Confessions of a theological hit-man

My friend S. Wedgeworth documented some of his own theological changes.  I’ve done so about myself a few times on here, but I decided to tie some strings together.  I encourage you to read his piece, since that will save me some writing.  His early development mirrors mine in many ways.  Wedgeworth’s piece is thoughtful.  I have a few questions on some of his specifics, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of the difficulties that many of us in seminary faced–difficulties that are concurrent with many of these changes–is the inevitable glut of ideas.  Compounded with that  is that seminaries which are denominationally- or quasi-denominationally affiliated are inadequately prepared to deal with these various theological currents.  If your goal is to churn out “preacher boys,” then many cross-currents of scholarship will drown you.

The Federal Vision controversy was raging when I was in seminary, and I confess I did not always make wise choices.  Federal Visionism itself didn’t really make too much of a connection with me, at least not confessionally and ecclesiologically.  What some FV writers did, however, was weaken the confessional moorings, from which I drifted and began reading outside my tradition.

On one hand that’s healthy.  We shouldn’t seek theological inbreeding.   The problem I faced was that no one was capable of guiding me through these issues.  Once I was jaded enough, combined with a lot of real grievances from said seminary (which I won’t go in here, but they do deal with objective, financial realities), it wasn’t hard to seek out so-called “Christological alternatives to Calvinism.”

Many Eastern Orthodox apologists were saying that we should do all our theology around “Christology.”  Translation: the ancient Christological creeds, if interpreted consistently, will lead one away from Calvinism.    I’ll deal with that claim later.

And so for the next few years I read through–cover to cover–about ten volumes of the Schaff Church Fathers series, as well as most of their leading interpreters.  One of the problems, though, was I was unaware of the high, magisterial Protestant tradition.  Of course I had read Calvin.  Three times, actually.  All the way through, even.  I was not familiar with the second- and third generation Protestant Scholastics, however.

I suspect most of us aren’t familiar with them, and how could we be?  The average Evangelical publisher won’t touch these writers.   Banner of Truth, specifically, won’t deal with the uncomfortable aspects of Rutherford, Gillespie, and the Scottish Covenanters.  And yet, as Drake has clearly shown, it is these guys who can best deal with the Anchoretic challenge.

Taking the Scholastics Seriously

When I was reading through a lot of Orthodox sources, an argument I kept seeing was that all Western traditions hold to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, which reduces to absurdity; therefore, Protestantism is philosophically absurd.  The problem, though, is that I started to see several things:   a) some fathers held to a similar thesis (Nazianzus, Athanasius), b) some Reformed writers might have held to that thesis, but there wasn’t enough evidence either way to convict them, and c) the Reformed writers who did hold to that thesis had very good reasons for doing so (archetypal/ectypal).  Further, the Essence/energies distinction entailed its own set of problems, and it is not always clear that many early Eastern fathers even held to that distinction.

The doctrine of authority was always looming in the background.   Anchorites have several sharp arguments against sola scriptura.  I bought in to some of those arguments, but I had done so without reading the Protestant Scholastic responses to them.   Once I began to see that a) many Protestant Scholastics could not be seen as breaking with the medieval tradition on the canon, and b) the archetypal/ectypal distinction when applied to epistemology, leading to Scripture as the principum cognoscendi, I was then able to embrace sola scriptura with integrity.

Corollary of the above point:  how many convertskii have read Richard Muller?  Once I read Richard Muller I realized that much of what I had been parroting was wrong.

The Institutional Problem Reasserted

It is my personal belief that Richard Muller’s four-volume Reformed and Post Reformation Dogmatics will go down as one of the game changers in Reformed historiography.  Unfortunately, most remain unaware.  Bakerbooks should issue this set in singular volumes, better allowing seminaries to use volume one as an introduction to Reformed theology course.  First year seminarians, even the better read ones, are woefully unprepared.

Publishers need to seek out translators and get Muller’s sources into English post-haste.   There is no excuse for Rutherford and Gillespie not being mainstreamed in the Reformed world.  I can read and translate Latin, for what it’s worth.  I just don’t have the time and others are better capable.

One of the reasons these works remain untranslated I suspect, is that they also entail certain conclusions about God, salvation, God’s law, and ecclesiology, conclusions which would likely cast judgment on some publishing houses.  I say no more.

Pop analyses of Church History will no longer work

Have you seen those tracts that give timelines of church history, usually starting with the apostles and then demonstrating all the schisms as the centuries go on?  If it is a Romanist work, then it will have the Eastern Church splintering, or vice-versa.  Most of them have Luther creating the Protestant Reformation and destroying the unity of Christendom.  However, recent scholarship has demonstrated that such a reading is simply wrong.  Alister McGrath notes, “It is now clear that uncoordinated reforming intitiaves were breaking out all over Europe in the 1510s…Recent scholarship, in stressing the intellectual and sociological heterogenity of the first phase of the Reformation, has made it impossible to think of it as a single, coherent movement” (McGrath, 61)

McGrath, Alister.  Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Reformation–A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First.  New York: HarperOne, 2007.

This is the difference between reading scholarly sources and pop apologetics (yes, I am aware of the irony as I write this on a blog).  It’s not simply a matter of whether the internet pop apologist knows church history–they often know a very slanted version–but whether they are aware of all the currents in that history.  Given that many of these apologists are in communions that denigrate reason, we can only answer in the negative.

This could have been an important question (if it were answered)

At OrthodoxBridge an EO guy wrote,

Outlaw Covenator wrote, “Fair enough, but how do I adjudicate between Romanist claims of tradition and Orthodox ones? I have to use something like my autonomous reason to judge between the two.”
The answer to your question is to follow the road of history. Orthodox claims to the “full” tradition goes back centuries and centuries, many of them to apostolic times. The R.C.s have many teachings that stop at the middle ages — thus “NOT” Apostolic.

The context is how do I determine which tradition is authentic?

To which I responded,

Would I use reason and historical investigation to find that out?

Does anyone see where this is going?  Earlier on my blog Canadian chastised Protestants for setting their reason above the church.  This puts me in a bind.  On one EO gloss I am supposed to just submit to the ancient wisdom of the church. On the other hand, I am to use that same reason in historical investigation.   It appears we cannot escape private judgment.

Has anyone asked this natural theology question?

Reformed folk are again debating natural law/natural theology (this happens every five years).   While I don’t defend theonomy any more, it’s still hard for me to get excited about “natural law.”   Notwithstanding, here is something I just thought about:  does natural law/natural theology presuppose a classical metaphysics and definition of nature?  Must a Christian be bound by that, including its limitations?

Examining a High Church High Christology Claim

Gottesdienst set forth an argument that a High Christology correlates with a High Liturgy.   More importantly, this article nicely summarizes why a lot of Protestants go to the High Liturgical traditions (though rarely to Lutheranism, which this article suggests).  High Traditions often convince acolytes to join, not on the basis of a High Liturgy being superior, but on the basis of a Higher view of Jesus.  What he says below–and I am appreciative of the article, though I will criticize it–could have been said by Orthodox or Romanists.


“High Church” Liturgy goes hand-in-hand with a high Christology, which believes, teaches, and confesses that the Man Christ Jesus is the one true God; that St. Mary is the Mother of God, because the Son that she conceived in her womb and bore in her body is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; and that it was, indeed, the Lord our God who was crucified, dead, and buried, under Pontius Pilate on Good Friday.

I understand he is offering a working hypothesis, but eventually he will have to substantiate the above claim. Most Anabaptists today I know can affirm the above.

This high Christology recognizes, likewise, that Christ Jesus, the Son of the Living God, who is also true Man, crucified and risen from the dead, is actively present and at work in the Liturgy; that He is, in fact, the true and divine Liturgist, who speaks, does, and gives Himself and all good things to us by His preaching of the Gospel and His administration of the Sacraments in the Divine Service.  He is acknowledged and adored in the earthly and external means by which He serves His Church, because we affirm and confess the unity of His two natures in His one Person, even as He deals with us through humble instruments under the Cross.

I like the language of Christ being the chief Liturgist.  This is good atonement theology.   If Christ is the Liturgist offering his sacrifice to the Father, then he can’t be sacrificed by the priest in the Mass.  Very good here.  But, I’m very iffy on his being “adored” in the external means. Does that mean I worship the cracker?  What the author didn’t say is anything regarding the communicatio idiomatum.   Lutherans confess that Christ’s divine nature communicated its attributes to the human nature, making it omnipresent among other things.  But few humans I know are omnipresent.

A high view of Christ also affords a high regard for His Bride, the Church, who is adorned with His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, His beauty and His grace.

Not bad, it would be very interesting if he developed this.

It seems to me, at any rate, that a “high church” attitude and approach to the Liturgy has far more to do with Christology, first and foremost, before it has anything to do with ceremony.  Although it is meet, right, and salutary that appropriate bodily ceremonies should accompany and adorn the verbal confession of Christ, in practice, those ceremonies will differ in various ways from place to place, and from time to time; whereas Christ our Lord remains constant at all times and in all places, and so should our Christology.

I like the idea of Christology driving everything else, but I don’t see the connection between Chalcedon and ceremony.  And if there is such a connection, then the ceremonies should be relatively constant since Christ’s human nature doesn’t change.

In brief, I would describe a “high church” Christology as typically Alexandrian, following in the footsteps of Athanasius, Cyril, Aquinas, Luther, and Chemnitz.

Mostly true, though Athanasius believed in the extra-Calvinisticum.