Athanasian Dance

Good morning!

I just finished Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man, and I highly recommend it. It’s like reading a good coffee stout.

In one of his final chapters, Chesterton comments on how strange, how contra mundum Christianity is. He notes that if there is one thing the enlightened and liberals of every age have pointed to as exemplary of the endless argument and disagreement that is Christian theology, it is “this Athanasian question of the Co-Eternity of the Divine Son;” and that if there is one thing that these same enlightened and liberal offer as simple, pure and unspoiled Christian thought, “it is the single sentence, ‘God is Love.'” He then says this:

Yet the two statements are nearly identical; at least one is very nearly nonsense without the other. The barren dogma is only the logical way of stating the beautiful sentiment. For if there be a being without beginning, existing before all things, was He loving when there was nothing to be loved? If through that unthinkable eternity He is lonely, what is the meaning of saying He is love? The only justification of such a mystery is the mystical conception that in His own nature there was something analogous to self-expression; something of what begets and beholds what it has begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical to complicate the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love. If the moderns really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the Athanasian Creed.

Thanks for that, GK. Eschewing a logical Christianity for a colorful one leaves us not with a colorful Christianity at all, just the hopeful and ultimately substance-less idea of color. A God who is able to love, yet not eternally, is more Athenian than Athanasian.

-Daniel

Bigger Than Infinite

I’m no doubt stealing from somewhere in what comes next, but I can’t think of the original source for anything. My apologies to you, unknown author(s).

Before Kepler et al came along and told everyone how big the universe was, they all thought it was pretty big. A massive cosmos in nine spheres, each filled with light and populated by angels of every rank and beatific creatures and sights of indescribable wonder. Earth, dark little realm that it was, must have felt more like the bottom than the center. But now we know that the universe, far from being the realm of endless day, is infinite and (mostly) empty and black.

I’m not saying the old guys were right about the cosmos, just because their vision was a little more lively. My point has nothing to do with the universe at all. It is rather that we (people) have the sort of minds which take in the Very Large a lot better than the Infinite. A long way seems a lot further than never-ending, or at least the imagination can go further with the former. I don’t know about you, but my brain fizzes out when it’s faced with infinitude (This, coincidentally, is why no one understands the national debt).

Why does Jesus tell parables? Why does he talk about the kingdom of heaven as a big tree? Why does he compare it’s matchless worth to that of a pearl? Why compare his Father to a manager, salvation to the finding of a coin, hell to a dung-pit? Because we wouldn’t understand him otherwise? Because we have no concept of the true nature of things? Yes and yes, and I would propose a third reason: Because being outside the party in the dark sounds/seems/feels worse than the worst, most unending and unremitting torment imaginable. Because finding a valuable coin you lost and have been desperately searching for brings home the taste of joy more than the idea that the infinite impassible God rejoices before the angels in heaven over the salvation of one sinner. Because we’ve all had exacting managers, but nobody who reads the words of Scripture has had to stand before God- yet.

We are creatures of earth, and God knows our language. Someday we’ll be able to see further than we can presently conceive, and in the meantime big is bigger than infinite.

-Daniel

I Swear I’m Not a Posty

Truly. I’m not post-millenial. Maybe I should be. But regardless of the theology of the thing, I think they have a healthy attitude when it comes to thinking about the future, particularly in thinking about sowing and reaping.

I know some post-millenials who would disagree with me, but I’m not sure it matters what a person’s eschatology is when it comes to thinking about sowing for the future. We know that the Lord is coming back soon, and so there ought to be a sense of urgency to our actions, but we also know that with him a day is as a thousand years, so there ought to be some thought given to what we’re going to do with a thousand more years, if it should be given to us.

We’re constantly reaping the fruit of seeds sown by generations before us. Believers one hundred years ago worked in faith, and many never saw the reward for their labor, I’m sure. We’re like the disciples, reaping where we did not sow (John 4:36-38). Somebody put an iron into the fire earlier, and now it’s hot enough to use.

But this comes with a responsibility. We’ve been given much, and so much is required. We ought to be mindful of the future, putting irons into the fire, sowing where we have no reasonable expectation of living to see the fruit. We ought not just have one-year, five-year, ten-year plans, but dreams and aspirations which stretch for centuries, insofar as we can.

Christ may return for his own tomorrow. He may tarry for a thousand more years. That’s his business, not ours. Ours is to be the church as faithfully as we can be- and that means not just collecting on previous efforts, but seeing to it that our descendants can do the same.

-Daniel

Hortatype.

I wish Webster’s was open-source, like Wikipedia. I make up words left and right.

Athanasius believed that typology was inherently hortatory. This was because Christian typology is somewhat hourglass-shaped. Old Testament figures and types get narrower and narrower in scope until they get to Christ, their fulfillment;  after that the same images rebound to the church in Christ. I’ve written on this before. Typology is story; if you know your place in the story, you know how to act. And What Would Jesus Do? is only useful if run through the filter of redemptive history, because oftentimes when that question is asked the answer should be “die for the life of the world,” and that isn’t any help to us at all.

For an example, let’s pick… Exodus 17. A few days ago I tried to suggest that Paul wasn’t the first one to think Yahweh was the rock that was split, and yesterday I tried to draw out some implications of that. But is there a command contained within this extended metaphor? I think there is.

Christ is the stricken rock, and from the rent in his side flowed water and blood– life for the world. This confession is the rock upon which the church is built. But Jesus isn’t the only living Stone here; we also, like living stones, are being built into a temple for the Lord. So, like our Foundation, we are split; and though our cleaving isn’t salvific I think Tertullian had it right when he said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.

A comfort in pain, a directive in uncertainty, and an explanation in difficulty.

-Daniel

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Hey,

Just some more thoughts on Exodus 17, typology, and rocks (There are a few of my favorite things).

Moses struck Yahweh on the rock at Horeb with the staff of judgment, and water poured out for the people. A centurion struck I AM on calvary’s cross with a spear, and water and blood poured out for the life of the church. Jesus told Simon “little rock” Bar-Jonah that he (Jesus) would build his church on the rock of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ– and then he went and got struck for the life of the world. The Church’s one foundation– her precious cornerstone– is the rent Rock of ages. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the wind blew and beat on that house,” and no dice. It’s a firm foundation.

Looks like weakness to the world. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Unless you fall on this rock and break, it will fall on you and crush you. The confession of the church is the Rock rejected by men but chosen by God and precious. Let us look on him whom we have pierced.

-Daniel

Yahweh in Judgment

Psalm 95 is quoted in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, as a warning to the people of God not to harden their hearts “as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:8). There are two incidents referred to as Meribah– Exodus 17 and Numbers 20– but only Exodus 17 is also referred to as Massah. In Exodus 17 the children of Israel complain because they are thirsty and they believe Moses has led them out into the wilderness to die. When Moses cries out to God, God tells him to take his staff and strike the rock. When Moses does this, water pours out from the rock. Yippee.

It is interesting, then, that of all the names which the Psalmist could have used to start Psalm 95 off with, he chose this one: “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1).

“For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Food for thought.

-Daniel

Against the Arians, Against the Paedobaptists?

I sure hope that title doesn’t get me into trouble.

I’m reading Peter Leithart’s book Athanasius right now, and I just came across a blurb from Athanasius which struck me. He is defending the Nicene definition against the Arians (who deny that Christ is coeval with the Father), and he uses the traditional baptistic formula to do so. I pick up in the middle:

For not he who simply says, “O Lord,” gives Baptism; but he who with the Name has also the right faith. On this account therefore our Savior also did not simply command to baptize, he first says, “Teach;” then this: “Baptize into the Name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost;” that the right faith might follow upon learning, and together with faith might come into the consecration of Baptism. (Leithart, Athanasius, p. 35)

Interesting. So here’s my question: If Athanasius is correct in saying that the command to ‘teach’ (or make disciples) comes before ‘baptize,’ then isn’t that an argument against paedobaptism? I’d love to hear what you Reformed and Presbyterian folks think.

-Daniel