Early Church: St. Gregory of Nyssa Against Irresistible Grace

imageIn the Book of Acts, after St. Peter preached his first sermon, three thousand people joined the Apostles (Acts 2.41-42). Later, it states “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2.48, NRSV). However, what about those who did not believe the message of St. Peter? Was the Lord not adding them to the flock? In Calvinist sotierology, salvation functions through “irresistible grace”, meaning the “Spirit moves in an unstoppable fashion to work faith within the elect.”[1] This grace changes our “desires, will, passions, mind” and “there is nothing left with which we can resist.”[2] By initiating these changes through Divine grace, God not only “put forward the Son for our redemption, but God has also enabled us to believe in the Son.”[3] It is here that we turn to St. Gregory of Nyssa, a 4th century theologian.

In his work, The Great Catechism, St. Gregory responds to those who ask why isn’t grace available to everyone: is it because God is unwilling to bestow grace upon all or because God is unable to do so? He responds that it is neither. St. Gregory affirms that God calls all of humanity to salvation, remarking that “the call came with equal meaning to all and makes no distinction as to worth, age, or different national characteristics”.[4] Recalling the episode of St. Peter’s first sermon in Acts, he states:

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It’s official.

The Homeless Lazarus and The Rich Man’s Spikes

imageThe issue of homelessness has recently been brought to the forefront of the public mind due to the installation of “defensive urban architecture”, otherwise known as anti-homeless spikes. The spikes appeared in London, but certain U.S. laws carry similar “anti-homeless” sentiments: people arrested for feeding the homeless (here, here, and here), homeless people criminalized for sleeping outdoors (here is a list of examples and a major example in Dallas, Texas) and attempts to ban sleeping in cars, as well as certain areas now criminalizing panhandling. In America, student loan debt is crippling financial stability for individuals and family alike, with many college graduates, dropouts, and those unable to complete their education facing the possibility of homelessness themselves. Were it not for the benevolence of family or friends providing a place to stay, some college students would have no place to lay their head. Even those who obtain a strictly minimum wage job in America cannot truly afford one-bedroom housing. What do the streets have to do with the Church?

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Happy June!

How five months have gone by already, I have no idea. To be honest with you all, I wish I had more progress, knowledge, and insight to show for myself. This month, I’ve made more progress on the self-analysis and reflection front than anything else. I mostly blame this on the books I finished this month: Mark Tungate’s Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara, and Elizabeth Wilson’s Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity.

This month’s post revolves around some of Wilson’s sharpest insights regarding how clothing blurs the line between appearance and reality, and how they intersect with James K.A. Smith’s thoughts on desire, imagination, and the good life.

Three Quotes

Wilson writes,

A new dress code, by now almost a cliche of the 1980s, has come into being to signify ‘leisure.’ The leisure for which the woman in track suit, leotards, leg warmers is costumed is actually both display and ‘work’… The bright uniform acts out a lifestyle, as does the elaborate make-up, the artificially flushed cheek and kohl-enlarged eyes of health-made-erotic. The natural signs of exertion on the other hand, such as sweat and glistening forehead, must be rigorously concealed. The correct costume of the fitness freak has its own obsessional details that alter from year to year, and to wear leg warmers drawn too high, or the wrong kind of leotard is to spoil everything. It all mimics casual informality, but is minutely thought out.(emphasis mine)

Leotards? Leg warmers? Keep in mind that Wilson first published this book in 1985. If I bring this quote into 2014 by switching out the leotard, leg warmers and track suit for yoga pants, unblemished Nikes, and a Starbucks drink, you have a picture of the “uniform” or “dress code” that signifies the leisurely lifestyle of the generic middle class woman. Maybe it’s just a trend in Southern California, but it is impossible to miss these ladies if you’re anywhere near a Starbucks or a Target before 12 p.m. during the week. Really, whether or not these women actually go to the gym and live the active lifestyle their clothing seems to suggest is of no concern. What I am concerned with, however, is how our clothing embodies a lifestyle, why we wear clothes to embody a lifestyle when we don’t actually live that way, and why we don’t care that we’re frauds. Really, this is applicable to our clothing as well as our behavior on social media.

Check out this awesome post by my fiancée, Aubrey!

The Potter and The Clay: Comparing Calvin with Early Church Theologians

image         What is the relationship between the potter and the clay, between God and humanity? John Calvin states:

Cannot I determine, saith God, with regard to men, as the potter, who forms the clay as he pleases? We must maintain this principle, – that men are thus formed according to God’s will, so that all must become mute; for uselessly do the reprobate make a clamour, object and say, ‘Why has Thou formed us thus?’ Has not the potter, says Paul, power? This is what must be said of God’s hidden predestination… God determined, before the creation of the world, what he pleased respecting each individual; but his counsel is hid, and to us incomprehensible. [1]

In the above passage, Calvin draws on Isaiah 45.9 and Romans 9.21 to comment on Jeremiah 18.7-10. For the French Reformer, the metaphor is disproportionate, because “God has much greater power over men than a mortal man over the clay”.[2] Calvin then points to St. Paul’s application of this metaphor, who, according to Calvin, “spoke of the hidden purpose of God, by which he has predestined some to salvation and some to destruction.”[3] In other words, “the potter will nevertheless have absolute power over his own vessels, or rather over his own clay.”[4] The logic of the potter and the clay metaphor seems straightforward enough: the clay is made how the potter wants it to be made, and God has made all of creation, with both good and evil events, with according to the Divine will (leading to the argument of the “best of all possible worlds” in high Calvinism). This interpretation can be found in numerous Protestant pulpits and theology books today.[5] However, I want to push back – is this interpretation in continuity with earlier theologians of the Church? Is Calvin going against the metaphorical flow of Jeremiah?

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On Dialogues and Caricatures Regarding Atonement

imageIn disagreements, it is tempting to portray the other party’s beliefs in a simplified form that can be easily pointed out for its mistakes. We reduce complex thought systems into a single paragraph, devoid of their nuances, complexities, and realities so that we “win” the argument. This is what it means to caricature another. Many of us have been guilty of this sin because of its temptation to make us look wiser than we really are – parroting old critiques that have been discussed time and time again and quoting second-hand information without consulting the primary source firsthand. So we must be honest with ourselves: how many times are we discussing caricatures rather than the actual issue? Far too often, we do not have ears to hear our neighbor. We fail to understand what they’re saying because we aren’t even attempting to understand. We are too busy concocting responses to the voices in our heads instead of the voice of the other. Here, I turn to two examples that concern Atonement theology and how we (mis)understand others in dialogue.

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Early Church: Chrysostom and the Poor in Plain Sight

imageAre the poor invisible? Commenting on the “Lazarus and the Rich Man” story, St. John Chrysostom remarks,

Do you not seem to see the whole situation as if it were present? …You saw him at the gate of the rich man; see him today in the bosom of Abraham… [W]hen we see those who need help standing by in complete silence… [we are] moved to pity. [1]

For Chrysostom, seeing the poor – encountering the Other in their destitution – should move us into action. What happens when we ignore the poor? What if we simply walk by them, allowing our annoyance to overpower our compassion for another person made in the image of God? This is what the rich man did, Chrysostom claims. “Like a stone, shamelessly and mercilessly”, the rich man walked by the beggar who laid at his gate.[2] Francine Cardman explains,

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