Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thinking Like a Christian: Obedience Unto Death

Here is Alan Torrance (nephew of Thomas Torrance and son of James Torrance) developing Barth's understanding, basically, of what Thomas Torrance has called Theological Science (which is developed further by Torrance in his so called 'epistemological inversion'); which has to do with how we know things or persons (in brief). Here is Alan Torrance:

[T]his requires a reassessment of the question of truthfulness such that it is conceived neither in terms of successful, objective reference projecting across the gulf between the human and the divine (i.e. in terms of a 'correspondence theory of truth'), nor in terms of internal consistency within a system of propositions or ideas (i.e. in terms of a 'coherence theory of truth'), but in terms of what is customarily assumed to be a quite foreign category, one that is subjective and ethical, namely obedience --- the obedience of thought and of mind. Theological truthfulness is a form of intellectual obedience before the Reality of God. Here, Barth comes close to interpreting truth in 'performative' terms. However, the truth-performance connection here is not bound up with any autonomous human performance, but with the divine speech-act performed in and through the ambiguous event of God's Self-veiling/unveiling in the human context. Truthfulness is ultimately to be found, therefore, in and through the divine event of Self-communication in the Church, where the obedience of the human hearer is included within the divine speech-act and where God is 'heard', and therefore conceived, in a creative divine act of the reconciliation of the human mind to himself. [Alan Torrance, Persons In Communion: Trinitarian Description And Human Participation, 14]

Obedience Unto Death
Once again, as I have frequently noted here, the engagement of the reality of God (coram Deo) cannot be detached from God's own Self-givenness in his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. This calls for a certain posture and attitude toward the reality of God that is participatory, personal, and present in and from the life of God mediated to and for us in the humanity of Christ (I Timothy 2:5,6). The reality of God is outside of us, and comes apocalyptically to us in the person of Christ (along with the Holy Spirit). We only hear from God, moment by moment, through his Word for us; and this then becomes the 'place' wherein dogmatic knowledge and formulation comes to the fore. That is, through a loving intimate relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit. We are not Lord, he is; and this must shape the way we speak and act theologically. Here is how A. Torrance follows his development of Barth here, by quoting from Barth's Church Dogmatics:

... what is under debate in dogmatics is the Church's fundamental relation of obedience to its Lord in respect of its proclamation ... A dogmatics which it (the Church) might  not pursue, in whose enquiry it did not wholly participate as in the enquiry about its whole existence, a dogmatics which might let itself be crowded into the corner of religious intellectuals or the intellectually religious, could only be a poor, useless and tedious dogmatics which it would be better not to pursue at all. We pursue dogmatics because, unconstrained by the fact of the Bible, we cannot shake off the question of the obedience of Church proclamation. The question of its obedience includes that of its truth. But the question of its truth can be put only as the question of its obedience. As the question of its obedience it is the question of its dogma. [Karl Barth, CD 1.1, 274-5 cited by Alan Torrance, Persons In Communion: Trinitarian Description And Human Participation, 15]

Thomas Torrance calls this approach 'repentant thinking'; the point is that unlike most of propositionally-philosophically-analytically derived approaches to 'knowing' (and knowing God), this paradigm believes that Christian truth, in particular, only comes as we are conditioned and put 'under' and brought into the environs of truth as it is opened up in Jesus Christ. We don't first construct a matrix and then try to fit God into that matrix; instead we are the ones placed into the matrix of God in Jesus Christ. This requires, at least, an analogy of faith (V. an analogy of being), or analogy of relation; or as A. Torrance will develop in this book an 'analogy of communion'. So we obey because God first loved us that we might love him.

There are many contemporary applications of this for the American (Western) Evangelical church, but I will have to put this off for another time.

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