Tish just had an article published for the first time with Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s faith and culture blog for women, which is, if I may so, a big stinkin’ deal. It’s not about the Miley Cyrus VMA debacle, but that is its launching off point. Why is it that in pop culture, becoming a woman is synonymous with becoming the object of male lust? What resources does the church have at its disposal besides knee-jerk condemnation to address this troubling cultural phenomenon? These are the questions Tish capably addresses in this article. What hath Miley Cyrus to do with confirmation? Come and see.
Puzzling to anyone opening the pages of Scripture is the fact that there are four books, all of them differing from one another to varying degrees, that bear the name ‘gospel’. From the earliest generations of the church, there have been attempts to harmonize these accounts to form a single ‘life of Christ’. To some degree, this is an unavoidable and even desirable task. Harmonies of the gospels, e.g. by Augustine and Calvin, both attempt to make sense of the welter of events within the life of Christ and account for the nature of his ministry. So long as these harmonies acknowledge the diversity of the sources and do not attempt to flatten them, these can be helpful. After all, we do not actually have four gospels, but one gospel pronounced by four sources – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There are worse ways to harmonize, however. Tatian and Marcion in the early church both attempted to harmonize the gospels in order to declare the fourfold gospel of the church anomalous, to privilege one flattened account as the gospel that suited their own theological purposes.
There is yet another way to do injury to the gospels – to see the particularity and diversity of the gospels as mutually exclusive and as evidence of fissiparous tendencies in the early church so as to undermine the cogency of the single gospel expressed in four sources. The church has always acknowledged the close similarity between Mathew, Mark, and Luke and the divergence of John, but it has also always seen these four accounts as the revelation of God and hence as complementary rather than competitive. Modern higher criticism sees them as texts among others in the late antique world and hence evaluates them solely as human productions. Hence the rise of the so-called ‘synoptic problem’ in which dating Matthew, Mark, and Luke become a key focus. Source criticism in particular can fragment the unity of the gospel by positing diverse communities that produced the material shared between Matthew and Luke but not in Mark (Q) and the material in Luke but not in Matthew (L). Despite the fact that there is no manuscript evidence to back up this claim, as Philip Jenkins has argued, scholars have attempted to reconstruct the content of these texts, imagining that the Q community, for instance, possessed a theology similar to that expressed in the Gospel of Thomas.
What would happen if we returned from scholarly skepticism, not by ignoring the insights of historical criticism, but in order to see these texts freshly as God’s revelation to the church? We might see merit in the third century church father Irenaeus’s proposal of how we should understand the way the gospels fit together. Irenaeus argued, in a complex weaving of biblical texts, that one should see in the four faces of the cherubim an image of how the gospels fit together. The faces of the cherubim – a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle (Rev. 4:7) – reflected salvation history which was gathered together and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Scholars have struggled to find the meaning of Irenaeus’s argument here, and have often stated it only to dismiss it as infantile or argumentatively feeble (one is reminded here of Charles Augustus Briggs’s quip that the church fathers should really be called the ‘church babies’ since they didn’t have access to historical critical textual methods).
The reality, however, is that Irenaeus is on to something in this exegetical insight. Peter Leithart has recently made a profound argument for its retrieval in The Four: A Survey of the Gospels. Leithart notes that ‘the ox is a ‘priestly’ animal, associated with sacrifice and especially with the priests’ sacrifice (cf. Lev. 4). The lion is a symbol of the Davidic dynasty, the ‘lion of the tribe of Judah’ (Gen. 49.9; Rev. 5.5), a kingly beast. The eagle is an unclean animal, representing Gentiles, and in some prophetic passages the eagle symbolizes swift invaders (Jer. 48.40; 49.22; Lam. 4.19)’. Matthew as the Jewish gospel is the ox, Mark is the lion, Luke is the eagle, and John is the man. The man sums up all of the other three emphases but goes further to give cosmic grounding to the work of Christ. Jesus is the word made flesh, God with us. (113). Thus it is a not a bowdlerized version of the life of Christ that we need to see the whole Christ. Each perspective is ‘symphonic’ in Leithart’s felicitous phrasing, and we need to see each as enhancing the other three: ‘When we read the gospel as a symphony in four movements, we see a growth and maturation. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah; and yet more, Jesus is the Crucified Messiah; and yet more, Jesus is the universal savior; and more, Jesus is the Word made flesh’ (114).
Tish just published a piece on the Well, InterVarsity’s blog for women in the academy and the professions, addressing Rachel Held Evans’s recent comments on CNN. Evans contends that millennials are leaving the evangelical church because it is ‘too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice . . . hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’, anti-intellectual, and anti-science. Evans’s comments are in part a response to the recent Pew Report on the Rise of the ‘nones’ among the Millennial generation, among other things. Tish argues that Evans draws the wrong inferences about millennials, indeed that if what Evans is saying were true, then the mainline churches would be flooded with millennials seeking a more progressive church. Tish doesn’t have room to say it in her article, but the Pew Report indicates ‘political backlash’ theory of millennial attrition has some plausibility but in the end is not a sufficient explanation. In fact, what is occurring is a ‘a decline in nominalism and vague religiosity’, which will leave a smaller church in America, but a church clearer about its purpose, dogma, spirituality, and mission. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, Tish argues. Read her article here.
It was bound to happen at some point, I suppose. We haven’t blogged here for the entire month of April. Life has been complete chaos for the past month, largely the result of Tish’s efforts alongside of other campus religious organizations to get the Vanderbilt Board of Trustees to see just how destructive the Administration’s new non-discrimination policy is to religious life on campus. Tish and I have also been writing other places, mostly on InterVarsity at Vanderbilt’s blog. I’ve also been feverishly working on my dissertation, trying not to let too much energy dissipate into other projects which can quite often be more interesting to me than my dissertation topic. We have promised you frequent blogging, dear reader, and we will shortly resume our efforts to deliver high quality content to you at no charge.
Tish and I have received lots and lots of questions about what is going on with Vanderbilt’s non-discrimination policy and how Graduate Christian Fellowship and other religious organizations who want to retain their ability to select leaders on the basis of Christian belief are responding. The InterVarsity team at Vanderbilt has put together a new blog that answers a number of these questions and that gives our perspective on the non-discrimination policy. Take a look especially at the History section of the blog if you want to familiarize yourself with the background of this issue, and read the FAQ to clarify common misconceptions about the policy and how we are responding. The blog will be updated regularly, so please follow or check back often for news and perspectives.
It’s also interesting to note that Vandy + Catholic has just come out with a press release stating that they ‘cannot in good conscience affirm that [they] comply with this policy’ and will not re-register as a student organization so long as it is in effect. The Washington Times, among other news sources, has reported on the press release. Tish is also quoted in the article.
In my last post on Gregory’s book The Unintended Reformation, I traced Gregory’s argument that the rise of univocal metaphysics has been an important source of secularization in the west. I think he is basically right about this. However, the argument is proving to be pretty uneven. Although I generally agree with his description of the conceptual moves that had to happen in order to produce modernity, the blame he lays on Protestantism for fomenting the conceptual revolutions seems really misplaced to me. Especially beginning in the second chapter, but even in the first, Gregory really shows his cards as a Catholic polemicist. He fails to differentiate the divergent strands of the Reformation, treating, for instance, Lutherans and Zurich Anabaptists as basically the same thing. There is no good reason I can think of to do so except for polemics. Gregory thinks that the endorsement of sola scriptura by both is a good reason, but his inattention to the way in which that slogan functioned in those various communities (in no community, for instance, did it entail the private right of interpretation or the interpretation of Scripture by reason alone), nor did it entail an appeal to the Holy Spirit for the authority of a preferred interpretation by each Reformer, as Gregory appears to argue in ch. 2. All of the foregoing is pretty clear from Richard Muller’s magisterial study Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. ii on Scripture. One wishes that Gregory would have learned from his own criticism of Ingrid Rowland in the most recent Books and Culture, for he too ‘has missed an opportunity to apply [his] own knowledge and historical imagination to all of the protagonists and traditions in [his] study’.
In his first chapter, he wants to blame Protestant rejection of transubstantiation and polemics against the sacramental worldview as a chief reason that efficacious Catholic response could not be mounted to the development of a physico-theology dependent upon univocal metaphyics. This claim seems dubious to me. Gregory writes, A ‘spiritual’ presence that is contrasted with a real presence presupposes an either-or dichotomy between a crypto-spatial God and the natural world that precludes divine immanence in its desire to preserve divine transcendence….The denial of the possibility of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, by contrast, ironically implies that the ‘spiritual’ presence of God is itself being conceived in spatial or quasi-spatial terms–which is why, in order to be kept pure, it must be kept separate from and uncontaminated by the materiality of the ‘mere bread” (pp. 42-3). Essentially, Gregory is claiming, there is a hidden dualism in Reformational theology dividing spiritual and material and implicitly over-valuing the spiritual such that it must be kept free from pollution by the material. Since so much of the Reformed/Lutheran discussions of sacramental presence in the Eucharist depend upon whether the ascension means that Christ’s body is in ‘heaven’ (though one finds curiously scant speculation as to the location of said ‘heaven’) and therefore the body and blood cannot be physically located in the Eucharist, one wonders where the claim comes from.
But it cannot be the case that the spiritualization of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, at least for the non-Zwinglian Reformed, can be opposed to the reality of that presence. Calvin insists that we feed spiritually on the genuine body and blood of Christ as our hearts are lifted to heaven by the Spirit, and that is not an allegorical or metaphorical reality for Calvin. And of course Gregory’s criticism has very little to do with Luther and later non-Melanchthonian Lutheranism at all. But neither does it have anything to do with the English Reformers, who as the Conciliar Anglican has recently noted, used a very different, far more patristic vocabulary, in describing the Eucharistic body of Christ.
But the more important point to be made here is that the turn toward univocity was at least as much, if not more, a Catholic problem than a Protestant one. It was after all Cardinal Cajetan, as Henri de Lubac and Ralph McInerny have pointed out (yeah, the same guy who first examined and condemned Luther at Augsburg in 1518), who first conflated analogical and univocal naming in his commentaries on St. Thomas, by claiming that the proper sense of analogy was ‘proportion’. And it was the Jesuit Francisco Suarez, not a Protestant, that did the most to advance the conflation of analogical and univocal naming in the seventeenth century, which, as John Montag has pointed out, is the view that became normative for neo-Thomism after Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris in 1879. One can still find this meaning taking precedence in neo-Thomist manuals by the mid-20th century, such as the popular textbook by R.P. Philips, in its seventh reprinting in 1957: ‘The correct meaning of the word analogy…is ‘proportion’ or equality of ratios’ (Modern Thomist Philosophy, ii.172). Whence then the idea that it’s mainly Protestants who are responsible for this development?
In this series, I’m examining order as a theological category by way of the narrative of my own life. In the first post, I described my discovery of punk in college and the hermeneutic of suspicion that gave me for examining the way in which I was raised. In this second post, I’m examining why it is that punk could not offer me a better narrative to order my life than the one I grew up with.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man that ‘you cannot go on “seeing through” things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it….to “see through” all things is the same as not to see’ (p. 81). The trouble with punk culture is that it participates in an impulse that is nearly universal within American, not to say Western, culture, which is a failure to articulate a positive vision of what people are for. The sedimented belief is that somehow, if the bonds of injustice are smashed, if patriarchy, heteronormativity, corporatism, and militarization are dismantled, then the authentic expression of each individual will naturally be unleashed and come to full flowering, and that the eccentric existence of each of these individuals will somehow miraculously not come into conflict with anyone else’s. In other words, without any sort of directedness except the mere evasion of legal consequences, negative liberty will somehow produce not barbarity but cooperation and flourishing.
The truth is, since we have spent so much time focusing on unmasking, we have not thought much about what should replace what we have torn apart. Nor have we thought about what kinds of ascetic practices we will need in order to form the virtuous habits in us necessary to become the kind of people worthy of whatever vision should replace the one we have destroyed spent so much time destroying as a culture. And perhaps most importantly, we have not considered to what degree our cultural penchant for iconoclasm and revolution makes it impossible for us to cultivate the discipline of those ascetic practices. For in the revolutionary consciousness, which we all share, having been formed in late modern American culture, the problem is always extrinsic. One’s own state of brokenness simply cannot be entertained, except as a matter of poor socialization that can be overcome by consciousness-raising. It is a matter of faith that the real problem is with some evil group in society — who are not merely in error, but whose views are so odious that they must be shamed, disgraced, and if possible, buried completely. And the more we rage against the external enemy without attending to the enemy within, the more revolutionary culture comes to parody itself. Speaking of Gandhi, Thomas Merton wrote that ‘our evils are common, and the solution to them can only be common. But we are not ready to undertake this common task because we are not ourselves. Consequently the first duty of every man is to return to his own right mind in order that society itself may be sane’ (quoted in Kenneth Leech, Spirituality and Pastoral Care, p. 30).
Punk helped me to see that it is not a good thing to be well-adjusted in a society that is deeply disordered, but while I was busy slamming to the Winnepegan vegans Propagandhi, I was blinded to how much goodness there was in the order my family had instilled in me. I will write more about the process of recovery and retrieval anon.
I have recently been engaged in an effort to get some order in my life. I am not naturally the kind of person who goes to bed at a reasonable hour, who knows how to say no to TV and the internet, who is willing to take an hour to tidy and disinfect the house, or, to be honest, who is willing to spend ten to twenty minutes getting ready for the day. Lately, my lack of discipline has been driving me up the wall, and I realized in conversation with Tish that my failure of discipline was bothering me, at least partially, for theological reasons. I’ve decided to do a series of posts on the theology of order with reference to my own personal history, which, as one might expect, is what has made me see the importance of order as a theological category.
When I was growing up in the suburbs of the ATL (the New York Times once referred to Atlanta as a small planet of 600k people in a ‘galaxy of sprawl’, a description which I like a great deal), my parents did their best to instill in me a sense of pride in cleanliness, order, and decency. Now, as I said, I’ve never naturally been an ordered person. Keeping my home and work spaces tidy, keeping my passions and emotions in proportion, and so on, have never come easily, but by authoritative direction and formation, my parents managed to habituate me into an fairly quotidian routine of grooming, cleaning, and all around self-discipline. Then I got to college, and there I discovered punk rock, which undid almost all of this primary socialization. My first introduction was to ‘mall punk’ – MxPx, NoFX, Blink 182, post-‘Let’s Face It’ Mighty-Mighty Bosstones, etc. –the kinds of bands you would find t-shirts for at Hot Topic, hence the name ‘mall punk’. But I quickly discovered that ‘real’ punkers hate that sort of music, and as I was introduced to ‘real’ punk, I found that it offered a more satisfyingly jaded, angular approach to the banality of American culture. Brett Gurewitz’s clever, pointed writing for Bad Religion entranced me. Ben Weasel’s misanthropy and seemingly genuine loathing for people appealed to my possibly innate sense of snarkiness. Ian MacKaye’s and Guy Piccioto’s scathing, acid political commentary in songs like ‘Smallpox Champion’ gave language to my burgeoning feelings of dissatisfaction with suburbia and the banality of the ‘good life’ in middle class America. With Guy shrieking ‘bury your heart, U.S. of A./history rears up to spit in your face’, I felt like I was being introduced to a strand of social protest that effectively unmasked the injustice, superficiality, and falseness of the American way of life.
Of course, I could not divest myself of the privilege into which I was born, but it felt better to me to intentionally cultivate grubbiness, disorder, an effete and romanticist feeling of despair and cynicism, and of course, indignation. And the protest culture of punk fit well into the politics of resentiment practiced in the humanities departments of my alma mater. And of course the rejection of bourgeois culture fit well in some ways with the ‘whatever’ grunge aesthetic of 90s culture in which I came of age. I don’t deny that some of the deconstructive work that punk encouraged was positive and important to my formation. I continue to appreciate the rage against the poisonous culture produced in post-war America that I detect in the most articulate versions of punk rock. I think in the long run, in the mysterious way that narratives work, it’s led me to a more committed, more theological, more catholic, and more ascetic vision and practice of Christianity. It’s helped me to reject the easy fit between American evangelicalism and neoconservatism, which is all to the good, since as Richard Lovelace has aptly said, ‘I cannot escape the feeling that Luther, Bunyan, and the Apostle Paul would be referred to psychotherapists if they appeared in the evangelical community today’ (Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p. 218). The impulse in punk to reject conformity to a social and political order that is not fit for habitation by human beings is an impulse that I still respect and endorse.
Next up: why punk was not enough for me.
The first chapter of Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation, ‘Excluding God’, is in many ways a restatement, albeit a more historically documented and richly textured one, of the arguments made by the nouvelle theologie and Radical Orthodoxy, that much of the confusion about God and creation in modernity can be traced back to the idea of the ‘univocity of being’ proposed first by Duns Scotus and radicalized by William of Occam. Univocity of being means that when we speak about the being of some creature and the being of God, we are talking about the same kind of property, despite the tremendous differences in scale and type of being. In the later philosophy of Occam, ‘insofar as God existed, “God” had to denote some thing, some discrete, real entity, an ens–however much that entity differs from everything else’ (p. 38). God’s agency in creation, although invisible, omnipotent, etc., is thus the same kind of agency as creaturely agency on a supremely vast, humanly incomprehensible scale. Thus, as the natural order came to look sufficient in itself in light of increasing scientific knowledge, God’s agency became a hypothesis that could be discarded as unnecessary. God’s agency came to be invoked as a kind of competing explanation (in other words, God became ‘God of the gaps’) for what happens in ‘nature’, and in the light of the explanatory success of the natural sciences, it was no longer a compelling or necessary explanation.
But there’s only one problem: the God who can be rationally domesticated through the invocation of univocity of being and then discarded as an obsolete hypothesis by shaving him off with Occam’s razor has virtually nothing in common with the God of the Christian tradition. Alasdair MacIntyre has quipped that ‘the God in whom the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came to disbelieve had been invented only in the seventeenth century’ (MacIntyre and Riceour, The Religious Significance of Atheism, p. 14), and this is nearly correct, as Gregory says: ‘Ironically, and in fact, despite undermining Aristotelian cosmology, science left untouched the biblical conception of God within a sacramental worldview–despite the widespread rejection of the latter, and despite the lack of recognition by early modern Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, about just how science and the traditional view were compatible’ (p. 53). Gregory goes on to make the startling claim that nothing conceptually has been added to the conversation about God and the natural order, despite increasing refinement of intellectual treatments of the natural order within the framework of metaphysical univocity in the past few centuries: ‘its intellectual bases remain what they were in the seventeenth century, and even more deeply, what they were in the late Middle Ages: a univocal conception of being and the use of Occam’s razor in the relationship between natural causality and alleged divine presence, whether in the United States, Britain, or Europe. Nothing conceptually original, including Darwinian evolution, has been added for many centuries’ (p. 64). Gregory’s point is not that there has not been conceptual advance, but that the advance has been entirely within the deeply rutted channel dug in the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries. I think this account is substantially correct.
In Patristic Christianity, and more articulately and sophisticatedly in the high medieval systems of Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, God is not a being among beings, albeit the highest among beings in the created order, God is Being itself, who out of love creates all that is in a lesser sense ex nihilo, and upon which all created being depends. This does not necessarily mean, as the Fathers recognized, that God creates at a certain ‘moment’ in time. As a Augustine puts it in Confessions, when God created all that is, he created time with it. God’s eternity is of a different temporal order than created time and contains all moments contemporaneously within God himself, just as all created being is equally present to God himself. Precisely because God is not a being like the beings in the created order, God is immanently present within, without being identified with, the created order. Nothing simply ‘is’, but rather everything has being insofar as it depends upon God for its being. In other words, creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing and why that something is meaningful. Gregory writes that
The difference between Christian and other ancient views of God (or gods) is more fundamental than is often recognized, and goes far beyond a distinction between monotheism and polytheism. According to this Christian view, God is not a highest, noblest, or most powerful entity within the universe, ‘divine’ by virtue of being comparatively greatest. Rather, God is radically distinct from the universe as a whole, which he did not fashion by ordering anything already existent but rather created entirely ex nihilo. God’s creative action proceeded neither by necessity nor by chance but from his deliberate love, and as love (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8) God constantly sustains the world through his intimate, providential care. Although God is radically transcendent and altogether other than his creation, he is sovereignly present to and acts in and through it. There is no ‘outside’ to creation, spatially or temporally, nor is any part of creation independent of God or capable of existing independently of God. (pp. 29-30).
So far, Gregory’s book is providing a much needed, clearly written antidote to many of the current culture wars swirling around the incommensurability of science and religion. But is Gregory right about the provenance of metaphysical univocity? And is the Reformation to blame for the turn toward univocity? I’ll take a brief look at why Gregory places the onus on the Reformation in the next post.
The blogosphere, or at least that part of the blogosphere which I frequent, has been lighting up with discussions of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation. Catholicity and Covenant has a brief discussion of it, and Sublunary Sublime has a much more in depth discussion of the book, which includes a link to Dale van Kley’s (a thoughtful, engaging, and evangelical historian) review of Gregory’s book in the most recent Books and Culture. In the coming week, I am going to add to the blog chatter about this book by doing a series of my own. I’ll start here by locating the genre of Gregory’s book. It is a sophisticated example of the ‘history of influences’ genre, which most historians hate, because such histories are inevitably episodic and incapable of doing justice to the richness of causality of the range of phenemona they are addressing. Inevitably the historian’s pet issues are highlighted at the expense of other causal factors. And this is the case in Gregory’s book as well. Gregory acknowledges all this in the introduction, but he also notes (and I agree with him) that these kinds of works are also necessary and desirable.
van Kley further locates Gregory’s book within the world of Catholic apologetics. Despite the rich historical documentation and the deft methodology, it is pretty clearly a ‘tract for our times’, as van Kley puts it. And it employs, at least implicitly, a time-honored argument of classic Catholic apologetics – the idea that Protestantism is fissiparous whereas Catholicism is not. Thus, in a visible, empirical way, Catholicism manifests the unity, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity of the church in a way that Protestantism does not and cannot. The claim has powerful and dramatic narrative cache, especially in the early 21st century, especially in America.
But as van Kley points out, it’s a narrative that simultaneously ignores or trivializes the real theoretical and practical gains that have come via modernity, and by focusing on the external possession of the marks of the Catholic church, it downplays the very real internal fissures within Catholicism. van Kley begins the rundown of schismatic forces within the Catholic communion with the de auxiliis controversy between the Jesuits and Dominicans, but he might have started earlier, with the dreadful exclusion of the spirituali – those favorable to a Lutheran understanding of justification – such as Gasparo Contarini and Reginald Pole, from the decision making process at the Council of Trent and the relentless hounding, imprisonment, and torture of these figures by Carafa, later Pope Paul IV, following the Council. We could go back earlier than this and focus attention on the Great Schism and the inability of East and West to hold together divergent views on nature of episcopal authority, clerical celibacy, the doctrine of the Trinity, Eucharistic practice (especially whether leavened bread should be used), among other things, in a single communion. These very real internal and external schisms problematize the Catholic insistence upon the external marks as a basis for its claims to be the only true church, at least in the west. From what I’ve read so far, there are a lot of really provocative and probably true claims made in Gregory’s book, but we need to not prematurely judge the Reformation to be a ‘deformation’ in the way Gregory seems to want us to.