Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Lets Start With Jesus: A New Way Of Doing Theology" by Dennis F. Kinlaw. Part I

Dennis F. Kinlaw, along with Thomas Oden, is one of the greatest Methodist scholars living today. Dr. Kinlaw served 18 years as President of Asbury College, now called Asbury University, and is the founder of The Francis Asbury Society. He has not only taught half of my professors at Wesley Biblical Seminary (WBS) but also taught my first two pastors who I sat under for 13 years. I have had the privilege of hearing him speak at WBS and can testify that he is the one of the best examples of the combination of incredible intellectual ability and Christian humility. His son-in-law is Professor Allan Coppedge of Asbury Theological Seminary, who has written at least 3 books that will be featured on this blog in the future. His grandson Billy Coppedge and his wife Joanna serve as missionaries in Uganda. Both were my neighbors and classmates at WBS.

One day around 60 years ago, Dr. Kinlaw took a class at Princeton entitled "The Christian Pattern of Life" taught by Emile Cailliet. The class chronicled the history of the Church's understanding of personal holiness through the ages. When Cailliet came to the classes on "The Reformed Tradition of Holiness," Cailliet stated, "You can only learn one lesson at a time." He went on to explain that during the Reformation, the battle was over the doctrine of Justification by Faith. The Reformers waged a life and death struggle to establish that doctrine in contrast to the Catholic Church's doctrine of salvation through human works. Cailliet said that we do not consult the Reformers concerning the classical development of the doctrine of personal holiness. That was not the Reformers battle. The Church had to wait for the Evangelical awakening of the 18th century in England for the maturing of that doctrine.

What Kinlaw discovered that day was that the Church's understanding of Christian dogma was not completely developed during the time of the Early Church Fathers. Through the centuries the Church has had to explore "the profound implications of the revelation in the Biblical text." (Kinlaw, p.12) Kinlaw's discovery reminded him of the Church's struggle to understand and proclaim such simple truths such as how Jesus could be the son of Mary and the Son of God at the same time. That the Church took three centuries to understand and proclaim the Triune nature of God is only the most prominent example of the Church's gradual understanding of the contents of Scripture.

Cailliet's statement allowed Kinlaw not only to appreciate the struggles of previous generations of Christians to understand and articulate Scriptural truths, but Kinlaw also came to understand that today Christians should "in divine mercy, through the Spirit, be able to see farther, to see some things more clearly" than previous generations of Christians were able to see. (Kinlaw, p. 12) (Those who believe that the Church Fathers provide the most complete and most profound expression of Christian theology should take heed of Kinlaw's insight. This is my comment, not Kinlaw's.)

The Reformers developed the Judicial metaphor to provide a picture of our relationship to God. While Kinlaw sees that this metaphor is thoroughly Biblical and crucial to our understanding of how redeemed men and women relate to God, he also sees that the metaphor does not adequately explain the purpose of Christ's death for us. The judicial metaphor describes the role God plays in relation to His creatures. But another metaphor, the familial, not only sheds further light on the role God plays in relation to His creatures, but also gives insight into the very being of God. A third metaphor, the spousal, is key to God's purpose for human history. "All this," Kinlaw writes, "plus the needs of my own spirit, brought into focus the fact that through grace the cry of the human heart is for personal knowledge of God more intimate than that which the judicial one pictures for us. I began also to realize that the picture of God himself that comes through these additional metaphors is far richer than commonly assumed by believers." (Kinlaw, p. 13) Kinlaw came to the realization that salvation is not just for the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation, but its ultimate purpose is to bring forgiven ones into participation in the very communion that the three persons of the Godhead know between themselves. The key to understanding this, according to Kinlaw, is not to start with the question of whether God exists, where most Christian theologies start. The key is to start with Jesus Himself who assures us that He is the ultimate revelation of the Father.

"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology" is the product of Dr. Kinlaw's meditations on these subjects over the years as well as his interaction with other scholars and students. While some may disagree with him over whether the judicial metaphor is the only Biblical metaphor concerning the atonement, Kinlaw writes in such a way that very few could actually be offended at his presentation of his argument. Dr. Kinlaw's appreciation of the contributions of all the legitimate theologies of the Church is reflected in his writing.

The next six posts in this series will examine Kinlaw's insights chapter by chapter. Part I is based on the preface.

This is the 300th post on this blog.

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