I wanted to offer a very brief reflection on: Inner-Theo-Logic and how that functions in the process of thinking ‘orthodox’ thoughts vis-à-vis biblical interpretation; within the bounds of the Protestant understanding of the ‘Scripture Principle.’ When we think about the nature of Scripture, by way of its compositional form, what we quickly realize is that in every case it is occasional. Think about the New Testament, for example, each and everyone of the ‘books’ that make up the NT has an historical audience and context and occasion in mind, an occasion that prompted the writing of the book (e.g. epistle, etc.). The same can be said of the Old Testament; each of the books has a particular context and occasion that prompted its writing within the Providential overture of God. Ultimately we might want to think of the whole canon, ‘canonically,’ and allow its final shape to become the ultimate occasion (ultimate with an eschatological relativization) which we even today come to read it within. But the basic point I want to alert us to is that the Bible is not giving us a Systematic Theology or Christian Dogmatic; yet, this does not mean that the Bible does not have all the facets embedded within it that give us the building blocks for developing systematic theologies and Christian Dogmatics. Indeed it is these building blocks that entail what I am referring to as Scripture’s ‘inner-theo-logic.’ But what am I getting at? This: each of the biblical authors had a theological context they were writing from; often as Prophets and Apostles with brand-new Revelation directly from God. Yet when they wrote they didn’t always seem to grasp just exactly how deeply profound their writing was (and is); in regard to the theology they were nascently presuming upon even if they didn’t fully realize it, or get its implications. Even so, that’s exactly what was going on; they were operating out of cultic and ecclesial conditions, conditions shaped directly by the Prophets and Apostles themselves, that supplied them with the ability to write what they did. And they were able to write the way they did, typically in very assertive ways about who God is and what God was and is about, because they were presupposing off of Revealed realities that they’d come to know through intimate encounter with this living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob come in Jesus Christ.
If the above is the case I find it terribly interesting that there are traditions in the Christian church who believe that they have the best corner on identifying and explicating what in fact this ‘unspoken’ inner-theo-logic must in fact be in order for the text of Holy Writ to make the claims, and teach the things that it does. So we have the ‘outer-clarity’ of the text, but then its ‘inner-clarity’; this is the fairly standard way for Protestants to parse a way towards Scripture. They would typically relate the outer-clarity to the occasional prima facie level of the text, and the inner-clarity would be referred to, again, what I have called the inner-theo-logical reality of the text. But this is what I find extremely strange: Why is it that some traditions (and they in fact are the traditions they are because they believe they have come to have a better or the best corner on Scripture’s inner-theo-logical reality) believe that they alone maintain the orthodox understanding of what the inner-theo-logic is, and by this standard they come to conclude that others either have a heterodox or even heretical grasp of what the inner-theo-logic of Scripture is? Often, one tradition against another will label or symbolize the ‘other’ tradition (from theirs) with names like ‘Barthianism’, NeoOrthodoxy, Arminianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Thomism, Nominalism, Neo-Platonism, Kantianism, Hegelianism, et al. And based upon a history of development, from within their tradition, they will look out at these other traditions (from theirs) and simply label the development of the inner-theo-logic that makes up these other tradition’s grasp of Scripture’s reality as sub-standard and even anti-thetical to the Gospel (in certain instances).
What I would like to call folks to is a position and attitude of prudence. In other words, I think there should be a sort of moratorium on superficially drawing off of ‘my’ tradition’s anathematization of ‘other’ traditions, simply because that’s part of my tradition, and instead look deeper at the inner-theo-logic itself, at an ideational level, and critically engage with the ideas themselves. We need to get past the labels, and see if in fact there might well be merit to theological ideas, maybe even just some fruit bearing constructively retrievable merit, that we shouldn’t simply cast off because that’s what my tradition says I should do (in a historical sense of continuity with my tradition). All I’m saying is that as Christians it would do us well to operate constructively and recognize that there is fruit in the various strands ‘out there’ that we might call the inner-theo-logic or tradition within the inner-workings of Scripture’s witness itself; the inner-workings that make the tradition what it is. But we need to ask ourselves what is the most regulative feature we might appeal to, in the domain of theological reality, that might give us the best chance at identifying fruitful lines in the various formations in the development of the inner-theo-logic, and on the other hand might help us to see what needs to be discarded.