On Misunderstanding Dead Theologians

Just having seen this argument surface yet again on this blog, I thought I’d address it. The claim is sometimes made that one cannot properly understand or represent another theologian unless personal contact is made with that theologian to see if one is correctly representing their theology. If this is the case, we need to throw out all our textbooks of dead theologians, because there is no way that we can understand them. There is no way to contact them. We cannot possibly understand them, because we do not have access to their up-to-the-minute-yet-changeable-and-flighty-current-thoughts. To engage in church history is impossible. Heaven forbid we should think of words on paper as having any kind of stable meaning, maybe even (shocker!) more stable, more accurate, than personal conversation with someone else. Hmm.

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On the Relationship of Truth and Love

There are many folks out there who believe that unity is the fundamental responsibility of the church today. The basis for this is usually 1 John 4:8, 16, which verses declare that God is love. It is often argued that these verses in particular are some of the very few to make such a close identification of an attribute of God with the very essence of God. Aside from the problematic theology this entails (i.e., that of separating the other attributes of God from the essence of God), it is also misleading.

1 John 1:5 (HCSB) says this: “Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” The very same letter that declares that God is love also declares that God is light. What does John mean by this? He goes on to explain that light equals truth, and darkness equals lying (verse 6). And then comes the capstone, verse 7: “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The unity, fellowship, and love which believers are to have (for we do not deny that God is love, and that Christians must imitate that love in a creaturely, redeemed manner) must be a fellowship in the light, in the truth.

Many folks out there have a truncated view of Christian unity, which is that all must be in uniformity, and that all arguments concerning doctrine are inherently unloving. But if our fellowship and unity must be centered on the truth, this objection loses all force. The Bible says explicitly that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed.

This has particular force in the case of confessional denominations like the PCA. We have agreed to be a confessional denomination. If someone thinks that the PCA should not be a confessional denomination, then they are not agreed with those who think that we should be a confessional denomination. Therefore, they cannot walk together. The disagreement here has to do with how narrow the boundary should be for strict fellowship. Surely we can agree that all true Christians have a basic fellowship regardless of what denomination they inhabit. However, the differences among various Christian groups are of sufficient magnitude that worshiping apart for the sake of unity is necessary to the health of the church.

Those in the PCA who think that the Nicene Creed should be the only creed of the church, or should be a creed within a creed should not belong to the PCA. There are plenty of other denominations to which they can belong and be more than comfortable. The PCA has agreed that the Westminster Standards ARE our confession of faith, and that they DO summarize Scripture accurately. Why people who disagree with this still want to stay within the PCA is beyond my ability to comprehend. Do they seriously think that they are promoting unity within the church at large, by disagreeing with the confession so much, bringing strife to our denomination? No, instead, they hang on, seeking to discredit and attack those who think that the confession is is our confession of faith. I can only say that we haven’t moved from our doctrinal commitments on this. Others have, in which case they should leave.