Fall Issue 3
The Self-Understanding of Jesus | By Austin Stevenson
"It would seem most fitting that by visible things the invisible things of God should be made known." --St. Thomas Aquinas
What does it mean to say that the living God is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth? In many ways, this is the central question of the Christian faith and it plays a principal role in most modern (and ancient) debates regarding theological epistemology. I have become fascinated by the diversity of opinions regarding the meaning of this confession and by the complex combination of issues that come into play. On a basic level we might say that there is a necessary connection between what Jesus did, the things that he said, and who he was. If this is true, then to discuss the source of Jesus’ teaching is to discuss Christology. As a way into that conversation, I decided to write a ThM thesis entitled “The Self-Understanding of Jesus Christ: A Critical Comparison of Thomas Aquinas and N. T. Wright” (sidenote: unlike Brittany, I am still very much in the thick of the writing process!). I would like briefly to explain how I became interested in the topic and then outline a couple of the questions my project seeks to address.
Like most of you, I read N. T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God in my NT Foundations class. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to pick up the second volume, Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG). Although this was a few years ago, I still remember circling an interesting paragraph on page 653 and thinking: I have no idea what to do with this. Near the end of JVG Wright argues the following.
“Jesus did not, in other words, ‘know that he was God’ in the same way that one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His ‘knowledge’ was of a more risky, but perhaps more significant, sort: like knowing one is loved. One cannot ‘prove’ it except by living by it” (JVG, 653).
This ‘more significant’ sort of knowledge, Wright maintains, is the faith-awareness of a ‘vocation.’ Much like Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988), Wright argues that Jesus believed he possessed a special vocation to do and be the things only YHWH could do and be. Unlike Balthasar, Bishop Wright also believes that Jesus knew he could have been making a “terrible, lunatic mistake” but was willing to risk everything to find out (Wright, “Jesus’ Self-Understanding,” 59).
Wright’s argument, then, is twofold: his central thesis is that certain elements of the Christology of the early church find their origin in Jesus’ own self-understanding. In other words, Paul didn’t make this stuff up; he got it from the things Jesus claimed about himself. At the same time, however, Wright wants to argue that these claims were not based on any concrete knowledge. Rather, they arose from a faith awareness of vocation similar to the way some of you believe you are called to be pastors.
Enter Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). One of the key pieces of Aquinas’s doctrine of the incarnation is the question of Christ’s knowledge, which he argues is fourfold: divine, beatific, infused, and acquired.
To give you a taste of the argument, I will briefly contrast Wright and Aquinas with regard to two of these. While doing so, I want to focus on one question: in what ways do these different approaches enable us to illuminate the biblical picture of Christ as the one who teaches divine things in a human way?
St. Thomas argues that Jesus possessed the beatific vision during his incarnate life on earth (ST III-IX.2.2). This beatific knowledge, which Christ possessed in his human nature, is ineffable, inexpressible, and consists in the immediate knowledge of the divine essence of God. The necessary correlation is that, if Jesus possessed the beatific vision, then he did not exercise faith (the “assurance of things not seen,” Hebrews 11:1). For Aquinas, the beatific vision helps explain the presence of divine knowledge in the human nature of Christ. Contrary to this, Wright employs faith as the central category for Jesus’ knowledge, using it to explain the ‘faith awareness of vocation’ that constituted Jesus’ understanding of his identity. For Wright, far from possessing immediate knowledge of God, Jesus exercised faith the same as you and me.
Aquinas (unlike many who came before him) also argues that Jesus possessed acquired knowledge—that is, knowledge derived from the imagination and the senses (ST III-IX.4.1). Much could be said here, but I want to highlight a secondary point made by Thomas. Although he affirms acquired knowledge, Aquinas argues that, concerning Jesus’ position as Revealer, he could not have learned from another human being. So Aquinas would maintain—as Balthasar did—that, although Jesus used concepts from Israel’s tradition to express his sonship, that does not mean that Jesus inferred his sonship from that tradition. Wright argues the opposite, presenting a picture of Jesus reading the Torah with his parents and teachers and discovering therein a vocation to do and be something only YHWH could do and be.
A friend recently asked me about my thesis and, after hearing a brief explanation of Aquinas’s position, he said, “That sounds quite speculative!” And indeed, it is—though I suspect that I hold a less pejorative understanding of the term. Plus, it seems to me that Wright’s argument on this score is at least as speculative as Aquinas’s, if not as fully developed. Suffice it to say that, of course, the hermeneutical/methodological differences cannot stay buried for long. That is what makes the topic so interesting to me: how does our theological or historical method impact our understanding of Jesus, and what does that mean for our knowledge of God? Simon Gaine puts the question somewhat differently: “is the Saviour we need one who is altogether like us or one who is in some ways unlike us?” (Did the Savior See the Father?, 3). In the modern world, our answer tends very much toward the former, while the voices of ages past encourage us to consider the latter. I suspect there is much to be gained from heeding their call.
HOW I BECAME THE SOUP CZAR | By Jubiracy Filho
As I climbed up the stairs, I gladly saw her through the glass, so vulnerable in her office. I made the sign for a chat –that is, for her to interrupt whatever she was doing, though important and certainly more productive, just to have an unplanned meeting with me right away. God bless her, she agreed.
“Claire, I’m crawling up these stairs for a job!” I reasoned I should immediately beg. Filled with faith from the Spirit, and certainly moved by compassion, she then offered the Community Groups Coordinator position for me. That was the beginning of Summer, when on-campus work opportunities shine upon us, poor students!
But that meant succeeding Bill Mounce as the “Soup Czar.” Although I had prayed to meet Claire on that very day –with the purpose of not leaving that building without a job!– I wasn’t expecting such offer of such power! I could barely hide it: I felt like a South American Joshua–-having to cross a Jordan of soup, leading much smarter, wiser, but still, hungry people into the promised land of communal satisfaction!
“God, I know you chose the lowly and the foolish things (as grandma was so quick to say when I became a pastor), but am I the one to replace this American Moses?” I prayed, as I left the building.
Then I saw a couple of newbies walking towards me. I blocked their way, placing both my hands on their shoulders, and asked how happy they were at Regent. Looking suspiciously at them, I awaited honesty.
Well, they were honest: they felt isolated, alienated, even rejected at Regent, and much to my surprise (as they spontaneously shared), especially in their soup groups! That couldn’t be mere coincidence. I kept interrogating: they mentioned controversies they faced, some unpleasant interactions, and with brutal honesty, coming from the Global South (perhaps experiencing their fears proving true), they even considered the possibility of racism!
Could that be the case? Alienation caused by mere disagreements in an academic setting? Rejection, due to a shameful racism, in a theology school? “There are various other reasons why people might not interact with you,” I answered. “Some people experience depression, disturbing anxiety, even social phobia! Others are just introverted! Still others are taking Hebrew –I mean, anything could explain it!” As we kept talking, I prayed: could that be the case?
Well, we are all beautiful people, but indeed we are not perfect. I, for instance, have astigmatism and one of my shoulders is slightly lower than the other –maybe from living thirty years in Brazil, being myself blocked and held by people! Working with the ugly possibility, I asked:
“What if that were the case?”
They made the face of horror I had earlier made to my own spirit.
“Yes, what if that were the case?” I repeated the question as though using a rhetorical resort, but I really had no idea what to say next.
“Tell me, what if that were the case?” I was in actual need of an answer there. “Tell me!” I insisted, just to have them remain silent and anticipate my answer even more. “What if that were happening right here, where God led you to study theology?”
They were petrified with eagerness.
“What did Jesus say about this?” I finally asked, moving a begging hand.
They suddenly answered, and I developed from that, thank God.
“Yes! Pray for them! Be courageous, and humble enough, to have a sincere conversation with them yourselves. If they don’t listen, keep praying, persevering! Remember what Diane Stinton said?”
Some would say I’m quoting my ultimate boss here out of sheer flattery, as if I were that insecure. “‘Regent College,’ she said, ‘does not provide community, we facilitate it.’”
I thought that was just brilliant. “See the nuance? That is, even if community is not a palpable reality, we are all, both current and new students, staff and professors alike, responsible for it! Even if we don’t always feel it, we already belong here.”
I kept going, as I was feeling the power. “Yes, it is hard, often unfair, but can we ever grow a community without ourselves growing in courage, humility, and ultimately love? Isn’t that the point –love?” I sensed I was laying the foundations of soupczarism itself, quoting Jesus: "‘Give and it shall be given.’ We ourselves are the Church, but we should never say we were hurt by the Church! The only one hurt and crushed by the Church was Jesus! As for us, if we aren’t misreading the situation, we were hurt by people, sometimes fellow brothers and sisters. But the command is clear: forgive, pray for them, and whenever, wherever possible, especially in our community groups, give.”
I am happy to see they are being given today.
TALKING WITH OUR MOUTHS FULL: FEAT. DR. YONGHUA GE | By Troy Terpstra and Ed Smith
We make it a priority, as much as possible, to accurately report on our meals and the conversations that occur during them. We take notes while we eat but don’t record the conversation so what is printed is not a perfect transcription. But as I said, we strive for veracity and so it was with some dismay to discover that a rather critical footnote had been left out of our first article on September 20th [Editorial insert: my bad]. In the article we wrote that Dr. Spilsbury claimed that playing cricket “paid for [his] university,” implying an athletic scholarship, but the missing footnote clarified that we had misheard him and what he actually said was that he “played for his university” in, as he described it, “a bit of a beer league.” It’s a shame that the footnote was left out, not so much because without it the article was completely misleading, but because the footnote was quite witty. Our apologies to Dr. Spilsbury.
This week Troy and I were joined by Yonghua Ge, Regent’s Post-Doctoral Fellow in Theology. On Dr. Ge’s suggestion, we went to One More Sushi, a Japanese restaurant that has somehow escaped my notice in all my years so far at Regent. I wouldn’t say that it’s hidden, but I have walked right by it countless times without ever being aware of its existence. I’ll leave you the job of discovering its location because, as St. Paul writes, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat” (apologies to my exegesis professor).
We learned that Dr. Ge started out his academic studies in theoretical physics. He completed an undergrad in physics and was working towards a PhD. He was invited to a Bible study, and was immensely impressed by the kindness and joy of this welcoming new community. Eventually converting, Dr. Ge switched academic tracks, due to a growing interest in more human questions which he no longer felt could be answered in the pursuit of physics. This was the start of of his passion for theology. Dr. Ge studied at Regent in the hopes that he could find more satisfying answers here.
Apparently there is actually a bit of an interfaculty debate on the question of the role of theology and its importance and, more specifically, on the merits of adopting platonic elements to theology. Dr. Ge was exposed to the debate when he first attended Regent as a student. Interested, he took up the question as his research focus, concentrating on the role of the doctrine of creation. He did his PhD at Cambridge on a full ride ping pong scholarship. Dr. Ge’s PhD dissertation continued on with an investigation into the theology of creation ex nihilo and how this doctrine could hopefully find common ground for the debate between a this-worldly focussed theology or a more platonic, participatory model. While enjoying a tasty lunch together, I think it is safe to say that we reached a consensus that creation is very good.
Ambiance: Definitely an improvement over last week’s choice. There is a lot of art on the walls and the room is finished with wood, or perhaps a credible faux wood. Perhaps the art is kitsch, who’s to say; we were happy giving out an A- for ambiance.
Dr. Ge: A-
Ed and Troy: A-
Price: Dr. Ge and Ed ordered bento boxes while Troy opted for udon noodles. You’re looking at $10 or more for lunch but the bento boxes were definitely filling. Dr. Ge thought that it was a good price considering the portion but Ed and Troy, on their student budgets, were less convinced, thinking more B+ range. However at the end of the meal Dr. Ge generously offered to get the tab and Ed and Troy realized that perhaps they had been grading too hard.
Dr. Ge: A-
Ed and Troy: A+
Food: Dr. Ge recommended the bento box and he and Ed both thought the food was okay. Troy disregarded the advice, ordered the noodles, and thought that the food was okay. Perhaps there’s something to be said for heeding advice from professors.
Dr. Ge: A-
Ed and Troy: A-/B+
Service: Friendly service and relatively fast considering that we ate in the midst of a lunch rush. Dr. Ge thought it was worth an A. Ed and Troy decided to give it an A- though so that they wouldn’t feel obliged to leave a tip commensurate with the higher grade.
Dr. Ge: A
Ed and Troy: A-
Review: Pacific Theatre's A Good Way Out | By Cara Norrish
I went to the preview showing for Pacific Theatre's season opener, "A Good Way Out" by Cara Norrish. The play was apparently inspired by Norrish's real life relationship with the protagonist and a desire to work out her feelings surrounding the events. This is a timely and honest play, with – at least in the preview -- a good deal of room for growth yet.
Carl Kennedy is always a good choice for acting in Vancouver. He's no stranger to the PT stage, and was well matched with the role of Joey, the charismatic lead who is faced with the difficult choices of gang life in Canada. His anxiety was present, as well as his firm resolve.
His wife Carla, played by Evelyn Chew, accessed some real depths of (un)feeling with compromising emotional positions she had to access. I longed to see more connection between the husband and wife rather than constant bickering, a sentiment which admittedly was shared by the characters as well.
Another character perpetually embroiled in conflict was that of Joey's sister Lynette, played by Corina Akeson. Lynette, beyond being the "token Christian" character, provided a perspective on the reality of the tough choices and complexity of the lives of the above characters.
Chad Ellis, channeling "Jesse" from Breaking Bad, seemed like his character was always just out of reach for him, but showed an admirable earnestness. Where some critics have marvelled at the complete transformation of Andrew Wheeler as the leather jacket wearing, bandana'd "Larry", I found his gruff attitude never fully made its way out of stereotype. And fair enough, playing a scumbag is hard, let alone humanizing him. But for the play to work, it really needed that human dimension which I found unfortunately lacking.
Norrish deserves credit for tackling a story that was both complex and personal to her. But unfortunately, the script felt like it relied too heavily upon an idea of how gang members might act rather than crafting vibrant and living characters. The protest and eventual acceptance of drug money, the bully tactics of a manipulative gang leader, the characters' well-rehearsed accusations all feel like they've been seen before rather than drawing upon wells of deep emotional history. This over-reliance on clichés runs the risk of doing the opposite of the play's aim: that is de-humanizing instead of humanizing. And so when Larry coercively asks Carla for a lap dance it feels like exhibitionism rather than realism.
But the final scene between Larry and Lynette plunges the play beneath the simplistic surface to a complex conclusion. It is here where we see a real wrestling and churning. Where the characters often felt canned, the final plot points do not. In a feeling and authentic way, the play finally addresses the complexity and difficulty for everyone, Christians included, in addressing the problem of evil.
POET OF THE WEEK: SEAMUS HEANEY | By Christopher Campanelli
Walk on Air Against Your Better Judgment
After the two fine poetic offerings of these past two weeks, I come to this table (this very table, upon which you have discarded this article!), to commend to you a poet who needs no commending, Seamus Heaney. Heaney was an Irish poet, playwright, lecturer, and translator, and received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”
Heaney is widely known for his eye-to-the-ground lyrical precision. His poetry juxtaposes imagery derived from his Irish potato farming family with the political strife of the Protestant/Catholic Irish troubles of his lifetime. In this brief overview, I want to draw our attention to the way in which he combines this eye-to-the-ground attention to detail, with a sense of infinite possibility, as captured in the phrase “walk on air against your better judgment,” in his poem “The Gravel Walks.”
The Gravel Walks
River gravel. In the beginning, that.
High summer, and the angler’s motorbike
Deep in roadside flowers, like a fallen knight
Whose ghost we’d lately questioned: ‘Any luck?’
As the engines of the world prepared, green nuts
Dangled and clustered closer to the whirlpool.
The trees dipped down. The flints and sandstone-bits
Worked themselves smooth and smaller in a sparkle
Of shallow, hurrying barley-sugar water
Where minnows schooled that we scared when we played -
An eternity that ended once a tractor
Dropped its link-box in the gravel bed
And cement mixers began to come to life
And men in dungarees, like captive shades,
Mixed concrete, loaded, wheeled, turned, wheeled, as if
The Pharaoh’s brickyards burned inside their heads.
Hoard and praise the verity of gravel.
Gems for the undeluded. Milt of earth.
Its plain, champing song against the shovel
Soundtests and sandblasts words like ‘honest worth’.
Beautiful in or out of the river,
The kingdom of gravel was inside you too -
Deep down, far back, clear water running over
Pebbles of caramel, hailstone, mackerel-blue.
But the actual washed stuff kept you slow and steady
As you went stooping with your barrow full
Into an absolution of the body,
The shriven life tired bones and marrow feel.
So walk on air against your better judgement
Establishing yourself somewhere in between
Those solid batches mixed with grey cement
And a tune called ‘The Gravel Walks’ that conjures green.
The poem first shows the river gravel in its transition from its edenic beauty to its insensate and slavish exploitation by human beings, for human appetites. In typical Heaney fashion, he then internalizes the imagery, and pictures that beautiful river as an inner reality, and implies that we also exploit that reality for our short-sighted and crude purposes.
This would have been the point at which Heaney as a younger poet might have ended the poem, with an unflinching witness to murderous impulses in human beings. But the mature Heaney pictures you “stooping with your barrow full into an absolution of the body/the shriven life tired bones and marrow feel.” Can you feel the consolidation of physical exertion and inner absolution in this profound image?
Then, stabilized by this past, and open to the possibility shaped by the One who forgives, Heaney calls himself, and us to walk. It is this in between which I commend to us. And, since you can have it no way other than through this poem, I commend this poem.
Fittingly, it is this “walk on air” line which is inscribed on Heaney’s tombstone.
The Bunyan: First Year Student Struggles to Be Interesting
Daniel Harding has attended every introductory mixer event at Regent College and has yet to make a significant impression on anyone.
“I just don’t understand it,” said a downcast Harding, who started attending Regent immediately after graduating from Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford. “I was the life of the party at my old school. But here, when I start telling people where I’m from, what program I’m in, what I’d like to do after I finish, I can see everyone’s eyes glaze over.”
Signs of this turn of events were evident as early as the first orientation lunch. Harding thought it was a one-off, and had no idea this was actually the beginning of an ongoing pattern.
“We were going around the circle, introducing ourselves, and things were going pretty well at first,” said Harding, “Then it came time to share prayer requests. The person who went before me announced that they were living out of their car, scrounging food out of the dumpster behind Choices, and sneaking showers here at the College. Then it was my turn. I rambled something about having a lot of reading. I just don’t have a lot of struggles going on right now!"
It was in his CTC tutorial that Harding first began to wonder if he was truly condemned to obscurity.
“In the introductions I was explaining how I wanted to go onto a philosophy PhD. My professor asked me about my family and I mentioned how my wife works with people struggling with addiction in the lower east side. And we just kept talking about her, which is great, because I’m really proud of her!” Harding paused momentarily. “Then the next week when the professor called on me, he referred to me as, ‘Sorry, I don’t remember what your name is, but your wife is Cheryl, right?’ She’s never even been to Regent!”
At the Dean of Student’s welcome lunch, Harding found himself resorting to drastic measures. “I finally admitted to everyone that I had been homeschooled since grade one. I kept that in the back pocket because I didn’t want to be labelled as ‘that weird homeschooled guy.’ But then, Harding suddenly exploded. “The guy who went after me had ALSO been homeschooled his whole life AND he had written a bestseller on Christian dating when he was twenty-one! So that was a bust.”
Harding's most recent chance to make an impression was at Chai and Chocolate. Jeffrey Greenman led introductions around the room, which included a former member of an underground church in China, an award-winning South African worship leader, and a woman raised in a Swiss nunnery. Upon being asked where he was from, Harding could only mutter “Surrey,” before the conversation quickly moved on.
“The retreat’s my last chance,” Harding worried. “I’m caught between adopting a fake accent and lying that I’m from Northern Ireland, or just trying to rap on stage at the talent show.”
Sources report that the unmemorable student just picked up his returned CTC personal reflection paper, on which the only feedback was “good work.”
Question: What was the best thing that happened/didn't happen on the retreat?
-Andrew Wilson (of "The Atrium") (1st Yr): The small conversations that happened with faculty.
-Allen Smith (of "The Atrium) (1st Yr): Iain Provain's archived letter from Paul Spilsbury.
-Jenna Veenbaas (4th Yr): Letting go of work--of 'should-dos' and 'have-tos'--so that I could remember what being human feels like.
-Janice Thomas (1st Yr): The variety show--when Iain Provain did the Leviticus and "BC" readings.
-Dr. Hindmarsh (Prof of Spiritual Theology): Getting to know new students over meals, and getting to know students' spouses and children.
-Daffyd Russell-Jones (2nd yr: Troy's willingness to take a ladder to the face in service of comedy.
-Lynne Smith (Assistant to the President): Worshipping with the Regent community – faculty, staff, students, spouses and children. I love seeing children at worship.