Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Biblical Reasoning

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Biblical Reasoning

Article excerpt

Christian theology is biblical reasoning, in which human intelligence responds to the intelligible divine Word spoken through the prophets and apostles. This conception of theology rests upon an ontology and teleology of Scripture and reason, shaped by an understanding of their place in the divine economy in which God establishes fellowship with human creatures, including the rational fellowship of which Christian theology is an instance. The divine economy, grounded in God's immanent life, unfolds as a history in which human creatures are summoned to know and love God. This history is redemptive and revelatory. The revelation takes form in the embassy of the prophets and apostles, superintended by the Spirit. Reason, corrupted by sin, is renewed by divine grace and participates in redeemed existence. Christian theology is the redeemed intellect's apprehension of God's address through his scriptural ambassadors, and takes the form of exegetical and dogmatic reasoning.

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This paper makes two related claims. First, Christian theology is biblical reasoning. It is an activity of the created intellect, judged, reconciled, redeemed, and sanctified through the redemptive works of the Son and the Spirit. More closely. Christian theology is part of reason's answer to the divine Word which addresses creatures through the intelligible service of the prophets and apostles. It has its origin in the Spirit-sustained hearing of the divine Word; it is rational contemplation and articulation of God's communicative presence.

Second, elucidating this conception of theology requires welljudged theological characterizations of Scripture and reason, their natures and ends. An ontology and a teleology of Scripture and reason are needed; the ontology and teleology should derive from the material content of the Christian confession and, accordingly, should demonstrate a free relation to other considerations of the nature of texts and rationality. We need to ask what Scripture and reason are and what they are for. Theological answers to those questions are taken from an understanding of the place of Scripture and reason in the divine economy. As I am using it here, the term "divine economy" bears two closely related senses: it is both the work of the triune God, in which be administers the temporal order of creaturely being and activity in accordance with his eternal purpose, and also the sphere of creaturely reality so administered by him: both God's act of dispensatio and that which be disposes. This order of reality encloses and forms the nature and activity of creatures. To be and to act as a creature is to be and to act within this ordered realm of being; and, moreover, it is to be in the communicative presence of God. God establishes and maintains fellowship with his creatures by addressing them through his Word, thereby summoning them to address themselves to his address. Fellowship with God includes rational fellowship; and of this rational fellowship. Christian theology is an instance.

Most of what follows is given over to describing more closely the divine economy in terms of which we can understand Scripture, reason, and their relation. This line of approach appears remote from familiar debates about the relation of the Bible and theology, and those debates are commonly predicated on significantly different understandings of texts and their rational reception, or are less direct in invoking theological doctrine. We need, I suggest, to move away from pressing concerns bout the proper use of Scripture, the nature of biblical authority, or the practice of theological interpretation. Widespread confusion and impatient and incoherent debate alxiut these matters should alert us to the need to push back, and to question the adequacy of the terms in which the debates have been conducted and the concepts through which matters have lx?en framed.

With respect to Scripture, for example, lack of clarity about the tasks of biblical interpretation (in which the tug-of-war between "historical" and "theological" interpretation is but one episode) is symptomatic of the absence of shared conceptions of the nature of Scripture and of the tasks which it undertakes in the divine economy. …

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