Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. VII: Liminality and Odyssey

In my last post, I spent time dealing with Schreiner’s critique of “past-tense salvation”; that is, that salvation occurs in a point rather than a line (that it is punctiliar instead of linear). Schreiner’s whole point is that salvation starts at a point, but progresses in a linear fashion until glorification.

In this post, I intend to deal with liminality, a concept surrounding the idea of transitions from and between stages of life, as well as the journey of life itself.

Let’s look at the basic idea of what liminality is:

“Victor Turner describes liminality as a transitional state and process used to categorise cultural-religious phenomena. Liminality appears in rites of passage, pilgrimages, millennial groups, monasticism, and so forth...he derived the concept from Arnold van Gennep’s rites of passage ‘which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age...all rites of passage or ‘transition’ are marked by three phases: separation, margin (or ‘limen’, signifying ‘threshold’), and aggregation” (B.J. Oropeza, “Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation.” Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000, page 45).

Notice that the word ‘limen’ means ‘threshold’? This tells us then, what “liminality” is: it is a ‘threshold’ state in which something or someone is close to an event or destination, while still not having attained it at the moment. In other words, one is “almost” in New Jersey (for example), or “nearing” the point of giving birth to a child, etc. Liminality is also “a transitional state and process,” and “appears in rites of passage, pilgrimages,” and so forth. When I read the words “rites of passage,” I think about Roman Catholics who administer “the last rites” as the moment of death nears an individual. I also think of Greco-Roman mythology, where the rites of passage were performed right around the moment of death because the dying victim was soon to be transported to the underworld, etc.

In addition, look back at the above quote and notice that there are three phases to the liminal process: (1) separation (being apart from something or having left something); (2) margin (liminality, “threshold”), which means that the person is crossing over to the destination; (3) aggregation, which means that the person has attained or gained the desired event or destination.

Liminality is not only found in rites of passage; it is also found in the phenomenon of pilgrimage:

“Pilgrimages may be short-term, long-term, or permanent. The transient is a pilgrim who renounces world and home. Pilgrimages may have a character of separation or initiation in which the liminal period is much longer than many rites of passage” (Oropeza, “Paul and Apostasy,” page 46).

The Israelite wilderness journey for 40 years, as seen in The Pentateuch as well as 1 Corinthians 10 (which I covered yesterday), is an example of liminality. The wilderness journey covered the three stages of liminality: first, the people left Egypt; secondly, the people wandered in the wilderness; third, the Israelite group ages 19 and under crossed over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.

B.J. Oropeza gives examples of liminality (process) in the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures. In the Old Testament, for instance (Leviticus 12:2-8), we have instructions regarding pregnancy: the mother first experiences “separation” as the child is born, no longer inside the womb; next, the mother is declared unclean from 40-80 days after the pregnancy and must not have sexual relations; last, after the forty to eighty days are over, the woman is free to engage in sexual relations with her husband once more. Another example that exists in the OT is the idea of mourning: first, a loved one dies, separating the dead victim from his/her family and friends; second, this places the loved ones and friends left behind in a state of mourning; thirdly, after mourning the death of the loved one, one is free to resume normal activities. This happens with Joseph and his brothers mourning the death of their father Jacob, amongst others (Genesis 44:32ff, 50:11). Deuteronomy 21:10-14 works along these lines as well: since it involves the death of relatives and a woman held in captivity due to Jewish war, the foreign woman is to be granted time to mourn for her deceased relatives (killed by the Jews); after mourning their deaths, she is then to have sexual relations with her Jewish husband and assume married life and all of its duties and privileges.

The idea of process in earthly life comes to the forefront in one of the most beautiful passages of the Scriptures, in a place that few of us would dare to look or read---Hebrews chapter 11, the renown “Roll Call of Faith.” In this chapter we find example after example of those whose trust in God manifested itself in the here and now. I will deal with Hebrews 11 soon.

For now, though, let me quickly review what’s in this post. The intention of the post was to cover the idea of process and transformation in everyday life. I examined Oropeza’s use of Victor Turner’s words regarding liminality, that liminality comes in three stages, and that pilgrimages are included in this as well. The words of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10) were meant to show that Israel was in the wilderness, and that she was on the verge (she was in the “margin” phase, the “limen,” the “threshold”) of the Promised Land...but she had not yet arrived. Last but not least, contra Calvinists and Molinists, Israel could be “certain” of God’s promise but could not guarantee it because receiving that promise would occur based on what would be lived out in time. I will end once more with the words of John Piper:

“If God knows what will come to pass, does that mean that all testings IN HISTORY are pointless? I DON’T THINK SO. God has not created the world just to be known in terms of what would be if tests were given. HE CREATED THE WORLD TO BE ACTUALIZED IN HISTORY. That is, he wills not just to foreknow, but to know by observation and experience. That is the point of creating a real world, rather than just knowing one that might be” (John Piper, “Answering Greg Boyd’s Openness of God Texts”; at the site www.ondoctrine.com/2pip1201.htm; quoted by Steven C. Roy, “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 181).

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