Friday, March 31, 2017

On Scripture

Sola Scriptura?

Read this post (and comment following) then answer the question!

It strikes me that proponents of Sola Scriptura may too readily overlook all the ways in which even the most Scriptural of Christians do not actually live by "Scripture alone" (using commentaries, approaching Scripture with the guide and guardianship of the creeds, endorsing preaching as means of bringing understanding of the bare text to the congregation).

But just before we strike Sola Scriptura down, let's acknowledge the Reformers were no fools. There was a reason for their holding up Scripture as the ultimate determinant of the message of salvation. Something had gone terribly wrong in the reading of Scripture in and by the church towards the end of what we now see as the medieval age. A church promoting indulgences as a means of raising finances to build an edifice is not a church reading Scripture with the grain of Scripture. Nor is it a church understanding, let alone fulfilling its responsibility as guardian of Scripture.

Part of the point of the post linked to above, as I reflect on it, is that just as there are different ways to understand Sola Scriptura so there are different ways to understand "not Sola Scriptura."

One of those ways, in Western Christianity at least, goes something like this (at least in the minds of Protestants!): Scripture and Tradition inform the Christian mind; with Tradition being the accumulated knowledge of the church as it has discerned the mind of Christ through many centuries; so "not Sola Scriptura" means Scripture PLUS Tradition, two streams of knowledge and revelation from God, the key to holding both together being the church. Cue arguments for a formal Magisterium or an informal magisterium via theological faculties; for acknowledging "tradition" but not "Tradition"; for Sola Scripturists being extremely dubious about Tradition (if not tradition) because the former has permitted strange (= unscriptural) doctrines like the Assumption of Mary.

But another way, heralded in the post, is that Scripture is a text in which there are treasures of spiritual knowledge, indeed, better, one treasure of knowledge, Jesus Christ, and the shortfall to "Sola Scriptura" is that it offers a limited understanding of that treasure whereas the church's gift and task is to corporately read Scripture (i.e. gathering all readings together, past as well as present) so that the full knowledge of Jesus Christ, from every page of Scripture is brought forth into the light.

I remain somewhat Protestant about the first kind of "not Sola Scriptura" and I am drawn to the Orthodox direction by the second kind of "not Sola Scriptura."

33 comments:

Brian Kelly said...

Three brief comments.
1. Al Kimel presents the standard Orthodox view of the OT which leans very heavily on Alexandrian typology which sees Christ but also Mary - cryptically and typologically present throughout the OT, especially in the OT narratives of Genesis and Exodus and to some extent in the Prophets. Actually this approach is also popular with Protestant literalists, especially Pentecostalists (although they will not be Marian in outlook). While this approach has some NT warrant, the origin of this interpretive focus seems (to me at least) to be the desire of the church (in the 3rd century?) to wrest the Septuagint from the Jews and establish peradventure that the 'Old Testament' is a Christian book once it had been correctly 'decoded'. I think in the third century Jews still outnumbered Christians in the Roman Empire and no doubt there was considerable conflict between Christians and Jews.
2. Kimel (and other converts to Orthodoxy from American Anglo-Catholicism) probably doesn't appreciate how *conservative* and consciously archaic Magisterial Protestantism sought to be in conception of 'Sola Scriptura'. No less a figure than the Puritan divine John Owen constantly sought to establish that his teaching was *not* a novelty but grounded in ancient teaching; more lucidly, John Calvin did the same in his Institutes; both writers are utterly replete in appeal to patristic writers). For the Magisterial Reformers, 'sola Scriptura' *never* meant ignoring the accumulated body of commentary or Catholic doctrinal debate. That is why they were so keen on Chrysostom in particular, while they affirmed Chalcedon. However, Reformed theologians sided with Antioch rather than Alexandria. The Magisterial Reformers basically affirmed Christian teaching before the assertion of the Papacy in the High Middle Ages. It is interesting for example that Thomas denied the Immaculate Conception but Duns Scotus affirmed it. On Justification, the key thological issue of the Reformation, there was no defined Catholic doctrine until Trent. Luther was not deemed a heretic on this question in 1520.
3. Stanley Hauerwas - meh.

Father Ron said...

Peter, I think you would find the latest item - linked to your blog under the esoteric title 'Psephizo' - by your U.K. colleague Ian, is not totally disconnected from your subject matter in this thread. He ponders the question: "Do Evangelicals have a Spirituality"; in which he suggest that, just maybe, not all of our spiritual needs are found in 'Sola Scriptura'. A very interestinf read, and food for thought - especailly in our approach to the liturgical events of Holy Week in the Church Catholic.

Anonymous said...

Peter, Anglicans and Lutherans believe, not in Sola Scriptura,* but in Prima Scriptura. According to the 39A, the scriptures teach all things necessary to salvation, tacitly leaving much that is not necessary to salvation to tradition or deliberation. Conversely, the classic Lutheran exposition of tradition by Martin Chemnitz acknowledges nearly everything to be tradition but the decrees of Trent, and reserves to scripture only the doctrine of salvation. Today, "Sola Scriptura" is of more interest to the most polemical Reformed, who have no raison d'etre whatsoever apart from it, and to their Roman Catholic adversaries who never tire of attacking it for just that reason.

Evangelicals of the conservative Reformation might better explain our own Prima Scriptura, not as the polemicists have done, by fruitlessly debating Tradition in itself and as a whole, but by specifying the creeds as the Church's hermeneutic of the scriptures, even as the scriptures are the outworking of the insights contained in the creeds. When this is recognised, then one can see at a glance how the conservative reformers' readings of scripture not only differ from the sort of reading fostered by scholasticism, but also resemble projects begun in the New Testament and continued by the fathers.

Bowman Walton

Brian Kelly said...

Bowman, I do not think that is correct. 'Prima Scriptura' (or better, 'primum Scriptura', using the adverb rather than the adjective) describes Roman Catholicism; the question is what comes second. This Anglican at least certainly believes in 'Sola Scriptura' and the meaning of Article 19 is clear enough. 'Sola Scriptura' does not mean that 'tradition' in the sense of accumulated wisdom in biblical interpretation is discounted nor that 'reason' in the Aristotelian-Thomistic sense is discarded; quite the reverse. The Magisterial Reformers did not for a moment question the Chalcedonian Symbol nor the ecumenical creeds. They affirmed the patristic formulations of Christology and Trinitarianism. It was the Radical Reformers who began to go down this road and the result in some cases was Unitarian Socinianism - an old heresy that has re-emerged in Tec. Just consider how John Owen battled the Socinians in the 17th century to see how this worked in practice. You might have called the Socinians 'Scriptura nuda' - and even they were surpassed by the radical 'Schwaermer' invoking 'the spirit' rather than the Scriptures.
It is because Anglicanism *is committed to 'Sola Scriptura' that prayers to Mary and for the dead have never been the legitimate (BCP) practice of Anglicans - notwithstanding 19th century Tractarianism which introduced these into the Church of England. Further, Lutherans also hold to 'Sola Scriptura'; this is the basis of their rejection of purgatory and papal supremacy in the church - two doctrines which had certainly established themselves by the High Middle Ages.

Father Ron said...

"It is because Anglicanism *is committed to 'Sola Scriptura' that prayers to Mary and for the dead have never been the legitimate (BCP) practice of Anglicans - notwithstanding 19th century Tractarianism which introduced these into the Church of England." - Brian Kelly -

And this is precisely why Con'Evos in Anglicanism have missed out on the more universal (and, incidentally, 'Catholic and Orthodox) understanding of the Magnificat's proclamation by the mother of Christ: "All generations shall call me blessed". It is also why Prayers for the Departed - in most Anglican Prayer Books - are ignored by Protestant Anglicans; even though they are still a source of great comfort for believing mourners.

To believe, for instance, that every departed soul is already fit for the glory of Heaven - without any need of intercessory prayers of the faithful, is to misunderstand the theology of life after death - a process hinted at in Saint Paul's reference in his epic Epistle to the Thessalonians, Chapter 4, verses 11 to 18: that, at Christ's Second Coming; "those who have died 'in Christ' will be raised first". This presumes, surely, that there is some prospect of an expectation of the prayer that they may 'Rest in Peace, and Rise one day, with Christ, in glory". This is 'prayer for the dead', rightly practised by a great majority of Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

To my mind, as an Anglo-Catholic, this is one of the prime reasons I could never subscribe to the paucity of Protestant devotional attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, careful Brian, for *primum scriptura*; the other usage has hardened, it seems, but I am pleased to see you keep up the fight for the better one. As usual ;-)

Some readers will read both of our comments and wonder whether we disagree, and if so, what about. We are, after all, recounting the same history. We differ, apparently, in the contemporary meaning of the term.

In the C16 there was-- and in the C21 there is-- a difference between those for whom *sola scriptura* committed Protestants to a project of archaeology and restoration to make their churches resemble the C1 apostolic community in Jerusalem, Antioch, etc, and those for whom *sola scriptura* was the principle of prioritising the apostolic witness in debates about soteriology.# The former describes those in England who became Presbyterians; the latter describes those who became Anglicans. Fairly or not, most C21 readers understand *sola scriptura* to mean what the Presbyterians mean, and so some new term has to signify what the more conservative Lutherans and Anglicans formerly meant by it. *Prima scriptura* is not an entirely satisfactory term, but it appears to be the consensus choice, for now.

# It is true, as you say, that Lutherans and Anglicans both rejected some doctrines and practises as inconsistent with scripture. But in the C16, these rejections were the necessary outworking of the Protestant position on justification, not a matter of fidelity to a biblical blueprint for how an ideal church should look.

Bowman Walton





Brian Kelly said...

"# It is true, as you say, that Lutherans and Anglicans both rejected some doctrines and practises as inconsistent with scripture. But in the C16, these rejections were the necessary outworking of the Protestant position on justification, not a matter of fidelity to a biblical blueprint for how an ideal church should look"

No, the rejection of purgatory, Marianism, invocation of the saints and the papacy was based explicitly on their lack of biblical warrant, not on their relation to justification. Think of Luther's defiant words at Worms ('Unless I can be shown by the plain words of Scripture or by reason'), the Augsburg Confession and Article 19 of the 39A. Well into the Middle Ages western divines thought of themselves as 'Sola-Scriptura'-ists. The doctrine isn't an innovation. As for justification, there was no defined Catholic doctrine on this until Trent. Luther was not judged a heretic on his teaching on justification but on his rejection of the papacy.

Brian Kelly said...

"To believe, for instance, that every departed soul is already fit for the glory of Heaven - without any need of intercessory prayers of the faithful, is to misunderstand the theology of life after death"
- Ron
No, it's to misunderstand the nature of Christ's justification of the ungodly and the all-surpassing, transformative power of God.
Probably not many people have read Dante's 'Purgatorio' today. Did you know that in the 13th century in Italy they believed the Southern Hemisphere was uninhabited except for a great island with a mountain on it and this was where Purgatory was located? It was there that all the sinners from the North were sent at death for their reformation through long miserable treatment. When I first read this I suddenly understood Botany Bay!

Peter Carrell said...

As you know, Brian, there are no great mountains in Australia but there is one in the South Island ... suddenly my (miserable) life is explained. Also, my tendency to ask for people to pray for my soul ... :)

Brian Kelly said...

Yes, I was aware of that problem in my tentative identification of Purgatorio with Terra Australis Incognita. Uluru don't count, does it? Purgation of sins means climbing the mountain and Australians aren't allowed on the Rock.
But Aorangi means 'cloud-piercer' and cloud denotes 'heaven' (indeed the Welsh for 'heaven' is cognate with 'nephele') so you may be onto something.
So yes, get climbing now!
Here's a guide:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatorio

Brian Kelly said...

Welsh for 'heaven': 'nefoedd'.
They call their tongue 'the language of heaven' - 'Iaith y Nefoedd' and they invoke the Bread of Nefoedd in the Millennium Stadium. Doesn't always work.

Anonymous said...

With warm respect, Brian, a Reformed view of Lutheran origins is about as useful as... a Lutheran account of Reformed origins.

Reformed presentations of Luther and the other theologians of the Augsburg Confessions have a patronising way of making them sound, not like the opposing theological movement that they were and are, but rather like a precursor for that glorious Reformed system that is the unsurpassable zenith of all human endeavour, past, present, and future. And Lutheran accounts of the Reformed can make the latter sound like law-driven Pharisees, Muslim believers in a disincarnate God, and Gnostics who prefer their own subjectivity to the objective Word, etc. From the Lutheran side, Jordan Cooper attempts an irenic account of these differences--

https://tinyurl.com/kcnsfjq

Since each tradition's perspective on the other has such bad blind spots, wise Anglicans will go to straight to the sources. For several generations of Lutheran seminarians, that meant reading and pondering Schmid's Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church--

https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schmid/theology.html

--which is roughly analogous to Heppe's Reformed Dogmatics.

https://tinyurl.com/ljnxuwz

https://tinyurl.com/n5uk7h9

For a more recent historical account of Lutheran origins, Anglicans can do no better than Eric Gritsch and Robert Jenson, Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Writings. The book is not only a relative bargain, but an introduction to the best American systematician of the last generation.

https://tinyurl.com/lxkutjo

But some might prefer the somewhat different emphases of Stephen Paulson, who argues that Luther set out to reform, not the Church, but preaching--

https://tinyurl.com/kj49n6u

Whatever one reads, one will be grappling with the Lutheran view that the gospel is criterial in Christian theology.

Bowman Walton

Brian Kelly said...

Lutheranism's origins and the story after Luther's death (the battles between the Philippists and the Gnesio-Lutherans) are a tangled tale with many claiming to be the legitimate heir but I don't doubt that 'sola Scriptura' was a foundational principle, as far as The Book of Concord seems to be concerned (and as Luther himself defiantly stated at the Diet of Worms: 'My conscience is captive to the Word of God'):
https://lutherantheology.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/a-brief-introduction-to-sola-scriptura/
I claim no expertise in Lutheran distinctives but have learned chiefly through Reformation scholar Carl Trueman (yes, a Presbyterian) who would say that second-generation Lutherans were mired in arguments about free will and real presence. I think it is also clear that Luther himself was much more a medieval figure than the other Reformers: Zwingli and Calvin owed much more to humanism than the scholastically-trained Luther ever did and Lutheranism retained a much more conservative cast than did the Reformed. I'm sure that's why he was so obdurate at the Marburg Colloquy!

Brian Kelly said...

I was thinking of these words at Worms (as rendered by Heiko Obermann): "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen."

Anonymous said...

Postscript-- With Holy Week approaching, I am naturally thinking about Luther's contrast between the *theology of the cross* and the *theology of glory*. Gerhard Forde explains it here, not as an idea, but as a way of being--

https://tinyurl.com/lzonh35

Reflecting more broadly on our conversations here, I am reminded that an Anglican reflex to reduce our complex Reformation roots to a habitus peculiar to the latter-day Reformed in England has damaged the Church of England itself and the Anglican Communion more generally. This is not to deny the many contributions that Anglicans of Reformed inclination have made and continue to make, nor for that matter that there are some wonderful Reformed voices out there to which Anglicans should be listening today. But it is to deny that the Protestant identity of Anglicanism either depends on the exclusion of Lutheran thought or can be equated with the Reformed stream that began with Theodore Beza and issued in Dort. Insisting on either the exclusion or the equation has had two destructive consequences--

(1) Missed coherence of theology and practise. Much of the alleged incoherence of Anglicanism is simply the oil-and-water incompatibility of Reformed anti-sacramental theology with the Book of Common Prayer ordo. Conversely, Lutherans, notably in the United States and the United Kingdom, have often adopted the Prayerbook or large parts of it as a natural expression in English of the spirituality of Lutheranism. From a perspective that includes the whole C16 Reformation horizon, the Prayerbook and the Lambeth Quadrilateral are both more intelligible and more inspiring.

(2) Bad Choice. An Anglicanism narrowed by this exclusion and equation force a choice between two weird and polarised options-- a Catholicism with no principled reason for not being Roman, and a Reformed biblicism with no principled reason for not being Presbyterian. Each thrives at the expense of a better third choice-- a Protestantism that has gospel reasons for an historic episcopate, two (or more) robust sacraments, theological reading of scripture, etc.

(3) Narrow Ethos. David Hempton's Evangelical Disenchantment does an excellent job of probing the ways in which the Reformed influence on evangelicalism narrowed its ethos in ways that have wonderfully energised some, but have plainly stultified the imaginations of others who were no less committed to the mere Christianity that matters. Anglican evangelicals have not entirely escaped this tendency to baptise, not the nations, but a peculiar personality type. To be all things to all men like St Paul, we need a richer ethos than we can get from the Reformed alone.

https://tinyurl.com/n3hbbew

Kindly note that I am not urging any Reformed out there to leave their Anglican churches. To the contrary, I have welcomed some Reformed of other streams-- neo-orthodox (Barthian), Evangelical Calvinist (Torrance), etc-- to join us and shake things up precisely because the Anglican Communion stands in the best continuity with the magisterial Reformation as a whole. As the Church of England has done from the beginning of her *via media* between Augsburg and Geneva.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brian and Bowman
Thanks for exceptionally thoughtful and (best sense) provocative discussion.
Just one note here, by citing from Bowman:

"Bad Choice. An Anglicanism narrowed by this exclusion and equation force a choice between two weird and polarised options-- a Catholicism with no principled reason for not being Roman, and a Reformed biblicism with no principled reason for not being Presbyterian. Each thrives at the expense of a better third choice-- a Protestantism that has gospel reasons for an historic episcopate, two (or more) robust sacraments, theological reading of scripture, etc."

I do indeed despair, at times, certain places, some comments, a few notables in the global Anglican if not local Anglican scene, as to why not Rome or why not Geneva/Edinburgh "if that is what you believe and emphatically emphasise." To be fair we are all creatures of habit, myself included, and I do not entirely dismiss, at least on the level of sentiment, belonging to the "mother" from which one's faith and practice has derived. But on the intellectual/reasoning level, I struggle at times with what BW is calling "Bad Choice>"

Brian Kelly said...

This is why the critical study and appropriation of church history is so vital to our wellbeing. Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Chrysostom, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas and Bonaventure should be regularly before us (or beneath us, to use Newton's metaphor) along with Luther and Calvin - and over all of them, as they recognised, is Holy Scripture.
But no system of church government guarantees either truth or justice when the Zeitgeist of culture (including sexual politics) or protean biblical hermeneutics rules. On the Reformed side, the aging and declining Church of Scotland is in yet another schism and has lost (or driven out) its most vibrant congregations (such as St George Tron), while across the pond the trial of Jon Bruno in Los Angeles over the destruction of St James Newport does make one think of Matthew 7.15. Our hope lies not in polity but in fidelity.
In this conection, in his Heidelberg disputation, Luther talks about 'theologians' of the Cross or of Glory rather than 'theologies'. Theologies are always the work of men and women, and sinners at that.

Anonymous said...

Anglicans who follow the via media as Richard Hooker did should read Luther and Lutheranism through the lens of our own working practise and ecumenical commitments. Since we have no dog in the Lutheran-Reformed fight, our independent view of the Augsburg tradition in Protestantism will naturally differ from most Lutheran and Reformed mythmaking about Luther.

On one hand, we are not interested, as Lutherans have often been, in The One Correct Interpretation Of What The Great Man Thought (his mind embraced contradictory influences, was of a time, changed somewhat) or in Whether The Great Man Was Right About Everything (he was wrong about the Jews and about the Antichrist, and he had the misunderstandings of the age) or in Whether The Great Man Meant To Break From The Catholic Church (he sought for Germany the autocephaly of Byzantium, a catholic church free from papal control). Because Anglicans seldom encounter the most hagiographic writing about Luther, we have no need to discuss it further here.

On the other hand, neither are we interested, as the Reformed have often been, about how far the late medieval Luther's words, authority, etc can be successfully assimilated to the Reformed system on precisely those topics that mark it as high modern. Topical studies of the vast corpus of of the Weimarer Ausgabe tend to find the anachronisms that they want to find. And anyway so long as obviously Reformed figures who are closer to Luther (eg Amyrauld) stand outside in the rain, it is hard to believe that he himself is inside by the Reformed fireplace warming himself. Because Anglicans, especially evangelicals, often know Luther himself mainly through this literature of Reformed co-optation, and have had no formal introduction to the literature of Protestant scholasticism, we have a Some might be pleasantly surprised to discover that the Augsburg theologians had other and quite interesting things to talk about.

Anonymous said...

Cont'd

Anglicans should be interested in what Luther and those attracted to his work can show us about pastoral questions like-- What Sort Of Love Motivates God's Mercy?; How Can We Be Heard Talking Mercifully About A Merciful God?; How Are Sacraments Related To Personal Faith?; How Do We Think, Worship, And Live As Though The Incarnation Matters?; How Does The Cross Inform The Believing Mind?; How Does God Give Us Assurance Of Salvation?; How Is Christ Lord Of The Church Amidst Disorder?-- and about theological questions like-- What Is Apostolicity?; Is The Soul Ruled By The Will Or By The Intellect?; What Hermeneutic Ensures That Explication Of Bible Will Also Be Preaching Of Gospel?; Where Exactly Is Philosophy An Unreliable Guide To Knowledge Of God?; How Does One Do Philosophy That Does Not Distort The Gospel And Its God? Etc.

Nor are these topics exhausted today. For example, without working through the Lutheran position on the gospel and the Word, one cannot understand the clash today between proponents of theological exegesis and defenders of historical-grammatical exegesis. The very lively disagreement over the use of the creeds as the hermeneutic for scripture-- Richard Hays for, Tom Wright against-- is simply the latest outbreak of a perennial tension between Lutheran and Reformed understandings of what makes scripture the Word. Interestingly, the weightiest proponent of the exegetical use of the creeds has been none other than Brevard Childs, who took his Reformed theology seriously.

Anonymous said...

Cont'd

Which brings us to the most ironic of the reasons why Anglicans should read deeply in the tradition of Augsburg: it is the perfect preparation for reading those *Deviant Reformed* who-- like Anglicans!-- have been marginalised in the very Presbyterian imagination of the contemporary Reformed world. Figures who have been influenced too much by thought that is ultimately Luther's have tended not to be accepted by the Reformed mainstream. John Calvin's irenic reworking of Luther's views on communion has been widely admired in senior common rooms; nevertheless, he could not be ordained in a confessional, Reformed church today because his sacramentology and ecclesiology were much too high. Oliver Crisp describes a much broader marginalisation of Reformed figures here--

https://tinyurl.com/lylmlfa

--and to it we may add the strange indifference of much of the Reformed evangelical world to Karl Barth, the most seminal dogmatician of the past seven centuries. Not conscious of all this exclusion, Anglicans, whether they love or loathe it, have imagined that Reformed theology is as far from Anglicanism as it appeared to B. B. Warfield who drew this famous chart--

https://tinyurl.com/kh87oy2

A certain narrowing of the Reformed memory to only the precursors of its C19 Presbyterian stream may explain why those among us who identify as "Reformed" seem ruled, less by this diverse tradition than by a narrower anti-Catholic reflex that has been dividing Anglicans from the Ritualist Controversy to the last Primates Meeting.

But in fact the reformed bishops of the C16-17 Church of England belonged to a network of Protestant leaders that included some with views of the sacraments and the Church higher than those of the "Reformed" of own day.

https://tinyurl.com/m36sbtc

On the Continent, their Reformed colleagues included the anti-sacramental Zwingli in Zurich, of course, but also very-sacramental Ursinus in Heidelberg. Indeed, the Mercerburg Theology among America's German Reformed bears comparison with its contemporary, the Oxford Movement. One such comparison is reviewed by a popular Orthodox blogger here--

https://tinyurl.com/km59hrb

In many ways, we see the actual complexity of our Reformation inheritance in Richard Hooker, who was indubitably Reformed, but has also been seen as the founder of Anglicanism and even as a precursor of Anglo-Catholicism--

https://tinyurl.com/kx832ew

https://tinyurl.com/n8mp9bd

However we may decide those claims, the fact remains that he was a reformed theologian who has been forgotten just because his high, though Protestant, sacramental theology and ecclesiology could not be retained in what became the "Reformed" identity in our own time. Reading Luther and Lutheranism feeds the Anglican imagination for the task of retrieving a theological centre that does justice to both the BCP and the 39A. Without this, there is no escape from three dysangelical consequences-- Missed Coherence, Bad Choice, and Narrow Ethos.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

In other words, Bowman, stick to Hooker, as both foundational to Anglican understanding and as lens to read the contributory streams of Lutheranism and Reformedism to Anglicanism.

Brian Kelly said...

Anglicans would be the first to say that along with popes and councils, Martin Luther has also erred! But it was Luther's theology that sparked the English Reformation, through the martyr Tyndale, then through the martyr Cranmer, and Anglicanism owes more to him than it usually admits. Luther is to be admired for his astonishing genius, his courage, his brilliant rhetoric - easily the most quotable figure of his age and in many ways he was the father of modern German - and his grasp of the issues of the Gospel and conscience. His flaws are obvious as well to those who look.

I suspect Tom Wright would be in favour of allowing the Creeds to be the hermeneutic for Scripture if he was allowed to revise / rewrite the Creeds to include his own pet theories! :)
But what is the long and the short of this discussion? I suspect it is that Anglicans are either not very interested or perhaps not very skilled in writing systematic theologies.
Such a task is meat and drink to Lutherans and the Reformed, who immerse themselves in the philosophical prolegomena for such a task and even modern day Baptists like Wayne Grudem try their hand at it - but what have Anglicans done since Hooker's day? Defences of the Elizabethan Settlement?
Evangelicals are not much interested in systematic theology (in our day the late Mike Ovey was a signal exception, as is Gerald Bray) in contrast to biblical theologies, while the now dwindling ranks of Anglo-Catholics have been keen to establish their Catholic credentials while explaining why they haven't (yet) swum the Tiber. So most modern Anglican 'systematics' have had a liberal cast: Macquarrie, Baker etc.
As for Reformed evangelicals' 'indifference' to Barth, I think this is due to suspicions about his idiosyncrasies and heresies, such as his universalism, his supralapsarianism, his view of Scripture and his hostility to natural theology. Put bluntly, in many places Barth's exegesis is just wrong. But even someone like Jim Packer could speak warmly of Barth and agree with him in most of what he affirms. For Packer, Barth is an evangelical with a few blunders and blindspots.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, Bowman, stick to Hooker, as both foundational to Anglican understanding and as lens to read the contributory streams of Lutheranism and Reformedism to Anglicanism."

Yes, Peter. Or better yet, read Hooker, like other English churchmen of his age, as a European Protestant in Britain who swims in headwaters that have not yet divided into separate streams called "Lutheran," "Calvinist," or "Anglican."

"I suspect it is that Anglicans are either not very interested or perhaps not very skilled in writing systematic theologies. Such a task is meat and drink to Lutherans and the Reformed... and even modern day Baptists... but what have Anglicans done since Hooker's day? ...[Anglican] Evangelicals are not much interested in systematic theology... in contrast to biblical theologies...Anglo-Catholics have been keen to establish their Catholic credentials... So most modern Anglican 'systematics' have had a liberal cast..."

Brian, my suspicion is that Anglican have had weaker inducements to do systematics. Here, a few of them.

Among Anglicans, systematicians have not been the force that bishops (or even the lay president of a certain synod) is. In contrast, Robert Jenson's judgments about the orthodoxy of certain Lutheran bishops were widely respected, and indeed feared. Writing systematics is rather a lot to do if it is only going to be a hobby without consequence.

A prodigious amount of energy was once expended in writing handbooks on the 39A for ordinands. This probably looked to many Anglicans of the time as though it were systematic theology. But because the 39A are not a consciously unified system such as the Book of Concord or the Westminster Standards, explication of them is not necessarily systematic theology.

You are quite right that Anglican theologians, unlike their peers in other communions, have often written more to their tribes than to their churches.

And latitudinarians would rather do philosophy.

Many believe that the C19 invention of modern synods created a new locus of doctrinal authority in Anglican churches. Since these bodies are responsive to ephemeral concerns, this belief has privileged a new genre of constructive theology -- the task force report-- over the more comprehensive work of the systematician.

Roman Catholics are asked to believe many things de fide to be saved, and so the testimony of the Church to those beliefs requires an orderly magisterium. Thus the Catholic path to salvation creates a straightforward task for the Catholic theologian-- make it all make sense to a single informed and believing mind, as St Thomas once did. And Rome makes very ample provision for that task. Protestants who desire to be saved are asked only to believe the gospel, which is just clear enough in the creeds and scriptures that the testimony of the Church has seemed less necessary to it. Protestant churches take positions on fewer topics, and theologians who belong to them usually work without commission from motivations that are more personal.

Nevertheless, we have three recent Anglican systems-- Bray, Bird, and Sonderberg. Bray certainly brings a patristic depth to his work that is not usual among non-Anglican Protestants. Bird has attempted a system accessible to beginners that treats topics interesting to evangelicals and Anglicans and defends its positions with current historical and philological exegesis. Sonderberg's multivolume project is only beginning, but shows from the outset a willingness to engage Barth to move beyond Barth. All three are consciously Reformed.

Bowman Walton

Brian Kelly said...

Thanks for this, Bowman. I haven't heard of Sonderberg but may look him up. I used to come across Gerald Bray through the Tyndale Fellowship and once stayed in his flat in Cambridge. There are still some of his books I have still to read. His 'Doctrine of God' (1993) is largely patristic in focus but does some interaction with Barth and Rahner.
It needs to be recalled, of course, that for Roman Catholics there is a definitive standard of their faith, viz. The Catholic Catechism, and to be a *Catholic* theologian requires obtaining an Imprimatur.
By contrast, what has Anglican "liberty" produced?
'Honest to God' and 'The Myth of God Incarnate'. 'nuff said.

Brian Kelly said...

I forgot McGrath's 3 vol. 'Science of Theology'. Bray also wrote a very long (!) book for the 'general reader' not so long ago called 'God is Love'. So the Anglican field isn't quite so arid as I suggested!

Father Ron said...

'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free,
'tis a gift to come down where you ought to be.
And when you find yourself in a place just right,
you'll be in the valley of love and delight.

Jesus said: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever, and revealing them to the simple - for thst is what it has pleased you to do!"

This is probably why some of the simpler Saints - like Francis of Assisi (maybe even Francis, Bishop of Rome) and Theresa of Calcutta have credibility - even in our world of today.

Brian Kelly said...

Oh dear, the Shakers. The first (?) people in the world - though probably not the last - to discover that not having sex (well, the orthodox kind) limited your chances of surviving as a people into the future.

(And while I kinda like that tune in 'Appalachian Spring', it reminds me too much of that awful Sydney Carter and unbearable school assenblies ....)

Brian Kelly said...

To explain: 'Simple Gifts' is basically a dancing song of the Shakers describing the choreography of their communal dance. Their ideas were anything but simple. The 'Shaking Quakers' as they were originally called went through numerous transmogrifications until their final demise:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers

Father Ron said...

Ah, you may scoff, Brian, but "The melody lingers on". Jesus knew a thing or two about the 'clever clogs' of his day. Too many words and very little action. ElizaHiggins expressed it very well when she said : "Don't TALK about love; show me!" In other words: An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.

Enjoy the mystical simplicity of the Holy Week Liturgies.

Anonymous said...


"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."

--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

And all real Christians do.

Bowman Walton

Brian Kelly said...

Ron: Why do you call pointing out the truth 'scoffing'? I do not disparage other people's knowledge as 'scoffing'; I try to engage with it, not demean it.

Bowman: I don't know what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr believed (though I loved his namesake in 'Green Acres') - but these words call to mind that great American Anglican T. S. Eliot in the conclusion of his finest poem:

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Anonymous said...

Father Ron's comments on simplicity remind me of--

https://youtu.be/4a4naYEHUZs

They sound, less like the Anglo-Catholicism that I have known than like the Vatican III Episcopalianism that I have also known.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...



"I suspect Tom Wright would be in favour of allowing the Creeds to be the hermeneutic for Scripture if he was allowed to revise / rewrite the Creeds to include his own pet theories! :)"

"By contrast, what has Anglican "liberty" produced?
'Honest to God' and 'The Myth of God Incarnate'. 'nuff said."

Brian, these recent thoughts of yours nicely frame a dilemma.

(1) If we discount the witness of the historic Church to rely on scripture (eg to model churches after the C1 apostolic community), then we implicitly hand to interpreters from other communities the authority that we have denied to those of the Church. This gives a platform to the academics you mention-- Wright, Robinson, and Wiles. (Personally, I usually agree with Wright, but your point still makes sense since his influence stems less from his tenure as Bishop of Durham than from his academic publications.)

(2) But if, to deny the authority to interpret scripture to communities beyond the Church, we credit the witness of the Church per se, then we may get developments autonomous of the gospel (eg Council of Trent, TEC General Convention). This allows churches to become the instruments of worldly movements apart from, and sometimes opposed to, the gospel.

Personally, I have taken a paleo-orthodox view of this: the apostolic gospel (eg Apostles' Creed) elaborated in the witness of the M1 (eg Seven Ecumenical Councils) is sufficient to support authoritative interpretations of scripture in the contemporary Church. But I wonder how you resolve this dilemma for yourself.

Bowman Walton