Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Theological Lightbulb!

This correlation, if true, has no doubt been held and explained far more profoundly and accurately than I (a querelous little brat) could ever dream of doing. Nevertheless, I am excited at having made this particular revelation personal:

The correlaton is between Arianism and the dignity of nature. Clearly, if Jesus was (is) not God but a lesser, created being... how far of a stretch is it to proceed from this presupposition to the assumption of a natural dignity bestowed on the creature, unhampered (though perhaps weakened or neutralized for a time by the fall)? Especially in light of Jesus' incarnation (seen from the Arian standpoint) may we not begin to assume that all of the great and magnificent things done by this Christ are examples of the universal human possibility; albeit in the clearest and most honorable light as compared with all other men? And is it not the case, then, that the focus of Christ's redemptive activity is not in the mere forgiveness of sins or justification of the wicked sinner by grace, but in his exemplary instruction (no doubt still through his vicarious suffering) to humanity through word and deed, in his pedagogical revealing of the potency of humans to do good of themselves, or perhaps in tandem with the power of God? Perhaps, at the end of the dogmatic reflection, Jesus saves men by teaching them to save themselves?

Historical thesis: It is necessary that the heresy of Arianism precede and pave in definite and decisive forms the way for the later heresy of Pelagianism.

My correlative discovery should not be immediately applied sweepingly to all Arians. In historical reflection I wish as much as possible to treat individuals (even Arian individuals) as individuals, rather than guilty on all points by association with certain schools of thought. But if I apply my thesis to the immediate materials of knowledge available to me, I find some intriguing results:

1. The cult of the Jehovah's Witnesses, which has consistently indoctrinated an Arian christology, also lacks any satisfactory knowledge of justification by pure grace apart from works.

2. The same holds for Mormonism.

3. John Howard Yoder's Politics of Jesus, which very subtly places the doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation in the background in light of the importance of Jesus' ethical significance, is also smattered from cover to cover with clear statements of justification by the good works of disciples of Jesus (note particularly his chapter titled Justification by grace through faith, where he literally morphs the word "faith" into "faithfulness" and removes any forensic significance of justification in favor of a concrete social event).

4. N.T. Wright's questionable christology, wherein the human Jesus of history is relatively ignorant of his own Godhead and can only perceive a vocation laid on him which abstractly and nebulously presupposes divinity (cf. the christological chapters of his Simply Christian), would here be fittingly related to his idea that we are justified both by Jesus' faithfulness to God AND the concrete fulfilling of the law in the lives of the believers.

More to come, no doubt! I have certainly uncovered similar trends in Bishop John A.T. Robinson, but right now I am most curious about the work of James Dunn. He has already stated his position as monotheistic (by which he means that there is only God the Father; which is certainly a false monotheism inasmuch as it denies scriptural revelation), but he has also called the doctrine of sola fide a genuine "litmus test" against all bad theology. Given the fact that he hasn't read squat from the Reformation, my suspicion is that his sola fide may turn out to be perfectly commensurate with works-righteousness (hints in this direction being his complete disinterest in a vertical view of Paul's written subject matter, in favor of its social implications).


Theophilus said...

I see your rather astute observation and raise you one further: that the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) flows from Arian and Pelagian thought. PSA claims that it was Jesus' human merit, that is, sinlessness, that earned him credit with the Father to redeem unmeritous humanity. The more ancient Christus victor model asserts that Christ's divinity was also essential for salvation, because only God has the power and authority to forgive sins and give life.

Emerson Fast said...

Hey Theo,

I really cannot speak all that credibly in defense of PSA because, as it has thus far been defined to me, I cannot hold to it in good conscience.

My main reason is that I am yet to come across a version of PSA that does not assume some super-human feat of ability to sustain the entire wrath of God for all of the sins ever committed in one (human) act. Christ was crucified in weakness, not in power. The forms of PSA I have been exposed to could indeed point in the direction you suggest, but I see them pointing equally clearly in the direction of docetism. No human could bear this much punishment without literally imploding. And if we say that Jesus suffered the totality of God's wrath under the premise of his divine strength, we admit that divinity is capable of being punished and made to feel torment (which is rightly held to be absurd).....

This being said, scripture compels me to see some form of punishment (with vicarious significance) in the crucifixion of Jesus....some form of significan exposure to God's wrath and abandonment.

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us."

The language Paul uses here immediately calls us back to the blessings and cuses text of Deuteronomy, as you no doubt know, and thus into the world of the Israelitic Hrm, the act of being devoted unto the Lord for destruction, the punishment laid on Jericho and subsequently on Achan.

Theophilus said...

You're right that penal and substitutionary language are present in the Scriptures, and ought not to be discounted. I raise the point mostly in light of certain voices within the Mennonite Brethren tradition that have been insisting that PSA is the only appropriat way of understanding the atonement, rather than acknowledging a wide breadth of Biblical images, each of which are individually inadequate but, in the aggregate, are sufficient for faith.

Emerson Fast said...


I seem to remember reading some comments you had made on this post Theo, and I seem to recall responding to them. Not sure what has happened here.

If you have not indeed seen my response pop up from your end, here is the gist of it: Your reflections on PSA could hold alot of weight. I myself am troubled by the presentations I have seen of the doctrine (not the infantile whining against "cosmic child abuse"). There seem to be docetic implications lying just under the surface of a fully human Jesus taking on the utmost extent of the wrath of God for ALL the sins ever committed by humans. Such is not humanly possible, and if appeals to Divinity are made at this point, the PSA defender basically admits that Divinity is capable of suffering torment...which is absurd.

Emerson Fast said...

That being said,

I believe that it is the scriptural view that Jesus was (in some sense which remains mysterious to me) subject to the judicial wrath of God in a vicarious manner, AND in a manner which SATISFIED the divine justice. Recall the text in Galatians which says that Christ became "a curse for us." The curse of the law was hung over his shoulders. Keeping in mind the deuteronomic text which Paul alludes to here, we must see in the death of Christ a form of the OT "hrm," being devoted irrevocably to the LORD for destruction.

Richy said...

A marvelously valuable hunch that you seem to have there Marc. I have yet to see a writer who gives a prominent place to God's grace, who also has issues with the Trinity.

Glad to be learning with you; I look forward to seeing more related discoveries.

Enjoy your time in Mexico!


Emerson Fast said...

I hear you Theo,

There is quite a rich diversity of themes and leitmotifs centering around the atonement. Perhaps there are some that await uncovering! Maybe we are being pulled into an age where vast and jagged contradictions will be exposed between each theme. Perhaps we are entering a converse era of one brilliant and profound synthesis! Who can tell? I can't!

As for our MB brothers who are dogmatically insisting on PSA alone...we'll have to give them an attentive hearing (the same for those who insist on a moral exemplar alone). I would be intrigued to hear their reasons.