Saturday, April 27, 2019

Wet fish theology

The opening of John Feinberg's No One Like Him (his doctrine of God contribution to the series Foundations of Evangelical Theology) sent shivers down my spine.

But not good ones!

The first move for belief springs from the creation: Feinberg tells us that "It is hard to imagine that it just "happened" ". As though his imaginative circumference defines the scope of imagination for us all.

Then we slip into his view of a universal hankering for a divine command theory of moral epistemology. A similar forlorn romanticism to the wonders of his imagination, with "...we sense that there must be a moral lawgiver." Some might agree with this, but  many would not; and while there seems to be a universal moral sense that needs explaining; projecting our notion of legislation onto the creator of the universe trivialises the whole notion of the divine.

But we are not yet finished.

The impetus for belief in God stems also "from a desire to understand who we are and why we are here." This is close to a useful theological starting point, although has an discomforting instrumental flavour to it. However, any good it does is immediately swamped by another emotional outburst of romantic floundering: we need a friend in times of trouble...God as problem-solver.

Is that all God is? An emergency aid worker for the crestfallen.

He moves on to get a little more theological, and the later pages of this chapter grow some philosophical chest hairs, but the start itself should be gripping, not flapping like a wet fish on the dock.

I'm perhaps being a little unfair about the 'desire to understand' line. But it has got to be more than a desire: it must be a profound failure to integrate our knowledge, being and sense of other minds into a world that is presented to us as baldly material, as we stand at the tail end of materialist empiricist attempts at dealing with such questions and the threshold of 'New Age/Post-modernist/Critical Theory (sic)' belly gazing irrationality.

The failure of the cosmic rule-maker approach (and the failure too of the related 'God owns us' approach rampant in the Sydney Anglican diocese) is that the 'rules' are not just an arbitrary assortment. The 10 commandments, for example are a coventantal document and are about the representation of the people of God doing God-acts before the watching nations. By God=act, I mean, acting in consistency with being in God's image: loving like God loves! This permeates the NT as well, where our moral settings are 'read down' from who God is: God who is love and who made the creation as the place where we would fellowship.

This is the starting point of the doctrine of God. It flows from who he is as creator-with-a-purpose, the one who, in three persons, is love without beginning and who thus is the point of departure for our 'first philosophy' as Plantinga terms it, or our foundational definition, theologically.

Of course, this would all be undermined by an impoverished theology of Creation (see recent posts in this regard); I await with bated breath for what Feinberg has on this.

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