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Quote: The Son of Man Lifted up on a Cross

From my reading for next week’s study on John (Thursday night, 7:00 pm central time via Google Hangouts on Air):

In the same way in which a flag lifted up on its pole draws together a people and constitutes it a nation, the Son of Man lifted up on a cross draws toward himself all who believe and constitutes them “born of God.” (Weiss, Meditations on According to John, 42)

I am truly enjoying my reading in preparation for this study. I’ve been talking about metaphors, and leading toward the point that we use multiple metaphors to describe something that cannot be readily depicted in concrete language. Metaphors allow us to talk about the same subject in a variety of ways, each of which may contribute to our understanding.

When a single metaphor becomes the one and only one permitted in describing an event, we begin to lose some of the content of the reality. Similarly, any time we allow one word for (or description of) God to replace God—what I call conceptual idolatry—we lose some of the reality of our experience of God. We can allow our description to limit who God is. In terms of the atonement, I believe that stating that the one explanation of the atonement is the metaphor of substitution in a forensic context, we start to lose some of the meaning of the atonement.

Unlike some, I do see forensic and substitutionary metaphors in play in some scriptural descriptions of atonement. I don’t deny them as ways to discuss and understand atonement. My concern is that they not become the sole view, driving out other strong metaphors. The gospel of John uses a couple of different metaphors, especially centering around light and family, and we need to read those in their own context with their own integrity.

When I was in college, I took Exegesis of Romans, which was intended as a sort of taste of Greek III, from a professor (Malcolm Maxwell for my fellow Walla Walla alumni), who was an advocate of the moral influence theory of the atonement. I was very attracted to the theology involved, but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find it in Romans. It is wrong, in my view, though without any diminution in my great respect for Dr. Maxwell, to force the moral influence metaphor onto Romans. It is equally wrong to force forensic substitution onto the gospel of John. You may hear its echoes, but it doesn’t dominate.

The quote above provides a taste. I’ll be discussing this in more detail on Thursday night.

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  1. Steve Kindle says:

    Speaking of limiting our choices, Weiss’s statement, “They have to decide whether Jesus is God or a blasphemer,“ seems to jump the Trinitarian gun. Since virtually all NT scholars agree that the Trinity is not a NT concept (nascent at best), these cannot be the choices before the initial readers, or the Johannine church. Therefore, it cannot be the meaning of John 1:1, either. The “Son of God” in John is consistent with the Hebrew Bible’s understanding that it means King of Israel. Such is confirmed by Nathanael’s statement in John 1:49, Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

    C. S. Lewis made a similar jump to a false choice with his declaration, I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg ‑ or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse. I don’t see anywhere in John a definitive claim that Jesus made of himself that he was God. The “The father and I are one,” can as easily mean “one in purpose,” or “one in mission,” rather than an ontological statement. There is plenty of room for a third option.

    So, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” is a recognition that all a human could reflect of God is reflected in the life of Jesus, whose closeness with God was such that it could be described as living in the bosom of the Father. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God (in the original Johannine sense), that he was incarnated/bestowed with God’s wisdom, that he shows me the way of life, and is, therefore, my Lord and Savior.

    Neufeld’s probing of metaphors as a way of opening up the multivalent meanings of John allow for many choices. To limit these options creates easy answers and leads us away from possibly more relevant insights.

    This disagreement notwithstanding, Weiss is teaching me (along with brother Neufeld) much.

    1. This is a topic which will come up many times as we do this study.

      I do think there are two “guns” to jump (or not) here, to use your metaphor. The first is trinitarian. In my view, the New Testament never uses trinitarian language. That is a later invention. I think it is an invention that allows us to use a number of different discussions of God in combination, and I like that language, but it is nonetheless new. The second (though logically I should perhaps have reversed these) is the incarnation/christology issue.

      On the second, I think John’s Christology is higher than that of the synoptic gospels. I think it’s high enough to create some dissonance with Judaism.

      But since I agree fully with Tillich that all language about God is symbolic, we have to think beyond the language to find our language for what John is presenting to us.

      Weiss’ approach to the study, using topical meditations, makes it easier to follow the concepts, but we nonetheless run into the problem that one really needs to understand the whole before one can understand the parts, which is a sort of intellectual catch-22.

      I’m thinking of an excursus on the formation of theology, especially biblical theology, with a conversation partner more qualified than I, but I don’t know how things will work yet.

      So the fun will continue!

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