Blogging Through Comedy: The Hilarity of the Gospel

Weep, weep for all that is lost. Seven years ago I read Peter Leithart’s Deep Comedy.  I was amazed at its effortless weaving of Shakespeare, Greek ontology, and Christian eschatology into one tapestry.  It is easily his most important book–and that is what is tragic (no pun intended) about it.  He has gotten himself into a lot of needless trouble with the FV, and while it is funny to watch the PCA try to deal with it, the damage is irreversibly done.

Fast-forward seven years. I’ve since read about as much on the historical, theological, and philosophical issues of Trinitarianism as I suppose any lay reader could.  When I reread Leithart on this topic, it almost seemed like he neatly solved all of the problems created by our earlier borrowing from Hellenic categories.   It is a post-Platonic subversion of Plato.   I now think I can better appreciate more of his arguments.   Some of these blog posts will focus on key philosophical issues that shed light on Trinitarian and ontological problems.

Sadly, this does not mean I recommend his other works (well, I reject all of his specifically theological works).   His commentaries are fine and his expositions of literature are about as good as one can find anywhere.

The Lord’s Supper as Eschatological Feast

I started a thread on Puritanboard on Plato vs. Eschatology.  Some good responses but I think the larger point eludes some. While many rightly reject Platonism as the template for theology, I suggest that it still remains a default model.  Here is a test question:  how do you view the Lord’s Supper?  Is it a fusion of multiple essences or an eschatological feast?

Zechariah 9:15, “The Lord of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl,drenched like the corners of the altar.

The passage pictures Israel drunk with another kind of wine: filled with the wine of Yahweh’s Spirit, Israel would be bold, wild, untamed, boisterous in battle. This suggests one dimension of the symbolism of wine in the Lord’s Supper: it loosens our inhibitions so that we wil fight the Lord’s battles in a kind of drunken frenzy. If this sounds impious, how much more Psalm 78:65, where the Divine Warrior himself is described as a mighty man overcome with wine? Yahweh fights like Samson, but far more ferociously than Samson: He fights like a drunken Samson!

Pre notes on Horton’s Peolpe and Place

Horton finishes his unique project by examining the role that “covenant” plays in ecclesial discussions, yet the book is not simply another exercise in “how covenant theology proves infant baptism.”  It is much more nuanced and detailed.  Horton has demonstrated more than any other recent Reformed theologian in capably responding to recent movements in theology from Radical Orthodoxy, a renewed Eastern Orthodox apologetics, and the contributions from more anabaptistic thinkers.

Horton’s whole project is taken from a line of Paul Tillich’s philosophy of religion (Horton is simply illustrating a point, not using Tillich’s theology!).  Tillich saw two ways of “doing religion:” overcoming estrangement (varieties of Platonism) and meeting a stranger (Horton’s more covenantal approach.  Horton continues this analysis into the church and shows us an ecclesiology that is based off the announcement of the Ascended Lord.

While it is common to assert that the Church is a creature of the Word, Horton points out the similarities between this position and speech-act theory.   God’s word is not only pedagogical, but performative:  it (He!) creates the Church (Horton 39 n.3).  This theory helps us overcome the (supposed) impasse between actual reality and forensic declaration (which lies at the heart of critiques of justification by faith alone as legal fiction):  “When God declares something to be so, the Spirit brings about a corresponding reality within us” (45).  This means, as Horton puts it, that reality’s character is “linguistically mediated” and that speech is effectual.

If we see the Word as a creation of the Church, then we can’t avoid the conclusion: “Wherever the totus Christus idea conflates Christ as head with his ecclesial body, Christ’s external word to his church can easily become an instance of the church simply talking to itself” (84).  Horton then draws the devastating conclusion: “And since we are dealing wtih speech about salvation, can this mean anything other than the church saving itself (and perhaps the world?) by its good praxis?”   Further, quoting Laura Smit elsewhere, the question is asked, “How can Christ return and judge the church if he is identical with the Church’s eucharistic body” (Horton 152).

Ratifying the Treaty: Signs and Seals

The Bible does not speak of sacraments in metaphysical language but in language that connotes eschatological presence.

  1. Words and signs create a covenant.  They do not “fuse” essences (101).

  2. There is no nature-grace problem but a sin-grace problem.

  3. Eschatology creates a tension:  we have a foretaste of the future feast now, which creates in us a painful longing for the Age to Come.   Eschatological presence intensifies Jesus’s ascended absence.  This actually helps us on the doctrine of assurance.  Assurance is mercilessly attacked by Anchoretic traditions (Trent even condemns to hell any who speak of it), since how can we, as finite humans, “infallibly” know something in the future?   Eschatology and a covenantal ontology can help.  Who are we to ridicule assurance when the King of heaven feeds us from his banquet and promises to strengthen our faith?  Any questioning of assurance is merely treason against the King.  Because of eschatology, assurance will remain in tension–but it is still real assurance because God says it is! (Speech-Act theory).

Poignant remarks:

Low church versions confuse Christ with the believer, while high church versions collapse Christ into the community (92).

Webb:  Words could spring forth as praise because God has already said the Word that releases us from our sin (The Divine Voice, 107).

Instead of Plato’s two worlds we have St Paul’s Two Ages (3).

Some critical remarks:

Horton tries to read Jenson as a thorough Hegelian because Jenson denies our participation in God is not an instantiation of an eternal form but rather a vehicle for the divine (92-93).  Granted, Jenson’s Hegelian language isn’t the best, but Horton’s critique is odd since Jenson seems to be criticizing the same Platonism as Horton is.

Horton tries to employ the East’s essence/energies distinction, and it is certainly superior to Thomist and modern models.  I don’t disagree with him, but Gregory Palamas’s metaphysics is infinitely more nuanced than Horton is presenting (and ironically, I think Palamas is ultimately susceptible to the same critique of substance ontologies that Horton gives.  In defining God as hyperousia, both essence and Persons, Palamas can only allow that the energies are present.  The persons in the divine drama have since been eclipsed; only the energies remain).

 

Pannenberg saw the divine light

As a Protestant I cannot affirm the essence/energies distinction.  While Orthodoxy equates that with “the divine light” and I do not, the latter concept is certainly biblical. It is the love and glory of God.  Wolfhart Pannenberg recounts an event in his life:

The single most important experience occurred in early January 1945, when I was 16 years old. On a lonely two-hour walk home from my piano lesson, seeing an otherwise ordinary sunset, I was suddenly flooded by light and absorbed in a sea of light which, although it did not extinguish the humble awareness of my finite existence, overflowed the barriers that normally separate us from the surrounding world.

This actually sounds a lot like stories of St Seraphim of Sarov.  I mention it because if it isn’t from Jesus, then it must  be from Satan.  Yet it would be a very odd move for Satan to make.  Why would he want people to follow Jesus and write books defending Christ’s judgment in this world?   Common sense says otherwise (as does Jesus in Matthew 11-12).  We can note a number of implications from this event:

  1. Protestants are within the saving power of Jesus.
  2. There is no such thing as “Second class Christians.”   The book of Galatians was written to condemn that very idea.
  3. This brings us to Cyprian’s problematic claim: outside the church there is no salvation.   This is where Kallistos Ware’s book falls woefully short, though one applauds his moving away from his early hard Russian stance:  if Ware advances (2), as it seems he does, then he has to concede that Protestants are in the True Church.
  4. If (3) means “only my institution” (be it Coptic, Nestorian, Orthodox, Catholic, Steelite) and none others, then Cyprian’s claim is clearly false.
  5. If (3) means “those who confess Jesus is the Risen Lord” or some such equivalent, then it is completely true.
  6. If (2, 5) then Protestants are within the True Church.
  7. If (6) then much ecclesiology needs to be rewritten.

God as Fugue: The Musical Theology of Robert Jenson (1)

Jenson, Robert W.  Systematic Theology vol 1.  Oxford University Press.

Robert W. Jenson’s systematic theology is refreshingly different from standard models.   Loosely drawing upon older medieval and early Reformational loci, Jenson gives us a succinct yet profound model for presenting theology.  True, Jenson does cover the standard loci (norms of authority, God, Christology, etc), but Jensons’s theology, either unlike others or more explicitly than others, operates from a common theme.  Jensons’s theme is “the identity of God.”  The way Jenson works this theme is similar to a musical fugue.  As he introduces his theme, he allows it to take upon itself different connotations with each repetition, ending in a stunning climax.

Norms of Authority

    Jenson’s approach here is very interesting.  He doesn’t simply say, “The Baahhbul alone is our authority.”  Perhaps we may fault him on that, but neither does he open himself up to immediate counters to that position.  He recognizes the inevitability of tradition in the Church’s identity, but he raises a question from that that few do:  it was tradition itself in the mid-2nd century that necessitated a formal canon.   The implication: tradition, whatever its specific liturgical content may have been, was no longer adequate to the Church’s life by itself.

    Jenson adds yet another key to this piece:  the Spirit’s life in the church (26ff).  Such a move sounds a lot like Eastern Orthodoxy, and it does incorporate a lot of Orthodoxy’s strengths on this point, but Jenson takes it to a different (and utterly more biblical) conclusion:  the Spirit’s presence is the in-breaking of the Kingdom, which opens God’s future to God’s people.  A Spirit-founded church is a future-moving church.

Jensons’s theme, accordingly, is “the identity of God.” The practice of theology, then, is “speaking this identity,” which is speaking the gospel.  Jenson defines the gospel as “Jesus of Nazareth, the one who….is risen from the dead.”

What is God’s identity?  Classical theology will say “3 Persons/1 Essence.” This is of course true, but the twilight of classical ontology and the current earthquakes from nihilism force clarification upon the theologian.  This is the Church’s opportunity.  Jenson identifies God as “The One who brought Israel out of Egypt” (44, quoting Exodus 20:2).  The New Testament expands this identity as “The One who raised Jesus from the dead.”  God is the one who rescued the Israelite from the dead.  It is important to see that God is identified by his events (59).  Jenson that follows with several profound meditations on the nature of idolatry.

The music is not yet finished.  We have easily established the Father’s identity.  We have hinted at (though not fully developed) a connection between the Father’s identity and that of his Son, the Resurrected Israelite.  We must now see how these two “connect” in identity without losing their differences, and the role of the Spirit in that connection.

God’s identity is told by his story.  In identifying God, we have a dramatis dei personae, “characters of the divine drama” (75).  Exegetes have since come to the conclusion that “Son” is often a title for Israel. Yet Israel as a fallen nation cannot live up to that sonship.  Another Israelite, God’s Son in a different sense, is with and by whom God is identified.   “He is God himself as a participant in Israel’s story” (76).  This leads naturally to an extended discussion of the Servant passages.  Jenson, contrary to many evangelicals, does not say that the “Servant” is simply code for “Jesus.”  He allows the Servant narratives to unfold and in the unfolding we see “Suddenly, the Servant is an individual within Israel” (80).  Giving his prophetic speech, rising from the dead, and ushering in eschatological peace, the Church could not help but identify this servant with the Son of David from Nazareth.  The next persona in the drama is the Spirit of the Lord.  Jenson does not at this point explicate the Spirit’s role-identity.

How are they One Being?

Jenson notes that classical pagan ontology identified “god” by metaphysical predicates.  Deity is a quality that can be participated in by degrees.  To bridge any gap, pagan metaphysicians would invoke relatively divine-human figures to mediate that deity.  From this standpoint, Jenson explains the work of the early Christian apologists until Origen and the role of Logos-theology.

Logos had a two-fold meaning:  the sense the world makes and the expression of that sense (96).  This allowed Justin Martyr to say that the Logos enthietos is eternal relative to God’s being (although there was some equivocation as to his timelessness)  but the Logos prophorikos is temporal relative to God’s creating act (97).   Besides obvious problems, Justin’s theology could not explain why there should only be one mediator between the divine realm and the temporal one, and not many like in Gnosticism and Paganism.

Origen sharpened this problematic.  In Jenson’s beautiful description, Origen “conceived of the work of Father, Son, and Spirit as a sort of inverted stepped cone: the Father gives being to all creatures, the Son opens  the knowledge of God to creatures capable of knowledge, and the Spirit performs the purification” (98).  Origen perfected and avoided Justin’s starker problems by exploiting a favorite image of classical antiquity:  the image.  A statue of painting is not its archetype but neither is it not its archetype.  “Being an image of something is a distinct mode of being” (98).  This allowed antiquity (and early Christians) to posit a descending hierarchy of images.

Anticipating Hegel (!), Origen, using this imagic model, can say, “In that God knows himself, there subsists God as the object this knowledge; and in that this knowledge is expressed with divine perfection, God-as-his-own-object in an actual other than God himself” (99).  Despite its beauty and profundity, Origen’s problematic was unstable.  Beginning from the presuppositions of pagan metaphysics, Origen could not avoid the question “How divine was the Logos, on a spectrum of being of sheer divine and sheer temporality?”  Any answer disrupts the inherent subordinationism.  Scripture, however, asks different questions:  Creator or creature?  Origen really couldn’t answer this question, either. Not surprisingly, the Arian crisis soon exploded this problematic.

Discussions of Arianism, Nicea, and Athanasius are well-known, so this section of the essay will be brief.  What is important to note is that key terms are beginning to be sharpened.  Ousia in early Nicea is what a thing is; hypostasis is the differentiation of it.

Despite the Nicene-Constantinople victory, we must note what they did not accomplish.  As Jenson notes, “The Cappadocians acknowledged only relations of origin as constitutive of the divine life.  Thus, the eschatological character was suppressed” (108).

How does God’s reality present itself in history?  Following Pannenberg (Systematiche Theologie, 3:333-347, quoted in Jenson 109n. 132) Jenson gives an interesting musing that “It is exactly in that Jesus or his Father or the Spirit refers absolutely from himself to one of the others as the One God that he is in a specific way a perfect correlate to that other, and so himself God within and of the history plotted by these referrals.”  Jenson will later clinch this argument by sharpening Gregory of Nyssa’s:  the term God for Gregory refers to the mutual action of the divine energies, to the perichoretic divine life” (214).  This being of God is not a something (and thus we avoid Heidegger’s destruction of classical ontology), but a palpable going-on…God is primally hypostatic: to be God the Father, or God the Son or God the Spirit, does not require that there antecedently be something one could call ‘God’” (214, 215; and thus we avoid Tillich’s critique of a quaternity).

Jenson’s discussion of Christology necessarily leads to a rather unique locus in his system:  Patrology.  This seems odd, since Patrology itself is not an ultimate norm for doing theology and authority.  True, but Patrology does function as a grammar of how to do theology, illustrating key moves and problems.   Those who ignore Patrology will find themselves unable to explain key problems in Christian theology.

Before we continue the discussion on Patrology, and in keeping with our musical theme, we should not Jenson’s masterful handling of the Holy Spirit and the Filioque debate.   It must be admitted that conservative American evangelicals have failed miserably on this point.  If I could think of harsher language, I would use it.  Jenson begins by noting the problems in Augustine’s formulation:  exactly how is one of the three specifically “spirit?”  If hypostases are identified by relations of origin (Father-Son), we have a further problem, since no relation appears in the name “Holy Spirit” (147).  Jenson then mentions Lossky’s poewrful argument against the West:  by positing the Father and Son as a single cause of the Spirit, the West has muted the hypostatic characteristics of both Father and Son.

How can we respond?  Before responding, we should briefly note the Eastern position.  The Father is the sole monarchy of the Godhead, but this isn’t subordinationist because “terms such as procession and origine are but inappropriate expressions for a reality alien to all becoming, all process, all beginning” (Lossky, A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu, 78, quoted in Jenson, 152).  Jenson remarks: “This is a vision of God as frozen as any we have encountered, and a new evacuation of Trinitarianism.  The trinitarian propositions in their Eastern use fail to describe the Father’s subordinating of the Son and the Spirit, we discover, only because they do not describe any action at all (Jenson, 152).

Lossky’s problem points back to Gregory Palamas.  Palamas employs the Cappadocians, but with a subtle difference.  The Saints participate in the divine energies, which are the divine life, but not in the divine ousia, deity sheerly as such.  The problem, though, is that the Cappadocians were a lot more flexible than Palamas.   Their use of the term ousia (Basil probably excepted) does not suggest anything other than the divine life.   Here is the problem for Palamas:

“It is one thing to say that abstract deity is itself always the same quality, as the Cappadocians did; it is quite another to say that deity taken as God himself is a static essence.  Ironically, Orthodoxy is here driven to a bluntly modalist doctrine:  God himself is above the biblical narrative, which applies only to his energies (153).  Perhaps most disastrously, Orthodoxy has a tendency to “reify the energies, the moments of the divine life, and at least in the case of the Spirit, the energies replace the person in the historical actuality of salvation” (157).

So what is Jenson’s solution?  By way of clarification, he explains Hegel’s famous “I-thou/Master-slave” analogy.  If you and I are to be free for one another, each of us must be both subject and object in our discourse.  If I am present, I am a subject whom you have as my object.  But if I am not an object for you as subject, if I somehow evade that, I enslave you.  I am not reciprocally available to you (155).

How then, can this mutual availability happen?  How is an I-Thou relationship possible without becoming a struggle for power?  (Jenson notes with humor that postmodernism carried out this program under a tutelage of horror!)  Jenson, in perhaps an unacknowledged Augustinian strain,notes, “there is freely given love…a third party in the meeting of ‘I’ and ‘Thou.   Thus, if you and I are to be free for one another, someone must be our liberator (okay, granted this isn’t the best term–JA)…If I am to be your object and you mine, so that we may be subjects for each other, there has to be one for whom we are both objects, and whose intention for us is our love for each other.  The theological conclusion is obvious.

Still, it does not fully answer the Filioque debate, at least not here. Jenson tentatively works toward a Western answer.   The debate over the Filioque is misplaced.  If God is indeed the God of the future, and we see Cappadocian hints of an ever-forward moving futurity in God, then does it not make more sense to see the better question as “The Spirit is the End and Goal of all God’s ways”?  East and West debate over the beginning Archimedean point when they should be discussing the divine goal as the Spirit’s Archimedean point” (157).  Quoting Pannenberg again, “The fault of the Filioque is that the true Augustinian insight that the Spirit is the fellowship of the Son and Father ‘was formulated in terms of relations of origin’” (Pannenberg, I: 347, quoted in Jenson, 157 n. 67).

Jenson has an interesting, yet ultimately unsatisfying chapter on the atonement.   He accepts many of the criticisms of Anselm:  strictly speaking, on Anselm’s view there is no need for the Resurrection.  Upon the death of Christ the transaction is complete.   Theology, unfortunately, remains incomplete.  Even more pointedly, “The New Testament speaks of God’s action to reconcile us to himself, and nowhere of God’s being reconciled to us” (186).  The problem, however, with these subjective critiques of Anselm, and the theories they represent, fail to say how Jesus’s death accomplished anything specific.

After a brief and interesting discussion of the Christus Victor model, Jenson proposes a liturgical understanding of the atonement:  the church’s primal way of understanding the atonement is that we live this narrative (189).  “We rehearse the Word-event in our lives.”  I am not exactly sure how he describes his proposal.  He gives an interesting outline of public liturgies during Passion week and ends with an admittedly interesting suggestion:

“If a theological proposition is one that says, ‘To be saying the gospel, let us say F rather than G,’ and if the gospel is spoken in language and by more embodied sorts of signs, by sacrament and sacrifice, then we must expect theology to take the form of ritual rubrics” (190).

This isn’t wrong, per se, and I can attest to the power of liturgy in my own life, but one suspects that Jenson himself isn’t entirely free from the critique he offered of subjective models:  precisely what happened on the cross?  He answers it was Israel’s denouement of her Scriptures” (183).  Very good and well said, but what does that have to do with me?

We must wait for the Resurrection for the answer to that question.  He asserts that it accomplishes our reconciliation to God.  With this we agree, but we suspect Scripture has said much more.

Jenson concludes his book with summary chapters on Spirit, Jesus, and the Being of the One God, incorporating much critical scholarship and noting the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

Conclusion:

Astute readers will notice some similarities between Jenson’s approach and that of David Bentley Hart. Both theologians write musically. There are some differences, to be sure.   Hart, for the most part, accepts classical ontology;  Jenson does not.   Jenson, further, is sympathetic to those in the Reformed tradition (see his spirited defense of Jonathan Edwards).  Hart’s vitriol towards Calvinism is well-known.  Most importantly, perhaps, is that Jenson can write in a coherent and readable (if sometimes dense) manner.  Hart cannot.

Appendix:  God and the Future

Our God is different from the Pagan gods because he is not afraid of “time.”  God’s acting in salvation for his people is an acting in time, “not defending against the future, but securing it” (67).  Gregory of Nyssa was on the verge of completely dismantling classical metaphysics hold on God-doctrine.  Identifying the divine ousia as infinity, Gregory took it a step forward and identified it as temporal infinity, a future-oriented infinity (infinity qua infinity would dissipate into nothingness, the temptation of absolute models of simplicity).  According to Jenson, “The Arians err defining God as having no beginning, when they should define God as having no end” (216).  In Jenson’s succint pjhrase, “The Father is the whence of the divine life; The Spirit is the whither, and the Son the specious present” (218-219).  The way in which the whence and the whither are one, the way in which the Triune God is eternal, is by the events in Jesus’s death and resurrection” (219).

Review Moltmann Coming of God

Moltmann, Jurgen.  The Coming of God.  Fortress Press.

Alternates between promising and atrocious.   He has some great sections on the nature of death and time, which are about as good as any I have read.  He shows nicely how Revelation 1 contrasts with Greek thought:  Christ is the one who is, and was, and is to come (notice he did not say “will be,” which is what a good Greek would have said).  This shows in a nutshell that the future is the coming of God.

Then proceeds with an analysis of Constantinian and Augustinian models of eschatology.  If the Kingdom has come in the presence of the State (the former) or the Church (the latter), then while a future coming of Christ might still be hoped for, such a hope will be marginalized because the Kingdom is already now.

He then torpedoes his own ship with a strange rant–and there is no other way to describe it–with a plea to save the environment and third-world countries.  I felt like I was at an Al Gore eco-terrorist conference.  I am not a free-market capitalist, and I admit horrible things have been done to the environment, but his analysis is simply off.  He claims that the evil white man made Africa poor.   Granted, the evil white man did horrible things, but a better claim would be that the European exacerbated an already bad situation. Even before the European came, many tribes were selling each other into slavery, practicing magic, and worshiping idols.  The European didn’t cause that.  (I do agree with him on forgiving third-world debt.  I’m not sure it will fix anything, but it is a nice sentiment:  if a civilization doesn’t have a strong work ethic and a future-oriented vision, change will simply not happen.).

He ends with a nice section on the future feast of God, which is a much better model of the afterlife than merely contemplating the Platonic Forms for all eternity.

The reason I focus on Eastern Orthodoxy

I know I seem myopic on this point, and I don’t want to just “beat up” on Eastern Orthodoxy (though they have no problem with the ubiquitous calling Protestants heretics).  I focus on rebutting Eastern Orthodoxy because so much of it is actually true.  Take their triadology, for instance.  While it dead-ends in many ways, it is still valuable and essential reading.   The Platonic background is beautiful.   I cannot agree with the Platonic metaphysics of Gregory of Nyssa and Company, but who can deny its utter beauty?

The Filioque

I understand when Reformed people first read the Filioque and immediately think that Rome screwed the world over.  It’s hard to avoid that conclusion.  Politically speaking, Byzantium has a case.  I disagree with Eastern Orthodoxy’s reading of ek monou Patrou.  But I understand why they hold to it.  I think the whole debate is flawed and both sides read the terms in the same problematic.

Participation Ontologies

Their Platonic metaphysics is simply beautiful.  When I listen to Matt Johnson lecture on Nyssa, Eurigena, and Logos-theology, I am simply in awe.  However, beautiful though it might be, it simply cannot mesh 100% with Scripture.   Eschatology and Federalism offer a better ontology.

Eschatology is the locus of a federal ontology.  It is an announcement of the good news from afar off (Isaiah 52:7ff).   Participation (realist?) ontologies, by contrast, struggle with the concept of good news. Horton writes, “It is unclear how the gospel as good news would figure into his [John Milbank, but also any Dionysian construction–OA] account of redemption, since ‘news’ implies an extrinsic annoucnement of something new, something that does not simply derive from the nature of things (169).  What he means is that those who who hold to participationist ontologies–chain of being–see a continuum between God and man.  Any saving that happens to man happens within that continuum.   The announcement of good news, by contrast, comes from without.   To borrow Horton’s delightful phrase, a federal ontology is meeting a stranger, whereas a participationist ontology is overcoming estrangement.

Praxis

Critiques of icons aside, I understand why people would prefer the Eastern view of iconography over the Western statuesque view.  I was never tempted to venerate Roman statues.  They were simply ugly.  Still, I have to wonder:  are we not literally playing with fire?  Indeed, Yahweh is the voice from the fire (Dt 4). Yahweh brought fire and death to Jerusalem and Samaria for syncretistic religion.  I have no problem with iconographic representations of saints, provided people aren’t talking with the dead or kissing the image.