Sunday, October 8, 2017

Church as Guardian and Guide for Scriptural Interpretation

A few days ago, starting with a "the Church" v. "private interpretation" article, I mused towards this conclusion:

"Thinking in terms of two such authorities, church as hermeneutical guardian and church as hermeneutical guide, could help our respect for one another and foster ecumenical relationship building."

This morning, using a small daily office book, I came across this prayer:

"Through your Holy Spirit, the disciples remembered all that Jesus taught them: - pour out your Spirit on the Church that she may be faithful to that teaching."

On that prayer, cannot all Christians unite?

What we understand to be fundamental to being a Christian - our beliefs, our doctrines, our teaching - has been and remains in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit: "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church"!

The first work of the Holy Spirit in this regard was "the disciples remembered all that Jesus taught them." Hence the gospels. (Noting that there were four, they varied, and only when held together as one compendium of Jesus' teaching can we then be faithful to that teaching.)

Incidentally someone once said something like this, The church is a continuing argument over what the gospel means.

The second work was the pouring out of the Spirit on the Church that she might be faithful to that teaching. Hence Acts (as the poured out Spirit drove the church forward to be faithful through action to the Lord's teaching) and the epistles as the "remembering of all that Jesus taught them" was disputed in new contexts or required development in the face of new challenges (e.g. place of the Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 7 as a marriage question needed addressing by Paul since the remembered teaching of Jesus on marriage did not address it).

The third work of the poured out Spirit is the continuing "today" of the post-apostolic church as we seek to be "faithful to that teaching."

Is it possible that the mistake we make today is to strive to be faithful to Jesus' teaching without a clear, consistent, coherent, comprehensive understanding of how the Spirit leads the church "into all truth"? The more we strive the more we seem to argue. We cannot all be right. The Spirit is undivided so contradictory claims about what the Spirit is saying to the church tell us (or should tell us) something about ourselves and not about the Spirit! What we are being told, surely, is that we should be more interested in discerning how the Spirit works in our midst than in settling among ourselves that which we do not agree on.

We are not without clues as to the work of the Spirit and how we discern the Spirit.

(1) Magisteria: through the history of the church we see that we need some kind of authoritative council to refer matters to, to seek guidance from and to expect some advanced knowledge and understanding of the tradition of the church as it has been led by the Spirit through time. The Roman Catholic church has a formal magisterium. Protestants have informal magisteria (as an Anglican evangelical growing up in 60s and 70s it was Stott, Green and Packer!) and magisterial figures (Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Barth). But the concept goes back to the New Testament when the apostles, notably Paul, were sought out for their authoritative judgments.

(2) Conciliarity: magisteria and magisterial figures do not rule the hermeneutical waves. Calvin(ism) and Lutheran(ism) disagree. Aquinas (Thomism) moves in and out of favour within the Roman magisterium. People vote with their feet (i.e. act according to conviction which may not accord with the magisterium or magisterial figure). The surest bet for the church seeking the mind of the Spirit is to bring as many minds of the church together in a council. It worked in Acts 15 and worked to produce the Nicene Creed (in its original form). While the chances of an eighth (truly) ecumenical council are very remote, conciliarity works in other ways. For centuries the church muddled about slavery but over the past 150 or so years an informal conciliarity has determined that slavery is wrong. No major church teaches in a muddled way about slavery. All are agreed it is wrong.

(3) Adiaphora: on many matters we come to a position (often through informal conciliarity) that some matters thought to need the Spirit's determination because critical to faithful remembering of the teaching of Jesus are not so. They are indifferent and the Spirit's guidance is not needed. Remember the days when every woman wore a hat to church ...

What then of the church as guardian and guide for Scriptural interpretation?

Let me repeat the prayer from above:

"Through your Holy Spirit, the disciples remembered all that Jesus taught them: - pour out your Spirit on the Church that she may be faithful to that teaching."

The Spirit works within the church foremost to enable remembering of all that Jesus taught the disciples. That work is the work of guarding the gospel, of guarding the interpretations of the gospel which the church has come to through the work of the Spirit.

But there are matters on which we are genuinely unsure what the teaching of Jesus requires of us. The first such matter was the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Jesus' movement: as Gentiles or as Gentiles made Jews? The church must guide the way forward but in such a manner that it is faithful to the teaching of Jesus. Thus we pray that the Spirit may be poured out on the church so that our guidance is faithful to Jesus and following the light on our paths which the Spirit brings.

On such occasions we require the authorities or magisteria to speak in a way which is received universally (i.e. through conciliarity) in order to be sure that the Spirit is speaking to us.

On one or two matters we do not seem to have the clarity we seek.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all truth?"

Fine, Peter, but then what are we to make of St John xvi 13?

And is the truth into which we are led descriptive, or is it sometimes imperative? Several people-- Robert Jenson, Paul Ricoeur, Hans Frei, John Webster, Kevin Vanhoozer, Tom Wright-- have mixed the two by suggesting that it is narrative, a story and promise, a play within which we have parts, and that the Spirit illumines that narrative for each of us so that we see what our part requires in the unscripted act that we perform.

Nearer to Bryden's meditation a few days ago, if the Spirit is a coequal person of the Trinity, it seems that he should not only illumine in us the proper work in time of the Son, but also have a proper work in time of his own. What is it? Surely the reading of scripture informs the recognition of that work; surely the recognition of that work constrains the further reading of scripture.

Which brings us to Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Luther and some Lutherans have recited the pre-Tridentine Ave Maria, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed you are, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus." Anglicans have regularly chanted in the Magnificat that "all generations shall call me blessed." Orthodox more dogmatically chant, "More honourable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos [= God-bearer, Council of Ephesus, 431] we magnify you." The Roman devotion I will bracket, for the moment.

Anonymous said...

The bare propositional fact of the incarnation can be read off the surface of the scriptures in several ways; my favourite is to hear the echo of Daniel vii 13 in St Mark xiv 62, but surely the most fitting way here is to recall St John i 12-14. This fact is not disputed here.

Neither is the fact that Jesus had a mother identified as Mary in St Matthew i 18 and St Luke i 27.

What is disputed is where these facts sit with respect to the plot. For some, they are backstory for the main story which is the cross and the appropriation of its merits by lucky individuals who are thereby saved. Those who tell the scriptural story that way seldom praise Mary as an important act of congregational worship. But for others, the same facts are integral to the participation in Christ and incorporation into his Body by which they are saved, and indeed to the enthronement of Christ's humanity through which the creation as a whole is saved. But for this, they would pray, not "Our Father..." but "Jesus's Father..." Those who tell the scriptural story this way cannot help but praise Mary as they do so; she is a mighty work of God to be praised in the congregation of believers.

Among the Orthodox, such praise has been constant since at least the Council of Chalcedon. The West has been less constant insofar as the story told is that of the cross and the lucky. The Reformed who stick closely to that story never praise Mary, if they can help it. Lutherans and Anglicans do not stick exclusively to that story, and so they praise Mary a little. The effusive Roman Catholic exception nevertheless proves the rule because everything peculiar to its devotion-- peculiar not least to the Orthodox-- arises from attempts to fit Mary into the story of the cross and the lucky.

Now if one recognises the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon as among the proper works of the Holy Spirit, then one's choice of narrative has been made by God: however one talks about the cross and the lucky, Mary belongs in the foreground, not the background, of the main story. That not only determines the right way to read the canon as a canon-- itself a proper work of the Holy Spirit-- but it determines that Mary's part in the incarnation is among the mighty acts of God that the New Israel must praise in the congregation as a part of its Romans 8 life. To this, there may be resistance, but there is no cogent objection. Among Anglicans who assent to Article II and chant "all generations shall call me blessed" at Evensong, there should not even be resistance.

Controversy first arises when we put the Holy Spirit's disambiguation of the canon's narrative together with the suggestion that the Holy Spirit guides us and the Church by showing us our vocations, our parts in the play, in this narrative. On one hand, we all-- jointly and severally-- must find ourselves in a story centred in Christ-Cosmos-Church that is unlike the more stoic tale of a lucky solitary to which we are accustomed. Many will feel a response to this-- resentful or joyous-- in the viscera. But on the other hand, this mother-Son relation stimulates the imagination for the further narrative truth that an actor needs-- obviously, the canonical episodes in St Luke (see Richard Bauckham on these); less obviously, the non-canonical yet venerable Protoevangelium of St James on which such late Byzantines as SS Nicholas Cabasilas and Gregory Palamas even based a doctrine of justification. It is easy to say that the latter is beyond our pale; in view of the foregoing, it is less easy to explain why it should be.

Bowman Walton

Andrei said...

Remember the days when every woman wore a hat to church ...

They still should :)

What amazes me is how beautiful women look with their heads covered in a scarf in Church

And it is biblical - Corinthians 11

3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.

9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?

14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God..


In part I'm being facetious but in part this goes to the heart of this post when contemporary cultural norms conflict with scripture and in our rebellion we ignore that which we find inconvenient or even embarrassing

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
To be frank, I cannot quite get the point you are trying to make.
Also, I do not understand your use of the word, "lucky."

Father Ron Smith said...

"The second work was the pouring out of the Spirit on the Church that she might be faithful to that teaching. Hence Acts (as the poured out Spirit drove the church forward to be faithful through action to the Lord's teaching) and the epistles as the "remembering of all that Jesus taught them" was disputed in new contexts or required development in the face of new challenges (e.g. place of the Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 7 as a marriage question needed addressing by Paul since the remembered teaching of Jesus on marriage did not address it).

The third work of the poured out Spirit is the continuing "today" of the post-apostolic church as we seek to be "faithful to that teaching." - Peter -

So, Peter, from your comment above, you will agree that the Holy Spirit is still working on God's task of revelation of the mind of God to the Church and the created order, thus "Hear what the Spirit IS SAYING to the Church

In respect of the ongoing work of the Spirit, Jesus did say that some things 'were too hard' for the disciples to take in at that moment in time ("..you could not bear them now"). Again, this indicates the need for ongoing revelation, as Jesus' disciples are equipped and ready to take it in. One could assume, therefore, that revelation will be an ongoing thing for as long as this world in its present state exists.

A great example of the need for ongoing revelation was the realisation on the part of the disciples that the mission was not only to Jews but also to Gentiles - a fact they may not have at first grasped - despite Jesus' eventual openness towards, for instance, the 'Phoenician woman'. It took a while for them also to realise that the law about circumcision no longer applied to Christians/ All of these new 'revelations' were recorded in the scriptures. But that does not mean that Jesus' revelation of Love overcoming the Law did not need further teaching by the Holy Spirit to successive ages of human development.

I think the Holy Spirit was working in the eirenic statement made at the recent Primates' Meeting by the new Archbishop of Kenya - towards koinonia in the A,.C. - that was not given to his hardline predecessor. It reminds me of the old SPG hymn - "God is working His purpose out as year succeeds to year". - "My ways are NOT your ways, nor my thoughts, your thoughts!"

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I seem to remember from somewhere these words: "I wish you good luck in the name of the Lord".

With all of the different theological viewpoints - both about the meaning of the Scriptures and even the content of Christian Doctrine - it would seem that there are only a few basic things that determine membership of the Body of Christ and they are contained in the historic Creeds

Thus, we find that some of today's controversies - about celibacy, female ordination, marriage, divorce - are still contested in the different church bodies, all of which claim their participation in the body of Christ.

Already existing then in the Body of Christ is the theory of subsidiarity. I have just been reading an article on the 'Thinking Anglicans' link with the weblog 'Theoreo' (Andrew Lightbown) which suggest that the only way through for the Anglican Communion (post the Primates conference) - is the way of subsidiarity. I have selected the relevant text and posted it in the following link - https://kiwianglo.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/15484/

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
While I do believe in the ongoing work of the Spirit in the revelation of the mind of Christ, I do not think that is likely to bring much which is new to our knowledge. That is because the knowledge of God we humans need is the knowledge needed in every generation and thus it would seem most unfair to earlier generations for this generation to know things previously hidden. Even the inclusion of the Gentiles was implicit in the teaching of Jesus.

It would be quite surprising therefore, to find that the Spirit was revealing to us that marriage as taught by Jesus was less than adequate because it should have spoken about any couplings for life and not just a man and a woman being coupled for life. Ditto, surprising if the Spirit singled out an Anglican/Episcopal church here and there for the latest revelation on marriage while leaving vast swathes of Catholics, Orthodox and other Protestants in the dark. Thus the Scottish Episcopal Church is in error which is not rescued by claims to acted under subsidiarity.

My (somewhat limited) support for SSB is premised on our church not having the arrogance to presume that the Spirit is leading us to change the otherwise universality of marriage between a man and a woman; and is (in my mind) a concession to those who acting in conscience believe that they are justified in praying for a relationship not otherwise supported in the Scripture and tradition of the church. I would not claim the Spirit is leading us to SSB; rather I make the claim that the Spirit would be less than pleased if we split and so some practical compromise, if possible, is the order of the day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, nice work! Sorry to be obscure. The elect of the Augustinian plot-line are *lucky*. It's very late here, but I shall try to restate my comment quickly.

Your *guard* works-- the Holy Spirit does do for the proper work of the Son what you say that he does in your OP.

Your *guide* recalls an interesting problem-- actually Karl Barth's problem-- a coequal Person of the Trinity must also have a proper work of his own in the economic Trinity, but what is that proper work? If we have no answer to this-- Barth apparently didn't!-- then *guard/guide* may be *a distinction without a difference*. In that case, the guidance never really guides, never really deals with the emergent future.

To save your distinction, I tried the obvious choice-- the Holy Spirit not only helps us to remember the mission of the Son in time, but also guides us into the future that is opened by the address of the canonical story to us. This is most agreeable to the narrative conception of biblical meaning explored by the worthy theologians listed. And it is very Jensonian.

But then along comes Father Ron with his mariology. What is it about mariology that frustrates agreement? Yes, there are obvious Roman excesses, but Protestant critics of them seldom just propose that these be pruned back, or that we talk about Orthodox devotion instead; no, they want honour for Mary gone yesterday! Conversely, although it is easy enough to acknowledge Mary in a historical way, that does not explain more advanced mariology or satisfy the impulse toward it.

Taking this as a test case, I suspect that just emphasising Mary as she is in the Bible-- no Roman dogma-- still flips our reading of scripture from an Augustinian story-- the merits of the Christ on the *cross* go to the *lucky* elect so that they can go to heaven-- to a more cosmological story-- *participation in Christ* and *incorporation in his Body* inaugurate the *new creation* and anticipate the *New Jerusalem*. It does this by putting the incarnation in the foreground of salvation history rather than in its background. Think of all the Christmas v Easter arguments you have ever heard.

If that is the case then, given our dogmatic commitments, we are bound to be flipped. And indeed if the Holy Spirit is *guiding* readers of scripture to continue as actors in that flipped narrative, then we work out a much less self-absorbed salvation-- good! But we may also try to imagine the incarnation more vividly than even St Luke could do. In that case, what is the status of a narrative said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit but not canonical? Even the Orthodox cannot agree on that one.

Good night-- well, almost evening-- to all in the blessed isles!

Bowman Walton

Andrei said...

Are you familiar with The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lerins Peter?

His tests for the truth or falsity of Doctrine was loosely

(1) Was this doctrine held by the Fathers?

(2) Is this doctrine held by the Church at large?

(3) Do all consent to the veracity of this?

" Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. "

And do not be confused by the use of the word catholic here - St Vincent of Lerins wrote in Latin at a time when the Church was not divided into denominations, the East and the West were one and Latin text did have the upper and lower cases of modern Latin letters. But heresies did divide the Church

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
That is very helpful - thank you!

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
That is much clearer. (On "luck" I should buy Lotto tickets in case God has elected me a winner!)
I would have thought - but then I am a lesser theological mortal than Barth so who I am to say such a thing - at least one work of the Spirit proper to the economy of the Trinity is the enlivening of the church and the empowering of its participation in the mission of God.
From that my point about "guiding" (while appreciating the possibility of a difference without a distinction) is that the Spirit informs the church of what it needs to (continually re)form itself, with special reference to the missio Dei.
Hence the clarifying work of the Spirit through Peter and Paul on the inclusion of the Gentiles who were informed of the truth of what they resisted, the possibility that God loved the Gentiles so much he did not require them to become Jews.
Hence - arguably - somewhere in the mix of debate re SSB/SSM the Spirit is at work, not to tell us we have been wrong about marriage for 2000 yrs, but to guide us in our mission in the complexities of the 21st century (e.g. helping us to not erect another wall of division between groups).
On Mary, do we not see some signs that the Spirit is curbing some Roman excesses while gently nudging Protestants to a just appreciation of her? That is, the Spirit is not yet done on the theology of Mary so it is too early to make Mariology some kind of litmus test for how the Spirit works?
Point well made about Augustinianism/Mary/incarnation: thank you.

Anonymous said...

"I would have thought - but then I am a lesser theological mortal than Barth so who I am to say such a thing - at least one work of the Spirit proper to the economy of the Trinity is the enlivening of the church and the empowering of its participation in the mission of God."

Yes, Peter, you are an Anglican! But for all his respect for the Cappadocian fathers, Barth was also more or less Reformed, and so stuck with a dilemma: if there is no proper work of the Holy Spirit, then the Cappadocian doctrine of the Trinity itself is suspect, but if there is a proper work and it is as you say, then the believer is dependent on the testimony of the Church for his faith. Not wanting to choose between losing the Trinity and becoming a Catholic, Barth seems to have equivocated with respect to those two choices: he affirmed the equal divinity of the Holy Spirit, but also maintained that the scriptures ground the Church in the Resurrection rather than in Pentecost. You can judge for yourself how much exegetical sense that makes.

What is Barth's resistance to being Catholic? Well, in Early Reformed fashion-- eg Richard Hooker, Laws, Book V-- he wants to view the Church and every congregation of it as a meeting of the divine and human on the model of Act V of Chalcedon. Although he never wrote the part on ecclesiology that he projected for the Church Dogmatics, Barth has a concern that the Church not be so divine over against man that it is never also humanity facing God. The Roman Catholic Church-- at least that of Trent and Vatican I-- seemed to Barth to be too lopsidedly divine in its self-understanding to be the true Body of the God-Man.

If we accept the Orthodox criticism that Western churches oscillate unstably between errors of individualism and officialdom because they do not recognise order as emergent from the Holy Spirit-- and personally, I do accept it-- then how do we imagine the Church as a work of the Holy Spirit that also represents humanity-- indeed the creation-- to God?

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Peter and Bowman et al for your latest thoughts out loud. Here’s a wee tuppence worth to add perhaps.

1. I sense it’s noteworthy the entire Church has even after 2000 years found the specific identity (I’ll come to that phrase) of the Holy Spirit ‘slippery’. My own first real grappling with the issue was via that notable WCC collection published in honour of the 1600 years since Constantinople’s 381 Creed, or rather, creedal additions to Nicaea’s 325. See Lukas Vischer, ed. Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ: Ecumenical reflections on the Filioque Controversy (SPCK & WCC, 1981). Among all the subsequent stuff, I’d also recommend AE Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. Oxford Studies in Historical Theology (OUP, 2010). The indeterminancy is perhaps noteworthy, as I say.

2. At the height of medieval scholastic theology, with its “questioning” format, it was debated whether either the Father or the Spirit might have/could have become the Incarnate One. Even Aquinas gets in on the act: Summa Theologiae, III q.3, in 8 articles, especially art.8. Notwithstanding the Angelic Doctor, I sense the revival of trinitarian doctrine these past 50 years has put such approaches behind us. Au contraire; there’s the opposite, a clarity at least of the question this thread is probing: what is the proprium (Latin) or idiotēs (Greek) of each Person of the Trinity, two traditional technical terms expressing what peculiarly belongs to each person in particular, constituting their distinctive difference among the Godhead? My post under “On whose authority do we interpret the Bible?” @ October 7, 2017 at 5:03 PM offers some evidence of the Early Church re the Holy Spirit. This sentence triggers however a classic Jensonian move: “But the Story or Drama of Scripture is not yet complete: the very triune economy of grace offers still precisely the Holy Spirit as arrabōn (Eph 1:3-14, Rom 5:1-5, 8:15-39).”

3. The move is to extend the traditional relations of origin among the Three Persons, making them fully reciprocal. Pannenberg would insist upon the same move. [Pity I cannot simply drop in Jenson’s three diagrams to make the point succinctly ... May be others can do that ...?! I repeat them in LDL, pp.118-120, with commentary.] What this does is to say of the Father, for example, he is not only the source, fount, or root cause of the inner trinitarian relations (the classic Greek premise), with the relationships running from the Father to Son and Spirit, but the Holy Spirit also fully and freely constitutes the Father’s identity, with the flow, as it were, running from the Spirit back to the Father (via the Son as well). Traditionally, we had two pairs of relationships: the Father begets/the Son is begotten; the Father breathes/the Spirit is breathed (via the Son, shall we say). Now with Jenson and Pannenberg we have, in Jenson’s intermediary language, four pairs: the Father begets/the Son is begotten; the Father breathes/the Spirit is breathed (via the Son); the Spirit frees the Father/the Father is freed (by the Spirit, yet also via the Son); the Spirit witnesses to the Son/the Son is witnessed unto. As far as this thread is concerned, it’s these last two pairs that are our focus especially.

Anonymous said...

"As far as this thread is concerned, it’s these last two pairs that are our focus especially.*

Yes, Bryden, the diagrams would help, and these pairs are indeed our focus.

In the context of arguments (eg on theodicy or universalism) that engage Plantinga's demonstration that *omnipotence* is not necessarily unconstrained, I, among many others, have wondered whether the Spirit's freeing of the Father and witnessing to the Son do not point to a divine attribute somewhat like Hegel's *cunning of reason* that is nearer than the Hellenistic *omnipotence* to the power of God as we see it in biblical narrative. Am I right to think that in your cutting and pasting of Jens's Triune Identity, Christian Dogmatics, and Systematic Theology, you probably encountered some of his attempts to explain this to readers, and have these attempts in mind as you allude to *arrabon* in Eph 1:3-14, Rom 5:1-5, 8:15-39? And is this the attribute through which the Holy Spirit *guides* us, especially as interpreters of the Word?

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Unfortunately Bowman 4ff were lost in cyberspace along with Miss Piggy! Try again:
4. The pay dirt/upshot of this formal theologizing is powerful - believe it or not! For not only is ‘God’ the Unoriginate One, as the Father is classically identified, using the sorts of language many religions might espouse. The triune God at least is ALSO the Unbounded One, the Unsurpassable Future. A classic Jenson quote spells out the key difference and the consequences:

“Gods whose identities lies in the persistence of a beginning are cultivated because in them we are secure against the threatening future. The gods of the nations are guarantors of continuity and return, against the daily threat to fragile established order; indeed, they are Continuity and Return. The Lord’s meaning for Israel is the opposite: the archetypically established order of Egypt was the very damnation from which the Lord released her into being, and what she thereby entered was the insecurity of the desert. Her God is not salvific because he defends against the future but because he poses it.” Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 67.

That is, what kind of “Guardian and Guide” might we really have?! Or, more pointedly still: what sort of God are we really dealing with?! And so how does either Church or Scripture witness to/steward/herald just such a deity and such a deity’s Gospel?!

5. Our answers in any discipline or area of knowledge are governed by the sorts of questions we pose. Peter’s enquiry is no different. The framework from which we pose such questions are decisive. Just so, Bowman’s setting up Augustine versus (?) the Greeks, and their respective ‘takes’ on the narrative of the Gospel Story. I’d term it the grammar of the narrative. Actually, I’d modify his Augustinian grammar, since Aug’s notion of totus Christus, the Whole Christ, derived from Eph & Col, is pretty cosmic! I sense it’s the Reformers who speak more of the “cross and lucky ones”, narrowing Augustine’s own perspective.

So; to move explicitly to a possible set of answers. If our grammar is resolutely oriented by means of a richer trinitarian sense, then that which guards and guides is BOTH anchored in those past deeds and words of God AND is expectantly anticipating and looking forward to new creation (Gal 6:15, an early letter, through to Eph & Col later ones). Furthermore, that very new creation is one saturated by the triune God himself, since “new heaven and new earth” is God’s Address, the Triune God’s Home. The Greek notion of theosis and so our participation in the life and light, love and freedom of the Trinity is uppermost. Thanks Bowman!

It’s all about the third article of the creed(s). And so, it’s all about the particular identity of that One Whom we so confess, plus those adjunctive/particpatory clauses within the third article: Scripture, Church, sacraments, future life. As I’ve said on ADU before, I personally gravitate towards the likes of Billy Abraham’s notion of “canonical theism”, all those motifs of which or traits of the Church being in fact “signs of the Holy Spirit”. [Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church, eds WJ Abraham, JE Vickers & NB van Kirk (Eerdmans, 2008), and Immersed in the Life of God: The Healing Resources of the Church. Essays in Honor of William J Abraham, eds PL Gavrilyuk, DM Koskela & JE Vickers (Eerdmans, 2008).] It is ALL of these which therefore guard and guide. Partisan efforts to load all onto one trait/fewer traits miscue, and distort the very identity of the Holy Spirit who distributes his manifold charisms. If that betrays somewhat my Evangelical Tradition - or rather, versions of that Tradition - so be it. For myself, my comments here, I trust, better orientate our collective pilgrimage in faith, hope and love, as the triune God redeems his creation and his human creatures, foreshadowing his Final Arrival Home.

Bryden Black said...

Oops! apologies folks! I either cannot copy right, or my grammar sucks - or both: "Gods whose identity lies ..."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Bryden. I see a lot of agreement here, some explicit and some tacit, especially taking into account what we have already said recently about eg John Webster's Holy Scripture: A dogmatic sketch, Jens's oeuvre, and David Congden's God Who Saves.

From this and all that, it sounds as though we agree at least provisionally and on systematic grounds with Peter's guard/guide distinction. Can we plug all this back into his original problem-- the clash alleged between churchly and private interpretations of scripture? And for his readers can we locate the seeds of all this *perichoresis* in the canon itself? Tricky to do both of those at the same time...

http://ntwrightpage.com/files/2016/05/Wright_JAS_Scripture_Communion.pdf

http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/jesus-and-the-identity-of-god/

Bowman Walton

Jean said...

Wow. Most of this exceeds my comprehension, unfortunately this doesn't usually stop me from saying something!

I was reading the definition of the Holy Spirit in a very old bible dictionary picked up at a local fair in the weekend. It noted the Spirits work to be both advocating/defending people by leading them into the knowledge of the Son and convicting of sin and righteousness, and advocating/defending the Son by making known his truth. In this to me there is the relationship of an individual to believing in Christ and his salvation, as well as the narrative of 'God with us' and the continuing story of the teaching, speaking and leading of the collective people of God by making known the truth. So my holistic brain says there is no contradiction between these two works of the Spirit; and I am afraid to say Bowman I have never encountered a Christmas versus Easter argument (I can thank God for this!).

In regards to your post Peter, what resonated with me was the ecumenical approach to seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom that is from God. Firstly because 'the issue' is being experienced ecumenically and all churches are floundering with it individually. Secondly because I think this seeking would benefit less as you emphasise from positioning, and more from respected church representatives coming and wrestling this issue together with God. Certainly I have my own magisterium albeit they have been more 'ordinary' saints.

I am unable to make the leap not that God would reveal by his Spirit something to the church today, but that what is revealed would ever be contrary to Scripture taken in its correct context. This is because in my experience the truth the spirit witnesses to individuals regarding salvation, and their own calling, often includes scripture (with Jesus as the word this is not unusual). As an example I know of at least three first hand accounting of people receiving bible verses on seeking Jesus yet not discovering they were from the bible until later in their journey. And while the Holy Spirit revealed the inclusion of the gentiles so did scripture in the Old Testament even if all had yet to understand it (the Spirit yet to reveal it). So while I believe the Holy Spirit can reveal God's will through Christ to the collective body, I maintain even new revelation will be supported by scripture. Even being on the receiving end of words on knowledge, the litmus test is always scripture. It does not mean everything revealed by the Holy Spirit needs to be specifically contained in Scripture although much is (e.g. Paul's exhortation on Christian's married to unbelievers would not have been referenced in the OT) but that at the very least as I said at the beginning of the paragraph, it is not contrary to its teaching.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
It is a leap for the Holy Spirit in 2017 to reveal a contradiction to Scripture (as far as we know, written down by 117)!

In some situations, however, it might be reasonable to suppose that the Spirit is leading the church to a position which is consistent with one part of Scripture and inconsistent with another part [noting there is a longer and more nuanced way of saying this!]

Thus the abolition of slavery AND a resolve to never have slaves again as a legitimate social/economic option is consistent in myriad ways with justice and mercy in Scripture and yet at odds with passages in Scripture which seem comfortable with keeping slaves (albeit well treated).

Without relitigating the "marriage/divorce/remarriage/admission to eucharist" debate, we could mention that approaches to marriage breakdown can draw on Scripture for possibilities of repentance/mercy/new life even as a church ends in a position (arguably) contradictory to our Lord's teaching or (arguably) moving well beyond our Lord's teaching (with Protestants tending in the former direction and Catholics in the latter [Jesus never taught "annulment" as an option, nor gave direction to forbid the eucharist to sinners].

Final observation, there is an old saying which supports your comment: what is true isn't new, what is new isn't true.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman (and Bryden)
Your comment re grounding the church in resurrection or Pentecost minds me to mention John's Gospel where the church is grounded in resurrection and Pentecost as the same event (at least, the same day!) and considerable authority is imparted to the church as Jesus bestows the Spirit.

Barth has a point about an over-weighting of the divinity of the church in Roman thought but I would put it more in terms of "ideal." Imagine a church which through 2000 years astutely made a series of agreeable decisions: successively choosing excellent popes (and certainly never breaking down that succession to the point of Three Popes!), never breaching good faith with other Christians (e.g. by imposing the filioque without Eastern agreement), always keeping slightly ahead of developments in knowledge (so, variously, welcoming biblical criticism in the first part of the 20th century, and welcoming artificial contraception in the second part (for instance, because astutely second guessing that's that what the faithful would want), and, of course, never gaming something such as Indulgences in order to fund raise for grand buildings. Would we not (a) all be part of that universal church; (b) daily give thanks for that church living out faithfully any reckoning of the grounding of the church ... resurrection ... Pentecost ... both? It would be the ideal church healthily, Holy Spiritually working itself out in reality.

But what history has shown us is that the church is simultaneously saint and sinner: it is both true that "the believer is dependent on the testimony of the Church for his faith" and the believer often either has to defend the indefensible as the church falls into error, errs in protecting errant officials, etc or to explain various follies and frailties. And that is before we get to controversies which rage within the church and for which previous methods of sorting controversies seem powerless to chart an agreeable way forward!

I think that is where I very much appreciate Andrei's note above:

"Are you familiar with The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lerins Peter?

His tests for the truth or falsity of Doctrine was loosely

(1) Was this doctrine held by the Fathers?

(2) Is this doctrine held by the Church at large?

(3) Do all consent to the veracity of this? "

Somewhere in those questions lies the possibility that we humbly wait for the Spirit's guidance to be revealed over time and try to avoid the arrogance of assuming a synod or three or a pronouncement from on high is some kind of guarantor of the Spirit's guidance. (A point you have kept making on ADU recently Bowman).

In other words, we live by faith and not by sight.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Church as guardian and guide for interpretation of the scriptures" - P.C. -

Speaking of interpretation, Peter; here is an interesting interpretation of a part of Paul's Epistle to the Romans, in today's 3-minute retreat on my favourite Jesuit website:

"Inspired by the grace of God, Paul was compelled to reach out to the Gentiles to include them in his ministry of preaching the Gospel. This caused controversy among the Jewish Christians, who believed that Gentile converts must first be circumcised. Paul knew then what we know today: God is the God of all people. No exceptions. No humanly imposed qualifications. Everyone is saved by Jesus in ways known only to God.

Sadly, some of today's conservative Christians are very much like the early Jewish community, which still considered the need for 'ritual purification'
of the Old Order before accepting Gentiles as real Christians.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Thus the abolition of slavery AND a resolve to never have slaves again as a legitimate social/economic option is consistent in myriad ways with justice and mercy in Scripture and yet at odds with passages in Scripture which seem comfortable with keeping slaves (albeit well treated)." - Dr.Peter Carrell -

And is not this the amazing truth about the Scriptures. Peter? That the Gospel ("Good News") - brought, firstly; by the Incarnation of God as Human in Jesus and secondly; by the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and then, thirdly; by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; were all sings of the progression of God's plan of Salvation for the whole world - not just for the Jews.

It may be that some of us Christians have to contemplate another iteration of Jesus; that He came to save the whole world - not just we who call ourselves Christians. The reason we were set apart was, and still is, for the proclamation of the Gospel ("Good News") to ALL people, not just Christians! Perhaps the best way of proclaiming the Gospel is just to become the Gospel ("Good News") to ALL people, irrespective of..(you name it!).

So often, Christians want to remain in the pre-Christian ethos of the need for our own perceived ritual of purification (circumcision?) - forgetting that Jesus came to call, not the 'righteous' but sinners to repentance. It is GOD who transforms, not us - by our insistence on our own ideas of what we think of as ritual purity.

Only by admitting to our own sinful human nature, can we - as members of the Body of Christ - ever expect other sinners to understand the power of Christ to redeem. Like; as someone once said; "One poor man showing another poor man where to find bread".

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
The gospel is indeed a call to sinners to come to Christ and therefore it is also a call to leave sin behind, as Christ preached a message of repentance.

Consequently what is (or is not) sin is not a question of (to quote you) "our own ideas" but of God's revelation to us through the Scriptures from which Christ taught (OT) and for which Christ gave his implied authorisation (NT).

God indeed transforms us but might it be a surprise to some of us when that transformation is against the grain of the world? Because, strange though it may seem, what was sin is still sin?

Anonymous said...

Jean, I was looking forward to your comment!

Three doors into my conversation with Bryden.

First is the prayer to the Holy Spirit that opens all the Orthodox daily offices (and also prayers in situ like the ones Anglicans and Methodists were offering here and there in their village in the linked article)--

O heavenly King, the Strengthener, the Spirit of truth, Who is everywhere present and fills all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: Come and abide in us, and save our souls, O Good One!

In the East, one recites this prayer both for offices of the daily cycle such as Vespers and Matins, and also for more occasional prayers, such as those offered on the scenes of fires, earthquakes, and other calamities. The Holy Spirit is equally at work in the predictable and the unpredictable. God is always God.

This is an awkward context for challenging the authority of bible dictionaries from flea markets-- so I won't; maybe you found a good one-- but I will note that this prayer is nearer to the Bible than what you quote in that it nests the Holy Spirit's work in each one of us (Romans 8:1-17) in the wider work that he has done throughout the Creation (Romans 8:18-29) from his "brooding over the face of the waters" in Genesis 1:2 to Revelations 21:10ff. And how often do we directly address God the Holy Spirit in prayer?

Anonymous said...

A second door, which makes this a little easier to imagine, is the Great Blessing of the Waters on the Feast of the Theophany. By sheer coincidence, this feast falls, more or less, on the Western Feast of the Epiphany to which it is not related. Theophany celebrates the manifestation of the Trinity in Jesus's baptism by John in the Jordan, and it is striking for the connection made between the Holy Spirit and the waters of the earth. Indeed, the Great Blessing consecrates the water that will be used in the church in the coming year.

The proper hymn for the day emphasises the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son and the propriety of his acts--

When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
And called Thee His beloved Son.
And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,
Confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ God, Who hast revealed Thyself,
And hast enlightened the world, glory be to Thee!

Incidentally, that translation, widely used by Orthodox in English-speaking countries, is that of an Anglican lady like yourself, Isabel Hapgood.

But even more interesting are the petitions of the proper litany--

That these waters may be sanctified by the power, and effectual operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That there may descend upon these waters the cleansing operation of the super-substantial Trinity, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will endue them with the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan, the might, and operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That Satan may speedily be crushed under our feet, and that every evil counsel directed against us may be brought to naught, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will free us from every attack and temptation of the enemy, and make us worthy of the good things which he hath promised, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will illumine us with the light of understanding and of piety, and with the descent of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord our God will send down the blessing of Jordan, and sanctify these waters, let us pray to the Lord.
That this water may be unto the bestowing of sanctification; unto the remission of sins; unto the healing of soul and body; and unto every expedient service, let us pray to the Lord.
That this water may be a fountain welling forth unto life eternal, let us pray to the Lord.
That it may manifest itself effectual unto the averting of every machination of our foes, whether visible or invisible, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who shall draw of it and take of it unto the sanctification of their homes, let us pray to the Lord.
That it may be for the purification of the souls and bodies of all those who, with faith, shall draw and partake of it, let us pray to the Lord.
That he will graciously enable us to perfect sanctification by participation in these waters, through the invisible manifestation of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

The Western habit, especially the slovenly Evangelical habit, alas, is just to pray a letter to Dear God, attach a stamp with Jesus's picture, and then let the heavenly postal service decide where to deliver it. But these petitions link together several works that are proper to the Holy Spirit. This series would not make sense addressed to the Father or to the Son, and our prayer is closer to scripture and still closer to God when we put the right address on our letters to God. And when everyone reads Bryden's books, we will.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Bryden, a third door is the *canonical theism* to which he refers. It is too much to quote or describe, but here is a link to the essentials--

https://canonicaltheism.wordpress.com/theses-on-canonical-theism/

William J Abraham has emphasised the public and corporate nature of the Holy Spirit's acts building up the Church's knowledge of God through time.

Thesis IX:

Canonical theism is intimately tied to the notion of the canonical heritage of the Church. The Church possesses not just a canon of books in its bible, but also a canon of doctrine, a canon of saints, a canon of Fathers, a canon of theologians, a canon of liturgy, a canon of bishops, a canon of councils, a canon of ecclesial regulations, a canon of icons, and the like. In short, the Church possesses a canonical heritage of persons, practices, and materials. Canonical theism is the theism expressed in and through the canonical heritage of the Church.

Thesis X:

The canonical heritage of the Church came into existence through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was active in motivating, energizing, guiding, directing, and overseeing their original production in the Church.

Now after the two doors above, these theses may not seem remarkable. But many in the West have either attributed these acts to the Son by identifying institutions with him (Rome), or have attributed them to the Holy Spirit only indirectly through his influence on individuals (most post-Reformation Protestants). In Abraham's approach, as in the prayers above, the work of the Spirit on the visible Church is an aspect of the regeneration of the creation. Which makes sense, since the Church is nothing more or less than a representation of the creation that God is fashioning into a new heaven and a new earth, just as he fashioned the body of Jesus into a new one at the Resurrection.

As I said the other day, the gospel is not that by punishing the wicked God will enable us to return to Eden, but that God is regenerating all things and bringing them onward to the New Jerusalem.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

A. Ah yes, dear Bowman, the Idea’s cunning use (manipulation?) of self-interested human passions - to Reason’s unsullied real ends! And with such self-abasement or invisibility secures nothing less than eventual, real Recognition. Well; there’s a possible paraphrase for you ... which I’ll now rephrase, perhaps in ways more akin to the NT narrative, with additional spin from me.

I well remember attending a lecture by Boris Bobrinskoy on the Holy Spirit. In short, we may recognize the Holy Spirit from his specific self-effacing work, in the way he glorifies the Son, whose work was similarly not his own but the Father’s who sent him. And so my gloss thereafter, from this clearly Johannine driven approach, is that we are dealing with a profound Heavenly-pass-the-buck-kind-of-play! This is Trinity! Each Person glorifying the Other(s). Yet this is no abstract merry-go-round; we are talking here of the eternal purposes of God in the economy of salvation - where telos is uppermost and where concrete acts are involved to achieve this. Just so, Jenson, ST, 2, 198:

“In the passage from Ephesians [2:11-22], the Spirit unites the church as the totus Christus, and this structure is then the dwelling place for “God”. The church is not in these passages a temple to or containing the Spirit but a temple to the Father made by the Spirit, a temple that is itself one with the risen Christ. The Spirit is not the deity served in this temple nor yet the temple itself but the possibility and the energy of service in it.”

Just so the forms of self-effacement mentioned by Bobrinskoy. Yet in Ephesians this depiction is part and parcel of a glorious unfolding (1:3-14), into which all members of the Church are to take just as active a part as Paul’s own stewardship, 3:2-13, where the result is recounted in 4:11-16. All of which precipitates immediately afterwards the fullest assembling of the NT Catechism we have in the New Testament documents, 4:17-6:17. And because this Rule of Life is only achievable via the Holy Spirit, 6:18-20 concludes, or rather underscores that pair of awesome prayers which are to realize our baptism into Christ Jesus, 1:15ff & 3:14ff. “Realize” of course is the very word I go to town with in Sessions 6 onwards in my God’s Address: to see and understand/get to know; put into effect/cash out. And to pray is but to enjoy la communication de Saint-Esprit (so 2 Cor 13:13 in French).

That’s a first stab at your question, which I loved, and shall ponder further via especially those three articles which first appeared in IJST, “Christ as Culture”, now reprinted in Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics: Essays on God and Creation.

Bryden Black said...

An appetizer, linking back to Ephesians above. Towards the end of the first article, “Christ as Polity”, Jenson says this (p.328):

“Then - on the day appointed - the θεανθρωπος came, preaching that this kingdom of heaven had ‘come near’, so near indeed that following him was entry into it and to turn away from him was to balk at the gate. With that, eschatological polity appeared as a possibility for present citizenship. And when the God of Israel raised this Jesus from the death to which his radicalism had brought him, following him became a continuing possibility within this world, and a mission began to bring all into this citizenship. This citizenship, it must for our purposes be emphasized, is membership in a particular community and just so in a particular person; to belong to the church and to be ‘in’ Christ are the same fact.
A polity is constituted in its discourse. In the case of the church, the central discourse is prayer. And when the Lord’s disciples asked how to pray, he invited them into his own discourse with the Father. That is to say, he invited us into a political arena that is constituted in his own relation to the Father, which is in turn to say, into his own being as θεανθρωπος.
Thus as the Lord’s sisters and brothers, as the members of the totus Christus, as corporately his body, we make a perfect participatory parliament of prayer. ....
The matter of prayer, and particularly of what we call petitionary prayer, leads us into what is perhaps the deepest mystery of membership in the polity that Christ is. The polity that Christ is, we said, is the polity of Israel when the θεανθρωπος comes to be Israel. This polity like every polity deliberates its own future, both final and immediate. But the future of the θεανθρωπος can only be the future of the universe, final and immediate. We call the totus Christus’s deliberation of the cosmic future, immediate and final, petitionary prayer. “Thy Kingdom come soon”, we pray. “Cure my child tomorrow”, we pray. Also believers have great difficulty believing that such giving of advice to the Almighty is a sensible procedure. But we are to consider that when we pipe up “Our Father. . .” it is not some little group of hole-in-the-corner creatures speaking; it the totus Christus, it is the second person of Trinity addressing the first; it is an inner-triune political deliberation.”

Bryden Black said...

B. And so indeed back to what sparked this entire discussion - whose interpretation?

Firstly, the Bible is the Church’s book (caveat lector: a qualification follows below!). It’s not mine or yours, or even the pope’s. A comparison. I’m using English here; I’m borrowing English; it’s as if this language is on loan to me. But that means, if I’m to actually communicate [sic!], I’d better stick to the syntax and grammar of that language. True, I have my own style and choice of words [sic!!]. And I would not debate the filioque with a bunch of shearers, just as I’m sure most theologians wouldn’t have a clue about real sheep despite the twenty third Psalm. That is, the contexts in which we use specific languages are vital to each. And what is that context now re the Bible: WHAT’S it FOR?!

Apart from extolling the likes of John Webster again, I’d simply go to 2 Tim 3:16-17. True; one could also go to my God’s Address, says he naughtily. Far truer; there’s John 20:30-31 or Luke 1:1-4. And yet, and yet ... Any reading exercise, public or private, is always an exercise in interpretation. As we follow the words, what is it exactly we are also following? Acts 8:26-40 (Philip and the Ethiopian treasurer) is a classic, just as Lk 24:13-35 (the road to Emmaus) is carefully crafted by Luke as an exact parallel. I’ll return to these ...

So when we say of 2 Tim 3 that all Scripture directs us to correct faith and morals, positively and negatively, we are naturally and obviously, simultaneously, involved in interpretation. Our unique problem is our own specific cultural context, which affects our interpretation. Two things stand out: we are staggeringly individualistic in the West; we are supremely a “Culture of Interpretation”—so Roger Lundin’s book of that same title. That is, “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea” (Alister McGrath) is that “[any person], without human intermediaries of any kind, can enter into full fellowship with God [..., and this] is great, good news” (Richard Foster’s endorsement on the back page blurb of McGrath’s book). Just so, the history of Protestantism, the necessary precursor to modernity and postmodernity. Yet I have to say this historical phenomenon of Protestantism, as powerful and as significant as it is, and as historically vital as it is for the very nature of Christianity, is not the entire story of the Christian Faith or the Church. There are valid grammars of the faith that equally vitally ‘balance’ the Protestant Tradition. And this is where both guarding and guiding also get involved.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that just as Paul speaks of the Corinthian church as he does in 1 Cor 12-14, so too that viewpoint addresses what has emerged down the centuries re the differing strands of the Christian Church: NO ONE Tradition has a monopoly on the truth, it seems! Sure; some - and very different folk to boot - think they’ve got it all cornered. And some would indeed ‘go to the wall’ over certain key concerns (including myself: I’m far too keen a student of history to deny that: just so Barmen). Yet nestled into that very section of 1 Cor 12-14 is that powerful chapter 13 on charity. True enough; many don’t read it with that rhetorical edge of Paul’s, delivered to a frankly cranky bunch in Corinth, who are just so sophisticated that they make New Yorkers look like hillbillies! Yet I venture “speaking the truth [of the Gospel] in love” (Eph 1:13-14, 4:11-16) is what inspires the conciliar nature of the Church, a Church “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the corner-stone” (Eph 2:20).

Bryden Black said...

And so to combine now various threads of my comments applied to this thread’s topic. The Church is a polity, a unique polity whose primary discourse is indeed prayer. Protestantism too has an explicit political dimension, traditionally, even if tamed by Pietism’s individualism. The question before us in the 21st C Church, I believe, has to do with an authentic integration of these two features, set within that dominant theme from Vatican 2, that the Church is a Pilgrim People. I repeat what I said earlier: If our grammar is resolutely oriented by means of a richer trinitarian sense, then that which guards and guides is BOTH anchored in those past deeds and words of God [as uniquely witnessed to in that given instrument and servant of God, the Scriptures] AND is expectantly anticipating and looking forward to new creation [excited by the arrabōn who is Spirit]. The ethos of our own churchly politics, however, cannot be that of the governments of this world (even as we are citizens also of those nations). Unfortunately, I’ve met too few real bishops who ‘govern’ as authentic shepherds should. Mercifully, my own ordaining bishop was just such a man. So here I’d invoke that classic three part section from Phil 2:1-13 (as embodiments of “self-effacement”, to underline the point). The manner in which Christ himself rules is exactly as Luke describes: he travels with us; he directs us to the written Word; he reveals how he himself is cradled in that very Word; he breaks bread with us - and his joy embraces us, that unique joy of the necessarily crucified-and-raised One (so too Jn 16:16-33). And Luke repeats the pattern in vv.36ff (we are slow to get the point, and need the repetitions!), climaxing in that specific form of church government we call mission and evangelism. Just so, bishops and the catechumenal process are at the core of this missionary government.

PS: I’m aware I’ve not ‘solved’ the specific issue of Methodists and wine! Rather, I’ve stepped back a bit and been more general, hoping to cast the net wider than our dear (Anglican) cousins and to create some more basic principles.

PPS: the Gentile argument. While I’m sure the social stigma of the first century is as strong as one can imagine - Jews versus Gentiles rules; OK! - I’m also sure it was not just a zap here and there from the Holy Spirit that broke the log jam. The rich complex of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves is more than sufficient to justify their inclusion. We see this notably in e.g. Gal 3-4, Acts 15 & Amos, let alone the rich quarry that was Isa 40-55, which the NT Church seems to have minded for all its worth. All which enabled them to extrapolate authoritatively from Jesus’ own explicit hints with his treatment of Gentiles/Samaritans and his parables. I.e. the “gentile question” is itself a card to be played with discrimination!

Andrei said...


Sadly, some of today's conservative Christians are very much like the early Jewish community, which still considered the need for 'ritual purification' of the Old Order before accepting Gentiles as real Christians."

Not at all Fr Ron. - since the time of the Apostles there have been those coming up with novel doctrines and dividing themselves from the body,

And those early heresies are no longer with us

Arianism was the motivation to formulate the Niceness creed over two councils. And fisticuffs famously broke out during these councils so heated was the. Debate.

But Arianism was athemetized and. Eventually disappeared though it reemerges from time to time to this very day.

Sometimes bad things come out of the heretics within the Church-Jim Jones in Guyan or the Branch Dravidians are recent examples

New sects emerge blossom and die sooner or later, spectacularly in the examples above

But the Faith remains pure guided and guarded by the Holy Spirit.

I am immunised against being led astray by the Jim Jones, the Mormons or the Jehovah's witnesses because the Faith as received by my forefathers is the Faith I will hold to

I notice that Churches that tolerate heretical and even atheist bishops are also the ones which are at the forefront of ecclesiastical novelties and the these are also the churches experiencing the steepest declines in the number of their adherents

Anonymous said...

Peter and Father Ron,

Jesus demanded allegiance without delay; his Spirit healed and transformed those giving that allegiance for the aeon to come. Full stop.

If the Reformers were right about those who give their allegiance to Christ-- and they were-- then: God's justification of sinners always precedes and enables their sanctification, and sanctification is never a condition of justification. Believe or swim the Tiber.

So it is never the gospel to say, "if you first get sanctified, then you can be justified"-- this demands more than allegiance. Nor more deviously, "if you first agree to the several articles of sanctification hereunto incorporated by reference, then your justification will be valid, otherwise not"-- this keeps the Physician from the sick. Nor more psychologically, "you are justified by grace through faith in Christ apart from works of the law, unless it turns out that you have some interfering predisposition that inhibits your complete and satisfactory repentance"-- this makes the gospel contingent on supernatural self-knowledge. None of this is good news.

Against the background of an apocalyptic renewal of all things, Jesus accepts allegiance to himself in lieu of OT purifications, etc. Liberals like this part; conservatives worry that it is giving away the store. To define what renewal is, he uses the fundamental law of the OT, although he emphasises its application to the heart. Conservatives like this part a little better; liberals not so much. Nevertheless-- one Jesus, two parts, the only gospel, our religion.

The gospel is good news for actual sinners hearing Christ and willing to trust him. But it is a nightmare to both Pillars of Decent Society and also those fidgets who loathe authority, order, rules, etc.

Nothing is hard about the gospel except that most people hate at least part of it.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Bowman; dear Leanne Payne used to start all her talks: "Come Holy Spirit ...!"

Indeed there's hope!

Bryden Black said...

And here's another quick one Bowman: the Great Beauty towards which we are being led is that the Great City of our God, the New Jerusalem, also has many features of that First Garden! Pondering the significance of that is worth much, from Ex 25ff through Ezek 40ff to Eph/Col ... Lead us Holy Spirit, lead us onwards, farther in and farther up!

Father Ron Smith said...

And, from an online Jesuit viewpoint:

"There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s mercy. After all, it has nothing to do with worth. It has to do with being the creation of an all-loving God. In Jesus, God’s only Son, God poured out his mercy and made possible our salvation. In Paul’s letter to Titus we see the means of God’s mercy—rebirth and renewal. God shows us great love by loving us so much that he is constantly offering us a second chance. God’s mercy is greater than our sinfulness."

Jesu, mercy; Mary, pray.

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,
Without Christmas,there would be no Easter;Without Easter, Christmas would mean little.
A question to Brydern and Bowman;where does Jesus statement that one must be born of the Spirit fit into all this?. Thanks.

Bryden Black said...

Firstly, two things. Bowman, you state (correctly): “To save your [Peter’s] distinction, I tried the obvious choice-- the Holy Spirit not only helps us to remember the mission of the Son in time, but also guides us into the future that is opened by the address of the canonical story to us. This is most agreeable to the narrative conception of biblical meaning explored by the worthy theologians [you] listed. And it is very Jensonian.”

You also ask at one point the following of me: “Am I right to think that in your cutting and pasting of Jens's Triune Identity, Christian Dogmatics, and Systematic Theology, you probably encountered some of his attempts to explain this to readers, and have these attempts in mind as you allude to *arrabon* in Eph 1:3-14, Rom 5:1-5, 8:15-39? And is this the attribute through which the Holy Spirit *guides* us, especially as interpreters of the Word?”

We should combine these two comments, I suspect, to achieve an answer which covers off much of the initial stuff raised by Peter - and in this way. A reviewer of Scott Swain’s The God of the Gospel: Robert Jenson’s Trinitarian Theology (IVP, 2013) pointedly says this:

“Some of Swain’s considered judgments suffer from not being carried through all the way; one example is his treatment of dramatic coherence (88-94) [which is a vital depiction for RWJ of the identity of the triune God] without mention of dramatic causality, which is the real thrust of Jenson’s radical reinterpretation of time, the Spirit, and Christ’s resurrection.” (emphasis added). [BTW, the same reviewer also says this of Swain: “there is in print no better introduction to or presentation of Jenson’s Trinitarian theology of which I am aware.”]

Again, the upshot/pay dirt of these remarks is this. What drives Jenson’s understanding of the God of the Gospel is not from an Unoriginate appreciation of deity, who is thus the origin of “all things’; rather, the revelation of the triune God identifies God also and most significantly from the Biblical narrative’s eschatological thrust, from the future. There’s another ‘divine pole’ to God’s very nature, God’s Unbounded Futurity, who is Spirit. This may be heady stuff. But what it suggests is that between Jesus’ own Resurrection, itself a work of the Holy Spirit, Rom 1:4, as “first fruits” (1 Cor 15:20), and Jesus’s Parousia or Return, there will be other anticipatory signs of God’s intended future for his entire creation. Including - to answer Glen now - all those who are born of the Spirit and so enter the kingdom of God now, albeit eschatologically. Plus of course all those theses which Bowman has alluded to from William Abraham’s “Canonical Theism” proposals. For contra much Western ecclesiology, the Church IS the arena of the Holy Spirit’s ‘proper identity’. But I’ll not rehash all that ...!

A final point therefore. Of course it is the Holy Spirit’s very work to guide the Church into that very Future to which God is calling her. Another way of putting it is this. What this work entails is an historical unpacking/unfolding throughout the course of the Church’s existence by the Spirit of all that was accomplished in the Resurrection. But what was once and for all accomplished then in Jesus Christ, the New Adam, was itself foretold in those very Scriptures Jesus himself presented as his unique Bible study in Luke 24 (for example). Just so, the Holy Spirit also seeks to guard the Church by means of those very Scriptures, this time via both OT and NT.

Bryden Black said...

cont:
As for the task of interpretation: this too we trust to be the Spirit’s work. Yet not all human efforts in this regard may be directly His work too—clearly direct clashes of interpretation cannot be so caused! Whose views may be better or closer to the mark are I suspect a function of all that I’ve posted earlier. The sorts of novelty famously proffered by the likes of the ex PB of TEC, Frank Griswold, are, to my mind, not the same as those sorts of proposals, like women’s ordination (sic), which may muster a serious exegetical rationale. For often, our partial sight/insight is just that; and we need to be able to extrapolate directly from what has been appreciated historically about such and so to better appreciate what is truly latent within the Resurrection of Jesus, and to which Scripture also bears its definitive witness - but which we’d missed to some degree to date. At least; that’s my juggling act of how we may view the Church as domicile of the Holy Spirit who both guides and guards ... for what it’s worth!

Bryden Black said...

A sermon illustration for unscrambling the head, as I realize this para below, which ties up too with that other comment elsewhere re Jenson’s “reciprocal relationships among the Trinity”, is probably too much for a blog post:

“What drives Jenson’s understanding of the God of the Gospel is not from an Unoriginate appreciation of deity, who is thus the origin of “all things’; rather, the revelation of the triune God identifies God also and most significantly from the Biblical narrative’s eschatological thrust, from the future. There’s another ‘divine pole’ to God’s very nature, God’s Unbounded Futurity, who is Spirit. This may be heady stuff.”

I guess many have played games with magnets as kids (and a number of adults fancy themselves as magnates!). Well; the point is this: magnets both attract and repel, push and pull. Using this as an analogy - which like all analogies and illustrations is both helpful and limited - in the case of God’s being the origin of “all things”, so that we may name God as Unoriginate, it’s as if God pushes. Similarly, when we speak of the triune God, by means of the Holy Spirit’s identity, as being equally Unbounded/Unsurpassable Futurity, this eschatological thrust, derived from the Bible’s narrative itself, is like the magnet pulling or attracting “all things”, forwards, into the Future. Just so the end of CS Lewis’s Last Battle, with the cry of “Farther up and farther in”, as the children and all the redeemed creatures enter into the Walled Garden, again and again, and where the inside is more spacious than the outside. Yes; Lewis’s imagery is also mind boggling! Hallelujah! Yet all this merely speaks of life within the Trinity, the world’s destiny ...

Anonymous said...

Bryden, thank you for the pleasure of your comments.

Thank you too for applying them to Peter's guard/guide proposal, which appears even more delicious in their light. I hope that we can explore this further. But first a gradual descent from 40,000 feet to the runway and the gate.

Your thoughts on the Church recall Jenson, as you intended, but also two other divines less explicit in their ecclesiology than he: T{homas) F(orsyth) Torrance and N(icholas) T(homas) "Tom" Wright. This may not be wholly coincidence-- Torrance and Jenson both read the Greeks in depth, Jenson read Torrance, Wright has read at least some Jenson, and they all read the Bible with an unusual concentration on the work of the Holy Spirit. Torrance clearly thought about ecclesiology-- he must be the only Moderator of the very presbyterian Church of Scotland to formally propose restoration of the episcopate!-- and Jeremy Begbie at the Wheaton conference on Wright lists several ecclesiological themes in his work that were inspiring the Emerging churches that were then well, emerging. I am sometimes sorely tempted to conclude, for all my gratitude to other eminent voices beloved here, that these three define the transcendent Anglican centre in the C21-- which is entirely different from the immanent Oxbridge centre in the Church of England-- although several others contribute to the thriving of this centre, more or less. The definition is not tidy-- Torrance sees every new true idea as Reformed, even when it has been native to Lutheranism from the beginning (compare Space Time & Incarnation to Johannes Brenz on the eucharist); Jens saw Jesus mainly through the lens of the Second Quest (eg Bornkamm), not so much the Third; Wright's animus against liberal Lutherans in German scholarship seems to have blinded him to the conservative Lutheran tradition from Chemnitz to Pieper that in Jenson interacts with Karl Barth. But these frictions are easily overcome by their most ecumenical readers, who can usually see some quite similar notions of the Pilgrim Church between their lines. So too should readers who pray with the Book of Common Prayer (and perhaps Lancelot Andrewes) and who understand the Articles (especially in the light of Richard Hooker).

Anonymous said...

Passing through the clouds, if a Scotch Presbyterian and a Norwegian-American Lutheran can be taken as defining the transcendent Anglican centre in the C21-- a preposterous notion to most who will read this-- that is because it was never the Anglican vocation in the Church to have immanent boundaries over against other traditions in the first place. Something called "Anglicanism" arose, not because English episcopalians were especially original, zealous, or inspired, but because they were left alone on the high patristic ground that all magisterial Protestants had at first shared, not only among themselves but to a large degree with Rome, and to a smaller degree than anyone knew with Constantinople. However, very much against the counsel of the Church of England, those on the Continent divided into Lutheran and Reformed territorial churches, a similar division arose in the British Isles, the Continental Reformed radicalised their commitment to hypercalvinism, and then even the English Reformed drifted away with them to a distant shore, leaving the Canterbury and York (and maybe Heidelberg and Uppsala) to hold the high centre without which none of it makes sense.

Approaching the airport, we are no longer alone in that centre. In my country, four other groups of Protestants or Reformation Catholics are trying to figure out how they relate to what it may next become. Obviously, the Jensonian Lutherans. But also Methodists formed by James White, Thomas Oden, and William Abraham. And finally, two branches of the Reformed, one (eg Hans Boersma, Bobby Grow, Oliver Crisp, Scott Swain) shaped by some engagement with Continental theology (Karl Barth, T. F. Torrance, sometimes Henri de Lubac), the other stirred by Jim Jordan's idiosyncratic retrieval of a high ecclesiology latent in Reformed sources (aka Federal Vision; eg Peter Leithart, Bradford Littlejohn, Douglas Wilson). The most erudite of these write from time to time for Richard John Neuhaus's First Things, or at greater length for eg Wipf & Stock or Eerdman's. And would-be realists should note that even as constituencies within larger bodies, the catholic Lutherans and Methodists combined would probably be larger than TEC and ACNA combined.

Touching down on the runway, the eyes of faith see a difference between the tradition and a brand, and it correlates to the distinction between the Church as the Spirit-shaped representation of the cosmos being renewed in Christ and churches as human projects with local governing bodies, pension funds, intellectual property, real property, websites, meeting times, etc. The tradition is itself part of the renewal of the mind that is not conformity to the world; a churchly brand is an ecology of relationships, practises, and objects that either live in honour in this tradition or die in disgrace outside it. I am not quite ready to compose a Veni Creator Demolitor, but the Holy Spirit does break eggs to make omelets, and there is a reason why old torah scrolls are buried.

To slow to a stop, it seems that we must reverse our engines. The theology mentioned above (and indeed written in your comments and books) shows us healthy churches participating in the greater Life of the Three. This is a needed correction of Enlightenment cynicism, and we need that vision of the godly good to recognise the Holy Spirit as Peter's guard/guide. Sin against it may never be knowable as anything more than hamartia, missing of the mark. But reversing our engines to slow to a stop at our destination, do we also need, not just to see when the Shekhinah has indwelt the temple, but also when it has departed (cf Deuteronomy 31:17-18; Hosea 9:12; Ezekiel 10-11), when indeed we must ask, as Jenson did with his Princeton undergraduates, "Can these bones live?" (Ezekiel 37:3). That question does seem to be very concretely on the minds of some of Peter's readers who are also readers of the scriptures.

Bowman Walton

Jean said...

Hi Bowman, Bryden and Peter

Thank you Bowman for the time your took to explain things to me re the conversational school of thought.

I find my 'spirit' agrees a lot on this matter with Bryden's commentary, especially the on-going importance of scripture as a part of the guiding into the future, and the nature and role of the Holy Spirit. My view is less as God's working through the Holy Spirit as being less regeneration of the Church but re-creation of the Church, as both the Church as full body and individual members. As when 'born again' we start the journey of being re-created, created again as God intended us always to be. In terms of Canon's beyond doctrine as the acknowledging them as such, I can grasp this and think it is and is a positive for ecumenicalism in that God works through all his Churches. I think there is also a human element of error when it comes to various traditions or Canons (as sometimes one may receive a word of knowledge but wonder on occasion 'now was that one me or was it the Holy Spirit'), Hence the importance of scripture always having a place in revision and reformation of tradition and practice alongside the work of the Spirit. "And the true worshippers shall worship in Spirit and in Truth"...

Re the clever new and true statements Peter, I guess my view is more, "If it is new and to be followed it must also be found to be true". Numerous times we see examples in scripture of the revelation to people of knowledge new to them (ie: the visions given of the clean and unclean food to communicates God's acceptance of all people; or the witnesses to the resurrected Christ). In these instances the Holy Spirit clearly is involved in revealing to people at the time what they had yet to grasp; yet curiously these truths existed in the OT and Jesus own teaching but were only understood in hindsight. This is what I mean when I maintain things being inline with or not contrary to scripture if they are guided by the Holy Spirit. It is new to us but is not new and has always been true to God.

In terms of slavery and contradictions... is it truely so? Was not slavery actually as it was practised in the OT actually an act of mercy to those who ended up with no way to live, was there not Jubilee and also laws about the fair treatment of slaves and punishment for their mis-treatment. Re divorce that one is still a work in progress in my mind yet scripture has never highlighted divorce as a good thing yet it has referenced it as permissible. And so it come to 'the topic' and the contention in order to align with scripture that homosexuality as referenced in the bible was different in form (such as slavery was) or context to what we witness in practice today. Now this is a fair thing to contend and perhaps one of the few pathways available for reinterpretation given there is not much room even for contradiction on this matter when looking at direct biblical text references. What I have read to date is yet to be persuasive enough for me to accept the practice is different in form or context than it is today hence my position of waiting before acting further being the preferred one at this time; for more may be revealed : ) ..

As for individual or collective church interpretation, both stand and either will fall if not guided by the Holy Spirit (unless the Lord builds the house) and even collectively we will get it wrong hence the need for grace between Church traditions over the non-essentials, because unfortunately the Church is made up of jars of clay. Peter the wise Malaysian Primate you quoted who maintain the church focus less on issues and more on discipleship has a good perspective. The closer a person or church follows Christ the more accurate their discernment. I think of all the references to how Spirit Filled or different this last Synod was with the emphasis on prayer, on seeking God... Ending with the historically wise verse, "If it is not of God but of human origin it will fail..."

Bryden Black said...

Yes indeed Bowman; I too offer a quiet thanksgiving when that door opens and we all disembark!! For to be sure, it all has to be worked out with feet on terra firma as well as seeded at 40,000 ft into thunderous rain clouds. Just so, are crops planted and watered. Oh for the harvest yet to come!

That said, brands versus tradition, tradition versus brands: I thoroughly concur; and their differing criteria are delightful. And so may that very Holy Spirit, whom we've been trying to extol all of us on this thread, lead us ever closer together to that central tower which directs all the traffic, whatever its tail logo...

As for that Scotsman: as you well know, he's influenced me greatly too. And while I'm told he's written a fair bit on ecclesiology (by our local Myk Habets and your Paul Molnar among others), I've read little of it. Mea culpa! Perhaps my penitential journey for 2018 ...

The crux: how to convince lukewarm compatriots there's a way of renewing that centre which not only fends off Ichabod but also invites Shekinah home, to reground us once more in a truly transcendent Gospel. May be there'd even be a wee braided river from which brackish water might become sweetened... ;-)

That to me would be hope enough!

PS. Perhaps we could all conclude this thread by collectively reading Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation by Scott Swain. That might just put the icing on the cake!! Ciao for now and thanks Bowman, Peter et al.

Father Ron Smith said...

"the knowledge of God we humans need is the knowledge needed in every generation and thus it would seem most unfair to earlier generations for this generation to know things previously hidden. " - P.C. Oct. 08 -

'Fairness', doesn't seem to have been the immediate priority of Jesus in his teaching in the parables, For instance, the parable of the workers in the vineyard who toiled all day and only received the same pay as those who came last. It would seem that God's judgement of us is related to the age (or time) we are living in - not evenly over the revelation of Gospel narrative. This opens up the possibility of God speaking to us differently in a different time. One aspect of this new revelation occurred in the abandoned need for God's people to be circumcised - an O.T. requirement