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Miniblog #130: When Will It Sink in That I Don’t Like Most Specifically Western Theology?

by Carson T. Clark on September 29, 2012

Every few months I begin questioning my espoused dislike of most specifically Western theology. I’ll quietly spend a day or two reflecting on this, doing a little research and prayerfully wondering if what I actually dislike is an erroneous oversimplification of Western thought. Almost inevitably I’ll then happen upon a discussion with a committedly Western Christian–whether Catholic or Protestant–about a topic ranging from sovereignty to atonement, the post-fall human condition to the eternal destiny of those who died apart from faith in Christ. I make a concerted effort to hear them out and to give their perspective a fresh chance. Inevitably they’ll quote Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Calvin, etc. That usually does the trick. My minor existential-intellectual crisis is resolved and my doubt goes dormant. The cycle ambiguously concludes with a cliffhanger as I’m left wondering how many times I must go through said cycle before I accept it as a reality of my life. It’s happened consistently since 2006, so as best I can figure this has happened 28 times thus far. I cannot decide if I’m being principled or weak, intellectually honest or intellectually cowardly. Whatever the case, perhaps 28 will be the magic number.

  • shel

    Go East! (FYI Eastern Orthodox theology ironically saved my pentecostal faith – because it provides language and categories to speak of mystery and the Holy Spirit’s energies that pentecostals cannot get from the west.) mmuuuuhahahaha

  • Stephen

    I think that this might come from the over-emphasis on systematizing theology and language about God that has characterized the Western Church. We in the West are a little too enamoured of having everything in neat, little boxes. Whereas in the East, they’re really big on apophatic theology, which is way more flexible with the positive-definition thing that Prots and Caths are really big on.

    • Carson T. Clark

      I don’t think that’s the whole story, but you’ve certainly nailed an important theme within it.

  • Drew Downs

    Hi Carson,
    If you’ll let me share an experience. My former rector and I were exploring the Jewish roots of Christianity and found ourselves, when push-comes-to-shove articulating a first century conversation about faith, over Augustine’s. Even Paul’s Greekness is subverted by the non-Platonic Hebrew that he most likely was. In the midst of our wonderings, we went to a clergy conference in which Luke Timothy Johnson was speaking about his new book about the essential Greekness of Christianity. I found this revolting from deep within me because I don’t believe that; particularly that Platonic dualism is necessarily so baked into our faith that we can’t separate ourselves from its clutches. I’m thankful that we have a Celtic stream in our faith that itself subverts the Roman.

    • Carson T. Clark


  • Brambonius

    I’d think the Anglican tradition and its offshoots are already the least ‘western’ western church.. Is there nothing to be found in for example John Wesley, George MacDonals, Chesterton or even C.S. Lewis?

    (and no I’m not an Anglican, more like a charismatic postevangelical and wannabe eastern orthodox/anabaptist. yes, quite impossible, I know)

    • Carson T. Clark

      Among the many reasons I’m Anglican. Although, one must be careful not to broad stroke the tradition as a whole. It’s anything but uniform. There are those within it like myself who don’t particular care for unchecked Western thought and there those who are staunch defenders of Western thought.

    • Carson T. Clark

      I’m quite the mutt of Christendom myself. I rarely bust this out ‘cuz it’s helpful (if not detrimental) for most, but I see myself as a moderate evangelical, Eastern Anglican with strong Lutheran influences on church-state matters and strong Anabaptist influences on ethics.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    So, basically you hate awesomeness. 😉

    Any thoughts about Barth?

    • Carson T. Clark

      I respect Barth on a cerebral level, but find his writing style so poor
      as to be virtually unreadable. Obviously that’s a personal opinion. I’ve
      just found there’s a lot of people with excellent thoughts, i.e.
      content, who cannot write with any beauty and a fair number of people
      who can write with beauty, i.e. style, who cannot think worth crap. In
      my estimation, Barth is the former.

    • Derek Rishmawy

      Two points:
      1. I like a lot of Barth’s style. It’s now how I write, but it makes me want to use large, powerful vocabulary.
      2. Realize, we’re reading a translation in English. His German-language editions were widely-noted for the beauty of their composition. That’s probably why they’re difficult for English-language types like us.

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