The essence of Protestantism?

Dale M. Coulter discusses H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Kingdom of God in America and the issue he raised of “constructive Protestantism.”  For Niebuhr, the essence of Protestantism is the unmediated relationship between the individual and God’s Word.  The issue then becomes how Protestantism can create or even support institutions.  Read the discussion.  What do you make of this? [Read more...]

Reformational Catholicism

Calvinist theologian Peter Leithhart is calling for “The End of Protestantism.”  It should be replaced, he says, by “Reformational Catholicism,” which he goes on to describe.  Much of what he is calling for sounds like Lutheranism.  Is it?  His essay and questions from me after the jump. [Read more...]

Is God different than we are?: The ontological controversy

Consider this quote from Timothy George, in our recent Christianity without the Atonement post:

The problem comes when we use an anthropopathic term like “wrath” and apply it univocally to the God of eternity. Before long, we have constructed “a god who looks like me,” to use the title of a recent book of feminist theology.  Then caricatures of divine wrath proliferate:  God having a temper tantrum or acting like a big bully who needs to be “appeased” before he can forgive or, as is often alleged with reference to the atonement, practicing cosmic child abuse.

Note the word “univocally.”  This alludes to a historically important theological issue having to do with ontology, or the nature of being, as it applies to God.  The “univocal” position is that God is a being in the same way we are beings.  The “analogy of being” position is that only God has being in its fullness, while we and the whole creation exist in a related but qualitatively lesser way than He does.

Now this may seem like an arcane issue, but–as I will try to explain,with some help, after the jump–it is extraordinarily important, having to do with the Catholic critique of Protestantism, the nature of the Sacraments, the relationship between Christianity and science, the rise of secularism, and the very way we think about God.  [Read more...]

The end of American Protestantism?

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has written a devastating critique of America and American Protestantism that, agree with it or not, is worth thinking about.  He argues that American Protestantism, which has been so influential in American culture, is fading away because of its cultural conformity.  (He includes a great line from Bonhoeffer, that America has a Protestantism without the Reformation.)  You should read the whole thing, but I’ll post an excerpt that deals with what he says is the American conception of freedom and its connection to divorce and abortion. [Read more...]

Mariology

The recent post on “The Pope on Luther” led to a discussion of Luther’s views of Mary, in which noted Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in.  (I am continually amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He cited evidence that Luther had a relatively “Catholic” view of Mary  early in his career, though after the Diet of Worms, in 1521.  (The source of that evidence was somewhat confused, though, which the discussion helped to sort out.)

One of the issues was the “immaculate conception,”  the Roman Catholic teaching that by a direct miracle of God the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.  This is an interesting example of the Roman Catholic theological method, as distinct from how virtually all Protestants “do” theology.  The teaching is not arbitrary dogma, or the exaltation of tradition, or an extension of Mary-worship, or “popish superstition.”  Rather, it is a logical conclusion based on reason, as practiced by scholastic theology.

The chain of reasoning goes like this:  In order to redeem the world, Jesus Christ had to be without sin.  He certainly lived a sinless life.  But he also needed to be without original sin as inherited from Adam.  Jesus took His human nature from being born of the Virgin Mary, not having a human father.  Somehow, though, He could not have inherited Adam’s fallen nature, with its inherent sinfulness, its genetic (we would say) disposition to sin,  the accompanying curses of the Fall.  Therefore, the mother of Jesus must not bear that fallen nature.   She was conceived in the normal manner–not as another virgin birth, with which the doctrine is often confused–but, through a miracle, “immaculately.”

That Mary did not have original sin means that she also did not suffer under the curse of the Fall.  This explains the tradition that she did not feel the pains of labor.  It also explains the bookend Catholic dogma the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  If she did not have original sin, she could not die, so must have been taken up bodily into Heaven.

These notions sound strange to Protestant ears, but they grow out of the Roman Catholic approach to theology, which supports and extends revealed truth with flying buttresses of reason.

Now one might believe these things of Mary without  seeing her as a mediatrix between human beings and Christ, without praying to her, and without seeing her as a co-redemptrix.  One could believe Mary was free of original sin and that she was received bodily into Heaven while still being evangelical, as Luther evidently did in 1521.

But the Protestant theological method, which derived from Luther, uses not reason as the primary authority but the Word of God, which is held to be the only authority in theological issues.  The Bible does not mention any of this about Mary, which is presumably would, if, as Rome claims, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are fundamental and necessary dogmas of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in the Magnificat, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, the Mother of our Lord praises God as her “savior,” which implies that she too is in need of salvation.  And she certainly suffered, which Eve in her pre-fallen state did not, as Simeon prophesied to her:  “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

Further, we could argue that Christ’s incarnation and His redemptive work requires that He take upon Himself our fallen nature.  He never sinned even though He shared our fallen flesh.  Thus he became the Second Adam who freed us from the curse.  (I know talking about the two natures of Christ can easily get heretical.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong, and if I am, I recant.)

What defines an “evangelical”?

Al Mohler has an interesting piece trying to define what is meant by “evangelical.”  He goes back into history, though strangely he says nothing about the source of the word in Lutheranism.  “Evangelical” used to be the name for “Lutheran,” in distinction to both Roman Catholics and Calvinists, a.k.a., “Reformed.”  The term comes from  evangelium, the Latin version of the Greek word for “good news”; that is, the Gospel.  And the Christian Gospel is that  salvation is a free gift, won by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who atoned for the sins of the world when He died on the Cross and who rose from the dead for our justification.  “Evangelical” was used to describe Lutheranism because the Gospel is the “chief article” of its theology–not God’s sovereignty, not morality, not church government, but the Gospel–the linchpin of every other teaching, including Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But I acknowledge that many other kinds of Christians–not just Lutherans–also believe in the Gospel and make it central, and they too can go by the name “evangelical.”

Dr. Mohler, whom I think highly of,  says that the term refers to conservative Protestants to distinguish them from liberal Protestants, as well as from  Catholics.  He then gives some description of evangelicals as a social group.  But I think that the term, to be meaningful, must retain its core meaning of holding to the centrality of the Gospel.  And some conservative Protestants do NOT make the Gospel central, not really, and so shouldn’t use the name “evangelical.”

If you believe that you are saved by your good works, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that salvation comes from how good you are, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you no longer believe in justification by grace through faith in Christ (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you do not believe in the Atonement (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about creating a perfect society on earth,  you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about giving you prosperity, that the good news is about your earthly success, rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe in faith, but put your faith in yourself, rather than in Christ (as I have heard “evangelicals” preach on TV), you are NOT an evangelical.

I’m not saying those I’m referring to may not be Christians–if they have even a trace of faith in the work of Christ, buried under all kinds of other teachings, they may be–but they should come up with other words for themselves.

What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical?, Christian News.


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