Modest and Free
The past couple weeks have been busy for me. I am trying to write copiously, and I am reading way more. As I read and write, I have been reminded time and again of a the quote from Bavinck that I have cited before:
Dogmatics show us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Eph 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end — God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God's virtue and perfection, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a 'glory to God in the highest' (Luke 2:14).
Bavinck's note that theology, at its core, is doxology is helpful. As I have reflected on this more, I wonder if the reason for this is because the essence of theology is a response to the redemptive work of the Triune God. Theology bears witness to the redemptive work of the Triune God and that witness always has a doxological bent to it. Theology itself is not a constant singing of praise but as Fred Sanders puts it:
Praise penetrates into the very structure of every theological statement as such. Theology is faith seeking understanding because it is praise seeking underpinning.
Because theology is a doxological response to the redemptive work of the Triune God, it is clear that in its very nature theology is not a creative act. At its heart theology is 'a praise of the Creator and his act of creation'. This praise is a response to God and the form it takes is in theology. It is precisely because theology is a doxological response to the Triune God that theology is both modest and free. It is modest because ultimately the best theology can give us is analogies. One theologian put it this way:
[A]nalogical thought and speech do not claim to be, to say, to contain, or to control the original word. But it gives a reply to it by its attempt to co-respond with it; it seeks expressions that resemble the ratio and relations of the Word of God in a proportionate and, as feasible, approximate and appropriate way. Theology's whole illumination can be only its human reflection, or mirroring....
Because theology is analogical and not creative, because it is ultimately an act of doxology, theology is free. It is free to do what it is supposed to do. It has no need to measure up to the standards of other sciences, but can be measured on its own terms. Therefore, because theology is a doxological response to the redemptive work of the Triune God, it is both modest and free.
One last thing to note about the particular role theology plays. Because at its very nature theology is praise to God, there is a sense in which all Christians are called to do theology. Theology cannot and should not be left to 'the professionals'. It is the call of Christians to be engaged in theology. All Christians must respond to the redemptive work of the Triune God and that response is theological. The question becomes will we be good theologians?