From a liberal viewpoint, it is impossible to find a unity of the various theological sciences by looking to the unity of divine truth. Liberals reject the evangelical answer – the movement from knowledge of God’s revelation to the practical application of that knowledge. According to Farley, this linear model ignores the fact that theologians work within a historical framework that raises practical concerns: “There is simply no way of conducting theology above the grid of life itself.” It is important, therefore, to disengage the unity of theology from the traditional framework in which theology depends on authoritative texts (and, for some, traditions). Farley’s commitment to a critical stance toward Scripture precludes finding the unity of theological disciplines in the unity of divine revelation. Another author wrote, “Critical method is incompatible with confessional faith insofar as the latter requires us to accept specific conclusions on dogmatic grounds.” The liberal strategy will not follow the way of authority, and the clergy paradigm is bankrupt. So, how are theology’s disciplines integrated?
For Farley, without an authoritative Bible, the unity of theology must reside elsewhere. He placed it in what he called “theologia,” the sapiential and personal knowledge of God. By moving “theologia” beyond orthodoxy, he essentially argued that knowledge of God can arise outside of orthodoxy. The key is this: achieving a unity of theology depends on each person’s experience of developing “theologia.” This spiritual development process does have an intellectual component, but each individual may choose his own theological path to find “theologia.” A person may make use of many different modes of contemporary scholarship in working toward a personal wisdom. So, Farley moved away from traditional commitments and grounded the unity of the theological disciplines in the subjective arena – in the recovery of the individual’s development of a personal knowledge of God.
Evangelical theologians simply cannot accept this solution. Broadly, if not in detail, Farley reverted to Schleiermacher’s approach. He located the unity of theology in human subjectivity and experiences. This leads to theologies that claim Christian allegiance but cannot sustain discernible Christian content over time. Ironically, it will make the unity of theology all the more difficult to achieve because, without theological guidance, experiences are entirely malleable and adaptable. Following the liberal, experiential-expressivist model (Lindbeck’s term) will make unity difficult to retain. But, for evangelical theology, the ontological ground of unity in theology arises out of the One whom we know, not out of us who do the knowing. The self-revelation of this One is our path to unity. So, the question for evangelical theology is this: how can theology that puts “sola scriptura” at the center of its noetic structure, and which finds the unity of theology in the unity of God’s self-revelation, take account of scholarly developments? This is a large question. For now, I will say only that a positive answer would justify Thomas Oden’s assessment: not only is the unity of Christian teaching the unity of its object – the triune God – but the only theological unity worth seeking is the unity that is divinely given.
From: To Know and Love God: Method for Theology by David K. Clark; “Foundations of Evangelical Theology” series (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003), pp. 181-182.
David K. Clark is Professor of Theology at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Lead Pastor at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, Minnesota.