Friday, August 14, 2015

The Early Church Fathers on autotheos


Ryan—a Reformed brother in Christ, whose blog, UNAPOLOGETICA,  I have followed for a number of years now—has just published a lengthy compilation of early Church Fathers who affirmed the doctrine that God the Father is the only person of the Godhead who is autotheos (i.e. God in and of Himself).

The actual document is, "74 pages of quotes by 20 early church fathers"; introduction and link to the compilation HERE.

Anyone who has interest in Christian theology, and the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, will certainly appreciation Ryan's contribution.


Grace and peace,

David

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"The monarchy of the Father as the most fundamental issue of Trinitarian theology" - an insightful assessment of Thomas F. Torrance's and John Zizioulas' contributions on the Trinity


Dr. Thomas F. Torrance and Dr./Fr. John Zizioulas are two of the most important Trinitarian theologians of the late 20th and early 21st centuries (a period recognized by many as one which has seen a significant increase of interest in the doctrine of the Trinity). I have read a number of the works produced by both men; and came to realize, quite early, that though there are some common elements in their Trinitarian thought, there are also some very important differences.

A couple of days ago, I came across an excellent article/paper by Nikolaos Asproulis in the online journal, Participatio (link), which focuses on one of those differences—the monarchy of God the Father. The following is the abstract of Asproulis' contribution:

The disagreements between T. F. Torrance (1913-2007) and John Zizioulas (1931-) regarding the reading of the patristic (especially Cappadocian) doctrine of the monarchy of the Father bear implications for fundamental issues of theological method which require careful study. In the present article, questions regarding the transcendent and immanent Trinity, historical revelation as a starting point of Christian theology and the interpretation of the Cappadocian Fathers will be discussed in connection with a critical comparison of the way these two eminent theologians, who belong to different traditions (Torrance, Reformed; Zizioulas, Eastern Orthodox), interpret the monarchy of the Father as the most fundamental issue of Trinitarian theology. (Page 162.)

As noted in the above abstract, "the reading of the patristic (especially Cappadocian) doctrine of the monarchy of the Father bear implications for fundamental issues of theological method which require careful study" [I would certainly add Athanasius to the Cappadocians.] Asproulis goes on to demonstrate that Torrance's patristic interpretations bear some significant differences from those of Zizioulas, especially concerning the monarchy of God the Father. [Interestingly enough, Keith W. Goad's readings, as found in is doctoral dissertation, Trinitarian Grammars, are quite similar to those of Torrance—who he cites a number of times—for a link to the dissertation, and some of my musings, see THIS THREAD.]

Torrance places a heavy emphasis on the being/substance/essence (Gr. ousia) of God; and as Asproulis points out, he has a, "preoccupation with the term homoousian"(p. 164). But, Zizioulas' focus is quite different; note the following from Asproulis:

Since the beginning of his career Zizioulas has focused on the importance of the concept of personhood both as a conceptual tool for the conceptualization of the doctrine of the Trinity and as the very soteriological reality of Christian faith, the fulfillment of theosis. As he puts it, “the concept of person with its absolute and ontological content was born historically from the endeavor of the Church to give ontological expression to its faith in the Triune God.” (Page 166.)

A bit later in the article, we read:

Torrance is known for his robust critique of the “Cappadocian settlement,” which identified the monarchy exclusively with the person of the Father and introduces causal relations within the Holy Trinity: the Cappadocians “sought to preserve the oneness of God by insisting that God the Father, who is himself without generation or origination, is the one Principle or Origin and Cause of the Son and the Spirit.” (Page 172.)

This is followed by:

According to Torrance, the introduction of such a hierarchical and subordinationist structure, following from the priority of the person of the Father as the “cause” of the Godhead and the one principle of Trinitarian unity, constitutes the main thrust of the Cappadocian teaching. (Ibid.)

Torrance's rejection of the “Cappadocian settlement”—in contrast to Zizioulas' emphatic acceptance—establishes the wide difference between their respective understandings of the monarchy of God.

Personally, I side with Zizioulas on this "most fundamental issue of Trinitarian theology", and would be interested in hearing from others as to which side they take.


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: a rare book that I could not put down until I finished reading it




Last night, I finished reading the above book by Dr. Nabeel Qureshi; a book, that once I started reading, I just could not put down until I got to the end.

It had been a number of months since I last read any books concerning Islam, but when I happened upon the book while surfing the internet last week, I felt compelled to look into it, even though I knew Dr. Qureshi had been an associate with David Wood, a high profile critic of Islam whose approach to apologetics I hold a certain dislike for. But, Dr. Qureshi has become a team member of Ravi Zacharias International Ministires (link); this, coupled with his substantial educational credentials (MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, MA in Religion from Duke University, and currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament studies at Oxford University), led me to purchase book, and 'give it a chance'. I am quite pleased that I did so, for I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book is not a scholarly treatment, and at times, is a bit too polemical for my taste, but Dr. Qureshi is a masterful writer, and the story that he relates to his readers concerning his life as a devout Muslim growing up in America (and Scotland), and ultimate conversion to Christianity, is certainly a dramatic and emotional one. A must read IMO...

A Google 'preview' of the book is available HERE.

Aaron Menikoff (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), senior pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, has provided a pretty good review HERE.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Dr. Qureshi was raised in the Ahmadiyyat sect of Islam; many Sunni and Shia Muslims hold that members of the Ahmadiyyat sect are not Muslims at all. Dr. Qureshi has provided and excellent treatment on the Ahmadiyyat sect, addressing the issue of whether or not Ahamdis are Muslims (LINK).

I hope a number of my readers will take the time to read Dr. Qureshi's book, and then share their thoughts with me....


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Billy Graham's grandson, Tullian Tchividjian: a sad tale of resignation, moral failure and church schism


Yesterday, while engaged in some unrelated online research (the doctrine of the Trinity), I happened upon a Christianity Today article (LINK - posted on June 21st, 2015), that came as quite a shock to me: the resignation of Tullian Tchividjian (a grandson of Billy Graham), as senior pastor of the famous Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida due to an affair with "a friend".

As most probably know, the former senior pastor (and founder) of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church was D. James Kennedy, a postion he held from 1960 until his retirement on August 26, 2007 (he passed away a mere ten days later). I started listening to D. James Kennedy's radio ministry, Truths That Transform, way back in the mid-80s, and did so faithfully (five days per week) for over ten years. I also took in his weekly Coral Ridge Hour, and ended up spending a fair amount of money on various products offered through his Coral Ridge Ministries.

My zeal for D. James Kennedy's ministries waned after I left the Reformed tradition in the late 90s, but I retained some interest until his death in 2007. After that date, my knowledge of events concerning the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church were non-existent until yesterday. I did not know that in March 2009 the membership of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church voted in Tullian Tchividjian as their senior pastor. I was also unaware that this event subsequently spawned a substantial schism—note the following:

Internal divisions at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church burst into the open this past weekend as six members were ordered to stay off the premises.

The six have called for the ouster of the Rev. W. Tullian Tchividjian, saying he is deserting the heritage of his revered predecessor, the Rev D. James Kennedy. In reply, the Fort Lauderdale church has accused them of spreading rumors and disrupting church unity. Among the six is Kennedy's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy.

Stresses are common whenever a longtime pastor is replaced, observers say. But with a huge, successful church with long-entrenched traditions - and a new pastor nearly two generations younger - the effects are heightened.

"I'd be surprised if it didn't happen," said Lesley Northup, a specialist in religion and culture at Florida International University. "Change is inevitable with a new pastor. And change produces discomfort. And it's magnified in a highly publicized place, where both the predecessor and the current guy are well-known."

Tchividjian, 37, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, was elected March 15 as pastor at Coral Ridge, which had lacked a leader since Kennedy died in September 2007. But if he thought he had a mandate for change, the small but vocal coterie of critics has hotly disagreed.

They have mass-mailed accusations to congregants, accusing Tchividjian of heavy-handed tactics such as downplaying the church's traditional service in favor of contemporary worship. They've criticized Tchividjian for replacing some Coral Ridge staff with his own people, and planning to sell land at the church's west campus "to make up for budget shortfalls."

Their recommended solution: a petition to put an end to Tchividjian's 4-month-old pastorate. More than 1,600 copies of the petition were mailed to church members on July 24.

The church sent the six a letter on Aug. 4, saying that if they step onto church property, they will be considered trespassers. A second letter on Thursday, signed by Tchividjian, gave the rationale: "No church government can tolerate such an insurrection from those who will not listen to admonition, refuse all counsel, and will stop at nothing until they have overthrown legitimate authority and replaced it with their own." (LINK)

Kennedy's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, and a number of other dissidents, went on to form the New Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach, Florida. See THIS LINK for information on the schismatic church.

Certainly some very sad events within the tradition I once embraced. My prayers go out to those souls who have been adversely affected...


Grace and peace,

David

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A comprehensive Eastern Orthodox site


I have been studying the early Church Fathers (I use the term "early" for the CFs who wrote between the end of the first century and the end of fifth century) for over three decades now. In addition to trying to understand what those CFs taught within the framework of the period in which they wrote, I have also attempted to understand how their writings relate to the developed theologies of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions.

Earlier today, I discovered a comprehensive Eastern Orthodox site that is nothing short of a 'goldmine' of valuable information on Eastern Orthodoxy, the Church Fathers and numerous other topics:


I was led to this site via the following page concerning the Cappadocian fathers:


The above page is part of the "Lessons on Christian Dogmatics" (link) series, which is:

... the notes that were taken from the lectures of Professor I. Zizioulas (current Metropolitan of Pergamus and Chairman of the Athens Academy) at the Poemantic Division of the Thessaloniki University’s School of Theology, during the academic year 1984-1985.

They are published with the blessing and the permission of the reverend Metropolitan.

Given my in depth work on the of the Monarchy of God the Father, I found the following from above "Cappadocian fathers" page to be of particular interest:

The third element that the Cappadocian Fathers contributed was that they not only “endowed” a complete hypostasis to each of the three persons, they in fact attributed the cause of God’s existence to the person of the Father. In other words, they attributed the beginning of God’s existence to the person of the Father – to a person.  

In view of the fact that they introduced these new elements (note: in the terminology, not in the dogma), the Cappadocian Fathers utilized images and analogies when referring to the Holy Trinity, which always had the characteristic of comprising complete beings.

In the 1st Ecumenical Council, with the theology of Saint Athanasius it was stressed very much that the Son is born of the nature -or of the essence- of the Father. That could have been misconstrued as an extension of the Father’s essence, and not as a birth of a complete and independent entity. If we have three extensions of God’s essence, then we are dangerously close to Savellianism [i,e, Sabellianism/Patripassianism/modalism].  That is why such a huge reaction against the “homoousion” had been raised, by those who were concerned that the “homoousion” -as defined in Nice- might contain in it the danger of Savellianism.

Savellius viewed God as a unit that extended itself; a unit that expanded and took on these three separate roles, and that in the end, this group would again contract unto itself, and become once again the original one unit. He saw God as a being that extended itself and acquired three “offshoots” which had the same essence.
The Cappadocians wanted to eliminate this interpretation, hence their insistence that these three persons are not extensions of the one essence, but three independent, complete entities, and that is the reason for their stressing the meaning of “hypostasis”.

The images they used for this purpose are characteristic. In both the 1st Ecumenical Council as well as the Symbol of Faith (the Creed), we note the image of light, which was used to portray the unity between the Father and the Son. There is the image and the expression of: “light out of light”.  Just as light emanates rays that cannot be distinguished from their source, nor the source from the rays, this proved itself to be a useful portrayal, to indicate that the Son is united with the Father inseparably, as “light out of light”.

The Cappadocian Fathers found this depiction inadequate, as it (the rays) could be construed, as the extension of a body, also, the Son could be construed as an energy of God.  So, instead of saying: “light out of light”, they preferred the concept of three suns.  Not just a light that originates from a light, but three individual suns, three lit torches.

These are the favored depictions, by which it is illustrated that we have three self-existent, complete persons, which, together with this depiction, are simultaneously presented as united. But here is the critical point: What is that common thing that unites those three suns?  It is the common essence, the common energy which they possess, because all three suns emanate the same heat and the same light. Consequently, the energy is common to all three, and the Essence –which goes along with the energy- is also common to all three.  It is in this manner that the presence of their hypostasis and the fullness of each person and their unity are simultaneously depicted.

In the analogy used for man, they used three persons in order to denote the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  Just as Basil, George and John are three persons, three people joined by a common nature, a common essence, which is their human nature, so can the three persons of the Holy Trinity be denoted by the image of three people.  In the instance of God, an adjustment of this depiction is necessary, because it is different to the instance of three people.  What needs to be stressed as an introduction to what will follow, is that the Cappadocian

Fathers insisted that each person of the Holy Trinity comprises a complete entity, and that the depictions we use should be depictions of complete entities and not extensions of a body.  Three suns, three torches, three people.  This is the way to denote the full hypostasis of each person.

And then a bit later, we read the following provocative assessment:

Thus, in the East, the Greek Fathers came to a halt at the Cappadocians, with regard to the dogma on the Holy Trinity.  Whoever is not acquainted with the Cappadocians, is not acquainted with the dogma of the Holy Trinity.  One cannot learn about it from anyone else, only from the Cappadocians.  Prior to the Cappadocians, many ideas had been expressed, which, however, needed to be supplemented by the Cappadocians. With the Cappadocian Fathers, the East possessed the dogma on God in its completed form. (Bold emphasis mine.)

Though I have read a good number of works by Eastern Orthodox theologians on the issue of the doctrine of the Trinity, the above is the first time I have come across such a bold assertion. I am left wondering if this a consensus view within the Eastern Orthodox paradigm...

With that said, I believe that the entire page worth reading—finding much of the content in agreement with my own thought—though I suspect that a number of folk will take issue with some of the content as I have (especially the author's reflections on Augustine).

Off to take in more of this site's content...


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, May 4, 2015

New academic book on R. J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism




This morning, I found out about the above book on R. J. Rushdoony by Dr. Michael J. McVicar, assistant professor of religion at Florida State University. Given my long standing interest in Christian Reconstructionism, I immediately ordered the book, and then found a Google preview: LINK.

I also located an excellent (and lengthy) review of the book, that is (IMO), a must read: LINK.

As the review states, this is the, "First major book about R. J. Rushdoony", and that "the work's 1,017 endnotes underscore the workmanship of the author".

I suspect that those who have an interest in Christian Reconstructionism will 'open their wallets' and join me in purchasing this major treatment.

Now, I have to wait for the book to arrive...


Grace and peace,

David 

Monday, April 13, 2015

FROM CONFLICT TO COMMUNION - Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017


A few days ago, while engaged in some online research, I came upon a document that was published back in 2013 which I had been unaware of: FROM CONFLICT TO COMMUNION - Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

The document/report was a collaborative effort of The Lutheran–Roman Catholic Commission on Unity (formerly known as "The Joint Lutheran - Roman Catholic Study Commission on the Gospel and the Church"), and the following is an introduction to the report, published on The Lutheran World Federation website (LINK):

The Luther-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity invites all Christians to study its report open-mindedly and critically, and to walk along the path towards the full, visible unity of the Church.

In 2017, Catholics and Lutherans will jointly look back on the event of the Reformation and reflect on 50 years of official worldwide ecumenical dialogue during which time the communion they share anew has continued to grow.

This encourages Lutherans and Catholics to celebrate together the common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, amidst this celebration, they will also have reason to experience the suffering caused by the division of the Church, and to look self-critically at themselves, not only throughout history, but also through today’s realities.

And from the Forward of the document/report, we read:

The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that the struggle for this truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history. In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4–6).

I read this interesting document/report last week before spring-break guests arrived on Thursday. I plan on rereading it again in greater depth, with an emphasis on the 91 footnotes, and may publish some reflections in a new thread once I have finished the task.

I hope a few readers will take the time to read through the document, and share their assessment/s in the combox.

[Links to document: HTML; PDF.]

Grace and peace,

David