Sacramental Preaching (Boersma)

It is tempting among some evangelicals today to call everything “sacramental” (not unlike the recent phrase to use “kingdom” or “gospel” as an adjective modifying every single noun). As such, I wish the book had another title. In any case, a sacramentum points to and reveals the res. Thus, sacramental preaching will see Christ unfold in the Old Testament. It’s neither crude allegory nor typology.

I’ve criticized Boersma’s approach in the past. My problem is he uses “sacrament” as a term to cover everything, especially relating to hermeneutics. If he would simply use another term, maybe one such as “participatory” or even typological, then much confusion could be avoided. This book is closer to typology than to allegory, and as such it has a fair bit to commend it.

Each chapter contains a short sermon he preached to his students at Regent College. Each sermon is followed by technical “preacher’s notes.” The notes are where the real money is at.

The book is structured around blessedness:
1) Sensed Happiness
2) Pilgrim Happiness
3) Heavenly Happiness
4) Unveiled Happiness

Boersma suggests that patristic and medieval exegesis is 3-D, whereas modernity is 1-D. In a participatory metaphysics, there is always “moreness.” Modernity is characterized by lessness. (Postmodernism is characterized by nothingness). A sacramental reading simply means the text points to Christ.

Me: That’s fine, but I wish he would have actually defined “participation.” Platonists are sometimes notoriously vague on that point. On a similar note, instead of “sacramental” I am going to say “participatory.”

A participatory metaphysics points to (or makes present) realities beyond that of the physical. One neat benefit of participatory preaching is that it bridges the gap between exegesis and application, since we are “in Christ” and Christ is “in the Old Testament,” so in a significant way we have a link with the realities of the Old Testament. And as we open the text and find Christ, we find all the gifts he brings to us.

Boersma’s collection of sermons has an anagogical structure. In each sermon we successively ascend the mountain until we are face to face with Christ in the beatific vision. This, quite simply, is happiness. It is blessedness.

Song of Solomon, Motherhood, and Virginity

The tradition justified an allegorical reading on the grounds that it was so easy and “fitting” to find Christ in it. Secondly, as Boersma notes, a realist epistemology held that “objects of sensed experience lie anchored in the reality of the eternal, heavenly Word of God.”

So far, so good. Boersma’s next move is rather shocking for Protestants, though one should have seen it coming. If you feel that you can do an allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon, then there is no logical reason why you can’t see the Virgin Mary in it. Make of that what you will. Boersma takes this key point to highlight “virginity” and “motherhood” within the history of salvation. Gregory of Nyssa noted that life and death are connected. Motherhood implies grief. Virginity attempts an end-run around that cycle.

Nota Bene:

“How people interpret the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, says a great deal about how they understand the nature-grace relationship.”

The section on Nathaniel being a true Israelite is good. The backdrop is Jacob’s ladder. Jacob, however, was full of guile. Nathaniel is now face to face with the real Ladder, and there is no guile in Nathaniel.

There is a fascinating chapter on Ezekiel 1. Boersma makes the argument, which I can’t develop here, that the heavens opening means God is ready for battle. The wheel within a wheel is a war chariot of the heavens. Where else did the heavens open with angels? The nativity. Also, Boersma reminds us of Fra Angelico’s “The Mystic Wheel.” The wheel within the wheel is the Gospel within the Old Testament.

5 Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew

Boersma, Hans. Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2021.

The idea behind this book is good; the book not so much. Boersma is correct that no one approaches the text without a commitment to metaphysics. Moreoever, we can only smile with amusement when someone says, “If you would just stay committed to the Bible,” presumably you would believe as I do. Unfortunately, much of Boersma’s discussion trades on ambiguities and straw men. To be sure, the book does have a few good chapters, namely the ones on metaphysics and heaven. The chapters are something like: No Plato, No Christ; No Plato, No Scripture; No Plato, no metaphysics; No Providence, no Scripture; No Heaven, No Scripture.

The Good

  1. We can’t simply appeal to “the bible” qua bible. We all come with metaphysics.
  2. If Christ is present in the Old Testament, then some form of a sensus plenior obtains. That seems to be unavoidable.
  3. He has a good section on Athanasius. However, Boersma doesn’t realize that Athanasius’s Christology undercuts Plato’s cosmology. If the Son is fully God, then we don’t have a Demiurge creating the world.
  4. Excellent chapter on metaphysics. His argument, though, might be inadequate. Key to the Platonic framework is the idea of “participation.” What does that actually mean? I’m not sure. Boersma never defines it. Aristotle, too, pointed out that ambiguity in Plato. It seems Platonism is simply a stand-in for Augustinianism and realism. I have no problem with that. He identifies 5 aspects of Ur-Platonism: 1) anti-materialism, 2) anti-mechanism, 3) anti-nominalism; 4) Anti-relativism, and 5) Anti-skepticism. On one hand this sounds like basic Christian wisdom. True, you find all of this in one form or another in Plato’s dialogues. But must it be called Platonism? Are we not leaving out other key aspects of Platonism?

    In a throwaway line that must have had the Revoice guys in mind, Boersma (rightly) says our primary identity is in Christ, not in some made-up social identity (which also applies, mutatis mutandis, to other post-Marxist constructs).
  5. Excellent chapter on heaven. He puts a halt on many silly “anti-imperial” readings. He notes that their (often shrill) us vs. them rhetoric is the very violence they seek to oppose. In fact, he specifically calls out left-wing agendas, noting they treat sin and redemption in this worldly structures. Moreover, something like the Beatific Vision is present in historic Christian reflection. Whatever else is true about the New Heavens and New Earth, we must retain the basic structure of the Beatific Vision.

The Bad

  1. We’ll start with the most obvious problem: allegory. Boersma’s section on typology was actually good. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like the contrast b/t typology and allegory. Typology links history to history. Allegory links history to some eternal archetype. What matters for him is allegory. Here is one problem: why even bother w/the original languages and the Hebrew-ness of Israel if the text is allegorical? All that matters is the “deeper meaning.” This is the fatal flaw in all allegorical schemes. Following upon that point, what criteria does Boersma have for saying “this deeper reading” is wrong while the other one is correct?
  2. He claimed Charles Hodge was a nominalist. Boersma said Nevin chose Plato and the Great Tradition while Hodge chose Francis Bacon. This is bad. Nevin chose German Idealism, not Plato.
  3. Boersma never defines biblical theology. At times it means “bad academics” and at other times it means “sola scriptura.” Even worse, he never defines sola scriptura.
  4. Very little of Israel’s story is connected with Plato. There is nothing Platonic about the Exodus, the Temple, or the Atonement. There is also nothing Platonic about the New Jerusalem descending to earth.

I can recommend other books by Boersma. I cannot recommend this one.

Review: Scripture as Real Presence

Boersma, Hans. Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

Any book by Hans Boersma can function as a master’s level course in whatever subject it addresses.  That’s not to say I agree with everything he says.  That only highlights his skill as a teacher: he forces you to think through the implications of an issue.

This book isn’t simply about allegorical exegesis.  It isn’t about typology, either.  In fact, Boersma strongly resists the urge to conflate the two.  Rather, it is about seeing the mystery of Christ is already present in the Old Testament (Boersma xv).

While I certainly hold to a Patristic metaphysics, such as it is, I am uncomfortable with some of their interpretive moves.  Very few of them had any working knowledge of Hebrew. Still, the thrust of it is true.  Christ is present in the OT.  Unless we want that to be a cliche, we need to see how.

Case study: Would Paul’s exegesis in Galatians pass a seminary exam?

Metaphysics and Hermeneutics

Boersma notes that one’s metaphysics and one’s interpretation are linked.

Origen: the earthly scene contains patterns (exemplaria) of the heavenly things.  They teach us to mount up (ascendere).  “We contemplate heavenly things by means of their forms and likenesses as they appear in visible things.  It is by means of actual things and copies (rebus ipsis et exemplis) that we can move on to heaven itself” (10).

We can ascend precisely because heavenly realities are related to particulars. We always brings a metaphysics to our hermeneutics.  In this chapter Boersma contrasts the metaphysics of Origen (and most of the fathers) with those of Hobbes and Spinoza.

Some notes on Typology

Type and archetype are anchored in God’s eternal providence.  Both participate in God’s foreknowledge (24).

Chapter 2 explores how Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine interpreted Genesis with an eye towards a literal interpretation.  It’s important in the sense that those who don’t know Patristics will say the Fathers (or Boersma) shunned a literal reading.  They didn’t.  Still, some of their conclusions are….odd.  I am only going to highlight some key aspects of Gregory’s reading as they relate to his overall metaphysics.

On the Making of Man

Genesis 1:27.  The first part of the verse refers to the universal essence of man (which Boersma elsewhere argued that “man” is  God’s foreknowledge of the fullness of all human beings at the end time (Boersma 32). This culminates in the eschaton.  This lets Gregory take Galatians 3:28 in the following: since there is no male or female in Christ, and Christ is the universal, the prototype, the image of God, then the universal man is neither male or female.

Strong stuff, and we will take issue with it later. The main problem is that Genesis 1:28 implies that sexual activity will take place regardless of the fall.

Ancient readers relished verbal associations in the text (39). Phrases like “tree of Life” or “Wisdom” were “trigger-loaded.”  This is like a non-Satanic version of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (how it should have been, before it was corrupted by the Deep State).

A Harmonious Reading of the Psalms

The church fathers saw a direct, almost physical analogy between the harmony of music, which represented an almost mathematical metaphysics, and the harmony of the Psalms. As Boersma notes, “Music, therefore, has the ability to make one grow in virtue and heal the emotions; music tunes people and makes them more harmonious” (132).

Ancient man knew that music was based on objective laws. Musical pitches are related by simple mathematical ratios of whole numbers (136). Plato noted “that God created the intellectual reality of the world soul with proportions of double intervals (1, 2, 4, 8) and of triple intervals (1, 3, 9, 27)….separating a portion of the whole and then doubling and tripling it, so as to arrive at a series of seven terms (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 27)” (136). This means the cosmos was created at harmonious intervals.

Music, therefore, participates in this cosmic order. The church fathers were keen on this. The Word of God even recapitulated the great musician himself: “The Word of God introduces something altogether new; he is the New Song, whose music, like that of David, chases the demons and heals us of our wickedness” (140).

If the Psalms are true music, and if music represents a rational cosmic order, then singing (chanting) and living these psalms puts us “in line with the order of the universe” (142).

Gregory of Nyssa and the Skopos of the Psalter

The aim of the Psalter is the blessedness of the virtuous life (154).  From here Gregory traces an ascent (anabasis) to that goal.  This blessedness will imitate the harmony of the universe. Psalm 42:1 forms the second part of the Psalter and it mentions the soul that thirsts for God.  Psalm 73 describes the one who is now able to discern justice and “participate in divine judgment” (155). In Psalm 90 we approach the boundary between divine and human natures. The climax arrives on a mountain peak in Psalm 107.  It is the recapitulation of human salvation.

Boersma suggests that a sacramental reading of the text (Proverbs 8) allows us to overcome the impasse between Nicene and Arian readings of the text.  When Wisdom said “God created me at the beginning of all his works,” does this mean that Christ was created?  That seems to be what the text says, but that can’t be right.

A huge portion of the problem is the lack of Hebrew knowledge, since qana doesn’t mean creation ex nihilo.  Gregory of Nyssa was aware of this but he really didn’t utilize it (not that anyone would have cared). Of course I side with the Nicenes, but neither side did a great job in this debate.  More to the point, however, are the moves that Boersma makes that allows us to participate in a sacramental reading.

Athanasius in reading a text seeks three elements: time, person, and purpose.  This allows him to make distinctions between economy and Trinity.  Therefore, Christ’s creation is linked in the economy of salvation (172).

Song of Songs

Of course the Fathers read it in a non-literal sense, but not for the reasons you think. The material sexuality in the Song is very real.  If it weren’t, it could function as a participatory link to the spiritual realities.  You have to have both. And unlike some “spiritualizing” or “allegorizing” tendencies, the Fathers took their starting point in the nuptial passages from God’s dealing with Israel (190).

That’s a really good approach to the book.  Granted, some of the details are a bit fancy (but no less arbitrary than how we explain away the literal in biblical prophecy).

Proverbs 8 as Test-Case (and other chapters)

Boersma suggests that a sacramental reading of the text (Proverbs 8) allows us to overcome the impasse between Nicene and Arian readings of the text.  When Wisdom said “God created me at the beginning of all his works,” does this mean that Christ was created?  That seems to be what the text says, but that can’t be right.

A huge portion of the problem is the lack of Hebrew knowledge, since qana doesn’t mean creation ex nihilo.  Gregory of Nyssa was aware of this but he really didn’t utilize it (not that anyone would have cared). Of course I side with the Nicenes, but neither side did a great job in this debate.  More to the point, however, are the moves that Boersma makes that allows us to participate in a sacramental reading.

Athanasius in reading a text seeks three elements: time, person, and purpose.  This allows him to make distinctions between economy and Trinity.  Therefore, Christ’s creation is linked in the economy of salvation (172).

Song of Songs

Of course the Fathers read it in a non-literal sense, but not for the reasons you think. The material sexuality in the Song is very real.  If it weren’t, it could function as a participatory link to the spiritual realities.  You have to have both. And unlike some “spiritualizing” or “allegorizing” tendencies, the Fathers took their starting point in the nuptial passages from God’s dealing with Israel (190).

That’s a really good approach to the book.  Granted, some of the details are a bit fancy (but no less arbitrary than how we explain away the literal in biblical prophecy).

Hans Boersma: The Metaphysics of Music

A Harmonious Reading of the Psalms

The church fathers saw a direct, almost physical analogy between the harmony of music, which represented an almost mathematical metaphysics, and the harmony of the Psalms. As Boersma notes, “Music, therefore, has the ability to make one grow in virtue and heal the emotions; music tunes people and makes them more harmonious” (132).

Ancient man knew that music was based on objective laws. Musical pitches are related by simple mathematical ratios of whole numbers (136). Plato noted “that God created the intellectual reality of the world soul with proportions of double intervals (1, 2, 4, 8) and of triple intervals (1, 3, 9, 27)….separating a portion of the whole and then doubling and tripling it, so as to arrive at a series of seven terms (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 27)” (136). This means the cosmos was created at harmonious intervals.

Music, therefore, participates in this cosmic order. The church fathers were keen on this. The Word of God even recapitulated the great musician himself: “The Word of God introduces something altogether new; he is the New Song, whose music, like that of David, chases the demons and heals us of our wickedness” (140).

If the Psalms are true music, and if music represents a rational cosmic order, then singing (chanting) and living these psalms puts us “in line with the order of the universe” (142).

Gregory of Nyssa and the Skopos of the Psalter

The aim of the Psalter is the blessedness of the virtuous life (154).  From here Gregory traces an ascent (anabasis) to that goal.  This blessedness will imitate the harmony of the universe. Psalm 42:1 forms the second part of the Psalter and it mentions the soul that thirsts for God.  Psalm 73 describes the one who is now able to discern justice and “participate in divine judgment” (155). In Psalm 90 we approach the boundary between divine and human natures. The climax arrives on a mountain peak in Psalm 107.  It is the recapitulation of human salvation.

Boersma notes, 2: A Literal Reading

See Notes 1.

This chapter explores how Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine interpreted Genesis with an eye towards a literal interpretation.  It’s important in the sense that those who don’t know Patristics will say the Fathers (or Boersma) shunned a literal reading.  They didn’t.  Still, some of their conclusions are….odd.  I am only going to highlight some key aspects of Gregory’s reading as they relate to his overall metaphysics.

On the Making of Man

Genesis 1:27.  The first part of the verse refers to the universal essence of man (which Boersma elsewhere argued that “man” is  God’s foreknowledge of the fullness of all human beings at the end time (Boersma 32). This culminates in the eschaton.  This lets Gregory take Galatians 3:28 in the following: since there is no male or female in Christ, and Christ is the universal, the prototype, the image of God, then the universal man is neither male or female.

Strong stuff, and we will take issue with it later. The main problem is that Genesis 1:28 implies that sexual activity will take place regardless of the fall.

Ancient readers relished verbal associations in the text (39). Phrases like “tree of Life” or “Wisdom” were “trigger-loaded.”  This is like a non-Satanic version of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (how it should have been, before it was corrupted by the Deep State).

 

Boersma note 1: Scripture as Participation

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Boersma, Hans.  Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

Thesis: the mystery of Christ is already present in the Old Testament (Boersma xv).

Metaphysics and Hermeneutics

Origen: the earthly scene contains patterns (exemplaria) of the heavenly things.  They teach us to mount up (ascendere).  “We contemplate heavenly things by means of their forms and likenesses as they appear in visible things.  It is by means of actual things and copies (rebus ipsis et exemplis) that we can move on to heaven itself” (10).

We can ascend precisely because heavenly realities are related to particulars.

We always brings a metaphysics to our hermeneutics.  In this chapter Boersma contrasts the metaphysics of Origen (and most of the fathers) with those of Hobbes and Spinoza.

Some notes on Typology

Type and archetype are anchored in God’s eternal providence.  Both participate in God’s foreknowledge (24).

Review: Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross

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Boersma, Hans. Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Hans Boersma uses concepts like violence and hospitality, particularly in their recent philosophical venues, as a set of ciphers to explore the atonement. He succeeds brilliantly. I wish I read this book in seminary. It might, just might, have staved off a number of bad decisions later on.

Asking “Is the Atonement violent” sounds funny, and it is, but feminist and postmodern theologians think it is an important question. Unfortunately, they answer it. For Boersma, Hospitality is God’s work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ (Boersma 15). God comes to us in Christ to invite us into his eternal fellowship. Hospitality is a metaphor for the love of God (17).

Violence, then, is any exclusionary practice. Theologically, it could be something legitimate like church discipline, but raised to doctrine of God levels, it could be something more problematic: the decree of election which excludes others from God’s presence. Boersma will deal with this later.

Problem: Does “violence” negate God’s hospitality in Jesus Christ?

Boersma examines the three models of the atonement and notes that when they are abstracted and placed as *the* model, problems can arise. For example, the Christus Victor model is wonderful and scriptural, yet it doesn’t tell me *how* sins are forgiven. Boersma will place it within a larger Irenaean framework and show how it works.

Postmodernism, following Jacques Derrida, says that any act of true hospitality must be pure, unconditional. Pure hospitality means I forego all judging, analyzing, and classification of the other.”

Is the Derridean model coherent? Not really. Boersma points out that hospitality always takes place within the finite limits of space and time. By definition it will be limited in character (31). There is always this fear in postmodern literature that the limits of temporality are negative. Boersma wonders why. I think it goes back to the old Origenist problematic: the Fall and Finitude are linked.

Postmodernism isn’t on any firmer ground when it challenges violence. What is violence? It is something like “anything that contravenes the rights of another, or causes injury to the life, well-being, etc., of another” (quoted in Boersma 44). The problem is that this definition rules out all forms of corrective punishment. It also rules out self-defense, but perhaps worst of all, it is self-defeating when postmodernists try to “protest” systemic injustices. Boersma lists a number of defeaters:

  1. If I physically restrain my wife from crossing the road when a car is coming, am I offering violence?
  2. When the govt forces my kids to go to school, is that an act of violence?
  3. If I engage in economic boycotts, knowing that such boycotts will jeopardize the well-being of the average worker, how is that not violence?

Postmodernism cannot give a coherent reason why their good acts of physical resistance aren’t violent, yet “the other side” (Alterity!) is violent. The takeaway is that there can be good acts of violence. “Hospitality does not exclude all violence” (48).

Nonetheless, hospitality bespeaks the very essence of God. Violence is one of the ways he safeguards it.

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist (read: Supralapsarian) understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56). Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80). Israel isn’t elected for her own sake. While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history. Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms. That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical. Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal. Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112). He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading. Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought. Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism. While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth. If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence. But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early? Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).

The book ends with several learned interactions with liberation theology and Radical Orthodoxy. This is one of those books that engages criticisms of traditional doctrine at a very high level. It stands within the tradition while seeking to clarify tensions that have arisen.

Violence, Hospitality, Cross: Notes, 2

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Chapter 2: Limiting Hospitality

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56).  Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Chapter 3: Preferential Hospitality

In this chapter Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80).  Israel isn’t elected for her own sake.

While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history.  Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Today, we can make his argument stronger by linking the Canaanites with the demonic practices of the fallen beney elohim, per Michael Heiser.

Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

The chapter ends with some good comments on authorial intent, justice, etc.

Chapter 4: Atonement, Metaphors, and Models

This chapter links the two sections of the book.  We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms.  That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical.  Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal.  Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112).  He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Chapter 5: Modeling Hospitality, Atonement as Moral Influence

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading.  Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Chapter 6: Atonement as Mimetic Violence

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought.  Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism.  While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth.  If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence.  But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early?  Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

Chapter 7: Hospitality, Punishment, and the Atonement

Anselmian tradition: economy of exchange

Did Constantine Ruin Everything?

According to some feminist theologians, Constantine marked the shift from a more Christus Victor model to the satisfaction/substitution model.  Historically speaking, this is silly. The truth behind it, though, is that with Constantine and Christendom enshrined, there really wasn’t a point to the Christus Victor model anymore.

Boersma explores substitutionary and even penal language in the fathers.  It’s there, but I would caution against reading too much into it (and Boersma doesn’t).  There is no one atonement model and to say that the fathers taught penal substitution is misleading.  

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).

Review: Medieval Exegesis, volume 2

Henri de Lubac’s writing style is similar to M Night Shamalyan’s film success: in some works he was wildly successful, in others he just got lucky, and some just failed to deliver.  Volume 2 of Medieval Exegesis is in the last group. (Though to be fair volume 1 was fairly good).

volume2

A book of end notes

De Lubac killed the forest for the sake of the trees. The book did explain medieval exegesis, so I give him credit on that. And many of his quotations were quite interesting, even stirring–so that’s good. But he drowned his argument for the sake of piling on citations. Within 226 pages of text, I counted a total of 2,563 citations, leaving 208 pages of end notes.

So what’s his argument? I’m not sure. (I’m kidding). On de Lubac’s reading, allegory isn’t the wax nose that it would later become. Rather, Allegory is when one thing is being accomplished and another pre-figured (de Lubac 7). Sounds a lot like modern typology. The “mystic sense”of Scripture refers to a reality ‘hidden in God’ and then revealed to mankind in Christ (20). And the movement from history to eschatology (anagogy) isn’t completely arbitrary. It unfolds within the prior historical moment of the Incarnate Word. The object of allegory is a reality of things to come (94). It is an opposition of sign and thing signified within a single duration (95). History, in short, can never fully contain that which it foretells. Allegory, then, is an irruption from the historia into the allegoria, what de Lubac calls “another dimension” (95). Interiority: not necessarily the inner life, but the interiority of the mystery (97). These “hidden facts have an inside,” which is salvific (98).

Conclusion:

I’m not sure if I recommend this book. It is very expensive and crowded with citations that don’t always add to his argument, leaving the actual argument in fog. And I say this as someone who loves de Lubac’s work. Read Boersma instead.