Monday, February 26, 2007

Promises, Promises! (Part 2)

If there's one thing that the "post-liberals" are good for, it's getting sound-bites from them. I mean, they know how to take difficult topics and condense them into poetic paragraphs that conjure up image after image after image. Consider these words by Walter Brueggemann from his book The Land:

"Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against the unpromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detactment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom" (The Land, p. 4).

Part 1 of this post dealt with one verse in Paul (Romans 4:13) and the promise given to Abram in Genesis 12. Why, then, Part 2 you might ask? Foolish Sage posted a comment on Part 1 that forced me to further consider the issue (especially in light of the gnostic sentiment of one Reformed systematics professor). Foolish Sage's comment is as follows:

"I spoke with a seminary student just yesterday who was quite upset that her Reformed systematics teacher told her nothing we do for this present world counts for anything, since it is going to be completely destroyed and God is going to create a whole new world."

Again, the understanding beneath this systematics professor's comment is nothing less than gnosticism--that the earth and everything in it is useless (and meaningless) and all that counts are the ahistorical abstract ideas that float above the created realm.

First, the earth is the place where our Lord Jesus Christ was born, died and was raised to new life. It is also the place where YHWH made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (generation, after generation, after generation, etc.). Thus, Brueggemann's first statement finds support in this very fact: if the earth is good enough for God to live in, it's surely good enough for us as well, and it's surely good enough for Him to redeem. That's good incarnational theology! Second, followers of Jesus are told to go out into the world, making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! This lends support to Brueggemann's second point: Christians have a vocation in this world! Lastly, YHWH has said to his people, "I will be your God and you will be my people"...that's a promise! And Jesus said,"I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." Moreover, God's people have been asked to live in a certain way. You know, indicative-imperative stuff. Thus, the statement, "Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued," is also a true statement about this place called earth.

So, does Christian-gnosticism win out? Not a chance!


Joel said...

Hmm. It seems to me that pegging such a view as "Neoplatonic" might be insulting to Neoplatonism.

Neoplatonists, after all, held to the intrinsic goodness of the material world, the privative nature of evil, and (in the case of Iamblichus and Proclus) that union with the divine occurs through the theurgic, ritual mediation of matter.

Perhaps the view in question is something closer to a variety of Gnosticism? Neoplatonists were generally critical of Gnosticists on their denigration of the material world and denying the goodness of the demiurge (see, e.g., Plotinus' Enneads 3.8, 5.5 and 5.8).

Of course, there is a notion of exitus-reditus, but for some varieties of Neoplatonism that involves a raising the material into the divine so that one enters more fully into the divine by entering more fully into the material.

Anyway, sorry to be nitpicky. I just hear all kinds of things attributed to Neoplatonism that seem to bear little relation to what Plotinus, Porphyry, and others actually wrote and taught.

Matthew Paul Buccheri said...

Touche Joel! As a result, I changed all the times "neo-Platonic" occurred to "gnostic." I, wrongly, employed them interchangeably. Here I stand, and I stand corrected! Thanks!

Mark Traphagen said...

Thanks for this great answer to my lament in the other post.