Vacuous Notes

Kevin’s reply to my third soteriological sidebar has a single point: he wants to assert that the debate on the generation of the Son cannot but be a debate within the very strict parameters of God’s nature and will. My argument has been that the generation of the Son, while inescapably involving nature and will, is by revelation and the Church’s experience (and not simply, despite his sarcastic question ending his second paragraph, by virtue of my own definition), first a personal generation, which generation hypostatizes the nature and will of the person so generating.

After a couple of paragraphs of throat clearing, Kevin gets to the heart of his argument in his third paragraph:

Bottom line- it is not possible to remove this question from the nature/will debate.

This, as it stands, is the whole of his argument. By a simple ispe dixit he has removed from the debate, so he thinks, Trinitarian modes of being and of personal exercise of the divine will. What is his evidence? Simply that he cannot apparently conceive of any other way to talk about filial generation and pneumatological procession. For he certainly offers no other evidence than his assertion. The rest of his argument begs this essential question.
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On the Salvation of Infants and Children

The question about the baptism of infants and very young children is usually complicated by the set of presuppositions that various parties bring to the matter. Those who reject the practice of infant baptism usually do so on the basis that there is no specific command or otherwise explicit teaching in the New Testament to do so. Neither are there any clear and explicit examples. Such opponents then note that the earliest clear historical references to such practices come in the second century, well after the apostolic and subapostolic eras. But these arguments founder on their own presuppositions. To reject infant baptism on the basis of the lack of clear and explicit command, teaching or example from Scripture itself relies on an interpretive principle that lacks any clear and explicit command, teaching or example. And the historical question is readily answered in that historical records normally address a teaching or practice that is already traditional only after it has come under dispute; and, in fact, our early references to the baptism of infants and very young children do, in fact, come up under the headings of various disputes.

The paedobaptism question also comes under the rubric of ecclesiology and whether and to what extent the Church is able to authorize various teachings and practices, or even to introduce new practices that conform to traditional teaching. But that question cannot be addressed here, as it would take us further afield from our primary aim, which is to establish the New Testament attitude toward the salvation of children.

One thing that I will not be doing here is answering the important and essential questions regarding original, or, better, ancestral sin, fallen human nature, and the nature of baptism. These questions do bear directly on the practice of infant baptism, but they also would take me afield of what I intend to do here.

Rather, what I intend to do here is to demonstrate that the clear and unequivocal understanding of the New Testament is that infants and young children are suitable candidates for baptism and salvation, since the New Testament presents them as capable of faith.

We begin first with Jesus’ own words.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15)

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)

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Temples of the Spirit

The sacramental understanding of the historic Church is predicated on, as is all Christian dogma and experience, the Incarnation. Matter matters because the God of matter became matter for our sake. This understanding extends to the human body. Christianity rejects the dualism of Plato, the Gnostics, the Manicheans, and Descartes that would in any way destroy the unity of the human body and human soul/spirit. (I here make no argument as to whether and in what way the human soul and human spirit are two separate things as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 seems to explicitly indicate.) The human body cannot be reduced to mere matter because a human person is the unity of body and soul/spirit. In fact, the Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit in both body and soul/spirit. The reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the body of the believer is evidenced by the numerous instances of the incorruption of the bodies of saints. And it is on this reality that is based the historic Christian prohibition against cremation.

The biblical case looks something like this. First, note that the body is referred to as the temple of the Spirit.

Know ye not that ye are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If anyone corrupt the temple of God, God shall bring this same one to corruption, for the temple of God is holy, which ye are. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom ye have from God, and ye are not your own? For ye were bought with a price; glorify then God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

That this is not merely a figurative manner of speaking about the relationship between the Christian body and the Holy Spirit is evidenced by 1 Corinthians 6 in which the prohibition against having sex with a prostitute is predicated precisely on the fact that the Holy Spirit really and metaphysically indwells the body of the believer.

Worship occurs in temples, and indeed, we are to worship God with our bodies, in a living sacrifice.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing to God, your rational worship. (Romans 12:1)

Furthermore, the life of Jesus is made manifest in our bodies.

. . .always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we, the living, are always being delivered to death on account of Jesus, that also the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:10-11)

And when we are sanctified it is as a whole person, soul/spirit and body.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is the One Who calleth you, Who shall also bring it about. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

In fact, the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies and will redeem them.

But if the Spirit of the One Who raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead shall also make alive your mortal bodies on account of the indwelling of His Spirit in you. . . . And not only so, but we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly awaiting adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:11, 23)

In fact, the Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our redemption.

. . . in Whom [i. e., Christ] ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the Gospel of your salvation—in Whom having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy spirit of promise, Who is an earnest of our inheritance until redemption of the preserved possession to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

One does not normally give back a promise or deposit, but retains it so as to claim that which has been promised or the fullness against which the deposit has been made.

Thus, not only is there no indication that the Holy Spirit leaves the body on death, and that the body ceases to become the temple of the Spirit when it becomes “temporarily” separated from the soul between death and the resurrection, in fact all the Scriptural evidence strongly indicates that the Holy Spirit remains indwelling in the body (as well as the soul/spirit) of the believer and in the resurrection will reunite soul/spirit and body.

Now, some will object to this construction of the biblical evidence.

1. The primary contention will be that there is no explicit Scripture that says unequivocally that the Holy Spirit continues to indwell the body of the believer after death.

But this objection only serves to reinforce the argument being made, for the Bible doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit ever leaves the body, either. One cannot apply this objection to the argument without also falsifying the contention that the Holy Spirit does leave the body on death—for the Scripture does not say that either.

We know that the Bible says the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Bible says the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our redemption. One does not normally give up a deposit prior to the acquisition of the guaranteed result. That’s the point of the deposit. And we know that our bodies will be redeemed by the Spirit.

So, though the explicit words to the effect, “The Holy Spirit stays in the body after death,” are not in Scripture, clearly the Scripture–on a prima facie reading–leads one to make that connection. And since the explicit words to the effect, “The Holy Spirit leaves the body after death,” are also not in Scripture, one cannot appeal to this principle of Scriptural silence to prove that point. For in doing so, one also cuts against one’s own case. Thus both positions must rest on connecting explicit Scriptures to one another to make the respective cases.

2. Another objection is a reductio ad absurdum: If the bodies of Christians consumed by lions or dying out in open fields are transformed into animal and plant food and into excrement and waste, then one is asserting the Holy Spirit resides in animal dung or in a rose or weed.

But this is a category mistake. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just reside in mere matter, he indwells a human body. (This statement should be taken in the context of this present discussion and not in the context of the Sacramaments as a whole.) The humanness of our bodies is predicated upon the fact that they do not come without souls/spirits. This is why we are born as embodied souls, and why our souls and bodies will be reunited in the resurrection after death. Which is to say that simply because the material elements of the human body pass through the gullet of a lion, are converted to food, and pass out as excrement is in no way an indication that the Holy Spirit must reside in lion dung.

The reasons why are as follows:

1) First of all this is tantamount to the dualist heresy which opposes the Christian doctrine of the unity of the person as a soul/spirit and body; i. e., it views the body as merely the material elements of this universe and not as that which it actually is, the home of the human soul/spirit made in the image of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. But if the body is the home of the human soul/spirit made in the image of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, then clearly there is more than just material reality at work.

As I noted above, the human body is that with which we worship God, that through which the Holy Spirit ministers his life, that which will be redeemed (and not just our soul/spirit), and that through which the life of Jesus is revealed to the world. So if the human body is just merely material elements, then God uses those material elements to make real his Gospel. And if God has claim on our bodies, then there is every reason to suppose that he will not leave our bodies on our death, but will, in ways we cannot fully understand, continue leaving his seal/deposit in them for our future (to us now) redemption.

2) Secondly, for the objection to work, one must first assume that the Holy Spirit never indwells the body (which one must also first prove for it to be a part of one’s argument), or that the Holy Spirit leaves the body at death (which is also something that one might assume, but would also have to first prove for it to be part of one’s argument). But this has been answered in the response to the first objection above.

3) Furthermore, this objection rests on another unproven assumption: the vileness or disgustingness of the conversion of the material elements of the human body into other things (animal flesh, grass or flowers, rose or a weed), and with it the Holy Spirit indwelling those things. But if the reality of the human body transcends its mere materiality, then so to does it transcend this unproven assertion that the Holy Spirit by elemental conversion must reside in animal dung which was once a pre-digested human.

3. A third objection is that the indwelling in our bodies is merely a figure of speech.

I’ve already answered this in relation to 1 Corinthians 6 above, but there is a further response. Here, once again, the principle cuts both ways. If one reduces the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to merely a figure of speech, then not even our souls/spirits have the Holy Spirit, and we are left without any real union with God, which Jesus prayed for in John 17. The Christian faith then simply becomes reduced to a life of good moral living, somehow energized in us through a Spirit that has no contact with us.

4. Another objection contends that if the human person is, indeed, a unity of soul/spirit and body, then the body, upon death and the separation from it of soul/spirit, ceases to be a human body.

This objection ultimately fails because it presumes the loss of the humanness of the body through the lack of being indwelt by the human spirit/soul. But let’s continue with that line of reasoning. Did Jesus’ body cease to be his body once he died? Would it have been appropriate to cremate, dissolve in acid, or grind up into chunks the body that housed the Godhead fully? Why not? On this objection’s reasoning, once Jesus died, his body ceased to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and therefore was no longer human (or, for that matter, divine), therefore we could presumably have done anything to it we wanted. It had no intrinsic value or Holy Spirit indwelling it. Right?

The problem, though, is that our salvation is accomplished in the body of Christ. Through the death of his body our sins were atoned for. Through the Resurrection of his body we have life in his name and bear his image. This does not at all deny the divinity of Christ, nor that he raised himself from the dead. Rather it is to affirm that inclusive of the spiritual aspect of our salvation is the bodily aspect. This bodily aspect of our salvation is predicated precisely on the Incarnation and the work of God done in Christ’s physical and transfigured body. Therefore we could not do just anything we wanted with Christ’s body.

Christ’s body remained his body even in death, nor was that body ever sundered from the Holy Spirit, for it that were ever to have been so, God would have ceased dwelling in a human body, and the Incarnation would have been undone. (And, in fact, this is tantamount to adoptionist heretical Christologies.)

So, if the Holy Spirit continued to dwell in Christ’s body even during his time in the tomb, then it must be the case that the Holy Spirit continues to dwell in the bodies of dead Christians, since Christ is the firstfruits of the Resurrection.

So, the body, if it is a human body, is not simply reducible to its material elements, for it is not merely a material shell housing the soul/spirit and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is an irreducible spiritual-physical/soulish-physical reality which transcends though is connected to mere material reality. Death is an abnormal state of affairs for the soul and body, requiring their “temporary” separation. And if the Holy Spirit indwells the whole person, then he indwells not just the soul/spirit but also the body. So in death when the soul/spirit is separated from the body, the Holy Spirit continues to indwell both and will reunite both in the resurrection.

Free Will, Free Choice

Back in March and April the soteriology diablog was hot and heavy, but eventually died down. (I continue to post links to any further responses the participants have.)

Recently, at the invite of a commenter on this blog, I registered over at Grace Centered Message Forums (a largely churches of Christ venue). As a result of participation in one message thread I am still involved in, I decided to actually make the case for human free will/free choice/freedom to choose. Note that the case is made from a Christian standpoint and not from a strictly a-religious philosophical one. My arguments would be much different for that sort of audience.

If you’re interested in the discussion, begin here. But if you just want to read my initial posts sans responses, click on the “continue reading” link below.
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Personhood Backwards and Forwards and Monergism’s Essence

Kevin replies to my “Till . . . We Have Faces” in his “Masks and Modes.” As his reply unfolds along two lines of thought, so, too, will my reply.

1. Personhood Backwards and Forwards

Kevin goes to some lengths to defend himself from my charges of modalism. Unfortunately, the way he does so leaves my charges unanswered. Instead of showing how it is that his position does not radically identify person with nature, and thus logically entails modalism, he utilizes the terms I introduced into the issue but reads into them both more and less than I intended. This is, perhaps, not unjustified since the terms hypostasis and prosopos do have a range of meanings that differ somewhat between philosophical and theological contexts. I’ll take on the responsibility for not more carefully clarifying the terminology.

That being said, however, the substance of my charges against Kevin’s position remain and should be clear: he identifies person with nature. To do so in (strictly speaking) theological terms is to propose modalism. While Kevin is right to draw some distinctions between human and divine persons, what is true of both, as I have argued, is that a person is not strictly identifiable with his nature.

While Kevin has asserted that he thinks the same thing–i.e., that persons are not radically identifiable with their natures–nothing in his own arguments provides a basis for that assertion. Indeed, this has been my point. It is the substance of his argument itself that substantiates my charges. He has had ample opportunity to show, by way of argument instead of by mere assertion, how it is that his belief in monergism does not entail such a radical identification of person and nature. But he has yet to do so. Or, if he has, he has been too subtle for my poor thickheaded mind.

But so as to be clear about the mapping of personhood, backwards and forwards, onto God: I take as the fundmental starting point for talk of human personhood, the divine personhood of the Trinity and Christological personhood. In other words the Trinity and Christology are revelational facts that are not derivable from human experience and reason. Apart from revelation we would not know there is a Trinity or Christ is the incarnate God. We cannot argue from human personhood to Trinity or the Incarnation. But if the Trinity and the Incarnation are facts–and Christians take them to be so–then they are the fundamental realities that define human personhood. From these points only is it helpful to derive our concepts of human personhood as made in the image and likeness of this God who is Three-in-One and incarnate as two natures and two wills in one Person.

However, in that human personhood is intimately and inescapably connected to Trinitarian and Christological Personhood, what you say of one you say of the other. Any deviation from the Church’s understanding of the Trinity will affect one’s Christology and this will deform one’s understanding of personhood. Similarly, if one has a deficient understanding of human personhood, this will inescapably affect one’s Christological and Trinitarian understandings. So, it is not per se illegitimate for me to “backwards map” what I take to be Kevin’s understanding of human personhood on to Christological and Trinitarian dogma, because there is a related and necessary consistency that must be upheld among all three. What remains, then, is for Kevin to prove how his understanding of human personhood does not violate the Church’s understanding of Trinitarian and Christological realities.

This has consistently been my point. I believe that monergism is a heresy not because it emphasizes that humans cannot save themselves, not because it emphasizes the priority and sufficiency of God’s grace, but because its understanding of human personhood necessarily results in a deficient Trinitarianism and Christology. Kevin has yet to disprove my contentions.
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