Four Reasons Why Theological Discourse is Going Nowhere …

Isn’t it great that social media provides everyone an opportunity to be a theologian? It reminds me of what Michael Scott (Steve Carell) said about wikipedia: Its

the best thing ever. Anyone in the world, can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.

(With that said, allow me to  provide the best possible information.)

Anyway, here are four common issues that are almost always neglected and are almost always profoundly important.

1. Christology

In case we forgot, Jesus is the second person of the triune God as well as the one who proclaims freedom for the captives and who heals the sick. He is transcendent as he is immanent. Its a package deal. Being “right” about who Jesus is while neglecting the poor is actually to be dead wrong about who Jesus is. By the same token, social and political agendas in the name of Jesus which have no concern for the truth about Jesus – beyond him being super nice – well, those agendas aren’t in the name of Jesus.  In short, doctrine and ethics both matter because Christology matters.  Its pretty hip these days to say that “Orthodoxy is the refuge of scoundrels,” but if orthodoxy really is, well, orthodoxy, then I’ll take it.

2. Narrative vs proposition

Reminding people that Deborah was a good judge is not how you make a case for egalitarian views of women in ministry (and I support women in ministry). Just like pointing out that Solomon had multiple wives doesn’t support one’s case for polygamy. The narrative does not trump what God says about the narrative. When we start using narratives as proof texts for what God “wants” we make it clear that we don’t know how to read Scripture and how to make an argument in light of it.

3. Distinctions in God’s law

Since its all the rage these days, please know that eating shellfish, much like eating chicken sandwiches, has little to do with one’s stance on sexuality. You can eat shellfish and cite Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality without inherent hypocrisy (mostly since thats what the NT does). Theologians have long recognized distinctions in God’s law, not least because these distinctions are presented in the New Testament.  In Christ, ceremonial law has been made obsolete, so that we are no longer making animal sacrifices, no longer prohibited from eating shellfish, and no longer demanding circumcision as a rite of entry into the Christian faith. Civil laws remain while their punishments have changed since God’s people are no longer their own nation-state;  addressing violations of civil law in the OT is therefore analogous to church discipline in the present.  The moral law, summed up as loving God and neighbor in Lev 19, has basically been reaffirmed in the New Covenant, with certain “laws” concerning generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, adultery, murder, etc being explicitly reaffirmed.

4. Taxonomy of doctrinal error

As I’ve written elsewhere, whether or not to have candles in the sanctuary is not on par with whether or not Jesus is a person of the Trinity. As pointed out by a billion other folks on the interwebs these days, there are  three kinds of doctrinal error:

  1. errors against a fundamental article of faith (contra fundamentum);
  2. errors around a fundamental or in indirect contradiction to it (circa fundamentum);
  3. errors beyond a fundamental article (praeter fundamentum). Richard Muller explains them like this:

“The first kind of error is a direct attack—such as those launched by the Socinians—against the divinity of Christ or the Trinity. The second is not a direct negation or an antithesis but rather an indirect or secondary error ultimately subversive of a fundamental—such as a belief in God that refuses to acknowledge his providence. The third category of error does not address fundamental articles directly or indirectly but rather involves faith in problematic and curious questions (quaestiones problematicas et curiosas) that do not arise out of the revealed Word—hay and stubble!—and that, because of their curiosity and vanity, constitute diversions from and impediments to salvation.” (Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 1: Prolegomena to Theology, 422–3.)

Perhaps having this taxonomy in mind would allow us all to “tell the truth in love” more often, boldly, and clearly.

That is all.

  1. #1 by bob borneman on August 3, 2012 - 12:51 am

    Your points in ‘narrative vs proposition’ especially about Solomon and the multiple wives is so true. Recently Mary Dell read in the other oracle of all knowledge ‘facebook’ that a person was using the Solomon/polygamy verses to justify same sex marriage, which seems quite a stretch. How does one begin to convince such a person that you can’t just pick verses that appear to make your point without looking at the whole of scripture?

    • #2 by borno on August 3, 2012 - 4:12 am

      By convincing them that logic matters.

  2. #3 by Jason D. Wood (@Wood_JasonD) on August 3, 2012 - 4:28 pm

    Very disheartened to find I’m not as hip as I thought. Who says that “orthodoxy is the refuge of scandals”?

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