Tony Jones, in discussing the possibility of Christian universalism, has finally admitted that he doesn’t believe in angels or demons. While this is expected, he says something opening up his post on demons that struck me as odd:
As I’ve been writing the posts exploring the possibility of Christian universalism, it’s become clear to me once again that I have a pretty different worldview from Jesus. Had I lived in his time, I’m quite sure that our worldviews would have been more similar, but a lot of water has passed over the dam since Jesus’ day, and it’s sometimes difficult to build a bridge back there. [Emphasis added}
Now, this of course presents a problem. If one acknowledges that one has a different worldview than Jesus, then that should indicate that one is wrong. After all, if we accept the Incarnation (and Jones claims he does), then while Jesus had a human will and thus had to learn, He also had a diving will that was perfect in knowledge.
Some readers might leap to Jones defense and say that I’m simply being nit-picky; after all, Jones is “brave” enough to acknowledge that he has a different worldview than Jesus. But that doesn’t mean he thinks Jesus is wrong, he may just be stating that he’s struggling to believe like Jesus believed.
To those who would think this, I point you to Jones’ previous post:
But it raises an exegetical problem as well: Jesus held an incorrect cosmology. Yes, of course our cosmology is probably wrong as well, or at least incomplete, but that doesn’t make Jesus’ cosmology any more right. Both Jesus and John the Baptist seem clearly to have embraced the ancient Hebraic belief in Sheol/Gehenna/Hades — i.e., a physical place of fires that the bodies of the damned are thrown. It seems merely wishful thinking when Aquinas, arguing that Jesus had full and perfect knowledge of all things, wrote, “Christ perfectly knows all human sciences.” [Emphasis original]
This means when discussing Christ, we can’t say that He was speaking allegorically because Jones says He was wrong; if Jesus was merely giving us an allegory when speaking about Heaven, Hell, demons, or angels then He wouldn’t have been wrong so much as He was simply taking complex ideas and making them accessible to the populace, that people at a later date took literally. Jones isn’t saying that and doesn’t leave us that option (which is wise considering when Jesus speaks of cosmology He does so in a literal fashion, leaving no room for an allegory).
By saying that Jesus was wrong, Jones has no choice but to dive headfirst into heresy (which isn’t a problem for Jones), but heresy that ultimately ruins any semblance of Christianity (which should be a problem for Jones).
If Jesus was wrong on any issue, we must conclude one of the following:
a) Jesus wasn’t God – God, by definition, knows all things actual and possible. If Jesus were wrong on something, then He couldn’t be God because it means He was ignorant about something .
b) God doesn’t know everything – we could argue that Jesus was God, but that God is ignorant of some things. Of course, if this is true then by definition God isn’t God. To be ignorance means to be finite; it means there is something outside the realm of understanding, which means that one is limited. If one is finite, then one cannot be eternal (due to the problem of an infinite regress). Thus, God wouldn’t be God if His knowledge was imperfect.
c) Jesus didn’t have access to the Divine Will – it could be argued that while Jesus had a Divine nature, He did not have access to His Divine knowledge. There are examples of this in the New Testament, such as when He says that He doesn’t know when He will return. In His human nature He lacks knowledge of the future, but in His divine nature everything is ‘ever-present.’ Hence the necessity of mystery in the Incarnation.
Of the above three solutions, only the third one makes sense within the Biblical narrative. But ultimately even it is lacking. The reason is that while Jesus admits ignorance in His human nature concerning the specifics of some future events, He never shows ignorance when teaching things that we need to know. If He did, then how could we know what to trust Him on? So when it comes to things like Heaven and Hell or Angels and demons, we have no reason to doubt Christ other than our own bias against such a cosmology.
And therein lies the issue; Jones’ objection to Jesus isn’t really a valid objection, but rather just a strong bias against traditional metaphysics. Jones readily admits that he has a weak view of metaphysics, where he states:
For me to attempt to deconstruct metaphysics here might be a losing battle. So let’s just leave it at this: a premise of this series of posts is that I have a very weak view of metaphysics, based primarily in my conviction that the human mind is finite and only able to grasp a very small percentage of what is really going on in being and in the world (cosmos). [Emphasis original]
Aside from the arrogance of believing that us moderns have to at least be correct in our suspicion of ancient metaphysics, notice how Jones’ statement is a blatant self-refuting idea. He has a very weak view of metaphysics, but makes the metaphysical statement that human beings are so finite that they can’t understand the world around them. While some might argue this is an epistemological argument (and it is to a certain extent), it has metaphysical presuppositions that betray a strong metaphysic; namely that humans are finite in comparison to the world around them, so finite in fact that they had difficulty understanding it.
But what are the reasons for rejecting traditional metaphysics? Is it because some people have changed their views? Is it because it’s confusing and hard to come to an absolute understanding? I don’t know the reasons, but ultimately Jones would be better off describing himself as a naturalist, or even a rationalist, than a Christian. What Jones is moving towards, whether he likes it or not, isn’t some “new Christianity,” but more of a mystical Deism that has a Christian undertone. It’s a view of a distant, completely transcendent god (or universe) that we can’t know because we’re too finite. It’s almost as though Jones has bowed before an extreme view of total depravity given to us by neo-Orthodoxy while also being a rationalist. And the entire time the irony of the contradiction is lost on Jones.
How can one be a rationalist – which Jones does claim to be at times – but then go on to limit the extent of human reason? That is, after all, the giant Cartesian joke; “I think, therefore I am…but ultimately I don’t believe enough to think I can think.”
Perhaps when Jones is done playing with nominalism and acting like he’s come up with something new – he hasn’t, what he’s teaching is old news by now – he can come back to the field of Christian realism and see that we can know the metaphysical world substantially, though not comprehensively. Perhaps someday Jones will learn there’s more than two philosophies out there, that the world extends beyond “enlightenment” and “post-enlightenment” and that there was a pre-modern philosophy in existence that puts both modernism and postmodernism to shame, even if Jones wants to deny it purely on the grounds of it being ancient.
But the audacity it takes to say Jesus was wrong should shame even the boldest of heretics; but we’re dealing with a philosophy that has made shame taboo, so what should we expect?