A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Canonical Theism and ministry

For one of my classes (the same class for which I am reading God and History), I am reading a book called Canonical Theism, which is a collection of essays edited by Willaim J. Abraham, Jason E. Vickers, and Natalie B. Van Kirk. The basic premise of the book is that the church has often times excluded certain sources for theology, most primarily the Protestant church which has the tendency to elevate Scripture as the normative and sole basis for theology and worship. The book starts off with thirty Theses about Canonical Theism (Theses on Canonical Theism), the address a variety of issues such as the different forms of theism (classical, open, pantheism etc.), concerns for sources of theology, and epistemological concerns.

Paul Gravrilyk outlines eight different canonical sources for theology (coming from pages 27-28):

1) Canons of faith – Confessional statements and creeds

2) Canons of Scripture – Lists of scared writings

3) Canons of liturgy – Guidelines for conducting worship service

4) Canons of bishops – Approved lists of episcopal authority

5) Canons of saints – Lists of the saints venerated locally or universally

6) Canons of fathers and doctors – List of authoritative theologians

7) Canons of councils – Disciplinary and doctrinal guidelines imposed by the councils

8) Canons of iconography and architecture – General rules regulating the depiction of God and saints; rules of church architecture

These eight canonical sources are not necessarily taken as a closed canon for Canonical Theism, nor are they required for everything tradition. Rather, the same Holy Spirit speaks and heals through all these different resources, as well as speaks through other resources not mentioned.

So far, a third of the way in, it has been refreshing to see other potential sources of theology that may have been neglected. For instance, the role of liturgy to the formation of theology. The sad reality is that in our churches, while there may be the basic portions of other forms of theological teaching (such as the traditiona United Methodist worship service recites the Apostle’s Creed), Protestant churches rely upon either Scripture or experience as the primarily theological teaching tool. Perhaps the Church could better communicate its core theology to the average church member, thus erradicating folk theology, if we made better use of the different canons for theology.

As Jason Vickers writes:

In our judgment, the tendency, where prevalent, to over-emphasize the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in particular ecclesial canons or gifts has led to the spiritual impoverishment of the church by divesting it of the fullness of the generosity and creativity that characterizes the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. For example, in traditions that ignore or even reject the power of images, visually oriented persons are robbed of any deep awareness of or sensitivity to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in and through images. Similarly, in traditions that ignore or reject the canon of saints, persons who learn best from observing examples set by other persons are robbed of any deep awareness of or sensitivity to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in and through the saints. Further, in “anti-liturgical” or “low-church” traditions, persons who are oriented naturally to symbolism are left uninformed of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in images, in hymns, and in the sacraments. (p. 14)

At its core then, it is not merely trying be ecumenical (as if merely trying to endorse Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy), but rather it is more focused upon the ability to teach to those who are more geared in another fashion in learning. There is a bit of overlap between the different sources, in order to make sure a church with all the sources is geared towards communicating to the widest possible group.

But, as Gavrilyuk warns about liturgy and applies to the usage of the Church’s use of canonical sources, “The third and final way to disrupt the harmony of the liturgy is by orchestrating liturgical revolutions in the name of returning to the ancient sources. Repetition is at the very core of liturgical action. It is healthier for liturgical life to develop by gradual evolution, not revolution.” Likewise, in our usages of the canons in churches, it would be advisable not to force it upon a church, but to encourage it and get rid of the road blocks, and let the congregations move towards that direction through the realization of the canonical sources value. And in the end, congregations can see God speaking even today, for instance through modern day saints or through modern formulation of liturgies or through recent theologians.

The one shock to the system of many churches though is that Scripture loses its normative role, inerrancy becomes secondary, and that theology requires the progressive discernment and working together of the canonical sources. Certainly not a task easily fittable in the immediate gratification. But the unintentional byproduct of canonical theism may be that patience becomes a virtue in a church society that, like the rest of society, tends to demands answers now. Or the necessity of patience may in fact push away canonical theism.


October 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment