Memorials aren’t Zwinglian

Some high church Protestants over-react against Zwinglianism as an over-reaction against Rome.   They say, “See, we have a high view of the sacraments, too, even if we don’t impute archaic philosophical systems to it.”    Then we have a problem when the New Testament says “Do this in remembrance of me.”  That’s memorial (and not substance-!) language.

But I don’t think it is Zwinglian, either.   God always has at least two witnesses to his promises.  In our case it is Word and Oath.   The language of “signs” is appropriate, as Augustine understood, but it is far richer than Augustine could have imagined.  “Signs” aren’t merely “think on this as an aid to devotion,” but an objective testimony of God’s action in history.  When Joshua created the stone memorials of God’s work, they still functioned as signs of God’s promise even if no one were to subjectively appropriate them.

Jordan interestingly ties sacramental theology to the Trinitarian processions.

What, then, is the relation between the Second and Third Per-sons of God? If we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Fatheronly, then Word and Sacrament are independent, separate revela-
tions. Each stands alone. This has been the position of some East-ern Orthodox theologians.
If we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, then the Sacrament is only a confirmation of the Word, and secondary to it. It is a supplement, which we can take or leave.
This is the unconscious view of most protestants.
If we say, rightly, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and also from the Son, then the Sacrament is tied to the Word inseparably (proceeding from the Son), yet is also a separate line of testi-
mony (proceeding from the Father). Because the Spirit proceedsfrom the Son, the Sacrament should be done liturgically after the proclamation of the Word. Because the Spirit proceeds from the
Father, the Sacrament should be regarded as a distinct revelationof God, different in mode, but not in content, from the Word
(Sociology of the Church, 41).

On fighting politics with politics and why it is bad

I am settling on a thesis that Satan co-opted the Federal Vision right where it could have had constructive promise.   Note of course that I fully reject FV.   Still, many of their perspectives on liturgy (to the degree they can be squared with the RPW) and Old Testament theology allowed one to reject Modernity, avoid postmodernity, and begin to offer a constructive Protestantism.    And then everything went to Hades.  And I don’t think that is coincidental.

So, this leads me to begin my “Merry Protestantism” project.  One doesn’t need to accept Leithart’s “End of Protestantism” thesis, but he does have a point that we really haven’t seen a truly constructive Reformed theology.   Bucer came close.  We have lived off of previous negations–and theologies built upon negations and apophaticisms do not long last.

And this leads to the point of the post:  I do not think it is helpful to oppose various political systems merely by acknowledging them as “the bad guys.”  Most thinking conservative Christians have probably by now come to the realization that the Republican Party had been pimping them (and probably literally sometimes, given Washington sex scandals) for votes.   This leads to several (ultimately doomed) alternatives:   the Ron/Rand Paul movement and various 3rd parties.  Having drunk deeply of Reformation politics, both of these are dead-ends.

Some Orthodox friends of mine have suggested a return to monarchy.  I actually like that idea.  I’m not entirely sure how it will get off the ground in America, but it’s no less Quixotic than voting 3rd Party.

Liturgy as Political Theology

This is where the FV actually had real potential.  They saw that liturgy–and at its most basic that word simply means an order of worship–was the enacting of another narrative, one which proclaimed Yahweh-in-Messiah as Lord over the nations.   The Lord’s Feast could even be seen as a new economics:  it pointed (signs!) towards the ultimate Kingdom feast that broke down the barriers yet still retained otherness and difference.  And if this is all that the Moscow-Canon Press writers would have said, well and good.  Unfortunately, the FV is now plutonium and these themes really can’t be handled today.

Typology as Theology on the Attack

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As a premillennialist I am a bit wary of excessive typologies.  Normally they run something like, “Well, John is using figurative language and that is a typology so this means premillennialism is false.”   All that may well be true, but that’s a lazy argument (though it might get you tenure at a seminary).  Still, seeing literary patterns in Scripture allows one to do biblical theology on a new front.   Had David Dorsey’s book on the Old Testament been written 200 years earlier, the Documentary Hypothesis would have never gotten off the ground (maybe that accounts for some of the academy’s anger towards Dorsey’s work).

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.