Dogma & Greg: a ★★★★★ book review

I was interested in reading Brian Matz’s Gregory of Nazianzus because Nazianzus is the Cappadocian father whose works I am least familiar with (though I don’t want to feign expertise on the other two). In seminary I had the opportunity to read Basil, and read  a number of Gregory of Nyssa’s. The only Gregory of Nazianzus I read was his five Theological Orations  which I read for pleasure on my own time. They were interesting—witty, theologically erudite, and well crafted. However, I am no scholar and felt like the best way for me to get a handle on Nazianzus is to find a wise guide.

Sample_noprice

Brian Matz (PhD, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Saint Louis University) is the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Endowed Chair in Catholic Thought at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri associate professor of the history of Christianity. He wrote a dissertation on Gregory of Nazianzus at Saint Louis University (of which this text is partially adapted).  In this book, Matz provides a biographical sketch of Gregory (chapter one) before examining the importance of purification as a central theological motif for this Cappadocian (chapter two). Chapters three through six explore the theme of purification in four of Gregory’s orations (Oration 2, 45, 40, and 14). As part of Baker Academic’s Foundations of Theological Exegesis and Christian Spirituality (Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering, series eds.), this book has a particular eye for Nazianzus’s use of Scripture.

Matz argues convincingly that purification is the key to understanding. Chapter two of this volume,  provides a broad overview of Gregory’s preaching of purification (or spiritual healing). Matz illustrates Gregory’s terminology and his understanding of the practice and process of purification (i.e. self discipline, ascetical practices, cleansing the senses, acts of mercy, contrition, fasting, celebrating holy festivals, desire to know God, the purifying fire of difficult circumstance, baptism, the Eucharist and piety). He then describes the benefits of the purification of the soul: knowledge and contemplation of God, divinization, becoming a recipient of heaven, undermining evildoers and the devil, escape from the torments of judgement, esteem in the community, etc. Finally, Matz examines the role that pastors, the Spirit, and Christ play in leading a soul through the purification process in Gregory’s thought.

Matz’s discussion of the four orations illustrates how Gregory works out this theme pastorally (oration 2), in contemplation (oration 45), in his understanding of baptism (oration 40), and in care for the poor and vulnerable (oration 14). Most these orations are available to the general reader free online (or for a nominal fee on Kindle as part of Phillip Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection). Oration 14 can be found as part of Gregory of Nazianzus’ Select Orations (Catholic University of America Press, 2004). Not having access to the latter volume, I read the other orations in Schaff (in my case, through my Bible software program).

I really enjoyed this book and thought Matz did a wonderful job of walking the reader through Gregory’s exegesis. Nazianzus was less fanciful than Nyssa in terms of allegory, but made great use of the Canon (particularly found of the Psalms and Matthew, but drawing on a good swath of the biblical material). Like his Cappadocian counterparts, Nazianzus is Christological and Christocentric in his interpretation.

I give this book five stars and recommend it for anyone interested in a short, attainable introduction to Gregory. ★★★★★

Note: I received a Net Galley copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Union with Our Atoning Christ: a book review

Many recent treatments of the atonement questions the dominance of forensic model in evangelicalism. There are few cranky Reformed folks that are piping out the centrality of penal substitution, but many are hunting for other models (i.e. Christus Victor, or Moral Influence, non-violent models, etc) or proposing a multi-metaphor, mosaic approach (see, for example, Scot Mcknight’s A Community Called Atonement).  Andrew Purves also questions the dominance of legal models, but he does so through a sustained engagement with three major theological voices from the Scottish Reformed tradition: John McLeod Campbell, Hugh Ross Mackintosh and T.F. Torrance.In Exploring Christology & Atonement, Purves examines each thinker’s contribution to atonement theology and Christology. While these theologians are not exactly the same in approach (Torrance and Mackintosh had their criticisms of Campbell, and Mackintosh had been Torrance’s teacher), they represent a common trajectory. Each theologian sets the atonement within the context of the relations between Jesus, the incarnate Son, with the Father. The result is that union with Christ becomes the guiding idea for properly understanding God’s purpose for the Cross and its result.

9780830840779Purves is  one of my favorite pastoral theologians. His Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation and the shorter, more accessible The Crucifixion of Ministry explored ministry in the image of Christ, allowing the cruciform nature of ministry and what it means to minister in his name. Purves teaches Historical Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary [Edit: Purves is now Emeritus Faculty at Pittsburgh]. In his earlier volumes he showed the practical fruit of engaging biblical, historical and patristic theology. That goal is not far off in this volume either. Campbell, MacKintosh and Torrance were first-rate theologians (Campbell was not a professional theologian but a pastor). They were also men-of-faith mindful of the implications of their theology for ordinary believers.

In seven chapters, Purves walks through the thought of these theologians. His first three chapters explore Christology, setting the atonement within the context of Christ’s Union with God and his representative union with humanity, “The Magnificent exchange is to be thought of as Jesus Christ as he unfolds himself out in saving ministry by which he joins us to himself in his human nature and us to him. Union with Christ is embedded as one work within the magnificent exchange as by the Holy Spirit he binds us to himself in his human nature to share his benefits” (124).

In the next three chapters, Purves examines Campbell, MacKintosh and Torrance in turn, exploring how each move away from Jesus being merely a satisfaction for God’s wrath but the cross being the way in which God in his love unites us with Himself.  These chapters are sympathetic-critical. Purves acknowledges aspects of their theology that are underdeveloped (such as, for example, Campbell’s pneumatology) but also gives them the benefit of the doubt, following the trajectory of where their theology leads.

Campbell’s emphasis is on how the incarnation in the atonement affects our union with God, “The atonement is not punishment for sin but rather a spiritual and moral access to the Father through Christ’s confession our sin and through union with Christ, having adopted us as ‘sons’ of God” (145).  While Christ’s atonement is vicarious, and in some sense substitutionary (in our stead), this is not conceived as a primarily legal exchange but ‘morally’ or ‘spiritually’ (152-53).  MacKintosh also moves us beyond the legal metaphors as he explores the nature of divine forgiveness. For MacKintosh, “The death of Jesus has significance for reconciliation only when considered in the light, and as expression, of His life” (183). The cross is the culmination of how he lived, Jesus already made our sins his own in his baptism and bore our transgressions throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus death reveals both God’s condemnation of sin and “God’s absolute revelation of love toward sinful people” (183-184).

Torrance’s chapter shows how clearly he stands in the tradition  of Campbell and MacKintosh and reveals that he is more than simply Barth’s acolyte. Torrance explores the interconnection of Christology and atonement, expoloring the kingly, priestly and prophetic nature of Christ’s redemption (208). He grounds Jesus’ priestly ministry in the ontological relationship between Father and Son and Christ’s hypostatic union (216).  In  Christ’s atonement, God is the primarily actor in the atonement, both in the human and Divine dimensions of his person, (220-221). “The divine Logos united himself with our human nature, revealing himself within our humanity, but also within our humanity enabled us to receive his revelation personally in love and faith and understanding” (230).

The last chapter serves as a postscript exploring how each of these theologians were concerned with how their theology worked out practically and pastorally.

My awareness of each these theologians and their work  is minimal. I have read a little Torrance, had MacKintosh’s book unread on my shelf, and had not heard of Campbell before picking this book up. As such, I probably didn’t get as much out of this book as I could have, but appreciate the window that Purves provided into the theologies of these three churchmen. I also appreciate their joint emphasis (and Purves’s) on union with Christ in the atonement and how the cross is more than just a satisfaction of God’s wrath but his means to make both his Love visible and accessible to us. I give this four stars

Note: I received this from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Who Ordered the Trinity? a book review

Theologians often distinguish between the Economic Trinity: the God revealed to us in the economy of salvation, and the Immanent Trinity: the Godhead’s relations between the Divine persons. The Economic Trinity is described as Father, Son and Spirit—reflecting the order of God’s self-revelation in enacting our redemption: Creator, Redeemer and Advocate. But this oversimplifies the picture of God and doesn’t do full justice to the New Testament witness of the Trinity.

4378 trinity cover CC.inddRodrick K Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary observes that the triadic ordering of Father-Son-Spirit, makes up just 24% of the seventy-five New Testament references to the Triune God (70). Any list of three items can be combined six different ways; Durst observes all six combinations of Divine Persons in the pages of Scripture. In Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament he examines the various Trinitarian references and the significance for each ordering.

Durst has a three purposes in this book. First, he wants to challenge the notion that the Trinity is not explicit in the pages of the New Testament. While the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear there, Durst presents enough examples  of triadic patterning in the New Testament to demonstrate the obvious presence of the Trinity. Secondly, he explores the meaning and purposes behind each order in their Biblical context. Third, Durst makes  the case that:

whenever and wherever Christian life and ministry have been God-glorifying, or personally satisfying or ethically prophetic or socially effective, it is precisely because a Trinitarian processional value has been consciously or unconsciously applied. Far from extinction, the Trinity flourishes everywhere and in every way as the agent of causation in which we live, minister and have our being. (60-61).

The book divides into three parts. Part one sets the table. Chapter one examines significant contributions to Trinitarian thought in contemporary theology, including the thinkers that Durst draws on in making his own case for his New Testaement Trinitarian Matrix. Chapter two lays out Durst’s raw data of New Testament triadic references. Durst catalogs each reference that includes all three members of the Trinity and evaluates each example based on intentionality. Chapter three looks at Trinitarian antecedents within the Old Testament, arguing that the Septuagint obscured the plurality of Divine persons in the One God more evident in the Hebrew text. Chapter four examines the Trinity and doctrinal development in Church History.

Part two is an in depth exploration of each of the triadic orders for the Trinity:

  • Chapter 5, Father-Son-Spirit—The missional triad emphasizing that God is sending (117).
  • Chapter 6, Son-Spirit-Father—The saving triad, describing our experience of being saved, forgiven and adopted in God’s household(194-195).
  • Chapter 7, Son-Father Spirit—The indwelling triad.
  • Chapter 8, Spirit-Father-Son—the sanctifying triad, showcasing a liturgical pattern of “Spirit-inspired reverence for the Father [which] leads to dedicated walk and service with Christ” (236).
  • Chapter, 9, Father-Spirit-Son-the Spiritual-Formation triad, God forming believers for witness for Christ (257).
  • Chapter 10, Spirit-Son-Father the ecclesial triad examining God at work in the church (276).

Part three contains a single chapter focused on how a functional Trinitarianism affects everyday worship, life and ministry.

Chapters three through eleven each close with a brief ‘sermon starter’ on the chapter’s Trinitarian theme.  Durst also includes five appendixes. Appendix A provides exhaustive tables on all the New Testament’s triadic occurrences. Appendix B is a glossary of Trinitarian terms. The other three appendixes are more practical:  a suggested exercise for praying to each part of the Trinity through the lens of the triad of your choice, a six week program of mediating on all six triads, and suggestions for explaining the trinity to children and adolescents.

Durst makes a compelling case for the diversity of Trinitarian images in the New Testament. By examining the various orders describing the Godhead, he enlarges our picture of the economic Trinity:

Theological conversations describe in previous chapters spoke of the economic Trinity exclusively as the missional procession of Father-Son-Spirit. However we must not ignore the significant textual evidence studied in this book that either we should be speaking of the “diversity of the economic Trinity” or the “Diverse Triune Economies”(288).

Durst does a good job of spelling out the significance of each triad and its implication for our ecclesiastical and devotional life. He is systematic in his handling of the textual evidence and  I appreciate his comprehensive approach. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.