The Triune God in the Theology of Colin E Gunton
A Day Conference at Spurgeon’s College, London
Monday 10 September 2007 10.30 am – 4.45 pm
Professor Robert W Jenson
Dr Stephen R Holmes
Dr John E Colwell
Dr Douglas H Knight
For details and a booking form, please email email@example.com. The closing date is imminent.
Since his existence is not a given thing, God is not obliged to choose whether to say yes or no to it. For him there is only one way to exercise freedom, and that is affirmatively, positively. What is there for him to say no to? God has the freedom of saying yes. The Father’s freedom is expressed by saying yes to the Son, and the freedom of the Son is expressed in saying yes to the Father. This is the yes and yes again, that the Apostle Paul says (2 Corinthians 1.19) has come to us in Christ. Since for God nothing is given, there is nothing which he has to refuse. For God, the exercise of freedom does not take the form of a choice, but it is exercised voluntarily, in the form of love, expressed in his trinitarian life. If we apply this to human existence, freedom is not sometimes yes and sometimes no, but only ever yes. There is only one way to exercise freedom to demonstrate that you are free, and that is love. Giving your affirmation to beings other than yourself is the only way to exercise freedom. Our food therefore consists in saying that you acknowledge that this exists for you, that you desire it and intend it to become part of your very being. The relevant verse in the Second Letter to the Corinthians tell us that ‘Jesus Christ who is amongst you and is preached by you, did not become yes and no, but in him it has always been yes’ (2 Corinthians 1.19). God’s ‘yes’ and Christ’s ‘yes’ is now the freedom of affirmation.
This is the way in which God is who he is, as trinity. The Father freely consents to this Son, desires him and acknowledges him as his Son, freely. God exercises his freedom in love and affirmation when the Father begets the Son, and when he sends the Holy Spirit. This opens up a way of life for man which consists in exercising our freedom affirmatively, as love. This exercise of freedom transforms us into the likeness of God. The image of God is fulfilled in the self-government of man who, though he is able to say no, says yes, as God does. This is how we may join those great lovers of God and of man, the spiritual Fathers, who have learned how to break out of their individual will to submit themselves to the other, in the person of their spiritual father.
Two generations later, new winds of change are blowing through Catholic higher education in America: the bracing winds of dynamic orthodoxy. Some elite Catholic schools are, sadly, lost â?? and quite likely lost for good. Yet others have made significant comebacks in recent years, thanks to generational change in theology departments, courageous presidential and board leadership, students who demand authentic Catholicism from schools that market themselves as â??Catholic,â?? and the work of alert alumni. Moreover, several smaller Catholic liberal arts colleges, in virtually every part of the country, are giving fresh life to Msgr. Ellisâ??s vision of revitalized classical learning in a Catholic context â?? and proving once again that that kind of learning is a better preparation for a professional future that the intellectual disarray that still reigns supreme on some campuses with stratospheric U.S. News & World Report ratings.
These new-wave Catholic schools consider their linkage to the Church an integral part of their lives. In doing so, they remind us that doctrine is liberating, even in institutions dedicated to critical thought.
George Weigel on how catholic colleges are becoming Catholic again
There are a number of important issues at stake here. First, there is a clearly a clash between two principles: the principle of equality as defined by human rights legislation, which includes sexual orientation, and the principle of freedom of religion and conscience in a pluralistic society. In this case, the principle of equality has trumped the right of freedom of religion and conscience.
Second, what is striking is the influence that the homosexual lobby has gained through using human rights legislation to achieve their political and ideological ends. We have passed from decriminalizing homosexual behaviour to the active promotion of homosexuality as a lifestyle the equivalent of heterosexual marriage. The next stage in this process is the silencing of any opposition—particularly opposition from the Catholic Church.
The Anglican churches in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, like their North American counterparts, are broadly sympathetic to the homosexual cause, as are several other Protestant denominations, thus leaving it mostly to the Catholic Church to defend traditional Christian sexual morality. The success of the homosexual campaign in silencing those who dissent from the new liberal secularist orthodoxy can be seen from the behaviour of the police in recent years. When an Anglican bishop mentioned the possibility of changing sexual orientation in a parish newsletter, he received a visit and a stern warning from the local police. The police have also threatened such Christians as an elderly couple and a Catholic radio broadcaster who objected to the homosexual lifestyle.
Even more ominously, these conflicts over faith schools and Catholic adoption agencies reveal the existence of powerful secularist lobby groups that are not only anti-Christian but especially anti-Catholic. They are found in the main political parties and among public figures and seem determined to remove the Catholic Church from public life and to undermine its institutions.
North American readers are well familiar with this syndrome of the illiberal liberal left. What is lacking in Britain is a robust group of Catholic intellectuals such as exists in the United States to answer these assaults on the Church. Instead, we have The Tablet, which, under the editorship of John Wilkins, gradually abandoned orthodox Catholicism and seems to have become little more than a vehicle for something resembling liberal Anglicanism, which, as has been demonstrated, is no answer at all.
John Loughlin Secularist Attacks on the Catholic Church in Britain
Over at Mere Comments, S.M. Hutchens has responded to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Questions on the Doctrine of the Church which recently reaffirmed the teaching of Dominus Iesus (2000).
In Hutchens’ summary, in his Notes on Questions on the Doctrine of the Church, this
directed Catholic bishops not to use the term â??sister churchesâ?? in referring to Protestant denominations. This document, in continuity with Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Councilâ??s dogmatic constitution of the Church, made it clear that according to Catholic doctrine these churches lack a valid episcopate, hence the integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, and are therefore not churches in the true sense of the term. Rather, they are â??ecclesial communitiesâ?? ambiguously related to the Church of Rome.
Touchstone (of which Hutchens is an editor) took the position that it had
no desire for Rome to surrender the integrity of its beliefs on the terms required by mainline ecumenism, for we cannot imagine it could, in that frame of mind, stand against the â??progressiveâ?? Catholics who are trying with all their might to baptize their church in the same wallow of confusion, heresy, and immorality into which their Protestant counterparts have already introduced their own.
Hutchen’s piece attracted some impressive comments. Here is one from DGUS
Mr. Hutchens’s post is quite correct in asserting (1) that real ecumenism–indeed, any meaningful religious dialogue whatsoever–must proceed from candor and clarity, even where that may be painful, and (2) that, by authentic RC lights, this recent statement (like “Dominus Iesus” and “Lumen Gentium” before it) is probably as generous and open as real RC doctrine will permit. As an evangelical non-Catholic, I thank the RCC for its clarity, and take no offense.
However, Mr. Hutchens’s following comment is also correct in emphasizing the result that seems “intolerable”: Even the extremely liberal RC parish (open to same-sex unions, tolerant of abortion, universalistic, indifferent to Christological error, etc.) is deemed a “proper church” and its dissident priest is deemed authentically Christian because they are believed to possess apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, while the non-Catholic minister and congregation that affirm the Nicene Creed without reservation, acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures, confess the Lord Jesus as fully God and fully Man, crucified, risen, and coming again, and preach a Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ–these are mere honorary “Christians” in a non-church “ecclesial community.”
So my first question in the ensuing dialogue is this: Does the RC Christian acknowledge any dissonance in this disparity? Is he comfortable that mere apostolic pedigree seems to count for so much, and that believing and preaching the apostolic message seems to count for so little?
From Stuart Koehl
Talk of Orthodox “defectiveness” begs the question of whether communion with Rome is a prerequisite for the fullness of the Church, particularly in light of the “ecclesiology of communion” adopted by the Catholic Church in Vatican II. It is the Eucharist that imparts the fullness (katholikon) of the Church, not communion with any one particular bishop. One might just as well say that Rome is defective because it is not in formal communion with Constantinople, Moscow, Antioch or Alexandria. Among the true Churches, whatever “defects” exist are mutual and derive from the unnatural separation that perdures as the result not of real differencs in faith but simply the sinfulness of men.
In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate. Yet each of these refers back to the Word of God, the ground on which all is built: The faith of the martyrs was maintained by the Word of God, the East African revival brought to the people the Word of God, and the historic ordering of ministry was designed to advance the Word of God.
So let us think about how the Word of God works in the worldwide Anglican Communion. We in the Church of Uganda are convinced that Scripture must be reasserted as the central authority in our communion. The basis of our commitment to Anglicanism is that it provides a wider forum for holding each other accountable to Scripture, which is the seed of faith and the foundation of the Church in Uganda.
The Bible cannot appear to us a cadaver, merely to be dissected, analyzed, and critiqued, as has been the practice of much modern higher biblical criticism. Certainly we engage in biblical scholarship and criticism, but what is important to us is the power of the Word of God precisely as the Word of God – written to bring transformation in our lives, our families, our communities, and our culture. For us, the Bible is “living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, it penetrates to dividing soul and spirits, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The transforming effect of the Bible on Ugandans has generated so much conviction and confidence that believers were martyred in the defense of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ that it brought.
Archbishop Henry Orombi What is Anglicanism?
The Gospel points to real life. When the bible talks about eternal life, it does not mean some other life, but simply the reality of life. The reality of life is spiritual, of the Holy Spirit. This life does not die and does not share in the deception of that life that leads to death. Real life cannot be brought to an abrupt end by death, so it will not prove false. Real life springs from the resurrection, that is, from Christ himself who transcends biological death. This does not mean that we are trying to ignore biological death or substituting some other life for it. On the contrary, the afterlife, as it is called, is the truth and continuation of this life; it is the real side of this life. So death, by which we mean this counterfeit life with which we are presently content, and which carries death within it, is the outcome of the fall. It is a poor, evil and intolerable form of life. The Christian view is that death is never good, but that it is always an outrage.
The gospel is the breaching and breaking of death. The resurrection is the promise that the confusion of false and real life will come to an end and be replaced by real life. The false life to which we are subject will be removed, to leave only the reality and truth of life. What is true and real can never be delimited, or broken off or brought to an end, nor can we run out of. Life that is real is not finite, but unlimited and eternal.
Society and the people of our time are thirsting and seeking. They have values and principles, traditions and customs that were formed in the light of the Gospel and under the wise guidance of the Fathers of the Church and of other ecclesiastical personalities, but are unable to recognize Christ’s presence and the power of his soteriological message. They refuse to admit the fundamental importance of Europe’s Christian roots: it is the hour of the Church and the new evangelization, the hour of the mission ad intra!
Yet, without the collaboration of the European Churches and our common Christian witness, it is certain that very little will have a positive outcome and that the many isolated efforts of the various Churches and Christian denominations will unfortunately be doomed to failure.
Instead of exercising a positive influence on the convinced European Christian, our globalized epoch seems to reject the historical ecumenicity of the Christian message and to marginalize its dynamic and effectiveness. Secularization, eudaemonism, the deification of technology and atheistic science confuse our neighbour and lead him inevitably to existential desperation. His anguished cry is heard: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (Jn 6:68).
What, then, is our responsibility as spiritual fathers? What is our approach to spiritual care for our young people? Shall we succeed at last in protecting the sacred institution of the family? The sacredness of the human person, now defenceless in the face of medical research, abortion, euthanasia? And the oneness of God’s creation which surrounds us and risks being destroyed irreparably by us?
The Orthodox path passes through spirituality, ascesis, fasting, the study of the texts of the Church Fathers who were inspired by God, the sense of the sacred and first and foremost the Divine Eucharist: these are our spiritual weapons and we wish to fight side by side with the Sister Church of Rome to transform European society, which is anthropocentric, into a Christocentric society with respect for our brethren of other religions, for immigrants, the poor, refugees and the weak of this earth.
CHRYSOSTOMOS II ARCHBISHOP OF NEA JUSTINIANA AND ALL CYPRUS TO HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
The answer to the â??worship warsâ?? is in the back of the pew in front of you. There, languishing between the storied suffering of Job and the royal wisdom of Proverbs, lies the Book of Psalms â?? one hundred and fifty of the greatest praise and worship songs ever.
How many churches squabbling over music have sung even one, first verse to last? How many have even considered it?
Christians these days are rethinking what they sing. Not all thatâ??s old is good. Not all thatâ??s new is bad. But the Psalms and biblical canticles are the measure of both. Any congregation that rallied around that point would eventually find its musical taste transformed. The best would drive out the pretty good, regardless of age. Almost miraculously, water would be displaced by wine.
Our songs shape our piety. More than most preaching, theyâ??re the things that stick with us after weâ??ve exited the pew and passed through the back door. If we wallow in schlock and schmaltz, our devotion grows schlocky and schmaltzy. Our faith becomes long on sentiment, short on substance.
It is one thing to sing a line such as â??now I am happy all the day,â?? to quote a traditional old hymn with a lie in its refrain; it is another to sing, with the author of Psalm 119, â??It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.â?? We can (and should) outgrow ditties and bad hymns. We cannot outgrow the Psalms. Psalms mature us.
Paul Buckley Sing psalms
Colin E. Gunton’s The Barth Lectures, edited by Paul Brazier, and introduced by Stephen Holmes, is just out from T & T Clark.
Alan Spence‘s The Promise of Peace: A Unified Theory of Atonement appeared last year. Now he has produced Incarnation and Inspiration: John Owen and the Coherence of Christology. There are rumours of a John Owen conference in the UK next year. Another Owen fan is Kelly Kapic, whose Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen, also started as a London PhD. Its first chapter is online at Baker Academic (PDF).
Andy Goodliff keeps a good list of theology books – here is his notice of The Rhythm of Liturgy, the latest from the increasingly impressive John Colwell, a baptist with an Anglican ecclesiology, who with Alan Spence, is one of those rare birds, a dogmatic theologian in London.