Tag Archives: cultural hybridity

Open Theism, Moltmann, Patristic Thought, & Divine Apatheia

In a recent facebook group discussion, we have gone back and forth about the meaning of what does it mean for God to be impassible?  Does God really not suffer, and therefore is not able to relate to humanity? A current stream of polemics in BOTH conservative evangelical and mainline liberal Christian academia consists of making Platonism along with any other form of Greek philosophy to be enemy of the one, true pure biblical perspective. The use of this argument is valueable but it does have it limits. As Christians, we are to experience the world Pentecostally, in that God has reconciled all nations and tongues to Himself in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in the Sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church to go through out the world. Each language, philosophy, academic discipline can be used for the glory of the Triune God. The confusion of Babel comes in when Christians, for example talk about capitalism as Christian freedom, or when the early Church Fathers appropriated the Gentile, philosophical writings of their contexts with words like “apatheia,” “immutability,” “impassibility,” and the like. How can the God who died on the cross be considered unchangeable and incapable of suffering in any way?

Pentecostal Hybridity [not syncretism, since cultures and languages are fluid, and they can change], leads to language barriers and conflicts, and yes, definitely extended debates. Christian engagement with the “world” [prevailing cultures] does require something more than nuance, it requires discernment. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are must examine the prevailing texts of the day, appropriate the good, and discard the bad by measuring them with the Cross. A while back, Open theologian John Sanders wrote a post on the Early Church Fathers on Hellenism and Impassibility. While in some of his published works, Sanders took a more critical stance on the Church Fathers’ and their appropriation of “impassibility,” Sanders is now arguing (rightfully) that the way the Fathers understood God’s impassibility was really quite different from Greek philosophy. Sanders notes,

“From the second through fourth centuries there was no standard definition of divine “impassibility.”[i] For Christian writers it did not mean that God was apathetic, distant, or lacked compassion. God did experience mercy and love. Christians disagreed with one another whether God experienced anger depending on whether or not they thought this emotion “fitting” for God. The word functioned in a couple of ways. First, it was a way of qualifying the distinction between creator and creatures. God is incorruptible while we are not. But we will be made impassible (incorruptible) in the eschaton. Also, we are prone to be overwhelmed by emotions, particularly negative ones, but God is not. Hence, it was used to safeguard divine transcendence (aseity) rather than deny psychological emotions to God. Second, it functioned to distance the Christian God from the gods of polytheism. They were passible in the sense that acted capriciously and lost control of themselves. In contrast, the Christian God faithfully loved, was patient, and acted consistently.[ii] Hence, it is clear that when the fathers said God was impassible they did not intend to rule out that he has emotions or that he is affected by and responds to us.”

This observation holds especially true, particularly when one looks at the corpus of one Clement of Alexandria. Clement worked really hard to distance the God of Christianity from the Roman imperial Egyptian divinities of his day. Clement understood the gods of that pantheon to be greedy, lustful, sexually immoral, and controlled by their desires; and of course, their worshippers followed in their footsteps. What Clement did was argue that God is apathetic to what these gods desired, that the God revealed in the Divine Logos-Person of Yeshua the Messiah was fully capable of controlling himself, and also served as the source of our holiness, our own participation in the divine apatheia.

Often dismissed often as a pantheist heretic and for his kenotic Christology, Juergen Moltmann in his The Crucified God: The Cross Of Christ as the Foundation And Criticism of Christian Theology, made similar arguments as John Sanders and Clement of Alexandria concerning divine apatheia. Our conversation starts on page 269,

“An examination of the discussion of apatheia in ancient Greece, Judaism, and Christianity shows that apatheia does not mean the petrification of men, nor does it denote those symptoms of illness which are today described as apathy, indifference, and alienation. Rather, it denotes the freedom of man and his superiority to the world in corresponding to the perfect, all-sufficient freedom of the Godhead. Apatheia is entering into the higher divine sphere of the Logos. […] Love arises from the spirit and from freedom, not from desire or anxiety. The apathetic God therefore, could be understood as the free God who freed others for Himself.”

For Moltmann, it is essential for Christian theology to have both apatheia and pathos (which we find in the Old Testament). Thus, Moltmann concludes about apatheia, “Christian theology can only adopt insight and the longing of Hellenistic apathetic theology as a presupposition for the knowledge of the freedom of God and the liberation of fettered man” (page 275) Contrary to the popular saying “freedom isn’t free,” freedom is free, and its source is found in the Open God of Liberation. Just as no one desire or emotion is able to claim the Triune God as its own, neither can any oppressive tradition or institution possess the freedom that the Christian has been given by the Creator.  In the words of Clement of Alexandria, “For God bestows life freely, but evil custom, after our departure from this world, brings on the sinner unavailing remorse with punishment.” (Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 10).

The Crucifixion of God’s Son is the one true source of humanity’s liberty.  The God-Man’s death on the Cross must be seen as God opening up God’s covenant for all humanity. Undergirding this premise for Moltmann is his CORRECT observation that the downward pathos movement of YHWH can only be understood as part of the special revelation in the Hebrew Bible, and in God’s communion with Israel.

“Therefore, there is for it a direct correspondence between the pathos of God and the sympatheia of men. On the basis of the presupposition of election to the covenant and the people it is necessary only to develop a dipolar theology which speaks of God’s passion and the drive of the spirit in the suffering and hopes of man. This presupposition does not exist for the Christian, especially for the Gentile Christian. Where for Israel immediacy is grounded on the presupposition of the covenant, for Christians it is Christ himself who communicates the Fatherhood of God and the power of the Spirit. Therefore, Christian theology cannot develop any dipolar theology of the reciprocal relationship between the God who calls and the man who answers; it must develop a trinitarian theology, for only in and through Christ is that dialogical relationship with God opened up.”- Page 275, once more (Bold Emphasis My Own)

Moltmann’s move is a significant gesture, a critique of the Gentile imperial arrogance we know as natural revelation. Moltmann at once contextualizes himself in the story of the Crucified God as a German Gentile, and at the same time is able to articulate the narrative of God’s people (Israel) and God’s Messiah. Now, Moltmann goes on to argue that the beginning of Trinitarian history happens at Golgatha; I disagree. God’s own Trinitarian history begins with liberating Exodus event and the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word made fetal flesh. The history of full human participation in Trinitarian history begins with the Crucifixion, I would contend, since God sovereignly chose to embrace us ragged Gentiles into the salvific equation. The Openness of God for us begins with the sweet embrace of Jesus nailed to the tree.

Race-ing Towards Nicea part 1: The Incarnation

*Editors Note*: This is a Re-Post of my contribution to our Preaching Chalcedon Tri-Blog event. I am turning this into a series

THE IMPURITY CODE:How Liberal & Evangelical Christians Both Can Affirm the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition

First, I would like to take the time to commend Amanda Mac for this intriguing conversation that has stirred up a lot of interest apparently. Optymystic Chad deserves commendation as well for his brave stance, for not many Christians are willing to challenge tradition, and in such a provocative manner, no less.

Honestly, I come to this conversation without a dog in this fight. As a young pup growing up, I was Baptist, and the only creed we recognized was the Lord’s Prayer.  Like many folks, I did not encounter the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas until graduate school. Honestly, for some reason, there is something magical about the ancient Creeds. As a children’s pastor at a church I once worked for, after they recited the Apostle’s Creed, I felt more alive and ready to give my children’s sermon, without a moment’s hesitation.  Perhaps it was a reminder that I am part of something larger than myself, that there is a cloud of witnesses that transcends any community I partake in. So as a matter of transparency, I come from a non-creedal tradition, and this is my defense (sorta) of the Chalcedonian Formula. On to the questions!

Homoousios As Hegemony

He asks,

“Further, the language of Christ’s two natures, while taken for granted by Chalcedon, is a Greco-Roman construct. Homoousios vs. Homoiousios is not Biblical language. It is simply one culture’s way of framing the earlier Hebraic faith. I oppose Chalcedon because it gives the appearance of divine approval to an outsourcing of theology to a 4th and 5th century Greco-Roman group of people who admitted no agenda, but clearly had one.While claiming to affirm a certain level of mystery, Chalcedon only does so after it has already said more than it should have. ”

Then Chad also inquires,

“Further, why does Christ have to be both Divine and Human? Or more to the point, if scripture only approaches this teaching narratively, why do we insist on understanding it mathematically? Economically? Through a Roman lens? Is it not enough to understand Jesus as being fully human, yet paradoxically doing and saying things only God could say and do? Why not let many theories abound?”

Chad is not the first to make these charges against the Chalcedonian Council. Neither do his pre-cautions go unwarranted. For instance, in her work, The Black Christ, Christian theologian and womanist Kelly Brown Douglas, who herself affirms the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition as an Episcopalian, says, “Black Christians tend not to consider it relevant to their own beliefs about Jesus” (p 112). She adds, “By ignoring Jesus’s ministry and focusing on his “being,” He is seen as someone to be worshipped, believed in, but not followed or imitated” (112-113). Seeing the face of Christ in the oppressed, specifically, black women is part of Brown Douglas’s Christology, but no where (at least from her viewpoint) can one see that in the N-C tradition.

The hegemonic nature of the Chalcedonian Promulgation also stands as a barrier for Christian bible scholar and feminist Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She, too, finds it way too problematic that Graeco-Roman terms were used as a fixed formula for attributing imperial economic labels onto Christ’s life. She says,

“This Christological doctrine thereby inscribes into Christian orthodox self-understanding and identity the “mysterious economy” of kyriarchal relations and imperial domination. By associating fatherhood/masculinity with divinity and eternity and by firmly placing motherhood/femininity in the temporal realm of humanity, it introduces not only gender dualism, but also the dualism between church and world, religion and nature, heaven and earth.” (Jesus, Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, page 22).

The Essential(isms) of The Faith

It would be impossible for Kelly Brown Douglas to speak for all persons of African descent at all times, and I doubt that she was doing that, but without qualifications, one finds themselves into Essentialism Land, that magical place where everyone knows who you are ‘cuz of what you look like. Brown Douglas forgot to mention that there is a significant population of Black Catholics who, like M. Shawn Copeland, who could attest to their black Christianity emphasizing the importance of the creeds. By the same measure, my apologies, Chad, but there is no such thing as THE Hebraic faith. Come on, friend, you know that Second Temple Judaisms thing? I would not say that one Jew is more “Hebraic” than another, for who am I, as a Gentile, to say such a thing. Is Philo somehow less Jewish because he wrote in Greek? Yes, the whole “Homoousios vs. Homoiousios” controversy is extra-biblical, but I don’t affirm that strict version of Sola Scriptura, and I doubt that you do either. Furthermore, to understand the Covenant Pentecostally, a believer has little choice but to affirm multi-lingualism. J. Kameron Carter understand Irenaeus’s writing to be pointing in this direction. In his Race: A Theological Account, Carter argues, ” In Christ, then, language is liberated from the fiction of purity and thus from every structure of dominance and slavery [.]” (30)  The notion of a pure biblical language, a pure race, a purely feminine/ masculine person comes unraveled in the covenantal Jewish flesh of Yeshua. There is no dualism or monism in Christ, but there is Reconciliation.

In order to understand Carter’s logic, one must go back to look at his theology of Israel, a theology that is anti-racist and anti-supercessionist. One cannot speak simply of Christ as purely human because Jesus’ humanity “constitutes a new intrahumanity.”  Christ’s existence is unique in that the Logos and Spirit are en-fleshed and in communion with the Father.  For Carter, “Christ’s flesh is mulatto flesh. […] The covenantal people of Israel witnesses to creation its own fruitful ‘contamination’  before YHWH as its life-giving limit” (30).  As Carter articulates so very well  Yeshua’s intrahuman fleshly existence , which supercedes space and time to receive the worship of Jews and Gentiles alike, is forever bound to impurity, therefore, the ethnic lines and classes set up by white supremacists and Social Darwinians alike are exposed for what they are: PURE FICTION.  Christ Yeshua is what it means for creation to exist in the presence of the Triune Creator, and no language can fully encapsulate that very miracle, but at the same time, every language and culture articulate it in their own unique way.

Goodbye, Every True Scotsman!!!

 

An Impure Orthopraxis

Amanda asks:

Should we preach Chalcedon today?  Is Chalcedon useful today?

I would answer, without a shadow of a doubt, yes, and more yes, but with a few qualifications.  As I alluded to in my response to Chad, one must understand Yeshua in light of what the formula says,

“but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ;
even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us”

I would argue that the Chalcedonian Formula is more of a Code, yes a Code. A Code is, for the most part according to Dictionary.com, a system of rules and regulations. It is an Impurity Code because it recognizes that the reconciling mission of the Savior is programmed into his very being: “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Once one understands the Chalcedonian Impurity Code in this manner, minus the anathema threats, it becomes a weapon against closed societies that regulate humanity according to “gender” and “race.”

I suggest that we listen to the wisdom of J. Kameron Carter in his theology of participation, where “Chalcedon is to be conceived as witnessing to a theology of covenantal participation in which the life of YHWH is throughly implicated in and suffuses the life of Israel. […] It is precisely this participatory transcendence, this ecstasy, by which God is God for us, that makes creation transcendent within itself in its ecstasy back to its Creator” (191).  In other words, Christ’s intrahumanity in reconciling creation to its Creator, makes all of creation more than just material. Corporeality is the reality in which God has been revealed, for the Transfiguration, as testified to by Moses and Elijah, reveals that all creatures have been placed under a new social rubric.  The mathematics of Chalcedon is quite simple, really: Christ + All=1/ All – Christ= 0.  Bodies, therefore, become the very vehicles by which God is magnified.  Just as Moses and Elijah stand witness to that blinding light on Mount Tabor representing the legal and prophetic word, so must one recognize that Christ is the hermeneutical key to our open creation.  Becoming involved in the logoi of the prophets is to become involved in the life of God.  Contrary to Kelly Brown Douglas’s claims, Yeshua is not a person to be followed, for we do not live in the 1st century, nor do I wish to “imitate” Yeshua the Messiah because the scriptural witness informs me that his death ends all sacrifices and what good does it do the oppressed to live a life ordained with suffering? Is not that the reason womanist theology had to distinguish itself from J. Deotis Roberts’ and James Cone’s Christology?   If Christianity is just another story like Harry Potter where the hero gives his life for others, I want a new religion.  Thus, it is important to realize that the early churches speculated that it was possible that Christ is the door to life in God, and therefore our agency is not our own, but Christ’s.  Yeshua the Messiah, as what Latin American Liberationists call The God-Poor, existing in solidarity with the oppressed empowers humanity to join in God’s redemptive love for the cosmos.

Do our congregations, which are steeped in a largely biblically-illiterate culture, just “know” that Christ is fully divine and fully human when we preach?

Ummm. Depends on who you talk to.  Sometimes there are congregation members who do their homework and read, and there are others that do not.

What would happen if we dropped the “shorthand” and began using the full sentence in our preaching?

I think people will start to walk out and leave. Long sermons are never popular, well, unless you grow up in the Black Baptist tradition. Sigh.

How do we guard against the tendency towards either Docetism or Nestorianism in our churches?

Pray.

Should evangelical churches, that are largely creedless, begin to re-examine and find ways to adopt these ancient statements in a post-modern context?

I would say this is the very last thing that evangelicals need to do if they want to reach out to a post-modern context.  So, no. They should first re-discover their own history before trying to explore historical Christianity.

To conclude, I will end with a passage from Scripture that is a short version of the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition:

“Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” (2nd Peter 1:4)

 

 

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Luke-Acts: The Acts of The Trinity

English: Apostles receive the gift of tongues ...

AT THE INTERSECTION OF CULTURAL INTERPRETATION AND THEOLOGICAL EXEGESIS

We have all probably sat either in a classroom or church, and hear the teacher or preacher, so smoothly announce that she believes that the Acts of the Apostles should be renamed the Acts of the Holy Spirit. This is a good observation that has quite frankly worn itself out. Of course, I maintain my continuationism, but a focus on pneumatology in Acts causes exegetes and honest Christians to skip Acts 1 and start with Acts 2. I say that if a person begins with Acts 1, she could find a emphasis more on all three persons of the Godhead and their relations to each other. The Risen Christ maintains the Trinitarian distiction between himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit while acknowledging their equality. Jesus informs the 11 apostles and company that the Father alone knows the time that Israel will be restored (Luke 10:22; Acts 1:7) and to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit that the Father had promised to send in Jesus’ name (Acts 1:4; John 14:16).

Theologically, the mission of the Trinity is important in sending the apostles; the sending of the Son and the Spirit corresponds with the sending of the apostles from Jerusalem and Judah and into the world. In terms of occupying space within the universe, and within the canon itself, one could understand the immanent Trinity to be hidden within the witness of the prophets of Israel and the economic Trinity and its life unfolding (and connected to the mission to the Gentiles) as we see in the pages of the New Testament. This approach, I believe, gives me sufficient reason to avoid so called “Christo-centric” readings of the “Old” Testament, where everything is allegory while the history of the Jewish people is superseded. The Trinity remains the same deity throughout Scripture, just one remains primarily hidden, the other primarily disclosed. At the heart of this possible Trinitarian hermeneutic is an emphasis on the difference between the Economic and Immanent Trinity, something that needs to be maintained contra Karl Rahner and certain conservative evangelical theologians who agree with him.

Now, one space where theological interpretation meets the cultural appropriation of the Acts of the Trinity (the Incarnation) is African American Christian traditions. In early colonial America, Quakers, Baptists and Methodists who were abolitionists tried to teach free blacks Christianity with passages such as Acts 10:34-36–“God is no respecter of persons” and Acts 17:36–“he hath made of one blood all the nations of men [and women].” It was these same passages that [one time] Calvinist 18th century black preacher Lemuel Haynes refuted “the great” Jonathan Edwards’ claims that it was God’s will for blacks to be enslaved. Demetrius K. Williams in his contribution to True To Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, notes that 19th century preachers such as Bishop Reverdy Ransom found their goals for social justice for the Negro Church from the Acts of The Trinity (page 216). The stories such as the Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26-40) to the Jerusalem Conference (13-14:28) show that there is a movement from the inner life of God to the economic workings of the Trinity to bring the Good News to all of the world. Because of the essential unity of YHWH and the Messiah (the Incarnation, both God and Humanity), the theological can indeed be reconciled with the cultural, without these being mutually exclusive as we have now in biblical studies.

*Edit*: suffice has been changed to sufficient. Thanks for the correction, Joel!

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