Thursday, March 09, 2017

Evicted from the video arcade

There are professing Christians whose interest centers on historical theology or philosophical theology. A danger with that is that if that's your frame of reference, you can lose your faith overnight. 

Christianity is centered on events. God's action in history. That gives faith a tangible foundation. 

But in the case of historical or philosophical theology, it's easy for that to become a play of ideas. Free-floating ideas. An extension of an extension of an extension. A person can get so far out that they forget how they got there. How, if at all, does it have any appreciable basis reality rather than imagination?

They can maintain that mindset so long as they remain inside the paradigm–like a video game. And it's easier to maintain on social media, where they have mutual reinforcement from like-minded participants. 

But if the bottom falls out of your life, you may suddenly ask yourself, why do I believe this? Do I believe this? Or is it just a head-trip? They were caught up in the momentum of the debate, but if your life collapses, and you suddenly feel cut off; if you're abruptly ejected from the mental video arcade, you ask yourself, how could I believe that? There's nothing to fall back on, because it's just ideas stacked on top of ideas. A skyscraper of storied ideas. Nothing to distinguish it from a riot of imagination.

If, on the other hand, you maintain your moorings in Bible history, you have a reality check. Firm ground under your feet.

To be sure, some people lose their faith in Scripture. Ironically, that's often due to their philosophical naivete. I'm not suggesting that philosophy is useless by any means. 

But faith in historical or philosophical theology only works so long as you're in the mood to grant the premise or the paradigm. Without something in space and time to ground it, to point to, without that objective reminder, the requisite credulity can evaporate like the willing suspension of disbelief. 


  1. thought-provoking post, but what does this maintenance of biblical history look like in practice without a churchly tradition? even the solo scriptura fundies have established a tradition despite believing otherwise. perhaps you are talking about paradigm shift cum questioning all previously-held distinctives? please clarify.

    1. i) Theological traditions can be useful in offering interpretive options and interpretive paradigms. That way we have the benefit of other minds, other thinkers. We don't have to rely on our individual wisdom and intelligence. We don't have to repeat old mistakes. That's a hazard with the "me and my Bible" hermeneutic.

      Likewise, traditional interpretations can be, and often are, correct. At best, tradition conserves good theological developments.

      ii) However, a downside is that theological traditions condition how people read the Bible, which can blind them to things in Scripture. Traditions gives traditional answers to traditional questions. But some traditions give wrong answers because they were asking the wrong questions.

      How an issue is framed can be prejudicial. It may start us off on the wrong track. So we need to be alert to that danger.

      iii) That said, my post had in mind groups like "Confessional Calvinists," and Thomists, including "Reformed Thomists" and Ed Feser groupies.

      Confessional Calvinists always operate within Reformed historical theology as their unquestioned frame of reference. By the same token, you have Thomists who woefully neglect exegetical theology. They invest all their time and attention in reading technical monographs on Thomistic metaphysics, Thomistic epistemology, &c. They hang out at Feser's blog and other social media venues.

      Both approaches can be far removed from revelation, which is the ultimate source of true doctrine.