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John Calvin

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Book Review: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Psalms 73-150” edited by Herman J. Selderhuis

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a brief look at the commentary on Psalms 73-150.

The general introduction gives readers insight into the different schools of interpretation that developed  during the Reformation. The introduction to this Psalms, specific to this volume, provides readers with some background on understanding the context in which the Reformers wrote, along with some common themes. For example, the fact that the Psalms were effectively a prayerbook for the Hebrews lead to it being seen as a prayerbook for the church, from which the Reformers derived no small amount of theology. Selderhuis also comments on the anti-Semitic (he calls it anti-Judaic to try to avoid anachronisms associating it with more modern anti-Semitism) sentiment found in so many of the Reformers. He comments on the irony of the fact that so many Reformers loved the Hebrew language and interacted with various Jewish scholars to do their interpretation, but remained anti-Judaic in their comments and attitude. He also notes how the Reformers saw in the Psalms a model for how we Christians ought to rejoice, ask, and pray.

The selection of contributors for this volume is quite well done. It is particularly interesting to see the comments of Cardinal Cajetan (best known for his opposition for Luther) set alongside those of Martin Luther. Another comparison to make is between John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius.  Other, lesser known names, are just as interesting. Martin Bucer is one of the most well-known of these “less known” contributors, such as Wolfgang Musculus or the English Annotations. These diverse and broad perspectives allow for the occasional side-by-side look at opposing schools, along with giving readers insights into some of the figures of the Reformation they may not have encountered otherwise. Some of the contributors were unknown to me. There is, as with every volume, a useful set of brief (short to long paragraph-length) biographical sketches of each contributor to give some background.

Perhaps the most consistent theme in the Psalms with the Reformers is their reading of the Psalms as being about Christ. Time and again, various Reformers (but particularly Luther) assert that a certain Psalm just is about Christ. Other times, with imprecatory Psalms, for example, it is fascinating to see the divergence among the Reformers. Psalm 109 is a good example of this. Luther, for example, reads it as a warning against taking vengeance in one’s own hands. Johannes Althamer and Johann Rurer read it as a curse against heresy and factions–a clear reading of their own historical context into the Bible. Robert Bellarmine reads the Psalm straightforwardly as being about Christ being persecuted by Judas and the Jews, but here we don’t see Luther offering such a comment (though he may have–it may just not appear in this volume). Calvin sees it as an exhortation to believers to bring every care to God. Though most of these aren’t strictly contradictory, this shows how diverse the Reformers could be in reading a single Psalm. Moreover, it shows the general penchant for reading their own current events into Scripture (or vice versa) and for reading Christ into parts of Scripture.

Psalm 104 is another fascinating study, as it has led to different discussions in our own day, too. Modern readers sometimes turn to this passage to see what it may say about creation debates–something that doesn’t come up in the Reformation discussion of the same passage. A hotly disputed part in this Psalm (hotly disputed in an American evangelical context, anyway) is the meaning of the Behemoth, and here the only suggestion about that is that it was a large beast–possibly one generally unknown. This helps give modern readers some perspective, too. Like the Reformers, our own concerns about what the text should say can sometimes come into our readings of the texts. Reading commentaries from those who lived in different times can offer a corrective for that, letting us see how the issues we assume are central to the text were understood–or not–by others.

It may be a foregone conclusion to say this volume on Psalms 73-150 is essential for anyone interested in Reformation readings of Scripture. The Psalms are an area that the Reformers across the board focused on, and it gives critical perspective on how various Reformers read Scripture. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament XIII- Hebrews, James” edited by Ronald K. Rittgers

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a look at the Hebrews, James volume of this extensive series.

I was particularly excited to read and review this volume of the series, because Hebrews and James were especially controversial in the Reformation period. The editor of this volume, Ronald K. Rittgers, does an excellent job of both showing that controversy over these books while also bringing forward some unified themes of the Reformers in regards to them. As a Lutheran, I found the various quotes and notes from Luther and other early Lutherans (particularly Veit Dietrich) to be of great interest. Luther infamously called James an epistle of straw, and here we have his quote in its context. It seems clear that the notions of inerrancy of modern evangelicalism cannot easily be read back onto many of these Reformers. When you have one explicitly stating that James is “worthy of censure in some places” (Veit Dietrich), it is hard to say that the Reformers unanimously would have affirmed modern notions of biblical inerrancy. Reading what these reformers actually said about specific Christian doctrines may serve as a corrective to some clearly false statements.

Of course, reading these Reformers also means we get insight into the controversies of their time, and we see, for example, John Calvin hitting back at those “who do not think [James is] entitled to authority” because he sees “no just cause for rejecting it” (quoted p. 202). Other major controversies dealt with Christology, human and divine responsibility for evil, and works righteousness. These issues are presented with multiple Reformation perspectives given, making the volume an essential resource for those wishing to look more deeply into some major modern controversies as well. Other areas are less controversial, such as the teaching of the eternally begotten Son–an orthodox position unfortunately rejected by some today.

Both the general introduction and the Editor’s introduction to this volume were informative and well worth reading on their own. They each provided much-needed background for understanding some of the controversies, as well as the names, involved in the text.

Volume XIII of the New Testament series of Reformation Commentary on Scripture is a simply excellent resources for those interested in reading and understanding Scripture. Reformation thinkers share much wisdom and insight. The conflicts that happened then, in some ways, still impact us today. By reading these voices from the past we can begin to understand our present more fully. I highly recommend this volume.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Reformation Readings of Paul” edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh

rrp-allen-linebaughReformation Readings of Paul is a collection of essays that surveys how various Reformers read Paul. Each Reformer has a pair of essays dedicated to their thought on a specific aspect of the Pauline corpus. The first essay is generally focused on simply expositing what the Reformer thought, while the second essay is generally focused more upon the analysis of that Reformer’s thoughts on the letter(s) they were commenting upon. This gives a rather robust groundwork for further research as readers are exposed to a mass of commentary from the Reformers themselves alongside various works critiquing or expounding on that same body of work.

The Reformers and books covered are Martin Luther (Galatians), Philipp Melanchthon (Romans), Martin Bucer (Ephesians), John Calvin (1 & 2 Corinthians), and Thomas Cranmer (Letters). The selections were well-chosen, for they pair theologians either with books for which they are particularly well known (Luther and Galatians), or help draw out lesser-known insights (Calvin and Corinthians). I was particularly pleased to see Melanchthon among the choices, as he is often, it seems, overlooked in favor of others like Zwingli.

The essays are each of great value, even for those who may disagree with the theological conclusions of the specific Reformers. The reason is because these are not merely reporting what the Reformer believed, but also subjecting them to a fresh look, analyzing the Reformers’ readings of Paul with the very latest theological resources, whether this comes from updated (and more accurate) Greek texts or from the specific insights into the historical-cultural background of the texts themselves. Each essay calls on the readers to not only think about how that specific Reformer read Paul, but also to think about how they themselves have read (and possibly misread) Paul. They call to readers to be aware not just of the Reformers’ cultural blinders, but also of our own–the ways that we have simply assumed meanings within the text which may not be there.

Another great value of the work is that it critically interacts with the Reformers’ readings. These are not (merely) criticism, but they also show how modern scholars have sometimes ignored the genuine insight these Reformers can provide into the text. The essays on Bucer were particularly excellent in this regard. The application of critique is not, however, danced around. Corrections are made where necessary, and, as David Fink notes in his essay on Luther (see my Sunday Quote on this), the Reformers themselves would have endorsed such correction.

The main downside to the book, in my opinion, is that because two essays are dedicated to each Reformer, fewer Reformers are put forward. Those included make quite a bit of sense, but it would have been nice to be able to access an even wider swath of Reformation Readings of Paul. Regular readers of my blog know that I am a Christian feminist, and I can’t help but wonder whether at least one female author could have been found to contribute to this work. It’s not a substantive critique, but it would be nice to give ear to a broader range of voices in a collection like this.

It is rare to find collections of essays in which not a single one seems off beat, but Reformation Readings of Paul is such a collection. Each essay has much of value, and readers of all levels of familiarity with the Reformers will benefit. It is highly recommended.

The Good

+Representative looks at some major figures of the Reformation
+Challenges readers to understand their own biases
+Interacts with most current scholarship
+Applies modern insights to the Reformers, and vice versa
+Consistently excellent essays

The Bad

-Could have used wider selection of Reformers
-Little background given to each individual Reformer

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this work. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh, editors, Reformation Readings of Paul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her”

hs-gibsonFrom Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective is an extremely in-depth look at the doctrine of “definite atonement” (more commonly known as “limited atonement.” The editors define the doctrine in the introduction: “The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. The death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone” (Kindle location 463).

Due to the length of this book, I will split my review into broad comments on positives and negatives of the book, with a few specifics. It should be noted I didn’t simply reduce the positives to areas I agreed or negatives to disagreements. Rather, I have tried to be as fair as possible and show several areas of interest for this uniquely important work. I look forward to any comments you’d drop off with your own thoughts.

Positives

The most obvious positive of the book is its magisterial scope. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is a simply huge study which touches upon multiple avenues of research related to the topic of definite atonement. The book touches upon almost every conceivable aspect of the doctrine of limited atonement, from church history to biblical theology to pastoral implications and evangelism. As Daniel Strange comments in the chapter on “The ‘Uncomfortability’ of the ‘Unevangelized’ for a Universal Atonement”: “No doctrine is an island” (Kindle location 14696).

The portions of the book which deal with specific authors are extremely interesting. The chapter on Calvin, for example, shows (in my mind) beyond a reasonable doubt that Calvin–at the least–would have found definite atonement a logical path for his theology to take. The chapter on “Blaming Beza” highlights some interesting aspects of the development of the doctrine which were fascinating.

Many chapters could be held up as “highlights,” but I particularly would say that Strange’s aforementioned chapter, which provides an argument that any view which holds that at least some are not saved is a form of limited atonement was a major highlight of the book. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Strange, his argument forces those who disagree with him to contend with it. Other major highlights are the chapters on Calvin by Paul Helm (an author whose previous work I have enjoyed), the chapter on John Owen (which highlights some aspects of Owen’s teaching I found particularly interesting), and the chapter on “The Triune God” and definite atonement by Robert Letham.

To say that these are “highlights” is to do injustice to the work as a whole, however, which simply provides a comprehensive argument for definite atonement. Even as one who does not hold to the doctrine, I was impressed by the incredible scope of the work and very interested in the historical development of the doctrine as it was highlighted therein. This book is a good read, even if you ultimately disagree with its conclusions. And, if you do disagree, you will be forced to think long and hard about your disagreement.

Negatives

Perhaps the biggest issue is that at multiple points, conclusions drawn from evidence seems overstated. One example, drawn from the chapter on Definite Atonement in Church History, states that Justin Martyr fairly clearly held to definite atonement. Now, I’m not claiming to be a patristic scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me the passages cited are hardly a resounding endorsement of definite atonement. Indeed, Martyr said that “[Christ] was going to endure, cleansing through his blood those who believed in him” (Kindle Location 1088). I’m not at all sure why this would be taken as evidence for definite atonement, because apart from universalists, anyone who believes Christ died for the salvation of humanity would also hold that Christ’s death ultimately cleanses the elect; those who believe. None who disbelieve are ultimately cleansed, for the application of Christ’s atonement was not brought about. Now the point is not to demonstrate this latter view is correct; my point is merely that the conclusion drawn here is actually overstated.

Going with the same section, one could just as easily take the passage cited from Martyr about how Christ “ransomed” us as allegedly pointing to the ransom theory of atonement. The problem is this latter case would also be a clear overstatement. Only by starting with a paradigm and reading Martyr through that lens does the alleged evidence turn out to support that conclusion.

Another example comes from the chapter on “Problematic Texts” by Thomas Schreiner. There, in dealing with 1 Timothy 2:1-7, he states “The immediate [contextual] reference to ‘kings and all who are in high positions’ (v. 2) suggests that various classes of people are in view” (Kindle location 9564). For support, he cites further context and a commentary. However, on face value alone, if 1 Timothy 2:2 is indeed that which limits the scope of the passage, one would have to wonder how “kings and… high positions” could be comprehensive in the way required by “all.” I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I by no means rank among kings or those in high places, but I do think that I am part of “all” or at least “various classes of people…” Moreover, Schreiner seems to think that v. 2 is the limiting factor, but the flow of the passage seems to fit more with the notion that all people includes those who are kings and those in high places and that Paul is simply emphasizing the latter group as particularly worth praying for (after all, leaders are those most in need of God’s guiding hand). Schreiner goes on to argue based upon this that the best reading is, again, “all kinds of people” not merely “all people.”

Apart from the fact that Paul could have simply said “all kinds of people” to make it clear that that were his intended meaning, the text itself again goes against Schreiner’s view, because its context is not “all kinds” but rather “kings” or “those in high places…” In any case, I would think this passage would lead to caution about the conclusion, not the absolute conclusion given later: “[T]he pastorals… focus on salvation being accomplished for all without distinction, both Jews and Gentiles…” (Kindle location 9989).

Unfortunately, examples like this may be easily multiplied. Throughout the book, conclusions seem to be drawn prior to the evidence, and so evidence is made to neatly fit with the conclusion. Conclusions often seem to be overstated throughout, without much caution for some of the more difficult passages or acknowledgement that there is diversity among even those who hold to definite atonement on the interpretation of various biblical passages or authors.

Conclusion

Looking back over the review, I can’t help but think that it is inadequate. The scope of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is so massive that it simply cannot be adequately covered in a review of readable length. Anyone who wishes to deny the doctrine of definite atonement must contend with this work and engage with it critically. Those who hold to definite atonement will find their view ably defended. As a reader, I was challenged as much as I was engaged. I recommend the book highly for those interested in this doctrine, though I do wish there were perhaps some more acknowledgement of the real difficulties on various points.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

David Gibson and Jonathan  Gibson, eds., From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology- Reformation Review

The Reformation has had a lasting impact upon our lives. You may not realize it, but from the economy to politics, from theology to family life, the debates of the Reformation resonate through to today. Here, we will investigate in very broad strokes the influence the Reformation continues to have on our daily lives.

Family

The Reformation period led to a development of thought about the family. Praise of the family over and against celibacy was ubiquitous throughout the Reformation thinkers (Diamard MacCulloch, The Reformation, 647ff). Erasmus was one of those spearheading this critique. Along with this notion of the importance of the family, the notion that marriage was sacred was reaffirmed. Although not a sacrament according to Protestant thought, marriage was still a sacred institution created by God (Ibid, 648).

The Reformation’s thought on marriage was largely patriarchal. Men were the heads of the family both spiritually and in society. This was less a development of the Reformation as it was a continuation of the view of marriage in contemporary cultural thought. Interestingly, Protestantism led to a relaxation of two aspects of marriage. First, the clergy was allowed to marry; second, divorce was legally established in many Reformation contexts (MacCulloch, 660). By allowing for divorce, the Reformers undercut the notion of marriage as a sacrament (as above), but they also helped draw a distinction between the moral law of the Bible and the law of the land. Whether this was for better or worse, one may debate.

Economy

Capitalism had already begun before the European Reformations, having its renewal start in Italian city states in the 12th Century (for a detailed and extremely interesting discussion of this, see Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason71ff). The Reformation, however, provided a place for capitalism to flourish. John Calvin’s thought touched upon nearly every contemporary problem, and one of these was usury (money lending at interest). Focusing upon the cultural context of the prohibition of usury in the Hebrew Scriptures, Calvin argued that his contemporary cultural context provided a way for usury to work without being necessarily wrong. Lending money in such a fashion was essential for the later development of capitalism (Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 259-260).

The Reformation also paved the way for a “Protestant Work Ethic.” Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” demolished the hard distinction between the “temporal” and “spiritual” realm which dominated the thought of the church at the time. By breaking down this barrier, hard labor was elevated. It was no longer seen as an inferior life to that of monastic withdrawal; rather, any type of work could be pleasing to God (McGrath, 256-258). In contemporary churches, one can often hear about how the engineer, the retail worker, the auto worker, and the like should all utilize their skills to the glory of God. Such thinking came directly from the Reformation.

Theology

Clearly, the most pervasive influence of the Reformation has been upon theology. I have already written on a number of these aspects. The Reformation thought necessarily reflected upon the church. How do we define the church, and who belongs in the church? These questions drove the Reformers to a number of views on the role of the church universal. I discuss these at length in my post on the Church Universal. Central to the Reformation was the notion of sola scriptura. However, it quickly became apparent that without any specific way to interpret Scripture, radical individualism would follow. I’ve written on the Reformers views on these topics and the continuing debate today in my post on Sola Scriptura. To try to list all the areas of theology that the Reformation touched upon would be impossible for a post of this size, so suffice to say I will be discussing these more in the future.

Other Aspects

Diarmard MacCulloch, in his magisterial study of the Reformation, aptly named The Reformation, notes a number of other aspects of contemporary society that remain influenced by the Reformation. Briefly, these include aspects of life like dying (ha!), discipline, manners, love and sex, and religious diversity. In short, no aspect of society remains untouched by the Reformation.

Counter Reformation

It would be remiss of me to write this without noting that one of the huge continuing influences of the Reformation was the Roman Catholic counter-reformation. The Reformation did not go by unnoticed by Roman Catholics, by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, the Catholic Church reacted against the Reformation and, in part, did so by incorporating many aspects of the Reformation.

Interestingly, some of the debates that played out within Protestantism were mirrored within the Roman Catholic Church. For example, a debate similar to the Calvinist-Arminian arguments became pervasive in Banezian and Molinist schools of thought. It is intriguing to note, however, that the Catholics largely allowed these debates to remain internal without dividing. The Catholic Church, it seems favored doctrinal humility over unity on a number of levels (for a discussion of doctrinal humility/unity, check out my post on the Church).

That is not to say, however, that the Roman Catholics were eager to affirm every aspect of the Reformer’s theology. Part of the counter-reformation included the Inquisition and the formation of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus to counter what he saw not as doctrinal aberration but lives that were not conformed to the moral standards of the church (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations333ff).

Finally, it could easily be argued that the modern innovation of Vatican II has its roots within the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The changes brought about by Vatican II reflect a development of thought that has occurred since the Reformation on many of the issues brought up by the Reformers.

Conclusion

The Reformation’s influence on today’s society is pervasive. Our thinking on family, economy, working, theology, sex and sexuality, and more are all reflections of the influence of Reformation thought. In many ways, these aspects of our lives are just further reforms on the thoughts of the Reformers. The aspects in which we have changed dramatically since the Reformation, it could be argued, are areas in which the Reformation laid the groundwork for exploration. Our thoughts are Reformation thoughts. Our debates are Reformation debates. Our God is the Reformation’s God.

Regardless of your own feelings on the Reformation, these comments are undeniable. The way you think is largely formed by the debates that happened during the Reformation. Your freedom of expression was opened by Reformation developments on the value of every human being. Investigating the Reformation is a worthy endeavor because it opens up new avenues for exploration of our own era.

Links

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

Sources

Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (New York: Random House, 2005).

Thanks

Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Reformation Review: A look at the origins of the European Reformations

The Reformation [I am going to use the term “Reformation” to refer to the European Reformations and the Roman Catholic counter-Reformation] is a period of extreme importance for those who seek to understand Christian theology. Many of the debates that are happening now can trace their roots to this period of history.

One of the most important aspects to understanding the Reformation–and, by extension, much of the development of theology after the Reformation–involves looking into the origins of the movements. How is it that the Reformation started? What brought about the notion that it was necessary to reform the Church?

In his Reformation Thought: An IntroductionAlister McGrath notes a number of aspects that are important for understanding Reformation thought. First, and perhaps most importantly, one must not limit reflection on the origins of the Reformation to any one cause. There were a diversity of social and theological causes which spurred the Reformation.

Social Factors in the Reformation

The organization of cities was one factor that led to the success of the reformation. McGrath notes that individual cities during this period had come to regard itself as a kind of individual state. However, due to the failures of many of these cities to provide for their citizens and their growth over time, there were calls for a broader and representative government (McGrath, 16, cited below).

Cities had become centers of power and experienced “remarkable growth” due to the various agrarian crises and plagues that had taken place in earlier years (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 24ff, cited below).

Furthermore, the control of the city council over the general practices and laws of the cities often led to a “symbiotic relationship” between a reformer and the city council. “The reformer, by presenting a coherent vision of the Christian gospel and its implications for the religious, social, and political structures and practices of a city, was able to prevent a potentially revolutionary situation from degenerating into chaos” (McGrath, 19).

Some reformers were very tied to the social aspects of the reformation. For these reformers, “the Reformation involved the identification of ‘citizen’ with ‘Christian’… Thus Zwingli laid great emphasis upon the need to reform and redeem a community, whereas Luther tended to concentrate upon the need to reform and redeem the individual” (McGrath, 20).

Doctrinal and Moral Concerns and the Reformation

One of the primary concerns of the reformers was that the Church could “best be reformed and renewed by returning to the beliefs and practices of the early church” (McGrath, 20). The reformers observed many problems with the Church of their time and felt  that it was important to return to the “golden age” of Christianity, which they interpreted largely as the patristic period.

There had been a growth in popular religion which was largely disconnected from that of the Church. “Folk religion” focused upon the “needs of rural communities–such as haymaking and harvesting” (McGrath, 24). A lack of confidence in the pope and the clerical system contributed to the need for reform. Furthermore, the laity was becoming more educated, which led to a problem for the Church. Due to the Roman Catholic church’s system at the time in which positions of authority would be given often to the highest bidder, there were many in the Church who never visited their parishes or had little interest in or understanding of that which they were supposed to preach. The educated laity became increasingly aware of the many errors even parish preachers would make in their renditions of the Latin in the Mass (some of these priests had merely memorized the service without understanding it themselves!) (24ff).

Furthermore, throughout the Scholastic era, the Church had tolerated a kind of doctrinal pluralism. The Church recognized the need for allowing the academics to debate various issues, but this led to a serious question: “[W]hich of these schools of thought [theological schools of thought like Thomism or Scotists] was right?” (McGrath, 28). Yet the Church had suffered from a kind of schizophrenia about centralized authority. Was the authority in the Church found in Councils or in the Pope (Lindberg, 44ff)? Questions like these led to the need for reform. The reformers focused on who had the right to decide doctrine and the need for God’s word in the vernacular of the populace.

Two Primary Movers

There were two primary focuses for the individual reformers: the moral sphere and the doctrinal sphere. While it is necessary to avoid drawing a false either-or dichotomy between these, it is equally important to note that the various reformers focused largely one way or the other. Broadly speaking, several reformers in the Wittenburg/Swiss tradition focused upon the need to reform the very teachings and doctrines of the church, while those in the humanist (not to be confused with modern notions of humanism as atheism, but rather as a system of thought and practice) tradition focused upon the need to reform the moral practice of the church.

Again, neither of these should be seen as exclusive of the other. Moral reform often involved doctrinal reform and vice versa. What must be emphasized, however, is that the reformers differed at points on whether it was more important to have right belief or right practice. Surely both thought both were necessary, but the question was how to integrate these into the Church and furthermore which should come first as important. Such differing emphases can be observed, for example, in the doctrine of Scripture. The humanistic reformers tended to see the Bible as a guide for morals, while the Wittenberg and Swiss reformers tended to see it as a “record of God’s gracious promises of salvation to those who believed” (see discussion in McGrath, 55-57).

More to Come! 

Thus, the stage was set for reform of the church. Societal and doctrinal pressures were in place that would lead to the need for reflection on the spheres of belief and practice. The debates that raged through the reformation continue to rage today.

Throughout October and into the next few months (and perhaps beyond, depending on the feedback/readership I get here), I will be exploring various aspects of the Reformation. I will look at some important thinkers of the Reformation period and will also focus on some modern theology which can trace its roots back to the reformation. Why October [and beyond]? Well, Reformation Day is October 31st! Be ready to learn with me, and please ask questions and leave some comments!

Alister McGrath’s book was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

Links

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review– I investigate the notion of “sola scriptura” and its different applications in interpreting Scripture. I particularly emphasize the problem of doctrinal unity and the various ways church bodies have dealt with these difficulties from the Reformation into today.

Sources

Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Denial of Theological Determinism

It was not too long ago that I read a book by John Frame, a respected Calvinist theologian, entitled No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. In my review of that book, I wrote, “Interestingly, while I went in reading this book looking for some good arguments against Open Theism, I came out with the realization that theological determinism is a far more dangerous doctrine indeed.” It is time to address theological determinism more fully.

The Debate

There are many sides to the debate over the content of and/or level of determination entailed by of God’s omniscience. Briefly, I will summarize what I see as the four major positions:

  1. Open Theism- Open Theists hold that the future is, in some sense, “open” to the extent that even God doesn’t know for sure what will happen. God knows everything that might happen, and so can plan for every contingency.
  2. Theological Determinism- Essentially, the view that God, in His sovereignty, has determined everything which will happen. It is generally paired with compatibilism, the view that, despite God’s determining of creaturely action, those creatures are still responsible for their behavior.
  3. Molinism- The “middle knowledge” perspective holds that God knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom–God knows what anyone will do in any situation–and so comprehensively knows the future. However, molinists hold that God does not determine what will happen, He merely foreknows it.
  4. “Bare Omniscience”- Those who hold this view basically fall into a combination of the previous three categories–mixing and matching as they will.

The Biblical Evidence

I’m only briefly going to operate under a claim which I’m sure will be quite contentious for all involved, so I will qualify it heavily:

P1: The Biblical data about God’s omniscience lacks the philosophical development to settle the issue. 

Now, this claim is very qualified: essentially I’m claiming that any one of the four positions discussed only briefly above can claim some kind of Biblical justification. Do I personally think they are all equal? Not at all, actually. But I do think that each position can put forth at least a few passages to try to justify their position. Thus, my suggestion is that the issue needs to be settled philosophically, not exegetically.

Some may latch onto this claim and rejoice, arguing that “J.W. has clearly rejected the Bible! [insert series of Bible verses]!” Such a strategy is wrongheaded for a number of reasons, foremost among them is the forcing of [cited verses] into a preconceived philosophical paradigm. I’m not arguing that the Bible cannot or does not reveal philosophical development. Rather, my argument is that on this issue, the Bible does not present a specific picture. Certainly, there are those who will disagree and say, “Well J.W. is just wrong! The Bible clearly states [favored position]!” It is not here my purpose to enter into a proof-text vs. proof-text argument. Rather, I wish to argue that determinism cannot be true and therefore one of the other positions must be the case. Given that most theologians grant there at least a few verses to support any of the previous positions, I think this is a safe qualification.

Against Determinism

I have argued extensively elsewhere for molinism and against open theism, and it is high time I turn my sights against determinism. I feel that theological determinism is, at best, philosophically untenable. At worst, it is incoherent. I shall put forth three theses to press my claim:

P2: Theological determinism’s only way to preserve creaturely responsibility (and thus save God from responsibility for causing evil) is compatibilism, which is incoherent.

Compatibilism, essentially, is the claim that God determines all things, and people are responsible for their actions.

I confess that, on the face of it, I struggle to understand compatibilism of any sort. But rather than giving in to a lack of imagination, I will seek to understand how theological determinists present compatiblism. Paul Helm, a Calvinist philosopher for whom I have great respect, writes “…God, though responsible, is not to blame for bringing about an evil act on the part of a human being if he has good reason for bringing such an act about, which he must have” (Helm, 164, cited below). Helm argues that God is the sufficient cause for all actions, but not the necessary cause of them. Because of this, Helm holds that “God may be ‘responsible’ for evil in some sense, but this does not mean that he is morally culpable” (Ibid, 164).

Again, I don’t see any way for this to work. First, if God really is the sufficient cause for evils, then it is extremely difficult to see how God would not be culpable. Sufficient causation implies exactly what it seems to: that God’s action alone is sufficient to bring about the evil. Yet Helm seems to think that because he holds that God is not a necessary condition for the evil actions, this removes God from responsibility.

Again, this seems to be exactly backwards, for at least a couple reasons. If God is the sufficient cause of all things, then that means that for any evil I can imagine (let’s say the Holocaust), one need only to refer to God to reveal its cause. Now Helm would hold that humans are the necessary conditions for this evil to occur. In other words, while God may have determined it to be such that the Holocaust would occur, it would not have occurred had there not been creatures to bring it about. But if this is the case, then it seems God is indeed squarely to blame for such evils because, after all, God is not only the sufficient cause of the events, but He also created the necessary conditions and set them up in such a way that these events would occur.

Other theological determinists take two supposedly different approaches to the problem. Some argue that because of total depravity, human wills are in fact free. In other words, humans are incapable of choosing good, but that does not mean they are not free or responsible because they continue to freely choose evil. This tactic does not seem to work, however, because theological determinists must also hold that God made humans in such a way that they would not desire good. In other words, God made these people totally depraved to begin with. Thus, those who disagree with determinists could counter by once more asking, “But isn’t God responsible for causing humans to only be free to choose evil anyway?”

The other tactic is to argue that while God is cause of all things, people themselves are the secondary cause. So while God might sustain my existence and even determine that I should do evil, it is I who do evil, not God. I am a creature, and I bring about the evil. God and I are separate entities, so it follows (on this view) that God is not the cause of evil. Now this view is really no different from Helm’s view explained above, but with less philosophical terminology. The problems with it are the same. Suppose we grant that it is the secondary causes, not God, which bring about evil. Whence these secondary causes? Why do these secondary causes act as they do? According to theological determinism, God created, ordained, and sustains these secondary causes. When a being brings about evil, that being acts secondarily–they are not themselves God. But God ordained and caused the world to be such that theses secondary causes would act in exactly the way in which they do. The secondary causes themselves are caused to act by God. So we have only pushed the problem back one step. Why would God cause secondary causes to do evil? It seems God would certainly be culpable for such evils.

Finally, a brief survey of those theological determinists who take the determinism seriously seems to confirm that God is the cause of evil. John Frame, for example, writes:

“The uniform witness of Scripture is that the evils of this life come from God” (Frame, cited below, 140).

“…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (68).

John Calvin himself wrote, in the Institutes:

When, therefore, they perish in their corruption, they but pay the penalties of that misery in which ADAM FELL BY THE PRDESTINATION OF GOD , and dragged his posterity headlong after him. Is he not, then, unjust who so cruelly deludes his creatures? Of course, I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, all of Adam’s children have fallen BY GODS WILL. And this is what I said to begin with, that we must always at last return to the sole decision of God’s will, the cause of which is hidden in him.

It seems, therefore, that theological determinists, when consistent, acknowledge that God causes evil, and indeed wills it. The main reason given is some kind of mystery or hiddenness. I conclude this section with the observation that, despite attempts to the contrary, theological determinism must hold that God causes evil.

P3: Theological determinism is not a “lived” philosophy.

One of the tests for a philosophy–and I should think a theology in particular–is whether it is livable. If something is true, it should reflect reality. Theological determinism holds that every action I take is determined by God. I have found that in practice, I have not yet run into any theological determinist who agrees that they live as though their lives are determined. When bad things happen to them, they are distressed; when relatives are in danger, they pray for the danger to pass without harm; etc. Yet if theological determinism is true, none of these things would matter–all things are determined already. Even were one to pray, that prayer itself would have been determined, along with the outcome. Therefore, theological determinism seems to be unlivable.

P4: If theological determinism is true, I cannot know that it is true. It is therefore self-refuting.

Finally, even if none of the above arguments seem convincing, P4, at least, seems devastating to theological determinism. The argument itself is remarkably simple:

1) If I am determined by non-rational factors to have belief x, then I cannot rationally hold x.

2) On theological determinism, I am determined by non-rational factors to have any given belief.

3) Therefore, on theological determinism, I cannot rationally hold any given belief.

4) Therefore, if theological determinism is true, then I cannot rationally hold that theological determinism is true.

It seems to me that this argument is quite powerful. If theological determinism is true, then my beliefs are determined by God. That includes the belief I currently have that theological determinism is false. However, suppose I believed theological determinism were true. In that case, I have been determined by God to believe theological determinism is true. In fact, my act of deliberating and coming to believe that determinism is true would, itself, be determined. Thus, I cannot rationally hold theological determinism to be true (this argument can be attributed to a podcast from William Lane Craig, though I can’t track down the reference).

Given these reasons, it seems that there are some quite sound objections to theological determinism. Given that there are other positions with at least some Biblical support, it seems theological determinism should be abandoned. The position makes God the author of sin (contrary to the objections of its supporters), it is unlivable, and it is incoherent.

Sources

Paul Helm, Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (New York, NY: Oxford, 2010), 2nd edition.

John Frame,No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caen_palaisdejustice_peristyle.jpg

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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