Theology in service of the church

Paul Manata just pulled up this several-years-old interview with Oliver Crisp, who recently taught philosophical theology at the University of Bristol in the UK, and now is at Fuller Theological Seminary. I think this is an exceptional overview of how I see my own interests developing:

Q: What made you want to be a theologian?

A: Encountering Jesus.

Q: How do you see the relationship between your work in academic theology and the Church’s task of proclaiming the gospel?

A: Theology that is not done in the service of the Church is seriously defective, in my view. Although I work in a so-called ‘secular’ university, I am very conscious of the need to address the Church in what I do. I hope that in some small way my own work may be of use to the Church through the trickle-down effect of students of theology and prospective ministerial candidates getting trained in theology and reading the sort of stuff I write. I have taught in both secular and confessional contexts in the UK and North America, and I think effective theological education is of vital importance for the life of the Church. If we want an educated and effective laity, we need an effective and educated clergy to teach them.

Q: In some respects is analytic theology a retrieval of the methods of medieval scholasticism and Reformed Orthodoxy?

A: Yes, you might think of it in that way. As I have already indicated, I think it is in keeping with much of this tradition of theology. I hope it is a legitimate successor to a scholastic or Reformed Orthodox approach. It seems to me that both the medievals and the Reformed (and Lutheran) orthodox have much to teach us today. There is a theological richness in their work that we have lost. Theirs is also an unapologetically dogmatic approach – what John Webster has recently called ‘theological theology’. That is the sort of theology I am interested in. I am not concerned with paddling in the shallows of theology, spending all my time in methodological or apologetic matters. I am not terribly concerned with questions about whether we can do theology or not. I am interested in getting on with the job of doing theology in the service of the Church.

Q: How would you configure the relationship between Holy Scripture and the traditions of the Church?

A: I’ve recently dealt with this in detail in the first chapter of my book, God Incarnate. I think that Scripture is the norming norm, the bedrock of all Christian theology. The ‘tradition’ consists in a cluster of different, subordinate norms, such as the catholic creeds, confessional statements (e.g. the Westminster Confession) and the works of particular theologians. But these are all subordinate to the Word of God.

Q: I have sometimes heard Evangelical preachers say that Jesus became a human person at the incarnation. Do you think that Evangelicals are sufficiently aware of the creedal heritage of the Church?

A: No, I don’t. The creedal heritage of the Church is very important. We cast it aside at our peril. Some evangelicals are very much embedded in the tradition (e.g. some Episcopalians or Lutherans or Presbyterians). But evangelicals in what we might loosely term ‘non-confessional’ traditions, … tend to be less concerned about confessions, thinking they can simply leap over the tradition to Scripture. This is a mistake. We read Scripture in the household of faith, in company with the saints before us, not in isolation from them. And in so doing, we learn from our forebears (from their triumphs and their mistakes). It is folly and hubris to think one can set this great cloud of witnesses to one side in theologizing. Not that I think the fathers and Reformers of the Church trump Scripture. But they help us to understand Scripture better just as a teacher helps the student to understand matters that might be difficult to grasp were the student to be left alone with the class textbook.