Rethinking the Rethinking of Transcendence


In his recent article “Rethinking Transcendence,” Greg Boyd invites us to reconsider our understanding of divinity in light of God’s self-revelation in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:
Consider, would it ever occur to anyone to think that God is “above” experiencing things sequentially, or that God is “above” experiencing any kind of change, if they anchored all their reflections about God in the Word who became flesh (Jn 1:14) and who then offered himself up on our behalf? And would it ever occur to anyone to imagine that God is “above” being affected by others and “above” experiencing passionate emotions or suffering if their thinking about God was consistently oriented around the one who suffered humiliation and death at the hands of wicked humans and fallen powers? I, for one, do not see how. The revelation of God on the cross runs directly counter to the divine attributes of the classical philosophical conception of God.
I used to preach along similar lines not too many years ago. I drank deeply at the theological wells of Robert W. Jenson, Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. I learned from them that an irresolvable conflict exists between the God of the Bible and the omnipotent, impassible, immutable deity of hellenistic philosophy. I learned from them that the Church Fathers, the very Fathers who taught us the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, allowed their philosophical apprehension of divinity to corrupt the clear teaching of the Scriptures. And I learned from them that the right preaching of the Crucified demands that we allow the biblical narrative to inform and radically transform our inherited notions of divinity. We must return to the purity of the gospel. I found it all quite compelling.

But over the past decade I have begun to critically reassess the de-hellenization project. Robert Sokolowski, Herbert McCabe, and David B. Hart have been particularly influential here, as well as my rediscovery of the early books of Eric L. Mascall. And then, of course, there has been my reading of the Church Fathers themselves. In their writings one sees brilliant theologians and preachers struggling to articulate a faithful understanding of the God made known in Jesus Christ. The more I read the Fathers, the less compelling I find the hellenization thesis of Jenson, Moltmann, and Pannenberg. The reality is more complex.



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