Thursday, July 05, 2007

Truth and love

As part of my ongoing obsession with the doctrine of revelation in general, and of Scripture in particular, I have just started reading Kevin J. Vanhoozer's First Theology. So far, an excellent read.

In the first chapter, Vanhoozer reminds us of C.S. Lewis' toolshed illustration. For those not familiar with it, it involves imagining that one is in a darkened toolshed. Through a crack in the door, a beam of light enters the shed. If one looks at the beam of light, one sees illuminated dust particles moving about. In itself, that is something rather beautiful. But if one looks along the beam of light, one no longer sees the beam itself, but sees the outside world, and the sun which is the source of the light in the first place.

The anaolgy is hopefully obvious. If I spend all my time looking at Scripture, at theology, at doctrine, then I may well see beauty in the system, or the narrative, or the philosophy. But will it be qualitatively different from the beauty I see in Kant's philosophy, or Tolstoy's narrative? I think not. What is more, it will be the kind of thing that I can grasp and master and pin down - the kind of thing, in other words, that will puff me up (1 Cor 8:1).

What is required is that I look along Scripture, doctrine and theology, that I look to the One to whom these things point - the One who is the very source of these things. That means turning my knowledge into worship. It means realising that there is Someone there whom I cannot fully comprehend, cannot pin down, cannot master - but rather must be mastered by. This knowledge works by love, and does not puff up, for it realises that chiefly I do not know God but he knows me (1 Cor 8:3). Vanhoozer gives an eloquent riff on 1 Corinthians 13:

After all, Christian truth is in the service of Christian love. If I speak with the tongues of Reformers and of professional theologians, and I have not personal faith in Christ, my theology is nothng but the noisy beating of a snare drum. And if I have analytic powers and the gift of creating coherent conceptual systems of theology, so as to remove liberal objections, and have not personal hope in God, I am nothing. And if I give myself to resolving the debate between infra and supralapsarianism, and to defending inerrancy, and to learning the Westminster Catechism, yea, even the larger one, so as to recite it backwards and forwards, and have not love, I have gained nothing.

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