I wanted to answer a series of questions stemming from a couple of comments. My answers are too long to put in the comment boxes. So I just made it into a post.
Thanks for writing and giving me the opportunity to answer these questions.
I have read through all 8 of these how and why posts and have a few questions. Are you a member of a local Church?
Not all churches share the view of membership that one finds in Presbyterian circles. In the past I've held memberships in the OPC and PCA, something I wouldn't do again.
At present my family is part of an Evangelical denomination known as the 4C's, though I am not very impressed with it as a whole. I'm not sure what's in our future.
I intend to write on membership and other Church-related issues. I just haven't got to it yet. My views of membership are definitely a little out of the mainstream. I do think we need to be part of a local Church…normatively speaking we must be. But I don't think that entails what is commonly known as "Church Membership"
That's usually denominational in character and extra-Biblical in form. I do think there's Biblical Church Membership…but that looks a little different and can be found in Scripture.
Do you have a Pastor and mentors who can speak corrections, exhortations and encouragement into your own life and struggles with your own sin?
Not really. My pastor prays for "Our" soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, and those that protect and defend America.
Coupled with the fact that he's a Calvinistic Baptist…we don't have a lot in common. While we can share an appreciation for the Doctrines of Grace and men like Spurgeon…that's about it.
I don't have any mentors. If I do, they're dead and I only have their books.
With your knowledge of world history and the time it took to accumulate this knowledge do you still have time to read good theology and the scriptures? What is your vocational calling?
Not as much as I would like. I wish I could read and write all day, but it doesn't pay the bills.
My vocational calling? I think you're just trying to ask me what my job is. I'm self-employed in a field that has absolutely nothing to do with what I write about, so it's pretty irrelevant.
It's not a calling, it's just a means to an end….making money to pay the bills. I make use of the time working and driving by listening to lectures, news, sermons, Scripture etc….
My Calling is to be a Christian, a husband, and a father. So being a Christian, I bring that to my work, but I don't view the work as holy or anything like that. Often it's a colossal waste of time…but it is a means God has provided to keep a roof over our head.
I don't really go along with the whole Reformed concept of Vocation. I think that usually goes a bit beyond what the Scriptures teach on the subject. I wrote a post talking about some of the issues related to that.
I do of course admit that in God's Providence…I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing at this moment. It's my calling so to speak…at the moment.
But if it was my Calling…let's say in a theological sense…then I would be wrong I think to desire something else.
But since I view it as a means….I very much desire to eventually do something else…if God wills.
I have been an avid reader of Modern Reformation magazine since the early 1990's. I have also read a lot of the literature and books by faculty members at Westminster West. You seem to have trouble with the major creedal expressions of the faith coming out of the reformation (Heidelberg catechism, Canons of Dort, Belgic Confession, Westminster Confession of Faith and the Lutheran Book of Concord). You seem to trust your own mind and conclusions you have come to better than the collective wisdom of the historical Church accumulated over 2000 years of persecution and defending itself against heretical attacks. Or, am I coming to a wrong conclusion about that?
Well it's pretty obvious I'm not terribly content with the present state of things even in Reformed circles. I appreciate the Confessions and do read them from time to time.
But I do think they're often treated as deutero-canonical writings and there's a real danger of Traditionalism in certain Reformed sectors. The system seems to drive the debate.
Yes, it can seem and probably is a little arrogant on my part to challenge those who have gone before. But even the Confessions you cite were written by men who were challenging what had gone before. The theological systems and methods employed to create those systems were novel in their day. They can't be above critique and since most who claim adherence in our day are not really following the Confessions according to the spirit and meaning in which they were written…the non-conformity of many Reformed people when it comes to issues like worship, the sacraments, the state, and the Sabbath shows they too are critical at points.
I'm not trying to put forward something novel…primarily I'm trying to stir the pot a bit. That can be a bad thing if it's done to be destructive….or it can be a very good thing if it helps provoke thought and discussion.
I'm not terribly concerned with preserving Traditions….denominational traditions and the bureaucracies they seem to rest upon. I will admit that.
So on the one hand, I totally appreciate what you're saying…on the other, I don't think there has been a 2000 year collective wisdom that has been codified in any kind of Confessional document. There are basic tenets of Orthodoxy…the Trinity, the Incarnation etc…I'm not questioning those.
But as far as multi-faceted definitions of The Church, the Sacraments, the whole realm of Soteriology, Anthropology, and Eschatology…there's no collective agreement. I don't think there ever has been.
I think the Reformed tradition is probably overall the best…but it's far from perfect. I'm not calling myself Reformed and I'm not trying to argue that what I'm saying is in accord with the Confessions. For the most part…yeah, that's probably what I'm closest to…but my days of being a Reformed Zealot are over…and boy was I ever one.
No one is going to agree with me 100%. It's neither possible nor desirable. But if I have contribution to make…it's healthy provocation. I'm putting forward a lot of arguments in a way that's probably a little different. I'm putting the package together in a way that's unusual. That could be good or bad. It could also depend on what people do with it.
Would it be necessary for the proto-protestants to come up with their own creedal statements and how many proto-protestants are there besides you?
Oh, I'm not a movement or fronting a group or anything like that. It's just me. Most of my ideas are not original, but I've taken many ideas that normally don't go together…and I'm insisting they can go together if you think differently.
Someone called me a Calvinistic Anabaptist which seems to be an oxymoron. It doesn't have to be. I'm probably more an Augustinian Anabaptist…Divine Sovereignty and Sacramental Efficacy (kind of like a Reformed Episcopalian) coupled with Anabaptist anti-constantinianism (like a Mennonite).
That actually describes (I think) accurately but anachronistically what the Waldenses and some of the others were like.
There's not a lot of creedal testimony left by groups like the Waldenses. They left the Noble Lesson, and the Hussites and Lollards left some statements….all pretty simple.
I'm not a big fan of John Frame, but I think he's correct in regard to the issue of the confessions. I don't think strict subscription is a good idea. I don't think the Church is held together through forms like Confessions and Books of Church Order. If it falls apart because people take wayward paths…then so be it. We can't hold it together by making people swear to man-made documents….it makes them the authority and not Scripture. If that's okay….man-made documents which are really Traditions…historically contextualized interpretations….then we've opened quite a can of worms. Some Traditions are certainly MUCH better than others…but nevertheless in principle, it creates problems.
The Spirit keeps the Church together. I think Congregations are the way….not denominations. Congregations can still hold each other accountable and communicate without having to create an institutional structure a bureaucracy to hold it together. It won't always be tidy…but it works. It did for centuries prior to the Reformation.
I am also a bit leery of your cloaking yourself in mystery. I realize you have to protect your family and all but your coverup and going underground is a bit unsettling to me. Why should I trust the conclusions you have come to instead of what the historical Church has regarded as critical truths?
Understandable. I'm not trying to be mysterious. I never thought of myself as going underground…sounds kind of neat though.
I am trying to protect myself, but really by maintaining a degree of anonymity it protects the arguments as well. That's the main reason.
No one is talking about me….they can talk about the issues. I'm not trying to start a group, raise money, make a name for myself…any of those things. I want people to think things through. I don't find a lot of that.
As far as why should you trust me? You shouldn't. Don't. Look into it for yourself. Read others as well…see if what I'm saying squares up with the Bible, history, and current events.
I frequently disagree with some of my favourite authors…but I read them because they challenge me and make me think. I like reading people who are outside the box…it keeps me vigilant. I'm thrilled if I can fulfill the same role for others.
So like I said….no one who reads these posts agrees with everything I say….if they do, they're foolish. But I think most people come here because it challenges them…it's something different. That doesn't necessarily mean what I say is good, but sometimes it can be healthy just to think differently. On that point…I do like John Frame. I almost always disagree with him, but I like to read him.
Actually I think most come here out of morbid curiosity…but there are some who really appreciate finding someone who's obviously very concerned with Scripture and trying to explain things.
There's a lot of people…even in Reformed circles who aren't happy with the state of things. Sometimes they can't express why. Maybe I can help…in part.
I believe I am justified by a holy God by grace alone, through faith alone on the account of Christ for God's glory alone. God then sanctifies me through Word and Sacrament and I then work this out in my vocational callings by serving the lost world with the gifts God has given me. By doing my small part I get assurance that I am pleasing God even while struggling with my own sin. I leave the rest into God's Providential hands. Your mission seems to be a bit grandiose to me. I have learned to tone down my self-importance and am limited in what I can really do. The best I can do is seek God's will in his word, understand it as best I can, do what I can and leave the big stuff up to the big Kahuna. What else can I do. Your project gets me dizzy just thinking about how much world analysis I would have to do to keep up with what you keep up with.
I totally agree with the first three sentences.
And I agree with the 4th, but I would only add…for years other men, older men, pastors, other people have told me that I need to do something. I'm wasting my gifts…if that's what they are…by not teaching or talking in some capacity.
I'm not called to serve as an Elder in the Church….preacher, teacher, pastor, whatever term you prefer.
The doors have not opened for me to teach in a Christian school or a university. I would be happy to do that, but…it doesn't seem likely to happen.
So I decided…start writing, start talking about these things that have been burdening me for many years. See if anyone cares. If in God's Providence I find some other people who are interested?…fantastic. Praise be to God.
If I write this stuff and no one cares…then that's okay too.
So far…I'm hardly turning the world upside down, but I've been pretty shocked at the number of people who come and read things I've written. Like I said…most I think are merely morbidly curious.
I'm very conscious of being self-important. That's another reason why I like the low profile. You don't get much of an ego boost if no one knows who you are. Many leaders say…'it's not about me,' while we all nod and know with confidence that it is very much about them. Many Christian websites take on an almost shrine quality…not here I hope.
I hope I can continue to say, "It's not about me."
I like to help people, especially help people to understand something. I find a real joy in that….seeing the light go on and a new world open up for that person. I find it exciting for myself and when others experience it as well. Learning is exciting….all the more when it is something worthwhile. It's been a blessing to receive emails from people who have suddenly seen the big picture.
There are so many great books out there….one's that will change your life, but it's hard to get people to care.
As far as keeping up with everything….that's not for everyone. You don't have to be a news and history junkie to be a good Christian.
But I think we should be informed. It's dangerous not to be. So while it is not realistic for everyone to sit and down and read like I do…reading some of my stuff can challenge them to think. That's what I'm trying to do more than anything. Challenge everything, be critical of everything. But to do so, you have to know what authority you're appealing to and why. If you don't…it's just rebellion for rebellion's sake. If you do know why…then your challenge and critique is a noble task.
I don't know very many people who can sit down with a news article or a book, or listen to a newscast or Christian radio programme…and think it through. Pick it apart. Often there are glaring errors in facts and reasoning…especially in Christian books and radio. There's a lot of bad stuff that should be obvious, but people don't know how to dissect it.
A lot of people seem to like reading the interactions and critiques that I post. It may seem combative, but if you get what I'm saying, you can see…there's a lot of really bad arguments and erroneous things being taught by people that are respected. Sometimes flat dangerous and destructive. Once you start to see certain things, certain patterns….it starts overwhelming you like a flood. This is true with regard to theology, history…and even media coverage of current events.
I'll permit myself to sound prideful for a moment…yes, I'm probably better at keeping maps, dates, names, and things like that in my head than most people. It does help, because you build a mental grid and then it's pretty easy to plug stuff in…and it just starts clicking and connecting. It takes a lot of work…but for me since I enjoy it…it's not work at all. Others just aren't geared that way, and that's fine, but we still need to understand the world we live in.
I think a lot of Christians…especially the Dominionist-type folks for all their talk of Christian Worldview seem determined not to understand the world around them. They've got the right answers and they're on a mission. I have ethical objections to how they treat news and history.
How do you differ with the vision that is coming out of Westminster West? That is the point I was trying to get at through all the above.
I'm assuming you mean Two Kingdom Theology? I greatly appreciate Kline, Irons, what I've read and listened to of Van Drunen, Horton, Riddlebarger, etc….
More or less I agree with them…but some of them embrace a kind Kuyperian view of culture that I don't appreciate. I listened to TD Gordon the other day on Crosstalk. He's a great guy. I've met him personally and heard him in preach and lecture in person. He's very critical of Theonomy etc…
But the show was about Christian Music and hymnody and I found it to be ridiculous. He was getting into the morality of the music…what makes it good, the aesthetic absolute etc…. It was all based on Western definitions…really rather Constantinian. I was quite disappointed. I've experienced the same thing with Ken Myers. When talking about the Kingdom in relation to politics, he's great. When we're talking about creating 'good' culture…he sounds like a Constantinian. Guys like Gordon and Myers aren't worried about creating 'Christian' music or art…they want to create 'good' music and art. But I argue their means of determining what is 'good' isn't derived from Scripture but from Constantinian philosophy.
For example, Bach's music is considered to be morally good. I find it astonishingly dull. They would say, I'm uneducated in the realm of music and the fact that I find it dull, is actually an ethical problem. My wife is quite educated in the realm of music and when she listens to these guys talk she gets frustrated. She insists they don't know what they're talking about. They've romanticized a lot of high culture. Why? That's another question.
Many find Handel's Messiah to be very moving. There's been a YouTube video floating around of a choir singing in a shopping mall. When I hear, "Forever! Forever!"….I'm thinking "Velveeta, So Cheesy!"
I just find it tacky and about as worthy as something you find on a Christian bookstore shelf.
Mozart is fantastic, but of course many in his day many didn't think so. He was breaking the rules…today his music is part of the Western Canon of Music.
Sorry I didn't mean to go off on that tangent.
So though I often agree with some of the Reformed Two Kingdom guys on the Church's mission, I still disagree with them on some particular cultural issues.
I find a lot of them waste tremendous amounts of time in the Reformed battles over 'claiming'.
Everyone's trying to claim that what they teach is in line with the Confession, or Calvin, or of the antebellum Presbyterian Church, or the Scottish Church.
I'm not interested in any of that. I sure used to be. It strikes me as rather fruitless and harmful.
Nothing seems to shock a Presbyterian more than to simply say… I know the Confession says that. It's wrong on that point.
That shouldn't be shocking. I don't think we should venerate these documents. I see some of the Westminster men engaging in some of this.
I disagree with some of them on some particular theological areas. While great on Biblical Structure and Redemptive-History…I find some of the same hyper-systematizing tendencies in their thought that can also be detected in Theonomists. Their tendencies just play out a bit different. It all depends on their starting point.
I listen to people like Scott Clark, and as far as I'm concerned…he's a Baptist. He would violently protest this…but his system while allowing certain forms…makes them virtually meaningless….explained away.
Steve Wilkins is actually willing to bend his system to the Bible when it comes to something like Baptism….but he's also a Theonomist and a Constantinian….so he's got problems as well.
I find several antagonistic camps at work within Reformed circles…but I can't find one I want to sign-on with. They've all got their merits and their problems.
Westminster West is probably the best thing going in Reformed circles right now…but they wouldn't have anything to do with me…and on certain levels, I'm not terribly interested in them either.
That said, I enjoy White Horse Inn and Kline was probably the greatest theologian of the 20th century. I don't agree with him on everything…but wow, he sure can challenge you and make you think. Picking up his books was like entering a whole new world. I don't understand why he and his followers are so keen to prove they line up with the Westminster Confession. In some areas they are more in line with Westminster than the Theonomists….in other areas, not at all.
It matters very much to them…to me, not in the slightest.
I wish Kline had written more books.
Hope that helps. Feel free to follow up.
I have a question….what here do you find of interest? You say you read the Why and How posts? Why? What interested you? Just something different? I'm just curious.
Thanks for writing.
And since I didn't get to your first note before you sent a second, I'll include it here.
There is a lot of interesting thoughts and insights in this web site. Your glossary of terms is very helpful. You are hitting on issues of extreme importance. The bits on pietism and transformationalism are "spot on" as everyone says these days. I still would like a better explanation of why you have trouble with going the creedal-liturgical route, ie., like the route Scott Clark and Darryl Hart have travelled. There does not seem to be a unified route coming out of Westminster West but they often keep their differences to themselves. Your position I think they would critique as bordering on biblicism. How would you answer that criticism. I am using that term biblicism the way Scott Clark uses it in his book Recovering the Reformed Confession.
I'm probably guilty of that charge. I think that as good as Westminster West and Reformed Two Kingdom Theology is….they're resting excessively on Confessional based arguments.
And….I think, they're resting too much on Scholastic Method. It's very difficult to find the right balance, but I think reason and system can be taken too far to the point in which Scripture is compromised. To many, that's a statement almost bordering on absurdity, but I argue in a few of the earlier pieces…the weightier ones that don't get read much…this a real danger.
Rationalism can lead people like Clark to reject the classical definitions of the Incarnation and find doctrines like the Trinity to be problematic.
Rationalism can also lead Dominionists to create systems that extend far beyond the Scripture and remind me of the old picture of the elephant hanging off of a cliff by his tail wrapped around a daisy. Their systems are deduced, and hang on Scripture by a mere thread. But because Reason and System are exalted (Reformed Scholastic Method)…they believe what they're saying is Biblical.
Rationalism can also lead to what I consider to be Reductionism. The 5pts are true, but wholly insufficient to explain the Scripture's teaching on those matters. A priori formulations and syllogism allow system-based doctrines to trump and explain away texts of Scripture.
If you make Sola Fide (which is true) the centerpiece of your system…you tend to have 'problem texts' with regard to the Sacraments, or Covenant membership and efficacy.
Making Election the centerpiece can result in the same thing….for some eventually leading to a downgrade in their whole concept and definition of the visible church. A lot of theology ends up becoming empty form because to grant it the meaning it seems to have in the Biblical text…would mean a contradiction with the system built on the Anchor Point or premise. I don't know if you'll know what I mean. I doubt you'll agree, but I hope at least you get what I'm saying.
My argument is that the Protestant world re-embraced a modified version of the medieval Scholastic method when it comes to theology.
Many of the doctrinal problems and issues in contemporary Reformed circles stem from this problem which is rooted in an unbiblical Rationalism. Reason, yes of course!…but Scripture I think gives us patterns to construct a doctrine of reason in the relationship between the Eternal and Temporal.
Aristotelian type logic is fine for space and time, but to impose it in metaphysical categories…like theology…or to subject Divine Revelation to temporal based logic…is highly problematic.
Reason ends up becoming the authority, the lens by which Revelation is deciphered and systematized. The tool so to speak takes over and becomes the System……and you've got Rationalism.
I think this has led to most of the problems of the day. For Dominionists and Theonomists it's led to their problems with the seeming inconsistency of Two Kingdoms and a non-Sacral worldview. For others say on the Westminster West side of things…a theology that ends up being reductionistic….and leaves them practically speaking…eternal security Baptists with really almost no doctrine of Sanctification. They would deny that, but that's my take.
Most of the mainstream Reformed world is somewhere in the inconsistent and muddled middle…mostly adhering to a 20th century Evangelical/19th century Princeton or Dabney type Systematics.
My argument leads to a theological structure that is therefore somewhat undeveloped…deliberately so. Thus, if I'm right, Creedal-ism is not the route to take. From my standpoint…assuming for a moment that I'm correct in my assessments, many of the differences and arguments are irresolvable.
Everyone picks what I call the Anchor Point, and then builds the system from there. The systems clash, but no one ever meets up because they've built on different philosophical foundations.
I think we need to identify and remove these anchor points and re-think our whole method of theology.
That's a lot to process. I've got so much I want to delve into. I just haven't had the time that I would like. I want to write more on these issues and more on historical stuff…but it's a little more time consuming.
The interactions and comments on current events are pretty easy for me and don't take a lot of time. And I can't help it…I read something or hear something and I want to comment on it. At some point…probably soon, I'll have to put the brakes on and return to some of the more foundational issues and some of the historical points I want to make.
As far as the pre-Reformation groups….they were pretty undeveloped in their theology. In some cases they were simple folks, in other cases, they were I think trying to adhere to Scripture and were suspicious of Scholastic methodology. While we would all reject the method of a Thomas Aquinas or Albertus Magnus…some of their methodology was re-embraced with Beza and others. I think that was unfortunate…others insist that it was so from the very beginning with Calvin and the rest of the 1st generation Reformers right up to the present.
That's controversial. There are many in Reformed circles who strive to argue there's a systemic and methodological continuity from the first generation of Reformers right up to the present Confessional bodies. Similar? Sure, but not the same.
Of course I have to ask, why is it so important? Everyone is worried about 'claiming' the true lineage. I think that's a mistake.
I don't think Scott Clark or Peter Leithart represent a continuity with the Reformers or the Confessions. It doesn't matter to me, but it sure does to them.
History is a guide not a restraining chain.
That is the only thing I have found so far that I would be in disagreement with you. You have some really good insights in what I have read so far. Thanks for posting this stuff. I read Leonard Verduin's book about 30 years ago when I was heavily involved in the charismatic movement. Derek Prince wrote a review of the book in New Wine Magazine back in the late 70's or early 80's. I am not that familiar with the proto-Protestant groups that you talk about on this site and have not read those sections yet on this blog site. Being heavily entrenched in reformation literature the last 20 years I have not read much of the Anabaptist literature that the Reformers fought against. I know Luther was influenced by the Hussites. Who were the main sources you used for the info and history on the proto-Protestants? I'm looking forward to learning more about the stuff you write about.
I'll have to see if I can track down the Prince review. That would be interesting.
I'm using all kinds of sources. Lambert's Medieval Heresy and Cameron's Waldenses are good places to start. I like them, because they seem to side more with the mainstream Roman Church and the Inquisition. And though the picture they often paint isn't pretty, and not at all sympathetic…you can see a lot of truth shining through. Wylie's History of Protestantism is good if taken with a grain of salt. You can't beat the pictures, but his narrative drives his interpretation. Some might say I do the same thing….I think I'm being pretty careful not to do so. I hope so anyway.
I've just read a lot of books and articles but then I try and tie this in with the general history I'm familiar with. Doing so helps put the picture together. It also exposes some of the bad arguments you find in a lot of Church Histories when the author's theology is driving the interpretation. It seems like sometimes they're focusing on the Ecclesiastical aspects of what was happening when the true picture is considerably more complex with political and cultural considerations.
Despite the fact that thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people were rejecting the Roman Church and trying to adhere to a Bible-based Christianity…they're neglected and receive only token treatments in many books. Church is thought of as Institution and Civilization…and that clearly belongs with Rome.
In my opinion this wrong view of the Church and The Kingdom has led to the neglect of the groups rejecting Rome during the Reformation…why they rejected Rome is often missed…and missing their view led to some of the errors the Reformation re-vitalized and refuses to re-examine.
This view of the Church and Kingdom largely stems from a flawed theological Method and hermeneutical issues.
So that's what I'm trying to address….history and method…and how these same forces are playing out today and though in a very different context…are bringing a similar result.