The Historical Theology Texts That Stand Behind Me

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.

Steven Ozment’s The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Relgious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe.

And as supplementary readings (although I read the whole thing):

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.

Pax Christi.

 

 

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Framing What I Think a Christian Theologian’s Life is Characterized By

Being a Christian theologian is a consequence of being an active participant in the triune life of God in Jesus Christ. In this post I want to explicate, by way of reflecting on the fly, what I think being a Christian theologian entails.

Frame One. At a very basic level I think every Christian is a theologian. In other words, when a person professes Christ as their Lord, they are saying that they are in a committed relationship with the God of the cosmos; and that by definition of commitment, they are going to live in a mode of life that is fulsome with a doxological (worshipful) orientation as that is driven by a growing knowledge in the grace of God in Christ. In this sense, de jure, every Christian is a theologian.

Frame Two. Given the aforementioned, a Christian, or a theologian, will be a person who lives in this doxological frame by obedience to the Father, by the Holy Spirit; just as we see Jesus doing, over and again. I think this aspect of being a theologian is often lost on the Christian. We often think of obedience to God as some sort of legalistic bondage that the Son has come to set us free from. But if in fact the works and persons of God are indivisible in both their processions and missions, then it follows, as the Christian finds their life in that life in Christ, that a life of obedience, or submission to the Father’s will, will indeed characterize the Christian’s life.

So, we now have implicated frame two by frame one, and vice versa. In other words, while the theologian’s life is oriented by worship and a growing in the grace and knowledge of God in Christ, therein; this will be characterized by a life of constant obedience and repentance as we seek to be transformed from glory to glory by the Spirit who is the LORD. As I alluded to previously, the way these things are patterned are from the life of the Father and the Son in eternal bliss and plenitude by the Holy Spirit. It is as the inner-life of God is made extra for us in Christ that God’s grace is actualized in such a way that creatures are allowed to enter the inner life in and through union with Christ (unio cum Christo), and in and from this ground in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, the Christian, in participatio Christi (participation with Christ) advances in a ‘stratified knowledge of God’[1], as God’s anterior life becomes interior to ours by the Grace of the living Christ. As the Christian comes into this evangelical reality, they now have bases to think God from the center of God in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1.18); this is what in the tradition is identified as an exitus/reditus (extraficiation and return — God comes out to us in Christ, and returns us to God in the resurrected and ascended Christ). Here we come into beatific vision by faith as we have access to contemplate in the Holy of Holies and inner sanctum of what it means to have life in the mysterium trinitatis and the mysterium tremendum; what it means to be confronted with the God who just is, first for Himself in the perichoresis of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then for us out of (extra) this life as He chose to be with us and not God without us in and through the mediatorial humanity of the Son, who is the Christ.

These represent some lineaments of what it means to be a Christian theologian, from my perspective. It is an activity that is grounded in the triune life, and then lived out in worshipful exaltation of the living God as we move and breathe in and from the obedience of the Son’s active and passive obedience for us; as He gives both of these for us in the Incarnation&Atonement. We recognize all of this as a life of Love; a life that has eternally known itself in Self-givenness One for the Other as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the shape that the obedient life has; as a life of eternal love between the Father and the Son bidden and begotten by the Holy Spirit. And it is this life that the Christian lives in and from on a daily and moment by moment basis. This is where knowledge of God is advanced; as the praxis is a piece with the doxa, and both actualized and realized for us in the resurrection power of the Son of God in Christ. Thus, being a Christian theologian has a concrete and staurological (cross) shaped character to it, such that the Christian theologian is actively living out the Great Commission making disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the singular Name of the multiplied persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who is the One God (de Deo Uno). The Christian theologian therefore is an actor in the drama of God as God is the author and finisher of our lives in Christ; viz. the Christian theologian lives out the good activities of God as those were primarily and poetically worked out for us in the life of Christ. The Christian theologian knows God as they live in this commission of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ; a commission that encompasses the far reaches of the cosmos, first starting in Jerusalem.

Again, these are just some lineaments and off the top bases I think ought to characterize what the Christian theologian’s life might entail; and from whence that entailment gains energy and breath.

 

[1] See Thomas F. Torrance.