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Icons and the Possibility of a Tropological Theology

Worship using icons, images and multimedia is being discussed right now, especially in relation to Calvary Church's stance on iconic worship and the emerging church. It might be helpful to look at the idea of tropological theology.

Tropological theology is found all the way through church history. "Augustine suggested a four-fold sense which would later be adopted by medieval theologians: (1) literal; (2) allegorical; (3) tropological or moral; and (4) analogical." Theology Adrift, Bible.org

According to Viggo Mortensen Snr, some scholars believe Martin Luther gave the tropological (relating to the soul) interpretation priority over the allegorical (relating to the church) in his interpretation of the psalms. (Link) Dr John Barber says "Luther’s mature exegetical approach, which was the tropological method of Bible interpretation (it emphasized the spiritual and existential side of Christian living), came to fruition between 1516-1519". [Luther and Calvin on Worship and Music, PDF]

Paul Hiebert speaks of the doxological or tropological theology that "is done in the context of worship, and stresses the mystical, sacramental and iconic nature of truth. The key question it addresses is, “How can we comprehend complex, transcendent truths about God and reality that lie beyond words, logic and human reason?” It uses nondiscursive signs and tropes such as icons, metaphors, types and parables to communicate transcendent truth." (Paul Hiebert, Spritual Warfare and Worldview, p. 167, Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed. William Taylor)

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Hiebert says more about Tropological theology as an addition to systematic, biblical, and missiological theology.
"Tropological theology is doxological. It is not an abstract reflection on the nature of truth for truth's sake. It sees theological reflection as an essential element of worship. Christopher Hall (1998, p. 67) writes, "For the [early church] fathers, the Bible was to be studied, pondered, and exegeted in the context of prayer, worship, reverence, and holiness". Tropological theology is also tied to the character of the exegete. . . . one cannot trust a brilliant scholar if he or she is arrogant, unfaithful, impatient or deceitful." (Spritual Warfare and Worldview, Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed. William Taylor)

[Parts of this post were originally posted as The DeWaay Debate: Has Emergent Gone Troppo? a response to the debate between Doug Pagitt and Bob Dewaay - [listen to the 3 podcasts here]

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