Monday, October 26, 2009

Divine Meaning pt. 6

Continuing through T. F. Torrance's Divine Meaning, chapter 9 marks a significant departure from the rest of the book so far. Here, Torrance deals with a recent attack by Rudolf Bultmann upon belief in the central events that the Bible and early Christians creeds speak of, particularly the incarnation, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Bultmann called for the dymythologisation of the proclamation of early Christianity because of its commitment to a three-storied vertical cosmology. In other words, Bultmann doesn't like the New Testament's and early creeds' talk about God in spacial terms, coming down, going up, and so on. He claims that though the society in which Chist and the early church lived was bound to speak that way of God because of its primitive worldview, moder man can no longer see the universe as the early Christians did.

Torrance challenges these claims by conducting a study of the Greek conceptions of space and God's relation to it, beginining with Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, moving then to Middle Platonists Plutarch, Albinus, Apuleius and Atticus, and then tracing the influence of these upon Philo, as the first to coordinate Platonism with OT exegesis, and finally Clement of Alexandria as a representive early Christian to refute Bultmann's caricature of them. The conceptions and comparisons between these thinkers that Torrance articulates here are quite difficult for someone without a serious background in metaphysics (such as myself) to get their head around, but the general movement is fairly clear. Torrance sees the Athenians beginning with a notion of space as a container, so that whatever is in a particular place (used as a synonym for space in some philosophers, in distinction by others) is contained within it. This leads one to see God as either bound to and contained within the univserse, the universe being seen as eternal and uncreated, or to be seen as occupying the void beginnig at the boundary of the created universe (or something like that). The movement through Middle Platonism, particularly Atticus, and then Philo and Clement opens up an understanding of God creating the universe, both its matter and the ideas that give it form, out of nothing, giving God a non-spatial relation to creation so that He is both utterly beyond it and active within it. A quotation from Clement serves to clarify how Torrance sees at least this early Christian as free from the limiting mythological notions Bultmann sees all early Christians bound to:

God is a Being difficult for us to grasp and apprehend, for he always recedes out of reach and draws away from those who pursue him. But the ineffable wonder of it is that he who is distant has come very near. 'I am a God who draws near, says the Lord.' Distant, that is, in respect of his essential being for how can the creature ever approach the Creator? 'But he is very near in respect of his power by which he embraces all things'. 'Will anyone do anything in secret', he says, '- without my seing him?'. Now God's power is always present in dynamic interaction with us in our meditation, service and instruction. Hence Moses, convinced that God could never be known by human wisdom, said, 'Shew me thy glory' and strove to enter into the darkness where God's voice was, that is, into the inaccessible and invisible conceptions as to his Being. For God is not in darkness or in place, but above and beyond both space and time and the properties of created things. Therefore he is never found located in some region, either as containing or contained, by way of limitation or by way of division. 'For what house will ye build me? says the Lord.' On the contrary, he has not even built himself one, for he cannot be contained. Even if the heaven is said to be his throne, not even thus is he contained, but he rests delighted in his creation. (339-40)

Bultmann - 0; Early Christian kerygma - 1.

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