Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wesley Hill Wrong?

Tom Wright reviews Wesley Hill's book on Paul and the Trinity. Here is the taster first paragraph:

"Do the earliest Christian writings support the fifth-century trinitarian creeds and dogmas? A line of liberal scholarship, looking back to Socinus and even Arius, says No. Paul and the Trinity says Yes: only if we read Paul’s words in the light of later expositions of the mutual trinitarian relations can we grasp his real meaning. I declare an interest: I agree with the Yes, but not with the way Wesley Hill gets there."


Father Ron Smith said...

There are probably more important arguments for the Christian stance on the Trinity than this one being discussed between Tom Wright and Wesley Hill.

The roles of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are unique to Christianity. And this is probably what is puzzling to theologians of the other two major monotheistic religions - Judaism and Islam. While we Christians argue epistemologically about the authenticity of our Three Persons in One God, the other major Faith groups are trying to find common ground with us in our understanding of the One, True God. Our Christology is what underpins our arguments for the Triune God, but don't let's get too competitive about it amongst ourselves. The Trinity is what distinguishes our soteriology. Can we not leave it at that?

Unknown said...

A line of liberal scholarship, looking back to Socinus and even Arius, says No.

8th class result

Bryden Black said...

This review of Hill’s book by NTW in TLC raises a number of intriguing points. I’ll address some of them.

In the first place, we need to make a distinction between the concept established by Augustine and which passed down into the tradition of a “subsistent relation”, and the idea of relation itself. The former could only have been constructed from within and have arisen out of the debates of the 4th C, where the likes of Athanasius and the Cappadocians began to view the relationship between Father and Son as eternal, as necessary to the understanding of deity’s very ousia, and finally in a completely non-subordinationist way (contra Origen). In this sense then, there is both continuity and discontinuity between the very earliest days of the Christian faith and the 5th C and so thereafter the doctrinal tradition.

A second point addresses this idea of relation generally. I sense we have well and truly to forgo the schema of low-high Christologies, once so popular. They just do not do justice to the evidence. One element of that evidence is how very early once-termed “high Christologies” are. Take Matt 11 for example. Set within an entire chapter of Jewish Wisdom Christology (vv. 2, 19, 28-30), we find that “Johannine bolt from the blue”, v.27. Here, on account of the grammatical nature of Semitic languages which had no reciprocal/relative pronoun, no direct way of saying “each other”, is the more convoluted expression, “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son ...”. And because this is a Semitic echo in the now Greek text of Matthew, it is almost certainly very early, and even probably the very voice of Jesus himself. We therefore need to appreciate just how early is this understanding of the mutual, reciprocal relationship between Jesus as Son and his Father. (True; what exactly is meant by “Son” is no idle question.)

So that thirdly, Hill is onto something significant when he entitles chs 2 & 3, “God in Relation to Jesus” and “Jesus in Relation to God”, and moves into examining a series of Pauline texts. For my money the two most important are Phil 2:6-11 and 1 Cor 8:4-6. Re the first, the upshot of the entire hymn is that, via the exalted Name of Yahweh—the now shared Name (just so the reference to Isa 45:23)—the identity of “Jesus” and the identity of “God” are to be seen to constitute one another. Such now is the relational nature of each and therefore the whole.

Re the second, there are a number of possible elements in view. Crucial in my view is the very idea of the Shema itself. Here is the quintessential confessional Jewish prayer of traditional, orthodox Judaism. Here is the highest appreciation of Jewish worship, with its identification of Jewry’s One true God, on the lips of good faithful Jews who recite the Shema - even Jesus himself (Mk 12:29). And in this context we have Paul showing both oneness and distinction between the Father and Jesus, a oneness moreover that sees Jesus precisely as the One Lord, kyrios, of Deut 6:4 itself in the LXX! Wright himself summarizes in “The One God of Israel, Freshly Revealed”, pp.663-4, if one is interested.

And so lastly, yes; Wright’s second and fourth points raise concerns regarding the more human side of Jesus’ identity - though of course, certain readings of morphÄ“ in Phil 2 similarly address these. How might the original “image” language of Gen 1 relate to the Image language of NT Christology - 2 Cor 4, Col 1? And how does it all bear upon a Trinitarian view of God’s nature, on the one hand, and how does it tie in with the original significance of the “image” and God’s rule upon the earth, on the other? For after all, a major component of “salvation” (to be discussed below) is to restore precisely the original calling of humanity through and with and in Jesus, and so our incorporation into him!

Bryden Black said...

To conclude. Ron is right to link Trinity and soteriology. But we may not leave it there! For how exactly is not an idle question either! Certain answers to the previous point, like those of the Russian school in the late 19th and early 20th Cs, or Barth and his views on “the Humanity of God”, circle around a form of theosis with specific consequences for God’s form of rule on earth both now and eternally. And this is most important stuff - and most practical stuff what’s more! Otherwise, I would not have written up my own tuppence worth in the book now published by Wipf and Stock, The Lion, the Dove, and the Lamb.

All in all, Hill’s book is an admirable attempt to integrate once more NT exegesis and systematic theology. We can only look forward also to the due completion of Wright’s project on “Christian Origins and the Question of God”, now that we’ve four volumes in place.

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Bryden, it seems from your extensive comments here that you already have this analysis of The Triune God sussed. What greater need is there of even further literary expeditions into the Mystery? Except, of course, for authors and publishers to make money. I suggest there is already enough information/opinion around to fill a thousand books, but very few new experiences that will either convince or deny people's understanding of what, at root, must always remain a Mystery Hidden in God.

Bryden Black said...

Well; I’m glad you don’t see any need of the book I flagged, Ron. For its intended audience, as noted in the Acknowledgments, is not hardy old souls like your dear self, but initially those 20-30 years olds for whom such things as the Trinity are indeed real mysterious, magical even - or sheer nonsense! The world they live in either is swirling with deities or has none at all - a bit like the one in which the Early Church had to hammer out the original creeds in fact, not at all the world of your traditional church experience.

But then there’s another backcloth too: the academic revival of the doctrine of the Trinity these last 50 years or so - which must be one of the most awesome movements of these past few centuries. Sadly however, very little of this material has made its way into the hearts and minds of “the people in the pews”. As always, the chasm between Academy and Church needs bridging especially here. So; perhaps after all there might be some relevance even for such a one as your dear self!