Monday, 22 September 2008

Broughton Knox writes about his theology

I'm quoting from the unpublished manuscript by Broughton Knox entitled Robert Banks—a Reply, subtitled The "Apologia Pro Theologica Mea". The explanatory note underneath says it was "Written almost immediately after the publication of Banks' chapter in God who is Rich in Mercy, 27.2. 1990—not looked at since". It is a response to Banks' assessment of Broughton's theology in this book.

From page 4:

I hate having to justify myself but I am told I have an obligation to so as no one else is in a position to.

Robert Banks begins his criticism with the statement, "DBK seems to have developed his theological method too independently of the wider world of theological discussion".

Because he has had the slenderest personal contacts with me he has perforce to base this comment on my theological writings. He bases his comment on the fact that I am not constantly citing and footnoting references to contemporary scholars; but to assume that consequently I am unacquainted with modern theological scholarship is non sequitur, it doesn't follow logically. It is a question of what I am aiming to achieve, to accomplish by my theological writings.

By God's providence, from early youth, I have had very great opportunities of personal relationship and theological cross-fertilisation with scholars in the universities of England, Scotland, and America, and by their visits to Australia. And, of course, I have had access to the great libraries of England; the Bodley, Oxford, Cambridge, London, and the British Library, as well as the growing libraries of Tyndale House, Cambridge, and of Moore College, Sydney. I do not believe that I am unacquainted with the writings of modern scholarship.

If I do not normally constantly refer to them in the pages of what I write, it is due to my understanding of how theology should be written, or what the objective is. The objective is to make clear some aspect of "the whole counsel of God", and to then see how it applies to our life.

True theology is an explanation of God's revelation. Therefore there should be constant references to holy Scripture to assure the reader that what is being said is well grounded; but there is only need for an occasional reference to a writer in the last half-generation.

Most of Christian theology has been done in the past. A theologian should be very well acquainted with the pivotal thinkers of the past and of the present (of which there are one or two). Their thought will enter into his own thinking but, unless he is writing a history of theology, they will not be referred to by name.

A reason—and a most important one—that modern theological writers are not of much help—except to provide an interesting stimulus here and there, is that the presuppositions of their theological writings are so different from classical Christian theology that it makes much of their conclusions of little value. True theology must be based on, to quote our Lord, "What God has spoken to you". This is the Scripture as we have it in our hands. What God has spoken to us must of course be true, infallible and inerrant. Any other concept is unthinkable. Yet the members of the wider theological reading to which Banks believes I should be constantly referring reject this view of Scripture, which was the view of Jesus and his apostles and of all the theologians up to a generation or so ago. The "modern theological academy"


has such a fundamentally different presupposition on which their theological thinking is based that an eclection that chooses this or that among their conclusions to include in the theological whole is likely to weaken rather than strengthen the result. This does not mean that a theologian should be unacquainted with modern writings, but it is more important to be acquainted with the older writings. My object and consequently style of writing does not quote either older or modern writers. But I am not criticised for not quoting the ancients, but only the moderns, and the deduction is drawn that I'm unaquainted with these latter!


adam said...

"A theologian should be very well acquainted with the pivotal thinkers of the past and of the present (of which there are one or two)."

One or two! ha!

The Pook said...

I haven't looked at it for about that long either. I can't even remember what the issues were that BK and RB were in dispute over. Was it something to do with the nature of the Church? Wonder where my copy of it is...

Rhys said...

Hi Gordo,

Thanks for sharing this. Classic DBK - provocative and at the same time, pointing us in the right direction. 'True theology is an explanation of God's revelation' - amen!

DBK's self-defence actually interests me because of a conversation I had with a doctrine lecturer at college earlier this year. He has spoken of his great admiration for DBK and his lecture style that usually referred only to Scripture but was well informed by the important secondary sources. (Btw, this lecturer said he was reading Barth in the library and came across DBK's scribbles in the margins - he clearly had read and understood him!).
So I asked the lecturer, 'Why don't you lecture in this way? You have lots of references to historical theology'. (I asked for explanation not to accuse - he is an excellent lecturer). He replied that he wanted us to be informed so that we would be prepared to answer the challenges of false teaching, amongst other reasons.
What do you think?

David McKay said...

In somewhat similar vein, C S Lewis said it is more important to read the old books than the new ones.

Gordon Cheng said...

Rhys, my personal preference (and Broughton's argument expresses why) is for teaching theology by going to the only legitimate source of theology, which is Scripture. I suppose there is an argument that would say that doctors learn about disease by looking at disease, but it is not an argument that Scripture advances with regard to theology. And spend too much time with diseased bodies, and you risk catching the infection.

The only theologian I remember Broughton mentioning more than a couple of times was Robert L. Dabney. He had no time at all for Barth, and I don't feel our education was particularly damaged by the absence of Barth from Broughton's lectures.

I suppose if you are doing academic theology as a job, you have an obligation to familiarize yourself with the thought of a range of theologians, and Broughton clearly did this. For the regular preacher, though, there's no reason to go beyond the Bible; and if you do then the older is better. Calvin and Luther, Athanasius and Augustine, no need to get too carried away. Certainly not Barth.