Monday, April 28, 2008

Thielicke and Post-Liberal Theology

I have always considered myself a Conservative Christian but have never agreed fully with a lot of the doctrine or other beliefs of the more conservative traditions, and I have never considered myself much of a liberal until fairly recently, either. So what am I? I live in an age where everything must have its proper label and since I could not agree on any one I made up one of my own and went with that for a while until I stumbled across Post-Liberal Theology. I theology that runs in and out of liberalism and conservatism: a middle ground between the two. Post-Liberal Theology (PLT) argues conservatives look behind the biblical text, searching the historical facts for the meaning and liberals search for truths found symbolically within the text. PLT argues that the meaning is neither this or that. The meaning is in the text itself and that it can stand alone. Lately, Christians have gotten into the habit of taking the surroundings that they live in and transplanting that onto their reading of the Scriptural text. This, according the PLT views is not a good thing. Instead, we should be allowing the text, specifically the stories to shape and influence our world. Stop looking back into what the original words meant or what may have really happened at the Red Sea or how exactly a person dies from crucifixion and listen to the story. Let it speak. How does this affect missions? To focus something other than the text for meaning takes there Scriptures away from the common-man, the person that did not go to a Christian school or who is not familiar with Greek or Hebrew or the history of the Ancient Near East. Focusing back on the text brings the Scriptures back to a place where the common person can understand them, because otherwise, we are slowly moving towards those actions of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, but instead of being required to know Latin in order to read the Scriptures we must know Greek, Hebrew, Ancient Near Eastern cultural practices, and the entire history of the Roman Empire through the 1st century AD. Not to say that knowing those things is wrong, rather they can be very helpful tools and incredibly interesting at that, but the meaning of the text is not there. The meaning of the text is in the text. That is why God gave us the Scriptures as they are. Yes, context matters but it is not everything when readin the Scriptures.
What does Thielicke have to do with this? He believed that ministry should shape our theology. I could not agree more. And that it is irresponsible not to address people where they are. As conservatives, it is easy for us to go above the text in our factual knowledge of what is going on behind the text and in so doing we begin to sound arrogant and it is a short step to looking at a person who is less educated and thinking them stupid. Ministry should shape our theology. As Christians, we are charged with spreading God's Name to the ends of the earth. This should shape how we live, the outpouring of God's Word ot the earth. And to do this we need to be humble, and servant-hearted. This is not an excuse or reason to stop learning or to snear at higher learning in a Christian context. By all means, learn as much as you can, but understand that the knowledge you gain is still knowledge given and that does not add anything to the fact that the story of Jesus coming and dying on a Cross and being resurrected is true, is an historical event. That is what matters: the Christocentricism of all that we do. We must be centered on Jesus and humbly approach our learning because even in our knowledge is dependant upon faith and is full of mystery (G.C. Berkouwer).
Humbly approach the world. Do not become hauty and arrogant because as Christians we are the chosen and greater than those in the world. God came into the world, He created it. And we must learn to look at the world and see God, to look at the Church and see God, and understand that "whoever does she Jesus Christ does indeed see God and the world as one,m he can henceforth no longer see God without the world" (Bonhoeffer - "Ethics"). Humanity is why God came, and why we are here. We must look at our fellow Christians as Christ-bearers and at our neighbors who are not saved as still made in the image of God and not to be scoffed at because we should be other-centered in our outworked lives. HUmanity is key, and we cannot think ourselves above that humanity. God became human, and lowered Himself, and we ought to be able to do the same.

"God plus humanity is a greater idea than God by Himself."

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