Category: General

calendar September 3, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

On Bit on Irenaeus, the Transcendence of God, and the Goodness of Creation

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.[1] 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.[2]

Notably Irenaeus insists on God as a creator who creates ex-nihilo.[3] 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).[4] 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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

calendar August 15, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

New Theopolis Essay on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot

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.

calendar August 11, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

The CPT Co-Founders on its Mission and Annual Conference

Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, co-founders of the Center for Pastor Theologians, describe the threefold taxonomy of pastor theologians. They also describe their excitement for the upcoming conference, addressing how this conference is a unique “third way,” and how it will tackle a looming question for many: how do you actually pull this off?

calendar August 8, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

The Pastor as Public Theologian

indexI was excited to receive a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan’s new book, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. I’m only 40 or so pages into the book, but it reads great so far. Kevin and Owen have been part of the CPT at various points (Owen as a Fellow and Kevin as a Theological Consultant). So it’s no surprise that we are all singing from the same song sheet.

Kevin and Owen’s book is a complimentary thesis to our book, and makes a compelling case for reinvigorating the pastorate as a theological vocation. From what I can tell thus far, Kevin and Owen focus primarily on the pastor theologian as “local theologian” (i.e., a pastor to deftly and ably services the theological needs of a local parish), whereas our book focuses on the pastor theologian as ecclesial theologian (i.e., a pastor who writes theological and biblical scholarship to other pastors and theologians). So the books work well in tandem together, and don’t merely say the same things (though we do say a lot of the same things!).

The timing of our two books wasn’t planned, but couldn’t be better. I’m hopeful that our books will draft off each other and help to invigorate conversation around the topic of the pastor theologian.

And for those interested, Kevin will be presenting a plenary address at our upcoming CPT Conference, Nov 2-4. Would love to see you there!

calendar August 6, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

Reformed Forum Pastor’s Theology Conference

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to do a podcast with the good folks at Reformed Forum. This is a group of pastors working in the Presbyterian tradition who appreciate and are living out the ecclesial theologian vision. They are hosting a theology conference Oct 16-18 in Grayslake, IL. Looks like a great opportunity, especially for those who live in the area. Below is the relevant information from their site:

Join us for a unique theological learning experience that has been designed to promote face-to-face interaction among attendees and speakers. Reformed Forum has always been about making Reformed theological conversation available and accessible to anyone who is interested. At the 2015 Theology Conference, you will have the opportunity to be an active participant in the discussion for an entire weekend. Attendance is limited to 100 participants, which ensures that each attendee has the opportunity to participate in personal exchanges with our speakers and theological contributors.

Our plenary speakers will be Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus, at Westminster Theological Seminary, and Dr. Lane G. Tipton, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster.

Our theme is “The Spirit and the Church,” through which we will explore the connection between pneumatology and ecclesiology.

Register today for the 2015 Theology Conference.

calendar July 31, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

New “Christ the Center” Podcast on the Pastor Theologian

The good people at Christ the Center have just released their latest podcast with hosts Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy, and myself as a guest.

We spent an hour talking about the calling of the pastor theologian. Camden and Jim are themselves pastor theologians and asked great questions. It was a really fun time. If the topic is of interest to you, I encourage you to check it out.

calendar July 14, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

CPT Conference Promotional Video now out

The November conference is gaining steam; speakers are confirmed, registration is open, and the word is getting out! This video is the one-stop-shop for the gathering, featuring many of the major participants. Please share with anyone you think might be interested; register here.

calendar June 23, 2015

avatar | comment 4 Comments

“The Pastor Theologian” now out

51ZlZrXw9EL._AC_UL320_SR210,320_I’m very pleased to announce that our book, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan) has been released today.

This book is our best effort to date at conveying the heart of the CPT’s vision for ecclesial theologians and ecclesial theology. We tried to our best to make it punchy and compact (it’s not a big book), while at the same time laying out the main features of our vision.

Would love to hear feedback from any of our CPT readers. And if you resonate with the vision outlined in the book, let me encourage you to register for the first annual CPT Conference. Our theme for this first year will be “The Pastor Theologian: Identities and Possibilities”. Hope to see you there!

calendar June 22, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

Vanhoozer on What Difference the CPT Can Make

In this portion of the interview, Dr. Vanhoozer describes some of the potential payoffs of a strong contingent of pastor theologians. He see signs of progress, but still plenty left to do: “we need people who can bring the mind of Christ to the body of Christ.”

calendar June 17, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

Vanhoozer on the Separation of Pastors and Theologians

What has led to the separation between theology and church ministry? In this interview, Dr. Vanhoozer addresses the many challenges pastors face: an often overwhelming and varied workload, as well as a culture that “has colonized our imaginations so that there is no room for theology.”

calendar June 16, 2015

avatar | comment No Comments

Vanhoozer on the Distinctiveness of the CPT Conference.

Pastors, seminarians, and theologians have many different conference options. In this interview clip, Kevin Vanhoozer describes one element that makes the CPT conference distinctive: “we’re going to have a very fascinating conversation between groups that aren’t always together: pastors and theologians.” He also names specific contributors and how their expertise will help develop a rich, multi-layered conversation.

Signup for our Enews