Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Faith Story IV -- Divinity of Jesus

The next step in my faith story came in seminary when I confronted my difficulty with the divinity of Jesus.

I took an elective course in Christology, with Dr. G, an extraordinary teacher of theology and philosophy. He was one of those teachers who was willing to stay with the subject until he sensed the students understood it. Invited questions. Asked us whether we understood. He was educated at Yale, and I think was quite a bit more conservative theologically than I, yet hearing my struggle he was the one who recommended that I read John Cobb's Christ in a Pluralistic Age for the Christology class.

As I was thinking about this, I realized that I could remember practically NO details of how Cobb convinced me of Jesus' divinity--so typical of me. My memory has never been good, and at 51 it's getting scary bad. So I searched my files this morning and found my paper, written in the Fall of 1995. I'm going to retype several of the relevant paragraphs of this paper here. I should know this! Sheesh!

The paper actually compares the christology of Cobb and John Hick and discusses the transformations of religions as they encounter one another. I'll start with the ending:

Near the end I say that "when our tradition is bypassed or relegated to a place less important than celebrating pluralism (which is Hick's position) then we have no anchor. We have nothing to counter Feuerbach's criticism that human religious experience is only misunderstood self-awareness. Our tradition tells us that God is revealed in Jesus Christ, an assertion with which John Cobb emphatically agrees. If we do not keep that tradition squarely before us, countering the notion of metaphor-only with Jesus as exemplar or inspiration (helpful as those may be), then we, as Christians, risk foundering in nihilism.

"Cobb provides a way of countering Feuerbach by explaining how salvation/transformation could take place in reality, outside of and separate from ourselves. In addition to grounding salvation in a view of reality that places great importance on relationality and community, process theology also tells us that the 'I' that determines our reality and who we are is influenced both from our own past and from outside ourselves, from the Logos, or God."

Just re-reading only this much, I can see how important not falling victim to self-deception has always been to me. Reading Feuerbach--and I only read about his claims--struck fear in my heart--yikes, I thought, maybe we're only fooling ourselves! So, from the very beginning of my intellectual career, I was looking for inner and outer corroboration.

OK, now I take it from the top:

"Cobb writes in the introduction to Christ in a Pluralistic Age that 'in the chapters that follow, the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus is affirmed literally and seriously, as by traditional theology...But this distinctive structure of Jesus' existence is recognized as one of the many structures of existence that have appeared in human history. The supernaturalist and exclusivist implications that the tradition drew from its correct starting point are rejected.' (27)

"By 'structures of existence' Cobb is saying that we are oriented toward the future and toward becoming. In the old Darwinian/Cartesian mode of existence and thinking, we are conditioned primarily by our past, but in the postmodern worldview we began to see things quite differently. As we experience life, we are continually confronted by a myriad of possibilities as to behavior, attitude, thoughts, etc. We can choose simply to rearrange different elements (nothing really new), or we can choose to allow different elements to create new possibilities. The more open we are to the new, the easier it is for all these various aspects of ourselves to be what Cobb calls creatively transformed. And as we choose the good and are transformed, there is created around us a sphere of existence, or a field of force, that emanates outward and effects its surroundings."

I'll skip some here. Cobb says that Christ is the "principle of creative transformation which always calls forth the better, the more beautiful, than the given. This evoking of something better and more beautiful is a mysterious power and it cannot be explained by the action of the world environment." (71)

"The 'mysterious power' is a lure, drawing us toward the good. It is a reality, a structure of existence, that the Christian tradition has called Logos. Cobb says the Logos is in all of us; it is always there in some fashion. However, our attitudes, beliefs, behavior, etc. can effectively close down any influence from the Logos. 'Structures of existence are correlated with different roles of the Logos.' (138)

"Cobb maintains that in Jesus the Logos constituted Jesus' very selfhood. We know from historial accounts of Jesus that he spoke and acted with a divine authority that was distinctive. We know that the words of Jesus are transformative for us today. We know that Jesus' historical reality has generated a 'field of force' that has continued through the centuries in the memories of our ancestors so that today the historical reality of the man Jesus of Nazareth exerts a certain influence and power on us who know his story and believe his words. Although the Logos is present everywhere and to some extent in all of us, Cobb maintains that Jesus' incarnation of the Logos was distinctive, and that this explains the sense of divine authority about him."

"Cobb says that who we are, the 'I' that determines our reality, is 'usually constituted by continuity with the 'I' of preceding moments.' (139) When we are open to the Logos as creative transformation, we experience the lure toward the good as coming to us from outside ourselves. We may experience it s basically positive, or to the degree that we are stuck in the past and unwilling to open ourselves up to creative possibilities, we may exerience it as threatening and basically negative. (139) Whether negative or positive, this is the structure of existence most of us experience."

"But this is not the only possible structure of existence. It is possible that the Logos could share in constituting the 'I,' or who we are. If this occurred, the usual tension between our human behavior, attitudes, thoughts, etc. and the lure toward the good calling to us from outside ourselves would not occur. As Cobb puts it, the usual tension between our human 'aim and the ideal possibility of self-actualization that is the Logos would not occur.' (140)

"Cobb believes that Jesus lived this structures of existence. He incarnated the Logos so that each moment was open to the possibility of creative transformation. Of particular note is how Cobb explains the force of Jesus' incarnation of the Logos on us today. In most of our experiences, various elements come together and are simply rearranged, thus intensity of the experience is dulled. But...

"there are times when we feel peculiarly alive, when the rich potentialities for experience that pour in upon us are synthesized into new forms that allow each to make their full contribution. These moments exercise an influence upon their future that is greatly disproportionate to their temporal endurance or frequency. We can dimly imagine what it might be for us to be continuously alive in this full sense, in each moment growing beyond our past through its inclusion in a richer whole that includes others as well." (145)

"Jesus' selfhood as the Logos was life experienced in this way, says Cobb, and the field of force that it produced was of a 'truly unusual magnitude sustained and extended through repeated acts of remembrance. (145)

"Cobb says we have no way of knowing whether others have ever lived this particular structure of existence. For Guautama Siddhartha perhaps the structure was not exactly the same, but no less powerful. In any case, the 'distinctiveness of Jesus can be spoken of in terms of Christ. Christ is the incarnate Logos...The distinctive structure of Jesus' existence was characterized by personal identity with the immanent Logos. Hence it is a matter of literal truth to affirm the identity of Jesus with Christ." (142)

One aside here regarding the church and hope:

"The church is especially important because the church is the place where the memory of Jesus Christ is kept alive and effective. Actually naming Jesus Christ, and holding an awareness of serving Jesus Christ, empowers creative transformation in a special way. (54) Not that the church does it right, not that it hasn't made horrible mistakes, says Cobb, but because it is the place where Christ is the center, the church at least has the potential to lessen the fragmentation of life. It is a community that holds before us the field of force which Jesus generated and which is continually renewed as we read and study his life and teachings. The church is intimately connected with hope."

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