Ontology is chiastic

Much of my project consists in rejecting the view that there is an entity behind the entity that is the real entity.  When played out in terms of creation and soteriology, this means that deliverance is the overcoming of estrangement (Tillich/Horton) and the rescue from finitude. (I would quote some examples from Orthodox Bridge where they say precisely this, but people would then call shenannigans since it isn’t a scholarly venue.  Fair enough)   A narratival ontology by contrast is dynamic, forward-moving, and is redeemed by the spoken word whose echoes (literally, since sound is the vibration of air) redeem the cosmos.

Another interesting thought:  narrative and covenant are related.  We really can’t know the existence of a covenant pact except in the narrative from which it arises. Have we not also seen that covenant is a category that can also answer ontological questions?  Which model is more relevant to biblical life, participationist schemes or narratival schemes?  Ontologians (forgive the neologism) speak of ousias, overcoming the carapaces of embodiment (Milbank), entities behind the ousia, etc.   A covenantal narrative speaks of blood, cutting, hair, flesh, presence, and genital emissions.   Which model is relevant not only to the biblical narrative but also to real life?

Reformed theology is accused of being nominalist.  It’s hard to see how this is so.  On the other hand, it is not immediately clear why we should favor philosophical realism in its ancient or medieval forms.   The contrast between these two systems allows the Reformed to posit a more robust ontology:  verbalism.   Realism, whether Platonic or Thomist, sees the forms as extra/intra mental realities.   That’s well and good, but at the end of the day the forms are either still in my mind or in Plato’s world above the world. And that’s it.  The Covenantalist sees ultimate reality in the spoken Word.    Imaging Creator Yahweh, our words, whether good or bad, create new situations and new realities.  To be sure, we can’t create physical entities ex nihilo, but the situations are no less real because of that.   In terms of salvation, these spoken realities approach us extra nos.

(Recommended reading:)
Horton, Michael, Four Volume Series on Covenant
Leithart, Peter.  Brightest Heaven of Invention, pp. 223ff

In Practice

  • A participationist model will approach the Lord’s Feast asking how the elements change.  A covenantalist will ask is this not a manifestation of the joy of the kingdom and of Yahweh’s victory?  A covenantalist approach let’s Yahweh feed us and isn’t worried about the elements changing our ontological status.
  • A participationist model is vertical.  It is more interested in the Forms and in moving to a higher degree of finitude (which will ultimately be overcome).  A covenantalist is horizontal:  it is focused on the in-breaking of Yahweh’s kingdom in history.  I understand that the anchorites speak of Kingdom in their eucharistic services.  That may be so, but it is ultimately dwarfed by a focus on what the elements do.  Incidentally, this is the real value of what the word “rite” really meant.  When Yahweh spoke of signs, it usually meant “sit back and watch this.”  It meant Yahweh was acting mightily for his people’s deliverance.

Nota Bene:   is not the idea (oops) of Sign eschatological?  It points to the final reality but is not the final reality; yet, the final reality is in some small way present in the sign.  Never lose the tension between the sign and the thing signified, for that tension is in its essence eschatological.

Revisiting an old “kingdom-gospel” argument of mine

Years ago I was fairly hard-core New Perspective on Paul.  I don’t think several forms of NPP necessarily led to Tridentine Catholicism, but it is certainly a move away from some Reformation teachings.  Obviously, I’m in the Reformation camp now.   What is interesting is that I am reading through some old study bibles of mine.  I have the ESV Journaling bible which allows for copious notetaking in the margins.

http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Bible-Standard-Journaling-Original/dp/158134838X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392549044&sr=1-2&keywords=esv+journaling+bible

I was reading parts of Isaiah yesterday (which, aside from the gospel of Matthew is really the only piece of literature I would take with me to a desert island) and came across 52:7

Blessed are the feet of those who proclaim good news,
who publish tidings of salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

That is my favorite verse in the Bible.  Look at the underlined sections:  Gospel, salvation, Reigns.  Following the structure of Hebrew poetry, we can easily see that “salvation” and “reigns” expand the idea of “good news,” or gospel.  In the margins I have written “Cf. Romans 1:3-4,” which says,

concerning his Son, who was descended from David[b] according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord

The word “concerning” is referring back to the subject of the sentence in verse 1, which is “gospel.”  Here we see that the Gospel is that the Davidic king, Jesus of Nazareth, is raised from the dead and is Lord of the world.

In my NPP days I asked, “What does that mean for justification?”  I won’t bother with my answer now, but I realized: it does nothing to the Reformed understanding of justification.  It simply empowers it.  Let’s go back to the motion of Isaiah 52.  It is a proclamation.  Whatever else the gospel and salvation are, they are a “proclamation” of what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth  Everything WSC 33 says about justification is absolutely true and we shouldn’t budge from that one iota.   This above understanding further strengthens the case by realizing that justification is not transformation, it is not sanctification, it is not union with Christ, it is not theosis, however important those topics are in their own right.  It is above all an extra-nos announcement of what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth.

Don’t let nobody take your joy!

The poor grammar is deliberate.  One of the most precious spiritual joys I have–have had–can have–is hearing the announcement extra nos that God reigns and that the finished work of Christ applies pro me, and that nothing can snatch me out of Jesus’s hands. Jesus really did something on the cross.  He really bought me back from the slave pens of Egypt.  He really gave me His Holy Spirit as a down-payment which guarantees future blessings.

That is literally the best pillow someone can have.  People think I have a bulldog mentality on Anchoretic traditions.  It’s not that I can’t change my mind and won’t change the subject.  If my life is any indicator–and please do not do as I did–I can attest to the loss of joy for almost five years.  Here’s how it happened.

I started studying the early church and Trinitarianism around 2007.  Even now it was a rewarding experience.  But some problems came up and I just couldn’t deal with them.  I came across sayings from Cyprian, “Outside the Church There is No Salvation” and numerous ones from Ignatius along the lines of “Stay close to the bishop” and “schismatics forfeit the kingdom of God” (sorry John of San Francisco).  I came to reason:  sh!+, I better make sure I am in the right church, because on these guys’ glosses, even if they don’t draw the inevitable logical conclusion, If I am in the wrong church I am going to roast in hell for all eternity.  I lost sleep for weeks, if not months, at a time.

SIDEBAR:  My focus of salvation at this point was more on “which organization am I in so that I can be saved” rather than the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Of course, God did not leave me without witnesses.  Ironically, it was N.T. Wright’s work on the Gospels that made me realize that even if Orthodoxy is true, N.T. Wright’s exegesis is just better.

And it does no good to say, “Oh, even though those saints said that, we don’t mean that.  Who knows who is going to be in heaven and hell?”  Well, the problem is that those statements by those men have to mean something and if you say no one can know, then Cyprian’s and Ignatius’s statements are simply pointless and devoid of all meaning.  If that’s the case, please stop quoting them since on your gloss they don’t mean anything.  I am not in his organization; therefore, I cannot be saved.  Being damned is the contrary of being saved. Q.E.D.

I’m skipping a lot of material, but one of the men that helped me get this straight is Michael Horton.   I didn’t want to read him earlier because as theonomists, we were taught to hate Horton because of his (admittedly) schizophrenic social ethics.  This was a shame, since Horton was one of the few Reformed writers who could actually mount a response to Anchoretism.    His response was in the way of ontology.   I’ve summarized these elsewhere.   It is simply unanswerable.

Concurrent with Horton’s project was Bruce McCormack’s lectures on Christology.  I would link to them but in a moment of failure of nerve, the Henry Center took them down.    Besides showing some fatal tensions in Cyril’s project, if McCormack’s reading is correct and the post-Damascene tradition relies on substance metaphysics, then the believer is fully warranted in rejecting that tradition.  Further, if that infallible tradition is indeed shown to be quite fallible, then they aren’t an infallible tradition after all.

But here are some thoughts on the Ignatian claim:

  1. Granted that Ignatius makes much of Christ at times, but to the extent that claims of “staying close to the bishop for salvation” take prominence, to that extent Christ has been eclipsed.
  2. Admitting that Ignatius was close to the apostle John, how are we epistemically warranted to project Ignatius’s vision onto the whole of the Roman Empire?
  3. Most basic of all questions, “Who died and made him king?”  Why should we privilege his statements more than any others?

This next line is more subjective, but here goes.  Why would God mislead Martyn Lloyd-Jones?   The better model is that God simply wanted to shed his love abroad in MLJ’s heart.  (I realize my example is quite problematic for Reformed Cessationists!)

The Gospel as “Outside”

Good news (or Gospel)–Isaiah 52:6-7–is always from “the outside.” It is extra nos.  By definition, any announcement of good news must come from outside ourselves.   This is radically at odds with any soteriology that views salvation as hinging on an interior-principle.  If my problem with reality is ontological, then what is the point of a good news announcement?  In that case, I don’t need anything from the outside.   I need an interior renovation to help me overcome the perpetual slide into non-being.

Announcement as Theosis

All reality is infused with language.  Language mediates everything.   We do not need “substance-altering” models of soteriology in order to avoid nominalism.  The very nature of speech itself demonstrates this.   Sound echoes in vibrations in the air.  These are real.  God speaks and creation happens.   That is real.   Why is it less real when God speaks “not guilty” in our justification?

God speaks and it echoes throughout both soul and body.  Call this the beginning of theosis, if you will.