While reflecting on the recent charges of semi-Pelagianism leveled by a number of Reformed folk against the newly published SBC document on salvation (see PREVIOUS POST for link and commentary), I recalled Matthew C. Heckel's critique of R.C. Sproul's skewed handling of historical theology (see THIS THREAD). Note the following excerpt from Heckel's essay:
He [Sproul] does introduce Augustine and Aquinas into the conversation to establish that they believed justification to be exclusively by grace, and he uses their theology to accuse the Council of Trent of semi-Pelagianism. Beyond this, Sproul does not substantially treat the views of Augustine or Aquinas on justification. If he had, his thesis would surely have led him, as it did the Reformers, to deal with the question of the Christian status of the pre-Reformation church, since Augustine and the rest of its theologians did not teach that we are justified sola fide in the Reformation sense. In fact, unless Sproul's thesis is qualified, it would lead to the unintended consequence of consigning to perdition the entire Church from the patristic period up to the down of the Reformation, something the Reformers did not do. This is because the Reformation understanding of justification sola fide was unheard of in the pre-Reformation church and thus not believed until Luther. Alister McGrath points out that “there are no ‘Forerunners of the Reformation doctrines of justification."
To put it another way, Luther’s doctrine of justification sola fide was not a recovery but an innovation within the Western theological tradition. What is provocative about Sproul’s thesis is that the equation of the construct of sola fide with the gospel itself would mean that the Roman Catholic Church not only rejected the gospel at Trent, but the Church never possessed it at all from the post-apostolic period up to the time of Luther. In this unqualified form, Sproul’s thesis would also mean that since no one knew the gospel in the pre-Reformation church, no one experienced justification, and thus there was no Church. ("Is R.C. Sproul Wrong About Martin Luther?", JETS 47.1, pp. 92-94.)
Heckel's entire essay is a must read (IMHO), for it sheds considerable light on difficulties and out-right errors that tend to follow a deficient/faulty (mis)reading of historical theology. It is a pattern that I see repeated in many differing forms, especially by amateur and professional apologists from virtually all the various faith traditions. One could say, without much exaggeration, that the misreading of historical theology has reached epidemic proportions, causing me to wonder if there will ever be a 'cure' for the malady. But then, contributions like Heckel's do offer a ray of hope...
Grace and peace,