Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Tue May 05 2009 - 16:32:01 EDT

George -
Let me just say a word in passing that I am tempted, but at least for the moment will not succumb to it, to challenge your 'THE theology of the cross' as an example of an imbalanced trinitarian view (i.e. biased) particularly Lutheran 'brand' of Christian theology. There are others on this list who would agree. I personally will say no more than what is written below on the topic.
For example, you write:
"So what is the Archimedean point in your phrase.  My answer can be put in a straightforward way.  Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the center of Christian faith.  That’s what’s meant by the theology of the cross."
What could *possibly* be a substitute for this that (still) counts as 'Christian'? I am tempted to suggest a 'theology of the manger,' i.e. the place where Jesus was born.
Why? First, because the cross is a focus on death more than it is on life (yes it is, though I'll appeal to Eastern Orthodox Christians to shield me in saying this). Second, because 'the birth' is as spiritually significant as is 'the sacrifice.' Likewise, the origins are just as significant as the (mystical, liberalistic) processes.
What you seem to continually miss, George, if I can say so as a lay man to a clergy man, with a few decades between us to your earned seniority, is, to be blunt the Holy Spirit. It is likely the same thing that Nietzsche said about Darwin: "Darwin forgot the spirit."
You say that you haven't forgotten, but I sense a dehumanisation in the lacking of human-social thought in your 'science-theology' dualism.
It may thus also be the case that 'natural theology' is not such a 'problem' as you say it is. Rather, this warning to danger that you suppose in 'natural theology' could just be seen as representative of the imbalance Trinity that you present, which could be remedied by a more balanced and holistic orientation than 'physics and theology' can possibly offer as a combination.
"Luther at his best– the Bible is the manger that holds the Christ child" - George Murphy
Sorry George, but not long ago you claimed Holy Spirit only through Christ, so I quoted John the Baptist's spiritual indwelling to you. Filioque is still an issue! 'The Bible' doesn't make sense as 'the manger' - despite Martin Luther - the 'New Testament' was not yet written at this time.
As McLuhan might say: Luther's gusto was gutted (or guided) by Gutenberg.

"Give me where to stand and I will move the world." - Archimedes (backed by Arago)

--- On Tue, 5/5/09, George Murphy <> wrote:

From: George Murphy <>
Subject: Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>, "asa" <>
Received: Tuesday, May 5, 2009, 11:16 PM

Cameron –
I can answer your question fairly simply but first a couple of preliminaries.
1)  You speak of the difficulty I will have persuading my “opponents,” conservative protestants & especially those committed to anti-evolutionary positions (not all are) of the  validity of my position.  Certainly I hope that such people would agree with my arguments and at least see my position as acceptable but that is not my primary concern. 
I see my calling, especially since I retired from regular parish ministry, to be helping the church to carry out its mission in a scientific & technological world.  John Mangum put it some years ago, ““Today’s churches have no other place to fulfill their mission than a world whose basic assumptions are pervaded more and more by science.”  (That’s why stopping with the theology 1700 is totally inadequate.)  While persuading conservatives of the need for more adequate theology is sometimes part of that task, I’m more concerned with:  (a) Keeping people - & especially young people – who are scientifically knowledgeable, from bailing out when the church either ignores the modern scientific picture of the world or tells them things that are demonstrably false & (b)  helping clergy & church educators preach & teach in ways that address scientific issues intelligently & helpfully (&, it should go without saying, without putting the primary
 focus of proclamation on science rather than Christ.)
2)  My disagreement with Lessing is not on the idea that religious understanding developed over the course of Israel ’s history & even that it continues to do so.  The problem with “The Education of the Human Race” & other writings is that idea that faith cannot be based on historically contingent revelation but on “necessary truths of reason.”  The problem, in other words, is – surprise! – natural theology.  Of course the idea of “progress” does play a role here because it suggests that we can’t be satisfied with a faith tied inextricably to something that happened ~ A.D.30, even if our understanding of its significance increases with time.  So you end up with a natural religion from which anything distinctively Christian is secondary if it’s kept at all, a natural religion acceptable to all the “Abrahamic faiths” as people say today – as in Nathan der Weise.
So what is the Archimedean point in your phrase.  My answer can be put in a straightforward way.  Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the center of Christian faith.  That’s what’s meant by the theology of the cross – again, “True theology and the recognition of God are in the crucified Christ.”  Christ is the interpretative center of scripture, which is to be read in such a way that it is focused on him.  Or again see the phrase from Barmen that I quoted earlier: “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.”
“As he is attested for us in Holy Scripture.”  The Bible is of course essential but as witness to Christ and basis for the proclamation of Christ.  I recall seeing when I was on internship in Ames a bumper sticker on a Muslim student’s car saying “The Qur’an, the ultimate revelation.”  I’m afraid a lot of Christians, including the conservatives you mention, would just want to substitute “The Bible” for “The Qur’an.”  Their error would be profound.  But God’s ultimate revelation, the Word of God, is Christ. 
(& that, by the way, is very much the attitude of Luther at his best– the Bible is the manger that holds the Christ child, the chief books of the NT are those that proclaim Christ most clearly, etc.  That attitude isn’t always expressed in his exegetical writings & got pretty well obscured by the scholasticism of Lutheran Orthodoxy.)
It’s all very well to say that the Bible judges Augustine &c but you pass over too quickly the question of how the Bible is to be interpreted.  Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a convenient reduction ad absurdum to the idea that a straightforward appeal to “the Bible” is sufficient.  They of course would say that the Bible is authoritative & even inerrant, but are far from the Christian faith. 
The fundamental hermeneutical principle should not be something imposed on scripture from outside but something internal to it.  Scripture is to be interpreted christologically - “All of scripture everywhere speaks only of Christ” Luther says somewhere.  Of course that shouldn’t be understood in a naïve fashion, with a hidden messianic prophecy in every OT verse, but the themes, the problems, the hopes, the promises of scripture find their resolution in Christ & especially in the cross-resurrection event.  Scripture is “the source and norm of Christian doctrine” as the Formula of Concord says, but again, without an adequate interpretive principle that statement does us little good.  Crux probat omnia is the more fundamental doctrinal test.
I hope you understand that in saying this I am not reducing the essentials of Christianity to the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  A lot more needs to be said about the theology of the cross and its implications.  I have tried in a couple of books to show briefly how the whole story of scripture can be seen as having a cross-resurrection pattern, and have argued that it is this mark placed on the universe that should be our fundamental clue to God’s activity.  (Cf. Irenaeus, “The Son of God was crucified for all and for everything, that he might place the sign of the cross on all things.”)
Needless to say, I haven’t given a complete systematic theology here.  You asked for the Archimedean point & here it is.  As Luther says with typical gusto, "CRUX sola est nostra theologia."  
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Received on Tue May 5 16:33:31 2009

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