Friday, October 31, 2014

Quick Thoughts on Reformation

Happy Reformation Day!  On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed 95 debate points on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, and the rest is history.

Wittenberg Door, October 2011
However, it would not befit the spirit of the Reformation if we took the developments of Luther and Calvin as some new kind of magisterium. As I am a Protestant, I believe that God used Luther and the Reformation to redirect Christian history in a more healthy direction.

But one of the reasons I value coming from the Wesleyan tradition is because I believe we are more of a "via media" between the Roman Catholic tradition and these "high reformers."

Sola fide, sola gratia
"By faith alone," "by grace alone." The Roman Catholic Church has now more or less conceded that Luther was more correct on these issues than they were.

At the same time, I would argue that the Wesleyan tradition is more biblical than the Lutheran or Calvinist traditions in the way they take these slogans. For example, a Calvinist might criticize the Arminian tradition as teaching that works are a part of justification. The reason is that Wesleyan-Arminians rightly interpret the New Testament to teach that a justified person can end up not being saved because of faithlessness.

But I am not a Lutheran or a Calvinist and, in the spirit of the Reformation, I am free to point out that Paul really doesn't care what Luther or Calvin thought on this one. "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

In its Greco-Roman context of patronage, grace usually came with certain informal expectations. A person couldn't spit in the patron's face and expect to continue to receive grace.

Solus Christus
"By Christ alone." No criticism here of the Reformation. We come to God only by means of Christ. There are of course debates and nuances. I would argue that this is a matter of God's free choice rather than him being forced in some way to reconcile the world through Christ, even if it makes sense. Similarly, we can debate how much we need to know about Christ in order to be justified through him.

Soli Deo Gloria
This was a later add on. I agree that all glory ultimately goes to God for everything, and the glory of everything else is in some way derivative. However, if this slogan is used to say that God has not given glory to his creation as well, I turn to Psalm 8. In the end, I am a Wesleyan, I am not bound by the slogans of Calvinists.

Sola scriptura
This was a premodern slogan, meaning that it comes from a time when the meaning the Bible was thought to have was in large part a projection of the person reading it. So this slogan, functionally, meant that we will only rely on the Bible for what we believe and do, with the understanding that I am smuggling in a boat load of what I think the Bible means from my own Christian tradition.

Those who were more consistent became heretics. So the Socinians of the 1500s, recognizing that the Trinity was not explicitly spelled out, did away with it in the name of the Reformation getting back to the Bible alone. Protestant Liberals followed this principle until the distinctness of each biblical text caused the Bible to fall apart as dozens of unrelated books.

Rather, because the books of the Bible were not originally one text, we must have (as we see in math with Godel's incompleteness theorem) an outside scaffolding or metanarrative to come alongside the books of the Bible so that we can have a coherent "biblical worldview." Our theology provides this scaffolding, whether we realize it or not.

In short, history has proved Erasmus to be the winner on this one. "Prima scriptura," "Scripture first," is not only a more Wesleyan perspective, but an actually coherent one.

So there you have it, some Wesleyan push-back on Luther for Reformation Day.


David Drury said...

Love this.

Do you think you could formulate, like Primae Scriptura, a two word adjustment to each of the Solae, that would serve as a sort of TULIP style shorthand outline for "these are the ways these go too far"?

The Solae seem so obvious to many, and it's because they SOUND right. We need a compelling SOUNDS RIGHT response.

Basically, I'm saying that as usual the Calvinists are better at branding their theology than we are. For instance, TULIP ourself was GREAT, and then they pretty much just stole it and doubled down saying "yep, we'll take that and make it our outline"

catch my drift?

Ken Schenck said...

Not quite the ticket...

Grace alone
Response required
All for God
Christ alone
Empowered by Spirit

Ken Schenck said...

sola gratia
solus Christus
fides ut opera
prima Scriptura

jesse chupp said...

Luther and Calvin, I suppose, can be forgiven their "high" view that the Church is one.