Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Hijacking: Christ the Abstraction and Not The Center

The Westminster Confession of Faith in its first article (chapter II) on a doctrine of God starts with God, simpliciter. There is a long history of this method for thinking of God in the Christian Tradition. Peter Lombard in his Sentences employed this methodology for ordering his thinking about God; indeed, John Calvin himself---in his late Medieval situation---orders his Institute in similar fashion. I have heard it argued from folk who follow this classic methodology that this really isn't a stretch at all; in fact, this (they argue) is the order that God himself has provided in his own disclosure in Scripture (starting in Genesis through Revelation). Here is the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF):

I. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (see full citation, here)

It is not until article III of this same chapter that the WCF speaks of God as triune. And this is my short critique of this methodology; even if it had started with God as triune---which would have been laudable---where a doctrine of God ought to start---for the Christian---is with Christ. This is not to go outside of Scripture's order, but to follow it in the way that it re-interprets everything through its fulfillment in Christ. John 1:1 is a primary example of this kind of re-interpretation (or as one of my favorites, Irenaeus of Lyons, has named it, recapitulation); the theologian, The Apostle John Writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

This, as many commentators have noted throughout the history of biblical interpretation, is a Christian re-reading and direct allusion to Genesis 1:1 ('In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'). And this helps illustrate what I am after relative to articulating a proper order to constructing a genuinely Christian theology. The WCF does not start with Christ. Indeed, it doesn't even start with God as Trinity; instead it appeals to classic Greek philosophical categories for its understanding of what God must be like. But this is not Christian; it does not honor the New Testament's mode of reinterpreting the Old Testament promises in light of their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. No, the WCF, and the whole classical theistic tradition (of which it is a part) can only, logically, think of Christ as an abstraction; as an addition to its concept of Godness; only to be spoken of later, like a dangling participle. So we end up, if we follow the WCF (and classical Christianity), with, at best, a theocentric ('god-centred') religion; but not a christocentric ('Christ-centred') belief structure, that is genuinely Christian. Donald Bloesch emphasizes the importance of following a Christ-centred methodology as the starting point for beginning our theological studies (even our Theology Proper/Doctrine of God):

[C]hristology constitutes the heart of theology, since it focuses on God's work of salvation in the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth and the bearing that this has on the history of humankind. To know the nature of God we must see his face in Jesus Christ. To know the plan of God for the world we must see this plan realized in the cross of Christ and fulfilled in his resurrection and second advent. Whereas philosophy ponders the nature of God in the abstract, theology reflects on the divine-human encounter in history as we find this in Jesus Christ. The way to knowledge of God is through knowledge of Christ, and the way to knowledge of Christ is by faith in his promises as revealed in the Bible. Donald G. Bloesch, "Jesus Christ: Lord & Savior," 16-7. 

This is quite radical! Being a Christian ought to be radical. So you have a choice; are you going to be a classical or radical Christian? The former means you will be entrenched in philosophical abstraction seeking a way to integrate Christianity into that mould; the latter means that you will start with Jesus Christ as God's Self-revelation, and it will be here that knowledge of God as triune will become the touchstone upon which a Christian theology can genuinely move forward as, Christian. 

I grow weary of the great hijacking of the Christian faith, and the implications this has for regular Christian folk who sit in the pew. To be sure, most Evangelicals in America aren't even getting theology or doctrine anymore; if they are though, it is steeped in the heritage that something like the WCF hath bequeathed upon us---viz. the god of the philosophers, not the God known to us in and through, Jesus Christ! What a tragedy  . . . 


  1. Bobby, I swiped this post for my FB page.
    Mark Pierson

  2. "it does not honor the New Testament's mode of reinterpreting the Old Testament promises in light of their fulfillment in Jesus Christ." POWERFUL!


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