soteriology

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Book Review: “Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology” by Samantha L. Miller

Chrysostom is best known for being “golden-mouthed” due to his eloquence of preaching. Samantha L. Miller examines Chrysostom’s theology in Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology with a particular eye towards his anthropology and demonology. 

The book is divided into 5 chapters that take a deep look at the context and content of Chrysostom’s theology. The first chapter broadly covers “Jewish, Pagan, and Christian Demonology Before Chrysostom,” as the chapter is entitled. It’s a fascinating chapter that gives readers insight into aspects of the early Christian world that aren’t often discussed, so far as this reader has seen. For example, the concept of Jews as having a reputation of being magicians in their world due to the various ritual objects and practices, such as incantations, being fairly common (17). This was, in part, because Jews, as Christians and even many Pagans, were concerned about the impact demons could have on their everyday life, as well as major events (16). Included in this chapter is a section on Pagan demonologies which shows that “at a popular level, Christians  thought about demons much the same was their Jewish and pagan neighbors did” (22). Origen features prominently in theology that influenced Chrysostom, and Origen’s catalogue of demonic activities showed that he did not believe demons could force human beings to sin; merely tempt them (25). This would be part of Chrysostom’s own teaching on demons as well, leading Chrysostom to an emphasis on virtue and resisting temptation that can, in part, be traced to this aspect of demonology. 

The next chapter outlines Chrysostom’s own demonology, which was, as noted above, deeply influenced by his context. But that’s not to say he was entirely dependent upon his context, either. Miller notes that Chrysostom rejected many of the fears of others in his world, arguing (as did Origen) that while demons can tempt Christians, they cannot force them into sin. Additionally, Chrysostom’s concern was deeply pastoral and apologetic in its focus. Reading Job, for example, Chrysostom both argued that some suffering being caused is not necessarily evil, but that it is clear that the harm Job suffers comes from Satan (47-48). Chrysostom argued that people must “understand… events correctly” in order to rightly understand the world. Rather than consigning suffering to fate, one must see the various possibilities within different forms of suffering for good. But one must never dismiss true evil as something which is not evil (48). Of course, being golden-mouthed, Chrysostom wrote far more eloquently than this reader in the summary. Miller balances outlining Chrysostom’s views with lengthy quotes to give readers direct insight into his meaning as well as his style. Chrysostom, moreover, went against prevailing opinion of his time regarding demonology by noting that in Job, the devil is only able to cause harm with the permission of God. Thus, the devil is almost actually “useful” in the book of Job because the devil encourages people to be vigilant and resist evil (49-50). Miller also outlines the origin of demons, their nature, their activity, and more related to Chrysostom’s view in this chapter.

Miller then turns to virtue and the Greco-Roman concept of Proairesis, which occupies much of the final three chapters as virtue is highly important to Chrysostom’s anthropology and soteriology. Chrysostom was deeply influenced by and conversant with Greek philosophers, but at important points broke with philosophers like Plato (for example, on the immortality of the soul, p. 84). Chrysostom was also comfortable picking and choosing from the varoius philosophical schools, moving between Stoicism and Platonism on issues like the nature of the soul, while also drawing from Aristotle and Epictetus for other aspects of his philosophy. Central to Chrysostom’s view of virtue was the notion that the agent is autonomous and able to truly choose between good and evil (91, 93, 97ff). Proairesis- a Greek term that is “the locus of moral responsibility” is “that which makes both praise and blame possible” (98). Chrysostom believed this was absolutely necessary to virtue, and encouraged Christians to actively choose that which is good and resist the temptations of the devil. Chrysostom exhorted catechumens and the baptized to “live… angelic life” and choose that which is right, resisting demons and temptation (109). This was something Chrysostom clearly taught that believers were capable of doing, and that they ought to continue in virtue their whole lives. Modern debates may read various positions back onto Chrysostom, but contextually the pastoral importance of what he said was potentially life-changing and freeing. Chrysostom’s noted the body was created by God, and so could be virtuous, thus refuting the notion “that the body is inherently evil” (111). His theology countered the fears and addressed the concerns of Christians in his own time and place, which made it deeply important while also being contextual. 

Christ’s importance for Chrysostom is in salvation, yes, but also in the “possibility of Christian virtue” which “is a result of Christ’s prior work on behalf of human beings” (153). Divine-human cooperation loomed large in Chrysostom’s soteriology, such that Miller analyzes different strands of scholarship that studies Chrysostom to show scholars both affirming Chrysostom as being synergistic and arguing against the notion (see esp. 153ff). Miller argues that using “synergistic” to describe Chrysostom’s theology is “a misleading term” because Chrysostom himself saw it as flowing one direction–God’s assistance to humans in the process, not humans assisting God in salvation (155-156). 

 Miller’s lucid accounts of Chrysostom’s world and view of soteriology which closely tied into his notions of virtue is a must-read for those interested in Patristic studies. Chrysostom’s reputation as “golden-mouthed” is often the only thing many know about him, if anything. Chrysostom’s Devil shows that he was a deep thinker with a strong pastoral care for the people to whom he preached. It’s full of insights for those interested in the topic. Highly recommended.

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: “The Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy” by James R. Payton, Jr.

Eastern Othodoxy is often an almost impenetrable system of thought for Christians of different theological persuasions. James R. Payton, Jr.’s The Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy seeks to dispel some of that confusion by focusing closely on a specific theological question–salvation–and explaining it from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.

James R. Payton, Jr. comes at these controversial questions from the perspective of an evangelical with a deep understanding of the Orthodox faith. He explores some of the major themes in Eastern Orthodoxy related to salvation and brings light to them for those who might not have any real understanding of how Orthodoxy views certain topics. After a brief introduction, Payton sets the stage with a discussion of the cross, then walks readers through what might be a somewhat familiar path of going from a chapter on the need for salvation (also viewed in Orthodoxy as universal, though their view of original sin is less a culpable sin than a tendency towards sin) and moving into the focus on the savior, Christ. The way God saved humanity is one that is debated in non-Eastern circles as well, and here Payton focuses largely on the awe that the salvation brought with Christ inspires. One of the most controversial–perhaps only for its strangeness to non-Orthodox ears–aspects of Orthodox theology related to salvation is deification. An entire chapter is dedicated to that concept, along with a following chapter on “becoming like God” on the path to salvation.

Payton does an excellent job of grounding Eastern Orthodox beliefs in its practice and highlighting how much Orthodoxy draws from Church Fathers as well as orthopraxy. What is so often lost in many forms of Christianity today is the practice of lived faith. There’s a sense of “Yeah, I’m saved, and I read my Bible and go to church, and that’s it.” But Eastern Orthodoxy’s view of salvation does not allow such a surface level faith, at least not when done rightly. Instead, it demands a whole life committed to Christ and infused with the divine in contemplation and, indeed, in one’s own life. Payton’s work helps explain those aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy which may be strange to those who haven’t encountered it before while also ably highlighting the depth of the practice of faith and a life focused on the sign of the Cross.

The Victory of the Cross is a fascinating, adept introduction to the nature of salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy. It will serve readers not only as a way to springboard discussions into Eastern Orthodoxy, but also as a path to coming to a better understanding of the richness of the Christian tradition worldwide.

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: “Understanding End Times Prophecy” by Paul Benware

uep-benwareUnderstanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware certainly deserves its subtitle: “A Comprehensive Approach.” Benware presents a lengthy tome defending his position, dispensational premillenialism (more on that soon), while also outlining and critiquing many other views on various eschatological concepts.

Wait, What?

Yes, I just used the words dispensational premillenialism together in a sentence as though it made sense. It does. That is one of the many views Benware surveys in the book. Before reading Understanding End Times Prophecy (hereafter UEP), I admit I could not have distinguished a dispensational premillenialist from an amillenialist. Nor could I have identified a pre-wrath view in contrast with a post-wrath view. Benware’s book touches all of these and more, explaining the various positions out there on the various eschatological themes while also providing a thorough critique of those with which he disagrees.

Outline of Contents

Benware starts by outlining some principles for interpreting Biblical prophecy. Primary among these is the notion that prophetic passages must be interpreted literally. Benware explains: “Literal interpretation assumes that… [God] based His revelatory communication on the normal rules of human communication. Literal interpretation understands that in normal communication and in the Scriptures figures of speech are valuable as communication devices…” and it is therefore “not… a rigid ‘letterism’ or ‘mechanical understanding of the language’ that ignores symbols and figures” (23-24).

UEP then outlines a broad understanding of Biblical covenants, noting that the covenant God made with Abraham was unconditional, and so must be fulfilled.Next, Benware turns to a number of passages which outline the Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants. These he discusses in the context of promises God makes to Israel which must be fulfilled.

The next major section outlines the major views on the millennium. Benware favors the dispensational premillenial view and so spends some time outlining it.The dispensational view focuses on the covenants found throughout the Bible. It holds that there are different “economies” of God’s working. These dispensations are not time periods, nor are they different ways of salvation. Instead, they are specific truths about how God chooses to work with His people (86ff). This view also holds that God will fulfill promises through Israel as a literal nation in the place that God promised them (88ff).

The premillenial view holds that Christ returns before the millennial kingdom. It holds that the millennium is a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth. Thus, there are two resurrections: first, before the millennial kingdom; second, after the millennial kingdom. Israel factors prominently into this view; Israel will be part of the thousand year reign and will occupy the land that God promised unconditionally to Abraham (94ff). Benware argues against the notion that Israel has become displaced or fulfilled in the church (103-120).

Then Benware turns to the view of amillenialism. Essentially, this view holds that the “millennium” is non-literal and is being fulfilled now during the church age. There is one resurrection, and the judgment comes immediately upon Christ’s return. Thus, the current period is the millennial kingdom (121-137).

Postmillenialism is the subject next discussed in UEP. This view tends to be tied into the notion that we are now living in the kingdom of God and so will usher in a golden age through social justice or action. After this undefined point, Christ will return to judge (139ff). Benware is highly critical of this view, noting that it relies upon the notion that we will continue improving the world (yet the world seems to be falling farther rather than progressing); as well as its rejection of the notion of a literal reign of Israel (150ff).

Finally, Benware evaluates preterism. Essentially, this view holds that the events prophesied in Revelation and elsewhere have either all or mostly been fulfilled already. There is much diversity within this perspective, but largely it is tied in with the notion that the destruction of the temple ushered in the end times (154ff).

The next major area of evaluation in UEP is that of the rapture. Benware analyzes pre-tribulation; post-tribulation; and other rapture views. Pre-tribulation is the view that the rapture will happen before the tribulation period. Post-tribulation is the view that the rapture happens after the tribulation. These directly tie into how one views the coming of Christ and the millennial kingdom (207ff).

Finally, UEP ends with outlines of the seventieth week of the book of Daniel, the Kingdom of God, death and the intermediate state, and the final eternal state. An enormous amount of exposition and discussion is tucked into these final chapters. For example, Benware includes a critique of annihilationism.

I have here only touched on the surface of UEP. Benware is exceedingly thorough and has managed to write an amazing resource on the issues related to End Times Prophecy.

Analysis

As has been noted, UEP is a simply fantastic resource for those who want to look at the various views which are discussed in contemporary evangelicalism. Benware has also provided an extremely detailed exposition of the dispensational premillenialist position. If someone wants to critique that view, UEP will be a book which they must reference. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Furthermore, Benware provides a number of excellent insights through the use of charts. Throughout UEP, there are charts scattered which summarize the content of what Benware argues, show pictorially what various views teach, and more. These charts will become handy for readers to reference later when they want to discuss the issues Benware raises. They also help interested readers learn what various views and positions teach.

Benware rightly shatters false notions that Biblical prophecy is some kind of indiscernible mystery language which humans weren’t meant to think on. His care for making clear what the Bible teaches on a number of issues is noteworthy.

Unfortunately, there are several areas in the book which are cause for caution. Benware’s use of proof texts is sometimes questionable. There is great merit to utilizing a series of related texts after an assertion in order to support one’s argument, but upon looking up several texts that Benware cites to make his points, it seems that he often stretched texts far out of their context or even cited texts which had nothing to do with the argument he made in the context in which he cited them. For just one example, Benware writes “The second phase of his [the Antichrist’s] careerwill take place during the first half of the tribulation… During his rise to power he will make enemies who will assassinate him near the midpoint of the tribulation (cf. Rev. 13:3, 12, 14). But much to the astonishment of the world, he is restored to life and becomes the object of worship (along with Satan)” (300). Note that Benware specifically says that the Antichrist will be assassinated and resurrected. Now, turn to the passages that Benware cites. Revelation 13:3, 12, and 14 state:

3: One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast… 12: It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed… 14: Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. (NIV)

Now, where in this section does it say the Antichrist will be assassinated? Where in this section does it talk about the Antichrist dying and being raised to life? Strangely, Benware seems to reject the literal hermeneutic he advocates, and begins to interpret texts in ways that bend them  to the breaking point.

The issue of these proof texts opens a broader critique of UEP. Benware constantly insists upon a literal reading of Revelation and other prophetic texts, while also criticizing those who hold other views of using an inconsistent hermeneutic. Yet, as I believe I demonstrated above, Benware often goes well beyond the literal meaning of the texts and comes to conclusions which stretch them past literal readings. In fact, it seems that Benware balances an often literalistic reading of the text with a non-literal reading. Thus, Benware seems to fall victim to the very error he accuses all other positions of falling into.

An overall critique of the position Benware holds would take far too much space and time for this reader to dedicate in this review, but I would note that the conclusions Benware comes to are often the result of the combination of literalistic readings and/or taking texts beyond what they say that I noted above. Some of the worrisome issues include the notion that the sacrificial system will be reinstated (334ff); a view in which the notion that the church seems in no way fulfill the Biblical prophecies about Israel (103ff); hyper-anthropomorphism of spiritual beings (i.e. demons, which are spiritual beings, being physically restricted [130]); and the insistence on literalizing all numbers in the Bible (168), among issues. It’s not that Benware doesn’t argue for these points; instead, it was that it seems his method to get his conclusions was sometimes faulty, and the case not infrequently was overstated.

One minor issue is Benware’s use of citations. It’s not that he fails to cite sources; rather, the difficulty is that he inconsistently tells the reader where the source is from. Very often Benware block quotes another text (with proper end note citation) without letting the reader know who or what he is quoting. Although this may be better for readers only interested in the argument, it can be very frustrating for those interested in knowing where Benware is getting his information to have to flip to the back of the book all the time to trace down sources. The problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes he does tell the reader where the quote is from (for example, he’ll write “so-and-so argues [quote]”) while at other times he just dives directly into the quote. The inconsistent application here may be a minor problem, but it did cause major frustration through my reading of the text.

Conclusion

Understanding End Times Prophecy is worthy reading. It provides an extremely in-depth look at the dispensational premillenial position. More importantly, Benware gives readers an overview of every major position on the millenium, the rapture, and the tribulation. The book therefore provides both an excellent starting point for readers interested in exploring eschatological views while also giving readers interested in the specific position of dispensational premillenialism a comprehensive look at that view. It comes recommended, with the caveat of the noted difficulties above. It would be hard to have a better introduction to the issues of Biblical prophecy from a premillennialist perspective than this one. The question remains, however, whether that view is correct. So far as this reader is concerned, that question remains unsettled.

Source

Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher My thanks to Moody Books for the opportunity to review the book.. 

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.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review

Theological debates raged throughout the period of the Reformation. These debates were about who had the right to interpret Scripture, what was the nature of salvation, who had authority in the church, and the like. Sound familiar? It should. Many of the debates that were central to the reformers are still in our purview today. Central to several of these debates focused upon the interpretation of Scripture.

Sola Scriptura: Two difficulties

The Reformers operated under the ideal of sola scriptura. The term literally means “scripture alone.” The notion seems simple enough: when it comes to doctrine, practice, and belief, the church universal is to be guided by Scripture alone. Yet it quickly became apparent during the Reformation era that things were not quite so simple.

First, sola scriptura was largely founded upon the notion that any Christian could read and understand Scripture. Yet, as became clear due to the fierce debates of the meaning of the Sacraments (i.e. the debate between Luther and Zwingli on the “real presence” in the Lord’s Supper), it seemed that on some things, Scripture wasn’t so simple (McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 106-107, cited below). People could disagree, vehemently, even over things that each side thought was abundantly clear.

Second, Anabaptists and others argued that sola scriptura meant that every single individual Christian could read and understand the Bible for themselves. How was this problematic? Well, if every Christian could understand every part of the Bible, then there was no way to arbitrate between differing interpretations of soteriology (doctrine of salvation), eschatology (doctrine of the end times), and the like. Of course, not all of these interpretations could be correct, and if those who had argued for the individualism of Scriptural interpretation were correct, then they could all be right, in some sense. Furthermore, the issue was exacerbated in that because no one had the authority to proclaim what doctrines were correct, the church began to increasingly split  to the point that “the radical Reformation was not a unified movement, but rather a chorus of protest against the clergy, secular authorities, and Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli. It was a reservoir for uncompromising protest that could well up in the most varied social circles… ‘Within the turmoiled flood of radical reform or restitution the fresh vitalities of the Reformation… were borne along swiftly to radical extremes'” (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 213, cited below).

Limiting Perspicuity

The solution to the first problem was simply to concede that, on at least some issues, Scripture was not crystal clear. On at least certain points, the magisterial reformers “had conceded that Scripture is obscure” (McGrath a, 108). There was genuine disagreement over some issues. However, not all agreed with this conclusion, and some still pressed that all of Scripture was indeed clear. Such an argument tied into the second problem the Reformers had to confront in relation to sola scriptura: who has the right interpretation?


Which Interpretation? Tradition’s Importance

Tradition played an important role in determining how the interpretation of Scripture was to be undertaken. During the Medieval period, a number of developments in hermeneutics laid the groundwork for the various interpretive methods utilized in the Reformation (McGrath b, 148ff). There were three primary views which emerged during the Reformation.

First, there was the position that “there is no place for tradition in the interpretation of the Bible. Every individual or community is free to interpret the Bible without reference to the Christian past” (McGrath a, 100). Such a position was part of the Radical Reformation and led to innumerable differing interpretations of Scripture. Of course, this was the group of reformers which applied sola scriptura most consistently. They took the principle literally and only allowed the Bible to be authoritative. However, with no way to arbitrate between differing doctrines, it seemed that such a position was incapable of standing up to scrutiny. All it could allow for was rampant individualism.

Second, there was the position that tradition was “an additional mode of divine revelation, in which information that was not committed to writing in the Bible was passed down…” (McGrath a, 100). The Roman Catholic church endorsed this position. However, it did not become popular with the reformers at all.

Instead, the Reformers developed a third position, one which stood as a middle way between the extremes of enshrining tradition and rejecting it outright. On this position, “Tradition designates a traditional way of interpreting a biblical text, which does not displace the text” (McGrath a, 100). Tradition therefore does not become an independent source of authority, but rather a way of interpreting the authority–Scripture–in an authoritative manner. By using tradition in this manner, the Reformers avoided the individualism of rejecting tradition, while also avoiding the error of raising tradition to the same level of importance as Scripture.

The third way was developed largely in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, but it had its core in the historic Christian Creeds. Within the Lutheran tradition, the Apostles’; Nicene; and Athanasian Creeds were taken as theological foundations, and the Augsburg Confession and the later Book of Concord (which drew together several other confessions of the Lutheran faith) became the interpretive lens through which the Lutheran church would view Scripture and right doctrine.

Modern Theology, Reformation Problems

The discussions which occurred in the Reformation on the nature of sola scriptura, tradition, and the interpretation of Scripture had their origins in the past, and they continue into today. Some continue to insist that anyone can read the Bible and understand it in its entirety.

Against those who argue against their position, they insist that they themselves are just reading what the Bible says. This can be seen in a number of debates in Christian theology. It seems the best response to those who wield the ‘perspicuity of Scripture’ as a weapon against alternatives to their own doctrine have no alternative against those who disagree other than going back and forth claiming their own interpretation is correct and/or more clear.

The example I most often like to use is the book of Revelation and eschatology. Someone who claims the perspicuity of Scripture applies to the whole of Scriptural teaching must claim, in order to be consistent, that these doctrines are clear. Thus, such a person must maintain that every single verse in Revelation can simply be read by anyone and understood.

To be frank, I find this absurd. The extreme diversity of people’s interpretations of Revelation seem to undermine the notion that every passage in Scripture is clear. Furthermore–as has already been noted–those who hold to this radically individualistic position of Scripture have no way to decide between differing interpretations of Scripture. They are thus left with no way to determine any doctrine, whether it is radically opposed to Christianity or not, is heretical. Thus, one who holds this position cannot condemn modalism, as long as the person arguing for it is only using the Bible. After all, Scripture is clear! Everyone can read it. Therefore, it seems that this debate which continues to rage on from the Reformation must end. In order to avoid the mire of wanton individualism, we must have some principles for interpretation.

Another major issue of contemporary debate is that of Creeds and “paper popes.” Often, for example, the Lutheran Church is accused of utilizing the Book of Concord as a “paper pope”–a book which acts as an infallible interpreter of Scripture. Similarly, some argue that the historical Christian creeds are not Scripture and therefore must not be affirmed: again, sola scriptura.

It may be helpful to see this as a case study: in Lutheran circles, there is a debate over whether one must agree with the Book of Concord (the Lutheran Confessions) because it agrees with Scripture or insofar as it agrees with Scripture. Note the very important difference. If one says it is “because,” one is affirming that the Book of Concord is the correct intepretation of every relevant passage of Scripture. If one affirms that it is “insofar as,” one is admitting that there may be error in that interpretation. From a Lutheran perspective, this debate is hard to resolve. I tend to line up on the latter (insofar as) view.

However, it is clear that once one takes that position, one must lean more towards individualism. Again: how does one arbitrate doctrine if one does not adhere to any kind of authoritative statement on doctrine? It seems to me that one must at least hold that God has the power to transmit His teaching truthfully, and that’s why the historical Christian Creeds are vastly important. There must be a line drawn somewhere, but people may ever debate where to draw that line.

The key is perhaps found in Scripture itself, in which Christians are instructed not to continue arguments needlessly nor to focus upon topics which will create division (1 Corinthians 1:10ff; Ephesians 4:1ff). These teachings do not, however, preclude division nor do they allow for rampant individualism. It seems to me, therefore, that by adhering to the ecumenical council’s teaching–specifically, the creeds–as drawing out the right teachings of the church, we can avoid some of the great difficulties illustrated above. That’s why I would focus upon the Creeds which were drawn from those councils (like the Apostles’,  and Nicene Creeds) as the sources of authoritatively governing Christian interpretations on those topics.

Conclusion

Many theological questions that are in play today have their origins in various aspects of Reformation thought, which themselves have their origins in earlier Christian thought. The issue of the perspicuity of Scripture, it seems to me, must be limited to that of soteriology and perhaps a few other core issues. On who has the authority to interpret Scripture, it seems that the Reformers offered a way forward: by agreeing to submit to the authority of ecumenical Creeds not as sources of their own authority but rather as authoritative interpretations of the Bible, Christians can proceed in their reading of Scripture and interpretations thereof through those lenses. Thus, the danger of individualism and endless division can be avoided.

Link(s)

I survey the origins of the Reformation.

Sources

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

Alister E. McGrath b, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

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

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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Book Review: “Salvation and Sovereignty: The Molinist Approach” by Kenneth Keathley

Molinism is a topic hotly debated in theological circles. There have been several books on the topic published just in the past few years, which, for a topic of analytic theology, is extraordinary. Kenneth Keathley’s work, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach focuses on the theological usefulness of molinism.

Keathley’s central position is that the Calvinistic “TULIP” (Total depravity; Uncondtiional election; Limited atonement; Irresistible grace; Perseverance of the saints) is the incorrect approach to salvation. Instead, he endorses the “ROSES” approach (Radical depravity; Overcoming grace; Sovereign election; Eternal life; Singular redemption).

The contrast is laid out in detail through the book, but to sum up, Keathley provides a comparison in the introduction. Radical depravity allows for free will while still emphasizing the fallen nature of people. Overcoming grace emphasizes “God’s beckoning that overcomes our wicked obstinacy” (3-4); sovereign election is the affirmation that God desires salvation of all; eternal life is to note that believers “enjoy a transformed life that is preserved and we are given a faith which will remain” (4); finally, singular redemption emphasizes that Christ’s atonement is not limited to the elect (4).

Keathley seeks to wed these concepts of salvation and sovereignty with the analytic theological concept of molinism. Molinism, Keathley argues, is a “middle way between Calvinism and Arminianism” (7). Molinists can affirm that God controls all things, that “man does not contribute to his salvation,” that the believer is eternally secure in Christ; further, they can affirm that “God is not the author of sin” that “God desires the salvation of all,” and that “At crucial times, humans have the ability to choose” (7).

Keathley then turns to a defense of molinism. Here, he touches briefly on some of the philosophical aspects of the molinist account. There are three “moments” of God’s knowledge: natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge. These are not to be understood as temporal moments but rather moments of logical priority. The first moment, natural konwledge, is God’s knowledge of all possibilities. God’s middle knowledge is the knowledge of everything that “would” happen in given circumstances. Between this “moment” and the next,  God chooses a world to actualize. Finally, God’s free knowledge is that knowledge of everything that will happen, given the created world (17). Keathley distinguishes these moments as “could” (natural knowledge), “would” (middle knowledge), and “will” (free knowledge) (17-18).

Next, the Biblical account is expounded. Before going into depth with individual verses, Keathley argues that the Bible teaches that God exhaustively knows all things (including the future), that God is holy and righteous and does not cause sin, and that humans do have freedom–contingent choices are placed before people (20). Keathley then turns to exegetical studies of various aspects of God’s knowledge and human freedom. First, he argues that God has exhaustive knowledge of all things (including the future),  meticulous providential control, freedom, and righteousness (20ff). He then turns to a defense of the notion of human freedom in the Bible through a study of “contingent choices” put before people. He draws on both Old and New Testament examples to make his case. [In the interest of length I’ll not go through these arguments, but I would like to note that he utilizes over 30 separate verses in the first two pages of the Biblical evidence sections alone.]

The second chapter covers a side topic: Does God desire salvation for all people? Here, Keathley outlines 4 major positions regarding this. First, there is universalism–all are saved; second, there is double predestination–God chooses who will be saved and who will be reprobate; third, God has two wills–a revealed will in which God desires salvation and a decretive will in which, for unknown reasons, He passes over some; fourth, God has a consequent and antecedent will–“God antecedently desires that all be saved, but He consequently wills that faith is a condition to salvation” (42-43).  Keathley argues that the fourth option is the most defensible (43ff).

Next, Keathley turns his work towards a specific defense of the “ROSES” position discussed above. This defense encompasses the rest of the book.

Radical depravity is a rejection of determinism along with an affirmation that humans are in bondage to sin and fallen (63). Keathley endoreses “soft libertarianism,” which affirms that people’s characters can determine the range of choices, but also that they are the “origin and source of their choices” and that they are genuinely free to reject or choose specific actions (70ff).

Overcoming grace holds that while grace is monergistic–God is the only worker in salvation, it is resistible. “God’s grace is truly offered and available. The difference between the saved and the lost is the continued rebellion of the unbeliever” (105). This is an “ambulatory” model, which basically means that God is drawing all people to Him at all times, such that the only way to not be saved is to resist belief in Him.

Keathley holds “sovereign election” in which “God ordains the salvation of the elect but only permits the damnation of the reprobate” (142). Keathley follows this chapter with “Eternal Life” in which he argues that believers can feel certainty about their salvation. Finally, “Singular Redemption” is the notion that “redemption is provided for all, but applied only to those who believe” (194). This reflects the “penal substitutionary atonement” view (ibid). Thus, God provides salvation to all who believe, and applies it to those who do.

Salvation and Sovereignty is not unique simply because of its emphasis on the theological utility of molinism. The book is also written at a level that general readership will find accessible. Considering the extreme nuances and significant philosophical groundwork which must go into an explication of molinism, Keathley does a simply phenomenal job making the concept accessible to readers who are not philosophically trained.

However, it should be noted that because of this simplification, several of the philosophical issues related to molinism drop off. Not only that, but it seems that Keathley is operating under very slightly different views of what molinism entails. For example he states that molinism is a kind of “compatibilism” (5). This is false for most molinists, because most molinists defend libertarian freedom in conjunction with God’s foreknowledge. Thus, it is not compatibilism but libertarianism. Finally, many philosophical objections to molinism are left untouched. Due to the focus of the book, however, these seem minor flaws for the overall work.

Keathley’s work is exciting in many ways. It brings the molinist discussion to a more general readership. It provides a significant challenge to theological determinism. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, it provides an account which shows the theological fruitfulness of the concept of middle knowledge. Readers interested in any of these topics should immediately get the book and read it. For those who have engaged with molinism on a philosophically developed level, it provides an interesting account of how to apply those studies to a theological framework. For those who know little or nothing about molinism, it provides an excellent introduction. While readers may not agree with all of Keathley’s theological positions, his work will challenge and inform anyone who reads it. It comes highly recommended.

Source:

Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010).

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 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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