Monthly Archives: October 2011

Rule Theory of Doctrine

(This is a continuation of a Cultural-Linguistic Approach to Religion)


What is doctrine?

Doctrines are rules to guide Christian life and speech.

They are not, Lindbeck argues, primarily propositional truth claims, nor universal symbols. This does not mean that there isn’t objective truth in doctrine, just that that is not the primary function of doctrine. Same with religious feeling or ‘experience’. It is part of the Christian faith and doctrine, but it is not the core of doctrine.

In chapter four Lindbeck lays out six categories, rules or types of doctrines:

unconditionally necessary
conditionally necessary
permanent
temporary
reversible
irreversible

In chapter five, Lindbeck sets out to test his rule theory using these six categories. The goal – to show that a Rule Theory of Doctrine “provides a nonreductive framework for discussion among those who genuinely disagree.” (pg 77)

Case #1 – The Christological Creeds (Nicaea and Chalcedon) – Unconditonally necessary//permanent

Lindbeck suggests that there is a distinction between doctrines and terminology. He reminds us that creedal terms like substance ‘ousia’ and person ‘hypostasis’ are ‘post-biblical novelties.’ (pg. 78) These terms are not essential because if they were than the creeds themselves would be temporary (rather than permanent) and conditional on a Hellenistic culture.

Christianity “has been committed to the possibility of expressing the same faith, the same teaching and the same doctrines in diverse ways.” (pg. 78)

First and second order propositions “are separable from the forms in which they are articulated.” (pg. 79).
e.g. Amanda has jaundice. We can describe this using Galen’s four humours (inbalance of the humours) or science (viral infection). Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Amanda has jaundice (even if one explanation is more correct than the other).

What Lindbeck says we have to do is show that the doctrine of Nicaea and Chalcedon “are distinguishable from the concepts in which they are formulated” and we do this by stating, “these doctrines in different terms that have equivalent consequences.” (pg. 79)

To do this we have to see Nicaea and Chalcedon as second order ‘guidelines’ not first order ‘affirmations.’

So, Lindbeck argues that Athanasius (opponent of Arius) used Greek logic rules to describe the relationship of Christ to the Father. Athanasius expressed it with the rule ‘whatever is said of the Father is said of the Son, except the Son is not the Father.’ (pg 80). This is a rule of speech, not a first order proposition. Lindbeck argues that later scholarship imported (read in) metaphysical first order meaning into Athanasius’ statement.

Creeds are primarily regulative; not propositional.

3 regulative principles or rules behind the original creeds
1. Monotheistic principle
2. Principle of historical specificity (Jesus was really a person)
3. Principle of Christological Maximalism

The major heresies (Docetism, Arianism, Nestorianism etc) were all rejected because they violated “the limits of what was acceptable as defined by the interaction of these three criteria.” (pg. 81) Therefore, creeds are paradigms of doctrinal truth/rules. They are “permanently authoritative paradigms, not formulas to be slavishly repeated.” (pg. 82)

Practical Question – Does this mean that creeds should be re-written for a post-modern culture?
Lindbeck says ‘no.’ His reasons:
1. rare to achieve a creed that is accepted by the whole Church.
2. The creeds have “acquired liturgical and expressive functions.”
3. the recitation of the creeds is “a mighty symbol of the Church’s unity in space and time.”
4. “An updated version of the creed is less likely to invite believers to worship, proclaim and confess the faith in their language rather than in its own.” (pg. 81)

Case #2 Marian Dogmas (Immaculate Conception) – Reversibility//Irreversibility

Lindbeck argues that these two doctrines could not exist until other doctrines (i.e., Marian devotion and the doctrine of original sin) were well developed. After this long process, “Christians [Catholics] discovered that the grammar of faith required them to speak of the Mother of our Lord as sinless in a way concealed from the first generations.” (pg. 83).

A Catholic affirmation of the Immaculate Conception is necessary in order to ‘maintain her God-given and God-dependent freedom in saying ‘yes”.

So, if Marian dogma is built on a specific understanding of the theology of sin, what would happen if that understanding of the doctrine of sin changes? What if the theology of sin is temporary (culturally specific for a specific era only)? That would make it possible that the Marian dogma is reversible.

Hypothetical Ecumenical Discussion:
Evangelicals and Catholics get together to talk about Marian Dogmas. Using the ‘rule theory’ of irreversibility/reversibility how would this ecumenical dialogue proceed?
Rule Theory allows evangelicals to understand why the doctrine of IC is so important to the RC faith. It allows evangelicals to explore how to re-appropriate and appreciate the role of Mary in the biblical narrative without having to necessarily adopt the long standing traditions that led to the official IC doctrine.

But what does it do on the other side of the discussion? How would Catholics feel being told that this core doctrine is ‘reversible’, contingent on a theological tradition that may or may not continue to be accurate?

The Usefulness of Rule Theory:
So how useful is the rule theory, taxonomy of doctrine?

Positive: It ‘could make an important contribution if it encouraged the ecumenical dialogues to consider the status of doctrine in the respective churches, and also the status of particular doctrines.” (Wainwright, 130)

Negative: In reality “churches will continue to believe that doctrines make truth claims in a stronger sense than Lindbeck wants to allow. As Luther put it against Erasmus: ‘take away assertions, and you take away Christianity.” (Wainwright, 130).

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Christianity Today has an excerpt from Mark Galli’s new book Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit. Given the reading I’ve been doing for class, this might be a book to add to the pile at some point.

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Patheos is doing a symposium on The Future of Seminary Education. There’s lots to read!

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Thomas Jay Oord offers ten reasons why men should not be pastors:

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers

Read the other five reasons here.

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In gaming news: is this a joke? The new expansion for World of Warcraft is Kung Fu Panda meets Pokemon? I think it’s a good thing I’ve unplugged from the world of WOW.

To Tract Or Not To Tract

Tim Challies is giving away a set of Christian tracts that are to be given out at Halloween. As well, he has included a few “tips” on how to give out these tracts.

When I was a kid, I’d be disappointed with the tracts because usually they were given without candy. I also wasn’t a Christian, so I always thought that the tracts were things given out by crazy religious people.

Now as an adult and a Christian, I find myself uncomfortable with the whole method of tracts in general, not just those given out for Halloween. Maybe it’s because I automatically think of Chick Tracts?

So here’s my question: Do you give out tracts? How effective are they? Did you ever get tracts in your treat bag when you were a kid/have your kids gotten tracts?

(For the record: The Cheese-Wearing household will probably be giving out soda pop for Halloween this year — without tracts).

Cultural-Linguistic Approach to Religion

George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine is probably the hardest book I’ve had to read. Yes, he is more difficult to read than Barth. But just because he’s a hard read doesn’t make him irrelevant. Indeed, NOD has had a huge influence on various strains of Christian thought. Protestant Liberalism and conservative evangelicalism have both been shaped in the last 25 years by the theory introduced in NOD.

Lindbeck suggests that there has been two main ways of understanding doctrine, the Cognitive-propositionalist approach (CPA) and the Experiential-expressivist approach (EEA).

Cognitive-propositional: This approach to doctrine is concerned with verifiable fact. It is about “proving” that such-and-such doctrine is metaphysically true. He says that this was the pre-liberal approach to religion.

Experiential-expressivist
: This approach to doctrine is concerned with symbols. It is about finding the common human experience and about reducing doctrine to it’s universal principle that can be found across religions. The experience of “absolute dependence” is key to this approach. This has been liberal protestantism since the days of Schleiermacher.

Lindbeck proposes a third way — The Cultural-Linguistic Approach (CLA). This CLA is at the heart of what he calls “post-liberal” theology. In short, Postliberal theology is a movement to help liberal protestantism be shaped by Scripture. As Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm summarize, the mission of Postliberalism is “…to reverse the trend in modern Christianity of accommodation to culture.”

The CLA is based upon principles of cultural anthropology (Clifford Geertz) as well as theory of language (Ludwig Wittgenstein). So, a CLA means that “to become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.” (NOD, 20). It means that just like becoming fluent in a language, a person who becomes a Christian learns the language and practice; that is, how to think, act and feel within the Christian tradition.

A CLA approach means that we don’t have to “prove” the veracity of doctrines, nor do we have to reinterpret doctrines so that they can be explained to those outside of the faith. Indeed, it is very possible that there will be doctrines that will not ‘translate’ to other religions. (Example: there is no Christian equivalent to Buddhist Nirvana).

So what does this mean for explaining or evangelizing the faith? It means that in a cultural-linguistic approach, postliberal theology will ‘instead of redescribing the faith in new [modern] concepts, [it will] seek to teach the language and practices of the religion to potential adherents.” (pg. 118) Catechism becomes vital to the life of the Church. For example, Lindbeck looks back to the earliest Christian converts. He notes:

“Pagan converts…did not, for the most part, first understand the faith and then decide to become Christians; rather, the process was reversed: they first decided and then they understood. More precisely, they were first attracted by the Christian community and form of life…Only after they had acquired proficiency in the alien Christian language and form of life were they deemed able intelligently and responsibly to profess the faith.” (pg. 118)

…to be continued…

A Benefit of Reading Rudolf Bultmann

It would be easy to critique Rudolf Bultmann and to dismiss his theology of ‘de-mythologizing’ as unhelpful for evangelical Christians to study. Indeed, when Bultmann basically denies or reinterprets every theological statement in the Apostles’ Creed,(1) it would be easy to label him as unorthodox. Despite the serious concerns that his theology raises, there are still several areas in which studying Bultmann is useful for evangelical Christians. Space only permits the discussion of one of these areas, and that is that Bultmann’s theology rightly emphasizes the need for the appropriation of the Christian faith for each generation, and for each individual person.

In Jesus Christ and Mythology, Bultmann argues that the world of the Bible and the events that it describes are a product of a pre-modern worldview. This worldview understood the universe in terms of gods and demons affecting and manipulating the events of the world, and understood the world as being three-tiered, with heaven being up above, and hell being below the earth. This mythological understanding of the world is completely foreign to a modernist worldview,(2) as modernity is characterized by two things: an understanding of the workings of the world through scientific explanations of cause and effect, and “the belief that individuals could, by their own work efforts, determine their future security and fulfillment.”(3)

There is nothing that can be done to reject our current worldview in favour of adopting a pre-modern worldview, for, according to Bultmann, worldview is not a choice,(4) nor should there be an attempt to reject it. Bultmann’s theology of demythologization posits that the message of Christ (and of the Church) is not “bound to an ancient worldview which is obsolete.”(5) Bultmann suggests that the kerygma of the Christian faith transcends all worldviews because, “no worldview of yesterday, today or tomorrow is definitive.”(6)

And, while demythology leads to a rejection of things like miracles or a literal resurrection, Bultmann’s intent is noble. His goal is to find a way to make the Christian faith relevant in an era that has been influenced not only by a scientific worldview, but also by 19th century Liberal Protestantism, which confused religion with “a religiously coloured moralism.”(7)

Bultmann also desires to find a way to have individuals appropriate the Christian faith for themselves. Indeed, one of Bultmann’s critiques of Karl Barth’s theology was that Barth failed “to provide some way for understanding faith as one’s own.”(8) Faith comes through the hearing of the kerygma, and the kerygma is proclamation.(9) Faith cannot and should not be dependent on outside sources to keep it propped up.

Thus, Bultmann’s demythologization liberates faith from being carried on the crutches of things like an historical Jesus, rationalisms, or even supernatural occurrences.(10) It is by faith that people are transformed and they come to a new “self-understanding” which “can be maintained only as a continual response to the word of God which proclaims his actions in Jesus Christ.”(11) It is the word of God which Bultmann says survives the demythologization process, and this word is “a concrete word addressed to men here and now,”(12) and is not dependent on a certain era or worldview. The word, like God himself, is transcendant and it resists all attempts to be objectivized.(13)

As evangelicals living in the West, we face a new era. We are no longer in a modern society, but a post-modern society, and we are no longer in a Christian age, but a post-Christian age. As such, we are needing to answer some questions: what is the Gospel? What is the Christian faith? How do we communicate the Gospel to the culture around us? Even though there is a move away from the rugged individualism of the 20th century and towards a more community-focused faith, we still need to examine how we internalize and appropriate faith in our own personal lives. So, while we may not agree with Bultmann’s conclusions, evangelical Christians can learn from and appreciate his attempt to make the Christian faith understandable and relevant to his generation.

Notes:
(1) Herman Ridderbos, Bultmann, trans. David Freeman (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1960), 27.
(2) Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1958), 36.
(3) Roger Johnson, Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era (London: Collins Liturgical Publications, 1997), 35.
(4) “No one can adopt a worldview by his own volition – it is already determined for him by his place in history.” Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2000), 3.
(5) Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 36.
(6) Ibid., 37.
(7) Johnson, Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era, 12.
(8) Ibid., 15.
(9) Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 71.
(10) Johnson, Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era, 42.
(11) Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 76.
(12) Ibid., 79.
(13) Ibid., 83.

Family Devotions

Chuck and I have been married for five and a half years. Over the years we have tried a variety of family devotions. We’ve tried devotionals that are labeled things like Moments Together for Couples, which end up being one proof-texted verse and then a page of random reflection on life rather than on Scripture. We’ve gone through “praying the Scriptures” type of books that end up feeling more like the Prayer of Jabez. We’ve had limited success choosing a non-devotional book and working through it. An example of this was The Jesus Creed by Scot Mcknight. That worked great. Until we got to the end of the book, when we looked at each other and said, “now what do we use?”

More often than not, we would end up using whatever class I was taking at the time as a springboard for devotions and conversation. So when I took my favourite class, a reading through 2nd Samuel, I would come home each night with all kinds of excitement for what I had just learned. But then, the class would end and we’d again look at each other and say, “now what do we use?”

In the last few months we’ve found something that is interesting, it lasts longer than a couple of weeks, and it has both depth and structure. We’ve adapted the ‘Evening Prayer’ service out of the Anglican Book of Alternative Services (click on the link and jump to page 66).

Here’s what we do:

Open with the chorus from song I learned several years ago: Listen, God is Calling. You can hear it here, we sing just the intro (up to the :43 second mark)

We read the Invitatory, either ‘O Gracious Light’ or Psalm 134.

We do the appointed Scripture readings.

We say the Affirmation of Faith, either The Apostles’ Creed or Hear O Israel.

We sing The Lord’s Prayer.

We say one of the dismissal benedictions.

The best time we’ve found to do this family devotion is right after dinner while we’re still gathered around the dining room table.

What I like about this is that there is both structure and flexibility. The structure is similar to what we do on Sunday mornings at church. The flexibility exists in that we can do all three of the assigned Scripture readings (OT, Gospel, NT), or one of them, or even just the appointed psalm for the day, depending on what kind of time we have.

Because we do the Scripture reading aloud, we’ve played with several translations. For the moment, we’re using the NLT as it seems to flow the best. (We have tried the NKJV, and NIV and the NASB).

We’ve been doing this for about three months now, and so far, so good.

What have you found works best for your family devotions, or your personal devotions? Does having a routine help? Or is it better for you to do them at different times depending on your day? What resources have you found helpful?

Canadian Thanksgiving

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise
for all you have done for us.
We thank you for the splendour of the whole creation,
for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends,
and for the loving care
which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us tasks
which demand our best efforts,
and for leading us to accomplishments
which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ;
for the truth of his word and the example of his life;
for his steadfast obedience,
by which he overcame temptation;
for his dying, through which he overcame death;
for his rising to life again,
in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit,
that we may know Christ and make him known;
and through him, at all times and in all places,
may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

(A Thanksgiving Prayer from the Anglican Book of Alternative Service, pg 129)

I am thankful for:

Theology is Vital for the Church

Yesterday we discussed the common attitudes towards theology in the church. I listed several comments I have heard over the years, including “Theology is boring!” Two of my favourite contributions that blog readers suggested were Anne’s: “Theology? What exactly is that??” and Student Theologian’s: “you’re overthinking – that’s not important in the end to whether you get through the pearly gates.”

Now I get that some churches have been really burnt by theological controversy. People have argued, tempers have flared, division has occurred and feelings have been hurt. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw theology out. Indeed, theology is vital to the life of the Church.

People see theology as something done by academics in ivory towers. Theologians write papers and books and use five-million dollar words and they just don’t ‘get’ what is happening in the lives of people who sit in the pews every week. Supposedly.

As I’ve said before, the majority of Christian theologians are writing FOR the Church. Yes it may be academic, yes it may be technical, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant to the life of the Church. Sure Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics are 14 volumes of dense theological reflection, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t written for the Church. Quite the opposite. Barth wrote specifically for the Church.

A church may be practical (and hip and relevant and friendly and warm) and never mention theology or use theological terms like justification, soteriology, ecclesiology or Christology, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t theology working in the background of that church.

So let’s try a really practical illustration. Theology is like the ‘extras’ on a DVD. Theology is the director’s commentary and ‘behind the scenes’ vignettes. Even if you choose to just watch the movie and never hit the ‘special features’ button, they are still there. They are the reflections and evidence of just how much work went into making the movie you just watched. Sure you can just enjoy the movie, but that doesn’t change the fact that there were specific intentions by the director in how he did what he did, that there were technical details and complicated steps that had to happen in order for the movie to be the movie that it was. Theology may be technical or complicated, sometimes it may be poorly thought out and clumsily executed, but every church has theology working in the background, even if they choose to just focus on the finished, practical product.

Theology informs all that we do. It tells us why we do practical things like why we gather in worship on Sundays instead of Tuesdays, why we put money in the offering plate every week, why we celebrate communion the way we do, why we sing the songs that we sing, and why we sit and listen to a preacher talk at us for 15 minutes (or 30 minutes or 3 hours), and why we participate in social justice projects and community outreach.

Theology creates our Christian identity. As Stanley Grenz writes, theology is by its very nature practical. “Theology is the Christian community reflecting on and articulating the faith of the people who have encountered God in God’s activity as focused in the history of Jesus of Nazareth and who therefore seek to live as the people of God in the contemporary world…In fact we need no other rationale to engage in [theology] than our participation in the church.” (Theology for the Community of God, 8).

And as for the notion that theology is boring, well. Theology may be a great many things. It may be complex, it may be convoluted. It may be divisive, it may be technical. It may be challenging, it may be deep. But that doesn’t make it boring. Theology can’t possibly be boring, it has too much to say!