Charles Hodge on Sanctification

Below is an excerpt from Charles Hodge‘s systematic theology textbook on sanctification or moral/spiritual growth. He says more on this process in the same chapter, but here he simply talks about the method of sanctification. Here’s my summary of his six points:

  1. The preaching of the gospel and the Holy Spirit lead the individual convert to Christ, who promises to save his people from sin.
  2. Faith leads to union with Christ which essentially has two effects:
    1. You receive Christ’s merits. His crucifixion is your death and his resurrection is your life.
    2. You receive the Holy Spirit who helps you to grow in love for God and neighbor.
  3. God’s Holy Spirit helps you apply your knowledge of the gospel to your own life, thus transforming your character over time.
  4. God gives you daily opportunities to exercise your graces or the character traits of Christ and you are to look for those opportunities and practice those traits as the opportunity arises. Richard Foster once recommended praying each morning, “Lord, give me an opportunity to serve somebody in the name of Jesus today.”
  5. Being a part of the church community gives the faithful access to God’s grace in very tangible ways: God’s people, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, the preaching of the word, etc are means of grace.
  6. Christians should practice God’s presence as they face the challenges of the day.

Hodge on Sanctification

  1. The Soul is led to exercise Faith
    It is led to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to receive Him as its Saviour, committing itself to Him to be by his merit and grace delivered from the guilt and power of sin. This is the first step, and secures all the rest, not because of its inherent virtue or efficacy, but because, according to the covenant of grace, or plan of salvation, which God has revealed and which He has pledged Himself to carry out, He becomes bound by his promise to accomplish the full salvation from sin of every one who believes
  2. The Effect of Union with Christ
    The soul by this act of faith becomes united to Christ. We are in Him by faith. The consequences of this union are:
    1. Participation in his merits. His perfect righteousness, agreeably to the stipulations of the covenant of redemption, is imputed to the believer. He is thereby justified. He is introduced into a state of favour or grace, and rejoices in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1–3.) This is, as the Bible teaches, the essential preliminary condition of sanctification. While under the law we are under the curse. While under the curse we are the enemies of God and bring forth fruit unto death. It is only when delivered from the law by the body or death of Christ, and united to Him, that we bring forth fruit unto God. (Romans 6:8; 7:4–6.) Sin, therefore, says the Apostle, shall not reign over us, because we are not under the law. (Romans 6:14.) Deliverance from the law is the necessary condition of deliverance from sin. All the relations of the believer are thus changed. He is translated from the kingdom of darkness and introduced into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Instead of an outcast, a slave under condemnation, he becomes a child of God, assured of his love, of his tenderness, and of his care. He may come to Him with confidence. He is brought under all the influences which in their full effect constitute heaven. He therefore becomes a new creature. He has passed from death to life; from darkness to light, from hell (the kingdom of Satan) to heaven. He sits with Christ in heavenly places. (Eph. 2:6.)
    2. Another consequence of the union with Christ effected by faith, is the indwelling of the Spirit. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us, in order that we might receive the promise of the Holy Ghost. (Gal. 3:13, 14.) It was not consistent with the perfections or purposes of God that the Spirit should be given to dwell with his saving influences in the apostate children of men, until Christ had made a full satisfaction for the sins of the world. But as with God there are no distinctions of time, Christ was slain from the foundation of the world, and his death availed as fully for the salvation of those who lived before, as for that of those who have lived since his coming in the flesh. (Romans 3:25, 26; Heb. 9:15.) The Spirit was given to the people of God from the beginning. But as our Lord says (John 10:10) that He came into the world not only that men might have life, but that they might have it more abundantly, the effusion, or copious communication of the Spirit is always represented as the great characteristic of the Messiah’s advent. (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:16–21; John 7:38, 39.) Our Lord, therefore, in his last discourse to his disciples, said it was expedient for them that He went away, for “if I go not away, the Comforter (the Παράκλητος, the helper) will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John 16:7.) He was to supply the place of Christ as to his visible presence, carry on his work, gather in his people, transform them into the likeness of Christ, and communicate to them all the benefits of his redemption. Where the Spirit is, there Christ is; so that, the Spirit being with us, Christ is with us; and if the Spirit dwells in us, Christ dwells in us. (Romans 8:9–11.) In partaking, therefore, of the Holy Ghost, believers are partakers of the life of Christ. The Spirit was given to Him without measure, and from Him flows down to all his members. This participation of the believer in the life of Christ, so that every believer may say with the Apostle, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20), is prominently presented in the Word of God. (Romans 6:5; Romans 7:4; John 14:19; Col. 3:3, 4.) The two great standing illustrations of this truth are the vine and the human body. The former is presented at length in John 15:1–8; the latter in 1 Corinthians 12:11–27; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:15, 16; 5:30; Colossians 1:18; Col. 2:19; and frequently elsewhere. As the life of the vine is diffused through all the branches, sustaining and rendering them fruitful; and as the life of the head is diffused through all the members of the body making it one, and imparting life to all, so the life of Christ is diffused through all the members of his mystical body making them one body in Him; having a common life with their common head. This idea is urged specially in Ephesians 4:15, 16, where it is said that it is from Christ that the whole body fitly joined together, through the spiritual influence granted to every part according to its measure, makes increase in love. It is true that this is spoken of the Church as a whole. But what is said of Christ’s mystical body as a whole is true of all its members severally. He is the prophet, priest, and king of the Church; but He is also the prophet, priest, and king of every believer. Our relation to Him is individual and personal. The Church as a whole is the temple of God; but so is every believer. (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19.) The Church is the bride of Christ, but every believer is the object of that tender, peculiar love expressed in the use of that metaphor. The last verse of Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, “Ein Lammlein geht und tragt die Schuld,” every true Christian may adopt as the expression of his own hopes:—”Wann endlich ich soll treten ein In deines Reiches Freuden, So soll diess Blut mein Purpur seyn, Ich will mich darein kleiden; Es soll seyn meines Hauptes Kron’ In welcher ich will vor den Thron Des hochaten Vaters gehen, Und dir, dem er mich anvertraut, Als eine wohlgeschmückte Braut, An deiner Seiten stehen.”
  3. The Inward Work of the Spirit
    The indwelling, of the Holy Spirit thus secured by union with Christ becomes the source of a new spiritual life, which constantly increases in power until everything uncongenial with it is expelled, and the soul is perfectly transformed into the image of Christ. It is the office of the Spirit to enlighten the mind: or, as Paul expresses it, “to enlighten the eyes of the understanding” (Eph. 1:18), that we may know the things freely given to us of God (1 Cor. 2:12); i.e., the things which God has revealed; or, as they are called in v. 14, “The things of the Spirit of God.” These things, which the natural man cannot know, the Spirit enables the believer “to discern,” i.e., to apprehend in their truth and excellence; and thus to experience their power. The Spirit, we are taught, especially opens the eyes to see the glory of Christ, to see that He is God manifest in the flesh: to discern not only his divine perfections, but his love to us, and his suitableness in all respects as our Saviour, so that those who have not seen Him, yet believing on Him, rejoice in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory. This apprehension of Christ is transforming; the soul is thereby changed into his image, from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord. It was this inward revelation of Christ by which Paul on his way to Damascus was instantly converted from a blasphemer into a worshipper and self-sacrificing servant of the Lord Jesus. It is not, however, only one object which the opened eye of the believer is able to discern.

    The Spirit enables him to see the glory of God as revealed in his works and in his word; the holiness and spirituality of the law; the exceeding sinfulness of sin; his own guilt, pollution, and helplessness; the length and breadth, the height and depth of the economy of redemption; and the reality, glory, and infinite importance of the things unseen and eternal The soul is thus raised above the world. It lives in a higher sphere. It becomes more and more heavenly in its character and desires. All the great doctrines of the Bible concerning God, Christ, and things spiritual and eternal, are so revealed by this inward teaching of the Spirit, as to be not only rightly discerned, but to exert, in a measure, their proper influence on the heart and life. Thus the prayer of Christ (John 17:17), “Sanctify them through thy truth,” is answered in the experience of his people.

  4. God calls the Graces of his People into Exercise
    The work of sanctification is carried on by God’s giving constant occasion for the exercise of all the graces of the Spirit. Submission, confidence, self-denial, patience, and meekness, as well as faith, hope, and love, are called forth, or put to the test, more or less effectually every day the believer passes on earth. And by this constant exercise he grows in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is, however, principally by calling his people to labour and suffer for the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the good of their fellow-men, that this salutary discipline is carried on. The best Christians are in general those who not merely from restless activity of natural disposition, but from love to Christ and zeal for his glory, labour most and suffer most in his service.
  5. The Church and Sacraments as means of Grace
    One great end of the establishment of the Church on earth, as the communion of saints, is the edification of the people of God. The intellectual and social life of man is not developed in isolation and solitude. It is only in contact and collision with his fellow-men that his powers are called into exercise and his social virtues are cultivated. Thus also it is by the Churchlife of believers, by their communion in the worship and service of God, and by their mutual good offices and fellowship, that the spiritual life of the soul is developed. Therefore the Apostle says, “Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24, 25.)

    The Spirit renders the ordinances of God, the word, sacraments, and prayer, effectual means of promoting the sanctification of his people, and of securing their ultimate salvation These, however, must be more fully considered in the sequel.

  6. The Kingly Office of Christ
    In this connection, we are not to overlook or undervalue the constant exercise of the kingly office of Christ. He not only reigns over his people, but He subdues them to Himself, rules and defends them, and restrains and conquers all his and their enemies. These enemies are both inward and outward, both seen and unseen; they are the world, the flesh, and the devil. The strength of the believer in contending with these enemies, is not his own. He is strong only in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (Eph. 6:10.) The weapons, both offensive and defensive, are supplied by Him, and the disposition and the skill to use them are his gifts to be sought by praying without ceasing. He is an ever present helper. Whenever the Christian feels his weakness either in resisting temptation or in the discharge of duty, he looks to Christ, and seeks aid from Him. And all who seek find. When we fail, it is either from self-confidence, or from neglecting to call upon our ever present and almighty King, who is always ready to protect and deliver those who put their trust in Him. But there are dangers which we do not apprehend, enemies whom we do not see, and to which we would become an easy prey, were it not for the watchful care of Him who came into the world to destroy the works of the devil, and to bruise Satan under our feet. The Christian runs his race “looking unto Jesus;” the life he lives, he lives by faith in the Son of God; it is by the constant worship of Christ; by the constant exercise of love toward Him; by constant endeavours to do his will; and by constantly looking to Him for the supply of grace and for protection and aid, that he overcomes sin and finally attains the prize of the high-calling of God.

Do we need asceticism?

Asceticism is a maligned concept, but it’s cross culturally universal. At its essence, asceticism is exercising to optimize your life for some goal. Everybody is, in this sense, an ascetic practitioner. The problem is that we may not have chosen the goal toward which we are heading or we may be doing exercises improper to the goal.

For instance, in Fight Club men are being shaped into consumerist nobodies whose souls were as empty as their closets and refrigerators were full, but they keep buying things and accepting advice from unfulfilled individuals (advertisers or women who hate men) for designing their lives. They seek meaning, but use the tools of nihilism to achieve it.

In this sense, many people engage in quite severe exercises toward goals they’ve never chosen! People will work at jobs they hate, miss out on their children’s lives, eat food that hurts them over and over to save time, all the while wishing desperately to not make those choices. But the more ancient sense of asceticism is choosing certain severe practices to escape such deadening life paths to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.

Margaret Miles observed that if we find ourselves attracted to any of the goals of historic asceticism (virtue, happiness, personal power, spiritual growth, a persistent sense of meaning, etc), then we should “take seriously the claim of the historical authors that ascetic practices are the best means toward them.[1]

What were the goals of ancient asceticism?

  1. The acquisition of happiness and virtue.
  2. Control over one’s desires.
  3. Control over one’s thoughts.
  4. Control over one’s body.
  5. A clear vision of God and a deep compassion for the downtrodden.
  6. Partial escape from the symbolic world provided to us by others.

There were others, but these are the ones that are most appealing to me.

A modern asceticism would have to include:

  1. Fasting
  2. Solitude
  3. Physical exercise
  4. Strict attention to money and how it is used
  5. Escape to nature in some form
  6. Various forms of meditation (on Scripture, introspection, mindfulness to learn to control your thoughts/moods, etc)

 

References

[1] Margaret R Miles, Fullness of Life: Historical Foundations for a New Asceticism (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981).

 

A Reconsideration of God’s Impassibility

When I was in seminary, I abandoned the doctrine of divine impassibility. For readers who do not know, divine impassibility is the doctrine that God is not affected by creation. It sounds weird at first because in the Bible, God answers prayer, gets involved with Israel, and shows wrath against sin.

The reason this doctrine was so important to the early church is that they had the idea that if God changes from one state to another, then God is no longer the source of all being(s). Why? Because God is becoming something else (changing) and therefore not the source of all being. If God is not the source of all being because God is pure ‘being’, then he isn’t divine.

I had decided that any doctrine which claims that God cannot suffer paints a monstrous truth about God: that God is uninterested in the well-being of his creatures. The problem is that I had misunderstood what the early church meant by this idea. I had thought that since the ancient Greeks saw God as impassible, the early Christian converts from Gentile nations just adopted the idea from Greek philosophy without realizing that it cannot be found in the Old Testament. It hadn’t crossed my mind that the idea might be a necessary corollary to some other Christian truth.

A couple of years ago, I spent several months revisiting the ancient arguments for God’s existence based upon the nature of cause and effect, gradations of goodness in human experience, the existence of consciousness, and the nature of logic and mathematics. All of these arguments entail a God upon whom all things aside from God depend for existence. This means that God must be ‘being itself’, thus God is never in any ultimate sense, becoming anything. God is not, by definition, going from one state to another. Of course, this realization forced me to think much more carefully about how I interpreted certain Old Testament passages about God’s emotions. C.S. Lewis mentions this difficulty in Letter to Malcolm, when he observes that the Old Testament authors take no pains to protect any sort of doctrine of divine impassibility from the notion of a stormily emotional Jehovah (51-52).

There is a sense in which what I am saying does not really matter. One can be a Christian without bothering to figure any of this out. Paul’s standard for Christian conversion is rather meager  by many confessional standards (or robust since it requires obedience to Jesus): confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10).

But if you go on thinking about the nature of emotions, particularly in their physical manifestation in human beings, they require a physical/chemical reaction to the environment. God has no environment, if anything, God is the environment in which all space-time has its being. Thus either the Biblical revelation about God’s interaction with creation is wrong or it is given by way of analogy.

The Bible, since it is God’s revelation to the church, requires us to deny the first part of the disjunctive premise, thus God’s revelation appears to be given in Scripture, in some measure, by analogy. But there are certain events in Scripture that are considered ultimate as revelations of God’s nature. For instance, Paul understands the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as a revelation of the fact that God is loving toward weak and ungodly sinners and enemies (Romans 5:1-11).

Here is a rough outline of the premises and conclusion of an argument for God’s impassibility:

  1. The world made up of things which change.
  2. Things which change, by definition, depend upon causes to change.
  3. God is the cause of the whole world, and therefore not the world.
  4. God depends upon nothing for God’s being.
  5. God is unchanging or impassible.

This may seem opaque. That’s okay, I’m trying to avoid too much philosophical language. But the big idea (God’s unchangeability) can be summarized this way:

  1. God is unchanging, Scripture teaches this (Malachi 3:6, James 1:27) in moments of explicit teaching. Reason dictates that it is so as well.
  2. God is love. Scripture teaches this as well (Romans 5:5-11, 1 John 4:8-16).
  3. Love is a positive perfection of God, God need not change to be loving and caring.
  4. Wrath, sadness, anger, etc are privations of mercy, bliss, and harmony. God suffers no privation, therefore these words in Scripture are analogies about God’s works in creation that correspond to human experience.
  5. Thus, God is, regardless of the state of the creation, unalterably loving.

God’s Love and God’s Impassibility

David Bentley Hart argued in his essay, No Shadow of Turning that God’s impassibility is precisely the guarantee that God’s love is God’s being. Love is not a state from which God could capriciously move or worse, be influenced to move from. As compelling as the idea of a God who suffers with creation can be, it seems that a stronger hope and certainly a more scriptural and reasonable one is that the terrors of creation do not alter God at all, but rather await their sure defeat in space time by God’s own indestructible love and power.

The Incarnation and God’s Impassibility

It it indeed the case as a part of God’s work when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, the Son of God suffered as a man. Paul Gavriluk argues in chapter two of his book The Suffering of the Impassible God,

…by calling the Christian God impassible the Fathers sought to distance God the creator from the gods of mythology. In this debate the major goal was to rule out popular pagan modes of imaging the divine realm as unworthy of the Christian God. Second, the Fathers viewed impassibility as compatible with select emotionally coloured characteristics, e.g., love, mercy, and compassion.

Many Christians see the revelation of God in Christ as a revelation that God could suffer and change. But in more ancient times this revelation showed what God was like all along despite the piecemeal and partial (Hebrews 1:1-2) revelation which was given in the Old Testament. The revelation of God in Christ is that God is love rather than capricious like the pagan gods or the forces of nature.

God is unchangeably loving. The Trinity, remains the same even as my own religious state of mind wavers, my character changes (for better or worse), the creation groans, and the gospel is preached well or poorly. God the Father, who sends the Son for our salvation, and who upon the enthronement of his Son sends us the Holy Spirit ever remains love and loving. God is goodness. Thus, though the church and humanity are commanded to imitate God’s love (and indeed my nature would flourish should I choose to do so as I am created in his image), his interest in the final salvation of humanity neither waxes nor wanes depending upon this or that congregation’s spiritual temperature (Peterson, Long Obedence, 44).

Notes:

My Translation of Romans 5:1-11

For Christ, while we were weak, at the appropriate time, died on behalf of the ungodly. You see, with difficulty somebody would die on behalf of a righteous man, indeed, on behalf of a good man somebody might even dare to die. Now God demonstrates his own love for us this way: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore (more so really), having been declared righteous in the present by his blood, will we be saved by him from the wrath. For if, being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son (more so, having already been reconciled), we will be saved by his life. Now, not only this, but we are boasting all the while in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

Aquinas on God’s Joy

Again. Joy and delight are a kind of repose of the will in the object of its willing. Now God is supremely at rest in Himself, Who is the principal object of His will, as finding all sufficiency in Himself. Therefore by His will He rejoices and delights supremely in Himself. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Summa Contra Gentiles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 190.

Aquinas on God’s Love

For it belongs properly to the nature of love that the lover wills the good of the beloved. Now God wills His own and others’ good, as stated above. Accordingly then God loves both Himself and other things.
Again. True love requires one to will another’s good as one’s own. For a thing whose good one wills merely as conducive to another’s good, is loved accidentally: thus he who wills wine to be preserved that he may drink it, or who loves a man that he may be useful or pleasing to him, loves the wine or the man accidentally, but himself properly speaking. Now God loves each thing’s good as its own, since He wills each thing to be in as much as it is good in itself: although He directs one to the profit of another. God therefore truly loves both Himself and other things.
Moreover. Since everything naturally wills or desires its own good in its own way, if the nature of love is that the lover will or desire the good of the beloved, it follows that the lover is referred to the beloved as to a thing that is in a way one with him. Wherefore it appears that the proper notion of love consists in the affection of one tending to another as one with himself in some way: for which reason Dionysius describes love as a unitive force. Hence the greater the thing that makes the lover one with the beloved, the more intense is the love: for we love those more who are united to us by the origin of birth, or by frequent companionship, than those who are merely united to us by the bond of human nature. Again, the more the cause of union is deeply seated in the lover, the stronger the love: wherefore sometimes a love that is caused by a passion becomes more intense than a love arising from natural origin or from some habit, although it is more liable to be transitory. Now the cause of all things being united to God, namely His goodness, which all things reflect, is exceeding great and deeply seated in God, since Himself is His own goodness.2 Wherefore in God not only is there true love, but also most perfect and most abiding love. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Summa Contra Gentiles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 191–192.

The Brain, the Body, and Christian Spirituality

Spiritual growth happens in the body.

For many of us, the idea that the brain is the locus of the mind seems obvious. But less obvious is the notion that the body is the locus of the brain. But perhaps even less obvious is that the whole body, including the brain, is the mind. Scott Adams writes:

I am sure you have noticed that your mental state is deeply influenced by diet, exercise, sleep, sex, stress, and lots more. And I’m sure you make some effort to do those things the right way when you can. But if you think those actions are influencing only how you feel, and not your actual thoughts, you don’t understand the basic nature of human beings. And this is the key takeaway:

The source of your thoughts is your body, not your brain.
When I am not feeling good, I don’t ask my brain to fix things on its own. I manipulate my environment until my thoughts change. That’s because I see my body as the user interface to my brain. I don’t let my brain think whatever it randomly wants to think. I constrain it to productive thoughts by manipulating my environment.

Similarly, the Bible teaches that the whole of the human body should be conceived of as the locus of spiritual growth:

Romans 6:13-19 ESV Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (14) For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (15) What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (16) Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (17) But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, (18) and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (19) I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

The answer to the question of spiritual growth lies, uncomfortably for many of us, precisely in our conception, treatment, and use of our bodies. Why is this? Because while each of us experiences the self in a somewhat disintegrated fashion, each of us is, indeed, a single person. So there is no spiritual growth without attendance to the body.

Book Review: The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers by Eleonore Stump

The Book

Stump, Eleonore. The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers, 2016.

Stump’s volume The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers deals with a question that has vexed many for centuries: is the God argued for by philosophical theologians the same being in the pages of Scripture. Atheists will often answer: no. Some Calvinists also answer: no. And open theists frequently say no.

The Problem

It’s important when claiming that a contradiction exists between assertions to understand the meaning of the assertions. The three apparently contradictory assertions are:

  1. The God of the Bible is personal, dynamic, responsive, and active.
  2. The God of the philosophers is being itself (not a being and not a person), uncaused, and timeless.
  3. The God of the Bible is the God of the Philosophers.
Stump solves the problem with Aquinas

Stump uses the writings of Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the most widely read philosophical theist but also a prolific Bible commentator to show that these three assertions can be reconciled and that, indeed, it’s the understanding of God’s simplicity and eternity that can make sense of the Bible’s picture of God.

Her main picture of this is the book of Jonah. She observes that if the classical picture of God as the uncasued cause is true, it is difficult for many to see how the picture of God in Jonah could also be true. The Lord responds to Jonah’s prayers, changes his mind, has conversations with Jonah, and so-on. She responds to these charges by explaining Aquinas’ doctrines of the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the individual Christian, God’s eternity, God’s immutability, and God’s simplicity.

Holy Spirit

For Stump it’s important to acknowledge that Aquinas believes in the Trinity as well as God’s eternity, immutability, and simplicity. What this means then is that Aquinas believes that the Holy Spirit is eternal, immutable, and simple. Aquinas taught that the Holy Spirit and the person of faith are in a relationship “close enough and intimate enough to be thought of as a uniting in love (49).”

After this she observes that one solution to the apparent inconsistence is to suppose that there are “two Aquinases.” But she points out that Aquinas’ writings don’t hold up to the charge of that he is guilty of “so great an inconsistency (55).”

So for Aquinas, the closeness of the Holy Spirit to the believer in time and the deity of the Holy Spirit indicate that he saw the personal God of Scripture and the God of the philosophers as one and the same being.

If in Aquinas’ view the Holy Spirit can have close personal, responsive relationships with human beings in time, what explanation of the attributes of God (immutability, eternity, and simplicity) make sense of this?

Eternity

Here, Stump argues that “nothing about God’s eternal knowledge of future events rules out human free will…(70).” Her argument is against the idea that God’s eternity (persistent timeless existence) precludes any coherent notion of God’s interaction with beings in time. She utilizes an argument from analogy using one of my favorite books, Flatland, to show how it is possible for time to be present to God all at once (62-63). I’ll leave it to her to explain it to you in the book.

She also uses the psychological concept of “shared attention” to explain what it might mean for God to be personally present with individual persons while being eternal in nature (71). God can also answer prayer “because of prayers” without answering them after the prayers or based on foreknowledge. I found that argument satisfying.

Immutability

Immutability is the doctrine that God does not change or is not caused to change. Stump shows how Aquinas’ understanding of this doctrine does not mean that God cannot respond to prayer or respond to different circumstances in time. Her analogy is that God can at time one (t1) tell Jonah that he will destroy the Ninevites in 40 days from (t1)  and 40 days from then (t2) keep them from destruction upon their repentance in one simultaneous (because of God’s eternal nature), complex (because the results are experienced in time by us) act of will (76).

Simplicity

The notion of God’s simplicity is, at its base, the idea that God is being. Or, as my friends and I concluded in high school, “God doesn’t just exist, God is existence itself.” Now, weirdly, my debate team friends and I didn’t find a problem between saying, “God is existence” and “God exists.” But many philosophers, for good reasons, find those two statements contradictory. One, for instance, is that if God is God’s own nature, it appears incoherent to claim that God can choose between “x” and “not-x.” Why? Because God cannot do other than what God does because God is God’s nature. Stump argues that Aquinas’ understanding of the intellect as always active allows for the idea that God can act because of knowledge which God comes to actively without being acted upon (thus being passive).

Implications

Stump’s reflections on the implications are really quite good. I’ll leave you with a few sentences:

  1. If God is eternal, then God’s having assumed human nature is not something characteristic of God at some times but not at others. It is something characteristic of God always. (100)
  2. The person who wept over Lazarus was God-God in his human nature but still God. And the grief that gave vent to those tears is also always present to God. If it were not so, there would be succession in God; and then God would be temporal and not eternal. (101)
  3. Perhaps more importantly, it [the doctrine of divine simplicity] provides a metaphysical grounding for an objective ethics because it can ground morality in God’s nature, as distinct from God’s will. (101)

Conclusion

The book was brief, pleasant, cogent, and helpful. I highly recommend it for anybody who wants to understand Aquinas, the relationship of philosophy to theology, or who wants to reflect upon God’s relationship to time.

Are you good enough to be Jesus’ disciple?

When asked why he associated with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answered:

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The healthy do not need the doctor, the sick do. Go and learn about this, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)

There is a hidden logic behind what Jesus was asked/accused of:

  1. The kingdom of God is about purity.
  2. Any messenger of God’s kingdom would be sure to maintain purity by not associating with evil or unclean people.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is not a messenger of God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ response reframes the issue:

  1. The kingdom and purity are now about mercy.
  2. To be a messenger of God’s kingdom is to extend God’s mercy to others.
  3. Therefore, everybody Jesus calls into his kingdom is a sinner (because those whom he calls are sinners to whom he extends God’s mercy).

Are you good enough to be Jesus’ disciple?

The answer is the same as the answer to this question: Do you do bad things?

Dallas Willard on the Beatitudes

Dallas Willard’s understanding of the Beatitudes:

It will help us know what to do—and what not to do—with the Beatitudes if we can discover what Jesus himself was doing with them. That should be the key to understanding them, for after all they are his Beatitudes, not ours to make of them what we will. And since great teachers and leaders always have a coherent message that they develop in an orderly way, we should assume that his teaching in the Beatitudes is a clarification or development of his primary theme in this talk and in his life: the availability of the kingdom of the heavens. How, then, do they develop that theme?

In chapter 4 of Matthew we see Jesus proclaiming his basic message (v. 17) and demonstrating it by acting with God’s rule from the heavens, meeting the desperate needs of the people around him. As a result, “Sick folk were soon coming to be healed from as far away as Syria. And whatever their illness or pain, or if they were possessed by demons, or were insane, or paralyzed—he healed them all. Enormous crowds followed him wherever he went” (4:23–25 LB).

Having ministered to the needs of the people crowding around him, he desired to teach them and moved to a higher position in the landscape—“up on the hill” (Matt. 5:1 BV)—where they could see and hear him well. But he does not, as is so often suggested, withdraw from the crowd to give an esoteric discourse of sublime irrelevance to the crying need of those pressing upon him. Rather, in the midst of this mass of raw humanity, and with them hanging on every word—note that it is they who respond at the end of the discourse—Jesus teaches his students or apprentices, along with all who hear, about the meaning of the availability of the heavens.

I believe he used the method of “show and tell” to make clear the extent to which the kingdom is “on hand” to us. There were directly before him those who had just received from the heavens through him. The context makes this clear. He could point out in the crowd now this individual, who was “blessed” because The Kingdom Among Us had just reached out and touched them with Jesus’ heart and voice and hands. Perhaps this is why in the Gospels we only find him giving Beatitudes from the midst of a crowd of people he had touched.

And so he said, “Blessed are the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of ‘religion’—when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them.”

Or, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” This, of course, is the more traditional and literally correct translation of Matt. 5:3. The poor in spirit are blessed as a result of the kingdom of God being available to them in their spiritual poverty. But today the words “poor in spirit” no longer convey the sense of spiritual destitution that they were originally meant to bear. Amazingly, they have come to refer to a praiseworthy condition. So, as a corrective, I have paraphrased the verse as above. No doubt Jesus had many exhibits from this category in the crowd around him. Most, if not all, of the Twelve Apostles were of this type, as are many now reading these words. (Willard 99-101)

Works Cited:
Willard, Dallas The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (Harper Collins, 1997)