Day: February 3, 2011

the all-purpose theological trump card (iii)

It’s probably about time I answered for my outrageous suggestion about the possibility of overstating the importance of the story of Israel.

And I’d like to strengthen my original suggestion. Not only does the grand narrative of God’s promises worked out through Israel and climactically fulfilled in Jesus not solve every theological problem, I believe that it actually creates some of the most enduring ones.

This is not to say that it doesn’t recast or relativise many theological (and exegetical) problems. I’ve gone on record as a card-carrying believer in its importance in the case of the problem of evil as well as of the squabble over the precise connotation of daily in ‘Give us today our daily bread’.

But some of the toughest questions in Christology aren’t quite so lucky.

I have in mind questions about how to maintain the integrity of Christ’s divine and human natures without jeopardising their relationship with one another.

These are the kind of questions that make contemporary theologians shuffle their feet and look down (because these theologians are good post-Enlightenment thinkers and therefore cagey about metaphysics).

Take John Calvin’s approach, for example. His description of the person and work of Christ has been (justifiably) described as ‘classical’ and even ‘catholic’. And yet this is not because Calvin — willingly or unwillingly — accommodated metaphysical questions against the better impulses of his Protestant hostility to speculation.

Rather, a careful study of the train of thought running through Book 2 of his magisterial Institutes of the Christian Religion reveals that it’s precisely his attention to the story of Israel that leads him to pose questions about what it might mean and how it might work for God the Son to enter into and take to himself our human plight.

Of course, Calvin’s attention to Israel’s story does shed fresh light on these old problems — most famously in his elevation of the ‘offices’ of Christ (as prophet, king and priest) to a position of pivotal importance in his account of who Jesus is and what he achieved.

But it’s also the very thing that serves up the Christological questions, rendering them inescapable and necessary to tackle — even if some of the answers Calvin provides must be judged finally unsatisfactory…