Reality & Worship

Edith M. Humphrey, in Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth As in Heaven, writes:

To remember that God is God is to look reality squarely in the face. To consider God’s qualities is to be moved to worship. To remember what God has done is to be filled with thanksgiving. The temple, as the footstool of God, was Israel’s way of understanding that great truth embedded by C. S. Lewis within his children’s novels — like Aslan, the LORD is not safe or tome; but he is good. (30)

These are the primary activities of worship as praise, remembering God, proclaiming his character, recalling his actions, entering into his presence in our midst.

May you spend all your days worshipping the LORD in the beauty of holiness!

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Painted Churches

When I lived in Cyprus, I had the opportunity to take a trip to the Troodos Mountains with a group of Orthodox Christians on a guided tour of some of Cyprus’s beautiful churches, led by my friends Frs. Ioannis and Andreas; we were blessed in Fr. Ioannis’ specialised knowledge as an iconographer and artist in his own right.

The group at Panayia Podithou

We saw many wonderful things there, including Panayia Podithou with its peaked roof that hearkened one’s thoughts to more western, northerly climes — but there for the same reason (snow!). This church, the first on our trip, includes a fresco of holy Moses removing his shoes at the Burning Bush (thus comes its name). It also has images of Christ giving the twelve apostles the Lord’s Supper.

After Panayia Podithou, we went into the village of Galata. There we saw the Church of St. Sozomen. St. Sozomen’s is a magnificent church (it also has better lighting than Panayia Podithou, and therefore stands out in my memory more!). The interior is entirely covered in frescoes of varying levels of ‘skill’ — although, the only one that would not necessarily count as ‘Byzantine’ was one of those ‘western’ Resurrection scenes with Jesus jumping out of the tomb with a banner. Similar to this (this isn’t the one, though):

Assembled on the frescoed walls of St. Sozomen’s are a variety of saints, biblical figures, and angels. The place is a riot of colour and a far cry from the simple dark wood of St. Columba’s Free Church of Scotland! The exterior of St. Sozomen’s is notable because it, too, is covered in frescoes. The roof has been constructed so that there is basically a portico surrounding the entire church.

Fittingly, amongst the frescoes painted on the exterior of St. Sozomen’s are icons of the Ecumenical Councils, from Nicaea to Nicaea II. This is fitting because — unless there’s a Sozomen of whom I am unaware (entirely likely!) — Sozomen was one of the early ecclesiastical historians, living in the first half of the fifth century. You can read his Ecclesiastical History here. Here’s the photo I took of the Council of Nicaea:

The Council of Nicaea

I also managed to get photos of the fresco of the Transfiguration:

And of the Last Judgement:

Our final stop was the Church Ayios Nikolaos tis Stigis (St. Nicholas of the Roof). It has two roofs, as seen below:

Apparently the original ‘Byzantine’-style roof couldn’t handle the snow, so they had to add a peaked roof like the one at Panayia Podithou. Ayios Nikolaos is full of frescoes, on walls, on pillars, everywhere. They are wondrously colourful and more than worth a visit, if you are ever in Cyprus. At this church, I first learned of St. Mary of Egypt, the anchoress who lived in the desert so long that her clothing disintegrated; to keep her safe from the sun and maintain modesty, she grew hair all over the body. There was also an image of St. Paphnutius, another Egyptian saint, also naked, with a beard that was strategically long.

In these painted churches of Cyprus, I first came to an understanding of one reason why Byzantine and mediaeval churches are covered in frescoes and mosaics of the saints and angels. It is a reason I was just reading about today in the latest book by Edith M. Humphrey (one of many Anglicans turned Eastern Orthodox), Grand Entrance. In the first chapter of this book, she has been endeavouring to demonstrate to the reader that worship and prayer (the subject of the volume) are never truly done alone. Part of our lack of isolation and individualism as we worship and pray comes from the presence both of the saints and angels themselves, those saints who are offering up our prayers in bowls before the Throne as in Revelation, those angels who are there to protect us and learn the mysteries of God with us.

The frescoes and mosaics — or, in the case of St. Andrew’s Orthodox Community here in Edinburgh, the individual icons plastering every piece of available wall, each showing us a saint or angel — are visual reminders of what’s really going on as we gather to worship the Triune God. Even if at, say, Morning Prayer when only Fr. Raphael turns up to pray, he is never alone. Not only is God, the One-in-Three, there with him (thus making the community at least two if not four but really just two because, as St. Gregory of Nyssa noted, there are not three gods but one God, although there will still be at least four hypostaseis, as beautifully illustrated by Fr. John Zizioulas in Being As Communion), the saints and angels assembled around God’s Throne are with him.

Thus, at Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, we are reminded that St. Ambrose (saint of the week here) is always with us worshipping YHWH as well (not least because of his bones below the altar):

At St. George’s Anglican Church, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (where my dad is priest), we are reminded that St. George (saint of the week here) joins us in worship:

We are never alone. And so, the next time you pray, ‘Our Father …’ remember that you join the invisible saints of God in our midst. When you pray, ‘Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us,’ alone, remember that you are not alone. You just cannot see your fellow worshippers.

Thoughts on Climacus’ Ladder, Step 4

I am partway through Step 4 of John Climacus’ (Saint of the Week here) Ladder. Not being a monk, I find a lot of his wisdom wasted on me. Still …

A lot of people these days are really stoked about “narrative” and “narrative theology” and suchlike things. I remember once at a party a guy who worked for the Canadian Bible Society remarking that the Gospel could never be put into propositional statements because Jesus taught in parables. Given that that was a propositional statement, I was amused. Given also that the content of the Gospel is not Jesus’ parables but his life, I was a bit irked.

A lot of people try to pit narrative against proposition, though. This is wrongheaded, as Edith M. Humphrey (once Anglican, now Orthodox [yes, I’ll mention that every time I mention her]) notes in her book Ecstasy and Intimacy. We need both. We need balance. In Step 4, about obedience, St. John Climacus, Father of the Church, demonstrates the usefulness of both ways of presenting truth.

Approximately half of this Step on the ladder to paradise is occupied with stories about a monastery John once visited in Alexandria. He was filled with wonder at what he saw there. The monks lived in obedience to their abbot to a very high degree. To test them, he would make them lie on the ground for undetermined lengths of time just to see if they would do it. Once, to see if a postulant was worthy of admission, he made this man, a former fornicator (with both humans and animals), thief, and liar confess in detail his deeds before all the brothers at Divine Liturgy. Brothers who were disobedient enough were cast out or sent into the Prison where they only got bread and raw vegetables for food.

The monks were also obedient to one another and sought to outdo each other in virtue and in bearing one another’s burdens, claiming the sins of others for themselves to help brothers avoid punishment.

The result of this radical obedience was great virtue. John writes, “If they had to speak, what they talked about all the time was the remembrance of death and the thought of everlasting judgment.” (95, Classics of Western Spirituality translation) The advanced brothers were so humble that, when asked about hesychia by John, they claimed to be merely corporeal men with no knowledge of such things.

These men were calm of heart, humble, meek, pure. The longer they lived in the monastery, they less they were involved in backbiting and prideful actions.

Now, I’m not sure if I can handle such radical obedience. But imagine if we tried to do things for people without grumbling or complaining (cf. Philippians!). Imagine if we tried to be the servant of all (cf. Mark!). Imagine if, when asked to do something that is largely indifferent, we did it, seeing it as a way of learning humility. Imagine if we saw everyone around us as Kings and Queens. Or, to take another image, imagine if we saw them as Christs (cf. Matthew! Also, John of Ephesus, Lives of Eastern Saints, Chapter 5 about Simeon & Sergius, Patrologia Orientalis 17, pp. 84-89) rather than as nuisances.

Anyway, Climacus pairs this narrative teaching technique with propositional statements such as this:

Obedience is a total renunciation of our own life, and it shows up clearly in the way we act. Or, again, obedience is the mortification of the members while the mind remains alive. Obedience is unquestioned movement, death freely accepted, a simple life, danger faced without worry, and unprepared defense before God, fearlessness before death, a safe voyage, a sleeper’s journey. Obedience is the burial place of the will and the resurrection of lowliness. (91-92)

I like this technique, this balance between narrative and proposition. Western preaching has swung too far to the propositional, but I do not think it should be lost. We should find, however, a place for deep and meaningful storytelling in our teaching, as we see St. John Climacus doing in Step 4.

In the words of my friend Fr. Ioannis, “How clever the ancients were!”

Liturgical Translations

Tonight I began translating the Gelasian Sacramentary (a digitised version is here). Given that a. my current research is into sixth-century Greek & Syriac saints’ lives and b. my future research is into fifth-century papal correspondence, this project will take a while.

Nevertheless, I believe a translation of this sacramentary is a worthwhile and important object — and not only of this sacramentary but of the Leonine and Gregorian Sacramentaries as well. Why?

I’ve been thinking about the (New) Liturgical Movement — the move for modern liturgies that began in the 1960’s and has given us the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) for the Anglican Church of Canada, the Alternate Service Book and Common Worship for the Church of England, the Novus Ordo for Roman Catholics, similar liturgies for Lutherans (Book of Worship?), a host of prayer resources such as Celtic Daily Prayer or Celebrating Common Prayer, and a proliferation of liturgies for special occasions or individuals at the local church or small group level. And the Taizé office and music.

All of this is well and good, although sometimes I have my reservations about particular moments in the Liturgical Movement. One of the reservations I have is that sometimes the Liturgical Movement, like the evangelical equivalent of Contemporary Worship, does not drink deeply enough.

Edith M. Humphrey, before she became Eastern Orthodox, recommended that writers of new songs of worship begin by drawing on the Psalms. I would echo that, calling them also to immerse themselves in the old hymns both musically and textually for a while.

For the liturgists, an immersion in the Psalms would be helpful. Also helpful would be the vast resources of the ancient and mediaeval church. For the liturgical reformers of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, this was a real possibility. Men like Quignon, Luther, Cranmer, and the editors of the 1570 Roman Missal, all knew Latin and probably Greek as well.

This meant that as they sought to reform the liturgy, they had access to centuries of liturgical writing, and we can see that Cranmer certainly put this to good use in his famous Collects that draw heavily upon the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries and his daily office includes a prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (which, incidentally, is also present in that of St. Basil the Great).

Today’s liturgists, be they clergy or worship leaders or diocesan committees or church-wide committees often lack this knowledge of obsolete languages. Thus, it is harder for them to drink deeply as did their forebears. One result is collects that aren’t even properly collects, for example (as lamented somewhere on Liturgy).

Accessible translations of ancient and mediaeval liturgical texts is a worthy endeavour. As you can see, I have already done some of this with the Mediaeval Wedding and the Mediaeval Vespers (both Sarum Use). More needs to be done, for although the Sarum Missal has been translated into English (here for the Mass, here for the book on Amazon), the Sarum Breviary has not (at least, not in its entirety).

I believe that translations of liturgical texts from the long and venerable tradition of western liturgy would be a blessing to the Liturgical Movement. What do you think?

In Light of Bible Sunday …

Since yesterday was Bible Sunday (see my post here), I’ve decided to post a catena (Lat. for “chain”) of quotations about the Bible; it is not patristic, especially given the presence of Asimov of all people!  If you want to read more of my thoughts about the Bible, I’ve got a list of posts at the bottom.  Here we go (in vaguely chronological order):

Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate on them day and night.  We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put is precepts into practice.  Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love.  So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page but channels of grace into our hearts. –Origen

Wherever you go, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, have [before you] the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. –St. Antony the Great

All of Holy Scripture is bound together, and it has been united by one Spirit.  It is like a single chain, one link attached to another, and when you have taken one, another hangs from it. –St. Jerome

For my part I declare resolutely and with all my heart that if I were called upon to write a book which was to be vested with the highest authority, I should prefer to write it in such a way that a reader could find re-echoed in my words whatever truths he was able to apprehend.  I would rather write in this way than impose a single true meaning so explicitly that it would exclude all others, even though they contained no falsehood that could give me offence. –St. Augustine

Constant meditation upon the holy Scriptures will perpetually fill the soul with incomprehensible ecstasy and joy in God. –St. Isaac the Syrian

If you do not love the blessed and truly divine words of Scripture, you are like the beasts that have neither sense nor reason. –St. Nilus of Antioch

Read this book.  It contains everything.  You ask for love?  Read this book of the Crucified.  You wish to be good?  Read the book of the Crucified, which contains everything good. –Savonarola

The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me. –Martin Luther

We owe to Scripture the same reverence that we owe to God. –John Calvin

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. –39 Articles of the Anglican Religion

Unity must be according to God’s holy word, or else it were better war than peace.  We ought never to regard unity so much — that we forsake God’s word for her sake. –Hugh Latimer

Time can take nothing from the Bible.  It is the living monitor.  Like the sun, it is the same in its light and influence to man this day which it was years ago.  It can meet every present inquiry and console every present loss. –Richard Cecil

The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge.  It was given to change lives. –Dwight L. Moody

The English Bible, the first of national treasure and the most valuable thing this world affords. –King George V

Sir Arthur St. Clare … was a man who read his Bible.  That was what was the matter with him.  When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else’s Bible?  A print reads a Bible for misprints.  A Mormon reads a Bible and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his and finds we have no arms and legs … –Fr. Brown by GK Chesterton

The Character of the Christian’s experience of god is determined by the reality of God who has spoken his word and who continues to speak his Word. –John Woodhouse

I have found nothing in science or space exploration to compel me to throw away my Bible or to reject my Saviour, Jesus Christ, in whom I trust. –Walter F. Burke

The infliction of literalism on us by fundamentalists who read the Bible without seeing anything but words is one of the great tragedies of history. –Isaac Asimov

The church may not judge the Scriptures, selecting and discarding from among their teachings.  But Scripture under Christ judges the church for its faithfulness to his revealed truth. –Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials

Classic Christianity never asserts either scripture against tradition or tradition against scripture.  Rather, it understands itself as the right remembering of the earliest testimony of scripture to God’s self-disclosure in history. –Thomas C. Oden

Scripture became written in order that the events attested in preaching might be more accurately preserved and remembered.  A written text was obviously more stable than an oral tradition, which might always be controverted by another alleged oral tradition.  A text, if drafted faithfully, did not distort memory but stabilized it in writing.  The written Word of canonized scripture was assumed to consistent with its anteceding oral expressions, and its transmission stood under the protection of the Holy Spirit, who accompanied the apostolic witness. –Thomas C. Oden

The Gospels were not just written to describe events in the past.  They were written to show that those events were relevant, indeed earth-shattering, worldview-challenging, and life-changing in the present. –Tom Wright

God’s Word does not breed quarrels and divisions.  It brings the simple truth and love of Jesus, who heals and unites.  It brings salvation. –John Michael Talbot

the Bible is the unique, infallible, written Word of God, but the word of God is not just the Bible.  If we try to dignify the Bible by saying false things about it — by simply equating the word of God with it — we do not dignify it.  Instead we betray its content by denying what it says about the nature of the word of God. –Dallas Willard

The Bible is a finite, written record of the saving truth spoken by the infinite, loving god, and it reliably fixes the boundaries of everything he will ever say to humankind. –Dallas Willard

In the modern world we seldom looked at the Bible as a composite picture revealing a cosmic vision of the world; we were too busy with the details to see God’s narrative whole.  We were too concerned with analyzing its parts, with literary criticism, historical verification, and theological systems. –Robert E. Webber

To suggest that only Christians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been and are capable of understanding the Bible is to deny the Bible’s universality — that it is addressed to all people of all times, not only to the learned of a particular time — and consequently to reduce Christianity to a kind of modern gnosticism. –Boniface Ramsey

A faithful reading of scripture . . . means that we seek to understand how the passages that we are reading at the moment, and the questions that we are presently asking, fit into this forgiving, healing, and life-giving drama that has been initiated by God himself. –Edith M. Humphrey

If you have the Spirit without the Word, you blow up.  If you have the Word without the Spirit, you dry up.  If you have both the Word and the Spirit, you grow up. –I never wrote down the name

Pocket Scroll posts on the Bible:

How are we to interpret the Bible?

The Allure of Eastern Orthodoxy

John Wesley on Spiritual Reading

Killing Enemies & Bashing Babies on Rocks: Reading the Difficult Psalms, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2

Reading the Bible (pt. 1)

Why Read the Bible? Unspiritual Reason #1: Books

Unspiritual Reason to Read the Bible #2: Everything Other Than Books

The Third Unspiritual Reason to Read the Bible

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Theology: Who Cares?

I was talking to a friend the other night who commented that it was really good to take calculus and physics at the same time — to get both the theoretical and the practical.  I commented that I wasn’t so good at Physics (and little enjoyed it) but was good at calculus (and enjoyed it).  I noted that I have generally preferred the abstract for the hard, practical, physical — I am, after all, contemplating studying the intricacies of Christology.*  She said that she’s not really one for the abstract.

And theology, as we understand it usually, is the work of armchair scholars, of people spending enormous amounts of time poring over Scriptures and scholars, and then thinking really hard about it.  According to Greta Vosper, a Torontonian United Church minister, how we live is more important than what we believe.  So does theology really matter?  To take up last post’s thoughts, does Chalcedonian Orthodoxy really matter?

I mean, Christians are followers of the Way, aren’t we?  People who live by the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, right?  This means we should have a particular lifestyle, to follow, in the words of the first-century Didache, the Way of Life, rather than the Way of Death.  How does Jesus having two natures really affect our ability to live by the following?

Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there, if you love those who love you? Do not also the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone gives you a blow upon your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes away your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one that asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). (Didache I)

I’m not entirely sure, to tell you the truth.  However, according to a Tozer quote that I recorded somewhere, what we think of when we think of God is the most important thing about us.  This is to say that “Who is God?” is a question of vital importance.  For example, when we see that God is Trinity, we discover that

personhood is tied up intimately with community, and with complementarity of Persons: the Trinity, a community of irreducible Persons in complementarity and love, is our bedrock in understanding what it is to be alive.  This leads us back to our understanding of Christian spirituality: authentic spirituality is the characteristic of a person in Christ who has enough wisdom and insight regarding self and other, and enough love and strength through the Spirit, that he or she can dare to be “ek-static” and so to enter into true intimacy with “the other”, an intimacy that will include both word and silence. (Edith M. Humphrey, Ecstasy and Intimacy, 64)

A belief in the Trinity drives us to community, intimacy, and communion.  It frees us up to enter into vulnerable communion and commingling with one another, knowing that, as persons made in the image of the triune God, we were made for this.

Furthermore, it is only by the grace of God we can live the truly sacrificial life of love and joy that is laid out for us by the various injunctions of Christ found in the Gospels.  If we do not trust in the true, living God, we are wilfully cutting ourselves off from His grace.  As Miroslav Volf points out in Free of Charge, God showers his grace and forgiveness on us, it is our job to receive it with willing hands.  If we do not take the gift given, we cannot benefit from it.

Our theology should fuel our prayer and our worship.  What we think of God influences how we worship, how often we worship, how we pray, how often we pray.  The Arian worships a Christ who is not even God.  Thus, in his heart, he is an idolater, even though the One he worships is perfect God.  On the other hand, if we look at Christ and fall into the purported error of Eutyches, we see someone who did not taste fully of humanity, someone who had only a heavenly body.  Thus, we are praying to a distant being, a God who only humbled himself so far.

Prayer and worship are how God fuels us for his mission on Earth.  True theology brings us to a place of true worship.  May we all ponder the greatness and beauty of our God.

And so Chalcedonian orthodoxy does matter.  By the statement of faith made by the bishops in 451, we declare ourselves committed to a God who is so mighty that he was able to become one of us without diminishing his glory yet without compromising his humanity.  This is the mighty, awesome God whom we worship.  This belief should fuel us to humble ourselves, to go into the deepest, darkest, saddest corners of humanity to raise up the fallen and brokenhearted, to set captives free, and live out the Way of Life as citizens of the Kingdom of the Heavens here on earth.

Theology.  Who cares?

You, hopefully.

*Although good at musical and dancing theory, those are two of the areas where I greatly prefer the practical.  Also in worship and the Eucharist, although I enjoy the theories and theologies surrounding them, for they help deepen my mind’s engagement with the actions.

The Trinity, the Shack, and Mark Driscoll

First, I would like to point out: The Shack is not a brilliant piece of theology.  It’s not really theological at all.  It is a novel, a story, an idea, an image.  Its Trinitarian theology is weak and clearly the product of someone who sat at a few typical Protestant sermons but never actually spent time reading up on the Trinity.

Because once you’ve read up on the Trinity, you are never so bold as to attempt something like The Shack.

However, The Shack does not commit all of the sins that Mark Driscoll claims it does.  Perhaps this is because Mark Driscoll can’t read.  I should qualify that:  Perhaps this is because Mark Driscoll can’t read literary endeavours (not that The Shack is a shining example of that, either).  Unsurprising amongst the New Calvinists is this idea that we can read a work of fiction as though it were theology.  Everyone already did this with The Da Vinci Code.  I’d hoped we’d become a bit more nuanced in our reading than that.

Nevertheless, Driscoll first says that The Shack commits idolatry, that in representing the unseen, invisible Members of the Trinity, Young has made a graven image.  Wm. Paul Young has not, in fact, made a graven image, and not only because you don’t engrave novels.  Young is not saying in The Shack that God the Father is a black woman named Papa, nor that the Holy Spirit is a small Asian woman named Sarayu.

These characters are merely representations of the characters* of the First and Third Persons of the Trinity.  They are meant to help show Mack and the reader what the inner heart of these Persons is.  No one has seen God; neither did Mack in the book.  The possibility of God showing Himself as a vision is, however, real.  Isaiah had a vision, Ezekiel had a vision, John the Divine had a vision.  These visions were not actually sightings of the invisible God but representations of Himself that he chose to give to His children so that they could understand better a certain aspect of His character.

Then Driscoll argues that The Shack is guilty of modalism (or Sabellianism).  This heresy is the same thing as what Oneness Pentecostals believe — God is One, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are different modes by which He has chosen to operate in the world.  The heresy denies any difference of person amongst the members of the Trinity.  Driscoll’s argument for that is when Papa says that she has already been human through Jesus.

This is further evidence that Driscoll is not a subtle reader but out for the kill.  Yes, when God the Son was incarnate, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit were not.  However, since we believe in one God, not three, the remarkable thing is that they have an intimate sharing of each other’s experiences.  God the Father, being in a state of perfect, unbreakable communion with God the Son, knows exactly what God the Son went through during His days on earth.  Therefore, God the Father, in a very true sense, was, in fact, human through Jesus.  He was never incarnate.  He did not die or rise from the dead.  Yet He has shared intimately those things that Jesus went through while on earth.

St. Athanasius teaches that while God the Son was incarnate, His divine nature never ceased ordering the cosmos and keeping the stars in place (De Incarnatione).  If He could engage in that work of the Godhead whilst confined to a human body, no doubt the Father knows exactly what it is to be human as a result of the Son’s incarnation.

Driscoll proceeds to argue that The Shack promotes Goddess worship.  This is because God the Father is portrayed as a black woman.  Of course, Papa admits that He is not always female, as we see at the end of the book, when He portrays Himself as a man to Mack.  God the Father reveals Himself to us in a myriad of ways, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, but always in the way that we need at that time.  There are times He gives us the tenderness of a mother, times He gives us the sternness of a father.  He is the perfect Father, and so, for the purposes of this fiction, Mack saw Him more as a mother, an image that is used to demonstrate the warm, nurturing heart of the Father.

The final argument made by Driscoll is about hierarchy.  I broadly agree with him.  In The Shack, the Trinity has no hierarchy of any sort, no Person of the Trinity being above the others.  They are simply in an endless, loving communion with one another.  Driscoll points out that, while all the Persons of the Trinity are equal, they still have deference, for Jesus says that He only does what the Father tells Him to do, and that He does the will of the Father, and that the Father sent Him into the world.

The Shack is a novel, not a work of theology.  We cannot take its images of the Trinity as being theological, because then we would be on the start of a road to the modern heresy of vagueness.  I believe that both its supporters and its opponents have completely missed the boat, however.  Regardless of its merit as a novel, it is art.  We should treat it as art, not as theology, which both sides of the argument miss.

But where do we go for Trinitarian theology in a world that has lost its focus on the true nature of God?  People are turning to The Shack as theology (both for a lovefest as well as for the attack) because not a lot of people draw nigh to this question.  “Theology” today is usually actually, “A Christian/biblical approach to issue x, y, or z.”

Start over on the right on the main page with The Creed of Saint Athanasius.  I have a friend whom it once saved from Arianism.

“Beyond Personality” in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  I read it on Trinity Sunday a couple of years ago and benefitted greatly.  There is a reason Mere Christianity is a classic.

Intimacy and Ecstasy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit by Edith M. Humphrey.  This book is principally a book about Christian spirituality, but it takes its starting point as the Holy Trinity and deals with various aspects of Trinitarian theology, asking along the way, “How now then shall we live?”  Humphrey is a real, live theologian, unlike certain other writers out there.  Plus, she’s an orthodox Anglican.

Understanding the Trinity by Alister McGrath.

The best guides are likely the ancients, however.  Here are two:

Boethius On the Trinity and St. Augustine On the Trinity.  Boethius is shorter; both are online.

*I would have said personae, but that word has been co-opted for theological purposes at this time.