Posts Tagged ‘Reformation’

What’s your theological worldview?

April 13, 2009

Just taken this quiz… I think it’s pretty good as far as these things go – some questions could be a bit more nuanced, but, hey, I’m happy with the results.

You Scored as Reformed Evangelical
You are a Reformed Evangelical. You take the Bible very seriously because it is God’s Word. You most likely hold to TULIP and are sceptical about the possibilities of universal atonement or resistible grace. The most important thing the Church can do is make sure people hear how they can go to heaven when they die. 

Reformed Evangelical
Neo orthodox
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Roman Catholic
Classical Liberal
Modern Liberal



Creationism: All Luther and Calvin’s fault?

April 10, 2009

I managed to catch “Did Darwin Kill God” on iPlayer before it disappeared into the digital ether.  One of the members of staff in the Theology Department at Nottingham, Conor Cunningham, presented perhaps the most interesting (to me!) parts of the BBC’s Darwin season. Essentially, Cunningham was arguing for the “no conflict” position – belief in some form of evolution is compatible with the orthodox Christian belief in the Bible as the Word of God. In fact, the programme shared remarkable affinity with the argument of the evangelical scientist Denis Alexander’s recent book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?, both even quoting Augustine’s On the Literal Meaning of Genesis. What was especially interesting was how modern the Young-Earth Creationist position is.

However, one thing that stuck out as odd in the programme was how Conor Cunningham introduced the idiosyncratic views of Bishop Ussher with a sideswipe at Protestantism:

“The Reformation saw some Christians reject the authority of the Catholic Church in Rome, embracing instead the Bible as the sole source of authority. Scripture, not the Pope, was now their master. The decision of Luther and Calvin to question Papal authority opened the floodgates for anyone to read the Bible as they wished.”

To be sure, Protestantism’s sola Scriptura has been at least partly responsible for its “genius for fission” (A.E. McGrath) and denominalization. But I doubt either Luther or Calvin would recognize themselves in the description as encouragers of “anyone reading the Bible as they wished”. Such a way of phrasing it implies that the authority lies with the interpreter, not with the Bible. But for Luther and his followers, “Scripture is its own interpreter” (Scriptura ipsius interpres) and questions of interpretation cannot be resolved by an authority above the Bible (since no such authority exists) but by the Bible itself, as J.I. Packer argues:

“Scripture yields two basic principles for its own interpretation. The first is that the proper, natural sense of each passage (i.e., the intended sense of the writer) is to be taken as fundamental; the meaning of texts in their own contexts, and for their original readers, is the necessary starting-point for enquiry into their wider significance… The second basic principle of interpretation is that Scripture must interpret Scripture; the scope and significance of one passage is to be brought out by relating it to others.”

With an issue like Evolution and Genesis 1-2, different interpretations are bound to arise – but the Reformers would insist that any proffered interpretation be subject to the authority of the Bible, and weighed on its intrinsic merits – including its plausibility (“Unless I am convinced by Scripture or by plain reason… I cannot and will not recant” – Luther). This is completely different to the idea that sola Scriptura and private interpretation amount to letting anyone make the Bible say just what they want it to say. Private interpretation of the text does not mean that the reader gets to interpret the Bible however they wish, but that they are to seek out the true meaning whether they like it or not. (In fact, it may well be that the Roman Catholic approach of resolving differences of interpretation by an authoritative judgement by the Church’s magisterial authority is more vulnerable to an accusation of placing the interpreter above the Bible)

Perhaps the problem is that so much of Protestantism believes the myth that private interpretation means exactly what Cunningham suggests it does – and so in practice actually reject the authority not only of the Pope but also of the Bible – the classic error of liberalism.

Justification – right with God

April 9, 2009

One of the tracks I went to at New Word Alive was called “Right With God” – a tour through the doctrine of justification by Mike Reeves, who works for UCCF. We started off in the second century AD and went through to modern-day debates over the doctrine raised by the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision. I’m hoping the talks will be downloadable from the New Word Alive site or Theology Network soon – they are extremelyworthwhile. (This is also worth listening to – a chat with John Piper on the subject of Justification and the NPP) In the meantime, I thought I would blog some of the more interesting things I learnt!

Often we assume some kind of simplistic view of church history – something like  ‘the early church fathers corrupted the message of the apostles until it was rediscovered in the Reformation’ (not a real quote!) but things aren’t so simple. Even by the second century there was a diversity in views of justification in the church – ranging from the sublime to the heretical. Reeves pointed out particularly the works-righteousness in Mandate 6 of the Shepherd of Hermas, (the two angels thing seems to have made it directly into the Qur’an – 50:17) which is even more pronounced in Mandate 7 – “Every creature feareth the Lord, but not every one keepeth His commandments. Those then that fear Him and keep His commandments, they have life unto God; but they that keep not His commandments have no life in them” which couldn’t be further from the joyful theology of the New Testament.

But often too, Protestants can think of Augustine as being a Protestant because of his emphasis on original sin and his battle against Pelagianism. Yet he also provides the basis for the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification based upon the “infused righteousness of God” by putting primacy on Romans 5:5 in defining justification (understanding the “love of God” poured into our hearts as promoting righteousness within us, thus making us just). This is the root of the Reformation debate – is justification to be understood as the process of becoming more and more just, or is it a (forensic) pronouncement?

For Luther, justification was a declaritive act of God, and obtained not by penitence but by faith in the promises of God. Reeves did a great job of showing how Luther’s thought developed – he didn’t wake up one morning and decide to found a church, and the 95 Theses where it all began are not so much Protestant as a strand of Catholicism opposed to the abuse of indulgences. Luther considered what was actually going on during confession with a priest – the priest would offer the promise of God’s forgiveness, and the hope of forgiveness is not found introspectively through feelings of repentance, but in God’s promises. Contrary to what some have claimed, Luther was not the victim of an introspective conscience, at least, not when he was a Protestant – but instead placed all of his confidence of acceptance by God external to himself – in God’s promises of righteousness through faith in Christ. If any view is to be accused of promoting introspection, it should be Medieval Catholicism.

This view of Justification is a tremendously liberating truth – as shown in Richard Sibbes’ Bruised Reed, which was very much recommended by Reeves. It also affects the rest of our theology – it provides a way of seeing God as loving rather than exclusively as a cosmic judge; it changes our understanding of what sin is and exposes self-righteousness and refusal to rely on God as the terrible acts of rebellion they are; it even changes our understanding of what ‘faith’ is. Faith is not a surrogate work or something we need to work hard at to “do”. If it were an inner resource then it would be sin, according to Luther, so “have I got enough faith?” is precisely the wrong question for the Christian to ask herself. Faith is a passive thing on this understanding – it is receiving the promises of God; taking God seriously in what he says. For Protestants, it is God’s Word which saves, not the strength of our faith. I wonder whether we do a good job of communicating this when we talk about “faith alone”? The faith-as-a-surrogate-work misunderstanding is one I’ve come across from a lot of people, including people who otherwise know their Bibles and Church History as well as anyone.