Meliorists vs. Traditionalists, vs. Confessionalists

Gerald McDermott at First Things offers a fascinating discussion of a current battle going on in evangelical theology:

Evangelical theology has long been divided between those who emphasize human freedom to choose salvation (Arminians) and those who stress God’s sovereignty in the history of salvation (the Reformed). Now this old division has been overshadowed by a larger division between new opposing camps we may call the Meliorists and the Traditionists. The former think we must improve and sometimes change substantially the tradition of historic orthodoxy. The latter think that while we might sometimes need to adjust our approaches to the tradition, generally we ought to learn from it rather than change it. Most of the Meliorists are Arminian, and most of the Traditionists are Reformed, though there are exceptions on both sides.

This new division has developed from challenges by some of those who call themselves “post-conservatives.” Led by Meliorist theologians like Roger Olson and the late Stanley Grenz, they argue that “conservative” theology is stuck in Enlightenment foundationalism, which seeks certainty through self-evident truths and sensory experience, sees the Bible as a collection of propositions that can be arranged into a rational system, believes doctrine to be the essence of Christianity, and, because it does not realize the historical situatedness of the Bible, constructs a rigid orthodoxy on a foundation of culture-bound beliefs. Responding in part to evangelical excesses in the inerrancy debates of the 1970s, post-conservative theologians developed an understandable distaste for rationalistic, ahistorical, and un-literary readings of Scripture.

In Reformed and Always Reforming: The Post-Conservative Approach to Evangelical Theology, Olson suggests that this brand of evangelical theology is fundamentalist in spirit because it chases heretics out of its “small tent.” He calls his “post-conservative” brand of evangelical theology the “big tent” version.

Olson divides the conservatives—which we would call Traditionists—into two camps, “Biblicists” (a derogatory term suggesting simple-mindedness) and “Paleo-orthodox” (another derogatory term, implying a refusal to face modern realities). The Biblicists, who include Carl Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, J. I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, Norman Geisler, and D. A. Carson, see revelation as primarily propositional and doctrines as facts. But most importantly, Olson claims, they regard doctrine as the “essence” of Christian faith.

The Paleo-orthodox include Baptist D. H. Williams, the Reformed author-pastor John Armstrong, Anglicans such as the late Robert Webber and Christianity Today’s editor David Neff, and the Methodists William Abraham and Thomas Oden. For them, the ancient ecumenical consensus is the governing authority that serves as an interpretive lens through which Christians are to interpret Scripture. The critical and constructive task of theology is conducted in light of what the ecumenical Church has already decided about crucial doctrinal matters.

Olson’s division of conservatives into these two camps is partly right and partly wrong. It is true that when interpreting Scripture some conservatives look to the last few centuries of evangelical reflection for authority, and others look to the Fathers. But the post-conservative suggestion that both the so-called Biblicists and Paleo-orthodox are foundationalist is dubious. Few among the Biblicists just named—and none of the Paleo-orthodox—would affirm the possibility of intellectual certainty based on self-evident truths or sensory experience. Neither group would say doctrine alone is the essence of faith, but all would insist that experience should never be privileged over doctrine.

Meliorists such as Olson think that another basic problem with Traditionists is that they give too much weight to, well, tradition. They believe Biblicists pay too much attention to the evangelical tradition, and Paleo-orthodox to the premodern consensus. These traditions, Olson asserts, have been wrong in the past. “All tradition is in need of correction and reform,” he says, and evangelicals should reject any appeal to “what has always been believed by Christians generally” because tradition by nature protects vested interests.

The creeds, for example, are to Olson simply “man-made statements.” They all need to be re-examined for possible “revisioning of doctrine” based on a fresh reading of Scripture. Nothing is sacrosanct, everything is on the table. Only the Bible is finally authoritative. And even the Bible is too often mistaken for revelation itself, which consists more of the “acts of God” in history than the words of Scripture. Meliorists tend to reject the idea that the actual words of the Bible are inspired, and often prefer to speak of “dynamic inspiration,” in which the biblical authors but not their words are inspired. For most Meliorists, the Bible’s authority is primarily functional. God speaks through it when He chooses, and only at those times can we say the Spirit speaks through it with authority.

via Article | First Things.

The problem with the meliorists is that they are, essentially, liberal, jettisoning, in effect, any authority beyond what they want.  Furthermore, they believe that Christianity is getting better (which is what the Latin word “melior” means), so that Christians of the past had it wrong, but contemporary Christians can discover what it really means.   This strikes me as absurd and destroys the catholicity and historicity of the church.

But there can be a problem with traditionalists too.  These evangelical traditionalists, at least the paleo-orthodox, need a basis for determining which traditions they embrace and which ones they don’t.  To just embrace tradition as the means of interpreting the Bible would likely lead to either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and I’m not  how an evangelical paleo-orthodox traditionalist would know which one to choose. The answer, of course, would be to follow the inerrant Bible, but to also specify what they believe the Bible teaches.

That is, they need confessionalism.  As usual, debates among Bible-believing, Gospel-trusting Christians are reduced to the Reformed/Arminian distinction, as if those were the only two alternatives.  Lutheran confessionalism is not mere traditionalism, since it sets forth a theology that affirms both a major continuity with the earlier church, while also setting forth criteria for sorting out Biblical doctrine from non-Biblical teachings, whether of the past traditions or emerging heresies.


Who won in the budget showdown?

The Republicans, according to this analysis, got the better of the budget negotiations:

HR1 was originally to seek spending cuts of $32 billion until Tea Party conservatives insisted on more than $ 60 billion. House Speaker John Boehner won more cuts than he originally sought and got the Senate to agree to votes to defund the health care reform law and groups like the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood – once votes Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said he’d never allow to come to the floor.Back on February 3, Reid called $32 billion in cuts “extreme” and “draconian.”

At a news conference New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed, “I happen to think some of their cuts are extreme and go overboard. But every week they keep upping the ante and proposing extreme cuts.”

Over the next decade the cuts are expected to save hundreds of billions of dollars.

The deal mandates a host of studies and audits of Obama administration policies. It also blocks additional funds for the IRS sought by the Obama administration and bans federal funding of abortion in Washington, D.C.

The history of offers on this bill goes something like this. Democrats first offered no cuts, then $4 billion, then $6.5 billion, then $33 billion, then settled at $38.5 billion.

Boehner made numerous adjustments to his offer in recent days too, but started at $32 billion, then with a Tea Party push went to $62 billion, then dropped to $40 billion, then $38.5 billion.

Democrats claimed they met Republicans halfway after the $10 billion in cuts that already passed this year were approved. They settled late Friday night at three and a half times more.

Boehner came in $8.5 billion higher than the halfway point between his high offer of $61 billion in cuts and the Democrats opening bid of zero cuts.

via Who Won the Shutdown Showdown? It Wasn’t Even Close –

Stinkbug Armageddon

I hearby nominate David Williams for the Pulitzer Prize for Letters to the Editor, if there were such a thing.  He wrote this letter to our small town newspaper on a problem that plagues our state:

Folks, we are doomed. Crooked Run Farm, along with every farmer in Loudoun, now has a bigger enemy even than the developers of Purcellville. I went last Thursday to the 4-H Fairgrounds for a presentation, sponsored by Southern States, on the stink bug invasion. Starker Wright, the govt’s leading expert on agricultural pests for the East coast, came down from his West Virginia research station to give the bad news.

Starting in Pennsylvania, these Asian invaders have moved massively into Maryland, Delaware, W Virginia, and Virginia, but are spreading everywhere already, rapidly by the billions. They have learned to eat every fruit and crop imaginable, destroying them. They are hard to repel, have no natural predators in the US, and when killed by pesticides, they come back to life in a few days. Yes! They go into a kind of coma, rid themselves of the poison, and after a few days depending on the pesticide they are flying around and eating again. But this time, they are stronger from having survived the poison.

According to the USDA’s study, April 10-15 is the major time when they wake up and move out of houses back to the woods and fields. September 24 is the peak of when they return to our houses. Vinyl siding is their best habitat for wintering. Since they can go through 3 generations in a year in this climate, and have no predators or anything eating their egg masses, millions soon become billions. Several million little wasps were imported from Asia to help kill the eggs of the stink bug, but these are held up in a Delaware port while the experts try to decide if letting these pests in to control the bugs might not be a cure even worse than the problem.

Oh yeah, the USDA request for $30 million to help study these
monsters and find a way to stop them is not being met well by the deficit dummies in DC. If there ever were a time when the public good over rides individualism, this is it. This is a war to the death, and so far most people don’t realize the catastrophe that’s looming. If we have to borrow from the future to save the present, so be it. This is the way Americans have met adversity since Ben Franklin went to Paris to borrow money from the French so we could go into debt to win our independence in 1776.

And, despite folklore, killing them does not attract other stink bugs. It only seems that way because the first few you see and kill are followed by thousands which would have come along any way. The USDA is trying to find ways to attract and kill them, but they seem, so far, to be attracted to everything. So get your baddest boots on and start stomping. That may be the only barrier between us and Armageddon.

David Williams


Purcellville Gazette. April 8, 2011


Shutdown averted

Republicans and Democrats made a deal at the last minute that will keep the government running:

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have reached an agreement that would avert a federal government shutdown, yielding more spending cuts for Republicans while giving Democrats a key win on an issue related to abortion rights, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office announced Friday night.

The deal to fund the federal government for the next five months will include $39 billion in spending cuts and will drop language related to Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers still need to approve a short-term stopgap funding bill before midnight, when the federal government will run out of money and cease operations.

The stopgap bill will allow lawmakers time to craft the longer-term, complicated budget for the rest of 2011.

via Congressional leaders review draft budget agreement that would avert shutdown – The Washington Post.

The fastest-growing denomination

That would be the Seventh-Day Adventists:

Rest on the Sabbath. Heed Old Testament dietary codes. And be ready for Jesus to return at any moment.

If these practices sound quaint or antiquated, think again. They’re hallmarks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the fastest-growing Christian denomination in North America.

Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups are declining. Adventists are even growing 75% faster than Mormons (1.4 percent), who prioritize numeric growth.

For observers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the growth rate in North America is perplexing.

“You’ve got a denomination that is basically going back to basics … saying, ‘What did God mean by all these rules and regulations and how can we fit in to be what God wants us to be?’,” said Daniel Shaw, an expert on Christian missionary outreach at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. “That’s just totally contrary to anything that’s happening in American culture. So I’m saying, ‘Whoa! That’s very interesting.’ And I can’t answer it.”

via Adventists’ back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church –

Apparently the secret of church growth is NOT to conform to the culture.  But what people appreciate is law, law, law, as opposed to gospel.  Why do you think that is?

HT:Joe Carter

A perspective on the shutdown

Former Bush official Peter Wehner offers reasons why Republicans should not let the government shut down:

On the matter of a possible government shutdown, this needs to be said: The impasse is the product of a striking failure of governance by President Obama and his party.

Republicans are winning the fiscal debate. A government shutdown could cause a backlash.The reason we’re debating the 2011 budget several months into the fiscal year is because for the first time in almost four decades, Congress failed last year to propose a budget. Despite Democratic control of both houses and the executive branch, Congress failed to meet one of its most basic obligations. That said, those Republicans who are eager for a showdown and a shutdown of the federal government are making a serious strategic mistake.

First, the cuts and concessions Republicans have already secured will return domestic discretionary spending to pre-Obama levels. This is a fairly remarkable achievement, and conservatives would be silly to ignore it.

Second, President Obama, in matching spending cuts that Republicans asked for earlier this year, has positioned himself fairly well in terms of blaming the Republicans for a shutdown, if it happens.

Third, the difference between the two sides is less than $10 billion in a $3.5 trillion budget. This isn’t a difference over which it is worth shutting down the federal government.

Fourth, Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, submitted a budget for fiscal year 2012 earlier this week that saves more than $4 trillion over the next decade. It’s a political and intellectual document of enormous significance, easily the most comprehensive and impressive governing blueprint in generations. The Ryan plan is where Republicans should focus their energy and attention.

via Not Worth the Showdown – Room for Debate –