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On Being a Theologian of the Cross

Wecome our guest blogger Timothy Dalrymple who heads up the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.com.

The Reformation is often said to have begun when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg on the 31st of October, 1517.  Yet, as their title suggests, the Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences was actually quite narrowly focused on the matter of indulgences.  Luther was furious when his parishioners claimed no need to repent for their sins because they had purchased indulgences from a Roman Church eager to finance renovations to Saint Peter’s Basilica.  If God’s forgiveness was up for sale, if a right relationship with God could be purchased, then there was no need for compunction and repentance, no need to confront the eternal debt we could never repay, and thus no occasion for a right reception of the extraordinary grace of God that eliminates our debt nonetheless.  If a copper coin buys absolution, then sin is a matter of small account and salvation is a minor accounting adjustment. 

The Ninety-Five Theses are important less for what they said regarding indulgences than for the process they set in motion.  The Augustinian order (to which Luther belonged) was generally supportive of Luther’s position, and Johannes Staupitz invited Luther to explain himself to a meeting of the order in Heidelberg on April 26th, 1518.  If Luther had not used this opportunity to articulate a more expansive vision of the cosmic drama of grace and forgiveness, and had not set forth a theological method that turned scholastic theology on its head, then he would have been the leader of a minor corrective movement within the Catholic Church and not of the “Great Reformation” as we know it now.  It was in the Heidelberg Disputation that Luther began to explain a way of being in relationship with God, and a way of coming to the knowledge of God, that was fundamentally at odds with the prevailing tendencies in the Roman Catholic Church of his time.  It was in consequence of the disputation at Heidelberg that Martin Bucer (who attended the disputation and would come to be another leader of the Reformation) drew near to Luther’s side, and Johannes Eck challenged Luther to the famous Leipzig debate.

The Heidelberg Disputation is one of the most brilliant and consequential pieces of theological reflection in the history of the Christian faith.  As with the Ninety-Five Theses, Luther enunciated a set of “theses” he was prepared to defend at a medieval-style disputation.  Together they construct a revolutionary argument that I will examine in the later installments of this series.  They convey a “theology of the cross,” a theologia crucis, a way of relating to God first and primarily “through suffering and the cross.”  Lamentably, this is often forgotten: while the Reformers proclaimed sola scriptura and sola gratia, they also proclaimed the imitatio passionis Christi, that all Christians are called to share in the sufferings of Christ and to know Christ and know God through the suffering of the cross—his cross, and ours. 

Yet for all its brilliance, the Heidelberg Disputation is often overlooked in the modern world, where the way of the cross is decidedly not in fashion.  We would rather find God in the hallowed halls of academe or in the lofty palaces of princely mega-churches—yet God revealed himself, as Luther argues, most exhaustively and definitively in a man who was rejected and beaten and put to death in humiliation and suffering.  God chose to reveal Himself to us on the cross, so that only those will (truly) find him who take up their crosses and follow him daily. 

As an appetizer, I offer a quotation from Hermann Sasse’s “The Theology of the Cross: Theologia Crucis,” in We Confess Jesus Christ, pp. 47-48, 50, 52:

The theologian of glory observes the world, the works of creation. With his intellect he perceives behind these the visible things of God, His power, wisdom, and generosity. But God remains invisible to him. The theologian of the cross looks to the Crucified One. Here there is nothing great or beautiful or exalted as in the splendid works of creation. Here there is humiliation, shame, weakness, suffering, and agonizing death…[That] “God can be found only in suffering and the cross”…is a bedrock statement of Luther’s theology and that of the Lutheran Church. Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else. A theology that would be something else is a false theology… Measured by everything the world calls wisdom, as Paul already saw, the word of the cross is the greatest foolishness, the most ridiculous doctrine that can confront a philosopher. That the death of one man should be the salvation of all, that this death on Golgotha should be this atoning sacrifice for all the sins of the world, that the suffering of an innocent one should turn away the wrath of God—these are assertions that fly in the face of every ethical and religious notion of man as he is by nature…God Himself has sent us into the hard school of the cross. There, on the battlefields, in the prison camps, under the hail of bombs, and among the shattered sick and wounded, there the theology of the cross may be learned “by dying”…To those whose illusions about the world and about man, and the happiness built on these, have been shattered, the message of the cross may come as profoundly good news.

You can read the theological theses and their proofs here.  Although it deals in subtle philosophical and theological distinctions, its basic concerns lay at the heart of the Christian life.  What Luther advances is not a new body of theological knowledge, nor even a new theological method, but a dramatically different way of being a “theologian,” meaning anyone who wishes to relate to God and learn from Him.  The “theologian of glory” seeks God in the things the world admires, in his own “good works” or in the wondrous creative works of God.  In this way the sinful man is puffed up, he trusts more in himself—and falls further from God.  The “theologian of the cross,” however, seeks the God who is hidden in suffering, and along this way he is humbled and made ready to receive God’s gracious self-giving in Christ. 

The theologia crucis also offers a piercing critique of Christendom that is no less relevant in our own age than it was in Luther’s.  That God made Himself known upon the cross, not to the powerful and wise but to the weak and foolish, not in grandeur and popularity but in humiliation and persecution, bears implications not only for how we might know and relate to God, but also for how we might truly give witness to God as followers of Jesus Christ.  In the weeks to come, then, I will explore what Luther’s theology of the cross means in itself and what it means for us in modern America.  The Heidelberg Disputation challenges us to reform our relationship with God, reorient our basic ways of thinking about what is true and false, good and evil, and reshape the church and the way it makes God present in the world.

43 Responses to “On Being a Theologian of the Cross”

  1. Thank you for this ariticle. I am looking forward to the rest of this series.

    In this world and in the church of today in this country where the emphasis is seemingly so often on “our rights” and self fulfillment, this is a message that is much needed I think. I know it is something I need to be reminded of over and over again as my focus tends to very easily drift into other ways of thinking.

  2. This is good evidence to why I think Christianity is false. You pick and choose aspects of the myth to make a punitive point.

    Why you may ask I say this?

    Your quote, “Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else.”

    So the Resurrection doesn’t matter?

    We all need only to wallow in our pitiful sorrow and believe we performed capital punishment (for the crime of being born) and then we have reconciliation with our creator? That sounds like the normalization of abuse to me. Christianity fetishes sadomasochism as its own internal proof but to do so demands special pleading where what is “good” in the theology would never be “good” in human practice.

    My unborn son (he will arrive May 27th) is not culpable for my crimes or my father’s or my grandfathers. Freedom exists because he is protected from culpability due to autonomy. To make an innocent suffer for the guilty is barbaric and evil. There is no truth in it and it exposes the character of God as either a narcissistic over-lord or, (depending on your trinitarian theology) a sadomasochistic control freak in desperate need for attention.

    It is silly and does not enable a mature ethic or psychology. It does however allow fearful people to maintain control over others for the sake of their own need for unquestioned power. Good luck with that.

  3. How true are such statements of the Christian faith “pick up your cross and follow” not always a pleasant journey, but none the less a journey that is wrapped in promises based on faith. To Poster #2 I can not speak for Timothy, but I believe when using the reference to the

    “Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else.”

    So the Resurrection doesn’t matter?

    Is to encompass all that the cross represents, including the resurrection; it is this which the Christian faiths stands on,
    the resurrection.
    I feel for you since your dilemma provides no escape from a doomed conception of man’s innocence of a sinful world. You can provide what ever filler you desire to avoid the consequences of turning a blind eye to the falleness of mankind but you have no justification by man’s own understanding of what it is that he is incapable of doing, living a sinless life. No one can do this whether it is passed on through man to son or the actions of anyone individually. Not to digress from the post, I hope you will follow the series, for it is pertinent for all who realize they are not perfect in any sense for it is a choice, to not make a choice is to choose by default…

  4. Chuck,

    Can you explain to us your version of freedom in a materialistic system? In other words, if all that we are is the natural without a trascendent quality, then how are we not determined by our genetic makeup? And if we are determined, how does your son have freedom through autonomy? Is he not determined to do exactly what his genetic makeup determines him to do, a genetic makeup he gained from you? Hence, is he not determined in some sense by your genetic makeup?
    I’m trying to wrap my head around how genuine undetermined choices are made in an naturalistic system. If they can’t be then what is your objection to the foundation of the cross? The disposition that fallen humanity has is not even based in his material makeup, but his lack of a salvific relationship with God. As such, there is far more freedom that I can see in Christianity, as it provides a way, through the cross, to shed the enslavement of a single choice.

    I realize your an agnostic, but you seem to continually argue for atheism, so I’m just curious. If you’re an theistic-agnostic (i.e., you believe God exists, but don’t know who He is), then I understand that this dilemma doesn’t necessarily exist for you.

  5. To me the most easily provable tenant of the Christian faith by experiential means is that man is fallen. One might not be able to get a full understanding as to how this is occurs or the full theological understanding of this doctrine from experience. Yet the idea that man is not intrinsically good and more often then not seeks to serve their own self interest, and often is still serving self interest even in seemingly altruistic acts, is painfully obvious from our history.

  6. [PART 1 OF 3]
    Dear Chuck,
    I apologize for the strange doctrines some of my Christian brothers and friends put forth that may hinder a sincere person from knowing God. If you’re sincere and are willing to accept whatever is true, consider this:
    The notion that God punishes all of mankind for the sins of one person, Adam, is not taught in the Bible and is based on a misreading of some difficult to understand passages. In fact it is explicitly decried as unjust (see Deuteronomy 24:16). We must use our reason here. It is absurd to predicate moral obligation on anything but beings with truly free wills. If God were to condemn us to the torment of hell for something over which we had no control, then God would be the most evil being in the universe!

    (As for Martin Luther’s views expressed in the Heidelberg Disputation, he clearly believed, as Calvin did, that “total depravity” renders mankind unable to choose good:
    “13. Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.
    14. Free will, after the fall, has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can always do evil in an active capacity.
    15. Nor could free will remain in a state of innocence, much less do good, in an active capacity, but only in its passive capacity.”
    To be fair to Luther, he did come out of a very dark time where tyrants ruled in the name of Christianity. This view that men are born with “sinful natures” is not from the Bible but came into the church from Greek philosophy through Augustine who was a neo-Platonist before he became a Christian.)

    As far as the death of Jesus being necessary to atone for our sins:
    I understand that to many people it just seems like a ridiculous thing to ascribe the acts of torture and murder of the innocent to a righteous God. But there is some context to this action and this message (of the Gospel) that is often left out, leaving us to guess at why something that seems on the face to be bad, could actually be good. The context is God’s love for mankind and His loving government over us (that He was obligated to give us if He loved us). We were created for His pleasure (we weren’t there at the time, so obviously He was acting for His own pleasure). But it pleased Him to please us. He wanted us to be happy, to love Him, and to love eachother, which is necessary for our happiness and His, and to enjoy all of the wonderful gifts He has given us.

  7. Alan,
    Watch out, now you’ve done it. You’ve questioned the holy grail of Evangelicalism, Penal Substitution. You probably know this already, but I can think of about 4-5 regular posters on this blog who are about to attempt to tear you to shreds. Fair warning has been given…

    One point of clarification though on this comment by you,

    “This view that men are born with “sinful natures” is not from the Bible but came into the church from Greek philosophy through Augustine who was a neo-Platonist before he became a Christian.”

    Are you implying that Pelagius was right?

  8. Thank you everyone for your comments. It should be an interesting series, and hopefully one that provokes thought and discussion.

    Chuck, the words you quote (“Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else”) are those of Hermann Sasse, not my own. I would not go quite so far as he, precisely for the reason you mention. That God revealed himself to the world most decisively in the passion and the cross (a claim I do not presuppose, but will discuss in the coming weeks) does not mean that God revealed himself exclusively in the cross. Another way to say it, though, is given above, that the cross and the empty tomb are inextricably linked, as the end of the story to which the passion and crucifixion are the beginning.

    Reconciliation with our creator comes about not through wallowing or self-hatred. It comes about because a loving God took the punishment for our sins upon Himself. When we receive that gift is when we cease insisting that we don’t need it, that we are sufficient to the task by ourselves.

    Then, a life lived in the imitation of Christ, walking the way of the cross, is not fetishized sadomasochism (which I assume is what you meant to say), but a recognition that the “rights” and “truths” of the world are profoundly deceived, and the life that Christ lived, even if it entails suffering and persecution, is what a life of true grace and truth looks like in this world.

    Congratulations on your son on the way. I just had a daughter a little over a year ago. My take on original sin is different than most. I believe each suffers for his own sin, but that we are born in a sinful world that is estranged from God. By the time we are conscious of our relationship with God, we are always already in the wrong. But as Michael said, that the world is fallen, and that there is a tendency of the human will toward sin, is the Christian doctrine for which there is the most empirical evidence of all. One cannot read a history book and miss it.

    In any case, your language is so exaggerated (“fetishes sado-masochism,” “narcissistic over-lord,” “sadomasochistic control freak,” etc.) that your rejection of Christianity appears to be more personal and visceral than detached and intellectual. You may justify your rejection intellectually, but I would suspect the *justification* and the *reason* for your rejection of Christianity are not the same. One cannot–cannot, at least, with intellectual integrity–simply dismiss two thousand years’ worth of some of the world’s most intelligent philosophers and scientists and theologians with a facile “it’s all about controlling others.” The world is a more complicated place than that, and Christian theology and Christian history are far too nuanced to be so summarily dismissed.

  9. “Are you implying that Pelagius was right?”

    Although its taboo to those who simply accept the Roman Catholic Church’s decisions on such matters blindly without investigating the subjects themselves (or those who blindly accept the lying regurgitations of those who have never truly grasped the truth on such subjects), I would not merely imply it but state it outright that Pelagius was right and Augustine wrong, and here is why.

    The real disagreement between Pelagius and Augustine (unlike everyone else here, I would wager, I’ve read Pelagius’ commentary on Romans, so I actually know what I’m talking about unlike the regurgitaters of traditional misunderstandings) was not about whether men can save themselves apart from Christ or not (Pelagius didn’t teach that they could) but was about the definition of grace and about the extent of original sin. To Augustine men were born unable to obey God at all and grace was simply magical power God grants you to enable you to obey him. To Pelagius men were not born unable to obey God at all, but were able to obey, yet they still needed the cross of Christ because they wouldn’t always obey, and grace was the mercy God showed in sending Christ to the cross when we didn’t deserve it.

    To one man grace is magic power to enable you to obey God when you were born unable supposedly. To the other, grace is the cross of Christ. Which one was right????

    Obviously the one that defined grace as the cross of Christ was right!!! And that was Pelagius.

  10. “Just as through Adam, sin came at a time when it did not yet exist, so through Christ was righteousness recovered at a time when it survived in ALMOST NOBODY. And just as through Adam’s sin death came in, so through Christ’s righteousness life was regained. As long as people sin as Adam sinned they die. DEATH DID NOT PASS ON TO ABRAHAM AND ISAAC, of whom the Lord says: They all live to him. But here Paul says that all are dead because in a multitude of sinners no exceptions is made FOR A FEW RIGHTEOUS . . .Or perhaps we should understand that death passed on to all who lived in a human and not in a heavenly manner” PCR 92-93.

    Pelagius viewed grace as knowledge given to man to have free choice rather than something that pertains specifically to Christ (i.e., grace was not what pulled people to the cross, nor was it the act of God Himself through the cross). The irony of your statement is that it is Augustine’s theology that requires the cross for all. It is Pelagius’ that requires the cross for most if they are not able to keep themselves from sinning like Adam. Hence, Pelagianism was condemned by all of Christendom for undermining the necessity of the cross for all people.

  11. Hodge,
    I have an epistemological question for you (for the record I think Pelagius was wrong, but I’m no fan of Augustine either). Does the fact that the Historical Church ruled on an issue (as they did with Pelagius at the Council of Carthage in 418) end the inquiry?? In other words is it possible for the beliefs of the Historical Church to be wrong?

    BTW I don’t mean this in a “because of the weight of the evidence they can’t be wrong” kind of way, but rather is it in the realm of possibility for them to EVER be wrong.

  12. Michael,

    I don’t think the Church is inerrant, but I do think it carries interpretive authority that the individual alone (or an isolated generation) does not possess. Having said that, I can’t think of where it has ever been wrong on a theological or ethical issue that it has held for the length of its existence. There aren’t a whole lot of issues I would place under that category, but the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. If it’s wrong all the time, or we can set up individual interpretations against it, then I don’t see how it is possibly being guided. If that is the case, for me, that causes numerous theological problems for bibliology itself, since if God inspires the text, but then leads interpretation up to chance, thus the truth is lost, then inspiration is irrelevant because its message cannot reach me except if I stumble upon it in the dark.
    I do think that it is the interpreter of the Bible, however, not science, history, tradition, etc. I follow the Magisterial Reformers in that regard.

  13. Hodge,

    It is pretty obvious to me by your post that you are ignorant how genotypes influence phenotypes. Environment is a complimentary factor to genomics so, a materialistic world-view takes this into consideration when understanding autonomy.

  14. Bryant,

    You said, “You can provide what ever filler you desire to avoid the consequences of turning a blind eye to the falleness of mankind but you have no justification by man’s own understanding of what it is that he is incapable of doing, living a sinless life. No one can do this whether it is passed on through man to son or the actions of anyone individually. Not to digress from the post, I hope you will follow the series, for it is pertinent for all who realize they are not perfect in any sense for it is a choice, to not make a choice is to choose by default…”

    Why do you presume I assume any of this?

  15. Hodge, if you are interested, you can read where I stand regarding Christianity here, http://chuckoconnor.blogspot.com/2009/10/i-dont-like-buddy-jesus.html

    Love to hear your opinion.

  16. Alan,

    Thanks for your measured response and sharing your perspective. Thanks to for not insulting my intelligence and devolving to the logical ad hominem fallacy.

    I struggle to agree with what you believe because of this statement, “Rather, they were written down as history, as eyewitness testimony of the facts as they occurred”

    You are equating what we consider modern historical hygiene with what history was considered in 1st C. Palestine. History was not a document of what was probable using data triangulation to confirm its veracity but rather it was a narrative to forward an ethnic group’s theology.

    I’ve done my study on how the NT canon was put together and firmly convinced that it is a collection of ad hoc legends compiled to formulate a particular superstition. Nothing more. I don’t think the people who compiled it are liars, I just don’t believe they operated under the auspice of our cultural or methodological standards and therefore for us to view them as us is the lie.

  17. “It is pretty obvious to me by your post that you are ignorant how genotypes influence phenotypes.”

    I am actually. That’s why my question was a real question. Can you point me to an article that explains how biology + its reaction to the environment (which is programmed, is it not?) = autonomous freedom? I’d like to read up on it, since I don’t know what the materialist position is. Your story seems to indicate that you default to atheism (and this is where my question would be relevant), but allow for the possibility of transcendence. Have you pursued the idea that transcendence, if it exists, must exist in the form of the concept of God that we have in one of the monotheistic religions?

  18. Hodge,
    I don’t want to draw this off topic, but I do have one more question. I’m wondering if, from a pure philosophical perspective, your reasoning for supporting the Historical Church (which to tip my cards I don’t believe is nearly as unanimous on a whole host of issues as you seem to content that it is, though it certainly is on some) is circular? You seem to take a very historical view of the manner in which the Holy Spirit’s works as well as God’s providence and control. This then in turn supports your contention for the authority of the Historical Church.

    My simple point is that one could come to the same conclusions about the manner in which the Holy Spirit works from the Bible itself and then use this understanding to establish the authority of the Historical Church on a subject. However, at some point there has to be something outside of the Historical Church which gives it it’s authority. I’m probably nitpicking here, but I think there’s an important nuance I’m getting at.

  19. Chuck,
    I’m trying to understand your position here. You seem to look at the process of canonization and conclude from this that Christianity is false. I find this confusing because it seems to me that even if one concluded that books made it into the canon which shouldn’t have, or vice versa every book must be judged by it’s own merits as to it’s authenticity. Did I miss something, or am I understanding your correctly?

    As to what you believe are you suggesting that Jesus is a complete myth and that He never lived? Or are you suggesting that he lived, but that the stories about him became inflated over time and a legend was born?

  20. “My simple point is that one could come to the same conclusions about the manner in which the Holy Spirit works from the Bible itself and then use this understanding to establish the authority of the Historical Church on a subject. However, at some point there has to be something outside of the Historical Church which gives it it’s authority.”

    Yeah, even though I believe the Church has interpretive authority, I believe it functions for us as external verification. So I would not take away the Holy Spirit’s leading of Christians in their interpretation of the Bible itself. My point is that they first learn of Christianity from the Church, so it gives them their interpretive grid. If they come to a conclusion of something apart from it, they can then compare what they have come up with together with what the Church has said. If they have come up with something different, and the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church as the standard of comparison, then they might want to rethink their position. So I believe that the Spirit only guides the Church as a collective body, but that He guides the individual believer as well. But I believe He leads the individual to the Church’s position. I just don’t believe He normally guides the individual believer without the Church. Hence, Eph 4:11-16 and 1 Tim 3:15.

    Now, is it circular to start at a point? Sure, that’s the nature of ultimate authority and ultimate beliefs. Everyone starts at a point, and therefore, everyone has circular reasoning. So I start at the understanding that we approach Scripture with interpretive grids through which we see it. The question then becomes “With what grid do we interpret the text?” “Our own culture, or our historic ecclesiastical culture?”

    Do I start with: Penal substitution is true because God has led His Church to conclude such is consistent with the Bible and the Church’s view of the atonement, sin, and grace? Or do I start with, “Well, I don’t like substitutionary penal atonement, because I’m a postmodern, and I don’t think displays of power and punishment our good, and instead seem abusive to me, so I’m going to view the Bible absent of that idea.

    Now, of course, I don’t believe the Church has commented on every little issue. I think it gives us the grid we need for the theology that dictates the Christian worldview, and the ethics to live it out.

    “However, at some point there has to be something outside of the Historical Church which gives it it’s authority.”

    God does. Or are you saying that the Church has to lean on another authority? I’m not sure of your question here. It obviously must draw from the Scripture, and I’m not saying that the Scripture cannot be understood for the most part, but in matters of dispute, that have great impact to our worldview and lifestyle, the Church functions as an interpretive help to those who are lost in the abyss of relativism.

  21. I believe Jesus lived and legends grew.

  22. Hodge you asked,

    “Have you pursued the idea that transcendence, if it exists, must exist in the form of the concept of God that we have in one of the monotheistic religions?”

    I have and I find it wanting both psychologically and ethically.

    Did you read the blog post I linked to.

    I recommend this book in regards to the human genome, susceptibility genes and how DNA can inform anticipated behavior.

    http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/acatalog/To_Test_or_Not_to_Test.html

  23. “I have and I find it wanting both psychologically and ethically.”

    So you would now reject any form of transcendence, even the concept of God as love, etc.?

    “Did you read the blog post I linked to.”

    I did. That’s why I said it seems that you default to atheism, but the post seems also like you would not dismiss completely the concept of transcendence. That’s why I’m confused by your answer above.

    Thanks for the book recommend.

  24. Hodge,

    You don’t need a monotheistic religion to accept a god-concept and enjoy transcendence.

    See the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or Jung’s collective unconscious.

    I don’t know the purpose of this question, “So you would now reject any form of transcendence, even the concept of God as love, etc.?” Can you please how this pertains to the theology of atonement you choose?

  25. “You don’t need a monotheistic religion to accept a god-concept and enjoy transcendence. ”

    Well, sure, the concept can be held. I’m really talking about a logically consistent concept. Finite forms of transcendence, ironically, aren’t transcendence, i.e., God. So all forms of finite transcendence are easily dismissed (as most atheists will agree).

    “Can you please how this pertains to the theology of atonement you choose?”

    Sure, I believe in the God of the Bible, and therefore, the Bible itself. I believe in the supernatural guidance of which that Bible speaks. I believe in the cross, therefore, and the theology gained from it that is communicated in the Bible and interpreted by the Church. So I believe in the historic theories that are consistent with the Bible and the Church’s teaching. If I had a finite view of God, then none of the following would make sense. :)

    Of course, that’s not what I was getting at, but it goes to show how much one piece of theology relies upon other pieces. ;)

  26. I meant to say, can you please indicate how this question pertains to the theology of atonement (you choose)?

  27. Hodge you said,

    “Sure, I believe in the God of the Bible, and therefore, the Bible itself. I believe in the supernatural guidance of which that Bible speaks. I believe in the cross, therefore, and the theology gained from it that is communicated in the Bible and interpreted by the Church. So I believe in the historic theories that are consistent with the Bible and the Church’s teaching. If I had a finite view of God, then none of the following would make sense.”

    I don’t. So there you have it. I affirm your first amendment rights to freedom of religion so enjoy your myths. I’m sure they provide you comfort. Your theology breaks down for me when anyone can claim supporting belief predicated on “supernatural guidance”. I demand evidence for those kind of authoritative claims.

    And I am only an atheist relative to your particular Christianity just as other religions are atheistic, as you are to them.

  28. Hodge, if you knew anything about this subject AT ALL, then you would know that it was Pelagius who was a semi-‘Pelagian’ and it was Coelestius that was the full-‘Pelagian.’ This is the problem with the regurgitaters of Calvinistic and Augustinian misrepresentation of the Pelagian controversy. Pelagius was NOT a ‘Pelagian’ as the term is defined by you. He was a semi-Pelagian. Condemning him is an injustice of guilt by association. You’ve clearly never read Pelagius’ commentary on Romans, and as such you are completely and totally uneducated and ignorant on this subject. Reading a 50th hand regurgitation of misrepresentation in some modern Calvinist author’s presentation of the subject is not sufficient. Go back to the original sources and not just to the ones on Augustine’s side: go back to Pelagius’ own commentary on Romans before you spout your regurgitated lies.

  29. “I don’t think the Church is infallible, but I do think it carries interpretive authority that the individual alone (or an isolated generation) does not possess.” (Hodge)

    My entire church says Pelagius was right, not just me. So it comes down to your church versus mine, not to me as one individual against “the church.” There is not “THE church” as you make it sound. “THE church” as you are using the term is the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, because that is the church that wrongly condemned Pelagius. Remember, Pelagius was tried by the Eastern Orthodox Church for heresy during his lifetime at least twice, and exonerated both times! So, should I agree with the EO or the RCC? And the Baptist church isn’t the one that condemned him way back then, nor the Methodist, not the Christian Church, nor Pentecostal Church, nor Church of Christ, nor the Assembly of God, nor even the Lutheran Church: as I said, even the Eastern Orthodox Church at that time exonerated him. Only the Roman Catholic Church condemned him. You then, when you place “THE church” against the “individual” might sound so smart, but in reality what you are doing is placing the Roman Catholic Church, the church of antichrist, against the Eastern Orthodox, and against a great amount of modern Protestant or post-Protestant churches that actually today exonerate Pelagius, particularly those in the anabaptist tradition which DO NOT believe in the doctrine of inherited original sin and the idea that babies are born condemned but rather believe that nobody is condemned until they personally sin.

  30. These kinds of arguments and the tone they use commend me to skepticism, “Hodge, if you knew anything about this subject AT ALL, then you would know that it was Pelagius who was a semi-’Pelagian’ and it was Coelestius that was the full-’Pelagian.’ This is the problem with the regurgitaters of Calvinistic and Augustinian misrepresentation of the Pelagian controversy. Pelagius was NOT a ‘Pelagian’ as the term is defined by you. He was a semi-Pelagian. Condemning him is an injustice of guilt by association. You’ve clearly never read Pelagius’ commentary on Romans, and as such you are completely and totally uneducated and ignorant on this subject. Reading a 50th hand regurgitation of misrepresentation in some modern Calvinist author’s presentation of the subject is not sufficient. Go back to the original sources and not just to the ones on Augustine’s side: go back to Pelagius’ own commentary on Romans before you spout your regurgitated lies.”

    Sounds like my nine-year-old nephew arguing why he thinks red light sabers cut better than blue ones.

  31. Rey, that last comment was deleted because it was out of line and a violation of the blog rules. Comments like that will get you banned

    You may not agree with Calvinism but please be respectful in your interactions

    Site Moderator

  32. Chuck,

    Obviously blue lightsabers cut better than red ones because blue is hotter than red and the red lightsabers are made of synthetic crystals instead of natural ones. :)

    Rey,

    I quoted Pelagius’ commentary on Romans. Did you miss the PCR there? If Pelagius indeed said this in his commentary, as I quoted, then everything you’ve said thus far seems to be negated by this.

  33. Hodge,
    While I don’t agree Rey I think he does raise a legitimate issue. When you look to the “Historical Church” which Historical Church are you looking to?? It seems to me there are at least three lines of thinking which go back to the first 500 years, Roman, Eastern, and the mixture of groups which make up the Oriental Orthodox. Augustine’s teachings for instance have never held much sway in the Orthodox Church. So which church is the “Historical Church” or this there really no such thing? Furthermore (since I know your not Roman Catholic as suggested by the Rey) where do you draw the dividing line between the Historical Church and the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church and why should that line be drawn?

    I guess in the end I can’t see how all this “Historical Church” stuff isn’t (as Rey thought) and argument for the absolute authority of Roman Catholic Church. It could be argued that Luther’s interpretation was just a “personal interpretation” and that the RCC as the Historical Church had the sole proper interpretation of the Bible.

  34. Alan, your three comments in a row broke the rules. I have to stay consistant here that is why the last two were deleted.

  35. BTW Alan. I never read your comments. Therefore, the moderation was irrespective of the content.

  36. Michael,

    I realize this is a complicated issue, and the objection is legitimately raised, but just a few words.
    There is no RCC, EO, or Prot Church in the early Church. There is only the Church. The task of faith and reason is given to every individual to choose which branch continues that Church most consistently in its view of the Gospel. I believe the RCC is more faithful to the Gospel and its underlying assumptions of man’s ability to come to God than the EO; and I believe that the Prot Reformation is more faithful to the Gospel and its underlying assumptions than the RCC. So I believe that the Reformed Church is the most consistent with the views of anthropology that are assumed by the Gospel, and declared to be such by the Early Church. The issue is complicated, I realize, but I definitely do not accept the reconstructionist viewpoint, espoused by some, that Pelagius was orthodox. I think if you look at the decision of the Bishop of Rome, where he was favorable toward Pelagius at first, but then upon further examination, he found him guilty of heresy, together with Caelestius, then you might see that there was no bias against him there; and he was heard out first hand. The Augustinian view of man, which Pelagius was arguing against (i.e., that God must enable the human through grace to respond to Him favorably) is the orthodox Christian position, gained from the Scripture. The other view is tradition and reason without a consistent explanation of the Bible’s view of sin. So I place my faith in the Reformation Churches that view the Gospel consistently with that. (That’s the short of it anyway).

  37. Hodge,

    Glad we can agree on one thing. I share your “Lightsabre Paradigm” although, being a graduate of Michigan State University, I think green Lightsabres are the most powerful of all.

  38. Hodge,
    “There is no RCC, EO, or Prot Church in the early Church. There is only the Church.”

    Of this I am aware, however even in the earliest writings of Christianity we can see disagreements and different understandings of things. For instance I could very easily set up some quotes from Iranaeus, Justin Martyr, and Methodius against some of the doctrines espoused at Carthage. Some things Origen believed were later declared heresy (same with Augustine in the Western Church). I just am not sure there as much unanimity as you seem to indicate.

    “The Augustinian view of man, which Pelagius was arguing against (i.e., that God must enable the human through grace to respond to Him favorably) is the orthodox Christian position, gained from the Scripture. The other view is tradition and reason without a consistent explanation of the Bible’s view of sin.”

    Ultimately what your saying here though is that this is the case in your understanding given your preexisting presupposition that the Reformed Church best represents the proper reading of the Gospel. Someone who is of the EO persuasion and rejects total depravity (as the EO traditionally does) would probably take issue with this assessment. Of course they would be arguing from their presupposition that the EO was the Church which most accurately preserves the Gospel.

    I guess what I’m saying is that ultimately it seems (from my perspective at least) that defining which tradition is the one which best preserves the Gospel and the doctrines of Christianity and is therefore the “Historical Church” is a matter of personal conviction and perhaps even personal preference. This is turn ultimately makes it so that there is no such thing as the Historical Church with the exception of a very few issues. There is only the tradition which someone personally believes has the correct doctrine.

  39. Chuck,

    I concur. After all, why else would Yoda have one?

  40. Michael,

    “For instance I could very easily set up some quotes from Iranaeus, Justin Martyr, and Methodius against some of the doctrines espoused at Carthage.”

    I think its important to understand that most people who have a “consensus” view of the historic Church do so by taking the Church in context of both the issues being discussed as well as the historic development of a doctrine. In the case of those you mentioned here, the early Fathers are dealing with Gnostics who believe in material depravity or inability to do what is good. The Fathers are saying that we are free to choose because we are not forced by our material nature. When the issue comes up to whether we are incapable of choosing good because of our love to choose evil, the question is different and thus gains a different answer from the Church.

    Origen’s views are Origen’s views. They are never held in consensus by the Church.

    As I stated also before, I would not claim unanimity for all things; but there is a consensus concerning the Christian worldview that affects the Gospel and major ethical practices of Christians that follow from it. Of course, as I also said, we have the Scripture as our source, but the Church functions as a guide for external verification as well as giving us the glasses through which we should see the text as well.

    “Ultimately what your saying here though is that this is the case in your understanding given your preexisting presupposition that the Reformed Church best represents the proper reading of the Gospel.”

    Well, sure, but I do think that since we not only have the Church, but also Scripture, that this fact plays into which Church we choose as well. I don’t believe the Scripture is completely incomprehensible. I just believe that we need external help to interpret it in many situations. So I don’t believe that a Church can just spring anything on someone because its from tradition. I believe that the Bible is the only source from which doctrines ought to be drawn, so for me, the only Church that believes that is found in the Reformation. But you’re right in that we all have presupps. The issue is whether you only have your presupps to believe that the HS has led you to conclude X or if you have both that and the collective voice of the Church to help you verify whether you’re a cult.

    “There is only the tradition which someone personally believes has the correct doctrine.”

    Well, of course, as a Prot, when I talk about the Historic Church, I’m talking about the teachers of the Church in the past who carried consistent theology with those who preceded them. At first this takes upon itself a physical/theological succession, but once established becomes primarily theological in nature.

    Michael, I appreciate our discussion, but I’m going to have to bow out for a few days because I need to get a book done. I hope you understand. Thanks for the conversation.

  41. Michael,
    Too bad about the strict rules. I’m sure I would have persuaded you (and more importantly, Chuck). Try as I may, I can’t untangle the world’s doctrinal knots in small snippets of blog text. Fortunately for you, I happened to save a text file and have published it to my site for your review: http://test.alancoughlin.com/Blog/TheMeaningOfTheCross.jsp.

    (I don’t know Pelagius well enough to give him an endorsement. But Jesus, Paul, and John I know well; and they agree with me :-) . On the subject of the “sinful nature,” you might want to read my article here: http://test.alancoughlin.com/Blog/SinfulNature.jsp and one I’m still refining on the subject of idolatry and holiness: http://test.alancoughlin.com/Blog/IdolatryAndHoliness.jsp.)

    Whew! I hope I didn’t go over the lim

  42. “The theologian of glory calls good evil and evil good. The theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” =Classic Luther.

  43. “One of the most pernicious attributes of ideology, whether secular or religious is its power to disconnect true believers from moral emotions like empathy, shame, and guilt. In fact, what often happens is that the ideology repurposes both these emotions and the rest of a believer’s moral machinery in the service of the ideology itself.” (Valerie Tarico)

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