Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reflections on the Summer

I thought I owed it to the summer to reflect on it. After all, it was longer than the semesters I've already reflected on. What 'homebrewed modules' did I take over the summer?
  • Preaching: early in the summer I was preaching up in Lewis, in a Free Church congregation. I did a mini-series: four Lukan parables. Since then, I've also preached these sermons in a few other places (Free Church and Church of Scotland). It's getting to the point where my wife worries about the other woman in my life, who goes most places with me: the Persistent Widow. Anyway, I've started another mini-series to be preached in the two Uist Free Church congregations on the meaty part of Romans: the bit after the introduction, chapter 12 onwards.
  • Website: the website module involved building one for my home congregation. This is currently being evaluated by the Kirk Session (is there any other way?) before it goes live. When it does, I'll post on it. Just to say now that if you're thinking of building a website, try out Mr Site.
  • Uist Free Church: one of the highlights of the summer was our congregational anniversary, back in August. We were celebrating 10 years since our minister, Rev Iain MacAskill, came to South Uist as an evangelist. Over the weekend, 10 new people joined us. The work here in the Uists is hugely important to us as a family, so the summer was great for renewing vision, catching up with minutes (I'm Session Clerk twice) and other elder-stuff, visiting and preaching to my own people.
  • Conference: the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference. I hope to make a conference or two a year whilst an undergrad, perhaps even making SBL/ETS one year.
  • Children: of course, I am a student and an elder, but I have more important jobs, such as father and husband. Whilst the children were off school, I was responsible for running holiday activities. We went bodyboarding, canoeing, fishing, camping and all manner of other things that are what growing up is about.
  • Reading: I didn't get as much reading done as I would have liked. However, in retrospect (considering a mountain of Kirk Session minutes etc that I also dispatched over the summer), I didn't do too bad. Homer, Neill and Wright, Beuchner and half of Dawkins' Delusion and Bird and Hillborn God and the Generations. The problem is that the half finished books will probably now peter out. But you never know.
  • Greek Revision: I actually did some! My first two Greek classes have confirmed that I probably should have done more!
So, the summer was productive and stimulating. It's a long time to be out of the studies, and it's taking a while to readjust to BA life. Slowly, it is happening.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

It has been revealed to me (and not in a dream) that my Hebrew classes are not in fact to be taken by Andrew McGowan. My previous confident assertion that they would be is now clearly a lie or a damned lie (but not a statistic). Actually, just a wild and heroic assumption (based on the initials AM) that went awry. In retrospect, it did seem a little unlikely! My distinguished principal's presumed place is taken by Andrew Matthews, PCA minister and Ecclesiates researcher. He loves Hebrew. This is good! He describes Hebrew as a rich, picturesque language. For monoglot English speakers this might not mean a great deal - the Welsh call English yr iaith fain, the thin language. Hebrew sounds a bit more like Welsh: rich and picturesque. We shall soon begin to see!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Year, New Semester, New Modules

The new HTC semester starts Monday, so I'll be on the boat to Skye and in Dingwall by Monday afternoon for the start of Year 2 of my BA in Theology. This semester's modules will be:

  • Greek Grammar 2: continuing with Bill Mounce's excellent coursebook under the guidance of Dr Mike Bird, no less!
  • Hebrew Grammar 1: here we go with the right-to-left-stuff! Looking forward to this though, and to being able to read the Shema as originally given! This will be under the guidance of my distinguished principal Prof Andrew McGowan.
  • Person and Work of Christ: after breathing in the air of the hothouse that was the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference on the Person of Christ, I'm looking forward to mixing it with Macleod, kenosis and all kinds of other people/stuff in this module, all under the guidance of Dr Rob Shillaker, who was also at Dogs. And who is Welsh (and hence in a league of his own).
  • Old Testament Prophecy: Hector Morrison will be continuing his excellent OT modules, with a little help from Willem VanGemeren (and others).

So, my next post will come from the College of Knowledge itself, God-willing, and it may, or may not, be a brief reflection on the summer that was (sitting here in a Force 8 gale, it's definitely 'was'!).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

God and Time

A couple of days ago I heard a visiting speaker proclaim that God was outside of time. More than this, he said, God is present everywhere in time concurrently (which I suppose is the logical conclusion). He also proclaimed eternity as a state, rather than as a long time (which, unfortunately, is probably also a logical conclusion).

This view strikes me as problematic. For a start, in scripture salvation-history is portrayed as the work of a God who is deeply involved in time. Secondly, if the above is true, how is the Reformed doctrine of pre-destination meaningful? And, without time, what meaning does the worship of angels possess? Without time, are actions such as worship possible? But, perhaps even more importantly, God has taken to himself a human nature, including a physical body. Outside of time, how is this meaningful? A body created for existance in 3-dimensions and acting through time is defined by this very structure. If God is outside of time, how can Jesus still be human? At the Dogmatics conference Henri Blocher articulated a view which for me seems to have alot going for it. God is outside of the created time of the universe, but he operates in his own time. Donald Macleod also spoke of God being within time, but possessing omni-temporality (which is a different position to that expressed at the top). These two views are very close in practical terms. Macleod also raised interesting questions: the cross is an event in time with an impact upon God; so, if God is omni-temporal, has he been propitiated from the beginning? The key question is: is there in God a consciousness of succession of moments?

These issues are not just the preserve of the philosophical theologians - they turn up in our pulpits. Does it matter? Yes it does; for at least two reasons. First, intelligent seekers rightly baulk at such dogmatic statements, often immediately seeing the problems. Second, these views disconnect the scriptural story of God's purposes for the world in Christ from reality. The risen Christ ate breakfast on the beach; he didn't 'exist in a timeless state of eternity' on a beach while his disciples ate breakfast. I am looking forward to the former; the latter means nothing to me. One of the huge problems in some Reformed preaching is the ethereal view of heaven that is preached, rather than the biblical story of an earth renewed. That has huge repercussions for faith, hope and mission. So, we need to see Jesus Christ in time, a time that he has come to redeem. And let us do likewise.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tobit on a First Reading

I've never read Tobit. Before now, that is. It's a story of a man Tobit (Heb. good), his wife Anna and son Tobias who live in the diaspora in Nineveh. Internal evidence suggests a date of writing around 200BC. Copies of the Book of Tobit were found amongst the manuscripts at Qumran, indicating their extant nature during the time of Christ. In the tale, Tobit is an observant and wealthy Jew who falls into trouble when he is persecuted for his good deeds and has to flee. However, God sends an angel to resolve his troubles and to bring him blessing again through the marriage of Tobias to Sarah, the daughter of his relatives Raguel and Edna. Here are some of my initial reactions:
  • When Tobit returns home after the threat to him has passed, he is blinded by sparrows pooing in his eyes (2:10). Interesting! Not quite Job, is it!
  • 'Set aside part of your goods for almsgiving. Never turn your face from the poor and God will never turn his from you. Measure your alms by what you have; if you have much, give more; if you have little, do not be afraid to give less in alms. So doing, you will lay up for yourself a great treasure for the day of necessity (4:7ff)'. What is the 'day of necessity' and how does this compare with Jesus' teaching of laying up treasure in heaven? In many aspects, the tale is an interesting insight into Second Temple Jewish piety.
  • The angel Raphael (who is one of seven archangels) reminds me of the gods in Homer: he disguises himself as a man and tells a blatant lie about who he is (The angel said 'I am Azarius, son of the great Ananias, one of your kinsmen', 5:13). The role of the angel and demon here are prominent. Apparently it is the same in the Enoch literature and is a feature of intertestamental Jewish writings.
  • When the demon (who lusts after Sarah and who has killed seven previous bridegrooms on their wedding night) flees, he flees to Egypt (8:3), where Raphael shackles him and strangles him.
  • Raguel digs a grave while Tobias and Sarah are in the bedroom on their wedding night! He sends Edna up to see if Tobias is dead - and then quickly fills in the grave before dawn when he isn't! There's a fair bit of comedy in this tale!
  • Tobias goes into a far country to seek reward. When he is delayed, his parents Tobit and Anna think he is dead. When he returns, he is in fact rich, married to the daughter of a kinsmen (who he has saved from a demon), and heals his father's blindness. Would the Parable of the Lost Son have evoked this tale? If so, the contrasting fortunes of the son would be powerful: not a son through whom everything is put right (Tobias), but a son who has become nothing.
  • Tobit's hope for the restoration of Israel is in the restoration of the Temple (13:10) and the consequent comfort for every exile (13:10), light to the world and worship of many nations (13:11). This sheds light on Second Temple eschatology and on the reaction of the Jews to Christ's indictment of the Temple.
A ripping non-canonical Jewish yarn, and a useful insight into Jewish life and culture, all told!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Christ and the Church

The final summary from The Dogs is upon us - can you detect a hint of hysteria? This paper was given by Dr Stephen Holmes (St Andrews). This of course, is a paper on the subject of the Person of Christ and the church, rather than the Work of Christ and the church. I would far rather give a paper on the latter, but that luxury was not open to Dr Holmes! Anyway, here's my very brief summary:

  • Recent theology has located ecclesiology under the doctrine of the Trinity, rather than under Christology, as in the Heidelberg Catechism which answers an ecclesiological question with a christological answer (Q.54).
  • Volf has pointed out that analogous projection of Trinitarian relations into the life of the church has been 'an almost self-evident proposition' in recent ecclesiology. But for Volf person and communion in ecclesiology cannot be directly identified with person and communion in the doctrine of the Trinity, they are analogous.
  • The personality of God belongs to his one unique essence. So person has no implication of personality (Barth). Barth claims that Gunther sees the persons of the Trinity as three independently thinking and willed subjects.
  • The problem has been the projection of modern conceptions of personhood (the person of Romantic thought is characterised by interiority), which has led to the Trinity-ecclesiology link.
  • A separate stream in recent theology has been the connection of Christology to ecclesiology in an attempt to re-evaluate the rise of catholicism. E.g. Schweitzer's view that Jesus did not intend to found a church.
  • There followed an exegesis of Q.54 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which uses the designator Son of God: '...the Son of God gathers, defends, and upholds for himself, an elect community destined for everlasting life...'. This was devotional and a fitting end to the conference: 'the proper response of the catechumen (when thinking of Christ and the Church) is confidence'. The final words uttered by Dr Holmes in giving his paper were 'thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift'.
As Prof McCormack pointed out in the closing question time, the problem for social trinitarians is the question of where the disimilarity lies between God's ad intra relationships and those in society? We do not dwell with one another perichoetically, we are individualised. Prof Macleod made a good point warning of collapsing the persons too far into unity of intellect and will. If we do this, how do we maintain the persons e.g how can Christ be sent, meaningfully?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Christ and Discipleship

Almost there! This paper was the penultimate of the conference and was given by Professor Donald Macleod (Free Church College). The paper was perhaps the least technical of the conference and was refreshing for that. In fact, I recall that Prof Macleod began the paper by highlighting its lack of philosophy, metaphysics, even scholarly references (although, he said, he had listed some articles and books to show he had done some reading!). The summary is coming right up:

  • The uniqueness of Christ-discipleship: Jesus had no formal qualifications and was not an expositor; he served his students; he went to no Rabinnical conferences, but served 'the people of the land'.
  • The call to discipleship: this was entirely a matter of Christ's initiative; the call 'follow me' is analogous to the call to Lazarus; 'the word creates the reality and the possibility of its own fulfilment'; disciples did not follow Torah, but Christ - when he is gone they are desolate; they are not pursuing a vision, but a person; Jesus says 'I'm going everywhere, I'm going nowhere. Follow me'; what a crew the disciples are! Their potential lies not in their past (the heresy of Romanticism), but in divine power.
  • The cost of discipleship: disciples are called to forsake all; we support economic systems and are terrified of asking ethical questions about those systems; we want to ask 'when is it right not to turn the other cheek' instead of embracing the radical; we expect the church to sit at the top table in society, but Jesus tells us to expect opposition, not a truce.
  • Taking up the cross: Calvin and Luther both erroneously see this as the sufferings of this life; we must remember that it is not those facing death whose position is abnormal, but ours; we must take risks for Christ in life - 'Abba, into your hands I commit my spirit'; but our cross does not give significance to his.
Then time kind of ran out, unfortunately. Leaving 'the rewards of discipleship' unspoken. But, the bullet-point notes tell me that these include: being with Jesus, rest, the blessings of the kingdom (not an end to discipleship, but discipleship under ideal conditions). Amen. This paper was pastoral and challenging: much food for thought even in the short summary above. I was pleasantly surprised (how sad to say this about a Reformed conference) to find the section on the cost of discipleship dealing out a radical vision in terms of practical theology.
OK, one more to go...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Christ and Kenosis

The actual title of the paper given by Prof Bruce McCormack (Princeton) was The Humility of the Eternal Son: The Failure of the Older Kenoticism and a New Proposal. Got that? Here's a summary of the paper, and a bit of comment to boot:

  • Almost all classical forms of kenotic Christology have failed - even if advocates of it achieved some remarkable insights. Kenosis (n), of course, comes from ekenosin (v) in emptied Himself in Ph2:7. Does the hymn speak of a pre- or post-incarnation emptying? The former - for many reasons that time precludes examining, but mainly due to the association of the name of Jesus with the name of Yahweh in Ph2:10 (see Is45:23). Fee's commentary and an essay by Bauckham help to establish this rather fundemental point. And this is when the really significant theological questions arise and also the point when we must move from exegesis to synthetic systematic construction.
  • A quite thorough history of kenotic Christology followed, from roots in Erasmus; early Luther through Chemnitz; Thomasius (first full-blown kenotic theory); Gess (a more or less complete transformation of the Logos into a human soul); and British Kenoticism.
  • Reformed Christology agreed with Lutheran on the first two genera of communicated attributes between the natures: (i) the communication of the essential attributes of the divine nature of the Logos and the human nature to the person of Christ (communication of attributes between the human nature and the Logos within the Person) (ii) the communication of works, whereby in every act of Christ, both natures are active.
  • But Reformed theology refuted the third Lutheran genus: the genus majestaticum, whereby the human nature partook of the omni-attributes of the divine nature, due to a perichoresis of the natures. However, in Lutheran (as opposed to mediaeval) Christology, this communication was not two-way, in order to maintain divine immutability and impassibility.
  • Reformed Christology added it's own third genus, the communicatio gratiarum, whereby the Holy Spirit bestowed created gifts of grace upon Jesus.
  • It also added the extra calvinisticum to ensure that the Logos maintains his divine fulness.
  • The problem, for McCormack is: (i) the extra calvinisticum sets up a double-Logos, with two identities; (ii) how can we allow communication of human properties to the Logos (first genus), but not allow these properties to be communicated to the divine nature?
  • Logically, for McCormack, the use of the 'person' in the first genus as a metaphysical buffer cannot preserve divine impassibility. For Christ, human properties, actions and experiences are properties, actions and experiences of this divine 'person'.
  • McCormack also sees no need for the second genus, but proposes that we simply think of the one God-human acting humanly.
  • And so we arrive at the kenosis as a sovereignly-willed and therefore active receptivity on the part of the pre-incarnate Logos vis-a-vis His human nature, a refusal to make use of certain attributes. This governs the relation of the Logos to his human nature throughout his lived existence.
  • Up until this point, I'm in sympathy with Prof McCormack. Obviously, classical Reformed formulations of immutability go out of the window, but then it's hard to keep all the windows closed and classic should not be beyond question. We have to be prepared to think through the windows, don't we?
  • Anyway, the big problems happen now, since Prof McCormack wants to keep classical immutability intact. So, in a rapidly steepening curve that gets a bit frightening, the receptivity becomes an eternal act. Then it becomes an act constituting the Trinity. Then, because redemption is normally considered a free choice of God, the question gets asked 'did God have to be Triune?' Whoa, whoa, whoa! At this point it seems as if we're away with the fairies in the kind of footloose metaphysical speculation that Prof McCormack warned against earlier in the conference. It seems a high price to pay for maintaining the immutability that the older kenoticism dispensed with.

Ouch, my head hurts! Prof McCormack is at least grappling with these thorny issues. This paper in many ways was the most honest - I greatly appreciated it. He said something else, when referring to the writings of Forsyth and MacIntosh (two British kenoticists) that will stay with me: that he was wistful that 'theologians could once have shown themselves to be so deeply centred in the needs of others, rather than being consumed with career advancement and self promotion as so many now seem to be'. One to remember.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Adam and Christ

Five down, four to go! The sixth paper at Edinburgh Dogmatics was given by my distinguished college principal, Professor Andrew McGowan (Highland Theological College, Dingwall). You all got that? Distinguished, I said.

Anyway, a brief summary of the paper:

  • The premise of the paper was that the Adam-Christ parallel (as taken up by Paul in 1C15 and R5) is key to understanding salvation-history and yet has not been given sufficient priority. Even in Reformed theology, its importance has been undermined by smothering it with covenant language. To free it, Prof McGowan proposes Headship Theology.
  • Exegetical evidence shows that the Adam-Christ parallel has startling implications for Christology. James Dunn argues for recognition of Paul's 'Adam Christology' that was 'already quite sophisticated' in the early church.
  • Irenaeus was the first of the Fathers to make significant use of the Adam-Christ parallel, from which he developed a recapitulation theory, where Christ lives every stage of life to redeem life. The key mediatorial role of Christ is uniting God and man in his own body. So the virgin birth enabled Christ to 'gather up' Adam, who had his origin from God, not man. Even Eve is included, since Mary is the advocata of the virgin Eve. Boersma has developed this view recently.
  • Augustine argued for a propagation of 'original sin', a view that falls short of the notion that it was the sin of the 'one man' that brought death.
  • Covenant theology is codified in the Westminister Confession. In this account, God makes a Covenant of Works (federal head: Adam) and hence enters a relationship with all humanity. Breaking the covenant has consequences for all humanity. God then makes a Covenant of Grace (federal head: Christ), a result of the Covenant of Redemption between Christ and the Father. The problem is that none of these covenants appear in scripture. The proposed relationship between these and the Old and New covenants is then unclear.
  • The Federal Vision movement (which is on the receiving end of heresy trials in the PCA) attempts to reinterpret Covenant Theology. There are links with the work of Norman Shepherd and the NPP. It comes down to whether the relationship between Adam and God was a gracious act (Murray) or a legal agreement (Kline). Covenant theology, especially in it's over-reaction to FV, is in danger of becoming legalistic and meritorious.
  • Barth gives priority to Christ, not Adam when analysing R5. Murray points out that Barth is saying something different to Paul, who is clear that Adam is First and Christ Second (this comes out in Barth on the Imago Dei and was the point I was trying to put to Bruce McCormack, but which bumbled into imprecision and ultimately embarrassment!).
  • Torrance, like Irenaeus, argues for atoning significance to the incarnation. However, it is difficult to avoid universalism here (as Kruger does not).
  • There is similar thought with Dunn, who sees importance in Christ taking 'fallen humanity', not the humanity of Adam before the fall.
  • Although Covenant Theology is the most persuasive schema within Reformed Theology, it is burdened by difficulties. These would be resolved by focussing not on covenants but on Two Heads, building on the theology of John Murray. We should talk of an Adamic Administration and a Messianic Administration.
  • A Headship Theology helps us to deal with some of the difficulties between Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists (Blocher has done some work on this).
There it is. Good one! It is fairly nuanced but, as can be seen in the continuing fallout from the Murray, Kline, Shepherd thing, it is important and has implications for the character of Reformed churches, the message preached and, ultimately the doctrine of God itself. My own feeling is that Klinian Covenant Theology has had more influence on Presbyterism than one might think - and not in a good way.

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Luther's and Calvin's Christologies

This paper, given by Professor Henri Blocher (Faculte Libre de Theologie Evangelique, Vaux-sur-Seine) opened the second day of the conference. Yet again (!), here is my brief summary:

  • There are pitfalls in an exercise like this: over-polarising and neglecting commonality; chasing a symmetry of views which is not there.
  • Common inspiration for Luther and Calvin in Christology is greater than might be expected: both confess classical orthodoxy; both give Christology the central and decisive role; both emphasise the personal appropriation of the message; both express distrust of scholastic theology.
  • The differences, nevertheless, are significant, as witnessed to by the distrust between the disciples of the two men. The divergence on Christology has been crystallised into the phrases communicatio idiomatum vs extra calvinisticum. Luther's view it seems was already forming before he applied it to his confrontation with Zwingli over the eucharist. Whereas for Luther, the omnipresence of the divine nature of Christ was communicated to his human nature, including his body, for Calvin the two natures remain distinct (according to deity he fills the world, but his human body retains a finite character). Luther speaks of the mixing, intermingling, fusing of Christ's natures; Calvin warns against such descriptions. This is why Barth famously describes the Luther-Alexandrian and Calvin-Nestorian symmetry.
  • The core difficulty with Luther's view is: how can he claim that the human nature of Christ remains essentially that, when it receives the properties of deity? Luther's imprecision when dealing with person and nature compound his problems.
  • Calvin is precise with distinctions, but one might feel that he was too fond of the idea of residence - of the logos residing within a body. However, Calvin does speak of Chalcedonian union, the extra calvinisticum actually being the extra catholicum, required to safeguard the transcendence of deity and the true humaness of Jesus.
  • 'If, as I believe, the main distortions of Christology in our day combine a kenotic annihilation of deity (deity worthy of the name) and, post-Hegelian, the insertion of the man Jesus as such in what is called the Trinity, reflection on the Christology of Luther and Calvin, their common inspiration and their differences, may shed light on our path.'

During the paper, Prof Blocher helpfully spoke of the need to recognise the approximations in our language of persons in the Trinity and especially in respect of Christ's two natures. He asks the question: 'is it truly possible to say two?...you can only add things of a same nature...Duality implies a common measure: where is it between God and man?..if God is ipsum esse, all fulness, how can a created being be added?'

The other good thing was the quote from Calvin, chiding Valentino Gentile as '...this monkey of a muddler, who does not know the basics of Grammar...'. That Calvin called someone a monkey ought never to be forgotten!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Materialist Christology

Been a bit busy the last few days, but it's back to the Edinburgh Dogmatics summaries. The final paper of the first day was titled as above, and given by Oliver Crisp, University of Bristol. Here again my brief summary...

  • the starting point was that some Christian thinkers are now adopting an essentially materialist account of the human person (although they would remain global substance dualists - as all Christians would need to be). As Crisp points out, this view 'flies in the face of the entire Christian tradition'. Plantinga and others are contemporary defenders of a dualist account of the person.
  • Crisp's aim in the paper was to consider whether a materialist account of the person is compatible with catholic Christology. Chalecedon's formulation speaks of Christ's human nature, consisting of a body and 'rational soul'. Any metaphysical account of the person that is not able to reflect this cannot be creedally orthodox.
  • After much argument, the paper moves to the position that since materialist accounts of the person propose an 'irreducably mental life', and in terms of Christology this mental life is distinct from the mental life of the logos, these accounts are not Appollinarian, even though they do not propose a 'rational soul' for anyone. Obviously, this is forcing a certain interpretation of 'rational soul' on Chalcedon.
  • The paper concludes: 'there may be more to Christian materialism than some traditionalist Christologists might think' and 'there is more than one way in which metaphysics can be used to underpin that which is dogmatically non-negotiable: that Christ is the Word made flesh'.
For me, a materialist account of the person would seriously struggle with the biblical data in the first instance. For example, what are 'the spirits of the righteous made perfect' in Heb 12.

One interesting line of thought thrown up by this paper arose from the assertion that angelic beings were 'essentially immaterial entities'. Hmmm. Are they? The relationship of the partly-visible (I'm thinking here of invisible and essentially-unknown constituent dark matter) universe which we inhabit and the invisible dimension inhabited by God (heaven) is an interesting one. Interesting, since the angels are created beings (creatures) which I have always thought of as being corporeal in some sense (perhaps this is my mistake). But it must be the case that matter exists outside of our universe (a multi-verse scenario), since the risen Christ is now present in 'heaven'. Therefore the assumption that anything outside of this universe is immaterial is not tenable. Unless, of course, 'heaven' is within the universe - perhaps not in totality, but at least intersects the universe - which would be an unorthodox way, but perhaps a fruitful way, of exploring the question. I'm unaware of work that must have been done on this. Perhaps someone knows of authors who explore this territory...

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.

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Christ in the OT

Dr Jamie Grant (HTC) gave this paper - a much needed blast of cool biblical studies air into the hothouse of philosophical theology! He took as his theme Christ and Lament, considering Jesus' citing of Psalm 22 whilst on the cross. Again, the main and interesting (to me) points:

  • OT lament is a form that arises from a scandal of experience outside of the covenant paradigm; it arises from a belief that Yahweh is not fulfilling his covenant obligations. It is a 'why?' This is suprising since the gospel narratives indicate that Jesus knew the purpose of his death.
  • Matthew and Mark both encourage readers to see the Easter event within the framework provided by Psalm 22. Jesus' citing of the Psalm should be understood as a bringing of the whole content of the Psalm to mind.
  • Psalm 22 itself is a Psalm of an Absent God, responsible for failing, but with a radical change in tone to give an unsurpassed eschatological hope for all nations.
  • Jesus uses this lament not because he does not understand the actions of God, but because he does.
  • We must learn that complaint is not defiance and that lament is compatible with hope. Lament is a sign of a deep, covenant relationship.
This paper was very useful, particularly the point on the eschatological hope that is implied in Jesus' citing of the Psalm. Afterward, Donald Macleod challenged the point (as I knew he would) about Jesus being cogniscent of the purpose of his suffering at that point in time. I would go with Macleod on this, who has written and spoken about Jesus' loss of awareness of the filial relationship on the cross. This deepens the mystery of the cross.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: The Eternal Begetting of the Son

This paper was due to be given by Prof John Webster (Aberdeen). Unfortunately, Prof Webster was unable to attend and so Prof Bruce McCormack (Princeton) read the paper to the conference (and a fine job he did too). The main points, briefly, and IMHO:
  • Generation is the personal act of God the Father, who alone is a nemine. His unbegotteness picks out his identity in relation to the Son, not elevation over the Son.
  • Asking what kind of act generation is immediately poses problems. Firmly in the realm of the ectypal, this question can only be approached at a certain risk; we need clear spiritual and intellectual protocols. Above all, we need strategies to deal with the animality of the metaphor of generation. Although other metaphors exist (intellectual procession, emanation), generation retains the personal character that others do not.
  • Generation does not involve an ontological hiatus: it is not 'maker' and 'made'. It is an eternal act; not adventitious, but intrinsic. It is a mode of perfection; an enactment of God's own life.
  • It is a work of the Father's nature and only in a carefully specified sense can it be described as an act of his will, since it is intrinsic.
  • Recently, there has been hesitation as to whether the doctrine of generation can do full justice to the temporal reality of the Son, since it places the Christological centre of gravity in eternity and fails to reflect metaphysical revisions demanded by the incarnation. However, this risks: turning the temporal priority of revelation into an ontological priority; and losing sight of the Son's unity with the Father.
  • Responses that posit that 'creaturely circumstances are involved in what it means for God to be God' (Robert Jenson), or that eternal begetting takes place in God's economy (Catherine Lacugna) only succeed in collapsing theology into an economy which is no economy because 'it has no ground; it is simply temporal surface.'
Phew! I'm still trying to think out that last quote from Webster's paper! What's interesting is that Bruce McCormack's later paper posited just such a view (post on this soon). Anyway, Webster finished with five final points:

  • We need an evangelically-determined theology of God's perfection (there are options other than materially-unspecific perfect-being theology or neo-Hegelian presentations of God's career in time).
  • Contemporary trinitarian theology is often insecure in its grasp of the first person of the Trinity, affecting theology proper, soteriology and ecclesiology.
  • The metaphysics of God a se and in se is important and cannot be set aside in efforts to explore a 'relational' God.
  • Talk of relations of origin is not just abstraction from the economy. It is 'a way of articulating the infinite depth within the being of God, that ocean whose tide is the missions of Son and Spirit by which lost creatures are redeemed and perfected.'
Great stuff! The final point on historical Jesus can be found on Mike Bird's blog, Euangelion.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Wright on Critical Tools

This quote from NT Wright is a useful description of what happened with Biblical criticism in the hands of the rationalists and the subsequent subversion of their intentions through the adoption of critical tools in the service of the church. It's exactly the kind of reversal that you expect Jesus the Christ to accomplish for his Kingdom - a Damascus Road for criticism!
The Enlightenment, which stands at the start of the story chronicled in this book, has not in fact achieved what it sought. It wanted to throw off the shackles of authoritarian Christianity, and developed historical tools for the purpose: but the Church has taken up those tools and used them, despite their not being exactly designed for the task, in the service of its theology and proclamation. A tribute is due to the resilience of the New Testament, and of the church's belief in its authority, which not only has been maintained in some form or other despite attacks, but has actually made the constant and not always unsuccessful attempt to turn the attackers' weapons to its own use.
Neill & Wright, The Interpretation of the NT, 444

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.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Barth on Prayer

I confess to not having read much Barth (yet) and after the Edinburgh Dogmatics conference, I'm resolved to do something about it! OK, I might disagree with Barth's formulation of Imago Dei theology, but you have to say this is quite possibly the greatest short quote on prayer from a Swiss Theologian!

To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.

Karl Barth

Gerald Bray and Paul Helm join HTC

The latest newsletter from HTC contains the exciting news that Gerald Bray and Paul Helm are both joining the team at HTC as part-time staff. Both will be supervising PhDs and also teaching modules on the MTh programme (History of Reformed Theology - Bray; Calvin & Calvinism - Helm). Also, news of the biggest first year intake yet and the United Free Church of Scotland's approval of HTC for ministerial training. Exciting times!