theological self-criticism

Assumed audience: Theologically-orthodox Christians, or folks interested in things that theologically-orthodox Christians think.

Theology is not the only, or even the primary, critical undertaking of the Christian community. The church is exposed to critique above all by its hearing of the Word of God in Holy Scripture and by its celebration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Scripture and sacraments are critical events in the life of the church because they are points at which the Christian community is exposed to the gospel and thereby has all its speech and action set in the light of the uncontrollably alive presence of God. Whatever else the church may do by way of self-criticism — in its engagement with the voices of its non-Christian neighbors, as well as in its theology — can be only an echo of the setting forth of the gospel in word and ordinance. In theological self-criticism, the church does not invent or submit to some new standard, higher than the word which is the basis of its common life. Theological criticism is simply the church repeating to itself a judgment which has already been issued by the gospel and which, as divine judgment, is infinitely more searching, radical, and truthful than anything the church could ever generate out of its own resources or by listening to words of criticism directed to it from without.

 — John Webster, The Culture of Theology, p. 122