A few days ago I wrote a short piece asking whether or not rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity is the rejection of the Gospel (see “Is rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity a rejection of the Gospel?”). Many people commented sharing a range of opinions. Most of the comments made points worth considering. Personally, I do not think that it is a rejection of the Gospel if one rejects the doctrine of the Trinity because I do not think that our understanding of orthodoxy should be equated with the saving act of God. On the Day of Judgement God will judge through Christ on the basis of what has been done for the world through Christ. God the Father has declared Christ the King of the World (see Psalm 2 for language that I think frames this quite well) and our response to that declaration (i.e. the Gospel) seems to be what the Apostles understood to be the evidence of whether or not a person had been reconciled with God. In other words it is what you do with the Son that determines how the Father will judge you through the Son.
I don’t want our understanding of orthodoxy to be convoluted with the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings everyone to Christ that will come to Christ and it is the Spirit who guides them into maturity. That being said, I want to clarify that I don’t think orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and heresy is completely divorced from one’s relationship to God. It could very well be a sign that something is seriously wrong. A Christian who rejects the doctrine of the Trinity knowing full well what it entails sends a concerning message to the rest of the church that their understanding of the core affirmations of our religion supersedes the catholic confession of those core affirmations. All in all, it is Christ who sits on the throne and the doctrine of the ascension provides me with the comfort that God will do what is right by all people at the end of the age. There will be no one who is condemned unjustly.
I came to Christianity through the Oneness Pentecostal movement that rejects the doctrine of the Trinity as a group. Many people I know have no idea what they are rejecting. Many people have had negative interactions with Christians in other groups and they manifest that hurt by joining themselves to a sectarian group that speaks of itself as the defenders of pure doctrine. Others have felt the Spirit and they associate that moment with the people that surround them. This is how they validate truth claims for better or worse. This would describe my family members who have remained Oneness Pentecostals. I don’t think they know what they are saying when they speak against the doctrine of the Trinity. I think they parrot what they’ve been taught.
A young man who is part of the same church as some of my family wrote me a few weeks ago asking why I affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. I asked him why he affirms the biblical canon. Neither are explicitly outlined in Scripture. He did not respond in return.
Since this was my entry into Christendom it was a struggle to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. I wrestled with it for many years. It was not until I had the opportunity to read the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria and Basil the Great that I began to understand what was being said. That is only a little over a year ago!
It is not that I think the exegesis of Scripture leads one to the doctrine of the Trinity with ease that I confess the doctrine. In some sense it may be easy to call me illogical for what I am going to write. I confess the doctrine of the Trinity because I have the presupposition that the Spirit would not let the church go astray where it matters most. I don’t think God has micromanaged the church. We have made mistakes in doctrine and practice over the years. I think that this has to do with God’s commitment from the beginning to do his work with humanity. Whether it is Adam and Eve, Abraham’s family, the nation of Israel, or the Jew-Gentile church, there has never been a time when God monopolized history. He has been sovereign, but not deterministic. This means we are allowed to make mistakes. Yet it seems to me that where it is essential that his people get it right God has done what is necessary to keep his project on course.
Let me tell you why I cannot find myself in agreement with so-called Progressive Christianity (even when I am sympathetic). It is not that I don’t struggle with the logic of the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. It is that I know I am one person who is part of one era and this prevents me from denying what the catholic church has confessed for hundreds of years across many, many lines. Yes, I know, there have been groups with differing views that aren’t “orthodox”. Yes, I know, even those who are “orthodox” disagree on the details. That being said, there is a core confession that I will continue to confess because I am not alone in this project that began in Jerusalem hundreds of years ago.
At this juncture in my life I have had time to study the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. I know that these creeds have been confessed by Orthodox and Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians, Baptists and Pentecostals over the years. Do I confess the words of these creeds because I always understand them or because I have come to a firm confidence in what they say without having any doubts. Of course not. I confess them because I am part of the church and the church has passed them down through the ages. I don’t think the Spirit would allow us to be mislead where it matters.
Someone who helped me with this is the historian Justo L. Gonzalez. In his book The Apostle’s Creed for Today (pp. 7-9) he addresses whether ecumenical creeds must be personal creeds. He wrote the following:
“…it would be helpful to think of the creed not so much as a personal statement of faith but as a statement of what it is that makes the church be the church, and of our allegiance to the essence of the gospels and therefore to the church that proclaims it.”
He compares this to the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States of America. We may doubt some parts or interpret some parts differently, but it is a creed that says we are one nation together and this is what the nation confesses. In other words, I realize my earthly citizenship is not determined by my autonomous being but rather by my corporate identity. Likewise, I find in the creeds something similar. Whether or not I can say in a given moment that I have no reserve about the doctrine of the Virgin Birth I do not feel that it is right to proclaim that it ought to be doubted. This is not my creed to change. It is the church’s to maintain.
“Were I to write my own creed, I would probably leave out one or two phrases and add some others of my own. I might find it easier to delete the phrase about the virgin birth. And I certainly would want to add something about the social responsibility of believers, about the place of worship in the life of the church, and a number of other items. But when I recite the Apostle’s Creed I am declaring myself part of that countless multitude throughout the centuries who have found their identity in the same gospel and the same community of believers of which I am now part–a multitude which includes martyrs, saints, missionaries, and great theologians, but in the final analysis all are nothing but redeemed sinners, just as I am.”
So why I do I find myself in solidarity with Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists, and Pentecostals at the core, even when I disagree on many things–the nature of Scripture, the role of the gifts of the Spirit in the church today, the authority of Bishops? It is because it is not my creeds that center us, but the catholic creeds. Does this give me all the answers? No, but it provides me with a constitution, a beginning, a pledge, a community.
Maybe I will die and find that Progressive Christians (and the agnostics, and the atheists, and…) were correct. Maybe Jesus was just a good teacher, a prophetic man, a messianic candidate. Maybe the best thing Christianity could do for the world was the Golden Rule and the example set by the life of Jesus. If so, there is little lost. I’ll be dead. Maybe. That said, I am not confident enough in my own intelligence, and I don’t trust enough in the validity of my own doubts, to deny what the church has given to me from generations past. Where it matters I stand with them in allegiance to the Christ whom I believe told his disciples to wait for the Spirit that would lead them into all truth.
Your last paragraph, while honest, is troubling (the divine wager thinking).
I’m sure that unless I feigned the dogmatism you promote you’d find it troubling. It is not that I do not believe these things. Rather, it’s that when I doubt these things I hold to the catholic community that Christ gave us. Either way, my confession is not rooted in my current state of mind or the strength of my intellect.
It is good that you are honest. Listen to what you are saying – basically that you believe in the Trinity out of peer pressure. Like any normal person, you don’t understand it, but because it has been taught by so many people over the years, you feel obligated to assert it. Most people grow up in churches where it is just assumed and it wouldn’t occur to most people that there are other views and that the doctrine doesn’t stand up to intellectual scrutiny.
Example: you mention Psalm 2, which is usually interpreted as a Trinidadian passage. But the passage has the Lord (divine, upper case) speaking to a “lord” (human, lower case). Yet bibles almost all wrongly translate the second lord in the upper case.
Uh, Trinitarian. Chalk that up to spell check. Not trinidadian.
@Bondboy: Peer pressure? Seriously? That’s the response that came to mind and that you let yourself type? Wow.
The Dogmatism I promote is the orderly structuring of the articles of the Christian faith. What are you talking about? Do you not hold to your position with just as much vigor as I? It seems that you do.
My faith is not rooted in my state of mind or intellect, either. Rather it is grounded in the vicarious faith of Christ for us!
I am not pressing for rationalist certitude; instead, I hold to relational presence and trust in Christ. Your last paragraph “sounded” rather rationalist to me, but since that’s not how you intended that, apparently, then I stand corrected.
But back to the “dogmatism” point; what are you talking about? There seems to be some perception about me that you have that I am unaware of myself. Is it because I believe what I believe with passion and conviction that you feel threatened or something?
@Bobby: I don’t find any troubles with you outlining your confession or even presenting it orderly. While we do agree that it comes down Christ’s work toward us and that presence of the Spirit it does seem at times that if people don’t hold fast to particular doctrines with a firm assurance that you strike against them quickly. In other words, it seems like there is sometimes little room for gray to the point that it could sound like you are demanding that we rationally affirm particular points of dogma while ignoring any lingering doubts or pretending that they don’t exist. Does that clarify?
Sure, Brian. But just know that this is a two way street. It seems to me that you promote a certain ethos, and that’s fine, this is your blog, and that if someone does not jive with it you have the equal and same response that you say that I have (there is some irony here).
@Bobby: I’m not saying it is wrong to have an ethos, but for someone who says rationalism is dangerous you are often quickly threatened by anything that sounds like it lacks confidence in one’s own epistemology. In other words, I don’t see what makes your rationality different than my own save your starting point on matters. You systemize and organize using your mind as much as I do. It may have limits provided by the confession you espouse (so does mine), but it isn’t somehow supra-rational.
You compared my final paragraph to Pascal’s Wager (we are both French so it makes sense, right?), but I don’t see how my decision to maintain the creed of the church, even if there are times when arguments against them seem quite strong, differs all that much from your decision to think through Christian doctrine within the confines of traditional Christianity. We wager plain and simple. Our minds are not powerful enough to know all things, so at some point we step from the data we have to a trust in Christ that is beyond the data. That is why I was clear that I have many presuppositions.
If it is that you don’t like that I use language that speaks of knowledge taking me so far and then stepping beyond that knowledge, oh well. If you have found a way to rise above that process that is fine and dandy. I am comfortable with it. I think that may be your primary concern and if it is you should know by now that whatever approach you’ve adopted due to your study of folks like Barth and Torrance is one I won’t adopt. I’m glad it worked for you and that it provided you with a means of approaching doctrine that you see as being beyond rationalism, but for many people that will leave lingering questions and concerns. If I tried to approach doctrine like you I’d still have many things I’d want to ponder and I’d be faking it. You don’t want that, right? 🙂
Yeah, Brian, you said: “I am not confident enough in my own intelligence, and I don’t trust enough in the validity of my own doubts, to deny what the church has given to me from generations past.”
Maybe peer pressure is a crude way to phrase it, but you don’t frame your belief in terms of understanding or affirmation of the idea itself. You have faith that all these people in the past have made the right decision and you are aligning yourself with them. As I said, most churchgoers (obviously you were raised in a minority sect) have never even encountered the idea that the trinity is not entirely obvious.
I don’t mean you feel personally bullied by anyone in particular. However, most people don’t want to think that major “error” or change in belief about something so basic to the religion could take hold if in fact the religion’s direction was being directed from above.
The problem with that is that the basic beliefs about the religion have changed dramatically over the centuries, yet everyone wants to believe that there has been a long unbroken line that started with Jesus. History doesn’t support that.
@Bondboy: I wouldn’t say it is a “unbroken line” as if Jesus taught about God using the terminology of later Nicene thinkers, but I do think that the Spirit of God unfolded the doctrine of God over time for his people using language that reflected the nature of God rightly (though not perfectly, because language can never do that perfectly). In other words, what we see in the Fourth Gospel (especially chapters fourteen through seventeen) does provide seed from which the tree of Trinitarianism grew.
Is this easily proven without particular presuppositions. Of course not, but that is a far cry from what I think you have been insinuating. As you note rightly, I went from what I was taught to what I confess now. It wasn’t blind. I do think that the Patristic Fathers systematized the data of Scripture correctly. I think they noticed insights from Pauline and Johannine literature that led them to say what Christians say about God. It wasn’t a leap in the dark.
But at times of doubt (and as someone who revisits and revisits and revisits the same questions about my faith) I don’t shift with my current state of mind. I hold to the creed as accountability, not peer pressure. Being accountable to the historic church and taking seriously the work of the Spirit in ages past is not quite what you are saying in my opinion. You may disagree, but there is little I can do about that.
A very thoughtful post. But I’ve been wondering lately, as I’ve read your posts and the guest posts of others on the question of historicity, what one does when one insists on historicity as the basis for faith.
This appeal to church tradition strikes me as a similar move,
“I confess the doctrine of the Trinity because I have the presupposition that the Spirit would not let the church go astray where it matters most.”
The Apostle Paul seems to make the exact opposite move when he says, “Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the gospel I preached isn’t human in origin. I didn’t receive it or learn it from a human. It came through a revelation from Jesus Christ. ” (Galatians 1:11-12)
The gospel Paul preached isn’t historically mediated. His faith in Christ flows from Christ. It’s not qualified with historicities or grounded in the traditions of men, even of the church.
There’s an urge to ground our faith in Christ in something else, something beyond Christ. In the historical, in tradition, in the Scriptures, etc… and my question is why?
I ask with Paul why can’t Christ himself be our foundation,
“At the time, when you didn’t know God, you were enslaved by things that aren’t gods by nature. But now, after knowing God (or rather, being known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless world system? Do you want to be slaves to it again? You observe religious days and months and seasons and years. I’m afraid for you! Perhaps my hard work for you has been for nothing.” (Galatians 4:8-11)
There’s a temptation to hedge. A temptation to distance ourselves. It’s not our creed, it’s the creed of the church. A claim that makes no sense unless it is not our creed, unless we’re on the outside looking in. The moment you place your faith in the creed of the church it becomes yours, not because the church has said it but because you have believed it. You have still chosen and the choice was, is, and will be always yours.
Why not be bold like Paul and proclaim our faith as a revelation from Jesus Christ?
@Dan: You’ve made comments that lend me to think that either you’ve misunderstood me or you’re creating a false dichotomy. I am not saying that my faith is grounded in something outside of Christ. It is in Christ alone. If the doctrine of the Trinity is wrongheaded it will be before Christ that I stand and not my doctrinal affirmations. Yet I trust this Christ has called a community and that this Christ has given this community the Spirit and that the Spirit guides us. So honestly, I don’t know what point you are trying to make or why you see a dichotomy between trusting that Christ rules the church by the Spirit and trusting in his person and revelation to his people.
Also, don’t forget, while Paul was bold he was no autonomous fool. He went to Jerusalem to discuss his Gospel with the Apostles there for good reason. There is two sides to that coin.
Do you have a personal prolegomena? I don’t advocate a kind of nature perfected by grace approach; wherein my rationality takes me so far and then revelation steps in and takes me the rest of the way. This sounds eerily like what you say you hold; and yes, I have problems with this approach because it is rooted in an intellectualist anthroplogy wherein the intellect/mind is the defining feature of man. For me its all God’s self-revelation in Christ all the way down (grace all the way down), or it’s nothing. Your approach doesn’t seem to follow this, and so I have a problem with it (not that you hold it, that’s your business; but in general I think it is problematic because it operates from a foundationalist/dualist method that I think ends up distorting theological reality instead of being shaped by it).
But you have sincerely misunderstood my approach. You seem to think that my approach is scholastic seeking to tie up all the loose ends; wherein coherence is the hallmark of my method; it is not! My approach is open-structured, since God in Christ is dynamic and a relationship of persons (the one and the many). I believe that eternal life, which we are participants, in Christ; is a relationship of constant growth (Jn 17.3) in the knowledge of him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. You simply have mis-read me; and I would venture that that is because you really have never read me. peace out.
“Yet I trust this Christ has called a community and that this Christ has given this community the Spirit and that the Spirit guides us. So honestly, I don’t know what point you are trying to make or why you see a dichotomy between trusting that Christ rules the church by the Spirit and trusting in his person and revelation to his people.”
Here’s the thing Brian when you talk about this ‘community’ that Christ has called you’re not actually speaking in terms of community in this world but rather a ‘community’ of essential beliefs maintained by diverse communities. What has made these beliefs ‘essential’ is not the fact that these communities recognize them as the essentials but that you do.
You’ve created an idealized ‘community’ where none organically exists in the world according to your definition of the ‘essentials’ that you then claim are derived from the ideal ‘community’ which has been led by the Spirit which, in fact, never existed.
So what I’m wondering is why go to all that trouble? Why establish this artificial ‘community’ in the first place?
Why distance your position from yourself. Why try to place it outside and over you when it actually comes from inside. From study, prayer, etc.
Why not proclaim this orthodoxy as the revelation of Christ mediated through your experience rather than the revelation of Christ mediated through an imagined community?
@Bobby : Honestly, as I have said to you in previous discussions, I do not understand you. There is likely much that we share in our basic presuppositions but your jargon often assumes that I am familiar with ideas that you espouse that actually I do not understand. What I read sounds vaguely similar to some of what I have read about debates between Barth and Brunner (regarding revelation and knowledge), but as I have told you a dozen times already I do not read much of what these people write (or Torrance, or anyone in that line of thought) because I am part of a different discussion addressing different people asking different questions.
What you cannot assume is that because I think about Christian theology that I must read who you’ve read, use the categories of distinction you use, and frame things as you do. Maybe your way is best, but that doesn’t amount to anything if you cannot communicate with someone like myself who is outside of your intellectual circles.
So when I read what you are saying I shrug. I wonder where in the world you would get the assumption that I deny the grace of God or that you think “an intellectualist anthroplogy wherein the intellect/mind is the defining feature of man.” When I read what you write I scratch my head because I think that you are using your intellect as well. You are not a vacuum whom Christ has filled with knowledge like some form of Gnosticism. I read what you write and I think that while you have different language, concepts, and influence you think and pray about matters just like me. To be labeled as some sort of rationalist scholastic appears to me to be some form of labeling that doesn’t actually do much for the conversation.
@Dan: I think you are finding more in my words than what is actually there. Let me simplify:
(1) There have been core creeds that have been shared by a majority of Christians over the generations.
(2) While there are differences between those who share these creeds they provide language that functions as a starting place for Christian thought and Christian speech.
(3) The community are those who have shared these creeds and submitted to the role I just described.
(4) While not denying that someone may be a Christian who doesn’t use these creeds I do find these creeds as useful common ground for the church across eras and locations.
(5) I am not separating myself from these creeds. I am saying that when the time comes that I must ask myself what a majority of Christians over time have understood to be the basic description of the core of our religion I appeal to these creeds. This prevents me from autonomous Christianity or a Christianity that changes as if I am some sort of sole authority at a given time.
So what is your point again?
@Dan: If you still think there is something wrong with what I said then let me ask the following:
(1) Do you deny that there have been Christians over the ages that have confessed these creeds?
(2) Do you deny that this is a way of forming a community across time that is not limited to our current moment in the world?
(3) Is there anything contradictory about acknowledging there is a core confession shared by most Christians throughout history while saying that in the end it is not this confession that saves but Christ?
(4) What is your alternative?
“(1) There have been core creeds that have been shared by a majority of Christians over the generations.”
Yes. Although these creeds existed in both a diversity of form, interpretation, and use.
“(2) While there are differences between those who share these creeds they provide language that functions as a starting place for Christian thought and Christian speech.”
Yes. Although I don’t believe they are unique in this regard (See the scriptures, prayers, liturgies, etc.)
“(3) The community are those who have shared these creeds and submitted to the role I just described.”
No. I’m really not seeing the creeds as the foundation of Christian community. The historically the creeds are adopted or not adopted to safeguard the community not to serve as a foundation for it.
“(4) While not denying that someone may be a Christian who doesn’t use these creeds I do find these creeds as useful common ground for the church across eras and locations.”
Total agreement here.
“(5) I am not separating myself from these creeds. I am saying that when the time comes that I must ask myself what a majority of Christians over time have understood to be the basic description of the core of our religion I appeal to these creeds. This prevents me from autonomous Christianity or a Christianity that changes as if I am some sort of sole authority at a given time.”
I’m not sure the creeds are really up to this job. They are very limited statements mad to address very specific issues in the historical life of the church.
(1) Agreed. I don’t think the creeds fell from heaven intact. There has been an evolution over time.
(2) Agreed. There is no denial that from a common trunk there has sprung many beautiful and diverse brances.
(3) I like your clarification here. You are right. The creeds are a safeguard and not a foundation. Well said.
(5) It is true that the creeds are limited, but I do think that they provide a connecting point across ages. Sure, there are aspects of the language that transition roughly to our time (e.g. I know of many people who struggle with the Father, Son, and Spirit being “persons” since that sounds a bit like tritheism in the English language), but it is a great starting place for us to come together, especially those of us who are evangelicals wherein we find much chaos.
“(1) Do you deny that there have been Christians over the ages that have confessed these creeds?”
No. I’d add that there have been Christians throughout history who have denied them.
“(2) Do you deny that this is a way of forming a community across time that is not limited to our current moment in the world?”
The creeds were primarily designed not to form community but to divide community. The creeds sought to exclude specific beliefs and persons from the community. They were designed to exclude across history.
“(3) Is there anything contradictory about acknowledging there is a core confession shared by most Christians throughout history while saying that in the end it is not this confession that saves but Christ?”
I think equating the creeds with a core confession is a problem. Again I tend to view the creeds as boundary markers. They were designed to exclude very specific persons and beliefs from the church. They don’t define ‘essentials’ but rather rule particular theological opinions ‘out of bounds’. What they define was considered essential but do not consist of THE essentials.
(4) What is your alternative?
I’m not sure I want an alternative in a strict sense. I don’t really think it’s helpful to lay down a list of essentials in that I reject first and second degree separatism. The ‘essentials’ cease to serve a purpose if one rejects separatism. The moment you start to lay down ‘the essentials’ you begin to fetishize them. Every time you draw one boundary another must be drawn again. Like the Greek Pharmakos it is both the poison and the cure.
I think the model for dealing with issues like this might be the Auburn Affirmation which safeguards the believers liberty of conscience, by refusing to lay out essentials.
“There’s an urge to ground our faith in Christ in something else, something beyond Christ. In the historical, in tradition, in the Scriptures, etc… and my question is why?”
It goes without saying that our faith in Christ is rooted in Christ. But what about the historicity of the virgin birth and/or the garden narrative of Gen 2-3? It’s the latter that Brian is obviously struggling with on his blog, and precisely for the reason that our acceptance of such things seems to be less rooted in our daily walk with Christ than with the work of the Spirit in the Church over the ages.
Let’s put some meat on this bone of yours.
“For me its all God’s self-revelation in Christ all the way down (grace all the way down), or it’s nothing.”
Quick question, does the historicity of the garden narrative in Gen 2-3 fall under the category of “God’s self-revelation in Christ”? And if so, how? Inquiring minds and all that…
(1) Sure, there are those who are children of God who have not aligned with the creeds, but I don’t see them as equally normative.
(2) We will have to agree to disagree on your more pessimistic view of the creeds.
(3) Fair enough.
(4) If you frame the creeds as primarily “in” and “out” rather that safeguarding the church then your pessimism makes sense, but like (2) I disagree that the creeds are primarily about exclusion. I see them as primarily about starting point and protection.
I didn’t call you a scholastic; I’m saying that it seems that you think that I am following this method of thinking. It seems that you think that my method is one that is shaped by a need for rational certitude and coherence V. relational communion (with Christ and his Church) and open-endedness (always learning more of the Savior’s life and love through participation with him by the Spirit).
Yes, I know you don’t understand me. But in order for me to be able to communicate what I believe with you; there has to be a willingness for you to at least come a step my way on your part. And thus far I don’t see that willingness. Ultimately, Brian, that’s okay; I’m fine with that. You have your interests I have mine. Although I really don’t like to see this kind of rupture between us simply because I have studied the historical and systematic theology (and thought through some of its methodology), and apparently you haven’t (or instead, you aren’t as interested in it as me). The thing is, is that most of your questions (esp. in re. to a doctrine of God and the Trinity) require that you think through a theological lens (and I mean methodologically, thus my question about prolegomena [surely you know what that is; you are a ThM student after all]).
I think that you have identified a bit of what I am getting at in regard to approach; when you bring up Barth and Brunner (and the issue of natural theology V. revealed theology). But my informing voices are not just Barth and Torrance; my ball of wax is bigger than that. I am thinking through historical theological voices as well (like Calvin, Luther, Athanasius, Augustine); and my point about grace perfecting nature comes directly from a dictum that Thomas Aquinas articulated. I interpret the things that you write and say through these categories; because, even if you are unaware, that is where they come from in the history. And even if not directly, what you say has been addressed, theologically, by folks who you reject out of hand (it seems).
I don’t really understand what you’re after, Brian. You ask theological questions, but you don’t seem to want to deal with the theological answers that have been provided by the Church’s theologians (except to nod your head at the Creeds/Councils or something, and then claim mystery). So maybe all I am trying to do is chide or press you further into the implicit nature of your questions; which again is theological, and deep.
One more point. Like I’ve said before; I went through years of terrible doubt (very internalized for me). I worked through all of that. I walked through all the apologetic/philosophical and rationalist answers available by evidentiary apologetics. This did help me, and did assuage my angst. But what I’ve come to realize is that I am a Christian; and thus the ground of my faith and trust is not provable, in the way that higher critics and atheists want to prove things. And so I follow a theological trajectory that is methodologically relational and Trinitarian in nature; and one that starts in Christ as God’s self-interpreting Word (as Athanasius did; he said, it is “better to signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name God from his works alone and call him Unoriginate” this is contra the Arians).
I don’t see an intentional theological order to the way you are approaching things, and so I am trying to press you on that.
Anyway, Brian, thank you for the discussion.
A quick answer; yes. 🙂
I see Israel’s history as the pre-history of the incarnation of God’s life in Christ. I think your question needs to take a step back and ask the hermeneutical question. That is, what framework am I bringing to the text, at an a priori level, before and as I interpret the text. I think all biblical interpretation is theological (like NT Wright does theological exegesis through his “Covenantal” categories), and thus it is good to be honest and up front about what theological tradition informs and shapes my exegetical conclusions.
Ha! I suppose a quick question deserves a quick answer. 😉
Anyway, nothing wrong with your perspective, of course, but I’m not sure it confronts the challenge of critical scholarship so much as sidesteps it, which won’t satisfying everyone.
While you guys were busy giving each other a head ache, I read what Brian wrote and it sounded very much like:
Faith in What We Don’t See
1-2The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.
Maybe “critical” scholarship ought to be side-stepped; especially if the premises of their work represents mis-steps.
Anyway, I am working from a Christian Dogmatic order to things; as Christians this ought to be our approach, I think. If we want to engage in apologetics, then, indeed, dealing with “critical” scholarship is the way to go. I’m interested in what the medievals called the via positiva the positive way (Revealed theology) V. the via negativa (or negative way). Btw, I don’t really think in the end what I am doing side-steps “critical” scholarship; since it points out the fatal mis-steps critical scholarship makes in its metaphysical and thus epistemological/ontological approach.
I think what I am interested in really does not fit in here. Thanks, NW.
“It goes without saying that our faith in Christ is rooted in Christ. But what about the historicity of the virgin birth and/or the garden narrative of Gen 2-3? It’s the latter that Brian is obviously struggling with on his blog, and precisely for the reason that our acceptance of such things seems to be less rooted in our daily walk with Christ than with the work of the Spirit in the Church over the ages.”
Here I think we get to the root of the problem. When we talk about what beliefs must be affirmed in order to be a Christian (Virgin birth, garden narrative, etc.) I think we’re really missing the function of dogma.
I think that, in the west at least, what has historically made someone a Christian is either the product of or through a combination of their baptism (Baptismal regeneration), a freely given act of grace from God (Not mediated through the sacraments), or a born again/mystical experience (Characterized by a synergistic personal relationship).
Now Brian has explicitly stated that he’s not talking about that directly but about what makes one an ‘orthodox christian’ in the historical sense.
The problem with an appeal to the creeds to this question is that they weren’t really designed to answer that question. They are responses to instances of perceived* departures from orthodoxy designed to remove certain beliefs and persons from the community in order to protect it.
They are responses to institutional crisis, not a theology or a catechism (Although they would later be inserted into catechisms, and liturgies, etc.).
Which brings us to why they they would address the virgin birth and not the garden narrative. The virgin birth was tied up in a controversy while the garden narrative was not. I think it would be a mistake to then assume that the garden narrative wouldn’t have, at one point, been important to orthodoxy.
Which brings us back to the * (See above). The Oriental Orthodox, despite their rejection of Chaledon, are today widely considered today to be orthodox. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches today concede that Monophysitism really isn’t a heresy just a different expression. The ‘essential’ has become ‘inessential’.
So the question is what are we signaling when we affirm the garden narrative or the virgin birth to be literally historically true? Who are we excluding when we make those statements normative in our institutions? Why are they dangerous? Is that danger a product of their denial of the virgin birth or the garden narrative? Or are they the old Monophysites all over again?
I don’t think the creeds can answer these questions.
@Bobby: I don’t think you are a scholastic. I don’t know what label you want me to use, but I don’t have one for you. I recognize you have some important presuppositions (for goodness sake you’ve developed what seems to be a whole system in itself with your evangelical Calvinism).
Where I disagree with you is that to discuss Christian theology I must (1) move toward familiarity with what you’ve read. If that is the case then soon I’ll need to read many Roman Catholic theologians to talk with my Catholic friends and many Orthodox theologians to talk with my Orthodox friends and on and on and on. I assume that you know your views well enough to translate them into common, shared language. (2) That I must become a historical theologian to have these discussions. Again, yes, I understand that it would benefit me to read Augustine, and Aquinas, Barth, and dozens upon dozens of important thinkers. Sadly, there is twenty four hours in a day and I have a field where I am giving all my time (early Christianity, Second Temple Judaism, historical Jesus, the Gospels, Pauline literature). I can’t do my discipline and another. For better or worse there is too much specialization demanded in our world.
As far as “ThM” is concerned you know very well that this has little to do with hermeneutical lens. Someone can dedicate all their time to NT or OT studies. It would be like telling a MDiv student, “You sure know little about the divine. Let’s have a study on divinity.” An MDiv is more about general overviews and pastoral preparation. So honestly, I’m not sure what point you are making by referencing my degree program.
What am I after? What are you after? I explained on my blog how I do my academic tasks while remaining in the stream of Christian orthodoxy. I wasn’t “after” a discussion on historical theology. I wasn’t “after” a discussion on Bobby Grow’s methodology for theological inquiry. I was stating how I have come to find the creeds useful and how I have placed myself under their authority.
Don’t confuse your frustration with my disinterest in some areas of historical theology with the inability to do theology. You know very well that you’ve created a false dichotomy there. Again, there are Catholics doing theology who haven’t read Barth and Pentecostals doing theology who haven’t read Anselm. It is possible to do Christian theology without interacting with dozens of people that someone else thinks everyone must read.
I’m glad that whatever system you’ve found to be helpful is helpful. I am not going through times of terrible doubt. I am comfortable and secure in Christ. You may struggle with equating security in Christ to a willingness to investigate truth claims, but I don’t. I’m sorry you don’t think it is “intentional” enough, but someday you’ll have to realize I am a person very, very different from you who thinks through things differently than you do. If every conversation comes back to you demanding I have a “a personal prolegomena” then you will always be frustrated. Remember, we are not all the same and we don’t all think the same and we don’t all process the same. I’m sure you know this, but embracing our difference in approach will go a long way toward better conversations.
“If you frame the creeds as primarily “in” and “out” rather that safeguarding the church then your pessimism makes sense, but like (2) I disagree that the creeds are primarily about exclusion. I see them as primarily about starting point and protection.”
The safeguards are precisely the ruling of in and out. See the anathemas at the end of the original creed adopted at Nicea. It is through exclusion that the church is safeguarded, the creeds serve a specific dogmatic function within a specific institutional context.
The orthodox party of the early christian church is highly separatistic. Non-Members were not even allowed to witness the Eucharistic rite.
The starting point of protection itself is exclusion according to the orthodox party.
@Dan: Wouldn’t you agree though that it is all together possible that while there was some things wrongheaded about the process of the formation of the creeds that there can remain something very precious about them? Is there anything considered a heresy by the words of the creeds that you think Christianity needs? Would you prefer the interpretation of someone like Arius?
“Wouldn’t you agree though that it is all together possible that while there was some things wrongheaded about the process of the formation of the creeds that there can remain something very precious about them? Is there anything considered a heresy by the words of the creeds that you think Christianity needs? Would you prefer the interpretation of someone like Arius?”
There is indeed something precious about the creeds. The vast majority of Christians today trace their history through them and they are valuable in the sense that all history is valuable (They are also temptations as all history is a temptation). They are also valuable in the theological arguments they advance (However, these claims, like all theological claims must be evaluated on their own merits).
The question or whether there is anything considered a heresy by the words of the creeds that you think Christianity needs is a more difficult. As we’ve already established I’m not a big fan of the language of necessity. I think many of the Christological formulations are essentially speculative (Especially ones focused on the particular arrangement of natures and wills withing Christ) and it would be mistaken to say any particular one is needed. It’s pretty well accepted, even among most ‘orthodox’ now, that monophysitism is a legitimate way of thinking about the nature of Christ. I think monothelitism and adoptionism are similar to monophysitism in this regard.
Regarding Arius I have trouble squaring that circle without embracing something like polytheism. I don’t really have a problem with some variants of modalism however (I’m probably a modalist in the Rahnerian sense).
Lets put this in more concrete terms. Lets say your church decides to call a new pastor. Your candidates are T.D. Jakes (Modalist), Karl Rahner (Modalist), St. John Chrysostom (Anti-Semite), and Dr. Martin Luther (Anti-Semite). Who would you vote for? Why?
@Dan: I am sympathetic to your view that some things seem speculative. For instance, though I do think Nestorianism moves the wrong direction this doesn’t mean that the Chalcedonian Christology uses language that I find perfect. At best, I say it is better.
I’ve been part of a church where some on the pastoral staff were more along the lines of a modalist than a Trinitarian, so I’ve seen them in action. It is possible for modalist to avoid many errors, but some types of modalism (like that celebrated in Oneness Pentecostal circles) often leads to absurdities galore.
So I’m not saying there is an black-and-white “in” and “out” with the creeds as many others do. As I wrote in my post, I have family who are Oneness Pentecostals. They’re views on many matters are disturbing, but I affirm that they worship the same Lord Jesus Christ, even if their understanding of him is misguided at best. What Trinitarian doctrine has done for me is provide many ways to avoid their errors that result in odd soteriologies, doctrines of baptism, doctrines of holiness, and ecclesiology.
Now to your concrete example. I wouldn’t chose Jakes and I’m not a big fan of Luther. Sadly, I don’t know much about Rahner which forces me to chose Chrysostom (who did have some good qualities to be fair).
But (!) if I could chose Irenaeus of Lyons I would pick him over any of those four. 😉
Just to clarify; Martin Luther, it can be argued, was not anti-semite.
1) I think in order for us to have any kind of fruitful dialogue you would need to familiarize yourself with some of the language I use. Since this is blogging I don’t really expect that from you. And since this is blogging I also don’t intend in investing the time to develop the kind of context that would be required for me to adequately explain myself to you here in the comment meta at your blog (I struggle to do any of that through posts at my own blog). I suppose this is why so many faculty lounges at Evangelical seminaries remain places where small talk is the norm, and cross-discipline discussion is the exception. That’s too bad!
2) My point with the ThM point had a context; which you seemed to not pay attention to. The context was that you should understand what I am after with the usage of language like prolegomena. That’s all. And you should! Your primary interest of study really shouldn’t have much to do with something as simple as this (you’ve read plenty of theology texts to get to where you’re at today).
3) Actually, Brian, I am just following what you said; that you only have time to focus on one discipline (Bib studies and its related history). And, btw, its the theological assumptions that you use that I would challenge (that’s what prolegomena is about). I am saying that you need to critically think that through. These are 101 points; not even close to being as particularized to particular theologians as you suggest.
4) I don’t struggle with equating security with Christ, with a willingness to evaluate truth claims; this has pretty much been my life for at least the last 17 years. Instead, and this is obviously where you misunderstand me; I am not comfortable with the “apparent” methodology that you “seem” to use in your evaluative process. Of course that is just an evaluation based upon some rather quick assumptions I have made over the time that I have read you here at the blog. Sure we’re all different, but how you think that translates into engaging in subjective methodological processes in regards to theological questions really makes no sense. If what you’re saying was the case there would be no point in doing theology, bib studies, or anything else that requires agreed upon conventions in order for there to be intelligible work done in whatever field of inquiry we find ourselves (in this case theology).
Anyway, this, I think has gone way wide of the original point of this post. I wasn’t going to respond to your last comment, but thought I should; so I have.
I guess it is best that we agree to disagree here. I am convinced that you do theology contextually and you seem to speak of your methodology in terms of universality. We won’t agree on this, ever. I know you have little interest in my field and I have little interest in your influences. If you think I can’t do Christian theology without moving your direction your simply mistaken. I applaud your passion for things you find essential to doing theology, but if you think you’ve found some way that makes Christian theology sensible while making every other approach misguided then at best I hope your circle of compadres edifies you and provides you with interesting discussion, because you won’t find it here.
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