Crucifying Transcendence and the Retreat into Pre-Christian Divinity

Dr Greg Boyd has been writing a fair amount on divine transcendence over at his blog ReKnew: “Rethinking Transcendence,” “Crucifying Transcendence,” and “The Starting Point for ‘Knowing God.’”  Following Harnack and Moltmann, Boyd posits conflict between Hellenistic and Hebraic conceptions of divinity. Whereas the Hellenistic conception “is arrived at by moving away from the contingent world,” the Hebraic conception is received by revelation, “as God moves toward, interacts with, and eventually unites himself to the contingent world in the person of Jesus Christ.” It’s a matter of starting points. If we begin our theological reflection with the incarnate Jesus Christ, “the One in whom God united himself to the world of contingent becoming,” it simply will not occur to us to think of transcendence as “the negation of contingency and becoming.”

To be more specific, if we resolve that all our reflections about God are to be anchored in the one in whom God became a man, would it ever occur to us to think that God’s essence is above time and devoid of becoming? If our thinking about God never veers from the one who was tortured and crucified at the hands of wicked agents, would it ever occur to us to imagine that God’s essence can’t be affected by anything outside of God? If our thinking about God remains steadfastly focused on the one who suffered a hellish death on the cross, would it ever occur to us to think that God’s essence never suffers? And if all our thinking is oriented around the crucified Christ, would it ever occur to us to imagine a God whose essence had no “before“ or “after” and whose essence had no potential to change, or to be affected? (“Crucifying Transcendence”)

The logic seems to be unimpeachable yet only apparently so. It is no doubt true that if we focus our vision exclusively on the suffering and dying Jesus of Nazareth, we will probably never discern or infer the divine immutability and impassibility … but neither will we achieve a patristic understanding of Incarnation and Holy Trinity! These doctrines presuppose the apprehension of noncontrastive transcendence that was worked out by the Church Fathers and medieval Doctors and articulated in the innovative teaching on the creatio ex nihilo. Boyd asks us to re-think divine transcendence through “the One in whom God united himself to the world of contingent becoming,” but what does that mean? What is a “God”? What is a “world of becoming,” and what is God’s relationship to it? How is it possible for “him” to unite himself to it without destroying it? One cannot begin to address these questions without engaging in, or at least presupposing, a goodly amount of metaphysical reflection.  The necessary metaphysics cannot be gleaned from a surface reading of the Bible. We can all agree with the proposition that Christian theology properly begins and ends with God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and yet question the various inferences drawn by Boyd regarding the nature of divinity.

Boyd’s summons to return to a first-century understanding of divinity, now commonplace in Protestant and evangelical theology, fails to grasp the critical need to distinguish God and the world.  The Christian theologians of the first through fifth centuries did not have the luxury of remaining within a “Hebraic” paradigm of deity. They needed to proclaim the God of Israel and his Christ to pagans who believed either in a pantheon of deities or in some kind of Platonic One from whom all other beings have emanated. Remaining at the level of the primitive Jewish grammar was simply not a missionary option. Before the Church could formulate her foundational doctrines of Trinity and Christology, she first needed to clarify her understanding of divine Creation and differentiate it from both Jewish and, more pressingly, pagan construals (see Paul Blowers, Drama of the Divine Economy; Kathryn Tanner, God and Creation in Christian Theology; and Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason).  Only when the radical, noncontrastive difference between Creator and cosmos is clearly discerned does it become possible to meaningfully articulate the trinitarian mystery of the Godhead or the inexpressible union between the transcendent Deity and the man Jesus of Nazareth or the nature of theosis and salvation. “The Christian understanding of God and the world,” writes Sokolowski, “is not an inert background for more controversial issues; it enters into their formulation and helps determine how they must be decided” (p. 34). We might even say that heresies are heretical because they obscure the properly Christian sense of God and the world. Hence the theological necessity of the creatio ex nihilo: it enables the Church to proclaim the living God as Creator and Savior and prevents her from importing into divinity the temporal and material structures of the world.

Boyd maintains that theological reflection must be steadfastly focused on the suffering and dying Jesus—sound theological counsel … if we have already metaphysically distinguished God and the world through the creatio ex nihilo. But if we have not done so, then simply gazing at the Cross only reveals a dead Nazarene. It certainly does not lead us to the remarkable Nicene/Chalcedonian confession that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with the Father, true God and true Man, “acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ.”

“If all our thinking is oriented around the crucified Christ,” asks Boyd, “would it ever occur to us to imagine a God whose essence had no ‘before’ or ‘after’ and whose essence had no potential to change, or to be affected?”  As we are hopefully beginning to see, the answer to this question is by no means obvious.

(Return to first article)

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41 Responses to Crucifying Transcendence and the Retreat into Pre-Christian Divinity

  1. brian says:

    Strong reflections, Father.

    This still, ultimately, comes down to what is not always the case, but typical of Protestantism — a polemical rejection of metaphysics as if it were the antithesis of the Gospel. Yet since metaphysics is unavoidable, this amounts to a covert acceptance of one metaphysics, unwittingly, whilst one tars the explicitly rejected “other” with anathemas. What usually happens nowadays is many modern, nominalist or at least post-Kantian assumptions are baked in. If one rejects Form as a dynamic, eternal richness that is the ground of temporal happening, one is likely to interpret impassibility as a sterile, ahistorical completeness far outside the drama of the Gospel.

    I might add that just this kind of divide explains Rahner’s complaint that Balthasar “knew too much.” Rahner implied that Balthasar’s theology was gnostic, because Rahner began with a Kantian epistemology. Balthasar, who began with poets, knew that Form reached beyond the phenomena, bore witness to eternal realities that were not circumscribed by the limits of natural science or a positivist grasp of revelation that limited our knowledge of God to merely historical data. (For an excellent exoneration of Balthasar against charges of gnosticism that lately have become rather common, I recommend Cyril O’Regan’s The Anatomy of Misremembering. In the same work, O’Regan indicates the importance of Bulgakov for Balthasar’s thinking. The general argument on the validity of Balthasar’s thought legitimates Bulgakov, in my opinion.)

    As long as I am rambling, I’ll add that as the Russian sophiologists insisted, Christian truth is paradoxical. I suspect Boyd is trying to comprehend theological truth through a Euclidean logic. It’s not going to work. Oddly, as Father’s reflections imply, he is actually in danger of subsuming divinity within the limits of creaturely experience.

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  2. Jonathan says:

    Boyd’s trying to do existentialism, he’s just not doing a very good job of it. I’m sympathetic to the project, because I think existentialism is a lot closer to cultural reality than most attempts to cling to or revivify pre-industrial metaphysics. One does not simply haul Aquinas out of the library and say “See, it’s not so bad, you can all go back to experiencing church as something other than awkward and pointless.” However, existentialism is a good place to start, it is not necessarily the whole story.

    I don’t know how Boyd would handle “Before Abraham was, I am” or “in my Father’s house are many mansions” or “Do this in remembrance of me” or really just about anything Jesus is supposed to have said — as opposed to what the did. In other words, a really hardcore reduction of Christian faith to fixation on the physical person of Jesus is only possible when you bracket language. Jesus of Nazareth was, among other things, someone who used language. As such he was inevitably transcendent — as are all of us language-bearers, even without knowing it. The sacramental quality of language is something we’re only just barely beginning to be able to understand and talk about (there’s an enormous amount of resistance), although there have been prehensions for millenia. I actually think the western church, in speaking of sacraments rather than mysteries, was onto something.

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    • Jonathan says:

      . . . sacramentum being an oath of allegiance, from sacro, sacrare — to declare, i.e. what is called performative speech or an “efficacious sign.”

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      • brian says:

        Jonathan, I think language is an incredibly rich topic. There’s a line of thought from Hamann to Rosenstock-Huessy that is worth investigating. John Betz’s After Enlightenment is an excellent study of Hamann, btw.

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        • Jonathan says:

          Oh, for sure Hamann is a guiding light for me. Heck, I pretty much can’t do philosophy that isn’t poetic, that isn’t aware of itself as language and the potency of the literary artifact. I only wish my German were more fluent so I could really appreciate Haman. I’ve hardly been able to come within three state lines of his work in English. Have not read Betz’ book, must add it to my ever more absurdly huge list.

          I would extend your line past ERH to George Steiner. But after him? . . . The deconstructionists, passé as they may now be, shoveled salt into that well and we have not yet dug another.

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  3. tgbelt says:

    Interestingly, Boyd is a staunch advocate of CEN and not for any reason he derives from a contemplation of the Cross as such. Instead, he has (what I agree are) good, purely philosophical reasons (not really different from the arguments classical theists have traditionally offered) for thinking God exists and has a number of characteristics which, he has argued philosophically, we ought to attribute to God, characteristics like necessary existence, knowledge, beauty, benevolence. He even argues, philosophically, that we should conclude that God is essentially relational (internally related in ways that constitute his being personal, benevolent, beautiful, self-sufficient, etc). Greg knows all this about God without even opening his Bible.

    So for all his emphasis upon the necessity of constructing one’s theology by never stepping outside of what’s observable in Christ on the Cross, his methodology in the end is fairly limited in its application even for Greg. The work Greg essentially wants his methodology to do relates to theodicy, as anyone familiar with Greg’s work and sermons knows. Theology has always been about theodicy for Greg. He expresses moral outrage at the idea that God would have a transcendentally full and joyous experience of himself on some level untouched by our pain.

    The question is—Where does Greg get this moral objection from? From what does it derive? Not from anything obviously true about Jesus suffering on the Cross, not even from our own experience of contentment and joy as instruments of healing. And yet this objection at the heart of Greg’s theodicy precedes and shapes his whole methodology which in the end is itself an act of interpretation (more than a methodology) that simply outlines antecedent convictions Greg has reached (on existential and other grounds) about what God has to be if we are to believe God loves and can heal us.

    We all agree God has revealed himself—personally, supremely, and finally—in Christ, that Christ is where we are to look. But this doesn’t itself tell us what to see. And it’s the how of ‘seeing’ that Greg’s methodology says nothing about. In this respect, I think Fr Aidan is right to locate Boyd’s mistake in his failure to work through the implications of CEN.

    Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I hate to show my ignorance but what is CEN?

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    • Jonathan says:

      I assume he gets the moral objection in the place most people find their morals, the surrounding culture. We think about suffering in a particular way which our ancestors before the late 17th century did not. Perhaps we also suffer in ways early- or premodern people did not. In any case, theodicy is a modern phenomenon. How far the Bible or classical metaphysics can assist the project I don’t know.

      Here is a serious question: What if theodicy doesn’t work? What becomes of faith in the time after theodicy has been tried and found wanting? How does he come to faith who must first have God justified?

      I honestly think theodicy is a misstep, and no coincidence that it becomes an obsession in the epoch of waning religious faith. But the theodicean impulse is ubiquitous, there’s no denying it. What does this say about us?

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      • tgbelt says:

        Thanks Jonathan. Really good comments and questions.

        I think there’s a fundamental concern/question (“theodicy” or not—I’m not sure) about evil and suffering that’s observable in ancient cultures. Some of that seems to be going on in Job for example. And the Christian story for centuries was aware enough to point out that evil has no place in God, is not intended by a benevolent God, and will eventually be no more. There’s something there. But things changed post-Enlightenment (the loss of transcendence?) as you say that certainly gave the question a new destructive force that made it impossible to contemplate those same questions in the context of older convictions re: transcendence.

        What would Greg do without the satisfaction his theodicy provides? It’s no secret. As he’s said, he’d be unable to believe. For Greg theodicy just is the gospel (“God is just and the justifier of the one who believes”) and the gospel (his particular, strong-passibilist understanding of it) is theodicy.

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        • Jonathan says:

          By theodicy I mean something like “Unless God is/does X, I cannot (or one ought not) in good conscience believe.” It’s one thing to lament one’s woes, quite another to put God on trial for them. If the Gospel works as theodicy for Boyd, good for him, I have no problem with another man’s faith. But the plain fact is that the Gospel, indeed the whole of the Bible, does not justify God in the eyes of most people. It has a tendency, these days, to do rather the opposite. . .

          The modern idea is that we ought not to suffer. The previous idea was that because we are fallen, of course we suffer, but in suffering we grow in Christ and transcend our fallen condition in a way more profound than we could even if we eliminated all suffering. Much was left unexplained in the old idea. The new idea didn’t explain any of the lacunae, it simply set up a completely different set of basic assumptions. Technological capacity has reinforced the new idea about suffering. We seem more like gods to ourselves. But of course when we don’t seem like gods, when the illusion collapses, our suffering is well nigh unendurable.

          It’s in all the old writing and art, what I’m saying. People endured most of the same problems we endure today: they knew pain and loss, frustration, tedium and injustice, and they struggled against these things. But when they could not overcome them, they were able to be resigned to suffering in a way that we are not. Deep down, the modern does not believe he is fallen, so his suffering can never make sense, it can never actually be suffering, but only failure. And God, to many a modern trying to believe in the theodicean way, does not look so much cruel as incompetent, or at any rate not omnipotent.

          So I spin it in my idiosyncratic way, but perhaps this makes no sense to others.

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          • tgbelt says:

            Makes sense. 😀

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          • brian says:

            Very sound, thinking. This shows that the acceptance of Fallenness is actually liberating, healing, and something that makes possible a courageous patience, not a form of moralizing masochism, which is how a modern is likely to see any discussion of sin or human brokenness.

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  4. Johnny Walker says:

    Well put. Folks are right to say that, unfortunately, this impulse to purge the gospel of Hellenistic metaphysics has swoon much of Protestant theology – happily though not all of it! There is something extremely disconcerting about the sloppiness of much of this allegedly Jesus-centered thinking, taking all its cues from the incarnate one, so it claims. In most cases I’d venture there is inadequate care given to actually understanding what the chalcedonian account of Christ actually entails. Indeed, I wonder whether such ‘post-metaphysical’ doctrines of God will even be able maintain Chalcedon (or have a need to). In other words, is there a certain metaphysics (namely, the Patristic consensus) underlying Chalcedon that it can’t ultimately do without?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      “Is there a certain metaphysics (namely, the Patristic consensus) underlying Chalcedon that it can’t ultimately do without?”

      That is the question, I think, which is why I keep coming back to the creatio ex nihilo. Sokolowski is so helpful here. I cannot commend his little book The God of Faith and Reason enthusiastically enough. I was because of that little book, which I read years ago, that compelled me to begin questioning some of the anti-Hellenism that I had learned from Jenson.

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  5. Grant says:

    I can agree with a lot above and that reflections within Hellenistic (since that was quickly the culture intellectual and otherwise a significant majority of Christians soon belonged to) lead to significant realizations/developments of thinking about God and clarifying understanding.

    But I don’t agree that Jewish theology was primitive by any means, and that seems to me as great a misconception as Boyd’s ideas are in putting Hebriac and Hellenic thought into a false conflict. While I think 2nd Temple theology emerges through narrative rather then philosophical treatises (so not perhaps ironically being used to thinking in that manner) and the fact the points and ideas come out in ways we are now unfamiliar with and find somewhat foreign, coming where we don’t expect it and connected to contexts we no longer think related to such thinking, we don’t see it.

    But I don’t agree that Jewish 2nd Temple theology was primitive compared to the surrounding Hellenic philosophies and thought of the time, so while I generally agree with your post and agree Boyd is mistaken here (which is a shame in a way, his ideas seem driven by a genuine vision of love he has, so it is a mistake but at least one motivated by the right reasons and he gets things right in some other areas) that point I disagree on.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Grant, you make a good point (though I think you may be reading more into my use of “primitive” than I intended), and I’d love to see you or someone elaborate on the metaphysics of 2nd Temple Judaism. If the gospel had never moved out of Judea, perhaps it might have been possible for Christian theology to have remained within its narrative-mythological construct. But even then I’m not sure.

      But I seriously doubt that it was possible to do so once preachers and theologians sought to think God within purely Hellenistic contexts. The danger of assimilation to the Greek apprehension of graded divinity was too great. For this same reason I do not think it is possible for us to “return” to the metaphysics of the Bible, as if the Christian apprehension of God and gospel and had not already been decisively shaped by the formative theological and philosophical work accomplished in the first millennium. Does that make sense?

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      • brian says:

        I think we should expect that the Gospel in its richness embraces all the insight of human history, from prehistoric cultures that no doubt leave traces that are part of our human heritage to all the various forms of experience in antiquity through our current age — and into however much future is part of human destiny. Even our errors are instructive and often indicate areas insufficiently explored by previous ages. It’s a mistake to limit the capacity of any time and place to be remade in Christ. I surmise the Hellenic philosophy of late antiquity was providentially in place for patristic reflection and creative adaptation, just as the narrative, sapiential, and prophetic experience of Israel provided the impetus of various constitutive elements that prepared for the advent of our Lord.

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        • danaamesd says:

          And from what I understand, the Greek language has flexibility that Hebrew does not when it comes to expressing what humans can say about who God is and what God is up to, in answer to the questions that came up in the Hellenistic world. I had not heard of Hamann before, but as someone who has studied a foreign language to fluency, I’d sure be open to what he seems to have believed about language and reason.

          Too many good books, too little time….

          Dana

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    • Dante Aligheri says:

      This is an interesting point. One is the multiplicity of Judaisms in the first century, including Philo’s which was a Platonic take on traditional Priestly Jewish theology. I’m not certain that purely Jewish concepts alone would get us to a classically theist position. God, at least in the Priestly and Enochic mind, did still have a corporeal form and substance – albeit one beyond our comprehension, all human analogies, and infinitely huge. The divine substance was unique, like a kind of molten fire (hasmal, reminiscent of molten copper, which had solar connotations) which could not be seen even by the angels, inducing an almost eu-Lovecraftian experience in Enoch when he is translated into the heavens. There’s a Jewish story, I forget from where, where a student of the Tanakh is incinerated when he realizes what that substance is. At least one scholar that I’m aware of, Israeli historian of science Nissim Amzallag, has suggested that this sharp, transcendent distinction between the uncreated God and created things from earliest times derives from YHWH’s association with the fires of the ancient copper smelting furnace, even before Yahwism was introduced from among Midianites and Edomites located in Arabia into Israel via Moses, so that there is a ontological wedge between the furnace and the metallic objects that derive from its creative, molten fires. On the other hand, some 1st century apocryphal writings like the Apocalypse of Abraham took the motif of transcendence to its logical end and denied God any visible corporeal form except for streams of shapeless fire and voices, as if God’s body was literally an aural manifestation of the Divine Name. Andrei Orlov suggested that the Gospel of John, with its emphasis on the Word as the medium of revelation, was picking on that auditory theophany stream of thought. But I don’t think, except for Philo, antique Jews generally believed divine corporeality was deficient from the Eternal because they lacked the idea of Platonic forms so long as God’s corporeality was unknowable (although that did not mean always invisible, just perilous) and unique. Jewish apocrypha also acknowledged that God comprehended all things past, present, and future which lay unfolded before his mind like the veil of the Holy of Holies. While God’s perception of time (a thousand years is like a day) might have been seen as different and omniscient, I am not sure we could read an eternal now into Judaism. I think we could reasonably assign absolute transcendence and singularity, incomprehensibility, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence – but not simplicity, incorporeality (usually), or aseity. For those, we need Hellenistic thought. That being said, the trickiest area would be the hypostatic union, which is probably why N.T. Wright or Richard Bauckham, as much as they does an excellent job identifying how Jesus was identified with the One God of Israel, does not parse it much. Others, like Crispin Fletcher-Louis, have seen the angelic mediators like Enoch or Metatron as part of the mold, but, Christologically, it comes off like Arianism. More convincingly, there is Wisdom but also the hypostatic Name concept, which is sometimes made into a divine, though angel-like figure named Yahoel in the Apocalypse of Abraham. And Andrei Orlov, who has done some great stuff on Jewish apocalypses and how they debated about divine corporeality (as well as the many Jewish precedents for theosis with April de Conick), has suggested very recently the uncreated, demiurgic hypostasis Adoil (“Hand of God”), which is very much like Wisdom, as the closest analogue to John’s Logos in Enochic literature. While I agree Second Temple Judaism is readily both the source and is consonant with the doctrines of the Councils, I don’t think there’s necessarily a clean and mutually intelligible transfer of, as Father said, metaphysics. And, in the long run, while I love narrative theology and post-historical criticism stuff, the Hellenistic systematic theology proved an invaluable and providential.

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      • brian says:

        Dante,

        Well, that’s a lot of learning compactly presented. I tend to agree with you that one needs the Greek philosophical impulse to help articulate a proper Christology and to point towards Triune Mystery. For certain, you properly indicate the many strands of diverse experience that make up the tapestry of Jewish theological thought. Crispin Fletcher-Louis has a nice monograph about Sirach and the melding of priestly Temple theology and Hellenic wisdom. I suppose you have read Margaret Barker — some intriguing material, though my sense is she is idiosyncratic in some ways that make me uneasy about her. (I am not a specialist in all this, so I have to make do with spidey-senses.) I haven’t read Andei Orlov . . . guess I’ll add him to the list (sigh).

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Love your comment, Dana. Thanks.

        It’s fun to wonder what Christianity would have come to look like if it had remained a Jewish sect. Would it have been content to remain within the symbolic categories of 2nd Temple Judaism? I suspect that at some point the need to justify the worship and adoration of the risen Jesus might still have compelled Christians to clarify the identity of Jesus and his ontological relationship to the Father. I suspect and speculate. 🙂

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  6. Jonathan says:

    I sometimes have this idea that metaphysics, as we call it now, is an Indo-European phenomenon. It must have something originally to do with language. Look at who, historically, invented metaphysics: Greeks and Hindus. DBH’s corollary terms in The Experience of God are from the Vedantic tradition, not from the Chinese or the Hebrew. So-called classical theism is really maybe more like Indo-European theism. Has anybody written on this?

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  7. This is somewhat of a tangent but anything “Boyd” I tend to jump at. So, after reading his three sequential ReKnew blogs on “Transcendence” linked here, I feel somewhat duty-bound to respond being that I’m a fairly active “Podrishioner” at WHC. As we know, Greg has a propensity to – σκληρόν σοι πρὸς κέντρα [λακτίζειν] – Acts 26:14 Both spiritually and metaphorically in the vernacular – Ha! If he were too genteel in his assertions, he wouldn’t stir up enough dust to get into the eyes of those whom he thinks, believe that they see more clearly. I’m a bit of a neophyte here and trailing in my theological discernment and knowledge, compared to that of many others who frequently comment, but nevertheless, I can smell where this might be headed in a limited fashion. But I know I should look before a leap!

    On one hand, I’m fully onboard with Greg’s statements concerning that God’s perfected loving revelation of himself be synonymously apex with Calvary. This goes without question for terrestrial creatures, but I see it potentially as being more “Nader” it’s it character, than actually “Zenith”. In Matthew 6:9 Jesus is laying out the Pater Noster, the base mode of conveyance and transference from which we are to operate – “Our Father which art in Heaven….” We should pray [through] The Cross, not [to] The Cross; which seems to be where a hyper-cruciform faith that starts to subjugate transcendent Deity for a more accessibly personal and humanized redeemer, cast in our own emotional mold, seems to point. Has he forgotten Isaiah 40:18-31? Of course not!

    But why can’t it be both ways?

    He says – “And would it ever occur to anyone to imagine that God is “above” being affected by others and “above” experiencing passionate emotions or suffering if their thinking about God was consistently oriented around the one who suffered humiliation and death at the hands of wicked humans and fallen powers? [I, for one, do not see how.] The revelation of God on the cross runs directly counter to the divine attributes of the classical philosophical conception of God.”

    Why can’t my actions be appropriately cruciform towards others [within the contingent world] but yet my adoration and worship be transcendent [Hellenic] and in awe of His majesty beyond anything physically discernable? God didn’t say to Moses “It’s ok if you look me straight in the face; after all; I’m going to die for you”. The two modes of worship aren’t distinct or mutually exclusive but rather complement each other. Why can’t my “Sanctification” equal my “Theosis”?

    Sure, the OT Hebraic drive towards relational corporal revelation in the NT incarnation is THE fully human & divine vehicle that will carry our sin and conquers our death – but to what end? – hopefully to restore us to The Father. We then can enter into the “eternal dance” of love, fully and corporally via the Resurrection in the ultimate “Parousia” in the New Heavens and New Earth.

    I get the sense that these essays by Greg seem to be set up in such a way as to reinforce the “Open Theism view” and attempt move away from what Open Theists view as the clichéd vision [of non-believers] of a distant punishing father who is immutably disconnected from his creation due to his omniscience and impassivity. Through certain comments made in the past, Greg would seem to have had somewhat of a bone to pick with hard line penal-substitution Calvinists who see “The Cross” more as an exercise of quelling the Father’s “wrath”, than an act of self-sacrificial love. I think he’s derogatorily linking Neo-Platonist / Hellenic philosophy as somehow propping up that lopsided view (in his opinion) through church history. God, as he is understood in the “Open view”, must be influenced and affected by others or the whole enterprise collapses. So, casting Patristic Theology as being pro-Hellenic and fixated on the “Omnies”, rather than celebrating and absorbing spiritually the corporal contingency of God on The Cross, gives credence to a greater emphasis on a mode of worship that is less concerned with Liturgy, the Eucharist, Espicopation, Adherence to Creedal doctrines, Theotokos and Apostolic traditions – in fact, it sets itself up intentionally as being juxtaposed to those modes of faith that many there would consider in their minds to be “archaic” – this mindset is incredibly arrogant actually and even quite hurtful. These things are never said but rather they are implied or inferred through bombastic positions on theological matters.

    Woodland Hills Church is an amazing place with Love literally oozing out their doors – I’ve been there, worshipped, met Greg and prayed with them – they’re a beautiful and dynamic Christ centered community of people reaching out to the world with cross-centered love & hope. But when it comes to celebratory praise, one wonders what would be their response to let’s say “Jesu Dulcis Memoria”, “Asperges me Domine” or “Ave Mundi Spes Maria” being sung as an open set to a service (?)

    In his third installment – “The Starting Point for “Knowing God”, I think he brings it back to center by focusing on the ”Wholly Other” where God is – “most profoundly revealed precisely when [He] stoops an infinite distance to come most close to us, diving not only into our humanity, but also into our sin and our curse.”

    But just earlier though he mentioned this supposed “wedge” between the divinity and humanity of Christ that some might attempt to insert exposing an allegiance to a concept of divine transcendence that is derived from a source outside the crucified Christ. Even if this were the case; Is it a crime? – as long as it points to Glory of God, then what’s the big deal? One could argue that all of “Nature” itself is a refection of the Divine – do we cut the whole of the world and its ideas out as being inadequate to explain the transcendent moment of Crucifixion? Again, look at the Transfiguration and how the Divine Transcendence is glorified in that moment but yet Jesus instantaneously morphs back into our fellow sojourner, wrestling with our pains, hopes and fears. What a beautiful picture, what a beautiful reality!

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    • tgbelt says:

      David P,

      I know Greg fairly well and consider him a friend. Worked with him on a couple of small writing projects, have spent hours at his place discussing life/theology/family, constant emails on important topics, etc. So I’m very familiar with his views. But I don’t want to make this about Greg as a person. I agree that he passionately loves God and people, and he’s had moments of brilliant insight. Other moments—not so brilliant. 😀 More broadly speaking, though, I think open theism suffers from the same failure to appreciate and articulate a vision of divine transcendence that Protestants generally suffer from. Transcendence simply isn’t something open theists have talked about unless they’re pointing out what they feel are the failures of traditional/classical theism. And I say this as someone who shares the open theist’s view of divine knowledge regarding the indeterminate future.

      Tom

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      • Tom,

        Thanks for the great response! I would assume such that you’re familiar with Greg given your theological gravitas! I hope I didn’t come across too critical or irksome – I have tremendous respect for the man and all that he & WHC do. Have you seen him “drumming” at one of his gigs? Holy Smokes!!! If you think some of his messages are intense – WOW – Ha! Yea, the guy is easily three stratospheres higher than where I’m at (or will ever be) theologically, so it’s very pretentious of me to even attempt to be insightful here, but I absolutely get enthralled by some of the questions he poses – always challenging and scripturally provocative in a healthy sense! As an Expat American growing up, I spent copious amount of time in rural Italy, so although I see myself as a “fringe” Evangelical, I definitely have Roman Catholic sensibilities. Why I haven’t gone Orthodox as of yet, is anyone’s guess?

        I like the “Open View” as well and I have been trying to understand how it could potentially be integrated smoothly into Universalism – now there’s an easy one on the train to work – Ha! I’m about a quarter of the way into Tom Oord’s “Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science” but at same time, can’t seem to put down David Burnfield’s “Patristic Universalism: An Alternative to the Traditional View of Divine Judgment”. Sometimes it feels like the “Divine Snipe Hunt”.

        I want you to know how incredibly intense and helpful the discussion was here on Ben Myers’ LATC Presentation on the Atonement. You, Jonathan, Bowman Walton and others really up the ante theologically & philosophically, that at times, it’s hard to keep up – …..well, most of the time – Ha!

        Cheers!

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    • tgbelt says:

      Also very interesting is Greg’s thesis in a much earlier work (Trinity and Process, 1992) at a time when Greg saw that CEN and transcendence (even if not qualified in all the classical ways) were related necessarily, that you can’t really have one without the other. At that time you have him saying ‘orthodox-like’ things such as (all of which he dismisses today):

      “God’s essential and necessary existence is…defined by the unsurpassable intensity of aesthetic enjoyment which characterizes the triune sociality of God.” (“Aesthetic satisfaction/enjoyment” = “Beatitude.”)

      “God experiences Godself with an intensity which can under no circumstances conceivably be improved upon.”

      “…we are most fundamentally defining God’s transcendence in terms of God’s aesthetic satisfaction” which is “neither increased nor diminished by the contingent and temporal affairs of the world.” (DBH’s equating transcendence with apatheia comes to mind.)

      I believe Fr Aidan has an interest in, and a few posts on, Moltmann, from whose Christology and view of the Cross Greg’s present views cannot be distinguished, quite contrary to Greg’s earlier (1992) opinion of Moltmann:

      “The metaphysical necessity of God’s self-relationality means, I believe, that it is not possible to conceive of the death of the Son as anything other than an expression of the intense love of God’s inner life. This paradox shall be discussed shortly, but it presently needs to be said that this means that all talk about a “breakdown of the relationship that constitutes the very life of the Trinity” such as we find (for example) in Moltmann is, if taken literally, strictly impossible.”

      Greg is today on record as insisting upon this very breakdown in the very life of the Trinity (i.e., the cessation of God’s experienced oneness). I think that’s the point of interest regarding transcendence that Fr Aidan is getting at.

      Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dave, given that Tom knows all things Greg Boyd, I won’t jump into your conversation with him; but I would like to add the following: critique, even strong critique, does not mean disrespect. While I do not often comment on other people’s blogs, when I do, I do so because I believe that the person’s articles are worth commenting upon. I have never read any of Greg’s books. I only became aware of him and his blog thanks to Tom Belt. I enjoy his blog because he does theology from the viewpoint of a preacher. But that kind of theologizing also has its weaknesses, weaknesses that I think are apparent in his recent postings on divine transcendence.

      You and Tom are probably the only two Boyd readers who read my blog. That’s okay, because Boyd is presenting positions that have been influentially advanced by Jurgen Moltmann, who curiously seems to be enjoying a renaissance among evangelicals. So for me to comment on Boyd is really for me to comment on Moltmann—which is fair neither to Boyd or Moltmann, but what the heck. “Dammit, Jim, I’m a blogger, not a theologian.” (I need to put that on a t-shirt or something—my new motto!)

      I hope my handful of articles on Boyd have been respectful, even while vigorously disagreeing with his positions. Of course, I have a tiny audience compared to Boyd’s, and I’m sure he doesn’t know me from Adam. 🙂

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      • tgbelt says:

        Fr Aidan: …given that Tom knows all things Greg Boyd.

        Tom: So true. 😛

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      • “I’m sure he doesn’t know me from Adam.”
        Seriously though, he should!
        I think he actually might reconsider his “annihilationist” leanings after some ardent and introspective discourse on the subject….hummmmm, Nahaaa. Recently in a WHC message on the topic he said something to the effect – “….And I sure hope they’re right”, in reference to those who hold to a Universalist hope. But then, he went on to suggest that people should read Edward Fudge – “The Fire That Consumes” – nice guy – great read but I still rather pitch my tent at Camp Apocatastasis!

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  8. At the moment, I happen to be at a point in a rather lengthy research project that, at present, involves going through all the texts of the Octoechos* looking at the different ways they speak about the flesh and the body. The texts I have on the screen in front of me at this very moment are on the subject of the paradox of how Christ, unchanging in his divinity, suffers in the flesh.

    Here they are, for those who are interested:

    • You are the changeless God, who, suffering in the flesh, were changed. Creation could not endure seeing You on the Cross. It was filled with fear while praising Your patience. By descending to Hades, and rising on the third day, You have granted to the world life, and great mercy. (Third sticheron at the Aposticha, Saturday Vespers, Tone 3)

    • Hades was dismayed, seeing Your divinity unchanged, O Lord, while beholding Your voluntary passion. It mourned, and said: I tremble before the flesh of the incorruptible person. I see Him who cannot be seen mysteriously fighting me, while those I hold in my power are crying out: Glory, O Lord, to Your resurrection. (First sticheron of the second Kathisma Hymn, Sunday Orthros, Tone 3)

    • Stop your mouths, all you whose minds have gone astray, attributing suffering to divinity. For we magnify the Lord of glory, crucified in the flesh, but not crucified in His Divine Nature, for He is one Person in two natures. (First troparion of Ode 9, First Canon at Sunday Orthros, Tone 7)

    • O Word of God: by Your divine nature You are simple and unoriginate, yet You made Yourself of dual nature by assuming flesh. You suffered as a man, but remained beyond suffering as God. Therefore we magnify You in Your two natures without division or confusion. (First troparion of Ode 9, First Canon at Sunday Orthros, Tone 8)

    It rather seems to me that we often go about these discussions the wrong way ’round. At least for those of us who are members of the Orthodox tradition, one could go so far as to say that the writings of the fathers are not wholly needed. All the elements of historical, literary, and cultural context that can make reading the fathers such a laborious effort – especially since many of the key patristic text are doing groundbreaking theological work, written as part of the process of creating the technical theological language we now use to talk about things like the Hypostatic Union and Divine Impassibility – is largely unnecessary, for pretty much everything they ever said that was worth remembering has been put into Byzantine hymnography. The service books are pretty much a complete, though blessedly unsystematic, manual of Chalcedonian Catholic theology, as seen through the lens of the Cappadocian Fathers and their disciples.

    *In western terms, these volumes are part of the Byzantine Christian liturgical tradition, being an 8-week cycle of daily propers for Ordinary Time.

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