Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The rule of faith and dogmatics

This is the last post of my series in which I translate Hägglund's important essay, "The Significance of the regula fidei for dogmatic claims." I've only selected bits relevant to the question of theological exegesis. As such, I leave out his concluding remarks on the significance of the regula fidei for the construal of Church history, which of course does not mean that the topic is not utterly fascinating and important! I'm delighted to have heard that Esteban of Vox Stefani has recieved a review copy of Hägglund's History of Theology. I eagerly anticipate his responses, hopefully with a bit of Orthodox wisdom smattered in. For an overview of all the posts in this thread, go here.

It is important to observe two things: 1) The “process of passing on” (“das Tradieren”) is a matter of going back to the source (Ursprung) and not only a transmission of that which we now recognize as the creation of a past generation. “Source” (“Ursrpung”) means here both the original reality itself as well as the original witness, in which the church at all times has the only possible access to this reality. It is true that this dogmatic “passing on” is not only a repetition or faithful preservation of the texts of holy scripture from generation to generation. It is also an interpretation or a systematic treatment of that which was originally given. But this does not mean that the doctrinal tradition can be an independent source of truth alongside (gegenüber) scripture. The regula fidei plays an important role in the activity of “interpretation” (which belongs to the traditioning process of theology) by expressing the bondage of dogmatic thought to an already existing reality and to the original witness which mediates to us the knowledge of this reality.

2) The regula fidei is not only a formula to which dogmatics is constitutionally (gesetzmässig), formally (äusserlich) bound, it also gives us certain guidelines in terms of content for the concrete presentation of Christian doctrine. It is necessary that the real regula, i.e. the actual given order of the events of salvation, grounds the coherency and unity of the dogmatic presentation. As we have already seen, the regula in its original version (Fassung) presented the totality of the divine plan of salvation. This totality must therefore always underlie dogmatic statements as an unavoidable precondition, even when it is not being directly presented or when it is being adumbrated in a pars pro toto. With this uniformity of the rule of faith dogmatics is given the unity to which it must work, as if towards a target. Wherever other theological conceptual contexts (Gedankenzusammenhänge) dominate,—whether an idea which is considered to be the essence of Christianity, whether an ordo salutis as the context of subject conversion experiences—there the actual order of salvation history, the οικονομια, is disfigured, because it is being observed from a false perspective. It is here that the regula fidei has the important function of presenting the inner coherency of the content of faith, as well determining the decisive points of dogmatic statements and thereby giving the entire theological enterprise its direction.


Stephen said...

Phil, I have been reading your blog for awhile now and have throughly enjoyed hearing your reflections. I haven't commented because you usually write in areas that are not my expertise (if, that is, I have an expertise) I have a question for you that is completely unrelated to this post.

I am a young theology student who just recently finished my theology undergraduate degree. The degree was very heavy in New Testament exegesis and theology, but lacking in Old Testament (probably because I chose the New Testament major). I have taken six semesters of Koine Greek and two semesters of Hebrew. Other than my Hebrew class, most of my Old Testament courses were survey courses. I am entering seminary this fall and am taking an advanced Old Testament Introduction course. The textbooks required for the class are Trible Texts of Terror, Collins Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Soulen Handbook of Biblical Criticism and Coogan Stories From Ancient Canaan. There is also extra required reading (usually individual chapters) from other books.

I have tended to limit my studies in the past to Historical Jesus issues and systematic theology (and occasionally dabbing in Paul and John). So I am really entering a foreign land in the Old Testament (a land that I should have been engaging with academically a long time ago!).

What resources would you recommend to supplement my studies? I am particularly interested in Childs, but any thing else would be helpful as well. The class is two semesters, and I read a lot, so don't be afraid of recommending too much.

Thanks so much. And I'm sorry for the long comment.

Thanks again for having such a great blog.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Stephen, thank you for the kind words. I'm glad you get something out of my posts.

Just before I started my MA in Old Testament theology, I asked my professor what I should read and he recommended Thistelton's New Horizons in Hermeneutics, which you've probably alread read (and I haven't!). In the time running up to the course I read through Brueggemann's Old Testament Theology, which is fun to read and a helpful overview. He has, however his own agenda and I side with Childs in my critique of him. Apart from that I mainly read philosophy, which to be honest I found incredibly helpful. I think a major problem with Old Testament studies is the philosophical assumptions that undergirds so much study. What is exciting about recent developments is that boundaries are being brocken down that have been standing for too long. For example, patristics, linguisitics, dogmatics, epistemology. These are important areas to look at if you want your reading of the OT to move beyond mere description of individual texts and onto a more holistic vision of the whole. The volumes of the Scripture and Hermeutics Seminar are helpful for this and as as the Journal of Theological Interpretation.

Of course, this area is still highly debated, so I've found it particularly helpful to limit myself to some key thinkers, namely Childs and Seitz. Child in particular was incredibly comprehensive in his thinking, covering all the above areas in his career, even though he was trained as an Alttestamentler. So my advice is to get everything Childs wrote and read through it. By doing so, you will have an overview of the discipline, and introduction to key issues, and access to the mind of a genius was was and is consistenly misunderstood and has lots to offer by way of pushing academia and the church forward. Seitz, in my opinion, is Childs' best interpreter and the developer of his ideas. Choosing one scholar like this will give you a coherent standpoint from which to evaluate other options and find a stand point in an otherwise complex field. Of course, you may end up rejecting his approach (though make sure you do so based on your own reading of his work and not the critique of others), but at the process itself will be good for you. I find this approach far more helpful than selecting a range of books dealing with one issue, e.g. "old testament" (a problematic concept in itself). It's kind of like the old-school approach of discipleship, sitting at the feet of a master. And Childs was a master.

Daniel Driver's website has an exhaustive bibliography of Childs' works. If I were you I'd read the following in something like the following order (italics means book, brackets means article):

"Interpretation in Faith"

"Prophecy and Fulfilment"

"The Canonical Shape of the Prophetic Literature"

Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture

Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context

Introduction to the New Testament as Canon

Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments

"Does the Old Testament witness to Jesus Chris?"

"Biblical Interpretation amidst cultural change"

"Retrospective Reading of Old Testament Prophets"

Round this off with his two commentaries, spanning his entire career, with an eye for the continuities between them:

Exodus and Isaiah

And finally, the best explanation and defence of Childs is by Seitz, in the SHS book "Canon and biblical interpretation" called, I think, "The canonical approach and theological interpretation."

All this is off the top of my head. If you have trouble finding anything let me know and I'll figure out the proper titles for you.

Hope that helps ...

Phil Sumpter said...

Oh, and I wrote an aritlce of the PTR in which I attempted to summarize Childs' approach. You may find it helpful. You can read it online here: All the articles on Childs in this issue are very good. I especially liked Dennis Olson's.

Stephen Lawson said...

Thanks so much Phil! I Really appreciate it.

Looks like I have some reading to do...

peace be with you.

Esteban Vázquez said...

Phil, I too am excited to have received a review copy of the book; although I won't get to write about it for a few weeks, I have been reading significant portions already. At first blush, I'm a bit frustrated that everything is forced into a Lutheran mold: for instance, he discusses the theology of the Apostolic Fathers according to categories entirely foreign to them but current in Lutheran thought (moralism, righteousness, salvation). Thus, in Hägglund, they don't speak with their own voice. Also, it's hard for me to understand why the Council of Nicea gets a 4-page chapter and St Athanasius a 10-page one, whereas Luther gets a 35-page chapter, and Lutheran Orthodoxy a 25-page one! I will have to read this excellent thread you have provided to see if it helps me make better sense of his method; at the moment, I'm left scratching my head. But all of the above is not to say that I don't enjoy the book--there are some very remarkable discussions here, especially of Reformation subjects.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for those thoughts Esteban (sorry I'm replying so late, I've just got back from holiday). I appreciate your points and I'll bear them in mind when I get round to reading the book.

For your purposes I didn't translate the most useful bit of the article: how the rule of faith can guide us in our interpretation of church history. He basically thinks it should provide us with a framework for organising the whole, the rule functioning as a benchmark for seeing how later traditions were faithful to it as well as for guaging their different responses to it. Perhaps he feels that the "substance" to which the Rule testifies was particularly well testified to by the Reformers? But I think you are far more informed on such matters than I. I look forward to reading your review.