Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Schrodinger's Doctrine

At the Theological Research Seminar at IWU yesterday, I was presenting a historical and theological response to Richard Bauckham called, "Jesus and the Identity of God." My basic conclusion was that Bauckham's theology is spot on and his readings of NT texts are appropriate Christian readings but that they seem a little too complex and convenient from a historical perspective.

But what really seemed to resonate was more a model of looking at Christian doctrine and orthodox readings of biblical texts I called "Schrodinger's Doctrine."

You may have heard of Schrodinger's cat. It is an illustration from quantum physics where we don't know if a cat in a box is alive or dead until we open the box. More profoundly, the cat in a sense is both alive and dead until it is observed. Quantum physicists call this "superposition." A particle can, for all intents and purposes, be in two different places at once until it is observed. It's position is undetermined up to that point.

So, I suggested, until the Church "opened the box" on key issues, the position of Christianity on that issue was not yet determined. In AD324, both Arius and Athanasius are in the box. In AD325, the Church opens the box and finds Athanasius.

I don't wish to suggest that Philippians 2:6-11 or 1 Corinthians 8:6 did not have an original, historical meaning prior to what would become the Christian reading of them. We can debate it if you wish. But I am suggesting that, for Christians, these texts did not have a determined meaning of sorts until they did, until the Church opened the box.

As my friend and colleague John Drury likes to say, quoting Hegel, "History is lived forward but understood backward."

One problem I see with our inquiries is that we almost seem to assume that ideology was the first order of business for the earliest believers. Rather, as Larry Hurtado has argued, practices wagged the dog.

The earliest Christians didn't stop to work out the fine nuances of monotheism or dig up some copy of Ezekiel the Tragedian. They sang. They praised. Theology came later, and what theology came later was as much rhetorical as ideological.

So did Christianity include Jesus within the identity of the one God? Yes! Did Christianity include Jesus within the eschatological monotheism of the one God? Yes! Did Christianity include Jesus within the worship of the one God? Yes! Did Christianity include Jesus within the creational monotheism of the one God? Yes!

When the box was opened, yes!

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