Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
June 16th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Canonical Theism: What is it?

What is Canonical Theism? It…

…is intimately tied to the notion of the canonical heritage of the Church.  The Church possesses not just a canon of books in its bible, but also a canon of doctrine, a canon of saints, a canon of Fathers, a canon of theologians, a canon of liturgy, a canon of bishops, a canon of councils, a canon of ecclesial regulations, a canon of icons, and the like.  In short, the Church possesses a canonical heritage of persons, practices, and materials.  Canonical theism is the theism expressed in and through the canonical heritage of the Church.

Already, with just a bit of molding, you have more substance in that one statement than in the current Theological Task of The United Methodist Church. It is honest, historical, and provides a solid basis for theologizing. As Wesleyans, we are not sola scriptura, but prima scriptura. This is sort of the thought behind the use of Tradition in Outler’s quad. But, canonical theism (CT) goes beyond a single word and defines how we use Tradition — even what it is — in theologizing our current context.

John Wesley canonical theism

John Wesley had a small canon of Church Fathers — the first 5 centuries or so. Likewise, he could parse from Tradition (even Roman) to build his theological case. Protestants usually recognize a few of the Councils. So you see, we already have something like this. Further, by having this system, this helps to expand our theological sources past that of one man but into the sources he used and into sources we all agree on.

I want to encourage the theologians and theological thinkers left in The United Methodist Church to engage with Abraham and to make use of his system. How might this look?

How would you fill out those line items (councils, books, theologians) yourself?

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


3 Responses to “Canonical Theism: What is it?”
  1. Tom McCann says

    Great question(s) Joel. I wish I had a good answer. It will be interesting to see what some of the better-read scholars have on their list.

  2. Randy Myers says

    My own answer: all of it. I do not own the Tradition, the Tradition owns me.

  3. Scott Fritzsche says

    Protestants, like myself, often claim to be concerned with the truth above all else. This is well and good as the truth is a worthy pursuit as proper searching can only lead us toward God. The problem is that we all to often we have removed any sort of boundary from the truth. We have often made the question a higher priority than the answer. We find virtue in asking, but assign no virtue to an answer. We see the question as the highest form of theological reflection. While it is right to question, and even question those things long established, should our answer be different than what has been long established, the evidence of said answer should be so overwhelming that there can be no question that the church tradition has made a mistake.

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