Category : Christology

Kigali 2020 – Leader: Loving Jesus – Abp Ben Kwashi

Take the time to watch it all.

Posted in Christology, Church of Nigeria

Kendall Harmon–What Kind of Love Came Down at Christmas?

Christina Rossetti’s words pierce my heart at Christmas, year after year:

“Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign.”
It is worth pausing and pondering the answer to the question: how deep and how broad was that love?

To move with me toward an answer, journey to a small chapel in Cartmell Fell, a little known holy place in the North of England. If you know where to look when you arrive there–the stone is half hidden in the chancel–you can find a 1771 inscription with elegant lettering:

“Underneath this stone a mouldering Virgin lies,
Who was the pleasure once of Human Eyes.
Her Blaze of Charms Virtue once approved
The Gay admired her, much the parents loved.
Transitory life! Death untimely came.
Adieu, farewell, lonely leave my name.”

The words describe Betty Poole; she was a little girl who died at age three.

Christina Rossetti also wrote:

“In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone”¦”

It is only when the bleakness of this world and its iron hardness is fully felt, that the miracle of melting which began at Christmas can penetrate and shock us into appropriate awe. God’s love enveloped the whole moaning, stony, sin-sick world. It is broad enough to embrace it all, in this world and the next.

I imagine being with Betty Poole in Heaven and hearing her say with a smile, “God’s love was bigger than I thought!”

–The Rev. Dr. Kendall S. Harmon is Canon Theologian of South Carolina and convenor of this blog

Posted in * By Kendall, Christmas, Christology, Eschatology, Theology

Dietrich Bonheoffer ‘just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong’

And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a letter he wrote to his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, Dec 13, 1943; God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010 E.T.), p. 5

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History, Theology

Frederick Buechner–Incarnation

From there:

“THE WORD BECAME flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity it is the way things are.

All religions and philosophies which deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earth-bound, are themselves denied. Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth but our bodies and our earth themselves. Jerusalem becomes the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Our bodies are sown perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42).

One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.

Posted in Christmas, Christology

A Christmas Reading From Gregory of Nazianzus for his Feast Day

From here:

[The following selctions are from Gregory of Nazianzus’ Oration 29 and Oration 38, the latter delivered on Christmas Day 380 AD.]

Christ is born, glorify Him!

Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be ye exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. Christ of a Virgin; O you Matrons live as Virgins, that you may be Mothers of Christ. Who does not worship Him That is from the beginning? Who does not glorify Him That is the Last?

Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar. The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full knowledge. Old things are passed away, behold all things have become new. The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away, the Truth comes in upon them. Melchisedec is concluded. He that was without Mother becomes without Father (without Mother of His former state, without Father of His second). The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all you people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His Name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Let John cry, Prepare ye the way of the Lord: I too will cry the power of this Day. He Who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the Same yesterday, and today, and for ever.

For God was manifested to man by birth. On the one hand Being, and eternally Being, of the Eternal Being, above cause and word, for there was no word before The Word; and on the other hand for our sakes also Becoming, that He Who gives us our being might also give us our Well-being, or rather might restore us by His Incarnation, when we had by wickedness fallen from wellbeing. The name Theophany is given to it in reference to the Manifestation, and that of Birthday in respect of His Birth. [1]

He was born—but He had been begotten: He was born of a woman—but she was a Virgin. The first is human, the second Divine. In His Human nature He had no Father, but also in His Divine Nature no Mother. Both these belong to Godhead.

He dwelt in the womb—but He was recognized by the Prophet, himself still in the womb, leaping before the Word, for Whose sake He came into being.

He was wrapped in swaddling clothes—but He took off the swathing bands of the grave by His rising again.

He was laid in a manger—but He was glorified by Angels, and proclaimed by a star, and worshipped by the Magi. Why are you offended by that which is presented to your sight, because you will not look at that which is presented to your mind?

He was driven into exile into Egypt—but He drove away the Egyptian idols.

He had no form nor comeliness in the eyes of the Jews—but to David He is fairer than the children of men. And on the Mountain He was bright as the lightning, and became more luminous than the sun, initiating us into the mystery of the future.

He was baptized as Man—but He remitted sins as God—not because He needed purificatory rites Himself, but that He might sanctify the element of water.

He was tempted as Man, but He conquered as God; yea, He bids us be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world.

He hungered—but He fed thousands; yea, He is the Bread that gives life, and That is of heaven. He thirsted—but He cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. Yea, He promised that fountains should flow from them that believe.

He was wearied, but He is the Rest of them that are weary and heavy laden.

He was heavy with sleep, but He walked lightly over the sea. He rebuked the winds, He made Peter light as he began to sink.

He pays tribute, but it is out of a fish; yea, He is the King of those who demanded it.

He is called a Samaritan and a demoniac;—but He saves him that came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves; the demons acknowledge Him, and He drives out demons and sinks in the sea legions of foul spirits, and sees the Prince of the demons falling like lightning.

He is stoned, but is not taken.

He prays, but He hears prayer.

He weeps, but He causes tears to cease.

He asks where Lazarus was laid, for He was Man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God.

He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood.

As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also.

As a Lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word, and is proclaimed by the Voice of one crying in the wilderness.

He is bruised and wounded, but He heals every disease and every infirmity.

He is lifted up and nailed to the Tree, but by the Tree of Life He restores us; yea, He saves even the Robber crucified with Him; yea, He wrapped the visible world in darkness.

He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is Sweetness and altogether desire.

He lays down His life, but He has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise.

He dies, but He gives life, and by His death destroys death.

He is buried, but He rises again;

He goes down into Hell, but He brings up the souls;

He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead….[2]

This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God—that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.[3]

Posted in Christology, Church History, Theology

CS Lewis on Christmas: The Grand Miracle

One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles–because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends–you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just as every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point and space of time; so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation. Now, if one asks whether that central grand miracle in Christianity is itself probable or improbable, of course, quite clearly you cannot be applying Hume’s kind of probability. You cannot mean a probability based on statistics according to which the more often a thing has happened, the more likely it is to happen again (the more often you get indigestion from eating a certain food, the more probable it is, if you eat it again, that you again have indigestion). Certainly the Incarnation cannot be probable in that sense. It is of its very nature to have happened only once. But then it is of the very nature of the history of this world to have happened only once; and if the Incarnation happened at all, it is the central chapter of that history. It is improbable in the same way in which the whole of nature is improbable, because it is only there once, and will happen only once.

–C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Posted in Apologetics, Christology, Church History, Theology

William Willimon for Christmas 2019: From a God We Hardly Knew

It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts. “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace,” wrote John Wesley a long time ago.

Among the most familiar Christmas texts is the one in Isaiah: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14) Less familiar is its context: Isaiah has been pleading with King Ahaz to put his trust in God’s promise to Israel rather than in alliances with strong military powers like Syria. “If you will not believe, you shall not be established,” Isaiah warns Ahaz (7:9). Then the prophet tells the fearful king that God is going to give him a baby as a sign. A baby. Isn’t that just like God, Ahaz must have thought. What Ahaz needed, with Assyria breathing down his neck, was a good army, not a baby.

This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little, of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Christology

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon–Three Questions for Christmas (John 1:1-18)

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.

Posted in * By Kendall, Christmas, Christology, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings

A Good Christmas Reminder: A bit of George Lindbeck’s review of the Myth of God Incarnate (1977)

The tone of the authors is fervent. They believe in experiential religion…

The purpose of religious language is not indicative, but expressive not to express a metaphysical fact but to express a valuation and evoke an attitude…

All the authors strenuously deny that it is literally true that a divine reality (i.e. the logos, preexistent Christ or Second Person of the Trinity) became man uniquely in Jesus Christ…

You may need to enlarge the page to see it better; I sure did; KSH. Quoted by yours truly in the morning sermon.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Christology, Church History

Alister McGrath on the Incarnation: He alone is the mediator

This mediator must represent God to humankind, and humankind to God. He must have points of contact with both God and humanity, and yet be distinguishable from them both. The central Christian idea of the incarnation, which expresses the belief that Jesus is both God and man, divine and human, portrays Jesus as the perfect mediator between God and human beings. He, and he alone, is able to redeem us and reconcile us to God.

“I Believe”: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.48

Posted in Christmas, Christology

JI Packer for Christmas–“A wonder of grace”

The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context…the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should ever view it–not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace.

—-J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press; 20th Anniversary ed.), p.42

Posted in Christmas, Christology

Peter Kreeft on the Meaning of Christmas

Let’s apply the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.

Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it.

But there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.
Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the “either/or” approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four “right” interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.

These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.

This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of “events,” but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, “bottom-line” mentality in which everything means only one thing.

Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world ”” but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Christology

Dorothy Sayers on the Incarnation

..[Jesus of Nazareth] was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God” he was God.

Now, this is not just a pious commonplace: it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death he [God] had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.

Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company,1949), page 4 (with special thanks to blog reader and friend WW)

Posted in Christology, Church History

Hippolytus–The Manifestation of the Hidden Mystery

There is only one God, brethren, and we learn about him only from sacred Scripture. It is therefore our duty to become acquainted with what Scripture proclaims and to investigate its teachings thoroughly. We should believe them in the sense that the Father wills, thinking of the Son in the way the Father wills, and accepting the teaching he wills to give us with regard to the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is God’s gift to us and it should be understood in the way that he intends: we should not do violence to it by interpreting it according to our own preconceived ideas.

God was all alone and nothing existed but himself when he determined to create the world. He thought of it, willed it, spoke the word and so made it. It came into being instantaneously, exactly as he had willed. It is enough then for us to be aware of a single fact: nothing is coeternal with God. Apart from God there was simply nothing else. Yet although he was alone, he was manifold because he lacked neither reason, wisdom, power, nor counsel. All things were in him and he himself was all. At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by himself, God manifested his Word, and through him he made the whole universe.
When the Word was hidden within God himself he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the world, God made him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered our world was made known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father.

The Son gave us the law and the prophets, and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father’s power, they were to proclaim the Father’s purpose and his will.

So the Word was made manifest, as Saint John declares when, summing up all the sayings of the prophets, he announces that this is the Word through whom the whole universe was made. He says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being; not one thing was created without him. And further on he adds: The world was made through him, and yet the world did not know him. He entered his own creation, and his own did not receive him.

–from St. Hippolytus’ treatise against the heresy of Noetus

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Christmas–“Miracles happen along this path”

Miracles happen along this path. Apparently insignificant miracles, noticed by hardly anyone. The very finding of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger—is this not a miracle in itself? Then there is the miracle when a particular mission, hidden in a person’s heart, really reaches its goal, bringing God’s peace and joy where there were nothing but despair and resignation; when someone succeeds in striking a tiny light in the midst of an overpowering darkness. When joy irradiates a heart that no longer dared to believe in it. Now and again we ourselves are assured that the angel’s word we are trying to obey will bring us to the place where God’s Word and Son is already made man. We are assured that, in spite of all the noise and nonsense, today, December 25, is Christmas just as truly as two millennia ago. Once and for all God has started out on his journey toward us, and nothing, till the world’s end, will stop him from coming to us and abiding in us.

–from the sermon “Setting out Into the Dark with God” in You Crown the Year With Your Goodness: Sermons Throughout the Liturgical Year (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989)

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Theology

Thomas Merton on the meaning of Christmas

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”

–Thomas Merton, “The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room” in Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966), pp. 51-52

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Theology

Karl Barth on Christmas–A Real Closing of the Breach

God with us means more than God over or side by side with us, before or behind us. It means more than His divine being in even the most intimate active connection with our human being otherwise peculiar to Him. At this point, at the heart of the Christian message and in relation to the event of which it speaks, it means that God has made himself the one who fulfills his redemptive will. It means that He Himself in His own person at His own cost but also on His own initiative has become the inconceivable Yet and Nevertheless of this event, and so its clear and well-founded and legitimate, its true and holy and righteous Therefore. It means that God has become man in order as such, but in divine sovereignty, to take up our case. What takes place in the work of inconceivable mercy is, therefore, the free overruling of God, but it is not an arbitrary overlooking and ignoring, not an artificial bridging, covering over or hiding, but a real closing of the breach, gulf and abyss between God and us for which we are responsible. At the very point where we refuse and fail, offending and provoking God, making ourselves impossible before Him and in that way missing our destiny, treading under foot our dignity, forfeiting our right, losing our salvation and hopelessly compromising our creaturely being at that very point God Himself intervenes as man.

Church Dogmatics (IV.1) [E.T. By Geoffrey Bromiley and Thomas Torrance of the German Original] (London: T and T Clark, 1956), page 12

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History, Theology

(CC) Bruce Modahl–When a father and husband walked out, grace called him home

One Sunday, though, he stayed through the final hymn and came through the line to introduce himself. He was Don—just Don. That was the Sunday he heard me say in my sermon on Luke 3:7–18 that we need to die. I didn’t tell them they needed to change. I told them, “The old sinner we are, the old Adam and Eve, needs to die.” But the Holy Spirit filtered out the qualifiers. All Don heard was “You need to die.” And he knew it was the truth.

Some months before, Don had walked out on his wife of more than 20 years. He stretched thin the bonds of their marriage with a string of affairs. He had two daughters—one in high school, the other just finishing college. He walked out on them, too.

His older daughter was planning her wedding, and she called him. She wanted him to walk her down the aisle. She ­didn’t ask for money. She only wanted him to be part of the wedding. She wanted him in her life. That brought him back in proximity to the church. Not a physical proximity to the church to which he be­longed. He couldn’t walk back into that place. But picturing the wedding in the church where he and his family had worshiped all those years got him thinking about the songs and words and the kind of man he had hoped to be. His daughter’s call and her wedding brought him back in conversation with his wife.

In one of those conversations, she said to him, “Come home, Don. Just come home.”

The effect this had on him—his daughter’s kindness and his wife’s invitation—forced him to look at the kind of man he had become. He was disgusted with what he saw. That disgust was the means the Holy Spirit used to get him to cross town to hear this comfortably middle-class pastor (who didn’t even know he was impersonating John the Baptist that day). Don was already in the wilderness. When he heard me say “You need to die,” he knew it was the truth. And so, he died with Christ.

That offer was in my next breath. After saying “You need to die,” I said, “Come die with Christ and rise with him forgiven and changed.”

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Preaching / Homiletics, Soteriology, Theology: Scripture

Dorothy Sayers on the Incarnation for Her Feast Day

“[Jesus of Nazareth] was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be ‘like God’—he was God.

“Now, this is not just a pious commonplace: it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he [God] had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”

Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949), page 4 (with special thanks to blog reader and friend WW)

Posted in Christology, Church History, Theology

(Theos) Sally Phillips: Human Dignity, Different Lives & the Illusions of Choice

The takeover by stealth of Utilitarian thinking means that we are now a people that thinks the idea of society having winners and losers is inevitable. We measure everything from the number of steps we take to the length of our sleep and how many seven year olds can spell the word ‘turnip’.

As a result, we are losing the ability to talk about the things that cannot be measured. And if the world is governed according to the edict “what gets measured gets done”, we may be neglecting some of the most important things about being human. Like love.

You’re probably thinking ‘I’m not a utilitarian’. Even if you’re not utilitarian, think of what you mean by justice. Usually you mean fairness, you get back what you put in. It is unjust not to be paid what you are worth. I’m just thinking of the BBC gender pay gap.

In a way, some forms of Christianity, certainly the ones that I have been involved in, contribute to this too. The Low Anglican tradition that I love deeply teaches a transactional salvation. We are distinguished from animals by virtue of consciousness, self–reflection, moral capacity, the act of repentance. I have literally no idea if that is right or wrong but it does appear to be a kind of cost–benefit, quid pro quo.

If the point of our lives is what we are capable of doing then the implication must be that a human life lacking in the capacity for purposive action will be worthless, pointless. Those who are involved in the lives of people with disabilities disagree. Our insider experience tells us differently.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Children, Christology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Philosophy, Theology

(Father George Rutler) Christ the King is the solution

Christ the Logos prevents all things from collapsing, not only physically but morally and culturally. There will be a time when that happens, with a “loud noise” (rhoizedon), when all the elements, or atoms (stoicheia), dissolve (2 Peter 3:10).

This dissolution happens as well in the human soul when the intellect and will tear themselves from the truth and will of God. This rupture is what is called sin. It affects cultures, too. So the philosopher Giambattista Vico described the transition of cultures from barbarity to civilization, and from civilization to hyper-civilization, and from that to post-civilization. The fourth stage lives off the detritus of civilization. Whether we are in the fourth stage — post-civilization — is disputed, but if and when it irrationally abandons Christ the King, whose power is not political but logical, it will be worse than the first barbarism because its disintegration is accelerated by the tools of its former civilization’s science.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Christology

(CC) Jason Micheli reviews David Zahl’s new book: Politics, parenting, and other secular things we put our faith in

Seculosity shines its light upon on the conditional “if/then” construction of the promises seculosities make. If you eat organic and sustainably sourced food, then you will be enough. In the language of the apostle Paul and Martin Luther, the oughts and shoulds of seculosities pledge the very same promise that is at the heart of any religion based only on law. The promise is predicated entirely on our performance. Seculosities ultimately lead to exhaustion because we can never measure up to their ever-shifting standard of performance. They also lead to judgmentalism: the fact that we ourselves fall short of the standard doesn’t stop us from pointing out how others fall short.

By the conclusion of the book, readers are in on the joke of the subtitle “and What to Do about It.” Doing is exactly our problem. We’re busy producing, earning, climbing, proving, striving, and performing. We’re chasing our enoughness “into every corner of our lives, driving everyone around us—and ourselves—crazy.” The law is inscribed, Paul says, not just on tablets of stone but on every heart.

The remedy is to be found not in another exhortation about something we must do but in the proclamation of something that has been done for us. The conclusion of Seculosity is a contemporary companion to Luther’s thesis in the Heidelberg Disputation: “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”

In other words, relief from all our replacement religions just might be found in the opposite of religion—the promise of the gospel. Unlike religions of law, Zahl argues, Christianity does not instruct us in how to construct our enoughness. The language of earning is antithetical to the gospel. Christianity rather invites us to receive our enoughness, which is Christ’s own enoughness, as sheer gift. Our Christian activities are the organic fruit of our enoughness, not the stuff by which we earn it.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Christology, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology

(CT) Meet the Protestant Exorcists

Anglican Erich Junger has seen a lot in his wide-ranging career as an enlisted sailor in the US Navy, a medical examiner, a police detective, and a crime scene analyst.

More than a decade ago, his calling shifted to a different kind of investigation. It’s careful work, sometimes secretive and sensitive. He goes after a master manipulator, an enemy responsible for physical, psychological, and spiritual havoc.

Well, not just any enemy. The Enemy.

An exorcist in the Anglican Church of North America, Junger now dons a clerical collar as he advises fellow believers to “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11).

Scriptural directives to defend against the Devil take on a heavy urgency once you have seen the twisted work of Satan up close, again and again. Junger dedicated his ministry to studying spiritual warfare—specifically, the physiological effects of demonic activities—back in 2007. Ten years later, he became licensed as an exorcist.

To outsiders, the work of exorcism carries significant cultural baggage, whether due to misperceptions gleaned from the movies or the many real-life cases where possession had been faked or confused with mental illness. This is tricky spiritual territory to navigate. That’s why exorcists like Junger would say their expertise in identifying and combating the presence of the demonic is so crucial right now.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Parish Ministry, Theodicy, Theology

Food for Thought on a Sunday–Jonathan Edwards on the Suffering of Christ in Gethsemane

The agony was caused by a vivid, bright, full, immediate view of the wrath of God. The Father, as it were, set the cup down before him…he now had a near view of that furnace into which he was about to be cast. He stood and viewed its raging flames and the glowing of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer.

Christ was going to be cast into a dreadful furnace of wrath, and it was not proper that he should plunge himself into it blindfold, as not knowing how dreadful the furnace was. Therefore, that he might not do so, God first brought him and set him at the mouth of the furnace, that he might look in, and stand and view its fierce and raging flames, and might see where he was going, and might voluntarily enter into it and bear it for sinners, as knowing what it was. This view Christ had in his agony…Then he acted as knowing what he did; then his taking that cup, and bearing such dreadful sufferings, was properly his own act by an explicit choice; and so his love to sinners was the more wonderful, as also his obedience to God in it.

If just the taste and glimpse of these sufferings were enough to throw the eternal Son of God into shock, and to nearly kill him in the anticipation of them, what was the actual, full experience of those sufferings on the cross really like?

–From his remarkable sermon Christ’s Agony and quoted by yours truly in the morning sermon (my emphasis)

Posted in Christology, Church History, Eschatology, Preaching / Homiletics, Theology, Theology: Salvation (Soteriology), Theology: Scripture

(TLC Covenant) Jonathan Turtle–Love, but not like That

For example, a few years ago I attended a workshop for Anglicans. At one point in our conversation we were sharing our images of God: how we understand who God is and what he is like. As people chimed in I was struck by one thing in particular: a lack of appeal to Scripture. People were happy to suggest that we can come to know God as we embrace our grandchildren or take a walk by the lake. No one seemed to think, however, that it was important to begin with the Bible—God’s own self-revelation—if we’re going to talk about God.

We hear Saint John say something like, “God is love,” and we assume that God’s love is like whatever our experience of love is. Or, worse yet, we might believe that whatever our experience of love is, is God. That is what I mean by sentimentality — when it comes to a truthful knowledge of God, things like Scripture, reason, and tradition take a back seat to my own feelings and experience.

Stanley Hauerwas, never one for mincing words, once said that the greatest enemy of the Christian religion is not atheism but sentimentality: “You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.” Part of his, no doubt overstated, point here is that bad liturgy leads to bad ethics. Liturgy matters. The hymns we sing, the prayers we pray, the sermons we preach, the language we use, the reverence with which we come to Holy Communion, it all matters. You wouldn’t want to end up murdering your best friend, would you?

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” As I said, we hear a passage like this from Saint John and we are prone to both sentimentality and moralism. Sentimentality because we think we know what love is from our own experience and moralism because we think loving one another comes naturally to us and that we’re already off to a good start.

Both of these ditches lead to our peril. But Saint John makes a way through for us and that way is the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon–What if God is Better than We think? [The 2nd Sign: Jesus Heals An Official’s Son (John 4:46-54)]

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there (American history buffs will want to watch for a reference to the building of the Golden Gate Bridge).

Posted in * By Kendall, Christology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings, Theology: Scripture

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon-The Comprehensive Claim of Christ on all of our Lives (Hebrews 13:1-8)

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.

Posted in * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Christology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

St Silas Church Glasgow takes action as a result of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s departure from Chrsitian theology and standards

The Church has made the following statement:

Recent decisions of the Scottish Episcopal Church have made clear to us that the denomination does not regard the Bible as the authoritative word of God. With deep sadness, we have therefore decided that for reasons of integrity we can no longer continue as part of the Scottish Episcopal Church. We want to leave with goodwill towards those with whom we are parting company, and sincerely pray for God’s blessing for the SEC in the future, and its renewal around God’s word.

Mr [Martin] Ayers, said:

“There are many presenting issues that have caused difficulty within the Scottish Episcopal Church in recent years, but for us this is simply about the central place of Jesus and his words in the life of our church. We feel that the Scottish Episcopal Church has moved away from the message of the Bible, and that we cannot follow them.”

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Scottish Episcopal Church, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

A Hymn from Ephrem of Edessa on his Feast Day–From God Christ’s Deity Came Forth

From there:

From God Christ’s deity came forth,
his manhood from humanity;
his priesthood from Melchizedek,
his royalty from David’s tree:
praised be his Oneness.

He joined with guests at wedding feast,
yet in the wilderness did fast;
he taught within the temple’s gates;
his people saw him die at last:
praised be his teaching.

The dissolute he did not scorn,
nor turn from those who were in sin;
he for the righteous did rejoice
but bade the fallen to come in:
praised be his mercy.

He did not disregard the sick;
to simple ones his word was given;
and he descended to the earth
and, his work done, went up to heaven:
praised be his coming.

Who then, my Lord, compares to you?
The Watcher slept, the Great was small,
the Pure baptized, the Life who died,
the King abased to honor all:
praised be your glory.

by Ephrem of Edessa, translated by John Howard Rhys, adapted and altered by F Bland Tucker, (Episcopal) Hymnbook 1982.

Posted in Christology, Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship

(CT) Allen Langham–My journey from the criminal underworld to the foot of the cross

During my stints in prison, I was always drawn to the chapel. I considered it a place of refuge, just as church had offered a safe haven from the tumult of my childhood. Over the years, I experimented with everything: Buddhism, Hinduism, spiritualism, counseling, course after course, medication—but nothing worked. I was still a wreck. Despite my burning desire to change, I couldn’t find any peace or stability.

Eventually, after stabbing a number of fellow inmates, I landed in Belmarsh, a top-security prison in southeast London. I hated who I had become. With my violent outbursts and paranoid behavior, I had pushed away anyone I ever cared for—and put my family through hell. I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken. Outwardly, I sought “respect” by lashing out against anyone or anything in my way. But on the inside, I remained a lost little boy in desperate need of love and acceptance.

While awaiting trial in a kidnapping and hostage-taking case, I finally hit rock bottom and decided to commit suicide. With tears streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees and made one final plea to God: “If you’re real and you hear me, put a white dove outside my prison window. Show me you are with me!” At the time, I had no conception of the dove being a symbol for the Holy Spirit. I was only looking for some sign of hope and new beginnings.

The next morning, when a flock of pigeons lifted off the nearby ledge, I saw the dove sitting there. Something inside me jumped, and tears of joy replaced tears of despair.

After transferring to another prison in Leeds, I began praying and studying the Bible in earnest. Reading Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind, I stumbled across a chapter where Meyer describes taking the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, rolling it into a ball, and laying it at Jesus’ feet. I decided to do the same with my rage. Before going to sleep, I closed my eyes, imagined Jesus on the cross, balled up my rage, and surrendered it to him. When I awoke, I felt peace like never before.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Soteriology