Ecclesiology

What Kind of Church Culture Can Produce a Declaration like the Nashville Statement? Bearing Witness to Ourselves Rather than to Jesus Christ

I have had a chance, as the day unfolded, to reflect further on the so called Nashville Statement; the statement that a hundred and fifty evangelical signatories signed their names to. It seems to be their attempt to draw a line in the sand in regard to what they see as a pressing problem for the church, and in particular, their evangelical church. The problem for them, of course, is the progression and in-roads of the LGBTQ, homosexual gay agenda, as they see it transforming not only the body politic of culture in general, but its pressing into the church itself.

But I have a problem with it. For me, the problem has more to do with these leaders’s conception of how the church ought to operate in regard to its witness to the Gospel in relation to the world at large. As I see it, they are presuming upon an us versus them dynamic that the Gospel itself does not presume; instead, the Gospel is an equalizing reality. The Gospel as the Word of God in Jesus Christ stands as judge not just over those guys and gals out there, but as judge of the church itself; as Peter notes: “17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”[1] In other words, the Nashville Statement places itself in the place of God’s Word, as if its signatories are the judges; it actually and ironically displaces the Word of God with its own word over against others. If these signatories were to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his admonition to the American churches, as he saw it back in the 30s, they may well not have penned such a statement. Bonhoeffer wrote:

American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of “criticism” by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s “criticism” touches every religion, the Christianity of the churches and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics. A symptom of this is the general adherence to natural theology. . . . But because of this, the person and work of Jesus Christ, must for theology, sink into the background and in the long run remain misunderstood, because it is not recognized as the sole ground of radical judgment and radical forgiveness.[2]

Do you see what Bonhoeffer is getting at, particularly when he references ‘natural theology?’ It is when churches displace her reality, founded in Jesus Christ alone, with a perception of herself as possessor of God’s absolute Word, and not just as possessor, but as dispenser, that she has presumed too much. She begins to elevate herself beyond the culture of which she is ensconced, and presumes that she has divined things, and thus has become able to pronounce things in absolute and damning ways, that in reality belongs to the Lord of the church alone; the living Word of God. Bonhoeffer’s point, is that when the church sees herself as coextensive with the Word of God itself, in an absolute way, that she actually loses her voice to bear witness to the living Word of God who not only stands in judgment of his church, but of the world at large.

Similarly, John Webster, as he comments on Barth’s critique of the liberal church in Germany is somewhat and ironically parallel with Bonhoeffer’s critique of the American church as he saw it. Here Webster, in line with Bonhoeffer points out how, in the thought of Barth, morality and ethics become too much aligned with the ‘moral and absolute self’ such that the Word of God loses its place for the Christian, and at the same time becomes coterminous with the Christian’s perception of the world at large and her pronouncements toward the world. Webster writes:

A large part of Barth’s distaste is his sense that the ethics of liberal Protestantism could not be extricated from a certain kind of cultural confidence: ‘[H]ere was … a human culture building itself up in orderly fashion in politics, economics, and science, theoretical and applied, progressing steadily along its whole front, interpreted and ennobled by art, and through its morality and religion reaching well beyond itself toward yet better days.’ The ethical question, on such an account, is no longer disruptive; it has ‘an almost perfectly obvious answer’, so that, in effect, the moral life becomes too easy, a matter of the simple task of following Jesus.

Within this ethos, Barth also discerns a moral anthropology with which he is distinctly ill-at-ease. He unearths in the received Protestant moral culture a notion of moral subjectivity (ultimately Kantian in origin), according to which ‘[t]he moral personality is the author both of the conduct with which the ethical question is concerned and of the question itself. Barth’s point is not simply that such an anthropology lacks serious consideration of human corruption, but something more complex. He is beginning to unearth the way in which this picture of human subjectivity as it were projects the moral self into a neutral space, from which it can survey the ethical question ‘from the viewpoint of spectators’. This notion Barth reads as a kind of absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness’. And it is precisely this — the image of moral reason as a secure centre of value, omnicompetent in its judgements — that the ethical question interrogates. [3]

The Nashville Statement exudes this sense “of [the] absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness.” The Word of God has now been conflated with the Nashville Statement, as if a hundred and fifty signatories, backing fourteen theses on homosexuality are what God himself believes about the state of affairs in regard not just to homosexuality but other moral proclivities.

What concerns me most is the culture, in the evangelical church, that fosters the idea that such statements are healthy and good. In what way do such statements bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the living Word of God? It ends up reducing the church to an organization of people who appear to be oriented around a cluster of ethical principles and mores instead of an organic reality who finds her sustenance in and from Christ. Whether or not homosexuality is contrariwise to the ethics of the Kingdom[4], the church herself should be more concerned with her own blights and inadequacies. The church should evidence humility before God wherein she is constantly crying out to him for his mercy and grace, such that this posture, before the world, bears witness to the reality of God in Christ. The church should avoid placing herself in positions where she appears to believe that she has become the absolute mouthpiece for God, in regard to perceived moral inequities, and instead submit to the personal reality of God herself. It is this repentant posture before God and the world wherein the power of God will be most on display. It is up to God in Christ to bring transformation into the lives of people; he alone justifies and sanctifies, the church does not!

Who do we think we are? Jesus is LORD, not the church!

 

[1] I Peter 4.17, NIV.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Protestantism without Reformation,” in No Rusty Swords, ed. Edwin H. Robertson (London: Fontana Library, 1970), 88-113 cited by George Hunsinger,Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 71-2.

[3] John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought, 35-6.

[4] Which personally I believe it is.

*Artwork of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Mark Summers.

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Apostolic Succession, Theories of Ecclesial Authority, and Biblical Exegesis: Miscellanies

As I noted on my FaceBook wall I am planning on writing a mini-exegetical paper on the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, as held to by both Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox in their own respective and distinct ways (i.e. please don’t think I’m assuming that RC and EO are just different sides of the same coin, I’m not. But they do share a similar view of Apostolic Succession in regard to their theory of the church and theory of authority). My exegetical paper will be an analysis of the locus classicus texts found in both Matthew 16 and 18. I will argue how and why 16 should be read in tandem with 18, and if read in this way, paying attention to the Greek grammar, the idea of Apostolic Succession is severely undercut; at least in the Dominical teaching of Jesus Christ. But my ultimate conclusion will remain chastened to the reality that Apostolic Succession and its attendant theory of the church is more complex than simply defeating it through an exegetical analysis of some Matthean texts.

The above noted, in this post I simply want to share something from Matthew Levering’s book Engaging the Doctrine of Redemption. In his introductory remarks he offers a quote from a Catholic scholar named O’Collins (of course that’s his name!); O’Collins is delineating how he sees tradition, church, and scripture working together as an organic whole. I thought something like this would be good to share particularly in light of my forthcoming paper on Apostolic Succession. Levering writes:

Regarding Tradition, O’Collins first shows that its practical necessity has been ecumenically accepted, and so the question now is how to distinguish authoritative Tradition. With respect to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, he points out that “if the community’s tradition, along with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, led to the formation of the Scriptures, one would expect tradition to remain active in interpreting and applying the Scriptures.”⁵⁵ The Bible in this sense cannot be separated from the Church, even though, as Dei Verbum affirms, the Church’s magisterium serves the scriptural word of God rather than the other way around. The Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church includes working through the bishops (including uniquely—the bishop of Rome), rather than simply working through “individual believers reading the Scriptures, preachers expounding the Scriptures, and ministers using the Scriptures in administering the sacraments.”⁵⁶ It is the Holy Spirit that enables the Church to hand on Tradition—that is, to hand on the entirety of what has been revealed in Jesus Christ. O’Collins discusses eight elements that guide the Church and individual believers in discerning the true content of this Tradition: the magisterium, the Vincentian canon, the “sensus fidei,” continuity with the apostolic Church, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, apostolicity, Scripture, and the risen Lord. He remarks that the Church of each generation inevitably hands on Tradition in a somewhat different form from that in which it had been received, although “an essential continuity is maintained.”[1]

This thickens things a bit, at least in regard to how I might be writing my mini-exegetical paper on Matthew 16 and 18. At the least it illustrates how my exegesis of Matthew 16 and 18 will not be the silver bullet in undercutting a doctrine of Apostolic Succession; my goal is not that triumphant. Really what I’m hoping to accomplish with my paper is to simply have something I can refer to, online, when I encounter people who appeal to that as proof positive for Apostolic Succession.

In regard to what I just shared from Levering and O’collins, it might be somewhat difficult to overcome the theologic being articulated if someone like Karl Barth hadn’t come along. Yes, the whole Post Reformed orthodox period of development has many direct responses to all of these claims and theologic provided for by Levering/O’Collins, with particular reference to the Scripture principle (which Barth himself appeals to in his book The Theology of the Reformed Confessions and in his CD etc.) and Sola Scriptura, but honestly I really don’t think Post Reformed orthodox theology (think of the work of Richard Muller and his Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) has the actual ecclesiological chops to move away from the pressure provided by the theologic of Levering/O’Collins. In other words, I think any theology that appeals to natural theology will have a hard time escaping the ecclesiocentric approach to things that Rome is funded by; the Westminster Reformed types have the same ecclesiocentrism present in their theology. It is Barth, and really, modernity itself that supplies the type of theological escape route that one needs to be able to critically move away from the type of ecclesiocentrism that we find in both Rome and Post Reformed orthodoxy (with its heavy reliance upon its Confessional magisterium etc.).

 

[1] Matthew Levering, Engaging the Doctrine of Redemption: Mediating the Gospel through Church and Scripture, 26 Scribd.

Level I and Level II orthodoxy: Reflections on Ecumenicism and “Catholicity Building”

*A post I originally wrote in 2008; I wasn’t an Evangelical Calvinist at this point, only seminally (and unconsciously). But I still think there are some good points here, particularly with reference to the quote I provide from my former undergrad professor Dr. Rex Koivisto. I would rewrite much of my own comments here, but again, I still think there is an important point to be made by Koivisto in regard to what he calls “level I orthodoxy” and “level II orthodoxy.” By the way the language of “catholicity building” comes from Koivisto as he had us do what he called “catholicity builders” as part of his ecclesiology class. We had to visit various churches, outside of our personal tradition, in order to get a sense of Christianity’s presence outside of our small perspective. I visited a Roman Catholic church, Greek Orthodox, and one more; can’t remember what that was. 

There is constant debate and schism over secondary issues within the Church of Jesus Christ, especially amongst those of us who might be identified as Evangelical Christians.  The problem comes in when secondary issues are elevated to main or primary issues, as if, for example, Calvinism or Arminianism are actually the gospel themselves–when clearly they are not!

I am going to quote at length, Dr. Rex Koivisto (one of my wise profs while attending Multnomah Bible College), he wrote a book entitled One Lord, One Faith (an excellent resource that I would advise all to pick up). In his work he provides some excellent clarification on how we should think about the essentials of Christianity (esp. in regards to salvific issues) vs. secondary issues; he provides a catchy distinction between the two that all Christians (who are interested in catholicity) should take heed to. Anyway lets hear from Koivisto:

The objective content of the Gospel message. One cannot doubt that the New Testament attests to the centrality of the Gospel message as the minimal “gate” through which one passes from death to life. Paul is not ashamed of this message, because it is God’s power for the salvation of all people (Rom. 1:16-17). It is the message he passed on to the Corinthians “as of first importance” (I Cor. 15:1-8). Yet the full content of the Gospel message is not contained in any one verse or group of verses in the New Testament. The reason, of course, is that the New Testament literature was not written as evangelistic material, but as instructional material for those already converted. Nevertheless, allusions to the Gospel are plentiful enough (in, for example, the evangelistic messages in the Book of Acts and in direct references to the Gospel in the Pauline epistles) to make a reconstruction of its core details relatively easy. Collecting these into one convenient statement, one could say that the Gospel message is simply this:

God sent His Son into the world to die as an atonement for sin, and God raised Him from the dead, so that anyone who places faith in Him receives the free gift of salvation.

Each of these statements has several levels of presuppositions and implications, which would be developed in many ways by the church in succeeding centuries. I will refer to the fuller implications that are not worked out within the New Testament itself as a “level II orthodoxy,” or a “sustaining orthodoxy” to be discussed later in this chapter. But there are also some clear presuppositions and implications of the Gospel message that are demonstrable from the New Testament itself. That is, its writers meant certain things by terminology they employed in communicating the Gospel; and they understood the Gospel to have certain important implications. It is the Gospel and its presuppositions and implications, as understood by the New Testament writers, that serves as the “level I orthodoxy,” or core orthodoxy around which the church catholic centers itself.In contrast to the term sustaining or level II orthodoxy of subsequent centuries, level I orthodoxy (core orthodoxy) we will call “saving orthodoxy.” The reason for this latter terminology is due to the pragmatic elements connected with the nature of the Gospel: it saves people. Level II, or sustaining orthodoxy, is the subsequent reflection on the saving orthodoxy of the Gospel that enables us to understand how and why it saves people, but the Gospel can save without an understanding of these elements. But an incorrect explanation of the how and why can lead to serious error and distortion of the saving message of the Gospel. Both dimensions are therefore important, but the pragmatic tilt must be given to level I, or saving orthodoxy as outlined in the brief statement, along with its New Testament presuppositions and implications.[1]

A lot to take away here! Let me highlight a few important implications of what I see Koivisto’s thoughts leading to: first he underscores the fact that the scriptures are the seed-bed and provision that has authority in defining what features of the Gospel are important for the appropriation of salvation. Second, he makes an significant observation regarding the purpose and audience of the New Testament; viz. he points out that the New Testament was written to people already “saved” which should bring perspective to many texts that we place as primarily focusing on “how” the appropriation of salvation takes place–when in fact these texts might have a different orientation all together (i.e. discussing issues of sanctification rather than justification). Third, Koivisto provides a healthy dichotomy between what he calls “Level I orthodoxy” and “Level II orthodoxy;” the former being the simple message of salvation necessary for the appropriation of eternal life, the latter being reflection by the church (i.e. tradition) on the “how” and the “why” of salvation (or other doctrine). Level I orthodoxy is what is primary and unites all Christians (i.e. simple trust in the free offer of salvation in Christ) throughout the centuries in Christ. Level II orthodoxy reflects paradigms like Augustinianism, Pelagianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Nominalism, Thomism, etc.; these are all interesting points of discussion relative to the Gospel, but they are not the Gospel. And this is the significance of Koivisto’s point, we should not elevate “sustaining or Level II orthodoxy” to that of Level I–when we do the result is clear (just scan through the blogosphere or churches throughout America and the world), schism arises, and fellowship amongst all those who hold to Level I orthodoxy (or saving orthodoxy) is broken.

Let me challenge you, as I speak to myself as well, affirm the distinction Koivisto brings to light; do not give into the temptation to elevate “your” particular “Level II orthodoxy” to the same altitude that “Level I orthodoxy” has. To often I see people castigating one side or the other, as if they “aren’t brothers and sisters” in the Lord; when all along both opposing camps affirm “Saving Orthodoxy” (Level I). How we work out Level II has some important implications as well, but on the sliding scale of soteriological significance, it does not and should not have the pre-eminence that Level I has relative to fellowship amongst ourselves as Christians.

Addendum:

To be clear, I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t debate or dialogue vigorously around Level II orthodoxy issues; but the attitude that should shape such discussion should be motivated by grace for one another. I believe denominations are a reflection of the reality of Level II orthodoxy, and I think this is actually healthy–all I’m calling for is that we don’t become arrogant and think MY interpretive tradition is the same as the Gospel. Level II orthodoxy will indeed distinguish but it should not divide!!

 

[1] Dr. Rex Koivisto, One Lord, One Faith,  196-97.

 

‘The Greatest Threat to Faith Today is not Hedonism but Distraction’: ‘Being Human’

The following quote from Andrew Sullivan[1] might sound, at a theological level, rather pelagian; but I think it represents some rather good cultural commentary on where the church is at in the 21st century—particularly for those of us in low church North American evangelicalism. Sullivan’s article, from which the following quote is taken, is a lament on the devastating effects the smartphone beinghumanculture has had on western societies; he calls it “living-in-the-web.” He is lamenting the impact that technology has had upon the human psyche, such that quiet places and silence (in our heads) is a thing of the past. Indeed, Sullivan himself, refers to himself as a social-media addict, and he actually went to “treatment” to disabuse himself of it (which cost him money, since he made money as a social-media and business personality). What I found striking about his critique was how he applied it, in the following paragraph, to the church; as an evangelical this insight hits very close to home, and resonates deeply with my own lived experience. Sullivan writes:

If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary. But the mysticism of Catholic meditation — of the Rosary, of Benediction, or simple contemplative prayer — is a tradition in search of rediscovery. The monasteries — opened up to more lay visitors — could try to answer to the same needs that the booming yoga movement has increasingly met.[2]

There has, of course, been a kind of movement called ancient church that has indeed attempted to resource some of these types of contemplative and even mystical spaces from the past. But of course, when something like that is artificially generated, among evangelicals in my case, it loses that actual space we are seeking; it becomes all too self-focused, and identity driven. Anyway, I thought Sullivan’s point about ‘distraction’ versus ‘hedonism’ was a valid one; even if the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive in the way he seems to intimate.

 

[1] H/T: Jason Goroncy, he shared the link to Sullivan’s article via his blog in his post: ‘i used to be a human being.’

[2] Andrew Sullivan, I Used to be a Human Being, accessed online 10-22-2016.

Who is the AntiChrist? Post Reformed orthodoxy’s Answer and Other Traditions

Eschatology in the realm of systematic theology often means something different from eschatology within a biblical exegetical frame of things. Maybe it isn’t that it means something different, per se, but its focus is broader and more hermeneutical; i.e. it doesn’t necessarily get into the nitty gritty exegetical minutiae of trying to figure out what millennial scheme we should hold (i.e.
leoxpremillennial, postmillennial, amillennial, etc.), or who the anti-Christ might be, so on and so forth. Richard Bauckham summarizes this different emphasis well when he writes:

Traditionally, eschatology comprised the ‘four last things’ that Christian faith expects to be the destiny of humans at the end of time: resurrection, last judgement, heaven, and hell. They formed the last section of a dogmatics or a systematic theology, a position they still usually occupy. But in the twentieth century, eschatology ceased to be merely one doctrinal topic among others to be treated after the others; it became something more like a dimension of the whole subject matter of theology. Karl Barth famously claimed in 1921, ‘If Christianity be not altogether thoroughgoing eschatology, there remains in it no relationship whatever with Christ’ (Barth 1968: 314; cf 1957: 634-5). While the content given to the term ‘eschatology’ has varied considerably over the subsequent period, in which Barth’s claim has become a favourite quotation in discussions of eschatology (e.g., Moltmann 1967:39; Pannenberg 1991-8: iii. 532), the indispensable role it attributes to eschatology has been widely endorsed. Moltmann writes, ‘From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology…. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day’ (Moltmann 1967:16).[1]

I largely subscribe to Barth’s view that Christianity is eschatology through and through. I subscribe to the cosmic nature of Christianity, of the reality that all of creation has its telos from, in, and for Christ. I affirm the reality that this world is God’s world, and this world is the theater wherein God breaks into it through the Son, Jesus Christ, and sets to right all things according to the order of His Kingdom come.

But because I am an evangelical I have grown up in a Christian sub-culture that has given (and continues to give, in some sectors) an inordinate amount of focus to working meticulously through the details of the books of the Bible such as Revelation, I&II Thessalonians, and other prophetic books with a gaze towards answering all of the various “bible prophecy” questions (you know what I mean). This exegetical approach, funded in many instances by an overly wooden-literalistic engagement with the text, has attempted to provide exegetical conclusion to a variety of interpretive questions in regard to such things as: the millennium, who the anti-Christ is, if there is such a thing as the rapture (within the dispensational approach), how current events relate to biblical prophecy and its fulfillment (within the dispensational approach), and many other like foci. To be honest, as much as I have moved away from much of that, it still interests me at some level; even if that interest, at points, is at the level of social-curiosity.

Given my curiosity, I found it very interesting to run across how Richard Muller defines what the Latin language for anti-Christ, antichristus, entailed in the Post Reformation Reformed orthodox period (i.e. 16th and 17th centuries). Muller writes at length:

antichristus (from the Greek, ντίχριστος): antichrist; scriptural use of the word is confined to the Joannine Epistles (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7) where a distinction is made between (1) the many antichrists now in the world, who work to deceive the godly and who do not confess Christ, and (2) the Antichrist who is to come who will deny Christ and, in so doing, deny both the Father and the Son. John also speaks (1 John 4:3) of the “spirit … of the antichrist” which “even now … is in the world.” Following the fathers, the medieval doctors, and the Reformers, the Protestant orthodox identify the final Antichrist of the Johannine passages with the “man of sin” or “son of perdition who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God” foretold by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:3-4. The orthodox can therefore distinguish between (1) the antichrist considered generally (generaliter), as indicated by the plural use of the word in 1 John and by the “spirit of antichrist” now in the world, and (2) the Antichrist considered specially (specialiter et kat’ exochen), as indicated by singular usage. The former term indicates all heretics and vicious opponents of the doctrine of Christ; the latter, the great adversary of Christ who will appear in the last days. Of the latter, the Antichristus properly so called, the orthodox note several characteristics. (1) He arises from within the church and sets himself against the church and its doctrine, since his sin is described as apostasia (q.v.), or falling away. (2) He will sit in temple Dei, in the temple of God, which is to say, in the church. (3) He will rule as the head of the church. (4) From his seat in templo Dei and his position as caput ecclesiae, he will exalt himself above the true God and identify himself as God. (5) He will cause a great defection from the truth so that many will join him in his apostasy. (6) He will exhibit great power and cause many “lying wonders,” founded upon the power of Satan, in a rule that will endure until the end of time. On the basis of these characteristics the orthodox generally identify the Antichrist as the papacy, the pontifex Romanus. Some attempted to argue a distinction between an Antichristus orientalis and an Antichristus occidentalis, an Eastern and a Western Antichrist, the former title belonging to Muhammad, the latter to the papacy; but the difficulty in viewing Islam, or any form of paganism, as an apostasy, strictly so-called, led the orthodox to identify Rome alone as Antichrist. They also reject the identification of Antichrist with the imperium Romanum, the Roman Empire, on the ground that the Antichrist is not a secular power or a result of pagan history. Finally, they also reject the identification of any single pope as Antichrist on the ground that Antichrist’s rule and power extend farther and endure longer than the rule and power of any one man. Thus, Antichrist is the institution of the papacy which has arisen within the church and which assumes religious supremacy over all Christians, seats itself in the temple of God, and builds its power on lies, wonders, and apostasy.[2]

Clearly, for the Post Reformed orthodox, the papacy as an institution represents the office of the eschatological Antichrist. I would imagine that this still holds true today, particularly for Orthodox Presbyterians, and maybe the Presbyterian Church of America; i.e. that the papal seat and Vatican city, and what they represent, serve as emblematic and as the embodiment of the personal Antichrist. It isn’t just the Post Reformed orthodox, and the Reformed in general who held, and may continue to hold this view; we once attended a Lutheran church (Wisconsin synod) that made a point to emphasize that they see the Roman See as the embodiment of Antichrist. More sensationalistic than this, evangelicals, of the dispensational sort (like Dave Hunt, Chick tracts, etc.), have also seen the papacy as a potential candidate for fulfilling the role of the Antichrist.

Attempting to answer this question, of the identity of the Antichrist, is not a bad thing in my view; it reflects a people who take the Bible and its various teachings seriously. I may have given the impression, earlier, that I find such things pedantic; I don’t. What I do find pedantic is when people become consumed by the sensationalistic aspects of all of this, and fail to miss the bigger picture of eschatology, theologically and hermeneutically, and what that is all about. It is about God’s Kingdom, come, and coming every day. We live in a world that needs to hear and know that good news. Within that framework, we can attempt to work through the exegetical questions and various biblical foci; but never losing sight that we ought to be living as those who are simply looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, “Eschatology,” in John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance eds., The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 306.

[2] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 39-40.

The Intellectual and Social Seed-bed of Secularism-Pluralism in the West is the Church

I have always found it intriguing—insofar as I have known about this relationship—the relationship between secularism, pluralism, and scientism, with its intellectual origins within Protestantism. In Kurt Anders Richardson’s book Reading Karl Barth: New Directions For North American Theology, he offers a good sketch of this that I thought I would share with you all. Richardson writes:

brokenchurch1Religiously, although modern secularity and postmodern pluralism or relativism have been deemed excruciatingly low points, they are not the whole story. These religious realities are rooted in
the earlier movements of Reformation and post-Reformation, where religious dissent and the search for authenticity of Christian faith prompted first toleration and then liberalization in religious and legal theory. In the first instance, secularity is the conscientious objection to irreconcilable interecclesial conflict, and pluralism is the conscientious objection of multiple ecclesial bodies within a single civil order.

The conflicts that led to these states of affairs were not merely the failure of politics; they were the striving to interpret the Christian faith with greater authenticity. Failure to understand this often leads to recalcitrant nostalgia for an ecclesiastical golden age—a medieval one, which of course is no more real than a pre-Raphaelite painting. The trajectory of Christian culture has simply been in the direction of liberty of conscience on theological grounds and the unavoidability of religious pluarality, first, for the sake of one’s own conscience, and then also for the sake of everybody else’s. The power of a critical and/or secular perspective is always rooted in some religious, in this case the power of repentance or of conversion. Critical judgment and secularity have always been disingenuous when claiming to have no religious or theological nature. That the modernist belief in and quest for certainty of religious knowledge is rooted in late medieval and Reformation beliefs in certainty of religious knowledge is a highly important connection. For the Reformers, of course, the belief in certainty rested on the fundamental critique of the Roman ecclesia and the way it cast its own authority. The certitudes of magisterial authority were relocated in Scripture and certain self-referential hermeneutical practices of interpretation. That this move was made is not so surprising, given the hermeneutics of Christian belief. What is surprising is the secular detachment of certainty in philosophical rationality. Such certainty was divine from the outset and therefore mythical or at least something that divine providence alone could have omniscience. But the idea that omniscience had inscribed itself in nature meant that some native clarity of vision could attain certainty of knowledge. One can lament the history of secular certainty, but one must also remember the theology from which it sprang.[1]

It is more than ironic when confronted, usually on a daily basis, with people, “secular people,” who seem to think they are indeed “secular.” True, even by Richardson’s accounting, secularity is a real thing; but not in the same way that a secular person thinks. The intellectual heritage of both the secularist and pluralist, as Richardson develops, comes from a deep and wide theological foundation and premise; indeed, one that is ecclesio-political-social in orientation. The atheist and Christian alike have a shared intellectual heritage; of course where that goes in regard to submission to Jesus Christ as Lord, or not, will give this share commitment various expressions and externalizations into society at large and in the individual’s life personally.

What Richardson touches upon reminds me of something Karl Barth once wrote; Barth’s development is more of an application of Richardson has sketched, but an application that dovetails principially with Richardson’s premise. Barth writes:

Theology is one among those human undertakings traditionally described as “sciences.” Not only the natural sciences are “sciences.” Humanistic sciences also seek to apprehend a specific object and its environment in the manner directed by the phenomenon itself; they seek to understand it on its own terms and to speak of it along with all the implications of its existence. The word “theology” seems to signify a special science, a very special science, whose task is to apprehend, understand, and speak of “God.”

But many things can be meant by the word “God.” For this reason, there are many kinds of theologies. There is no man who does not have his own god or gods as the object of his highest desire and trust, or as the basis of his deepest loyalty and commitment. There is no one who is not to this extent also a theologian. There is, moreover, no religion, no philosophy, no world view that is not dedicated to some such divinity. Every world view, even that disclosed in the Swiss and American national anthems, presupposes a divinity interpreted in one way or another and worshiped to some degree, whether wholeheartedly or superficially. There is no philosophy that is not to some extent also theology. Not only does this fact apply to philosophers who desire to affirm — or who, at least, are ready to admit— that divinity, in a positive sense, is the essence of truth and power of some kind of highest principle; but the same truth is valid even for thinkers denying such a divinity, for such a denial would in practice merely consist in transferring an identical dignity and function to another object. Such an alternative object might be “nature,” creativity, or an unconscious and amorphous will to life. It might also be “reason,” progress, or even a redeeming nothingness into which man would be destined to disappear. Even such apparently “godless” theologies are theologies.[2]

There is no doubt that the natural human bent is to elevate itself into a god-status, no matter the pain and destruction that might cause; and so it is interesting to note the intellectual heritage to all of this—that we can identify one. Just as with the nation of Israel, syncretism starts out with good intentions, but when it blossoms all that is left are the “high-places” of their own making; whether that be the nation of Israel (in the OT), or humanity simpliciter. What we end up with in the secular project is still a sense of divinity, it’s just one that ends up being a projection of ourselves; whether that be individually and/or collectively.

Western society (even Eastern society for its own intellectual and spiritual reasons) is one that has its seed in the church, whether it likes it or not. When we look at my home-state, the United States of America, this particular project expressly reflects the pattern we see described by Richardson; and embedded within that, we end up with theologians of all stripes, as Barth so eloquently develops.

 

 

[1] Kurt Anders Richardson, Reading Karl Barth: New Directions For North American Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 34.

[2] Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 3-4.

Sanctorum Communio, The Communion of the Saints and being catholic Thinkers

A week ago today I was in a funky mood, and wrote a blog post called Doubting the Theologians and Biblical Interpretation. I was lamenting what I see as undue license being given to theologians or biblical exegetes in our reading of the text of Holy Scripture; I still have this concern (the whole reader response hermeneutic). Someone I’ve known through blogging and Facebook over the communionsaintsyears, David Guretzki, professor of theology at Briercrest College in Canada, and Barth scholar, made a comment. He wrote:

Bobby, what if you instead thought of these authors as part (even if not the only) communion of the saints? We do not read scripture as individuals, but as the Church–of which these doctors of the Church are a gift (charism). The Protestant evangelical way of reading Scripture assumes perspecuity (clarity) available to all–that is its strength. But its weakness is that it too often has degenerated into a non-ecclesial way of reading scripture. It is precisely other voices that keeps us from hearing only the echoes of our own thoughts and subjectivities imposed upon scripture. The problem, of course, is that we are too often too selective of the voices we listen to. The danger is not that we read Barth or Aquinas or Augustine, but that we are too apt ONLY to read Barth, Aquinas, or Augustine (or Calvin or Luther, etc. etc.) and thus keep reconfirming too often our own subjectivities and biases.

At the moment I wrote that post I, frankly, wasn’t in the mood to hear much, I was just in a total venting mode. But what David wrote is something I whole-heartedly agree with and have pushed myself here at this blog and other blogs of mine over the last many years. What David wrote points up something that I think everyone needs to be cognizant of; we need to avail ourselves, as the body of Christ, to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the sanctorum communio, or what Guretzki called the communion of the saints (the English). If we don’t avail ourselves of these various voices we will fall into the trap that Guretzki rightly alerts us to; we might only hear “echoes of our own thoughts and subjectivities” and impose that “upon scripture.”

This actually dovetails with my last post. If we close the circle too tightly, we might only gather teachers around us who always and only reinforce our own subjectivities. The principle of what Gurtezki is getting at is that we need to be open to the whole tradition of the church, and remove ourselves from self-imposed echo-chambers. We need to read Holy Scripture with the communion of the saints. Clearly we are finite time and space bound creatures, and so that in and of itself is going to delimit how many voices we can open ourselves up to. And of course we don’t want to be so open that our brains fall out; we want to be open critically. But we do want to do catholic theology, and be participants in the whole tradition of the church.

We all have our favorite teachers, even teachers who are strewn throughout the history of the church; that’s natural, we are going to be drawn to certain teachers and theologians for one reason or the other. Obviously, I am drawn to Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth, and John Calvin; but I have also learned from so many in the history of interpretation. We just want to be open enough that, indeed, we are actually participating in the communion of the saints that Christ himself has gifted us with in his body.

What I think this entails, though, and this gets back to my last post, is that as Christians we want to identify the reality that Christ has given teachers to his church in every century and period of his church; and he continues to (Ephesians 4). Truly, we need to be critical and discerning, but we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the idea that there are “holy centuries” in the communion of the saints, in the church. We should understand that God in Christ can, has and does break into every century of his church; we should understand that God can speak through modern metaphysics as clearly and perspicaciously as he can through medieval metaphysics. The reality is that all metaphysics used to help supply a grammar for theological discourse must be evangelized and reified in and by the concrete ground of God’s Triune life in Jesus Christ.

‘Vicariousness’ in TFT’s Theology illustrated by the Eucharist and Reported by Molnar: Against Dualistic Thinking in Salvation

Here’s a post that I bet none of you have seen; it is from another blog of mine, probably around nine years old.

The following is going to be a long quote from Paul Molnar (the Roman Catholic😉 on Torrance’s theology. I want to quote this for those of you, especially, who are more prone towards a “classically” conceived Calvinism; or even a Roman Catholic perspective. In this piece I hope that you will get a feel for Torrance’s insistence upon a thoroughly Christ-centered, Spirit-centered approach that holyeucharisthe believes we must take if we are going to ground all of life and reality in life — viz. that we must “ground” all of life in Christ’s life (God’s life), or else we will fall into an array of theological problems. Let’s begin this quote:

What can be learned from Torrance’s emphasis on Christ’s high priestly mediation and his rejection of dualistic epistemology and ontology in understanding the Eucharist in a Trinitarian way? First, God gives himself to us in Jesus Christ; the Gift is identical with the Giver. If our understanding of God’s relation with the world is ‘damaged’ because of a dualistic perspective, then we will assume that God has not actually given himself within created time and space ‘but only something of himself through a created mediation’. A dualistic perspective actually divides the Gift from the Giver. The Catholic tendency focuses on the Gift in its concern for real presence, thought of ‘as inhering in the Eucharist as such’. The Protestant tendency focuses on ourselves as receivers over against the Giver. Torrance insists, against both of these tendencies, that because the Gift is identical with the Giver, God is immediately present in his own being and life through Jesus Christ; this self-giving ‘takes place in the Holy Spirit who is not just an emanation from God but the immediate presence and activity of God in his own divine Being, the Spirit of the Father and the Son . . . this is a real presence of Christ to us’.

Second, with respect to the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Offerer is identical with the Offering: what ‘the Incarnate Son offers to the Father on our behalf is his own human life which he took from us and assumed into unity with his divine life, his self-offering through the eternal Spirit of the Father’. Because the historical offering of his body on the cross is inherently one with himself as the Offerer, it is a once-and-for-all event which remains eternally valid. Understood dualistically, the Offerer and Offering are not finally one; ‘neither is his offering once and for all nor is it completely and sufficiently vicarious’. He becomes only a created intermediary and the offering is seen as a merely human offering so that no real mediation between God and creatures has taken place. Torrance insists that if Christ’s human priesthood is seen within a Nestorian or Apollinarian framework ‘then it becomes only a representative and no longer a vicarious priesthood, for it is no longer unique but only an exemplary form of our own’; thus it is no longer uniquely substitutionary.

This directs us to rely on ourselves ‘to effect our own “Pelagian” mediation with God by being our own priests and by offering to him our own sacrifices’. Even if this is done ‘for Christ’s sake’ and motivated by him, since it is not done ‘with him and in him we have no access through him into the immediate presence of God’. If, however, ‘Jesus Christ is himself both Priest and Victim, Offerer and Offering’ who has effected atoning reconciliation and so for ever ‘unites God and man in his one Person and as such coinheres with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity, then, we participate in his self-consecration and self-offering to the Father and thus appear with him and in him and through him before the Majesty of God in worship, praise and adoration with no other sacrifice than the sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Mediator and High Priest’.

When the Church worships, praises and adores the Father through Jesus Christ, it is the self-offering and self-consecration of Jesus Christ ‘in our nature ascending to the Father from the Church in which he dwells through the Spirit;’ ‘it is Christ himself who worships, praises and adores the Father in and through his members’ shaping their prayers and conforming them in their communion in his body and blood.

T. F. Torrance’s achievement here is immense. By focusing on ‘God as Man’ rather than upon God in Man’, Torrance embraces a high Christology which concentrates on the humanity of the incarnate Son of God and a view of Eucharistic worship and life ‘in which the primacy is given to the priestly mediation of Jesus Christ’:

It is in fact the eternal life of the incarnate Son in us that ascends to the Father in our worship and prayer through, with and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. While they are our worship and prayer, in as much as we freely and fully participate in the Sonship of Christ and in the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father, they are derived from and rooted in a source beyond themselves, in the economic condescension and ascension of the Son of God. The movement of worship and prayer . . . is essentially correlative to the movement of the divine love and grace, from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

This leads to a more unified soteirology which views incarnation and atonement as a single continuous movement of God’s redeeming love which accentuates Jesus Christ’s ‘God-manward and his man-Godward activity’. Focusing on Jesus’ vicarious humanity emphasizes that Christ has put himself in our place, experiencing our aliented human condition and healing it. Eucharistic anamnesis is no mere recollection of what Christ has done for us once for all, but a memorial which ‘according to his command’ and ‘through the Spirit is filled with the presence of Christ in the indivisible unity of all his vicarious work and his glorified Person’. . . .[1]

The vicarious point is a very important one for TFT, and his “Evangelical Calvinism.” I hope that you’ve found this quote from Molnar enlightening (I realize Molnar is controversial for some, nevertheless I find his thoughts here spot on, relative to highlighting TFT’s ‘theology of vicariousness’).

[1] Paul Metzger, ed., Paul Molnar, Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology, 184-86.

 

The Quicksilver Nature of the Church: Torrance’s Commentary on Barth’s der Römerbrief

T.F. Torrance’s commentary on Barth’s der Römerbrief is sublime and sobering all at once. The American evangelical, the American mainliner, the Christian in general should take heed to the words written by Torrance in this brief surmising of TF. What stands out, to me, is the implicit order and informing theology underwriting Torrance’s observations about the nature of the church; it is that the church is not prior to Christ, but after. In other words, it is precisely at the point that the church fails to recognize that Jesus is Lord that the church functions as if it is Lord squelching the possibility for genuinely hearing from the true Lord of His church.

This is where the diastasis comes in in Barth’s diacritical doctrine of the Church. The Church cannot fulfill its function in the hands of God except by being broken, in repentance and suffering and dissolution in the hands of God, but then it is made to point beyond itself and finds its essential life in witness and mission. The tragedy of the Church is that it clutches itself and nurses itself, and regards itself as the prolongation of grace, as the extension of religious experience, and so makes itself into an ex-essential denial of grace and the supernatural kingdom of God. But that is the way that has been taken by neo-Protestantism which has attempted to construct a religion out of the Gospel, and so to set it as one human possibility in the midst of others — but that is precisely to fall from grace. “The Church which sings its triumphs and trams and popularizes and modernizes itself, in order to minister to and satisfy every need except the one; the Church which, in spite of many exposures, is still satisfied with itself, and, like Quicksilver, still seeks and finds its own level; such a Church can never succeed, be it never so zealous, never so active in ridding itself of its failings and blemishes. With or without its offenses, it can never be the Church of God, because it is ignorant of the meaning of repentance.”[1]

This is challenging; not challenging in the sense that I think it only applies to others “out there,” but challenging in the sense that it applies to me “in here.”

Of note, theologically, as I alluded to earlier, for Barth and Torrance, there is a radically christo-concentrated focus that funds their thinking (which we all know by now). In this instance we see how it informs TFT’s reading of Barth, but more pointedly how that applies to the church of Jesus Christ at large.

 

[1] [Romerbrief, 370]. Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910 — 1931, 91.

 

Reformed Pubs, Evangelical Calvinists, and the Reformed Confessions

Evangelical Calvinists such as myself are a confessional people, we are; seeing as we’re members of the Reformed faith, which is if anything else a confessional faith. Over these last couple of days I became, unfortunately, embroiled in a debate/discussion about a statement I made in the Reformed Pub. The Reformed Pub is an online forum/group within the confines of Facebook, and it boasts a membership of approximately 12,500 people (which is pretty massive for a FB group). It consists of, what I have observed, classically Reformed folk of both the Baptist as well as the
Beer-CigarsPresbyterian types; albeit there is a heavy strain of dominion theology as well as sabbatarianism that permeates this rarified online Reformed space. I became a member of the Reformed Pub a few weeks ago, and then after observing what I saw de-joined because it really was a bridge too far for my Reformed tastes. But being me, I joined back up maybe a couple of weeks ago, and sat idly by checking in on the Pub now and again. Well, last night I decided to post something on the fly, and off the top; it had to do with, you guessed it, the Reformed faith and the confessions. Unfortunately, after spending probably (and literally) four or five hours between last night and this morning debating, clarifying, and discussing my position it finally came to a head. One of my interlocutor’s seemed to be getting impatient with me and from what I could perceive made a snarky comment to me. So getting wild up I responded, not in kind at first (mind you I had about five hours of what I consider collegial debate with these guys previous), and provided more push back to this guy. But I let the moment get the best of me, and after I made the collegial response, I made a pretty low-blow snarky comment. This forum has moderators keeping tabs on all the discussions in the Pub, once I made my snarky comment in response to my interlocutor they both chimed in and told me I was out of line (of course they didn’t say anything to anyone else, except once, as I receive a barrage of comments, some not in the best of tone — in passive aggressive forms). Once that happened I decided to delete the whole post and comment threads associated with it; I resigned myself once more from the Pub; and have concluded that it is not a healthy place for me to be.

All of that is the background to the rest of this post. Unfortunately because I quickly deleted my original post from the Pub I don’t have, verbatim, my original statement about the Reformed confessions. But it went something like this:

The Reformed confessions were originally intended to be regional statements of faith made by local confessing Reformed Christians, and thus not intended to be universally binding statements for the church catholic. This is not to say that these confessions were at odds with the ecumenical council’s settlements; in fact they sought to complement the entailments provided for by the catholic and ecumenical pronouncements made about God’s life as Triune, and His life in the Son as both God and man in one person.

This comes close to the gist of my original post (although my wording here is even more explicit about what the entailments of the ecumenical settlements are). This statement set off a firestorm, which I really wasn’t ready for. The gist of the push back towards me was that the Reformed Confessions actually were intended to have catholic and universally binding force for all Protestant Christians. Further, that the Westminster Confession of Faith should be seen to be definitive for what it means to be Reformed for all Reformed Christians even today. Of course my point was that this just is not the case, and that there are Reformed Christians, like myself even, who repudiate, say, the metaphysics that fund the doctrine of God found in the WCF, as well as other loci like how grace and salvation are conceived (i.e. through substance metaphysics with all of its implications). The response to this (from the commenter who was really pushing back at me) was that if someone rejects the metaphysics of the WCF then they aren’t Reformed; further he responded that if “it ain’t broke then why fix it?” in reference to the Reformed confessions in general.

But all of this really missed the point of my original post (in a way); my original point was that the Reformed confessions, catechisms, creeds, and canons should be received in an ‘open-structured’ way rather than ‘closed.’ At this point in my commenting I offered a quote from our thesis 15 found in our Evangelical Calvinism book. The quote comes from Jack Stotts and it is this:

The Reformed sector of the Protestant Reformation is one that holds to what can be called an “open” rather than a “closed” confessional tradition. A closed tradition holds to a particular statement of beliefs to be adequate for all times and places. An open tradition anticipates that what has been confessed in a formally adopted confession takes its place in a confessional lineup, preceded by statements from the past and expectant of more to come as times and circumstances change. Thus, the Reformed tradition—itself a wide river with many currents—affirms that, for it, developing and adopting confessions is indeed an obligation, not an option. These contemporary confessions are recognized as extraordinarily important for a church’s integrity, identity, and faithfulness. But they are also acknowledged to be relative to particular times and places. This “occasional” nature of a Reformed confession is as well a reminder that statements of faith are always subordinate in authority to scripture.[1]

My respondent looked for dirt, and for his money found what he was looking for. He let everyone know that Stotts is a liberal PCUSA theologian who contributed to the current state the PCUSA is in, particularly with reference to how homosexuality is viewed and even applauded and encouraged. I responded back that it is a genetic fallacy to attempt to marginalize the substance of Stott’s quote by referring to his personal affiliations and views (one way or the other).

But I want to press this “open” rather than “closed” confessional tradition. Those in the Reformed pub represent quite well the sentiment of the classically Reformed tradition in general; it is a mood of Reformed theology that is more concerned with repristinating the past rather than reformulating and/or reforming it (semper reformanda) per the reality of Holy Scripture, who of course is Jesus Christ. The classically Reformed, largely, are driven by ecclesiocentric identity, as far as posture and hermeneutic, rather than christocentric identity; at least insofar as they approach their usage and deployment of the Reformed confessions as boundary markers. But as Karl Barth rightly notes it is this mood that we currently find in the classically Reformed that is at odds with the reality of confession making within the spirit of the Reformed faith. Barth writes (in one of my favorite books from him The Theology of the Reformed Confessions):

The tendency toward confessional unity of these particular Reformed churches is, on the other hand, [Barth is contrasting the Reformed tradition with the Lutheran, which he argues that the latter seeks to achieve ecclesial unity by their singular adherence to the Augsburg confession as a catholic document that stands against heresies near and far] weak in its development. We remember that the section of the Formula of Concord already cited begins with the sentence: “Fundamental, enduring unity (concordia) in the church requires above all else (primo … necessarium omnino) a clear and binding summary and form (forma et quasi typus) in which a general summary of teaching is drawn together from God’s Word, to which the churches that hold the true Christian religion confess their adherence” (M 568). From a Reformed point of view, one can only say No; such a formula and pattern of doctrine may well be very nice and desirable, but it is certainly not that which is “required above all else” for an accord. That which is “required above all else” is that the doctrine of the church everywhere and constantly be grounded upon Holy Scripture, which defines not the confessional unity but the confessional freedom of the particular churches in their relationships to each other. That was one of the first things that Luther noticed in his opponents from the Alps: the unconcerned lack of uniformity in their formulations, which was a sign for him that their doctrine was of Satan (End. 5,294). “The Holy Ghost is a God of unity and grants one meaning, foundation, and doctrine” (53,362). In the sixteenth century, the Reformed were scornfully described as “Confessionists” [“Confessionistae”] because of their many personal, local, and national confessions, and they were quite content to be such. How easy it would have been for Calvin to install a normative Reformed confession, possibly written by him, in the circles and countries open to his influence. But he never sought after such a thing. The fact that he imposed the Gallican Confession of 1559 on the French was not an act of the “pope from Geneva,” as he was called, but rather a fraternal and friendly form of help from church to church. He wrote a catechism, but we find his most loyal adherents—John Knox, John à Lasco, and Caspar Olevianus—all writing their own confessions and catechisms as a matter of course.[2]

Barth would think it is quite ironic that my interlocutors, the classically Reformed in the Reformed Pub and elsewhere, would attempt to use the Reformed confessions as a basis for ecclesial unity and identity rather than statements attempting to freely profess and confess the Gospel and its implications as disclosed in Holy Scripture. Yet, this is what I was up against in the Reformed Pub the last two days, and what so many who are Reformed in the sense that I am are faced with as well.

Surely, just as my interlocutors wiped Stotts away with one fell PCUSA swipe they would wipe Barth away with one fell arch-heretic/neo-orthodox swipe. Be that as it may to do so is not to engage with the material and substantive critiques and developments presented by either Stotts or Barth in regard to the reality and development of the Reformed confessions.

Nevertheless, as evangelical Calvinists we most certainly work from within the ‘open structured’ conception of the confessions (per Stotts), and we see as their regulative reality, Jesus Christ (per Barth) as attested to in Holy Scripture. It is always reforming for the evangelical Calvinists, not always repristinating; it is Jesus Christ as the unitive reality of the church, He alone is her bene esse and the confessions speak after Him, and after Scripture both de jure and de facto! Semper reformanda!

 

[1] Jack Stotts in Rohls, Reformed Confessions, xi.

[2] Karl Barth, The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, translated and annotated by Darrell L. Guder and Judith J. Guder (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 12-13 [brackets mine].