Penal Substitution, Sola Fide and the New Docetism

Originally posted on The Christian Watershed:

Isaac Gutiérrez Pascual ©2010

Earlier this month I spoke about the cosmic importance of the Incarnation.  Today I’d like to build upon this reflection.  As I noted before, many Christians fail to see the Incarnation as the cosmic destiny or telos of Creation and, likewise, fail to see the work of Christ as including the sanctification, redemption, and renewal of the body and the physical/material world in general.  For many, the work of Christ is narrowly construed.  It was merely to satiate the wrath of God the Father so as to take away the punishment necessitated by sin (i.e., Penal Substitutionary Atonement).  This popular view of the atonement is accompanied by another important doctrine classically referred to as Sola Fide or “salvation by faith alone.”  It is this doctrine which teaches that belief—often understood as a sort of mental assent—in Jesus’ work on the cross is the sole means of our salvation.

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Divine Simplicity and Divine Energies

Originally posted on Credo ut Intelligam:

The standard Catholic (Roman or Orthodox) understanding of the Divine Nature is that it is a simplicity. The standard complaint of the Orthodox against the Romans is that they make too much of this simplicity and forget entirely the Energies of God. That is, God is both Essence and Energies. This is highly technical and, as is often the case, confusing. I would like to offer some thoughts on perhaps understanding both positions in terms of each other, and perhaps thereby begin to show a synthesis.

What the Orthodox view seems to leave out, at least in the discussions I have had, is the act of God’s existence. Aquinas distinguishes real being as existence and essence. That is, the activity of existence and the whatness of essence. Real beings are “acting what-nots” to put it quasi-technically. This, it seems to me, is a wonderful insight. It is also, however, the…

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One Old Lady and a Cabbage Patch Kid

I wrote this reflection several years ago . . . 

In a culture which fosters individualism and materialism it becomes easy to ignore the pain, suffering, and misfortune of others. Most of us live blissfully unaware of the millions of desperate and lonely people living in poverty around us—people longing for love, purpose, and a better life. Most of us are almost entirely focused on our own needs and desires or constantly engulfed in some form of mind numbing entertainment. This egocentrism, whether mild or strong in its manifestation, is the natural outgrowth of the Western Culture in which we live.  It’s important for us to recognize this because everything we think, everything we feel, and everything we do is in some small way influenced by our unconscious absorption of our culture. This is true for the faithful Christian, the ardent Atheist, and everyone in between.

While there is much about our heritage which is noble and beautiful, like any culture, ours is ultimately the product of sinful, self-loving, self-absorbed, fallen human beings and is therefore prone to developing dysfunctional modes of thought and behavior. It just so happens that in the West, this looks like materialism and stark individualism. Those of us who have grown up within the framework and influence of the West, no matter how sensitive to the plight of others we may be, are tainted by these negative and overarching forms of thought.  Even the kindest, most well meaning, person will struggle to think outside of these cultural norms if he is not careful.

This is precisely the position I found myself in several years ago.  I was a nice person:  I treated most people with kindness, I often befriended social outcasts, and I cared (that is, I had an emotional response, something like intense empathy) for people who were in pain.  I was also very religious: I went to church, I prayed, I read my Bible; I truly desired to have a relationship with God.  Yet, in spite of all this, I ultimately lived (on a day to day basis) in my very own self-interested, self-absorbed, bubble.  I would read passages in the Bible like James 1:27 which states, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” and nod my head in hearty approval . . . but that’s as far as it would go.  There were no works accompanying my faith.  I didn’t actually visit or care for orphans or widows in their affliction, I just thought it was a cool idea; and I was not keeping myself unstained from the world.  In fact, I was living very similar to the majority of people in my culture: self-obsessed and detached from reality.

I was completely wrapped up in my own little world—the Josh world—in which everything revolved around my goals, my desires, and my interests.  Overall, I lived completely unconcerned about the suffering of thousands of impoverished and homeless people living all around me.  I wasn’t totally unaware of their presence.  I was not like Siddhartha, completely sheltered from the realities of pain and suffering in the world.  It just wasn’t something I dwelt upon or did anything about.  The weak and suffering in society remained in my peripheral vision—slightly out of focus.  I never fixed my gaze upon them for any length of time.  That is, until the night I met the old lady with the baby doll . . .

At that time in my life I played the guitar in a local band which frequently performed in clubs in downtown Dallas.  Music was virtually all I thought about—much to the detriment of my marriage, my schooling, and my day job.  I viewed my music as a positive force in the world—I took great pride in crafting thought provoking lyrics which might encourage people to think about God.  In this sense, music was a ministry.  In another, more real, sense music was and idol.  It dominated every aspect of my life.  This was the state I found myself in after playing in one downtown club on a Friday night.

It was late, we had just finished our set, and I was standing outside of the club enjoying the cool nighttime breeze.  Suddenly I noticed something moving in my peripheral vision; someone was approaching me from out of the darkness of the ally which ran parallel to the club.  I turned to fix my gaze on this unwelcomed visitor only to discover that she was already standing uncomfortably by my side.

I stood in silence staring at the unusual figure standing before me.  She looked much older than she actually was—her skin wrinkled and worn from too much time in the sun.  She was small, fragile, and extremely skinny; you could see her bones through her skin.  Her clothing was tattered, grimy, and smelled of mildew.  The most distressing thing about her, however, was not her appearance or her smell; it was the small Cabbage Patch doll she gripped tightly against her chest.  There was something unsettling about seeing an adult in her condition clinging so tightly to a child’s toy.  I will forever remember that image.

To my great shame, my first reaction was one of disgust.  All I could think about was how uncomfortable and inconvenient her presence was.  Before I could say a word, however, she started begging me for money, “just six dollars,” she said, “all I need is six dollars so I can stay at the mission.”  As she begged, tears streamed down her weathered cheeks.  Before I could reply she began telling me about her beautiful baby daughter—the love of her life.  All the while she rocked back and forth, clutching the baby doll as If it were here only connection to reality.  Her eyes sparkled as she recounted her most cherished memories of her sweet little darling girl.

By this point the disgust I had felt when she first approached me began to fade away.  In spite of her startling appearance and quirky mannerisms, I began to feel something entirely different—compassion.  As she continued speaking about her daugher, however, something began to trouble me.  “Where was her daugher?” I asked myself, “Why was she holding a baby doll?  Afraid of what the answer might me, I finally built up the courage to ask her.  Her eyes glazed over and she starred off into the distance.  “She died . . . she was burned in the fire.”

These words pierced my heart.  It literally felt as if the entire world had come to an end.  My soul sunk into despair and agony: “Oh God, how could you have let this happen?” I thought.  With tears in my eyes I reached down and gave the empty shell of a woman who stood before me a huge hug.  She began to cry harder as I embraced her.  I held her hand, I prayed for her, I gave her the money she had requested, and she walked back into the darkness.  My life was forever changed.

The world which lay on the peripheral was now the only thing I could see.  When I closed my eyes I saw her face, her poor broken face, weeping over the loss of her child . . .

**This was originally published on Truth is a Man.

Anguish, Despair and Comfort in the Incarnation . . .

I wrote this last year during a difficult time in my life and thought it was worth sharing again  . . .  

There are times when I feel that life is too difficult to bear.  When death and darkness and pain and suffering and listlessness force themselves upon my soul.  I cry out to the Lord in utter desperation:  “Father, please!  Why is this happening?  Please save me, please have mercy . . . I can hardly bear it anymore.”  I wait for a response but I hear nothing.  Am I alone?  Days and nights blur together as each week presents another challenge, another tragedy, another heartbreak . . . “O God!”, I cry, “I’m so afraid!”  I turn to the Psalmist for comfort only to find despair:

“O Lord God of my salvation, I cry day and night before You.  Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my supplication, O Lord.  For my soul is filled with sorrows, and my soul draws near to Hades; I am counted among those who go down  into the pit; I am like a helpless man, free among the dead, like slain men thrown down and sleeping in a grave, whom You remember no more . . . Why, O Lord, do You reject my soul, and turn away Your face from me?”

It feels as if my heart is in constant anguish.  I weep bitterly as the people I love suffer.  I look on as my beloved wrestles with deep wounds from her past and unending physical maladies.  I feel helpless.  I feel lost and out of control.  I feel unable to provide.  Why must life be this way?  Why are there so many sorrows?  Why is there so much pain? O God do you hear me?  Do You understand me?  . . .

I stare at the icon of the Theotokos holding her child.  There is sadness in her eyes as she clings tightly to the boy of promise – the One born of the Holy Spirit.  I remember that the first Christian, my spiritual mother, the one who gave birth to God in the flesh, struggled and suffered.  My eyes fixate on the little boy in her arms, so small and fragile . . . I remember that his mother could find no place to sleep, no rest, and no safety on the night of his birth.  I remember how she was forced to have her baby in a stable surrounded by animals, hay, and the fresh cent of manure.  I recall her fleeing to Egypt to rescue her son from the hands of a mass murderer.  I remember how He experienced the limitations, temptations, and futility of human existence growing up in a small town in the desert.  Everything flashes forward.  I remember Jesus languishing in the garden . . . the blood dripping, the agony, and the resolve.  I remember the guards lashing out at Him; tearing open his flesh.  I remember the crown of thorns and the intense mockery.  I remember how He carried the cross and was nailed upon it; how He died.  I envision Mary weeping at His feet . . .

Then in the midst of the storm I hear the still soft voice, “I love you Josh . . .”

* Originally published on Truth is a Man.

An Ecclesiastical Experience . . .

baptism1

As most of you already know, my dear friend Joel Borofsky and I have taken ownership of Jonathan’s blog.  Frankly, I feel incredibly humbled and slightly terrified for having accepted this responsibility.  In spite of my fear and trembling, however, I feel comforted by the knowledge that Jonathan appears to have great faith in us!

Since I’m one of the new guys, I thought it prudent to introduce myself . . . so, hi, my name is Joshua.  I’m married to the most beautiful British gal on the planet and have four amazing children.  When I’m not sword fighting with my son or having a tea party with my daughters, I love to read super nerdy philosophy books, write blogs, draw, and rock out on my acoustic guitar.

Recently, my family and I joined the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church!  I come from a devout Protestant family: my father has been a pastor for over thirty years, my sister is a missionary in Southeast Asia, and I, too, pastored for several years.  As you can imagine, our decision to join the Church was not easy.  Our journey was filled with years of angst, hours upon hours of discussion and introspection, mountains of books, and, intensive prayer.  While all of these activities played a role in our conversion it was our first hand experience of the Church that had the most lasting impact on us.  The great Russian philosopher Pavel Florensky once said, “Only by relying on immediate experience can one survey the spiritual treasures of the Church and come to see their value.”  This is certainly true in our case.

I still remember the first night my wife Rosie and I secretly attended vespers at an Orthodox church near my parents house.  Up to that point, we had only rationalized about “the Church.”  We had loads of objective information, from piles of books,  rattling around our heads–but no subjective experience.  We were like blind beggars crying out on the side of the road–our first encounter with eastern liturgy was like the miracle of experiencing sight for the first time.

One day I will share the entire story with you; until then, please enjoy these beautiful photos.  Perhaps they will give you a taste (if you haven’t experienced it already) of the beauty and richness of the Church.  Perhaps they will stir your soul and fill you with an intense desire to experience ecclesiality for yourself . . .

baptism2  baptism3

baptism4  baptism7

baptism5  baptism6

 

*A slightly modified version of this first appeared on my personal blog Truth is a Man.

New Ownership and Changes to Come

First, I’d like to thank Jonathan Anderson for allowing The Christian Watershed to obtain ownership of both Hipsterdox and Orthodox Ruminations. We will keep up all his work and begin to contribute our own.

We’re going to take some time before really adding any new content to both sites as we decide the direction we want to head with both. We do plan on upgrading both sites and taking them in different directions. On both, we anticipate and hope to add guest authors on a frequent basis. While at The Christian Watershed we look at the world through a lens of “theology applied,” we hope to make Orthodox Ruminations a place for Eastern Christian theology and Hipsterdox a place for finding how Eastern Christianity applies to our tempestuous era.

We at The Christian Watershed will meet sometime in early February to hash things out and prepare the sites, with a hopeful “relaunch” on March 1. Until that time, we’ll work to bring some content over in order to keep everything up to date.

In all of this, we pray Lord have mercy.

- Joel Borofsky

Orthodox Transitions (Blog Moving to New Ownership)

It has been an amazing journey running this blog. I have had many readers and comments along the way. I have immensely appreciated the audience to share my journey and thoughts with. However, the journey is closing or changing. As of this evening, Orthodox Ruminations as well as Hipsterdox (and their Facebook pages) will no longer be mine. I’ve began the transitions of handing these blogs over to more faithful stewards than myself. There will be news about the transitions later, but I certainly wanted to take the time to let you know of the changes. Stay tuned for more! Thank you.