Thursday, June 28, 2012

St. Irenaeus: his feast day

According to the liturgical calendars of most Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic churches, June 28th is the feast day for St. Irenaeus, martyr and bishop of Lyons (died c. 200 AD). For those unfamiliar with feast days, they are liturgical memorial days for a number of historical Christians who have been designated as "saints" (see THIS WIKIPEDIA LINK for more information).

I have chosen to mention this particular feast day as an introduction of sorts to a series on St.Irenaeus that I would like to publish here at AF, leading off with a comprehensive listing of offline and online resources dedicated to him.

Beginning with my purchase of the American edition of the famous Edinburgh 38 volume "Early Church Fathers" series edited by Roberts and Donaldson (circa 1981/82 - link to info on this series), I have been keen student of Irenaeus, and have since added dozens of articles, books, and essays to my personal library and hard-drive.

So, if you have some interest in Irenaeus, stay tuned, I should have my next post on this extraordinary Christian man up within the next few days (the Lord willing).

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Obnoxious 'evangelism': yay or nay

I found the video imbedded in the July 27, 2012 American Vision News post, Muslim mob stones Christians in Dearborn; police then harass the Christians, and reproduced below, to be quite disturbing:

Without getting into the issue of freedom of speech in America, I would like to ask a simple question: was the type of 'evangelism' displayed in the video an effective means of communicating the Gospel to Muslims?

Grace and peace,


Monday, June 25, 2012

Censorship at Triablogue...

Back on June 14th, I submitted a post to John Bugay's June 8th thread, Irenaeus on “Divine Protection from Error”: Scripture Interprets Scripture. Comments submitted to John's threads are moderated, and it seems that John has no intention of publishing my comment, given that it has been well over a week since I submitted it. The following is my 'evil', 'subversive' post (grin):

==Hello John,

Longtime no chat; hope all is well with you and yours. From your opening post:

>>Consider this word from the Westminster Confession of Faith: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”>>

You believe that Irenaeus in a very real sense was a faithful adherent of the above principal; unfortunately, he was not. Please note the following:

There was, however, another aid which he [Irenaeus] looked upon as of the most certain and most important utility, so far as it extended, and that was the baptismal creed, which he regarded as infallible for leading to the right sense of Scripture upon fundamental points, and according to which he thought all Scripture ought to be interpreted. [I.ix.4] It is evident, therefore, that he regarded the tradition of the Church, to that extent, as divine and infallible. (James Beaven, An Account of the Life and Writings of S. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and Martyr, 1841, p. 139 – bold emphasis mine.)

You have conflated material sufficiency with formal sufficiency—Irenaeus held to the former, but not the later.

See posts under THIS LINK for more on this issue.

Grace and peace,


If ever there was a post the deserves censorship...

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The "gospel" of R.C. Sproul: did Mathew C. Heckel 'get it right'?

In my previous thread, Misreading historical theology, I brought back to the fore an older thread (link) that touched on a JETS essay (link) which explored a number of historical problems with R.C Sproul's assessment of what one must believe in order to experience salvation. In the combox of the above mentioned "previous thread", Ken Temple posted:

I don't have time to go over all this again with a fine-tooth comb, but it seems to me that Heckel mis-understood Sproul.

Also, Sproul's book, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together (Baker, 1999) answers the questions that Heckel seems to be asking after he read Faith Alone.

Especially important are pages 169-172 - these pages show that Heckel is wrong about Sproul because Heckel projects implications that he gets into his own mind into Faith Alone, but Sproul never meant that everyone before Luther or Trent had to be able to articulate justification by faith alone before Luther, in order to be saved.

So, I think Heckel has interpreted R. C. Sproul's book, "Faith Alone" wrongly. (

Did Heckel interpret " R. C. Sproul's book, "Faith Alone" wrongly"? Does Sproul's subsequent book, Getting the Gospel Right, correct any misconceptions Heckel may have had? I do not believe that this is the case at all; in fact, I believe Sproul's, Getting the Gospel Right (GTGR), reinforces Heckel's original assessment. I will now turn to chapter 11 ("Trusting in Christ") of GTGR, wherein Sproul describes at length, one of the "necessary condition[s] of saving faith".  To lay the foundation for the rest of the chapter, Sproul cites Article 16 of the document, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, under his heading—"Saving Faith":

16. We affirm that saving faith includes mental assent to the content of the Gospel, acknowledgment of our own sin and need, and personal trust and reliance upon Christ and his work.

We deny that saving faith includes only mental acceptance of the Gospel, and that justification is secured by a mere outward profession of faith. We further deny that any element of saving faith is a meritorious work or earns salvation for us. (Page 167)

Sproul then writes:

The Reformers delimited three essential elements of saving faith: notitia (knowledge of the data or content of the gospel), assensus (the intellectual acceptance or assent to the truth of the gospel's content), fiducia (personal reliance on or trust in Christ and his gospel). (Page 168)

He then goes on to describe two Biblical accounts of "intellectual acceptance" (i.e. demons and Satan) and states:

But the demons lacked saving faith. They had one of the necessary elements of saving faith, but not all of them. Intellectual acceptance is a necessary condition for saving faith, but not a sufficient condition. That is, without intellectual acceptance we cannot be saved, but its mere presence does not bring salvation...

Article 16 affirms that saving faith includes intellectual acceptance of the gospel's content but is not exhausted by or comprised solely of mental assent.

Article 16 denies that one can have saving faith without intellectual acceptance or assent. This would exclude from salvation even those who call themselves Christians but who at the same time reject essential elements of the gospel...

This raises the question regarding Roman Catholics who, though they may affirm other essential elements of the gospel, reject sola fide. If they do not intellectually accept this element  and if this element is essential to the gospel, can they still be saved? The only honest answer I can give to this question is no. This answer raises the hackles of many who seek to affirm unity Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, and it requires further explanation.

Does this mean that we are saved by the doctrine of sola fide? By no means. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and his saving work. Mere belief in the doctrine of sola fide will save no one. Intellectual acceptance of sola fide does not constitute saving faith. The object of fiducia must be in Christ and his work, not the doctrine of justification. The problem arises when we ask about the consequences of rejecting sola fide, that person rejects an essential element of the gospel. That poses a problem not only at an intellectual or doctrinal level, but at the spiritual level as well. If a person is trusting not in the imputed righteousness of Christ but in his own inherent righteousness, he will not be saved. He lacks a necessary condition of saving faith. In the final analysis he is trusting in another gospel and remains in a state of self-righteousness. By rejecting an essential element of the gospel, he is under the biblical and thus divine anathema. This is precisely why Martin Luther insisted that sola fide is the article by which the church stands of falls. It is the article by which we stand or fall.  (Pages 168-170 - bold emphasis added.)

Now, a couple of points: first, Sproul incorrectly attributes to Martin Luther the dictum, "that sola fide is the article by which the church stands of falls." (See THIS THREAD for documentation of this error.) Second, Sproul makes it quite clear that, "[m]ere belief in the doctrine of sola fide will save no one", and that "[i]f a person is trusting not in the imputed righteousness of Christ but in his own inherent righteousness, he will not be saved."

Can Sproul get any clearer on this issue? I think not. Even though he later tries to make room for the possible salvation of Roman Catholics who either, "consciously, clearly understand and embrace the doctrine of sola fide and posses a true saving faith"; or, "who do not fully grasp the gospel but who intuitively understand that their only hope in Christ and his work in their behalf and trust him fully" (pp. 170, 171), this proposed concession does not somehow mutate his prior assessments. Bottom line: Heckel got Sproul's "gospel" right.

Grace and peace,


P.S. I typed up the quotes from Dr. Sproul's book quite quickly; as such, I suspect there may be some typos, and would greatly appreciate notification of any such spelling errors.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Misreading historical theology

While reflecting on the recent charges of semi-Pelagianism leveled by a number of Reformed folk against the newly published SBC document on salvation (see PREVIOUS POST for link and commentary), I recalled Matthew C. Heckel's critique of R.C. Sproul's skewed handling of historical theology (see THIS THREAD). Note the following excerpt from Heckel's essay:

He [Sproul] does introduce Augustine and Aquinas into the conversation to establish that they believed justification to be exclusively by grace, and he uses their theology to accuse the Council of Trent of semi-Pelagianism. Beyond this, Sproul does not substantially treat the views of Augustine or Aquinas on justification. If he had, his thesis would surely have led him, as it did the Reformers, to deal with the question of the Christian status of the pre-Reformation church, since Augustine and the rest of its theologians did not teach that we are justified sola fide in the Reformation sense. In fact, unless Sproul's thesis is qualified, it would lead to the unintended consequence of consigning to perdition the entire Church from the patristic period up to the down of the Reformation, something the Reformers did not do. This is because the Reformation understanding of justification sola fide was unheard of in the pre-Reformation church and thus not believed until Luther. Alister McGrath points out that “there are no ‘Forerunners of the Reformation doctrines of justification."

To put it another way, Luther’s doctrine of justification sola fide was not a recovery but an innovation within the Western theological tradition. What is provocative about Sproul’s thesis is that the equation of the construct of sola fide with the gospel itself would mean that the Roman Catholic Church not only rejected the gospel at Trent, but the Church never possessed it at all from the post-apostolic period up to the time of Luther. In this unqualified form, Sproul’s thesis would also mean that since no one knew the gospel in the pre-Reformation church, no one experienced justification, and thus there was no Church. ("Is R.C. Sproul Wrong About Martin Luther?", JETS 47.1, pp. 92-94.)

Heckel's entire essay is a must read (IMHO), for it sheds considerable light on difficulties and out-right errors that tend to follow a deficient/faulty (mis)reading of historical theology. It is a pattern that I see repeated in many differing forms, especially by amateur and professional apologists from virtually all the various faith traditions. One could say, without much exaggeration, that the misreading of historical theology has reached epidemic proportions, causing me to wonder if there will ever be a 'cure' for the malady. But then, contributions like Heckel's do offer a ray of hope...

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The majority of Southern Baptists are semi-Pelagian...???

Today is the first day in over a week that I have actually had 'free' time to spend browsing the internet, attempting to 'catch-up' (s0 t0 speak) on events and topics that interest me. The following caught my eye:

The post begins with the following:

The following is a suggested statement of what Southern Baptists believe about the doctrine of salvation. Compiled by a number of pastors, professors, and leaders in response to the growing debate over Calvinism in Southern Baptist life, it begins with a rationale for such a statement at this time, followed by ten articles of affirmation and denial. The goal was to create a statement that would accurately reflect the beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptists, who are not Calvinists.

Given what I know about the recent 'war' that has been taking place between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) denomination (the largest Protestant denomination in the USA), I KNEW that this newly published document would add gasoline to the flames that were already burning. Like weeds after a fresh rainfall in the spring, charges of "semi-Pelagianism" immediately began to appear on blogs/websites in great numbers. The following Google search is representative:

Having dealt with the issue of semi-Pelagianism at length here at AF (see posts under THIS LINK), I immediately recognized a serious, fundamental flaw that has skewed the attempts to portray the SBC document as semi-Pelagian—a failure to understand what semi-Pelagian actually meant in its original historical context.

The following is a re-posting of material from one of the threads linked to above:

SEMI-PELAGIANISM. The doctrines on human nature upheld in the 4th and 5th cents. by a group of theologians who, while not denying the necessity of *Grace for salvation, maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and Grace supervened only later. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. 1974 - 1985 reprint, p. 1258.)

SEMI-PELAGIANISM. Doctrines, upheld during the period from 427 to 529, that rejected the extreme views of Pelagius and of Augustine in regards to the priority of divine grace and human will in the initial work of salvation...

Cassian [one of the early leaders of semi-Pelagianism] taught that though a sickness is inherited through Adam's sin, human free will has not been entirely obliterated. Divine grace is indispensable for salvation, but does not necessarily need to precede a free human choice, because, despite the weakness of human volition, the will takes the initiative toward God [apart from supernatural grace]. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, p. 1000.)

Notice that divine grace IS NOT necessary in order for one to accept the Gospel—this is THE distinguishing tenant of semi-Pelagianism—if one denies/rejects this cardinal doctrine of semi-Pelagianism, then one is not a semi-Pelagian.

Now, a careful reading of the SBC document will yield the fact that "THE distinguishing tenant of semi-Pelagianism" is denied. IMO, one must ignore, and/or twist elements of the document to lend any credence to the charge of semi-Pelagianism.

So, in ending, for those so inclined to review the numerous attacks (and defenses) of this newly published SBC document, I would like to urge you to keep in mind what semi-Pelgianism actually taught in its original context...

Grace and peace,