Heresy: What happens when “classical theism” meets the Incarnation

“It has been the open or concealed goal of each successive Christian heresy to shield Western antiquity’s native concept of deity from the import of biblical narrative about God, that is, to protect deity from contamination by temporality’s slings and arrows, above all from women’s wombs or the tombs women tended.”

– Robert W. Jenson (from “For Us . . . He was Made Man” in Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism)

Perhaps “heresy” simply names the result of using “classical theism”
to rationalize the Incarnation.  

Would you agree?


Crippling the Imagination of Scripture

Back to studying narrative as part of my thesis…

All stories have a vantage point, the lens from which the viewer/reader/hearer experience the action. The vantage point dictates the reality presented in the story by determining what is seen and what is not seen. Drama, or if you will the viewers attachment perhaps even entrance into the story, is often found in what is just out of sight.

This is obvious when watching something on a screen, the frame defines what can be seen. Certainty only reaches as far as the eye can see and everything else is left to the imagination. A director has the power of manipulating the view, and thus the viewer, by simply (un)zooming the lens. Instantly the vantage point, and thus the reality, of the story is altered.

Storytelling (and writing) works the same way. The storyteller gets to decide from what vantage point the story will be told; will it be a close-up with all the minutiae, a wide angle providing only panoramic views, or something in between? A storyteller does not have as much power to instantly change a story’s vantage point, but good storytellers still alter the reality of a story by changing views.

Nevertheless, regardless of the vantage point, the goal of a good story is always the same – to have the reader enter the story. Good stories even after the last page is turned, leave the reader unable to escape their reality and really good stories leave the reader unwilling to escape! Thus, the best stories are often not those where everything is explained but where everything, even more than what is on the page, is experienced.

This is one area that those of us who tell the Story of scripture often bog down. I know from my own failings, that I tend to give only two points of view. My initial point of view is so close-up that no stone is left unturned. In my zeal to fight against misunderstanding, I leave nothing to the imagination. I then jump immediately to the widest angle. I want all the territory visible so that nothing is left unseen. Ultimately, my two vantage points have the same goal, explain everything thus leaving the imagination crippled because there is nothing left out of view. In the end it might make a nice picture, but does it make a good story?

The answer, however, is not as easy as compromising and finding a middle angle that gives just enough detail without losing the big picture (as if that happy medium could even be found!)…no the answer is messy. It means leaving room for the imagination to take the story into places I have never even considered, allowing the reader to enter the story and give it a whole new vantage point. Yet, I am afraid I do not trust the Story I am telling enough to give it room to live. Sadly, in my attempt to protect the Story it often ceases to be a story at all.

Paul: In Fresh Perspective

I’m reading through N.T. Wright’s Paul: In Fresh Perspective for my class on, you guessed it, Paul.  This is my first time reading it… I know, I’m a little late to the game.  Thus far I’ve read chapter 1 (Paul’s Word, Paul’s Legacy) and chapter 2 (Creation and Covenant) and have really enjoyed it.  I’ve been rather perplexed by Paul since our Greek reading class through Romans last semester–the more we waded through Paul’s argument the more we all came out with different opinions!  Wright has helped to clarify some ideas for me, in particular with these themes of creation and covenant, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this book as well as his new book on Paul (Paul and the Faithfulness of God) coming this November.

I could quote this book all day long, but for now a rather long sentence on the problem of sin and death:

“When we begin with creation, and with God as creator, we can see clearly that the frequently repeated warnings about sin and death, referred to as axiomatic by Paul, are not arbitrary, as though God were simply a tyrant inventing odd laws and losing his temper with those who flouted them, but structural: humans were made to function in particular ways, with worship of the creator as the central feature, and those who turn away from that worship — that is, the whole human race, with a single exception — are thereby opting to seek life where it is not to be found, which is another way of saying that they are courting their own decay and death.” (p35)

Metaphors and Interpretation

This repost is the introduction of a conference paper I presented last year. It is a quick summary of the connection I see between conceptual metaphor theory and narrative interpretation. Much of what I post the next few Monday’s will unpack these ideas.

Since the works of Aristotle, the dominant Western theory of metaphors has been they are a linguistic devise useful for explaining something abstract by referring to something more concrete. Recent studies in the field of cognitive linguistics, however, have suggested that metaphors are mental operations capable of blending mental spaces to shape meaning. In other words, metaphors are not merely linguistic expressions but conceptual and thus capable of lending coherence and structure to thought.

These studies advance the case that an elaborate system of conceptual metaphors lies at the core of our human mind providing an underpinning for our imagining, knowing, acting, communicating, and creating.[1] This system of conceptual metaphors, grounded in physical and social experiences,[2] is a means by which we use our experiencing of one thing to not only explain something else, but to actually experience something else. In this way, metaphors shape our experiences and in so doing generate meaning through providing coherence and structure to our thought. A metaphorical structure of human thought suggests that metaphors are capable of providing new meaning to the past, to daily activity, and to what is hoped for in the future; metaphors have the ability to generate new realities.[3]

But a question remains, if metaphors are conceptual and capable of generating new realities how are they arranged or aligned so that they are useful? According to cognitive linguists, such as Mark Turner, story is the essential organizational principle of the mind. Much of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organized in story because story is able to project one experience onto another in an effort to construct meaning.[4] At this point conceptual metaphor theory and literary hermeneutics merge, since story’s ability to project and thereby generate meaning is nourished by the system of conceptual metaphors from which it feeds. To borrow a phrase from Richard B. Hays, the system of conceptual metaphors is the substructure of story.[5] Story is the basic means of aligning the array of metaphors stored from past physical and social experiences to give significance to our present situations and experiences. In the terms of cognitive linguistics, story blends conceptual metaphors with our present situation resulting in the generation of new cognitive schemas that are able to give innovative meaning to past events and provide a new frame of reference for the present and future.[6]

[1] Fauconnier 1997.

[2] A conceptual metaphor’s grounding in physical and social experience is why some refer to this field as the “Embodied Mind.”

[3] Lakoff, Johnson 1980.

[4] Turner 1996.

[5] Hays 2002.

[6] Fauconnier, Turner 2002.

Methodological Questions: Conceptual Metaphor and Interpretation

One more week without a book review as I finish my paper for this week. They will return next week, I have Gaventa and Barclay to review. In lieu of the review, I am offering a look at my methodology for interpreting a passage with conceptual metaphors in view. This is still largely a work in progress, but this is what I am using to look into Galatians 4:1-7 in this paper. (Sorry if formatting is little strange had trouble importing the text)


With cognitive studies’ investigation of language as the mind’s means of communication providing the template for investigation, the words of a text may be examined as the text’s form of communication.


  • What conceptual metaphors shape the text?

    -What are the central topics and epistemological assumptions of the text?

    -Are there organizing principles or patterns in the text?

    -Is there an intended impact of the text?  How is the impact framed?

  • How are these conceptual metaphors grounded, structured, related to each other, and defined?

 -As far as it can be reconstructed, what is the historical, social, and cultural meaning of the conceptual metaphor?

-What is the textual meaning of the conceptual metaphors?  How are the conceptual metaphors framed in the specific                 text?  How is the text connected with what comes before and after, and to document as a whole?

-In biblical interpretation, this will mean examining beyond a particular book by turning to intertextual aspects:  Is scripture quoted in the text?  Are there allusions to other scriptures, scriptural themes, or stories? How do these impact the framing of the conceptual metaphors in the text?

-How do the conceptual metaphors (both empirical and implied) define the thought-world of the text?  Do they organize the text?  Provide a structure for the discourse?  Project a line of reasoning?

  • How does the context of the reader influence the text’s reception?

-How does the world constructed by the text correspond to the historical, cultural, and social norms?  What parts are highlighted?  What parts are forgotten/deleted?

 -How do the highlighted and neglected parts impact the reading? How does the text cue the reader to respond?

-How does the blending of the frames, textual world, historical context and reader’s context, influence the intended impact of the text?

  • How metaphoric blends lie behind the construction of the text and the story?

 -At what points do the conceptual metaphors collide?  How does blending conceptual metaphors integrate the different fields into a shared field of meaning?  Does blending result in the construction of new meaning?  How does blending create new meaning?  Does the new meaning generate new schemas which can reinterpret the past and/or provide new ideals for the present and future?

-Does blending create a story that produces transformation of the conceptual metaphors?

-How might a storied approach to hermeneutics provide new possibilities for highlighting the transformative role of the text?

  • What role does an informed imagination play in the reception of the story?

    -How does the reader receive the conceptual categories of the text?  How does the reader form conceptual categories for the objects, events, actors and stories revealed in the text?  How is one story projected onto another story?

-How might speech-act-theory, with its focus on the text’s locution, illocution, and perlocution open possibilities for interpretation to move through understanding towards embodiment?  Can an interpretative community, by recognizing all three aspects of a text as part of one interpretative process come to understand the act of reading as informing its imagination through a call to not simply understand but to be drawn into participating in the conceptual world constructed by the text?

What results is a hermeneutical method, which incorporates a text’s empirical historical setting, implied historical setting, and literary context with the personal and communal life of the reader.  It is a hermeneutical method that moves through understanding a text towards embodying a text; embodied biblical interpretation.