Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Normative Theologians for the Church Are the NT Writers...

Another gem from Scott Hahn, former Presbyterian and now Roman Catholic, who presented at the Ft. Wayne Symposia on the Scriptures in the Life of the Church according to Benedict XVI.

The normative theologians for the Church are the New Testament writers... it sounds like a Scaerism but it came from the mouth of this very gifted and knowledgeable teacher. Wow. I almost do not know where to start my reflection upon this gem of wisdom.

A little background... Since the middle and late 19th century, Biblical criticism (the discipline of dealing with the Biblical text itself and its message) have taught us according to the creed of modernity -- that the simple precedes the complex. What this means in practical reality, is that the simplest, least complex message is ancient and anything more complex is later and added on to the Scriptures. By this perspective, Scriptures must be deconstructed from the additions, accretions, and complex theological statements added to it by later authors and eras. What you are left with tends to be simple all right -- simple, moralistic, and behavioral oriented. Instead of doctrine, you get talk about how to live. In the end, this distances the Biblical writers from the life and teaching of the Church, since we cannot know much about what they actually knew or saw or believed and because they had only a rudimentary theology at that. Such a "scientific methodology" has great a huge gap between the book and the people of the book.

Now, Dr. Hahn's precious gem of a quote suggests that this is completely backwards. The normative theologians for the Church -- even today 2,000 years later -- are these very New Testament writers and their writings. In other words, it is not speculative theology which is normative for the Church but Biblical theology. We begin not with what we think the text might have been originally but with the text that is there. It is this text and these writers who deliver to us what is to be normative for the Church -- that is, Scriptures set the boundaries for what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses. Scripture informs and defines these boundaries. On the one hand, Tradition is not above Scripture nor is reason. For certain, it is not the naked Scriptures -- ripped out of the living context of the faithful who first heard and read what it said and have, in every generation, been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by its Truth, and faithfully passed on this kerygma to those who would follow them. No, not some naked Scripture but Scripture surrounded by and speaking from within the assembly of those who hear it and believe it.

Well, so much for today...

A little bit more...

According to Dr. Hahn, the modern historical critical movement has distanced the book from the events of the book and this has had a crippling effect upon the the Christian faith and the Church. What Dr. Hahn has seen in Benedict XVI is a willingness to confront this destructive bent and present a thoroughly Biblical theology and a Biblical theology that has as its primary subject the God who has disclosed Himself in Jesus Christ. If the subject of theology is God's self-disclosure in Christ, then the Scriptures that tell of Christ and the Biblical authors are of primary importance in knowing Him who has revealed Himself in events.

What is so interesting in this is that Dr. Hahn sounds so very Lutheran in this approach. Of course, we would certainly have some disagreements about the extent to which reason and Tradition stand with Scripture (not as equals with the Word as sometimes it seems Dr. Hahn places them). But this is perhaps the most significant theological language to come out of the Bishop of Rome and one of his keenest theological minds in some time. He engages us on what we as Lutherans have claimed as our own soil.

On this soil, we have fought against the higher critics who would steal from Scripture its reality and replace it with conjecture, sentiment, and reason. For much of Protestantism, Scripture is no longer a book of historical events but of myth, story, and conflicting theologies. Faith has become little more than principles of behavior or pious feeling or uncertain hope. Now we find ourselves with another voice insisting that theology cannot be separated from historical event and that Scripture is not a book of competing and unconnected voices but one theology.

Those who would be theologians must be in constant dialog with the text of Scripture and conversant with its authors who serve as the primary normative theologians of the Church. You hear Dr. Hahn speak as a Lutheran (okay, my description and not his) saying "Scripture is its own interpreter" or another way "Scripture interprets Scripture."

In addition this is significant because it is ultimately an incarnational approach to theology -- we begin with what God has done in Christ and not with our definition of God, who Christ is or is not... but on the historical ground of Christ's own word and works as recorded and interpreted by those closest to Him. Further this ultimately deposits Christ (and His disciples) as the primary interpreters of the Old Testament. And this means that we read Scripture through New Testament eyes -- something the higher critics have refused and ridiculed for many years...

So much for now...

17 comments:

Master of None said...

Whoa, you can't just get started and then leave off like that, "well, so much for today..." unfair, Pastor, unfair.

ErnestO said...

Master of None here is a meek continuation in the form of a URL for your perusal:

http://www.cfnews.org.uk/CF_News_1590.htm#48

Never before in the history of the Church, Hahn points out, has a world-class biblical theologian been elevated to the papacy and so to all Benedict's pastoral teaching there is an intensely biblical quality.

Past Elder said...

Why some of us Lutherans just go ga-ga when an RC fumbles around the edges of things we have known for damn near 500 years is beyond me, but having swum the Tiber myself, in the other direction, OUT, it is really frustrating.

What is essential in the mindset he works from -- which, btw, is distinctly un-Catholic too, but that is another story for another blog -- is nothing whatever like a Lutheran defence or understanding of Scripture. Rather, it is the understanding of the "assembly", and more precisely the covenant Scripture reveals between God and this assembly. In which, there can be no more than one assembly any more than there can be more than one God, a covenant between two identifiable parties, God on the one hand and what is known as the "Catholic Church" on the other, be it called such or such references as assembly, community, people of God, etc.

In this way, he/they differ from the historical-critical crowd only in this, not their understanding of Scripture per se but of the believing community whose Scripture it is. The action is in the continuity of the community, or to use another preferred term of theirs, communion. Scripture assumes it right role only within this communion, this participation in the other specific entity (guess who?) of the covenant Scripture reveals.

While there are superficial points of resemblance between the value they place on Scripture and the value we do, they locate that value within a specific location we do not, and it is only in the difference between understanding of who and what the believing community is that what is taught in the historical-critical classroom is distinct from what is taught in the Bible study down the hall (to put it in imagery drawn from where I heard all this junk first).

Rejection of the historical-critical method and exposition of its flaws is not even necessarily a Christian thing. What a revelation it was to me, on escaping from the foul and rank atmosphere of all this nonsense, to find for example the most ringing such rejection and exposition in Rabbi Hertz, even before the later generations of that school had appeared and Wellhausen etc were not that long ago.

If his understanding of "Biblical theology" were anything more than tangential to ours, he would not have made the conversion he did. If Benedict's were, he would not occupy an office bearing the marks of Antichrist.

To invite such to our academic symposia etc thinking this is of value, trying to duly note "some disagreements" and fill in the difference, stikes me as no different than those who adopt Willow Creek et hod genus omne as of value for our worship, trying to duly note some disagreements and supply the Lutheran difference.

christl242 said...

I hear alarms going off when the name of Scott Hahn is brought up.

Hahn is popular with the EWTN crowd and makes the rounds of "conservative" Catholic parishes as a speaker. His Presbyterian background fits in very well with his "covenant" theology and his affiliation with Franciscan University of Steubenville with its charismatic influence is also troubling.

While I was Catholic I once heard a priest tell a group of fellow charismatics that they are the "hope of the Catholic church."

Thank God for the Confessions. If our parishes only adhered to them we would have no need to be bringing in the Scott Hahn crowd.

Christine

Pastor Peters said...

Lutherans are not to be isolated islands... this was a conference meant to engage and there were several whose viewpoints would not fully represent our own but in whom we might converge for a moment... Besides, do you begrudge the opportunity to hear AND RESPOND to someone with such stature among the Roman Catholic Church -- for surely it is in the arena of conversations like this that we teach as well as listen...

I am no supporter of maintaining a fence around us. And to engage others, we must be willing to be engaged on what we believe, teach, and confess...

For this reason I am very proud of those who for some 30+ years have made the Symposia such a place to hear the best of those voices outside our own confession and for us to be heard in this way...

christl242 said...

Of course, we would certainly have some disagreements about the extent to which reason and Tradition stand with Scripture (not as equals with the Word as sometimes it seems Dr. Hahn places them).

Sometimes? That's putting it mildly. Tradition is still seen as on the same par as Scripture.

When the RC finally ditches purgatory, indulgences, its exaggerated mariology and the sacrifice of the Mass on behalf of the living and the dead I may come around to Hahn's way of thinking. All of that, all of it, come from Tradition, not Scripture. Unless as a Lutheran I really should believe that the angels flew the Holy House of Nazareth from Jerusalem to Italy.

But what do I know. Ten years in the Church of Rome evidently failed to inform me.

After seeing the way the ELCA has gone with its novus ordo liturgy and even with signing onto the JDDJ, I have developed a Roman allergy.

Christine

Past Elder said...

Well it is quite evident that LCMS spends a good bit of its time listening to voices outside our confession, you hear them all the time, theologically, liturgically, etc.

As to whether we are being heard, I have not seen an uptick in those swimming the Mississippi, so zu sagen.

Hell, even I didn't, directly. I didn't swim to anywhere for twenty years, then swam Lake Superior (WELS) before swimming the Mississippi. That's because LCMS seemed to be paying more attention to the voices from the Fuller Brush Seminary (Nietzschean word dance, I know it's Fuller Theological Seminary) than anything else, to be taken seriously at the time.

Hahn is essentially Protestant, like most postconciliar high profile converts to postconciliar Catholicism. He has simply found an identity for the other covenant partner in the RCC that Presbyterianism could not supply for him.

In real Catholic thought, it is quite different. There is ONLY tradition, it is ALL tradition. Some of that tradition is in written form, Scripture, and some if it in oral form in the ongoing magisterium of the church (read, Roman church). Rather like the distinction between the oral and the written Torah in Judaism. In that mindset, it cannot happen that one is set against the other, or one norms the other, or one is the norming norm and the other the normed norm, because they are one thing, Tradition, one deposit of faith from the Apostles (not to be confused with tradition as in way "we've always done it") and when it speaks, to borrow an expression from the Jewish version of this concept, it is as if Moses heard it at Sinai.

We are in that sense neither Protestant nor Catholic, yet we seem to spend our entire American history running to one direction or the other or both, and now lately in this infatuation with a Protestantism that feels better about itself being Catholic. We have nothing to gain from such confusion.

Past Elder said...

Oh man the Santa Casa, holy crap, I forgot about that, the angels moved it not once, not twice, but three times (probably in honour of each person of the Trinity I suppose). Now THAT's moving. You ain't gonna get that from Mayflower or United Van Lines!

christl242 said...

Yep. The Santa Casa of La Sagrada Familia of Nazareth.

Maybe soon they'll be invoking the Blessed Virgin at Ft. Wayne :)

As my cradle Catholic hubby was taught, Jesus never refuses a request from his mother and is not amused when she is ignored.

Oh, wait. I forgot. My hubby didn't take kindly to the "Spirit of Vatican II." Clown masses and polka masses just didn't cut it for him.

I really want to be catholic. Not Catholic.

Christine

Past Elder said...

Memorare O piissima virgo Maria non esse auditum a saeculo quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia tus implorantem auxilia tua petentem suffragia esse derelictum ...

Past Elder said...

Damn, it's tua not tus. Spellcheck is useless with Latin.

christl242 said...

Well, in light of your citing the Memorare, it is nevertheless useless for us to fight our destiny, Past Elder.

As a certain Catholic blogger has informed us, in Rome's eyes you and I are simply "naughty" Catholics and a quick trip to the confessional will make everything right again. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, as they used to say back in the day.

I'll say this for Scott Hahn, his books sell well at the Daughters of St. Paul bookstores. Just don't tell that to the Jesuits who edit America magazine. They aren't at all happy with that!

Christine

Past Elder said...

Among his admirers, Hahn in sometimes called "Luther in reverse". Gott hilf mir seitlich, he turns up and we about soil our cassocks hearing a little Luther in there, but as to the "in reverse" part remain firmly in the grip of the phenomenon discussed in the definitive monograph on it, Die Ahnungslosigkeit, by my good friend Rabbi Willy Reisenschein who drops by every morning for coffee.

Arturo said...

It always worries me when Roman Catholics are invited to conferences like the one in Ft. Wayne. I came out of the RCC a couple of years ago and while I was a RC, I was a big fan of Scott Hahn and the other RC apologists. Hahn is going to be bring his view from a Roman Catholic view point. If not well catechised, many non-catholics are easy bait.

Pastor Peters said...

Dear Friends, do you really think the tide is moving from Luther to Rome? Check the numbers... In any given year we lose maybe a thousand to Rome, mostly in marriage situations and a few stray Pastors... In any given year we gain thousands of Roman Catholics for every reason from the Gospel to divorce and a goodly number of priests as well -- I believe 3 in my graduating class alone!!

And if you think that the job we do in our seminaries is so weak that we will lose people to Rome because of a conference like this, we have a bigger problem than Hahn!!

I am not going to belabor the point but it does us good to listen and hear others and to be put in positions of apologists for the Augustana. This is healthy. Believe you me people poured over Hahn's words with a fine tooth comb... and not because they were looking for the good stuff... This is not a bad thing... If the evangelical catholic Lutheran identity is so great, we ought to be able to hold our own with Hahn or any other. I was remarking on how good it was to hear a Roman Catholic who sounded very Lutheran on many points... for that we should not complain but sing a Te Deum!

Past Elder said...

How a person who does not believe the solas and whose understanding of Scripture and specifically the role of Scripture in the church is tied to the Roman Catholic Church, who is summed up as "Luther in reverse", can sound Lutheran on anything is beyond me. FWIW, I had exposure to his work as an RC and I didn't find very much Catholic about it either although typical of the Protestants who feel better being Catholic, and re the Steubenville crowd, charismatic too. For that, I suggest a Dies irae.

Janis Williams said...

Dear brothers and sisters,

Being a new Lutheran, am I mistaken? 1. We CANNOT KNOW a person's motives, 2. Truth can be expressed even by the devil himself (albeit not the WHOLE truth)?

I agree with Fr. Peters. Though Hahn is RC with a Protestant flavor, what he says in it's PLAIN SENSE is what a Lutheran believes about Justification, isn't it? If we refuse to have dialog with those who are 'not on the same page' with us, will we not be guilty (a la Ezekiel)if we don't?

Are we afraid? Just some questions...