This is the introduction to Clarifying Our Theological Vision, an essay by Gary Deddo, with the introduction from Joseph Tkach. It is being published serially here in Equipper. To read each part, click a link: introduction, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. To read the full essay in one article, click here. For the related essay, Covenant, Law and God's Faithfulness, click here.
Our journey of theological renewal
By Dr. Joseph Tkach
The theme for Equipper in 2017 is GCI’s theological renewal—a continuation of the amazing journey God has led us on for several years. Those of us who have been members since the early 90s (or longer) have lived the journey, which began with the transformation of our doctrines. That transformation began with a new understanding of the nature of the covenant of grace that God, in Christ, has with all humanity, and how that covenant relates to the provisional Law of Moses and to what Scripture refers to as an “old covenant” and a “new covenant” (for an essay from Gary Deddo on the one covenant with multiple aspects, click here).
Recognizing that Jesus fulfilled the covenant on our behalf (as grace and truth personified), gave us a clearer focus both doctrinally and theologically, with the result being the transformation of our Christology (doctrine of Jesus Christ). By God’s grace we came to understand that Jesus is the center and heartbeat of God’s plan for humankind. In our minds and hearts, we became Christ-centered.
This renewal of our Christology led to asking and answering the vital question: Who is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ? The answer led us to embrace a theological vision that we now refer to as incarnational Trinitarian theology. That theology (with “theology” meaning “knowledge of God”) is incarnational in that it is Christ-centered, and Trinitarian in that the God who Jesus reveals to us is a Trinity (one God in three Persons): Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We came to understand that in the fullness of time, God the Father sent his eternal Son into time and space to become human, thus assuming our human nature as the man Jesus Christ. And when Jesus ascended, he raised human nature with him in glory and, with the Father, sent the Holy Spirit to be with us in a new and deeper way. The self-revealing, sending God thus sent us both his Living Word and his Breath.
Our incarnational Trinitarian theology is rooted in Scripture (the New Testament writings in particular) and has been worked out in the writings of lead teachers in the early (patristic) church including the Didache (a 1st century church manual with instructions about baptizing into the one name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and the great Creeds of the church: the Apostles Creed (2nd century), the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (4th century), the Chalcedon Definition/Creed (5th century) and the Athanasian Creed (5th century). Our theology is thus biblical and historically orthodox.
Our understanding of this theology has been greatly aided by the writings of several of the patristic fathers, including Irenaeus, Athanasius and the Cappadocians. We have also found helpful the writings of several 20th-century theologians who, in the providence of God, contributed to a resurgence of interest in this ancient Trinitarian theological vision in many parts of the body of Christ over the past six or seven decades. These theologians include Karl Barth, Thomas F. Torrance, James B. Torrance and Ray S. Anderson—men whose faith and understanding traces back to the Bible and to the early Creeds of the church. Their understanding also aligns with the central concerns of the Protestant Reformation framed largely by Martin Luther and John Calvin, especially on the matter of grace. Within GCI, we have been (and continue to be) greatly aided in our journey of theological reformation by Dr. John McKenna and Dr. Gary Deddo, who both stand in this ancient and orthodox stream of theological renewal. We are blessed to have these two theologians on our Grace Communion Seminary faculty and, as you probably know, Gary serves as President of GCS and as my special assistant.
Over the last decade or so, as we’ve worked out the many details of our incarnational Trinitarian theology, we’ve used terms in varying ways to communicate its core concepts and precepts. At times, our use of a few of these terms was imprecise, leading to minor points of confusion, particularly in matters related to the nature of the church and the Christian life. For that confusion, we apologize, and now we seek to refine our terms and concepts so that there will be consistency and clarity in our communication. Please be assured that these refinements in no way amount to changes in our core theological convictions, nor do they amount to changes in the practices that flow from them. We are simply continuing to build on the solid biblical foundation that has been laid, with Christ being its living cornerstone.
To help in the important task of clarifying and refining our theological vision, a couple of years ago I asked Dr. Deddo, on behalf of GCI and with the cooperation of Grace Communion Seminary, to assemble an Educational Strategy Task Force (for a previous article about the ESTF from Greg Williams, click here). ESTF members are Gary Deddo (chair), Russell Duke, Charles Fleming, Ted Johnston, John McLean, Mike Morrison and Greg Williams. All have advanced degrees in theology or ministry, teach at Grace Communion Seminary and/or Ambassador College of Christian ministry, and hold administrative leadership roles in GCI.
As part of its ongoing work, the ESTF has identified certain problems with the way we currently articulate certain aspects of our theology, and so I’ve asked Dr. Deddo, on behalf of the ESTF, to author an essay titled Clarifying Our Theological Vision. This essay will be published serially here in Equipper in order to help clarify our theological terms, and thus refine certain key concepts in our theological vision. The goal is greater consistency and clarity in our publications and in what we teach in our courses at GCS and ACCM. I also pray that the essay will help sharpen what we teach in our sermons and studies in our congregations.
This article introduces the essay, which will be largely completed prior to our Denominational Conference in Orlando, FL, in August. At the conference, Gary will conduct a seminar summarizing what the essay addresses, augmenting another essay of his, The Church and Its Ministry, being published serially in GCI Weekly Update.
I encourage you to read this essay, then, as you wish, add your comments and/or questions in the “leave a comment” feature at the end of each part. Then bring your comments and questions to the conference, where we’ll have further discussion. To read the first part of Gary’s essay, Clarifying our Theological Vision, click here.
I’m grateful for the journey God has us on and for where we now are. Have we arrived? No, our journey continues, with its ultimate destination being a new heaven and new earth in which there will be found a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-4, 22-23). Thanks for being part of the journey, for your loyalty, patience and willingness to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks also for being a faithful teacher of the glorious gospel of Jesus.