Sunday, February 14, 2010

Walking the theological tight-rope

This weekend I heard a nice introductory talk by Andrew Bain for students at Queensland Theological College. He gave a historical overview of the relationship
between theology and other disciplines in the university, and considered the implications (dangers and opportunities) for theological education today. The following is my reflection on Andrew's talk.

It seems that theological education (and research) tends to veer to one of two extremes: isolationism or an uncritical syncretism.
In the first extreme the focus remains on the Bible and traditional creeds but there is no real engagement with society and intellectual currents of the time.
This may lead to the church and its message becoming irrelevant and ineffective. It may also mean that theology cannot benefit from real and relevant advances in other disciplines. This isolationism may be driven by fear of liberalism and the decline
(prophetic, numerical, and financial) usually associated with it, particularly in mainline denominations.

The opposite extreme is an uncritical syncretism results when the latest intellectual and academic fashions are allowed to define the content, method, and scope of theology. This may be driven by a fear of being labeled as "fundamentalist" or "fideist" or anachronistic or a yearning for academic acceptance and respect.

So the tight-rope walk is to not veer to one extreme or the other.
This means engaging critically with recent scholarship but never letting it define the object of theology, the tri-une God who has the freedom to reveal Himself.

Almost a hundred years ago a young pastor struggled with such a balance and wrote in the preface of his first book:
The historical-critical method of Biblical investigation has its rightful place…. But, were I driven to choose between it and the venerable doctrine of Inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification. The doctrine of Inspiration is concerned with the labour of apprehending, without which no technical equipment, however complete, is of any use whatever. Fortunately, I am not compelled to choose between the two. Nevertheless, my whole energy of interpreting has been expended in an endeavour to see through and beyond history into the spirit of the Bible, which is the Eternal Spirit.
This is what Karl Barth wrote in the Preface of the first edition of Der Romerbrief.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this article, it has really been a great read. I've never dealt much with walking rope before. I'd love to get some more work done with this before I do anything crazy with it. I guess we'll see how it all will work out.