Dogma, Doubt, Modernity, and Ghetto Theology

Early last month Peter Enns published an article titled “Experience Teaches Us to be Radically Undogmatic.” My immediate thought when I read the title: “How very dogmatic of Dr Enns.”

I then proceeded to read the article, which, as it turns out, consists of a lengthy quotation from the great German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. I have never read Gadamer, but I certainly have read hermeneutical reflections that have been dependent on him; and I find myself more than a little sympathetic with the citation. It reminded me of T. S. Eliot’s critique of tradition and the falsification of experience in his poem “East Coker”:
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
The Gadamer citation also reminded me of an excellent, and neglected, book by Lesslie Newbigin: The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Incorporating the philosophical insights of Michael Polanyi and Alasdair MacIntyre, as well as the deep wisdom he acquired from years of missionary work in India, Newbigin teaches us that the gospel itself confronts as a fact that demands to be self-evidently believed:
Now it is beyond question, however we may evaluate the fact, that Christianity began with the proclamation of something authoritatively given. Paul presents himself not as the teacher of a new theology but as the messenger commissioned by the authority of the Lord himself to announce a new fact—namely that in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus God has acted decisively to reveal and effect his purpose of redemption for the whole world. Obviously the New Testament contains many differing interpretations of this fact, but it is always one fact which is being interpreted, what my old teacher Carnegie Simpson used to call “the fact of Christ.” And, whatever their differences, New Testament writers are at one in regarding this fact as of decisive importance for all people everywhere. (p. 5)
It is impossible for me to assent to a Gadamerite suggestion that Christians should be radically undogmatic in their faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel invites us to appropriate itself so deeply that it becomes the foundational dogma through which all of reality may be apprehended truly. As Newbiggin elsewhere writes: “It has never at any time been possible to fit the resurrection of Jesus into any worldview except the worldview of which it is the basis” (Honest Religion for Secular Man, p. 53).



Popular posts from this blog

Spikenard Sunday/Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut

The time when America stopped being great

Idolatry of the Family