The scholastics Reformed and the Socinians in Current Disputation: Trueman, Carter, and Fesko V the Doctor, James White

The brouhaha never ceases! This time though it is internecine. I have been attempting to alert Macites (followers of John MacArthur), Reformed Baptists, even many Presbyterians, both online and via our coedited books, that their theological framework is broadly (and even pointedly) funded by an antecedent development of what Richard Muller calls Christian Aristotelianism. Whenever I would bring this up to the Macites over at Phil Johnson’s group blog, the Pyromaniacs, and this years and years ago (circa 2005), they would balk and scream hysterically at me. Now the scholastics Reformed, that is, those who are self-consciously confessional, covenantal (federal) theological, of the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively, Post Reformed orthodox development, are informing their so-called Baptists Reformed, like James White, the Macites, Founders Ministry (of a dwindling branch in the SBC) that they don’t have their beloved “5 Points of Calvinism” without the categories produced by appropriation of Aristotelian categories (largely as those were synthesized by Thomas Aquinas for Christian usage). And yet, now, these same types, the “Baptist types,” are hurling abuse and noise back at people like Carl Truman, Craig Carter, John Fesko et al.; and especially towards Baptists like Matthew Barrett, Lucas Stamps, and other SBC Baptists who are acknowledging and accepting the role that some form of Thomist reception has played in their respective adherence to the type of Reformed theology that they breathe in and out every day of their live long days. If you are interested to listen in on the skirmish you can do so here (The Mortification of Spin podcast with: Carl Trueman, Todd Pruitt, Craig Carter, and John Fesko), and here (The Dividing Line vlogcast with: James White).

In a way, it feels a bit like sweet justice on my end. The scholastics Reformed (whether Presbyterian, Baptist etc.) are informing the others, who claim to also be Reformed, that they aren’t Reformed without the categories of Aristotle funding their respective adherence to the theology of Dordt and its 5 Points (as those were so named in the 20th century). Like I said, I spent cartridges and cartridges of e-ink letting the 5 Point Baptists know that they were implicitly committed to an Aristotelian Gospel, and not just a scriptura nuda (naked Scripture) like they like to think. At the moment I am simply sitting back and watching the drama unfold. The scholastics Reformed are alerting the 5 Pointers to what I was alerting them to for decades; viz. that they are Thomists (or some version thereof). The problem for the 5 Pointers is that they cannot imagine that they have been committed to an interpretive tradition all their lives. They cannot admit that they have so conflated an interpretive tradition with their exegesis of Scripture that they no longer can see the difference. And since they are unwilling to see the difference, they will continue to push back against anyone who claims that they are indeed reading Holy Scripture from a certain theological background; namely, Christian Aristotelianism. The scholastics Reformed have owned this reality—that they are Christian Aristotelians—for decades, mostly stemming from the work of Richard Muller. But the 5 Pointers have never been self-critical and self-aware enough to recognize or admit this.

Trueman, in the linked podcast, calls such 5 Pointers, Socianians. In the urban dictionary for theological cusswords, this is right at the top of the list (right next to Pelagian). White, takes serious issue with this, and responds vociferously in the linked aforementioned vlogcast. If you don’t know, in short, the Socinians were a 16th century people, following an Italian theologian named, Faustus Socinus, who was, some would argue, an original rationalist. His basic premise was that Scripture should be read without reference to any confessional or churchly tradition and be read on its own [naked] terms. Thus, for him, and his followers, this resulted in the abandonment of belief in the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ, among other orthodox doctrines. So, when Trueman says that people like White (although he doesn’t name him) are Socinian it ought to become apparent as to why White gets so triggered. But, in reality, what Trueman is saying, I think, is that the hermeneutic, the prolegomenon, the theological methodology, the interpretive tradition most proximate to the one that the 5 Pointers adhere to vis-à-vis a doctrine of Scripture, and all its consequents, is most closely related to the one we find the Socinians deploying; I don’t disagree.

There is a better way, I have spent decades outlining that here at the blog, and along with Myk Habets, with our coedited books on Evangelical Calvinism (what I like, these days, calling it: Athanasian Reformed). To some this whole squabble seems idiosyncratic, and potentially silly. The reason it isn’t is because doctrine has consequences, good or bad consequences in proportion to whether or not it is good or bad doctrine. The evangelical churches in North America, not to mention the West in general, are involved in a sea change in almost apocalyptic-like ways, at the moment. There is this seeming binary of either being mainstream, progressive evangelical, or conservative evangelical (and Reformed). On the latter side of this split, as we have been detailing in this post, there is a rift occurring. I take that rift to be somewhat superficial, in reality. The 5 Pointers simply are unwilling to admit what the scholastics Reformed have known and accepted for their whole theological existence. Either way, this seems to be what Christians in the main are being presented with, as if the above sketch is all there is available to them theologically. I am here to tell you that that is not true! Reformed theology (not to mention Lutheran) is not as monolithic or Deus ex machina as the above would have you believe. There is nuance and doctrinal lines of development within the Reformed trad that the above simply bulldozes over, whether that be in order to caricature, and thus demonize, or to accept and live by. Evangelical Calvinism is one example of how it is possible to operate as an evangelical Christian, but from within different ambits of theological development as that has obtained in the history. Another, and yet related, is one my former historical theology prof and [current] mentor calls Affective Theology. The point is, there is no reason for the Christian to dig in on either side of the binary as that is being presented to you in the evangelical churches. There are ways to think orthodoxly, historically, and church catholically without becoming engrossed in the above binary (i.e., between mainstream evanjellybellism and/or scholastics Reformed / -5 Pointism). Be encouraged!

2 thoughts on “The scholastics Reformed and the Socinians in Current Disputation: Trueman, Carter, and Fesko V the Doctor, James White

  1. I am indeed encouraged (and that change in both perspective and spirit is wrought through the grace of God by the Spirit of God himself in Christ Jesus). Oh, that it had been so much earlier in this life!

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