Author Archives: llwilmoth

T. F. Torrance on Subjective Justification

[232-3] It is illuminating to recognize that subjective Justification, as well as objective Justification, has already taken place in Jesus Christ. Not only was the great divine act of righteousness fulfilled in the flesh of Jesus, in His Life and Death, but throughout His Life and Death Jesus stood in our place as our Substitute and Representative who appropriated the divine Act of saving Righteousness for us. He responded to it, yielded to it, accepted it and actively made it His own, for what He was and did in His human nature was not for His own sake but for our sakes. That is true of all that He did. He was the Word of God brought to bear upon man, but He was also man hearing that Word, answering it, trusting it, living by it—by faith. He was the great Believer—vicariously believing in our place and in our name. He was not only the Will of God enacted in our flesh, but He was the will of man united to that divine Will. In becoming one with us He laid hold upon our wayward human will, made it His very own, and bent it back into obedience to, and in oneness with, the holy Will of God. Likewise in Justification, Jesus Christ was not only the embodiment of God’s justifying act but the embodiment of our human appropriation of it. In that unity of the divine and the human, Justification was fulfilled in Christ from both sides, from the side of the justifying God and from the side of justified man—’He was justified in the Spirit’, as St. Paul put it. Justification as objective act of the redeeming God and Justification as subjective actualization of it in our estranged human existence have once and for all taken place—in Jesus.

[235-6] Jesus Christ was not only the fulfillment and embodiment of God’s righteous and holy Act…, but also the embodiment of our act of faith and trust and obedience toward God, He stood in our place, taking our cause upon Him, also as Believer, as the Obedient One who was Himself justified before God as His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. He offered to God a perfect confidence and trust, a perfect faith and response which we are unable to offer, and He appropriated all God’s blessings which we are unable to appropriate. Through union with Him we share in His faith, in His obedience, in His trust and His appropriation of the Father’s blessing; we share in His justification before God. Therefore when we are justified by faith, this does not mean that it is our faith that justifies us, far from it—it is the faith of Christ alone that justifies us, but we in faith flee from our own acts even of repentance, confession, trust and response, and take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ—’Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.’ That is what it means to be justified by faith.

from “Justification: Its Radical Nature and Place in Reformed Doctrine and Life,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 13 no 3 (1960).

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Kevin Vanhoozer on a shortcoming of analytic theology

…the rationality of arguments is not always a matter of deductive or logical inference. The narrative form of the Fourth Gospel is a kind of courtroom drama where readers are presented with various kinds of evidence or testimony in word and deed. …(John 20:31). To do justice to this kind of biblical discourse, we require both analytic skills and poetic sensibilities: the ability conceptually to elaborate what is said and the ability imaginatively to feel the particular force with which it is said. Even the demons can do analytic theology.

from The Task of Dogmatics, eds. Crisp and Sanders (Zonderan, 2017), 42.

Remembrances of John Webster

Two years ago this month John Wester passed away. A series of appreciations and reflections on his influence were collected by the Henry Center for Theological Understanding’s online theological periodical Sapientia. Respondents included Geoffrey Fulkerson, Joseph Mangina, Tyler Wittman, Justin Stratis, Michael Allen, R. David Nelson, Stephen Holmes, Darren Sarisky, Scott Swain, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Fred Sanders. As you can imagine, just contemplating Webster’s contributions generate rich material. For a sample, let me suggest starting with Fred Sander’s “Making Christology Safe for Christology” to get a taste of Webster’s challenge to an important stream in the contemporary theological scene, and then proceed to the others.

On discerning virtuous and vicious amounts of talking

One step in recognizing a virtue is distinguishing it from vices of excess and deficiency. This is why virtues are sometimes described as “golden means.” They’re goldilocks dispositions — neither too much, nor too little, but just the right amount. So, for example, consider the virtue of hope. Too much hope we call presumption, too little despair. Somewhere between those extremes is a space with a fitting measure of hope.

The same logic regulates how much theologians should have to say and how they say it. We can say too much or too little, and we can say what needs saying either too timidly or brashly. How might we think about where to draw appropriate boundaries? Well let’s register some occurrences where theologians have worried about precisely these sorts of issues.

Against Deficiency

  • David Bentley Hart

… if I may be frank, what I often find wearing is the faltering, apologetic, restrained, and hesitant tone of much modern theology. It is what I quite shamefully and unfairly tend to think of as “the modern Anglican inflection”: the sorrowful diminuendo towards embarrassed silence, by way of prolonged clearings of the throat and the occasional softly whistled tune, as one contemplates changing the subject before anyone is so indiscreet as to venture a firm opinion. I have little patience for the notion that we know so little (on account of the mystery of evil) that we must abandon our efforts to advance the story of Christ as the true story of the world. And I have even less patience for the claim that “we must speak . . . only ‘tentatively, indirectly, metaphorically’,” etc. I cannot, try as I might, make that description of evangelical rhetoric conform in my mind to the practice of Christ, the Apostles, or the martyrs of the Church, nor can I bring myself to think of that practice as in any sense violent, or even excessive in its confidence. And I should hate to think that theology should now become little more than a judicious preparation for Christianity’s ultimate obsolescence, and faith little more than a nostalgia for vanished gods. I simply do not believe that we have always somehow refused to recognize ambiguity or ignored the brokenness of others’ lives or been insufficiently attentive to uncertainty and pluralism if we choose to be forthright and even a bit unrestrained in our rhetoric.

from “Response to James K. A. Smith, Lois Malcolm and Gerard Loughlin,” New Blackfriars 88, no. 1017 (2007): 619.

  • Robert Jenson

As the essays succeed each other, the bishop’s fear of closure begins to seem far too obsessive to be truly helpful in the life of faith. The confession into which teaching is supposed to lead us begins, after all, “I believe…,” not “I wonder about….” Is it really the chief proper use of dogma and other theology “to keep the essential questions alive,” (p. 92) indefinitely to sustain puzzlement? Should dogmas and other theologoumena serve mostly to remind us of the problems they pretend to resolve? God is indeed a mystery, but between honor for the biblical God’s specific mystery and the kind of endless semi-Socratic dialectic Williams often seems to commend, there is, I would have thought, some considerable difference. No doubt argument and perplexity are permanent in the church’s thinking, and no doubt this is a good and necessary thing; so that stirring up stagnant conviction must indeed be one task of theology. But, e.g., the phrase just cited, “to keep the essential questions alive,” occurs in an exposition of “the doctrine of Incarnation,” (pp. 79-92) and the fathers of Chalcedon and 2nd Constantinople themselves certainly thought they were settling certain essential questions, in such fashion that conflict about them should not thereafter legitimately trouble the church. Their answers, of course, posed further and again difficult questions, but to say that this also was a good thing — as I do — is a different point than the one Williams presses — or anyway I think it is. Apophatic thinkers though they were, the fathers of the christological councils — to stay with that instance—did not suppose that the purpose of their formulations was to keep alive the debates that brought them to the meetings. Williams is a notable scholar of theological history, who commands long stretches of the tradition far better than do I, and his knowledge flows easily and rewardingly in this volume; but I cannot but think that his appeals to tradition are sometimes more to what he wishes the Fathers and medievals had been up to than to anything that would have occurred to these teachers themselves. Martin Luther famously maintained against Erasmus that it belongs to the very holiness of the Spirit to deal in assertiones, and at least in some contexts of discourse most of the church’s teachers have been of the same opinion.

from Review of Rowan Williams, On Christian TheologyPro Ecclesia 11, no. 3 (2002), 368.

Against Excess

  • Nicholas Lash

Not all caution is identifiable with pusillanimity.

from His Presence in the World: A Study in Eucharistic Worship and Theology (Pflaum Pr, 1968), 155.

One man’s nerve is another’s naïveté.

From “Newman and A. Firmin,” in John Henry Newman and Modernism, Eds. Jenkins and Kuld (Glock & Lutz, 1990), 67.

To take refuge in silence may…be an evasion of the responsibility to speak. …[Yet, alternatively, b]usily to evade the issues is still evasion.

form Theology on Dover Beach (Reprint, Wipf & Stock, 2005),16. Here Lash reminds us it’s possible to fail to say what needs saying not only by saying too little but also by saying so much we eclipse the point in question.

Where the mystery of God himself is concerned it is paradoxical, but true, that the deeper a man’s faith the more difficult he may find it to speak about God. One of the most disturbing features of much theological and devotional writing is that it seems to have so little sense of the incomprehensibility of God. It seems to find it so easy to rattle on about God; …The man who finds it easy to speak of God, or the ways of God with man, is the man whose mind and heart are not sufficiently open to the mystery to be dazzled and silenced by it.

from Voices of Authority (Reprint, Wipf & Stock, 2005), 105-6.

John Witvliet on Sincerity in Worship

  • Why do some people associate sincerity with raising hands or hand clapping, while others associate it with kneeling or pregnant silence?

  • Why do so many churches resist confessing sin or lamenting brokenness “because sincerity on these matters can’t be forced,” while singing demanding songs of extravagant praise without a similar concern? …

  • Why do so many of churches resist pre-written prayers unless they come in the form of song texts?

…Patient engagement with these cross-currents reveals all sorts of internal contradictions and implicit biases, as well as promising discoveries which strengthen our capacity for empathy. Ultimately, these discussions create space not simply to deconstruct constricting approaches to sincerity, but also to reconstruct a capacious alternative.

…I have discovered the value of six “corrective lenses” to common astigmatisms in our more-or-less free-church Protestant way of viewing the world, which I offer here as a work in progress, inviting further ecumenical discussion.

First, a lens of outside-in sincerity corrects the temptation to treat as normative an expressivist approach to liturgical experience, which posits that the concordance of internal experience and external actions happens “inside out” when we pray out of the overflow of what we already think or feel. Jesus’ command to “pray in this way” (Matt. 6:9) offers an alternative, inviting us to apprentice ourselves to a text, rhythm, or gesture originating from outside us. Indeed, to engage in public worship often involves having the boundaries of our small ego-centric selves enlarged by expressions and emotions we never would have imagined on our own.

Second, a lens of vicarious sincerity corrects for the individualistic assumption that all that counts is isolated personal experience. On any given day, my experience aligns with only a small portion of the vast range of human experience compressed into the Bible’s Psalms or a given historic liturgy. But this need not mean that engaging these sentiments is insincere for me. When I may not be able to sincerely sing or pray a given text, I can, nevertheless, ponder who else may be praying that text, and pray it on their behalf. In so doing, I begin to experience freedom from the bondage of the modern, solipsistic self. I taste the joy of ecclesial solidarity.

The complete essay, “The Mysteries of Liturgical Sincerity,” (Apr 26, 2018), is available on the blog Pray Tell — HERE

Bernard Lonergan on Community

A community is not just a number of men within a geographical frontier. It is an achievement of common meaning, and there are kinds and degrees of achievement. Common meaning is potential when there is a common field of experience, and to withdraw from that common field is to get out of touch. Common meaning is formal when there is common understanding, and one withdraws from that common understanding by misunderstanding, by incomprehension, by mutual incomprehension. Common meaning is actual inasmuch as there are common judgments, areas in which all affirm and deny in the same manner; and one withdraws from that common judgment when one disagrees, when one considers true what others hold false and false what they think true. Common meaning is realized by decisions and choices, especially by permanent dedication, in the love that makes families, in the loyalty that makes states, in the faith that makes religions. Community coheres or divides, begins or ends, just where the common field of experience, common understanding, common judgment, common commitments begin and end.

from Method in Theology (Univ. of Toronto Pr, 1990 [Originally 1972]), 79. [emphases added]

Philosophy and Aesthetics: 3 Variations

I couldn’t come up with 5 varieties like I did with history and theology some weeks ago. In any case, here’s an attempt at delineating modes of interplay available to the fields of philosophy and aesthetics.

Philosophical Aesthetics. Or philosophy of beauty. This is a branch of philosophy. Typical analytical modes of evaluation will be deployed to interrogate the adequacy of the prevailing conceptual apparatus used to frame how we talk and argue about art, beauty, etc. Consider Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment.

Aesthetics of Philosophy. A branch of rhetoric (?) Something like the study of philosophy as literature. Here rhetorical and literary categories of description and evaluation will be deployed to bring to view how the presentation of a philosopher’s authorial voice complements content, projects a model of reasonableness, and cultivates a taste for the charms (and thereby reinforcing the persuasiveness) of its modes of appeal. For instance, consider how the operative aesthetic sensibilities informing Wittgenstein’s Tractatus control his thought and expression—how W.’s prose show us a glimpse of a beauty of which we cannot speak. Related is Clifford Geertz’s Works and Lives, or nearly anything by Wayne Booth.

Aesthetic Contemplation. This is not a branch of philosophy but an approach to the pursuit of truth. Let’s call it imagination seeking understanding. Or perhaps the study of literature/art as a philosophical stimulant. Works more by an appeal to the imagination as the basis of its rhetorical strategy. It isn’t trying to steamroll you by way of its incontrovertible rationality, so it doesn’t wear its logic on its sleeve. Instead it proceeds by exploratory insight and life-like description, so its leverages of persuasion are less coercive and more invitational. Consider Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.