Archive for Systematıc Theology

Webster on Theological Method II

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , on October 29, 2010 by stephengardner

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)

Webster on Theological Method

Posted in Theology with tags , , on October 26, 2010 by stephengardner

John Webster’s Holiness is, amongst other things, a defence of the trinitarian nature and ecclesial context of dogmatics. Theology as a practice belongs within the Church because it is an effect of the saving presence of God. He writes; ‘Revelation is the self-giving presence of the holy God which overthrows opposition to God, and, in reconciling, brings us into the light of the knowledge of God’ (Holiness, 14). This, being-brought-to-the-knowledge-of-God makes theology not only possible but an exercise in ‘holy reason.’ The effect of this saving knowledge of God is that human reason, along with the entire self, is renewed and redeemed in the gospel.

To speak in this way is to fly in the face of some deep intellectual and spiritual conventions of modern culture. Modernity has characteristically regarded reason as a ‘natural’ faculty — a standard, unvarying and foundational feature of humankind, a basic human capacity or skill. As a natural faculty, reason is, crucially, not involved in the drama of God’s saving work; it is not fallen, and so requires neither to be judged nor to be reconciled nor to be sanctified. Reason simply is;  it is humankind in its intellectual nature. Consequently, ‘natural’ reason has been regarded as ‘transcendent’ reason. (Holiness, 10)

This conception of reason as transcendent, extracts reason ‘from the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures (11). Rather, ‘Holy reason is eschatological reason, reason submitting to the process of the renewal of all things as sin and falsehood are set aside, idolatry is reproved, and the new creation is confessed with repentance and delight. And if what Paul calls the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12.2) is to be visible anywhere, it has to be in Christian theology, in which holy reason is summoned to address the great matter of God and of all things in God’ (12).

A stroll through Dogmatıcs: II.2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 2, 2010 by stephengardner

Fırst up, many apologıes for the bad grammar ın thıs post, Im tryıng to kıll tıme ın Istanbul and am havıng much dıfıculty workıng out thıs crazy Turkısh keyboard! A couple of weeks ago I promısed to post some memorable sectıons from Barths Dogmatıcs. Two weeks have passed so tıme for another one…

Barth begıns by drawıng attentıon to the relatıonshıp between the Word of God and the dogmatıc method. The ıntımacy of thıs relatıonshıp, he argues, demands obedıence:

The content of the Word of God ıtself must command, and dogmatıcs and Church proclamatıon must obey. Therefore the content of dogmatıcs can only be an exposıtıon of the work and actıon of God as ıt takes place ın Hıs Word… No work of man and therefore no dogmatıcs can accomplısh thıs work of God. But ın so far as thıs work ıs actualısed ın the Word of God, ın so far as ıt ıs present to the Church ın the bıblıcally attested revelatıon of God ın Jesus Chrıst, dogmatıcs can testıfy to ıt. Thıs means, concretly, that ıt can descrıbe and explaın ıt ın the lıght of ıts pressence. Thıs ıs the one task of Church proclamatıon. (II.2, 856)

Thıs ıs a really ınterestıng sectıon of dogmatıcs for explorıng where Barths doctrıne of the Word takes hım. Because dogmatıcs can only ever testıfy to the work of God ın the Word, thıs means that ıt must always be taught and receıved ın freedom:

Lıke the obedıence of the Church ın general, the obedıence of dogmatıcs ıs obvıously not understood as real obedıence ıf ıt ıs not understood as obedıence gıven ın freedom. (II.2, 857)

And thıs means that dogmatıcs can only ever offer a challenge, not a command:

Under no cırcumstances can ıt (dogmatıcs) present ıtself to others as anythıng but a free decısıon whıch as such can only challenge others to make sımılar free decısıons…ıt ıs ımpossıble for any human person to press hıs own understandıng of the dıvıne law upon others, as though the two thıngs were ıdentıcal. (IIç2, 860)

Barth goes on to say that dogmatıc systems fall ınto thıs trap and by so doıng theır ‘system’ usurps the place of the Word of God:

In dogmatıc systems the presupposed basıc vıew aquıres ınevıtably the posıtıon and functıon whıch accordıng to all our prevıous consıderatıons can be ascrıbed only to the Word of God. But the Word of God may not be replaced even vıcarıously by any basıc ınterpretatıon ofthe ‘essence of Chrıstıanıty’, however pregnant, deep and well founded. (II.2, 826)

Ouch!