Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Intersecting Seminary Classes and Theological Reflection

Two of my seminary classes have intersected this week. In my New Testament survey class we looked at N. T. Wright's writings on the historical Jesus, and have examined John's Gospel, particularly the prologue. Wright's view of the historical Jesus has been helpful n serving as a check against the tendency for us all to create conceptions of Jesus that fit our own cultural presuppositions, but which don't always represent the Jesus of Second Temple Judaism. The discussion of John's Gospel has noted how the Logos in the prologue echoes the Old Testament, particularly the creation narrative as well as the concept of divine wisdom. Johannine theology takes these Hebraic concepts and then communicates or theologizes them into the cultural contexts of the first century, including Judaism, Hellenism, and Gnosticism.

The intersection came as the New Testament survey class overlapped my theology class as we discussed the incarnation and Christology in light of John 1. As we neared the completion of our discussion on exegesis and creedal affirmations of the humanity, deity, and two naturs of Christ, the instructor asked if there were any other questions or comments. Finding it hard to resist, I threw in my two cents worth from intercultural studies.

Having studied theology and missiology I recognize the strong interrelationship between theology and culture. God has communicated Himself through differing human cultures, and in order to understand this self-revelation we need to understand not only the theological concepts, but also how those are wrapped up in cultural forms. We also need to understand the culture-bound perceptions of our own theologies, and how these influence our understanding of Scripture. Once we have taken these steps we can then struggle with how to communicate supracultural theological truths into another culture.

As I recently pondered John's prologue through my conceptual lenses of culture, theology, and missiology, I saw him utilizing a methodology as I've suggested above. He skillfully paints a unique portrait of Christ that is informed by the Hebrew Scriptures, but which communicates Christ in appropriate cultural forms.

As a result of the class study and discussion, three questions came to mind today. First, while we are working on intercultural studies in an intercultural environment in Utah, to what extent are we truly making our learning and missional praxis intercultural (and interdisciplinary), or are we replicating ways of "doing church" and theological education that have been done in other places regardless of cultural context? Second, while there are a handful of large churches in Utah that practice passive missional approaches to church and thereby reach disaffected or searching LDS, what would proactive missional approaches look like that strategically work to bring the church as the eschatological community of God into relationships with the subcultures of Utah? Third, I was reminded recently that the Hebrews did not engage in speculative theology, but instead spoke of the revelation of God gained through their experience. While it is important to recognize the distinction between orthdoxoy and heresy, and to understand the creeds as definitions and boundaries erected in response to heretical challenges, is there room in our theology for mystery and less for mental gymnastics in formulating creedal affirmations and doctrinal statements, and thus less room for our speculative theology? Has our Greek heritage moved our theology away from its Hebrew roots more than we know and caused us to engage in theological speculation that would not have been entertained by our Hebrew forebears?


Matt Stone said...

Agree with you totally John. I recently borrowed a book from Philip Johnson which explored a guru Christology from within in a Hindu context. It reasonated a lot with my own early Christian experiences of trying to figure out the New Testament Jesus from within my New Age reference frame. Yes we nead to guard against heresy, but the heresies of our day need to be more in focus than the heresies of yesterday. The heresy of the abstracted forensic inhuman(e) Christ is one this helped me struggle against.

Also of late I have been reflecting on the distinction between linguistic gender and actual gender. In what way may we be projecting more masculine understandings onto the logos than are actually warranted by the original Hebrew understanding. Yes the incarnate logos had a penis but do we need to see the pre-incarnate logos so one dimentionally?

Anonymous said...

The real issue here, of course, is the repression and marginalization of the complexities of the first century cultural context (as well as our own) via the uniquely Western penchant for creating binary opposites, and the subsequent exclusion of one of those opposites (the disapproved view) by the group that seizes power. The bounded set view illustrates the outcome of this principle very well, but even the centered set concept does not ultimately avoid it, but actually illustrates how the principle commences. The centered set view does so not only because it assumes that we are able to actually identify that center (a.k.a., the "truth"), but also because once we identify it we also automatically identify what we find opposite to it as "heresy"--a highly speculative undertaking, at best. So we inevitably oppress those views we identify as lying opposite that "center," leading to the violent, combative, confrontational approaches we now see in contemporary efforts to convert "heretics." Regardless of whether you erect a "boundary" or establish a "center," as soon as you do so the repression, marginalization, exclusion--in short, the murder of another culture--has already happened.

John W. Morehead said...

Anonymous, thank you for your comments, and your perspective. However, I must offer my disagreements with you, and briefly point out what I consider to be flaws in your reasoning.

In your post you decry binary opposites in regards to truth claims, and while I agree that this need not be the case in every instance (sometimes it is both/and and not necessarily either/or), you seem to create just such an opposite by positing that the evangelical view (whether a bounded or centered set approach) is somehow inappropriate, preferring instead your apparent inclusivism. These are two "binary opposites," are they not?

Does not your own view expressed in your comment presuppose some kind of truth claim, and thus some kind of orthodoxy in the realm of ideas, even if not in religion and theology? If so, then this would represent your view of intellectual "orthodoxy." Why then is in inappropriate for evangelicals to identify supracultural truths that God has revealed to the world, and to communicate them through the presentation of the Christian story? Perhaps the identification of heresy is not so risky after all, and it is the problematic and at times distasteful ways in which defenders of orthodoxy have gone about their task that is the real issue, not the identiification of orthodoxy and heresy per se.

One last thought. While the establishment of a center and boundaries around ultimate ideas has at times resulted in repression, exclusion, and marginalization as you say, this is not necessarily the case. The Christian story, which includes an inclusive call to the marginalized and repressed of society, can be and has been presented and lived out in ways which avoid the repression you rightly decry.