April 15, 2012 § 5 Comments
Breaking the blog silence here. It’s with bittersweet sentiments that I’m announcing the closing this blog. It’s been a great two year run here at genu(re)flection and it’s been hugely beneficial for me as I basically materialized my transition from Reformed Presbyterianism to Anglicanism in these posts. But, that’s just it. My Anglicanism is now established. I’m actually in the process of submitting myself as a candidate for Aspirancy in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, the first step towards the possible end of ordination into the priesthood of Christ’s Church.
New chapters sometimes lead to new books.
Additionally, this blog served as a window through which I learned how much I didn’t know and frankly, I started this blog with the rather naive pretense that I was actually a “theo-blogger” worth some salt. I’ve learned otherwise and grown some needed humility. The world of theology has been laid open to show itself as much larger and deeper than I considered it when I started this blog. I’m not currently in divinity school and have realized that at this time in life, I simply don’t have much business discussing the matters of theology that are actually being talked about today. Some day, Lord willing, but not yet.
However, I still love writing and am always seeking to learn more, especially theology. With that, I’m excited to announce the birth of my simple, hopefully pretension-less, self-titled blog Caleb Scott Roberts. A title like this means that nothing is off-topic and I have freedom to write within my current capabilities and interests.
To all my readers and commenters here, thanks so much for all the feedback!
And if you care to read where my thoughts go from here, I hope you’ll occasionally check out my new blog at www.calebscottroberts.blogspot.com
January 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’m obviously no theological heavyweight who’s spent decades contemplating the inner recesses of truth so I state this with a few grains of salt, but it appears to me that as a general rule, Christian theology is no friend of dichotomies — or rather, good Christian theology is no friend of dichotomies as you’ll find plenty of them in flawed theologies. My proof of this is entirely anecdotal and based solely upon the stuff I’ve happen to ponder for the last 5 years or so but it seems like every theological dichotomy I’ve encountered has turned out to be a false one. Among other things, Peter Leithart’s Against Christianity almost reads as a treatise against false dichotomies that currently plague your average evangelical’s assumptions. But I recently set out to consider why this may be. Why do so many of the theological dichotomies we construct turn out to be false?
It then hit me that it may be because the foundation of all theology, the Triune God, is comprised not of dichotomies, but of paradoxes. And paradoxes almost seem to be the complete opposite of dichotomies. Think about it. A dichotomy takes two elements which, on the surface, seem to be mutually exclusive and then systematizes their exclusivity, abstracting the concreteness of their opposition into a maxim. A paradox, on the other hand, looks upon those two seemingly exclusive elements and embraces them both, proclaiming both to be not only true in part, but necessary for truth together. Paradoxes then accept and celebrate the mystery of how the compatibility actually works out. So, you’d be reasonable to suppose that a rather bullet-proof dichotomy exists between God and man, but then the Incarnation happens. You’d be reasonable to suppose that there’s a dichotomy between God being one and God being Three, but God is Triune. If we put our heads together, we could probably keep thinking of more examples for awhile. The point is that paradox, not dichotomy, seems to characterize the objects of theological inquiry and therefore theological inquiry itself provided that it is in alignment with the objects thereof.
Bringing this down to the practical, I have found that I usually approach theological dichotomies with suspicion, a guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude. And if a certain theological house seems to be constructed with a lot of dichotomies, well, I have a hard time feeling safe inside if you know what I mean. So, as an example, let’s consider a false dichotomy, kids! Robin Phillips already addressed this quote from PCA pastor Ligon Duncan sufficiently, so I’m just going to add a few thoughts of my own. The quote from Duncan in reference to Eastern Orthodoxy goes like this:
There are only two systems of salvation in Christian history: the sacerdotal system which depends upon the dispensation of the sacraments by the Church and there’s the evangelical system which acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the sinner, drawing that sinner to Christ, uniting him to Christ by faith.
So what you have here is a proposed dichotomy between the “evangelical system” and the “sacerdotal system” with the former being that which depends upon the Holy Spirit for salvation and the latter being that which depends upon the sacraments for salvation. In other words, it’s either salvation by the Holy Spirit, or salvation by sacraments; take your pick. And under this definition, I would most surely be one of those wretched “sacerdotalists”. But Duncan presents this dichotomy as if it’s a general feature of theology describing them later as “the two main alternatives” in Christian history implying that his distinction is self-evident and would be agreed upon as accurate by both sacerdotalists and evangelicals. Unfortunately, it’s not general at all; in fact, the distinction itself is a product of the evangelical system. The fact is that no one labeled as a “sacerdotalist” under Duncan’s definition would ever say that, “Yep, evangelicals trust the Holy Spirit for salvation and we sacerdotalists trust our sacraments.” and its incredibly careless/ignorant to even suggest that. Both sacerdotalists and evangelicals believe that salvation comes from the Holy Spirit’s activity, the difference pertains to the nature of that activity. So, if Duncan said that the sacerdotal system believes that salvation comes from the Holy Spirit’s work through the sacraments of the Church and the evangelical system believes that salvation comes from the Holy Spirit’s work through absolutely nothing, then that would be a fair distinction. But Duncan’s caricature of sacerdotalism does nothing more than showcase his evangelical lens as he has already assented to the premise that grace and salvation cannot be mediated through physical means or institutions. Therefore, when he looks upon the “sacerdotal” churches who have the sacraments at the center of their ecclesial lives, he then concludes that they must not trust the Holy Spirit for salvation since “trusting the Holy Spirit” means that one places no efficacious significance to sacraments or the Church. But again, that is not a universally accepted definition of how the Holy Spirit operates in salvation and thus, Duncan’s dichotomy is basically worthless except for its accurate description of the evangelical system (which, since it was given in the presence of evangelicals, wouldn’t have been needed in the first place.)
It is because of dichotomies like these that are constructed according to evangelical assumptions that I have eschewed the label. I am not an evangelical precisely because being one leads to conceptions of important matters like salvation described by Ligon Duncan above. I go for paradox instead, the paradox that God became man, Body becomes bread, Blood becomes wine, and Water becomes regeneration. And I guess that makes me a sacerdotalist.
January 1, 2012 § 6 Comments
Greetings to you all on this Feast of the Circumcision which this year also happens to be known as New Year’s Day! I hope the festivity is still going strong with you all as we still have a few more days left of Christmas.
As it is the beginning of the year, I thought I’d give you all a sneak peak into a new trajectory this blog is taking, one that is more structured than the random musings I’ve put up here since the blog’s inception. I have set a goal to enter graduate theological education somewhere beginning in the Fall semester of 2013 which gives me the entirety of this year to prepare for the application process. Of course, that includes a writing sample which I will be writing from scratch and using this blog as a sort of storyboard for the research and study I’ll be doing for it.
It would be difficult at this point to even detail a tentative topic but I do know that I’ll at least be looking into Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Jacques Maritain, and others perhaps juxtaposed with the development of modernity, nominalism, etc in the general realm of aesthetic theology. Perhaps some discussion of apprehension vs. comprehension in relation to all those elements/people above. So to kick it all off, here are the first two books on the docket waiting to be worked through:
Here on the left is Imagination and the Playfulness of God: The Theological Implications of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Definition of the Human Imagination by Anglican Priest-in-Germany Robin Stockitt which is pretty self-explanatory given the title. Over on the right is Yale’s Louis Dupre’s Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermenuetics of Nature and Culture which I first heard of on an interview of the Mars Hill Audio Journal wherein Ken Myers read this intriguing quote from the book that I penned down in my notebook as to not forget it. To share the intrigue with you all, here is that quote:
“At the end of the Middle Ages, however, nominalist theology effectively removed God from creation. Ineffable in being and inscrutable in his designs, God withdrew from the original synthesis altogether. The divine became relegated to a supernatural sphere separate from nature, with which it retained no more than causal, external link. This removal of transcendence fundamentally affected the conveyance of meaning. Whereas previously meaning had been established in the very act of creation by a wise God, it now fell upon the human mind to interpret a cosmos, the structure of which had ceased to be given as intelligible. Instead of being an integral part of the cosmos, the person became its source of meaning. Mental life separated from cosmic being: as meaning-giving ‘subject,’ the mind became the spiritual substratum of all reality. Only what it objectively constituted would count as real. Thus reality split into two separate spheres: that of the mind, which contained all intellectual determinations, and that of all other being, which received them.” (3)
Whew. Back to you all soon.
December 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
In chapter one of the Russian director Andrey Tarkovsky’s book Sculpting in Time, a book laying out his meditations on aesthetics and filmmaking, Tarkovsky defines poetry (and perhaps art in general) as “an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality.” And since he talks elsewhere of man’s poetic awareness as the sense by which we apprehend the true, the good, and the beautiful, for Tarkovsky, this poetic awareness is of the essential consciousness of man perhaps even transcending his sensual and rational faculties. Therefore, when one perceives an art form, his poetic awareness is stoked such that:
Through poetic connections feeling is heightened and the spectator is made more active. He becomes a participant in the process of discovering life, unsupported by ready-made deductions from the plot or ineluctable pointers by the author. He has at his disposal only what helps to penetrate to the deeper meaning of the complex phenomena represented in front of him.
Both art and the world are “complex phenomena” that stand in front of us, both possessing a “deeper meaning”, with art being an epitome, a microcosm, of the cosmos itself. Since the “process of discovering life” happens independently from judgments or “deductions” that could be intellectually ascertained, Tarkovsky suggests a trans-cognitive or trans-rational element of man’s nature, one that senses the really real, the real that mysteriously animates the reality we immediately experience with our senses. For as Tarkovsky notes, our “poetic visions” are not things that are normally perceived in the “framework of the patently obvious.”
We know from St. Paul that we now only see “through a glass, darkly“, that this present world is anticipating the final coherence and culmination of all things when we shall see “face to face” and know ourselves even as we are truly known. And if Tarkovsky is right, our poetic awareness and connectivity is of the essence of the Imago Dei and through it, the image creates an image and knows that image. And in that image we create, we can perceive more clearly the nature of the Image which we ourselves embody and live within, having recapitulated the creative act of God.
Art is then knowledge of that which now abideth: faith, hope, and charity.