Technical bits: On Transformation Theology

This is a technical follow up post. In this post I discuss my understanding of transformation theology, with which I consider myself in dialogue, and why I nevertheless reject it.

Transformation Theology is the new theological project at King’s College London. Although it is close in name, it should not be confused with the American project, more closely associated with the Emerging Church, known as “Transformative Theology”. Transformation theology is an attempt to bring theology to where people are. It is an effort to be an engaged or embodied theology. It begins with an important question to ask, as done by Prof. Oliver Davies of King’s College: Where is Christ? The way this is asked ends up being both promising and, ultimately, why I reject the project.

This is certainly an appropriate question to ask. The standard reformed answer is “Seated at the right hand of the Father.” The standard evangelical baptist answer is “within my heart.” The broader answer, given primarily by those in the Roman Catholic tradition is “within the Church” or even “within the Sacrament.” Oliver Davies notes that in one sense at least some of these are correct, but in another sense these are not the real Christ, but the mediated form of Christ. Where is Christ, asks Davies, in our time and space? Davies also wants to clearly distinguish this from the “who” question of Christ which, as can be seen in both Bonhoeffer and Barth, ends up subsuming the “where” question. While this certainly is important, and greatly impacts how we understand the incarnation, Davies presents some fundamental problems for me with this question. At heart, as Davies notes, this is a question related to the Ascension.

This is where the problems begin, at least if I’m understanding Davies right. He says that the cosmology of the first century Church is not ours. While that may be true, I would argue that it is nevertheless analogous in some very important ways. Leaving that aside, this leads to another problem. Davies argues that because of this different cosmology, when we ask the “where” question we cannot be talking about the resurrected Christ because that Christ belongs to the past. I want to be clear, Davies does not seem to want to deny the resurrection (which an uncritical reading might suggest), but is merely stating that this historical Christ was another mediated form of Christ. However, I don’t like this response. In trying to separate the “where” question from the “who” question, Davies has assumed the answer to the “who” question, and I disagree with his answer.

If we deny that the historical person who was killed and raised as Jesus is real Christ then we have a danger of lapsing into a form of Adoptionism (an early church heresy). I have no doubt that Davies thinks that Jesus is the real Christ, but he nevertheless refers to this as a mediated form. I want to say that this is an unmediated form. God was not hidden in Jesus. As Jesus says “If anyone has seen me, he has seen the father.” The incarnation fundamentally changed who God is. Now there is a human who is a person of the one substance of the Trinity. What is further, Paul’s arguments at the end of 1 Corinthians make it clear that this was a bodily raised Jesus still. We cannot escape the problem by appealing to Platonism. The historical human being Jesus is now the Christ. Granted, after the resurrection, his physicality had certain differences from ours, to the effect that he could pass through walls, but he still ate and could be touched, though he urged some not to do so. This is, I think, part of what it means to talk about the “Scandal of Particularity.” Christ became incarnate as a particular historical individual. He did not become the “everyman” or the “ideal man,” but a specific human person who lived within history. He entered our space time. And this Jesus, who was raised from the dead, is still human. That is why the reformed tradition states, I think correctly, that Christ is “at the right hand of the Father.” This is also why, although I think Davies asks an excellent question, there are some fundamental flaws with the approach and I will be an observer from the outside.

To go back to the initial post, click here.

This is the last of the more technical posts. The next post should be more user friendly.


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