Sunday, October 5, 2008

What I Learned This Week, Vol. II


So, Systematic Theology was the doctrine of the Trinity. And what do you say about that? I think I mentioned this, but at a certain point you have to just say, "Yes, the Trinity. Three in one. One in three. There it is," and move on, or you will make yourself crazy.


My Calvin class gave me the most interesting revelation, both about Calvin himself and, more broadly, about the value of considering audience in literary analysis. Professor McKee has been hammering at this, but she finally got it through to me on Thursday of this last week. I can some up the point in these few words.

Calvin didn't know anyone who wasn't Christian.

Calvin was never writing to a secular world. He was never writing to a non-Christian world. With the notable exception of reaching to the Roman church, he was never, ever, an apologist. That just was not in his conception. Ever and always, his concern was for his flock.

For that reason, the doctrine of predestination makes sense. It doesn't have to be defended to non-Christians. Except for some Jews, there aren't any around in Calvin's world. And, as a method of reassuring a population that was always in doubt about the surety of its salvation, Calvin's predestination is spot on the money - you needn't worry about your soul, you are of the elect, and so you're fine. Focus on your work, then, on God's work, and don't worry yourself about your hope of heaven - it is sure (this of course is later replaced by anxiety over how to know whether or not you are of the elect - but that's a different blog post).

That extends out even farther. If we consider the audience of any text, and especially any theological text, we will see that there is an impact of intention. A sermon to a congregation will say different things than a letter to a prisoner. But fundamentally, the message must always be the same - the story of Christ resurrected, and the remission of our sins.

Theology is a science of mysterious tensions. God is three. God is one. Christ is God. Christ is a man. God foreknows all things. God has made us in his image, to be like Him. All these statements are equally true in Christian thinking, but they seem contradictory. To be faithful theologians means explicating them all in different ways and at different times. But reading any theologian, it is absolutely worth our time to investigate their intended audience, to see what their emphases are.


Other than that, things are good! Next week is shaping up to be the doctrine of election and Joshua. Good times.

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