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Why do theology? Is it for the fame and fortune? No. It’s because, personally, without the constant pursuit towards a growing and intimate knowledge of God I could not function. After I came to Christ when I was 3.5 I was given a new heart, the ‘heart of flesh’ that the Apostle Paul and the Prophet Ezekiel wrote about; along with this my head was also rewired, hard-wired in fact, in such a way that reality from that point onward could only make sense if it found its ongoing ever afresh ever anew ground in a growing knowledge of the living God Self revealed in Jesus Christ. Outside of this reality, for me as a Christian anyway, everything else is non-real; there is only One reality that has the capacity to stitch all of reality together in an affectively and cognitively satisfying way. So I began to grow—in other words I didn’t stay 3.5 up and till now—and I lived into this reality, into real reality as the Holy Spirit worked and wooed in my life. As I grew older I had an ever greater appreciation for what Jesus had done, and the cylinders of my new mind and heart were firing rapidly. But a time came when I was subtly seduced into a realm where my mind and heart were completely out of place. There was a season of time that I didn’t really catch how out of place everything was. But because the God I have a relationship with is so merciful and full of grace He allowed me to see and feel (through anxiety) just exactly how out of place I had become. I had sown to my flesh continuously, to the point that great scales had grown over my eyes—the eyes of my heart and mind—and God removed those scales to let me see just exactly where I’d gotten myself. My heart and mind really had nowhere to rest; it was an excruciating experience that would extend out for years.

But remember, I noted that God graciously re-opened my eyes to the reality I had constructed for myself; a reality that was a house full of idols; a reality that my new heart and mind could not decipher or attach to. God, through His Word, began to deconstruct the false-realm I’d created, and displaced it once again with the concrete bodily reality of His recreated world that He had accomplished through His Self giveneness in His humanity in the eternal Son of God, the Man from Nazareth, the One who is homoousios with the Father and humanity, Jesus Christ. I began to feel a real peace, a real solidity in the world that God had called me into in the new creation of the Son. My affective and intellectual cylinders began to fire again, and the blood-life provided by the Son of the Father in my life, in and through my new heart, began to flow and brought life to my frontal lobe and the rest of my brain. I could once again look out at the world, and have a sense of place; and yet this time it was even lighter than it had been before in my younger years. This time I had to walk through a wilderness, a slough in order to come to the sanity that only comes as my new heart and mind are at coalescence with their source in the vicarious heart and mind that Jesus Christ has for me in His life pro me.

Even in this strange newer world there are these cycles where it seems the light of life ebbs even brighter, but then flows into a season of shadows; only then for the light to shine through the shadows with more clarity than before. Biblically all I can think of in order to illustrate this is found in II Corinthians 3: “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” There is this ongoing transformative aspect, a growing-maturation process that is a work started by God in Christ that He will continue until beatific vision finally comes.

This is why I do theology. I have come to know, without question, that Jesus alone speaks the words of eternal life, and thus I have nowhere else to go. If I try to live a life without doing theology I experience cognitive dissonance of the sort that it literally will drive me mad. My soul needs theology like my body needs oxygen; without it I die, and dying sucks.

33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” Daniel 4:33–35

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. II Peter 3:18

 

 

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I just wrote the following post, and then didn’t feel like quoting Schleiermacher because what I was going to quote from him is very long; and I just don’t feel like transcribing something like that right now. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share what I did write as a prologue to what I was going to share from FS (maybe I’ll share that at a later date).

Is it possible to be aphilosophical when doing Christian theology? This is a question that has honestly been at the bottom of almost everything I have ever endeavored as a theological stinker (thinker). When I say “philosophy” what I usually have in mind is what we have inherited via the classical philosophers (i.e. Aristotle, Plato et al.), and their metaphysical categories. What this style of thinking fosters is a rather speculative way in regard to thinking Godness concepts; a discursive route to God; a route that does not, in itself, require special Revelation in order to conceive of God. Just recently this was illustrated for me by David Bentley Hart as he was interviewed for a series of videos done by Notre Dame. He was being interviewed by pagan, Robert Kuhn, and in one of the interviews Hart says that the Trinity could actually be conceived of, at a metaphysical level, without referring, in a first order way, to Christian categories, per se (although this was only a thought experiment in order to illustrate that the Trinity itself is not a foreign idea and has some convergence with God concepts found in such diverse systems as Hinduism and Judaism). I say this only illustrates my question because it underscores how the philosophy itself can be abstracted in such a way as to speak God without reference to Jesus Christ. Some might counter: yes, but this is only to show that there is an inner coherence to the concept of Trinity vis-à-vis modal logic and human discovery. Maybe so, but then this again takes us full circle and gets me back to my original question: is philosophy a necessary prerequisite for the doing of Christian theology?

It is an interesting question to me, really. I don’t think many in the church realize how contingent their weekly sermons and bible studies are upon the informing categories of philosophy (whether that be good or bad philosophy). The early church, at least at the ‘Fatherly’ level were aware of their Hellenic (Greek) context and the role that such categories played in their “grammarizing” of the Christian faith. So this latter point, in regard to the early church, brings us to another question: if philosophy is somehow a maiden (and not a mistress) to Christian theology: is it possible to appropriate the categories of philosophy in a non-correlationist way? In other words: is it possible to plunder the spoils of the Egyptians, take the categories of speculative philosophy (speculative because they are categories that are purely originate from the wits of self-reflecting humans, and thus categories that are ostensibly discovered in the treasure chest of the universe and its latent intelligibilities), and then allow such categories like immutability, impassibility, simplicity to be pressure cooked by Christian Revelation to the point that they have been transformed and retexutalized by a whole other universe of special knowledge? And if this is possible, and an advisable way, how do we discern that such categories have actually been adequately evangelized in such a way that they are not just some sort of hybrid golden calf that neither truly represents the reality of God or a calf; how do we discern that we have done an adequate job in the evangelization process of metaphysics such that they are no longer referring to pagan concepts but genuinely Christian ones—ones revealed and regulated by Jesus Christ himself?

Friedrich Schleiermacher has some thoughts on the speculative-philosophical approach to God,[1] he writes (in extenso):

 

 

 

[1] I am currently reading Friedrich Schleiermacher’s two volume Christian Faith, so be expecting, at points, posts with reference to FS. Let me also caveat something: I am reading FS because I want to be a responsible ‘theologian’ and engage with the formative thinkers of our modern/post-modern time. While I fundamentally disagree with FS’s low view of Jesus Christ (in regard to FS’s subordinationist view of Jesus), I still think it is possible to glean some important insights from him in regard to the theological enterprise. In this instance—what I am sharing from him in this post—I have found something worthwhile in FS’s thought; so I thought I would share that with you all.

The author to the Hebrews writes this: “14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” We might want to read this as a purely eschatological reality, but even in the context it is clear that it is a present admonition. It is an eschatological reality, of course, as that breaks in on us from the eschaton of God’s Triune life; but its experienced reality is one that comes through walking in a submitted and repentant life of obedience and faith in God in Christ. In other words, and this is something I once argued back in a talk I once gave in the past, if we want to genuinely behold God in Christ, holiness is required. The Good News, of course, is that this has been provided for in Jesus Christ; as we participate in and from his life for us which is seated at the right hand of the Father, we indeed behold God; we experience tastes of beatific vision now. This, I think, is a basic aspect for accomplishing the theological task for all Christians; that we think God from the holiness that his life provides for us. This is where a genuine theological epistemology is grounded for the Christian, mediated for us in and through the set-apart life and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ for us. But without living in a submitted life, one of ongoing repentance before God (a theme so important for TF Torrance’s theology i.e. repentant thinking), this truly hampers (or potentially negates) the work of the theologian; both personally and collectively for the church.

There are geniuses among us; it’s possible to construct genius sounding theological constructs, and to produce materially rich sounding theological grammars. But one must ask: At what point is genius doing the work, and at what point is actual engagement with the holy living God taking place? This is a question I will be contemplating for years to come. Is it possible to be living in constant unrepentant sin, and at the same time be thinking with and from the holy Triune-life of God?

The following is a post I wrote some years ago, but it touches on the issue of holiness and Christian theological reflection. I thought I would share it again as a kind of kick off for me in regard to contemplating the relationship of holiness to theological reflection and epistemology.

Theology is a practice in knowing God with all that we are. While this can only remain a provisional, as the old school would say ectypal endeavor it is something we have been called to as Christians set apart unto God in Jesus Christ. But it is also important to remember that theology is not something that we have initiated, that seminaries and post-doctoral programs have invented. God is the one who initiates true theology; He in himself is the true Theologian as Augustine has said: “God alone is a theologian, and we are truly his disciples.” And so genuine Christian theology starts from God, and our knowledge is contingent upon His graciousness to invite us unto His banqueting table and participate in the meal of holy fellowship that He alone can freely provide for, which He has in His Son, Jesus Christ, God with us.

What viewing theology like this does is that it orients things properly; it takes the keys away from the rationalist who believes that their mind is prior to God’s Self-revelation and action, and it places theological reflection, again, in the domain of God’s holy Word for us, provided for in the election and Incarnation of God (Deus incarnatus), in Jesus Christ. We by nature have unholy thoughts; we by nature are removed from God; we by nature cannot recognize that God has spoken (Deus dixit); we by nature would not approach God even if we could, and if we could we couldn’t because to approach God is to come before Him on holy ground. Moses presented himself before God at the burning bush, only because God condescended and presented Himself, first, to Moses; and in this presentation He initiated the invite to Moses, to come before Him. Modern theological thinking tends to forget this. With the continuing influences of Cartesianism (cogito ergo sum ‘I think therefore I am’), Lockeanism, Kantianism, Schleiermacherianism, etc. we tend to forget that we cannot approach God unless He invites us. The good news is that He has invited us to know Him, to speak with Him, to love and cherish Him, but only on His terms; and His terms or term, is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the holy ground upon which and through whom we have access to God. It is through the broken body of Jesus Christ that the veil between the holy of holies and the outer part of the temple has been torn through. As such, all of our arrogant unholy pretentions about how we conceive of God are contradicted by how God has invited us to think of Him through His personal Self-revelation and exegesis in His Son, Immanuel, Jesus Christ. We come to Him on His predetermined terms not our terms; if we want to come on our terms and name those terms “Jesus Christ” or the “Holy Trinity” we will unfortunately only be worshipping our own self-projections of who we think God is based upon our own self-generated machinations. John Webster clarifies further:

Once again, therefore, we find ourselves running up against the contradictory character of theology as an exercise of holy reason. One of the grand myths of modernity has been that the operations of reason are a sphere from which God’s presence can be banished, where the mind is, as it were, safe from divine intrusion. To that myth, Christian theology is a standing rebuke. As holy reason at work, Christian theology can never escape from the sober realization that we talk in the terrifying presence of God from whom we cannot flee (Ps. 139.7). In Christian theology, the matter of our discourse is not someone absent, someone whom we have managed to exclude from our own intellectual self-presence. When we begin to talk theologically about the holiness of God, we soon enough discover that the tables have been reversed; it is no longer we who summon God before our minds to make him a matter for clever discourse, but the opposite: the holy God shows himself and summons us before him to give account of our thinking. That summons – and not any constellation of cultural, intellectual or political conditions – is the determinative context of holy reason. There are other contexts, of course, other determinations and constraints in the intellectual work of theology: theology is human work in human history. But those determinations and constraints are all subordinate to, and relativized by, the governing claim of the holy God, a claim which is of all things most fearful but also of all things most full of promise.[1]

Christian theology is an enterprise initiated and ingressed by God. When we attempt to talk about God, we must first recognize the fact that ‘God has spoken’ (Deus dixit) first, and that He continues to speak everyday in the same way that He has always freely chosen to speak for us, to us, and with us through Jesus Christ. We are always on holy ground when we speak of God, who alone is wise, immortal, invisible who alone dwells in unapproachable light. I fear that we forget this very often. I fear that we have gotten too comfortable talking about God and the things of God as if He hasn’t first invited us to speak of Him and with Him on His terms. I fear we have domesticated God to the point that when we speak of God we might not really be speaking of Him at all, but instead from a place, a divine spark, as it were, in our minds that we believe has access to God based upon some other terms than those He has given for us through Jesus Christ. It is a holy endeavor to speak of God, but only as we speak from within the domain He has provided for that to happen from does this holiness truly pervade anything we might think we have to say of Him. If the ground and grammar of our theological discourse is not from God in Christ in a principial way, then it is a fearful thing.

[1] John Webster, Holiness (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), Loc. 157, 162, 167 Kindle.

Today (well yesterday now as I write this) I attended the Pacific Northwest Regional Evangelical Theological Society’s meeting which was held at my alma mater, Multnomah University. Dr. Karen Jobes was the plenary presenter, and the title of her presentation was: It Is Written: The Septuagint and Our Doctrine of Scripture. She offered some intriguing insights on text critical issues and its impact on evangelical hermeneutics; she used I Peter 2:3-4 and Psalm 34 as a case study. After the plenary we had lunch and then there were break-out sessions where
evangelicaltheologicalsocietypapers from other presenters were presented. All in all it was an edifying time, and a time of fellowship being surrounded by former classmates and professors, and new friends.

Something dawned on me today in pretty striking fashion; I’ve been learning a new theological language now over these last ten years, as I’ve been reading Karl Barth and Thomas F. Torrance as my steady diet. This struck me sharply in particular because when I attempted to ask a question (in a Q&A session after a paper was presented), and to do so from a Barthian/Torrancean/Athanasian perspective it was as if I was speaking a foreign language; either that, or the person I was asking the question of quickly realized where I was coming from (because he knows me – he’s a former prof), and wanted to shut it down as quickly as possible (which he did). But I’ve come to realize that thinking and doing theology After Barth is not an acceptable mode of theological discourse and engagement within evangelical scholarship; it is dismissed, and I would say even scoffed at. This poses somewhat of a problem for me, because I am not your typical “Barthian.” I am still quite evangelical, and I would say more evangelical when it comes to tapping into the intentions of the best of evangelical theology.

Here’s what I’ve found in Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance; I’ve found teachers who offer an alternative and resourceful mode of theological engagement that offers formal and material theological framework and conclusions that emphasize God as Triune love (versus a decretal god), and a relational understanding (versus legal) that forwards the aims of evangelical theology much better than say Post Reformed Orthodoxy. And yet, Post Reformed Orthodox theology (the theology that was done immediately after say, John Calvin, Martin Luther, et al.) is what is considered the seedbed for conservative evangelical ressourcement! Even Karen Jobes’ discussion on inerrancy explicated the Old Princeton stalwarts on said doctrine: i.e. Warfield and Hodge. I do believe there is fruit to be found by resourcing certain doctrinal contours present in Post Reformed Orthodoxy, but then I also think there are many fruitful things to be found in Modern theology (i.e. Barth, Macintosh, Torrance, et al.).[1] And I actually believe that Barth’s trajectory is more correlative with biblical themes and presentation that is found in Post Reformed Orthodox theology. Why? Because Barth&Torrance offer groundbreaking thinking on such important issues as everything: i.e. doctrine of God, election, theory of revelation, ontology of Scripture, hermeneutics, theological methodology, etc. And yet they are considered, by and large, quacks or idiosyncratic by most evangelical theologians and exegetes.

As an evangelical, who also happens to be substantially Barthian in trajectory and mood, it is as if I am speaking in tongues when I’m with my fellow evangelicals.

Some might respond that this is Barth’s and Torrance’s own fault; that they speak in such an unorthodox or unruly theological tongue that they aren’t worth trying to understand. But my response to that would be: that Barth and Torrance et al. have achieved something that most evangelical theologians have never considered, they have actually been able to evangelize metaphysics. With the result that historic orthodox doctrine has been captured in such a way that Christ is truly at the center, not just by assertion, but by hermeneutical intention in a very intensive way! Like I said earlier, the reason I was attracted to Barth and Torrance was because they offer a weary evangelical soul like myself an alternative to the idea that the only real alternative, theologically, is to become an adherent of classical theism and resource Post Reformed Orthodoxy among other Latin offerings provided by the Western branch of the Christian church. Honestly, without Barth and Torrance, theology would be pretty boring and academic to me. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy historical theology; I absolutely do! It is to say though that I see Barth, Torrance, et al. working from within the best of the spirit of the Reformed faith. Unfortunately around my brethren and sistren this makes me seem like a weirdo, an alien life form speaking in a strange tongue. At the end of the day there isn’t much motivation left to want to say much, because it will be quickly dismissed; at least among evangelicals.

 

[1] Bruce McCormack hits an excellent pace on this in his Orthodox and Modern.

It is important to speak and write with conviction. Proverbs says somewhere “the fear of man brings a snare, but the fear of the Lord brings safety.” When we speak and write as theologians, jesusmedievalChristians, we should do so  coram Deo, before the ‘audience of One,’ and allow that reality be what determines how we communicate. The Apostle Paul wrote this in various contexts:

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1.10

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time,before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. I Corinthians 4.1-5

For the Apostle Paul it was the reality of the Gospel that shaped his con-versation; he did not speak or write to please men, but instead He spoke with the approval of God in mind. Furthermore, and quite interestingly, Paul’s speech was eschatologically oriented; in other words, His speech, Gospel-speech has a different court to be accountable to, not the court of humanity, but the court of God. He was willing to speak boldly for the Gospel’s sake, and ignore the judgments of men while anticipating the judgment of God. He knew that the Gospel (Jesus Christ) was His Savior, and at the “end” (eschaton) His Gospel-speech would be found adequate because of the adequacy of Jesus Christ (II Cor. 3); this gave him the boldness he often asked prayer for in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Jesus in his dominical teaching in the Gospel of John said this:

41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? John 5.41-44

This is the iteration from the Lord that Paul in his writings above would have been reiterating; if we are so worried about receiving the approval of men, and seeking the glory of man (versus the theology of the cross) we will be cultivating a life of unbelief; even and especially when we are waxing eloquent platitudes about theological reality.

Conclusion

As theologians, Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ we need to speak the Gospel boldly, for therein is the power of God! I think this axiom applies even more pointedly to theologians who regularly traffic in theological discussion. It is this danger (the approval of men and women) that I believe professional theologians are most prone to. Things are rigged in such a way, in academia, wherein the approval of others becomes tantamount to career upward mobility (i.e. peer reviewed etc.). The theologian, and Christian in general will do well to heed Jesus’ and the Apostle Paul’s warnings to speak, communicate Gospel reality eschatologically; the kind of communication that inherently is shaped by fear of God rather than fear of man. He is able to put us where He wants us, He is able to open career paths despite the political apparatus in place within Christian academia. I believe He uses Christian academia, usually inspite of itself, as such, we need to be good and obedient stewards and speak boldly as we ought to, having a speech seasoned with grace for the hearers.

Speak the Gospel boldly for it is the power of God!

Living in a blog-like world can be dangerous, especially for those of us who keep reading and learning. When posting on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media the impression might be given that our ideas are concretized, stagnate, immutable even. This is the danger of expressing oneself via social media around theological ideas (and this is the danger, really, for anyone who publishes musicbarthor teaches in whatever venue). For some theologians the case may be that their work is relatively static, but I would venture to say that for most this is not the case. In other words, most of us are changing, moving and breathing theologically in ways that online publication might betray somewhat. Karl Barth, more than anyone attests to this reality in his own theological work; he changed, reified, constructed more than anyone if not more than anyone who has ever published Dogmatic theology like he has; and I count this to be a good thing!

In the 1930s Hugh Ross Mackintosh wrote this of Barth:

Impressive as Barth’s work has been, it is far from being beyond the reach of criticism. Some camp-followers of the movement have inclined to forget this, but the master himself leaves us in no doubt. He criticizes his own statements, often, by modifying them. “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often,” it has been said; and one fact which makes comprehension of this thought so difficult is that in detail it changes constantly. He warns us vehemently against canonizing his results up to date. He offers clear principles, definite assumptions, but never a closed system. Theology on the wing, it has been called. His thought moves; it does not crystallize. Of him as of Dostoievsky [sic] we may say that he is not interested in tepid notions; there is a dash of the spirit of Heraclitus in him, everything is heat and motion, opposition and struggle. Fitly, therefore, he exhibits a most rare and excellent combination of humility and humour. “It is a real question,” he has suggested, “whether there is as much joy in heaven as there is on earth over the growth of the Barthian school.” Far from being an oracle, he is simply a servant of the Church, with no thought of forming a party. He would perhaps not object to my saying that if I succeed in giving a clear account of his thinking, that will prove that I have been successful after all. Life is not simple, hence theology cannot be simple either; and Barth’s thought is not, in any ordinary sense of the words, easy or transparent. [1]

I thought this not only provides a good word on how to read Barth, but by analogy it also points up the fact that to a degree we all are doing this; and if we are going to be doing this in healthy ways and in the mould of Barth we will be humble enough to be self-critical to the point that we can admit that when we got it wrong in the past that we indeed, got it wrong!

If the God we serve is lively, Triune, personal, relational, dynamic, and we are created in His image in Christ, then it follows, that as we are growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, that we will constantly be moving and breathing with the Holy Spirit as He points us to the stereophonic, Jesus.

[1]Hugh Ross Mackintosh, Types Of Modern Theology: Schleiermacher To Barth (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1937), 264-65.

Theology is a practice in knowing God with all that we are. While this can only remain a provisional, as the old school would say ectypal endeavor it is something we have been called to as Christians set apart unto God in Jesus Christ. But it is also important to remember that theology is not something that we have initiated, that seminaries and post-doctoral programs have invented. God is
russianGodthe one who initiates true theology; He in himself is the true Theologian as Augustine has said: “God alone is a theologian, and we are truly his disciples.” And so genuine Christian theology starts from God, and our knowledge is contingent upon His graciousness to invite us unto His banqueting table and participate in the meal of holy fellowship that He alone can freely provide for, which He has in His Son, Jesus Christ, God with us.

What viewing theology like this does is that it orients things properly; it takes the keys away from the rationalist who believes that their mind is prior to God’s Self-revelation and action, and it places theological reflection, again, in the domain of God’s holy Word for us, provided for in the election and Incarnation of God (Deus incarnatus), in Jesus Christ. We by nature have unholy thoughts; we by nature are removed from God; we by nature cannot recognize that God has spoken (Deus dixit); we by nature would not approach God even if we could, and if we could we couldn’t because to approach God is to come before Him on holy ground. Moses presented himself before God at the burning bush, only because God condescended and presented Himself, first, to Moses; and in this presentation He initiated the invite to Moses, to come before Him. Modern theological thinking tends to forget this. With the continuing influences of Cartesianism (cogito ergo sum ‘I think therefore I am’), Lockeanism, Kantianism, Schleiermacherianism, etc. we tend to forget that we cannot approach God unless He invites us. The good news is that He has invited us to know Him, to speak with Him, to love and cherish Him, but only on His terms; and His terms or term, is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the holy ground upon which and through whom we have access to God. It is through the broken body of Jesus Christ that the veil between the holy of holies and the outer part of the temple has been torn through. As such, all of our arrogant unholy pretentions about how we conceive of God are contradicted by how God has invited us to think of Him through His personal Self-revelation and exegesis in His Son, Immanuel, Jesus Christ. We come to Him on His predetermined terms not our terms; if we want to come on our terms and name those terms “Jesus Christ” or the “Holy Trinity” we will unfortunately only be worshipping our own self-projections of who we think God is based upon our own self-generated machinations. John Webster clarifies further:

Once again, therefore, we find ourselves running up against the contradictory character of theology as an exercise of holy reason. One of the grand myths of modernity has been that the operations of reason are a sphere from which God’s presence can be banished, where the mind is, as it were, safe from divine intrusion. To that myth, Christian theology is a standing rebuke. As holy reason at work, Christian theology can never escape from the sober realization that we talk in the terrifying presence of God from whom we cannot flee (Ps. 139.7). In Christian theology, the matter of our discourse is not someone absent, someone whom we have managed to exclude from our own intellectual self-presence. When we begin to talk theologically about the holiness of God, we soon enough discover that the tables have been reversed; it is no longer we who summon God before our minds to make him a matter for clever discourse, but the opposite: the holy God shows himself and summons us before him to give account of our thinking. That summons – and not any constellation of cultural, intellectual or political conditions – is the determinative context of holy reason. There are other contexts, of course, other determinations and constraints in the intellectual work of theology: theology is human work in human history. But those determinations and constraints are all subordinate to, and relativized by, the governing claim of the holy God, a claim which is of all things most fearful but also of all things most full of promise.[1]

Christian theology is an enterprise initiated and ingressed by God. When we attempt to talk about God, we must first recognize the fact that ‘God has spoken’ (Deus dixit) first, and that He continues to speak everyday in the same way that He has always freely chosen to speak for us, to us, and with us through Jesus Christ. We are always on holy ground when we speak of God, who alone is wise, immortal, invisible who alone dwells in unapproachable light. I fear that we forget this very often. I fear that we have gotten too comfortable talking about God and the things of God as if He hasn’t first invited us to speak of Him and with Him on His terms. I fear we have domesticated God to the point that when we speak of God we might not really be speaking of Him at all, but instead from a place, a divine spark, as it were, in our minds that we believe has access to God based upon some other terms than those He has given for us through Jesus Christ. It is a holy endeavor to speak of God, but only as we speak from within the domain He has provided for that to happen from does this holiness truly pervade anything we might think we have to say of Him. If the ground and grammar of our theological discourse is not from God in Christ in a principial way, then it is a fearful thing.

[1] John Webster, Holiness (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), Loc. 157, 162, 167 Kindle.

The word theology is a transliteration of the Latin theologia which itself is a transliteration of the Greek. Richard Muller helpfully develops the etymology of how ‘theology,’ the word, came into usage among Christians, and in particular how that took form among the Protestant Reformed Christians during the 16th and 17th centuries. Let me quote Muller at some length on this in two jesusbibleseparate chunks, and then I will close with some final reflection.

The word theologia is of Greek origin, taken over into Latin, and then borrowed or adopted by the fathers of the church from gentile writers. According to Aristotle and Cicero, the poets were to be called “theologians” because they spoke of the gods and of “divine things.” Thus, by adaptation and extension of the classical usage, Lactantius refers in his De ira Dei to those who know and worship God rightly as theologi and to their knowledge as theologia. Early on, moreover, Christians referred to the apostle John as Theologus, “the Theologian,” in titles added to the Apocalypse. Alsted adds to this the fact church fathers, like Nazianzus, were called Theologus because they wrote about and defended the doctrine of the Trinity.[1]

Like so much in the Christian heritage, in the ‘fullness of time’ as it were, us Christians have retexted grammar provided for by the classical Greek thinkers. You could imagine though, that as the Protestant Reformation took place, Christian Humanist movement that it was (i.e. ad fontes ‘back to the sources’ e.g. the Biblical text in its original languages and to the Patristics/Church fathers), the Protestant scholastics almost stumbled over the appropriation of the language theologia or theology; because in their minds it was too closely associated with Hellenistic philosophy, paganism, and what had caused so many of the problems that they were protesting against within the Roman Tridentine Catholic system.

The fact that the term theologia itself is not a biblical but an ancient pagan term cause the Protestant scholastics some brief anxiety. After all, the Reformation was, if nothing else, a profoundly biblical movement, zealous to avoid anything in religion that could not be justified from Scripture and careful, particularly in its first several decades, to formulate its theology upon the text of Scripture and to avoid the use of classical as well as medieval sources. The classic use of the term theologia by Aristotle and Cicero was not easily assimilated by Protestant system either on the basis of the ancient inscription to John as Theologus or on the basis of the usage of the fathers of the church, since pagan “theology” neither had access to supernatural or special revelation nor was capable of a proper use of reason in discerning the truths of natural revelation. What Christians call theology, by way of contrast with the ancient pagan usage,

is a science of divine things … which treateth of God, nor according to human reason, but divine revelation, which showeth not only what God is in himself, but also what he is toward us; nor doth it only discusse of his nature, but also of his will, teaching what God expecteth of us, and what we should expect from God, what we should hope for, and what we should feare. [Du Moulin, Oration in Praise of Divinity, 10-11.]

Some further, preferably biblical, justification of the term was desirable. Turretin resolves the problem by making a distinction between the term theologia and its significance:

The simple terms from which it is composed do occur there, as for example, logos tou theou and logia tou theou, Rom. 3:2; I Pet. 4:10; Hebrews 5:12. Thus it is one thing to be in Scripture according to sound (quoad sonum) and syllables, or formally and in the abstract; and another to be in Scripture according to meaning (quoad sensusm) and according to the thing signified (rem significatam), or materially and in the concrete,; “theology” does not appear in Scripture in the former way, but in the latter. [Turretin, Inst. theol., I.i.2.]

Theologia, then, indicates heavenly doctrine (doctrina coelestis) and has, in addition to the scriptural references to logia tou theou, words of God, a series of scriptural synonyms: “wisdom in a mystery (1 Cor. 2:7), “the form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13), “knowledge of truth according to piety” (Titus 1:1), and “doctrine” (Titus 1:9). Again, the thing signified by the term is discussed throughout Scripture.[2]

Just as with everything else in the Protestant Reformation words themselves were put to the test by way of the canon of Holy Scripture. The word ‘theology’ passed the test because it signifies something that truly is grounded in the reality found in the text of Scripture as it finds its reality and order of being from Godself. In a denotative or generic sense, just as with its origin, the word theologia and theologi (i.e. theology’s practitioners) can be used very generally with reference to anyone who studies a particular conception of god; however, when Christians use the term we understand that the reference of this word is to the Triune God, and that Jesus Christ himself is truly Theologus pro nobis (The Theologian for us).

[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 152.

[2] Ibid., 153.

You might be getting tired by now of me talking about Barth, sorry. I have been having his repeating theologiansthought hit me though in regard to Karl Barth and his seeming repudiation by so many so called and self-professing “conservative” theologians (even and mostly the young ones). It really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me; my attraction to Barth notwithstanding. I am not as one-note of a reader/thinker as you probably think that I am. I never would have even been open to Thomas Torrance’s and Karl Barth’s respective theologies if not for my training in Historical Theology. I came to finally appreciate Systematic theology and its importance through Historical Theology; not that I didn’t enjoy Systematic Theology previously, it is just that all I knew of it (before being introduced to Historical Theology) was Charles Ryrie, Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, et al. I digress.

This is going to be a streaming post (just so you know). But I simply want to say something, simply. As I have read broadly in historical theology I have come to realize that all that I am reading falls into the category of theologoumena (theological opinions from the theologians). There are some theologians who fit better with what is considered the Tradition of the church, and others who veer. And this is where my confusion about Barth comes in. Each and every theologian I have ever read or been exposed to one way or the other has been a product of their times; they have been conditioned by the intellectual and socio-political categories available to them in their time (the New Testament itself reflects this reality). So how is that just because someone like Karl Barth who happened to be born in Modern times, in Modern Switzerland and Germany, coming to prominence in World Wars I & II, gets marginalized for his theology (by the young conservatives and the old ones too), but other theologians doing the same type of constructive Dogmatic theology as Barth, who were born in medieval and early and post-Reformed times get the stamp of approval? Barth was simply attempting to engage with the Tradition just as much as those accidentally born in other times. What makes one period, or multiple periods of time in history more special, closer to God as it were, than others, in particular Barth’s and the Modern’s time? Has God come close in one age, in two or three periods of history, and abandoned us now?

I am sincerely confused by this double standard! It seems absurd, self-serving, and trendy (to bash theology done in Modern times just because it has been done in Modern times). I am open to learn from all periods of Church History; I am not sure what it is about Barth in particular that people find so different than what other theologians have done. When Barth speaks he doesn’t speak Gospel truth (as he would say too), just as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm, Vermigli, Calvin, Luther, et al. do not speak Gospel truth.

People who marginalize Barth simply because he only recently died (relatively speaking), and not a long time ago are being facile.

cropped-holbein-dead-christ-detail_phixr-2.jpg

Staying alert theologically can be an outright spiritual battle. There is an array of things thrown at us in our daily lives that would seek to thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that would cause us to revert back to the ‘flesh’ (see Galatians 3:1ff). We are born theologians, as we first enter this world through our mother’s womb we are conceived in sin, and so it takes the unilateral and gracious work of God in Christ to take our hearts of stone from us and give us hearts of flesh (see II Cor. 3:1ff) that are soft and malleable to His ways and not ours. If we quench this work of salvation, this work of reconciliation between God and humanity that has taken place in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ for us then we will be theologians of glory. We will seek out ways and systems of thought that take shape in the ‘idol factory’ of our minds and hearts (pace Calvin); we will construct civilization in a way that caters to our god, to ourselves and our desires; we will worship the creation rather than the Creator (see Romans 1), this world is always attempting to subvert and quench the work of the Spirit in our lives – the work that would make us to be theologian’s of the cross who take up our crosses daily and follow Christ (see Matt. 16:22ff). So being a theologian, a Christian theologian, a deep thinker who contemplates upon the depth realities of all that we are and have in Christ is a battle; one where we are required and implored to take every thought captive unto the obedience of Christ and to cast down every thought and imagination that would seek to elevate itself over God (see II Cor. 10); one where we are to cultivate a posture of gratitude and nourishment from the simplicity of the Gospel, in simple devotion to Jesus Christ (see II Cor. 11) submitting to God and resisting the devil (see James 4:7-8) who would attempt to make us into theologian’s of glory worshiping the angel of light rather than the Son of His glory (see Col. 1:13).

I am in this battle, so are you. We live in a world system that is busy. It is busy with “good things,” like making money at all costs, sacrificing our families for Mammon, and subsuming our time under the banner of lust and lampoon, but not under the banner of His love (see Song of Songs). I am in this battle. I have been working really hard at my new job with the railroad. I have been in Railroad school which requires all of my time (literally everyday), and yet I am a theologian, I am a Christian who worships the Triune God of life and hope. It is a battle to not give in and simply become a theologian of glory; not because I have rejected the cross of Christ, but because I simply have no time to devote to my Lord. Not that I can’t do my railroad school work and job as unto the Lord, I can and I will by God’s grace, but I want to do so with understanding. It is important to have the capacity to feed the soul with the depth reality of who God is in Jesus Christ. Otherwise the things of the world, even if they might appear necessary and “good” can lure us into patterns of life that subtly lead us away from the cross, and ultimately lead us to ourselves. Remaining a theologian of the cross is a battle. I can attest to this, as I am sure you can.

I am dedicated, to my dying breath to being a theologian of the cross! There are Christians suffering and being killed all over the world simply because they love Jesus Christ. The least that I can do is press on in the resource and circumstance the Lord has given me, and on their behalf, and as a member of the body of Christ I can and will (Lord willing) grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; I will pray with understanding (by God’s grace) on behalf of my brothers and sisters who cannot (see Hebrews 4; 7:25). I will bear their burdens (see Galatians 6), and hurt when they hurt (see I Cor. 12), and cry out as if in prison with them (see Hebrews 10), and I will do so (by God’s grace) through studying and research and writing as unto the Lord, and from the Lord. I will be a theologian of the cross, not so I can be smarter than you, or more knowledgeable than you, but in service to God’s body in Christ, in service to his sacred Church.

I invite you to fight this battle with me, and I further invite you to rebuke any thought that would allow you the role of apathy; you are not allowed to do that, and neither am I! We are soldiers for Christ, and part of that, in our part of the world and circumstance in particular means that we avail ourselves to study of God’s Word which includes availing ourselves to the riches that God has given to us in his body in the past and into the present. I could say more, but I will stop. I invite you to the battle, take up your cross daily and follow Christ before it is to late to do good, there is opportunity yet (see Galatians 6).

Welcome

Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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“We must always keep in mind that the reason the Son of God came down from the hidden throne of the eternal Father and revealed heavenly doctrine was not to furnish material for seminary debates, in which the display of ingenuity might be the game, but rather so that human beings should be instructed concerning true knowledge of God and of all those things which are necessary to the pursuit of eternal salvation.” Martin Chemnitz, Loci theol. ed., 1590, Hypomnemata 9 cited by Barth, CD I/1, 82.

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