Sunday, March 29, 2015

introduction to Discussion of In Quest of a Vital Protestant Center on the Confessing Christ Lisrserv

Gabriel Fackre’s work loomed large in the conceptualization of In Quest of a Vital Protestant Center even as from the beginning of my Christian walk (1972) I have consistently taken a comprehensive approach.  Early on I had read and agreed much with Horace Bushnell's 1848 essay, “Christian Comprehensiveness,” which I view as having much contemporary relevance.  As a result of what I can only describe as a most authentic born again experience, I linked up with the Pentecostals in 1974, which was my entry into evangelical thought and culture (obviously, there was a big piece missing, namely the Reformed perspective, which I didn't begin to grasp till decades later).  I appreciated very much the Pentecostal emphasis on the Holy Spirit as well as on the Bible, but never seriously took in their dispensationalist theology, their literal interpretation of the Bible, their interpretation of evolution and geology, and social and political conservatism. My stock line was that I take the Bible most seriously, but not necessarily literally, especially where it did not apply; namely science and history. In my role as a Campus Minister Associate, while in graduate school, I led student groups that consisted both of mainline Protestant and evangelical/Pentecostal members.  

I typically sided with the evangelicals on basic issues related to the centralities of the Grand Tradition, while veering toward the mainliners in terms of temperament, the rejection of an inerrant biblical hermeneutics, which I felt went beyond what the various writers of the Bible attest to, and in my understanding of the difference between history and theology, and my appreciation for evolutionary science. My book is a distillation of such issues in an effort to carry on this evangelical/mainline dialogue in a more formal, scholarly manner, in a way also, that contains significant aspects of my own evolving spiritual odyssey.

In terms of comparisons, beginning with Ch. 4 on Bloesch, I open each chapter with a comparison of that person and the author in the previous chapter; in Ch. 4 on Bloesch and Packer.  Ch. 5 opens with a brief comparison between Bloesch and Fackre, where I speak of Fackre's greater willingness to embrace a hermeneutics of suspicion and greater swaths of theological liberalism even if, ultimately, only through the distanced voice “critic-in-residence.”  This is followed by a section titled, “Fackre's Theology in Brief.” Both of these introductory sections were designed to prepare the reader to launch into the more extended and substantive aspects of Gabe's theology of Scripture and narrative theology of God.  Ch 6 opens with an extended comparison between Fackre and Brueggemann that included commentary on the biblical theology of Brevard Childs.  I titled this introductory section, “Brueggemann and Fackre Compared: Narrative Theologians in Divergent Veins.” A major difference is the contrast between Brueggemann's “angular” reading of particular texts contrasted to Fackre's emphasis on the ultimate harmonization and importance of the entire Scripture.

I would encourage those working out of UCC perspectives to look closely at the chapters on Bloesch, Fackre, and Brueggemann, who, respectively, represent the conservative, centrist, and moderate liberal wings of the denomination, and in a more general sense, the mainline Protestant perspective.  I would hope that chapter 7, on neo-orthodoxy, would also be of interest to those influenced by traditional mainline theological perspectives, where the collective impact of Barth, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, and the Niebuhr brothers, at least, at one point in time, loomed so large.  In addition to the original neo-orthodox writers, I also drew on Douglas Hall's Remembered Voices: Reclaiming the Legacy of "Neo-Orthodoxy" and Gary Dorrien's, The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology.   While there are various reasons why contemporary evangelicals and mainline Protestants would marginalize or outright reject the significance of the neo-orthodox perspective, in my view, there are valid reasons—not the least of which is the recent Barthian revival and the enduring significance of Bonhoeffer—for viewing it as an important theological thread in constructing a vital center.

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