Saturday, May 22, 2010

Further Probing of the Interface Between Apologetics and Dogmatics Part One

Further Probing the Interface Between Apologetics and Dogmatics: Arguing Deeply from the Stance of Faith Part One

"For the Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians" 1:22-25).

"And without faith it is impossible to please, him, for whoever would draw near God must believe that he exists and rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

It became clear to me close to a decade back that there was a profound difference between apologetics—providing reasons for one's faith in Christ in an effort to persuade those outside the camp to consider the viability of Christianity—and that of dogmatics in an ever deepening internalization of the core presuppositions of the faith as a way of enhancing one's personal relationship with Christ.

Through this reflection, I came to a new realization that apologetics could only go so far in providing a coherent rationale for Christianity, a faith which one could only experience by living within its own linguistic, ethical, and epistemological structures; that is by embracing and being embraced by something of the inexhaustible richness of its own interior claims, traditions, and promises. This necessitates, among other things a deep and passionate engagement with what 20th century neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth refers to as “the strange new world of the Bible;” an embrace of the entire biblical canon. This biblical orientation, in turn, is part of a broader acceptance of the core precepts of the Christian faith, especially the Trinity, which includes an unswerving commitment to Christ as the way, the truth, and the life as God incarnate in human flesh without equivocation or remainder. In short, it became clear to me that fully entering and remaining immersed in the core narrative of the orthodox, incarnational Trinitarian faith was the only way of thoroughly grasping something of its depth, power, subtlety, beauty, and truth. From that time forward my sense of personal gravity shifted from one focused on seeking a deeper faith in ways that could in principle find congruence through the prism of contemporary secular reasoning toward a more deliberate embrace of the core dogmatics of faith in search of greater insight as the fruit of such a renewed shift.

This turn, one of several in my 38 year odyssey with Christianity, was based on the recognition that the significance of religious language as a valid discourse on its own terms is utterly absent from the contemporary academic and cultural canon of what is viewed as legitimate. I concluded, consequently, that there was little further to be gained in attempting to process my religious identity with one hand tied behind my back, so to speak, in not deliberately utilizing and depending foremost on the richness of religious language to get at what I most believed. What became clear was the realization of the utter insufficiency of secular language to convey something of the fuller richness of the unique particularity of the Christian revelation in which, while there is evidence and witnesses to bring forth, cannot be squared through the precepts of secular Enlightenment or Post-Enlightenment reasoning on the logic or reasoning of its own terms.

Rather, the revelation has its own source of truth that when grasped has a way of manifesting itself, which requires active processing—that is, believing and acting as if it were true; in other words, active faith as the basis for entering into the “language game” of Christianity. This does not require other modes of reasoning for its own self-justification in which its language forms, while always reaching toward increasingly coherent explanation, are sufficient on their own terms for self-understanding and for effective communication with other Christians. Granted, other linguistic forms may well be needed when seeking to convey core faith claims to those operating outside its premises as well as among those on the border lines seeking greater convergence between faith and culture. Multilingualism, therefore, has its merits and practiced in the right hands, can become very fruitful. I also acknowledge that analogical reasoning has its own value amidst the very depths of a sustained evangelical theology and pietism, though the temptation of granting the symbolism more influence than the revealed Word itself as the very thing signified, is of even more pressing concern, which requires much careful scrutiny.

Moreover, I do not dismiss the potential value of dialogue with those outside the faith, but view it ultimately as a subsidiary manner, which all too often has the potential of becoming a primary one. The temptation of theological liberalism is to be so accommodating to the discourse of others in the desire to be reasonable and “open,” that one sacrifices the radical uniqueness of one’s own claims, in which something of its fullness cannot be grasped outside of faith. The temptation of theological conservatism is to be so rigorous in one’s conceptual logic that (a) one misses much of the actual arguments others are making; (b) that the reasoning on its own terms becomes so precise that one misses the analogical nature of seeking to grasp and communicate something essential about our relationship to the living God, whose back we may, from time to time be privileged to get a glance of, but never his face.

The more likely result, in our secular age, is more of a tendency toward stalemate or even ceding more ground to those who doubt or reject the faith in reinforcing prevailing cultural beliefs, albeit with the prospect of gaining a more nuanced position of another's perspective. If one's central value framework is toleration, that's one thing; if it is to persuade one of the truth of what one is claiming that is another matter altogether, which is part of the “scandal” of the faith, particularly in these secular times in which we are still called to “preach the word…with complete patience and teaching” (1 Timothy 2:4:2). There are some subtle matters here which require a great deal of deliberation and discernment beyond what I can discuss at this point.

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