Tuesday, February 3, 2015

With All Our Mind: Thinking Paradoxically

Today we continue our reflections on The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul (trans. Geoffrey Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1986).
Strangely enough, conversion to Jesus, and repentance from the six Olympian gods, involves radical changes not only in what we know but in how we think. To love Jesus with our whole mind means following the biblical witnesses in their way of thinking. It means learning to think of things paradoxically.
When the biblical witnesses speak of Jesus, for example, they speak of him as the Son of God and Son of Man. They tell us he is fully divine and yet, at the same time, fully human. That’s paradoxical.
Jacques rightly insists that the biblical witnesses do not limit such thinking to Jesus. They persistently unite “two contrary truths that are truth only as they come together. I say [43] advisedly that everything that the Bible presents takes this form. We never find a single, logically connected truth followed by another truth deduced from it” (43-4).
Jacques points out that Martin Luther also thought this way when, on the basis of the Bible, he declared that we humans are both wholly righteous and, at the same time, wholly sinful. I have repeated this paradoxical thinking elsewhere by saying that we each are both wholly Christian and wholly Olympian.
Jacques gives other examples. The apostle Paul “says about salvation that we are saved by grace through faith but we are then to work out our salvation…” (44).
“God is undoubtedly almighty and we are free” (44).
“God is absolutely transcendent…He is the Wholly Other whom we cannot know… Yet at the very same time he is the God who enters human history, who accompanies Abraham and Moses and his people, who is very close and intimate, who speaks with us, who imparts to us by revelation all that we can bear…At the extreme limit, he incarnates himself wholly as a man…He is fully and totally present in this Jesus Christ” (44).
But this paradoxical way of thinking runs contrary to Olympian tradition as this developed beginning with Hellenians in the 500s BC. For Aristotle and his intellectual heirs, “What is black is not white. What is true is not false” (45). This way of thinking was applied by Christians to the Bible beginning in the 100s AD with disastrous results. Instead of keeping the truth of the paradox intact, Christians wrongly decided the Bible would make more sense if they tidied it up using an unbiblical way of thinking. This led them, and leads us today, to emphasize one side of the paradox or the other at the expense of the whole truth. Affirming only half the truth means perpetuating falsehood.
Graciously, Jesus called and enabled the Church to affirm paradoxical thinking, for one brief shining moment, at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. At that council, the Church did rightly affirm that Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human. At that council, the Church rightly insisted that we cannot speak truthfully about Jesus if we (1) separate the two terms, making Jesus only divine or only human; (2) mix the two terms, making Jesus a demi-god or super-man; or (3) fail to keep them in the right order, making Jesus only human until adopted by God rather than affirming that Jesus was fully divine before becoming fully human.

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.