Dr. Philip Ziegler – Response to "Intro and Conclusions"

Kent has kindly invited me to comment briefly on the ‘traffic’ on your blog this month, and I’m glad to doziegler.jpg so. What I have to offer are mostly questions, questions you may find of interest and/or bizarre:

  1. When the subject of theological inquiry is atonement, or salvation more broadly, it is right and proper that emphasis falls upon ‘the saving power of God’. This emphasis is reflected in a good deal of the discussion so far, coming to expression in particular ways in the concern that atonement theories be rhetorically effective, contextually apt, and bear down upon actual ministry situations. Would there be any merit, however, in contemplating what else might come to the fore is the emphasis was shifted from the ‘the saving power of God’ to ‘the saving power of God’? What might follow from recalling forcefully that talk of atonement, along whatever lines, is first and foremost always talk about God, and that such talk must seek to do justice to God, and only then to do justice to our varied ‘contexts’? Might one not worry that too much attention to questions of rhetorical effectiveness, cultural correction, ministerial utility etc. move in far too pragmatic a register, unless themselves set firmly in the context of struggling to let the God of the gospel himself come to speech?
  2. What makes a theory of atonement a theory and what do we take theories to be good for exactly. Are theories rhetorical tools by which we give summary and concise expression to the rather unruly biblical witness itself? Are they analytical descriptions of how various strands of the Scriptural witness to God’s saving acts ‘hang together’ or ‘work’? Do they re-state the content of the biblical witness, or only lay out its working form or logic? Do they aim to explain what is really going on in a cluster or corner of the Scriptures? And to whom are such theories useful—are they for use chiefly ‘in house’, i.e., within the Christian community (and even then, by whom and to what end?), or are they produced for ‘outside consumption’, i.e., are they themselves a piece of proclamation/witness? It seems to me our working answers to such questions will likely be the driving motors of contesting assessments of whether model X or Y is to be preferred or criticised, advanced or left off.
  3. Is theology theory?
  4. Is it enough for a properly evangelical account of atonement merely to safeguard ‘divine initiative’ (criterion #5), rather than, say, God’s sole saving agency?



3 thoughts on “Dr. Philip Ziegler – Response to "Intro and Conclusions"

  1. Thanks for your questions Dr. Ziegler. Here are a couple preliminary thoughts.

    1 – One of the most amazing things in discussing the atonement is finding what it tells us about God, and perhaps not as much about ourselves. The shape of God’s character comes into remarkable relief when seen through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. This is why, many years ago, I was (and still am) so drawn to the suffering God movement. In such contexts, we find a truly unique God who I believe gets us closer to understanding who God really is.

    2 & 3 – I was taught as a lad that any “theory” is a proposition or series of propositions that are based on certain finite observations. These conclusions are unverifiable. Thus, evolution and creationism are both theories. When someone invents a time machine (which is impossible) and observes humanity’s genesis, one of these can shift from theory to fact.

    Since then I have grown to be very skeptical about both verificationism as a model and the modernist notions of certainty that undergird such a model. However, to some degree, it seems that such a working definition of theory sheds light on theology as theory…with a bonus.
    I would add that theories we adopt shape the way we live. If I believe in creationism, I will thank God when I see a beautiful sunset. If I believe in thorough-going naturalism, I will marvel at the persistence of life. Similarly, any theory in theology that we adopt affects the way we live.
    I’m not sure at what point we can move past the label ‘theory’ for anything in theology. Is there another label that is preferable?

    It seems that the questions regarding whether theories restate Scripture or attempt to find the logic in a series of passages point to the age-old question of the tension between Systematic and Biblical Theologies. In that manner, we are all likely to go where we always do. As a fan of Constructive Theology, I look for the over-arching, guiding form that can function as a hermeneutical device, specifically a hermeneutic of the Peacable Kingdom. I’m also inclined to say that those who I disagree with most theologically probably operate under the same model, because we typically are forced to ignore or reinterpret certain parts of Scripture to work with the hermeneutic we have chosen. Thus, those who adopt an approach to theology that restates Scripture may be closer to an appropriate theological understanding…or maybe not. That’s why we call them ‘theories.’

    I have rambled enough. I appreciate your questions and the deeply foundational impact they have on all theology. This is why I meandered a bit.


  2. Hello Dr. Ziegler,

    Thanks indeed for you comments and questions, I think they get toward the entire reason we are engaging in this online discussion in the first place.

    I am considering questions one and two together as I give my first responce. At its best, I believe that a theory of the atonement would be an attempt to better understand who this God is that saves, and more importantly, HOW it is that this particular God goes about saving his creation. As we encounter the scriptures, we are faced with the challenge of engaging this world in a way that, as much as possible, mirrors the way our God engages this world. We have the scriptures themselves to reveal that to us, and also their wittness to the incarnation, our ultimate example, Jesus Christ. As we grasp how it is that God goes about saving, then we are able to consider how we should also go about extending his saving power to the world around us. So, the question of too much pragmatism I think is a function of order. That is, if we come first with a desire for pragmatism, then we miss the mark. However, if we come first with a desire to better understand how it is that our God reveals himself in his saving act, then we are immediately given answers to pragmatic questions about how we extent his body the Church to the world.

    thanks again for your questions,

  3. Pingback: Views of the Atonement « Signposts 02

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