Nature and Concept of Theology. By John Theodore Mueller (public domain)
(De Natura et Constitutione Theologiae.) Introduction to Sacred Theology. (Prolegomena.)
1. The Scriptural Viewpoint of the Christian Theologian
Owing to the diverse views and tendencies prevailing among theologians today, it is necessary for the Christian theologian, before presenting to his readers his dogmatic treatise, to declare in clear and unmistakable terms from which viewpoint it has been written. The viewpoint of the present day modernistic theologian is that truth must be determined by human reason in the light of scientific research. The theological Liberalist therefore does not recognize Holy Scripture as the source and norm of faith, but holds that this ancient standard of Christian doctrine has been superseded by the standards of reason and philosophy which he himself has established. Prom this viewpoint his dogmatic treatise is written, and since this viewpoint is anti-Scriptural and unchristian, it follows that his whole theology is rationalistic, naturalistic, and diametrically opposed to the Word of God. The viewpoint of the Roman Catholic theologian is that truth must be determined by both Holy Scripture and the “infallible” traditions of the Church as these are formally set forth in the papal decretals and decisions. Thus he accepts as a source and norm of faith, in addition to Holy Scripture, something that is foreign and even opposed to Holy Scripture and ascribes to it the same authority as to the Word of God. This erroneous viewpoint proves the antichristian character of papistical theology; for it, too, is in direct opposition to Holy Scripture.
The viewpoint of the modern rationalizing Protestant theologian is that, while Holy Scripture is indeed a “divine-human record of revealed truths/* which contains the doctrines that Christians must believe for their salvation, these saving truths must be determined, not by any authoritative statement of the Scriptures, but rather by the Christian “faith-consciousness” or the “regenerate and sanctified mind” or the “Christian experience” of the theologian. In his opinion not the objective statement of Holy Scripture, but rather the “sanctified self- consciousness of the dogmatizing subject” is in the last analysis the norm which decides what is divine truth and what is not. Modern rationalistic theology is therefore a movement away from Holy Scripture to a source and norm of faith established by man himself. This movement may differ in degree, but is always the same in kind. It is basically anti-Scriptural and has its source in the unbelief of the corrupt flesh. The viewpoint of the modern rationalistic theologian must therefore likewise be rejected as unchristian and opposed to Holy Scripture.
The viewpoint from which the present dogmatic treatise is written is that Holy Scripture is the only source and norm of Christian faith and life, for the simple reason that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, which is absolutely infallible and inerrant, both as a whole and in each individual passage. Hence, whenever it speaks on any point of doctrine or life, the matter is fully decided. Scriptura locuta, res dedsa est. This viewpoint identifies Holy Scripture with the Word of God; its claim is, not merely that the Bible contains the Word of God, but that it is, fully and absolutely, in all its parts, the Word of God. The fact that this viewpoint is the only correct one is proved by the statements and the attitude of both Christ and His inspired apostles. Our divine Savior accepted no other norm than Holy Scripture, and He invariably rejected the traditions of the Pharisees and the “reasonings” of the Sadducees. When He declared His divine doctrines and refuted errors, He constantly based His teachings on the immovable foundation of the written Word of God. Thus at the beginning of His ministry He met the temptations of Satan with the emphatic assertion “It is written,” Matt. 4, 4, and He adhered to this principle throughout His ministry. Cp. John 5,39; Matt. 5, 17— 19 ; John 8,31.32; etc. Also the apostles regarded Holy Scripture, including their own inspired teachings, both oral and written, as the sole source and norm of faith. Cf. Gal. 1,8; 2 Tim. 3, 15— 17; Titus 1,9; 1 Cor. 14, 37; 2 Pet. 1, 19—21; etc.
When in the age of the reformation the Bible was restored to its rightful place as the sole authority of the Christian faith, Luther once more proclaimed it to be “the fountain of all wisdom.” (St. Louis Ed., I, 1289 ff.) The great Eeformer declared: “You must believe that God Himself speaks in the Bible, and your attitude must be in accordance with that belief.” (Ill, 21.) Those who, like the scholastic theologians, deviated from the Word of God and based their views and doctrines on the ground of reason or philosophy, were branded “monsters” (portenta) by Luther. The claim of modern rationalistic theologians that Luther’s attitude with regard to the authority of Holy Scripture was “rather free” is disproved by his own clear and emphatic statements to the contrary. And like Luther all true Christian theologians have at all times maintained that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and there- fore the only source and norm of Christian faith, — a truth which they stoutly upheld against all gainsayers.
Modern rationalistic theologians declare that they cannot identify Holy Scripture with the Word of God or accept it as the sole norm of faith. They aver that their sense of actuality does not permit them to do so, but instead demands another norm outside and beyond Holy Scripture, for example, their “Christian consciousness,” their “Christian experience,” and the like. In reality, however, this claim only goes to prove how gravely they are deceiving themselves ; for the knowledge of divine truth can be gained only from the Word of God, The Christian faith therefore can be based solely upon God’s Word. Our divine Lord states emphatically that we shall know the truth only if we continue in His Word as proclaimed by Himself and by His inspired prophets and apostles, John 8, 31. 32; 17,20; Eph. 2,20. How truly Christ has spoken the history of the Christian Church amply shows; for all theologians who at any time have rejected Holy Scripture as the sole norm of faith have invariably denied the specific Christian doctrines, such as the vicarious atonement of Christ, justification by grace through faith, etc. (Cf. Dr. P. Pieper, Christliche Dogmatik, Vol.1, 4 ff. ) Thus Hoftnann, the father of modern subjective theology, denied Christ’s vicarious satisfaction and taught the pagan theology of salvation without the redemptive work of Christ. It is, moreover, proved by the confusion of doctrine, which has resulted whenever the principle that Holy Scripture is the sole authority in religion has been either ignored or surrendered. This confusion in doctrine prevails whenever norms different from Holy Scripture are accepted as the basis of Christian doctrine; for subjective theology can never supply the Christian Church with a true and certain basis of faith. Without Holy Scripture as the sole source and standard of faith the Church is without any foundation whatsoever on which it can rest its faith; it finds itself in a maelstrom of conflicting subjective views, all of which are fatal to the Christian faith.