Saturday, July 21, 2012

Surgery Update

Eye surgery on July 11th went well enough, effortless and painless, much easier than a trip to the dentist.  Vision on the 12th was pretty good; eye was a little itchy, no big deal.  Exam reached 20/20 on the eye chart.  Vision deteriorated throughout the week, increasing cloudiness developed.  Exam on 20th revealed that I have a cyst (blister) on my right retina, cause unknown.  But, it’s hard to read and write.  However, I did get a few Tweets off.  I covet your prayers. 

Yours in Christ,

Herb Swanson aka Augie

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Let’s Take Nicea Apart, Part III B

Okay, maybe the Universe doesn’t turn on a word.  However, it certainly does turn on the Nature of God.  Everything we talk about will ultimately start and end with the Nature of God.  That’s why the word ousia is so important and why we must find a way to agree about it.

Singling out a Single Attribute

Eventually we want to look at all the attributes of God’s Nature together.  That investigation is way down the road.  What’s important here is the realization that God’s Nature is one piece, and doesn’t function in parts.  The problem of taking things one-at-a-time constantly confronts us humans.  We must do our best to understand that each piece fits into the whole picture.  That’s hard, but we’ve got to do this if we’re going to keep any sense of balance, or even sort things out halfway right.  We must struggle to understand God as three persons, not as one attribute, or a collection of attributes, or a series of attributes.

We can’t help the one-at-a-time problem.  That’s built into us; it’s just another human weakness.  However, we’re not forced to pick out one attribute of God, throw all the other attributes away, and build up a wall of separation with anybody who dares to disagree.  That’s the source of tension.  That’s what causes the problem.  That’s what no one has any right to do.  Yet, it happens all the time.

Sources of Single Attribute Thinking

We might suppose that certain logic methods are less prone to this error.  But, lo and behold apophatic thinkers are just as guilty of this as cataphatic ones.  Now why would anybody be so fussy about logic structure and walk into a silly blunder like this?  I think it’s because we have an inherent love for idols, and we just hate it that God is Who He says He is.  How dare God behave like that?  Just Who does He think He is?  In any case, the sources of single attribute thinking are all around us everywhere.  We even have to fight and work to avoid this human tendency in ourselves.  The source of single attribute thinking is our human flesh, which is always at war with God.

Attributes don’t Define God

“God is defined by His unknowability.”  That’s a really dumb thing to say.  Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude.  But, that’s a really dumb thing to say.  Nothing defines God.  God is undefined and undefinable.  Doesn’t anybody study logic anymore?  Legs don’t define the cow.  The cow defines the legs.  Nothing defines God.  God defines everything else.  God defines what it means to know, and God defines what it means not to know; what is possible to know, and what is impossible to know.  Nothing makes sense if you try to take God out of the equation.

Love is the Popular Single Attribute

Are you surprised?  It’s very cool to say things like, “Love defines God.”  I even know of examples where apophatic theologians say such absurd things.  What an apophatic theologian ought to be saying is something like, “God is not unloving.”  Nobody should be saying anything as outrageous as, “Love defines God.”  God defines love!  We wouldn’t even have a clue of what love is like if God hadn’t taught us what it is on the Cross.

People who say things like, “Love defines God,” or Love is God, and sometimes even, “God is Love,” are guilty of creating an idol.  Yes, even though, “God is Love,” comes right out of the Bible, you don’t have to follow the conversation very far to realize that some speakers mean the exact opposite.  We just want to have an idol created in our own image.  I suppose we instinctively know that idols only do what we tell them to do; even though God is “not a tame lion,” and we do have to obey Him (C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia).

I don’t suppose that this is a hangover from Hasidism, though sometimes it feels that way.  Hesed is one of the Hebrew words for love.  The tendency of this kind of love is toward a manufactured piety and a superficial mysticism.  It tends to produce the sort of person that is “so heavenly minded, they’re of no earthly good (Oliver Wendell Holmes, perhaps).”  No, I’m not criticizing monasticism.  I have great respect for monasticism.  I’m criticizing folks that have forgotten that the God Who defines love also defines righteousness, and a ton of other things.

I’m addressing folks who have forgotten that our Lord Jesus Christ is a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec (Hebrews 5:6, 10; 7:1, 17, 21).”  Since Paul takes pains to repeat this four times, it must be important.  Zedek is the Hebrew word for justice or righteousness, and Melchisedec means king of justice or righteousness.  In spite of the fact that the Psalms are filled with the word Hesed, the King of Love is not found in the Bible, but the King of Righteousness is.  Certainly, Jesus is the King of Love, but without the King of Righteousness, the King of Love does not exist.

Most of us have figured out that you can’t have one without the other.  As soon as righteousness is removed from the equation, a false sort of love is fabricated which is “of no earthly good.”  Not only is it devoid of reality, but it’s even devoid of love, for love is now reduced to nothing more than a subjective, senseless, nihilism.

Even so, there are multitudes of those who loath any juridical idea of God.  For them a juridical God is a God of hate.  Their denial of reality is astounding.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Let’s Take Nicea Apart, Part III A

Does the Universe turn on a word?  We need the help of Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman theologians to find agreement concerning this word.  The troublesome word is homoousia.  This word has stirred as much controversy as any other, through the centuries.
Historical Development
In the fourth century, there was no theologically acceptable word for the nature of God.  Prominent words were all unsatisfactory, because they carried strong pagan implications with them.  The Church pressed the word ousia, which means property, into service after filling it with new meaning.  This word occurs only twice, in Luke 15:12-13, in the story of the prodigal son.  The question within the Church was, “is the nature of the Son, homoousia (the same), homoiousia (similar), or herteroousia (different) with relationship to the Father?”  The prevailing choice was homoousia (the same), which seems simple to us; but this was a difficult choice in 325.  Some of the modern English renderings of this word are one essence, one in Being, and one substance.  Unfortunately, the word substance unintentionally implies a material physical relationship.  Since the Scripture plainly states that God is Spirit, this is impossible.  Consequently, we much prefer the rendering one essence.
Kinds of Logic
Apophatic, that is negative theology or logic, describes things only in the form of denial of some element or principle: to use a common example found in some liturgies, “God is uncreated.”  Cataphatic, that is positive theology or logic, describes things only in the form of affirmation of some element or principle: to use another common example found in the same liturgies, “God is consubstantial.”  Wikipedia and Marikablogs have detailed discussions of these topics.
Comparison of Logical Approaches
Obviously, both methods have value.  There are problems in logic that can only be solved with an apophatic method; while others yield more readily to a cataphatic approach.  So in the Scripture we find that, “God cannot lie,” as well as, “God is love.”  To deny the value of either approach requires a wisdom greater than that of the Apostles, and must be cast aside by thinking Christians.  Such exclusivistic approaches may give us some interesting things to think about, and this is a good thing.  Yet, to push such approaches beyond meditation and into an exclusivistic dogma is destructive.  Reality is not always either apophatic or cataphatic exclusively.  Reality is best approached with a both apophatic and cataphatic technique.  It is impossible to make, “God is not created,” cataphatic; and it is silly to make, “God is love,” apophatic.  At the end of the day, the frank simplicity of Scripture must reign over all.
A Simple View of the Nature of God
God has essence, efforts, and effects.  In this view, essence is the basic nature of God, usually discussed through a list of attributes.  Efforts are God’s activities, or works.  Effects are all the artifacts left behind because of God’s efforts.
Let’s consider these effects.  God speaks, and things come into existence.  In Genesis 1, God speaks and the Universe is created.  In Exodus 20, God speaks and the Law springs into being.  We only know about God’s essence and efforts because He describes them in His Word.  Without God’s Word, we cannot know about His essence and efforts at all.  However, with God’s Word we can know about them, even though we cannot understand them.  Even though we know about God’s essence and efforts, we affirm that we cannot know God’s essence and efforts.  There is a world of difference between knowing something, and knowing about something.
A Complicated View of the Nature of God
God has essence, energies, efforts, and effects.  This view adds the element of energies to the Simple View; and folks often describe it as, “essence and energies.”  What is different about this view is that all the attributes of God are now placed in this new category, energies.  This leaves the category of essence absolutely empty.  It does have the advantage of emphasizing the unknowability of God.  However, in this view apophatic theology is usually pushed to its illogical extreme.  So, technically, we can’t even talk about the unknowability of God.  There are three very unfortunate things about this view.
Divisive Problems Between the Two Views
One.  It denies that the nature of God can be known by His Revelation, especially where specific statements in Scripture talk about God’s nature.  It also denies that humans have a right to draw logical conclusions from God’s effects about His efforts, from His efforts about His energies, and from His energies about His essence.  While it is true that we must be careful not to deny the Mystery of God, it is absurd to deny this line of reasoning, especially where God’s Word specifically invites it.
Two.  It creates the illusion that two people standing side-by-side in worship recite the same Creed and are therefore in absolute agreement.  The reality is that one may hold the Simple View and the other the Complicated View, and they don’t agree at all.  Their pictures of God and Scripture are radically different.
Three.  It has erected a wall of partition between Christian brothers and sisters that is almost impossible to tear down.  The very thing that The Creed was designed to accomplish: namely, to draw Christian brothers and sisters together in love and unity, is now destroyed by the meaning of a single word.  As a result, many brothers and sisters in Christ have become estranged from each other, and drift hopelessly farther and farther apart with each passing year.  Moreover, the disagreement has even erupted in violence.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Let’s Take Nicea Apart, Part II

We were in the process of dissecting the Nicene Creed.  Here is the second sentence.  Our version follows the Roman Catholic version.
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.”  (
“And [we believe] in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father; through Whom all things were made.”
Once again, we have not found any significant differences:
·         “We believe” does not exist in the Greek text, but the word, “and,” is there and carries the subject and verb from the first to the second sentence.  Without, “We believe,” the second sentence has no subject or verb, cannot stand alone, and makes no sense.  The “And” was sufficient to carry the subject and verb forward in Greek, and we automatically understand the same thing in English.  Still, we really like the idea that somebody had the courage to say it right out loud.
·         “Eternally begotten” vs. “only-begotten” is not earth shattering; yet it is important, but not because it looks different.  Both ways translate a name, “Monogené.”  Whichever way we translate, “Monogené” means that the Son is the legally designated family Head, the primary Heir.  Because this word is an adjective in use, it’s a little difficult to make a smooth sentence.  The Greek text repeats the idea with a verb, “begotten.”  They didn’t want us to miss the point.  Point One: The Son is, was forever, and always will be the primary Heir.  Point Two: No normal human process formed the Son.  God did not have a child.  The Father begot the Son by an eternal begetting; not be breeding.  This is what “eternally” and “before all ages” both convey with equal force.
·         Nicea (325 AD) always was a living document.  It expresses the thorough Bible study and faith of 318 pastors who were defending the Church.  When Constantinople I (381 AD) ratified Nicea, the Greeks dropped “God from God,” but the Latins did not.  So, it’s not in the Greek text.  We could all get on the same page if everybody dropped it.  It’s unnecessarily repetitious.  Frankly, it sounds too much like, “idol from idols.”  Jesus Christ is Light begotten from Light, and True God begotten from True God.
·         Just in case we were sleeping, “begotten, not made,” says it one more time.  In the Eastern mindset, repetition is always emphatic.  These pastors are yelling.  They write in all capital letters.  THE SON IS NOT A CREATURE!  BREEDING ACTIVITY DID NOT FORM THE SON!  THE SON IS GOD ETERNAL, JUST AS THE FATHER IS GOD ETERNAL!  Ouch, my ears are wringing from all that yelling.  Stop yelling.  We get it.
·         Yes, the Son was active in creation, “through Him/Whom all things were made.”  That’s what the Bible teaches in several places.
Oh sure, there are folks who think that Jesus matured to become God the Son.  However, that’s not Christianity, and you can’t believe this, and still be a Christian.
We covered all the easy points, but we skipped over one really big point.  So, let’s save it for tomorrow, and spend a whole day on it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence day everybody.  While we are at it, can we pause to remember that we are free because of Jesus Christ's death on the cross. He died to set us free, and because of Him we are free indeed.
Around 1700 a body of people called Puritans caught hold of this idea of Christ's freedom and ran with it. The Puritans took over England for a while, and were largely responsible for developing America.
To be sure the Puritans had their faults.  Just read any of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works: The Scarlet Letter or The House of the Seven Gables for example.  This son of the Puritans certainly understood his ancestor’s sins.  Or read about, The Salem Trials.  You get my drift.
But right or wrong, the Puritans seem to have had something that we might have lost:
·         Stones – The Puritans had courage and were willing to fight and even die for what they believed.  In our emasculated society nobody wants controversy.
·         Faith – Cut a Puritan and he bleeds Bible.  Puritan faith was not about wishy-washy warm fuzzy feelings about faith in faith and every other thing found lying on the road.  Puritan faith was about objective truth found in the Bible, the facts of history, and hard study diligently applied.
The simple fact is that without the Crucifixion of Christ there would be no America.  Or at least not an America as we know it: that place where freedom is prized above most other values.
The Puritans were not the only ones.  Down through the ages, this Christ has instilled in the human race a love of life and freedom that does not otherwise exist in the world at all.  Here are a few you should remember:
·         28: John — beheaded
·         35: Stephen — stoned
·         44: James — beheaded
·         155: Polycarp — burned
·         203: Saints Felicitas and Perpetua — arena games with wild animals
·         320: The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste — drowning and exposure
·         1415: Hus — burned
·         1555: Latimer and Ridley — burned
·         1556: Cranmer — burned
I’m not saying that we should agree with all of these.  They made mistakes, they sinned, but they had courage when it counted.  Today we stand on their ashes and their bones, and are free because they followed this Jesus.
Like it or not; believe it or not; reject it or not: this is what built America. And in our hour of deepest need: this is what will rebuild America again — if we will only let it....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Let’s Take Nicea Apart, Part I

I hate to admit it, but we Christians even have a hard time agreeing about something as basic as the Nicene Creed.  So let’s examine it one sentence, and if we have to, one phrase or one word at a time.
Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a Roman Catholic recitation of the Nicene Creed.  I probably stumbled on it in Facebook or Twitter, and it snapped my neck, so I looked it up.  Here’s where I found it:  This is what the first sentence says:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.”
Wow, that’s almost exactly the same as my translation.  I’m actually on the same page as somebody else.  Wow!  In fact I don’t see any significant differences at all.  Let’s look at it in greater detail:
·         The first Greek word in the creed is “Pisteúomen,” “We believe.”  Wow!  Absolutely!  “Let’s build something together.”  Let’s work at this together until we get it right.  Amen!
·         The Roman Catholic translation has articles (the) stuck in, but mine does not.  No big deal here.  What’s a “the” or two between friends; although, they’re not there in the Greek text.  My only serious objection to the two extra articles is that they soften some of the 3P Poetic Punch.  Like I said, “It’s no big deal.”  We don’t know how to put the Poetic Punch into English anyway.
·         The Greek text has Poetic Punch in the three names of God: Patéra, Pantokrátora, Poiētén.  Now, if somebody could only come up with a way to bring that 3P Poetic Punch into the English language.  That would take a literary genius.  Nobody has ever done it before.  Oh well, that’s why we study foreign languages (like King James English).
·         Why did I insert a comma after Poiētén?  No big deal either.  I did it for the same reason that I capitalized Poiētén, Maker.  I wanted to bring out the idea that this is a third name for God.  I wanted to emphasize the Trinitarian Name, just as I want to emphasize the Trinitarian God.  3 Ps pack a lot of poetic punch.
·         There is another reason for the comma.  The phrases are three dimensional.
o   Dimension One: God’s Names — “Patéra, Pantokrátora, Poiētén”
o   Dimension Two: God’s Creation of the physical material universe — “heaven and earth”
o   Dimension Three: God’s Relationship between the physical and the spiritual — “seen and unseen” or “visible and invisible” (potāto/potăto, nobody cares)
I think that there is something really cool going on here:
·         God is the Father of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
·         God is the Almighty [Lord] of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
·         God is the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
There is something else really cool here: If this were the only consideration on the table, there is not one single thing in this sentence that would keep me from being Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant: any one of the 30,000 denominations in this world.  Almost every one of them has nearly the same words in their doctrinal statement.
There is one dissenting voice that I can think of: those folks who believe that Adam matured to become God, but they’re not even Christians.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Perception is Not Reality

Well... We’ve all heard that it is.  But perception is only reality for one person, the person that has it.  But the rest of us all have differing perceptions.  Reality only begins when our perceptions line up with facts, and we agree with those facts, and each other.

There is a very popular perception about the Church.  A lot of people believe that the Church has nothing to say to them because of all the divisions and factions in the Church.

For example: Christians are always preaching about forgiveness, but if they really believed in forgiveness, there wouldn’t be thirty thousand or more denominations, would there?

We have to agree.  Until 1054 AD there was only one denomination, although there was one major dissenting group, and several splinters.  But the Church worked very hard to reconcile those splinters, and correct false perceptions.  Not so today.  Today’s perception is that the Church doesn’t work at fixing splinters.  The reality is that some of the thirty thousand or more denominations don’t get along at all, they are badly, even violently divided over all sorts of issues.  The perception is that the Church is a bad joke, it has nothing to say to me.

There are no divisions in the Church in Heaven, no denominations, no arguments about doctrine.  Don’t get me wrong.  Arguments about doctrine are a good thing, if at the end of the day, we shake hands, share the peace of the Lord; but remain inseparable loving Christian brothers and sisters.  The Scripture commands that we, “Speak the same things.”  But getting there takes a lot of hard work, and just buckling to every disagreement produces a dishonest peace.  But if we can love and respect each other, and argue quietly, we can eventually work out a resolution.  Unless, of course, we’re too proud to even say, “I might have been wrong.”