Nicene Creed

This tag is associated with 4 posts

Really Recommended Posts 6/17/16- horror movies, The Gospel Coalition, and more!

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

Another week, another round of posts for you to enjoy, dear readers! This week has an exciting lineup–hopefully with some posts that will get you thinking and talking! This week, we have horror movies and Christianity, the Gospel Coalition’s (non-)engagement with culture, apologetics for kids with elephants and waterfalls, debate over the relation between the Father and Son in the Trinity, and the topic of the use of guns. As always, I’m curious to read your thoughts. I don’t always agree with 100% of everything I link, but try to choose posts that get me thinking and that I hope will get you thinking as well! [EDIT: I accidentally had one link to the wrong post. My apologies! It is fixed now.]

Why Horror Movies Make Me a Better Christian– I don’t like horror movies at all. Unless by “horror movies” you mean black-and-white horror movies with monsters that are hilarious now due to special effect differences (i.e. Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.), then I love them. Can horror movies, with all their gore and violence, really have any redeeming qualities? This post made me think about that in a fresh light. What do you think?

The Gospel Colition and How Not to Engage Culture– Can The Gospel Coalition really claim to be about engaging with culture when they continually silence critics on social media? Check out this post for more information on this issue.

How Elephant is a Waterfall– How do you get kids thinking in different categories? What is concrete/abstract? What is a contradiction? Here’s a post from an exciting new site about apologetics for kids.

The Coming War: Nicene Complementarians vs Homoian Complementarians– There is a debate raging within complementarian camps over the subordination of the Son to the Father in the Trinity. Here is an outline of that debate. Read the follow-up posts as well for more. I’ve written on one side of this debate before- “Is the Son ‘Equal to God‘?”

Actually, Guns do kill people (Think Christian)– Think Christian is a great site for engaging culture and getting us thinking about topics we might not normally. This post is, I think, thought provoking regarding issues related to gun violence. It doesn’t offer solutions, but rather a way to conceptualize. What do you think about this issue? How might Christians engage with the topic of gun violence–or should we?

Constantine’s Faith and the Myth of “Constantine’s Takeover”

Constantine-1There is a narrative within some branches of Christianity (and some… “offshoots”) regarding church history. It is a narrative in which Constantine is seen as the great evil (whether intentionally or not) which corrupted Christianity. The narrative basically goes like this: Constantine rose to power, then everything went wrong in Christianity. He made Christianity the state religion, which introduced scores of nominal Christians into the church. He made service in the church a well-paying position, which corrupted the office of the ministry. He himself was probably not even a Christian!

So the story goes. Is it accurate?

From Narrative to History

The question of Constantine is one of history. Too often, people have subjected Constantine to psychoanalysis, analyzing an ancient historical figure’s mental state to determine his motives. Historical study may indeed speculate about such things, but to suggest, as some do, that one may uncover some nefarious ancient plot to take over Christianity and lead it into heresy is to engage in writing historical fiction. So what may we actually learn from the historical accounts? Peter Leithart’s work, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom directly addresses this question to pursue the “real” Constantine.

Leithart notes that it seems clear that Constantine actually paid much deference to Christianity (Leithart, 93; 121ff; 128-129; 326-328, etc., cite below). He was keen to prevent major divisions within the Church which could have resulted, for example, from the Arian controversy. Hence, he called a council at Nicaea which would define Christian orthodoxy for centuries to come. Constantine himself likely favored the view of Arius, but when the Nicene Council ultimately came against Arianism, Constantine submitted to the defining of orthodoxy.

Constantine’s life appears to be one not of a plot to take Christianity over for political gain, but rather as a life lived struggling with newfound faith and attempting to integrate that faith into public policy. Alister McGrath notes that Constantine’s faith led him to legalize Christianity and sanction it, with some interesting and perhaps unforeseen side-effects:

The new imperial status of Christianity meant that its unity and polity were now matters of significance to the state. (McGrath, 139, cited below)

The much-discussed question of why, if Constatine’s faith were genuine, he would have waited until his deathbed to get baptized is easily answered by his belief that he should wait until the last possible moment to gain the purifying from sins which baptism would provide (Leithart, 299-300).

Frankly, the more one reads about Constantine, the more difficult it becomes to imagine him as someone whose faith was not genuine. Like any Christian, he had his faults–he was a sinner-saint–but he also worked through his position to try to spread and unite Christianity. Leithart notes that many of Constantine’s laws were “more often Christian in effect than in intent” (304). What he means by this is that many laws he made spring from a Christian worldview, though not being explicitly Christian themselves. For example, he outlawed gladiator shows–hardly something which can be said to be explicitly Christian–and this demonstrated Constantine’s genuine concern for human life and the “image of God” in humanity which was noted in yet another law he made (303-304).

In another work, a collection of essays on  Apologetics in the Roman EmpireMark Edwards, having traced various lines of thought in Oration to the Saints (and arguing that it was a work by Constantine), notes:

[The work] reveals an emperor who was able to give more substance to his faith than many clerics, and an apologist whose breadth of view and fertile innovations make it possible to mark him with the more eminent theologians of his age (275).

It’s time to set aside the notion that Constantine was somehow “faking it.”

dc-leithartConstantine’s Takeover?

The “narrative” of Constantine has, unfortunately, often dipped into the notion that he was indeed a Pagan who overthrew traditional Christianity and condemned Christianity to political power-plays for centuries after his death. This notion simply does not line up with historical reality. Although Constantine’s enriching of the church’s coffers did lead to church positions becoming a political gain, it also provided a counter-balance to Imperial authority (Leithart, 304).

Moreover, Leithart argues that the notion that Constantine himself brought about so many wrongs to the church is historically fictitious: “[T]here was a brief, ambiguous ‘Constantinian moment’ in the early fourth century, and there have been many tragic ‘Constantinian moments’ since. There was no permanent, epochal ‘Constantinian shift'” (287). Indeed, the notion of church and state was something found seeded in Augustine’s writings (286) and although Constantine did bring about some monumental changes, the effects they had could only take place over vast amounts of time. It would be impossible to argue that the Catholic Church of the Medieval Period was directly the same or even the exact result of Constantine’s policy.

Finally, Constantine’s policies and actions “Baptized Rome” (Leithart, 301ff). He built churches, empowered bishops, called for unity, and deferred to church teaching. His laws, as noted above, were rooted in a genuinely Christian worldview and sprung from faith.


Conclusion: Defending Constantine

Was Constantine a perfect human? Obviously not. But was Constantine a Pagan who dramatically undermined Christianity; was he a usurper of the Church’s authority who did incalculable damage to Christianity? It does not seem so. Whatever your views on the matters, one must contend with strong historical evidence for the genuineness of Constantine’s faith.  His policies indeed may have (and at points certainly did) damage the church, but was that his intent? Again, psychoanalysis of ancient figures is dubious, but the actions Constantine took were those of someone with genuine concern for the stability of Christianity. Most telling, perhaps, were his actions that were not explicitly stamped with Christianity but reflective of his background beliefs: by seeking to end violence, help alleviate poverty, and the like, he demonstrated his faith.

Links

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Sources

Peter Leithart, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told

It has been remarked, with much truth, that all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be. It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground. (McKnight, cited below, Kindle location 401)

It is easy to hear the “real story” of Santa Claus, but few investigate further than looking it up to see the parallels between the Bishop of Myra’s life and that of the story of Santa Claus. There is so much more to his story–and indeed to stories in general–than that.

Saint Nicholas (270-343 AD) was a valiant man who fought prostitution, abortion, and poverty. He attended the council at Nicaea, from which we received the Nicene Creed. At that council, he defended vigorously the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. He was an exemplar of Christian teaching put into practice. Not only that, but the legend which has grown up around his life has inspired and enthralled untold numbers of people through the Christian era.

It is important to note the intertwining of legend and truth in the stories about St. Nicholas, and the impact that has had upon innumerable people. George McKnight, writing in the early 1900s, explored a number of issues related to the mingling of fact and fiction in the life of St. Nicholas. The quote highlighted above touches on many of these topics.

First, there is power in narrative. A story which is told well is one which can effect change. We are impacted by fantasy in ways which cause us to reflect upon reality with new–perhaps better trained–eyes. Second, we, as spirited people in a world which we so often see only as the physical, are called to heights of reality by fiction. As McKnight noted, “It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground.” Our eyes are driven upwards and outwards by the stories we hear–they cause us to interact with others in new ways, and they also cause us to think about topics which perhaps we had not even considered before.

The story of St. Nicholas is no different. Yes, legend has crept into the accounts of this godly man, but what is the purpose of that legend? Not only that, but is it possible to separate out the fiction?, McKnight also commented upon the nature of radical skeptical history being done in his time (about 100 years ago). He bemoaned the fact that nearly every facet of Nicholas’ life is thrown into question with the arrival of critical scholarship. But of course to focus merely upon what is historical fact or fiction is to miss the entire point of the life of St. Nicholas. McKnight goes on:

The story of St. Nicholas consists almost entirely of a series of beneficent deeds, of aid afforded to humanity in distress, accomplished either by St. Nicholas… or through his intervention… The conception of St. Nicholas, then, is almost that of beneficence incarnate. (Kindle Location 469-481).

That is, the story of St. Nicholas, and the legends that surround him, turn him into a type of Christ–one who is deeply concerned for humanity and showing Christian love for God and neighbor.

Yet this is not all there is to the life of the Saint. Although difficult to sift from the legends, there is a historical core to the life of St. Nicholas which is just as profoundly Christian as the legends which have grown up around him. With that said, we turn to the story of St. Nicholas, with an eye toward how his life is one of a Christian lived as well as a story told.

Nicholas is well-attested to have attended the council of Nicaea. There is a possibly apocryphal story about his st nicholas-heretics-presentsattendance there wherein he confronted the heretic Arias himself and slapped him in the face. The story continues, telling of how Nicholas was initially exiled for his act but later allowed to return after Arianism had been thoroughly acknowledged as heresy. Although it is nearly impossible to know whether this story is historically accurate, there is at least some truth behind the story in that Nicholas was known to vehemently defend the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Nicholas actively opposed prostitution. However, instead of simply condemning the practice, he also gave money to young women in need to keep them from turning to prostitution to feed themselves. Again, this truth served as the basis for a possibly historic legend in which Nicholas learned of three women who were about to turn to prostitution (or be sold into slavery, depending on the account) because they couldn’t pay their dowries in order to be wed. Nicholas is said to have thrown a bag of gold for each young woman through their window so that they could be married instead of sell their bodies. Again, this legend may not be true–but it points to the truth about Nicholas’ life–he gave to those in need and fought against the evils of prostitution. It also points beyond itself towards an ideal.

Nicholas fought against the Pagan practices, which led to his persecution and imprisonment by those angered by his preaching against false idols. Furthermore, his opposition to paganism included working against a number of practices in the pagan world, including abortion. Roman Catholics have continued to spearhead St. Nicholas’ commitment to helping children. A search for “Nicholas of Myra” turns up adoption agencies one after another. Christians have used Nicholas’ example as a call to end human trafficking and slavery. One can see throughout these historical kernels how myth and legend could grow up around this figure–fighting heresy, giving to those in need, and having utmost concern for the innocent were all aspects of St. Nicholas’ life. We don’t necessarily know the extent of his actions in these areas, but we know enough to be inspired.

Therefore, we turn to another part of McKnight’s thought-provoking quote at the beginning of this post:

…all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be.

Take a moment to consider what McKnight is saying here: we know there is a realm of absolutes–a way that things should be. We also have a way that we should like things to be. But the way the world “really is” does not often reflect that. Yet we can enact change upon our realm of existence–we can “lift it up”–by focusing on the way that things should be, and living our lives differently because of that. St. Nicholas enacted this in his life, working towards the ideal while living in an imperfect world. The legends of St. Nicholas inspire us to do the same. We are not to focus so much on the critical challenge–which stories are true and which are “only” legends. Instead, we are to focus on St. Nicholas as a story–one which inspires us to change the world around us.

Nicholas’ life was one which fought against poverty, paganism, heresy, prostitution, and idolatry. He incorporated sound doctrine into his life and then lived it. There can hardly be a better example of a Christian life lived than that of St. Nicholas. Yet that is not all there is to the story of the “real” saint. No, his life is one of calling us to live a life for Christ as well. His life is action. It is a life incarnate with truth and the beneficence that comes from the Christian worldview. It is a call to follow Christ.

Sources

James Parker III, “My Kind of Santa Claus.”

Robert Ellsberg, “St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.”

George Harley McKnight, St. Nicholas (New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1917). This book is available legally free of charge in a number of digital formats through Open Library.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review

Theological debates raged throughout the period of the Reformation. These debates were about who had the right to interpret Scripture, what was the nature of salvation, who had authority in the church, and the like. Sound familiar? It should. Many of the debates that were central to the reformers are still in our purview today. Central to several of these debates focused upon the interpretation of Scripture.

Sola Scriptura: Two difficulties

The Reformers operated under the ideal of sola scriptura. The term literally means “scripture alone.” The notion seems simple enough: when it comes to doctrine, practice, and belief, the church universal is to be guided by Scripture alone. Yet it quickly became apparent during the Reformation era that things were not quite so simple.

First, sola scriptura was largely founded upon the notion that any Christian could read and understand Scripture. Yet, as became clear due to the fierce debates of the meaning of the Sacraments (i.e. the debate between Luther and Zwingli on the “real presence” in the Lord’s Supper), it seemed that on some things, Scripture wasn’t so simple (McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 106-107, cited below). People could disagree, vehemently, even over things that each side thought was abundantly clear.

Second, Anabaptists and others argued that sola scriptura meant that every single individual Christian could read and understand the Bible for themselves. How was this problematic? Well, if every Christian could understand every part of the Bible, then there was no way to arbitrate between differing interpretations of soteriology (doctrine of salvation), eschatology (doctrine of the end times), and the like. Of course, not all of these interpretations could be correct, and if those who had argued for the individualism of Scriptural interpretation were correct, then they could all be right, in some sense. Furthermore, the issue was exacerbated in that because no one had the authority to proclaim what doctrines were correct, the church began to increasingly split  to the point that “the radical Reformation was not a unified movement, but rather a chorus of protest against the clergy, secular authorities, and Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli. It was a reservoir for uncompromising protest that could well up in the most varied social circles… ‘Within the turmoiled flood of radical reform or restitution the fresh vitalities of the Reformation… were borne along swiftly to radical extremes'” (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 213, cited below).

Limiting Perspicuity

The solution to the first problem was simply to concede that, on at least some issues, Scripture was not crystal clear. On at least certain points, the magisterial reformers “had conceded that Scripture is obscure” (McGrath a, 108). There was genuine disagreement over some issues. However, not all agreed with this conclusion, and some still pressed that all of Scripture was indeed clear. Such an argument tied into the second problem the Reformers had to confront in relation to sola scriptura: who has the right interpretation?


Which Interpretation? Tradition’s Importance

Tradition played an important role in determining how the interpretation of Scripture was to be undertaken. During the Medieval period, a number of developments in hermeneutics laid the groundwork for the various interpretive methods utilized in the Reformation (McGrath b, 148ff). There were three primary views which emerged during the Reformation.

First, there was the position that “there is no place for tradition in the interpretation of the Bible. Every individual or community is free to interpret the Bible without reference to the Christian past” (McGrath a, 100). Such a position was part of the Radical Reformation and led to innumerable differing interpretations of Scripture. Of course, this was the group of reformers which applied sola scriptura most consistently. They took the principle literally and only allowed the Bible to be authoritative. However, with no way to arbitrate between differing doctrines, it seemed that such a position was incapable of standing up to scrutiny. All it could allow for was rampant individualism.

Second, there was the position that tradition was “an additional mode of divine revelation, in which information that was not committed to writing in the Bible was passed down…” (McGrath a, 100). The Roman Catholic church endorsed this position. However, it did not become popular with the reformers at all.

Instead, the Reformers developed a third position, one which stood as a middle way between the extremes of enshrining tradition and rejecting it outright. On this position, “Tradition designates a traditional way of interpreting a biblical text, which does not displace the text” (McGrath a, 100). Tradition therefore does not become an independent source of authority, but rather a way of interpreting the authority–Scripture–in an authoritative manner. By using tradition in this manner, the Reformers avoided the individualism of rejecting tradition, while also avoiding the error of raising tradition to the same level of importance as Scripture.

The third way was developed largely in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, but it had its core in the historic Christian Creeds. Within the Lutheran tradition, the Apostles’; Nicene; and Athanasian Creeds were taken as theological foundations, and the Augsburg Confession and the later Book of Concord (which drew together several other confessions of the Lutheran faith) became the interpretive lens through which the Lutheran church would view Scripture and right doctrine.

Modern Theology, Reformation Problems

The discussions which occurred in the Reformation on the nature of sola scriptura, tradition, and the interpretation of Scripture had their origins in the past, and they continue into today. Some continue to insist that anyone can read the Bible and understand it in its entirety.

Against those who argue against their position, they insist that they themselves are just reading what the Bible says. This can be seen in a number of debates in Christian theology. It seems the best response to those who wield the ‘perspicuity of Scripture’ as a weapon against alternatives to their own doctrine have no alternative against those who disagree other than going back and forth claiming their own interpretation is correct and/or more clear.

The example I most often like to use is the book of Revelation and eschatology. Someone who claims the perspicuity of Scripture applies to the whole of Scriptural teaching must claim, in order to be consistent, that these doctrines are clear. Thus, such a person must maintain that every single verse in Revelation can simply be read by anyone and understood.

To be frank, I find this absurd. The extreme diversity of people’s interpretations of Revelation seem to undermine the notion that every passage in Scripture is clear. Furthermore–as has already been noted–those who hold to this radically individualistic position of Scripture have no way to decide between differing interpretations of Scripture. They are thus left with no way to determine any doctrine, whether it is radically opposed to Christianity or not, is heretical. Thus, one who holds this position cannot condemn modalism, as long as the person arguing for it is only using the Bible. After all, Scripture is clear! Everyone can read it. Therefore, it seems that this debate which continues to rage on from the Reformation must end. In order to avoid the mire of wanton individualism, we must have some principles for interpretation.

Another major issue of contemporary debate is that of Creeds and “paper popes.” Often, for example, the Lutheran Church is accused of utilizing the Book of Concord as a “paper pope”–a book which acts as an infallible interpreter of Scripture. Similarly, some argue that the historical Christian creeds are not Scripture and therefore must not be affirmed: again, sola scriptura.

It may be helpful to see this as a case study: in Lutheran circles, there is a debate over whether one must agree with the Book of Concord (the Lutheran Confessions) because it agrees with Scripture or insofar as it agrees with Scripture. Note the very important difference. If one says it is “because,” one is affirming that the Book of Concord is the correct intepretation of every relevant passage of Scripture. If one affirms that it is “insofar as,” one is admitting that there may be error in that interpretation. From a Lutheran perspective, this debate is hard to resolve. I tend to line up on the latter (insofar as) view.

However, it is clear that once one takes that position, one must lean more towards individualism. Again: how does one arbitrate doctrine if one does not adhere to any kind of authoritative statement on doctrine? It seems to me that one must at least hold that God has the power to transmit His teaching truthfully, and that’s why the historical Christian Creeds are vastly important. There must be a line drawn somewhere, but people may ever debate where to draw that line.

The key is perhaps found in Scripture itself, in which Christians are instructed not to continue arguments needlessly nor to focus upon topics which will create division (1 Corinthians 1:10ff; Ephesians 4:1ff). These teachings do not, however, preclude division nor do they allow for rampant individualism. It seems to me, therefore, that by adhering to the ecumenical council’s teaching–specifically, the creeds–as drawing out the right teachings of the church, we can avoid some of the great difficulties illustrated above. That’s why I would focus upon the Creeds which were drawn from those councils (like the Apostles’,  and Nicene Creeds) as the sources of authoritatively governing Christian interpretations on those topics.

Conclusion

Many theological questions that are in play today have their origins in various aspects of Reformation thought, which themselves have their origins in earlier Christian thought. The issue of the perspicuity of Scripture, it seems to me, must be limited to that of soteriology and perhaps a few other core issues. On who has the authority to interpret Scripture, it seems that the Reformers offered a way forward: by agreeing to submit to the authority of ecumenical Creeds not as sources of their own authority but rather as authoritative interpretations of the Bible, Christians can proceed in their reading of Scripture and interpretations thereof through those lenses. Thus, the danger of individualism and endless division can be avoided.

Link(s)

I survey the origins of the Reformation.

Sources

Alister E. McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Alister E. McGrath b, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Thanks

Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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