Thursday, November 10, 2005

More Meyers and More Development

Rev. Jeff Meyers has a very able bodied defense of doctrinal development. He states his case in very well written and thoughtful essay. He expresses his views well when he comments

I'd want to insist that even the things that might be genuinely new (e.g., I think Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan have truly broken new ground in several areas over the years) are essentially organic outgrowths of the tradition.

He goes on to tell us about new exegetical insights formed over the years.

the whole idea of a "new perspective" is that we are looking at the same old stuff, but from a new angle. Since it's the same stuff, we're not going to come up with anything that's totally earth shattering, brand-spanking, overturns-everything-I-ever- believed new. But since it is, nevertheless, a new perspective, we're going to see things there that we never saw before. . . . It opens up new avenues of application. It brings together aspects of the text where the connections were unclear before.

It is this aspect of the Federal Vision movement that I believe unifies it as a movement. It is this aspect that I believe does not get enough attention. We should be examining this claim in the light of Scripture for this is the claim that underpins the rest of their theology. I believe in this view of theological development there are several troubling aspects.

1. An implicit historical superiority of the modern age. I am not trying to glorify the past or say that those in the 16th century were better Christians. I am saying that neither are we better Christians than those who lived in the 16th century or before. Those before us did not have all sorts of unclear connections or blank spots that our new insights from history, exegesis, and technology have allowed us to fill in. For example, many have accepted the ‘New Perspectives’, which arise from a new understanding of First Century Judaism. Thus, our modern greatness has given rise to a new understanding of the Bible in light of such knowledge. Should we take our modern word, or the word of men like Ignatius, who knew first century Jews? (Ignatius warns often of Jewish legalism – see Epistle to the Magnesians chapters 8-10).
2. Based on a Hegelian model of reality. Peter Leithart baffles me with this post. He commends the Philip Schaff’s Priniciple of Protestantism, but wishes there was less Hegalianism in it. This is the book that admits up front that "The idea, unfolded in comprehensive and profound style particularly by the later German philosophy, that history involves a continual progress toward something better, by means of dialectic contrapositions, is substantially true and correct". How can we accept the superstructure or the results if the foundation is wrong? Can we trust such a view of history?
3. Seeming denial of truth. This flows out from Hegelian concerns. If theological development is true, then how can one ever know if what he believes is true? Is his new perspective true? Is it the next step in the synthesis chain or is it a self-deluded jump to mold the bible and God into our image? Where does one turn to discover the answer? Both sides point to the Bible, they simply define the words differently on account of new insights. They cannot turn to those who have come before them for it violates the very spirit of theological development. Truth remains elusive, unreachable, and unknowable.
4. Systematic theology becomes useless. This admittedly is less of a concern, but worth point out since Rev. Meyers makes the comment that it is a conservative disciple by nature. Each new insight requires a complete reworking of systematics to fit in the new info, and by the time that is done, it is time for another new info. If theological development becomes the norm, then systematics, like creeds which are a systematical exercise, will become the enemy. It is a discipline that holds thought and theology back.

I put this points out there for discussion because my denomination, the RCUS has been through this before. Theological development tore the RCUS apart beginning in the 1840’s. It gained control and the result is the modern day United Church of Christ. The UCC is united by only one thing, and that is the fact that nothing is to be held for too long. All should be thrown out, like


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Stuart Johnson said...

Theology has nothing new in it except that which is false. The preaching of Paul must be the preaching of
the minister today. There is no improvement here. We may advance in our knowledge of it; but it
stands the same, for this good reason, that it is perfect, and perfection cannot be any better.
-- Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)