Monday, May 30, 2011

The TULIP vs. Reformed Theology (revised)

It seems to me (as a person knowledgable about Reformation times and its theology, both Lutheran and Reformed), and also somewhat knowledgable concerning the 19th century American Princetonian Theology (and its competing Mercersburg Theology), that mainstream "orthodox Reformed theology" as we know it in our place and time in the Reformed Church at large has fallen into reductionism and serious theological imbalance.

What has happened, as I think I see it, is that the mainstream American vision (the Princetonian Theology) has evolved from the original Reformation form into a system of thought which is simply "evangelical," in the 19th and early 20th century sense, to which is added the "Five Points of Calvinism."

The key theological concept which distinguishes this kind of "Reformed Theology" appears to me to be "Particularism."  One can read B B Warfield's Plan of Salvation, for instance, and this is plain to see.  He makes the virtual definition of Reformed Theology to be Particularism.

However, one seeks in vain for this "look and feel" in the Reformation versions of Reformed Theology.  Particularism is there, but within Scriptural bounds.  Predestination and election are taught, but this is by no means a monopoly of the Reformed theology!  Observing that God does not preach the gospel to all nor does he save all those to whom the gospel is preached, and also having Scriptural doctrines about this is far from making the Reformed Theology simply a vehicle for preaching Particularism.

Therefore, I believe that our "modern" inheritance from the Princetonian legacy, as valuable as it is, is a serious distorting emphasis within the theological system which we profess to represent.  True Reformed Theology is "catholic," offers the Gospel to all who hear it, and is not simply a vehicle for making a hobby-horse of Particularism.

Truth is, the evangelical+5point notion of Reformed Theology is seriously affected by the spirit of Revivalism, Americanism, and too much RationalismThe Revivalism and Americanism are inimical to the true Reformational and Reformed idea of the institution of the Church.  And, the Rationalism is the fruit of the proximity of the Enlightenment.  If the mind of man can solve all mysteries (as the Enlightenment postulated), then it is tempting to think that the mind of man must be able to fight back using the same tools in the defense of Christianity, as 19th (and 18th) century Reformed Theology evidently thought.  Perhaps no one ever thought that the human mind could thereby unwittingly be overextended into realms beyond its competence, and that to attempt to defend Christianity by using the same methods and tools as the world would be an error, and might even lead to spiritual and intellectual disaster.

One can see the visible affect of the pre-eminence of American Reformed "Particularism" from "outside the camp" by reading Francis Pieper's Christian Dogmatics.  His main "enemy" in this work of American Confessional Lutheranism is the Particularism of the Reformed Church.  To Pieper, Particularism as preached by the Reformed Church is the single greatest error of that church, and the one which most radically de-Christianizes and refutes it.  Now, as surely as Mr. Pieper's complaints need to be taken seriously by the Reformed, this is surely a powerful 19th century style response to the 19th century over-emphasis on Particularism in the American Reformed Church.  This "Particularist Reformed" spirit still lives on among the Reformed in the 21st century, especially in the more Baptistic circles.  But to many Reformed thinkers nowadays this definition of the meaning of "Reformed," and the rationalistic tactics that go along with it, is beginning to be recognized as old-fashioned.

In this post-Enlightenment age when we have been freed not from the use of the mind but from rationalism, we need to rethink our theology in a manner which more meekly evaluates our rational capabilities, more highly evaluates the meaning of Scripture, and which avoids the "five-point trap" of thinking that only those points adequately characterize the whole of Reformed Theology.

There is a world of books out there about this.

One could profitably begin with D G Hart's biography:
     John Williamson Nevin, High Church Calvinist.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Christian Suffering, Spirituality and Eschatology (revised 5/28)

This is the first post of what may be an occasional series of posts on the interrelationship of Christian Suffering and Eschatology.  

The basic thesis of these posts, which I will try to support over time, is this:  The age-long continuance of Christian Suffering is such a significant emphasis in the New Testament, that a view of the progress of this age which sees a gradual end to suffering by the time of the Second Coming of Christ must be an eschatology which is seriously at odds with the New Testament.

A few points are:

1)  The general cast of the New Testament is opposed to gradual entrance of conditions of such spiritual and experiential peace and plenty such that the transition to the eternal state is not catastrophic.  Put another way, the eternal state does not come by a process of development, or spiritual evolution, in either extent or quality.  I do not deny by this that the current age has a path of spiritual development, and that that development tends to the sharpness of the distinction between good and evil, nor do I deny that the preponderance of Christianity, and its effects, increases.

2)  The experimental suffering which is put forth as the norm in the Bible as a whole, and especially in the New Testament, must be the experience of all believers in this age, until the end of the age.  The maintenance of Christian spirituality depends on this.  Therefore, a view of the end of the age in which spiritual conditions approach conditions in the Eternal State is inimical to the New Testament vision of the spiritual value of the suffering that characterizes the present age.

3)  The whole Bible narrative of the believers' experience shows that an easy life is spiritually harmful to those still in the un-resurrected flesh.  Our fidelity to God is only guaranteed through spiritual struggle.  Christ, the perfect man, learned obedience through suffering.

4)  The spiritual purity and "separation" of the church from the world, so important in the text of the New Testament, is at stake.  The only way to maintain our testimony and actually have an effect on the world is to maintain this separation.  The liberal churches have simply identified their eschatology with popular political and social progressivism in all its methods and results, and thereby demonstrate the result of this kind of "postmillennialism."  A theonomic replacement of the world's carnal "law" with God's Law will not fix this problem, because the problem is spiritual in a way which transcends "law."  The Church is a New Creation, not simply a renovation of the Original Creation.

5)  Finally, the "proof-texts" for the evolution of gradual spiritual perfection do not support this picture.  Any sustained argument built up from the full revelation of the New Testament will show the continuing threat of apostasy -- even a final apostasy, and the spiritual warfare between the wheat and the tares will not end until the harvest.

Good and evil will "come to a point" at the harvest at the end of the age in such a manner that Christian suffering will remain the Christian lifestyle until the end of the age.  Our hope is in the Eternal State, not some near-perfect manifestation of God's Kingdom before that time.  To focus attention and hope on the pre-Eternal State as capable of containing the near-full manifestation of God's Kingdom is to lose the eschatological vision, and potentially to fall into the trap of worldliness which is condemned in the New Testament.

Our expectations in this age must be properly focused, lest the spirituality and separation of the Church from the World be lost.  If the spirituality and separation of the Church is lost through some kind of "gospel reductionism," and if the central focus of the hope of fulfillment in an Eschaton which transcends the current aeon and its ways of life is lost, the result will just be "liberalism" again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Piety of Christ

The greatest injustice that ever took place, or ever will, happened at the day and hour that Our Lord Jesus Christ voluntarily took the blame for our sins.  In doing so, he manifested the highest act of righteous piety ever seen, or ever will be.  He cried, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?"

When forsaken, he cried this.  When taking taking our punishment, he cried this.  At his lowest, even at death, God was his God!  Having been "made sin for us," he remained the pure sacrifice for our sin.

By his death, therefore, we have life.  By his mighty act of weakness -- his death -- the powers of the Devil were defeated.  Our sins were canceled.  The wrath of God was satisfied.  The honor of God was upheld.  Christ the Savior was still God. 

The Prince of Life could not be held by death.  The source of Life gained Life again, and we have Life in Him!

Glory be to God!