Here are two of the presentations I have especially marked for hearing at the patristics conference

Presenter – Christos Strubakos, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
Gregory of Nazianzus’ Trinitarian Theology: A Study in Platonic Metaphysics and Christian Asceticism Gregory of Nazianzus is most famous for his eloquent Theological Orations in which he considers the nature of the Holy Trinity. In more recent years, scholarship has also been directed towards his Festal Orations. This research reveals that Gregory, as a master of words, seamlessly unites Classic rhetoric and philosophy with Christian asceticism. In my paper I shall argue that in addition to alluding to other works of Classical literature and utilizing rhetorical techniques, Gregory assumes literary and philosophical themes and reworks them in a Christian context. I shall focus on Oration 39, On the Lights and will demonstrate that Gregory takes on and adapts both diction and themes from Plato‘s Symposium and Christianizes them in the context of his homily on the feast of Epiphany. In particular, Gregory focuses on three of the Symposium‘s metaphysical arguments regarding Eros, the life of philosophy, and human immortality as achieved through interpersonal relationships. I will argue that Gregory encourages his audience to compare his homily to Plato‘s ―Symposium‖ by embedding Platonic expression, philosophy, and mythology throughout the oration. Then I will show how Gregory reworks the three themes of Eros, philosophy and immortality through human interaction, and coalesces them in a Christian‘s participation in the life of the Church, and more precisely, in the life of the Trinity. Thus, this study will shed new light on Gregory‘s intimate knowledge of Classical literature, and his ability to holistically incorporate Pagan literature and metaphysics into both his Trinitarian model and his practical exhortations for the Christian life.

Presenter – Lee Sytsma, Marquette University
Reading between the lines of Origen’s anti-deterministic exegesis: evidence for an early catholic tradition of predestination The view that a predestinarian reading of Paul is not found in the early church until the time of Augustine and his near-contemporaries has become a virtual truism in scholarship today.  For example, in one of the leading works on the history of justification Alistair McGrath feels safe in writing that ―the pre-Augustinian theological tradition is practically of one voice in asserting the freedom of the human will.‖  There are two main reasons for this absence.  First, the Church was not forced to handle doctrines of grace and free will with any sort of precision until the Pelagian controversy.  Second, in the first several centuries AD church leaders were heavily engaged in polemical debates against a broad array of deterministic philosophies and therefore their primary focus was understandably placed on the freedom of the will.  This paper will revisit the theological commonplace that in the pre-Augustinian era a deterministic reading of Paul is absent.  Specifically, I will argue that such a tradition did exist, and that this tradition was inside the church catholic – it was distinct from the heretical Gnostic groups who received so much negative attention by church leaders.   Exegetical and polemical writings by Origen will provide a window into this tradition.

Laser printers forever

I just bought a home laser printer after years of bubble jet. Why didn’t I do this sooner? Bubble jets cost 10 cents per page and laser 3 cents. The laser is faster and the copy is crisp and doesn’t smear. And since I can’t remember the last time I printed color, I just purchased a monochrome printer. A good thing.

Music I have been listening to of late

Rehab – Amy Winehouse ( I like it)

Raising Sand (album) – Robert Plant and Alison Kraus

U2 favorites – Where The Streets Have No Name, Beautiful Day, I Still Haven’t Found, One

Lucinda William – Are You Alright, Change the Locks, Learning How To Live, Over Time

Big and Rich – Lost in This Moment, You Never Stop Loving Somebody

 Dire Straits – Money for Nothing

Portraits of Frank Sinatra

Come To Bed – Gretchen Wilson

Would You Go with Me – Josh Turner

Sailing to Philadelphia (album) – Mark Knopfler

Nora Jones – any and all

Dance Tonight – Paul McCartney

Angel – Sarah McLachlan

Twice the Speed of Life – Sugarland

These Days (4 discs) – Vince Gill

Warren Zevon – I listen to Zevon 24/7

Flushing the Devil out of the bushes at Lent

What is it we are doing during the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter? Well, if we are following the example of Jesus who went into the wilderness for 40 days following his baptism and then returned in the power of the to preach the presence of the Kingdom of God, we are going out to meet the Devil. It seems to me that is what happened in that first Lent. Jesus was led by the Spirit to face the power of the world, the flesh and the devil. After 40 days without food, the Devil came in real power to tempt him. Jesus had to deepen his “no” to the devil to make more meaningful his “yes” to God. That’s what I am doing this Lent. And I find that flushing the Devil out of the bushes by practices disciplines of self-denial is a frightening, sometimes terrifying, but necessary experience. When my flesh begins to cry out for comfort and the strains of spiritual discipline make my spiritual veins pop, the Devil comes alongside of me to bring me his kind of comfort. It is just then that I am to say, man does not live by bread alone. There ought to be moments each year when this experience intensifies intentionally so that repentance deepens and solid spade work is done on the soil of the soul. Surely we are to die everyday, and it remains true that he who dies daily dies easily. But the wisdom of the church has found that a 40 day season each year for spiritual bivouac yields unusual fruit. My flesh already is begging me not to do this. It asks, “Isn’t dying for each day? Why make this 40 day journey? Isn’t this just a legalistic work? Do you really need this? Don’t you already deny yourself enough? Can’t I talk you out of this?” The battle is on.

My Week

Yesterday I helped move the school where Sharon and I teach into their new facility. Sharon teaches the first and second grades full time. I teach Bible to 9/10 and 11/12 graders., two classes a day.

 I remember sitting in Bible class 41 years ago at Norfolk Christian High. Oh, the things I did not know about what life was going to require of me and what I was going to have to depend upon God for. But one thing did happen that has sustained me – I became “believing.” The core reality of placing faith in Christ who died for me and set me right with God apart from works of the law is what has always kept the slate clear and given power to keep on believing. “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” (Rom 1:17) If I ever had to come to the place where my record of deeds would be my confidence, my proof that I was okay with God, that my actual and own righteousness would be my hope and security, then my Christ-following would have been extinguished long ago. The Gospel, the hearing of which produces faith, continues to give faith, future faith.

This doctrine is continually under attack. Free justification apart from any moral transformation in the believing sinner has always stumped the experts. The Roman church has always related justification to sanctification, that is, we are justified in the sense that we are actually becoming righteous. The liberal church questions a supernatural salvation at all, one that relies on a substitutionary death for the whole human race and a resurrection from the dead. The evangelical church is dissatisfied with such a simple Gospel and demands that the church incarnate this truth by being communities of hope, where the life of the church itself is the witness and communicates powerfully in a way that words cannot. The Full Gospel portion of the church demands that the core Gospel also be the receiving of the Holy Spirit empowering us for acts of holiness and service. It seems wherever I turn, someone wants to refine, redefine, rethink, reword and add to the doctrine of justification by faith alone through the grace of God alone.

But the doctrine stands – in its simplicity and directness. Because in and of itself it has power. It is the E=MC2 of the spiritual world. It penetrates the reality that releases an explosive power of spiritual vitality. It gets the man of God up in the morning, standing out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory. It sustains him against the fiery darts of the evil one, all disappointments, all failures. It gives him rest when day is done, knowing the peace of conscience that can only come from a righteousness that is not his own but the perfect righteousness of another.

This I learned in Bible class. This was the formula of the heart set free. It has kept me believing and hoping and doing. To this simple Gospel I owe all. I hope the kids get it, in first grade where Sharon teaches it and at the 12th grade level where the kids will hear it for the last time at the school.

Ben can rest!

Our youngest son, Ben, is home from the University of California Santa Barbara where he is doing his PhD work in Material Science Engineering. While he has enjoyed the West coast weather (yea, dad, it’s just another warm day here in Santa Barbara–how’s the snow storm in Boston?) the challenge of graduate studies his first quarter was straining beyond imagining. I think he was shocked at the speed and the degree of self-dependency that was expected. He studied like never before – and he is a man who has been faithful to his studies. But the grades are in and found that the first quarter was a success. This Christmas is one for relaxing!!!!  Good job, Ben. You faced the giants. The fell. Now eat, drink, sleep for a while. There are other giants to go face again soon.