Theology of the Old Testament vol 1 (Eichrodt)

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).  

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”   
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).  
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).  
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.  
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken. Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature. Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.” “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).  

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.  

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character. Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).  

The Secular LAW

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).  

Prayer

“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being in the metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.

 

 

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Sanctuary of the Soul (Richard Foster)

I’m generally quite skeptical of “contemplative prayer,” largely because it is almost always a gateway for other bad influences to come in.  Nonetheless, Foster offers us some suggestions for “slowing our pace” and keeping in touch with the Spirit.

Good and Bad of the book:

Strong section on meditation, even using the Hebrew (and even better, actually using the Hebrew alphabet). Meditate means to chew on words in obedience to God’s will (Foster 19).

I’m undecided on the lectio divina.  I agree that Scripture is supposed to form us, but when we start on his advice, it looks a lot like we are forming Scripture.  Drawing the mind down into the heart in reading is good.  I agree, but pretending I am hugging Jesus is a bit too much for me.

Foster misunderstands what Eastern Orthodox said about icons, and he gets Theophan the Recluse wrong.  True, the East is iconic and even pray before icons.  However, at the same time guys like Theophan said we should empty our minds of imagination when praying.  That is the exact opposite of what Foster said.

Really good section on “Hearing God” and he pointed to Dallas Willard’s work for more advice.

Worshiping with the Church Fathers (Christopher Hall)

fathers

The first 3rd of the book deals with sacraments and the structure of worship, if only briefly per the latter. If you’ve read much into the history of the sacraments, there isn’t much here that is new. The rest of the book deals with prayer, and it is one of the best treatments on prayer I’ve ever read. Most manuals on prayer usually focus on “You need to pray more” or “Communion with God” or something like that. No doubt true. It is the fathers, however, who give you practical guidelines on how to pray.

Order of service. The key witnesses are Justin and Tertullian. We have to be careful with Tertullian, since he prescribes “sisters” exhorting and prophecying. The “president” of the assembly gives an exhortation, followed by a group prayer. Eucharist was weekly.

Oil was used to chrism the baptized (n55).

Relationship between baptism and regeneration: Later fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa assigned it an almost medicinal function, though not by the nature of water itself but by the working of God.

Eucharist

While the fathers hated gnosticism, as we all must, they also lived deeply ascetical lives. This wasn’t a contradiction, for the athletic-like control of the body allowed them to fully participate in the spiritual realities to which matter pointed.

So what happens with the elements? The fathers don’t have anything so refined as transubstantiation, though their language is strongly realist. The key point is that the Eucharist isn’t a repetition of the cross, it is rather a remembrance in the sense that the realities come rushing toward us. This is accomplished by the epiklesis.

Ignatius of Antioch encourages the Ephesians to gather often for the Supper.

Hall doesn’t specifically address it, but his comments on Cyril of Jerusalem show that the elements were received in both kinds. You held out your hands, the right and left hands forming a cup in which to receive the King.

Gregory of Nazianzus’s sister, Gorgonia, couldn’t be healed by the physicians, so she fell down before the altar at midnight. Gorgonia took the leftover Eucharist and applied it to her body and was healed.

Prayer

Prayer flows from our dispositions–our habituated thoughts, words, and actions. This is why praying the psalms is important. Athanasius argued that when we read and chant the psalms, those experiences become our own. Therefore, when we pray the psalms daily (specifically, various cycles of psalms), we aren’t engaged in vain repetition. It is rhythm for our life.

Pray without Ceasing

There is a connection between continual prayer and bodily behavior. Continual prayer requires an assault on our passions, which the fathers took to mean something like but stronger than “bad habits.” Rather, it is “a conglomerate of obsessive emotions, attitudes, and desires.” They are “logismoi” or “dialogismoi,” little maggot-eggs from which evil will spring. Combine these buzzing thoughts with the power of memory, and it is hard to enter into quiet, continual prayer.

The physicality of prayer ties in with what scientists call the “plasticity” of the nervous system. This is why habit-forming practices are so important and even inevitable. As to the how or “what” of prayer, Abba Isaac recommends Paul’s advice in Phil. 4:6-7.

Supplication arises from our sorrow over sin. Intercession is woven by our love for others. Thanksgiving requires a long memory. Sometimes we move into wordless, almost fiery prayer. This is given by God.

Abba Isaac recommends Psalm 70:1 as the key verse to cry out at all moments of the day, whether in adversity or prosperity.

Antony, Athanasius, and Discipline

Antony didn’t know what we moderns know of neuroplasticity, but he had the same idea. Body and soul aren’t the same thing, but they are intimately related to each other. As Hall notes, “Antony habituated his body to labor that maintained the soul’s strength.” Antony’s ascetic labors lasted at least 35 years. Hall’s prose here is simply lovely.

And the stories about Antony are really neat.  His body was neither gaunt nor fat when he emerged from the fortress.

I strongly recommend this book in Hall’s series of the Church Fathers.

Finding Quiet (Moreland, part two)

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Part 1.

Getting a Handle on Anxiety/Depression

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or nervousness.  It always has a trigger, but we often don’t know what the trigger is (Moreland 52).  It acts as a cover on many of our deeper feelings.

Happy thoughts are not narcissistic.  In this book Moreland tells you to think happy and positive thoughts towards yourself.  He isn’t saying “Be happy clappy.”  The point is that you are trying to replace bad brain grooves with good ones.

Tools for Defeating Depression

Anxiety is a habit that is wired into our brain and nervous system (66ff).  Moreland draws upon the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new grooves.  This is why habit is so important.  Presenting our bodies before God in a certain way can rewire the brain.

The Four Step Solution

Step 1: Relabeling. We identify our destructive habits.

Step 2: Reframing.  We change our perception of the deceptive brain message (71).

Step 3: Refocus. We focus on something that distracts our attention.  We need to be very careful not to “outmuscle” the deceptive brain habit, since that only focuses on it all the more.

Step 4. Revaluing.

Heartmath

The heart is the deepest recess of our being (81).

Step 1.  Freezeframe.  Take a time out from the deceptive thought.

Step 2. Refocus. Shift away from the thought and focus more on your physical heart muscle.  I’ve done this.  It works.  Pretend like you are breathing in and out of your heart.

Step 3.  Wait for the emotion.  CFAN (Compassion/Care, Forgiveness, Appreciation, Nonjudgmentalism).

Step 4.  Melt the anxious thought.

Habit-Forming Practices

Contemplative prayer.  This is tricky, as it is easy to take it in a New Agey/Yoga Mom direction.  That’s not what Moreland is doing.  He isn’t saying, “Empty your mind and connect with the Beyond.”  Rather, we attach our emotions to God and calm ourselves in his presence.  In any case, it’s often hard to pray to God when you are buzzing with different thoughts and emotions.  This lets you “pray until you can pray.”

Step 1: Find a Quiet Place.

Step 2: Do a body scan and see if your are tense or anxious. Start praying some of the psalms you have memorized.

Step 3. This is probably where some will push back against what Moreland is saying.  He is saying, “Open yourself to Jesus’s presence.”  As long as you don’t get New Agey about it, it’s probably not a bad idea.

Step 4. Quietly wait in anticipation on God.

Step 5. Let go of all distractions.  Say, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” “I receive you.”  It hones your focus on God.

This isn’t mindless repetition, since the point isn’t to finally get God’s attention by chanting a mantra.

Practice Gratitude

I can attest to this one.  I have practiced being grateful even when I haven’t felt like it.  It really works.

Presenting our Bodies

Our fleshly habits are stored in our bodies.  Remember, our bodies “traduce” our souls. If our bodies are messed up, if our brains have stored anxiety in their grooves, then they won’t be able to properly transmit from the soul.  This is why taking medicine is okay.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Bilateral stimulation.

Heartmath: the ancients knew that the “heart” was both physical and spiritual and that it had its own rhythm. That’s the point behind ascetic disciplines. Good and bad habits are stored in bodily grooves.  The disciplines retune the body.

Step 1: Heartfocus.  Focus your attention on the heart.

Step 2: Heart breathing.  Breathe in and out through the heart five or six times.  This can synchronize the breathing and heart rhythm (other things being equal).

Step 3:  Heart feeling.

Review: Prayer Book of Early Christians

prayer

The value in this text is its setting forth most of the key prayers of the early church.  McGuckin gives some commentary, such as noting that the lighting of candles symbolized the Spirit’s praying in and through us.  Most of the book, though, consists in different prayer settings of the early Christians (Matins, Vespers, etc.).

For example, a Vesper service would look something like this:

*Trisagion (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us)

* Either Ps. 103/142 (here is where it gets tricky, since the LXX is off by a chapter, so you will have to consult 103/104 to get the feel of which is more “eveningy”).

* Prayer of Eventide
*Psalm 140/141

* Prayer over Incense

* Gladsome Light

*Litany of Intercession

Matins would look like:

Trisagion

Invatory prayers

Psalms 19-20

Song of the Cross

Morning cycle of 6 psalms

Other prayers included prayers for the sick, protection against the forces of darkness, etc., etc.  The book is somewhat pricey for its small size, but it offers a valuable service in getting the prayers together in one place.

Bringing the nous into the heart

This is from John Mcguckin’s The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years, pp. 862-869.  It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.all flame

Have you ever prayed and felt dead?  Like the prayer wasn’t real?  Maybe it’s because you carried into prayer the mindset you had when you were watching the Kardashians ten minutes ago.  The Fathers teach us how to develop a mindset for prayer.  This mindset is important because it prevents us from having a “fractured psyche.”

St Gregory of Sinai clearly states that forgetfulness of God is a disease of the soul and of the faculty of reason. It has a direct impact on human memory, which ends up divided, diffused and fragmented, a prey to tempting thoughts. If I forget God, my memory will crumble into pieces, resulting in scattered, wayward thinking: “Dia-logismos”.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

So how does this apply to prayer?  Where does the doctrine cash out?  The fathers practiced the monologistos prayer.  It was a short phrase from Scripture that was repeated over and over until it soaked the consciousness (870).  That sounds like it violates Jesus’s command not to pray over and over like the heathen, but several things need to be noted:

  • He probably meant pagan incantations.
  • You are going to have something soaking your mind anyway.  Your mind is never neutral.  You will either soak it with God or with Katy Perry songs.  Take your pic.  Would you rather wake up in the middle of the night singing, “Romeo save me/I can’t ever be alone” or with

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wonder during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Anthropology of Prayer

We have a body (physical impulses), soul (feelings and desires), and nous (spiritual intellect). If the body was agitated, the other two “ranges” of consciousness would be pulled down as well (871).  Therefore, the monks knew that bodily needs are controlled by redirection.

That takes care of the body.  What about the soul?  Our prayer lives are usually by default rooted in our soul (consciousness).  This is where we live habitually. The monologistos prayer quiets down our soul. McGuckin succinctly points out, “Thoughts generate thoughts.  Words make words.  Monologistos prayer kills those unnecessary words” (872).

When the soul is finally quieted, the nous descends to the heart and one reaches stillness. This is what the hesychasts knew.  You aren’t just doing funny breathing.  At this point when you slow down the breathing, your body calms even more.

Everyone wants to claim that the human person is a body-soul unity, or some kind of unity.  I think it is the genius of Palamas to see how the person is a unity.  There is a dynamic interplay between body, soul, and nous.

The Lord and His Prayer (Wright)

This book *is* NT Wright in every sense of the word. And it also seems to be every NT Wright book. For Wright, the so-called Lord’s Prayer is not an updated spirituality to help you be more pious or something. It is Jesus. It is signing on to what Jesus is all about.

Wright gives a lucid summary of every clause in the prayer. In short, when we call God “Father” we are placing ourselves in Israel’s salvation-history (Ex. 4.22-23; 2 Sam. 7:14; Isaiah 55:3). It is saying “The Kingdom of God” (Wright 20).

When we ask for his kingdom to come, we are pointing to the New Exodus (Is. 52:7). Yahweh is returning to his people. His section on “thy will be done” has some great pointers on the physical aspect of prayer, as praying for our daily bread anchors the prayer in practical matters. Some advice:
(1) This clause helps us minimize stream-of-consciousness style praying
(2) We should pray for specific needs.
(3) Yet, we should also lift our eyes beyond our needs.
(4) All aspects of the Lord’s Prayer come together in the Eucharist.

In some ways his most important section is on forgiving tresspasses and debts. It’s not that our refusal to forgive places a metaphysical block in front of God, but rather we are removing ourselves from the Kingdom plan. In refusing to forgive we are saying the Kingdom really hasn’t come for us.

The section on debts shouldn’t be surprising: Jesus is the Jubilee (Luke 4). The World Bank is the negation of that.

While many of Wright’s smaller books aren’t as good as his other ones, this one is. He brings it home on every level.

Letters to Malcolm (Lewis)

Lewis, C. S. Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer.

This book serves several functions. In it Lewis goes a bit deeper in theology than what you find in Mere Christianity and he also touches on explosive issues in mid-century Anglican theology.

He covers basic issues as man-made prayers, bodily posture, distractions and the problem of having non-images in the head while praying. He notes the dangers and possible value in some of these.

Some of the real theological gems are at the end. Should we pray to God for the saints? Like a good Anglican, Lewis doesn’t tell you what you *should* do. But he has some interesting points: most of the people I love are already dead? Am I forbidden to mention them to God because they are dead? And while it is true that we can’t pray others into heaven from hell, because it is already fixed, Lewis points out that if we apply that same reason to prayer because of predestination, we are in the same bind. Why pray, since it is already fixed in eternity?

Lewis rejects the crude literal version of purgatory and where earlier Romish divines like More went astray. While I agree with Lewis that there are post-death moments which aren’t quite heaven or hell, I don’t think his reasons for Purgatory–however he defines it–are compelling.

He ends on an outstanding discussion of the Resurrection of the body and the nature of matter and sensory experience.

Willard, Divine Conspiracy study notes

Thesis:  God is inviting us to kingdom living right now.

Willard spends some time critiquing dispensational outlooks that relegate Jesus’s kingdom message, especially the sermon on the mount, to the Millennial Age.  (Substitute “millennial reign” for “kingdom” in the Sermon on the Mount.  Hilarity ensues).

He defines God’s kingdom as the range of his effective will (Willard 25), allowing us to pray for his kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.  Further, God has given each of us a kingdom, which is the “range of our own will.”

When Jesus defined “eternal life” (John 17:3) he defined it as “the knowledge of God” and his son Jesus, whom he sent (49).

Jesus’s Vision of God’s World

Although this is a popular-level book, Willard gives a robust account of metaphysics and epistemology:

  • God’s being is joyous being (62).  This is what analytic theologians mean by “maximally perfect being.” It is “the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being” (63ff).
  • We live in a universe where infinite energy of a Personal nature is the ultimate reality (254).
  • Matter is the stuff/place of development for finite personalities who, in their bodies, have significant resources either to oppose or serve God (254).
  • God as personal reality prefers to be known by speaking (277).  

The Heavens

The heavens are the direct experience and presence of God’s “person, knowledge, and power to those who serve and trust him” (67). In NT language, to be “born from above” is to “be interactively joined with a dynamic, unseen system of divine reality in the midst of which all humanity moves” (68).

  • Spirit and Space:
    • Human spirit: I am a spiritual being who currently has a physical body (75).
    • Human self: a unity of experiences which is not located at any point in my body.
    • “the face:” do we hide our spirit behind our face?  Do we genuinely present our spiritual reality to those around us?
    • God relates to space as we do to body.  He occupies and overflows it but cannot be reducible to it.
  • Spiritual reality (79ff):
    • nonphysical, not perceived by the senses.
    • power: spirit is a form of energy, for it does work, and whatever works has power.
    • thought: our experiences are consciously directed towards objects.
    • valuing: we choose and act with reference to our choices.  This is our will.
  • Centrality of the Will or Heart
    • The will is the innermost core of a person’s self/spiritual reality (80). It is self-determining.
    • It is spirit in human beings.
  • The substantiality of the Spiritual.
    • The spirit is unbodily, personal power (81).
    • God is both spirit and substance.

Prayer

“A different kind of causality” (Lewis).

Definition: “Talking to God about what we are doing together” (Willard 243).

Prayer is not:

  • Thanksgiving
  • Praise
  • meditation

Of course, the above three are part of prayer and prayer cannot get very far without them.

Can We Change God?

Moses reasoned with God (Ex. 32:10ff).

Hezekiah prevailed upon God (2 Kgs. 20).

Willard is not an open theist, contra some allegations:  “His nature, identity, and overarching purposes are no doubt unchanging” (Willard 246). However, his intentions regarding many particular purposes are not unchanging.

God created a universe responsive to Personality.  

  • kingdom praying:  personalities are ultimate and distinct (249).  This isn’t simply some Eastern mantra type prayer. Kingdom personalities interact through explicit, purposeful communication, listening and speaking, not through a mere sense of unity (250).
  • Prayer trains us to reign. It forms character.  It combines freedom and power with service and love. This means we learn to wait on God.
  • Prayer is not a mechanism, but a personal negotiation.  

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer is a form of speaking.  The Lord’s prayer is a template that desires us to “move out” in prayer.

  • God must be addressed.  We speak to a particular person.  When we pray to God in heaven, we are placing ourselves towards the kingdom of the heavens.
  • Hallowed by thy name:  names partake of the reality (258).
  • Thy kingdom come: lots of good insights on structuralized, social evils.  Culture is a multidimensional place that embodies our collective archetypes.
  • Give us our daily bread: Today I have God and he has the provisions.
  • Trespasses: it is not psychologically possible for us to know God’s pity for ourselves and be hardhearted towards others.

Being Jesus’s Student

If I am to be someone’s apprentice, I must be with him (276).  The disciples were “engulfed” by the Spirit.

The kingdom of the heavens, from a practical point of view, is simply our experience of Jesus’ continual interaction with us in history and throughout the days, hours, and moments of our earthly existence (280).

How to be a disciple

  • Simplicity
  • I am learning to live my life as if Jesus were living my life.
  • Jesus’ teachings presuppose a life of discipleship (284).

Spiritual Disciplines

Definition: a discipline is any activity that enables us to do what we cannot do by direct effort (353). Spiritual disciplines are designed to help us withdraw from our own efforts and depend on kingdom power.  Ironically, all spiritual disciplines involve the body.  

  • Solitude and silence help us escape the “responding without thinking” moments.
  • Worship and Study: Worship imprints upon our whole being the reality of what we study.  The result is a radical disruption of the powers of evil within us and around us (363).  

The Future World

The cosmos are open to God.  In the eschaton we will “reign” with God as kings and priests (Ex. 19.6; Rev. 5.10).  “The intention of God is that we should each become the kind of person whom he can set free in his universe, empowered to do what we want to do” (379).

really knowing: when we pass through death we see the world as it is for the first time (392).  When we move into the presence of eternity, as Paul had sometimes been, “we will have the same kind of fullness and clarity of experience as those beings now have.”  The spiritual realm is the realm of truth, not distortion.

The biblical language of death as “sleep” applies to the body, not the person (and they are not the same thing).

Jesus’ body is not restrained by space, time, and physical causality (395).   In God’s universe matter is subjected to mind or spirit.

Near Death Experiences: the person transitions to see the invisible (397).  He might even interact with deceased close ones.  He, if in Christ, will be borne away by angels (Lk. 16.22).  

Key points:

Thomas Oden: It becomes difficult, if not impossible to build a Christology on a naive, mistaken Jesus (quoted in Willard, 56).

*If you bury yourself in the Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life (Willard 65).