‘…what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized,and directed by the Spirit, is to build *for* the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord *is not in vain*. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are – strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of His creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.’ (N.T. Wright, ‘Surprised by Hope’, p. 208)
The term ‘Christ centered’ gets thrown around a lot in reference to the Bible – a Christ-centered hermeneutic, a Christ-centered exegesis, Christ-centered interpretation, etc. But this seems to be one of those things that, upon close inspection, isn’t't as clear cut in meaning as is supposed. What does ‘Christ-centered’ actually mean? Does it mean that every word of Scripture is actually about Jesus? Every story, every narrative, every page of Scripture, has Jesus as its subject and object? What does Christ-centered actually mean?
Well, taken at face value, it could mean a reading of Scripture which aims to ‘see’ Christ in all of the Bible. There are multitudes of books, devotionals, exegetical manuals, etc, which broadly have this goal – see Christ on every page. But this has some complications, because, obviously enough, Jesus isn’t the immediate objector subject of a lot of biblical stories. The story about Achan is (duh) about Achan. The story of Esther is about Esther, etc etc. So, (again) obviously enough, if Christ is supposed to be seen on every page, then there has to be more to the method than simply saying ‘that story is about Jesus.’
A common technique is typology, or foreshadowing, or whatever you like to call it. Something is a type of Christ if it foreshadows an aspect of His person, life and work. A good example of this would be Mechelzidek, or the Levitical sacrificial system (one can reference the book of Hebrews for this). These things are types of Christ in that they point to what is accomplished by Christ.
Now, here’s a few things I notice about that: the significance of that which is the type is intelligible only by virtue of what it points to (comparisons can be made with a realist interpretation of language). Types are pointers to a greater reality. I also notice that it devalues the type, or the sign – the real significance isn’t the sign but that to which it points. This makes it very easy to simply assign the role of type to something and by doing so assign it value only as a type or sign rather than it having significance in itself. To put it another way: it becomes very easy to look a X and say, ‘Oh, X is a type of Christ. Next!’
Continuing along that route: typology can become quite ridiculous – think of the medieval obsession with paralleling every part of the Ark narrative to some aspect of Christ’s person, work and life. Now that’s not a cheap sideshot, just an observation.
So the point so far is that in saying that one has to see Jesus on every page, one is basically committing to moving beyond the immediate subject/object of the text and engaging in typology, or metaphor, or what have you. So the text isn’t ‘about’ Jesus in the strict sense – it points beyond itself, by way of typology or metaphor, to Jesus.
Now that isn’t really too controversial as it stands, but I’m not so sure that Jesus is literally the subject of every aspect of Scripture. I don’t personally think every story s meant to foreshadow or be a type of Christ, and I think sustained attempts to make that so border of flights of fancy because Jesus isn’t, strictly speaking, the center of every aspect of the Biblical text but rather the goal of the text as a whole.
Put another way: not every word of the Bible has to have Jesus as its immediate object and subject, though the Truth of the Scriptures is, obviously, Jesus. Scripture as a whole has Jesus as its telos – but not every word of Scripture is necessarily about Jesus in the sense that if we look hard enough at every page, or engage in typology/metaphor, Jesus will emerge. Typology is obviously great, and biblical – one can find types of Christ all over (again, Leviticus/Hebrews is a good place to start). But I remain unconvinced that every story, or every page, of Scripture has Jesus as its object and subject, though Scripture’s telos and goal is, in fact, Christ, the Word of God, the Truth of the Scriptures, to which the Scriptures bear witness.
Postscript: the telos of Scripture has to be understood in the context of Israel, exile, restoration, etc, because that’s the overarching narrative of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go into too much depth there.
I’ve been rolling things around my head about perception – it’s a fairly interesting topic.
- What’s a good definition of perception? I’ll start with: to be aware of something in a way that establishes some kind of relation between the perceiving agent and the perceived object. Broad and vague enough?
- Not being a materialist, I’m fine with thinking of God in terms of perception. Torrance makes a good analogy:
‘What is meant here by ‘empirical’ is not just that which is sensible and tangible so much as the experienced imperceptible and intangible. For an analogy taken from natural science which may be helpful, reference may be made to the spacetime structure of the metrical field, which is inherently invisible or unobservable but which is nevertheless regulative of all our creaturely and phenomenal experience.’ (‘Reality and Evangelical Theology’, p. 39)
- So perception is empirical, in the sense of being an aspect of our conscious experience, but it’s not limited to the sensible only.
- Things that puzzled some philosophers, like distance (Berkely) can be seen as our perception of a kind of ontological relation (maybe). Distance isn’t a thing out there that we see – I don’t see a tree, and another tree, and then a third thing called distance – but I’m aware (I perceive) the distance between the two trees as an aspect of their relation. It is real, but it’s not a real ‘thing’. Perhaps an example from particle physics, where the relations are as important as the actual particles themselves.
Barth and Torrance put a lot of effort into attacking a priori knowledge of God and establishing knowledge of God grounded in Christian experience as the dominant form of knowing God – basically, kataphatic instead of apophatic, positive over negative. Apophatic theology is seen as a form of knowledge of God grounded not in God’s self-revelation but in our conceptual schemes – we cannot say what God is, only what He is not. Torrance and Barth didn’t like this (Barth sides with Barlaam in the ‘Dogmatics’).
A big motivation here was the (in)famous point of contact – which Barth and Torrance denied quite vehemently. True knowledge of God doesn’t arise out of our own abstract speculations about God apart from His revelation – it only comes about as a result of His revelation. God not only gives knowledge of Himself out of Himself, He creates the condition necessary for knowledge of Himself.
That the heart is turned inward upon itself was and is a key point in the theology of the Reformation, and one with which I find myself in full agreement. The Truth must come from outside of man as well as the necessary condition for receiving and continuing on in the knowledge of the truth, and this means that the Teacher must also be a Healer.
The inward turning of the heart means that there is no ‘natural’ point of contact in man then. Apart from the healing which comes from without, the darkening of man’s heart by sin distorts the light of natural revelation (which is seen, distorted though it may be, in things such as broad shared moral principles common to all cultures) and leads to death.
The basic point that Barth and Torrance made, without going into the very dense language used by both of them, is that knowledge of God can only come from God in his own self-communication and self-revelation in Jesus Christ – there is no abstract knowledge of God apart from his self-revelation in Christ.
I’ve harped on somewhat regularly about how I don’t think that thought/belief/thinking can be seen as an abstract over-against kind of thing. If Polanyi has taught me one thing and one thing only, it’s that all knowledge and belief is personal knowledge and belief. Knowledge is always had by a person; belief is always believed by a person. Belief always has an element of personal commitment (for the most part – I think you could argue that some belief just happens). To refer to Polanyi again, even strict formal logic has an element of the personal.
Went through more of ‘Personal Knowledge’ this morning. Got to a brilliant part where Polyani gets into the personal aspect of analytic logic – his example, ‘p is true’, upon his closer inspection, to be just as personal a truth as anything. I found that to be absolutely fascinating.
Been going through a bit of Hume and Reid – Hume is an interesting critical philosopher, but the ideas he offers up aren’t so strong. Dead on about causality not being an empirical thing, though. That particular insight seems like it should have more impact on philosophy of mind than it does. Perhaps it does and I’m just not aware of it. Reid, of course, is the man, who basically criticizes Locke through Hume (specifically, the way of ideas) and by extension, Berkeley.
Continuing to read Feser’s ‘Philosophy of Mind’, specifically the sections on Russellian theory of mind and hylemorphic dualism and Thomistic dualism, which are interesting and solid theories of mind/matter. Russell’s criticisms of the idea that physics can provide a complete picture of reality are quite powerful. Interestingly, Russell thought that the amount of space and attention that we give to the mind in elevating it to be the thing does more harm than good.
I snagged the Blackwell companions to Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Religion and Metaphysics for total of 29 bucks, which is pretty cool. I’m a big believer in having good encyclopedia/dictionaries on hand, because they get you the basics – if you learn your basics, you can apply them to the more complex things much more easily. Just like learning to fire your rifle – no fancy tricks needed. Learn your fundamentals and basics, apply em’, and you can’t lose, whether on the range on at your desk.
I recently read a conversation on Facebook about the conscience – this conversation went on for a good many posts, but it was ultimately an exercise in time-wasting. Why? Because terms were not defined. Not once in the lengthy thread were the terms under consideration defined or even really discussed. This means that the conversation was basically about nothing. It may as well have not have happened.
Sure, that’s a bit extreme of me to say, but I say it to illustrate what I believe to be the most important thing you can do in life: define your terms. What does X really mean? So much of what is said has no meaning simply because meaning is assumed. Don’t assume that the word has some innate meaning, because it doesn’t. But, the objection goes, then everything just becomes (as I typed the word ‘becomes’ I saw that I had typed ‘because’ instead and had to erase it) word games. Yes! Exactly!
It should be no secret to readers of this blog that Wittgenstein is my favourite philosopher, not because he was ‘right’ or whatever, but because of his method – letting the fly out of the bottle by kneading and working through the fogs and mists of our language to show us that the problems of philosophy really aren’t problems at all. I’m convinced that most problems, and not just in philosophy, are problems of language and meaning. By this I don’t mean I’m a logical atomist. I mean that our words and language games do more to hinder us than help us when we try and get to the root of a problem and that if we work through the game, we can often get to the real nub of the issue – maybe even to a solution. Maybe not, though – I don’t believe that philosophy is necessarily about trying to get to a set of certain doctrines. But if we can simply clear away or clear up the conceptual ground, perhaps we can discover that there isn’t really a problem after all – maybe we’ll even find an answer.