30 January 2012

Church of the Open Wound

A COLLEAGUE recently brought my attention to this portion of J├╝rgen Moltmann's The Trinity and the Kingdom (p. 49):
God and suffering belong together, just as in this life the cry for God and the suffering experienced in pain belong together. The question about God and the question about suffering are a joint, a common question. And they only find a common answer. Either that, or neither of them finds a satisfactory answer at all. No one can answer the theodicy question in this world, and no one can get rid of it. Life in this world means living with this open question, and seeking the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored.

The question of theodicy is not a speculative question; it is a critical one. It is the all-embracing eschatological question. It is not purely theoretical, for it cannot be answered with any new theory about the existing world. It is a practical question which will only be answered through experience of the new world in which ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’. It is not really a question at all, in the sense of something we can ask or not ask, like other questions. It is the open wound of life in this world. It is the real task of faith and theology to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound.

The person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer to the theodicy question. And he will also resist any attempts to soften the question down. The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering in the world, and the more passionately he asks about God and the new creation.
Moltmann's underpinning panentheistic doctrine of God notwithstanding, let's focus on two themes that arise as he writes of theodicy and the so-called "problem of evil":
  1. The question of God and suffering is an "all-embracing eschatological question," because it can "only be answered through experience" of the new heavens and earth. Right now, it is, in fact, not really question at all. It just is; it simply hangs here all heavy and stifling, just like an . . . 
  2. . . . "open wound." Theodicy is the open wound of life in this world. It can't be answered sufficiently this side of the eschaton: "Life in this world means living with this open question."
It seems to me that the reality of a fragmented church in a world that has witnessed the ascension of God's Christ also falls under the "question" of theodicy. And it is a great evil too easily dismissed by Protestants in general (Carl Trueman and others like him being exceptions)—and by evangelicals in particular (leading to a kind of gnostic ecclesiology, as the folks over at Called to Communion often note).

Just a few short centuries ago, we Protestants were, of course, Roman Catholic. And our forebears—of the first generation, at least—from the start had their eyes on reforming their Mother, the church of Rome. In this, I'm reminded of Stanley Hauerwas' 1995 Reformation Sunday homily:
Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.
To put it as Trueman did in the hyperlinked article above, "Protestants need a positive reason not to be Catholic."

At any rate, my Roman Catholic friends would deny the possibly of real body fragmentation, that is, of members of the body being severed from the body. No doubt, they do think people can be separated from the body, but they're not taking a part of the body, so to speak, with them.

I, along with everybody who isn't Roman Catholic (and perhaps Eastern Orthodox), demur.

The notion of a "perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the church through the apostolic succession of the bishops, by virtue of its being a continuation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, in his mystical body" makes little sense in light of the realities of the church's history, which continue to surround us ("St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church"). It's not the latter points with which I have problems (apostolic succession; the church being a continuation of the life and ministry of Christ); it's the former—the "perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church." That conflates the truth with the proclamation, or participation in, the truth (ousia vs. metousia). Scripture, tradition, and reason demand otherwise. And "the person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer" that attempts to justify God's ways in this matter.

Thus, the disunity of the church catholic is an open wound. Put another way, I think Roman Catholics (helped by none other than John Calvin, who took his cue from Cyprian & Cyril!) are right to demand that the ontological connection between Christ and his church by the power of the Spirit be upheld, but I think they're wrong that her being necessarily leads to an infallible act. Again: the church's union and communion with Christ in ontological relation doesn't by its very nature procure infallibility. The words of Jesus and his apostles regarding the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, like the prophetic utterances of old, are to be construed as goadings toward righteousness—toward that oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity—not as absolute promises or blueprints of infallibility that will simply unfurl throughout the course of history.

Let me try to put it more plainly: I think that the church is to be one in this time between the times. One, not just in will and purpose, but one physically and ontologically—in a collegial episcopate (in contradistinction to the universal jurisdictional claims of the Roman pontiff). I think this is what God wants. But I also think that we have failed miserably in this regard, that the body has indeed fragmented, that toes have left their feet, that wrists have left their arms and have caused whole hands to suffer the same.

In other words, the church—both catholic and local, invisible and visible, one and many—suffers from an open wound. I therefore think God would have us continually aching for reattachment, of having broken hearts at the church's division, or else we're left with being an end in ourselves, that is, anathema.

But whence the credo? How can we pray, "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," if it doesn't quite exist?

With hope.

It may be that this open-wound ecclesiology can only be resolved in "the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored," but ignoring the charge to be one (or worse, to theologically justify fragmentations) is fatalistic at best and heresy at worst.

18 January 2012

Yet More Perspectives on the Sabbath

Scott Oakland of ReformedCast called me on Monday for a live podcast revolving around the book Perspectives on the Sabbath.

The time flew by, but I do think this was one of my more articulate presentations. I could be totally wrong on that score (I know one thing, participating in radio/podcast interviews are quick lessons in humility—the boring, monotone sound of my own voice; the fumbling diction; incorrect facts; sticking my foot in my mouth, etc.). Why not listen for yourself?

05 January 2012

Dominical (& Ecclesiastical) View of the Sabbath

ON PAGE NINE of Perspectives on the Sabbath, I outlined the four views ensconced in the book. As a final note, I wrote that "Roman Catholics, traditional Anglicans, and the Orthodox, while maintaining a much stronger magisterial and thus 'dominical' view of this matter, exegetically fall somewhere in between Arand [the Lutheran] and Pipa [the puritan sabbatarian]."

Truth be told, I had wanted the Lutheran position position to fill this gap, but, as it turned out, Arand ended up being a little too close to Blomberg. Had I known, I would've also invited an Anglo-Catholic, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox thinker to contribute (while retaining Arand's important discussion in the mix as a mediating position between the aforementioned group and Blomberg).

When writing the above, I footnoted two sources: the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, III.ii, 1.3 (also para. 1166); and These Truths We Hold—The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings ("Orthodox Dogma and Doctrine: The Ten Commandments, no. 4").

All this to say that I came across Taylor Marshall's brief synopsis of Aquinas on the Lord's Day. I had not read this bit from Thomas in quite some time and thus forgot about it as I was preparing the manuscript for Perspectives on the Sabbath. It doesn't contradict any of the above, of course, just further elucidates the so-called "dominical" view and its quasi-sabbatarian leanings (in even asking the question, "May Catholics Work on Sunday?"), even though it does posit a significant (redemptive-historical) break between old covenant sabbath observance and new covenant worship.

AS AN ASIDE, it is commonly asserted that Calvin and other early reformers held to this "dominical" view. At least as far as Calvin is concerned (and Luther, with a slightly different twist), I think this holds true. Put differently, I think Gaffin is essentially right in his thesis that Calvin represents a via media. While Gaffin downplays the disparity between the reformer and Westminster on this point, he nonetheless acknowledges it. This is another reason why I wrote in the introduction to the book that the view "exegetically falls somewhere in between Arand and Pipa."

As an aside to this aside, Gaffin also argues that Calvin saw Rome as perpetuating a strict continuation of the old covenant sabbath. I forget what the literature concludes on this subject, but I do recall some of it highlighting the increasing sabbatarianism of the medieval church (e.g., Bauckham argues that starting in the sixth century pockets of legislative activity supporting Sunday sabbatarianism began appearing, until finally it became assumed practice by the late Middle Ages [From Sabbath to Lord's Day, 302–304]).

What I'm sure about is that there was increasing canonical enforcement of Sunday worship (and thus "servitude to another man," in Aquinas' words, was forbidden on the Lord's Day); what I don't think holds up, however, is the notion that it was "any day is as good as another" when it comes to the gathering of God's people before that, in the early church and in apostolic times. Gaffin's use of Rome as a foil is, I think, overstated. And, besides, criticizing High Middle Ages sabbatarianism is a bit ironic for a Westminsterian, don't you think?

Final aside: the "dominical" view is also necessarily an "ecclesiastical" view, because everybody that holds to some form of the dominical view, to varying degrees, grounds Lord's Day practice both in scripture (e.g., Jesus' resurrection on the first day of the week—as opposed the idea that the old covenant sabbath carries over into the new covenant) and church tradition (some of which is actually inscripturated).

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