Church History Posts
December 22, 2012 by Jason Hood
“Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.” So wrote the Xtina of Victorian Romantics, Christina Rossetti, in a poem that became the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Mid-Winter.”
But that’s not true, is it? Heaven and earth are in fact longing for him to come. When the gospel of God’s reign is announced in Isaiah and the Psalms, the whole world rejoices and its fabric trembles in anticipation of an liberation and an unsurpassed transformation. So heaven and earth aren’t fleeing his reign; only rebellious humans attempt to do so.
In fact the world is not just longing for him; it is longing for rebels who are being remade in the image of God, the image of his glorious Son. The world is groaning for the revelation not just of Messiah but of those who are also resurrected as he is, born-anew-sons-of-God by the Spirit like their elder brother Jesus (Rom 8:14-25).
This winter, this season when we celebrate Incarnation, we’re invited to remember also the resurrection and the reign, and to live patiently in hope, looking and longing with creation for this redemption (8:23-25).2 Comments
April 19, 2012 by Jason Hood
I mentioned that I had one criticism of Anderson’s excellent book, To the Golden Shore, which I read this spring to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Adoniram Judson and friends leaving my country as our first overseas missionaries.
Anderson, being Baptist, naturally loves to focus on Judson’s Baptist belief. Judson and his friends were raised, trained, and sent to the mission field as Congregationalists who baptized infants. But he became convinced on the voyage over that this view was wrong. The Judsons were immersed a short time after landing in India, and they became Baptist missionaries.
Baptism is not unimportant. But the degree of interest in baptism stands in stark contrast to the absence of other theological emphases in Carey’s life. We hear almost nothing at all about their Calvinist leanings or of Calvinism, period, apart from an austere description (surely accurate!) of Judson’s father. But the Judson’s own words shed a great deal of light on the “missional” motivation provided by their Calvinism.
- The postmillennial confidence in the victory of Jesus led them to go to an unreached people group in hope that God would powerfully move for his glory
- The belief in God’s power and his ability to answer prayer and make human effort fruitful fed their prayer and their striving. They made courageous, heart-rending decisions about children, entrusting them to God’s care. They accepted circumstances, including defeat and death, as God’s will.
- They looked at challenging—even horrific—circumstances and searched for God’s love and purpose. When these couldn’t be perceived, they kept believing that God was still loving, and his purposes still certain.
- They learned to see the sin in one’s craving for greatness, and God’s sovereign hand in bringing us to humility through trials.
Granted these themes can be found outside Calvinism, one misses quite a bit of Judson’s theological motivation through Anderson’s reluctance to make the point. Indirectly, this feeds the false “anti-mission” charge often levied against Calvinism.0 Comments
April 11, 2012 by Jason Hood
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first overseas missionaries from the United States. To mark the occasion I’m reading Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, a missionary classic that tells the story of the men and women who set sail for Asia in 1812. It’s a remarkable story, Anderson writes very well and doesn’t really veer into hagiography, and I’ve read few books with as much insight on missionary thought and practice.
It would be impossible to do the work or Judson’s life justice in a post (although a good start is John Piper’s telling of the story). But here are a few notes:
The Judsons’ rigor and passion are impressive; they are brilliant, hard-working, and more than a little headstrong. They go to the mission field despite massive opposition from friends and families. Their task requires an abundance of both stubbornness and patience.
As for preparation:
A liberal arts education turns out to be a decent preparation for radical missionary service. The usefulness of smoking pipes and cigars: they cover up the stench of prison. There’s the necessity of slaughtering self-conceit (being a missionary doesn’t exempt one from this most basic of Christian tasks). And there’s the need for a sense of humor, in particular Judson’s “keen sense of the ridiculous” served him and others well (292). At times Judson comes across as an early 19th century hipster who could have written for The Simpson’s.
Finally I note this: we need to place brilliant theological minds on the frontier mission field, and not just in teaching posts at seminaries and colleges and wealthy American congregations (the professions many preferred for Judson).
I’ll follow up soon with a minor complaint about Anderson’s book, but I highly recommend it.2 Comments
February 19, 2012 by Jason Hood
It’s a fantastic anniversary: 200 years ago today, on Feb 19, 2012, the first overseas American missionaries set sail for Asia. Today’s indirect fruit from the Spirit-fuelled labor of Adoniram and Anne Judson and their American, European, and Asian coworkers is remarkable. Asia teems with hundreds of millions of believers–an unimaginable reward for great but temporary suffering.
Korea provides more missionaries per capita, and our leading theological export over the past decades is the prosperity gospel. But there is so much for which we should be grateful. God has done and will do great things through his people as he continues to put all things under the feet of Jesus.
Parenthetically, although they are famous as Baptist missionaries, the paedobaptist in me has to note that when they heard and obeyed the call of mission they were in fact paedobaptists, and were sent out as such. They were dunked by William Carey’s people in India, after changing their minds about baptism along the way.4 Comments
November 2, 2011 by Jason Hood
Origen explained why the disposition of the agent is essential to the virtuous life. It is true, he says, that “if someone is just he pursues justice.” But it does not follow that “if someone is just he pursues justice.” For one must “pursue justice justly” [LXX of Deut 16:20]. Origen explains that the adverb is essential for it is possible to pursue justice unjustly. Some persons do things that are good, giving to the poor for example, but only to be praised [or to stay in political power!]. They act out of vanity, not because they have the “disposition of justice.” Virtue required a conversion of the affections.
As Orgien’s disciple Gregory described the nature of things, “The virtues are great and lofty, and can only be attained by someone in whom God has breathed his power.”
Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 271 (emph. added).0 Comments
October 31, 2011 by Jason Hood
Although [Christian] thinking about the moral life moved within a conceptual framework inherited from Greek and Latin moralists, Christian thinkers redefined the goal by making fellowship with the living God the end, revised the beginning by introducing the biblical teaching that we are made in the image of God, and complicated the middle with talk of the intractability and inevitability of sin.
Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 2750 Comments
August 19, 2011 by Jason Hood
By the time the creeds were written in the 3rd century, what had happened to the conception of the kingdom of God? The Nicene Creed mentions it once, but only in reference to our life beyond the borders of this life, in heaven: ‘Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.’ The Apostle’s Creed and the Athanasian Creed don’t mention it at all.
The three great historic creeds summing up Christian doctrine, mention once what Jesus mentioned a hundred times. Something had dropped out. A vital, vital thing had dropped out. A crippled Christianity went across Europe, leaving a crippled result….A vacuum was left in the soul of Western civilization.
E. Stanley Jones, writing in Good News Magazine in 1970. Jones is not anti-creed, but very pro-kingdom and concerned with the implications for Christian conception of discipleship, the Bible, and salvation.
However I think the concern is a bit overstated and perhaps is more appropriately aimed at later eras, after the creed (N.B. I haven’t seen the context of this statement by Jones). The kingdom is inseparable from the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus, forgiveness of rebels, cross as victory over death sin and hades, the radical fellowship of the saints, future resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit as the sign that the old had begun to pass, and the new was invading. It is also inseparable from the status of Jesus as royal Son of God, Lord, and future Judge.
Viewed from this perspective, the Apostle’s Creed is in fact “kingdom-rich.” In the second section (person and work of Jesus) it describes the coming of the kingdom (gospel), and the third section describes the reality of the kingdom in the present and in the future (the blast zone of the gospel?).
Moreover, the language of “kingdom of God” has many near synonyms, so that one doesn’t have to use that label. Note its near-absence in John, even though many related concepts such as everlasting life and the gift of the Spirit (which, like the kingdom, are not entirely limited to the future) appear. Unfortunately, for many Christians, these related ideas (such as rebirth and everlasting life) do not evoke the rich biblical theology we often associate with the kingdom of God. But they should! And it’s not the Creed’s fault if they do not.
And that is what killed the kingdom: not creeds, but the loss of biblical theology and the story of salvation. Only when we forget that the creeds rely on the Scriptural story (and like Calvin’s Institutes, are meant to direct us back to the Word and its plot) do we begin to lose the depth of the imperial reign of God and humanity.1 Comment
July 29, 2011 by Matthew Mason
It bothers me that, when I come across a list of “Books every pastor should read in 2011″, it generally consists only of (usually fairly popular level) titles written in the previous couple of years. I understand why that’s the case, and I suppose it’s valuable to be informed of the latest books being published. But I must confess I long to see a list made up of reminders that we’d benefit more in 2011 from reading Augustine’s Confessions, or Luther’s Freedom of a Christian than in reading almost any text written in the past 50 years, let alone the previous twelve months.*
In large part this reaction is probably a legacy of my seminary education (and, no doubt, my own, peculiar, contrarian nature). I’m grateful for many things from my time at Oak Hill, but perhaps the most important ongoing influence was the importance placed on reading primary texts. I think in particular of the daunting OT exam (covering 1 Kings-Malachi), which contained questions like (at this distance, I paraphrase!), “Compare and contrast the eschatological vision of Ezekiel with that of Isaiah,” and in which we weren’t allowed a Bible; the reasoning being that it would compel us to read that part of the OT thoroughly before entering the exam room (OT professors take note – it was a great educational strategy). Or the church history essays I wrote, in which it was made clear to us that engaging seriously with the writings of C19 liberal theologians, e.g., would gain us far better marks than footnoting summaries of their teachings drawn from elsewhere, or where I wrote on Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper without citing a single secondary source in my bibliography or footnotes (I don’t recommend this!), and got the feedback: “Strengths: Lots of lovely primary texts”. As a result, it’s instinctive to me that, if I want to know what Augustine taught about the Trinity, I should jolly well read Augustine. It also gave me the confidence that on the whole (with judicious help from good secondary sources where necessary) this is doable, and is far more fruitful and enjoyable.
None of this is to deny the value of secondary literature. I’d be poorer for not having read Cranfield, Moo and Wright on Romans; or Lewis Ayres’s Nicaea and Its Legacy; or Richard Muller’s stellar work on Reformation and Post-Reformation dogmatics; or Gilles Emery on Aquinas’s trinitarian theology. These scholars, who have devoted decades to studying their subjects and are fine readers of texts, are not only able to summarise a text’s meaning, or untangle a particularly knotty argument, or point one in the direction of further sources; they are also able to situate the text in its historical, social, and linguistic context in a way I never could because I lack the skills and expertise. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that nothing beats repeated, careful reading of Romans itself, or Augustine and the Cappodocians, or the Reformed confessions, or Aquinas. And if I were forced to choose one or the other, I’d go primary every time.
Going primary is certainly slower. It takes time to get used to a new thinker and to begin to inhabit their world. Potted summaries would be easier to absorb. But they’re also thinner, less demanding, less rewarding. There’s a reason that Plato’s writings, and those of Athanasius, and Edwards, and Barth are classics. And nothing stretches and expands a small mind so much as thoughtful, albeit sometimes bemused and foggy, contact with a great one.
So, I for one am mostly likely to be found studiously ignoring lists of books written in the past few years, and brewing myself a strong coffee or pouring a glass of wine, and settling back with an old book in the hope of making a new friendship or renewing an old one.
*All of this in addition to my almost comically violent dislike of lists laying guilt trips on pastors by telling them that here is yet another list of books they positively have to read. Why not call these lists, “Ten books that might possibly benefit some pastors if they don’t already have more than enough to read to last them a couple of lifetimes, not to mention their innumerable other pastoral responsibilities”?3 Comments
September 28, 2010 by Matthew Mason
Augustine’s On the Trinity (De Trinitate) is one of the masterpieces of church history, and a model for ecclesial theology. Few works are as demanding of their readers, as unrelenting in exegesis and analysis, and yet also as pastoral in intention.
On the Trinity requires a lot of intellectual heavy-lifting. Augustine warns at the start that, ‘nowhere…is the search more laborious’ than in consideration of the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit (I.5), and at the end he says he has ‘argued much and toiled much’ (15.51). The difficulty is increased by the complexity of the structure and the frequency, length, and density of Augustine’s often fascinating but not always relevant digressions.
However, this is no mere intellectual exercise. Error is ‘dangerous’; Augustine is concerned to refute the homoians, who argued that the Son is of like nature (homoiousios), but not of the same nature (homoousios) with the Father (e.g., Barnes 1991; Williams 1991).
Nevertheless, neither intellectual exercise nor ecclesiastical polemics is the ultimate goal of the treatise. Augustine is seeking a reward: ‘nowhere else is a mistake more dangerous, or the search more arduous, or discovery more advantageous.’ (I.6) That reward is the face of God.
In his translator’s introduction, Edmund Hill notes that at three key moments in the work, Augustine quotes Psalm 105:3f: ‘Let their hearts rejoice who seek the Lord; seek the Lord and be strengthened; seek his face always.’ (1.5, as he invites us on the journey with him; 9.1 as he turns from Scriptural exegesis to rational analysis of the image of God; 15.2, as he prepares to sum up his achievements (Augustine 1991: 21). He also alludes to this verse as he concludes in prayer (15.51)).
Augustine is inviting his readers to join him on a quest: ‘let us set out along Charity Street together, making for him of whom it is said, Seek his face always (Ps 105:4).’ (I.6) This is pilgrim theology and pastoral theology. Thus, although it was not written as a sequel to his Confessions, in some ways that is how it functions. Although Bishop Augustine’s heart has found its rest in God, he does not yet see him face to face, and so his restful heart remains restless, his faith always seeking deeper understanding.
This is an important, though not the only, function of the explorations of the possibility of Trinitarian analogies in the divine image in humans in books VIII-XIV, particularly in books 12-14 where Augustine expounds the image in creation, sin, and redemption. As Rowan Williams has observed (pace some of the critics of Augustine’s use of the triad of memory, understanding, and will), for Augustine, ‘we cannot look at a detached human self as an object in itself and say, “God is rather like that.”‘ (Williams 1999: 850). Indeed, as he concludes, Augustine says that we have been looking at God in a mirror, seeing darkly (in Bk 15, he repeated cites 1 Cor 13:12). There is an ‘enormous difference’ between human knowledge understanding and will and God’s (15.12), and so despite the likeness between God and his image, ‘who can adequately express how great the unlikeness is?’ (15.21) Thus, ‘this image, made by the trinity and altered for the worse by its own fault, is not so to be compared to that trinity that it is reckoned similar to it in every respect. Rather, he should note how great the dissimilarity is in whatever similarity there may be.’ (15.39).
In this lengthy exercise, Augustine has been taking the soul on a journey towards true knowledge of God. In what Williams calls ‘a crucial moment in the argument’, in Book 12.16, Augustine notes that, in Williams’ words, ‘the image of God itself cannot lie in the mind relating to the things of this world, or even to itself as a self-contained process (which in any case it never is). To image God is to reflect God relating to God. Thus, while there are vestiges and likenesses in the triadic structure of the mind, it is only when the mind is turned Godward that the image in the strict sense is discernible’ (1999: 849).
To read On the Trinity can be a baffling and frustrating experience, as one seeks to follow the often arcane twists and turns of Augustine’s arguments. But it is also always to be in the company of one of history’s greatest minds and most passionate lovers as he urges us to follow him, sometimes breathlessly, sometimes stumblingly, along Charity Street towards the face of the Triune God who in the gospel has sought us out and enabled us by faith to seek him.
Michel R. Barnes, ‘Exegesis and Polemic in Augustine’s De Trinitate I’, Augustinian Studies 30 (1999): 43-52.
Rowan Williams, ‘De Trinitate‘ in Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999): 845-51.
Augustine, On the Trinity, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, trans Edmund Hill (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1991).2 Comments
September 22, 2010 by Jason Hood
Beginning with his 1515-1516 lectures on Romans, Luther holds that the gospel is intended to destroy “any righteousness we may have”. Augustine would have agreed with that observation, but Luther then goes further than he with a 16th century new perspective:
Luther makes it clear that the righteousness which man must seek is the iustitia alina Christi, the alien righteousness of Christ, which is always extra nos.
For Augustine, justifying righteousness becomes part of man’s being; for Luther, it merely covers him, as a cloak–man is righteous extrinsically, but a sinner intrinsically, simul iustus et peccator. Both Luther and Augustine are agreed that the source of justifying righteousness is God–but they are in fundamental disagreement on the question of the subsequent location of that righteousness.
Thus both Luther and Augustine are in agreement that justification involves the non-imputation of sin–but Augustine has no need for the concept of the imputation of righteousness, for man actually possesses righteousness, being made righteous in the process of justification. The concept of iustitia Christi aliena has no Augustinian parallel.
Calvin likewise departs from Augustine; they agree on Christ as the source of righteousness, but for Augustine, “that righteousness nevertheless resides within the believer, and is located within him.”
“Melanchthon appears quite unaware of the fact that his interpretation of the Pauline concept of imputed righteousness, as expressed in his doctrine of forensic justification, is itself an innovation, in that it is not merely absent from the writings of the patristic era (including those of Augustine), but is actually excluded by those writings (especially those of Augustine).”
Alister McGrath, “Forerunners of the Reformation? A Critical Examination of the Doctrines of Justification,” Harvard Theological Review 75 (1982) 219-42 [232 and 235 cited, emphasis original, para. breaks added].12 Comments