Thursday, June 23, 2016

Confessional fideism

I'll comment on a post by Tom Chantry:

Most of the post is padded with a metaphor about roots. The basic metaphor is that trees with deep roots stay green because they are well watered. Trees with deep roots don't blow over in a storm. By contrast, trees with shallow roots are endangered by drought and wind storms. 

You can state that in two or three sentences. In fact, I just did. 

Chantry tries to stretch that metaphor into a entire, lengthy post because there's so little substance to what he says. Because his post is so deficient in rational argument. So the overextended metaphor does all the work.

No, my question is instead this, by what means can a theologian protect himself against improper interpretation? 
I would suggest that the answer is for theologians to be planted firmly within the soil of the creedal and confessional history of the church.  By this I do not mean that we make history a superior authority to Scripture, nor even that we make it an authority per se.  

There's always that throwaway disclaimer, yet in reality that's exactly what Chantry is guilty of doing. 

Rather, we ought to recognize certain facts:
           1. Oftentimes seemingly small errors have vast consequences.

           2. Most of these errors have been made in the past.

Which is why we had to have a Protestant Reformation. Which is why you can't just default to the church fathers or early church councils. So Chantry's appeal is tugging in opposite directions.

Advocates of eternal functional subordination have demonstrated a failure to grasp concepts such as simplicity, eternity, the communication of properties, and even the eternal generation of the Son. 

One wonders how clearly Chantry has grasped the implications of divine simplicity for divine freedom, distinct Persons, &c. 

Confessionally rooted Christians will have zero sympathy for the Trinitarian revisions of both the egalitarians and the complementarians.  This is not to say that only confessionalists understand the creeds of orthodoxy, but rather to recognize that true confessionalists must stand with the creeds. 

i) By definition, if you classify yourself as a "confessionalists," then you must stand with the creeds. 

ii) Problem is, Chantry's confessionalism is arbitrarily selective. Which creeds he happens to absolutize becomes reducible to an accident of birth or coin flip. 
Chantry is a confessional fideist. If you can defend a creed, independent of the creed, then you don't need confessionalism. Rather, you evaluate creeds based on whether or not they are true, in part or in whole.

By contrast, Chantry doesn't believe the creed because it's true; rather, he believes it's true because it's in the creed. If he could defend it directly, his confessionalism would be superfluous. 

So his position becomes an exercise in pious playacting. He acts as though everything some 4C bishops said at a particular church council is automatically right, which becomes the unquestionable standard of comparison. 

But that makes what we profess random. Unless you have an independent standard to evaluate a particular creed, affirming the London Baptist Confession of Faith while repudiating the Racovian Catechism is just the luck of the draw. Reshuffle the deck and you end up affirming the Racovian Catechism instead of the London Baptist Confession of Faith. 

That's his dilemma: if he can mount a rational argument for his beliefs, then confessionalism is superfluous. If, on the other hand, he refuses to subject creeds and confessions to scrutiny, then what theological tradition he happens to espouse is just a flip of the coin. 

This becomes a pastoral issue. How does Chantry's fideism, how does Chantry's anti-intellectualism, equip members of his congregation to resist, say, conversion to Rome? If he can give good reasons, then he needn't default to tradition. But if he can't, then what makes his chosen tradition special? 


  1. I approach creeds the same way I approach scholars. Because they are scholars, they are in a good position to educate me on the relevant research and evidence for a particular position. If they are unable to do that, then their scholarship means nothing to me - it is just an empty appeal to authority. Likewise, church history has covered a lot of ground. If the creeds and teachings of the church (having already wrestled with and issue) can provide good reasons for a certain interpretation, then that is worth something. But if all you get is a "because we said," that doesn't take me too far.

  2. Steve,

    If you look in the comments under Pr. Chantry's post, you'll see that one man had included a link to Grudem's essay where he cites 13 evangelical figures including Charles Hodge, John Calvin and J.I. Packer in support of eternal submission. Chantry responds with a sniff that the 13 names from Grudem were "non confessional" Christians.

    The key is the confession, always the confession. Oh, and John Calvin and Charles Hodge weren't confessional Christians. Bizarre.