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January 25, 2010

Newman’s Incoherence

Filed under: Anglicanism,Development of Doctrine,Theology — William Witt @ 4:43 am
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In a previous blog post in which I listed a number of theological principles I hoped someday to discuss further, I had written the following:

On the question of doctrinal development, the fundamental choice is between Newman’s and Barth’s understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. The issue of continuity between (1) God’s revelation in the history of Israel, Christ, the apostolic Church: (2) the canonical Scriptures; and (3) the post-apostolic Church, must be decided theologically, in terms of the inherent intelligibility of the subject matter of revelation, not by alien philosophical criteria rooted in such historical conundrums as the relation between the one and the many, or problems of epistemological skepticism.

At some point I hope to come back to this discussion, especially as it touches on Barth. In the meanwhile, this is an ongoing contribution to a series of discussions on doctrinal development, and, particularly on John Henry Newman’s own contribution. (For previous discussion, see here, here, here, and here.) In what follows I intend to focus on Newman’s shorter essay entitled “Faith and Private Judgment,” to which I find contemporary Roman Catholic apologists regularly appeal, to show how it casts doubt on the coherency of the claims Newman makes about development in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine. (John Henry Newman, “Faith and Private Judgement,” Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1897), pp. 192-213; An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920).)

My argument in what follows is that Newman’s approach is philosophical, primarily having to do with a concern for epistemological certainty, rather than a properly theological argument based on the nature of revelation, and the continuity between God’s revelation in Christ, the canonical Scriptures, and the post-apostolic church. Moreover, as a philosophical argument, Newman’s position is incoherent. (more…)

January 13, 2010

Presence and Estrangement: A Mystery Sermon

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 12:42 am
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Exodus 17: 1-7
Colossians 1: 15-23

This morning’s lectionary readings have to do with a mystery—not a theological mystery, but a mystery in the sense of a detective novel. In a mystery, there are a number of clues, but how they tie together, and how they provide the solution to the problem is not given until everything is wrapped up at the very end of the story. Our Old Testament reading sets the stage for the mystery, by providing us the clues. The epistle reading takes the very same clues and ties them all together to answer the question raised by the Old Testament reading.

If we compare the Exodus reading with the epistle reading from Colossians this morning we will find that both touch on a similar theme, identified by the question the people of Israel ask in the last verse of this morning’s reading: “Is the Lord among us or not?” The question raised has to do with the presence of God, and how we know whether or not God really is present with us. This, then, is the mystery: how is God present with his people? Or is he? (more…)

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