Sunday 6 August 2006

New series: theology for beginners

Richard Hall has kindly offered me a “tip” for improving Faith & Theology. Here’s his suggestion: “I’d like some ‘theology for beginners’ ... type of posts. Please.”

I must admit this had never occurred to me, but I think it’s a splendid idea. So, in obedience to Richard, I’m planning a new series entitled “Theology for Beginners.” The aim of the series will be to sketch the terrain of Christian belief in about 20 short posts (the posts will probably be scattered over several weeks). I’m still trying to decide on the structure of the series (it will look something like a very small dogmatics) – but I’ll try to kick off the series later this week.

Anyway, thanks to Richard for the tip!


Patrik said...

I don't know about the "for beginners"-bit, but my blog so far has been something like a very small dogmatic I guess, at least if you view the "key posts" I have listed in the margin.. I still have to have a go a the ecclesiology, but the I am finished. Maybe Next week..

Well, my point was not to self-advertise, but to wish you good luck! I have learned a lot from outlining the way I look at the Christian doctrine in these short texts, and I am sure it would be beneficial for any theologian to do something similar.

Looking forward to this series!

Anonymous said...

I think that is a great idea!

Sivin Kit said...

I agree with Amy and it will be interesting to see how you do it. Because for me how you do the posts is as important as what you post. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

The series will succeed by reminding us that in theology we are all beginners. Those who may seem more "advanced" are simply those who have begun again more often.

Jim said...

Ben, perhaps you could title it "Dogmatic Fundamentals: Fundamentals of Dogmatic Theology Briefly Outlined for Beginning Students of Christian Doctrine and their Implications for Ethics, Praxis, and Personal Life Governance- With Particular Attention to Simplicity and Clarity of Thought". I haven't come up with the subtitle yet...

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Jim! That sounds like one of those 17th C. Puritan titles that take up the whole book cover and everyone has to shorten in referencing!

Blessings, Ben. I suspect that most of us don't like to write "for beginners" because if we can't use technical shorthand jargon, we are forced to find out just how much we really know--or don't.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good idea. I'm looking forward to it.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Stephen G said...

Sounds good. I like idea of a series of posts - though I'm not sure if a series of 'dogmatic' type posts will appeal to all.

I've had students who've hated that sort of thing in introductory theology, but have come back after class to talk about how much they learnt from a more 'narrative' piece they had to read outside of class. (For example, I'll normally set something out of Elouise Renich Fraser's "Confessions of a Beginning Theologian") But others liked the more tersely presented information, and found the stories "wishy-washy". Each to their own, I guess.

I enjoyed the similar Virtual Theology series a while back over at

Maybe you could splice the odd podcast in with the posts?

gracie said...

As a children's songwriter, distilling truth to the simplest, purest essentials has grown my own faith and understanding.
We could all take a lesson from Jesus' approach to the disciples - so much to say, so little time and to people of very little brain.

I'll be reading with great interest and thirst to know - thanks Ben.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I'm really looking forward to this series!

Anonymous said...

What I would find really, really useful would be short annotated bibliographies of the main books of the important theologians e.g. Barth, Torrance, Bultmann, etc. For example, I Googled for ages last night trying to find an annotated Barth bibliography and couldn't find one anywhere on the 'net. For beginners just starting to read these theologians, annotated bibliographies that point out which are the most important / most accessible works are a great boon as most of us are on limited book-buying budgets and many of these books are expensive.

So how about a post entitled 'Barth on a Budget'? ;-)

J said...

What a great idea! I'm excited to read what you put together.

Binx said...

Could you begin by taking a shot at defining how you will be using terms like Dogma, Doctrine and Theology?

Are there any binding dogmas for Christian Faith? For example, is Scripture Alone a dogma? On what authority?

"Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery."

Flannery O'Connor

Ben Myers said...

Hi Tarwater -- yes, I'll be trying to define "theology", but I won't be using the words "dogma" or "doctrine". And to answer your question, I think the two central, identifying dogmas of Christian faith are Christology and the Trinity (and I certainly don't think that there is a "dogma of Scripture"!).

Thanks, Curious Presbyterian, for your suggestion as well: I'll definitely try to come up with a "Barth on a Budget" post for you. (To be honest, though, if you were to ask my wife, she'd tell you that there's really no such thing as "Barth on a budget"...)

Stephen G said...

What about a separate post in the series like a "Beginner's Theological Glossary" that gets the odd bit of jargon added to it as the posts get written?

Nate Mihelis said...

Also looking forward to it. Likewise, I like the curioius presby's suggestion and in fact I was wondering if you'd consider turning that into another miniseries as time allows. I come from somewhat of a fundamentalist background (don't hold it against me, you can't choose your family:-) and I am just starting to become acquainted with the voices in contemporary theology. An annotated bibliography or "budget" list for guys like the ones previouly listed (in the For the love of God series) like Pannenberg, Jungel and Moltmann would be great. I barely know where to begin with these guys and have no reference point. Thanks!

Binx said...

My apologies if I was confusing.

Maybe I should say that if you are going to have a Theology 101 class perhaps a Pre-Theology primer will also be worth the discussion. One of the foundations of the non-Catholic ethos is sola Scriptura. It is a principle that, I would wager, only a few of your readers have given a serious examination. To radically and justly consider the argument for and against this principle is to do justice to the Truth. I think your readers would be up for challenging themselves to justify what they may hold as a prejudice.

The critique of sola Scriptura, is, in the eyes of a great many, devastating.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Tarwater -- many thanks for this. You’re right that the idea of “Scripture alone” is not nearly as straightforward as many Protestants imagine!

Although I don’t plan to talk specifically about Scripture in this next series, I did spend about a month last year talking about the doctrine of Scripture (see almost all the posts in September, as well as the earlier posts in October). And I also posted specifically on the distinctively Protestant problem of Scripture and certainty. I hope this might be of interest, even though I really didn’t do justice either to the complexity of the problem or to the radical force of the Catholic critique.

Binx said...

In the post above is a link to the following statement:

"The Protestant conception of Scripture is summed up by Karl Barth, when he says that “the statement that the Bible is the Word of God is an analytical statement, a statement which ... must either be understood as grounded in itself and preceding all other statements, or it cannot be understood at all. The Bible must be known as the Word of God if it is to be known as the Word of God. The doctrine of Holy Scripture in the Evangelical Church is that this logical circle is the circle of self-asserting, self-attesting truth” (CD I/2, p. 535)."

The problem with this is that it presumes the Bible to begin with. If we subsitute 'Word of God' for 'Bible' in the sentence above (Barth does so when he states that 'the Bible is the Word of God') we can see not only it's circularity but, it seems to me, a kind of absurdity. It would read:

The Word of God must be known as the Word of God if it is to be known as the Word of God.

I submit that this is meaningless. This treats the Bible as if it fell out of the sky like manna. And begs a host of questions that demand a more satisfactory response.

Barth states that 'this logical circle is the circle of self-asserting, self-attesting truth'. But the Bible is not a person, it is not a self, you cannot put it in the dock and ask it what it means. The meaning of Scripture is always mediated. The perspicuity of Scripture is a myth. It is always Barth's interpretation, or Calvin's, or Luther's, or some authoritative ecclesial entity. And one is left to ponder and ask, in light of 400 years, and the systemic divergence and proliferation of Protestantism, how one can say, with eyes open, that the Scriptures are grounded on the circle of 'self-attesting truth'? If the truth is so 'self-attesting', then why are there so many Christians dividing over it? How is this the Spirit leading his people 'into all truth'?

Unknown said...

so glad you are going to do this.

I liked the outline.

Maybe my mind will be refreshed after being away from Seminary for almost 30 years.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I second what NWMihelis said!

Nathan said...

Excellent idea. I just found your blog, and with this introduction, you've gained another regular reader.

I'd respond to Tarwater's last comment above though by saying that circular reasoning is found throughout the Christian faith. Dietrich Bonheoffer discusses the timeline of faith and obedience by saying "only the believer is obedient and only the obedient believe." Van Til built an entire system of apologetics around the idea that there are certain truths to the Christian faith which must be accepted before anything makes sense, but which afterwards are seen as part of a consistent whole.

We must assume, I believe, that our Creator wants us to know Him, and that the vehicle He has chosen for His revelation (at least to us in modern times) is the Bible. Without that, our faith is supposition and personal experience of Jesus, which may be real, but which is also, I would posit, more divisive and unsupportable than the belief in the general perspicacity of Scripture.

Apologies for turning my first comment into a mini-lecture.

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.