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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Theology for Dummies: One

A young boy near and dear to me visited a famous art museum, and came away with the slightly disgusted comment, "There's nothing there but Mary and Jesus!"
Perhaps his comment is too jaundiced. Perhaps it was informed by the Puritanism of his father. Or, perhaps it was an early recognition that the art, literature, history, culture, and even politics of the Western world are somehow connected to Christian theology.
Unfortunately, this vital piece of our self-understanding is conscientiously barred from the public school curricula of the United States. In institutions of higher learning, even departments of "religious studies" are too interested in the experiential aspects of various demographics to explain the world of symbols and meanings informing so much of what went before. Even many charged with transmitting the stories and doctrines that nurtured so many centuries of Western life are often either ignorant of or subversive towards the traditions they supposedly preserve.
Hence, both Christian and non-Christian students need a resource that can explain without either confusing or misleading.
Uncle Cephas is someone who believes in putting his cards on the table, so his dear readers are hereby forewarned that he is offering what a local preacher would call a "Hi-Cal" diet--for "High in Calvinism". This is because Uncle Cephas, while not a clergyman, was well instructed in this school of thought. But, at the same time, he is aware that this tradition shares a fair amount of common ground with Lutheranism, Neo-Evangelicalism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and other traditions which call themselves Christian.
The postings that follow will seek to inform more than persuade or defend. Countless others--the Trinity Foundation, for example--do the work of apologetics better. However, Uncle Cephas prays that the Spirit of God might nonetheless use these postings to aid his fellow believers, and perhaps show the seeker how "God Talk" is indeed the way to true and lasting peace, love, and justice.

(1) God and Christian Existence

The theological definitions offered in these postings are Christian definitions.
Obviously, being a Christian has something to do with Jesus Christ.
The First Question and Answer of the Heidelberg Catechism state:

What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I with a body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also sassures me of eternal life and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Immediately, we need to understand the following:

Jesus Christ
God the Father
Holy Spirit

Let's start with _God_.

God is a spirit, infinite,eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, holiness, justice,goodness, and truth.

Alright, I cheated. The definition is pulled from the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1646.

Immediately, we see that the God we worship has attributes of eternality, infinity, spirituality, and unchangeableness. These are proper to God himself, and are not shared with human beings. Hence, they are called the incommunicable attributes of God. Existence, knowledge, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth can and are shared with at least some of God's human creatures. Hence, these are called God's communicable attributes.

God is therefore not an elderly gentleman with a long, white beard sitting on a cloud, no matter how many waggish cartoonists have so portrayed him. R.H. M. Elwes, who says that Spinoza was the one who did away with an anthropomorphic God, is therefore dead wrong. A generation or so before Spinoza, Puritan children in the British Isles were already being taught that God is a limitless spirit--and their mentors would have cheerfully admitted that they got the idea from the Bible; specifically John 4:24 and I Kings 8:27.

When the Catechism speaks of our Saviour Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, it brings us to the Trinity. This means that God, who is one in his being, is nonetheless a composite unity of three persons (centers of consciousness, knowing, and sharing), namely, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Heidelberg Catechism also speaks of "belonging" to Jesus Christ. Christians are a community of people centered on Jesus Christ. The name Jesus comes from the Greek form of _Joshua_, which means "Jehovah [God} saves". The name "Christ" comes from the Greek word _Christos_, which translates the Hebrew _M'shiach_. The terms mean "Anointed". Anointing was used in the Old Testament to set apart priests, prophets, and kings. Hence, theologians sometimes speak of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king over his church.

The name "Christian" means "belonging to Christ". So, there is a sense in which Christians share Jesus' anointing. They, too, are set apart. This will be covered in future posts.

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