Tag Archives: protestant

Was the Reformation a Mistake?

Today we celebrate (mourn, think about, reflect upon, take your pick) the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With this momentous event upon us, 517yithbnpl-_sx326_bo1204203200_numerous people have turned their attention to the various historical and contemporary implications of the Reformation. You can see this in the number of books, articles, and blogs that have been devoted to treating either the background of the Reformation, Reformers, and Protestant-Catholic relations.

Among those books these stick out to me as being really interesting:

Biblical Authority after Babel – Vanhoozer 

The End of Protestantism – Peter Leithart

Reformation Theology – Matthew Barrett

The Five Solas Series – Various Authors 

But there is another book that recently caught my eye. A book that was written by a Roman Catholic theologian whom a lot of protestants really like: Matthew Levering (Professor at Mundelein Seminary). Levering, just published a book with one of the foremost evangelical publishers, Zondervan. It’s titled Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbliblical. If that doesn’t catch your eye then maybe the fact that it includes a Protestant response by Kevin Vanhoozer will!

Enough about the background of the book. What is this Roman Catholic theologian’s answer? Was the Reformation a mistake? According to Levering – Yes and No.

No, because the Reformation has reminded the Church of things that have been neglected by Roman Catholics, namely, love for Scripture, the authority of God’s word, salvation by God’s grace, gospel, preaching, Bible study, and personal faith and relationship with Christ. (16) Levering is grateful for these thigns. However, in another sense, he does in fact believe the Reformation was a mistake. How was it a mistake? Well he says, the Reformation was built on a mistaken assumption that Catholic views of Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, Justification, etc. are unbliblical. In light of this he attempts to show that Catholic doctrine is in fact not unbliblical (note he doesn’t say biblical, rather he says not unbiblical).

In order to make his case, he argues that catholic doctrine is based upon biblically warranted modes of reasoning about biblically revealed realities. (21) Essentially this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a way of thinking about the bible and its truths in a communal and liturgical way. Or to put it in a slightly different way,

The reasoning prescribed by the Bible for interpreting biblical texts is hierarchically and liturgically contextualized, in the sense that the Spirit communicates the word of Christ to the people of God who are gathered for worship by “the apostles and elders,” and by those like Timothy whom the apostles (whose testimony to the gospel of Christ remains uniquely authoritative) appointed as their successors. (24)

To put it more plainly, when we think about doctrine, we must come to the text of Scripture and read it through the lens of tradition. Tradition tells us what the text means and what the text is about. To read Scripture outside of this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a wrongheaded way of reading the text.

Given his definition of biblically warranted modes of reasoning, he proceeds to treat the scriptural background of numerous Roman catholic doctrines, including Scripture, Mary, the seven sacraments, justification, purgatory, saints and the papacy. The result is essentially him saying “well, scripture doesn’t exactly teach purgagatory or the papacy, etc.; but through the mode of reasoning we apply to the text, the doctrines are not unbiblical.”

If protestants are not convinced by his conclusions, according to Levering himself, that is okay! He isn’t trying to convince them to accept Catholic doctrine. Rather he simply wants to show them that Catholics aren’t unbiblical in their thinking. I will leave it to you, the reader of this blog, to pick up the book and decide whether you are convinced by him.

However, I do want to throw in my two cents…

Not being unbiblical is not enough. We aim to say what scripture explicitly and implicitly teaches, nothing more and nothing less.


Tradition is not a second source of revelation – it is a helpful external guide.

Both of these are at least in part two of principles we reflect upon on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Anyone who holds to these principles simply won’t be able to buy into Levering’s account, and thus won’t be able to say that Levering’s account of a “not unbiblical” account of Roman Catholic doctrine is adequate.

All in all, despite this criticism, I do have to commend Levering for writing this book. At the very least, it will dispel caricatures that some protestants have about Roman Catholics, namely that they simply make stuff up as they go or that they don’t care about the Bible. That, it seems to me, is a worthwhile result.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.


Vanhoozer on the 6 Marks of Evangelical Theology

Vanhoozer says that there are six marks of Evangelical theology. Personally I think there should be seven or maybe forty. Those are better numbers because they are “Biblical” but whatever, six works I guess….

All kidding aside what marks evangelical theology off as “evangelical.” Is it simply that it is done by people who call themselves evangelicals? Is there something distinctive about it that makes it “evangelical” i.e. subject matter, emphasis, the way its written, goals, Etc.? Is it that it fits


If you will be in L.A. in January make sure to come to LATC. Daniel Treier will be presenting a plenary titled “Scripture’s Textual Voices: A Dogmatic Account.


well within Bebbington’s quadrilateral (word, cross, activism, conversion)?

The answer to that question, “What marks theology off as evangelical?” is a complex question with a complex answer but Vanhoozer and Treier seek to answer it – or at least give some direction in how we might go about answering it – in their new book Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account.

In a helpful section on “The Gospel of God and the God of the Gospel” Vanhoozer and Treir give us 6 characteristics (3 substantive and 3 stylistic) that mark theology as “evangelical.”

Mere evangelical theology, as an anchored set, can initially be characterized in terms of two principles, one material (substantive), one formal (stylistic), each with three entailments. As to substance, mere evangelical theology is (1) orthodox, conforming to the early creeds; (2) catholic, spanning all the times and places where there has been a local church; and (3) Protestant, affirming of the Reformation solas. As to style, it is (1) radical, first because it is anchored in the root (radix) of the gospel – the triune God – and second because this rootedness leads it to confront the world with the claims of the gospel; (2) irenic, acknowledging that we need many perspectives and people groups fully to appreciate the gospel’s wealth of meaning; and (3) joyful, first because it take it bearing from the best of all words that can be heard and, second, because it takes its energy from the Spirit, the minister of God’s word and the giver of God’s life. (52)

Do you find these six marks helpful? Would you change any? Add any?

The Latin American Church

It is fairly common for Americans to believe that the West is the major exporter of new ideas and trends around the world. For instance, Mark Noll believes that “understanding American patterns provides insight for what has been happening elsewhere in the world.”[1] Although he does not believe this is due to direct causation, he does believe it is a correlative effect. However, this way of thinking ignores that what has mostly been a one-way street of ideas, missionaries, and movements coming to Latin America is actually a stream which flows both ways.[2] Because of this we must understand how Latin American emigration is changing the shape of Christianity in the United States.

According to Philip Jenkins “by 2050 Latinos will make up about a quarter of the national population,” with the vast majority of these Latinos coming from a Christian background.[3] Currently in the United States there are 37.5 million Latinos (not including undocumented immigrants and Puerto Ricans).[4] If we begin to study immigration trends we see that immigration to the U.S. has been predominantly Christian[5] with many of these immigrants coming from the “new centers of faith”: Africa and Latin America[6]. These immigrants are impacting how American Christians understand their faith. For instance we might look at the American Catholic Church which is currently importing priests from Latin America and Spain due to shortages in priests.[7] This has led to the Virgin Mary, which was seldom seen in the North American Catholic church up until the 1980’s, to be venerated throughout the United States.[8] If we look at the Protestant church we see the difference Latinos have made as well. In many places throughout the U.S. it was fairly common to see abandoned American churches, however now those churches have been put to use again by Latino Christians who have moved into the area. In addition to this many American churches are seeing church growth due to growth in their Hispanic congregations.[9]

If Christianity from Latin America is becoming influential in the United States we need to understand the major theological themes that the Latin American church is dealing with at home. These two issues are 1-poverty and oppression and 2-charismatic Christianity.


[1] Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 189.

[2] Odina E. González and Justo González, Christianity in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 302.

[3] Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 284.

[4] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 304.

[5] Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, 284.

[6] Jehu Hanciles, “God’s Mission through Migration: African Initiatives in Globalizing Mission,” in Evangelical, Ecumenical, and Anabaptist Missiologies in Conversation, ed James Krabill, Walter Sawatsky, and Charles Van Engen (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2006), 59.

[7] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 305.

[8] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 304-5.

[9] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 307.

The Debate Over Inerrancy: Comparing B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell – Part 1: Introduction

If you are an Evangelical Christian (or you know any) then you know how divisive the debate over the inerrancy of scripture can be. However you might not know that every generation this battle comes up over and over again. In this blog series we will be taking a look at to iterations of this debate, then we will be comparing them. Hopefully there is something to learn from the past…..

In this post I will introduce the issue.



The Bible has always been central in evangelical thought and in the lives of evangelicals. In fact some people have sought to define evangelicalism as a movement that places the Bible at its center.[1]  Because the Bible has been central to the faith of evangelicals, it has often been the catalyst for many battles within the tradition. For instance In the early 18th century Jonathan Edwards fought against Arminian trends that were becoming popular in America due to the teachings of Englishmen like Samuel Clarke, John Tillotson, and Isaac Barrow. Participants on both sides of the debate argued by making biblical arguments, they showed that Scriptures supported their position. Specifically Edwards made use of Scriptures in his sermons like “Living Unconverted under Eminent Means of Grace” to show that the Bible taught that any type of theology that placed any aspect of salvation in the hands of humans was wrong. However towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century a new battle was brewing. Once again this battle was within the Evangelical family, but this time instead of being a battle about a doctrine or position taught in the Bible, it was a battle over the nature and authority of the Bible itself. This seemed to be foreign territory for Evangelicals to tread. Yes, evangelicals had been challenged about the veracity and authority of the Bible, but usually these challenges came from the outside; atheists, deists, and heretics brought up these challenges, but to have pious evangelicals question the nature and authority of the Bible was unprecedented.

It has been years since this battle was first waged, yet I some ways it still carries over today. Conservatives are quick to label schools like Fuller Seminary liberal because they hold a particular stance on scripture. And some liberals argue that conservatives are either intellectually dishonest or ignorant to hold their conservative position. But in reality the battle is more complex than the various sides tend to realize. Some inerrantists often hold nuanced definitions of inerrancy, and those evangelicals that don’t believe in inerrancy are often just as or even more pious than some inerrantists.

In this series of blog posts I hope to take a closer look at the debate over inerrancy by comparing two battles over the inerrancy of Scripture; the battle between B.B. Warfield and Charles Briggs and the battle between Harold Lindsell and Fuller Seminary.  By comparing these two battles hopefully we will be able to glean some insights as to how evangelicals should push forward with this issue. Let us begin by looking at the two main players in these debates: B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell.

[1] Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (History of Evangelicalism) (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2010), 19.