Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience

Leithart, Peter J. Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2015. Pp. ix + 165. Paper. $17.99.

As I sit here at my desk thinking about what to write concerning Peter Leithart’s latest offering, I’m struck by how the end of the book has completely reshaped my view of its beginning. To start, I had assumed that this would be one kind of book and yet it ended up being another. I expected an apologetic for how “God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation” (CCC 237), which I got, but not in the way that I thought I would.

Leithart spends 8 chapters talking about the physical world, personal relationships, time, ethics, love, music, logic, and language while employing the terminology and concept of perichoresis, i.e., “interpenetration” or “mutual indwelling.” It’s not until the 9th chapter that he really turns his attention to God and even there it’s not so much to speak about God qua God, but rather believers being in God. Well and good. Really good in fact.

But as I read through the book, taken by Leithart’s way with words, I couldn’t help but think, and write in the margins, that the things he was describing fell short in every way of the perichoretic relationship that exists in the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And then I arrived at the postscript. Leithart had anticipated my objections; he said so right there in the final pages of the book. And yet he didn’t go back and revise the main contents before publication in order to allay my concerns. He left things as they were, waiting to address the issues that were so bothering me right at the end.

And now I can’t think about the book the same way I did while working through it from the beginning. It seems that Leithart was correct when he said, “there can be no present unless past and future inhabit it” (62). In the present of the past I viewed Leithart’s descriptions with suspicion. But in the future of the now past and then present he had anticipated all that I would disagree with and had an answer ready and waiting. Once that future became present I could no longer view the past in the same light. But all of these moments converged; they all inhabited one another.

Leithart tells us that we inhabit the world just as the world inhabits us. Things are what they are in relation to other things and without some sort of mutual indwelling nothing could ever be what it really is. This goes for parents and children; husbands and wives. It’s true of property and owners or the way we treat others. Language, music, and everything else all the way down the line until we get to the Creator of it all, the God who is Trinity.

Paul told the Romans that God’s invisible qualities have been clearly seen and understood in and by his creation (Rom 1:19-20). Leithart has taken the time to get us thinking about how this is so. For years I’ve been leery about using certain (really any) analogies to describe the Trinity. I once wrote a book (never published because it was ultimately unpublishable) in which I panned the use of love, time, the universe, a family, or even eggs as analogies for the Trinity.

But I see those analogies in new light now. I’m still not convinced that they’re helpful in making sense of how God can be both one and three simultaneously, but perhaps they help to make clear, even if just a bit, how Father, Son, and Spirit can inhabit the same divine space. Leithart has helped me to understand that even if the analogies aren’t a perfect match (if they were then they wouldn’t be analogies) they can still help us say and know something of God. He rightly says that “there is no impropriety in calling God Rock, Sun, Father, or in suggesting that there are analogies between father-son relations and the eternal relation of the Father and Son” (152).

Past redeeming Trinitarian analogies for me, Leithart has got me thinking about the relationships I have with things I hold dear. For example, as I sit down to “get into” the word of God, the word of God “gets into” me. I bring certain presuppositions to the text, which influences my interpretation of the text, and yet the text manages to shape, refine, and at times completely overhaul those presuppositions. On the rare occasion that I read a Bible with notes or commentary I see how the comments illuminate the text while the text illuminates the comments.

The sermons I’ve preached have all been inhabited by my experiences but also by the books that I’ve read, other sermons I’ve heard, conversations I’ve had, or thoughts that I’ve pondered. And while it might not seem obvious how interpenetration works in such an instance I’d just say that as I’ve read, conversed, thought, and experienced, I’ve always had in mind, even if subconsciously, that this thing or that would make good sermon fodder. My sermons inhabited all of these things, even if in nuce.

But the real game changer has not been the redemption of Trinitarian analogies or even me thinking about how I inhabit the world and the world inhabits me. It’s in Leitharts all too brief comments on perichoresis in John’s Gospel; particularly Jesus’ high priestly prayer where he prays that his disciples be one “even as” Father and Son are one. I’ve discussed this passage with Unitarians aplenty and they’re quite fond of pointing out how the oneness that exists between Father and Son can’t be a oneness of substance or nature based on this passage. If it were then we’d also share in the divine nature and the Trinity would be a much larger number. And yet we are described as partakers of the divine nature. We are called into a relationship that has existed from eternity. It is “in Christ,” to use Paul’s language, that we can be one with each other and with Father and Son. Leithart brings this out much more clearly that I have, and he does so with an eloquence of speech that I simply do not possess.

So I’ve said all this to say that you should read this book. I can think of no plainer way to say it. Read this book. That’s all.

Just Ordered

I had a bad time with a couple of bum USB hubs a while back but I’ve decided to get back in the horse and try again. This time I ordered a 4 port USB 3.0 hub with power switches that’s made by Sabrent. The current 4 port hub I use is from them and it has worked perfectly for as long as I’ve had it. I’m hopeful that this one will work just as well. The plan is to mount it under my desk since I’ve got my cable management on fleek and don’t want to disturb anything that’s already going on.

In addition to this I’ve finally ordered a copy of Eerdmans reprint of Chris Tilling’s Paul’s Divine Christology. This edition has a new foreword by Douglas Campbell, and while I was able to view the uncorrected galleys, I had to have my own hard copy. One this arrives I think I will finally have every version of this work that exists, which I’m quite excited about. I had requested a copy for review from Eerdmans but that was quite some time ago and it appears as if they’re not going to be sending one. That’s cool. I don’t mind supporting Chris and Eerdmans by purchasing it. But in the event that I do end up receiving a review copy I’ll be sure to host a giveaway. Once upon a time I had two copies of the Mohr Siebeck edition and I gave the extra to my dear friend Esteban for his birthday. I know that he read it with great profit and enjoyment.

So that’s that. I look forward to getting my stuff on Saturday (gotta love Amazon Prime!).

B”H

Late to the Game: Some Scattered Thoughts on BibleWorks 9 (Mostly about NT Manuscripts)

Introduction

I know that BibleWorks 10 has been out for a little while now and from all I’ve seen it looks fantastic. My introduction to BibleWorks came with version 8 and it was incredible. I used the program daily in my study of the Bible and ended up writing a series of review posts sharing some of my thoughts on the features I used most. Then came BibleWorks 9 and I was provided with a copy for review… 2+ years ago!

My apologies for this delayed response. I’d love to say that the cares of life kept me from using the program but that just wouldn’t be true. The truth is that I had installed BW9 on my Toshiba Satellite Pro and after doing one of the routine updates it began to crash every time I opened it. This went on for quite a while and I tried to fix the problem by doing multiple system restores in Windows Vista. That didn’t work.

It took quite a bit of deliberation for me to finally decide to do a fresh install. The main issue was that my laptop’s screen had given up the ghost and I had it hooked up to an external monitor. The laptop was, for all intents and purposes (not intensive purposes!), a desktop. But it was situated in a spot behind the monitor in the dark recesses of my desk that made the disc drive difficult to access. A reinstall would mean more work for me than I had really wanted to do.

But a fresh install I did, and I ended up loading the program on an external hard drive since my Toshiba’s hard drive was nearly full and slowing daily. So onto the 1TB Seagate it went. I was finally able to open the program without issue but then I became gun-shy with updates, refusing to install any. The truth is that after the reinstall I really didn’t take advantage of any of the new features of the program. I used BW9 just like I used BW8. And then I got a Mac.

When I got the MacBook Pro I installed Logos 5 on it and that was my go-to Bible software in the earliest stages. Then I contacted Accordance because I wanted to see how well their software worked on the machine it was designed for. It works great by the way. But I still wanted to use BibleWorks and it was now a possibility on OS X. There are three options: native, virtual, dual boot. I opted for running it in a virtual machine so I installed Parallels, Windows 8.1, and finally BibleWorks 9.

I will note that BibleWorks 9 was the sole reason that I put a virtual machine and Windows on my MacBook. It’s also the sole reason that I bought Apple’s overpriced Superdrive since I had the installation DVDs and needed to get them onto the laptop without a disc drive. That’s how much I cared about this program!

Scattered Thoughts

So how does BW9 work on my Mac? It works great! It’s fast as ever once opened but it does take a moment to load initially (longer than Accordance but that shouldn’t be a great shock). But it seems to me that the real difference between BW9 and BW8 is the addition of the fourth window and all of the manuscript features (pictured in part below).

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The addition of transcribed versions of Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Bezae, Washingtonianus, Boernerianus, and GA 1141 including high resolution images of the actual manuscripts is a boon to those engaged in textual criticism. I don’t do much textual criticism these days and in the interest of saving precious space on my limited hard drive I have opted to install Sinaiticus alone (which can be seen in the above screenshot).

I was somewhat surprised to find that only the NT portions of Sinaiticus appear in the program. It would have been desirable for the OT portions to have been transcribed and images included as well. One might argue that much of the OT material is fragmentary, which is quite true, but there are entire books (e.g., Jeremiah) that do appear in the manuscript, and access to those portions of Scripture would have been quite helpful.

There are a number of image processing options that are designed to allow the user to alter things such as the color or sharpness of the manuscript in order to get a better look at hard to read portions. I haven’t found that any of the alterations I’ve tried have made the text any easier to read, in fact, I think the original image provided is probably the best quality I’ve seen.

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The transcriptions themselves are what I find most useful though. It’s immensely satisfying to have a searchable text that includes the nomina sacra (which can be copied from BW9 and pasted into MS Word, Pages, or even a WordPress blog post in unicode – Χ̅Ω̅ Ι̅Υ̅ – by the way!) and does the work for me in separating the scriptio continua. I’m well aware that there are people who enjoy working through manuscripts and deciphering such things but I’m not one of them. I also enjoy reading the occasional transcription note that appears below the manuscript image (see below).

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The Center for New Testament Textual Studies’ New Testament Critical Apparatus appears, as far as I can tell, to be a powerful tool. I’ll admit that it frightens me a bit and I don’t quite know how to use it to its full potential just yet. Thankfully, the BibleWorks website has a page explaining just what it is, what it does, and how to use it.

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There are undoubtedly thousands of other features that I’ve yet to discover, and I’m pleased to report that everything I loved about BW8 (e.g., the diagramming, the lightning fast searches, the ability to create custom parallel texts, etc.) has been carried over into BW9. I look forward to getting back to my roots and using this program more in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. Who knows, maybe I’ll get proficient in it one day and make the move to BW10. More anon, I’m sure.

B”H

Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology

Orr, Peter. Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. Second series 354. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. Pp. x + 259. Paper. € 79.00.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for this review copy!

Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology is a revised version of Peter Orr’s (New Testament Lecturer at Moore Theological College in Newtown NSW, Australia) doctoral dissertation written under the supervision of Francis Watson at the University of Durham. In this study Orr seeks to demonstrate that “the striking simultaneity of [Christ’s] presence and absence is not a minor incoherence in an unimportant aspect of Paul’s Christology but actually illuminates some important aspects of Paul’s understanding of the exalted Christ that too often are overlooked” (1).

So often overlooked, in fact, that Chris Tilling seems to be the lone scholar who has noted and examined the theme in any depth in recent history. As such Orr is unable to present a status quaestionis on the subject and opts rather to examine Albert Schweitzer and Ernst Käsemann’s respective conceptions of the exalted Christ as an “entry point” to his own thesis (chapter 2). For Schweitzer Christ is exclusively located in heaven while believers are joined to him in a mystical union. Käsemann on the other hand understands Christ to be present in believers and the world through the medium of the Spirit. Orr notes that their different understandings result from complexity in Paul himself, but neither attends to all that Paul says, especially with respect to Christ’s absence.

Chapters 3-5 examine the absence of Christ, the nature of his exalted bodily, and his bodily absence respectively. Orr effectively shows that Paul, while speaking of believers as being “in Christ,” believes Christ to be absent in some sense. He does so by examining Paul’s statement concerning his desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better than remaining in the flesh (Phil 1:21-26) and his comments on the Lord’s parousia (1 Thes 4:15-17).

Orr shows that Paul believed Christ to possess a discrete human body after his exaltation and that the nature of this body differs from that of other humans. He locates Christ at the right hand of God in heaven. Orr ties together the topics of chapters 3-4 and concludes that the sense in which Christ is absent according to Paul is bodily through his examination of 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, which speaks to Christ’s bodily absence, and Philippians 3:20-21, which speaks to his bodily return.

Chapters 6-8 turn to Christ’s presence. In chapter 6 Orr highlights what he has termed the “epiphanic presence” of Christ. Here he looks at texts in 2 Corinthians that present Christ “more as an object to which the senses respond” (117). So, for example, Paul can refer to himself as the “aroma” of Christ that goes up before God (2 Cor 2:14-17), or the Corinthians as the “letter” of Christ (2 Cor 3:1-3), or Christ’s presence being mediated through the Spirit (2 Cor 3:4-17). The “exalted Christ is made manifest in his glory” (143) in 2 Cor 3:18 while God’s glory is revealed when Christ’s “face” is seen through the proclamation of the gospel (2 Cor 4:1-6) or his life manifested in the body of believers (2 Cor 4:10).

Chapter 7 looks at Christ’s “dynamic presence,” which has him as the subject of activity even though the activity is mediated through some other means. So, for example, Paul can say that it is Christ who has accomplished the work that he’s done through him in Romans 15:18-19 or respond to the Corinthians demand for proof that Christ is speaking through him in 2 Corinthians 13:1-4. But Christ can also work through impersonal means such as sickness and death as is the case when he judges the Corinthians for their improper practices concerning the Lord’s Supper.

Chapter 8 is concerned with Christ’s “bodily presence,” which Orr understands as a presence mediated through (not as, contra Dunn et al.) the Spirit to the individual and corporate bodies of Christ. He argues that Paul does not believe Christ to be embodied in either the individual believer, the ecclesial body, or the Eucharistic bread (either physically or spiritually), which would erode the absence of Christ. Chapter 9 recaps the arguments of the previous chapters.

In all Orr’s study is a welcome addition to the ever growing field of Pauline studies. He should be congratulated for his careful study of this neglected topic but one must ask why it has been so neglected in the first place. Orr’s conclusion that “there is a fundamental continuity between the ‘historical’ Jesus and the exalted Christ” (222) is hardly earth shattering and could have been maintained aside from a focus on this particular theme. When Tilling examined the absence and presence of Christ it stood as one piece of a much larger pattern that told us something of Paul’s Christology, but left as a single piece it’s difficult to see its significance. 

I’m also a bit dubious on Orr’s appeal to Christ’s “epiphanic presence.” He takes language that seems almost certainly metaphorical and turns it into a readymade category for discerning Christ as being somehow passively present. I also think that his denial of some sort of Real Presence in the Eucharistic bread is based on a somewhat circular argument in which it has to first be assumed that for Paul Christ is only localized in heaven. With this understanding in place we must then look for ways to explain away indications of bodily presence elsewhere in Paul.

When Orr argues against some sort of bodily or spiritual presence in the Eucharistic bread he focuses on the κοινωνία language that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 10 but I think he neglects the impact of Paul’s comments in 11:27 (his focus in chapter 11 is on the judgment that Christ performs) that to eat and drink in an unworthy manner makes the partaker guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ. For Paul the bread and cup seem to be indistinguishable from the body and blood. Nevertheless, I can commend Orr for his study and respect it even though his conclusions on certain issues differ from my own.

B”H

Baptismal Remembrance

I’ve started a series on the sacraments at church. The first class was on baptism in preparation for baptizing three members (which we did yesterday). One of the things I wanted to focus on, and which I believe will be a major focus of the entire series, is that the sacraments are about what God has done, is doing, and will do. God should be the focus. Scott Hahn has noted that when God cuts covenant he marks it with physical signs (e.g., a rainbow, circumcision, blood). The sacraments, Hahn says, are physical signs of God’s covenant. I agree.

When I spoke on baptism the other night I noted the many “types” and “shadows” that appear in the Old Testament. There is the Spirit hovering over the waters when God begins to create. The death/new life of the flood. The deliverance from bondage/sin as Israel passes through the Red Sea. The entry into God’s promises as they pass through the Jordan. And while not quite so obvious, the end game of Israel’s “new exodus,” which in the Prophets takes up the language of the exodus from Egypt, to include plenty of talk about water.

But as I recounted this information I asked the congregation to remember the word “recapitulation.” These important events of salvation history were all recapped in Jesus’ own baptism. To start, why would Jesus, who was without sin, need to be baptized? John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. But Jesus said that it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus is the representative Israel, and more fundamentally, the last Adam. Where they failed Jesus succeeded. Matthew recounts Jesus’ baptism thusly:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

We have the creation recapped in the Spirit descending over the water. We have the death/new life of the flood recapped in the dove imagery. The identification of Jesus as God’s Son recalls the identification of Israel as God’s son when he called for their exodus from Egypt. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, which was passed through to enter into the Promised Land. These are not subtle allusions and I don’t think they were meant to be.

But armed with this knowledge I asked if we should view the events of Israel’s history as “types” and “shadows” of baptism (well aware that Peter calls the flood a type of the baptism that now saves)—with the understanding that types and shadows point to a greater reality—or view baptism as an event that recalls God’s saving acts throughout history? I prefer the latter. It’s not that baptism is a greater reality, but rather baptism is a recapitulation of an already great reality, namely the salvation of God. On this understanding it isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) controversial to say that “baptism saves.”

B”H

NIV 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the existence of the convening of the Committee on Bible Translation to discuss the production [thanks to David McKay for the correction] of the New International Version of the Bible. I have a long history with this translation spanning a little more than ¼ of this time. I confessed Christ as Lord in 2002 but was given an NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible by my friend and now pastor before I was a believer. It was the first Bible that I really read and thought about. It was certainly the first I had ever written in. The blank pages in the back are littered with verses I wanted to memorize and meditate on. The blank pages up front have my thoughts on the interpretation of certain passages. But after I started attending worship gatherings regularly I adopted the KJV because it was what the congregation used. I still held on to my trusty NIV though.

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I would eventually begin to teach the 8-14 year old boys in Sunday school and was given an NIV Revolution Bible for Teen Guys. To date this is the only Bible that I have read cover to cover. There aren’t nearly as many markings in this one as in my Couples’ Devotional Bible but it was perfectly designed for reading with its single column layout. Along the way there were plenty of sidebars, summaries, questions & answers, as well as book introductions to keep things interesting. This Bible served me well alongside my others.

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When the NIV was updated a few years ago my friend Robert Jimenez graciously sent me a beautiful decorative Italian Duotone edition. This is the Bible that I preach and teach from primarily at church. Throughout the years I have acquired many NIVs and they’ve all served me well, but more than the physical artifacts, I value the translation itself. In the video below Bruce Waltke summarizes my feelings exactly when he says that the NIV is “simple, clear, precise.” I loved the 1984 edition and I love the 2011 update. I pray that it serves me just as well for the next 50 years of its existence should the Lord keep me around that long to use it.

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B”H