I found the critique somewhat irritating, quite frankly. It showed little theological nuance, despite its accusations of the report lacking nuance. It also showed a tendency to press “nuance” when in fact the FV was engaged in doublespeak. That is why I have entitled this post “Nuance or Contradiction?” My impressions also are that the critique was filled with ironies, in that they were doing to the report the very thing of which they accused the report of doing. There are nuances in the report, often on the very issue that the critique said needed nuance!
Methodologically, the critique is faulty in that they do not acknowledge contradictory viewpoints among FV authors, and also contradictory statements among an individual FV author’s own writings. When the report quotes an FV author as saying X, the critique says, “But look, this FV author said Y over there, which seems to contradict X.” The consistent methodology of the critique is to assume that the FV is generally consistent. Therefore, the appearance of contradictory statements among the FV authors can only be explained as “nuance” by the critique, never as contradiction. This is a serious flaw of the critique, and betrays the self-expressed limitation that it is not an interaction with the wide range of FV literature out there. If the writers of the critique had been as familiar with the FV literature as the writers of the report obviously are, this problem would have been significantly alleviated.
To go into a bit more detail at this point would be helpful. The critique says that the report “misrepresents the FV men by over-simplifying their positions, by ignoring the nuances and qualifications offered by the FV men in their writings, and by failing to acknowledge and wrestle with the more orthodox statements that have been offered by the FV” (p. 2). In fleshing this three-fold point out further, the critique says the report has been uncharitable in reading the potentially problematic statements of the FV “in the worst light possible” (p. 2). In reply, one could say that of anyone whose teaching was outside the boundaries: if one read Arius’s theology in the best light possible, as many tried to do in the history of the church, then Arianism would have won the day. Arius was part of the church at the time, too. Was he treated fairly? Were the Remonstrants treated fairly by the Synod of Dordt? The problem here is a lack of nuance on the part of the critique: there is a line between genuinely helpful charitable readings of someone’s theology versus excusing flat-out wrong statements that cannot be nuanced away. Then, in a sort of appropriation of biblical hermeneutic, the critique says that the report should have read the less clear statements in the light of the clearer, more orthodox statements. I would ask this question: do more orthodox statements excuse less orthodox statements? I find this to be a puzzling critique, since no human author has the right to be read this way. Furthermore, it is the author’s responsibility to ensure that no possible misunderstanding can result from his work. He has to work hard to exclude every possible misinterpretation of his writings. It is hardly the normally intelligent reader’s fault (and one would certainly wish to be charitable to folks like Michael Horton and Cornelis Venema by calling them “intelligent readers”) if the author is unclear. And yes, lack of clarity can most certainly be contrary to the confession.
The critique also posits that two interactions with the Joint FV Statement are not sufficient. This critique does not take into account the fact that the vast majority of the report deals with the proper, orthodox understanding of these doctrines from a confessional viewpoint. There are very few resources quoted more than twice, and the ones that are should be. The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons book remains the very best original source collection in this whole debate. I wonder that the critique even included this as a critique, since it significantly takes away from the point that it is trying to make (which has to do with misrepresentation). After all, if the folks writing this critique have not done the original source work, why do they have the right to critique the report for not interacting with a particular source enough?
I will deal with the specific critiques in a series of posts to come.