Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sola credo

John Frame has posted a provocative little book review:


For the record, I’m not as bothered by denominations as he is. This is naturally an issue that crops up quite often in debates with Catholics and Orthodoxy, so I won’t repeat myself here.

But I agree with him on the dangers of theological chauvinism. And when I read his little review, examples come to mind.

For instance, there’s a Reformed blog that’s done some very useful work defending sola fide against the onslaught of the New Perspective on Paul. Kudos!

At the same time, there's a very inward-looking quality to this blog. I can't help noticing that, at last count, it has 304 posts on the Federal Vision, 66 on the Westminster standards, 7 on prayer, 1 on abortion, and 1 on Jesus! Isn’t there something more than slightly askew about the priorities?

Overemphasis on Reformed creeds is the mirror-image of Eastern Orthodoxy.

I judge a theologian by how faithful he was in making the best of the circumstances God put him in. In general, I think the church fathers, as well as theologians like Aquinas, were faithful stewards of the opportunities, as well as limitations, which their historical setting afforded them. They made mistakes, some serious–but because I make allowance for their situation, I’m prepared to cut them some slack.

However, that’s a two-way street. We have some different challenges than they had. We have some different resources than they had. Our calling is not to be faithful to them, or reproduce their problem-solving strategies.

Our calling is to be faithful in the situation God has put us, which varies in time and place, for individuals and generations.

To be sure, there are cultural universals as well as cultural particulars. We can learn from our forebears. But, by the same token, there's a sense in which they can also learn from us.

We're not living in the 5C or the 17C. We must apply the word of God to the world of God in which God has placed us. The answers are not always the same. Even in the Bible itself, we see some adaptation to the demands of the moment (e.g. Num 27:1-11).

There's a faction within contemporary Calvinism that's beginning to act like the Quakers and the Amish–who used to judge fidelity to God by wearing quaint clothes and using quaint speech. It's the same mindset.

There are some factions within contemporary Calvinism which seems to treat the Bible like a forest. At one time the forest was helpful to have around. It supplied the raw lumber, but now that we’ve built our edifice, the forest is mainly scenic. From here on out we can live inside our creeds and confessions. We don’t even need windows. Mirrors will do nicely!

Who needs the Bible when we can immerse ourselves in The Practice of Confessional Subscription or Recovering the Reformed Confession?

On this view, the Bible is like a ladder or a bridge. Once you climb the ladder or cross the bridge, you don’t need it anymore. You can put it behind you.

We already know what the Bible says before we open it, because we already know, before we open the Bible, that our creed is biblical. So we don’t need to open our Bible; we only need to open our creed. We no longer need to compare the creed with the Bible. That’s been settled. End of story. Time to stop writing commentaries on the Bible and start writing commentaries on the creed.

If that’s the attitude, then why hire an OT prof. or NT prof.? Why not have your seminary staffed exclusively by church historians?

In fact, that’s more than a rhetorical question. Recently a well-known Reformed seminary hired a NT prof. Only one thing: he received his doctorate, not in NT studies, but in church history!

There are also a number of unaccredited Reformed seminaries that don’t feel the need to have both an OT prof. or NT prof. It’s enough to teach Reformed historical theology.

Make note: I’m not knocking these seminaries for being unaccredited. A seminary can have legitimate reasons for avoiding the accreditation process. My problem is with the notion that we can dispense with Bible studies and jump right into our creeds and confessions and historical theology.

There’s a name for that mentality: cult.

On a related note, it’s tiresome to read all these apocalyptic obituaries on the gloomy future of the evangelical movement. The Christian generation just ahead of you and me is always going to hell in a handbasket. Just ask your parents. Or grandparents. Or great-grandparents.

Frankly, I don’t seem much evidence that Christians are all that different from one generation to the next. It’s easy to idealize the past–because we didn’t live back then. We need to stop slandering the next generation. We’re entitled to give the younger generation some advice. But members of the younger generation must be faithful to the situation wherein God has placed them. They don’t have a duty to us. They have a duty to God.

Let’s at least wait until the patient is good and dead before we publish the obituary. For the would-be decedent has a way of falsifying a premature obituary.


  1. Excellent post Steve. The way in which some filter Scripture through their creedal lense is alarming. I have interacted with some christians who cannot think of Scriptural meaning outside of their confessional box.

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