Friday, February 07, 2020

Gospel, philosophies, cultures - disconnected thoughts

1.  The only culture to which the gospel is bound is that of Israel, as that culture is created and witnessed through the Scriptures of the Old Testament.  That the gospel is bound to this culture is no comment on the suitability of Israel per se, but relies on the fact that the Word of God has taken Jewish, Israelite flesh into personal union with himself in Christ Jesus.  The pre-existence of Israel, before the coming of Christ, is already founded on his future incarnation.  So the gospel is bound to the culture of Israel as expressed in the OT because God has bound that culture to himself in Christ.

2.  No philosophical or cultural background other than OT Israel is inherently more suitable for receiving or expressing the gospel than another.  The gospel has power to express itself in a variety of cultural and philosophical settings, but this power does not come from or depend on the cultural or philosophical milieu.  The power is all in the gospel, in God's Word, to take conceptual, linguistic, and narrative worlds which are in themselves merely human (and therefore incapable of being vehicles for God's revelation) and use them to express divine truth.  Or to put it another way, Jesus can speak many languages.

3.  Every culture and philosophy - and I am not clear in my own mind whether this includes OT Israel or not! - has a tendency to distort the gospel.  Maybe it's the tendency of classical philosophy towards freezing god; maybe it's the Hegelian tendency to bury god in the processes of history.  Maybe it's the modernist assumption that salvation means progress; maybe its the postmodern assumption that salvation means individual liberation from all norms.  Whatever it is, there is always a particular ditch, or several particular ditches, into which any cultural and philosophical framework threatens to drive the gospel.  This does not prevent the Word of God from speaking into and even through those frameworks; nor does it imply that in all, or any, other respects those frameworks are inherently suitable for the gospel (see point 2 above).  But we are not excused from trying to discern the weak points and the danger areas.

4.  A philosophical or cultural framework can shift under prolonged 'pressure' from the gospel.  Classical philosophical concepts, for example, end up being reshaped as Christian content is 'poured' into them.  This can give the impression that here we have a 'Christian philosophy' or a 'Christian culture'.  Better to say that we have a philosophy or culture which has been affected by Christianity, but which still in itself stands against the gospel and in need of constant correction.

5.  Where the church has historically wrestled through particular theological issues using a conceptual and linguistic framework from the past, we may consider ourselves to be bound to their conclusions without being bound to that framework.  For example, we may (and I think should) hold that the church made an irreversible decision and definition at the councils of Nicea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon; but we are also at liberty to express that same conclusion in a different philosophical framework, and indeed we may have an obligation to do so.  In such cases, we can expect a degree of tough questioning as to whether we are really saying the same thing; and that is something to which we should be prepared to submit.

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