The Text and Canon of Christ’s Life: Holy Scripture

“and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”

The Bible, Holy Scripture, the Word of God is neglected at alarming rates by Christians; at least according to the polls, and based upon what the churches look like. I think and work in the ‘theological’ world, but for me this means being constantly bathed in the words of Holy Scripture. If Scripture is God’s ordained place for us to encounter His dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ, then it behooves the Christian to be saturated in its text; just so that they might be saturated in the very power of the resurrected Christ. Christ is the res (reality), and the text is the signum (sign) that points beyond itself (like Calvin’s spectacles) to its transcendent yet immanent reality for us in Jesus Christ. It is as the Christian inhabits Scripture that they are made aware of the reality and ground of their life in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; a life that is indestructible, and not only impervious to death, but an eternal life that has dismantled death from the inside/out. And yet this ‘last enemy’ remains; death that is.

The Apostle Paul was well aware of this last enemy, and he informs the Christians in Ephesus of the means by which they might confront death, and its minions, who is the satan and his fallen cohort. As the Apostle knew, while living in the far country of this world system, the Christian would be beat here and there by the darts and lies that the great deceiver would attempt to thrust at them; with the might of a dragon. God in Christ has provided for us (pro nobis) the means, through Holy Scripture, by which the Christian cannot just be an ‘overcomer,’ but be so through a vibrant life of participatio Christi (participation with Christ in the triune life of the living God). Jesus in His humanity for us understood the outright power of simply inhabiting Holy Scripture; of internalizing it, and organically living it out. We see this best in the satan’s attempt to tempt Jesus in the wilderness.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. –Matthew 4:1-11

As many of you already know Jesus is recapitulating Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness because of their failure to obey God’s Word. Here Jesus quotes Deuteronomy at the satan, from that very context, and prevails over the devil himself by the living Word of God; ironic, since He is that Word in Himself (in se). But this is how Christians ought to inhabit God’s Word, just as Jesus did. We need to inhabit, internalize, and deploy it (by the Spirit) in such a way that it is canonical and contextual. This means, in order to experience the power of the Word of God, as that finds its reality in Jesus Christ and the triune life of God, that we need to rightly divide it (II Tim. 2:15). We need to labor over it, and in it. We need to allow the canonical reality of the text itself, as that finds its life blood through Immanuel’s veins, to so flow through our lives that it might shine out of our broken bodies into a shadowy and dark world.

But I am afraid Christians are not being vigilant in knowing, inhabiting, meditating, and thus rightly dividing the Word of God which is truth. There is a raging spiritual attack to keep Christians from their primary means of offense (let alone defense), in regard to taking up the Word of God and reading it. The Christian will never experience the real power of God in their lives outwith an obsessive, even myopic focus on Holy Scripture. The very breath of creation and recreation itself underwrites the very ink and paper upon which God has chosen to disclose Himself to and for the world; indeed as that lowly paper and ink bears witness to the flesh and blood of God in Jesus Christ. The satan knows that if he can keep the Christian away from the text of Holy Scripture, OR if he can indoctrinate people with bad hermeneutics (i.e. which would mean that people mishandle Scripture for their own vein or misguided ends), that the Christian will have no power to be an ‘overcomer.’ Remember the seven sons of Sceva in the book of Acts? They attempted to do an exorcism, as the Apostle Paul and the other Apostle’s were known for, and the demons said they knew who Paul was, but they didn’t know these men; at which point the demonic power surged through their human dwelling place and beat the Scevans to a bloody pulp. This remains the reality today. Even if they aren’t always physically beating people up (although they still do that too), they most certainly are entrapping people, Christians, who do not know the reality of Holy Scripture.

Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy.

A Riposte to Leighton Flowers and Dr. Brian With Reference to Their Video Response @ Me

I think after this post I will quit engaging with Leighton Flowers and crew (but maybe not, that all depends). I just came across a video where he and his friend, Brian (a PhD in NT, not theology, clearly), respond to a critique post of mine directed at Flowers’ approach to interpreting Holy Scripture. Here is the blurb I quickly wrote up as I shared this video to my FB and Twitter feeds:

Leighton Flowers responds to a critique post of mine starting at 7:44 and running through 21:00. He and his friend just talk around what I was getting at. Ironically, they end up illustrating my critique of their approach by reverting to their sort of rationalist traditioned reading of Scripture. It is really strange to engage with folks who are not self-perceptive enough to see their own foibles, esp. when those are being pointed out to them. But then they deflect those back onto their critics (me) Lol. Flowers’ friend, a PhD in NT (not theology, clearly) calls my approach postmodern (very strange). But this is what you get when you engage with low church evangelicals who have no clue about the Christian Dogmatic tradition, and how that has taken form in the Church catholic. They dispense with catholicity in favor of re-inventing the wheel based on their own reconstruction (interpretation) of the Christian faith and Holy Scripture. But, again, this is what you get when you start with a turn-to-the-subject hyper individualism out of touch with the confessional nature of the Christian faith. And this is why I find folks like Flowers and his friend so dangerous to the Christian faith; they are the epitome of what has been dangerous to my own faith in the past. So, when I come across it I seek to alert others to its errors, and hope to provide a way forward that is more in tune with a reality contingent upon a source (Jesus Christ and the triune God) outside of themselves.

You can watch Leighton’s and Brian’s response to me here (it starts at 7:44 and runs approx. through the 21-minute mark). I want to expand a little more on their response to me; more than what I just shared in the aforementioned blurb.

Brian was really hung up on my language of all humanity being ENSLAVED to our interpretative traditions. But as Steve Holmes rightly underscores (Stephen R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6-8):

This is not something that can simply be swiped away, as Brian and Leighton attempt to do, unless of course the person is appealing to their people. Ironically, as I alluded to earlier, Brian and Leighton fall right into this point, even as they attempt to criticize my underscoring of it, by going back to “their tradition of biblical theology and soteriology.” This is ironic, indeed, because it is the very point of my criticism of them. The fact that they cannot see that, and then by not seeing it, appeal to their own particular traditioned way of reading Scripture should alert people to how imperceptive their educators are; viz. if they are looking to people like Leighton, and his friend Brian et al., as their teachers.

Further, Dr. Brian calls my approach, that is my approach to focusing on a Christ concentrated hermeneutic: Postmodern. He claims that I end up deconstructing all other traditions, and then presume that my own ‘christological’ approach is the only viable way forward. In a sense, this is true; but it isn’t just true for me, but for Leighton and Brian et al. I would imagine all sentient people have arrived at particular convictions and conclusions in regard to the way that they engage with reality in general, and the Christian reality (for Christians) in particular. There is nothing inherently “postmodern” about that. Indeed, and ironically, this is simply an attempt to “boogeyman” me into a straw-box that Leighton and his friend think they can easily dispense of once they have placed me therein. Unlike these fellas, I am not averse to labels, indeed, labeling is just as inherent to being human as traditioning is. In other words, labeling positions (you know like Leighton’s self-described provisionism) is a shorthand, precision way of engaging with a complex or basket of ideas as those are held within a sort of systematic frame of reference. But the point is here: my approach is not inherently postmodern, instead it works from a Christian confessional background that is grounded in the Christian Dogmatic tradition of the Church catholic.

But this is the point, which I also alluded to previously: Flowers and company, are situated in the Fundamentalist/Evangelical individualist tradition that starts, by way of theological or hermeneutical methodology, in an abstract rationality that is idiosyncratic and original to the individual knowers. This was my point of critique, which Leighton attempted to respond to, when he pushed back against my claim that his approach is: anthropocentric or as he calls it ‘from-below.” Both Leighton and Brian need to do more reading on problems associated with what has been called: solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura. They both are proponents of this approach, and as such, they communicate this to the people looking up to them as faithful guides into the world of Holy Scripture and systematic theology.

Further, Flowers takes issue with me saying that he speaks from a ‘resurrected voice of Pelagius.’ He cannot stand this charge. But anyone familiar with what he teaches on so-called ‘total inability’ (or more commonly understood in the history: total depravity, and its noetic and moral implications) knows that he is in line, let’s say, rather than with Pelagius full-blown, with someone like John Cassian. Again, because of Leighton’s non-Dogmatic orientation, he cannot fathom where this charge comes from. He believes that he can simply assert away that this charge just is not true; while at the same time advocating for a position that correlates almost exactly with Pelagius’ in regard to the neutrality of the moral agency latent within a broken, but not completely “inable” orientation towards God. I’ve already spilled enough e-ink in other posts, in regard to Leighton’s inchoate Pelagianism, that I will not belabor that further here. He simply does not understand the broad contours and moods that makeup the landscape of ecclesial historical ideas vis-à-vis their ideational categorizations (i.e. the dreaded “labeling” again).

Finally (although I think I’ve missed some of their response to me), Leighton, in general, hides behind this idea that if someone is going to critique him, they need to provide concrete examples or he doesn’t know how to engage with the critique. I think the article he and his buddy are responding to, of mine, offers all kinds of concrete examples that he could respond to; but it, again, this would require that he is versed in the realm of Christian Dogmatics (which he discounts out of hand; for reasons already alluded to). I give plenty of examples, in regard to the way he interprets and approaches Scripture; in regard to the way he approaches history of ideas; in regard to the way that his approach to soteriology is not grounded in a dogmatic ordering of things. I don’t feel compelled to offer exact examples (although I have done that in some other posts in reference to Flowers) all the time, because I figure that anyone who reads something like an article on Flowers, is already aware of a whole stable of examples that Flowers hits upon, thematically, seemingly everyday in his vlogcasts.

Oh, one more thing: Brian (and Leighton) almost seemed dumbfounded by the idea that I said we should think our theologies, and exegetical conclusions, from Jesus. Brian, in particular, couldn’t fathom how that would be possible apart from Holy Scripture. But this, again, illustrates the absolute rationalist approach he (and Leighton), are ENSLAVED to. They don’t think of Scripture, as John Webster rightly does, as if it has an ontology. In other words, they cannot even imagine how we might think Scripture from within a Christian Dogmatic ordering of things (a taxis). As such, just like with soteriology, they think Scripture in terms of an abstraction that only has value insofar as they can mine its data, as if archeologists trying to make sense of an artifact, and construct an understanding of it that fits within the realm of what they have determined biblical theology to entail. But you see who is regulative in this sort of interpretive and value-enriching process, right? It isn’t contingent upon Scripture’s res (reality) being regulated by the catholic Jesus (think the ‘Chalcedonian pattern’ that has served regulative for most of Church history when it comes to interpreting Holy Writ cf. Jn 5.39). No, it is contingent, instead, upon some sort of abstract realm of positivism that abstract wits have the capacity to manage and manipulate, with greater or lesser outcomes, based upon the interpreter’s disposition, training, and aptitude to approach Scripture with a minimal amount of presuppositions and pre-understandings. Because Brain (and Leighton) seemingly are critically unaware of the history and development of modern bible reading practices, as those developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the naturalist bed those were consummated in, they simply cannot imagine what I mean when I refer to: thinking our theologies and exegetical conclusions from Jesus.

My point doesn’t pivot on a competition between Scripture and Jesus—this is the false dilemma and premise Brian critiques me from—but instead, it is grounded in the idea, as John Calvin, Karl Barth, TF Torrance, John Webster, and other luminaries propound, that Scripture is the signum (sign) that points beyond itself to its res (reality) who is the, Christ. In other words, Brian and Leighton fail, in regard to their doctrine of Scripture, and thus hermeneutics, because they essentalize Scripture to the point that it ends in their interpretation of it, instead of being understood as the instrument whereby Christians come to encounter the living God in the risen Christ. I see Scripture from an instrumentalist vantage point, as most  Christians have in history, versus, the Leightonian and Brianian approach, that absolutizes Scripture as an epistemological end in itself; and end that has no idea that there is a theological ontology that stands antecedent to Scripture’s reality as a created medium that serves the instrumental purpose of pointing beyond itself and its many interpreters. Essentially, Brian’s and Leighton’s response to me fails, on this front, because, for at least one reason, they have an inadequate doctrine (and no ontology) of Holy Scripture. This is why Brian (and Leighton) seem so perplexed by my point on ‘from Jesus.’

Again, I would caution folks who are looking to Leighton and company for a healthy theological education. They, in my view, have not done enough homework, particularly in the area of Christian ideas, and the development of Reformed theology in particular, to be of any service to the would-be learner. I know this sounds harsh: but it is my considered opinion after listening to Leighton for about a year and a half now. My reason for saying this about Leighton should be illustrated by the themes I touched upon throughout this post. If someone wants to marginalize the history of Christian ideas, the history of theological grammar, and displace that with their reconstruction of the Christian faith, without engagement with the conciliar faith of historic Christian reality, then you know you are in a hazardous harbor. That’s what I think we get with the ministry of Leighton Flowers. Is he a nice guy? Clearly. Does this necessarily make him a trustworthy guide into the realm of theological and biblical studies? Nein.


Evangelical Hermeneutics, Christological Patterns, and Scripture-All-By-Itselfism

Evangelicals, for good measure, at least in sentiment, claim to be committed to Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). But in reality, the majority of evangelical Christians are really committed to Scripture all by itself (nuda Scriptura solo Scriptura). What most evangelicals think about Scripture all by itself, is just that: i.e. that they don’t have tradition aiding them in the way they interpret Scripture. So, they operate with this sort of naivete about what tradition is, and how its inescapable reach implicates even their “interpretation” of Scripture; i.e. it isn’t just the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who have “tradition.” But my question is why, why do evangelicals operate with this sort of theological naivete? The response to that question is multiplex, let me focus on just one angle into that via a suggestion.

I think evangelicals operate with the sort of interpretive naivete that they do, vis-à-vis the Bible, because they have never been “catechized” into the conciliar, and thus historic categories of the Christian reality. In other words, evangelicals, in the main (although per a recent poll, this is becoming less and less the case too), believe the Chalcedonian grammar that Jesus is both fully God and fully human in a singular person; and the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan grammar that God is one in three/three in one. But they only know this, if they do, tacitly. They don’t appreciate the serious hermeneutical gravitas that gave rise to such orthodoxizing grammars as that obtained in the patristic churches. As such, these grammars about who Christ is, and who God proper is, are, for them, accidental rather than essential realities of the Faith.

My contention is a simple, but I think a profound one: evangelicals, in the main, are not educated, in their early Christian formations with the sort of theological and christological categories that allow them to even begin thinking about scriptural interpretation in terms of a necessarily theological way. Surely, this development of Christianity has to do with the modern turn-to-the-subject/individual and the rise of individualism that engendered. Modern humans consider their personal con-sciences to be the terminus of all that is real and holy. Insofar as evangelicals are slavishly “modern” in this way, to think in terms of conciliar grammars or from within the communio sanctorum (communion of the saints), is rather anathema to them. As such, they only are able to think in terms of “me-and-my-Bible,” as their hermeneutical norm. Some might call this the rationalist way; I would.

Just some notations I thought I would make. Carry on.

Avoiding Traditionism On One Hand, and Biblicism On the Other

In brief. There is a fine line, for the Protestant Christian, to navigating not falling into an absolute creedalism, and on the other hand, into an absolute naked biblicism (i.e. solo Scriptura, nuda Scriptura). This navigation is not necessarily charted by finding a so-called via media, but instead it is an attempt to simply recognize the authority of Scripture (e.g. Protestant Scripture Principle), and at the same time recognize that even that principle is a deeply dogmatic one that has developed from paying attention to the confessional and thus evangelical nature of the church catholic. My goal as a Protestant Christian is to live in and out of the confessional nature of the church and reality, while at the same time recognizing that I do not want to allow for a scholasticized commentary-tradition that ends up hybridizing Scripture’s meaning rather than magnifying it. But on the other side, we do indeed have a false notion of a naked biblicism wherein certain Christian traditions have erroneously run sloppily along with an undeveloped notion of what sola Scriptura actually entails, thus opting for a rationalist engagement of Scripture where the individualized interpreter is king or queen.

We want to be confessionally oriented Christians who understand that what that entails is that we are part of the broader communio sanctorum (communion of the saints). Often I will hear low-church evangelicals (which I am low-church myself) ridicule Christians who pay attention to the theologians, and what has come to be called theological exegesis. So, what these types of Christians are saying is this: don’t listen to the theologians, just listen to MY interpretation of Scripture instead; since my interpretation of Scripture is Scripture. Can it get anymore shallow or facile than this? But this attitude reigns supreme all throughout the land of North American evangelicalism. Many caught in this trap end up escaping this flame only to jump into the frying pan. In other words, many who escape this sort of naïveté end up in high-church confessionalism where Scripture ends up being read through the magisterium of said tradition’s confessions (I have the Westminster Confession of Faith in mind).

Evangelical Calvinists, like me, want to recognize the confessional, even conciliar nature of the Christian churchly reality, and at the same time allow the Scripture principle to operate with all of its minimalist due; in regard to the One it bears witness to. In other words, the Evangelical Calvinist alternative, along with many in the broad tradition of the historic church, is to simply operate with an analogy of faith wherein the faith of Christ is that faith. We want to operate with his personalising reality as the fundamentum of the Scripture’s meaning, thus avoiding the accretions of too many confessions built up, one on the other; on the other hand, we want to recognize that nobody can read Scripture as an island unto themselves. So, in my view, the best way to do this, as an Evangelical Calvinist, is to be a conciliar Christian; meaning that we allow the early theology proper and christological church councils to be regulative in the interpretive task of reading Scripture—insofar that those councils adequately provided an orthodox grammar for thinking the triune God and the Christ. And insofar that those councils weren’t developed enough, it is best to continue to constructively engage with them until we all attain to the unity of the faith that Christ is for us; and I am referring to the eschatological reality of all things.

Katherine Sonderegger’s Bible: To Err is Human

Inerrancy is a terrible framework to build a doctrine of Scripture from. Building a theological doctrine should never start from a negation, but from a positive starting point that has the capacity to bear real conceptual and theological fruit. I think John Webster, in his little book Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch provides the best way forward for thinking a doctrine of Scripture, alongside what he calls an ‘ontology of Scripture.’ An ontology of Scripture entails a way of thinking Scripture from a theological taxis within a God/world relation. In other words, an ontology of Scripture entails seeing Scripture in its proper light and orientation as a reality given by God in and through Christ in the event of salvation. It is humanity’s reconciliation with God, in the mediating humanity of Jesus Christ, that Scripture finds both its gravitas and res (reality); since Scripture has no meaning, no telos outwith its givenness in Jesus Christ (Jn 5.39; Col 1.15ff etc.). In other words, as Webster argues, Scripture ought to be understood with particular reference to soteriology; even more pointedly, in the realm of sanctification. It is as we are participatio Christi, as we are being sanctified from glory to glory, that the rose colored glasses become clearer and clearer as the day of salvation draws closer today than it was yesterday. It is as we encounter Christ in Scripture that we are set apart over and again until that great day of beatific vision. So, there is, indeed, and instrumentality to Scripture, as Webster et al. are wont to emphasize, including Katherine Sonderegger; but this does not also need to mean that Scripture, as the looking-glass for seeing and encountering God in Christ, must also then have the capacity to be fallible. Webster doesn’t take that turn, but Sonderegger et al. does. That’s what I want to highlight in this post.

Katherine Sonderegger in a chapter she has written for the book Dogma and Ecumenism: Vatican II and Karl Barth’s Ad Limina Apostolorum gives us insight into her doctrine of Scripture. As I just alluded to above she posits that Scripture is fallible, or that it can contain errors given its human composition. She maintains that the church’s tradition, and the supervening and providential work of the Holy Spirit can and will direct Holy Scripture to its proper end in Christ; but she takes the unnecessary step of casting doubt on Scripture’s veracity, in regard to the factual statements it makes about things related to history, cosmology, science, so on and so forth. The context she writes the following within is her engagement with Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, and in that context she wants to press the idea of Scripture as being an instrument; but I contend she presses that metaphor to its theological breaking point. She writes:

You’ll note that I opened the door a bit to the notions of fallibility, of scriptural error. Now this is no small topic, no abstract or cool tenet of the schools, but rather a “painful school of honesty,” to borrow Schweitzer’s celebrated phrase, a testing crisis of the Christian faith in modernity. Dei Verbum, you remember, forged a delicate sentence to capture the wide-ranging opinions of the Fathers and periti on the doctrine of inerrancy. The full sentence—itself a master of joinery!—reads: “Since 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.” Now an entire treatise could be written on this complex sentence so I will not pretend to do it justice here. But commentators have been quick to point out that this truth God “wishes to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” is for our salvation; we are not in the presence here of a mere scrupulously correct instruction book. God’s intention or will for the creature, the liberation and healing of the whole world, is the proper subject-matter of the Holy Bible. Now it seems to me that the image of the mirror would allow us the wide-open vista of a reflection that is itself true and without error, even if the reflective instrument is itself flawed, partial, even woefully inadequate. I see my gray hair quite accurately, unmistakably even, in the poorest Woolworth looking-glass. There are limits, to be sure. Cardboard does not reflect; even the components, glass without the silvering, show nothing. But we might, in this image of the mirror, capture something infinite distance between God and his creatures, including the works of their hands, yet remain still children of the Word, seeing in part and in a riddle, yet truly, faithfully, and in confidence of the whole that will be seen one day, God willing, face to face.[1]

Her doctrine of Scripture, as sketched in this passage, sounds close to Barth’s, ironically. I say ironically because her theological prolegomenon (theological methodology), with her respective theory of revelation in tow, does not have Barth’s Christ concentration; indeed she is heavily critical of this concentration (see her Systematic Theology V1). Because Barth has his ‘threefold form of the Word’ (the eternal Logos, written, and preached/proclaimed) he has the sort of theological recourse to think Scripture within the Christological/soteriological frame that Sonderegger does not equally have (I will have to develop this more later).

As you read my concern in this post you might think that I simply want to argue for a crypto-inerrancy position, but that really isn’t the case. I do believe that the intention of biblical inerrancy is right, because it wants to affirm the reliability and utter truthfulness of Holy Scripture as God’s ordained means of presenting Himself afresh and anew through its reality in the encountering Christ therein. But I don’t think that a doctrine of inerrancy, as a doctrine of Scripture, per se, is the best way for framing Christian Scripture; as already alluded to earlier. My problem is that when people want to operate with a confessional notion of Scripture, as Webster, Sonderegger, Barth et al. do, that it is unnecessary, in my view, to get into the binary of an error or inerror discussion about Scripture. But Sonderegger (and Barth and TF Torrance et al) feel compelled to emphasize, at points, Scripture’s errors, in order to magnify the Holiness of a triune God who can still use it for His purposes of encountering the world through its reality in Christ.

But really, I see that WHOLE discussion as an orientation provided for by modernity rather than by Scripture’s witness itself. In other words, I see it as a capitulation to the higher critics and their text-criticism of Scripture on the one hand, while on the other attempting to salvage Scripture (in a rather, ironically, Schleiermacherian mode) as an instrument that God can still use despite its many errors; as those are related to points of science and the facts of history. This is an unnecessary attempt to work around a foreign naturalism and historicism imposed on the text of Scripture. For my money it would be best if this discussion was left to the side; which is why I like Webster’s approach so much (he doesn’t fall prey to feeling compelled to say Scripture has error or doesn’t have error, since he sees Scripture from within a genuinely Christian dogmatic frame).

PS. I also like Barth’s deployment and appropriation of Paul Ricoeur’s concept of second naïveté as he engages with a doctrine and reading of Holy Scripture. This is something that Sonderegger also does not have in her tool-box.

[1] Katherine Sonderegger, “Holy Scripture as a Mirror of God,” in Dogma and Ecumenism: Vatican II and Karl Barth’s Ad Limina Apostolorum, edited by Matthew Levering, Bruce L. McCormack and Thomas Joseph White, OP (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2020), 51-2.

The Naked Gospel: Primitivism, Protestant Orthodox Theology, and Solo Scriptura

*repost. I think this is something good to get a grasp on, for evangelicals in particular. 

I am often critical of what I have called solo scriptura or what has been called more formally, nuda scriptura. This is a sort of sola scriptura run amuck—some would say taken to its logical conclusion—an approach that believes all tradition making is wrong-headed (except of course for its tradition in regard to Scripture’s ability to speak independent of other interpretive traditions), and thus appeal to Scripture all by itself should be the mode of the theologian’s method. Indeed, there is a fine line between historic sola scriptura and nuda scriptura; in principle we might see them as univocal, but in function the former leaves place for the tradition of the church whereas the latter wants to negate that through “critical” or “deconfessionalized” means that are not reliant upon the church’s doctors or its reception of the tradition itself. This sort of naturalizing of the text of Scripture, and its meaning, started becoming prominent in Protestant theology late in the 17th century; it’s a mode that continues into the present in a blossomed form (maybe even gone-to-seed form) as we continue to see as the dominant form that funds what is currently called biblical studies. Richard Muller, once again, helps to identify how this unfolded in the 17th century in a writing called The Naked Gospel. He writes:

Theological debate was intensified early in 1690 by the anonymous publication of The Naked Gospel by Arthur Bury. The work was not, strictly speaking, either Socinian or directly supportive of the Socinian doctrinal program, but it offered such a blistering attack on the Christian tradition, whether of the later fathers or of the orthodoxy of the late seventeenth century, that it was easily associated with some of the arguments of the Socinians. Specifically, Bury argued that “scholastic” thinking, particularly the use of logic and metaphysics, had created a grand and confusing edifice of “new doctrines” not found in the gospel. It was the task of his book to criticize the rational or “natural” religion of the church in his time and propose a return to the original, simple, “naked” gospel of Christ and the apostles. Bury attacks the ecumenical councils, particularly Nicaea, blaming them for creating a false and highly rationalized christology instead of more simply and directly the high “dignity” and “divinity” of Christ’s person and his divine sonship in the office of mediator. As for the doctrine of the Trinity, Bury indicates that it is ultimately confusing, inasmuch as the identification of three divine “persons” in no way indicates three Gods and the language of the traditional doctrine, therefore, has not good analogy to typical usage. Bury was suspended from the university.[1]

In some ways Bury’s approach might sound what I have been proposing here at The Evangelical Calvinist over the years. There might seem to be a radical biblicism funding the Evangelical Calvinist mood such that people of more trad or conservative sensibilities become concerned or immediately critical.

What we have had described for us by Muller, in regard to The Naked Gospel, might make certain readers think of the 19th century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher’s approach to doing theology. Schleiermacher, ironically, was someone who actually started to reign in much of radical biblicism that we see inchoately in someone like Bury, and which had gone to seed by time Schleiermacher. Nevertheless, as E.J. Hutchinson notes with reference to Schleiermacher’s mode, there is a perception that Schleiermacher was still operating in a way that sought to undercut what had developed previously in the traditionary models of theological doctrinism. That Schleiermacher wanted to reformulate all Christian Dogma under the pressures provided for by a clean (Enlightened) reading of Holy Writ. Hutchinson writes:

Aside from the fact that this view is paradoxical—if “fresh treatment” is adesideratum as such, how can anything ever be “finally settled”?—there is a more basic point that should be highlighted with respect to the idea of “reformation.” On Schleiermacher’s reading, “reformation” entails that all dogmatic loci be revised and overhauled from their very foundations. According to the gloss of a recent commentator, Schleiermacher believed that the Protestants of the sixteenth century “too uncritically took over earlier views without testing them against the Protestant spirit.” Schleiermacher is explicit in the work’s final section that his placement of the doctrine of the Trinity is due to just such a desire for total overhaul. The assumption lurking behind this viewpoint—and it is an assumption—is that there was a unifying drive broader than and undergirding particular theological revisions, that it ought to be generalizable to all doctrinal topics, and that if it has not been so generalized, it is due to a lapse on the part of the Reformers in carrying their Grundsatz all the way through. Thus Schüssler Fiorenza can gloss Schleiermacher’s stance as follows: “The traditional doctrinal formulations [about the Trinity] fail to express [the] reformation impulse.”[2]

Bury and Schleiermacher, while separated by passage of time, might be convergent in ethos and outlook in regard to sensibility and a desire to present a Naked Gospel.

Evangelical Calvinists, following after Barth et al., I believe, are seen as compatriots of the Bury/Schleiermacher feeling. There is a fear that we have imbibed the wrong spirit because we have seemingly chained ourselves to an anti-orthodoxing move that began in the very presence and development of 16th and 17th century Protestant orthodox theology. If this is the perception of Evangelical Calvinism, particularly of those entrenched in classical Calvinism or Reformed theology, then Evangelical Calvinism will always be understood, at least in those quarters, as a marginal or fringe movement that need not be engaged with, or instead, if engaged with, segregated into the mood of Bury et al. and as something that needs to be repented of. But Evangelical Calvinism is more polymorphous than that; we are, for the most part, very traditional and conservative (way more than Bury or Schleiermacher).

[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Volume Four. The Triunity of God(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 123.

[2] E.J. Hutchinson, “Melanchthon’s Unintended Reformation? The Case of the Missing Doctrine of God,” in Bradford LittleJohn ed., God of our Fathers: Classical Theism for the Contemporary Church (Moscow, ID: The Davenant Institute, 2018), Loc 571, 581, 593, 603 kindle version.

On Being an evangelical biblicist and Scripture’s Holy Depth Dimension as an Antidote

I grew up as a ‘biblicist’ evangelical, or at least this was the label we freely chose to self-identify with. It meant we eschewed labels like ‘calvinist’ or ‘arminian,’ or what have you. It meant we just believed what the bible simply taught, and like ‘good Bereans’ we tested all things by the canon of Scripture in order to make sure that what people were teaching was true or not true. But then I became “educated,” and I realized how complex things were when it comes to a doctrine of Scripture and a biblical hermeneutic. As I pushed further into the theological world I began to realize that many Christians through the millennia had come to interpret Scripture through the regulative reality propounded by what came to be known as the consensus patrum, and what many associate with that as ‘classical theism.’ I came to realize that being a biblicist in the sense that I was operating, in the past, was really based on a modern construct of a form of biblical rationalism; i.e. an approach to Scripture that was given birth in revivalism, pietism, conversionism, and probably most central: Fundamentalism. In this approach I believed everything could be reduced down to propositions, and that all important Christian teaching could simply be found by reading and studying the bible over and over again. At a level, even a fundamental level, in principle, this is true; indeed, this is what the Protestant Reformers identified as the ‘scripture principle.’ But 20th century evangelicals, of the revivalist hue, took this principle in a different direction; eschewing all else but Scripture, or so they thought. American evangelicals, “my people,” of the 20th century, believed, and continue to believe that Holy Scripture can be read as a tabula rasa (or white slate) without ever imagining that there is a depth dimension to Scripture; an informing theo-logical reality that allows Scripture to assert what it does in its various teachings and ways.

I am still an evangelical. I am still a biblicist. But I understand these days how every single bible interpreter engages in what is called theological exegesis. In other words, we all interpret Scripture based on a prior theological grid that we have consciously or unconsciously assimilated into our lives. Many people still believe this as I did for many years; in regard to an ability to simply read Scripture for all its worth without recognizing the role that ‘theology’ plays in their interpretive process, and exegetical conclusions. I think we do best to recognize that Scripture has a depth dimension, as TF Torrance calls it, and understand that Scripture is merely the signum (sign) of which Jesus is its res (reality). If we mistake the sign for the reality we will expect more of the sign than it can deliver. We must understand, as John Calvin did, that Scripture really has an instrumental value; as such its purpose, as is all of creation’s, is to give way to its reality as it bears witness to Jesus Christ. It is when we operate with this ‘ontology of Scripture’ (or understanding of its place vis-à-vis God) that we will be set up better to be genuine biblicists.

A genuine biblicist, in my view, is someone who can be honest about the limit of Scripture’s capacity. What I mean is that they can recognize that Scripture only has meaning when it is understood that Jesus is its altitude. If we can’t accept that the Word of God ultimately is Jesus Christ, and not the bible, per se, then we will expect Scripture to be Holy without its Holy reality; we will end up projecting our own “holy” ambitions into the text, and allow our own navel-formed aspirations to become Scripture’s reality. I believe, with all good intention, this is what I used to do to Scripture. Thankfully, Scripture’s reality, if we are committed to inhabiting it constantly, has the power and resource to break through this sort of good intentioned naïveté and contradict the self-projected divinities we so often impose on it as the canonic text. I used to believe I had a very high view of Scripture, but it turns out, at a functional level, that I had a very low view of Scripture.

All of the above said: it is a complex when we consider the role that the so called consensus patrum and/or the great tradition of the Church has vis-à-vis Scripture, and its interpretation. This is where my biblicism rises up. When I think a foreign construct (potentially even aspects of so called ‘classical theism’) is being imposed on Scripture, displacing Scripture’s reality and claiming to offer its most normative understanding, it is at this point that I object. It is at this point that I go solo Christo. But this is a complex indeed, and one that we will have to revisit later. I just wanted to register my thoughts on these things again, because for some reason they are thoughts that constantly attend my daily existence as a Christian person.

Biblicism: Fundamentalism and Solo Scripture §1

As evangelicals we are known for our commitment to Holy Scripture and its authoritative Word. The further away from the Protestant Reformation evangelicals get, there is a drift among some towards solo Scriptura rather than the reformational sola Scriptura. In other words, the Scripture principle becomes so all encompassing that the belief arises that anything—like Church tradition—that might be seen as extra-scriptural is relegated to the realm of ‘philosophies of men’ rather than the revelation of God. There is a fine, almost unattainable balance to be found at this juncture; I have been writing about that more recently. There seems to be at least two extremes: 1) either people believe that they can read the Bible without appeal to any tradition at all, or 2) people believe that the tradition of the Church is so normative that to read the Bible without it is to be anti-catholic.

Karl Barth in CD I/2 The Doctrine of the Word of God identifies this sort of conundrum as it has obtained in the Protestant history of the Church, in particular. He identifies the problem that our option number one presents, and then offers a corrective by appealing to a softer version of our number two. I believe it is possible, and even necessary to recognize the fact that tradition is an inevitable aspect of biblical interpretation. I say this because the Bible, as is clear upon a moment’s reflection, is written occasionally; in other words, the Bible is written into various situations in an attempt to interject God’s own witness of Himself in and through the nitty gritty of life’s circumstances. But in these occasions there is an inner-theo-logic that the writings presuppose upon in order to make the claims they do in regard to God and all subsequent theological and christological reality. Even the idea that the Bible represents God’s words, that His living voice is heard afresh and anew therein, is a highly theological reality with all sorts of ontological and epistemic implications. It is this theo-logical reality that Barth uses to confront the notion that the Bible can be read all by itself without recognizing the role that theology plays in that reading. He writes at great length:

An interesting peripheral phenomenon of Neo-Protestantism is the peculiar behavior of the so-called Biblicism whose existence and character are strikingly presented in Gottfried Menken (1768-1831) of Bremen, a writer who has never received sufficient notice in dogmatic history. Even in his youth the characteristic complaint was made against Menken that it was “his obsession to try to construct his Christianity out of the “Bible alone….” That is the more or less explicit programme of this modern Biblicism. “My reading is very limited yet very extended; it begins with Moses and ends with John. The Bible and the Bible alone I read and study….” He is not concerned with “what is old or new, with defending or attacking, with assent to the doctrine of any ecclesiastical party, with orthodoxy or heterodoxy, but only with the pure and genuine teaching of the Bible….” And the Church? Menken prefers to avoid the word. For him and for all Biblicists it is a question of “Christianity,” “reality” the “truth,” the “kingdom of God.” The Church is “the eternally pure possessor and preserver of the divine.” Yet only too often its doctrine has “come under the influence of a passing philosophy or the superstitiously venerated theology of the fathers….” “In any case, where is the Church? Is it in the East or the West? Does it gather under the staff of the ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople or under the threefold crown of the Pope at Rome? Finding no rest or portion in the world, did it long ago retire with the ancient Syrian Christians into the heart of Southern India or with the Waldenses into the valleys of Piedmont? In the fellowship of the Holy Ghost did it infallibly and irrevocably express itself at the Diet of Augsburg or at the Council of Trent or at the National Synod of Dort? Or finally is the true and perfect idea of Christian truth and doctrine to be found in the Idea fidei Fratrum? These few questions point to many things and embrace a large part of Christianity; but many different events, and systems and confessions and millions of Christians are outside their scope: Nestorians, Monophysites, Mennonites, Arminians, Jansenists, Mystics and Quakers; and many others, who all make claim to the name of the Christian Church and the treasure of Christian orthodoxy. These few questions are enough to show that, if we are not ignorant, or if after the customary manner and usage of sectarianism which becomes almost second nature, when we use the word Church we do not regard the confession of the Fathers and the sum total of those who agree with it as the only Christian fellowship in which true doctrine is to be found and to which alone, therefore, or primarily the name of Church belongs, it is not easy even to know what the Church believes and teaches. At an informative glance at so many different periods, countries, languages, systems, costumes and customs, at the confusion and tumult of so many different and contradictory and warring sects, at the medley of so many different confessions and catechisms, it seems difficult and almost impossible to find a standpoint where with insight and material truth we can say: I believe and teach what the Church believes and teaches….” “What is offered me as old is honoured by you as such only because it is found in a 16th century catechism from the Palatinate or Saxony, or because an 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury or a 5th century Bishop of Hippo thought in this way and formulated and determined the matter accordingly. But if you could add to these human authorities a greater one in the utterances of a 2nd century Bishop of Lyons, which you cannot, it would not make any material difference. For it does not matter to me to learn how Ursin or Luther or Anselm or Augustine or Irenaeus thought about the matter and formulated and determined it—they and their decisions are too new. I want that which old, original and solely authentic: Holy Scripture itself” (Schriften VII, 263 f.).[1]

We will let this first part of the long quote and commentary from Barth stand, and then revisit it through a second post where we will hear Barth’s critique and response to Menken’s ‘Biblicism.’ But I would venture to say that Menken’s sentiment resonates with many of us. If we are Free Church evangelicals, in fact, this is the stuff and grist of our daily existences as we move and breathe in the walls of our autonomous standing Bible churches. It is pretty apparent how this might be the logical conclusion to the reformational Scripture principle, but really only a misunderstanding of its practice at least.

We run into the problems this sort of Biblicism presents as we come across other Christians who are just as committed to the Bible’s authority as we are. We realize that there is a dilemma when we are using the same passages of Scripture to “prove” diametrically opposite points; all the while using the same grammatical-historical hermeneutical framework to arrive at our divergent exegetical, and thus, theological conclusions. This sort of ‘pervasive interpretive pluralism’ requires something deeper, as Thomas Torrance would call it, a ‘depth dimension’ wherein we might come to find the sort of ecumenical unity that arises as we dwell upon the Holy reality of Holy Scripture in Jesus Christ. But to think that we can simply stay at the surface of Scripture, as Menken slavishly wants to, doesn’t actually fit with the broad contextual reality of Scripture itself; that is when we see it within a dogmatic frame (as we should).

I will have further comment on this, particularly as we hear Barth’s antidote to Menken’s Biblicism. Don’t get me wrong: I lean Biblicist myself, but I think it’s naïve to think that Biblicism can mean a sort of tabula rasa of its own ‘structuralist’ or coherentist meaning. In other words, I think there is an ‘extra’ or external reality to Scripture’s meaning, that merely dwelling upon the ‘signs’ of Scripture will not lay bare. I think Scripture is embedded in a broader and thus context-forming theological ontology wherein it finds its reality, purpose, and ultimate meaning. Jesus believed Scripture had this >greater-than reality too (cf. Jn 5.39); we do well to follow our Lord.

Stay tuned for part two to this post.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2§20, 156.

Calling Protestants Back to the ‘Scripture Principle’: Always Reforming Per the Reality of Holy Scripture Not The Tradition

The Protestant Scripture Principle remains an important reality for Protestants; or it should! It seems to me that there is a softening of adherence to this principle insofar as Protestants imbibe the theology of the scholastics, and Tridentine-like theology (the theology that is part and parcel with the theology of the Roman Catholic council of Trent). In other words, when Holy Scripture’s reality and interpretation becomes so contingent upon theological paradigms that are ‘extra’ or alien to Scripture itself, then the Scripture Principle suffers and no longer has the ecclesiastic-independence it was intended to have. When creeds and confessions become normative, whether those come from Catholics, Protestants, or even the so-called ecumenical councils of Patristic vintage, Scripture becomes a victim of a foreign invasion that has little to do with actual canonical content and more to do with discursive philosophies developed out of the geniuses of the doctors. The Scripture Principle is intended to quench even the doctors though. The Scripture Principle is intended to allow the alien reality of Scripture itself to have the space to confront its creation in the Church. In other words, the Scripture Principle is supposed to give Protestants space to hear the viva vox Dei (living voice of God) in contradistinction to their own. This is supposed to be the character of the churches who sit under the Scripture Principle: viz. they are to be churches who can hear God’s voice afresh and anew in Christ, and discern what He is saying over against what the Church may or may not be saying at any given time in her history. The Scripture Principle is intended to identify that there is an objective res or reality in Christ who speaks independent of our own voices (thus condemning subjectivism, even in its collectivist forms), and thus grounds the authority of the Church in the Church’s head, who is the Christ. This is the aim of the Protestant Scripture Principle, and I think it is being eroded away by Protestant thinkers who are so taken with the ‘Great Tradition’ of the Church that they are allowing that Tradition to be regulative and allowing it to supplant Scripture’s real reality in Jesus Christ.

Karl Barth writes:

What Catholicism has for the most part done is classically typical of all heresies. In the exposition and application of Scripture it thinks that outside of Christ and the Holy Spirit who can be received and works directly—He may sometimes go by other more secular names. He may even be identical with human reason or vitality or nature or historical consciousness. And where this happens, then Scripture, which is clear in itself and in subject-matter, becomes obscure, the demanded freedom in exposition and application becomes self-will, and a divergence of the various expositions and applications becomes inevitable. There is no more dangerous subjectivism than that which is based on the arrogance of a false objectivity. Not the fact that Holy Scripture as the Word of God is obscure and ambiguous, but the fact that is the Word of God for the Church on earth, and therefore a teacher of pupils who are lost sinners, is what makes the much deplored divergence in its understanding possible, and, unless the miracle of revelation and faith intervenes, quite inevitable. But this divergence can be avoided only by this miracle and certainly not by denying it in advance. It will not be avoided if, instead of accepting in faith the grace which meets them in Scripture, the pupils give way to their own sin, renouncing the relationship as pupils in which all their hope should be set, and each trying to be the teacher of Scripture or at least an equal partner in discussion. But even if in so doing they appeal to Christ and the Holy Spirit, even if ever so many of them should enjoy the finest consensio [consent] among ourselves—on this path they can only increase the fragmentation and make it incurable.[1]

We catch something of Calvin’s autopistis (‘self-attesting’) concept here in Barth’s bibliology. We get this sense, in particular, with his appeal to ‘miracle’ in reference to Holy Scripture’s reality and authority. In Barth’s mind Holy Scripture has objective reality and authority to speak over, against (often), and into the Church precisely because that is Christ! It is the miracle of God become human in Christ wherein, for Barth, Scripture receives its canonical context and force for the Christian. The Church can’t claim this same status since, for Barth, the Church gains her form from the reality mediated in and through the reality of Holy Scripture. For Barth, Scripture has special status because the reality it eventfully bares witness to is the risen and LIVING Christ; it is Christ’s voice that shatters through the human words of Scripture; the Church only becomes the Church, over and again, as she is given birth through contact with these words—and thus the Word therein.

You might be picking up on how instrumental Barth sees Scripture as; something like Calvin’s spectacles, but a little different too. But it is this that I think so many Protestants are losing sight of. Christ is no longer biblically hermeneutically regulative for many Protestants, instead Church Tradition is. These Protestants can no longer critically distinguish between Scripture’s reality and the Church’s tradition, as such they are one in the same for them. It is this that Barth above is railing against. When we conflate our ‘sinful’ selves with the reality of Scripture, or we hermetically seal off Scripture’s reality by collapsing that into the Church’s tradition, or consensus fidelium, Scripture can no longer put us sinners in our place; only our piety can. And our piety, as stellar as it might seem by sight, is only filthy rags before the living God. And so, with Barth, we ought to approach Scripture via analogy of faith, and understand just how it is miracle come afresh and anew as we encounter its ongoing and living reality in Jesus Christ. Herein we can constructively and critically listen to the past, listen to the Tradition; but only as we sit under Scripture, not allowing the Church’s tradition to become the regulator of all that is real in the Christian reality.

As a Protestant Christian, along with Barth, I am not slavishly held captive to the so called catholic Great Tradition of the historical Church. Nein, I am held captive to Scripture’s reality in Jesus Christ. There’s a difference between Christ and the Church. Christ is God in the flesh, the sole mediator between God and humanity in the hypostatic union of His singular person; the Church is not that mediator. We come into ‘contact’ with that Mediator as we dwell or inhabit Holy Scripture. Here we live in the ongoing occurrence of an absolute miracle; the miracle of resurrection where God’s voice speaks to us in Christ from beyond the tomb and from the Right Hand. The Church doesn’t have this as her direct reality, only Holy Scripture does. The Church becomes the Church afresh and anew as she is confronted with and fortified by the voice of the living Word of God who shines through in the canonical black and white of Holy Writ. I am Protestant in this sense; in the sense that I am committed to the Scripture Principle.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2§20, 101-02.

Barth with Gerhard and Wollebius on Sola Scriptura Contra the Authority of Rome

The riposte from Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologists, maybe even some Anglican, is that the Bible’s canonicity is given to it in a causal way by the Church’s recognition. But the historic Protestant response is that as Calvin emphasizes, it is autopistis; or in other words, it is self-authenticating. Karl Barth, often chastised for being an enemy of Scripture, is actually one of Scripture’s most ardent warriors; particularly in regard to its Protestant iteration. Barth appeals to historic Protestant thinkers in his own articulation of a doctrine of Scripture. More pointedly, Barth appeals to John Gerhard and Johannes Wollebius as they counter Roman Catholics like, Sylvester Prierias and John Eck when they grant infallibility to the Pope and Roman Catholic Church over against Holy Scripture. Clearly this is an issue of authority; who has it? Does Scripture have it at a formal level, or does the Holy Roman See (this not to mention Orthodox conceptions of episcopacy vis-à-vis Scripture)?

Barth quotes Gerhard:

There is not a double authority of Scripture, but a single authority, and that is divine: it does not depend on the authority of the church, but on God alone. The authority of Scripture as far as we are concerned is nothing other than the manifestation and the knowledge of that single divine and supreme authority, which is internal and intrinsic to Scripture. Therefore, the church does not confer a new authority, as far as we are concerned, upon Scripture, but rather by its own testimony it leads us to the acknowledgement of that truth. We admit that of sacred Scripture the church is (1) the witness; (2) the guardian; (3) protector (4) the herald; (5) the interpreter. But let us not conclude from this that the authority of Scripture, whether in itself or in relation to us, depends on the church.[1]

And Wollebius:

The testimony of the church is prior in time, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit is prior in nature and causality. We believe that the testimony is of the church, not on account of the church. It is to be ascribed to the Holy Spirit on his own account. The testimony of the church demonstrates the fact ‘that’, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit demonstrates the ‘because’. The church advises, the Holy Spirit convinces. The testimony of the church provides opinion, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit provides knowledge and firm trustworthiness.[2]

Some Protestants, typically biblical studies folks it seems, want to signal the end of the Protestant Reformation. That in light of the New Paul Perspective[s] the soteriological reasons for the Protestant Reformation are no longer relevant; that Luther et al. were misguided. But these folks are moving too quickly. The Protestant Reformation, indeed had much to do with soteriology, but behind that there was a deeper issue of authority. This issue is ultimately an ecclesiological issue, and one that remains. What Gehard and Wollebius wrote in the 17th century is just as pertinent now as it was then; none of these issues have been resolved. Protestants still affirm the ‘Scripture Principle’ or sola Scriptura, whereas Roman Catholics (and Orthodox) do not. Indeed, at this level, the traditions are as far apart as ever. And this does have serious soteriological implications. If Rome or Constantinople have ‘the keys,’ then they decide who is genuinely ‘saved’ and who isn’t. There might be room for ecumenicism, such as we find with Thomas Torrance and the Orthodox focused on the doctrine of Trinity. But if we were to look to a doctrine of Scripture as the basis for ecumenical convergence between the traditions, it is not there.


[1] John Gerhard, Loci theolo., 1610 f., LI c. 3, 39, cited by Karl Barth, CD I/2 §19, 19.

[2] Johannes Wollebius, Comp. Christ. Theol., 1620, Praecogn. 9, cited by Karl Barth, CD I/2 §19, 19.