Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Hermeneutic of Trust and Humility vs. Tragic Arrogance

"I might go further and say that the church needs more than a hermeneutic of trust towards the creedal and confessional trajectories of the past. There is also a need for a hermeneutic of humility. As with the immature arrogance of those scholars who feel that their PhD on some few verses here or there in the Bible qualifies them to redefine orthodoxy tout court, so the church of today also needs to learn humility in relation to the past. When some creedal formula or doctrinal position has been held by the church with vigour for some considerable time, then the church of today should think very carefully before deciding to change it in any fundamental way. Our perspective is so limited; our moment in time so insignificant in the grand scheme of things; therefore, we do well to see the church's creeds, confessions and traditions as giving us some perspective by which w emay relativise ourselves, our contribution, and our moment in history. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard church leaders declare that 'the church needs to move beyond....' (add your own central tenet of the faith: the cross, the wrath of God, sin, the Trinity, justification by faith, the authority of scripture--I've heard them all cited). Underlying such sentiments are not so much a hopeless naivety but rather a tragic arrogance, and arrogance which implicitly says that the church in the past did not really get the gospel and that only in the present day have we approximated some kind of doctrinal maturity....
As a postscript to this section--for both church and academy--I mention a challenge I like to issue in class to students who are tempted to disparage the Nicene Creed: given that this creed has served the church well for over a thousand years, one should be very careful before one abandons it; but if after reflection, one can come up with a formula which will deal with biblical material as effectively, will enjoy such wide acceptance in the church, and which will do the job just as well for the next thousand years, one should not be afraid to propose a new formulation. Strange to tell, I have yet to have any takers for that one."

Carl Trueman, "Theology and the Church: Divorce or Remarriage?" in The Wages of Spin, pp. 78-79.