Saturday, February 27, 2010

Theological Confusion.

I don't have much to report as I have slowly been trying to weave my way through the last section of 2.1 of the Church Dogmatics. One sentence struck me as especially powerful today. Here Barth is speaking of the "the Gratitude of Man" in relation to the possibility and reality of humanity being allowed to participate in God's revelation by obtaining true knowledge of Him:

"But this means, first of all, that does not have its necessity in itself; it does not happen on its own account; but it is evoked by an object. Nor does it have its necessity in us who do this work; we do it, not because we are forced by an inner compulsion or enabled by an inner desire, but because the demand for us to do it is imposed upon us from without, because God is God in His revelation, because it is His true revelation and because we are truly claimed by it. There is no other basis for the knowledge of God, for the undertaking of human viewing, conceiving and speaking in regard to Him. This undertaking has only this basis outside itself and outside ourselves." (CD, 2.1, 27.2.216)

The reason I continually appreciate Barth is that he has such a realistic understanding of humanity's existence in relation to the being of God. He realizes that without God's revelation, humanity would not possess an ounce of true knowledge about God (emphasis upon true). This corrective and needed truth is so essential for the Church today. Reading the Dogmatics is a constant reminder of my utter dependency upon God for any true knowledge of Him. As a philosophy major in undergraduate, this was a very radical concept for me to encounter (no pun intended! ... oh, man, I am so sad!).

Anyhow, I really wanted to write about my confusion regarding my current theological position(s):

-- I attend an Anglican Church (AMIA) in the city of Boston. I would like to be Presbyterian but I don't like the confines of most confessions. While I believe that the reformed tradition is most biblically accurate, I don't think it is an exegetical slam dunk. There are problem passages for my beliefs which lead me to hold my beliefs with humility and tension. Anything less leads to a fundamentalist attitude that I do not believe embodies the charitable spirit of Christ. As such, I like the freeing boundaries of the 39 articles and the book of common prayer. I need to be able to converse with those that do not hold my reformed beliefs - we both have Christ and as important as I think the reformed understanding of the gospel might be, I do not think it is some kind of requirement for salvation. This statement might seem to contradict what I am about to say next but it doesn't, I promise.

-- I am very reformed. I can not emphasize this enough. I believe that God is the efficient and sufficient cause regarding the doctrine of grace and the process of conversion. I don't think I could ever personally compromise on this belief unless Scripture led me to abandon such a position. To me, an Augustinian understanding of grace is the essence of the gospel. I know that is a radical statement, and I shouldn't even type that on this blog because I might get serious questions about what I just said and I might not still be able to defend it. But I think Luther was right - our will is in utter bondage and without God giving us the ability to choose Him, we will always choose death. We are dead in our transgressions.

-- I would say in some way that I am Barthian when it comes to natural theology, but I still haven't worked out my views of Scripture. I'd like to say I believe in the basic evangelical tenets of the doctrine of Scripture but I haven't given it enough thought and I won't just assent to a belief because it is evangelical or popular.

-- I no longer hold to a view of inclusivism like I did in the past. I have given up my flirtations with Rahner's understanding of the Anonymous Christian. It might be a hopeful desire of my heart for the unevangelized to be saved but I must remain agnostic on the issue. I don't find any warrant for such a belief in the text of Scripture.

-- I am a complimentarian. As much as I would like to say that my female friends who are seeking ordination are biblically sound, I can't find justification for it in the text. It would be pretty easy and more convenient for me, an overly opinionated, aggressive, and outspoken woman to be an egalitarian. I respect my fellow brothers and sisters that take this position. But I personally can't get on-board with this view of the gender. While I won't leave a Church because of female clergy, it does make me uncomfortable. This becomes a problem because I go to an Anglican Church and despite the fact that my pastor will not ordain women, the larger Anglican community doesn't find a problem with female ordination. However, more reformed traditions are so complimentarian that they will not allow women to be theology professors. I don't know what to do with this. Hence, I'm staying with the Anglican tradition.

-- I think the preaching of the Word of Christ is the single most essential aspect of the service. Even if you say the Eucharist is the climax of the service, historically the preaching of the Word has come before the breaking of bread because it prepares the heart of the individual to partake in His body and blood. I am at that point in my life where I believe that the preaching the Word is primary. This is difficult since the Eucharist is usually more valued above the homily within the Anglican tradition. Thankfully, my current pastor is truly a preacher of the Word. For this I am thankful.

With all of that said, I am somewhere in between Anglicanism and some reformed denomination. I find myself drawn to thinkers like John Webster, Bruce McCormack, Kevin Vanhoozer, JI Packer, Tim Keller, Alister McGrath, Richard Bauckham and I wonder what this says about my denominational sympathies. I think each of these men champions a type of theological orthodoxy while still maintaining a sense of humility and mystery regarding their beliefs. And I like that. So at this point, I have no idea where to go or what I would call myself. I know most do not find this important but I think categories and labels can be extremely helpful for interpretation and a deeper understanding of one's own beliefs. Call me modern, but I adore the freeing confines of theological categories.

I leave you with this awesome blurb from an interview from "The Christian Century" in 2008 with my theological hero, John Webster:

Karl Barth looms large in your writings. What aspects of his theology, or what accounts of his theology, do you especially seek to engage?

Barth's work is still in the process of reception (as might be expected from a corpus of texts of such range and depth). Many readings of him (especially hostile ones) are often not thoroughly acquainted with his work, and so tend to promote caricatures. I've tried to look at him whole, and to let him explicate himself before moving on to appraisal.


This post was more for me than for you, my faithful reader. Thanks for your patience.

1 comment:

Marc said...


I appreciate your being theologically transparent while writing through your "theological confusion." Based upon what you've said here, I get the impression that you're more uncertain than confused about the denomination most suitable for your theological convictions. Given that you're a theological deviant, however, it's probably not unsurprising that there seemingly aren't any denominational categories which correspond to your extreme heterodoxy. =)

But I think Luther was right - our will is in utter bondage and without God giving us the ability to choose Him, we will always choose death.

I'm concerned about the rejection of the "ought implies can" thesis--or, better, the "ought implies possibly can" thesis--implicit in Reformed soteriology. The notion of ought, of moral obligation, appears to significantly deteriorate when it's impossible to satisfy the ought and fulfill the moral obligation. I worry that the idea of moral obligation becomes unrecognizable.

I no longer hold to a view of inclusivism like I did in the past . . . It might be a hopeful desire of my heart for the unevangelized to be saved but I must remain agnostic on the issue. I don't find any warrant for such a belief in the text of Scripture.

In my class, we've been discussing the following argument. What are your thoughts?


(1) God desires (at least some) people to know He exists and to receive salvation.

(2) Special revelation provides information sufficient for knowing that God exists and for receiving salvation.

(3) People without access to special revelation don't have this information.

(4) Some of the people without access to special revelation are those in whom God desires to produce knowledge of His existence and whom God desires to receive salvation.

(5) Some of these people will never have access to special revelation.

(6) Since God desires these people to know He exists and to receive salvation, He'll make it possible to know that He exists and to receive salvation.

(7) Therefore, it's possible to know that God exists and to receive salvation without special revelation.


Regarding the unevangelized, I have trouble accepting the idea that they're oblivious victims of geographical misfortune. So, I'm naturally attracted to something like the above argument. What previously disposed you to be more sympathetic to inclusivism?

Again, let me reiterate that I think the presentation of your current theological dossier is admirable . . . and for other reasons besides the courage obviously required to disclose such radical views. =)


-- Marc

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