LATC 2017 – Knowledge Puffs Up, But Love Builds Up

Some notes on Chris Tilling’s break out session at LATC 2017…

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1 Corinthians 8:1-7

  • Contains the epistemological issue
  • Paul creates the contrast that structures what follows
    • Knowledge puffs up, love builds up
    • Knowledge as possession puffs up, he is not anti-intellectual. He is against a particular way of knowing.
    • Paul articulates a relational/covenantal way of knowing, expressed in our love of God
    • The necessary knowing in 8:2 is expressed as knowing God and being known by God in 8:3 – this is a covenantal knowing
      • Monotheism = within context of covenant refers to a rigorous exclusivity of relationship.
    • In Paul’s idiom covenant and knowledge go hand in hand
  • Verse 4-6 repeat and elaborate the contrast that proceeded
    • Two propositions (Corinthians)
      • We know that no idol in the world really exists
      • There is no God but one
    • Paul’s Response
      • Even though no idol exists (as real divine beings)
      • But for us there is one God the Father, etc.
      • Corresponding w/ love for God, he uses the words of the Shema b/w God and Jesus
      • This is a love-oriented understanding of “knowing”

Paul, The Task of Dogmatics, and “Barthian” Theology

  • Barth means by revelation – a concrete relation to concrete humanity
  • For Barth the criteria and possibility of dogmatics is described in personal terms
    • The Word of God is a success word
    • Revelation is not simply over there, but includes the entire correspondence of man’s side
    • The personal word becomes a relational or participatory one

Stephen Holmes & Katherine Sonderegger

  • Sonderegger
    • If Paul claims knowledge of God is bound up in loving God, and as such cannot be a possession or abstraction
    • In the first couple of chapters of her ST, there is an imposition of non-relational abstract knowledge. She presses the distinction between the who & what of God, and narrative/metaphysics. i.e. to look beyond the genre of scripture to its subject matter
    • Problem – she deploys an abstract concept, speaking of the WHATNESS of God. In contrast to this, Pauline epistemology, ONENESS is not just a brute theological fact, it’s a relational fact explained in relational terms.
    • Sonderegger’s project lands on the wrong side of the Pauline contrast
      • Question – Can you come to know certain things on the “right side” of this contrast, but explain it in such a way that when it is articulated or communicated it looks more like the “wrong side?”
    • Certain theological facts cannot be abstracted/divorced from God’s relationship from his people.
    • “Almost every attempt to articulate a metaphysical truth, lands on the wrong side of the structural contrast.”
  • Stephen Holmes
    • The doctrine of the Trinity is necessarily and precisely “useless” – knowledge of the divine is a highest end, it is the nature of the highest end that it is of no instrumental use.
    • Knowledge of God that is not discipleship/lived is not theological knowing at all, it is a mere puffing up.
    • He is allowing an abstract concept to order his God-talk. It is a means-end schema.
    • Also problematic, Christ is talked about in Scripture as both means and end

Conclusion

  • Paul had a controversy about knowledge /w the Corinthians who had an intellectualized understanding of knowledge, Paul highlighted participations and relational nature of knowledge. Barthian theology resonates deeply with this. It locates theological knowledge in the wider grammar of faith, love, and repentance. Recent trends in theology are losing this Barthian sensibility, and are allowing abstract knowledge to drive them. If this continues unchallenged, the gap b/w Systematic Theology and Biblical studies will continue to widen.
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