Friday, March 30, 2012

A History of the Work of Redemption

In the three bible classes I'm teaching this year, I've been reading different portions of Jonathan Edwards' posthumously arranged book, A History of the Work of Redemption. Having given the students several different categories of Old Testament types, I've asked them to pick a book from their section of the Old Testament and write a 500-1000 word essay describing one or more types that they find. I'll be giving them an example of the sort of thing I'm looking for, which I have included below for the benefit of my readers here.

The history of the work of redemption is a work that God continues from the Fall of man to the end of the world. There are three epochs within the history of the work of redemption. The first is from the Fall of man to the Incarnation of Christ. The second is Christ’s Incarnation to His Resurrection. The third is from Christ’s Resurrection to the end of the world. In the first epoch, God’s works are forerunners and earnests for the work of Christ during His Incarnation to His Resurrection. Since God’s works are for the purpose of Christ’s incarnate ministry, one may discern how the events, persons, and institutions of the Old Testament anticipate Christ’s work. In the following essay I will show how the Garden of Eden from the book of Genesis is a type that anticipates Christ’s work of uniting His people in the presence of God in heaven.
Before examining the type it must be defined. A type in the Bible is a person, institution, or providential act that reveals some aspect or aspects of Christ and His work of redemption. In Genesis, the Garden of Eden is a type of God’s house where He invites man to dwell in His presence. We learn in Genesis 2:8 that the garden is not the whole land of Eden, but a special place in the eastern part of Eden. In Ezekiel 28:13-14 the prophet tells us that the Garden of Eden was located on the holy mountain of the Lord. Mountains reach toward the heavens and are the closest earthly points to God’s invisible dwelling place in the Biblical cosmology. It is on a mountain where God meets with Abraham to stay his sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22), where God meets with Moses to give him the Law (Ex. 19), and where God has Solomon build God’s earthly house, the temple (2 Chron. 3:1).
Further evidence of the Garden of Eden as a type of God’s heavenly house is discovered in the construction of the Temple in 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3. Into the cedar were carved buds and flowers and palm trees, overlaid with gold. There were wreaths of chainwork and pomegranates. There were precious stones ornamenting the house. In the holy of holies two cherubim guarded the ark of the Lord, where God’s presence dwelt. Only the high priest could enter the presence of the Lord. In the Garden of Eden was every fruit-bearing tree as well as gold and other precious metals. When the man and woman were removed from the Garden, God placed cherubim at the gate to guard against Adam and Eve returning. Like the High Priest, only the Son of Man would be able to enter God’s house to gain access to God’s presence and to receive eternal life for the people for whom He was the mediator (Heb. 9).
Both the Garden of Eden and the Temple are types of God’s heavenly home, and they represent unimpeded fellowship with God. After the Fall, that fellowship was impeded by sin, and so fellowship with God could only come through a mediator (High Priest) and offering for sin (blood, representing the life of the sacrifice). In Christ we see all of these representations converge. In Christ the fullness of the Godhead dwells (Col. 2:9), which makes Christ the true temple (Jn. 2:21), and the cornerstone of God’s house, into which His people are built (1 Pet. 2:4-5). By recognizing the Garden of Eden as a type of the glorious house of heaven, where the people of God are not only in His presence, but also united with Him in the Son, one learns of the greater glory of God’s plan and the purpose these Old Testament types serve in revealing God’s glory to His people.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When words fail

In times of grief and loss I often feel, as I assume many others do, at a loss for words. Part of the feeling stems from the underlying desire to say something helpful, something that will ease the hurt, and to not say something that worsens the pain, increases the difficulty, or offends those whom we wish to care for.

There is a dilemma, a two-fold problem, because one doesn't want to try to speak so "profoundly" as to be vacuous, nor does one want to speak so "simply" as to be trite. One can say too much in saying too little, and say too little in a flood of words. Nor is it best to simply say "what is on one's heart," since grief and loss often cause a myriad of emotions, not all of which ought to receive expression, least of all to those who are closest to the pain. None of us want to be like Job's "friends."

It is a somewhat better approach to think about what you would want to hear if you were closest to the pain. As a Christian, I would want to hear most from God, and so what would be more appropriate than verses that speak of God's faithfulness, the pain experienced by His people, or by Himself, and other words that God has revealed to us of Himself and of ourselves, which we find in the Scriptures. Of course some thought should be put into the selection or selections of Scripture. (If one were consoling an unbeliever, then one's choice of Scripture would need a separate kind of scrutiny.)

I would also want to hear from those who love me. It is a tendency of some to avoid people who are grieving. Sometimes the motive for doing so is obviously selfish; to avoid any of the discomfort of being close to loss and pain. Sometimes the motive is less obviously selfish; to avoid out of fear of doing something to make things worse. A helpful analogy here is to consider a bruised plant. A bruised plant is in a precarious situation. If it is handled too roughly, it may break. If it is handled not at all, it may wither, or break from lack of support, or both. A bruised plant needs attention, it needs care, but it requires a wise hand. The point is that the more love one has for the plant, the more necessary it is to attend to it, since love is itself a governor of the type of care that acts wisely. It must also be said that such love isn't an emotion (though emotions may attend it), but a manner of relationship with consequent volitions. Moreover, the plant needs most of all the care of the one who has provided the most love already, that is, the one who has poured out his effort to cultivate the plant. The proportion to which you have loved the persons closest to the pain of loss and grief is the proportion to which you have been equipped to speak words of comfort with wisdom.

I would also want to hear from those with whom my life is shared. One of the difficulties of coping with loss and grief is that it is with us wherever we are, including the workplace, the church, and other venues where our lives take place. Presumably there will be some in these venues who love me, and thus fall into the previous consideration. However, there are also the many acquaintances with whom we have frequent contact, but little by way of a loving relationship. It is important that these acquaintances don't draw themselves further away from those in grief, since the experience of grief is alienating in and of itself. To compound the alienation would only worsen the impact, I should think. However, I would think that an increased amount of intimacy should be avoided, on the basis of wisdom. Again, a bruised plant is vulnerable, and the acquaintance will be far less capable of providing wise care where those closer to those grieving can offer their love. I suppose I would want acquaintances to remain such, offering their condolences and continuing to treat me as an acquaintance without ignoring the fact that my life has been radically altered. I suppose I would also want  a loved one to run "interference" for me by proactively seeking to communicate with acquaintances to let them know in what ways they can offer support and sympathy, so as to keep me from being inundated with attention, which can be wearying (at least for someone like me).

If you have other suggestions, or think mine could stand improvement, please leave a message. There is no better time to do so than there is right now.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Rubric of Theological Authorities

Oliver Crisp, in the opening chapter of his book, God Incarnate, offers a very helpful rubric for distinguishing and evaluating theological authorities. While his ranking and evaluations are decidedly aligned with the Protestant Reformers, I think Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would find his distinctions helpful when reevaluated to suit their respective differences.

"I take it that Holy Scripture is normative for all matters of faith and practice, and therefore, for all matter doctrinal. It is the norma normans, that is, the norm which stands behind and informs all the subordinate 'norms' of catholic creeds, or the confessional documents of particular ecclesial traditions" (9).

He defines Scripture by what he calls a "high view," all others being lower which deny that Scripture is either "(a) a divine revelation of what is otherwise uknown," and "(b) the particular place wherein God revealed himself and his message of salvation to his people through the work of the Holy Spirit" (10-11).

"Secondly, what follows assumes that the creeds of the ecumenical councils of the church have a special place in Christian thinking. They act as a sort of hermeneutical bridge between Scripture and the church. By this I mean the creeds of the ecumenical councils help us to understand what Scripture is, or is not, saying about a particular doctrine" (12).

He goes on to describe the functions of the ecumenical creeds, which, "bear witness to the gospel in Scripture, they tease out aspects of the doctrine of the gospel, and because they do this, they have served as a doxological and liturgical purpose in the life of the Church, as a means by which Christians may affirm what it is they believe, and what it is that holds the Church together" (13). He includes the first seven councils of the Church within those considered "truly ecumenical," recognizing that some communions reject one or more of these seven (e.g. the Coptic Church's non-reconciliation with the Council of Chalcedon of AD 451).

Confessions and Creeds of various communions rank below the ecumenical creeds and confessions, saying "All such creeds, confessions, and conciliar statements are of less importance than the ecumenical creeds, not least because only a proportion of the Church upholds them. But such confessions are not of negligible worth. They are important repositories of doctrinal reflection, and for my part I am persuaded that such confessions are of more significance than the teaching of any one particular theologian because they represent the 'mind', or collective wisdom of a conclave of theologians and church leaders seeking to make sense of the teaching of Scripture for the Christian community" (15).

"To sum up: creedal and confessional documents are norma normata, or standardized norms, in the life of the church. They do not have the same authority in matters touching dogma that Scripture has, as the principium theologicae
 that is, the collection of fundamental principles or sources for theology" (15).

Third is the "Doctors and theologians of the Church," of whom Crisp says, "Theologians of the past have their own blind spots, of course. Yet we can often see the motes in their theology much more clearly than the planks in our own. For this reason, we need to listen to the thinkers of the past. Theological forebears often help correct the blind spots we might not discover without them. Amongst these theologians are some who are clearly head and shoulders above the rest. I suggest that their thinking should be taken more seriously than, say, the latest theologically fashionable volume or school of thought because their teaching has been tried and tested over time, and granted a measure of authority through being used by large segments of the Church as sources of derivative theological authority in particular doctrinal disputes" (16).

He evaluates their relation to the other authorities, saying, "Nevertheless, the work of individual theologians, even the great Doctors of the Church like St Augustine or St Thomas, is not as important, for the purposes of systematic theology, as confessions or ecumenical creeds. Their views cannot command the same attention that, say, the Council of Chalcedon can, in part because their pronouncements do not have the same 'reach' as Chalcedon. This is not merely a matter of influence. Some theologians have been extremely influential on the shape of theology beyond their own ecclesiastical community. . . .The difference I have in mind depends upon the theological authority invested in what a given theologian says on one hand, and what a particular ecumenical symbol records, on the other. . . .Where those views are not matters of matters that have been defined by an ecumenical council like Chalcedon, and are not iterations on confessional statements of a particular tradition to which they belong, their statements are theologoumena. That is, what they are offering is an informed theological opinion on a particular matter of doctrine" (16).

Crisp then summarizes the whole rubric using the Latin designations:

"1. Scripture is the norma normans, the principium theologicae. . . .This is the first-order authority in all matters of Christian doctrine.
2. Catholic creeds, as defined by an ecumenical council of the Church, constitute a first tier of norma normata, which have second-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine.
3. Confessional and conciliar statements of particular ecclesial bodies are a second tier of norma normal, which have third-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine.
4. The particular doctrines espoused by theologians including those individuals accorded the title Doctor of the Church which are not reiterations of matters that are de fide, or entailed by something de fide, constitute theologoumena, or theological opinions, which are not binding upon the Church, but which may be offered up for legitimate discussion within the Church" (17).

While Crisp's rubric may not be particularly revolutionary, but nevertheless a succinct and helpful summary of the sort of theological authorities necessary in any thoughtful and responsible theological considerations.