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Nicene Theology and Patristic Exegesis Go Together

I never thought I’d live long enough to read this statement:

I realized that if classical theism was to be retrieved, it was necessary to defend the superiority of patristic exegesis, a project I undertook in Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (2018). By the time I published my original project on the doctrine of God, Contemplating God with the Great Tradition (2021), I ­realized that a third volume would be needed, one that dealt with metaphysics. This work, ­Doing Metaphysics with the Great Tradition, is underway. The goal of this trilogy is to recover the exegetical, theological, and metaphysical resources that are necessary for practicing sound theology in and beyond modernity.

I’ve made my own contributions (or at least tried) to this debate, specifically My Lord and My God: A Layman Looks at the Deity of Christ and the Nature of the Godhead. Although my objective was to get past some of the limitations which Greek philosophy has (specifically regarding subordinationism) the idea was to set forth a God-honouring model which would expand on the use of Greek philosophy, not repudiate it altogether.

Unfortunately it’s true that large swaths of Christianity–including most Evangelical and Pentecostal churches–have jettisoned the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as authoritative statements of faith, and the philosophical and logical underpinnings that go with them. The result of this has seeped even into parts of Christianity where these creeds are supposed to be normative, with sorry results, which I discuss in my piece Why Sydney Anglican Subordinationism is Lame.

But it takes a really bold person to call for the revival of Patristic Biblical exegesis. I agree that truly Nicene Christianity depends upon it, but the rest of Christianity has gone in one of two directions:

  • Uncritical (or semi-critical) acceptance of the German techniques developed in the nineteenth century, which led in part to the corrosion of the faith in places like Episcopal seminaries; or
  • Hyper-literalism, where the Old Testament and the New are set on the same level as each other, and no serious attempt is made to put the understanding Bible into any kind of reasonable order. This has resulted in an exegetical mess with things like synthetic Judaism and the running problems we have with the theodicy issue.

It’s going to be an uphill battle to unseat both of these creatures from their thrones, but if we don’t do it, we’re going to end up in a bigger mess than we have now. I’m not one to say that we should re-adopt the Patristic method without some thoughtful consideration, but given the alternatives we need to do something, and soon.


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