Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Justification & the World

If (since) "The doctrine of justification by faith is in fact the great ecumenical doctrine" and a declaration that we are indeed forgiven. If it is also a statement that all people, thus justified, are part of the family of Abraham and therefore have a place at the ecclesial table, then doesn’t it stand to reason that everyone at the table should have a voice, especially if the topic is justification by faith (the great ecumenical doctrine)? Certainly, we don’t expect some to just sit there while others are permitted to speak? What is really going on here? O.....I think I get it…Some of us are now are allowed to get on the ecclesiastical bus but are expected to shut up and sit in the back (to change the metaphor)!

The whole doctrinal debate/discussion over Justification by faith smacks of Eurocentric hegemony. Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t hear the voice of the world, but white brothers only (as brilliant and needed as they are). Are there not just 'new perspectives' but other perspectives to be heard as well, ones that could inform and enrich current understandings?

It reminds me of the numerous incidents where little precocious and perceptive black kids have gone home and said, “Mommy, why does the teacher only pick the white kids for all the answers?” I feel their pain.

Maybe, we can listen and learn something about J by F from the following:

A Latin American voice
Tamez, Elsa. Amnesty of Grace: Justification by Faith From a Latin American Perspective. Nashville: Parthenon, 1993.

An Asian voice
Kim, Chang-Nack. "Justification by Faith--A Minjung Perspective." Chicago Theological Seminary Register 85 (1995): 14-23

An African voice
Maimela, Simon S. "Justification by Faith and Its Continuing Relevance for South Africa." In Theology and the Black Experience: The Lutheran Heritage Interpreted by African and African-American Theologians, ed. Albert Pero and Ambrose Moyo, 35-41. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988.

Hear a prophet of your own:
“The [Two-]Third[s] world church will find its greatest struggle in learning to be a teacher of the West. The Western Church will find its agony in being taught to be a learner.” - Harvie Conn (italics mine)

Disclaimer: My tone is intended to be pointed not acrimonious. Those that know me, know that I’m really just a big, black teddy bear type. That being said, I really do mean what I say here.


Ryan said...

i'm with you. read any lamin sanneh or lesslie newbigin?

Mark Robinson said...

Oh yeah. 'whose religion is christianity? the gospel beyond the west' by sanneh and 'the gospel in a pluralist society' + a few articles/essays by newbigin. both are very provocative!

Foolish Tar Heel said...

I want to be quite honest, this discussion really shocks and disgusts me. I mean, you people who claim orthodoxy are here questioning God!!! Even implying that there is anything to be added to God's definitive and FINAL Revelation is a denial of the authority, reality, and normativity of God's perspicuous, systematic-theological, and inerrant Revelation. Come now, let us reason together: we all know that God finally Revealed Himself and the Gospel between 1643 and 1649 (some say 1652) in the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey; most specifically in chapters 1 (esp 1.3,7,9), 3, 7, 11 (7.2 being the center of the center), and 19 of the Confession of Faith REVEALED there. There, in that Chamber, those white, western, european, MEN were transported into the third heaven and received the timeless, transcendent, systematic-theological system that is God's Speaking and the rule of faith and practice for the Church! As chapter 11 is part of that Confession, why should we need to hear from people who think they have anything to add to that subject on which The Church has spoken and on which it has stood for so long (since the mid 17th century!!!...roughly 18%!!! of the time it has existed, by a most-recent dating). Should not the non-Western, non-anglo/european, non-white sons listen to The Father-Church?

jason said...

The terms of your discussion don't really seem to line up. That is, you're talking about the doctrinal debate/discussion over justification. I'm assuming you mean in conservative American presbyterianism. But that "ecclesial table" is set by Scripture and the Confession. If a voice contradicts what people have agreed is a summary of the teaching of Scripture (agree or disagree with it, no matter), then that voice doesn't really have a "right" to be heard at that table.

Further, the ecclesiastical bus is boarded by choice. If you don't like the terms of discussion in conservative American presbyterianism there are plenty of other buses to be boarded.

In fact, "Eurocentric hegemony" just seems like a politically/emotionally-loaded term for "confessionalism." Again, there are plenty of ecclesiastical communions in the world that are all for such discussions. But I doubt that conservative American presbyterians will be listening to liberation theologians any time soon.

On the other hand, if you're just talking about individuals, then sure, we could all use a little exposure to what else is being written outside our tiny circles. But who's really against that?

Tar Heel:
You've managed to sarcastically lampoon a position that probably no one in the history of humanity has held, yet you've made it obvious enough to whom it is pointed. I suppose this is the kind of charitable theological discourse you had in mind when you signed "Presbyterians Together"?

Mark Robinson said...

I always appreciate your incisive comments in the blogosphere. I really do. You have the type of precisionist proclivities and skill in matters systematic theological that I could only wish for.

Just a few comments in response:

1)From a macro view, I just wanted to make a missiological point about a systematic theological issue. Truth be told, I haven’t read any of the 3 voices I listed. At the end of the day, they may be rank social gospel adherents who deny the fundamentals of Christianity. Probably not (one was from Wheaton) but I don’t know. I’d have to listen to them to find out. Again, my point was a bigger one.

2)“you're talking about the doctrinal debate/discussion over justification. I'm assuming you mean in conservative American presbyterianism. But that
"ecclesial table" is set by Scripture and the Confession.” The ‘ecclesial table’ that I had in mind consists of all those who believe that Justification (a la Gal. 2) declares and defines who sits at that table. That could be individuals and denominations that are confessional or non-confessional. In any case, it isn’t code language for conservative American Presbyterianism (CAP) of which I am a part. In CAP circles, I don’t really hear much talk of the ecclesial dimension of justification and so didn’t direct this toward us exclusively.

3)True, “the ecclesiastical bus is boarded by choice” but the bus driver let us on! The question is, as a full fare patron (a justified person), do I have the same privileges, rights, voice, as everyone else on this particular ‘justification and table fellowship’ bus? Your bus may or may not have different terms and conditions. I’m just issuing a call to be consistent to the Justification/Gal 2 crowd. Come to think of it, the civil rights era bus analogy is confusing me now.
4)To my mind, “Eurocentric hegemony” is definitely a pointed, provocative, perhaps politically/emotionally loaded term. Anticipating the impact of particular words and phrases is tricky business. Be that as it may. But again, in no way am I using it as code language for ‘confessionalism’. I’m confessional. The WCF in particular, the reformed worldview in general furnish the greater portion of my conceptual toolkit for engaging the world. We could debate the nature of confessionalism. I rather suspect (reading between the lines a bit) that we may disagree at key points in our view of subscription which probably reflect disagreement at a deeper epistemological level in matters such as foundationalism, propositionalism, etc. Gracious, iterative, communal dialogue would work wonders here. If I’m being accused of being a ‘big tent’ PCA type. I probably stand guilty as charged. I simply don’t see a conflict between my confessionalism and intent listening to global, marginalized voices at the table, on key matters. I think that I just might learn something. Of course, this assumes that those voices haven't been ruled categorically as unorthodox, out of bounds, etc. by my confessionalism (like Arianism, Unitarianism).

I really do appreciate the interaction. Thanks for pushing back on my comments, bro. I’ll let the foolish tar heel speak for himself, though I think his obviously intentional parody/satire has some merit to it.

jason said...


Thanks for your comments. It clears some things up to see exactly to whom your comments are aimed.

And I always think it's funny when I get pegged as an ST guy . . .

Foolish Tar Heel said...


You have an excellent point about me and signing the Presbyterians and Presbyterians together. I must actually spend some time in prayer about this and the extent to which comments such as the one I posted here are, more than simply being violations of P&P together, un Christ-like (sinful!). This is tough for me because, on the one hand, in actual discussion with people with whom I disagree I would not (or hopefully would not) employ the same sarcastic tone. But again, this is the blogging world, so, always a discussion that I should know will have people with whom I disagree reading it. It is also tough because, as I think you may have been pointing out, that type of commenting is probably just not a good, humble, comment (thus not coming from a good, humble person : ) ).

So, that said, thank you for pointing this out Jason. This all said, and not that what I am about to type justifies un-charitable comments from me, I do frequently feel as though many more traditional people within our Reformed-American circles do have opinions and attitudes similar to what I was mocking in my post (whether they realize it or not). Again, the whole point of that post is to show what some of their positions functionally are. Of course (or at least, hopefully) no one in our Reformed-American circles would say (openly) that the rest of the non-western, non-white, non-Anglo/European has nothing to contribute to us. Functionally, however, their attitude does play out, it seems, as exactly that (read, for example Conn's 'Eternal Word and Changing Worlds' for a more academic discussion of this in one particular area). I have also lost count of how many times I have heard that the divines, Calvin, Turretin, etc dealt with 'all the issues' back in their day and thus no one could possibly do or say anything really new or helpful beyond some sort of re-articulation of the good ole' boys. What are the (sometimes unconscious) assumptions behind such attitudes? Until we move beyond that, sadly, my post remains mocking satire that is not very far from the functional attitude of many within the American-Reformed church. Mark, what do you think?

Ok...that said, allow me to move back to a much more important matter. Jason, thank you again for your comment and calling me out. I must be humble and charitable in discussion, not simply because I signed P&P Together, but because I claim to follow Messiah-Jesus. I must spend more time in prayer about this and the comments of the type I posted here. Thank you again Jason.

By the way, I have not forgotten that I owe you (and others) the final post from my series over on Daniel's blog. My computer was giving me terrible trouble starting a little over a week ago and continuing until a day or so ago (in a really bad, not quite as bad). When I was able to start using it more consistently again, the thread had gone off Daniel's page. Nevertheless, I should type it up and send it to you, at least, Jason. Thank you for your patience.

Mark Robinson said...

"Mark, what do you think?"

To be painfully honest, I often 'feel' an underlying functional, perhaps unconscious (I am going to use a pointed, hopefully not loaded phrase here) theological paternalism in CAP (conservative american presbys) systematics. Note one simple thing: How many non-white authors of any stripe have you guys read in any ST course (if even just to critique and dismiss them)? If the paternalism were intentional, it is not clear to me how the reading lists would look any differently than they have. I'm not advocating salad bar systematics. We should drink deeply from the wells of our own tradition....but to not read any black, brown, or yellow theologians at all...especially in an increasingly globalized Christian community where most Christians are not white? I don't want to be uncharitable or wrong here. Am I off somewhere?

Anthony J Stiff said...

Mark as always you know how to put your finger on the corner of an embaracing blight and turn the page enough for the rest of us to see it.

I'm wondering brother if the reason the current dialogue smacks of Eurocentric Hegemony is because the 'ecclesiastical table' is itself made of Euro timbers and and Anglo-American steel nails. Its a vintage peice as such may need to be moved aside for a more functionally contemporary peice. Maybe the proponents on different sides are to blame in part but brother I'm thinking we have some left over systemic evils at play in the scholarly complexion.

In a word its just plain 'ugly'.

Mark Robinson said...

Man, Tony, bro. The direction you've gone with this is creative and deep! You're raising issues about our whole ecclesiological architecture of thought. Wow. Food for thought, big time. Thanks for stopping by.

jason said...

Here's what I'm unclear on. Those who are in to contextualization say that we need to stop being so paternalistic with our theology. So if I say, "let everybody else do their own theological thing," why do I need to read it? After all, I'm not Chinese.

Understand, I'm not picking on contextualization, Chinese, or Chinese theology. I'm just asking the question. If Euro-American theologians have contextualized my situation for me, shouldn't I just read them since they speak to me?

Mark Robinson said...

You may be assuming a false disjunction here. It's not either chinese theology or Euro-american theology, but both/and (and others). It's not about heaving your tradition behind by leaving your context/situadedness (impossible in any case) but about deepening your own traditon by letting it be informed by others and vice versa.

“Symphonic theology, as I conceive it, involves LEARNING HOW TO LEARN MORE FROM OTHER PEOPLE, by listening sympathetically. Other people have both good and bad ideas. By looking for the “grain of truth” even in some bad idea, we can sometimes find a starting point for a new perspective or a piece of truth that we ourselves had overlooked. The theology of liberation is a case in point. The mainstream of liberation theology conceives of liberation in a distorted way, as almost wholly political and economic. But the theme of liberation is clearly a biblical theme. It is therefore possible to develop the theme in a balanced way, as a positive answer to liberation theology…….Symphonic theology, therefore, is interested in using the different insights given to different people in order to enhance the abilities of any one individual to grow in knowledge of the truth.”

From Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology by Vern S. Poythress (pp. 52-53).

“Paralleling this lack of a theology of culture in Consciousness Two is evangelical theology’s insensitivity to its own culture-boundness. In the name of biblical givenness, it immunized itself to its own contextual misreading and cultural misrepresentation of the biblical message. This is not to say that theology was silent on political, social, economic, or philosophical issues, or even on issues like natural revelation, religious pluralism, or demon possession. It is simply saying that our theology assumed it was everyone’s theology. It reinforced a model of self-understanding that demanded the extraction of the non-Western theologizer from his or her familiar frame of reference. Theology’s pastoral concern for the felt need was maximized into the conceptual work of the experts. Theology became the work of the Hodges and the Chafers, not the Nyamitis and the Kims”

(Harvie Conn, EWCW, 116).

Greg said...

Mark, as always, lots of thinking to do in this area for me. But let me try to succinctly reiterate a question I have tried to ask, though I'm not sure how successfully, over at RBA. That is - If you and I (being of different racial, and therefore at least fractionally different cultural backgrounds) each read the scriptures and understand them "correctly", how much different will your exposition look from mine? Granted, our application will likely be different depending mostly on circumstance, but how will the truth of the text/confession be different?

TONY - hey bro, long time. You are hard core and totally blew my mind with your analogy. But the same question applies... If the table is a true table, how much does it matter from what materials it has been constructed?
Should we look at Scripture suspiciously because it is so culturally biased by first century Jewish and Greek influences? Should we be worried by Paul's thoroughly Greek education in Tarsus blended with his thoroughly Jewish education under Gamaliel? (obviously the difference is that Scripture is inspired and i don't wnat to downplay that)

I'm still trying to put my own finger on it, and maybe I'm just being a eurocentric hemegonistic biggot or something.. but this question continues to 'bother' me, and I'm not certain how or why.

I'm not one to say "you can ride on this bus (or sit at this table) so long as you shut up" -- certainly not. But if whoever is speaking (regardless of what he looks like or where he is from) is speaking the truth, shouldn't we all be listening instead of merely waiting for our turn to speak?

I could go on, but I don't want to muddy my already opaque meanderings.

Mark Robinson said...

GREG: "If you and I (being of different racial, and therefore at least fractionally different cultural backgrounds) each read the scriptures and understand them "correctly", how much different will your exposition look from mine? Granted, our application will likely be different depending mostly on circumstance, but how will the truth of the text/confession be different?"

MER: the exposition will not look different(at least, between us) in terms of exegetical result, I suspect. But check out post above, "a word from the bishop" to see some of the expositional payoff I'm talking about here.

essentially, I'm working from a paradigm that tries to see and appreciate the diversity of truth, not affirm pluralism/relativism though. You seem to want to see and appreciate the unity of truth as a first principle. So maybe we are just getting at the problem of the one and the many from different angles. Poythress has a good, exceedingly clear discussion of this in 'Symphonic theology'. remind me and I'll look it up if you're interested. It'salways good to engage with you brother greg.