The ‘Grammar’ of the Church of Jesus

This is not the first, and I am sure it won’t be the last, but I am stealing a whole post (quote) from the venerable Jason Goroncy. I am sure some of you don’t venture over to Jason’s (which you should), and so I will reproduce a councilquote about theology that he has offered over at his blog (awhile ago). Here is the quote and my reflection afterwords:

‘Liberals are right that the language we use as Christians is not “literally” true; rather, it is figurative, poetic, imaginative language. But the orthodox are right in a more profound way: for the language of imagination – which is to say, biblical language – is the only language we have for thinking and speaking of God, and we receive it as the gift of the Holy Spirit. Theology deceives itself if it conceives of its task as translating the figurative language of scripture and piety into some more nearly literal discourse about God. The theologian’s job is not to tell fellow believers what they really mean; rather, it is to help the church speak more faithfully the language of the Christian imagination. The theologian is not a translator but a grammarian’. – Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, ‘The Shape of Time’ in The Future as God’s Gift: Explorations in Christian Eschatology (ed. David Fergusson and Marcel Sarot; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 86. [Quote stolen from here]

I first came to think about what happened, for example, at the ecumenical councils as simply a matter of providing a right and proximate grammar for the demands of scripture’s theo-logic and God’s Self-revelation in Christ by way of Thomas F. Torrance (maybe six years ago). There are many people out in the world (usually cults like: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitary-Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal churches, etc.) who argue or are prone to believe that doctrines like the Trinity, and Hypostatic Union of the Divine and Human in the person of Jesus Christ have come to be as a result of inventive violation of the pure text of Scripture; with the result being that these later articulations of the Patristic church ended up hybriding Scripture and God’s life by foisting fabricated and artificial concepts upon God in Christ that Scripture does not allow for.

What Bauckham and Hart helpfully highlight is that this is a misperception. The early church, and theologians even today, are not supposed to be creating doctrines and interpretations that supersede Scripture and its Reality; instead they are tasked with the privilege of inventing grammar to help the Church of Christ better think and talk about the Triune God who they worship, and in ways that make most sense as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is why the work of the theologian is never done, he or she is involved in the constant spiraling process of engendering grammar that is faithful to Scripture’s witness and Reality, Jesus Christ; and as the Church continues to grow into that knowledge the grammar needs to expand and build upon the faithful grammar provided in the yesteryears of our past.

I liked this quote, and I hope you find it encouraging as well.

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