Webster on Theological Method II

In the last post I outlined how Webster argues that theology is an exercise in ‘holy reason’ practiced within the context of the Church. This can only be the case, however, because theology is firstly done within the context of revelation – i.e. the Holy God’s self-giving presence.

Theology is reason appointed to the service of revelation, and as such its first task is to remember that in talking of God’s nature it must cease to be ratio ratiocinans (speculative reason), and learn – painfully, contritely – to be ratio ratiocinata: reason which receives its matter from the self-giving of God. (Holiness, 17)

This means that theology , firstly, is not creative but rather, receptive. It is bound to its object and therefore must speak of him in confession and proclamation. Because of this theology has as its purpose, the edification of the Church, sitting under the Word which gathers together the Church. And because theology sits under the Word with the Church it can never rival Scripture in its authority over the Church.

Theology is not inspired; it is not a sacrament of the gospel; it does not have the authority of the teaching office in the Church. It is not a means of grace, but the human work of thinking and speaking about the holy God. Because it is always a human work, it participates in the frailty and fallibility of its practitioners and of their times. Theology’s reference to revelation does not raise it out of the stream of all other human rational endeavour. Yet in – not despite – its very human character, theology can be holy reason. It can serve the Holy One and the congregation which gathers around him, wrestling with him, beseeching his blessing, and then like Jacob limping on its way. (Holiness, 30)

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