Sunday, July 27, 2014

Trent, semi-Pelagianism and Berkouwer: are R.C. Sproul's misrepresentations cases of dishonesty or just shoddy scholarship

In a recent thread here at AF (LINK), I took issue (yet once again) with a renewed assertion by Ken Temple that the decrees of the Council of Trent concerning justification and salvation are essentially "semi-Pelagian". To support this charge, Ken relies heavily on the polemics of R.C. Sproul, as expressed in his published works, Faith Alone and Willing to Believe (see THIS THREAD for some critical reflections). Ken invokes Sproul's use Herman Bavinck, who wrote, "although semi-Pelagianism had been condemned by Rome, it reappeared in a ‘roundabout way", and adds the following from G. C. Berkouwer (via Sproul):

Between Orange and Trent lies a long process of development, namely, scholasticism, with its elaboration of the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, and the Roman system of penitence...

For a fuller context of the above quotes, I now turn to Sproul's, Faith Alone—wherein after quoting chapter 5 of Trent's sixth session—we read:

Here Rome makes it clear that fallen man cannot convert himself or even move himself to justice in God's sight without the aid of grace. Again Pelagiansim is repudiated.

This predisposing grace, however, is rejectable. It is not in itself effectual. Its effectiveness depends on the fallen person's assent and cooperation. This sounds very much like semi-Pelagianism, which had been condemned at Orange. Earlier in the fifth session, which treated original sin, Trent affirmed some aspects of the decrees of Orange.

Rome has repeatedly been accused of condemning semi-Pelagianism at Orange but embracing it anew at Trent. Herman Bavinck held that "although semi-Pelagianism had been condemned by Rome, it reappeared in a 'roundabout way'". G. C. Berkouwer observed:

"Between Orange and Trent lies a long process of development, namely, scholasticism, with its elaboration of the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, and the Roman system of penitence...Hence the situation became much more complicated for Rome in Trent than when, in 529, semi-Pelagianism had to be condemned for its "weakening" of grace...Trent had to ward off the Reformers' attack without derograting from the decrees of Orange...The gratia praeveniens had to be taught without relapsing into the sola fide of the Reformers. That is why the Orange texts are repeated in Trent, especially in the decree on justification."

The Council of Trent to steer a course on the razor's edge between semi-Pelagianism and Reformed thought. It is arguable that they cut themselves on that razor. At issue was the residual power of man's weakened, fallen will. Rome tried to argue that the will is weaker than semi-Pelagianism allowed, but not as weak as the Reformer's insisted. Berkouwer concludes: "At Trent there was no concern with the threat to grace as there was at Orange. But Trent is concerned with the natural freedom of the will. The latter, it is true, has been weakened by sin (Orange, Valence, Trent) but not at all extinguished."

...To avoid the Reformation and Augustinian view of the enslaved will, Rome speaks of the power of fallen man to assent and cooperate with prevenient grace. That grace is not effectual without the sinner's response. (Sproul, Faith Alone, pp. 140-141.)

Now, the above has certainly given Ken the impression Sproul believes that Trent is semi-Pelagian, and that Sproul believes he has support from Bavinck and Berkouwer on this issue. But what one will fail to uncover in Sproul's writings is a clear, definitive description of what semi-Pelagianism actually is. The nearest I have been able to find is in his book, Willing to Believe, wherein he seems to identify any system of soteriology that does not embrace "monergistic regeneration" as a form of semi-Pelagianism (see pp. 20-29, 69-84). As such, he is convinced that the vast majority of modern Evangelicals  embrace semi-Pelagianism, and that in official Roman Catholic doctrine, we have the, "triumph of semi-Pelagianism over Augustinianism" (p. 84).

The major error in Sproul's assessments lies in the fact that he has incorrectly described/understood what actually constitutes semi-Pelagianism. This fact comes as shock to me, for a number of the scholars he has quoted (e.g. Berkouwer, Harnack, Schaff), in his two referenced books above, do define the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism—i.e. the rejection of the belief that preceding/prevenient grace (gratia praeveniens) is necessary for one to accept the Gospel.  Sproul has substituted this distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism with the notion that it is the rejection of "monergistic regeneration" that makes one's theology semi-Pelagian—to do so is either a case of dishonesty or very shoddy scholarship.

Before moving on to Sproul's misrepresentation/misunderstanding of Berkouwer, I would like to provide a few scholarly selections that identify the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism:

SEMI-PELAGIANISM. The doctrines on human nature upheld in the 4th and 5th cents. by a group of theologians who, while not denying the necessity of *Grace for salvation, maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and Grace supervened only later. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. 1974, 1985 reprint, p. 1258.)

SEMI-PELAGIANISM. Doctrines, upheld during the period from 427 to 529, that rejected the extreme views of Pelagius and of Augustine in regards to the priority of divine grace and human will in the initial work of salvation...

Cassian taught that though a sickness is inherited through Adam's sin, human free will has not been entirely obliterated. Divine grace is indispensable for salvation, but does not necessarily need to precede a free human choice, because, despite the weakness of human volition, the will takes the initiative toward God. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, p. 1000.)

In opposition to both systems [Pelagianism and Augustinianism]  he [John Cassian] taught that the divine image and human freedom were not annihilated, but only weakened, by the fall; in other words, that man is sick, but not dead, that he cannot indeed help himself, but that he can desire the help of a physician, and either accept or refuse it when offered, and that he must cooperate with the grace of God in his salvation. The question, which of the two factors has the initiative, he answers, altogether empirically, to this effect: that sometimes, and indeed usually, the human will, as in the cases of the Prodigal Son, Zacchaeus, the Penitent Thief, and Cornelius, determines itself to conversion; sometimes grace anticipates it, and, as with Matthew and Paul, draws the resisting will—yet, even in this case, without constraint—to God. Here, therefore, the gratia praeveniens is manifestly overlooked. 

These are essentially Semi-Pelagian principles, though capable of various modification and applications. The church, even the Roman church, has rightly emphasized the necessity of necessity of prevenient grace... (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1910, 1981 reprint, 3.861, 862.)

The preeminent Christian doctrinal/historical scholar of the latter-half of the 20th century, Jaroslav Pelikan, 'puts-the-icing-on the-cake' (so to speak). He begins his section on Semi-Pelagianism with:

The opposition to Augustine earned this position the title "Semi-Pelagian" in the sixteenth century, but already in the fifth century the partisans of Augustine were calling it "the remnants of the Pelagian heresy [Pelagianae pravitatis reliquiae]." The term is used to cover a group of theologians from the fifth and sixth centuries, the most prominent of whom were John Cassian, Vincent of Lérins, and Fautus of Riez. (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), p. 319.)

After presenting the doctrines that the adherents of "Pelagianae pravitatis reliquiae" agreed upon with Augustine and the catholic tradition, Pelikan then delineates where they departed:

Even while asserting that without divine assistance none of these virtues could attain perfection, Augustine's critics still insisted that "it cannot be doubted that there are by nature some  seeds of goodness in every soul implanted by the kindness of the Creator." This did not detract from the glory of redemption. If is was said "that one should not pay attention to what is good by nature because before the coming of Christ, the Gentiles obviously did not attain to salvation," the reply was the axiom: "Anyone who denies that nature is to be proclaimed in its good qualities, simply does not know that the Author of nature is the same as the Author of grace," and that therefore "since the Creator is the same as the Restorer, one and the same is celebrated when we praise either work." Praising the free will of man meant praising its Creator and did not detract from his grace.

This was evident from the Bible itself, where "the bounty of God is actually shaped according to the capacity of man's faith." Sometimes, for example in the conversion of Paul or of Matthew, divine grace had preceded any desire or good will on the part of man. But in other instances, for example in the account of Zacchaeus or of the thief on the cross, the free will of man had taken some initiative. By the goodness of the Creator there still remained the capacity to initiate the will for salvation. (Ibid., pp. 323, 324)

He then moves on to the synod of Orange (529) and its clear, direct condemnation of the teaching that "there still remained the capacity [in fallen mankind] to initiate the will for salvation": response to the argument that there was a diversity of operations by which in some cases men took the initiative and in others God took the initiative, the synod condemned as "alien to the true faith" anyone who taught that "some have come to the grace of baptism by mercy, but others by free will." Citing the specific biblical examples that had been used in support of this teaching, Caesarius affirmed that the conversion of Zacchaeus and of the thief on the cross had also been "not achievements of nature, but gifts from the generosity of divine grace." The "beginning of faith" was always due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Ibid., p. 328)

So, the question for me is: why did Sproul substitute the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism—the belief that "there still remained the capacity [in fallen mankind] to initiate the will for salvation"—with the notion that it is the rejection of "monergistic regeneration" that makes one's theology semi-Pelagian ? What makes this substitution even more baffling is the fact Sproul informs his readers that it was the Synod of Orange in 529 which, "condemned the system of semi-Pelagianism"; and yet, one will look in vain to find ANY reference to "monergistic regeneration" in the decrees of that synod.

Time to move onto Sproul's use of Berkouwer. Does Berkouwer side with Sproul's view that Trent, and subsequent Catholic theology, had adopted semi-Pelagianism ? Sproul's surrounding context of the two quotes from Berkouwer in Faith Alone gives the reader the strong impression that he believed this. However, a deeper, more extensive reading of Berkouwer reveals that Berkouwer did not believe Trent, and subsequent Catholic theology, had embraced semi-Pelagianism. Berkouwer discusses this issue at length in two of his important works that have been translated into English: The Conflict with Rome (English 1958) and Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election (English 1960).

Sproul quotes Berkouwer three times in his Faith Alone (pp. 140, 141), all of which are from The Conflict with Rome (pp. 80, 82, 84). Two of those three quotes are directly related to the topic at hand (the third deals with Calvin) and are provided in their entirety above. If one limits their reading of Berkouwer concerning semi-Pelagianism and Catholicism to what Sproul has provided, a severely flawed impression is difficult to avoid. However, if one reads Berkouwer's full contributions on this issue as found in The Conflict with Rome (pp. 76-112) and Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election (pp. 28-52) a much different impression emerges. One will find Berkouwer's clearest assessment on whether or not the Roman Catholic Church teaches semi-Pelagianism in the following selection:

The Council of Orange (529) condemned not only Pelagianism but also semi-Pelagianism, a condemnation to which the Roman Catholic Church still adheres for the reason that even semi-Pelagianism thinks too depreciatively of the necessity of God's grace. To be sure, semi-Pelagianism rejected Pelagianism and did not teach an inviolate ibberum arbitrium, but it still maintained a belief in free will — although a weakened free will (infirmitas liberi arbitrii). It taught that man retains his free will, but because it has been weakened by sin it is in need of God's helping grace, so that a cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom is necessary. Rome rejects this doctrine because she does not think the necessity of grace is sufficiently confessed by it. (Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election, p. 30 - bold emphasis mine.)

I don't think that Berkouwer could be much clearer on what his position concerning semi-Pelgainism and the RCC is. (Anyone who thinks Berkouwer maintained that the RCC is semi-Pelagian after reading the above is in dire need of some help.)

Before ending this somewhat lengthy post, I would like to point out one more significant difference between Sproul and Berkouwer. Note the following from Sproul's pen:

A theologian friend of mine says frequently that in church history there have been only three basic types of theology. There have been a multitude of theological schools with subtle nuances, but in the final analysis there are only three kinds of theology: what we call Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism. Virtually every church in Western church history, and Eastern church history as well, has fallen into one of those three categories. (Saved from What ?, p. 46.)

It was after reading the above that I came to understand why Sproul labels Arminian, Lutheran and Catholic theologies as semi-Pelagianism, for in his worldview, "there are only three kinds of theology".

But, Berkouwer does not agree with Sproul on this matter. Berkouwer's view adds a fourth kind of theology: synergism. In Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election, makes a clear distinction between Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, synergism and monergism, and places the Arminian, Lutheran and Catholic theologies into the synergistic category.

I shall end here, feeling fairly confident that I established some significant flaws in a number of Sproul's assessments.

Grace and peace,


P.S. I think it is prudent that I let my Calvinistic readers know that this thread is not a critique of monergism and/or an endorsement of synergism (in any form).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"God-breathed", theopneustos

I accepted B. B. Warfield's interpretation of theopneustos (θεόπνευστος) after my first reading (circa 1982) of his essay, "GOD-INSPIRED SCRIPTURE" (The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield, 1927/1981, Vol. 1, pp. 229-280; The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, edited by Samuel G. Craig, 1948, pp. 245-296; original in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, v. XI, pp. 89-130; online version HERE). Warfield's interpretation is repeated throughout this contribution, and concludes, with the following:

What is θεόπνευστος is "God-breathed," produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. (p.296)

Warfield reiterates this interpretation in, "Inspiration", an article which first appeared in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, pp. 1473-1483), and subsequently reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield (1927/1981, Vol. 1, pp. 77-112), wherein we read:

For the Greek word in this passage [2 Tim.3:16] — θεόπνευστος, theópneustos — very distinctly does not mean "inspired of God."... What it says of Scripture is, not that it is “breathed into by God” or is the product of the Divine “inbreathing” into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, “God-breathed,” the product of the creative breath of God. (pp. 78, 79)

Now, before I introduce the online article/essay which prompted this thread, I would like to point out that in addition to Warfield's interpretation/understanding of the term theópneustos, I also adopted his view that this "'God-breathed'...product of the creative breath of God" was limited only to the original autographs (i.e. sola autographa) and did not extend to any copies (i.e. apograha). I took it for granted that this was the 'classical' view of the conservative, Reformed paradigm. However, it seems that I was mistaken on this point, for Dr. Theodore P. Letis, in his scholarly essay, "B.B. Warfield, Common-Sense Philosophy and Biblical Criticism", argues that Warfield was the first conservative, Reformed scholar to adopt the notion that theópneustos pertains only to the autographa. Note the following:

Benjamin Brickinridge Warfield (1851-1921), Professor at Princeton Seminary from 1887-1921, was the most astute and critically aware N. T. scholar at Princeton during his tenure. While he also retained the old scholastic view of verbal inspiration, he did so, keenly aware of this "weapon" in New England.

A good deal of Warfield's early academic career, therefore, was spent mastering the discipline of N.T. criticism so as to tame and neutralize this threat. How he went about his task helps to explain three developments at Princeton in his lifetime and his lasting influence on the current evangelical view of Scripture: 1) why he gave a distinctive emphasis to the autographic inerrancy theory; 2) how text criticism came to be viewed by evangelicals in the twentieth century as a safe, neutral realm that can only support the evangelical cause and never harm it; 3) how Warfield contributed to the climate that was more tolerable toward genuine biblical criticism at Princeton at a time when such criticism was perceived to be threatening in the extreme.

Warfield's first step in this process was to distance himself the Protestant scholastic approach to text critical matters, while retaining the scholastic view of verbal contrast to Charles Hodge's view, which we shall treat below, Warfield began by depreciating the established text (what was called the textus receptus—the "received text") which had hitherto been the locus of the verbal inspiration view. For Warfield, the scholastics had stumbled when their reverence for the Word of God, perversely but not unnaturally exercised, erected the standard or received text into the norm of a true text. [These are Warfield's own words; see note below.]

Warfield was the first from Princeton to break so decisively with the old text standard. He did so with the confidence that a far better text was then emerging.

Nevertheless, to abandon this standard meant he would be abandoning the text thought to be verbally inspired by the Divines who produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. In order to save, therefore, his verbal view of inspiration—the last vestige of Francis Turretin's influence—he was forced to now relegate inspiration to the inscrutable autographs of the biblical records...

The true test for determining if one is an heir of the Reformed scholastics is found in the role the Westminster Confession plays in locating final Scriptural authority. Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), Charles Hodge (1797-1878), and the Southern Presbyterian, Robert Dabney, (1820-1890) were genuine heirs of Turretin. They focused authority in present, extant, copies of the biblical texts (apographa), with all the accompanying textual phenomenon, as "providentially preserved" and sanctioned edition (Westminster Confession  Faith, 1:8).

Warfield, on the other hand, was the first professor at Princeton to allow his Common-Sense Philosophy the role of reconstructing the text according to the canons of German Criticism. (The Ecclesiastical Text, 1997, pp. 4, 5.)

[Note: "Reverence for the Word of God, perversely but not unnaturally exercised, erected the standard or received text into the norm of a true text;" (Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, p. 216).]

The rest of Letis's essay builds a very strong case for the view that no conservative, Reformed scholar prior to Warfield questioned authoritative, normative status of the textus receptus as the "God-breathed" Word of God.

Though it sure seems that Warfield's view has become the new 'standard' for most conservative, Reformed folk (and the Evangelical paradigm as a whole)—replacing the Reformed scholastic view—opposition to this theological novem has continued in Reformed circles (and, interestingly enough, many Independent Baptists) to our day.

With the above, somewhat lengthy, introduction in place, I would now like to move on to the online article/essay which prompted this post. Just yesterday, while engaged in some unrelated online research, I happened upon the treatment, " Thoughts On the Word Theopneustos, “given by inspiration of God” in 2 Timothy 3:16, and the Question of the Inspiration of the Authorized Version" (LINK), by Dr. Thomas D. Ross (A PDF version, which I recommend, is available HERE). 

Dr. Ross's contribution opens with the following:

Scripture teaches that the words of Scripture are inspired by God, and thus the entirety of the canonical Scriptures are inspired, 2 Timothy 3:16. God did not inspire people like Moses, Jeremiah, or Matthew; rather, the words that He gave to mankind through them are inspired. Since “inspired” means “God breathed,” and Matthew 4:4 states, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” believers are to live by inspired words. Since the present tense verb “proceedeth” in Matthew 4:4 represents continuing action, as is also found in other very closely related uses of the verb, the breath of God, that is, inspiration, remains in the words of the copies of the autographs, and men are to live by every word of those inspired copies. The fact is that neither 2 Timothy 3:16 nor Matthew 4:4 actually refer to inspiration as a process, rather than a product. (Page 1, PDF version.)

Dr. Ross immediately follows the above with five propositions:

1.) Accurate copies of the Greek and Hebrew words are inspired, since inspiration, in 2 Timothy 3:16, refers to a product. Paul instructs Timothy that the product of the written Scripture itself is both “inspired/God-breathed” and “profitable.” Neither “God-breathed” nor “profitable,” in 2 Timothy 3:16, refer to the process of the giving of the autographs. Both adjectives describe the noun “Scripture” and attribute a quality to it.

2.) Anything that we can properly call “God’s Word” is inspired, because, by definition, if God breathes out some words, He has inspired those words. “All Scripture is inspired,” 2 Timothy 3:16. The verse equates what is “Scripture” with what is “inspired.” The two categories are identical—if something is “Scripture,” then it is “inspired.” Had the verse referred to the process of revealing Scripture it would have stated, “All Scripture was given by inspiration of God.” Since 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the product of that process, inspired words, it states, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The breath of God is an inherent quality of all that is Scripture, all that is the Word of God.

3.) Scripture shows us that accurately translated words are still Scripture. 1 Timothy 5:18, for example, refers to both the untranslated gospel of Luke (10:7) and the translated book of Deuteronomy (25:4) as “Scripture.” Indeed, 1 Timothy 5:18 is the only other reference to Scripture (graphe) in Paul’s epistles to Timothy, so it is natural for one to consider 2 Timothy 3:16 in light of this previous reference. The same Paul who tells Timothy that everything that is Scripture is inspired calls both the untranslated and accurately translated Word of God Scripture.

4.) Therefore, accurate translations are Scripture.

5.) Since accurate translations are Scripture, they are inspired, since all Scripture is inspired. All Scripture has the breath of God upon it. (Ibid., pp. 1, 2.)

Dr. Ross concludes with:

Scripture teaches that inspiration is a quality that pertains to all that is appropriately called Scripture. Since original language copies are properly considered Scripture, they are properly termed inspired. Since, in a derived sense, the Bible, when accurately translated, is still properly termed Scripture, the Word accurately translated is, in a derived sense, properly termed inspired. Therefore, it is proper to call the King James Version inspired, because it is an accurate translation of the Greek and Hebrew autographs dictated once and for all by the Holy Ghost. (Ibid., p. 6)

Dr. Letis and Dr. Ross have given this beachbum some serious 'food -for-thought'. I would love to hear from those who may share my interest in this subject...

Grace and peace,


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ken Temple and Trent: a continued reliance on inaccurate definitions and historical errors

Back on June 7, 2011, Ken Temple published a thread at the Beggars All blog called "Between Orange and Trent" (LINK), which was an attempt to defend the following:

"Semi-Pelagianism condemned at Orange in 529 AD, but reaffirmed at Trent"

The above is a very popular view among anti-Catholic apologists, including Dr. R. C. Sproul—who should know better.

In the last comment of the above thread, I provided the URL to a thread here AF  which should have put to rest any further attempts to construe the teachings of the Council of Trent as "Semi-Pelagianism" (LINK).

Ken himself participated in the combox of that thread, so it came as a bit of a surprise to me to discover that three years later (almost to the day) he has produced yet another thread (LINK) which attempts to paint the Council of Trent as Semi-Pelagian !!! Note the following:

R. C. Sproul demonstrates the contradiction in Roman Catholic Theology, when it claims it agrees with Augustine against Pelagius and the Semi-Pelagians (Provincial Synod of Orange in 529 AD), but later re-affirms Semi-Pelagianism by the decrees of Trent (1545-1563)...

My discovery of this thread came on June 30th. I subsequently attempted to post the following in the combox of that thread (BA comments are now moderated):

Hi Ken,

I have not had much 'spare' time to spend on the internet over the last couple of months; as such, I was not aware of the existence of this thread until today. With that said, I am somewhat amazed that you chose to publish it, given our past exchanges concerning the issue of semi-Pelagianism. IMO, the threads contained in THIS LINK, have exposed some grave errors in your reasoning on this matter.

The essence of those threads can be summarized by the following:

Semi-Pelaganianism teaches that an individual apart from grace can accept the offer of salvation, and that once accepted one then cooperates with the grace that God gives. In other words, semi-Pelagianism denies the necessity of grace for one to believe/accept the gospel.

While Pelagianism denies that ANY grace is necessary for salvation (both before and after the acceptance of the Gospel), semi-Pelaganism only denies that grace is necessary for one to accept the gospel.

Grace and peace,


My comment/post has yet to be published, so I thought it prudent to point out yet once again here at AF that Ken's and Sproul's continued attempts to define the teachings of the Council of Trent as Semi-Pelagianism are based on grave historical errors and false definitions. Trent (and all official Catholic teaching on soteriology) clearly denies both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, affirming time and time again that, grace is necessary for salvation both before and after the acceptance of the Gospel. No amount of sophistry will change these facts...

Grace and peace,


Monday, June 30, 2014

Called to Communion's response to Brandon Addison

June is always a very busy month for me; it is the month of my birthday, anniversary, the beginning of extra guests visiting the beach, and an increase in outdoors chores. This year, there was the addition of taking the grandkids down to Disneyland/California Adventure (which was a blast !!!). Anyway, I have pretty much ignored the internet for the entire month until today. While browsing some of my favorite websites, I discovered that the folk at Called to Communion have finally put up their promised response to Brandon Addison's guest post:

[Brandon's contribution was discussed here at AF in THIS THREAD.]

The  CTC response was posted on June 8th, and is available at the following link:

A downloadable PDF version (130 pages) of the reply can be accessed at:

I have downloaded the PDF document and skimmed through it. It looks quite thorough, and includes a number of the arguments I have presented in the past. I probably will not be able to read through the entire response until tomorrow afternoon; but, once I have finished it, I hope to add a few of own musings. Sincerely hope others will take the time to look into this lengthy reply, and share their thoughts here...

Grace and peace,


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Confusing, or did I miss something ???

Yesterday, I received in the mail Chalcedon's magazine, Faith For All of Life (May/June 2014). The first article was "From the President", Mark R. Rushdoony, with the title: "Defenders of the Faith" (pp. 2,3, 25). This opening article is essentially a defense of "ecumenical" creeds and councils of "the first seven centuries of the church". The article begins with the following:

In its rejection of the Roman Catholic Church, modern Protestantism has sometimes erred by steering to the opposite extreme of an anarchistic repudiation of all the church accomplished before the Reformation...

There is a modern hostility to councils and creeds. Many wrongly suspect the creeds of Christendom came out of the ecclesiastical equivalent of the political "smoke-filled room," where a tiny cabal of churchmen decided to mold Christianity to their own preference...

The councils and creeds of the church were a very practical response to the need to clarify doctrines that were being challenged...

The focus of the controversies for the first seven centuries of the church was the incarnation of Christ. The reason this was a source of controversy was that in order to "fit" prevailing thought into Scripture, the Biblical teachings on the incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity had to be rewritten.

This changed the gospel, of course, and was resisted. Far from an attempt to mold Christianity, the councils and creeds were a defense of what was often called the "apostolic tradition," by which was meant Biblical faith as understood and taught by the apostles.  (Page 2)

Aside from the somewhat annoying use of capitals when using the terms "Biblical" and "Scripture" while neglecting to do so for the term "church" (except with reference to the RCC), and an incorrect/narrow understanding of what "apostolic tradition" entailed in the early Church, we have a solid affirmation of the ecumenical creeds and councils of "the first seven centuries of the church". Though not stated, I would argue that this affirmation implicitly points to the work of the Holy Spirit in those ecumenical creeds and councils.

Mr. Rushdoony then goes on to contrast what he believes to be the most important distinction between the 'true' faith of Christianity with that of Greek philosophy: "the Creator-creature distinction" vs. "a continuity of being, where all being was seen as one, so that the difference between men and gods was only one of degree, not substance." (Pages 2,3)

Now, "a continuity of being, where all being was seen as one", is a description of monism. But, in the very next sentance, Mr. Rushdoony writes:

The Greek thought which dominated was dualistic. It held to at least two metaphysical realms, material and spirit.

This is quite confusing to me on two important points: first, most Christians embrace, "two metaphysical realms, material and spirit." And second, if Greek thought is predominately "dualistic", then how can it also be seen as, "a continuity of being, where all being was seen as one" ??? What am I missing here...

I would also like to mention that Mr. Rushdoony seems to be ignorant of the fact that the Bible and early Church Fathers held to a doctrine termed deification. This fact/issue further complicates stark metaphysical distinction that he attempts to affirm in his article. [See the threads at AF which delve into this doctrine, especially the last two: LINK.]

So in ending, I would like to ask yet once again: what have I missed ???

Grace and peace,


Saturday, April 5, 2014

A new Lampe apologia

A couple of days ago, whilst browsing the internet, I came upon a new defense of Peter Lampe's, From Paul to Valentinus, by Brandon Addison, a conservative, Reformed gent. Brandon's apologia was, interestingly enough, posted as a "Guest Author" in a recent thread at the conservative Catholic site, Called to Communion - Reformation Meets Rome. [LINK TO THREAD.]

Back on August 27, 2010, I began a series of threads (link to all 10 related threads) that exposed certain weaknesses in Lampe's position. I also brought into question the use of Lampe by some conservative, Reformed Christians as a polemical tool against the Catholic Church. With that said, I am a bit surprised to find yet another conservative, Reformed Christian defending Lampe.

A couple of folk have raised some excellent questions concerning the use of Lampe (and other liberal, critical scholars who side with Lampe on a number of points) in the combox of the thread; see the follow links for two of their cogent posts:

Now, it has been awhile since I last read Lampe (and a number of other critical scholars that Brandon has brought into the mix), but I was able to detect some highly suspect aspects in Brandon's apologia. From Brandon's opening article/post we read:

In my own investigation of this issue I was pressed to look at multiple modern critics of the consensus: Bernard Green and Chrys Caragounis. The arguments of earlier writers like Felix Cirlot and Gregory Dix have been judged as deficient and dated by modern scholars. These men also do not interact with the broader argument of fractionation (arguing against Lampe or Brent) and therefore are not in the scope of this discussion. As such, I won’t interact with them explicitly, though my exegetical work in the Fathers and the Scriptures offers an alternative to their positions.

Dr. Owen touched on this issue in comment #20 (see above link), wherein he wrote:

13. Finally, it was sad to see such a dismissal of Cirlot and Dix. These men were brilliant scholars, and just because they are not taken seriously by modern academics (if that is even universally true) is no reason to dismiss them out of hand. The vast bulk of evangelical biblical scholarship could easily be thrown into the trash bin on the same grounds. You should know better.

I totally agree with Dr. Owen here, and would add that it is not some defective scholarship on the part of men like Felix Cirlot and Gregory Dix that has led to their neglect by the majority of modern, critical, liberal scholars like Lampe, but rather, it is their rejection of certain presuppositions held by Lampe and his guild which has precipitated such neglect. (I wonder if Brandon has even read the contributions of Cirlot and Dix.)

Even more troubling for me is Brandon's assessment of Dr. Robert Lee Williams monograph, Bishop Lists. Once again, from Brandon's opening post we read:

One final scholar bears mention in this discussion of dissent to the academic guild and that is Robert Williams. Williams states that the episcopate probably originated first in Jerusalem and developed in other areas but Williams is clear to state that notions of episcopacy found in Ignatius does not approximate anything close to Apostolic Succession. Williams states:

“The succession of bishops arose in Rome from Jewish Christian interpretation of apostolic plans in reaction to erosion of established presbyterial authority. These developments set the stage for the initial use of succession lists in internal crises rather than in dialogue with Greco-Roman Society."

In addition to affirming what was argued regarding Hegesippus, Williams states that the monarchical episcopate developed from the erosion of presbyterial authority. Once again, William’s conclusions are not conducive to the RCC’s claims and are favorable to the thesis of this paper.

Brandon's isolated quote fails to capture the major import of Dr. Williams broader assessments which in fact do support something, "close to Apostolic Succession". Note the following:

The New Testament, Ignatius, and 1 Clement contributed to the ecclesiastical concept of apostolic succession of monepiscopacy in diverse ways. They contain no complete concept of such and no bishop list. They record in separate developments the emergence of all the constituents of the concept. (Page 45)

The "erosion of presbyterial authority" is not what Brandon seems to think it is (a series of events that precipitated a post-apostolic development of the monepiscopacy), but rather, it was events that actually occured in the apostolic age, giving rise to the implementation of the monepiscopacy by the apostles themselves. Please note the following:

...Paul seems to anticipate defections (v. 30). We therefore conclude that Paul promoted the governing by overseers in some congregations threatened with disunification from external and internal troublemakers, from Paul's viewpoint, but that these overseers were not necessarily submitted to without reservation by their congregations.

The subsequent situation in Titus seems to mark a further stage of church leadership, conceivably developing from such difficulties as were anticipated in Acts 20. Paul has left Titus in Crete with the responsibility of appointing "elders" πρεσβύτεροι "in every city" (1:5). In this context, then, a list of qualifications for "an overseer, as God's steward" follows (vv. 7-9). Campbell proposes that this overseer is an elder appointed to oversee all the house churches in a city, a monepiskopos. From those elders in each city, each of whom oversees a church in his or her household, Titus is to choose one as overseer of all the congregations in the city. This overseer will be required in each city to  teach the apostle's doctrine and to defend it in the face of adversartes. Such a need is envisioned in light of difficulties which have developed similar to the first of the two anticipated in Acts 20:28-30. (page 51)

And a bit later:

Such citywide responsibility is a dramatic development in the role of overseeing. It involves a single Christian leader in a city, suggestive of the second century monepiskopos in Ignatius's letters. Furthermore, it indicates appointment of the overseer by one with apostolic authority, albeit delegated. Such apostolic initiative suggests apostolic succession of bishops, the terminology of which emerges at the end of the first century in 1 Clement. (Page 53)

"Such apostolic initiative suggests apostolic succession of bishops"; that Brandon overlooked this in his reading of Dr. Williams raises some concerns on my part.

Before ending, I would like to share a few thoughts on the following from Brandon's opening post:

In summation, modern scholarship from Allen Brent to Robert Williams agrees that the existence of a monarchical episcopate developed in the second century. There are virtually no scholars in the extant literature who dispute this. I’ve encountered exactly one academic article that suggests that there was a monarchical bishop in Rome in the first century and that article is answered deftly by Francis Sullivan.

A couple of items: first, I have already noted that Dr. Williams does not agree, "that the existence of a monarchical episcopate developed in the second century", but rather, sees its beginning with the apostle Paul (he also adds James, the brother of Jesus), in the first century; and second, Brandon has overstated his belief that, "[t]here are virtually no scholars in the extant literature who dispute this", for in addition to Williams, I know of three more who do in fact "dispute this". Interestingly enough, Brandon himself mentions two of them, David Albert Jones and Oswald Sobrino, with the third being Michael C. McGuckian.

I would like to end here, leaving open the possibility of another thread(s) to address some more of the issues raised by Brandon (and the critical, liberal scholars he invokes).

Grace and peace,


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Monarchy of God the Father: Goad vs. Dr. Beeley and the original Nicene Creed

Earlier this week, while engaged in some online research, I came across a doctoral dissertation that caught my eye: "TRINITARIAN GRAMMARS: A COMPARISON OF GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS AND SOME CONTEMPORARY MODELS" by Keith Wesley Goad [LINK to full pdf version]. The following is an abstract of the dissertation:

There is a growing trend among contemporary models to claim that their model is based upon the Eastern tradition in opposition to the Western model represented by Augustine. The purpose of the dissertation is to describe the doctrines of the knowledge of God and the Trinity as articulated by Gregory of Nazianzus, the Eastern father who defined these doctrines for the Eastern tradition, for the purpose of critically evaluating the contemporary models that seek to find their historical precedent in the Cappadocians.

The first two chapters demonstrate Gregory's doctrines of the knowledge of God and the Trinity in order to demonstrate how his numerous confessions all relate to and modify one another. Gregory's doctrine of God was based upon God's nature being infinite and only known through his actions and names. Gregory's doctrine of the Trinity is multifaceted so that he uses a number of grammars to defend the unity and the three persons. Chapter four compares Augustine's On The Trinity to Gregory's grammars to provide a concrete comparison between the two traditions to demonstrate that the typical paradigm that contrasts the East and West is oversimplified and wrong.

The contemporary models will then be analyzed in light of Gregory's grammars and model in order to demonstrate that they have introduced concepts and grammars that are contrary to that of Gregory. The contemporary theologians analyzed include Karl Rahner, Cornelius Plantinga, Bruce Ware, and Thom McCall. The contemporary models are wrong to claim Gregory as their historical precedent because they fail to meet the most basic standards of Orthodoxy as presented by Gregory. One of the main problems in the contemporary treatment of Gregory is that his doctrine is oversimplified so that one aspect or grammar is emphasized and the others are ignored. There is confusion over the proper relationship between the economic and immanent Trinities. There is also a number of problems in how the terms one, unity, essence, and person have been redefined by the contemporary models when compared to Gregory's doctrine. The final argument is that the contemporary models fail to provide the necessary grammars and confessions that safeguard the doctrine of the Trinity and promote worship when compared to Gregory.

I literally could not stop reading this dissertation (even though I knew from the provided abstract that I would disagree with a number of Goad's conclusions), for he did an excellent job of summarizing the, "growing trend among contemporary models to claim that their model is based upon the Eastern tradition in opposition to the Western model represented by Augustine", a topic that I have been studying in depth for over three years now. I have probably read at least 75% of the works cited by Goad so I was able to digest his dissertation without needing to do a good deal of supplementary study. There is so much material that could be covered, but I want to focus on the issue of the Monarchy of God the Father. Note the following:

There is a long history of debate concerning how Gregory used the concept of Monarchia in his confession of the Trinity. There appears to be two different grammatical roles for the term Monarchia. One establishes the Triune God as a whole so that the Creator is set apart from creation. The other seeks to distinguish the persons who exist within the God and provide a proper order among the persons. As already seen above, the Monarchia is used as a reference for monotheism over against polytheism and atheism. Gregory's grammar demands that all three persons must be understood to exist distinctly within the one Monarchy and single rule. While Monarchia is a reference for one God, the key issue is how Gregory used Monarchia within the other grammar. The Monarchia is also a key intra-­Trinitarian grammar for the Father being the arxe, aitia, and aitios of the Son and Spirit. The debate among Patristic scholars is how Gregory uses both grammars alongside one another and what he includes in the causal language of the latter. (Pages 142, 143.)

A bit later we read:

The most popular interpretation is that Gregory's use of the various causal/source terminology is ambiguous and possibly contradictory because in some places he says that the Father is the Monarchia and in others he says the essence is the Monarchia. There are two positions that seek to reconcile the confusion. First, the Father is the cause of the person of the Son and Spirit, but there is hesitation in confessing the Father is the cause of their deity. Second, the Father is the source of the person of the Son and Spirit as well as their deity. The major difference between these two positions is that the latter emphasizes the Father as God proper and blurs the distinctions between person and essence. A third option was seen above in Torrance and Cross who limit the Monarchy to the essence. (Page 144.)

Goad's assessment that the, "major difference between these two positions is that the latter emphasizes the Father as God proper and blurs the distinctions between person and essence", is wrong—in fact, I believe that it does just the opposite—the belief that the, "Father is the source of the person of the Son and Spirit as well as their deity", not only does NOT blur "the distinctions between person and essence", but it also represents the theology of the original Nicene Creed.

This misstep of Goad's becomes even more apparent when he attempts to dismantle Dr. Beeley's scholarship on this matter. Though Goad acknowledges that, "Christopher Beeley's work stands out as the most thorough study on the role of the Monarchy", he disagrees with Beeley's view that Gregory reconciles the, "role of the Monarchia by arguing that the Father is God proper and as such is the cause of the Son's person and essence" (p. 151); and this because Goad believes that the, "Father's  Monarchia cannot imply causation of the son's divine nature because this would deny the full deity of the Son" (p. 166).

Three important points here: first, Goad's position is at odds yet again with the theology of the original Nicene Creed; second, it goes against virtually every pre-Augustine Church Father (and many modern day Eastern Orthodox theologians); and third, causation does not require a diminishing of the nature conveyed, in fact, in many cases it requires the full communication of the nature.

In ending, though I believe that Goad's dissertation is valuable and a must read, I firmly believe that a number of his conclusions are faulty.

Grace and peace,