Friday, 26 January 2007

Theological modesty

“[Theology] has often overshot its goal and degenerated into repeating the same empty phrases…. Sometimes it seemed to proceed from the idea that it could answer all questions and resolve all issues. It has often been lacking in modesty, tenderness, and simplicity. This was all the worse inasmuch as theology has to do with the deepest problems and comes into contact with the most delicate stirrings of the human heart. More than any other science, it has to take to heart the admonition ‘not to think of itself more highly than it ought’ (cf. Rom. 12:3). It is better honestly to admit that a thing is not clear than to make a wild guess.”

—Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), p. 605.

9 Comments:

kim fabricius said...

How lovely! It should be the epigraph of every theological paper or book. Instead of the rabies theologorum, the modestia et benignitas theologorum.

Brandon Jones said...

That's a great Bavinck quote-thanks

sacred vapor said...

great quote!

Jim Gordon said...

Hauerwas in his Matthew commentary makes much the same point in relation to the gospels. "Theologians are often tempted to say more than can be said. The mystery of God frustrates us, enticing us to explain what cannot be explained...the reticence of the gospels frustrates us, we want them to say more than they can say..." What Hauerwas calls reticence, and newman calls proper reserve, Bavinck commends as theological humility. I'm all for it!

michael jensen said...

Yeah, Calvin was big for it too, as a critique of the speculations of the schoolmen. He keeps this theme going in Book 1 of the Institutes. Good to see Hauerwas and Calvin having something in common!

dan said...

Odd, earlier today I read the Hauerwas passage that Jim Gordon quoted here. It is (perhaps?) not too surprising that Hauerwas ends up sounding a bit like Calvin in this passage, since he certainly sounds like Barth. Perhaps it is Barth that Hauerwas and Calvin have in common!

Chris said...

This is much the same point that Pete Rollins is making in How (Not) to Speak of God and follows in the footsteps of some of the greats including Tillich. Unfortunately, it is precisely this hermeneutic of humility that the fundamentalists are railing against, including John Piper and Rob Bell... check out the Desiring God conference podcasts at iTunes.

Jim Gordon said...

Hi Dan,

I'm still new to blogging but not to writing - can't believe I didn't give the page ref for Hauerwas - sorry you had to chase it. But given Ben's next post about Aaron's complaint about obese (over-long) dogmatics,isn't it a relief that Hauerwas's commentary isn't the length of Allison & Davies ICC set (2,300+ pages) or Nolland's one volume at 1480 pages?

Christian A said...

It's funny isn't it - because we do believe that God in Christ will answer all questions and resolve all issues. Then in our excitement at this we think that by talking biblically of God in Christ we can solve all issues now...as though by doing Christian theology we can bring about the eschaton ourselves and ahead of time!

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