Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mormonism and Margaret Barker - Part 3

This installment of my MMB series concerns my “third” observation from part 1:

Third - Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion believed in and taught the doctrine of deification.

Barker’s view of deification is significantly different than that taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, in all my readings on the different views of deification, Barker's is unique. I believe that this uniqueness stems from her views on resurrection and incarnation. The following are some of her thoughts on resurrection:

In temple theology, resurrection was not a post mortem experience. It was theosis, the transformation of a human being into a divine being – which came with the gift of Wisdom; and theosis, described in various ways, was at the heart of temple tradition, together with the belief in a resurrected anointed one, a resurrected Messiah. (Temple Theology – An Introduction, p.23.)

Just as there were two creations, so there were two bodies for each human being. The once described in the second story, formed ‘from the dust of the ground’ (Gen. 2.7) was ‘vastly different’ from the one in the first story, made ‘in the image’ of God (Creation 134). The one from the dust was body, soma, and soul, psuche, man or woman, and by nature mortal. The one ‘after the image’ was incorporeal, neither male nor female and incorruptible. These tow are described elsewhere as the two Adams, the heavenly, ‘made after the image and without part or lot in corruptible or terrestrial substance’, and the earthly one made of clay (All. Int. I.31). When Paul contrasts the physical body and the spiritual body he uses this terminology. The physical body, soma psuchikon, is raised as a spiritual body, soma pneumatikon. In other words, the resurrection body is the body of the first creation, incorporeal, invisible, made after the image and incorruptible (1 Cor. 15.42-50). It is neither male nor female, just as Paul elsewhere described those who are baptized into Christ (Gal. 3.28). (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 23, 24.)

The Christian resurrection belief was not one of resuscitation, but of rebirth as a child of God. (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 338, 339.)

What Paul meant by a spiritual body, soma pneumatikon, in contrast to the physical body, soma psuchikon, is best illustrated by comparison with Philo’s account of the Adam…Philo explained the two accounts of creation (Gen. 1.1-2.4a and Gen. 2.4b-3.24) by saying that the first was the creation of the heavenly archetypes and the second of the material world. The earthly Adam, said Philo, was ‘vastly different’ from the man made in the image of God…the man made after the image, the man of Genesis 1, was incorporeal, invisible, neither male nor female, and by nature incorruptible (Creation 134). (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 339.)

Jesus himself says very little about resurrection, but what he does say is revealing. The dead were those who did not follow him: Follow me, he said to a would-be disciple who hesitated, and leave the dead to bury their own dead (Matt. 8:22/Luke 9:60). It is also celar from the answer to the Sadducees that he did not envisage a physical resurrection. They asked about the marital statue of a woman who had had seven husbands and Jesus replied that in heaven there would be no marriage: ‘…They are equal to angels and are sons of God because they are sons of the resurrections’ (Luke 20:36), The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a God of the living and not of the dead; the patriarchs were alive in his presence…Jesus did no envisage the resurrection as a physical resuscitation in the distant future; it was an angelic state, living in the presence of God. (The Risen Lord, p. 10.)

What the earliest church understood by the resurrection of Jesus was not the resuscitation of a body but the exaltation of the king, the Servant, the Melchizedek priest. (The Risen Lord, p. 23.)

Barker’s views of resurrection, incarnation and deification are intertwined to such an extent that it is impossible to separate any of them from the each other; and one important aspect is an integral ingredient of all three: one experiences resurrection, incarnation and deification in this life.

A careful analysis of Barker’s teachings on first Temple deification offers little (if any) resemblance to deification/exaltation in LDS theology. Not only does deification take place prior to ones death and entrance into heaven, deification has nothing to do with the resurrection of the physical body; which is a non-negotiable element of Latter-day Saint deification/exaltation.

Grace and peace,


Friday, December 7, 2007

Mormonism and Margaret Barker – Part 2

In this second part in my MMB series, I shall delve into certain ‘negative’ aspects of my “second observation” concerning Barker’s teachings. From Part 1:

Second observation - Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion believed in, taught, and worshipped a Mother Goddess.


The vast majority of temple Mormons (all?) believe that they have a literal Mother Goddess in heaven (and some maintain that their heavenly Father has multiple wives, which translates to multiple Goddesses). [For an excellent summation of the LDS doctrine of a Mother in heaven SEE.]

Like God the Father, the Mother in heaven for members of the CoJCoLDS has a body of “flesh and bones”, and their respective genders are to be understood in a literal sense. However, such a doctrine/interpretation is not what Barker has in mind when discussing the religion of the first Temple Israelites. The following quotes from Barker's writings should give the reader some important insights into her understanding on this matter:

The fact that no complete correspondence can be found between the Israelite deity and any other known goddess argues for her being native to Israel rather than an import from Egypt or the imposition of Assyrian overlords. My purpose here, however, is not to study the goddess as such but to show just how many fragments of the older cult survive, and how the ancient goddess was indistinguishable from Yahweh, being simply the female aspect. (The Great Angel, p. 57.)

Wisdom was not forgotten; the female aspect of Yahweh was know to the first Christians. Paul described Jesus as the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, a twofold incarnation (1 Cor. 1.24). (The Great Angel, p. 67.)

Yahweh was known as Yahweh of Hosts, the chief of the heavenly hosts. He was also Yahweh Elohim, which may once have indicated something very similar, viz. Yahweh of the Elohim. In addition there had been a female deity or rather, a female aspect of Yahweh. (The Great Angel, p. 162.)

The Logos was the Wisdom of God, ‘highest and chiefest of his powers’ (Allegorical Interpretation II.86). The initial objection, that the Logos is a male figure and Wisdom a female figure is met by Philo himself, and the change of gender was not thought by him to be significant. Since Wisdom was second after God , he said, it was deemed feminine to express its subordinate place: ‘Let us pay no heed to the discrepancy in the gender of the words, and say that the daughter of God, even Wisdom, is not only masculine but also father, sowing and begetting in souls aptness to learn’ (On Flight 52). Philo’s imagery is consistent with the tradition of the second God’s double gender…(The Great Angel, p. 130.).

Note the second deity has male and female aspects. Below this divinity were two further stages: the androgynous image of the unbegotten First Father had an androgynous son, named Son of Man, and he in turn had a son named Saviour. (The Great Angel, p. 171.)

God was such that the image of God in human terms had to be both male and female. God was not necessarily two, but needed two forms for the divinity to be expressed in human terms. In other words, the divinity was as much female, in so far as no gendered words can ever be appropriate to describe what is beyond the material world of life and death and human reproduction. (The Great High Priest, p. 229.)

The older divinity had been both male and female (I AM being a gender free name in Hebrew), ‘present’ in the anointed ones, and depicted as present in the creation in so far as she was beneath the firmament of heaven. (The Great High Priest, p. 245.)

An anointed guardian angel high priest thrown out in the time of Ezekiel can only have been the Queen of Heaven, Wisdom, especially as the cherub was female. (The Great High Priest, p. 250.)

Barker’s above reflections, especially when combined with her teachings on “The One”, yield a significantly different concept of Israel’s ‘female’ deity, Israel’s ‘second’ God. Not only is the preexistent nature of this second God non-physical/material, the ‘feminine’ nature of this deity is but one of TWO ASPECTS, the other being ‘masculine’. Both aspects of this second divinity are incarnated in Israel’s anointed kings and high priests, and most importantly, in Jesus Christ:

The God of Israel took two forms, male and female, the high priest was the human manifestation of both. Hence Jesus was described as Christ, ‘the Power of God and the Wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24). (The Great High Priest, p. 94.)

And interestingly enough, Barker believes that the worship of this “Queen of Heaven, Wisdom” (an “aspect” of Israel’s “second” God) was a very important part of the first Temple’s liturgy. However, worship of ‘Mother in Heaven’ is strictly forbidden by the General Authorities of the CoCJoLDS—yet another important contrast IMHO.

Ultimately, my reading of Barker suggests that little commonality exists between the theology of the God/Gods as presented in her books, and the theology of the CoJCoLDS.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Personal Note – THE BIG STORM

As many know, I live on the SW Washington coast, and a big storm hit us Sunday afternoon, lasting through Monday evening. Winds here got up to 104 mph, and just south of us up to 129 mph. It was pretty scary at times; 6 large trees on my property came down, 3 blocking my drive-way, but all missed my home and my guest-house. Power was out for 2 ½ days, and internet service was lost until this morning. Though we got 4 inches of rain, there was no flooding in our area—unlike so many other nearby regions that were hit with 12 plus inches of rain, causing severe flooding.

The storm was the largest I have been in since the great Columbus Day storm of 1962 (THE BIG BLOW), when I was but a very young boy living in the central Willamette Valley.

Anyway, just thought I would briefly share a few comments on this somewhat dramatic event.

Grace and peace,


Monday, November 19, 2007

Mormonism and Margaret Barker - Part 1

Before I get to the ‘meat’ of my post, I feel a bit of a need for a brief introduction. I have been deeply interested in Mormonism since 1987. It was in 1987 that two young missionaries from Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter LDS Church) dropped by my home one day and left me a copy of the Book of Mormon, challenging me to read it; which I did, but doing so to find ‘errors’, for I had been raised (as a Jehovah's Witness) to believe that the LDS Church was false (I have now read the BoM 6 times cover-to-cover, and each subsequent reading starts with considerably different presuppositions). Interestingly enough, I had already planned a business trip to Salt Lake City, but after the missionaries visit, thought it wise to drop by a local Christian bookstore, and see if they had anything on Mormonism that I could read on my flight. I picked up a small book titled, Mormon Claims Answered, by Marvin W. Cowan (I now believe this work to be unscholarly, anti-Mormon drivel—one of hundreds!), and finished the book before I landed in SLC. During my trip I decided to pay a visit to Temple Square (my first), but on my way there I noticed a large Deseret bookstore across the street. Given my passion for books, I went there first and ended up purchasing enough books to fill an entire suitcase! Thus began my studies into Mormonism and the LDS Church—1,700 plus LDS books later, the study continues…

Now to the ‘meat’ of this post: Margaret Barker. Barker is a Cambridge (UK) trained OT scholar, and former President of the Society for Old Testament Study. She has written extensively on what is now termed “Temple Theology” (see her WEBSITE for details). Mormon scholars began to take notice of Barker’s writings in the early 1990’s. For instance, Bill Hamblin made the following comments concerning his first reading her book The Great Angel:

As I began reading through the book on the flight home, I would come across passages that made me stop and ask, “Could Barker be a Mormon?” Reading further I would conclude she probably wasn’t. But a few pages later I would again be forced to wonder, “Well, maybe she really is a Mormon.” Every Latter-day Saint I've talked to about Barker's research has had a similar reaction. (Full context HERE.)

In addition to Bill Hamblin, Barker’s research has been utilized by such Mormon writers as Daniel Peterson, Kerry Shirts, David Bokovoy, Barry Bickmore, Alyson Von Feldt, and especially Kevin Christensen (whom a good friend of mine affectionately terms a “Barkerite”). She presented a forum address at BYU back in May, 2003, and another at “The World’s of Joseph Smith – A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress” in May 2005. (See this WEBSITE for both talks, and numerous published articles.)

I have read all but one of her books, all of her published articles that are available online, and listened to and read both addresses—though I would not say I am an “expert/scholar” of Barker, I am informed enough (IMHO) to make some important observations on why many Mormons have ‘fallen-in-love’ with much of her research:

First observation – Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion was not monotheistic.

Second observation - Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion believed in, taught, and worshipped a Mother Goddess.

Third - Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion believed in and taught the doctrine of deification.

Fourth observation – Barker teaches that much of the Bible has experienced significant corruption, and many important "other" Scriptures have either been suppressed or lost.

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with LDS theology will immediately recognize why the above observations hold great interest for Mormons.

However, I believe that each of above observations have only superficial relevance to the Mormon faith, for certain aspects concerning each observation presents more negatives than positives for the LDS position. And further, it seems that other key ingredients of Barker’s theology are virtually ignored, due to their explicit antithesis to the Mormon faith.


Though Barker clearly asserts that the “First Temple religion” was not monotheistic, the type of worship she believes was being exercised by the monarchy, priests, and lay people has little common ground with the who and how LDS folk exercise their worship. According to Barker, “First Temple” Israelites worshipped Israel’s earthly king as an incarnation of Yahweh[1], practiced cultic child sacrifice[2], and invoked the Mother Goddess in cultic worship[3].

Another key aspect of Barker’s assessments concerning “First Temple” theology involve certain hierarchical dimensions that are clearly found in early Christian Gnostic writings—writings which are copiously cited in most (all?) of her works on “Temple Theology”. Barker is convinced that that early Christian Gnostics owe much of their teachings to “First Temple” theology, and even states that the earliest (and as such) Christian theology was much more “Gnostic” than “orthodox”.

IMHO, much of her reassessment of monotheism is due to her Gnostic theology—a theology that has little common ground with ‘traditional’ Mormon theology.

The following quotes are solid (IMHO) evidence of Barker’s Gnostic tendencies:

The unity within the holy of holies meant that all the angels were derived from the One. The lesser were each a part of the greater and the greater were part of the even greater. Collectively they were the Fullness of God, because all the angels were aspects of God. (Temple Theology – An Introduction, p.25.)

Thus all are one, just as seconds are parts of a minute, and minutes parts of an hour.

This important concept illuminates John 17…The perfect unity is the sign of divinity and proof of Jesus’ origin. He has come from the One, he is part of the One, and he makes his disciples One. (Temple Theology – An Introduction, p.26.)

The most ancient understanding of the LORD was as a manifold divinity with both male and female natures, but nevertheless one 'The LORD our God is One LORD’ (Deut. 6.4). (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 40.)

A text found at Nag Hammadi, of uncertain date but of great interest, links the angel beings to aspects of time, suggesting that the angels are all ‘contained’ within each other and ultimately within God, just as small units of time are each parts of a greater unit and thus of the all-inclusive Time itself.

Time came to be as a type of the first begetter, his son. This year came to be as a type of the Saviour, the 12 months came to be as a type of the 12 powers, the 360 days of the year came to be a type of the 360 powers who were revealed by the Saviour. In relation to the angels who came out of these, who are without number, the hours and the moments of the days came to be as a type. (CG III.3, Letter of Eugnostos 84)

The God of Israel took two forms, male and female, the high priest was the human manifestation of both. Hence Jesus was described as Christ, ‘the Power of God and the Wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24). (The Great High Priest, p. 94.)

Thus angel beings, when they come into the material world, are received as fragments of something greater, just as seconds and minutes are fragments of Time. Beyond and encompassing them all is the Antecedent of Time, one possible translation offered for the more familiar title the Ancient of Days. In terms of angel beings, this all encompassing One was the Fullness (the pleroma), and was equated with the sate of Light, Day One, the holy of holies. (The Great High Priest, p. 109.)


[1] “In the cult of the first temple, the king was anointed and became the Firstborn Son…The LORD was Israel’s second God, the one who was present with the people in human form, originally as the Davidic king and later as the high priest…In the first temple, the king had become the LORD at his coronation and the people worshipped him. (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 35, 37.) [See also The Great High Priest, pp. 61, 62, 189, 190, 217, 218.]

[2] Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, p. 527; The Great High Priest, pp. 148, 149.

[3] “Wisdom, The Queen of Heaven”, The Great High Priest, pp. 229-261; “Wisdom”, Temple Theology – An Introduction, pp. 75-93.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Answering Some Recent Charges

It has been 19 days since my last thread; I have been pretty much content with spending my ‘free’ time running on the beach, biking on our recently developed Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail, and reading and commenting over at the Beggars All blog . Since my last thread here at Articuli Fidei, the following threads, of particular interest to me, have been started at BA, producing comments in the hundreds:

Catholic Historian on Trent and Salvation ; Necessary for Salvation ; Trinity vs Assumption ; Double Standards, Presuppositions, and Determining Truth ; By Grace Alone is by Faith Alone ; and NOT as a result of works .

Some comments made in the last thread listed above have ‘inspired’ me to create this new thread. In response to combox posts made by Pontificator and myself, Carrie penned the following:

>>David: Salvation you see is through faith, the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Pont: Can the Catholic say that we are justified by faith alone? Sure, as long as we understand that faith includes love, which is the substance of trinitarian life.

The old Catholic consensus.

Of course I'll be told these answers are the same although they are not.

This is one of the most frustrating things in discussions with RCs - they all have their own version of Catholicism which they "tweak" to serve their purpose.

Now, Eph 2:8 still says we are saved by grace through faith, not "through faith with love" or "faith and baptism".>> ( .)

Carrie’s (a former Catholic, turned vocal anti-Catholic critic) response contains two errors and one half-truth, which I shall now comment on.

ERROR #1 – “Of course I’ll be told these answers are the same although they are not.”

Both Pontificator and myself are addressing ININTIAL JUSTIFICATION, which is received by faith. This justification includes regeneration (i.e. “the substance of trinitarian life”, “renewal by the Holy Spirit”, ‘born-again’, ‘adoption as Sons of God’, ‘partakers of the divine nature’, ‘new creation’, et al.), as well as the forgiveness of all past sins, and comes via the grace of baptism. Despite Carrie’s attempt to ‘poison-the-well’, an objective reading will yield no other conclusion than this: Pontificator and I have expressed the same thoughts in parallel terminology.

For supporting evidence that justification must include regeneration, I strongly urge my Protestant separated brethren to read the recently published essay, “Augustine and the Justification Debates”, from the Spring 2007, Trinity Journal. (Available online at: .) This essay is written by an Evangelical pastor, who not only has a very good knowledge of the Bible, but also of the teachings of St. Augustine.

ERROR #2 – “Now, Eph 2:8 still says we are saved by grace through faith, not ‘through faith with love’ or ‘faith and baptism’”.

Despite my October 2 thread on false dichotomies, Carrie marches forward with yet another false dichotomy in hand: the “faith” spoken of in Eph. 2:8 CAN ONLY mean “faith alone” (in the strict Protestant sense); no other option exists!

Carrie pushes aside Paul’s own commentary on how one is “saved”, which must be taken into consideration went dealing with the issue salvation and faith in Eph. 2:8:

“he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5 NRSV)

Interestingly enough, I provided this very same verse in my post that Carrie quoted from in her above response.
HALF-TRUTH #1 – “This is one of the most frustrating things in discussions with RCs - they all have their own version of Catholicism which they ‘tweak’ to serve their purpose.”

Catholic Christians are not robots; we are not “Borg”. We each have our own individual method of defending “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” But, with this said, one should never lose sight of the fact that we have a great Tradition to draw upon in our understanding of the Sacred Scriptures. We do not have to fight the battle of Arianism anew, we do not have to deal with many Christological errors, we do not have to debate the nature and subjects of baptism, the Eucharist, and so many other doctrines that have been clearly defined for the faithful. And lastly, we do not split over “non-essentials” as is the tragic historic scenario of our separated brethren.

Time to close for now. In the near future (the Lord willing), I shall begin a series of posts that shall explore the Scriptural and historical aspects of the complex doctrine which is termed justification.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Polemics and False Dichotomies

Over the last few days, I have been reading the ongoing discussion (and occasionally participating) that was initiated with a post titled: “Cooperation In Salvation” ( ).

So much of the thread can be summed up by an insightful comment written by ‘Pontificator’, who earlier today said:

The problem is that "justification by faith" also serves as a polemical slogan around which opponents to the Catholic Church can unite. When the slogan is used this way, its theological meaning is lost. (See above thread.)
IMHO, one can state the “problem” in even simpler terms: FALSE DICHOTOMY.

A false dichotomy (also known as a false dilemma) occurs when two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options; but in reality, there exist one or more other options which have not been taken into account.

A classic example of the polemical use of false dichtomies is found in the writings of those who seek to “prove” that the Bible is full of “errors”. Such persons juxtipose dozens of Bibical texts claiming that such texts contradict each other, maintaining that each respective outcome is determined by but two alternative statements/verses. But, as all who engage in the defense of the Bible know, such “errors” can only be maintained by embracing false dichotomies.

Now, what I find interesting is that numerous anti-Catholics quite often employ the same methodology as the anti-Biblicists; many of their arguments are based on false dichotomies. Attempts by Catholic apologists to introduce other options into into their simple either/or conclusion/s are usually brushed aside, and ignored.

But there is hope. For instance, when certain Evangelical and Catholic scholars sat down together with the understanding that past polemics between the two sides may have involved false dichotomies, the end result was stunning, as attested to by the following documents:

[See also: Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and Your Word Is Truth, both edited by Charles Colson & Richard John Neuhaus.]

The same holds true when Lutheran and Catholic scholars convined together over many years, addressing several import issues, producing numerous important documents which include (some sites are mirrored):

One should also note the 10 volume Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue series, which includes the important volume on justification, Justification by Faith (vol. VII).

So there is hope my brothers and sisters in Christ. In ending, I shall ask that all of us should pray for the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on the hearts and minds of ALL believers in combating the numerous false dichotomies that have plagued, and continue to plague Christ’s Church.

Grace and peace,


Sunday, September 16, 2007

James Swan, Systematic Theology, and Catholicism

James Swan, one the members of the “Team Apologian” crew, put up this morning, what may very well be his most ill-conceived post (in my subjective opinion), on either the AOMIN blog, or his own Beggar’s All blog. James is reading through Cornelius Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology and takes a quote from the book which references some “fifty-seven varieties of heresies with which our country [USA] abounds” and then tries to apply it to Catholic converts! I kid you not; here is the greater context:

I've been reading Van Til's An Introduction To Systematic Theology. Van Til notes systematic theology seeks to offer an ordered presentation of what the Bible teaches about God. He says "the study of systematic theology will help men to preach theologically. It will help to make men proclaim the whole counsel of God. Many ministers never touch the greater part of the wealth of the revelation of God to man contained in Scripture. But systematics helps ministers to preach the whole counsel of God, and thus to make God central in their work."

Here was the point that I found most interesting:

"It is but natural to expect that, if the church is strong because its ministry understands and preaches the whole counsel of God, then the church will be able to protect itself best against false teaching of every sort. Non-indoctrinated Christians will easily fall prey to the peddlers of Russellism, spiritualism and all of the other fifty-seven varieties of heresies with which our country abounds. One-text Christians simply have no weapons of defense against these people. They may be able to quote many Scripture texts which speak, for instance, of eternal punishment, but the Russellite will be able to quote texts which, by the sound of them and taken individually, seem to teach annihilation. The net result is, at best, a loss of spiritual power because of loss of conviction. Many times, such one-text Christians themselves fall prey to the seducers voice."

Of course, I had the converts to Roman Catholicism in mind, rather than Russellites. I wonder how many of these Catholic converts actually attended churches that proclaimed the whole council of God? A question I would ask is how many Catholic converts previously went to churches with strong systematic confessions of faith, like the Westminster Confession, and how often were they taught the confession, like in a Sunday School class, and how well did their minister cover all the doctrines in the confession of faith? I would expect some rather weak answers. (James Swan, - italics in the original post.)

My-oh-my, where to begin…

Has James so quickly forgotten the fairly recent converts to Catholicism who not only went to “went to churches with strong systematic confessions of faith”, but also received seminary training in conservative Reformed schools; some of whom went on to pastor the type of church James makes reference to! (E.g. Scott Hahn, James Akin, Robert Sungenis, Steve Wood, and Jerry Matatics.)

And then there is myself. I was mentored and discipled by a ruling elder of the ultra conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who I had met at the Christian bookstore he was working in which specialized in classic Reformed works. After reading through the entire systematic theologies of Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge, and W.G.T. Shedd (along with the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Longer and Shorter Catechisms, and numerous other Reformed works by such authors as B.B. Warfield, John Owen, John Murray, Jonathan Edwards, et al.), I became a member of the OPC. And my Reformed readings continued, but it was not long after my conversion that I began to see the incredible amount of schism that existed among the conservative Reformed churches. Their inability to exist together in ecclesiastical unity led to my deeper studies into history, including the early Church Fathers. (And we all know what Newman had to say about history!)

Now, I am certain that my response is not one of the “rather weak answers” James was hoping for when he penned his post. And I am quite sure that the examples of the Hahn, Akin, Sungenis, Wood, Matatics, and myself are not the only ones which make James’ post incredibly suspect.

But there is perhaps an even larger issue that needs to be addressed: the differing types of systematic theologies. Van Til (and James) acts as though the only systematic theologies that have been written are Reformed. Fact is there are Arminian, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Catholic systematic theologies. And there is a considerable amount of diversity among the Reformed systematic theologies. How is the simply lay person going know which of the dozens of extant systematic theologies out there is one he needs to read and embrace?

I am not going to bore everyone with my personal favorites, but I would like to end this post on one important note: Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology is certainly not one of the better ones, even when we allow for the fact that it is only an “introduction”. Van Til was a brilliant philosopher, but not a great theologian; his teaching concerning the doctrine of the Trinity is but one example of his sometimes muddled thought. Van Til stated:

We do assert that God, that is the whole Godhead, is one person…He is one person. When we say that we believe in a personal God, we do not merely mean that we believe in a God to whom the adjective “personality” may be attached. God is not an essence that has personality; He is absolute personality. Yet, within, the being of the one person we are permitted and compelled by Scripture to make the distinction between a specific or generic type of being, and three personal subsistences. (Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction To Systematic Theology, pp. 229, 230.)

Me thinks I smell a whiff of modalism…

Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 13, 2007

The perspicuity (clarity) of Sacred Scripture.

An interesting dialogue (at least to me) is currently taking place between James White, and three bloggers at . The opening salvos are found here:

These precipitated the following related threads:

I know, a lot of reading, but I hope a few readers will take the time to peruse through the material, for the ongoing discussion raises numerous unresolved issues within the Protestant paradigm. For now, I am going to explore but one of those issues: the perspicuity (clarity) of Sacred Scripture.

In the last thread I listed above, James states:

Meanwhile, so many of these same folks will inconsistently sow seeds of doubt as to the perspecuity of Scripture, the clarity of the gospel, and any number of other issues all in the name of “catholicity.” While I will never stop decrying the soul-crushing slavery of Roman religion, I have no interest at all in wasting any more time with those who think it enjoyable to sit in their comfy personal libraries while lobbing off literary artillery shells at those on the front lines. (James R. White - .)

Putting aside for the moment James’ caustic style of writing, I am truly wondering how he can seriously maintain “the perspecuity of Scripture” in light of the incredible divisions among those who espouse sola scriptura. A fellow Baptist had some very interesting observations on this issue:

The Reformation principle was not private judgment but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies…By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general consent…In the next century birth was given to a movement of evangelicalism which was fervently orthodox but which extended the field of non-essentials wider than the Reformers. This tendency has continued to the present day when the various evangelical confessions of faith are all note-worthy for their extreme brevity. Evangelicalism has retained a belief in the perspicuity of Scripture but confined it to a fairly narrow area of basic doctrine. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45.)

IMHO, the doctrine of the “perspicuity of the Scriptures” has died the ‘death of a thousand qualifications.’

As for “the clarity of the gospel”, James seems to ignore the seemly insurmountable historical difficulties that such a position raises (see the following thread for some discussion on this: ).

Once again, it is a mystery to me as to how someone can maintain “the clarity” of any doctrine (in this case “the gospel”) which was essentially lost to the world for nearly 1500 years until “the Reformers discovered” it.

I am sincerely pondering in my mind the question: have I missed something?

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

James Swan, Ratzinger/Benedict XVI and the "material sufficiency" of Sacred Scripture.

Earlier today, I noticed a post made by James Swan (09/02/07) at the AOMIN blog ( ). The post caught my eye because it is addressing certain comments I had made days earlier on James Swan's blog, "Beggars All" (08/27/07).

Why James chose to publish his response on James White's AOMIN blog instead of his own blog ( ) is a bit of a mystery to me—perhaps he did not want constructive dialogue on the matter, for as most know, the AOMIN blog does not allow comments—or maybe it was for other reasons known only to himself…

Moving on to James’ AOMIN post, he stated that I have exhibited “confusion” concerning the then Joseph Ratzinger’s position on the material sufficiency of Sacred Scripture. IMHO, Benedict XVI/Ratzinger did not display “ambiguity” concerning his position on this issue as James contends, but rather, clearly affirmed a belief in the material sufficiency of Sacred Scripture, while denying it's formal sufficiency.

James attempts to build his case on selective quotes from Ratzinger’s chapter “The Transmission of Divine Revelation” as found in the Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II , New York: Herder and Herder, 1969 (note: I shall be using the 1989 reprint by Crossroad), edited by Herbert Vorgrimler.

James begins his polemical treatment with:

While still a Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope) stated, " one is seriously able to maintain that there is a proof in Scripture for every catholic doctrine" [See Joseph Ratzinger's "The Transmission of Divine Revelation" in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), Vol. 3, p. 195]. Ratzinger made this comment with the documents of Vatican II (article nine of Dei verbum) in mind. (James Swan, “Material Sufficiency and Joseph Ratzinger” – hereafter JS.)

[As we shall shortly see, James has misunderstood the greater context of the above quote.]

James also wrote:

Earlier though in the same document, Ratzinger states the problem of the material completeness of Scripture was under dispute in 1965, and that "finally the idea of any tradition of this kind was rejected." This would indeed harmonize with Ratzinger's statement, " one is seriously able to maintain that there is a proof in Scripture for every catholic doctrine." Both these sentences reside in the same context. (JS)

First, James misquoted the selective text he provided—“tradition” should read “addition”. Second, the greater context surrounding the selective quote, demonstrates (IMHO) that James has misunderstood Benedict VXI’s/Ratzinger’s actual position. Here is the full context:

If we return to our text, we shall see that, following the stress on the unity of Scripture and tradition, an attempt is made to give a definition of the two entities. It is important to note that only Scripture is defined in terms of what it is: it is stated that Scripture is the word of God. If this makes clear the nature of Scripture, we can see from the detailed characterization of tradition, whose task it is to “preserve (it), explain it, and make it more widely know”, that it is not productive, but “conservative”, ordained to serve as part of something already given.

The next part of the sentence quo fit … hauriat is the result of a modus suggested by 111 fathers. They wanted, with small variations, something like the following addition: quo fit ut non omnis doctrina catholica ex (sola) Scriptura (directe) probari queat. Clearly, the problem of the material completeness of Scripture once more crops up here, the problem that had caused fierce debate in the Council in its first and third sessions. When the question was treated in the Theological Commission on 6 October 1965, a dispute flared up. Mgr. Philips, its secretary, made a conciliatory proposal, which met with no success, so that finally the idea of any addition of this kind was rejected. On 18 October, the President of the Commission, Cardinal Ottaviani, was given a letter written by Cardinal Cicognani at the request of the Pope, which, apart from a few improvements Chapter III, also stated that it would be desirable (magus opportunum) to have an addition at this point. The letter included seven textual suggestions, on which the Secretary of State commented in his letter: “His enim formulis ii etiam assensum ac suffragium praestaturi esse censentur, qui in maiore Concilii parte pollent.” After careful deliberation the Council decided on the third of the suggested formulations, which was probably the work of C. Colombo. It now stands in the text. From an ecumenical point of there can be no objection to it. H. Ott says: “Moreover, it is surely also true for a Protestant who has not forgotten the basis of the Reformation that we do not acquire certainty about God’s revelation only from Holy Scripture, but also through preaching and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.” Actually, there would have been nothing to object to in the text of the 111 fathers, for no one is seriously able to maintain that there is proof in Scripture for every Catholic doctrine. The ecumenical difficulties of the text lie, as we have seen, in quite different points. Emotions had become attached to a point where they were completely superfluous. Furthermore, when one analyzes text calmly, it appears as a positive contribution towards the clarification of the problem of tradition. The function of tradition is seen here as a making certain of the truth, i.e. it belongs in the formal and gnoseological sphere—and, in fact, this is the sphere in which the significance of tradition is to be sought
(Joseph Ratzinger, “The Transmission of Divine Revelation” in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II - New York: Crossroad, 1989, Vol. 3, pp. 194, 195.)

The “any addition of this kind” clearly refers to preceding the Latin quote, and not to a rejection of the principle of material sufficiency, as James attempts to read into his selective quote.

James continues with:

But perhaps the confusion demonstrated by this Roman Catholic is due to the ambiguity of Ratzinger's words. Ratzinger goes on to point out that even Protestants really don't believe in material sufficiency. Quoting H. Ott, Ratzinger states an ecumenical protestant should realize "... it is surely also true for a Protestant who has not forgotten the basis of the Reformation that we do not acquire certainty about God's revelation only from Holy Scripture, but also through preaching and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit." In other words, Material sufficiency is false even for Protestants, because God uses means outside of Scripture with his people.

But this is a false understanding of what Protestants mean by material sufficiency. "Acquiring certainty" is not extra-Biblical revelation. 1 John 5:13 states, "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God." Similarly John 20:31 states, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." The certainty I have is due to the fact that no authority can stand above God's word to validate God's word. God says in the Scriptures "I can know," and therefore, I can know! Further, by implication, Ratzinger holds that the Roman Church provides certainty, but this indeed is an unproven assertion. (JS)

James is clearly confusing material sufficiency with formal sufficiency; “certainty” (i.e. “proof”) of revealed truths/doctrines comes via the interpretation of the raw material. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is not saying, "that even Protestants really don't believe in material sufficiency"; no, no, no...what he IS saying is that even Protestants really don't believe in FORMAL sufficiency.

James’ comment that, “Ratzinger holds that the Roman Church provides certainty” is in perfect agreement with the consensus of the Church Fathers (“Roman Church”, being, of course, the Catholic Church), and speaks to a material sufficiency, but not a formal sufficiency of the Sacred Scriptures. Thus Ratzinger/Benedict XVI so cogently states that the “function of tradition is seen here as a making certain of the truth, i.e. it belongs in the formal and gnoseological sphere—and, in fact, this is the sphere in which the significance of tradition is to be sought.”

Backing up just a bit, Ratzinger/Benedict XVI stated in the same document that the “formulations of our Decree” [Dei Verbum], “were the product of the attempt to take into account, to the widest possible extent, the points made by the Reformed Churches and were intended to keep the field open for a Catholic idea of sola Sciptura(ibid. p. 192). By “a Catholic idea of sola Sciptura”,

Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is affirming material sufficiency, while rejecting the formal sufficiency of the Scriptures. He also believes that Protestants cannot objectively hold to the formal sufficiency of the Scriptures for: “Historical research has done away with the Reformation idea that Scripture itself has one clear meaning, or, rather, that this meaning can only have a relative character, namely within the framework of the kerygma(ibid. p. 194).

That Ratzinger/Benedict XVI advocated a belief in the material sufficiency of Scripture is so clear to me, I sincerely wonder how James could miss this. But in all fairness, I am certainly a fallible creature; as such, it is important to listen to what others have to say on the matter. The current professor of Systematic Theology at Seton Hall Univ. had the following comments:

Evangelicals, of course, have generally followed the Reformation dictum of sola scriptura. The essence of this phrase has a long and interesting theological history and is, with nuances, accepted by many, if not most, contemporary Catholic theologians. (Thomas G. Guarino, “Catholic Reflections on Discerning the Truth of Sacred Scripture” in Your Word Is Truth, edited by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, 2002, p. 79.)

The conciliar decree is open to this interpretation [material sufficiency] inasmuch as Catholics believe that statements of ecumenical councils are providentially guided by the Holy Spirit. Yves Congar closes by noting that the proper way of summing up the relationship between Scripture and tradition as found in both the Fathers and the pre-Tridentine period is in the formula used by Newman and the nineteenth-century theologian, J. E. Kuhn: Totum in scriptura, totum in traditione.

While Congar and J. Geiselmann believe that Trent left the door open for the thesis of the material sufficiency of Scripture, Joseph Ratzinger stakes the same claim for the Dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II, Dei Verbum #9. This text is “…the product of the attempt to take into account, to the widest possible extent, the points made by the Reformed churches and [was] intended to keep the field open for a Catholic idea of sola scriptura…”[12] If these theologians are correct, and the majority of contemporary Catholic theologians surely agree with them, then Catholics, in their own way, could agree with the position that the entire truth of salvation is found in Scripture.

[Note #12. Joseph Ratzinger, “Commentary on Dei Verbum,” in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 3, ed. Herbert Vorgrimler (New York: Herder & Herder, 1969) p. 192. Ratzinger notes here both his reservations and those of various Protestant commentators.]
(Ibid. pp. 85, 86.)

I cannot help but think that James’ view rests on very thin ice, not only do I read the greater context differently, but so does our mentioned professor of systematic theology…yet there is more; Ratzinger/Benedict XVI co-authored a book with the highly esteemed Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, and in that book he wrote:

For the moment we shall turn directly to the actual problems themselves which immediately prompt the question, what exactly does “sufficiency of scripture” mean? Geiselmann himself, as a Catholic theologian, has to hold fast to Catholic dogmas as such, but none of them is to be had sola scriptura, neither the great dogmas of Christian antiquity [i.e. the Trinity, two-natures, etc.], of what was once the consensus quinquesaecularis, nor, even less, the new ones of 1854 and 1950. (Ratzinger, “Revelation and Tradition”, in Revelation and Tradition, Rahner and Ratzinger, trans. W. J. O’Hara, p. 33.)

The question whether certain express affirmations were transmitted from the beginning side by side with scripture, whether, therefore, there is a second material principle besides scripture, independent from the beginning, becomes quite secondary in comparison; but it would probably have to be answered negatively. (Ibid. p. 46)

And Karl Rahner in another work states:

I would like, however, to try in the last part of our reflections to bring forward certain reasons for our not needing to accept – not even from a Catholic point of view – a constitutive material function of tradition which goes beyond the testimony of the nature of scripture; that we can say conversely, therefore, that it is entirely possible to formulate a Catholic sola scriptura principle with regard to the Church’s deposit of faith, provided that we understand this in a Catholic sense and therefore understand it to involve also an authoritative attestation and interpretation of holy scripture by the living word of the Church and her magisterium, and an attestation of scripture itself and its authoritative interpretation which cannot be replaced by scripture itself. (Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations vol. 6, p. 107.)

Can it get much clearer?

I think I have said enough on the matter (at least for now); I cannot help but think that an objective reading of the evidence will bring one to the conclusion that Ratzinger/Benedict XVI affirmed the material sufficiency of the Sacred Scriptures, while at the same time clearly denying their formal sufficiency.

Grace and peace,


Friday, August 31, 2007

Dr. Stephen J. Nichols' new book..thumbs down.

I pre-ordered Professor Stephen J. Nichols new book, For Us And For Our Salvation, at the recommendation of Jeff Downs ( ), and received it yesterday afternoon. I must say, I am somewhat disappointed, for I am finding some significant errors in the book.

Dr. Nichols writes:

Behind the commotion stood Arius. He taught, in a rather sophisticated manner, that there was a time when Christ was not. He denied his eternality, instead viewing Christ as created or made as the first being. Christ then created or made everything else. This led Arius to view Christ as more than human, but not as identical in essence or being to God. Instead Arius viewed Christ as similar in essence to God. He used the Greek word homoiousion…Arius had considered Christ to be of similar substance to the Father, using the Greek word homoiousion. (Stephen J. Nichols, For Us And For Our Salvation, pp. 59, 61.)

Fact is, Arius never used the word homoiousion; rather, the term came into use after the death of Arius to identify one of three schools which emerged from the teachings Arius during the middle and later half of the 4th century which older scholars termed “Semi-Arian”; the other two schools being, the Homoian and Anhomoian. (For an excellent treatment on this subject, see R.P.C. Hanson’s, The Search For The Christian Doctrine of God, pp. 348-386.)

And Athanasius quoted Arius (from his Thalia) as denying that the Son was similar in essence with the Father; rather, Arius claimed that the Son was “alien” in essence. (Athanasius, De Synodis, 15 – NPNF 4.457.)

And further, the Homoiousians (“Semi-Arians”) affirmed that the Son was from the Father’s essence, contra Arius, who stated that the Son was created “out of non-existence” - Gr. ex ouk ontōn estin – (see Arius’ letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, in Theodoret’s, Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 4 – NPNF 3.41). Interestingly enough, the Homoiousians were probably influenced more by the “two Eusebians”, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea, than by Arius himself.

Dr. Nichols goes on to write:

Athanasius’s view of Christ as being of one substance or essence (homoousion) with the Father won the day, while Arius’ view of Christ as similar substance with the Father (homoiousion) was declared to be outside the bounds of orthodoxy and thus condemned. (Ibid.. p. 66.)
As noted earlier, Dr. Nichols is incorrect about Arius’ teaching on this matter, and he is also in error concerning the status of those who actually did teach/accept the term homoiousion. Note what Athanasius had to say:

Those who deny the Council altogether, are sufficiently exposed by these brief remarks; those, however, who accept everything else that was defined at Nicaea, and doubt only about the Coessential, must not be treated as enemies; nor do we here attack them as Ario-maniacs, nor as opponents of the Fathers, but we discuss the matter with them as brothers with brothers, who mean what we mean, and dispute only about the word. For, confessing that the Son is from the essence of the Father, and not from other subsistence, and that He is not a creature nor work, but His genuine and natural offspring, and that He is eternally with the Father as being His Word and Wisdom they are not far from accepting even the phrase, ‘Coessential’… But since they say that He is ‘of the essence’ and ‘Like-in-essence,’ what do they signify by these but ‘Coessential?’ For, while to say only “Like-in-essence,’ does not necessarily convey ‘of the essence,’ on the contrary, to say ‘Coessential,’ is to signify the meaning of both terms, ‘Like-in-essence,’ and ‘of the essences’ And accordingly they themselves in controversy with those who say that the Word is a creature, instead of allowing Him to be genuine Son, have taken their proofs against them from human illustrations of son and father, with this exception that God is not as man, nor the generation of the Son as issue of man, but such as may be ascribed to God, and is fit for us to think. (Athanasius, De Synodis, 41 – NPNF 4.472.)

I for one am certainly wondering if the men who recommended Dr. Nichols book (e.g. John MacArthur, Bruce Ware, Millard Erickson...) have actually read the book.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

“APOSTASY” – Bringing Mormonism into the equation.

The vast majority of conservative Protestant apologists have retained the Reformers view that the historic Christian Church of the 16th was so corrupt that it could no longer be called “Christian”—in other words, the Christian Church had become apostate. The Reformers relied on this argument to justify their schism from the Catholic Church; which schism, as all know, led to the formation of numerous, competing visible sects (now in the thousands).

Though the importance of the visible Church has all but vanished from the minds of so many post-modern “evangelical” Christians, it was not so with the magisterial Reformers. One recent Protestant author remarked:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)

Now, keep the above mind while reading the following quotes:

Since the gospel stands at the heart of Christian faith, Luther and other Reformers regarded the debate concerning justification as one involving an essential truth of Christianity, a doctrine no less essential than the Trinity or the dual natures of Christ. Without the gospel the church falls. Without the gospel the church is no longer a church.

The logic followed by the Reformers is this:

1. Justification by faith alone is essential to the gospel.
2. The gospel is essential to Christianity and to salvation.
3. The gospel is essential to a church’s being a true church.
4. To reject justification by faith alone is to reject the gospel.

The Reformers concluded that when Rome rejected and condemned sola fide, it condemned itself, in effect, and ceased to be a true church. This precipitated the creation of new communions or denominations seeking to continue biblical Christianity and to be true churches with a true gospel. (R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone, p. 19.)

Rome did not teach that justification was without Christ or apart from him (Rome affirmed the necessity of Christ’s atonement and of his infused grace for a person to be justified). Nor did Rome consider the merit of Christ to be unnecessary. The issue was how the objective, redemptive work of Christ is subjectively appropriated by the sinner. Also to the controversy was the objective grounds of justification. (Ibid. p. 36.)

Packer rightly observes that the issue of justification became an issue, not merely of error or even heresy, but of apostasy. Rome considered Luther to be apostate. The Reformers likewise considered Rome to be apostate. (Ibid. p. 69.)

The conflict over justification by faith alone boils down to this: Is the ground of our justification the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, or the righteousness of Christ working within us? For the Reformers the doctrine of justification by faith alone meant justification by Christ and his [imputed] righteousness alone. (Ibid. p. 73.)

Reformed theology insists that the biblical doctrine of justification is forensic in nature…Here the term forensic refers to the judicial system and judicial proceedings. (Ibid. p. 95)

The question of inherent versus imputed righteousness goes to the heart of the Reformation debate. (Ibid. p. 99.)

If the gospel is the announcement of sola fide, as the Reformers believed, and if sola fide with its stress on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is essential to the gospel, then any denial of it is certainly a threat to it. (Ibid. p. 113.)

Summation: the “gospel” = justification by faith alone, through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone.

Herein lies THE historic conundrum: not one extant Christian writer until Martin Luther interpreted the Biblical gospel as delineated above*. (This is confirmed by the highly respected Protestant scholar, Alister McGrath, in his definitive work, Iustitia Dei – now in its 3rd edition.) If indeed R.C. Sproul (and the Reformers) are correct concerning the content of the Biblical gospel, then one must conclude that the gospel was essentially lost to the world for nearly 1500 years until “the Reformers discovered” it.

I would like to submit to all that such a view of Church history suggests, nay, shouts to us, that a mere “reformation” in the 16th century did not occur, but rather, what we really have is a “replacement/substitution”; a “replacement/substitution” of one, historic, apostolic Church, with many competing churches.

I would further argue that the “replacements” stemming from the 16th century are totally devoid of any true authority from Jesus Christ, for their church officers were neither called directly by Jesus, nor by anyone who did in fact have real authority from Him.

Enter Joseph Smith Jr. and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apologists for the LDS Church very early on realized that the Protestant position had serious deficiencies in their historic paradigm, one of which included the contention that it is impossible to derive true authority from an apostate church; as such, what was needed was not a mere reformation, but rather, a restoration based on a divine, authoritative, calling by Jesus Christ (or one of His authorized authorities). I cannot help but agree that such an assessment is a valid one, and submit that an objective reflection on this issue of apostasy yields but two consistent options: either the Church founded by our Lord in the first century did not apostatize (and was protected from such via divine assistance); or if it did apostatize, a divine restoration was needed.

John Henry Newman so succinctly assessed the Protestant paradigm with his now famous words:

“And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this…To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”

Grace and peace,


*Note: Recent assertions by some Protestant apologists that justification by faith alone, through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone, can be found in the writings of Clement of Rome and some other early Christian writers are seriously flawed, being based on a selective (and anachronistic) reading of their writings, as ALL patristic scholars of repute (Protestant and Catholic alike) attest to.

Monday, August 13, 2007

More on the Sufficiency of Grace…

The greatly esteemed Reformed scholar, Charles Hodge, penned the following concerning sufficient grace:

The Weslayan Arminians and the Friends , admitting the insufficiency of the light of nature, hold that God gives sufficient grace, or an inward supernatural light, which, if properly cherished and followed, will lead men to salvation. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol.1, p. 31 – Eerdmans 1981 reprint.)

In his section on soteriology, Hodge writes the following about the Remonstrant/Arminian doctrine of grace:

This divine grace is afforded to all men in sufficient measure to enable them to repent, believe, and keep all the commandments of God. (Ibid., vol. 2, p. 328.)

The quotes from Dr. Hodge indicate that he understands the phrase “sufficient grace” in the same historical sense as Dr. Pohle, contra James White (though, of course, he rejects the theology behind it).

And there is more, the sects listed by Dr. Hodge have an understanding of grace that is quite close to that of Catholicism. James White at least understands this aspect of grace in its historical context, for he said:

Furthermore, a word of warning should be presented for the non-Catholic reader of this work. If you are a Christian, the chances are great that you will be challenged by what will be said about the work of Christ in this book as well. The sad fact of the matter is, a large majority of modern “Protestantism” has embraced concepts in regards to the work of Christ, and all of salvation in general, that do not come from the Reformers, but from Catholicism itself! Modern “evangelicals” are quick to place the final decision in regards to salvation in the hands of man; the atonement of Christ, for the vast majority of modern Christians, is universal in scope; that is, Christ died for everyone, yet in dying, He really didn’t save anyone, since the is up to us. Just as Romanism was, at the time of the Reformation, and remains today, man-centered in its doctrine of salvation, so too is modern evangelicalism…

We believe that modern evangelicalism has little to say to Roman Catholicism, since it agrees with Rome on some the most basic issues of the Gospel! (James R. White, The Fatal Flaw, 1990, pp. 21, 22 – emphasis in the original.)

James’ above comments flow from his understanding of what constitutes “the Biblical Gospel”. Earlier in the same book he wrote:

The first distinctive of the Biblical Gospel over against the message taught by Rome was the role of God. Rather than God simply providing a way of salvation, the Reformers discovered that the Bible taught that God actually saved men. That is, rather than salvation being dependent upon men’s striving to take advantage of the plan made available by God, the real Gospel taught that God was able to save men independent of any action on man’s part. God, the Reformers taught, was absolutely sovereign in the matter of salvation…

The Reformer [John Calvin] taught that God, in His mercy and love, did, soely and completely on the basis of His own holy will, choose, elect, and predestine certain men unto salvation. His choice was not in any way, shape, or form based upon any action of man. (Ibid. pp. 13, 15 – all emphasis in the original.)

Now, with the above fresh in our minds, note the following conclusion of James:

The Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on the work of Jesus Christ (specifically His atonement) is anti-Biblical and false; hence, the Roman Catholic Church is not in possession of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and cannot, therefore, be considered a Christian Church. (Ibid. p. 19 – emphasis in the original.)

Further, we must also conclude that the same applies to “modern evangelicalism… since it agrees with Rome on some the most basic issues of the Gospel!”

Yet one cannot stop here, for James White’s “Biblical Gospel” was not taught by any Christian writer prior to the 16th century, for by his own admission “the Reformers discovered” it! (Concerning the novelty of the Reformers “Gospel”, see Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei, now in its 3rd edition.)

Conclusion: no "Gospel" for nearly 1500 years!

More later, the Lord willing…

Grace and peace,


Saturday, August 11, 2007

James White’s confusion concerning Sufficient Grace

On the sufficiency of grace, James White stated:

The dividing line at the Reformation was the sufficiency of grace, not the necessity of grace. That was the issue remains the issue today. (STR blog - August 07, 2007 at 10:41 AM; see also The Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 135.)

I shall put the above assertion to rest, once and for all, by clearly demonstrating that James does not understand what sufficient grace actually means in its historical context. Note the following from the pen Joseph Pohle:

EFFICACIOUS GRACE AND MERELY SUFFICIENT GRACE.—By efficacious grace (gratia efficax) we understand that divine assistance which with infallible certainty includes free salutary act. Whether the certainty of its operation results from the physical nature of this particular grace, or from God’s infallible foreknowledge (scientia media), is a question in dispute between Thomists and Molinists.

Merely sufficient grace (gratia mere sufficiens) is that divine assistance whereby God communicates to the human will full power to perform a salutary act (posse) but not the action itself (agere).

The division of grace into efficacious and merely sufficient is not identical with that into prevenient and coöperating. Coöperating grace does not ex vi notionis include with infallible certainty the salutary act. It may indeed be efficacious, but in matter of fact frequently fails to attain its object because the will offers resistance.

a) The existence of efficacious graces is as certain as that there is a Heaven filled with Saints…

b) Before demonstrating the existence of sufficient grace it is necessary, in view of certain heretical errors, carefully to define the term.

a) Actual grace may be regarded either in its intrinsic energy or its extrinsic efficacy (efficientia efficacitas). All graces are efficacious considered in there intrinsic energy, because all confer the physical and moral power necessary to perform the salutary act for the sake of which they are bestowed. From this point of view, therefore, and in actu primo, there is no real but a purely logical distinction between efficacious and merely sufficient grace. If we look to the final result however, we find that this differs according as the will either freely coöperates with grace or refuses coöperation. If the will coöperates, grace becomes truly efficacious; if the will resists, grace remains “merely sufficient.” In other words, merely sufficient grace confers full power to act, but is rendered ineffective by the resistance of the will…

Calvinsim and Jansenism, while retaining the name, have eliminated sufficient grace from there doctrinal systems.

Jansenius (+1638) admits a kind of “sufficient grace,” which he calls gratia parva, but it is really insufficient because no action can result from it unless it is supplemented by another more power grace. This heretic denounced sufficient grace in the Catholic sense as a monstrous conception and a means of peopling hell with reprobates. Some of his followers even went so far as to assert that “in our present state sufficient grace is pernicious rather useful to us, and we have reason to pray: From sufficient grace, O Lord, deliver us!”

b) It is an article of faith that there is a merely sufficient grace and that it is truly sufficient even when frustrated by the resistance of the will.
(The Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph Pohle, PhD., D.D., Grace: Actual and Habitual – A Dogmatic Treatise, adapted and edited by Arthur Preuss, 1947, pp. 41-44.)

There can be no doubt left that James has clearly misunderstood the historical meaning of sufficient grace. As such, he really needs to go on record and acknowledge his confusion.

Grace and peace,


Friday, August 10, 2007

Grace: Necessity and Sufficiency

The ongoing discussion at the blog ( ) I linked to in my last thread has evolved into a discussion focusing on the doctrine grace. To set the stage for the rest of my post, I need to quote a section from James White’s “August 07, 2007 at 10:41AM” post:

So Dr. Beckwith's claims regarding his reading of Trent now raises all sorts of new questions that he has not addressed. If, in fact, he had read Trent as a serious student of theology in the past, as he seems to be claiming now, how could he say what he said on STR, quoted above? How could he be "amazed" at what any basic reading of the text would have revealed to any layman? How can anyone read Trent and not know it condemns Pelagianism? How could he not know the most basic issues addressed by the Council? (I note in passing that some of his comments to Koukl could be taken to indicate that he does not understand that the canon listing at Trent was the first dogmatic definition of the canon in Roman theology, including the Apocrypha). A person who has read Trent knows that the issue of the Reformation has never, ever been the *necessity* of grace. Everyone knows that. The dividing line at the Reformation was the *sufficiency* of grace, not the necessity of grace. That was the issue remains the issue today.

Two days later (“August 09, 2007 at 11:38AM”), Jonathan Prejean responded to the above with:

"Shocked to find the necessity of Grace in Trent? Has that ever even been an issue? What would be shocking would be to find the sufficiency of Grace in Trent."

Then prepare to be shocked, because Trent teaches the sufficiency of grace as well.

From the Sixth Session on justification:"Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance"

Dr. Beckwith, who spent years studying the meaning of terms like "efficient cause," would obviously recognize that this affirms the sufficiency of grace. James White, who apparently does not know what an efficient cause is, missed it.

This post precipitated an interesting discussion on grace in the subsequent posts, all which (IMHO) should be read in order to get a good grasp of the some of the issues that have been misunderstood by many of our Evangelical separated brethren, including James White who said:

The dividing line at the Reformation was the sufficiency of grace, not the necessity of grace. That was the issue remains the issue today.

To whet your appetite, I shall quote two of my own posts from the ongoing discussion:

Matthew wrote:

>>For it to be sufficient in the Tridentine system, it would have to be the alone cause of regeneration and justification. In which case, Trent would be abiding by the doctrine of the Reformation.>>

Dead wrong. Many Catholic doctors/theologains (e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. ) adhere to what St. Augustine termed, magnum usque in finem perseverantiae donum (the great gift of final perseverance). It is a pure gift of grace from God, and is totally sufficient.

Grace and peace,

David (“August 09, 2007 at 3:05PM”)


Hi Matt,

You wrote:

>>Was I quoting and/or discussing St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas? No.We were discussing the Canons of the Council of Trent and the dispute over the sufficiency of grace during the Reformation.>>

To correctly understand the Canons of the Council of Trent, one must understand the esteemed Catholic doctors/fathers/theologians who preceded the learned bishops of the council. To think that the Canons of the Council of Trent somehow negated the teachings of such giants as St. Augustine and St. Thomas is, to be brutally blunt, absurd. Catholicism affirms ‘free will’ and ‘perseverance’ (synergism); Calvinists believe that to affirm the first is to deny the second (monergism); putting aside which side is correct on this issue, the fact which remains is that Trent does not does not deny the sufficiency of grace, for the gift of final perseverance remains a key ingredient of the Catholic system of thought.

Grace and peace,

David (“August 09, 2007 at 9:22PM”)

Now, it sure seems to me that if that the so-called “dividing line at the Reformation”, as perceived by James White (and so many others), is based on misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church actually believes about the doctrine of grace.

My next thread shall delve into two related issues pertaining to the doctrine grace: justification and salvation (i.e. the “gospel”).

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Francis Beckwith, Greg Koukl and James White

As many already know, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Francis Beckwith, returned to the Catholic Church this last April. And as expected, the event has created a considerable amount of chatter on the internet scene: pro, con, and everything in between…

Just this week, Dr. Beckwith appeared on Greg Koukl’s apologetic radio program, “Stand To Reason” ( ), which was followed up the next day by with the follow post at: .

Contributions to the thread have included posts by Dr. Beckwith, Greg Koukl and Paul Owen. I contributed 2 posts in response to some comments made by the Reformed Baptist apologist, James R. White (a title requested by himself ). Rather than reply to my posts in the thread, James instead choose to brush me off (as well as some other contributors) with some derogatory comments on his AOMIN blog: . Nice work James!

Earlier this morning, (before creating my own blog) I started a thread at Catholic Answers ( ) to shed some light on James’ charges.

Grace and peace,


My opening post.

Believe it or not, after a couple of years of promptings and chastisements from friends, I have finally created my own blog!!!

My prolonged reticence about creating a blog was due in part to my lack of cyber skills and a certain willingness to commit to a sustained presence on the blog. However, after much prayer and reflection, I have placed my concerns behind me, and have leaped (uhhh…stumbled) into the 21st century.

I shall initially try to focus on issues/studies that are of great interest to me: Catholicism, Mormonism, Patristics, and “counter-cult” apologetics/ministries.

It is my sincere hope that I am able to make at least some productive contributions for my fellow bloggers, interested readers, and a place for spirited (whilst charitable) dialogue.

Grace and peace,