i’ve been reading Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction this week and ran across two things (so far) in my reading i wanted to share. First from page xii (the “Foreword to the American Edition”):
What we need on this and the other side of the Atlantic is not Thomism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, orthodoxy, religionism, existentialism, nor is it a return to Harnack and Troeltsch (and least of all is it “Barthianism”!), but what I somewhat cryptically called in my little final speech at Chicago a “theology of freedom” that looks ahead and strives forward. More or less or something other than that would scarcely be suitable, either here or there, to the foundation, object, and content of evangelical theology or to the nearly apocalyptic seriousness of our time.
And also on page 4-5:
In one of his plays the German poet Lessing compares the claims of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religions to the claims of three brothers. Each one of them had received a precious ring from the hands of their dying father. Each claimed to have received his fathers one and only precious ring, rather than an exact copy of it. The warning contained in this fable is obvious, even if we do not choose to follow Lessing’s opinion that perhaps the genuine ring was lost and nothing else but imitations were left in the brothers’ hands. The best theology (not to speak of the only right one) of the highest, or even the exclusively true and real, God would have the following distinction: it would prove itself–and in this regard Lessing was altogether right–by the demonstration of the Spirit and of its power. However, if it should hail and proclaim itself as such, it would by this very fact betray that it certainly is not the one true theology.
It seems that this idea has been running throughout philosophy and theology since at least as early as the mid 19th century (where we can see Kierkegaard and, to some extent, Nietzsche sharing this same sentiment). How far back does it go? In March (i believe), i put some quotes from Augustine’s Literal Interpretation of Genesis which could possibly be seen as just an earlier reverberation of the same sentiment, but directed towards the culture of his time. Is “postmodernism” really anything new? i’ve begun to believe that it really is nothing more than a re-iteration of a philosophical strand (well, an anti-philosophical strand) that has always existed as both theology and philosophy swing back and forth on the same pendulum. The verbiage may have changed, but it seems that the sentiment has always been there.
Here’s an excerpt from John Caputo’s The Weakness of God, p. 44 (which has been a good read):
On the classical account of strong theology, Jesus was just holding back his divine power in order to let his human nature suffer. He freely chose to check his power because the Father had a plan to redeem the world with his blood. But, if the Father had changed his mind, those Roman soldiers would rue the day they were born, as they will certainly rue it in eternity. On my accounting, that is to misconstrue this scene solely in terms of power, mundane power pitted against celestial power. On my accounting, Jesus was being crucified, not holding backl he was nailed there and being executes very much against his will and the will of God. And he never heard of Christianity’s novel idea that he was redeeming the world with his blood. His approach to evil was forgiveness, not paying off a debt due the Father, or the devil, with suffering or with anything else. His suffering was not a coin of the realm in the economy of the kingdom. The kingdom is not an economy and God is not in attendance at this scene as an accountant of divine debts or as a higher power watching the whole thing from up there and freely holding in check his infinite power to intervene. That is more rouged thology, weakness fantasizing about an orgasm of power–if not power now, then power later, when we can really get even with those hateful Romans. That is not the weakness of God that I am here defending. God, the event harbored by the name of God, is present at the crucifixion, as the power of the powerlessness of Jesus, in and as the protest against the injustice that rises up from the cross, in and as the words of forgiveness, not a deferred power that will be visited upon one’s enemies at a later time. God is in attendance as the weak force of the call that cries out from Calvary and calls across the epochs, that cries out from every corpse created by every cruel and unjust power. The logos of the cross is a call to renounce violence, not to conceal and defer it and then, in a stunning act that takes the enemy by surprise, to lay them low with real power, which shows the enemy who really has the power. That is just what Nietzsche was criticizing under the name of ressentiment.
Also, i put up a new link on the side yesterday. It is to the Church and Postmodernism Culture conversation blog. i was invited by the organizer (Geoff Holsclaw) a few weeks ago. The way i believe it will work is that the conversation will begin with a look at James K.A. Smith’s latest book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? It is a good book for an introduction to postmodern philosophy, much like Stanley Grenz’s A Primer on Postmodernism. From what i understand, the people starting the discussion will be coming from various viewpoints both within and without postmodern thought, including some Radical Orthodoxy guys (James K.A. Smith and Geoff). It looks like i’m kinda representing the Nietzschean perspective, so that’ll be some fun. We hope to investigate postmodernism as it relates to theology, as well as other related areas. It looks like fun.
Update: It looks like Jason Clark (link) is also in on it.
It is my belief that Christians today place an emphasis on actions. Something is wrong because the action itself is wrong. Killing is wrong because it is removing another’s life. i don’t think this is a Biblically acceptable notion. In fact, it is outright wrong. Christians focus on the Law and use that as their guide to determine how good or bad a person is. While i have some thoughts on this practice as well, i will not go into it now. i want to focus on actions.
Here is my premise: actions aren’t what make something “wrong.” It is the attitudes that cause those actions. In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus says, “What comes out of a person defiles him.
For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. All these evils come from within and defile a person.” Here, a typical Christian will interpret these as meaning that the actions come from the heart, and that is correct. But, they will also conclude that these actions in and of themselves are the wrong things. Yet this conclusion has a problem.
It conflicts with the parable of the “rich young man” in that we have an example of a person who has done everything commanded. Even if he did go and give all his money to the poor, he would have failed because it was not the action of giving that would have allowed him to enter the Kingdom. In the movie The Break-up, the female character tells her boyfriend that she wants him to want to do the dishes. That is, she wanted him to love her enough to do the dishes. She probably didn’t care whether or not he actually did the dishes, she cared that he wanted to do them as a way of showing his love for her. Jesus doesn’t want us to fulfill the Great Commission because he told us to; he wants us to want to do fulfill the Great Commission. This is why we see the widow’s offering (Mark 12) as being “worth” more than all of the rich people’s offerings: it was her attitude, not her action that was important.
This can be taken from what Jesus says in Matthew 5:28: “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Notice, it is not the act of adultery that is wrong, but the desire to commit adultery. Throughout this chapter of Matthew (which begins with the “beattitudes” incidentally), Jesus is trying to teach the people that it is not the actions outlawed in the Mosaic Law that is wrong, but the attitudes behind them. Today, many Christians believe drinking is wrong. As a result, being in a bar is considered wrong. Yet, we see Jesus hanging out in bars. It isn’t going to a bar that is wrong, but rather the desire to do wrong that is wrong. Additionally, it isn’t giving to a church that is right, but the desire to help that church grow that is right. There are many people who sit in church pews every Sunday morning who think that their giving $2500 will put them “on the good list” with God. Sorry, that is wrong. In fact, that may do absolutely nothing at all, because “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the
outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
What is all of this coming to? Well, i will suggest that a certain group of people believe it is their duty to expose the evils creeping into the Church. Too often, these people attack others based on their actions without understanding anything. They seek to rip apart anything entering the Church that does not meet their own requirements of “orthodoxy.” This is my statement to them: when you begin to criticize your fellow critics, you have lost sight of the Kingdom. Please return.
The last part of this series turns us from what is language to how do we use it, particularly in a “Christian” context. Previously, i outlined the liquidity of language and its meaning. In the religious context, how should people interpret their “Scriptures” whether that be the Qur’an, the Bible, or the Upanishads. My answer would be “historically.”
The first thing we should do when interpreting a book (or even a conversation) is that we should place it in its context. For instance, in the Book of Mark, how should Jesus’ reference to the “son of man” be seen? Geza Vermes, in his book Jesus the Jew, suggests that “son of man” was an Aramaic idiom simply referring to the person speaking (and also sometimes the person spoken to). In his view, this phrase has no connection whatsoever with Daniel 7, 1 Enoch, or 2 Esdras (the only three locations in what can be called “Scripture” in Jesus’ time where the phrase is used). This view is further supported by going to the claims in 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras. In 1 Enoch, the “son of man” is directly referred to as Enoch himself. To use it as support for some eschatological figure would quickly remove Jesus from the possibility of being that figure. In 2 Esdras, the references to the “son of man” shed no new light on this figure. Furthermore, 2 Esdras is believed to have been written after Jesus was resurrected, thus making it an unlikely source for confirmation. We are left with Daniel 7. Looking at the rabbinic teachings of the era (i.e. the Talmud and the Mishnah), it is seen that none of the rabbis prior to the late 1st century saw the “son of man” in Daniel 7 as some kind of prophecy, let alone one about the Messiah. It is not until the 1st century (which is when Mark is written) that we see a shift in understanding. First Christians and then Jews began to re-interpret Daniel 7 as a prophecy of the Messiah.
Textually, scholars have suggested that, of the 70+ references to the “son of man” in the 4 gospels, only 5 bear any kind of relation to Daniel 7…and none of those were spoken by Jesus. Therefore, it would appear that at the earliest context, “son of man” was not a reference to the Messiah and only became such after Christianity. As such, i suggest that we should not take statements of Jesus in the Gospel as allusions to a greater eschatological figure.
In the Christian tradition, the idiomatic interpretation of “son of man” has disappeared. Most would see “son of man” as a direct reference to Daniel 7 and the eschatological figure. As such, we should take this interpretation when reading it after the gospels, as it is what most Christians believed.
While this view of interpretation seems rather oddly named because it focuses on both the historical application and contextual usage, it also becomes futural in that it changes. Interpretations change to fit the language and culture of the day, but the message itself does not. With an understanding of the development of ideas, it is easy to see how some views that are proclaimed as historically accurate but have little historical basis (e.g. premillenialism, but that’s another topic!). Furthermore, it is a way to retain historical orthodoxy without excluding the contemporary culture.