On doing theology

Posted on October 21, 2009


Our research seminar here in St Andrews has started well this semester: John Webster on creatio ex nihilo followed by Lewis Ayres on Augustine on the Trinity. I look forward to Tom Greggs on ‘pessimistic universalism’ this week also.

John’s paper was characteristic, but struck a note I have not heard from him before, or at least not so forcefully: to speak of the mystery of creation, he argued, is to be in the realm where one’s speech and thought is inevitably tresspassing on the divine, and so there is a necessary spiritual preparation, an ascesis perhaps, without which one cannot hope to speak of these truths.

Lewis offered a summary of some of his forthcoming book on Augustine. The sheer breadth of the scholarship he has at his fingertips is repeatedly stunning. What I learnt most from the paper, however, was a new way of looking at De Trinitate: for Lewis, convincingly, it is in large part an intervention in a series of exegetical debates on well-worn texts. That is, the Arians simply routinely appealed to a certain set of texts as ‘disproving’ Nicene Christianity; Augustine, committed to orthodoxy, has read the standard Nicene attempts to deal with these texts, but finds them less than convincing; so he offers, at length, his own exegesis.

Spirituality and exegesis – neither is popular in contemporary academic theology, but popularity is hardly the issue. I am simply convinced that a well-ordered theology is built on a discipline of prayer and a submission of the mind to the text of Scripture. It is comforting to know, however, that people of the academic stature of John and Lewis can offer support to such a view.

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