Friday, June 20, 2008

"Nuking" Theology

"Nuking" Theology

A little background first.

When I was in the US Navy in the '80s, there was a shortage of nuclear technicians for the various submarine and surface vessels in the fleet. If you scored high enough on the ASVAB, and were a male, you would be encouraged to join the nuclear program. If you agreed, you would be called a "nuke" and receive faster advancement, more pay etc. "Nukes" had to have a rate besides being a nuclear technician. (A "rate" is like a job in the Navy, a rate would be cook, electronics technician, machinist's mate etc.) One of the rates a nuke could learn was Electronics Technician--my rate when I was in the Navy. So the "nukes" went to the same schools as the regular electronics Technicians (ETs) with a slightly modified curriculum.

Now, the "nukes" had a reputation of over analyzing things to such a degree that they would miss the obvious. Because of their often greater intelligence, they would bring irrelevant facts to bear on simple questions and come up with the wrong answer while "Charles the Simple" would look at the question, realize "b" made the most sense, answer the question and move on to the next question. It was considered great sport to listen to the grandiloquent explanations from the "nuke" as to why his answer--the product of his superior knowledge and intellectual acumen--is really the best answer while "Charles the Simple" was missing key nuances. This was known as "nuking" the question, and the instructor would often tell the "nuke" to keep it simple, and to pay attention to the question and not to over analyze it.

"Nuking" is basically taking our reasoning a step or more too far, and thereby losing sight of the obvious. It is as if someone asked me directions to the Albany Academy and instead of saying "go down New Scotland and make a left at Academy Road" I begin to think that though a left turn is how he should get to the Albany Academy, he is currently facing East so Albany Acedemy is on his right, so I tell him to turn right--he subsequently gets lost.

I think a lot of "nuking" has gone on throughout Church history and I am growong more and more convinced that it is the source for all heresy.

So where do I see writers and theologians "nuking" a question? Chiefly in the Medeival Church.

The Scholastic theology of the West was one giant "nuking" of the Gospel in many ways. There were elaborate theories about how someone could be justified before God. There were those who asserted God accepts an arbitrarily minimum effort on our parts for him to justify us, AKA the "via moderna". The problem is, that God accepting the minimum we can do and justifying us because of that sort of leaves Christ out of the equation. If God chooses to accept a "minimum" why is the Incarnation necessary? Instead of accepting what the Scriptures and tradition say about justification before God, they brought Ciceronian concepts of "justice"--that justice is giving everyone what he or she deserves--and then claimed that God as sovereign simply chooses the minimum we are capable of as payment. What was missed is that God justifies sinners--something inherently contrary to Cicero's definition of justice because sinners don't get what they deserve, Christ gets what they deserve. Their philosophical understanding of "justice" trumped what was right before their eyes. This bit of nuking more or less lead to the Reformation: we are justified by grace through faith, not by what we deserve; i.e because of our works. The reformation overturned the reigning theological paradigm of the day.

I think it is dangerous to the Church when "nukes" are running theology. Just look at what the Arians did!

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