Church Authority: Argument 2

by

This post is an argument that my presentation of one Protestant view of the Church as reliable in how it forms its beliefs may be valid, and not a straw-man.  The argument is two-part.  First I will produce examples of what I consider to be Protestant attestation to belief in the reliability of the Church.  Second I will give arguments for why a Protestant should accept the conclusion that the Church’s tradition is reliable.  Saying that the Church is reliable means that it tends to get its beliefs correct.  The explanation for why the Church is reliable is that it is led by the Holy Spirit; and being led by the Holy Spirit makes the Church tend to interpret the Bible correctly.  The Bible is divinely-authoritative and factually inerrant in conservative Protestant theology. Consequently the Church tends to get its beliefs about Christian teaching right.

Attestation to Protestant belief in the reliability of the Church

Here are some examples of where Protestant belief in the reliability of the Church seems to be held implicitly:

1) In several conversations with Calvinists, they have appealed to “Protestant tradition” as a reason to hold to the Reformed understanding of election and grace.  This was *after* I had argued with them that there are no reasons to hold that Romans 9 teaches the Reformed view of election and sovereignty, and they had agreed they couldn’t support this.  They were implying that there is a kind of reliability to what Reformed tradition has held.  And we should believe the Reformed interpretation of Romans 9 because the Reformed tradition has taught this interpretation.  That seems to assume that the Church tends to get its interpretations of the Bible correct.

2) Many traditionally-minded Evangelical Protestants want to appeal to the creedal understanding of the divinity of Christ as a sort of rule that we should try to live up to in theologizing and teaching.  These Evangelicals gasp when they hear that some evangelical philosophers are apollinarian monothelites that deny the eternal generation of the Son and the Spirit [1].  When pressed, some of them would say that we can’t show that it is absolutely obvious that we shouldn’t be apollinarian monothelites that deny the eternal generation of the Son and the Spirit based on Scripture; they might admit we can argue for traditional Christology, but not that we can prove it (or come close enough to proving it) so that others are obligated to agree on the basis of exegetical argument.  The (alleged?) incompleteness of biblical support, when taken together with the assumed necessity of holding to traditional Christology, entails some kind of belief in the reliability of the Church to tell us what to believe about Christ.

3) Many Protestants (of which I can think of only a few explicit examples at the moment) appeal to patristic evidence for a belief being common among early Christians in order to argue that it should be held.  This assumes that at the very least, the Church is reliable in its transmission of doctrine, and that it is reliable in how it interprets the Bible.

4) Consider, for instance, the belief that Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli had in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

5) Similarly, Luther’s belief in the immaculate conception of Mary seems based on tradition, not exegesis.

6) Another example of this is, for instance, Joachim Jeremias’ studies on infant baptism that make use of patristic support for the doctrine.  For Jeremias, the presence of early Christian consensus on a subject is of some weight.  And similar use of sources by modern Protestant scholars could be multiplied.

7) The Wesleyan quadrilateral seems to imply that there is some kind of advantage to holding a view that has been held by Christians in the past–it counts in favor of it to some extent.

8) This seems to jive with the fact that Wesley is known to have doctored patristic texts to support his views.  Both of these pieces of evidence indicate a Wesleyan trend toward believing in the reliability of the Church.

9) A major modern Wesleyan scholar Thomas Oden has a vision of Christian thought as needing to return to the so-called golden age of the Church fathers.  His entire systemmatic theology is one long catalog of patristic teachings about Scriptural doctrines.  Early agreement about a doctrine counts strongly in favor of its truth for Oden.

10) Most Protestants hold to belief in the traditionally-ascribed authorship of the books of the New Testament based on the attestation to authorship by early Christians.  This is not based on the assumption that the Church is infallible in how it selects the books, but it is at least based on the assumption that it reliably preserved information about the authors of the New Testament.  I would consider this to be a widespread belief among Protestants.  The only other way to salvage traditional ascriptions of authorship is to appeal to a proper functionalist Holy Spirit epistemology; but some Protestant scholars are fairly clear that the reason they ascribe authorship the way they do is because of the attestation to authorship in the early Christian tradition.  And that sounds like an example of belief in the reliability of the tradition.

11) Much support for the historical facts in evidential arguments for the resurrection of Jesus in contemporary apologetics is derived from early Christian tradition outside of the New Testament.  Saints Ignatius and Clement of Rome are both appealed to as witnesses to the deaths of apostles by martyrdom as well as other points.  Similarly Polycarp is used as a source of data.  And Clement of Alexandria.  Again, this seems to assume the reliability of early Christian tradition.

12) Some Protestants I know have explicitly stated that they believe in the reliability of the Church.

Arguments for the Reliability of the Church

Here are some arguments for the reliability of the Church for Protestants who don’t currently agree with it:

1) The principle of testimony says that we should believe someone’s testimony about some event unless we have good reason to doubt the reliability of that person’s testimony.  The fact of a person’s fallibility should not detract from thinking that they can be a reliable reporter about some event.  When an early Christian after the death of the apostles claimed “I believe x because it was delivered to me by the apostles or someone who received their teaching from the apostles” they are a reporter.  Their testimony should be considered reliable unless we have reason to believe otherwise.

2) Ancient Greek-speaking Christians’ interpretive skills should probably be taken into account as a reason for favoring the interpretations of early Christians.  This isn’t an appeal to the intrinsic authority of Church offices or something; this is just saying “scholars who speak a language or a close derivative thereof, and are not as distantly separated in time, should be given the benefit of the doubt in how they understand a word/idea/sentence/book of that language”.  Early Christian scholars who are culturally and linguistically connected to the apostles should be considered very weighty sources of information for how we interpret things.  So the early Church’s scholars, at least, should be considered reliable in their biblical interpretations.

3) The principle of early attestation states that we should tend to trust the testimony about some event the closer in time the testimony is to the event reported.  Applying this to the teachings of the Church throughout, for instance, the first 3 centuries yields the conclusion that we should consider the Church of the first 3 centuries reliable in what it specifically taught.  It is close to the events where the source (apostles and Christ) taught what it had to say, so its more likely to accurately report the source’s information (apostolic and Christian teaching).

4) Lets assume that the Church considers holy tradition to be a deposit of divinely-revealed truths.  If this tradition is contained in oral practices (recitation of creeds, bishops teaching catechumens and clergy, etc.) then we have to ask the following question: is there any reason to think these oral practices would be reliable in preserving the content of the tradition?  The answer is yes.  The amount of care that is spent to preserve information is directly proportional to the importance of preserving the information.  If you believe that you have received God’s words directly or intermediately, you will want to go to great lengths to preserve the content of that message.  Given that the early Christians seemed to understand their tradition (including stuff not explicitly contained in the New Testament) as from God, there is a significant prior probability that they would not gratuitously warp the content of their tradition.

5) One might construe passages such as “the Church [is] the pillar and ground of truth” (2 Tim 3:15) and “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13) as indicating that there is some kind of divine guidance behind the belief-forming processes of the Church.  This divine guidance could be construed in terms of a tendency of the Church to get its beliefs correct, or infallible authority as well.  However, there are other possible interpretations of these passages.  Whether or not they are more plausible than saying that these passages indicate the reliability (or infallibility) of the Church is another question.

Conclusion

Belief in the reliability of the Church’s tradition seems to be present in several subsections of Protestantism historically and in the present.  Furthermore, independently of attestation to this belief, there are several reasons why Protestants should believe in the reliability of the Church.  Consequently, it seems legitimate to claim that “some Protestants hold that the Church has been reliable in its traditions and forming its doctrines” and “some Protestants should accept the reliability of the Church, given that they agree with the premises of arguments for this conclusion.”  If this is so, then my characterization of this as a respectable and adhered-to position seems vindicated.

————————————————–

[1] See Craig and Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, the chapters in the philosophy of religion section entitled “Trinity” and “Incarnation” for an exposition and defense of these views.

Advertisements

22 Responses to “Church Authority: Argument 2”

  1. David C Says:

    MG
    Great post!

    If we can agree that the Church is reliable, how big of a jump is it to then say that the Church is infallible?

  2. David Says:

    MG,

    I don’t know what Reformed people you typically interact with, but it has been my experience that most Reformed people consider it wrong to appeal to Reformed tradition (Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession, etc.) as an end in itself. In other words, when someone says they believe something “because the catechism says so”, it is typically viewed negatively, unless what they really mean is “the catechism says so, and I believe the catechism to correctly interpret Scripture.”

    As for your other examples, I think your point #1 under “Arguments for the Reliability of the Church” answers them well. You say, “The principle of testimony says that we should believe someone’s testimony about some event unless we have good reason to doubt the reliability of that person’s testimony.” When it comes to the perpetual virginity of Mary, or the authorship of Mark, there simply seems to be no good/strong reason to disagree with early testimony. But a Protestant would believe there to be good/strong Scriptural reasons to reject other RC or EO traditions, especially where very early attestation is either shaky or entirely absent. After all, isn’t that precisely why the Orthodox reject the Pope?

    Don’t take this the wrong way, as I don’t mean to offend at all, but this argument feels terribly like grasping at straws. If you’ve heard a Protestant say explicitly that they believe the church to be reliable, then perhaps those individuals will fall prey to your argument. But I strongly suspect that they were only referring to their own denomination, or any church that happens to agree with their own theology. And even if they weren’t, I have no doubt that they are the minority of Protestants.

  3. David Says:

    MG,

    One other thing just occurred to me that I thought I should mention.

    You said: “this is just saying “scholars who speak a language or a close derivative thereof, and are not as distantly separated in time, should be given the benefit of the doubt in how they understand a word/idea/sentence/book of that language”. ”

    I brought this argument up in a discussion with Dr. Crisp once, and he thought it was actually a very bad one. I can’t do his comments justice here, since I barely remember them, but I thought I would mention it to you, so that you could schedule some office hours with him yourself. I think it would be worth your time to discuss this with him, since it seems to be a big argument for you. Maybe you could post his comments and your responses on the blog?

  4. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “As for your other examples, I think your point #1 under “Arguments for the Reliability of the Church” answers them well.”

    On your view it seems like we should only think that a person is a reliable witness in those areas where their testimony agrees with what we think Scripture teaches. But clearly the earliest post-NT Christians held to many things you would disagree with as being unbiblical. So actually they aren’t reliable on your view. Their errors in several areas of doctrine undercut the claim that they are inherently reliable witnesses. Rather they are (on your view) unreliable witnesses (they consistently get important things wrong) who just so happen to be right about some stuff (they occasionally get important stuff right). Consequently, you have reason to doubt their testimony in other areas, such as NT authorship.

    As a result of the above considerations, I think it could be argued that you have misused the principle of testimony. It doesn’t say we should trust a witness and consider them reliable *no matter what* (even if we have other reasons to think they are unreliable) on subject x as long as we don’t have arguments against their views about subject x. It says we should trust a witness if there is no presumption against their reliability. But major doctrinal errors are a presumption against their reliability in transmitting apostolic doctrine that has been handed down to them, and accurately representing it. So using the principle of testimony isn’t an answer to my argument if by that you mean “a reason to continue to hold the judgment of early Fathers reliable on subjects where they don’t disagree with Christian teaching”. It is the opposite: a reason to not hold the judgments of the early Fathers reliable.

    For instance, if Josephus made hundreds of important historical errors about things that he should have known the truth about, we wouldn’t call him an inherently reliable source of testimony just because he *just so happens* to agree with, say, archeology sometimes. And it wouldn’t matter *what* he said about Jesus at that point; his testimony wouldn’t be trustworthy.

    Ignatius held to an authoritative monarchical episcopacy, an incarnational view of the Church, theosis, Eucharistic theology, etc. Clement of Rome believed in authoritative heirarchical apostolic succession, an incarnational view of the Church, denied sola fide, etc. Polycarp believed in an authoritative monarchical episcopacy, an incarnational view of the Church, deification, relics, denied sola fide, etc… and similar things can be said about the Didache, St. Justin, and other less-central early Christian writings. Consequently you probably shouldn’t consider these to be reliable sources at all; and using them in apologetics for the resurrection seems out of the question. As much as we probably both like Habermas and Liccona’s stuff, their appeals to testimony lose most of their force if you’re a Protestant who has to think they are not reliable sources of testimony. Similarly with using them for early sources of information about NT authorship.

    Irenaeus believed in the Orthodox view of salvation and the atonement, deification, apostolic succession, monarchical episcopacy, baptismal regeneration, the authority of Church tradition, a high mariology, libertarian freedom, etc. So it seems inconsistent to say that he can be trusted for attestation to authorship of biblical books.

    By your standards, these people should be considered at least as unreliable as a hypothetically-highly-inaccurate Josephus. Their agreement with you (and the Bible) on issues such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, salvation by grace, election, etc. is not an indication of them being *generally reliable* in the way that is necessary for a source in an historical argument. By your standard, they are guilty of setting up false authorities over and against the Word of God; denying the biblical doctrine of God and man; denying the biblical doctrine of salvation; denying the biblical doctrine of the Church; denying the biblical doctrine of the sacraments; and the list goes on. If they can’t get the facts straight about what the apostles taught, then surely there’s no reason to trust their testimony about historical events related to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, or the authorship of the NT.

    You wrote:

    “Don’t take this the wrong way, as I don’t mean to offend at all, but this argument feels terribly like grasping at straws.”

    Which argument? There are several arguments that I made, and I’m curious which ones you are specifically objecting to, if you would be so kind as to clarify.

  5. David Says:

    MG,

    “But clearly the earliest post-NT Christians held to many things you would disagree with as being unbiblical.”

    Here I would simply object to your use of the word “many.” From my limited readings of the these early writers (primarily the Apostolic Fathers, as well as Irenaeus and Athanasius) I just don’t the same major differences between them and Protestants as I do between modern EO and RC and Protestants. So I would question your assumption that I must disagree with the majority of the early church, and therefore that I must consider them unreliable about everything.

    “Which argument? There are several arguments that I made, and I’m curious which ones you are specifically objecting to, if you would be so kind as to clarify.”

    The general argument that you have been making (under which I assume all these other arguments are merely sub-points) that Protestants consider the “church” to be reliable, thus they ought to consider it to be infallible as well.

  6. David Says:

    MG,

    Also, we should try to be more subtle than to simply say “If church father X got doctrine Y wrong, he must be unreliable.” We ought to consider that there are different sorts of testimony. As I already mentioned, testimony such as “I saw Jesus Christ alive in the flesh after His death” is not at all the same as “I think Scripture passage X says Y.” I’m sure you would agree.

    This actually reminds me of something an Orthodox priest once said on the radio. He said something to the effect that “if he could trust the early fathers to figure out the Incarnation and the Trinity, he should be able to trust them with simple stuff like daily church practice.” But it’s really apples and oranges. It’s like saying “I can trust a physicist on quantum mechanics, so he ought to be able to fix my car.”

  7. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “Here I would simply object to your use of the word “many.” From my limited readings of the these early writers (primarily the Apostolic Fathers, as well as Irenaeus and Athanasius) I just don’t the same major differences between them and Protestants as I do between modern EO and RC and Protestants. So I would question your assumption that I must disagree with the majority of the early church, and therefore that I must consider them unreliable about everything.”

    A couple of questions:

    (1) Do you agree that you were misusing the principle of testimony when you wrote “As for your other examples, I think your point #1 under ‘Arguments for the Reliability of the Church’ answers them well”?

    (2) Do you believe in a divinely authoritative monarchical episcopacy, sacerdotalism, an incarnational view of the Church, the inherently saving power of Christ’s incarnation, the recapitulation theory of salvation, denial of penal substitution, theosis, Eucharistic theology of the real bodily presence of Christ as a sacrifice, Eucharistic liturgy, apostolic succession, the falsity of sola fide and the Protestant understanding of imputed righteousness, relics, libertarian freedom in salvation, conditional election, baptismal regeneration, prayers to saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord, Mary as the new Eve, and the perpetual virginity of Mary?

    (3) Do you consider any of the doctrines listed above to be very important things that the early Christians, if they were reliable in receiving apostolic tradition, should have *remembered* and perhaps *taught about correctly*?

    (4) Particularly concerning Church authority, do you think that if the early Fathers were reliable witnesses to apostolic doctrine, they at least could have got their theological methodology, epistemology, doctrine of authority, etc. right, and believed what you think the apostles believed and would have transmitted? Where is the right of private judgment? Where is a denial of the teaching authority of the Church? Where is the perspicuity of Scripture? Where is a low-church ecclesiology? Surely if the apostles are talking straight to your face and they tell you that the Church cannot authoritatively interpret revelation, you can have private judgment, Scripture is perspicuous, and the Church is not heirarchically structured, or they say something that implies this (ie. they give you *the opposite* positions on these doctrines), you would remember, wouldn’t you? If the early Fathers were reliable in receiving apostolic teaching, why did they so shamelessly and unanimously set up a false authority against the Word of God?

  8. Krause Says:

    Nilsen,

    It’s really not apples and oranges at all. You have to recognize the synergistic relationship between faith and praxis for the early Church. In the Trinitarian and Christilogical debates sacramental traditions, practices, and formulas found in the liturgy constituted many of the important arguments for traditional Trinitarian and Christological beliefs.

    Just look at the Christological debates of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Traditional practices such as referring to Mary as Theotokos played a huge role in defining Christological doctrine. So also did Orthodox traditional beliefs about the sacraments and deification.

    The point is that you can’t pick and choose what you like from the witness of the Fathers because their theological framework is wholistic and tightly interwoven. The dogmas of the Ecumenical councils only sit secure within the entire theological framework which is why the same heresies keep showing up in different places and forms all the time in Protestantism and Catholicism.

    Furthermore, the most important point you’re missing is the reliability of the Church in transmitting the Scriptures throughout the ages and forming the Canon. Every time you pick up a Bible and read without questioning it’s contents, you are implicitly trusting in the reliability of the Church to form and transmit the Canon. It is inconsistent to trust them in such a monumental task and not trust them in simple things such as their sacramental theology or their view of the Church of which we see virtually no major dissagreement among the early witnesses.

  9. David Says:

    MG,

    1) I don’t think so. My having a good reason to doubt the reliability of some particular bit of testimony from an early father doesn’t automatically entail that I have a good reason to reject their reliability qua reliability. Or so I am arguing.

    2) I am not well read enough to debate most of these, but I am aware of good arguments being made by Protestant historians/theologians that the earliest (post-Apostolic) church was not nearly so monolithic on all of these issues as you are suggesting, nor were they as fully fleshed out as they are today. Henry Chadwick, for one, thinks that Irenaeus paints too rosy a picture of Catholic unity, without attempting to account for any of the differences of practice and other things that existed in his day. And rejection of penal substitution? It may not have been clearly articulated, but was it actually explicitly rejected? Certainly not by Athanasius. And obviously I don’t expect anyone to be teaching that “any plough boy with Bible in hand…etc.,etc.” when the written Scripture was not as ubiquitous as it became in later centuries. As I said, I’m not really equipped to debate this, but I trust you see my point.

    4) Here again, I just don’t see the earliest post-Apostolic writers claiming infallible authority, the power of continuing revelation, etc. They’re certainly not low-church, baptist, non-denominational, etc. But many Presbyterians (to name one) today could say what these early writers say about the authority of bishops and so on.

  10. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “1) I don’t think so. My having a good reason to doubt the reliability of some particular bit of testimony from an early father doesn’t automatically entail that I have a good reason to reject their reliability qua reliability. Or so I am arguing.”

    Lets say that a Reformed theologian wants to pass his teachings on to the next generation of Reformed theologians. These theologians (mistakenly) believe he is infallible. He picks out four important doctrines: sola fide, sola Scriptura, presbyterian government, and the Reformed view of imputed grace. He tells twenty of his students “hey believe these things, this is what I taught. You must believe these things, for they are apostolic teaching. Keep to the apostolic faith, and do not deny that your legal right-standing before God is had by faith alone (where faith is not understood as a virtue), that grace is God’s unmerited favor, that presbyters lead the churches and can ordain each other, and that the Bible alone is where we find divinely-authoritative Christian teaching. Do not depart from the traditions I have handed down to you.”

    Now if the next generation of Reformed dogmaticians–namely those people who heard these views from the lips of their infallible teacher–blatantly deny all four of these doctrines and teach contrarily, and hold their opposing doctrines to be the true teachings, would we consider them reliable?

    If we would consider them reliable, then how are you defining reliable?

    If we would not consider them reliable, how is this any different from the relation between the apostles and the apostolic fathers on your view of what apostolic doctrine is, and what the apostolic fathers taught?

    “2) I am not well read enough to debate most of these, but I am aware of good arguments being made by Protestant historians/theologians that the earliest (post-Apostolic) church was not nearly so monolithic on all of these issues as you are suggesting, nor were they as fully fleshed out as they are today. Henry Chadwick, for one, thinks that Irenaeus paints too rosy a picture of Catholic unity, without attempting to account for any of the differences of practice and other things that existed in his day. And rejection of penal substitution? It may not have been clearly articulated, but was it actually explicitly rejected? Certainly not by Athanasius. And obviously I don’t expect anyone to be teaching that “any plough boy with Bible in hand…etc.,etc.” when the written Scripture was not as ubiquitous as it became in later centuries. As I said, I’m not really equipped to debate this, but I trust you see my point.”

    1. Monolithic can be formal or material. If the mode of expression that is given to doctrine or practice is different (again, think of translating into a different language the same New Testament teaching) that doesn’t matter. What matters is difference of content. There has to be a difference in the message behind the mode of expression. In order to argue the Church was not monolithic in a fairly strong sense, you have to argue that there was a substantial difference in content frequently between early Christians.

    2. Furthermore, you can’t use arguments from silence. Just because one guy doesn’t *explicitly say* that he agrees with another guy doesn’t mean they actually disagree. In that case *no one* believed in the Reformed view of election until Augustine. And not fully-fleshed-out doesn’t necessarily mean “different in content from what you now believe”. You would have to show this.

    3. What are Chadwick’s arguments?

    4. Where did you get the idea that Athanasius might have a vaguely penal-substitionary theory of atonement? I have seen the citations and remain unconvinced. He says many things about the cross, but he does not affirm that it was God punishing Jesus for the sins men committed against God so that they could have right legal standing before Him. Why does Athanasius seem to offer a theory of the atonement *in place of* penal substitution, but not state penal substitution, or have any of the crucial principles in play that would entail or support its truth?

    5. I see your point, but I disagree with it. I personally think that the kinds of controversial statements you are making should be supported by argument. Even if its only citing a passage or someone’s exegesis of a passage, this would help.

    “4) Here again, I just don’t see the earliest post-Apostolic writers claiming infallible authority, the power of continuing revelation, etc. They’re certainly not low-church, baptist, non-denominational, etc. But many Presbyterians (to name one) today could say what these early writers say about the authority of bishops and so on.”

    Who said anything about continuing revelation? We don’t believe in continuing revelation.

    Can a presbyterian say the following?:

    “See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father”

    “Obey the bishop as the Lord himself”

    “No other will refute these errors save the Holy Spirit given in the Church, which the apostles first received and then imparted to right believers; and forasmuch as we are their successors, sharing the same grace of high-priesthood and teaching, and accounted guardians of the Church, we shall not suffer our eyes to sleep.”

    “But [it has, on the other hand, been shown], that the preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the prophets, the apostles, and all the disciples…For in the Church,” it is said, “God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,’ and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behaviour. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth.”

    “But the word of the Lord which came through the ecumenical Synod at Nicaea, abides for ever.”

  11. David Says:

    1) This only works if you happen to know what the Apostles said to the next generation that is not now recorded in Scripture. And that isn’t merely an argument from silence if I have reason to believe that Scripture itself contradicts certain EO/RC dogmas (which obviously the Protestant would think he does).

    All of this seems to be beside the point, though. It seems to me that the same person can be both a reliable eyewitness to a historical event and an unreliable interpreter of doctrine, which is all the Protestant needs to make his arguments for the resurrection.

    2) I’m simply not equipped to debate this, for now I’m merely appealing to authorities (such as Chadwick and Tom Oden) whose arguments I can’t rehearse for you in detail. I’ll be reading many more of the Fathers this semester, as well as several books on church history and early doctrinal development. Perhaps in a few months I’ll do my own post on this.

    For now all I can say is that this isn’t an argument from silence, but rather an argument that compares what the Fathers DO explicitly say to what the Bible says and what modern EO and RC say. (And besides, when it comes to what the Fathers DON’T say, you and I are both forced to argue from silence).

    In regards to Athanasius, you said :”I have seen the citations and remain unconvinced.” My own reading of the Fathers still leaves me unconvinced that they taught all the things that the EO claim they do. But of course that doesn’t speak to the truth of the arguments. I’m not claiming that Athanasius taught penal substitution, but neither do I think he presented a different system “in place of” it. His account has all the marks of an early, still undeveloped (as far as answering specific and detailed questions) account.

    You said: “Can a presbyterian say the following?: …”

    Sure. I think the reason some Protestants would tend to be squeamish about some of these is because of what they would consider to be the later misuse of them (in other words, because of a reaction against EO and RC).

  12. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “1) This only works if you happen to know what the Apostles said to the next generation that is not now recorded in Scripture. And that isn’t merely an argument from silence if I have reason to believe that Scripture itself contradicts certain EO/RC dogmas (which obviously the Protestant would think he does).”

    I don’t know which part this is meant to respond to. Sorry; maybe its cuz I’m tired, but could you help me out here?

    You wrote:

    “All of this seems to be beside the point, though. It seems to me that the same person can be both a reliable eyewitness to a historical event and an unreliable interpreter of doctrine, which is all the Protestant needs to make his arguments for the resurrection.”

    (a) Does an historical event happen when someone is taught something, and doctrine is transmitted? Under what circumstances is a reliable witness going to fudge on the event in which there is a transmission of info on really important things like SS (where we get all our Christian teaching from–a pretty major point if you ask me) and SF (THE GOSPEL, according to some Protestants–the kind of thing that goofing up on would send you to hell)?

    (b) Lets put the issue of witnesses to the resurrection aside for a moment. Do you think that a person who tends to believe grave heresies the opposite of which are taught in the New Testament will be reliable in deciding which NT books to canonize? Do you think they will reliably preserve the list of who the authors of the books are?

    (c) Again, I would ask with respect to my Reformed theologian scenario above,

    If we would consider them reliable, then how are you defining reliable?

    If we would not consider them reliable, how is this any different from the relation between the apostles and the apostolic fathers on your view of what apostolic doctrine is, and what the apostolic fathers taught?

    “2) I’m simply not equipped to debate this, for now I’m merely appealing to authorities (such as Chadwick and Tom Oden) whose arguments I can’t rehearse for you in detail. I’ll be reading many more of the Fathers this semester, as well as several books on church history and early doctrinal development. Perhaps in a few months I’ll do my own post on this.”

    I strongly suggest you read sophisticated non-Protestant sources (other than the Fathers themselves 😉 ) on this subject.

    “For now all I can say is that this isn’t an argument from silence, but rather an argument that compares what the Fathers DO explicitly say to what the Bible says and what modern EO and RC say. (And besides, when it comes to what the Fathers DON’T say, you and I are both forced to argue from silence).”

    I would definately like to see the arguments that the consensus of the Fathers is against contemporary Orthodox teaching, if that’s what youre trying to say. If you’re trying to say there was some disagreement, and not everyone said exactly the same thing, then sure–but that doesnt negate the consensus patrum. But are you trying to get at the idea that there was so much diversity that the Fathers can’t be said to actually agree with the EO? I know James White says this kind of thing about the Fathers and RC but I think it just goes to show that he doesn’t know how to use the sources correctly.

    “In regards to Athanasius, you said :”I have seen the citations and remain unconvinced.” My own reading of the Fathers still leaves me unconvinced that they taught all the things that the EO claim they do. But of course that doesn’t speak to the truth of the arguments. I’m not claiming that Athanasius taught penal substitution, but neither do I think he presented a different system “in place of” it. His account has all the marks of an early, still undeveloped (as far as answering specific and detailed questions) account.

    We don’t think that every Father taught all the things we believe now. But you can see every Orthodox doctrine in at least some of the early Fathers.

    I don’t exactly understand what it is you are saying about Athanasius. Are you citing him as a counterexample to my claim that the Fathers don’t believe in the Reformed doctrine of PS or not?

    If not, what is he being used for?

    If so, I have some questions: where does Athansius talk about God’s wrath being satisfied? Where does he talk about God punishing or needing to punish?

    In response to saying his account is early and undeveloped, I would like to ask: do you think he has a mechanism by which he hollistically explains the impact of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ on humanity?

    Also, I would suggest you read Khaled Anatolios’ “Athanasius: the coherence of his thought” for an analysis of Athanasius soteriology, which is argued to be sophisticated and well thought-out. If you would like, I can explain the mechanism that Anatolios sees.

    You wrote:

    “You said: “Can a presbyterian say the following?: …”

    Sure. I think the reason some Protestants would tend to be squeamish about some of these is because of what they would consider to be the later misuse of them (in other words, because of a reaction against EO and RC).”

    Can you explain how you would interpret each of those quotes in a way that is consistent with presbyterianism and denying the infalliblity of the Church?

    There are 2 reasons I ask:

    1. I’ve never heard anyone even so much as suggest that those quotes can be interpreted in a way that is consitent with SS and denying the infallible divine authority of heirarchs.

    2. It would significantly (*very* significantly) weaken my conviction that the Church is infallible if it could be shown that there is an equally-plausible Protestant interpretation of these passages. And it would be really important to know whether or not the case for infallibility is all that I’ve made it out to be. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if someone can show me that Protestantism is true, I’ll believe it; and I’ll try to keep an open mind as people try to convince me (though I will also try to defend my position).

    One last question:

    You seem to have assumed we believe in continuing revelation, which I denied; but you did not respond to this denial. Why did you think we believe that? Do you think that the truth or falsity of this claim might have bearing on the efficacy of some of your arguments or points you have made, here and elsewhere?

  13. David Says:

    MG,

    “(b) Lets put the issue of witnesses to the resurrection aside for a moment.”

    I’ll take this as a license to skip the previous points. But if there was something pressing you really wanted me to comment on, let me know.

    “Do you think that a person who tends to believe grave heresies the opposite of which are taught in the New Testament will be reliable in deciding which NT books to canonize?”

    I just wouldn’t describe the Fathers, by and large, as all believing grave heresies explicitly contradicted by the NT. I see them developing themes, slowly over time, building upon one another’s work, that aren’t specifically addressed in Scripture. I see them, for example, talking about Christ being really and truly present in the Eucharist, but not explicitly materially present, making the assumption that this was a later development very probably indeed. I might be in agreement with James White here, but I haven’t heard his arguments, and once again, I still need to dive into more of the sources (the fathers).

    “I strongly suggest you read sophisticated non-Protestant sources (other than the Fathers themselves 😉 ) on this subject.”

    I will definitely try to do that. Any suggestions?

    “But are you trying to get at the idea that there was so much diversity that the Fathers can’t be said to actually agree with the EO?”

    As I said, I might tentatively hold to this position at the moment. But even where I see obvious consensus, my own reading just doesn’t seem to show that many of the earliest fathers would recognize most EO dogma. You will argue that just because they don’t say something explicitly does not mean that they didn’t believe it. Fair enough. But what I tend to see is them saying something *similar* to a modern EO dogma, but also close enough to some Protestant thought that it could concievably go either way. This is why I tend to view much of their writings as “in development.”

    To answer your questions about Athanasius, let me simply say that I read On The Incarnation (and will be doing so again this semester) and found not a single thing that I could not agree with. I don’t hold to PS to the complete exclusion of other themes which are obviously biblical. I simply saw Athanasius attempting to explain the purpose of the cross in as comprehensive a way as possible using only (or at least mostly) biblical language. As far as wrath and punishment, he clearly talks about Christ taking on the curse and becoming a ransom, and he does not use Origen’s notion of the ransom being paid to the devil, so who else is it paid to? That question is never asked or answered by him, which is a perfect example of what I mean by not fully developed. I don’t mean to say that his account is not complete, any more than the Bible is not complete. He simply doesn’t address all the details that later theologians would begin asking about.

    “Can you explain how you would interpret each of those quotes in a way that is consistent with presbyterianism and denying the infalliblity of the Church?”

    I will try to address each one individually next time, perhaps tomorrow. But off the top of my head I can think of a few things. Paul uses the analogy of the Father being “head” of the Son to describe the husband being head of his wife in 1 Cor. 11. Does this mean that when it comes to decisions involving his wife that a husband’s will is infallible? I don’t think so. Paul is not claiming that a husband’s authority over his wife is perfect or infallible, he is merely establishing the general principle of authority and submission in marriage. It doesn’t seem like to much of a stretch to say that we could apply this analogy to the shepherds and the flock in the church, without it suggesting that the shepherds are infallible.

    And keep in mind how many Reformed folk would place the Synod of Dordt just below the Bible in terms of its importance and the truth of the canons. I know if I don’t accept the authority of the Canons of Dordt (which is one of the three doctrinal standards of my church) I can’t be a member in good standing. And what conservative, evangelical Protestant would argue that you can be in the church (i.e. “saved”) and also reject the decision of Nicea?

    I know that only covers a few things. Let me know what you think, and I’ll try to get each one individually.

  14. Photios Jones Says:

    What EO “dogmas” do you think aren’t in Athanasius?

    “As far as wrath and punishment, he clearly talks about Christ taking on the curse and becoming a ransom, and he does not use Origen’s notion of the ransom being paid to the devil, so who else is it paid to?”

    Christ rescued us from death. The debt was paid to the grave. The devil held power over death which is why Christ called him a murder.

  15. David Says:

    Photios,

    “Christ rescued us from death. The debt was paid to the grave. The devil held power over death which is why Christ called him a murder.”

    I’m sure what it means to pay a ransom to “death” or the “grave.” You do say that the devil had the power of death, so does that mean that you agree with Origen’s understanding, that Christ paid a ransom to Satan?

  16. David Says:

    Sorry, I meant to say:

    “I’m *NOT* sure what it means….”

  17. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “As far as wrath and punishment, he clearly talks about Christ taking on the curse and becoming a ransom, and he does not use Origen’s notion of the ransom being paid to the devil, so who else is it paid to? That question is never asked or answered by him, which is a perfect example of what I mean by not fully developed. I don’t mean to say that his account is not complete, any more than the Bible is not complete. He simply doesn’t address all the details that later theologians would begin asking about.”

    Athanasius explicitly states that the debt was paid to death.

    Chapter IV The Death of Christ

    Section 20

    But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved the power of His Godhead by His works [or activities/energies], He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression. In the same act also he showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection. (p49 in the SVS press version)

    Did Chadwick say that Athanasius didn’t say who or what the debt was paid to? Or was this just something that didn’t jump out at you when you read Athanasius the first time?

    On behalf of Photios, you asked him:

    “I’m sure what it means to pay a ransom to “death” or the “grave.” You do say that the devil had the power of death, so does that mean that you agree with Origen’s understanding, that Christ paid a ransom to Satan?”

    No. Read Perry’s post here http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2006/12/10/the-cross-is-the-incarnation/

  18. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “I’ll take this as a license to skip the previous points. But if there was something pressing you really wanted me to comment on, let me know.”

    My beginning clarificatory question, point (a), and point (c) are not about the witness to the resurrection, so I still thought you should address them if you would be so kind as to do so. And actually, when I asked “put it aside for a moment” I meant “think about this issue in a way conceptually distinct from its bearing on the resurrection as I say what I am about to in point (b)” not “don’t respond to how things relate elsewhere to the resurrection.”

    You wrote:

    “I just wouldn’t describe the Fathers, by and large, as all believing grave heresies explicitly contradicted by the NT. I see them developing themes, slowly over time, building upon one another’s work, that aren’t specifically addressed in Scripture. I see them, for example, talking about Christ being really and truly present in the Eucharist, but not explicitly materially present, making the assumption that this was a later development very probably indeed. I might be in agreement with James White here, but I haven’t heard his arguments, and once again, I still need to dive into more of the sources (the fathers).”

    Why, if your picture is correct, do the Fathers seem to understand themselves as not *developing doctrine* (ie. adding to the content of the deposit of faith) but *repeating and interpreting* (ie. stating the same thing in different language, answering objections, constructing arguments) doctrine?

    If you say that the Eucharist is the body that suffered on the cross and which the Father resurrected for our salvation, then does that mean Jesus is materially present? If the Eucharist effects union of flesh and spirit, then does that union of flesh mean Jesus is materially present?

    Also, if you could explain how denial of SS and SF is not a grave heresy in your book, that would be helpful. What definition of heresy are you using?

    Have you ever read the McGrath quote about the messed-up (ie. not Reformed) understanding of grace and justification in the Fathers?

    “I will definitely try to do that. Any suggestions?”

    Try these for starters:
    David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West
    Joseph Farrell, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor
    Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought
    Daniel Keating, The Appropriation of Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria

    You wrote:

    “As I said, I might tentatively hold to this position at the moment. But even where I see obvious consensus, my own reading just doesn’t seem to show that many of the earliest fathers would recognize most EO dogma. You will argue that just because they don’t say something explicitly does not mean that they didn’t believe it. Fair enough. But what I tend to see is them saying something *similar* to a modern EO dogma, but also close enough to some Protestant thought that it could concievably go either way. This is why I tend to view much of their writings as “in development.””

    Could you give an example?

    “To answer your questions about Athanasius, let me simply say that I read On The Incarnation (and will be doing so again this semester) and found not a single thing that I could not agree with. I don’t hold to PS to the complete exclusion of other themes which are obviously biblical. I simply saw Athanasius attempting to explain the purpose of the cross in as comprehensive a way as possible using only (or at least mostly) biblical language. As far as wrath and punishment, he clearly talks about Christ taking on the curse and becoming a ransom, and he does not use Origen’s notion of the ransom being paid to the devil, so who else is it paid to? That question is never asked or answered by him, which is a perfect example of what I mean by not fully developed. I don’t mean to say that his account is not complete, any more than the Bible is not complete. He simply doesn’t address all the details that later theologians would begin asking about.”

    First, I think Athanasius does ask and answer that question, as I stated in the above comment.

    Second, you speak of biblical themes. But is there any content to what happened to/with/in/through Christ on the cross in addition to penal substitution? Good evangelical scholars like Henri Blocher (“Agnus victor : the atonement as victory and vicarious punishment” in What does it mean to be saved? : broadening evangelical horizons of salvation) and Hans Boersma (“Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross”) talk about the victory and moral influence themes, and Boersma tries to subsume the entire framework underneath Irenaean recapitulation language. But here’s the thing: neither one of them adds any new *content* to what happens on the cross over and above good ‘ole penal substitution and moral influence. The victory stuff is just basically a way of talking about penal substitution and emphasizing its effects in relation to the devil not being able to accuse us of guilt and such. But that isn’t what Athanasius does (or Irenaeus, or other Fathers). Penal substition is absent in Athanasius, and something else is taught in its place, along with a framework that makes sense of it and undermines PS.

    You wrote:

    “I will try to address each one individually next time, perhaps tomorrow. But off the top of my head I can think of a few things. Paul uses the analogy of the Father being “head” of the Son to describe the husband being head of his wife in 1 Cor. 11. Does this mean that when it comes to decisions involving his wife that a husband’s will is infallible? I don’t think so. Paul is not claiming that a husband’s authority over his wife is perfect or infallible, he is merely establishing the general principle of authority and submission in marriage. It doesn’t seem like to much of a stretch to say that we could apply this analogy to the shepherds and the flock in the church, without it suggesting that the shepherds are infallible.”

    That’s an interesting argument, and it seems to go some way toward addressing my concerns with respect to the first quote, when taken by itself.

    But consider the larger context of the quote:

    “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.”

    I think its pretty clear that there is more content to the people/bishop-Christ/Father comparison than to the wife/husband-Christ/Father comparison. The bishop makes sacraments valid; his approval confers divine authority; and he makes the Catholic Church present. Nothing like this is said of the husband/wife relationship. So I suppose that the section of the first quote that I originally gave isn’t decisive. But in context its a lot stronger, I think.

    And notice that in the quotes there doesn’t seem to be a comparison between ecclesial authority and divine authority, but an equation of the two.

    “And keep in mind how many Reformed folk would place the Synod of Dordt just below the Bible in terms of its importance and the truth of the canons. I know if I don’t accept the authority of the Canons of Dordt (which is one of the three doctrinal standards of my church) I can’t be a member in good standing. And what conservative, evangelical Protestant would argue that you can be in the church (i.e. “saved”) and also reject the decision of Nicea?”

    I think most conservative evangelicals should reject the Nicene creed because its ontological presuppositions include the essence-energies distinction especially in the phrase “of one essence with the Father”. If you agree with that distinction, in all of its glorious Athanasian details, then thats fine I suppose.

    But almost all conservative evangelicals should reject the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed because it talks about “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” and “one baptism for the remission of sins” and “the life of the world to come”. These would clearly include a sacramental/incarnational view of the Church with apostolic succession and infallibility, baptismal regeneration, and deification. And unless you accept the way that the early Fathers articulated these ideas, you shouldn’t believe in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. If you’re willing to buy into all of that and still find yourself an evangelical, then that’s interesting, but doesn’t seem consistent.

    Do you exercise private judgment in accepting Nicea and the Synod of Dort? If so, what kind of authority are you ascribing to the Church?

  19. David Says:

    “Why, if your picture is correct, do the Fathers seem to understand themselves as not *developing doctrine*…?”

    I’m sure they saw themselves simply explaining, elaborating upon, and creating new arguments for already existing doctrine, I just think they ended up going beyond that.

    “If you say that the Eucharist is the body that suffered on the cross and which the Father resurrected for our salvation, then does that mean Jesus is materially present? If the Eucharist effects union of flesh and spirit, then does that union of flesh mean Jesus is materially present?”

    I can’t possibly answer questions like this without specific quotes in context.

    “Also, if you could explain how denial of SS and SF is not a grave heresy in your book, that would be helpful.”

    What I have been trying to say is that it is not at all obvious to me that all the fathers do in fact deny these things. Allison is currently looking at evidence of SS in the fathers. And Tom Oden has recently published a book, “The Justification Reader”, which argues that SF was widely held among the fathers. After I finish the book perhaps we can discuss his arguments.

    “Have you ever read the McGrath quote about the messed-up (ie. not Reformed) understanding of grace and justification in the Fathers?”

    No.

    “Could you give an example?”

    Off the top of my head I still maintain that Athanasius’ use of the curse and ransom motifs fits here. I still do not understand what it means to pay a debt to “death.” Satan does have the power of death, but we have all agreed that the ransom was not paid to him. So what does Athanasius mean? And what of the curse? Who pronounced the curse? What was the curse for? What does it mean for Christ to take on the curse in our place? It seems to me that Athanasius’ answers fit quite well with PS. As I said, *similar*, but exact.

    “I think its pretty clear that there is more content to the people/bishop-Christ/Father comparison than to the wife/husband-Christ/Father comparison.”

    I don’t think so. I’ll read it over again and consider it some more, but I think my comparison still holds. And again, only an ordained elder is allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper in my church, so we would have no problem submitting to this command. (And let’s not forget one ever-important detail. We both agree that Ignatius by himself is not infallible, and thus it seems perfectly reasonable to think that he might have overstated his case slightly, in the interest of maintaining unity and fighting heresy).

    “And notice that in the quotes there doesn’t seem to be a comparison between ecclesial authority and divine authority, but an equation of the two.”

    Both Paul’s marriage analogy and this analogy use “as”, so I’m not sure what difference you see in the text itself.

    “But almost all conservative evangelicals should reject the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed because it talks about “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” and “one baptism for the remission of sins” and “the life of the world to come”. These would clearly include a sacramental/incarnational view of the Church with apostolic succession and infallibility, baptismal regeneration, and deification.”

    Perhaps, but I wouldn’t be so sure that there can be no Protestant understanding of these phrases. I once heard Sproul give a talk on what it means for the church to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”, and he wasn’t against it. And how does “the life of the world to come” say anything contradictory to Protestant theology? Are you reading deification into that phrase? (Speaking of which, you should read John Piper’s book “Contending For Our All.” In the section on the life of Athanasius, he has an interesting take on reconciling Athanasius’ language of “deification” with a more Protestant understanding of “glorification”).

    “Do you exercise private judgment in accepting Nicea and the Synod of Dort? If so, what kind of authority are you ascribing to the Church?”

    Even if I thought the church was infallible I would be exercising private judgment in forming that belief. That said, I’m not sure that I agree with every single point of the Synod of Dordt, but because I have placed myself under the authority of my local church, I accept their judgment.

  20. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “I’m sure they saw themselves simply explaining, elaborating upon, and creating new arguments for already existing doctrine, I just think they ended up going beyond that.”

    Are the Fathers often so dull as to not even realize that they are inventing theology, or are they often so dishonest as to not admit it?

    You wrote:

    “I can’t possibly answer questions like this without specific quotes in context.”

    Chapter 5. Their dangerous errors

    Some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death. I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection.

    Chapter 6. Unbelievers in the blood of Christ shall be condemned

    Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Matthew 19:12 Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.

    Chapter 7. Let us stand aloof from such heretics

    They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

    (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyreans)

    Some questions:

    What is the heresy that Ignatius is opposing?

    How is it connected to the Eucharist?

    What is “the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again”?

  21. David Says:

    MG,

    “Are the Fathers often so dull as to not even realize that they are inventing theology, or are they often so dishonest as to not admit it?”

    That hardly seems fair. My question is this, do all of the fathers claim that every word they wrote was nothing more than an exact recapitulation of what someone told them? Or do they often explicitly attempt to answer specific questions that no one before them answered? Do they often explicitly attempt to explain a certain passage of Scripture in their own words? If the former, then you are quite right, and I must think them very stupid or dishonest. If the latter, then it seems perfectly obvious to me that even the most intelligent men of impeccable character can make a few mistakes.

    I have the Apostolic Fathers, so I’ll take a look at the entire letter to the Smyreans and get back to you.

  22. MG Says:

    MG–

    You wrote:

    “Also, if you could explain how denial of SS and SF is not a grave heresy in your book, that would be helpful.

    What I have been trying to say is that it is not at all obvious to me that all the fathers do in fact deny these things. Allison is currently looking at evidence of SS in the fathers. And Tom Oden has recently published a book, “The Justification Reader”, which argues that SF was widely held among the fathers. After I finish the book perhaps we can discuss his arguments.”

    If the Fathers did believe these kinds of things, would that be grave heresy?

    I am aware of many of the arguments for SS in the Fathers. I am also aware of much of what Oden says (I’ve read parts of the book, and its been around for awhile), as well as other recent arguments for the Protestant view of justification in the Fathers. I would be interested in your presentation of arguments for SF. But I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that either of those doctrines can be argued for from the Fathers. Sure, you can find the words “faith alone” in several Fathers; but the concept doesn’t seem to be there.

    You wrote:

    “Have you ever read the McGrath quote about the messed-up (ie. not Reformed) understanding of grace and justification in the Fathers?

    No.”

    Ah, I will try to produce it. McGrath thinks the Fathers pretty much got justification all wrong.

    You wrote:

    “Off the top of my head I still maintain that Athanasius’ use of the curse and ransom motifs fits here. I still do not understand what it means to pay a debt to “death.” Satan does have the power of death, but we have all agreed that the ransom was not paid to him. So what does Athanasius mean? And what of the curse? Who pronounced the curse? What was the curse for? What does it mean for Christ to take on the curse in our place? It seems to me that Athanasius’ answers fit quite well with PS. As I said, *similar*, but exact.”

    Regardless of whether or not we can understand what Athanasius means, do you agree that he says Christ pays the debt to death? It doesn’t seem like he pays the debt to the Father, at least not as far as what he says. As for the curse, can you produce some quotations that would imply that the curse is a retributive punishment?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: