Blessed is the Man

Who is that man?

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Soundings from the Vatican

Pope Francis is proving himself to be an evangelical catholic, desiring the fulness of Christ to be lived out and proclaimed in the lives of every baptized catholic. Is his message sufficient or does it lack the evangelical substance that will accomplish this very task?

Christians of a calvinist ilk will be interested to know that in a recent homily on April 18th, Pope Francis cited John 6:44 to support the idea that knowing Christ is “a gift” that can only be given by the Father:

“In the Gospel passage, Jesus also says that no one can come to him “unless drawn by the Father who sent me”…to go to Jesus, to find Jesus, to know Jesus, is a gift that God bestows on us… Those who have faith have eternal life, they have life. But faith is a gift, it is the Father who gifts it.”

Now I doubt that Francis meant this in a reformed sense, in fact I’m pretty sure of it, but I don’t complain when popes expound on texts in this manner. Francis’s supposed “evangelical” pedigree, and by this I mean his desire for the Gospel to be proclaimed and advanced by the church, has been reinforced in a recent address which the vatican summarized as such:

“Pope Francis said that the Church typically suffers from being self-referential, of only looking to and relying on itself. He spoke of a “narcissism that leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism” and prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization.”

His exhortation to catholics everywhere is to be proactive in proclaiming Christ, not only in Word but also with the whole of their lives, as he put it in a recent tweet: “Let us not forget: if we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, our lives must bear witness to what we preach.”

All this will be for naught, and will fall on deaf and blinded ears, however, if there is not a re appropriation of true evangelical substance in the preaching, teaching, and life of the catholic church. As Francis put it, “our lives must bear witness to what we preach”. And yet, I fear that this will not be so for many catholics because an overinflated system of sacramentalism and obscuring of the gospel of Christ is so prevalent within many catholic churches.

Reform starts at the core: it will not be sufficient to exhort people to be more sold out for Christ if there is not motivation to be sold out for Christ in the first place. When there is a widespread awareness of the desperation that we, and I mean this as a plea for all christians, face apart from the work of Christ and his person, and our utter inability yet insatiable desire to be our own Lord and saviors, then we will see Christ in his splendor and want to live lives that are increasingly more devoted to him. Christ himself will become our treasure and then it will be possible to realize the vision that Francis commends us to: “Worshipping God means learning to be with him, stripping away our hidden idols and placing him at the centre of our lives.” When we see Christ as having dealt with our own idolatry on that gruesome road to Calvary–and rising from the dead not to secure a 50% solution to our greatest need, but having gone all the way, then we will be able to turn around and by the power of the Holy Spirit, strip away hidden idols.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! Amen.

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Man versus Wild!

What does the once popular TV series “Man vs. Wild”, the paleo diet, and fire prevention efforts in Yellowstone have in common? These three seemingly disjointed things are birthed from a contemporary culture that is, at its core, “two kingdom” in its approach to creation.

In the one kingdom, we have the reign of the modern human. This kingdom encompasses everything that is built and processed by the great king: man! Bustling cities, cars, boats, perfume, twinkies, and a plethora of consumer goods are its subjects. Set against the kingdom of man is the kingdom of nature. Animals, the “natural” land, forests, and all that dwell within their walls pay tribute to an ambiguous “mother nature” or the like. 

In popular culture, the drama of these two kingdoms is constantly played out. In “Man vs. Wild”, or any survival show, the unspoken premise is that the “Wild” is not a place that is intended for man. It is foreign; somewhat alien, and likely to lead to a quick demise. The natural world is something to be overcome, as it were, and with great difficulty.

The philosophical narrative of the paleo diet, in contrast to “Man vs. Wild”, is that man must return to the kingdom of nature from whence he came. Man was never intended to eat the things that are produced in his kingdom–there was an original state, when man was in the kingdom of nature, and we need to get back to that because it is good. How? Eat the things that man used to eat when he was in that kingdom: meat, vegetables, and the like. Eat like man used to eat when he was in that kingdom: grazing throughout the day with periods of intermittent fasting. And it goes on. 

In our culture, we all assign greater or lesser value to these kingdoms. The conflict between those who value the kingdom of man over the “natural world”, or visa versa, is nowhere more displayed than in the Yellowstone conservation efforts. Paul Marshall, in his book “Heaven is not my Home”, describes the scene quite well:

“Fires have existed since long before human beings spread across America. Some tress, like Sequoias, cannot reproduce without fire. Fire is “natural”. But when, in 1988, eight hundred thousand acres in Yellowstone when up in smoke… there was intense pressure to put the fires out… We must interfere, we must put out the fires. We can’t let nature take its course, or nature will destroy nature. Now elk are reproducing rapidly throughout the park and threaten to destroy the vegetation. If this continues, the elk will starve. Some people want to save the elk… Others say that winter and starvation will take care of the Elk. Are we “preserving nature” in an untouched state when we keep elk alive, or when we let them starve, or when we feed them, or when we shoot them?”

With a two kingdom approach to creation, we get into quandaries like this all the time. For example, what would it look like if all the world were to eat the “paleo diet”? Over 90% of the surface of the earth would have to be covered with farms, a feat that is clearly impossible given the actual geography of planet earth. If this diet is somehow better, then why would it be a catastrophic disaster for more than a few people to eat that way? Contemporary society would want us to believe that the underlying issue is neglecting one kingdom over the other. The issue with this method is that it’s two sides of the same coin. A new coin from a new mint is needed to make sense of things: the biblical view of man and nature.

Against any philosophy that divides creation into multiple parts, and assigns greater or lesser worth to one over the other, Holy Scripture sounds the trumpet blast. The pages of Holy writ reveal that there is only one creation, and that man is in it and a part of it. Consider these bullet points:

–All things that are created are fundamentally good: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” (1 Timothy 4:4 ESV) All things, by the way, includes everything in the creation. Do you believe that? Many christians do not.

–Animals also know God: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures… These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. (Psalm 104:24-29 ESV)

–There is a synergy between man, animals, and the land. That which affects man is inexorably linked to the rest of creation, and this is nowhere more poignant than the curse. Consider how the Sin of Israel is said to affect the animals and the land in Hosea: “There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying” (Hosea 4:2-3)

The antidote to the two kingdom approach we’ve looked at is to remind ourselves that everything under the sun is created by God; inherently good and to be received with thanksgiving. We have to make wise choices and steward the creation. “Leaving nature be” is simply not an option, because we are nature

Glory to God!

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Trinitarian Analogy in the High Priestly Prayer

How far is too far when it comes to making doctrinal connections and inferences from the Holy Trinity and Nicene Christology?

Analogous statements are made when the doctrine of the Trinity is applied to, for example, the church:

“Because God is triune, the church should reflect a unity in diversity.” “Because Christ has two natures in one person, Justification and Sanctification are distinct yet inseparable.” They, amongst other such ideas have an interesting sound to them, but are they true?

The most well known of the trinitarian analogies comes from the high priestly prayer of our Lord in John 17. Throughout this prayer, Jesus Christ sets fourth his desire that the nascent church be a reflection of the trinitarian life:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11, also 17:22)

The trinitarian unity should be reflected in the church. Trinitarian unity is both a relational unity and an ontological unity. The question of why the church should reflect this unity is given further consideration later in the chapter: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:23)

The unity of the church should be a reflection of the eternal Trinitarian love between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Why? First, so that the world would know that Jesus is the Christ. Second, to make known that the love and power of the all holy, all glorious, all wise and ever blessed Trinity has been showered upon the church in this age! Glory to God.

What is the application of this? Some questions for thought:

For protestants, it should be seriously considered whether relational and visible unity can be written off in favor of spiritual unity if it is to reflect the unity of the Holy Trinity? The current state of divisions I believe, would have been shocking to many of the fathers of the reformation. What dark coals fill the Christmas stockings that come with sacrificing unity? The implication in John 17 seems to be that fewer will know that Jesus is the Christ, and fewer will see the love of God in Christ Jesus poured out on the church.


This next week… I will launch nuclear missiles at various positions, including my own. Massive casualties will result. At least 3 denominations will be made fun of and someone will lose a limb. We might get around to theology after the bleeding is controlled.


Should we do away with the visible/invisible church distinction?

No, unless you want to limit the teaching of Holy Scripture.

There has been much clamor over the visible/invisible church distinction over the last few years. Many within Protestantism are sounding the clarion call to “return” to a more sacramental view of the church; an ecclesiology that is driven by baptism and not the elect in “all places and at all times”. Charges of “Nestorian” and “Docetic” ecclesiology are levied against the reformed and evangelical position from Rome and Byzantium… what is a Christian to DO??!!

The pen of Paul reveals in several areas that a sacramental view of the church is entirely in order. His teaching on sanctification in Romans 6, following Justification in 5, includes the premise that all who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death (6:4, see also Gal 3:27). I can only echo an “AMEN!” for not reading into Paul a spiritual/physical dichotomy in regards to baptism and recovering the high view that Jesus Christ, Paul, and Peter had when it came to Triune baptism.

That having been said…

The clear testimony of the Old Testament prophets and Israel is that man will always put too much confidence in the very rites given to him by the LORD. He will either hide behind them or disregard them completely. Israel put too much confidence in circumcision and the sacrificial system, thinking that they were enough to win favor with God. The LORD sent them Isaiah and right off the bat, told them that the very rites he had given them were now repugnant to his nostrils: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” (Isaiah 1:11)

Could it happen in the church?

1 John provides the clearest exposition that within the visible community of the Church, there are two types of Christians. There are those who have been cleansed “from all sin” (1:7) and those who do not have the truth in them (1:8). There are those who “have come to know him” (2:3) and those who are liars and have no truth in them (2:3)–those who are “in him” and those who are not (2:4). Some of the Christians in this church are “still in darkness” (2:9); the “Love of the Father” is not in them. On the other hand, some have “passed from darkness into light”, and are children of the Father. Some of the Christians in their midst departed from the faith, and are famously described as so: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (2:19)

The blessed John again and again tells us how to distinguish between these two types of Christians, and it is not whether they’ve been baptized. That’s the issue: most likely they’ve all been baptized! How are they then distinguished? The teaching of John is an expanded version of what our Lord said succinctly in his chilling warning in the Gospel according to Matthew: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (7:15).

Both a non-sacramental ecclesiology and a completely sacramental ecclesiology are, in military terms, “un-sat”. They are two sides of the over-emphasis coin. One side avoids any connection between baptism, the church and salvation. It has difficulty holding together “Therefore, having been Justified by faith…” (Rom 5:1) and “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…” (1 Pt 3:21) precisely because in that system, everything must be systematized. In short, it involves a Docetic ressourcement theology applied to the church. The other side, which defines the visible church as the only church, perpetuates a sacramental confidence that will inevitably lead to confusion over the nature of true conversion. Let us rejoice in the full and total revelation of Scripture that does not force us to choose between either option!

Glory to God!

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The Religion of Christ or Religion with Christ?

The late Fr. Alexander Schmemann often wrote in his personal diaries of his conviction that there were two forms of orthodoxy within his tradition: one Christ centered and one a perversion of sorts. Of the two he wrote: “…I have the feeling that in Orthodoxy, (i.e., in Christianity) two religions coexist in many ways opposites of each other. The religion of Christ–fulfilled in the Church, and the religion of the Church, or simply religion. In the first one, everything is understood and measured in Christ. In the second, Christ is, so to say, created, defined, seen, heard only insasmuch as He is Himself submitted to a “religious feeling,” to “churchliness,” etc… Someone who belongs to the second type–“religious, churchly”–can study theology for three years, but his treasure is not in the truth about Christ, but in something else.” (172)

Regardless of how many “religious” things go on in a denomination, or for that matter in our lives, and regardless of how liturgical or free a church may be, Fr. Schmemann gives us a reminder that the heart of the issue is, well, in the heart. “His treasure is not in the truth about Christ”. These words most plainly refer to the person who is religious yet knows not God. And yet it can happen to any church or committed follower of the LORD. There may be times where we affirm all the right doctrines and show up every week, and yet our treasure is no longer in Christ. The fruit of this will be evident–impatience, anger, lack of joy, anxiety, etc. It happens at the church level when we cannot fathom God moving in “that way”; when it even angers us!

The remedy for this is not to grumble that we’re not “being fed”, or to change from more formal to less formal worship, or to throw flaming darts at those who are not “our kind of Christian”. I would humbly submit that the remedy for this is to recognize when an idol of the heart has supplanted the spot that is rightfully His, and to turn back to the incomparable “pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11) that are at the right hand of God, that is, with Christ. The blessed Trinity is larger than we think.

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Prayer and participation in the Trinity

I was praying last night and it dawned on me that when we pray to the Lord, we are participants through grace in the inner life of the Holy Trinity. How awesome, and what a privilege! It is not as if we close our eyes and the Father up there listens to what we’re saying. Indeed, if that were it there would be cause for great rejoicing. Yet there is more than meets the eye here… “The Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Not only that, but Christ himself intercedes for us, as he sits at the right hand of the Father. It is as if our prayers are put twice into the refiners fire and arise like incense before the Sovereign One pure and undefiled.

And yet the crescendo does not end here! As the curtain is pulled back in this moment of intimacy with God, we realize that we kneel at the intersection of the ages. It is not “just me and God”. When we pray, we take part in what is already transpiring in that heavenly realm that is gifted to us by grace in Christ. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:22-24) Not you will come… you have come!

The greatest privilege of prayer is that the God who created the universe gives us an ear. Not only that, but we are caught up in His life: penetrated by Spirit and able to enter the holy of holies on behalf of the perfect sacrifice of the Son. Not only once do we enter on this account, but “unto ages of ages”… AMEN!


Inaguration Address

Friends, Romans, countrymen… lend me your ears!

I suppose in all honesty that it would be your eyes that I am, in fact, after.  Lacking Shakespearian eloquence as I do, I wouldn’t mind your bank account routing number, too. Whatever you decide, I want to thank you for visiting my blog.

I’ll let you in on the meat and potatoes of this project: I had a vision for sanctified blogging that’s been born out of the last few years browsing the blogosphere, and I wondered if it was possible to strive for an engaging blog that ultimately pointed away from itself to the great Other, who is the subject of the title “Blessed is the man”.

Why this end? Well, on a practical level, we will be held accountable for every word that we speak. That’s a sobering fact! There are many things that we wouldn’t say in person, ever, and there are many demeanors that we would not dress ourselves with in public. There are even fewer things that we would consciously say before the throne of Yahweh. But what a mighty dragon slayer one becomes behind the starship console of iBook, fueled by a new trenta at Starbucks. We are black ops ninja warriors battling the evil Jedi with Excalibur! The law of charity, hope and love need not apply here–I’ve had a lot of espresso. Yet be it Sinai or Jerusalem or starbucks, King Yahweh is equally concerned for the sanctity of words and the way in which they are delivered. The world watches how we love one another as Christians. There are more secular folk tracking the various theological battles than you may be aware of. By this they know that we belong to Him; by our love for the brethren.

Now I confess right off the bat that this is a lofty goal: point away from oneself to the Christ. Avoid sinning against my brother. No doubt I will revisit these words and sometimes feel stung by my own conviction! The words of Archmadrite Vasileios are timely: “When you are concerned with matters like these, it is not permissible to bring the discussion down to your own level; other people want to hear the Word of God, not your views… So you realize that writing this sort of work is always a cross.” 

Who is the man, then, who is truly fit for these things? Caravaggio shows us above that even The Apostle Peter evaded him in that final hour: “I do not know the man.” He is the man who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

Christ is the subject of this Psalm, and he is the one who is truly fit for these things. My hope is that we increasingly find our delight and identity in him, and so love one another as he has loved us.