Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Confessional relativism

There are presently two competing approaches to Reformed theology. One approach seeks to appreciate and appropriate the Reformed tradition and the confession of the churches and from that starting point and with those resources read the Scriptures and engage the state of the art.  
To confessionalists – Presbyterian or Baptist – the confessional documents represent the settled corporate interpretations coming down to us from the ages.  They are not individual interpretations (no individual can authorize or adopt a confession), but rather the summary of the teaching of the church.  They are secondary standards under Scripture, but they create safe boundaries around our interpretation of Scripture.  To transgress those boundaries in favor of an individual or private interpretation is to tread on thin ice.  Whereas years or in some cases centuries of theological experience went into the language of the confession – often recognizing the dangers of certain misstatements – we live in an age in which far too many a Christian and even theologian is likely to stand alone with his Bible and say, “It seems to me…”  Confessionalism is intended to prevent this error. 
Both Clark and Chantry accuse Frame of being a "relativist." That's ironic because the hyper-confessionalism of Clark and Chantry is relativistic. Unless an individual Christian can appeal directly to Scripture to broker competing confessions, confessionalism becomes a language game. You can't score one game by the rules of another game. Trent is to checkers as the Westminster Confession is to chess, the Augsburg Confession is to football as the Schleitheim Confession is to baseball, the London Baptist Confession is to tennis as the Articles of Remonstrance are to hockey. 
You can judge whether a player broke the rules for a given game, but you can't apply the rules of one game to another game. If your confession becomes the filter through which you read the Bible, then the choice of one filter over another is arbitrary. 
There's nothing sacrosanct about individual interpretation. Individual Christians can be right or wrong. But that applies mutatis mutandis to collectives. A billion Catholics can be wrong–dead wrong. 
The unstable position of Clark and Chantry is a halfway house to Rome. 

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