Thursday, 31 March 2011

Glen's Models of Maculinity at christthetruth.wordpress

Interesting discussion about masculinity and gender over at christthetruth.wordpress.  
A Jesus even Mark Driscoll couldn't beat up!
A Jesus a bit too open to his feminine side.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Sermon on the Mount

We've been going through the Sermon on the Mount at our church homegroup, and it's just occurred to me (a bit late in the day, I know) that what the Sermon is not doing is instituting newer, harsher rules for the Christian to live by, but showing what a life lived in excess of the Law looks like.  That is, what Jesus seems interested in doing is showing the difference between the life lived by the Law and the life lived through grace.  It is because the Law is actually easier to fulfill in the flesh (Philippians 3: 4-7) that what Jesus is saying looks so much harder by comparison.  The Sermon is about the freedom of the Christian, of whom Luther says he is the most bound and the most free among the people of the world, because to be free from law but bound by love is totally opposed to our flesh (by which I don't mean our physical bodies, but our flesh-nature, selfishness, greed, lust, etc).
Anyway, that's my tuppeny worth.  

Thinking Blue Guitar post (O Happy Fall)

A really interesting post from Daniel Hartley on the Fall here: 

He writes that the Fall had three modes: 1) practical - 'it was good for food'; 2) aesthetic - 'it was pleasant to the eyes'; 3) epistemological - 'a tree to be desired to make one wise.'  It reminds me of Kant's division of human faculties, reason (wisdom), understanding (knowledge), and judgement (beauty).  I'd never seen the Fall described in that way before.  Interesting that Eve encountered temptation in all three modes.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Erotic Phenomenon

Am about half-way through reading this book. Jean-Luc Marion starts by challenging the idea of modern philosophy since at least Descartes which thinks that for human beings the most important question is one of ontology, the question which seeks to know itself through Being: I think therefore I am. Marion thinks that this is backward; questions of ontology are secondary to the question of Am I Loved? To simply prove one's existence to oneself through philosophical reasoning before asking questions of significance or meaning renders any possible answer essentially meaningless. To seek certitude of either one’s being or one’s not-being is to ask the wrong question because it places the most important question (not ‘To be or not to be’, but a question the answer to which makes the world of difference, ‘Am I loved?’) to a position of secondary importance compared to hard metaphysical conundrums.[1] He writes, ‘The presupposition is that in order to love or to make oneself loved, one must first be.’[2]

 As any excursion from the realms of pure theoretical speculation will attest, however, the exclusion of both this question and any possible answer that may be given in response renders the answer to all other questions, even those of starvation, obsolete.[3] Marion elaborates his argument that the ontological certitude philosophy has chased after in relation to things in the world can only ever reveal things as objects, and thus to find, or imagine that one has found, an ontological certainty of the self is to find the self as an object.[4] For Marion, prior to entering into a relationship with the ego that which is constituted by the ego’s knowledge as an object cannot be said to be an object, because for him an “object” designates a type of relation within human knowledge. Consequently, the certainty with which the object ‘shines’ with meaning is a certainty that can only be found in relation to a knower who enjoys his knowing, and who knows himself better through such self-enjoyment of knowing certainty.[5] What this means is that, just as knowledge of objects only makes sense in relation to a knower who wants to know (and know that he knows), so this knowledge exposes the knower to himself as a knower, but not with the certainty that one gets with objects, because to know with certainty would render the ego an object unto itself. He writes:

Metaphysics imagines itself accomplishing an incomparable exploit in attaining the certainty of the object, and then extending it even to the ego. But this accomplishment only attests to its blindness [delivering only a ‘certainty of objects’].

[I]t is silent about the certainty that would matter to me – the certainty which concerns exactly that which matters to me first and foremost: me. The products of technology and the objects of the sciences, the propositions of logic and the truths of philosophy can very well enjoy all the certainty of the world, but what have I to do with it – I who am neither a product of technology, nor an object of science, nor a proposition of logic, nor a truth of philosophy.[6]

Such certainty, therefore, is not appropriate to the human ego, because the human ego is not an object, nor is it detached from the body of the one who has an ego. If the human ego were an object like an orange, a book or a galaxy, then the question of it’s being would be the question most appropriate to it, to which Marion would retort, ‘Who cares?’ or ‘What’s the use?’ Such ontological certainty is, in his words, ‘a useless and certain certainty.’[7] For this reason, prior to questions of self-certitude, in order to ward of the ontological vanity of object-certitude, Marion posits the thesis that the question facing the human being is not ontological, but simply, ‘Does anybody love me’[8]

[1] Marion, p. 5

[2] Marion, p.5. Italics mine.

[3] Why would one want to survive starvation in a world in which love was either unknowable or impossible? Perhaps this sounds incredibly glib, the point though is to highlight the fact that once starvation has been overcome by the would-be starved questioner any potential inability to ask or answer the question of whether or not one is loved renders survival in such a world worthless to the individual.

[4] The science of psychology is one example that certainly seems to reveal the human as object to be unpicked by its devices.

[5] Marion, pp. 12, 13

[6] Marion, p. 16

[7] Marion, p. 18

[8] Marion, 20. Marion avoids the obvious argument that to be loved one must first be (and therefore questions of love are secondary to questions of being), partly by insisting that, au contraire, because the question of human being prior to or in exclusion of love would render human being a valueless object, to ask questions of being without first asking questions of love is to fall into vanity. It is essential therefore to ask prior to questions of being, questions of love. Philosophy/metaphysics hasn’t asked this because to do so would focus thought on the particular I/me person at the expense of the universal Man.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Tear-Shaped Stone

I searched my heart
To find a gift,
A gift for Heaven's King; 
I searched for peace,
And love, and joy,
And freedom from within;

But when I looked
At what I found -
A stone shaped like a tear -
And on the stone
Inscribed a name,
The name inscribed was 'Fear',

I hid the stone
That none might see
In memory's ocean deep,
Away from hungry, prying eyes,
In an unconscious sleep;

Yet for my gift
I made a smile
For happy days and sad;
A smile to never
Let me down,
When all around me had.

I wore my gift
In every church,
For every eye to see,
And prayed they'd never
See the fear
I hid inside of me;

But God, 
Who made the universe,
Who made the starry sky,
Saw through my lying gift to Him,
Saw through my easy lie,

And asked,
'What kind of gift is this?
Is this for which I died?'
'I have no other
Gifts,' I said, and smiled
As I lied.

Then all at once
I saw a tear
Roll down the cheek divine,
He said, 'Bring out
Your hidden tears,
And mingle them with Mine.'

Anger, pain, confusion swept
Across my breaking heart,
And words all lost
In meaning came
And floundered at
The start.

'There are no answers
For your pain,
No reason can I give,
Except in Me
All sorrows ends, 
In Me you die
To live.'

I gave to Him
Of what I had,
A stone shaped like a tear,
I gave to Him
Of what was mine,
A stone inscribed
With 'Fear'.

Jesus Eats at the House of a Banker

Luke 19(ish)

Mr Bentley the Banker
 1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Mr Bentley; he was an investment banker and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a public art sculpture to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Mr Bentley, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
 7 All the people saw this and began to Tweet and Facebook each other, “WTF!  He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.  :(”
 8 But Mr Bentley stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Pope To Ease Up On Jesus Talk

Pontiff Trying To Be Not So In-Your-Face With That Stuff
"I'd like to think I can be an infallible ecclesiastical authority without ramming it down people's throats," the pope said. "I'm starting to realize what a huge turn-off that is."
In a routine papal blessing Sunday at St. Peter's Square, Benedict made far fewer mentions of Jesus than usual and only cited scripture twice, opting instead for such uncharacteristic phraseology as "Sorry if this sounds preachy," "I'm not here to judge," and "Hey, this works for me, but by all means, feel free to do your own thing, too."

Saturday, 19 March 2011

John Berger's documentary (also excellent) using art to show how the way in which we see the world is culturally, socially, and historically conditioned.

Adam Curtis - The Century of the Self

Excellent documentary about the rise of modern notions of the self in the 20th Century.

What Is Hell Like? Does It Even Exist? NT Wright on 100 Huntley Street (HD)

Interesting thoughts on hell.  The conclusion reminds me a lot of CS Lewis's The Last Battle, only without so many dwarves and talking animals.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Thursday, 10 March 2011

1st of three (spot the Trinitarian angle here) excellent talks on the love of God

Pauline apocalyptic and political nihilism: Jacob Taubes and Karl Barth By Benjamin Myers

A bit dense, but worth it.

Mike Reeves

An excellent collection of Mike Reeves resources on the link below.

The Legitimacy of the Earthly Powers to Crucify the Son of God

The Legitimacy of the Earthly Powers to Crucify the Son of God

It’s common to talk about Jesus’ trial as a great miscarriage of Roman/Jewish justice, but I think that another way of viewing it is possible.  That is, that, following the logic of Paul in Colossians 2: 13-15, the trial and crucifixion of Christ, as both the means of atonement for sin, and as God’s own kenotic revelation of himself as self-emptying love, is also the means by which God judges the ‘powers that be’.  What I mean is that the legitimate powers of this world (be it spiritual, Roman, Jewish, British, American, etc) can never draw their legitimacy from Christ, who, as the only innocent man ever to have walked the earth, was, by their standards, legitimately condemned according to Roman/Jewish law.  The trial/crucifixion account therefore includes within itself a deconstructive movement whereby all forms of earthly power is judged, be it autocratic (Roman), colonial (Roman, again), theocratic (the Elders of Israel), provincial (Elders of Israel again), the monarchical (Herod), or democratic (the Jewish mob), because all forms of possible legitimate government were complicit in the trail and execution of the Son of God.  Since all forms were complicit then this means that all forms are still complicit, as having at their heart a violence against the Son of God.  It is important to note that Christ wasn’t murdered illicitly, he wasn’t assassinated, and he didn’t die of natural causes; his death was the direct result of the coming together of various forms of earthly power in a brutal and open display of itself against him.  This wasn’t a result of the Romans or the Jews or the mob being somehow more barbaric than we are today, as if were Christ to turn up today he would have had nicer treatment from the contemporary powers that be.  The mutilated body of Christ on the cross testifies to the opposition that he must necessarily have to all principalities and powers whenever and wherever they arise.  The more legitimate the exercise of earthly power is seen to be in Christ’s trial and execution, the greater the opposition is seen to be of God to those powers. 

The execution of the innocent Christ, points, then, to an inherent violence behind all earthly power, and the opposition that it too must have to God.  This opposition, though, must not be seen as being one of two opposite equals.  There is something almost festive about the way that Paul describes the triumphal procession of the crucified Christ – as the crucified Christ – his triumph, the despoiling of the powers that be, and the procession, all being performed through what ostensibly looks to all the world like a total defeat.  In this sense, Christ disarms the powers through his own self-emptying love, his own willingness to be nailed, his own nakedness on the cross, and the violence they legitimately and openly show in the exercise of their authority exposes those powers for what they really are (violent, unjust, unrighteous, self-righteous, sinful), rendering them as naked as prisoners in a triumphal procession.   

My only concern against the idea presented here is that both the NIV Study Bible and the New Bible Commentary Revised draw attention to the phrase ‘[a]nd having spoiled principalities [ρχς] and powers [ζουσίας] he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it’, and exclusively render archas and exousias in terms of demonic principlalities and powers.  This is not against the meanings given in the Greek New Testament & Dictionary definition, but it does seem to exclude the other meanings of ρχή, which can be earthly or spiritual powers and elemental principles; the same goes for ζουσία, which is anything from a supernatural power to a governmental authority.  Based on the dictionary meanings I think it is legitimate to think about the triumphal procession as not just being one involving demonic, spiritual authorities, but also earthly, human authorities.

The Three Repentances

The Three Repentances

This is just going to be a short piece designed to set down some thoughts I’ve been having about the nature of repentance and its application in the life of the Christian, a kind of written meditation on the theme.  For my purposes then I divide repentance into three easily distinguished categories, all of which come under the general idea of repentance as a turning, a re-orientation of the self toward God.
Not sure Gaius really had the hang of repentance
Firstly, and broadly speaking, repentance takes the form of our turning away from the state of being-in-Adam towards the gift of being-in-Christ.  Essentially this form of repentance does not include a turning away from the things we do, but rather is a turning away from the thing that we are.  It is an ontological repentance at the level of being.  That is, our status before God as sinners is not Biblically understood to be about the things we have done, but rather about whose ‘son’ we are – God’s or Adam’s.  To be a son of Adam, to be in Adam is to be an enemy of God.  Though the Bible has a lot to say about individual and corporate guilt for specific sins committed, it is not for this or these that we are found guilty before God prior to our birth.  The default position for the human being is that they are a sinner because technically they were ‘in Adam’ from the beginning, making his individual act of rebellion a constitutionally species-wide phenomenon.  I take this to be what Paul is writing about in Romans 5.

Secondly, repentance in the everyday life of the average Christian takes the form of identifying specific “sins” that have been committed, confessing those sins and asking God to both forgive and to ‘deliver us from evil’ – both the evil of the world and our own tendency to wickedness.  Not so much seen at the level of ontology, this repentance is barely even what might be called a turning, especially in the case of repeat performances of the same sin, say alcoholic gluttony, but can form part of a way of relating to God that actually hinders his power.  What I mean by this is not that confessing a sin and asking God to forgive is somehow antithetical to a relationship with him, but rather that when such behaviour becomes quite literally a repetitive performance of abjection culminating in an emotional release one can be sure that what is being related to is not God.  What is happening here is the “Christianised” repetition of a way of relating that uses God in order to obtain the prize of some sort of emotional release.  So, in this instance, a man (or woman) may use pornography for sexual gratification, and of course on the surface what he is doing and why is plain to see because the drive towards sexual gratification needs no justification other than itself.  The key to what I am arguing though is in what happens next, over and over again.  Feeling disgusted with himself he turns to God for repentance, beating himself up, abjecting himself before God and feeling genuinely sorry.  Knowing that the scriptures say that God will forgive the repentant sinner he moves in himself towards a point of a deep emotional release.  He is forgiven, all is well, and off he trots.  My contention though, based on the idea that the reason people do the things they do is because they want to do them, is that the whole cycle of temptation, sin, abjection, repentance, forgiveness is of a piece, forming a comprehensive and organic whole in which the person relates to his God, with each member of the performance as necessary as any other.  What I am suggesting further to this though is that what is desired by the man is not sexual gratification per se, which is merely a tool for obtaining what is really desired, which is the emotional release that comes from an abject repentance – he wants to abject himself, and he wants to plead for forgiveness, and he wants to feel the emotional release that comes from knowing he is forgiven, and it is this for which he utilises his sexual drive, which conveniently provides the focus of the repentance.  The same can be seen in men who genuinely love their wives but repeatedly commit adultery against them, not because they particularly want to, but because for them real love takes the form of pathetically abjecting themselves before a loved one in order to be forgiven.  Without being too Freudian about it I can only imagine that this pattern was created in childhood as a means of obtaining some sort of distorted relational satisfaction from whoever provided the most love and care.  That is, if love was to be found by the child through a naughtiness which led to the pleading for forgiveness at the devastating thought of losing love, leading to a physically warm reconciliation, then of course this pattern of relating will inevitably feed into how the person relates to his heavenly father.
The third form which repentance takes is that which I would say is the most important form for the day to day life of the Christian.  It is not so much a turning away from specific sins, as it is a turning towards Christ in one’s affections.  That is, leaving aside the dysfunctional relational paradigm described above in which repentance becomes both a means of holding a real relationship with God at bay, and a repetition of old means of obtaining emotional satisfaction (like spiritual thumb-sucking), this third form is a learning to love Christ above the things that tempt us.  To repeat: we do what we do because we want to do them.  Loving Christ is a learning to love him that does not come naturally to our fleshly natures.  We are all adopted children into his family, and like any adopted child loving one’s new parent is not automatic, but requires time, patience, the laying down of old and inappropriate ways of loving/relating, and the development of our trust.  As such loving Christ is itself a fundamentally joyful, and not abject, repentance away from old ways and towards new ways of loving and being loved.  This third form is also the most effective in the battle against specific or perennial sins, and the most effective is exposing the boring theatrics of the second form, because it reveals those sins as not necessarily being about a desire to drink too much, or look at pornography, or to be financially greedy, or whatever else, but as being vehicles of a dysfunctional repentance that actually loves its own dysfunction more than it loves the one who forgives.  This is why attempts to change, attempts to discipline the self into something that refuses these specific sins also don’t go far enough, becoming a mere towing of the party line, if our affections remain unchanged.  A further point would be to add that loving Christ must not be seen here as a vehicle for change, that is, being a Christian is not about becoming a better person in the sense of becoming more acceptable to ourselves or others – change in us will only take place if and when we love Christ more than the possibility that he might change us.  If loving Christ becomes a mere means to an end (self-transformation) then what here is being loved is not Christ but our own sense of who we would like to be, even if this is our idea of a good person.  And of course this third form of repentance is only possible because of the first form, because our status before God has changed at the ontological level of being-in-Christ.  Not that the second form doesn’t have a place in the life of the Christian; of course we must continue to expose our hearts increasingly before God, confessing our sins and so on, but the point is that at the ontological level we are, we remain, and we will be forgiven because of Who we are in.

The conclusion then is that repentance for the Christian must primarily be about a learning to love Christ more than anything else.  While our affections remain unchanged, so will we.         
Samson: the Triply Castrated Male
(a Lacanian reading of Judges)

Who are the judges of the Book of Judges?  We, the reader, are the judges, since the author does not himself issue judgements of his own.
What I find interesting about the Samson story is the way in which it depicts male/female relations. 

Male = strength, haptic engagement with world.
Female = beauty, subduing the male through her sex, through her being available to be looked at.

How tired do you have to be to not notice your hair being cut?!
That is, in a Hegelian shift, the much weaker woman, who exists as an object to be looked at subdues the strength of the strongest man, Samson.  In this the beautiful is dangerous to the one who does the looking; that is, mans capacity to turn objects into objects to be viewed, while this can be oppressive, is also the same means by which man is himself subdued and overthrown.  To be beautiful is to gain power over the one who looks, over the one who judges beauty.

Also, in some feminist theory of the psychoanalytical mould, it is man who is specular and woman who engages the world in more tactile, haptic ways, the man who is alienated abstract engagement, and the woman who is polymorphous in her relations.  Yet in this story it is man who engages the world with his strength, with his physicality; but it is this very physicality that is brought low by that which catches his eye. 

For the Jew, according to Freud, circumcision represents a muted form of castration, that by which a male enters into the Covenant community of God, that by which they take up a subject position vis-a-vis God and the community (women do not have such an entrance – not because they are outside the symbolic, but perhaps because Jewishness is matrilinear; this might mean that the age-old uncertainty of paternal legitimacy is resolved in circumcision).  However, Freud also comments somewhere that long hair in women can become a phallic signifier (for the fetishistic male child), and so it could be thought that long hair in the wilful Samson stands in as a substitute for the prior semi-castration he had already undergone.  As such, long hair as an extra covenant between him and God is a phallic symbol of increased, super-human strength.  By wearing Samson down through sex and nagging, Delilah is able to undermine the re-instated semi-castrated phallus of Samson and cut his locks off, thus weakening him to normal human potency.

Samson’s blinding is therefore in this context a triple castration: firstly with circumcision; secondly with his hair being shaven; and thirdly with the removal of his sight.  Note that Freud also says that the blinding of the eyes (in the Oedipal complex) is a stand-in for castration proper.  For Samson, this triple castration removes from him the possibility of using his (male and therefore phallic) gaze and his physical strength; and his removal to Gaza, in the midst of his enemies with whom he is a mere slave-entertainer (that is, as one who is, as women are in all cultures, there to be seen), takes him out of the people with whom he has an established subject-position.  In Gaza, blind and at the mill with slaves (to quote Milton), Samson becomes almost a non-subject, a non-person, not in and not out of the symbolic, castrated, dependent, yet strangely phallic.  Oddly, Samson asks the Lord to return his strength to him just once more – not to revenge upon the Philistines his lost hair/strength – but to revenge his two eyes.  That is, the castration of his gaze is felt as a deeper blow than the loss of his physical strength, even though it is because of his eyes that he was subdued in the first place.

As a non-subject, as triply castrated, as dependent, Samson returns from the real of the Philistines to enact an interruption of the symbolic, but not as one who is integrated into the symbolic, but as one who will destroy that from which he is necessarily excluded.  Like Delilah before him, Samson turns the oppressiveness of being an object to be viewed (as a triply castrated male Samson takes up an almost feminine position vis-a-vis Philistine male/female subjectivity) into an opportunity for using that oppressive gaze against itself.  The Philistine gaze is even worse because there is no way in which Samson can return it; this is shown in that he never speaks in the temple with anyone except a fellow servant/slave (of whatever ethnic origin) and God.  Unusually, no mention is made that God’s Spirit does in fact enable Samson here – the only display of strength in the story that doesn’t mention it’s supernatural origin.  Instead it is his[own] might that he uses, and perhaps this is a reflection of the poor quality of the Philistine temple in relation to their cock-sureness.  Also, Samson undermines the Philistine gaze not by being beautiful (unlike his other lovers in the story) or by being supernaturally strong; at the time he is a blinded figure of fun, abjected, and passive towards them, pornographized even.  It is their inability to see him properly despite the oppressiveness of their gaze that puts him in a position to destroy them.          

Resistances to Mission from within the Church

Why is it that significant numbers of people in a given church either passively or actively resist moves by that church to open itself up to being more missional in its dealings with the world? The first question that I would ask is, how does the church function as a body of people beyond how people say it functions as, say, a Spirit-filled church? I ask this because regardless of how people say they think both the church functions and what their own role is within that functioning, if mission is either passively or actively being resisted then something else is at play in the 'how' of that church's functioning for those people at least. To say that, yes, the church is the body of Christ, is Christ's hands and feet in this world, is the House of God, is a family of believers, or whatever, is to ignore what is actually going on when people think of church and their role within that particular body. What role then, does that church fulfill and how does it fulfill it for all the church members?

The phrasing of this last question opens up here the way in which churches, the idea of 'church' acts upon the believing Christian. This is an inevitable part of the fact that the concept of 'the Church' functions as much as a socio-historical one as it does an eschatological realisation of the purposes of God for mankind. In a sense therefore, to be part of a church is to enter into a relationship with an already existing body of believers with already existing specific ways of being with each other and the world. In this sense to be a member of a church is an inherently passive experience for the believer who is not at liberty to tinker with the self-understanding of either the concept of 'church' or the particular body to which he or she belongs. Fundamentally, whether or not the believer goes to this church or that church, or any church, the contribution they are able to bring is already in advance mitigated. Not entirely, of course; at the micro personal level of normal interaction, individual believers will form relationships within a given church that hold significant importance, and are vital for the “spirit” (small “s”) of fellowship in that community – as indeed, in any community.

At this point a further reflection comes to mind regarding the camaraderie described above: that there is a love which is natural to human beings, and a love which is unnatural. Fundamentally, therefore, the love which is unnatural is the love which is commanded. It is not at all that the one cancels out the other. In marriage, for instance, the paradox is entered into of a permanent vow to continue to lifelong fidelity of erotic love for one person; something which is inherently changeable is forced to submit to a binding legal vow. But, of course, erotic love wants this vow, against all the evidence of our experience, the lover wants to commit to the beloved. Fleshly love is not, then, in opposition to a binding contractual obligation to love, but, in its purest form, seeks it out. Likewise, the kind of love that Jesus commands his disciples to is not to be confused with buddiness or camaraderie. It does not exclude this kind of love – in fact we should encourage it so far as it doesn't detract from God's purposes – but natural human love and enjoyment of company must submit to a different, less natural love that is commanded. And here I come to a central point which I'd like to make, that if camaraderie, the kind which often develops through common activities and or purposes, then of course churches will not be outward looking. A collection or club of likeminded people who get on because they are all like-minded personable people is not going to be motivated to the kind of radical call to love the loveless that Christ commands and the Spirit makes possible. If “love” in a church setting does not mean the kind of commanded love for the loveless, but is in fact more like camaraderie or like-mindedness, outsiders not only won't be invited in, but nor will they really fit in with their unlike-minded knobbliness if they do come. And this is the sense in which the usual, enjoyable, friendly love that grows amongst people of like mind, who like the same music, dress the same, read the same books, etc, and of which we all naturally want to be part, actually works against a church being missional. To join this kind of group, to want to be a part of it the “unbeliever” would already have to have submitted themselves in advance of joining to what it is that makes this group tick. In this case it cannot be said to be Christ, but rather a fleshly desire to be part of a larger whole, a mere sociable drive to have friends and be liked.

How then can a church differentiate itself from any other group of people who more or less enjoy each other's company and get along? This issue goes to the heart of what a church is, rather than what a church does. There is a sense in which what a church is is not independent from what a church does, but that is not here the point. There is though theological justification for seeing the church not just as a collection of geographically bound believers gathering together for worship and fellowship, but as an eschatological eucharistic community. What I mean by saying this is that the church as an eschatological eucharistic community draws attention to the 'now and not yet' of the Christian hope as it works itself out through the celebration of the dying and rising body of Christ, on whom we collectively feast and whose 'body' we collectively are. The 'now and not yet' refers to the church as an instance of the Kingdom of God here on earth, but also to the fact that the full revelation of the sons of God is yet to come. As a eucharistic community we are brought together in thanksgiving and acknowledgement of God's grace for our salvation as a body, not our own efforts. Though this is extremely brief, these pointers suggest a reason for belonging that far transcends the merely natural desire for company. Not centered on its own ways of functioning, the church is in fact part of God's radical call to love the loveless in the dispensation of his Kingdom on earth. Such a call is profoundly alien to the human concept of a group because mere friendship or fellowship may more often than not hinder such a call. Anyone can have friends or groups of trusted people, but not all are called by God in this way to be an eschatological eucharistic community. The point is that we are together not because we like each other or because we are all of a similar social class or intelligence level, but because we are committed to the working out of God's eschatological purposes for the world of which we are each a part. That God's purpose for the world is to become a eucharistic community centered on Christ's body, and thus in a sense inward looking, is actually at the heart of the good news which we have to bring. The message is, don't join the church if you could get what you want just as easily as you could from joining the Freemasons, or the W.I., or the Rotary, or whatever. The church does not exist to pander to perfectly normal but essentially fleshly desires or a fear of loneliness. That the broken body and spilt blood of Christ are what joins us together as a 'body', and not our mere likes and dislikes, is what makes us, drives us outward into the world.

The problem of resistance then seems to have taken a distinctly theological turn, as I would have expected. The more churches establish their common unity upon team-building activities, whether it be soup-runs, sports, music groups, theology discussion groups, evangelism, etc, (and yes, I agree that it sounds odd to include such evangelical projects, except when you consider to what kind of church are these evangelical projects calling people in for) the less motivated people will be to actually see the Father's Kingdom come. That is, insofar as evangelism is calling the lost, the lonely, and the disposed to a group that is essentially a christianised club of like-minded people, not only will that evangelism lack lustre (why would you really want outsiders to join and potentially disrupt the group anyway), but also why would you, as a disposed, lonely and lost individual want to join a group which would inherently desire you to become like-minded (christianised) before integration can even begin. Nor is this a back-handed way of saying that communion must take on a more elaborate style for evangelism to become more effective and more motivated. Where communion (or Mass or the Eucharust, or whatever you want to call it) as a point of non-individualistically realised transcendental unity in the Body is sidelined, the church is in danger of descending into a Jesusclub, welcoming new-comers with one hand, whilst sticking two fingers up to them with the other if they don't fit in well enough. And communion is just the start of this process of de-naturalising our relations with each other, because our unity is not in liking each other (which is great when we do) but in the broken body of Christ; just as our fellowship is not in our enjoyment of each other's company, but in the impossible command of God to love one another.

Temptation & Sin: Part 1&2

Temptation & Sin: 

An actual photograph of Jesus rebuking the Devil.
Part 1 

How can we understand the biblical concept of temptation? Is there such a thing as a Biblical concept of temptation? How does temptation manifest itself in and through the Biblical text. The primary source of information in the Bible comes from Luke 4: 1-13, the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness. In one sense this might seen unfortunate since, if this is the primary way in which temptation is seen to manifest itself as a Biblical concept, might it not fall prey to the criticism that Jesus, being the Son of God, was in an inherently privileged position to resist temptation when it came his way; that, maybe, the temptation of Jesus was a kind of show-temptation, a foregone conclusion far removed from the daily experiences of temptation as it is encountered by Christians across the globe? Can the temptation of Jesus, by no less than Satan himself, be seen as normative of the concept of temptation for all Christians in general? I would argue that in spite of these considerations, the temptation of Jesus both is and can be seen as a working model for how the Bible understands temptation. James 1: 13-15 takes a line on temptation that might seen to contradict the idea of Christ’s temptation as normative for our own experience. He writes: Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death.

‘God cannot be tempted by evil.’ A common sense reading of this passage would leave the reader thinking that, since God cannot be tempted by evil, either Jesus was not really tempted by the devil, or that he is not really God incarnate. Since the latter totally opposes orthodox teaching on the matter of who Christ is we must for the moment resist a common sense reading in this direction; but, equally, the former stretches both the meaning of those verses in Luke and any working conception of the incarnation. That is, if the temptation in the desert was a piece of pure theatre what possible reason do we have for holding fast to a definition of the incarnation which identifies Christ as a man exactly like any other man, warts, temptations and all? A clue perhaps beyond a common sense reading lies I think in the precise wording of the epistle, that is that ‘God cannot be tempted by evil [κακών].’ Herein, too, lies one of the main points that I would raise about the nature of Biblical temptation as it manifests itself within the text, that the concept of temptation is not identical with the concept of temptation of, or by, evil. For example, what were the temptations of Christ? They were, in order:

- to turn a stone into bread (he was extremely hungry). Luke 4: 3
- worldly authority. Luke 4: 5, 6
- to prove to himself and others that he was the messiah through the working of miracles. Luke 4: 9-11

In each instance it is arguable that evil was not the intended aim of the temptation; indeed, even for the second, the "temptation" to bow the knee to Satan in exchange for worldly authority was merely a means to an end, at no point was Christ offered the opportunity, and therefore faced the temptation, of simply bowing before the devil with nothing else in view. The devil, as before in Eden, when he tempted Eve with godlike knowledge, was not positing something that in itself was evil. To be sure, the context of both the ministry of reconciliation for Christ, and the rule of obedience in Eden renders the giving in to the temptation an evil, but neither godlike knowledge nor worldly authority are in themselves evils. Temptation, very rarely, if at all, enters into the Biblical conception of it as a pure temptation to that which in itself is evil; rather, temptation is the tempting towards a certain good that, contextually, renders the giving in to it an evil. In this regard temptation can be seen as working within the frame of conceptions of the good in conflict with other goods. So, seen in this light, the fact that David, for example, felt a strong sexual desire towards Bathsheba and acted on it was not in itself an evil; the evil consists in the context in which such a desire and such an act occurred. Having sex with Bathsheba was a good towards which the will and desire of David had orientated themselves in contradiction to the context in which she was already another man’s wife, thus rendering the good of sexual union between the two an evil. Evil is not here conceived of as having inherent reality, but rather feeds off the good as a distortion of it. Likewise, the turning of bread into stone, of claiming worldly authority, of performing miracles, are not to be seen as evils desired by Christ, but merely manifestations of goods that contradicted a good which had a greater claim on the orientation of desires. In order to develop a point for further reflection I turn now to Kant’s thoughts of what he termed ‘diabolical evil’, that is, an evil which desires evil because it is evil, which, turning its back on any conception of the good, desires that evil above all else. In this sense, in orientating the will to desire that which is in itself evil, the will makes a "good" out of the evil. Herein lies the paradox noted by Kant, that diabolical evil was only a theoretical possibility for humans, since to desire the evil as if it were a good would be ultimately destructive of the desiring self and logically impossible. The point to be made here is that every temptation offers the one tempted a good, the context of which renders a given temptation illicit. Of course one could dispute this, to say that the temptation to murder a small child, say, is not a good that has been perverted. In reply I would add that, yes, while the murder of small children is not in any context a conceivable good, however it is enough to say that at that time this action must be seen by the tempted would-be murderer as a good to be desired, for whatever reason. It would not be appropriate to say of someone who acted in this way that they were tempted to do it if that which they were supposed to have been tempted to do had not appeared as a good that might be tempting. In order, therefore, for something to be tempting it must first be made manifest as a good to the one tempted, even if on the level of morality that something is in fact an outrage. Diabolical evil, in contrast, is an evil that is in no way encountered as a possible good.

This brings me to the central point that I would like to make: that temptation is a matter of the affections, to what or whom they are orientated as towards a desirable good. Insofar as something immoral is desirable  it appears during the period of temptation as a good to be desired. This means, that temptation takes at least three forms, but follows one logic. That is, that both moral and immoral things can appear as temptations. In the case of the first form (for example, of Christ’s temptation, Eve’s, David’s) that which is considered desirable is not in itself immoral, but is made immoral by the context in which they occur. In the case of the second type (the would-be child murderer) that which is desired is immoral, but because the orientation of the affections are always pointing towards a conceivable "good" the temptation to kill an innocent child is understood as a desirable good to be acted on. For example, the sheer visceral pleasure of killing might be the desirable good to which the murderer orientates himself. In the final type, the temptation is away from any orientation of the affections towards a conceivable good, towards making that which is in itself evil desirable. In this type no act of immorality would be conducted out of a sense of gaining the slightest interest, and indeed might in fact work the other way against the one tempted. This is a theoretical possibility, but remains a technical impossibility for humans, because it is only by appearing as a possible good that evil can be in any way tempting. In this sense diabolical evil is not in the least bit tempting because it cannot appear as a possible good. To draw once more upon heterodox writers for the moment, both Kant and John Milton followed the argument that the reason why the fallen angels would never be redeemed was because they, in full knowledge of the evil to which they had turned, tempted themselves by that which was no temptation (no possible or conceivable good) at all. The one logic that temptation follows here is of course that temptation is always a temptation towards a conceivable good, never an evil as an evil. It follows from this that the battle of desire in the Christian is in fact a battle for his affections, for the positing of an orientation towards a good that trumps all other conceivable goods. The idea that temptation can be fought by unveiling the evil hiding behind the presumed "good" while mildly helpful does not do justice to the power of the affections to immediately cover it over again with a real or imagined good. The pleasures of drunkenness cannot be fought by pointing out the damage that alcohol does to either the liver or the lives of alcoholics, but by positing an even greater and consequently more desirable good in its place. So, rather than pointing out the damaging effects of alcohol on the life of an alcoholic one would instead in their place encourage an appreciation of sobriety as a good, to make it more attractive than the pleasures of drunkenness. In so far as the alcoholic is motivated to stop drinking because of a fear for his health rather than because he desires something else as a greater good than being drunk the battle of temptation for his affections has not yet begun.

Likewise, the same holds true for any other possible desire for any other possible real or imagined good; merely bolstering the will without changing the affections does nothing to affect the heart of the one so tempted if the temptation still appears as more desirable than Christ, and may in fact mitigate against Christ in the long run. The point, therefore, is not to expose the evil lurking behind the imagined good (for which you would need a considerable amount of time to work your way through each temptation), but rather to engage in orientating the affections in a single direction to the exclusion of all others. This is not to denigrate the impact of genuine temptation. Clearly if Christ experiences temptation (and to think his incarnation rightly this must have been so) then having one’s affections rightly orientated does not mitigate against temptations that must come as possible goods in a struggle for our affections. Insofar as something, anything, can appear as a possible good it has the potential to become a temptation to an evil. In the case of Christ, his battle with genuine temptations took the form of clinging to that which he desired more, i.e. obedience to the will of the Father. Indeed, in this instance the "goods" that the devil was tempting Christ with were in many ways legitimate goods for the Son of God, and that is precisely what makes them so tempting for him. The temptation would have been a rather quick business had the devil tempted Christ with things that would never have appeared to Christ as possible goods, which shows that the temptation took the form of a battle for possible goods in the heart of Jesus. The battle was not at the level of the intellect, or even a pernickety adherence to the minutia of scripture, but rather at the level of the affections - what did Jesus desire as his greatest good, to what was his affection orientated in the face of other possible objects of affection? In order to beat the temptation Christ must necessarily have desired a prime good over all other possible contenders.

In so far as Christ’s temptation offers us a model for thinking and experiencing temptations for ourselves it offers two conclusions. The first is that when temptation comes our way it fixes itself onto our desires, and our desires are always fixed on that which appears as a possible good to which we necessarily orientate ourselves. This is why no two people experience temptation in exactly the same way, because that which for one is a possible good, for another may appear as being still a good, but considerably less so. The difference between a man who gambles all his money away and a man who saves for the future is not a difference of will power or intellect, but a difference of orientation towards and an affection for differing goods: for the gambler the "good" of the pleasure of gambling takes precedence over the "good" of saving, and thus motivates his actions. There is little room here for self-righteousness, which there might be if temptation were merely a matter of steeling the will against what you knew to be an evil when it first arose. The second conclusion is that the battle over temptation is a battle for the affections, the battle over that which seems to us a greater or lesser good at any given moment. The temptation will never appear as evil in itself, since even if a temptation is self-consciously aware of itself as being evil by the one tempted the core of the temptation will be a possible good such as, at the very least, immediate physical pleasure. In order for such temptation to overcome the good to which the temptation is pointing as desirable (which in itself is still a genuine good) this good must be seen by the affections as a lesser good than the prime good, which is Christ himself. 

Part 2:

While I would broadly agree with the above analysis of the nature or essence of temptation I would add a few important qualifications. Chief among which is the qualification that says that the mere turning of the affections towards Christ can never be enough to bolster one against the perennial tendency to sin. What I mean is that, just as the strengthening of the will or the sharpening of the intellect are things that one can do, so the warming of the heart to Christ is equally a work of the flesh; by which I mean that the warming of the heart to Christ, if it remains the actions of an autonomous individual, is still in the realm of ascribing confidence in the flesh rather than in Christ. If it were purely true that turning one’s heart towards Christ in affection as an orientation towards an ultimate good then one’s resistance to sin would be on the same level as looking to either the intellect or the will as a means of securing for oneself rightness with God. One’s relationship becomes grounded not in Christ but in what and to what extent one feels.

What I would add, therefore, to the previous analysis is the idea that one’s turning to Christ can, firstly, never be the action of an autonomous individual: salvation is not an individual affair between you and God, but is constituted by the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit and realised on earth eschatologically in the body of Christ, the church. Just as one is born into sin through one’s human heritage, so the struggle with sin is not an individual thing conducted alone: there is no conceivable temptation that is not common to all mankind at one time or another. Also, and this touches upon the very nature of Christianity itself (as I understand it), the Christian life is not constituted or conducted as a struggle in the Christian between sin and not-sinning. To be sure, we encounter sin through temptation as a struggle that frequently beats us, but that is not here the point. The point is that God has so arranged things in order that we, as sinners, can come before him knowing that our righteousness is independent of ourselves, and is in fact seated at God’s right hand: we have a relation to God not predicated upon our own behaviour or tendency to sin but entirely upon his grace towards us. Christianity is the outworking of this fact in the life of the fellowship of the church. Thus, sinning or not-sinning is not the issue which temptation and sin present us with; rather both together they present to us our own self-limitation, our own incapacity to do the good that we want to do, the good that an ideal version of ourselves would be able to do if only he had enough will, intellect and heart to do it. This was the battle Paul encountered and described in Romans 7. Counter-intuitively God uses our sin and temptation pedagogically to expose to us the reality of what is going on in our hearts when we sin, in particular through our sense of shame. By allowing sin and temptation to remain ever present possibilities for us rather than simply removing them once we’ve acknowledged his Lordship God allows us to see our total dependency upon Christ for our righteousness.

I am not here going to argue in favour of shame as a faculty of the conscience, showing us the difference between right and wrong, but against shame as the sense of our own self-nakedness. Shame is the gap that we feel between our actual self and the ideal self that we would like to be able to see ourselves as being, in which sense it is the sacrifice owed to the demanding idol of self-perfection that is the ideal self. Consider this example, in Matthew 5: 21, 22 Jesus raises the bar of what constitutes murder by insisting that murder begins in the heart, which considerably increases the number of murderers in the human race to more or less 100%. In the normal course of events however no one of sound mind feels shame upon the mere existence of a brief murderous fantasy or burst of unjustified anger. Without the support of the will or the intellect a fantasy such as this remains a fantasy, a product of the sinful but ineffective heart, thus the gap between the actual and the ideal self is not made too wide by the existence of the fantasy, which comes and goes anyway. What this example reveals is that, while for Christ murder is not confined to the mere performance of actually murdering someone, for the average Christian the felt shame of widening the gap between ideal and actual self is only accomplished through real or attempted murder, not a mere fantasy. In terms of sin murder in the heart is as wicked as murder in fact. The shame of sin for the average Christian is not, then, a valid indication of how sinful he or she is, but merely reveals the gap between their actual and ideal self, between who they are and who they would like to see themselves as being. This is the sorrow of the world that leads to death, a sorrow at having to confront one’s own limitation and corruption. In practical terms this means that repentance is skewed if it is conducted under the shame of self-exposure to self rather than as a re-turning to the will of God. All such repentance does is attempt to soothe the soul and placate the ideal self image of one who has become conscious of their own inability to be perfect in their own sight.

A Christian life organised around the satisfying of the ideal self will not be characterised by sorrow for sin so much as sorrow for not attaining the level of perfection imposed upon him internally by an imagined ideal self. To be a Christian will become a battle to deliver the actual self up to the ideal self as perfect and free from sin; to be a Christian will become characterised by the intense desire to eradicate sin from oneself in order to not appear as unrighteous in one’s own eyes. Indeed, repentance will largely consist of seeking the forgiveness of this ideal self under the name of Christ. The ideal self is here seen to be an idol equivalent, if not identical, to any imagined divine being, who deals in exposing the actual self to the self-disgust of shame for not being better or more righteous in himself. Christianity, by contrast abolishes the need to satisfy any such idol by not predicating our relationship to God on whether or not we sin. In Christianity the only thing the Christian can do is to throw their self upon the mercy of God in Christ, and even this is not a doing in the normal sense of the word. Throwing oneself onto the mercy of God in Christ in fact is the end of any self-grounded efficacy of the will the intellect or the heart, being something that one does at the very point at which doing anything in one’s own power no longer has any meaning. It is the opposite of a work of the flesh. Not only does this mean that the shame-filled gap between the ideal and the actual self is rendered irrelevant, but also shame itself is not made redundant, being rather transformed into the humility whereby the actual self recognises itself as powerless to achieve righteousness on its own account: godly sorrow. The Christian life is not the continual struggle against all manner of sin and temptation (a battle lost before it has begun) in the individual Christian, but is rather the constant throwing of oneself onto the mercy of Christ that is the essence of faith. Christianity refuses the gap between the actual self and ideal self, rejecting the ideal self as an idol which is the source of a great deal of shame and pain. This is not the obliteration of sin as a reality in the world or the self, of temptation as an ever-present prospect, but is instead the re-orientation of the self away from increasingly demanding ideals of self-perfection; a re-orientation achieved through reaching and recognising the end of one’s capacity to achieve.

The Problem of Homosexuality in the light of the Holy Trinity

The purpose of this introductory essay post is to draw together some reflections on the nature of homosexuality and its relation to the Christian faith that have become increasingly pertinent to my own development as a Christian.  Firstly, my best friend is a gay Christian man, with many of the difficulties that arise with one in his position.  Chiefly among these is knowing how to cope with sexual temptation when it chances upon him.  Not that there is anything especially surprising about a man (single or otherwise) who struggles with sexual temptation in one form or another, rather for my friend, his sexual temptations have the aura of the doubly forbidden.  That is, the single heterosexual Christian man can live in the hope that one day his libidinal energy can be challenged into a loving relationship, and that temptation, if not exorcised, can at least become consecrated in God’s eyes, in society’s eyes, and - importantly - his own.  The temptation suffered by the single heterosexual Christian man is not, in this instance, inherently bad.  Not so the sexual temptations of the single homosexual Christian man (or woman). 
Secondly, I spent the best part of a morning recently reading excellent extracts of the theologian William Stringfellow on a popular theological blog.[1]  Towards the end of my reading I discovered that Stringfellow lived on Rhode island with his gay partner, Anthony Towne.[2]  How could man with such a profound and lively understanding of the gospel possibly allow himself so much slack, I thought.  The man knew and lived the gospel that he loved in a single day more than I have my whole life! 
Thirdly, my growing respect for the current Archbishop of Canturbury, Dr Rowan Williams.  I also recently read his article Forbidden Fruit, which appeared in Martyn Percy’s 1997 book Sex and Sexuality in Perspective.  The article raised a number of issues, chief of which was the very non-modern understanding of “sexuality” that is presented to us in the New Testament; and by non-modern what is meant is the way in which sexuality is not addressed or questioned by the New Testament writers with anything like the same set of assumptions which a modern reader would inevitably bring.  Also, Dr Williams stressed the importance of relationships being themselves modelled on that which God Himself manifests within Himself in the Trinity.  That being so, then, the injunction against homosexuality suddenly started to seem at best irrational.  If a committed homosexual relationship (like that of Stringfellow and Towne) could manifest the loving relationality which binds the Triune God together, then surely any disparagement of such a relationship very much fails a Christian analysis?  Also, Dr Williams highlighted for me the very great potential for “normal” heterosexual relationships to allow ecclesiastical and societal approval to cloak domination, coercion and manipulation with a veneer of Christian respectability.[3]
In terms of how I intend to approach this subject then, I would like to proceed in a manner that firstly is not obsessed with sex, or what people do with their bodies.  My focus throughout will hopefully be seen to be centred on a critique of human relationships per se in the light of the Trinity.  In this I am taking my cue from Dr Williams own analysis, and indeed, it strikes me as one with a great deal of theological mileage.  That is, if God is love because in his perichoretic union of Father, Son and Spirit He ex-ists in communal, loving relationship, then the whole notion of loving relationship can legitimately be thought of purely in terms of God’s own inner self-relationality.  This is especially so since as human beings we are made in the image of God, and many theologians have argued that inherent to this imaging is the capacity and desire for relationship.  Thus it is only through the Trinity that a true and perfect critique of human relationships is possible.[4]
Second to this, I would like to avoid falling into irrationalism or latent homophobia, but instead, recognise the complicity in which heterosexual love is itself constitutionally bound to reproducing non-Trinitarian modes of relating when it is itself not anchored in the being of God’s own mode.  That homophobia frequently hides under the cover of what passes for biblical fidelity is a scandal that must be addressed by serious disciples of Christ, though I hope to demonstrate why irrationalism has become a possible discursive manoeuvre in the light of the tremendous strides gay-rights have achieved these last few decades.
Finally, with Trinitarian modes of loving relating as a guide, I will argue that human sexuality in all its forms is fundamentally flawed insofar as it fails replicate Trinitarian relationality.  No one - least of all heterosexuals - is guiltless in this regard.
My reason for approaching the subject from a Trinitarian perspective is that, just as the Bible never stoops to argue in favour of the existence of God, so it does not argue against homosexuality.  The reality of God lies in the biblical text below the level of an assumption - it grounds the text, sheltering, as Heidegger might put it, a Trinitarian reality.  Theologically minded philosophers (Descartes, Kant) have attempted to ground the existence and belief in God in systems of thought in which God appears not as Trinity but as some sort of supreme being, a sterile idol of human manufacture.  In contrast, the God of the Bible is one who is discovered in revelational narratives of a personal nature.  The God of the philosophers dies (as Nietzsche proclaimed), whereas the Christian God of the Bible is so over-flowing with life that even death cannot beat him.  Equally, then, a biblically grounded critique of human sexuality which is not itself based in the Trinity will fall short and fall into the same traps philosophical “proofs” of God fell into.  My aim is not therefore to prove homosexuality to be immoral, but just to hold all sexuality up to the light of Trinitarian relating.

Homo-/Heterosexuality: what’s the problem?
Before I continue, then, it would be good to present a working definition of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This extract I quote from theologian, writer, pastor and blogger Dr Leithart:
Out of love, He eternally begets His Eternal Son as an “expression of the [His] ecstatic love” (Mark McIntosh, and the following paragraphs), and that same love produces “the eternal filial response of the Son towards the Father.” The Father is Father because of “his eternal desire to pour out the divine life for the Other-in-God (the Son),” and the Son is Son insofar as He “desires eternally to speak forth the Father’s giving life.” Son and Father both say, with equal totality and intensity, “I am my beloved’s, and He is mine.” Father and Son are each beside themselves with love. Such is the ecstasy of God.
This God, this ecstatic Trinity, chooses to be more ecstatic still. The Father stands outside Himself in the Son, and the Son in the Father, but together they stand outside themselves in creating and sustaining a world that is other than both. The Father eternally speaks His Word, but He chooses to speak His Word not only as Word but as world. For His part, the Son desires His love for the Father to resound not only in the enclosure of perfect divine communion but “from within all creatures.” Father and Son make a world they don’t need, in order to take up this world into their mutual love. The world becomes part of the “love language” of Father and Son (David Field). Creation too is an expression of God’s ecstasy.
But this God, this ecstatic Trinity, chooses to be more ecstatic still. The world doesn’t cease to be the mutual love-gift of Father and Son simply because sin and death enter: In defiance of sin and death, the Father is determined to express His love in the creation, and the Son is still determined that creation will respond to His Father in obedience, faith, and love. In the perfect obedience of the Son, the Son’s love for the Father resounds more richly than ever, for in the incarnate Son “the Word speaks even in the final silence of the cross.” In the incarnation, the Father sends the Son to stand outside God as man, and in His life, death, and resurrection, the incarnate Son renews creation, so that creation can stand outside itself, in God.
All this is done through the Spirit, who is the Love, the very ecstasy of God. “Beguiled” by the Spirit, the Father eternally begets an eternal Word and in the Spirit the eternal Word vocalizes eternal praise. The Spirit is the living breath who energizes the Word by which the Father creates the world, and the Spirit gives life to the creatures through whose praise the Word sings to His beloved Father. In the fullness of time, the Spirit drove the Son into the wilderness of the world, drove Him to the cross, rescued Him from the grave, and now is the Love that is the presence of Jesus, the breath by which we live. Through His Spirit, the incarnate Son stands outside Himself, orchestrating creation, tuning it to praise the Father.[5]

The love between the Father, Son and Spirit can be described as being one of over-flowing super-abundant love, without a hint of the usual techniques of manipulation, control and domination that characterises even the most loving gay or straight human relationships.  While this description far from exhausts what can be said of the inner workings of the divine life, one can at least acknowledge that this description is characteristically Trinitarian.
The problem of homo/heterosexual desire, I would argue, is not to see it as being along the lines of homosexuality equals inherently sinful and heterosexuality equals flawed, but fundamentally godly.  Thinking this way is to indulge in a flawed dichotomy of sin and righteousness with regard to a gospel dictated understanding of humanity.  It is manifestly obvious, and really goes without saying, that many heterosexual relationships fall far short of anything like a godly righteousness in its inner workings, just as many a homosexual relationship is quite capable of displaying Christ-like love in abundance.  The position, homosexuality bad, heterosexuality good is a false position for the Christian.  Rather, the problem is that every worldly configuration of sexual desire is inherently sinful (hetero- and homo-) if and when it does not adhere to a Trinitarian model of love and relatedness.  That is, regardless of how sexual desire is configured,[6] the degree to which it falls short of Trinitarian love and community it is non/anti-relational (i.e. sinful).  In fact, heterosexual desire, as already mentioned, takes on an increasingly sinister sheen due to its wider social and ecclesiastical acceptance; the very acceptability and respectability of heterosexual desire in and out of the churches acts as a veil to hide, indulge, enforce, and impose all manner of sinful relating.  In wrapping itself so snugly (not to mention smugly) in discursive religiosity heterosexual desire perpetuates (or reproduces) the effects of the Fall and the subsequent curse of God on humanity, e.g.: ‘To the woman He said…Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’[7]  It would take a lot to unpack even these few words, but the implication is that the man’s domination of his wife and her striving over him is an accursed consequence of a human sin.[8]  It could even be read not so much prescriptively as descriptively, that is, God is not pronouncing what ought to be as a punishment, but rather what is to be because of sin.  Unfortunately, the historical reading of the verse prescriptively has inoculated very many sincere Christians against holding patriarchy up to a much-needed Trinitarian critique.  I would like to add that there are aspects of homosexuality which can be read as the pathologisation of this sin-created bad relating of the sexes.  That is, with the intensification of the anti-relational results of sin to an almost diseased degree through the total breakdown of other-centred desire. 

Why Not Homo-/Heterosexual Desire?
With that clearing of the decks of desire in mind, is it the case then that both homo- and heterosexual desire should be done away with and condemned?  In a sense, yes.  Any relating that is not modelled on or in-dwelt by the Trinity is [going to be] inherently sinful.  But this, of course, sounds overly idealistic.  Should all relations be modelled on this perfect relationality?  What of the relation between judge and criminal; are nations to be exempt from this relational configuration - and if not, why not; and if yes, how so?
These are not questions which I am here concerned to answer, just to bring up as possible avenues for future discussion.  The question of sexual desire and the legitimacy with which it can be enacted is what I am now concerned with.  The assumption (or rather, the assumptions I use in daily life) is that it is possible for a man and a woman to relate sexually in a Trinitarian manner, taking the form of a lifelong, socially recognised commitment (i.e. marriage), but that in a man-man, or woman-woman, relationship it is inherently impossible to accurately mirror Trinitarian relating and remain sexual.  This is assumed even though every man-woman relationship inevitably falls short of Trinitarian relating; in spite of this, it is still closer to the inner life of God than a homosexual configuration of desire.  But, why?
There seems to be at least two axis on which this issue spins: one is the nature of the Trinity itself (or Himself), and that nature as being mirrored however imperfectly in man-woman marriage; the other is sex.  And of course it is sex on which this whole issue seems most insistently to spin, because a close man-man relationship that remains for whatever reason non-sexual (as in friendship or whatever) poses no problem.[9] 
It is my contention, though, that this axis privileges sex over-highly; that the issue is not really one of sex itself (the act/s), but rather the potential sex enacts and represents for human fruitfulness.  Perhaps this is the key.  God’s community of love, as expressed by Leithart above, is an over-abundance of love that results in the begetting of the Son (though “results” is probably not the right word for Him who is eternally begotten), in the procession of the Spirit from the love of the Father and the Son, and in the creation of the universe.  God’s perichoretic love is, then, an essentially fruitful love, and this fruitfulness is both cause and consequence of His love - something that cannot be removed or seen as an additional extra or appendage.  But why should sex be understood critically in the light of the Trinity, a reality it can hardly hope to aspire towards?  After all, I have already suggested that all relating should fall under the critique of a Trinitarian criticism, yet not all relationships can be fruitful in the same way: what of friendships, of family relationships, etc, why is sex specially privileged to be fruitful?  Looked at negatively, I would argue that to reveal sex as fruitless (i.e. as sterile non-re-productivity) is to remove the essence of sexual relating, a feature it most closely shares with the Trinity.  To do this is to engage in a dialectical movement in which sex literally becomes its own other.  It is to centre the sexual relationship on a sterile, dyadic, non-Trinitarian model: the act of sex, not over-abundance, becomes the centre.     
In the light of this reflection I can begin to see more clearly the Roman Catholic attitude towards contraception, in that it blocks the fruitfulness on which love - in order to be love seen from a Trinitarian perspective - is constitutionally founded.  The modern divorce of sex from reproduction allows for the emergence of a “love” that is independent from loving-fruitfulness: in this sex is able to float free from reproductive consequences, allowing it to take the form of an ideological centre. 
The emergence of sex in this sense allows or legitimises non-fruitful hetero-/homosexual relationships, because such relationships are no longer viewed as founded on a love that is constitutionally fruitful.  By disallowing love’s fruitfulness in the form of offspring the underlying bulwark against normalised serial heterosexual monogamy and homosexual relationships is removed.  Ironically, then, the rise of queer culture and the normalisation of homosexuality (along with promiscuous heterosexuality) is something that can be traced back to heterosexual selfishness with regard to children.  I realise that this makes a rather sweeping generalisation, and ignores massive social and cultural changes that would have occurred more or less without the invention of the Pill.  My point though is that contraceptives allowed for a form of consciousness in which sex was no longer contextualised within reproductive fruitfulness to arise, and that once that had taken shape it was possible to view sexual relationships from outside one in which children could and should be raised.  Indeed, arguments against homosexuality come to seem irrational as a direct result of love and sex no longer fulfilling themselves in Trinitarian fruitfulness; that is, if fruitful over-abundance is no longer the essence of human/divine relating, then sex between any consenting adults in virtually any setting loses its prohibitive undergirding. 
Without knowing why, therefore, the Christian who stands opposed to homosexuality in general is left with recourse to the irrational in his or her moral fight; to what looks and is to all intents and purposes homophobic prejudice trumped up as biblical fidelity, or - worse, in my view - to the position that wrongly imagines heterosexuality as the de facto correct form of human sexual relating, and thus legitimising swathes of unrighteous and hidden oppressive practices in the name of God, of “nature”, and biblical fidelity.
The issue of sex inevitably deepens the discussion, because although seen in this Trinitarian light, loving sexual relating is meant to result in fruitful abundance, that is not equal to saying that all sexual relating ought to.  Fundamental to the argument that I have put forward though is the idea that sexual relating, if it is to remain within the loving boundaries of Trinitarian relating, should not foreclose, disavow or deny the possibility of fruitfulness from the outset.  I am definitely not arguing for the position that sex always ought to be about reproduction, but rather that reproduction (or fruitfulness, which I use because it is a word that more accurately models Trinitarian relating) ought to be a possibility within sexual relating.[10]  And it is for this reason (and this reason alone, as far as I can see) that homosexual relating is more sharply divergent from Trinitarian relating than heterosexual, because the homosexual relationship is from the outset a closed-circle of relating, a dyadic refusal of otherness.[11]  A Trinitarian theology of over-abundant fruitfulness is, in my view, the only sufficiently resistant argument against the legitimising and normalisation of homosexual relating because it strikes to the root of the ideology of sex in the contemporary world.  In this sense it would be useful to take heed of Marx’s dictum that modes of production determine consciousness[12] - but equally true is the dictum that modes of (non)re-production determine consciousness by allowing sex to reveal itself as separated from the loving fruitfulness that is its emotional and physical destiny.      

[1] Doerge, Halden, Inhabitatiodei, []
[2] Schneider, N. The Biblical Circus of William Stringfellow, in, []
[3] I would stress though that Dr Williams did acknowledge that despite all this it would be very hard to read the scriptural texts as actively approving of homosexual relationships of any kind.
[4] Not that this is by any means a perfect critique, I hasten to add.
[5] Leithart, Dr.,Trinity: Wedding Sermon,, []
[6] I prefer the term configured rather than orientated when speaking of sexual desire because it connotes a greater degree of multiplicitous over-determination in the origin and aims of libidinal desire.  Orientation connotes a much more fixed sexual agenda than can reasonably be supposed.
[7] Genesis 3: 16, NIV
[8] I once heard, but I can’t recall where, the theologian Don Carson comment on the word which we translate as ‘desire’ in the verse just quoted: the Hebrew word for desire connotes a manipulative striving for mastery, a cajoling coercive-ness.
[9] Or at least no problem relating to this issue.
[10] Also, I would not like to suggest that contraceptives are themselves inherently bad and/or a bar to Trinitarian relating, for example, in a couple for whom yet another pregnancy would be economically crippling.  Though, in this instance, contraceptives can only be seen as the lesser of two evils, not as a good in itself.  Also, I would like to add that another exception would be in the relationships of post-fertile couples.
[11] Though this does not put heterosexual relating on a higher moral plane.
[12] Marx, K., A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,, []. See: ‘The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.’