Re: Theological theory evaluation (Was: The forgotten verses)

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Fri Jun 20 2003 - 07:53:38 EDT

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    >From: George Murphy <>

    Selected portions & responses follow.

    > If God is revealed in a
    > unique way in Jesus of Nazareth, then the witnesses to who he was, what he
    > did, and what
    > happened to him are in a privileged position with respect to that revelation.

    Agreed. The question then becomes, Are the writings of those witnesses to be
    taken as the ultimate or final authority in formulating and evaluating
    theological theories? A human witness to some terrestrial event, say the
    eruption of Vesuvius, was in a similarly privileged position, but his/her
    understanding of the geophysics of that phenomenon would benefit greatly
    from the two millennia of natural science that has followed that event.

    > This does not mean that the process of understanding the significance of
    > ends with the New Testament writings. It took the church several centuries
    > to develop
    > its formal statements about this, and of course theological development
    > still goes on.

    Agreed again. What I suggest, then, is that some Christians need to be
    reminded that theology is an ongoing and constructive activity of the human
    community, and that it requires taking seriously the totality of human
    experience in the same way that geophysics takes seriously the totality of
    human experience with volcanoes.

    > & contrary to what some conservatives think, there is a creative aspect to
    > theology: It
    > isn't just an exercise in rearranging biblical statements in the most lucid
    > way. The
    > experience of a theologian & his/her culture - including science - will
    > play significant
    > roles in this enterprise. But that experience comes into play in interpreting
    > revelation. It does not take the place of revelation.

    We will probably differ here in emphasis and vocabulary. As I listen to a
    lot of talk about "revelation," I see it treated far too often as a label
    for "my privileged access to the divine data base." This sometimes leads to
    the phenomenon of "I know the truth by revelation; what you have is mere
    human opinion." Your emphasis on the life and actions of Jesus being the
    core revelation avoids that particular problem because Jesus' life and
    action is the object of continuing reflection and theorizing in the context
    of the ongoing human experience.
    > Thus I think it clouds the issue a bit to state it as a choice between "the
    > authority of ancient text or revered theologians of the past" and "a
    > reflection on ongoing human experience". What we have to deal with is the
    > question of
    > the relationships (if any) between God's historical revelation as witnessed to
    > scripture and general human experience. Specifically, what (if anything)
    > can each tell
    > us about God and God's will for the world?

    I like the balance you encourage here.

    [skip a paragraph]

    > This in no sense means that the claim of the authority of scripture is being
    > dropped. It is, however, important to be clear about the sense in which
    > it's supposed to be authoritative - i.e., as a collection of witnesses to
    > aspects of God's historical revelation.

    You are fully aware, of course, that contemporary Evangelical Christianity
    would balk at your characterization of the Bible as a "witness to"
    revelation rather than "revelation itself (God's Word)." Your approach
    undercuts the bibliolatry rampant today.


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