Frayed Edges

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Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

TS Eliot – The Four Quartets: Burnt Norton I

 

There are nights where I get so ripped at the seams that I can’t even scramble for thread to stitch them up. Last night was one of those. I was up late the night before, and spent the better part of the next day swimming in the world of ideas. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ideas, or in exploring the possibilities of the future. But in my own limitations and frailties, nothing can be quite as intoxicating or tyrannical as a good idea. Live long enough in the future and it is easy to destroy the all too important sense of smell in the present and it becomes impossible to tell the difference between the sweet scent of spring tulips and complete bullshit.

Travelling the concourse of my own life – the futures I occupied in the present of days past have stacked up into an enormous amount of baggage filled with the false hopes of what might have been. Our little lives are a mobile nexus of reality – it comes pouring in every moment of every day whether we like it or not. I have found, or better, am trying to find that precious present – the place where God is and I am, where even in the commotion of the urgent, the common pressures of everyday life, I can find that still point. There’s a mindful emptiness, an openness to fullness that Buddha, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and TS Eliot describe, something that Scripture describes in the rhythms of Sabbath rest that I long for – the ability to cease and know God.

I do not live an ascetic life – I cannot retreat  to the desert like St. Anthony, or the monastery as St. John of the Cross. But, there’s a wilderness within and that is the road to Eden rest. I could bemoan the frayed edges, my own frailties and limitations, but in these I am opened up to something more precious that I cannot attain through strife – gift. The grace of God in Christ is the magnetic force that draws me into something Divine. There is simple stillness and limitless act in the life of God, and for the soul that shares in that life. For now, I know of no other way than the wilderness and the frayed edges, and the frailties – that is the road to the cross and to the gift and to the stillness.

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The Evangelical Calvinist on The Hope of Apocalyptic Theology

 

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The Evangelical Calvinist:  The Hope of Apocalyptic Theology

Bobby Grow’s excellent blog, The Evangelical Calvinist is an invaluable resource for me as reader of theology. His discussion of the eschatological and apocalyptic horizons of the theological enterprise, and biblical interpretation in this post are well worth the read.

What seems to be at stake in an apocalyptic reading of the NT is the monergistic work of God’s grace (i.e. the gratuitous work of God alone) through Christ in raising the dead sinner to new life. As Bobby points out, Karl Barth sees the cross as the inflection point of the eschatological new creation, which is resonant with Athanasius. In my own interaction with the compelling theology developed by Eastern Orthodoxy, while I am drawn deeply to their insistence on theosis (the divinization of the Christian) and the participation in the Divine life, I find that this synergistic fellowship has to be anchored in the monergistic work of God in Christ alone. We can only labor in the work that has already been accomplished on our behalf; only have fellowship at the table that has already been prepared for us. For this, I am grateful for my Protestant Reformed heritage, it has much to give to the catholic body of Christ as we move ever closer to Christ and deeper into his ever-unfolding self-disclosure.

 

To Hell With Them? Part 4

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Baptism with Fire and St. Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Resurrection:

“…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:13)

The fires of hell are a reality that cannot be dismissed in any honest reading of the New Testament. However, as I have stated throughout this series on Universal Salvation, the issue in question is what do the New Testament authors mean by hellfire, and how were these teachings received by many of the most venerable theologians in the early church. In later posts I hope to elaborate directly on the Scriptural texts on hell, and how they have been diversely interpreted, and in some cases catastrophically misinterpreted in the history of the church.

One of the most brilliant theological minds in the history of the church is St. Gregory of Nyssa – who along with his brother St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus (commonly known as the Cappadocian Fathers) not only defended the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, but also gave us a clearer language to articulate these truths that are reflected even today in the most central doctrines of the church. All this to say, St. Gregory’s orthodoxy is beyond dispute, therefore we ought to take his teachings on the matter of Universal Salvation seriously even if, at the end of the day, we disagree. In one of his most important works, On the Resurrection, Gregory sits at the feet of the woman whom he names Teacher, she also happened to be his sister, St. Macrina. In this work they discuss the nature of the soul and the resurrection while Macrina’s own health is failing, and they both mourn the death of their brother Basil.

In one crucial section, Macrina uses an arresting metaphor for a ruined soul’s suffering in the afterlife  by first describing the scene of a family who must drag the mangled corpse of a loved one out from beneath the wreckage of an earthquake. Due to the catastrophic ruins left by the earthquake, even removing the corpse for burial might entail doing more damage to the lifeless body as it is pulled from the debris. As is the broken body, so is the soul that has been wrecked by sinful passions. She then goes on to say this as she describes the soul’s encounter with God –

Such I think is the plight of the soul as well when the Divine force for God’s very love of man, drags that which belongs to him from the ruins of the irrational and material. Not in hatred or revenge for a wicked life, to my thinking, does God bring upon sinners those painful dispensations; He is only claiming and drawing to himself whatever, to please Him, came into existence. But, while He, for a noble end is attracting the soul to Himself, the Fountain of all Blessedness, it is the occasion necessarily to the being so attracted of a state of torture. Just as those who refine gold from the dross which it contains not only get this base alloy to melt in the fire, but are obliged to melt the pure gold along with the alloy, and then while this last is being consumed the gold remains, so, while evil is being consumed in the purgatorial fire, the soul that is welded to this evil must inevitably be in the fire too, until the spurious alloy is consumed and annihilated by this fire. – St. Gregory of Nyssa: On the Resurrection

Nyssa’s argument might seem odd, especially for my fellow Protestants (yes, I am still a Protestant). However, when we see the fires of hell presented to us in the New Testament with a proper understanding of aonian (which is mistranslated as ‘eternal’ when it clearly refers to a specific age, epoch, or duration), much of these theological issues ironed out in the early church snap back into focus. When John the Baptist says, ‘see the lamb of God who is taking away the sins of the cosmos’ [note, the word commonly translated as ‘world’ is cosmos in Greek, this is reflected in David Bentley Hart’s New Testament translation], he means just that – Christ is taking away the sins that have marred his creation in entirety. When Paul speaks of all things in heaven and on earth being summed up in Christ (Ephesians 1:10) he means all things – there will not be one inch, one sub-atomic particle that will be stained by sin when all things are summed up in Christ because evil does not exist in his presence – it must be burned away. So, what we understand to be the fires of hell cannot be anything less than identical with the love of God as it encounters the evils that beset his creatures – yes they will burn, but only to the destruction of the evil, not to the destruction of the soul, which God made both good and for himself.

I could go on, but I don’t want to make these posts any longer than they need to be: for more on this series, see the following posts:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, The Harrowing of Hell, Apocatastasis: The Heresy that Never Was

 

 

Apocatastasis: The Heresy that Never Was

As I continue with the series of Christian Universalism (apokatastasis), I want to point out this excellent article by Fr. Kimel over at Eclectic Orthodoxy. Only when we begin to grasp some of the historical reasons why Universalism, which according to credible sources was the majority position in the early church, has been rejected. While the arguments for eternal hell can and are made in good faith, they were also leveraged for the sake of political and religious control. It is a lot easier to keep the population in check if you have control over their eternal destiny.

Eclectic Orthodoxy

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When first presented with the universalist hope, many Orthodox and Roman Catholics immediately invoke the authority of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553), citing the fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas: “Apokatastasis has been dogmatically defined by the Church as heresy—see canon 1 … case closed.” Over the past two centuries, however, historians have seriously questioned whether these anathemas were ever officially promulgated by II Constantinople. The council was convened by the Emperor Justinian for the express purpose of condemning the Three Chapters. Not only does Justinian not mention the Origenist debate in his letter that was read to the bishops at the formal opening of the council, but the Acts of the council, as preserved in the Latin translation (the original Greek text having been lost), neither cite the fifteen anathemas nor record any discussion of them. Hence when church historian Norman P. Tanner edited his collection of the Decrees of the…

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To Hell With Them? – Part 3

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As I continue to work through this series on Christian Universalism, I think it is important to reiterate that the classic doctrine of Universalism (termed in Greek as apokatastasis) as developed by the Church Fathers and later Christians in the broad-stream of orthodoxy (Eastern, Catholic, Protestant) do not deny the existence of hell. Rather, the doctrine simply states that hell is provisional, or of an appropriate age, which ties into the biblical term most often associated with the fire of hell, namely that these fires are aionian (which has been dubiously translated as ‘eternal’). So, this series is intended to urge Christians in the mainstream of the historic strands of the Christian tradition to seriously consider this doctrine. As I have moved to embrace the Universal hope of the restoration of all things, what seems to me to be at stake is the total victory of God in Christ over all evil.

These things said, as I continue to work on some of the summary material most appropriate for a blog, I will continue to post resources. The fact of the matter is I can only provide an introduction to the topic. It will be up to the readers of this series to investigate the topic more fully. The encouragement I will urge my readers with is to not reject this concept off-hand – it is one thing to disagree with arguments that are understood, another thing entirely to dismiss them without understanding their substance.

Today’s post will provide some fantastic youtube interviews and lectures. The interview of Robin Parry is from a Protestant perspective and is probably the most accessible for those who aren’t necessarily theology buffs. However, the interview of Ilaria Ramelli, a Roman Catholic scholar and one of the preeminent experts on Universalism in the early church, and the paper delivered by the Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bently Hart are more thorough and theologically rigorous treatments of the question of Universalism.

Series Posts: Part 1, Part 2, The Harrowing of Hell

 

A Strip Mall Hymn

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I have a conflicted relationship with suburban life, not because the suburbs are any more or less defective than the city, but because I have a conflicted relationship to life in this world. There’s beauty and ugliness, beauty in the ugliness, and ugliness in the beauty I suppose. The trick is to find hope and to love the beauty as it is – always contested, always fragile, always indestructible.

A Strip Mall Hymn

The flat-light of an age worn strip mall on the edge of a dying town

An anytown, anywhere and nowhere

of the pharmacy, of the fast-food restaurant

of the supermarket, of the dry cleaner, of the smoke shop;

Calls out in the rain soaked night where streetlight halos

are mirrored on wet asphalt and echo the holy longings

of long-departed saints

Where the storefront’s dim-lit promises

of pills for peace from the storm-tossed bed,

of food empty of the memory of the land that birthed it

or the blood ransom of the slaughterhouse,

of wardrobes undisturbed by the frail fingers

of the overworked child in an overlooked factory

forgotten in some foreign corner,

of carcinogens that make the pain of distraction tolerable –

Still these broken lights pouring out on broken souls

Speak of something sacred, undimmed, unhoped and hoped

Lingering beyond the wet shadows on the eastern horizon.

 

Beneath the façade and the hidden frauds

That shadow the back alley

And the dumpster, the detritus, the distractions

Lies something precious, hidden

as precious things must be –

Of the self unselfed and selfed in return

and free in the rain

Among the streetlight saints

And the faceless faces full of hope and lost hope,

Full of hope through the empty fullness of the soul –

for the dance

for the hope of the dance

of baptism in the rain-lit night

beneath the broken lights

Where the strip mall signs signify the sacred longings

that aren’t for sale

The longing’s only longed-for hope for satisfaction

is to surrender itself to the dance.

 

© Jedidiah Paschall

 

 

Does Two Kingdoms Theology Make Christians into Republicans or Democrats? You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Matthew Tuininga is one of the more thoughtful Reformed Christians dealing in matters of Christ and Culture. Well worth the read…

Christian in America

We should all be deeply concerned about two kingdoms theology. Its disastrous effects on the church are evident, are they not? Recent evidence indicates that two kingdoms theology explains why some Christians, such as Christian Right pastor Robert Jeffress, support Donald Trump and the Republican Party. As David R. Brockman warns in the Texas Observer, Jeffress “has deployed Two Kingdoms thinking repeatedly since the presidential election” to justify his support for Donald Trump. If you believe Christianity requires that Christians support the Democratic party, that should be deeply concerning.

But wait. Recent evidence also indicates that two kingdoms theology explains why some Christians, such as Andrew White, candidate for governor of Texas, are Democrats. As Larry Ball warns in the Aquila Report, White’s approach “is deduced from what is called two-kingdom theology.” If you believe Christianity requires that Christians support the Republican party, that should be deeply…

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