Nuance and Theology

I find it interesting how theological issues are so divisive. Often issues are framed in very stark black and white terms and only one position is presented as the only viable option. I saw this often in my younger years with the Landmark Baptists when it came to the concept of the “church.” Landmarkers essentially argued that for Catholics the church was the “universal, visible church,” while for most Protestants the church was the “universal, invisible church,” and for Baptists the church was the “local, visible church.” For them the word “ecclesia” always meant a local body of believers and they believed that they were the “true” body of believers. The problem is that “church” isn’t limited to a specific word, but to many words and concepts in the New Testament. Hence “church” can have a broad meaning and interpreted differently depending on context. This is called nuance.

Another example is the doctrine of justification. For Calvinists the principle meaning is that of forensic justification, while other’s there are moral and ethical aspects to it. Permitting the various words and concepts to have their say in their respective contexts allows for the various shades of meaning to come out – nuance.

This doesn’t mean people won’t run to their favorite verses to argue for their specific theological preferences, but recognizing nuance should allow for more openness in dialog and less dogmatism.

S.P.O.O.F. The Five Points of Augustinianism

The Five Points of Augustinianism

03-01-2014, 11:33 PM
(this article was published in the Predestinarian Web Site by my dear brother and personal
friend Robert Higby in March 1, 2014. It is only part of an extensive five part study on Augustine – WARNING: This is not for the faint of heart die hard fan of Gus)
Point One of SPOOF: Augustine’s Doctrine of ’Subjective JustificationTo begin this study, it is essential to rehearse the Pauline doctrine of God’s Grace in Justification:

St. Augustine

Well, I think I am right…

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:2-14, ESV

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26, ESV

NOTE: The very use of the English word ‘rightEOUSness’ for translating δικαιοσύνη tenses, including the above passage from Romans, betrays a Latin bias (the etymology EOUS suggesting a ‘permeating quality’). It should be translated ‘justification’, ‘justness’, or ‘rightness’ to convey the original meaning.

The position of this study assumes the apostolic message of grace and justification as re-affirmed in the original 16th century Reformation and continuing reformers since that time, in line with those who stand in the predestinarian tradition against Arminius and Wesley and all synthetic positions in-between. The basic sovereign grace perspective of the five points of the synod of Dordrecht is confessed, along with additional long-ignored gospel truths known to readers that have been expounded by the current writer for over 20 years. There will be no attempt to newly defend these doctrines in the present article. The doctrine of an objective grace and justification residing solely in Christ’s divine-human person and saving work, assured solely and unwavering for all eternity by the Holy Spirit’s gift of assenting faith, affirmed in the passages above and the entire New Testament kerygma, this is our gospel.

Definition of the Augustinian Dogma

Justification (a just status from God resulting in eternal salvation) is achieved solely through divine grace, which is the equivalent of God’s transforming power communicated initially in water baptism. Acceptance with God is based on gradual transformation of the sinner and can be lost at any time through free-will neglect of good works. Final justification cannot be assured in the present life, since no one can be certain of enough acquired merit in almsgiving before death. Yet salvation is owed to God’s grace alone, since only He gives unworthy sinners the power and free-will to acquire merits throughout life.

http://www.wlsessays.net/files/KoesterGrace.rtf

Before continuing the discussion of Augustine’s doctrine of justification by grace, I strongly recommend reading the above Lutheran paper that gives a succinct and accurate summary of the question under consideration. Typical of current-day Lutherans and unlike Luther at his best, the author is horribly confused on how God’spredestination relates to grace (compare with Paul in Ephesians 1 above), claiming essentially that belief in this causes NON assurance of grace! The truth is this: Augustine’s “On the Predestination of the Saints,” which he wrote near the end of his life, is the only teaching where he actually ever demonstrated a rudimentary knowledge of Pauline teaching on grace (though not fully embracing it). Grace and individual election cannot be separated without destroying the New Testament kerygma, yet Lutheran teachers constantly affirm they are antithetical. And there are other false teachings in the article, like traditional Lutheran and Patristic views on grace communicated through the medium of physical things (sacraments). But the exposition of Augustine’s heretical and false view of grace and justification is masterfully presented. You will not find truthful honesty like this from historic Reformed Calvinistic churchmen, with regard to the heresies of Gus on the grace of God:

Such is the great scheme of doctrine known in history as the Pauline, Augustinian, or Calvinistic, taught, as we believe, in the Scriptures, developed by Augustine, formally sanctioned by the Latin Church, adhered to by the witnesses of the truth during the Middle Ages, repudiated by the Church of Rome in the Council of Trent, revived in that Church by the Jansenists, adopted by all of the Reformers . . . It is a historical fact that this scheme of doctrine has been the moving power in the Church . . . This is the first great argument in support of the Pauline or Augustinian scheme of doctrine. . . It can hardly be doubted that if these simple principles be granted, the truth of the Augustinian scheme must be admitted.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Ch. 1, Section 8 “The Augustinian Scheme”.

Although C.H. equates the doctrine of Augustine with that of Paul and Calvin, he decided to name this section of his work The Augustinian scheme! Not the Calvinistic scheme, the Pauline scheme, or the apostolic or biblical scheme. This perhaps betrays to us who his most admired teacher was. The worst lie pushed onto us by Reformed teachers is the dogma of the soteriological orthodoxy of Augustine and his patristic predecessors. It has never been repented of. The lie has led to hopeless paradoxical confusion in understanding God’s grace, ended the progress of the Reformation in its tracks, and opened the door to every possible heretical movement taking over Reformed and Protestant churches permanently. The doctrines of Arminius, Wesley, Menno Simons, and others very much agree with Augustine’s view of ‘initial’ and ‘final’ justification—a grace that can be lost in the final judgment through free-will neglect. The apostasy of the early ‘fathers’ into Neo-Nomianism was the starting point of this heresy. Now the same doctrine is sweeping the ‘Calvinistic’ churches as a wildfire. Does anyone honestly believe that such false union of Paul and Augustine as teaching identical doctrine, proposing that Gus taught the exact same gospel revealed to Paul directly by Christ, hasnothing to do with the end of the Reformation and a potential return to a thousand years of darkness?

Introduction of Augustine’s Soteriology

No one can mistake the popular Catholic features of this (Augustine’s) system of religion. It is based on the ancient Symbol. The doctrines of the Trinity and Two Natures are faithfully avowed. The importance of the Catholic Church is strictly guarded, and its relation to the heavenly Church, which is the proper object of faith, is left as indefinite as the current view required. Baptism is set in the foreground as “the grand mystery of renovation,” and is derived from Christ’s death, in which the devil has obtained his due. Faith is only regarded as a preliminary condition; eternal life is only imparted to merits which are products of grace and freedom. They consist of works of love, which are summed up in almsgiving. Almsgiving is freely treated; it constitutes penance. Within the Church forgiveness is to be had for all sins after baptism, if only a fitting satisfaction is furnished . . . 
Adolf von Harnack, Analysis and historical appraisal of the Enchridion, Gateway Edition of St. Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love

Contrast the above evaluation with Warfield:

The problem which Augustine bequeathed to the Church for solution, the Church required a thousand years to solve. But even so, it is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church. This doctrine of grace came from Augustine’s hands in its positive outline completely formulated: sinful man depends, for his recovery to good and to God, entirely on the free grace of God . . . 
Benjamin B. Warfield, Tertullian and Augustine, 1991 Baker Book House reprint, p. 130

The Protestant claim to Augustinian heritage for its understanding of the gospel is one equally affirmed by the Roman Catholic church for its own dogma, in its vast theological confessions and doctrinal works on the nature of God’s grace. This article from a Catholic Encyclopedia reflects the typical RCC position:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02091a.htm

The Council of Trent, with its emphasis on meritorious and progressive ‘internal grace,’ only re-states the doctrine of Augustine in his major works. Similarly, the denial of assurance of personal election and final perseverance only mimics the teaching of Gus and earlier ‘fathers’. In spite of this, Protestant authors like Hodge (see quote from last section) allege that Gus is the nemesis of Trent. But the issue is not fine point differences with the Council of Orange regarding anti-Pelagianism. What sense are we to make of all this contradiction and paradox? The answer is not hard to find. It lies within the teachings of Augustine himself. Within the same breath he constantly oscillates between a theology of grace residing wholly in God and one of human merit as the ground of salvation. It is no easy task to make sense of his high-minded double-talk.

The following quotes are from the Enchiridion, which is a manual on the ‘Christian life’ written by Gus and intended for the common ‘man in the pew’. Let there be no misunderstanding, it teaches the exact same doctrine as “The City of God”, “On Grace and Free Will”, and other works. Quotations evidencing the same views time and again could easily be supplied from these or many other works from his massive writings (which the present author has read). But the Enchiridion was composed in the latter days of Gus while still finishing The City of God, 7-8 years before his death, and represents a fairly mature perspective on Augustine’s doctrine.

Why should there be such great glory to a human nature–and this undoubtedly an act of grace, no merit preceding unless it be that those who consider such a question faithfully and soberly might have here a clear manifestation of God’s great and sole grace, and this in order that they might understand how they themselves are justified from their sins by the selfsame grace which made it so that the man Christ had no power to sin? Thus indeed the angel hailed his mother when announcing to her the future birth: “Hail,” he said, “full of grace.” And shortly thereafter, “You have found favor with God.” And this was said of her, that she was full of grace, since she was to be mother of her Lord, indeed the Lord of all. Yet, concerning Christ himself, when the Evangelist John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” he added, “and we beheld his glory, a glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” When he said, “The Word was made flesh,” this means, “Full of grace.” When he also said, “The glory of the only begotten of the Father,” this means, “Full of truth.” Indeed it was Truth himself, God’s only begotten Son–and, again, this not by grace but by nature–who, by grace, assumed human nature into such a personal unity that he himself became the Son of Man as well.
Enchiridion, Chapter 36

Wherefore, since a thing may be “born” of something else, yet not in the fashion of a “son,” and conversely, since not everyone who is called son is born of him whose son he is called–this is the very mode in which Christ was “born” of the Holy Spirit (yet not as a son), and of the Virgin Mary as a son–this suggests to us the grace of God by which a certain human person, no merit whatever preceding, at the very outset of his existence, was joined to the Word of God in such a unity of person that the selfsame one who is Son of Man should be Son of God, and the one who is Son of God should be Son of Man. Thus, in his assumption of human nature, grace came to be natural to that nature, allowing no power to sin. This is why grace is signified by the Holy Spirit, because he himself is so perfectly God that he is also called God’s Gift.
Enchiridion, Chapter 40

He himself is therefore sin as we ourselves are righteousness–not our own but God’s, not in ourselves but in him. Just as he was sin–not his own but ours, rooted not in himself but in us–so he showed forth through the likeness of sinful flesh, in which he was crucified, that since sin was not in him he could then, so to say, die to sin by dying in the flesh, which was “the likeness of sin.” And since he had never lived in the old manner of sinning, he might, in his resurrection, signify the new life which is ours, which is springing to life anew from the old death in which we had been dead to sin.

This is the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism, which is celebrated among us. All who attain to this grace die thereby to sin–as he himself is said to have died to sin because he died in the flesh, that is, “in the likeness of sin”–and they are thereby alive by being reborn in the baptismal font, just as he rose again from the sepulcher. This is the case no matter what the age of the body.

For whether it be a newborn infant or a decrepit old man–since no one should be barred from baptism–just so, there is no one who does not die to sin in baptism. Infants die to original sin only; adults, to all those sins which they have added, through their evil living, to the burden they brought with them at birth.
Enchiridion, Chapters 41-43

The first man brought sin into the world, whereas this One took away not only that one sin but also all the others which he found added to it. Hence, the apostle says, “And the gift of grace is not like the effect of the one that sinned: for the judgment on that one trespass was condemnation; but the gift of grace is for many offenses, and brings justification.” Now it is clear that the one sin originally inherited, even if it were the only one involved, makes men liable to condemnation. Yet grace justifies a man for many offenses, both the sin which he originally inherited in common with all the others and also the multitude of sins which he has committed on his own.

However, when he the apostle says, shortly after, “Therefore, as the offense of one man led all men to condemnation, so also the righteousness of one man leads all men to the life of justification,” he indicates sufficiently that everyone born of Adam is subject to damnation, and no one, unless reborn of Christ, is free from such a damnation.

And after this discussion of punishment through one man and grace through the Other, as he deemed sufficient for that part of the epistle, the apostle passes on to speak of the great mystery of holy baptism in the cross of Christ, and to do this so that we may understand nothing other in the baptism of Christ than the likeness of the death of Christ. The death of Christ crucified is nothing other than the likeness of the forgiveness of sins–so that in the very same sense in which the death is real, so also is the forgiveness of our sins real, and in the same sense in which his resurrection is real, so also in us is there authentic justification.
Enchiridion, Chapters 50-52

It may be discovered or remain hidden whether some of the faithful are sooner or later to be saved by a sort of purgatorial fire, in proportion as they have loved the goods that perish, and in proportion to their attachment to them. However, this does not apply to those of whom it was said, “They shall not possess the Kingdom of God,” unless their crimes are remitted through due repentance. I say “due repentance” to signify that they must not be barren of almsgiving, on which divine Scripture lays so much stress that our Lord tells us in advance that, on the bare basis of fruitfulness in alms, he will impute merit to those on his right hand; and, on the same basis of unfruitfulness, demerit to those on his left–when he shall say to the former, “Come, blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom,” but to the latter, “Depart into everlasting fire.”

We must beware, however, lest anyone suppose that unspeakable crimes such as they commit who “will not possess the Kingdom of God” can be perpetrated daily and then daily redeemed by almsgiving. Of course, life must be changed for the better, and alms should be offered as propitiation to God for our past sins. But he is not somehow to be bought off, as if we always had a license to commit crimes with impunity. For, “he has given no man a license to sin”–although, in his mercy, he does blot out sins already committed, if due satisfaction for them is not neglected.

For the passing and trivial sins of every day, from which no life is free, the everyday prayer of the faithful makes satisfaction. For they can say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” who have already been reborn to such a Father “by water and the Spirit.” This prayer completely blots out our minor and everyday sins. It also blots out those sins which once made the life of the faithful wicked, but from which, now that they have changed for the better by repentance, they have departed. The condition of this is that just as they truly say, “Forgive us our debts” (since there is no lack of debts to be forgiven), so also they truly say, “As we forgive our debtors”; that is, if what is said is also done. For to forgive a man who seeks forgiveness is indeed to give alms.
Enchiridion, Chapters 69-71

“On the Predestination of the Saints” and “The Gift of Perseverance”, the very last works of Gus, were written in his final days. Those writings and their contradictory paradoxes, evidencing no clear remorse for earlier teachings but revealing a confused and frustrated man, will be evaluated in the next study on Augustine’s “Partial Determinism”. It is clear that when Gus finally confronted the reality of what Paul actually taught regarding the grace of God, he did not know where to go from there.

It would be a mistake to consider these things without contemplating the enormous dependence on Augustine on philosophy and psychology for his views. Many critics have labeled him the theologian of the Western introspective conscience, noting the absence of a ‘conscience obsession’ in Paul and the biblical authors (notably Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 56 No. 3, Jul. 1963, pp. 199-215). Generally speaking, however, Neo-Paulinist scholars are unreliable as theologians in the estimation of the present writer and cannot be recommended. The ‘covenant community’ ethic (whether named Jewish, Christian, or anything else) of Neo-Paulinism, with its ‘Don’t be selfish and worry about individual salvation’ emphasis, does nothing whatsoever to appease guilt! Nonetheless, it is true that obsession with a guilty conscience and the deeds that might kill it is entirely foreign to the message of the Bible. The gospel is a message of deliverance from all guilt once for all time through confidence in the finished work of Christ, in community (Heb. 10:35-39)!

It was in the spheres of psychology and metaphysics that the dominion of Augustine was most complete. He aspired to know nothing, he tells us, but God and the soul; but these he strove with all his might to know altogether. His characteristic mark as a thinker was the inward gaze; the realities of consciousness were theprimary objects of his contemplation; and from them he took his starting point for reflection on the world. Antiquity supplies no second to him in the breadth and acuteness of his psychological observation. And in his establishment of “immediate certainty of inner experience,” as Windelband calls it (A History of Philosophy, pp. 264, 270, 276), in “the controlling central position of philosophic thought” he transcended his times and became “one of the founders of modern thought.” If he may truly be said to have derived from Plato and Plotinus, in a far truer sense he stood above his Neo-Platonic teachers, and of his lineage have come Descartes and Malebranche and all that has proceeded from the movements of thought inagurated by them. 
Warfield, Tertullian and Augustine, pp. 125,126

By what evidence does Gus rise above his Neo-Platonic teachers in this regard? I would propose that this question remains unanswered by Warfield. Do Reformed teachers honestly believe that Augustine perpetuated no false teachings as a result of his excessive schooling in philosophy and admiration of Plotinus, ones that now have been perpetuated for over 1½ millennia? But the uncovering of these errors for posterity is the purpose of this and the studies to follow!

Robert R. Higby

A Muslim protecting Christian doctrine; Unknowingly!

Read here

nj-easter-egg-huntI said it once and I will say it again! Those who devise non bibilically prescribed customs and feasts to the Christian faith are the ones who are “doing the work of the devil” reducing Christianity into a “fairy tale” with Santa Claus, Eastern Bunny and, of course, egg hunts, and certainly a few other childish parties.

Oh, of course these are such innocent things that they will hardly affect anyone, or any child’s forming faith, right? Wrong! You talk to your children about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, along with teaching them about Jesus, then you expect that they will grow up and filter off the childish things and realize that none of these characters are real and for some miraculous reason, you hope that they will keep Jesus as a “truthful” character… What a hope!

Before you say it, as an avowed Calvinist I shouldn’t worry because after all God will preserve his own. It is right there in the “P” of T.U.L.I.P, or, “perseverance, (also preservation) of the saints, right? Wrong again! Yes, God will preserve His own but that doesn’t relieve you of your parent responsibility in raising your child in the most pure form of Christian faith!

Oh, I am all in favor of enjoying our liberty in Christ and I am all against legalism in any subtle or conspicuous form it rears its ugly head (and legalism’s head is in the rear), so, I am not talking about turning your child into an outcast, devoid of contact with society, and not participating in some “innocent” play, although such an “innocence” is debatable. What I am talking about is this militant stance in defending these types of activities not prescribed in the Bible as if they were somehow to be revered as something directly from heaven’s throne room! And how some do that? Answer: by calling anyone who opposes to such celebration a “anti-Christian” waging a “war on Christianity”, especially if one is not a Christian.

I said it before and I will say it again: God has used anyone to speak for Him, including a donkey, and God will also use those who are currently the enemies of His Gospel if that is what it takes to remove the attention from a stupid egg hunt that, in my view, a Church should not be promoting, and make the Church really turn their attention to what we are celebrating that day, that is, if we indeed celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. When a Muslim is outraged because of something that he was told is a Christian thing, read that outrage as perhaps God speaking through a donkey preventing us from turning the Gospel into a fairy tale sort of nursery rhyme, devoid of its meaningful and sacred and eternal meaning, and the ever changing power that it has been through the ages. Think about it!

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let’s start over: Defining “Mainline” and “non-Evangelical”

Over the past week, I posted several explorations of the mainline/evangelical divide. (Milton has one as well.) It hasn’t been pretty.

Well, I think we need to step back. An ‘E’vangelical is pretty easy to spot. They will more often than not hold to some form of strict inerrancy/infallibility. I do not mean that “scripture contains all things necessary for salvation” but that Scripture is infallible in all things it touches — science, theology, history. Words and phrases like “inerrant,” “infallible,” and “all sufficient” are tossed around as supreme and needed additions adjectives to Scripture. Further, they usually reject other elements of T/traditional Christianity.

In the discussions last week, several thing became clear:

  1. The Mainline/Evangelical divide is a uniquely American thing. Evangelical in Europe and Canada can mean something different than how we would use it. For instance, while Wright is a high church Anglican without a high view on inerrancy, he is still an evangelical.
  2. Evangelical is a word/label that should apply to those who believe in the power of the Gospel and as such, Mainliners who are not inerrantists but believe in the power of the Gospel feel somewhat slighted when you take the label away from them.
  3. The Old Mainline was the “Seven Sisters of American Protestantism.” These were the established (European-based/point of origin) churches, in some form at the start of the country. They were the central focus of the local communities and held sway for much of the country’s history. Thus, if we define “mainline” as one belonging to dominant denominations or communions, it is possible to now include the Roman Catholic Church as a mainline denomination.

So, “mainline” is an American thing. It doesn’t require a belief in inerrancy but can and should believe in the power* of the Gospel*. Further, a mainline denomination holds sway upon large parts of the American public and may even become involved in the political sphere. The denominations are larger than a sect, has historic doctrine, and is seen.

So, the new mainline would be who?

  • The Roman Catholic Church
  • The United Methodist Church
  • The Southern Baptist Convention
  • The Latter-Day Saints (remember, they are the dominant group in several western States)
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Assemblies of God

But, there is a problem with limiting a group to just the big X (6 in this arbitrary case). Further, it doesn’t get us to where we need to be in determining who are those non-inerrantists/infallibilists Christians with some measure of influence in American Christianity. It doesn’t really help in defining anything except for who the powerful groups are.

So, let’s get down to the personal level. What describes a non-Evangelical Christian?

  • Separate evangelical from Evangelical. A non-inerrantist can still believe in the power of the Gospel and the authority of Scripture as Wright has so eloquently demonstrated. While there is some disagreement about what Vatican II’s definition represents, I tend to agree with a plain sense reading of it:

    “Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.”

    This looks like Articles of Religion VI,

    “Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”

    Thus, a non-Evangelical is one who simply does not hold to a strict inerrancy of Scripture.

    A non-Evangelical is also likely to accept science asa beautiful book” and as such, seek via media when it comes to understanding Truth.

  • A non-Evangelical Christian will understand, appreciate, and often highlight the role Tradition plays. Everyone has Tradition, whether they know it or not, even inerrantist Evangelicals who refer to codified language to support inerrancy, or any of the solas. Tradition may approach some measured stature in the eyes of the non-Evangelical. This may be called canonical theism, where Scripture is not alone in acting as an authority for the Church. Tradition includes the creeds and other aspects often dismissed as extra-biblical by Evangelicals, such as a high liturgy. Like Tradition, even “free churches” employ a liturgy, even if they do not place it on a piece of paper and candles are absent. If you are brave enough, walk into, say, a Church of Christ and ask the pastor to preach first and then have everything else afterwards. Liturgy, including lectionary readings and litanies, not only has shaped doctrine but so too shapes us approaching God. Lex orandi, lex credendi. The liturgy is designed, or should be designed, to have Christ as its center, preferably in the Eucharist or in the delivering of the Gospel. We participate in the Liturgy and as such, our individuality is shaped and molded into a corporate experience of celebrating the Risen Savior.
  • A non-Evangelical Christian will have a higher view of ecclesiology. For example, I maintain that the United Methodist Church is a non-Evangelical church because of the Book of Discipline. My ecclesiology is as such that even if I disagree with various items in the BoD, I do not believe pastors should break covenant. We are an episcopal church, with oaths given and taken to act in concert with the covenant. If I were a pastor, I do not believe I should find it within myself to act as an independent. Rather, I surrender my authority to the Bishop. While the Southern Baptist Church is part of the New Mainline, it is still a deeply Evangelical church because in the end, it is an association of independent pastors and congregations.

There – Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. I think we’ve narrowed it down enough to start to present a list of influential non-Evangelicals (if non-Evangelicals we mean non-inerrantist/infallibilists).

So… thoughts on this?

Was Paul a Calvinist or a Arminian-Wesleyan?

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have heard what my manner of life was when I was still a practising Jew: how savagely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it; and how in the practice of our national religion I outstripped most of my Jewish contemporaries by my boundless devotion to the traditions of my ancestors. But then in his good pleasure God, who from my birth had set me apart, and who had called me through his grace…(Galatians 1.13-15 REB)

This is not the first time in the canon we read of Paul arguing that he was set a part by God (Romans 1.1). Here, he insists it was from his birth/from before his birth. We must ask, did Paul see himself has having a choice in “choosing” to follow Jesus on the Damascus road? How do we reconcile our supposed notion of “free will” to that of God’s?

Again, I ask: God Paul have refused to follow Christ on Damascus road?

John Wesley did not see this “unconditional predestination” as inconsistent with his theology of a free grace as he writes to this verse in his Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. Do we then allow that some are predetermined to be conformed to God’s righteousness and others must choose for themselves in some manner?

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How Long before a “conservative” #UMC begins to (re)debate complementarianism

The Two Source hypothesis solution to the Syno...

This really has nothing to do with the story, but it is the God’s honest truth and I want to rub your face in it.

It is interesting to watch the debates rage in other denominations. I know that the UMC had women pastors and view women as equal to men in everything, including the call to the Gospel. It did take some getting used to, however.

When the EC essentially split over the ordination of LGBT persons, with conservative groups forming their own communion with Canterbury, the debate over women’s ordination in the American Anglican church arose once more. Granted, there are differing views allowed but how long before these differences become new grounds for schism?

Take a moment and read what is happening in the Southern Baptist Church:

In his talk, Platt speaks about four gospel truths, ironically all taken from Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, not from the Gospels of the New Testament which detail Jesus ’actual words and actions. Watching his sermon, Platt’s gospel truths seemed more like opinion and conjecture, as he repeated his claim that, “We flee sexual immorality in our lives and we defend sexual complementarity for the sake of the gospel in the world.”

via Sexual complementarity: A dangerous debate.

I’ve asked other UMCers what they think will happen to women’s ordination. Most believe the matter is settled or would be of little or no consequence. Yet, what I predict will happen is that any conservative UMC group (if a schism occurs) will have to revisit this matter. There are plenty of UMCers who believe that the UMC started to go downhill when women were ordained.

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Resources for Luther (Sunday School)

Because I may need this later, I wanted to break my usual Sunday fast of blogging and post a few things.

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

Martin Luther – drunk theologian, gossiper, and oath-breaker. Also, he hated your favorite animal

First, I of all of Luther’s works, the most recommended for small group study is On Christian Freedom (or The Liberty of the Christian). You can find a nice public domain copy here. That’s right, by a Jesuit school. I bet Luther is spinning over in purgatory right now.

Here are some points to take away from his small, dualist, letter.

…Man has a twofold nature, a spiritual and a bodily. According to the spiritual nature, which men call the soul, he is called a spiritual, or inner, or new man; according to the bodily nature, which men call the flesh, he is called a carnal, or outward, or old man, of whom the Apostle writes, in II Cor. iv, “Though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” Because of this diversity of nature the Scriptures assert contradictory things of the same man, since the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh (Gal. v)….

And, of course, his 95 Theses. Because he was a blowhard who couldn’t leave well-enough alone.

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ARE there dividing lines between Mainline and Evangelical?

Religions in Austria-Hungary, Andrees Allgemei...

Religions in Austria-Hungary, Andrees Allgemeiner Handatlas, 1st Edition, Leipzig (Germany) 1881, Page 48, Map 2. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, across several platforms, I posted and discussed this question. As you can imagine, it went smashingly well. Everyone loved the list!

Except no. No, they didn’t. Rather, people were upset that I included Catholics and mentioned the Orthodox. Further, even though I stated that people argue over whether or not Rachel Held Evans is an Evangelical or a Mainliner, they still argued. Seriously. Even when I linked to one of her posts about his very topic, they still insisted one or the other.

Eventually, I just updated the post to include the idea I am going to change the title of the list. I’m just trying to make a point, over all, that there are plenty of Christians, influential or otherwise, that are not considered or do not consider themselves the specific type of American Evangelicalism.

There is a great move towards social justice in many Evangelical (sub)groups and for that, I thank God. Do you think the view on Scripture and Tradition (Scripture is infallible in all things, Tradition is near to worthless) is a good start for a line?

Further, there are great theologians that are non-inerrantists.

Basically, I could really find no better dividing line than that of the view of Scripture.

But, I put this to you.

Are there dividing lines between Mainliners and Evangelicals? The lines between Catholics/Orthodox and Protestants of any variety are pretty easy to discern. Either you are a Catholic/Orthodox are you’re not. The same easily exists between various Protestants. Either you are a United Methodist or you are not.

But the dividing line between Mainline (which seems not to be something negative) and Evangelical (some people use this correctly, others not) is not so easy to grasp. I’m guessing because “Mainline” means, for a lot of people, a dying breed of Christianity. Evangelical means… well, it seems for Mainliners it means those who go and witness/serve for the Gospel. For Evangelicals, this term helps to codify something different.

Anyway, thoughts?

 

 

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What are Mainliners? (Compared to Evangelicals and Fundamentalists)

I am building up a (sorta) response to Thom Rainer’s 20 Influential Evangelicals list. My list will include mainline Christians, but in asking the question last night on Facebook, I was equally struck by the conversation about who and what is a mainliner.

No, mainliners does not include heroin addicts. Well, I guess it does. But you know what I mean.

Joel B. Green gives several points as to what is a Mainliner:

  • Mainline Protestants have a different perspective. They have a more modernist theology. So, for instance, they would read the Bible, not as the inerrant word of God, but as a historical document, which has God’s word in it and a lot of very important truths, but that needs to be interpreted in every age by individuals of that time and that place.
  • Mainline Protestants tend to also believe that Jesus is the way to salvation. But many mainline Protestants would believe that perhaps there are other ways to salvation as well. People in other religious traditions, even outside of Christianity, may have access to God’s grace and to salvation as well, on their own terms, and through their own means.
  • Mainline Protestants are much less concerned with personal conversion. Although they do talk about spiritual transformation, they’ll often discuss a spiritual journey from one’s youth to old age, leading on into eternity. So there is a sense of transformation, but there isn’t that emphasis on conversion — on that one moment or series of moments in which one’s life is dramatically changed.
  • Finally, mainline Protestants are somewhat less concerned with proselytizing than evangelicals. Certainly proselytizing is something they believe in. They believe in sharing their beliefs with others, but not for the purposes of conversion necessarily. The idea of spreading the word in the mainline tradition is much broader than simply preaching the good news. It also involves economic development. It involves personal assistance, charity, a whole number of other activities.

Theopedia suggests that Mainliners are basically liberal with little or no concern about doctrine. I don’t think that is fair. Indeed, as the discussion shows — there are several theologians that are active in the life of the Mainline Church. Of course, they may just mean the Mainline Protestants.

In describing Mainline, I would start with our view of Scripture. Believe it or not, but George W. Bush, even though he was described as an Evangelical president, probably put it best when asked if the “bible was literally true:”

You know. Probably not … No, I’m not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament, for example is … has got … You know, the important lesson is “God sent a son.”

Bush is, of course, a United Methodist Christian. His statement of faith, I would suggest, begins not with some reliance upon the “truth of Scripture” as “infallible” but with Christ.

I wrote last week about defining Scriptural Authority and mentioned the Articles of Religion. Even conservative (on the issue of women ordination and homosexuality) mainline churches do not define Scripture as evangelicals do. For instance, the Anglican Church in North America.

Further, even the uber-Reformed Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) does not hold to the “infallible word of God” line, but like their Anglican (and Wesleyan) neighbors, believe Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation. Jack Rogers, once a strong inerrantist, writes about the WCF,

The question of the errancy or inerrancy of the Scripture is one which is strange to the Westminster Divines.…To contend that the Westminster Confession teaches the inerrancy of the Scripture because it does not assert that there are errors in the Scripture is to impose a modern problem on a pre-scientific statement.…Thus in an ahistorical manner, the Westminster Confession is still drawn into a controversy to which its authors were not a party. Certainly the Westminster Divines believed, and the Confession states, that the Bible is true and infallible. But to equate these terms with the modern concept of inerrancy is to impose upon the Westminster Confession criteria for proof and apologetic implications which had no place in their thinking.

Granted, some do not take kindly to this interpretation of the WCF. Others, such as the well beloved Evangelical Presbyterian Church, while upholding the WCF, affirm the inerrancy of Scripture.

Modern Evangelicals place “inerrant and infallible” upon all things to which the bible speaks — history or some some deluded notion of science. Scripture is devoid of the human witness and becomes something God himself wrote. Thus, for them, Scripture is all-sufficient. Mainliners reject this notion. Mainliners should agree that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, but that Scripture is not all sufficient (as it states in the WCF, for example). Further, Mainliners will adopt some form of historical criticism (usually) in digging deep into Scripture to discover what the authors said, compared to what we have been told, and what we say, the authors say.

In Mainline Christianity, Tradition will play a part as well. This is clearly evident in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy (reserving the notion that members of these two groups may object to such a label), the United Methodist Church, the various Anglican groups, and various Presbyterian groups. Thus, that which separates Evangelical from Mainline is the view of Scripture. Scripture is not infallible, inerrant, or all-sufficient.

So, I want to know — who are the mainliners you find inspirational. Unlike Rainer, I am not going to restrict the list to the United States. But, they should be mainline. While Evangelicals may lay claim to some of them (such as Bush and Wright (odd pairing) if you look at their statements and theology, they are Mainline).

Thus far, I have a list:

  • George W. Bush
  • Rachel Held Evans
  • Diana Butler Bass
  • James Cone
  • Bishop Gene Robinson
  • Jim Wallis
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Brian McLaren
  • The unknown visitor, soup kitchen workers, hostel supervisor, sunday school teacher
  • Archbishop Justin Welby
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Leonard Sweet
  • Barbara Brown Taylor
  • Agnes Abuom
  • Frank Scheaffer
  • Adam Hamilton
  • Nadia Bolz-Weber
  • Hong-Duk Kim
  • Stanley Hauerwas
  • Miroslav Volf
  • Sharon Watkins
  • Charles Taylor
  • Alvin Plantinga
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff
  • Cornel West
  • Steve Chalke
  • Walter Brueggemann
  • William Abraham
  • Scott Hahn
  • Desmund Tutu
  • Rowan Williams
  • N.T. Wright
  • Tripp Fuller
  • Craig Gross
  • Michael Foster
  • Pope Francis
  • Sam Childers
  • Rob Bell
  • William Willimon
  • Phyllis Tickle
  • Marcus Borg
  • Kallistos Ware
  • Thomas Jay Oord

I’d really like this list to grow. So, here’s what I’m asking. Comment to add to the list or to affirm someone on the list. You can add or affirm as many as you feel is necessary.

Updates:

Here are some other reading materials.

Please note, I do not consider Catholics and Orthodox mainline. I am, however, collecting names and the such – as well as additions to the definition of what makes something mainline. Others will disagree.

I’ve updated the list – and will update the list. I’ve also had the benefit of discussing on various forums, from various angles. I think we done, I’m going to call the list “Top X Influential Non-Evangelical (i.e., inerrantists) Christians.”

Follow up to Joel Watts Last Blog

I believe it is time for us to begin to think about these things! Period! Joel Watts last blog in this blog is excellent if one take seriously what he really believes about the Bible! I was going to publish this in there as a reply, but I decided to make my reply into a blog. It may be better for readers to understand what is my point on that, something that, before God I have been struggling since my pastoral days, and, after which, when I came to a firm position, not only I find peace and comfort in God, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of God, His Word and what His Word may represent to us. So, here it goes:

Admittedly, even as a proponent of Sola Scriptura, I cringe when I read tenets of faith that use the words you mentioned. I fail in accepting that the people who chose those words really have any sense of their meaning. In the other hand there are traditions that are in and of itself biblical traditions and should be respected and used authoritatively simply because they originated in Scripture; but there is also what I have called for many years “tr-addiction”; these are “traditions” that became “tr-additions” and later turned into “tr-addictions”, or, they are inventions that become additions to the faith, that later culminate with being so “ingrown” and ingrained that they are hard to dispel as an addiction to a drug. Maybe we (Joel and me) should start a “tr-addiction rehab!”.

Interestingly enough, most of these “tr-addictions” originated not from more moderate biblical thinkers, but from the very same people who claim that the Bible is what the Pure Life says it is! Oh, need examples? Easy: Organizations who say what Pure Life says about the Bible add to the Salvation “condition” (there is no condition for Salvation by the way, other than being not saved), to believe what they say about the Bible! Yes! This simple, and… this ridiculous! It is no longer the Cross alone, but also, the 66 Canon, word by word, letter by letter! I propose that the belief that believing the 66 Canon word by word is a good thing, but it turns into a bad thing when it is made into a condition for Salvation! Then it is an addition that becomes a tr-addition, that later turns into a tr-addiction! This is where flawed logic leads us: the place at which we wanted to avoid being…

BTW, this is not the purely fundamentalist and Pentecostal or even the Primitive Baptists fault alone! I have been shunned by Presbyterians (who unlike the Vegetarians who eat vegetables, they eat Presbyters) because I have some Lutheran views about the Canon; some of them don’t think I can be saved if I hold to Lutheran views about the Canon… I have to subscribe fully with the Westminster Confession of Faith (which I do in 98% at least) which says that the Bible is a 66 books Canon! Then they accuse Roman Catholics for elevating traditions to the level or over the Bible! Isn’t that something?

Even Jesus on his way to Emmaus (Luke 24) said that “Moses (the Law) The Prophets and the Psalms speak of Him…” So, allow me a bit of fun here, but even Jesus may not have been a 66 books Canon believer, huh? Well, I know that the N.T. had not been written yet… but, I hope you get my drift… even Jesus was Christocentric in His view of Scripture!

The idea of a Tr-addiction Rehab Center is growing…

(Oh, brother, there goes my opportunity to blog here exclusively as a “conservative”… unless it is added “non-conformist” to that)

Defining Scriptural Authority

circular reasoningChristians tend to use Scripture. Let’s not kid ourselves. It is difficult to be a Christian and not have sometime, or another, used Scripture. For some, it is the central aspect of the faith. For others, it is a guide of some sort. Many use it as a proof-text while others use it story time.

What I want to briefly speak to is the issue of scriptural authority (SA) and how we use it, towards the proper use of it.

First, in an extremely unbiblical view, there are those on the far right, almost cultic side, of SA. For instance, there is the Pure Life Ministries proclaiming as the first tenet of their statement of faith that they “believe the Bible is the inspired and infallible and authoritative Word of God.” That covers some ground, doesn’t it? But, let us dig further. In another place, they write,

Pure Life Ministries is founded upon the authority of the Word of God as the supreme and all-sufficient Truth for overcoming sin.

Do you see the problem here? They now incorporate “all-sufficient” into the idolization of Scripture. By this circular logic, Pure Life needs nothing else except their own interpretation of Scripture. No psychology, no science, no medical help. This is the same tactic so-called faith healers use to slaughter innocent children when they refuse medical help. After all, medical help is not in Scripture. Focus what is going on here. The Trinity is not as important as their view of Scripture. The death and resurrection of Christ is not as important as their view of Scripture. What is important is to cement in their follows that the leaders are the sole determining factor of what “the bible says.”

They remove Tradition, Reason, and the intellect from reading Scripture. The interpretation must not be challenged, either by question or by reason. Further, there is no help outside of Scripture. In effect, they have replaced God with the bible, as is so evidence in their statement of faith.

This, in case you don’t get it, is the wrong approach to SA.

The Articles of Religion says plainly enough that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. Scripture then begins not a rule book, but a guide book. It allows for us to differ over some things, accept reason and Tradition, and to remain united. SA is not about providing for us everything, on every topic. It is not about restricting what we use to live or use to read Scripture. It is about focusing on the topics in Scripture showing us we are in need of salvation.

The all-sufficient approach must require someone to seek their life structure from Scripture in such a way as to divorce the Text from reality. Do they likewise seek only medical help as offered in Scripture? What of finances? Where is the license in Scripture for such groups as Pure Life Ministries? Rather, in a moderated SA, wherein Scripture provides for us the authoritative narrative do we understand our need for salvation as well as our individual responsibilities.