My latest post regarding the ongoing reality of the incarnation provoked many good questions about underlying assumptions, which, in turn, have led me to respond about the Reformation debates about Christology (which led to debates about the Lord’s Supper).
I want to make clear that I hope to draw a line, however indistinct it may seem at times, between “basic Christian orthodoxy” and “theological speculation.” This is one reason I wrote The Mosaic of Christian Belief–to pare Christian doctrine down to what ought to be considered “basic Christian belief” (orthodoxy) and exclude from defending orthodoxy matters that are speculation–however reverent they may be.
I think this is one of the main tasks of Christian theologians–to identify what doctrines are basic to Christian faith and what interpretations of the Bible and doctrines are speculation without clear warrant in Scripture itself and the church’s historic belief about revelation.
Here’s my illustration. THAT the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is permanent and THAT the Son of God is still the human person Jesus Christ (he did not “drop his humanity”) is basic Christian belief. To deny it is to deny a basic tenet of Christian belief rooted firmly in Scripture and to open the door to Gnosticism.
HOW the continuing humanity of Jesus exists presently, whether and to what extent it is dependent on the Holy Spirit for power, etc., invites speculation. Both the ancient Christians and the Reformers confused speculation with orthodoxy–leading to unnecessary divisions among Christians.
Both Luther and Zwingli (and later Calvin) were, in my opinion, faithful to basic Christian orthodoxy–including in their Christologies. Both also, to some extent, went beyond what Scripture really warrants us to believe and confused their own interpretations of the finite and the infinite (e.g., whether the finite can “contain” the infinite) with orthodoxy. Luther especially was wrong to accuse Zwingli of being a heretic for denying the “real presence” of Christ “in, with and under” the break and wine. The Reformed branch of Protestantism contributed to the division by returning the favor (at times).
The Church of England was right to permit different interpretations of this issue. (Here I’m speaking about Christology, not the Lord’s Supper.) What Christians ALL ought to believe is that the Son of God is still the human being Jesus Christ. Beyond that, whether one adopts the “finitus non capax infiniti” or the “finitus capax infiniti” is secondary and largely speculative.
Reverent speculation, labeled as such, is inevitable and there is nothing wrong with it. It becomes wrong when it is allowed to divide Christians over against each other so that they cannot even have fellowship because of it.
Another example of speculation in Christian theology is the “order” of being within the immanent Trinity which leads into the “filoque” controversy between East and West. It’s all well and good for Christians to argue over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND THE SON or whether the Holy Spirit only proceeds from the Father (and NOT “from the Son”), but it is impossible to prove either point of view from what has been revealed (unless you extend “revelation” into the later stages of Christian thought). This should not divide Christians.
What a disaster it was that in the Reformation Lutherans and Reformed could not get together. Martin Bucer was right; both sides should have listened more intently to him. (I’ll leave aside the name of Philipp of Hesse for now!) But, in the end, it was the Anabaptists who got it mostly right. (I speak here of Balthasar Hubmaier especially!)