Avoiding the Confessional/Conciliar Reduction: The Scripture Principle

Matthias Grebe offers a good word on the potential problem of being hyper-confessional/conciliar (my phraseology), to the point that said confessions and conciliar determinations come to reduce and coopt the possibility for thinking with greater depth and criticality in regard to the implications of Scripture’s attestation to its depth reality in Jesus Christ and the triune God. So Grebe:

The varied understandings of key texts can obstruct consensus in theology. And yet, theology is best done in conversation. When this dialogue does not take place, the stronghold of various doctrines and opinions (often safeguarded by a small minority who thereby position themselves as the ‘gatekeepers of orthodoxy’) becomes a difficult one to penetrate with new ideas. This has both positive and negative implications. Though it means that certain doctrines are retained and defended in order to maintain orthodoxy, this might also mean that in some circles there is almost no scope for revision, correction, or challenge. Once a particular doctrine is perceived as being scripturally informed (and is thus widely embraced as ‘orthodox’), it can become a pillar of a certain theological framework, even if the scriptural foundation is disputed. By this point, however, the doctrine might be established so strongly in the tradition that it eludes all challenge simply because such questioning is immediately interpreted as a direct attack on the integrity of Scripture. The result of this approach is that, within the particular tradition, self-examination, critical engagement with outside opinion, and genuine re-engagement with Scripture are sometimes forgotten. As we shall see, this has occurred with the doctrines of election and the atonement.[1]

It is this that makes Protestantism, at its best, what it is; viz., the so-called ‘Scripture Principle.’ And yet, in a variety of denominational locales, particularly in North America, but abroad as well, even in Protestant environs, it is the confessional/conciliar-reduction that has come to be privileged over the reality (res) of Holy Scripture as the lens by which we come to know and think God afresh anew. None of what Grebe is detailing entails a rejection of the ecclesial determinations, in regard to the Christological and Theological Proper grammars they developed for the Church. But it is to suggest that the Christian understand that theology is ultimately one that lives and breathes from its ‘eschatological reserve’ in its reality in Jesus Christ. As such, if Scripture’s reality is indeed Jesus Christ in toto (cf. Jn 5.39), then in order to think afresh, in regard to a burgeoning knowledge of God in Christ, the Christian’s mode ought to be one where the ordained locus of God’s most intense Self-witness (Holy Scripture) is given pride of place to continuously test what fallible people beforehand have previously said, in their own limited ways, about said God. This is not to discount the so-called ecumenical councils, instead it is to amplify them as we continue to dialogue between ourselves, them, and the living God, as we one and all fellowship together in the triune life through the lively mediation of the risen Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

If our forebears grounded their ‘ecumenical’ thinking in the explication of Holy Scripture, which they did, then to continue this heritage, even as its reality is not dead, but Risen!, we would be at our best to constantly be testing to see if these things be so. And if they be so, as the patristics attested in their own way and grammar, then its reality, who is eternal life, can only be plumbed further and deeper as we all grow together, one and all, in the one faith delivered to the saints. I see this as what Grebe is after, and I concur.

[1] Matthias Grebe, Election, Atonement, and the Holy Spirit (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), Kindle ed. Loc. 136, 141, 144, 148.

One thought on “Avoiding the Confessional/Conciliar Reduction: The Scripture Principle

  1. Indeed! As per Paul,”Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are unqualified? And I hope that you will recognize that we are not unqualified!” (2 Cor 13:5-6)

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