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

From: George Murphy (
Date: Fri Jun 20 2003 - 15:39:22 EDT

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    Howard J. Van Till wrote:
    > >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......................................................

            Yes, some care is needed here. OTOH we don't want to fall into the error of
    some YECs & other evolutionists who argue that science can't study the past. But OTOH
    we do have to recognize that the contingency of history - & for the present topic
    especially human history - does make its study different from that of other phenomena.
    Our scientific understanding of Vesuvius has been made possible by, among other things,
    the fact that we've been able to study a lot of other events which are "the same kind of
    thing." (I just finished Simon Winchester's recent _Krakatoa_.) Now certainly there
    are similarities among historical events & people, & the Christian claim that Jesus is
    fully human means that those similarities have to be taken seriously in talking about
    him. But if the further claim that he is fully divine is to be considered, it begs the
    question to assume that he can be studied as "the same kind of thing" as other historic

    > > & 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.

            & even more fundamentally by the fact that the primary witness to him on which
    claims are based - the NT - is a matter of public record.

    > > 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.

            I think it's appropriate to speak about the Bible as the Word of God if that's
    understood in the sense I sketched above. The way in which Chapter 2 of the ELCA
    constitution sets out a 3-fold understanding of the Word of God (for which see also Karl
    Barth) is helpful:
            "Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate ... ."
            "The proclamation of God's message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of
            God ..."
            "The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word
            of God ..."
    & the point isn't that there are 3 Words of God. Christ is proclaimed on the basis of

    George L. Murphy

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