LATC 2017: Why Should Protestants Retrieve Patristic and Medieval Theology? – Gavin Ortlund

Some notes from Gavin Ortlund’s Breakout Session….

Retrieving the Leavened Bread out of the Unleavened

  • Warfield on Augustine: Doctrine of Grace is Augustine’s greatest legacy. A new Christian piety comes from Augustine. He is the author of grace and the “Father of 20170112_144711evangelicalism.”
    • Warfield calls Augustine the found of Roman Catholicism too
    • Shows broader attitude: Evangelical doctrines and bad Catholic doctrines, two children struggling in his mind, but the REAL Augustine is the “evangelical Augustine.”
    • He was a proto-protestant who would have eventually become a “protestant” had he lived longer
  • Method: The last 500 years are the “good years”, we construct theology and see older theology through the lens Protestantism
    • Easy to take sola scriptura and make it sola reformationae
    • In Warfield’s account it never comes into view where Protestantism may be stretched and challenged by Augustine’s theology.
  • There are good reasons for including the entire 2000 years of church history, as a part of protestant’s theological community. We have a good example in the works of the Reformers
  • Reformers where engaged in a work of theological retrieval
    • Defended their cause against the charges of novelty
  • Warfield saw the church as having experienced a fall that needs to be recovered from. Luther and Calvin by contrast saw the early church as a tool to be recovered and retrieved.
  • Calvin and Luther both affirmed the continuation & preservation of the true church in every generation. The last thing they intended was a denial of the first 13 centuries. They saw themselves as attempting the establishment of a proper Catholicism.

How Patristic & Medieval Theology Can Resource Protestant Theology

  • Four ways….
  • First – P & M can help bulk up PT where it is weak and underdeveloped.
    • Metaphor: Child attending a school
    • One need not regard church tradition as infallible, simply recognize that each generation of the church has a unique gift towards the church
    • Medieval theologians saw creation, fall, relationship to angels as theological topics with important consequences
  • Second – can help shape theological sensibilities and values
    • Metaphor: visiting the grand canyon doesn’t just give you information
    • Example of sensibilities: Doctrine of God had different instincts/sensibilities in P&M, like divine simplicity or univocity/analogy or hiddenness
  • Third – can help provide perspective on modern theological debates (liberal/conservative spectrum)
    • Metaphor: Going to see a counselor to get perspective on something
    • Example: Augustine’s doctrine of creation. There are concerns he has that are very different than ours. Favored an approach to the text which provides a helpful model of humility, wants to learn from natural sciences
  • Fourth – can help bring about synthesis
    • Metaphor: A Guide
    • Example: Doctrine of Atonement. Approaching this doctrine helps you see ways of holding things together that in the modern literature seem to be at odds with one another.

Three Case Studies of Patristic & Medieval Retrieval

  • Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy
    • Philosophy functioned as a handmaiden to not a replacement for theology. Can help w/doctrine of God: creation/Creator, simplicity, foreknowledge, God’s relation to time
  • Gregory the Great’s Book of Pastoral Rule
    • Capable administrator but Gregory regarded himself primarily as a religious leader. Calvin called him the last good Pope. He lived in a Latin district of Constantinople, thus he was shaped by eastern theology. Gregory is the only Latin Father whose works were translated into Greek in his lifetime. How to benefit: practical focus – how to speak differently to different kinds of people
  • John of Damascus Writings on the Iconoclast Controversy
    • The preeminent representative of the Byzantine Tradition. Was practically unknown in the West until the 12th Protestant iconoclasm didn’t even refer to John of Damascus. The ancient eastern church included more than just Greek churches (Syriac, Coptic, Slavic, Armenian, etc.). All human thought about the divine is pictorial. As a result – they were encouraged to develop a rich theology of art. For evangelicals, his work may challenge what embodiment would mean for us.20170112_144711

Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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