Greetings, friends- it’s been a very long time. I’m still alive, and overjoyed that Jesus Christ is still the friend of sinners. How fitting that Advent should have just begun, a fasting season that both remembers and anticipates, intermingling penance and celebration, lonely exile and rejoicing. The miracle of God-with-us is that the holy God makes his home among churls that spurn all he has to offer; this God negates his creatures’ “No” by absorbing that “No” into his own being. And now we remember where and what we have been and what the Son entered into in assuming our humanity. It’s with all these juxtapositions in mind that the late John Webster commends holy reason as the wrestling of limping saints, the continual struggle of justified sinners to bring God to speech for God’s and man’s blessing. More than ever before, this is my ambition, and my likeness to Jacob, my consolation:
Praise, blessing, and sanctifying add nothing to God; they do not and cannot expand or enrich God’s holiness, which is inexhaustibly and unassailably full and perfect. They are simply an acknowledgment and indication. And theology as holy reason finds its completion in such acknowledgment and indication.
To talk of the end of reason in these terms is once again to refuse to segregate intellectual activity from other acts of discipleship. Holy reason is a practice in the life of the communion of the saints; as such, it partakes in the movement of the Church, sharing its origin and participating in its goals. To abstract holy reason from that movement is to arrest its course. And not only that, neglect of the true ends of the intellectual activity of theology in the praise of Good nearly always involves their substitution by other ends, the elevation of technical, historical or philosophical reason, and their detachment from repentant and joyful service of God’s holy name. One could organize an entire history of modern theology around that theme: the intellectual afflictions which have attended the progressive detachment of reason from piety.
None of this should be taken as a suggestion that holy reason is other than a human activity. Theology is not inspired; it is not a sacrament of the gospel; it does not have the authority of the teaching office in the Church. It is not a means of grace, but the human work of thinking and speaking about the holy God. Because it is always a human work, it participates in the frailty and fallibility of its practitioners and of their times. Theology’s reference to revelation does not raise it out of the stream of all other human rational endeavor. Yet in– not despite– its very human character, theology can be holy reason. It can serve the Holy One and the congregation which gathers around him, wrestling with him, beseeching his blessing, and then like Jacob limping on its way.
(John Webster, Holiness [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003], 29-30.)
May we all limp victoriously through this Advent. Amen.