Here is T. F. Torrance on ‘Dogmatic theology’, and how it was conceived in the first place (he gives two points, I am only going to provide his first point in the quote below):

When Reformed theologians at the end of the sixteenth century first developed positive theology as a dogmatic science  (it was they who coined the term ‘dogmatics’) they rejected two primary principles in Roman theology. (i) They rejected the idea that the criterion of truth is lodged in the subject of the knower or interpreter. In all interpretation of the scriptures, for example, we are thrown back upon the truth of the word of God, which we must allow to declare itself to us as it calls in question all our preconceptions or vaunted authorities. The Reformed theologians had to fight for this on a double front: against the humanist thinkers who held the autonomous reason of the individual to be the measure of all things, and against the Roman theologians who claimed that the Roman church (the collective subject) was the supreme judge of all truth. What Reformed theology did was to transfer the centre of authority from the subject of the interpreter (the individual or Rome) to the truth itself. . . . (T. F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 257)

So here, Torrance is highlighting a very fundamental truth, which even today provides critique of what we call “Reformed theology,” and that is the centrality of Christ as both the object and subject of theology. You will notice that Torrance speaks of scripture as the objective canon through which we are thrown back upon the word of God; in other words, I think he could be alluding to folks like Calvin, and his understanding of scripture as the spectacles by which we encounter the living Word, Christ. He is countering any kind of theological engagement that might place ‘me’ at the center, me and my speculation, that is; and offering an objective framework of theology that radiates outward from Christ the center. Christ alone should set the parameters and logic of ‘talk’ about Him, we fall into danger when we develop traditions and confessions that start with questions that ‘we struggle’ with; instead of allowing Christ to determine such platitudes.

As Torrance is underscoring, we can only have positive theology when we approach Christ, through Christ, by the Spirit. It is only when we sit under Christ, and not over, that we can ever be said to be ‘doing theology’. Someone may ask, and rightly so, how is it possible to do such theology, how can I get out of the way? Indeed, this is the problem, but it is all about the Incarnation, and the vicarious humanity of Christ, that we must start with. We must start there, and not ‘out here’; we must not engage in Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (‘I think therefore I am) style of theology, where man’s rationality is center-stage. This is a problem for much of Christian theology, and in fact, it could be questioned, if we do not start with Christ as the object and subject of theology, if we are even doing Christian theology at all?

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