Thursday, March 06, 2008

Theological Renewal or Defining the Conversation?

Jeff Meyers has a post up about a recent conference lecture. The lecture is by a man named Jeremy Jones and is entitled Renewing Theology. From what Rev. Meyers discusses it seems that the talk spoke of how Reformed Churches often become ‘Police States’, and tries to explain how that happens so it can be avoided in the future. This post intrigued me and I think deserves a thoughtful response. I will use the same number used in the Meyers post for ease of reference.

An unnumbered point is that all Reformed churches or theologies begin with a ‘golden age’. The example of the 17th century is used. When you read someone attacking a golden age and equating the golden age with the 17th century you can simply substitute in Westminster Confession of Faith. It sounds better to attack an idea of golden age, but I think it is also a vain attempt to hide the real source of the attack, the creed. Likewise if you ever read of someone attacking a 16th century golden age you can substitute the Heidelberg or Belgic Confession. So reading the post, understand that point. The creeds are in view.

1. Presupposed theological decline – This sound interesting. If we start with a golden age (creed) one can only go down and not improve on the creeds, or at least that is the supposition attacked here. Thus, the inverse is being argued, that theological progression is indeed possible. Not only is it possible, but it is desirable. There really only appear to be two options on understanding point number one. Either it is wrong to require adherence to the creed and punish people for failure to adhere or theological progression should be the norm and thus creeds are only a “necessary evil” as John Nevin once said. I would bet that the latter is in view, but it is a debatable position. Theological Development is not universally accepted and a full fledged debate on that point has yet to occur.

2. Equating current disputes with past ones – Again this is well put. It seems wrong to compare one position to an older already condemned position. Almost as if it is a logic trick of some kind to poison the well of debate. However, what of the Biblical admonition that there is nothing new under the sun? If nothing is new is it not possible that many of the ‘new’ ideas are really old ones with a new coat of paint? And if so it is wrong to demonstrate similarities? If we can never equate current events with historical ones then why study history at all? What purpose does it serve if not to warn? It seems the real objection ought to be the lack of listening or the sloppy connections or the lack of proof. But, that is not how the objection is phrased. The objection is the comparison in the first place.

3. The use of slippery slope argumentation – Here the objection is made that opponents will say that someone’s thinking leads to some other outright error even if it is specifically denied by the defendant. Is arguing the ‘logical consequence’ of a position a wrong or the sign of a police state mentality? A quote is given from Dabney who argues that false principle will always work out to their logical conclusion. A sound statement in my opinion. Logical consequences must be examined. At the very least there seems room for disagreement about whether or not false ideas will work out to their logical consequences in time.

4. An interconnected system means one problem threatens all – Here again I believe real and deep philosophical possibilities are simply rejected out of hand. Coherentism is an espistemological position that does seem to say that breaking one strand of the spider web damages the whole. That all beliefs are interconnected. Even such recent theologians as Gordon Clark thought that how coherent a system of thought is should be the ground to judge it as a legitimate system. Like it or hate it, it is a real philosophical debate. One cannot cast it aside as if it were wrong outright.

These things add up to show a denomination police state according to the lecture/blog. One wonders at the real nature of the objection when the comments are read. Look at the first comment by James Jordan.

You know that there is much, much more that is going to come forth from the Word as new cultures are converted and bring new questions and perspectives. The Spirit has only begun His work. We are in a Conversation.

I believe the real objection at work here is the whole idea of creeds. Creeds are not a conversation. Creeds hold people back from moving along with the developing culture and questions. What one needs is to be open to theological development. The real objection is to the resistance to tearing down the old spider web and building a new one. Mark Horne also comments in the sixth comment.

But in general, everything in the past is meant to be surpassed. Everything we know will one day seem uncivilized and tainted with error by future generations that know better.

Everything we know will be overthrown as tainted with error? Jesus Christ as the eternal-godman will one day be seen as an outmoded way of talking about Jesus? Nicaea, Chalcedon, Ephesus, all will be in the dustbin of history with Marx and the Westminister Confession of Faith? I beg to differ. I do not hold to Theological Development, nor do I hold to golden ages. It is interesting to me how the word postmillennial is now co-opted to mean Theological Development. I know that people can hold to a return of Christ that comes after a 1000 year reign and not think that all knowledge is meant to be surpassed and that the church is still an infant.

I could talk about how this was argued by Schaff and Nevin, but that would break one of the rules. I could talk about how such a position logically is an attack on history and those who have gone before, but that violates another rule. I could talk about how such a belief in theological development necessitates developing and changing the rest of your beliefs, but that was also forbidden. I do not think this Renewing Theology Lecture is so much an attempt to show the police state nature of modern churches as to frame the debate so that there is no way for Developmentalists to lose.

I am not defending the PCA, but I do not think this helps further the discussion