Archive for August, 2012

PART 2 NT Christological Monotheism

Bauckham now uses this view of Judaism as a ‘hermeneutical key’ for interpreting NT statements about Jesus’ relationship to God.

He finds in all the NT texts the intention to ‘include Jesus in the unique divine identity as Jewish monotheism understood it’ (p.19). This is evident in their inclusion of Jesus in the divine creation and in the divine rule over all things.

What follows is a summary of Bauckham’s exegetical evidence for this massive claim.

Jesus and divine sovereignty

Jesus is said to have ascended to the throne of God in the highest heaven. Jesus is frequently said to have been placed ‘over all things’ – a standard phrase in Jewish monotheism. He is exalted high above all God’s angels: the image that in Judaism distinguishes God as sovereign. Jesus inherits the divine name, ‘the name above every name’ (Phil 2:9). As a result he is worshipped by all creation (Rev. 5; Phil 2:9-11).

Christ and the divine act of creation

The act of creation was God’s alone. When NT writers include Christ in this work, their purpose is to make clearer Christ’s inclusion in the divine identity. Paul includes Jesus in the Shema, and also treats him as the Word or Wisdom of God, present with God in his original work of creating.

In these ways Jesus is described using all the key Jewish terms for denoting God’s unique identity.

In summary, Bauckham finds ‘the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the NT writings were written, since it occurs in all of them’ (p.19). Pin that sentence to your bedroom wall, friends, that’s a big, bold statement.

Bauckham ends Part 2 by sharpening up the concept which has allowed him to cut through so much scholarly encrustation: that of identity. This category has got Bauckham a whole lot of mileage. He contrasts it here with the typical scholarly dichotomy between divine function and divine ontology as categories for reading the NT texts: was Jesus said to be divine ‘ontically’ or only ‘functionally’? But, says Bauckham, these categories are foreign to 2nd temple Judaism, which is preoccupied with who God is. The NT’s failure to ascribe divine nature to Jesus is not significant, other than demonstrating that Jews didn’t think in terms of nature or essence at that time. The alternative to nature which is employed in the NT is not function, however, but identity.

Tomorrow: What Jesus reveals about God

PART 1  Jewish monotheism.

With the conceptual groundwork laid, Bauckham begins to make his case.

Doctrine

Jews of the time expressed their clear-cut monotheism over against the pluralism of their surroundings, by reciting the Shema and the decalogue daily. ‘YHWH is one.’ (Deut 6:4). The God they confessed was understood as a unique personal identity, not an abstract concept or collection of metaphysical attributes. The main question about God was not ‘What?’ but ‘Who?’. Divine identity, not divine nature or essence, was their preoccupation. God had a name.

God’s unique identity is that of sole Creator and most high Ruler of all things.

These two aspects ‘most readily distinguish God…from all other reality’ (p.9). In Hebrew scripture these emphases are especially found in Isaiah 40-55 (‘Deutero-Isaiah’), core texts for Jewish monotheism.

Practice

Jewish worship expressed God’s unique identity by worshipping him and no one else, over against the pluralist religious practises of the day.

Intermediaries

What about these intermediaries? Arch-angels etc – didn’t they blur the concept of divinity? Bauckham identifies two sorts:

  • the created sort, including angels and patriarchs. These do not share God’s throne or act of creation: they are servants far below, God the ruler.
  • the divine sort, including God’s wisdom, his Spirit and his Word. These share God’s work of creation and rule. They are clearly included in the identity of God, as personifications of God himself.

Intermediaries, then, were either clearly part of God’s identity, or clearly not. They reinforce and do not blur Judaism’s ‘absolute distinction between God and all other reality.’ (p.18).

Tomorrow: Christ as divine in the NT

Here’s the punchline of the review: this book sizzles. It’s an important and original book on a central Christian issue, that is also nice to read. God Crucified has heaps of challenge in it for evangelical readers – it makes us ask questions and rethink how we understand and express the gospel. And all in 59 pages. That’s bang for buck!

REVIEW

As usual we’ll start with a summary of the book, and follow it up with an assessment, for those who stick with us!

How did Jesus come to be considered divine? How in particular was this development possible given that Christianity arose within a Jewish monotheistic setting? Why do the NT writers omit to attribute divine nature to Jesus explicitly? When did this issue get clarified in dogmatic history? Big, fat questions. And there’s a lot of debate around this in modern scholarship.

This is where Bauckham weighs in.

In PART 1 he starts by setting the scene of the debate: differences in how Jewish monotheism is understood lead to different views of how the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity developed. There are two main views.

1.     Jewish monotheism was so strict that it could not have allowed Jesus to be divine. A less-than-divine Jesus in the NT documents – the full-blown dogma came later and represented a break from Judaism.

2.     Divinity was understood in Judaism as a graded hierarchy of intermediaries, allowing room for Jesus as a ‘lesser’ divinity.

Baukham charts his own third course. He rejects 2., maintaining that Jewish monotheism was strict and not a graded hierarchy of divinity. However Jewish monotheism had room for a very high Christology (against 1.). In other words, he proposes a distinctive view of 2nd temple Judaism, and this view informs a distinctive reading of the NT texts. On this basis Bauckham will assert the prevalence of a high Christology from the very beginning of the Christian movement. Constructing this chain occupies the first half of his study:

Jewish monotheism → NT texts → early Christology

Bauckham says studies in this area have been hindered by two weaknesses:

1.     a failure to clarify the concept of divinity in Judaism – what exactly is divinity?

2.     the focus on intermediary ‘demi-god’ figures has occurred despite lack of historical evidence

Bauckham clearly aims to rectify this situation. Let’s take a look at how he does that.

Tomorrow: Bauckham’s take on Jewish monotheism.

Theology Allergy

Posted: August 24, 2012 by J in Church, Theology

‘There’s only one thing that you can say in the interview that would get you barred from the Cornhill course: and that’s young men who say ‘I love discussing theology.’ They get a line through their name.’

Christopher Ash was talking to a room-full of young pastors at a training conference. It was hard to know how seriously he meant the remark, but it wasn’t spoken flippantly. An appreciative chuckle rippled across the room: we all knew what he meant. Who hasn’t been annoyed by young opinionated loudmouths who like arguments? Especially at Bible college!

But it did make me wonder. Christopher Ash is a very nice person. But if theology is not for discussing, what is it for? It is, after all, by definition words or talk about God and his ways (theo – logos). Theology is something you do. What alternatives are there to discussing it? And why in our evangelical tradition is there this suspicion of the practice?

As a writer of a blog dedicated to promoting theological discussion, these questions concern me. I spent four years at a ‘theological’ college, and I can testify that not many such discussions occurred. In class theological discussion was carefully controlled, generally channelled through the lecturer. There was rarely time for students to discuss what they were learning with each other, and outside of class theological talk was far from the norm. Try to start such a conversation over the lunch table, and see how far you got!

The fact is, if you engage with theology at all, then you have really only two alternatives: it can either be a discussion or a monologue. But I would say that a monologue doesn’t really allow for the doing of theology. For students to learn theology, they must be included in the discussion, and given freedom and encouragement to take part.

If it’s a monologue, then I think the appropriate word is doctrine. The authorised teachers transfer a body of ideas to the students, whose task is to learn them. In this approach, reflection on the doctrine learned, questioning, exploration, is not of much value. Questions should ideally be confined to the task of clarification.

There is a place for learning doctrine, and while it overlaps with doing or learning theology,  it’s not the same thing. Doctrine without theology is an unhealthy thing: the uncritical absorption of ideas taught by the establishment. What is so unhealthy about it is that it squashes the question, ‘What does the Bible really say about that?‘ It narrows a priori the possibilities for hearing and understanding God’s voice in Scripture. It entrenches false or poorly constructed ideas by shielding them from investigation and critique.

It is also possible to have the appearance of theology, of a discussion, while all the time we know the answers before the questions are even asked. In this case the discussion is aimed at justifying the ideas we already have – i.e., it is not really a discussion at all, but another form of monologue. Only one voice is allowed. Around here when someone starts talking theology there is usually a political agenda behind it.

The only alternative to the monologue is the discussion. The only alternative to uncritical learning is for us to talk theology together. And this is what Ash tells us he excludes from Cornhill.

And it’s not just Cornhill. How you noticed how very few works of serious theology are produced by the evangelical movement. We write biblical studies, we write ministry practice, we don’t write theology.

I would suggest that the annoying young men who love to spout theology are not usually engaging  in true discussion: they generally have a viewpoint they wish to impose on others, and this is what makes them so tiresome. They too prefer the monologue: they can talk but not listen. (We at The Grit may ourselves be guilty of this!)

Why do we have this fear of theological talk? I don’t know the answer, but I can think of possibilities:

  • Are we afraid to empower the many to read Scripture for themselves? Safer to keep in the hands of the few the power to say ‘The Bible says this‘. The others can just listen and learn.
  • Are we afraid that some of our favourite doctrines may not stand up to the scrutiny? That our teachings are not well-enough founded in Scripture to bear the weight of critique?
  • Are we worried that alternative ways of expressing Christian faith may turn out to have equal grounding in Scripture, and that our doctrinal tradition might thereby lose its ‘superiority’?
  • Do we lack a confidence in the clarity of Scripture, so that we feel we ourselves must impose clarity on the faith, promoting doctrine while discouraging theology?
  • Are we ultimately more loyal to the Reformation tradition than we are to the Bible?

All of these possibilities are worrying. Can anyone suggest a nicer answer for us?

And is there any hope of curing this allergy? Will the time come when The Grit‘s tagline no longer sounds fanciful?