Creativity can happen within boundaries. Conservatives and liberals alike have painted an artificial dichotomy between submission to the authority of Scripture and theological creativity. It’s one or the other they say. But such is not necessarily the case. Creativity can happen within the boundaries of an orthodox commitment to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. This can happen as our creative theological works recognizes the normative role that Scripture plays in our theological developments.
Theology is fallible human work. In trying to apply the Word of God to the world we are sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and most often some mixture of the two. As we try to do creative work, then, in our theological developments we must recognize that our theology is not inerrant or infallible, only Scripture bears such attributes. I recognize, of course, that to make claims about the authority, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture is to do theology. I am comfortable with the circularity of this reasoning and have written elsewhere in defense of it. The important point for our discussion here is that we must recognize the supreme place of authority the Scripture holds over our theological work. It is the Bible, no system of thought, that is “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).
It is best to think about theological work as a form of what John Frame calls “servant knowledge.” All our knowledge is subject to God and is given by means of God’s grace. Paul could just as easily have been speaking about epistemology when he asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive” (1 Cor. 4:7). All knowledge, even creative thought, is acquired by means of revelation. God reveals all truth to us. So Frame writes:
God does not need to have anything “revealed” to Him; He knows what He knows simply by virtue of who He is and what He does. He knows, then, at His own initiative. But all of our knowledge is based on revelation. When we know something, it is because God decided to let us know it, either by Scripture or by nature. Our knowledge, then, is initiated by another. Our knowledge is a result of grace. This is another manifestation of the Lordship attribute of “control”. (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 23)
We come to know something only because God has chosen to reveal it to us. Servant knowledge is knowledge that is both “about God as Lord, and subject to God as Lord” (40). We are dependent upon Him for access to truth.
When we talk about creative work within theological development we are talking about a form of interpretive work. We are using the minds God has given us and attempting to think intelligently and contextually about the truths He has revealed. But interpretation too must be “subject to God as Lord.” We know from the Scriptures that we can interpret truths wrongly. Romans 1 discusses those who view the world around them and draw conclusions that there is no God. We can “suppress the truth” through our unrighteous interpretive work. So our interpretive work must agree with God’s interpretive work to be truthful. So, again, Frame writes:
Therefore human interpretation is never merely the interpretation of facts; it is always also a reinterpretation of God’s interpretation. To deny God’s interpretation is not merely to adopt an alternative but equally valid interpretation; it is to reject the facts as they truly are; it is to reject reality. There is no such thing as “brute fact” by which fallen man can seek to validate his interpretation over against God’s. Fallen man can only reject the facts and seek to live in a world of his own making. Similarly, the believer, in working out a faithful interpretation of the facts, is not merely “interpreting” data but is affirming creation as it really is; he is accepting creation as the world that God made, and he is accepting the responsibility to live in that world as it really is. (28)
To do creative theology we are not only dependent upon the revelation of God, but we are also expected to interpret reality the same way God does. Our creative work, then, needs to be compared to what God has said about reality and evaluated for its accuracy and truthfulness. Creative theology is subject to God’s Word.
As the “norm” Scripture is the authority in all matters. When we do creative theological work we cannot depart from what it says. We cannot establish a new framework for thinking about life and humanity and spirituality. We cannot prioritize our questions over God’s questions. Our work submits always to God’s Word.