Historical and Speculative Theology

Huge issue. Time running out. Quick but important post.

The “historical” approach to theology has dominated for 70 years or so. But in the past 15 years, the “speculative” approach has been gaining practitioners. This is welcome, since the historians stare at trees and diversity, coming to a stammering. The speculative approach, though seemingly too difficult for many, more readily lends itself to long-lasting formulations, many of which are able to be taught relatively quickly (3 persons, 1 nature).

Problem: We do need both. Another problem: The historical narratives are often written by those with less than keen speculative judgment. However, one cannot write a narrative without having endorsed some speculative judgment. Thus, flawed judgments lay behind many historical narratives. For instance, some historical approaches claim that “instrumental causality is a dated concept”; hence, they explain inspiration in some other way. However, here, they show less than keen appreciation of this highly analogical and deeply explanatory concept. In fact, no other concept can usurp the explanatory function of instrumental causality. That is not to say other concepts are not complimentary. None can usurp its rightful place. However, it takes speculative rigor to have this insight.

Task: Hence, a new effort at grand historical narratives on sundry theological topics is necessary. Development of Trinitarian doctrine.

I close with one example: P. 113 of the Oxford Handbook of the Trinity. This is a new publication. I have found flawed and unhelpful speculative judgments to mar some of the otherwise decent historical narratives. Example is this page. Towards the top of p. 113, J. Warren Smith praises the homoiousians for allowing a “difference” between Father and Son and upholding that their essences are “similar”.

The praise is not without point; but the judgment is flawed. What is properly praiseworthy is that they allow a “distinction” (not difference). The implication that the essences are “similar” voids the divinity of the Son. Period. It is indeed an “identity” that must be upheld. Athanasius was correct to contend that “similarity” implies diversity. Further, for those who grasp it, the Uncreated essence is infinitely different from all other essences. Ergo, however much you “pump up” the Son’s similarity, there remains an infinitely greater difference between his and the Father’s essence IF, that is, you say their essences are not identical.

Newman combined excellence as a historian and as a speculative thinker. His narratives also read the Fathers in pious way, covering their awkward formulae and searching for their real meaning. This is not ‘pious lies’ but a properly grounded speculative framework for working out historical narratives. To be sure, one might disagree with him here or there. However, he would not thrust a 21st century person’s head in the sewer of as broken a reading of the fathers and of historical development as is reasonably possible. The reverse. He would narrate as harmonious a narrative as is reasonably possible.

Conclusion: Calling all those who practice speculative theology. Time to lay sound groundwork for historical narratives. Time, also, to identify sound historical narratives. Calling all those who practice historical theology. Time to find sound speculative groundwork whereby to narrate findings and even to judge well the data and even to discern and determine well the data. Time also to produce sound historical narratives.

One thought on “Historical and Speculative Theology

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