The Role of Tradition in Theology
Exampled in Trinity Developments
by Doug Kennard
This paper will examine the basic approaches to the role of tradition in theology (namely: Orthodox, Catholic, Reformation Founders & Biblical Theology, Critical, Majority Evangelicalism with Pietism, and Post-Modern). After each view is explained they will be exampled by a study of how they handle the issue of generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit, which as a bit of doctrine showcases the traditions’ different rationale and conclusions. At this point it is difficult to define the meaning of “generation” and “procession,” because it will shift under the different methods of the role of tradition in theology. These differences in theory and practice will be examined for their epistemic warrant. This warrant will be shown in three ways: 1) Is each tradition coherent in its own methodology? 2) Are there any contradictory conclusions or meaningless concepts from any of the views? and 3) Do the views reflect the Biblical text in its context, when they cite references? The approach I will advocate is that of the Reformation Founders & Biblical Theology. The boundary line of tradition plays out in different ways for each domain. On the individual level tradition is a guide and a cause for reflective examination when it is violated. With regard to a school or ETS there are written traditions which as a matter of integrity should not be crossed but often the more likely area to be violated is a body of oral tradition that is not usually apparent until a person wanders into the mine field and reactions begin to occur. I will examine some of these and the current situation in ETS with respect to the Openness of God controversy.
The term “tradition” comes from the Latin “traditio,” meaning simply “a handing over.” Stephen Holmes adds that “the English word ‘trade’ captures another facet of the same idea.” So whatever Paul describes has been handed to him by either Judaism or Christ would be tradition, and whatever he then hands over to others is tradition. By extension, “tradition is the process whereby one generation inducts its successor into its accumulated wisdom, lore, and values.”
Exploring into the Biblical text itself, tradition (paravdosin) is a concept that the scribes and Pharisees honor as identified with the elders of Israel (Mt. 15:2; Mk. 7:3, 5). In conversations with them Jesus calls it their tradition and the tradition of men (Mt. 15:3, 6; Mk. 7:9, 13). Paul uses this term of the tradition of men to describe the Colossians heresy which he eschews, to point to Christ as the fullness of deity. Paul identifies that he was advancing in this tradition of the Jewish fathers but that he was called by Christ to His grace, and thus drifted beyond the bounds of this Jewish tradition (Gal. 1:14). Thus tradition and revelation may diverge. If we today are to follow the pattern that Jesus and Paul set out, when tradition and divine revelation diverge then we are to follow the more authoritative revelation, even if the departure from the tradition means that traditionalists persecute you, as they did to Jesus and Paul. Hopefully, it will not be Christians persecuting each other.
Paul also uses tradition in an affirming way to refer to that which he has taught his followers, especially when this tradition has to do with the practice of responsible living (2 Thes. 2:15). This serves as the basis for his authoritative exhortation to keep aloof from any brother who leads an unruly and undisciplined life, which is not appropriate to the tradition which Paul has conveyed to them (2 Thes. 3:6-9). Here, Paul’s tradition consists especially of his example of hard work and paying his way. Paul’s only other instance in mentioning tradition has to do with our being exhorted to follow Paul’s example as he follows Christ’s example in attempting to edify brethren in contexts where there may be personal disagreement about practices of eating kosher or of food offered to idols or the variance of practice in celebration on certain days (1 Cor. 8:1-11:2). In these areas of disagreement there is liberty, which is restricted by one’s own conscience, as well as Paul’s and Christ’s edifying pattern of hard work in Christian service. There are few universal practices mandated here except guidelines like not doing anything that would cause a brother to stumble, which means that this brother would somehow be destroyed in damnation (1 Cor. 8:9-13, provskomma and skandalivsw in Paul’s use mean damnation here and elsewhere, cf. Rom. 9:32-33). Such a Pauline sense of tradition would argue against Christians judging the views and practices of a fellow Christian providing it was not actually a sin (e.g. like damning someone as in 1 Cor. 9:3-18 and in the parallel passage especially Rom. 14:4, 13). The Pauline tradition is also sensitive to shaping one’s practice to win more to Christ (1 Cor. 10:33 in context with 11:2). This Pauline sense of tradition would argue for responsible living of diligent work and a sensitive tolerance and edification of others, hoping that more may be saved.
Roger Olson argues that there is a Great Tradition that unifies Christiandom. He describes this as “the core of beliefs insisted upon by the majority of early church fathers (as distinct from some of the peripheral notions that individual church fathers developed and promoted as their own).” This strategy could fit itself within Alvin Plantinga’s epistemic approach of basic belief. That is, beliefs are properly basic if a group normally grants them. These beliefs have a communal context for confirming whether the belief is basic. This could be stated as a goal identified by the Vincentian Canon: “What has been believed by everyone (Christians) everywhere at all times.” St. Irenaeus of Lyons lists such a codified “universal rule of faith” that is to be held to in the face of novel teachings.
The Church, though dispersed through the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [she believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father ‘to gather all things in one,’ and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess’ to him, that he should execute just judgment towards all; that he may send ‘spiritual wickedness,’ and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may in the exercise of his grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept his commandments, and have persevered in his love, some from the beginning, and others from their repentance, and surround them with everlasting glory.
Irenaeus has left us with an impressive list of common belief, especially where it is merely quoting Biblical phrases. I wonder whether all traditions (dispensationalism and reformed) would agree with the meaning of some terms like “dispensations.” I wonder also whether many evangelicals would agree with Irenaeus’ view that immortality is granted to those who have certain virtues of character in a relationship with Christ – Irenaeus says for God to “confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept his commandments, and have persevered in his love.” This patristic Two Ways soteriology strategy or imitatio Chrisiti, which Irenaeus held as part of his recapitulation view, was extremely widely held in his day but it is not very common in American evangelicalism today. Perhaps only those in evangelicalism who appreciate John Bunyan’s Two Ways soteriology in The Pilgrim’s Progress would be open to considering these phrases from Irenaeus with his meaning. Should we let the universality of a certain era inform our lack today? More recently, C. S. Lewis recommended his own version of the consensus of belief in Mere Christianity. In the Wheaton Theology conference of 1998 it was apparent that even this contemporary hero of evangelicalism held to the Two Ways soteriology, which one would expect from his Anglicanism, even though this is out of vogue in mainline American evangelicalism.
Now Olson does not think that such universality of belief is possible but that the basic approaches that attempt to define Christendom are clear enough. For example, the Eastern Orthodox theologians might identify that the beliefs are those “expressed in the decrees of the first seven ecumenical councils.” Roman Catholic theologians might add “as they have been received and authoritatively interpreted by the hierarchy of the church in fellowship with the bishop in Rome.” It is often taught that this same core of beliefs was rediscovered and embraced by the reformers. Olsen views this historically defined tradition to be a highly regarded secondary authority behind the Bible, much like the supreme court is a secondary authority dependant upon the U.S. Constitution. That is, the Bible and the U. S. Constitution do not address contemporary issues. The councils and supreme court which did address contemporary issues drew heavily upon the principles in these more authoritative sources, but also drew upon other sources as well. His concern for this tradition is to ensure that not just anyone who uses the Bible and claims Jesus can be called Christian; Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons could still be excluded because of their departure from this common patristic and reformation tradition. While Orthodox , Catholic and protestants want some way of distinguishing the difference between right and wrong belief, they define tradition differently and allow tradition to function differently for theology. I regret that I am pessimistic about this Olsenian, and especially the Vincentian, over-confidence of a grand tradition, as will become apparent with further examination. However, already the grand tradition would include the Two Ways salvation model with adherents like: Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Episcopalian. Often those like Olsen who optimistically view a grand tradition do so through the lens of their own tradition. For Olsen, this is American Methodism and Baptist, which leaves the Two Way tradition largely excluded. We often do not wish to see the details of the patristics as they are, we often prefer to see them through the filter of our own tradition. This dismissal of a grand tradition does not mean that there are no common beliefs among a proper Christianity. Of course there are common beliefs like monotheism, and that this personal God created everything, and that Jesus is Lord, and that Jesus Christ provides a gracious salvation, and that Christ’s kingdom resolves that which this life lacks. However, when we investigate the details of what these phrases mean we find that believing Christendom has varieties of ways it considers each of these points. Therefore, one who grants the grand tradition view is setting himself up for either a superficial coverage or a neglect of some of the variety within Christianity. Either way does not accurately describe Christianity as it is. In an attempt to be more specific we will now look at different approaches to tradition from a range of Christian branches.
The orthodox church emerged with Emperor Licinius’ edict of toleration in 313 A.D. and then Constantine’s summons from the new capital city Byzantium for the first General Council of the Christian Church to convene at Nicaea in 325 A. D. The seven universal church councils that follow express a church tradition that is claimed to be handed down from the apostles alongside the written Scripture and as the foundational window through which Scripture is accessed. For example, John II, Metropolitan of Russia (1080-89) said that “All profess that there are seven holy and Ecumenical Councils, and these are the seven pillars of the faith of the Divine Word on which He erected His holy mansion, the Catholic and Ecumenical Church.” The apostolicity of this tradition is as Basil of Caesarea claims “Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us ‘in a mystery’ by the tradition of the apostles.” This apostolic tradition had been committed to the Church orally, where it had been handed down from generation to generation, and believed by, as Irenaeus puts it, even to those churches that had not received Scriptural manuscripts, and thus it is the apostolic tradition that has kept the Church from error. That is, the faithfulness of this Church tradition is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the sees and the councils which go back to the apostles, and that these men are Spirit endowed with “an infallible charism of truth.” For Ireneaus against the Gnostics, tradition rather than Scripture served to be the final court of appeal because: 1) among these “infallible” sources of tradition and Scripture, it is the tradition that had spoken more clearly and 2) the heretics were able to make Scripture say what they desired. So the Church is delivered from error in its tradition and the tradition delineates the bounds of salvation. The heretics, who appealed to the Biblical text, were repeatedly charged that they would not have shipwrecked had they maintained “the church’s peculiar and traditionally handed down grasp of the purport of revelation” as their anchor (skopo;" ejkklhsiastikov"). This approach may be encouraging in dispensing with a common enemy like Gnosticism but this same approach and justification was reused against the rise of Calvinism in 1672 in the Confession of Dositheus. This Orthodox confession claimed that the Calvinists were in error because the apostolic succession of the bishops (communally enabled by the Holy Spirit) maintained the appropriate truth through which the Church could obtain the infallible interpretation of Scripture. Perhaps their word for us would be that of Alexis Khomiakov, “We are unchanged; we are still the same as we were in the eighth century…Oh that you could only consent to be again what you were once, when we were both united in faith and communion!”
Exampled in Trinity Developments
Of course Alexis refers to the controversy over the filioque clause as separating Orthodoxy from the Church of the West. The differences of each of these traditions will be shown in how they handle the issues of procession of Spirit and generation of the Son. When Tertullian appropriated the concept of procession from the Stoic belief system to help Christianity make sense of trinity the concept of procession meant “an extension” as in the economic divine extending Himself from the dominant expression of Father to a second and third persona of the Son and Holy Spirit. In this budding Logos Christology, which Orthodoxy embraced, both the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Divine Father, meaning that both Christ and the Holy Spirit were authentically Divine. Later, Athanasius would write that “hypostasis is the same as ousia, signifying nothing other than being itself.” Thus, the procession that fosters the hypostasis is indicating the extension of the divine essence. Under the influence of neo-platonism’s commitment that all truth is eternal truth, Origen proposed that the three persons were distinct hypostasis from all eternity. To explain this fact and to combat modalism, he proposed that the Son was eternally generated by the Father. This is reflected at Nicea by Eusebius of Caesarea’s suggestion of his own Creed of Caeserea with the statement “Son only-begotten … begotten of the Father before the ages.” He reasoned that the Son must be begotten before creation because the Son creates everything, but this language did not make it into the Nicene Creed. This eternal begetting language finally made it into the second canon of The Canons of the Second Council of Constantinople (553 A. D.), that is the fifth catholic council which reads:
If anyone does not confess that the two begettings of God the Word, one before ages, from the Father, timelessly and incorporeally, the other in the last days, the begetting of the same person, who came down from heaven and was made flesh of the Holy and Glorious God-bearer and ever-virgin Mary, and was born of her, let him be anathema.
Additionally, the procession of the Holy Spirit was included first in the Creed of Constantinople (381 A. D., from the second catholic council) as a statement that He was “from the Father.” This expression began the development of pneumatology beyond the earlier statements dependent upon the Apostles Creed, which merely indicates a belief in the Holy Spirit.
So the statements of extended deity through the “Son’s eternal generation” and the “Spirit’s procession from the Father” became normative for Orthodoxy because they are incorporated into the seven catholic creeds of Christiandom. Additionally, there appeared to be real development in the ideas of trinity through Tertullian, Eusebius, and these two catholic creeds. This development would argue against these views being a continuity of the apostolic view. That is, Ireneaus’ view of apostolic succession, upon which Orthodoxy has built its dependence of tradition does not stand up to the actual historical facts of the patristic era. The patristics are very diverse and evidence development in their views. That is, Orthodoxy’s role of tradition is not sufficiently warranted to indicate that it should be believed, and in such clearly developmental instances the evidence indicates that their confidence in tradition should not be believed. More on the apostolicity question later in the discussion of how Biblical theology takes these concepts.
For Roman Catholicism, tradition is the framework through which the Bible is interpreted as it has been received and authoritatively interpreted by the hierarchy of the church in fellowship with the bishop in Rome. This primary honor was given to the bishop of Rome by at least the Council of Constantinople of 381 A. D., the second catholic council. It was at this council that the bishop of Constantinople was given second place to the bishop of Rome because Constantinople was the new Rome. Doesn’t this mean that Orthodoxy is further at odds with their own tradition, since the bishop of Constantinople is not in fellowship with the Pope, as Alexis Khomiakov mentioned above and yet the second catholic council, accepted by Orthodoxy, places the Pope in a place of higher authority? How can Orthodoxy maintain that they embrace the seven church councils and yet they violate the second council in their practice? This looks practically contradictory to me.
Returning to Catholicism, the living Pope is granted the role of the maintainer of the tradition, which has the distinct advantage (over historically past councils), in that the Pope can continue to address issues and fold them into the tradition. However, the tradition was closely tied to the councils, which were thought by many to largely be a reflection of Scripture. An exception to this general rule was Basil’s reliance upon the liturgy as a compatible tradition that complemented Scripture such as when he tried to demonstrate the deity of the Spirit. Roman Catholic tradition need not be static, but a living and developing expression faithful to the boundaries that the Popes have placed upon it. In defending Augustine’s views on free will, Prosper of Aquitaine identifies that Catholics are those who, “profess to follow and to admit only the doctrine sanctioned and taught …by the Holy See of the Apostle St. Peter through the ministry of its bishops.” Prosper appeals to the pronouncements from Pope Innocent, Pope Zosimus and others as settling the issues. Hillary of Pointers insisted that only those who accepted this church tradition could comprehend what the Bible meant. Augustine considered that the Bible’s ambiguous passages could only be cleared up by “the rule of faith” (tradition), and moreover that it was the authority of the church alone that guaranteed the veracity of proper Biblical interpretation. Leo I identified that the authority of the other bishops derived immediately from the fellowship that they had with the bishop of Rome. Nicholas I wrote that no higher appeal could be made than to the papal see in Rome and that he could override other councils. The eighth century document The Donation of Constantine grants the Pope the right to rule under heaven for the full extent of Constantine’s reign, but Lorenzo Valla demonstrates that it is a forgery in the fifteenth century. Over the next few centuries in the struggle over the appointment of officials the Popes Gregory VII and Innocent III excommunicated kings Henry IV and John of England and their subjects until they would repent and resubmit to the Pope. In the midst of this conflict, Pope Gregory VII clarified in The Dictations of the Pope, that the Pope is the supreme human authority, namely:
1) The Church of Rome is founded by God alone with the universal bishop, and has never erred and never will.
2) The Pope can depose, reinstate, transfer bishops to another see. The Pope can create new sees, make new laws, call general councils. His decrees can be annulled by no one, but he can annul the decrees of anyone.
3) The Pope has the power to depose emperors for he holds the supreme court of appeal.
4) The Pope as emperor requires all, even kings, to do homage to him for he is judged by no one.
The Council of Trent canonized Papal authority as authoritative “unwritten tradition,” which was received from Christ and apostles as by the Holy Spirit, along with the Scriptures. When the discussion moved to the mass then in addition to apostolic tradition, an appeal to the “pious regulations of holy pontiffs” is added. However, the thirty years war divided up Europe between Rome and the Reformation, thus in bloody fashion ending the church in Europe, replacing it by competing church voices. During this same tumultuous time Descartes pioneered the role of reason in criticism as arbiter for all human thought and judgment. As philosophical and Biblical criticism unraveled the authority of the Church tradition, those loyal to the Roman Catholic Church found papal authority was particularly canonized in the first Vatican Council which identified that when the Pope spoke “ex cathedra” (from his throne or chair) that such pronouncements were in fact infallible. So the pronouncements of Mary’s immaculate conception pronounced by Pius IX in 1854 and the assumption of Mary, pronounced by Pius XII in 1950 are then official infallible doctrines in Catholic theology. In the Second Vatican Council, from Dei Verbum the teaching of the Scriptures is authoritatively restricted to the teaching office of the Church and as such tradition is combined with the sacred Scripture as the authoritative Word of God.
9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the Word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the Word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this Word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.
10. Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 8:42), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the Word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.
It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.
This authoritative tradition together with the authority of the Pope was ignored by the United States Catholics, when the Pope made his pronouncement against birth control. Average Catholics in America asked. “What does the Pope know about family and birth control?” With repeated “out of touch” pronouncements and the 1960’s assailing most authorities in life, tradition as authoritative in the Roman Catholic Church is on the ropes. Now the authority of the Pope is further pummeled under charges of pedophile priests and Episcopal malfeasance.
Exampled in Trinity Development
In response to the Arian controversy the Cappadocians (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa) tried to distinguish the mode of origination of the Son and the Spirit. For example, Basil employed the Orthodox framework that the Son’s generation and the Spirit’s being breathed out of God’s mouth are both ineffable but true. He further teaches that the one Spirit “is linked with the one Father through the one Son;” it is through the Son that the divine qualities reach the Spirit from the Father. On the basis of John 15:26 in contrast to John 1:14, 18, Gregory of Nazianzus maintained that the Spirit proceeded from the Father whereas the Son is generated by the Father. However, Gregory of Nyssa provided the definitive statement; the Spirit “is out of God and is of Christ; He proceeds out of the Father and receives from the Son; He cannot be separated from the Word.” This Orthodox procession view is a short step from the double procession view which was accepted in the West. The Capadocians claim that there is one Godhead (ousia) and three hypostasis. Jerome, who takes hypostasis in the orthodox manner as “essence,” was alarmed at the way the Cappadocian Fathers were using it in these statements and wrote to Pope Damasus in 376 A.D. admitting he is in the chair of Peter, the Rock upon which the Church is built. In the West, Victorinus , the Neo-Platonic philosopher took up the defense of the homoousion (same essence) view against the Arians. He held that God is eternally in motion, His essence being equivalent to that of a perpetual mover, so that the eternal generation shows the perpetuity of the movement of the Son and the potency of the Father to move the Son. This perspective of Victorinus was very influential on Augustine, who formulated what became the mature standard view for the West in his volume De trinitate. Augustine sees that the distinction of the persons is grounded in mutual relations within the Godhead. This concept of relation clarifies that it is not three essences or three accidents in the Aristotelian philosophical categories but three real eternal relations (aliquid relation). Therefore, the relations within the Godhead are: the Father is eternally begetting, the Son is eternally begotten, and the Spirit is eternally proceeding or being bestowed within the Godhead. Of course Augustine brings much more to the trinity than this, but the critical move from conceiving of the persons as extensions of the Divine to conceiving the persons as equal related Ones within the Divine has been made. It is this eternal relatedness of equal person within the Trinity that sets up the West for the next move in appreciating the filioque clause, that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, and not just from the Father. This clause had been floated at the Council of Toledo (447 A.D.), but first emerged in a creed of the Church in the rewording of the Creed of Constantinople recited at the third Council of Toledo (589 A.D.). This clause gained popularity in the West as explaining the eternal relationships of Son and Spirit and thus clarifying a distinction from each other. It was inserted in most versions of the creed except when Leo III refused it in 809 A.D. As political tensions of the Eastern and Western church rose over Papal authority, Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, charged the West and Nicholas I with innovation in an attempt to discredit the Pope. In 867 A.D., as the Latin rites with its “double procession of the Spirit” were introduced into the Church of Bulgaria, Photius attacked them. That same year the Council of Constantinople declared the Roman Church as heretical and excommunicated Pope Nicholas. This breach was patched up for a time around 920 A.D. but as the emperor began to side more closely to the Roman pontif, Pope Leo IX, the metropolitan from Constantinople Michael Cerularius decided for schism (the Eastern church left the West over the West’s innovative heresy) and anathematized them, making the schism complete.
Reformation Founders & Biblical Theology
By 1517, corruption within the Roman Catholic Church was ripe, and Tetzel’s selling of forgiveness was a prime expression of it. Luther’s 95 Theses confronted this corruption in the church. Called to Worms to defend his teaching, Luther was barraged with learned quotes from patristics and Popes, to which Luther responded,
Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scriptures or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or of councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
Three clear contrasts are made in this statement with what had gone before, namely: 1) The tradition of Popes, fathers, and councils is contradictory and thus not worthy to be trusted on its own merits, 2) the Bible itself is accessible without the filtering of the tradition and 3) the individual could access this Word of God. Leo twice excommunicated Luther chronologically before this above statement (in autumn, 1520, and January, 1521) but with this statement Charles V announced his intent to suppress this heresy. However, the reformation was already out of the bag. As such, Luther repeatedly affirmed the authority and accessibility of the Bible, even for the individual interpreter. Melanchthon and his fellow Lutherans followed suit in affirming all three points rather acutely in The Augsburg Confession (1530), especially in section 28 on “The Power of Bishops.”
Ulrich Zwingli joins this reformation spirit in which there is confidence in the authority and accessibility of the Word of God. A few citations from his The Sixty-Seven Articles of (1523) demonstrate this fact.
I, Ulrich Zwingli, confess that I have preached in the worthy city of Zurich these sixty-seven articles or opinions on the basis of Scripture, which is called theopneustos (that is, inspired by God). I offer to defend and vindicate these articles with Scripture. But if I have not understood Scripture correctly, I am ready to be corrected, but only from the same Scripture.
A sample of the articles shows that Zwingli also fights against the vacuousness of tradition and impotence of the Roman Catholic clergy. Notice also his confidence in the clarity of the Word of God, and that the Spirit’s role is that of converting the listener to the Word of God by the clarity of the Bible.
11. From this we see that so-called ecclesiastical traditions with their pomp, imperiousness, social standing, titles, and laws are a source of all kinds of madness since they do not agree with the head [Christ].
12. Therefore, they rage on, but not for the sake of the head. By God’s grace, attention has been drawn to this fact in our day. They will not be allowed to rage on forever, but will be brought to listen to the head alone.
13. Where people heed the Word of God, they learn the will of God plainly and clearly, they are drawn to him by his Spirit, and they are converted to him.
14. Therefore, all Christians should exercise the greatest diligence to see that only the gospel of Christ is preached everywhere.
15. For in believing the gospel we are saved, and in believing not we are condemned, for all truth is clearly contained in it.
16. In the gospel we learn that the teachings and traditions of men are of no use for salvation.
The document comes to an end with, “But let no one undertake to argue with sophistry or human wisdom, but let Scripture be judge (Scripture breathes the Spirit of God), so that you can either find the truth or, if you have found it, hold on to it. Amen. God grant it!”
Calvin likewise joins in the confidence of the clarity and sufficiency of the Word of God to develop and defend theology and practice. He maintains an internal view of knowledge rooted in the heart, which sets a trajectory between the dogmatic unthinking of tradition (especially Roman Catholic tradition informed by papacy), and speculation (which explores vain or useless things). So for Calvin, knowledge consists especially of the Word of God, personally owned in a manner that brings about real life change. For example, the first article of The Geneva Confession (1536) reads as follows:
1. The Word of God
First, we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as the rule of faith and religion, without mixing with it any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord.
Calvin emphasizes the authority of the Bible supremely. The Spirit is seen as inspirationally inseparable with this Word of God, and thus there is no rival alternative authority. With regard to councils of the church, Calvin views them as an opportunity to reflect on the issues and opinions conveyed and to consider what the council decided and why. However, the authority remains in the Bible itself.
Thus councils would come to have the majesty that is their due; yet in the meantime Scripture would stand out in the higher place, with everything subject to its standard. In this way, we willingly embrace and reverence as holy the early councils, such as those of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus I, Chalcedon, and the like, which were concerned with refuting errors- in so far as they relate to the teachings of faith. For they contain nothing but the pure and genuine exposition of the Scripture… Calvin’s opinion is that the church tradition that has developed since these foundational views was not helpful because the church had “degenerated from the purity of that golden age.”
The heritage of these reformers can be traced in two ways from here. The spirit of the reformers and their methodology largely extends through the radical reformers into the Biblical theologians. Each step and generation extend this Biblicism to rethink the Western tradition and reframe it in a profoundly Biblical pattern. One example of this is the absence of a Holy Spirit illumination view which is not invented until in 1685 A.D. when Quenstdt framed the view and Hollanz in 1715 echoed the view that the Holy Spirit is promised to every Christian so that he might better understand the Biblical text. So this concept of illumination, so common in evangelicalism is absent from the reformers. That is, in place of the Spirit leading the councils and the Pope in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the Reformers identified that the Bible was the accessible arbiter for doctrine. So the methodology of the Reformers, today is carried on by the Biblical theologians while the product (the continuing tradition of the reformers views), with some novelties remains within evangelicalism. That is, the product of the reformers (like descriptions of the trinity) began to be crystallized and catechized by the creeds that the Reformers expressed. These creeds emerged as a new complimentary tradition through which the concept of tradition is viewed, as will be developed within the section on mainstream Evangelicalism. However, first consider a further look at the spirit of the Reformers as reflected by the Biblical theologians.
In contrast to the confessional reformation and pietism, the descriptive Biblical theology movement emerged and was given expression by Johann Philip Gabler’s lecture at the University of Altdorf in 1787. Gabler’s approach offered an optimistic empirical spirit that we could arrive at objective truth about the meaning of the text from the straightforward study of the Biblical text’s details. This confidence that a commentator can approach the Biblical text in a descriptive manner is still with us in a more nuanced subjective way, as in K. Stendahl’s article about contemporary Biblical Theology in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, which calls the contemporary commentator to describe the meaning of the Biblical text for the original reader. However, in his day, Gabler was not unfamiliar with some of these subjective aspects as he discussed some who in their Biblical theology occasionally got re-entangled with dogmatic theology, and warned against this. For such a discipline as Biblical theology, the tradition that is most binding is first to have a basic methodology of reflecting the Biblical text wherever it will lead. Or the goal in Biblical theology as I state it is, “to be as clear as the text is clear and to be as ambiguous as the text is ambiguous.” Such a methodology is a progressive tradition that identifies with a heritage of attempts in the past but always goes beyond them to some extent in that each interpreter places his study within the landscape of those who have gone before him in this discipline. So both the content and the organizing principles try to reflect what the text says. This heritage can be reflected by statement of methodology to which I identify, like my own statement, or Gerhard Hasel’s books on Biblical theology methodology, which I have often used to teach the methodology of this discipline. One’s heritage can also be identified by the individual contributors who interpret similarly. For me, that means those major Biblical theology frameworks within which I work, and have my students read, like: Eichrodt, Vos, Smith, and House for Old Testament, and Ladd, Wright, and Dunn for the New Testament. This is a helpful way to identify an interpretive tradition which frames a trajectory from which future work will be attempted, without requiring the past conclusions to exclude what the Bible actually claims in the text. Likewise, this methodological dimension is a major contribution that Biblical theology brings from the Biblical text as well, in its attempt to reflect the content within progressive revelation.
When in November, 2002, I. H. Marshall addressed the Institute for Biblical Research on developing theology from hermeneutics, his first two points reflected this nature of progressive revelation. For example, he pointed out that Matthew 10 restricts the evangelism of Jesus followers to be among the house of Israel, while Matthew 28 exhorts to go the gentiles. However, when there is a larger gap of time like early O.T. books to the N.T. there may be even a greater revelational development. In such cases, my preference is to develop each text consistent to its contextual revelational stage, and thereby show the real development within the Biblical text. The warrant then comes from the authoritative Biblical text, but there is some corroborative evidencing provided by those scholarly commentators who also are trying to be true to the text. As each one floats their next contribution to the discipline, if the community of scholars resonate with these new ideas then the community provides a sense of reassurance to these new statements of Biblical theology and the discipline moves forward. Other responses from the community of scholars may also come, including attempts to defeat the new views and various levels of engagement or disengagement. To the extent that these views become acknowledged to be dissonant to the views of those who are committed to the discipline of Biblical theology, then it should be taken as a warning to hear the replies that the others make and consider them seriously with greater study in the text. But, such dissonance does not necessarily indicate that the views are wrong or else no development would ever be undertaken, and the reformation spirit which founds this discipline would be quashed. In the end, the reformers were right in views, not because others agreed, but because they aligned themselves with the Biblical text. It is hypothetically possible for some person to discover what the Bible says and not be able to find a living scholar who agrees with him. In such a condition, the scholar should seek out specialists to help them think through each point in their model. The specialists become a community of scholars that transcends our confessional traditions. Provided the community of scholars tolerates his view, it can still be maintained. Provided the community of scholars agrees with the Biblical rationale apparent within a Biblical theology view, then there is reassurance that one’s views are likely to be correct. This role of community is difficult to maintain today in our individual oriented society, but it identifies why we need to be in colleges and academic organizations where we share our ideas among colleagues. The community as sounding board helps to clarify and warrant the basic beliefs of both Biblical theologians and exegetes.
Exampled in Trinity Development
This methodology can be sampled by returning to our issue of trinity. Few of the Reformers deviate from the Western Church tradition on these Trinitarian issues, but Calvin is one who dismisses the Nicene Fathers speculations. As Warfield summarizes it, “It is enough, he says in effect, to believe that the Son derives from the Father, the Spirit from the Father and the Son, without encumbering ourselves with a speculation upon the nature of the eternally generating act to which these hypostases are referred.”
However, the Biblical theologians go further; few Biblical theologians think that trinity is even a Biblical theological concept. One of those who grants trinity as Biblical is Donald Gutherie. Following this methodology, we are now entering into a minority position within this discipline. However, I think that the form of epistle used in the first century has been appropriated by at least Peter to accentuate an intentional Trinitarian concept of God in the text, by twice reiterating the threeness of God: in the description of the recipients (1 Pet. 1:2), and again in the longer blessing (1 Pet. 1:3-12). Additionally, it is reassuring that other Biblical theologians like I. H. Marshall concur with this same line of exegesis. I do, therefore grant that a basic concept of a trinity is being developed in the text. However, the concept is not so developed as the early church or as most of the Reformers propose.
I am unaware of any Biblical theologian who develops generation and procession as Biblical theology concepts. These are areas of systematic theology. However, there are passages that the church has used to teach the ideas of procession and generation, and scholarly exegetes do handle them. So there is benefit in exploring what these texts say and comparing it to what the specialists claim that the texts mean, which is the direction we will now take for this study.
The passages to which appeals are made to teach eternal generation are: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18 and 1 John 4:9. Each of these passages has within it the critical word is monogenh;". This word monogenh;" elsewhere in the Bible means “only child” as the case of the only child of a synagogue official that needs Jesus healing or Abraham’s only child whom God has commanded to be sacrificed (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17). However, in John the word is used exclusively of Jesus Christ with reference to His unique historical birth as the revelatory Word, to reveal God through the flesh. For example, John 1:14 describes the unique birthing process as the incarnation of Christ’s humanity in flesh so that He as the Word could reveal the divine glory historically through His humanity. The fact that the Word is God (Jn. 1:1) means that the uniquely born God (divine One adding humanity in his birth) is uniquely enabled to explain the Father, which explanation took place in the historical incarnation prior to John’s writing his gospel (the aorist ejxhghvsato; Jn. 1:18). This uniquely born Word (born for the purpose of revealing the Father) has revealed God and after the ascension (as John is writing ), the divine Word interpenetrated the anthropomorphic breast (kovlpon) of the Father. The Father gives the uniquely born (monogenh;") Son of God (in His incarnation coming into the world) for men to believe in Him and thereby obtain everlasting life (Jn. 3:16,18; 1 Jn. 4:9). Since the Biblical texts used to defend the doctrine of generation emphasize monogenh;" to be the historical birthing of Jesus’ humanity in incarnation, it is best to reject the ancient tradition, that Jesus Christ was generated before all ages in eternity, as a historical oddity that does not reflect the Bible. At this point, the unanimous voice of scholarly commentators agree, further confirming the exegetical view that the generation of the Son should be Biblically understood as an initiation of an economic ministry of the divine Word incarnating to reveal the Father through His humanity.
Likewise, the procession of the Spirit is best seen as a historical process that occurs after Jesus ascends, rather than an eternal procession as argued by the traditions of the church, as they appeal especially to John 14:25-26, 15:26 and 16:5. However, these Biblical texts indicate that this procession happens historically, when the Holy Spirit is economically sent to continue Jesus’ ministry. For example, John 14:17-18 indicates that the disciples with Jesus in the upper room have the Holy Spirit with them but there will be a change as Jesus leaves, for then the Holy Spirit will be in them. After Jesus leaves the Father will send (pevmyei) the Holy Spirit to the disciples to remind these disciples about the things Jesus said to them when He was in fact with them (Jn. 14:25-26). The Holy Spirit will come after Jesus leaves, sent (pevmyw) by Christ and going out (ejkporeuvetai) from the Father (Jn. 15:26). However, the Son must leave first and return to the Father who sent the Son and thus the disciples will have an advantage as Christ leaves, for the son will send (pevmyw) the Holy Spirit to them so that the Spirit might convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:5, 7-8). The same economic relationship of being sent that the Son had, the Holy Spirit will have, and thus the Holy Spirit is another comforter like Christ. In Acts 1:8 the Holy Spirit had not been received by the disciples yet, so that they awaited His empowerment in their future. Christ finally ascends in Acts1:9 leaving His disciples. On the feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit fills the disciples and they have a dramatic empowerment to proclaim the gospel (Acts 2:2-4). God declares that in the last days He will pour forth (ejkcew`) the Spirit on all mankind (Acts 2:17). Jesus Christ in His exaltation receives (labw;n) the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and so Christ pours forth (ejxevceen) this Holy spirit phenomenon which the Jews present can see and hear (Acts 2:33). In the wake of this historical procession which happened at Pentecost, the father sends (ejxapevsteilen) the Spirit into believers’ hearts prompting them to intimate prayer by which we cry out, “Daddy, Father” (Gal. 4:6). This condition of the indwelling Spirit who prompts believers to intimate prayer happens for all who belong to Christ, are adopted as sons by the Father and are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:9, 15, 17). Since the Biblical text emphasizes procession to be an economic historical coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, it is best to reject the ancient traditions that the Spirit is from an eternal procession. Likewise, it is best to see that this procession is economically from the Father and the Son by comparing that the same Greek words describe the Father’s sending of the Spirit (pevmyei, ejkcew) also describe the Son’s sending of the Spirit (pevmyw, ejxevceen). The unanimous voice of scholarly commentators at this point agree further confirming the exegetical view that the sending of the Spirit is an economic historical coming to perform certain ministries beginning at Pentecost. At this point, it looks like Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have developed a theological methodology that can render them insensitive to the Biblical text. How many others will join them?
By critical methodology, I mean primarily the philosophical and theological criticism, though there is also textual criticism happening as well. This approach tends to diminish tradition in the normal sense, as too reactionarily conservative, and replaces tradition with some critical intellectual tool like reason. However, there is a kind of tradition even in this approach much like the heritage of individual scholarly approaches that extend the program of those who have gone before. As David Brown says it, “Traditions of reading continue to maintain their imaginative power not by staying the same but by being open to the transforming power of influences beyond themselves.” So tradition can be seen as “the imaginative reappropriation of the past, and not its slavish copying.” This theological criticism emerges with the rise of modern philosophy.
Modern philosophy begins with Descartes, in 1641, analyzing the role of tradition as able to be brought within the sphere of that which can be doubted. He was seeking a philosophical and theological method that had the certainty of his study in geometry and algebra. His undeniable starting point is that in his doubting his own existence he realized that he was thinking, and such thought confirmed to him that he was a thinking being. Most philosophers grant this insight but most philosophers today do not think that this very significant either because few people don’t already grant that they exist. Likewise, most philosophers think that Descartes is overconfident about the extent of a world view that can be provided by rationalistic means.
Locke jumpstarted British empiricism in 1690 with a confidence in experience as the means by which any man can plumb the depths of God’s creation. Locke challenged traditions and tried to remove some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge. He was looking for determinate ideas that can be seen and perceived. He insisted that propositions which are contrary to reason cannot have been revealed by God. However, Locke’s empirical confidence is muted in 1748 by David Hume’s skepticism within Empiricism. His criticism analyzed the senses and showed that in many ways they could be doubted. However, he is even harder on issues of tradition than Locke. For example, in the last lines of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding he says:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any experimental quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
Perhaps such a statement provides a direct lineage for logical positivism of the twentieth century which rendered tradition to be merely conventional language and not describing reality.
Historically, Critical philosophy came together in 1781 with Kant’s critiques, and especially his Critique of Pure Reason. Awaken from his slumber by Hume, Kant restricted knowledge to the phenomena and excluded it from the noumena, because the transcendental categories of the mind inhibited all individuals so that they can’t know things in themselves. However, Kant finds that the tools of rationalism and empiricism can be employed together, though with muted confidence about things beyond oneself. When Kant’s The Critique of Judgment explores an aesthetic and purpose of nature, he finds what for him is a bridge between science and concepts like morality, freedom and faith. While not actually using the concept of tradition, it looks to this reader that the concepts that Kant is thinking through as his judgments of taste are in fact traditional concepts available in his day. This also seems to inform the evaluation of universal assent as well. In his analytic of the sublime, he sets up an aesthetic strategy that prepares for existentialism. Tapping this root, Clayton Crockett develops A Theology of the Sublime that emerges as a connection is made between the Kantian sublime of the third critique and the transcendental imagination of the first critique. Crockett is trying to stand against John Milbank’s post-modern Radical Orthodoxy with these Critical resources of Kant and the existentialists that work in his wake. For example, drawing upon Vattimo and Heideggar, Crockett highlights the developmental nature of theological tradition.
A theological investigation does not simply deal with the traditional objects or concepts of theology as they have been already determined and handed down, but in rethinking theological insights one must deal with the processes of understanding through experience which generate the theological conceptions in the first place. In this way, a theological thinking generates theology itself.
Within this muted perspective, and with the passion of pietism, Friedrich Schleiermacher proposes that religion was a “sense and taste for the infinite.” Life without this taste is incomplete. Within this taste for the infinite, the essence of religious experience is “a feeling of absolute dependence.” With such an internally warranted view for oneself, there is a balancing role provided by the community that one is associated with so that the community feels this dependence together. Paul Tillich transports this dependence into the existential “ultimate concern.” Much of the tradition is criticized and rejected by him as not being propositions that deal with the object worthy of ultimate concern. This orientation reflects his commitment to be expanding the envelope for theological studies. Or as he described it, being the theologian on the boundaries of the discipline. However, theology positions itself within the contents of the Christian faith and correlates it to our existential situation. Thus it is not ignorant of tradition. However, when tradition becomes dogmatics for him, it is “the doctrinal tradition for our present situation.” In fact, the way theology warrants itself as the theology is to position itself in the tension between the absolutely concrete and the absolutely universal. He criticizes priestly and prophetic theologies (like the reformers, Biblical theologians and evangelicals) as being too concrete. Furthermore, he criticizes mystical and metaphysical theologies (like Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic, and evangelicals) as being too universal, because they lack concreteness. So for him the existentially paradoxical tension in theology, yet still held to by a group is the goal of that which is universally concrete and absolutely universal. Examples of this kind of tension force us into the trinity issues, like “divine Logos become flesh,” or “being in Christ.” Tracy extents this model of correlation into a new generation of existential hermeneutical thought. So, tradition becomes the pre–understandings for textual meaning as it is personally appropriated by the interpreter as he reads the text. For Tracy, “the community of theologians either develops or corrects the tradition for the sake of the tradition and in terms of the tradition’s own call to constant self–reformation.”
Hegel published The Phenomenology of Spirit in 1807 as a unique attempt to bridge the Kantian gap with a confidence that transcendentalism provided. This confidence was made even more assured by his commitment to reflect the trinity in the triadic framework of the work. In this idealism the clarity of the overarching idea, virtually the mind of God, serves as a lens that puts each thing or belief in their place in the progressively revealing tension and resolution of the mind of God. Fichte re-appropriates this transcendentalism into a dialecticalism in which the next stage draws the preceding into a unified synthesis without the contradictions of the former stages. It is into this idealistic methodology that Pannenberg places himself. So for Pannenberg the task of theology following Hegel is to develop “a series of stages in which at any given point, the higher stage is constitutive of the preceding insofar as it synthesizes into a unity the contradictions of the preceding one, and thus contains the provisional whole of the entire dialectical path that had been traversed up to that point.” At this point he returns more to Hegel, than Fichte, in that the noncontradictory synthesis is for both beyond contradictions and thus on that basis especially a picture of the absolute God. From this framework he argues that, “the unity of the tradition can exist despite different dogmatic formulations and in spite of many criticisms of the dogmatic formulations of past times. The unity of the tradition is grounded in the common relation of different theologians of different ages to the norm of the one and the same Christ-event.” Descartes or Kant could chime in at this point and point out that if the thesis and antithesis were really contradictory they can not be both embraced in a non-contradictory synthesis that maintains all of the former two in one. That is, either Hegel’s triads are not contradictory and can be synthesized, or if they are contradictory then no synthesis is possible. LeRon Shults refurbished Pannenberg as palatable for some post-moderns in reframing Pannenberg’s Hegelianism into a post–foundationalist language game for his followers.
Exampled in Trinity Development
The critical perspective contains a wide array of views concerning the trinity. On the one hand there is Kant who denies the trinity outright, “absolutely nothing worthwhile for practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity, taken literally, when one believes that one has understood it adequately, but even less when one perceives that it exceeds all our concepts.” On the radical opposite side Hegel lets the trinity dominate his whole metaphysic and epistemology through his triadic structure in The Phenomenology of Spirit. There are a range of other options between these.
Few among critical theological diversity explain the idea of generation and procession except as a historical development. Part of this lack of development is as we pointed out above, these concepts are emerge from archaic thought forms such as Stocism and Platonism. In fact, the Platonic press to eternalize both the procession and generation is to try to preserve their truth value, since in Platonism everything that is really true is eternal as in the realm of the forms. However, the critical orientation deviates from and critiques these philosophical roots as earlier perspectives to grow beyond. So there is little reason to dip back into these archaic wells here, except to criticize them. This criticism can be seen as an extension of John Lanshaw Austin’s work which investigates the meaning of words. This criticism here includes that these concepts are themselves contradictory and thus not worthy to be believed. For example, in the patristic context eternal means “outside of time, without change, and perpetual” and genaw means “birth as a historical instance,” so that what would “eternal generation” combining these ideas mean? That is, what would a “perpetual beyond history birth as a historical instance” mean, but a contradiction? Likewise, sending or procession happens historically in time, as we developed under Biblical theology above, so what would eternal procession mean? That is, what would a “perpetual beyond history sending as a historical instance” mean, but a contradiction? As contradiction, they are not worthy to be believed.
Pannenberg is one critical theologian that still uses these concepts of eternal generation and procession but clarifies that that passages used to teach the view in fact teach an economic generation and procession akin to how we developed them under Biblical theology. A form of procession is seen as an eternal description of relationship in the trinity (following Augustinian tradition and the Western Church) while the generation of the Son and the sending of the Spirit happen in time for the economy of salvation (following the Biblical text). This form of synthesis is what one might expect from a Hegelian, however I believe this approach can be critiqued in the spirit of critical methodology. First, the presentation of eternal generation of the Son and eternal procession of the Spirit is maintained by Pannenberg exclusively because the tradition presents them that way. No further evidence is marshaled on their behalf, and all the other evidence normally marshaled on their behalf is reapplied to the economic sendings, like the Biblical theologians did. This shows that while critical methodology protests against tradition, often tradition is smuggled back in to prop up basic beliefs. Secondly, the philosophical contradiction in “eternal generation” itself and “eternal procession” itself renders them in and of themselves not worthy to be believed. This critical philosopher’s opinion is that it is not appropriate to believe such contradictories for only traditional reasons; contradictory traditions are to be jettisoned.
Mainstream Evangelicalism with Pietism
Mark Noll argues that one of the distinctives of American theology is that it is populist innovation. In fact, the American rejection of the value of class and nobility, disconnected their practice of religion from the preference of kings to a capitalistic marketing based arena in which each entrepreneur within religion would demonstrate his worth by the extent of a following that he could attract around him. This approach protected religion from its demise as occurred in Europe when the kings were thrown out. That is, in America religion was immersed into an arena of pragmatism, in which unpopularity became among the gravest of sins. Alister McGrath cites with approval, David Wells assessment that American evangelicalism is strongly pragmatic. That is, that freedom and religion have been closely linked in America and that populism accepting or rejecting the novel has told whether the theological innovation amounted to much on the American scene.
A particular set of American conditions … have opened the door to many opportunities for popular theological innovation. Without a national state church, with few widely revered theological traditions, with no centralized scheme of national education, with all of the denominations compelled to enter into vigorous popular competition for adherents, with innovations in communications implemented by ordinary people, and with significant amounts of wealth widely distributed and available for establishing colleges, publishing houses, newspapers, and other means of disseminating ideas, the United States has been a very fertile medium for popular theologies.
This independent populism has long characterized the American religious scene as evidenced by the freedom that de Toqueville noticed over a century and a half ago.
Anglo-American civilization … is the result … of two distinct elements which in other places have been in frequent disagreement, but which the Americans have succeeded in incorporating to some extent one with the other and combining admirably. I allude to the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty … On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France, I had always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and they reigned in common over the same country.
Allister McGrath calls to our attention that “Evangelicalism has, by and large tended to neglect both the theological and spiritual role of tradition.” Noll explores dispensationalism as among this form of theological expression. This and other movements were driven by the popular study and preaching of the English Bible. The dispensational response among the Plymouth Brethren “was to abandon formally organized churches and to place their hope in a dispersed invisible church made up of God’s faithful remnant.”
Dispensational theology never caught on at America’s elite universities or seminaries, but it was a huge popular success that drove the activities of conference speakers, lay theological institutes, prophecy conferences, popular magazines, and the publication of thousands of books. Its confidence in both the literal meaning of Scripture and in the ability of lay people to understand the Bible fitted it perfectly to traditional patterns of American Protestant life.
However, after a century of dispensational teaching, there is a deeply lain tradition in this inventive populism as well. The tradition can be clearly seen in the theological statements of dispensational institutions and in the writings of their faculties. This is even more apparent as dispensationalism was challenged by the progressive dispensational movement.
Included among this evangelical populism were those who prided themselves in keeping the faith of a tradition as well, like the offspring of the Reformers who embraced the climax of the reformation confessions. Alister McGrath points out that this is a communal continuity with the past.
The past generated a tradition to which the present is heir. That tradition involves modes of discourse, ways of conceiving the world, so forth, which it impressed upon the world, and which was perpetuated in a definite historical form, being mediated through both institutions and individuals.
McGrath further points out that “evangelicals have denominational loyalties, which often exercise a subtle influence over the assumptions and agendas that are brought to the theological tasks.” Stanley Grenz sees that Christian theology is to “delineate the community’s interpretive framework” because “all Christian theology is communitarian.” He goes on to point out, “as a result, our respective communities (or traditions) play an indispensable role in shaping our conceptions of rationality, as well as the religious beliefs we deem basic and thus use to test new claims.” Their summaries include the dispensationalist communities as well as those who are more intentional about a conventional loyalty, as in a reformed perspective loyal to The Westminster Confession of Faith, or Wesleyan with its Quadilatrial (which includes tradition) or other creed of the faith.
Many of these evangelical approaches position themselves within pietism, with its: personal relationship with Christ, passion for Bible and ministry, leading of Spirit and illumination of the Spirit. The leading of the Spirit and illumination of the Spirit bleed into each other. Taken together they are similar to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Spirit enablement of tradition through apostolic succession and the Pope. However, in evangelicalism the illumination of the Spirit is shifted from a divine support of the tradition to usually a work in the individual interpreter to aid them in discerning the message of the Biblical passage. The earliest expressions of illumination of the Spirit emerge among Lutheran pietism in 1685 with Quenstdt framing the view and Hollanz in 1715 echoed the view that the Holy Spirit is promised to every Christian so that they might understand the Biblical text better. While the emphasis in evangelicalism is that the Spirit aids the individual’s use of hermeneutics like, some in evangelicalism are advocating a communal illumination. A contemporary advocate of this communal illumination view is Donald Bloesch. He identifies that the Bible’s revelatory status “does not reside in its wording as such but in the Spirit of God, who fills the words with meaning and power.” This view provides a post textual subjective meaning. Kevin Vanhoozer also wishes to extend this individual illumination into becoming a community illumination of Spirit, “Only a prayerful reading that invokes the Spirit can perceive the true meaning in what is otherwise a dead letter. Such Spirit-led exegesis ‘restores the interpretive activity of the spiritual community as the connecting link between text and reader.’” Community textual decisions are essentially saying that the Holy Spirit assures the community that they will interpret correctly as they frame up their tradition. In conservative circles this illumination is often supported through textual appeals to John 14:26; 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:6-16; and 1 John 2:27. I have elsewhere argued that these texts do not in fact teach such an illumination view. This argument is briefly contained in the excurses.
Excursis on Illumination:
The two gospel of John texts are deeply contextually developed as promises of inspiration to the disciples, so that as Jesus leaves these disciples, they would be reminded of what Jesus said to them when He was here, and that the Spirit would also instruct them about prophetic things that these disciples could not handle in that night but these prophecies were yet to be revealed through the Spirit to them. These promises took place to these disciples and we have the results of these promises in documents like the Biblical gospels. Likewise, the issue in 1 Corinthians 1-2 is not that the Holy Spirit aids in interpreting Bible passages but that the gospel focusing on Christ is supernaturally revealed by the Spirit, and unfortunately some reject this gospel as foolishness. This gospel was supernaturally revealed (ajpekavluyen, 1 Cor. 2:10) from the Spirit but the soulish person (yuciko;",1 Cor. 2:14) rejects this wisdom of God as foolishness (compare with 1 Cor. 1:18-24). Furthermore, the Spirit’s work to make believer’s in the gospel to be spiritual is a transformation of the Christian to think out through the Spirit’s world-view. This is not a hermeneutical promise for understanding the Biblical text but rather a transformed life that can serve as the basis for evaluating everything in life. For example, the eternal perspective of the gospel serves as a grid for evaluating whether the results of activities will last. Likewise, the nonchristian who rejects the gospel as foolishness won’t be able to appreciate a Christian who personifies the gospel’s eternal perspective. Furthermore, the text of 1 John 2:18-23 discusses the gospel message that affirms a relationship to the Father and the Son. Such a gospel message anoints or christicizes the believer from the Holy One (1 Jn. 2:20, 27). In fact, the Holy Spirit isn’t even in this text in any clear way for John only uses this expression ‘Holy One’ elsewhere of Christ (John 6:69). Likewise, the antichrists reject this message of the gospel which speaks of the relationship of the Father and Son. In contrast, the Christians have heard this message from the beginning and have received everlasting life through this same gospel message (1 John 2:24-5). It is through this gospel message that these Christians are taught; the Holy Spirit and illumination are not even in this passage. One way to help some reassure themselves that this broadly evangelical illumination view is foreign to the Scripture is to recognize that my brief summaries of these passages are right in line with the scholarly commentaries on these passages. Which means that, if the Spirit did illumine so many well-informed and godly commentators, then the doctrine of illumination is not a Biblical teaching that anyone can count upon. Additionally, the absence of such an illumination aid makes more sense of two hermeneutical conditions. The first is that rather repeatedly godly commentators, even from the same school, disagree with features which other godly commentators may say are within the meaning of a text. If godly Christians were given this illumination aid, then it would unify Christian commentaries but we find that the Arminian ones repeatedly disagree with the Reformed ones, and visa versa. The reason for this disagreement is not that some of these commentators are not listening to the illumination of the Spirit but rather each commentator has his own sensitivities to context, grammar, authorial thought forms and theological construct. Perhaps they are fusing the text to a theological model that allows the secondary authority of tradition to be primarily determinative over the primary authority of the Biblical text. They allow tradition to determine meaning rather than textual meaning challenging and modifying a growing and developing tradition. However, even within the same tradition there is still disagreement. Here their sensitivity to these textual features identifies why their interpretations differ. Additionally, if such an illumination aid occurred for Christians then they would always be able to produce superior commentaries, but sometimes non-christians in fact have produced the best commentaries on a book of the Bible. For example, the best commentary on Leviticus 1-16 is by Jacob Milgrom, who as a Jew is very sensitive of the textual and contextual features within that book. Milgrom accurately and passionately embraces his interpretation; he is not merely working on the level of intellectual ascent. Thus, such illumination is an impotent aid or no aid at all if merely attention to text in context produces a superior product. Anything that God does not promise to give and is not effective in demonstrating its ability to provide superior interpretation, accuracy, and unity should not be depended upon as coming from God. Thus claims from illumination as authority are not properly warranted. Furthermore, reading the Law through the Spirit rather than by mere letter in Paul is not an illumination aid but the Holy Spirit’s New Covenant ministry within the believer which transforms them to serve with righteousness and fruit of Spirit (Jer. 31:33-34; Rom. 2:14-15, 29; 7:6; 8:2, 4-17; 14:17-18; 2 Cor. 3:3, 6, 9, 17-18; Gal. 5:13-26). This is not a ministry for understanding the Biblical text, nor is it actually a ministry of the Spirit to apply the Biblical text into our lives. No Biblical text actually talks about the Spirit applying the Biblical text into a Christian’s life. These Biblical texts, just cited, underscore that the Holy Spirit is the guarantor of growth and that He would transform the Christian to think and do the things of the Spirit. Because the Christian as she matures will distinctly reflect the Spirit’s qualities out through her life, then the Spirit will witness to the Christian that she is in fact a child of God and a co-heir with Christ. We can thank the Spirit for transforming us but the responsibility Paul places us under when it comes to interpretation is that we should study to show ourselves approved as a workman rightly handling the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). Interpretation is our responsibility. Likewise abuse of the Biblical text is also our responsibility (eg. 2 Pet. 3:16). The Holy Spirit neither takes the credit nor the blame for our interpretations. The Holy Spirit nowhere claims to be providing an illumination ministry to help understand Biblical passages and it is presumptuous of us to claim that He will in fact do this claimed ministry. The claimed ministry does not do any better than an unbeliever who has finely honed skills and is sensitive to the text and in some instances (as above) the Christian may actually fare worse than a skilled non-christian in interpreting the Biblical text. Therefore there is no legitimate warranting for this illumination view and the Spirit cannot be claimed as the authority for our interpretations. Furthermore, interpretations claimed to come through this means of illumination are often just wrongfully abusing the text. Clearly, the Holy Spirit should not be claimed to be illuminating us if in fact when the text is checked it becomes apparent that the interpreter arrives at falsehood. For example, many years at school missions conferences there is a missions appeal from a text like Isaiah 6 for the students to go for God to a mission field. Such approaches can give a lofty view of God as holy. We are seen with Isaiah as benefiting from His forgiveness. Then the call goes out from God to all of us ‘Who shall I send and who will go for us?’ to which the speaker wishes we will all emulate Isaiah as a divinely authoritative call “Here am I, send me!” However, in this move of supposed “illumination” we have become neo-orthodox, disregarding the text for the existential crises moment in our own reader response hermeneutic. What does the text go on to say in the context?
And He said, ‘Go and tell this people:
Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.
Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull, and their eyes dim,
Lest they see with eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.’
Then I said, ‘Lord, how long?
And He answered,
Until cities are devastated without inhabitant,
Houses are without people,
And the land is utterly desolate…(Isa. 6:9-11).
How many of you desire this to be your ministry? This text has clear meaning in Isaiah’s context in which he has been offering Israel the opportunity to be healed if they would repent, but no longer after Isaiah 6, for Israel is heading for captivity because they had gone too far in their sin. If the “illumination of the Spirit” regularly takes this text as a call to ministry, then it is working cross-purposes to the clarity of the text, which the Holy Spirit inspires. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself. The ‘illumination of the Spirit’ is not warranted; it is merely cover for a sloppy or reader-response hermeneutic. Furthermore, if there is a text elsewhere to support your appeal, then you need to present your appeal from a text that actually supports the point rather than a Biblical text that does not. The issue is reflecting the Bible’s meaning and authority in our teaching and life; not imposing our views upon a text.
So Evangelicalism often has a confidence that by the aid from the Holy Spirit the community can obtain the correct interpretation of the Biblical text and thereby embrace a corporate agreement to delineate their traditions. This approach functions in church, school and academic societies. However, as evident by the excursis, I wonder if this basic belief is so well grounded. I think that in fact it is not and if the illumination of the Spirit is not working as they suppose then evangelicalism reduces to a pragmatic populism that often interprets the Bible sensitively but occasionally interprets the Biblical text in very traditional ways, which Biblical scholarship does not support.
In evangelicalism, the leading of the Spirit is often seen as a divine personal guidance in the decision making process. This view may not be held by a majority in evangelicalism in the wake of the critique by Gary Friesen, Decision Making & the Will of God, but it is still widely held. While this view is usually developed as an individual aid, the individuals that make up a group sometimes appeal to it to support their traditions as a softer version of the Orthodox and Catholic claimed Spirit aid. For example, a church may claim that God is “leading” them into a building program. How does the Bible use the concept of divine leading? The clear N.T. texts on the leading of the Spirit fit into two basic categories. First, the Spirit lead Jesus into temptation (Mt. 4:1; Mk. 1:12; Lk.4:1), which is why Jesus has his disciples pray to the Father, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Mt. 6:13; Lk. 11:4). This form of Spirit leading is of little encouragement for the evangelical, since it brought Jesus to temptation rather than gave him success in ministry. The other leading of the Spirit in the N.T is that developed by Paul as a metaphor for the Spirit’s cultivating virtues within the believer like righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit, a sense of belonging in God’s family, and intimacy in prayer (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18). This ministry of the Spirit evangelicalism appreciates but does not let the Biblical terminology of “leading” define their terms. That is, evangelicalism has coined the term to mean something else, namely personal guidance. Here, Gary Friesen has ably analyzed the evangelical rationale and concluded that the biblical texts appealed to do not support the view of personal guidance. Instead, he sees that God has promised to mature us so that we can cultivate the wisdom which is available so that we could make wise decisions.
If Friesen is right about decision making, and Biblical theology is right about “Spirit leading,” and the scholarly Biblical commentators are right about illumination of the Spirit, then our traditions and statements of faith are in fact community conventions, without any claim to the Spirit as buoying them up. For example, Bryan College presents its “Statement of Belief” as the previously adopted 1919 “Philadelphia Convention of the World’s Christian Fundamental Association,” an interdenominational Protestant evangelical organization of that period. In this case a convention formulated and adopted what they believed, and we at Bryan College affirm yearly that we believe the same. This recognizes that this is a meaningful conventionally formulated tradition to govern all trustees, administrators, and faculty at Bryan College. If we wish to minister in this fine place, then we need to believe what this statement says. Beyond these traditional restrictions at Bryan College, there is freedom within “the normal divergence which is characteristic of the larger American evangelical community.”
With 1976 becoming the year of the Evangelical, according to Time magazine, and the rise of evangelical power politics as a power block to be marshaled to get elected, evangelicalism has become a huge guerrilla in the jungle throwing its weight around politically. The populous pragmatic power politics is apparent in some schools and academic societies as well. We have infused politics among evangelicalism. This may mean that the image of the “obnoxious American,” insensitive to others concerns may have merged with the “can do” evangelical possibly producing a “kick butt” Christianity. If people are in his way, he helps them turn their cheeks to remove them.
In practice, I think that evangelicalisms also each have an oral tradition which has both some gray area but is also salted with land mines that the individual faculty member may only know after the fact, when unfortunately it is to late to do anything and all that can be heard is the sounds leading to his removal. A faculty member only knows where the land mines are by which steps take colleagues out. This leaves a faculty member with an uncomfortable choice between options like: stagnating his research to that which is safe where the trusted people have stepped before (repeating the trusted party line), or expecting that if he follows the Biblical text where it leads him he may eventually be among the maimed in this evangelical roulette game. Often the oral tradition develops its rationale in reaction to a perceived excess, too late to save a colleague who stepped on the land mine. Evangelicalism seems more concerned about excising the aberrant than recovering a brother. So when the clear lines are drawn after the fact (clarifying the ambiguous) these lines are still binding, and thus the mine has been stepped on, and the faculty member is gone.
When these ideas are expressed in a corporate culture Adrian Savage describes them as the elements of Golf culture, namely: trust, collegiality and patronage. This golf culture is driven by receptivity from the institutional top levels. Scholarship and warranting is largely considered useless unless the message is welcome at the top. If individuals pursuing ideas they take to be Biblical are collegially offered to our evangelical institutions, they are critiqued on a continental divide of the conventions and inclinations of institutional leadership. Some ideas break one way for a variety of traditions, whereas in other traditions they break another direction. Depending upon where the idea lands in relation to a particular leader and conventional group's tradition, the group will be predisposed to trust the person and be more congenial and benefit them through patronage, or suspect the person, isolate the person and put them at risk. Community shunning (being cut out of privileges and responsibilities) is often used to try to motivate this compliance. However, when such shunning doesn’t work and we conservatives can’t defeat the offending view by reasons or good exegesis, it looks to me like we conservatives often disengage from these individuals, politically abusing them or defaming their reputation. My concern here is that tradition often excludes an honest appraisal of the Biblical text as it is. It looks to me that evangelicalism, like any confessional approach runs the risk of domesticating the Bible so that it is turned into a safe pussy cat which provides comfort. We tame the Bible, cage it until it safely sits on our laps and purrs. We propagate this domesticated Bible in the minds of our students and congregations. Instead, the Bible is a wild lion reflecting the character of God. Thus it is not safe but it is good. The Bible will not sit still, for it will continue to prod us and call us to the difficult way of discipleship which is always getting beyond ourselves: to understand it, to apply it, to love others and work for a unified body of Christ and to forgive our abusers. It does seem that some evangelicals will stop at very little to defame, exclude and destroy other evangelicals. This abuse isn’t right; I hunger and thirst for righteousness among evangelicals.
Darrell Bock also appeals for public square institutions, like our academic societies and publishing houses, within which dialog from a range of opinions can be explored. In this he says, “We need solidly grounded theologian-philosopher-exegetes in evangelicalism. Making too great a dichotomy between these roles will not help the church.” To engage and consider issues like Openness of God, a full dialog and exchange in this public forum needs to take place. Additionally, the ground rules are explicit and minimal as tied to the doctrinal statement of the respective society. If the advocates of a position like Openness of God embrace the doctrinal position of the society then they should not be evicted by a majority of members present who happen to disagree with their position. Even though I disagree with their view sufficiently to have written a book against their view, I recognize that there is a continuing advantage in having people present in the academic society, with whom I do not always agree, so that when our focus goes to other issues, we might be sensitized to the other. It can help us from becoming isolationist and ignorantly postmodern.
Exampled in Trinity Development
Evangelicalism broadly embraces the Western church’s commitment to eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit as Biblical truths. The confessional expression of evangelicalism can be exampled in The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter II, article 3 which reads, that “the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the father and the Son.” While this statement did not have Biblical texts cited the rational is often the very same Biblical texts throughout much of the Western church. From a different quarter, Lewis Sperry Chafer claims,
Theologians generally have been emphatic in their insistence that the divine Sonship is from all eternity. Their belief in this matter is based upon clear Scripture evidence. However, if the texts do not support their view, as we developed under the Biblical theology section, this would make this view an unwarranted convention continued because of the resilience of the tradition. He is the Only Begotten of the Father from all eternity.
Chafer goes on to cite Richard Watson with approval on the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. The Biblical texts to which Chafer appeals are the same ones previously developed under the Biblical theology section. Many others could be added to these, though occasionally, as with Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, the Biblical case for eternal generation also is built off the metaphors of radiance, image, and word as well as the texts mentioned above. For them the generation and procession is both in eternity and in the redemptive activity. However, aren’t “radiance, image and word” revelational metaphors more appropriate for the economy (of revelation and redemption)? Thus I would disconnect these metaphors from supporting generation and procession in eternity.
If the Biblical specialists claim that the Biblical texts teach something other than what our evangelical theology maintains, isn’t our theology merely keeping a traditional convention alive? Personally, I do not value tradition highly enough to merely parrot it because it has always been this way, and as we have seen, it hasn’t always been this way. Likewise, I do not value tradition highly enough to parrot it because it is politically expedient to do so. Truth needs to be driven by other than tradition and power politics. In this, I show myself in my systematic theology method to be identified with Biblical theology methodology as a critical realist. If there is no Biblical text reason to maintain a tradition, and no other warranted epistemic reason to grant it, then this bit of theology should be jettisoned as archaic. To not follow this practice leaves us open to being accused of maintaining a post-modern religious convention.
“Post-modern” as a term emerged first in critiquing modern architecture in the 1890’s. Then it moved to describe a range of emerging existential views from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s voice through Ivan Karamazov and then Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. In this view, whatever we choose to authentically fit ourselves is permitted provided you have the will and the power to pull it off. The first philosophical appraisal I have found that critiques this existential post-modernism by name is Bernard Bell, who in 1926 argued that there were resources for truth in modern epistemology that warrant our truth claims without reducing things essentially to choice. This trajectory is already developed somewhat under that of Tillich and Tracy, but there are a host of more radical expressions that pursue this further, to populate the post–modern zoo..
The emergence of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s functional approach to language is hailed as the watershed for the conventional form of post-modernism. Wittgenstein developed language games as a conventional tradition.
There are countless kinds: countless different kinds of use of what we call “symbols,” “words,” “sentences.” And this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten.
Each game has its form of life and it’s rules, which contextualize it so that it makes sense. Like the word “run” that is ambiguous until I identify whether I am describing baseball, or a stocking or a race, or plumbing, or my car to my mechanic. Likewise, the theological language needs to be contextualized to Mormonism, or Calvinism, or more radically: John Milbank’s “The Midwinter Sacrifice,” or feminism, or liberation theology, or Mark Taylor’s Erring. With such far flung variety of post-modernism three will be sampled: Lindbeck, Milbank and Robert Webber’s “younger evangelicals.”
George Lindbeck proposes in post-liberalism a “cultural-linguistic” model of religion. Religion defines a language and practice of a community in their self definition. Hans Frei describes this as “Christian self-description,” not correlation with universal “human, cultural quests for ultimate meaning.” So the practices and narratives define the communal perspective repeatedly as the community performs them within themselves, and thereby etches on the communal conscience who they are and how they belong to God. For any community, their tradition becomes their own grammar within which the appropriate thought forms function. Such tradition as grammar becomes the necessary condition for cognition and experience to expressed, interpreted, and understood. Within this perspective faithfulness to tradition is critical, though pioneering beyond what the tradition has expressed is permitted provided the new significance experienced is communally connected within the community’s self definition. In this way tradition is both the essential language game and yet it does not become or make the community become an extinct fossil. So tradition is the linguistic medium that makes possible descriptions of realities and formation of belief; tradition is not a catalog of those beliefs.
John Milbank calls into question the sociology of religion, and especially that of overrated Marxism, to call the Christian community back to a radical orthodoxy. This radical orthodoxy is a return to tradition with a new twist on the kind and level of questions it asks. This radical orthodoxy is possible in the very arena of secularism because of secularism’s superficial relationship there. Milbank’s team argues that we need to suspend the hold these disciplines have in order to press them into the Christian language game. Radical orthodoxy resituates these areas of secular dominance through a Christian perspective, in terms of Trinity, Christology, the Church and the Eucharist. As these areas are recovered for Christianity, they are recovered phenomenally, for the Wittgensteinian move “refuses to see them as essences lurking behind phenomena.” This Christian x-ray vision reframes the world from the inside out for Christian conceptuality and intimacy. As an attempt to think Christianly about secular concerns, it is a success. However, it leaves the accessible world vacant except for our corporate experiences. In this, there is no warrant for the unique things thought except the communal agreement of this group and any who would existentially choose to join them.
Robert Webber believes that the Younger Evangelical leadership is emerging with a more postmodern congregational approach since around 2000. Raised in the Simpson’s generation with a post–modern worldview around them, these younger evangelicals find solace in a more community oriented epistemology and a more authentic embodiment in their spirituality. Among the younger evangelicals there is an “epistemological shift” from a reason based theology to a more community experience based faith “grounded in the whole person, in both body and mind.” In this there may be a greater appreciation for ambiguity. They are highly visual, appreciating the power of imagination and story that communicates. These younger evangelicals yearn to belong to a community and “crave genuine relationships and authentic friendships.” So the communal conventions of their friends become a determining feature in defining what they claim to know. There is an attraction to absolutes, not so much because they are demonstrated but because they are “loved and lived.” In this, there is an emphasis on “being real and authentic.” Webber presents these millennials as more conservative than their predecessors; these “twenty–somethings desire a stable society, a return to tradition.” James Penning and Corwin Smidt, in Evangelicalism: The Next Generation provide the statistical details to support a greater traditionalism in doctrine and ethics over the previous generation X. Dale Dirksen and David Taylor concur that there is a more robust consciousness for tradition as a reaction to always living with rapid change and new stuff. However, Penning and Corwin also display a shift of lessening commitment to a traditional hierarchical family and home replacing it by complementarianism. Additionally along with this shift is a slight lessening of the rejection of homosexuality. Is postmodernism the future traditional approach of evangelicalism?
Exampled in Trinity Development
Procession and generation are largely irrelevant fossils for the post-moderns, for in this neo–Barthian realm, existential relevance and phenomenal language games dominate. However, Lindbeck’s Yale school tells the narrative of the Son’s coming and the continuance of the salvific struggle when he sends His tag team partner the Spirit to intimately work within us and complete our salvation.
Likewise, Milbank’s post–modernism does not even mention procession or generation. Milbank’s team explores at greater depth the intimacy in which the phenomenal reality of Mary is impregnated with the Word of God, thus turning the eros toward the world through enrapturing bodies into new mystical agape love for the infinite. Sensual love woos toward the divine mystical experience which is the only love to continue to enrapture our souls. This wooing is part of the superior friendship which the Son provides in His incarnate intimacy with the creation and especially the Christian.
Webber identifies the paradigm theologian for the younger evangelicals to be Stanley Grenz. While the “younger evangelicals” may not have published on trinity at least Grenz has identified his commitment to a social Trinty model that reflects the younger evangelicals concern for authentic relationship. Grenz sees the Trinity as “the sine qua non of the Christian faith.” He follows Barth’s emphasis on the economic trinity and Frei’s narrative theology’s “Revelational Trinitarianism,” appreciating Trinity as developed in the life and experience of the first century.
The early Christians faced a grave theological problem, namely how to reconcile their inherited commitment to a the confession of the one God with the lordship of Jesus Christ and the experience of the Spirit. Far from a philosophical abstraction, therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity was the culmination of an attempt on the part of the church to address the central theological question regarding the content of the Christian faith, a question that arose out of the experience of the earliest followers of Jesus.
He then advocates a social trinity model pioneered by Leonard Hodgson and developed into academic awareness as a rival model by Jürgen Moltmann. He follows Moltmann and Robert Jenson, who advocate “the idea that God finds his identity in the temporal events of the economy of salvation.” In this development, procession and generation are replaced by relationality. So the core idea of person is Catherine LaCugna’s “toward another,” which means that the essence of Trinity is “in relation to another. Which implies that the Trinity is essentially a community of love. Furthermore, the Trinity has structural implications for Grenz in defining the image of God as that of relationality in humans. The result of this awareness is that we should strive for fellowship and community.
Each approach had a role for tradition. Tradition is not neutral but tends to frame one’s vision through which the person sees the world and God. I believe that the post-modern’s are the most honest about the way terminology works sociologically on a community. However, as a critical realist I believe that truth value of terms should correspond to the essential reality to the extent that it is accessible. I believe that truth is accessible with critical precision upon moderate foundations. I believe that the scholarly precision of the Biblical theologians is the most Biblical in their passionate practice to warrant their views in the Biblical text in its context, as the Word of God. When the other views on tradition lose this Biblical warrant, and they all do at times, then they appear as just another post-modern language game, fitted to a traditional community. As a critical realist, that draws me back to the methodology of the Biblical theologian. As a Christian, I am committed to tolerance and love for those who disagree with me.