Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Athanasius, Ontology, and the Work of Christ

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Introduction: Rethinking Church History?

There is value to examining our predecessors in the faith, be they the unnamed scribes who diligently produced copies of the Old and New Testaments, or the earliest proto-systematic theologians of the church who put their best and most prayerful effort into defending the faith against heretics, as well as teaching the sheep of Christ. Regarding the latter, i.e. the church fathers, we get a glimpse of how men living in a completely different time period interacted with their cultures — art, philosophy, law, science, and religion. This grants us the opportunity to examine our own beliefs, testing them for consistency with the Scriptures and with what the body of Christ has consistently taught throughout the ages.

The church fathers were not without errors, nor were they always entirely in error. Unfortunately, however, given their historically situatedness, they often employ language and ideas in an historically specific manner that lends prima facie legitimacy to proof-texts offered by Protestants, Romanists, and the Eastern Orthodox in defense of their respectively unique doctrines. Their writings can often be the source of confusion for Christians honestly seeking to understand historical developments in doctrine, and, what is more, can likewise serve as proof-texts for various heresies.

Oneness Pentecostal David K. Bernard, for instance, claims that Irenaeus — the author of the church’s greatest apologetical texts, Against Heresies — was
a prominent Christian leader who died around A.D. 200, had an intensely Christocentric theology and a firm belief that Jesus was God manifested in flesh. He held that the Logos which became incarnate in Jesus Christ was the mind of God, and was the Father Himself.[1] 
And in a similar vein, as Luke Wayne notes,
in their widely distributed pamphlet, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?" the Watchtower Society (the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) claims that none of the writers of the early church believed in the deity of Christ or the triune nature of God.[2]
These groups appeal to proof-texts using language that appears to support non-trinitarianism, but which upon close examination does not.

The same proof-texting methodology used by Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witness is also observable in the writings of advocates of the doctrine of annihilationism. Perhaps most famously, Seventh Day Adventist Le Roy Edwin Froom, in his work The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers Vol. I, boldly asserts that the apostolic fathers “were all Conditionalists,”[3] a claim that finds repetition in the writings of many of Froom’s modern admirers among the annihilationists. Following in his steps, they attempt to grant their position historical grounding within the ranks of orthodox theologians of the early church by identifying “giants” of apologetics and theology as their own.

Among the “giants” who are often acontextually cited, we find, again, Irenaeus of Lyons, as well as Athanasius of Alexandria. Froom’s The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers identifies “Irenaeus” and the “most conspicuous and learned Conditionalist of the third century,”[4] “an avowed Conditionalist.”[5] Following in Froom’s steps,[6] Glenn Peoples argues that “Irenaeus of Lyons was a conditionalist,”[7] for he “notes that God called the planets and stars into existence, and  that they, along with all created things, ‘endure as long as God wills that they should have an existence and continuance.’”[8] Christopher M. Date echoes these sentiments, further arguing that
Irenaeus could hardly be any clearer. Whereas God would that the saved be granted “continuance” and “length of days for ever and ever,” the lost will instead be justly deprived of the same. . . [He] then is clearly and plainly stating that the redeemed will exist forever, and the unredeemed will not.[9]
Date, again, declares that
There is simply no contextual justification for believing that Irenaeus’ point has to do with the miserable quality of life faced by the wicked for eternity.


There simply is no avoiding the clear meaning of Irenaeus’ words. Whereas those who hold to the traditional view of hell affirm that both the saved and the unsaved will live forever throughout eternity, either blissfully in the presence of God or in torment having been separated from him, Irenaeus plainly taught that only the saved will live forever because “existence and continuance” depends upon the will of God, which he will deny the lost."[10]

Glenn Peoples succinctly puts forward his interpretation of Irenaeus, claiming that “there is no vagueness about the meaning of these comments…Irenaeus, using exactly the same language, goes on in the same chapter to say that the lost will not exist forever.[11]

The annihilationists likewise claim Athanasius as one of their own, utilizing the same proof-texting methodology in so doing. After identifying Irenaeus as “a Conditionalist,” Peoples goes on to assert that Athanasius’ use of “language that is no less explicit” than that of Irenaeus, shows that
It is perfectly clear that by “sink back into destruction,” [he] is referring to a return to the state out of which humanity came: nothingness. The only means of escape from this fate, Athanasius said, is through the Incarnation of the Word (Christ), so that “whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.”[12]
He goes on to add that
To call this a “vague” reference to real and complete destruction is to say that it is somehow unclear that we once did not exist, which is absurd. And Athanasius is not talking here about a universal immortality where everyone gets immortality whether they are saved or not. The resurrection to which he refers here is “grace.” Athanasius is explicit elsewhere (Discourse 3 Against the Arians, chapter 29) that it is only in “receiving Him” that we can “partake of the immortality that is from Him.”[13]

This view is similarly held by Christopher M. Date, who writes —

Athanasius might answer, as George Foley characterizes him as doing, that Christ “rescued us from the continuance of death.” His death “enabled Him to triumph over death as a continuing power, by permitting men to share His immortality.”  The character of death has thus changed for believers; it is no longer permanent. “We, the faithful in Christ,” Athanasius writes, “no longer die the death as before, agreeably to the warning of the law.” Rather, “corruption ceasing and being put away by the grace of the Resurrection, henceforth we are only dissolved, agreeably to our bodies’ mortal nature, at the time God has fixed for each, that we may be able to gain a better resurrection.”[14]
For Peoples and for Date, as well as for Froom and many other annihilationists, the case is closed. Athanasius was an annihilationist, and this is proven by the very language that he uses. There is no question in the above writers’ minds about the beliefs of Irenaeus and Athanasius. Not only is this unquestionably the case, it can only be denied by those who actively seek to read into these church fathers beliefs that they clearly did not have.

Yet a close reading of the fathers does not support the notion that they were in fact annihilationists, despite their apparent terminological agreement with annihilationism’s defenders. This could be demonstrated on a larger scale, but for the present article will be limited to the theology of Athanasius of Alexandria. This is primarily for two reasons. Firstly, the present study is not intended to be a full analysis of all of the patristic authors. Our goal is simply to underscore the falsity of the belief that all of the church fathers prior to Tertullian and Augustine — excluding, of course, the universalists fathers Clement, Origen, Maximus the Confessor, and Gregory of Nyssa — were annihilationists. Secondly, many scholars have noted that in regard to his ontological anthropological, and soteriological positions, Athanasius “is clearly building on Irenaeus.”[15] This links his Athanasius’ doctrine to Irenaeus as well as to his eternal-torment teaching successors, from whom he is typically divided by annihilationists.[16]

§ II. Being and Nothingness:
Ontology and Anthropology in Athanasius’ Theology

As Paul Gavrilyuk explains, “as a result of the intellectual confrontation with the philosophers and the Gnostics, in the second century the idea of creation out of nothing became more salient in Christian teaching.”[17] Hence, in contradiction to the Platonists who taught that “God did not create from nothing, but from matter already existing,”[18] Athanasius championed the biblical doctrine that God created all that exists from nothing. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo underscores God’s transcendence from the created order, whereas the philosophical view held by the Neo-Platonists and Gnostics “makes God’s ability to create dependent on something outside God, namely the pre-existing matter, thereby diminishing God’s creative power.”[19] This distinction between the Creator and his creation is central to Athanasius’ entire system of theology. “For Athanasius, as for Irenaeus before him, the condition of being created out of nothing entailed that the creatures were ontologically different from God. The creator is unchangeable and eternal; creatures, in contrast, are subject to change, corruption and death.”[20]

What has been created, therefore, only exists by virtue of the goodness and grace of God exercised in creating it and sustaining it in existence. As such, its every moment as an existent thing depends upon God upholding it by his good and gracious power. Without God’s interaction with the creation, via his gracious sustaining of it, all of it — even human beings — return to nothing. However, since man is the image and glory of God, he is upheld in a special way by the Word of God, the Logos,  with whom he shares a creational union. Khaled Anatolios explains,
…if God’s nature is that of true being, who is utterly self-sufficient and inaccessible,  human nature is characterized by its origination from nothing. This ex nihilo  is by no means merely a historical datum or a punctiliar “moment” in the story of humanity’s beginning; it is an ontological determination that characterizes humanity’s existence, and that of creation in general, as deriving from and thus inherently tending toward non-being: “for the nature of the things that come to be (genēta), inasmuch as they exist out of non-being, is unstable, weak, and mortal when considered in itself” (Against the Greeks  41). However, this aspect of human “nature,” or physis, cannot, by definition, characterize the actual constitution of the human being as such. It merely refers to the radical nothingness which underlies human existence and indicates humanity’s inherent lack of self-possessed being and thus its radical incapacity to preserve itself in being through its own power. For human beings to actually exist, human “nature” must be radically complemented by the dynamic of “grace”, charis, which corresponds to the divine philanthropia. The aspect of “grace” in the human being is the gift that is granted to humanity of participation in God the Word, in whom all created things have their consistence. Thus, humanity is conceived simultaneously as being of a corruptible nature that tends toward nothingness, in contrast to the perfect and transcendent nature of God, and yet as possessing the grace of participating in divine life, because of the divine philanthropia which overcomes the  natural disparity between the  God who is and the creation that comes to be from nothing.[21]
Thus, while it is the case that creation tends toward non-being, and humans as part of the creation tend toward this end as well, humans are sustained in existence by the grace of God in a special way. As Athanasius states —
Among all the things upon the earth, he was especially merciful toward the human race. Seeing that by the logic of its own origin it would not be capable of always remaining, he granted it a further gift. He did not create human beings merely like all the irrational animals upon the earth, but made them according to his own Image, and shared with them the power of his own Word, so that having a kind of reflection of the Word and thus becoming rational, they may be enabled to remain in blessedness and live the true life of the saints in paradise. 
(On the Incarnation 3)[22]
Humans, therefore, possess a gift of grace that sustains them in a way distinct from all other creatures.

§ IIa. Athanasius, Plato, Being, and Non-Being

It is important to note that Athanasius’ use of terms like existence, non-existence, being, non-being, corruption, incorruption, et al must be understood in light of his overarching philosophical context. Athanasius was working with mostly Platonic categories[23] that are somewhat counterintuitive to modern readers. Thus, annihilationists conceive of non-existence simply in absolutistic terms, but the same was not true of the philosophers from whom Athanasius borrowed and refined concepts which would become central to his theology. According to Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius displays
a colloquial familiarity with philosophical concepts of the various schools, in particular a Stoic cosmology which is employed to speak of the Word as the principle of harmony in the cosmos, and a middle Platonic ontology in which God is characterized as true being, to which creaturely being is linked by participation.[24]
Hence, Athanasius declares that “the good is being, whereas evil is non-being.”[25] Being is identified as “good because it has its exemplar in God who is Being.”[26] Inversely, “non-being evil because it has no real being, but is conceived by false human notions.”[27] Jonathan Morgan expands on these ideas, stating —
Non-existence (or, non-being) is fundamental to Athanasius’s under­standing of evil insofar as it is the opposite of good. Whatever is good has being while evil is the privation of being… the affliction of evil (the tendency toward non-being) came upon humans when they turned toward themselves, forgot God, and began pursuing what is not God, namely, sensual desires and corruptible pleasures. Athanasius makes clear that the soul’s turn from God and pursuit of temporal gain resulted in idolatry. For him, idolatry is worshipping and valuing that which has no real existence. Yet it was this tragic turn toward idolatry that became the soul’s trajectory from life and true being toward non-being. Here, it is important to note that, for Athanasius, ‘non-being’ is not understood simply as that which has no existence, but rather the failure to live out the full potential of God’s design for humanity.[28]
Consequently, “non-being is both ontological and existential. While slowly enduring corruption and death because of sin, fallen humans exist on a lesser plane than what God had intended.”[29] 

§ III. The Atonement and Universal Salvation from No-thing-ness

Non-being, then, can be conceived of as either (a.)complete nothingness/no-thing-ness, or (b.)the deprivation of that which is, i.e. that which is good/God. The first nothingness is ontological, whereas the second is moral/qualitative.[30] It is from the the first nothingness/no-thing-ness that Christ delivers all of humanity. Meijering —
All men must die, therefore the Word surrendered the body it had assumed to death, and offered it to the Father. God’s threat that man would have to die if he sinned had to be fulfilled, but in such a way that this did not imply the ruin of all men, i.e., of all mankind. Therefore the immortal Word of God assumed a mortal body, but at the same time imbued what was mortal with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. The corruption in death no longer has power over men, because the Word dwells among men by means of one body.[31]
Because God is good and gracious, he has defeated sin, death, and the devil. All humans being united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection are saved from and absolute nothingness. Anatolios —
Through sin, death entered into the world and all humanity was subject to it, according to the ‘just judgement of God who had previously warned humanity that the consequence of sin is death.’ This judgement was fulfilled in Christ's body, which was sufficient to atone for the death of all by virtue of its participation in the Word. Thus. on me one hand. the universal efficacy of Christ's sacrifice is expressly linked with its participation in the transcendence Word while, on the other hand, the condition for the possibility of this sacrifice is the mitigation of the Word’s transcendence through the instrumentality of the body. Of himself. and by virtue of his own nature. the Word cannot die. But just as the invisible God becomes visible through the instrument of the body, so the immortal God is able to undergo death through the same instrument. And through this death, the Word's immortality and incorruptibility is communicated to the body.[32]
Athanasius identifies all mankind as beneficiaries of the resurrection of Christ; through his incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection the Incarnate Logos made all flesh immortal. Anatolios quotes Athanasius —
For since the Word realized that human corruption would not be abolished in any other way except by everyone dying —  and the Word himself was not able to die, being immortal and the Son of the Father —  he took to himself a body which could die, in order that, since this participated in the Word who is above all… it would be sufficient to undergo a death for the sake of all, and because of the Word who was dwelling in it, it would remain incorruptible, and so corruption would depart from all humanity by the grace of the resurrection. Therefore as an offering and spotless sacrifice, he offered to death the body which he had taken to himself, and immediately abolished death from all who were like him by the offering of a like. For since the Word is above all, he fulfilled the debt by his death, by offering his temple and the instrument of his body as a substitute for all. And as the incorruptible Son of God was united to all human beings by his body similar to theirs, he granted incorruption to all humanity by the promise of resurrection.[33]
Far from being a promise only for those who exercise faith in Christ, immortality of the body has been procured for all men through Christ’s death and resurrection.

All mankind, in other words, has been saved ontologically from absolute nothingness. Hence, Morgan states that in Athanasius’ theology

The resurrection puts into effect what Christ’s death accomplishes…In a general sense, it proves that the Word made man is superior to death, and, because he took to himself a body like ours, he is able to make us sharers in his incorruption. Everyone — saint and sinner alike — will experience this grace at the universal resurrection.[34]
The grace of God is shown toward all men in their being united to Christ, ontologically, in his incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection. The reader unfamiliar with Athanasius’ understanding of grace as that which brought into existence, sustains, and saves creation may be tempted to anachronistically interpret his nature/grace distinction. Hence, Anatolios underscores that in reading Athanasius’ doctrine of grace and nature, we must “immediately hasten to dissociate this terminology from a nature–grace distinction conceived along a scholastic or post-scholastic model.”[35] Rather than fitting neatly into the Romanist/Protestant debates of the Reformation Era on this distinction, Athanasius views the nature/grace distinction as belonging “within the more radical framework of the fundamental distinction between created and uncreated.”[36]

God’s grace, in other words, is not viewed as solely bestowed upon those who believe the Gospel, but upon all men, seeing as it is that which brings all things into existence and sustains them in existence as well. God is giving of himself in creating and sustaining his creation, revealing himself as the ineffable One who yet has condescended to reveal himself to us through the external world, as well as through ourselves (as we are made in the image of the Image/Logos of God). He has revealed himself as creating man for the end purpose of existing in immortality/fellowship with God, and since this is what he willed in the creation of man, as Gerald Hiestand explains,
God was not content to see his self-portrait ruined. Given that humanity functions as a living, visible representation of God’s image, it would have been ‘unfitting’ for God to leave humanity in a state of corruption; divine neglect would have been a breech of God’s honor. ‘It were unseemly’, Athanasius writes, ‘that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin, and turn again toward nonexistence by the way of corruption....It was, then, out of the question to leave men to the current of corruption; because this would be unseemly, and unworthy of God’s goodness’”[37]
Again, we must note that the salvation from annihilation is universal. No man will cease to exist, for Christ has overcome the inherent ontological instability of man worsened by man’s fall into sin. Christ has overcome annihilation for all men, even those who will never turn to Christ and be saved from eternal punishment.

§ IV. The Atonement and Particular Salvation
from Estrangement from God

For Athanasius, the incarnation of the Word of God took place for “the redemption from death and the giving of life”[38] to all  men, ontologically. However, for those who believe the Gospel, “the loss of human knowledge and the contemplation of God”[39] is repaired and restored. Merely being an existent human being is not equivalent to truly having existence/being, as we have noted above already, nor is it equivalent to having true life. A. M. Aagaard, speaking to the centrality of this notion of salvation being the becoming-like-God, in a moral sense, in writings of the fathers, remarks —
Our perfection or the fullness of salvation is our deification; an immortality that goes for both soul and body. This salvation means that the deified person sees the God who is immortal by nature…none of the early theologians expresses this so powerfully as Irenaeus… 
For the Glory of God is a living human being, and the life of the human being consists in beholding God. 
…the salvation or perfection of the created image of God is held together with faith and a new way of life.[40]
Irenaeus’ understanding is that “the unjust are doomed to eternal separation from God (‘death’), because they lack the Divine Spirit.”[41]

Athanasius shares a similar view,[42] demonstrating that while he believed in a universal ontological immortality, he was not a true universalist. Though humanity had been raised to immortality in Christ, not all men would believe. These men will not, consequently, see God, know him, or become like him. Morally, qualitatively, spiritually they will continue to tend toward nothingness/non-being/evil/non-God-likeness, all the while remaining ontologically immortal. Christ’s atoning work on the cross accomplishes the immortalization of the flesh, but the immortalization of the soul (morally, qualitatively, spiritually) only comes about via faith in Christ and sanctification of the Spirit of God. Anatolios —
Athanasius…adopts Irenaeus’s emphasis on the convergence between God’s transcendent majesty and his benevolent involvement with the world, the stress on the immediacy of divine presence to the world, the conception of humanity as fundamentally receptive to the divine, and the understanding of redemption in terms of repairing human receptivity and re-instituting the union of divine and human.[43]
The “repairing of human receptivity” has taken place in the immortalization of all men through Christ’s union with them. Regarding the reinstitution of the union of divine and human, “Athanasius clearly believes and teaches that the grace of divinization must be acquired by an intentional human effort at reproducing the life and virtues of God Himself through discipleship and imitation.”[44] Through Christ’s conquering of death and annihilation (i.e. ontological non-being), he “gave to every member of the human race only the potential to be divinized”[45] (i.e. moral/spiritual being, or participation in the divine life and immortality). “Whereas the essential Son possesses these virtues from the Father kath ousian, the Father's adopted sons [through faith in the Son of God] must strive to acquire them by cooperating with God's operations through the exercise of the will.”[46]

Humanity, consequently, has been redeemed in total from the annihilating power of sin and death; however, humans receive true life and true being only insofar as they are believers in Christ, appropriating his grace, seeking to imitate him, and thereby become partakers of the divine nature, morally/qualitatively/spiritually speaking. No man will be annihilated, on this view, but not all men will be saved from the corruption of sin, the perpetual inward tending toward non-being that will never reach its apex in the immortalized sinner’s ceasing to be.

§ V. Concluding Remarks

Whereas annihilationists see in Athanasius orthodox support for their doctrine, a closer examination of his theology makes it clear that he was not an annihilationist. While he does state that the created order by dint of (i.)its being made from nothing and (ii.)its being cursed by God in the Fall could have been annihilated, he explicitly teaches that all men will be raised to immortality by virtue of Christ’s union with them. Likewise, while Athanasius teaches that all men have been granted the grace of immortality, ontologically speaking, through the work of Christ, he identifies man’s partaking of the divine nature as occurring only in those who appropriate the grace of God for them in Christ by faith, living as Christ lived, recapitulating his life life so that they may attain to a better resurrection.
According to Athanasius, no man will ever pass into oblivion. The Word became flesh, and through this union ontologically immortalized all men, but this is only part of the salvation available to man. And it will become eternal conscious torment to the one who rejects the Gospel of Christ.

[1] The Oneness of God Vol. 1 (Word Aflame Press, 1997), 237. For a recent scholarly, in-depth examination of Irenaeus’ Trinitarianism, see Lashier, Jackson Jay. "Irenaeus on the Trinity,"  in Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae Volume 127, Ed. J. den Boeft, B.D. Ehrman, J. van Oort, D.T. Rania, & C. Scholten. (Boston: Brill, 2014), 256pp.
[2] “Ignatius of Antioch and the Watchtower,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, https://carm.org/ignatius-of-antioch-and-the-watchtower, Accessed February 27, 2018. (emphasis added)
[3] Ellen G. White Writings, https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/953.5589, Accessed March 01, 2018. (emphasis added)
[4] Ellen G. White Writings, https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/953.6133#6135, Accessed February 28, 2018.
[5] ibid.
[6] Edward Fudge cites Froom and Henry Constable as explicit proponents of this interpretation of Irenaeus, but only indirectly affirms for himself the belief that Irenaeus was an annihilationist. Fudge writes —
Both sides in our controversy claim Irenaeus, Bishop of Gaul. Edward B. Pusey devotes five pages to the writings of Irenaeus, quoting references to fire that is “perpetual,” “everlasting” and “eternal,” and people who are “forever condemned.” Pusey’s longest quotation from Irenaeus defines death as separation from God
Conditionalists accept all these expressions and recall Irenaeus to the witness stand for cross-examination. Dow this explanation of deprivation really support the extinction of the wicked? Surely being itself—as well as a blessed life—is a good gift from God, for which mankind must depend entirely upon God. Utter deprivation of every godly blessing would therefore include the loss of existence itself, since human beings, being created, did not exist until God willed to give them existence.
The Fire that Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment Third Edition, (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 266-267.
[7] Peoples, Glenn. "Hell in the Times: Were the Early Church Fathers 'Vague' in Their Support of Conditional Immortality?," Rethinking Hell, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2014/10/hell-in-the-times-were-the-early-church-fathers-vague-in-their-support-of-conditional-immortality, Accessed February 28, 2018.
[9] "Deprived of continuance: Irenaeus the conditionalist," Rethinking Hell, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/11/deprived-of-continuance-irenaeus-the-conditionalist, Accessed February 28, 2018. (emphasis added)
[10] ibid.
[11] "Hell in the Times," Rethinking Hell. (emphasis added)
[12] “Hell in the Times,” Rethinking Hell.
[13] Ibid. (emphasis added)
[14]"The Righteous for the Unrighteous: Immortality and the Substitutionary Death of Jesus," in McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 18 (2016–2017), 85. (emphasis added)
[15] Edwards, Denis. “God’s Redeeming Act: Deifying Transformation,” in Worldviews 14 (2010), 247. See also, Gavrilyuk, Paul. “Creation in Early Christian Polemical Literature: Irenaeus Against the Gnostics and Athanasius Against the Arians,” in Modern Theology 29:2 (April 2013), 22-32.
[16] Froom, for instance, sees Athanasius as one of the last voices teaching annihlationism, claiming that the doctrine “by the sixth century, [was] virtually crushed and driven underground,” adding that “the Eternal-Torment school of Tertullian-Augustine was at last practically unchallenged. And it continued in the ascendancy for centuries—consolidating its power and brooking no opposition” (The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, Vol 1, Ellen G. White Writings, https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/953.7460#7476).
[17] “Creation in Early Christian Polemical Literature: Irenaeus Against the Gnostics and Athanasius Against the Arians,” in Modern Theology 29:2 (April 2013), 30.
[18] Meijering, Eginhard. “Athanasius on God as Creator and Recreator,”  in Church History and Religious Culture 90:2-3 (2010), 182.
[19] Creation, Gavrilyuk, 30.
[20] ibid.
[21] Athanasius, ed. Carol Harrison (New York: Routledge, 2004), 41. (emphasis added)
[22]  Athanasius, Anatolios, 33. (emphasis added)
[23] Regarding his understanding of the Logos as bearing a two-fold relationship inward toward God and outward toward the works of of God, Athanasius was apparently influenced by the Stoics.
[24] Athanasius, 4.
[25] Anatolios, Khaled. Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (New York: Routledge, 1998), 63.
[26] ibid.
[27] ibid.
[28] “Soteriological Coherence in Contra Gentes-De Incarnatione,” in Evangelical Quarterly 88.2 (2016/17), 103-104. (emphasis added)
[29] ibid.
[30] Some suggest that this be identified as figurative, but that a priori judges the qualitative/moral tending toward non-being as less serious than ontological tending toward non-being, a view incongruous with that of the fathers.
[31]Athanasius on God, 185. (emphasis added)
[32] Athanasius: The Coherence, 76-77.
[33] Athanasius: The Coherence, 77. (emphasis added)
[34] Soteriological Coherence, Morgan, 108.
[35] Athanasius: The Coherence, 56.
[36] ibid.
[37] “Not ‘Just Forgiven’: How Athanasius Overcomes the Under-realised Eschatology of Evangelicalism,” in Evangelical Quarterly Vol. 84, No. 1 (January 2012), 56.
[38] Robertson, Jon M. Christ as Mediator: A Study of the Theologies of Eusebius of Caesarea, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Athanasius of Alexandria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 149.
[39] ibid.
[40]  “‘My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation:’ On Likeness to God and Deification in Patristic Theology,” in Religion & Theology 17 (2010), 311. (emphasis added)
[41]  Ludlow, Morwenna. Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 31. (emphasis added)
[42] The similarities between Irenaeus and Athanasius’ theology are clearly laid out by John I. Hochban in his article “St. Irenaeus on the Atonement,” in Theological Studies Vol 7, Issue 4 (1946), 525 - 557.
[43] Athanasius: The Coherence, 24.
[44] Finch, Jeffrey. “Athanasius on the Deifying Work of the Redeemer,” in Theōsis: Deification in Christian Theology, Ed. Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2006), 110.
[45] ibid.
[46] Athanasius on the Deifying Work, Finch, 111.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Diversity Without Unity: A [Post]Modern Myth

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Milk is Milk
Whereas philosophical modernism embraced the belief that there was one unifying conception of reality that could be grasped by philosophical reflection or scientific discovery, postmodernism vigorously rejected this belief and replaced it with radical pluralism. Ironically, postmodernism reduced any attempt to think categorically to a culturally relative power-grab. To think categorically, in other words, was to exercise control over “others” (i.e. those who do not meet the socio-cultural conditions requisite to being a member of one’s group), specifically by ignoring supposed irreducible differences between individuals or groups constituting the “others.” This resulted in the fragmentation of virtually all academic disciplines, rendering categorical headings such as “Philosophy” or “Religion” virtually meaningless. For if there is no unifying concept of what a “religion” is, then in what way can one say that Christianity and Islam, for instance, are both members of the universal category “Religion”? Does it not seem to follow, given the rejection of universals and universal categories, that there is not one concept of “Religion” which can apply to all supposed religions?
Though the postmodernist movement has died, its deleterious intellectual and sociological effects are still being felt, even in the field of apologetics. For instance, it is common to hear the assertion “Not all proponents of x believe that x is y,” an assertion that gives the appearance of charitability but is, ultimately, an empty phrase. If John is a proponent of x, and Joe is a proponent of x, then both are proponents of x. To be blunt — John’s x and Joe’s x are identical at some point. There is no irreducible difference between John’s x and Joe’s x; therefore, it is not merely allowable but necessary to assert that John and Joe, because they believe x share certain beliefs about x in common. So far, we have spoken only of two individuals believing x. However, the same is true of a group of innumerable persons who subscribe to x. The assertion that believers in x share some core of beliefs in common is a logical necessity that can only be denied upon pain of absurdity and self-contradiction.
Consider the following excerpt from Ro Waseem’s article “A Monolithic Islam? Forget About It!” Waseem writes —
We must realize that Islam is not a monolith, and that it’s impossible for nearly 2 billion Muslims to share the same interpretation of it. There is no “true” Islam, I would argue. Rather, what we have are Islams. At best, the “true” Islam, in my opinion, is relative to the person and is the interpretation that allows you to grow and evolve the most as a person, provided—a very important distinction to make–provided that the core of the Quran is not tempered with.[1]
Note that Waseem, on the one hand, denies that there is a “true” Islam, but on the other hand states that there are “Islams.” This is self-contradictory, since there can only be multiples of a particular idea or thing if there is an essential property or set of properties which set that idea or thing apart from all others. When one buys milk, for example, he goes to the milk freezer and finds many kinds of milk, all of which have some essential property or set of properties unique to milk. As much as postmodernist influenced thinkers hate to admit it: Milk is milk. It is self-contradictory to say that there is no true Islam, but there are many Islams, for there can only be many Islams if Islam has essential properties without which it would not exist (i.e. if there were as true Islam).
Waseem apparently knows this, moreover, seeing as he goes on to contradict himself explicitly when he says — 
At best, the “true” Islam, in my opinion, is relative to the person and is the interpretation that allows you to grow and evolve the most as a person, provided—a very important distinction to make–provided that the core of the Quran is not tempered [sic.] with.
On the one hand, Waseem states that “true” Islam is “relative to the person.” Yet on the other hand, he states that there is a core of the Quran that is not to be tampered with. The first assertion denies any objective standard for judging what is or is not Islam, the second affirms that there is an objective standard that cannot be tampered with. These are mutually exclusive beliefs. If one is true, the other is false. They cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.
The Fallacy of Equivocation
The only way in which one could possibly believe that there is and is not a true Islam is if one equivocates on his definition of the word “Islam.” On the one hand, “Islam” would be defined as “the Quranic core that may not be tampered with.” On the other hand, “Islam” would be defined as “the personal articulation (i.e. practice and development, either personally or communally) of the Quranic core that may not be tampered with.” Thus, there can be a true Islam, comprised of the Quranic core, and many Islams, comprised of personal articulations of the Quranic core, without there being a contradiction. Not identifying these two meanings of Islam, however, leads to self-contradiction and confusion, and it is typically a means of deceiving the unwary.
This is a common rhetorical trick used by heretics, cultists, and other enemies of Christ when they are presented with a general criticism of some doctrine x. By stating “Not all proponents of x believe the same thing,” the opponent of Christ is suspending all former and future criticisms against his position by not identifying his position at all. Given that people of even the closest associations often entertain widely differing beliefs about some reality they both hold to be the case, simply stating that “Not all proponents of x believe the same thing” is a trivial objection, for all of the proponents of x are in absolute agreement in the following ways —
  1. All proponents of x believe x to be the case.
  2. All proponents of x believe x has properties a, b, such that it would cease to be x without them.
And this is where the debate takes place —
  1. Is x the case?
  2. Is it the case that x has properties a, b, such that it would cease to be x without them?
For in order for there to be a class of individuals who may be said to be proponents of x, they must all affirm that x is the case, otherwise of what would they be proponents? And if x is anything, then it is something with essential properties apart from which it would cease to be itself — otherwise how would they differentiate x from all other beliefs?
More to the point, how could a criticism be leveled against x, if x has no fixed definition? It cannot be, and that is the point.
The way in which we may successfully deal with the trivial objection “Not all proponents of x believe the same thing” is by clearly articulating what it is our opponent is claiming. If it is his claim that no two proponents of x believe that x is the case and that it has properties a, b, & c such that if it lost them it would cease to be x, then it is not only the case that our criticisms of his belief do not hold, it is also necessarily the case that his counter criticisms also do not hold, for there would be no x to contend for or against. Moreover, if there are no two proponents of x who believe the same thing, then any appeals to another supposed defender of x’s research, argumentation, etc are irrelevant, for their research, argumentation, etc are put in defense not of x but of something else.
Concluding Remarks
If we are to clearly demonstrate that the enemies of Christ are espousing falsehoods and seeking to defend them by employing rhetorical tricks, we must seek to be precise in our analysis of their claims and argumentation. It is important to remember this, especially when facing those enemies of Christ who claim to be faithful to the Bible and Biblical exegesis (e.g. Unitarians, Oneness Pentecostals, Annihilationists, etc), for the inevitable claim that we are delving into “philosophy” will arise as a second order defense against serious scrutiny of their belief, and this is not the case. It is likewise important to remember because the enemies of Christ may, on the other hand, state that a criticism that does not differentiate between all of the different varieties of x proponents is uncharitable and not to be taken seriously. It is either the case that one can ask as many questions as is needed in order for one to be precise and, therefore, “charitable” in his analysis of the proponents of x; or it is not the case that one can do this, for so doing renders one’s arguments philosophical and, therefore, irrelevant.

[1]http://www.patheos.com/blogs/quranalyzeit/2014/06/13/a-monolithic-islam-forget-about-it/#hixmra185pCMv7sZ.99, Accessed February 08, 2018.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Christian Assessment of Reiki

by Michael R. Burgos Jr., PhD

Reiki is a spiritual practice that has become popularized within the United States in the last three decades. The term “Reiki” is defined variously as “universal life energy,”[1] and despite being characterized as “one of the most ancient methods of healing,”[2] Reiki was invented by Japanese Buddhist monk Mikao Usui in 1922,[3] and it was popularized in the west by Reiki practitioner Hawayo Takata.[4] Usui claimed to have ascended a mountain and after having engaged in a rigorous regimen of fasting, chanting, prayer, and meditation, he was alleged to have reached a state of enlightenment whereby “a great and powerful spiritual light entered the top of his head.”[5] From this experience, Usui claimed that he had obtained a kind of power that he could use to heal people. Armed with his healing power, he instituted “five principles that embody an awakened spiritual point of view.”[6] 

Within the west, Reiki is healing technique that attempts to manipulate a metaphysical “life force,” also called “Ki,” in order to instill a state of physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being a patient.[7] Reiki practitioners claim to be a channel of the life force, and the typical Reiki treatment consists of the practitioner touching their patient in strategic areas so as to manipulate the life force for the betterment of their patient.[8] Practitioners receive this ability when “a Reiki master opens healing channels (or chakras) within the students that fill them with life energy.”[9]

Proponents of Reiki claim that the practice is “Stands above any belief system,”[10] and that Reiki is not a religion. For instance, consider the following: 
While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. It has no dogma, and there is nothing you must believe in order to learn and use Reiki. In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not. Because Reiki comes from God, many people find that using Reiki puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion rather than having only an intellectual concept of it. Reiki is not a religion.[11]
Although Reiki can be used as a spiritual practice, it is important to understand that Reiki, in itself, is not a religion. It does not promote any prescribed cultural activity, does not have the specific goal of becoming enlightened or connected to God, and does not require the practitioner to form a certain kind of faith. Reiki is, at its core, simply a means of promoting wellbeing and health through the laying on of hands [12]
While it is claimed by these authors that Reiki is not a religion, their own descriptions of Reiki betray such a claim. To practice Reiki, one must believe in its underlying worldview, namely pantheism[13] or panentheism.[14] That is, one must believe that there is an overriding universal life force that exists in the universe, and one must believe that a Reiki practitioner has the power to manipulate that life force. The notion that Reiki “has no dogma” is in direct contradiction with the notion that Reiki (i.e., the universal life energy) exists. The very statement, “Reiki comes from God,” is a theological claim born of religious belief. Moreover, why Reiki may not “prescribe cultural activity,” it does require its participant to believe that both pantheistic universal life energy is real and capable of healing people. Therefore, Reiki is intrinsically religious in nature, as it presupposes its own theology. 

Is Reiki compatible with biblical Christianity? Contra either pantheism or panentheism, the Bible insists upon an ontological distinction between the Creator and the creation,[15] and never affirms the existence of a kind of universal life energy. While there are some Reiki practitioners who attempt to identify the person of the Holy Spirit with the universal life force of Reiki,[16] this results in crude religious syncretism; the blending of pagan mythology with biblical truth. Stewart notes, 

Reiki is antithetical to biblical Christianity. Channeling is a way of communicating with spirits to obtain information not otherwise accessible. It is denounced in the Bible as sorcery, mediumship, and spiritism (Lev. 19:26, 31; 20:6; Deut. 18:9–14; Acts 19:19; Gal. 5:20; Rev. 21:8). Contacting spirit guides is dangerous spiritually, physically, and emotionally (1 Peter 5:8). Reiki practitioners seek what is called the Kundalini experience… This pinnacle of psychic experiences is known to cause severe emotional and psychological disturbances.[17]

To put it plainly, one cannot complement the Christian faith with a competing religious system that presupposes a completely different worldview. One cannot serve two masters (Matt 6:24), and therefore one cannot consistently affirm the biblical faith and Reiki. While Reiki has achieved a level of acceptance in the post-Christian west, it remains contrary to a biblically informed worldview.

[1] McClenton, Rhonda J., Spirits of Lesser Gods: A Critical Examination of Reiki and Christ-Centered Healing, (Boca Raton: Dissertation.com, 2005), 29. Hoskin, Liz, Reiki: An Introduction to Reiki, (Charlotte: CreateSpace, 2015), 10.
[2] Honervogt, Tanmaya, The Power of Reiki: An Ancient Hands-On Healing Technique, (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1998), 22. This author, as do many others, attempt to identify the practice of Reiki in ancient Sanskrit texts. However, such an attempt is anachronistic and clearly false as Usui’s inability to find anything in the sutras was the impetus to his alleged ascension up Mt. Kurama. 
[3] Lübeck, Walter, Petter, Frank A., Rand, William L., The Spirit of Reiki: The Complete Handbook of the Reiki System, (Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2001), 13.
[4] Ibid., 24-28.
[5] Ibid. There is a considerable amount of mythology that has been propagated regarding Usui. The common claims that Usui was a Christian minister who taught at a Christian school, as well as the claim that he had achieve a doctorate in theology from the Univ. of Chicago are all untrue. See also McClenton, Spirits of Lesser Gods, 36-38.
[6] Bevell, Brett, Reiki for Spiritual Healing, (New York: Random House, 2009), 3.
[7] Boräng, Kajsa Krishni, Principles of Reiki: What It Is & How It Works, Rev. Ed., (Philadelphia: Slinging Dragon, 2013), 21.
[8] Ibid., 22. Usui, Makao, Petter, Frank A., The Original Reiki Handbook of Dr. Mikao Usui, 4th Ed., (Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2003), 17-23.
[9] Stewart, G., Basic Questions on Alternative Medicine: What is Good and What is Not?, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Pub., 1998), 62.
[10] Boräng, Principles of Reiki, 23.
[11] 2018. “What is Reiki?,” The International Center for Reiki, Traininghttp://www.reiki.org/faq/whatisreiki.html. 
[12] Koda, Katalin, Sacred Path of Reiki: Healing as a Spiritual Discipline, (Woodbury: Llewellyn Pub., 2008), 205.
[13] “Pantheism is the belief that God and the universe are identical.” Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A., Eds., The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd Ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1223.
[14] Panentheism is “The belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part of it exists in Him, but…that His Being is more than, and is not exhausted by, the universe.” Ibid., 1221.
[15] E.g., Gen 1:1; 1 Cor 8:6. 
[16] Brown, Candy G., Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America, (New York: Oxford Univ. Press), 2013. 78.O’ Mathuna, Donal, Larimore, Walt, Alternative Medicine, Updated & Expanded Ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 254.
[17] Stewart, Basic Questions, 63.