Sunday, June 24, 2012

theopaschism: old heresy/new orthodoxy:

Helpful 1985 article (quoted in Jenkins' "Jesus Wars")  excerpted below:

The Suffering God: The Rise of a New Orthodoxy
by Ronald Goetz

.....Indeed, despite all the real and intractable differences among theologians, a curious new consensus has arisen. The age-old dogma that God is impassible and immutable, incapable of suffering, is for many no longer tenable. The ancient theopaschite heresy that God suffers has, in fact, become the new orthodoxy.

A list of modern theopaschite thinkers would include Barth, Berdyaev, Bonhoeffer, Brunner, Cobb, Cone and liberation theologians generally, Küng, Moltmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Pannenberg, Ruether and feminist theologians generally, Temple, Teilhard and Unamuno. 

...What is particularly remarkable about the theopaschite mind-set has been its development as a kind of open secret. The doctrine of the suffering of God is so fundamental to the very soul of modern Christianity that it has emerged with very few theological shots ever needing to be fired. Indeed, this doctrinal revolution occurred without a widespread awareness that it was happening...

...The theological implications of the theopaschite revolution are enormous. Every classical Christian doctrine -- the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, creationex nihilo, the atonement theories, sin (original or otherwise) , predestination, etc. -- was originally formulated by theologians who took divine impassibility to be axiomatic..

 ..Thus, we have only begun to see where systematic theologies grounded in the suffering God might lead.:

The decline of Christendom
The rise of democratic aspirations.
The problem of suffering and evil.
The scholarly reappraisal of the Bible.

...Two lines of defense have become popular among theologians who find themselves, for whatever reasons, unable to speak of God as ontologically limited and yet unable to affirm the predestinarian highhandedness of an impassible, immutable God.

The first is the so-called Irenaeian theodicy (after the second-century theologian Irenaeus) : God permits suffering and evil in order that by them we might come to sufficient maturity so as to be able to inherit eternal life. The problem with such an argument is that while it offers a very helpful insight into the question of why we suffer and endure hardship, it says nothing about real evil. For real evil, as we experience it, does not build up and develop its victims; it corrupts, corrodes and destroys them.

The other line of defense can easily incorporate the Irenaeian theodicy, and indeed, might even seem to strengthen it. In this view, the statement "God is love" is virtually synonymous with a kenotic (self-emptying) (Phil. 2:7) view of the incarnation. God’s love is supremely revealed in his self-humbling. God is a fellow sufferer who understands not because God cannot be otherwise, but because God wills to share our lot.

Here, as in the case of a limited doctrine of God’s being there is a certain immediate psychological comfort in the notion that God does not require of us a suffering that he himself will not endure. However, if this comfort is to be any more than a psychological prop, it must show how God’s suffering mitigates evil. This explanation has been, to date, curiously lacking in the theodicy of divine self-limitation.

To anyone who feels compelled to affirm divine suffering, the fact that God is deeply involved in the anguish and the blood of humanity forces a drastic theological crisis of thought vis-à-vis the question of evil. The mere fact of God’s suffering doesn’t solve the question; it exacerbates it. For there can no longer be a retreat into the hidden decrees of the eternal, all-wise, changeless and unaffected God. The suffering God is with us in the here and now. God must answer in the here and now before one can make any sense of the by and by. God, the fellow sufferer, is inexcusable if all that he can do is suffer. But if God is ultimately redeemer, how dare he hold out on redemption here and now in the face of real evil?

My own view is that the death of God’s Christ is in part God’s atonement to his creatures for evil. Only on the basis of God’s terrible willingness to accept responsibility for evil do we have grounds to trust God’s promise to redeem evil. Only in God’s daring willingness to risk all in the death of his own son can we have confidence that God finally has the power to redeem his promise. Others may not agree with this radical rethinking of the atonement, but it seems apparent that comprehensively to affirm the almighty sovereignty of the self-humbled God requires a drastic rethinking of traditional doctrine.  -Goertz, full article here

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