important things 6: conflicting beliefs

1. Catching Up

Hello, again, after a couple months. Summer is fading in gold-emerald hues; another school year begins.


Late last year I first read Jack Crabtree's article, to which I decided to respond. Not until February did I really begin writing and wrestling with what to say. Then in the spring I learned things would be changing at Gutenberg College: Jack and his brother David Crabtree would be stepping down as tutors from this beloved great books school. (They were continuing a project, the initial fruits of which are now available online.) An interesting development.

In May I went ahead and sent the first post in this blog series to my friend Margaret, who graciously shared it with the group at Reformation Fellowship (the church Tim and I attended for more than a decade, where Jack and David still attend and teach). Since then I have slowly, slowly worked on approaching my subject, my response to a teacher I have deeply admired and will always be grateful for.

Today I reach a point of laying out two differing understandings of history and reality. This may be the main thing I've been trying to get at (and also procrastinating doing). It may be, after it's said, all I need to say.

Relatedly, the other day a quote on Facebook grabbed my attention. David Robertson (a recent Gutenberg grad, or almost grad) has shared with me his joy at studying Michael Polanyi, and here is part of what he quoted, regarding, in Polanyi's context, conflicting scientific presuppositional understandings:
Two conflicting systems of thought are separated by a logical gap, in the same sense as a problem is separated from the discovery which solves the problem. Formal operations relying on one framework of interpretation cannot demonstrate a proposition to persons who rely on another framework. Its advocates may not even succeed in getting a hearing from these, since they must first teach them a new language, and no one can learn a new language unless he first trusts that it means something. A hostile audience may in fact deliberately refuse to entertain novel conceptions such as those of Freud, Eddingtion, Rhine, or Lysenko, precisely because its members fear that once they have accepted this framework they will be led to conclusions which they--rightly or wrongly--abhor. Proponents of a new system can convince their audience only by first winning their intellectual sympathy for a doctrine they have not yet grasped. Those who listen sympathetically will discover for themselves what they would otherwise never have understood. Such an acceptance is a heuristic process, a self-modifying act, and to this extent a conversion. It produces disciples forming a school, the members of which are separated for the time being by a logical gap from those outside it. They think differently, speak a different language, live in a different world, and at least one of the two schools is excluded to this extent for the time being (whether rightly or wrongly) from the community.
If there is any way I have grown during the past five or so years, it is perhaps to have come to recognize the truth of the above statement (thanks, Mr. Polanyi for your philosophical aptitude!) and to accept the accompanying humility in a reality of Christian/biblical love, where the central goal is not to win intellectual sympathy (doing so is fine, obviously, but if it were the central, or at least the immediate goal, then Paul and the other martyred apostles were mainly dismal failures).

I mention this in order to say I recognize I have nothing to offer to gain your intellectual sympathy. Worse (from my view), the way I'm using language will sound dumb, compared to Jack Crabtree's brilliant way of using language. The following comes from a truly different "language" than any Jack has ever studied, which I have come to accept via a heuristic process. But it will sound as though I'm speaking from within a Roman Catholic/Protestant framework, simply because I'm using English words and phrases about which we all have certain presuppositions.

(I'm as okay with this as I can be, at my current place in life, in the process I struggle with inwardly, being very stiff-necked, prideful, and so on, regularly repenting of such. Just thought I would express this. Thanks.)

2. Concerning 4th-Century Christians

Last time, I gave a brief overview of the Orthodox Christian presupposition I came to accept regarding God as a multiplicity of Persons. (Each of these Persons is understood to be uncreated, or, you might say, outside of creation, which includes being outside of time--for example, "Today I have begotten you" is used as an expression of what is. Everything always "Is" for God in this presuppositional framework.) I hold this view in contrast with Jack Crabtree's understanding about Jesus.

Although in the article I'm responding to Jack merely says Jesus was "brought into existence by God, his Father," I have heard Jack explicitly state that Jesus is a man like any other human being, conceivably replaceable in his role in God's story by any other human being.

In contrast, I believe Jesus himself was referring to a different reality when he said, "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Another time Jesus responded to Philip, who had asked him to reveal the Father to the gathered apostles, that the Father was "in" himself and he was "in" the Father. Jesus, therefore, maintained that only the Son (of God) "knows" the Father and that the Father is "in" the Son.

Jack's interpretive framework gave me a rule that said, "No person or being can be inside another person or being." If I heard him correctly, this is his understanding. It makes sense, according to what our five senses tell us. I now think there is evidence beyond our earthly senses for there to be something different happening, at least regarding God. This something can be expressed as a closeness beyond what any human being can have with another human being. It can be termed, as I sort of said before, a perfect concert of interaction. The word communion also fits.

As was pointed out in a comment last post, history shows us an exceedingly messy, sometimes humorous process of people coming to express in bulky, awkward human language what had been revealed by God through Jesus Christ to his apostles regarding himself in relation to his Father. Fourth century Constantinople was full of interested arguers from every social strata. Unlike at any time since Christ was born, it was now legal to openly theologize. In his book The Orthodox Church, Timothy Ware mentions this oft-lamentable situation with generosity: 
If Christians were at times acrimonious, it was because they cared about the Christian faith. Perhaps disorder is better than apathy. Orthodoxy [ancient Orthodox Christianity] recognizes that the councils were attended by imperfect humans, but it believes that these imperfect humans were guided by the Holy Spirit.
The model for these ancient councils was the council assembled in Jerusalem during the first century, attended by Paul, Barnabus, Peter, James, and others, which determined that the group known as Judaizers was heretical in what it taught Gentiles about Christianity. Whatever one believes about the fourth century gatherings and beyond, the original one recorded in Acts had at its core prayer and the Holy Spirit's guidance. (Somehow the apostles and all first Christians had been "filled" with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father.)

To return (at last) to Jack's article (Point II), another statement about the Jerusalem council might be that those men to whom Jesus gave "the true meaning and significance of what they had already learned as first-century Jews who had been taught the Scriptures in the synagogue" processed along their apostolic journey into a council, when it became necessary, in order to determine aspects of critical Christian understanding/teaching/doctrine and to write them down.

In his article Jack's view is clear. He believes the fourth-century council's bishops no longer practiced Christianity; rather, it had happened that:
By the end of Paul’s life, those who considered themselves followers of Jesus had largely turned away from this hard-fought understanding that Paul taught (2 Timothy 1:15). Having become interested in a significantly different understanding of the nature and significance of Jesus and what he accomplished, they began to teach a different Jesus and a different gospel...The founding of Christianity arose through teachers and leaders who are mostly unknown to us. These men invented an entirely new and different religion—a religion distinct from and independent of the decidedly Jewish worldview and gospel that Jesus and Paul had proclaimed.
The reason Jack believes this:
Through the original works of ancient writers, I have became acquainted with the thought forms and tendencies of the Church Fathers at the same time that I have become much more familiar with the worldview and concepts of ancient pagan philosophers...I came to realize the extent to which the reading of the Bible by the earliest Christians (in contradistinction to the earliest believers) failed to be an accurate exegesis of the biblical texts. Rather, it was the combining of various Hellenistic and pagan ideas with biblical concepts, language, and ideas.
If I haven't yet, it's important to make clear that I believe Jack's views come from legitimate reactions to the general religious form that passes in our culture for Christianity, and which came to us 21st century Americans via the broken, incomplete traditions of the Reformers (who were, themselves, reacting to broken, incomplete Roman Catholic traditions). Jack expresses this traditional Christian understanding very well, but his problem is that in ignorance he lumps Orthodox Christianity with it. This lumping seems completely rational to him, and I get that. But he stopped far too soon in his exploration of the interpretive framework of this ancient faith.

3. An Alternative Framework
Because Adam believed the devil who had told him his lies, and tasted of the tree of knowledge, therefore, as one who had believed a liar, he fell away from the truth. After this, human nature labored a great deal seeking the truth but could not find it. This is clearly confirmed by all the wise men of Greece, who could by no means harmonize, unify, and direct on the right path the varieties of human wisdom, despite the fact that many used means for this end and wrote a multitude of lengthy works in which they examined virtue and vice from all points of view.
~ St. Symeon the New Theologian (died in 1022 A.D.)
Orthodox Christian understanding relates to the scope of what God does and who God is. Not fully, of course, at all, but as God provides the means. One hymn we sing about Jesus' transfiguration on Mt. Tabor basically expresses that at this event the disciples Peter, James, and John beheld the Messiah's glory as far as they were capable of doing so.

The Scriptures are intrinsic to Orthodox Christian life. Everything is about what they are about, and we find they are about what God does and who God is in relation to humankind.

I'm someone who studied under Jack Crabtree and his friends for eleven years, fully engaged and enthralled--I audited Gutenberg classes, attended Oktoberfusses, Summer Institutes, and Art Conferences--and for years before that I interacted (jousting at our dining table) with people from Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Buddhism. I am a preacher's kid who didn't like the "churchyness" of church, because I grew up among much (though not total) artifice and worldliness.

Nothing I observed, studied, or listened to before Orthodox Christianity was so comprehensively engaged with Scripture, with the people who wrote the Scriptures and those about whom they wrote. (Nothing, I began to note grudgingly at first, was so doggone consistent.) Obviously I've been aware of other long-lived groups--Catholicism and Islam, for example--which claim to practice the truest Scriptural truth. But what they do and who they are, as far as I've seen, don't hold together. They (in history and theologically) are not all of a piece; they are in tatters at best. Such has also been the case, and even moreso, for Protestantism.

Orthodox church services draw heavily on their Jewish roots. Prayers in church are mainly from the Psalter; King David's hymns bookend everything. The recognition is ever present, on which St. Symeon's quote above touches, of humankind's fall and need for help, and of the nature of humanity's failure to find its own way to wisdom.

For the Jews, synagogue worship was not optional; it was central. Praising God happened in community, as well as privately in one's "closet" (the inner chamber of the heart). It was personal--God had interacted with the Hebrew people on a personal level--but it was not individual (it was never cut off from others). This manner or method of coming together, this aspect of the Law, was a great part of what Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill, by establishing the Law of Liberty about which James wrote.

Jesus' first disciples, those people who began to be called Christians at Antioch, observed the world changing as they spread their good news. What context, what framework, were they broadcasting from? That of their worship services, the centrality of the Scripture-interpreting life of the nascent Church which Jesus established. The apostles delivered to the people the prayers of King David along with what those prayers (and what David's life) illustrated, as well as what every event in the now-old Testament had illustrated, preparing the world for the final and "fullest" Messiah. Everything that happened in the past had really happened, certainly, had been real in time to the people back then, but truly, for everyone who had lived in belief beforehand (that great cloud of witnesses Paul spoke of) there was joy in seeing how their life events had laid an illustrative foundation for the miraculous lives of Jesus and all who surrounded him.
When did human beings begin to abandon the worship of idols, except since the true God Word of God came among human beings? Or when have the oracles amongst the Greeks and everywhere ceased and become empty, except since the Savior revealed himself upon earth? Or when did those called gods and heroes by the poets begin to be condemned as merely mortal humans, except since the Lord erected the trophy over death and preserved incorruptible the body which he took, raising it from the dead?...And formerly everywhere was filled with the deceit of the oracles, and the utterances of those in Delphi and Dodona and Boeotia and Lycia and Libya and Egypt and Cabiri and the Pythoness were admired in the imagination of human beings. But now, since Christ is announced everywhere, their madness has also ceased and no longer is there anyone among them giving oracles. Formerly demons deceived human fancy, taking possession of springs or rivers, wood or stone, and by their tricks thus stupefied the simple. But now, after the Divine manifestation of the Word has taken place, their illusion has ceased.
~ On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius (299-328 A.D.)
Jesus' coming into the world changed history, changed everything, in ways we who are now far from it aren't aware of (while at the same time we benefit from it). The true church, the correct faith, is also Jesus himself continuing to dwell in history ("Behold, I am with you always"). The Son of God, being God by nature, can concurrently remain seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven (the unseen realm each of us will see the day we die), without having to change places or go back and forth. Heaven is actually, after all, closer to us than our own souls. Evidences for its reality provide faith, which is the hope of things not yet seen.
And as John was finishing his course, he said, "Who do you think I am? I am not he. But behold, there comes one after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose." Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know him, nor even the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning him.
~ Acts 13:25-27
The prophets are real people, who died and went "down" to Gehenna, or Hades, still waiting for their Messiah. This one the prophets foretold would "take flesh" and be born as John the Baptist's cousin. Jesus' grandparents, Joachim and Anna, would be buried in a sepulcher near a garden called Gethsemane, to which Jesus would come whenever possible to pray, to commune with his Father in the hidden chamber of his core being. He would do this perfectly, showing his disciples the way to imitate. Jesus would then be arrested in the garden, crucified on a cross, and buried. While his flesh lay "asleep" in the grave, he personally would trample down the gates of Hades and rescue its captives: the prophets, King David, his grandparents, Adam and Eve, and all the rest who waited there, longing for him. He would take them to heaven, to Paradise, to be with him and a thief, who on the cross next to his had asked to be remembered in his ever-present, timeless Kingdom (which will exist in complete fullness for all in the future but which is a reality even now).

There is more I can say, and I realize I would like to make a few final points about Jack's article. Next post. Please respond to this one if you'd like to. Fire away.

The end is in view! Part 7 is here.

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