11 January 2014

Spinning the Reformation: The Propaganda Mill and Christian Media (2/2)

As regular readers will know I am not an Anabaptist, but when it comes to issues regarding the Kingdom, Christian ethics and the Church's relation to culture the Anabaptists are correct and essentially perpetuate the view of the Medieval Dissidents with which I would identify. While there are many similarities between the Waldenses, Chelcicky and the Anabaptists, I stand with the pre-Anabaptists and embrace the inclusion of the children of believers within the context of the visible covenant, the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Trueman in this interview chose to largely ignore the role of the Magistrates. He mentions them commissioning catechisms and creeds but fails to mention that politics did in fact play a great role in the Reformation and the reason Luther and the Reformation succeeded (at least on a human level) was due to political power... and the potential violence that backed it.

He mentioned the printing press which indeed was critical but also failed to mention the Turks on the eastern frontier of the Empire. This was a huge factor in the Reformation's success. Obviously providential but it does seem to take away (at least a little) some of the mystic revivalist quality these folks usually wish to emphasize. They want to view the Reformation as the greatest revival in the history of the Church. I contend it represented a mix of positive and negative aspects. It was both a blessing and a curse. The foundational questions are theological but how they have interacted with history in the distant past, at the time of the Reformation and today cannot be ignored.

I realize the scope of a programme like this is limited, but I found it irresponsible to not linger (at least for a moment) on some of the weightier questions. One thing American Conservatives do not do well is nuance and it would have likely frustrated the host and destroyed the persuasiveness of the propaganda effort. Why Trueman should worry about his appeal with regard to someone like to Mefferd I cannot understand.

While Sola Fide is a valid concept the reality is the Lutheran formulation cannot be found before Luther. One looks in vain to the prior fifteen centuries for evidence of it.

It is nevertheless a Biblical doctrine, but the question which still is being debated is...what is saving faith? What does this term mean? Many hold to what I contend is a reductionist view of the faith, reducing it to a mere intellectual affirmation. The result of this has been devastating and has contributed much to what we might call Protestant Christianization a new form of cultural Christianity which like its predecessor has little to do with the actual Gospel.

This coupled with Reformation's systematizing led to an un-Biblical view of assurance. To Trueman and many others this is the essence of the gospel recovery and the repudiation of the Roman system.

We are right to reject the extra-Scriptural authority claims and sacerdotal system of Rome but the issue of assurance is not wed to Rome's system. What does the Bible say? While there are many verses which view soteriology from a decretal perspective and thus view it as absolute there are many, perhaps even more which speak of it in terms of temporal persevering, containing qualified provisions and stipulations that are backed up by sober warnings. The covenant is multi-faceted and dynamic, something systematics tends to iron out and synthesize away.

The Reformation was born in the culture of the Renaissance but soon re-embraced the culture of Scholasticism. This is another area of debate that I continue to look into but I am not satisfied with the scholarship that insists there is complete methodological continuity between the Reformers and the Confession producing Orthodox Scholastics of the 17th century. For me it's not an existential issue because I'm not wed to the tradition and I'm not trying to craft a meta-narrative to justify their denominational traditions. I reject them. Whether Calvin and Turretin followed the same method carries no emotional weight for me, but that said, I think they differed at least in approach and orientation.

The tendency has been to systematize and it is this, the issue of methodology that leads me to break most harshly with the Reformed tradition. The subsequent centuries have only concretized and expanded this tendency and have led most Reformed of today to fail in their understanding of historical Reformed perseverance.

Today it has become the doctrine of Eternal Security. Election has become the central organizing principle in all Reformed thought. While a glorious doctrine of Scripture, the embrace of rationalism in theological methodology can pervert and misapply even the most profound truth revealed by God.

The Reformation was an interesting chapter in Church history and in many ways represented an improvement. It rightly rejected many fatal flaws inherent in the Roman system. But that said, it re-embraced, perpetuated and in some instances created new fatal flaws so that in subsequent centuries we find a body of denominations and cultures equally deficient and derelict vis-a-vis the Roman system which dominated the middle ages. Protestantism vanquished many evils but also birthed not a few.

It was to say the least a disappointing radio programme. It doesn't surprise me to hear Christo-Americans appearing on the show in order to belch forth the latest propaganda. But Trueman is not an American and he certainly must now what this show represents. He didn't engage on those topics and stuck to Reformation history... but in the end he said what the host wanted to hear.



Cal said...

That is sad to hear Trueman seemingly pandered to this audience. Maybe the circles he runs in have gotten to him, but I'm wont to try and psychologize the situation.

You're right to say factionalism is what is driving the attempt to iron out the transformations over times. Luther is my favorite in this regard. He is himself not Luther, but distinct to the scholasticism imposed partially by Melancthon and then even more so by those afterwards. Luther was brash, and intentionally provocative, but he was not terribly novel. His sola fide always came with a "saving faith is never alone". People even misunderstand why Luther rejected the epistle of James.

He even understood the mystery of election as a positively Christ-centered doctrine and one that was positive, and not logically reducible to Calvin's Double. I think the Finnish school has unearthed some interesting propositions about Luther's articulation of a biblical "theosis".

Of course there are many shades to Luther, but as I've seen, he gets misunderstood in the histories, especially church ones, to be more 2-D and more monumental than he was. As if he was the first to challenge the legitimacy of the Papacy! Ha!

That's my window into seeing how the Reformation is understood. How Luther became Lutheranism (more properly titled Melanchthonism) and then codified into a scholastic orthodoxy is clearly seen, but the Reformed are reticent to accept the same sequence of events for themselves.

The funny thing is that many Reformed would affirm the voluntary church, but in the days of the Reformation they'd be mostly pegged Anabaptists. Their allegiance to the confession blinds them from understanding their own history many times.

That's the odd case in point of many rejecting NT Wright's work on justification. Regardless if it's right, many go back and argue from the Reformation. As if the Reformation confessionalism was wrong on justification than the whole thing collapses. It's more complex than that, and I end up saying a mix of both/and to Wright and Luther's understanding, but it's odd to watch play out. There's this almost nascent fear that Wright is a Jesuit spook bringing Rome in through the back door.

Anyway, good stuff per usual. Keep it up. I enjoy it!


Protoprotestant said...

Like a dummy I forgot to provide the link to the show.

That's fixed now.

I appreciate the comments on Luther. He's a fascinating fellow but a bit of a disaster.

I think he and many aspects of the Reformation need to be critiqued and challenged. Wright is interesting but I can't quite bring myself to accept his categories either. The whole NPP thing is wide and varied. Dunn is perhaps a bit better but hardly perfect either.

His essay in Four Views of the Role of Works in the Final Judgment is excellent.

The issue is methodology and I find myself resonating with his theological presuppositions.