Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Behr, Louth, Hanson, Newman, Giles and the development of doctrine

In the comments section of the LAST THREAD here at Articuli Fidei, Iohannes (John) provided a quote from John Behr’s book, The Nicene Faith – Part 1 which is critical of certain reflections made by R.P.C. Hanson in his book, The Search For the Christian Doctrine of God, and his essay The achievement of orthodoxy in the fourth century AD (important pages missing in the “limited previews”; I own all three books, and can provide further quotations if requested).

Behr argues that, “Christian theology, at least as vindicated by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople, has been shown to be very much, and in a very specific manner, an exegetical task” (p. 16). And again, “Christian theology, as established as normative by the end of the second century, on the basis of the way the gospel was proclaimed from the beginning, and then reaffirmed by Nicea and Constantinople, is an exegetical enterprise, reflecting on the revelation of God in Christ through the engagement with the Scriptures, understood as having been spoken, by the Spirit, of Christ, and so to be read in a reciprocally ‘spiritual’ exegesis” (ibid.).

Now, what Arian would argue against the notion that “Christian theology…is very much…an exegetical task”? Further, the assumption that “Christian theology”, was “vindicated by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople”, would be hotly contested, via an exegetical method, by Arians. Behr’s ‘method’, IMHO, solves little; and his criticisms of Hanson stem from the faulty notion that doctrine does not develop. Dr. Liccione has thoroughly exposed Dr. Behr in his thread, THIS TIME, FR. BEHR. (Dr. Liccione’s previous thread, DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE, FR. LOUTH, AND ECUMENISM, addresses Dr. Louth’s skewed concept of DD.)

Despite Dr. Behr’s and Dr. Louth’s pleadings to the contrary, doctrine does develop—the real question is this: how does one determine authentic development from corruption? So, with this introduction of sorts in place, we can now examine Iohannes recent comments on DD; JOHN WROTE:

To make an end of this rambling on my part, if the question is whether Scripture is clear enough "to bring the reader to the [substance of the] doctrine of the Trinity apart from development/tradition," I think it indeed is, but in this sense: when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained, we can see for ourselves that it is correct, even independently the Church's say-so. The tradition is public, and is amenable to investigation by all, with no one set up as a privileged interpreter (someone who can see more in principle than others can see). Thus St Athanasius defended Nicaea and knew it was right, not because a duly constituted ecumenical council had promulgated it, but because he could look at what Nicaea said side by side with what was taught in Scripture, and could see the correspondence between them. He saw for himself the truth of the Church's doctrine. Hence he stood up for it, even when he faced opposition from others in the Church.

Here is the ‘rub’: “when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained, we can see for ourselves that it is correct, even independently the Church's say-so”. Yet without the “Church's say-so”, the vast majority of Christians were subordinationists; without the “Church's say-so” (creeds, confessions, catechisms, seminaries, et al.) many do not embrace one of the forms of Trinitarianism.

Once again, doctrine develops. A fairly recent book illuminates this point even further; Kevin Giles in his, JESUS AND THE FATHER, raises some very interesting (and controversial) issues concerning the ‘revival’ of subordinationism among conservative Evangelical theologians. Dr. Giles believes that many of his Evangelical brothers are not only misreading the Church Fathers, but also, the Scriptures! (Dr. Giles book sheds some further light on the controversial issues I reflected on in the JOHN CALVIN: A TRI-THEISTIC HERETIC? thread.)

Yet one more time: doctrine develops (and still is developing). The implications of this fact raises not only serious questions concerning the very nature of DD, but also over the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lonergan and Newman on the development of doctrine.

At the FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM BLOG, a discussion concerning the development of doctrine (DD) as espoused by Bernard Lonergan in the book The Way To Nicea (a translation of the first part of Lonergan’s De Deo Trino by Conn O’Donovan), with John Henry Newman’s theory of DD has been taking place during the last few days. Yesterday, I received a request from Iohannes (John) to type up page 13 from the book; I am responding to that request, with this new thread, typing up not only page 13, but a also a portion of page 14, and adding some of my own reflections on the material.

From Lonergan’s pen we read:

In the first place, within ante-Nicene movement we have to recognize two distinct, though related, developments. There is no doubt that those early Christian centuries produced a development in trinitarian and christological doctrine, but this doctrinal development contained within it another, more profound development: the development of the very notion of dogma. But this latter development was implicit not explicit; the question was not sharply defined, methodically investigated and unambiguously answered. Yet somehow the question was both asked and answered within the process of development which, if it had not taken place, we could not now describe. Investigating that process now from our perspective, we can identify and isolate both the question and the answer in a way that the ante-Nicene authors themselves neither did nor could have done. For those early Christian writers, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, paved the way for the definition of dogma, without really knowing what they were doing. This is hardly surprising, since it is a feature of every significant advance in the field of intellect that it must first be accomplished before it can be reflected on, examined in detail, and accurately explained.

Secondly, there is an important distinction to be made between the type of doctrinal development that leads from obscurity to clarity, and the quite different type that leads from one kind of clarity to another. The emergence of the very notion of dogma, grounded in the word of God as true, was a movement from obscurity to clarity; on the other hand, the doctrine of the Christian Church concerning Jesus Christ advanced not from obscurity to clarity, but from one kind of clarity to another. What Mark, Paul, and John thought about Christ was neither confused nor obscure, but quite clear and distinct; yet their teaching acquired a new kind of clarity and distinctness through the definition of Nicea. But further dogmas had to follow, and then the historical investigation of dogmas, before the fact and the nature of dogmatic development itself could be clearly established.[7]

7. For this reason the question of dogmatic development is a much more recent one. Athanasius neither wanted nor intended to bring about dogmatic development; on the contrary, in his profession of faith he would have preferred to use only the words of scripture, if “the malice of the Arians” had not rendered necessary another mode of speech. Cf. De decretis niciaenae synodi, 32; AW II, 28, 1ff. ; MG 25, 473D-476A.

Thirdly, we can now see how we have to go about investigating the ante-Nicene development. For we have to deal not with one, but with two distinct developments, and not with two developments of the same type, since one is from obscurity to clarity, the other from one kind of clarity to another. (Bernard Lonergan, The Way To Nicea, trans. by Conn O’Donovan, pp. 13, 14.)

[In the above quotation, one can discern an implementation of Hegelian dialectic: thesis-statements about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures; antithesis-development of the very notion of dogma; synthesis-Trinitarian doctrine (i.e the Nicene Creed).]

Newman too affirmed a certain sense of “clarity” concerning the Scriptural witness of the person of Jesus Christ, as attested in the writings of the ante-Nicene Church Fathers and “heretics”. In his Introduction of An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine he points out that there was a consensus among the CFs concerning the clear affirmations about Jesus Christ as found in the Scriptures; but then is quick to point out that:

The Catholic Truth in question is made up of a number of separate propositions [as clearly testified within the Scriptures], each of which, if maintained to the exclusion of the rest, is a heresy. In order to prove that all [ANY] the Ante-nicene writers taught the dogma of the Holy Trinity, it is not enough to prove that each still had gone far enough to be only a heretic—not enough to prove that one has held that the Son is God, (for so did the Sabellian, so did the Macedonian), or another that the Father is not the Son, (for so did the Arian), and another that the Son is equal to the Father, (for so did the Tritheist), and another that there is but One God, (for so did the Unitarian)…(John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Notre Dame Press 1989 ed., pp. 14, 15.)

Newman also wrote:

You have made a collection of passages from the Fathers, as witnesses in behalf of your doctrine that the whole Christian faith is contained in Scripture, as if, in your sense of the words, Catholics contradicted you here. And you refer to my Notes on St. Athanasius as contributing passages to your list; But, after all, neither you, nor I in my Notes, affirm any doctrine which Rome denies. Those Notes also make frequent reference to a traditional teaching, which (be the faith ever so contained in Scripture), still is necessary as a Regula Fidei, for showing us that it is contained there; vid. Pp. 283-431; and this tradition, I know, you uphold as fully as I do in the Notes in question. In consequence, you allow that there is a two-fold rule, Scripture and Tradition; and this is all that Catholics say. How, then do Anglicans differ from Rome here? I believe the difference is merely one of words…(John Henry Newman, Certain Difficulties Felt By Anglicans In Catholic Teaching Considered, vol. 2, pp. 11, 12.)

For those who embrace the NT as the word of God, one should be able to ascertain that the issue is NOT over whether or not there are “clear” teachings/statements concerning the person of Jesus Christ within the pages of the Scriptures (there are many), but rather, whether or not the clarity is such to bring the reader to the doctrine of the Trinity apart from development/tradition (it never has).

Grace and peace,


Monday, December 1, 2008

James White vs. Dr. Ergun Caner; or Baptist vs. Baptist

After a week long hiatus from the Internet (albeit there were some very brief exceptions), I spent a considerable portion of my day attempting to take in what I have ‘missed’. One of the items that caught my attention was the A Former Calvinist “Saved Out of Calvinism” video clip by posted James White at AOMIN. (Also posted the same day on YouTube under the title: John 3:16 Conference: Former Calvinist in the Q&A Session.)

The John 3:16 Conference referenced by James took place on November 6 and 7, and appears to be the latest of an ongoing series of sermons/conferences on Calvinism produced by prominent pastors/theologians of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention). Prior to this was Dr. Jerry Vines Sermon, and his Baptist Battles – Calvinism: A Baptist and his Election .

This is certainly not the first time that James has taken up his pen (or video camera) to address challenges made by fellow Baptists over the issue of Calvinism. Not that long ago, James became somewhat fixated with Dr. Ergun Caner, as evidenced by the numerous posts he ‘dedicated’ to Dr. Caner on the AOMIN blog.

Now, as most probably already know, the issue of Calvinism among modern-day Baptists has been quite a hot-topic over the past few years. IMHO, much of the ‘heat’ has been generated via the reaction of non-5Point Baptists to the vocal devotees of the Founders Ministries; as well as to committed Reformed Baptists like James White.

I suppose some of the questions that need to be asked include: is the issue of Calvinism an “essential” doctrine; if not “essential” should Baptists (or any other Protestant denominations) divide over it; are the divisions really schisms; and if the are schisms, does that not qualify as a grave sin?

Grace and peace,