Abstract Vs Concrete God in Human Reason Vs Experience

Rational a priori categories possess properties of unity, transcendence, immutability, infinity or universality, and necessity (see Epistemics of Divine Reality for supportive arguments). On the contrary, empirical categories possess properties of plurality, immanence, flux, finitude or particularity, and contingency. No doubt then, rationalization of being leads to abstract theologies such as monism and non-dualism, while empirical approaches are characteristic of concrete theologies such as polytheism and spiritism.

Both these extremes are actually forms of atheism since in both God is not the transcendent wholly other being who created the universe. In the former, God is just the abstract substratum of this illusive phenomenal world, while in the latter, God (or gods) is part of the phenomenal world.

Theologians err when they try to analyse God and His experience in either abstract terms or in purely empirical terms only. Western theology based on Aristotelian philosophy suffers much from confusions around the conflict between the abstract and the concrete. The conflict is evident in issues such as the arguments for divine existence, the attributes of God, the meaning of Trinity, and issues regarding the divine and human natures of Christ.

Perhaps, it is too much for any limited human to not recognize that theology is not mathematics. The mind can discover mathematical principles through pure reasoning, but one cannot know God apart from God’s revelation of Himself. And, we only see Him now as in a blurred mirror and do not yet see Him as He is. Faith is not unreasonable, but faith also cannot exist without the revealed word.

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Augustine On The Invisibility of the Trinity

Augustine of Hippo PortraitOne key challenge that Augustine counters in Book II of his On Trinity is the question regarding the invisibility of Jesus in His essential nature. The antagonists argued that Jesus as the Son of God was always visible to the Father; therefore, this visibility also implies mortality and changeability. Two texts that Augustine quotes are:

  • Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1Ti 1:17 NKJ)
  • He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1Ti 6:15-16 NKJ)

Augustine maintains that the invisibility of God means that the Triune God (Father-Son-Spirit) is invisible.

The antagonists argued that the Son was visible not only in flesh through His incarnation but even before that in Himself, and so visibly appeared to the fathers. And, since He was visible in His pre-incarnational existence, He was also mortal, they said. And, so they argued that 1 Timothy 1:17 speaks only of the invisibility of the Father. Further, in that same sense, the Holy Spirit is thought to also be mortal, because He also was visible once as dove and at another time as fire. Both the Son and the Spirit were visible to mortal eyes in various forms and various times, all implying, according to the antagonists, that both the Son and the Spirit were visible, mortal, and changeable; therefore, 1 Timothy 1:17 cannot apply to them but only to the Father.

Augustine begins by asking who the contenders think was walking in the Garden of Eden from whose face Adam hid. Was it the Father or the Son? Why not the Father, especially when the form of the narrative signifies no change of the Divine Person from chapter 1 to chapter 3. If we understand that the world was made by the Father through the Word, why not also accept that Adam saw the Father in a visible form. In fact, the visibility of the Father is not impossible in the same way as the audibility of Father was not impossible (as in John 12:28 and Matthew 17:5 when His voice is heard apart of the Spirit and the Son). Obviously, the voice was not of the Spirit; for, nowhere is Jesus called as the Son of the Holy Spirit. ‘But here, where it is written, “And the Lord God said to Adam,”‘ says Augustine ‘no reason can be given why the Trinity itself should not be understood.’

Augustine goes on to examine the theophanies to Abraham, Lot, Moses, the Israelites in wilderness, and to Daniel. Why not accept the three-person appearance to Abraham as the visitation of the Trinity, especially when none of them is shown to be lesser or greater to the other? Next, the two angels that appeared to Lot could be understood to be the Son and the Spirit, since They say that They were sent, and nowhere does it say that the Father is sent; however, He is the sender. The goal of Augustine is to show that visibility cannot be limited to only the Son and the Spirit, but even the Father can be seen as being visible at times. However, in His divine nature, the Triune God cannot be seen corporeally, “but we must believe that by means of the creature made subject to Him, not only the Son, or the Holy Spirit, but also the Father, may have given intimations of Himself to mortal senses by a corporeal form or likeness.”

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See Augustine On Trinity, Book II.

Prophets, Apostles, and Canonicity of the Bible

Apostle Paul WritingThe Bible contains 66 books that are considered together to be the canon (i.e. standard rule). There were many other books which the church fathers did not include into the canon because they failed to fulfill the 5-fold criteria of canonicity. The 5-fold criteria was:

  1. Authorship: It should be authored by an apostle or a prophet or a holy man of God.
  2. Local Church Acceptance: It should have been accepted in the local churches of First Century Christians
  3. Recognition by Church Fathers: It should have been recognized as scripture by the church fathers in their writings.
  4. Sound Doctrine: It should convey sound doctrine and must be consistent with the revelation of God.
  5. Personal Edification: It should be dynamic in nature towards transformation of lives and contribute as spiritual food and light for personal edification.

The Old Testament canon was already recognized during the time of Jesus and the Apostles and referred to as the Law and the Prophets. The New Testament canon was being recognized by the Apostles, for example when Peter treats Paul’s writings as scriptures (2Pet.3:16) and when John affirms his book of prophecy as that to which nothing must be added and from which nothing must be removed. The NT canon was declared during the 3rd Council of Carthage in AD 397. The church father Athanasius listed them in his 39th Paschal letter (AD 367).

We understand the apostolic authorship of the New Testament and the prophetic authorship of the Old Testament very clearly from the writings themselves. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus being the corner stone (Eph.2:20).

One important keystone is the prophetic explanations provided in the Bible, which certainly cannot be based on any other authority than God Himself. For instance, in Judges 14 we find the account of Samson adamant to marry a philistine girl, though his parents are not in favor of this. The writer of Judges notes here: “his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD — that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” (Judges 14:4). One would ask, “How did this writer know what was in the mind of God? Was he just interpreting God’s mind on the basis of a retrospection of incidents that happened? If so, how can he make an authoritative statement like that? Can anyone know the mind of God?” Obviously, the answer is that only the Spirit of God knows the mind of God and the Scriptures were given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1Cor.2:10,11; 2Pet.1:21; 2Tim.3:16).

See:
Outline of Theology
How Do I Know that the Bible is True?

Narrative Criticism

Narrative criticism is a form of literary criticism applied to biblical studies that developed in the past few decades since the 1970s. As a method of approach, it  focuses more on stories, events, people, discourses and settings. According to A Dictionary of the Bible,  “The main thesis is that readers (e.g. of the gospels) should read the narratives and respond to them as the authors hoped.” The previous approaches to biblical criticism, viz. form, redaction, historical, and textual are considered to have become obsolete and effecting no conclusive results. According to Mark W. G. Stibbe,

Until the late 1970s, the traditional methods for the study of the gospels and Acts were form criticism, source criticism, historical criticism, tradition history, redaction criticism, and textual criticism…. …traditional methods of interpretation were more concerned with what lay behind NT narratives than with their form and their literary, artistic features….

A change began to occur most noticeably in the 1980s, when two books were published on Mark as Story (Rhoads and Michie, 1982; Best, 1983); one on Matthew as Story (Kingsbury, 1986), one on The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts (Tannehill, 1986), and one on the Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (Culpepper, 1983). Each of these works, and a number of lesser-known books and articles… took up the challenge of looking at the final form of the gospels and Acts in order to highlight those narrative dynamics which traditional methods had neglected.[1]

According to John David Punch, “the pendulum has swung, for literary criticism looks at the text as a whole with virtually no interest in sources, traditions, or redactional material.”[2]

Christopher T. Paris observes, “Narrative criticism embraces the textual unity of canonical criticism while historical criticism holds fast to textual divisions that arose from multiple sources and editors. Narrative criticism admits the existence of sources and redactions but chooses to focus on the artistic weaving of these materials into a sustained narrative picture.” [3]

The narrative critic tries to first establish the literary aspect and genre of the text (whether it is fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry?. Then, he goes on to analyse the setting, plot, theme, characters, story elements, etc. His goal is to understand what the narrator (author) of the narrative really wanted to communicate and how he accomplishes it.

NOTES


1. Mark W. G. Stibbe, John as Storyteller: Narrative Criticism and the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p5.
2. John David Punch, The Pericope Adulterae: Theories of Insertion & Omission, Doctoral Dissertation submitted to Radboud University Nijmegen, 19 April 2010.
3. Christopher T. Paris, Narrative Obtrusion in the Hebrew Bible, PhD Dissertation submitted to Graduate School of Vanderbilt University, May 2012. p4.

Is it not cruel for God to kill His Son in place of us?

The doctrine of atonement is a stumbling block for some who feel that it not only exemplifies cruelty but also does away with human responsibility. The issue abounds with various questions and attempts to solution.

Questions:
1. If God knew that man would sin and fall, why did He create man?
2. Why doesn’t God, if He exists, intervene and stop evil; why just be Judge but not be Governor with proper police security system that minimises the possibility of transgression?
3. How can the death of one particular man atone for the sins of many particular men?
4. Isn’t it not cruel to punish an innocent man for the sins of others so that they go free?

Answers that challenge the Christian doctrine:
1. God does not require sacrifice in order to forgive, He can forgive by sovereign authority.
2. Every man must bear his own guilt so that he has a sense of responsibility and possess a genuine reason to pursue good and turn from evil.

Biblical Responses:
1. God’s knowledge of human Fall is historical and not potential at par with His knowledge of the creation of man.
2. God is both Governor and Judge but humans live in a status of wilful rebellion and enmity against His rulership but with a choice to surrender or be judged.
3. The death of Jesus can atone for every man’s sins because Jesus is the Source of all creation and Head of all things.
4. God is One and the sacrifice of Christ the One God was voluntary self-giving of Love.

1. God’s sovereignty doesn’t imply the denial of injustice by arbitrary pardoning, in which case the element of injustice is allowed to subsist rather than removed from the moral world. The crucifixion put an end to all rebellion by allowing the Judge Himself to die to rise again as Author of the new Creation with the power to destroy all things that do not submit to Him. The crucifixion and resurrection portray the victory of God over all chaos wrought by evil and injustice in the moral universe.
2. This is not contradicted by the doctrine of confession, repentance, and new life.