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Shadows of Divine Things

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This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Essentials: Identifying Beliefs (Part Four)

Already my list of essential identifying doctrines of Christianity includes the gospel proclamation, the deity of Christ, and the resurrection. These doctrines certainly distinctively identify Christians from other faiths. Moreover, each of these doctrines is Christological and Trinitarian in character. That being said, I must include one more identifying doctrine to the list: The Trinity. This is the God of Christianity, the God we worship, the God through whom the covenant with Abraham was made so long ago and was fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. To remove the Trinity from Christianity is to remove the Christian God.

While I will not delineate the doctrine here, I would like to mention that we as Christians find support for the doctrine of the Trinity from the scriptures to a certain degree and from tradition to a larger degree. The scriptures make mention of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in certain contexts along with their roles (for examples see Matt. 28:19; John 8:15-19; 20:21-22; etc.). However, the actual detailed development of this doctrine comes from the creeds and councils of the Church (for examples see The Apostle’s Creed, The Nicene Creed, Epistle of St. Dionysius, Council of Rome, etc.).

Therefore, along with the other doctrines mentioned above, naturally the Trinity should be included since that doctrine is the delineation of the Christian God.

[More to come]

12 Comments:

Blogger David Wilkerson said...

Coming up with essentials of a historical movement always presents difficulties. I'd be almost tempted to say it's impossible. Almost every claim is disputed from the beginning, and certainly very little could claim unanimity pre-Nicea-Constantinople. And Chalcedon is just a damn mess.

Here's my attempt to answer the question/cause trouble. How about putting the 'gospel' and 'resurrection' together instead of separate.
Could we just say preaching the resurrection as the 'victory of Israel's God' ala Wright is the gospel? Paul calls the death for sins and resurrection the gospel in 1Cor15. Interestingly he says nothing of his 'life' and shows very little interest.

This acknowledgement of the good news of victory requires the acknowledgement of Jesus as 'Lord' which entails his royal status given by Israel's God, but also nothing less then worship of him as 'Lord'. This latter claim is rooted in Jesus' reported self-understanding and the way in which the nature of his mission was conceived by his early followers as revealing God.

If the above is correct, then I think you could rephrase 'deity of Christ' as 'the worship of Christ' or 'divinity of Christ'. Deity connotes to my mind an articulated theory like Chalcedon which seems unnecessary.

Finally you mention 'Trinity'. I wonder if you mean more than the deity of Christ since you don't mention the Spirit yet. If you do it seems too much to lump into the essentials. It can't be what the early church meant by gospel of course. I think a monotheistic requirement is obvious since this is Israel's God's victory and the worship of Christ is a primal practice, but going further than that to spell out the relationship of the two much less the 'addition' of the Spirit asks too much. All sorts of subordinationist doctrines would have to be tolerated.

I think the Trinity is a truth we have come to realize, but I count Origen, the Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites et al as believing the essentials. So instead of orthodox I am going for something perhaps more catholic.

Unless of course you want to claim essentials are evolving, and then I could go with that and much more. But it looks like you are going for some timeless criteria which as I said at the beginning is in my opinion problematic.

So I say the essential beliefs are resurrection (without regard to the exact nature) and the divinity of Christ (without exact nature spelled out). Don't say it just like that however. It won't preach.

Additional early essentials might include a commitment to Israel's scriptures which is a derivative I think of worshipping Israel's god. (Ruling out Marcionites.)

A futher derivative of the Gospel as resurection might be a continued reflection on the varied narratives of Jesus in the "Jesus" traditions and later canonical gospels for knowledge of God. These containing eschatological, crucified and risen Jesus's. Jesus presence is re-presented through these narratives. Comittment then to narratives rather than instruction or philosophies(Ruling out the Gnostic instructor Jesus.)

Another essential: A belief in the participation in a common greater mission with other people and congregations elsewhere is reflected in the early tradition of Jesus sayings and epistles. Thus the need for accountability, debate, exchange, canon to norm the mission arise. Not privatized individual divine enlightenment solely, but historically mediated and performed truth.

Baptism and eucharist, both variously understood seem essential to the practice of the catholic faith or at least omni-present (but what about Quakers or salvation army?)

The practice of love should also be added.

Some of these might not be essential. But resurrection and worship of Christ seem certainly to be the inner core.

4:17 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

David W. states, “How about putting the 'gospel' and 'resurrection' together instead of separate.”

I actually would take no issue with this, especially since the gospel includes the resurrection.

David states, “I think you could rephrase 'deity of Christ' as 'the worship of Christ' or 'divinity of Christ'. Deity connotes to my mind an articulated theory like Chalcedon which seems unnecessary.”

Actually would not take issue with this either – however, the nuance between terms here does not seem to pose as many problems/issues as I think you think it does. But, nonetheless, divinity of Christ had been considered when I was typing up the posts. Moreover, divinity of Christ seems to denote a need for worship and all that entails (i.e. community love, Eucharist, etc.) when you unpack the term.

David states, “Finally you mention 'Trinity'. I wonder if you mean more than the deity of Christ since you don't mention the Spirit yet.”

I mean Trinity in the historical sense (which entails Father, Son, Holy Spirit), so yes, I actually mentioned Spirit, unless you are drawing some type of distinction here (?)

David states, “Unless of course you want to claim essentials are evolving, and then I could go with that and much more.”

This is in fact what I was getting at with the Trinity, by mentioning that scripture discusses Trinity, but Church tradition has, in essence developed the doctrine. David, all theology is a developing process; I have actually posted such quotes and comments regarding this notion.

I simply disagree with your claim that Israel’s scriptures are essential (or any scripture for that matter, old or new testament), this I will discuss in the next post.

David goes on the declare, “Another essential: A belief in the participation in a common greater mission with other people and congregations elsewhere is reflected in the early tradition of Jesus sayings and epistles. Thus the need for accountability, debate, exchange, canon to norm the mission arise. Not privatized individual divine enlightenment solely, but historically mediated and performed truth. Baptism and eucharist, both variously understood seem essential to the practice of the catholic faith or at least omni-present (but what about Quakers or salvation army?) The practice of love should also be added.”

Once again, I would disagree with you here, David. I do not see any of the above as essentials; perhaps, extensions of certain essentials, but not essentials in themselves. Anyway, thanks for the feedback.

5:14 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

BTW, David, you should really put together a blog - I think you could/would contribute a lot to the theological "blog world."

You ever considered that?

5:40 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger David Wilkerson said...

I prefer to blog in other people's comments section. :)
Honestly I don't have the creativity to blog. I like to read and respond to other people's stuff. I sort of think blogs are given to pretentious displays. We think we are acomplishing something but we are largely talking to ourselves taking energy away from needed tasks elsewhere. Plus I am isolated enough socially that I am afraid I would begin to depend on it too much socially. It's just too artificial for that purpose.

7:32 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

David sates: "I sort of think blogs are given to pretentious displays. We think we are acomplishing something but we are largely talking to ourselves taking energy away from needed tasks elsewhere. Plus I am isolated enough socially that I am afraid I would begin to depend on it too much socially. It's just too artificial for that purpose."

Wouldn't the same things apply to comments on blogs? 8-)

7:39 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger David Wilkerson said...

I borrowed some of my thoughts from Rowan Williams essay in The Making of Orthodoxy on what might a pre-Nicene orthodoxy mean. He wasn't necessarily looking for an essence. He found some of those things that I mentioned and the way they were used to be what necessarily defined catholicism over against Gnosticism and others.

I suppose you are trying to find the current essence of Christianity. I took the question as the essence that we through all time have all believed. A sort of non-evolving essence. If you include the Trinity (with the Spirit language included) then the essence surely can't extend back to the early fathers' church. And I regard the Arians as believing in the essence of the faith. Don't you? But the Gnostics I don't think should be included and their exclusion is based on their rejection of OT scriptures and certain narratives of Jesus.

I think Ben's quote which you are building on was sufficient to encompass even pre-Trinitarian days "the unity between Jesus Christ and God." Add the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus and that's it.

I look forward to your thoughts on the 'non-essentiality' of the Scriptures :)

8:06 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger David Wilkerson said...

Wouldn't the same things apply to comments on blogs? 8-)


Yes, but it at least slows you down and keeps you out of the limelight. A mere reactionary. Unless of course, you repeatedly post longer posts than your host does on the blog. Boy that really annoys me!! :)

8:09 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

David states: "And I regard the Arians as believing in the essence of the faith. Don't you?"

No, I actually do not due to their rejection of the divinity of Christ (not to mention the Church declaring the view heresy).

David states:
"I look forward to your thoughts on the 'non-essentiality' of the Scriptures"

Well, I should have worded my objection differently (it needed to be qualified) - but that will have to wait for tomorrow's grande finale post! :-)

10:29 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger David Wilkerson said...

No, I actually do not due to their rejection of the divinity of Christ (not to mention the Church declaring the view heresy).


That is why I said 'divinity' or worship mattered because the Arians worshipped Jesus as god. They just reconciled the relationship of Father and Son in an unsatisfactory way. They were not Unitarians after all. So Arianism may have been an error but I don't think it kept them and perhaps a majority of Chrisendom at and up to that time from practicing and believing the essence of the faith when they wrongly conceived the Trinitarian relationship in various ways.

11:05 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

The discussion about Arians being included into some vague form of orthodoxy seems strange to me. Both Protestant and Catholic traditions have rejected arianism as heresy. -

Who said, "There was a time when he was not." Wasn't that Arias Referring to Jesus no doubt?

8:04 AM, April 21, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

David states:
"That is why I said 'divinity' or worship mattered because the Arians worshipped Jesus as god. They just reconciled the relationship of Father and Son in an unsatisfactory way. They were not Unitarians after all. So Arianism may have been an error but I don't think it kept them and perhaps a majority of Chrisendom at and up to that time from practicing and believing the essence of the faith when they wrongly conceived the Trinitarian relationship in various ways."

Yes, I see your point (well made) and agree. I agree with the terminology "divinity of Christ" as opposed to deity. As for worship of Christ, I have no issue, and would agree with your points, I just think that the worship of Christ is something which stems from the divinity of Christ - we worship Christ in all forms of worship because Christ is divine, because Christ is resurrected, etc. But I would not see the worship of Christ - in and of itself - as an essential - although I would say it is important (necessary) in so far as it relates to or stems from those things I have listed as essential (hope that makes a little sense).

8:14 AM, April 21, 2006  
Blogger David Wilkerson said...

Gage,

I agree it seems strange, and I wonder how useful any essence- defining is or who would use it if it should be found. But it's historically impossible for orthodoxy to be the measure of the essence of Christianity. Orthodoxy arises out of response to heresies developing it doesn't exist prior to the disputes.

If you read about the Arian controversy, one can't help but come away with sympathy for the Arians as fellow Christians even in your cold, hard Calvinist heart:). The Arians were for the most part conservative, pious bishops not radicals.

The same could be said about Eunomians later on for instance. They weren't speculative theologians but pastors with soteriogical concerns which guided their Christology. And some of these soteriological concerns were not addressed but simply kicked down the road until Chalcedon where they were again not addressed adequately to the satisfaction of perhaps most involved (if the cold reception of it in that day and ours is any guide).

Add to this that what stood for Orthodoxy immediately after Nicea officially tolerated and embraced some positions which were later found to be equally heretical. So orthodoxy at that point only meant anti-Arian and can't be used to label one position Christian and the other not. It was just a label used among bishops in an in-house debate in my opinion.

I think the reformed recognize theological error doesn't always take you grievously away from God (semi-pelagianism, perhaps even Pelagianism itself?). I think Gnosticism and Marcionism? however represent arch-heresies which are outside of the essence of the faith. Perhaps the same could be said about early Jewish-Christian faiths but they are not as influential or as known.

10:00 AM, April 21, 2006  

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