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The Spirit of Meekness and the Theological Task
Left to oneself, one could easily slide away from 'the faith once given' into a phantom called 'my religion.' ~C.S. Lewis1
Operating in a spirit of humility requires eschewing novelty in our theological method. It means listening attentively to the voices of our fathers and brothers who have gone before us and upon whose broad shoulders we stand. That we can see at all is because of their collective wisdom. They bear the weight that we might reap the benefits. If we can see anything in the distance to which they were not privy, it is simply because they are always there undergirding us. It would be high folly to look down upon one of those giants beneath our feet and imagine that we had hoisted ourselves to such heights through our own intellectual industriousness. Though we stand on their shoulders they are in no way beneath us.
Christian Dogmatics doesn't have objectivity as its ultimate goal, but rather obedience. Dogmatics isn't so much about searching for truth as it is about submitting to it. Sound theology must have both tables of the law as its rudder. That is, it should be guided by faithfulness to our Father and fidelity to our fathers. The First Commandment charts the course and sets the boundaries, while the Fifth Commandment plans the journey and provides us with companions suitable to help us reach our glorious destination. The path is creedal orthodoxy. The companions are too numerable and notable to name.
Thus it is not pride that constrains the faithful theologian to remain within the bounds of creedal orthodoxy, it is practical humility. "Me and my Bible" can never truly be a more humble declaration than "we have heard with ears, for our fathers have told us." Those proud pronouns, "me" and "my," are ever at war with their corporate cousins, "we" and "our." And it must be remembered that when "we" fall, we tend to do it one at a time. This usually occurs at those places where we have stray from the well-kept soil where our forbears planted us.
This is the wisdom of multiplied counselors in which there is safety; this is the three-fold cord stretched across the long centuries; often tightened, but never broken. This is the testimony of many witnesses, establishing words ancient yet potent. This is allegiance to a Guiding Providence, in action as well as word. It's wise, safe, honorable, and faithful. Just so, the faithful theologian begins in gratitude as he looks backward at his rich heritage and appropriately generous as he looks forward to the labors of his own hands. All this is to say that dogmatics is many things, but what it isn't is proud.
Orthodoxy, by its very definition, isn't afflicted with the self-aggrandizement of theological innovation. I commend creedal orthodoxy to you because Orthodoxy doesn't commend itself. It lacks the necessary apparatus to facilitate the "autocommendation" which abounds among the intractable individualists. Creedal Orthodoxy doesn't have a tongue. It has ten billion tongues—echoing across time and space—each one saying the same thing, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." ( I John 1:1-4).
C.S. Lewis, “From Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer,” The Essential C.S. Lewis (New York: Touchstone, 1986) 410.