In His Godhead, as the eternal Son of the Father, as the eternal Word, Jesus Christ never ceased to be transcendent, free, and sovereign. He did not stand in need of exaltation, nor was He capable of it. But He did as man – it is here again that we come up against that which is not self-evident in Jesus Christ. The special thing, the new thing about the exaltation of Jesus Christ is that One who is bound as we are is free, who is tempted as we are is without sin, who is a sufferer as we are is able to minister to Himself and others, who is a victim to death is alive even though He was dead, who is a servant (the servant of all servants) is the Lord. This is the secret of His humanity which is revealed in His resurrection and ascension and therefore shown retrospectively by the Evangelists to be the secret of His whole life and death. It is not simply that He is the Son of God at the right hand of the Father, the Kyrios, the Lord of His community and the Lord of the cosmos, the bearer and executor of divine authority in the Church and the world, but that He is all this as a man – as a man like we are, but a man exalted in the power of His deity. This is what makes Him the Mediator between God and man, and the One who fulfils the covenant. (Barth, Church Dogmatics iv.1, 135)
Archive for October, 2010
In the last post I outlined how Webster argues that theology is an exercise in ‘holy reason’ practiced within the context of the Church. This can only be the case, however, because theology is firstly done within the context of revelation – i.e. the Holy God’s self-giving presence.
Theology is reason appointed to the service of revelation, and as such its first task is to remember that in talking of God’s nature it must cease to be ratio ratiocinans (speculative reason), and learn – painfully, contritely – to be ratio ratiocinata: reason which receives its matter from the self-giving of God. (Holiness, 17)
This means that theology , firstly, is not creative but rather, receptive. It is bound to its object and therefore must speak of him in confession and proclamation. Because of this theology has as its purpose, the edification of the Church, sitting under the Word which gathers together the Church. And because theology sits under the Word with the Church it can never rival Scripture in its authority over the Church.
Theology is not inspired; it is not a sacrament of the gospel; it does not have the authority of the teaching office in the Church. It is not a means of grace, but the human work of thinking and speaking about the holy God. Because it is always a human work, it participates in the frailty and fallibility of its practitioners and of their times. Theology’s reference to revelation does not raise it out of the stream of all other human rational endeavour. Yet in - not despite - its very human character, theology can be holy reason. It can serve the Holy One and the congregation which gathers around him, wrestling with him, beseeching his blessing, and then like Jacob limping on its way. (Holiness, 30)
John Webster’s Holiness is, amongst other things, a defence of the trinitarian nature and ecclesial context of dogmatics. Theology as a practice belongs within the Church because it is an effect of the saving presence of God. He writes; ‘Revelation is the self-giving presence of the holy God which overthrows opposition to God, and, in reconciling, brings us into the light of the knowledge of God’ (Holiness, 14). This, being-brought-to-the-knowledge-of-God makes theology not only possible but an exercise in ‘holy reason.’ The effect of this saving knowledge of God is that human reason, along with the entire self, is renewed and redeemed in the gospel.
To speak in this way is to fly in the face of some deep intellectual and spiritual conventions of modern culture. Modernity has characteristically regarded reason as a ‘natural’ faculty — a standard, unvarying and foundational feature of humankind, a basic human capacity or skill. As a natural faculty, reason is, crucially, not involved in the drama of God’s saving work; it is not fallen, and so requires neither to be judged nor to be reconciled nor to be sanctified. Reason simply is; it is humankind in its intellectual nature. Consequently, ‘natural’ reason has been regarded as ‘transcendent’ reason. (Holiness, 10)
This conception of reason as transcendent, extracts reason ‘from the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures (11). Rather, ‘Holy reason is eschatological reason, reason submitting to the process of the renewal of all things as sin and falsehood are set aside, idolatry is reproved, and the new creation is confessed with repentance and delight. And if what Paul calls the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12.2) is to be visible anywhere, it has to be in Christian theology, in which holy reason is summoned to address the great matter of God and of all things in God’ (12).