Saturday, June 03, 2006

True confessions

I’ll take this occasion to revisit a few of John Armstrong’s questions.

“1. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians seem to have historical amnesia when it comes to events that transpired in church history from the death of John on the Isle of Patmos, late in the first century, until the completion of the Canon several centuries later?”

Is this what Armstrong means by an honest question?

Isn’t this simply a putdown disguised as a question?

The question is obviously too vague to be answerable. What events does Armstrong think the TR have forgotten?

If he were posing an honest question, he’d be more specific.

If he were honestly soliciting an answer, he wouldn’t go out of his way to cast the question in such an invidious vein.

“2. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians virtually ignore the Church Fathers as well as the catholic creeds of the Christian church?”

Several answers:

i) Life is short. The Bible is our rule of faith. A good modern commentary is ordinarily a better source of information for interpreting the Bible than one of the church fathers.

There’s hardly enough time to keep up with the exegetical literature, much less the primary and secondarily literature in patristics.

ii) Why single out Reformed believers?

Is the average Calvinist more neglectful of the church fathers than many other Evangelical traditions?

iii) For that matter, is the average lay Catholic or lay Orthodox well-versed in the church fathers?

Is Michael Dukakis or George Stephanopoulos well-read in the church fathers?

Is Teddy Kennedy or John Kerry deeply-versed in the church fathers?

Why single out the Reformed on this score?

For that matter, are members of the emergent church movement immersed in patrology?

iv) Many of the church fathers were men of no great intellectual distinction. Their historical position lends them a degree of attention out of proportion to their intrinsic merit.

If they were born in the 14C rather than the 4C, many would be forgotten.

“4. Why do conservative Reformed Christians treat only certain confessional traditions, such as the Westminster Confession or its cousin the London Baptist Confession, as if only these confessions and catechisms were the proper confessional grounds for the Reformed faith and thus for contemporary understanding of the Bible and classical Christian thought, if they even care about classical thought? These important creedal standards of the 17th century are not the only standards for orthodoxy, for all time and all cultures, and few have ever treated them in this manner. Therefore, why do ordinary Christians hardly ever hear this from the many of the conservative Reformed spokesmen? (There are few if any conservative Reformed spokeswomen, which is another question for another time.)”

i) Are the Reformed any more proprietary about their own creeds than Lutherans are about Lutheran creeds, or the Orthodox are about Orthodox creeds?

ii) Why does Armstrong care? Does he think we need a new Reformed confession? Does he regard the historic Reformed confessions as deficient or defective?

Does he think we need to add something to the WCF, or subtract something from the WCF?

If he wants to have an honest discussion, why does he play his cards so close to his vest instead of laying them on the table, face up?

iii) As a practical matter, Reformed denominations and seminaries do have an informal way of amending their creeds. They do stake out official positions on a number of contemporary issues.

“(This is precisely why some conservative Reformed spokesmen despise Jonathan Edwards, which I discovered first-hand, to my profound surprise, about ten years ago.)”

Let's remember that Princeton was founded as a New Light institution, not an Old Light institution.

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