Tag Archives: scripture

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.

And,

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.

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How the Canon Came to Be…

Last night in the NT Backgrounds class I am teaching we got into a discussion concerning the nature of authoritative and inspired texts, how “choose” the books of the Bible, why some Christian traditions recognize certain OT Apocryphal books as having some weight and authority. The discussion took us a bit away from what we were supposed to be covering in class, nevertheless I felt it was important enough to merit some time in discussion. But given our constraints I promised the class I would give them some resources for further reading. Below you will find what I sent to my students.

latin-bible

Last night I promised that I would post something about the reliability of the canon and how/why it is authoritative. Below you will find a quote from Michael Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary & a NT Scholar, on the recognition of the the 27 NT texts as canon. Also, under the quote are some links to some web resources that address this question.

Our belief that we have the right 27 books is certainly founded on the fact that God providentially worked in the early church.  But, our answer to the question of how we know we have the right books can go further than just saying “God’s providence.”  I argue in Canon Revisited that God has provided a reliable means by which God’s people can recognize his books (through the help of the Holy Spirit).  Part of that means is the fact that God’s books bear divine qualities; they have attributes that reflect God’s power and character. Historically speaking, Christians have always believed there is something inherently different about these books due to the fact that they are inspired by God. We do not believe that they are just ordinary books that God simply chooses to use (a la Barth), but that they are qualitatively different–they are living and active, shaper than a double-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Heb 4:12).  For this reason, the Reformers believed that God’s people could rightly recognize these books and distinguish them from others.  Thus we could say, in a sense, that these books chose themselves. 

It may bother us to think that God trusted his church to simply “recognize” what was divinely inspired, after all isn’t that a bit risky? Doesn’t that make it possible that we would make some mistakes? But in another post Kruger makes a great point about this. He says:

Whenever someone shows angst over these early canonical disagreements, I often ask a simple question: “What did you expect the process would be like?” It is at this point, that people often realize they have an overly-pristine expectation about how God would deliver his books—an expectation that is entirely their own and not derived from Scripture or from history.

Anyway, here is a link to a series of posts by Kruger regarding the canon. He addresses topics like:

  1. Apocryphal Writings
  2. Canonical Lists which have 22 vs. 27 books
  3. Early Christian use of non-canonical writings
  4. Disagreement over certain canonical books
  5. The self-authenticating nature of Scripture

I hope this helps!

If you have any questions feel free to comment below.

 

Our belief that we have the right 27 books is certainly founded on the fact that God providentially worked in the early church.  But, our answer to the question of how we know we have the right books can go further than just saying “God’s providence.”  I argue in Canon Revisited that God has provided a reliable means by which God’s people can recognize his books (through the help of the Holy Spirit).  Part of that means is the fact that God’s books bear divine qualities; they have attributes that reflect God’s power and character. Historically speaking, Christians have always believed there is something inherently different about these books due to the fact that they are inspired by God. We do not believe that they are just ordinary books that God simply chooses to use (a la Barth), but that they are qualitatively different–they are living and active, shaper than a double-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Heb 4:12).  For this reason, the Reformers believed that God’s people could rightly recognize these books and distinguish them from others.  Thus we could say, in a sense, that these books chose themselves.  – See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/articles/can-the-new-testament-canon-be-defended-derek-thomas-interviews-michael-kruger.php#sthash.cq8bmTks.dpuf
Our belief that we have the right 27 books is certainly founded on the fact that God providentially worked in the early church.  But, our answer to the question of how we know we have the right books can go further than just saying “God’s providence.”  I argue in Canon Revisited that God has provided a reliable means by which God’s people can recognize his books (through the help of the Holy Spirit).  Part of that means is the fact that God’s books bear divine qualities; they have attributes that reflect God’s power and character. Historically speaking, Christians have always believed there is something inherently different about these books due to the fact that they are inspired by God. We do not believe that they are just ordinary books that God simply chooses to use (a la Barth), but that they are qualitatively different–they are living and active, shaper than a double-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Heb 4:12).  For this reason, the Reformers believed that God’s people could rightly recognize these books and distinguish them from others.  Thus we could say, in a sense, that these books chose themselves.  – See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/articles/can-the-new-testament-canon-be-defended-derek-thomas-interviews-michael-kruger.php#sthash.cq8bmTks.dpuf
Our belief that we have the right 27 books is certainly founded on the fact that God providentially worked in the early church.  But, our answer to the question of how we know we have the right books can go further than just saying “God’s providence.”  I argue in Canon Revisited that God has provided a reliable means by which God’s people can recognize his books (through the help of the Holy Spirit).  Part of that means is the fact that God’s books bear divine qualities; they have attributes that reflect God’s power and character. Historically speaking, Christians have always believed there is something inherently different about these books due to the fact that they are inspired by God. We do not believe that they are just ordinary books that God simply chooses to use (a la Barth), but that they are qualitatively different–they are living and active, shaper than a double-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Heb 4:12).  For this reason, the Reformers believed that God’s people could rightly recognize these books and distinguish them from others.  Thus we could say, in a sense, that these books chose themselves.  – See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/articles/can-the-new-testament-canon-be-defended-derek-thomas-interviews-michael-kruger.php#sthash.cq8bmTks.dpuf

Theology and the Mirror of Scripture

What is an “evangelical?” Is there even such a thing? If one were to look at the vast spectrum of people who call themselves evangelicals, one might be tempted to say that there isn’t. Yet somehow, this moniker can’t simply be shaken off. People keep on calling themselves (and other) evangelicals. It’s a sociological-theological-historical term that I believe should not be abandoned. Even though its definition as a sociological reality is being stretched beyond recognition, there is such a thing as being a “mere” evangelical. And whatever it means to be a “mere” evangelical is defined by God’s word and God’s act.9780830840762

In their most recent book, Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account, Kevin Vanhoozer and Treier (V&T) have attempted to give an account of what such a “mere evangelical” theology might be. By the looks of their endorsers on the back of the book it would seem as though they have given a satisfactory account.

According to V&T mere evangelical theology begins with theological ontology, specifically with the Trinitarian God of the gospel. It begins with the economic Trinity which mirrors the immanent Trinity. However this Trinitarian God who reveals himself in history is not know to us apart from Scripture. So V&T also argue that the biblical testimony yields knowledge of this Triune God because it mirrors who this God is. As V&T say, there is truth and authority in this mirror. Mere Evangelical theology is focused on the God of the Gospel and the Gospel of God. God himself is the light. Scripture is a mirror of that light. Tradition is a mirror who’s light is not from itself but is derivative from the light of God reflected through scripture.

The second part of this book relates V&T’s theological ontology and mirror metaphors to various theological practices – specifically the interpretation of scripture, the role of tradition, and the role of scholarship in the church.

What unites V&T’s proposal for mere evangelical theology is the metaphor of “mirror” which is scattered throughout the book. I believe this is a helpful metaphor which (at least for me) helped me make sense of the ontological priority of God in doing theology and the primacy of scripture. But where it made things most clear for me is in the role of tradition in doing theology. Calling tradition a mirror was a helpful move, for it emphasizes that it still reflects the true light, yet in some derivative way which is not foolproof from distortions.

V&T’s proposal for thinking of theology as a mirror of the God of the Gospel and the Gospel of God is a very useful metaphor, it even has implications for ecclesiology, for one might even say that the Church and local churches are also mirrors of the God of the Gospel/The Gospel of God.

Overall, I highly recommend this book by two able theologians who have devoted much work to theological prolegomena. It fits right alongside Swain and Allen’s Reformed Catholicity as a book which addresses how to be reformed and evangelical while doing theology within the context of “mere” Christianity.

(Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

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.

Martin Luther on Prayer & Meditation

I just finished Tim Keller’s new book on prayer. It is at one theological, practical, and pastoral. Overall it was a great book. However, there were a few chapters that really stuck out to me. One of those chapters was a chapter where Keller covers Augustine’s, Luther’s, and Calvin’s theology of prayer through the examination of letters that they wrote to laypeople on the nature of prayer.

Martin Luther

Keller tells the story of Luther’s barber, Peter Beskendorf, who asked Luther to give him a simple way to pray. Luther sent him a letter with “rich but practical set of guidelines for prayer.”

First, Luther suggests that one should pray twice a day. Once in the morning, before anything else is accomplished, and once at night. Morning and evening prayer is a discipline that must be cultivated whether we feel like praying or not.

Second, Luther suggests that we should “focus our thoughts and warm our affections for prayer.” In order to do this he suggest contemplation or meditation upon scripture. He advises Peter Beskendorf to begin his prayer by contemplating the word…

I want your heart to be stirred and guided…rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer.

After advising contemplation Luther describes how to do it. He says:

I divide each biblical command into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is I think of each commandment at first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second I turn into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

Keller says that “this turns every biblical text into ‘a school text, a song book, a penitential book, and a prayer book.”

Practically this means that first we must figure out what the text is saying. Second, we must ask how this text leads us to praise and thank God; third we ask God how this text leads us to repent of and confess sin; finally we ask God how this text prompts us to appeal to God in petition and supplication.

So the next time you do your “quiet time” try Luther’s Four – Text method! I would love to hear how it works out!

Christians Must be Readers & Writers

Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University and Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, begins each semester by exhorting her students to see the connections between the life of the intellect and the life of faith. She makes a sharp case for why Christians must be readers and writers.

Even in a world supposedly driven by pictures and sounds, books continue to be one of the most important ways we shape culture.  Here are three highlights from this article:

1) Christianity is a religion of the written word. Christianity gives a primary place to the word over the image: God’s highest form of communication with us is through the written word (from the Ten Commandments to Holy Scripture to Jesus as the Word); God cautions us about the power of visual images or “graven images” (see Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death), and the Protestant Reformation reinforced the primacy of words over images); Christianity is responsible for preserving and disseminating the written word and literacy throughout the world as the invention of the printing press was motivated by the desire of Christians to get the Bible into the hands of the people. The word both spoken and written is central to our faith in countless ways.

2) When we take delight in literary creations, we imitate God. God took delight in his creation in looking upon it and declaring that “it was good.” It is good to take pleasure and enjoyment in our good creations, including literary ones.

3) Literary Christians are better equipped to engage a postmodern culture. Postmodernism is characterized by an emphasis on language and “story”; for many today the aesthetic experience has replaced the religious experience. Christians who understand this can more effectively engage the current culture.

You can find the rest of the article here.

Models of the Church

Many years ago Avery Dulles wrote a classic book on ecclesiology titled – Models of the Church – in this book he outlines several key models that Protestants and Roman Catholics have used to explain the nature of the church. Dulles explains that the church has been understood as  an Institution, a Mystical Communion, a Sacrament, a Herald, a Servant, as well as a Community of Disciples. However the problem with some of these “models” is that they aren’t models or images that Scripture uses to describe the church. Yes there is some truth to these images, however they ignore the fact that God through Scripture intended us to use scriptural images as the primary images for our understanding of the Church. Among these images are “family,” “body,” and “Temple.”

In Scripture God reveals to us the nature of the church through images and models – these should also be our primary images and models for understanding the church…

Scripture clearly lays out some images and metaphors that shape our self-understanding of what it means to be church. We even have some helpful historical models (which by no means are on par with Scriptural models); for instance the church as a sacrament or as a suffering servant. However, a problem arises when we uncritically begin to appropriate modern day images and apply those to the church. Once we begin to indiscriminately apply from culture around us we begin to walk on thin ice – the problem is that these images carry a lot of baggage and they can (unconcsiously) twist and deform our scriptural understanding of what it means to be the church.

So what are these (unhelpful) models? Here are five models suggested by Michael Goheen

  1. The Church as a Corporation: Corporations have a bottom line (money) and they are ready to make use of any means which can help them efficiently achieve that bottom line. The danger with this model is when the church begins to value efficency and pragmatism over faithfulness.
  2. The Church as a Theater: Theaters are where people go to sit back and passively enjoy some sort of entertainment. The danger with this model is that people begin to come to “church” in order to be entertained once they stop being entertained they bail. This is so wrong on many levels – its consumeristic and it imagines church as simply a place one goes to.
  3. The Church as a Classroom: The Church exists to teach. What is wrong with this model? Well lets begin with the fact that western education tends to be reductionistic – western education doesn’t form the whole person, rather it simply focuses on helping people to have “correct beliefs” regardless of whether or not they actually live “correctly.” However, we shouldn’t bag on the teaching function of the church – the church certainly is a place for teaching, but it can’t be reduced to western models of teaching.
  4. The Church as a Motivational Seminar: Two Words – self help. Enough said…
  5. The Church as a Social Service Office: The government has social service offices – they provide welfare, take care of the weak, needy, and poor. These are all things that the church ought to be doing as well – Its part of loving the world! However the church is not simply an institution for providing social services, the church cannot simply preach a “social gospel” it must preach a holistic gospel. This means that the church will address these issues and help these people but within the context of Gospel announcement.

All of these models have certain elements of truth (some definitely more than others). However we must be careful about leaning too heavily on any of these models. God has given us models in Scripture to use – so those must be the primary models that shape our understanding of the nature of the church.