Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Into the clearing (a bit)

"But wisdom is justified of all her children." -- Luke 7:35 (KJV)

(The following posts will be fairly compressed, as I wish to move on from preliminaries to more interesting matters by next week, if possible.)
Historically, within the Christian tradition, whoever has engaged in the theological task has had to make some basic decisions.  These choices are unavoidable.  After each set of choices below, I'll briefly give my own take on the matter, without too much elaboration.
1.) Does Christian theology relate to knowledge (a) that is available only to a select group of spiritually enlightened individuals within the community or (b) that is publically accessible, through proclamation and catechesis, to all the faithful .
In the early centuries of the church, this decision came to a head in the conflict between the "Gnostics," who affirmed option (a), and the "orthodox" (represented classically by bishop Irenaeus of Lyons) who promoted option (b).  The latter group won the day in mainstream church leadership, but some version of option (a) -- an "esoteric" theology -- has recurred in every generation, most certainly including ours.  (Augustine's critique of the Manicheans in his Confessions is a propos here).
For me, the matter is settled: The content of the faith is public, available to all, in principle.  This means that Christian theologians are accountable to the church in their work.  A friend of mine, who likes to spar with New Agers, printed the word "Exoteric!" (as opposed to "esoteric") on a tee-shirt.  That says it pretty well.
But then doesn't faith itself become a condition for engaging and comprehending the content of theology?  I think answering that is a little bit trickier, and I'll come back to it later.

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