Monday, 1 December 2008

Recovering the Reformed Confession Part 4 - Just what the Professor ordered

Chapter 4 begins the second part of the book entitled “Recovering the Reformed Identity”. Clark’s contention in this chapter is that , “those in the Reformed confessional tradition...have..wrestled with the proper way to do theology after modernity. Some confessionalists carried on the classic approach to do theology after modernity. Some confessionalists carried on the classic approach to theology, but we have often seemed to forget gradually our own grammar, logic and rhetoric. Confessional Reformed theology, however, works with some basic beliefs about the nature of relations between God and his creation, beliefs that are derived from Scripture and shape theological method. Chief among these is the notion that God is the “beginning of being” (principium essendi) and, as such, the “beginning of knowing” (principium cognoscendi). A corollary to this doctrine is the notion that human knowledge of God is analogical.” (p123)

So then, basic to a Reformed recovery is recognising, along with Duns Scotus (c. 1265 – c. 1308), the fundamental distinction between God as he is “’in himself’ (in se) and as he is ‘toward us’ (erga nos)” (p138). Luther and Calvin also gave assent to the fundamental distinction between “God hidden (Deus absconditus) and God revealed (Deus revelatus).”(p139)
A corollary of this is the distinction between two kinds of theology. There is theology as God does it called archetypal theology, and there is theology as God reveals it to us called ectypal theology (p143). Yet, this “archetypal/ectypal distinction is not in God as he is in himself, but he condescends to make the distinction in order to speak to us and so that we can speak about him.”(p143) Finite human beings are not capable of infinite thought. So, as Calvin describes, Scripture is God condescending to speak to finite creatures in the way one speaks to a little child.
In pages 145-150, Clark gives historical reasons as to why confessionalists “forgot gradually our own grammar, logic and rhetoric.” I don’t have time to go into these reasons, but suffice to say, assumption has played a large part in the downgrade.

“Well,” says some detractor, “so what? Who gives a rat’s bottom about archetypal/ectypal theology? I just want to know and love Jesus.” The answer should go something like, “You either assume that human knowledge and God’s knowledge exists on some continuum, or that there is a distinction between the two. Human beings are little gods on a pilgrimage back to the divine beatific vision, or they are analogues thinking God’s thoughts after him. As Luther declared to the 1518 Heidelberg Disputation, you either embrace a theology of glory or a theology of the cross.”

How else are you going to deal with hard passages of Scripture? What about God ascribing body parts to himself in the Psalms? Either God has eyes, a nose, hands, etc, or he is accommodating his revelation to us in anthropomorphisms. How can God elect sinners while desiring that none should perish and that all should turn in repentance? Do we, in true QIRC fashion, explain one passage away in the light of the other, or do we confess that we are happy to live with the apparent tension, realising that our finite brains cannot cope with infinite truths. We know that they are true, but confess we don’t know how they are true in the light of the archetypal/ectypal distinction. Either we are, in true QIRE fashion, on a road back to a face to face meeting with God, or we will always require that he accommodates his knowledge to us, in the now by word and sacrament, and at the eschaton in the face of his dear son Jesus.

This chapter again brought home to me how the Reformed faith brings such a balanced approach to epistemology. Had the creator/creature distinction of Reformed theology been embraced by the church at large, perhaps our flocks would not be turning from the idolatrous certitude of fundamentalism to the epistemological uncertainty of Polanyi, Newbigin or McLaren. The archetypal/ectypal distinction should undergird an epistemological conviction that is both hermeneutically and exegetically satisfying.

3 comments:

R. Scott Clark said...

Hi Nick,

I really appreciate this series. I'm not sure, however, that I throw Polanyi in Brian M. Newbigin borrows from Polanyi. Read within an orthodox context, I've learned much from Polanyi. I don't know Newbigin well enough to comment.

I take your point re subjectivism, however. It's a great concern.

Nick Mackison said...

Scott,
I realise a lot of good orthodox guys have learned from Polanyi (e.g. Carson), but it seems he can be appropriated in different ways to justify different approaches to truth.

I was more thinking of Newbigin's appropriation of Polanyi in "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society". On his agenda was to help find a third way between liberalism and conservatism. Sounds awfully McLarenesque. I don't want a third way so we can fellowship with liberals. Liberals need to repent and believe the gospel!

Nevertheless, you're right, it was unfair to lump Polanyi in with McLaren

R. Scott Clark said...

Hi Nick,

Well, if Hart is right, and RRC argues that he is, then there is a third way between "liberal" and "conservative:" "confessional." I understand what you intend, however, and I'm not disagreeing with your analysis of Newbigin. I haven't read enough to say. Mars Hill Audio/Ken Myers did a great 2 hour documentary on Polanyi, which is fascinating. I've read a bit in Polanyi. Personal Knowledge is very tough going for a non-scientist, but it's great fun seeing him blow up so many "established" experiments by revealing their "backstories," as it were. I've got a couple of books on my shelf on P. for this summer -- I hope.