what counts as ‘Christian theology’?

To speak Christian is an exacting discipline. It has taken the church centuries to develop habits of speech that help us say no more than needs to be said. But I fear too often those of us charged with responsibility to teach those habits fail to do so in a manner that those in the ministry can make their own.

(Stanley Hauerwas, ‘Reflections on Learning How to Speak Christian’)

There’s been a bit of chatter lately about what makes theology distinctively Christian. It’s not really explicit. It’s more that people keep assuming that there’s a line between Christian theology and some other kind of theology.

So Ben Myers draws attention to a new book responding to atheism — which apparently argues that the main difference between atheism and theism boils down to patience. It’s chief recommendation for Ben is that ‘in contrast to the usual apologetics … it’s actually a Christian response to atheism’.

And Mike W provocatively wonders if we can really call Wayne Grudem a theologian in light of his discussion of Christians and self-defence, in which apparently ‘There is absolutley no discussion of Jesus, his mission or his kingdom’. Ouch!

I’m not entirely sure what to make of it all. But I’d be keen to hear your thoughts: What do you think counts as Christian theology? Or, to flip it around, what would disqualify a piece of theology from being Christian?

(I’m aware this is probably a ‘family resemblance’ thing. I’m not looking for a shopping list of non-negotiables to be mechanically ticked off.)

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6 comments

  1. Well for Luther at least Christian Theology is the divinity of Christ, the Nicene ‘homoousios’. In Christ he maintains, we are confronted by God Himself, for Christ is ‘very God’. Here we have both Christocentric, and a Christology that is theocentric.

    1. Thanks Father Robert. I think that’s got to be part of it. Of course, I understand that it’s not a Paint By Numbers thing and different theologians will pursue their Christ-centred and God-centred reflections in different ways — all of which adds to the mix!

    1. Yeah. I think I read somewhere that the NT documents displayed ‘implicit pretheoretical trinitarianism’, which seems to resonate with my own reading of them (against the background of Jewish monotheism). So if we’re taking NT theology as the litmus test of ‘Christian theology’ — a fair enough approach in my view! — then while it will be deeply trinitarian (although it may not be explicitly so or expressed using the precise language of Nicene/pro-Nicene orthodoxy or whatever).

  2. Yes, I would see the Trinity of God as the greatest Christian revelation, along of course with the Incarnation of Christ. But certainly this revelation must be exacted from the Text, as it is, and has been down thru the Church itself. But we can and must certainly thank God for the Church, and the men God has called and chosen for this search. Trinity was a neologism that was first used in its Greek form, trias, by Theophilus of Antioch (180, AD), but the doctrine had been suggested in the study of both the Old and NT, (Matt. 28:19, etc.) Tertullian and Origen sought both the categories and language of theology to elucidate the concept for which there was no precedent. But of course not till the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople did the doctrine of the Trinity take full shape. And then the Cappadocian Fathers were the first to place a dogmatic face on what is still a grand mystery! As John 1:14, we can but cry “glory”! Myself, like many, I feel the Incarnation will always lead to the great doctrine of the Trinity of God…the Father, and the Son, in the person and union of the Holy Spirit.

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