Friday, December 24, 2010

Bountiful gifts from John Piper via Ken Temple and his unexpected agent: yours truly

Our Reformed brother in Christ, Ken Temple, recommended an online resource (John Piper's, "Contending For Our All"), in one of his recent posts (here). He did not provide a link to the book due to the quirkiness of Blogger's combox, so I went to Piper's Desiring God website earlier this morning to obtain the url and provide it for Ken (and others). I have linked to this site for quite sometime now under the "EVANGELICAL AND GENERAL CHRISTIAN LINKS" label on the right side bar; however, I have not visited the site for a number of months—to my surprise, I discovered that well over a dozen of Piper's books are now available in pdf format for FREE!!! Being the bibliophile that I am, I have been downloading books like crazy, and I thought I would share these 'gifts' with all. ENJOY!!!

Link to Desiring God Online Books

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Trinity: a 'clear' Biblical teaching, or a post-Biblical development?

In the combox of our previous thread, Lvka (an Eastern Orthodox brother in Christ), articulated some of the distinctions between the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Trinity and those generally held by Augustinian/Western Trinitarians (link to Lvka's post). Lvka's reflections brought back to mind Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy's detailed book on the Trinity: The Mystery of the Trinity. Fr. Bobrinskoy is an ordained Orthodox priest, and the Dean and Professor of Dogmatic Thelogy at St. Sergius Institute, Paris (see Orthodox Wiki bio). The following is my response to Lvka; I am utilizing it as an introduction to the theme of this thread:

==Good morning Lvka,

Thanks much for your informative reply—an excellent summation of the post-Palamas EO view. Now, I would like to let Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy (Dean and Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Sergius Institute) 'fill in', so to speak, the development/progression of the doctrine of the Trinity in EO thought/history. (All the following quotations will be from his The Mystery of the Trinity, English trans. by Anthony P. Gythiel, SVS Press, 1999.)

Fr. Bobrinskoy begins his reflections on the development/progression of the doctrine of the Trinity with what he terms "the ecclesial explanation of the trinitarian dogma". (MT, p. 6.) He then writes:

"To study the progression of trinitarian revelation, there is the classical method, the so-called chronological and doctrinal method:

1. Form the first foreshadowings, the first Old Testament intimations, to the fullness of the New Testament;

2. Inside the New Testament itself, through the pedagogy of Jesus, His words and deeds, from Galilee to the Passion; then in the testimonies that follow;

3. Finally, from the post-apostolic writings to the earliest ecumenical councils.

Actually, the evolution of trinitarian dogma does not end at the Second Ecumenical Council, but continues through what is sometimes called the "christological period" (which extends to about the eighth century, and is characterized by the proclamation of the mystery of Christ in all its aspects), through the "pneumatological period" (which continues to about the fourteenth century, and culminates in the synthesis made by St Gregory Palamas. It particularly emphasizes the integration of the human being into the mystery of Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit), and is, in our day, catching a second breath in what is called "the era of the Church." The theological progression cannot be doubted, though it is not brought about according to a linear scheme, but with strong movements, underground advances, times of regression, even of crisis." (MT, pp. 6-7.)

And a bit later:

"A living theology cannot be severed from the living environment that forms the body of the Church, where the Spirit of knowledge and of truth breathes. A theological reading of Scripture cannot be made outside the great Tradition which, generation after generation, searches the Bible in order to discover within it the presence of Christ, and in Him, the face of the Father." (MT, p. 7.)

He then provides the following quote from St. Gregory Nazianzen ("On The Holy Spirit"):

"'The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated.' (MT, p. 8 - St Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio XXXI [Theologica V] 26, PG 36:161. Tr Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2ns ser., vol. 7, p. 326.)"

Fr. Bobrinskoy then adds:

"This is an exception text because it accept a dogmatic progression not only from the Old Testament to the New, but from the New Testament to the Church. Here St Gregory Nazianzen differs from St. Basil who applied the principle of tradition and antiquity much more stringently. Certainly, Gregory Nazianzen could, in the dialectic of his argumentation, legitimately see a dogmatic innovation in the profession of the divinity of the Spirit, for such divinity is not clearly stated in Scripture. In the New Testament, it is merely intimated through the revelation of the Son,; and, in the Old, through the revelation of the fatherhood of God." (MT, p. 8.)

Me: I think it is safe to say that Fr. Bobrinskoy believes that the continued work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is necessary for one to arrive at a correct understanding of the Godhead and the doctrine of the Trinity. After a workout and lunch, I plan to type up a new thread, reproducing the material in this post, and adding some more reflections on this issue.== [See THIS AF THREAD for an earlier treatment on the development of doctrine in Gregory Nazianzen.]

Fr. Bobrinskoy is yet one more Trinitarian scholar who acknowledges that the doctrine of the Trinity is far from being an explicit teaching of the Bible. Bobrinskoy, like so many Catholic scholars (and a few Anglican), points to the need of the Holy Spirit working through the Church to make clear/explicit, what is only implicit in the Scriptures (their understanding, of course). Even a few Protestant scholars have admitted that the doctrine of the Trinity is found wanting in the Bible—note the following selections:

The Trinity. The NT does not contain the developed doctrine of the Trinity. "The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence and therefore in an equal sense God himself. And the other express declaration is also lacking, that God is God thus and only thus, i.e. as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These two express declarations, which go beyond the witness of the Bible, are the twofold content of the Church doctrine of the Trinity" (Karl Barth, CD, I, 1, 437). It also lacks such terms as trinity (Lat. trinitas which was coined by Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 3; 11; 12 etc.) and homoousios which featured in the Creed of Nicea (325) to denote ttha Chirst was of the same substance of the Father (cf. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1968, 113, 233-7). (J. Schneider, "God", in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, p. 84.)

Part of the problem for the ordinary Christian may be that in its debates and struggles, the ancient church was forced to use extrabiblical terms to defend biblical concepts...Biblical language could not resolve the issue, for the conflict was over the meaning of biblical language in the first place. (Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, pp. 1, 2.)

Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament. Likewise, the developed concept of three coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the *canon...While the New Testament writers say a great deal about God, Jesus and the Spirit of each, no New Testament writer expounds on the relationship among the three in the detail that later Christian writers do. (Daniel N. Schowalter, "Trinity", in The Oxford Companion To The Bible, p. 782.)

In all of these elements of revelation, of course, Scripture has not yet provided us with a fully developed trinitarian dogma…Scripture contains all the data from which theology has constructed the dogma of the Trinity. Philosophy did not need to add anything essential to that dogma: even the Logos doctrine is part of the New Testament. It all only had to wait for a time when the power of Christian reason would be sufficiently developed to enter into the holy mystery that presents itself here. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, trans. John Vriend, pp. 279, 280.)

Though all of above scholars certainly believe that 'basic elements' for the development of the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the Bible, a question which should be asked by everyone that embraces sola scriptura (and in so doing, rejects any authoritative, infallible 'rule of faith' outside of the Bible), is: were those 'basic elements' correctly developed by the Church? This, IMHO, is a crucial question, for if one is truly 'honest' with the Biblical data, and the subsequent developments of theology and christological, one will acknowledge with Dr. Raymond Brown that: no NT passage, not even in Matt. 28:19 (“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) is there precision about three divine Persons, co-equal but distinct, and one divine Nature—the core dogma of the Trinity. Greek philosophy, sharpened by continuing theological disputes in the church from the 2nd to the 5th centuries, contributed to the classical formulation of the dogma…If ‘tradition’ implies that first-century Christianity already understood three coequal but distinct divine Persons and one divine Nature but had not developed the precise terminology, I would dissent. Neither the terminology nor the basic ideas had reached clarity in the first century; problems and disputes were required before the clarity came…Precisely because the “Trinitarian” line of development was not the only line of thought detectable in the NT, one must posit the guidance of the Spirit and intuition of faith as the church came to its decision. (Raymond E. Brown, Biblical Exegesis & Church Doctrine, 1985, pp. 31-33.)

The older, but respected, Cyclopedia of Biblical and Ecclesiastical Literature, concurs with Dr. Raymond:

The first class of texts, [i.e. triadic] taken by itself, proves only that there are three separate subjects named, and that there is a difference between them; that the Father in certain respects differs from the son, etc.; but it does not prove, by itself, that all three belong necessarily to the divine nature, and possess equal divine honor...

Matt. xxviii, 18-20. This text, however, taken by itself, would not prove decisively either the personality of the three subjects mentioned, or their equality or divinity.
(Vol. X, p. 552.)

I shall end this opening post with a recommendation to those who have not read the threads here at AF listed under the label, Subordinationism (especially this older thread), to do so.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sproul's 'Tabletalk': "The Deity of Christ & the Church"

Yesterday, I received in the mail the latest edition of R.C. Sproul's/Ligonier Ministries, Tabletalk (a "devotional magazine" - Jan. 2011/vol. 35.1). In this thread, I would like to examine the essay penned by Dr. Robert A. Peterson: "The Deity of Christ & the Church" (pp. 74, 75 - link). This essay 'caught my eye', for in it's introduction, two verses from the OT that I have recently discussed (Ps. 45:5-7 and 110:1 - see the following threads: ONE; TWO; THREE), are listed as "seed form" proof texts for "the deity of Christ". Another item in the introduction which drew my attention was Dr. Peterson's assertion that, "There is no more important biblical truth for the life and health of the church than the deity of Christ." The following is the entire introduction:

There is no more important biblical truth for the life and health of the church than the deity of Christ. Although this truth exists in seed form in the Old Testament (Pss. 45:5-7; 110:1; Isa. 9:6; Dan. 7:13-14), it comes to full flower in the New Testament. I marshal five arguments for the deity of Christ. (P. 74)

An 'interesting' introduction for sure! Though I am quite certain that Dr. Peterson is sincere in his bold assertion that, "There is no more important biblical truth for the life and health of the church than the deity of Christ", the Bible, Jesus, Paul, Lutherans, and other EVs suggest otherwise. Now, if "the deity of Christ" is the most important Biblical truth, one would expect to find it's teaching on the lips of Jesus Christ—i.e. that our Lord would not only have CLEARLY/EXPLICITLY taught such a doctrine, but would have EMPHASIZED it—however, when one reads the words of Jesus as recorded in the NT, the doctrine is found wanting. Instead of teaching (let alone emphasizing) his "deity" (in the sense Dr. Peterson advocates), Jesus taught the monotheism of the Shema, and in a number of discourses, clearly distanced himself from "the Father" who is "the one true God". Dr. Scot McKnight pointed out in the beginning of his Christianity Today article, "Jesus vs. Paul" (Dec. 2010/vol. 54.12 - pp. 24-29) that, "Many biblical scholars and lay Christians have noted that Jesus preached almost exclusively about the kingdom of heaven" (p. 25). And let us not forget that Lutherans (and many EVs) advance the dictum that, “justification by faith alone is ‘the article upon which the church stands or falls (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae)’”. (See THIS THREAD for some important historical information on this quite famous dictum.) As for the apostle Paul, a number of NT scholars are quite adamant that Paul never called Jesus "God" (see THIS THREAD, and THIS ONE, especially the combox, for some discussion on this issue). In a 'nutshell', I think it is safe to point out that Dr. Peterson's assertion is highly subjective, and may in fact be inaccurate.

Moving on, Dr. Peterson's first of "five arguments for the deity of Christ", is as follows:

Jesus is identified with God. Recent scholarship has taught us to argue for Christ's deity based on the way that the early Christians identified Jesus unambiguously with the one God of Israel (1 Cor. 8:5-6). (Page 74)

I sincerely wonder what Dr. Peterson is referring to when he mentions "recent scholarship"; fact is, a substantial portion of "recent scholarship" has taken the exact opposite position—i.e. Jesus did NOT identify himself as/with the one God of Israel, but rather, as the agent/representative of the one God of Israel. Further (and this importantly) the OT texts cited in Dr. Peterson's introduction, are not some "seed form" for identifying the future promised Messiah as/with the one God of Israel, but rather, they clearly identify this eschatological figure as God's agent/representative.

As for his statement that, "the early Christians identified Jesus unambiguously with the one God of Israel", the text he lists for support, 1 Cor. 8:5-6, does NOT assert what he claims; rather the text CEARLY identifies "one God of Israel" with the Father, NOT with Jesus. Now, I am quite aware that some Evangelical scholars have suggested that 1 Cor. 8:6 is an "expansion", "splitting", and/or "Christianizing" of the shema (e.g. Bauckham, de Lacey, Wright)—however, other scholars are not as convinced. For instance, Dr. James F. McGrath wrote:

In this chapter, we will look at evidence that challenges the idea that Jesus has here [1 Cor. 8:6] been included inside rather than alongside the Shema. The main difficulty with the view that Paul has "split the Shema" to produce a "Christological monotheism (whatever that might mean) is that it does not do justice to the nature of the Shema itself." (The One True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, p. 40.)

And then, a bit later:

Theoretically, he [Paul] could have written, "There is one God: the Father, from whom are all things, and the Son, through whom are all things." This would have emphasized the oneness of God while including Jesus clearly within that one God. Instead, Paul uses a statement about one God, which itself is sufficient to reiterate the point off the Shema, and then goes further to talk about "one Lord." When the oneness of God is coupled with another assertion of oneness in this way, we must look carefully to determine whether we are indeed dealing with a splitting of the Shema that is without parallel, or an addition of a second clause alongside the Shema, which is not in fact unparalleled in Jewish literature. (Ibid.)

Interestingly enough, James D.G. Dunn, who once held to the "expansion", "splitting", and/or "Christianizing" of the shema in 1 Cor. 8:6, later adopted McGrath's view, adding: "if anything the fuller confession of 8:6 could be said to be a more natural outworking of the primary conviction that 'the Lord (God) had said to the Lord (Christ), "Sit at my right hand..."' (Ps. 110:1)." (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus, p. 109.)

I could add so much more, but I do not want my opening post to get to cumbersome—I shall end here by making an assertion of my own:

Dr. Peterson is taking the highly developed theological system that he embraces, and reads it back into texts that predate his system by centuries, while ignoring how much of the important terminology of those texts was being used in their original context.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, December 9, 2010

"In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity"

An email that I received on Tuesday (12-07-10), brought back to the fore the oft quoted phrase: "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity". Many who have quoted this phrase have attributed its first usage to Augustine; however, a number of scholars have established that this quote did not originate with Augustine; rather, it is "the product of an irenic Lutheran theologian and pastor living in Augsburg during the early seventeenth century with the name of Peter Meiderlin." (See Rollman's online esaay, "IN ESSENTIALS UNITY".)

In order to understand the intent and meaning of the statement, one needs to examine the original historical context which prompted the phrase from Peter Meiderlin's pen. Hans Rollman provides a concise, and excellent summation:

Meiderlin lived in a very troubled time, a time exposed to the ravages of the Thirty Years War and one of much strife between Lutherans and Calvinists as well as a period of internal discord within Lutheranism itself. In this so-called "Confessional Age," the Lutheran movement became a battleground for competing political forces such as the territories of Saxony and the Palatinate. But especially vexing for the soul of the religious reform movement were the numerous doctrinal disputes which in part had their origin in the theological differences of the Reformation leaders themselves. In the period after Luther's death, there emerged an intense competition as to who represented the Lutheran theological heritage most authentically. An attempt to forge an authoritative doctrinal norm binding for everyone produced the Formula of Concord (1577) but resulted also in much cantankerousness about the legitimacy of the formula. The period that followed has also been termed the age of "Lutheran Orthodoxy," in which theologians increasingly would use scholastic philosophical means to define more specifically their Bible-oriented faith, which became tied to the emerging Lutheran confessional norms. A new wave of theological disputes spread through the protestant universities during the early 1600's which cannot be detailed here sufficiently but is documented and studied amply in a protestant doctrinal history such as the one by Otto Ritschl. ("In Essentials Unity".)

A bit later, Rollman furnishes a more 'personal' aspect to the impetus behind the phrase:

Peter Meiderlin's argument for peace in the church starts out with a story about a dream he had. In it he encounters a devout Christian theologian in a white robe sitting at a table and reading the Scriptures. All of a sudden Christ appears to him as the victor over death and devil and warns him of an impending danger and admonishes him to be very vigilant. Then Christ vanishes and the Devil appears in the form of a blinding light, moonlight to be exact, and claims to have been sent on a mission from God. He states that in this final age the Church needs to be protected from all heresy and apostasy of any kind and God's elect have the duty to safeguard and keep pure the doctrinal truths they inherited. The devil then alleges that God has authorized him to found a new order of these doctrinally pure elect, some sort of a doctrinal heritage coven. Those who join will bind themselves to an oath of strictest observance to these doctrines. The devil then extends to our devout theologian the invitation to join this militant fellowship for his own eternal welfare. Our theologian thinks about what he has just heard and decides to bring it in prayer before God, upon which the devil immediately vanishes and Christ reappears. Christ tenderly raises the trembling Christian up, comforts him most kindly, and before he departs admonishes him to remain loyal only to the Word of God in simplicity and humility of heart. For Meldenius, this dream depicted in a powerful way the state of his own church, and the resultant admonition is his own contribution on how to keep the peace. (Ibid.)

[I would like to recommend to all, that they read Rollman's entire essay, and then add the following online treatment: A common quotation from "Augustine"?.]

Now, back to Tuesday's email. The author of the email was David Cloud, an independent Baptist author, lecturer, minister. The email that I received was also published online at Cloud's "Way of Life Literature" website (HERE). Cloud, as so many Protestants of the period delineated above by Hollman, does not like Meiderlin's now famous phrase; from his email/online essay, we read:

The modern evangelical philosophy is often stated by the dictum, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”

Though commonly attributed to Augustine, it was actually first stated by the 17th-century Lutheran Rupertus Meldenius (a.k.a. Peter Meiderlin).

It became the rallying cry of the Moravians, who did many good things but retained such Roman heresies as infant baptism and a priesthood and promoted unity above the absolute truth of God’s Word.

It was adopted by the Fundamentalist movement of the first half of the 20th century. As a movement Fundamentalism focused on unity around “the fundamentals of the faith” while downplaying the “minor issues.” The objective was to create the largest possible united front against theological modernism.

This dictum has also been an integral philosophy of New Evangelicalism. They might stand for ten or twenty or thirty “cardinals,” but they refuse to make an issue of the WHOLE counsel of God. Particularly when it comes to one’s associations, they believe that there are “non-essentials” that should not get in the way of unity.

Many Independent Baptists are buying into this error.

And a bit later:

There is no support in the Bible for the “in essentials liberty” doctrine. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to teach converts “to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:20).

The Apostle Paul reminded the elders at Ephesus that the reason he was free from the blood of all men was that he had preached the WHOLE counsel of God (Acts 20:27). The more plainly you preach the whole counsel of God, the less likely it will be that you will join hands in ministry with those who hold different doctrine.

Paul instructed Timothy to keep the truth “without SPOT, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14). A spot is a small, seemingly insignificant thing. That particular epistle contains commandments about such things as the woman’s role in ministry, which is widely considered a “non-essential” today. Paul taught Timothy to have an entirely different approach toward such teachings.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in ALL things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” This passage deals with hair length and the Lord’s Supper, which are widely considered to be “non-essentials” today, yet Paul praised the church for remembering him in all things.

We know that not all doctrine has the same significance and weight, but none of it is “non-essential” in any sense.

I challenge anyone to show me where the Scripture encourages the believer to treat some doctrine as “non-essential” or to “stand for the cardinal truths and downplay the peripherals.”

Some try to use Romans 14 to support this philosophy, but Romans 14 does not say that some Bible doctrine is non-essential. It says that we are to allow one another liberty in matters in which the Bible is silent! The examples that Paul gave were eating meat and keeping of holy days. Those are things that the New Testament faith is silent about. There is no doctrine of diet in the New Testament, so it is a matter of Christian liberty.

This reminds us that the only true “non-essential” is a personal opinion not based solidly upon Scripture.

Jude instructed every believer to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As Jude didn’t delineate what part of the faith is to be defended, the obvious meaning is that whatever aspect of the faith is under attack at a particular time, God’s people should rally to its defense rather than pretend that it is a “non-essential.”

Since the Bible doesn’t identify a “non-essential” doctrine, who is to say what this might be?

The fact is that once one adopts the “non-essentials” philosophy, his list of “non-essentials” tends to grow as time passes and as his associations broaden.

Cloud's appraisal of Meiderlin's dictum sure seems to be a more consistent, and 'honest,' take when addressing the Protestant movement as a whole. Many anti-Catholic apologists invoke Meiderlin's phrase when dealing with the RC and EO churches, but the so-called "unity in essentials" remains, at least to the mind of this beachbum, quite nebulus in nature, if not mere empty words. Right or wrong, Cloud's thoughts on this matter are a 'breath of fresh air', an 'in your face', non-compromising stance that exposes the "unity in essentials" myth.

Grace and peace,


UPDATE: On August 20, 2014, Steve Perisho posted a comment which demonstrates that it was NOT the Lutheran Peter Meiderlin who first coined the phrase, "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity"; but rather, it was the Catholic bishop Marco Antonio De Dominis, who did so nine years earlier. See  THIS LINK for the convincing support.