Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Future of Justification

For those keeping tabs, this is Part 2, following on from my earlier post, "The Battle for the Soul of Evangelicalism".

I'm going to devote a post to each book in turn, Piper's first, then Wright's. Be aware I'm still thinking through a lot of this material, so if thoughts and impressions noted here are half-formed or could use a bit of nuance, that is why.

The first thing to be noted about Piper's book is that, like Wright, he is respectful from the get-go. This is the case even to the extent that it appears Piper sent drafts of his book to Wright for critique to make sure he had not misread or misunderstood where Wright is coming from. That, to say the least, is good form.

Piper, from the outset, lists the disagreements he has with Wright's theology and then tackles them in turn. I won't list these exhaustively, but will note the standouts.

1) For starters, he addresses Wright's cosmic theology- that the gospel is not a soteriology but an announcement that Jesus is now Lord of all things. Piper doesn't disagree that this is true, but is gravely concerned at the theological and biblical (and practical) implications of denying that the gospel is a message about how to get saved. His argument boils down to: gospel means good news; if you tell me that Jesus is now Lord of the universe and I understand what that means, I will fear for my life and soul because I, being a sinner, have no place in that universe; for a sinner, news like this is emphatically bad news until you tell him how to get saved.

Reading that particular chapter I had the peculiar experience of first sympathising and then becoming increasingly distressed the clearer the point became. One may be sympathetic when one reads lines like, "Not until the gospel preacher tells the listener what Jesus offers him personally and freely does this proclamation have the quality of good news." (p86). But then the language becomes progressively creepier- "The good news was not that Jesus died and was raised- that was emphatically bad news at this moment! What turned that bad news of death and resurrection into good news was the teaching- the doctrine- that by faith alone this life and death of Jesus could be the ground of the justification of the ungodly, not condemnation. "(p87-8)- and creepier - "..the sinner will say, 'What good is that for me? How can that help me or any sinner?' If the gospel has no answer for this sinner, the mere facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus are not good news. But if the gospel has an answer, it would have to be a message about how the rebel against God can be saved." (p89)

It seemed to me a disturbingly utilitarian view of the gospel and I couldn't help thinking: if I were one of the disciples on Easter Sunday, having come face to face with the Risen Christ, "What good is that for me?" doesn't quite seem the right thing to ask. I was somewhat gratified to find I was not alone in having this reaction. Wright addresses it himself in his book (which I will treat in detail in my next post on this topic), analogising it to two men who are both agreed on the brilliance of the sun relative to the earth, but one of whom believes the earth goes around the sun while the other believes the sun goes around the earth. An apt metaphor. There is a serious problem if, in my mind, the gospel is all about me. There is a perilous and subtle error here. Where the gospel comes to release me from sin and hell (which is precisely the self turned in upon itself) it will have the effect of opening me to God, not confirming me in my egoism. If I believe that I am so important that God Himself revolves around me and that all of salvation history has been leading up to that glorious moment that is my conversion, my soul is in serious danger. If the Paschal Mystery is not at the centre of my faith, Heaven help me! As Lewis says somewhere, if the Christian looks at himself honestly he will see a small and wretched creature, but it is far better not to look at oneself at all. Fix your eyes upon the Crucified and Risen Jesus. Therein lies joy and salvation.
There is another danger here, I think. Wright identifies it as the belief that we are justified by believing in justification. I think most Protestants would rightly decry such an idea, and I do not believe that all, or even most, fall into that error. But there are some who do. And there are others who come close to it. I would say Piper falls into the latter category. Rightly, he declares that we are saved by trusting in Jesus, not trusting in our own beliefs about Jesus. Nonetheless, dangers lurk. Notice how Piper sees the proclamation of the gospel in the quotations above. To proclaim the facts of the Paschal Mystery is not sufficient. The sinner also needs to be told "how the rebel against God can be saved."; the good news of Christ's death and resurrection is bad news until you are told "the teaching- the doctrine". Only then does it become good news. This is perilously close to saying that the it is not the central events of Christianity themselves that save us but rather ideas about them. The good news stands in danger of becoming the good technique- not news or a proclamation but a how-to. The full extent of this is demonstrated in a later footnote- "'If you believe, then such and such will be true of you,' is how the gospel speaks to unbelievers." (p99) If that is the essence of how you preach the gospel, then you are not bearing witness to Christ crucified and risen, but rather indulging in a peculiarly Christian form of self-help- 'do this and your life will be better'.

2) Another major problem for Piper is imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ. Wright doesn't believe in this at all (contra Luther, Calvin and any Protestant theologian worth his salt), regarding it as a simple category mistake based on a misreading of Paul. Piper goes to work on this, exegeting a number of appropriate texts to support the classical Protestant interpretation of them. His best work here is on 2 Corinthians 5:21, a very close and convincing piece of exegesis in which he builds a very solid argument based on the parallelism between the two parts of the verse, arguing that since Christ is sinless and yet is said to have been "made sin", likewise we, though being sinners, are said to have "become the righteousness of God" in the same way i.e. without affecting or changing our ontological reality. There is more to be said about this verse, and I have a good mind to devote at some point a post to that verse a lone and the different interpretations I have seen of it in various quarters (I can think of at least three quite different readings I have seen of it). Piper in some places seems to say or imply that 'sinner' will remain our ontological reality even after the Parousia. But I'm not sure this is what he means. In other places, he pulls Wright up for merging "the imputation of a new position with the impartation of a new nature." (p126) What would have been helpful in this regard is a discussion of the relationship between justification and sanctification, as Piper sees them. As it is, he doesn't mention sanctification at all, i.e. the ongoing work of the Spirit in the believer to conform him to the image of Christ, not just nominally but truly. This is something I would like to hear Piper clarify (it is possible he does this in other books he has written- I will be keeping my eye out for such treatments). Regarding imputation, I'm not convinced there is as much difference between Piper and Wright as at first appears. Both see righteousness as a status that is given by God, rather than an ontological reality, but whereas Piper sees this as the morally upstanding and Torah-obeying life of Christ being regarded as ours, Wright sees that righteousness as being a covenantal vindication, a declaration that one is indeed a member of the Covenant People of God and an indication that one will be among the elect on the last day. Wright's main beef (and consequently Piper's beef with his beef) lies in whether this righteousness is God's own counted as ours or whether it is not His own but a status, as it were, freshly created, counted as ours.

The real dispute here, I think, is how to regard salvation. Wright comes at it from a very participationist view. We are justified by being in Christ. Since we are in Christ, what is His is also ours. Since we are in Christ, the Spirit of Christ is in us and works to perfect that participation by making us like Him. This naturally leads to synergism, where the good works we do are done both by us and by Him, not as a supplement (I do what I can and He does the rest) but by a paradoxical dual totality (everything I do I do with all the effort and energy I can muster, but in the end everything I have done has been done by Him and I can regard none of it as my own). Piper decries synergism, smelling about it a gospel of works and Pelagianism, but on more than one occasion I got the impression that he didn't quite get the paradox. So when Wright says that we will be judged on the basis of the totality of our life (which, personally, I don't think is sufficiently nuanced as it doesn't leave room for things like deathbed conversions), Piper springs into action to defend the doctrine of grace alone, seemingly under the impression that Wright has denied it. Witness, for example, this passage: "It is unclear whether Wright is merging our imputed position in Christ as vindicated before God with an imparted newness of nature that lives by faith. I don't think Wright would even like this distinction, since both are totally gracious gifts of God."[italics mine] (p127). Piper is probably right that Wright would dislike the distinction he makes, but I think the reason he gives is telling. He seems to think Wright would dislike the distinction because it would mean that God's grace does everything and leaves nothing for me to do; in other words, because the distinction assumes sola gratia. I believe this is both a misunderstanding of Wright's theology and also a symptom of a certain tonedeafness on Piper's part. Actually, it reminds me of nothing so much as the difficulty of explaining the hypostatic union to a Jehovah's Witness: "Look, you can see from these verses that Jesus was a man." "Yes, I agree with that." "So you see he cannot be God as you claim." "Well, no, he is God." "But as you can see the Bible shows that he is a man like any other." "Yes, he is a man like any other but he is also God." "Do you believe that Jesus was a man?" "Yes, I do." "So therefore he can't be God." "No, he can be God. He is God and man at the same time. He is both." "But the Bible says..." and so on and on.

This seems to be a similar blindness to paradox. "Do you believe that you are justified by works?" "Yes. Have you read Romans 2?" "So you deny the gospel of grace?" "No, there is nothing I can do to be saved. God's grace through Christ alone can save." "Then you admit that your life will be irrelevant at the judgement?" "No, I will be judged on the basis of the life I've lived in the Spirit." "So you believe you need to do something to be saved?" "No, it is the Spirit who works in me." "Do you believe what the Bible teaches, that God does everything and you contribute nothing to your salvation?" "Well, I do believe that God does everything but I also believe that I do do something towards my salvation." "But if you do something, then that something is something God doesn't do." "No, God does it and I do it." "That doesn't make any sense. Do you do it or does God do it?" "We both do it." "So you believe you contribute something to your salvation?" "Yes, the life I live in the Spirit." "So you think you need to add something to the grace of God!" and so on. Frustrating.

The need for a clarification on what Piper believes about sanctification becomes more acute later in the book. He says things like, "Whether this right standing with God consists in the imputation of righteousness from beginning to end or consists partly in the impartation of righteousness is a crucial and necessary question." (p182) To which I reply, why partly? Can it not be a total imputation AND a total impartation? Or do we remain partially sinners to the end? Elsewhere, Piper quotes Charles Hodge sympathetically: "Christ bearing our sins did not make Him morally a sinner...nor does Christ's righteousness become subjectively ours, it is not the moral quality of our souls..." pp179-180) A statement like that cries out for a statement about sanctification and the action of the Holy Spirit to balance it. But nothing is said about either. Further on, Piper quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in an effort to demonstrate how close Wright's ideas are to the Church's and therefore why he should be opposed: "God's final verdict of justification is based on the Christian's inherent righteousness , acquired by grace..." Does this mean that Piper believes that the Christian is never intrinsically righteous, but only ever nominally?! Hence the need for clarification.

Getting back to imputed righteousness, one question I would like to see Piper (or for that matter, any Calvinist) answer is, if we are in Christ (and Piper accepts that idea, even if he is uncomfortable with some of the implications Wright, or for that matter the Catholic Church, draws from it), then how can His righteousness be 'alien'?

3) Connected with these points is what is, I think, a common Protestant mistake, which is to get faith and grace confused. I can't count the number of sermons I've heard where the preacher has spoken of sola fide where actually what he meant was sola gratia. So when Wright denies sola fide (at least in the narrow sense that Piper wants him to adhere to), invariably Piper ends by accusing him of denying sola gratia. An example: "What then, in Wright's system, does this description of works as 'signs' point to? Clearly, it points to the fact that union with Christ by faith secures a vindication for us that we have only because of union with Christ, not because of our merit or 'self-help moralism'. But what is less clear is whether it points also to a Spirit-wrought transformation 'in Christ' that also functions coordinately with the death and resurrection of Christ as the ground or basis of our final vindication." (p127) Note what has happened here. Wright has been claiming that Spirit-wrought transformation works coordinately with faith, both of which have as their basis the grace won by Christ through the Paschal Mystery. Piper subtly replaces faith with the Paschal Mystery, making it look like Wright is trying to add to the work of Christ. I don't put this down to any disingenuousness on Piper's part. I think Protestants in general have a habit of getting grace and faith mixed up, treating them as though they were the same thing when in fact they are not.

Now, more positive points.

4) Wright goes to great lengths to demonstrate that first-century Judaism was not Pelagian, was not about earning salvation through works of the law, but was rather built on a doctrine of grace based on God's election of them as a chosen people. Piper, in a very well-argued chapter, demonstrates that, whether or not they believed they could earn their salvation, they could still be guilty of what he calls a 'soft legalism' deriving from their consciousness of the covenant and election, thereby leading to self-righteousness. So, whether, as Wright says, the Torah provided a distinction between them and the Gentiles, a badge of covenant membership or whether, as the Reformers (and Piper?) said, it was a kind of Pelagian instrument designed to merit salvation; in either case, it led to self-righteousness so the different perspectives here are a moot point. In his own book, Wright acknowledges the validity of Piper's argument on this point.

5) Piper criticises Wright's definition of God's "righteousness" in Paul as His faithfulness to the covenant. He says that this is one of the things God's righteousness does, but not what it is in its essence. Wright, in his book, says things which, I'm pretty sure, amount in the realm of ideas to more or less the same thing. So I think this is also a moot point.

That will do for the moment, I think.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Most Popular Bible Verses

I tend to use biblegateway.com a lot. So I was interested to see what they turned up when they took some statistics on the most searched-for Bible verses on their site. And the results are indeed interesting. Take a look at them here.

Arguably, what's even more interesting is which verses are the least popular. According to their findings, that would be anything in 1 Chronicles 23-27. Hmmm...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Battle for the Soul of Evangelicalism

I have a lot of thoughts flitting about my head at the moment and am trying to get them into some sort of order. It will probably take a couple of blog posts to do it. So this is Part 1, I guess.

Let me start at the beginning. A couple of months ago.....no, wait, let me go further back. About 6 years ago, as I was preparing to enter the Church but still quite involved with Evangelical activities (it was a strange yet very fruitful transitional time), I was chatting to the then-President of the Sydney University Evangelical Union, Andrew. We had just finished a small group Bible study and were talking about books we were reading. He pulled one out that he had nearly finished and started raving about it to me. It was called "What Saint Paul Really Said" and was by a fellow called N.T. Wright, whom I later discovered to be the Anglican bishop of Durham. Intrigued, I went out and picked up a copy and began to read it. I was a bit put off by the title (seemed a bit presumptuous to claim to know what Paul meant with the implication that few others did) but I was impressed by the content. The perspective was fresh, the methodology refreshingly free of prooftexting and several of the conclusions mirrored things I had been thinking about justification myself (eg. imputed righteousness as a misreading of Paul).

As time went on, I became aware that there was a theological movement going on in Evangelicalism that had similar emphases and conclusions, called the New Perspective on Paul. But by that point I was in the Catholic Church, so these were like rumours from a distant land. Evangelicalism has fads like this and they come and go (eg. dispensationalism was huge in the 70s and 80s- well do I remember Hal Lindsay and companions- but doesn't seem to be nearly as big these days).

Fast forward to about a month ago. I happened upon a book review on the blog of an acquaintance of mine (and dear friend of my brother and sister-in-law) from Glenmore Park Anglican, who is presently at Moore College (the Anglican seminary in Sydney, for those who don't know). The review was of "The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright" by John Piper. John Piper, if you haven't heard of him, is one of the big names in Evangelicalism. He is the pastor of a Baptist church in America and has written dozens of books. A number of small groups at Glenmore Park Anglican have been working through one of his books over the past several weeks, in fact- I had a look through it at the behest of my (other) brother some time ago and found it to be pretty solid. In other words, Piper is a popular writer, not a polemicist. If he has "A Response to (insert individual's name)" as the subtitle of one of his books, something's going on. Curious at the fuss in high and influential places, I did a search to see if N.T. Wright had written a response to this response to him. As it turned out, he had (once again I thought, hmm...something's going on here- bishops, especially modern Anglican ones, are also not usually given to personalised polemics).

So I went out and purchased both books. I began with Piper's. This afternoon I finished Wright's.

I want to blog more on specifics over the next few days, not least to get my thoughts in order and to gather up my margin notes into something a bit more coherent. But for the moment, some initial impressions.

Firstly, having just plowed through both books in a matter of about two weeks (and they are pretty dense), I find myself reeling from the experience. This is not least because it has been not unlike finding oneself in a Godzilla movie. Piper and Wright, whatever else one may say about them, are giants. These are theologians and biblical exegetes at the top of their game. Neither man is sloppy in his reasoning, neither misrepresents his opponent's ideas, neither is uncharitable to his opponent but neither compromises his own view. These are two men who have no interest in polemics for its own sake, who take deadly seriously their responsibility as pastors and who have total reverence for the Scriptures. Yet their views on Paul's meaning are, in many aspects, diametrically opposed. Not so much in the particulars (although they are sometimes that) but in the whole way they read the Epistles (and indeed the whole Bible). Both are what would be called conservative in doctrine, yet each comes at the Pauline epistles and, thus, a good deal of Christian theology, with a completely different way of reading and understanding them (and it). For this reason, it has been quite a spectacle.

Secondly, there dawns over me the distinct impression that the views represented by these two men are not a side-issue, another theological fad (like dispensationalism was). In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion (which I'm still mulling over and testing against reality) that this is the battleground over which the future of Evangelicalism is going to be fought over the next 30-40 years. That's a big claim, but let me set out my reasons for this growing suspicion.

Obviously, its more than just Piper and Wright. On the one hand, you have, arrayed out behind Piper, the Reformed/Calvinist line. The Calvinists have been making a comeback over the past couple of years. When I was at Sydney Uni, Arminianism seemed generally taken for granted. I recall at Annual Conference 2004 that the doctrine of free will was held up as a non-negotiable. I also recall the doctrine of total depravity being held up as something we should believe, but not in the Calvinist sense that "man is utterly depraved and can therefore neither desire nor do any good of himself" but rather "there is no human faculty that has been left untouched by the influence of sin", which is a perfectly Arminian and, indeed, Catholic way of understanding total depravity. Since then, I have noticed many of my Evangelical friends and acquaintances here in Sydney take a much more Calvinist line. I am aware that the Anglican archbishop here is a Calvinist. I also note with interest that several of the more popular writers and speakers among Evangelicals in the past couple of years have tended to be Calvinists. John Piper, of course, is one example. Another notable is Mark Driscoll, who seems to be quite popular (though I hear rumours he's not as solid on Limited Atonement as some would like him to be). This is a relatively new thing, I should point out. Not that long ago, the Evangelical pillars were all Arminian- Billy Graham, John Stott, etc. So there is a definite trend here, and I think the more Arminian Evangelicalism, whose forebears were people like the Wesleys and George Whitefield, is on its way out. There do remain those that wouldn't dream of questioning free will. When I was talking about this with my parents, they were horrified to think there were people (much less Evangelicals) who genuinely believed that God predestined some to perdition. I fear, however, the time of such horror is drawing to a close.

On the other hand, arrayed behind Wright, is the New Perspective, Sanders, Dunn and the like. Here we have a whole new way of reading Scripture, based on covenant theology and what we know of actual Judaism during the Second Temple period. This view is adamant that Scripture must be read in its context with attention paid to the whole of the author's meaning, undiluted by later theological accretions and uses to which these texts were later put. The New Perspective regard the covenant with Israel as foundational to how one understands what Paul says about soteriology, ecclesiology and everything else. They tend to focus much more on a cosmic (rather than individualist) soteriology, accept a more active role for the Holy Spirit and are big on participationism. They prefer to leave behind sixteenth century categories, inserting their own (which may or may not be Paul's own, depending on whether you agree with them). This view is becoming popular in many quarters. As I said, I was first recommended Wright by the E.U. President. I have met others who find themselves ascribing more and more to this methodology and its conclusions. Also, I noted with interest that Wright was interviewed sympathetically in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney outreach programme "The Christ Files", aired on public television (!) during Easter 2007 ( a terrific programme, I must say, which put us Catholics to shame with regards to presenting society with the gospel- although we made it up the following year with World Youth Day).

Both movements have their thumb firmly in the Evangelical pie. And neither can be easily dismissed by your average Evangelical churchgoer as theologically liberal or unbiblical. Now let me describe a couple of reasons why I think the future of Evangelicalism must lie with one or the other.

The fact that it cannot lie with both seems clear. Their ways of reading Paul (which is what Evangelicals usually mean by 'reading the Bible') are incompatible with each other. There could be compromise on particular doctrines, but these are whole theological narratives that are at stake.

Each view has certain advantages. The Reformed/Calvinist side has the advantage of history and (ironically) tradition. Forensic justification, imputed righteousness, faith alone; these are Protestant bread and butter and have been for centuries. To the average Evangelical today, these were the battle-cries of the Reformation (I remain sceptical that that was in fact the case, but let us leave that for the moment). And the Reformation is, of course, the foundational event of Protestantism. Call that into question and what is left (-a lot, of course, but none of that stuff is really on the radar unless the Evangelical in question is talking to a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christian)? Piper (and others) appeal to this a lot. Their theology has the venerable and holy names of Luther and Calvin attached to it. To question what seems to most Evangelicals to be the centre of their theology seems to put one outside of Protestantism altogether. On the other hand, to uphold it is to continue to defend the truth that the Reformation was begun to defend, and therefore to place oneself side by side with those brave and noble Reformers. One questions the foundational narrative of one's culture at one's peril. One upholds it for the good of all. The Calvinists see themselves as doing the latter, and they regard the salvation of individuals to be at stake. That's something worth fighting for.

On the other hand, the New Persective actually has a lot going for it. It appeals to perennial Protestant instincts: the inclination to go back ad fontes, to the sources; the reverence for Scripture and the desire to strip away extraneous traditions and get at what Scripture actually teaches. These are very deep desires in the Protestant heart, and the New Perspective appeals to them in a big way. To those who ascribe to this view, the Calvinists appear to be clinging to human traditions and muzzling the Scriptures. The New Perspective also see themselves as taking on the mantle of the Reformers, but by tearing down fallacious and misleading philosophical and theological edifices and getting back to the pure doctrine of the early Church.

I may be wrong on this, but I get a greater and greater sense that this is going to be the Evangelical battle over the next couple of decades, and that the Evangelicalism that emerges will look rather different to what comes before, the same way the Wesleys looked quite different from both the Reformers and the Puritans. I shall say more of each side, and of my thoughts on specific arguments and exegeses, in future posts over the next week or so. Suffice to say, for the moment, its a battle not to be missed.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Le Quatorze Juillet

Today is Bastille Day (or at least it still is in France- it is now July 15 here). A fact which brings certain questions to the forefront of my mind. It never ceases to astound me that the French Revolution still garners a certain nostalgia in Western culture. Similarly I am amazed that the French still celebrate it, still sing the Marsellaise and that few people see anything sinister in that. How is it that the French Revolution managed to escape the kind of anathemas heaped upon the Nazi regime (or, for that matter, Stalin's regime, which also grew out of a bloodthirsty revolution)? More to the point, given the fact that most people have some sense that something horrible called the 'Reign of Terror' happened, why is this generally regarded as something arbitrary, not of the essence of the French Revolution? Why is the French national conscience not seared every time the Marsellaise is sung, knowing the inhuman deeds that were done to its tune (and which its lyrics vividly describe)? It amazes and befuddles me to find that the French Revolution is still treated as a touchstone of democracy.

In fact, the thing was inhuman and bloody from start to finish. In the storming of the Bastille on July 14 1789, only seven people were found inside, none of them political prisoners, but "when the day was done, the mob had torn Governor de Launey of the Bastille and Mayor Flesselles of Paris to pieces and paraded their heads on pikes....Less than three months after the storming of the Bastille, a similar mob made up initially of market-women, later joined by a few men, almost killed the Queen at Versailles and brought the royal family by force to the Tuileries palace, where they lived in captivity until they were formally overthrown on August 10, 1792, once again with pikes bearing human heads leading the march." (Carroll, The Revolution Against Christendom, p133)

That August 10 mentioned above was one of the lowpoints of human history. After the King had ordered his Swiss Guard to lay down arms, they were massacred by the mob. This, it should be noted, was before the 'Reign of Terror'. Warren Carroll, again, describes that terrible night:
"And so the drums of the Swiss Guard beat the retreat before the French Revolution. Back through the gardens of the Tuileries they marched; the treacherous National Guardsmen assembled there opened fire on their unresisting ranks as they passed. One column went to their barracks, the other to the Assembly; in both places, they stacked arms. Then, disarmed and defenseless, they were set upon. Wherever they went, wherever they hid, wherever they fled, they were seized, dragged out and slaughtered. Many of them were horribly mutilated. Before it was over, an observer said he did not believe there was a single street in Paris that had not seen at least one Swiss head on the end of a pike. At the end of the day, children were rolling some of the heads along the streets. Women like vultures were tearing strips of flesh off the naked corpses of the king's defenders. More than six hundred of the Swiss Guard died in that massacre. (Far more were killed at Auschwitz and places of its kind - but that killing was not done in the streets of the capital city of a nation with women and children cheering on the killers...)....There stands today [in Luzern] a stone lion erected in memory of her sons who gave their lives in a foreign land, in defense of a foreign king. The lion is dying, struck down by a lance. Faithful unto death, it holds in its paws a shield emblazoned with the fleur-de-lis, ancient symbol of the kings of France. Below are engraved the names of the fallen." (Ibid. p154)

I have seen that stone lion in Luzern. It is an arresting and moving sight. If there were any justice in the world, a visit to it would be a required part of the high school curriculum for every teenager in France. Perhaps then the youth of France would realise what it is they are celebrating today and the resultant nausea would relieve them of any desire to ever do so again.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Offshore Mass Near Malta

I was reading in Acts yesterday and was surprised to notice something I had never noticed before. It looks like, during Paul's shipwreck incident, the day before they abandoned ship and swam for Malta, Paul offered the Mass onboard. Take a look.

And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. (Acts 27:35)

If the parallelism between this and the Last Supper and every other description of Masses in the New Testament were not enough to clue you in, it is worth pointing out that the Greek word used for "thank" here, as in those other descriptions, is ευχαριστησεν (eucharistesen). What interests me particularly about this is that it was done "in the presence of all", and Luke tells us exactly how many that "all" was - 276 people (v37).

Now, any student of the early Church will tell you about the "discipline of the secret", according to which non-Christians and those preparing for baptism were permitted to attend the first part of Mass, including the Scripture readings and the sermon, but only baptised Christians were permitted to be present for the offering of the Sacrifice and for Communion. The question arises, of course, whether this practice was apostolic in origin or whether it arose shortly after their deaths (perhaps in response to the persecutions). In this connection, the fact that Paul offered the Sacrifice "in the presence of all" is very interesting. If the "discipline of the secret" was apostolic, this is a clear exception, and one wonders why Paul would have made an exception (and why on this particular occasion? - Paul and his companions spent months on ships and presumably he celebrated other Masses, albeit probably not on deck with the whole crew watching). On the other hand, if the "discipline of the secret" was not apostolic, this incident provides evidence of that.

Another point (and no doubt the Maltese have noticed this) is that, since they are lying just offshore from Malta, this is, arguably, the first Maltese Mass. That's kind of cool. Apart from the Holy Land (obviously), I don't think there are any other countries that could claim to find their first Mass mentioned explicitly in Scripture.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Codex Sinaiticus- wow!

Can't go past this. Thanks to David Schutz for the head's-up.

The Codex Sinaiticus is online! A fact which combines elements of unspeakable awesomeness with sleep deprivation-inducing fascination. Oh, if only I could read Greek without the constant aid of a lexicon! Where to start? How to delineate the multifaceted brilliance of it? The Providence that has preserved this Bible for over fifteen centuries! The significance for the history of books in general, for the formation of the very concept of "the Bible" as a self-contained entity! The curious ordering and what it means (what on earth is Acts doing between Philemon and James?! And why is Hebrews grouped with the Pauline epistles? Did the fourth century Church know something that we don't, namely that Hebrews was written by Paul after all, despite evidence to the contrary?). The fascinating and curious implications for the Canon!

The latter is what really interests me. It has the Septuagint books, including the deuterocanonicals, naturally, but also other random inclusions such as 4 Maccabees and 2 Esdras, neither of which are regarded as canonical by any Christian group. Plus at the end you find the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. If memory serves me, neither are included in any of the lists of canonical books by any of the Fathers after the second century (although I remain subject to correction on that as its been a while since I read them- although I do know for certain they're not included by Eusebius, who was writing c.320 or so, probably a decade or so earlier than the Codex Sinaiticus was made). Does their inclusion mean that there wasn't yet a consensus on their non-canonical status in the Church yet after all? A fascinating idea.

Oh, and take a look at 1 John 5:8. No three heavenly witnesses. Or John 1:1. There's a definite article in there. And there's so much more to discover. What do all these marginal notes signify? I've no idea but I'm keen to find out. This is an amazing thing. Do check it out.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Conditions for a United Europe

I read something like this with a particular sense of dejavu. European geopolitics reminds me of the main character in "Memento" (actually, to push that metaphor further, one could cast the Church in the role of Joe Pantoliano's character, who is actually quite savvy and mostly trying to help but who the main character demonises and eventually kills, having chosen to forget his true motives). As that film demonstrated, people with memory always trump people who forget, no matter how noble their intentions. Without context, you make stupid mistakes. This is what Europe, whose memory seems to stop abruptly somewhere around 1939 (or, at most, 1789), seems intent on doing. Even when we're facing similar problems to 1000 years ago, it doesn't occur to anybody to study what happened then and learn from it (Of course, I'm not suggesting we do exactly what they did then- circumstances are different- but we can still learn from it, just like Napoleon could learn from Caesar). A line like this one utterly amazes me: "Europe has an appalling history of appeasing the Islamic Republic." Does no one remember the Crusades?

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Transformers- urgh!

Last night I went and saw the Transformers sequel with a group from Glenmore Park Anglican. I am glad they were there otherwise the experience would have had no redeeming features whatsoever. A bad movie is almost made enjoyable when you can share a knowing snigger with the person next to you at a particularly poor joke or unconvincing emotional moment. As for the movie itself, all I can say is that one can only take so many explosions before monotony sets in.

Fortunately, there exist people who can say much more than that and more eloquently. I was greatly gratified to read this review of the film by Roger Ebert, which is probably one of the best bad film reviews I've read. Suffice to say, reading the review was far more enjoyable than watching the film it describes.