Getting caught with their pants down

Seven years ago when i was exploring other Christian traditions and reading heavily in the early fathers (and all the leading monographs), I came to the conclusion that if you don’t make Triadology (or its correlate Christology) central, you risk getting your whole theological method wrong.

A number of Conference Calvinists said, “Nuh-uh.”

Well, here we are today.  My thoughts on the current fighting on the Trinity regarding complementarianism:

  1. CMBW (or complementarian advocates on the Trinity) say you shouldn’t exalt the Fathers over the Bible.  Well, it’s not the simple.  As Torrance pointed out, once you terms like Ὁμοουσιον become enshrined in Christian discourse, you can’t go backwards. Ὁμοουσιον safeguards the ontological structure and identity of of the essence.  If you jettison this doctrine, you risk jettisoning everything that goes with it.
  2. As it stands, the complementarians/EFS guys are wrong.   But they aren’t 100% wrong.  It is wrong of them to read roles and functions into the eternal being of God.  You end up with Arianism.  Since God’s being is simple and identical among the Persons, it just doesn’t work.  If the Son’s being is eternally subordinate and the Father’s isn’t, then by definition they don’t have the same Being.
  3. But they have noticed something.  There is a difference of taxis in the Trinity.  That’s what the Fathers call “monarchia.”
  4. Neither side has really come to grips with that.
  5. I suspect one of the reasons is that the Evangelical world only has two categories for the Trinity: Ontological and Economical.  The Fathers had a third category:  The Person.
  6. But the real reason is we just don’t talk about the Trinity, and if we do we don’t let the full import of Athanasius’s ontology change how we do everything.   For one, it’s hard.  Athanasius’s most important work is Contra Arianos.  It isn’t On the Incarnation.  And the former work is quite demanding.  You won’t get invited to TGC conferences speaking on an Athanasian metaphysics.

 

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Midwifing a Byzantium

Harnack had it backwards.  Did the early church “Hellenize” and thus negate Gospel purity?  The question defies any easy answer.  We will look at a few.

(1) Harnack held that the early church imported Greek concepts into the sweet biblical faith and polluted it.

There might appear an element of truth in this.  Some early Greek Christian writers do appear at odds with a literal reading of Song of Songs.  But that’s not what Harnack meant.  He had in mind something like,

(1*) The Greeks imported the miraculous into the Biblical faith and ruined the message of Jesus and love.

In other words, Jesus was a good German professor.  Harnack is too easy to attack.  Let’s look at other options.

The guys represented by Calvinist International (and this is not an attack on them, so please don’t flood my inbox) say the opposite:

(2) Greek categories were already embedded in the New Testament.

Well, kind of.  Paul uses words like “nature” (doth not nature teach you…) and Peter talks about theosis (2 Pet. 1.4).  Is this the same thing as the NT teaching Hellenization?  The problem is that Hellenism also implied other stuff:

(2a) Definition = limit.

Apply that to Triadology and you will see why early fathers were reticent to define God.  Now, is (2a) wrong?  Not necessarily (right or wrong is beyond the point for now).  But you can’t find that key Hellenic thesis in the NT.  Therefore,

(~2) There is no systematic Hellenization in the New Testament.

Now for my view, which I got from John McGuckin and John Zizioulas.

(3) Immediately after the Constantinian settlement Gregory of Nazianzus posited a new vision of the Roman Imperium, now Christian, as the new intellectual logos (using logos as rational order, not as Jesus).

Therefore, there is no reason to defend “Hellenism” as such.  Gregory’s writings are superior in content and style to anything ancient Greece has to offer.  But someone could counter,

(~3) Should we not go back to the Bible?

The objection implies a going back to the Hebrew ontology, such as it is.  Of course, we should always go back to the prophets, who offered their own social order.  But as to going back to a Hebraic intellectual system, the problem is what is meant by it.

(~3′) What is this Hebraic logos?

I suggest, however, we say with the apostle Paul, “The cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a Stumbling block to the Jews.”   Therefore, we see Paul rejecting both (2) and (~3).  Paul rejects Hellenization and it is doubtful he would be thrilled with reading Aristotle back into the NT.