Foundational Theology

I am a foundationist, not a fundamentalist. I am a rationalist philosopher. If you want to know more about my particular brand of foundationism, click here

But in cosmostrophy, we reconcile science and faith. And that means theology, not just reason. But I’m also a church historian. Are you aware that foundational theology is the theology of the early church fathers? Indeed. It’s not like the early church fathers didn’t believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. While many were aware of textual variants and some were troubled by them, most could be described as inerrantists. Still, if a person takes time to read the early church fathers, they will find a great deal of reasoning with the Scriptures, not just the Scriptures say it and therefore we must believe it. Foundational theology follows the reasoning of the early church fathers and having tested and approved their conclusions finds it authoritative for subsequent interpretation. This process of assent protects against heretical thought, building on that foundation. It presupposes that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, not simply because there was a succession of anointing, but because there was a consistency of doctrine being verified by those selected for their wisdom. Their living witness assisted subsequent generations in their desire to guard the correct interpretation of the Scriptures. The foundationism I would embrace is intended to be a continuation of the apostolic tradition, in recognition that the apostles with Christ and subsequently received power from on High to proclaim the gospel to the world and early church fathers received and preserved the same doctrines Christ taught.

From a historical perspective, I should point out that the high Christology that ultimately prevailed in Christian orthodoxy, seems to have existed from the outset. I know that many critical scholars have suggested otherwise. I read Rudolph Bultman while I was at the first seminary I attended. New Testament critics proposed that the Gospel of John must have been written by Greeks long after the death of John the apostle, given its high Christology. However, there are a number of early liturgical statements, including early credal formulas quoted by Paul testifying to the resurrection and to the divinity of Jesus. This would place high Christology much earlier than a critic like Bart Erhman would have it. I won’t attempt to sort all that out right here. I’m merely summarizing my observations. This is to say that I find a very strong foundation for embracing Christian orthodoxy.

What then are the logical foundations for high Christology? Well, we all know the objections. We see evil in the world. Even if we admit that the Universe seems to be intelligently degigned, the evil in it makes us doubt the benevolence of the designer. Is Christ not benevolent?

For me, it is better to leave aside excuses and explanations like the importance of free will and think on extreme benevolence. On early church father, Ireneus, points out to the gnostics that there can only be one God because if perfection is that than which there can be nothing greater, then a second God, such as a DemiUrge, or the thirty Gods of a certain heretical group were all God, yet different, then not all would possess all possible good qualities. As such, they would each lack something the other had. But if perfection is that than which there can be nothing greater, then it is logically necessary that there should only be one God. That is how Ireneus, the student of Polycarp, the student of John the apostle, the disciple of Jesus, proved the gnostics wrong.

I think we should pick up where Ireneus left off on this principle of divine perfection. If God lacks no good quality or attribute, then there is nothing that any human experience or world can add to that goodness. Rather than looking at an imperfect Universe and declaring God less than perfect, it makes better sense to me to look at perfection more logically. If it contains all that is possibly good, then it must contain every possible version of a Universe that has anything good in it at all.  Entailed in Perfection is a multiverse that contains every imperfect Universe.

We are looking at the question upside down. We shouldn’t be saying God is imperfect because the Universe is imperfect. We should be asking what God would be like if God was perfect. From there, we should ask what it would mean for every good thing to be true. Yes, this would require God to entail a Multiverse. And more than that, it would require many imperfect things to be perfected. Or do you suppose that the perfection of imperfect things is not good? If such a thing as the perfection of the imperfect is good, then it is included in what God is, if God is Perfection.

We might have some words for the perfection of the imperfect. We might call it redemption. We might call it being born again. We might call it a new creation. We might see it as the removal of sin as far as the east is from the west. And we might consider ways in which such a thing could take place, such as loops in time, simulation theories or some qualitative difference between perception and reality in which evil is simply part of the imagination. The point is, that if the evil is unreal, while the good is real, then as absurd or hopium-ful that idea may sound, if Perfection is true, then it is necessarily true. If it were not true, then the logic of perfection, which we would suppose must include all good things in reality, and no evil, would not be real. And if Perfection was not real, then God as Perfection is not real. Whereas, if God is real and God is Perfect, then imperfect Universes, such as what we see with its apparent evil, would commonly be observed – some Universes containing only good things to obsever, and others containing unreal evils that might seem real for the sake of the good related to them.

Think about it. If the world did not at least appear to suffer, I would not do the good thing of praying for anyone’s suffering. If it contained no apparent tragedy, I would not be working heroically to undo its damage.

This also pertains to my own sense of personal sin. If I have a memory of sinning, is that memory real? Assume it seems very real. Would  my repentance from that sin not be a good thing? If repentance from sin is a good thing, then Perfection includes it. But God does not lack the good thing of my repentance unless God lacks some good thing.

Foundational theology seems like fundamentalist theology because it takes the Scriptures very literally, but it is actually quite fine tuned, in that it builds upon precepts and then views texts based on those established precepts. Fundamentalist theology is more like a wild horse. It can go anywhere, seeking to interpret foundations based on the text, rather than the text based on the foundations. It divorces itself from the tradition of the apostles and places no value in the observations of the early church fathers such as Ireneus.

The way I see it, tradition and reason, including the logic of perfection, proceeded in the early church side by side, neither one being insigificant as Trinitarian theology, reflecting on the foundations I mentioned above evolved and expressed themselves in the Great Ecumentical Counsels.  But I think that the first love of the church grew cold. A formalistic ecclesiology came to gradually replace the kerygma of the apostolic church fathers from the fourth and fifth century to the present and its only worstened. I see this as predominantly due to Latin influence in both the East and West.

The latins had a down from the top kingdom concept that was solidifed by Augustine, especially in The City of God. I’d also credit Cyprian of Carthage, another latin. These were both great men of God, but their latin conception of the church lacked the apophatic character of the Greek and Semetic Christianity that preceded it. One is almost brought to tears reading the letters of Cyprian to those struggling under persecution, some having lapsed and so many martyred. But it was also Cyprian who brought the church to a state of sectarianism it hadn’t previously known. As the latins were wont to do, they equated divine authority with an authority on this earth that served as an ambasador or regent. The visible church was directly equated with the ordinations of individuals, beginning with the succession of bishops, while the sense of a mystical body of Christ, was abandoned.

Early charismatics rejected this “psychic” church, as Tertullian called it, only to run into the arms of cult leaders that were not only just as abusive and controlling but wild in their doctrinal innovation. Given that the Catholics wrote the history, it is hard to know with certainty what the Montanists really taught. Most of what we know comes from Tertullian. Ironically, Cyprian loved Tertullian. I think that Tertullian himself was disconnected to the apostolic kerygma. That is what explains it. Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine were all three latin fathers. They may may be considered “early church fathers” by most scholars today, but when I think “early” I aim for the first century if possible and to the second century only if there is a likely connection to the apostles directly. These only would I consider “apostolic.” The rest are their successors, to be sure, but if they did not maintain the first love, first mind or first witness, something the passage of time and generations makes impossible, then I make a distinction to high calling and genuine apostolicity as it was first known.

While I am not beyond criticizing the later generations of early church fathers or re-examining the foundations they have set, I do find that paying close attention to what they have said still tends to make very good sense, given that those who taught them were at least connected to the apostles themselves through the oral reception of their words and daily teachings in a world where discipleship was taken far more seriously than it is today. And this is to say that while there may have been a mystery of iniquity already at work as early as Paul’s day that may have brought on apostasy from the kerygma I’m describing, for the whole, the initial deposit of faith tended to be preserved and carried forward from generation to generation. The doctrine of the Trinity is part of that. But some elements, such as its standing in the logic of perfection, was not properly developed or preserved. A great deal of attention was given to preserving the unity of God and the three relations as distinct at the same time during the counciliar period, but serious consideration of the logic of perfection was not typically the subject. The process theology of Whitehead, Hartshorne and their 19th and 20th century critics brought back the subject of divine perfection in the light of its seeming incongruity with personal involvement in temporal affairs. Would perfection be something that could be affected by the world? I’m a bit disappointed and surprised that these subjects were breached so little prior to the Enlightenment period.

I am not superstitious about apostolic succession or any of the sacraments, here counting the seven in the Catholic tradition. I don’t hold anyone infallible – not Ireneus or anyone else – and their authority is relative too

“Relative authority” means it exists, but not in a way that is not subject to divine authority. God commands and things are so. These ask and maybe things are so, subject to divine will. These may bind some things on earth that are bound in heaven, but their words and their actions of binding and loosing are powerless if God’s will is different than theirs. We should have seen in the separte will that the humanity of Christ had with his divinity, that these human bishops only sometimes fulfill the declaration of Christ to Peter. Failure to recognize the difference is tantamount to ecclesiolatry. Even if we are only thinking in terms of delegated authority, it is a form of idolatry, because it is incorrect. It is bad ecclesiology. Such a concept of apostolic succession and authority brings about divination.

In a restoration to the hearts of the fathers, I see actual apostolic succession heading in two directions. The first direction is toward the beginning, which is proximity to Christ. It stands to reason that information gets lost from generation to generation. A careful preservation of the faith first handed to the saints is no easy task. Thus it is that the later centuries are marked by new disagreements and controversies. Proximity in terms of number of generations and proven study of those in which such proximity is evident is the most important way to determine what the early traditions held. The second direction is toward the end. There is a certain authority that comes from people who continually reflect. While proximity disappears, reflection increases. As Daniel states, “many will go back and forth and knowledge will increase” (Dn12:4). He describes a progressive revelation that does not end with the apostles and indicates the increase of knowledge until the return of the Lord.

Foundationism is thus progressive. It builds and receives and also seeks through continuous reflection and grows in observation over time clear through until the Lord returns. The beginning, the middle and the end of all of this is all subject to scrutiny but must be examined as a whole and not from just one standpoint or another. Where change is found through the centuries, and it is, we have fair reason to ask why and draw conclusions as we seek the Lord’s help, who promised the Holy Spirit to those who would ask of the Father. Even so, we don’t demand that information, but rather like Daniel, we ask the deepest questions there are – those worthy of standing the test of time – with the greatest humility. Daniel fasted 21 days in sackcloth for answers. We should do the same.

Fundamentalism is the opposite. Fundamentalism may be on board with my criticism of the church but in its purest form it also utterly disregards all but the texts themselves, and even goes so far as to suppose that only those texts which were preserved constitute the Gospel. It supposes that if there were any oral traditions and teachings, acknowledging they certainly existed, that all of these were restricted to the same teaching as the texts, so they have no value or authority and certainly do not constitute the Word of God.

They forget that it was Jesus that is the Word of God made flesh and the whole world couldn’t contain the books that could be written about him. Jesus is the Word of God – not their scrolls. The scrolls merely describe him and some of the works of the Holy Spirit. How many times have I heard people say that the word BIBLE is an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” That is not what the Bible is. The Bible is a testament to the early church, which testified concerning Christ. If offers some exhortations. It provides a record of the history of Israel. It contains its Psalmody, which reflects its worship. It contains prophecies, many of which appear to have been fulfilled already. It contains commandments, some of which may not apply. It records the traditions not just of God but also of men, some of which is merely practical, some of which is merely opinion. It bears witness to a high Christology, a high ecclesiology and a high attitude toward scripture – all three. But each deserves a thorough assessment and consideration. In humility, we can approach them, knowing we may be wrong, but there is no whole body of tradition whether Church or Bible that can say with certainty that it is infallible. Such a position can only be a matter of faith. As for me, I see the Bible as part of tradition. It is like a family album. It offers a snapshot of the family. A family album is not a stand alone thing. It is something that goes hand in hand with the family it belongs to.

All of this leaves me in a somewhat lonely place, being too critical of each tradition to be seen as an advocate. If it wasn’t for the certainty I have from foundationism, I might have rejected Christianity altogether, but foundationism declares the eternal Trinity as Perfection. Logic being what it is, if Perfection is true, then Perfection is – it has Being. And if it lacks no good thing, then it lacks no good deed. Therefore, both in being and in doing, Perfection lacks no good thing. But which God is true? God the Doer, or God the Being? The answer is both God the Doer and God the Being are one Perfection. Therefore what God is is what God does. God is God by God. God is the Eternal Generation of God.  Being beyond creation, we might avoid the term creator of God in favor of the Eternal Begetter of God. God is Begetter of What? Of God. God is Beggeter of Begotten God. By What? By Begetting. God, the Begetter Begets eternally the Begotten God. God is of God by God. Using a human language regarding these relations, we might refer to God’s relationship as Begetter “Father.” We might call God’s roelationship as Begotten “Son.” And we might refer to God’s relationship as Begetting, the “Spirit of God” or “Holy Spirit.” Those are the more traditional terms.

These are not mere modes of divine being. They are eternal relationships with God in God because God accomplishes all that is good, and God is all that is good. Such is the nature of Perfection, that It Is of Itself. Such is the foundation of foundationism. It begins with the good and perfect nature of God. From there it flows to creation. Creation is less than what God is, but is included in what God is to the extent that creation is holy. Creation that is not holy is not part of God because God is holy. Would Perfection be better if it included imperfect things? No. However, it would be Perfect if it included all things that could only exist if at least the appearance of imperfect things existed. These exist as conditionals. So for instance, if it were true that you sinned against me, it would be good if I forgave you. Thus my forgiveness of you is included in my goodness even though your sin against me was only hy0thetical. and none of this has ever not been a part of the goodness already existing in God.

How can this be known? Logic. And if you find yourself cringing, this is because logic is not your specialty. In fact, you may be a heresy hunter checking all this against your church teaching or your Bible. This is the difference between foundationism and fundamentalism. Fundamentalism may not see a Multiverse described in the Bible or spoken of by a pope. It may agree that God is Perfect, but it doesn’t consider the ramifications. In stead it turns back to tradition. It may be afraid to see the Trinity as logical. It prefers to embrace the Trinity because its teachers said it was so – because it was written. Paul tells Timothy the Church of the Living God is the pillar and foundation of the truth, but Paul was writing in the days when the apostles were all living. What we have now is a vey different family – one that has many records from the family Paul knew, including a family album. The one that believes in and lives by those records is the only living church. Such is the mindset of the fundamentalist, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Reformed.

Foundationism, by contrast, sees the pillar and ground of the truth as the Living God Himself, a Truth which can only be discovered in the church of the Living God as He speaks (1Tm3:15). He is thus described by Paul as the God who continues to speak because He is living. The Scriptures stand forever unchanged, but it is questionable whether any of the apostles even considered their own writings to be a new set of Scripture in the same sense that the writings of the Old Testament were. They believed they had received authority from on high but did not seem to suppose that that authority was limited to their writings.

Foundationism must examine the implications of eternity past. God's presence in it is a reflection of the belief in divine perfection.
Foundationism must examine the implications of eternity past. God’s presence in it is a reflection of the belief in divine perfection.

I say all this here in the cosmostrophy blog and to some that may seem odd. The question of how an eternity has passed, since God is said to be from eternity, is a mathematical one that pertains not to God, but to math itself.  It calls for a reconciliation that none of the early fathers seem to have considered, not being mathematicians so much, or considering the Universe as a certain amount of mass and energy that might limit its particular time and space. Neither do they seem to have considered the possibility of multiverses – multiple Universes – so much as multiple deities and secondary powers like angels and the ogdoads they saw as inconsistent with the perfection they saw in the one immutable God.

Their view of divine perfection led them to think of God as impassible, without passion, because they saw God as unchanging and wholly other, uncreated. They saw emotion and feeling as something that belonged to creation rather than to God. And for this reason, they relegated the feeling even of Jesus strictly to His humanity. They believed that His divinity united in Him as one Person, temporarily on earth by divine economy,  did not share passion or feeling – no suffering. These belonged to the human nature alone, so that by economy in the unity of humanity and divinity in Jesus, the one Son did share in our sufferings, but not the Father and not the divinity of Jesus, only his humanity.

A new theology has recently arisen that challenges this antipassianism of divinity. It has taken many forms and can be found in the panentheism of Whitehead and Harthshorne, as founders of it and it has much appeal because it sees God as sharing in our sufferings. It helps us cope when we see family members dying to think that the Lord suffers with us as we pray. These new theologians, unlike the fathers, also tend to maintain that the Creator depended on creation somehow for his own being. Whitehead maintained some form of immutability of the divine through “process theology” and it is not anything I spend my time reading so I can’t say whether or not he really does any justice to divine immutability. The struggle for all of these is in seeing the Father as dispassionate, lacking feeling. It seems incongruous to them, (and to me), that God can lack any good quality if God is perfect. Are feelings a bad quality? Is suffering a bad quality? If it is not unholy, then why must God lack it? It seems like something the gnostics believed rather than the apostolic Christians.

It is all a conundrum that I believe could be solved by asking the cosmostrophic question, a consideration that so far as I know, none of the early church fathers entertained, nor did others after them who honored the tradition they received from that foundation. Invariably, the view of the fathers was to see time as something that began with creation, not observing that if God was from all eternity, that there must also have been an eternity that had first passed, which is a mathematical impossibility. A minimum of two Universes must exist in order for their to be two separate time frames – the one that is eternal for God, and the other that begins with our own Universe. Instead, the fathers all saw time as being ever preexistent, ignoring this impossibility. They instead saw God as non-Universal because He is uncreated. They never thought of a Universe that was much more vast than our own – infinite – that consisted of nothing but God Himself. They assumed, like many of us do today, that our own Universe is endless. But in fact, cosmologists don’t think that is true.

To resolve this with modern cosmology, we can answer the cosmostrophic question and suppose that God must have skipped over time on our behalf to allow us to be created. He did not just create us out of nothing. He passed over an infinite amount of time in doing so. The economy of salvation is thus given to us through Christ into a world infinitely distant from Himself not just in time, still wholly other as the fathers maintained, but in His own endless Universe both as to time, and perhaps space. The alternative is to suppose that God is not actually literally from eternity.

Come now. Would saying sGod was not from all eternity be consistent with the foundation of the apostles? Of course, not. They would consider that a blasphemy, as would I. None of them doubted that God was from all eternity. And neither has this issue been doubted by any of the subsequent fathers who built on their foundation.

Do you see how this works? God is seen as eternal because being eternal is one of the attributes of perfection. God being unchanging is also thought to be such an attribute. This is because if God changes, this indicates that one state of being is greater than another. This is why the earliest church fathers always maintained that he must be unchanging – immutable – on account of this theology of perfection. It is a theology that can first be traced to Ireneus but we find it again in the Cappadocian fathers and elsewhere.

Now I would be willing to entertain the idea that God is not from all eternity, if it were not for the notion of perfection that the early fathers also found in describing God as they reasoned with the Scriptures.  It is this very immutable eternal single perfection that they continually recognize that caused them to assume that divinity could take no part in the economy of this Universe except through the Son, who being sent by God the Father expressed the will of God the Father through the divine work of salvation.

The problem I have with that is that I don’t see Immutability as excluding passion just because passion is human. Just because a quality is human does that mean that it is not also a divine quality first? Not at all. In fact, it stands to reason in the argument for the perfection of divinity, that not only is God immutable, but that God should also lack no good quality in His immutable perfection. That human nature is a temporal nature is given in Christ without confusion and His human nature is proven wholly good, not that it is divine. His prenacence as Son is not fleshly, but does serve as the Word to man historically, and has existed eternally with the Father before creation. What is holy in what is fleshly is surely not excluded in the pre-eternal Son prior to his humanity. Thus every good quality of humanity has eternally existed as a quality of the divine perfection. This is an observation that stands in contradiction to the notion of divine passianism and unfortunately, I find myself in a quandry over it, as I am confronted with a huge weight of material from the fathers, given their early encounter with the modalists, which resulted in a copious number of works denouncing patripassianism as heresy.

Seeing this, I have sought to delineate how it is that the divine perfection is fully reconciled with the fact that what is good in humanity has eternally pre-existed as qualities included in the one immutable divine nature, but this presents a great difficulty for me as a foundationist because the foundation started out very much weighted toward defending the separation of Persons in the Trinity and in such a fashion that the theme of immutability seems to have overpowered the reason the theme of immutability came up in the first place – the divine perfection, as persuasively given first through Ireneus.

Tracing the origins of these things, I find that the mentor of Tertullian, the first to outline the problem of patripassianism at length, was Justin, a philosopher trained by one probably directly associated with the apostles. Justin himself mentions a teacher in the Christian faith who mentored him, but does not give us his identity but his knowledge of the Scriptures is clear in his Dialog with Trypho and the respect of his authority as a teacher among early Christians is apparent in the preservation not only of that work but of his letters to the Senate and to Marcus Aurelius.

I will begin looking at Justin and Ireneus as I redirect this conversation back toward the apostles but will first be examining carefully the antipatripassianism that is given through Tertullian, since his is the first record we have of a detailed treatment of the matter. Tertullian wrote over a hundred years prior to the Council of Nicea and was thought a heretic by the orthodox that followed because of his sympathies toward Montanus. Yet despite this his writings are preserved, which to me stands a testimony to the early church’s wholehearted agreement with his non-Montanist material.

The reader of this blog will be able to look up my summaries of Tertullian by looking up posts marked by that name as I add my commentary in the coming days. For now, I just want to outline my purpose for this exercise. Whether one ultimately deems me a heretic or not for supposing that divinity cannot lack any good quality that humanity possesses on account of it being the divine nature to be perfect, not just immutable, I won’t concern myself with. My goal here is to simply examine what was said, listen and learn from it as I do, and to see if any of this dismantles the notion of the divine perfection in the sense I am seeking here to preserve, since to me it seems plainly logical.

I will close here by saying that there is one last reason why this matters to me. Ultimately, this bears on my view of how to solve the problem of evil and suffering in the Universe. Many people insist that God cannot be perfect because he allows evil. The type of foundational cosmostrophy that I hold solves the problem of evil by seeing God as perfect, reaching forward in time with an infinite leap, taking all that is good from it back to Himself to His own time frame and Universe, and enjoying the good from all eternity. He does this through multiple mansions or Universes on behalf of the good of each, so that there is no good lacking. We are infinitely removed from evil because we are truly creatures of that Universe and not of this one, to which we are dying, and where we find suffering. God’s own Universe is wholly other and then these relational Universes accompany Him but do not add to His omnibenevolence because they can’t, as He has always possessed every good quality they have in themselves. For His good pleasure, He lets them participate in His glory though they are less than what He is. He does not depend on them for His existence or goodness, which is complete with or without them. His goodness is prior to them and requires no need of change to have any good thing added to it.

This is the view I will maintain as I examine the foundational theology of the church through the writings of the church fathers in the two directions I mentioned, beginning with Tertullian. Are you ready?


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