Thursday, September 06, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: the Divine Identity of Christ

This paper was given by Professor Richard Bauckham of St Andrews. His understanding of his mission (which he had obviously accepted) at the conference was that he should talk about his proposal (made in his book God Crucified) that the Christology to be found in the NT is best understood as a Christology of Divine Identity - exactly the thing that Stephen Williams and John Webster said. Oh my: unanimity?!

Anyway, in the paper, Prof Bauckham decided to summarise the above proposal and then to respond to critics who have said that it is not clear what he means by identity, by using Paul Ricoeur's account of personal identity. So, this is my summary:

  • the monotheism of the Second Temple period was exclusive. Attempts to find a background for early Christology in intermediary figures in early Judaism come up against this: these figures were not semi-divinities, but unambiguously creatures. They offer nothing for the study of early Christology. Other concepts, such as God's Wisdom and God's Word were understood as aspects of Yahweh's own unique reality. Christology in a Jewish context would not be possible by viewing Jesus in the category of semi-divine intermediary, but by identifying him directly with Yahweh.
  • Judaism can be characterised as creational-, eschatological- and cultic-monotheism. It is preserved by including Jesus in the unique identity of Yahweh. E.g. 1 Cor 8:6 where Paul reworks the Shema to include Jesus in the divine identity and goes on to creation and eschatology as activities in which Jesus is included.
  • Ricouer's account of identity (in Oneself as Another) is useful in that he attempts to distinguish between 'who' and 'what' one is, and also to deal with continuity of identity through time and changes, which is especially relevant to the incarnation and it's accompanying shift in revelation of who Yahweh is.
  • For Ricoeur, the 'what' is sameness, the 'who' is selfhood and both differentiate us. He refers to these in Latin as idem- (typically, the third person pronoun) and ipse- (typically, the first or second person pronoun) identity. Stay with it, stay with it! One of the things implied by ipse identity is continuity of self through the flux of time - narrative identity (I like this idea). Character (the 'what' of the 'who') and promise-keeping are the ways that the self acquires continuity through discontinuities. For Ricoeur, character (idem) and self constancy (ipse) are connected by faithfulness.
  • God has idem- (a name) and ipse- (a constancy through flux in creation, a key theme in the OT) identity. Bauckham took Ex 34: 6-7 to illustrate this. Faithfulness is a key part of God's character. But, acquired identifications are important: his identity is not just who he is in eternity, but also what he does in time (especially for Israel).
  • In Christology, we might say that Jesus is an acquired identity for God (low Christology), but we also need to see Jesus on God's side of these acquired IDs: Jesus is to Israel and the world as God is.
  • The incarnation, life, death, resurrection, exaltation of Jesus and Pentecost is a narrative of astonishing change. But the intrusion of a second (human) person into his indentity is the surprising way in which the identity of the God of Israel is maintained. The self-constancy of the God of Israel in his loving character and purpose for the world is maintained and fulfilled actually through the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit in the divine triunity that is discernible in the NT.
In the questions that followed, Bauckham said this, during an analogy to Neil Armstrong: 'once you've done something amazing you don't think of yourself in the same way again'. Interesting! What's also interesting to me is that Ricoeur, from anthropology, derives a description of the importance of faithfulness which is recognisable from revelation.