Are you guys Barthians?

From time to time, we are asked, "Are you guys Barthians"? (or "Torrancians," or devotees of certain other theologians who embrace a theology similar to what is explored on this blog). The short answer is "no." Trinitarian theology is not a uniform "school" of theology and we are not slavishly beholden to any particular so-called "Trinitarian" theologians.

Of course, the question is understandable. We humans love to categorize things and theology is no exception. Thus, there is "Calvinism," "Arminianism," "Universalism" and other theological -isms. However, "Incarnational Trinitarian Theology" (the label we use for the theology explored here) rather than being prescriptive of a uniform set of beliefs, is descriptive of a theological perspective. It addresses the heart of a theological vision and method rather than establishing rigid limits of a uniform school of theology.

Karl Barth, T.F. Torrance, J.B. Torrance, Thomas Oden and certain other notable theologians of the past 100 years are sometimes referred to as "Trinitarian." These men were doing theology as faithfully as they could in order to assist the whole church. In doing so, they drew on the insights of many theologians throughout the ages (including leaders of the early church councils). In this work, they were not seeking to found a distinct school of theology and, generally, they did not label their theological viewpoints as uniquely “Trinitarian.” Neither do we.

In GCI, we see our primary responsibility as assisting and resourcing our own pastors and other teachers and members. We seek to share with them the best formulations of Christian theology that we can find, even while we understand that these formulations do not constitute conditions of salvation. In constructing those formulations we borrow from a wide array of theologians, both ancient and contemporary. But that borrowing is not slavish. For example, we may agree with Karl Barth on some points, but not others. Our sole controlling authority is the Living Word of God revealed to us in Holy Scripture, the written word of God.

Trinitarian theology (what we in GCI refer to descriptively as Incarnational Trinitarian Theology) is, for us, a focal point related to our renewal and reformation as a denomination. It gives theological under-girding to the radical doctrinal shift that we experienced in coming to understand more clearly the nature of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

As theologian Gary Deddo recently pointed out to me, by God's grace and through his amazing timing, the theological reformation of GCI has overlapped a movement of theological renewal -recalibration in the wider church that has been ongoing for the past 100 years. That movement has stretched across Christian denominational lines. In GCI, we have found much helpful information from various leaders in that movement, including Barth, the Torrance brothers, Thomas Oden, Ray Anderson and others (you will find videos of GCI interviews with many theologians who embrace a similar perspective at www.gci.org/yi). However, we are not slavishly beholden to any.

Our incarnational, Trinitarian theological perspective does not give us some sort of special theological identity. Rather, we are interested in biblically-normed, historically orthodox Christian faith and theological understanding. Any particular theological emphasis that has arisen in our movement is the result of a practical need to describe the focus of our renewal and doctrinal reformation, not to create a new school of theology.

When we share our theological perspectives with others, it is not out of some sense of superiority, but because we realize that we are not the only branch of the church experiencing renewal, and not the only Christians who see a need to more fully understand and emphasize the twin doctrinal pillars of the Christian faith: the Trinity and the Incarnation. We believe that we have much to learn from others and we hope that others will benefit from what we are learning. It is to that end that this blog exists.
  • For the core concepts of GCI's Incarnational Trinitarian Theology, click here
  • For related articles on the topic of this post, click here and here.

Comments

  1. Anonymous3/03/2013

    This is baloney. If you really believe what you said about not being "the" experts then you would point us to others and not yourselves.

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  2. I don't normally post comments that intentionally are disparaging of us or of anyone else. However, in this case I am making an exception in order to point out that this blog does not hold us out as so-called "experts" of any sort. Instead, we devote significant space to the work of many authors/theologians, both contemporary and ancient, who though representing various traditions, share similar theological insights that are shaped by the twin foundational doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity as explicated by the early church creeds (the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in particular). We try to keep this discussion not only informative but also respectful, for there are times when we will disagree, but hopefully in ways that are not disagreeable.

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  3. Anonymous3/19/2013

    The conclusion I would draw from this post is that GCI is undermining doctrine in favor of perspective. With the absence of scripture to support your "perspective" you also undermine the Bible. Of course this fact isn't surprising by your admission of the belief that the Bible is infallible rather than inerrant. I would point out your error with scripture: "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" Hebrews 4:12. Also, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," 2 Timothy 2:16. These are just two of the most obvious passages, but the Psalms, Proverbs, and Jesus Himself, point out the the sufficiency and supremacy of scripture as God's revealed Word - unadulterated and inerrant. Translation is also inspired provable by the above mentioned scriptures. However, I admit that there are many perverted translations brought to us mainly in the past 1/2 century.

    But I digress...you're theology is very much in line with postmodernist thought and the neo-orthodoxy of Barth and Torrance, Bell, and McLaren. The result of your "perspective" is what brings confusion and the need to write this post - not only to those on the outside of GCI, but to those on the inside that are battling against such heresies.

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  4. Dear anonymous (3/19). It seems that your comment confuses doctrine and theology. The GCI "perspective" to which the original post referred has to do with our theology, not our doctrine.

    Theology is "faith seeking understanding," and thus, by its very nature, is a matter of perspective rather than being a settled "cast in stone" statement as in the case of statements of core doctrine (such as the early church creeds).

    GCI is quite clear as to its doctrine of Holy Scripture and your post misrepresents that doctrine. Moreover, in referencing GCI's theology, you lump us in with several authors/theologians, who, themselves would disagree on several points of theology as well as of doctrine. In that way you have essentially ignored the primary point being made by the original post.

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  5. Anonymous3/19/2013

    I don't believe I'm confusing the two. What I meant is that your theological "perspective" undermines orthodox doctrine. For example, your "notable theologians" are rightly labeled neo-orthodox. That they are referred to as "Trinitarian" is a challenging misnomer because the orthodox meaning of the term "Trinitarian" is defining God as three divine persons in one or hypostases. The Trinity doctrine is an essential doctrine of the faith. However, the Trinitarianism that GCI embraces is something altogether different. The term has been deconstructed and given a new meaning. When one hears that you are Trinitarian, one comes to the faulty conclusion that it means you believe in the simple and finite orthodox definition. An understanding of your theological perspective is crucial in understanding your newly branded form of Trinitarianism - brought about in the last 100 years by your "noted theologians." There are other noted theologians that make a dramatic case that question whether Barth was truly saved based on his writings and lifestyle. Barth's theology in many cases contradicted the theology of the Reformers. His denial of Biblical inerrancy is a pervasive influence on the emergent church movement. The fact that he was a disciple of Hegel and Kierkegaard is enough to warn us that his theology is flawed at best. I believe my conclusions are correct in describing your perspective as a "new theology" which indeed undermines orthodox doctrine and sola scriptura. This new theology - promoted by the authors we both have mentioned above - offers a confused view of the exclusive claims of Christianity. Those who seek intellectual prestige among godless and liberal scholars and theologians more than seeking after the truth and defending the faith have committed a form of idolatry where man's opinion takes precedence over divine revelation in Holy Scripture, which is the final authority in all theological matters.

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  6. Anonymous (3/19), your point seems to be that we are devotees of Karl Barth as though we embrace all that he has written, "hook, line and sinker." That is not the case--our theology is grounded in Holy Scripture, not in the writings of a particular theologian (Barth, or anyone else). Indeed, that was the point of the blog post on which you have commented. If you've read much of this blog, you'll find that we reference the works of many theologians, but contemporary (from various perspectives) and ancient. The one objective standard by which all theologians must be measured is the revelation of the person and work of Jesus Christ (the living Word of God), who is revealed to us in Holy Scripture (the written Word of God. In fact, that is the point made so powerfully by the Greek Church Fathers who, themselves, were architects of the classic doctrine of the Trinity. Would you consider Athanasius, for example, to be heretical and "neo-orthodox"?

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  7. Anonymous (3/19) replied to my comment above with another comment that I'll not post in that it attacks individual people--we will not publish such comments as a matter of policy. However, I do want to reply here to a couple of his assertions.

    First he attacks certain individuals, claiming that they "cannot be considered orthodox." That is a very serious accusation, and leaves me wondering who Anonymous considers "orthodox" and according to what criteria. Apparently acceptance of the ancient church creeds is not sufficient, for were it sufficient, the folks he mentions as disapproved would show up on the approved list. It seems rather clear that the issue here is that anonymous sees no place for varying theological perspectives within the broad family of churches and teachers that embrace historic, orthodox Christian doctrine. To me that position is quite unfortunate for several reasons, not the least being that it creates an artificial, unnecessary division within the Body of Christ.

    Anonymous then asserts that, "much of your theology is rooted in Eastern Orthodoxy by its seeming deification of humanity...Case in point: Athanasius made the statement, 'For he became human that we might be divine.' The central focus of Eastern Orthodoxy is its notion of deification by a mystical union with Christ rather than the substitutionary atonement of Christ and imputed righteousness to the believer. It is obvious that undue emphasis is placed on the Incarnation in Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as GCI theology, at the expense of the atonement."

    Wow! This is an amazing, broad-brush assertion that is full of errors.

    First, it asserts an either/or tension between the Incarnation and the Atonement, as though one had to choose one or the other. But Scripture and the teaching of the Patristic fathers (many of whom came from the East) do no such thing.

    Second, his statement, in effect, rejects an entire thread of Christian history and an entire wing of the Body of Christ both of the past and the present. Not only is that arrogant and absurd, it cuts the legs out from under anonymous' own theology (whatever that may be) in that the Eastern fathers, including Athanasius, who he condemns, were framers of the Niceno-Contatinopolitan Creed that is the bedrock of the historic Christian doctrine embraced by all orthodox Christians (East and West).

    Anonymous also accuses us (GCI) of holding the writings of certain theologians as on par with Holy Scripture. We do no such thing, though isn't it interesting that the Eastern fathers that he rejects as non-orthodox were the ones used by the Holy Spirit to determine the boundaries of the canon of New Testament Scriptures.

    In attacking the Eastern fathers and the contemporary Eastern Orthodox church, anonymous claims that their doctrine, sometimes referred to as "deification," claims that humans become God. That doctrine does no such thing (though, in anonymous' defense, this is a common misconception). I would encourage anonymous to do some further reading in church history, where he will note that Athanasius, who he labels as heterodox due to that doctrine, was used of God to frame and defend the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and was a key participant in establishing the Nicene Creed. I would counsel anonymous to be a bit more careful in assigning labels of "heretical" and "non-orthodox."

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  8. Anonymous3/20/2013

    Wow - you've taken my words and spun them to your theological advantage.
    "First he attacks certain individuals, claiming that they "cannot be considered orthodox." That is a very serious accusation, and leaves me wondering who Anonymous considers "orthodox" and according to what criteria." By Kruger's own admission - he has stated that he is neo-orthodox. And in that same vein, you would be hard pressed to find a scholarly theologian today that doesn't agree that Barth was neo-orthodox as well. It is not my accusation and I'm offended by your accusation!

    Additionally, I never attacked the early church fathers, but no one will ever know that since you refuse to post my full comment - in context! That begs the question - what do you fear? I said I greatly respect the early church fathers - but they were not perfect in their theology as were the apostolic fathers who wrote inspired scripture. I did not say the apostolic fathers were perfect! just in case you attempt to spin that as well -- I'm saying the scripture they wrote was perfect in theology and doctrine, unlike the Eastern church fathers. I believe you know exactly what I meant in my statements, but chose to attack them anyway because of your aversion to accepting the Holy Scriptures as inerrant. We are all looking through a glass darkly, as it were, but there are biblical doctrines that are fundamental to the faith. Theology does matter! Eastern Orthodoxy stands in stark contrast to Western Orthodoxy. I would encourage you to do some further reading on church history as well. We can learn from both, however, you erroneously state that Eastern Orthodoxy doesn't hold to Theosis - which is the deification of humanity. To that end, they believe it is a great mystery. The problem lies therein because GCI, through men like Barth, Torrance, and Kruger, take it much further into a very dangerous position that borders on trinitarian universalism and human participation within the exclusive triune Godhead (which amounts to human deification).

    Furthermore, you're spin-doctoring of my words is a bit beyond the pale by saying I was advocating an either/or tension between the Incarnation and the Atonement. You have all the power to spin my words in whatever manner you please and take them out of context to your audience (which you have certainly done). That is a travesty and undermines trust in the character of this blog. I said that your theology places undue emphasis on the Incarnation at the expense of the substitutionary atonement. It is obvious that is the case, not only in your literature, but in my local church.

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    Replies
    1. Anonmous--I apologize if I took any of your statements out of context. What I will not do, however, is publish defamatory statements against individuals--to me that has no place in what should be a respectful discussion, even when there is disagreement.

      As to your reply this time, I disagree with your assessment of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of Theosis. I do not believe it asserts what you are claiming, nor do I feel that an emphasis on the doctrine of the Incarnation somehow undermines the doctrine of the Atonement--in the mind of the early church fathers, and in my understanding of Holy Scripture, the two are inseparably linked, for the Atonement is accomplished through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. The atonement is not merely what Jesus did for us, but who he was (and is) for us as the union of divinity and humanity--two natures; one person.

      One more thing, to say that one is "neo-orthodox" is not to assert that one is "non-orthodox," though I don't know whether or not Baxter Krueger has used that label to define his theological perspective. I personally find all such labels quite unhelpful.

      Anyway, it seems that our conversation is not leading anywhere that is particularly helpful, so we'll sign off here. I wish you all the best in your journey.

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  9. Anonymous3/20/2013

    Ted - I was raised in WCG and have come back to it after all these years excitedly thinking that GCI had conformed to orthodox teachings of salvation, justification, and sanctification. But the more I read, the more I fear you are preaching a different Jesus rather than the Biblical One -- I'm burdened greatly by much of your blog. Though there are many biblically sound articles on the main site, there too, are many that frame fundamentalist theology in a negative way as well as undermine essential doctrines of the faith. I fear that the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, would never be a guest on your video "You're Included" link if he were alive today. A quick perusal of your site and the main site allows me to see the men who you uphold and align yourselves with and it truly breaks my heart. They are universalists, emergents, Catholic mystics, Druckerites, and are men who embrace postmodernism to the extreme. Their theology is a far cry from biblical theology and doctrine (ie, Barth, Kruger, Bell, McLaren, Anderson, Moltmann, Campolo, Nouwen, Foster, Willard, Warren, to name a few). The subject of false teachers/teachings is warned against more than any other subject in the New Testament. The last days apostasy is upon us and the spiritual leaders of this religious Trojan Horse is becoming more and more apparent (2 Timothy 4:1-4). I pray almost daily for GCI and those who fill its pulpits. I don't expect you to post this last response, but I hope that you will portray it truthfully - this time - if you choose to respond.

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    1. Dear anonymous. I certainly appreciate your prayers for us, but I think that your fears are unwarranted. What we are seeking is precisely to understand and embrace a fully orthodox theology--our focus being on Scripture and on the early church fathers who were led by the Holy Spirit to determine the canon of the New Testament and to codify in the early church creeds the core doctrine of the historical, orthodox Christian faith. All theologies are always open to critique--and that includes the theologies of some of the evangelical fundamentalists (including both Calvinists and Arminians) as well as the movement in theology sometimes referred to as Trinitarian Theology. We find value in all of these theological movements--but we alway seek to hold them up first to Scripture and then to the aformentioned early church fathers.

      Also, because we might refer to a certain author/theologian in this blog, or might interview one of them in our video series at GCI.org, does not mean that we agree with everything they assert. Moreover, the list you gave includes men who would vehemently disagree with some of the assertions of others on your list. So you need no worry that we are "devotees" of any of those folks (even if we might agree with some of what they write). Theology is always "faith seeking understanding")--it's a journey toward fuller, more complete understanding of the ultimate truth as it is revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is the perfect representation of God, and in whom, alone, we have our salvation.

      By the way, I have a very high regard for Surgeon, and would love to see him on video, were that possible. But that does not mean I'd agree with *all* of his assertions. Is there not room within the body of Christ for high regard for a person and their teaching without lock-step agreement on all points? I surely hope so.

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  10. With respect to anomymous' concern that an emphasis on the incarnation is non-biblical and tends to undermine the orthodox doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, I encourage reading the Christianity Today article "Vicarious Humanity: By His Birth We Are Healed" at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/march/by-his-birth-healed.html?paging=off

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  11. Anonymous3/26/2013

    I am also someone who has grown up in the WCG. I find this exchange to be very interesting. I have great respect for the current leadership of GCI, and owe you guys much gratitude for pulling me out of a legalistic Christian walk, and then out of a fear-based view of God. It was the trust I had come to invest in you that helped me believe the incredibly beautiful understanding of the Godhead, set forth in Trinitarian theology. Even if you changed course back to mainstream Evangelical theology, I can never go back. My Father was in the Son, reconciling the world to himself. Nobody can take that from me, or the rest of the world!

    Have you noticed how terribly important it seems, to some, that we all have perfect understanding? The more you come to know our God, the less you worry about our role in salvation, and the easier it is to eat with those just as imperfect as ourselves.

    Orthodoxy, as I understand it, is nothing more than the doctrines currently held by the majority of the most respected theological leaders. I think it is wise to be respectful, but also wary of orthodoxy. Fortunately, some like Martin Luther, and the disciples, did not put their trust in it. Orthodoxy has a way of creeping into scripture translations too. Work out your own salvation with caution, but don't trust your own understanding.

    May the GCI continue to lead and learn more from the Master.

    Lee

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    1. Thanks for your heart-felt comment Lee. Though I appreciate your point about "mainstream Evangelical theology," I'd note that there is no one, uniform theology that could be so labeled. In fact, there are multiple theological visions among those who self-identify as "Evangelicals" in North America, Europe and elsewhere. This diversity in theology is sometimes overlooked, and at other times it is overemphasized. The overemphasis sometimes leads (unnecessarily in my view) to division. Rather than divide over theological differences, we should find unity in our common embrace of the core doctrines of the historic, orthodox, Christian faith recorded in the early church creeds. Then with that common foundation, we can discuss theological differences with respect, grace and humility. Indeed, theology is "faith seeking understanding" not faith that has all understanding already.

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