Book Review–Brenning Manning: The Furious Longing of God

[Personal disclaimer:  I’m reviewing this book as part of my participation at the website The Ooze.  Their editors asked me to contribute.  They send me a book (from a selection I choose) and I promise to write a review that goes both here on my blog as well as on their website along with the other reviewers.]

John Main said that there is only one prayer–the prayer of Jesus to the Father (via the Spirit).  If that is so, then there is only one experience of God:  namely the experience of Jesus.  The experience of God as Abba.

Brennan Manning’s book comes from the experience of one who has be invited into the life of Abba by Jesus in the Holy Spirit.  Manning knows the unknowable.  He knows his words are pointers only.  Words like furious, union, longing of God.  He knows that this all begins in grace.  It is God’s faithfulness not ours that is primary.

This articulation for me is the central strength of the book and is worth reading (and more importantly actually meditating upon) for this alone.  For those whose experience of Christianity has been about whether your personal faith and actions measure up to some standard, leaving you inevitably disheartened, even despairing, then his words are one of comfort.  They are indeed good news.

That said, I do (in light of charity I hope) have some critiques of the book.  First a somewhat minor one.  Manning states that only Jesus had revealed that God is truly Father.  This is not correct. The mystical reading of the Song of Solomon (The Song of Songs) that permeates so much of Manning’s spirituality where God is seen as the Bridegroom and the Soul as his Bride predates Jesus.  A Jewish mystic by the name of Honi the Circle Drawer similarly called God Abba and was considered to be a miralce worker with a special most intimate relationship to God.

A more serious critique.  Manning interprets his deep unitive experience through the lens of the ragamuffin.  Which at its worst reinforces the individualistic ego our of (post)modern times by saying “You are loved just as you are.”  This is not again to reinforce the notion of a ‘works salvation’ or create a new standard of the holy/sinner, but just that coming out of The Deep with God,  there are ways that more properly express (and thereby deepen) that experience and ways I think that do not.  While I grasp Manning’s more Luther-like personality, revealing in paradoxical language, the fury of God, language meant to shake us out of our normal thought patterns, maybe some more of Calvin and Ignatius (Loyola) are needed on the far side of this grace.

Manning does have moments when he grasps the importance of this point.

For example:  (p.75)

The wild unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea. When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth, it determines why and at what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how your spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes you happy.

I agree but that doesn’t exactly sound ragamuffin-ish to me. I wish he would have spent more time on this point.  How do we know when are lives are becoming conformed/turned into the likeness of the image of God which we always are (but perhaps have not yet lived to the fullest)?  How do we discern not just as individuals but as a community?  On that last point, this work to me is somewhat too inner-individual focused.  But I understand that not every book can do everything.  Certainly not a book on our Christian faith.

My personal disagreements aside, it comes from someone who has known God.  Who has been known by God.  Who knows that he can not know The One who knows him.  And yet loves (and is loved) nonetheless.

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integral calculus: avery dulles and the death penalty

For the introduction to this series, here. For the first post like this one, here.

Article in Weekly Standard on Cardinal Avery Dulles and his somewhat nuanced reiteration of traditional Catholic teaching on the Death Penalty. The author Mark Tooley pretty accurately in my mind represents Dulles’ views. When I was a Jesuit I spent my last year in studies at Fordham where then Cardinal Dulles was still teaching (that was in 2003-2004). Dulles died recently (RIP and pray for us). He was flat and dry as a a piece of wood in class but he was a really kind and gracious person. And a brilliant scholar. The basic gist of the position re: death penalty is that the Catholic Church grants the state the right to have the death penalty but particularly in countries with modern penal systems probably doesn’t ever actually need to use it. And should proceed if ever with extreme caution. Certainly issues in the US system like the number of cases of DNA exonerating people either after death or while on death row, the execution of the mentally challenged or disturbed, and the massively disproportionate number of poor people (poor white, black, and Latino) as those executed all suggest a mass moratorium across the country on the practice. For anyone interested here is a really well done sorta fan page of Dulles with video, articles he’s written, and the like.

Anyway off to the perspectives…  (Warning: Dense-ness  ahead). (more…)

Recent Culture11 Posts

On the throwdown in the Anglican Communion.

On the Assyrian Church of the East and the forgotten histories of Asian Christianities.

ruminations towards some thoughts towards some (an) integrating biblical theology

I’m working on some thoughts towards an application of integral theory in the realm of hermeneutics to Biblical Studies/Biblical Theology. Next term I have a much lighter course load and it will be the last real span of time before I head more full time into ministry (I graduate in April), so I’m hoping to spend from December on throughout the new year on essentially a book-length treatment of this subject.

I’m spending most of my time reading legal theory.  Theories in constitutional law and so forth.  While that might seem a little orthogonal to what I’m after, remember that theology and law grow out of the same medieval garden:  think canon law.  Gadamer makes this point forcefully in Method and Truth.  Namely that legal and exegetical/biblical hermeneutics are both forms of understanding/reading that overcome the modern era mistake of assuming there is some way to get to the real meaning of the text either through divination of the author’s original intention (UL in Quadrants), the original public meaning of a text (LL) or through syntactical-grammatical readings (UR and LR).

Gadamer understood that in these disciplines particularly (law and theology) interpretation was a “putting out”, a kind of punting of the boat aimed to a direction.

Where his view and the view of postmodern theory generally breaks down is there is no clear way to validate and/or assess these various puntings.  Particularly how to maintain the integrity of texts from the corrosive personalizing or culturalizing & politicizing tendencies seen too often in pomo thought.  Where the text begins to mean whatever my personal or cultural ego says it means.

The pomo turn overcomes the holdovers of the neo-positivism (“I can actually get to the what the text really means for all times and places separate from myself”/observer mode of consciousness) but as I said then creates this other problem.

So I’m toying with some ideas, but am not quite there yet.

Follow up on Westminster Confession

[The text of The Westminster Confession is available online via Reformed.org (great site–I use their site to read The Institutes for my Calvin class).]

I may have been a little hard on The Westminster Confession in the previous post. For all you theological nerds out there, if interested, here is a paper I wrote on the Confession (basically on the understanding of Scripture) in my first year of seminary. Link here: Westminster.

The Doctrine of the Spirit within is a profound, I think the profoundest aspect of Calvin’s theology. But it interacts strangely I find with the Scripture is interpreted by Scripture position.  I feel like what is going on here is that one can approach Scripture thusly and it will achieve the kind of results (??), as it were, claimed by the Evangelical tradition (sincerely and with validity).  But the initial choice itself to approach in said manner to me is already a choice of ours.  Not the choice.  And this is where I’m not an evangelical in that regard.  But I did the paper because I grew up in the Catholic Church, so I know the Anglo-Catholic wing, and my theological training in the Jesuits was very much in the so-called Liberal tradition.  But the evangelical wing I felt I could not understand or always love.

So while I typically write about politics here on the blog, this is something of what I’m doing in my day to day life. The initial part of the paper shows a continued thread of my anti-natural theological pov.  In that sense, I’m much more in line with something like a Neo-Orthodoxy of Barth (speaking of Calvinists).  But the difference being I put emphasis on our choice in taking the humbled stance before the Scriptures.  The pure Calvinist doctrine–which again I am not a representative of–is that such a movement is willed by God.  It is then the only choice before the Holy God.

George Will on Episcopal Church

Will writes:

It is not the secessionists such as Duncan who are, as critics charge, obsessed with homosexuality. The Episcopal Church’s leadership is latitudinarian — tolerant to the point of incoherence, Duncan and kindred spirits think — about clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of scripture and the path to salvation. But the national church insists on the ordination of openly gay clergy and on blessing same-sex unions.

First of latitudinarian does not mean tolerant to the point of incoherence.  It means giving “latitude”–giving too much latitude to the point of incoherence is in fact no latitude at all but going plunging over the edge.  Now it can be argued whether or not such an event took place by ordaining Gene Robinson, but if one holds that it was in fact a heretical act, than latitude was not the issue.

Sidenote:  This deletrious mixing is what generally happens when you have somebody not well versed in a Church’s positions writing on the subject.  Latitudinarianism is in fact one of the three so-called stools of the Anglican leg:  tradition, reason, and Scripture–represented by the three flavors of Anglicanism, Anglo-Catholic, Liberal (Broad/Latitudinarian), and Evangelical respectively.  Liberal here means liberal in the classical Enlightenment sense–pushing for freedom, use of rationality, etc.  Will’s gloss on Robert Duncan’s comment is confusing Liberal in the modern/classical liberal sense with liberal in the post 60s sense.  Obviously the latter is something Will is not a huge fan of to put it mildly.  But it’s unfortunately bringing in US culture war categories to this debate, which is very unhelpful to the discussion.

Second and more importantly, notice the shift from the question about ordaining an openly gay man to “clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of scripture and the path to salvation”. As if the two were somehow synonymous or at least of the same piece.  As if supporting blessings for same sex unions or ordaining openly gay (in committed relationship) bishops automatically meant one denies the Divinity of Christ.  I tire of this charge blithely thrown about by people who do not know about what they are talking (either inside or outside the Anglican Communion).  I can tell you Gene Robinson is as orthodox a believer in the Divinty of Christ as you will find.

It would also help immensely if one were to elaborate/definte exactly what is meant by “authority of Scripture.”

On that note it is important to point out that the Lambeth Quadrilateral a document meant to provide the basics of Anglicanism, the non-negotiables in ecumenical dialog, states the following:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

The US Church as a National Body holds the Quadrilateral.  And you will search in vain in the Nicene Creed for discussion of gays and lesbians. The Anglican tradition holds that always the three stools are together–Scripture as interpreted through tradition and reason.

Professing the OT and NT are the revealed Word of God says quite a lot and actually very little.  Until of course one hashes out what “revealed” means and whether one has to hold not just to the article of belief in a confessional mode (I believe the Scriptures to be revealed by God–almost poetically, mythically) or whether one has to hold not just that but also a specific theory as to how the Scriptures are Revealed.

The latter point is representative of the Evangelical-Puritan movement, growing out of Calvin’s thought.  e.g. Namely that as the Westminster Confession an Evangelical document states (my emphasis):

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:[15] yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.[16]

And again:

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.[23]

That has not been the historic teaching of the Anglican faith.  This is both the genius and the inevitable frustration that is being an Anglican.  It is built around common liturgical praxis and common creeds, not common enforced understanding of how Creeds are to be understood.  And yet not everything goes. This is at the root of the worldwide Anglican struggles since there is (rightly) no body that can enforce top-down like say the Vatican conformity on these matters.  They are always to be discussed, debated–the hermeneutic circle is in fact a circle, it never begins or ends.  We simply find ourselves in relationship and have to live with its joys and sorrows.

The Evangelical position I would argue begs the hermeneutical question because it leaves unanswered what are the exegetical criteria for deciding which other passages in Scripture are used to interpret otherwise unclear passagse in Scripture.  Also it begins with an assumption that the meaning of Scripture is one and then always finds such oneness in the text–and if the text is unclear or perhaps contradictory, the oneness is read through the offending text.

And what I would see in people like Duncan as Neo-Puritan in that sense.  In charity I can understand the desire for clarity and if you really believed that everyone else has gone heretical, the leadership itself, then of course you have to leave and stick to what you believe to be true.  But that side needs to own up to the fact that it is in fact the innovators in this scenario–on the Church polity front–whatever ther charges about the liberals having invented some new gospel/doctrine.

Will again:

Every 10 years there is a Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury. This year only 650 of the nearly 900 bishops attended — 150 of them representing only the tiny U.S communion. The bishops from three of the Anglican communion’s five largest provinces — Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya — boycotted.

As a matter of fact, some bishops from Kenya did go to the conference.  One of whom had to leave early because his family’s life was threatened for his attendance at the Conference.  Not to mention that there were bishops from Nigeria and Uganda who word is wanted to attend but were threatened with deposition (i.e. having their position as bishop stripped from them) for attending.  i.e. The authoritarian imposition of oneness “conformity” in the negative sense upon them by another.  Which is a break with the traditional Anglican and nay the entire Protestant heritage:  the freedom of the individual before God.  That is why I’m calling it a Neo-Puritanism.

Also from every bishop I’ve heard describe the gathering who attended (so far I’ve heard personal reflections from 3, read a few others), they all described it as a time of great grace and fellowship–in the midst of continued disagreement obviously over the current struggles in the Church.  But they focused first on their common beliefs (like faith in Jesus Christ), common struggles in pastoral leadership, as well as heard and tried to see the world from the eyes of one on a different side of these questions.

See what it is like to hear that positions about gay inclusion cause churches to be burned in places around the world.  Or have Bishop’s lives threatened.  And for them to hear what it is to live in a situation where civil gay marriage is already law (as here in Canada) and people come to your church already married.  Is the Church going to be in the business of breaking up marriages?  That wouldn’t exactly be pro-family now would it?   Scripture, reason, and tradition, all three always take place within a certain space and time.  A context.  Jesus was Incarnated in the 1st century Palestine as a Jewish man.  That matters. So does where and when and how we find ourselves today called to work in the Lord’s vineyard.

Sermon 10.19 (Audio Content)

Click the link below for the sermon I delivered today at Canadian Memorial United Church.

Sermon10.19

The Biblical reading that serves as the basis for the sermon is the famous “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s/Render unto God what is God’s”.

Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

You can download the text of my sermon here: TextSermon10.19.

The Natural Law of Plumbing

At the outset, let me just heartily agree with Conor that Joe the Plumber is a far more articulate spokesman for his cause than his current party’s candidate for VP.  [Except for his answer on no WMDs in Iraq].  He’s even done more interviews than her!!!  Plus Joe is a fellow Buckeye so I have to support my own.  Little homer side from yours truly.

But that aside, Jed Report has the pick up of the century in my book.  Buried down in this post–Joe used to be a member of the Natural Law Party!!!!.  No F’in Way man.

Veteran readers will know one of my (many) strange side fascinations is small 3rd/4th/5th parties (e.g. here).  I actually knew about the Natural Law Party–long long story–but I hadn’t heard it mentioned in years.  I didn’t even know if it was still around.  [For the record, Plumber Joe is now a registered member of the GOP].

The Natural Law Party actually has fairly strong roots (pronounced “ruts” like my grandpa would say) in Ohio. Strong as far as these things go I mean, so that sets the context for Joe having a connection with them.

Now you’re probably wondering to yourself “Ok but what does this have to do with the giant image of the Great Chain of Being above?”  Ah, well I’m just getting to that. (more…)

The Gospel of John/(ny) Cash

“I was lost and undone, without my God or his Son, when he reached down his hand for me.”

I’m thinking of doing my paper for class on the Gospel of John and its theology based on some old gospel hymns, which are strongly based out of the imagery of John’s Gospel.

This one picks up on the entire theme of the Incarnation and God coming down in the flesh in Jesus (The Word of God’s Salvation/Judgment) and the constant dualism between those who are in the light/understand and those who are in the darkness or as Cash sings, “lost”.

I might twin it with this classic:

This one can be read in light of the famous passage of Mary Magdalene meeting the resurrected Jesus in the Garden.  John Chapter 20 (you can read it here).

Against Natural Theology

These are some scattered thoughts arising in relation to a paper I’m working on for a class in Process Theology.

Alfred North Whitehead godfather of Process Thought argued for a God within his overall cosmological system.  Fairly unique contribution relative to modern era philosophers in that regard. So Process Thought is deeply imbued with a Natural Theological strain.  David Ray Griffin one of the godsons (I suppose) of Process Theology wrote a classic text arguing for a new Christian natural theology.

Natural Theology is the belief that arguments at the level of reason alone can be proferred to prove the existence of God.  Usually these arguments grow from a study/interpretation of the natural world.

One of the classic arguments in this regard is Thomas Aquinas’ Argument from Necessity.

Observing that every being in nature requires another being for its existence (i.e. everybody has ‘rent[s] in the universe) Aquinas argued that therefore the entire universe was (in the parlance) contingent.  And therefore the universe itself required a being to bring about its existence. Namely God.

The problem with this theory is the extrapolation from individual cases to the universal.  Just because all beings in the universe require a cause does not mean the universe is the same as individual beings.  Aquinas to his credit did leave open the possibility that the Universe was eternal (though intriguingly for the purposes of my argument he believed the universe had a beginning in time because the Church said so–i.e. it was an article of faith).

He argued that the Universe could not have existed (true) and therefore there must have been a Necessary Being to get the universe going (wrong). Or rather why would that being be Necessary and not simply another in a causal chain?  [Aquinas has to assert without evidence that an infinite causal chain can not be–but why is that automatically the case?].  The argument only functions if you can prove that there is no infinite causal chain.  But you can’t prove there is no infinite causal chain without proving a Necessary Being (i.e. the difference between causing to be and causing to exist I would argue is already a theological distinction which assumes that which it is supposed to prove) but you can’t prove the Necessary Being without proving there is no infinite causal chain which in turn you can’t prove without proving a Necessary Being which you can’t prove without proving no infinite causal chain, which you can’t…..and you see the circularity.

Later came the classic argument from design–that the Universe was like a watch and therefore just as a watch required a watchmaker so the Universe requires a designer.  Of course the idea that the universe is like a watch is a human construct and metaphor.  It’s a human interpretation.  It’s an interpretation btw of a well educated, Western European in the modern period (like William Paley who wrote this in the 19th century) because watch making was considered a high art and technology in his day.

What both of these arguments are getting at and what I think can be established through science and philosophy is that there is Eros or a potential for Emergence in the Universe (see footnote26).  But that is nowhere near the same as proving the existence of a God.

The question of a god/God is always part of a religious tradition.  It is always part and parcel of the intersubjective, linguistic reality in which we are formed.  Natural theology being a 3rd person “ITS” view of things, forgets the inter-subjective construction of reality and believes there is a way to get to The Objective Truth once and for all.  [Classic modernist fallacy].

How that this shakes out in practice is something along what the lines of Derrida describes as the absent shaping the present.  In Process Thought, Whitehead describes God as All-Compassion (Love).  But why would be the case?  In a certain strand of Buddhism, for example, there is the concept of the alaya vijnana (the so-called Store House Consciousness).  Which is also elsewhere called the Causal Consciousness.  The store house ‘stores’ all the memories of the Kosmos in a way very similar to how Whitehead’s Process God is the one who integrates all reality into itself and re-members it.  (Everything is redeemed through the Divine’s Memory).

Now of course the Process view has an evolutionary twist that the store house lacks–since evolution was not understood in the intersubjective when the notion arose in Buddhism.  But notice in the Store House concept is no necessary description of Love per se.  Because that is a construct built out of the Biblical heritage.

Which is exactly my point–back to Derrida for a second.  The absent is theology and the intersubjective.  [Whitehead’s philosophy is only partially intersubjective not fully so].  Because Whitehead, as the son of an Anglican clergyman, grew up in the Anglican tradition of Holiness/Beauty of God, this has to be background for his philosophy.  Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means the idea that this provable from the exterior world or from interior (individual-subjective only) reflection is way off base.