Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reforming Reformed Theology

At the Tyndale Conference Andrew McGowan (principal of HTC) presented an excellent paper on the doctrine of Scripture. One thing caught my hears: Karl Barth noted that the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) spends between 70-80% of its sections dealing with individual salvation and personal assurance. That made me think of two things:

1. Surely the issue of how humanity gets right with good should not occupy such a large proportion of theology. The danger I feel is that theological discourse shifts the focus from God (i.e. theology proper), to what God does for humanity (soteriology and anthropology). The trend since the reformation, from Melanchthon to Tillich, has been to reduce Christology to soteriology and likewise reduces Christology to anthropology (i.e. Christology is how Christ saves sinners). I'm not trying to hack on the WCF (me genoito), but I think that Christian Theology should have as its backbone Theos and Christos and not an ordo salutis. To over emphasize soteriology (even for a good cause) can inevitably lead to too much anthropology and to a liberalism that has little place for God. So what is the goal of theology or what should a confession try to do? The goal of Christian Theology is to set forth the sheer God-ness of God and the magnificence of Jesus the Messiah for the Christian life.

2. The WCF was written to address the prevailing problems of its own day esp. debates over salvation; but the issues of today are different. Perhaps we need a new confession that deals not so much with personal soteriology, but grapples with other burning issues like sexuality, hermeneutics, bio-ethics, culture, globalisation, Islam, Israel, women in ministry, etc.

9 comments:

Patrik said...

The thing is, was Christiology ever much else than sotoriology and anthropology? If yes, than were this during "good" periods in the history of the church?

I can't answer, but I think that at least during the fomulation of the Christological dogma sotoriology and anthropology was very much what was on the minds of the fathers. The reason that the orthodox opposed the Arians and the other "heretics" was precisly that unless Christ was true God and True Man, and a man with a human soul and a human will, then humans could not be saved.

Isn't it when Christology looses its connection to sotoriology and anthropology that we have problems and not the other way around?

David Shedden said...

Michael, a new confession? Which state government or head of state is going to convene the assembly - Bush, Blair, or perhaps we need an African confession that can revitalise Christian theology for 21stC Western society? The African Lion is certainly roaring among Anglicans, perhaps we need a wider movement...

David Shedden said...

PS - talking of your Principal, I noticed a review of a chapter in Always Reforming, (over at Reformation 21) - Paul Helm on Kevin VanH's critique of Hodge.

Nick Nowalk said...

One emphasis in both Luther and Calvin, which I think is still very profitable and true (in spite of the fact that we live in a different period with different problems), is that we do not know God as He is in Himself (the hidden God), but God in relation to us. If this is true--and it seems very clear that Scripture is not a systematic theology, but a narrative and history of God's relationship with His fallen creation and rebellious people--then it would seem inevitable that Christology must always be done in light of soteriology and anthropology. We can never disconnect them. "He shall be called Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

byron said...

Jesus possesses significance “for us” only to the extent that this significance is inherent in himself, in his history, in his person constituted by this history. Only when this can be shown may we be sure that we are not merely attaching our questions, wishes, and thoughts to this figure.
Therefore, Christology, the question about Jesus himself, … must remain prior to all questions about his significance, to all soteriology. Soteriology must follow from Christology, not vice versa. Otherwise, faith in salvation itself loses any real foundation.
- W. Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man (SCM, 1968 [1964]), 48.

George Shollenberger said...

Your eyes will be opened on the recent work on the unification of Science and Theology at http://georgeshollenberger.blogspot.com/

Ben Myers said...

I see where you're coming from, Mike, and I'm no great admirer of the Westminster Confession (for a Reformed confession, the Heidelberg Catechism is far superior!).

But (as Patrik also points out) don't forget that, historically, the controversies that led to the development of the christological and trinitarian dogmas were above all soteriological controversies. The church formulated its confession of Christ and the Trinity precisely in order to safeguard the gospel of salvation. Although it's true that theology shouldn't simplistically be reduced to anthropology or soteriology, I think it's also true than any doctrine of God or of Christ worth its salt will be soteriological at heart, since it will seek to articulate the gospel of God's saving act in Jesus Christ.

Cynthia Nielsen said...

Hi Michael,

I tend to agree that leading with ordo salutis, particulalry one practically speaking dis-connected from historia salutis becomes an anemic picture of Christianity. Relatedly, I have appreciated what those working in a Vosian trajectory have done in stressing the need for systematic theology to arise out of and constantly be informed by the full-orbed metanarrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption in Christ, and final consummation in Christ.

Cheers,
Cynthia

Alex said...

I think that each of us should write our own confession of faith and I think, for a lot of us, that is the reason we blog. Westminster or Heidelberg may be effective as a learning tool, but when it comes down to it, that means nothing to God in my life. What is important between me and him is my personal creed and confession. I think it's sad that most people go through life never working out their salvation through fear and trembling but rather subscribe to a creed because it is the safe route.