Creeds: Harmony and Unison

21 November 2010

As we saw in a preceding post, when the language of the Creed is biblical, we are not free to abandon it, even if the framers of the creed — or later users of it — would not understand that language in the same way we do.  We are not free to shy away from the way the Bible talks about things.

So what do we do?  Isn’t it dishonest to recite the Creed knowing that we don’t mean the same thing as some others do when they say the same words?

Two issues here: First of all, how come this kind of thing always seems to only work one way?  How come it’s me being dishonest, and not them?  Especially since — from where I’m standing, at least — I mean what Scripture means by it, and they don’t.  Hardly seems right.  How about this: I am honestly employing the language of Scripture, and they are betraying their principles by unlawfully importing to the biblical expressions meanings that God did not intend?

Second, and more important, we can disagree and still be one.  Christ only has one Body.  What actually unifies us is not our doctrinal statements, nor our creeds, but our common participation in Christ.  A difference on whether Christ descended into hellfire after His death simply isn’t enough to trump our common participation in Christ.  You can’t undo the cross with a pen and a sheet of paper.

Or to say it in the old way: We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  We believe in the communion of saints.  Or in the even older way: “There is one Body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

When I go to, say, a GES conference, I find myself sharing an auditorium with many people with whom I disagree quite seriously, some of whom I would never allow to speak to a flock for which I am responsible.  In other circumstances, I find myself sharing a classroom or even a pulpit with someone I seriously disagree with.  And yet, we fellowship and worship together.  I recently became involved with a prayer effort in my community that puts me on the same team with a very broad range of folks.  And yet, we will continue to pray together.  Why?  Because Christ has united us.  They are my people, even if I don’t like it (I do, actually, but my likes and dislikes are irrelevant).

If a pen and paper can’t undo the work of the cross, neither can a clock or a calendar.

Back in 650 or 700, there were Christians.  Christ was building His church.  The gates of Hades were not prevailing against it.  These people said the Creed, and by those words they were expressing their belief in Jesus, the same Jesus I believe in.  They were joined to Him who is my Head; they were members of the Body in which I am also a member.  They still are; when I ascend the heavenly Zion on Sunday morning to worship before the mercy seat of the heavenly tabernacle, they are the “spirits of just men made perfect” about whom the author of Hebrews writes. I was baptized into the same Christ as they; I eat of the same bread, drink of the same wine, worship on the same holy mountain.  They were, and they are, my people, and if I cannot speak in unison with them on everything, I can still speak in harmony.

When I say the Creed, I am not trying to paper over the differences between us.  But I am claiming continuity with them.  I am in their debt, and I am grateful.  The Creed is their gift to me; they formulated it, spoke it, preserved it for me, and here it is: an adept summary of the Faith once delivered to all the saints, articulated as best they understood it, given to me, although I have done nothing to deserve or earn it.

They are my people.  When I say their creed, I am saying that I am in harmony with them, and because of that harmony, it is my creed too.


Creeds: Wording

14 November 2010

It’s important, when reading a historical document, to understand what the authors mean by what they say.  Corollary to this, it’s dishonest to pretend that their words mean something they did not intend.

For example, Lewis Sperry Chafer always maintained that he believed in the perseverance of the saints.  But what he meant by “perseverance of the saints” was that the saints would persevere in being saints, which is to say, eternal security.  This is mildly dishonest, because the terminology “perseverance of the saints” goes back to the Canons of Dordt, which definitely did not mean only eternal security; they meant that the saints will persevere in acting like saints.

It would have been more honest for Dr. Chafer to simply say that he didn’t believe in the perseverance of the saints, but he did believe in eternal security.

When the wording in question is biblical, however, we do not have the option of simply abandoning it.

For example, take “He descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed.  Arguably, that wording, when first introduced in the Latin version of the Creed, meant no more than that Jesus went where dead people go.  They used the word “Infernus,” which repeatedly appears in the Vulgate as a translation of “Sheol,” the Hebrew term.  In the Hebrew cosmology,  all the dead go to Sheol — some to Abraham’s bosom, and some to torment, to be sure.  But Sheol was all of it.  That is, apparently, within the semantic range of “Infernus.”  (The Greek OT translated “Sheol” as “Hades” with similar connotations.)

Note that I said “arguably” above.  Later, in the middle ages, many Christians taught that after dying on the cross, Jesus spent three days in hellfire suffering for the sins of the world before He was raised from the dead.  There is some argument as to what the original framers of the phrase in the creed actually meant by it — just that Jesus really died, and really went where dead people go, or that Jesus suffered the flames of hell to really pay for our sin after He said “It is finished.”  Turns out, “Infernus” can mean either the place of the dead generally, or the place where bad people go to suffer for their sins.

So what does one do with the creed?  When I say it, I say “He descended into Hades” rather than “He descended into hell” because the English word “hell” has connotations of suffering for sin, which is the meaning I don’t endorse.  But many of my conservative brethren would ask: With that ambiguity in play, why would I be willing to say that phrase at all?

We cannot simply abandon “He descended into Hades” for the very good reason that it’s true.  Scripture speaks of the death of Jesus in just that way, albeit obliquely (Acts 2:31).  To say “He did not descend into Hades” is to say that He did not go where dead people go — which is to depart from Scripture, and the Christian faith.  We just can’t say that.

So we say the creed, and when we say the words “He descended into Hades” we know that some of the people who have said those words do not mean what we mean by them.  In fact, the people involved in framing that part of the creed may not have meant what we mean by it.  However, they would have justified the language by appeal to Acts 2:31, just like I would, and Acts 2:31 ultimately does not mean what they mean by it; it means what God means by it.  I affirm the biblical language wholeheartedly, and to the best of my understanding, I mean what God meant by it.


“Descriptive, not Prescriptive,” part 4: Options and Patterns

7 November 2010

Before I begin this entry, I need to make something clear to you, dear reader.  Some of the examples I use here are indeed topics of discussion and continuing growth in my church, and I am using them because they are very much on my heart of late.  But I am not picking on my church.  As my church has been prodded toward obedience on these things, it has responded very well.  So as I talk about evangelical resistance to growth in certain areas, that is not a passive-aggressive way of calling out recalcitrant people in my own circle.  There aren’t any.  I mean just what I say — I see this resistance in the broader evangelical church, and I am seeking to address it as best I can.

Options and Obedience

Many believers will simply fail to notice a biblical requirement — say, the one to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  They may have read those passages many times, but it simply doesn’t occur to them that they should do something in response.  The first time this dawns on them, it is because someone is pushing for a particular type of obedience — say, “We need to sing the Sons of Korah version of Psalm 148 in the service this Sunday.”   Upon being challenged as to why this is necessary, the speaker will respond with Ephesians 5:19.

The response at this point is pretty predictable.  “There’s nothing there that says we have to sing that particular song this particular morning.”

This is of course true.  The church could be in complete obedience to the biblical requirement and never sing any song by that particular band, ever. Unfortunately, too often what happens next is…nothing.

Because we need not sing that particular arrangement of that particular psalm this week, we don’t.  Also we don’t sing any other arrangement of that psalm.  Or any other psalm.  And in this way the fact that God gives us freedom in how we obey becomes the occasion for not obeying at all.

Patterns

This is where biblical patterns of obedience are so helpful to us.  The Bible not only gives us requirements to obey, it gives us patterns of obedience to emulate.  A particular example may not be the only way of obeying, but it is a way of obeying.  We don’t have to start from scratch.

The first problem evangelicals have with these patterns is failing to even notice them.  We notice that the early church successfully resolved an important theological disagreement in Acts 15, for example — but we pay no mind at all to how they did it.  We recognize the commands to be of one mind, to submit to one another, to contend earnestly for the faith, and so on.  And Acts 15 becomes a sermon illustration: “See, they stood up for the truth.  We should too.”

Yes, but how?  Are we acting in continuity with the way they did it?  We don’t know.  We never even checked to see how they did it.  We just take the goal that the requirement gives us, and improvise something that we think will get us there.

At some point, some observant soul may point out how they did it, back in the day.  “Look at what they did.  They appealed to another church with more theological ‘horsepower,’ they appointed a day to gather, they pursued the dispute until everyone had fallen silent, and then they responded, unanimously, to the issue.”

Most evangelicals respond to that observation in the same way that they do to the suggestion that we must sing this arrangement of this psalm this week.  That is, they say “Sure, that was a good way to do it.  But it’s descriptive, not prescriptive.  We don’t have to do it that way, just because they did.”

True, up to a point.  Every situation is somewhat different, and it is the province of God-given wisdom to appraise those differences and tweak our response accordingly.  This is to say that we will not respond in unison with our fathers at every point; sometimes we will be in harmony with them.

But what madness makes us suppose that we may simply invent an approach without regard for the examples that God gives us in inspired Scripture?  What makes us think that we may act out of harmony with the way in which our fathers obeyed?


“Descriptive, not Prescriptive” Part 3

24 October 2010

Every child in the world knows that you can learn how to live from stories.  And the biblical authors themselves teach us to read the biblical stories for instructions on how to live.  They get doctrine from narrative.  They treat the stories as prescriptive.
And so ought we to do.

Of course, we have to interpret them properly.  “Brothers, do not be children in understanding.  In malice be children, but in understanding be mature.”

So how does this work?  When we read Genesis, it teaches us.  The story of creation teaches us how the world is organized.  We have mostly disregarded those lessons since the Enlightenment, but let’s take one of the cases where we’ve gotten it right.  In the beginning, God made one man, and from his side, He brought forth one woman.  He brought her to the man and created the first marriage, an image of the Trinity: God unites man and woman.  It is, as the popular saying goes, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.  Also not Eve and Charlotte, nor Adam, Eve, and Charlotte, nor any of the other permutations.

Jesus took the story of marriage’s very beginning and showed that it taught a lesson about divorce: “What God has joined together, let man not put asunder.”  Now, divorce is nowhere mentioned in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.  There is no direct prohibition of divorce in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve; in fact, divorce is never mentioned anywhere in the whole story.  But a particular marriage can harmonize with the origins of marriage and fulfill what marriage is for, or it can be out of harmony.  Jesus’ prohibition of divorce is a call for individual marriages to harmonize with the paradigm case of marriage.  The exception He allows, in cases of adultery, is also in harmony.  The divorcer, in that case, is not putting asunder what God joined together, because the adulterous spouse has already done that.  In broad strokes, this is the way a true origin story can be applied.

So what origin stories do we have to work with?  Genesis 1 is the origin of the world, and man in it.  Genesis 2 is the origin of man in particular, and marriage.  The story of Noah is the formation of the geophysical world we now live in, and the origin of civilization as we know it.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the origin of Israel as a people, and Exodus is the origin of Israel as a nation-state.  Acts is the origin of the Church.

Wouldn’t it be something if our ecclesiology began to reflect that last one?  If our actual church practice began to harmonize with our origin story?  But that’s another post.


“Descriptive, not Prescriptive,” Part 2

17 October 2010

So where does this “descriptive, not prescriptive” thing even come from?

It’s about fear.  It’s about being afraid that someone will take some horrible event in a story and decide that it’s God’s will to act it out.  Next thing you know, somebody’s trying to have multiple wives, and justify it because after all, David and Solomon and Jacob did.  Or speak in tongues, and justify it because it shows up in Acts.  Or dance, because Miriam and David did.  Or drink wine, or…pick your personal horror story.

And let’s face it: “that’s descriptive, not prescriptive” is an undeniably attractive solution.  By denying your opponent in the debate any recourse to the narrative passages of the Bible, you’ve effectively cut his legs out from under him.  It’s all very, very convenient.

It’s also ignorant, foolish, and unbiblical.  The one thing it’s not is childish–as we’ve seen, every child knows that stories teach.

The biblical authors make their points from narrative, and they do it constantly.  Imagine Paul making the argument of Romans 4 in a synagogue — as he must have done many times.  “Abraham was justified by faith, before he was ever circumcised!” he says to the crowd.  “The same thing can happen today.”
Now imagine one of his opponents rising to rebut him: “Our esteemed guest, Rabbi Paul, fails to realize that the Genesis account is descriptive, not prescriptive.”

Or imagine Jesus, teaching on divorce: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
A scribe steps forward in the crowd: “That was true for Adam and Eve, but that’s descriptive, not prescriptive.”

This is just nonsense, and we all ought to know better.  Certainly the biblical authors regularly drew prescriptions from narrative.  If we are not to follow their hermeneutics, then what are we to do?  Just make something up?

That’s pretty much what we’re doing, and the effects are devastating.

The first and most obvious problem is that three quarters of the Bible is story.  God gave us the Bible so we would know how to live, and we’re trying to pretend that a person can’t learn how to live from three quarters of it.  That’s the kind of mistake that tends to issue in long-term disobedience out of sheer, willful ignorance.  Sorry to say, such disobedience is not in short supply.

Second, the most dedicated “description not prescription” guy gets the story about the kid playing in the street.  He will also immediately object, “But biblical stories are not nearly that simple.  They’re far more complicated.”

Of course this is true, but consider the ramifications.   When he pleads “descriptive, not prescriptive,” he is in effect pleading ignorance.  Jesus and Paul set the example, but this guy can’t follow them.  He is admitting that his hermeneutics have broken down, that he’s off the edge of the map.  “Descriptive, not prescriptive” is the hermeneutical equivalent of “Here be dragons.”  But this is just admitting that he doesn’t know how to read the story.

The solution, of course, is to learn.  But instead of learning, he treats his ignorance as an argument for not learning how to read the biblical stories. He wants to deny that it’s possible to learn how to read the biblical stories, and this is just silly.  It’s the equivalent of a frustrated six-year-old who claims that it’s impossible to tie his shoelaces on the grounds that he finds the process confusing.  In Solomonic idiom:  simple ones love simplicity, and fools hate knowledge.  The solution is to listen to Wisdom, turn at her rebuke, and seek for her like hidden treasure.  Blurting out “descriptive, not prescriptive” is a poor substitute.

The fact that conservative evangelicals have pursued ignorance for a few generations compounds the problem.  We have institutionalized the foolishness, and it now afflicts us as a blind spot for our whole community.  Now we have diligent, hardworking servants of God who have been trained to be happy with their ignorance.  Let me say that again: diligent, hardworking pastors are unable to read three quarters of the Bible well, and they’re completely okay with that, because we have taught them to be okay with that.

This is sin, and like all sin, the cure is as simple as it is painful and difficult: repent!


“Descriptive, Not Prescriptive,” Part 1

10 October 2010

So as I’m setting out to prove a point about the biblical pattern of doing things, I flip to the relevant passages in Genesis, or Acts, or 2 Chronicles.  If I’m talking to a conservative evangelical who has had some Bible college or seminary training, I will almost invariably hear the same objection:
“You know, that passage is really descriptive, not prescriptive.”

For those of you who are blessed enough not to know what this means, here’s a quick rundown:
Descriptive: What they did
Prescriptive: What we (or at least the original audience) ought to do

In other words, the narrative portions of the Bible are true in that they accurately report what those people did, but you can’t infer from them that we ought to do the same.  If you try — so goes the reasoning — then we’ll have people chopping up their concubines into little bits, or having multiple wives (you know, like David!), or speaking in tongues, or whatever other horrors we can dig up.  Anything to inspire fear, uncertainty, and doubt about learning how to live from the stories of the Bible.

Hence “it’s descriptive, not prescriptive” and its cousin “you can’t get doctrine from narrative.”

Now I don’t mean to be overly offensive, but guys: every child in the world knows that this isn’t true.

“Remember Billy and Susy, who lived across the street?  Remember how one day, their mommy told them to stay in the yard, but little Billy went and played in the street and got hit by a car?  Susy played in the yard, and she’s fine, but Billy’s going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”

Every child who hears the story, and every parent who tells it, understands perfectly well.  Is there any exegete so obtuse that he can fail to understand that this story has a moral?  Of course not.  And you, dear reader, understood the story as well — even those of you who have had a seminary hermeneutics course at some point.

Furthermore, no parent tells the story and then later begins to think, “Oh my gosh!  What if my kid thinks I’m telling him to act like Billy?”

The question, friends, is not whether we can learn how to live from stories.  The question is whether we ever learn how to live from anything else.


River Evangediscipleship II: An Example

19 September 2010

Note: this post continues the line of thought from People of the River and River Evangediscipleship

When life is what you’re offering, there’s lots of opportunity to give.  What, specifically, do you offer to Rick, the guy you’re talking with right this minute?  Depends.  What is the opportunity before you?  Is he terrified that he will go to hell?  Offer him assurance of eternal life in Christ, and calm his fears.

But suppose Rick hasn’t said a word about heaven and hell.  He came over to talk with you about his marriage, which is  falling apart right before his eyes.  How do you offer Rick life?  Well, you’ve unfortunately had evangelism training, so you tell him that he needs Jesus, and you set out to share the gospel in the conventional way: heaven, hell, Jesus on the cross, all that.

“Look, man,” Rick says to you, “I’m already in hell.  Heaven will be when Trina and I can spend a whole day together without getting into a screaming fight.”  What do you say to a guy like this?

Isn’t it obvious?  A starving man in agony from a scorpion sting doesn’t really care, right that minute, that the starvation will kill him in a week or so.  In the abstract, food is more important — he might survive the scorpion sting, but lack of food will get him, for sure.  But so what?  If you’re responsible for helping the man, you give him the antivenin now, and then later, the food.

So you ditch your canned-spam evangelism training and just talk to Rick about his marriage.  You ask what the problems are.  He says he walks in the door after work, and five minutes later they’re screaming at each other and he can’t even remember how the fight started.  So you show him Ephesians 5.  You tell him that Jesus is his model, and he should be willing to die for his wife (by inches, if necessary) as Jesus died for us.   You tell him that this means when he goes home today, he must not counterattack, no matter what she says or does.  You warn him that the first thing she’ll do when he doesn’t counterattack is move in for the kill.  “Rick, man, I’m not gonna lie to you,” you say.  “This will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.  But you’ve got to sacrifice yourself for her, and you’ve got to keep sacrificing until she realizes you’re not fighting with her anymore.”

Tell him that if he does not do this, he will kill his marriage.  On the other hand, if he can pull this off, then he will see things happen in his marriage that he’s never dreamed possible.  But there is a catch, you say.  Tell him, with a wink, that God will probably let him have enough success that he can see what a benefit it would be, if only he could really do it — but there’s only one way to really do this, and he can’t do it on his own; he won’t be able to.

“Naw, I get it now.  I see how it’s supposed to work.”  Rick is smiling for the first time in the conversation.  “I can do this.”

“Okay,” you say.  “Give it a try.  But I’m telling you, man, the day is coming where you can see where it would work if you just did it, but you just can’t bring yourself to sacrifice one more time — and you won’t do it.  When that day comes, don’t you come back and tell me this doesn’t work — I told you, right up front, that you can’t do it alone.”

Rick just grins at you.  “You just watch me.”

When you talk with him next, Rick is dejected.  “I just couldn’t do it, man.  I love Trina, but you can’t believe how she gets.  I couldn’t take it.  I had to tell her to back off, and as soon as I did, we were back into the screaming fight, just like before.”

“Hey, Rick.  Remember how I told you you couldn’t do it alone?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, well, here’s the rest of the story.”  You tell him that there’s only one person who ever could live that kind of life — Jesus Himself.  Only Him.  “But Rick, if you let Him, He will give you the ability to do this.  In a way, it won’t be you, it’ll be Him living His life in you.  He wants to give you life — eternal life, in fact.  Rick, man, you’re dying here. If you take what Jesus offers, you don’t die while you’re still alive, and even when you die, you live forever with Him.  All the hell that you’ve been going through, Rick, and all the hell that you’ve got coming to you in the future — Jesus took it all into Himself, died for you, was buried, the whole thing, so you wouldn’t have to go through any of it. And He rose from the dead three days later to show that it’s over — He conquered it all, and He’s alive, and He offers you His life.  He’s been offering you life this whole time, and He’s still offering it now.  When you trust that offer, Rick, it’s yours, and it’s yours forever, absolutely free.  You couldn’t earn something like this, and there’s not enough money in the world to buy it, but it’s yours, just for the asking.”

“Man, I’m desperate here,” Rick says.  “I’ll do anything.  What do I gotta do?”

“Rick, man, haven’t you been listening?” you say.  “It’s a gift.  You trust Him for it, it’s yours.  That’s the beauty of it.”

His brow furrows in confusion.  “Just like that?”

“You got a better idea?”  You punch his shoulder.  “Of course, just like that.”  You pause to let that sink in.  “If it makes you feel better, you can say something to Him out loud, but you don’t have to — He sees your heart.  Does that make sense to you?”

Rick’s brows are still furrowed up.  “Yeah, I guess so…” He looks up at you.  “It’s really free?  Seriously?”

You laugh.  “Of course it is.  You think you could buy it?  What do you have that God could want?”  Your face grows serious.  “Just trust Him, Rick.  He’s got it taken care of.”

“Okay,” he says.  “Okay.”  He nods.  “I think I do want to say something.”

“Go ahead.”

“God, I, uh, I don’t know how to pray, but nothing I do is working out, and everything I touch in my life turns sour.  This thing you give, this life–I want it.  I want all of it.  Please give it to me.”

****

A year later, Rick is a growing young Christian.  Trina has seen changes in Rick that she never thought she’d see.  She’s not convinced Christianity is for her, but she’s certainly interested.  They still fight, and sometimes it’s still pretty bad — but it’s not as frequent as it was, and Rick is quick to forgive, and to confess when he’s been wrong.

Do you know for sure whether Rick was saved that day when he first asked God for help?  Maybe not.  Did he really understand enough about what he was asking for?  There’s no way to know for sure.  But who cares?  We’re making disciples here, and that’s what Jesus said to do.


GES Conference 2010

25 April 2010

I spent the better part of this past week at the annual GES conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Lord blessed us with a number of good speakers, and the mood of the conference was phenomenal.  I got a strong sense that the majority of the attendees really desire reconciliation within the Free Grace movement.  This is a marked change from when I was last there two years ago.  That, for me, was the highlight of the conference.

Some other personal highlights:

  • Bob Swift’s session on the Johannine prologue was both simple and very, very deep.  It goes well with Jim Reitman’s “Gospel in 3-D” series, which presents some additional refinements.
  • Dan Hauge’s workshop on 1 Samuel.  He aimed to equip us to teach 1 Samuel and convince us of the value of doing so.  It worked.
  • John Niemela’s presentation on Hebrews 12:14 was very good.  His thesis: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (in you).”
  • I had the privilege of presenting a plenary session on Hebrews, and a workshop on worship.  You can find them both here.
  • My good friend and future co-worker Joe Anderson came to the conference, and we partnered up for some serious psalm-singing (more info here).  Monday night we spent working on matching lyrics and tunes, Tuesday night we spent a few hours in a corner of the Riley Center with a few friends, singing, sharing, and praying until midnight or so.  Wednesday night the same, but with a very good conversation about worship dance…and a little actual dancing, even.
  • We also got the chance to introduce psalm-singing to the whole conference in the main session after lunch on Wednesday, and in the prayer time.  That was a lot of fun, and very well received.
  • The fellowship was outstanding, as always.  Made new friends, reacquainted with old ones, and got to meet an online friend and fellow worker in person for the first time, which was a real pleasure.
  • Jim Reitman (knowing that my presentation would be discussing unity in the body of Christ) brought me a t-shirt that said “Ask me about my dysfunctional family.”  Priceless.

A good time was had by all — as far as I know — and I’m looking forward to next year.


The High Personal Cost of Maintaining Unity

18 April 2010

There is such a thing as a false gospel, a cancer which must be cut out of Christ’s body. But there is also such a thing as having a sense of proportion, and if we expect anyone to believe us when we need to sound the alarm about genuine heresy, then we need to stop crying wolf all the time.

Christ only has one body, and the gospel of grace tells us that all our brothers are a part of it. Even when the argument is about the gospel, if we respond to every piddling difference by carving off major parts of the Body, how are we defending the gospel that brings us together? If you get a carving knife and flay off every freckle and skin blemish because it might be cancer, are you helping your body, or hurting it?

So the charge is to do what Paul did. Tell the truth, and tell it as starkly as it needs to be told. Then go to meet your erring brothers and have it out. This will cost you—money, time, energy, pain, everything. Keep at it until you all come to one mind. If they throw you out, that just puts the process on hold for a while. Maybe a week, maybe a decade or a century or even longer. Keep working anyway, however God gives opportunity. The prize is worth it.

Christ will build His church, and the whole body will come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. On that day, we will no longer be children, and the whole body will have grown up in all things into Christ our Head.

This is the prize. Christ purchased it; He calls us to live worthy of it. It is worth what it will cost us to serve Christ in this. So look to your own connections with this in mind, and pray for me as I attend to mine this coming week.


Truth is a Person

4 October 2009

A further thought to add to the earlier reflection on universals and particulars:

Ultimate reality — truth — is a Person: “I am the Truth,” Jesus says. Because the Truth is also the divine Word, one expects propositions, and there are propositions. But because the Truth is a Person, one expects more than propositions: one expects acts in history, questions, commands, stories, emotions, all the true things of which a person is capable. And there they are. These lay claim to truth in the same way that propositions do: they are the derivative truth that comes from being a reflection of Truth, the Person.A life that honors God — “walking in the truth,” the apostle John calls it — derives its truth in the same way: by reflecting Christ.

This is another reason why universals and particulars are equally ultimate. When the divine Word is made flesh, when Truth is a person with hair of a certain length and eyes of a certain color, particulars and universals have met and kissed, and can never be separated.

Which leaves us with a burning question: how are universals and particulars related?  It’s a question that has plagued philosophers for centuries (again, see Rushdoony’s The One and the Many for details on the history).  Christians have an answer to this question: “The same way unity and diversity are related in the Trinity.”  We have a word for it: perichoresis, the mutual indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity in one another.  So we might say that in the world, universals and particulars are perichoretically related — each indwells the other, as in the Trinity.  Which is to say, we don’t understand the phenomenon in the world any better than we understand the Trinitarian phenomenon of which it is a reflection.  But since the world is created by the Trinity and reflects the Trinity, we expect to encounter a mystery on this point, and it should not surprise us that the answer is beyond our ken.

Discovering that the thing is, finally and forever, beyond our reach forces us to realize that we are not God, and never will be.  There are two possible responses to this: glorify Yahweh in gratitude, or be offended and ungrateful.  One of them is life, health and peace, and the other is struggle, sickness and death — the same two choices humanity has always faced, from the Garden right down to today.