December 09, 2007

Donald Bloesch, A Theology of Word and Spirit

A Theology of Word and Spirit is the first volume in Bloesch's Christian Foundations series, a seven-volume systematic theology. In it he outlines the methodology behind his theology, looking at a umber of important issues in the way theology is done.

Bloesch takes on some very important theological issues in this opening volume of his series, such as the role of rationality and the mind in faith and the place of natural theology. His discussions are much too comprehensive to simply summarize here, but we can at least illumine a few of his main themes. One of the most important is his understanding of the role of the mind in faith, what he calls "fedeistic revelationalism," a position that intentionally stands between "fedeism" (faith is an act of the will apart from rational thought, or in fact an irrational decision) and "rationalism" (faith is a reasoned decision based on the evidence). For Bloesch, both of these positions preserve important facets of how we believe, but also distort the truth of the gospel. Bloesch emphasizes that faith is a response to God's revelation, not simply a summing up of the evidence, nor a decision that is made completely without warrant. God's Spirit plays a key role in this whole process. This points to another important theme in Bloesch's theology, that it is a theology "of Word and Spirit." He is committed to a theology that is anchored to God's Word, Jesus Christ, revealed in Scripture, and always gives full credit to the moving of God's Spirit, who illumines God's words and guides God's people. This makes for a theology that is Christ-centered, Scripture-based, and always sensitive to God's Spirit.

Bloesch is a "mediating theologian," an evangelical that finds himself in between the progressive theology of liberalism and the conservatism of much evangelical theology. In his irenic theology, he dialogues with both, but points out extremes and misunderstandings in both systems of theologizing. His theology shows much evidence of the stamp of Karl Barth, and in many ways it is an "evangelical" morphing of Barth's theology, especially as it is an outworking of Barth's threefold doctrine of the Word of God. In many ways, I think this is a profound strength, in carrying out a profoundly evangelical theology that is based on God and his revelation found in his Word, instead of based primarily on a rationalistic doctrine of Scripture. Bloesch can uphold the importance of Scripture as a locus of God's revelation and the norm for theology without flirting with bibliolotry. How successful he is will have to be decided after a more careful look at the second volume of his Christian Foundations on Holy Scripture.

Over all, Bloesch's A Theology of Word and Spirit is a very worth-while exercise in theology. It gives evidence of a lifetime of prayerful reflection on these things, and is truly a mature theology that is aware of the great thinkers of theology through the centuries.