Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christian Ethics: A Brief History

The next book I'm going to reflect on is not a "classic" text on theology, but it discusses many classic texts. It is Christian Ethics: A Brief History by Michael Banner. It was just published this last year.

This book comments on a few important texts for the development of Christian Ethics throughout the ages. It discusses Benedict's Rule, The City of God by Augustine (and Augustinian theology as a whole), Aquinas' work on ethics, Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, Karl Barth's Dogmatics as well as John Paul II's work on the sanctity of life.

But I won't be looking at each of these works individually. Rather, I'll just be making comments about the comments made. This isn't how most of the blog will be, but I want to get ahead in my writing somewhat, and this gives me a space of time to write about the next book before it's up in the blog.

BTW, the next volume after this is A.W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy. We've got some other good books as well on the shelf. Poetry by Leo of Leon, Works by Pseudo-Dionysus , some Quaker Spirituality and more. Lots of fun stuff.

The Seven-Fold Spirit

At the end of the Tree of Life, Bonaventure has a beautiful prayer based upon Isaiah 11:2:

“We, therefore, pray to the most kind Father through you, his only-begotten Son, who for us became man, was crucified and glorified that he send us out of his treasures the Spirit of sevenfold grace who rested upon you in all fullness:
The Spirit, I say, of wisdom, that we may taste the life giving flavors of the fruit of the tree of life, which you truly are;
The gift also of understanding, by which the intentions of our mind are illumined;
The gift of counsel, by which we may follow in your footsteps on the right paths;
The gift of fortitude, by which we may be able to weaken the violence of our enemies’ attacks;
The gift of knowledge, by which we may be willed with the brilliant light of your sacred teaching to distinguish good and evil;
The gift of piety, by which we may acquire a merciful heart;
The gift of fear, by which we may draw away from all evil and be set at peace by submitting in awe to your eternal majesty.”

On the one hand, I might disagree with the seven-fold spirit being used for our personal gain. For Isaiah 11 is speaking of a community of justice, established when the one true king comes to rule over Israel as the great just empire, in which the perfect law of God would be done and all people within would rest in peace and security and plenty.

On the other hand, the way Bonaventure uses it is by asking for the seven-fold spirit to come upon us through the life and teachings of Jesus, recognizing that it is only Jesus that we can receive true knowledge and true piety—which Bonaventure calls compassion—and true counsel. There is much truth here, and we should pray this prayer and understand it fully.

A Great Necessity

“There is then a great necessity imposed upon us to be good, since all our actions are within the view of the all-seeing Judge.” –Bonaventure quoting Boethius

Judgement Day

Why should there be a judgment day? Why doesn’t Jesus just change people from within and let the world be changed? Because, first of all, Jesus doesn’t force people to do what is right. Whether they have the Spirit or not, every person makes their own choice to do evil to others or to do good. And it only takes one evil person to ruin a whole community—as we saw in 9-11.

The goal of eschatology is justice in community. We cannot abide to have Idi Amins in the community of God. The oppressors must be weeded out. In the community will only be the merciful, the forgiving, the helpful, the servants, the ones who live for God. No one else will be welcome.

How does God know who will be who? He will ask witnesses to come. But witnesses will only show what others do or don’t do, not what they “believe.” And, in the end, this is what faith is: acting for God, according to God’s will. All scripture says what Bonaventure quotes: “All the secrets of all will be revealed to all… each will receive according to his deeds.” Because our deeds show us for who we really are more than what we say we believe.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Being Like Jesus: A Scriptural Guide

I John 2:6
By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

I Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

II Thessalonians 3:5
May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.

Matthew 20:26-28
It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Philippians 2:3-8
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Matthew 10:24-25
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!

Luke 9:22-24
The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.

I Peter 2:19-23
God is pleased, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps— he who committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth; and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.

Romans 8:16-17
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

I Timothy 1:16
Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

John 20:21
Jesus said to them, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

John 14:12-13
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

John 15:7
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Revelation 3:21
He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Revelation 2:26-27
He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations—and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces— as I also have received authority from My Father

John 17:22-23
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.

John 15:11
These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Some Thoughts on Jesus' Life

Well, I'm overnight at the church with folks who need to not freeze to death, so I don't have Bonaventure to consult. But since I only have one section to go, Bonaventure's conclusion, I thought I would offer some concluding thoughts on Jesus' life.

It says in Paul that those who have faith are saved. But it is interesting that in the Greek he does not say that those who have faith "in" Christ will be saved, but rather those who have the faith "of" Christ. I know most translations say "in", but the Greek doesn't support that, as Richard Hays radically proclaimed in his monograph on Galatians.

What does that mean? What I get from that is that it is those who follow the model of Jesus' faith are those who are saved, not necessarily those who sign a statement of doctrine. Jesus' life is one to have as a model of Christian life. Not just sometimes, but exclusively.

This does not mean, however, that we should follow Jesus' every action literally. We don't need to speak Aramaic, wander through Galilee or preach to crowds. In the New Testament, they saw Jesus' life as having principles of the life of the one who will enter into God's kingdom.

For instance, we should live sacrificially for others, giving up our well-being, even perhaps our very lives for the sake of others.

We should live a life of meeting other's needs.

We should be drawing people to God in word and deed.

We should be kind to others, even if that means saying some harsh things.

We should be ready to change our lives for God's sake.

We should be pure, innocent, but ready to be crafty for God's will to be done.

Of course, it is difficult, actually impossible, to live this way. This is why we need, as humans, Jesus' teaching as well as his life. Jesus taught us to repent, to confess and to turn away from sin. This is a process, not a one time event.

We are to follow Jesus. This means living like Him, living in his footsteps. But if we make a misstep, then we turn back. The Christian life is direction, not perfection.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Catholic Church?

By the time of Bonaventure, there was no way he could truthfully say that the Church is “unified as a single whole.” The Eastern and Western church had declared each other heretics, and both declared any church which disagreed with any part of the Nicene Creed (even a single word!) to be heretical. Perhaps the church wasn’t as divided as it is today, but the seeds of that division were already planted and few of the church has turned away from it.

The Work of the Spirit

Bonaventure, like a good Catholic, sees the working of the Spirit as the creation of the Church—the organization of Jesus’ body with people as members of it. But the Church isn’t the result of the Spirit so much as we see the true Church by the working of the Spirit. The Spirit is not in the building of buildings, organizations or hierarchies. Nor is the main work of the Spirit in tongues in miracles. Rather, the work of the Spirit is this: faith in God by His former enemies, and love for enemies in the hearts of God’s people.

Descent to Hell

Why did Jesus go to hell?

(One thing, however, it was not “hell” or simply a place of punishment, but Sheol, which had both hades and a place of paradise)

Scripturally, there are two answers.

First, in order to preach the gospel to those captive to death. Jesus is the first to explain to the masses already dead why they are where they are. People who lived lives that were as good as anyone else had it explained to them that they needed to repent to be a part of God’s kingdom. And to those who were without bodies, but righteous in God’s eyes, Jesus explains that they will receive new bodies and that through Him, they can not access God and make requests.

Secondly, Jesus “took captivity captive”—he took those who had repented in their lives, and had faith in God, and he brought them into the presence of God, as a part of his kingdom.

Bonaventure has Jesus going to hell after his ascension. That… doesn’t make sense to me. He’d go to Sheol after he died and gets exalted some in his resurrection and then he is exalted the rest of the way in his ascension.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Ascension

Why did Jesus ascend? It would be so much better if he were here, with us. Then we wouldn’t be so divided because he would be guiding us. No one could say, “Jesus isn’t like you say” because there he’d be, in front of us. No one could deny the power of God. It wouldn’t be in secret—we’d be living for him, in his presence.

So why does he hide? Because he knows where the power of the universe is. He is invited to be at the center of the universe, where the greatest work can be done. He left us with the task of doing what needs to be done, by His power.

Free-Will Christendom

Bonaventure quotes passages of Jesus sending the disciples out to all the world to preach the gospel, and he names it “Jesus given dominion over all the earth.” Well, I do believe that Jesus was given dominion, but is his sending the disciples out a sign of that dominion. He is sending them out as ambassadors, not as rulers.

Rather, the disciples are giving out an invitation to be a part of a spiritual kingdom. Everyone may, if they so choose, abandon their citizenship to this world, to these nations, to all the systems corrupted by Satan, and become a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom, of the just law and the just ruler, where the poor are cared for. But this is not dominion, for every person must make their own choice as to whether they accept citizenship in this kingdom. No one is born to it, everyone must accept it, willingly.

So Jesus, in a sense, does have dominion, but only over those who willingly surrender themselves to him and his kingdom.

Why The Resurrection?

Jesus was resurrected because he had offered himself like a sacrifice.

My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:11-12

It is the law of reversals—that which you grant for the sake of others’ will be granted to you on the last day. But as a hint of what is to come, and to grant us the Kingdom to live in now, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. And this offer is not just for Him, but for all of us who choose to live a righteous life before God and to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


"Angels appear attractive to the devout and severe to the wicked.” -Bonaventure

The Battle

“Now that the combat of the passion was over, and the bloody dragon and raging lion thought that he had secured a victory by killing the Lamb, the power of the divinity began to shine forth in his soul as it descended into hell.” -Bonaventure

I love the battle imagery that Bonaventure uses here. It is so true, it was a battle. And just as the witch thought that the battle was one-sided and that Aslan was defeated, the evil one was mistaken in the outcome of the war. For his greatest defeat was yet to come.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Burial of Jesus

God bless Joseph and Nicodemus! They may have been cowards, but they were there for Jesus when they could truly offer him assistance.


In Bonaventure’s eighth section, he speaks much about the blood of Christ. And well he should, given the Catholic theology he believed. The blood, so they say, is the grace of God, granted through the mass. It is for this reason that Mel Gibson has mass volumes of blood flowing out of Jesus in his Passion of the Christ. Some called that film “realistic”, but Gibson wasn’t working toward realism in the scenes that showed blood. Rather, he was symbolically demonstrating the pouring of Jesus grace and salvation upon everyone who came to him.

But in my anawimic (not Catholic) theology, this is in error (although I have nothing but esteem for my Catholic brothers and sisters). It is not the mass that offers God’s grace, but the martyrdom and the sacrifice of God’s people. It is the suffering and rejection of those who do mercy, of those who follow Jesus, that is where the grace is poured out. The one who lives for himself all week and then comes to receive the mass, even after confession, does not necessarily receive God’s grace.

Rather, God’s grace is for the poor, the persecuted, the lowly, the rejected, the outcast. God reserves His grace for those who need it. And the ones most in need of salvation are those who society has rejected. God is there for them. And the blood of Jesus was shed to show that those who live the life of Jesus would get the opportunity to live the second life of Jesus.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Torn Veil

Why was the temple veil torn in two? Because it was the priests that killed Jesus.

Yes, technically, they had the Romans do the dirty work, but Pilate had declared him innocent, it was the priests who manipulated the political situation to have Jesus killed. It was the priests who declared him guilty and worthy of death. It was the priests who arranged to have him arrested, who had judged him before he even went on trial. The priests— those who were the rulers of the Jewish people throughout the world, who were charged with the upholding of God’s law, who were the mediators of God’s grace and covenant— they took the most righteous man and declared him guilty and killed him. They took the one that best represented God’s will and they put him in shame outside the city of God.

Because of this, the cult, the very temple/priest system itself was no longer worthy of God’s glory. The glory that filled the Holy of Holies from the beginning of the temple, the presence of God that was represented by the lights on Hanukah—that glory departed from the temple, leaving destruction in its wake. All of the spiritual power that the Temple represented, it was gone. The priests didn’t know this—they weren’t aware of God’s presence for a while. So for them the veil ripping was a problem they had to take care of, possibly a form of vandalism. But for God is was the decisive moment—no longer would the presence of God be found in the Temple. Rather, it would be found in the person of Jesus and His people.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Anawim's Deliverance Psalm 22, Part 2

In the first part of Psalm 22, we read about a man who was in dire circumstances. He was accused of being evil by the people of God, and so he was attacked and judged. They began to tear him to pieces, to torture him, to strip him naked and to mock him. Then they began to close in… But the psalmist’s cry was wondering where is God in all this? He was innocent—was God going to deliver him? Shouldn’t God deliver him? Or did God agree with his attackers—that he was evil and accursed by God?

But You O Yahweh, be not distant.
My strength, hasten to my aid.
Deliver my life from the sword
My only life from the dogs power.
Save me from the lion's mouth,
From the horns of the wild oxen deliver me.

The psalmist now, in the most dire of circumstances, cries out to God. Up until this point in the psalm, the psalmist has not actually asked God for help. He complained to God that God hadn’t saved him yet, but he has not asked for help. Now the psalmist is direct in his request. He knows that no one can save him but God. God is his knight on shining armor, his Dudley Doright, coming to save him in the last minute. Before in the psalm, the psalmists enemies are describes as dogs—because they are encircling him—as a lion—because they attack with intent to kill—and as bulls—because of their mauling him. Now he is asking God to deliver him from these three creatures.

I will proclaim Your name to my brothers;
In the midst of the assembly, I will praise you.
You who fear Yahweh, praise Him!
All you descendents of Jacob, honor Him!
And stand in awe of Him, all you descendents of Israel.
For He has not spurn or abhor the plight of the anawim
He did not hide His face from him
When he cried out to Him for help, He listened.
From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.

If God delivers him, the psalmist makes a promise—he will glorify God before his people. Obviously, it is not all of God’s people attacking the psalmist. Perhaps only a select group of leaders. But God always leaves a remnant of people who truly love him and worship him. This remnant is whom the psalmist is really family with—the anawim. The anawim are those who have faced terrible troubles, but still trusted in God through them. Perhaps his own family rejected him, but God has given him one who really love and serve God. And among these people, the anawim will declare his deliverance. They will not be left in the midst of these enemies—delivered to death and torture. No, they will be delivered by God, and able to proclaim God’s true nature.
God is not the God of forsaking—He is the God of deliverance. God pays attention to the innocent and abused, the anawim. He does not leave them alone. Sure, it may seem that God has left the anawim alone for a period of time, but in the end God will save them and punish the ones who destroy his innocent people. The anawim cry out to God, and expect his deliverance. And so, when the deliverance comes, they give praise to God’s name, who acted for them!

The anawim will eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise Yahweh
May your hearts live forever!

These anawim are the true people of God. Yes, they all go through terrible circumstances at times. They are persecuted, they suffer, they are hated, they are torn apart—but God delivers them. And after that deliverance, God gives abundance. They have abundant food, and they are able to praise God. Only those who have experienced deliverance can praise. Only those who gain their hearts desire express joy. And this joy isn’t just for a period of time—it is eternal. The people of God—those who are destroyed by the evil, but stick with God throughout the ordeal—will be kept alive by God forever, secure and safe.
This is the promise of Jesus. Not eternal life for everyone who claims Jesus or who loves God. Rather, eternal life for those who suffer and stick with God (Mark 8:34-37; Mark 13:13). God will resurrect those who died suffering for Him. And they will have joy in place of suffering, communion instead of hatred, exaltation instead of humiliation.

All the ends of the earth take note and turn to Yahweh;
The clans of the nations bow down to You.
For the kingdom is Yahweh's
And he rules over the nations.

Not only is this promise for those among Israel, but it is for all who love God, no matter what nation they are of. All peoples will have an opportunity to love God, serve him, and receive of his salvation. They, too, were abused by God’s people and so they will be delivered, if only they trust in Him. And God will give the opportunity.
Jesus, through his suffering, opened up the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not just for those born in the nation of Israel. Many immigrants, many hopeless of all the nations, will be welcomed into God’s people and given an opportunity to live for Him.

All who wallow in the ashes of the earth will eat and bow down;
All who go down to the dust will kneel before Him;
Even he who cannot keep his life alive.

The anawim, however—those who were humiliated and abused because they stayed with God—they are God’s special people. They cannot help themselves, so God will help them. God is there for them and will keep them alive for all time because they worshipped Him in their terror, their destruction, their death. God loves them and keeps them forever.

Their descendents will serve Him;
It will be told of Yahweh to future generations.
And they will come and declare his righteousness
To a people not yet born that He does act.

Not only do these whom God love, the anawim, have a special place before God, but so do their children. The descendents of the anawim will make a new people. This new people will go from generation to generation, praising God for what He has done for their forefathers. They will all remember God’s deliverance, praise him for it, and God’s name will be declared to all the world for the sake of His deliverance.

So, although Psalm 22 begins as a complaint, it ends as a hymn in praise of God’s deliverance. Because God is the God of the anawim, God is the God of deliverance. God is always ready to act, the psalmist declares, and even in the face of death, he proclaims God’s power and love. This is why Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross. Not because he was declaring God’s rejection of him. Just the opposite. He was proclaiming his unity with the anawim, and their resurrection and the beginning of God’s kingdom. Although he only stated a line—as much as he could state during his time of oxygen deprivation—he was referring to the whole. Not just the complaint of the anawim, but the promise of deliverance due to the suffering for the sake of God.

David and Jesus' Suffering Psalm 22, part 1

For the overseer; According to "The Deer of the Dawn"; A Psalm of David
This is a psalm that is spoken of as being David’s. However, we do not know if it was written by David himself, speaking of one of his times of failure, a psalmist trying to write like David, or a descendent of David. We do know, however, that it is not just speaking of David. It is speaking of whoever finds him or herself in a situation that is described. In the Christian tradition, this psalm is most often related to the death of Jesus. In fact, the description of Jesus’ death in the gospels is closely related to this psalm, beyond all other passages in the Old Testament. This is probably the best prophetic description of Jesus’ death there is.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so distant from delivering me; from my roar?
My God, I cry by day but You do not answer.
By night and there is no rest.

The psalm begins with a complaint to God. The psalmist is in terrible trouble, and continues to cry out to God, but hears nothing from Him. The psalmist is not claiming that God has forsaken him because the psalmist isn’t experiencing a mystical sense of God—rather, he is proclaiming God’s rejection of him because God hasn’t helped him yet. The psalmist is in dire circumstances, being attacked unjustly and God is just doing nothing.
This passage is one of the most famous in the psalms because of Jesus’ declaring the same expression as he was on the cross (Mark 15:34). Some claim that Jesus is declaring his separation from God due to his “becoming sin”. However, the only way that Jesus “became sin” is the same way the psalmist did—he was unjustly hated and destroyed by his fellows. Those who should have honored him, shamed, hated and abused him. He was declared sinful despite his evidence. And, like the psalmist, while Jesus was on the cross, God did nothing. He allowed the evil death sentence be carried out.

Yet You are the Holy One
Enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our ancestors trusted in You
They trusted and You delivered them
They cried out to You and escaped;
They trusted in You and were not disappointed.

Here, the psalmist remembers the stories of his forefathers in the past. The ancients, such as Jacob, Joseph and Moses, were often in dire circumstances, such as the psalmist, and God was there for them. They waited on God, trusted in Him, and prayed to God—and then God answered. The psalmist then is implying—you did it for them, why not me? If you are the God of deliverance, why haven’t I been delivered?

But I am a worm and not a man
A reproach of men and despised by the people.
All who see me, mock me;
Sneer with the lip and shake with the head.
"Commit yourself to Yahweh-- let Him deliver Him;
Let Him save Him because He cares for him."

The psalmist then answers his own question—he is not delivered because he has been completely rejected by his fellows. The very people who have been delivered by God—they are the ones who have rejected this poor man. He is being so thoroughly rejected by God’s people that he can no longer even call himself human—now he is an insignificant, disgusting, worm. No one would say a good word to him. Everyone who sees him makes fun of him. They know that he claims Yahweh to be his savior—“So” they say, “why isn’t Yahweh delivering you? If God really cared that much about you, then shouldn’t you already be delivered?”
Even so was Jesus rejected and mocked like this. It was God’s own people, given the authority of God to judge sinners among the people, who claimed that Jesus was a blasphemer—claiming to be one who sits next to the throne of God. Crucifixion itself was the indication of the curse of God, and everyone who walked by was to participate in this cursing. The rulers of God’s people came to Jesus and, knowing that the power of God flowed through him, said, “If God’s power is with you, why hasn’t He saved you? Why don’t you come down, by God’s power? Obviously, you are the one cursed by God.” (Matthew 27:42-43; Mark 15:36) Even though Jesus was innocent.

Yet you brought me out from the womb,
Made me secure at my mother's breasts.
From birth I was cast into Your care;
You have been my God from my mother's womb.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near
And there is no one to help.

The psalmist reminds God now that Yahweh had selected the psalmist, even from birth. The psalmist asks for God’s help now, because the psalmist has depended on Yahweh his whole life, even before he was weaned. Again, the psalmist is wondering why God has left him in this persecution, although he doesn’t deserve it.

Mighty bulls surround me
The mighty of Bashan have encircled me.
They open their mouths against me
Like a tearing, roaring lion.

Now the psalmist returns back to his troubles, speaking of his oppressors. He compares them to bulls—Basham bulls, which were the strongest, most ferocious of the land. He also compares them to lions. These are animals that gore and kill— they are both mutilators. The psalmist is feeling torn apart by his enemies. It is not enough for them to kill him—no, they have to tear his flesh apart, bit by bit, torturing him over a period of time.
This is more literally what happened to Jesus. First he was beat, then he was whipped—with bits of his flesh being torn off of his body. Then he was crucified. Crucifixion is about killing, but more than that, it is lengthening the death as long as possible over an entire day. Crucifixion is death by asphyxiation—slowly cutting off oxegon until the victim, exhausted, ultimately allows himself to be strangled by his own body, unable to pull himself up to breathe anymore.

I am poured out like water;
All my bones give way
My heart is like wax;
Melting within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
My tongue cleaves to my palate;
You lay me in the dust of death.

The psalmist speaks poetically of his personal experience. He is so fearful, he is emotionally poured out, unable to keep his composure. He trembles and collapses. He is literally dried up, completely dehydrated, because of his fear. His tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. And he knows this is it—he’s dead.

For dogs surround me
A band of wicked close me in;
They pierced my hands and feet;
I count all my bones
They look, they stare at me.
They divide up my clothes among them
And cast lots for my garments.

And why is the psalmist in this terrible state? Because of his enemies—the so-called “people of God” who are prepared to destroy him. They are closing in, surrounding him, prepared to attack him like a pack of dogs. They have attacked him—beginning with his hands and feet, but it is certain that they do not stop there. Because of the suffering they have already caused him, he can see all of his ribs. They have taken his clothes from him and divide them amongst themselves. So there he is—naked, wounded, tortured, and shamed. So what can be done for him? Will he be delivered by God? Or is God in agreement with the attackers? What will be done? To find out the end, we have to read the rest of the psalm—which we will do next time.

But what has all this to do with Jesus death? What meaning do we get of Jesus’ death in this passage? Jesus’ death was not an attack from God, to pour out God’s wrath on mankind’s sin. Rather, Jesus’ death has to do with human sin and judgment—the fact that people attack the innocent if they get in the way of their own plans or ambitions. But with Jesus, we have a conclusion to the story. Jesus didn’t just die because we were sinners and more focused on the world’s ambition than God’s desire. He died to be resurrected—to establish a new kingdom, a new people, who would be focused on God’s power than on worldly power or pleasure. People who experienced God’s deliverance and are ready to depend on Him for their life—even like the psalmist.

Fulfillment of the Law

Jesus said that it was completed after he was given vinegar to drink (John 19:28). What was finished? His fulfillment of the Old Testament. He said this after Psalm 69:21 was fulfilled. It was almost that Jesus had a list of Scriptures he needed to fulfill and once the last one was done, then he could let himself die.

But Jesus’ fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible isn’t just as the Bible as prophecy. He didn’t just see the book as a bunch of texts about the future that was going to be fulfilled in his life. Rather, he saw the Hebrew Bible as expressing three lives—the sacrificial life, the moral life and the national life, and he fulfilled both of these. The sacrificial life is the life of the anawim, suffering and being condemned and then being raised from the dead. The moral life is the life of love and generosity and of speaking the truth. The national life is the kingdom of God in crisis, but remaining submissive, remaining moral, continuing to trust in God, no matter what. In this last hour, Jesus fulfilled all of these. In Matthew, we have a number of Scriptures that were fulfilled as the sacrificial one. In Luke, we have Jesus concerned for the pregnant in the future Jerusalem as he was being attacked. In John, we have Jesus fulfilling his responsibility as a son to provide for his aged mother. In Luke again, we have Jesus speaking blessing to the thief next to him. In Matthew again we have Jesus knowing that he can destroy those around him, but chooses to be destroyed himself. Jesus fulfilled all these roles perfectly, and when he had done he knew he could rest and so he set aside his work by saying, “It is finished.”


Bonaventure describes the mockery given by the soldiers. But what is rarely noticed is that the soldiers are actually engaged in anti-Semitism. They are mocking Jesus for being king, especially King of the Jews. They are making fun of this complete stranger, not because they know him for who he is, nor because he is some criminal, but rather because it was said by someone that he was the ruler of the Jews. So they mocked him by bowing to him, giving him a crown of thorns, a reed as his scepter and then punching him and abusing him. This is because, out of their frustration of living in a foreign land, of having to work with this stubborn people, they wanted to take it out on someone. They saw the Jewish people as deserving mocking, deserving beating.

Two things to note then: That although they meant it in a mocking way, Jesus truly did deserve the crown, truly did deserve the scepter and the bowing. Much of what is done to him is done to display the reality, although unknown to the soldiers. Secondly, we need to remember that if any of us take part in anti-Semitism, then we are actually participating in the acts of the soldiers who crucified our Lord. We are participating in putting the sign over Jesus’ head “King of the Jews”. We continue the work that they had ceased long ago.

“He is your King and your God who is accounted as a leper and the last of men”- Bonaventure

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jesus' Trial Before Pilate

Trial before Pilate:
Bonaventure mentions Isaiah 53 “like a sheep is silent before his shearers” in this context. Of course, in John, Jesus was not silent at all, but had an interesting spiritual conversation with Pilate. It is this conversation, in John, that convinces Pilate that Jesus is innocent.

Bonaventure mentions the fault of “the Jews” of handing him over to Pilate, using John’s language. Of course, in the Middle Ages, “the Jews” meant all of the Jewish people, which John clearly did not mean. In all the gospels it is clear that the blame of Jesus’ death goes squarely on the priests and the Sanhedrin, and, in Matthew, the staunch supporters of the priests who would get up early in the morning for a trial at the priests’ word. But the Jewish people in general cannot be implicated in Jesus’ death. First of all, all the early church was Jewish. Secondly, the NT makes it clear that many Jewish people were faithful to Jesus—even on the council, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathea. And many others do good to the church, even though they are rejected by the priests and council. This is one of the middle ages sorriest prejudices, and one glad to have the church leave behind.

However, the priests and council are certainly condemned for sending Jesus to Pilate. They wanted to see Jesus crucified—not just dead. They wanted Jesus hung in shame, outside the city, as a non-citizen. And they forced Pilate to condemn him to this, even though Pilate had declared him innocent. Pilate saw the political situation clearly, so he felt like he had to act as he did. But the priests knew exactly what they were doing. They knew how to get rid of enemies, no matter how righteous or just they are.

And it is this shameful death that Jesus needed himself. The crucifixion of Jesus wasn’t originally the priest’s idea—it was Jesus’. And this, exactly because it is the most shameful death, the one that put one outside the city, and that actually denied one’s citizenship in Israel. That is true, for the member of Israel is blessed, but the one hung is cursed by the law. Jesus had to be cursed to be put outside of Israel, no longer a part of the kingdom of God. In that way, when God blessed him, Jesus was free to begin a new kingdom of God, free from the law, free from the curse, free to follow the new law of love and repentance.

“And you, lost man, the cause of all this confusion and sorrow, how is it that you do not break down and weep?” –Bonaventure

Trial Before the High Priests

He was subjected to blasphemies and insults for speaking the truth. But he knew that they weren’t able to understand the truth. To look at whom they see as a shameful individual and see the glory of God in him? They could not. Now, Jesus asks us, His followers, to see the glory of God in people and situations that are shameful around us. Can we open our eyes and see the work of God?

Bonaventure correctly acknowledges that the trial before Annas is the facedown between two High Priests—one worthy, one corrupted. One who speaks the truth, one who cannot hear the truth spoken. One of the old world that is passing away, one of the new world that is coming.

It is interesting to note that Bonaventure mixes together Jesus’ confrontation before Annas and his meeting with Caiaphas and the council. Annas was the high priest before Caiaphas, before the Romans forced him to step down. John has a confrontation before both high priests, giving a complete rejection of Jesus by all the rulers of the Jewish people. But still, the two trials should be kept separately. Annas’ is unofficial, but significant for the future of the temple (as he gained the high priesthood back again), but Caiaphas’ is official and the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

All Alone

When the disciples scattered, even though Jesus knew that it was a fulfillment of prophecy and it must occur, I suspect that at that moment he felt such a deep loneliness. For now he was alone, as alone as any man has ever felt. Faced with a desperate situation, intellectually he knew what he must do. But emotionally, he longed for another to be with him, support him.


The human condition is that of the human will against the Father’s will. Our human nature, even perfect human nature, due to its limited perspective of survival and satisfaction will strike against the necessity of surrender and sacrifice. Jesus struggled this very struggle. The one whom we acknowledge as divine, at one point questioned the divine will. He acknowledged the fact that he was of two wills—the Father’s and his own. And then he bowed his head and accepted the Will that was not his own. This is what is means to be perfectly human— perfectly submitted to a perfect Will.

Judas' Betrayal

Why did Judas do what he did? Because, as Bonaventure says, he is “hardened”. Judas is usually painted as just some evil person. This is not to say that what he did wasn’t evil—he betrayed his teacher, which was horrible. But at the same time, he knew his teacher was speaking about the destruction of the temple and the overthrow of the priesthood. Which Judas could say was a betrayal of their God-given leaders. The main reason, I think, that Judas betrayed the Savior of the world is because he felt he needed to submit to his government.

Bonaventure wants to emphasize Jesus’ kindness to Judas despite Judas’ betrayal, but I think he goes too far. Jesus didn’t have particularly kind things to say to Judas, just permission to do what he must. Nor did he kiss Judas in the garden, he just allowed Judas to kiss him. All throughout the passion, Jesus is mostly passive, allowing people to do their evil, neither encouraging nor belaying them in their acts of shaming and destroying an innocent, nay, even a man full of good deeds.

“Woe to the man who does not return to the fountain of mercy out of hope of forgiveness but, terrified by the enormity of his crime, despaired!” -Bonaventure

Monday, December 21, 2009

Woman Caught In Adultery

The woman didn't deserve Jesus' lack of condemnation. He gave it and expected her to live well out of gratitude. Would that we would do the same.

The story of the woman caught in adultery isn't a part of any original text of any gospel. In the early texts sometimes it's in John, sometimes it's in Luke, sometimes it's just hanging out on it's own. Like us, the ancient scribes couldn't bear to have the future generations without this story. Is it based on fact? Who knows? But wouldn't it be just like Jesus to do this?

So sad, though, for those who base their identity of Jesus on this story. The Jesus who never condemned didn't exist.

Washing Feet

“The marvelous example of his humility shone forth when, girt with a towel, the King of Glory diligently washed the feet of the fishermen and even of his betrayer.”

Jesus was less concerned about granting blessings and grace to those who “don’t deserve it” than we. We are always careful to make sure that cheaters don’t gain benefit and that the lazy get what they deserve. Jesus gave his grace to all, deserving or not. Honestly, it takes less energy that way.

The washing of feet represents two rituals: one, a ritual of regular purity, granted by Jesus. This is probably confession of sin.

Secondly, it is a ritual granted to each other, where the one serves the other. This is hospitality, the granting of charity and welcome from one disciple to another. This is how we show that we love each other.

The Lord's Supper

The Lord’s Supper was presented twice—once at the last supper and once, in John, at the feeding of the 5000. One is indicated as a fulfillment of the Passover, the other a fulfillment of the feeding of Israel in the wilderness. It is the Last Supper liturgy that got passed to the majority of the church, as shown in Paul’s recitation of it (I Corinthians 11). Nevertheless, the Lord’s Supper is not just restricted to that specific liturgy in the NT, for Paul is seen fulfilling it in the middle of a storm at sea. The Lord’s Supper isn’t just for church, but for wherever it is needed.

The elements of the Lord’s Supper wasn’t just symbolic food, or a small portion for each. It was a meal. A decent amount of bread and wine for everyone to partake and be full from.

The protestant church divided on the point of the substance of the elements. Allow it to be a mystery, and all divisions cease. Luther was such a stubborn mule.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Entering Jerusalem

It is clear that Jesus did enter into Jerusalem on a colt, to the acclaim of his disciples. Perhaps not all of his disciples understood the import of what he was doing, but the people of Jerusalem did, for they knew the prophecy of Zechariah—the one who enters Zion on a colt claims to be the king of Jerusalem. Those who say that the historical Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah must also make the untenable, unhistorical claim that he never entered into Jerusalem on a colt.

This proclamation of being the king of Jerusalem was very upsetting to the people of Jerusalem. This out-of-towner, this lower life from the sticks is claiming to be king? Sure, there’s miracles, but there’s more important things than that—what does He know about being king? Of course, what they had forgotten is that God’s kingdom isn’t a democracy. Nor is it run by the priests. God chooses whom He will. Like it or not.

The Daily Suffering of Jesus

Jesus suffered much in order to welcome sinners into God’s kingdom. Nothing’s changed.

Jesus wept for the plight of humanity. He wept for our unbelief in God’s power and mercy. He wept for our lack of direction, even with leadership. He wept for the judgments and sorrows we lived under. Tears are a strictly human experience, something he shares with us. Would that we would learn to be as human as he.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts on the Transfiguration

Is this a revelation of the Trinity? There are three divine elements: The Son shining brightly, a bright cloud, a voice declaring “This is my Son.” So we have the Father and the Son. Is the cloud the Spirit? If that’s the case, then we can declare the pillar of cloud and the glory of God filling the temple as the Spirit as well. Possible, I suppose, but I wouldn’t go to the stake on it.

“He showed the glory of his future resurrection in the transfiguration”-Bonaventure. And so the glory of our resurrection, as well. Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Abraham, Peter, James and John and all the rest together in God’s kingdom.

Do each of these figures present at the transfiguration represent a people?
Moses—Those faithful to the law.
Elijah—Those who stood for God despite persecution.
Peter—The repentant sinner in Christ
John—The faithful follower of Jesus (assuming that John is the beloved disciple in the gospel named after him)

Jesus' Miracles

Bonaventure is correct in seeing Jesus healings to our need of his salvation. Their prayers are ours: “Lord, if you wish you can make me clean.” “Have mercy on me, Son of David.” “Lord, the one you love is ill.”

But these healings aren’t simply acts of supernatural mercy. First of all, they are the fulfillment of prophecy that God’s utopia has arrived—for in God’s world there’s no tears, no mourning, no sickness, no blindness.

Secondly, miracles are Jesus’ attacks on the spirits of judgment. These people are overwhelmed by judgment on their sin—whether great or small. Jesus not only releases them from suffering, but gives them assurance of God’s forgiveness and presence. Through the miracle they know: God is with them and they are with God.

Thoughts on the Temptations of Jesus

“By humbly enduring the enemy’s attacks, he would make us humble, and by winning a victory, he would make us courageous.” –Bonaventure

Hebrews 4:15 speaks not only of Jesus’ temptation in Matt 4/Luke 4, but primarily of his struggle in Gethsemane.

Jesus does not proclaim the inadequacy of the Law before Satan, but depends on it for righteousness.

Jesus is led by the Spirit for the purpose of being tested by Satan. As much as we pray against that circumstance, we must all be tested. But whether we pass or fail the test, we all get a second test. And most of us, a third. And more. Enduring the test is required for our deliverance. You can’t be set free from where you are not.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Entering A New Life

Jesus was baptized, not because he needed to repent, but because his is the way of life we were to follow. We go through the ritual of baptism to show that our old life is dead and we enter into Jesus’ life. Even so, Jesus’ life of quiet submission, working for his keep with his hands, of anonymity, of caring for his family first—all that is dead and he never returns to it. Not that such a life is evil, but it was not where the Father wanted him. Baptism allowed him to enter the kingdom coming instead of remaining in the kingdom passed.

Submission to Authorities

Submission is considered to be a dirty word in modern America. It is associated with battered wives and children cowering under overbearing men in white t-shirts. It is connected with military units with a screaming leader and the rest following in goosesteps. Others might think of a religious order in the sticks, where no one can make a move without asking permission of the Great Leader. However, Christian submission is not something forced, nor anything negative—rather it is the secret of Jesus’ cross.

Jesus submitted to the Father in going to the cross. Yes, the cross was gruesome and shaming—a truly horrendous experience—but Jesus went there willingly. And his mode of transportation to the cross—the salvation of all peoples on earth—was willing submission to evil authorities who only had his worst interests in their minds. He opened himself up to their abuse and hatred, and so was provided with the greatest honor anyone could be bestowed—the rule of the kingdom of God. Because Jesus allowed himself to be submitted—both to a loving God and to a hating government—he was granted the opportunity to give mercy to everyone on earth. (I Peter 2:18-23)

What is Christian Submission?
Submission has to do with a response to authority. One does not submit to one’s own child or employee. Rather, it is what one in a lower social station does to one in authority. Submission has some of the connotations that are connected to it in a negative context. Submission is certainly obedience, and it can be receiving punishments for disobedience. It can also be paying money requested, and offering what honor society requires (such as calling someone by a proper title). Submission does not mean that we refuse to disagree with the one we submit to, nor that we cannot express our opinion. But it gives the respect due the office. In our society, most people would offer submission to the president, or a police officer or a judge in the courtroom—at least, if they were on our side.

But Christian submission goes much further than submission in the world. Christian submission would be offered to everyone who is in authority—from the President to the lowest pencil-pusher in a Social Security office. We would give it to the leaders in the communities we live in—whether that be a group home, a hospital, a rehab house, a shelter, or a Christian community. We give it to our church leaders—but more than that, we are to submit to each other in the church, honoring each other as greater than ourselves! The only authority that exists that we are not to submit to is Satan—that’s because the only authority he has over us is what we give him. (I Peter 2:13-15; Hebrews 13:17; Ephesians 6:11)

But Christian submission is given to God first and foremost. We submit to other authorities because of the respect we have for God. God established authority on all humans and to some humans in particular—and so we are to show our respect to everyone in any kind of authority, because fundamentally the authority they use is God’s. We don’t have to like the way they use authority, but we need to respect the authority itself. This means that no matter how evil, how wicked the authority, we respect and obey that person anyway. (James 4:7; Romans 13:1)

Why would we do that? If there is anything we are trained in, it is to reject authority we don’t care for. However, as Rodney King found out, if you prove careless with other’s authority, it will bite you back. Harshly. Now Jesus submitted to authority, but he received the same treatment, only worse. So why would we submit to evil authority? Because our submission under harsh treatment is a neon sign to God: “I’m being oppressed!” And God will respond with justice.

Thus, the opposite of submission is to take justice in our own hands and give the evil authority “what they deserve”. Perhaps it will be with violence, or with legal action or with harsh words, but the point is to give back to them justice. But justice by our own hands is no justice at all—we will only be slammed again, or we will hit the other too hard and be the oppressor in turn. But justice meted out by God is perfect and true, and merciful, for it gives opportunity for repentance. Thus, true submission shows faith in God, but enacting vengeance only displays our faith in ourselves. And we cannot deliver ourselves. (Romans 13:2; Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:19)

The secret of Christian Submission is this (the secret of the cross, actually): If you respond to an authority’s harsh treatment with submission, and even positive action to them, then God will see the whole event and defend you. He will support you and help you, but the evil authority he will strip of their power and punish. If we submit to authorities, we are trusting in God’s justice and mercy to the oppressed. (Romans 12:19; Psalm 37; I Peter 4:12-19)

What does Christian submission look like?
Christian submission is granting honor
We want to honor the authorities above us. Perhaps that will mean simply calling them by their titles (“officer” or “sir”). Certainly it will mean using respectful speech and not demeaning them in any way. We also grant honor by giving thanks. We certainly should do this with God, and with governmental authorities. But we should also speak this way to the lowest of those in the church, granting honor to them, as we are all supposed to submit to each other. Respectful speech is most important to those whom we are closest to—our spouses and our friends. (I Peter 2:17,18; Romans 13:7)

Christian submission is obeying authorities’ commands
If we are given a command by an authority, we are to obey it, and this will show respect to God. If an evil person commands us to do something, we are to obey that as well—unless it is in opposition to what God told us to do. Obedience is important also to those whom are over us where we live, and to church elders as well. Obedience seems like something to just make our lives tougher, but it will actually make our lives easier in the long run. (Hebrews 13:17; Psalm 18:44)

Christian submission is praying for authorities
One of the shows of respect we have for our authorities—whether they are righteous or evil—is to pray for them. To pray for someone is to request that God would bless them. We can pray that God would grant an authority mercy and grace. We can pray that they would provide opportunities for us to obey God and spread the gospel. But we should pray for authorities over us, that effect our lives. (I Timothy 2:1-2)

Christian submission is paying proper taxes
Many governmental authorities require taxes. Rather than complain about it or despise the task, both Jesus and Paul encourage us to do it willingly, as part of our submission. As a part of respecting the authority that comes from God, paying taxes honors God. (Mark 12:14-17; Romans 13:7)

Christian submission is willingly accepting unjust punishment
All authority metes out punishment. It is a part of being an authority. However, an authority can chose for themselves whether the punishment they give will be for right reasons or wrong ones. And they can determine if the punishment they give is gentle or harsh. The authority who punishes for God’s reasons and with gentleness will be rewarded by God. But the authority who is harsh and punishes even the righteous will be punished. (Luke 12:42-47)

The strangest thing about Christian virtue is that receiving harsh, unjust punishment from an evil authority—especially for the sake of following Jesus—is the basis for Christian joy. Jesus tells us to be glad when we suffer unjustly because we will be greatly rewarded by God on the final day for enduring it in love. For this reason, Jesus says, if we suffer under an unjust punishment, we should offer the evil authority even more of an opportunity to punish us. The more we are harmed, the more God will reward us (and the more evil the authority will seem—even in his own eyes!). (Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12:17-21; I Peter 4:12-19)

Be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For you will gain God’s favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God you bear up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. What credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. I Peter 2:18-21


“It was not enough for the teacher of perfect humility… to submit himself to the Humble Virgin. He must also submit himself to the Law.” –Bonaventure

The life of the follower is a life of submission, not only to those worthy of submission, but also to those who are not. If we do not submit to even an unworthy government, then we cannot prove them unworthy. If we do not submit to an unworthy system, we have no right to critique it.

(BTW, voting is a right and not a duty. We are given the opportunity to vote, not the command. Thus one who does not vote still has the right to speak concerns about government—especially about the voting system)

Glory and Shame

The purpose of the virgin birth seems not to be due to the need of a miracle, a specific genetic line or purity of the mother’s soul. Rather it is a significant aspect of Jesus’ humility that he was born a bastard. So the virgin birth is simply a nice way of saying that his mother and he is shamed by his birth.

The fascinating thing about the birth stories is the paradoxical conjunction of glory and shame. His bastard birth is announced as God’s doing. His adopted father rejects him and then accepts him after a miraculous dream. He is worshipped by those of an outcast profession—shepherds. He is born in Bethlehem (David’s hometown) but in a stable. He is honored by kings from afar but is threatened by the local king. He escapes miraculously, but other babies are killed in his stead. For every honor there is a corresponding rejection. Thus is the way of God’s anawim.


Interesting that Bonaventure says that Jesus was “prefigured” in history before the incarnation, not granted epiphanies. I would tend to agree.

This, in opposition to those who claim that the King of Salem or the Angel of the Lord are actually appearances of Jesus. I don't think they are. They are others, representing God, but not being Him.


We know almost nothing about Jesus’ state before the incarnation. Well does Bonaventure warn us: “Beware lest some inadequate thought of flesh appear before your mind’s eye.” Yea, I would also say, “Beware lest a specific concept of divinity is also applied.” We know Jesus was divine, but not in what form.

The Tree of Life

Bonaventure sees the life of Christ as the heart of paradise, the tree of life. And in this he is not wrong.

It is not just Jesus' death, but the imitation of his life that we receive eternal life.

Eternal life is not just to come, but something we can experience now by Jesus' life.

Our First Volume: Bonaventure

Okay, honestly, I've cheated a little bit. I just took a retreat and this allowed me to read over two and a half books and write notes on them. One of them was Bonaventure's The Soul's Journey To God and another was Michael Banner's Christian Ethics: A Brief History. I'll write about these books later, but the one I'm working on right now is Bonaventure's Tree of Life. For now, that's what I'll be posting on.

The Tree of Life is really a life of Christ, emphasizing the passion material. It's pretty good, and I'm about halfway through, so I encourage you to read along with me. It is difficult to find this volume unless you get the book on Bonaventure from the Classics of Western Spirituality. But check your library-- that's where I found the copy I'm using. If anyone finds it on the internet, let me know. I tried and failed.

Bonaventure was one of the premier scholars of the Franciscan tradition. He is known as one of the great doctors of the church, alongside Aquinas. But Bonaventure was much more devotional than most of the doctors. His main inspiration from Francis was the ecstasy that Francis experienced which granted him the stigmata. Bonaventure wanted to have a way to repeat this experience, so he wrote The Soul's Journey to God to explain this.

However, Bonaventure also was inspired by Francis' strict following of Jesus' life. And that is what inspired Bonaventure's Tree of Life. The symbol of the Tree of Life as the life of Jesus became widespread in Europe after this volume, and many imitations and graphs of the Tree of Life were done.

In reading it, however, I just want to focus on Jesus, not on the theology of the middle ages. So, let's move ahead...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How (My) Theology Works

In my opinion, the more speculative the theology, the less helpful it is.

It is like an ancient cartography that is mostly based on guesswork and rumors from those who had traveled some. The maps were beautiful, but not accurate. Most theology is simple guesswork and their "maps" of God and His ways are laughable compared to the reality.

The problem is, how do we know how God can be known? Is there anyone who has actual knowledge of God, without guess work? Forgive me if my solution is prematurely simple (I'm going to speed through my basic assumptions, here), but the only one who has ever really proven his understanding of God is Jesus. He has a set teaching and this teaching is supported by his death and resurrection. Some might dispute the reality of these events, and perhaps I will discuss at another time. For now, I am just going to accept Jesus death and resurrection a priori. This would grant Jesus first-rate status as to understanding God. Ahead of Muhammad, ahead of Buddha (who didn't really claim any special knowledge about God anyway), before the ancient Hindu writings, before Moses or the other prophets. Because none of them has ever been resurrected, thus given the special "God approved" seal.

The next problem is, how do we know Jesus? He doesn't hang around the local church or synagogue or have an internet site. And, since Jesus never wrote anything, we are dependent on the transcription and communication of the early church. The earliest writings are by Paul and he gives some description about Jesus, but little by Jesus. The most helpful early works are the gospels. Not because they are earliest, but because they offer compilations of the earliest apostolic teaching that claim to be the words of Jesus. Although the earliest gospel is complies some 30-40 years after Jesus' death, that writing is quicker than almost all ancient biographies. As far as ancient writings go, they are about as accurate as we can get. And since the words of Jesus are distinctive from other Jewish or Christians teachings of the time, then we can reasonably, if not unquestionably rely on it. Some scholars do, some don't. I don't care what the scholars think anyway-- they've got their own agenda. In my opinion, that's what we got, and it's enough.

Once we accept the gospels as a primary source, then we have two secondary sources to assist us in our understanding of Jesus' teaching and God. First, we have the Hebrew Scriptures (usually called the Old Testament, but that makes it seem so... old, when, from our perspective it isn't really that much older than the New Testament. Ancient is ancient.). The Hebrew Scriptures were used as a source of knowledge about God by Jesus, although heavily re-interpreted by him. Also we have the earliest Christian writings as found in the New Testament. This is the earliest interpretations of Jesus, still in a close social-cultural context to him. Thus, these are helpful in helping us interpret Jesus. However, both of these sources are all secondary and need to be basically understood in light of Jesus' teaching and life. Jesus' clear teaching gives us an outline of God. The rest of Scripture fills in the outline.

So, these are the sources for all accurate theology. There is room for some flexibility, but the foundation is what Jesus says it is. However, that's not the end of the theological process.

Theology is not just a repetition of the most accurate descriptions of God. It is also a cultural explanation and application. Theology is embedded in a particular culture. Thus, Jesus' teaching, in its theological form, should be systematized, described and applied to a particular culture.

The problem of theology, as we found, is culture. If theology begins in culture, it is guesswork. But the process of theology ends in culture, because we all live in culture and we can have no real connection to theology, no real connection to God except through our culture.

I invite your input.

The Difficulty of Theology

Theology is the study of God.

Seems simple, huh? But in reality, theology is very complicated. Beginning the process of theology can be terribly confusing if we think about it. It's so much simpler if we just ignore HOW we do theology and just do it. Of course, so many missteps can be made as well.

Why is theology so complicated? I'll give you three reasons:

1. Theology is primarily a cultural project.
The importance and structure of theology is determined by what culture you are in. Culture determines the nature of theology and its practice. Theology is different in Hinduism than in Shinto Buddhism than in Tibetan Buddhism than secular philosophy (a denial of God is also a theology, the benefit of which is it's simplicity, if not it's truth). All of these cultural practices clutter theology and make the term almost meaningless, certainly as a measure of truth.

2. Christian theology has been practiced in many ways.
Christian theology is also a cultural practice and it has been done in many ways. Here's a few:

a. Philosophical Theology
This is determining what is true by drawing conclusions based on logical thought. In Christian theology, this is often begun by biblical principles and then drawing conclusions beyond the Bible. Most Trinitarian theology is philosophical.

b. Community Theology
This is listening to a Christian community and thus determining what their theology is. This is more descriptive than prescriptive, and the only basis of understanding is the community description itself. Liberation theology began this way.

c. "Biblical" Theology
All Christian theology claims to be based on the Bible, but few theologies are actually descriptions of only what the Bible says. However, there are different approaches to determining what the Bible says.
-There is theology that is "proven" by select verses throughout the Bible.
-There is theology that is a description of themes throughout the canonical scriptures.
-There are studies of a limited part of the Bible, usually focused around one author or book. This is often described in contrast to other theologies of the Bible.

3. God is not Easy To Understand
Theology is not a "hard" science, like physics or chemistry. We cannot do repeated experiments on God. Nor is God easily observable like human behavior or biology. God exists in a different universe, is of a different nature than ourselves and is a personality rather than an entity. At best, this makes a "study" of God difficult, if not impossible.

The Plan for This Blog

Celebration! This is my 20th blog!

Okay, so what are we about here? The basic plan is to have a discussion of various theological points. That sounds really dull on the surface, but theology is exciting. Millions of people have died on theological points, nations have fallen, religions rose and fall and friendships have been broken. That doesn't sound like an auspicious beginning for a blog by a Mennonite, but I'm just saying that theology is exciting.

I'm not planning on beginning any bloodshed. Rather, as the post says, I am hoping that this discussion on theology will allow us to devote ourselves better to God, loving Him and following Jesus better. My first few posts will be kinda dull and long, perhaps, but they'll get shorter and more interesting as we go along.

After a couple introductory posts, this is the basic plan:

I am going to devotionally read classic theological works, beginning with Bonaventure's Tree of Life. I invite any reader of the blog to join me in reading the work.

I will compare these theologies to what I understand to be the theology of Jesus.

I will write devotional quotes or descriptions or critiques of the theology I read in order to re-describe Jesus' theology.

I will also occasionally put my own thoughts about Jesus' theology without reference to a classic theological work. Just for fun.

Anyone is welcome to challenge me or to ask questions at any point.

I will put my comment under some main theological categories:
Theology proper, Ecclesiology, Ethics, Anawim theology, etc.
Hopefully, over time, this blog will develop into full theology. One that makes sense as a whole, I hope.

So that's what we got! Hope you enjoy it! Or, if I'm writing to myself into cyberspace, that's okay, too!