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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: metaphysics

Odds & Enns


On his blog, Peter Enns has been sharing portions of a paper he delivered to the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary in response to his book, Incarnation and Inspiration that got him into trouble and now into suspension.  In a recent post on the authority and cultural expressions of Scripture, first speaks of the mixing of Jesus divinity and humanity in his person.  Enns says that these are "essential" to who Jesus is, and that the combination is important.  I would be wrong to try to pit the humanity against the divinity or to raise one above the other.  Interesting, I was just relistening to a podcast recently by Seattle's Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Seattle  entitled "The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World."  Driscoll was making a similar argument, accusing the Emergents of raising the immanence and incarnation of Jesus too high and accusing the New Reformers of raising the transcendence and exalted Jesus too much.  In any case, Enns argues that the authority of Scripture comes from its divine origin, in other words - in God's words, but that it is encased unescapably in humanity, or cultural expression.  Here is a short passage from his post:

What I argue in I&I is that Scripture works in an analogous (not identical) way. Scripture is God’s word because it is of divine origin. That is the locus of authority, and no discussion of its humanity in any way compromises that authority. What a study of Scripture’s humanity does do is help us see the manner in which the divine author speaks authoritatively into particular ancient cultures. How this authoritative Scripture translates to different times and places, in both its timeless affirmations and contextualized particularity is (I trust this is not too reductionistic) the task of theological study. It is my firm experience, however, that evangelical lay readers, those to whom the book is addressed, are not accustomed to understanding the nature of Scripture this way.

This is one of the issues that I find so fascinating about how we understand Scripture, and one that I've mentioned in various ways here on my blog.  One of the ways it has been raised among some like myself is how much we can "purge" the human side, the cultural side, and get to pure propositional truths.  Again, don't read what I'm not saying, and from what I'm reading of Enns, he's not saying either but being accused of.  I'm not saying there isn't truth, or objective truth for that matter or that God's truth isn't propositional in any way.  What I am saying is that our access too it is always enculturated, always incarnated, always spoken through word and cultural and interpretation from God into human cultures and persons.  God communicates, he doesn't philosophize.  God relates, speaks, and loves rather than providing pure platonic visions of himself.  God is God, "I am who I am" and not philosophical categories and platonic idealism or Kantian pure reason.  God is interactional and in his divine goodness has chosen to speak, act, and even come incarnationally.

God is still who he is.  He is still the King and the authority.  What he says goes.  What he wants, will be.  There is no other name under haven by which we can be saved.  But let us be careful not to turn scripture - or God for that matter - into pure philosophical Kantian metaphysics.  We need to find a way to accept the way God has communicated with us - not through theological treatise, but through narrative of his relationship with his people - and then figure out how it speaks to us today, and what God really intends and who he is.  That's much harder work than black and white propositions, I know, but that's the work.  Driscoll is right (although I don't like saying that) that we need to balance the transcendent and immanent God as he is.

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Response to Henry 2


[this is a response to a comment by Henry to my post 1972] Thanks again for your comments, your thoughtfulness, and your graciousness.  I appreciate you engaging these thoughts, offering questions, and even challenges.  (By the way... do I know you?)

On your question about why others are not commenting on my blog.  I'm not sure.  The blog gets hit fairly regularly each day, but not many people are commenting.  So... to you readers out there, I'd love to hear from you.  Let me hit a few things that Henry mentions.  Here's the first:

You say that truth is personal– that “knowing Jesus is knowing the truth”– OK, I can agree with that in a general sense, but what does “knowing Jesus” mean? How do we discern, from that, what the truth is? Lots of people “know Jesus” in their own way, and they come to vastly different conclusions about what it is Jesus is saying. Again, you say “I know Jesus and I trust what he says.” So do I, but what if we disagree about what it is he’s saying? Where do we go then? We can try to deconstruct our faith all we want, looking at it through modern lenses or ancient lenses or contact lenses, but in the end we need some agreement as Christians in order to engage the world effectively.

This is a great question, and a hard one because I want a more solid answer.  I think our desire and inclination is for something more solid, something proveable, something "objective" that you can point to, hold onto, and that is incontrovertable.  It's not necessarily "wrong" to look for that, either.  Thomas wanted proof, and Jesus provided his hands and side, but he did say, "blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe."  Faith requires trust when solid proof isn't there.  That's one angle.

The other angle is this:  God provided several things.  He provided thousands of years of revelation that is coherent, connective, embedded in history, historically reliable, and surprisingly consistent as ancient documents go.  God has also provided thousands of years of personal commentary and interpretation by people of faith.  He has then provided for us communities of faith within larger collectives (denominations, etc.) within larger historical trajectories (reformed, anabaptist, catholic, eastern orthodox, etc.) within larger cultural environments (eastern, western, American, African, etc.) all who find their grounding in Greek and Latin initial understandings of the Jewish and Greek original scriptures.  (Here is where the Patristics are important, as you mention in the comment.)  So, God has provided historical context, contemporary communities, written revelation, and thousands of years of reflection.  In addition (and don't miss this), he has provided the Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus said this:  "when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears..." [John 16:13]  That's what God provides.  But because we so often desire to make sure, to nail it down, and to be sure we're right, we try to go further than God went into philosophy, science, and archeaology.  I don't mean to be glib, but why do we try to get more than God has given us?  Partly, we want to be right, and we have a hard time when others disagree.  But really, should we have any less conviction or faith because someone else disagrees?  They can still be wrong.

Let's take your example of working with couples who might be considering abortion, helping them to possibly take responsibility.   That's great work.  (By the way... let's throw as much money at working with real people instead of legislation and see what happens!)  It's important work.  I'd say protecting life is biblical and part of the trajectory of Christian history.  That should be a strong conviction that's worth protecting.  There's good reason and interpretation within the Scriptures.  That's probably as much as we're going to get, other than the power of God working in people's hearts.

What many (including me) are advocating for in terms of deconstruction is a recapturing of God's own self-revelation through Scripture and the Spirit's leading in Christian community.  Some would say it's important to "rescue" the concept of God (or theology) from metaphysical philosophy.  A lot of our systematic theology and Doctrine of God comes from the trajectory of Kantian metaphysics more than from the self-revealing God does within the narrative of his interaction with his people.  Often this "god of metaphysics" trumps God's own self-revelation because it's cleaner, easier to "box in" and rationalize.  What then happens, in my view, is that we create a god in the image that works for us based on philosophy rather than engaging with the one true God of the Scriptures who has already revealed himself, albeit without full self-disclosure.

Here's the thing:  I'm ok with others disagreeing and us hitting the Scriptures more deeply for an understanding of who God is.  I'm less ok with our constructions of God so that we can maintain a rationally defensible position or hold to political or moral decisions that may not themselves be biblical.  If they are, awesome, let's see it in the Scriptures.  If not, let's reconsider the things we've "known" or agreed upon if they are less than biblical.  And if God doesn't speak much about it... maybe it's not as important to God as we think it is.

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