08 June 2017

Convivium 2017: Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

A variety of folks in addition to Fred Sanders presented papers or engaged in roundtable discussions at this year's Covfefe. (Although how Donald Trump knew that was the esoteric name for the Convivium continues to elude us. Perhaps he's preparing a yuge piece on the doctrine of God to present at next year's event.) For my brief summaries of Sanders's lecture on the Trinity go here and here.

Thankfully, Québécois David Haines managed to stick to English while speaking on Natural Theology and Protestant Orthodoxy. In very short, Haines demonstrated that regardless of your stance as a Protestant (biblicist, confessionalist, or historicist), natural theology--that humans can know true things about God apart from special revelation--is a legitimate part of your heritage. Convinced me. In other words, whether based on the virtually undeniable teaching of Scripture itself, the range of Protestant confessions of faith, and the course of church history, natural theology is a quintessentially Protestant doctrine.

Alastair Roberts (blogger extraordinaire here) made several insightful points in his commentary. To be clear, however, what follows is my take on Roberts's remarks and should not be attributed to him tout court.

Evangelicalism's "gender wars" are ostensibly about authority and submission. Who has the elixir of authority, when do they have it, how far does submission go, etc.* But this, according to Roberts, is to misconceive the notion of "authority" in an important way. Authority is not in the first place about who has the God-given right to make a decision when two parties in an authority-submission relationship disagree. Authority is not principally about where the buck stops. Instead, authority represents the shaping, authorial role that the one(s) with the authority have as part-and-parcel of a given relationship.

Roberts's point is easier to see in the parent-child relationship. While a child's misbehavior may occasionally call on parents to exercise their authority in the judicial sense of punishment for a wrong, most of the time a parent's authority is exercised in the daily range of interactions with a child. Sometimes these interactions are explicitly didactic; at others, indeed, most of the time, they are exemplary. And it is the later instantiation of authority that has the far more significant role in shaping the child's life than the relatively rare punishments.

The fiercest critics of typical gender roles would find even this characterization of authority offensive. Yet within Evangelicalism, at least where exegesis and historical theology are taken seriously, a view of authority that is centered on and directed to virtuous practices that only rarely issues in declarative judgment could frame discussions in a less-fraught manner.

* This narrow construal of authority is then read back into the Trinity; hence; social trinitarianism.

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