Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Trinity’ Category

November 18th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Pannenberg on the embrace of Creatures by God the Creator

If God is Creator, what does this mean for His Creatures?

Detail - Glory of the New Born Christ in prese...

Detail – Glory of the New Born Christ in presence of God Father and the Holy Spirit (Annakirche, Vienna) Adam and Eva are represented bellow Jesus-Christ Ceiling painting made by Daniel Gran (1694-1757). Post-processing: perspective and fade correction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Talk about the means and ends of the divine action, then, simply expresses the relations between finite events and beings as God himself wills them, though naturally from the standpoint of their reference to a future that transcends their finitude. We will have to support and expound this more fully later Here we may simply state that the temporal order in which creaturely things and events stand as such enables us to describe their relation to the divine action in terms of a plan (Isa. 5:19, etc.) — a plan that God himself follows in the process of history. If the destiny of all creaturely occurrence and existence is oriented to fellowship with God himself, then this idea takes the conceptual form of a plan of salvation. At this point the relation of the outward divine action to a goal acquires the form of trinitarian mediation inasmuch as the fellowship of creatures with their Creator is to be thought of as participation in the fellowship of the Son with the Father through the Spirit. The saving decree or plan (Eph. 2:9ff.) that lies behind the course that the history of creation follows and into which all events are integrated can thus be proclaimed as already manifest in Jesus Christ, in his obedience to being sent by the Father. In this context we may also say that though God is independent in himself, yet with the act of creation and in the course of the history of his creatures he makes himself dependent on creaturely conditions for the manifestation of his Son in the relation of Jesus to the Father. It is not as though God were referred to different means for the accomplishing of his ends. The point is that this is the actual way in which a multiplicity of creatures will be brought into the eternal blessedness of the fellowship of the Son with the Father. For God’s action no creature is merely a means. By the ordering of its existence to the kairos of the manifestation of the Son, each creature has a part in the saving purpose of the Father.1

Pannenberg goes on to say that God’s nature not only embraces the Creation of the World, but because of this, the themes of reconciliation, redemption, and consummation.

To read more on Pannenberg and Creation, see this post by George Plasterer.

  1. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology.
November 10th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Guroian on the Divine Name

This is actually a footnote to discussing St Ephram the Syrian’s view. 


May 15th, 2015 by Scott Fritzsche

Malleus Progressivorum, chapter the second Adopted or not



Adoptionism is the belief that Christ was born human, not of a virgin (to most historic adoptionists, but not all), was not pre-existent,  lived an exemplary and sinless life in accordance with Jewish law and because of this was, at some point in his later life, commonly at his baptism or at resurrection, was then adopted by God and became divine.  To be clear this means that Jesus was not born divine, was not “the Word made flesh”, and by it’s nature rejects all models of substitutionary atonement and also is at odds with the Christian understanding of the Trinity. It also shows God as rewarding Jesus for the deeds of a good life, and by such could be seen, and is seen by me, as endorsing and setting up a faith that is based upon the works of a man and not the grace of God. It paints God as some great all powerful being in the sky who requires works of us for a reward obtained as if the forgiveness of our sins is some sort of supernatural allowance for doing our Christian chores. If we are rewarded for works then it only stands to reason that the opposite would be true as well.

Adoptionism was popularized by those seeking to reconcile Jewish  belief with the teachings that Jesus was the Son of God, as well as a reaction to the claim by many gnostic sects that Jesus only appeared to be a man, but could not be a man because all matter was evil. It was examined by three synods, denounced by two and was eventually labeled as heresy by Nicaea and the doctrine of the Trinity. (Nicaea and the evolution of trinitarian belief will be dealt with at a later time in this series.) Some consider Paul and Mark to contain some allusions to adoptionism, but those claims have been discredited by the majority of scholars throughout history. The first known and historically recorded instances of adoptionism was with the Ebionites, a judaizing sect that insisted on following Jewish law, revered James the brother of Jesus and, by and large, rejected Paul.  As an interesting side note, some current adoptionists (some being generic. The idea is out there and mentioned, but I have no idea how many or few actually hold to this) claim that the gospels were edited to make the Ebionites look bad as well as mistranslated Isiah to support the idea of Jesus as uniquely divine from birth.  In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart D. Ehrman supports the idea that certain scriptures were purposefully altered to deny textural support for the doctrine, but his scholarship in many of his assertions has been questioned by his contemporaries. This is important as these are the beginnings of adoptionism both in the ancient world and also today. Adoptionism would reemerge again in the 8th and 12th centuries and was again condemned by Alexander III. So, from it’s inception as a Christology until the 12th century, it was officially examined by theologians and church leaders 5 times and struck as heresy 4 of those five times. Based on history, it can not be said that it did not have a proper examination by theologians and religious leaders.

There has been a modern resurgence in adoptionism as a Christolgy, which is attributed to the historic Jesus movement that seeks to demystify Jesus and put Him in the proper historic and cultural context. This is both true and unfair. I do not believe that all who understand that a historic understanding of culture in the time of Christ is useful in understanding the message of Christ buy into these ways of thinking (I do not and I personally know many others who understand context helps understanding, yet do not deny the Trinity and other core doctrines of Christianity). With the movement toward understanding Jesus the man, there has been, in some circles, an over emphasis on His humanity to the point of denying his divine nature. The modern belief of adoptionsim seems to also hang upon the idea that several passages in the scriptures have been mistranslated to the point that their entire meaning is wrong, and therefore our belief is wrong. I am not a linguist, nor am I a scholar, so I, like many people rely on others to translate for me. The difference between me and some others is that I apply a variety of scholars to arrive at conclusions an do not hold stock in one. I also apply the tradition and history of the church, my understandings of scripture, as well as my ability to reason.

The ancient view of adoptionism relies heavily on a God who rewards action rather than extends grace and the modern view of adoptionism relies heavily on people like Bart. D. Ehrman who claim that the scriptures have been purposely changed to support orthodox belief and have been since Nicaea. This seems to wild for me to believe. The concept of some ancient conspiracy to purposefully lead all believers of Christ astray in favor of some heretical belief is best saved for the plot of a Dan Brown novel and not the basis for faith in God through Christ. The idea of a God who rewards action is a works based faith, not one one based on His mercy and love for creation.  I realize it seems so small and I recognize that many have a live and let live philosophy about personal faith, but our Christology strikes at the very root of what shapes the rest of our faith and consequently our actions. It is of vital importance that we get Jesus right as He is the core of faith after all. If God has adopted Christ based on His works, then how can we believe that same God will not hold us to the same standard of works? How can we be assured of being the children of a loving God? This strikes not only at the heart of our shared Christian faith but at the heart of our shared Wesleyan heritage of being able to know and take comfort in the assurance of salvation. Jesus did not need an Aldersgate moment as adoptionism suggests, He is the reason that an Aldersgate moment can exist.



May 13th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Chalcedonian Entanglements

English: A diagram showing the Monophysite vie...

English: A diagram showing the Monophysite view of Christ: One nature, which is neither fully human, nor fully divine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, many today seem to insist upon the finality of our modern ideas. If it is new, it is without suspicion. If it is old, historic, or another adjective used to immediately cast doubt upon its value, then it is pointless. It is disproven. It is antiquated. Thus, many seek to find value in the ever changing thought processes of our modern society. They miss so much.

Yesterday, I was challenged to ponder something by world renowned theoretical physicist and Orthodox scholar, Richard Rohr. He writes,

Jesus was fully human, just as he was fully divine at the same time, but dualistic thinkers find that impossible to process, so they usually just choose one side or the other (Jesus is divine and we are human, missing the major point of putting them together!). Matter and Spirit must be found to be inseparable in Christ before we have the courage and insight to acknowledge and honor the same in ourselves and in the entire universe. Jesus is the Archetype of Everything.

He then quotes an actual Orthodox Scholar (Olivier Clément) who would believe and understand Chalcedonian theology. But, Rohr goes on.

Unfortunately, at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), this view–the single, unified nature of Christ–was rejected for the “orthodox” belief, held to this day by most Christian denominations, that emphasizes two distinct natures in Jesus instead of one new synthesis. Sometimes what seems like orthodoxy is, in fact, a well-hidden heresy!

Say what now?

Here is a Catholic Priest (Rohr) who has sworn to uphold Catholic doctrine calling Chalcedon a “well-hidden heresy.” Truth be told, I was never really a fan of Chalcedon and somewhat follow N.T. Wright on the matter. However, I am not a Catholic nor an Orthodox, and specifically I am not a priest sworn to uphold the doctrinal and liturgical teachings of those ancient communions.

Rohr goes on (and up?) into quantum physics, something I’m not sure he is uniquely qualified to do. He writes:

Perhaps quantum physics can help us reclaim what we’ve lost because our dualistic minds couldn’t understand or experience the living paradox that Jesus represents. Now science is confirming there is no clear division between matter and spirit. Everything is interpenetrating. As Franciscan scientist and theologian Ilia Delio says, “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.” Christ’s very nature mirrors this universal reality, that we are all one, just as he is one within himself. The Church formally believed in “The Indwelling Spirit” (e.g., Romans 5:5, John 14:17), but for most Christians no dynamic or practical theology of the Holy Spirit was ever developed. S/he remained the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity, and God remained external and foreign to the human experience.

You can read the total writing here. 1

There is an issue with the use of quantum physics. No, not that science and religion is at odds, but that I think Rohr is using it wrong. There are notions of quantum entanglements that contradicts Rohr’s assumptions:

Individual subatomic particles, such as photons, do not exist in single, well-defined states like on-off light switches. Rather, they exist as a superposition of states. Experiments show, for example, that prior to observation (i.e., definitive interaction with a large-scale system) a photon can actually have more than one polarization at once and be in more than one place at once. Not only can individual particles exist in superposed or ambiguous states prior to observation, but the superposed states of pairs, triplets, or larger groups of particles can be related to each other by means of entanglement. Entanglement arises because the superposed states of particles that have interacted directly retain a definite, permanent relationship even after the particles have separated. Two entangled photons, for example, may be sent to two different detectors, A and B. Individually the photons do not, while in transit, have definite polarizations. When the polarization of one of the photons is collapsed to a definite value by measurement at detector A, however, photon, bound for detector B, instantly takes on the opposite polarization. There is no delay; the effect is truly instantaneous.

Rather than Rohr, what about Dr. Holder, astrophysicst and priest,

Quantum holism, as demonstrated by the EPR [Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen] thought experiment, is analogous to this. The electron and positron, though distinct and widely separated, yet form a unified quantum system (Polkinghorne 2004, 73ff.; 2010).

According to the Chalcedonian definition, our Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He is one person, the Son of God, but with two natures, divine and human. This reminds us of the wave-particle duality of subatomic particles discussed above. An electron is one thing but possesses both particle and wave properties. (Rodney Holder, The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity220-230)

Now, let me borrow the words of an actual theoretical physicist and Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne:

Others have wished to break the Chalcedonian bounds and to speak of Jesus in human terms as a man inspired by God, and in obedient union with God, to an unparalleled degree. The difference between him and us then becomes a question of intensity rather than ontological distinction. This leads to a kind of functional Christology in which the purpose of Jesus is on the one hand to allow the divine love and power so to transfigure his life that God’s nature is made visible to us (“a window into God”) and on the other hand so to show us the possibilities of a human life truly lived in communion with God that we are led to seek to share in this experience. This is a view that has appealed to some scientist-theologians, often phrased in evolutionary language. Jesus is described as “the new emergent,” the pioneer of the latest development in the upward unfolding of human possibility. Ian Barbour writes in this way and to some extent so does Arthur Peacocke.

There are echoes here of some of the language used in the epistle to the Hebrews (for example, Heb. 2:10, but note also 1:3), but I do not find this way of thinking to be adequate to the witness of the New Testament as a whole. I believe that the insights of a functional Christology ask some of the relevant questions but they do not provide the right answers. The work of Christ (what he achieves) is certainly the clue to the nature of Christ. A scientist framing a theory has first to decide what are the phenomena that must be included and explained. The same is true for Christology. Its agenda is set by the functions that Christ fulfils, but a list of these functions is not itself a Christology. (40–41)

And suddenly, I am Chalcedonian. I admit, I am on a journey into orthodoxy (or maybe even Orthodoxy?). As such, I find myself learning new things. For instance, the lack of a solid Chalcedonian foundation could allow for us to see Jesus as nothing more than human — or as not human at all. Indeed, fundamentalists often forget just how human Jesus was.

Thus, the Chalcedonian definition is necessary so as to avoid either a bifurcated Jesus or a Jesus devoid of either his humanity of his Godhead. Indeed, Rohr is mistaken. Chalcedon does not promote dualism, but ends it:

If the person of Christ is the highest mode of conjunction between God and man, God and the world, the Chalcedonian ‘without confusion’ and ‘without separation’ shows the right mean between monism and dualism, the two extremes between which the history of christology also swings. The Chalcedonian unity of person in the distinction of natures provides the dogmatic basis for the preservation of the divine transcendence, which must always be a feature of the Christian concept of God. But is also shows the possibility of a complete immanence on which the biblical doctrine of the economy of salvation rests. The Chalcedonian definition may seem to have a static-ontic ring, but it is not meant to do away with the salvation-historical aspect of biblical christology, for which, in fact, it provides a foundation and deeper insights. (Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, p. 491.)

This song below always calls me to remember the humanity of Jesus. And it is bluegrass. If you don’t love bluegrass, you don’t love Jesus.

  1. By the way, Ilia Delio relies on and heavily promotes the work of Teilhard de Chardin, a Roman Catholic Priest now with the Church Triumphant. I would classify him as a mystic, no less — and wonder if in a few centuries we will not recognize him next to Bruno and Eckhart.
April 7th, 2015 by Joel Watts

St. Basil and the vileness that is Oneness Pentecostalism

Icon of Basil of Caesarea. Василий Великий, икона

Icon of Basil of Caesarea. Василий Великий, икона (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A subversion of faith is being contemplated among you, hostile to both apostolic and evangelical doctrines, and hostile to the tradition of the truly great Gregory and of those who followed after him up to the blessed Musonius, whose teachings are of course still fresh in your minds even now. For the evil of Sabellius, long ago stirred up, but extinguished by the tradition of that great man, these men are attempting to revive, who from fear of exposure are now fashioning those dreams against us. But do you, bidding farewell to those heads heavy with wine, which the vapour rising and swirling from their drunken debauch reveals, hear of the harm being done to you from us who have awakened and who cannot be quiet because of the fear of God.

Sabellianism is…imported under the appearance of Christianity into the preaching of the Gospel. For he who calls Father, Son, and Holy Spirit one thing under many appearances, and makes one person out of three, what else does he do but deny the existence from eternity of the Only-begotten? And he denies also His dispensatory sojourn among men, His descent into hell, His resurrection, the judgment; and he denies also the special activities of the Spirit. — Letter CCX1

For I have been delivered from such a stance…

Also, I usually don’t like St. Basil.

Rosemary is more my flavor.

  1. Basil of Caesarea, Saint Basil: The Letters (ed. E. Capps et al.; trans. Roy J. Deferrari and Martin R. P. McGuire; vol. 3; The Loeb Classical Library; London; New York; Cambridge, MA: William Heinemann; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Harvard University Press, 1926–1934), 201–203.
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