Friday, June 20, 2008
At the Center: The Foundation of Christian Theology
It seems different traditions will have a different central focus. Roman Catholicism starts with Ecclesiology and build a theology from there. Restorationist Stone-Campbellites seem to do the same. Open theism builds a theology from a certain concept of the will. Dispensationalism emphasizes eschatology and much of American evangelicalism seems built on Bibliology or a certain concept of a gospel offer.
Even within the Reformed camp there seems to be a debate on the “center” of the faith. There is a large TULIP-happy, soteriologically-centered crowd that sees everything centered around the Reformed concept of Soteriology and predestination. Another crowd seems to have, what I would term, a Theo-centric view. This sees God as transcendent and grand and builds everything off of such a view, with much talk about how not to view things as man-centric.
Both of these approaches are correct in their teaching, yet also slightly askew as the question of emphasis, center, and the foundation of your theology affects how you look at other aspects of theology, even if the basics are the same. The Soteriology-centered crowd seems to have little concern for the detail of worship, other than mentioning our depravity often and never giving an invitation. The Theo-centric crowd can sometimes talk of God in such grand ways as to make God impersonal, and while God may be too humanized in other parts of evangelicalism, a full swing to the other extreme is problematic as well.
I’ve been stuck as I study theology how true is the statement of Karl Barth: “show me your Christology, and I will show you the rest of your theology.” Concurrently, while reading Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei, I was struck by his description of Calvin’s approach to theology. While Luther centered everything around justification and Beza had more of the Theo-centric approach (like above), Calvin centered all talk of ecclesiology, Soteriology, and Theology Proper around the person of Christ. It was more than a throw away line about how important Jesus is, or an add on line to please the folks who prefer to talk to God through Jesus “thank you Jesus, help me Jesus, Come Lord Jesus, etc.” No, every aspect of Salvation related to the question, “how does Christ teach us about salvation?” Christ becomes type, teacher and image in any discussion. Ecclesiology is a question about: how do we understand the church as the Bride of Christ, or the Body of Christ? Theology proper is about how do we learn about God through Christ. Soteriology is about how Christ saves us. Some do not realize the title of the last book of the Bible is a great method to Theology. It is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Greek, we learned that the use of the genitive in the title means it can also be translated: “Jesus Christ reveals.” I like three word theological guides (see “God saves sinners.”) While "God saves sinners" can be a good summary of theology, "Jesus Christ reveals" can be a beginning to a hermeneutic or methodology within our theological study. This emphasis has particularly hit me over the past year. Before that, I had a well developed Soteriology, a poor Theology Proper, a non-existent Ecclesiology and a skeletal Bibliology. All of which was due to an underdeveloped Christology; and all of which I have seen invigorated by robust, and centric Christology. At the least, it is a good question to ask when looking at a new area of theology: What does Jesus Christ reveal about this…