Thursday, October 30, 2008

Only as much humanity as is consonant with divinity

I've recently been enjoying reading Randal Rauser's Faith Lacking Understanding (a great title, Robin!). In a chapter on the incarnation, while noting the Evangelical tendency to 'elevate Christ's divinity at the expense of his humanity', Rauser references Raymond Brown's memorable words:

'[I]t may well be that most Christians tolerate only as much humanity as they deem consonant with their view of divinity' (172-3 n.4, from Brown's An Introduction to New Testament Christology, 27).

Especially as an evangelical myself, reading that made me chuckle with delight as Brown is onto something! Do give it another read! Evangelical Docetism would thus be rooted in a faulty metaphysic, one that has rejected the significance and goodness of the created order, and its relation to God, leaving only a crass metaphysical dualism divorced from the gracious incarnation of the Word, from God's humanity. I would add, this dualism is one in which Bultmann's project finds as much its home as your average popular evangelical book! As I have often noted before, Bultmann and popular evangelicals are odd, but sometimes nevertheless real, bedfellows. At the base of this common cause is perhaps a similar penchant to tolerate only a limited humanity in their view of divinity (though you wouldn't believe it reading Bultmann's remarks on John 1:14 in his commentary). Brown's words deserve pondering again and again.

Note to self to preach about, sing and pray with the language of the divine initiative in the incarnation of the Logos more often!


At 10/31/2008 12:43 AM, Anonymous Michael Pahl said...

Yes! And as you point out, it's not only evangelicals who have this faulty metaphysic. I would suggest this same faulty metaphysic underlies all sorts of perspectives, from most popular understandings of what "god" must be like and how he must act, to the various "god-in-the-gap" theologies and cosmologies one finds. The incarnation of Christ obliterates our nice, neat-and-tidy metaphysics. Reminds me of something someone once said along these lines (NT Wright in RSG?), that we need a new metaphysic...

At 10/31/2008 11:32 AM, Anonymous Robin Parry said...


Glad you like the title. I must confess to being rather proud of it (and the subtitle). Forgive me Lord!

It is a great book. Very unsettling and thought provoking.

Randal is currently writing us (Paternoster) a book of theological reflections on the novel "The Shack". How hip are we?

At 10/31/2008 1:32 PM, Anonymous Josh McManaway said...

Where do you think this faulty metaphysic arises in the history of theology? Do you think the Reformation's doing away with Marian devotion could be in some way related to this pseudo-Apollinarian interpretation of Christology?

This isn't a jab at all - I'm not taking out my Catholic spoon and stirring the pot here, but it seems that if you devalue Mary as theotokos and instead see her as 'vessel', you're free to do with Christ's humanity what you will.

At 11/01/2008 1:47 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Mike, thanks for your comment.
"we need a new metaphysic". A lovely thought. Perhaps we simply need to reimagine the older patristic metaphysic, as detailed by Zizioulas in Being and Communion.

Hi Robin,
Your shameless bragging is quite disgusting! Just kidding ... kudos to that Parry man. Especially for all this 'hip' stuff. Next thing you'll even be publishing Britney's memoirs.

Hi Josh, that is a great thought, and of course confession of theotokos was the measure of orthodoxy for a great while. While it is perhaps questionable to do so, I would want to distinguish this confession from Marian devotion (a step too far for me), and still question the underlying (dubious) logic behind the confession of theotokos - but that is a debate for anothre place. Further, I doubt that one must embrace specifically a theotokos confession in order to avoid something like apollinarianism or docetism.

All that said, one does wonder if it is a historical fact that devaluing Mary as theotokos led to something like apollinarianism - as it stands so graphically opposed to it. After all, the winds of theological change do not always listen to subtelties. A terrific point!

At 11/02/2008 9:33 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Josh, just another thought.
I wonder if Mary devotion could make Mary something less than fully human for many, thus itself pushing Christology in a docetic direction? Mary simply as mother of Jesus wouldn't do this. If you get my drift!


Post a Comment

<< Home