Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Mon May 11 2009 - 15:52:18 EDT

OK, George, I will give you Pannenberg back. I read only his *What is Man?*, and was somewhat unimpressed. But I see from some intellectual biographies of him on the internet that his thinking does proceed out of a deep study of the tradition, including the medieval tradition. (As a footnote I mention that one of the articles said that Pannenberg was more favourable to natural theology than Barth was.)

On Teilhard, yes, he was banned from teaching, but the fact is that he was teaching when he published some of his heretical ideas -- which is why he was banned from further teaching -- and presumably he would have kept teaching had he not been banned. I give him credit for accepting the discipline of his Church, however.

I am sorry that you found my response to your statement about the Archimedean point too brief. I didn't want to get into a theological wrangle about the details of Biblical exegesis which would be required to criticize your understanding in an academically sound way. However, I thought I said pretty clearly (a) that your position is just one among many possible Christian positions regarding the "Archimedean point", all of which can claim much scriptural and traditional backing; (b) your manner of writing about "a Christian view" or "a truly Christian perspective" etc. sometimes tends, in my mind, to be somewhat imperious, as if others who hold other views are somewhat lacking in knowledge of what Christianity teaches. Regarding (b), I react against such presentations, even when they are in favour of views closer to my own. For example, the late Fr. Stanley Jaki, whose Catholicism is probably closer to my own views than your particular version of Lutheranism, wrote very imperiously all the time, as if other theologians (and historians of science and theology) lacked understanding of what Christian doctrine was. In fact, his writing often moved over the line into a kind of intellectual arrogance (which yours fortunately does not do). But even when that line is not crossed, it is still unpleasant to read theology written in a style that quietly implies that the author thinks straight, whereas others are guilty of muddy thinking or lack of competence in exegesis.

Understand that I am not denying the legitimacy of your particular Lutheran approach as a particular Christian position. I was protesting that you seemed -- if only indirectly -- to deny the legitimacy of other positions, e.g., those which accept a limited degree of natural theology. At least at first, your approach seemed to be to implying that natural theology of any kind was based on a gross error, a misunderstanding of the nature of Christianity. When pressed, you granted that even some respected Lutheran theologians (you gave an example) allowed for a limited natural theology in my sense. I was satisfied with your later statement, which seemed more accommodating of difference within Christianity than your earlier ones.

It might help if I articulate where I am coming from. After years of studying the Bible and a variety of theological positions, I have been struck by how difficult it is to isolate the essence of "Christianity". This is not a unique problem. It is also difficult to isolate the essence of "Buddhism", or of "Greek philosophy". Traditions often embrace a complex of elements that are not easily harmonized. The Bible itself, I find to contain a complex of elements which is not easily internally harmonized. That is why, when someone suggests that any *single* key, like "Christ crucified" is *the* key by which Genesis through Revelation is to be interpreted, I hesitate to simply concede the point.

In an earlier note, you said that the fundamental hermeneutical principle is not to be imposed on the Bible from the outside but must come from within it. I agree with you, but why is "Christ crucified" to be made the regulatory theme? Why not "servanthood"? Or "the omnipotence of God"? Or "providence"? Or "creation"? Or the Holy Spirit? Or the Logos as rational? Or the Logos as speech (dabar)? Or "righteousness"? Or "the Kingdom of God"? Or "love"? Or "faithfulness"? Or Law? Or wisdom? All of these are major Biblical themes, found throughout both Testaments. Why does Luther's principle get the nod as *the* interpretive key to the whole?

Granted, there is Biblical warrant for Luther's approach, e.g., in Paul's reading of Christ. But Paul's reading of "Christ crucified" is embedded in a wider Pauline understanding of the Fall, sin, the Law, etc. And most Old Testament books assign little or no importance to the Fall story. Even in the New Testament, the notion of "sin" is not emphasized equally in all the books, and many of them do not mention or imply any "Fall". And when "the Law" is criticized in the Gospels, it is often apparently not for Pauline reasons. It is therefore far from clear that Luther's regulative principle can be established from "scripture alone" to be *the* regulative principle, without calling in extra-Biblical, i.e., traditional authority.

I'm not trying to talk you out of your Lutheran tradition. My point is that many other Christians, with faith as sincere as yours, simply don't think that even the loftiest view of "Christ" (crucified, risen, part of the Triune God, etc.) is enough to sustain Christianity, if the Bible which testifies to Christ has been hobbled by historical-critical study to the point where not only a few Old Testament miracles, but the majority of miracles, are treated as dubious or hyperbolically narrated, and to the point where the ethics and even the picture of God in many portions of the Bible are criticized as faulty, as judged by Enlightenment standards. From their point of view, "Christ", however important, doesn't cover enough of the "core doctrines". They would say that you are right to emphasize "Christ", but that you give away too much to the Enlightenment, so much so that you have left very little ground upon which Christ can stand.

You of course can disagree with these other Christians, and I respect and support your right to do so. But as this conversation is taking place in a forum where in the past many of the these other Christians -- especially those who support ID -- have been treated as heretics, or at least as very poor theologians, it is only fair that their side be represented. From their point of view, TEs are the heretics or at least the poor theologians, because they give away too much to the Enlightenment, and imperil the foundations of Christian faith by sowing seeds of doubt about the nature and authority of the Biblical narratives.

I don't consider this an easy issue to resolve, but as one who would like to see an alliance between at least some TE and some ID people, I do think that theological discussions should remain more tentative, and avoid phrases like "*the* Christian teaching" or "a truly Biblical perspective", etc., unless such phrases are qualified by phrases such as "it seems to me", or "in the tradition in which I was raised" -- phrases that give a sense that the writer is groping for a deeper understanding of Christian thinking, not speaking from on high for the true, established, orthodox Christian doctrine. Whether such a writer is coming from a Lutheran, or an Anglican, or a Catholic, or a Calvinist, or any other tradition, I always find myself reacting against over-confident modes of writing about things divine.

Cameron.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: George Murphy
  To: Cameron Wybrow ; asa
  Sent: Monday, May 11, 2009 11:07 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)

  Cameron -

  Humor is certianly allowed on the list & I've practiced it a number of times here. If anything, I have to restrain myself from excessive use. I assumed that you weren't entirely serious about the anti-spanking lobby as a source of modern theology but it added to the air of caricature.

  & that air of caricature is certainly present in your sketch of "liberal" theologians & their motives below. To suggest that Pannenberg, the modern theologian who revived interest in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus in the 60s & has consistently defended it, who has been active not only in academic theology but as a man of the church in the ecumenical movement, is just in it for the money, borders on the libelous. (Yea, you didn't literally say that, but the affect conveyed by your language is pretty clear.) & Teilhard, wasn't allowed by his church to publish anything in theology, let alone "tak[e] a salary from Church-funded institutions for teaching Christian theology"!

  I've been where you are, so permit me a story of a minor revelatory moment. Well before I started seminary I was discussing theology a bit with my fairly conservative Lutheran pastor in Australia & made some disparaging remark about "Bultmann" (Sort of spitting out the name, the way anti-evolutionists do with "Darwin"). The pastor said thoughtfully, "Yes, Bultmann's christology is quite weak, but he's very good on Paul." And I thought "Oh - you mean a theologian can say some things that are valuable even if he's wrong about others?"

  I still remain puzzled by your response to what I said in reply to your request for what I saw as the Archimedean point in theology. I expected some criticism but of my own position but not of theologians who have very little in common with me and certainly not of modern theology as a whole. Why bother to ask for my view of the matter? Just to use it as a excuse to criticize others? What do the views of Cox or Hartshorne have to do with mine? If you just want to castigate what you understand modern theology in general to be then you can do it without my participation.

  I never suggested that you hadn't read modern theologians. You did, however, say "I am for the most part uninterested in any theology written after about 1600-1700 anyway, except to the extent that it helps to revive and explain for modern audiences the pre-modern tradition of theological thought.” I take that to mean that you think that modern theology in general has little positive value for the ongoing mission of the church, &, as I've said, I think that that is a very dangerous attitude. Of course that doesn't mean that pre-1600 theology is to be abandoned. It's very appropriate that one of the Gospel selections suggested for the commemoration of theologians in BCP is Mt.13:47-52, especially the last verse.

  "And he said to them, 'Therefor every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.'"

  Shalom
  George
  http://home.roadrunner.com/~scitheologyglm

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Cameron Wybrow
    To: asa
    Sent: Monday, May 11, 2009 4:27 AM
    Subject: Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)

    George:

    "The anti-spanking lobby" was meant as a joke -- a parody. I trust that humour is allowed in posts to this list.

    I wasn't saying that your particular theology resembled the picture I painted. You had complained that I didn't read enough modern theology, and my remarks were meant to explain why I didn't. Much of the modern theology that I've read -- by Hartshorne, Teilhard de Chardin, Harvey Cox, J.A.T. Robinson, Haught, Pannenberg, and others -- seems to me to be a desperate attempt of liberals to justify why they don't believe what centuries of their Christian ancestors believed, while still taking a salary from Church-funded institutions for teaching Christian theology. In this light, can you blame me for preferring to breathe the cleaner, purer air of Etienne Gilson, Thomas Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis -- people who were actually proud of traditional belief, rather than embarrassed by it? I have no disrespect for thoughtful infidels, and I have no disrespect for thoughtful conservatives. My quarrel is with the liberals, who appear eager to serve two masters. It is impossible to accept or reject Christianity when presented with a mushy liberal picture of it. On the other hand, when one contrasts C.S. Lewis's *The Abolition of Man* with Bertrand Russell's *A Free Man's Worship*, what is at stake is perfectly clear. I don't know why post-WW II Christian believers have such difficulty thinking out the basic questions, but certainly the obfuscations of liberal theologians haven't helped matters any.

    Cameron.

        
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: George Murphy
      To: Cameron Wybrow ; asa
      Sent: Friday, May 08, 2009 8:26 AM
      Subject: Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)

      I'm surprised by this. You asked what, in my view, was the "Archimedean point" in theology and I think my answer was clear - "True theology and the recognition of God are in the crucified Christ.". Of course that needs to be expounded more fully & that's the task of doing theology, but what I was stating with appropriate brevity (though I did go on at greater length than that one sentence) was a "point." & instead of any response to that you launch into a criticism of modern theology. I have no desire to defend the type of theological smorgasbord that you caricature (the anti-spanking lobby?) & certainly don't regard my own theology as anything resembling that. Nor do I think that I've given anyone any reason to think that it does.

      Shalom
      George
      http://home.roadrunner.com/~scitheologyglm

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Received on Mon May 11 15:54:07 2009

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