Monday, January 29, 2018

Can the church restore divided humanity? #youhadonejobtodo

"“Humanity is one, organically one by its divine structure; it is the Church’s mission to reveal to men that pristine unity that they have lost, to restore and complete it.” --Henri de Lubac SJ"

Read this de Lubacian essay then.

I have been doing a bit of work on de Lubac this summer. He was a leading 20th century theologian who speaks relevantly into the 21st century. The sentence above highlights the biggest of big pictures of the point and purpose of the church.

Are we up for the mission of God, to restore humanity?

Do we understand that the gospel, when all is said and done, is a message of healing?


Bryden Black said...

[Some of] My own Summer Reading:

Ephraim Radner, Church (Cascade Books, 2017). It seriously resituates many an ecclesiology so far written. It certainly reframes our own local/ecclesial dilemmas and squabbles ...!

Father Ron Smith said...

Even more persuasive - of the place of God in every human heart - are articles by Richard Rohr, OFM, on the reality of Atonement as, radically, At One Ment.
This is the process through which Jesus, Son of God, has re-joined us to fellowship with God - not by our own volition, but by His. He came - not to change God's mind about us; but rather to change our mind about God.

Our petty oughts and shoulds (shibboleths) get put into proper perspective by whole-making theology - not by criticism of others but by living with them.

Bryden Black said...

Well Ron; that’s a nice sentiment but not exactly the whole story. There’s more to ‘Church’ than this: “Our petty oughts and shoulds (shibboleths) get put into proper perspective by whole-making theology - not by criticism of others but by living with them.” Unfortunately, as it stands, your sentiments reflect more our contemporary ‘doctrine’ of pluralism than the Gospel itself.

1. For starters, let’s ask this question: would you have Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot or Mao’s widow in your wee band? Not an idle question. For as even you have stated, there’s the “second death”: the Book of Revelation is clear, as is Matthew’s Gospel clear, there is - whatever we might wish or otherwise - a cut off ... True; some folk down the centuries have considered the possibility of “apokatastasis”, as it’s known. The problem is indeed as you say - the whole! Our ‘systems’, derived from the entire canon of Scripture, may not reconcile (sorry, pun!) both those texts that speak of “the reconciliation of all things” and those that speak of real End Judgment and Eternal Loss.

2. If the whole story were as you suggest, then ecclesiology would be a more straight forward thing. As it is, Radner’s account, based on a sheer historical, phenomenological introduction, raises necessary, albeit awkward questions. As for his proposals going forward ... I’ll let you decide when you dig into it!

PS I'll leave RR out of it: his writing is frankly a mixed blessing, as I've said before.

David Wilson said...

If the basic premise is that the Gospel concerns (primarily) the restoration of a unity in humanity, then I must dissent.

I would say the mission of God, for which the Church exists, is to reconcile and restore all things to Himself. It is only within that restoration will we find the restoration of humanity.

Perhaps another way to consider it is from Jesus' summary of the law. In first place we are to love God, then secondly, and perhaps because of and through the first, we are to love our neighbour.

Father Ron Smith said...

David. Say no more, You've said it ALL. God is not an academic thesis - certainly not subject to our fallen human preconceptions. GOD IS LOVE! God is the Supreme Initiator of Love - not division on the basis of our misplaced understanding of perfection. Only God is perfect!

Bryden Black said...

Dear Ron; I wonder if you would please answer my questions, posted earlier @ January 30, 2018 at 10:28 AM. Your latest hyperbole is just that, and merely avoids the issues implied by de Lubac. For consider just this.

The Jesus who promulgated the Sermon on the Mount as a decisive way in which the disciples of Jesus might embody Christ’s restoration of humanity, is also the same Jesus who depicts Herod in Luke 13:31-35 as “that fox”, the same Jesus who calls some of his fellow Jews “white-washed tombs” since they’ve failed to provide the kind of leadership YHWH desired (Matt 23), the same Jesus who himself made the whip with which to cast out both animals and humans from his “Father’s house” (Jn 2:15-16).

For I ask my questions (pertinent to de Lubac’s vision and obviously Radner’s essay) as one who has endured a civil war (as Rhodesia emerged into Zimbabwe), having personal friends on all sides, as one who subsequently knew survivors of Matabeleland’s genocide in the 1980s, while also hearing of another genocide of almost an entire tribe on the southern shores of Lake Kariba. So perhaps I should have added the names of Robert and Grace Mugabe to my list and so to your (potential) “wee band” ...

For there is ever only one manner in which divine love works through the Church to baptize the nations with the Gospel: through Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is ever only that scandalous conjunction of “salvation and perdition” (ER), of “judgment and mercy” through which the nations might be brought into that unique ‘nation’, the Church. For the pathway from Adam to the New Adam in the course of human history is the eye of the needle that is Jesus, the Crucified Messiah of Israel, whom the Father raised to glory by the Spirit of Holiness (Rom 1-11). And “judgment” always, always “begins with the household of God”, the Church (1 Pet 4:17) ... There is NEVER renewal and/or reformation and/or resurrection without it.

And BTW: Radner himself has lived and ministered in Burundi (and let’s be aware of its recent history too). He at least gets it ...

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Bryden,
I have taken note of the severe conflicts you endured during your infancy and adolescence in your homeland. I, too, was not brought up without trauma, having experienced the Coventry bombings and the threat of invasion from Nazi Germany, with 2 brothers in the British Navy - so our experience of early conflict and threats of violent disruption are not dissimilar.

Your question as to whether, or not, I would be happy to include the likes of Adolf Hitler or Robert Mugabe in my Christian Coracle might be obvious to anyone else but obviously not to yourself.

My remarks about the ancient paradigm to "live and let live" applies to those situations where we might tend to demonise other people on our perception of their degree of evil may be founded on nothing other than our own - often untested - preconceptions of their culpability.

e.g. If we are happily heterosexual, it might seem natural to us to demonise
those who sexuality if 'different' - believing them to be guilty of rebellion against God's order of creation. I guess it takes the actual experience of 'being gay', for instance, to even try to understand the reality of what that means - in terms of being true to ones-self and to the call of God upon one's life in that particular circumstance.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Ron for your attempt at an answer; however ...

Para 1: I remember your mentioning Coventry before; so some overlap. As for the rest, I’ll not bother to correct dates & places since it’s irrelevant to our thread (even if my examples did clearly illustrate the point).

Para 2 & 3: it’s a pity your yes cannot be a simple yes, or your no a simple no (SM was mentioned with good reason). Frankly, to wander into talk of "demonizing" may be fashionable but it’s off target. And "culpability" indeed had quite a bit to do with whose names populated my list, and so the inference behind the real question.

Para 4: pity ... wasn't on my mind at all.

Bottom line:
A. Am I to take it that in fact you are of that school of thought some call "universalism"? Yes/no; delete the inapplicable. The answer greatly colours one's understanding of Church - although it's not the sum total of ecclesiology by a long way.
B. How do you justify/legitimate your answer? By what authority?

De Lubac (and others like him) at least do not merely assume stuff; they articulate it carefully. And Radner too has now joined their company - justifiably.

Anonymous said...

Well, Bryden, you obviously have no talent for 'reading between the lines' - preferring solidly dogmatic statements. Why does this not surprise me, I wonder?

However, to answer your question "Am I a 'Universalist". Well, obviously God is seen to be - at least in the New Testament - if only by this statement: "God so loved THE WORLD, that he gave his Only-Begotten Son... intending ALL to be included in the promise of redemption and salvation (both Jew and Gentile). The offer is Universal, but needing to be taken up - by whomever.

God's power to redeem is infinite. God's mercy is beyond our human ken.

"To be a Light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel" - That Light has been made available to ALL and is Universal.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Origen, or is it Ron?
Someday I had better have a post devoted to universalism.
It is a fascinating conjecture, with some notable adherents through the Christian centuries, and raises all sorts of questions about whether we understand the God who is love and yet will judge all.

Bryden Black said...

G’day “Anon” (Origen/Ron/Bowman/Fred/Cyril/Hildegard/delete the inapplicable???). In point of fact, I utterly enjoy “reading between the lines”. What poet doesn’t?! What’s been missing so far however is this: some real lines to be read at all directly. For example only this, from an earlier comment of mine:
“True; some folk down the centuries have considered the possibility of “apokatastasis”, as it’s known. The problem is indeed as you [Ron] say - the whole! Our ‘systems’, derived from the entire canon of Scripture, may not reconcile (sorry, pun!) both those texts that speak of “the reconciliation of all things” and those that speak of real End Judgment and Eternal Loss.”

So; I agree Jn 3:16 is powerful and glorious and wonderful. Yet, it does not stand alone - even and particularly in its immediate context, vv.17-21. So again; you are right to stress “whomever”. Even the likes of John Macquarrie objected to Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” idea on account of the former’s own stress on ‘existential decision’: God seeks an authentic relationship with his human creatures. Yet there’s even more than these kinds of lines to stress.

One of the greatest theologians of the 20th C and probably of all time would be Karl Barth. And it’s little wonder the title of his magnum opus is “Church Dogmatics”. Yet for all the rigour of his ‘system’, and notably his glorious reworking of the doctrine of election in CD II/2, such was his regard for careful exegesis of all the NT texts that he in the end demurred, had to demur, from nailing his colours to that mast we might call “universalism”.

That’s all I’m asking for! And in the context of this thread, its importance is due to the clear knock-on effects re Church - its nature and purpose and mission. Any ecclesiology worthy of the name fits into some well worked out set of assumptions. Nor is the issue “academic”; it has enormous practical consequences very quickly indeed ... So it’s wise to be aware of all this ...

“God’s mercy is beyond our human ken.” Of course; why else does Paul conclude as he does, Rom 11:33-36?! YET that does not stop him also working through, trying especially to work through, chs 9-11. Just so, neither you nor anyone else may actually stop and leave matters as you/Ron has/have so far ...

Anonymous said...

Bryden, 2:28 was not me. I sometimes attempt humour, but never snark or sharpness, let alone insult.

I am intrigued by your comment on Ephraim Radner's Church. Can you say more?


Anonymous said...

"..universalism... raises all sorts of questions about whether we understand the God who is love and yet will judge all."

Peter, by all means do post on this sometime. Several thoughts from having read the standard American universalists (U) from the C18 to the present.

(1) Be careful to define what sort of universalism you mean to talk about. In the past century, there have been three broad types-- (a) a liberal philosophical one that flourished in the C18-C19 but was a casualty of the Great War, (b) a more biblical one that began in the C18 and is enjoying a modest revival today, and (c) a C20 theological one that begins, at least among Protestants, with Karl Barth, and is being criticised today, from different sides, by David Congden and Stephen R. Holmes.

(2) Here I am talking only about (1b), the Bible-based U that one actually finds on Amazon today or in openly U churches. This is strikingly different in its presuppositions and claims from (1a), the late C19 universalism of liberal optimism (LO) that conservatives still compulsively kick from time to time.

(3) The perennial claims of the (1b) U are exegetical, yet neutestamentlers seldom comment on them where the general public might overhear them. David Bentley Hart takes some of these up the postscript to his NT translation.

(4) The central systematic claims of most U are that (a) God's judgement is an aspect of his continuing work as the Creator who loves his creation, (b) it is mainly reparative, not retributive, and (c) it is still scary enough that one would want to minimise it, but that (d) it is cause for hope that Christ's regeneration of each soul will finally triumph, and (e) almost nobody will altogether avoid it.

(5) U themselves usually find hell-talk to be very confused about the eschatology of the scriptures. Whether others hear this as *there is hell-fire but no hell*. *hell is big enough for everybody*, or *hell is really just purgatory* is a matter of taste.

Anonymous said...

(6) The systematic claims of (4) are most obviously appealing in their elegance, wielding (4a) and (4b) as Occam's Razor against the whole baroque superstructure of Infernalism (eg hypercalvinist double predestination and its derivatives). If Israel knew an ancient Near Eastern Creator-God tending his creation, not a Roman Justice-God more zealous for his decrees than his creatures (eg St Anselm's Cur Deus Homo), then anything in scripture that can be explained with reference to divine creativity has been explained. Full stop. All else is paganising eisegesis.

(7) U springs from the Resurrection witness that God is renewing his Creation, and that life in Christ is being caught up in this unceasing and invincible divine action. As a Protestant theology, it is most distinctive in its subordination of justification to sanctification and vocation. Thus in practise, because of (4e), U have emphasised divine judgment more than mainstream Protestants have done, but doing so in the context of (4a) and (4d) is very different from doing so on the basis of Infernalism.

(8) Interestingly, from the C18, a minority of U have held that *all will be saved* is a consolation for the faithful, and NOT the gospel to the world beyond the Church, whilst the majority have held that it is precisely what must be shouted from the rooftops to backsliders, atheists, Muslims, Hindus and everyone. The minority have not wanted to deprive unchurched sinners of the only motivation to repentance that they may understand. The majority have felt that only a God who is determined to save all can elicit deep repentance from any.

(9) In the C19-21, U have made much of certain Eastern patristic writings that are obviously free of Infernalism, and that seem open the scriptures to an interpretation in which all things are being saved. Conversely, opponents of U have cited the condemnation of Origen in a doubtful canon of Constantinople II (553) as an ecumenical rejection of U in general. But because Infernalism is alien to Orthodoxy-- there are myriad liturgical references to divine judgement in the Lenten Triodion, but scarcely any to the Western eschatology-- U in the abstract form discussed here is probably just as alien. In the West, converts to Orthodoxy argue about this, as readers here have recently seen.

(10) For evangelicals, the best brief historical introduction is still Richard Bauckham's old review article, although it appeared before the most current U books, and does not address a few salient features of American evangelical tradition mentioned here.


Anonymous said...

For some time Cranmer entertained the noble but premature idea of framing, with the aid of the German and Swiss Reformers, an evangelical catholic creed, which should embrace 'all the heads of ecclesiastical doctrine,' especially an adjustment of the controversy on the eucharist, and serve as a protest to the Council of Trent, and as a bond of union among the Protestant Churches. This project was reluctantly abandoned in favor of a purely English formula of public doctrine, the Forty-two Articles of Religion. They were begun by Cranmer in 1549, subjected to several revisions, completed in November, 1552, and published in 1553, together with a short Catechism, by 'royal authority,' and with the approval of 'a Synod (Convocation) at London.' It is, however, a matter of dispute whether they received the formal sanction of Convocation, or were circulated on the sole authority of the royal council during the brief reign of Edward (who died July 6, 1553). The chief title to the authorship of the Articles, as well as of the revised Liturgy, belongs to Cranmer; it is impossible to determine how much is due to his fellow-Reformers—'bishops and other learned men'—and the foreign divines then residing in England, to whom the drafts were submitted, or whose advice was solicited.

The Edwardine Articles are essentially the same as the Thirty-nine, with the exception of a few (three of them borrowed from the Augsburg Confession), which were omitted in the Elizabethan revision—namely, one on the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Art. XVI.); one on the obligation of keeping the moral commandments—against antinomianism—(XIX.); one on the resurrection of the dead (XXXIX.); one on the state of the soul after death—against the Anabaptist notion of the psychopannychia—(XL.); one against the millenarians (XLI.); and one against the doctrine of universal salvation (XLII.).1172 A clause in the article on Christ's descent into Hades (Art. III.), and a strong protest against the ubiquity of Christ's body, and 'the real and bodily presence of Christ's flesh and blood in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper' (in Art. XXIX.), were likewise omitted.

Philip Schaff

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, regarding your last post to me/Origen; I don't know how a couple of my recent posts have been labelled 'Anonymous'. Certainly, I did not intend them to be so. I am always ready to openly confess to the reality that is me. Warts and all, I claim to be a Child of God; redeemed & sanctified by Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
I may not need to publish on universalism after your erudition (thank you!).
My own post might be a little different, more of a book review ...

I think, in the end, Scripture is ambivalent about universalism. It certainly says some things which are "universalist" but they are about the same God of whom some things are said which are "exclusivist" (whether saving Israel by destroying its enemies or teaching the cost of discipleship).

Bryden Black said...

Wonderful and thanks as ever Bowman. I note too Ron your response to “Anon”; thanks for that too.

Three further things arise:

1. ER’s latest offering for us is available on the Wipf & Stock website @ It has a Look Inside facility as well. The global way he is trying to frame our present ecclesial reality/realities, while tracking their natural past history/histories, is bold and helpful and necessary. Enjoy!
[I might add that on account of his notion of “actualizing” in and through history what is within/latent the New Adam/Israel/Church, his book is very close to my own ideas of “realization” as expressed in God’s Address - but not that developed there, since it’s only an overview bible study for lay folk. However, elsewhere I’ve written stuff about that very idea of “latency within the New Adam”. But what ER does now is to detail delightfully and far more closely than I its ‘trace’ both backwards and forwards in the divine triune economy, and so most stimulatingly.]

2. “Universalism” is a complex of ideas as you have shown us, BW. I’d go back however to Origen (in as much as we’ve some of his writings extant!). I’d also agree with you that it’s most helpful to distinguish the more biblical trajectory from the (neo)pagan ones - which includes as much as we are able Origen’s also. And certainly, for me at least, 19th C “liberalism” is as much neo-pagan as any delightful schemes of old, predicated as it is/was on those 19th C ideas of ‘evolution’ etc. (Comte, Spencer, Darwin, Hegel, et al). And the Great War was but the precursor to the most violent century in history - so far ... Bit of a Dampener then ...

3. Where exactly to place dear old Dante’s Comedia I’m not sure. Writing in Italian, he certainly thought he was addressing the folk of his own day in a way that the Clerical Classes were not, nor wishing to. Yet his schema is basic Latin Medieval - even if he populates his lists (all his various lists) his way! Overall though, there are far too many riches to exclude him from this discussion. It’s final snap-shot of how the Church/the World was deemed to function and why, via the eyes of one great guy for whom “The Love that moves the sun and the other stars” is giddying enough for all of us perhaps, is “beautiful, wonderful, and powerful” (Brooke F/L). Though not for TS Eliot, who takes it even further in Four Quartets ...!

Anonymous said...

"...the same God of whom some things are said which are "exclusivist" (whether saving Israel by destroying its enemies or teaching the cost of discipleship)."

Thank you, Peter. Reading scripture with Universalist hope can free one's reading of scripture from unwarranted Infernalist baggage-- something Anglicans began when the 42A became the 39A --but that hope is not necessarily itself the destination. Bending the interlude on U back to your OP and questions, we do not have to choose between either a stark Infernalist separation of saved in Israel/Body and damned in world, or else a Universalist loss of all difference between the two. For some reason, Infernalists make pretty good missionaries, and Universalists are very often liturgically observant ;-)

Henri de Lubac and others of the *nouvelle theologie* were trying to rescue a proper Church/world distinction from the neo-scholastic manualism in Rome that had followed Aeterni Patris. In their view, the official theology had defended itself from Modernism by insulating the RCC from modern life, a pyrrhic victory that was turning Catholics against the world where they were meant to be salt and light. Today, we have to read the Vatican II documents that undid that opposition to see much of what Rome opposed under manualist influence (eg telecommunications, ecumenism, collaboration with non-Catholics in works of mercy, etc). Catholics-- popes!-- excel at these worldly pursuits today, and the world is better for it.

But the texts you read as "exclusivist" speak of the Body, either Israel or the Church, that is God's gift to humanity of a deeper integrity that is not borrowed from the world. And so did de Lubac, Blondel, Congar, etc. That integrity, "that peace which the world cannot give," should permeate all of one's personal life and relationships and so give to the Body the materiality that Jacques Ellul called the Presence of the Kingdom.

So, for example, the French worker priests took jobs in auto factories to realise their priesthoods in the world of work. Others launched experiments in urban (eg Catholic Worker missions) and rural (eg farming communes for Catholic couples) Body life that remain vital today.

Anonymous said...


Among Protestants today, the New Monasticism has a like concern to pitch tents for divinity, often in unlikely places, and to dwell in its presence as communities among neighbours. Something like this happened in C6 Italy when pious folk migrated from declining Roman cities to new settlements that grew up around the relics of popularly revered saints. But more than that, today's New Monastics recall the women who occupied European city centres as Beguines in the C13, or Geert Groote's C14 Brethren of the Common Life, who are usually credited with pioneering the simple piety of the *devotio moderna*. Apart from an egalitarian ethos and a spiritual discipline without vows, all of these have had an intentional knowledge of *who they are* and *why they are where they are* that differs from the sort of parish ministry that distributes a brand of religion to any who happen to be in the vicinity.

++ Justin Welby believes that every great revival of the Church has begun with a renewal of religious life. There is plain truth in this, because the work of revival requires an extraordinary sense of vocation that must be sustained by some energising piety. But renewals of religion are often also generators of social and even financial capital. The early monasteries that dotted the pilgrimage roads to Jerusalem gave hospitality and taught piety, but they also rented olive presses that attracted farmers to settle nearby. The Brethren of the Common Life contributed to higher rates of literacy, book production, and urban settlement. The Cistercians became so skilled at turning bad land into good farms that they were the first corporation to scale its operations into several countries by pooling its profits and reinvesting them in new locations of opportunity.

So one could at least argue that churches and their worlds are distinguished only so that the former might give the latter better forms. And the great scholasticisms, for all their virtues, do not give Christians the situational wisdom to recognise the emergent possibilities of any given time and place. For that, the pioneers of the *nouvelle theologie* re-envisioned the relation between the supernatural and nature, listened afresh to the unsystematised wisdom of the fathers, took the interiority of Christian mystics as a normal for Christians, and encouraged them to study the social worlds around them.