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Posts Tagged ‘theology’

I saw these insightful comments by Leonard Sweet (E. Stanley Jones professor of evangelism at Drew Theological School in NJ) today on Facebook. Given the relevance to my blog’s name, I thought I would share them here:

Jesus does not show us the way to God so that we can be more like God. God does not want us to be more like God. That is what got us into trouble in the first place: wanting to be like God. We didn’t know our place, and respect the place where God put us. Our place is a human place . . . Jesus shows us the way to ourselves, to our humanity, to our authentic human status as the highest of all God’s creation, carrying within out being the very reflection of God’s being.

One of the most misunderstood quotes in Christian history is this one from St. Athanasius of Alexandria, which has been used umpteen times to explains the doctrine of “theosis:” “The Son of God became man, that we might become God.”

Athanasius did not mean by this that it is possible for created beings to become God, or even part of God, but through the power of the Holy Spirit breathing in us we can know what it means to be fully human and inhabit our creaturely status as the created image of God.

In other words, “theosis” is not “essence” or “being” language, but relational and participatory language. The Orthodox Study Bible provides a theological clarification to the “theosis” doctrine of “deification:”

“What deification is not: When the Church calls us to pursue godliness, to be more like God, this does not mean that human beings then become divine. We do not become like God in His nature. That would not only be heresy, it would be impossible. For we are human, always have been human, and always will be human. We cannot take on the nature of God.

“Theosis” means humans get to participate in the life and love of God, not ontologically but relationally. We aren’t mimicking what Jesus did, but actually living his resurrection life with him. Human beings are creatures who share the Creator’s life. This is what it mean to “become god” for Eastern orthodoxy, or what it means to “be perfect” for holiness theology.

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Discussions about faith often remind me of a piece by Barth early in his Dogmatics in Outline. Dogmatics in Outline is a small baby paperback in comparison to the voluminous Church Dogmatics. Here Barth follows the structure of the Apostle’s Creed where he begins by identifying three determinations of faith: trust, knowledge and confession. These are not “facets” mind you, but faith fully revealed and integrated in a perichoretic manner.

Whenever I teach about faith, I use Mary as a concrete example as reflected in Luke 1:26-56. Mary, quite literally, embodies faith through the Holy Spirit’s conception, the angel’s message, and her own song in response to her pregnancy.

As is typical of Barth in the Church Dogmatics, he begins each chapter with a short summary of what he is about to explain. I will start with each of those summaries here as I describe the three determinations of faith. Note that Barth appeals to freedom as a fundamental characteristic each time in a way that ties it all together. (He has often been called the “Theologian of Freedom”.) (more…)

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(For context, see “Are You My Mother?” and “The Visible Word”.)

Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

As a kid who grew up aspiring to be an astronomer with a conservative Evangelical background that emphasized creationism over evolution, I couldn’t see this passage any other way. These verses had one theological purpose to emphasize whatever scientific explanations may exist about Big Bang or other alternatives: God did it! Plain and simple. These verses were about how God created the Universe.

So I was a bit surprised a few years ago when a speaker used this and the first chapter of John as his starting point to talk about art. His goal in conversation with Evangelicals who are used to emphasizing “Word” over “Light” was that the two were not just congruent, but intimately related. Here I was seeing the artistic equivalent unfold to what I knew already from Thomas Torrance’s teachings about science. (more…)

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In Section 25 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, we looked at the fulfillment of the knowledge of God. In Section 26, Barth delved into what it means for God to be knowable. Now in Section 27, Barth discusses the limits of that knowledge–namely where it begins and ends. He seemingly starts by reiterating where we left off in the previous sections:

“God is known only by God. We do not know Him, then, in virtue of the views and concepts with which in faith we attempt to respond to His revelation. But we also do not know Him without making use of His permission and obeying His command to undertake this attempt. The success of this undertaking, and therefore the veracity of our human knowledge of God, consists in the fact that our viewing and conceiving is adopted and determined to participation in the truth of God by God Himself in grace.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p.179)

While this opening remark is well rooted in the discussions of God’s revelation being a gift of His grace, Barth’s develops each word as part of an even more well defined picture. Barth confirms that the starting and ending points must be contained within God, but he also intends to show how it is that we can know anything about God on this basis. (more…)

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John 1:1-5
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Shedding Light on the Old, Old Story
Most people when starting a discussion about science and faith start with Genesis. That makes sense since it is a book about beginnings of Creation and culture. But John reinterprets all of that and then some. In five short sentences, he renews the whole story of Scripture.

We know from Genesis that God created by His own Word. “Light be. Light was.” From John, we learn that the Son of God was that Word. That Word created all things and has now “moved into the neighborhood” (The Message by Eugene Peterson). The Word is not just heard, HE is visibly and even tangibly revealed to us.

In Genesis, we also learn of the beginnings of humanity, sin and death. The Word has provided light for all people and now reveals Himself personally. He is Light that will not be extingished, but will overcome all darkness including our self-willed ignorance.

A Better Light to Read By
Dr. Carl Sagan begins his book Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark with the inscription of a Jewish proverb. “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” As the subtitle explicitly states, for Dr. Sagan, science is that savior that will overcome all means of ignorance including religion. (more…)

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In my third year of InterVarsity staff, the New York / New Jersey region required all new staff to finish their three-year training by developing a thesis of sorts. This study would then be the basis of a specialty for speaking to students on campus. Most picked typical themes for a general college audience such as multi-ethnicity, social justice, and gender roles. The work of my colleagues represented everything that made me proud to be part of InterVarsity.

Given my background in science, I thought it important to use my experience to further discussion of these issues. Dr. Sagan’s basic premise for critical thinking and how we learn was outlined in Demon Haunted World as being “wonder” and “skepticism”. This epistemolgy (how we know what is true) was deliberately meant to image “chance” and “necessity” as basic to his evolutionary understanding of science and the nature of the “Cosmos”.

Previously, I had read dozens of books across the spectrum of Christian understanding. It was a tortuous process in which I rejected view after view for various reasons. Finally, through this project, I would find a theologian who made sense of the science and faith chaos for me. But more on that in a moment… (more…)

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In Section 25 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, we looked at the fulfillment of the knowledge of God. Here in Section 26, Barth delves into what it means for God to be knowable.

“The possibility of the knowledge of God springs from God, in that He is Himself the truth and He gives Himself to man in His Word by the Holy Spirit to be known as the truth. It springs from man, in that, in the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, he becomes an object of the divine good-pleasure and therefore participates in the truth of God.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p.63)

In large part, his target is to discredit natural theology as a means to knowing God from every direction he can imagine. Barth will settle for nothing outside God’s own gracious self-revelation as the only means to knowing God. Later, we will see why he is so insistent on this stance, but for now we will review his argument at face value.

Without God, there is no revelation. It is an act of grace or good will toward humanity that he reveals Himself at all. There is no necessity that He do so, but He chooses to do so. (more…)

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Reading has long been important to me especially when it comes to theology. We need to see other views across various times and viewpoints to more fully appreciate the majesty of God. Unfortunately, time and motivation have come harder for me since my transition from InterVarsity which encouraged reading as part of the job. Even the ability to finish a thin book has been elusive.

So, of course, I jumped right in this Christmas by asking for an infamously voluminous set of theological tomes known as the Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth. The main content is in the first 13 volumes containing over 6 million words. There is also a 14th volume for a Scripture index to connect every reference to specific verses in the set. It’s often noted that he died while writing the last fragment of a volume. So, it was, indeed, intended to be even longer!

I have long appreciated the work of Barth, especially after reading Dogmatics in Outline which follows the structure of The Apostles’ Creed. He is also know for writing the Barmen Declaration which was written in opposition to liberal theologians who pledged support to Adolph Hitler. My more recent inspiration came from reading the blog “Storied Theology” by Daniel Kirk which reviews readings of the Church Dogmatics according to a schedule.

Last year, Kirk read through the first two volumes on “The Word of God”. I am jumping in on year two with volume II.1 about “The Doctrine of God”. The entire set is further structured into almost 75 sections. As you can see, I’m starting with Section 25 and will look to give a few highlights each time I finish one. Fortunately, you can start just about anywhere in Church Dogmatics as every part references the others in some way.

One of the great things about Barth’s writing generally is that he starts each section with a concentrated statement summarizing everything he is about to say. Section 25 begins as follow:

“The knowledge of God occurs in the fulfilment of the revelation of His Word by the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the reality and with the necessity of faith and its obedience. Its content is the existence of Him whom we must fear above all things because we may love Him above all things; who remains a mystery to us because He Himself has made Himself so clear and certain to us.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p.3)

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So let me introduce you to Perichoretic Theosis!

Early Christians wrestled to find language that would describe their experience of the triune God working in Christ through the Spirit. Quite often they would chose a word with weak meaning and fill it, or create an entirely new word.

One such word creation was “perichoresis” which quite literally means “to dance around”. Early theologians wished to convey that the Father and the Son and the Spirit not only embrace each other; but also enter into each other, permeate each other, and dwell in each other. One in being, and yet also eternally one in the intimacy of their relationship.

So what contribution does “theosis” add to the mix?

Greek Orthodox Christians use the word “theosis” to describe our spiritual pilgrimage. From the moment of baptism, the goal is to continually draw nearer to God throughout our lives participating in the life of the Spirit. This process is also sometimes referred to as “deification” in which we seek to become more holy and more “Christ-like” within Jesus Christ. In fact the word Christian means “little Christ”. A well known quote by St. Athanasius reflecting this belief is, “God became man so that we might become gods.”

Faith thinking changes all of life. My goal in writing is to discuss how this same creative intimacy is at work in our theology and daily life. God in Christ through the Spirit calls us (vocation) to join this same dance in an effort to transform our thinking and our lives. His dynamic One-ness creates fresh integrity to be in relationship with Himself, to know ourselves truly, to be at peace with our neighbors, and to understand more of the universe we inhabit beyond what we can see.

These are my reflections with the help of other theologians and guides as part of a collective journey to find signs and parables which tell of Grace and Peace in a land largely obscured by shadows. These are deeper meditations with the goal of holiness.

Please sit with me and add your own reflections along the way.

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