Tuesday, September 25, 2007

[THO] Location of the Divine

In Varieties of Religion Today Charles Taylor explores the shift in religious sensibility we inherit from modernity (Chapter 3 is brilliant!). With the age of reason the natural world was pulled down into the realm of comprehension. We could now measure, desconstruct and pull apart the created order. It belonged to the dominion of man, or so we now assumed. What was lost was the mystical connection with the world as created. The world became more and more mechanistically understood and God became more and more distant. We might remember that the deists came to believe in a divine watchmaker, winding up the world to let it run of its own accord.

In this Newtonian atmosphere we began to elevate the notion of law. After all laws are what govern the created order, and laws represent the enduring connection of the Creator to creation. It is not a wonder then that when Western humanity began looking again for the location of God we looked not to the world but to the lawfulness of society. It is from here that Kant makes his great contribution. No one of that age is unaffected, morality becomes the dominion of God. Understanding this is it really any wonder that we have evangelists who introduce us to the law instead of the person of Jesus Christ?

But all is not lost. More and more people are realizing the incredible poverty losing a sense of divine in the created order has meant. So many are longing for the authenticity of mystery. It also shouldn't surprise us that many in the West have turned elsewhere to feed their souls. For me I believe we face a time of incredible opportunity. Are we to continue to offer a morality based religion or will we introduce the world to a Jesus who holds all things together. Will we continue to preach a destructive message divorced from our lived reality, or will we call for believers to love the world Jesus died to save?


Hank said...

Frank, I'm not convinced that we can't find Jesus in the law. The early Church used the 'satisfaction' model to explain the Atonement as well as others.

I agree that we have made that one more prominent than others, but I don't see how you can get past Isaiah 51 without at least acknowledging that there is some sense of Jesus taking on our punishment for our sins.

Also, Jesus Himself seems to indicate that there is at least some law at work (when He instructs people to sin no more). Now of course, He firmly introduces grace as well.

I agree that the modern church has probably the hardest time with grace than perhaps any other era....

One of Freedom said...

Hank. I was having trouble posting my response earlier. I saved it on my laptop so I'll post it when I find a connection, likey not until tonight.

One of Freedom said...

Hey Hank. Good concern, I'm not suggesting that there is no need for atonement or even that the Law has no purpose. But what I'm identifying is the roots of a very modernist role for the Law.

The Law is definitely a part of the Judaic landscape. And it is even helpful as an ethical framework - after all much of the legal framework we enjoy comes out of the Ancient Near East.

Also it is important to note that every good spirituality provokes an ethic. But I'm not convinced that the Law is being faithfully used in this way. In fact that was one of the chief criticisms of the prophets against Israel. They had missed the heart of the Law which should orient them towards justice particularily for those marginalized by society.

What Taylor identifies is the shift in consciousness that caused a modernist fascination with Law in general. Not in terms of provoking an ethic but even sometimes as the sole point of reference to the divine.

This is what is also called the breakdown of the medieval synthesis (to borrow from Aquinas). What happened is that the created order no longer referenced the divine, at least for most Protestant groups, and a new reference was needed. As we began to understand the world through physical laws, it only made sense that we would translate this to our understanding of God through the Law. But it is like taking only one side of the story and saying this is all there is.

The difference is between a propositional and an experiential faith. When we introduce folks to the Law as a means of getting them to God then the Law becomes the mediator. Is it a wonder then that the WEA would recently claim that the Kingdom of God exists where God is obeyed? (The Philadelphia Statement, Aug 2007). Of course this is an absurd statement, God's reign is not contingent upon our efforts at all. Nor is God only present when we live morally - if that were the case then why would we need a saviour at all? No God is present in the midst of sin, suffering, loss, violence, etc. It is there that God meets us and saves us.

Can the Law be part of that disclosure? Sure. But what I think we need to be careful of is making the Law an intermediary to Christ. There is one mediator - Christ.

Hank said...

Whoops! I meant Isaiah 53. I guess I confused it with Psalm 51.

At any rate, I think I can get on board with what you're saying. I think we need to be very clear though that we don't jettison everything.

I mean, even Paul, in Romans, said that the Law has an important function, in that it exposes sin, and thus the need for a Savior. However, the answer is not in obedience to the Law, but in faith in the Savior and His righteousness alone.

Grace has been one of my touchpoints in my pulpit ministry lately. I tend to preach so that I may be convicted as much as the congregations, and I have to confess I don't grok grace as well as I'd like to.

Hank said...

As an aside here, I enjoy sussing out these theological issues.

We tend to be closer on some things than others, but it's those things that we discuss that make it a great exercise for me

After all, 'iron sharpening iron' and all that...

One of Freedom said...

Hank I love having alternate viewpoints. It is what makes blogs worthwhile reading - the interaction brings out a richer understanding than someone just posting what they believe and not engaging.

I agree we shouldn't jettison any of it but we need to keep two things clear as Christian approaching scripture.

1) We don't interpret scripture the same as the Jews, this is not a criticism of Jewish hermeneutics but a reminder that we reread their texts in our context.

2) That rereading is done in light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Every interpretation that does not point us to Christ is not Christian, by definition. And I want to be careful here that it isn't to a propositional Christ that Scripture reveals but a living present Word of God Christ that we encounter.

The thing I'm most concerned about is when we add or detract from the revelation (not the book Revelation) of Christ through the scriptures. When I hear stuff that goes beyond that I'm often left wondering what the point is. For me Christ is the point.

Hank said...

Oh, absolutely. I haven't read any of my commetaries on the Church Fathers in a while, but I've enjoyed reading how they wrestle through many of these same subjects.

I think that most of the time we are 'looking through a glass, darkly,' and that we will be surprised to find that God is bigger than what we imagine, although it is clear from the scriptures that this is so.

Jesus' incarnation is certainly indicative of that. Larry Wall, the inventor of the PERL computer language said in an interview a while back something to the effect that he has a pretty good idea of WWJD?. His answer: "something unexpected." I love that!

And before I ramble completely away, I do agree that all scripture interpretation must be done in the light of the Incarnation. After all, 'The Old Testament Looks forward to the coming of Christ, while the New Testament looks at (or back at).'

Hank said...

I just saw this, and thought of you:


I'd like to think that The Salvation Army is missional, but sometimes it is hard to break free of the 'we're in-you're out' mentality that the authors are talking about

One of Freedom said...

That is the kind of thing I'm doing my graduate work on. Particularily how I can encourage my evagenlical brothers and sisters to engage the world differently. By that I am convinced in a way that is more true to the incarnational message of Christ. But I have a lot of work ahead of me.