Today marks the end of the Second Council of Constantinople (or the Fifth Ecumenical Council) that was held from May 5 to June 2, 553. There were two main topics of discussion. The first was what was known as the “Three Chapters.” These were the writings of three different men that endorsed Nestorian concepts (i.e. the disunity of Christ’s human and divine natures), as well as spoke against the First Council in Ephesus (which had debunked Nestorianism) and Cyril of Alexandria (the lead bishop in the fight against Nestorius). The Second Council of Constantinople once again denounced Nestorianism and signed a condemnation against the “Three Chapters,” further establishing the Orthodox view of the church today that was clarified at the Council of Chalcedon (451). The second topic that this council is most known for is the anathematization of Origen, and its 15 condemnations of his teaching, which included such things as the pre-existence of souls, supposed “subordinationism,” and universal reconciliation of all things, including the possibly of Satan’s reconciliation to God in the end (something Origen did not teach!). Gregory the Great was one church father that did not submit to Origen’s excommunication. Indeed, throughout history many have questioned the validity of this council since it was called by Emperor Justinian, and not by the Pope. Furthermore, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a homily concerning Origen in which he says that Origen was “crucial to the whole development of Christian thought.”
Today is G. K. Chesterton’s 137th birthday (May 29, 1874). To celebrate, I thought I’d offer this outstanding analogy from the beginning of Orthodoxy, one of his most famous works. (For more on his life and significance, check out this post from Billy Cash.)
I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one’s self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales. This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?
On May 27, 1564, John Calvin died. Originally training to be a lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1530 and became a key figure in the Protestant Reformation. After fleeing from France he spent the majority of his life in Geneva, Switzerland leading the church and the city in key theological reforms. He was a man firmly planted in the Augustinian tradition, teaching on the doctrine of original sin, predestination, and the divine sovereignty of God in salvation. He is best known for a system of Soteriology that is named after him, Calvinism, which was crafted by his followers in response to the teachings of Jacobus Arminius. He was also a most able systematic theologian. The first draft of his Institutes was completed in 1536 and was meant to be a short summary of his theology. By 1559 (and four drafts later), it was considered his magnum opus, consisting of four books with eighty chapters each. He was a deep thinker that strove to help explain for the Church the excellencies of the God they served. After straining his voice while preaching, a coughing fit burst a blood vessel in his lung. Calvin would not recover. He finalized his will on April 24, and on May 27, at the age of 54 Calvin went to be with the Lord. So many people came to his grave that the reformers feared they would be accused of inciting a new type of saint worship. Thus, they had his body moved to an unmarked location.
Today, one cannot study theology without engaging with Calvin. I was first introduced to him as a 21-year-old youth pastor. Although I resonated with his high view of Scripture, the Augustinian influence in his teaching frustrated me to no end. I am greatly indebted to Calvin (and men like him) who have forced me to wrestle with Scripture, and who have kept me up at night with their nagging questions. Dead men, especially those who took the Word of God as seriously as Calvin, make for effective mentors.
In light of the recent conversation on the Apocalypse, May 25th was a fitting day. If you think that Harold Camping is the first to predict the end of the world, let me introduce you to Melchoir Hoffman. Hoffman was an Anabaptist lay pastor in the 1500’s who thought the end of the world was near. He was convinced that 1533 would be the inauguration of a new era, with the city of Strasbourg being the site of the New Jerusalem. He was wrong. City officials arrested and put him in prison, but not before he influenced a baker name Jan Matthys. On January 5, 1534 Matthys entered the city of Munster, declaring that it would be the site of the New Jerusalem (apparently since the whole Strasbourg thing didn’t work out). He kicked out the Catholic Bishop of Munster and initiated adult baptism, not something the Catholic church looked favorably upon. They held the city under siege for over a year, introducing all kids of weird practices, including polygamy, and speaking about the end of the world and God’s immanent and immediate judgment. Again, the world did not end as he predicted, and on May 25, 1535, the army of the city’s Roman Catholic bishop broke in, capturing and killing the radical Anabaptists who had taken control.
Some people seem to have an infatuation with declaring when exactly the world is going to end. Hoffman, Matthys, Noah Hutching (1988), and Harold Camping (1994, 2011 – May, now October…..and maybe another after October), and hundreds of others fall into this camp. Maybe it is a control issue. Maybe it stems from a Gnostic type desire to have some secret knowledge no one else has access to. Maybe it is from a genuine desire to see the Lord return, although terribly misguided as to the details. The real danger for me, however, is that after so many radicals make these false predictions, people actually begin to think there is no end. Each of these men was wrong. Harold Camping was wrong, and he will be found to be wrong again in October. However, the fact remains that Jesus will return one day and everyone will have to meet with him. As Christians, our responsibility is to follow Jesus’ command to his disciples in Mark 13:32, “No one knows about the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on your guard! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Since no man knows when exactly the Lord will return, our focus should never be on days or hours. Our focus is always the gospel and being faithful to the Lord. If we learn anything, it is not that we should never preach about the end. There is a time and place for that. But, when we preach about the end, we never say more than what the Bible allows us to say, always offering the hope found in Christ.
If you have a few spare minutes (2.5 to be exact), this is an interesting video explanation of the events leading up to Scotland’s decision to become part of Great Britain. The story is obviously more complex than this, so you can get more info from the video’s creator here.
A prominent Christian teacher claiming to know exactly when Jesus would return. A group of people absolutely convinced that he’s right. A world watching to see what would happen.
Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. But, I’m actually describing what was going on in 1844, when William Miller convinced his followers that Jesus would return sometime that year, eventually settling on October 22. The day came and went without incident.
Here’s a short video on The Great Disappointment, which does a nice job putting you into their shoes to experience their hope and eventual disappointment.
Sadly, Jonathan Edwards Week is over. I hope you enjoyed the resources, quotes, and comments as we celebrated the life and ministry of this amazing individual. I’ll be spending the next three days lecturing and discussing Edwards with some of my Th.M. students. So, I may well have some additional comments to make after that. And, we’ll be hosting discussions on a variety of issues related to Edwards over the course of the summer. So, stay tuned for more Edwardian excitement.
In case you missed anything, here are the posts from our Jonathan Edwards week:
- It’s Jonathan Edwards Week!
- My Favorite Resolutions from Jonathan Edwards
- Jonathan Edwards on True Boldness vs. False Pride
- Jonathan Edwards around the Blogosophere
- Audio Resources for Studying Jonathan Edwards
- The Silkworm as a Type of Christ
- Free Audio Downloads of Works by Jonathan Edwards
- The Most Important Question We Can Ask…According to Edwards
- Happiness Is the End of Creation
- What Is “Beautiful” to You?
What comes to your mind first when you hear the word “beautiful”? When you want to describe the beauty that’s in the world, what’s your go to analogy? For me, it’s easy:
- a waterfall
- a single blade of grass
- a child’s smile
What about you?
.We’re coming to the end of Jonathan Edwards week. And one of the primary distinguishing characteristics of Edwards’ theology was his appreciation of beauty. For Edwards, you really don’t know anyone or anything until you have come to appreciate his/her/its particular beauty – i.e. its particular “fit” in the universe as a whole.
And, you can’t really appreciate how something fits into the whole universe until you know how it relates to God. So, for Edwards, the experiencing the beauty of creation is ultimately about experiencing God’s own beauty.
Indeed, Edwards thought so much of the world’s beauty that he could say:
the reason why almost all men, and those that seem to be very miserable, love life: because they cannot bear to lose the sight of such a beautiful and lovely world. (Beauty of the World)
So, again I ask, what is “beautiful” to you? In what do you most often experience the beauty of the world and, consequently, God’s own beauty? If you want to leave a comment and tell us about it, great. If not, at least give yourself a chance to see beauty today. Go find it somewhere. It shouldn’t take long if your eyes are open.
Happiness is the end of creation, as appears by this, because the creation had as good not be, as not rejoice in its being. For certainly it was the goodness of the Creator that moved him to create; and how can we conceive of another end proposed by goodness, than that he might delight in seeing the creatures he made rejoice in that being that he has given them?
It appears also by this, because the end of the creation is that the creation might glorify him. Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed? An understanding of the perfections of God, merely, cannot be the end of the creation; for he had as good not understand it, as see it and not be at all moved with joy at the sight. Neither can the highest end of the creation be the declaring God’s glory to others; for the declaring God’s glory is good for nothing otherwise than to raise joy in ourselves and others at what is declared.
Wherefore, seeing happiness is the highest end of the creation of the universe, and intelligent beings are that consciousness of the creation that is to be the immediate subject of this happiness, how happy may we conclude will be those intelligent beings that are to be made eternally happy!
Jonathan Edwards, Miscellanies 3.
There is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this, what are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? and wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness, that is acceptable in the sight of God.
For Edwards, this is the most important question that the people in his day can ask. And, I think it’s safe to say that he would think it the most important question for us to ask today.
Yet, at the same time, he noted, “there is no one point, wherein professing Christians do more differ one from another.” That would seem a pretty devastating indictment. If Christians themselves cannot agree on that which is the most important question they should be asking, we have a serious problem.
Although he didn’t phrase it this way, I’m reminded of Scot McKnight’s recent comments about evangelicalism and the Gospel. According to McKnight, the Gospel is the centering reality of evangelicalism. Yet, at the same time, evangelicals can’t agree on what the Gospel is.
Apparently the diversity and disunity of evangelicalism is not a recent phenomenon.