After a conversation with a good friend the other day, I started thinking of some fundamental principles of theological dialogue which will hopefully aid in avoiding confusion and bad arguments.
1) Creator/Creature distinction
- This is one of the most fundamental premises of all theology from the perspective of humanity. If we are to say anything about God at all, we must not confuse these two categories. Not much to say here, but the importance of this principle is seen in what follows
2) Contingent vs. Necessity
- This follows from point one. God as creator is necessary, and the creation is contingent upon Him. Thus, all that takes place in the spatio-temporal realm of the universe is contingent. The implications of this principle will be clarified by an example. Often I hear an argument against Protestantism that goes something like this: “Look at how many denominations there are! This only happened after the Reformation, therefore, Protestantism necessarily leads to fragmentation and division. Jesus wanted his Church to be unified (i.e., John 17), thus Protestantism is not the true church.” The problem with this is that it takes contingent events in history (fragmentation) and makes those contingent events necessary. Now, if one wanted to say that that Protestantism is necessarily fractious, then one would have to begin with the definition of Protestantism and go from there (NOTE: some think that the word “Protestantism” means to protest something, but this is blatantly false and just plain silly). But, to argue that conclusion from the contingent facts of history is to ignore the fact that theology takes place in a contingent universe.
3) History over Systematics
- There is no such thing as systematic theology because theology takes place in space and time. This follows from the last point of the contingency of the universe. Humans cannot escape their limits and it is naive to try to do so. The point is, there is no such thing as “5 points of Calvinism” that exists in a theological vacuum. But there are “5 points of Calvinism” in response to the “5 points of Arminianism.” All theology must be taken in context.
4) Irreversibility of Time
- While all events are contingent, once they occur they cannot be undone. And once the occur, they influence and change everything that follows. Thus, while the Reformation tried to pick up in the Early Church before they thought everything went wrong (the Restorationists who tried to go back to the NT times came later), it is impossible to hit the reset button and act as if the previous 1000 years never happened. Indeed, it is only because the previous 1000 years happened that the Reformation happened, and the Reformation’s attempt to go back is merely one more step forward in time. Everything that came after is also influenced by these events. No two churches are alike. Maybe I’m being to Platonic, but there is a difference between a thing, the image of the thing in ones mind, and the painting one does of the thing (or of the image of the thing in ones mind).
I’m sure there will be more to add, but I think this is a good place to start.