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Impassibility, Brooklyn, and Art as the image of divine perfection
with additional reflections on C. S. Lewis's pedagogy, Mastricht's method, and Lewis Ayres on mystery
Forgive my silence, but after two years of escaping covid our family finally fell victim. We are all recovering our strength, but it has not been easy. Coming out of illness has given me a renewed sense of gratitude for God’s compassion when we are most vulnerable.
Research for my Systematic Theology (Baker Academic) continues…
I have been reflecting a lot on divine impassibility this week, mostly because I preached on the subject for the first time. I am an elder at Emmaus Church and each year we preach a doctrinal series. I was tasked with a sermon on God’s incomprehensibility and one on impassibility. In my honest opinion, preaching on impassibility is the ultimate challenge, testing our ability to communicate some of the most complicated aspects of classical theology in the vernacular of the church. I used 1 Samuel 15 as my text, though I also briefly touched on Acts 14. Have you ever noticed how Paul responds to the crowd in Lystra when the priest of Zeus is about to sacrifice animals to Barnabas (after Paul and Barnabas heal a man, the crowd thinks the gods have come down in the likeness of men)? I’m paraphrasing but Paul says we are not men of like nature as you, which could be translated and interpreted as, We are not men of “like passions” as you or “affected in similar ways” as you (see Steven Duby’s Jesus and the God of Classical Theism). Paul then appeals to God as the Creator to distinguish him from those with passions. Impassibility will play an important part in my Systematic Theology. Impassibility is foundational for everything said regarding theology proper, yet as I explained in my sermon, impassibility also has significant application to the gratuity of God’s grace and the unconditional nature of his love. (Sometime early this week the sermon audio will be posted at Emmaus.)
Over the last several weeks Peter van Mastricht’s Theorectical-Practical Theology has been a companion as I reflect on how theologians in the Great Tradition approached theology. Mastricht provides the following definition: “the doctrine of living for God through Christ.” I do not know if I will have the space (since I am writing a one volume and Mastricht wrote a multi-volume) to follow his method: (1) exegetical, (2) dogmatic, (3) elenctic, (4) practical. However, all four components will be present.
I stumbled across a series of essays by Lewis Ayres, historian of Nicene trinitarianism—Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. He corrects misconceptions of “mystery” in classical theology, justifying the task of the theologian in view of God’s incomprehensibility. Ayres writes,
“This strong emphasis on mystery does not mean that theological thought has little left to do; understanding where and why there is mystery, where and how the incomprehensible is made manifest, is a task of thought and attention to which theologians are called.”
Summer is a time to reflect on teaching over the years. It’s also a time to plan for the year ahead and what one hopes to accomplish. I am prepping for a Credo podcast with Michael Ward, so I’m rereading The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. The longer I teach the more I resonate with Lewis when he said,
“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”
(By jungles he meant pre-modern and by deserts he meant modern.) Here is the pedagogical different between fundamentalism and orthodoxy. I am writing a piece for Christianity Today reflecting on my years teaching, explaining why introducing students to the fresh waters of the past irrigates the deserts of our modern day.
I will be in sunny So Cal this week and I am bringing my daughter Cassandra along with me (I enjoy bringing one of my kids with me when I travel both for company and so they can see what dad is up to). I’ve been asked to speak to the doctoral students at Master’s Seminary about the New Testament and the Trinity and Christology. So I have them reading ahead of time a number of books I will utilize for my systematic research, including Craig Carter’s Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition, Bobby Jamieson and Tyler Wittman’s Biblical Reasoning, Steven Duby’s Jesus and the God of Classical Theism, as well as Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.
Since I mentioned Thomas, I must say the new issue of Credo Magazine just released—What Can Protestants Learn from Thomas Aquinas?–and it is rich. It’s longer than usual because so many evangelicals were eager to share ways they have benefitted from Thomas even if they do disagree with him on matters like ecclesiology. I encourage you to explore the many ways, from theology proper to Christology, from soteriology to ethics, from hermeneutics to our Protestant Scholastic heritage.
My beautiful wife’s birthday was yesterday. I praise God for her. She first introduced me to theology, and she continues to be my closest theological conversation partner. I am blessed, and I don’t take her for granted. Currently, she is reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and she’s enamored with the mother who passed on this tradition (and rule) to her children:
Every day read one page from the Bible and one page from Shakespeare.
She was a wise woman, I must say. She prized education.
We listened to her advice and took our kids to see Romeo and Juliet in the park—just outside the Nelson-Atkins Museum. As we were walking there, I noticed for the first time—though I have walked past it countless times—the wording engraved into stone at the top of the museum:
“True painting is only an image of the Perfection of God.”
How breathtaking considering the outlook of today’s artists. Art used to be painted on the canvas of classical realism. What if such artists of yesterday were reborn for a renaissance today?
p.s., I just registered at Buy Me a Coffee. Support my writing and I’ll keep the newsletters about my forthcoming Systematic Theology coming.
I’m Matthew Barrett. You can support my writing via Buy Me a Coffee. Become a patron and I’ll keep the newsletters about my forthcoming Systematic Theology coming. Do explore Credo Magazine, and get to know other theologians on the Credo Podcast. My next book is The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (Zondervan Academic, 2023).
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