Friday, March 12, 2010

Abusing Jesus' Divinity

Looking back at the concerns surrounding the person of Christ in the third and fourth centuries, one notices that the debates are oddly slanted in one direction. Most career heretics, such as Nestorius and Apollinaris seem to be fine with the divinity of Christ, but his full humanity was questionable. For some reason spirituality was tenable, but physicality put real a burr in their saddle. How could God– omnipotent, sovereign, and holy– mingle with the messy materiality of stuff?

I am of course, being very simplistic. It wasn't that they hated the idea of the Incarnation, but that the Incarnation is by definition a very hard thing to get one's second-order skull around. But there is still this curious trend. The divinity of Christ was taken for granted seemingly by the majority, orthodox and unorthodox alike, while His humanity was the main point of contention.

Zoom ahead to the enlightenment and one notices that the trend is reversed. Suddenly the humanity of Christ is found to be very palatable while His divinity is untenable. It became easier to conceive of Jesus as a good moral teacher than it was to believe he was God. Without going into the reasons for why Schleiermacher's offspring have such a problem with this, I will merely suggest that the locus of contemporary theology is centered on this problem, and perhaps increasingly in Evangelical circles.

How? Let's take ecology for example. The lack of Christology has been my only beef with Wendell Berry. Don't get me wrong, I love Berry and will recommend him and his organic tobacco til' the unclouded Tennessee sun goes down, but Christ is all but absent in his ecology. It is for this reason that, in spite of all of his wonderful insight that his view ultimately appears unrealistic and untenable (and his fiction a bit soapy). It can contrast a redeemed world with the fallen one, but it cannot tell us how to get from one to the other. It is in the bridge of Christ that the fallen and the redeemed are linked and the fallen is given any real hope. Douglas Moo, however, even in spite of the relatively small writing he has produced so far, finds the locus for ecology more or less in the Shema of love for God ad love for neighbor, both of which draw in a robust Christology and consequently a realistic means of caring for the earth.

Ecology is just one example, but I have begun to notice this in Feminist Theology as well and I am sure that it would be easy to find other examples. All of this goes to show that Karl Rahner was right when he said that most Christians today live as functional monotheists to whom the Trinity in all of its distinctive unity is of no consequence. So much is at stake when we neglect the daunting task of developing our theology within the framework of the persons of the Godhead, and since Christ is the most visible member, he is the easiest place to see this happen. It is imperative to insist on a robust Christology.


Julie said...

First of all, it's Wendell Berry. Second, what do you mean that his fiction is "a bit soapy"?

Jon Furst said...

I'm sorry Julie, I knew this would come out.

In my opinion he's a much better essayist than fiction writer. His fiction tends to be a bit sentimental.

John Paulling said...

What would a good orthodox Christology look like in ecology. Couldn't you say that Berry's understanding of restraint in agriculture, and his zeal for membership within the communities one is given be evidence of a kind of Christology?

I'm not sure I would even feel like Christology has to be apparent in fiction for it to be compelling. What makes a person binitarian in the way they carry out their secular vocation?

Jon Furst said...

I'm willing to be proven wrong on this. How does Berry benefit our understanding of Christ?

John, good question. I've thought about it and I think that perhaps two things need to be present if a fiction author wants to portray Christ in a compelling way; transcendence and physicality. So, even in your beloved Christ-figure of Simon in the Lord of the Flies, I think that it would hold up. You have an intensely physical scene of Simon floating cruciform in the water overlaid with supernatural phosphorescence.

Nate, if you're reading this I want to hear what you think.

John Paulling said...

I like those two markers, Jon. You're right about Simon, he fits your categories. It is important that we don't reduce christology in fiction to principles that arise that correspond to Christ. That would be another drift into a kind of Bultmannian fiction reading. Yet, I wonder if this is not asking too much of fiction. In my opinion, Berry presents a ingenious ecclesiology. It isn't any more soapy than Acts chapter 2. Now, I don't want to blur the lines between Christ and the Church. But, if you must have Christ in your fiction reading I submit that you have him in Berry's picture of membership in Port William.

My suspicion, although we've never talked about it, is that you believe Port William to be a tad too idyllic. If that's the case, I want you to expound.

幸雨 said...
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Jon Furst said...

Yes, I suppose I do think Port William is too idyllic, and I think it differs from the Acts 2 church in a significant way. What makes the Acts 2 church compelling is that the community exists in the midst of mounting opposition. As soon as the church is persecuted it flourishes. Port Royal, on the other hand, exists at a safe distance from the outside world. It is rural. Berry's model is compelling, for the same reason that Yoder and Hauerwass are compelling, but I think this world/church separation needs to be examined. The challenge of the incarnation is gracious holiness in the midst of an antagonistic world, not apart from it.

Your question is good about ecclesiology and cristology, but as long as the Church is to act as Christ's representative on earth, I don't think we should delineate too strongly between the two.

John Paulling said...

Those are excellent points, Jon. A few things I would want to push back on, though (and maybe its time to move on), is that the rural world Berry creates is beset on all sides. Take the novel Jayber Crow for example. The agrarian characters are continually marginalized for their antiquated agricultural methods and traditions. This happens through more profitable farms that exist outside of Port William, and through recalcitrant family members from within the community itself.
Secondly, Hauerwas and Yoder in my opinion, actually reflect the biblical model of the Christian community quite well. Take John's usage of the word 'world' for example. Jesus consistently sets his disciples and the world in complete antithesis to one another. The Church is to be set apart from the world. Hauerwas understands though, I think, that the biblical way of understanding the church as its own colony can only be one that is 'set on a hill'. I don't think they see the separateness of the community of Christ so much in terms of its spacial proximity as its radically upside down values. Anyway, I enjoy thinking about these things, great thoughts, Jon.