Tag Archives: Michael Allen

LATC 2017

The topic and lineup for LATC 2017 is now out! The topic and list of speakers looks fantastic! I absolutely cannot wait.

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via Fred Sanders

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Reformed and catholic!?!?

It seems like a simple question, which doesn’t have a very simple answer:

Can Christians and churches be catholic and Reformed? Can they commit themselves not only to the ultimate authority of apostolic Scripture but also to receiving this Bible within the context of the apostolic Church?

Allen and Swain believe that the answer to that question is a simple “yes!” In fact they say that “to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity, not to move away from catholicity.” (4) Allen and Swain take the next 160 or so pages to unpack the complexity of this seemingly simple answer.Reformed Catholicity

Joining the rather popular, and encouraging trend, of theological retrieval (which we see in Radical Orthodoxy, Evangelical Ressourcement, and Resourcement Thomism) Allen and Swain provide us with a Sola Scriptura based logic for pursuing a Reformed retrieval program. They argue that one can take the distinctive features of Reformation theology and ecclesiology in order develop a truly catholic theology – that is a theology which embraces the Great Tradition of the Church.

Overview

They begin their argument, or manifesto, for Reformed Catholicity, by sketching the logic behind the claim that the catholic church is the context for doing theology. They base their argument upon the notion that the church is the “School of Christ.” This first chapter dips into ecclesiology and pneumatology and shows that the Spirit, who is the teacher, abides in the church and ensures that its apostolic teaching is guarded through the reading of Scripture. This establishes the basis for saying that “the church is the school of Christ, taught by the Spirit of Christ; the church is the seedbed of theology that flourishes by the anointing of Christ.” (46)

Their argument then turns the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In chapter two they seek to defend this doctrine from recent criticisms. Most of these criticisms are based upon seeing this doctrine from a modernist perspective rather than seeing the doctrine as it truly is meant to be understood – in a reformed catholic context. In chapter three they argue that the more one is committed to the authority of scripture the more one is compelled to honor and respect the teachings of those in the church that came before us. They show that Scripture and tradition are not mutually exclusive. Scripture generates tradition, and tradition serves scripture by helping us read it.

Chapter four attempts to provide an argument for a “ruled reading” of Scripture on the basis of Reformed theological and ecclesiological principles. (96) This chapter provides a solid foundation for reading scripture in light of one’s doctrinal commitments. To most theologians this seems quite obvious – we always bring our theological baggage (I wish there were a more positive word for this) to our reading of Scripture. And this is Okay! However, many biblical scholars argue that we should try not to do this – we should try to read scripture solely based upon historical criteria. Those scholars need to read this chapter.

Their last chapter is a defense of the practice of proof texting in theology. They show that “a proof text signals a symbolic relationship between commentarial specificity and dogmatic synthesis as well as exegetical precision and cognizance.” Thus most critiques against proof-texting (done well) actually misunderstand the practice.

This last chapter is followed up by an afterword written by J. Todd Billings. He sums up the vision of Reformed Catholicity by applying it to the life of congregations on the ground. Pastor theologians will find this chapter incredibly interesting since it compares and contrasts the catholic reformed vision of the church and ministry with a consumeristic – moralistic therapeutic deism so prevalent in the church.

Thoughts…

I really appreciated this book; probably because I was already on board with the overall project of reformed catholicity. So instead of focusing on critiquing Allen and Swain’s work I want to highlight several further lines of research that come out of this book.

  1. The Goal of the Spirit’s Pedagogical Role & Papal Infalibility – There is an interesting footnote in chapter 3 which waves this topic. Given the Spirit’s role abiding within the church and teaching the church, the fact that the church’s understanding of its apostolic foundation and and must grow, and the fact that the Spirit’s goal is to lead the church into the eschatological future of fully knowing God we might want to rethink Papal infallibility as not completely wrongheaded – we might want to consider it to be more akin to an over-realized eschatology.
  2. The Role of the Pastor-Theologian – Allen and Swain argue that theology and exegesis work hand in hand. They says that more theologians should commit to an ongoing practice of doing exegetical work in lectures, conferences addresses, and their personal writing plans. I want to make a suggestion that they overlook – theologians should preach more in their churches. Some of the greatest theologians were pastors at one point or another in their life: Calvin, Barth, Bonhoeffer. The discipline of theology would be better served if theologians had to regularly preach in their home churches.
  3. Christian Education – In order to become better readers of scripture – and thus hopefully better “doers of the word” – we need to learn how to read scripture well. We learn to read scripture well when we have a strong theological foundation – In other words we need to learn how to read scripture with the great catholic tradition in mind. This will involve “pre-loading” Christians with doctrine before they approach the text. What is the best way to do this? Is it catechetical classes? Sunday School? More doctrinal preaching? Really I don’t know. But it’s a vital question for the health of our churches.

In my opinion Reformed Catholicity paints a picture of being a catholic protestant that is far bigger than simply including Reformed believers. Most of what Allen and Swain say could be appropriated by anybody within the Reformation tradition. As somebody who doesn’t subscribe to a Reformed ecclesiology (I’m “Baptistic” & Reformed), I appreciated the fact that their “Reformed theological and eccelsiological principles” where broad enough that someone with Reformed sensibilities but a free-church ecclesiology could embrace.

Reformed Catholicity is a fantastic book. If you are a pastor or theologian who cares about the fact that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic then you need to read Allen and Swain’s manifesto for being Reformed (protestant) and catholic.

Regulators! Mount Up! (Or the Regulative Principle of Worship)

Back in 2007 I went to Uganda for the first time. It was a life-changing, vocation shaping trip. On that trip I formed friendships (with my team and with Africans) that have persisted even to this day. It was on that trip that I think I realized for the first time the truly universal nature of the church. The church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Now, I get that more than ever, but on that trip, the weight of that truth struck me for the first time. Worship was quite an experience! It was intense, hands up, people jumping, people dancing, people shouting for joy. I had never seen anything like that (and I grew up in Hispanic churches!) The word was preached differently too – not in the sense that it was unrecognizable, but I had never hear so much feedback and response during a sermon, I had never seen the preacher so fired up. (And I grew up in Hispanic churches!) It all felt so different, yet somehow I felt like I was at my own church. It felt new, but the same. It felt exotic, but somehow familiar.

Trip Lee has recently written something similar on his experiences of worshipping in churches around the world .

He says that,

In many ways, it was different from what I was used to, but it was also strikingly similar. And I suspect it’s similar to your own church services as well. The fact that churches on different sides of the globe are so similar yet so different is what we should expect when the gospel is proclaimed in diverse places. There is a glorious, diverse sameness. And we should be satisfied with nothing less.

He then points us to the “regulative principle.” He reminds us that “The regulative principle is the conviction that everything we do in corporate worship must have warrant in Scripture, either by direct command or implication. As the examples above show us, when we anchor ourselves in God’s revealed truth, there will be a certain sameness to our church gatherings—even when the church is on the other side of the world.”

But doesn’t this principle limit the indigenous nature of the church and the contextual nature of worship? Shouldn’t every church service look the same if this principle is true? By no means!

I recently came across an interesting footnote in Michael Allen & Scott Swain’s Reformed Catholicity regarding the regulative principle. In it they give us the Reformational basis for the regulative principle and the ongoing diversity in the church’s expression of worship despite this principle….

Invariably this principle has always involved the necessity of distinguishing between elements and forms (and sometimes even between forms and circumstances). For instance, while the Bible mandates the element of Scripture readings in worship, it does not mandate the form of that reading (whether one verse or four chapters, from Deuteronomy or from the Gospel according to Matthew, etc.). The “regulative principle” refers to elements, which necessarily take form in various circumstances according to pastoral prudence and Christian wisdom. Hence “biblical worship” in the Reformed tradition is not a homogeneous ideal but a common commitment to worship via Word, Sacrament, and Prayer that can take carious contextual forms as appropriately discerned by ecclesial authorities. (69)

What this means, quite simply, is that “Church” must contain certain elements – like the Word proclaimed (readings, sermons, devotionals, homilies, etc.) & Prayer (corporate prayer, private prayer, prayer through musical worship) – but how those elements are expressed is up to the discernment of the church’s leaders. The leaders must determine what is biblically appropriate for that specific context.

So to all you regulators out there, who are gonna hate on my steez – don’t hate us cuz you aint us! Just kidding. To all you regulators out there, mount up and make sure you are regulating the right things…

The O.G. Regultors - Warren G and Nate Dogg (RIP).
The O.G. Regultors – Warren G and Nate Dogg (RIP).

New Books from Baker

I remember the days of “book fairs” at elementary schools. A few weeks before the fair we would get a catalog of all the books we could order. There were Goosebumps, Clifford, Bernstein Bears, and Animorphs books galore. Now that I have grown up I am still getting those catalogs, except now adays its publishers sending me their Academic Catalogs with books that are about to be released. Every Fall, Winter, Summer, and Spring I have the opportunity to drool over the books I wish I had enough money to buy. Now I will definitely get a couple of books from each one of these publishers, I wish I could get them all but there are just so many!

Anyway, here are a few of the books from Baker’s Fall 2014 Catalog that I am really looking forward to:

Baker Catalog Fall 2014

1-Reformed Catholicity by Michael Allen & Scott R. Swain (January 2015)

Can Christians be both catholic and Reformed? Can they believe in the authority of Scripture but also receive scripture within the context of the apostolic church? In this book Allen and Swain argue that to be Reformed means to go “deeper into true catholicity rather than away from it.” The authors seek to encourage theological renewal through retrieval of the rich resources of the historic Christian tradition.

2-Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation by Matthew Levering (November 2014)

This book argues that divine revelation has been truthfully mediated through the church, the gospel, and Scripture so that we can receive it in its fullness today. Levering’s approach engages contemporary and classical views of revelation across various traditions. The thing that excites me the most is who is endorsing this book: John Webster, John Millbank, and Hans Boersma. What a variety!

3-Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul by Simon Gathercole (February 2015)

There is no other book in this catalog that has me this pumped! Much of my work focuses on Christology and Atonement theories plus I love all that Simon Gathercole writes. He has a way of navigating through revisionist positions, taking what is best of these critiques and yet he always finds a way to show that the traditional Christian positions are actually more persuasive than the revisionist positions. In this book he takes us the highly contest subject of penal substitution. He argues that a thorough account of atonement must in fact include penal substitution.

4-Colossians by Christopher R. Seitz (September 2014)

Christopher Seitz has written quite a bit about how the NT and OT relate to one another. His approach usually involves drawing a link between the theology of the OT to the theology of the NT. So he is definitely known for his theological interpretation of scripture. This book however is the first time he has undertaken the project of interpreting one whole book of the bible. Colossians is my favorite New Testament book to study, so I am really looking forward to this book!