Monday, May 31, 2010

A “Reformed civil war”


Last week I received in the mail the Spring 2010 (Vol. 72.1) issue of The Westminster Theological Journal. Considered by many to be the premier journal of the conservative, American, Reformed “subculture”, the essays published in this journal are from some of the best Reformed minds of our day. Of the ten essays presented in his issue of the WTJ, I thought seven of them were quite good; but one of those seven particularly impressed me: William B. Evans, “DÈJÁ VU ALL OVER AGAIN? THE CONTEMPORARY REFORMED SOTERIOLOGICAL CONTROVERSY IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE”*. I will be providing some selections from this essay, followed with a few of my own reflections—from Evan’s pen we read:

Those familiar with the conservative Reformed subculture in the United States have likely noticed considerable recent debate on matters soteriological (i.e. issues having to do with the doctrine of salvation). Issues long thought settled have emerged with new vigor, new questions have emerged, and long-forgotten or even suppressed aspects of the Reformed tradition have been brought to light. For example, the doctrine of justification by faith, thought by many to be the material principle of the Reformation and a hallmark of Reformed Christianity, is now under intense discussion in a variety of circles. (Page 135)

Reformed soteriology, particularly in America, has been anything but monolithic. (Page 135 - bold emphasis mine)

let us begin with Calvin, who set a formal agenda for most subsequent Reformed thinking by highlighting the Pauline theme of union with Christ. Here we recall his famous statement at the beginning of Institutes 3.1.1 that the benefits of salvation remain unavailable to us as long as “Christ remains outside of us.” Note also Calvin’s insistence that it is through union and participation with the “substance” of Christ’s incarnate humanity that both the power of his deity and the forensic benefits of salvation (e.g. justification) are conveyed to the Christian. But Calvin’s view of union with Christ and soteriology in general involved a matrix of realistic, personal, and forensic categories which was never fully developed and explained. Categories such as “substance” and “participation” are ontological, while “imputation” and synthetic justification are forensic, and the Reformer never fully explained how the forensic dimension is related to Christ’s person such that to receive the former. (Page 135, 136)

Evans’ then goes on to relate subsequent developments “made by some of Calvin’s successors who began to explore the notion of Christ’s resurrection as a forensic act”, and then that “this promising approach was soon overwhelmed by the rise of federal theology [not to be confused with Federal Vision] with its notions of extrinsic federal or legal solidarity". (Page 136)

Evans continues with:

Accompanying this was the imposition of an ordo salutis famework on the elements of soteriology, such that the forensic benefits of salvation (justification and adoption) logically and temporally preceded the transformatory benefits (sanctification and glorification). The effect of these moves was to safeguard the forensic from works righteousness, but at the expense of making the forensic rather abstract. (Page 136)

This impulse was most fully developed in the American context by the Old Princeton theologians Charles and A. A. Hodge. (Page 136)

But this federal theology paradigm provoked reactions in other directions. The New England Calvinist trajectory from the Edwardseans to Nathaniel William Taylor was convinced that federal theology was implicitly antinomian…they jettisoned all notions of imputation (both in hamartiology and soteriology) and merit, and they spoke only of a “moral union” of shared sentiment between Christ and the individual believer. Here the primary concern was genuine transformation of life, and antinomianism was seen as the great threat. (Page 137)

Another reaction is evident in the so-called Mercersburg Theology of John W. Nevin. Responding both to the forensic abstraction of federal theology and the individualistic legalism of New England Calvinism, Nevin sought to go back to Calvin by emphasizing the believer’s union with Christ, which issues in both justification and sanctification, and the way that this union with Christ is inaugurated and strengthened by the objective means of grace in the corporate life of the church. (Page 137)

Later federal theology privileged justification, New England Calvinism stressed sanctification, and Mercersburg prioritized union with Christ. As we shall see, similar things are going on today. (Page 138)

Evans moves on to three modern (20th and 21st century) developments/trajectories: the first he terms, “The Biblical Theological Trajectory”; the second, “The Revisionist Wing”; and the third, “The Repristinationist Wing”.

Evans points out that the beginnings of the “The Biblical Theological Trajectory” are to be found in the works of Geerhardus Vos and his student John Murray. The ‘torch’ has been carried on by one of Murray’s students, Richard B. Gaffin, and “a variety of Gaffin’s students—Lane Tipton, Mark Garcia, Philip Ryken, the present author and others”.

Evans continues:

We also find here a dissatisfaction with certain concepts and schemas that have been taken for granted more recently by the federal theology tradition together with the sense that they have obscured rather than illuminated certain key scriptural themes. (Page 139 - bold emphasis mine)

Particular attention has been focused on the ordo salutis construction that has informed much conservative Reformed soteriology since the early seventeenth century. Gaffin and others have argued that the ordo salutis, with its logical schematizing of the various elements of salvation, obscures the unity of salvation in Jesus Christ and the centrality of the believer’s union with Christ. (Pages 139, 140 - bold emphasis mine)

Another characteristic of this trajectory is a strong emphasis on the theme of the believer’s union with Christ. Two aspects of this view of union with Christ stand out. First there is the priority of union. John Murray wrote:

Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ…

Thus union with Christ is understood as an umbrella category that is foundational to all aspects of salvation. Philip G. Ryken writes, “Union with Christ is not simply one step in salvation; it is the whole stairway on which every step is taken.” Particular attention here is focused on the relationship between union and justification, with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness viewed as in some sense consequent to spiritual union with Christ. Thus Ryken adds, “Union with Christ is logically prior to justification…”
(Page 140 - bold emphasis mine)

According to this trajectory, Scripture teaches both forensic and synthetic justification, and it indicates that one’s eternal destiny hinges in some sense on the ongoing life of faith and obedience. (Page 141 - bold emphasis mine)

Evans then moves on to the “The Revisionist Wing” trajectory. He begins with Norman Shepherd, “who taught systematic theology at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, from 1963 to 1981, and then follows with “the so-called Federal Vision (FV) movement”. Evans writes:

Here we see a revisionist impulse entailing a significant recasting of the tradition. The motives evident here are several. There are deep concerns about “cheap grace,” that is, antinomian preaching of salvation apart from real transformation of life. Thus the necessity of obedience and the close connection of faith and obedience are stressed. There is also a deep ecclesial impulse here. The American revivalist tradition with its subjectivity and concern for isolated conversion experiences at the expense of the ongoing life of faith and obedience is viewed with deep suspicion, and so we see a turn toward the objective in religion, toward the churchly and sacramental. (Pages 141, 142)

Norman Shepherd must be regarded as a seminal figure here, for his thought has set an agenda for much of this group…He contends that the key scriptural covenants—the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, and the New—are conditional in that they entail both “promise and obligation.” The covenant promises are freely given, but the blessings of the covenant cannot be enjoyed apart from faith and obedience…Here we also see a rejection of the Law/Gospel distinction (which Shepherd views as “Lutheran”) in favor of a mono-covenental framework which attempts to integrate rather than separate obligation and promise.

Second, there is an expansive view of faith as including works of evangelical obedience. Shepherd never tires of declaring that the faith that saves is living, active, and obedient: “Faith produces repentance, and repentance is evident in the lifestyle of the believer. Thus, the obligation of the new covenant include not only faith and repentance, but also obedience.” Shepherd adds that this “is not the obedience of merit, but the obedience of faith. Obedience is simply faithfulness to the Lord; it is the righteousness of faith.”

Third, there is a rejection of what Shepherd calls a “works/merit principle” in favor of a “faith/grace principle”, and a repudiation of the notion of merit. Merit matter of just deserts.
(Page 142)

Fourth, there is a focus upon the objectivity of covenant administration over against the subjectivity of personal experience. Problems of assurance result, he contends, when we look within for evidence of God’s grace. Regeneration is difficult to quantify, and even more difficult to fathom is the mystery of God’s eternal election. And so Shepherd directs believers away from subjective personal experience to baptism. (Page 143)

Evans then quotes the following from Shepherd’s, The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism:

But instead of looking at covenant from the perspective of regeneration, we ought to look at regeneration from the perspective of covenant. When that happens, baptism, the sign and seal of the covenant, marks the point of conversion. Baptism is the moment when we see the transition from death to life and a person is saved. (Page 143 – p. 94 in The Call of Grace - bold emphasis mine)

Finally, there is a corresponding de-emphasis on election and divine sovereignty. In it foregrounding of the “five points of Calvinism,” Shepherd argues that the Reformed tradition has attempted, as it were, to play God, to approach soteriology from the standpoint of infinite deity rather than finite humanity. (Page 143 - bold emphasis mine)

Evans follows the Shepherd section with a look at the “Federal Vision (FV) movement” which “may be treated more briefly, since it is in a large measure a fleshing out of Shepherd’s earlier work.”

In addition to Shepherd, we must also note the importance of the theonomic or Christian Reconstructionist movement, which seems to have provided a sizeable social network and base for the FV movement. (Pages 143, 144)

With regard to baptism, the trend here has been toward exceedingly high conception of baptismal efficacy. The parameters of the covenant community are defined by baptism, which both admits a person to the church and conveys saving grace (regeneration and union with Christ). (Page 144 - bold emphasis mine)

With regard to the Lord’s Supper, the emphasis is, once again, on sacramental objectivity. Because baptized children are understood to have already received initial saving grace, the practice of paedocommunion is often encouraged in FV circles. (Page 144)

Because the enjoyment of the benefits of the covenant is conditional on perseverance in faith and obedience and because of a robust doctrine of baptismal grace, considerable attention has been paid to the dynamics of perseverance and apostasy. For example, Rich Lusk has argued at length that the warnings against apostasy in the NT are real rather than hypothetical, and that it is possible for those who are genuinely united with Christ in baptism to fall from grace…Lusk posits a separate grace of perseverance given only to the elect.” [Note: Lusk’s understanding of apostasy and the grace of perseverance here is identical to that of Augustine and Aquinas.] (Pages 144, 145)

Finally, the doctrine of justification undergoes considerable development in FV hands. Two areas stand out. First, the notion of imputation appears to be in process of eclipse. There is little talk of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, probably because such a notion of vestigial in the absence of the concept of merit. Likewise, soteriological imputation is challenge in that some of the FV figures, along with Shepherd, deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the believer. Second, Leithart has also argued that justification is more than merely forensic, and that it has a transformatory dimension. (Page 145 - bold emphasis mine)

Evans’ next section describes “The Repristinationist Wing”; he begins with:

Such revisionism has sparked a strong reaction from those who wish to defend classical Reformed orthodoxy. Much of this effort has emerged from faculty members at Westminster Seminary in California…The overriding motive here is clear and laudable—safeguarding the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith. (Page 145)

Finally, the historical method evident in this wing needs to be noted. As the continuity of later federal orthodoxy with the earlier Reformed tradition is asserted, a certain “flattening” of the tradition ensues. The notion of historical development seems to play no substantive role here. (Page 147 - bold emphasis mine)

In the last section, “Observations”, Evans gives us a summation of his thoughts. The following are some of those “observations”:

The contours of the nineteenth-century American Reformed debates are to a significant extent repeated. (Page 147)

Churches have been torn by these debates, and extensive denominational reports have been written. (Page 147)

this controversy raises important question about the historiography of the Reformed tradition. Issues of continuity and discontinuity, of fidelity and infidelity to the tradition are persistently raised. Another way to phrase this is to raise the question of what is the “normative center” of the tradition for conservative Reformed people. (Page 148)

Second, this controversy poses important questions as to how conservative Reformed systematic theology ought to be done…Are Reformed churches defined primarily, as some today seem to argue, by adherence to confessional documents? If so, is the role of Scripture, practically speaking, simply to provide prooftexts for the confessional tradition? (Page 148 - bold emphasis mine)

these debates are also occurring at the same time that the conservative Reformed theological tradition is no longer central to the intellectual life of American Evangelicalism, and as the conservative Reformed churches associated with the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) make up only about half a million people. (Page 150)

The prospect of further splintering of this group does not bode will for it. The battle lines are already drawn and the positions are hardening. One participant in these discussions has spoken of a “Reformed civil war.” (Page 150 - bold emphasis mine)

We have arrived at the end of Evans incredible essay—incredible for its clarity, content, and frankness. Evans gives the ‘outsider’ a look into the reality of one of the most vocal branches of the American conservative Christian scene, and that look raises numerous concerns for any thoughtful reader.

To Evans’ “observations”, I would like to add a few of my own. First, the trajectories mentioned by Evans that are moving beyond “classical Reformed orthodoxy” (i.e. the federal theology which developed shortly after Calvin), exhibit a return to a theology that is more Biblically and historically based. Second, those who are aggressively attempting to defend “classical Reformed orthodoxy” are in essence giving a certain priority to tradition over Scripture. And finally, the prominent leaders of these separate Reformed trajectories have at least one thing in common with each other, and with their ultimate Master (i.e. John Calvin)—arrogance. I have little doubt that this arrogant/overconfident attitude has been the primary contributing factor to new this “Reformed civil war”.


Grace and peace,

David

*Evans most likely had Michael Horton’s article, Déjà Vu All Over Again , in mind when he came up with the title for his essay.

19 comments:

Jnorm888 said...

Excellent post David! I always thought Norman Sheperd, FV, NPP, and Auburn Ave were a good thing for the Reformed because it would move them closer in line with Historic Christianity......it would move them closer in the direction to Rome, EO......etc.

But I often find alot of Prespyterians and other Calvinists online fighting against them and what they are trying to do.

Don't they know that in pushing them out their circles that they are only making themselves more and more foriegn to historical christianity?

At least this is what comes to mind whenever I see the infighting. I personaly like FV, Norman Sheperd, NPP, and Auburn Ave.


Hey, do you have the article in where they talk about the infighting among the Reformed in regards to the Nicene creed and the doctrine of the Trinity? I recall one group of Reformed supporting aseity of all 3 Persons and thus openly rejecting the Nicene Constantinople creed which supports the Aseity of the Father....which is also what we find in the Pre-Nicene World.....but they reject it in favor of the Athanasain creed.

And then you have the other group of Reformed that support the Nicene Constantinople creed. I can't find the article online anymore.








Christ is in our Midst!

Jnorm888 said...

Also the Reformed who embrace the asiety of all three Persons have no business picking on the Mormons and their asiety of all three persons view.








Christ is in our Midst!

thegrandverbalizer19 said...

With the name of God, Peace be unto you David. I hope the vacation is going well.

I am the very last part of the book and Allah-willing will make a review of it on my blog. Thank you once again.

If what Jnorm above is saying is true I do want to know all that I can about this bit of history as well.

I am also curious for a good book that deals with the PST and other atonement concepts within Christian theological circles.

Thank you again and I'm glad to see other comments on very well written post.

Jnorm888 said...

David,

On second thought, maybe you should just simply e-mail me your answer. I think that would be best.

Thanks!








Christ is in our Midst!

Robert said...

Hi,

My name is Rev Robert Wright, Editor for Christian.com, a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the entire Christian community an outlet to join together and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features like Christian TV, prayer requests, finding a church, receiving church updates and advice. We have emailed you to collaborate with you and your blog to help spread the good word of Christianity. I look forward to your response regarding this matter. Thanks!


Rev. Robert Wright
rev.robertwright@gmail.com
www.christian.com

David Waltz said...

Hello Jnorm,

Thanks much for taking the time to respond; you wrote:

>>Excellent post David!>>

Me: Sincerely appreciate the kudos…

>>I always thought Norman Sheperd, FV, NPP, and Auburn Ave were a good thing for the Reformed because it would move them closer in line with Historic Christianity......it would move them closer in the direction to Rome, EO......etc.>>

Me: Agreed. I was in the OPC shortly after Shepherd was booted out of the Westminster Seminary, and clearly remember the heated debates concerning his “orthodoxy”.

>>But I often find alot of Prespyterians and other Calvinists online fighting against them and what they are trying to do.

Don't they know that in pushing them out their circles that they are only making themselves more and more foriegn to historical christianity?>>

Me: I think that many in the Reformed camp just don’t care. Personally, I believe three factors contribute to such an attitude: first, the Reformed doctrine of election; second, the “remnant theory” that is prevalent among many Reformed folk; and third, arrogance.

>>At least this is what comes to mind whenever I see the infighting. I personaly like FV, Norman Sheperd, NPP, and Auburn Ave.>>

Me: As do I…

>>Hey, do you have the article in where they talk about the infighting among the Reformed in regards to the Nicene creed and the doctrine of the Trinity? I recall one group of Reformed supporting aseity of all 3 Persons and thus openly rejecting the Nicene Constantinople creed which supports the Aseity of the Father....which is also what we find in the Pre-Nicene World.....but they reject it in favor of the Athanasain creed.>>

Me: I do not immediately recall a published article on this issue (though there is a faint whisper in my mind of something in the WTJ…) However, I have a post on this issue: John Calvin: a tri-theistic heretic???.

For other posts that touch on this, see this LINK. In the last post of the above LINK, I provided the following from Van Til’s pen:

“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.)

>>And then you have the other group of Reformed that support the Nicene Constantinople creed. I can't find the article online anymore.>>

Me: Do you remember the author and/or title of the article?


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi GrandVerb,

So good to ‘see’ you again; you posted:

>> With the name of God, Peace be unto you David. I hope the vacation is going well.>>

Me: I am back at the beach, and the rain!!! (Though at least the air is pollution free…)

>>I am the very last part of the book and Allah-willing will make a review of it on my blog. Thank you once again.>>

Me: Excellent…let me know when the review is up.

>>If what Jnorm above is saying is true I do want to know all that I can about this bit of history as well.>>

Me: See the links I suggested to Jnorm for starters; later today, I am joining to browse through my collection of the WTJ and see if I can find any essays that have been written on this issue>

>>I am also curious for a good book that deals with the PST and other atonement concepts within Christian theological circles.>>

Me: The following downloadable books are good (though a bit dated) introductions:

http://www.archive.org/details/ideaofatonement00rashuoft

http://www.archive.org/details/ashorthistoryoft00grenuoft


I also think you may find the following links helpful:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_atone10.htm

http://www.theopedia.com/Penal_substitutionary_atonement

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_atone5.htm


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

>>David,

On second thought, maybe you should just simply e-mail me your answer. I think that would be best.

Thanks!>>

Me: Ooops…I was responding to the posts in order. Since I have already posted material on this subject, I hope I have not offended. Please feel free to email if you would like to pursue material that you may think is a bit ‘sensitive’.


God bless,

David

Jnorm888 said...

Van Til seems to be calling the "Essence" a 4th Person or something. Or that the 3 Persons of the Trinity exist within the Person of the Essence.

One of the main reasons why I chose Eastern Orthodoxy over Rome was because I knew that their view of the Trinity....and I'm not saying that Rome's view of it was the same as Van Til's....for I think the Reformed view or views is on a totally different planet, But one of the main reasons was because I knew that it was alot closer to the popular pre-nicene Triniterian view.

You see, I use to be a subordinate Triniterian in the pre-Nicene sense.....I guess I still am but the Nicene/Constantinople 1 subordinationism is slightly different from it's pre-nicene form. Extremely close, but different due to the Arian and Modalistic heresies that they were fighting against at the time.

You see, in the Pre-Nicene World God....or the One God was seen as being the Father, and so He was seen as being the Source. The Logos was seen as being God from God or True Light from True Light, begotten not made.

When the Logos was in the Bosom of the Father, they Called the second Person of the Trinity Logos, but when He was sent by the Father to create all things, that is when they called the Logos....The Son. And this is where things get tricky, for the Logos and the Son are the same Person, they just added the name "Son" when He was sent to create all things. Certain forms of Arainism abused this idea and twisted it to the point of having the Son created. Or that the Son had a beginning(Arche), but really the Son doesn't have a Beginning, He just has a source(Arche)

And so there are two differences between the pre-Nicene vs the Post Nicene (Eastern) forms of the Trinity..well, there maybe three due to the Nicene vs Neo Nicene party, but for now I will just say two. In the pre-Nicene world they made a distinction between the names Logos and Son when it came to being hidden in the Bosom of the Father before all things were created vs being sent forth to create all things. In the post Nicean World that distinction was dropped to safe guard against Arianism, and so Now we call the Logos Son not only when He is being sent to create all things but also before then when He was hidden in the Bossom of the Father. We also no longer talk about the Father freely begetting the Son for the Arians abused that as well, and so now we talk about the Father always being Father, and therefore there always had to be a Son...and so the Father is Father by Nature. Other than that, the pre and post Nicene Triniterian views are the same.

Jnorm888 said...

David said:
" Do you remember the author and/or title of the article?


Grace and peace,

David"



No, but it was online 3 years ago. A calvinistic protestant friend brought it to my attention, but I lost it when a forum deleted most of it's threads. I've been looking for it eversince, but could never find it.

Acolyte4236 said...

Union with CHrist in Reformed theology is just a word. Either they haven't a clue about it really amounts to or they chalk it up to the legal relationship between Christ and the believer. The "union" then is an extrinsic union of will and law.

That is, between God and the believer there is a created intermediary, namely justice, righteousness or pick your forensically favorite term. "Union with Christ" for the Reformed is just a word, and one that sounds alot like Arianism.

natamllc said...

Mr Waltz,

I commented over at TF's blog and you have not responded, as yet?

Is there a reason you haven't responded to my replies to yours?

natamllc

David Waltz said...

Hi natamllc,

You wrote:

>>I commented over at TF's blog and you have not responded, as yet?

Is there a reason you haven't responded to my replies to yours?>>

Me: I did not respond directly to you because the thread has devolved a bit, and I sense the thread had pretty much reached its ‘end’. With that said, if you would like to continue our dialogue, I am more than willing to do so, just let me know which forum you think would be the best to do so (@TFT, AF, or via email).

Take care and God bless,

David

natamllc said...

David

that combox is not closed and I did leave comments over there. Shouldn't your reply be posted there then?

thanks
michael

And by the way, I see from remarks you make regarding NPP, you are more inclined that way? I am not.

I would open to a healthy exchange on that regard, here perhaps?

David Waltz said...

Hi Michael,

Just stepped inside for a bit to check my email and blog; we are finally getting some nice weather here, so I am devoting today to outside chores. Will respond at length to the comments you made over at the TFT blog tomorrow (Lord willing).

As for NPP, have not made up my mind on N.T. Wright’s position; with that said, I have been somewhat of a ‘fan’ of Norman Shepherd for a number of years now. Have you read his The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism?

Grace and peace,

David

Lisamck said...

The whole post showing the disarray into which a small remnant of Protestant thought has scattered leaves me wondering what Luther's proverbial milkmaid believes now. Is this really an improvement for the ordinary Christian upon having a Council of Trent say what the Church teaches in the name of Christ?

It is impossible that the good God expects the sheep of the flock to sort through all this mess. I was just reading today through the Preface in my Bible where the author makes points that seem apropos to this pathetic disharmony Dave describes. And what is really most crazy is that this isn't between Quakers and Nazarenes or Anglicans and Baptists. These are all Presbyterians! They all claim to come from one Calvinistic tree and there is no way for the ordinary faithful to judge!

"If there be no infallible authority, which may say to us all, 'this is the true meaning of the holy Scripture: how can we expect that illiterate peasants, or simple mechanics, should engage in a discussion wherein the learned themselves cannot agree? God would have been wanting to the necessities of almost all men, if, when he gave them a written law, he had not at the same time provided them a sure interpreter, to spare them the necessity of research, or which they are utterly incapable. Every man of common understanding has need of nothing more than a sincere sense of his ignorance, to see the absurdities of the sects, who build their separation from the Catholic Church upon the privilege of deciding on matters far above their comprehension. Ought we then to hearken to the new reformers, who require what is impossible; or to the ancient Church, which provides for the weakness of our nature?'"

Someone will urge that disharmony exists in the Catholic Church. There are diverse permissible opinions about predestination for instance. There is the Molinist vs. the Thomistic school of thought. But there is an authoritative interpreter available should the Church determine that the mechanics and garbage haulers need to know the truth about predestination. This sola scriptura business doesn't help unite mechanics who are less suited to the unravelling of these allegedly "perspicuous" Scriptures. But apparently it does even less to unite the puffed up eggheads who think they don't need an infallible interpretation.

David Waltz said...

Hello Rory,

I am more than pleased that you have finally read this thread; your response contains many cogent points that Protestants need to reflect upon (though I seriously doubt that many shall do so). Many ‘popular’ Protestant apologists love to quote liberal Catholic theologians when it suits their agenda; however, this is most certainly a ‘double-edged sword’, for such critical scholarship is no friend of any of our conservative minded brethren.

The essay reflected upon in this thread is telling for almost all denominations and sects—is any denomination or sect devoid of serious schism?

And yet, there is the broader picture: is a God-fearing individual armed with the Bible alone infallibly led to Christ’s true Church (i.e. the Church that our Lord founded via His apostles)? If so, why is that so many opt for such diverse churches? Are not Christ’s disciples to be “one” as He is one with His Father?

So many questions remain Rory; I ask for your prayers that this sincere, God-fearing, Bible loving beachbum is led to our Lord’s true Church.


God bless,

David

Melanie said...

Hi David,

I absolutely love this post. I was reading JND Kelly's "Early Church Doctrine" and came to essentially the same conclusion: that union with Christ is the principle by which justification is bestowed on the baptized, with a future possibility of true (not merely notional) apostasy. I have seen a lot of negativity online against Doug Wilson et al. concerning the Federal Vision movement, which I think is very odd because Wilson is actually holding, more or less, to historic Christianity, while his Reformed adversaries are defending their own version of revivalism.

This is off topic, but I was wondering if you could answer some of my questions about authority in the Church. My disillusionment with Protestantism over the past few years has left me searching for the ultimate Christian authority on earth. Some of my reformed acquaintances hold to reformed confessions as a kind of paper Pope. I for one have begun using the ecumenical creeds as an interpretive grid to guide my reading and thinking. The EO hold to the 7 councils. The RC's follow the Pope. The Lutherans call that same Pope "Anti-Christ."

What am to make of all this? I have read strong cases for so many of these possibilities that the only thing that I am certain of is that Sola Scriptura is unworkable. What has your conclusion been? It seems unthinkable to me that Christ would have left his church without any type of Shepherd. And if the Bible alone brings no certainty or unity, then there must be a source of interpretive authority. Or isn't there? If you have time I would really like to hash this out with you.

Peace,

Sam Amos

David Waltz said...

Hi Sam,

So good to hear from you again. Forgive my somewhat tardy response, but I just got back from a 5 day road-trip/vacation with my wife.

From your 08-01 post:

==This is off topic, but I was wondering if you could answer some of my questions about authority in the Church. My disillusionment with Protestantism over the past few years has left me searching for the ultimate Christian authority on earth. Some of my reformed acquaintances hold to reformed confessions as a kind of paper Pope.==

Me: We are told that the Reformed confessions are not infallible; and yet, they sure seem to function within the conservative Reformed denominations as though they are. Why confessions at all if sola scriptura is the correct view—i.e. the essentials of the Christian faith are CLEARLY taught in the Bible, such that you need no one to tell what the Bible says those essentials are...


==I for one have begun using the ecumenical creeds as an interpretive grid to guide my reading and thinking. The EO hold to the 7 councils. The RC's follow the Pope. The Lutherans call that same Pope "Anti-Christ."==

Me: Though the Pope of the RCC has been declared to be infallible, the WHEN he has actually been infallible has no consensus among it's bishops, theologians and laity.

==What am to make of all this? I have read strong cases for so many of these possibilities that the only thing that I am certain of is that Sola Scriptura is unworkable.==

Me: I am pretty much in the 'same boat' as you. Sola scriptura only works for those folk who are willing to 'bury their heads into the sand' (i.e. ignore all the historical problems with the outworking of the doctrine).

==What has your conclusion been?==

Me: I am still working on this important issue...

==It seems unthinkable to me that Christ would have left his church without any type of Shepherd.==

Me: Agreed.

==And if the Bible alone brings no certainty or unity, then there must be a source of interpretive authority.==

Me: That seems to hold true from my point of view.

==Or isn't there? If you have time I would really like to hash this out with you. ==

If you would like to chat with me via the phone, send me an email to: AugustineH354@aol.com, including your number and a good time to call.


Grace and peace,

David