Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Not Allowed to Play with the Big Boys
Tony Jones (National Coordinator for Emergent Village) has reported that Wheaton College has decided not to include Tony's paper in their forthcoming book based on the Theology Conference where he was actually a keynote speaker. Though he was met with some scorn and ridicule from the other presenters (either because of his lack of academic credentials, or perhaps his use of powerpoint, or maybe just because us young Emergent whipper-snappers shouldn't be allowed to play with with the big boys yet), that was not the reason Wheaton gave for rejecting his paper. Rather, they said that parts of his presentation were "provocative but less than helpful" and that ultimately, he "did not treat the Fathers and the Councils as normative to the life of the church today."

Tony responds that:

I argued that we're in conversation with the Fathers today, just as they were in conversation with one another in their day. I also posited that the victory of one theological position over another was as much a matter of politics and context as a matter of divine providence. Finally, the lack of marginalized voices in all of the ancient (and medieval and modern) theological debates should give us all pause.

Does that mean that the Councils and creeds and Fathers lack authority today? I hope not. But I hope that they will have a more credible authority if we understand all of the vicissitudes of their times. As in our day, they had pressures on them from all sides, and, while I in no way think this precludes God's Spirit from guiding the process, it was not a unanimous and clean decision on, say, the dual-nature of Christ.
Tony makes some good points IMHO, and you can find links to the whole of his paper here. However, whether you agree with him or not, what I find disturbing is Wheaton's attitude that the early church Fathers and Councils are unquestionable. When did Wheaton become Roman Catholic? Why is a Protestant evangelical school now demanding that theologians uphold Church Tradition as "normative"? This makes no sense. Are they so worried about the dangers of "relativism" posed by us "postmodern" Emergent types that they have to extend their belief in the infallibility of scripture to the infallibility of their doctrinal formulations in order to guard against us?

Frankly I think Tony is right on. We should value the early church as conversation partners, but not necessarily uphold their beliefs as the final word on any particular doctrine. We can build on the past, refine it, and recontextualize it for a new world.

(For example, does all the talk about substance in our ancient creeds regarding the nature of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity really have any meaning for us anymore? We don't use the word "substance" in the same way as ancient Greek philosophers and early church theologians, and really the whole metaphysical worldview that word is based on is mostly meaningless in today's world. What is wrong then, with re-imagining and recontextualizing our descriptions of the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ?)

Anyhow, it's disappointing that Wheaton chose to snub Tony in this way. As he points out, the emerging church is often criticized for being too loose on theology, but then we are excluded from forums like this because they don't like our admittedly provisional theological conclusions. How are we to refine and improve our views if we're not even welcome to the conversation?

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posted by Mike Clawson at 11:47 PM | Permalink |


6 Comments:


At 7/04/2007 08:52:00 AM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

Mike, do you have a transcript of his paper? I don't understand what the debate(?) is about the trinity and dual-nature.

 

At 7/04/2007 09:32:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

There's a link to his paper at the end of this this post.

 

At 7/04/2007 09:56:00 AM, Anonymous Miko

Wheaton College has decided not to include Tony's paper in their forthcoming book based on the Theology Conference where he was actually a keynote speaker.

So how did he manage to become a keynote speaker in the first place, then? Were they expected him to say something different?

that they have to extend their belief in the infallibility of scripture to the infallibility of their doctrinal formulations in order to guard against us?

Are there justifications for thinking that one of those is infallible and the other isn't? Didn't both develop at essentially the same time (on a scale of the last 2,000 years)?

 

At 7/04/2007 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"Are there justifications for thinking that one of those is infallible and the other isn't? Didn't both develop at essentially the same time (on a scale of the last 2,000 years)?"

Yes, they did. The scriptural canon was decided on by the same Councils and Church Fathers that wrote the creeds. If you're Catholic then you think the authority of scripture derives from the authority of Church, thus both are equally "infallible". However, Protestants tend to say that scripture alone is authoritative because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit in a way that other early church writings are not. That's why it's strange for a Protestant institution like Wheaton to say the Church Fathers and early creeds are "normative". Granted, "normative" is not quite as strong a term as "authoritative", but the way they treated Tony indicates that they really don't think the creeds and Fathers ought to be questioned or disagreed with - so their "normative" really does become "authoritative".

If Wheaton was just becoming more Catholic in their views, that would be one thing - I'd understand it. But the current administration at Wheaton is actually rather anti-Catholic, so it seems strange that they would be moving in this direction theologically.

 

At 7/04/2007 10:39:00 AM, Blogger Julie

And as Tony points out in his paper, to only take the church fathers as normative ignores the voices of the oppressed. What were the church mothers thinking? What were the slaves and/or other ethnic groups thinking? Basing theology on the "white males are the only right ones" premise has serious issues.

 

At 7/04/2007 01:02:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Good point babe, except that the early church Fathers weren't exactly privileged white males themselves. Most were Middle Eastern or African, and many had been slaves or victims of persecution themselves at some point.

But that doesn't mean there weren't other marginalized voices from back then that need more paying attention to as well.

 

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