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Question about virtue training/moralism for Classical Christian homeschoolers...


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#1 Rosie

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Posted 03 October 2017 - 05:07 PM

I’m intrigued by all I’m hearing/reading on virtue training within Classical circles lately (Circe/Andrew Kern, Classical Academic Press/Christopher Perrin, etc.). But I have some questions…

 

What exactly are virtues? How do they differ from the fruit of the Spirit? DO they differ? If not, why does the Bible say the fruit of the Spirit comes from God (Spirit), yet those in the Classical Christian tradition are saying that virtues are trained and built through human effort? How is virtue training different from moralism?

 

Anyone have insight, resources, etc.?



#2 forty-two

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Posted 03 October 2017 - 05:42 PM

I have mused about this, too. A book I read and loved is A Case for Character, by Joel Biermann - it explores whether there is a place for virtue ethics within Lutheran theology (spoiler, it says yes, there can be a place ;)). Here's the website for the book, which has helpful summary videos for each section of the book (which I think are accessible without having read the book) and a Bible study: http://acaseforcharacter.com

And a blog I love had a post recently on virtue ethics, that addressed some of the questions you raised, and had a link to an article that went into more detail: http://www.patheos.c...christian-life/
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#3 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 03 October 2017 - 06:59 PM

I believe that there are virtues and there are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The 4 Cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  Temperance, prudence, justice require the training of our will. We must know right from wrong.  We must be able to judge good from evil. Fortitude, which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit, provides the grace to give us the strength to do what we need to do based on what we know is right according to prudence and justice.

 

Yes, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are gifts of grace. They are what sustain our spiritual life.  Yet, I also believe we can grow in virtue.  Spiritual growth is a spiritual journey.  As you become more aware of yourself and of others, you seek to cooperate more fully with God's grace to transform your character into the image of Christ.  We were given free will and a conscience.  We can either make the decision to use our free will to cooperate with Holy Spirit and act with virtue or we can use our free will to turn our backs on virtue and dwell in sin.  By understanding what virtues are and how grace strengthens us spiritually, we know how to pray for guidance and ask for grace to sustain us or for the Holy Spirit to guide our understanding, provide counsel,etc. 


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#4 Hobbes

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Posted 04 October 2017 - 06:47 AM

Spiritual growth is a spiritual journey. As you become more aware of yourself and of others, you seek to cooperate more fully with God's grace to transform your character into the image of Christ. We were given free will and a conscience. We can either make the decision to use our free will to cooperate with Holy Spirit and act with virtue or we can use our free will to turn our backs on virtue and dwell in sin. By understanding what virtues are and how grace strengthens us spiritually, we know how to pray for guidance and ask for grace to sustain us or for the Holy Spirit to guide our understanding, provide counsel,etc.


This. My desire is to train my children to be open to the Spirit's work in their hearts. Throughout the Bible, human effort goes hand in hand with the work of God in hearts - "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling... for it is God who works in you, but to will and to work for his good pleasure." My prayer is that character training will develop hearts that are ready to pursue the Spirit's leading.
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#5 ScoutTN

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Posted 04 October 2017 - 11:28 AM

I think the heart of moralism is a desire to earn God's favor. This is opposed to the gospel.

As the pp have said, sanctification is both our work and God's. He is at work in us, therefore we desire to be conformed to the image of Christ, to please Him, to be virtuous. And to cultivate the same attitude in our children.

But only God saves sinners. Apart from the cross and the HS applying Christ's work, we would be stuck in moralism.

Eph. 2:8-9
1 Cor. 15:50-58
Galatains 2:20, 3:3

Paul's letters are all filled with the indicative/imperative combination. The LORD is God and He has accomplished salvation, therefore live this way.
He calls us out to live as who we indeed are in Christ.


Edited by ScoutTN, 04 October 2017 - 02:08 PM.

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#6 ScoutTN

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Posted 04 October 2017 - 02:20 PM

Here one way to think about it, from the Westminster Shorter Catchechism:

 

Q.75 What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the act of God's grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life. 

 

Archaic verbiage (Now, there's a challenge to diagram!) and not Scripture, but still good. 


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#7 forty-two

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 12:04 AM

As I understand it, virtue ethics sees three parts to morality and living a good life:
*untutored-human-nature-as-it-happens-to-be
*human-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-fulfilled-its-telos (fulfilled its true end)
*the moral precepts which enable man to pass from one state to another
And the virtues are the habits which enable a person to fulfill the moral precepts and so make progress toward fulfilling their true end as a human, toward becoming fully human.

Christianity says that the ultimate end of humanity is to be united with God. And that sin is what separates us from God. And that no amount of striving to live in world as a righteous person would do will *ever* get us even one step closer to being reconciled to God (and so truly righteous). Trying to get closer to God or to become more spiritual through our own efforts is moralism. So, whatever the place of the virtues in human life, it *cannot* be to overcome the spiritual and eternal effects of sin - aka the virtues cannot in any way assist in our salvation.

But what about the temporal effects of sin? Is there a place for the virtues in how we live out our faith in creation? I'd say yes.

Here's how I think of it. It's a commonplace that who we are on the inside (our soul: mind, emotions, will) affects what we do in outwardly, in the world. Virtue ethics says that that connection goes both ways: that what we do outwardly *also* affects who we are on the inside. What we *do* affects who we *are* just as much as who we are affects what we do. And so virtue ethics is about building character from the outside in. In building up the habits of acting as good people act, we shape ourselves into good people.

However, as Christians, we know that being a temporally good person doesn't do a dang thing in helping us become *eternally* good people. Virtue ethics describes how good temporal actions build up good temporal character; Christianity describes how no amount of good temporal character can do anything to make us eternally righteous (whether before or after conversion).

However, once *made* eternally righteous by grace through faith in Christ, we are to live out that eternal righteousness in our temporal lives. Being a good person before the world doesn't contribute to our eternal life (which has already begun now), but our eternal life absolutely contributes to our being a good person before the world - and as Christians, we *are* to be good people as God defines good. Doing good works in the world *is* indeed good. And when we are spiritually alive in Christ, our temporal good works become *spiritual* good works as well.

Practicing the virtues doesn't make us more saved and it doesn't make us more spiritual - but it does make us temporally more able to do good in the world. And that's a good thing both temporally and spiritually :).

~*~

One thing that gave me fits for a while on this topic was confusing the material/immaterial distinction with the created/spiritual or temporal/eternal distinction (especially wrt the body/soul distinction). I assumed that the "outwardly only" good works in Paul meant "the body's outward actions were good, but the soul's inner state was bad", and that the contrasting being good "inwardly" meant that the soul's inner state was good. And since "being good inwardly" required forgiveness of sins, that didn't play nice at all with virtue ethics' focus on building up good character in the soul through doing good actions with the body. Sounded like trying to be saved through your works.

But I eventually disentangled that unbiblical dualism from Paul's Biblical distinction between outward temporal-only good works that can be done apart from God and inward spiritual-and-temporal good works that can only be done when reconciled to God, and realized that material creation could be spiritually united to God, too. Outwardly only good works are those done body-and-soul apart from God; inwardly good works are those done body-and-soul by those reconciled to God. The connection between material and immaterial creation is entirely separate from the connection between creation and the spiritual (meaning "of God"). And so virtue ethics' two-way connection between the actions of the material body and the character of the immaterial soul is entirely different from, and doesn't impinge on, the one-way connection between God and His material-and-immaterial creation.
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#8 drjuliadc

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 04:20 AM

I don't feel stupid often, but this topic always makes me feel stupid. It is hard enough for me to attempt to be/do/train "good." I appreciate you trying to explain it. Maybe I just haven't been exposed to the ideas enough.

I just thought I'd throw this out there in case it is a hard to grasp subject for anyone else.
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#9 Ausmumof3

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 05:33 AM

I’m intrigued by all I’m hearing/reading on virtue training within Classical circles lately (Circe/Andrew Kern, Classical Academic Press/Christopher Perrin, etc.). But I have some questions…

What exactly are virtues? How do they differ from the fruit of the Spirit? DO they differ? If not, why does the Bible say the fruit of the Spirit comes from God (Spirit), yet those in the Classical Christian tradition are saying that virtues are trained and built through human effort? How is virtue training different from moralism?

Anyone have insight, resources, etc.?


I don't know for sure but we had something the other day at church kind of about this. We don't have the traditional Christian belief system so others may have a totally different take.

The theme was from Eze 18 (ch about how everyone is judged by God by their own stuff not their parents) and reconciling with other ot verses that seem to say the children suffer for what the parents do. The explanation was basically that God isn't turning a blind eye to what people do based on who the parents are but that for kids coming from difficult/dysfunctional families breaking out of that is very very difficult. Kind of how poverty and abuse go through generations unless someone is gutsy enough to break the cycle.

It also makes me think of Charlotte Mason writings. She basically says that habit training won't make the child love God/Christ but they can make living a happy functional Christian life much easier for those who do.

So basically you train in virtue. Virtues can be displayed by non-Christians. But the fruits of the spirit grow when we know Christ and can flourish in those who get to know him even without childhood training. The spirit is going to further the growth of virtue but good habits is going to make it easier on those doing the virtues.

It maybe ties in to things like executive function and mental illness too. With executive function stuff it's hard to separate out character issues from functional issues. Good training/routines habits/ medication can minimise the functional issues even if they don't change the fundamental character or effort the person is putting in.
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#10 forty-two

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 09:14 AM

I don't feel stupid often, but this topic always makes me feel stupid. It is hard enough for me to attempt to be/do/train "good." I appreciate you trying to explain it. Maybe I just haven't been exposed to the ideas enough.

I just thought I'd throw this out there in case it is a hard to grasp subject for anyone else.

 

It's been a hard thing for me to grasp, too.  There are so many things I've bashed my head against for months or years that seem so *obvious* once I finally see them.  One of my first light bulb moments was when I realized that the answer to the question "what does the Bible say about how we should live" is The Ten Commandments (as the summary of the law, one of the chief parts of the Small Catechism).   So obvious in retrospect, but that was a question that troubled me for several years - can't teach the good if you don't know what it is.

 

FWIW, I think modern Western assumptions kind of disconnect "good" (and true and beautiful) from reality and so drain it of most of its meaning.  AKA we've had help in finding the good hard to understand.  I'm rereading Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, where he argues that morality in modern Western culture is seriously disordered - that we have only disconnected bits and pieces of old moral schemes that we have no idea how to fit together into something coherent.  IMO a lot of the contemporary appeal of virtue ethics is that it is a line to the past - it's a coherent moral scheme from a time where people *had* such things - and it can help us learn moral reasoning that has been lost to us.  AKA one of the reasons it can be so hard to wrap our brains around virtue ethics is because the assumptions behind it are very foreign to modern Western culture.
 

After Virtue was one of my first introductions to alternatives to modern Western morality, and it was mindblowing.  I barely understood a third of it - enough to become aware of my modern blinders and the nature of modern moral thinking, but not enough to understand the older alternatives.  After three years of reading and research on the differences between ancient and medieval and modern assumptions, I am now able to understand a *lot* more of what MacIntyre is saying about the nature of the older forms of moral reasoning.


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#11 nixpix5

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 10:56 AM

This is a fascinating thread and I am learning so much. I keep character training pretty simple at home. We work on fruits of the spirit. I provide natural consequence opportunities to build internal motivation. We do talk about reverence, integrity, purity, etc since my daughter is in AHG. I just try to reach their hearts and help them internalize things that are good and right.

I love this topic though. You ladies are so smart! :)
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#12 Bluegoat

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 11:53 AM

One of the things I've been thinking about is this idea of knowing.  I've been reading Descent of the Dove, by Charles Williams, as part of a reading group, and it's one of the themes that we've discussed - the idea that in Christianity - unlike either the pagan or Jewish religion it sprung out of - there was a clear sense of a need for a creed of some kind.  Because it wasn't primarily a type of ritual practice, but a belief based on knowing - in part at least it's the knowing, and subsequent doing, that makes things real.

 

I think when talking about moral training, a good portion of it is actually just about identifying moral situations and moral questions - in showing the world be not only be about a physical landscape, or a theoretical landscape, but also a moral landscape.  It isn't necessarily easy to see this without it being brought to light in your education.  (Not necessarily formally.)

 

Sometimes it can help I think to take a fully practical perspective.  With the idea that grace gives us, in a fully realized way the ability to see and do the right thing - as a practical point, don't we know that just isn't the case?  Anyone who has been a Christian more than a minute, or even just tried to do the right thing for a while, knows that it is not that simple.

 

And historically, the Church had to wrestle with this same thing.  How did it teach people?  How to help them persevere?  How to react when they failed?  Clearly these capacities were not suddenly beamed into the minds and hearts of each believer at the instant the Holy Spirit descended on the Church.  The problem was, I think - I might know what it means to be saved in the eternal sense, it's union with the Divine, but how does that work when I am in time and am clearly not in an eternal union?


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#13 Rosie

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 09:19 PM

Such good thoughts. Thank you, everyone!

 

I posted this same question on a private Facebook group, too, and it led to quite a bit of interesting discussion. I'm going to copy and paste some things I wrote there to see if any of you have more to say...




Maybe I just like the word virtue better than character since I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to it as much as to the former? It does seem, though, that there is a difference in the tone between the two. Character makes me think of trying to be a good little Christian girl (moralism). That gives me an “ick” feeling inside because that’s what I excelled at when I was younger and it led nowhere but pride. When I hear these people from Circe and Classical Academic Press, etc. talk about virtue, it just seems different somehow. I haven’t yet put my finger on exactly how, though.

 

So, here is an example of what I would consider moralism (and where I have a negative gut reaction to the word character)

 

The Good and the Beautiful Level 3 Sample

This is a sample of The Good and the Beautiful curriculum that I keep s
eeing praised everywhere. I really like the look of it (and that it’s free!) except that I think her conception of what teaching the Good and Beautiful should look like is very different from mine somehow. Specifically I’m talking about pages 18 and 87. Something about that just makes me get that “ick” feeling inside when I read it. I couldn’t pull off reading that to my kids. Maybe because I was so steeped in legalism and moralism when I was young I’m overly sensitive to it now?

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

____________, I really like your last sentence. Maybe that is why the Circe/CAP people talk about using story so much. And not moralizing. (I'm thinking specifically about Andrew Kern here, but also maybe Andrew Pudewa, and Adam Andrews/Center for lit people) "Living" a story along with a main character who has flaws and struggles to overcome them seems like a more genuine and appealing way to learn and love virtue.

And, yes, I agree that the heavy handed approach does seem tacky. It lacks what I think Andrew Kern would call incarnation. And it doesn't seem like a good way to develop love for a thing.

 

 

Andrew Kern on moralizing...

 

Moralizing Stories

 

How to Avoid Moralizing Stories (and Why It's Important)

 

How Do You Avoid Moralizing a Morality Tale?

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

I wonder if this trouble with character/virtue training vs moralism is more of a problem for Protestants than Catholics (and Orthodox?). I’m getting that sense. Is it because of the Protestant focus on being saved by grace and not by works? Are we (protestants) hyper-sensitive to anything that looks like works-based righteousness? I really don’t know much about Catholic doctrine, so I’m stepping into unknown waters here. Catholics, please correct any mistakes I make here.

Or could it possibly be the difference between WHEN Protestants and Catholics believe a person is regenerated. Catholics believe that happens at infant baptism, I think. Protestants believe it happens when a grown person hears the call of the Holy Spirit and makes a conscious choice to follow Jesus. (I know there are myriad ways to express this and I’m sure I haven’t done it to every Protestant’s satisfaction here, but I’m focusing specifically on the TIME in life that this happens.)

So. from the Catholic perspective, one is baptized into the Faith and is already covered by grace, and a pursuit of virtue is the process of partnering with God as one grows in faith. And from the Protestant perspective, we can’t know someone else’s heart so we can’t be sure that our children are already “in” (sorry if that seems coarse). Therefore we aren’t guaranteed that the process of sanctification has already started in our children. (I believe that is a premise of the book Give Them Grace, if I remember correctly.) And, if the process of sanctification hasn't already begun, then any virtue/character formation that happens is an opportunity for our children to feel like they can be "good" on their own and not realize their need for salvation.

Thoughts?

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Also, if someone were to ask you (or any Catholic), "Why do I need Jesus?" What would the answer be?

I think for most protestants the answer would begin with something about being a sinner. And, with that as a premise, virtue training (t
raining someone to be less sinful, essentially) could potentially be a bad thing if it causes one to not see him/herself as a sinner. Virtue training could make the premise seem false, which would make the conclusion about needing Christ false as well. I believe this is what ________________ was saying above.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

If we need God's grace to grow in virtue, then how do you explain those who are virtuous without being followers of Jesus?

It seems like their lives are proof that it is possible without God. - Not that perfection is possible - though maybe the ancients believed that theoretically, I'm not sure - but that being a virtuous person is possible.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Ironically, Center for Lit just did a podcast this week on this very subject. I'd been wondering what their thoughts were since they are very Protestant with a strong focus on man's sinfulness. Here's the link for anyone interested: Educating for Virtue

And a few other links from Classical educators about virtue education:

 

The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation by Jenny Rallens

Intellectual Virtues by Christopher Perrin

 

Mimetic Teaching and the Cultivation of Virtue by Andrew Kern

 

Why (and How) Memory Cultivates Virtue by Jenny Rallens

 

The Centrality of Virtue in the Ancient View of Education by David Diener

 

 



#14 Rosie

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 09:22 PM

As I understand it, virtue ethics sees three parts to morality and living a good life:
*untutored-human-nature-as-it-happens-to-be
*human-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-fulfilled-its-telos (fulfilled its true end)
*the moral precepts which enable man to pass from one state to another
And the virtues are the habits which enable a person to fulfill the moral precepts and so make progress toward fulfilling their true end as a human, toward becoming fully human.

Christianity says that the ultimate end of humanity is to be united with God. And that sin is what separates us from God. And that no amount of striving to live in world as a righteous person would do will *ever* get us even one step closer to being reconciled to God (and so truly righteous). Trying to get closer to God or to become more spiritual through our own efforts is moralism. So, whatever the place of the virtues in human life, it *cannot* be to overcome the spiritual and eternal effects of sin - aka the virtues cannot in any way assist in our salvation.

But what about the temporal effects of sin? Is there a place for the virtues in how we live out our faith in creation? I'd say yes.

Here's how I think of it. It's a commonplace that who we are on the inside (our soul: mind, emotions, will) affects what we do in outwardly, in the world. Virtue ethics says that that connection goes both ways: that what we do outwardly *also* affects who we are on the inside. What we *do* affects who we *are* just as much as who we are affects what we do. And so virtue ethics is about building character from the outside in. In building up the habits of acting as good people act, we shape ourselves into good people.

However, as Christians, we know that being a temporally good person doesn't do a dang thing in helping us become *eternally* good people. Virtue ethics describes how good temporal actions build up good temporal character; Christianity describes how no amount of good temporal character can do anything to make us eternally righteous (whether before or after conversion).

However, once *made* eternally righteous by grace through faith in Christ, we are to live out that eternal righteousness in our temporal lives. Being a good person before the world doesn't contribute to our eternal life (which has already begun now), but our eternal life absolutely contributes to our being a good person before the world - and as Christians, we *are* to be good people as God defines good. Doing good works in the world *is* indeed good. And when we are spiritually alive in Christ, our temporal good works become *spiritual* good works as well.

Practicing the virtues doesn't make us more saved and it doesn't make us more spiritual - but it does make us temporally more able to do good in the world. And that's a good thing both temporally and spiritually :).

~*~

One thing that gave me fits for a while on this topic was confusing the material/immaterial distinction with the created/spiritual or temporal/eternal distinction (especially wrt the body/soul distinction). I assumed that the "outwardly only" good works in Paul meant "the body's outward actions were good, but the soul's inner state was bad", and that the contrasting being good "inwardly" meant that the soul's inner state was good. And since "being good inwardly" required forgiveness of sins, that didn't play nice at all with virtue ethics' focus on building up good character in the soul through doing good actions with the body. Sounded like trying to be saved through your works.

But I eventually disentangled that unbiblical dualism from Paul's Biblical distinction between outward temporal-only good works that can be done apart from God and inward spiritual-and-temporal good works that can only be done when reconciled to God, and realized that material creation could be spiritually united to God, too. Outwardly only good works are those done body-and-soul apart from God; inwardly good works are those done body-and-soul by those reconciled to God. The connection between material and immaterial creation is entirely separate from the connection between creation and the spiritual (meaning "of God"). And so virtue ethics' two-way connection between the actions of the material body and the character of the immaterial soul is entirely different from, and doesn't impinge on, the one-way connection between God and His material-and-immaterial creation.

 

I have a sense that you answered all my questions here, ... if I can only understand it! I'm gonna keep reading this and look into the book you mentioned, too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


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#15 Ausmumof3

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 10:52 PM

Just as an aside I had a bit of the same reaction to the good and the beautiful too. But I think partly I don't want anything that's overly preachy. I feel like the value of good literature and art if it has a message is in conveying the message without preaching. That's something I really want to get away from. So I would have to do a lot of modifying to use the curriculum.

I also have an ick reaction to character training mostly. I seem to have seen it used to produce compliant obedient convenient to the mother children instead of developing ways of living that will be helpful to the child long term.
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#16 Ausmumof3

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Posted 05 October 2017 - 11:02 PM

I don't actually have an answer but I feel like this from Romans 2 may be relevant.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
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#17 forty-two

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 02:14 AM

Interesting thoughts! And I want to respond with all the words ;). I'm kind of responding in random order.

If we need God's grace to grow in virtue, then how do you explain those who are virtuous without being followers of Jesus?

It seems like their lives are proof that it is possible without God. - Not that perfection is possible - though maybe the ancients believed that theoretically, I'm not sure - but that being a virtuous person is possible.

I believe that all good comes from God. So unbelievers who are outwardly good, good before the world (although not before God) - well, their virtue *is* an unmerited gift of God, just like the virtue of believers. Just like God gives life to *everyone*, and still takes care of us, and gives rain to the just and unjust. "And He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children." *Everyone* needs God's continual unmerited good gifts for *everything*. "In Him everything lives and moves and has its being." Whether we acknowledge it or not, everything good in this world comes from God's active, spiritual, supernatural work in creating and sustaining His creation. Everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, can and does receive God's temporal gifts - and as virtue is built up and lived out *by* creatures *in* creation, it's a temporal gift. (Which doesn't mean it's not *also* a spiritual gift.)

~*~

Or could it possibly be the difference between WHEN Protestants and Catholics believe a person is regenerated. Catholics believe that happens at infant baptism, I think. Protestants believe it happens when a grown person hears the call of the Holy Spirit and makes a conscious choice to follow Jesus. (I know there are myriad ways to express this and I’m sure I haven’t done it to every Protestant’s satisfaction here, but I’m focusing specifically on the TIME in life that this happens.)

So. from the Catholic perspective, one is baptized into the Faith and is already covered by grace, and a pursuit of virtue is the process of partnering with God as one grows in faith. And from the Protestant perspective, we can’t know someone else’s heart so we can’t be sure that our children are already “in” (sorry if that seems coarse). Therefore we aren’t guaranteed that the process of sanctification has already started in our children. (I believe that is a premise of the book Give Them Grace, if I remember correctly.) And, if the process of sanctification hasn't already begun, then any virtue/character formation that happens is an opportunity for our children to feel like they can be "good" on their own and not realize their need for salvation.

Thoughts?

In the above description, my tradition (Lutheran) would be more or less on the Catholic side of things wrt the role of Holy Baptism, in that we do believe God gives saving grace in Holy Baptism and that infants can have saving faith, and we are raising our kids from the perspective of their being fellow believers. I disagree about "pursuit of virtue is the process of partnering with God as one grows in faith" though. I think.

My tradition has the idea of two kinds of righteousness. There is our righteousness before God (coram Deo), which is called passive righteousness, because it is 100% God's work. This is salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. We are united with Christ, so that everything we have is His and everything He has is ours. He shares all our sin, which dies with Christ on the cross (and unlike Him, our sin *stays* in the grave ;)), and we share in His righteousness and His resurrection. Christ's righteousness, shared with us, allows us to be reconciled to the Father and to once again have spiritual life, to be connected to the Source of all life and righteousness.

And so our passive, saving righteousness, which connects us to God, is the foundation of our active righteousness lived out here in creation, before the world (coram mundo). Now everyone, whether spiritually alive in Christ or dead in sins, is capable of doing outwardly good works in the world to an extent, is capable of civil righteousness (and these good works in creation are all the work of God). (Outwardly here means temporally (versus spiritually) good, *not* that it only involves the material body and excludes the immaterial soul.) And these works are not capable of changing *anyone's* spiritual state before God, are not capable of contributing to one's salvation, whether a person is spiritually alive in Christ or dead in sins. (But one's spiritual state before God is quite foundational to one's active righteousness - our passive, saving righteousness transforms our merely temporal civil righteousness into a spiritual-and-temporal sanctifying righteousness.)

I think that *everyone* - saved and unsaved - faces the temptation to rest in their good works as evidence that they don't need any outside help to be good. And so everyone needs to hear the Law - to hear just how high and stringent the standards for being truly righteous are, so they can realize that no matter how virtuous they are, they aren't without sin. And likewise, I think that *everyone* - saved and unsaved - faces the temptation to look at the sinful wreckage that is their best attempts at doing good and being good and see it as evidence they are unredeemable. And so everyone needs to hear the Gospel - to hear the good news that God *knows* we can't be good enough and that while we were yet sinners, He sent Christ to die for our sins and give us new life in Him.

Also, since *all* our good works, all our virtues are the work of God - whether we are believers joyfully participating with Him or unbelievers unknowingly and unwilling doing His will, all God's good done for us and through us is an unmerited gift from Him - idk that I think teaching our unbelieving children about doing good things is somehow more inherently prone to getting twisted into moralism than teaching our believing children. I mean, what's the alternative, *not* teaching our unbelieving children to do good things? To me this issue is more making sure we teach *all* our kids about doing good things in a way that is faithful to the Bible, to how doing good things is supposed to fit into the life of a Christian (as a loving *response* to God's gifts to us, not as a means of meriting God's gifts to us). Because *all* of God's gifts - salvation plus everything else, including the ability and desire and opportunity to do good works - are *unmerited* gifts. But maybe I am coming from a sufficiently different POV that I don't quite get the issue.

(I do think there may be something to differences between the *timing* and *circumstances* of salvation having a role. Believing that an infant can be given faith without choosing, without knowledge, without understanding - without anything, really - involves a different view of mankind and how man can be affected by forces outside himself (also a different view of faith). And that might be pertinent.)

~*~

Also, if someone were to ask you (or any Catholic), "Why do I need Jesus?" What would the answer be?

I think for most protestants the answer would begin with something about being a sinner. And, with that as a premise, virtue training (training someone to be less sinful, essentially) could potentially be a bad thing if it causes one to not see him/herself as a sinner. Virtue training could make the premise seem false, which would make the conclusion about needing Christ false as well. I believe this is what ________________ was saying above.

As a Lutheran, we'd say that if your virtue training causes you to not see yourself as a sinner, then you're doing it wrong ;).

I suppose I see being a sinner as having an eternal *cause* which has temporal *effects*. The eternal cause is that we are separated from God, the source of all life and righteousness and goodness and so we *lack* spiritual life and righteousness and goodness (the results of original sin). And this spiritual *lack* results in both a temporal lack of goodness and a temporal existence of positive evil. Virtue training is about mitigating the temporal effects to an extent. Even if it could be done perfectly (which it can't), we'd *still* be no closer to God than we were when we started. Because no amount of mitigating the temporal effects of being separated from God can change the fact that we are separated from God and so are in desperate need of Christ.

But in any case, we are limited in how much we can mitigate the temporal effects of sin, because so long as we live in this sinful world, we *will* sin (even after conversion). No amount of virtue training can wholly eliminate our sinning, and no amount of practicing of the virtues can erase our past sins. We Christians are at the same time both saint and sinner. And so Lutheran devotional practice is centered around daily repentance and forgiveness. It's all-too-easy to forget our *continual* need for Christ, and so it's important to regularly examine ourselves, confess our sins, and then receive and rest in Christ's forgiveness.
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#18 Hobbes

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 06:06 AM


As a Lutheran, we'd say that if your virtue training causes you to not see yourself as a sinner, then you're doing it wrong ;).

...

We Christians are at the same time both saint and sinner. And so Lutheran devotional practice is centered around daily repentance and forgiveness. It's all-too-easy to forget our *continual* need for Christ, and so it's important to regularly examine ourselves, confess our sins, and then receive and rest in Christ's forgiveness.


I'm not Lutheran, but this is spot-on.
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#19 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 08:07 AM

I am very reluctant to get involved in religious discussions, so this is to simply clarify some comments.

I am 100% a devout and faithful Catholic and I also 100% do not believe we can earn salvation by good works. Neither does the Catholic Church. The Church condemns that belief (as stated at the Council of Trent), "If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema." From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1, Chapter 3, Line 1996)

We believe grace is an unmerited gift, but we are called to respond to that gift. (Philippians 2:13) "God is the one, who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work." God is working in us through our faith in Him and calling us to work. That is our calling to serve and love God in our daily life, (James 2:17) "faith of itself, if it does not have work, is dead," (2:24) "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone," and "For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (2:26).

Scripture is full of calling us to love our neighbor and carry the cross of Christ. Christ exhorts, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." When He washed the disciples feet, he says, "I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you." We are called to serve. That is work.
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#20 Bluegoat

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 12:59 PM

I do think this tends to be something Protestants struggle with more.

 

My observation is that on the whole, Protestants are more likely to think of the physical and spiritual being separate that Catholics and the Orthodox.  And traditions like Lutheranism and Anglicanism probably fall in the middle.  The former groups have a lot of practices that tend to emphasize the unity of the physical and spiritual - anything sacramental for example, even just having a liturgical tradition.  And then practices like fasting or confession which are directly tied to the desire to become better Christians.

 

 

Whereas on the far end of the Protestant traditions you tend to find things like iconoclasm, rejection of sacramental thinking and more symbolic interpretations, a lot of emphasis on Scripture which has an abstract quality (as in, it's language, not something you do.)  All of which deemphasize the physical, in-time elements.

 

It would not surprise me at all that in a tradition where that kind of recognition of unity is part of the practice, it would just seem more immediately natural to talk about how individuals practice Christian virtue in everyday life.  People might not even think to question it.


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#21 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 02:22 PM

to emphasize the unity of the physical and spiritual -

Yes. It is a foreign thought for me not to connect our physical lives with our spiritual lives.
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#22 forty-two

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Posted 06 October 2017 - 10:10 PM

Yes. It is a foreign thought for me not to connect our physical lives with our spiritual lives.

I think not connecting our physical lives with our spiritual lives would be a foreign thought to most all Christians, sacramental and non-sacramental alike. Ime most Christians yearn for the deepest, strongest connection between the two they can conceive of. But I do agree that non-sacramental assumptions about the nature of reality tend to place much greater limits on what sort of connection can be conceived of than sacramental assumptions.

My own experience is that modern assumptions about the separateness of the physical and spiritual can deeply affect even sacramental Christians, warping their understanding of their tradition, making sacramental practices less and less comprehensible and less and less central to living as a Christian. (It certainly did me - I've always been as sacramental as I could imagine, but for most of my life I labored unknowing under modern assumptions that seriously limited what I was capable of imagining. And those false assumptions that weakened my understanding and practice of the sacraments weakened a lot of other central Christian beliefs and practices, too.). But even a weak and tenuous limited understanding of the sacraments provides a qualitatively different starting point for viewing the world than does a rejection of the sacraments. The sacraments are one of the last parts of the pre-modern view of reality still alive and viable in the modern West - being part of a sacramental tradition still gives a stronger line to the past than most non-sacramental Christians have available to them. And it can give general you a leg up in understanding other pre-modern beliefs, like virtue ethics, because it's not entirely foreign to you.

My experience has been that most proponents of virtue ethics in classical Christian education have been from sacramental traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian) and I do think there's a connection.


Edited by forty-two, 07 October 2017 - 09:01 AM.

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#23 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 07 October 2017 - 04:31 AM

My experience has been that most proponents of virtue ethics in classical Christian education have been from sacramental traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Prebyterian) and I do think there's a connection.

As I read this thread, I wonder if a major difference is the view of salvation as being a lifelong process vs a single moment in time.

For anyone who might be interested, I googled my thoughts, and this link came up. I think it has a fairly decent explanation. http://sioa.weconnec...faith-and-works

"When a Catholic speaks of salvation, he is speaking of a relationship with God and of a process. If asked “When were you saved?” he will not likely reply with a specific day and time. To be sure, baptism begins his salvation for we believe the scripture teaches baptismal regeneration. But in speaking of the question whether Christian works play a role in salvation, a Catholic is likely to view the question quite differently from a person who thinks of being saved at a moment in time at an altar call or the praying of a single prayer. If one’s salvation is thought of as gained in a specific moment, then Christian works will be viewed differently, compared to another person who thinks of salvation as a process and a relationship."

Edited by 8FillTheHeart, 07 October 2017 - 04:35 AM.

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#24 Bluegoat

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Posted 07 October 2017 - 07:51 AM

As I read this thread, I wonder if a major difference is the view of salvation as being a lifelong process vs a single moment in time.

For anyone who might be interested, I googled my thoughts, and this link came up. I think it has a fairly decent explanation. http://sioa.weconnec...faith-and-works

"When a Catholic speaks of salvation, he is speaking of a relationship with God and of a process. If asked “When were you saved?” he will not likely reply with a specific day and time. To be sure, baptism begins his salvation for we believe the scripture teaches baptismal regeneration. But in speaking of the question whether Christian works play a role in salvation, a Catholic is likely to view the question quite differently from a person who thinks of being saved at a moment in time at an altar call or the praying of a single prayer. If one’s salvation is thought of as gained in a specific moment, then Christian works will be viewed differently, compared to another person who thinks of salvation as a process and a relationship."

 

Yes.

 

Just because Charles Williams needs to be quoted more often, he says about how time works for the Church:

 

“The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.”


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#25 Rose M

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Posted 07 October 2017 - 11:13 AM

In my life I moved from a wholly secular upbringing to protestantism and then to more of an Anabaptist understanding.

 

I understand salvation as a process, not a single event. When we draw near to God in repentance even in a totally unregenerate state He willingly washes us and gives us new life that enables us to walk in a newness of life. He imparts his Spirit in us and will daily prompt us and empower us to walk in righteousness. This is the initial step of salvation. At this point we need to work with Him, "working our salvation with fear and trembling". We need to strive at this point to enter through the narrow gate, deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow Jesus. We need to be faithful until the end if we want to receive the crown of life. Now, lest anyone think that I'm suggesting that I don't depend on God through this process let me assure you that I do. We need faith daily to a. turn to him for help and b. to actually believe that judgment is real and that Jesus is come back to judge the living and the dead by their deeds. When we believe these things we will be transformed. The final part of salvation is at judgment day. At this point he will separate the sheep from the goats based on their works and welcome into paradise those that have been faithful.

 

I see this salvation foreshadowed through the exodus. Initially, the Israelites had to paint the blood on their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over their house. This required both faith and work that demonstrated their faith. At the same time, they could in no way have defended themselves from angel of death without that blood. This is a foreshadowing of the initial work of salvation. Next the Israelites needed to flee. They needed to pass through the red sea. This foreshadows baptism. After the red sea, they needed to walk in faith during their years in the wilderness. This foreshadows the Christian walk. They were miraculously sustained through this time and led by the Spirit but they still had to be faithful in order to enter the promised land. Finally, those that had been faith (2 men!) had to pass through the Jordan. This foreshadows death and judgment.

 

 

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown[b] in the wilderness.

 

 

Now, to get to the original question. I think that our view of salvation affects how we view the value of training children in virtues. I think that for some people, coming to God in the first place can start with some sincere efforts to be righteous. I see this in Cornelius in Acts. I believe that God is pleased when our efforts are sincere. This by no means saves us though. Peter was sent to Cornelius to reveal to him what more he need to know to be saved. He then responded and was saved. For some people, they come to the end of their rope more like the unrighteous publican. Regardless, both of these men responded to God in faith and repentance.

 

I think that children are born in a state of grace. I don't believe in infant baptism, nor do I believe that children are born separated from God. They are prone to sin and without direction they will stray off into dissipation. If they are given good guidance then they will see the goodness of God and the goodness of righteousness and seek after him. This makes me believe that we ought to teach what is good and true and holy living. I don't see that virtue training is really separable from this.

 

Also, I think that it is beneficial to anyone to practice what is righteous. My sister chose to not have an abortion in her last pregnancy even though she was sorely tempted to do so and has done so before. She is by no means a Christian. I think that this decision, even though she's suffered the grief of giving us her son in adoption, was better for her (not to mention her/my little boy!). The laws of Christ are good, very good, actually. When people follow them, even in an unregenerate state, they will find blessing. Those blessings might only be in this life but they may also help them see the goodness of God and his ways to the point where they will seek salvation. For example, maybe someday my sister will realize how much better for her it was to not abort her baby then to take "the easy road" . She might then make the mental connection that the other things that she's called to that are hard are actually worth the efforts as well.

 

Training children in virtues also makes it easier for them to live as Christians. My dh had a much more moral upbringing then I did. Consequently, I find it much more difficult to not yell at my children then he does. Some good behaviours can be just automatic when we're raised that way. When we are raised thinking only of ourselves then there is greater uphill battle that we face when we repent. We all have to battle with the desires of the flesh but good training can give you a small head start.


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#26 forty-two

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Posted 07 October 2017 - 07:06 PM

As I read this thread, I wonder if a major difference is the view of salvation as being a lifelong process vs a single moment in time.

If one’s salvation is thought of as gained in a specific moment, then Christian works will be viewed differently, compared to another person who thinks of salvation as a process and a relationship."

I think there's something to this. I do think most Christians would agree that salvation *begins* at a single moment in time (conversion). And that most would also agree that the Christian life involves a lifelong process of "working out our salvation with fear and trembling". So I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* a single moment in time *and* a lifelong process. As well, I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* God's grace *and* our responding with good works done in faith.

But does *salvation* involve both a single moment in time and a lifelong process? Or is it both started *and* completed in that single moment?
Do we receive God's saving grace throughout our Christian life? Or is God's saving grace given just once at our conversion?
Does *salvation* involve both God's grace plus our works-done-in-faith? Or does it involve God's grace alone?
Is the Christian life (which involves *all* of *life*) centered around salvation alone? Or does the Christian life involve salvation plus works-done-in-faith?

When salvation is a lifelong process, it functions naturally as the sole top-level category of Christian life, encompassing both God's grace and our response of good-works-done-in-faith. But when salvation is a moment in time, then for all its doctrinal primacy, there is substantial temporal, logical, metaphysical, and practical distance between salvation and the rest of Christian life, between salvation and good works.

And in practice this seems to go hand-in-hand with rejecting a sacramental view of reality. It certainly weakens sacramental practice, because why receive the sacraments frequently when you've no idea how the saving grace given in and through them fits into the Christian life?

My experience is that non-sacramental views of reality changes how legalism and works righteousness are understood. In talking with non-sacramental Protestants, I've found that many of them have no idea how the sacraments could be anything *but* works-righteousness. Is a human physically doing something in Holy Baptism? Check. Then Baptism involves works and thus to say Baptism saves is to say that works contribute to salvation. For grace to be grace *alone*, it has to be given immediately (without physical means); grace given through physical means (water and Word) and so received by physical means (hearing the words, having water poured over you) is inherently grace mixed with works. There's this assumption that anything that a human does physically is a "work" in the works righteousness sense. So for something to be 100% God's work, there cannot be any human action involved at all (not just no *meritorious* human activity) - which means there can't be any physical *means* involved at all. Which pretty much eliminates a sacramental understanding of the sacraments as well as a sacramental understanding of creation (where the spiritual is united to the material).

I'm not sure a "salvation as a single moment of time" theology, that has that sort of big, huge separation between spiritual salvation and physical good works, would have a clear place for virtue ethics, which assumes a tight connection between our material bodies and our immaterial souls. (Also, I think the rejection of a sacramental view of reality can lead to equating the immaterial and the spiritual, and separating the two is pretty essential imo to keeping virtue ethics from going hardcore legalistic.)

However, I think we Protestants can distinguish (not put distance between, but distinguish) God's work of salvation and our response to His work of salvation while still holding that we receive God's saving grace continually in our Christian lives - and thus keep salvation as the sole top-level category of Christian life. This, along with a sacramental view of reality, helps to maintain the primacy of God's saving work along with its tight connection to the important-yet-secondary nature of our response to salvation in our Christian lives not just doctrinally, but also temporally, logically, metaphysically, and practically. The issue of how our works (done body-and-soul) relate to our salvation (which likewise affects both body and soul) has already been worked out, and there's a natural place to slot in virtue ethics, with its tight connection between our material bodies and immaterial souls, under "important-yet-secondary".
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#27 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 08 October 2017 - 10:03 AM

I think there's something to this. I do think most Christians would agree that salvation *begins* at a single moment in time (conversion). And that most would also agree that the Christian life involves a lifelong process of "working out our salvation with fear and trembling". So I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* a single moment in time *and* a lifelong process. As well, I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* God's grace *and* our responding with good works done in faith.

But does *salvation* involve both a single moment in time and a lifelong process? Or is it both started *and* completed in that single moment?
 

 

This is getting way more into theology of grace than the OP probably cares about (and definitely more than I am comfortable getting into on the forum), but the bolded is what my other post was referring to and what sacramental grace actually does. Catholics believe that our soul is transformed by grace.  We do not believe we are covered by the blood of Christ, but that our soul is actually transformed and washed clean of sin.  We also believe sanctifying grace can be lost.  By committing grievous sin (breaking one of the Ten Commandments would be considered grievous), grace is lost.  It is only through repentance (which God prompts us to ask for through actual grace, but we have to use our free will to turn back to Him and accept that calling that He constantly offers us to seek repentance) and the sacrament of reconciliation that grace is conferred to the soul once again. (So if you have been baptized but commit grievous sin and die, you die without grace.)

 

Sacramental grace for Catholics is vital to the state of your soul.

 

It is also why this part of scripture, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain" (Phil. 2:12–16)," has different meanings to different posters.  Catholics see it as a call to constantly seek to cooperate with God's grace, to seek His will, to turn toward Him and do good.  

 

I think those differences are an obvious reason as to why training in virtue is seen differently.  (and that is probably enough for the OP's question.)


Edited by 8FillTheHeart, 08 October 2017 - 10:49 AM.

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#28 Bluegoat

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Posted 08 October 2017 - 09:19 PM

I think there's something to this. I do think most Christians would agree that salvation *begins* at a single moment in time (conversion). And that most would also agree that the Christian life involves a lifelong process of "working out our salvation with fear and trembling". So I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* a single moment in time *and* a lifelong process. As well, I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* God's grace *and* our responding with good works done in faith.

But does *salvation* involve both a single moment in time and a lifelong process? Or is it both started *and* completed in that single moment?
Do we receive God's saving grace throughout our Christian life? Or is God's saving grace given just once at our conversion?
Does *salvation* involve both God's grace plus our works-done-in-faith? Or does it involve God's grace alone?
Is the Christian life (which involves *all* of *life*) centered around salvation alone? Or does the Christian life involve salvation plus works-done-in-faith?

When salvation is a lifelong process, it functions naturally as the sole top-level category of Christian life, encompassing both God's grace and our response of good-works-done-in-faith. But when salvation is a moment in time, then for all its doctrinal primacy, there is substantial temporal, logical, metaphysical, and practical distance between salvation and the rest of Christian life, between salvation and good works.

And in practice this seems to go hand-in-hand with rejecting a sacramental view of reality. It certainly weakens sacramental practice, because why receive the sacraments frequently when you've no idea how the saving grace given in and through them fits into the Christian life?

My experience is that non-sacramental views of reality changes how legalism and works righteousness are understood. In talking with non-sacramental Protestants, I've found that many of them have no idea how the sacraments could be anything *but* works-righteousness. Is a human physically doing something in Holy Baptism? Check. Then Baptism involves works and thus to say Baptism saves is to say that works contribute to salvation. For grace to be grace *alone*, it has to be given immediately (without physical means); grace given through physical means (water and Word) and so received by physical means (hearing the words, having water poured over you) is inherently grace mixed with works. There's this assumption that anything that a human does physically is a "work" in the works righteousness sense. So for something to be 100% God's work, there cannot be any human action involved at all (not just no *meritorious* human activity) - which means there can't be any physical *means* involved at all. Which pretty much eliminates a sacramental understanding of the sacraments as well as a sacramental understanding of creation (where the spiritual is united to the material).

I'm not sure a "salvation as a single moment of time" theology, that has that sort of big, huge separation between spiritual salvation and physical good works, would have a clear place for virtue ethics, which assumes a tight connection between our material bodies and our immaterial souls. (Also, I think the rejection of a sacramental view of reality can lead to equating the immaterial and the spiritual, and separating the two is pretty essential imo to keeping virtue ethics from going hardcore legalistic.)

However, I think we Protestants can distinguish (not put distance between, but distinguish) God's work of salvation and our response to His work of salvation while still holding that we receive God's saving grace continually in our Christian lives - and thus keep salvation as the sole top-level category of Christian life. This, along with a sacramental view of reality, helps to maintain the primacy of God's saving work along with its tight connection to the important-yet-secondary nature of our response to salvation in our Christian lives not just doctrinally, but also temporally, logically, metaphysically, and practically. The issue of how our works (done body-and-soul) relate to our salvation (which likewise affects both body and soul) has already been worked out, and there's a natural place to slot in virtue ethics, with its tight connection between our material bodies and immaterial souls, under "important-yet-secondary".

 

Well, for what t's worth, I don't think I would say what I've put in bold, and i don't think I'm particularly unusual in that.  I'd say that from Gods perspective salvation happens eternally, but even from that of an individual, it has to precede conversion, or conversion wouldn't be possible.


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#29 forty-two

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Posted 08 October 2017 - 10:00 PM

Well, for what t's worth, I don't think I would say what I've put in bold, and i don't think I'm particularly unusual in that. I'd say that from Gods perspective salvation happens eternally, but even from that of an individual, it has to precede conversion, or conversion wouldn't be possible.

Well, I guess spoke sloppily - I suppose I meant conversion to refer to *everything* involved in the moving-from-unbeliever-to-believer start of the Christian life, not any one bit in particular. Which was sloppy of me since iirc conversion is a particular step in the ordo salutis (sp). All I really meant by that was that, from our perspective, there's a start to the Christian life - at some point, whether we were aware of it occurring or not, we were initially made spiritually alive, when before we were spiritually dead. Whether salvation is a moment in time or a lifelong process, either way it still has a starting point, kwim?
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#30 Bluegoat

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 03:59 PM

Well, I guess spoke sloppily - I suppose I meant conversion to refer to *everything* involved in the moving-from-unbeliever-to-believer start of the Christian life, not any one bit in particular. Which was sloppy of me since iirc conversion is a particular step in the ordo salutis (sp). All I really meant by that was that, from our perspective, there's a start to the Christian life - at some point, whether we were aware of it occurring or not, we were initially made spiritually alive, when before we were spiritually dead. Whether salvation is a moment in time or a lifelong process, either way it still has a starting point, kwim?

 

Oh yes.  For an individual, it starts I think when they are born which is certainly a point in time.  Some might say it's later, but probably not earlier!


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#31 Rosie

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 05:54 PM

Thank you so much, everyone, for fleshing this out for me. You're taking my foggy thoughts and making them sharper.
 

After Virtue was one of my first introductions to alternatives to modern Western morality, and it was mindblowing.  I barely understood a third of it - enough to become aware of my modern blinders and the nature of modern moral thinking, but not enough to understand the older alternatives.  After three years of reading and research on the differences between ancient and medieval and modern assumptions, I am now able to understand a *lot* more of what MacIntyre is saying about the nature of the older forms of moral reasoning.

Would you mind listing the best resources you've come across? This is an interesting topic to me.

 

I think there's something to this. I do think most Christians would agree that salvation *begins* at a single moment in time (conversion). And that most would also agree that the Christian life involves a lifelong process of "working out our salvation with fear and trembling". So I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* a single moment in time *and* a lifelong process. As well, I think most Christians would see the Christian life as involving *both* God's grace *and* our responding with good works done in faith.

But does *salvation* involve both a single moment in time and a lifelong process? Or is it both started *and* completed in that single moment?
Do we receive God's saving grace throughout our Christian life? Or is God's saving grace given just once at our conversion?
Does *salvation* involve both God's grace plus our works-done-in-faith? Or does it involve God's grace alone?
Is the Christian life (which involves *all* of *life*) centered around salvation alone? Or does the Christian life involve salvation plus works-done-in-faith?

When salvation is a lifelong process, it functions naturally as the sole top-level category of Christian life, encompassing both God's grace and our response of good-works-done-in-faith. But when salvation is a moment in time, then for all its doctrinal primacy, there is substantial temporal, logical, metaphysical, and practical distance between salvation and the rest of Christian life, between salvation and good works.

And in practice this seems to go hand-in-hand with rejecting a sacramental view of reality. It certainly weakens sacramental practice, because why receive the sacraments frequently when you've no idea how the saving grace given in and through them fits into the Christian life?

My experience is that non-sacramental views of reality changes how legalism and works righteousness are understood. In talking with non-sacramental Protestants, I've found that many of them have no idea how the sacraments could be anything *but* works-righteousness. Is a human physically doing something in Holy Baptism? Check. Then Baptism involves works and thus to say Baptism saves is to say that works contribute to salvation. For grace to be grace *alone*, it has to be given immediately (without physical means); grace given through physical means (water and Word) and so received by physical means (hearing the words, having water poured over you) is inherently grace mixed with works. There's this assumption that anything that a human does physically is a "work" in the works righteousness sense. So for something to be 100% God's work, there cannot be any human action involved at all (not just no *meritorious* human activity) - which means there can't be any physical *means* involved at all. Which pretty much eliminates a sacramental understanding of the sacraments as well as a sacramental understanding of creation (where the spiritual is united to the material).

I'm not sure a "salvation as a single moment of time" theology, that has that sort of big, huge separation between spiritual salvation and physical good works, would have a clear place for virtue ethics, which assumes a tight connection between our material bodies and our immaterial souls. (Also, I think the rejection of a sacramental view of reality can lead to equating the immaterial and the spiritual, and separating the two is pretty essential imo to keeping virtue ethics from going hardcore legalistic.)

However, I think we Protestants can distinguish (not put distance between, but distinguish) God's work of salvation and our response to His work of salvation while still holding that we receive God's saving grace continually in our Christian lives - and thus keep salvation as the sole top-level category of Christian life. This, along with a sacramental view of reality, helps to maintain the primacy of God's saving work along with its tight connection to the important-yet-secondary nature of our response to salvation in our Christian lives not just doctrinally, but also temporally, logically, metaphysically, and practically. The issue of how our works (done body-and-soul) relate to our salvation (which likewise affects both body and soul) has already been worked out, and there's a natural place to slot in virtue ethics, with its tight connection between our material bodies and immaterial souls, under "important-yet-secondary".

OK, I have no idea what your last paragraph means, but I'm gonna keep trying! Lol

 

My religious experiences have all fallen within the non-sacramental Protestant category, and your explanations do sound like what I've always heard. I'm very interested in other views, though. We are currently at a Presbyterian church which definitely teaches that huge separation between spiritual salvation and physical good works. We don't consider ourselves Reformed/Calvinist, but I can see how the theology is making this topic difficult for me to wrap my mind around. I have no understanding of a sacramental view of reality, and I have no idea how to NOT equate the immaterial and the spiritual. (If you have more to share on that, I'd love to hear it!)

I'm really stuck right now in trying to figure out how to handle the issues of failure and sinfulness and virtue and grace with my kids. We deal with perfectionism and pride and selfishness and laziness, etc. every day (as I'm sure all families do), and I sure wish I had a solid foundation to stand on when speaking with my kids about it.

 

 

This is getting way more into theology of grace than the OP probably cares about

Not at all! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, as they are helping to bring clarity for me! I appreciate you stepping in with the Catholic point of view since I'm so unfamiliar with it.

 

 



#32 Mrs. A

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 08:04 PM

I'm really stuck right now in trying to figure out how to handle the issues of failure and sinfulness and virtue and grace with my kids. We deal with perfectionism and pride and selfishness and laziness, etc. every day (as I'm sure all families do), and I sure wish I had a solid foundation to stand on when speaking with my kids about it.

I think it's important to remember that training in virtue doesn't mean that we will end up with a "product". The pursuit of virtue only begins in this life, it doesn't end here. Our faults and our sins will beset us our entire lives, so instead of looking to FIX problems (with the implication that once it's fixed it's done and over with), we have to focus on EQUIPPING our kids to struggle with the temptations and faults that they will face throughout their lives. They need tools to help them through the struggle and they need us to step up and model how to use those tools (the most important of which would be repentance!).So instead of focusing on the sin and a perceived lack of grace, you might try to frame the situation as an opportunity for practice and learning. And when they (and you) mess up, just get back up and try again next time.

Edited by Mrs. A, 09 October 2017 - 08:07 PM.

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#33 ktgrok

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Posted 09 October 2017 - 10:10 PM

I

It would not surprise me at all that in a tradition where that kind of recognition of unity is part of the practice, it would just seem more immediately natural to talk about how individuals practice Christian virtue in everyday life.  People might not even think to question it.

As a Catholic, yup :)

 

It's something that seems so obvious I really had to think hard to understand the original question. 

 

Do good stuff and you'll get better at doing good stuff. And you should do good stuff, Jesus said so. 

 

If I lift weights, I get stronger. But it isn't the lifting of weights that makes me stronger, it's the food I eat that allows me to grow more/bigger muscle fibers. With God's grace being the food and virtue training being the weight lifting. 


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#34 forty-two

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 12:40 AM

However, I think we Protestants can distinguish (not put distance between, but distinguish) God's work of salvation and our response to His work of salvation while still holding that we receive God's saving grace continually in our Christian lives - and thus keep salvation as the sole top-level category of Christian life. This, along with a sacramental view of reality, helps to maintain the primacy of God's saving work along with its tight connection to the important-yet-secondary nature of our response to salvation in our Christian lives not just doctrinally, but also temporally, logically, metaphysically, and practically. The issue of how our works (done body-and-soul) relate to our salvation (which likewise affects both body and soul) has already been worked out, and there's a natural place to slot in virtue ethics, with its tight connection between our material bodies and immaterial souls, under "important-yet-secondary".

OK, I have no idea what your last paragraph means, but I'm gonna keep trying! Lol
Lol, there's a ton of theological assumptions underlying it which probably deserved some attention, plus the "temporal, logical, metaphysical, and practical connection" bit by rights should have been fleshed out. But that post was getting horrifically long and unwieldy, so I took out all the Highly Pertinent Backstory sort of info that I never know if anyone but me cares about ;). Thus rendering it frustratingly opaque, probably. Can't win for losing, eh ;).

So, here's some of the theological bits I used fleshed out.

One is how justification and sanctification are related to each other. You said earlier that you were wondering if Protestants have a bit more difficulty dealing with virtue ethics, and I think this is one of those places. I have the impression that sanctification as its own separate category is maybe something of a post-Reformation thing. Even the earlier documents in the Lutheran Confessions refer just to "justification" (meaning all of salvation) and "the new obedience" (carefully defined as an effect of justification and not its cause). But the second generation documents (written largely to clarify similarities/differences between Lutherans and other Reformation Christians) did use the justification/sanctification distinction. And once you break the two aspects of salvation apart, then you have to figure out how they fit - and don't fit - together.

Anyway, Lutherans relate justification and sanctification differently than do the Reformed, in a way that relates to how salvation fits into the Christian life. Lutherans place sanctification as the daughter of justification, while I believe the Reformed consider justification and sanctification as two separate fruits of union with Christ. So for Lutherans, sanctification flows from justification. If your sanctification in this life isn't what it ought to be (and no one's is), then you should first seek forgiveness and receive God's saving grace - aka be justified anew - before building on that foundation by seeking to do good and avoid evil. (And when you fail in your attempts to do good and avoid evil, as is inevitable, then you once again seek to be justified anew before embarking on any fresh attempts to do better.). God's saving grace is the foundation for all sanctification - and we can and should receive God's forgiveness over and over, each and every time we fail in our sanctification.

Whereas my understanding is that most Protestants consider being justified as a one-time thing only. The only reason they'd seek to be justified again in response to sanctification failures is if they considered them to be evidence of a "justification failure" - aka evidence they hadn't ever been truly converted in the first place, evidence that they hadn't actually been a Christian at all. Otherwise, for most Protestants, the only significance justification has for the Christian life is that it exists - there's no *ongoing* active role for justification. If they are seeking to be more fully sanctified, they mostly aren't going to see any reason to look back toward justification, but instead will look forward toward sanctification - you seek sanctification by seeking sanctification, full stop. (From the Lutheran perspective, responding to sinning by jumping straight to attempting to prevent future sins is effectively trying to fix your past sins via future good behavior - aka it's works righteousness. And I know first hand how *easy* it is to pray that God helps me do better while forgetting to ask Him to forgive me for having previously done bad. But no amount of good works can erase even one sin - we can never make up for our sins - and that's just as true *after* we are saved as it is *before*. The Gospel is for Christians, too :).)

And that brings me to the "temporal, logical, metaphysical, and practical connection" bit. I think most all Protestants - most all Christians - would consider "being saved" to be THE ultimate goal of Christianity. But the doctrinal primacy of "being saved" needs to be reinforced in all other aspects of life, too - such as temporal, logical, metaphysical, and practical - for that doctrinal primacy to have not just doctrinal force, but temporal, logical, metaphysical and practical force, too.

(Another difference crops up here. I think Protestants have a tendency to equate "faith alone" with "doctrine alone". "Faith" can both refer to: "1. Objectively, body of truth found in creeds (fides quae creditur; Lat. “the faith that is believed”). 2. The human response to divine activity (fides qua creditur; Lat. “the faith by which one believes”)". "Faith alone" refers to definition two (and is a supernaturally-wrought response to definition-one-faith, worked by the God confessed in definition one). And the faith we confess in creeds isn't just true doctrinally, but is true temporally, logically, metaphysically and practically, too. And we're not just doctrinal people, but temporal, logical, metaphysical and practical people, too. And so we need to confess the faith not just doctrinally, but with all our lives.)

When salvation is seen strictly as a single moment in time, then the Christian life, instead of being a continual rhythm of receiving grace and responding with good works (and sinning and realizing we need grace and confessing and receiving grace), is instead broken into two distinct and separate parts: justification-in-the-past and totally-not-salvific-at-all-sanctification-in-the-present-and-future. This temporally, logically, metaphysically, and practically puts distance between salvation and good works. Temporal distance because salvation is one moment in the past, while good works are done throughout the present and future - there is an ever-growing time gap between salvation and our present life. Logical distance because there's no clear, direct connection between having salvation because of faith and doing good works because of faith outside of both requiring faith as a precondition. Metaphysical distance because the moment of salvation, for non-sacramental Christians, is an exclusively spiritual work, while our good works are inherently physical. Practical distance because the vast majority of the Christian life is spent in doing good works, not in being saved, and it is very hard to keep salvation an active, ongoing focus when so little time is spent in *being saved*.

But it's quite different with sanctification as the daughter of justification, with our good works in creation as the fruit of our restored relationship with God (and our continued sins as the ongoing fruit of our sinful nature, though it is already destroyed spiritually, and will be destroyed physically when we die). Especially when paired with a sense of being continually justified anew every time we receive God's forgiveness in Christ through Word and Sacrament.

Temporally, there's a tight connection between receiving the physical sign (hearing God's Word of forgiveness, receiving the physical element in the Sacrament) and receiving the spiritual gift attached to the sign (forgiveness of sins) - namely, they happen simultaneously. As well, a tight connection between "seek forgiveness" and "receive forgiveness" is maintained - each and every time we seek God's forgiveness, we receive that forgiveness anew right then.

Logically, there's a tight connection between justification and our life of good works. We are to seek to do good and avoid evil - not in order to gain God's favor (such a thing is impossible), but because we have *already* received God's favor. We have no need to justify ourselves through our works *because* we are already forgiven and justified by God. But in our life of good works, we continually stumble and fall, which reinforces our *ongoing* need to be justified in Christ. And so we confess our sin and receive God's forgiveness, justified anew, resting in God's grace, ready to do good and avoid evil, not in order to *gain* God's favor, but because we already *have* God's favor.

Metaphysically, there's a tight connection between the physical sign and the spiritual reality it embodies - to receive one is to receive the other - the spiritual gift is Right There, in, with, and under the physical sign. In Holy Communion, for example, when we receive the consecrated bread, we are holding Christ's very body in our hand. "To receive Christ" is quite real. When we hear the Scriptures read, we are truly hearing Christ, the Word of God, truly present and speaking to us in, with, and under the voice of the speaker. He is *there* and we can *know* it, because we very concretely hear the words with our ears and in faith we trust the Bible's promise that the words of Scripture are the Word of God.

Practically, there's a tight connection between "doctrinally most important thing" and the practical focus of the Christian life. The Divine Service each week is centered around receiving God's gift of forgiveness in Word and Sacrament. Devotional practice is centered around considering where we have fallen short of God's will and then not just continually *realizing* that we need Christ and His forgiveness, but actually *seeking* and *receiving* His forgiveness right then.

All that reinforces the proper place of our good works as in *response* to God's saving grace. Good works flow "downhill" from God's grace given to us; they don't flow "uphill" to add anything to God's saving grace. When we sin and fail to show the fruit we should, we can and should once again receive God's forgiveness, be justified anew. And while good works are a sign that God is working in us, a sign of sanctification, they are *not* a sign that we have been justified (and thank goodness, as they are too fledgling and weak for that). Rather, the promises of the Word and the physical sign of the Sacraments are our proof that God has worked in us. We can *know* quite concretely that we were baptized, or that we received Holy Communion, or that we heard the Scriptures read. And we trust that God's promises are true: that when we were baptized we really *were* baptized into Christ's death and resurrection like God said (Rom 6:3-6). And that the cup of blessing that we bless really *is* a participation in the blood of Christ and the bread that we break really *is* a participation in the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16).

So all that changes how pursuing virtue is viewed. When justification is evidence of sanctification - while sanctification is *not* evidence of justification - then improving our ability to do good works doesn't impinge on our justification in any way. While our justification proves God *is* working to sanctify us (whether we notice it or not), our good works do *not* prove anything one way or another about our justification. A high level of virtue is good, but it's not evidence of justification - a person can be very virtuous without being saved. The proper order of things is that our justification is proof of our sanctification - not the other way around.

~*~

There's a related issue: worrying whether a given effort to improve our good works is a spiritual effort that stems from our justification (and so good) or whether it is a merely-physical effort that is quite separate from our justification (and so is an attempt to be good without God and thus is bad). This one related to sacramental/non-sacramental differences, and I'll tackle it in another post, as I respond to the rest of your comments - because this post is long enough as it is ;).
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#35 Mrs. A

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 08:08 AM

Another way to look at good works/virtuous deeds is to see them in light of our relationship with Christ. Good works are the way in which we actively pursue that relationship, so if we love Him, or want to love and know Him better, we have to learn to speak his "love language". We pray, fast, and give alms, follow the commandments, in order to deepen the relationship. It becomes a joyful outpouring of love rather than an obligation or a proof of anything.
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#36 forty-two

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 01:49 PM



My religious experiences have all fallen within the non-sacramental Protestant category, and your explanations do sound like what I've always heard. I'm very interested in other views, though. We are currently at a Presbyterian church which definitely teaches that huge separation between spiritual salvation and physical good works. We don't consider ourselves Reformed/Calvinist, but I can see how the theology is making this topic difficult for me to wrap my mind around. I have no understanding of a sacramental view of reality, and I have no idea how to NOT equate the immaterial and the spiritual. (If you have more to share on that, I'd love to hear it!)

 

I think having difficulty with understanding sacramental views of reality and with not equating the immaterial and spiritual are both related to how modern Western culture has a sharp division between the material, scientific world and everything else.  It kind of smooshes everything that is "not material" into the same box - treats some very dissimilar things as effectively the same.  And as both immaterial creation (like the soul) and God (who is spirit) are "not material", they are thrown together into the same box.  And mostly religious people are quite busy with just trying to maintain that "not material" doesn't mean "not real", and the details kind of get lost in the shuffle.  Which is a shame, because imo the details are pretty key to establishing that the immaterial and the spiritual are indeed as real as the material.

 

With respect to not equating the immaterial and the spiritual, let's consider the soul as an example.  On the one hand, it is very much *not* material - can't weigh it, can't measure it.  On the other hand, as Christians, we affirm that our souls, like the rest of us, are *created* by God.  And God, as our Creator, is *not* part of creation.  That means he's not material, of course - but it *also* means that He's not *immaterial* in the way we think of the soul, because our souls are just as created as our bodies.  So if God is spirit, then "spirit" and "spiritual" (meaning "of God") must be a quite different thing than "immaterial creation".

 

The way I've come to think of it is as two separate, but related, distinctions.  The top-level distinction is between the spiritual and creation (and is largely drawn from the Bible), while the secondary distinction is between immaterial and material creation (informed both by the Bible and by Greek philosophy).  But if you smoosh those two distinctions together into one - the spiritual on one hand, and material creation on the other (and no good place for immaterial creation as both immaterial *and* created), it warps how one considers both creation and the spiritual.  Particularly it lends itself to gnosticism, which considers salvation to apply to the soul only, and considers the material body to be either irrelevant to salvation (so go nuts with fleshly living) or the chief enemy of salvation (so you need to beat it into submission to be saved).  (I've a book, Against the Protestant Gnostics, that argues that there's a ton of gnostic influences in contemporary American evangelicalism.)

 

Now, virtue ethics rests on a particular view of the relationship between material and immaterial creation (that's largely Aristotelian).  And sacramental views of reality rest on certain views of the relationship between the spiritual and creation - where the connection between the spiritual and creation applies to both material and immaterial creation alike.  (You know, I keep saying "sacramental view of reality" as if there's only one of them, when actually there's a lot of different views, some of which are mutually exclusive.  Thus the change to sacramental views of reality.)  And they aren't the same thing, although how one views the nature of the relationship between the spiritual and creation affects how one views the nature of creation, and vice versa. 

 

And when the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment adopted the assumption that creation=nature=material, it excluded *both* immaterial reality *and* spiritual reality from having any objective, material effect on material reality.  The effects of both immaterial reality and spiritual reality were limited to affecting immaterial and spiritual realities only - the only point of contact with the material world was through the human soul.  This places a sharp division between between material reality and non-material reality - it generates the assumption that the usual way of things is either to be material-only or to be non-material-only. 

 

And that messed with *both* Aristotelian views of reality *and* sacramental views of reality, both of which hold the opposite: that the usual way of things is for creation to be *both* material and immaterial, that the usual way of things is for the spiritual to suffuse *all* of creation.  Aristotle believed that everything in the material world had inherent-in-nature immaterial qualities and purposes - not just humanity, but everything.  And sacramental views of reality hold that God spiritually sustains *all* of creation - and thus the spiritual suffuses every part of creation - that it is *impossible* for *anything* to be "material-only" - material creation would fall apart and blow away the *instant* God wasn't supernaturally, spiritually upholding it.  "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). 

 

That's a key difference in assumptions: do you assume the spiritual is inherently *absent* from creation (unless and until proven otherwise (modern)), or do you assume the spiritual is inherently *present* in creation (pre-modern)?  Does something extra have to happen in order to have the spiritual be present in the material world?  Or is the spiritual *inherently* present all the time?

 

Pre-moderns aren't trying to tell *whether* the something non-material is present - something non-material is *always* present.  Instead, the key question is: what is the *nature* of the non-material thing present?  Is it from God, or is it from something evil?  But moderns have added a third category: is something from God, from evil, or just mundane material reality only?  And we've gotten so used to explaining the world in mundane material terms that we assume the natural state of things is to be mundanely material - that's probably *the* non-sacramental assumption.  And it places a ton of distance between our lives in creation and the spiritual, to the point that we wonder if we are just imagining the existence of the spiritual :(

 

But sacramental views of reality assume the opposite: that reality *is* inherently spiritual just as much as it is inherently created. 

 

Now, of course sin is messing all this up.  Because of sin, the spiritual is hidden from us.  We sinful people cannot see the hidden spiritual work of God except with eyes of faith.  But what is the nature of that hidden spiritual work?  Is it merely hidden from our sight but actually all around us, embedded in every corner of creation - right *there* to be seen if only we could see it?  Or is it hidden at a great distance from where we are?  Are those eyes of faith seeing *what is really there* (sacramental view) or are those eyes of faith seeing the *results* of what *should* be there and what *will* be there when Jesus comes again, but what *isn't* there right now but instead is working from a distance (non-sacramental view)?  Does sin make it impossible to *see* the spiritual in creation, or does sin also make it impossible for the spiritual to *be* in creation?  IOW, is the reason that sinful man is incapable of seeing the spiritual apart from God due to a deficiency in *man* (he cannot see what is really there) or is it also due to a deficiency in reality (because of sin, there can be nothing spiritual in creation to see)? 

 

Is God's spiritual work hidden from us because *God* can't hack being in the same place as sin, or is God's spiritual work hidden from us because *we* sinful beings can't hack being in the same place as a righteous God?  We sinful beings experience our separation from God in all our lives - we feel a distance physically, relationally, morally, temporally, metaphysically, practically.  But is God really so thoroughly absent from our mundane lives as we think and feel He is?  Modern assumptions about the inherent separateness of the material and everything non-material place everything spiritual - including God - at a distance from the material world.  Those assumptions lead us to assume that God's *absence* is the default reality - and we blame sin for the necessity of His absence.  But what if He's really much more *present* than we give Him credit for - and it's because of sin that we don't *notice* that reality for what it is?

 

~*~

 

The question I posed in my previous post - how do we know if something is spiritual or if it's strictly material - only comes up when you assume that it's not just possible but *normal* for things to be strictly material. 

 

And I think it also relates to assumptions about how non-material (spiritual) justification strictly affects the non-material soul, and sanctification is the physical working out in the body of the already-achieved spiritual salvation of the soul - which itself assumes that the only way for the spiritual/non-material to affect the material world is through how the soul affects the body.  In other words, I think that many modern Protestants assume that anything that attempts to affect the soul other than salvation is by definition an attempt at works righteousness.  Also, I think that many modern Protestants assume that for our actions to stem from our justification, they have to stem from the soul, and not start with bodily actions.  Otherwise they are "merely" physical actions done apart from Christ, and so also works righteousness.  In other words, "inward" actions stemming from salvation go like this: Spirit->soul->body.  Any actions that *start* with the body *cannot* be prompted by the Spirit, since the (non-material) Spirit only affects the (material) body through the (non-material) soul - so they are "outward" only actions and thus done apart from God. 

 

And virtue ethics runs afoul of both of those positions.  Virtue ethics allows for an outside-in approach to building character, where the actions of the body shape the character of the soul just as much as the reverse:  Body <-> Soul.  So with the above assumptions, you end up with Spirit->soul<->body, which isn't exactly what Protestants are looking for.

 

But if you separate out immaterial creation from the spiritual, then virtue ethics slots in like this:

Spirit

|

\|/

Body <-> Soul

Which keeps the relationship between creation and the spiritual one-way, from God to us - there's no place for *any* changes to the body *or* soul to add to what God is giving us.

 

Plus, combined with sacramental views of reality, there's a place to understand *all* good works - whether done by Christians or non-Christians - to be spiritually, supernaturally wrought by God.  (In such a way as to be to *no one's* spiritual merit, although they *are* of spiritual effect to those who are *already* spiritual - i.e those who are *already* made spiritually alive.  It's *our* sinful separateness from God that makes God's spiritual creation be of no spiritual effect to us, not any inherent spiritual lack in God's work in creation.)


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#37 Rosie

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 07:20 PM

I think having difficulty with understanding sacramental views of reality and with not equating the immaterial and spiritual are both related to how modern Western culture has a sharp division between the material, scientific world and everything else.  It kind of smooshes everything that is "not material" into the same box - treats some very dissimilar things as effectively the same.  And as both immaterial creation (like the soul) and God (who is spirit) are "not material", they are thrown together into the same box.  And mostly religious people are quite busy with just trying to maintain that "not material" doesn't mean "not real", and the details kind of get lost in the shuffle.  Which is a shame, because imo the details are pretty key to establishing that the immaterial and the spiritual are indeed as real as the material.

 

With respect to not equating the immaterial and the spiritual, let's consider the soul as an example.  On the one hand, it is very much *not* material - can't weigh it, can't measure it.  On the other hand, as Christians, we affirm that our souls, like the rest of us, are *created* by God.  And God, as our Creator, is *not* part of creation.  That means he's not material, of course - but it *also* means that He's not *immaterial* in the way we think of the soul, because our souls are just as created as our bodies.  So if God is spirit, then "spirit" and "spiritual" (meaning "of God") must be a quite different thing than "immaterial creation".

 

The way I've come to think of it is as two separate, but related, distinctions.  The top-level distinction is between the spiritual and creation (and is largely drawn from the Bible), while the secondary distinction is between immaterial and material creation (informed both by the Bible and by Greek philosophy).  But if you smoosh those two distinctions together into one - the spiritual on one hand, and material creation on the other (and no good place for immaterial creation as both immaterial *and* created), it warps how one considers both creation and the spiritual.  Particularly it lends itself to gnosticism, which considers salvation to apply to the soul only, and considers the material body to be either irrelevant to salvation (so go nuts with fleshly living) or the chief enemy of salvation (so you need to beat it into submission to be saved).  (I've a book, Against the Protestant Gnostics, that argues that there's a ton of gnostic influences in contemporary American evangelicalism.)

 

Now, virtue ethics rests on a particular view of the relationship between material and immaterial creation (that's largely Aristotelian).  And sacramental views of reality rest on certain views of the relationship between the spiritual and creation - where the connection between the spiritual and creation applies to both material and immaterial creation alike.  (You know, I keep saying "sacramental view of reality" as if there's only one of them, when actually there's a lot of different views, some of which are mutually exclusive.  Thus the change to sacramental views of reality.)  And they aren't the same thing, although how one views the nature of the relationship between the spiritual and creation affects how one views the nature of creation, and vice versa. 

 

And when the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment adopted the assumption that creation=nature=material, it excluded *both* immaterial reality *and* spiritual reality from having any objective, material effect on material reality.  The effects of both immaterial reality and spiritual reality were limited to affecting immaterial and spiritual realities only - the only point of contact with the material world was through the human soul.  This places a sharp division between between material reality and non-material reality - it generates the assumption that the usual way of things is either to be material-only or to be non-material-only. 

 

And that messed with *both* Aristotelian views of reality *and* sacramental views of reality, both of which hold the opposite: that the usual way of things is for creation to be *both* material and immaterial, that the usual way of things is for the spiritual to suffuse *all* of creation.  Aristotle believed that everything in the material world had inherent-in-nature immaterial qualities and purposes - not just humanity, but everything.  And sacramental views of reality hold that God spiritually sustains *all* of creation - and thus the spiritual suffuses every part of creation - that it is *impossible* for *anything* to be "material-only" - material creation would fall apart and blow away the *instant* God wasn't supernaturally, spiritually upholding it.  "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). 

 

That's a key difference in assumptions: do you assume the spiritual is inherently *absent* from creation (unless and until proven otherwise (modern)), or do you assume the spiritual is inherently *present* in creation (pre-modern)?  Does something extra have to happen in order to have the spiritual be present in the material world?  Or is the spiritual *inherently* present all the time?

 

Pre-moderns aren't trying to tell *whether* the something non-material is present - something non-material is *always* present.  Instead, the key question is: what is the *nature* of the non-material thing present?  Is it from God, or is it from something evil?  But moderns have added a third category: is something from God, from evil, or just mundane material reality only?  And we've gotten so used to explaining the world in mundane material terms that we assume the natural state of things is to be mundanely material - that's probably *the* non-sacramental assumption.  And it places a ton of distance between our lives in creation and the spiritual, to the point that we wonder if we are just imagining the existence of the spiritual :(

 

But sacramental views of reality assume the opposite: that reality *is* inherently spiritual just as much as it is inherently created. 

 

Now, of course sin is messing all this up.  Because of sin, the spiritual is hidden from us.  We sinful people cannot see the hidden spiritual work of God except with eyes of faith.  But what is the nature of that hidden spiritual work?  Is it merely hidden from our sight but actually all around us, embedded in every corner of creation - right *there* to be seen if only we could see it?  Or is it hidden at a great distance from where we are?  Are those eyes of faith seeing *what is really there* (sacramental view) or are those eyes of faith seeing the *results* of what *should* be there and what *will* be there when Jesus comes again, but what *isn't* there right now but instead is working from a distance (non-sacramental view)?  Does sin make it impossible to *see* the spiritual in creation, or does sin also make it impossible for the spiritual to *be* in creation?  IOW, is the reason that sinful man is incapable of seeing the spiritual apart from God due to a deficiency in *man* (he cannot see what is really there) or is it also due to a deficiency in reality (because of sin, there can be nothing spiritual in creation to see)? 

 

Is God's spiritual work hidden from us because *God* can't hack being in the same place as sin, or is God's spiritual work hidden from us because *we* sinful beings can't hack being in the same place as a righteous God?  We sinful beings experience our separation from God in all our lives - we feel a distance physically, relationally, morally, temporally, metaphysically, practically.  But is God really so thoroughly absent from our mundane lives as we think and feel He is?  Modern assumptions about the inherent separateness of the material and everything non-material place everything spiritual - including God - at a distance from the material world.  Those assumptions lead us to assume that God's *absence* is the default reality - and we blame sin for the necessity of His absence.  But what if He's really much more *present* than we give Him credit for - and it's because of sin that we don't *notice* that reality for what it is?

 

~*~

 

The question I posed in my previous post - how do we know if something is spiritual or if it's strictly material - only comes up when you assume that it's not just possible but *normal* for things to be strictly material. 

 

And I think it also relates to assumptions about how non-material (spiritual) justification strictly affects the non-material soul, and sanctification is the physical working out in the body of the already-achieved spiritual salvation of the soul - which itself assumes that the only way for the spiritual/non-material to affect the material world is through how the soul affects the body.  In other words, I think that many modern Protestants assume that anything that attempts to affect the soul other than salvation is by definition an attempt at works righteousness.  Also, I think that many modern Protestants assume that for our actions to stem from our justification, they have to stem from the soul, and not start with bodily actions.  Otherwise they are "merely" physical actions done apart from Christ, and so also works righteousness.  In other words, "inward" actions stemming from salvation go like this: Spirit->soul->body.  Any actions that *start* with the body *cannot* be prompted by the Spirit, since the (non-material) Spirit only affects the (material) body through the (non-material) soul - so they are "outward" only actions and thus done apart from God. 

 

And virtue ethics runs afoul of both of those positions.  Virtue ethics allows for an outside-in approach to building character, where the actions of the body shape the character of the soul just as much as the reverse:  Body <-> Soul.  So with the above assumptions, you end up with Spirit->soul<->body, which isn't exactly what Protestants are looking for.

 

But if you separate out immaterial creation from the spiritual, then virtue ethics slots in like this:

Spirit

|

\|/

Body <-> Soul

Which keeps the relationship between creation and the spiritual one-way, from God to us - there's no place for *any* changes to the body *or* soul to add to what God is giving us.

 

Plus, combined with sacramental views of reality, there's a place to understand *all* good works - whether done by Christians or non-Christians - to be spiritually, supernaturally wrought by God.  (In such a way as to be to *no one's* spiritual merit, although they *are* of spiritual effect to those who are *already* spiritual - i.e those who are *already* made spiritually alive.  It's *our* sinful separateness from God that makes God's spiritual creation be of no spiritual effect to us, not any inherent spiritual lack in God's work in creation.)

Could you give another example besides the soul for something that is immaterial but not spiritual?

What you're saying about the spiritual not being separate from creation reminds me a bit of some things in John Walton's books on Genesis. He's a professor at Wheaton College, so I'm wondering if there are more evangelicals than you think who may think that way? Of course, He's also an Old Testament scholar, so he would be much more familiar with a pre-modern point of view than your average evangelical off the street....

This is so interesting. I'm taking it all in and am not ready yet to comment intelligently. I want to mull it all over and come back, though. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this out.

 

 

I think it's important to remember that training in virtue doesn't mean that we will end up with a "product". The pursuit of virtue only begins in this life, it doesn't end here. Our faults and our sins will beset us our entire lives, so instead of looking to FIX problems (with the implication that once it's fixed it's done and over with), we have to focus on EQUIPPING our kids to struggle with the temptations and faults that they will face throughout their lives. They need tools to help them through the struggle and they need us to step up and model how to use those tools (the most important of which would be repentance!).So instead of focusing on the sin and a perceived lack of grace, you might try to frame the situation as an opportunity for practice and learning. And when they (and you) mess up, just get back up and try again next time.

This is a good reminder. Thank you.

 

Another way to look at good works/virtuous deeds is to see them in light of our relationship with Christ. Good works are the way in which we actively pursue that relationship, so if we love Him, or want to love and know Him better, we have to learn to speak his "love language". We pray, fast, and give alms, follow the commandments, in order to deepen the relationship. It becomes a joyful outpouring of love rather than an obligation or a proof of anything.

Lisa, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I see that your signature says you are an Orthodox Christian. Do you see your beliefs on this topic aligning more closely with the Catholic and Lutheran perspectives represented here than what you know of Protestant beliefs? Do you agree that a sacramental view of reality makes virtue ethics non-problematic?



#38 Bluegoat

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 06:33 AM

I think with the spiritual/non-spritual question, it actually helps a lot just to get it really firmly in mind what Paul is on about when he talks about this.  

 

Specifically when he talks about being raised a spiritual body.

 

It's a common problem in Christianity that people think the teaching is that we die and become spirits, or even angels, and live in Heaven.  That isn' the teaching - being a sprit in Heaven is only meant to be a temporary state.  Ultimately, we're told that creation is made anew, and we regain our bodies, but they are changed - perfected.  This seems to be what Paul means when he talks about the spiritual - not the destruction of the flesh, but it's perfection.

 

After all, we don't believe the material world is bad - we believe God made it, and it's good - why would that be destroyed or lost?  By nature, human beings are physical beings - that is what it is to be a human.  If you have no body, you are no longer complete, you are missing an essential part of yourself.

 

Once we understand that physical reality is good and indeed capable of being holy, it really begins to change the way we think about all these kinds of problems that include the physical world.  Over time, it just begins to look a little different.  Even if you don't become a full-blown sacramentalism, the idea of the Eucharist begins to look different, for example - the idea that God touches us directly and physically, as well as in a non-physical way, begins to make sense - or through art and images - because we really are physical beings, and he dresses us as whole beings.  The Incarnation looks a little differerent too, much more of a real unity.


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#39 Mrs. A

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 06:57 AM

Lisa, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I see that your signature says you are an Orthodox Christian. Do you see your beliefs on this topic aligning more closely with the Catholic and Lutheran perspectives represented here than what you know of Protestant beliefs? Do you agree that a sacramental view of reality makes virtue ethics non-problematic?


I do agree with much of what's been said already. I would also say that it's not only the Protestant lack of a sacramental VIEW of reality, but that in combination with no actual EXPERIENCE of sacramental reality. In other words it takes more than just an intellectual understanding. But you have to live it to experience it and that means doing, which brings us back to works. So if there's already a struggle with the false faith/works dichotomy, then it's hard to move forward in that understanding and experience.

I was actually reading an old blog post by my favorite blogger where he points out that virtue is more the power to carry out the manifestations of character rather than the qualities of character themselves. So if that's the case then good habits become even more important.

Another thought I had is that the Orthodox have a concept that's probably pretty foreign to Protestants (based on my limited understanding) and that's the concept of synergy. Basically it means that while God is the only one who actually *saves* us, we are called to work with Him as He effects that salvation. We have a part to play and it's not merely an acceptance of salvation. It's an active work that begins at baptism and continues from then on. For Orthodox salvation is just the beginning. Our ultimate goal is theosis - becoming like God. So we have to work toward that hand in hand with Him. Christ is Risen and has already saved us all. Death is overcome. So now begins the work of becoming whole once more, as we were meant to be. And it IS work. We don't just sit back and say that everything is finished. The foundation of the relationship has been laid (or maybe we should say re-laid) and now we must build on it.

I suppose one's understanding of sin plays a big role here as well. That's probably a whole other thread in itself. :)

So yeah, I think there are several things that contribute to the fact that virtue ethics is not problematic from my pov :)


(And by the way, I just realized that you are the Rosie from Education Unboxed! And I wanted to tell you that your videos are awesome and have been SO helpful!! Thank you!!!)
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#40 Rosie

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 07:02 AM

I think with the spiritual/non-spritual question, it actually helps a lot just to get it really firmly in mind what Paul is on about when he talks about this.  

 

Specifically when he talks about being raised a spiritual body.

 

It's a common problem in Christianity that people think the teaching is that we die and become spirits, or even angels, and live in Heaven.  That isn' the teaching - being a sprit in Heaven is only meant to be a temporary state.  Ultimately, we're told that creation is made anew, and we regain our bodies, but they are changed - perfected.  This seems to be what Paul means when he talks about the spiritual - not the destruction of the flesh, but it's perfection.

 

After all, we don't believe the material world is bad - we believe God made it, and it's good - why would that be destroyed or lost?  By nature, human beings are physical beings - that is what it is to be a human.  If you have no body, you are no longer complete, you are missing an essential part of yourself.

 

Once we understand that physical reality is good and indeed capable of being holy, it really begins to change the way we think about all these kinds of problems that include the physical world.  Over time, it just begins to look a little different.  Even if you don't become a full-blown sacramentalism, the idea of the Eucharist begins to look different, for example - the idea that God touches us directly and physically, as well as in a non-physical way, begins to make sense - or through art and images - because we really are physical beings, and he dresses us as whole beings.  The Incarnation looks a little differerent too, much more of a real unity.

 

Thank you for this. It reminds me of what I've read from N.T. Wright. He is an Anglican, which I believe is also a sacremental group. Many evangelicals are reading him right now, and there seems to be a shift toward this way of thinking.
 



#41 Rosie

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 07:18 AM

I do agree with much of what's been said already. I would also say that it's not only the Protestant lack of a sacramental VIEW of reality, but that in combination with no actual EXPERIENCE of sacramental reality. In other words it takes more than just an intellectual understanding. But you have to live it to experience it and that means doing, which brings us back to works. So if there's already a struggle with the false faith/works dichotomy, then it's hard to move forward in that understanding and experience.

I was actually reading an old blog post by my favorite blogger where he points out that virtue is more the power to carry out the manifestations of character rather than the qualities of character themselves. So if that's the case then good habits become even more important.

Another thought I had is that the Orthodox have a concept that's probably pretty foreign to Protestants (based on my limited understanding) and that's the concept of synergy. Basically it means that while God is the only one who actually *saves* us, we are called to work with Him as He effects that salvation. We have a part to play and it's not merely an acceptance of salvation. It's an active work that begins at baptism and continues from then on. For Orthodox salvation is just the beginning. Our ultimate goal is theosis - becoming like God. So we have to work toward that hand in hand with Him. Christ is Risen and has already saved us all. Death is overcome. So now begins the work of becoming whole once more, as we were meant to be. And it IS work. We don't just sit back and say that everything is finished. The foundation of the relationship has been laid (or maybe we should say re-laid) and now we must build on it.

Thank you, Lisa! I appreciate hearing (reading) your thoughts. I may have something more to reply once I've had time to think through this more. (Maybe I can be a closet sacramentalist at a Presbyterian church! Lol. I'm also a wannabe Anabaptist. And I'd like Hillsong style music without the hype/lights/etc. and with lyrics that always have depth. I'm all over the place!!)

 

 

I suppose one's understanding of sin plays a big role here as well. That's probably a whole other thread in itself. :)

Oh, I would love for you to dive into that one!

 

(And by the way, I just realized that you are the Rosie from Education Unboxed! And I wanted to tell you that your videos are awesome and have been SO helpful!! Thank you!!!)

You're welcome! I'm glad they've been so helpful to you!!


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#42 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 09:38 AM

I do agree with much of what's been said already. I would also say that it's not only the Protestant lack of a sacramental VIEW of reality, but that in combination with no actual EXPERIENCE of sacramental reality. In other words it takes more than just an intellectual understanding. But you have to live it to experience it )


I agree with your entire post. I wanted to share something in my personal life that highlights the truth of your statement.

When we moved to Brazil, I didn't know a single word of Portuguese. But I longed to go to Mass every single day. I couldn't understand a single word said, but it didn't matter. I just wanted to be there with Eucharist, with Christ in His body, blood, soul, and divinity. It was a physical and spiritual connection that was not based on any words or anything else. It was the actual physical experience of the Mass and Eucharist. Unless you actually experience the sacraments than discussion is limited to an intellectual exercise.

It is hard to explain "the real-ness of the reality" of sacraments, but your post pointed out a vital part of sacramental life that cannot be understood through just words.
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#43 Mrs. A

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 03:36 PM

I agree with your entire post. I wanted to share something in my personal life that highlights the truth of your statement.

When we moved to Brazil, I didn't know a single word of Portuguese. But I longed to go to Mass every single day. I couldn't understand a single word said, but it didn't matter. I just wanted to be there with Eucharist, with Christ in His body, blood, soul, and divinity. It was a physical and spiritual connection that was not based on any words or anything else. It was the actual physical experience of the Mass and Eucharist. Unless you actually experience the sacraments than discussion is limited to an intellectual exercise.

It is hard to explain "the real-ness of the reality" of sacraments, but your post pointed out a vital part of sacramental life that cannot be understood through just words.


Yes! Exactly. My own parish does all services in English, but often when traveling we end up in parishes where the liturgy is in Greek or Slavonic. And it's still home - just being there and partaking of communion is enough. And on a related note, when we have to miss church because of illness or something I *feel* it in a way that really can't be described. It's almost like the physical absence of a loved one.
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#44 Mrs. A

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 05:08 PM


Oh, I would love for you to dive into that one!


Ha! I'll do my best.

So we (Orthodox) tend to understand sin as a symptom, a sign of a broken communion with God. We were created to be in communion, and with the Fall that communion was broken and we've been suffering the effects ever since. So Christ became one of us, united Himself to us in death and taking on a body bound by the natural laws of corruption (decay) and death. He took that on and rose victorious over death so that He could restore that communion and heal the disease that eats away at us all. Yes, there is choice involved on our part - I've often heard the church likened to a hospital where we come, sick and suffering, to be healed. The medicine is there for us to take, Holy Communion, Confession, the other sacraments, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc. The extent to which we participate in all these things will have a direct impact on how much we are able be in more perfect communion with Christ. Obviously there are those who become legalistic about "following rules" and that's yet another symptom of illness really, but legalism is not what it's about at all. Really what we ought to be keeping in mind is that by our cooperation with the remedy we are participating in (though not effecting) our healing. Synergy, like I mentioned above.

So good habits, practicing physical acts of virtue, play a big part in that. It's much better to cooperate and take the prescription given in order to be well than to fight taking icky medicine and continue to get worse. Lol

I guess on the outside this can appear to be the same thing as a legalistic attempt to save ourselves, but from the inside it's very differernt. I guess it's another example of how knowing reality is not the same thing as observing our physical environment.

I don't know if that's at all helpful, and I'm not even sure I've explained very well, but I find more and more that these ideas are very foreign to many people and it's hard to know what to say sometimes. Hth.
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#45 forty-two

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 03:09 PM

Could you give another example besides the soul for something that is immaterial but not spiritual?

What you're saying about the spiritual not being separate from creation reminds me a bit of some things in John Walton's books on Genesis. He's a professor at Wheaton College, so I'm wondering if there are more evangelicals than you think who may think that way? Of course, He's also an Old Testament scholar, so he would be much more familiar with a pre-modern point of view than your average evangelical off the street....

This is so interesting. I'm taking it all in and am not ready yet to comment intelligently. I want to mull it all over and come back, though. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this out.

Re: John Walton - Interesting - I have one of his books in my "to read" pile.  I have seen increasing acknowledgement in most all corners of Christianity that the assumed hard separation between creation and the spiritual bequeathed to us by modernity is a huge problem (certainly Pentecostalism makes quite an effort to overcome this, albeit in a non-sacramental way).  And among traditions with a sacramental history it has resulted in an increased focus on recovering a sacramental view.  I have noticed an uptick in interest in some kind of sacramental view of creation amongst Reformed-influenced evangelicals (makes sense since the Reformed have a sacramental history and are part of evangelicalism); I've seen a surge of interest in Jonathan Edwards, who worked really hard to fight the material-only mechanistic view of the universe.  Mostly this seemed to open up the possibility of a sacramental understanding of sanctification and not justification, but some Presbyterians were trying to get back to Calvin's understanding of the sacraments.  But yeah, rightly or not, I don't associate that with "mainstream" evangelicalism. 

 

But it doesn't surprise me overmuch that "evangelicalism as I've experienced it" misses the *possibilities* of evangelicalism.  For all that I grew up in evangelical-adjacent Lutheranism and so imbibed several common evangelical assumptions (80s and 90s era), I'm still an outsider looking in wrt evangelicalism.  I see more of the most common bits of evangelicalism (and evangelical missteps) than anything else.  And all my actual *study* of theology has been within the confessional Lutheran corner of the tradition, as opposed to the evangelical-adjacent corner I grew up in. (Confessional Lutherans hold that, since we Lutherans hold that our confessions, the Book of Concord, are a correct explanation of Scripture, they should therefore *form* our theology and practice, instead of merely functioning as a "stay within these lines" theological boundary.)  And confessional Lutherans have a habit of using evangelicalism as a go-to "how *not* to be Lutheran" example, since most American Lutherans are heavily influenced by evangelical assumptions (as was I). 

 

And that can warp one's impression.  When we do X, and contrast the practice of X with someone else's X-contradicting practice of A - it's all-too-easy to assume that:

(1) since we practice X *because* it is X, and we do not practice A *because* A contradicts X,

(2) while they *are* practicing A,

(3) they are practicing A *because* it contradicts X.  (And we can also end up assuming the reverse, that *we* practice X *because* it contradicts A, and thus warp our understanding of *ourselves* in addition to warping our understanding of others.)

In other words, it is all too easy to define *their* practice of A in terms of how it relates to *our* practice of X.  We see the world in X/notX terms, and it blinds us to someone else's A/notA worldview.  We interpret them as if they *shared* our X/notX premises, only they contrarily affirm the opposite, notX conclusion; and they likely return the favor, assuming we share their A/notA premises while contrarily affirming the opposite, notA conclusion. 

 

Here's an example: Let's say that I play music in the background in order to establish music as an omnipresent part of our lives.  And let's say that you only play music when you and your family can devote their full attention to it, to establish the habit of giving music the attention it deserves.  These practices *do* contradict, but they *aren't* opposites of each other.  I'm not playing music in the background *because* I'm trying to establish the habit of giving music only half-attention.  And you aren't limiting music to when you can give it full attention *because* you are trying to limit music to only a corner of your life.  (Those may be unintentional consequences of our practices, but they aren't what either of us is setting out to do.)  But it's awfully easy for me to assume that you are *purposely* doing the opposite of what I am doing because you *want* to accomplish the opposite of what I want to accomplish, and vice versa.  And that means that while *I* am trying to accomplish a *good* thing, *you* apparently are *trying* to accomplish a *bad* thing, and vice versa.  That doesn't really leave much room for seeing any potential common ground between us on this issue, kwim? 

(And in reverse, sometimes the acceptance of common ground between us and our different-but-both-good practices doesn't leave much room for considering the possibility that one practice may have more negative unintentional consequences than another - since we are "on the same side", we need to accept everything about each other as of equal value - any substantial criticism is treated as a veiled statement that "you aren't affiliated with me".  It's the flip side of being on opposing sides and assuming there is *no* common ground at all.)

 

So all that to say, I don't really understand evangelicalism from the inside, and I try to keep my statements appropriately humble, though sometimes I forget because evangelicalism's been a close neighbor for so long and so feels familiar - I think I know them better than I do.  I am trying to learn to understand evangelicalism on its own terms, though I've a long ways to go.

 

~*~

 

WRT another example of immaterial creation: the other main category I can think of is that of universals - "what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities", such as truth, goodness, beauty.  Namely, what is the nature of those universals - do they exist out there in the world independently or not?  Realism says they do, anti-realism says they don't, and nominalism splits the difference.  (Nominalism arose in the medieval church in response to the revival of Aristotle and arguably contributed strongly to Reformation theology.)

 

Realism is basically the idea that reality exists independently of how people see it or understand it. Reality is what it is, regardless of whether we see it as it is. And when it comes to philosophy, realism is the idea that ideas - like goodness and beauty and human nature - are real things that exist independently of whatever anyone thinks of them, or even *whether* anyone thinks of them. Creation isn't just made up of material reality (like our flesh and bones and blood) but is also made up of immaterial reality (like souls and the essence of humanity and truth and goodness and beauty). 

However, nominalism rejects the idea of independently-existing immaterial moral essences like goodness and beauty and human nature - general ideas are just human-invented names for things that don't actually exist - only particular, concrete, material objects exist. So "human nature" as its own thing doesn't exist - only individual humans who have some things in common. We might *call* those things-all-humans-have "human nature", but that's just a name we use - there's no *actual* universal "human nature" that all humans *really* share.

 

Now, the scientific revolution rests on nominalist assumptions, and kind of kicked pre-modern realism's butt - in our scientific, technocratic West, we're all swimming in nominalist assumptions. Is beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or inherent to what is being beheld? Is the question "can I use thing A to accomplish good purpose B?" a strictly *practical* question (will it work), or is it inherently a *moral* question, too (is it *right* to use thing A to accomplish purpose B)? The first answer to each is nominalist, the second one broadly realist.

 

The original point of nominalism was to preserve God's sovereignty over His creation.  Prior to the revival of Aristotle in the 12 and 13th centuries, the medieval church was more Platonic.  The connection between creation and the spiritual was something like this:

 

Spiritual

|

\/

Immaterial Creation

|

\/

Material Creation

 

The material was encompassed and determined by the immaterial and the immaterial was in turn encompassed and determined by the spiritual.  You could only understand material creation if you understood immaterial creation, and you could only understand immaterial creation if you understood God's spiritual work in creation.  What creation was *for* determined what creation *was* and what it could *do*.  Unbelievers, with no understanding of God's spiritual work, were therefore unable to truly understand the whys and wherefores of God's creation.

 

But Aristotle had a different relationship between the material and immaterial.  And the resulting synthesis between Aristotelianism and Christianity looked, to its opponents anyway, something like this (I am unclear how the scholastics themselves viewed it):

 

-----------------------------Spiritual

-----------------------------|

-----------------------------\/

Material Creation <-> Immaterial Creation

 

So you had immaterial creation formed by *both* material creation *and* the spiritual (and material creation as only indirectly affected by God's spiritual work).  Unbelievers *could* understand the immaterial purposes of creation, since they were right there, embedded in material creation to be studied.  But they couldn't understand the spiritual purposes of God.  And to nominalists, this allowed the notions of unbelievers to define what was and wasn't possible for God to do in creation, and thus infringed on His absolute sovereignty. because it limited God to working out His spiritual good in ways that meshed with the inherent immaterial purposes of creation.  To nominalists, it made God's ability to spiritually work in creation limited by the nature of creation itself - and thus claimed that God cannot change what He sets in motion, that He is limited by His past actions - which infringed on God's ability to do absolutely anything.  And to top it off, since the purposes of creation were possible for unbelievers to learn, God was seen as limited to working in ways that unbelievers could conceive of - which is a false limitation, because unbelievers by definition are unable to understand the ways of God.  (Heck, humans in general are unable by definition to fully understand the ways of God.)

 

So, to preserve God's absolute sovereignty to do absolutely anything in creation He wanted, nominalists gutted the category of immaterial creation:

 

Spiritual-----------------------------

|-----------------------------

\/-----------------------------

Material Creation -> Immaterial Creation

 

Material creation was brought right back under the direct control of the spiritual, while immaterial creation was left hanging off to the side, unable to influence much of anything.  Immaterial creation existed in name only, not as really-existing things.  (And all the important things that immaterial creation was responsible for ended up migrating eventually either to the spiritual or the material.)  But the *nature* of the connection between the spiritual and material creation changed.  Instead of the purposes of creation being embedded *within* creation itself, material creation *had* no inherent purpose.  Instead, God imposed His spiritual purposes from outside creation onto a creation that was itself inherently purposeless - He could do anything He wanted with creation to accomplish His good goals.

 

And this changed the nature of humanity's relationship to creation, too.  Being God's stewards of creation means doing God's will in creation.  When God's will was inherent in creation, that meant using creation as it was meant to be used.  But once God's will was imposed from the outside on a purposeless creation, then we too did His will by imposing our wills on a purposeless creation to accomplish His good purposes.  Under nominalism, nothing within creation tells us how creation should be lived in - only God's divine revelation can tell us. 

 

And then, per Charles Taylor in A Secular Age, nominalism and scholasticism's autonomous material creation, both Christian, combined to form a worldview quite antithetical to Christianity:

 

Material Creation | Spiritual

 

This kicked off the Scientific Revolution - the material world could profitably be studied in itself, regardless of what spiritual purposes may or may not exist, because nothing about those spiritual purposes would or could change the nature of material creation.  Ever since Christians have been fighting to keep/regain the primacy of the spiritual and the ability of the spiritual to affect the material, but in practice, this often is reduced to accepting an inherently purposeless, spiritless creation, while maintaining that 1) God and His outside-creation spiritual purposes *do* exist and *should* be lived by, and 2) God reserves the right to intervene spiritually in His material creation in order to change its usual course at any time.  This concedes almost everything - it *accepts* the materialistic view that the "usual course of things" inherently *excludes* all things spiritual; it accepts that "the usual course of things" are things that happen *without* God - that the usual way of the world is to be *without* God.  And as those materialistic assumptions give the spiritual very little to do in our daily lives, it's hard to maintain the primacy of the spiritual.  And I do think those assumptions affect most Western Christians, sacramental and non-sacramental alike, to a greater or lesser extent - it's in the air we breathe.

 

~*~

 

The gutting of immaterial creation, and the resulting migration of things from immaterial creation to either spiritual or material, changed the nature of natural law.  And this is pretty important, because a lot of Christian ethical teaching has been based in natural law.  Christians have generally held that natural law is written in creation and so is knowable to an extent by everyone.  Scholasticism tended to see natural law as written into immaterial creation.  But when nominalism followed by the scientific revolution gutted the category of immaterial creation, the only categories that were left were spiritual or material. 

 

So for natural law to be written into creation, it would have to be written into *material* creation - and therefore be discoverable by *science*.  Which is quite a change from the based-in-an-objective-immaterial-creation morality of virtue ethics.  For quite a while Christian and non-Christians alike sought to ground morality in scientifically-discoverable material facts - MacIntyre calls this "the Enlightenment Project" - but ultimately it failed philosophically, and the results of that failure have been extending into everyday life.  And one of the impacts is that *Christian* morality - inasmuch as it is rooted in a scientifically-determined-material-only "natural" law - is rooted in a fiction.  And a fiction that people are increasingly coming to realize *is* a fiction.

 

One of the main points of MacIntyre's After Virtue is how what he calls "emotivism" (*not* the same thing as "emotional") is a direct result of the failure of modernity to ground morality in anything.  Per MacIntyre, emotivists are people who believe there are *no* objective moral standards, and so all moral judgments are nothing more than covert expressions of personal preference.  Most emotivists take this to be a fact about the inherent nature of moral judgment: just like we moderns say with certainty that no real witches were ever burned throughout history because there are no witches to be burned in the first place, emotivists say with confidence that no one in history has ever appealed to a real, objective moral standard in defending their moral judgment because there are *no* objective moral standards in the first place.

 

But MacIntyre's point is that while emotivists *are* seeing something that is really there - that modern Western moral judgments *do* embody this mismatch between how a group of people make moral judgments (as if they are based on rational, objective criteria) and what those moral judgments are actually based on (feelings and attitudes) - they are *wrong* when they declare that the features of these *particular* moral judgments apply to *all* moral judgments everywhere.  In fact, MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” is a book-length argument that the modern loss of objective moral foundations is not universal but historically contingent. 

 

I really appreciate MacIntyre here, because he offers an alternative between "upholding objective morality in general requires me to believe that *my* practice of it is still good" (an increasingly untenable position) and "rejecting objective morality in general because *my* practice of it is bad" (a common overreaction to a personal lack of foundation in beliefs).  Aka, it gives me the space to acknowledge that there *is* some truth to observations that many *contemporary* Christians and Christian churches (including me) do indeed suffer from hollowed-out beliefs (including moral beliefs) - beliefs that claim the status of objective, rational truth without any sort of objective, rational foundation – but this doesn’t have to mean that there *never was* any sort of objective, rational foundation for Christianity, only that that foundation has been lost to many of us contemporary Christians.  You can realize that you and your tradition are (currently) lacking in important ways and decide that the problem is with you and your tradition’s *current* understanding of Christianity, instead of deciding that the problem isn’t with you and your tradition’s understanding of Christianity, but with Christianity itself.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Books that I found helpful re: the changing nature of morality:

 

Well, MacIntyre, for one.  After Virtue was mindblowing, as I said.  He has some sequels that are in my Great Unread that answer questions raised by After Virtue: Whose Justice?  Which Rationality?, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, and Dependent Rational Animals.  He has a new book out that is supposed to provide a capstone summary of his work on virtue: Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity that is reputed to provide a good one-volume summary of his thought, though I haven't seen it in person.

 

Charles Taylor's A Secular Age is more on the changing nature of the relationship of the spiritual to creation.  It's epic in both scope and length ;).  Its goal is to describe why it was that belief in God was the default in 1500 Western Christendom, while now in the West *dis*belief in God is the default.  I haven't finished this one yet.  I read the first hundred pages probably four times - it's where he describes what it was like to see the world as a medieval Catholic in 1500 - and I read it over and over till I could *feel* what he was describing.  Then I took those medieval assumptions and read the Lutheran Confessions in light of *them* - instead of in light of my modern assumptions - in order to better understand what they were saying and responding to.  James K. A. Smith has a book that summarizes and comments upon Taylor's book: How Not to Be Secular, which I've read and enjoyed.  I quibble some with Smith's take, but it is an accessible, helpful introduction to Taylor.

 

David Wells has a four book series on the effects of modernity on the church: No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtue, and Above All Earthly Powers.  I'm only in the first one, but it's been packed with great stuff.  He also has a more popular, summary book of the above quartet: The Courage to Be Protestant, but I've not seen it.

 

In a more popular vein, I really enjoyed Nancy Pearcey's Saving Leonardo.  It's an analysis of various artists and artistic movements that looks at how their work embodied what they believed.  And it also works as a survey of the dominant beliefs from Kant till today and how artists lived them out in there work.  I found the introduction a little too strident for my tastes, but the analysis was excellent.

 

In a different vein, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr was a wonderful look at the ethics of technology - how every technology has a view of how the world is and how humans are embedded in it.

 

 

There are tons of other books - many are in my Great Unread - I have probably a half dozen books that analyze how we got from pre-modernity to modernity alone - but I'm trying to stick to books I've read or mostly read.  I'm going to throw in two exceptions here, though.  One is The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.  I'm just in chapter four, but it's a readable, accessible intro to the broad threads of the above books, plus it spends most of its time proposing *solutions*.  The other is Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry, Hans Boersma.  I have it, but I'm still working through his scholarly work on sacramental ontology (which is awesome).  But it's a popular presentation of a sacramental view by an evangelical.  (He has a new book on Scripture as Real Presence that is going on my to buy list.)

 

Also, virtue ethics people here have recommended these three books as a trio:

(1) C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man - explains the problem (lack of virtue) and why it's a problem

(2) Joseph Pieper, Leisure as the Basis of Culture - explains the solution philosophically

(3) David Hicks, Norms and Nobility - explains how to put the solution into practice wrt education

I've read (1) several times and loved it (didn't truly follow his argument till the third time through, though), and I'm partway through (2) and appreciating it.  ((3) is languishing still among the Great Unread.)

 

~*~

 

Hope all the above helps and isn't too overwhelming :shifty.  (I've now spilled over 10,000 words on this thread :yikes.) 

 

Really quick (too late ;)), I agree with pp that one's view of sin is important - it's one place where I strongly differ from medieval scholastics and it does change my metaphysics relative to theirs (and also relative to modernity). 

 

Plus another theological difference that affects a sacramental view of reality is an analogical vs univocal view of the relationship between human qualities like love, truth, etc and God's possession of the same qualities.  Sacramental people tend to have an analogical view - humans and God are radically different, and so describing God using qualities that are in creation (love, etc) is only an *analogy* to what God is actually like.  However, a univocal view of those qualities means that there is no difference in *kind* between human love and God's love (for example), but only in *degree* (God's love is infinitely *greater* than ours, but it looks like ours).  (Nominalists tended to have a univocal view of universals, which contributed to their view that how those universals appeared in creation necessarily defined how those universals existed in God.)  Anyway, an analogical view maintains a huge gulf between the *nature* of God and creation, which paradoxically allows for a closer union between God and creation without subsuming God into creation (pantheism).  A univocal view erases some of the differences in essence between God and creation, and so it has to impose a greater metaphysical distance to maintain the innate difference between God and creation.


Edited by forty-two, 13 October 2017 - 03:10 PM.

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#46 forty-two

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Posted 14 October 2017 - 05:05 PM

Adding a few more to my recommended reading list ;):

The Righteousness of One, Christification: A Lutheran Approach to Theosis, and Hands of Faith, all by Jordan Cooper. Cooper has been instrumental for me in connecting key doctrines with their basis in reality. The Righteousness of One is an analysis of the new perspective on Paul in light of early patristic theology. Sounds unconnected to anything practical, right ;). Well, Cooper's take on the NPP is that they are trying to give justification a grounding in reality, let it be something more than a "legal fiction" (how they understand the Reformation take on justification as imputation). And Cooper's argument, informed by some of the patristic fathers, is that justification is *both* imputed *and* has a basis in reality - namely the reality of being united to Christ in faith. It really helped Luther's notion of justification as the joyous exchange become *real* to me. In Christification, Cooper gives sanctification a similar grounding in reality, focusing on how the doctrine of mystical union meshes with early patristic teachings on becoming more Christlike in a very metaphysically real way. And in Hands of Faith Cooper applies these realistic takes on justification and sanctification to the doctrine of the two kinds of righteousness (which I talked about in an earlier post) to describe how we grow in the practice of good works without those works contributing to our salvation. Cooper was a major link for me between all the previous sorts of books and key Christian doctrines - showing how prime doctrines have metaphysical primacy in our lives as well.

Another one is a paper that's available free online :): "Why Luther is not Quite Protestant: the logic of faith in a sacramental promise", by Phillip Cary: http://www.academia....amental_Promise
It contrasts a standard Protestant view of how faith fits into salvation with Luther's sacramental view. The first time I read this, I 100% identified with the standard Protestant view and couldn't quite follow the logic of Luther's view (kind of an oops for a Lutheran ;)). But the paper opened my eyes to differences I didn't even know existed - particularly the difference between "having faith in Christ" and "having faith in my faith in Christ" - and helped me start to see what it *means* for the sacraments to be central in Lutheran piety.
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#47 Bluegoat

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 07:26 AM

For anyone looking for something that talks about sacramentalism that's very accessible, I often recommend The Illumined Heart, by Fredrica Mathewes-Green.  It's really not at all academic, but it's pitched I think to people with an evangelical background who want to get a sense of what the thinking is behind a sacramental and liturgical approach to Christianity.   It's a nice place to start if it feels very foreign.


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#48 Rosie

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 07:01 PM

Re: John Walton - Interesting - I have one of his books in my "to read" pile.  I have seen increasing acknowledgement in most all corners of Christianity that the assumed hard separation between creation and the spiritual bequeathed to us by modernity is a huge problem (certainly Pentecostalism makes quite an effort to overcome this, albeit in a non-sacramental way).  And among traditions with a sacramental history it has resulted in an increased focus on recovering a sacramental view.  I have noticed an uptick in interest in some kind of sacramental view of creation amongst Reformed-influenced evangelicals (makes sense since the Reformed have a sacramental history and are part of evangelicalism); I've seen a surge of interest in Jonathan Edwards, who worked really hard to fight the material-only mechanistic view of the universe.  Mostly this seemed to open up the possibility of a sacramental understanding of sanctification and not justification, but some Presbyterians were trying to get back to Calvin's understanding of the sacraments.  But yeah, rightly or not, I don't associate that with "mainstream" evangelicalism. 

 

But it doesn't surprise me overmuch that "evangelicalism as I've experienced it" misses the *possibilities* of evangelicalism.  For all that I grew up in evangelical-adjacent Lutheranism and so imbibed several common evangelical assumptions (80s and 90s era), I'm still an outsider looking in wrt evangelicalism.  I see more of the most common bits of evangelicalism (and evangelical missteps) than anything else.  And all my actual *study* of theology has been within the confessional Lutheran corner of the tradition, as opposed to the evangelical-adjacent corner I grew up in. (Confessional Lutherans hold that, since we Lutherans hold that our confessions, the Book of Concord, are a correct explanation of Scripture, they should therefore *form* our theology and practice, instead of merely functioning as a "stay within these lines" theological boundary.)  And confessional Lutherans have a habit of using evangelicalism as a go-to "how *not* to be Lutheran" example, since most American Lutherans are heavily influenced by evangelical assumptions (as was I). 

 

And that can warp one's impression.  When we do X, and contrast the practice of X with someone else's X-contradicting practice of A - it's all-too-easy to assume that:

(1) since we practice X *because* it is X, and we do not practice A *because* A contradicts X,

(2) while they *are* practicing A,

(3) they are practicing A *because* it contradicts X.  (And we can also end up assuming the reverse, that *we* practice X *because* it contradicts A, and thus warp our understanding of *ourselves* in addition to warping our understanding of others.)

In other words, it is all too easy to define *their* practice of A in terms of how it relates to *our* practice of X.  We see the world in X/notX terms, and it blinds us to someone else's A/notA worldview.  We interpret them as if they *shared* our X/notX premises, only they contrarily affirm the opposite, notX conclusion; and they likely return the favor, assuming we share their A/notA premises while contrarily affirming the opposite, notA conclusion. 

 

Here's an example: Let's say that I play music in the background in order to establish music as an omnipresent part of our lives.  And let's say that you only play music when you and your family can devote their full attention to it, to establish the habit of giving music the attention it deserves.  These practices *do* contradict, but they *aren't* opposites of each other.  I'm not playing music in the background *because* I'm trying to establish the habit of giving music only half-attention.  And you aren't limiting music to when you can give it full attention *because* you are trying to limit music to only a corner of your life.  (Those may be unintentional consequences of our practices, but they aren't what either of us is setting out to do.)  But it's awfully easy for me to assume that you are *purposely* doing the opposite of what I am doing because you *want* to accomplish the opposite of what I want to accomplish, and vice versa.  And that means that while *I* am trying to accomplish a *good* thing, *you* apparently are *trying* to accomplish a *bad* thing, and vice versa.  That doesn't really leave much room for seeing any potential common ground between us on this issue, kwim? 

(And in reverse, sometimes the acceptance of common ground between us and our different-but-both-good practices doesn't leave much room for considering the possibility that one practice may have more negative unintentional consequences than another - since we are "on the same side", we need to accept everything about each other as of equal value - any substantial criticism is treated as a veiled statement that "you aren't affiliated with me".  It's the flip side of being on opposing sides and assuming there is *no* common ground at all.)

 

So all that to say, I don't really understand evangelicalism from the inside, and I try to keep my statements appropriately humble, though sometimes I forget because evangelicalism's been a close neighbor for so long and so feels familiar - I think I know them better than I do.  I am trying to learn to understand evangelicalism on its own terms, though I've a long ways to go.

 

~*~

 

WRT another example of immaterial creation: the other main category I can think of is that of universals - "what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities", such as truth, goodness, beauty.  Namely, what is the nature of those universals - do they exist out there in the world independently or not?  Realism says they do, anti-realism says they don't, and nominalism splits the difference.  (Nominalism arose in the medieval church in response to the revival of Aristotle and arguably contributed strongly to Reformation theology.)

 

Realism is basically the idea that reality exists independently of how people see it or understand it. Reality is what it is, regardless of whether we see it as it is. And when it comes to philosophy, realism is the idea that ideas - like goodness and beauty and human nature - are real things that exist independently of whatever anyone thinks of them, or even *whether* anyone thinks of them. Creation isn't just made up of material reality (like our flesh and bones and blood) but is also made up of immaterial reality (like souls and the essence of humanity and truth and goodness and beauty). 

However, nominalism rejects the idea of independently-existing immaterial moral essences like goodness and beauty and human nature - general ideas are just human-invented names for things that don't actually exist - only particular, concrete, material objects exist. So "human nature" as its own thing doesn't exist - only individual humans who have some things in common. We might *call* those things-all-humans-have "human nature", but that's just a name we use - there's no *actual* universal "human nature" that all humans *really* share.

 

Now, the scientific revolution rests on nominalist assumptions, and kind of kicked pre-modern realism's butt - in our scientific, technocratic West, we're all swimming in nominalist assumptions. Is beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or inherent to what is being beheld? Is the question "can I use thing A to accomplish good purpose B?" a strictly *practical* question (will it work), or is it inherently a *moral* question, too (is it *right* to use thing A to accomplish purpose B)? The first answer to each is nominalist, the second one broadly realist.

 

The original point of nominalism was to preserve God's sovereignty over His creation.  Prior to the revival of Aristotle in the 12 and 13th centuries, the medieval church was more Platonic.  The connection between creation and the spiritual was something like this:

 

Spiritual

|

\/

Immaterial Creation

|

\/

Material Creation

 

The material was encompassed and determined by the immaterial and the immaterial was in turn encompassed and determined by the spiritual.  You could only understand material creation if you understood immaterial creation, and you could only understand immaterial creation if you understood God's spiritual work in creation.  What creation was *for* determined what creation *was* and what it could *do*.  Unbelievers, with no understanding of God's spiritual work, were therefore unable to truly understand the whys and wherefores of God's creation.

 

But Aristotle had a different relationship between the material and immaterial.  And the resulting synthesis between Aristotelianism and Christianity looked, to its opponents anyway, something like this (I am unclear how the scholastics themselves viewed it):

 

-----------------------------Spiritual

-----------------------------|

-----------------------------\/

Material Creation <-> Immaterial Creation

 

So you had immaterial creation formed by *both* material creation *and* the spiritual (and material creation as only indirectly affected by God's spiritual work).  Unbelievers *could* understand the immaterial purposes of creation, since they were right there, embedded in material creation to be studied.  But they couldn't understand the spiritual purposes of God.  And to nominalists, this allowed the notions of unbelievers to define what was and wasn't possible for God to do in creation, and thus infringed on His absolute sovereignty. because it limited God to working out His spiritual good in ways that meshed with the inherent immaterial purposes of creation.  To nominalists, it made God's ability to spiritually work in creation limited by the nature of creation itself - and thus claimed that God cannot change what He sets in motion, that He is limited by His past actions - which infringed on God's ability to do absolutely anything.  And to top it off, since the purposes of creation were possible for unbelievers to learn, God was seen as limited to working in ways that unbelievers could conceive of - which is a false limitation, because unbelievers by definition are unable to understand the ways of God.  (Heck, humans in general are unable by definition to fully understand the ways of God.)

 

So, to preserve God's absolute sovereignty to do absolutely anything in creation He wanted, nominalists gutted the category of immaterial creation:

 

Spiritual-----------------------------

|-----------------------------

\/-----------------------------

Material Creation -> Immaterial Creation

 

Material creation was brought right back under the direct control of the spiritual, while immaterial creation was left hanging off to the side, unable to influence much of anything.  Immaterial creation existed in name only, not as really-existing things.  (And all the important things that immaterial creation was responsible for ended up migrating eventually either to the spiritual or the material.)  But the *nature* of the connection between the spiritual and material creation changed.  Instead of the purposes of creation being embedded *within* creation itself, material creation *had* no inherent purpose.  Instead, God imposed His spiritual purposes from outside creation onto a creation that was itself inherently purposeless - He could do anything He wanted with creation to accomplish His good goals.

 

And this changed the nature of humanity's relationship to creation, too.  Being God's stewards of creation means doing God's will in creation.  When God's will was inherent in creation, that meant using creation as it was meant to be used.  But once God's will was imposed from the outside on a purposeless creation, then we too did His will by imposing our wills on a purposeless creation to accomplish His good purposes.  Under nominalism, nothing within creation tells us how creation should be lived in - only God's divine revelation can tell us. 

 

And then, per Charles Taylor in A Secular Age, nominalism and scholasticism's autonomous material creation, both Christian, combined to form a worldview quite antithetical to Christianity:

 

Material Creation | Spiritual

 

This kicked off the Scientific Revolution - the material world could profitably be studied in itself, regardless of what spiritual purposes may or may not exist, because nothing about those spiritual purposes would or could change the nature of material creation.  Ever since Christians have been fighting to keep/regain the primacy of the spiritual and the ability of the spiritual to affect the material, but in practice, this often is reduced to accepting an inherently purposeless, spiritless creation, while maintaining that 1) God and His outside-creation spiritual purposes *do* exist and *should* be lived by, and 2) God reserves the right to intervene spiritually in His material creation in order to change its usual course at any time.  This concedes almost everything - it *accepts* the materialistic view that the "usual course of things" inherently *excludes* all things spiritual; it accepts that "the usual course of things" are things that happen *without* God - that the usual way of the world is to be *without* God.  And as those materialistic assumptions give the spiritual very little to do in our daily lives, it's hard to maintain the primacy of the spiritual.  And I do think those assumptions affect most Western Christians, sacramental and non-sacramental alike, to a greater or lesser extent - it's in the air we breathe.

 

~*~

 

The gutting of immaterial creation, and the resulting migration of things from immaterial creation to either spiritual or material, changed the nature of natural law.  And this is pretty important, because a lot of Christian ethical teaching has been based in natural law.  Christians have generally held that natural law is written in creation and so is knowable to an extent by everyone.  Scholasticism tended to see natural law as written into immaterial creation.  But when nominalism followed by the scientific revolution gutted the category of immaterial creation, the only categories that were left were spiritual or material. 

 

So for natural law to be written into creation, it would have to be written into *material* creation - and therefore be discoverable by *science*.  Which is quite a change from the based-in-an-objective-immaterial-creation morality of virtue ethics.  For quite a while Christian and non-Christians alike sought to ground morality in scientifically-discoverable material facts - MacIntyre calls this "the Enlightenment Project" - but ultimately it failed philosophically, and the results of that failure have been extending into everyday life.  And one of the impacts is that *Christian* morality - inasmuch as it is rooted in a scientifically-determined-material-only "natural" law - is rooted in a fiction.  And a fiction that people are increasingly coming to realize *is* a fiction.

 

One of the main points of MacIntyre's After Virtue is how what he calls "emotivism" (*not* the same thing as "emotional") is a direct result of the failure of modernity to ground morality in anything.  Per MacIntyre, emotivists are people who believe there are *no* objective moral standards, and so all moral judgments are nothing more than covert expressions of personal preference.  Most emotivists take this to be a fact about the inherent nature of moral judgment: just like we moderns say with certainty that no real witches were ever burned throughout history because there are no witches to be burned in the first place, emotivists say with confidence that no one in history has ever appealed to a real, objective moral standard in defending their moral judgment because there are *no* objective moral standards in the first place.

 

But MacIntyre's point is that while emotivists *are* seeing something that is really there - that modern Western moral judgments *do* embody this mismatch between how a group of people make moral judgments (as if they are based on rational, objective criteria) and what those moral judgments are actually based on (feelings and attitudes) - they are *wrong* when they declare that the features of these *particular* moral judgments apply to *all* moral judgments everywhere.  In fact, MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” is a book-length argument that the modern loss of objective moral foundations is not universal but historically contingent. 

 

I really appreciate MacIntyre here, because he offers an alternative between "upholding objective morality in general requires me to believe that *my* practice of it is still good" (an increasingly untenable position) and "rejecting objective morality in general because *my* practice of it is bad" (a common overreaction to a personal lack of foundation in beliefs).  Aka, it gives me the space to acknowledge that there *is* some truth to observations that many *contemporary* Christians and Christian churches (including me) do indeed suffer from hollowed-out beliefs (including moral beliefs) - beliefs that claim the status of objective, rational truth without any sort of objective, rational foundation – but this doesn’t have to mean that there *never was* any sort of objective, rational foundation for Christianity, only that that foundation has been lost to many of us contemporary Christians.  You can realize that you and your tradition are (currently) lacking in important ways and decide that the problem is with you and your tradition’s *current* understanding of Christianity, instead of deciding that the problem isn’t with you and your tradition’s understanding of Christianity, but with Christianity itself.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Books that I found helpful re: the changing nature of morality:

 

Well, MacIntyre, for one.  After Virtue was mindblowing, as I said.  He has some sequels that are in my Great Unread that answer questions raised by After Virtue: Whose Justice?  Which Rationality?, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, and Dependent Rational Animals.  He has a new book out that is supposed to provide a capstone summary of his work on virtue: Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity that is reputed to provide a good one-volume summary of his thought, though I haven't seen it in person.

 

Charles Taylor's A Secular Age is more on the changing nature of the relationship of the spiritual to creation.  It's epic in both scope and length ;).  Its goal is to describe why it was that belief in God was the default in 1500 Western Christendom, while now in the West *dis*belief in God is the default.  I haven't finished this one yet.  I read the first hundred pages probably four times - it's where he describes what it was like to see the world as a medieval Catholic in 1500 - and I read it over and over till I could *feel* what he was describing.  Then I took those medieval assumptions and read the Lutheran Confessions in light of *them* - instead of in light of my modern assumptions - in order to better understand what they were saying and responding to.  James K. A. Smith has a book that summarizes and comments upon Taylor's book: How Not to Be Secular, which I've read and enjoyed.  I quibble some with Smith's take, but it is an accessible, helpful introduction to Taylor.

 

David Wells has a four book series on the effects of modernity on the church: No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtue, and Above All Earthly Powers.  I'm only in the first one, but it's been packed with great stuff.  He also has a more popular, summary book of the above quartet: The Courage to Be Protestant, but I've not seen it.

 

In a more popular vein, I really enjoyed Nancy Pearcey's Saving Leonardo.  It's an analysis of various artists and artistic movements that looks at how their work embodied what they believed.  And it also works as a survey of the dominant beliefs from Kant till today and how artists lived them out in there work.  I found the introduction a little too strident for my tastes, but the analysis was excellent.

 

In a different vein, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr was a wonderful look at the ethics of technology - how every technology has a view of how the world is and how humans are embedded in it.

 

 

There are tons of other books - many are in my Great Unread - I have probably a half dozen books that analyze how we got from pre-modernity to modernity alone - but I'm trying to stick to books I've read or mostly read.  I'm going to throw in two exceptions here, though.  One is The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.  I'm just in chapter four, but it's a readable, accessible intro to the broad threads of the above books, plus it spends most of its time proposing *solutions*.  The other is Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry, Hans Boersma.  I have it, but I'm still working through his scholarly work on sacramental ontology (which is awesome).  But it's a popular presentation of a sacramental view by an evangelical.  (He has a new book on Scripture as Real Presence that is going on my to buy list.)

 

Also, virtue ethics people here have recommended these three books as a trio:

(1) C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man - explains the problem (lack of virtue) and why it's a problem

(2) Joseph Pieper, Leisure as the Basis of Culture - explains the solution philosophically

(3) David Hicks, Norms and Nobility - explains how to put the solution into practice wrt education

I've read (1) several times and loved it (didn't truly follow his argument till the third time through, though), and I'm partway through (2) and appreciating it.  ((3) is languishing still among the Great Unread.)

 

~*~

 

Hope all the above helps and isn't too overwhelming :shifty.  (I've now spilled over 10,000 words on this thread :yikes.) 

 

Really quick (too late ;)), I agree with pp that one's view of sin is important - it's one place where I strongly differ from medieval scholastics and it does change my metaphysics relative to theirs (and also relative to modernity). 

 

Plus another theological difference that affects a sacramental view of reality is an analogical vs univocal view of the relationship between human qualities like love, truth, etc and God's possession of the same qualities.  Sacramental people tend to have an analogical view - humans and God are radically different, and so describing God using qualities that are in creation (love, etc) is only an *analogy* to what God is actually like.  However, a univocal view of those qualities means that there is no difference in *kind* between human love and God's love (for example), but only in *degree* (God's love is infinitely *greater* than ours, but it looks like ours).  (Nominalists tended to have a univocal view of universals, which contributed to their view that how those universals appeared in creation necessarily defined how those universals existed in God.)  Anyway, an analogical view maintains a huge gulf between the *nature* of God and creation, which paradoxically allows for a closer union between God and creation without subsuming God into creation (pantheism).  A univocal view erases some of the differences in essence between God and creation, and so it has to impose a greater metaphysical distance to maintain the innate difference between God and creation.

 

THANK YOU, forty-two, for every one of those 10,000+ words! Truly. I've read through what you've written three times now, and I'm starting to understand a little better. I think especially this spiritual/immaterial/material distinction has A LOT to do with the many questions I've been facing for years. I need to read up on it more. Thank you for the book list! I've added many to my wish list.

 

If you'd care to explain your view of sin, I'd love to hear it. No pressure, though! You've written enough for me to mull over for quite a while!
 


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