2012-07-24

On the Integration of Epistemology


This summer I read "Descartes Bones", which, although not a masterwork of analytic reasoning, it is a fun romp through the seismic changes that modern epistemology brought to society, as seen through the lens of the rather weird journey of Descartes' skeleton. In an irony of Philosophical proportions, it seems that his head became separated from his body, and no one knows where his body has gone!

Anyway, the book brought up for me a continual question that I ask: How does one integrate the insights of different epistemology across history? Different epistemologies weigh different kinds of data in different ways, yielding access to different kinds of knowledge that other epistemologies seem blind to. Furthermore, different kinds of epistemology seem to act as watchdogs or guard against the habitual errors of other epistemic methods.

For instance, it seems to me that:

Modern epistemology is great at constructing new knowledge systems (sciences) which allow us to engineer technology and society in ways never dreamt of. However, modern epistemology has a penchant for constructing "totalizing ideologies" that tend to oppress and grind dissidents underfoot without paying attention to their viewpoints.

Postmodern epistemology is great at identifying and calling out modern and ancient knowledge systems for their hubris, blindness and violence to "the other". But as good as postmodern epistemology is at critique, it is not very good at constructing knowledge systems we can live in as a society.

Finally, ancient epistemology is a good remedy for the modern and postmodern tendency to focus only on empirical reality and only on the individual (their powers in analysis and atomization are also their weakness). As such, ancient epistemology is good at formation of community, and participation in non-empirical "spiritual" reality. However, ancient epistemology that conserves traditional knowledge is not well equipped to help knowledge progress into new areas of discovery. Nor is it particularly good at viewing itself from outside of itself (and thus sustaining critique of itself).

While this is a massive over-generalization, and open to critique on very many point, in a brief compass this seems to me to be the basic shape of the epistemic problems we face.

So, since I tend to think using charts and diagrams, I decided to try to integrate these insights using the central motif of the "hermeneutic spiral". The result is the above chart. Enjoy.

2012-07-19

Conservatively Progressive, Radically Traditional and Liberally Creedal

The "dancing saints" icon at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church is a great visual example of Creedal theology combined with a radical social vision.

This week Ross Douthat at the NY Times wrote an article asking whether Liberal Christianity can be saved. His article basically tied radical social decisions (such as ordination of transgender persons and blessings of gay and lesbian unions) to doctrinal sellout (such as liberals supposedly being syncretist at worst, and bland at best). And he then tied doctrinal sellout with numerical decline, in such a way that numerical decline is the primary indicator of whether a church body is being unfaithful to Jesus Christ by accommodating to culture (while, conversely, numerical increase is the primary indicator of faithfulness).

This is the basic thesis of his book "Nation of Heretics", which in turn is basically a simplified version of the "Radical Orthodoxy" viewpoint, described in sociological terms, for the non-theological American layperson. His primary application of this thesis is, of course, the Episcopal Church. Due to our dismal decline over the last 40 years, and especially the last decade, we are a pretty easy target for such criticism.

His Op Ed garnered lots of positive reactions of the "See! We told ya so!" variety from predictable conservative corners. From more "liberal" or "progressive" corners, he was also predictably scolded. Mark Silk pointed out that "conservative" American church bodies, such as Southern Baptists and caucasian Roman Catholics, are declining almost as spectacularly as the Episcopal Church. Diana Butler Bass piled on by noting how many progressive church bodies are showing signs of vitality in non-numeric ways (and a few even in numeric ways). And Daniel Burke simply pointed out the bad journalism in many of Douthat's exaggerated points.

Although there is a great deal of truth in Douthat's critics, there is also a some truth in Douthat's thesis as well. I think many progressive church bodies- including the TEC- have been guilty of advocating radical social stances without doing adequate theology to undergird such actions. Thus, Episcopalians find ourselves in the rather curious predicament of boldly proclaiming the radical liberation and inclusion of Jesus Christ, while being notoriously hesitant and afraid to proclaim the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Douthat was right for pointing out that Episcopal bishop Shelby Spong is great example of this travesty: A church leader who is bold to proclaim liberation even as he strips away any distinctive theological or historical claims about the Liberator.

It is axiomatic for most thoughtful Christians, including Douthat, and his supporters, and even his critics, to assume that radical social policy MUST be connected with revisionist, quasi-deist theology. Conversely, we tend to assume that conservative social policy MUST be connected with traditional, creedal theology. In fact, this correlation is often said to imply causality: Revisionist, quasi-deist theology logically causes and entails radical social commitments. Traditional, creedal theology logically causes and entails conservative social commitments.

And of course, for Douthat, his supporters, and even his critics, there is a single over-riding criteria to determine who is right and who is wrong. The "proof in the pudding", which declares truth or falsehood, faithfulness or unfaithfulness, is numerical success. Whichever side gets more butts-in-pews (or at least more people who claim on surveys that their butts are in the pews) wins. Numerical success (and along with it financial and even political success) is what ultimately declares our faithfulness and "makes our election sure". Conversely, numerical decline and failure indicates that a church body is unfaithful to Christ.

I would like to call into question both of these assumptions.

First, does radical social policy HAVE to be connected to revisionist theology? Does it have to be connected with fundamentally revisionist Biblical studies? Sure, there is a clear correlation throughout history between these two positions. Lots of people who have held one have held the other. Just look at "theologians" like Bishop Spong or Biblical scholars like John Dominic Crossan. They hold radical social positions and then consciously ground those positions in revisionist Biblical and theological positions. It seems, prima facie, an open and shut case, right?

Not so quickly. There is a major Christian tradition that predates the Liberal/Conservative divide in Protestant theology that is both socially radical as well as being traditional in theology (and by theology here I am speaking of the nature of God as Trinity, and that the second person of the Trinity was incarnate in the human life of Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again). This Christian tradition is the "Anabaptist" tradition, of which notable American heirs are the Mennonites and Amish.

This branch of Christianity has traditionally advocated social radicalism in the form of pacifism, social justice ministry, and even collective ownership of goods. These are some of the same positions advocated by postmodern "radicals" like Spong and Crossan, with the exception that Anabaptists passionately link their radicalism with very traditional Incarnational and Trinitarian theology. In fact, Anabaptists would claim that they are socially radical BECAUSE they adhere to a strict reading of Scripture and a radical commitment to DO what the Lord of the Scriptures says to do.

While I do not agree with the Anabaptist tradition on everything, notably regarding the Christian sacramental life, I think they show us that radical social policy and creedal theology can be linked together. In fact, there can be a causal relation between the two. Perhaps we may even say that Creedal, Trinitarian, Incarnational Theology can provide the best possible undergirding for radical social justice and inclusion. This undergirding can be much stronger than the support provided by revisionist, quasi-deist theology.

For instance, the Bible, when read seriously and strictly, has significant portions that advocate radical social positions such as pacifism (cf. Mat 5.39, 5.44, 26.52; Rom 12.17-21), release of debt and help for the poor (cf. Deu 15; Lev 25), common ownership of goods (cf. Acts 2, 4), abolition of slavery (cf. Philemon, 1Ti 1.10), and inclusion of all types of people, regardless of cultural background, gender, marriage, celibacy, or sexual "otherness" (cf. Isa 56; Gal 3.26-29; Mat 19; Acts 8.27-39; Rom 16). And even though there are Scriptures often used to "counter" or "negate" these positions, one could faithfully argue, on the basis of a very conservative view of the Divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, that there is an overall trajectory in Scripture that leads to such radical positions.

In fact it might be that this "radical" trajectory is inspired by God in such a way that it subsumes and transforms less radical Scriptures, because "less radical" Scriptures represent a divine accommodation to ancient culture, whereas the "more radical" Scriptures more fully represent God's vision. This could be argued on the basis of the Incarnation: God's word is present in a preparatory, incomplete way prior to Jesus Christ. But when Christ comes, he is the full embodiment of God's Word which the earlier words pointed to. So also, the radical trajectory of the Bible is hinted at haltingly in less radical Scriptures, but they subtlety point us to the more radical Scriptures as their fulfillment.

Or, let's take the two most definitive Christian affirmations of God's nature and activity: That God is an eternal Trinity of Persons, and that one of those Divine persons became historically incarnate in the human Jesus. The Trinity declares that God is, in essence, a loving community of three distinct Persons, in which they eternally receive each other's "otherness" in full inclusion, with full inter-sharing of all they are with one another. What could be a more full-bodied basis upon which to build a radical theology of full inclusion of human otherness? What could be a better foundation for insisting on distributive justice, in which all of God's children, made in the image of the Triune God, are provided with all they need for health and life, as we share God's creation with each other?

Likewise, in the Incarnation God took upon himself not only the consequences of human sin, but the fullness of human nature as well. God included all of human life in Godself when God became human in Jesus. And God completed this union when Jesus took human nature into the Divine life of the Trinity in his ascension. It was this God incarnate who preached such radical messages as what we read in the Sermon on the Mount. It was this God incarnate who lived out the inclusion and justice he embodied by actually sharing fellowship with saints and sinners, wives and whores, sick and healthy, poor and rich, outcasts and insiders. It was this God incarnate who proclaimed that whenever we receive and help the last, lost, and least among us, we are in fact receiving and helping him (cf. Mat 25.31-46). Thus Jesus provides the historic, temporal basis for radical inclusion and social justice, just as the Trinity provides the trans-historic, eternal basis for the same positions.

And so, assuming three very "conservative" positions - namely the Divine inspiration of Scripture, the nature of God as Trinity, and the Incarnation of God in Jesus - we find ourselves suddenly arriving at very "radical" social positions. And it is not just Anabaptists who have discovered this. Nearly all monastic orders throughout the history of the Church- notably the Franciscans, Bretheren of the Common Life, and Jesuits- have embraced the radical trajectory of Scripture while maintaining creedal theology. Roman Catholics have a long line of radical-yet-creedal theologians stretching from De Las Casas in the 1500's to Liberation theologians of the last few decades. And in the Anglican tradition, there is a long history of Anglo-Catholic radicals and "sacramental socialists", such as Conrad Noel in the early 20th century and Kenneth Leech today. The causal connection of creedal theology and radical social policy is actually well-established, although in a way that is underplayed by those who want to use Christianity to "conserve" the status quo power arrangements in society. Yet, if someone wants evidence that the proposition "Creedal theology leads to Radical social policy" can still capture the public imagination, one needs look no further than the Stephen Colbert phenomenon.

In fact, we may even question whether socially conservative Churches are THAT conservative as regards theology. While paying lip service to the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the inspiration of Scripture, could it be that they subtly undermine them in how they use these ideas? In those traditions, God seems to be often depicted as a cosmic, masculine King, that rules sovereignly over the established social order, thereby establishing the establishment. Not much effort seems to be given to explaining, much less exploring, the ramifications of God as Trinity (rather, it is often defacto ignored as a "mystery beyond our comprehension"). Now, I am not denying that God is King. But perhaps the Kingdom God rules is not the conservative establishment we have now.

And, in those "conservative" traditions the Incarnation often seems to be treated in a "Docetist" manner: Jesus appears to be fully human, but he is just hiding his super-human powers and invincibility underneath a thin veneer of flesh. Jesus never really suffers as a human, nor is tempted by his human situation. He just pretends. And thus he embodies the American conservative ideal of success: If you just think positively and believe in success, you can overcome any obstacle. Even death. Jesus is used as the template of success and prosperity: The ultimate CEO. And thus he is used to "lend" credibility to existing social structures, and "fund" our conservative politics.

In these conservative churches, almost nothing is said of Jesus' weakness, his hunger, his thirst, his doubts in the garden of Gethsemane, his cry of dereliction on the cross, or his failure in loosing his entire "fan base" at the end. And if something is said, it is quickly explained away by the resurrection and victory of Christ. The idea of "no cross, no crown; no death, no resurrection" is almost entirely lost. All is brightness and light, with no "dark night of the soul" to speak of.

But even if they subtly deny the meaning of the Trinity and the Incarnation, they are at least more "Biblical" right? They stay more "true" to the teachings of the Bible, right?

Actually, they do the same thing they accuse liberals and radicals of doing: They establish a "canon within a canon" of essential texts and ideas, and then construct a trajectory argument of how to interpret other texts to be in line with their "canonical" texts and ideas. So, in this debate they choose "conservative" Biblical texts that condone warfare in God's Name, and exclusion of "others", and patriarchy, and hierarchy, and the "right" of private property, and self-interested "wealth creation", and "prosperity theology". Then they say that these "conservative" positions represent the ultimate trajectory of Scripture. Then they harmonize or explain away the more radical Scriptures in light of their "canon".

So, both sides are being equally "Biblical" in the sense of paying lip-service to Scriptural inspiration, and referring to Scriptural materials to back up their social claims. It's just that one claims that validating the "conservative" status quo is the ultimate goal of Scripture, while the other side says that Scripture envisions a rather more "radical" conclusion. The question is: Which one is right? Which one is justified? Which one shows God's approval?

This is where I take issue with the other assumption of Douthat and most others in this discussion: Namely that numerical success is a reliable indicator of which churches are more faithful to God's call.

Yes, one can excerpt a great deal of material from the book of Acts that "church growth" coincides with faithfulness to the Gospel. Except when it doesn't. Let us not forget that Jesus himself was spectacularly successful in NOT being successful. Despite drawing crowds of thousands, several of his discourses scared away scads of followers (cf. John 6.66). And let us not forget that he was almost completely abandoned on the day of his death. If numerical success is an indicator of faithfulness, how do we make sense of this?

Likewise, several of the epistles in the New Testament show a concern that large numbers of followers have been (or will be) distracted from Christ's path by false teaching (cf. Acts 20.29; Gal 1.6; 2Tim. 4.3). Indeed, Jesus himself seems to predict it (cf. Mat 7.13-27). In fact, from Isaiah onwards there is a strong theme of "remnant" theology, in which only a faithful remnant of God's people will remain through the trials of history. If numerical success is an indicator of faithfulness, how do we make sense of this?

And then there are historic cases where society has suddenly taken a very anti-Christian turn, which has led to the persecution of churches, and a long term diminishment of the Christian population despite their best efforts to persevere. This has happened in ancient Japan and China, under Muslim rule, under Communist rule, and even where certain types of Christians have persecuted other Christians. Does this just mean that "might makes right", and Christians should go on a jihad to propagate the faith against their enemies? Surely that would bring in big numbers, and quickly! Yet, even the most belligerent Christian societies have insisted that violence and coercion should not be the "norm" for bringing about conversion. And many more Christians across history have said that violence and coercion are flatly UNFAITHFUL to the Gospel.

And then, of course, we could point out scads of examples of faithful Christian groups that have grown quickly due the vibrance of their faith and the boldness of their proclamation. The Wesleys of the 1700's and the Pentecostals of the 1900's come to mind. And conversely, we could talk about the immense numeric success of brands of Christianity that are considered "heretical", as well as the growth of non-Christian religions.

When looked at in totality, it must be said that numerical success has almost NO correlation with faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Some faithful Christians have grown numerically, while others with the same beliefs and practices have shrunk or even disappeared over time.

And so, I reject Douthat's thesis on two points: First, creedal theology is not causally connected with conservative social policy, and likewise revisionist theology is not causally connected with radical social policy. If one looks deeper, the "logical" correlation may actually be reversed. I think a rampant consumer capitalism operating in a conservative, class-based, socially-segregated framework works much better with a revisionist Deism or Pantheism, rather than trying to "shoehorn" a domesticated Incarnational and Trinitarian theology into it. If one wants to be truly radical, perhaps they need to be radically Biblical, Trinitarian, and Incarnational.

Second, numerical growth or decline is no indicator of faithfulness to Christ. We may do what Jesus Christ desires of us in pursuing radical inclusion and social justice and STILL shrink numerically because the dominant culture wants something different, something more "conservative".

To my fellow laborers in the Episcopal Church who want to see radical changes in society, but are revisionist in their theology or view of the Bible, I would beg them to reconsider. I would ask them to dig deep into the well of the Creedal and Biblical inheritance of the Church. Perhaps they will find an even better basis for social justice and radical inclusion than holding to a more watered-down, revisionist vision of God and Christ.

Perhaps they might just find that it is possible to become "Conservatively Progressive" (in the sense of conserving the progressive trajectory of Scripture and Christian History), "Radically Traditional" (in the sense of holding fast to the radical tradition embodied in Christ), and "Liberally Creedal" (in the sense that if we follow the Trinitarian God proclaimed in the Creed, we will liberally seek to include all in the joy of our fellowship with God and each other).

2012-07-14

On Tebowish PDRAs

In a recent editorial at Religion News Service, Michael Medved argues for religious acceptance of the public prayer-gestures offered by religious athletes such as Tim Tebow [See Medved's article here]. 

With standard over-hyped rhetorical flourish, Medved calls current religious attitudes a "war" on Christian athletes. He cites a rabbi who rejects the public religious displays as evidence of a larger cultural rejection (when I imagine that if we ran the numbers, most Americans actually applaud such behavior). Then Medved talks about how Johann Sebastian Bach wrote "SDG" on all his compositions (short for Soli Dei Gloria, or "Glory to God alone"). And if Bach wrote SDG privately on his compositions, so the logic goes, it certainly must be laudable for Tebow to kneel in prayer in front of millions. 

I think the profound discomfort with Tebowish "PDRAs" (Public Displays of Religious Affection) is that they are somehow manipulative and dangerously close to rejecting Jesus' own teachings. First, regarding manipulation: It is easy to cast PDRAs, done before millions of spectators, as an effort to manipulate God into giving one favor or success. It can appear as if the athlete is trying to strike a deal with God: "Look, I will make you famous if you make me famous". This may be unfair, or it may be right in the money, or somewhere in between. But it certainly looks like PDRAs are done to get God on one's side in a public way. And, in a culture that politicizes God constantly, and invokes God's name to sanctify public policy, cultural privilege, and personal prejudice, it is easy to lump PDRAs in with such manipulative God talk. 

I hope all of this is a wrong read of the PDRA phenomenon, but I fear it is at least partially right. And I do think the mass spectacle of the modern PDRA is qualitatively different from Bach quietly initialing SDG on his compositions. This brings me to my second point: The PDRA seems to reject Jesus' own advice from the Sermon on the Mount (and other places):

Matt. 6:5-6 And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Granted, Jesus prayed publicly, as did Paul and the Apostles. And there are places in the Christian liturgical life for corporate prayer, from the celebration of sacraments to mealtime prayer. So, Jesus' instructions on private prayer must be balanced with our communal need for corporate prayer. The question is, does the PDRA serve a communally felt liturgical need, or is it merely a public expression of private feelings? If it is the former, we need to find a way to sanctify and solemnize it so it is not treated with disdain. If it is the latter, perhaps the PDRA is simply TMI.

2012-07-13

Fractals, Bodies, and Temples


A friend of mine from a more congregational Christian tradition sent me an email asking me about one of the many narratives found in Scripture to describe God's salvific plan, centered on Christ, as it unrolls across the Scriptures. His email centered on our Christian identity as both "bricks" which build the temple of God in Christ, and as "temples of the Holy Spirit". Furthermore, he was asking how this tied into the narrative of God's creation, especially the so-called "8th day" in which God is re-creating humanity through Christ.

Here is how I replied:

I think you are heading toward some general principles that the trajectory of Scripture aims us toward, namely this (hold on tight, I will connect it all together in a few paragraphs):

1. Jesus is both the fulfillment that the Hebrew Scriptures point toward, and the Font/Source/Epicenter/Head/Arche that the economy of salvation flows from.

2. As such, Jesus recapitulates and epitomizes the history of God's people in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is particularly easy to see in writings such as Matthew and Hebrews, in which early Jewish disciples draw direct correlations between the life of Jesus and Hebrew figures such as Moses, Elijah, the Temple, the Temple cult, etc.

3. Jesus is the microcosm of what his body of followers is the macrocosm: He sets the pattern that we repeat by virtue of being organically linked to him through faith and sacrament. Thus we are members of him (as a body) or bricks that build the temple of which he is the chief cornerstone.

4. Individual disciples/followers/Christians then become microcosms of Jesus himself. In the words of CS Lewis, we are "little christs" (for, that is what "Christ-ian" means in Greek: A little christ, or a part of Christ, or a party-member of Christ in a political sense). I think Johannine literature is helpful here: Jesus speaking of vine/branches (ch. 15), or that we will do even greater works that Christ (14.12), etc.

5. With all of this microcosm/macrocosm talk, and Jesus as "epicenter", "fulfillment", and "incarnation" of God in human form, we can begin to talk of material entities and activities that point as signs to the reality that is in Jesus. This is fairly straightforward with the Jewish cult. Hebrews and Colossians makes it clear that Jewish rituals, buildings, and people are "types" or "signs" that point us to Christ. However, we can draw from this trajectory that all created material things, when rightly used, point us beyond themselves to fulfillment in YHWH, who is ultimately made known in Jesus.

6. The flip-side of this "sacramental" or "semiotic" view of the material world is that, if signs can be used rightly, they can also be used wrongly. The same things that are created to point us to God can be distorted or idolized or counterfeited in such a way that they point us away from God.

If I were to envision this, it would be almost as if the Incarnate Jesus, God in human flesh, is the apex where two funnels join together. On one side, being funneled into him, is the entire economy of salvation, with all it's laws, rituals, types, and signs. On the other side, flowing forth from him, is the reality of grace and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Or to use a mathematical analogy: Fractals generate a shape that is repeated infinitely on macro- and micro- levels. If you zoom in infinitely close, you will see the same shape repeated over and over again in countless, slightly different iterations. And if you zoom out infinitely, you will see the same repeating typology. If we take this as an analogy, Jesus is the Logos- the mathematical logic/constant that makes the fractal what it is. Those who are connected to Jesus by faith and sacrament are macro- and micro- repetitions of the pattern of Jesus. We are logoi to his Logos, christian to his Christ.

So, when you hit on Scriptural ideas such as bricks/building, or members/body, I think you are hitting on manifestations of these principles. And just as each of these principles finds a fulfillment in Christ, they also find a mis-use outside of Christ.

Just as we are members of Christ's Body (cf. 1Co 12; Rom 12), and thus we are to offer the members of our own bodies as tools to be used in Christ's Body (cf. Rom 6), so also our bodies can be mis-used as "flesh" to serve the counterfeit "body of sin".

Just as we are bricks building up the holy temple of which Christ is the cornerstone, and thus we ourselves are individually temples of the Spirit living in us (cf. 1Co 6), so also the Temple of Jerusalem which was made to point us toward Christ, becomes a counterfeit of fruitless legalism, and all of its individual stones are cast down in 70 CE even as the stones of the body of Christ are being built together.

Or to take the Politics of 1st century CE. Both Jesus and Augustus Caesar are proclaimed as "Son of God", "Lord of All", and "Savior of the World". Caesar's Navy is so strong he is said to be able to walk on water across the decks of his ships, while bringing peace to the whole world around the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus is said to have actually calmed the waters with his command and walked on them with his own feet. Caesar brings peace to the known world by the threat of death at the hands of his armies. Jesus brings peace to the world by the promise of life through the resurrection of the dead.

The rhetoric of the New Testament, when read subversively, clearly uses Imperial Roman claims about Caesar as a kind of "inverse sign" pointing us to real fulfillment in Jesus. Caesar possesses an outwardly successful, powerful kingdom that ultimately brings about death for all based on its driving logic of violence. Jesus possesses an outwardly disastrous, powerless kingdom that ultimately brings about life based on its driving logic of non-violent love.

All of this leads me to the insight that even when things are used in a way that destroys the purposes of God (in this case, Caesar's mis-use of the God-given gift of power and authority), we can still use these things as an "inverse sign" that points us to Jesus. Thus, Judaism, even when corrupted, has semiotic value as a sign pointing us to Christ. I would go even further and say that almost any cultural artifact - whether political, religious, familial, etc. - possesses some semiotic value, when used rightly, to point us to Christ.

So, even when culture uses the gifts of God in ways that are counter to God's purposes, they still in counter-intuitive ways point us to Christ.

And no single set of signs is rich enough to convey the richness of who and what Christ is. Thus, we are not forced to choose one set of signs over and against another set of signs.

We do not have to choose EITHER "bricks/temple" OR "members/body" OR "citizen/polis" OR "children/family" to describe the micro/macro relation between Christ and his community of followers. All are signs, pointing in a way proper to them, to this reality. As signs, all have strengths and weaknesses that are offset by other sets of signs.

Likewise, it is proper to describe the relation of Jesus to the Father in terms such as "Son-->Father" or "Messiah-->God the King" or "Logos-->God". All bring light to the Trinitarian relations of God in ways that the other signs do not.

All of this brings me to the following evaluations of the ideas you presented:

First, I think you have come across some fruitful paths in your Scriptural research. None strikes me as a basic error. In fact, when doing ministry with the homeless, I think it could be very fruitful to focus on signs that point toward our true "home" being found in Christ, and that we together "build" this home with the "bricks" that are our own lives. Furthermore, images of shelter from the storm, and God being our "foundation", "rock" and "stronghold", I think are very powerful signs for someone without earthly stability.

Second, even while the ideas you advocate are valid in a kind of "broad view" across Scripture, I think you should be careful with piecing together such disparate parts of Scripture. This critique also goes for what I am saying too. The problem with such "wide angle" work that tries to take in the whole of Scripture is that we run the risk of manipulating the meaning of individual portions of Scripture to make it fit in with our overall picture. So, when we draw Mark and Ezekiel and Bar Timeus and NT Wright and David and Solomon into the same picture, we need to make sure we are accurately reporting what they mean, and not artificially lumping them together.

Third, I would not elevate this to the controlling metaphor over and above other metaphors for our relation to Christ. Our "brickness" or "templeness" in Christ does not offset our "memberness" or our "childness". All exist together as complimentary signs pointing us to the kind of solidarity we have with Jesus.

I say this because I often see people take one set of metaphors and run with them in such a way that it does damage to other parts of our relationship with Jesus. For instance, some folks use the "personal" dimension of our relation to Jesus as a way to run rough-shod over the "communal" dimension. Some take God's call to "purity" and "righteousness" in such a way that it excludes love and compassion. Some say that Christianity is "spiritual", so it does not have a political/social justice dimension. And some say that God's call to political action and justice does away with the need for individual spirituality and holiness.

Across such dichotomies, I would advocate wholeness.

I would point us to what Jesus did on the Mount Tabor at his Transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17). Alongside him appeared Moses and Elijah, and he was the union between them. For me, Moses represents everything "institutional" in the Hebrew heritage: Laws, Bureaucracy, Buildings, Temples, Taxes, Tithes, Hierarchy, Continuity, being "inside" the establishment, etc. Conversely, Elijah represents everything "radical" in the Hebrew heritage: Charism, Spontaneity, Homelessness, Prophetic critique, Egalitarianism, Crisis, being "outside" the establishment, etc.

Jesus was the point of unification between the two, like the Epicenter that two funnels pour into. He is the unification, synthesis, and embodiment of both the "institutional" and the "radical" strains of Judaism. And, in a cosmic sense, I would even argue that He is the fulfillment of all that is good, true, and beautiful in any culture (cf. Colossians 1.15-20).

So, there is my long and meandering response to you. I can't say I addressed your email "head on", but I hope there some things here that can help in a less direct way.

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.