Category Archives: Methodology

Theology: Both/And

‎If theology were to lose its freedom to criticize, it would turn into the ideology of the church in its existing forms. If it were to lose the fellowship of the church, it would stop being Christian theology & turn into a kind of science of religion. As Christian theology, theology has to remind the church of the lordship of Christ and has to insist that the church’s form be an authentic one.

~Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 7.

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Pithy Comment of the Night

this distinction between solving problems and elucidating mysteries has, since the Enlightenment, become almost completely lost within theology.

-Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer?

Rhetoric, Swearing, & Theoblogging

I’ve been a part of the theoblogging world for several years now, but most of the time I tend to sit a bit on the periphery. One of the most interesting aspects of being a “lurker” is that you can observe how people debate without being in the heat of the blogging moment.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the use of profanity in theoblogging debates.  One aspect of the use of profanity is that it signals someone has decided to dispense with the niceties of academic discourse, roll up their sleeves, and really begin to debate the issue(s) zealously.  This implies that one can see the inadequacies of academic protocals and is willing to step outside them in order to really “get serious” about the issue at hand.  You know, because up to that point “serious” dialogue wasn’t occurring, and now the other parties are challenged to meet the swearer on his/her higher ground.  This creates the image of the renegade academic blogger, who garners street cred by showing how they aren’t complete tools of academia by transcending it in the dropping of an f-bomb.  In short, it becomes an academic pissing contest.  This rhetorical maneuver unites theobloggers who often end up agreeing on nothing except that one displays their intellectual integrity by swearing.

In proper academic settings moving from academic protocals to swearing  would smack of arrogance or immaturity, but interestingly in theoblogging this at times is implicitly understood as a virtue.   There often seems to be a sort of latent conservatism behind cursing in theoblogging, akin to when conservative/fundamentalist preachers believe their willingness to “tell it like it is” should be worn like a badge of honor.  The irony of course is that the only ones who wouldn’t appreciate this particular use of rhetoric are the champions of it, the aforementioned conservative/fundamentalists who also blog.    So the renegade and the fundy are often two sides of the same coin.

I’m not inherently against the use of profanity in blogging, and I’m not a prude.  Further, I’m sure that for some swearing serves no function other than honest expression of opinion.  Lastly, I’m not arguing that there is no place for calling someone out.  The only reason I question its utility in blogging is b/c it often seems to be nothing more than self-serving and a conversation stopper.  That said, if you’ve got nothing left to say about someone’s opinion other than calling it bullshit, maybe it’s time to end the conversation anyway.

Encouraging Quote

Nothing profound tonight, just an encouraging quote for me, given my propensity for theological wishy-washyness:

Moreover, just because an intellectual trend seems irresistible is no reason for not resisting it . . . arguments and theories, however dominant in the intellectual life of their day, have to be assessed on their own merits, not accepted uncritically simply because they are espoused by the majority.

[12-3]

An (Oversimplified) Poll on Biblical Authority

Today I started reading David Kelsey’s semi-classic The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology.  I have enjoyed it so far, my only gripe being that his sentence construction can be awkward occasionally.  His goal is not to argue for a particular method of using scripture in developing theological models, but to provide differing illustrations and tools for how to understand the authority of scripture for the theological enterprise.   

This brings us to our poll for tonight.  According to Kelsey, a fundamental issue re biblical authority is whether it is functional or intrinsic in nature (30).  In other words, does the scripture’s authority reside in the purpose it serves the theologian/church, or is it’s authority found in it’s very nature (ex: inerrancy)?

Let’s put this to a vote!

Open Theism & “Relationality”

As I continue to work through Creation Set Free (a book on open theology & science), I am coming to hate the word “relationality (R),” for two main reasons.  First, on a purely linguistic level, it is annoying to me that in this work R only refers to libertarian free will interactions.  While I in general share the Open Theist’s (OT) disdain for a coercive construct of God’s relationship to the world, if God forces some-one/thing to perform an action, he is still “relating” to them/it.  Just because certain modes of R are abominable to OT doesn’t mean they can posit a definition that removes them from discussion.  This seems akin to the type of “winning the argument by definition” tactic that OT decry in many Reformed theologian’s use of the word sovereignty. 

Second, R functions as a central concept in their system, but has a huge “blindspot”: the relationality of the Triune God.  I grant that some open theists have realized this & are trying to incorporate God’s Triunity into their models.  To do so they appeal to the oft-used concepts of perichoresis & social models of the Trinity.  While some OT might be genuinely wrestling with the role God as Trinity plays in their understanding of God’s relationality, for many it is merely window dressing.  What seems to be of primary importance is “God’s” relation to creation.  However, to allow the God-world relation priority rather than grounding a theology of R in the doctrine of God seems to be disastrous methodologically. 

Case in point: in Thomas Jay Oord’s essay, he advocates the rejection of creatio ex nihilo, based in part on his sympathy with the contention of process thinker Catherine Keller that “God always relates to or enmeshes in the creativity of others (44).”  The point here is not whether creatio ex nihilo is tenable, but that the driving force behind Oord’s rejection of it is his conviction that “there has never been a time in which God has not provided freedom and agencies to the creatures and creation that God creates (50, emphasis mine).”  This demonstrates that he understands R to refer to how God must relate to his creation (granting them autonomy), & it is this conviction that exerts a controlling influence on how he understands God’s creative act and also renders God’s Triune nature accidental to understanding God’s relationship to his creation.  Whenever an aspect of theology is given such weight as to demand that traditional doctrines are discarded/reinterpreted before the doctrine of God has been explored, implying that God’s revealed nature as Trinity is inconsequential to the discussion, then I submit that one has taken a wrong turn.

So, I could just be cranky tonight (it is late), but I think that I’ve read enough about R for awhile.

Evangelicalism, Evolution, & Cosmic Warfare

In the recently released collection of essays Creation Set Free, Greg Boyd argues that evolution can be situated inside the broader scriptural motif of cosmic warfare between God & Satan.  In so doing Boyd (appears to) embrace a faily current scientific understanding of evolution.

What makes this unique is that this affirmation does not develop out of a liberal reading of scripture, in which the biblical narrative is demythologized & made to square with current evolutionary theory.  Rather, Boyd comes from a thoroughly evangelical perspective, one that has a “high” view of scripture (unless you think his open theism renders him unworthy of the label evangelical). 

I found some of Boyd’s thoughts provocative, but what really interests me is that a conservative evangelical appears to be at the very least sympathetic to neodarwinian evolution.  I know that this is not a completely new phenomenon, but in my judgment is still far too rare among evangelical theology.  Further, while proponents of open theism have never been afraid to live on the boundaries of evangelicalism, I am excited by someone of conservative evangelical stripe being willing to approach evolution without a dismissive or reactionary attitude.  As Clark Pinnock, a fellow evangelical OT & doctrinal tightrope walker once said, “may his tribe increase.”