of the west. The theologies that constitute pro-Nicene orthodoxy are not reducible to one point of origin or to one form of expression.”

246      “Oration 29’s use of the language of ‘convergence’ (. . .) deserves further comment. Gregory’s [Nazianzen] source is probably Plotinus.” En 2.2.1 and 3.8.11

256      About Constantinople (381) “Nobody intended this creed as a replacement for Nicea, merely as a statement of Nicea’s faith. Thus, part of the reason for the lack of reference to this creed until the council of Chalcedon in 451 is the lack of intention of its framers that the Constantinople creed serve as a precise marker of orthodoxy.”

275      Nicene theology was not just the development of disconnected ideas, but of interrelated conceptions: “the Christian imaginative universe—and of a collection of intellectual practices . . .”

281      “Pro-Nicenes assume the impossibility of there being degrees of divine existence, and they assume God to be the only truly simple reality. The generation of the Son and the breathing of the Spirit thus occur within the bounds of the divine simplicity.”

287      “The language of simplicity is inseparable from the language of divine incomprehensibility and gives rise to ‘formal features’ of divine being that should govern all our speech about God.”

330      “Gregory Nazianzen also understands the basic task involved in moving towards the vision of God as involving both not thinking of God in material terms and refocusing the gaze of the mind away from its obsession with the material world.”

335      “Like almost all early Christian writers, pro-Nicenes read Scripture as a providentially ordained resource for the Christian imagination.”

353      “Indeed, Gregory [of Nyssa] again seems to be following Plotinus’ lead: both writers not only talk of a power as being intrinsic to a nature, but also metaphorically present a power as being ‘around’ a nature.” En 5.1.6

356      “In other words, articulating the pro-Nicene grammar of divinity necessarily involves articulating an account of the relationship between Creator and creation.”

366      “Ultimately, however, we will best understand this mature account when we see that it is also an articulation of the very epistemological and anthropological dynamics that we have seen shared between pro-Nicene theologians and present so clearly in Gregory of Nyssa.”

382      “The grammar of God’s simplicity, partially stemming from those Platonist engagements serves not to make God a unitary essence or to replace biblical exegesis with discussion of the three Neoplatonic hypostases. Rather, that grammar serves to enhance the explanatory power of a fully Nicene Trinitarianism in which the order of Trinitarian generation is preserved . . . Augustine’s Platonism serves the cause of good exegesis.”

389      “Claims about the metaphysical bondage of Christian thought are not simply part of modernity’s dislike of metaphysics per se: they are also closely related to post-Enlightenment thought’s suspicion of the idea that contemplation of the divine might be the goal and root of theology, wanting instead to focus Christian attention on the ‘practical’ and on the narrative of Christ’s ministry as transformative of human possibility.”

387-391           Three strategies used to dismiss historical inquiry and understanding of ancient theology.

387      1 – reading pre-modernity as a gradual anticipation of modernity (progress toward . . . us).

388      2 – classical theology unsustainable because indebted to Greek thought . . .

390      3 – presenting philosophies as self-enclosed systems. You can’t really take from them without succumbing to their assumptions.

392      “For example, both Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine adapt themes from Plotinus: neither, however, makes any extensive use of the complex discussions concerning the interrelationships between the three primary hypostases that so fascinated the latter. Rather, discussions that Plotinus would have assumed to be pertinent only to the One or Nous are drawn on and melded together to discuss the Christian Trinity.”

414      “By now it should be clear that the challenge to modern Trinitarian theologies from pro-Nicene theologies stems from a difference in theological culture: the principles of classical Trinitarian theology were sustained by a culture taken to be essential to the appropriate use and belief of them, but a theological culture very different from that shaped by the broad field of modern systematic theology.”

428      “questions about the persuasiveness of pro-Nicene theology are also questions about the nature of theology itself.”



Lord, if I love Thee and Thou lovest me,
Why need I any more these toilsome days;
Why should I not run singing up Thy ways
Straight into heaven, to rest myself with Thee?
What need remains of death-pang yet to be,
If all my soul is quickened in Thy praise;
If all my heart loves Thee, what need the amaze,
Struggle and dimness of an agony?—
Bride whom I love, if thou lovest Me,
Thou needs must chose My Likeness for thy dower:
So wilt thou toil in patience, and abide
Hungering and thirsting for that blessed hour
When I My Likeness shall behold in thee,
And thou therein shalt waken satisfied.

-Christina Rossetti

Some Metrical Observations on a Hymn

The hymn I have in mind goes thus:

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

Observe the meter:

Iamb, anapest, iamb, anapest (10)
Iamb, anapest, iamb, anapest (10) (an ingenious way to make anapests work)
Iamb, anapest, anapest, anapest (11)
Iamb anapest, anapest, anapest (11)

A striking meter.

I pause here to make some observations most probably already have but without which the rest might not be intelligible. The music of English poetry is produced by two things coming together: the meter, which is as the strings of a violin, and the rhythm of the phrases, which is as the bow. Anybody who has struggled to appreciate poetry knows that until you can hear this out loud in your head, you have to read it out loud to hear its music. In this case, rhythm that will counter the disastrous effects of anapestic meter is crucial. It also seems to me the rhythm of lyric poetry has to be regular, and when it is, it is then matched to the melodic phrases of the music.

In the case of O Worship, song and poetic music are very well matched, and this is one of the things that makes it great. It is pretty good just because of what the author did to avoid writing doggerel (when the rhythm and the meter collapse and are indistinguishable), never mind a regular meter with the words in the right place. But this is how you know it is a great hymn, when you are looking at considerations of poetry. I have to wonder if he didn’t have J. Michael Haydn’s tune in mind when he wrote the poem.

In our blue Trinity Hymnal you can just look across the page at 15 and see something much different. It is another adaptation of a psalm, but the only consideration is to reduce it to some meter and some kind of rhyme. The result is mostly doggerel, there is anastrophe which serves no higher purpose than making sure the rhyme scheme is preserved, and the obvious lack of art requires no long perusal to discern.

The other thing our poet did with the meter of O Worship was to deploy a series of effects thereby. Art lives in its effects. So in order to understand it you ask what the effects accomplish. In the case of these verses, the ingenious extra syllable creates a rushing effect (a little more is being squeezed in), or a more robust effect (like having ten rather than three columns supporting your architrave), and so on. An example:

Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

There is a studied ambiguity in the first two lines, I think. We are talking about God’s care: it is bountiful, in fact, inexhaustible. But why are we talking about how we can’t talk about it? Then, as if that were not enough, we say it breathes in the air and shines in the light. It is a comment on the extent of the bounty: wherever air goes, God’s bounty is breathing, wherever light shines, it is with lit with God’s generosity. It is nevertheless hard to picture anything specific. One wants an example; one expects that from this poet. Here, we are not getting a firm grasp on care, just on bounty—the modifier. What then happens is that in the 11 syllable lines of the stanza we get a very specific picture: it is like water, one of God’s most generous ideas. If the first two lines, besides what they explicitly say, develop an ambiguity about the subject, then that is like asking a question. The last two lines, then, come back with the answer, as if to say: here is what I’m talking about. The extra syllable lends the effect of greater detail, there is more to this part, and that effect corroborates, echoes, or, if you’d rather, it brings home that resolved ambiguity.

And that is not the only verse or way in which an effect of the meter is deployed.

The Arch-Heretic Marcion, by Sebastian Moll

The Arch-Heretic MarcionInteresting to the point of almost being engrossing, which for a published dissertation is something. The prose did not sing, the obvious organization was sometimes lugubrious, but it kept on giving, if one skipped parts.

And now, a summary of what it said, with some of my own observations inadvertently included, in clumsy paragraph-clusters of information, in the style of scholarship:

1 Marcion was a ditheist: he posited two gods.

The Creator was the evil god. Marcion therefore despised the created order. The OT was this god’s contradictory revelation.

The Father of Jesus was the good god. Marcion was a docetist—Christ was an appearance. Not a gnostic, probably: no theory. He was a practical man and a Biblicist: not being consciously informed by other sources. Christ appeared against the evil god, to destroy and bring love.

2 Marcion recognized as all did authoritative texts, but he limited that collection: first idea of a canon.

He probably did not have all the NT. He selected from what he had, that which was contra the OT: Luke and ten Pauline epistles, all trimmed of most positive mention of the OT.

3 Marcion read the NT in light of the OT, rather than vice versa.

What controlled his NT canon was his view of the OT canon. He distorted his OT by his clear negative concept of the OT god.

Marcion, however, was a literalist: it made the OT god worse. He began by refusing to interpret the OT. His NT was the opposite of his OT. There was a strict discontinuity between OT and NT, therefore. His hermeneutical key was this absolute discontinuity.

4 Marcion believed a conspiracy theory: the message of Christ had been coopted. Only Paul kept it pure. Christ was an appearance the good god sent to affirm grace and love.

Marcion radically simplified the complexities of early Christian belief. His practice, however, was quite similar. Marcionite churches were like Christian in structure and practice. He used the same baptismal formula. His ethics were negative: fast on the Sabbath, against the creator; abstain from sexual intercourse since the creator enjoins it; abstain from eating meat.

Salvation: line up against the bad god, then you’ll be with the good god. Christ will save anybody who wants to from the evil god. Despise the evil god.

5 Marcion took from Christian churches to build his movement. That is why he had the conspiracy theory, and that is what Christians resented.

He was bishop of his movement, holding absolute authority. He was a good organizer; he had the money for it; he had the charisma and confidence. He ascended to heaven to sit at the left hand of Christ (Paul is on the right).

What Would It Take?

Americans constantly go to other countries to teach. They are appreciated and provide training not easy to obtain in other countries. Recent conversations, however, have reminded me of something dissidens said about Evangelicalism being about a maximum of effort for a minimum of results. Here is what I mean, from what I know happens in Reformed circles:

A like-minded effort in another country will be targeted for or obtain funding (the hard part) and volunteers (the easy part) and the thing will begin. Foreign teachers will come in periodically, serve the Lord sacrificially, give reports received with admiration and gratitude at the funding source, and the foreign effort will be helped. And it is a help, no question. Often, the volunteers pay their own travel and the only expense at the receiving end is the facility, lodging and food, that sort of thing.

It is usually offered to the students for free, and what materials can be made available are made available. What materials cannot be made available, are not, on the other hand, and these tend to be the not inconsiderable materials a theological library represents. So the academic quality is considerably diminished. Also, if the work is presented in a language the teacher is unable to teach in, it is likely that the work will be presented in a language the teacher is unable to grade in. So the academic quality . . .

After a while, those in the likeminded work hosting the effort will have gone through the full extent of the training offered. The training continues because, by this time, not so like-minded persons are available, and there is always a need for training, isn’t there? At this point, in Reformed circles, reports can return with the announcement that a lot of Pentecostals and non-Reformed students are enrolling. What a great opportunity to give them good, Biblical training that will influence them in a Reformed direction.

By this time, however, you do not exactly have trained pastors coming out of these programs. That is worth thinking about. People in the target country notice that the low standards and low expectation are raising the level of understanding somewhat, but there is still a lot of work to do on these graduates if indeed anybody is really going to consider ordaining them. In other words, at best, workers are being prepared, but not ministers. What you also notice is that some of the Pentecostals and charismatics attending have been won over, but not that many. It is worth asking: What is happening with them?

They are coming because they have no, or very few, standards for training and ordination, and what they want is some kind of credential. They can use it to further their career, and they do. It is sincerely to be hoped they will do good, will influence their circles, will use the teaching they transmit to reach hearts disposed to seek more.

Would they did that without also appropriating the name Reformed Baptist; while they have some understanding, it is not such as can distinguish Mark Driscoll, for example, and a sabbatarian Reformed Baptist. And the question is raised, besides all the good that is being done—which it is not my intention to deny—is there some harm being accomplished? And more answerable for us who are not there, what is the relation of the effort to the outcome of the effort?

The question is not: is good training not otherwise available being made available? It is. But I think we overestimate this in thinking that the draw is the superior training: in some cases it is the Americanness of the training that attracts, it provides a kind of glamor, it maintains a certain level of activity. The question instead is, why are we doing this training? Is the point to provide ministry into which we can invest and spend our time raising Christian workers, or is the point in each place to provide churches with a source of training from which ministers can be drawn? Because if the goal is men trained to a certain ministerial standard, then the efforts I have witnessed and inquire about do not measure up. The resources are going toward different ends.

And I’m not just coming up with this on my own. I’ve seen it, I discuss it rather regularly with a friend in Colombia who knows all about that end of it, and I have also talked to a guy whose job it is to travel all over the world and understand what is going on. He put the question clearly, and to me, that is the real question. What is the desired outcome? And if it is training for competent pastors, then the question still needs to be answered: What would it take?