Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Stretching Our Theological Imaginations

Christianity stretches our theological imagination. The fundamentalisms of the right and left are, at root, a failure of theological imagination. And, to my way of thinking, there are three key 'stretches' in the historic faith of the church, that once assimilated into our way of seeing everything (including Scripture) is utterly liberating. The three stretches are:

  • The doctrine of the Trinity
  • The doctrine of the Incarnation (in which I include life, death, resurrection of Jesus)
  • The doctrine of creation, including creatio ex nihilo and transcendence.
Here are three examples of the kind of stretching required. First, the insight that God is not just somewhere else ('up there, a long, long way away' which is the meaning liberals attach to transcendence, and on this basis reject it for some kind of pantheism or, that blunt instrument of a term, panentheism) but somehow else. But how? Exactly. And incidentally, the implications of this in terms of God's presence and intimacy to and with creation gives everything pantheism does without corrupting our integrity as distinct from God and therefore free. And it is a much more precise theological formula than 'panentheism. See for example Phillip's use of it in terms of a non-competitive God, and a God who can save without diminishing our humanity.

Second, a God who is not defined (like creaturely being) by only separation and difference, but can be fully distinct and fully united with what it is not. I am not a rock because I am human. God can be human and divine without compromise of that humanity or divinity. Now that is stretching things. How to conceive of this? Well, actually, think of the Jesus of the Gospels and you come close. And just to re-stretch your imagination if thinking of Jesus requires little imagination: remember, if the Word (divinity) were removed from Jesus, what would be left? The answer? Nothing would be left. But Jesus is, and always is, fully human.

Third, that in the particular life of this one person, mapped reasonably accurately to a particular time in earth history, with all the baggage attending this history, brings healing and completion to everything that is, including planets and stars hundreds of light years away. Now that is an extraordinary claim. In fact, for me, the jump in theological imagination required is the relatively small jump (or so it would seem in comparison to the claim that Jesus saves the whole cosmos) from Jesus saving humankind. how can one particular life be so universal? Once you have made the jump from the dot of his one life to the circle of the all humanity, then enlarging the circle doesn't take all that more theological imagination, or perhaps I should say, not a jump in kind, just magnitude. But think about it, what an extraordinary claim to make of particularity, especially given the experience of our inefficacious influence on a very small circle of influence. Now that is stretching the theological imagination. No wonder the extremes of right and left tempt, and the historic faith of the church claims the status of a revelation.

1 comment:

stephen clark said...

This is good.
Reflecting on being given the keys of the kingdom of heaven last week, I suggested that the binding and the loosing are parts of the of the same thing...what would I imagine I am being given when being given the keys...what would I need to bind (I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity) and I need to bind myself to true doctrine as revealed in Christ.
And What do I need to loose...the freedom for which we are created (cf Galatian 5). The liberating stretching of our imagination...I might say our imaginal life.