Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Christian Dialogue with My Friend Dave

Dave: The last verse in MT: 28:16, The Great Commission might be viewed as the clincher.
Dave: How do we view the scholarship that says this verse was most likely not spoken by the historical Jesus?
George: Not that I know it, but I assume that's the case, along with significant other passages in Matthew, including the Transfiguration, assuming it's in that gospel.  My mention of it was simply in response to your question on whether the gospels had any reference to Jesus as Christ in a manner that was conveyed to the church.  But as far as I'm concerned we're dealing with theology (the mystery of God's revelation through Christ) and not history, which is not to deny the role of history in the development of Christianity and of the relative importance of the historical Jesus.  On the latter, as stated previously, what is significant is not so much Jesus of Nazareth as the historical man of his time, but God working in Jesus elevating him (on faith for those of us who accept this as a very powerful working hypothesis) as the Christ of human history as revealed in no small part through the New Testament.  This is not something that can be proven or argued for conclusively, but something, should one choose to do so, however imperfectly, lived, experienced, and shared with others. It is a faith that works with human reason, but also transcends it, in which by definition the mystery is greater than that which can be known in which Christ is the archetype of God embodied in human flesh. 
George: So however the historical evolution from Jesus of Nazareth as proclaimer of the Kingdom to Jesus as Christ proclaimed emerged, the evolution was quite early, obviously before Paul was converted, fairly soon after the historical events.
Dave:  That’s true, but I think the historical evolution that we now accept (mostly) as basic Christian teaching was the result of the fittest version being the one that survived. That doesn’t necessarily have to take away from how we approach the faith we have today, but I think it needs to be kept in mind.
George: I don't dispute what you are saying here.  Judaism and Christianity are, in many respects historical religions and their theologies are embedded in history-like narratives in which the Holy One revealed himself to a peculiar people as both the God of our fathers--Abraham, Isaac and Joseph and I Am Who I Am, and ultimately in Christ Jesus, who claimed that before Abraham, I AM.  Moreover, the incarnation is God revealed to human kind in and trough human flesh, if you will, through history, including our flawed, fallible, prejudiced-oriented history.  So what we do have is a faith story that is revealed to us in a glass darkly through the earthen vessels of who we are.  Wherever it is we stand, we do so on faith and even in the midst of our reaching out to God and even in the midst of our perception of God reaching out to us we cannot escape the ineradicable fact of our human condition and that our theologies, whatever they may be, are in no small measure, human constructs.  This is as inescapable as the revelation itself of the transcendent God coming to us through the ancient idioms of the Old and New Testaments not as inevitable givens, but as a gift in the Word revealed in the piercing of our own consciousness with its words entering in and helping to form our own.  Without this text the very notion of a reasonably developed concept of God of whom we can be in relationship would be missing, particularly so, based on the given social and cultural constructs of the secular postmodern era.
Back to your main point, what did survive perhaps as the fittest, but taken as a whole, the gospels, the epistles and letters, and I guess, even Revelation (a book that I cannot deny that  have some trouble with), the composite picture of Jesus the Christ as God's incarnation in human flesh and God's gift to us is very profound.  In my considered view, it is theoretically possible that there may be a deeper truth than that revealed in the NT.  Still, in relation to anything else I know and have experienced, nothing comes close to approximating the excellence of Jesus the Christ as embodying the fulfillment of the human aspiration for at oneness with the universe in the very willingness to throw it at the feet of that being who is named equally, Our Father That Art in Heaven and the ineffable I Am Who I Am; God, both closer than a brother and more distant than the most distant star--the paradox of faith lived, striven, and even pining for in the poetry of the Psalmist, is revealed like no other in and through these canonical texts.  Notwithstanding the doubts, including, at times, a sense of the irrelevance  of the religious altogether, this is what I believe when I am able to look into a small glimpse of the issues surrounding ultimate meaning in terms of my own relationship to the universe and in my broader thinking and contemplation of the world. 
Not one word of what I have said can stand up to a rigorous logical analysis from the sphere outside the realm of faith, even as I can sharpen my apologetic argumentation.  Rather, I seek to speak, however flawed in manner, within the realm of faith to convey something of what it sees like from this sphere.  So did the canonical writers of the Bible.  This is not to deny the importance of other texts and other stories (and we do live in a pluralistic world in which there are many stories and many texts). In faith, however, and in no small measure because we have no choice but to accept our finite human condition, in my considered view, I accept these texts, the books of the OT and NT, as collectively containing the most concentrated revelation of God's wisdom to humankind, and from this point of view in faith, seek additional knowledge for further illumination, knowing that God's revealed word is greater than any possible construction I could ever devise, which by comparison is great folly.
George: In broad terms, low Christology would be from "below," focusing on the human experience of Jesus, particularly his teaching…One can also embrace faith from a high Christological perspective, which presupposes with the New Testament that Jesus is messiah and Christ.
Dave: It helps me here to think in terms of analogy: low Christology is to historical as high Christology is to mythological.
 George: I don't disagree with this, but do have some caveats:
a) History is not synonymous with theology-based revealed religion, and while it can be helpful, when taken as an end in itself, can very much impede the quest for true religion, particularly if we are seeking that religion in the wisdom of man rather than God.
b) To paraphrase Bill Clinton, that would depend on your definition of myth.
c) I don't think there has to be a polarity between faith and history, as the existential theologian Rudolph Bultman thought there was, between the Christian faith and the historical Jesus.  Moreover, sound scholarship and further fleshing out our understanding of the historical Jesus can be very productive from the stance of faith as well as history. The historian/theologian/preacher N.T. Wright has done some interesting work in this area.  History, science, and literary analysis are three forms of scholarship that has fundamentally reshaped biblical scholarship (for better and worse) over the past 130 years or so.  Even these forms of scholarship, though, are human artifacts, potentially useful, but also potentially a barrier to a deeper understanding of what Rudolf Otto refers to as The Holy. These tools of human understanding, then, need to be handled with discernment in our own collective work of distinguishing matters of ultimate from penultimate concern.  As stated several times, one can only go so far with knowledge, in which our commitment to the world is ultimately based on the faith stance we take. The fundamental issue is not whether one will adhere to faith or knowledge, but what faith stance one will take in the very orientation toward the quest for knowledge.  Moreover, the issue is not merely what stance one will take, but even a pushing further toward a grappling with why one takes the stance one does even if one cannot fully explain it.  For we see in a glass darkly, but we see--something.  What is it that you, who seek to respond to this, see and what is the ground upon which such seeing is based?  Is that ground your own consciousness all the way down or is there another consciousness informing and enriching your own?

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