Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Trinity and the Internal Clarity of Scripture.

My wife and I have been re-reading Bondage of the Will for our nightly devotions.  When reading the section on the internal clarity of Scripture I noticed something interesting for the first time.  Luther does not merely identify the internal clarity of Scripture with Christ but with the whole creedal faith.  He states that the inner clarity of Scripture can be found in the truth that "the three are one God."  He then talks about the article of Christ as the central.  This nevertheless does not sever the article of Christ's redemptive work from the rest of the Trinity.

Now you might not find this particularly significant, but it has implication for how Luther has been read by modern theologians.  Ever since Schleiermacher and the demise of the scriptural principle, modern theologians have been searching for an alternative principle.  Most have held it is Christ and therefore used a theological method that deduces all the articles of the faith from Christology.  The exclusive focus on Christ as the meaning of Scripture present in modern Luther interpretation comes from this impulse.  It lay in the background of the phenomenon of gospel-reductionism.

Of course, it is important to recognize that Luther does view Christ and the gospel as central to the message of the Bible.  Nevertheless, such a message of salvation is meaningless apart from the whole of the creed.  The article of the gospel doesn't make any sense if it is not situated between the article of creation and the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church.  Moreover, if taken too far, overemphasis on the article of the gospel can lead to a kind of Gnosticism (which Gustaf Wingren warns against) which focuses so exclusively on redemption to the point that it denies importance of the restoration and fulfillment of creation.  This, as I have pointed out in the past in great detail, ultimately distorts how redemption itself is understood.  Redemption ultimately comes to be understood as the overcoming one's creaturely status and a denigration of the orders of creation.

7 comments:

  1. Doesn't David Scaer say something like all theology is Christology? Perhaps he falls into this same trap. You have bloged before about the 19th century tendency to see different theologies as grouped around a central article, such as Lutherans and justification, the reformed and soverignity, Weslyans and holiness, etc. This would of course be away of accounting for denominationalism. This credal emphaisis of Luther though saves Lutheranism from being merely denominational. We are the ancient catholic church, confessing the God of our fathers.

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  2. "Moreover, if taken too far, overemphasis on the article of the gospel can lead to a kind of Gnosticism (which Gustaf Wingren warns against) which focuses so exclusively on redemption to the point that it denies importance of the restoration and fulfillment of creation."

    I think this is exactly right. And I think this is the primary malady that is wreaking havoc on our churches. I look forward to efforts to further elucidate this condition and refute its precipitating theological error.

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  3. So I take it you don't like Barth then?

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  4. Gregory, I don't think that Scaer falls into this trap. I also am not rejecting Christocentricity. My problem is with Christomonism and with the ensuing method of doing theology in a deductive manner from the a single article of the faith.

    Growrag- Yep, you are correct. Though I appreciate the intricacies of the Church Dogmatics, I must say that this is exactly what I'm talking about. Of course, Pannenberg, Jungel, Moltmann, and Bonhoeffer are all guilty of this as well.

    In Barth's case, he merely inverts Schleiermacher. Whereas for Schleiermacher, Jesus mediates an internal experience of God's sovereignty- for Barth, Jesus is an external and objective manifestation of God's sovereignty (i.e. Election). From there, the theologian in both cases "thinks into" (nach danken) the divine being through its effects- historical act or internal experience of absolute dependance mediated through Jesus. And whammo- you've got a dogmatic system.

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  5. Dr. Kilcrease,

    I see the danger of a specific variety of theological rationalism merely "thinking into" the divine being by way of its effect upon the subject or history as isolated and overdetermining phenomena, but what is your proposed alternative for theological method? A passive suffering of the work of the Spirit (as Christ's own work) within the church? I ask this not because I do not think there are good alternatives to Barthian neo-orthodoxy or Schleiermacher's turn to the affective dimension of the human subject, but because I am interested in your own proposal.

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  6. "The article of the gospel doesn't make any sense if it is not situated between the article of creation and the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church."

    Exactly. And why does Christ come if not for original sin? Who does He come for if not the Church? How does He come now if not in Baptism and the Lord's Supper? You're right, Christ's work of redemption can only be properly understood in the context of the whole - i.e. those other articles presented in the Creeds and Confessions. Ignoring (or taking for granted) the others is not only a myopic approach, but ultimately it does not faithfully speak of Christ Himself.

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  7. Gropper- I advocate a return to the loci method of Protestant scholasticism and orthodox Lutheranism. The loci method means reading the Scriptures in light of the analogy of faith presented in the clear passages that speak to specific dogmas of the Church (sedes doctrinae). Of course, all articles of the faith, that is, the whole of the creedal faith, must center on the gospel and the article of Christ as the chief article of the faith. Nevertheless, I think that going back to this method of studying theology would clear up a lot of things. It means taking the whole of Scripture seriously and the breathe of the creedal faith as the clear place to stand whereby we can understand the whole of the Scriptures.

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