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Adv Historical Theology CGST 18 Jan 16 L-2: Intro to HT, part 2

Do not copy without written permission 2016 Rev. E. Manges, Ph.D.

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p. 1

Lecture 2, Hours 5-8

L ECTURE 2 - I NTRODUCTION TO H ISTORICAL T HEOLOGY - part two


Discussion of the readings (including excursus on primary and secondary sources)
Excursus on worldviews (new)
A Christian view of history
An overview of the history of the Church (new)
An evangelical theory of doctrinal development (new material added after 2013 class)
Doctrinal development is consistent with the Incarnation.
Doctrinal development is already evident in Scripture.
We develop doctrines because we are commanded to do so.
We develop doctrines to meet the needs of the church today.
Differing trajectories
Challenges to historical theology
Christian primitivism
Postmodernism
Hagiography
Tradition and sola scriptura
Some fallacies in history
Postscript: Why study heresy?

DISCUSSION OF THE READINGS


06. Carl Trueman, On the usefulness of creeds and confessions ch 6 of The creedal
imperative, pp. 159-185 = 27 pgs
DS Q: no church or Christian simply believes the Bible. (160). Do you agree? Why or why
not?
Trueman says whenever we summarize any Biblical teaching, we are constructing theology. And
then our theological constructs influence how we read Bible texts.
DS Q: Trueman explores the dangers of having a system of theology or creed that is unwritten.
Why does he say it is dangerous, and do you agree?

Adv Historical Theology CGST 18 Jan 16 L-2: Intro to HT, part 2

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Unwritten creeds and theology cannot be challenged by others. This is especially needful to
provide accountability to pastors who otherwise might preach anything and claim it is from the
Bible. See 162-3.
DS Q: Discuss Truemans assertion that creeds and doctrinal confessions provide a standard of
accountability for church officers. Low bar for membership, but high bar for elders, etc.
Members need not be able to discuss the hypostatic union (178).
DS Q: On p 180 Trueman critiques parachurch organizations: they have minimal doctrinal
statements, they avoid defining issues that may divide such as the sacraments and election. He
urges that those coming to Christ via parachurch orgs must eventually join a church otherwise
their Christianity will be truncated. Discuss.

07. Vincent of Lrins, The rule of doctrine and development, pp. 322-324 = 3 pgs.
Vincent was a Frenchman who lived on one of the islands of Lrins, off the southern coast of
France. The piece you read was written in 434.
DS Q: What is the concern of Vincent?
4: to distinguish between truth and heresy.
DS Q: Vincent affirms sufficiency of Scripture in (5), so why does he think we need additional
guidance?
Not everyone interprets the Bible the same. Some of the names listed (Novatian an
exception) are heretics.
DS Q: How do you interpret the key phrase in (6), we hold that which has been believed
everywhere, always, by all ? How does this fit with his assertion in (5) that there are various
ways to interpret the Bible?
There is a widely held standard of interpretation. The heretics in (5) are aberrations.
DS Q: Why does he propose three standards: universality, antiquity, and consent? Why not just
one? See (8) on p 323 (second full paragraph).
Antiquity is necessary because if a new heresy is widely accepted (thus making moot the
standard of universality), we can fall back on antiquity.
If an ancient heresy is revived, one can appeal to universality - in the ancient Councils,
which received universal assent.
DS Q: How does Vincent balance antiquity and universality as standards against the necessity for
doctrine to develop? See (9).
Progress implies a growth within the thing itself, while change turns one thing into
another.

Adv Historical Theology CGST 18 Jan 16 L-2: Intro to HT, part 2

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p. 3

Additional comments on tradition:


The word tradition comes from the Latin traditio, handing down or handing over.
1Cor 15.1-4 Paul speaks of passing on teachings to the church.
Lk 1.1-2 Luke also used sources that were handed over to us by those who were eyewitnesses.
The mosaic illustration from Irenaeus on the need for a standard interpretation of Scripture.
Thus tradition for the early Church Fathers, battling against Gnostics and other heresies, is a
traditional way of interpreting Scripture within the community of faith.1

08. John Briggs, The historian and his evidence, pp. 28-30 = 3 pgs.
DS Q: Discuss Since history is more an art than a science it often proceeds by way of reasonable
conjecture, rather than by way of unshakable deduction.
Accepting that historical conclusions are not absolute.
DS Q: Why does the historian need to be selective?
Too much info, and perhaps much of it irrelevant. C.S. Lewis smoked a pipe and enjoyed
beer. Will those personal habits help us understand his theological contributions? Luthers
fathers occupation is not as relevant to understanding Luther as his joining an Augustinian Order
in his youth.
DS Q: What if two sources differ in evidence? Does that automatically prove one or both wrong?
Discrepencies between Hitlers guard and chauffeur on the burning of the dictators body,
and Trevor-Ropers comment: The truth of the incident is attested by the rational discrepency of
the evidence.
DS Q: Besides presenting evidence, what else does an historian do?
He or she explains the significance of the evidence. Interpretation is necessary.

Excursus on primary and secondary sources


Not all sources are equal in the eyes of historians, who have separated them into two broad
categories: primary and secondary.

40.

These comments on tradition derived from Alistair McGrath, Historical Theology, 38-40, quote from p.

Adv Historical Theology CGST 18 Jan 16 L-2: Intro to HT, part 2

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A primary source is first-hand information concerning an event in history. Some examples:


- The document by Vincent of Lerins is a primary source for Vincents thought.
- Luthers Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520) is a primary source for Luthers thought.
- A letter written by a soldier to his family during World War II in which he describes the
campaign in Leyte is a primary source for that part of the war in the Philippines.
- A photograph of Abraham Lincoln with his generals is a primary source for evidence that
Lincoln met with those generals during the American Civil War.
- Newspaper articles published during the 1986 EDSA I People Power revolution are primary
sources for that event.
- An inscription on an ancient gravestone or monument is a primary source.
- Karl Barths multi-volume Church Dogmatics is a primary source for the theology of Barth.
A secondary source is at least one step removed from the historical event. Good secondary
sources (which are usually textbooks or reference books) use primary sources.
- Allisons Historical Theology is a secondary source. When he comments on, or draws
conclusions from primary sources, we must remember these comments and conclusions cannot be
ascribed to the historical figures themselves, they are Allisons. Direct quotes in Allison are
primary sources, but since they are selected (he cannot quote everything Augustine wrote, for
example) it is always better, if possible, to go back to the primary source rather than relying upon
selected quotations in a secondary source.
- When Karl Barth quotes or comments on Augustine, it is a primary source for how Karl Barth
uses Augustine in his Church Dogmatics, but in regards to Augustine himself, it is a secondary
source.
Thus, some material has both the status of being a primary and a secondary source.
If Emilio Aguinaldo made a comment in a letter about Andrs Bonifacio, this is primary source
material for Aguinaldos view of Bonifacio, but it is secondary source material for Bonifacios
own actions and thoughts.
Some add a third category: tertiary sources, which include general reference materials like
encyclopedia articles and dictionary articles.
DS Q: Is the gospel of Mark primary or secondary source material for the teachings of Jesus?
Mark is secondary, because he is not an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus. Marks
source was probably Peter. Most conservative scholars would classify the Gospel of John as a
primary source since John is assumed to be the disciple and he was an eyewitness. The Apostle
Pauls letters are primary source material for his own theology but secondary for the teachings of
Jesus since he was not a believer during Jesuss ministry.
Allow me to complicate things even more. Origen of Alexandria died in 254. He was a prolific
writer - we have still some 300 of his sermons, and he wrote commentaries on nearly every book
of the Bible. His commentary on Romans is one of the earliest (if not the earliest) we have.

Adv Historical Theology CGST 18 Jan 16 L-2: Intro to HT, part 2

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During his lifetime he was the center of some controversy and this continued centuries after his
death. Nearly 200 years after Origen began his writing career a man named Rufinus (d 410)
translated some of his work from the original Greek in which Origen wrote into Latin.
We no longer have the Greek versions from Origen of much of his work. For instance, his
commentary on Romans and his ground-breaking theological work On First Principles both only
survive in translations by Rufinus. A contemporary of Rufinus, Jerome (d 420) criticized his
translation of On First Principles as being too much of a paraphrase. Jerome himself is said to
have translated that work of Origen, but if he did it has not survived.
Origens commentary on Romans is available today in English translation. (Note: it is not
available anywhere online, only in a printed edition costing about $80, thus illustrating the
limitations of only doing research online).
The point is this: if we read Origens commentary on Romans we understand that the English is
not a primary source in the sense that it is not Origens original Greek words, but an English
translation. However, since we do not have Origens Greek, but only the Latin version of Rufinus
done 2 centuries after Origen wrote, we really are two steps away from Origen when we read the
English version and if we consult the Latin we are still one step away from Origen himself. Thus,
when I wrote my chapter on Origen in my dissertation I was careful if all that was available was a
Latin translation to identify it as such rather than saying (incorrectly according to careful
standards of historical scholarship) that this is what Origen said.
BTW, the same issue applies to Irenaeus, who wrote in Greek, which has not survived. We have
a Latin translation of Against Heresies done by person or persons unknown.

09. C. S. Lewis, On the reading of old books, pp. 200-207 = 8 pgs.


This short essay originally appeared as an introduction to a new translation of The Incarnation of
the Word of God by Athanasius of Alexandria (d 373) which he probably wrote during his 2 year
exile after being wrongly disciplined at the Council of Tyre in July 335 before he was 30 years
old. It is a robust defense of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and his taking on of genuine
human flesh. Athanasius argues that if Arius is correct that Jesus is not fully God, then we have
no salvation, because only God could save us - a created being (the Arian Jesus) cannot save
another created being. Athanasius was a firm defender of the Nicene creed, for which he paid a
steep price: in his 46 years as bishop of Alexandria (328-373) he was sent into exile several times
for a total of 17 years.
In this introduction to one of the most significant theological works of the fourth century, Lewis
is presenting a case for us today to read primary sources as we construct our theology.
DS Q: Lewis assumes that we have a bias against reading primary sources, especially those of
earlier ages. Do you agree and if so, why do you think that is the case?

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DS Q: What is your reaction to Lewiss assertion on p. 202 that if we only read contemporary
books we will never have our own blind spots challenged? Have you had any experience that fits
what he is saying here?

10. Ernest Manges, Postmodernism and the gospel pp. 1-4 = 4 pgs.
I wrote this short essay as a very brief introduction to the concept of postmodernity. The
intended audience is those preparing to go out as missionaries with the EFCA.
DS Q: What is the relationship of postmodernity to modernity?
DS Q: How might postmodern thinking affect how we view history?
A key assertion of postmodernity is that no one is without bias. Therefore we always
view history and its sources through the lens of our own background.
Another common belief among postmoderns is the suspicion of authority. This means
there is an assumption that history is doctored to fit the agenda of those in power.

11 & 12. D. A. Carson, Escaping from the morass pp. 93-115 and 116-137 = 45 pgs.
DS Q: What are the so-called standard approaches to apologetics that Carson says do not
touch the committed deconstructionist ? (96)
The presuppositionalist / foundationalist approach of Cooper (95)
The evidentialist approach (95)
In the remainder of this chapter Carson makes ten points:
1) We acknowledge some strengths in postmodernity (96)
- diversity is a good thing (97-98)
- that no one knows everything - we are finite - sinful (98)
- everything we say and do is culturally conditioned (98-9)
Though he also says culturally conditioned propositions like Jesus is Lord also
transcend all cultures. (99)
99: Note mention of worldview (four lines from bottom)
- critique of modernity: The modernity which has arrogantly insisted that human reason is
the final arbiter of truth has spawned a stepchild that has arisen to slay it. (100)
- critique of traditonalisms (101)
- interpretations are exercises in power (Foucault) and so we believers should be cautious
to not manipulate people to convert (101-2)
2) Practical experience in how people communicate confirms accurate communication is possible
(102)
DS Q: What is the point of the story he relates in 102-103 re debate with the deconstructionist?
. . . in practice deconstructionists implicity link their own texts with their own intentions.

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I simply want the same courtesy extended to Paul. (103)


True knowledge of the meaning of a text and even of the thoughts of the author who
wrote it is possible, even if perfect and exhaustive knowledge is not. (103)
3) Many scholars argue from their individualistic definitions that cannot withstand scrutiny (105)
DS Q: Respond to Carsons accusation against Schneiders exegesis of the woman at the well in
Jn 4: Schneiders has in fact told a different story and treated it as if it were an alternative reading
of the story she has already dismissed. (106)
4) Many deconstructionists slant the debate by appealing to indefensible antitheses. (107)
Forcing a false choice between absolute knowledge or complete relativism.
DS Q: How does Carson critique Cullers assertion in first full paragraph of 108 ?
Culler insists all readings are misreadings - a move towards full skepticism.
DS Q: What is Dembskis point in last paragraph of 108?
Relativism does not apply to scientific findings: vaccines, morphine for pain.
These are examples of objective knowledge - true for all people.
DS Q: What is the point of the illustration on 114 ?
Fish wishes to assert the words on the board only mean what each interpretive
community takes it to mean. Yet Scholes says if it were not a mere list of names but an actual
sentence assigning readings, then the second class would not have taken it as a poem.
In other words, texts themselves normally contain many signals and hints as to how they are to
be interpreted. . . (115).
DS Q: What is the second arbitrary antithesis which is much cruder and more explicitly
manipulative used by Derrida? (115)
The use of emotional terms to denigrate objective readings.
5) Models from science have some limited use.
Earlier theologians (Machen, Hodge) tried to define theology as a science. This was done
to preserve objective meaning for theology.
DS Q: What does Carson say are the differences between scientific and theological facts?
1. Scientific facts are universally recognized, not so with theological. (117)
This is because theological facts come with moral demands unlike scientific. (118)
2. Scientific facts (in contrast to theories) are not revisable. Water expanding as it freezes
is a fact that isnt going to change.
3. Science progresses through reproducible results. Theology instead depends upon
history which cannot be verified in the same way. (119)
4. The data for theologians (Bible) requires sensitivity to hermeneutics in a way not
required of the scientist with his or her data. (119)
5. Both science and theology employ presuppositions.
6) Some models of the new hermeneutic allow for objective truth.
DS Q: Put into your own words Carsons definition of objective truth on 120 under # 6.
There is reality independent of individual human consciousness.

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Some models that allow for objective truth while employing the new hermeneutic:
1. The two horizons (that of the text and that of the reader) can fuse to provide some
transfer of information. (120)
2. Osbornes hermeneutical spiral allows for progressively more accurate readings.
3. As in math where a curved line approaches but never touches a straight line, so also in
theology our knowledge may not be absolute but is adequate for our purposes.
The point of all such models is that although none of us ever knows any
complicated thing exhaustively, we can know some things truly. (121)
7) The interpretive community influences but does not decide meaning. (126)
1. Christians are not the only interpretive community: postmoderns also, Marxists, etc.
What defines the Christian community is a shared experience of God.
2. People do convert to different interpretive communities.
3. One can belong to several communities at the same time, and that can be a good thing,
but is not necessarily a good thing. (127)
8) Since God accommodates himself to speak in human languages these points follow: (130)
1. Due to limitations of human language, God cannot communicate all he knows but his
communication can be true. So the Bible is true and authoratative, but must be
read properly. The basis of our epistemology is our belief in God as creator and us
made in his image.
2. Our presuppositions are that a real God exists who demands trust and obedience, not
just mental assent. (132)
9) Postmodernism defies God and is arrogant. (133)
PM boldly asserts it is right and is deeply antiauthoritarian (134)
10) Postmodernism is often incoherent and sad. (134)
PM looks backward to critique but does not move us forward. (136)
PM is fundamentally a reactionary movement that only can criticize - it has no
constructive criticism to help us move forward.

Lecture:
Excursus on worldview
It is vital as we study history to not commit the sin of anachronism. This is done when we judge
actions and statements of figures past by our contemporary values. Anachronistic thinking can be
seen when university students at Princeton demand that Woodrow Wilsons name be struck off of
buildings and departments because of his racism. It is true that Wilson had very intolerant views,
but in his day (late 1800s and early 1900s) they were not considered out of bounds. Wilson was
not only one of the most influential heads of Princeton, but he went on to become President of the

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USA. Attempts to erase his part in the history of Princeton are based on judgments made about
him that were not commonplace in his day. Even more egregious is the demand by some to
remove monuments to earlier figures like Thomas Jefferson because they owned slaves. To do so
would be to deny Jeffersons pivotal role in not only American history - as the main author of the
Declaration of Independence - but also his influence over other nations which modeled their own
founding documents on those of the USA - one of those being the Republic of the Philippines.
Figures in the history of the Church can also fall victim to anachronistic judgment. Shall we reject
Martin Luthers stout defense of the gospel because of his support of the nobility against the
common folk in the Peasants Revolt, or because of his repeated anti-Semitic statements? Shall
we discard the theological and exegetical wisdom of John Calvin because he did not use his
influence to stop the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553? Both Luther and Calvin were acting
entirely consistent with the values of their time, even the values expressed in the Christian
community.
I experienced this personally when I gave a paper at a conference many years ago on the secondcentury figure Tertullian, who is known for making statements that today are considered
misogynistic. A constant refrain in his writings is a warning that the presence of women and their
behavior is a major source of temptation. In my paper I attempted to explain, from his own
viewpoint, why these statements were consistent with his theological views. One example was
the view he came to later in his life that one could only be forgiven once for a major sin after
ones baptism. Therefore any temptation to a major sin, such as fornication, presented, in his
mind, a threat to ones eternal soul. I was shocked when, during the question time several people
accused me of being anti-women simply because I tried to explain Tertullians statements from
within his own framework. They could not distinguish between explaining and defending - I was
engaged in the former, but not the latter.
If we consider culture as being multi-layered, with worldview at the center, we begin to see how
ones worldview affects all aspects of thinking and behavior.

Adv Historical Theology CGST 18 Jan 16 L-2: Intro to HT, part 2

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A graphic representation of culture and worldview (from Lloyd Kwast):

Paul Hiebert calls a persons worldview the map of reality they use for living. 2

Christian anthropologist Charles Kraft gives us this definition:


Worldview, the deep level of culture, is the culturally structured set of assumptions
(including values and commitments / allegiances) underlying how people perceive
and respond to reality.
In The Universe Next Door James Sire defines worldview this way:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be
expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true,
partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously,
consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that
provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. 3
After considering this discussion of worldviews and how they so deeply influence us, it is
imperative for us to take into account the worldview of each figure we will study in this course as
we evaluate their theological conclusions.
2

Paul Hiebert, Transforming worldviews (Baker 2008), 15.

James W. Sire, The universe next door, 5th edn (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 20.

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What follows now is a discussion of how we as Christians should view history from a Christian
worldview.

A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HISTORY

(From Church History, L-1, 2011, modified)

Ones worldview will influence how one thinks of history. Some examples: some religions see
history as a large circle, endlessly repeating itself. This is true of the Confucians of China and the
Hindus and Buddhists of India. Others with a radically different worldview, such as MarxistCommunists, think of history as a struggle between different economic and social classes. A
feature of worldviews based on modernity may think that as history goes on, humanity is getting
better and someday we will all live in perfect peace with one another, and there will be no more
problems. This evolutionary view leaves God out of history completely. And many modern day
people deny the importance of history altogether by living entirely in the present.
Within the Christian Church there are two broad views of history. We could call them the
pessimistic and optimistic views.4
The pessimistic view states that history and movement in history, change over time, are a result of
the fall. The history of humanity then is one long descent from perfection to ever-increasing
corruption. This view was held by Origen of Alexandria and by Augustine. To escape the
process of history this view tends to move Christians to protective pockets of isolation.
The optimistic view states that God is restoring what was lost in the fall. This view sees
movement and growth as good. Irenaeus of Lyons and Jonathan Edwards are representatives.
This view encourages believers to engage with the world.
1) There was a beginning to history. Gen. 1:1.
We Christians believe that history does not endlessly repeat itself. We also believe God has a very
important part in human history. There was a beginning to history: Gen. 1:1 "In the beginning God
created the heavens & the earth."
2) There is a final end to history. Rev. 22.12.
We also believe there is a final end to history: Rev 22:12 "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is
with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done." The very next verse tells us what
the focus of history is for us: Jesus Christ - "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the
Beginning and the End." (Rev 22:13).

Stephen R. Holmes, Why Cant We Just Read the Bible? in S. R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The
Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 8-9.

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3) There is a plan to history and the planner is God. Hebrews 1.1-2.


...all history is God's history. The succession of the years is not merely an unravellable tangle of
events without general meaning.5 There is a plan to history and the planner is God. The book of
Hebrews begins this way, Heb. 1:1-2: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at
many times & in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed
heir of all things, & through whom He made the Universe."
This means there is a real meta-narrative - the overarching story of God and His universe, starting
with creation, then the fall, the promise and then the arrival of the Messiah, redemption, and
ultimate restoration.
4) The Bible is connected to history. Luke 3.1-2
The Bible is a book filled with history. Look with me at Luke 3:1-2. Notice how the Gospel
writer Luke has given the historical setting. Among all the great religions of the world, Hinduism,
Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam and the ancient religions of Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Norse
countries just to name a few, among all these great religions it is only Christianity and Judaism
which are set in such historical detail.
The revelations of God found in our Bible are not timeless mythological tales, they are written as
historical narrative. Even those parts of the Bible which are not narrative are filled with
references to historical events. Just think of the titles of the Psalms, for example, or the poetic
sermons of the OT prophets.
5) God the Son came into our history at exactly the right time. Galatians 4.4
Paul says that "when the time had fully come, God sent His son..." (Gal 4:4). That means, God sent
Jesus at a precise and carefully determined moment in human history. This shows us that not only
is God active in our history, but also that he has a plan which is being worked out in history. God
has a plan for all of the human race. Despite the sins of men and women, this plan has never been
stopped, and it will continue to succeed.
6) Jesus Christ is the center of history. Luke 11.20
The center of history is Jesus Christ. His birth, life, death and resurrection give history meaning
for the Christian. There has been no more important person in the history of the human race.
More books have been written about Jesus than about any other person in history.
More than that, we as Christians believe that Jesus' life was the intervention of God in human

John Briggs, God, Time and History in Eerdman's Handbook to History of Christianity (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 7.

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history in a special way. Of course God had been involved in human history from the beginning.
He was involved in the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. He was involved in the
Assyrian and Babylonian invasions of Israel and Judea.
But the birth of Jesus was the start of a new period of history. His ministry signaled the entrance
of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. History has never been the same since Jesus lived. God
has come to earth to live among us. God walked and talked with us men & women. God spoke
not only through prophets, but now in Person, through the lips of Jesus. God has come down to
earth to live and to die.
This fact has changed all of history, indeed, it is the most important, most significant fact of
history. In Luke 11:20, Jesus says "If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God
has come to you". He means that the power he showed in casting out demons was an
announcement. It announced that God Himself in the Person of King Jesus, Lord of Lords and
King of Kings had arrived on planet Earth. His arrival signaled the beginning of His rule, His
reign, His kingdom. This kingdom is mostly in the hearts of Christians right now, but soon "every
knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father"
(Phil 2:11).
7) We have limited understanding of Gods plans in history. Mk 13.32
Even though we believe that God is in control of history, we as human beings with limited minds
cannot know or understand how He is working in history.
We must be careful when we talk about God and history. We know God is active in history,
because the Bible tells us so, and we know He is actively changing your life and my life. But
saying that God did this or God caused that in history might be premature. I am very
cautious when I read such wide judgments in a book.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH


The age of the Apostles and early Church fathers: 30 to 250 AD.
Milestones:
The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
The ministry of the Apostles and planting of the first churches.
The composition of the NT documents.
The Apostolic Fathers.
The beginning of Roman persecution and the response by the early Apologists.
The recognition of the NT canon.
The formation of early versions of liturgy.
The first attempts at biblical and systematic theology (e.g., Irenaeus).

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Formation of standards for interpreting the Bible (rule of faith) esp. ag. heretical views.
Earliest councils.

Late antiquity: 250 to 800 AD.


[following paragraphs from Patristics L6 2014 CGST]

The idea of the Dark Ages came from medieval historians in the West (most notably Petrarch in
the 1330s) who saw the time after the collapse of the Roman Empire as relatively unimportant or
undocumented. This attitude persisted into modern times, reinforced by historians such as
Edward Gibbon, who lamented the demise of the Roman Empire - and assigned much of the
blame for this to the rise of Christianity.
Now historians recognize that the so-called barbarians of western and northern Europe from the
600s to the 1300s had, in fact, inherited a basically Roman sense of social order and a Roman
penchant for extended empire. Power still wore a Roman face.6
Historians now speak of late antiquity - with the aim to treat the period between around 250
and 800 as a distinctive and quite decisive period of history that stands on its own. . . It was not a
period of irrevocable Decline and Fall; nor was it merely a violent and hurried prelude to better
things. It cannot be treated as a corpse to be dragged quickly offstage so that the next great act
of the drama of the Middle Ages should begin. . . Historians now remind us that much of what
was created in that period still runs in our veins. This includes codifications of Roman law that
are the root of the judicial systems of so many [modern] states, the contemporary shape of
Judaism, the fundamental creeds of the Christian Church [eg, the first four universal Councils],
and, of course, Islam.7
These citations are from a landmark work, published In 1999: Late Antiquity: A Guide to the
Postclassical World.8 This work signaled that the concept of the Late Antique period had come
of age, so to speak and could now stand equal to classic and patristic periods.
The period between 250 and 800 is defined as late antiquity by this work. In the introduction to
this volume, Averil Cameron notes that many significant events and developments arose in this
period: the codification of Roman law, rabbinic Judaism, much of the theology of both the Eastern
and Western churches, and, of course, Islam.9

Introduction in G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar, eds., Late Antiquity: A guide to the
postclassical world (Harvard University Press, 1999), viii.
7

Introduction in Late Antiquity, ix, ix-x.

Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown and Oleg Brabar,
eds (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
9

Averil Cameron, Introduction in Late Antiquity, ix-x.

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Cameron also describes in the first essay in this work how this period of late antiquity was
extremely energetic in re-shaping and mythologizing the past. So the Emperor Constantine is
transformed in the imagination of the church into the prototypical Christian emperor, being
baptized by Pope Sylvester (of which there is no historical evidence whatsoever). The Emperors
mother, Helena, becomes the discoverer of that ultimate in relics, the True Cross.10
When this wonderful object was displayed in Jerusalem, the attraction was so powerful and
people so willing to obtain a piece that deacons had to monitor the pilgrims lest they tear a piece
of the wood off with their teeth while kissing the relic. Some relics traveled from church to
church, a sort of inversion of pilgrimage; so dirt from Palestine would suffice for those too poor
to ever afford a trip to the Holy Land.11
Other developments during this period include the formulation of much of our doctrine of God
and of Christ as exemplified by the first four universal Councils: Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381,
Ephesus 431, and Chalcedon 451.
In fact there is a huge increase in theological writing and thought after Constantines decree to
make Christianity a legal religion of the Empire. This makes sense as now church leaders can
function in the open rather than in hiding, church members can turn their energies from preparing
for martyrdom to studying Scripture more deeply, and there is much less of a need for those
defending the faith against pagan accusations (Apologists). The fourth century abounds in
towering figures: Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine, and the first
historian of Christianity, Eusebius of Caesarea.12
The year 800 is often considered also to bring to an end the Patristic era.

The middle ages: 800 to 1300.


Under the old and now discredited model of the Dark Ages, following the collapse of
the Roman Empire society declined into anarchy and chaos, a condition that continued more or
less right up to the era of the Renaissance.
Yet during this time, we see the birth of modern science, the rise of the university as an
institution, and the creation of the modern idea of individualism, all of these arising from within
the medieval Christian Church.

10

A. Cameron, Remaking the Past, in Late Antiquity, 7-16.

11

Raymond Van Dam, Relics in Late Antiquity.

12

Justo L. Gonzlez, A history of Christian thought: Volume I: From the beginnings to the Council of
Chalcedon, revised edn (Abingdon, 1987), 261.

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[From Modern Theology L-1 2015 CGST]

Rodney Stark notes that as European explorers encountered other cultures, they were amazed
that every single time their own society had the upper hand in technology. He asks:
Why was it that although many civilizations had pursued alchemy, it led to
chemistry only in Europe? Why was it that, for centuries, Europeans were the only
ones possessed of eyeglasses, chimneys, reliable clocks, heavy cavalry, or a system
of music notation? 13
Stark asserts that the main factor is the influence of Christianity. He ends his work with this
quote from a leading contemporary Chinese scholar:
One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success,
in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything
we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first,
we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we
thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on
your economic system. But in these past twenty years, we have realized that the
heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so
powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what
made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to
democratic politics. We dont have any doubt about this.14
Stark says Christian theology, which uses human reason, helped to give birth to modern science
and technology. Christian theology can use reason because the object of its study is a rational
God. It is only in Christian Europe that alchemy developed into chemistry and astrology grew
into astronomy.
Stark challenges the commonly held assumption today that science arose despite Christianity:
The so-called Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth century has been
misinterpreted by those wishing to assert an inherent conflict between religion and
science. Some wonderful things were achieved in this era, but they were not
produced by an eruption of secular thinking. Rather, these achievements were the
culmination of many centuries of systematic progress by medieval Scholastics,
sustained by that uniquely Christian twelfth-century invention, the university. Not
only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable - the rise of
science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars.15

13

Rodney Stark, The victory of reason: How Christianity led to freedom, capitalism, and western success
(New York: Random House 2005), ix.
14

David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing (Washington DC: Regnery 2003), 5, cited in Stark 235.

15

Stark, 12.

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Despite these advances, in this age we also encounter the Crusades (1095-1200) and the
consolidation of political power in the Papacy of Rome.
We also see major theological figures such as Thomas Aquinas and others who strive to join the
best of what was being rediscovered of classical thought (e.g., Aristotle) with Christian theology,
usually operating from the basis of Augustine. Human reason is given a more prominent role in
theology, a development that comes to its fullness centuries later in the Enlightenment.

Renaissance: 1300 to 1500.


The word means rebirth, as in the rebirth of culture, of learning, of knowledge.
The main idea of the renaissance was a return to the glories of the classical period and the Roman
Empire. The Empire had been dead for almost a thousand years, and so it was easy to only think
of it in positive terms. In fact the term middle ages was created by renaissance thinkers who
dismissed as mostly worthless all that occurred in Europe from the fall of the Empire to their own
day.
Individualism became more pronounced as seen in artists signing their work and authors writing
their autobiographies. There was an increased attention paid to the arts and humanities.
Sometimes the term humanism is associated with this time, but it is a Christian humanism, not
the contemporary secular variety. This humanism was optimistic, a belief in the cultural
creativity of the human person that rejected the Augustininan pessimism about humanity that had
reigned for a thousand years.16
One of the slogans of humanism was ad fontes (back to the sources), which meant to return to
study the ancients directly rather than their later interpreters (e.g. Peter Lombard, The sentences).
This can be seen in renewed interest in Greek and Roman writings as well as in the original Greek
of the NT documents epitomized by the publication of the Greek NT by Erasmus in 1514.

The age of Reformation: 1500 to 1650.


Preceeded by John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, Martin Luthers list of 95 statements for debate which
he posted on 31 October 1517 is considered the starting point for the age of Reformation. The
Christian Church, already divided for centuries between East and West now experiences a further
division between Catholic and Protestant.
The Protestant Reformers accept and follow the motto of the humanists, ad fontes in their

16

Roger Olson, The story of Christian theology (InterVarsity Press, 1999), 349. This paragraph follows
Olson 348 ff.

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determined effort to connect back to the first century. Translations of the Bible from the original
languages abound. This signals a commitment to ad fontes and to allowing each individual
believer to have access to Gods Word in her or his own language, an affermation of Christian
individualism.
There is a renewed interest in the gospel and soteriology as well as debate about the nature of the
Church. The nature of authority is defined in four broad ways: Catholic, magisterial Protestant,
Anabaptist, and free thinkers. Catholics affirm the ultimate authority of the Church to set the
definitive interpretation of Scripture for the faithful. The magisterial Reformers accept the
authority of the early Councils of the Church, but only as they agree with the Bible. Their motto
is sola scriptura. The Anabaptists tend to reject all previous theological thought in favor of
accessing the Bible directly without regard to how it has been interpreted in the past history of the
Church. The free thinkers, few in number, question basic theological assertions such as the
Trinity (e.g. Michael Servetus).

The Enlightenment: 1650 to 1800.


[From Modern Theology L-1, 2015 CGST]

The Enlightenment is a very difficult term to define, but for our purposes we will say it is a wide
movement in Europe in the 18th century which distrusted all authority and tradition in matters of
intellectual inquiry, and believed that truth could be attained only through reason, observation,
and experiment. Some of the ideals of the Enlightenment were: tolerance, justice, . . . and the
welfare of mankind.17
In his famous essay What is enlightenment?Immanuel Kant says:
Enlightenment is mans release from his self-incurred tutelage. The definitions are
important. Tutelage is mans inability to make use of his understanding without
direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack
of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from
another . . . Have courage to use your own reason. 18
That last line, have courage to use your own reason could be taken as an overarching motto for
the entire movement. It contains an affirmation of the authority of the self set over against any
external authority, especially any religious authority. It also elevates human reason to be the
arbitrator of truth and reality.

The modern period: 1800 to now.


Even though modernity was born in the previous period of the Enlightenment, much of
17

Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church [hereafter ODCC], Enlightenment, the.

18

Cited in Helmut Thielicke, Modern faith and thought, Geoffrey Bromiley, trans. (Eerdmans 1990), 134.

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what we call modern comes to full fruition only after 1800. This is why Tim Keller uses the term
late modernity rather than postmodernity. In Center Church he says:
Countless books today tell church leaders they are now in a postmodern culture.
The danger of this term is that it lulls us into thinking our present culture is the
opposite of modernity. . . Yet strictly speaking, it is probably more accurate to say
we now live in a climate of late modernity, since the main principle of modernity
was the autonomy of the individual and personal freedom over the claims of
tradition, religion, family, and community. This is, indeed, what we have today
intensified. 19
Keller is writing about worldviews, not about history, per se. So we will use the term
postmodernity in this course, with the understanding that it may not rise up to the level of being
its own separate and new historical age.
We will have more to say later about the connection between the Enlightenment and modernity
and the challenges of late modernity or postmodernity to the discipline of historical theology.

DIFFERING TRAJECTORIES
Development is not uniform. This is seen in any child of 2 or 3 years - their heads are much
bigger in proportion to their bodies than in an adult. The head develops more quickly in those
early years, while other parts of the body lag behind, such as leg length, etc.
A young man of 18 may be near to full maturity in his physical body, but still think more like a
child than an adult - the emotional and cognitive abilities do not develop as fast as does the
physical body.
It is the same with doctrines - they develop at different rates. Some doctrines developed rapidly
in the early centuries, while others were neglected.
A case in point is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Church rapidly responded to the heresy of Arius
with the definition at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Nicene definition clearly affirms that the
Son is God in exactly the same way that the Father is God. Yet strangely enough, the Nicene
leaders omitted providing the same clarity of definition to the deity of the Holy Spirit. It is only a
lifetime later (56 years) that the Church met again in Constantinople in the year 381 and added to
the trinitarian formula of Nicaea the affirmation that the Spirit also is God in the same way as the
other two members of the Trinity.
We must be careful to not assume each and every doctrine grows and develops in the same way

19

Timothy Keller, Center church: Doing balanced, gospel-centered ministry in your city (Zondervan,
2012), 381.

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or at the same pace.


Often doctrinal development is prompted by a problem - either internal (heresy) or external
(persecution or challenge from the society of the day). Thus, there is no affirmation in any of the
early universal councils on the accuracy and infallibility of Scripture until after that belief is
challenged in the Enlightenment period. Since the infallibility of the Bible was universally held
before then (with exceptions so minor as to not be significant) there was no felt need to defend
this belief before 1650 or so.
This brings up an important point in studying the history of doctrines. One can wrongly assume
that the Church did not hold to a doctrine before it is officially defined. In popular literature Dan
Brown made this wrong conclusion when he assumed that the deity of Christ was invented at the
Council of Nicaea, 325. It was affirmed there, but was held much, much earlier by every
orthodox writer and teacher. There is good evidence that this belief stems directly from the
teachings of Jesus and the Apostles (see the work of Larry Hurtado).

13. Trajectories of doctrinal development.


To give some examples of differing trajectories of doctrinal development:

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This chart is obviously overly simple, but it is presented to demonstrate the concept that different
doctrines have been given differing levels of attention throughout the history of the Church.
This chart obviously conflicts with the thesis of James Orr (discussed in our first lecture) as
various doctrines experience both rising and falling interest and development over time.

AN EVANGELICAL THEORY OF DOCTRINAL DEVELOPMENT


Jude 3 says, Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we
share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all
entrusted to Gods holy people.
DS Q: If our Christian faith was once for all entrusted to us, how can we speak of doctrinal
development? Is not all development of doctrine inherently moving away from its source the
Bible?
There are some who would agree with this view that all doctrinal development is in effect,
heretical. We will discuss this view below (Christian primitivism).
Islam does not look kindly upon doctrinal development. One piece of evidence of this is the
teaching in Islam that no translation of the Quran can properly be called the Quran - such
renderings are only interpretations of the original. In order to access the holy book of Muslims,
one must learn to read it in the original Arabic of Late Antiquity.
How different it is with the Christian Bible. The Scriptures have been translated into thousands of
languages, and yet, if done properly, we do not hesitate to call such translations the Bible.
This is a key difference between Islam and Christianity: to be a Muslim one must adapt to the
culture of Muhammad - seventh century Arabia. Yet a genuine Christian does not surrender his
or her culture in order to follow Christ, instead the believer takes the eternal truths of Scripture
and applies them in the culture they are in. This applies even to the extent of allowing for the
Word of God to be translated into multiple languages and yet remaining the Word of God.
Theology is a systematic study of our knowledge of God and of his works. Yet we must be
careful to not simplistically equate theology and the Bible. Yes, there is certainly theology in the
Bible, but my own theological system is not merely a repetition of all Bible verses: it is an
organization of and interpretation of the Biblical data (if it is indeed a theology that attempts to be
based on the Bible).

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Illustration of the two islands:

If we imagine two islands - one represents the message of the Bible and the other represents the
theology I use in my own context, we can see that while the two may very well be closely
connected, they are not one and the same. The Bible message is found in its texts, while my
theology is found in my notes, writings, speech and even in my prayers.
But the picture is more complicated than this, for we have yet to mention the historical
development of theological ideas. And we must, because it is essential to understand that what
we say today about God is something different from what the Apostles or the Prophets said.
For example, here are some common phrases or terms we now use in our theological speech that
are not really found in the Bible: Sunday school, Bible college, senior pastor, inerrancy,
trinity, and many others. Even such favorite phrases as receive Christ or accept Christ are
not found in the Bible.20 Does that mean we must reject these terms? No. They are useful
summaries of truths and principles which are clearly taught in the Bible. So we do not reject them
merely because we do not find them in our Bible concordance. But we carefully examine the
20

The closest to our usage of receive Christ is: 1 Thes 5.9 - For God did not appoint us to suffer
wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also see 1 Tim 1.16 - But for that very reason I
was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an
example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. and Heb 9.15 - For this reason Christ is
the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now
that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Even fewer texts use the language of accepting the closest ones are: John 12.48 - There is a judge for
the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the
last day. and James 1.21 - Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept
the word planted in you, which can save you.

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ideas to see if they are compatible with the truths taught in the Scripture.
The word Trinity, for example, has a specific history to it and it is helpful if we begin to
appreciate how the Church came to use that word to summarize various Biblical teachings.21
Another example is the doctrine of the atonement. If you were to ask Origen (d. 254 AD) why
Christ died, he might say to pay a ransom to the devil. If you would ask Anselm (d. 1109), he
would say the death of Christ was paid to satisfy the demands of divine justice. If you would ask
Martin Luther (d. 1546) then you would begin to hear him speak of the idea of Christ being our
substitute. In other words, a common phrase we use in theology talk today, subsitutionary
atonement never occurs in the Bible, nor in any writings of the early church Fathers. There is a
definite development to this doctrine and its expression as we move through the ages of the
history of the Church.
So it is with the doctrines about Christ. Today we evangelicals speak of Christ as being one
person in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. Yet do we realize that this
formulation is found nowhere in the NT? We owe it to Pope Leo 1 (r: 440-461) whose language
was adopted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Of course the statement of Chalcedon is not inspired Scripture. But it is a wonderfully concise
summary of what the NT teaches about Christ, expressed in language and concepts designed to
counter false teachings that had arisen in the first four centuries after the completion of the NT.
Why is there such a thing as the development of doctrines? Why dont we just remain content
with the words of Scripture alone?
There are four replies to this: 22
1) Doctrinal development is consistent with the Incarnation.
2) Doctrinal development is already evident in Scripture.
3) We develop doctrines because we are commanded to do so.
4) We develop doctrines to meet the needs multiple cultural contexts.

1) Doctrinal development is consistent with the Incarnation.


Why did the Son of God come into our world as a child? Certainly he could have incarnated as a

21

Tertullian probably coined the word in Latin around the year 200 in his adversus Praxean 2.4, CCSL
2.1161: trinitas. The Greek triad (JD4VH) appears in Theophilus, ad Autolycum 2.15 around 180 A.D., at least
28 years previous.
22

The first is from Stephen R. Holmes, Why Cant We Just Read the Bible? in S. R. Holmes, Listening
to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 1-17. The three
following are from Manges.

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30 year old man, ready to begin his ministry right away. Are those three decades between
Christmas and Calvary a waste or irrelevant? Or, perhaps the process of birth, growth, learning,
and development is a good thing - even for the immaculate Son of God. Growth, development
and change are indeed proper to human life.23
The Incarnation also required the Son to appear in a selected and specific cultural context - first
century Judea as a Jew. This has implications for doctrinal development also (see point 5).

2) Doctrinal development is already evident in Scripture.


We dont normally think of doctrinal development within Biblical history - because we call it by a
different name: progressive revelation.
The Bible describes a 2000 year process where God unfolds His plan of salvation. In so doing,
He oversees development of doctrinal truth and understanding.
Moses knows more about Gods plan than does Abraham. David understands more than does
Moses. The disciples of Jesus are often portrayed in the gospels struggling to understand the
comments of Jesus, who is revealing the next step in Gods plan: that the Messiah would suffer
and die and then be raised from the dead. And Paul, in his letters, builds on and expands the
teachings the Lord gave during his earthly ministry.
This unfolding continues to today and will culminate only in the next life. The Apostle Paul states
this in 1Cor 13.9-12
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect
disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a
child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor
reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall
know fully, even as I am fully known.
This is not an argument for an open canon, for continuing revelation. Doctrinal development after
the Apostles is never to be given authority equal to that of Scripture. Nevertheless, the concept
of development is not foreign to Scripture and it should also not be foreign to us.

3) We develop doctrines because it is mandated to us by Scripture.


At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord gave his Great Commission. Mt 28.18-20
<READ> We are commanded in this text to make disciples, to baptize them and to teach them.
Teaching is much more than mere repetition.

23

Holmes 12.

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The Apostle Paul told Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to
preaching and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4.13). If we need no more than to hear or read the words
of the Bible, then why did Paul urge Timothy to teach and preach? Teaching and preaching are
activities where we take the Word of God and apply it to our situation today. Therefore there
must be some interpretation of the words of Scripture. And, this interpretation will vary and
change as the situation we find ourselves in changes, as society changes.
2 Tim 2.15 - Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to
be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. This verse, also a part of Pauls charge to
Timothy in his second letter to the young pastor, is a command that we also must heed today. It
says that we must work as hard as we can in our working with Scripture. (do your best is a
stronger and more accurate translation than KJV study.)
The phrase correctly handles (KJV rightly divides can be misleading) is not a prooftext for
one particular theological system or another (e.g., Dispensationalism), rather it means to read and
apply the words of Scripture in a straightforward manner. The word used here, orthotome,
originally meant to cut or make a road straight. It does not carry the idea of dividing a whole into
distinct segments.24 Rather than divide into parts it means cut a straight path through the
landscape. This meaning is reinforced by the image just three verses later (2.18) which speaks of
false teachers who have wanderd away from the truth. It carries the idea to impart the word
of truth without deviation, straight, undiluted.25

4) We develop doctrines to meet the needs of multiple cultural contexts.


Again we are reminded that the Son of God entered this world and lived in only one ethnic and
cultural context, even though his mission extends to all ethnic groups and cultures. The
Jewishness of Jesus was necessary to his mission, [and] . . . the Incarnation makes no sense
without this organic link to Gods election of Israel.26
Christianity has expanded to thousands of different cultures over the last two millennia. Is this
process done apart from or under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Two evangelical scholars of

24

The word is only used twice elsewhere in Scripture, in the LXX of Prov 11.5 and 3.6 - In all your ways
acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. This idea of trueness or straightness found in both
Proverbs texts was later applied to the derived noun orthotomia to mean true faith (orthodoxy). See Donald
Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 14
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980 repr of 1957 edn), 148. See also John R. W. Stott, Guard the Gospel: The
Message of 2 Timothy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 67.
25

Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, Vol 2:
Epistles - Apocalypse (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1979), 641.
26

Holmes 13.

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theology and history have this to say:


The Spirit who guided the community in the process of the composition,
compilation and canonization of Scripture continues to direct the contemporary
embodiment of that community by speaking through Scripture. In this way the
Spirit enables the church to fulfill its task of living as the people of God in the
various historical and cultural locations in which it is situated. 27
Does this diminish the authority of Scripture? Grenz and Franke offer another analogy to show
why it doesnt. Consider the performance of a piece of music. There might be a very detailed
musical score for the piece (say a Mozart symphony) but each time it is played it will sound a bit
different from other performances, and certainly different conductors and orchestras will interpret
the written score in differing ways.
The musical score, with its details of notes and rests is the controlling authority. Nevertheless, it
demands performance if it is to realize the intention for which it was produced, and performance
requires interpretation. This is not to say some interpretations are inaccurate - such do exist.28
As a community of believers in a society distant from the Bible in time, language, and culture
begin to put into practice the teachings of Scripture they are making interpretations of their
source: the Bible. They must do so by remaining true to the Biblical teaching while at the same
time making that teaching practical and relevant for their current context.
In fact developing theology that speaks to the situation is necessary to be true to the Bible. We
cannot just transfer wholesale a theology developed in one setting to another. To repeat the
same words in a new situation is in fact to say something different.29
Almost always, a specific doctrine is defined as an answer to heresy. It is only when false teachers
attack a truth that the Church responds by defending it. In this way Scriptural truths are
explained and defined to show the error of the heretic.
So, for example, definitive lists of the NT canon (the books accepted as divinely inspired) did not
often appear until after Marcion (d. c. 160) actively rejected everything in the Bible except ten of

27

Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Theological heritage as hermeneutical trajectory: Toward a
nonfoundationalist understanding of the role of tradition in Ancient and postmodern Christianity: Paleoorthodoxy in the 21st century. Essays in honor of Thomas C. Oden. Kenneth Tanner and Christopher A. Hall, eds.
(InterVarsity, 2002), 227.
28
29

Grenz and Franke, Theological heritage as hermeneutical trajectory, 238.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The drama of doctrine: A canonical-linguistic approach to Christian theology


(Westminster John Knox, 2005), 125.

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p. 27

Pauls letters and a heavily edited version of the Gospel of Luke.30


We can detect this process of reaction by definition even within the NT. Many scholars believe
texts like 1 Jn 4.2 Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from
God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God as a response to some
sort of early docetic teaching (later more developed in the Gnostics).

CHALLENGES TO HISTORICAL THEOLOGY


We will consider three challenges to doing historical theology: Christian primitivism,
postmodernism, and hagiography.
Christian primitivism
These movements are sometimes identified as Christian primitivism though that is a pejorative
label for some. The main distinctive feature of all these movements is a deeply held belief that
Christians ought to return to doctrine and practices of the NT Church, thus rejecting any doctrinal
development or expressions that are post-first century.
Another distinctive is an ecclesiology that emphasizes each congregations independence from any
higher authorities. Some in these movements self-identify as pre-denominational, as in
returning to a time in the early Church when there were no denominational divisions.
Some examples:
Anabaptists - a part of the larger Reformation movement, which believed the mainstream
Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) did not go far enough in their reforming. Anabaptists rejected
the authority of the ancient creeds and church councils like Chalcedon and Nicaea.
Landmarkism - a sub-set of Baptists in America who took their name from the KJV of Prov
22.28, Remove not the ancient landmark. This movement arose mostly in the southern states of
America in the mid 1800s. Some present-day groups that identify with this are the American
Baptist Association and the United Baptists.31
Restoration Movement - (aka Churches of Christ or Stone-Campbell churches) - a 1832 merger
of two movements, one initiated by Alexander Campbell (d. 1866) and the other by Barton Stone
(d. 1844). In the famous 1804 Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery, Stone,
30

The Muratorian list is a 7th or 8th century Latin translation of a Greek original that may have been
composed during the Churchs reaction to the Marcion crisis; see Canon in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity,
Everett Ferguson, ed., 2nd edn (London: Garland, 1998).
31

M. A. Noll, Landmarkism, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edn.

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p. 28

among others, signed off on this:


We will that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy
Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple
Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of
philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world.
and
We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven;
and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it,
may cast them into the fire if they choose. . . 32
These and other movements arose over a very real concern that traditions in the history of the
Church had either obscured or completely obliterated the genuine gospel message of the NT.
Sometimes, however, this wholesale rejection of church traditions can lead to theological trouble.
Some, in rejecting the definitions of the Trinity in early Church Councils like Nicaea (325) and
Constantinople I (381) fell into the error of unitarianism. This happened with some of the
Anabaptists and to the nascent Protestant church in Poland in the 16th century due to the influence
of Lelio Sozzinis and his nephew Fausto Sozzinis.33
Menno Simons (d 1561), a leading Anabaptist figure during the Reformation, rejected the
classical definitions of the ancient councils. He then attempted, without the guidance of the
Council of Chalcedon (451) to construct a theological explanation of how God the Son could be
born of a human woman and yet not inherit the sin nature. He came up with the concept that
Christs humanity descended into the Virgin Mary from heaven (the celestial flesh of Christ).
Other Anabaptists held similar views, including Thomas Mnzer (d. 1525), Melchior Hoffmann
(d. c. 1543) and others.
DS Q: What is the problem with this concept from Menno Simons?
It is docetic, making Mary a mere vessel for Christ and making Christs humanity of a different
nature from ours. The Mennonite movement later repudiated this view of their founder.

Postmodernism
To understand postmodernism, we must first define what we mean by modern. Modernity is a
way of thinking, a worldview, if you will, that has several characteristics, most of which arose
during the late 1600s and the 1700s, a period historians refer to as the Enlightenment.

32

Accessed on 30 Jan. 2013 from


http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Last_Will_and_Testament_of_The_Springfield_Presbytery
33

G. Harper, Introduction to historical theology, lecture for AGST Historical Theology, 8 July 2004.

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[The first two paragraphs from Modern Theology L-5, 2015, CGST]

In 1979 the philosopher Jean-Franois Lyotard (1924-1998) published The postmodern condition:
A report on knowledge. In that work he argues that the big story of the Enlightenment, the
attempt by humans to master all knowledge, was futile. We must move beyond the constraints of
modern thought set forth by the Enlightenment into a new way of thinking, into postmodernism.
He defined postmodernity as incredulity towards meta-narratives34 meaning that the very
concept of over-arching patterns that explain human existence must be rejected out of hand.
Obviously this includes the history of salvation presented in Scripture.
It was noted that those who seemed to benefit the most from the rise of modernity were
educated, Euro-American, white males.35 Several figures such as sociologist/philosopher
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) asserted that anyone with access to power will always employ that
power to preserve their place of privilege. This leads to a deep suspicion of those with power,
including any sort of experts. Science and research may be challenged as biased in favor of
preserving the status quo.36 Thus, the attainment of objective knowledge is dismissed as an
Enlightenment myth.
Shirley A. Mullen lists four challenges postmodernity present to the task of doing history:37
1) History tells us more about the historian than it does the past (bias).
This is the assertion that everyone who has knowledge will always use it for personal
advantage. Writing history is an exercise in power, and thus informs us more about the
one wielding such power than it does about the subject addressed. Mullen cites a
textbook for young historians: My first premise is that history is not purely referential but
is rather constructed by historians. Written history both reflects and creates relations of
power.38
2) It is impossible to discover the truth of past events.
This ties in with postmodernitys denial of objectivity and of meta-narratives. Even if
there is a truth connected to a past event, we, mired in our prejudices and backgrounds
cannot ever hope to uncover it. There will never be a truth that everyone will agree
upon. This is a highly skeptical view.

34

Jean-Franois Lyotard, The postmodern condition, trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi (University of
Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv, cited in Olson, Journey 504.
35

Olson, 504.

36

Foucault and power: Manges, not Olson.

37

Shirley A. Mullen, Between Romance and True History: Historical narrative and truth telling in a
postmodern age in History and the Christian historian, Ronald A. Wells, ed. (Eerdmans, 1998), 26-29. I have put
her points into my own wording in 1-3.
38

Mark Gilderhus, History and historians: A historiographical introduction, 3rd edn (Prentice-Hall, 1987),
6, cited by Mullen, 26.

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3) Historical sources tell us more about their creators than the events they record.
If the conclusions of historians tell us mostly about those historians then this principle can
be extrapolated to those figures of the past who created records which historians use now
as primary sources.
4) Language has no meaning except in the head of the one using it at the moment.
Language, according to the postmodernist, is not firm and univocal in meaning. It is
infinitely malleable and the meaning of language is as much a product of the hearer as
of the speaker of the reader as of the author.39
Mullen lists four responses to these challenges, framed in terms of answering the question what is
the difference between fiction and history.40
1) A total rejection of the challenges by claiming that postmodernity is an enemy of good
historical work.
2) A total acceptance of the reality of these challenges which gives the historian great freedom to
be creative.
3) An acknowledgement that these challenges are real, but not insurrmountable. She says,
According to this response, historians have every reason to continue their enterprise of critical
scholarship of seeking truth about the past and of striving for objectivity. The concerns of
postmodernism may make us more careful in our work, and more conscious of our limitations, but
they need not change our fundamental understanding of the historians task. In other words
postmodernity does raise legitimate concerns, but these can be addressed.
4) A dismissal of the concern for objectivity in favor of maintaining proper procedures for doing
history. This response asserts that historians have never really strived for objectivity, but rather
have created a protocol which distinguishes history from fiction. With this focus on details
historians can assure the public that they are reflecting truth from the past accurately.
Mullen concludes with an endorsement of common sense. The past is real - no one sane
disputes this, not even postmodern extremists. Common sense says the historian is doing
something different from the writer of historical fiction. She says, The historian is limited by
artifacts or evidence in ways that writers of fiction are not.41
Mullen cites a prominent historian of the recent past, Herbert Butterfield:
There may be some justice in the claim that history is a science, but if so, it is a

39

Mullen, 28.

40

Mullen, 29-33.

41

Mullen, 35.

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science dominated by the fact that its particular kind of truth can only be attained
by imaginative self-giving in human sympathy. . . . Historical understanding
depends upon this compassion, this urge to see even the outcasts as human beings
who could fall in love or be hurt.42
Mullen offers this aid to the Christian historian: that we see ourselves more like a detective: We
might draw more fully on the image of historian as detective or lawyer that is, metaphors that
link our activities to the truths of legal procedure rather than to the truths of science.43 Her
assertion is based on the widespread assumption that witnesses who testify in a legal case can
relate information about the past that can be used to determine the guilt or innocence of a person
charged with a crime.
The two main challenges to doing history from postmodernity are 1) the assertion that because
everyone has bias we can never see history as it was, only as our bias shapes it for us and 2) the
denial of absolute truth.
The challenge of bias:
While it is true that all of us are shaped by our backgrounds and we all have one or more bias, this
does not mean we must give up all hope of objectivity. Indeed some have argued that when we
acknowledge our bias this goes a long way towards diluting its influence upon us.
Furthermore, when an historian sets out her or his bias upfront, the reader can then take that into
account in the historians use of evidence and conclusions.
Bias becomes a problem when a historian allows it to ignore or emphasize evidence. For
example, a Protestant historian writing about the 16th century might write at great length about
the sins of the Renaissance Popes (and those sins were many) but never mention the Calvinist,
Reformed, and Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists. This would be an example of bias producing
bad history.
Bias is also a problem if it pushes us to a conclusion not founded on evidence. A historian of
colonial America who asserts that the Pilgrims came to the New World to establish religious
liberty for all would be making a statement contrary to the evidence - they already enjoyed such
liberty in Holland where they had fled from England, and, once they established their settlements
in America, they did not extend religious liberty to others, for instance, Catholics.
Bias can produce distorted views of movements, causes, and figures of the past. Eusebius of
Caesarea is famous for his work, Church History, commonly said to be the first book written on
the history of the faith. Yet in this work he presents the Emperor Constantine, his contemporary,
42

Mullen 36,citing H. Butterfield, The Christian and academic history, in Writings, 179-80.

43

Mullen, 38.

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as almost parallel to Christ himself. This does not mean we cannot use Eusebius as a source, we
can and must as he is the sole source for many details of the first three centuries of the Church.
But we must always be aware as we do consult him, of his bias.
Can we achieve perfect objectivity? No. But our bias need not prevent us from approaching
some measure of distance from our object of study if we are intentional about this and if we are
held accountable by others, especially those with a different set of biased predispositions.
Furthermore, bias can be a positive. So argues David Bebbington, noted historian of
evangelicalism. He says Great history is commonly a consequence of a historians pursuit of
evidence to vindicate his previously formed beliefs. He cites Edward Gibbons work, The
history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire as an example. Sometimes ones background
gives an historian a certain imaginative sympathy in studying a part of that background.44 One
could think of how different two historians might approach writing a history of evangelistic
revivals if one were a product of those revivals and the other an atheist.
The challenge of denial of the absolute:
The Christian faith is rooted in history. God has acted in history - and this is recorded in
Scripture for us. Our faith is an historically based faith. This the denial of absolute truth is a
direct challenge to our faith as it claims we cannot know anything as it really is.
To a degree that is true, due to our limitations: we are finite, not infinite. We each have our own
bias through which we see things. And we are sinners, which affects every part of us, including
our ability to perceive history.
Yet while we cannot know absolute truth in the same way that God knows it, we can know that
what we know is true and absolute to the limits of our ability to understand.
In other words, while we cannot know the fullness of Gods love, which is infinite, we can know
absolutely that God loves us and that this is one of his characteristics.
Darrell Bock says postmodernity has four important lessons that we evangelicals should heed: 45
1) Our interpretation of the Bible is biased. Thus it is imperative that we expose ourselves to
interpretations that are from different cultures and times in order to find our blind spots.
2) Interpretation must be done in community, not as individuals. The problem with postmodernity
is the insistence that only the contemporary community matters, and thus we can ignore past
views (tradition). This cannot be for the Christian who sees himself as part of the Body that
44

David Bebbington, Patterns in history (Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 7.

45

Darrell L. Bock, Purpose-directed theology (InterVarsity Press, 2002), 27-28.

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includes all believers of the past.


3) Issues are best examined from different angles or layers, not just from one. Often two
evangelicals of differing views will each be correct and biblical, but will be speaking from different
layers or angles.
4) Each interpretation is incomplete because of our sin and human limitations. This is again why
we must do theology in community and especially in conversation with those who may view
things differently.

Hagiography
This term refers to biographies that are written mainly or only in praise of the subject. Brief
hagiographies are abundant in childrens educational literature, whether secular or sacred. The
heroes are presented in short paragraphs - without blemish. This is especially true of those
regarded as heroes for an entire nation or group: George Washington, Jose Rizal, etc.
Mother Teresa (d. 1997) became world-famous for her work among the poor of India. She was
showered with honors late in life: beatification by Pope John Paul II, the Nobel Peace prize in
1979, even the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1962 from the Philippines. Malcolm Muggeridge
made a film in 1969 which portrayed her as a modern-day saint.
Yet some questioned this depiction of her in such saintly terms. Some journalists and researchers
accused her of financial improprieties and two major British medical journals questioned the
medical care her ministry gave to their patients. 46
Church history is full of hagiography. Athanasius wrote the Life of Anthony, a pioneer ascetic
more to promote asceticism than to accurately recount Anthonys life. Gregory of Nyssa wrote a
biography of his sister, Macrina in which she is held up as an ideal picture of a woman devoted to
God. Eusebius portrayed Constantine as a figure almost as pivotal as Christ. While such works
have a basis in reality, they are not very useful - filled as they are with stories of miracles and
praise.
One of the earliest hagiographies is surely the Infancy Gospel of James, also known as the
Protevangelium Jacobi. This work, written somewhere around 150, is a work devoted to proving
the unique holiness of Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a young child Mary is taken by her parents
to the Temple where she lives until puberty. (ProtJ 7.9, 8.2, 15.10, 19.8.) During her sojourn at
the Temple, she is fed by an angel of heaven. (ProtJ 8.1-2, cf. 13.7), in a fashion similar to Elijah.
But we need not confine ourselves to ancient history or to Catholic figures to encounter

46

Wikipedia.

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hagiography. How many ministry websites contain a realistic and honestly complete biography of
their founder or leader?
One of the things I admire about Ruth Tuckers book From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A
biographical history of missions is her inclusion in this collection of short missionary biographies
of their shortcomings as well as their triumphs.
Hagiographies are not completely useless to the historian. Rather than depending upon them as
reliable sources concerning their subjects, we can instead consult them to determine the
theological agendas of their authors. So the Life of Anthony is an important witness to the early
development of what later becomes the monastic movement. The Infancy Gospel of James is a
witness to a very early preoccupation with Marys holiness, much earlier than many assume.

Tradition and sola scriptura

(Mostly taken from RC Theology L-6, 2013, CGST)

Three views of tradition


In order to understand the precise place of Tradition in Catholic theology, it might be good to
review various views of tradition during the time of the Reformation. Alister McGrath provides a
convenient and useful way to categorize various views of tradition: 47
Tradition 0
- The Radical Reformers
Tradition 1
- Luther, Calvin
Tradition 2
- Trent

0 - Rejection:
No regard for tradition

1- Single Source:
Tradition is a useful guide

Menno Simons
Anabaptists

Luther,
Calvin

2 - Dual Source:
Tradition is equal to
Scripture
Trent
Catholic Church

Tradition 0 is the view held by the Radical Reformers who said it had no proper use for
Christians.
Tradition 0 is untenable because without the informed guidance from the past, theologians who

47

Taken from Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian
Thought, 2nd edn (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 150-153, following Heiko Oberman, The harvest of medieval theology
(Eerdmans, 1967), 371.

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rely on the Bible alone often end up reproducing heretical theology. An example is Menno
Simons and his incorrect view of the celestial flesh of Christ.
Tradition 1 is the view held by the main Reformers Luther and Calvin and which has come down
to us in most Evangelical theology today.
Tradition 1 views tradition as the accumulated wisdom on a given subject from all the great
councils and theologians in the history of the Church. This wisdom can help us to understand
Scripture, but it can never stand over Scripture.
It is important to stress that orthodox Evangelical theology considers tradition to be of benefit.
We do not reject tradition. Some Catholic writers have wrongly thought that the doctrine of sola
scriptura teaches a complete rejection of tradition. This is the view of the Radical Reformers, but
has not been widely accepted among most Protestants.
Tradition 2 is the view defined by the Council of Trent and still held by the RCC today as well as
by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Tradition 2 defines tradition as a stream of unwritten apostolic teachings which because they
come from the Apostles are equal in authority to the written testimony of those same Apostles, ie
the NT.
At Trent, both Scripture and Tradition were recognized as of equal authority. The RCC, in
which the Holy Ghost was believed to dwell, was declared to have the sole right to interpret
Scripture, therefore the tradition of the Church with respect to doctrinal matters was not
considered open to question. 48 This was of course in direct contrast to the principle taught by
all the Protestant reformers, sola scriptura.
The RCC leaders at Trent said two things about Scripture, first that the Bible and tradition are
equal in authority, and second, that only the leadership of the RCC has the correct interpretation
of the Bible.
The view that tradition has equal authority to Scripture was not invented by Catholic theologians
in reaction to the Reformers. It is a much older view.
For example, the Emperor Justinian 1 (r: 527-565) declared that the first four Church Councils
carried an authority equal to that of the holy scriptures.49

48
49

H. J. Grimm, The Reformation Era: 1500-1650, 2nd edn (1973), 326.

Novella 131: de ecclesiasticis titulis: quattuor synodorum dogmata sicut sanctas scripturas accipimus,
cited in W. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, G. W. Bromiley, trans. (Eerdmans 1991), 1.10.

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Sola scriptura
One of the highlights of Reformation theology is the development of the doctrine of sola
scriptura.
We can define sola scriptura this way: It is Scripture alone which has the highest authority for the
Christian. All creeds, councils, sermons, encyclicals and theological statements must be judged by
the teachings of the Scriptures as properly interpreted.
A common misunderstanding by some Catholics is that we Evangelicals reject all truth outside of
the written Word of God. This has not true for mainstream Reformation theology, nor is it true
now for mainstream Evangelical theology.
For instance, we accept the decisions of the early Church Councils (like Nicaea and Chalcedon) as
authoritative. But we believe the authority of these councils and the writings of great leaders of
the Church is derivative- they have authority only so far as they reflect the truths taught in the
Bible.
John Calvin states it clearly:
For although we hold that the Word of God alone lies beyond the sphere of our
judgement, and that fathers and councils are of authority only in so far as they
agree with the rule of the Word, we still give to councils and fathers such rank and
honor as it is appropriate for them to hold under Christ. 50
Luther spoke these words in 1521 at the Diet of Worms:
Unless I am convinced by testimony from Scripture or evident reason -- for I
believe neither the Pope nor the Councils alone, since it is established that they
have often erred and contradicted themselves -- I am conquered by the writings
cited by me, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God; I cannot and I will
not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor honest to do aught against
conscience. 51
So we cannot accept any new completely new doctrines which are found in tradition but not in the
Bible. For instance, the assumption of Mary into heaven, which has no Scriptural foundation
whatsoever.
But on the other hand we can and do accept concepts and statements from tradition as
authoritative, but with the understanding that it is a secondary authority. For instance, we say

50
51

Cited in A. McGrath, Historical Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 179.

Cited in W. Robert Godfrey, Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries in
Scripture and Truth, D. A. Carson and J. D. Woodbridge, eds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), 227.

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part of orthodox faith is a belief in the trinity, a word which does not occur in the Bible.52

Four clarifications on sola scriptura


Four clarifications - here are four things that are NOT part of a proper understanding of of sola
scriptura : 53
1) sola scriptura does not mean we believe all possible truth is in the Bible.
The truth 2+2=4 is true, but not revealed in Scripture.
2) sola scriptura does not mean we believe the Bible is the only way God reveals himself.
We do hold to natural revelation as set out in Rom. 1.18-20.
3) sola scriptura does not mean we believe every Bible text is equally clear to every reader.
We admit there are difficult texts in the Bible. But our salvation and central doctrines are
not dependent upon the exegesis of difficult texts: these essential teachings are clear to any
reader.
4) sola scriptura does not mean we believe that we have no need for pastors or scholars.
In law, the most difficult cases are passed to the higher courts, but the vast
majority of cases are decided at the lowest level. So it is with theology: Scripture
is clear enough that 90 to 95 percent of all theological and ethical issues can be
decided by a lay woman or man with a high-school reading ability. But a minority
of cases with more complexity require a higher court, the pastor then the
scholar.

SOME FALLACIES IN HISTORY


Before we dive into exploring some trajectories of selected doctrinal development, let us look at
some common fallacies or mistakes that are often made in dealing with history. These are from
Carl Trumans book Histories and fallacies: Problems faced in the writing of history. Truemans
warnings are a good reminder to avoid these if we can.54

52

A word probably coined in the Latin around 200 by Tertullian.

53

W. Robert Godfrey, What Do We Mean by Sola Scriptura? in Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position
on the Bible, Don Kistler, ed. (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), 3.
54

Carl Trueman, A fistful of fallacies, chapter 4 in Histories and fallacies: Problems faced in the
writing of history (Wheaton, Crossway, 2010), 141-168.

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Reification
This is the mistake of taking something abstract as real or material. Trueman gives as an example
theological liberalism which has no concrete or real existence in itself. In fact the term itself is
so elastic that we need to be cautious: one persons liberalism is anothers conservative view.
So some call Freidrich Schleiermacher the father of liberalism, while others hold anyone who
drinks alcohol is liberal. There is no logical connection between these two, but a loose use of the
term liberal constructs that connection for us.
Oversimplification
When historians explain the causes of an event or movement, there is a danger to oversimplify.
History deals with people, and there simply are no simple people - everyone is complex. An
example that comes to my mind (not used by Trueman) is one found in many older Catholic
histories of the Reformation. They will assert that Henry VIII forced the Catholics in England to
break away from Rome simply because he wanted to justify his sexual relations with his mistress
Anne Bolyn.
While it is true that Henry did want to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aaragon, so he could marry
Anne, the reasons are far more complex than Henrys personal lack of self control. He needed a
male heir to prevent a war over who would succeed him and Catherine was unable to provide this.
Henrys father, Henry VII, had won the English throne from Richard III in the last of a terrible
series of wars known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry was driven to prevent war breaking out
over his own successor to the throne, and to do so he desperately needed a male heir. And we
must consider other societal and political factors wherein England was growing as a power and
felt under constraint by the authorities on the continent, including Rome.
A similar problem is found in those explanations of Luthers reform as stemming from his
psychological problems, or even his digestive problems!
Often single cause conclusions are guilty of oversimplification. Nearly every historical event has
multiple causes.
Post hoc, propter hoc.
This Latin phrase is after this, because of this. We cannot assume that events in the past have a
direct causal link to events that come later. Trueman cites the thesis of Max Weber that
capitalism arose because of the Reformation.
Confusing the word with the concept.
An infamous example is the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. Trueman notes that some
assume that because the word Trinity is not found in the first two centuries of the Church that it

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was not a doctrine held at that time. But absence of the word does not prove absence of the idea
or concept. A similar fallacious argument has been made about the term inerrancy. Augustine
never uses the term, but he clearly holds to the concept.
The genetic fallacy
The error of assuming that the origin of something continues to determine its character. Trueman
provides a humorous example: as an Englishman living in the USA he can always claim that any
current problems in America stem from their illegal rebellion against King George 3 in the 1770s.
Generalization
While generalizations are useful and at times necessary, they must be used with caution. Older
(19th century) writers would generalize about whole ethnic groups and races.
An example from me: some assume a stark division between the school of Alexandria and the
school of Antioch on the issue of using allegory in Biblical interpretation, where the
Alexandrians are guilty of using such and ignoring the literal meaning. However all one needs to
do to counter this is to consider Origen of Alexandrias labor in producing the Hexapla, a work of
some 6000 pages going into great and tedious detail about the entire OT text.
Asking the wrong questions
Our questions must be constructed in a way that does not force us to incorrect conclusions.
Trueman gives this example: Was Calvin a Calvinist? This question is invalid as it is
anachronistic. Or questions can be loaded: How does the practice of holding the door open for a
woman reflect oppression of women?
Loaded questions are often found in histories written to promote a certain agenda. So we get
Elaine Pagels and other promoters of Gnosticism asking questions along this line, How did the
male-dominated leadership of the Church in the 3rd to 5th centuries exclude alternative texts from
the canon of Scripture that elevated the status of women? This question ignores an inconvenient
fact: those alternative and especially Gnostic writings that were, indeed, suppressed, were
vehemently anti-women (e.g., Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Thomas 114).
Category confusions
Simply put: comparing apples and oranges. When we compare two things that cannot be
compared because they are not similar or related, we commit this error. Trueman uses the
example of comparing 17th century Prebyterianism with Puritanism in the same era. One is a
clearly defined group of people (actual members of the Presbyterian church then) the other is a
broad movement that cuts across denominational lines. You had Puritans who were also members
of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Independent churches. The two things cannot be compared.

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p. 40

Asserting providence as a cause


This is Truemans last fallacy. Using Gods will to explain historical events is often not useful he says saying the Twin Towers fell because of sin in America (Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell)
is not saying anything more helpful than saying they fell because of gravity.
In one sense naming God as the cause of an historical event is true, since we believe everything
that happens is in the providence of God. Yet asserting this has no place in the study of history
because it tells us nothing we dont already know and it tells us nothing about the evidence.
Trueman says the error here is using a universal (providence) to explain a particular (the fall of the
Twin Towers).
A second problem with claiming providence is that it is not falsifiable. Once someone claims that
a storm struck because God was judging the location, how can this be challenged? Furthermore,
where is the empirical evidence for such an assertion?
Did the Twin Towers fall because of the sin of abortion? Or because of the USAs agressive
military policies? Some fundamentalists say the former, while some liberals say the latter.
It is true that some historical events are directly connected to Gods judgment in Scripture
(Sodom and Gomorrah, for example) but those connections carry the authority of canonical
Scripture, which a contemporary historian cannot claim.
Thirdly (a point added by me) to claim a certain event is the result of Gods judgment is really a
claim that one knows the mind of God. Apart from broad generalizations such as all of this world
is under Gods judgment we really cannot say for sure that any specific disaster is a judgement for
any single sin or the sins of any particular group.
Trueman says, providence may well be a sound theological doctrine, but it really has no place in
the toolbox of the historian because it pushes the historian beyond the realms of what is and is not
verifiable according to the canons of evidence and interpretation. (167).
George Marsden, in his Fundamentalism and American culture: The shaping of Twentiethcentury evangelicalism: 1870-1925 concludes that seminal work with an afterward on this very
issue.
Marsden begins by asserting that God acts in history.55 Yet our perceptions of His actions are
themselves conditioned by our culture. He sees no contradiction between these two views: first,
that history is the study of things visible, i.e., causes and factors we can detect as evidence to
explain events, and second, a view of history in which God as revealed in Scripture is the

55

George M. Marsden, in his Fundamentalism and American culture: The shaping of Twentieth-century
evangelicalism: 1870-1925 (Oxford University Press, 1980), 229-230.

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p. 41

dominant force, and in which other unseen spiritual forces are contending.
He goes on to use the illustration of Tolkiens world in the Lord of the Rings (this was written
decades before the movies). Like Tolkiens characters we live in the midst of contests between
great and mysterious spiritual forces, which we understand only imperfectly and whose true
dimensions we only occasionally glimpse.
He contrasts the calling of the theologian and the historian. The task of the theologian then is to
try to establish from Scripture criteria for determining what in the history of the church is truly the
work of the Spirit. The Christian historian should refrain from explicit judgments on what is
properly Christian while he concentrates on observable cultural forces.
I would add this: that those of us who are neither theologans nor historians can and should draw
from both professions the fruits of their labor as we seek to understand the story of Gods people
throughout the more than 2000 years of Him building His Church.

Postscript: Why study heresy?


In the course of this class we will be studying, sometimes in detail, various theological views that
have been declared by the Church to be false teachings. This brings up a question: why should we
study heresy?
There is a popular story that the U.S. Treasury Department, which is responsible for keeping
counterfeit money out of circulation, trains bank tellers using only genuine currency. This
illustration is used to conclude that we should avoid study of false teachings and only study
orthodox doctrine.
Roger Olson decided to check the truth of this and was told by an agent of the U.S. Treasury
Secret Service that this is not true, in fact, bank tellers are exposed to both genuine and fake
money in their training. He goes on to say this:
I believe it is important and valuable for Christians to know not only theological
correctness (orthodoxy) but also the ideas of those judged as heretics within the
churchs story. One reason is taht it is almost impossible to appreciate the
meaning of orthodoxy without understanding the heresies that forced its
development.56

56

1999), 21.

Roger E. Olson, The story of Christian theology: Twenty centuries of tradition and reform (InterVarsity,