20 September 2005

Essential Christianity, not "Mere Christianity"

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur unofficially joins the discussion at PyroManiac with the following excerpt, which originally appeared in Reckless Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994). It was republished in 2004 in Truth Matters: Landmark Chapters from the Teaching ministry of John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson). It's the closing section of "What Are the Fundamentals of Christianity?"—a chapter that deals with the exact questions that were raised here last week.




Recovering the Spirit of Early Fundamentalism

It is not my purpose here to attempt to give an exhaustive list of fundamental doctrines. To do so would be beyond the scope of what I can possibly say in this limited space, and it would almost certainly beyond the reach of my own abilities as a theologian. Witsius wrote,

To point out the articles necessary to salvation, and precisely determine their number, is a task, if not utterly impossible, at least extremely difficult. There are, doubtless, more articles fundamental, than those to which the Scriptures have appended an express threatening of destruction . . .

Nor is it absolutely necessary that we should possess an exact list of the number of fundamental articles. It is incumbent on each of us to labour with the utmost of diligence to obtain an enlargement of saving knowledge, lest, perhaps we should be found ignorant of truths that are necessary . . . [But] to ascertain precisely the number of necessary articles, is not requisite to our spiritual comfort . . .

It is of no great importance, besides, to the church at large, to know quite correctly the precise number of fundamental articles. [Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles' Creed, 2 vols. (Phillipsburg, N. J., 1993 reprint), 1:27-29]

In a similar vein, Turretin wrote,

The question concerning the number of fundamental articles . . . besides being rash (since Scripture says nothing definitely about it) is also useless and unnecessary because there is no need of our knowing particularly the number of such articles, if we can prove that [our adversaries] err fundamentally in one or more . . . Nor does it follow from this that the perfection of Scripture in necessary things is detracted from . . . For the Scriptures [still] contain most fully all things necessary to salvation, although their actual number is not accurately set forth. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1992), 54.]

Certainly any list of fundamentals would have to begin with these doctrines Scripture explicitly identifies as nonnegotiable: the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition (sola Scriptura), justification by faith alone (sola fide), the deity of Christ, and the Trinity. Since the Apostles' Creed omits all those doctrines, it clearly cannot be regarded as a sufficient doctrinal basis for building ecumenical bridges.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that some people are tempted to wield fundamental doctrines like a judge's gavel and consign multitudes to eternal doom. It is not our prerogative to exercise such judgment. As Witsius sagely observed, "It does not become us to ascend into the tribunal of God, and to pronounce concerning our neighbour, for how small a defect of knowledge, or for how inconsiderable an error, he must be excluded from heaven. It is much safer to leave that to God" [Witsius, 29].

Wise advice. We dare not set ourselves up as judges of other people's eternal fate.

Nevertheless, we must recognize that those who have turned away from sound doctrine in matters essential to salvation are condemning themselves. "He that believeth not is condemned already" ( John 3:18 KJV). Our passion as true fundamentalists ought to be to proclaim the fundamentals with clarity and precision, in order to turn people away from the darkness of error. We must confront head-on the blindness and unbelief that will be the reason multitudes will one day hear the Lord say, "I never knew you; depart from Me" (Matt. 7:23). Again it must be stressed that those who act as if crucial doctrines were of no consequence only heap the false teacher's guilt on themselves (2 John 11).

We have no right to pronounce a sentence of eternal doom against anyone ( John 5:22). But by the same token, we have no business receiving just anyone into the communion and fellowship of the church. We should no more forge spiritual bonds with people whose religion is fundamentally in error than we would seek fellowship with those guilty of heinous sin. To do so is tantamount to the arrogance shown by the Corinthians, who refused to dismiss from their fellowship a man living in the grossest kind of sin (1 Cor. 5:1-3).

We must also remember that serious error can be extremely subtle. False teachers don't wear a sign proclaiming who they are. They disguise themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Cor. 11:13). "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (vv. 14-15). And it should not be surprising to hear false teachers and heretics recite the Apostles' Creed. Again, hear Witsius:

Our faith consists not in words, but in sense; not in the surface, but in the substance; not in the leaves of a profession, but in the root of reason. All the heretics of the present day, that claim the name of Christians, are willing enough to subscribe to the words of the [Apostles'] Creed; each however affixing to them whatever sense he pleases, though diametrically opposed to sound doctrine. [Ibid., 31.]

Witsius concludes his chapter by pointing out that people who plead for all creeds to be as brief and general as possible—as well as people who reject all doctrinal expressions not confined to the precise words of Scripture—usually do so because they "are secretly entertaining some mischievous design" [Ibid., 33].

Nothing is more desperately needed in the church right now than a new movement to reemphasize the fundamental articles of the faith. Without such a movement to restore true biblical discernment, the true church is in serious trouble. If the current hunger for ecumenical compromise gains a foothold within evangelicalism, it will result in an unmitigated spiritual disaster. Reckless faith will virtually have free reign in the church. And far from strengthening the church's witness to an unbelieving world, it will spell the end of any clarion voice of truth.

John MacArthur

52 comments:

Dan said...

Thanks for the insightful post! I have to admit, though, there are some aspects of this perspective that is hard cheese to swallow.

Firstly, I fail to see how the statement "We dare not set ourselves up as judges of other people's eternal fate" carries any practical ethical import other than to appear gracious without actually having to display any grace whatsoever. Seeing that refusing a brother into the fellowship of the local church was tantamount to "delivering one over to Satan", (1 Co. 5:5) and possibly publicly declaring his unbelieving status (Mt. 18:17), "leaving it up to God to judge" seems like a catch phrase to absolve oneself of moral guilt, not an actual course of action being taken.

Secondly, these sentiments seem hopelessly naive in establishing where church tradition has obscured biblical tradition, such as in the case which made the Reformation necessary - these criteria make it unlikely that Reformation could ever meaningfully take place again in deferrence to the Scriptures, since exegetical accuracy is being verified by preset theological conclusions. The idea that the Reformers have single-handedly accomplished the reclamation of true biblical faith for all time seems to seriously flout the depravity and parochial inclination of biblical scholars who, in my judgment, are in constant need of Reformation.

Thirdly, the fact that any principle, doctrine or teaching can be followed back to some essential, foundational issue makes the application of these principles completley dependent on the one applying them. It collapses into a relativism people of fundamentalist ilk claim to decry, yet seem to wallow in shamelessly. One is left without moral credibility in denouncing Biblical Discernment Ministries, for example.

Fourthly, and finally, it seems that this sort of an attitude blurs all sorts of ethical lines. Those who disagree are unilaterally labeled "false teachers" (despite the overtones of malicious, sensual and exploitative connotations such a title demands - 2 Pet. 2) regardless of whether they sincerely believe in Jesus' Lordship (1 Co. 12:3) or display the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). In other words, though the lifestyle and minimal profession of a person may appear to be those characteristic with the biblical requirements of salvation, brotherly treatment is withheld because such a person doesn't affirm all of the propositions arbitrarily demanded by whoever is defining "essential Christianity" (i.e. like the issue of Christ's blood vs. his death as significant for atonement, for example). Suspicion, rather than patient dialogue, is the rule. And all of this arbitrary and relativistic "sitting in the chair of Moses" in defining what's essential (Mt. 23:2), of course, results in "consigning multitudes to eternal doom". Such is the legacy of fundamentalism - and if its renewal is reflected in the examples cited, it doesn't look good from anyone slightly to the left of anyone else about any doctrine anyone would care to name.

Libbie said...

I suppose it all depends on which perspective you are coming at the essentials...
Are the fundamentals a setting out of what is really precious, or are they the 'lowest common denominator' at which we can all get together in a cosy ecumenical love-in thing?
I've seen churches pare away doctrine, and away, all in the name of being merely Christians. I love CS Lewis with a passion, but I think 'mere Christianity' encompasses an awful lot more than is commonly assumed by those who use the phrase.
Where is that point at which we must stand against those who have already condemned themselves? When does compassionate entreaty have to become denunciation of heresy? I'm glad I'm not the one who has to decide.

BTW, I am so grateful to God for John MacArthur. The day I discovered all about Steve Chalkes theological abberations, and thought the whole christian world was going mad, I happened upon TBN's Praise the Lord (don't ask!) and saw John MacArthur proclaiming such a sound gospel that you could see the audience reel back in shock.
It taught me that despite appearances, the gospel will be heard. If God can use a donkey to speak his word, he can even use John MacArthur on Praise the Lord.
And I stress, the donkey parallel is Praise the Lord, not John MacArthur.

Jim Crigler said...

Hmm ... Methinks the title is intentionally provocative. Based on the post title, I'd like to pose some questions:

First, was the post title a section heading or chapter title in the original book by Dr. MacAurthur? Either way, if you're going to draw battle lines over a title, just think how many arguments "TULIP" as a title (or its first level expansion) has gotten us into.

Next, was what C.S. Lewis wrote in the first few chapters of Mere Christianity (the first chapters were the talks he gave to the RAF at the request of Winston Churchill, according to Rod Rosenbladt) sufficient for salvation? We should remember that as part of the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Anglican church, Lewis believed a lot of other stuff in addition to what is written in the book, so he, at least, believed there were important things that weren't necessary for salvation.

Finally, by using the Lewis title, have you not expanded the "title crisis" alluded to? In other words, has the title "Mere Christianity" not been usurped by those who think that minimalist Christianity is both good and (here's the thing Dr. MacArthur was getting to, I believe) sufficient for Christians to define all faith and practice? By this I mean sufficiency as opposed to defining boundaries of fellowship; Dr. MacArthur is friendly with, e.g., R.C. Sproul, despite their disagreements.

Dave said...

I am a little unclear as to how this statement, "We have no right to pronounce a sentence of eternal doom against anyone ( John 5:22)" squares with Paul's statements in Galatians 1:8-9. It seems clear there that Paul says that anyone who preaches another gospel is "to be accursed," and that almost certainly refers to eternal doom.

Perhaps the key is that Dr. MacArthur is concerned about the application of this directly to individuals (vs. a category of false gospelers). I am sympathetic to this concern, if that is it, but I am not sure it handles that text well.

Or, perhaps he would argue what that they have condemned themselves by preaching a false gospel. This seems just to dodge the issue, as I think an earlier poster pointed out.

Or, maybe he is just saying that we can't accept the credibility of someone's profession if they deny essential doctrines, but since God knows the heart, He may see something there that is actually in disagreement with their "head" and teaching. That's an backward way of saying that their heart theology is better than their academic theology.

Perhaps an illustration that some of us, including MacArthur have used--Mother Teresa. My comment on her has been, if she really believed what she said she believed, then she is eternally lost. The presence of the "if" may be reflective of what MacArthur is concerned about--since I can't say definitively whether she is in heaven or hell, I have to address what her beliefs were, not her directly.

The concern for me is that much of evangelicalism seems to have become so gracious about the people who teach false doctrine that it has become susceptible their false doctrines. Maybe we need a little more of the Lord's (Mt 23:13-15) and Paul's (Phil 3:2; Gal 5:12) passion about truth, not less of it.

To be clear, I believe this post reflects an attempt to call people to a more vigilant defense and commitment to the faith once delivered. I am grateful for that. I am concerned, however, about the contemporary tendency to make a disconnect between false teaching and those who teach it, because it seems out of step with the Scriptures.

centuri0n said...

Wait -- Dr. Mac is now blogging at PyroManiac?

... I'm going to lie down ... some things are not fair ...

Jerry Wragg said...

Dan –

You said - "leaving it up to God to judge" seems like a catch phrase to absolve oneself of moral guilt,”

Didn’t Paul imbibe this principle in 1 Cor. 4:3-5 when he reserved all final conclusions about heart-motives until “the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts;”? We may speak what the scriptures explicitly say about behavior and the desires behind them, but we cannot make judgments about the inner man where the scriptures are not explicit.

You said – “these sentiments seem hopelessly na├»ve”

Such strong language deserves a more thorough treatment of your second point. As I recall, MacArthur’s excerpt did include some reflections from historical theology as well as pertinent passages offered. Though not an exhaustive essay, his comments could hardly be described as “sentiments”. Furthermore, you haven’t really made your case here with clarity. What do you mean “exegetical accuracy is being verified by preset theological conclusions”?

You further said – “The idea that the Reformers have single-handedly accomplished the reclamation of true biblical faith for all time seems to seriously flout the depravity and parochial inclination of biblical scholars who, in my judgment, are in constant need of Reformation.”

Where has this been claimed by MacArthur’s essay? The fact is that his chapter from which the excerpt was taken makes the case, not that the reformers “single-handedly accomplished the reclamation of true biblical faith”, but that everything essential to saving faith is fundamental. MacArthur’s chapter gives example after example from scripture as to why any doctrine that threatens the clarity of justifying faith should be seen as heresy. The Reformers affirmed the same in their day. As to the Sola’s of the Reformation, MacArthur simply affirmed the explicit teachings of scripture regarding doctrines the rejection of which is damning. To believe in a different god or Jesus than that of scripture, to entrust oneself to a “higher” authority than scripture, to trust in a salvation of mixed merits (Christ’s and mine)---these are heresies explicitly spelled out in scripture.

You said – “the fact that any principle, doctrine or teaching can be followed back to some essential, foundational issue makes the application of these principles completley dependent on the one applying them.”

Could you please explain this statement? For some reason its meaning was lost on me.

You said – “Suspicion, rather than patient dialogue, is the rule. And all of this arbitrary and relativistic "sitting in the chair of Moses" in defining what's essential (Mt. 23:2), of course, results in "consigning multitudes to eternal doom". Such is the legacy of fundamentalism.

Again, strong language seemingly without much “patient dialogue”.

Jim from OldTruth.com said...

Oh no! Look at that picture. John MacArthur borrowed Rick Warren's preaching shirt!!! :-) Just kidding.

Great article. Thank you Phil and Dr. MacArthur.

Renee said...

I had to comment on the shirt :-) Ummm...nice? (Looks like one of Phil's)

Now I will go back and read the post.

Keith said...

The Apostle's Creed omits the deity of Christ and the Trinity?

Last time I looked, it says:
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty . . . I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit."

Of course these doctrines were developed more fully in later creeds and systematic theology, but they are here.

Keith

Habitans in Sicco said...

Keith: "The Apostle's Creed omits the deity of Christ and the Trinity?"

I think the point was that the Creed doesn't affirm those doctrines explicitly. In the fourth century, this became a point over which the church debated intensely, because Arius defended his own orthodoxy by insisting that his views fit just fine within the parameters of the Apostles' Creed. And if you go only by what's explicit in the Creed, that's true. That is why later creeds were added to give explicit definition to (and affirmation of) the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ's deity.

Ditto with the doctrine of justification during the Reformation.

You ought to read this whole chapter in MacArthur's book. He deals with these issues.

Steve said...

Phil, I hope you don't mind me inserting a plug here in connection with the book from which MacArthur's excerpt was taken. Truth Matters (a 35th annivesary anthology of MacArthur's ministry) is a superb volume for any Christian worker who wants to know how he or she can earnestly contend for the faith in a way that truly honors God and His Word. In the foreword, Phil, you mentioned that some material didn't make it into this book due to space limitations. I hope you're already at work on the 40th anniversary anthology for 2009.

I have just one comment on the excellent excerpt from MacArthur, and it has to do with the closing words:

"If the current hunger for ecumenical compromise gains a foothold within evangelicalism, it will result in an unmitigated spiritual disaster. Reckless faith will virtually have free reign in the church. And far from strengthening the church's witness to an unbelieving world, it will spell the end of any clarion voice of truth."

"it will spell the end of any clarion voice of truth"? While I wholeheartedly agree that ecumenical compromise has made deep, deep inroads into evangelicalism, isn't it a bit melodramatic to say "spell the end" when Jesus Himself said, "I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it"?

The Lord will always have a remnant who speak the truth, no matter how bad it gets.

Sure, to say "spell the end" sounds more dramatic. :) But it hints that perhaps God might not be able to preserve a remnant in the face of the ecumenical onslaught.

Phil Johnson said...

Steve, I think the pivotal word there is supposed to be "clarion.

Redemptive history is full of eras without a clear, prophetic testimony. That doesn't mean there's no remnant of faithful people, of course. In Elijah's era there were 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal, but there was only one clarion voice, and God sent him into hiding for several years at a time.

Steve said...

Got it, Phil. Thanks!

And I'm serious about that 40th anniversary anthology. :)

Phil Johnson said...

Dan,

If you see no moral difference between (on the one hand) "wield[ing] fundamental doctrines like a judge's gavel... consign[ing] multitudes to eternal doom.... pronounc[ing our own] sentence of eternal doom against [people]" and (on the other hand) recognizing that certain beliefs that claim to be Christian are not truly Christian at all, but are false teachings—then I can see why you might think the distinction between a guy like Rick Miesel and someone who earnestly endeavors to practice biblical discernment in a gracious and humble way is somewhat ambiguous.

Here's MacArthur's point as I understand it: We must make a careful distinction between true and counterfeit Christianity. We need to have some ability to discern between the saved and the unsaved. But (for the moment at least) "unsaved" doesn't necessarily mean "eternally damned." Our message to the unsaved is a message of redemption—the gospel—not a message of damnation (cf. John 3:17).

So while it's perfectly legitimate for us to concern ourselves with the rightness or wrongness of any doctrine or movement that claims to be "Christian," and it's even necessary for us to make righteous judgments about whether this or that person who calls himself a "Christian" really is one—we ought to leave the question of the final disposition of this or that specific person's soul to the proper Judge at the proper time (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Moreover, it's one thing to acknowledge where God's own Word anathematizes someone, and it's a completely different matter to pronounce one's own anathemas. (The difference at times may seem hazy, which is why it's crucial to think long, hard, and carefully about these things in light of Scripture.)

But we are commanded to discern true religion from false religion. The difference may seem subtle and morally ambiguous to some, but it is a vital distinction.

To say it fewer words: the reason it's important for us to distinguish saving truth from damning lies is not so that we can begin here and now the process of destroying tares, but so that we can point lost people to the truth.

Phil Johnson said...

Jim Crigler: The post title was mine. The point I was trying to make isn't necessarily about CS Lewis per se (though if I don't get fatigued with one topic for more than 2 weeks, I might extend this series of posts to deal with Lewis's book, which I think is partly good and partly bad).

What I was trying to do was make a point subtly: Clarity and thoroughness are better than the currently-popular minimalist goal of seeking the lowest common denominator.

But the post title is mine, not MacArthur's. Blame me if you don't like it.

Joel said...

I enjoyed the blog entry, Phil.

Says MacArthur, "Certainly any list of fundamentals would have to begin with these doctrines Scripture explicitly identifies as nonnegotiable: the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition (sola Scriptura), justification by faith alone (sola fide), the deity of Christ, and the Trinity."

I was just wondering how the resurrection of Christ was missed here. Shouldn't any list of fundamentals have the resurrection near the top?

Ephraim said...

And herein lies the difference between a "reformation" and a "restoration".

A reformation calls for a change in behaviour while failing to remove the causes of spiritual blindness.

A restoration removes the causes of spiritual blindness which results in a change in behaviour.

Since it will be our behaviour, not our doctrines, that will be judged at the end, in my mind, the process of restoration would be preferred.

Restored to what, you may ask?
Excellent question.
My response to that question is a question: what do YOU think YHWH would want to restore each of us to?

A better understanding of our religious history and traditions?

I don't think so.

It appears that the idea of "original faith" is becoming more important to the ranks of the reformed. I believe that would be a good place to start.

Shalom

Frank Martens said...

dude, Dr. Mac is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. That is way cool!

LeeC said...

(Sorry bout the deleted post, I'm new to this blogging thing)

Lo all, and in particular Phil!
I've followed you links site for years now, thank you for both it and this blog!
Just becase I want to burden youwith another link, a friend of mine and TMS grad Seth Kniepp just finished a nice paper entitled "What Hills to Die on" that was a part of our smallgroup study here at Calvary Bible Church Burbank.

http://www.dividetheword.org/aticles/pastoral/hills.html

I think he sums up the often agonizingly tough topic nicely.

Micah said...

Ephraim wrote: "A reformation calls for a change in behaviour while failing to remove the causes of spiritual blindness."
What dictionary did this come from? The very nature of the Protestant Reformation was a removing of the very problem doctrines that were caused by 'spiritual blindess'. But the blindess was a result of sin, and since all men are sinners, the only way that can be removed is through a sovereign work of God.

That said, YHWH is quite clear in Ephesians what He wishes for us to understand about Himself.

Eph 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Here in Scripture we find a sort of 'creed' by which we can know the doctrines God desires us to understand that we might have unity in Christ. Unity is not based on some cosmic concept of faith that does not have Christ as its Object of faith or the content of that faith that differs from what is written. Rather it is because of doctrines such as what is written in Eph 4:4-6 that believers in Christ have unity not in spite of it. Thus 'original faith' is one that trusts in Christ because of knowledge, not divorced from it.

As Santayana said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." To not recognize and learn what has come before means a constant falling away from truth and the need for rediscovery of those very same truths.

Thus your suggestion that there is some 'original faith' apart from doctrines and that behavior is not connected to doctrine is a fallacy. Paul informs us that we are to pay closer attention to doctrine for the very fact that in later days people will turn to different doctrines, advocating falsehood.

Finally, since all have fallen short of the glory of God and His perfect righteousness, it is not by our behavior that we are made right with God, but by our faith in His Son who was the standard against which we all fall short. Thus the "original faith" is the very one advocated in the pages of Scripture that we come to by hearing and understanding God's word and are saved in spite of our misdeeds by the grace of God and the blood of the Son.

Dan said...

Phil,

I think you may have missed the point, and that's almost certainly my fault. You're saying that my problem is that I can't see the distinction between "recognizing certain beliefs are false" and consigning people to eternal doom - but that's not what I'm saying. I recognize the difference, but my problem is that you haven't given any principle by which we ought to distinguish between genuine differences thought to be rooted in the Bible (a larger category) and differences which reflect damning, separation-worthy heresy (a smaller sub-category). All of them are simply "false teaching" - a vanilla category which covers both believers and unbelievers. It seems as though one can't be wrong in any doctrinal formulations and still be a Christian. You might SAY that there's a difference in this strategy between Macarthur and Miesel, but what principle difference is there? Is it that Misel's too harsh? Ask an Assemblies of God person (like Wayne Grudem) if he thought Charismatic Chaos was too harsh. Is it a disagreement over what's primary? What if Miesel thinks certain issues are primary that Macarthur doesn't? Both claim Scripture as their compass in this regard. What principles are given to determine whether Miesel is being divisive or being discerning in his selection of primary issues?

Many claim that "it's obvious in Scripture, stupid". But where? Macarthur says "the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition" is essential. But where does the Bible say that this is essential for salvation? Is there a difference between someone who thinks that certain traditions are actually biblical ones, whereas others disagree? Should we count R.C. Sproul a false teacher because he engages in infant baptism? Should we pronounce all Arminians as false teachers without saving faith, and deny them fellowship? Should we denounce all those with millennial differences unbelievers? Are men like Zane Hodges who deny Lordship salvation false teachers, unbelievers and unworthy of Christian fellowship? If not, who said these differences were "okay" within the pale of Christian fellowship? The issues seem every bit as essential and tied to the gospel as the Trinity -- they have to do with the hope of Jesus' return (which seems essential in Ro. 8:24, Ro. 15:4, 1 Co. 15:19, etc), the basis for enterance into the Christian community (baptism or faith?) and the very nature of saving faith! Pick a doctrinal issue, and it can be shown to be essential for salvation inferentially.

Macarthur mentions the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Again, where are belief in these doctrines stated as necessary for salvation? You can find verses that teach this truth, of course (because its true), but any verses used to support this concept as necessary for salvation is an IMPLICATION or logical maneuver. Which is fine -- but you can do this WITH ANY DOCTRINE, such as the blood atonement fellows, ala Rick Miesel. But more than that, many new believers struggle with these concepts, and many more believe that they have the orthodox formulation when they don't really understand it. When you ask members of a local church to explain the Trinity, you soemtimes end up hearing fuzzy shades of modalism, etc.

Of course we have to discern between true and false teaching - but Macarthur's blurb here (and I LOVE THE MAN, I honestly do) is like coming to surgery with a club instead of a finely sharpened instrument. Your response made it sound as though I didn't get the subtelties of why we must discern true religion from false -- but that's not the issue. Of course we should. But Macarthur's comments offer little or no help as to what that actually means, and leaves it up to subjective opinion it's subjective opinion with a verse glued to it, of course (check out Miesel's stuff and you'll see plenty of Scripture quoted in its proper context with an orthodox interpretation being used to exclude Macarthur from Christian fellowship) -- but it's still up to the individual to define what is "essential", and everyone slightly to the right of that individual is going to think that his formulations aren't enough. And there are droves of people slightly to the right of you, who'd deny you Christian fellowship based on criteria you would think to be too strict. In the end, you just have various groups of Christians with their own criteria, congratulating themselves for having been "discerning" and condemning other Christians (and also legitimatley condemning truly abberant belief) as unworthy of fellowship - that is hardly "pointing lost people to the truth."

Chris Pixley said...

Joel said:

"I was just wondering how the resurrection of Christ was missed here. Shouldn't any list of fundamentals have the resurrection near the top?"

I think it's best to understand that the historical reality of Christ's resurrection points theologically to the doctrine of His deity (as well as other important doctrines), as do Christ's incarnation, virgin birth, etc. If my understanding is correct, then Dr. MacArthur has included the resurrection by way of his mention of the doctrine of the deity of Christ.

Dan said...

I should also point out that everyone who uncritically assumes their own criteria without any defense of it aren't likely to even see the difficulty in methodology here -- they're just so convinced that they've got the fundamentals right (even if they're not sure they can articulate them all) that they can't imagine everyone wouldn't agree with them. In other words, what ultimately causes separation on these issues are differnces in the doctrine of separation (which is, it turns out, essential to saving faith, or at least Christian fellowship).

Dan said...

Jerryw,

You said: "Didn’t Paul imbibe this principle in 1 Cor. 4:3-5"?

This passage admonishes arrogant brothers to cease from dividing from one another ala 1 Co. 1:10-17. It's in the context of Corinthians rejecting Paul's apostleship, but is applied for the sake of the Corinthians own behavior (1 Co. 4:6). Whether in regards to fellowship and association with Paul or to the analogue, the issue here is the harmony of Christian fellowship. This passage sounds like what I'm trying to warn against.

You said: Such strong language deserves a more thorough treatment of your second point. As I recall, MacArthur’s excerpt did include some reflections from historical theology as well as pertinent passages offered."

Forgive me if the language was too strong there, I wasn't trying to be disrespectful. My point was that those who you might accuse of "adopting tradition over the bible" often believe their traditions are in fact biblical - infant baptism is a case in point. And my point was that this difficulty makes this criteria selectively applied without any principled distinctions (Sproul is in for infant baptism, others are out for padeocommunion?). And Macarthur's use of "historical theology" is an appeal to tradition, by the way. Also the word "sentiments" describe a person's thoughts, which I take Macarthur's book to reflect.

You said: "Furthermore, you haven’t really made your case here with clarity. What do you mean “exegetical accuracy is being verified by preset theological conclusions”?"

This post is far less than an exhaustive essay, so one has to pack ideas into terse statements to reflect one's opinions. I meant that when creedalism defines orthodoxy, it also drives exegesis rather than the other way around.

Could you please explain this statement [“the fact that any principle, doctrine or teaching can be followed back to some essential, foundational issue makes the application of these principles completley dependent on the one applying them.”]? For some reason its meaning was lost on me.

Sorry Jerry. Check out my follow-up post to Phil.

You said: "Again, strong language seemingly without much “patient dialogue”.

The difference, Jerry, is that I would worship, fellowship and minister with you in the midst of trying to work out obvious differences in the doctrine of separation and possibly other matters. This statement: Suspicion, rather than patient dialogue, is the rule. And all of this arbitrary and relativistic "sitting in the chair of Moses" in defining what's essential (Mt. 23:2), of course, results in "consigning multitudes to eternal doom". Such is the legacy of fundamentalism." was made about those who would deny that fellowship and utterly preclude the possibility of further dialogue as Christian brothers in mutual fellowship. Disfellowshipping someone ends the posibility of patient dialogue. Pointing out the problems with that attitude doesn't.

Phil Johnson said...

Please remember (as I attempted to make clear in the post itself) that the material I posted from John MacArthur is a short excerpt from the end of a long chapter where he expressly deals with the question of how we determine whether and how much a doctrine is essential to Christianity. This excerpt is not his full and final word on the subject of fundamental doctrines. These are closing thoughts in a chapter that answers some of the very questions a couple of commenters have raised.

Some of these questions can be answered fairly briefly:

MacArthur definitely includes the resurrection as one of the biblical essentials of Christianity. Although he didn't mention it among the examples he named in this one short sentence, he certainly was not excluding it.

And Dan, thanks for your lengthy reply. I think practically all the questions you are raising are more or less dealt with in the long chapter that this excerpt was taken from. Some of the issues you are raising were also dealt with in the posts and comments here on this very blog just last week.

In any case, MacArthur is not one of those who "uncritically assumes their own criteria without any defense of it." As I noted last week and at the beginning of today's post, he has written quite a bit to deal with the questions under discussion here. I'm not sure how I could have made it any more clear that in today's post I was excerpting a short section of the conclusion of that discussion and not the heart of it. My intent was to spur people who are interested in following this subject further to look up and read that chapter. I still hope those with lingering questions will do that before deciding, based on the short excerpt I posted, that MacArthur's opinion about what's fundamental is merely a "subjective opinion with a verse glued to it."

For the record, that's hardly his opinion, and it's not at all what I have been pleading for in the past week's posts.

Dave said...

"Nor is it absolutely necessary that we should possess an exact list of the number of fundamental articles. It is incumbent on each of us to labour with the utmost of diligence to obtain an enlargement of saving knowledge, lest, perhaps we should be found ignorant of truths that are necessary . . . [But] to ascertain precisely the number of necessary articles, is not requisite to our spiritual comfort"

Not sure I can agree with this here. If one can obtain assurance of salvation, then how can one possibly be ignorant of exactly what articles are necessary for salvation?

Dan said...

Fair enough! Thanks for your response, Phil! It's been years since I've read Reckless Faith - I must have missed the parts where Macarthur deals with some of the issues I've mentioned (or forgotten!); in any case, thanks again for your reply (I know you're a busy man)!

MTG said...

FOUNDATIONAL DOCTRINES :)

Dan said...

Here's a few quotes from men I respect that I thought would reflect some of the sentiments (Jerry, translate: thoughts, notions, ideas, beliefs, judgments) mentioned in prior posts - fodder for conversation in light of your Macarthur quote, in any case:

"To be sure, fundamentalists within our three traditions are unlikely to join us in this, for it is the way of fundamentalists to follow the path of contentious orthodoxism, as if the mercy of God in Christ automatically rests on the persons who are notionally correct and is just as automatically withheld from those who fall short of notional correctness on any point of substance. But this concept of, in effect, justification, not by works but by words -- words, that is, of notional soundness and precision -- is near to being a cultic heresy in its own right and need not detain us further, however much we may regret the fact that some in all our traditions are bogged down in it."

From J.I. Packer’s “Why I Signed It” in Christianity Today (12/12/94).

"A man may be evidently of God's chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold that there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe in the doctrine of perseverence. We hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any wilful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus."

C.H. Spurgeon, quoted in Iain H. Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle For Gospel Preaching (Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), pp. 111-112]



There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer - I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But far be it from me to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one of whom the world was not worthy. I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see the truths, or at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinists in or out of heaven."

Charles H. Spurgeon, from "A Defense of Calvinism"

Habitans in Sicco said...

David asked, "If one can obtain assurance of salvation, then how can one possibly be ignorant of exactly what articles are necessary for salvation?"

So unless you can make an exhaustive list of essential articles, you can't have assurance at all?

If that were true, it would not be sufficient to believe that a doctrine is true; we would also need to have a thorough understanding of its relative importance.

And being able to enumerate an exact list of essentials would itself then be an essential mark of true Christianity.

I doubt you yourself would defend that view.

If you want to get a feel for the complexity of the issue Witsius is raising, David, you ought to try your own hand at composing a complete list of essential doctrines. I would be curous to see the results.

Ephraim said...

Micah,

Yes, I could have been more detailed and specific about what I was trying to present. But, in the spirit of the "soundbiteology" of this environment, I thought that perhaps these learned folks would simply see the general concept and connect the dots for themselves.

Yes, we behave according to the doctrines we hold to be true. Some more than others, but that is as it has always been.

As to "original faith", my intent in this blog is to promote questions, not try and supply everyone with answers. In fact, when I consider the vast amount of religious and biblical knowledge represented here in this forum, I often wonder if it would be better to just sit and watch, rather than try to occasionally kick the ball.

But, to address your concern regarding "original faith", the reformation and doctrines, let me say this:

I do not believe that the reformation rid the world of erroneous doctrines or the spiritual blindness that caused them. I don't think anyone else blogging here does either. They remain, as does the blindness. The causes for both remain as well. And mankind is not going to change that reality no matter how many well informed and well intentioned conversations or debates take place.

Which brings me to the point I inadequately tried to make previously:

When YHWH begins to bring about a restoration of HIS ways, and we humble ourselves and become obedient to the revelation HE gives, then we will be walking in the "original faith" as was intended from the beginning of this world. Could I define the content of that "original faith"? Yes. But I will not start a book on Phil's blog.

We do have this,

The revelation of the content of the new covenant (B'rit Chadashah)given to the emmisaries (apostles) of Messiah Yeshua is where we start. I hope you did think that I was suggesting otherwise. What I was trying to suggest is that the mixing of the "original faith" with pagan practices over the centuries has caused a spiritual blindness which prevents believers from correctly seeing those doctrines which are the foundation of the "original faith", and that the reformation as we know it did not undo either the mixing or the resulting blindness.

I hope that is clearer than my previous attempt. I am certainly not trying to cause any confusion, just trying to be sensitive to the readers and contributers on this blog.

Shalom

Ephraim said...

"I hope you did think that I was suggesting otherwise."

I meant to say "didn't think"...

one edit per post would be nice

puritanicoal said...

Dan-

Great quotes, especially the Spurgeon quote from "A Defense of Calvinism." It is a quote I refer to often when dealing with my close friends who hold to doctrines different from those held by me, and of whom I have little doubt are headed to Heaven.

And, while I disagree with Packer's entire justification for his ecumenical bent, there is a hint of truth in his assessment of the fundamentalists in their respective camps; a hint of truth of which we must lucidly consider.

Dan said...

Thanks, puritanicoal! My sentiments exactly [we cool on this yet, jerry? ;) ]

Jeremy Weaver said...

After four posts and countless comments, I still don't know. It's almost like thinking about eternity or the Trinity, isn't it?
In the end I'm afraid it will all come down to the nature of the new birth. Are we new creatures who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and leading us into the truth? And then leaving it up to God to be able to preserve His truth.

Dave said...

Habitans in Sicco said...

"So unless you can make an exhaustive list of essential articles, you can't have assurance at all?"

Suppose someone's faith includes doctrines X Y and Z and those articles are necessary for salvation. May he have assurance of saving faith and salvation? Not necessarily. While X, Y, and Z are necessary, that does not mean they are sufficient. So, unless he knows what is sufficient, it does not seem that he would have any objective reason to be assured that he possesses saving faith.

"If that were true, it would not be sufficient to believe that a doctrine is true; we would also need to have a thorough understanding of its relative importance."

That does not seem to follow. Believing something and thoroughly understanding everything related to it are different things. If the Christian gospel says, "Believe X, Y, and Z to be saved", then belief in X, Y, and Z is sufficient as long as the meaning of X, Y, and Z is clear.

"And being able to enumerate an exact list of essentials would itself then be an essential mark of true Christianity."

That would seem to follow logically.

"If you want to get a feel for the complexity of the issue Witsius is raising, David, you ought to try your own hand at composing a complete list of essential doctrines. I would be curous to see the results."

This is a red herring. I am not unaware of the difficulty of the issue. Perhaps, if assurance is possible, it is not so complex. Or perhaps, if it is so complex, assurance is not possible.

Tolle, Blogge said...

Phil: In addition to Turretin's explicit treatment of fundamental doctrines in book 1, you might find his treatment of "postivie and affirming" and "negative and excluding" doctrines in Book 3 p. 65-69. This distinction isn't directly related to the question, but still helpful; he uses the distinction to explain, for example, how salvation could be found in the pre-reformation Roman church despite its corruptions but not in a Socinian Church.

Habitans in Sicco said...

David, if it "follows logically" that the ability to enumerate an exact list of essentials is an essential mark of true Christianity, then it's not a "red herring" to ask a professing Christian to give such a list.

Phil Johnson said...

Good find, Russ. Thanks. I had not encountered that section.

Jerry Wragg said...

Dan -
Thanks for your clarifications. I've not been able to sit down and answer yet, but I should get an opportunity tomorrow.

Oh...and on your use of synonyms, my sentiments exactly!

Dan said...

Right on, Doxoblogist.

GeneMBridges said...

"I was just wondering how the resurrection of Christ was missed here. Shouldn't any list of fundamentals have the resurrection near the top?"

The necessity of believing in the resurrection is meaningful in the context of those who are able to understand the gospel and believe certain doctrines at the time of conversion and then later. E.g. we have to be careful. Sound doctrine itself does not save. A person believes certain doctrines as a result of being regenerated.

A. If it is absolutely necessary for men to believe in certain doctrines to be regenerate, then all the infants and mentally disabled who, by definition, cannot understand these doctrines cannot be regenerated and pass into the next life. From the LBCF2: "Infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit who works when and where and how he pleases. So also are all elect persons regenerated who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word." The WCF 10:3 says basically the same thing.

B. With respect to not understanding the resurrection with clarity, John Frame @ Westminster Seminary, whose opinions carry great weight in the Reformed community, teaches that a person may profess Christ is Lord without knowing the Resurrection is specifically physical, however, he goes on to say that when told in a godly way, they will eventually accept the truth.

In short, to answer the original question, "Yes and No."

No- for infants and those incapable of being outwardly called. The confessions deal with this.

No -for those who profess Christ as Lord, ,with the caveat that, upon learning of the physical resurrection of the Lord, they accept it as truth. This view is predicated on the fact that some people are saved in spite of being under defective teaching. Frame points to those Jewish believers who needed to be informed of the resurrection by apostolic proclamation. If they do not accept the resurrection when told, Frame appears to take this as evidence they are not regenerate.

Yes-for those who hear of the resurrection in correct terms, because "to whom much is given, much is required."

C. I would add that we would do well to distinguish what our various traditions have done in differentiating between a saving profession of faith and a credible profession. Scripture declares certain doctrines are absolutely essential for a saving profession. Our confessions determine what is considered a credible profession. A credible profession of faith is often determined by the individual's affirmation or denial of one or more of a broad range of our confessions: The WCF, LBCF1or2, the BFM, the AoG, the CC, the Heidelberg Cathechism, the 39 Articles, etc.

A Catholic qua Catholic cannot offer me, a Reformed Baptist, a credible profession of faith and enter into my fellowship, because, in their theology, they are saved by faith in Christ, plus the merit of the saints, plus their own congruent merit. This is a divided faith. I personally extend more charity to Catholics that don't buy all the dogmas of their communion than to say, a Catholic apologist, priest, bishop, etc., precisely because they know more false teaching than they disavow, but I can't, in good conscience say they can give me a credible profession or a saving profession except on a case by case basis, because not all Catholic laypersons accept this soteriology. This isn't true of their apologists or their clergy.

Strictly speaking, a saving profession lies between any individual, whether myself, you all, or anybody in our churches, and God. With regard to a saving profession, I would have to give the average Catholic layperson that professes faith in Christ more of a pass than a priest, etc., but, again, God alone is their judge not I. When we are told in Scripture that certain persons were with us but, by their going out, they proved they were not of us, we are told this by men writing under the inspiration of the Spirit of God and apostolic authority, which none of us here possess. The more blatant and persistent they abide in heresy the more likely I am to conclude a person is truly apostate than not if I'm asked or entertain that question in my own heart.

I do not associate with Roman Catholics in broader endeavors based, not on their ability or inability to offer a saving profession of faith, to which God alone is privy, but on the basis of their communion's doctrines, e.g. their ability to give me a credible profession of faith, simply because I do not have the time or desire to interview every Roman Catholic I meet. There is only so much I can do. With respect to their community as a whole, we disagree over the fundamental nature of the gospel. If we can't agree on that much, on what basis can we work together effectively without one or both of us compromising our obligation to contend for sound doctrine and, especially, evangelism itself? Likewise, I teach that the gospel of Rome does not save, but I reserve the determination of a Catholic's saving profession to the Lord, because only he knows exactly which Roman Catholics disavow certain doctrines privately and those who do not disavow them. They cannot, on the basis of the confession of my local church enter into fellowship as a member of my church, but that's equally true of paedobaptists, as I'm in a Baptist church. On the other hand, I could feasibly join a Presbyterian church and disavow paedobaptism, but I could not serve in a leadership capacity. That's just the nature of the way we choose our distinctives across Protestant denominations. The difference between the Catholic and the Presbyterian who wishes to join us is soteriological with respect to the Catholic and sacramental with respect to the paedobaptist. The former is more essential/fundamental a difference than the latter.

Oneness Pentecostals present a similar problem. Is the Trinity absolutely essential? Well, honestly, do we really require every believer to understand the Trinity to be converted? No. Do we have a reasonable expectation that they will come to believe it over time, even if they don't understand it? Yes, for the same reason Frame argues that those who profess Christ yet are under defective teaching should, when they are told in a godly way about the physical resurrection of the Lord, accept it as truth.

However, as I do with Roman Catholics, I do not extend this same courtesy to Oneness clergy, precisely because, like their Catholic counterparts, they know what the sound doctrine actually is, yet they actively rail against it. I also think rank modalism denies the atonement, because, w/o a distinct Father's distinct wrath to be satisfied by a distinct Son, there is no real propitiation for sin, and I have fought apologetic battles in my own city of residence over this issue because of that.

Oneness theology also includes baptism via a certain formula and speaking in tongues as soteriological articles, mixing faith and works. How many Oneness folks actually adhere to this, in my experience, varies. There are those that rail against sola fide and others that hold to sola fide and secretly repudiate the rest (more often than not they do not). Thus, these folks are also on the "sliding scale" with respect to both a saving and a credible profession. If I go by their community as a whole and its confession, I must say "No" to them. If I interview each and every one of them, that would probably vary here and there, though, in my experience, this is very rare. I would have the real expectation that, at a minimum, they would need to repudiate modalism after being exposed to the correct doctrine. If they did not, I am more likely to think they are unregenerate, though I would hope to be surprised in the hereafter.

Then there are the Disciples of Christ and similar communions that teach credobaptismal regeneration. If we disavow them over sola fide, then we may cut off some folks in the Patristic age, so the line becomes even more fuzzy, yet if we extend charity to them, are we then declaring that the Trinity, not their views on baptism, constitute the differential with respect to the Oneness folks?

Then we have the Word of Faith crowd. Again, I'm more willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to the rank and file average member than I am to the Crouches or Benny Hinn. The more the person knows about his peculiar doctrines vs. sound doctrine, the less charity I extend to them with respect to fellowship. If they blatantly teach heresy (Hinn's 17 Trinities and the pseudo-Mormonism of Copeland for example), I'm far less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt than I am the average Word of Faith church member, especially those like a teenager I know from the boards @ carm.org who says, "I know there are major problems in my church, but I live in a predominantly Muslim country in SE Asia, not America, and my parents don't want to leave." (True story)

Arminians as a whole are different animal, because this difference is a bit broader and less particular. Some may argue that their faith is divided like Catholics. This does seem implicit in their soteriology, particularly if they affirm that our faith is the content of the righteousness imputed to us in Christ. However, in practice that's not the case. Their faith is in Christ, not themselves. I don't hear Arminians saying, "I saved myself." My problem with them is their inconsistency. They say they disavow self-salvation, but their doctrines point to them believing they are elect based on their faith, not God's providence and Christ's righteousness. They seem to believe one thing, while the logical end of their soteriology leads in the opposite direction.

While I think, as a Calvinist, that such thinking ultimately reduces to a belief that one's own faith saves you and not Christ, I also think that the average Arminian that believes this has not actually thought through their doctrine very well and they are slaves to tradition when it comes to their exegesis. Yet, this can be said of many Reformed folks too, because the average Christian, over one thing or another, has, at one time or another, reverted to fideism of some sort, and, in reality, that's where many of us begin anyway. Ideally, that should diminish over time.

I will say that the irony of Arminianism in my opinion, is that, unlike traditional Calvinists, the Arminians, in their teaching that Christ died for everybody's sins and their appeal to the hearer that they should believe Jesus died for all people and thus for them individually, the Arminians end up, in practice itself, adding to the content of saving faith a belief in a particular doctrine of the atonement, e.g. general atonement, just like certain hyper-Calvinists who say one must believe in particular atonement or one is not a true believer. Arminians will deny this when discussing particular atonement by saying that Calvinists are Christians, even though we deny their doctrine, but that's just Arminianism; it's a mixed bag.

The issue here is simply that my profession of faith to the Lord and my explanation of it are conceptually different, as long as my faith in Christ is certainly undivided. On this basis, Arminians must get a pass.

D. So, in terms of defining these issues, I think one of the best places for us to start, besides Scripture is our confessions. What do our historic confessions and creeds say and how far are those congruent with Scripture with regard to these issues? Are the fundamentals going to be those things that Scripture teaches constitute a saving profession alone, or should they include those things that our confessions would say constitute a credible profession, or is there a compromise position that shifts slightly as the need arises? After all, the Apostle's Creed developed as a baptismal formula. The Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creeds addressed certain heresies. These things arose as the needs arose, and thus our theology/sound doctrine was articulated with greater clarity over time.

There was a day when, for example, modalism was hardly ever heard of in our circles. Now, with Phillips, Craig, and Dean on almost every Christian radio station and T. D. Jakes making sure he's seen with President Bush on the cable news networks and speaking on the Day of Prayer for Katrina, and sharing the stage for certain events with prominent Southern Baptist pastors like Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church (who should know better) in recent years, modalistic teachers are gaining visibility and, unfortunately, credibility, which is exactly what they want. Some of us are giving modalism our implicit endorsement, like Brother Jack. Should we draw the line there? Should we extend it further?

I have my own ideas about these questions, and I have argued many times that modalism is not acceptable and I do include Trinitarianism on the list of essentials, not because it is necessary for a saving profession, but because I believe that persons can be saved under defective teaching, but, if their conversion was true, they will persevere in faith and increase in understanding and accept certain doctrines as true, viz. the resurrection and the Trinity as I've discussed. It is better to err on the side of sound doctrine than to err on the side of error any day.

The pattern I personally think we need to follow in our way of dealing with this question is similar to the pattern of past generations. The creeds developed to address the needs of their days. The Protestant confessions developed to rebut the anathemas of Rome and catechize believers. The Chicago Statement developed as a response to attacks on the veracity and inerrancy of Scripture. Are these perfect? No, they aren't. The Trinity and Incarnation are largely a mystery, thus there are limits to what the creeds and subsequent confessions can articulate, though we do our best to adhere strictly to Scripture in articulating these doctrines. The Chicago Statement seems to equivocate on terms here and there in its own text, so it's not perfect either. I disagree with infant baptism, but a paedobaptist will disagree with me over credobaptism, but only one of us can be correct.

My point, however, is that the doctrine of God's providence includes the belief that the Spirit of God does lead God's people into truth to this very day, but it does not guarantee that all Christians will always agree. Scripture teaches that it is via disagreements that God often makes correct truth known.(I Corinthians 11:18-19). If Voltaire didn't exist, we'd have to invent him.

It took a few hundred years, but He gave us a clear statement of the canon of Scripture in a declaration, surely He continues to lead us today. Very often tthe asking of questions like the ones Phil is addressing about essential issues precipitated those confessions and creeds. Thus, today's controversies are not entirely unuseful or unwelcome.

Likewise, it would be very helpful if we all did a better job of teaching through the confessions of our respective communions or local churches. It's amazing how many of these questions can be resolved through simply leading a congregation through a study a historic confession like the LCBF, the WCF, or the BFM, comparing them with Scripture and testing them accordingly against sound exegesis.

Sometimes I think the Lord even gave specific churches specific duties by the age in which they were most prominent. To the Apostolic Age, He gave the task of laying the foundation. To the Patristics (particularly the Easterns) was given the official recognition and declaration of the canon and the great ecumenical creeds, including the Trinity and core Christology. The Latin churches, despite many defects, largely worked out much of the anthropology of the Church, particularly the Augustinians. I would say that the Reformed communions were given the task of defining soteriology. I'm prone to think that the Baptist churches were given the task of delineating the sacraments and, if pressed, I'd say the Presbyterians or the Baptists have their general church polity right; each system has its tradeoffs. One is litigious and slow to act through its courts, but it is harder to promote heresy. The other is faster to act, but it is easier to promote heresy. Some would say the Puritans and early Methodists were given the task of defining ethics. Some today would say, to the consternation of others, that the Charismatics were given the task of working on pneumatology. Some have been more successful at these tasks than others, but perhaps today we need to come together again to put all of these elements together to form a coherent structure.

It might mean we need a broad confession that delinates those doctrines upon which we all agree with accompanying articles explaining them with great precision and clarity, viz. Christology, Theology Proper, the doctrine of Scripture.

It may also mean that representatives from some communions separate on certain doctrines. For example, rather than presenting a unified soteriological system, viz. Calvinism or Arminianism, the two strands would bifurcate the articles on soteriology with precise articulations of each, with accompanying explanations of why there is disagreement and the reason they are included in the one confession and why the two groups, while recognizing their soteriologies are largely not reconcilable, stands with the other in preaching the gospel itself. The same could be said of the differences between credobaptists and paedobaptists, and so on.

I think the big elephant in the room that we all dance around when such a thing is suggested has to do with those like the modalists, the New Perspectivists / hypersacramentalists, Open Theists and others. Would they demand representation and seek to undermine any confession produced without their input? Would they even show up at such a Council? Would every denomination demand their own unique take be accounted for in the document? Would it even be worth it, given that we've all seen so many adopt a confession only to disavow it in practice later? Some folks have an aversion to confessions anyway, and Church Councils make us look "Roman Catholic," in that they smack of creedalism and believing doctrine because the Council decrees it, not because Scripture declares it. (Never mind we conservatives in the SBC didn't seem to think that when we adopted the new BFM anyway). These are all questions worth asking. The end result could be a disaster. On the other hand, it could be a great blessing.

Phil Johnson said...

Gene: That's good stuff. Thanks.

Micah said...

Ephiram: "...I thought that perhaps these learned folks would simply see the general concept..."

You've come off seemingly advocating some gnostic-ish concept of doctrine-less "original faith"... in this day-and-age of sound-bite theology, it even more important to make one's statements clear. (Though that rarely happens!)

"...my intent in this blog is to promote questions, not try and supply everyone with answers."

That seems contrary to your previous post, you make unfounded assertions using unclear language and now claim you were asking questions. Even in your reply there's still barely any actual statements to investigate

"I do not believe that the reformation rid the world of erroneous doctrines or the spiritual blindness ... They remain, as does the blindness."

So what "spiritual blindess" is it you believe our Blogger has.. and what is this "original faith" that can undo it? The purpose of the Reformation was not to "rid the world of erroneous doctrines" rather to Reform the catholic church from the error established by the papacy and the promotion of Pelagian heresy.

"Could I define the content of that "original faith"? Yes. But I will not start a book on Phil's blog."

Without definition then, your claim that "original faith" is a "good place to start" for some supposed 'restoration' is devoid of meaning.

"The revelation of the content of the new covenant (B'rit Chadashah)given to the emmisaries (apostles) of Messiah Yeshua is where we start. I hope you did think that I was suggesting otherwise."
Your intent was unclear, since your "original faith" is unclear. You seemed to be advocating a doctrine-less faith. Now that we've got some idea what you're talking about, perhaps you might elborate on which doctrines the Reformers had wrong specifically?

"...the mixing of the "original faith" with pagan practices ... has caused a spiritual blindness which prevents believers from correctly seeing those doctrines which are the foundation of the "original faith", and that the reformation as we know it did not undo either the mixing or the resulting blindness"

I see, but somehow you're in possesion of those doctrines? ;-)
Please elaborate. Be "sensitive" to the readers of this blog by actually defining what you're saying.

Micah

Micah said...

Gene/Phil:

Would it be wrong then to summarize that the "LCD" for salvation is that which the Spirit of God has graciously revealed to the individual?

Micah

Andrew said...

john's list does not include premillenialism - one of the original 5 marks of fundamentalism from Princeton in the 1920's.

Do you think John is opening the door for some flexibility in fundamentalist eschatology, or is that issue already open to various interpretations without the accusation of aligning with liberals?

ambiance-five said...

Well I don't know aout the book this post is about but I have been reading "The Gospel According To Jesus"

In it MacArthur explains the Lordship principal and we shouldn't accept any preaching without it and yet he admits there was a point on a plane the he himself preached such a gospel.

Does that mean MacArthur was a heretic at the time, or does it just mean he was a little ignorant on the plane?

Does it mean he wasn't saved when he preached a shallow gospel?

Dan said...

Gene,

Thoughtful and searching words. I I think you're on to something, especially with your ackonwledgement of the objectivity and primacy of regeneration, your favorable evaluation of Frame's contribution to the discussion, and your acknowledgement that Christ, not proper forumlations, save.

Ephraim said...

Micah,

"I see, but somehow you're in possesion of those doctrines? ;-)
Please elaborate. Be "sensitive" to the readers of this blog by actually defining what you're saying."

"Would it be wrong then to summarize that the "LCD" for salvation is that which the Spirit of God has graciously revealed to the individual?"

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Care to elaborate on just what the Spirit of God has revealed to the individual?

Sha'ul delivered "traditions" to the believers in both oral and written form. Those who subscribe to Sola Scriptura believe that there wasn't anything said by Sha'ul to anyone that was not written down somewhere. By subscribing to this belief, the very unsettling idea that there are truths to which we may not be privy, is handled in a manner that will satisfy many who search for those truths.

But that only provides for an end to the seeking, and at the same time that position also provides for endless hours of debate against equally polarized positions. It does not answer the questions. At least not for me.

And I actually would be quite happy, thrilled really, to elaborate at great length those things upon which I rest my trust. And should that opportunity happen to appear here on this blog, so be it. If not, then I will occasionally add my 2 cents worth and hopefully someone may wonder, ask, seek and find something that will add to their faith and increase their fruit.

Rest assured that I quite often find ideas, beliefs, insights and such from the brothers and sisters who contribute here. They add to my faith. They challenge me and cause me to ask questions about the very things I assert. I believe that is a good exchange. If I can do the same for them, then we are built up together in our common faith.

So, in answer to your question, no I will not elaborate at this time on those things to which I currently subscribe as essential to my trusting in Messiah Yeshua.

As for what the reformation did or did not do, many religious historians have addressed that subject in great detail. Few of them agree. I am simply looking at the results. Which are called doctrines. Which define practices. Which establish traditions. Which can be examined by scripture. All scripture. Including Hadassah.

You want excrutiating detail? Stop by Triablogue. Always something to learn there.

Shalom Micah
Shalom Phil
Shalom B'nai Noach
Shalom B'nai Yisrael

Dave said...

Habitans in Sicco said...

"David, if it 'follows logically' that the ability to enumerate an exact list of essentials is an essential mark of true Christianity, then it's not a "red herring" to ask a professing Christian to give such a list."

Hello again. Just a few points to make. First, I should make it clear that I am not a Christian, but an ex-Christian. I hope that I have not misstepped in posting here. I am quite interested in Christian theology and assumed that it would be okay for a non-Christian to post since there are no express prohibitions.

Second, I would like to retract my initial agreement that it follows logically (that the ability to list essential truths is an essential mark of being a Christian.) I imagine that one may believe all those essentials without knowing which is an essential. Nevertheless, this would seem to be a mark of genuine understanding of the gospel message within this theological perspective.

Third and last, from an argumentative standpoint it is a red herring to request such a list since the ability or inability to do so does not undermine the argument.

If I have violated rules that I may have overlooked in posting here, I apologize. So, in case I am banned...

...peace to you.

David

Phil Johnson said...

Sorry, Andrew; I meant to reply to your comment when I had time but then neglected to do it.

One of my criticisms of the early fundamentalists is that they didn't do enough diligent thinking about which doctrines are truly fundamental and which ones are merely important yet not of the essence of Christianity itself.

Still, I doubt many (if any) of the early fundamentalists--especially those from Princeton--really would have insisted that premillennialism is fundamental in that sense. Premillennialism even to this day is not usually listed in anyone's short-list of fundamental issues.

(I know there are premillers who hold that view, but they usually define "fundamental" differently from the norm.)

Anyway, the answer to your question is that although MacArthur is committed to premillennialism, he would would not regard premillism as a cardinal doctrine, and he never has. (He discusses that issue in the opening section of his book on the Second Coming.) So, yes, the omission of that item from his list was deliberate, but it doesn't really reflect any change in his thinking.

John MacArthur has often participated in ministry with amillennialists or postmillennialists. Some prominent ones would include R. C. Sproul, Iain Murray, Sinclair Ferguson, and many others.

Andrew said...

thanks phil

it was more of a general question for everyone rather than directly at you.

i did a little research and it seems to me the the east coasters had the bodily return of Christ as one of their 5 essentials from before the turn of the century and that point got upgraded to premillenial status in the early 1900's.

The west coasters, in publishing The Fundamentals (1910-1915 - yeah biola) did not seem to push it as much and it seems that the number 5 spot was given over to the fact of the miraculous/supernatural revelation.

not a criticism - just trying to get my history right and see where John M. is coming from. And how fundamentalism has changed from my early years in it.