I thought I would share three texts that have served most foundational for me in my theological development. Each of these texts was assigned to me by my former Historical Theology and Ethics professor in seminary, Ron Frost. I was privileged to serve as his teaching fellow and, as a result, became mentored by him. I will say that without Ron Frost at the seminary, my time at seminary would not have been as great as it was (and that’s saying a lot because so many of my other seminary profs were excellent in their own right, and in their own ways). But the texts that remain formative for me are these:
J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrine: Revised Edition.
Geoffrey Bromiley’s Historical Theology: An Introduction.
You will notice that these are all historical theology related. I continue to maintain, that without having a foundation in the classical sources (so a reified ad fontes or ‘back to the sources’), and without having a grasp of their general doctrinal frameworks and trajectories, that it will be nay impossible for genuinely Christian theological development to take place. I take this as a given just as we find this sort of sentiment implied by the Apostle Paul when he writes in Ephesians 4: “11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ ….” This is a basic or fundamentum reality for me as a Christian; I believe we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, and we are given a theological imaginary to think from thence.
So, I commend these texts to you. They will open you up to the ‘sources’, and allow you to engage in constructive theological theology in ways, that outwith, will not be possible. We see the dangers of people who attempt to do theology without this requisite background; they end up engaging in thought that is unmoored from the foundations that Jesus himself has offered his church, with the intention of causing edification and growth into the grace and knowledge that he himself is.
Ironically, I am often thought of us as a “Barth blogger,” or a “Torrance blogger,” and I’m fine with that. But it should be known that this only reflects the tip of the ice-berg for me. Years ago, when I first started blogging (in 2005), I might have been known as a “Luther blogger, Calvin blogger, or Sibbes blogger,” respectively. Typically my blogging is driven by whatever I’m reading at the time (as so many of you know by now). But in general Barth and Torrance have come to dominate the types of posts I generate; pretty much, because I have adopted that ‘tradition’ (and it is a tradition, just as much as the Thomist or Bavinckian or Calvinian are interpretive traditions in their own right) as my interpretive tradition. But, again, all of that is chastened by the sources. I have not lost sight of those, nor have I become a progressive-modern-liberalesque theologian who sees the past as a naïve and a pre-critical time (even if it was pre-critical … which actually is where its value is); least not in the pejorative sense that these former theologians see it as. Ultimately I will follow the theologians who point me most to Jesus Christ, no matter what period I find them in. I might be critical of some of the metaphysics as they are received by many these days; the metaphysics of say the mediaeval periods etc. But I can also critically recognize that these theologians were doing the best they could with what they had materially and formally available to them. I can recognize that they had the same impulses I have, in the sense that they wanted to magnify Jesus for the church in the sort of edifying ways that Paul refers us to.