Fields of Separation

“When the Old Testament speaks about ‘instruction’ or the New Testament about ‘the doctrine,’ this includes teaching about both confession and conduct, both theology and ethics. A separation between them is fatal, a distinction unavoidable….”

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), 2

A quote that was often thrown around while I was in grad school is from Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (ESV). What was frequently ignored is the last sentence of the verse, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” This was an attempt to point out the necessity of justice, mercy, and faithfulness as essential to being a disciple of Christ. The unintentional (?) implication of this is that the other doesn’t matter. Right practice is all that matters. Right teaching and right worship are, at best, afterthoughts. This is an overreaction to the emphasis on right teaching and right worship that was typical of much of the twentieth century in Churches of Christ. The attempt to choose conduct (ethics) over confession (theology) or confession over conduct leads to problems for those who are trying to discern what it means to follow Jesus Christ. Theology and ethics should flow into one another. They find their ultimate source in God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In academic circles, this separation doesn’t just occur between theology and ethics. It occurs between different types of theology. New Testament is separated from Old Testament; biblical is separated from systematic; systematic is separated from historical, and so on. This can happen to the extent that those in one field of biblical study have no clue what is going on in another field. This occurs even when the fields should overlap in their discussions.

The danger here is that everything becomes so fragmented that discussion cannot be had across the various fields. There is a loss of a common vocabulary. Tradition for the Church is an ongoing discussion about what it means to be faithful disciples of Christ. It is also the drama of a people called together to live faithfully for God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need to be able to communicate to continue that discussion. We need to be able to live together to live out the drama of this holy calling. We cannot be a witness to God’s glory if we cannot communicate with one another. It seems as though we attempting undo Pentecost so that we can have another Babel.

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