Sunday 6 May 2007

Three things I do (and do not) believe

Today’s a public holiday here, so I’ll be spending a leisurely day in Maleny, one of my favourite Aussie towns. In the meantime, here’s a brief re-posting (originally posted last year):

Three things I believe

1. I believe that Jesus Christ is God’s self-giving Word.
2. I believe that this Word is a wholly good Word for all people.
3. I believe that this good Word is the meaning of life.

Three things I do not believe

1. I do not believe that the meaning of the word “God” is obvious or self-evident.
2. I do not believe that God is either self-evidently “transcendent” or self-evidently “immanent.”
3. I do not believe that God’s will and work can be directly identified with anything in our religion, culture or experience.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben. I remember the first time I read these I was struck by the 3rd thing you do not believe.

I still have a bit of difficulty understanding what you are saying because I'm not entirely sure what you mean when you use the words/expressions "God's will", "directly" and "our religion". Would you mind explaining this one a bit more?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the second thing you don't believe, I like the fact that you've not committed yourself to acceptance or rejection of the adjectives 'transcendent' or 'immanent' in reference to God, only to the claim that they don't apply self-evidently. As Christians, we have to move on from there and affirm the immanence of God in Christ as a revealed truth. But must we do the same with transcendence, or can we legitimately remain agnostic on that score? I guess I've asked you similar questions before, but I'm still trying to sort this out.

JohnO said...

Regarding the first thing you believe , doesn't the Gospel of John say that the word/Logos became manifested as flesh in the person of Jesus? Therefore, until that manifestation came in Jesus, the word/Logos was manifested in other ways, right? Isn't that what Hebrews1 says? That in past times God spoke in different ways, but now he has spoken by his Son?

Anonymous said...

I wonder to what extent what you say you believe is/is not seeded by your specific education. How would you....could you.... rephrase them the common man. For example, what does "not self-evidently immanent" mean - or does it mean anything - to the common man. You aren't saying that Christ was not a human being, I'm, yes, I'd like more elucidation as well.

Also - what is 'self-evident' - or noetic in the presentation of the person of Christ to us?

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these comments. Perhaps I should add that the "three things I don't believe" are really just intended as clarifications of the first three points: i.e., (1) the meaning of the word "God" is not self-evident, since Jesus Christ shows us who God is; (2) we can't apply any a priori metaphysical concepts to God, since we need to learn about God's "godness" from Jesus Christ; and (3) the act of God's "godness" is continuous with the history of Jesus, but discontinuous with all our own religious constructs.

I don't know if that helps -- sorry if it's still unclear! In a nutshell, all I was trying to say was this: if we want to know who God is, we have to look at the man Jesus.

Anonymous said...

That does help, though I thought what you were saying was clear anyway. My difficulty is in finding the transcendence of God revealed in the man Jesus.

Anonymous said...

I think these 6 treatises are helpful. Although I'm still a little hesitant to say that knowledge of God boils down to knowledge of Jesus. Surely knowledge of the Father, and of the Spirit count for something. As well as the ways in which God has worked within His creation throughout history.

But I think the 3rd 'do not believe' point is quite profound. I was very skeptical at first, but I think I see where you are going. Religion, Culture, and Experience, cannot BE, of their own accord, God's will and work. God's will and work belong to God. All three can, however, be indirectly identified with God's will and work in this world, and in turn can still tell us something of God.

Very interesting.

olvlzl said...

I believe that we are to feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoner, comfort the aflicted and to see Jesus in the least among us. The others are above my head.

Ben Myers said...

Jon: as far as terminology goes, I myself don't really find the "transcendent/immanent" binary to be very helpful or profound -- and I agree that if you try to find "transcendence" in the history of Jesus, it's hard to know just what you should be looking for.

If we take Jesus' own proclamation of the kingdom seriously, then perhaps a much more important predicate of God is "imminent" (not "immanent"): God is always near because he is always coming; and God's radical difference lies also in the fact that he is always the coming one. An approach along these lines has much more to do with temporality and eschatology than with any a priori metaphysics of presence.

Hi Olvlzl: I agree! Perhaps I should have included this as a sub-point under #2, i.e., as an ethical implication of the fact that Jesus Christ is God's good Word to all human beings.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben, I thought that was a clever and helpful answer. I'm interested in whether it's necessary for a Christian to believe God is transcendent for two reasons:
(1) This assumption decreases the overlap between the subject matter of science and religion.
(2) If God is necessarily transcendent, then agnosticism about transcendence equates to agnosticism about God, and disbelief in transcendence equates to disbelief in God. But if not, then scepticism about transcendence need not be a barrier to belief in God.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Jon: "If God is necessarily transcendent, then agnosticism about transcendence equates to agnosticism about God" -- Yes, I think that's an important problem, especially if "transcendent" is simply referring to something like "supernatural" (in which case, agnosticism about ghosts and agnosticism about God are simply two types of the same thing!).

For that reason, whenever I do use the term "transcendent", I'm careful to use it in the strict Hegelian sense: i.e., transcendence is not the opposite of immanence, but it is that which also transcends the opposition between immanence and transcendence. Used in that proper sense, I think the term can help to undermine the tendency that you're describing, where God is reduced to just one more supernatural and non-material being alongside others (fairies, ghosts, demons, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Rather than saying that God transcends the opposition between immanence and transcendence, what about saying that God is the opposition between immanence and transcendence, which is to say that God is trinitarian.

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