Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Theology as a Spiritual Ability

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:5-6).

During a recent foray into a used bookstore - as we are frequently wont to do - we happened upon a copy of J.T. Mueller's Christian Dogmatics, in excellent condition (Our guess is that we are the first to actually read it since it was printed in 1955). Essentially a condensation of Pieper's three-volume Christliche Dogmatik, we have enjoyed perusing the confessional Lutheran viewpoint without having to learn German.

While Mueller has admitted weaknesses - like supposing the Lutheran Church to be the orthodox visible Church of Christ (p. 24) and the bewildering doctrine of consubstantiation (p. 520-22; if you understand it, you obviously do not get it) - most of his foibles can be excused owing to the fact that the guy was after all Lutheran.

Yet, what has made Mueller's work worth all $6 are his introductory remarks on the role and purpose of sacred theology (pp. 1-86); specifically, arguing that it is a spiritual ability or "habitude" (habitus, Latin for deportment or custom, as indicative of one's "adequacy" [2 Cor 3:5-6]). Mueller makes the contention, which has all but evaporated in our day, that theological learning and/or teaching is neither an academic nor speculative discipline, but the Spirit-wrought ability to minister the Word of God in truth.
In this treatise we use the term theology both subjectively, or concretely, to denote the spiritual ability (ἱκανότης, habitus) to teach and defend the Word of God, in short, to administer the functions of the Christian ministry in the true Scriptural manner (2 Cor 3, 5. 6)... For the Christian theologian this distinction is of paramount importance because it constantly reminds him that studying theology means not simply the intellectual apprehension of a number of facts, but the true regeneration, conversion, and sanctification of his own heart, from which his whole ministerial service must flow (p. 32)
Or, as Paul himself first put it... "our adequacy [ἱκανότης, habitus] is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant." Theologians are not made, nor are they born, they are only born again. And though we be neither Lutheran nor the son of a Lutheran, we anticipate hearing more about this from Mueller in posts to come.

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