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Showing posts from December, 2016

Evangelism And Ecumenism

Frequently, there has been a deep division between those who are committed to 'evangelical' concerns and those who are committed to 'ecumenical' concerns. This is a sad situation especially when we look at this particular tension in modern theology in the light of the Gospel. In John 17:2, we read of Jesus' prayer for the Church - "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." In the light of Jesus' prayer, we must acknowledge honestly that the division of the Church is a spiritual catastrophe for the watching world. We must not become so accustomed to disunity that we become immune to the words of warning in Jesus' prayer. The contemporary must penitently acknowledge "that the endless division of the Church gives the world cause for joy and derision, a reason for its unbelief" (Berkouwer). In the face of its mission, the Church must acknowledge guilt for the world's unbelief. We must, however, …

Assessing the Christology of Wolfhart Pannenberg

In his Christology, Pannenberg adopts a ‘from below’ approach rather than a ‘from above’ approach (Jesus - God and Man (1968; German edition, 1964), pp. 33-37). Using historical reason, he concludes that it is more reasonable to defend the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection rather than denying it. He accepts Kirn’s definition of the historical method: “A historical conclusion can be regarded as certain when … despite the fact that it is not removed from all possible attacks, it is nevertheless in agreement with all the known facts” Basic Questions in Theology, Vol. I (1970), p. 54). Adopting this approach to Jesus’ resurrection, he concludes that “(t)he Easter appearances are not to be explained from the Easter faith of the disciples; rather, conversely, the Easter faith of the disciples is to be explained from the appearances” (Jesus - God and Man, p. 96). Pannenberg holds that Jesus’ resurrection has retroactive power, i. e. in the resurrection, God sets His seal on the pre-Easter …

Revelation - Centred On Christ, Our Saviour

Carl E. Braaten has written that "Serious reservations ... must be voiced against the dominant position of the idea of revelation in theology." Braaten suggests that the idea of revelation implies that "man's essential predicament is his lack of knowledge." Braaten offers this comment: "If the ignorance of man stands in the centre, then the fact of revelation relieves that plight; but if man's guilt is the problem, then not revelation but reconciliation must become the theological centrum" (History and Hermeneutics, p. 14). Any worthy theology of revelation will take full account of the substance of Braaten's comment. Man's basic need does not lie in his finitude. It lies in his sinfulness. This need is not met by mere knowledge about God. It is met by reconciliation to God. We must, however, resist any and every tendency to draw a false contrast between revelation and reconciliation. Revelation is not merely an antidote to ignorance. Rev…

Doctrine And Devotion

For some Christians, 'doctrine' is a taboo word. They only need to hear the word and their hackles are up! In their view, doctrine is dry. It is head-knowledge. It is not practical. There are others whose preoccupation with doctrine gives precisely the same impression. One recalls the story of the man who was asked his opinion of a certain preacher. The question was put to him, "Was he sound?" The reply came back immediately, "Oh yes. he was sound all right, but the rest of us were sound asleep." Doctrine can be 'on fire.' Doctrine need not be dull. Doctrine does not need to be above the heads of the ordinary people. It does not belong to the private domain of the academic's 'ivory tower.' When you hear the word, 'doctrine', do not imagine an academic 'holy of holies' which is protected by the words, "Trespassers Forbidden." For both the academic theologian and the ordinary believer, the way forward in doctrine…

Assessing the Eschatological Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg

Eschatology has rarely been directly associated with the doctrine of election, which has generally been understood in relation to its ‘pre’ element (see, for example, J. Calvin, Institutes, Three, XXI, 5 and L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 109-118). Election and eschatology have been understood in direct relation to one another by Wolfhart Pannenberg, whose whole theology bears a distinctly eschatological flavour. Pannenberg’s peculiarly eschatological theology has been described thus: “The intellectual task that Pannenberg has set himself is a monumental one, namely to construct a fundamental system of thought in which the primary ontological principle is futurity” (W. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God (1975),edited by R. J. Neuhaus, p. 12 (from “Wolfhart Pannenberg: Profile of a Theologian” by Neuhaus). The fundamental importance of futurity in Pannenberg’s thought is expressed thus by Pannenberg himself: “we see the present as an effect of the future, in contrast to…

Some European Theologians

Schillebeeckx, Edward Cornelius Florentius Alfons (1914-2009)
Dominican scholar. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, he taught dogmatic theology at Louvain (1943–45, 1947–58). He was appointed professor of dogmatics and the history of theology at the University of Nijmegen in 1958. In 1965 he helped to found the international theological journal Concilium. His Jesus received acclaim in the wider theological world but disapproval from the Vatican (he was summoned to
Rome in Dec. 1979). His controversial Ministry (1981) caused even greater concern. He was the first theologian to receive the Erasmus Prize (1982) in recognition of his important contribution to European culture. He retired that same year. He has received the highest civil honor in the Netherlands — Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau. He has been described as “one of the very greatest theologians” (J. Bowden). His major works are Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (1974) and Christ: The Christian Experience in the Modern World

Revelation and Reconciliation

'Serious reservations ... must be voiced against the dominant position of the idea of revelation in theology, with its corollary that man's essential predicament is his lack of knowledge ... if the ignorance of man stands at the center, then the fact of revelation relieves that plight; but if man's guilt is the problem, then not revelation but reconciliation must become the theological centrum' (C E Braaten, History and Hermeneutics, p.14).
Building on Braaten's comment, we emphasize two important points:
(i) Man's basic need lies in his sinfulness rather than his finitude;
(ii) That need is met by reconciliation to God rather than mere knowledge about God.
In his treatment of the doctrine of Scripture, Berkouwer places the doctrine of reconciliation at the centre. Divine revelation is not merely an antidote for human ignorance. Scripture must be understood with respect to its specific intention (Holy Scripture, p.125), which is 'most closely related to salvati…

A Critique of J D Bettis, "Is Karl Barth a Universalist?"

The question of universalism in Barth’s theology has been raised directly by J D Bettis in his article, “Is Karl Barth a Universalist?” (Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 20, No. 4, December 1967, pp. 423-436). This article requires to be carefully discussed not only for its significance as an interpretation of Barth’s thought but also because it presents a serious misrepresentation of Berkouwer’s criticism of Barth. Bettis writes, “Modern protestant theology has defined three basic answers to the question of the particularity of election: double predestination, Arminianism and universalism” (p. 423). By attempting to fit Berkouwer into “this structure of alternatives” (p. 423), he misrepresents completely Berkouwer’s criticism of Barth. According to Bettis, Brunner and Berkouwrer hold that “because Barth fails to accept either Brunner’s Arminianism or Berkouwer's double decree, he must be a universalist” (p. 426). There are two misrepresentations of Berkouwer here. (a) In Divin…

Marx’s Call for a World-Changing Philosophy: Herbert Marcuse, Liberation and Jesus Christ

Marcuse emphasizes that liberation is grounded in the truth.
He sees, in Marx’s thought, an “absolutism of truth (which) … once for all separates dialectical theory from the subsequent forms of positivism and relativism” (Reason and Revolution (RR), p. 322, emphasis mine).
Marcuse describes this absolutism of truth thus: “According to Marx, the correct theory is the consciousness of a practice that aims at changing the world. Marx’s concept of truth, however, is far from relativism. There is only one truth and one practice capable of realizing it. Theory accompanies the practice at every moment, analysing the changing situation and formulating its concepts accordingly. The concrete conditions for realizing the truth may vary, but the truth remains the same and the theory remains its ultimate guardian. Theory will preserve the truth even if revolutionary practice deviates from its proper path. Practice follows the truth not vice versa” (RR, pp. 321-322, emphasis mine).
Marx’s call for…

Creation And Christ

When we think of the relationship between creation and Christ, we become more strikingly aware of the inadequacy of the word, 'reconciliation' as a replacement for the word, 'revelation.' Christ is the centre of divine revelation. It is in Him alone that there is reconciliation or salvation. While seeing Christ as the centre of divine revelation, we must be careful not to make Christ the sum-total of revelation in such a restrictive way that we lose sight of the important Biblical perspective on creational revelation (more commonly known as 'general revelation.') By strongly emphasizing the centrality of Christ in God's work of revelation and reconciliation, we are able to go beyond the vagueness of much modern theology when it attempts to speak of God. We must, however, take care not to present Christ in a restrictive way which fails to bring out the comprehensiveness of God's revelation in creation, which forms the indispensable background to God'…

What are we to say about ‘biblical criticism’?

Berkouwer presents a view of biblical criticism which promises to overcome theological polarization. Keeping the Gospel at the centre of his thinking, he maintains that it is possible to acknowledge that there are “hesitations and doubts … present at many points (which) do not in themselves indicate a deep and final uncertainty” (A Half Century of Theology, p. 8).
This hearing of the Gospel in the reading of Scripture does not involve the presupposition of a ‘vox celestis, a heavenly voice … that human beings do not take part in” (Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith, p. 19). Such a view would exclude biblical criticism. One hears the Gospel in Scripture as one acknowledges what Scripture is, not as one speculates about what Scripture should be (Holy Scripture, p. 33, n. 70). The recognition that, in Scripture, one has ” … the Word written by men … The Word of God …  going the histioric way” (Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith,  p. 19) leads to the view that the character of Scrip…