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Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

This past weekend my old alma mater and former place of work, MF Norwegian School of Theology (Det teologiske Menighetsfakultet) celebrated its 100th anniversary. I did not have time to attend the celebrations back in Norway, although I really wish that I could have.

MF is the largest theological school/faculty of theology in Norway. Today most of the priests are trained at the school and currently all the bishops in the Church of Norway has a background from MF. The school is also the second largest theological faculty in Northern Europe with around 900-1000 students, only surpassed by the theological faculty at the University of Helsinki in Finland (with around 1800 students).

The school was established in 1907-08 against the classical liberal theology, that at the end of the 19th century gained influence at the faculty of theology at the University of Oslo. Professors at the university, people from lay organisations and the Church of Norway all joined together to establish a faculty that would both honour the sound and solid scholarly interest of the faculty and the deep commitment to the faith of the church (of the Lutheran tendency). Today many lament the fact that MF also includes more diversity and a richer understanding of Christian truth, while others, me included, judge it as better equipped to face the challanges of the future: to train priests, ministers, pastors, catechists, deacons, teachers etc. for the future of God’s Church. Because the Gospel of Christ is for all generations.

A 100 years is not much when comparing to the old universities of Europe. But MF is very much in that tradition. It may very well be a nova creatura, but its spirit is as old as the Church itself.

At the beginning and end of every academic semester the faculty og students sing together Grundtvig’s hymn God’s Word is Our Heritage (tune: Ein Feste Burg):

God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations.

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One of the books I think a serious student of theology should read, is a book by Nancey Murphy on theological method. Murphy is a professor at Fuller Seminary in Los Angeles.

The book, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism : How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda, is a clear and very accessible book on the two main paradigms that dominate in theology today. She gives a fair presentation of the both theological liberalism and fundamentalism, and their common basis, namely foundationalism. The book then also help us better to understand our own theology by offering an method to analyse our own fundamental understanding of

  • God’s relationship to the world and his mode of action within his world
  • the nature of revelation
  • religious experience
  • Scripture

and how these interact with each other.

In part two she also offers what she names the third way, a new way of doing philosophy and therefore also theology. The third way overcomes weaknesses that both liberal theology and fundamentalist theology have.

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“[B]ecause we assume the analogy between our time and the narrative time of Scripture, and Scriptural time moves toward the specific time of renewal and liberation in Jesus, we in our own conflicts can maintain hope. We are not spared the cost of conflict or promised a final theological resolution; rather we are assured of the possibility of ‘re-producing’ the meaning that is Christ crucified and risen, through our commitment to an unavoidably divided Church – not by the effort to reconcile at all costs, but by carrying the burdens of conflict in the face of that unifying judgment bodied forth in preaching and sacrament. In that openness to the plain historical difficulty of belonging to the Church, we open ourselves to the gift of Christ.”
(Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology, 2000, p. 58).

Christian faith and theology holds that in Jesus from Nazareth we find the final and complete revelation of God. In theology this is expressed by reference to the incarnation of God in Jesus, truth is found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Incarnation is not to be understood in a way that the second person of the triune God turns himself into a member of the humanoid race on earth, but that Jesus of Nazareth in every moment of his entire life is a medium for God’s gracious love that created, sustains and is going to recreate the world. Incarnation is to be grounded in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, both his words and deed, where the cross and the empty tomb is an integral part of this life (too often a false dichotomy is found here). This life reveals who God is, in all its ambiguity, and not least, gives us a pattern (a language) for understanding and talking about God. With Martin Luther we may say: crux probat omnia (WA, V, 179,31).

Nativity of Christ

Nativity of Christ

Scripture is therefore a second hand product . Scripture, as we have it, is the oldest historical recollections (derived from the consciousness of the witnesses to the life of Jesus of Nazareth), it testifies to Jesus from Nazareth. Scripture also testify to the acts of God in the history of Israel.

I do not believe that we can move beyond these two points, the first being the content of revelation and the second the historical priority of the canon of the Old and the New Testament. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit is denied or the Church does not have a role to play. Only that neither verbal inspiration nor ecclesiology (like the petrine office) can guarantee the divine origin of Scripture.

The reason for me believing this is that in some forms of theology Scripture is in danger of eclipsing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture becomes a way to make things easier, and therefore we do not have to argue theologically for our conclusions. The danger is that Scripture short circuits all our thinking and only work to consolidate our own understanding of things. Instead it should challenge our understanding of God, the Church, the world and humans. For they are all marked with conflict, as Rowan Williams mentions.

Therefore I think that making Scriptural authority the fundamental principle of theology is forfeit. The Lutheran theologian Gustaf Wingren (Credo, 1995, p. 31) gives three reasons why it should not take this place in theology:

  • First of all, the content of Christian faith was never preached as gospel in the early Christian age, like Christ himself. E.g. Scripture was not given its own article in the creeds, although it was mentioned in the Nicene Creed (“the prophets”). For Lutherans it is interesting that the Augsburg Confession does not include an article on Scripture.
  • Second, a person or an event can be unique in many ways, a book cannot. A book may lead to a theorising of the Gospel. God’s revelation and even his very nature as triune being, becomes abstract and faith is reduced to episteme (knowledge).
  • Third, by emphasising the book underlines our nihilism. The book limits God and makes God harmless. The human life does not belong to the historical realm where God acts, namely the Bible. We and our time are empty and our only valuable asset we have is the special book.

The nature and status of Scripture can and should not be decided before working with hermeneutical, historical and dogmatic questions, but be based on the results of these questions.

I don’t think there is an independent theological discipline called bibliology (at the very best the concept covers the study of the Old and the New Testament), instead the nature and status of the Bible should be discussed when dealing with creation and language, Jesus of Nazareth and the gospel, and the Holy Spirit and the Church. And especially in relation to the third article of the Christian faith, since Christ exercises his dominion over his Church through the Holy Spirit.

The Danish theologian and hymn writer, Nikolaj F.S. Grundtvig, warns his fellow Christians against substituting a human pope with pope made out of paper (and a priestly pope). His warning was valid in the 19th century and still is today.

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Difficultere (lat.) – to make difficult.

Why make things difficult? And why call a blog ‘difficultere’? My inspiration for this title comes from a book by the proliferate theologian Rowan Williams. Perhaps the scholar that has given me most joy to read the last couple of years. In his magisterial study of Arius he writes:

«Scripture and tradition require to be read in a way that brings out their strangeness, their non-obvious and non-contemporary qualities, in order to that they may be read both freshly and truthfully from one generation to another. They need to be made more difficult before we can accurately grasp their simplicities. Otherwise, we read with eyes not our own and think them through with minds not our own; the ‘deposit of faith’ does not really come into contact with ourselves. And this ‘making difficult’, this confession that what gospel says in Scripture and tradition does not instantly and effortlessly make sense, is perhaps one of the most fundamental tasks for theology». (Williams 1987/2001, p. 236)

The honourable archbishop lives himself by this rule, making things difficult. He asks both difficult questions and he answers questions in a manner that makes you think. I do not pretend to live up to the same high standards, but I adhere to this programme that makes us think things thoroughly through.

Knowledge does not only mean to pass on data, but includes understanding and reflection. To be able to convince others through the power of good arguments, you need to challenge your own understanding of  things. Only then can theology be made personal, challenging – and open our imagination – for the real life (also) lived.

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