Or fourteenth. Or twentieth.
Some people, when they hear talk of new theology or new work in theology, start talking as if their own theology is the original, Biblical theology and all new work in theology is illegitimate. But no matter what brand of Christian theology you hold to, it’s been through many revisions. Since the earliest centuries Christians have worked, tweaked, revised, changed their theologies as their understanding of God and the Scriptures developed. For example, Calvin (16th century) used and modified Anselm’s ideas (11th century). Anselm had used and changed Augustine’s theology (5th century). Augustine was deeply influenced by many Greek philosophers (400 BC ff) and the theology of the Council of Nicea (325 AD). Of course there were hundreds of other philosophers and theologians influencing Calvin and the Reformers, not just the ones mentioned. This is the way Christian doctrine has developed over 20 centuries. In fact, Christian theology has also been influenced by Muslim and Jewish theologians across the Middle Ages (Averroes, Avicenna, Maimonides, etc). If this last fact bothers you, remember that Paul said people figure out things about God even aside from the Revelation in Jesus (Romans 1: 18ff).
No, no, some people insist, but I just hold to the Biblical theology – you know, what they believed in Jesus’ day. Really? Within Second Temple Judaism of Jesus’ day, which theology do you mean? The Zealots’ theology, or the Saduccees’? The theology Rabbi Gamaliel held, Hillel or Shammai? The separatist theology of Qumran or the Hellenized theology of Pharisees like Paul, who quoted Greek poets and philosophers? It’s clear that most New Testament Jewish theologies had been majorly influenced by Greek thought, and before that Jewish theology picked up many ideas from the Persians. The same thing was going on in New Testament times. A variety of theologies abounded, and they had been modified and revised as time went on.
So when Christians continue the on-going work of theology (“words about God”), we are simply doing what Christians, Jews and Muslims have done for our entire history. Theology didn’t start or end with Calvin or whoever your favorite might be. What people think of as “I hold to a simple biblical theology” is really the culmination of thousands of years of tweaking, revising and modifying. It isn’t going to end this side of the Age to Come. It’s ok. We are still learning, stretching, growing, being taught by God’s Spirit who makes the written words come alive in us.
Next time: what it’s like to be on your way to a new theology