Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Emergent Christology

Over in Pontifications there is a long series of comments about an exchange in Open Source Theology concerning Christology. I find the exchange interesting in part because it manages to stay away from the "of course Catholic theology solves everything" through most of the middle portion of the discussion.

It's interesting that in the original discussion "Chalcedon" doesn't appear until the middle of the exchange, and it is brought up by a catholic (small-c). Much of the rest of the exchange is devoted to the original respondent's sense of unease with the formula. In mainline catholic theology-- including, I would imagine most Anglican discussions-- "Chalcedon" would appear as soon as possible, because it's the most important historical consideration of the issue, and people in those intellectual traditions emphasize historical perspective. And I would agree to this emphasis, if only because knowing the history of an argument is a great help to avoiding wasting time in recapitulating it unknowingly.

On the other hand in the original discussion there is little or no sense of historical perspective; and when it is introduced there is a surprising resistance to really accepting it. We disappear into what obscurity there may be in ante-Nicene theology, the inevitable refuge of "start from scratch" Protestant theology. It's ironic that the mainstream of evangelical theology is increasingly abandoning this and looking back to the councils and the church fathers. Whatever the emergent movement is needs to get past this calculated naivete; intellectually there is simply no excuse for not being aware of the major historical approaches to these problems.

Meanwhile, Al Kimel observes:
My first impression is that many em’s are reacting against what they perceive to be the personally destructive dogmatism of the evangelical/fundamentalist churches in which they were raised. My second impression is that they are embracing the kind of experientialist, anti-dogmatic theology that has been characteristic of liberal-Protestant theology for the past hundred and fifty years. Flush in the excitement of being on the evangelical cutting-edge, they do not realize how very old-hat they are.
Maybe Al and I have been reading different liberals, but I think his statement here seriously mischaracterizes what has gone wrong with mainline theology. Mainline theologians are not going to get around to Chalcedon because someone else brings it up; they are going to have at it, for good or ill, from the start. They come out of a catholic theology in which they have all been educated in all this stuff, and they are brim full of opinions about it. Those in OST, by contrast, hardly seem to have heard of Chalcedon.

And unfortunately Chalcedon is a very clear formulation of the the principles it expresses-- at least, not to the average modern person. I had the benefit of being walked through it in Robert Farrar Capon's Hunting the Divine Fox before I really had to deal with it in discussion, but without guidance the formula is rather opaque. And it has the dubious distinction of being the focus of Christendom's oldest surviving theological division. I am convinced that what Chalcedon teaches is "true", but in the exchanges in the two lines of discussion, I'm not seeing a great teaching moment. What's tending to happen instead is that the Catholic end of the discussion has mostly retreated from trying to explain the formula and has gone back to the usual intellectual sin of trying to argue from authority to people who do not (yet) accept the authority.

And OST is clearly a place where real teaching is appropriate and even possible. It saddens me to see that its potential in this wise isn't being exploited.

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