Thursday, February 21, 2019

Is Theology Poetry? - the nature and necessity of the development of doctrine

In the January 20, 2019 thread I linked to Gordon Carle's doctoral dissertation, "Alexandria in the Shadow of the Hill Cumorah: A Comparative Historical Theology of The Early Christian and Mormon Doctrines of God" (link). The primary content and context of the dissertation, "is a comparative study of the theological and historical development of the early Christian (Pre-Nicene) and Mormon doctrines of God." The post gave rise to a robust discussion concerning which of the two above paradigms has been the more faithful development of the divine revelations recorded in the Old and New Testaments, with a focus on anthropomorphism.

The issue of the development of doctrine has been one of the major topics explored here at AF for over a decade now, with 55 prior posts delving into the subject (see THIS LINK). However, the relationship between anthropomorphism and development of doctrine was not explored until the above referenced thread. My current studies into this topic has brought to light an essay presented by C. S. Lewis to the 'Socratic Club'—an Oxford debating society—back in 1944. 

This essay provides some fascinating contrasts between theology, mythology and poetry; but it is page 10 where the issue of doctrinal development begins. Note the following:

What did the early Christians believe? Did they believe that God really has a material palace in the sky and that He received His Son in a decorated state chair placed a little to the right of His own? — or did they not? The answer is that the alternative we are offering them was probably never present to their minds at all. As soon as it was present, we know quite well which side of the fence they came down. As soon as the issue of Anthropomorphism was explicitly before the Church in, I think, the second century, Anthropomorphism was condemned. The Church knew the answer (that God has no body and therefore couldn’t sit in a chair) as soon as it knew the question. But till the question was raised, of course, people believed neither the one answer nor the other. There is no more tiresome error in the history of thought than to try to sort our ancestors on to this or that side of a distinction which was not in their minds at all. You are asking a question to which no answer exists.

It is very probable that most (almost certainly not all) of the first generation of Christians never thought of their faith without anthropomorphic imagery, and that they were not explicitly conscious, as a modern would be, that it was mere imagery. But this does not in the least mean that the essence of their belief was concerned with details about a celestial throne room. That was not what they valued, or what they were prepared to die for. Any one of them who went to Alexandria and got a philosophical education would have recognised the imagery at once for what it was, and would not have felt that his belief had been altered in any way that mattered...

The earliest Christians were not so much like a man who mistakes the shell for the kernel as like a man carrying a nut which he hasn’t yet cracked. The moment it is cracked, he knows which part to throw away. Till then he holds on to the nut, not because he is a fool but because he isn’t. (Pages 10, 11 - LINK to PDF)

Those who are familiar with John Henry Newman's, An Essay On The Development of Christian Doctrine, will most likely discern his motif of organic development in Lewis' essay.

Before ending, I would like to issue a challenge of sorts: take Newman's famous seven notes concerning doctrinal development—Preservation of Type, Continuity of its Principles, Its Power of Assimilation, Its Logical Sequence, Anticipation of its Future, Conservative Action Upon its Past, and Its Chronic Vigor—and apply them to the two different paradigms contrasted in Carle's dissertation.

Hope to hear from those folk who take up the challenge soon...

Grace and peace,


Monday, February 11, 2019

"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" - Jewish Midrash concerning Genesis 1:26

Over the weekend, I read Jacob Neusner's, Judaism When Christianity Began (link to Google Preview). 

Given the recent AF topic on corporeality and God, I felt compelled to share the following selection:

The Torah's single most important teaching about God is that humanity is like God, so Genesis 1:26: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." God and the human being are mirror images of one another. Here we find the simple claim that the angels could not discern any physical difference whatever between man—Adam—and God:

Genesis Rabbah VIII:X
A. Said R. Hoshaiah, "When the Holy One, blessed be he, came to create the first man, the ministering angels mistook him [for God, for man was in God's image,] and wanted to say before the latter, Holy, [holy, holy is the Lord of hosts].' (Page 29)

This brought back to mind an essay by Neusner which I read back in the late 90s—"Conversation in Nauvoo about the Corporeality of God"—which was published in volume 36.1 (1996) of the BYU Studies Quarterly. I grabbed the issue from my collection, and on page 14 found the exact same Midrash quote referenced above—which I must admit, I had forgotten. (PDF copy available online HERE.)

I think many folk will find Neusner's book and essay of interest...

Grace and peace,