[ROUGH DRAFT #1]
Dragons and the wilderness:
If you look for information on a man named “Samuel Vincent”, after searching for some while you’re likely to find this short, two-sentence summary (see here): “Pastor Samuel Vincent is a typical representative of French Protestantism from the South of France in the early 19th century. His writings and the theological reviews he helped to found contributed greatly to the development of theological thought in France.”
Fair enough: Sam Vincent was just an ordinary man.
Yet, it is only through his ordinariness that I was able to come to a better understanding of what I wish to call “Wilderness theology”. I like Sam because he, too, insists upon the separation between “the Bible and Revelation as such”. To set the mood, I’ll quote at some length:
The content of Protestantism is the Gospel, its form is freedom of examination » (Le fond du protestantisme, c’est l’Evangile ; sa forme, c’est la liberté d’examen). This often quoted sentence gives an inkling of the general tone of the book. In it, Vincent stresses the difference between religion, the living faith of believers, and ecclesiastical organisation. He recalls that the Church is not essential to salvation, it must merely be useful and efficient, which is only possible if it acknowledges each person’s full freedom of examination, especially in matters of faith.Vincent also stressed the distance between the Bible and Revelation as such, which is primarily a matter of conscience, even of individual conscience. For him the Reformation cannot be limited to what the reformers said or wrote : the latter could not immediately display all its potential.
For Vincent, spiritual freedom and freedom of examination go together. He was therefore one of the great instigators of the liberal trend in French-speaking Protestantism. His vision of man was rather optimistic (this was implied in his concept of freedom and he did not mention “original” sin) ; he claimed that freedom of examination be applied to the biblical texts and wanted them examined scientifically, in accordance with the historical methods of his time.
At the same time, Vincent cared for the growth of believers’ individual piety, while warning his fellow Protestants against ready-made concepts of faith. Faith requires permanent and individual efforts in such areas as thought and freedom.
If I were to, in advance, provide a verse which characterizes Wilderness Theology, I would have to give Malachi 1:3 (KJV) “And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” A dragon, here, is much like our understanding of the Sphinx. In the Wilderness, of all the Dragons one should meet, it is the self which frightens the most.
In any case, a connection or a bond nonetheless is made to our beloved Schleiermacher by way of Vincent, who advocated his theology. As we have found in our encounter of moving with and beyond Barth, it is indeed a “mediated Schleiermacher” that we need to return with a stronger, scarier kind of universalism.
Can we, with the help of Sam Vincent, think with and beyond Barth in developing a (non-)theological and (non-)hypothetical account of the Wilderness?