On resisting the chaotic non-conformity of private, virtuoso theologies

‘Throughout the history of the Reformed tradition, the central place both for the ongoing hermeneutic process urged in the confessions, and for the general influence of the confessions in the Church, has been the pastoral office through preaching, teaching, oversight, and leadership. Correspondingly, it is chiefly the minister of the word, among the other ordained ministries, who is held accountable in the constitutional questions for following the leading and guidance of the confessions of faith. Appropriately, theological education was in the past structured by the theology of the confessions. Rather strongly, thus, I wish to remind those of us that find our calling in theological education that it is scandalous for a faculty member in any discipline in the church’s seminaries not to be able to locate his or her work and thought and teaching matter with relation to the confessional teachings. We do not want again the old teaching oath, or any teaching oath at all, and the inevitably stifling conformity it promotes. But neither do we want the On resistsing that leave the relation of thought to life in the empirical church to the improvisation of individual ministers. Further, theological education carried out in programs of continuing education or presbytery projects of many types, should be oriented by a reasonable awareness of what the Church teaches in its confessional and creedal literature.

More broadly, it is the educational ministry of the Church on all levels that should bear the chief responsibility for a confessionally rooted hermeneutic, worship, and mission. The idiom of the tradition, whether in words or ethic, needs to be exercised in spiritual, biblical, theological, and ethical education.

It would be well, we often think, if one might be just a Christian, and not a Presbyterian, Catholic, or Methodist. But so, it might seem, is the case with language. What if we could avoid German or English and just speak language? But it doesn’t work. Esperanto is a wonderful idea, but like Basic English a few years back, it is bereft of the richness of meaning and naturalness of a true language. So a theological Esperanto, or ecumenical Esperanto—for the time being at least—leaves us far from the concrete reality in which we live and speak. The idiom of the Reformed tradition, when fully understood, is the ground and motive both for ecumenical awareness and progress, and for other kinds of reform and advance. Not abandonment, but reform, as new light breaks forth from Scripture and illuminates new situations in our culture and environment and in the world Church, is the promising idiom of our tradition’. – Edward A. Dowey Jr., ‘Confessional Documents as Reformed Hermeneutic’, Journal of Presbyterian History 79, no. 1 (2001), 58.


  1. What has been basically forgotten is the theological depth of the written word which, being inspired by Omniscience, is of such profundity and intensity that even in its utmost lucidity, we lack the perspective to taken in all of its meaning and measure to affect, effect, and infect human thought in renewal. Like my friend who was fishing on a mountain stream near Danville, Va and seeing the grains of sand rolling along the bottom, he thought it was only 2-3 feet deep and so stepped off into it – intending to cross over and proceed down stream to another fishing hole. Bad idea! The stream was 18-20 feet deep, and he nearly drowned. So is it with the written word, and, perhaps, for this reason, the Pilgrim pastor John Robinson wondered “what new light is getting ready to break forth from God’s word.” That new light was the Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions and also new political ways and freedoms, the Calvinistic Republics, liberties with responsibile citizens, and we bid fair to win the whole world which is the direction in which Jonathan Edwards was pointing with his Humble Attempt and other writings. Alas! we were diverted by cunning idiots who got us to adopt old French Infidelity (the views of the Philosophes and their English cousin, Tom Paine) and then sanctify it and call it by a title that diverted attention from its more promiscuous implications as suggested by the first caption in this sentence. We refer to it as “Higher Criticism.” It is conceivable that the hounds of Hell laughed all the way to their dens of iniquity to see all the great scholars of Germany, England, America and elsewhere brag of their great insights into the primitive base writings of a Faith once perceived as too Holy for such jejune and puerile understandings. Renewal from the Book due to its rise from a source so far above human minds that it is virtually inonceivable in is power to produce far reaching changes in people and clime of this seemingly God-forsaken orb at any time in its existence – even to produce a thousand generations in which every last soul belong to Christ in order to fulfill the prophecies and promises to Abraham and hence to Christ of a seed as numerous as the stars of heaven (which cannot be counted for number), the sand by all the seashores of earth, and the dust of earth (in case anyone should miss the numbers involved). O yes, don’t forget the number of the redeemed in Heaven which no human can number (even if he or she has all eternity to do it in??? God does have a sense of humor). Add also the thought from one extremities of the Heavens to the other extremities, and one has to wonder if man reaches the stars – if he has not already reached them perhaps 50-60 years ago!


  2. I think, Jason, if you agree with this quote (which I happen to think is very worthwhile), that I would love to tempt you into making comemnt on some of your colleagues and how they and their theologies relate to the confessional history of the Reformed faith. :-) Of course, I do NOT expect you to do this, or at least to do so on the internet :-)


  3. He makes some good points Jason. ….ah those were the days… nowadays, it would seem it is battle enough with the denominations, to confess anew the one same gospel as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church; … to avoid imploding takes some energy; … oh for a good inter-denominational barney, to sharpen the language, and awaken again the troops to the task.


  4. Trevor writes: ‘Oh for a good inter-denominational barney, to sharpen the language, and awaken again the troops to the task’.

    Jason writes: Sad, but history is one your side here. The Lord indeed employs strange methods to ‘awaken again the troops to the task’, but that he does is grace.


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