Reformed

The language of Reformed theology still bothers me. It indicates something like “oh, theology? We’ve got that covered. It was broken, but we fixed it.” Which obviously isn’t true. It gives the impression that we’re done, that we can rest on our laurels as God-talkers, that we can say accurate things, the the improvements in our language and practice that remain are really window dressing.

I’d much prefer Reforming theology, or Reform theology, because terms like this would indicate that we are still a work-in-progress, that we are still open to challenge and change. Of course, people in general aren’t open to challenge and change. I mean, come on – they’re tiring.

Reformed theology also gives the impression that we have this strong continuity with the past. In some cases, perhaps we do, but I think that the Christianity we practice now would be in many ways alien to the Reformers. For example, we don’t shoot Catholics anymore, generally speaking, and they don’t shoot us. Also, we ordain women. And people of color. We don’t really ever talk about double predestination (except with perhaps a sheepish look and lots of caveats) and we’re not afraid that unbaptized babies will go to hell.

In my experience, the fact that I’m not very Reformed has almost never in any way hindered my relationships and communication with fellow Presbyterians, much less other Christians. I suppose one could bemoan this, saying that it is a sad example of theological illiteracy in the pews. Rather, I like to think that it is just a big hint that maybe what was important to the Reformers five hundred years isn’t exactly what’s important to many of us anymore. Maybe the world really is pretty different. Maybe its true that our social and historical position determines our theological interests and our modes of interpretation.

Maybe we have a lot more Reforming to do.

Finally, to me, Reformed sounds a little arrogant. Again, its talking about a complete work. “Theology? Got it covered.” It takes humility to look at everything with an eye to how you are wrong, how God might be working to change you. It’s also frightening. And, importantly, disarming. If my position isn’t iron-clad, if it isn’t the bulwark I might make it out to be, then it makes it a lot harder for me to stand behind it and lob stones at you. Its hard to lash out from a tenuous position, and maybe if we all agreed that our positions are pretty tenuous, there would be less lashing out.

Maybe.

5 thoughts on “Reformed

  1. It’s a shame that they don’t teach Reformed theology at SFTS. Reformed theology is all about humility – the humility to abandon the idols our hearts continually manufacture – and to submit to the self-revealing God of Holy Writ.Having an unshakable conviction that we “can’t possibly know with certainty X about God” is every bit as much a “detestable universal” as the conviction that we can know X because God revealed it in the Bible.Theology <>was<> broken in the Middle Ages. It continues to be broken every time we try to make the God who shows himself in the Scriptures fit under a foreign category (especially humanistic ones).

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  2. Hi again Chris.They do teach Reformed theology at SFTS. Vigorously, let me assure you. That doesn’t mean I have to buy into it uncritically.I don’t know what claiming that God is self-revealing has to do with humility. That claim is just saying “my assumptions about God are unassailable because God has self-revealed to me through ‘Holy Writ'”.If you agree that universals are “detestable”, then why do you claim them?Finally, it is possible to have a principle of uncertainty that is internally coherent. For example, Heisenberg claims that you cannot know with certainty the position and momentum of a particle – you can only know one or the other. You can’t argue that this is false by saying “ah, but Heisenberg is *certain* about uncertainty, which means he’s wrong!” In the same way, you can’t argue that my claim of uncertainty about God is wrong because I seem confident in it. Rather, you have to demonstrate *why* I’m wrong.And if you’re argument is that you know I’m wrong because God self-revealed it to you through Scripture, I’ll have trouble believing you. I can easily just argue that I am uncertain about God because God self-revealed it to me in Scripture, and quote a bunch of passages that talk about how God’s thoughts are beyond humankind’s thoughts, etc. And then we’re at the same impasse.So, for example, you could tell me something you know about God, with absolute certainty, and then try to prove it, and we can go from there.

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  3. Also, I forgot to mention, putting God in Scripture is just as absurd as putting god in humanistic categories. All language is foreign to God because language is bound by our thought processes and assumptions. God is infinite and ultimately incomprehensible, no matter what book you’re reading or what words you’re using. The best we get are words that point us toward God, but I would never clam that God could exist between book-covers – to me, that’s an incredible lack of humility, even if that book happens to be the Bible.

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  4. Well, you’ve already told me that any attempt to answer from Scripture will be dismissed as proof-texting. But I’ll try it anyway.You said: “All language is foreign to God because language is bound by our thought processes and assumptions.” Which you follow with the straw-man misrepresentation of a belief in actual revelation through Scripture as believing God exists only “between book-covers”.My only counter is Scripture: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being.” John 1:1-3.Now, since the Logos or Word (the essence of rationality) is God, and was with God in the beginning before anything was made (including patriarchal structures like – uh – language and logic?)…how is it that you deny God the power to make himself known explicitly through the written word?

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  5. Well, I personally don’t like to argue solely from Scripture, but I’d rather talk about these things than not, so I’ll try to respond.I think it is possible, in theory, for God to reveal God’s self through whatever means God wishes to. That’s an article of faith that I accept. What makes me suspect that the Bible is a less than perfect revelation of God, however, is my understanding that it is full of internal contradictions, and the great many scholars who have demonstrated (to my satisfaction, whatever its worth) that it is the work of human beings who disagree with each other, edit each other’s work, cut and paste whole sections from one book to another, and frankly portray God as doing horrific things and commanding things like rape and genocide. If the Bible was God’s eminent revelation for all time, wouldn’t it be more apparent?Its just easier to account for a lot of the Bible’s content by just looking at the motivations human authors might have had for saying those things. This accounts for the Bibles…I would say imperfections…more easily than saying that God intended the Bible to be God’s true and complete revelation for all time, but just sort of botched it up, or added all the problems and contradictions to make it harder to figure out what God is saying.Now, I basically agree with you, to a point. The Bible is one of the ways that God does reveal God’s self. I absolutely accept that. I just don’t think God is in any way limited to the Bible. I would say that the Bible is a human attempt at recording God’s revelation through history. Through these accounts, we can participate, to a degree, in these historical revelations.Finally, there is the issue of interpretation. When we read, we interpret, and how we interpret is heavily influenced by our background and assumptions. That’s as true for me as it is for anyone else, and I always enjoy reading non-Christian and non-Christendom theologies that deal with the Bible because of the rich variety of what people from other social locations find there. I have no reason to assume they see any less clearly than I do, so I value what they have to say. Like I value what you have to say. I just reserve the right to disagree if I think I have good reasons to do so.So, in closing, I don’t deny God the power to reveal God’s self through scripture, and in fact I believe God has, but I do not see scripture as any kind of final word where God is concerned. Because of this, I look outside of scripture as well as within it to try to understand more about God.

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