(Contains spoilers for the most recent season.)
It’s been known for a while that the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special “The Time of the Doctor” will be Matt Smith’s last appearance and will pass the torch to Peter Capaldi. This suggests there will some variation of the classic regeneration scene where the incumbent incarnation of the Doctor “dies” and is replaced by the new one.
But there’s a wrinkle: showrunner Steven Moffat recently said that the Doctor as played by Matt Smith is the 13th Doctor. Why is this important? Because in Doctor Who lore, a Time Lord is only supposed to get 13 incarnations (i.e., 12 regenerations). This means that, in theory, the 13th Doctor would be the last, period. No more regenerations.
(But, wait, you say: I thought Matt Smith was the 11th Doctor? Well, apparently John Hurt’s “War” Doctor featured in the 50th anniversary special “counts” as one of the Doctor’s regenerations. And in the 2008 episodes “Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” David Tennant’s Doctor begins a regeneration after being critically wounded, but channels the energy that would’ve completed the regeneration into his severed hand. Based on Moffat’s comments, this one counts too. So, that adds up to 12 regenerations.)
Which brings us to my theory. One other thing we know about the Christmas special is that it will have something to do with the planet “Trenzalore”:
Trenzalore, as seen in last season’s finale “The Name of the Doctor,” is supposed to be where the Doctor dies once and for all. But instead of leaving a corpse, the dead Doctor left a rip in space and time that allowed one of his enemies to enter his “time stream” and rewrite his entire history. The Doctor was only saved when his companion Clara jumped into the time stream and undid the damage.
But when the Doctor and Clara spot Hurt’s character, a version of himself the Doctor has vigorously suppressed, Clara says that she never saw him but had seen all of the other Doctors, “eleven faces.”
This implies, or so it seems, that any incarnations of the Doctor after Matt Smith’s 11th/13th would have to post-date the Doctor’s “death” at Trenzalore. Otherwise, Clara would’ve seen them during her sojourn into the Doctor’s time-stream.
My theory, then, is that the Christmas special will involve the Doctor’s seemingly final death at Trenzalore, but that through some timey-wimey business a new Doctor (Capaldi’s) will emerge from the ashes. If that’s right, it’ll be exciting to see what, if anything, such a more radical break in continuity will imply for the character.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about this. . .
This might cross the line into guilty pleasure territory, but I’ve been enjoying the heck out of this album.
Fr. Kimel at Eclectic Orthodoxy has been posting a lot of great stuff recently on concepts of God. His most recent post contrasts “theistic personalism,” which views God as, essentially, a person writ large, with “classical theism,” which has a less anthropomorphic understanding of the divine being. He comes down, with some help from Edward Feser and David B. Hart, on the side of classical theism.
My one worry here is that the more you “de-personalize” God, the less clear it becomes how the biblical narratives can be truthful representations of who God is. The Bible clearly portrays God as acting in specific ways to bring about certain purposes, as loving us, as hearing our prayers., etc. I’m not learned enough to adjudicate this issue, but there seems to be a tension in classical theism’s efforts to combine biblical personalism with Greek-influenced metaphysics (this is hardly an original observation).
Maybe my impression here is due to the fact that the major theologians I’ve read most recently are Schleiermacher and Tillich. Both of their systems strongly emphasize the inadequacy of applying the categories of finite being to God. But both also end up with a God whom it’s difficult to imaging acting in specific ways or answering individual prayers. This could be an idiosyncrasy of their thought, or it could be that they are more thoroughly consistent as classical theists. I’m honestly not sure. Clearly theologians have always qualified some of the Bible’s more blatantly anthropomorphic images of God, and in fact Scripture itself seems to do this in various places. But at want point does the personal nature of the biblical God die the death of a thousand qualifications?
I’m less attracted to modern revisionist forms of theism (e.g., process theology) than I once was, but it still seems to me that they point to some genuine problems in the classical understanding of God.
(I wrote about this issue previously here.)
I don’t have much invested in the debate over biblical “inerrancy.” It strikes me as largely an intra-evangelical debate, one driven in large part by a very conservative, Reformed strain of evangelicalism. But I do have something invested in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I think that a “liberal” view which regards the Bible as just one instance of great religious literature is inadequate for Christian faith.
So it’s no surprise that I appreciated this post from Ken Schenck, who is the dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. He argues that much evangelical hermeneutics are driven by a “most difficult common denominator” approach. That is, individual difficult passages or verses are allowed to overturn the broader trajectory of the biblical message.
Schenck notes that in pre-modern times, “problem” verses were often interpreted in ways that were almost certainly contrary to the meaning intended by the original authors if they seemed to contradict more fundamental biblical principles.
He thus recommends viewing the Bible in a two-level fashion: there is the original, historical meaning of the individual books, passages, and verses; and there are the overarching themes and message as Christians have commonly understood them:
If we return to the sense of Scripture’s truthfulness before the Princeton Calvinists, we look rather to the “greatest common denominator” of Scripture. What is the central teaching of the Bible on this topic? If there are other passages that seem to pull in another direction, you set them aside as unclear. After all, we don’t know all the history to interpret the original meaning of the Bible fully and certainly anyway.
Chalk it up to contextual uncertainty. Reinterpret it like a good premodern or just put an “unclear” tape on it. Invoke the notion of progressive revelation or situational particularity. However your tradition deals with unclear verses, do that. But don’t let the problematic trump the central principles of Scripture.
So, for example, the Canaanite genocide should not control our understanding of God’s nature, and an isolated verse in 1 Timothy shouldn’t determine our view about women in ministry.
One thing that sets Schenck’s proposal apart from a more strictly pre-modern approach is that he recognizes that we can’t go back to a pre-critical consciousness. Some of the Fathers may have thought that an allegorical interpretation of a particular passage provided the “true” meaning; but we now think that the original meaning of a text is its intended meaning in its historical setting. We may reinterpet it, set it aside, or just deem it unclear or irrelevant, but we at least need to acknowledge its original meaning (to the extent we can determine it).
It should be noted that the New Testament authors themselves often play fast and loose with the original meanings of the texts from the Hebrew scriptures that they quote or reference. It’s clear that, for them, God’s acts of salvation in Jesus provide the interpretive lens for understanding Scripture. And the Church Fathers had no apparent qualms about reinterpreting parts of the Bible if they seemed to contradict the Gospel.
In light of this, Schenck’s position seems more consonant with the mainstream Christian tradition than some modern forms of inerrancy. Christians have always regarded some parts of the Bible as more central or authoritative than others, no matter what their theory of biblical inspiration may say. The gospels and the Pauline letters are more central than the pastoral letters or Revelation; Isaiah and the Psalms are more central than 1 and 2 Chronicles or Obadiah, etc. And this priority is determined in part by a rule of faith, such as the creed, that provides a summary of the essentials of the Christian message.
This doesn’t mean that we can just ignore the parts of the Bible that we don’t like. But it does mean that our interpretation is shaped by the faith of the Christian community. A different rule of faith would undoubtedly result in some different interpretive choices (as modern Judaism demonstrates). But there’s really no getting around that. After all, the canon of Scripture itself was established in the light of such a rule.
In a post yesterday, Daniel Silliman quoted historian Molly Worthen arguing that biblical “inerrancy” became an entrenched position among evangelical Christians only when it seemed necessary to shore up beliefs that were under attack by theological modernists. Prior to that, evangelicals held a variety of views on the inspiration of the Bible.
He specifically mentions the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition’s emphasis on the “sufficiency” of Scripture:
[S]ome theologians of the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, including important figures in the early history of the Church of the Nazarene, rejected inerrancy. The ultimate revelation of God, they wrote, was not the Bible. The ultimate revelation was Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Bible was to be thought of not as an authority but as a guide to the revelation of Christ.
It’s “sufficiency,” rather than inerrancy, was emphasized.
This remains the official position of the United Methodist Church, which of course also traces its roots back to Wesley. The Methodist Articles of Religion, which were adapted by Wesley from the Church of England’s 39 Articles and are shared by a number of churches in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition, include this statement on the “Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation”:
The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
While this says that everything necessary for salvation is contained in the Bible, it does not say that everything contained in the Bible is necessary for salvation. This at least opens the door for a non-inerrantist understanding of biblical authority.
It’s probably not wise to try to hang too much on this statement, since the origin of the 39 Articles was in Reformation-era disputes, not contemporary questions about biblical inspiration. The question for them was more about where ultimate doctrinal authority was to be found.
Still, it’s worth keeping in mind that inerrancy is not the only–or even historically the most common–way of understanding the Bible’s authority.