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 (http://countercult.wordpress.com/2007/05/31/christ-in-the-early-church/ ), 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,

David

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,

David

*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,

David

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 then...it 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,

David

Friday, August 10, 2007

Grace: Necessity and Sufficiency


The ongoing discussion at the blog (http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2007/08/when-did-we-get.html ) 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 then...it 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 then...it 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”)


And:

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,

David

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” (http://www.str.org/site/PageServer ), which was followed up the next day by with the follow post at: http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2007/08/when-did-we-get.html .

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: http://www.aomin.org/index.php?itemid=2174 . Nice work James!

Earlier this morning, (before creating my own blog) I started a thread at Catholic Answers (http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=175041 ) to shed some light on James’ charges.


Grace and peace,

David

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,

David