31 January 2013

New website...

Hey all,

This post is long overdue, but I have a website that I update on a more regular basis and reflects the change I've made vocationally to pastoral ministry and away from my pursuit to be a professor. You can read about that transition in this post.

I may post on here from time to time if something of particular interest to Wesleyan and early Methodist studies comes up I want to write about. But until then, I invite you to join the conversations over at wesleyanrudy.com.



01 September 2011

What are you looking for?

There are times in doing research in theology when something will start to dig not only into my mind for research and educational purposes, but also into the core of my very being and really search me. Reading from luminaries like Jeremy Taylor, author of The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Holy Dying, will do this perhaps more frequently than others. (Taylor's work was an influence upon John Wesley, which is why I found it appropriate for this blog.) Today I'm reading through Taylor's treatise, Jesus Christ - The Great Exemplar. The section that grabbed me was his exposition of the passage of the magi's visit to the child Jesus (cf. Matthew 2). His statements on the joys of finding what you're looking for stood out to me and I thought I would share.
The wise men prosecuted the business of their journey, and "having heard the king, they departed; and the star" (which, as it seems, attended their motion) "went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was"; where "when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy"; such a joy as is usual to wearied travellers when they are entering into their inn; such a joy as when our hopes and greatest longings are laying hold upon the proper objects of their desires; a joy of certainty immediately before the possession: for that is the greatest joy which possesses before it is satisfied, and rejoices with a joy not abated by the surfeits of possession, but heightened with all the apprehensions and fancies of hope and the neighbourhood of fruition; a joy of nature, of wonder, and of religion.
With what I am pursuing in life, can I look into the future and say with surety or at least expectancy that when I achieve it or find it that I will be exceedingly joyful? What are you pursuing?

14 July 2011

A Wesleyan Appropriation of the Cry of Dereliction - Part 4

In concluding this series on exploring a Wesleyan interpretation of the cry of dereliction, we will pick up where we left off the last post, which appealed to Wesley's belief of Christ's human will as submissive to the will of God. This, in my view, leads naturally to what I see as the richest pastoral payoff for this passage.

It is worthy to note that in the sermon The Repentance of Believers, cited in the previous post, Wesley’s exhortation was that our will would be less self-directed and more in submission to the will of God. That is, Christ’s human will in subjection to the will of God is the image of our sanctification...what it looks like for someone who expresses his or her trust in God, even when God seems to be hiding or distant. I think we see this in Wesley’s interpretation on the beatitude, ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted':
But he now ‘hides his face, and they are troubled:’ They cannot see him through the dark cloud. But they see temptation and sin, which they fondly supposed were gone never to return, arising again, following after them again, and holding them in on every side. It is not strange if their soul is now disquieted within them, and trouble and heaviness take hold upon them...Blessed are they who…steadily refuse all other comfort. They shall be comforted by the consolations of his Spirit.
Whether or not Wesley really had this connection of Christ and our sanctification in mind, I am unsure. But I cannot but draw this conclusion. The battle against sin and temptation is clearly in view, and by submitting to the will of the Father and only seek consolation through the Spirit, even when we ‘cannot see God,’ we move forward to victory in sanctification, just as Christ continued to pour out his heart to his Father even through death. 'Blessed is the one who steadily refuses all other comfort...' Sound like Christ on the cross? The Roman centurion even noticed that there was no enmity between the man who died on the cross and God, but even declared him as God's Son! The will that is submitted to God is not afraid to mourn or scream at injustice. It may just be the sign of someone who is more in tune with God (read: sanctification) than most everyone else. In this light, we might be well on our way toward a Wesleyan appropriation of the cry of dereliction and sing with John and his brother Charles Wesley, who once wrote,
O Jesu, let thy dying cry
Pierce to the bottom of my heart,
Its evil cure, its wants supply,
And bid my unbelief depart.

13 July 2011

A Wesleyan Appropriation of the Cry of Dereliction - Part 3

In continuing the exploration of a Wesleyan interpretation of Jesus' cry of dereliction ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"), the last post centered on the Trinitarian question as we noted the vital importance of maintaining a unity in the essence and purpose among the Persons of the Godhead. Seeing that the Son and the Father, together with the Spirit, are eternally of the same substance, we see that any suggestion of a split or separation of the Godhead at any point brings disastrous implications. In this post, we will see what, if any, insights of the doctrine of Christ's two natures (fully divine, fully human) can provide for the question of Christ's desperate cry.

Several early church fathers suggested that the cry is according to the flesh or according to his humanity. For the sake of space, we will appeal only to St. Ambrose, who in, The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord, wrote:
According to the flesh, He was forsaken, who according to divinity could have been neither deserted nor forsaken…These words [‘Why hast thou forsaken me’] are said according to the flesh, which are very foreign to the fullness of His divinity, for the words of sins are foreign to God, since the sins of words are also foreign to Him; but since I [Christ] have assumed the sins of others, I have assumed also the words of others’ sins, so that I say that I, who am always with God, have been forsaken by God the Father.
In his, On the Christian Faith, St. Ambrose offered another note on the passage that might clarify the issue further, especially in referring to the dereliction as a perceived abandonment:
Finally, He cried: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” As being man, therefore, He speaks, bearing with Him my terrors, for when we are in the midst of dangers we think ourself abandoned by God. As man, therefore, He is distressed, as man He weeps, as man He is crucified.
One might think that this borders too closely to, if it doesn’t cross over into, Nestorianism, which divided the two natures to such a degree that there is no unified person, but two persons. In avoiding this error, it is worthy to note, firstly, that St. Ambrose wrote prior to the Nestorian controversy. Even so, he did not separate Christ into two persons, but instead affirms Christ's assumption of humanity. What we humans experience, God has assumed in the Person of the God-human.

Secondly, it could be that the cry of dereliction is an example that highlights that there were two wills in Christ, just as there are two natures. Accordingly, Jesus' cry from the cross might be seen in comparison with his earnest pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane, perhaps the most well-known passage that appeals to the two wills in Christ, when he prayed for the cup to pass from him, "nevertheless, not my will but yours be done."

And in this case, there is evidence of Wesley’s support of Christ’s two wills. In The Repentance in Believers, John Wesley stated the following:
[A will] is an essential part of human nature, indeed of the nature of every intelligent being. Our blessed Lord himself had a will as a man; otherwise he had not been a man. But his human will was invariably subject to the will of his Father.
I realize that much of what I've said and appealed to may be rather complicated and perhaps is attempting to address something beyond our capacity to understand. It is not my interest to explore this question merely as an academic or intellectual exercise. I really believe this theological unpacking has a significant pastoral payoff, and I intend to tease out at least one significant conclusion, a distinctively Wesleyan one that will pick up on this last quote from Wesley, in the next and final post in this series. If you're still with me, thanks for following and I look forward to any criticism or questions you may have.

12 July 2011

A Wesleyan Appropriation of the Cry of Dereliction - Part 2

In the last post, I introduced a series that would begin to explore a Wesleyan interpretation of Jesus' cry of dereliction, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I concluded the post by saying that it is reasonable to suggest that John Wesley held that whatever is meant by God's hiding his face from Jesus, it should be read analogically. Even if Wesley did not explicitly make this statement, I think this conclusion is the only way to avoid a tragedy of creating a rift within the Holy Trinity. This short post will draw attention to the unity of the Godhead in saving the world. This, according to Wesley, is the ground of our redemption, which has its apex at the cross of Christ.

Whatever else might be implied by Wesley’s definition of ‘forsaken’ and his comments on the Father’s face being hidden, on no occasion does Wesley suggest that there is ever (even on the cross) any animosity between the Persons of the Godhead. The movement of redemption is not solely the work of the Son of God. Wesley suggests that all Persons in the Trinity are at work in redemption in a letter to William Law. In a section of the letter that he borrowed from Anna Maria Van Schurman’s journal, he quotes her as saying:
The origin and cause of our redemption is the ineffable love of God the Father, who willed to redeem us by the blood of His own Son; the grace of the Son, who freely took our curse upon Him, and imparts His blessing and merits to us; and the Holy Spirit, who communicates the love of the Father and the grace of the Son to our hearts.
Readers of my blog may have seen this quote posted before, which I did here. In addition to this unity of a redeeming purpose, Wesley also advocated, in orthodox fashion, the unity of essence among the divine Persons, and makes this especially known in his strong defense of the full divinity of Christ. Christ is of the same essence as the Father and the Spirit. If there is any "split" or "separation" in the Godhead at the cross, then this is unquestionably advocating polytheism.

I've posted before on drawing wisdom from the Fathers of the Church on this matter, but I think the thoughts from Saints Athanasius and Chrysostom on the cry of dereliction are worth repeating. St. Athanasius:
For behold when He says, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" the Father shewed that He was ever and even then in Him; for the earth knowing its Lord who spoke, straightway trembled, and the vail was rent...then seeing these signs, [the centurion] confessed that "truly He was the Son of God."
And St. Chrysostom:
That darkness [at the cross] was a token of the Father's anger at their [the crowd's] crime...He saith, "Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?" that unto His last breath they might see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God...and by all things, He shows how He is of one mind with Him that begat Him.
If we suggest, in the fashion of Wesley, that in Jesus' death, the wrath of God was assuaged or propitiated (an issue that needs to be addressed, but is too much for this post), we must not read this so strictly that it breaks the bond and unity of essence among the divine Persons. Otherwise, we'd have one god saving us from another.

Seeing the significance of maintaining the unity of essence and purpose between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, we will next address how the doctrine of Christ's two natures may speak to the issue of Jesus' dereliction cry.

07 July 2011

A Wesleyan Appropriation of the Cry of Dereliction - Part 1

I apologize for the sparse posting of recent: I spent much of June preparing for a paper I presented at a colloquium in Manchester, from which I have shared a brief piece with you in the last post on impassibility. In the next few posts, I want to share some of the conclusions I have come to in regards to exploring a Wesleyan appropriation of Jesus' cry of dereliction at the cross ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?").

As you can read on this post, I have written bits and pieces on this issue, but in the next posts I will be sharing how this issue developed into the paper I presented. The paper was much more lengthy than what I'm going to share, so I'll cut right to the chase on the issues I see at stake.

When it comes to addressing the question of the significance of Jesus' cry from the cross, it is vital to turn to Psalm 22, seeing that Jesus was quoting that Psalm. John Wesley
's introduction to his notes on Psalm 22 made it clear that he read the Psalm through the lens of Christ in saying that it was:

…directly, and immediately intended for, and [was] properly to be understood of the Messiah…[and was held to be so] by the Hebrew doctors themselves, and by Christ himself and by his apostles. And there are many passages in it, which were literally accomplished in him, and cannot be understood of any other. In this psalm David speaks of the humiliation of Christ, ver. 1 - 21. Of the exaltation of Christ, ver. 22 - 31.

Many of Wesley’s notes throughout the Psalm are valuable for ascribing different verses therein directly to Christ on the cross. Potential difficulty arises, however, when we view Wesley's comments on the meaning of ‘forsaken'ness (v. 1) as applied to Christ as well as Wesley’s clarifying comment on the affirmation that God had not hid his face from the psalmist/Christ (v. 24), which is where we will direct our attention in this post.

On the word ‘forsaken’ Wesley interprets it as though Christ is saying: ‘[My God, Why have you] withdrawn the light of thy countenance, the supports and comforts of thy spirit, and filled me with the terrors of thy wrath’ and then adds in commenting that ‘this was in part verified in David, but much more fully in Christ.’ In verse 24, the psalmist says, ‘For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the poor: neither hath he hid his face from him, but when he called unto him, he heard.’ Wesley qualifies this significantly in taking ‘[neither hath he hid his face] from him’ to mean ‘for ever: tho’ he did so for a time.’ Said otherwise, according to Wesley, God hid his face from Jesus for a short time, though he does not specify if this was only a brief moment on the cross, for the duration of the crucifixion, or perhaps even from his praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. On Luke 22:44, in the midst of the passage of Jesus' praying in the Garden, Wesley noted that Jesus was ‘Probably just now grappling with the powers of darkness: feeling the weight of the wrath of God.’ That he began to feel God’s wrath even then might suggest that, according to Wesley, God’s face might have been hid from this moment. Wesley’s note on Jesus’ cry in Matthew’s gospel (27:46) does not clear this up but conveys, similarly,
Our Lord hereby at once expresses his trust in God, and a most distressing sense of his letting loose the powers of darkness upon him, withdrawing the comfortable discoveries of his presence, and filling his soul with a terrible sense of the wrath due to the sins which he was bearing.
It is clear that, for Wesley, God’s wrath is intricately linked with whatever is meant by God’s hiding his face from Christ. Although Wesley does not go so far as to say there was an actual separation or a split in the Godhead, which is the conclusion some are unafraid to explicitly embrace, the implications of this idea upon the doctrine of the Trinity are potentially disastrous. The thing that may rescue Wesley from committing a grievous error in rending apart the Persons of the Trinity might be in his comment on the first part of verse 24, when he clarifies that God had not ‘abhorred…’ in saying, ‘He did not turn away his face from it, as men do from things which they abhor.’ Wesley, it seems, interpreted at least this part metaphorically in that we should not equivocate human actions or emotions with those of God. Perhaps this is related to what Wesley said in his notes on Romans 5:9 on the nature of God’s wrath:

Wrath in man, and so love in man, is a human passion. But wrath in God is not a human passion; nor is love, as it is in God. Therefore the inspired writers ascribe both the one and the other to God only in an analogical sense.

If he saw the first part of Psalm 22:24 as analogical, then it is reasonable, though by no means definitive, to suggest that Wesley read the latter part, of God hiding his face from Jesus, analogically also.

In the remaining posts of this series, we'll look at the issue of Jesus' abandonment, whether it was real or perceived, look to a few Patristic sources as well as some more interaction with Wesley in relation to that question.

18 June 2011

Impassibility: the analogy of a house fire

Paul Gavrilyuk, professor of historical theology at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, has written at length on the complex nature of divine impassibility. His most noteworthy contribution is The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought, which I highly recommend. Among other things, he notes that the common accusation that the early church uncritically adopted the Greek philosophical concept of divine impassibility is simply not true to the historical record. I could go on, but my point in this post is to share an analogy he used in his book to draw out some of the variant meanings of suffering & compassion.
Consider the case of a house on fire. Several people are unable to exit the building and cry aloud desperately for help. Firemen have been called, but for some reason they do not come. A crowd is gathering around the house. Some stare at the house with a mixture of anxiety, fear, and curiosity. Some attempt to visualize as vividly as possible what the people who are in the house must be going through. These members of the crowd burst into tears, yell, tear their hair; in short, they are greatly emotionally affected. One of them has already had a fit and lies unconscious. Another has become mad and predicts the end of the world. Yet another person decides literally to suffer with those who are in the house and commits suicide by burning himself. Panic grows. A certain man from the crowd, without going through all the emotional pangs that those standing near him are experiencing, being motivated only by his conviction that the people will surely die if there is no one to help them, gets into the house and, at great risk to his own safety, rescues them. If it is asked, who out of al the people that were present at the scene manifested genuine compassion, the answer is obvious. (p. 10)
This issue of divine impassibility has been at the heart of the current phase of my doctoral thesis. It has been one of the most difficult questions to pursue, but it's drawn me back, once again, to be in awe and worship of the God who would stop at nothing to rescue us from sin and death.