Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent theology

Recent conversations I've been having with people around the merits (or demerits) of classical theism have driven home to me again that theology, like everything the church is called to do, is an advent discipline, which is to say, it's grounded, provisional, and eschatological.

Theology is grounded because it is based in the original advent of Christ.  We in the church have seen something of God, and therefore we must speak.  Because it matters that we speak faithfully - that what we say conforms to what God has revealed - we have theology, a discipline which aims to critique our talk about God so as to achieve that faithfulness.  What that means is that theology is far from being an anything-goes affair.  The real God has really revealed himself, and it matters that when we speak of him our speech reflects his revelation.

Theology is provisional because we live between the times.  We look back to Christ and rejoice in what he has done, but we acknowledge that we still await our redemption.  That means that we have to recognise two things.  One is our own continuing sinfulness and weakness.  Everything that we say is open to critique, and nothing that we say will perfectly express God's being and action.  The other is the movement of history.  Things that were said in the church yesterday cannot just be repeated today as if they definitely still made sense.  Human speech which was faithful to God's revelation yesterday may be unfaithful if simply repeated verbatim today.  It is not as if God has changed!  But in this between-the-times world, nothing stands still for long.  Words change their meaning, cultural resonances shift, philosophies rise and fall.  We must speak today, knowing that the church of tomorrow must speak again and afresh.

Theology is eschatological because we look forward to seeing Christ.  On that day, theology will become defunct, as we will know even as we are known.  Or, to put it another way, the human discipline of theology will give way to the divine theology, which will once and for all correct our faulty notions and purify and complete our stumbling efforts to speak.  Faithful theology looks forward to its own dismissal, its service done and no longer required.  The goal, after all, never was theology as a discipline, but knowledge of God as a relational reality.


  1. good stuff, thanks dan.

    to come at the same from another way, it's occurred to me this year that advent is just what God does.

    you reminded me of this prolegomona to any future philosophy which can come forth as prophecy - in its untimeliness