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Ignatius of Loyola: A Life of Obedience

By Corey Latta

St. Ignatius of Loyola, author of The Spiritual Exercises and founder of “The Society of Jesus,” also known as the Jesuits, a spiritual society devoted to the piety propagation of the Christian faith, speaks into Christian history with clarion voice for the sake of obedience to Christ. The sixteenth-century Saint’s message of obedience proceeded from a life fleshed by vowed devotion to poverty and service to others for the sake of the Gospel. To the modern reader, Ignatius, like so many Christian history shapers, might seem unreachable. The story of Christian history is filled with these characters, heroes easy to admire but impossible to imitate. Ignatius is a man who had a vision in which the Father Himself directly requested that he be a servant to Christ, after all, and a true virtuoso in prayer, spiritual meditation, and theological thought. This is a Believer whose life consisted of extreme deprivation for the sake of sanctification, one willing to lose this world to gain the next, letting his body be famished for his spirit to be full, his fleshly desires broken so his will be perfected.

In my reading Ignatius, I found not a hagiographic caricature of Christian piety, but the impassioned pleas of a man convicted of total surrender to Christ. Confronted with a blatant obedience desperately needed in this age, the church is reminded by Ignatius of the high cost of holy living. And at the point where the Saint seems so out of reach—his complete obedience to God—we find a nexus where invitation and challenge coexist, where we can relearn some lasting ideas about living the Lordship of Jesus. Modern readers of Ignatius’s writing, especially his 1553 letter to the Jesuits in Portugal called “On Perfect Obedience,” find an invitation to surrendered devotion to Christ and the latent challenges therewith. In “On Perfect Obedience,” Ignatius reissues the call for the proper obedient disposition of God’s people to His will then proceeds to argue for the totality of obedience in the Christian life.

To see obedience as anything less than a consummation of the whole self, both understanding and will, is to do violence against one’s self.
While other desirable virtues and spiritual gifts remain of import, Ignatius argues that “it is in obedience, more than in any other virtue, that God our Lord gives me the desire to see you signalize yourselves.” Obedience “signalizes,” makes conspicuously defined, the Christian not only by creating uninterrupted fellowship between God and man but, and on this point Ignatius quotes Saint Gregory, also by planting and preserving all virtue says in the mind. Obedience cultivates the self so that it might be positioned appropriately to God, and as Ignatius appeals to his Jesuit audience, rightly positioning the self in relation to God is the necessary and endemic nature of the Christian.

If Christians, “as in the celestial bodies,” are to move in harmonious relationship with God, if believers are “to receive movement and influence from the higher,” Ignatius explains, then they “must be subject and subordinate. . . as takes place in obedience, the one that is moved must be subject and subordinated to the one by which he is moved.” This is the whole of the Christian life, to constellate every virtue, act of the will, and remaining sin under the authority of God.

Obedience works in process, Ignatius contends. It is the mind’s understanding as well as the will that must submit, for “without this obedience of the understanding it is impossible that the obedience of will and execution be what they should be.” The mind loves God best in submission to Him, and the will serves God best when following the submitted mind. To see obedience as anything less than a consummation of the whole self, both understanding and will, is to do violence against one’s self. Ignatius would have true obedience from his readers so that “love and cheerfulness” abound. For reader of Ignatius, invitation and challenge meet in an obedience from which love for God and cheerfulness in His will flourish.

Ignatius pushed obedience as the heart of the gospel. In obedience, the Christian church could take the reign and rule of God into the world, and as people convert to God’s loving will, the glory of “Christ, the highest wisdom, immeasurable goodness, and infinite charity” spreads.

Ignatius’s message remains clear. The promotion of the gospel is the promotion of active obedience. The consolation of the gospel is the acceptance of an obedient life. And the promise of the gospel is the assurance of obedience’s continual guidance into the supreme will of God: “And because you are certain that you have set upon your own shoulders this yoke of obedience for the love of God, submitting yourself to the will of the superior in order to be more conformable to the divine will, be assured that His most faithful charity will ever direct you by the means you yourselves have chosen.”

Image: Ignatius of Loyola accessed at stmarymagdalen.org

The Humanity of Jesus: A Response to Brandon Ambrosino

By Gary Yates

Like other evangelicals, I appreciate the candor and forthrightness of Brandon Ambrosino’s article “The Best Christian Argument for Marriage Equality Is That the Bible Got It Wrong” in recognizing the problems with revisionist arguments that the Bible condones or affirms same-sex relationships. He further recognizes the unlikelihood that Jesus as a first-century Jew would have approved of such relationships, but he also argues that Jesus’ commitment to male-female complementarity is not binding on followers of Jesus today, because “Jesus’ knowledge is limited to what was knowable in the first century.”

The purpose of this response is to specifically address whether Ambrosino’s understanding of the limitations of Jesus’ knowledge fits within an orthodox view of the humanity of Jesus, as he has suggested. I am not writing this response as a personal attack on Brandon and felt compelled to respond in part because of some of the less-than-kind responses I saw in social media yesterday. I do not know Brandon personally, but have had some interaction with him as a student at Liberty, and I hope my response reflects a proper sense of grace and humility, in spite of the fact that I strongly disagree with his conclusions concerning the nature of Christ’s humanity. I am far more concerned with the issues raised in the article of how we view Jesus and respond to his teachings and will not be treating the larger issues relating to the biblical teaching on same-sex relationships that are found elsewhere.

The Gospels present a Jesus, who even with his human limitations, possesses knowledge that is at least superhuman in some cases and that is clearly supernatural in others.
Ambrosino is certainly on the right track in asking his readers to reflect on the implications of a human Jesus who learned and processed new information like any other human as he progressed from infancy to adulthood. Luke 2:40 states that Jesus “grew in wisdom” like any other human being. In his book Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, Chris Wright makes the point that Jesus’ reading of the Hebrew Bible informed his understanding as a human of his mission and calling.

It is another thing entirely, however, to then make the argument that Ambrosino does that “Jesus’ knowledge is limited to what was knowable in the first century.” Ambrosino qualifies his own statement when he writes, “Jesus is, in many senses, limited by the first century.” His lack of precision here raises the issue whether he believes Jesus is fully limited to what was knowable in the first century or if he is only “limited in many senses.” If he is arguing the former, his argument is problematic for an orthodox view of Christ. If Jesus as the perfect and unfallen human did not progress in his understanding of the world around him beyond that of his contemporaries, he certainly made poor use of his unfallen intellectual capacities. If Jesus did not progress beyond first-century understandings of a culture living under the noetic effects of the Fall, then it also seems difficult to merely believe that Jesus was just a guy “who was wrong about stuff.” This view of the humanity of Jesus seems to require one to believe that Jesus also held to beliefs, practices, and prejudices that were sinful and evil in the eyes of the Creator.

The Gospels clearly reveal a human Jesus whose knowledge had certain limitations. In the Incarnation, the Son of God surrendered the independent use of his divine attribute of omniscience, and thus he states that “only the Father in heaven knows the hour of his return” at the second coming (Matt 24:34). Nevertheless, the fact that Jesus had limited knowledge concerning the timing of the second coming does not mean that the other information he reveals concerning eschatological events is invalid, and it is wrong to infer from Matt 24:34 that Jesus was “horribly mistaken about the end of the world” or that Jesus’ predictions concerning the end-time events constitute an example of “failed prophecy.” Why would failure to know the exact timing of an event invalidate the entire prophecy?

If Ambrosino is arguing that Jesus was “horribly mistaken” because of the way in which he conflated events from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE with his second coming, then he would have to say the same about virtually all eschatological prophecies found in the Scriptures that combine near and far events in precisely the same manner as Jesus did. The fact that Jesus views Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” as yet future despite its connections to what had happened historically with Antiochus and the Jews in the second-century BCE suggests that he would intend his prophecy of future events to be read in the same way. Or, one could simply argue for a more figurative understanding of the prophecies in Matthew 24, which also would not require one to conclude that Jesus’ prophecies were false or mistaken.

The implications of Ambrosino’s argument that one can hold to an orthodox view of Christ and believe that “Jesus was a guy who got stuff wrong” are far more serious and complex than he reflects in his article.
The Gospels present a different portrait of the human Jesus than the one offered by Ambrosino. They present a Jesus, who even with his human limitations, possesses knowledge that is at least superhuman in some cases and that is clearly supernatural in others. Already at the age of twelve, he has knowledge of the Scriptures that confounds the religious authorities, and he has a deeper understanding of his mission, calling, and unique relationship with God than do his parents. He has knowledge of the thoughts, intentions, and motives of the individuals he interacts with at times that clearly goes beyond psychological insight (cf. Mark 2:8; 10:52; Luke 5:22; John 1:4-49; 2:24-25).

As others have noted, the use of questions, such as “Who touched me?” does not necessarily entail a lack of knowledge (cf. Gen 3:9). Jesus accurately predicts his rejection, the defection of his disciples including Peter’s three denials, his death, resurrection, the destruction of Jerusalem, and his second coming. At the very least, he speaks with the revelatory insight of a true prophet. The clearest indication that Jesus was much more than a product of his first-century environment was how his view of his mission as Israel’s messiah radically conflicted with contemporary expectations. If the Gospel witness is true, then Jesus combined the roles of Davidic messiah, Isaiah’s suffering servant, and Daniel’s heavenly “son of man” in ways that were unique in perspective and novel for his day.

Even viewing Jesus as an inspired prophet creates significant problems for the argument that Jesus’ affirmation of “male-female pattern of coupling as the proper domestic arrangement” or his likely agreement “with the Levitical assessment of homosexuality as a sin” is merely the product of being first-century Jewish male. As Robert Gagnon has already noted:

Contrary to what Ambrosino suggests, Jesus’ position on the male-female matrix for marriage was not an offhand comment or an undigested morsel of his first-century Jewish cultural environment. Nor did Jesus view the matter as ancillary to Christian faith. He treated this as part of the foundation of creation upon which all sexual ethics is based. He predicated on the God-intentioned duality and complementarity of the sexes a principle about number: There should be a duality of number in the sexual union matching the duality of the sexes required for that union. In other words, the twoness of the sexes in creation, obviously designed for sexual union, is a self-evident indication of the Creator’s will for the twoness of the sexual bond.

If Jesus as God’s supremely-anointed spokesman simply defaulted to a first-century Jewish understanding when teaching on something as vitally important as the marriage relationship, then it raises serious questions about his credibility as both prophet and son of God. Ambrosino himself acknowledges that Jesus challenged current Jewish thinking regarding lust, adultery, and divorce, but perhaps Jesus simply did not go far enough in jettisoning his first-century worldview.

Should we view his teaching on adultery as antiquated because it was based on the belief that the woman was the property of her husband or should we abandon insistence on the duality of the marriage relationship because it was based upon the literalistic reading of the story of Adam and Eve that prevailed in Jesus’ day? What other issues related to Christian life and practice that the teaching of Jesus bears on should be subjected to the same type of scrutiny? If Jesus’ practice of casting out demons was merely the product of a pre-modern understanding of physical and mental illness, does it invalidate the gospel message that Jesus came to destroy the power of Satan and evil? To what extent do antiquated Jewish views of blood sacrifice and atonement influence Jesus’ understanding of his death as a “ransom for many”? These questions are not easily answered, but the implications of Ambrosino’s argument that one can hold to an orthodox view of Christ and believe that “Jesus was a guy who got stuff wrong” are far more serious and complex than he reflects in his article.

A significant piece of Ambrosino’s argument is that he equates Jesus’ teaching on male-female complementarity in marriage with his affirmation of Mosaic authorship of the Torah, which is problematic for several reasons. He engages in a bit of “chronological snobbery” in thinking that the non-or post-Mosaic materials in the Torah that are so evident to us courtesy of critical biblical scholarship would not have at least raised questions for even a first-century thinking individual like Jesus who was not simply constrained by tradition in his beliefs. If Jesus could quote Deuteronomy three times when under the duress of temptation from Satan in the wilderness, he might have at least pondered once or twice how Moses could speak of Israel having a king (Gen 36:31) or why Moses wrote the account of his own death in Deuteronomy 34. If I can figure it out and Brandon can figure it out, then I expect that Jesus was intelligent enough to do the same.

The larger issue is that what Jesus means by attributing the law to Moses is a complex issue. As Ambrosino acknowledges, Jesus’ references “to the Torah with the shorthand ‘Moses’ is hardly proof-positive that Jesus was wrong about the books’ provenance (many scholars refer to the books metonymically).” Was Jesus merely using a form of citation or was he accommodating himself to current Jewish belief? Was Jesus saying that Moses wrote every word and verse in the Torah, or was he attributing Mosaic authority to the whole of the Torah? Ambrosino is correct to argue that a literalistic reading of the words of Jesus as proof that Moses wrote every word of the Torah is wrong, but incorrect inferences from the words of Jesus do not mean that Jesus himself was wrong. Even with prophetic updating, revision, or expansion of an original core of Mosaic material (or a core of material originally attributed to Moses), there is nothing untruthful or misguided in Jesus attributing the law to Moses. Ambrosino’s argument that this proves Jesus “got stuff wrong” goes beyond what is really here.

Finally, Ambrosino’s argument that Jesus’ incorrect attribution of the law to Moses because of first-century Jewish beliefs makes it likely Jesus was also wrong in affirming Jewish beliefs in male-female complementarity as normative for marriage fails because it compares apples and oranges. Ambrosino’s argument rests upon the same rather simplistic understanding of what is meant by “inerrancy” as the literalists he seeks to refute. Even if conceding the possibility or likelihood that Jesus believed that Moses wrote all of the Torah, the attribution of authorship is simply not the same kind of truth claim as the normative teaching of Jesus on marriage. In their 2013 work, The Lost World of Scripture, John Walton and Brent Sandy have advanced the discussion of biblical inerrancy by distinguishing between “locution” and “illocution” in biblical texts:

The communicator uses locutions (words, sentences, rhetorical questions, genres) to embody an illocution (the intention to do something with those locutions—bless, promise, instruct, assert) with a perlocution that anticipates a certain response from the audience (obedience, trust, belief). (p. 41)

Further, Walton and Sandy argue that doctrinal affirmations of inspiration and inerrancy attach to the illocution of the text and what is intended by the communicative act rather than requiring the truthfulness of every locution in the text. Whether the mustard seed really is the smallest seed is irrelevant to the truthfulness of the illocution concerning the kingdom of God conveyed by Jesus’ words about the mustard seed. Similarly, the locution of attributing authorship to Moses could be a culturally-bound perspective, but the illocution of ascribing prophetic and divine authority to the Torah is truthful and inspired.

Whether one agrees with every aspect of this view of inerrancy or not or whether one believes that a human Jesus could have believed that something was untrue or not, this explanation helps in part to demonstrate the problem with Ambrosino’s argument. One cannot simply equate an attribution of authorship in one text with normative teaching on marriage in another text. In both cases, the illocution of what Jesus proclaims (prophetic authority of the Torah and male-female complementarity in marriage) is truthful and authoritative for followers of Jesus. One can choose to believe that Jesus was wrong in one or both cases, but one cannot reject the teaching of Jesus in either instance within the boundaries of orthodoxy as easily or comfortably as Ambrosino suggests.

 

Image: Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Benedict of Nursia: Intentional Christian Community

By Joshua Herring

I dislike reactionary politics. The idea of withdrawal or throwing in the towel in a long conflict just does not sit well with me. So over the past three months, as I continued to run into references to Rob Dreher’s “Benedict Option,” I mistakenly thought Dreher was advocating intellectual, cultural, and moral retreat from an increasingly post-Christian world. When I read his argument more closely, however, I realized that my mental picture of his construct (Christians huddling in a commune somewhere in Idaho) was wrong.

Far from urging Christians to cease engaging the world, Dreher contends that the Christian life was always meant to be lived communally, a model of community hampered by the current cultural moment. Rather than give up cultural engagement, Dreher argues this conflict should force Christians to be more intentional about living near each other and seeking intellectual, spiritual, emotional Christian fellowship, thus bearing out the “one another” commands of Christian love sprinkled liberally throughout the New Testament.

The Benedictine Rule established the way of life for the monks. It demanded three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. It called for a life mixing work with prayer, and oriented the brethren towards gospel service.
Dreher’s inspiration is Benedict of Nursia, with the “Benedict Option” label evoking visions of the fifth-century father of Western monasticism. Born in the later days of the fifth century anno Domini, Benedict grew to maturity in a chaotic world. The Pax Romana had collapsed, replaced by shifting geographies, marauding barbarians, and unstable economies. Augustine had already written The City of God in response to the barbarians’ attack on Rome, wrestling with the question of Christian identity in a world where the Eternal City proved temporary. Benedict, facing the decadence of Rome, retreated to the hills.

He was not unique in that response; the third century witnessed a movement of monastic retreat in the deserts of Egypt. Called anchorites, the Desert Fathers were notable for their solitary lifestyle. Depending on which sources one reads, these first hermits performed mighty miracles, wrestled with demons, and eventually discovered that they needed other Christian brethren with whom to live the Christian life. Pachomius is often credited as the earliest of cenobitic monks, those who sought to work out their faith in community.

Benedict himself did not remain alone long. In his cave just north of Rome, disciples found him and requested that he teach them the way of holy living. Legend says that Benedict first established a strict rule, so rigorous that his first disciples tried to poison him. When Benedict miraculously escaped death by poison, his disciples repented, and Benedict reworked the community’s rulebook, known today as The Rule of St. Benedict. The historical narrative picks up with Benedict’s founding of the monastery at Monte Cassino in 529 AD and instituting the first edition of his Rule.

The Benedictine Rule established the way of life for the monks. It demanded three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. It called for a life mixing work with prayer, and oriented the brethren towards gospel service.  The Rule describes the monastery as a “school of the Lord’s service.” These places were originally intended as locations of intense discipleship, with the Rule defining the process by which a brother might grow to spiritual maturity.

The three vows bound all brothers together in their common pursuit. Poverty insured that they would not be distracted by worldly wealth, but would instead pursue a treasure “where moth and rust do not destroy.” The vow of obedience taught the monks first to submit in humility to a superior, recognizing the truth of Romans 13 that all authority is from God. As the brothers obeyed, they learned to submit to the divine will. The vow of chastity kept all brothers oriented towards an eternal community. Rather than the concerns of wife and child, the monastic brother found his hope in the heavenly Jerusalem and communion of the saints ruled over by King Jesus.

Benedict concludes his Rule explaining that he intended these steps to be only a foundation leading to maturity, much like Paul’s exasperating voice reminding the Corinthians that he should be able to give them meat, but they can only drink milk! The Benedictine Rule is a carefully planned route to practical discipleship lived together in community.

In that sense, Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is unoriginal. He joins a host of recent authors who see American Christianity as anemic and in need of discipleship. David Platt argues that Evangelical Christianity is distracted by wealth, and his book Radical describes a group of church members in Birmingham, Alabama, who sold their homes to move into the inner city and bring the gospel to the poorest inhabitants. Jamie Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom concludes with an examination of the oddly unchristian notion of college students separated from Christian community, and he proposes instead a Christian understanding of college where students and professors live in the town, seeking to live the gospel together in the midst of a watching secular community. Willow Creek Community Church sparked a small group movement across Evangelical churches with their phrase “Doing Life Together.”

Dreher himself proposes an ancient model of discipleship writ large across American Christianity in which Christians live near each other and provide solidarity as biblical convictions become less and less popular. These communities would not be monastic houses, severed from wife and child, but neighborhoods where church members live near the church. Oddly enough, this solution would also address many of the criticisms of disconnected modernity (Wendell Berry, Neil Postman, et al). It does not, as I once thought, call for Christians to ignore culture or try to escape from it. Instead, both Benedict and Dreher recognize that Christianity cannot be lived alone, and they call Christians to value the kingdom of Christ in exile (the church) more than material success.

What might this look like in practice? I think it could be very simple. Perhaps instead of taking a new job far away, one family determines to remain in a town and faithfully worship at their church. As financial opportunity permits, church members seek to live closer together. Geographic proximity to church community becomes a primary factor rather than house value, school location, commute time, and other practical concerns.

St. Benedict worked out a discipleship model which changed the course of western civilization. By calling men to live out their faith corporately inside a structured framework, education, literacy, and the Christian tradition survived the collapse of Rome and growth of European nations. As American culture becomes increasingly hostile to Christian values, Benedict provides a model for considering the essentials of our faith and the importance of living it out together.

Image: Saint Benedict, fresco by Fra Angelico, retrieved from Wikipedia.org

Irenaeus of Lyons: A Guide for Staying the Course

By Marybeth Davis Baggett

Early Christian thinkers carved out the contours of the faith—formulating doctrine, countering heresy, navigating differences between Eastern and Western traditions. For this, the church will ever be in their debt, owing much to their courage of conviction, fortitude of character, clarity of mind, and passion for truth. Irenaeus of Lyons, whose feast day is today, is one such figure.

Known as the “first great Catholic theologian,” Irenaeus traced his spiritual lineage directly back to the Apostle John, through Polycarp of Smyrna, under whose tutelage he sat as a child. This heritage uniquely poised Irenaeus for combatting the Gnosticism of his day, in that he could draw from both scripture and apostolic authority to delineate the essentials of the Christian faith. Irenaeus’ seminal work in this vein is Against Heresies, a masterful text consisting of five books that articulate Christianity’s basic doctrines, a proto-Mere Christianity if you will.

For two millennia the creed has been an anchor keeping us moored to the word and the Word
Gnosticism, the predominant heresy of the 2nd century church, promoted dualism, a doctrine wherein the material world was created and governed by the demiurge—a lesser creative being whom the Gnostics equated with Yahweh of the Old Testament—and Christ, as a representative from the spirit world governed by the supreme deity, offers human beings secret knowledge (gnosis) that makes possible man’s redemption. Contra Christian teaching, the Gnostics looked less to salvation from sin than to deliverance from the ignorance of which sin is a consequence. Against the Gnostics’ claim of exclusive knowledge about spiritual matters, Irenaeus proclaimed the universal availability of the gospel message; the good news is for all, and this good news runs throughout the whole of God’s special revelation.

In addition to Against Heresies, only one other of Irenaeus’ writings survives: The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, a short work addressed to his friend Marcianus which serves as a primer to and an apologetic for the baptismal confession and Rule of Faith, forerunners to the Apostles’ Creed. The essay also establishes an important link between the Old Testament (OT) and the work of Christ, enumerating the many OT prophecies fulfilled by Christ and offering a holistic interpretation of both the Old and soon-to-be-established New Testament. For Irenaeus, God’s redemptive plan governs the entirety of scripture, a dominant theme in both of his extant works.

As J. Armitage Robinson has noted, “The wonder of Irenaeus is the largeness of his outlook. No theologian had arisen since St. Paul and St. John who had grasped so much of the purpose of God for His world.” In explaining and defending the Apostolic message, Irenaeus traces God’s salvific purpose through scripture—revealing the organic connections between Christianity and its Jewish heritage, the fall of Adam and the resurrection of Jesus, the giving of the Law and the offer of grace, creation and the eschaton, along the way fitting key biblical figures within that story.

The aforementioned Rule of Faith, which functioned so centrally in The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, affirms belief “in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race.”

A slightly different version, the Old Roman Creed, reads as follows:

I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,
Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead,
ascended to heaven,
sits at the right hand of the Father,
whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;
and in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh
(the life everlasting).

For 2,000 years Christians have joined this refrain, week after week adding their voices, reaffirming its life-giving truths. For two millennia the creed has been an anchor keeping us moored to the word and the Word.

In this world of change and flux, and amidst the vicissitudes, variables, and vagaries of life, so invariant a creed has remained a constant, a stable shore at the edge of a sea’s worth of maelstroms featuring the howling winds and shifting sands of unsound doctrines. Such seems Irenaeus’ motivation for explaining and defending it so many years ago, as he admonishes Marcianus: “Wherefore it is needful for you and for all who care for their own salvation to make your course unswerving, firm and sure by means of faith, that you falter not, nor be retarded and detained in material desires, nor turn aside and wander from the right.”

Perhaps at such a time as this, in the hour in which we find ourselves, when the church feels under siege from multiple directions, various of its classical commitments disparaged and impugned by some, castigated as outdated and archaic by others, Irenaeus serves as a powerful reminder to walk in the way of righteousness, stand on the bedrock of orthodoxy, keeping our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, focusing on what can draw us together as believers rather than on what so easily divides, and, most importantly of all, encouraging fidelity to Christ and faithfulness to His mission amidst the deafening din of a cacophony of voices as we serve the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Image: Irenaeus, earliestchristianity.wordpress.com

Invoking Truth: Lev Grossman’s Magicians Trilogy

By Josh Herring

“Sing Muse, Achilles’ Rage, black and murderous” (The Iliad, line 1).
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns” (The Odyssey, line 1).
“I begin my song with the Heliconian Muses” (Theogony, line 1).

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]omer and Hesiod both began their greatest works invoking a higher power beyond themselves. Rather than seeking to portray something new, the ancients followed the convention that their stories were inspired by Muses and as such partook of the mythic truth overseen by the goddesses. While modern authors rarely invoke deities to begin their novels, the best authors infuse their stories with truth transcending time and space. Lev Grossman is such an author.

Defying genre boundaries in his Magicians trilogy, Grossman’s writing reflects a clear knowledge of literary structure, devices, and intertextuality. It meets all of Tolkien’s criteria for a true work of fantasy: magic is taken seriously, it is set within a believable non-technological secondary world, and it has the “consolation of a happy ending.” The Magicians trilogy could also be taken as a coming-of-age story portraying the journey of a Millennial (Quentin Coldwater) as he grapples with dreams smashed against the harsh post-collegiate world.

While Grossman told a fan that he did not spend much time concerned with religious questions, his novels reflect several key components of Christian theology: the Imago Dei separating man from the rest of creation, the necessity of divine death to resurrect life, and the fallen nature of the world. Just as Homer and Hesiod may not have believed in the Muses yet by invoking them raised a mythos on which their narratives rested, so Grossman invites the possibility of his novels fitting in the Lewis, Tolkien, and Waugh tradition of infusing his fictional world with Christian truth.

Grossman’s magic system corresponds with the Christian concept of the Imago Dei, man created in the image of God. Magic in this world is an endlessly inventive capacity possessed by some who spend a lifetime exploring its potential. As an inherent quality, magic must be developed, and it reaches its fullest expression in new creation. Magic is that part of humanity which aspires to divinity, and livens up a seemingly meaningless world. For those characters who have this quality but have not yet discovered it, reality is a drab, dull place.

These novels are excellently written, and unwittingly provide illustrations of profound truths. The world is a painful place, forcing the innocent to grow wise. Redemption does not come from personal righteousness, but requires the death of God.
Magic endows the world with meaning, and gives magicians a role as stewards of this great power. In Genesis YHWH creates man and gifts him with kingly authority, lordship over all creation. The world is his to work because he alone has the breath of life, the divine spark God breathed into Adam. Longing for beauty, truth, and goodness are all components of this Imago Dei, and Grossman illustrates the necessity of cultivating humanity through the use of magic. Through magic, his protagonist temporarily rises to the divine in the final book.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Magician’s Land chronicles Quentin’s discovery of a spell of world creation, and concludes in his successfully creating his own land. Before this scene (which functions as an epilogue), Quentin participates in the cruciform conclusion of the trilogy. Michael Gorman coined the term “cruciform” to describe the cross-shaped, sacrifice-oriented way of life Christians should have as they await the eschaton. Cruciform seems the best way to describe the end of The Magicians’ Land. Fillory has a single god who inhabits two rams—Ember and Umber (a di-unity?)—and to save Fillory from self-destruction, the god must die. Only in divine blood can resurrection occur for the dying land.

Thus far, Grossman draws on Christian and Norse tradition, but he pulls from C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra for the finale. In Perelandra the Edenic temptation is reenacted, but Ransom kills the devil-figure, removing the temptation before another Fall can occur. In The Magician’s Land, Grossman explores what might have happened if Jesus (the sacrificial Lamb) had reached the Garden of Gethsemane and been too cowardly to die.

Ember the Ram-God waits for Quentin to arrive, knowing his death is necessary that Fillory must live. At the last moment, however, Ember struggles seeking to prolong His life. In contrast, Umber meekly submits to the sword. In the death of two rams, Fillory is given rebirth. The divine nature and power pass to Quentin, and he recreates the world resembling the Genesis creation account (even concluding in rest).

In Christian theology, rebirth and resurrection are possible only through the death of God. In Christ’s death, sinful humanity’s debt is paid. Grossman does not continue in this vein; he does not have a resurrected savior-figure. He does, however, have a quasi-Trinitarian correspondence.

Where Christianity maintains that God is one and three (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), Grossman concludes the recreation of Fillory with a conversation between three characters each of whom have held some portion of divinity throughout the story. Julia appears, now three-quarters divine and queen of the Dryads. She corresponds to God the Father, explaining the overall story. Alice, the recently restored human who had been a demon for the previous book, corresponds to the Holy Spirit. Quentin corresponds to God the Son, who created and sustained all things. These correspondences are not exact, but they form an interesting parallel at the end of a creation scene. Fillory, however, is done with gods. The power of the gods leaves Quentin and will remain dormant for an age. In essence, Quentin remade the world in a Deistic fashion, winding it up and calibrating Fillory to run without divine supervision.

The final element Grossman illustrates is the Christian understanding of the world as fallen. These novels trace the development of Quentin as an adult, moving from naïveté to disenchantment to finding joy in an evil world. As a child, Quentin longed for the purity and goodness he found in the Fillory books. He thought his magic training would lead him to the place of happiness; as he grows in the first two books, he learns that both Earth and Fillory are complex, evil realms inhabited by broken people. Fillory has a dark side, composed of monsters, villains, and laws which reject Quentin. Earth has disappointments.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a way, Quentin resembles Odysseus, the “man of twists and turns” whose name translates as “son of suffering.” Out of suffering grows wisdom. From no other path can men grow to understanding, according to the Greeks. By the end of this trilogy, Quentin comes to believe that the world will always be fallen. His joy cannot come from escaping to a perfect, imaginary world like the Fillory of his eight-year-old imagination. Joy comes from struggling in the world, from human interactions. Joy is found in good food, excellent wine, and love worked out across years.

These novels are excellently written, and unwittingly provide illustrations of profound truths. The world is a painful place, forcing the innocent to grow wise. Redemption does not come from personal righteousness, but requires the death of God. Man is made bursting with potential, in the very image of God, yet few realize their potential.

While The Magicians trilogy highlights elements of Christian theology, it operates like half of a syllogism. Internally consistent, it neglects the hope Christianity offers. This broken world will be redeemed, recreated by the resurrected God who died for its sake. God died, but is not dead. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the proof of redemption. Fulfillment of the Imago Dei is found not in becoming God, but in submitting to God.

Grossman writes a brilliant story, filled with vivid characters. While not himself a Christian, he reached for Christian truths which uphold his narrative. His story is like a tapestry woven on the loom of undergirding truth; because of the strength of the supporting truths, his story is that much stronger. His characters are real, with dark consequences that spiral beyond expectations. Their motivations run deep, pointing to desire for love and significance at the root of human nature.

Image: “Map of Fillory” from levgrossman.com

Did God Really Command Genocide? Summary of Chapter 2: What Does It Mean to Say the Bible Is the Word of God?

Every Monday, we post a summary of a chapter from Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan’s Did God Really Command Genocide? This week’s summary is of chapter two; see previous summaries here.

By Mark Foreman

The question of this chapter is succinctly put: “How exactly do [Plantinga and Craig] and many other biblical theists understand the relationship between the divine and human authorship [of the Bible]?” Or what is the most promising way of understanding that relationship? F&C suggest a starting place is the appropriation model (hereafter AM) as expounded by William Lane Craig.

Craig’s version of the AM is closely related to his Molinism. His view is that an omniscient God knows what humans will freely do when placed in certain circumstances. So God knows that under certain circumstances I will freely choose to eat White Castle cheeseburgers. Should he create such circumstances, God will have brought it about that I would eat White Castle cheeseburgers without violating my free will. In the same way, God knows under what circumstances Paul would freely choose to write the book of Romans. By placing Paul under those circumstances, Paul will freely choose to write Romans, including the content, order, style, and vocabulary, yet God can convey the message he desires. Hence both divine and human authorship is responsible for the finished product.

What makes the writings in the Bible to be the Word of God and not some other writing (like this summary)? Could not one argue that God has providentially allowed me to write this summary? Why isn’t it the Word of God? F&C make clear that it is not God providentially bringing it about that makes a specific writing his word, “Rather it is that God in his providence appropriated the biblical text as his own speech, and he delegated the biblical authors to speak on his behalf—which may have included the possibility that Paul was prompted by the Holy Spirit to write.”

F&C now combine Craig’s AM with the Speech Act Theory (hereafter SAT) of Nicholas Wolterstorff. SAT holds that “speech is an action one performs.” There are three types of action one performs in speaking:

1. Locutionary act: Merely the uttering of sounds or transcribing of words as in “Go to bed.”

2. Illocutionay act: The action one does by way of performing the locutionary act: commanding a child to go to bed by saying the words, “Go to bed.” One can do many illocutionary acts: asserting, warning, arguing, promising, and threatening are examples.

3. Perlocutionary act: The action associated with the intention to being about some effect by way of the illocutionary act. My intention is for the child to go to bed, so I command him to do so.

According to F&C, Wolterstorff suggests that this distinction helps us to understand how God speaks through scripture: “To say ‘God Speaks’ is simply to say that God performs a particular illocutionary act. . . the speech acts he performs are authoritative: what he asserts we are to believe; what he commands we are to obey; and his promises are completely trustworthy.”

So how does God perform illocutionary acts through the writings of human authors? This can be answered through an understanding of Double Agency Discourse (hereafter DAD). This occurs when one person performs an illocutionary act through either (1) the locutionary act or (2) the illocutionary act of another person. An example of (1) would be a secretary who drafts a letter from her boss commanding the staff to attend a meeting and then he signs it. The locutionary act is performed by the secretary, but the boss performs an illocutionary act. The secretary does not have the authority to command, but the boss does. An example of (2) might be when an ambassador speaks on behalf of his government. He has been delegated the authority to speak for his government. In this sense the government is performing an illocutionary act thorough the illocutionary act of the ambassador. The ambassador is much more than just a secretary. He has real authority.

It is this idea of “delegated” or “deputized” speech that Wolterstorff suggests best fits the model of the prophetic and apostolic writings. An individual was commissioned by God to speak on his behalf. However, when it comes to the entire Bible as the Word of God for us today, he believes it is best understood as God’s appropriating various illocutionary acts as his own: “All that is necessary for the whole [Bible] to be God’s book is that the human discourse it contains have been appropriated by God as one single book, for God’s discourse.” F&C affirm:

This is what Craig means when he claims that Paul had been commissioned by God to preach and teach on behalf of Jesus to largely gentile communities. Hence, his writing to Rome was a form of delegated speech on God’s behalf. Later when these writings were incorporated into a single biblical canon, God was appropriating this book alongside various others as his speech.

This explains how one can affirm the Bible as God’s Word with God as the primary author without affirming that God dictated every word. It also explains how one can accept the Bible as God’s Word without claiming that God necessarily affirms exactly what the human author affirms.

With this in mind, Wolterstorff offers a “fundamental principle” for interpreting scripture and distinguishing what is appropriated discourse from what is not: “the interpreter takes the stance and content of my appropriating discourse to be that of your appropriating discourse, unless there is good reason to do otherwise.” So if Bob appropriates Bill’s words is such a way that based on evidence it is unlikely that Bill’s intentions are expressed, then Bob has probably not appropriated Bill’s words appropriately. This involves two steps when it comes to determining what God has appropriated from the human authors of scripture: (1) to work out what illocutionary act the human author performed when he authored the text and (2) to ascertain whether God was saying something different from the author in appropriating the text. To perform the second step one needs to take the Bible as a single literary unit as well as assume certain theological beliefs (God does not utter falsehoods, is morally good, etc. . .).

Wolterstorff suggests five ways in which the illocutionary act of the divine author might differ from that of the human author:

1. The rhetorical-conceptual structure of Scripture texts. Example: When the human author refers to himself as in Paul’s opening statement, “Paul, an apostle called of God,” or David’s claim, “Against thee I have sinned.”

2. The distinction between the point the human author affirms within the text and the way he is making the point. Example: Jesus’s affirmation that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds. He is not teaching a biology lesson, but a lesson about the kingdom of God. Inerrancy is about what the Bible intends to affirm.

3. If the human author is affirming something literally but the divine author is appropriating it in a nonliteral fashion. Example: Passages concerning marital love in Genesis 2:24 which Paul tells us (Eph. 5:21-23) refers to Christ and the church.

4. Transitive discourse: in performing one illocutionary action we are performing another. Human authors may be telling a story for one point, while God might intend it for a different point. Example: The parable of the Good Samaritan instructs how to love our neighbor.

5. Recognizing the difference between a general principle and its specific application. Old Testament command to place a parapet around roof (Deut. 22:8) is more than just about how to build safe roofs. There is a general principle of safety behind it that God intends to convey.

If biblical theists encounter a text in which the human author seems to attribute to God a command that they have good reason to think God would not command (given our background theological assumptions and taking the Bible as a whole unit), they have three choices:

1. Interpret the text to say that God is saying something other than the human author is saying

2. Conclude that they have misunderstood the text and don’t know what God is saying

3. Conclude that God has not appropriated the text in question

If a biblical theist concludes that the human author commanded some immoral action, it does not follow that God commanded it. However, if one rules out 1 & 2 by the evidence, then one must deny biblical inerrancy. While biblical inerrancy is an important doctrine, it is not on the level of the existence of God, the historicity of the Resurrection, and the atoning work of Christ. However, F&C do not believe that inerrancy need be rejected, for there are strong reasons one can hold 1 & 2.

Returning to Bradley’s four propositions, F&C have shown that the fourth proposition needs reformulating to more accurately convey what Bradley’s claim is. Hence it has been readjusted as follows:

4. The Bible tells us that God commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle, to

4’. The author of the Bible commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle, to

4’’. The secondary author of the Bible commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle, to

4’’’. The divine author of the Bible uses the text to perform the speech act of commanding us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle.

In section two of the book, F&C will go on to show that biblical theists are not committed to any of the formulations of Bradley’s fourth proposition and that other alternatives concerning those passages concerning genocide are both plausible and reasonable.

Image: “Bible” by Olga Caprotti. Flickr.com 

Basil of Caesarea: Faith Enacted

By Marybeth Davis Baggett

“[E]very man is divided against himself who does not make his life conform to his words.” – Basil the Great, Address on Greek Literature

Church history is replete with exemplars of the Christian faith, people whose lives—as much as their words—have provided later generations precepts by which we live and inspiration for doing so. Basil of Caesarea, whose feast day is today, is such a figure. His writings range from dogmatic to exegetical, from homiletical to liturgical, and their significance positioned him as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs of the Eastern Church.

But the beauty of Basil’s life emanates from its marriage of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. By any definition, the man was a saint. Living during the fourth century, a period marked by theological conflicts and growing tensions between the eastern and western branches of Christianity, Basil was committed to truth, unity, and service. As the contemporary church faces its own doctrinal conflicts and political pressures, we would do well to reflect on how a luminary like Basil remained faithful while navigating the treacherous spiritual waters of his day.

Basil’s father and mother were devout Christians. Both had come from families accustomed to martyrdom, and they ensured that their ten children were grounded in the church throughout their childhood. As he matured, Basil turned toward secular education, leaving his youthful faith behind him. Through his training in Constantinople and later in Athens, Basil became well-versed in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and medicine. So well prepared in the education of the time was he that on returning home to Caesarea Basil was offered charge of the education of the youth there.

Faith is obedient action; obedient action in turn builds faith. Such is the lesson of Basil’s life.
But returning home also resurrected for Basil the memories of his religious upbringing and brought him to a turning point in which he surrendered his life to God in service for others. This turning point determined the shape of the rest of his life and made possible the rich legacy he left for the church today.

In explaining his conversion, Basil credited a renewed relationship with the Bishop of Caesarea and the ministry of his sister Macrina who had organized a religious community devoted to serving the poor. Through their examples, Basil learned the dynamic relationship between faith and practice, that each informs the other. This truth was reinforced by the scriptures he read as a means to understand better the heart of the gospel. There he saw that “a great means of reaching perfection was the selling of one’s goods, the sharing of them with the poor, the giving up of all care for this life, and the refusal to allow the soul to be turned by any sympathy towards things of earth” (Epistle 223, Against Eustathius of Sebasteia). Faith is obedient action; obedient action in turn builds faith. Such is the lesson of Basil’s life.

As his words testify, the bishop took literally Christ’s directions to the rich young ruler of Mark 10, that eternal, abundant life comes not merely through the law but through abnegation of one’s privilege, absolute submission to God and others: “One thing you lack,” [Jesus] said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And so, following his sister’s lead and inspired by his travels throughout Egypt and Asia Minor, Basil founded a monastery in Cappadocia (modern-day central Turkey) and is known now as the father of eastern monasticism. Basil’s form of monasticism was an engaged one, as there, too, he transformed faith to practice—particularly as he developed in spiritual maturity.

Six years after his conversion, theological controversies and political challenges increased, and Basil took a more active role in the church, becoming ordained and participating in a number of highly public discussions and writing in defense of orthodoxy. He ascended to the bishopric of Caesarea in 370, and in this role, he became even more active resisting Arianism, tirelessly writing against it and rebuking the unorthodox face-to-face (including the Emperor Valens who was reportedly much annoyed with Basil’s indifference to his office and his opinions).

So firm in his convictions was Basil that, despite the many frays he entered, he remained unflappable—calmly, persistently, and confidently defending sound doctrine and, consequently, winning both arguments and people. The Catholic Encyclopedia, drawing on Gregory of Nazanzius’s description, offers him as a model for civil disagreement: “By years of tactful conduct, however, ‘blending his correction with consideration and his gentleness with firmness,’ he finally overcame most of his opponents.” Or, in the parlance of today, for Basil truth need not be sacrificed for love.

It seems that Basil could emerge from these contentious debates with his reputation as a servant unscathed because he did not envision those with whom he disagreed as enemies. Paul Schroeder, in overviewing Basil’s social vision, explains that his anthropology governed all his engagements with others—that we are social creatures who have obligations to one another and that living in proper relation with others is both virtuous and spiritually formative. This theologically robust social vision fully manifested itself in the Basiliad, the creation of which was one of Basil’s most notable achievements. An institution that embodied the Bishop’s philanthropic vision, at the Basiliad the poor and sick were housed and fed, orphans were cared for, and the unskilled were trained.

Reflection on Basil’s life and writings shows that this mission of justice was not at odds with his defense of orthodoxy but part and parcel of it. Truth, rightly understood, leads to love, rightly practiced. Basil reminds us of how deeply consistent and resonant the two in fact are. The matchless Christian life is one that seamlessly marries them.

Image: Icon of St. Basil the Great from the St. Sophia Cathedral of Kiev