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By In Theology

Bible Study With The Church Fathers

Church Fathers Bible App Catena

An App for the Church Fathers

I recently downloaded a new Bible study tool with an emphasis on the Church Fathers. It is called Catena and it lays out interlinear commentary from the Church Fathers in a Bible app. A double-tap on a particular verse pulls up related content by Church Fathers like St. John Chrysostom and St. Cyril of Alexandria. And if you aren’t familiar with a particular author, clicking on his name reveals his wikipedia page. The app describes itself as, “a collection of commentaries on the Bible from the early Church Fathers. With 35,000+ ancient commentaries, and growing, the goal is to provide the most insight possible into the Word of God.” Available for iOS and Android here.

The Hermeneutic of the Church Fathers

In 2015, Pr. Uri Brito penned an article called “Interpretive Maximalism and James B. Jordan” which came to mind as I was using this new app. In that article, a quote from Jordan explains that the commentary offered by the Church Fathers was not always limited to a strict grammatico-historical method of interpretation. Using an app like Catena could aid the modern bible student is exposing him to historical insights or alternate readings of familiar texts. According to Brito, Jordan sees the grammatico-historical interpretation to be valid, but incomplete without the aid of a rich biblical theology that also includes narrative and symbols.James B. Jordan

In a culture thirsty for an ancient faith, Reformed leaders would do well to once again reclaim the Church Fathers as their own heritage. As David Steinmetz of Duke Divinity School once noted in Christianity Today, “The Reformation is an argument not just about the Bible but about the early Christian fathers, whom the Protestants wanted to claim.” Even in their great diversity, the Church Fathers offer a consistent emphasis on the importance of personal holiness, fidelity to the church, and the importance of the scriptures to guide believers. Are the fathers important to Reformation theology? A quick glance at the number of references to Church Fathers in Calvin’s Institutes says yes.

Church Fathers in Their Context

Of Course, the best practice is reading the fathers directly and in the context of the entire work and historical period. Catena could be a tool to whet your appetite for the patristic and historical commentaries. I was first introduced to the work of St. Athanasius through the snippets introduced in David Chilton’s Paradise Restored. I then stumbled through the patristic masterpiece “On the Incarnation of the Wordwith a bit of encouragement from a preface by C.S. Lewis.

A word of warning is also due. The Christian faith did not climax at Nicaea (in the same way it’s zenith is not Westminster) and our patristic authors do not claim the final word on Biblical interpretation. As James B. Jordan puts it, “When we see that God’s history will span thousands of generations, we see how silly it is to assume that history ended in the early centuries, everything was settled, and no significant progress remains to be made.” a

  1. Biblical Horizons Newsletter, No. 62: Thinking About Church History  (back)

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By In Theology, Worship

The Prayer of Humble Access

The historic prayer book of the Anglican Communion, “The Book of Common Prayer,” includes some controversial prayers. Despite often receiving praise as a work of the Reformation, its verbiage can also feel uncomfortably Catholic. Its emphases on saints and sacraments can seem wetted from the pen tip of Thomas Aquinas rather than Thomas Cranmer.  One such prayer is entitled the “Prayer of Humble Access.”
“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” a

During the Holy Communion service, this prayer is offered following the Lord’s prayer while the kneeling congregation anticipates the words of institution (i.e. “This is my body…”). It is important to note that as a matter of liturgical significance the confession and absolution have already been offered and received in the service. In this way, the “Prayer of Humble Access” builds upon the Reformational apprehensions to any sort of merited righteousness, while also affirming the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on self-examination prior to communion. This belaboring of sin after confession has earned some criticism from liturgical scholars like James B. Jordan: “it focuses on sin and justification to the extent that the entire service feels more like a penitential vigil than a celebration of redemption.” b

Jordan is right if you read the prayer as solely penitential. But this prayer is posturing the Christian up from his knees to a seat at the table. It is bidding the Christian, “dine with God.” Mortal men are invited to Valhalla– what to the Norse meant “Hall of the Slain”– for a feast of flesh and mead. Only the brave souls that died in the triumph of Holy War would feast in Odin’s hall for slain warriors. So it is true of our prayers here. Christ’s absolution has progressed beyond mere forgiveness into conquest. (Romans 8:31-39) And now, those willing to die in and for their sins may enter. Now at the table, we may eat the flesh and drink the blood.

This prayer also offers a narrative to help understand Christ’s presence in the eucharist. Douglas Wilson rightly points out that: “We partake of the Lord in the participles, we partake of Him in the partaking. We cannot say, ‘Look, there is the Lord, stationary, on the table.’ Rather, we say, ‘Here is the Lord in the action of eating and drinking.’ And these actions are part of a series of actions, which together constitute the story. We partake of the Lord’s body and blood in a glorious series of verbs—declaring, praying, blessing, setting apart, taking, breaking, taking, and giving. And each moment in the story says something about the end of the story.” c

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  1. Press, O. U. (1993). The 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA.  (back)
  2. 1993. Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 29, Biblical Horizons.  (back)
  3. Wilson, Douglas. (2013). Against The Church. Moscow, ID: Canon Press.  (back)

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By In Theology, Worship

Becoming Your Catechism

Becoming Your Catechism (1)

A Transformational Tool

Christian history has a strong and rich tradition of catechetical teaching. Most Catechisms consist of a series of questions and answers with the purpose of instructing another individual in the content of the Christian faith. There are a variety of denominational catechisms: Luther and Ursinus each composed their own catechisms during the Reformation Era. These provided their perspective movements with a common and unified vision.

St. Paul mentions a tradition of catechesis in his letter to the church in Galatia, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” (Galatians 6:6) St. Paul uses two greek phrases: katēchoumenos and katēchounti to mean “being taught” and “teaching.” Both begin with the same “kata-echeo” root, where we get the English word catechism.

The Divine Echo

Commentators have noted that this Greek verb “echeo” attaches the idea of learning to audible sound. The Apostle certainly implies that we are to learn by oral tradition. In Greek mythology, a nymph called Echo is cursed with a speech impediment by the goddess Hera. The consequence is that Echo is only able to repeat back what others have said. Christian catechisms with their prewritten questions and given answers free us from Echo’s hopeless repetitions. To our human questions, we receive the promises of God’s reciprocity. Unlike the curse of the nymphs, we are made whole in our echoed answers. The antiphonary nature of questions and answers in the catechism help build up the wholeness of the body of Christ. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)

Your Voice in God’s Story

My Bishop Todd Hunter (ACNA/C4SO) describes the importance of catechism in the context of your story: “Everyone is looking for a story to live in – that is why the catechism is important.” He continues with, “Catechism is not best understood as a bunch of bullet-point doctrines. When we understand catechism that way, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice.” Bp. Hunter argues that limiting catechism to just doctrine can limit the practice to only mental assent. “Catechism is a way of summarizing this amazing cosmic story from divine intention to divine completion. A story that invites our participation.”

Bishop Hunter is describing catechism as more than a theological exercise. The questions and answers of our catechisms create a vision and story that we can invite others into, “that becomes the life of discipleship.” Beyond being a pedagogical tool, the catechism is a way for Christians to be formed into new spiritual realities. Our personal narratives are supplanted by the united and concerted voice of the Church on earth. As the world asks, “What is thy only comfort?” The church responds: “my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is more than an ammunition of answers for apologetics. As Christians, it is the real participation in our vocation as divine image bearers. Our answers transform us, as the very sounds we form with our mouths become our story. Just as the first creation came to be by the Word of God, so each image bearer speaks his own new creation into being.  St. Paul describes this process as putting on a new man, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4) Our catechisms help us redirect our lives and our story back to the life and story of Christ. May we “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (3:10)

Just as in Crosby’s famous hymn Blessed Assurance, where the familiar lines “this is my story” are coupled with the lines, “echoes of mercy, whispers of love.”

Resources on Catechisms

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By In Culture

Feminism as a Self-Defeating Movement

Feminism (1)

Is modern feminism a self-defeating movement? How the Women’s March in DC reveals the inherent weakness of state-sponsored feminism:

On January 21, more than one million women marched as part of the Women’s March on Washington and in cities across the country. Many marched in response to the election of Donald Trump over would-be first female president Hillary Clinton. The march has inspired a flurry of social media activity over the weekend. Commentators have pointed out the various philosophical contradictions that the Women’s March represents: like excluding pro-life groups as anti-woman (Washington Times), the idea of gender fluidity against a gender-exclusive march (Feminist Current), and the threats of violence and anger by a crowd proclaiming peace and love (Matt Walsh).
Missing from the discussion is how this movement has further enslaved men and women under the heel of “the man.” For all of its so-called progress for women’s rights, the movement now called feminism is increasingly indebted to the benevolence of a government sugar daddy. This is revealed in the many, many homemade posters created by marchers. While they touch on a number of issues like equal pay, reproductive rights, and the increased sexualization of women – each keystone point of modern feminism is heartily undermined by their own “ball and chain” in their arranged marriage with the state.

Female Dependence on “The Man”

Independent women are a treasure to the church and the world. Let no one deceive you to believe that somehow a woman is intrinsically defined by her relationship to a man. But one must ask, what is independent about demanding the government to pay for your every whim and fancy? Birth control, abortion, and even tampons are described by marchers as fundamental entitlements of each and every woman. To a large degree, these entitlements are a present reality for the overwhelming majority of women in America. So why march? They march because of the threat of infidelity by the new administration. Feminism in its marriage to the state is awakened to a new husband in the Trump administration.

Is this the progress envisioned by women’s rights advocates? Begging a man to preserve their rights and entitlements? Or was feminism intended to be a movement of equality and independence where women held their own apart from the goodwill of men? Perhaps feminists once imagined a country where they reclaimed their own personal sovereignty and retained their individual rights apart from the dictates and handouts of the State? Instead, modern feminism has anthropomorphized the state, that is changed it into the form (morphé) of man (anthropos). In Trump, they discover how this man-state is not always amiable. Their dependence on the state dropped them into the most vulnerable section of Alexander Tyle’s cycle of history, the chamber just before bondage.

In demanding a Hegelian “god walking on Earth” state, the roots of feminism become their own undoing.

“Big Brother” & the so-called right to privacy

The most controversial of women’s rights are related to the right to privacy. This is how the U.S. Supreme Court described abortion in the 1973 Roe V. Wade case that has now led to the death of millions of women in the womb. Yet is feminism a principled approach to the right to privacy? Can a movement that gives ascent to the surveillance programs supported and defended by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have any real claim to a principled idea of privacy? At the same time does the paper thin case for abortion as a “privacy right” jive with the licentiousness of modern feminism? We are led to believe the lie that feminism is a movement to protect the private sexual behavior of women. This is contradicted by how the goals of sexual liberation lead to their increased exploitation and objectification in the public sphere and in media. From raunchy female comedians like Amy Schumer to the vagina hats at the DC march, feminism in its modern context has abused the right of privacy to define women as sexual objects.

vagina head

The real right of privacy of the 4th Amendment is sacrificed at “Big Brother’s” altar of privacy from moral censure. The cost is the politicization of sex at the expense of a woman’s dignity. Abortion itself represents the sad contradiction in the feminist idea of privacy: a woman strapped down, legs in stirrups, and vaginally invaded.

“Uncle Sam” and equitable pay

A historic argument against female domesticity was the robbery of a woman’s labor in childrearing.  The “cult of domesticity” is maligned as a patriarchal attempt to enslave women. As women joined the workforce they certainly faced an uphill battle in receiving equitable consideration for then male-dominated positions and the pay disparities were considered a form of oppression. Modern feminists insist there is an ongoing battle in this arena related to a “pay gap.” Some argue that the pay gap is as large as a twenty percent disparity between men and women. This twenty percent pay gap is seen as a massive injustice demonstrating the continued tyranny of misogyny in a patriarchal culture.

But what if the threat to women’s income in greater than the income disparity and greater than twenty percent? If we are concerned about the twenty percent loss that some may experience, how much more should feminists be concerned about the even larger cut that Uncle Sam is taking from women?

14939_I_Want_Your_Money_UncleSamFederal and State income taxes coupled with payroll taxes add up to a fifty-percent tax rate here in California. A rate that increases as women raise their pay. So that if the pay gap ended today – Uncle Sam would take an even bigger chunk away from women. Perhaps these taxes are the simple shards from breaking through the glass ceiling?

Do modern feminists not see how they feed the beast of their own demise? They created a culture that abdicated individual responsibilities for government dependence and constitutional protection for moral ambiguity.

This is why they hate Trump. He’s a bad husband. He’s unfaithful. He’s a bad daddy. Not only is he creepy, but he threatens to put the children out on their own.
Modern Feminism created its own crisis: have they ditched “oppressive” patriarchy for a tyrannical national patrimony?

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By In Culture, Family and Children

Mutilating A Daughter

mosque graphhic

Illustration by Laurel Lynn Leake

About a month ago, This American Life ran a story that gave me the biggest lump in my throat and painful knots in my stomach. It was the story of a young woman who discovered she was the victim of female genital mutilation.

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By In Books, Culture, Family and Children

The Glass Castle: How to “Skedaddle” Through Life

Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

 

The Glass Castle is the compelling memoir of Jeannette Walls. Written in 2005, The Glass Castle follows the various exploits of a family’s drunken father and free-spirit mother. As of last month, Lionsgate began filming a Hollywood adaption of the book. The movie is anticipated for release in 2017 featuring Brie Larson (who also starred in the critically acclaimed “Room” in 2015), Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson. The book exposes the cultural challenges of the post-modern family and the vulnerabilities of a family outside of the Christian Church. The morality of “independence” is challenged as the memoir painfully connects “free spirit” parenting to neglected, abused, and resentful children. (more…)

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By In Family and Children, Theology

Global Anglicans Uphold Traditional Marriage at Primates Meeting

living the dream

The 2016 meeting of the Primates for the Anglican Communion has released a statement upholding their commitment to traditional marriage in response to the Episcopal Church (USA) and its official promulgation of same-sex marriages among members and clergy. See the official statement here.
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