Friday, August 28, 2009

Towards a theology of violence, II (Genesis 4)

How swiftly violence comes.

Does anyone think it's accidental that Genesis 4, so soon after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, is dominated by the rapid moral descent of humanity unto the murder of one man by another? In the story of Cain and Abel it is the power of sin (Gen 4:7) quickly at work in the world, leading humanity towards death. And so in Gen 4:8 Cain becomes the first murderer, and in Gen 4:11 God's answer comes again as judgement and curse.

And yet, as is so curiously woven through Gen 1-11, judgement is always paired with mercy and grace, so that the wandered Cain is not in turn slain, in fact God provides provision (Gen 4:15) that if anyone takes vengeance upon Cain, they also shall come under judgement. It is, in this story, God who judges and he does not seem willing to allow others to usurp the right.

That is why the boasting of Lamech is part of this rapidly spiralling descent of humanity into sin. Lamech boasts in Gen 4:23 that he has slain a man in retaliation for striking him, that he has enacted his own judgement. Gen 4:24 reveals how badly Lamech has read the history of his family. For it was God who would avenge Cain seven-fold, but Lamech seems almost to have assumed to himself the vengeance seventy-sevenfold. Here there is no hint of the remorse of Gen 4:13-14, but a self-exaltation in the glory of his own power.

I think it is worth reflecting, even as Genesis 4 becomes a prototype of the violence to come, on John 8 and 1 John 3. In John 8:44 Jesus says that the devil was a murdered, a slayer-of-man, from the beginning. For the one opposed to God, the accuser, there is no greater victory than the slaying of humanity, for he is not ultimately on the side of human beings, but against the side of God. The death of sinners is his great joy, and his first act in biblical chronology is to lead humanity in Adam and Eve by lies into rebellion and unto death. 1 Jn 3:12 sees John bringing Cain back in, as a paradigm of the murderer. That John couples “he was of the evil one and murdered his brother” should not be surprising. Death is the victory of Satan, it is why he is the accuser, for death is also the punishment of God.

In my next post I will consider the sweep of Genesis more broadly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Towards a theology of violence, I (Genesis 1-3)

I'm beginning a series that I hope will become a biblical-theological reflection on the theme of violence, moving through the scriptures, and ending in reflection on the contemporary world.

In this post I treat Genesis 1-3.

Note first how the Garden is absent even the violence of meat-consumption, and is depicted in idyllic terms. Within the grand sweep of the Bible, Eden represents a real paradise, where humanity dwells at peace with itself and with God. The prohibition of Gen 2:17 introduces a note of discord, only explicable from a post-Fall perspective: how can Adam understand 'death' in a world at peace?

Death, indeed, is the alternative in Genesis 3, as the serpent pits a kind of theopoeisis against death as the result of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil. According to the serpent, to disobey God will in fact make one like God. This is over and against Gen 1:26-27 that humanity already is made in God's image, and that the eating of this fruit will lead to death.

God's response to the Fall is instructive, in that it is judgement (Gen 3:14-24). Death is rightly understood as judgement, and so our understanding of it must be similarly informed. Death is not natural, it is not merely a transition to the next world, it is not part of the circle of life. It is the judgement of God on rebellion. It is exile from paradise, of peace under God's reign in God's presence.

Looking forward, we diminish the significance of Christ's victory over death when we rate death too lightly. The death spoken of in Gen 1-3 should not merely be read as the temporary slumber of the physical body, but a holistic end of life. Its gravity cannot be under-stressed.

How does this relate to the theme of violence? I think it goes to the heart of what violence is: acts of harm that have a telos in death. We might speak about restrained violence, but the pulling of punches is still holding back a force aimed at death. The one who has embraced the practice of violence has already determined that the death of the other is preferable to the death of the self, or even some far lesser advantage. But peace, not violence, is the original state. Thus, Gen 1-3 should put paid to those theories of masculinity that seek to embed primal concepts of 'warrior' or 'hunter' into the nature of men. Human beings, and men in particular, were not created for violence, it is not an essentialist part of our existence, it is absent in the Garden.

I will have some more to say on death as judgement in posts to come.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Those crazy ideas

I had one of those crazy ideas yesterday. It went like this, "What if I just started borrowing and reading sequential volumes of Studia Patristica? That would give me an insight into the development of Patristic studies over the last 60 years!"

So I borrowed vol.1, see how long this lasts.

In other news, I've made my way through Chrysostom's first homily on John. As homilies go, these are short, but it took me maybe 8-14 man-hours. I'm hoping to speed up! I'm becoming good friends with my Logos software, Perseus look-up, LSJ and Lampe. My current plan is to fully translate about 10 to 15 of the homilies. I've been pleasantly surprised with how often I agreed with the NPNF translation. Anyway, once I tidy it up a little I'll post it under a creative-commons licence.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Road Ahead

[I know some of my congregation members drop by occasionally. I don't mean to alarm them, if that's you]

For some time now the plan has been to head to Mongolia in 2011, with the intention of working in theological education. That process is moving forward, and my wife and I are making some formal applications with a mission organisation to that end. I'm on-track to complete my MTh in 2010, and she should be studying theology for the year.

At this stage it's unclear what our employment and living situation will be. The past two years I've been employed part-time by our current church. Things like the GFC have put the funding for my position in jeopardy, and the decision for Rachel to study means I will be looking to move to full time to support us both. At present the prospects are uncertain.

- The church may find further external funding enabling me to take up a full-time position here
- At this stage we would consider taking a ministry position elsewhere, though this is complicated by our time-frame
- I will be considering part- or full- time non-ministry positions

That's where we are at. I'd appreciate your prayers in this matter (and some discretion) (I know this is the internet)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Study Progress

Just a short note to update on my study progress.
I've been informed that I passed my 3rd and final exam. Not quite as good as the 1st and 2nd exams, but still quite good.
Also, my thesis topic has been approved, and my supervisor is relatively happy with how things are shaping up.

This means it's full-steam ahead. I've started doing some translating of Chrysostom, you can expect a few pieces to turn up here in the near future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Patristics Carnival XXVI

Patristics Carnival XXVI

Here it is! Slightly overdue, but done nonetheless. I made a special effort to get around the blogosphere and find things that hadn't come through my inbox. I haven't made a real effort to sort things either (a reflection of my mental processes no doubt).

Over at Sitz im Leben we have a review of Gerald Bray's We Believe in One God (Ancient Christian Doctrine Series)

Catholic Champion Blog considers St Cyril of Jerusalem on the Eucharist, Athanasius' appeal to Rome, and Porphyry vs. Jerome on the Eucharist

Deidre Richardson, blogging on the Men and Women in the Church blog, considers Patristic comments on Phoebe, 1 Tim 3:8-11, and 1 Tim 5:3-13

David Waltz at Articuli Fidei tackles Irenaeus view of Scripture and Tradition

The Church of Jesus Christ blog offers some thoughts on Eusebius of Nicomedia's letter to Paulinus of Tyre, and the Letter of Alexander of Alexandria to all bishops.

Christian Cadre defends the reliance of 1 Clement on 1 Corinthians

Scriptorium Daily gives a heads-up on the two new IVP series Ancient Christian Doctrine and Ancient Christian Texts

Chad Brooks offers up a book review of God Knows There's Need: Christian Response to Poverty by Susan Holman

Triablogue considers Allen Brent's arguments regarding the authenticity of the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp

Doug Chaplin at clayboy considers impassibility of God

The irrepressible Roger Pearse continues to offer a banquet: Euthymius Zigabenus and the Pericope Adulterae (and its Patristic attestation), the fate of Judas, a bio of Latinus Latinius (1513-1593) A patristic scholar almost vanished to history, and many, many more.

Josh McManaway at Son of the Fathers reflects on The hermeneutical practices of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and their implication for Christology

Mike Aquilina of The Way of the Fathers contemplates Thomas Robinson's new book, Ignatius of Antioch and the Parting of the Ways: Early Jewish-Christian Relations, as well as a number of book-notices.

Dave Armstrong at Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, speaks on Augustine's acceptance of seven sacraments, Biblical evidence for the Patristic Analogy of Mary and the Ark.

James Pate of James' Thoughts and Musings compares Chrysostom to Jimmy Swaggart, as well as offering thoughts his relation to contemporary NT Scholarship, Athanasius and Calvin on Nocturnal emissions, Lactantius as a proto-Pelagian>, and whether Tertullian is (Semi-)Arian?

Edit, Not to be forgotten (though how I overlooked escapes my own self-reflection), Nick Norelli gives a review of Healing in the Early Church, as well as points us to the availability of Craig Blaising's thesis on Athanasius of Alexandria.

If I've made any dreadful omissions, please let me know and I will pop them up pronto. I believe Carnival XXVII will be back at hyperekperissou.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Recent Occurrences

It's been over 2 weeks since a post! I feel neglectful. Here is a short summary of recent goings-on.

I enjoyed a fabulous week at Macquarie Uni being introduced to papyrology, as well as reading through Euripides' Helen.

I put together and presented a short paper outlining my thesis proposal on John Chrysostom. The crux of my work is to examine his homilies on John for evidences of common pro-Nicene strategies, building on Lewis Ayres' work, and to consider what, if any, are the implications of that. I haven't got a lot of focus in my study habits since I finished the last exam. I really need to spend some time and plan out my work and get to it.

I've concluded a preaching series on John, after 5 months. I'm still trying to get the audio available, but will upload 14-21 when I can.

The wife and I enjoyed a lovely production of Shakespeare's Pericles at the Opera House.

I've been playing inordinate amounts of Mount and Blade. I started playing Total War: Empire, which is great. But then I played a demo of M&B and was hooked, and the modding community for it is excellent, so it is very addictive.

Lastly, this week my church is doing some visitation and handing out free copies of Luke.

I hope to sort through the Patristics Carnival data in a few days, still waiting for a second batch of material, and then it should be up.