I look out the window. The dark outline of the temple is slowly emerging against the pale light of the dawn. Some of the women are stirring and I suppose they are leaving for the tomb. I have not been to the tomb, and the thought of going sickens my stomach. They should not be leaving this early, while it is yet dark and without the men. But I watch them leave and say nothing. I feel nothing.
The remaining torch casts a flickering shadow against the far wall and the noises of soft groaning and steady rocking are the only sounds that disturb the dark silence. My back is stiff from staying too long upon a hard floor, but I do not move. The effort is beyond me. I have not slept this night, nor have most of the others. The ones fortunate enough to sleep have found a temporary peace, but I do not envy their waking moments when the knowledge of what has happened comes fresh again upon them.
No one says much. Even Peter, who normally has plenty to say, says nothing. He did not come to the house until the fourth watch and will not look or speak to anyone. He has not been with us much this Sabbath. By the looks of him this early morning, I do not think he has slept much either. There is a deep, unquenchable sorrow in his face, and I fear that he blames himself for what has happened.
But I have no energy for judgement. I have no energy for anything. Hope died two nights ago in a garden. Fitting I suppose, that humanity was first ruined in a garden and now in another garden it has been ruined again. The night my father died, that awful night that, does not equal the pain that engulfs me now. But it is not the pain, so much, that smothers me. It is the hopelessness. One can survive pain when one has hope, but without hope there is nothing. Hope is a dangerous thing. The more you trust in it, the more it destroys you when it fails . And my hope has failed. I am crushed, ruined. There is nothing left. I do not even have the energy for anger at God to sustain me. He has crushed me, crushed us all, and I have not the strength to resist him.
I find myself staring at my hands, slowly opening and closing them, watching the tendons contract as they pull my fingers into a fist. I wonder how much it hurt him… I wonder why I cannot cry.
My wounded thoughts turn toward Heaven and questions that I have been too weary to ask begin to drift painfully from my lips. Does not the Psalmist say that you deliver your righteous one from all his enemies? Yet were not his final words, “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” How heavy your hand is upon me. How thoroughly you deceived me. We had been so sure that he was the one whom you sent to redeem Israel. Even he had thought it so. Was he not a prophet mighty in deed and word? He delivered even from death by the might of your hand. Lazarus, the widow’s son, the sleeping girl. But you would not deliver him. You who shook the earth when he died and blackened the sun as he gave up his spirit. You who hold all things together. You who parted the sea, and sent the destroyer. You who raptured Elija. Enoch. “Eloi Eloi Lameth Sabactheni.” Are these to be the dying words of one who did not forsake you? No Lord, this day you do not make sense. My spirit is crushed within me and my hope has fallen to the ground.
And then it comes, like a breath, like a whisper, as gentle as a thought. “In what have you hoped, child?”
I answer the whisper, my heart heavy with bitterness. “I have hoped in you”.
Brushing aside my answer, the voice asks again, “In what have you hoped child?”
Sorrow upon sorrow, I have hoped in you.
The question comes again, soft, relentless, “In what have you hoped child?”
And now the pain comes, the bitterness of betrayal, the sickening feeling of misplaced trust. I had hoped in you.
Once more the question comes, ignoring my answers, “In what have you hoped child?”
I say nothing, my spirit heavy within me.
And then the voice speaks. The voice that call things and they are, that speaks and it is so. The voice of final judgement . Softer than before, but heavier, a statement, so sure, so true that it cannot be questioned.
“You have hoped in your own understanding.”
I hear the sound of foot steps on the stairs. The door crashes open and morning sunlight floods into the dark room. It is Mary. A heavenly light dances in her eyes and her smile shines like that of an angle.
See below for the press release from Davenant Trust about their new Latin Institute. Looks like a great resource for pastors (and others) doing theological work that requires a working knowledge of Latin.
The Davenant Latin Institute, now in its second year, is pleased to announce an expanded array of online courses in theological Latin designed for seminarians, graduate students, pastors, and teachers at all levels of Latin proficiency. For our Introductory level courses, we have partnered with BibleMesh and New Saint Andrews College to offer a powerful new approach to rapidly acquiring Latin reading skills through online tools. BibleMesh has for years been a leader in online language instruction and theological education, offering self-guided Greek and Hebrew courses used by seminaries across the world. This year they are launching their first Latin courses, created by Tim Griffith at New Saint Andrews College using his pioneering approach to Latin paedagogy. The Davenant Latin Institute will serve as the recommended provider of live online class and tutorial instruction for these web-based modules.
For students seeking to progress to more thorough engagement with and translation of Latin theological texts, our Intermediate and Advanced courses offer a unique curriculum of linguistic, theological, and historical studies through multimedia recorded lectures and live instruction and translation that will help you master the most difficult patristic, medieval, or early modern theological texts.
At all levels, one-on-one tutorials are available for students with particularly busy or irregular schedules. We also offer intensive residential courses at our property in upstate SC, Davenant House.
Man that is born of a woman has but a short time to live and is full of misery. Like a flower, he blossoms and then withers. Like a shadow he flees and never stays.
We gathered round the grave. Fifty of us, or thereabouts. Silent. Watchful. The fine, misty rain had stopped. Faint patches of blue peered through the ash grey clouds. The air was still, the roar of the road dulled by the trees. By the grave, the coffin, with its simple brass plaque: a name, two dates, and a stark reminder: “Aged 25.” In the coffin, what now remained of a life that had been beautiful but short. Too short. And filled for too long with suffering. Nearly two decades long. Too long.
In the midst of life we are in death; to whom can we turn for help, but to you, O Lord, who are justly angered by our sins? Yet, Lord God most holy, Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us from the bitter pains of eternal death.
You know, O Lord, the secrets of our hearts; hear our prayer, O God most mighty; spare us, most worthy Judge eternal; at our last hour let us not fall from you, O holy and merciful Saviour.
In the church, we had defied the sentimental contemporary preference for funerals that do no more than celebrate the life of the deceased. The service had woven together thanksgiving for God’s gifts of life and love, with the reality of a long-term illness and an early death. We had not flinched from acknowledging the sin through which death entered God’s good creation. Nor from the just anger of a holy and mighty God. We had refused to avert our eyes from the bitter power of our enemy death, or from the bitter pains of eternal death.
Now, we stood at the burial ground, silent for a moment around this deep, neat hole. The pallbearers began to lower the coffin.
It has pleased Almighty God, in his great mercy, to take to himself the soul of our dear sister. We therefore commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. He will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by his mighty power that enables him to subject all things to himself.
Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer was designed to provide pastoral care for an entire nation. In its occasional offices, Cranmer gave a way for the English people to organise and interpret the major events of their lives according to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his baptismal rite, life begins with the promise of new birth by water and the Spirit. The marriage service reaffirms the place of man and woman in the natural order, celebrates the fundamental familial relationships of human life, which were consecrated by Christ in his first miracle in Cana of Galilee, and looks ahead to the eschatological order that will be inaugurated by the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Order for the Visitation of the Sick focuses (to a fault) on the need for repentance from sin in preparation for death. And then, as life began with the promise of new life, so, in the Order for the Burial of the Dead, life ends with the promise of eternal life.
The predecessor of Cranmer’s burial service, the medieval requiem, had a strongly pastoral purpose: to care for the deceased as the priest led the mourners in praying for the departed soul’s repose. Cranmer’s liturgy is also strongly pastoral in intent, but in step with the Reformation’s recovery of the biblical doctrine of justification, the orientation has changed. Deceased believers do not need our prayers; they have passed immediately into their Saviour’s presence, where they rest in bliss, awaiting the final resurrection. The focus of pastoral care therefore shifts from the soul of the departed to the souls of the congregation: reminding us of the awesome realities of sin, death, and judgement; reassuring us with the strong comfort of the resurrection. As a result, Cranmer’s service has an unflinching seriousness and intensity, coupled with a joyful and confident hope. Never does Jesus appear more glorious and filled with love and power than when believers gather at a Protestant graveside.
I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “for they rest from their labours.”
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, forever and ever. Amen
The language has been lightly updated, but the liturgy is unmistakably Cranmer’s: simple, direct, steeped in Scripture. For more than 450 years, this is how the English have buried their dead. And so, as we stand at this graveside and lay to rest the mortal remains of a sister in Christ, we are reminded that this grave does not stand alone. Millions of English Christians have passed through the bitter pains of death, and their souls have entered into rest with their Lord. With these words, their lifeless bodies have been laid to rest in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. We therefore share a sure and certain hope that one day not just this saint, but countless saints will rise. And so Cranmer’s funeral liturgy places us once again in the middle of our baptismal confession, believing in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all, ever more. Amen.
The CPT is hosting a parallel session at this year’s Midwest Regional ETS meeting. The session is Saturday, March 12, 8:00-10:20AM. Paper presentations will include:
- “The Pastor’s Exegesis: Biblical Interpretation and the Pastoral Office” — Mickey Klink (Hope Evangelical Free Church)
- “The Ecclesial Theologian as Local Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Practice” — Dan Brendsel (Grace Church)
Following the papers I will lead a panel discussion with Klink and Brendsel on the role of the pastor theologian. Klink and Brendsel are both pastors and CPT Fellows. They are two of our our shining stars, so if you are interested in the vision of the pastor theologian or the CPT (or both!), this will be a great session to attend.
And I’m encouraged to see a number of other paper presentations related to the theme of the pastor theologian:
- “Preacher as Pastor-Historian”– Pastor Joey Cochran (Pastor at Calvary Memorial Church)
- “Hospitality as a Paradigm for Theological Education” — Ben Espinoza (CPT Fellow)
- “‘Written for Our Sake’: Preaching, Figural Interpretation, and Evangelicals; or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fourfold Sense”– Jeremy Mann (CPT Managing Director)
- “The Pastor as Theologian-Philosopher under Christ in His Church” — Richard Ostella (Westminster Reformed Church)
- “Pastor as Theologian in the Context of the Mission of the Church” — Richard Ostella (Westminster Reformed Church)
For more information, and to register, visit here.
Jesus as Descendant of Adam, Son of God: Luke’s Genealogy as an Introduction to the Wilderness Temptation
Luke 3 records the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and the voice from heaven. With respect to Jesus’ early years, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all follow the same basic order of events: birth, baptism, voice from heaven, and then wilderness temptation.
But Luke uniquely offers us Jesus’ genealogy between the baptism and the temptation. This is a curious placement for a genealogy, and at first pass it might seem to interrupt the flow of Luke’s narrative. We might expect Luke to place the genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel (such as we find in Matthew), or perhaps at the end of Luke chapter 1, right before Jesus’ birth. Yet Luke strategically places it here, just prior to the wilderness temptation.
The key to understanding the placement of the genealogy is found within the genealogy itself. Unlike Luke, Matthew’s gospel is written to the Jewish community. As such, Matthew’s genealogy (presumably following Joseph’s line) links Jesus to King David, the greatest of the Jewish Kings, and then to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. And there Matthew’s genealogy stops. But Luke’s gospel is written to a non-Jewish audience, and his genealogy does not focus on Jesus’ relation to Abraham. Instead, Luke (presumably following Mary’s line) traces Jesus all the way back to Adam, and then ultimately to God.
Matthew’s genealogy presents Jesus as the second David, a son of Abraham. Luke’s genealogy presents Jesus as the second Adam, a son of God.
And thus Luke offers us the genealogy — linking Jesus to Adam, and ultimately to God — as a means of introducing Jesus’ wilderness temptation. It is Jesus — the decedent of Adam and the Son of God — who will overthrow the Devil. With the placement and nature of his genealogy, Luke intends us to see Jesus’ wilderness temptation as a recapitulation of Adam’s garden temptation.
Where the first Adam failed, the Second Adam would succeed.
(This doesn’t take away from the strong allusions to Israel that we see in Jesus’ wilderness temptation (i.e., the wilderness, the 40 days, the matter of bread, Jesus’ responses all drawn from Deut 6-8, etc.). Jesus recapitulates both Adam and Israel — both are called sons of God in the Old Testament. So the typology works in both directions. A good reminder that we can’t get so focused on the Jewishness of Christ that we forget he is first a son of humanity. [The Bible begins in Gen 1, not Gen 12]. Nor get so focused on the humanity of Christ that we forget he is a Jew.)
There just might be a useful sermon illustration here. Yes, it’s a Christmas post, not an Advent post; I’m only doing this to drive Matthew Mason nuts.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi highlights an aspect of Matthew’s text that other artists — and some exegetes — have missed: 2.1—12 has not only a foreground but also a background. In da Vinci’s painting, behind the magi and Jesus and Mary there are buildings in ruin and horsemen at joust.
The meaning is manifest. The world into which the Messiah comes is in chaos and decay; things need to be righted. This is also an element in Matthew’s story. When Jesus is born, Jerusalem, instead of being overjoyed, is troubled at the news. And there is upon Israel’s throne a wicked and illegitimate ruler. And innocent blood is about to be shed (cf. 2.13–23). In brief, the world is ill. Is it any wonder that the first word of Jesus’ public proclamation is, ‘Repent!’ (4.17)?
From Davies and Allison, Matthew 1-7 (ICC), p. 254.
Parallel Structure of Mark 6:31-8:30
(from W. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark [NICNT; Eerdmans, 1974], 269)
6:31-44 Feeding the Multitude 8:1-9
6:45-56 Crossing of the Sea and Landing 8:10
7:1-23 Conflict with the Pharisees 8:11-13
7:24-30 Conversation about Bread 8:14-21
7:31-36 Healing 8:22-26
7:37 Confession of Faith in the Messiah 8:27-30
Two Stories in Parallel in Mark 8:22-30
8:22 the setting 8:27
8:23-24 “partial sight” 8:27-28
8:25 “sight” 8:29
8:26 “Don’t tell anybody!” 8:30
As a kicker, Mark concludes the next section (8:31 through the end of chapter 10) with yet another healing of a blind man who understands that Jesus is the Son of David (“partial sight”?), then launches readers into the great final week of drama in Jerusalem as Jesus shows the world the sort of King he is (“sight”?).
Here are a few reasons why I enjoy this sort of material:
Reading with the literary grain produces so much more appreciation for Scripture and so much more pleasure than some of the alternatives. I remember rolling my eyes at sterile academic treatments of these passages: the arid terrain of “messianic secret” theories that (mercifully) seem to have run their course in the past two decades; or the idea that Mark inherited these stories from dubious sources and naively repeated two versions of the same event. Conservative approaches to texts can have their pitfalls, too; raise your hand if you’ve participated in the well-meaning (but ultimately puzzling and often boring) activity of viewing Mark merely as a window onto real historical events and not an authoritative portrait that interprets those events.
Secondly, Mark also encourages multiple dives into the text and reading the earlier parts of the text in light of the later parts. It won’t do simply to read it through once or twice; you have to learn to follow the threads backwards and forwards.
Mark engages our imagination for application, giving readers a melodic theme on which they can improvise their own message as the ancient Word jumps the gap and engages modern readers. And an imaginative presentation is very likely, I think, to produce an imaginative response.
But while Mark inspires our imagination and improvisation, he also controls them. He instructs our interpretation by assuming his rightful role of authorial director. Students often have difficulty figuring out how to preach biblical narrative. No such problem here, as Mark does the hard work of drawing connections for you. Your outline for Sunday is practically written out for you. (Not really, but hyperbole is biblical.)
My aim here is to launch a handful of posts on some of the prominent literary patterns in Mark’s gospel.
Jesus [warns] his disciples against being infected by the same evil impulse that has hardened the hearts of his enemies, the Pharisees and the Herodians.
That’s Joel Marcus (Mark 1-8 [in the Anchor Bible commentary series]; I’ll be citing pages 510-11), writing on Mark 8:14-21 and reflecting back on a section of Mark 7 that Marcus sees mirrored here in chapter 8:
Dispute with Pharisees 7:1-15 8:10-12
Segregation with disciples 7:17 8:13
Statement about Evil Inclination 7:21-23 8:25
Marcus gives us the normal higher critical explanation: Mark’s community is being challenged by the Pharisees, and they’ll learn to ward off the dark accusations of “evil inclination” by seeing their accusers as those who really and truly possess this inclination. But Marcus goes one crucial step beyond:
The disciples need special instruction about the Inclination, then, partly because Mark’s community is being challenged about it. But it is also being challenged by it; the insidious influence of the Inclination is not only “out there,” among the Pharisees, but also “in here,” within the elect community itself.
Marcus notes (and we’ll see this in additional post or two) that Mark’s focus on the Twelve and the problems of discipleship only increase as we enter chapters 8-10.
As Solzhenitsyn discovered, lying in rotting straw in a Soviet gulag with other political prisoners:
Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.
…. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Now that is sound teaching for a particularly contentious American political season; but even more, it’s an essential perspective for Christian discipleship. Jesus seems to be particularly good at “instruction about the inclination”; if instruction in that inclination is not the task of his under-shepherds (pastor-theologians), I don’t know what is.
1) The CPT Conference was everything we hoped it would be. Nearly 250 participants. Great plenary addresses; great break out papers; fantastic worship; great conversations around the fireplaces. The videos from the plenary sessions (Leithart, Jamie Smith, Vanhoozer, Wilson, Hiestand) is being finalized and will be released soon. Stay tuned.
2) Todd Wilson (CPT Co-founder) spoke at Liberty University (along with Vanhoozer) on the subject of the pastor theologian. You can catch Todd’s address here.
3)Here’s a thoughtful review by David Shaw of The Pastor Theologian (Hiestand and Wilson) and The Pastor as Public Theologian (Vanhoozer and Stachan) noting the similarities/differences in our respective books. Shaw begins with, “Despite the similar titles; despite the dedication of Vanhoozer and Strachan’s book to Hiestand and Wilson; despite the chapter Hiestand contributes to Vanhoozer and Strachan’s book; and despite the anecdotes and quotes common to both, these books are buses headed in slightly different directions.” And he helpfully concludes by commenting on how the two books, though unique, work in tandem, “In conclusion, there are two invaluable insights championed by these books: the pastorate is a theological calling and theology is an ecclesial enterprise. The current cultural climate makes those insights all the more urgent and calls for imagination on the part of churches and pastors alike. Happily, there is much fuel for imagination here.”
4) And finally, I’ve been asked by Zondervan to pass along the news that The Pastor Theologian e-book will be 20% off, Nov 17-24. Consider the news passed.
The good folks over at Preaching Today invited me to contribute a short piece on why I call my study a “study” and not an “office.”
Pastor, take heed.
November 2-4, 2015
Registration Ending Soon!
What, exactly, is a pastor theologian? What contributions can pastors make to theology? Can pastors meaningfully and effectively produce theological scholarship? What is an “ecclesial theologian” and how is he or she different than an academic theologian? The 2015 CPT Conference will explore these and related questions, with a view to resourcing current and emerging conceptions of the pastor theologian.
This first year’s theme is The Pastor Theologian: Identity and Possibilities. The conference will be held in Oak Park (near Chicago), Nov 2-4. It is open to the public and will feature key note addresses from James K. A. Smith (Calvin College), Kevin Vanhoozer (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and Peter Leithart (Theopolis Institute), plus addresses from myself and my fellow CPT co-founder Todd Wilson.
Beyond the plenary addresses, we will have breakout paper discussions led by Phil Ryken, David Dockery, Laurie Norris, Eric Redmond, Amy Peeler, Mickey Klink, and more. Worship will be led by Caleb Widmer and the Chicago Liturgists. We anticipate having 200-300 pastors, students, professors, and lay leaders join us.
Registration ends Oct 31. If you haven’t yet registered, now is the time to do so. You can register online here. And students, be sure to check out the 50% student discount.
Check out the promotional video below, and the conference website for more information. Hope to see you in November!
Mark Jones just posted an essay over at Reformation 21 entitled “Pastor Scholars…Not Likely“. In the essay Jones calls into question the viability of combining scholarship and pastoral ministry. He writes,
…I’m afraid to say, apart from exceptional circumstances, I just don’t believe both can be done well. It was a rarity in the Early Modern Period. You usually did one or the other, but not both. And today, there’s a reason the greatest scholars of Puritanism, for example, are not pastors. You might want to dabble, here and there, but dabbling might prove to be rather frustrating or, worse, rather dangerous!
When you read the work of people like Irena Backus, Richard Muller, Anthony Milton, John Coffey, and Cornelius Elleboogius, you start to understand how being a full-time pastor can’t possibly allow for the type of quality that consistently comes from the pens of the aforementioned scholars.
We pastors can be happy being generalists, knowing a little about a lot. But knowing a lot about a little (the scholar) and a little about a lot (the pastor) seems a difficult, if not impossible, task to keep up year after year.
At first glance this might seem to run against the core mission of the CPT. But Jones goes on to helpfully distinguishes between the work of a scholar and the work of a theologian.
However, I didn’t say that I don’t believe in the pastor-theologian. Now that’s entirely different issue, in my opinion, which I’d like to turn to in the future. (One thinks of Sinclair Ferguson as a good example). After all, I firmly believe that the best theologians have usually had significant pastoral experience.
In the early days of the CPT we intentionally stopped using the term “pastor-scholar”, opting instead for “pastor theologian”. And we went this direction for precisely the reason Mark details above. There is a need for generalists, and a need for specialists; but only a few savants can do both well. The work of modern scholarship requires a level of focused attention in a narrow field that is near impossible to achieve unless one is able to devote full time hours to said task. Pastors, by the very nature of our vocation, are generalists. And while we can (and should) give ourselves to study, we simply cannot (and should not) spend as many hours in research as would a high level academic scholar.
But as Jones points out, the combination of “pastor” and “theologian” is a different and more achievable union. The church needs theologians who are learned generalists, and who can bring this learning to bear on the theological and ministerial issues facing the church today. At least some pastors can and should do this sort of theological work.
Hey students — Are you interested in free admission to the Nov 2-4 CPT Conference?
We’re giving away ten free tickets to students who are willing to help with the logistical details of the Conference. Mainly, we need help with set up and tear down, as well as general hospitality and crowd control for guests.
You’re duties will start Monday at 12:00PM, and end Wed at 4:00PM. (And don’t worry, you’ll be able to get to all the sessions!)
If you are interested please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
And for everyone else–this is the last day of early bird registration!
Irenaeus underscores the import of God’s identity as creator by linking this doctrine to his famous ‘rule of truth’. For Irenaeus, the ‘rule of truth’ (or ‘rule of faith’) is the summation of the apostolic deposit—a body of truths that mark the boundaries for what constitutes true Christianity. Each time Irenaeus mentions this foundational body of doctrinal content, he includes a clear and extended statement about God as creator. Arguably, this aspect of the rule is its chief content. He writes,
The rule of truth which we hold, is, that there is one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist. Just as Scripture says: ‘By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them, by the spirit of his mouth’. And again, ‘All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made’. There is no exception or deduction stated; but the Father made all things by him, whether visible or invisible, objects of sense or of intelligence, temporal, on account of a certain character given them, or eternal; and these eternal things he did not make by angels, or by any powers separated from His thought. For God needs none of all these things, but is he who, by His Word and Spirit, makes, and disposes, and governs all things, and commands all things into existence,—He who formed the world (for the world is of all),—He who fashioned man,—He [who] is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, above whom there is no other God, nor initial principle, nor power, nor pleroma,—He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we shall prove.
Notably Irenaeus insists on God as a creator who creates ex-nihilo. This stands in contrast with Gnostic conceptions of emanation whereby all things are linked together in a united and descending ontological chain of being—from the ‘true Father’ all the way down to the material world (the world being the unflattering hemorrhage of a wayward Aeon). But for Irenaeus, there is a strong ontological divide between creature and creator. In an important way, this allows Irenaeus’ God to draw closer to his creation with more relational intimacy than the ‘true Father’ of the Gnostics. For the Gnostics, the transcendence of God can only be achieved by geography—by positing a vast distance between God and the material world of humanity. Without this vast spatial distance, the Gnostic God loses any sense of transcendence, since all things are ultimately and ontologically sourced in his being. This vast distance between the Gnostic God and his unintended creation inevitably slanders the material world.
But for Irenaeus, the transcendence of God is achieved through the ontological inequality that exists between creator and creature. This allows Irenaeus’ God to draw near to his creation without confusion of being, or compromising his transcendence. This in turn allows for a more generous account of the material world; God, while remaining completely other, dwells close to the world he has made and is the intentional source of it.
We might summarize it thus: for both Irenaeus and the Gnostics, God is the ultimate source of the material world; but only Irenaeus’ God will admit to it.
 For other explicit references to the rule in Irenaeus, see Adv. Haer. 3.1.1-2, 3:11.1. In content it overlaps somewhat with the Apostles’ Creed; it does not, however, come to us through Irenaeus in a fixed creedal form. Irenaeus links the rule to baptism in Adv. Haer. 1.9.4, which suggests that it had a catechetical function. For an analysis of Irenaeus’ rule, see Alistair Stewart, ‘The Rule of Truth…Which He Received Through Baptism (Haer. 1.9.4): Catechesis, Ritual, and Exegesis in Irenaeus’s Gaul’, in Paul Foster and Sara Parvis, eds., Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 151-58; also Peter-Ben Smit, ‘The Reception of the Truth at Baptism and the Church as Epistemological Principle in the Work of Irenaeus of Lyons’, Ecclesiology 7 (2011), 354-373.
 Adv. Haer. 1.2.1. In Dem. 6, Irenaeus likewise details the substance of the rule, again beginning with God as creator as the first principle. See also Dem. 3, where Irenaeus begins with baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit, with God as creator immediately following.
 See also Adv. Haer. 2.10.4., ‘While humans, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to humans, that he himself called into being the substance of his creation, when previously it had no existence’. Here Irenaeus claims for the Christian tradition a doctrine that was still at play among at least some otherwise orthodox Christian thinkers. While non-gnostic Christianity universally affirmed God as creator, at least some early Christian writers seem to suggest an eternal creation. Most notable in this respect is Origen; see his, Per. Arch. 1.4.3. For an affirmation of creation ex-nihilo in Theophilus, see his Ad. Auto. 2.4. For a general assessment of this doctrine in early Christian thought, see Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), 57-96. For an assessment of this doctrine in Irenaeus see Matthew Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 38-49.
 The insistence of creation ex-nihilo also served to distinguish Christianity from Greek thought, such as we find in Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Physics.
The good folks over at Theopolis have published a short essay of mine on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I like Dostoyevsky, but I think he drops the ball at the end of this book. Here’s the intro:
Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot, like his other major works, is a complex evaluation of the human condition—a juxtaposition of the innate goodness and innate evil that resides within every human heart. There is much one can say about The Idiot. I am no specialist of Russian literature, or Dostoyevsky. I enjoy his writing, laborious and confusing as it sometimes is. His insight into human nature, his opened-eyed faith in the midst of life’s moral complexities and doubts, and his articulation of the divine beauty that permeates our sin-scarred world has always captivated me.
So I expected more of the same when I picked up The Idiot. And I was, for the majority of the novel, not disappointed. But the last pages of the novel left me frustrated with Dostoyevsky and his account of Christian compassion. Here, it seems to me, he lets the reader down. And perhaps more tragically, he lets down the hero of his story. Dostoyevsky’s misstep at the end of The Idiot shows us the failure of unrestrained compassion when divorced from the particularly and commitment of love.
You can read the rest of it here.