New Theology and Religious Studies BA Courses – The University of Nottingham

A short post from biblical scholar Matt Malcolm about Nottingham’s new three-track options for undergraduates in theology and religious studies.

‘The Evolution of Adam’ by Peter Enns: Mini Book Review

David Russell Mosley

26 August 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is my review of Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam. I hope you enjoy.

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Peter Enns seeks to evidence that in the Christian tradition, we do not need a historical Adam and Eve, that is, that our theology will not rise or fall on Adam and Eve’s existence or lack thereof. Enns first begins by discussing the changes geology and evolution caused in modern thinking about the age and construction of the world. He then goes on to note how biblical scholars began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to notice that books such as Genesis seemed to be compilations of various sources. Enns then shifts to discuss how early Israel seems to have understood and used Genesis and how Paul used the OT scriptures in general and Adam in specific. Essentially, Enns suggests that while Adam is treated as historical for Paul, more significantly, Adam is a theological example of the plights of humanity, sin and death. Enns does not suggest that we replace theology/Scripture with evolution, but that we must recognise that the two speak different languages and must be synthesised.

While I generally agree with many of Enns conclusions about Genesis and evolution, I have several issues with this book. His almost naive acceptance of modern biblical, historical-critical method of interpretation aside, Enns spends no time on two issues that seem rather important from his conclusions. First, Enns suggests that all we really need to know is that sin and death are problems for humans and we need ask no further. Enns completely ignores the question of evil and his approach would almost suggest that God created humanity as sinful, or that sinfulness naturally arises in humanity, which comes to the same thing. The second issue Enns ignores is how the tradition understood/understands Genesis and Adam and Eve. For that matter, chronologically speaking, Enns ignores what the Gospel writers have to say on the issue. One could perhaps forgive Enns for ignoring the early and medieval theologians as outside his purview since the subtitle says ‘What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins’. Although Enns does make fleeting reference to the reformers. However, one cannot forgive Enns for promising in the title to tell us what the Bible does and does not say about this topic and then focus only on the Old Testament Scriptures and Paul. Admittedly, Adam only appears in two other places and seems to have less theological import than in Paul, but to ignore them entirely seems negligible.

In the end, I would recommend this book for those interested in learning more about this topic, but more so would I recommend reading Conor Cunningham’s Darwin’s Pious Idea and Peter Bouteneff’s Beginnings.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Faeriean Metaphysics: Why Faerie and Fantasy Matter in Christian Theology

Novgorod school, 15th century,

Novgorod school, 15th century, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

David Russell Mosley

 

Festival of St Monica, mother of St Augustine
27 August 2013
The Borders of the Perilous Realm, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

Today I want to write yet again about something very close to my heart: Faerie and Fantasy in Christian theology. I have posted on this topic enough times now that I have included a whole menu above to it. This theme is one that has brought quite a bit of ire my way, though never directly. That is, people like to comment about my posts without commenting on them. Still I trudge on.

 

One of my favourite critiques is a backhanded comment. It usually goes something along these lines: ‘I bet it gets funding.’ I think this humorous. First, and perhaps this is what confuses them most, I don’t write posts that are intended as academic articles. I don’t have an idea for something I think could make a good journal article and then decide to write a blog post about it instead. My blog is primarily for hobbies and passions of mine. The second funny thing about this is the backhanded nature of the comment. By suggesting that my work will receive funding they are implying that only a certain kind of work receives funding, work they disdain and not their own work, thus since they aren’t getting funding, they assume my work will. I enjoy good critiques, but would prefer them be about the substance of what I write, not suppositions about my motivations or the nature of my research.

 

Moving on then, I want today to write about the importance of fantasy or belief in Faerie for doing good Christian theology.  J. R. R. Tolkien writes in ‘On Fairy Stories’ ‘Faërie includes many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men when we are enchanted.’ Faerie is thus the world when viewed through enchanted eyes. It is completely consonant with our own world, we just lack the eyes to see it.

 

For Chesterton, Fairyland is the place of common sense. He writes in the section ‘The Ethics of Elfland’ in his Orthodoxy, ‘Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.’ This land of common sense, however, is not a land of laws, not primarily. In Fairyland there is one test to find out if something is a law, imagination. I have written more about that here. The point here is that if you can imagine it differently, then it is not a law. There are, however, unimaginable things: Three take away two is always one; black is never white; good is never evil. These words lose their meaning if we try to define them as their opposites.

 

Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

Simon Ushakov’s icon of the Mystical Supper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thus for both authors, Faerie is the place where the world can be seen rightly. It is the place where the ordinary is seen to be extraordinary. This is necessary to theology. Notice what Tolkien wrote above, Faerie includes wine and bread and man enchanted. Faerie contains the world and renders it strange, it renders trees into dryads, and populates the world with creatures beyond humanity’s knowledge. We need to understand this in theology, for only then can we begin to see how, as the old hymn says, ‘This is our Father’s world.’ Theologians are in the job of rendering the ordinary extraordinary. Wine and bread become blood and flesh; humans become gods; the timeless enters into time; the deathless tastes death. As Tolkien writes, ‘God is the Lord, of angels, and of men––and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.’

 

“The Death of King Arthur”

“The Death of King Arthur” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

 

P. S. This post was getting too long, be on the look out for my next post which will discuss the necessity of writing fantasy for Christian theology.

 

 

‘The Ancestral Sin’ by John S. Romanides: Mini Book Review

David Russell Mosley

19 August 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is my review of The Ancestral Sin by John S. Romanides. Hope you appreciate it.

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This book is a primarily unhelpful polemic from start to finish. Romanides main point seems to be to show how the West is woefully wrong concerning sin and death (sinfully wrong, perhaps) and how the East contains only the right vision. Romanides argues that the West’s understanding of created grace, evil as privation of the good, the analogia entis in Thomas, and God being love, good, etc. in his nature all lead to notions of original sin. The East, instead, sources evil and death in Satan, rather than in God (as he understands the West to do), and God is primarily free in his essence while attributes such as love are uncreated energies.

There are too many problems with this characterisation to go into here, but the one major problem I want to point out is this: Romanides desperately wants to make it clear that God did not create death as a punishment, that instead death is the dominion of the devil who is at war with God. The problem? Did not God create the devil? Is the devil capable of creating from nothing like God? Is this how God is not responsible for death? If so, then we fall into dualism, which Romanides would repudiate.

While in many ways I agree that we need to think of sin, death, and the Fall in ways other than original sin and man’s fall from perfection, Romanides’ attempt at this is inept and often glosses over areas where Eastern Fathers, whom he cites elsewhere often coincide with Western positions he repudiates. Chief among these would be how Athanasius writes about evil, what the Cappadocians write about the soul, and how Maximus understands the human desire for the supernatural.

I neither recommend this book nor don’t. Read at your own risk.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

‘Darwin’s Pious Idea’ by Conor Cunningham: Mini Book Review

David Russell Mosley

12 August 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is my review of Conor Cunningham’s Darwin’s Pious Idea. I hope you enjoy.

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This is an excellent book and a must read for any and all (Christian and atheist) who think evolution and Christianity are firmly at odds. Cunningham shows that traditional readings of Genesis (i.e. Genesis as read by Jews and early Christians) does not require a Young Earth Creationist conclusion. Nor, however, does Darwin’s theory of evolution lead purely to an Ultra-Darwinian reductive materialism. As the subtitle says, both the Creationists and Ultra-Darwinists get it wrong.

Cunningham upholds God as the creator of all things out of nothing, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is both truly God and truly man, and that life on this planet came into its current form through evolution. Full of scientific research and jargon, Cunningham painstakingly shows why fundamentalists (Christian or atheist) cannot say that evolution and Christianity are mutually exclusive.

The book is not perfect, Cunningham can, on occasion, come off as harsh toward both Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists, but it because he finds the positions so untenable. Admittedly, however, the main aporia in Cunningham’s argument comes in the final chapter where he begins to discuss the nature of sin. Cunningham cites dozens of Church Fathers and shows well that their view of the Fall is purely contingent on the Incarnation. However, when he comes to Augustine he merely notes that Augustine’s work on original sin, the Fall, etc. were in the context of polemical discussions with Donatists and Pelagians. The problem I have is that most of the early Church texts are polemical, they’re written against gnostics, Arians, Eunomians, etc. Cunningham falls short in this area.

Nevertheless, this book is well written and ought to be required reading for anyone wanting to study the interplay between science and Christianity. I highly recommend this book.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

‘Being Reconciled’ by John Milbank: Mini Book Review

David Russell Mosley

 

 

Festival of King Oswald
5 August 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is review I wrote a few weeks ago after my second reading of John Milbank’s Being Reconciled. I hope you enjoy.

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This is my second reading of Milbank’s Being Reconciled and I must say I’m glad I read it again. While even after the first reading I determined that this was Milbank’s most comprehensible book, at least that I’ve tackled thus far, I still found more that I understood better this time around. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to gain some insight into the theology of John Milbank but does not yet have the fortitude to brave Theology and Social Theory.

I will give fair warning that there are, for me, a few areas where I simply disagree with John. The main one, and only one I will deal with in this review, comes in chapter 4 ‘Incarnation: the sovereign victim’. Here John is juxtaposing the views of Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus on the purpose of the incarnation. For Aquinas, it is about forgiveness, but a forgiveness that does more than forgive, but exceeds that and gives also the chance for deification, though Milbank argues that is the possibility of deification that makes the incarnation possible. Scotus, on the other hand, sees the incarnation as the ontological completion of creation. This is based in Scotus’s understanding of univocity of being where Christ is not the fulness, necessarily, but is beyond what humanity is. My own view, and I believe that of the Fathers, is somewhere in between. The Incarnation cannot be a reaction to our sin or related only to the divine foreknowledge of the Fall. Nor, however, is it purely Christ completing creation as a human who is, by nature of also being divine, is simply better than all other humans. For me, if deification has always been the telos for creation, then the means by which this is accomplished must include the Incarnation. God must become man in order for man to become God.

This aside, however, John’s understanding of the crucifixion, the telos of Creation and the necessity for a liturgical understanding of the time, the state, education, etc., makes this book one most definitely worth reading.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Thesis Extracts: Why We Need a Deifier

 David Russell Mosley

 

1 August 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here’s another extract from my second chapter on Deification Creation. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to leave comments below:

English: The Nativity of Christ

English: The Nativity of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Need for a Deifier

What is left, in the end, is a created order that is good, that has an end which is God, and which it cannot achieve on its own. The universe needs humanity to fulfil its end in God, for without humanity, there is no one to receive creation as a gift and to mediate between creation and God as recipients. In humanity, then, there is the given vocation of serving as icons and priests to the rest of creation, showing forth the attributes of God. However, even though humanity has an innate desire for the divine, for divinity, for God, but this mad desire, as de Lubac calls it, cannot be met or fulfilled by humanity. The desire may be natural, but its fulfilment must be super- natural. Creation needs a deifier, one alongside of whom it can work. As Vladimir Lossky writes, ‘Certainly man was created by the will of God alone; but he cannot be deified by it alone. A single will for creation, but two for deification. A single will to raise up the image but two to make the image into a likeness.’1 God can create in his image, but cannot make man a god, according to Lossky. Instead, man must also will this. Lossky will go on to argue that humanity, prior to the Fall, may have been able to deify itself.2 In fact, in commenting on the Fall, Lossky seems to suggest that hu- manity would have enacted its own deification which would have made bridgeable to the gap between Creator and creature: ‘The infinite distance between the created and uncreated, the natural separation of man from God which ought to have been overcome by deification became an impassable abyss for man after he willed himself into a new state, that of sin and death, which was near a state of non-being.’3 This, how- ever, seems unlikely given both Scripture and the Fathers. Instead, it seems more likely that God requires our cooperation in order to deify us. That is, even though humanity wills to be like God and God wills it for them, the two wills must work together. So far I agree with Lossky. However, it seems that more than this is necessary in order to deify.

It cannot be emphasised enough that deification is the intended end for crea- tion from the very beginning. As Andrew Louth writes, ‘[D]eification is the fulfil- ment of creation, not just the rectification of the Fall.’4 Elizabeth Theokritoff simi- larly writes, ‘The Incarnation is not primarily a remedy for something gone wrong; it inaugurates the union between God and his creation for which all things were created.’5 It would be wrong to picture deification as merely a response to human- ity’s sin. It is not simply the resolving of this issue, though it is that, it goes beyond, it is the intended goal for creation from the very beginning. This is not, however, a goal creation can complete on it is own.

Creation Incomplete on Its Own

Maximus has reminded us that created beings cannot reach their own ends. They cannot fulfil themselves.6 Even any deathlessness humanity may have possessed in the story of the garden was not by nature. Aquinas tells us that it was by grace ‘that man was deathless before sin happened’ (ST 1a. 76, 5, ad 1). Adam, while without sin and incorruption, was still subject to becoming.7 Just as creation was in- complete without humanity, incapable of attaining its own end, so too is humanity incomplete without a deifier, without someone to raise him up to the status of divinity by participation, by grace, by adoption. Anthony Baker again reminds us, ‘Perfection is God’s gift to creation––the gift, in fact, of creating––and in sharing this creative work the divine nature opens itself entirely to creatures, extending to us the gift of our true and ultimate telos.’8 This gift, however, must be received and even then, it must be given. And while it is partially given in the act of creation itself, even this is not enough. Creation is still incomplete for it is not perfected. As I argued above, creation is incomplete without humanity, but humanity as well cannot bring about its own end, it cannot complete itself. Something much more surprising must happen. If God were truly the divine watchmaker or deism, then it would stand to reason that the telling of time (the end for which a watch is made) would occur naturally and re- quire only maintenance, but not divine aid in reaching its end, it would have been created at its end, that is the moment it started telling time it would have accomplished its end. This, however, is not the understanding of creation or its end the Father’s had. Instead, it seems that something more is needed for creation to reach its telos.

Creator Must Cross the Creature-Creature Divide

‘Christ assumed an individual and concrete nature that was in no wise “the” human nature as such. Yet what is more, by means of this partial contact, he touched nature in its entirety, a nature that is indivisible and continuous. And by this vital unity, he transmits grace, resurrection, and divinization to the entire body, thus uniting all mean, and through them, all creation to himself.’

-Hans Urs von Balthasar 9

What Balthasar notes in the quote above perhaps takes us beyond the purview of this chapter, but necessarily so. As I argued above, creation is incomplete without humanity, but humanity too is incomplete on its own. The only way creation’s telos can be completed is if the creator crosses the divide that separates him from creation. Only in this manner can deification reach to all of creation. Just as humanity takes within itself all of creation, so Christ by becoming man takes on all of creation and unites to it his divinity. More on this, however, in chapter 4. De Lubac writes concerning Augustine:

[Augustine] also realized the great gulf in any circumstances between the creation and Creator, and the madness of the creature’s dream, inspired by the Creator, to raise himself up to him for everlasting union. And in the revelation of Jesus Christ what he could see was principally the declaration that this mad dream could become a reality because it corresponded to the entirely gratuitous plan governing creation.10

We have noted this before, but it bares repeating, while humanity desires its proper end, it cannot accomplish it for its proper end is well beyond what it could even dare to hope for, union with God. The entire second chapter of Balthasar’s A Theological Anthropology is dedicated to the notion that humanity cannot perfect itself.11 Again, as Thunberg writes concerning Maximus, there is a gulf between humanity and God which only the ‘will of God can overbridge.’12 This is explicitly not something humanity can accomplish on its own.

1 Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, translated by Ian and Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), 73.

2 Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke and Co., LTD., 1957), 136.

3 Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke and Co., LTD., 1957), 135.

4 Andrew Louth, ‘The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology,’ in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Tradition, edited by Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 34-35.

5 Elizabeth Theokritoff, ‘Creator and creature,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, edited by Mary B. Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- sity Press, 2008), 69.

6 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 132.

7 Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor, 2nd Edition (Chicago: Open Court Press, 1995), 144.

8 Anthony D. Baker, Diagonal Advance: Perfection in Christian Theology (SCM Press, 2011), 141.

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9 Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa, translated by Mark Sebanc (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 134-35.

10 Henri de Lubac, Augustinianism and Modern Theology, translated by Lancelot Sheppard. (New York: Crossroads Publishing, 2000), 17.

11 Hans Urs von Balthasar, A Theological Anthropology, trans. by Benziger Verlag (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967), 43-72.

12 Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confes- sor, 2nd Edition (Chicago: Open Court Press, 1995), 51.

 

Sincerely yours,
David