Sunday, October 25, 2009

Augustine on The Renewal of Our Minds

"Since, therefore, we must enjoy to the full that truth which lives unchangeably, and since, within it, God the Trinity, the author and creator of everything, takes thought for the things that he has created, our minds must be purified so that they are able to perceive that light and then hold fast to it.  Let us consider this process of cleansing as a trek, or a voyage, to our homeland; though progress towards the one who is ever present is not made through space, but through integrity of purpose and character.  This we would be unable to do, if wisdom itself has not deigned to adapt itself to our great weakness and offered us a pattern for living; and it has actually done so in human form because we too are human"  (On Christian Teaching, 1.22-23).

I'm always encouraged to hear truly masterful theologians stress the importance of the renewal and sanctification of our minds.  (For another look at the sanctification of human reason, see the opening chapter of John Webster's Holiness.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Tale of Two Takes on the Atonement as Penal Substitution

Right now I'm doing some reading on the atonement and over the past two days I've considered Stephen Holmes' book The Wonderous Cross and Howard Marshall's Aspects of the Atonement.  Both of these scholars have great insights to offer, though, of course, those who retain the legitimacy of the concept of penal substitution will have their intramural differences.  

Holmes emphasizes that the Bible has quite a few "stories of salvation" to tell, that is, metaphors employed to unpack the saving significance of the cross.  The story of penal substitution is ultimately biblically-based but is, in itself, inadequate and requires the support of complementary analogies (ransom, etc.).  I'm still working through Marshall, but from what I can tell he regards penal substitution as the central metaphor used in Scripture to explain Jesus' crucifixion (see esp. pp. 51-52).  
Obviously, as Holmes writes, we want first and foremost to enjoy the redemptive benefits of the cross.  Yet, as he says, there is a place for probing the inner logic of Christ's death.  The endeavor rightly to construe the atonement and to relate the atonement analogies to one another is, to me, a fascinating and pastorally significant discussion.  How do the contours of our presentation of the gospel look if we emphasize the diversity of analogies and don't claim centrality for penal substitution (Holmes)?  How do things look if we do claim centrality for penal substitution (Marshall)?  What do you think?

Hermeneutical Humility: The Complement to 'Augustinian Inerrancy'

Below I mentioned that Augustine was committed to the truthfulness of the Bible's teaching and, upon continuing on in his Confessions, I was impressed by his humility about biblical interpretation.  He acknowledges that he's fallible in interpreting Scripture and even prays for patience in dealing with those critics who are more sure of themselves than he.  Later, he asks that, if at some point his exegetical prowess is lacking, someone else would come along and shed light on the meaning of the biblical text in question.  

I'm convicted by the piece about letting others step in when we find ourselves unequal to the task at hand.  This is a valuable thought for thinkers, teachers, preachers, and Christian leaders of all stripes to meditate upon...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ruled Reflection: Learning Restraint from a Little Book

Seldom do I read 2 John, but I was struck by this word of instruction included in the apostle's plea for the church to resist Gnostic teaching:

"Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.  Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn. 9).  

We're meant to abide in Christ's teaching for his disciples and so the task of theology is not to forge new intellectual ground but to explicate and elaborate the gospel.  If we stray from ruled reflection, metaphysical-conceptual reflection in service to the sacra doctrina of the Bible, and cast out into the high seas of speculation, we generate significant risks for ourselves and for those who listen to us speak of God.  Hence Calvin, for example, warns multiple times against the danger of vain curiosity.  Let us know and love the gospel and its prophetic and apostolic unpacking in Scripture such that it rules all our thoughts of God!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Augustinian Inerrancy...

Endeavoring to uncover the meaning of Genesis 1, Augustine writes:

"I will have nothing to do with all those who think Moses could have said anything untrue."  (Confessions, 12.23.32)

I'm not convinced that the Christian tradition is without the doctrine of the truthfulness of all Holy Scripture until Old Princeton comes on the scene.  Thoughts?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Vying for Content

"[W]hen it happens to me that the music moves me more than the subject of the song, I confess myself to commit a sin deserving punishment, and then I would prefer not to have heard the singer."  (Augustine, Confessions, 10.33.50)

How might the worship of the local church be different if we aimed always to delight ourselves in the subject matter of our faith more than guitar riffs and goosebumps?  

Monday, October 5, 2009

Social Concern, the Church, and the Two Kingdoms

We live in a day of advocacy for Christian involvement in pursuing social justice, environmental preservation, and so on.  I have to confess my concern that such advocacy may be often inadequately shaped by fine-tuned accounts of the nature of the kingdom, the church, and the eschaton.  Here are some words of wisdom on the matter from Michael Horton: