The question has been raised: “Has theology developed over time?” The answer is obvious: yes-no, and no-yes. In theology, we assume that there is, at least slightly, a degree to which our understanding has been obtained through “handed down” traditions. Catechetic theology is theology “passed down” from generations, already having been proven and understood. We should intend on looking back to the greats of the Christian faith through the ages, examining the teachings of the saints throughout the last 2000 years. We could also call this historic theology. With developmental theology, what is being pressed is the issue of further deepening of thought, and not that our understanding goes beyond what is taught in Scripture.
It is true that there is not any new revelation, at least when revelation is defined as the opening up of new understanding beyond the canon. Jesus revealed something beyond the comprehension of the learned in His own day, and the apostles then also taught of something “hidden in former ages”, but now being “revealed through the holy apostles and prophets”. This kind of revelation is not something that is adding to the biblical text, especially when you consider that Paul used the Old Testament to express those revelations. There are ‘static doctrines’. What was hidden was the outworking of those static doctrines – specifically the manifestation of the revelation being revealed.
No longer is the eschaton something being looked forward to by the Old Testament prophets. It has now broken in, and the apostles are explaining the phenomenon by the Old Testament prophecies. It isn’t something altogether outside and apart of the testimony already given. Rather, it was something spoken of, but not actualized. Therefore, even within the first century we see a “development” of theology in a very broad sort of sense.
You would be hard pressed to say that theology doesn’t develop. The very reformation itself demands a progression in theological understanding. But the question behind the question isn’t of understanding, but of doctrine itself. Does our understanding of messiah come from Jesus and the New Testament, or can we arrive at the exact same conclusions through the Old Testament exclusively? Is there a “progressive revelation”, in which all of our doctrines are not fully brought to life until they are unveiled? If so, then where is the demand that the close of the canon is the end of doctrinal revelation? We believe in a bodily resurrection at the return of Jesus bodily. That in itself demands a more full understanding and progression of revelation – even something beyond what the Scripture itself testifies.
What I want to posit is that the faith itself is once and for all. These things that might have further expression with the consummation of the age are not thing without revelation and warrant from the Old Testament. Indeed, even the “church age”, as it is so called, was prophesied in the Old Testament in passages like Micah 5:1-3. The casting aside of Israel for a time, which is the content of Romans 11, is exactingly spoken of in Micah 5:3, and even the return of Israel unto “the rest of his brethren” is declared.
Our theology should be from the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and not a result of cultural and societal quibble. When the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, something had happened. There is a root that is Hebraic in nature that goes back to the Garden of Eden. For the apostles to be filled with the Spirit, it was much like a year of Jubilee. They regained their inheritance. That which went all the way back to the ancient of ancients in God was brought to life. The heritage that these men had been given, but had not been expressed through the last multiple centuries, was awakened in their inner being. Somehow these men were Hebrew, and yet didn’t even realize the Hebrew roots of their own Tanakh. Somehow everything had been robbed – they went from being Hebrew to Babylonians, and from Babylonians to being Greek. Their understanding had been infiltrated by the culture of the world, even from the generation after Joshua.
This ancient root has ever and always been the root from which the people of God drink. For the apostles, this was the nourishment necessary to bring them in utter conflict with the rest of they who gathered at Jerusalem. For the rest of the Church, it was enough to experience the culture of heaven, and therefore to reveal that the societies of men stem from the devil. The faith is once and for all given, which is to say that it has ever and always been fixed. Any “development” in theology should not be a progression toward something, but rather a restoration of something. We are to restore that which has been handed down by the people of God through all the ages – specifically that which has been handed down by the prophets and apostles. They are the true foundation, and any other building upon any other foundation will result in something that we call “Christian”, but lacks the actuality of that term.
What annihilates the question of development versus catechetic theology is the fact that our theology is not a slew of dogmas. We aren’t worshiping creeds. The Gospel is not a doctrinal stance. All of these things are of a Person, One who has revealed Himself, and in that revealed the Father as well. Theology has as God as its subject, and not biblical insight or interpretation. The Gospel is not a formula for salvation, nor an envoy of doctrinal points that we subscribe to. The Gospel is of a Kingdom, one in which a certain King rules over, from a certain place that He has chosen, by a certain Name in which He has desired to be called forever, over a certain people that He has elected from before the beginning, and unto the ends of the earth eternally. Any Gospel that begins with Genesis chapter 3, and the fall of man, and the introduction of sin, to then end at the cross and/or resurrection of Jesus, and therefore the means of salvation, is a defunct gospel. It is certainly not the Gospel that Paul declared.
Our inheritance depends upon this. To debate whether the faith is catechistic or developed is to miss the point entirely. It is both, because we progress to that one faith that is the centerpiece of all Christendom. With the help of those who have gone on before us, and the brothers and sisters who are with us at this moment, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but with God Himself to be made holy as He is holy. It is through that interaction with God through the Holy Spirit that we attain unto “all truth”. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, and that is not merely a statement given to the apostles. The Spirit directed them into all truth because they did not wrestle in isolated sects, but rather with all the saints. More took place at Pentecost than we want to admit, and we like it that way. It is through the Spirit of God that we come unto understanding, and that understanding is only found in quaffing from Jacob’s Well – the very Hebrew roots of the faith.