Friday, December 28, 2007

Blanket of Snow

A soft blanket of snow peacefully wraps up the city. Harsh edges are cushioned, dark corners covered and light magnified. The resplendent paradox of a city clothed in snow evokes reflection on the cultural enigma of Christmas. It is a time, more than any other, that our thoughts are turned toward giving, blessing, gifting. Yet, we attempt to grasp and control this practice of grace, and in so doing, create something other than grace - something all together different.

Smells - oh, the smells associated with our celebration. Turkey, roast beef, ham, potatoes, onions, dressing, pies, apples, oranges, coffee, cinnamon, and peppermint all combine in the aromatic sense of the season. As our olfactory center soaks in the joyful smells, we're surrounded by the commotion of the day. Bells ringing, music playing, conversations with rarely seen relatives, kitchen noises culminating in the table fellowship and then the ripping of paper, surprised responses, expressions of gratitude both heart felt and politely mandated by the mores of the gathered community.

There is a joy and awkwardness in our family gatherings. Family - it is a received reality. We don't control our identity. We have shared experiences, but our lives are so different, our personalities so foreign to one another. As was often said to me in adolescence, "You can pick your nose and you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family." What a wise proverb.

It seems to me that our desire to control increases with age, which causes strain in our familial relationships - in all of our relationships for that matter. We live in a culture of control. The customer service counter is exceedingly busy today. The line is wrapped back and forth like a python full of grumpy people. If a gift is not to our liking these days, we simply exchange it for something more suited to our tastes. Rather than run this risk, it is more common to simply give our loved ones a gift card. We must have control over what we receive. It is no surprise, then, that we have difficulty understanding grace in this culture.

We attempt to control the Gift - to exchange it for something more palatable to our senses, something more to our liking. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him! I've found that the Christian mystics tend to understand grace in deep and robust ways. They have something significant to teach us. Though they say it in different ways and in different languages, yet with a common voice they describe the person at peace as one who is utterly empty. Only an empty soul has room for the fullness of Divine Love - which will be poured into it.

Empty. Open. I'm reminded of the common posture of prayer among early Christians. It was one of openness, expectancy and reception. They would typically look toward the heavens, anticipating the coming of Christ, with their hands raised, palms open and facing up ready to gratefully receive the Gift from above. As Christ-followers, we receive and participate in the grace-filled life of God, we don't control and manipulate. We in-dwell. We abide. We breathe. I think this is one of the most difficult things for us to comprehend. If we go to the exchange counter, which is always an open option, we will only exchange truth for a lie, hope for despair, peace for chaos, and life for death. The Gift is not exchangeable, no matter how difficult it is for us to swallow His flesh and blood.

It is hard to become empty and to open our hands because in so doing we relinquish one of the deepest human desires - control. With an open hand, we cannot grasp. We simply receive and give as life flows through us. The snow falls into our hand and melts away, a simple pleasure, a momentary joy. Yet, more and more we come to realize that this is who we were created to be - a means of grace, a channel of life. And that this open poverty is the place of beauty. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Friday, December 21, 2007

Prayer Wall

David Brush pointed this out over at his blog. I think it is a really interesting and unique use of technology. Check it out. Until Next Time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Come, Thou Unexpected Jesus

Come, Thou unexpected Jesus,
Interrupt our spending spree.
Shopping malls hold all that pleases;
Why would we then look for Thee?
In the midst of all the bustle,
We've lost the most important part.
Teach us that our lowly Savior
Is not found in a shopping cart.

Come, Thou unexpected Jesus,
Teach us Thy Nativity.
Teach us what true want, true need is.
Bid us champion poverty.
Break through our self-serving natures,
Please forgive our wayward hearts.
Show us those who need Thee, Savior;
Help us each to do our part.

~ by Jenn Kipp (with apologies to Charles Wesley)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Incarnation & Atonement: A Reflection

Where do we even begin when reflecting on the deep mystery of the Incarnation and our atonement? Given the paradoxical nature of our central Christian confession, it is difficult to discern a distinctive starting point for this reflection. As Christians we do not begin with anthropology, hamartiology, theodicy, or even history instead we begin and end with Christology because it is through Christ that we understand God, creation, humanity, sin, and redemption. However, to give a sense of coherence to our reflection we must maintain continuity with our narrative which begins in the beginning. Berashieth barah Elohim et ha-shamaim va-et ha-eretz. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1.1) En arche en ho Logos, kai ho Logos en pros ton Theon, kai Theos en ho Logos. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1.1)

This paradoxical point is precisely where St. Athanasius begins his reflection and articulation on the Incarnation. In De Incarnatione he says, “We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning.” Therefore, the starting point for us as Christians is the identity of Jesus, for He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (1 Corinthians 1.15-20)
We begin with the confession, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord!’ Yet, we also move in the order of our narrative knowing that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End of all things.

Even if we attempt to be Christocentric in our reflection, we still must wrestle with the mystery of our Christological language. Do we begin with a Christology from above? In this sense, does the climax of Heilsgeschichte come in the incarnation, ‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us,’ as the East tends to emphasize? Or, is the cross and resurrection the central act in God’s revealing and reconciling work? As James Denney says,

It is not in His being here, but in His being here as a propitiation for the sins of the world, that the love of God is revealed. Not Bethlehem, but Calvary, is the focus of revelation, and any construction of Christianity which ignores or denies this distorts Christianity by putting it out of focus.

Yet, the Eastern Fathers tend to give more attention to the incarnation itself and less emphasis on the crucifixion of the Lord. The un-assumed is the un-healed, but is it not precisely in the broken body and shed blood that we are made whole? Thus, even in a Christocentric soteriology, or maybe precisely because of our centrality on Christ, these tensions endure.

The paradox of Christology gives us no full resolution for these tensions, except to say that the two cannot and must not be separated. The person and the work of Christ are inextricably linked together. In the confessions of the Church, we are given a language which enables us to faithfully encounter and witness to these mysteries, but not to fully comprehend or control this Personal Truth. Recognizing the inadequacy of such separations, nonetheless in order to give a coherent reflection on this great mystery, I will attempt in this very short reflection, to remain in continuity with the narrative, parabola, and our confession, which all faithfully witness to our atonement in Christ. As a result, my reflections will take its shape from the central part of the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381).

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father...

Jesus Christ is of the same being as the Father, homo-ousion to Patri. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all homoousion, of the same being. The mystery of our confession points to the reality that we cannot know the Father, Son, or Spirit independent of their onto-relations with each other. Attempts to separate, grasp after, and control the being of the Holy Trinity has lead to many and various heresies and inadequate models of atonement. We participate in this confession for it is revealed gift, not something we constructed within our own human ingenuity. When we understand the redemptive work of God using Irenaeus’ model of the two hands of God, then we recognize that the economic and immanent Trinity are identical, the way that God is toward us in revelation and redemption is the way that God is in God’s inner relational being. It is our confession, then, that God is reconciling the entire world to Himself in Christ by the Spirit. In this model of God’s being it is impossible to imagine the Father as a vindictive power-monger who simply pours out His violent anger onto the loving Son; instead, it is the Father, Son, and Spirit working together to redeem and recreate us, drawing us back into the oikonomia of love, which is the life of God. Moreover, this is not of our own doing, it is the gift of God, so that no one should boast.

by whom all things were made; who for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man...

The Word became flesh! In this confession we recognize that this first century Jew was and is God. He graciously became incarnate for us. This is where the theological language in the East has flourished. Jesus, as God, came and assumed our broken and fallen humanity so that He might heal us. God became by grace what we are by nature so that by His activity and being for us we might be transformed into the imago Dei. The One by whom all things were made assumed our humanity and by doing so He forever bound Himself to creation. In this act, He ministered the things of God to us.

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; and suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

We do not simply confess the Inhomination of the Word, the centre of our confession is the cross and resurrection. Redemption is not the result of the Incarnation, but this One as the representative for all humanity became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He not only ministered the things of God to humanity, but also ministered the things of humanity to God. Jesus is not only God incarnate, but is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Through His obedience He offers up the perfect sacrifice to God on behalf of all creation. This language of our atonement is beautifully illustrated in Charles Wesley’s hymn, ‘Arise My Soul Arise’:

Arise, my soul, arise; Shake off thy guilty fears.
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands;
Before the throne my Surety stands;
my name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above For me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood to plead.
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears, Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers, They strongly plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry;
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry;
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die.”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear Anointed One;
He cannot turn away The presence of His Son.
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled; His pard’nign voice I hear.
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And, “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

The surety of our atonement is in the life, death, and resurrection of the Mediator and in His continuing Priestly intercession for us. The sin of humanity has been to grasp after equality with God, yet this One who was of the same being as God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped after, but instead He emptied Himself of all but love and became obedient unto death. In this we see that the actual image of God is one of poured out love. We are now reconciled to God and called His children because of the self-emptying love of God in Christ. It is through the parabolic movement of God in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ that we are united back to God. We, then, are caught up in this parabola of self-giving love by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the redemptive community of faith. ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,’ and those who have died with Him in the waters of baptism, who are nourished by His body and blood through the Spirit, will be raised with Him to new life in the house of God. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

As Cold As Ice

I would hate to be a meteorologist in the MidWest. We have such crazy weather patterns, it would be like trying to predict one's pregnant wife's mood for the day - hypothetically speaking, of course. The complexity of those patterns only seem to be increasing with the current problem of climate change.

Today we are experiencing rain and ice in Kansas City. Who knows how long it will continue. But we endure it all because it is simply a part of the season. It is par for the course and we're an enduring people.

The hard, cold reality of winter has caused me to once again stop and reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation - the way in which God brought His presence to us. We could read the entire story of God, as the story of One who comes. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of a God who continues to come closer and closer to His creation - revealing more of Himself with every step. Then we read those powerful words, "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

It is in this season that we celebrate that reality - God's coming in the body of Christ. He assumed and took up all our brokenness and humanity that He might heal us and make us like Him. It is a powerful mystery. Yet, I think we often romanticize this whole Christmas thing. When I think about Christ's coming to us...I think about His coming to Bethlehem. He stepped into the dark, cold reality of our broken world.

Bethlehem is still a dusty little Palestinian-controlled town. When people go to visit the place of Jesus' birth, it seems that they get off the bus and hurry over to the Church of the Nativity, take their pictures, get back on the bus, and then head back to Jerusalem. You don't want to hang around in Bethlehem too long. It is small, poor, dirty and caught between two warring groups. This is certainly not the place we would have chosen for the birth of our Lord, but it is where Christmas happens.

The Advent season is the time that we talk about the Prince of Peace. We sing songs about peace on earth. I mean, isn't shalom the very thing that the angels proclaim? Peace on earth and good will toward all human beings on whom God's favor rests! But then we read in the actual story that Jesus birth elicits a reaction from the political ruler of this territory, King Herod, which results in a blood bath. Children being murdered. Families broken. Rachel weeping over the death of her children. Peace on earth?

We don't like to talk about that part of the story. That's Bethlehem - that is the real Christmas. We mean well. It's not that we want to lie. It is just really difficult to face the truth about Christmas because it is the truth about our world, which is also the truth about us. We want to hide our festering wounds. But God came. He came to Bethlehem. He came to Egypt and Nazareth. He came to Galilee and to Golgotha - exposing our wounds in His body that we might be healed.

God is love. And even though we deny it and don't like it, love involves pain and truth. To know this God of love requires our own crucifixion. We have gripped our own gods too tightly - the only way we will be free is if they are ripped from our hands. That is a painful process, which all began with a God who willingly comes to Bethlehem. May He come into the icy realities our our life today that we might die to experience real life in Him. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Thursday, December 6, 2007

There's Something About Mary!

Like most prostestant evangelicals, I grew up highly skeptical of Mary. She was just a woman, right? I mean, of course God used her in a unique and powerful way to bring His presence into the world, but that didn't mean we should venerate her to the point of worship. Did it?

We believed that certain forms of popular Roman Catholic piety verged on the edge of idolatry. How could someone pray to Mary? Like prayers directed at anything other than God, it was just flat out wrong. Not that I gave the subject much genuine thought, it was simply the predominate opinion of those I respected. And it seemed to me that there was certainly some truth to this speculation based on brief bouts of outside observation.

But, there's just something about Mary that made it impossible for me to escape the allure of her character. Especially at this time of the year, my thoughts were continually driven back to the life of this young virgin. What a mysterious and awe inspiring story. Who is this woman that she would become so favored by the Holy One of Israel? Is she special or unique? Why her?

As with the calling of Abraham, Issac, and with the calling of Moses, Joshua, and with the calling of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezra - we're not really given any clue! It is simply the divine will of the Wholly Other to make this girl the Theotokos. The Almighty Creator freely chooses to bring His presence into the world through this simple, ordinary Galilean Jew.

She ultimately becomes the icon or image that controls and shapes our understanding of the prophetic community - the Church. The word of the Lord comes to us in similar ways. It is through our ears - our listening to His voice, His Word that we are impregnated by the Spirit. Yet, it only happens through a receptive heart. One that says, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." The Spirit forms Christ within the receptive prophetic community so that we might birth Christ in the world...bringing the enfleshed presence of God, His salvation and His Kingdom into our ordinary everyday living.

If we reflect closely on Mary, then our understanding of what it means to be blessed by God should be turned on it's head. If this is what it means to be highly favored and blessed - many of us would think twice before praying for God's blessing. Her engagement almost falls apart. She hides out with Elizabeth because her pregnancy is not only suspicious, but down right scandalous. The labor and delivery happens in a cold cave. They have to flee the country for fear of their lives. This special Son goes around bringing shame on the family and constantly putting His life in danger. Ultimately, He gets himself crucified. Blessed? Of course there is more to the story, but our notion of blessing is greatly challenged by her living example.

Would I ever worship Mary, in the way that I worship and follow Jesus? No. Right worship is directed to God alone. But there is an appropriate respect, adoration, and love that we might give to others as an act of worship. There are many times in this journey that I ask other friends and fellow Christians to pray for intercede with the Father on my behalf. We don't seem to have a problem with that at all. I don't know, really, but I think asking Mary - or anyone else who has gone on before us - to pray for us is something like that. Simply asking a fellow Christian to pray for us.

There is certainly something about Mary. Maybe we protestants should reflect on her life and example a little more. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

T. F. Torrance

Another powerful theologian has gone on to be with that great cloud of witnesses. This is what Gary Deddo, President of the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, sent out earlier in the week:

It is with sadness and a grateful heart that I am passing on the news that Thomas F. Torrance has died. His brother, David Torrance, sent out the notice below.

Dear friends

My brother Tom, although well and cheerful yesterday, passed on to be with the Lord very suddenly this Sunday morning at 3.30am. As a much loved brother and intimate friend with whom I have shared so much over the years, he is and will be a great miss. For his sake however we rejoice that weakness and suffering is now over and he is risen and rejoicing with the Lord, whom he endeavoured to serve throughout his life.

There is something appropriate that he passed over to be with the Lord on the day of resurrection, being the first Sunday in Advent. Thank you for your prayers for him and the family.


David [Torrance]

I would only echo the sentiment that it is certainly appropriate for all of His deep theological reflection on God's revelation in and through the incarnation of Christ, that Torrance would pass at the beginning of our corporate anticipation of that Event - as we also anticipate the coming of His Kingdom in its fullness. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Augustine’s Confession of Created Time

As I was helping someone with a current research project, I came across this essay that I wrote about a year ago. I enjoyed reading back through it so much that I thought I would share. It is a long one, but I would love to hear any comments others might have on this Subject.

Augustine’s Confession of Created Time:
Time and Eternity in the Confessions

What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend this in thought so as to articulate the answer in words? Yet what do we speak of, in our familiar everyday conversation, more than of time? We surely know what we mean when we speak of it. We also know what is meant when we hear someone else talking about it. What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain to an inquirer, I do not know.[1]

This popular quote from Augustine’s Confessions should give some intimation of the immensely difficult task set before us. The position a theologian takes on the topic of time and divine eternity has a kind of controlling effect on his or her entire theological vision.[2] It is my contention that this is certainly the case for Augustine. His perception of time and eternity, as expressed in Book XI of the Confessions, has immense implications upon the rest of his theological articulation, and thus influences the whole of Western theological reflection. It is important that we Western Christians, who find ourselves in Augustine’s shadow, have some, albeit limited, understanding of his conception on this point.

It will be my attempt in this brief essay to elucidate, as far as it is possible within the confines of this paper and my own finite understanding, Augustine’s notion of time and eternity as reflected in his Confessions. I will begin by giving some background into his philosophical and contextual influences. A summation of his exploration on this subject in the Confessions will follow. Finally, I will give a concise assessment of the adequacy of Augustine’s notion for contemporary theological reflection and attempt to point forward as we continue to wrestle with the mystery of time and eternity in relation to divine revelation.


It is helpful to begin with some general background information both on Augustine’s contextual influences for his particular way of viewing this subject and on broader theological / philosophical reflections concerning time and eternity. His impetus for developing this particular text seems to have been two fold. It was in some sense written as an attempt to respond to critics both inside and outside of the Catholic community, as to the legitimacy of his conversion and his installation as the Bishop of Hippo. It was also written at the behest of a multi-millionaire convert to Christianity, Paulinus of Nola. He was introduced to the writing of Augustine via Alypius, a close companion of the African Father, who was then the Bishop of Thagaste.[3] “The work was written during the last three years of the fourth century AD by a man in his mid-forties, recently made a bishop, needing to come to terms with a past in which numerous enemies and critics showed an unhealthy interest.”[4] We must keep this context and proposed motivation in mind when reflecting on the Confessions as a whole or on any of its subsequent parts.

Within the text itself, which is generally written in some autobiographical style, there is a significant transition from Book X on. In this latter section Augustine is no longer talking about his past, but is focused on giving some clarification of his current state of mind as the new bishop. Ironically, this concrete Christian context of ministry results in an extremely Neo-platonic philosophical excursus. While it is important to remember the context of this discussion, it is also evident that the views expressed in Book XI on time and eternity are central to Augustine’s theological vision and remain relatively consistent regardless of his contextually conditioned responses.[5]

For this particular subject matter we should include a sweeping understanding of the philosophical discussion concerning time that impacted Augustine’s intellectual framework. There are significant allusions to Plato, Aristotle, Porphyry, and Plotinus running throughout this particular reflection. Of these his most important influence is, not surprisingly, the Neo-platonic philosophy of Plotinus. Yet, even in his understanding of time Augustine differs from Plotinus in significant ways, which we will have occasion to investigate further on in this essay. Here it is imperative that we summarily explore the three principle philosophical figures, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, and their considerations on the subject matter at hand.[6]

There is a concern present in all of these thinkers between static and dynamic conceptions of time, eternity and the relationship between the two. In Plato’s Timaeus, time is subject to change, but it is actually created to mimic the changeless. The world soul infuses and envelopes the universe; and this presence of soul is prior to the creation of time. The demi-urgos, as Plato tells the story, rejoicing in the moving, living world creature which he has made in the image of the eternal gods, determines to improve the copy of the original. As far as it is possible, he seeks to make the universe eternal.

However, the eternal nature of the ideal being cannot be given in its fullness to something created. Therefore, he decides to make a ‘moving image of eternity’ (37d).[7] When the demiurge ordered the heavens, he made an image of the eternal, but the image moves according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity. This image of eternity that moves according to number we call time. His conceptuality of time and eternity generally reflects his dualism between form and matter or the intelligible and the sensible worlds, the former being static and the latter being dynamic. Yet, for Plato the relationship of time with eternity is positive because it brings order, predictability, and permanence to unruly matter.

In Book IV of the Physics, Aristotle relates the reality of time to motion (change) and measurement. Time is not itself movement, but it does not exist independent of movement. It is the ‘now’ involved in numbering and dividing motion. His is sometimes referred to as the receptacle view, as time ‘contains’ objects and events. He goes on to describe what it is to ‘be in time.’ “To ‘be in time’ means either to exist when time exists or ‘to be contained by time as things in place are contained by place.’[8] This gives objective reality to time, but Augustine sees this definition of “being in time” as inadequate for understanding what it is to be a self in time. Some of the dimensions between mind and time are not captured, from Augustine’s perspective, in the Aristotelian picture.[9]

It is Plotinus who gives him a basis for contemplating the self-conscious mind’s relation to time. In the Enneads, Plotinus is quite critical of the Aristotelian definition of time as the measurement of motion. “It comes to this: we ask ‘What is time?’ and we are answered ‘Time is the extension of Movement in Time.’”[10] He was convinced that time must be something more than the mere number of movement. Some of Plotinus’ criticisms were likely based on a poor characterization of Aristotle’s idea of time; however, his substantive rejection was certainly valid. This rejection was based upon concerns that Aristotle did not explicitly address, namely the relationship between time and the soul.

For Plotinus time depends on the soul in a metaphysical way that makes physical movement itself a result of the soul.[11] The soul is not an external measurer of the soulless substratum of time, but is rather manifested in movement itself. Time is in some sense ‘in’ the soul or at least a direct result of the soul’s movement. “It is we that must create Time out of the concept and nature of progressive derivation, which remained latent in the Divine Beings.”[12] The soul’s attempt to mimic the eternal results in the creation of time.

In contrast to its positive portrayal in Plato, the idea of mimicry in Plotinus’ thought is dark and destructive. His emphasis is on mutability instead of stability. Time is described as the mimic of eternity in that it ‘seeks to break up in its fragmentary flight the permanence of its exemplar.’[13] Time as a mimic destroys what it seizes. We all participate in the world soul, which going outside of itself, lays aside its eternity and is clothed with time. Time, then, is an unfolding and fragmenting of the soul, which is held in contrast to the rest and unity of the One. The time of the cosmos imitates the movement of the soul, just as the soul imitates the eternal.[14] We will see these themes reoccur in Augustine, but we will also note in what ways he differs from even these perspectives of time.

Our understanding of time is intimately related to our conception of eternity. The three definitions of eternity proposed by Alan Padgett is a helpful framework as we move into Augustine’s discussion of this subject. [15] The idea of eternity that is most evident in the Scriptural witness is that of ‘everlastingness.’ This is the proposal that something is eternal because it always has and always will exist. Nothing exists outside of time, but the eternal is an infinite duration of time. Therefore, that which exists eternally may change as long as it continues to exist and its essence or substance, so to speak, remains the same. The contrasting image is that of ‘absolute timelessness.’ This particular perspective proposes that eternity is that which transcends time, in the sense that past, present and future are simultaneously present in eternity.[16] The mediating position proposed by Padgett is that of ‘relative timelessness.’ From this perspective, God transcends our measured time but is also, in some sense, closely related to time. It is not that God is ‘in’ our time; rather we should say that we are ‘in’ God’s time. The Triune God is the creator of time and space and freely enters into the time He created, but is not subject to time. We must ultimately confess our ignorance on what the Infinite and Eternal One is in himself, we look through a clouded glass and only catch glimpses through His gracious self-revealing.[17] We must now turn to what Augustine has to say about the glimpses.

Augustine’s Confessions of Time and Eternity:[18]

Augustine continually confesses that the God he is praying to transcends time. He begins with the recognition that God’s vision of occurrences in time is not temporally conditioned. This conceptuality in Augustine’s theology is firmly rooted in his unequivocal affirmation of the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. God is the creator of all things and time is included in the created realm; therefore, time is not a part of the uncreated realm. This reflects the essential dualism that runs throughout Augustine’s thought between the mundus intelligibilis and the mundus sensibilis. However, it is not a complete reflection of this particular duality, since, for Augustine, even the intelligible world is a part of the created realm and is subject to time and change.[19] In fact, it is in the intelligible world that we come to understand time, for it is in the memory, the mind, the soul that “time” actually exists. Yet, there is here also a duality between the eternal realm and the created realm and for Augustine time belongs only to the latter. Thus, he affirms some form of timeless eternity.

Movement and change, fire and flux, and various other ways of talking about mutability are all closely connected to creation, which is quite distinct from the immutable God. Augustine proclaims that heaven and earth cry aloud that they were made, since they suffer change and variation. “But,” he says, “in anything which is not made yet is, there is nothing which previously was not present.”[20] There is an absolute presence in eternity, which is to say that all things are simultaneously present in the eternal now. Time is obviously a part of creation because it is connected to change, but God does not change. “And so by the Word coeternal with yourself, you say all that you say in the simultaneity of eternity, and whatever you say will come about does come about. You do not cause it to exist other than by speaking. Yet not all that you cause to exist by speaking is made in simultaneity and eternity.”[21]

Nothing corresponding to our human experience offers us any real help in understanding the mystery of a timeless eternity. Presence is the closest experience that we have to guide us. Therefore, Augustine uses the language of today to speak of eternity. As he proclaims,

“all your years subsist in simultaneity because they do not change—your ‘years’ are ‘one day’ (Ps 89:4, 2 Pet. 3:8) and your ‘day’ is Today—Your Today is eternity ‘Today I have begotten you.’ (Ps 2:7, Heb 5:5). You created all times—there was not any time when time did not exist; therefore, time is not permanent.”[22]
We are then faced with the compounding difficulty of responding to questions which arise out of a different conception of eternity. The primary question of this kind that Augustine mentions is, “What was God doing before he made the heavens and the earth?” Though, Augustine seems to be a bit perturbed by this particular question, he says that he rejects the trite response, “He was preparing hell for people who inquire into such profundities.” He would rather answer, “I am ignorant of what I do not know” instead of ridiculing someone who has deep questions.[23] Yet, he goes on to say that these people are full of errors. First, they believe that God’s will belongs to his very substance. They suggest that either God has changed if He has willed something that did not previously exist or if He has willed creation from all eternity then we should assume creation is eternal. Secondly, they do not think of eternity as that which transcends time. His conception of eternity implies that it is improper to speak of a “then” before the creation because temporal language does not correspond to eternity. There was no “then” before creation. We come to the limits of our human knowledge and must remain apophatic at this point.

Returning to the question of time, he begins to inquire into how we should think about and measure time. He offers an atomic description of time in the sense of dividing time into infinitesimal, instantaneous moments that we call the present. In this, he ends up quite close to the Skeptics and Academics, with present moments that have no duration and take up no space. Given the near non-existence of these present moments and the actual non-existence of “past” and “future,” how do we measure time? With this academic understanding in the background, he is perplexed by our existential experience of longer and shorter periods of time. He comes to the conclusion that the locus of past and present, at least what we call past and present, is in the memory. He then suggests that we shouldn’t speak of past, present and future, but rather the present of things past, the present of things present, and the present of things to come. In this our language is inexact, but what we mean is communicated.[24]

He continues to explore the question of how we measure time. Plato’s Timaeus and St. Basil proposed that the movement of sun, moon, and stars constitutes time and the measure of time. Augustine rejects this notion because there is witness in the biblical narrative when the sun stood still. (Josh 10:12ff) Yet, we do say that no body can move except in time. When we measure the time of motion it is measured in the mind. Augustine says, “the impression which passing events make upon you abides when they are gone…present consciousness is what I’m measuring, this is what time is.”[25] Long past is simply a long memory of the past. Future is more complex, but it is similar to reciting a well known Psalm. It exists in the mind before it comes into present existence and passes into memory, and so it extends in two directions.

The pinnacle of his argument is that time, rather than being an ‘objective’ feature of the world, is a distention of the soul. This psychological view of time clearly fits with the narrative self-exploration of the Confessions. The focus in on the existential experience of ‘being in time’. And it is through self-reflection that he turns away from changeable things to the eternal and unchanging One. “Times destructive flight into non-existence is countered by the act of memory. Having found in his own soul the act of attention that approximates in its all encompassing presence the ‘standing present’ of eternity, he will now be free to love the changeable and mortal things in God, who is never lost”[26] Memory and internal reflection, then, yields the clue to the idea of time and eternity.

This psychologizing of time aims to secure the reality of time and to resolve puzzles of its measurement. However, he also offers up an eschatological understanding of the relationship between time and eternity. We live in time and multiplicity, distracted by many things, which is in contrast to the unity of eternity. In response Augustine says, “I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand…until that day when, purified and molten by the fire of your love, I flow together to merge into you…then I shall find stability and solidity in you.”[27] We are still left with many questions as to what it means for the created being to exist in the simultaneity of eternity, but this is the vision offered. We remain in the realm of paradox and mystery, but have enough knowledge to engage in meaningful conversation.

Is Augustine’s an Adequate Christian Conception of Time?

It is quite possible to conclude at this point that Augustine's understanding of time and eternity is primarily rooted in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, as well as his abstract philosophical reasoning. Stephen Hawking speaks of ‘the fallacy, pointed out by St. Augustine, of imagining God as a being existing in time: time is a property only of the universe that God created.’[28] While we firmly agree with Augustine's confession that God transcends time, we must also recognize that his timeless understanding of God offers a very other worldly theology, which comes dangerously close to his Neo-platonic influences. He goes so far as to introduce the idea of “seminal causes” to deal with the problem of whether creation was made all at once or made in successive stages. His thinking on this point closely resembles the logoi spermatikoi of the Stoics or the “seminal reason” in Neo-Platonism that suggests God created all the principles of development at once, which would only mature later and produce all things that would exist.[29] We quickly find ourselves in terrain that we do not want to traverse.

We continue to stumble over the relationship of the timelessly eternal God with His temporally conditioned creation. We also struggle with his static conception of eternity and God which seems to contradict the dynamic language of Scripture. It is right that we affirm, with Augustine, that God transcends time and the created order, but we must be careful not to bifurcate being and action through a dualistic cast of mind. Unfortunately Augustine's dualism predominates his thinking on time and permeates much of his theology. He fails to grasp the implications of the Incarnation for time and eternity. Instead, he ends up with a philosophical construal of time and eternity tainted by Neo-platonism.

Predestination and determinism are related to this dualism of time and eternity. Mark Ellingsen recognizes this, but proposes that Augustine’s understanding of the simultaneity of eternity gives us a clue as to how we can reconcile human free will and predestination. Since God’s foreknowledge of our action and His decision are simultaneous, predestination does not eliminate free human choice.[30] While I understand and appreciate Ellingsen's overall argument, I don’t find this sort of thinking all that helpful. Yet, the alternative attempt to infer time back into God’s eternity or to say that God is somehow bound by time is also theologically unsatisfying. This perspective, represented in some ways by "Open Theism," fails to take into consideration a Biblical pneumatology which affirms God’s continued relationship with creation through the Spirit. “Determinism is accordingly best avoided not by reading time back into God but by focusing on the action of the Spirit who is the giver of freedom and the one who enables the created order to be itself: to become what it was created to be.”[31] This phrase “what it was created to be” also implies a teleological or eschatological dimension.

Augustine’s dualism between time and eternity renders all kinds of problems for Christian eschatology. How are we to imagine eternal life if time has always been an aspect of the created order? A distinction has been made between the eternity of the heavens and eternity which belongs only to God. “Earthly time is the chronological time of becoming and passing away; heavenly time is the aeonic time of a relative eternity; the eternity of God is unique.”[32] If eternal life is an undisturbed participation in the living God, then eschatological eternity is aeonic time. We may speak both of God’s complete transcendence of time and eschatological relative eternity for creation.

Augustine’s confession of created time is helpful in so far as it uncovers a deeper understanding of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. However, we ultimately must depart from him in search of a Christocentric and Trinitarian language for time and eternity. We must leave behind his distinctive dualism and instead affirm a relational theological framework. Moreover, the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ must be central to our understanding of eternal God’s interaction with His temporal creation. “Thus while the Incarnation does not mean that God is limited by space and time, it asserts the reality of space and time for God in the actuality of His relations with us, and at the same time binds us to space and time in all our relations with Him.”[33]

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions, (New York: Oxford University Press 1998), p. 230. One could also possibly build a case that there is some resonance between Augustine’s reflection on the knowledge and articulation of time and Michael Polanyi’s epistemological conception of ‘tacit knowledge,’ which basically affirms we know much more than we are able to articulate.
[2] Alan G. Padgett, God, Eternity and the Nature of Time, (New York: St. Martin’s Press 1992), p. 1
[3] It seems that Alypius was attempting to encourage the generous giving in Paulinus’ life following his conversion, and hoped he might support some of the ascetic foundations in the region. He sent him some of Augustine’s polemical writings against the Manicheans. This piqued Paulinus’ interest who then asked for a autobiography detailing how Augustine had come to accept the ascetic life. This information comes from the introduction to the Confessions by Henry Chadwick, pp. xii-xiii
[4] Ibid, p. xiii
[5] While Mark Ellingsen’s thesis about the pastoral and contextual shape of Augustine’s theology is quite helpful, this is one area of his thought that seems to remain consistent regardless of his contextual concerns, though it doesn’t play as prominent a role in some conversations as it does in others.
[6] The summary that follows is primarily based upon Genevieve Lloyd’s article “Augustine and the ‘Problem’ of Time,” Ch. 3 in The Augustinian Tradition, ed. Gareth B. Matthews, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1999) pp. 39-60
[7] Ibid, p. 49
[8] Ibid, p. 47
[9] Ibid, p. 48
[10] Plotinus, Enneads 3.7.8, quoted in Lloyd, p. 48
[11] Lloyd, p. 49
[12] Enneads 3.7.11
[13] Lloyd, p. 49
[14] The idea of emanation is evident here.
[15] My assessment of Padgett is based upon my own reading of him, God, Eternity, and the Nature of Time, (St. Paul: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), and Dr. T. A. Noble’s notes for his Systematic Theology III class; “IV Creation and Time.” This paragraph is based upon both.
[16] It will quickly become evident that this is Augustine’s primary understanding of eternity, as he continues to speak of God existing in the simultaneity of eternity or the eternal today / now.
[17] We haven’t the space to develop and extended discussion of these three options here, but it is an important framework to recognize, especially as we begin to deal with the theological implications of Augustine’s conception.
[18] This section is essentially a summary of Book XI in the Confessions.
[19] This is one point on which he would differ from Neo-platonic thinking.
[20] Confessions, p. 224
[21] Confessions, p. 226
[22] Ibid, p. 230
[23] Ibid, p. 228
[24] Ibid, p. 235
[25] Ibid, p. 242
[26] Genevieve Lloyd, “Augustine and the ‘Problem’ of Time,” in The Augustinian Tradition, ed. Gareth B.
Matthews, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1999)
[27] Ibid, p. 244
[28] From Hawking’s A Brief History of Time quoted in Gunton, p. 81.
[29] Justo L. González, A History of Christian Thought: Volume II, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987)
pp. 39-40
[30] Mark Ellingsen, The Richness of Augustine: his contextual and pastoral theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), pp. 96ff.
[31] Gunton, Triune Creator, p. 86.
[32] Jügen Moltmann, In the End—the Beginning, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), p. 159. This seems to offer another alternative to the three conceptions of eternity proposed by Padgett.
[33] T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation, (New York: Oxford, 1969), p. 67.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

World AIDS Day

I can't believe that I've been blogging for almost a year now. This is one of the first issues that I blogged on nearly one year ago. It is an apropriate topic to remember today.

December 1st is World AIDS Day. Every 14 seconds a child loses a parent to AIDS. We all experience the chaos of such suffering, even if it is experienced from a distance.

Compassion, as Henri Nouwen has helped us all understand, is a word that simply means to "suffer with." God has compassion on us and has engaged in our suffering. Through the revelation of the incarnation we witness a God who is intimately connected to the suffering of His creation. The One who experiences the telos of our brokenness on His paradoxical throne. That symbol of suffering, death, defeat, and God-forsakenness has become a symbol of grace, forgiveness, victory, and reconciliation for those "in Christ."

We can no longer hypothesize the concept of a distant, removed god, for then we only speak of the "no-god." They shall call Him Immanuel, which means "God-with-us." The image of the invisible God bears witness that God is compassion - that compassion comes from God.

Those of us, then, who carry the banner of this God, who are called to become authentic expressions of the Kingdom, should be shaped into the life of compassion - the parabolic sacrifice that engages in the life of the "other." We can no longer safely distance ourselves from the brokenness of our world, but must engage in lives of compassion.

Okay, I know that I'm using a lot of technical jargon, forgive me, what I mean is this: God is compassion, therefore, we should live lives of compassion. Someone who claims to be a Christ-follower but is not shaped by compassion is simply lying to himself (John makes a similar point).

We should be leading the way. But, I must confess that I'm often overwhelmed by the need and end up doing nothing. I'm often tempted to lie to myself, following the natural "fallen" way of self-protection, ease, and comfort. My heart continues to harden as I witness the immensity of the problem and experience a small taste of the worlds suffering. There may be others out there that have gone through the same struggle. Where do we begin? Prayer.

As the World Vision suggests: "Pray! It all starts here, because the One to whom we pray is truly the only One who has the power, ultimately, to bring this crisis to an end. Pray for the tens of millions of children whose lives have been affected by AIDS. Ask God to show you what you can do. Pray that our leaders will make decisions that put children first." Join with others in praying for this immense world need.

Allow such prayers to shape your being and move you to action. World Vision offers opportunities for each of us to respond in meaningful ways on their World AIDS Day page.

On the Emergent Nazarene blog we've been discussing the power of faith stories...sometimes known as personal testimonies. I came across this powerful testimony today by Kay Warren. Kay and Rick have been consistently leading the way in the Evangelical sphere to address the AIDS pandemic. I would encourage you to check out her faith story. If you have any thoughts, feedback, or other ways that we Christ-followers might respond...I would love to hear it. Until Next Time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More Valuable

My wife is a recent University of Kansas graduate. She finished up her Master of Social Work degree last May. There is no way that I could have believed then that they would be vying for the No. 1 spot in NCAA division I football this weekend.

I thought, "Well, even though I'm an OU fan at heart, since I'm a good old Oklahoma boy, I could at least root for KU in this game." Unfortunately, they didn't show up to play and MU ran all over them. The final score was pretty close, but it was MU's game all the way. I guess it is better that they lost this game because there is no way that I could have cheered for them next week anyway.

They may not win a national trophy this year, but this Jayhawk is holding something much more valuable to me. My wife thought it would be fun to share our good news this way. Though I can assure you that I may allow this child to be a KU basketball fan...but when football season rolls around it is crimson and cream all the way.

My wife's 16th week of pregnancy was Thanksgiving Day. We are excited and nervous and totally unprepared. But we both knew what we were most thankful for on Thursday. What a wonderful gift.

I'm not one of those who thinks they've got it all figured out. So if any of you seasoned veterans want to give some sound parenting advice, I would love to hear it. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brokenness in Bangladesh

The first part of my week has been jam packed so I'm a little behind the eight ball on getting this information out there. Most of you have probably already heard that India was hit with Cyclone Sidr, one of the worst to strike that area in years. It has left millions of families in need. As always, WorldVision is on the scene bringing relief and healing in the midst of such brokenness. Check out their news update here and prayerfully consider contributing to this incarnational effort.

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. ~W.T. Purkiser

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Reading Level

cash advance

I don't want to intimidate anyone, but this arbitrary online device just said that my blog is at a "Genius Reading Level." I have no idea how they determine this sort of's probably a bunch of hooey, but it still makes you feel pretty good when an inanimate Internet device says you are writing at a genius level. I'll get down from my imaginary high horse here in a minute...oops I stepped in some horse dung. That's more like it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Conversation With Brian McLaren - Part 3

Here is part 3 of the conversation with Brian McLaren. If you have any thoughts or questions about this dialogue or about the ideas presented in this new book, Everything Must Change, I'd love to hear them.

Here is their description of this final video in the three part series:

Part Three of Alan Roxburgh's interview with Brian McLaren on his book, Everything Must Change brings this series to its conclusion. In this interview, Alan and Brian discuss issues that include our propensity for denying our past, other ways to peace, the need for our solutions to go deeper, our preoccupation with the church rather than the Kingdom, what Vaclav Havel's story of the fall of communism has to say to the state of the church today, and Brian's new Web site, Deep Shift.

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Monday, November 12, 2007

God & the World

McLaren said something in the most recent video interview that I posted last week, which stuck with me and has had me ruminating ever since. As he talked about the catalyst for writing his current book, Everything Must Change, he struck a chord that resonated with something deep in my spirit. The impetus for this particular book began many years ago as he was speaking at a youth gathering. He asked the youth to write down a list of the major crises facing our world - today we might list: ecological instability, economic brokenness, discrimination, war & violence, etc. In reviewing their lists, he came to the realization that the "church" as a whole, and especially our evangelical brand, was by and large silent on the major crises that the global community was facing. Beyond that, it seemed that in many of these cases we were contributing more to the problem than to the solution.

Now, this is not necessarily the intention of our modern Christian community, and it's not to discount the various churches and Christian organizations that are speaking and acting redemptively in our world. As with any generalization there are going to be exceptions. However, the overarching picture seems to indicate that the Christian community is disconnected from the realities of this broken world and is ultimately either irrelevant, or worse, significantly contributing to these crises.

If this isn't an accurate portrayal of our current situation - it seems to me that it at least captures the perspective of a large segment of our global population. I happen to believe that there is much truth in this perception. Regardless of how we respond to that proposition, we must reckon with the reality that we have lost our voice. Some react by shouting louder and louder, thinking that it is a volume issue. Yet, increased volume only widens the chasm. We need to do some serious introspection, and it seems to me that McLaren and others are attempting to help us in this respect.

I'm not exactly sure how we got here. Given that my reflections tend toward theological engagement, it is probably not surprising that I have been thinking about some of the underlying theological assumptions that have moved us in this direction. I'm confident that we can't be reductionist in our thinking and pinpoint a specific source. At the same time, I do think that exposing some of our inadequate theological assumption might begin to illumine a better path for us. In doing so, we may just find our voice again. These are some of my beginning thoughts, in that respect, that need further dialogue and development.

St. Athanasius wrote a powerful treatise On the Incarnation of the Word early in the fourth century. We need to go back and read him again and again because part of the underlying problem for our disengagement from the world and our irrelevance is the result of an underdeveloped reflection on the incarnation, especially as it relates to our atonement in Christ. If we are to engage the world through the depths of our Christian faith, we will need to rediscover a full orbed participation in the incarnation.

We have been inhibited in this engagement partly as a result of our dualistic cast of mind. Athanasius is able to creatively explore the incarnation of the Word because he was deeply shaped by a biblical and Hebraic way of thinking that doesn't operate from a dualistic paradigm. Aspects of "post-modernity" - specifically post-critical philosophy and Einsteinian cosmology - are encouraging developments in this area.

Our eschatological vision also shapes our engagement in the world. We tend to have a skewed and unbiblical eschatology - one that is influenced more by Greek dualistic philosophical categories than the revelation of God in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Until we return to a christocentric eschatology that is pneumatologically oriented, we'll continue to run into the same problems.

All of this reflection came to a culmination as I read this excerpt today:

To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God.

Christians believe in "the end of the world," they expect the final catastrophe, the punishment of others.

Atheists in their turn invent doctrines of salvation, try to give a meaning to life, work, the future of humankind, and refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in Him and take no interest in the world.

All ignore the true God: He who has so loved the world! But which is more culpable ignorance?

To love God is to love the world. To love God passionately is to love the world passionately. To hope in God is to hope for the salvation of the world.

I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble Him enough, who love the world enough that He could send them into the world to save it.

~ From In the Christian Spirit by Louis Evely

We have not gone deep enough! May the Lord draw us deeper in to the life of Triune Love that we might participate in His redemptive mission. Any thoughts? Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Conversation With Brian McLaren - Part 2

This is a continuation (part 2) of the conversation with Brian McLaren that I posted a few weeks back. You can find the video here. If you have any thoughts or questions about this dialogue or about the ideas presented in this new book, Everything Must Change, I'd love to hear them. Until Next Time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stupid Humor

Some days you just need to take a break and laugh. Since I was a bit nostalgic today, I decided to watch a couple of my favorite funny videos. When I worked maintenance at the Seminary we would often sit around the computer at lunch time and watch these stupid videos...those were some great days.

You probably need a laugh I decided to share a couple of my favorites. Enjoy!

Doesn't this make you want to just go and pick up a cat today!

This one answers and age old question.

Why men don't ask for directions!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ordinary Saints

Today is All Saints Day. For Christ-followers, remembering and celebrating our heroes in the faith goes back as far as at least AD 270. This official celebration was moved to November 1st in AD 835, in response to certain pagan rituals. Yet, as one significantly shaped by the protestant reformation, I've not been taught to give much time and space to honor the saints.

It is somewhat paradoxical that Reformation Day is so closely related to All Saints Day. As the story goes, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church on October 31st, AD 1517. This has become our marker for the beginning of the protestant reformation. It seems that we live with this tension - we are called to honor the saints that have gone before us; those who have marked out the path of faith, while recognizing the continual need for re-formation. I believe that these two can live in harmony, but they often become polarized in our communal life.

I've been reflecting on this tension. It seems that I live in the midst of it and probably always will - at least in this finite, broken and fragmented reality. When the King comes then the harmony will be complete.

I've also been thinking about how we, protestant evangelicals, honor the saints. I don't meditate too much on the life of well known saints, though I do think about the heroes in the faith at times. I would probably benefit from reflecting on their stories more often. Yet, it is the lesser known saints...the ordinary saints that have been coming to mind in these days. In this, I fully affirm Paul's understanding that all Christ-followers are saints. I don't really give much weight to the canonization process. I perceive that it can be somewhat counterproductive, but that probably illumines my personal bias.

We all have saints in our lives. Those ordinary saints that others may not recognize as such, who have had a deeply formative impact on us. How do we honor these ordinary saints? I think we honor them by remembering them and telling their story. They become icons that points us beyond themselves to the mystery of God's gracious presence.

So today I want to honor St. Papaw. I'll never forget this tall, lanky man. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Oklahoma and carried that earthiness throughout his entire life. No mask will fit once you have experienced genuine communion with the God of creation. He knew this well and never tried on any masks. He was simply who he was - nothing more; nothing less. Real - that's what he was and so many were drawn to the reality of his being.

He became a Christ-follower while plowing the field one day. The seed fell on good soil and the fruit of faithfulness began to grow. He was an established field of faithfulness by the time that I came into the picture. It was evident in his every word and action. Simple, authentic, genuine faith - he was a great teacher of life's deepest truth. I honor him today as a saint of faithfulness, may I continue to follow in the path that he marked so well.

Finally, let me share a prayer attributed to a better known saint:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong—I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord—I may bring harmony,
That where there is error—I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt—I may bring faith.
That where there is despair—I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows—I may bring Your light,
That where there is sadness—I may bring Joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort—than to be comforted;
To understand—than to be understood;
To love—than to be loved:

For it is by giving—that one receives;
It is by self-forgetting—that one finds;
It is by forgiving—that one is forgiven;
It is by dying—that one awakens to eternal life.

~ St. Francis of Assisi

It is odd, though it shouldn't be, that these two saints separated by time and space, culture and language seem to me to have been shaped by the same Truth and motivated by the same Spirit. I suppose that's what makes one a saint to begin with. May we honor the saints as we are continually re-formed by the Spirit to genuinely reflect the Truth. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Just for Cat People

We have three cats and this video seems to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the general feline personality. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Gravitas is a quality of substance or depth of personality. (Wikipedia) This has recently become a popular word to describe persons who have a personality and presence that draws people in - it is as if they have a gravitational pull all around them.

In my mind, Billy Graham is a man with an enormous amount of gravitas. It is not surprising that he became a world renowned evangelist. This two part interview with Woody Allen is such a treat to watch. Graham had an ability to engage his obvious opponents - ultimately making his enemies into friends. It seems that Christians in the public eye are more polarizing figures these days.

What a great model of genuine evangelism...we may do things a bit differently in our context, but I hope that we engage others with the same kind of spirit - a spirit that has a gravitational pull of it's own that's difficult to resist. Enjoy!

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Conversation with Brian McLaren - 1

Allelon has some great resources for "missional leaders," which essentially describes those attempting to respond to the immense cultural shift we've been experiencing for some time in the West. They have recently posted a video interview with Brian McLaren that I found quite insightful. In fact, it really spoke to some issues that I've been dealing with in recent days. Check it out.

Here is their description of the video:

We live in a time “betwixt and between” – a liminal space. As N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham so succinctly put it, “even change is changing”. Millions of Christians are wrestling with what this means for the church, for the communities they find themselves in and for the Globe. Brian McLaren is one of those folk and his writing continues to challenge the church as we attempt to create new maps for this constantly changing world.

Alan Roxburgh sat down with Brian in a hotel room in Toronto at the end of September, days before the publication of Brian’s new book, Everything Must Change. In this first of a three part interview series about his book, Brian talks about dealing with the passionate responses his writing often elicits.

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fair Trade Month

October is Fair Trade Month. Most of us have probably heard about fair trade at some point and I readily admit that there are a few people with mixed reactions. However, with the ever increasing global market structure, we must make sure that all human beings are treated with dignity as God's valued children.

Justice and righteousness are two of the primary themes woven throughout Scripture. Justice = our right relation toward one another in love and Righteousness = our right relation toward other words, loving the Lord our God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. With the onset of globalization, we can no longer think of our neighbors as simply those who live in close proximity to us - our neighbors don't just live down the street - they live all over the world.

You may already be convinced that buying fair trade products is a good idea but you just don't know where to begin. Here is an article on 12 Ways to Shop Fair Trade. You can also check out this Fair Trade Guide. Even our small acts of grace, empowered by the Spirit, have a transformative impact on our world. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


This is a pretty funny parody on the 'spiritual gift' of dodgeball. Just thought it might bring a smile to your day. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Saturday, October 13, 2007

John Wesley and the Emerging Church

Hal Knight, the professor of Wesleyan Studies at Saint Paul School of Theology, has been at the forefront of the Wesleyan exploration into postmodernity and the emerging church. He has recently written an interesting article that was published by Nazarene Publishing House in the Preacher's Magazine. It is a well written, easily digestible article. For those who are interested in this ongoing conversation, here is a link to an online version of that article.

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Friday, October 12, 2007

Robert Jenson Lectures

It may be silly of me to assume that this is of interest to those out in the blog-o-sphere, especially since I didn't get any comments on particular questions to ask Jenson, but on the off chance that it might be interesting or beneficial to someone out there, I've decided to post my notes on Jenson's Grider-Winget Lectures in Theology given at NTS this week. Unfortunately, audio files are not available to the general public since he already has a deal with a publisher to put these lectures in a book format. Otherwise, I would have linked the lectures to this blog.

Two preliminary words. First, these are my notes, which means they are my interpretation of what Jenson said, not necessarily a verbatim dictation. There is a good chance I could have misunderstood him at various points. Secondly, again these are simply notes so they are somewhat cryptic in nature and lack the sense of coherence and clarity that one might get from listening to the entire lectures, or from reading them in the book format, I would assume. Yet, for whatever they are they are.

Notes: Robert Jenson’s Grider-Winget Lectures in Theology
October 9 – 11
Topic: The Inspiration of Scripture

October 9th: If we are to think of our current theological house, we have some inappropriate presuppositions banging around in our basement. He focused his assessment of these inadequate presuppositions on our understanding of inspiration and relation to Scripture.

1.) We’ve gone about the matter backwards. We tend to bring our needs to the text in search of an answer. This is ultimately an anthropocentric move, which lends itself to human-centered readings of the text. Thus it ceases to function as Scripture for us. Instead we must begin with a doctrine of the Spirit – his entire lectures tended toward a pronounced pneumatology that brings coherence to this particular theological framework. We must find our base and foundation for the interpretation of Scripture in the doctrine of the Trinity.

2.) In Western Trinitarian theology we’ve taken a wrong turn with respect to our pneumatological language. The problem was set out in Peter Lombard’s Sentences when he asked, “Is the gift of the Spirit the Spirit’s own self or something other than Himself?” Standard Western theology chose the second path. That is to say, we’ve understood the gift of the Spirit as something other than the Spirit Himself – typically understood in terms of virtues or power or life. However, we must begin to think more in terms of the first way. That is to say, if the Spirit gives us the virtue of love that is because the Spirit is love or joy because the Spirit is joy, etc. The Spirit does not have an extrinsic relationship with us, but the Spirit gives Himself internally.

3.) We have tended to draw to divisive a line between the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture and the Spirits inspiration of the community.

4.) We have supposed that the notions of both “inspiration” and of “Scripture” are univocal notions. That is we have supposed that they always mean the same thing. This supposition can hardly be right. Even early Lutheran theologians understood at least two notions of inspiration – The Spoken or Living Word and The Written Word. We should not flatten out the robust meanings of these words.

The Church depends on the existence of Scripture in different ways – the two testaments are different. The Church’s dependence on the OT is absolute, but the NT is God’s gift to the Church in a special historical circumstance. The NT is an emergency substitute for the living voice of the Gospel through the Apostles.

October 10th: Jenson through his theological articulation has continued to demonstrate what Rahner proclaimed: “The eternal mission of God cannot be disconnected from the incarnate mission.”

The paradigmatic image for Biblical inspiration is that of the OT Prophets. The NT writers understood this. Thus the OT is interpreted at narrative – that is in line with something of a ‘Salvation History’ understanding of Scripture.

First Century Judaism was much like protestant denominationalism today. However, the only groups that survived after the destruction of the Temple were those groups who could get along without the Temple, which were Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism – as descended from the Pharisaical sect – was based primarily on the text and not the temple. They added the Mishnah to the TANAK and understood the text primarily in terms of Torah.

Christians, on the other hand, had a portable temple in the Risen Christ. They added the NT narrative to the TANAK and therefore understood the text primarily in terms of narrative – the Prophetic narrative to be more precise. We must understand this development as the work of the Spirit in the Church. This narrative or historical reading of the text puts the prophets at the forefront, since they point toward the culmination of the story. Therefore, prophecy became a paradigm for Israel’s Scripture – all Scripture is given by Prophets and Apostles in a Christian understanding of the text. Thus, the OT prefigures Christ, the Church and the Kingdom.

We might use the analogy of reading a mystery novel to describe early Christian interpretations of the OT. If you are like me, you’ll peak ahead to the end of the story to find out what’s going on. In light of the end all of the other pieces of the story make sense. Christians believed that through the Resurrection of Christ they had been given a glimpse of the End, thus the rest of the story had to make sense in light of that reality.

The other genres of the OT text had to fit into this paradigm. Thus the prayers of the Psalms become the prayers of Christ and as the Body of Christ sings the Psalms we join in with the songs of Christ and thus become in Augustine’s words the totus Christus.

Christ is present in the OT as a dramatis personae. The Word who speaks in the OT is Jesus Christ. One cannot refer to the Word of the Lord without referring to Jesus or vise versa.

If the OT Prophet is our paradigm for the inspiration of Scripture, then we must ask, how does the OT describe the Spirit’s inspiration of the Prophet?

What the Spirit does with the prophets is to make them prophets. That is to say, the Spirit opens one up to God in such a way that they might say, “Thus says the LORD!” The second person of the Trinity is the Logos; the Spirit then is the Freedom for the Word to be the Word of the Father. In other words, Jesus is, ontologically speaking, the Son and the Word, but the Spirit enables Jesus to remain the Son and the Word of the Father. In turn the Risen Jesus gives the Spirit to others. OT prophecy is a joint work of both the Spirit and the Word.

The Word is a person. This personal Word comes to someone who is so opened to the Word by the Spirit that He may speak to and through the prophet. The Spirit thus opens a person or frees a person to receive the Word.

Scripture is the written version of the Prophets and Apostles verbal teaching – so that it is materially the same. As Christians we read the OT from the NT or we wouldn’t be able to read the OT as Scripture at all. The distinction that we all tend to make, when it is proposed that an OT text has a Christological or ecclesial sense, is to then bring up the ‘original’ or ‘historical’ sense that we fear may be forgotten in light of this ‘other’ meaning. (This is akin to Krister Stendahl’s proposed dichotomy between what a text “meant” and what it “means” – following the logical conclusion of Gadamer’s work, among others. It seems to me that Barth has clearly dealt with this false dichotomy in his preface to the second and following editions of Der Römerbrief.) When this type of distinction or dichotomy happens, a Christian reading of the text seems imposed from the outside.

A proper understanding of the Spirits role in the text and community – that is the Spirits role in interpretation rebuffs this sort of distinction. Ecclesial unity in Christ unifies us in the interpretation of the OT as Scripture – thus we cannot make a sharp distinction between the ‘original’ community and our current community.

October 11th: He proposed two assignments with this final lecture. 1) To determine the particular relation of the Spirit to particular creatures who are to speak God’s word. 2) To then get into our understanding of the NT.

If we were to disassociate the Father from the other persons of the Trinity, which is obviously an impossible proposal, but one he wanted to explore nonetheless, then we end up with something like a modern philosophical or Platonic image of “God”. However, the Father with the Spirit is the Living God – the Triune God is living and moving…not the static arche of ancient philosophy or Aristotle’s unmoved mover, etc. Thus, where the Spirit is among us there is freedom, possibility, future.

Our fallen condition is precisely the lack of that future – we are closed to it. The Spirit acts as our liberator to the lack of possibility or the lack of hope. The Spirit brings us freedom because the Spirit is freedom.

The Spirit is also the bond of love (in Augustinian language). This sometimes sounds impersonal to us, but that is not the case with the Spirit. He is the active personal love, who gives himself to the Father and to the Son. As Hegel seemed to indicate that genuine loving relations require a third party, otherwise they may denigrate into a will to power relationship. (I’m not quite sure of this proposal, but in the life of the Trinity it seems to be the case, and if we are to use the Trinity as are paradigm of loving relations then I suppose the analogy fits.) The Spirit is freedom and love, thus if the Spirit comes to creatures we in turn love God and one another.

On to the analogy of the Body – because that it what the community that has received the Spirit that they might love God and others is referred to. How are we to understand the body? We tend to initially think of our physical bodies, but it seems that Paul had a broader understanding of that term – especially if we think of his proposal that we might one day have “spiritual bodies”, though whatever he meant by that is unclear. It seems that a person’s body is the person himself or herself as he or she is available to other persons. So body and in some way personhood is defined by our availability to other persons (definitely a relational concept of the body). Thus, the Body of Christ is only the Body of Christ if Christ is available to ‘others’…to the world.

Again the Spirit gives the Gift of Himself – and does not externally give us virtues, but instead takes up residence within us and makes us part of the Triune life.

Therefore, the Spirit makes a prophet by so opening a person to the Word and by so binding the two in love that the prophet and the Eternal Word of God can speak for each other. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t false prophets, but it does describe true prophets. The analogy of marriage may be somewhat helpful in this case. It doesn’t always happen this way, but there are times in marriage that one spouse may speak for the other. That spouse doesn’t have to ask the other what he or she might say, but they are so united in the bond of love, in a relationship over time that they might speak for one another. In this way, Jenson’s wife, Blanche, should be understood as a co-author of all his work…not that she told him what to write, but that their covenant relationship freed him to think and write as he has.

Because the Spirit gives Himself in person, when the Spirit binds the prophet and the Word together He does this within the prophet himself. Thus, they are distinct but bound together so that the Word speaks from within the prophet. This internal union is again kin to the albeit imperfect analogy of the marriage covenant. This describes the OT paradigm for the inspiration of Scripture in the Prophets.

Something is different with the NT. First, the NT is not essential to the existence of the Church, since we know that the Church got along for some time without the existence of the NT…so the relation to the NT is not timeless for the Church. The NT is a historical phenomenon of the Church. That is to say, that it’s relationship is mediated through history. (My only question is – does this not propose the distinction that we just denied between the original community and us?) In the NT Christ is something like a prophet, but He is a peculiar one – since He is the Son and the Word. In a sense we might say that He is the Prophet, but He is distinct from the other prophets. More so in the NT Mary is the epitome of the prophet – the Spirit works in her to bear the Word to the world.

Ecclesially speaking, Christ gathered with the Church, His Body, is the Prophet (totus christus). The Church is the Spirit’s work to make the final prophet. One might then ask, well can the Church be wrong? That depends on what you mean by the Church. When the Church speaks out of her reality as the One Body of Christ (catholic and apostolic) in conjunction with her Head, then we must say, “No, she cannot be wrong.” Speaking out of her brokenness, she may and does obviously speak wrongly. Therefore, we must work toward ecumenism – this is not an option, it is a command of the Lord.

The Apostles are analogous to the prophets, but in a limited way…there is also a historical difference between the Apostles and us – since none of us are eyewitnesses of the resurrection. It is not nearness to the historical event itself, but nearness to the Spirit’s inspiration of the whole prophetic event.

This entire paradigm for the inspiration of Scripture might align more with our Wesleyan tradition than his own Lutheran tradition. He’s not asking that we give it immediate acceptance as the right doctrine of inspiration, but only that we think about it.