Thursday, October 20, 2011

Theology: class 4

“Maker of Heaven and Earth…”

Prayers for the World
1. For Joy in God’s Creation
O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. BCP, 814

Creation: “Before” . . .? Luther and his switches.
Thinking of the beginning as qualitative rather than temporal.
Importance of the beginning in terms of the Anselmian distinction.
Creation = a unique act of God’s freedom.

Biblical Creation
Genesis, composed around 500BC, contrast with Isaiah, 8th century BC.
Two Creation Stories:
Genesis 1:1-2:4 = newer, more sophisticated, Priestly source
Genesis 2:4ff = J source, older, close to the Enuma Elish.
Political and theological: “The interest [in writing the creation story] was not in causal explanations but in a search for meaning, a framework in terms of which life could be lived.” David Brown, Invitation to Theology, 1989.
Other Ancient Near-Eastern creation stories. What is creation and ancient near East cosmologies? What is creation in the Genesis account?

Two analogies when thinking through Creation:

Stresses transcendence, God’s distinction from the creation and also His freedom.
Biblically based.

Rays from the sun. Important in Orthodox theology.
Stresses immanence.
Allows that Creation is not arbitrary.

Creatio ex nihilo or creatio ex chao? And why does it matter? A thought experiment.

Books for beginner theologians:
The Holy Bible
The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, especially the Eucharistic prayers and the Catechism.
Hunting the Divine Fox: Robert Farrar Capon
The Peaceable Kingdom: Stanley Hauerwas
Praying Shapes Believing: Leonel Mitchell
Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry: World Council of Churches, free online.

Theology: class #3

“In God the Father Almighty. . .”
Third Sunday of Advent
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

The “final” word on God’s revelation: “God’s outward action, towards his creatures, is anchored in his ‘nature’, i.e. it is a manifestation of his own proper truth, it is his eternal will and not his passing fancy . . . The identity between the revelation and the Revealer, between ‘God for us’ and ‘God in himself,’ is the nerve center of all confessing statements.” – Helmut Gollwitzer
The Doctrine of God, a laughable attempt to talk about God, in 50 minutes:
Where we learn Father Josh’s favorite theological term:
God as:
Living: God is constant yet responsive; tension inherent, but also the making of dynamism.
Holy: Biblical conception of holiness: separate, called-apart, distinct.
God is holy, wholly other; yet . . .
Spirit: What is spirit?
Nephesh, developmental model of spirit (Matter to Life to Consciousness to Spirit)
Spirit is a holarchy: the highest realm that takes up all other dimensions of reality, includes but transcends the body.
Love: see the New Testament, esp. Johannine Corpus, and Jesus Christ.
Marcionism, a pet heresy.
Day of wrath = day of judgement
“You only have I known of all the families on the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Amos 3:2.
Wrath and anger are “not the negation of love but rather the negation of the negation of love.” Paul Tillich.
Eternal: not simply timelessness, but transcendence of time
God’s freedom to be involved in time can only be accomplished if God is not bound to time.

Personal: What we say when we talk about God: Anthropomorphism in the Bible and theopomorphism in our talk.
Lord: Biblical examples defy exaggeration.
What does Lordship mean theologically?
Distinction = A thought experiment with Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD).
“God is that which nothing greater can be thought”
Concern over lordship (hierarchy: the feminist gift and burden)
-Anthropomorphism and theopomorphism redux
--All earthly lordships, ought to conform to the divine lordship.
Transcendent: God is distinct from . . .
“God transcends the creation in being distinct from creation; God is not the essence of the creation. While the creation depends upon God, its essence is not identical with God, but distinct.”
Panentheism: another of the thinking Christian’s pet heresy.
Define: panentheism vs. pantheism
Creation is included with God (but not all of God) vs. God = Creation

Immanent: the crux of divine revelation in light of divine transcendence.

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day December 25
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Theology: class #2

“We Believe . . .”
Collect for Proper 24
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Revelation in two parts

Act and Content
Act of Revelation: God’s self-revelation: personal.
Excursus on, “And blessed be God’s vs. His kingdom…”
Example: “Knowing” someone through personal disclosure vs. observation.
Trust as the chief descriptor.
Limitations: finite humans and the utter otherness of God.
Kinds of knowing:
Scientific knowledge: the initiative is on the knower.
-adds to the store of knowledge
Revealed knowledge: Initiative is on the object of knowledge (God).
-transforms (“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11)

Content of Revelation: what God reveals.
Authority and Discernment
The role of the Holy Spirit
Reason (?)

Traditional model of faith: assent to propositional doctrine that had been dictated by God.

Natural theology and Revelation
Exemplar: St. Thomas Aquinas: 1225-1274.
Dichotomy between the two: is that dichotomy accurate?
Modern example: Intelligent design does not point to Jesus of Nazareth
Tillich: One cannot argue rigorously from the world to God.

General Revelation
God’s revelation in nature.
-universal moral consciousness, reason, etc.

Special Revelation
God’s self-revelation in Scripture.

Continuing or Dependent Revelation
Always in media res special revelation
-“You can’t get to the Holy Trinity through a rainbow.” Dr. Don Armentrout

Final revelation
-“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
Subject of eschatology

Theology: class #1

“Getting Our Bearings”

Collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Theology: Primary and Secondary
Primary theology is talk to God.
Examples: all kataphatic (via positiva) and apophatic (via negativa) expressions.
Secondary theology is talk about God.
i.e. Good manners
Primary and Secondary is about sequence, not importance; more to follow.
Theology versus Religious studies - The bias of the Church and this course of study.

Understanding begins in medias res.
Contingency as descriptive of creation
“On whatever place one has fallen, on that place he must find support if he is to rise again.”
St. Augustine
No such thing as tabula rasa, or a vacuum.
Theology is always on the menu and it’s all you can eat!

Doxological Spirals, Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams
A typology of theological activity: Celebratory-Communicative-Critical
Attempts to use thought, language, and image to express a fullness of theological vision: Primary theology
Examples: hymnody, liturgy, the Orthodox Church.
Grows out of a concern that the language of celebration can become too insular.
Communicative theology commends, persuades and attempts to express itself in many structures of thought.
“A theology experimenting with the rhetoric of its uncommitted environment.”
R. Williams.
Examples: Missiology, revival and reformation movements, preaching.
A critical theology is “alert to its own inner tensions or irresolutions,” due to its passage through the uncommitted media of the communicative stage.
Not a circle but a spiral, ever widening. A holarchy: nested spheres which are recapitulated in light of each stage which precedes it.
Review of primary and secondary theology in light of in media res and the doxological spiral.

Contemporary application
Praying, Mary Oliver, from Thirst, 2006.

Theology: Faith Seeking Understanding

I've been teaching a class on systematic theology at Saint John's for the last several weeks. I will be posting my lecture outlines and hopefully, in time, audio from the lectures.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Saint Paul's Winston-Salem

Here are some pictures of this magnificent church, or at least the windows. Here for clergy conference.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Here are too many examples of the signs I mentioned on my sermon last week.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

video from today's sermon

Sermon starts at minute 34. I make reference to signs in the church. We posted dozens of the same sign, ledger size paper, black with white writing: "Is One God Enough?" I really enjoyed how some of the homeletical heft had been carried in the parishioners by having to wonder about those signs.

Watch live streaming video from sjecharlotteservices at

text from today's sermon

16th Sunday After Pentecost A

Exodus 20

I saw a poll which said that only 17% of Anglican clergy could name all Ten Commandments. Now that was Church of England clergy, ok? I can’t imagine what that percentage would be among Episcopal clergy, (we could take a poll right now!).

So maybe some review is in order. The Ten Commandments are traditionally divided into God-centric and people-centric commandments. The God-centric commandments are: you shall have no other God’s before me, you shall not have idols, and you shall not take Lord’s name in vain. The people-centric commandments are about taking a Sabbath day, honoring our parents, not stealing, not committing adultery, not killing, not coveting, and not giving a false witness. While there is something to the traditional designation of how the Ten Commandments are divided up, the first three about relationship with God and the final seven about relationship between people, the subject is always God and the object is always us. All of the Ten Commandments are about God and how we, in turn, relate to him.

For our review we can ask if there is any importance to the order of the Commandments? Maybe. What is easier to obey: not murdering someone or having one God? Don’t answer right away, which commandment is easier to obey, not murdering, or having one god? Since the ten commandments are something of a contract, God is leading with the hardest commandment, having no other gods before him, just so we will know what the terms are so that if we don’t agree to the terms we can get out before even the fine print is established. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Get on board here, or head back to Egypt.

It seems easy enough: You shall have no other Gods before me, and you shall not make for yourself an idol. After all, how hard can that be? It’s not too hard being a monotheist these days, and when we talk about God, we are almost universally talking about the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Heck, even the atheists don’t believe in that God. You don’t hear Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens declaiming the pantheon of the Hindus or the Native American Sky Spirit. No, for the atheists, they don’t believe in our God, they are clear about that. The point is that God is God, God is one, this is not a hard piece of information to get behind these days.

The same is likely to be the case when it comes to idols. Nobody here has taken something from the creation, say, some wood or gold and has carved or otherwise manipulated it and attributed divine powers to it. Nobody has a rain god in their pocket, nobody here has a private, personal god that looks over the family. God rules out idols for the Hebrews because they are about to go into Canaan where idols were everywhere and for every purpose: fertility, rain, the harvest, the home, everything. But we don’t have that do we? Well that’s good, we are covered then on those first two commandments: we are a one-God people. And we don’t have idols.

But, it’s just not that simple,

God put a qualifier on the idol part: “you shall not bow down to them or worship them.” On the face of it, that sounds pretty harmless, God is talking about the actual practice of bowing, prostrating oneself in a ritualistic way to these idols. Of course nobody here is literally bowing down to idols. But there are lots of ways of bowing down. There are lots of ways of honoring something in our lives. There are lots of ways to show our true allegiances. And there are indeed lots of gods.

So fess up, who is your god? One god is seldom enough for most people. What do you cling to for help, satisfaction, and security? Who or what do you put first in your heart and mind? The two biggest idols I know of are Career and Children. Oh, boy! Now he’s done it. As one of my friends would say, “Now he’s gone from preachin’ to meddlin’!”

This is the part of the sermon where I make you mad. The secret of preaching, though, is that you can really only say what you know, and believe me I am acquainted with the gods and idols of Career and Children. Career and Children are popular idols because they are so central to our lives. That’s not all wrong though, the problem comes up with their position in our lives, central. God must be central, and when He is not, then you need to ask yourself, “who is my god?” What do you give honor to before you give honor to God? There are countless of lesser idols to worship too: sports, sex, physical perfection, intellectual power, social standing, you name it! The thing about us human beings is that we will worship just about anything.

Personally, I have been tempted in the past few weeks to worship an idol, the idol of health. I have a dear friend, a new friend, who was in mortal danger, but no longer is, she is still going to have a long rough road, but she is out of the woods; and for a time I almost gave honor to the idol of health. See? Idolatry is such a subtle thing. We have a concern and then, just for a moment, we lose perspective, and then we have placed all our concern and hope in the wrong place. Idolatry is too narrow a perspective, I was placing too much emphasis on the health of my friend and not enough on the author of health for my friend.

The problem that has always been with idolatry from the days before Moses up until today is that the idols are right in front of us and are made of the things that we have always needed and wanted. Those ancient people weren’t dummies you know, they went to those idols for the things that they needed: they needed rain, they needed the harvest, they needed children and they needed to feed their families. God is calling us away from our idols to recognize Him as the author of all creation. Doing this was absolutely counter-cultural then, in Moses’ time and it still is. When we leave the idols behind the culture looks and wonders what our problem is. But when we worship God, we say, “God is the Creator.” God creates all the things that we love: health, careers, children, sex, sports, all of it.

The only sin then, the only sin, is idolatry, taking something from the creation and imbuing it with the powers that belong to God, the power to make us whole. Look at those commandments, those, “shall nots” and you will see a person acting as if their own desires were the creator and not God.

When we see that God is God, and that we are not, and neither is anything else, then we are doing something monumental: we are working with the grain of the universe. Do you hear that? Just like woodworkers that submit their work to the grain of the wood, so too do we when we see ourselves and everything else as created, and God as creator. It’s that simple and it’s that difficult. When we finally see God as God, then we are in harmony with how creation was intended to be, we are working with the grain of the universe.

What this comes down to is simple awareness. Awareness that God is the author of all, full stop, and without remainder. God is God. This awareness is never far from us and we need not prepare to receive it. Simply remind yourself that those children were made by God, be aware that God allows your career to blossom, or to dry up. God is our sole source of happiness and satisfaction. Be aware, be mindful of the grain of the universe that God, your one God, has established. And then, like the woodworker, you will live and work, not against the grain, but with the grain that God has established. So, yes, one God is enough.