The Scholar Juxtaposed with the Worshiper: A Heart on Fire for the Glory of God in Christ

There are Christian scholars, and then there are those who study and research because they really just want to know God in deeper ways. Scholarship might become a necessary by-product of the latter, as far as the apparent characteristic of their lives, but that’s not what drives them; what drives them, ultimately, is a love for Christ; a realization that without God in Christ in their lives that they would be vanquished and swallowed up by the cares and worries of daily life. The Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 3 writes this: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Christians who study, primarily because they realize that their sufficiency or adequacy is from Christ alone, I would suggest, are distinct from what we normally think of in terms of a “scholar,” even a Christian scholar. A Christian scholar, in a primary way, is characterized by a drive to achieve heights in whatever their chosen discipline might be. They will achieve this through getting good reviews from their peers, by offering theses to the scholarly world that are original to them and their names, and potentially be elevated to chairs or noted positions of influence in their professorial, editorial, or administrative roles. Jonathan Edwards, while achieving many of the marks of what counts toward being a recognized “scholar” and “academic,” ultimately was driven by the higher less self-possessed purpose of seeking the glory of God in everything that he did. His scholarship was a by-product of a greater focus wherein self-consumption was not the motivating factor. Oliver Crisp and Kyle Strobel write about Edwards in this vein,

Although he was a voracious and eclectic reader, drawing upon as wide a range of materials as he could in order to fashion his own works, it would be a mistake t think of Edwards as a scholar in the modern, secular sense of the word. No doubt he was a fine metaphysician and surprisingly well read for someone living so far from the centers of high society. But, contrary to the Miller thesis about the character of Edwards’s outputs, his work was all bent to a single purpose, namely, the glory of God. To this end, he read and studied the Bible more than any other work. At first glance, it is rather surprising that modern secondary scholarship on Edwards has not made more of this fact. After all, Edwards was a minister almost all of his professional life, spending hours a day in prayer, in Bible study, in the writing of minute notebooks on Scripture and typology, and in the construction of sermons and midweek lectures for his congregation. One of his major projected works, which remained unfinished at the time of his death, was a Harmony of the Old and New Testaments, for which he had been gathering notebook materials over a protracted period.[1]

There is a proportion in Edwards’ life between his Christian spirituality and his drive to know God which produced the massive ‘scholarly’ output he generated. His scholarship was the outcome of his love of God in Christ; as he sought Christ and His Kingdom first all these other things were added.

I think Edwards models what Christian scholarship actually should be. Not one where career is of the upmost, but to know God and make Him known; both personally and corporately. A life driven by doxology.

[1] Oliver D. Crisp and Kyle C. Strobel, Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 25.

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Christology as a Case Study: The Relationship Between Church Tradition and the Bible as Fonts of Authority and Divine Knowledge

The tension present between the role of church tradition and the bible, and how the two mutually implicate one or the other (or don’t) is not going away any time soon. There are those who want to believe that they can be strict, even slavish wooden bible literalists; then there are others who believe that the tradition of the church functions magisterially in the biblical interpretive process; and yet others who want to attempt a kind of dialectic between the two (I’d say the best of the Reformed sola Scriptura approach resides here). As a Reformed Christian, and evangelical, I hold to the ‘scripture principle’ that scripture itself is authoritative and the norming norm over and against all else; even tradition. Of course I’m not naïve enough to think that the scripture principle itself is not its own ‘tradition,’ but it is so heuristically. Here is how Oliver Crisp breaks down the various tiers of principles relative to how scripture, church tradition, regional creeds, and theological opinion all ought to relate one with the other (from a Reformed perspective):

  1. Scripture is the norma normans, the principium theologiae. It is the final arbiter of matters theological for Christians as the particular place in which God reveals himself to his people. This is the first-order authority in all matters of Christian doctrine.
  2. Catholic creeds, as defined by and ecumenical council of the Church, constitute a first tier of norma normata, which have second-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. Such norms derive their authority from Scripture to which they bear witness.
  3. Confessional and conciliar statements of particular ecclesial bodies are a second tier of norma normata, which have third-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. They also derive their authority from Scripture to the extent that they faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture.
  4. The particular doctrines espoused by theologians including those individuals accorded the title Doctor of the Church which are not reiterations of matters that are de fide, or entailed by something de fide, constitute theologoumena, or theological opinions, which are not binding upon the Church, but which may be offered up for legitimate discussion within the Church.[1]

I think this is a helpful overview (I’ve shared it before, in fact, in years past). But I also wanted to share, at some length, a quote from Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink that fleshes this out even further. They are in the midst of discussing Christology and how the tradition of the church played the role that it did in providing the grammar that the church has held as the orthodox grammar towards speaking about the relationship of God and humanity/humanity and God in the singular person of Jesus Christ. Necessarily, in the midst of their discussion they are broaching the very issue I am highlighting in this post—i.e. how we ought to think about the relationship between church tradition and biblical teaching. They write (in extenso):

In a sense, and depending on where we currently find ourselves, the christological decisions of the fourth and fifth century are stations that we might have passed. We accept them gratefully while appropriating them critically. We need to pay attention to the underlying issues in the christological debate, to see where positions had to be guarded and why certain concepts that were introduced were needed. The conclusion of the Council of Nicaea that Jesus is of one essence (homo-ousios) with the Father, for instance, is much easier to understand when we realize that it was prompted by the desire to safeguard the thoroughly biblical idea that we cannot ensure our own salvation. God himself must become involved in the world—if we as human beings—are to be rescued from ruin, and for that reason Jesus must share the same “being,” or essence, with God. We simply are not like the fictional Baron Munchausen who, according to a well-known story, was able to pull himself out of the mud by his own hair. In brief, we do not accept the formulas because they happen to be part of the tradition, but because we discover genuine biblical motives behind these statements and in what they want to signal. One could say that the christological decisions (Niceno-Constantinopolitan and Chalcedon) are the directives of a former generation for how to handle the gospel story, the message of the God of Israel, and the Father of Jesus Christ.

There also is an important theological reason to exercise this “hermeneutic of trust” with respect to the tradition’s unifying message of the person of Jesus. Christ himself promised his disciples that the Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 16:13). It would be incredibly callous to suggest that the tradition is completely in the dark. At the same time, this promise gives no guarantee against the possibility of some obscuring or ideological manipulation of the gospel, whether presented in very high church or in popular forms. Therefore, we must always be critical in our dealings with the tradition; we must be selective on the basis of what the apostles and prophets have given us in the Bible.

When faced with the question of whether the tradition is a legitimate source for our Christology, we therefore give this dual answer. On the one hand, we gratefully accept the christological decisions of the church that came from the ecumenical councils. We thus abide by the course and the outcome of the christological debate. We move on, even though we realize that some alternatives might have been condemned at these councils owing to church politics and that the conclusions might well have turned out differently or have ended in the (often rather broad) margins of the church. But we trust that this is a case of hominum confusione Dei providentia (God’s providence [may be executed in the midst of] human confusion). On the other hand, our task is always to return to the biblical texts and, within their range of possibilities, take a critical look at the decisions and the terminology the councils used. Going back to the Bible this way is needed for several reasons. Something clearly present in the texts may have been lost in the process of debate; going back to the texts thus may represent an enrichment. But we also face a problem of comprehension when ancient languages become a stumbling block in a changed context, and we may need to reinterpret and reword the context of the dogma because of those changes. The struggles recent generations of believers and theologians have had with certain concepts of classic Christology represent a real problem we may not simply brush away.[2]

I find these to be wise words, and represent a good way for attempting to negotiate this kind of tenuous situation between tradition and the Bible. It touches, of course, on issues of authority in the church and how that relates to the biblical and theological interpretive processes itself.

Someone I have found fruitful towards engaging in this kind of negotiation between taking the trad seriously, and at the same time allowing the reality of Holy Scripture to be determinative, is Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Bruce McCormack offers these good words on Barth in this regard:

I say all of this to indicate that even the ecumenical creeds are only provisional statements. They are only relatively binding as definitions of what constitutes “orthodoxy.” Ultimately, orthodox teaching is that which conforms perfectly to the Word of God as attested in Holy Scripture. But given that such perfection is not attainable in this world, it is understandable that Karl Barth should have regarded “Dogma” as an eschatological concept. The “dogmas” (i.e., the teachings formally adopted and promulgated by individual churches) are witnesses to the Dogma and stand in a relation of greater or lesser approximation to it. But they do not attain to it perfectly—hence, the inherent reformability of all “dogmas.” Orthodoxy is not therefore a static, fixed reality; it is a body of teachings which have arisen out of, and belong to, a history which is as yet incomplete and constantly in need of reevaluation.[3]

This offers a different slant on all that we have been discussing thusly. Barth’s thinking (as distilled by McCormack) on the eschatological character of church ‘dogma’ is an important caveat in all of this. It points up the provisional and proximate nature that church dogma, as that is related to the biblical teaching, entails.

Much more could be said, but let me simply close by saying: as Christians our ultimate authority is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Insofar as Holy Scripture is “attached” to the living Word as the ordained Holy ground upon which God has chosen to most definitively bear witness to himself in Jesus Christ, then we as Christians do well to live under this reality; the reality that Jesus is Lord, and his written Word, for our current purposes as Christians, serves as the space wherein Christians might come to a fuller knowledge of God and their relationship to him as he first has related to us. Within this matrix of fellowship, though, we ought to remember the role that tradition plays in this as the inevitable interpretive reality that is always already tied into what it means to be humans before God; and in this thrust, then, we ought to be appreciative and attentive to what God has been working into his church for the millennia; and we ought to appreciate that he continues to speak into his church.

 

[1] Oliver Crisp, god incarnate, (New York: T&T Clark International, 2009), 17.

[2] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 397-98.

[3] Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 16.

The Fallen Humanity of Christ with Reference to John Calvin and Oliver Crisp

I just finished reading a really provocative and intriguing essay by Ho-Jin Ahn in the Scottish Journal of Theology. In it he takes Oliver Crisp to task (at least at the ground clearing level) on Crisp’s argument that Christ could not have assumed a fallen sinful humanity in the incarnation; since according to Crisp (and the scholastic [speculative] tradition from which he argues), if Christ truly young-calvintook on a depraved humanity, then he would have needed a Savior himself. Ahn helpfully relocates Crisp’s placement of this discussion from the Augustinian “original sin,” and moves it into the realm of Christology (which is where this dialogue ought to take place!). Ahn, in the process of relocating this discussion, develops John Calvin’s understanding on this issue; Ahn looks, in a dialectical way, at Calvin’s commentaries and his Institute. In a nutshell, what Ahn concludes is that Calvin might ‘appear’ to hold to something like Crisp (that Christ assumed an unfallen human nature), but in the final analysis, and at an interpretive/functional level, Calvin thinks from a view that sees Christ entering into the depths of our fallen humanity and redeeming us from the inside out through his vicarious humanity for us. Here is Ahn’s conclusion:

It is unreasonable for some theologians to argue for Christ’s unfallen humanity in the context of the doctrine of original sin because Christ himself overcame the power of sin and death in his fallen humanity. In the case of Calvin’s understanding of Christ’s humanity, we see that there is a tension between the nature and the state of Christ’s person. Calvin believes that Christ assumed our true humanity, lived a perfect life, and was sinless according to the Chalcedonian Definition. Thus, Calvin denies the fallenness of Christ’s humanity in order to preserve the doctrine of Christ’s perfect innocence. However, unlike others who are in favour of Christ’s unfallen humanity, Calvin forcefully affirms the vicarious humanity of Christ in our corrupted state. Calvin affirms that Christ had to suffer from our existential problems according to the narratives of the Gospels. Moreover, the mortal human nature which Christ assumed shows solidarity with sinners and the vicarious humanity of Christ pro nobis. If Calvin were to accept the idea of the fallen nature of Christ, his thoughts on Christ’s humanity for us would be more persuasive. Yet it is noted that Calvin’s theological logic is ‘anti-speculative’ in that he focuses on what Christ has done for us in his true humanity.

Nevertheless, Calvin argues that the body of Christ himself is the temple of God through which we can come to the throne of God’s grace. Although Christ assumed our mortal body controlled by the power of sin and death after the Fall, Christ sanctified the body in his own person as the Mediator between God and all the fallen humanity and decaying creation. Furthermore, the reconciliation with God is not just attributed to the crucifixion of Christ in an external and forensic way but to the perfectly holy life of Christ who assumed our mortal body as a saviour in an internal and ontological perspective. Calvin’ s biblical views on the mortal body and its sanctification through the whole life fully describes the paradoxical character of Christ’s mystical incarnation in which Christ became a true human being like one of us without becoming a fallen sinner. I conclude that, according to Calvin, the vicarious humanity of Christ means that for the sake of our salvation Christ assumed a mortal body like ours and lived a perfect life in our miserable state. Therefore, Christ’s fallen humanity for us is the guarantee of reconciliation.[1]

I concur with Ahn, and appreciate his insightful analysis on Calvin’s view of the vicarious humanity of Christ. Ahn would make a great Evangelical Calvinist; since the vicarious humanity of Christ is one of the touchstones of what it means to work within the mood of Evangelical Calvinism. It is this kind of Christ conditioned view of salvation that gets us into the trinitarian depth dimension of salvation that the classic forensic-juridical view of salvation simply cannot provide. Calvin is front and center for us, and shines brightest right here; that is when he emphasises the center of salvation in Christ.

The reality is, as Ahn develops in his essay, as Gregory of Nazianzus is oft quoted ‘the unredeemed is the unhealed’; and if Christ did not vicariously (participatorily-representatively) enter our fallen human state, then we are of all men most to be pitied. Alas, we remain in our sins, and we have no real hope or answer to our sin problem; which is a depraved heart toward God (who is salvation in his very life!). If Christ does not participate with us (fully), then we cannot participate with him fully in the divine plenitude of his shared life with the Father and Holy Spirit; in other words, we are not saved. This is why understanding and meditating on the vicarious humanity of Christ is so fundamental to the Christian’s life and spirituality; because it represents the very heart and deep caverns of the Gospel itself.

Original posted at another blog of mine: The Evangelical Calvinist In Plain Language

[1] Ho-Jin AhnSJT 65(2): 145–158 (2012) C Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2012 doi:10.1017/S0036930612000026, Ahn’s bio/contact: Korean Central Presbyterian Church of Queens, Bayside, NY 11364, USA ho-jin.ahn@alum.ptsem.edu.

 

Deviant and Evangelical Calvinism Together

Oliver Crisp, Reformed theologian, Brit, professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA just had a book of his published deviantby Fortress Press entitled Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology. It is a cool book, you ought to check it!

The following is not a review of Oliver’s book (maybe I will do one of those later … although the publisher never did send me a complimentary copy, so we will see – I have a manuscript version from Oliver Crisp), instead what I want to highlight is the general theme of Oliver’s book, it is a theme that is resonant with what we here have called Evangelical Calvnism, and what Myk Habets and myself similarly highlighted in our 2012 edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Pickwick Publications). The point of contact between Crisp’s ‘Deviant Calvinism’ and our ‘Evangelical Calvinism’ is that we both are hoping to promote the idea that the Reformed faith is much more expansive and variegated than what we typically think of when we are confronted with Calvinism. Usually, especially in North America (but elsewhere too), when we think of Calvinism we either think of the famous and heated debates between the Calvinists and Arminians, or we think of the infamous five points of Calvinism (TULIP). But this is too reductionistic; we think so as does Crisp. Habets and I wrote this in the introductory to our book:

Numerous recent attempts at defining the Reformed or Calvinist tradition have been offered.24 A number of these treatments have tended to present in objective fashion what is, ultimately, only a subjective judgment. Earlier popular works at definition, still in vogue amongst seminary and university students on campuses today, look to the five points of Dort—the so-called “doctrines of grace”—as the essence of what it means to be Reformed.25 Dort, however, as with most if not all of the Reformed confessions, is a localized and contextual document. The Canons of Dort give a detailed and skilled reply to Arminianism; hence “TULIP” represents a response to the Arminian five-point Remonstrance. It was never intended as a sum of Reformed thought. The Canons of Dort are still to be consulted for a Reformed reply to Arminianism, but they should not be thought to represent the sum of our belief.[1]

Dovetailing with this sentiment Oliver Crisp in an interview he just did with Christianity Today on his book Deviant Calvinism wrote this:

I see a lot of misrepresentations of Reformed theology, among people both inside and outside the Reformed tradition. Many people think Reformed theology coalesces around five points or around the soteriological “doctrines of grace” rather than around historic confessions. And I see a lot of Calvinists who aren’t confessional, when in fact the Reformed tradition very much is. If you truly are a Calvinist, then you should be interested in Reformed confessions, I think. And when we look at the confessional tradition, it seems Reformed theology is broader than the more narrow five-point Calvinism.[2]

PICKWICK_TemplateSee resonant!; in fact of the same mind as ours in our thinking about the Reformed faith as evangelical Calvinists. Interestingly the like-mindedness doesn’t stop there, within this same theme of the wide and deep nature of the Reformed faith or Calvinism we also wrote in our book:

The contributors to this volume are Reformed theologians from various denominations who love their theological tradition and are committed to its truths, but understand that their tradition is a variegated one, with many tributaries and eddies. They represent a consistent feature of Reformed theology—the willingness and ability to enrich their tradition by mining its past and contributing to its future.3 This is not, however, an expression of a “new-Calvinism” or even a “neo-Calvinism,” if by those terms are meant a novel reading of the Reformed faith. We, along with the Reformed theologian Donald McKim, consider the Reformed faith an expansive tradition with many threads that make up the fabric of our tradition; McKim captures this well when he says:

The Reformed faith impels persons to confess their faith as part of the ecumenical church, the whole people of God. The movement here is first from what Christians believe to what Reformed Christians believe. Reformed churches are a portion of the full household of faith. As such, Reformed theology and Reformed faith are open to hearing, dialoguing with, and learning from other theological viewpoints and Christian communions. Though some Reformed bodies have tended to become more narrow and almost assume that their formulations are the only means of expressing God’s truth, this impulse runs counter to the genuine heartbeat of Reformed faith. Reformed faith is open to God’s Spirit, who may encounter us at any time in any place. Reformed Christians should see and listen to other voices since perhaps through them an essential theological insight will be given.[3]

Oliver, the Deviant Calvinist unsurprisingly writes this (in the same interview of him that I just quoted):

Also, a number of people outside the Reformed community tend to associate the Reformed tradition with a narrowly dogmatic—in both senses of that term—way of thinking about the Christian faith. And they are rather disparaging about that. But not all of us are narrowly dogmatic. So I thought, Maybe the time has come to make a case for a more irenic, more sanguine, broad approach to the Reformed tradition, because there are great riches in the Reformed tradition that just don’t get reported.[4]

Crisp with his new book is tapping into a movement of sorts among Reformed theologians that is attempting to notice a reality that has always been the reality, even if it has maintained a minority report for too long! The Reformed faith has a lot of exciting categories and trajectories to offer the Christian faith in general, and I think, along with Crisp and Habets that it is high time that we crack the lid open and let this truth out!

I think we can safely say that the Deviant Calvinists & Evangelical Calvinists are together in their desire to see the riches of Reformed theology unleashed on broader Christianity; in an edifying and reforming way that fosters an environment that better enables the body of Christ to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ until we all finally come to the unity of the Faith. ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda—“the church reformed and always reforming.”

[1] Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 9.

[2] Oliver Crisp, The Softer Face of Calvinism. Interview with Kevin P. Emmert (IL: Christianity Today, October 23rd, 2014).

[3] Habets and Grow, Evangelical Calvinism, 2.

[4] Crisp, The Softer Face of Calvinism, October 23rd, 2014.

The “Mad” Theologians, Too Analytic

I am continuing to read Crisp’s and Rea’s Analytic Theology; should complete it sometime tomorrow. Many of you don’t know, and don’t care to know, that there is a difference between analytic theology and what has been called ‘Continental Theology’ (which is the influence you get here when you read my blog). The foremost example of Continental Theology is Karl Barth. ‘CT’ takes its cues from following the philosophical paths of European philosophers like: Hiedeggar, Husserl, Hegel, [Einstein, for good measure — even though not a philosopher, per se] and Kant; to name a few. Analytic Theologians follow in the footsteps of Hellenistic philosophy, and other European philosophers; like: Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, and a host of others. Ultimately, I really have no empathy for Analytic Theology. When I read it, or try to think it; it actually upsets me! I think it represents an abject loss for providing fruitful and creative ways for thinking about and articulating who God is. I would suggest that the reason this is the case is primarily because of their metaphysics (substance), and their method (mathematical). To this end, let me give you an example of what I mean. The following is from Thomas Crisp’s (an Analytic Theologian-Philosopher who teaches Philosophy at Biola University in La Mirada, CA — very close to where I grew up) chapter in the book ‘Analytic Theology’ (his chapter is entitled: “Believing the Scriptures Divinely Inspired). Here he is doing some preliminary work that I am hoping will set up the rest of his chapter in some comprehendible way; he is sketching Alvin Plantiga’s critique of natural theology’s capacities to provide something helpful for establishing the justification for “Believing the Scriptures Divinely Inspired.”

[P]lantiga has argued that attempts to argue for ‘the great things of the gospel’ (i.e. incarnation, atonement, Jesus’ resurrection) on the basis of natural theology and historical argument suffer from a problem he dubs the ‘Principle of Dwindling Probabilties’.

The Principle of Dwindling Probabilities afflicts arguments with a certain structure. Suppose you want to show some proposition P probable on our background knowledge K. You might do that by producing some other proposition A, showing that P (A/K) and P (P/A&K) are high, and concluding that, by the probability calculus, it follows that P (P/K) is high.

You might however, try to show that P (P/K) is high by iterating the above procedure, arguing that some proposition A is probable on K, that some other proposition B is probable on A&K, and that P is probable on A&B&K, concluding that, therefore, P is probable on K. But such an argument is subject to Plantiga’s Principle. If all you’ve said is that P (A/K), P (B/A&K), and P (P/A&B&K) are high, say around .8 each, then, so far, all that follows from the probability calculus is that P (P/K) is greater than or equal to .8 x .8 x .8, a tad higher than .5. Though the conditional probabilties P (A/K), P (B/A&K), and P (P/A&B&K) are each high, the probabilties ‘dwindle’ when you multiply them through.

This Principle of Dwindling Probabilties (PDP), then, makes trouble for arguments with the foregoing iterative structure, arguments that attempt to motivate the claim that P (P/K) is high for some P by arguing, for some Q1 . . . Qn, that P (Q1/K), P (Q2/Q1&K), . . . , P (Qn/Q1& . . . Qn-1&K), and P (P/Q1& . . . &Qn&K) are high. [Thomas Crisp in “Analytic Theology,” eds. Oliver Crisp & Michael Rea, 190-91]

I know that was complex; let me explain for the dense of heart. So if ABCDEFGHIJK then LMNOPQRSTUVWXY&Z. Further there are some who like to use A1 on their KFC; which for others equals a no go in their 300Z.

Just today I made a cryptic comment on my Facebook wall that I was sure that most ‘Analytic Theologians’ must’ve been engineers or something in their former life. Ironically, I checked out Thomas Crisp’s CV; and his undergrad degree is in Civil Engineering from UCLA.

As I have mentioned before, doing theology as math should have no place in the theologian’s mode of operation. In my view, the effect this has when done, supposedly in the service of God, is to depersonalize Him through using cold formulaic apparatus that does not befit the Christian God of love. I would love to see an Analytic Theologian go home to his wife, and describe his love for her through calculus formula, statistics, and mathematical theorems and equations; that probably wouldn’t go over to well. If this is the case, why do said ‘Analytic Theologians’ feel justified when talking about humanties’ relationship to the Greatest Lover of all, God, in this way? No thank you . . .

Hierarchy

*I am reposting this post because I like it.

In light of this oft confusing issue in Protestant (and Evangelical) circles, in particular; I thought it would be appropriate to share how Oliver Crisp seeks to parse the inter-relations between Scripture and Tradition for a Protestant understanding of “authority,” relative to her principled commitment to sola scriptura. It seems to me, that for many “Evangelical Christians,” in particular, that we believe that sola scriptura (scripture alone) is solo scriptura (scripture all by itself, with no history of interpretation to consider); but this is just never really the case, even if we think it is. Scripture, indeed is the norma normans (norming, norm) for all theological development; but this does not also mean, that Scripture is not something that goes without interpretation, it clearly presupposes that it is interpreted. It behooves us to pay attention to how the Holy Spirit has worked in Christ’s Church through the centuries; it behooves us to consider the fact that God has provided His Church with teachers, and that these “teachers” have said something substantial and “churchly” shaping that we all are partakers of. This is not to say that the so called Tradition of the Church is sacrosanct, or above critique, it is not! But it is to say, that as contemporary interpreters today, that we should not run rough-shod over the history of interpretation by marginalizing it through contextualizing it to a nether-socio/cultural situation that necessarily particularizes it to a certain period; thus implying that the past has no universal force (in providing meaning) for the present and the future. Let’s consider what Crisp has to say on this, and then hear what you think about it in the comment meta.

  1. Scripture is the norma normans, the principium theologiae. It is the final arbiter of matters theological for Christians as the particular place in which God reveals himself to his people. This is the first-order authority in all matters of Christian doctrine.
  2. Catholic creeds, as defined by and ecumenical council of the Church, constitute a first tier of norma normata, which have second-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. Such norms derive their authority from Scripture to which they bear witness.
  3. Confessional and conciliar statements of particular ecclesial bodies are a second tier of norma normata, which have third-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. They also derive their authority from Scripture to the extent that they faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture.
  4. The particular doctrines espoused by theologians including those individuals accorded the title Doctor of the Church which are not reiterations of matters that are de fide, or entailed by something de fide, constitute theologoumena, or theological opinions, which are not binding upon the Church, but which may be offered up for legitimate discussion within the Church. [Oliver Crisp, god incarnate, (New York: T&T Clark International, 2009), 17.]

This is how Crisp conceives of how sola scriptura works in an ascending order of relative authority, Scripture being the final and norming voice upon all other pronouncements. So the ecumenical creeds (like Nicene-Constantinopolitan-Chalcedonian-etc.) have more established authority relative to their echo of Scripture; then subordinate to that, Confessions (like the Scots, Belgic, Westminster, etc.) have relative authority per their positioning vis-á-vis the ecumenical creeds and then Scripture; then subsequent to this comes the voices of the theologians and biblical exegetes. The claim is not that the Creeds, Confessions, or Theologians cannot be debated (just the opposite); but it is the idea that if a theologian or biblical exegete want to disagree with a Creed/Confession, that they will have to assume their relative authority and validity and work through them (supposing that they are representations of what the “Church” has believed as formative norms) versus working around them (supposing that they have no relative authority or interpretive force whatsoever for the contemporary Church – which is the posture and attitude that produces solo scriptura).

What do you think about Crisp’s accounting; is it too Traditional and shackling for your Free Church sensibilities, or do you think that he presents something here that must be considered with seriousness?

The Hierarchy of Scripture, Creeds, Confessions, & Theologoumena

In lieu of this oft confusing issue in Protestant (and Evangelical) circles, in particular; I thought it would be appropriate to share how Oliver Crisp seeks to parse the inter-relations between Scripture and Tradition for a Protestant understanding of “authority,” relative to her principled commitment to sola scriptura. It seems to me, that for many “Evangelical Christians,” in particular, that we believe that sola scriptura (scripture alone) is solo scriptura (scripture all by itself, with no history of interpretation to consider); but this is just never really the case, even if we think it is. Scripture, indeed is the norma normans (norming, norm) for all theological development; but this does not also mean, that Scripture is not something that goes without interpretation, it clearly presupposes that it is interpreted. It behooves us to pay attention to how the Holy Spirit has worked in Christ’s Church through the centuries; it behooves us to consider the fact that God has provided His Church with teachers, and that these “teachers” have said something substantial and “churchly” shaping that we all are partakers of. This is not to say that the so called Tradition of the Church is sacrosanct, or above critique, it is not! But it is to say, that as contemporary interpreters today, that we should not run rough-shod over the history of interpretation by marginalizing it through contextualizing it to a nether-socio/cultural situation that necessarily particularizes it to a certain period; thus implying that the past has no universal force (in providing meaning) for the present and the future. Let’s consider what Crisp has to say on this, and then hear what you think about it in the comment meta.

  1. Scripture is the norma normans, the principium theologiae. It is the final arbiter of matters theological for Christians as the particular place in which God reveals himself to his people. This is the first-order authority in all matters of Christian doctrine.
  2. Catholic creeds, as defined by and ecumenical council of the Church, constitute a first tier of norma normata, which have second-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. Such norms derive their authority from Scripture to which they bear witness.
  3. Confessional and conciliar statements of particular ecclesial bodies are a second tier of norma normata, which have third-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. They also derive their authority from Scripture to the extent that they faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture.
  4. The particular doctrines espoused by theologians including those individuals accorded the title Doctor of the Church which are not reiterations of matters that are de fide, or entailed by something de fide, constitute theologoumena, or theological opinions, which are not binding upon the Church, but which may be offered up for legitimate discussion within the Church. [Oliver Crisp, god incarnate, (New York: T&T Clark International, 2009), 17.]

This is how Crisp conceives of how sola scriptura works in an ascending order of relative authority, Scripture being the final and norming voice upon all other pronouncements. So the ecumenical creeds (like Nicene-Constantinopolitan-Chalcedonian-etc.) have more established authority relative to their echo of Scripture; then subordinate to that, Confessions (like the Scots, Belgic, Westminster, etc.) have relative authority per their positioning vis-á-vis the ecumenical creeds and then Scripture; then subsequent to this comes the voices of the theologians and biblical exegetes. The claim is not that the Creeds, Confessions, or Theologians cannot be debated (just the opposite); but it is the idea that if a theologian or biblical exegete want to disagree with a Creed/Confession, that they will have to assume their relative authority and validity and work through them (supposing that they are representations of what the “Church” has believed as formative norms) versus working around them (supposing that they have no relative authority or interpretive force whatsoever for the contemporary Church – which is the posture and attitude that produces solo scriptura).

What do you think about Crisp’s accounting; is it too Traditional and shackling for your Free Church sensibilities, or do you think that he presents something here that must be considered with seriousness?