More Reading Notes

‘A Biblical Theology of Exile’ has so far been great reading. The first chapter on methodology had some great stuff on colonialism/postcolonialism, and the second chapter (which is as far as I’ve gotten) has been surveys of attitudes/trends in historical exile study. As a side-note, it was one of the only books cited in the bibliography of the chapter on ‘Exile’ in ‘The World of the New Testament’ I could afford. Brill isn’t in the habit of making inexpensive books, it would seem.

I spent some time this morning going through I.1 of Barth’s dogmatics, specifically the sections on the Trinity. He makes extensive uses of ‘modes of being’ and the relations between the persons of the Trinity – he also noted that the Trinity isn’t a case of three persons so much as a threefold repetition of the one God, which is an interesting way to look at it.

Based on the limited reading I’ve done, Robert Jenson is a theologian with whom I need to become more acquainted with – David Bentley Hart speaks quite highly of him, at any rate.

Torrance’s ‘Reality and Scientific Theology’ has a ton of good Trinitarian stuff in it – his analysis of ‘persons’ from the Boethian and Ricardine perspective is pretty illuminating, especially when he applies it to the Trinity. Barth has pretty much the same analysis in I.1 – I’m not sure which is more difficult to read.

The War is at an End

‘The war is at an end – even though here and there troops are still shooting, because they have not heard anything yet about the capitulation. The game is won, even though the player can still play a few further moves. Actually he is already mated. The clock has run down, even though the pendulum still swings a few times this way and that. It is in this interim space that we are living: the old is past, behold it has all become new. The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them any more. If you have heard the Easter message, you can no longer run around with a tragic face and lead the humourless existence of a man who has no hope. One thing still holds, and only this one thing is really serious, that Jesus is the Victor. A seriousness that would look back past this, like Lot’s wife, is not Christian seriousness. It may be burning behind – and truly it is burning – but we have to look, not at it, but at the other fact, that we are invited and summoned to take seriously the victory of God’s glory in this man Jesus and to be joyful in Him. Then we may live in thankfulness and not in fear.’

Karl Barth, “Dogmatics in Outline”

Another Trinitarian Thought

Gregory Nyssa holds that the Godhead isn’t a description of God’s nature but rather an operation which unites the persons of the Trinity. Gregory gets into what the term actually means in ‘On Not Three Gods’:

‘…we suppose that “Godhead” (theotes) is derived from “beholding” (thea) and that by general custom and the teaching of the Scriptures, he who is our beholder (theates) is called God (theos). Now if anyone admits that to behold and to see are the same thing, and that the god who oversees all things both is and is called the overseer of the universe, let him consider whether this operation belongs to one of the Persons we believe to constitute the holy Trinity, or whether the power extends to the three Persons. For if our interpretation of “Godhead” is the right one, and the things which are said to be beheld (theata) and that which beholds them is called God (theos), no one of the Persons of the Trinity could properly be excluded from this form of address on the ground of this meaning of the word.’ (‘On Not Three Gods’)

So, again, Nyssa basically grounds the unification of the three persons in the operation of the Godhead – the operation(s) flow in one motion from the Father, through the son, to the Spirit.

Trinitarian Thoughts

- Barth’s way of thinking about the Trinity is very interesting, because it proceeds after the fact of God’s revelation. God has spoken, so what must be true of God for this to be so? Kevin Davis helpfully noted that the ‘what must be true of God’ bit is given in revelation – Barth basically (in a manner that should be familiar to those who know Barth) makes all the conditions for revelation depend on God. McGrath notes that the Spirit does seem to fare a bit poorly in Barth.

- N.T. Wright’s focus on the ways of speaking about God acting in the world within a Jewish framework is interesting to me (and something I’ve mentioned here before). Wright sees the classical ways of thinking about the Trinity not as wrong but perhaps a bit conceptually confused – persons, nature, essence, substance, etc. Sometimes he plays the ‘greek philosophy’ card a bit too strongly but I think a lot can be said for his overall point – which is, in a nutshell, that Scripture contains a built-on trinitarian grammar or framework. Wright is a bit more strictly biblically focused than most trinitarian formulations in that he sees the ways of thinking about God in the OT and in 2TJ as being fairly prescriptive of how we should think about the Trinity.

- I don’t see a way for social trinitarianism to avoid being tritheistic.

- Analytic philosophy does not make for good trinitarian theology.

How to Enjoy the World

‘You never enjoy the world aright, till you see how a sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God: And prize in everything the service which they do you, by manifesting His glory and goodness to your Soul, far more than the visible beauty on their surface, or the material services they can do your body. Wine by its moisture quencheth my thirst, whether I consider it or no: but to see it flowing from His love who gave it unto man, quencheth the thirst even of the Holy Angels. To consider it, is to drink it spiritually. To rejoice in its diffusion is to be of a public mind. And to take pleasure in all the benefits it doth to all is Heavenly, for so they do in Heaven. To do so, is to be divine and good, and to imitate our Infinite and Eternal Father.

Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels. The bride of a monarch, in her husband’s chamber, hath too such causes of delight as you.

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.’

Reading Notes

I continue to make headway through Wright’s ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’, and just finished the section ‘Symbol and Controversy’. Wright focused on Jesus’ challenge to the great symbols of Israel – the temple, Torah, food, land, and family – and his redefinition of them around himself. This has been a very intriguing section, with my favourite part being Wright’s detailed exposition and explanation of the reasons why Jesus went toe-to-toe with the Pharisees.

Asimov’s ‘Foundation and Empire’ is getting better – there was, as I said before, a rather awkward start but it’s finally picked up steam. I look very much forward to continuing the series. I looked everywhere for my copy of ‘I, Robot’, but couldn’t find it, so I’ll have to buy it eventually.

My wife and I watched ‘Valkyrie’ this week, and I forgot how enjoyable of a film that is. Great WW2 moral-dilemna film. I’m going to watch ‘Good’ with Viggo Mortensen next (not with him, the film simply features him).

Other than that, not much reading lately, as I’ve been pretty tired during the week. I’ll hopefully catch up, since this is a long weekend and I’m taking a few days off afterwards.

C.S. Lewis and Arguments

Lewis’s book ‘The Abolition of Man’, of all his books that I’ve read, has proved to be the most interesting to me, not necessarily because of its content (which is brilliant) but because of how Lewis engages with his topic, which is moral relativism – keeping this in mind, I’m going to focus on the form of his argument as opposed to the content here.

Lewis adopts a tactic that is, by all appearances, without academic integrity. His target is moral relativism, yet he doesn’t cite a single contemporary proponent of moral relativism. He doesn’t merely refrain from attacking easy targets, which any responsible philosopher should do – he refrains from attacking any target at all, easy or difficult. There’s no survey of the literature, no discussion of various religions in relation to moral philosophy, no engagement with the pragmatists, nothing. Instead, he singles out a single school textbook on the subject of reading and writing that was sent to him free of charge in exchange for a review.

Why does he go about it in this way? Why not go after the big, well-read, sophisticated schools of thought? I suspect that Lewis realized that relatively few people are actually influenced by such schools of thought – the ivory tower. Sure, some people are – but Lewis’s target, after reading through the book, becomes clear: it’s not bad philosophy, or philosophy he disagrees with, it’s bad popular philosophy. The dumbed-down kind of things one hears such as ‘Einstein proved it’s all relative, man’. This dumbed down pop moral philosophy is Lewis’s target.

Now, is it legitimate to attack popular philosophy, ignoring the sophisticated ideas of the ivory tower? One could think of the arguments of the new-atheists – a standard rebuttal is that the arguments concern a dumbed-down conception of god, and not (to give one example) the god of classical theism. Well, that may be true – but is it invalid? Lewis used, it could be argued, popular philosophy to launch a deep, powerful critique of positivism/scientism’s ethics – and his argument was anything but dumbed down.

So the question is, I suppose, is there an obligation to engage only ivory-tower positions, or can popular conceptions be engaged as a springboard to larger and deeper arguments that do, in fact, pertain to the ivory-tower positions? Another question: what’s the relation of ivory-tower positions to popular viewpoints? At what point does one get to say, ‘well, you’re just attacking an unsophisticated conception of X’?