Helm Responds to Vanhoozer

Article by   July 2006

I thank Kevin for his kind personal references, and for his lengthy response to my piece. But it doesn't get to the point, does it?

Of course Kevin is not to be tarred with the brushes of Franke, Grenz and Murphy. Each has his or her own theological picture to paint. Nevertheless they and Kevin , and also David Clark and John Frame, perhaps - I haven't read them - are all members of the class of 'Hodge-distorters', and on the matter of Hodge's theological method they paint very similar pictures. What may motivate someone to read Hodge in such a distorted way doesn't come into it. What is relevant is that the industry of Hodge-distortion has the tendency to encourage Christian pastors, preachers and theologians to add their copies of Hodge's Systematic Theology to the pile of items ready for the yard sale. A bad thing, in my view.

Kevin quotes David Clark, but judged by those quotations Clark misses the point too. Hodge is not striving to endorse a 'mythical ideal'. Are the elimination of poverty, or disease or war 'mythical ideals'? They are certainly ideals that are unattainable. Ought that to prevent us from trying to be as healthy and just as we can be? Perfect objectivity, like perfect health and perfect peace, is not attainable. Ought we not nevertheless to try to be objective? Is such an attempt 'acultural'? The question answers itself.

And - a further distortion - wherever does Hodge say that the Bible is a set of theological statements? Hodge's contention, which as far as I can see Kevin continues to miss, is that Christians profess to serve the God who is truth, the God who knows things exactly as they are. They confess that he graciously reveals a part of his ways to us clearly in Scripture. Ought one not therefore to be as objective as can be in one's use of Scripture in developing a systematic theology? For Hodge that's a basic part of Christian 'culture', to use Kevin's word; Christian 'discipleship', as it used to be.

The issue has not (here) to do with the orientation of one's heart, but (if we follow Hodge), with cultivating the intellectual discipline of continuously seeking to rid oneself of those distortions borne into one's mind by the culture as well as those already present due to one's innate sinfulness Such distortions include the bringing of unwarranted speculations into our systematic theology, for example, by constructing theology dogmatically and not by reference to the text, or by relying on what Hodge calls the 'mystical method'. In Hodge's view, to the extent that one rids oneself of these distortions, one is not doing theology passively from the 'bottom up'. One is actively disciplining oneself to hear God speak clearly from above.

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