Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Did the Father abandon the Son?

This is pursuant to a bible study group which met in my home tonight, and I came out with the outlandish statement that God didn't abandon Jesus on the cross.

Matthew 27:46 is regularly seen in some protestant circles as grounding a notion of the atonement in that Jesus suffered 'Hell' on the Cross, insofar as he experienced separation from God. Now, I'm pretty sure that's going beyond Mt 27:46, and Ps 22:1. I suspect it also catches on to a somewhat populist idea that Hell is 'Separation from God'. There does seem some warrant in that idea, the language of being 'cast outside', and the 'outer darkness', etc..

Jn 8:29 and the like, seem to me to indicate the abiding presence of the Father with the Son. In fact, I go so far to affirm the Patristic notion that at the Cross Jesus dies in his human nature, and his human nature is cut off from the favour and personal fellowship of the Father. The Son, in his divine nature cannot be separated from the Father.

Truly this is a mystery. Perhaps my outlandish statement was too outlandish though. Perhaps I should carefully qualify and articulate these statements.

[Edit: I think I'm continuing to be unclear. I think I want to affirm that the punishment Jesus endures involves separation in terms of fellowship and favour of the Father, but not 'presence', because God is omnipresent, neither 'ontological' separation - the Son cannot be separated from the Father because they are one Substance. Thus, when Jesus dies on the Cross, and dies in his human nature, the Divine Son experiences, mysteriously for the Living God, Death in his Human Nature for sin. Hope this clarification helps.]

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


If you haven't heard about EThOS, then that's a real shame. I carefully took note when the blogosphere started chatting about it a little while ago. EThOS is a service making open access to UK Doctoral Theses available. This is exactly the kind of open access higher research needs, lest all such knowledge get hopelessly locked away in a handful of libraries and never read by anyone except the markers. I just ordered a couple of theses to get scanned that should help my research immensely.

Imputation, John's Gospel, Studies

Went in to college for our semi-regular graduate students presentation seminar. Listened to some fine papers, including a particularly engaging paper defending the imputation of Christ's righteousness as both active and passive obedience. The paper came with an 81 page written version, which I look forward to reading. Particularly intriguing was the argument that Romans 5:18 is better translated the 'vindication of one man', rather than 'one righteous act', in accord with almost all historic translations and commentators, against most Moderns.

I have to prepare a paper on John's Gospel for an MA subject I'm auditing. My broad topic was narrative Christology, which has thrown up a huge range of questions: what is Christology? what is a genuine narrative Christology as opposed to theology embedded in narrative? does a strong thematic focus in the narrative justify an 'almost-title' designation (eg., 'lifegiver', 'sent one', in John)? A whole bunch of questions which I won't even get around to beginning to answer. I had a constructive chat with our lecturer today and narrowed down my topic to a more manageable subject,

Been reading a variety of blogs, articles, etc., critical of the whole academic system. I feel like there's a lot of strong weight to the argument that graduate studies, especially in the USA-style system, fosters an exploitive market of poorly-paid academic workers who earn PhD's and then have nowhere to go. I'm grateful that my own current situation is fairly low-cost to myself, which makes up for the minimalistic supervision and input I generally experience. It really is a solo-deal at the moment.

Lastly, I've got two months to get through hundreds and hundreds of pages. I'm determined not to push my final exam on patristic Trinitarian thought back past the end of June. So, some solid weeks of reading ahead, but I think it will be good. Then I'll be on to dissertation work in July.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Indices to Migne on Google

I was searching around today for a text of Didymus the Blind's De Trinitate (I'm thinking I might commence a translation into English. So far as I know there doesn't exist one. If it goes well, I might write a theological commentary on it too) and came across the following very helpful links:

An index to Google Scans of Migne's Greek Patrology
An index to Google Scans of Migne's Latin Patrology

There's a lot of great freely available source texts in their original languages now being made available online, half the problem is always just tracking things down. This might help a little. Great work.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gospel Stimulus Package

Recently the Australian Government gave most tax-payers (well, the process is still in progress), $900 as part of their Economic Stimulus Package. The basic idea is give some unexpected money to people and they will dutifully spend it as the contented materialist creatures they are.

But I live for Jesus. So my question was, how can I use this money to further Jesus' kingdom?

1. I gave some of the money to my local church. As missionaries for Jesus in our local area, we are the ones who need to fund local mission.

2. I gave some of the money to support a full-time supported Gospel worker. I know he needs money, and I know God is doing good work through him, so I spent some of the money on supplying his needs.

3. I funded translation work. The Scriptures are vital to the spread of Jesus' Kingdom, so I invested some of the money in the lasting legacy of Bible translation ministry.

4. I invested in myself. Instead of spending the money on more consumer gadgets, a nice time, etc., I set aside some of the money for theological resources for the years to come, to aid my own Gospel ministry, that I may be part of God's means to advance Jesus' kingdom.

I share this to challenge my fellow Aussies who love Christ - how can you use $900 to advance Jesus' kingdom?

Sermons, John 6 and John 7

Latest John sermons.
John 6
John 7

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thoughts on Patristic Exegesis and Trinitarian Debates

I still have a rather large slab of Augustine and Hilary to read, but I've now read a rather large amount of Patristic writing related to the Trinity. Here are some observations:

1. Proverbs 8:22 figures extremely large in debates with the Arians. A large part of this rests on the LXX. I think it's Gregory of Nyssa who at least raises the point that the Hebrew is 'acquired' and not 'made'. Nonetheless, the Father's extensive treatment of this verse shows how concerned they were to (a) defeat the Arians, (b) integrate the Scriptures, (c) develop hermeneutical principles that worked.

2. The hermeneutical key that emerges is primarily Christological, and involves referring anything that seems to lessen or diminish Christ to the Human Nature, and statements of equality to the Divine Nature. This principle also leads them to pay careful attention to the timing of reference of statements, and to refer some to the eternal relations of the persons, others to the economy of salvation.

In doing so, I'm convinced they're largely right. No one I know speaks, or writes, this way anymore. Probably, I believe, because of a fear of sounding Nestorian. Nonetheless, it's useless to claim to play by a Nicene/Chalcedonian ruleset, and then sideline the exegetical basis entirely. This, I suspect, is what gets some moderns in trouble.

Mt 24:26 remains a major problem for the Fathers, because the verse doesn't qualify 'the Son', and that is their major indicator for whether something should be qualified or not. In this I think they are too zealous for lexical precision. Just as I think they often get 'Son of God' wrong in meaning, and 'Son of Man' too.

Nonetheless, one has to grapple with death by 1000 paper-cuts - one cannot consistently sideline Patristic exegesis, and in each case maintain that the whole remains in-tact. If one whittles away all such supports, the structure will fail.

3) The Fathers work with a recursive methodology. Their conclusions about ousia, hypostaseis, the Trinity etc., all emerge from a careful reading of the Scriptures. There is no doubt in my mind that a careful and responsible reading of the NT leads to the conclusion that the Son is God, the Spirit is God, the Father is God, and the Father is not the Son, etc.. It's with that in mind that the Fathers move to theorising, as best they can, the relation of nature to person, and so developing principles like Athanasius', that the Father and Son share everything except what it is to be Father and to be Son. Then, it's the movement back to integrate seemingly troublesome scriptures into the theory that has been developed.

4) John's Gospel is indeed the trinitarian textbook for the Fathers. And rightly so.

5) Classic Trinitarian formulations stand the test of time.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Reader's Greek and Hebrew Bible, online!

John Dyer has done the internet a huge favour, by putting online a customisable 'Reader's' Bible in Greek and Hebrew. Check it out:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What's your job?

In our staff meetings lately we have been focusing on what is our mission as a team, and what are our individual jobs all about. This is a question that has plagued me since day one, as my job was always ill-defined, and I have had trouble both understanding, and explaining, what that job was. Furthermore, as our ministry team has grown and grown-together, my role has changed. Anyway, our team leader gave us all single-sentence descriptions of our jobs, as he saw them, and we discussed that. Here is my job (it will surprise some of you)

To facilitate the planting of gospel-centered communities across the parish

Now, let's be fair, this isn't what I signed up for. Nor, truly, does it give you any indication of what I currently do. It does, however, tell me what I should be doing.

Facilitate – My job has an external time constraint placed upon it by my wife and I's plans to go overseas (to Mongolia). Thus, I am not called, in any sense of the word, to be a church-planter. I simply don't have that long-term commitment to my local area and local communities. What I do have, is a set of skills that should enable others to do this kind of long-term, gospel ministry in our area. My job is to make that happen: to encourage, equip, inspire, train, push, mentor, lead, model, what it is to plant and pastor a gospel-centered community.

Across the parish – There is a fixed geographical specificity to my job. While this doesn't limit our gospel ministry, it does focus it. I am to think about the local area, its people, its communities, and how they may be reached, how gospel-centered communities may exist in this place.

Planting gospel-centered communities – The language of gospel-centered communities is something we have taken from Chester and Timmis' Total Church. We're committed to building small, missional, gospel-centered, communities! We want to see them grow, serve, proclaim, share, care deepen, and multiply.

The up-shot: the upshot is that I need to continually practice and model the life of a Christian, and a Christian leader at that. That involves me in evangelism, in service, in teaching, in pastoring, in accountability, in all those 'normal' aspects of Christian life. Beyond that, I need to encourage, inspire, teach, train, and equip leaders and planters of more gospel communities, which will continue to do the same, that we might see the spread of gospel communities across and beyond this parish, and the salvation of lost people through Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sermon, John 5

John 5 is a powerful text that testifies to the equality of Jesus with the Father.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Progress: Trinitarian thought

Tertullian, Adversus Praexean
Novatian, De Trinitate
Athanasius, De Synodis, Orationes contra Arianos I-III
Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, Selected Epistles
Gregory Naz., Orationes 27-31
Gregory Nys., Contra Eunomium, Ad Ablabium (Quod non sint tres dei)
Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate
Augustine, De Trinitate, Epistula XI, Quaestiones LXIX, Answer to Maximinus
John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa Liber I

Torrance, TF
Gunton, C
Barnes, M.R.
Ayres, L
Behr, J
Ormerod, N

a long way to go, but getting there

Adventures in bible reading...

I remember when I first became a Christian, I had a strong desire to read through the entire Bible. I just felt like that was something you should do. When non-Christians ask you whether you've read 'the whole book', you should be able to say, 'Yes', because you believe the book to be worth reading! So, I carved it up by genre into 7 types of literature, and read about 10 chapters a morning and 11 at night, till I was done.

Of course, times change, early zeal matures. There have been some really poor times of not-reading-scripture, and other times of real enthusiasm, since that first expedition many years ago.

This year I made a firm commitment to take up a bible-reading program. I started in December, to avoid any NY resolution-doomed-to-failure problems. It also helped to pick up the new ESV Study Bible, and now I'm locked into a bible-in-a-year schedule, which is about 4 chapters a day, and doubles through Psalms, Proverbs, Luke, and Isaiah.

I also made the commitment that I would read NT readings in Greek. That adds considerable time, but worthwhile time. It's now April, and I'm approaching the end of 1 Corinthians. Acts was a struggle. Luke, I confess, I skipped some Greek passages and read in English, partly because I was away on holidays and poorly organised, and I knew I would get a second shot. Jude came up in December, which I'm kind of not counting (I like Jan-Dec as a time-frame), and I found it too difficult to read fluently. Next time around I'll set Jude some time for proper working through.

My other discipline is to read a bit of commentary on the NT passage. Since I purchased the Baker series on Logos, that's been my helpful companion through the last couple of books. Sometimes I skim, sometimes I read in more depth (1 Cor 11 for instance).

I'm also trying to memorise verses in Greek this year. That is not too difficult in itself, it's the memorisation, not the Greek, that trips me up.

Those are my adventures. What are yours?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Loneliness of part time post grad

I've been working some long days lately. So I'm feeling quite tired. I'm also feeling a bit isolated and alone. I think this is partly the effect of my work-study balance, which eventuates in a lot of solo desk-time. Unlike the full-time grad student, I don't enjoy a full campus life. I rarely go in to my college, meet with my supervisor twice a year if I'm fortunate, and generally have very little interaction with students or faculty. I can't afford the time or money to get to any conferences. So the 2.5 days I allocate to study get spent with me at a desk working away at close readings of dead authors, with little summative expression.

In the nominal 3.5 days I work for my church, I set aside 8 hours for sermon preparation. I realise this isn't a particularly large number, but likewise, it also raises my private intellectual work hours up another full day. So basically I spent 3.5 working days at home, studying. Much of the rest of my time gets consumed in good things – running small group, sunday church service, ministry at the local juvenile detention centre. All good, all relational. But I still feel the weight of most of my week spent at home, at a desk, in front of a screen, producing little, communicating little, appreciated for it little (I mean, who is really pleased that I'm here mastering Patristic Trinitarian Theology?).

Anyway, this rant is not really going anywhere. So I'll end it now. Back to Augustine....