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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mark Thompson Declares War: Avoiding evangelical civil war | Theological Theology




By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

I am constantly amazed by the inroads that Van Tilian paradox and irrationalism has made into Evangelical scholarship and seminaries.  This is particularly disturbing when those scholars and institutions make the claim to be Reformed in some way as well.  Although I have to admire the Evangelical commitments of the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church in Australia, I also note that Sydney is inconsistently committed to biblical theology and confessional Anglican and Reformed theology.  (Cf. Sydney Embraces Anglo-Catholicism).

In the linked article, Dr. Thompson makes it some sort of obligation that Calvinists and Anglicans accept his dogmatic statement that Christ died for all men in general (Point 2), which is nothing more than the first step in the direction of Arminianism via Amyraldianism:

Recognise that those who disagree with you on this particular theological point are people for whom Christ died. They are inestimably precious in his sight. They must not be regarded or treated as mere theological canon fodder. Even when you are convinced they are seriously in error they must be treated with respect and gentleness. The goal must be to persuade them of the truth not annihilate them as a warning to others.


Can mere persuasion change the heart or mind of the determined unbeliever or heretic?  I think not.  Thompson's own declaration of war against the Calvinist doctrines of particular election and particular atonement demonstrates that well enough.  (John 10:11, 15; Matthew 1:21; Exodus 12:23, 27; Revelation 5:9).

For all practical purposes Amyraldianism acts more like Arminianism than Calvinism since it advocates the view that the reprobate are somehow made "savable" because of a general atonement for those already in hell and for those who will in the future go to hell.  Such a view of the atonement as merely demonstrating God's love rather than being an actual penal/substitutionary atonement for the elect and the elect alone is extremely problematic if we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.  The very principle of the inerrancy of Scripture means that logically speaking God cannot contradict Himself.  Does God really intend to save those for whom He has already decreed reprobation from all eternity before creation?  I think not!  (Isaiah 14:24; Isaiah 46:9-10; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11; 1 Peter 2:8; Romans 9:11-13, 17, 22).  Does the Bible anywhere say that Christ died to redeem every single individual without exception or perhaps the term "world" is in relation to the elect who are dispersed among every nation, tribe, people, social class, age of development, and gender?  (Revelation 5:9; Mark 13:27).

The problem with Thompson is that he rejects logic as the basis for understanding the Bible:

Recognise from the outset that there is no necessary correlation between the truth taught in Scripture and your own explanation of the truth taught in Scripture. This recognition stems from an acknowledgement of both our own human limitations (we are all historically, culturally and socially located and this shapes how we see things more than we realise) and our own stubborn sinfulness (pride, self-promotion or self-protection, party-spirit and envy are all evils which continue to plague us in various degrees and distort our vision as well).  (See Point 1).

The key word here is "necessary".  Of course no one would assert that there is always necessarily a correlation between the truth taught in Scripture" and our own "explanation of the truth taught in Scripture."  But here is the problem.  Thompson ignores the fact that Reformed churches do not advocate the principle of "solo" Scriptura.  The doctrine of "sola Scriptura" does not reject the secondary authority of creeds or confessions of faith which draw their warrant from Scripture.  (Cf. Article VIII).  Although creeds, confessions, and church councils and synods can and do err, it does not follow that the Reformed confessions and the Anglican Formularies are not the basis for Christian communion and fellowship.  (Cf. Article XX and Article XXI).  Thompson's view is essentially the Anabaptist view that individuals decide individually what Scripture says rather than having a consensus of the systematic and logical teaching of Scripture laid out in systematic form in confessional statements.  The doctrine of the priesthood of believers as prophets, priests, and kings does include the right of private interpretation but only in the context of being convinced of the truth of the Scriptures within a confessional context. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Revelation 5:10).  If not then we have a problem having any sort of communion or fellowship on the basis of dogmatic or systematic theology.

Furthermore, I find it disturbing that Thompson thinks that Scripture is not an objective revelation in the verbal plenary view where the very words and propositions of Scripture encapsulate what God thinks.  If a person cannot read and understand what God says in the Scriptures and find truth there, then there is no revelation from God and no knowledge of God.  In fairness to Thompson he does concede that we ought to interpret Scripture with Scripture:

Our own teaching needs to be subjected to rigorous evaluation on the basis of a natural reading of the biblical text and proper inferences drawn from Scripture.

I am being generous here since biblical theology is often critical of systematic theology when in fact both go hand in hand.  Luther does not concede that he "might be wrong" at the Diet of Worms.  Rather his stance was, "Prove me wrong by the Scriptures!"  Since Scripture is the final authority and not Luther himself, Luther focuses on the text, not popular opinion or any concern about ecumenical fellowship.  If we take Thompson's view Luther was simply a rabble rouser who refused to admit he could be wrong.  Oddly enough, Thompson's point 2 advocating universal atonement is a similar statement that Thompson refuses to admit could be wrong.

Perhaps Thompson thinks that the reprobate and unconverted person is not really under God's wrath?  He says:

They are inestimably precious in his sight. They must not be regarded or treated as mere theological canon fodder. Even when you are convinced they are seriously in error they must be treated with respect and gentleness. (Point 2).

Judging from points 1 and 2 above then we must say that Thompson believes that he might be wrong on the issue of homosexuality. (Cf. John 3:36; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Revelation 1:27).  It just might be that liberals are right and the Scriptures are wrong or that Scripture is somehow paradoxical or irrational to the point that we cannot really know what God thinks about homosexuality.  Although Thompson himself does not at this point believe he is wrong, his focus on theological relativism and irrationalism is disturbing.  It opens to the door to the possibility that the Sydney Diocese and Moore Theological College could at some point in the future change its mind on the issue of homosexual ministers and bishops.  Say it is not so!  Are there any absolute truths recorded in the Holy Scriptures by Thompson's view?  Or is this just one huge paradox?  It truly is amazing how neo-orthodoxy and irrationalism has infiltrated Evangelicalism.

In point three Thompson seems to be making a legitimate point that we should properly understand the other person's true position.  But his statement is so ambiguous as to make me wonder what he means.  Does understanding the other person's point of view involve empathy and an emotional connection with that person's point of view?  Or is Thompson's point that we should understand rationally and logically the doctrinal and dogmatic position with which we disagree?  If emotions are the basis for understanding with the mind another person's position then we have another concession to irrationalism and relativism.  After all, I can certainly empathize with a trans-sexual or homosexual who has convinced himself or herself of the truth of their rationalizations for their decisions.  But what is the biblical and apodeictic law of God in such matters?  (See Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Does Thompson regard the Scriptures as an objective revelation from God in the form of a written document the words of which are both fully inspired by God and given in the form of grammatical and propositional truth statements?  (Cf. John 10:35). Or does Thompson view the Scriptures as irrational paradox and subject to human subjectivism?  If the latter, then I can only say that Thompson's view is simply an Evangelical form of neo-orthodoxy along the lines of the followers of Cornelius Van Til and the theology of paradox and analogy.  One has to ask by what criterion Thompson decides what Scripture objectively says?

Even more troubling than the above is Thompson's contention that the doctrine of biblical infallibility and inerrancy is open for discussion with liberals:

Beware the 'h' word. One of my favourite memories of the late Professor Colin Gunton was hearing him under interrogation at a conference in King's College London. The questioner clearly thought the good professor had moved so seriously from Christian orthodoxy that he was now espousing heresy. He replied, 'I might not be a heretic, you know. I might just be wrong!' We can all make mistakes and a willingness to acknowledge that in ourselves and in others can take some of the sting out of a theological confrontation. The problem becomes much more serious when we persist in our mistake in spite of the evidence against it. Nevertheless, we should do all we can to avoid labels and precipitate judgements. For example, too often I have heard all who hold to biblical inerrancy dismissed as rationalists by those who should know better or those who have trouble making sense of inerrancy as Bible-denying liberals. Less labelling and more listening would instantly make our theological discussions more profitable and more godly.  (Point 7).

The implied meaning of point 7 is that we ought not to question those who question inerrancy.  But loosening the lines of orthodoxy helps no one.  Truth will ultimately divide and to try to reconcile truth with error only opens the door to more error until we reach a point where the communion itself is apostate.  Also, I would like to ask along with the late Gordon H. Clark by what criterion Thompson decides where Scripture has erred and where people have erred?

If in the face of this objection such theologians still maintain that many or even a few Scriptural doctrines can be retained out of an erroneous Bible, we have, at least, the right to know how they decide which doctrines they need. We press them for their method of retaining some while rejecting others. Just recently one liberal writer referred contemptuously to this challenge. He said the conservatives win a cheap victory by asking the liberals to state their non-Biblical criterion of acceptance and rejection. Why this challenge is cheap, I do not know. Why it is not a victory, he did not say. If a theologian accepts a doctrine simply because the Bible teaches it, he accepts Biblical infallibility; but if he rejects Biblical infallibility, he cannot accept the doctrine simply because the Bible teaches it. Therefore he must use some other criterion. I do not see anything cheap in asking what this criterion is. In fact, the ideals of scholarship are abandoned – and the ground of faith is disguised – unless this criterion is plainly stated. The Neo-orthodox, however, seem very reluctant to answer the question. They hide their criterion under a bushel. But it is “intellectually impossible” to get along without any replacement at all for the criterion of Scripture. In theology, as in automotive engineering, if you take out the spark plugs, you will have to use some substitute or the car won’t go. 

Gordon H. Clark (2011-07-02T18:48:21+00:00). God's Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics (Gordon H. Clark) (Kindle Locations 1164-1175). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

Let it be duly noted that Thompson recognizes that those who adhere to biblical inerrancy and infallibility have been accused of rationalism. (See point 7).  I am reminded here of the charges made in 1940 by Cornelius Van Til and his followers against Dr. Clark's view that Scripture is the very words of God and thoughts of God in written form and not simply an analogy of revelation.  (Cf. The Complaint and The Answer).  The Bible IS God's Word.  Ironically, D. Broughton Knox, the former principal of Moore Theological College, held to the view that the Bible is propositional in character.  (See:  Broughton Knox, The Nature of Revelation).  Of course the late Dr. Broughton Knox was an Amyraldian himself but at least he acknowledged the propositional nature of Scripture as revelation from God.


I cannot help but find it humorous that Dr. Thompson's apparent criterion for truth is not Scripture but ecumenical concerns since he apparently thinks Scripture is ambigious rather than plain and straightforwardly propositional in nature.  (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 2:15; John 10:35).  Dr. Thompson in his arrogance thinks that his list of criteria trumps confessional theology and the doctrine of sola Scriptura.  He further denigrates anyone who would dare challenge his views in the blogosphere:

In the end, be more concerned about the glory and honour of God than about your own popularity or reputation. The desire to be liked or respected can lead in both directions. Some have adopted a posture of generosity and inclusion as a way of being accepted by as many people as possible. Others have engaged in a series of theological witch-hunts, gaining a reputation for sniffing out heresy no matter where it is hidden. In both directions the pursuit of reputation or popularity can lead to theological distortion and more importantly displacing God and his saving work in Christ from the centre of the entire enterprise. The extremes of unprincipled generosity and unrelenting precision can both be unhelpful and ungodly. But worst of all is a preoccupation with positioning myself in the academy or the popular Christian imagination (or even just the Christian blogosphere!).   Point 8.

The term "unrelenting" is simply a propaganda device rather than a rational criticism of the views of those who insist on Scripture alone as the final arbitration in any doctrinal dispute.  Either Scripture is the final authority or it is not.  Dr. Thompson seems to think that his criteria trumps that of Scripture.  In essence Dr. Thompson has declared war on the Reformed and Calvinist faith and that declaration should not go unnoticed on the "blogosphere".  I guess that Dr. Thompson's position as professor and an ordained minister allows him to condemn those who have been driven out of the church over doctrinal issues like the five solas, biblical inerrancy, propositional truth, and particular atonement.  And all the while he enjoys his reputation and popularity among the other compromisers of biblical truth and propositional revelation.  So be it!


The peace of God be with those who stand on Scripture alone!

Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.


Click here to read Dr. Thompson's blog entry:   Avoiding evangelical civil war | Theological Theology
To see Dr. Thompson's rejoinder you can either look at the comments below or click here:  Dr. Thompson's Rejoinder.

5 comments:

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Charlie,

I think we have been here before, but let me state as unequivocally as I can:

1. I affirm unreservedly the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura.

2. I affirm unreservedly biblical inerrancy. I do not believe Scripture has erred in anything it teaches. What is more, I have never suggested we should not question those who question inerrancy. In fact, quite the opposite!

3. I affirm unreservedly propositional revelation (and acknowledge that this propositional revelation comes to us in a variety of genre in the biblical material). I believe that the Scriptures are objective revelation from God, given through the agency of active human writers and all God-breathed.

4. I am not into irrationality, just a humble recognition that in my case, my reason is affected by the Fall like every other faculty of mine and so needs to be subjected to the authority of Scripture.

5. My concern in my post was not ecumenical conversation so much as the practice of some within the reformed evangelical camp to draw a tighter and tighter doctrinal circle around themselves that in the end they end up echoing Elijah: 'I, only I, am left'.

6. I value the creeds and confessions as the consensus of Christians and a secondary authority under Scripture (to say Scripture is the final authority is not to say there are no other authorities, just that they must be subject to Scripture).

7. To infer from my comments that the door is open to the possibility that myself, Moore Theological College, or the Diocese of Sydney is sliding towards neo-orthodoxy, irrationalism, relativism or the endorsement of homosexual behaviour (against which Scripture speaks clearly and repeatedly) is both inaccurate and inappropriate.

8. I think I am closer to Luther than you are willing to admit and I would consider myself a systematic theologian who is thoroughly committed to biblical theology.

9. I most certainly believe that the reprobate and unconverted person is under God's wrath while being at the same time part of the world which God so loved he sent his Son.

10. I do not believe I have ever declared war against the Calvinist doctrines of particular election and particular atonement. Quite the opposite! I certainly did not make it a requirement of fellowship that all should accept Amyraldianism or Arminianism.

11. As for the place of persuasion, I believe I was simply echoing Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. Perhaps both Cornelius van Til and Gordon Clark would also see the importance of this stance?

Charlie, I am very happy for you to take me to task. After all, a major part of my post was my own concern to be open to being shown — from the authoritative Scriptures! — that I am wrong. I just do not like being misrepresented when you have access to many things I have written which, I believe, demonstrate my commitment to the absolute authority of Scripture as the word of God (yes, I believe it IS the word of God written) and to the structures of Reformation Anglicanism as a faithful expression of what the Bible teaches.

Thank you for this opportunity to clarify where I stand.

Mark

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for your kind response, Dr. Thompson. As you know I do not regard conservative Anglo-Catholics as brothers in Christ and in more recent times I have come to similar conclusions about Arminians.

If Dr. Packer is any example, showing tolerance to Anglo-Catholics and Arminians does not lead anyone closer to Calvinism or the Gospel. Also, I would push you that Scripture is perfectly logical and that God does not contradict himself. While it is not a formal contradiction to hold to the Amyraldian view of the atonement, it is out of harmony with the fullest teaching of Scripture.

I will publish your response on the blog as a courtesy, although I do not think you've fully answered my concerns.

If denominations are merely secular organizations as the late D.B. Knox said, what is the point of being in full fellowship with Anglo-Catholic or even liberals for that matter?

The Anglican Communion is so fragmented and disfunctional as to be completely useless here in the US. There is no Episcopal or Anglican congregation here which I could attend in good conscience. Call it drawing the circle too tight but I call it a matter of standing on God's Word.

When prayer books are pelagian and papist the liturgy itself is enough to break fellowship, and that is aside from the false teaching.

Sincerely yours,

Charlie

Charlie J. Ray said...

Unfortunately, Dr. Thompson's alleged "humility" in the matter of the noetic effects of sin on the mind is really a round about way of saying that we cannot understand the logical propositions of the infallible Scriptures sufficiently well to settle theological disputes. The Westminster Confession of faith makes it clear that natural revelation cannot save and that Scripture can be understood by logical deduction:

Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scripture

1. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable;1 yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation:2 therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church;3 and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;4 which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;5 those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.6

See also: WLC 2 | WSC 2


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1 Rom. 2:14,15; Rom. 1:19,20; Ps. 19:1,2,3; Rom. 1:32; Rom. 2:1.

2 1 Cor. 1:21; 1 Cor. 2:13,14

3 Heb. 1:1

4 Prov. 22:19,20,21; Luke 1:3,4; Rom. 15:4; Matt. 4:4,7,10; Isa. 8:19,20.

5 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Pet. 1:19

6 Heb. 1:1,2

****

6. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.1 Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word;2 and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.3


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1 2 Tim. 3:15,16,17; Gal. 1:8,9; 2 Thess. 2:2.

2 John 6:45; 1 Cor. 2:9,10,11,12.

3 1 Cor. 11:13,14; 1 Cor. 14:26,40.

Charlie J. Ray said...

According to the WCF the logical deductions drawn from the revelation in Scripture are the answer to the "noetic effects" of sin by the "corruptions of the flesh". See WCF 1.1

Charlie J. Ray said...

I should also point out again that there is a so-called "orthodox" and "conservative" ecumenicalism or "catholicity" that is loosely called "Evangelicalism". That term has been so loosely defined that the circle keeps getting larger so that the neo-orthodox, the Anglo-Catholics, the Arminians, and just about anyone who to any degree appears to agree with the ecumenical creeds is called an "Evangelical." The term is completely useless since the only basis for genuine fellowship includes more than just the ecumenical creeds but also the Reformed symbols or confessions. The Protestants of the Reformation period knew this well and even the Lutherans nailed down their doctrine solidly to prevent just this sort of ambiguity and compromise with false teaching.

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