Monday, August 21, 2006

A Brief Reply to Witt

Always hungry for some decent debate, I was pleased to see Dr. Witt reply at T19 to points raised from a piece I had written. I had said Genesis was the wrong place for a Christian to start in order to make sense of marriage and the blessing of unions; the right place to start was with Christ, specifically as revealed in Ephesians. Putting Christ at the foundation puts Genesis in its proper context. Witt objects (I've marked off separate points he makes with brackets not in his original):

[1] To play off the NT picture of Jesus against the creation accounts in the manner in which Scotist does is to veer toward Marcionism. The NT sees Jesus not in contrast to the OT, but in fulfillment of the OT. Among other images, the NT portrays redemption as a re-creation. Jesus Christ is the second Adam. The eschatological restoration of creation pointed to in Gen 1 & 2 is effected in Christ.
[2]Moreoever, the creation of humanity as male and female is considered normative for the Bible’s own understanding of the relationship between God and Israel, and Christ and the Church. Unlike pagan polytheisms where male gods had consorts, YHWH (who is portrayed as male, but is never pictured below the waist) has only one partner, Israel (who is portrayed as female). The Church is the bride (not the same-gender partner) of the male Christ.
The mistake Scotist makes is to abstract one dimension of Christian doctrine (the normativity of Christ’s person) from its narrative context. Certainly we start with Jesus, but there is no Jesus without Genesis. [3] The OT provides the indispensable hermeneutic for understanding who Jesus is (Christ’s person). In turn, we re-read the OT in light of its fulfillment in Jesus.
[4]So in terms of sexual ethics, there simply is no escape from the foundational texts of Gen. 1-3.
[5]Scotist misreads Barth as engaging in some kind of “natural theology.” Based on the reality of gender complementarity, we arrive at an ethic. To the contrary, Barth is engaging in theology in the classical sense, Fides quaerens intellctum (faith seeking understading). In light of what the texts actually say, Barth then reflects on the theological implications of the sexual complementarity that the texts consider normative.

Whoa there--what's that? I've misread Barth? Perish the thought! In response to Witt's [5], I agree Barth is not doing natural theology. In fact, I do not think my argument makes any reference to or use of natural theology, or even historical criticism. Rather, I think Barth messed up the narrative by starting with Genesis rather than Jesus. That's all--Barth simply told the story wrong.

Note, contrary to Witt's [1]: to insist on telling the story with Jesus at the foundation as the starting point is not to reject the OT after the fashion of Marcion. The OT remains wholly valid, fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. Agreed, up to a point.

The validity of the Pauline figure of Christ as second Adam does not imply an eschatological "recreation" of the situation of Eden, as Witt seems to point out in his [1] above, for the simple reason that--by orthodox lights at least--the security necessary to the eschaton was missing in Eden. And you need only look around to appreciate the difference that makes. Whatever Gen. 1 & 2 point to in Christ, it goes beyond Witt's "restoration." This is significant for pointing out the insuffiency of the Edenic situation; it cannot stand as a starting point for the fact it does not show the ending point adequately--and this inadequacy is built into the Genesis narrative from the very point of insecurity it raises. The Genesis narrative points beyond itself from within itself, and to point out what it intimates is Christ is no betrayal of that narrative, but rather its truth.

Witt's [2] is interesting, but I am not sure what the import of it all is. Surely Christ is not merely portrayed as male--he is male, flesh and blood. Moreover, the Church portrayed as female is in reality a community of flesh and blood males and females. Witt seems to ignore (in gnostic fashion?) the implications of our sexed corporeality at the eschaton. Hand-waving aside, it is inescapable: a male will end up joined with another male in the very eschatological relationship after which marriage here below is to be modeled.

I agree wholly with his point at [3] above, but fail to see what difference it makes for his case.

Likewise, I agree with his [4]--we cannot escape from Genesis. My point is merely that we should not start there.

I think he believes there is no way I can plausibly assimilate Genesis; in effect, he is issuing a challenge: he may be thinking that given what I wish to do by starting with Christ seen by Paul, I have to drop Genesis altogether. OK, good--but that is simply to say I have some more work to do, not that the work cannot be done.


At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Patrick C. said...

Excellent reply. In relation to [1], I have just been reading vol. 2 of Pannenberg's Systematic Theology, which supports your position with a detailed analysis of where (mostly Reformed) theology went wrong in speaking of Jesus "restoring" Edenic perfection. There was no perfection in Eden--such a notion misses the eschatalogical dimension of full participation in God through the decisive and ongoing work of the Son in the historical incarnation, passion, and resurrection.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Thank you for the info on Pannenberg's Systematic Theology Vol 2--this is very encouraging. I have alot of respect for his systematic reflections, and am currently in the middle of his Vol.1.

I would like eventually to work his vol.1 reflections on the truth of revelation into a critique of narrative theology. For the time being, it is gratifying to hear he would agree on the Edenic situation portrayed in Genesis.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Tobias said...

Indeed, Jesus' assurance that those worthy of the "world to come" do not marry rather puts the end to any notion of an Edenic restoration.


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