Monday, April 4, 2011

Buchanan on the Progressive nature of Theology


My doctoral studies have introduced me to many authors I have not previously read. One of the most helpful books I have found is "The Doctrine of Justification" by James Buchanan. Buchanan was a late Nineteenth Century theologian/pastor in Scotland where "he gained a great reputation as an earnest and eloquent preacher of the Word of God." His theological prowess can be evidenced by his 1845 appointment to the Chair of Apologetics at New College, Edinburgh, and later appointment as Professor of Systematic Theology.

Buchanan was a supremely gifted bible scholar, theologian, apologist, and writer. By the time he wrote the book I am now reading, there were several excellent books explaining and defending the doctrine of justification. Sensing some might wonder why another treatment of the doctrine was necessary, Buchanan opens his book with the following rich explanation:

"Theology, like every other science, is progressive. Progressive, not in the sense of adding anything to the truth once for all revealed in the inspired Word, but in the way of eliciting and unfolding what has always been contained in it. Theology brings out one lesson after another, and placing each of them in a clearer and stronger light, and discovering the connection, interdependency, and harmony, of all the constituent parts of the marvelous scheme of Revelation."

Keep reading...it gets better!

"In this sense, Science and Theology are both progressive, the one in the study of God's works, the other in the study of God's Word; and as human Science has not yet exhausted the volume of Nature, or reach the limit of possible discovery in regard to it, much less has human Theology fathomed the depths of Scripture, or left nothing to reward further inquiry into 'the manifold wisdom of God.' There may be room, therefore, for something new, if not in the substance, yet in the treatment, even of the great doctrine of Justification, in the exposition of its scriptural meaning, and in the method of adducing, arranging, and applying the array of its scriptural proofs."

It's important to note that Buchanan is not advocating the invention of new doctrines by combining the latest human philosophy or experience with the biblical text. Instead, Buchanan is promoting the never ending study of Scripture in every age. Even if a doctrine has been long settled, new study will be a benefit and further reveal how inexhaustible Scripture is. Buchanan is advocating new treatments of the biblical text, not efforts to conform the biblical text to human philosophy.

For me, life is about seeking God's glory. His glory is His purpose and the story of Scriptures. Wait- I thought the redemption of man was the story of Scripture? Well, it is- but the purpose for redeeming sinful people through Christ is the glory of God. Scripture is God's Word and so the place we must look to find how we might glorify God. In this light, there's no biblical doctrine that should not be continually examined. We'd be fools to ignore prior treatments of the biblical text, but just as foolish to stop studying a doctrine all together.

1 comment:

Woody Woodward said...

Good stuff! What's more, I understood what he was saying! Profoundness made simple. Isn't that the heart of the “living Gospel” Christ taught us?