Monday, September 03, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: The Limits of Speculation

The opening paper of last weeks 12th Edinburgh Dogmatics conference was given by Prof Stephen Willams (Union, Belfast) who wins the award (somewhat inevitably) for best Welsh Presbyterian speaker (by my reckoning he was one of only three Welsh Presbs there, including me - and that's using the loosest definition of Presbs who are Welsh). The title was The Limits of Christological Speculation. My own brief recollections of the main points of the paper follow:
  • Chalcedon, with its 1 person/2 natures formulation, forces either adoption of a paradox or speculation - but what are the limits?
  • Both Chalcedon and Kenosis theories require either adoption of paradox (if you hold to either), or speculation (if you object to either). Therefore in a sense, both are speculative.
  • It is just as unreasonable to hold that Christ was nescient and omnipresent at the same time as it is to hold that Christ was reduced from omniscience for a time during his humiliation. When it comes to the modal qualities of the persons of the trinity, we really haven't much of a clue anyway.
  • The important question is 'to what does scripture draw our Christological attention?'. The answer is that our attention is drawn not the divine-human relationship within the person of Jesus, but to the relationship of Jesus the person to God.
  • In exegesis, specific boundaries are impossible to state, but we must be primarily obedient to the immediate implications for discipleship and doxology, even if do need to keep an eye open for ontological ramifications.
  • In an apologetic context, speculation on the divine-human relationship might bear fruit in demonstrating a possible reconciliation of the problem for those who are sceptical, but we need to be constantly aware of the temptation to speculation rather than believe.
  • We need to see the role of speculation in a meditative context. Such speculation might be personally beneficial in private, but might be harmful in the public sphere of the church where different limits may apply.
  • Our appropriation of Christ is ultimately through faith - we should not lose sight of this or substitute experience with speculation.
  • We should walk 'a path that is as narrow as is possible, whilst still affording a vista that is as wide as can be'.
In the questions that followed it was ventured that some passages do reflect on the divine-human relationship within the person of Jesus (Heb 1 & 2, Romans 1 & 9), although Prof Williams felt that reflection in these passages was on the deity and humanity of Christ, not the relationship between deity and humanity. The paper was thoughtful and cautious (but who wouldn't be) and successfully avoided the overly-dogmatic statements to which we are often prone in areas like this. We humbly need to acknowledge that we do not understand, whilst reverently and economically attempting to so do.