Volume 5 - Issue 3


By Robert Norris

The recent theological convulsions within the Roman Catholic Church, with Hans Kung and E. Schillebeeckx, have brought theology into the focus of many people. The popular and academic response has on the whole been highly critical of the action of the Catholic Church in the matter. Without raising questions as to the appropriateness of the disciplinary procedures, we must face the fact that a general attitude is being displayed. This attitude has in the past concentrated its attention on evangelical claims in theology (and no doubt will do so in the future).

This attitude believes itself to be characterized by an openness to the truth. Those who defend any position are regarded as doctrinaire and even bigoted. Only ‘openness’ is seen to reflect an authentic Christian response to truth. Yet it needs to be stressed and realized that it is at this point we must challenge such assumptions. For while to be a Christian involves us in the pursuit of truth, we need to recall that we are not searching for a philosophical position but following in the thought patterns of God himself. The ‘truth’ is no longer a speculative abstraction but has been ‘given’ to us.

We are called to accept that God has revealed himself to us in the Scriptures and pre-eminently and exactly in Jesus Christ. And to depart from what is ‘given’ is to depart from the way of intellectual honesty and moral integrity.

Truth has not only to be searched for and stated, it has also to confront error at the point at which error is wrong, or else a blurring of issues and confusion are created. Perhaps it is an intrinsic part of man’s problem that he refuses to accept the absolute normativeness of any ‘given’ and prefers to make his own standards of belief and conduct. We should not imagine that theologians are above such problems, all too often it is the refusal to accept any ‘given’ that produces the most fanciful, and least Christian, positions of faith.

Implicit in the universal condemnation of the Catholic Church is the assumption that absolute standards of truth cannot be obtained in our modern and complex world, with its changing patterns of society and widening horizons of knowledge.

While we may not want to accept the same standards of tradition and Scripture as the Roman Church, we must surely applaud its conviction that there is that which is ‘given’ to man which he must simply receive, over which he can exercise no control, which stands over and against him challenging his morality and ordering the content of his faith. We believe this to be the place of the Scriptures in which God confronts his world in its darkness and faithlessness and offers to them ‘truth’, an authentic knowledge.

To speak of a ‘given’ implies a ‘Giver’. This is the basis of a supernatural religion. And it is at this point that most modern theology rejects evangelical thinking. For where the Giver has spoken and revealed himself, what is required is not discussion but decision and activity. Evangelical theology must be an attempt to make clear the demands of God, in the context of the revelation of his will and purpose for the world and the nature of his character.

While we may take issue with the Roman Catholic Church in its definition of the faith, we may heartily accept that they have raised to public awareness the reality of revealed truth, and have stood in its defence. It must surely be an incentive to evangelicals to discern and articulate their position with a boldness that fears neither confrontation or criticism, but is determined to ‘speak the word of truth in love’.

In this issue of Themelios we have articles on a number of different subjects reflecting the wide range of interest of our readership, and hopefully reflecting some of the needs which have been discerned and attempting to deal with issues that have been raised.

Robert Norris

Robert Norris holds a BA degree from Kings College in London and dual doctorates in history and dogmatics from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He serves as pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland and has taught at Washington DC’s Reformed Theological Seminary, and in seminaries in Ukraine, Malta, Japan, and Sudan. He and his wife, Caren, have five children.