Thursday, October 29, 2009

More nonsense from Timothy George

As many of you know I am sure, Timothy George recently had a "dialog" with Frank Beckwith over the differences among Roman Catholics and Evangelicals at Wheaton College. In this discussion, George basically said that these old debates over imputation and infusion are not really very important. The gospel was defined as the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Evangelicals and Papists teach the same gospel. While this certainly is a valid description of the gospel, certain understandings of these ideas can render it false. For example a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness would agree that Jesus lived, died, and rose again from the dead. However, the polytheism of Mormonism, and the subordinationism of the Watchtower society destroy the message. In the same way, a denial of Sola Fide makes the death and resurrection of Jesus of no effect. Once something is added to this for justification, it becomes a false gospel. I am sure the Judaisers would have agreed with George on this point, yet Paul still calls them anathema. Well George came out with a statement recently in Christianity Today that James White put on his blog that reinforces these ideas.
"The gaping divide between evangelicals and Catholics is ecclesiology and authority, not justification and salvation, as important as that debate remains," George said. "There is enough commonality that evangelicals and Catholics with a living faith can recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ with a common Lord and common grace that brought them together. The hard issues are questions related to the church, such as the Petrine office [the papacy] and the Eucharist. Those discussions will occupy us for the next 100 years."
So the gospel is not the dividing line between Romanism and Evangelicalism? What did this Luther guy waste his time for! It's a good thing that George has seen past the wisdom of all reformers both Lutheran and Calvinist and found the truth!
Timothy George... do not call yourself an evangelical. You have abandoned what we have fought for the past 500 years. In fact, you gave up any right to be called an evangelical or "Reformed" the moment you signed ECT.
Paul stated that those who preached another gospel are anathema. Paul then defends the gospel by defending the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works. Thus, if one wants to take Paul's words seriously, Sola Fide is the center of the gospel itself. Any attempt to drift from it puts one under not Luther or Calvin's but Paul's anathema.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I do not agree with this position...

But I was required to write a defense of Arminianism from the perspective of one of the Remonstrants from the time of Dort. I was surprised at how well my defense came out (not that any defense of synergism can truly be exegetically valid). I thought some might find it interesting to read a monergist attempt to defend Arminian theology.

"The men who call themselves “Calvinists” have introduced five points in response to our proposals of a more Biblical reformed theology. They claim that they have both St. Augustine and the father of our own church John Calvin on their side. This may be, however, Calvin is not an infallible interpreter of scripture. Calvin was great because he pointed us back to scripture, not because he formulated the perfect system of interpreting it. Therefore I claim that we are the true heirs of Calvin, not because we agree with all of his decisions, but because we test all things by scripture.
The first point that the so-called Calvinists have put up against up is total depravity. They claim that man has been so corrupted by the fall that he has the utter inability to obey God. Man cannot even come to faith and repentance in this state. We agree that in Adam all men have been corrupted in both will and intellect. We reject all Pelagian error which says that man can achieve salvation by his own power. However, God has not left our will in a state of total despair. Our will has been healed to such an extent that we have the ability to respond or reject the free gift of salvation. This is implied through out scripture in passages which command us to believe. As Joshua said to the Israelites before his death, “choose this day who you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Would God offer salvation merely to tease us? It is as if he is holding a gift above our heads. He asks us to receive it but it is held to high that we cannot even reach it. Thus God is saying, “Choose salvation! It is free! Yet you cannot because I have not given you freedom of choice.” Man cannot be held accountable for a decision he cannot help but make. If we ought to do something, then we can do that thing.
The second point they put against us is unconditional election. This doctrine says that God elects man apart from any choice he makes. He also predestines man apart from evil. This makes God to be a tyrant who simply waves his hand declaring arbitrarily that one man is saved and another one damned. This is not the picture of the merciful loving God of scripture. How is election viewed in the New Testament? “For those he foreknew he also predestined.”(Romans 8:29) A similar statement comes from the apostle Peter, “To those who are elect exiles…according to the foreknowledge of God the father”(1 Peter 1:1). Notice that in these passages, predestination is not founded within God’s eternal decree but within his foreknowledge. God has knowledge of future events. Thus He sees who will accept his free offer and who will not. Thus, on this basis he chooses one man over another. Why one is elect and another reprobate is not to be found in God, but in man.
The third point is to us the most offensive to all true religion. This is the doctrine of limited atonement. According to these men, Christ came into the world not to die for all men alike, but for a select few. This doctrine is so absurd, so utterly foreign to all forms of Christianity whether Reformed, Romanist, or Lutheran that it hardly needs to be refuted. A few selections from Holy Scripture will suffice to refute this doctrine of demons. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”(2 Peter 3:9) “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) These passages among others teach the exact opposite of the articles of the so-called Calvinists! There is not one sentence in scripture that defends this doctrine. There is not even a sentence in Augustine of Calvin which teaches what the perverters of their doctrine have proposed. This takes away all comfort in the Christian life. How can I have assurance if I never know if Christ indeed truly died for me! This then drives me back to the despair that we once had under the yolk of Rome.
The next point has been labeled “irresistible grace”. This horrible doctrine teaches that man does not freely come to Christ in faith in order to be regenerated and saved. Rather, God forces whom he will to come to faith and does not allow the repentance of others. God offers this grace, rather forces this grace, only upon a select few and gives no grace to the majority of mankind. Thus God creates men only to damn them! That men cannot resist the Holy Spirit is refuted by the words of the first martyr of the Christian church, “You stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51) Thus grace is by no means irresistible. That all men have the freedom to accept or reject grace is proven through the words of Peter, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out”. (Acts 3:19) Would the apostle ask men to make the choice to repent if they had no choice in the matter? God does not act in such an illogical way.
Now we come to the final point which is argued against us. This is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Arminius himself, whose theology is nearly impeccable, was unsure of this doctrine. He allowed for the possibility of a Christian falling away but admitted that his opponents defended themselves well on this particular point. After much more thorough study of scripture, it has become clear that this doctrine is not in accordance with the teaching of the apostles. Several places in the New Testament state that a man may fall from grace. When Paul proclaims salvation through Christ to the Colossians, he puts a condition upon it, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard”. (Colossians 2:23) Though God’s grace preserves us, it requires our cooperation. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of those who have “tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 6:4) being able to fall away from grace. Nowhere in scripture is an unbeliever said to share in the Spirit. These and several other verses are sufficient to prove our point.
Thus, tested by both the words of scripture and human reason, our position is superior. We are simply trying to continue the Reformation in constantly looking to the word of God for all truth. The reformation is not about treating its founders as infallible, but taking their exegesis and theology as a guide to future theological study whose only authority is the word of God. Even Martin Luther’s successor Melancthon came to disagree with his teacher on some of these points. Thus, rather than reverting back to Rome as some claim, we are going further into the word of God and away from our traditions."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some thoughts on Bernard

It has often been stated by theologians as well as historians that Bernard of Clairvaux was the last “father of the church.” This may seem inappropriate since the Patristic age is usually seen to end around the time of Gregory (600 A.D.). However, the description does offer an accurate depiction of Bernard’s place among later medieval theology. In many ways, Bernard was among the last theologians of the period to deal primarily with Biblical exegesis, though most often in an allegorical manner. He did not give in to all of the subtleties of scholastic theology which was dominated by the thoughts of Aristotle. His writings show a man with simple faith in Christ, trying to encourage others in the love of God and neighbor.

Bernard not only was referred to as a church father, but has been seen by some as a forefather of the reformation. Luther himself quotes Bernard more than any other writer, save Augustine. Bernard perhaps understood the writings of St. Paul better than any other medieval theologian. He shares many affinities with Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Rather than the focus on good works and piety found in many theologians of the day, Bernard focused on the person and work of Christ himself. He was nicknamed doctor passionis. For Bernard, Christ was not seen primarily as judge, but as advocate. Bernard’s sermons contain several statements with this emphasis. “[Christ] gave himself to merit for us, He retains Himself to be our reward, He offers Himself as the food of saintly souls, He gives Himself as the price of redemption of those in captivity.”

Another reason why Luther admired Bernard so highly was that he did not give in to the scholasticism which had just begun to emerge in France. Scholastic theology was to dominate the middle ages until the humanists began looking at Biblical texts in their original language and context. Scholasticism dealt with all possible theological issues, whether important to the Christian faith or not. The old tale says that there was a debate among these theologians about how many angels could dance upon the head of a pin. Bernard was an opponent of scholasticism, specifically the thought of the controversial Peter Abelard. Rather than using Greek secular philosophy, Bernard states, “While I am in this life this more sublime philosophy will be mine-to know… Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Bernard anticipated the doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide as would be explained by the Reformers. Bernard, following his great teacher Augustine, taught that grace comes prior to conversion. Man, apart from grace does not, and will not decide to follow Christ. “The cause of loving God is God…It is He who gives the occasion, it is He who creates the affection, He who consummates the desire.” The historical theologian Adolf Von Harnack called Bernard Augustine Redivivus, meaning the second Augustine. His view of the provenience of God’s grace is in line with Augustine’s view in his anti-Pelagian writings. Though Bernard does not go the extreme as does Augustine by discussing double predestination, he does attribute all of salvation to God’s eternal election.

"His seed is the eternal predestination by which God has loved his elect… These I have regarded as those who have never sinned, as it were, because although they are seen to have sinned in some things in time, they do not appear to have done so in eternity, because the charity of their father covers a multitude of sins. And He calls them blessed whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered."

Notice that their not having sinned is not attributed to an inward change which God but to God’s forgiveness. Bernard outlines this position in his book On Grace and Free Choice. Though Luther read and quoted this book in his early debates with Eck, Calvin disagrees with many of his conclusions in the Institutes.

Perhaps most importantly for Luther and the reformers, Bernard of Clairvaux anticipated the doctrine of justification by faith alone in several of his sermons. While the majority of scholastic teachers in his day saw the saving righteousness of God as something infused into the believer making him inwardly righteous, Bernard sees it as a gift of forgiveness and mercy. “It suffices me for attaining to all righteousness, to have Him alone propitious toward me against Whom alone I have sinned… Not to sin is the righteousness of God: man’s righteousness is God’s forgiveness.” When Bernard speaks of merit it is most often connected to God’s gift and not to man’s good works. “He gave Himself to merit for us.” Perhaps the most clear statement of this doctrine comes from his sermon SC22, “Therefore the person who through sorrow for sin hungers and thirsts for righteousness, let him trust in the One who changes the sinner into a just person (Rom 4:5), and judged righteous in terms of faith alone (et solam iustificatus per fidem), that person will have peace with God.”

Bernard speaks frequently about the insufficiency of our own merits. “In order to merit, it is enough to know that our merits do not suffice for us.” He makes it clear that he does not hold to a doctrine of penance which puts man’s righteousness in his own hands. “Your sins are very great and beyond number. Never will you be able to make satisfaction for them, so many and so great are they, not even if you strip the very skin from your body.” Being a preacher, he uses his pastoral spirit to comfort his hearers with these doctrines.

"Why are you fearful, ye of little faith? Because He is unwilling to forgive sins? He nailed them to the cross together with his own hands. Because you are delicate and accustomed to a life of ease? But He knoweth our frame. [He remembereth that we are dust.] Because you have grown accustomed to evil and are bound by the fetters of habitual sin? But the Lord looseth them that are fettered. Are you, perhaps, fearful lest, angered by the greatness and number of your sins He will be slow to extend a helping hand? But where sin abounded, grace did more abound."

In at least two more ways Bernard shared theology with the Reformers. Bernard held that baptism was necessary to salvation; however, it was not absolutely necessary. He held, like Luther that though baptism regenerates, it was possible for God to save without it. Though we should not presume that unbaptized infants are with Christ, it is a possibility. More significantly, he seems to hold to something similar to the law/gospel distinction, though he may not speak in those terms. This passage shows a personal experience which demonstrates this principle. “How often has prayer taken me on the brink of despair, and restored me to the state of soul of one exulting in joy and confident forgiveness.” God causes his people to be struck by the law, put into despair, so that he may restore them again through the gospel, offering them forgiveness.

Bernard’s legacy does not end here. Most often he is not remembered as the last church father, the first medieval mystic, or the great theologian of the cross, but as the preacher of the Crusades. The success of the first Crusade had given Christians power over the holy land. Western presence dominated three primary cities: Jerusalem, Edessa, and Antioch. However, after a few decades of attacks, the kingdom of Edessa fell to Muslim forces in 1144. The western world now had a dilemma. Should the church support another crusade to retake Edessa?

The Pope at this time was one of Bernard’s own students, Bernard of Pisa, renamed Pope Eugenius III. Though Bernard did not at first support his friend’s accession to the papal throne, he supported and guided him when he was placed into the Holy See. He wrote a guidebook for the papacy titled “Book of Considerations.” Bernard believed that if the corruptions in the church were to be fixed, they would come from within the Papacy.

Eugenius III called for a second crusade in 1146 to regain Edessa and protect the Holy Land. Enthusiasm was greatly diminished from the first crusade. Thus Eugenius needed a way of exciting the masses to join the crusade. He called upon Bernard who then became the preacher of the second crusade. The question that one must ask at this point is, how does Bernard’s focus on love and grace coincide with his support of a crusade? Can one preach both the love of God and the death of pagans? Perhaps Bernard contradicts himself, or perhaps these two ideas are compatible. The best way to gain an answer to this question is to look at Bernard’s writings themselves.

In a letter written by Bernard to support the crusade, he blames the Muslims victory on the sins of the church. “For our sins, the enemies of Cross have raised blaspheming heads, ravaging with the edge of the sword the land of promise.” Bernard believes that there is some special significance to the church in the nation of Israel. Just as it was in the time of the prophets, the ownership of Israel was directly related to the obedience of God’s people.
Since the Muslims are attacking, this must in Bernard’s mind be a test sent by God. He could of course regain the land by the mere word of his mouth but he wants to make his people choose to serve him by volunteering for the crusade. He first shows the people their sinfulness, then offers them forgiveness. However, unlike many of his sermons, he does not present forgiveness as a free gift in Christ. He sees forgiveness as obtained through the act of crusading. “He wills to be held a debtor, that he may give pay to those that fight for him, pardon of sins, and everlasting glory.” This may seem to have affinities with the doctrine of forgiveness of sins through indulgences as was taught by John Tetsel. However, Bernard does clearly teach that to receive the forgiveness offered through service to God in military orders, one must be truly sorry for his sin. It is not a mere ex opera operato formula.
Much of Bernard’s motivation in preaching in favor of the crusades was his peculiar eschatology. Bernard believed that he was living near the end times. Due to his exegesis of Romans 11, he believed that there was a soon to come conversion of the majority of living Israelites. Bernard believed in a view which might today be classified as postmillennial. Before Christ was to return on earth, the majority of humanity would be converted to Christianity. Paganism would be nearly destroyed. This would explain why Bernard supported the killing of Pagans, and their expulsion from the holy land. It was not due primarily to his view of warfare in general, but of eschatology. Bernard’s eschatology seems to have been largely influenced by the Sibylline Oracles. These were prophecies of a Christian origin written between the 2nd and 5th century AD. In these prophecies, there was to be a leader, claiming to be Roman, who would eliminate paganism from the earth. This leader’s name was to begin with a “C”. He saw the fulfillment of this prophecy in Conrad III of Germany. These ideas caused Bernard, while supporting the violence of crusading, to defend the life of Jews. He vehemently protested the violence which had occurred against Jews by earlier crusaders. This is because Bernard believed the time of their conversion to be soon. “If the Jews be utterly trampled down, how shall the promised salvation or conversion profit them in the end?”

Another motivation behind Bernard’s support, perhaps the most important, was his ecclesiology. Bernard saw the state as having two main purposes. The state was to execute justice in civil matters, and also to protect the true faith of the church. Thus doctrinal purity, though primarily defended by the church, was to be promoted by the state. Bernard was also living in a time when the Papacy was gaining both ecclesiastical and political power. During the first crusade, there was not special appeal made to the churches coercive power as justification for war. However, in Bernard, as well as other writers of this period, this is used as an acceptable argument. The church has the power to command and control warfare. This is why Bernard could focus much of his preaching on individual salvation rather than on the capture of Jerusalem which was the primary motivation for the earlier crusade.

Bernard had an extremely high view of clergy and what they were able to do and command of laity. He held to the traditional medieval notion that Christians who had taken monastic vows were of a higher order than the ordinary Christian. This is why Bernard supported the Knights Templar but did not give as much respect to lay Christians who volunteered. He referred to them as malitia (meaning malice) as opposed to militia. This is relevant to the current discussion because his high view of Church authority led to a high view of the Papacy. As was the case with many other church men, Bernard believed that reformation must begin with the office of the bishop of Rome. Thus, the Pope was to be obeyed at all costs. The cloistered monk who spent most of his life in silent seclusion, writing, meditating and preparing sermons most likely would not tour Europe preaching Crusade without a direct call from the church. It is my contention that because Bernard saw the Papacy as Christ’s human instrument to the church on earth, he saw obedience to the Pope as obedience to Christ himself. Bernard preached for the crusades to because he was commanded to by the successor of Peter. This is not to say that Bernard held to a fully developed doctrine of Papal infallibility as has been taught by Rome since the first Vatican council of 1870. However, Papal authority had grown in the minds of Christians since the reign of Gregory.

Does Bernard contradict himself? Yes and no. It was stated by B.B. Warfield that the reformation was the victory of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church. In the same way one could say the reformation saw the victory of Bernard’s doctrine of grace over his doctrine of the church. Bernard was neither a Protestant, nor a Tridentine Catholic. It is anachronistic to suppose that Bernard must be one or the other. The driving motivation behind most of his life was love for Christ and a desire to please him. Thus, loving the scriptures, Bernard focused on the same message as did God’s inspired writers, the cross. However, loving the church, Bernard felt the need to obey her head by taking up the role of Crusade preaching. In this way Bernard was not contradicting himself; he saw all of his actions as ultimately aimed at the glory of his savior.

However, there is a contradiction in Bernard’s statements of justification. In most of his sermons, Bernard speaks of God’s forgiveness being bestowed on all who are truly sorry for their sin. One realizes his lost state and humbles himself so that God may restore him through grace. He does not speak of satisfaction for sin other than the cross. However, in his crusading sermons and letters, he speaks of forgiveness given through the act of crusading. He seems to give crusading an almost sacramental character. As God gives grace through baptism and the Eucharist, so he gives it through volunteering and fighting. However, Bernard need not be consistent. He did not live in the era that Luther, Chemnits, and Calvin lived in when discussions of justification were central. Bernard was simply a man who loved Christ, tried to glorify him and made several mistakes.