Sunday, January 01, 2006

looking beyond the facade of modernity, part 2

part 1

In June of 2002 I posted a note on how we must be careful not to truncate individuals down to our broadbrush conclusions about the age to which they belong or the theological system from which they write. Last night, I came across another reminder of this.

A few days ago, I realized that I had a spiritual formation need to get a better vista of who God is. I decided that as a devotional exercise I would read John M. Frame's book The Doctrine of God, the second book published in his Theology of Lordship series.

In the introduction to the book, Frame writes about Sola Scriptura and referenced his article In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism: Reflections on Sola Scriptura and History in Theological Method. I had never studied Sola Scriptura as a separate belief, so I decided to find the article and read it. While waiting for 2006 (and the only adult in the house who was awake!), I read it last night.

I'm not a thoroughgoing Calvinist in terms of soteriological or eschatological belief, but I have long appreciated the Calvinist thinkers. I have suggested that theological system is one of the finest and fullest expression of a modern theology with the implicit critique that the modern approach is not a complete approach. I would have said that Calvinism has a tendency to dot every theological i and to cross every theological t.

My own journey through the pomoChristian conversation and then thru the current emerging church movement has influenced me in a couple of ways. One way is that while I have felt that the largely Calvinist education I received in seminary was of a theology with every i and t dotted and crossed, my own personal theology has segued from encyclopedia to outline (I've elaborated on this in my brief article What is a Faithmap?).

But last night, I read comments by a prominent Calvinist teacher that made me realize that there is a similar theological openness expressed within that tradition that I had not previously noticed.

These comments came from none other than the highly regarded theologian and exegete John Murray, who taught at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1930 until 1966.

My realization came from reading this passage from Frame's article, where he quotes Murray:

In his article, "Systematic Theology," Murray reviews the history of dogmatics, mentioning names such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Calvin. He then comments,

However epochal have been the advances made at certain periods and however great the contributions of particular men we may not suppose that theological construction ever reaches definitive finality. There is the danger of a stagnant traditionalism and we must be alert to this danger, on the one hand, as to that of discarding our historical moorings, on the other [emphasis mine],

He cites Calvin's own encounter with "stagnant traditionalism," when the Reformer dared to take issue with the view of Athanasius and others that the Son of God "derived his deity from the Father .... He continues,

When any generation is content to rely upon its theological heritage and refuses to explore for itself the riches of divine revelation, then declension is already under way and heterodoxy will be the lot of the succeeding generation.... A theology that does not build on the past ignores our debt to history and naively overlooks the fact that the present is conditioned by history. A theology that relies on the past evades the demands of the present.

Murray here recognizes the importance of church history in the work of systematic theology, but he cautions us not to remain content with even the best formulations of past theologians.

I was heartened to read these comments coming from deep within a theological system that many in the emerging church would regard as utterly modern.


Staples Center said...
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Jason Clark said...

Hi Stephen, I have found Marilyne Robsinons re-evaluation of Calvin amazing, try her book 'The Death of Adam'...

Gave me a new appreaciation for Calvin. Thanks for your thoughts mate.


Laurence O. said...

Maybe a shorthand way to summarize Frame's point is (borrowing some famous phrases from the Reformation) "semper reformanda" via "sola scriptura" (always reforming according to/by means of Scripture alone).

I appreciate the Reformed tradition's acknowledgement that because (even saved) men are sinful, fallible, and finite, men always need to be corrected by God's Word.

Vince said...

I really appreciate's contribution to this discussion, especially their care to harmonize a Calvinistic soteriology ("safe and secure") with a postmodern emphasis on community ("server"). I am troubled, however, by their quick fall into a pragmatic methodology ("faster service"), and even their apparent descent into an Arminian "easy-believism" (Where "ticket" = "get out of hell free card").

I'm just glad poor old Murray isn't here to see this. Not because of the reasons I've just stated, but because he hasn't been around for a while, and he wouldn't have any idea what "web site" or ".org" even means. And who needs another Internet moron clogging up our bandwidth?

Bob Robinson said...

Nice, Vince!

I believe that it is human nature to think that what we think is not what we think but what is true (how's that for a line of thought?). Even though a major slogan of Reformed Theology is that we are to be "Always Reforming" (Semper Reformata), it seems that in practice, many want to hold fast to what has already been done and not believe that theology can progess much (maybe just a little, such as subtle nuances, but nothing huge...that was all settled with Luther and Calvin).

But you're right: Those of us in the Calvinist Tradition that understand Semper Reformata can embrace that "we may not suppose that theological construction ever reaches definitive finality." We can critically embrace Emerging Church ideas and not feel that they threaten that which is hard and fast true.

I find that the leaders of the Emerging Church are open to those of us who are "always reforming." The Calvinist organization I work for, the the CCO, (Coalition for Christian Outreach), has recently formed a working partnership with Emergent for speakers and interaction. There is hope that the bridges are not totally burned yet!!

Scot McKnight said...

Calvinism has the architecture of the building right -- and it has to do with God's glory and our need of God and our joy in God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.

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