Writing Theology in America Requires Prolegomena - Paul M. van Buren’s “Austin Dogmatics”

Certain theological circles has developed a distaste for prolegomena, comparing it to so much “throat-clearing” that is best circumvented. “Just start right in with talking about God,” some folks are wont to say. There is certainly something to this since prolegomena has been known to take on too much importance. But prolegomena performs an important function nevertheless. In short: prolegomena gives one a chance to identify which God one is talking about. For Christian theology, this means talking about “the God who has a history,” and not some abstract “God” in general.

In the following paragraph, van Buren seems to be something of a prophet insofar as he rightly placed his finger—approx. 55 years ago!—on a trend-line in American culture that has only gotten worse. As usual, bold is mine.

Paul M. van Buren, The Austin Dogmatics: 1957–1958, (Cascade, 2012), 4.
No, here as elsewhere, it matters; it matters desperately to the whole life and work of the church that we know what we are doing and why. It matters that our account of how and why we come to our subject be taken just as seriously as church dogmatics as, for example, the doctrine of Christ. Prolegomena is also part of the dogmatic function of the church. So also today: once grant that the “God” in whom over 90 percent of the American people claim to believe is the same God that the church confesses; once grant that the “Supreme Being” faith in whim identifies an American, according to our president; once grant that this is any way the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, without most serious reservations, and the citadel is surrendered. I call to witness the tragic destruction of the apostate German Christians, as they were called, who gave in right at this point to Hitler and to the cultural religion of Germany, and paid the price. The church in our land is also under subtle attack by a powerful cultural religion, known as the “American Way of Life,” and unless we are clear about what is at stake, then like the church of Sardis (Rev 3:1), we may have the name of being alive, but we are as good as dead.
Go buy a copy and see what else PMvB has to say.



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