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The Highest God is the Boring-est God

Here’s Eberhard Jüngel taking down Descartes’ perfectly necessary God in a rather clever way:

[T]he abstract imperishability of God above us is the expression of a God who in his abstractness (or, as Luther could say, in his nudity) is a terrible and in his terribleness ultimately a boring God. Terror without end ultimately kills all attentiveness. Even fascination at the abstract majesty of God over us results in a sense of horror which kills concrete attentiveness toward God, results in a thoroughly terrifying boredom. And for that very reason, the wordless, dumb, and perfectly abstract divine majesty does not concern us. In trying to think it through to the end, we could really only ‘unharness’ thinking, to use Nietzsche’s idea. In such a case, thought ceases to be interesting.” (God as the Mystery of the World, p.198)

I’m still mulling over whether or not I’m willing to go all (or even some) of the way with Jüngel, but nevertheless, this passage struck me as a tangential critique of some forms of neo-Calvinist piety, specifically those which equate spiritual maturity with one’s ability to appreciate God’s glory all for it’s own sake (i.e., without reference to anything God has done or said). For Jüngel, however, such a God is actually incapable of sustaining this kind of intense awe because, he argues, when God’s independence is foregrounded for its own sake, God’s practical role in thought is reduced merely to scaffolding for human existence. The consequence is that, ultimately, God will fall away, at which point we will realise that it wasn’t all that constructive to dwell on him the first place. Better, says Jüngel, to attend to the Word of God as that divine address which draws us out of ourselves so that we can rightly understand our being constituted by, rather than productive of, God.

I don’t know – if anyone in the world is still aware of this blog, I’m curious to know what you think. Basically, Jüngel is saying that the super-high awesome God is boring because he is capable of being thought outwith the context of address. Do you think this critique applies to the neoCals? Does the contemplation of God in his naked glory threaten to bore us to death? Lemme know.

God’ll Be Home for Christmas

“…God wants to come home to us. That is the redemptive, peaceful message of Christmas. We can’t forget it, for he has left his heart with us – and this heart leads him to draw near to us again, since he too can’t forget us. He is not content to embrace the starry hosts with his love, nor for his glory to shine on the grass and the flowers of the field. He desires to return to men, before whose vanity and pride he had withdrawn, and who he now sees suffering with aching hearts under the judgment which they had brought upon themselves. He wants to accomplish his greatest work in a redeemed and liberated humanity, a work greater than the wonder of the oceans, the heavens and the earth. He desires to have his greatest joy amongst the children of men, who have become like him not in spite of, but because of his love. He says this to us at Christmas: “For God so loved the world!”

Karl Barth, Sermon on Isaiah 52:7-9, Dec. 13, 1914

 

The Book of Exodus: What is it?

This morning I read through Exodus, and I have to say, I forgot just how crazy this book is – particularly the God bits. From incombustible bushes to giant fiery smoke clouds, it seems to me that modern readers intending to use this text as Scripture are faced with a choice: either we take it at face value or we demythologize the thing to smithereens.

Let’s be honest. The book of Exodus narrates events which are like nothing we could possibly imagine happening today. Even the so-called “miracles” which some claim are commonplace in the non-Western world are small potatoes compared to the bizarre manifestations seen in Exodus. Finding a non-Westerner who converses with angels and/or had a limb grow back: not that difficult. Finding a non-Westerner whose prayers are capable of publicly plunging a large geographical locale into “darkness that can be felt” (Ex 10:21): not quite so easy. Put simply: the world that the book of Exodus talks about is obviously not our world. It is a world of divine confrontation on a massive scale, and I think it would do us all some good to just admit that it’s weird.

There are, of course, ways of making it not weird. How quickly we hurry to put these stories in their “redemptive historical” context. We foreground the liturgical-cultural role of the book as “text” – its power as the conveyer of a certain communal identity. We explain how reading the text “canonically” or “Christologically” creates a new context for these old tales, such that dwelling on the constituency of manna or the logistics of the Levites’ slaughter of the calf-worshippers would be to miss the point (even if, in the end, we think we can explain such things).

I’m not saying that these reading strategies are bad. It may indeed be that the deeper significance of the frog plague was to diss the “frog god” (or whatever) – but let’s not forget the strangeness of the event which was the occasion for this theological lesson: a crazy amount of frogs.

I can deal with challenging or counterintuitive religious proposals – turning the other cheek is hard, but not incomprehensible – but imagining that the God to whom I pray is also the God who literally took the lives of those first-born children who were misfortunate enough to have been born to Egyptian parents around the time when Moses showed up – that’s a bit different.

Of course, there are answers. But let’s hold off on those for a moment. Let’s feel the discontinuities. Outside my window, cars are driving up and down the road, students are milling about, and it’s slightly drizzling. It’s the twenty-first century, and this is a fairly well-to-do Western nation. In the text in front of me, a god called Yahweh is somehow inscribing words onto stone tablets and urging people to resist the urge to cook goats in their mothers’ milk.

Weird.

 

Rob Bell is Totally a Liberal

In light of Albert Mohler’s recent claim that Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” is nothing but standard liberal Protestant fare, I decided to test this theory by a close reading of the offending monograph. Well, sad to say, Mohler’s claim has borne itself out – and in spades. Allow me to adduce some of the more damning evidence.

Just like Adolf von Harnack, Bell is concerned to portray his position as being within the stream of orthodoxy (x).

In typical Bultmannian fashion, he relies on grammatical-historical exegesis to make his theological points, assuming, for instance, that the religious meaning of certain Greek and Hebrew words can be established by appeal to their historical usage.

With the Jesus Seminar, he assumes that the historical Jesus is accurately reflected in the gospels, including John’s gospel.

Taking a cue from James Dunn, he presupposes that there is thematic continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

He believes in divine judgment (36-7) and affirms both personal and systemic sin (39, 78-9).

No doubt looking to score some points with the elites over at the Society of Biblical Literature, Bell affirms that the Apostle John wrote the fourth gospel, the book of Revelation, and 1 John (48, 109, 111, 132).

In a nod to those lovey-dovey feminists, he insists that the establishment of heaven includes a corresponding “No” of divine judgment (49) in what amounts to a literal and historical “day of the Lord” (47).

With John Dominic Crossan, he affirms that heaven is a real place, not merely a spiritual state or an ethical imperative (42).

He thinks that God’s love can be rejected, perhaps permanently (72, 113).

He believes that Paul wrote Philippians (99, 101), 1 Corinthians (61), and the pastoral epistles (89, 134) – hey, Robbie! 1850’s Tübingen called…they want their radical Pauline scholarship back!

In what I can only assume is a preview of his forthcoming Anchor Bible Commentary, he claims both that Isaiah is the author of deutero-Isaiah (98, 99) and that God spoke “through” him (101).

He believes that the apostle Peter wrote 2 Peter (69).

In a typically emergent maneuver, he affirms that hell is a state which obtains both pre- and post-mortem (79, 104).

Shamelessly applying his radically deconstructive hermeneutic, Bell claims that the first question which must be asked when interpreting John’s Apocalypse is: “How did the first readers…understand it?” (112).

His spineless liberal tendencies lead him to refuse to speculate as to whether or not all people will eventually be saved (115).

With Sallie McFague, he affirms that all the biblical metaphors for atonement are appropriate, including the sacral, forensic, and victorious models (127).

Echoing Schleiermacher’s famous rejection of the Chalcedonian definition, Bell claims that Jesus is “the divine in flesh and blood” (129).

Adding error upon error, Bell not only believes in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but exploits it to make even wackier claims about the goodness of creation (129-37).

Betraying his Kulturprotestantismus, he insists that the incarnation must be retained as an essential Christian belief despite its being regarded as too “mythic,” “premodern,” or “superstitious” for the modern world (146-7).

Following John Hick, he rejects pluralistic universalism, arguing instead that whatever redemption may be found in other religions must be interpreted christologically (155).

And lastly, he affirms that one’s goodness, rightness, or moral standing does not contribute in any way to one’s justification before God (187).

Of course, I could go on. Yet now, having seen the evidence, I ask you, gentle reader: what could possibly lead Bell to make all these claims if not his deep-seated liberal tendencies? Certainly, there is no other theological tradition which could resource such subversive material, right?

I rest my case.

The Internet: A Contrabulous Fabtraption

I have to say, I’m already overwhelmed by this blogging business. To this point, I have written nary a word, and yet this blog has already accumulated 130 views!

Well, to my many readers: I shall have a decent post up within a day or so. Looking forward to hearing your stern objections to my sundry idiosyncratic views.