theological rocket science

16 Apr

Having just finished How Wide the Divide by Blomberg and Robinson (see my review at I’m left pondering theological frameworks and the assumptions they are built upon.

Witnessing these two scholarly types who also happen to be friends dialoguing with each other “across the divide” over key issues of how we view Scripture, how we view God, how we view Christ and the Trinity, and of just what it is “we must do to be saved,” I realized a few things and am left with a key question or two.

I realized that we all do in fact have theological frameworks and constructs that have been handed to us – and how very threatening it can be to have ground we had assumed was solid questioned – or even worse, to have it move and shift beneath us. Evangelicals typically have a theological framework constructed with considerable dependence upon theological language forged in those early church councils and further crafted and refined through the works of great theologians of the Reformation (take your pick). We cry sola scriptura, but in reality it’s “only scripture” as seen through our own accumulated and venerated creeds and commentaries. How can it be otherwise? We can no sooner escape the impact of our heritage than we can the fact of who fathered us. Is not attempting a theological pole vault over our own history back to a more pristine time merely an elaborate (though noble sounding) form of denial? This doesn’t mean we have to keep doing what our parents did (call me a perpetual optimist); I can grow in new directions. But to lose sight of where I’ve come from and how it impacts me rather than launching me out into new frontiers would only seem to further deepen the circular ruts of the past.

Mormonism, along with it’s “restoration movement” cousins (some more distant than others), for the past 150 years, it would seem, has been attempting to perform just such a pole fault. The creeds and commentaries and councils are all viewed as departures (the harsher word would be “apostasies”) into hellenized philosophy and thought. They reject these ancient definitions of the nature of God and the Trinity as forgeries foisted upon a sleeping church. They see themselves as being a collective “wake-up” call to the church worldwide – and setting aside the ancient creeds of “orthodox” Christendom present their own even more ancient claimed revelations representing their own tradition that reestablishes the true “ancient order.”

What strikes me is that everyone, it would seem, of whatever church or movement is holding on to the Bible and something else…whether it’s Calvin’s Institutes or Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, or Smith’s Doctrines and Covenants. And perhaps that’s simply inevitable. Perhaps those in greatest denial are those who insist that they are truly just sola scriptura – for it’s the unwritten creeds that in my experience are the most divisive and lethal. Looking back at the Bible itself, beyond the outward appearance of being a single, uniform book I can easily hold (and manipulate) in one hand, I see a great diversity of expression and perspectives often surfacing conflict and tensions between viewpoints in books side by side – or sometimes even on the same page. And yet the ultimate Author/Editor saw no need to harmonize and reconcile the differences. He seemed quite content to allow such differences to lay side by side so each may be weighed in turn and true Wisdom be found.

We however seem compelled to harmonize and homogenize and make uniform, making all the rough ways smooth, leveling all the mountains and filling in the all the valleys, making everything (and everyone) quite flat indeed. Alas, I fear it’s not the Lord’s coming that such a course prepares.

Witnessing the dialogue in How Wide the Divide I realize that the desired and most effective context for healthy debate is friendship, not hostility; ground saturated in mutual love for one another as well as for the Truth. On such noble Berean ground debate ceases to be power play; it ceases to be a means of silencing a foe and winning, and becomes instead a path to experiencing the shalom of mutually sought and shared understanding of one another.

Wading through the intricate discussions of incarnation and divine nature, of functional subordination and ontological equality, of monogenes and homoousia and homoiousia, I was struck by Martin Luther’s comment: “Since the article of the Holy Trinity is so far beyond our human mind and language, God must pardon us if we stammer and prattle (haver!) about it as well as we can, provided only that our faith is pure and right” (quoted by John T, Mueller in Christian Dogmatics, p. 155).

Martin was most definitely on to something there.

For my part, my eyes beginning to glaze over under the barrage of theological rocket science concerning differences over how to explain the Trinity and the nature of God and just how significant this is for how (or if) we relate to one another, I suddenly saw Jesus sitting in that circle of religious misfits and rejects and ignoramuses from his day as his mother and brothers knocked at the door. Jesus, of course, turns and with a wave of his hand towards the misfits asks, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Here are my mother and here are my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father is my brother and sister and mother.”

Could it really be that simple? Or that hard?


Posted by on April 16, 2011 in Doctrine & Heresies, musings


Tags: , ,

12 responses to “theological rocket science

  1. hip0

    April 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Hi Mike,

    You have a nice picture in your profile. I really like this movie. It all stands for tradition and in that sense is very close to our Orthodox Christian faith understandings as we’re all based on ancient tradition.

    Do you kwno Orthodox Christianity. if not I would just refer you to get in touch with it.

    I’m sure you’re looking for the ancient faith just like I was few years ago.

    Wish you success with your blog writtings,



  2. Josh Hopping

    April 18, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    On such noble Berean ground debate ceases to be power play; it ceases to be a means of silencing a foe and winning, and becomes instead a path to experiencing the shalom of mutually sought and shared understanding of one another.

    Well said. Now if we could just walk it out… but alas, that is the hard part. 😕

  3. Josh Hopping

    April 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    BTW – Your book review made me think about some of the Emergent leaders (noting, of course, the difference between Emergent and emerging). Why they are not claiming to be a “restorationist” group, they are in fact close to doing something very similar.

    As in, some of them see the church councils of the first 500 years of Christianity as bad – something full of Greek thought and not truly biblical. Yet, just as you said in your review, we can never really turn back the clock or throw out the parts of history that we don’t like. The best thing we can do is to seek to understand why the church leaders made the choices they did. In doing so, hopefully we can see the whys in our own culture and choices – leading us back to the person of Jesus and away from hard doctrines full of human wisdom.

    I guess it all underscores the necessity of knowing one’s history (both corporate and personal) for it will affect your future whether or not you recognize it.

  4. Jon T

    April 18, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    “For my part, my eyes beginning to glaze over under the barrage of theological rocket science concerning differences over how to explain the Trinity and the nature of God and just how significant this is for how (or if) we relate to one another”
    LOL, I agree. Great post Mike. Lately I’ve been thinking about the irony embedded in the cry of “sola scriptura” when combined with the systematic labels we also cling to.

  5. wordhaver

    April 19, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Thanks Georgi! Actually last year I had my first real introduction to Orthodox Christianity through reading “The Orthodox Way.” It was like meeting distant cousins for the first time! I definitely experienced a common kinship…God’s blessings to you! 🙂

  6. wordhaver

    April 19, 2011 at 12:58 am

    I did have fun with that post – been ruminating on it more or less constantly for about a month…and you are so right – writing it is the easy part! Now for the messy business of living it…but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks Josh – you always bless me!

  7. wordhaver

    April 19, 2011 at 1:00 am

    I had not even made that connection – was more looking back at my own involvement with restorationist churches. That is quite the parallel!

  8. wordhaver

    April 19, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Thanks Jon! I’ve always appreciated irony, to be sure. If only this one could be more readily seen and appreciated by us all!

  9. Justin Boggs

    May 5, 2011 at 6:36 am

    I’m no great theologian, but I have wrestled greatly with a few doctrines that really define us a Christians, such as the nature of the God head and the mechanism of salvation. In all of my reading and study, with all the explanations I have seen from many different sources I have come to one conclusion. The Bible is sometimes not so good at giving us a graspable truth. The Bible does seem to be very good at giving us tensions. As you so well put it, it’s the temptation to smooth out those tensions that get’s us into trouble. If we were more ok in living with the tension that God pre-destines us for salvation, but we all have free will, then Calvinists wouldn’t have to be so mean. 🙂

  10. Justin Boggs

    May 5, 2011 at 6:38 am

    I should have added on the last post. It was upon discovering that I didn’t need scripture anymore to prove a doctrine, that I was able to more readily accept the larger truths of what it was trying to say. Beyond the proof text.

  11. wordhaver

    May 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Amen Justin! But I’m sure it was just foreordained that Calvinists would be so mean 🙂

  12. wordhaver

    May 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Oh, may we all live in that wonder-filled land beyond the proof text…


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