Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What Is Wrong With That Quote?

A Very Trivial Encounter




As I was browsing through the “Christian” section of the Tampines Regional Library yesterday, hoping to find a book that might introduce a young believer to orthodox Christian theology, I was at first pleasantly surprised to find this: Michael J. Taylor, Theological Reflections: On the Trinity, Christology, and Monotheism (Maryland: University Press of America, 2001).

Well, the title - “Theological Reflections: On the Trinity, Christology, and Monotheism” - seemed to indicate that the book was probably a primer to Theology proper and Christology. At last, good Christian books find their way to the national libraries of Singapore! Or so it seems.

My initial gladness was quickly inundated by the gloom from within the pages of Taylor’s little book. It was not a primer to Theology proper and Christology. It was an attack on historical Christianity. And why was this book placed in the “Christian” section of the library?

I was taught since primary school that we should not attack the religions of fellow Singaporeans, all in the name of religious and racial harmony. But here in my hands, in the “Christian” section of a national library of Singapore, is a book that repudiates orthodox Theology and Christology confessed by the Evangelical, Baptist, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic churches of Singapore.

The author of this book is a Jesuit priest. This was my first surprise, as I had assumed that Catholics around the globe confessed Nicene Christology. He is also a respected scholar, professor and prolific writer.

If you think that I am going to review this book, you are sincerely mistaken. In the present post, I intend to quote from a few passages of Taylor’s book, and offer the readers an opportunity to discern his theological slant. I would then post a reply to your educated guesses (if any).

I am supposed to continue with my series on “Spiritual Discernment.” But before I continue with this series of posts, I believe this “exercise in discernment” would be beneficial for all orthodox Christians. Well, you ought to know what orthodox Theology and Christology is, at the very least.

Here goes:

"If Jesus were to be called Son of God, in Arius’ view his sonship would be through adoption, not from any equality of essence. The council refused to see any “lessness” in Jesus. Rather, it ascribed to him the ontological divinity of the Logos. . . . Although few scholars today would embrace or defend Arius’ approach to Christology, many do find the terminology of Nicea and its manner of expressing the “divine dimension” of Jesus to be too narrow and confusing. (p 35)"

"Nicea seems to have little awareness of Old Testament use of such symbolic terms as Logos (Word), Wisdom, Spirit, etc. All of these biblical terms do not refer to separate divine persons or entities. (p 36)"

"[The Council of Chalcedon] shows little knowledge of or respect for Scripture’s many literary forms and figures of speech. Where the Old Testament often spoke of God’s nature and activities by means of symbolic terms and personifications, such as Spirit, Wisdom, Word, etc., Chalcedon personalizes (or hypostasizes) these ways of speaking about God’s immanent activity without any critical elaboration of why it feels justified in doing so. The council mostly prefers the abstract metaphysical terms of philosophy to the biblical and historical descriptions of Jesus. (p 40)"

"After centuries of understanding Jesus almost exclusively as a divine, pre-existent being who descended from heaven (the assumed Johannine perspective), no wonder scholars today ask that our Christological search for Jesus’ full identity begin where the earliest books of the New Testament (Paul and the Synoptics) began - with the historical human Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus should first and foremost be one of us who lived his life the way God intended it should be lived, and whom God finally raised to glory. It is there that we find a very appealing, gifted, vulnerable human being that we can identify with, one who is obviously united in prayerful intimacy with God. We see him as a man called to preach and reveal a saving Father. He gave us a deeper meaning and purpose to our lives. He showed us how we should properly live them, so that at the end of them we would rise to eternal glory with him in the love of the Father. This Jesus is close to us. He is our brother. He is imitable and fulfills the role of teacher and model. His picture of God is clear and appealing. Christians accept this man as their spiritual leader and rightly call him Lord, the one who shows them the way to salvation. (p 41)"

"Earlier Christians would find the saving God in a fleshing of the descending Logos. Today Christians find the same God in the human Jesus, for in him God dwells fully with his transforming love and through his love has made Jesus a perfect image of himself. (p 42)"


Clues:

1. Study the meaning of the Logos and Spirit in Scripture. Are these terms symbolical?

2. Check up what is meant by the theological term hypostasis. You will then understand what Taylor meant by “hypostasizes” in page 40.

3. Do you think Taylor agrees that Jesus is “a divine, pre-existent being who descended from heaven?”

4. Is Jesus “the one who shows [Christians] the way to salvation?”

I have deliberately included quotes that are not so obviously “anti-Nicene.” See if you can deduce Taylor’s Christological stance.

Note: I will post the answer within the next few days. Please do not surf the Web for answers.

10 comments:

wenxian said...

Hello,

Can i try question 3?

"Jesus should first and foremost be one of us who lived his life the way God intended it should be lived, and whom God finally raised to glory"

" His picture of God is clear and appealing. Christians accept this man as their spiritual leader and rightly call him Lord, the one who shows them the way to salvation. "

"Today Christians find the same God in the human Jesus, for in him God dwells fully with his TRANSFORMING love and THROUGH his love has made Jesus a perfect image of himself."

From these 3 quotes we see that this is Taylor's definition of Christ:

His model/ slant is that of something like all other religions: That Christ was like us, in sin, not of divine pre-eminence. He also suggests the view is too 'narrow and confusing'

He states clearly that Christ was not deity, but simply an almost perfect teacher who is like some kind of spiritual guru in the new age circles.

He denies the trnity and calls it an "the assumed Johannine perspective" that should somehow be clarified by his gnostic views.

He is no Christian. He is a gnostic. He is probably not saved. What is this book doing in the Tamp. Library?

Jenson's Blog said...

I haven't looked at the quotes in detail, but first of all, if he was a Jesuit, he must have soften up.

Aren't the Jesuits the most learned and also most hostile to the Protestants/Jews/Muslims - hence the Inquisition?

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Jenson,

What I’m surprise with is this: why does a Jesuit theologian attack the Christology of the Catholic Church?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church holds a high Christology, and confesses both the affirmations of Nicea (325 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD).

See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section Two, Articles 2 & 3. Also see Geoffrey Chapman, Catechism of the Catholic Church (Strand, London: Continuum, 1999), 96-105.

Dear Wen Xian,

Hmmm … I shall hold my peace for now. I must say, good observations on the whole. But Taylor is too careful a theologian to word his sentence in a manner whereby another can decisively charge him with what you have mentioned in your last paragraph.

I shall wait a little more.

Jenson's Blog said...

I am commenting while at work, hence no books to refer to... but:

If I am not mistaken, the Nicea Creed has been criticised even by Reformed Theologians - e.g. Robert Reymond and his New Systematic Theology.

So anyone can take pot-shots at it, RC, Protestants, etc...

vincit omnia veritas said...

Hi Jensen,

The controversy over Reymond’s published Systematic Theology has to do with the “eternal generation” of the Son. The inexact language of the Nicene Creed seems to indicate that this eternal generation of the Son pertains to both His Person and Essence. Calvin, however, further defined this “speculative” view of the Creed. Calvin affirmed that the Son’s eternal generation was true with respect to His hypostatic identity or Sonship. But Calvin did not perceive that this (eternal generation) was true with respect to His divine essence. Reymond upholds Calvin’s non-speculative view of “eternal generation” and “eternal procession.” To do so otherwise was to deny Christ’s attribute of self-existence, and would imply an essential subordination of the Son to the Father within the Godhead.

The language of the Nicene Creed was “speculative” and inexact with respect to the doctrine of eternal generation. But this is a far cry from saying that the Nicene Creed is directly implying an essential subordination of the Son to the Father, and thereby attacking the Son’s deity.

The Nicene focus was on the full divinity of Christ, i.e. homoousios vs homoiousios. As Dr Sam Storms puts it, “The Council of Nicea was not an exhaustive effort, but was purposely restricted in focus. Although not addressed to the Trinitarian problem per se, the Nicene Creed did declare the fundamental equality of deity between Father and Son.”

It was only in the Post-Nicene period that a Trinitarian conclusion was reached at Constantinople (381 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD).

But if you study Taylor’s writings, he was not merely taking “pot-shots” at Nicene Christology. He was denying it.

I cannot speak more for now. If I do, the answer will be given.

Note: I am actually expecting something very basic, an answer which every Christian should be able to give.

Jenson's Blog said...

I knew there was something about Nicea, WCF and Reymond - rats! thanks for clarifying... but, wrong answer from me.

"I am actually expecting something very basic, an answer which every Christian should be able to give.

John 1? "Word was made flesh"? OK, I had better stop guessing here.

ddd said...

Eh... Actually I do see something similar to what Wenxian sees. I can't remember the exact name of that heresy; the one where Jesus was a man and then the 'Christ spirit' came upon Him or something like that. Actually, with such vagueness in Taylor's view, he could have committed quite a few heresies regarding the nature of Christ. The use of the term hyposstasis sounds sort of like the Sabellian heresy, or is it?

Anyway, the way Taylor argues sort of seem like those who try to use philosophical constructs to undermine the Word of God, by calling the conclusions of the Councils philosophical constructs (or assumed Johannine perspective). Eh Vincent, is that what you were trying to drive at?

wenxian said...

Hello all,

I'm a little unfamilar to the idea of "hyposstasis", a term quite foreign to me.

can someone explain in laymen terms thanks?

vincit omnia veritas said...

Hypostasis:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypostasis_(religion)

"With regard to the doctrine of the Trinity, hypostasis is usually understood with a meaning akin to the Greek word prosopon, which is translated into Latin as persona and then into English as person. The Christian view of the Trinity is often described as a view of one God existing in three distinct hypostases/personae/persons."

To be distinguished from Greek word "ousia" or essence.

A better term for "hypostasis" is “subsistentia” or subsistence.

Remember the saying, “Trinity in Unity, Unity in Trinity.” That is, three Persons (subsistence or hypostasis) in the Godhead, with one, whole, undivided “essence” belonging equally to each of the three Persons. One God, three Persons – distinguished, not separated.

Important, “hypostasis” is not “substance.” If one believes in three substance, that is akin to tritheism!

wenxian said...

Hmmm hyposstasis...

So does it mean this (and please correct me if it deviates from doctrine)

1. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are of 1 essence but 3 persons, like 3D of the same object?

2. All are same authority and none subordinate to each other?

3. But they have a distinct order just like man and women in the eyes of God? i.e. father first then son then Holy Spirit?

4. What then distinguishes the personas from each other? Is the idea of personas due to our limited human limitations? (of constraints of time and limits of perception and therefore we perceive them in this order?) - this is a toughie and if we are not meant to know, perhaps there is no answer.

Oh.. i hope i can know what kind of person this taylor guy is and what is his stance.