Saturday, March 07, 2009

On the Fundamentals - - Response to Menacher

On the Logia website (, Mark Menacher has taken aim at the "fundamentals" I offered up a couple of years ago. A couple of clarifications and some response is in order, I think.

These "fundamentals" were published on the WordAlone website over two years ago. My interests then and now are not the reform of the ELCA, whatever 'reform' might mean in this context. I was struggling in early 2007 to clarify some of the presuppositions of the "working theology" of the WordAlone Network. I wrote these both as descriptive of those presuppositions, but also as prescriptive. In reading Mark's response to them, it is obvious that he questions whether WordAone is worthy even to exist. I will not deal here with that issue, but rather with some of the specific claims he makes about these assertions in themselves, that is, in abstraction from the WordAlone context.

All need to realize that this attempt at fundamentals presupposed that we begin Lutheran theology solidly in the Second Article; we presuppose that Jesus is the Truth and Life. To claim as I did that theological language has truth-conditions is not to claim that Jesus is not the Truth. By talking about theological language having truth conditions, I am saying that Mark's own critique of my work can be either true or false. Unfortunately, much theological discourse seems to have abandoned this basic presupposition. I affirm it.

I am rather puzzled by the other points that Mark makes. To say that God is "causally related to the universe" is not to say that is all we say about God. It is to say that we presuppose that relatedness when making statements about God's acts in the orders of creation and redemption. I find no points of disagreement in his critique of theses (3) and (4). In thesis (5), I was thinking about the Apology, and subsequent reflection on these matters within Lutheran Orthodoxy generally. I find no substantive difference in what Mark says in theses (6) or (7) either. One might not like the term 'orientation', but one needs to look beyond the use of the term, and try to understand what the author might mean by it. I clearly mean that men and women are at enmity with God whether, as Luther says, "they eat, sleep or drink." In (7) I accede that the Holy Spirit works freely and verbally. These are properties of the Holy Spirit's working, presumably. I was talking about a relational fact about human beings, however. The question is whether or not human work contributes in any way to the freeing of human beings from sin, death, and the power of the devil. I am merely affirming what has been the dominant tradition within Lutheranism on this matter.

Fundamental semantic presuppositions have been at work within vast portions of the Lutheran theological landscape that are quite alien (and antithetical) to the semantic horizon upon which the Reformation originated. This is why we have thousands of preachers who can talk confidently about what God has done, but no longer believe that "having done" connotes a causal relationship: X causes Y if and only if were X not to have happened, then Y would not have happened. Failure to attend to what is basic here has raised up a generation of Lutheran preachers and teachers who can talk confidently of God's "mighty acts in history" and yet not mean that God affects nature. That is to say, 'God divided the waters' no longer is parsed to mean that there is a divine being, there are waters, and that the waters would not have been divided were God not to have acted.

I thank Mark for his comments, and I say to him that it seems we really are in agreement on most of these issues.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Prolegomena to a Robust Lutheran Theology - - Internal Clarity of Scripture II

The question of the internal clarity of Scripture links to the question of a theology of nature. Just as the Book of Nature can be read with a providential divine being at its center really existing apart from human awareness, perception, conception and language, and causing the distribution of a least some natural properties, so too can the Book of Scripture be read with a salvific divine being at its center, externally acting to save human beings from sin, death, and the power of the devil. While the providential divine being has causal power within the order of creation, the salvific divine being is the Word which presents Himself in words, carrying the Spirit which knows the Word in these words.

Christian faith confesses the ontological reality of God's presence in nature, though God is unclear to the human gaze. Human beings see through a glass darkly when they dare at all to recognize the Being of the creator God in the divers, sundry, and disconnected events of history. Similarly, this faith confesses the ontological presence of God's Word in the divers, sundry, and apparently disconnectable events of the Biblical texts.

To say that God appears not to be at work in nature, is an honest statement of the natural man and woman., She cannot find God unambiguously present in nature, though faith catches glimpses here and there, and from time to time. Similarly, to say that the Bible does not in its entirety seem to be bespeaking, and speaking about the Christ is an honest confession of natural man and woman. She cannot find Christ unambigously present in the texts, through faith catches glimpses of that presence here and there, and from time to time.

The presence of the God in nature, like the presence of Christ in Scripture, is an ontological assertion. God is present in nature even if man and woman can not know him; Christ is present in Scripture even if man and woman do not recognize it. Human beings are epistemically limited with respect to their apprehension of the divine in nature; human beings are similarly limited with respect to their apprehension of God's Word (Christ) in Scripture. God's mighty acts in history, and Christ's presence at the center of Scripture are externally obscure for sinful man and woman. To say, then, that Scripture is internally clear is to say that it has this property in se, not in relationship to human apprehension of it. Similarly, to say that God's mightly acts in history are perspicuous is to say that these mighty acts clearly happened and continue to happen, even iv there are nu humans capable of recognizing this to be true.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Prologemonena to a Robust Lutheran Theology - - Internal Clarity of Scripture I

It may come as a surprise that the notion of the internal clarity of scripture arises only at the end of a treatment claiming to be a Prologomena to a Robust Lutheran Theology. Should it not be placed at the beginning? Should we not start with a statement of the general reliability of Scripture in terms of a special revelation, and then proceed to a consideration of the divine and its relationship to us? Should be not begin in time-honored fashion with what we can know, and then move forward to being, to what there is?

However, leaving consideration of the internal clarity of scripture to the end was done purposefully, because we are interested primarily in understanding this doctrine ontologically and not epistemically; we are interested in the being of the doctrine of the internal clarity of scripture, and not primarily in an epistemological method by which we are putatively given reliable means on the basis of which we can be confident in the truth of Scripture.

My interest with retrieving the notion of the internal clarity of Scripture is three-fold: 1) The doctrine is crucial for Lutheran theology because it protects against willful and capricious interpretations of Scripture, 2) It is a doctrine that all Lutherans should be able in principle to affirm, 3) It is a notion that, properly understood, creates parallels between understanding God's action and presence with respect to both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. I wish to treat this last point briefly.

Just as it may be externally obscure to us that God is at work in the universe, and yet Lutherans may affirm that God is at work in nature, so may it be externally obscure to us that God is at work creating and sustaing his Word within cannonical Scripture, and yet God is clearly Triunely present in His Holy Scriptures. The Triune God is present in His world even though humans often do not see it. One might say even that there is an internal clarity to God's work in nature. God is ontologically present at the center of Nature although humans often have trouble discerning it to be so. Correspondingly, Christ is present at the center of Scripture although humans have trouble oftentimes seeing this to be true.

What is important here is to understand God in His Trinitarian nature. Just as it is true that God creates and sustains the universe, incarnates Himself in the world, and bears testimony to that incarnation and the identity of God as Creator Father, Incarnate Word, and Loving Spirit, so too is it true that God the Son is present as Word in and through the Biblical text attesting to the Father, and attested to by the Spirit. Just as the Trinitarian God stands over and against Himself in Word and Spirit in nature, so too does the same Trinitarian God stand over and against Himself in witness to the Word in and through the text.