(Lisa Robinson)

First off, this post is not really about Origen (c. 185-254).  But it is about some lessons that I learned from studying Origen’s homilies in relation to how we do theology in general.  Prior to taking an elective last fall in History of Exeges is, I had a certain idea about Origen and his interpretive methods.  I had not read Origen’s work directly, but learned what I did of him from historical theology surveys and articles I read on the internet.  Mainly, my impression of Origen being the father of Alexandrian school of exegesis was that he utilized a wildly allegorical style of interpreting scripture where symbolism ran amok and passages were assigned some arbitrary meaning. In fact, many of the descriptions I read of him identified him in relation to this but in more of a pejorative light. What I gathered was that Origen was just a wild and crazy guy when it came to interpretation.

That was until I took the History of Exegesis class, where a good portion of it was spent on analyzing Origen’s interpretative methodology and some of his homilies on Luke that were delivered to new Christians. What I discovered was that there was a method to Origen’s seeming madness.   Not only that, but he was consistent in his approach to interpretation.   His multiple sense of interpretation always begin with the literal sense that is not divorced from the text albeit not necessarily concerned with historical accuracy.  The spiritual sense of the texts correlated meaning to an overall analysis of what was going on.  This would lead to the moral sense, which was to affect obedience to God.  For Origen, this was the ultimate goal.  Understanding the text corresponded to the reader’s spiritual maturity and the correlation between obedience to Christ and an illumination of the text.  Origen’s interpretation was rooted in a strong Christology that sought to draw the reader to Him.   Needless to say, this was quite a different understanding that I had going into the class.   Moreover, I was refreshingly surprised at how much I was personally edified in my Christian walk as a result of better understanding of where Origen was coming from.

But like I said this was not about Origen but rather the affect of what I learned particularly as it relates to theological learning and discourse.   It seems to me just as I had one impression of Origen’s interpretive methods that admittedly came with an attitude of scoffing, we often approach theological topics, positions, systems this same way.  We have built an identity around particular issues or theologians that we have come to reject, treat as insufficient or just don’t agree with.   And let’s face it, theological discourse can be very reactionary.  Often times, that reaction can propel unexamined rebuttals that are not really honest to what is being proposed.  But I propose guarding reactions in consideration of these  key points that I found useful in my example of Origen.’s exegesis.

1) Always examine original sources: I think it’s safe to say that we cannot really know what a theologian or theological position espouses unless we get it right from the horses mouth.  I often encounter folks who disagree with a particular doctrine or position but have not read what proponents of particular positions say.  Opponents will typically find some way to cast that position in a negative light, especially since they don’t agree with it. Yet, if we take time to read and maybe analyze what others have to say, fairly and less reactionary, then we might find some agreement and some errors in our own assessment.

2) Temper your disagreement: Do not be so quick to react.  Sometimes we may not have all the information needed to effectively evaluate a certain position. As noted in the first point, relying on opponents can be misleading and it is dishonest to regurgitate what they say without analysis on your part.  We can certainly question statements, positions or scriptural interpretation that does not seem compatible to our theological understanding, but disagreements have to be tempered according to the facts we have.   Reactions with insufficient information most likely will cause unnecessary divisions, and especially when misunderstandings are spread carelessly and  irresponsibly.

3) Submit to learning: As long as a position and it’s advocates are striving to be honest to scripture and the historical witness of Christianity, there is something to be gleaned even if you don’t agree with all tenet’s or methodologies.  I think if Origen were alive today and his interpretive methodology were subject to the many vehicles information is disseminated, he might meet with some harsh criticism.  But I imagine there would be others who would be kind and patient enough to examine his theses and most likely determine that Origen was most concerned with the exaltation of Christ and Christian obedience to him, at least with these homilies anyway.  In fact, there were a number of comments made from fellow classmates of how convicting Origen’s messages were.   There was much to be learned from his homilies just as there is much to be learned from pastors/theologians and positions that we may not readily agree with.   If they are seeking to honor Christ, there is something valuable there, even with the presence of disagreement.

So this post was not to advocate for Origen.  I don’t agree with all of his theology, just as I find points of disagreement with other doctrinal positions or theological systems.  But I am advocating for responsible and thoughtful learning and discourse.  Let’s be honest folks and humble in our responses.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    7 replies to "Some Valuable Lessons On Theological Learning From An Analysis of Origen"

    • Chris R

      Great post!

      The church would be a place of greater unity and harmony if the congregation unanimously adopted a spirit of learning, tempered reactions and retorts, and a zeal to hear the point from the one saying it (and not just through here-say.).

      One would think with the wealth (and breadth) of information on the internet, that point #3 would be easy. Sadly, I think it has only made us lazy and we ignore point #1 and find our favorite blog or twitter feed to spoon feed the information to us and then get all riled up, thus violating your point #2.

      Great food for thought to ponder, meditate, and consider. Thanks!

      Chris R.
      Houston

    • Gearoid

      Lisa,

      I likewise appreciated your post. Origen was the fountainhead of bridal or “nuptial” mysticism which reached its culmination in the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux. Origen’s spiritual sense of the Song of Solomon was that this book represented the passionate love of Christ for His Bride, the Church. Bridal mysticism has seen many expressions throughout church history, some of those expressions good, others not so good. Bridal mysticism, in its many shades and subtleties, is still with us today, for example, whenever someone speaks of “dating Jesus,” or being in a “sacred romance,” or Jesus being “the Lover of my soul.” Each of us will have to weigh the values and shortcomings of bridal mysticism. But we cannot discount the mystery of our union with Christ which Origen believed was depicted spiritually in the Song of Solomon.

      Blessings,
      Gearoid

    • George Jenkins

      WOW!!! Excellent. Might just add patience to honesty and humility in your last sentence. Sometimes the tongue does not wait for the ears and the brain to get the whole message. Good job

    • mbaker

      Lisa,

      Thanks for bringing out a good point, namely we shouldn’t be too quick too judge someone’s theology on the basis of mere personal opinion, or reviews, from someone else.

      Nothing takes the place of personal investigation into a theologian’s works or sermons in context. Unfortunately, we seem to live in a world of ‘sound byte’ theology especially on the web, where it’s all too easy to fall into erroneous belief if we don’t bother to get a full picture of both sides.

    • MikeB

      Lisa: good post. I appreciate the call to reading other points of view to better understand the position they are advocating and why and not just those we agree with.

      Origen is an interesting character. I know he was not the point of the post (but a good illustration). I have started wading through First Principles in light of Love Wins and the renewed interest in universalism and alternative views to the after life. Probably much more to disagree with here regarding theology but also second the call to read original sources.

      Thanks
      MikeB
      @g1antfan

    • MikeB

      Turning on email followup

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