Tuesday, February 24, 2009
In order to make progress on these questions, we must distinguish between a natural theology and a theology of nature. A Lutheran natural theology claims that natural events and states somehow strongly justify belief in God. A Lutheran theology of nature, on the other hand, asserts that natural events and states merely weakly justify belief in God. It is important, obviously, to distinguish weak and strong justification.
Proposition P is strongly justified for S just in case it would be irrational for S not to believe P. On the other hand, proposition P is weakly justified for S just in cane it would not be irrational for S to believe P. A Lutheran theology of nature must claim that assertions of God's relationship to the universe are weakly justified, in other words, that it is not irrational for S to believe that God is at work in the universe. In the flight to avoid a natural theology, Lutheran theology has omitted that which is essential to it: A Lutheran theology of nature. While a Lutheran theology of nature is not interested in proving the existence of God (strong justification), it is vitally concerned to show the compatibility of God's existence with nature (weak justification).
In carrying out a Lutheran theology of nature, semantic realism is presupposed, a realism that allows for the "evidence-transcending truth-conditions" of theological language. Presumably, 'God is real' is not a publicly verifiable statement. Therefore, many philosophers have said that the statement is not just false, but meaningless. Without getting into technical detail here, however, we must assert that ontological statements of this type can be meaningfully asserted even if they are not confirmable or infirmable in experience. (I leave aside for now all of the issues that surround this last phrase.)
What is important is that we not understand 'God exists' merely as 1) a report or expression of one's subjective psychological or existential states, 2) as an undecipherable metaphor for the mystery of life itself or a quality of life itself, 3) or finally, as a linguistic custom one uses in belonging to a tribe of language-users who use such locutions at particular communal/tribal times or places.
To do a Lutheran theology of nature presupposes a beginning in revelation, a beginning that takes seriously the scriptural witness to a real God that causally affects the world by 1) creating and sustaining it, 2) electing and protecting God's chosen people, 3) and sustaining all of His people through God's real historical incursion in the resurrection and subsequent witness to that resurrection. It must take seriously the salient fact that Scripture thoroughly rejects a causally inert, causally impotent deity. Simply put, it must seriously engage the question that if Scripture is to be regarded as a trustworthy witness, then there must be warrant for the claim that God is real, that God has causal powers, and that God is more than mere idea.
The cosmological, ontological and teleological arguments for the existence of God are not successful in demonstrating the existence of the divine. However, if they are properly understood, they are effective in showing that it is not irrational to believe that God exists. In other words, while they cannot show that it is irrational not to believe God exists, they can show that it is not irrational to believe that God exists. Clearly, the Book of Nature can be interpreted either as having a globally-designing deity or as not having one. At issue here is the retrieval of the doctrine of divine providence. A Lutheran theology of nature can claim that a providential God is weakly justified on the basis of Scripture and experience.
Applying Bayes Theorem to the universe and the question of intelligent design cannot make God's existence probable, but clearly such application can show that God's existence is more probable than it might have been if the universe did not have the characteristics it seems to have. Even though the existence of God may not be in itself likely, on the supposition of God's existence, one would very much expect more a universe like ours rather than on the supposition of God's nonexistence.
A Lutheran theology of nature makes explicit reference to God as acting in and through nature. Obviously, the discussion between science and theology is important in developing a Lutheran theology of nature. Because a theology of nature is important for the future of Lutheran confessional theology, the discussion between science and theology is important for the future of Lutheran theology. Accordingly, Lutheran theology must reject the causal closure of the physical and assert the real existence of God. It must claim that there are natural events that are not finally wholly caused by congeries of other natural events. Finally, it must examine the nature of that which could serve as a causal joint connecting the divine to the universe.
To claim that God is real is to admit one fundamental dualism: the dualism between the divine and the natural universe. Thus, there is a realm of natural entities, properties, relations, events and states of affairs that does not include the divine. There is also a realm of divine entities, properties, relations, events and states of affairs the does not include the natural order. Lutheran theological realism simply cannot hide from this dualism.
In order to have a coherent view, Lutheran theology must seek to relate talk of God to the discourses of the sciences. Not to do this is finally to assign theology to the realm of value; it is to make theology subjective and ultimately irrational.
The cash value of this view for piety is apparent. After all, people in the pews have for generations prayed to God, assuming that God is different than the self and that God can act in the world. Theological realism best undergirds this practice. Such people have thought that God is active in the world, that God creates, redeems, and sustains the world, and that God answers prayer. Again, theological realism best undergrids this practice. Clearly, a Lutheran theology of nature must presuppose theological realism.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Kant thus concluded that since there are no sense particulars falling under the concept of God, the divine cannot be a substance causally connected to another substance. Instead God is placed within the Ideas of Pure Reason. Human beings have, according to Kant, a natural metaphysical drive that can only find its resting place in the idea of the Unconditioned, the idea which contains "a therefore for every wherefore" (A585/B613). The demands of systemtatic unity and completeness find completeness in the Ideal of God: "A concept of an individual object which is completely determined through the mere idea" (A574/B602). As an Ideal of Reason, this being is not real: "This unconditioned is not, indeed, given as being in itself real, nor as having a reality that follows from its mere concept; it is, however, what alone can complete the series of conditions when we proceed to trace these conditions to their grounds. This is the course which our human reason, by its very nature, leads all of us" (A584/B612).
By expressly denying any causal relation to God - - and by making God a denizen of of the ideal realm - - Kant denies theophysical causation. Accordingly, predicating terms like 'create', 'redeem', and 'sustain' of 'God' must proceed in a different fashion than it had the antecedent tradition. After Kant, the theological tradition had to find ways to interpret their theological language in ways that did not suppose that God was a substance sustaining causal relations with His universe.
The effects upon religious practice were enormous. If God is causally-isolated from the universe, then God cannot answer prayer. Moreover, God cannot work miracles in the traditional sense of bringing about a state of affairs which would not customarily had come about. God really cannot do anything; He is an ideal to be contemplated. Accordingly, prayer becomes - - if people reflect profoundly enough upon the practice - - a self-centering activity, more like meditation.
Clearly, theology in a Lutheran key is possible on the supposition of denying theophysical causation. One can still preach law and gospel, and refer to the grace of Christ and the freedom Christ grants. However, one must subtly change the rules. It is not that God demands and through Christ's promise saves, it is rather that the idea or phenomenon of God is correlated with the fundamental phenomenon of demand, and the notion of Christ creates in the one experiencing it a sense of bonds being broken and the freedom of the future donated. This move is now in question, I believe, because in a pluralistic culture, why is it that one should insist upon the specificity of the notion or phenomenon of the Christ? And if there is no specificity, then Jesus cannot be the exclusive "Way and the Truth and the Life," a pretty basic assumption within traditional Lutheran theology.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
“Realism I characterize as the belief that the statements of the disputed class possess an objective truth-value, independently of our means of knowing it: they are true or false in virtue of a reality existing independently of us. The anti-realist opposes to this the view that statements of the disputed class are to be understood only by reference to the sort of thing which we count as evidence for a statement of that class . . . The dispute thus concerns the notion of truth appropriate for statements of the disputed class; and this means that it is a dispute concerning the kind of meaning which these statements have” (Dummett, “Realism,” p. 146, reprinted in TRUTH AND OTHER ENIGMAS).
It is my contention that most mainstream academic theology has more or less rejected semantic realism, and that, accordingly, mainline Lutheran theology repudiates it as well. But what are the options for theology if it does not claim semantic realism? I see the following:
1) One might claim that language about God is truth-apt but false. Accordingly, theology instantiates an error theory, that is, since there is no God, all theological language referring to God is false. Clearly, this view is not an option for a theist who wishes seriously to engage the theological task?
2) One might claim that language about God is not truth-apt at all, as some post-Enlightenment, post-Kantian theology has supposed. Accordingly, talk about God is merely a projection of human emotion and sentiment upon the world. But while this view may be an improvement over the previous, it is not a very promising way to proceed theologically. After all, if theological language is a human projection, why would we ever want to get others to project God upon the universe?
3) One might claim that language about God is truth-apt and not false, but not about what people had assumed that language was always about. Some post-Enlightenment, post-Kantian theology has attempted this as well. Accordingly, one might claim that talk about God is true or false given that one understands ‘God’ to refer to something determinate within human existence. This view seems to entail anti-realism, but clearly the converse is not true. There are several ways in which one might be a theological anti-realist. For instance, one could claim that the assertion of the existence of divine reality is justified on the basis of an inference to the best explanation or on the basis a theological consensus that somehow determines theological extension itself. But then how would one explain the person and work of the Christ? Does the salvific work of Christ constitute the best explanation of our human experience? But Scripture and tradition have referred to Christ as a “stumbling block” for human reason. This latter point also seems to undercut efforts to base the matter upon theological consensus.
Many have attacked Semantic realism because it presupposes “evidence transcending truth-conditions.” Many philosophers cannot subscribe to semantic realism because of the manifestation and acquisition challenges. Crudely put, the problem is how we could ever acquire and wield language that was not somehow “hooked up” with the world we experience. How could we be talking about things with a language that we do not know how to connect to our experience? It should be noted, however, that Trinitarian theologians don’t really have this problem. It seems that a theological response to this challenge could be worked out where, through the activity of the Holy Spirit, human beings can be regarded to have the relevant perceptual causal connections to the divine states of affairs making theological statements true.
It is my contention that theology, if it is to survive, must make definite truth claims; it must be able to assert propositions in logical space, the satisfaction of which would be the instantiation of particular divine and divine/temporal states of affairs. To declare that that semantic realism is false, is, in effect, to claim that there are not divine and divine/temporal states of affairs. We will have much more to say about this in another context.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Kant claimed that space and time were “pure forms of sensibility,” the a priori grid upon which sense particulars were possible. Moreover, he claimed that the “empirical concepts of the understanding” made possible the reality of empirical objects. Accordingly, an object was “that by concept of which the manifold of sense is united.” The rabbit object is constituted by the empirical concept of rabbit uniting and synthesizing both synchronically and diachronically sense particulars. Substance and causality for Kant were conceived as categories of synthesis. Empirical objects “fell under” these pure concepts of the understanding. All empirical objects were substances because of the fundamental way in which they were synthesized. Only substances could causally relate to other substances, because the mind worked to synthesize substances as so causally-relatable. Just as ideas organize thoughts, substances organize sense perception.
Kant’s profoundly important gift and curse to theology was his conviction that God is not a substance. Because there can be no “sense intuitions” (perceptions) falling under the concept ‘God’, God cannot be a substance. The ramifications for this are far-reaching: This meant that God cannot be an entity, that God cannot be a being among other existing beings. Rather, for Kant, God becomes a mere regulative ideal of human reason, a notion necessary to think when we are organizing our thoughts, but not a notion that can refer to a being within the universe of beings that can in principle be causally related to any of those beings. For Kant, God becomes an idea!
While this Kantian conclusion may seem to be a very bad thing for theology, it was embraced by many in the academic theological community as a way ahead. After all, the Enlightenment criticisms of theology were leading many to think that there was no room at all in the universe for God, that assertions of God’s being were not justified. Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion clearly shows that there is nothing necessary or universal in the assertion of God’s putative designing activity. The universe perhaps didn’t even need a clockmaker!
After Kant, academic theology struggled to give an account of theological language that did not commit it to violating Kant’s relegation of God to the status of a regulative ideal of human reason.
We discern this particularly in Schleiermacher’s relegation of God to the “whence of the feeling of absolute dependence.” But we also find it in Hegel’s notion of the Absolute, and later in the phenomenological theology used by Bultmann and carried later into hermeneutical theology. Tillich’s contention that God is not a being within the structure of being, but being-itself at the depth of being, is another example of Kantian-inspired theology presupposing antirealism.
It is time to reclaim theological realism. Lutheran theology must again work out of a paradigm presupposed by the Christian tradition, a paradigm of theological realism. After all, the Reformers assumed such a realism. To reclaim the tradition is to reject the Kantian antirealist paradigm that has dominated theology for the last two hundred years.
Lutheran theology must again proclaim a theological realism that asserts that God is real if and only if God exists and has the properties God has (call them P) apart from human awareness, perception, conceptual schemes, beliefs, and linguistic practices. We must distinguish, however, the existence of God and divine properties P apart from human awareness, perception, conception and language, and the independence of God and P apart from these things. While God either exists or does not, the independence of His being apart from human awareness is a matter of degree. Realists come in many varieties, and there is little reason to think that the options for antirealism (and realism) are any less for theologians than thinkers in any other discipline.
There is a common perception in the pews that is not widely held in the theological world. Most laypeople actually think that their pastors and the teachers of their pastors hold that God exists. By ‘existence’ they mean that God is an entity that has being outside of human awareness, perception, conception and language.
Although this common perception is widespread, it is not accurate. Surprisingly, many pastors and theology professors do not believe that God exists external to human awareness, perception, conception and language. The reasons why they do not believe this are clearly not because they are insincere, bad, or prone to dissimulate. The reasons are rather more complex than that, having to do with the fact that they have been educated in a particular theological ethos where they share a set of theological assumptions and values with other theologically-trained individuals within the academic community. Accordingly, when thinking theologically they quite naturally don’t think as theological realists; they do not hold that God exists independently from human perception, conception, and linguistic practice.
In order to grasp this clearly, we must draw the important distinction between internal and external relations. Traditionally, people have claimed that God’s existence is externally related to human existence. In order to see what this means consider entity A and entity B connected by relation R. A is externally related R-ly to B if and only if the reality of A does not depend upon the reality of B. For example, the genetics of a father is externally related to the genetics of his son, for the reality of the father’s genetic composition does not depend causally upon the reality of the son’s genetic composition. On the other hand, A is internally related to entity B if and only if the reality of A does depend upon the reality of B. Accordingly, the genetics of the son is internally related to the genetics of the father because the son would not be the son genetically without the father’s genetic composition. Traditionally, Christians have held that God is externally related to the universe and the universe is internally related to God.
Philosophers distinguish between realist and anti-realist positions regarding various domains of inquiry. A realist holds that the thing of concern is externally related to human beings: It is what it is apart from human existence. An anti-realist claims that the thing of concern is internally related to human beings: It would not be what it is apart from human existence.
Realists and anti-realists come in many varieties. One can, in fact, be a realist with respect to some domains, and not others. In addition, there are also degrees of realism: One can either be more or less realist, or more or less antirealist.
Some examples might be helpful. One can be a realist (or an antirealist) with respect to any of these: atomic theory, chemical theory, psychological theory, mathematics, aesthetics, ethics, philosophy, and theology.
Philosophical reflection upon the nature of knowledge is called ‘epistemology’, and the adjectival form of this word is ‘epistemological’ or ‘epistemic’. One is an epistemological realist if one believes that the knower is externally related to the thing known, that is, if the thing known is what it is apart from the knowing of it. Alternately, one is an epistemological antirealist if one believes that the knower is internally related to the thing known, that is, if the thing known is constituted in part by the knowing of it.
It seems that we are epistemic antirealists when it comes to knowledge of God; God is beyond human conception so we don’t know exactly what God is in and of Himself. But Epistemic Antirealism does not entail metaphysical antirealism!
Unfortunately, for many theologians, the inability to know the contour of the divine becomes the claim that there is no definite ontological or metaphysical shape to the divine. They think that because what we know about God is internally related to our act of knowing God, so is the being of God internally related to our act of thinking God. This is the position of theological antirealism.
Theological antirealism clearly denies that God’s being is externally related to our own being. On the contrary, the contour of God’s being depends upon the structure of human consciousness and existence. This view seems consistent with affirming theological relativism: God has one ontological shape for person x and another for y. Clearly, this view of things is consistent with our prevailing democratic ethos - - one can believe whatever they want about God. In addition, it coheres with the notion of the “privatization of God.” Many people today no longer believe that God is the kind of thing that can in principle have intersubjective reality. Just as one’s own mental life if private, so is one’s own God. Accordingly, God becomes for each person the ultimate expression of personal individuality.
With a popular culture unwittingly embracing theological antirealism, and a theological culture presupposing much more sophisticated versions of it, it is important perhaps to point out the obvious: The Reformers denied theological antirealism. We shall return to this point in a subsequent post.
Monday, February 02, 2009
To make matters even more confusing, we live in a very relativistic age. If two people disagree upon what is beautiful, must one of them be wrong? Most would agree that clearly "beauty lies in the eye of the beholder."
But what about goodness and truth? If two people disagree upon what is good, must one of them be wrong? Twenty years ago my college students would divide upon whether one person must be wrong in such a situation. But times have changed. Now my informal surveys of student opinion show that almost 90% now think that "goodness lies in the hand of the doer'. Just as aesthetics has been subjectivized, so too has ethics. What is right for me is no longer what is right for you - - yet somehow there is something right for each of us.
Truth itself is under attack: At least within the undergraduate university population, truth has been relativized along with beauty and the good. What is true for x may not be true for y. While A is true for x, not-A is true for y. All of this is extremely problematic, for it is not at all clear we can even use 'right' and 'true' correctly, if we strip each of any normative status. Accordingly, it is not at all clear that 'x is true for A, but not-true for B' does not express a contradiction, an assocation of words that cannot pick out a class of objects or actions in any possible world.
The problem is a very profound one. Even if we can hold onto truth, and even if we do believe that classes of statements do succeed in stating the facts, we are confronted with the old distinction between facts and values. Grounded in the work of Logical Atomism, and the harder edge of the Enlightenment critique, this distinction succeeds in placing all of the big questions, the theologcal questions, in the realm of subjective value.
Some statements are said to express facts, and facts are supposed to be objective, about the world, and concerned with truth and reason. Values, on the other hand, are thought to be subjective and about ourselves. Values concern our feelings, and are neither right nor wrong. Accordingly, value judgments are neither true nor false.
While many regard scientific language as having truth-conditions, many deny that the sentences of theology have the same truth conditions. An expression has a truth condition if and only if it states the contour of the world were it to be true. Thus, 'the cat is on the mat' is true if and only if there is a cat, a mat, and the cat is on the mat - - these are its truth-conditions. But does theological language actually state what the world must be like if the statements of theology are to be regarded as true? Is 'God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself' true if and only if there is a God, this God is in Christ, and this God is reconciling the world unto Himself, or does theological language lack truth conditions entirely?
The dominant theological tradition within academic theological circles the last 60 years has uniquivocally said, 'No' - - our theological language lacks truth conditions entirely. And even if it were somehow to retain them, the theological language is not really about the divine after all. This certainly would have surprised Martin Luther, who believed one could actually claim certain things true and certain things false of the divine. (Luther was, as it turns out, a semantic realist - - but more of that later.)
There are so many confusions we face. People profess belief in God, but do not know what they mean by the term 'God'. They use theological language, but yet regard their assertions as being merely "true for them." They pray to God to change things, but do not really believe that God is, or even can be, causally active in the universe. Many people, usually with some deeper theological orientation, deny God's presence in nature even though they claim that he remains readily available in His Word. The effect, of course, is to disconnect the Word of God (Christ) from the reality of nature completely. Finally, people believe that that Scripture has authority, that it confronts us as witnessing to the Lordship of Christ, but they really don't think through what could be the grounds of that authority. Why is this book authoritative because it witness to Christ and another ancient book not because it witness to another God?
It is time that we re-think the issues. We simply must as Lutherans reflect again upon the very presuppositions of our theology. Such a "thinking after" (Nachdenken) theology shall demand deeper ontological, semantic, and epistemological reflections than has recently predominated in theological thinking. In order to get clear about what claims are made in theology - - or even that any claims are made - - we must return again to the basics. We must ask ourselves what the possibilities of the world are upon which we map our theological language. We must ask ourselves about the mapping function itself: What is the naming function by which our theological language putatively refers to elements in the world? Finally, we can ask how we might know that the world has a definite ontological contour, and how this world might be referred to by theological language.
We shall not begin as we have begun theology in the recent past; we shall not begin with the epistemological question. Instead, we shall return to the presuppositions of the Reformers themselves: We shall ask the ontological and semantic questions first, seek clarity on them, and only afterwards move to other questions. In theology, at least, we must affirm the ancient view that epistemology recapitulates ontology, and not the converse. How the divine world is, is not itself constituted by our knowing of it, but rather our knowing of it, is conditioned by how the divine world is.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
But many would no doubt claim that agreement on first-order theological statements is difficult enough. Why even try to move to agreement upon second-order statements, when the first-order ones remain nonspecified? While metatheological inquiry into the truth and meaning of theological utterances is crucially important, merely holding to the assertions of the historical faith is difficult enough today. It is precisely because of this difficulty that there have been myriad and divers attempts over the last 150 years ago to state clearly the content of the Christian faith.
In the early 1900s, a trans-denominational Protestant movement, worried about the drift away from a specifiable normative content to Christian faith, produced a list purportedly displaying necessary conditions for the general content of the Christian faith. They asserted that authentic Christianity must believe in these:
◦The virgin birth and deity of Christ;
◦The substitutionary theory of atonement;
◦The bodily resurrection of Christ;
◦The physical return of Jesus Christ in the Second Coming;
◦The inerrancy of Scriptures.
Without these five assertions, they thought, the content of the Christian faith could not itself be defined as Christian faith. (I am not here advocating that belief in Scriptural inerrancy is a necessary condition for Christian belief, but merely reporting what was promulgated by this group.)
In addition to these assertions, Lutherans might add other content statements that specify authentic Lutheran expressions of the Christian faith. George Forell has provided the following list:
Justification by grace through faith;
The theology of the cross;
Law and gospel proclamation;
The simul iustus et peccator;
The assertion of the Infinite being available in and through the finite (finitus capax infiniti).
This is a very good list, I believe, and those who advocate all five should probably be regarded as holding to a Lutheran theological position.
It is clear then that one could be concerned about the contour of the faith. Those so concerned about contour locate those assertions necessary and sufficient for Christian faith to be Christian faith. Speaking philosophically, they are concerned with discerning the “identity conditions” of the faith, that is, they are interested in ascertaining those properties of the Christian faith without which it ceases to be Christian faith.
To reiterate, however, the point I am making is not that the general contour of Lutheran confessional is in doubt. Lutheran theologians continue to hold to the specific language of the tradtion. The problem, however, is that that the contour of the tradtion is polyvalent, and Lutheran theology has failed here to pay enough attention to this polyvalency.
Clearly, he central assertions of theology can sustain multiple meanings depending upon what one believes actually obtains, i.e., the possibility of meaning is tied to one’s ontological commitments. If one believes that the universe is a kind of place where there can be a God that exists as a being over and against it, then 'God’ might be understood, as Ockham understood it, to refer to a supreme being having all positive predicates to the infinite degree. However, if one blieves that the universe is not the kind of place where it is either in principle possible, or likely, that there exist a being existing on its own that can in principle exist apart from it, then 'God' might be defined, as Schleiermacher defines it, as the “whence of the feeling of absolute dependence,” or much later, as Tillich understood it, as “the depth of being.”
One's ontological presuppositions deeply influence what can be meant by a true sentence. Standardly, we claim that sentences express propositions, and these propositions are a statement of how the world might be. To say that a proposition is possible is to say that there is a possible world in which the world is the way that the proposition states it. To say that a proposition is necessary is to say that in all possible worlds the world is the way the proposition states it. To say that a statement is true is to say that in the actual world the world is the way the proposition states it, and to say that a statement is false is to claim that in the actual world the world is not the way the proposition claims. Clearly, to know whether a theological sentence is true, false, possible or necessary requires that we know what proposition is stated by the sentence, it is to know how the world must be in order for the statement to be true. The meaning of the sentence consists simply in this grasp of how the world must be in order for the proposition expressed by the sentence to be true.
Luther claims in throughout his disputations that the res (the things denoted by language) are more important than the verba (the words of language themselves) in understanding the articles of faith (articuli fidei). In order to know what an article of faith really is, one must know what is claimed in the article, one must know how the world would have to be were the article of faith to be true. It is to this question of truth that we now must turn.
But it is broken. Within the ELCA we have witnessed the adoption of the Formula of Agreement, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, and Called to Common Mission. The first claims that fundamental theological agreement has been reached with the Reformed churches on the sacraments, even though Lutherans and the Reformed have traditionally claimed a difference on the ontological status of the Christ's "real presence" in the sacraments. The second claims that there is now fundamental theological agreement with the Roman Catholic tradition on the doctrine of justification, even through Lutherans and Catholics continue to disagree on the very nature of justification, the first claiming that one can be totally sinful while justified, the latter disagreeing. The third claims that there is agreement with the Anglican tradition on the conception and practice of the historic episcopate, even though Lutherans and Anglicans continue to disagree even upon what the ontological status of the church really is.
Things are not much better in other Lutheran traditions. The new Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ have successfully structured themselves ecclesially so that all governance is local. Ironically, however, those clammering to leave the ELCA because of its theological drift now find themselves in an ecclesial community where there are vast differences of theology and practice from congregation to congregation. Enthusiasm, the doctrine against which Luther repeatedly inveiged, is practiced and advocated openly within some circles. Far from a "working theology" based in the Lutheran Confessions, the theology of many within LCMC seems more at home in the American Evangelical Movement in general.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has its problems as well. While the confessional starting point has never been in doubt in Missiouri, we find now an emerging church growth movement and methodology seemingly developing in marked tension with that confessional starting point. Issues of ecclesial authority abound, and the Ablaze program has generated discord and controversy within traditional confessional circles.
It seems that doctrinal pluralism infects much of the expression of North American Lutheranism, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Many in the pews no longer know even what it is to be Lutheran. Generations of downplaying catechetical content has eventuated in a scores of Lutherans who have not the vaguest knowledge of what classical Lutheran theological teaching really is. Pastors trained weakly in Lutheran systematics and homeletics abandon law and gospel preaching for the greener pastures of prophetic utterance, practical advise, and the sure and steady assertion that "God loves you."
But what exactly is the problem?
—Is it that Lutherans no longer speak of the centrality of Christ?
—Is it that Lutherans no longer speak of the authority of Scripture?
—Is it that Lutherans now set out to reject their traditional Confessions?
—Is it that Lutherans no longer claim to believe in God?
No! Suprisingly, the assertion and profession of beliefs seem quite the same. Preaching and teaching still talk about Christ; church, syodical, and churchwide constitutions still declare the authority of Scripture; and the Confessions are elevated as normative texts for our tradition. Moreover, pastors, leaders and people in the pews generally continue to assert belief in God. Unlike Europe, Americans still overwhelmingly report that they believe that God exists, that there is an after life, and Christ has died for their sins. So what is the difference? What has happened? It is my conviction that while the assertion of beliefs have remained relatively constant, what has changed our the presuppositions about the meaning and truth of these assertions.
Every sudent who has ever taken an introductory logic course knows the difference between syntax and semantics. Syntax deals with the form and structure of language (its "grammar"), while semantics concernces the meaning and truth of language (its "interpretation"). Accordingly, we must distinguish the mere assertion of a locution from that which is meant by the locution. For instance, I can utter the following:
1) I sat in the bank.
2) I sat on the bank.
(1) is clearly true if I mean by 'bank' 'that building where I go to deposit and withdraw money'. It is false if I mean by it 'that upon which I sit when I fish in the creek'. Conversely, (2) is clearly false under the first interpretation ('that building where I go to deposit and withdraw money') and clearly true under the second intepretation. I believe that the elementary distinction between the syntax and semantics of theological expressions has been lost generally within theology, and most decidedly within the practice of most Lutheran theology.
Related to the question of an expression's meaning is the question as to its truth. Again, every introductory logic student is aware of the question of a statements truth conditions, that is, they are aware of the question as to what conditions must exist in order for a statement to be true. Logic students know that the truth conditions for 'p & q' is the truth of p and the truth of q. They learn that standardly the truth conditions for p itself (e.g., 'snow is white') just is that state of affairs such that snow is white. The truth condition of an atomic sentences like 'the cat is black' just is a specification of what the world would have to be like for the sentence to be true.
Although we do not routinely use the term, the word 'metatheology' should be reserved and used for that second-order investigation about the meaning of, and the truth-conditions for, theological assertions. Just as metaethics explores the meaning, conditions and grounds of normative ethical assertions, metatheology deals with the meaning, conditions and grounds of theological statements. For too long within the practice of Lutheran theology, there has been a rush to talk about the truth of theological statements - - and the agreement of such statements with other statements - - without first investigating even what those statements mean, and without specifying what the world would have to be like were those statements to be true.
It is my conviction that Lutheran theology shall survive only if it reclaims some of the original presuppositions upon which it grew. Specifically, I argue that Lutheran theology needs now to embrace the following five theses:
· Theological Realism
· Semantic Realism
· Theophysical Causation
· A Lutheran Theology of Nature
· The Internal Clarity of Scripture
In the following group of blogs entries, I shall point to what I believe the problem is, and show how each of these help to address that problem.
As always I welcome all comments. I believe that theology must be worked out in conversation and dialogue. Unfortunately, those that might be interested in this discussion are few and they are often separated by great geographical differences. Through the gift of new technologies, however, we can achieve real theological conversation