Musings on Scripture, Tradition and Reading Long Dead Christians

One of the things that has divided Roman Catholics from Protestants for centuries is the question of what has authority.  The Protestant movement from the beginning held to sola scriptura, scripture alone.  This does not mean that scripture is the only authority but rather that scripture is the final authority, or that it “trumps” all others.  Roman Catholics, on the other hand, affirmed there are two streams that flow together – scripture and tradition.  Together these form the authority.

I read a blog post a few days ago arguing for the Protestant position.  The argument was that the early church fathers, Christians writing from the end of the New Testament era (100 AD) through to the end of the Roman Empire (around 400 AD) supported sola scriptura.  The implication then was that the Roman Catholic view only arose in the medieval era as the Roman Church married the secular state and ruled over Christendom.

Now the author of this post is much more educated then I am, he is a professional scholar while I am just a campus minister with a large interest in historical theology.  That said, recently I have read both Basil of Caesarea’s On the Holy Spirit and Gregory of Nazianzus’ Five Theological Orations.  Both of these writings come from the late 300s and were hugely influential in solidifying the doctrine of the Trinity.  And both make statements about the importance of tradition.  First Basil:

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery”2 by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force.

In answer to the objection that the doxology in the form “with the Spirit” has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. “I praise you,” it is said, “that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you;” and “Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle.”2 One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time.

Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on “the mystery of godliness is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers;—which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches;—a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?

Then, Gregory:

For the matter stands thus. The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory, the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated.

Basil emphasizes unwritten tradition as a source for truth while Gregory emphasizes the experience of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, non-Catholics agree that there is truth found in tradition and experience.  And, of course, I am writing as a non-Catholic, though as one who wrestles with the interplay of scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

What I draw from this is that this is an issue that cannot be solved by selective proof-texting.  The author of the blog post above has plenty of quotes to demonstrate that early Christians held scripture in high regard, but Catholics have just as many quotes to support their view.  I imagine part of the reason for this is that the early Christians were not fighting our battles, so it is somewhat an anachronism to go back and try to mine support for views that were not well defined as they were a millenia later.

So what I take from this, as a pastor with an amateur interest in historical theology, is to not try to fit Christians of the distant past into the sides of debate we have today.  Rather than reading a series of proof-texts, read the actual works from this long-dead saints.  In those works we will find things we whole-heartedly agree with and things that make us pause, even trouble us.  We will also realize that the Christian church through the ages is a big tent that includes people with all sorts of views.  As we realize that, perhaps we will be more accepting of those Christians who disagree with us today.

Who’s Afraid of Relativism (Review)

If you’ve spent any time in Christian circles discussing apologetics and theology, you are probably familiar with warnings against the specter of relativism.  We are warned that moral relativists are the problem, they are slippery and stand on shaky ground  According to relativism, we are told, anything and everything goes.  Against this we must stand for objectivity – truth and morals are the same for everybody, always and everywhere.

Christian philosopher Jamie Smith thinks this not only oversimplifies and misrepresents relativism, he thinks clinging to objectivity is damaging to Christian faith.  His fantastic book, Who’s Afraid of Relativism?, sets out to defend these points.  He spends time introducing the reader to three philosophers who espouse pragmatism and relativism – Wittgenstein, Rorty and Brandom.  Smith’s strategy is that of St. Augustine – to loot the Egyptians.  This hearkens back to the story of Exodus, when the freed Israelites took prizes from Egypt.  Augustine, in his day, found great philosophical truth in Platonic philosophy without adopting it wholesale.  In other words, what this means is that we can find truth in these philosophers without affirming their ideas all through.

Smith finds a lot of truth in these philosophers.  The primary truth Smith sees here is that pragmatism and relativism remind us of our creaturehood and contigency.  To Smith, the focus on objectivity is an uncritical acceptance of modernity where universal objectivity was valued.  The goal became a removal of all bias and a seat in a place where all could be seen.  Yet, as Christians, we recognize only God possesses such knowledge.  Postmodern philosophy reminds us of our location in a context, the fact we do not know all.

There is much more here of course.  He spends the final chapter drawing out what we learn from these philosophers and applying it more directly to theology.  My key takeaway here is that in the Christian life, like learning a language, we learn how to do it before we learn what it is.  Take learning a language.  All humans learn to speak a language long before they learn the rules of grammar.  In the same way, we do not learn the doctrines of the church and then live based on them, as if simply having the right knowledge leads to dsicipleship.  Instead we live in community with other Christians and learn the practices of faith.  As we reflect on these practices, explain them before a listening world, we get the content of theology.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to all pastors and those interested in Christian theology and philosophy.

Why I Am Always Reading a Book

I love to read.  Its a disease and its only getting worse.

I have always loved reading books – I have fond memories of Matt Christopher sports stories as a kid and then Star Wars novels as a teenager.  In college I discovered the Wheel of Time series as well as A Song of Ice and Fire (i.e. Game of Thrones, before it was cool).  Then as I moved towards a career in ministry, I began reading theology and church history.

I’ve spent the past ten years working in college ministry at Penn State Berks.  Here’s the thing: there is a lot of downtime in ministry.  Whether you are the pastor of a church or working on a college campus, it can be a solitary job.  Sure there are meetings with people, but there is a lot of time spent in an office or in front of a laptop.  Thus, time management is a vital skill to develop.

When I began ministry at PSU Berks I committed that I never wanted students to walk up to me when I was sitting in the library, student center or anywhere on campus and see me…wasting time. So if I am in a situation where I have finished work for the week’s Bible study, or a student has just left a meeting with me or if I am waiting for one to arrive, I will have a book out.  There are a variety of reasons for this, I offer three positives and one negative below:

I get my salary from donations from individuals and churches and I owe it to them to use my time well.

I remember having a conversation with an alum and he asked me point blank about playing games on the computer.  He remembered visiting a campus pastor while he was in college and it seemed like this pastor spent a lot of time playing Solitaire.  This was in the days before the internet sped up enough to allow users to watch Netflix and Youtube.  Either way, donors do not want to pay pastors to watch television and play games all day.

This is a big reason why I write reviews of books on my blog.  I doubt many people read them, but it is right there out in the open for donors to see.  The message I hope to convey is that I am using my spare moments to read and learn which will make me a better pastor and person.

 I am in an academic atmosphere so I might as well be constantly learning.  

One of the mottos of the seminary I attended was “lifelong learning.”  They reiterated this message over and over again, calling on us to be lifelong learners.  I loved seminary as it was there that I was introduced to so many subjects, books and authors who have continued to influence me.

Working on a college campus, I continue to be surrounded by ideas.  To be able to engage with intelligent students and brilliant faculty, I need to keep learning.  When we have a question and answer night, it will show if I do not know what I am talking about!

I realize the students will learn more from me by how I live then what I say

Many college students have poor time management skills.  They tend to spend a lot of time playing video games and watching Netflix.  It is one thing for me to encourage them to manage their time better.  It is another to set a good example in my actions.  If they see me playing games and watching Netflix this will set a bad example.  If they see me reading a book, this sets a better example.

Sometimes I’d Rather Read then Talk to People

I admit that reading comes easily to me.  I have always enjoyed reading.  All pastors have different gifts and while I think all ought to read something, how much each reads is up to them.  While reading comes easily to me, going up to strangers and engaging them in conversation may come more easily to others.

For me, especially when it feeds my introverted side, reading can become a distraction.  The risk is that I might rather read a book then talk to actual people!  There are some who have to force themselves to read, knowing it is good for their soul.  Others, like me, must force ourselves to put the book down and talk to people, knowing that is good for our soul.

So come visit me on campus and chances are I’ll have my nose buried in a book. But say hi and I will certainly talk with you!

 

Five Theological Orations by Gregory of Nazianzus

In my journey through reading Christian classics, I recently read Basil of Caesarea’s On the Holy Spirit.  Basil was good friends with Gregory of Nazianzus, together with Basil’s brother Gregory they are known as the Cappadocian Fathers.  Their writings were hugely influential in solidifying the doctrine of the Trinity leading up to the Council of Constantinople in 381.

I find their writings still relevant today, helping me better understand who God is and how the Father, Son and Spirit relate to one another as God.  Gregory’s most influential work were his Theological Orations, of which five focus on the doctrine of the Trinity.  To many Christians, the Trinity seems to be something very confusing but that may be able to be explained by learned scholars of religion.  Or at least, something that can be better understood with use of witty analogies.  Somewhat surprising, to me, is that Gregory begins by arguing that it is impossible to conceive God:

But in my opinion it is impossible to express Him, and yet more impossible to conceive Him. For that which may be conceived may perhaps be made clear by language, if not fairly well, at any rate imperfectly, to any one who is not quite deprived of his hearing, or slothful of understanding. But to comprehend the whole of so great a Subject as this is quite impossible and impracticable, not merely to the utterly careless and ignorant, but even to those who are highly exalted, and who love God, and in like manner to every created nature; seeing that the darkness of this world and the thick covering of the flesh is an obstacle to the full understanding of the truth – Second Theological Oration, ch. 4

His point is not that God is impossible so we can say nothing but rather, that by reason alone we cannot conceive God.  And even what we can say about God, based on what God has revealed, will never fully explain God. Not even close.  Yet we press on, through faith and not reason, to discern truth:

Now if you have in your thought passed through the air and all the things of air, reach with me to heaven and the things of heaven. And let faith lead us rather than reason, if at least you have learnt the feebleness of the latter in matters nearer to you, and have known reason by knowing the things that are beyond reason, so as not to be altogether on the earth or of the earth, because you are ignorant even of your ignorance – Second Theological Oration, ch. 28

When Gregory begins to discuss the Trinitarian understanding of God, he emphasizes that all three persons have existed forever.  They did not come into being at a certain time, they have always been a unity in diversity:

when did the Father come into being. There never was a time when He was not. And the same thing is true of the Son and the Holy Ghost. Ask me again, and again I will answer you, When was the Son begotten? When the Father was not begotten. And when did the Holy Ghost proceed? When the Son was, not proceeding but, begotten—beyond the sphere of time, and above the grasp of reason; although we cannot set forth that which is above time, if we avoid as we desire any expression which conveys the idea of time – Third Theological Oration, ch. 3

Lest we think talk of God is merely academic, Gregory reminds us that God is a relationship.  This will certainly mean something for us, created in God’s image and desiring relationship:

that Father is not a name either of an essence or of an action, most clever sirs. But it is the name of the Relation in which the Father stands to the Son, and the Son to the Father – Third Theological Oration, ch. 16

There never was a time when He was without the Word, or when He was not the Father, or when He was not true, or not wise, or not powerful, or devoid of life, or of splendour, or of goodness – Third Theological Oration, ch. 17

If Jesus is God in the flesh, then is he truly human?  How does his humanity and divinity relate? Gregory addresses this too:

What is lofty you are to apply to the Godhead, and to that Nature in Him which is superior to sufferings and incorporeal; but all that is lowly to the composite condition of Him who for your sakes made Himself of no reputation and was Incarnate—yes, for it is no worse thing to say, was made Man, and afterwards was also exalted – Third Theological Oration, ch. 18

What He was He continued to be; what He was not He took to Himself. In the beginning He was, uncaused; for what is the Cause of God? But afterwards for a cause He was born. And that came was that you might be saved, who insult Him and despise His Godhead, because of this, that He took upon Him your denser nature, having converse with Flesh by means of Mind. While His inferior Nature, the Humanity, became God, because it was united to God, and became One Person because the Higher Nature prevailed … in order that I too might be made Goal so far as He is made Man. He was born—but He had been begotten: He was born of a woman—but she was a Virgin. The first is human the second Divine. In His Human nature He had no Father, but also in His Divine Nature no Mother. Both these belong to Godhead. He dwelt in the womb—but He was recognized by the Prophet, himself still in the womb, leaping before the Word, for Whose sake He came into being. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes9—but He took off the swathing bands of the grave by His rising again. He was laid in a manger—but He was glorified by Angels, and proclaimed by a star, and worshipped by the Magi. Why are you offended by that which is presented to your sight, because you will not look at that which is presented to your mind? He was driven into exile into Egypt—but He drove away the Egyptian idols. He had no form nor comeliness in the eyes of the Jews11—but to David He is fairer than the children of men. And on the Mountain He was bright as the lightning, and became more luminous than the sun, initiating us into the mystery of the future. – Third Theological Oration, ch. 19

He was baptized as Man—but He remitted sins as God—not because He needed purificatory rites Himself, but that He might sanctify the element of water. He was tempted as Man, but He conquered as God; yea, He bids us be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world. He hungered—but He fed thousands; yea, He is the Bread that giveth life, and That is of heaven. He thirsted—but He cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. Yea, He promised that fountains should flow from them that believe. He was wearied, but He is the Rest of them that are weary and heavy laden. He was heavy with sleep, but He walked lightly over the sea. He rebuked the winds, He made Peter light as he began to sink. He pays tribute, but it is out of a fish; yea, He is the King of those who demanded it.

He is called a Samaritan and a demoniac;—but He saves him that came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves; the demons acknowledge Him, and He drives out demons, and sinks in the sea legions of foul spirits, and sees the Prince of the demons falling like lightning.9 He is stoned, but is not taken. He prays, but He hears prayer. He weeps, but He causes tears to cease. He asks where Lazarus was laid, for He was Man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God. He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood. As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a Lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word, and is proclaimed by the Voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but He healeth every disease and every infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the Tree, but by the Tree of Life He restoreth us; yea, He saveth even the Robber crucified with Him; yea, He wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is Sweetness and altogether desire. He lays down His life, but He has power to take it again;19 and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but He gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again; He goes down into Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to put to the test such words as yours. If the one give you a starting point for your error, let the others put an end to it. – Third Theological Oration, ch 20

Gregory’s Fifth Theological Oration discusses the deity of the Holy Spirit:

But we have so much confidence in the Deity of the Spirit Whom we adore, that we will begin our teaching concerning His Godhead by fitting to Him the Names which belong to the Trinity, even though some persons may think us too bold. The Father was the True Light which lighteneth every man coming into the world. The Son was the True Light which lighteneth every man coming into the world. The Other Comforter was the True Light which lighteneth every man coming into the world. Was and Was and Was, but Was One Thing. Light thrice repeated; but One Light and One God – Fifth Theological Oration, ch 3

Gregory admits there is not as much in scripture in regards to the deity of the Spirit as there is about the Son.  Yet, once again, the debate is never a mere academic parsing of scripture.  Instead it is about practical living, things like worship and prayer.  It is these things that tip the scale towards the orthodox view, for the Spirit is worship and the one whom we pray to:

for the present it will suffice to say that it is the Spirit in Whom we worship, and in Whom we pray. For Scripture says, God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. And again,—We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered;4 and I will pray with the Spirit and I will pray with the understanding also;—that is, in the mind and in the Spirit. Therefore to adore or to pray to the Spirit seems to me to be simply Himself offering prayer or adoration to Himself – Fifth Theological Oration, ch. 12

I’ll allow Gregory to sum up:

To us there is One God, for the Godhead is One, and all that proceedeth from Him is referred to One, though we believe in Three Persons. For one is not more and another less God; nor is One before and another after; nor are They divided in will or parted in power; nor can you find here any of the qualities of divisible things; but the Godhead is, to speak concisely, undivided in separate Persons; and there is one mingling of Light, as it were of three suns joined to each other. When then we look at the Godhead, or the First Cause, or the Monarchia, that which we conceive is One; but when we look at the Persons in Whom the Godhead dwells, and at Those Who timelessly and with equal glory have their Being from the First Cause—there are Three Whom we worship – Fifth Theological Oration, ch. 14

Why I Don’t Give a Straight Answer to Every Question

“Yeah, but Dave, what do you believe is the right answer?”

One evening during our recent Spring Break trip I was sitting at dinner with two member of our team.   The student who asked this question is Heather.  Heather has been a member of CSF for over three years.  In that time I have gotten to know her well and I am impressed with her spiritual maturity and thirst to grow in her faith.  We have had many conversations, from debates over politics to arguing differences in our theological beliefs.

The discussion on this night moved from topic to topic – the college dating scene, gay marriage, the nature of hell and what it means, at its core, to be a Christian.  When Heather asked me what I thought about some of these topics, I would offer a couple different answers, honestly pointing out where sincere Christians differ.  If she shared a point, even one I agreed with, I would offer the opposing view, just to make her think.  After a while she got frustrated, wanting me to just tell her the answer!

But I have come to believe that simply telling people the answer, or at least what I think the true answer is, may not be all that helpful.  It is worth more to give a variety of viewpoints, to ask questions and keep the discussion going in order for the student to figure out what she thinks the answer is on her own.

That said, there are some subjects where I am much more willing to offer a clear-cut and definitive answer.  If someone asks me how to be saved or who Jesus is, I will answer and be more committed to my answer.  But on most other topics, on the sort of secondary issues that Christians disagree on, I may share what I think but I am more likely to work to get the student I am talking with to think things through.

The goal of campus ministry is to help students become more like Jesus, to grow and mature in their faith.  While I make no claims to be an expert, I have learned that this sort of change happens, and sticks for the long-term, when students begin to discover truth and Jesus and answers for themselves.  So maybe I am simply back at the old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish.

My prayer in this is that Heather, and students like her, would continue to take the steps to grow in their faith.

 

Feeding My Tolkien Obsession with Two Books

One night my wife looked over at me sitting on the couch and asked, “are you seriously reading that book?”  The book was the Letters of JRR Tolkien.  She could not understand why anyone would want to read hundreds of pages of someone’s personal letters.  Admittedly, it is rather odd.  This book is certainly not for everyone.  But for those who have enjoyed Tolkien’s stories, this set of letters offers an intriguing and enlightening glimpse into his mind.  I most enjoyed seeing Tolkien speak of his Catholic faith as well as getting the window into his mind as he worked, for years and years, on writing the Lord of the Rings.  Honestly, I found myself skimming more and more of the letters as I went as it did get a bit tedious.  The verdict is, if you are a fan of Tolkien then this book  might just be for you.

Another book any Tolkien fan ought to read is Tom Shippey’s JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century.  Shippey had written another book on Tolkien, which I have no plans to read (I am done with Tolkien for a while).  In this one his goal is to show that Tolkien deserves a place among the most well-respected and admired authors of the 20th century.  Many academics and critics have disparaged his work as lesser since it is of the fantasy genre.  Shippey’s study of Tolkien’s work reveals just how brilliant and well-read Tolkien was and how much depth there is in Tolkien’s work.  If you are a fan of Tolkien, check this one out too.

Question and Answer Night (Weekly Word)

Last night we had a question and answer night at our CSF meeting.  Full disclosure – I am writing this at 5 PM, two hours prior to the event beginning, though this post will not go up till Friday.  So I do not know for sure what questions will be discussed.  But I do know that this is always a fun night filled with lots of ideas and dialogue and debate.

It is one of the nights that reminds me why I love campus ministry so much.

On Fridays on this blog I tend to write what I call “Weekly Words”.  These posts are intended for the college students in CSF, thus for Christian students on a secular campus.  Often I basically summarize what we discussed the night before, in case anyone was absent and wants to catch up.  I am thinking that, with summer break quickly approaching, that it would be fun to dedicate each Friday to answering some of the questions from our Q and A nights.  Or even answering new questions that come in via Facebook or email.

I have always hesitated at the title “question and answer” night though, because it seems presumptuous of me to imply I can offer a quick and easy answer to questions that have stumped people and caused debate for centuries.  We have moved to calling the night a “Spirituality and Religion Discussion” though that is vague enough that people ask what it means and the response is: “ask questions and pastor Dave will answer them.”  That said, I am always very clear that I am offering my opinion.  For some questions I offer what I believe is a straight up and certain answer.  Other questions I offer a variety of possible answers and encourage the students to pick one.  It depends on the question.

All that to say, if you have a question about God, religion or whatever, I’d love for you to send it in to me.  You can reach me via email (campusminister_dave@yahoo.com) or on Twitter (dmlhershey).  Starting in a few weeks, I’ll throw out some answers.

It should be fun!

Basil of Caesarea’s On the Holy Spirit

I recently read through Basil of Caesarea’s classic work On the Holy Spirit.  Basil is one of the Cappadocian fathers and this work on the Holy Spirit was hugely influential in the Council of Constantinople’s editing and affirmation of the Nicene Creed, including stronger language on the deity of the Spirit.  This work is also one of those works that I believe any Christian interested in learning about the Holy Spirit, reading some Christian classics, or simply reading something that will help them grow in their faith, could read and enjoy.

Below are some quotes that I found most thought-provoking:

“Testify to every man who is confessing Christ and denying God, that Christ will profit him nothing; to every man that calls upon God but rejects the Son, that his faith is vain; to every man that sets aside the Spirit, that his faith in the Father and the Son will be useless, for he cannot even hold it without the presence of the Spirit. For he who does not believe the Spirit does not believe in the Son, and he who has not believed in the Son does not believe in the Father. For none “can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost,” and “No man hath seen God at any time, but the only begotten God which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” – Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, pp. 17–18). New York: Christian Literature Company.

For it is impossible to worship the Son, save by the Holy Ghost; impossible to call upon the Father, save by the Spirit of adoption.” – Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 18). New York: Christian Literature Company.

“And in the creation bethink thee first, I pray thee, of the original cause of all things that are made, the Father; of the creative cause, the Son; of the perfecting cause, the Spirit; so that the ministering spirits subsist by the will of the Father, are brought into being by the operation of the Son, and perfected by the presence of the Spirit.”– Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 23). New York: Christian Literature Company.

“If on the other hand they suppose the subnumeration to benefit the Spirit alone, they must be taught that the Spirit is spoken of together with the Lord in precisely the same manner in which the Son is spoken of with the Father. “The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” is delivered in like manner, and, according to the co-ordination of words delivered in baptism, the relation of the Spirit to the Son is the same as that of the Son to the Father. And if the Spirit is co-ordinate with the Son, and the Son with the Father, it is obvious that the Spirit is also co-ordinate with the Father.” –  Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 27). New York: Christian Literature Company.

There is one God and Father, one Only-begotten, and one Holy Ghost. We proclaim each of the hypostases singly; and, when count we must, we do not let an ignorant arithmetic carry us away to the idea of a plurality of Gods “- Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 28). New York: Christian Literature Company.

For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to multitude, and saying one, two, and three,—nor yet first, second, and third. For “I,” God, “am the first, and I am the last.” And hitherto we have never, even at the present time, heard of a second God. Worshipping as we do God of God, we both confess the distinction of the Persons, and at the same time abide by the Monarchy. We do not fritter away the theology4 in a divided plurality, because one Form, so to say, united in the invariableness of the Godhead, is beheld in God the Father, and in God the Only begotten. For the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son; since such as is the latter, such is the former, and such as is the former, such is the latter; and herein is the Unity. So that according to the distinction of Persons, both are one and one, and according to the community of Nature, one. How, then, if one and one, are there not two Gods? Because we speak of a king, and of the king’s image, and not of two kings. The majesty is not cloven in two, nor the glory divided. The sovereignty and authority over us is one, and so the doxology ascribed by us is not plural but one;6 because the honour paid to the image passes on to the prototype. Now what in the one case the image is by reason of imitation, that in the other case the Son is by nature; and as in works of art the likeness is dependent on the form, so in the case or the divine and uncompounded nature the union consists in the communion of the Godhead. One, moreover, is the Holy Spirit, and we speak of Him singly, conjoined as He is to the one Father through the one Son, and through Himself completing the adorable and blessed Trinity. Of Him the intimate relationship to the Father and the Son is sufficiently declared by the fact of His not being ranked in the plurality of the creation, but being spoken of singly; for he is not one of many, but One. For as there is one Father and one Son, so is there one Holy Ghost. He is consequently as far removed from created Nature as reason requires the singular to be removed from compound and plural bodies; and He is in such wise united to the Father and to the Son as unit has affinity with unit.”– Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 28). New York: Christian Literature Company.

The way of the knowledge of God lies from One Spirit through the One Son to the One Father”– Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 29). New York: Christian Literature Company.

“For what our Lord says of the Father as being above and beyond human conception, and what He says of the Son, this same language He uses also of the Holy Ghost.” – Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 34). New York: Christian Literature Company.

“Let us then examine the points one by one. He is good by nature, in the same way as the Father is good, and the Son is good; the creature on the other hand shares in goodness by choosing the good. He knows “The deep things of God;” the creature receives the manifestation of ineffable things through the Spirit. He quickens together with God, who produces and preserves all things alive,3 and together with the Son, who gives life. “He that raised up Christ from the dead,” it is said, “shall also quicken your mortal bodies by the spirit that dwelleth in you;” and again “my sheep hear my voice, … and I give unto them eternal life;”5 but “The Spirit” also, it is said, “giveth life,” and again “the Spirit,” it is said, “is life, because of righteousness.”7 And the Lord bears witness that “it is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” How then shall we alienate the Spirit from His quickening power, and make Him belong to lifeless nature? Who is so contentious, who is so utterly without the heavenly gift,9 and unfed by God’s good words, who is so devoid of part and lot in eternal hopes, as to sever the Spirit from the Godhead and rank Him with the creature?” – Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, p. 36). New York: Christian Literature Company.

whenever we have in mind the Spirit’s proper rank, we contemplate Him as being with the Father and the Son, but when we think of the grace that flows from Him operating on those who participate in it, we say that the Spirit is in us. And the doxology which we offer “in the Spirit” is not an acknowledgment of His rank; it is rather a confession of our own weakness, while we shew that we are not sufficient to glorify Him of ourselves, but our sufficiency is in the Holy Spirit. Enabled in, [or by,] Him we render thanks to our God for the benefits we have received, according to the measure of our purification from evil, as we receive one a larger and another a smaller share of the aid of the Spirit, that we may offer “the sacrifice of praise to God.” – Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, pp. 39–40). New York: Christian Literature Company.

There’s No Silver Bullet in Outreach and Evangelism

Working in campus ministry, the question of the best way to reach out to college students with the gospel is one that is often on my mind.  What sort of activities and programs should we offer on campus?  What types of questions are people asking?  What is the best way to connect with skeptical students?  A lot of churches are clearly asking the same questions as they seek to reach out to millenials, who we often read are leaving the church in large numbers.

Recently I read an interview with Rachel Held Evans where she discusses this.  I have long appreciated her writing and work, from her blog to her book The Year of Biblical Womanhood.  In other words, call me a fan of hers.

The big news surrounding this interview was that Evans has joined the Episcopal church.  It seems a lot of my favorite writers and scholars are either members of churches with traditional liturgical worship or have moved that direction in recent years.  I have heard and read many times that those leaving the church desire this sort of worship more in line with the traditional church.  All the noise and production of contemporary worship style churches are not interesting to twenty-somethings as they were in reaching their parents.  To be fair, Evans did not say this.  But I have gotten this impression from reading some people.

In my experience, it is not true at all.  I took a group of mostly unchurched students to a church last summer when we were on a trip doing a day camp.  It was an Episcopal church and the students were bored out of their minds.  Not one of them said, “aha, this is what I have been looking for that will bring me back to church!”  I think a specific sort of person is drawn to such tradition, people who read and study a lot, intellectuals, people who desire more than a loud worship band.  This is a point which Evans’ recent blog post On “Going Episcopal” makes as all the people who share stories of finding a home in the Episcopal church are white and middle class (Evans notes this in the post so it is not like she is ignorant of it).   Honestly, I am attracted to this sort of things.  But for those who are, it is important not to project this attraction onto others who are also disillusioned with church.

It is important that we realize traditional liturgy is not THE answer.

It is important that we realize contemporary worship services with little to no traditional liturgy is the answer.  

I am saying, there is not a “the answer” when it comes to reaching out to millennials, or to anybody for that matter.

Simply moving from hymns to contemporary songs, from piano to guitar will not automatically draw people to church.

Simply doing communion more often will not automatically draw people to church.

Simply having a shorter sermon will not automatically draw people to church.

Simply changing the dress of the pastor from a suit to jeans will not automatically draw people to church.

At the risk of contradicting myself, I think the closest thing to a “the answer” is relationships, and I think this is what Evans gets at when she mentions anointing the sick and confession and such.  When individuals in the church show kindness and hospitality to their neighbors, when church communities show love to their community, this is what draws people to church.  It is not sexy or glamorous, but such things do lead to real change.

So maybe along with their being no “the answer” we need to modify the question.  Simply getting large numbers of people into church is not the goal.  You can fill an auditorium in many creative ways, but it is worthless if actual life change does not happen.  Perhaps we, most of all, need to  be reminded that the goal is making disciples, one person at a night, and not just filling seats.

Cold Case Christianity (Review)

In my college years, learning arguments in favor of Christianity was a huge help to my faith.  Christian apologetics provided answers to many questions I had and gave me a love of learning and reading.  Over the years I have become somewhat skeptical of the utility of Christian apologetics, at least in terms of a method for sharing the gospel.  That said, I still think apologetics has value and that good answers are out there.

J Werner Wallace’s book Cold Case Christianity has been on my kindle for months, I finally read it.  There are a lot of Christian apologetics books out there, what sets this one apart is Wallace’s experience as a detective.  The insights he offers from his career and the stories of cases are the best part of the book by far.  I think such things make this a book, perhaps the book, college students ought to go to if they want to begin reading apologetics.

Honestly, I have to say I skimmed much of his actual argument for Christianity as it consisted of mostly standard arguments I have read before.  While I find the answers of people like Wallace compelling, I even give such answers myself when asked, his book also reminded me of some problems I have with apologetics.  Apologists tend to create too tight a case, too quickly ironing over issues that are much more complex if looked at fully.  For example, he argues that Paul quoted Luke’s gospel in his letter to Timothy.  Perhaps, though it seems just as likely that Paul and Luke heard the same quote in an oral tradition floating around.  Or, since Paul and Luke knew each other, maybe Luke shared it with Paul verbally.  It seems a stretch to say Paul quoted Luke’s writing.  In another case he speaks of Mark, the author of the gospel, as appointing teachers in the school in Alexandria.  His footnote here is only to a secondary source.

I am not saying he is wrong in either of these.  My point is that I suspect New Testament and early church scholars would have a lot more to say on this and that Wallace may be over-simplifying the scholarship to make a case.  Which is fine, he is writing to make a case.  But from that,  I think he could have done better when discussing bias.  Early on he shares how his partner once allowed his bias to lead him down the wrong path in solving a crime.  The error, Wallace says, is that his partner started with the premise – in this case the premise was, when finding a dead woman, that it is usually the husband who did it.  But is Wallace saying we ought to treat every suspect, every idea, equally and never have any biases?  Sure his partner’s bias was wrong in this case, but it is a bias because in most cases it is right.  Such a bias probably helped his partner solve many cases (forget probably, Wallace says his partner was usually right!).  Rather than warning against biases, as Wallace seemed to do, the better thing is to remind us that biases are not 100% correct.  This is what the illustration seems to point to anyway, though it does not seem to be the way Wallace used it.

At the end he discusses the gospels and argues that the early Christians were not biased prior to writing, which is true.  But the gospels, as texts, are not objective documents.  They are written by people who want their readers to believe.  They are biased…and it is okay!  Everyone is biased.  This does not mean we cannot change our opinions or evaluate our biases, but it does mean we ought not act as if they are not there.

So I am sure 23 year old Dave would have devoured and loved Wallace’s book.  If students ask, I will recommend this book to them.  35 year old Dave is a bit more skeptical at points, but still sees value in books such as this one.  Though some difficulties are ironed over to make a better case, it is still a good book.