Yes, this is the real thing. Really.
And it can be yours for a mere $50.
Last time we highlighted one problem with Resolution through Rational Reinterpretation – often, only a metaphysician could love the new-fangled (but precise and seemingly consistent) version of the Doctrine in question. A second concern is that many believers think this “new version of” the Doctrine just ain’t that doctrine at all, but a knock-off – something similar, but different, and moreover, not genuine.
Consider these pronouncements of the First Vatican Council of 1869-70:
…that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.
May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding
4. On faith and reason … 3. If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.**break* (emphases added, source)
Note that it doesn’t say the new way of understanding, e.g. the Trinity, must be incompatible with the old way. Rather, it is bad enough that it is different! And these rational reconstructions basically always are, being more precise than what certain 2nd, 4th, 5th, 13th, 16th (etc.) century bishops or other theologians had in mind. Further, attempts to show that certain historical theologians or councils really meant this new-fangled thing are generally unconvincing. (e.g. Swinburne’s and Wierenga’s attempts to square their social trinitarianism with the Constantinopolitan and “Athanasian” creeds, or Peter Geach’s attribution of relative identity trinitarianism to Thomas Aquinas)
That is one problem that some conservative believers and theologians have with Rational Reinterpretation – the mere newness of it. If you think the actual and entire (understandable) content of the doctrine was revealed at some past time, then there’s little positive theoretical work for clever folks nowadays to do. This sort of attitude recalls medieval Muslim terminology for heretics – they call them “Innovators”.
But many Christian thinkers seem to take a view that God led the Church into the correct language, and sort of in the right direction conceptually, so that things might indeed be sorted out and made more precise later (although probably not by some smarty-pants American Christian philosophy professor – surely an august council of bishops would be called into action – or at least a long-winded German theologian).
But others aren’t so extreme – they admit the possibility of theological progress in these latter days. They rather object that the Rational Reconstruction is in fact unorthodox. Keep in mind that all such aim to be orthodox and advertise themselves as such (or at least, as not obviously unorthodox). But many object that the new-fangled version of the doctrine in fact falls into some historical heresy – modalism, trithesm, monophysitism, etc. Or one may argue that the Reconstruction in fact leaves out part of what the Bible teaches. For example, in this worthy book, theologian James Anderson repeatedly uses this hammer on a raft of recent attempts at Rational Reinterpretation.
Finally, some object that the Rational Reconstruction wrongheadedly “removes the mystery”. This, I take it, is an objection given by people devoted, more or less, to a kind of Resistance, which I’ll discuss a few posts from now.
But there’s an interesting little dance that people often do when offering a Rational Reconstruction – they say that they don’t intend to “remove the mystery” from it – or at least all of it. This is partly an admission that there are still serious difficulties left, even if their new theory is on track. But they also often hint or outright say that they don’t believe their own Rational Reconstruction at all, or at least, they don’t consider it to be the only or the obviously best way to understand that doctrine?
Which raises the subject of my next post:
Why care about Rational Reconstructions? (What are these guys doing, if not offering something we Christian ought to believe?)