Monday, July 16, 2012

Revelation and Resurrection

My thoughts once again circle around to the doctrine of revelation.  I am pretty convinced that we (by which I mean, Christians in the evangelical tradition) do not have a handle on it.  I think the reason we don't have a handle on it is that we don't see it as problematic.  God reveals himself - something about Jesus, more about the Bible, bish bash bosh, job done.  Let's call it a doctrine.  Obviously, there are lots more thoughtful treatments of the subject than that, but I haven't come across many which try to get to grips with what is, for me, the central question of our time: 'how could God reveal himself to us?'

A few things about the question:

1.  Methodologically, we need to be committed to a certain weak circularity here.  That is to say, we must decline to look at answers which are not themselves based on revelation.  Rather than imagining channels through which God might be revealed, and then investigating them for revelatory content (which is the procedure of, say, Schleiermacher and the whole liberal school of the 19th century), we need to face up to the fact that we could only find out how God could reveal himself by examining how God did reveal himself. Start with the gospel, and then move to theology and philosophy.

2.  The question is made problematic by the recognition in Kant and post-Kantian epistemology that human beings are not merely receptive in their perception of the world.  Each of us, and all of us collectively in the various groups and societies in which we find ourselves, shape the 'world' that we perceive.  We bring as much as we receive.  I think this is undeniably true, but I think the implications are widely ignored (in analytic philosophy, and in English-speaking theology).  Those implications are manifold, but one huge one is the raising of another question - how could God give himself to be known by us in a way which does not also constitute giving himself away?  How could God reveal himself without becoming another object, becoming just another building block in my construction of my 'world'?  (The wider philosophical question is what forces me, at least, to walk somewhere between a naive realism and a full-blown phenomenology).

3.  The answer, I think, lies in the analogy between incarnation and inscripturation.  God did give himself to us in such a way that he became subject to our deepest distortion of reality.  In the person of Christ, God gave himself, and to all appearances gave himself away.  That is to say, at the cross, the God-man can scarcely be seen as divine at all.  God's revelation, at its highest point, has been incorporated into anti-God constructions of the 'world' - materially, by the crucifixion.  The resurrection, however, shows that this apparent giving away of God is nothing other than the material condition of his final triumph over all such false constructions of the world.  God rescues his revelation, and in so doing shows that it was always his intention to let it walk the way of humiliation.  Is the same true in revelation generally?  In committing the witness to Christ to writing - to Scripture - God gives himself away again.  Here we have a book, another object over which I am a subject, material which I can interpret any which I please, and which I must inevitably interpret according to my situation, background etc. etc.  Is God's revelation lost?  Only if he doesn't come back to it; only if there aren't little epistemic resurrections of the text which triumph over our individual constructions.  God fights back against all our misreading.

4.  Pneumatology must be the end point, as the starting point.  Incarnate of the Holy Ghost - driven along by the Holy Spirit - reminded of all these things.  These phrases are linked historically and theologically.

Still thinking...

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