Reading Notes 1/4/2015

I received ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’, Christmas eve, and finished the first volume in roughly 7 days – lots to think about. While I’m onboard with most of what Wright argues, I think he seriously overstates the theme of Israel’s national failure – partly because, at a textual level, the evidence he needs just isn’t there. Arguing from the implicit to the explicit is fine – but when every lack of data is brushed off with ‘the implicit narrative’ or ‘every second-temple Jew would have known this’, there’s a problem. Wright’s thesis is strained, at best – the texts he argues from (largely Romans 2:17-23 among others) simply don’t support his idea. I don’t even think he needs it, honestly. I wonder if he’s holding on to said thesis just for the heck of it. For a much more scholarly critique, see Larry Hurtado. It was nice to see him town down some of the anti-imperal rhetoric and relegate it to a somewhat more implicit role (somewhat).

I’ve been reading Pelikan’s Reformation volume, along with various writings of Luther, trying to get a handle of Lutheran dogmatics – christology, specifically (communication of attributes and all that). Christologically, I’d side with the Lutherans over the Reformed (who really do have some Nestorian tendencies), though the Lutherans have their own Eutychian leanings. When it comes to the law/covenant, though, Reformed wins every time. Even allowing for Luther’s rhetoric, I can’t get behind his idea of the law being an ideal that huamnity can’t attain, and in virtue of that, driving one to Christ. Two great web resources on this specific issue: Concordia Theology and Lutheran Theology

I forgot that I had a volume with the major christological dogmatics of Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazanien, and Athanasius, as well as all the major christological documents from the post-nicene controversies – Nestorius/Cyril, Leo’s tome, Chalcedon/Constantinople statements, Arius/Eusebius, etc. I’ve been reading the Nestorius/Cyril exchange, as well as the various christological statements.

My Cambridge Companions to Aquinas, Augustine and Plato have all arrived – I’m about halfway through the Augustine volume, which is fun because I’ve never really read and secondary work on him aside from an article here and there. It’s good to get a better handle of Augustine – though funny enough, as sophisticated as his metaphysic is, his theology is pretty blunt – ‘God damned you. Deal with it.’ But seriously though – good volume. Excellent article on the nature of God – so far that’s the standout. There are essays on his epistemology, philosophy of time, memory, language, cognition, etc. Looking forward to it.

I’ve also been reading a good amount of sci-fi short stories, starting with basic Star Wars (the ‘Tales From’ series) and branching into space opera, reading from this great volume. Lots of great old stories – it’s especially interesting reading the ‘harder’ sci-fi from older periods. In one instance, the ‘ether’ was said to have currents, waves, etc, that spaceships could get sucked into – lots of great fun.

9 thoughts on “Reading Notes 1/4/2015

  1. Chris Falter January 4, 2015 / 8:12 pm

    Not sure how NT Wright comes across in his “Paul” book, but in a lecture I heard he leaned heavily on the Jewish literature of the time (largely apocalyptic) to provide evidence for his Kingdom themes. In other words, the Gospels and Paul letters were not written in a vacuum, and what seems like perhaps a hint to the modern reader would have stood out in vivid profile to the contemporary reader. I’m not saying Wright’s 100% accurate, I’m just suggesting a different way of approaching the textual argument than you seem to be taking today.

    What is your volume on the Gregory’s, Athanasius, etc.? I’m working forward chronologically and that era is next on my list, so I’m looking for a good recommendation.


  2. Kevin Davis January 4, 2015 / 8:34 pm

    But what about the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity (Christ’s human body in the Eucharist)? I’m fine with “Nestorian” tendencies if it means that Jesus’ human nature is not some tertium quid.


    • whitefrozen January 4, 2015 / 8:39 pm

      I think that’s where some of the Eutychian tendencies come in – Torrance noted a real difficulty in Lutheran christology, to which the Reformed reacted, was the deifying of Christ’s human nature – what would prevent it from being said that human nature in general wasn’t deified? (he also noted that there were some difficulties in the Lutheran conception of ‘space’ inherited from Ockham. I’m not really any expert on the Eucharistic theology though, so feel free to correct me.


      • Kevin Davis January 5, 2015 / 1:50 pm

        Yes, from my reading, the Reformed versus Lutheran debate on christology was done almost entirely in reference to the Eucharist, and this extended well into the scholastic period. That is perhaps an over-statement, but I am not sure how else the controversy could have unfolded. And it relates directly to Reformed concerns about the (post-ascension) priestly office of Christ, which requires a clear conception of the integrity of Christ’s human nature.

        Honestly, I think the Thomists do it better than the Lutherans, because the Thomists appropriated a “substance” ontology that de-physicalizes the presence of Christ in the elements. As such, the humanity of Christ can remain in its full integrity in heaven. This, at least, is how I read Thomas, and it is perhaps a generous reading. By contrast, the Lutherans are horribly confusing and unclear, because they wanted to retain a “real” human presence without making the necessary scholastic distinctions. Moreover, their language of the body and blood “in, with, and under” (the elements) only lends itself to further confusion about space and local presence, which the Thomists rightly recognized and sought to clarify.

        This is one, among other, areas where I think the Reformed and the Roman Catholics are the most satisfying alternatives.


        • Cal January 7, 2015 / 9:42 am

          I never really made any sense of the Lutheran doctrine of the Eucharist. I’d much rather they drop the ‘Mystery!’ card than use confusing language of ‘in,with,under’. I’m not sure of the origins of the expression, but it sounds like an exaggeration and a clever-phrase of Luther that got systematized.

          Not to detail too much: Are there any good works on the Reformed doctrine of the Eucharist, broadly conceived?

          I did find it interesting that in the heat of the Bohemian Reformation, the Taborites promoted something similar to the Reformed doctrine (namely that it is only through faith that the Supper is really Jesus, and not just bread and wine). Chelcicky, a prophet of the age if there ever was one, was asked by the archbishop of Prague to engage the fray. His response was that the Taborites subjectively made the Supper about/based-on the recipient and not the Giver. His critique of Roman transubstantiation and Taborite ‘by-faith’ was that they both were dependent on a subject and not the King.


          Do you think Augustine’s metaphysics are too heavily rooted in Plato? From the Augustine I’ve read, his method changed as he aged, being much more biblically minded by the time he engaged the Pelagians, rather than dependent on categories from Plotinus (inherited through Ambrose and the philosophizing tradition). But I’ve been investigating an ontology based on signs and words, which Augustine has interesting things to add about semiotics. Thoughts?


          • whitefrozen January 7, 2015 / 10:08 am

            Broadly I don’t think he’s too Platonic – I think some of the trouble comes when, for example, he bases his Trinitarian theology on Platonic psychology, and I have problems with his doctrine of simplicity. I don’t think Plotinus maps onto Christianity very well once you get part superficial similarities, though.

            When it comes to semiotics Augustine is pretty interesting because it ties into his philosophy of mind – insofar as its occupied with how to get from the inner to the outer.


          • Kevin Davis January 7, 2015 / 3:50 pm

            As for Reformed works on the Eucharist, I would primarily consult Calvin, Institutes IV and his treatises on the Eucharist (found in both the one-volume LCC edition of his theological treatises and in the second volume of the three-volume edition, originally from Eerdmans). Also, it would be worth checking into Berkouwer’s volume on the sacraments in his Studies in Dogmatics series. I have the whole set, but I haven’t read that volume yet. Berkouwer is a pleasure to read, judicious and clear.


            • whitefrozen January 7, 2015 / 6:45 pm

              I’ll definitely read the Calvin that I have on the subject.


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