Thursday, May 24, 2007

Theological Imagination (Or Lack Thereof)

Here is a link to an excellent short post on Peter Leithart's blog concerning the lack of theological imagination among some Protestant theologians. It expresses precisely something I have been thinking for a while but haven't quite been able to find the words for. Thank you Dr. Leithart.


thekid said...

Hey, Great Gordon! I was just talking about this very thing with a friend's husband yesterday. I'm heading over to read that post at once. Glad to see something new here. May the long weekend be productive... :)

jraescott said...

Hi Gordy,

(1)For my information, what IS "Reform Theology"?

(2)Hol and Mom and I are finishing up Christ Plays in 10K Places and I see that he also says what Leithart's post says.

Gordon Hackman said...


Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad to know you still look at this blog, even if my output is less than prolific these days.

Reformed Theology refers to the theology that grew out of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The Protestant Reformers were people who were protesting what they saw as the corruption, both moral and theological that had come to characterize the Catholic Church of that era. The primary figures are Martin Luther and John Calvin. Often the term Calvinist is used synonymously with the Reformed label. There are a number of distinctive features to Reformed theology. These include the idea of predestination; a belief in the Bible alone as the sole authority for all matters pertaining to life and faith; and the belief that we are saved by faith in Christ alone rather than by any good things we have done. There are others, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind. Basically, if one is not Catholic or Orthodox, then one is Protestant and hence a child of the Reformation. Frequently, those who hold to a Reformed theological view reject the legitimacy of the Catholic Church and consider it a false church.

I hope that information is enough to give you some context for understanding Leithart's post. He himself is a Reformed scholar and theologian. His comment about someone being on the road to Rome or the road to Geneva is referring to someone's theology moving in a Catholic direction (Rome) or a more Reformed direction (Geneva, which is where John Calvin had great influence). His point, which I agree with, is that some Reformed people are so stuck in certain fixed theological formulations that they act as if there is no new theological insight to be had in any area. Thus, whenever someone offers a potentially new insight, it must be forced into one of our already existing theological classifications and if it doesn't look like standard Reformed theology, then it is automatically treated as if it were Catholic and hence questionable or unsound. As such, many Reformed people cut themselves off from potentially new insights into Christian life and doctrine, because they lack the imagination to think outisde their predetermined categories. Of course, it almost goes without saying that Reformed people aren't the only ones who can be guilty of this.

I'm not surprised that Peterson is saying something similar, as he is a great advocate of the metaphorical and poetic, which frequently require imagination to be understood and appreciated. Unfortunately, I think, a lot of Protestant theology has fallen prey to the tendency of modernity to think that the only or at least the most valid form of knowledge is that which is scientific and purely rational. Hence we have downplayed the need for and the use of the imagination in reading and interpreting scripture. Thus our theological formulations, while doctrinally sound, have often seemd thin, abstract, and lacking in richness and beauty. I think, however, that this is changing in many parts of the church, as many Christians are starting to recognize beauty and imagination as not only neceesary parts of human existence, but also as necessary to a full orbed and meaningful Christian faith and life.

Hope that makes thing more clear rather than less.


jraescott said...

Thank you; as always, you speak very very clearly. Definitely your words increased rather than decreased clarity. Thank you!