Duns Scotus on the Nature of Scripture

Duns Scotus occupies an important place in the history of the doctrine of Scripture. Muller says:

Duns Scotus must be credited with the development of a clearly defined doctrine of Scripture, the basic divisions and arguments of which provided a structural and doctrinal foundation for the arguments of later theologians, including the Protestant orthodox. Scotus assumed that knowledge of the heavenly goal and of the means necessary to its attainment was beyond the grasp of the viator(pilgrim, literally, “someone on the way” LK) in his natural condition. Natural reason could not attain to saving truth. Revelation is, therefore, necessary. Scotus located these truths of revelation in Scripture and in the tradition grounded upon Scripture and the apostolic faith (p. 47).

The question that Scotus wanted to answer was whether nature was perfect or not, and therefore whether revelation was necessary or not. He came to the conclusion that nature was not perfect (p. 48).

What follows then is a discussion of the material sufficiency of Scripture in the theology of Scotus. His words are: “sacra scriptura sufficienter continet doctrinam necessariam viatori,” from Ordinatio, prol., q. 2, n. 14, quoted by Muller, p. 50. This is translated as follows: “Sacred Scripture sufficiently contains the necessary doctrine for pilgrims.”

Muller does not address whether Scotus held to a formal sufficiency (that Scripture is clear on all essential doctrinal points). The evidence is ambiguous as to the exact place that tradition and church had. On the one hand, he clearly believed that all necessary doctrine for pilgrims is contained in scripture. On the other hand, he did not view “Scripture as sufficiently clear to be interpreted apart from the church’s tradition” (p. 50). Furthermore, he did not believe that Scripture was the sole norm of doctrine. Beside the authority of Scripture stands the authentic Fathers and the Church of Rome. What is not clear here is whether he viewed the authority of the fathers and the church to be equal to that of Scripture, or whether he viewed them as subordinate but nevertheless important. Given that he held that the substance of the faith comes equally from Scripture and church, he would probably lean in the Romanist direction. The Protestant orthodox would later agree with his position on the material sufficiency of Scripture, while disagreeing with his position on tradition and the church.

The Federal Vision and the URC 2010 Synod

-Posted by David Gadbois

The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) will be holding their synod meeting July 26th-30th.  The synod is roughly equivalent to a general assembly in presbyterian terms, although for us it is not an annual meeting.  The last synod was in 2007, when a study committee was formed to study the Federal Vision theology.  The committee was comprised of 12 URC ministers, a group that included Michael Horton and Cornelis Venema.  The Final Report from the committee can be found here, and is a useful resource as a critique of Federal Vision theology (focused mainly on its doctrine of justification) from the standpoint of the Three Forms of Unity and churches descended from the Continental Reformed tradition.  The Report recommends that Synod 2010 “affirm the following [15 points] of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity, and encourage all office-bearers to repudiate FV teachings where they are not in harmony with them” and that Synod “distribute this report to all the consistories of the URCNA, commending the report to them for study.”

In fairness, I should mention that URC Nampa has published a critical interaction with the Report, which does not defend the orthodoxy of FV, but rather contends that “the committee’s Report has not sufficiently described and wrestled with the views of the FV. There are far too many instances of over-simplification, far too many places where the more orthodox statements of the FV men are largely ignored, far too many areas in which the imprecise language of the Report seems to be condemning pastoral emphases that have long been accepted in Reformed churches.”

I do not think that the authors of this critique have considered that Federal Visionists often engage in double-speak, redefinition of key terms, and pour unorthodox meaning into language that we would normally identify as orthodox.  It should be no surprise that one can find “more orthodox statements of FV men”, and it is completely appropriate that the Report would omit them for the sake of brevity.  In an important sense, such statements are not relevant because they are not distinctives of the Federal Vision theology.  The error lies in the distinctives.  Is this not always the case with theological error?

I notice, too, that this critique relies heavily on quotes from Douglas Wilson in order to prove its case, who is acknowledged by all sides as the more “user-friendly” Federal Visionist.  This only proves that FV is not monolithic, a fact that the Report does not contradict.  Again, it is entirely appropriate that the Report sift out the most problematic elements of Federal Vision theology, as espoused by its various proponents.   Given that none of these men have repented or retracted the statements and quotes provided, nor have any proponents even tried to meaningfully distance themselves from them, these errors can and should be used against the Federal Vision, considered as a movement and a distinctive system of theology.  The critique mentions that the Joint Federal Vision Statement is not referenced often enough.  This is a minor defect, it can be admitted.  But does anyone seriously doubt that Reformed Is Not Enough, The Auburn Avenue Theology:  Pros and Cons, and The Federal Vision, the works cited most frequently by the Report, do not constitute definitive and representative works of the Federal Vision?  The Report is not a survey of the teachings of individuals, but rather is intended to document and refute the various (most important and dangerous) strains of error present within the movement.  A Report such as this is an ecclesiastical report on a theological movement, not an academic paper nor even an examination of an individual minister for a discipline case.  It is not appropriate for it to be overly-academic in character, exhaustive, burdensome in length, nor concern itself with every nuance of the various Federal Vision proponents’ teaching.

OK, You’re Not Monocovenantal, You’re…Uhhh….Errr….

Posted by Wes White

Well, there’s no one quite like James Jordan. He’s come up with a post rebuking those who have called the FV “monocovenantal.” He does so by accusing most of the men on the committees who’ve looked at FV in the NAPARC denominations of being “evil men”:

How do you answer such evil men? They cannot find that you’ve ever written XYZ, and they cannot find that you’ve ever said XYZ, but they accuse you of it anyway. When you say you don’t believe XYZ, they call you a liar. I wish I were wrong about this, but it seems that these are the kind of men who staff the theological committees of pretty much all the “conservative” “Reformed” denominations these days. There is no charity, no benefit of the doubt, not even a phone call. The attitude is pretty clear; as Luther put it: They proudly say, “Now, where is he That shall our speech forbid us? By right or might we shall prevail; What we determine cannot fail; We own no lord and master!” (Luther, Psalm 12).

He goes on to say that they do believe in bi-covenantal structure. Here’s what he says:

The human race was created in covenant fellowship with God, but in a child form of that relationship. Human beings were under “law” administered by angels until they grew up. When the human race was ready, God entered into a new covenant, an adult covenant with humanity. The first covenant was in Adam and in the human beings that came from him, including Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born into the first covenant, and then through death and resurrection brought the new covenant, the covenant of maturity or glory. So, there are two overall covenants.

But, then, he goes on to say that there are eight covenants. He writes:

Beyond this, each of these eight covenants has an initial and then a full form. The Adamic covenant is “not good” until Adam has gone through a kind of death-sleep and then been glorified with a bride; then the covenant is “very good.” Similarly, the Sinaitic covenant has a first phase, in which the Ten Words are written on stone and in which the bride is merely part of the husband’s house in the Tenth Word; and then after the death and resurrection of Israel in the wilderness comes the full phase of the Sinaitic covenant, in which the Ten Words are now put in flesh through the voice of Moses and in which the bride is elevated in the Tenth Word to co-rule with her husband over the house. The same kind of move from initial to full form can be seen in each of the covenant administrations, once it is recognized that the “bride” is the community. Hence, again, the Prophetic covenant starts with Elijah as soloist, but after his departure, Elisha is seen always in community.

You can read the full post here.

Posted by Wes White

Whitaker on the Canon, Part 2

Chapter 3 of the first question is a recounting of ancient heresies that rejected parts of the Bible that neither Catholic nor Protestant reject today. I will make only one brief comment on this chapter before moving on to the substance of Whitaker’s arguments against the Apocryphal books. There are modern heresies that deny parts of the canon. One might think of Dan Brown and his attack on the entirety of Christendom through his revisionist historical readings of the New Testament, and his preferring of the Gospel of Thomas. One might think of the Mormons, who use only part of Scripture, but not all of it. It is useful, therefore, to read this chapter, if only to get a feel for how these kinds of heresies operate.

Moving on to chapter 4, then. Whitaker summarizes his opponents’ argument in this manner:

Our adversaries have but one argument in behalf of these books, which is derived from the authority of certain councils and fathers. They allege, in the first place, the third council of Carthage, (in which Augustine himself bore a part,) can. 47, wherein all these books are counted canonical. Should any one object, that this council was only provincial, not general, and that its judgment is, therefore, of less consequence; our antagonists proceed to shew, that this council was confirmed by pope Leo IV (Dist. 20. C. de libellis), and also in the sixth general council held at Constantinople, which is called Trullan, can. 2…Besides, they adduce the council of Florence under Eugenius IV. (in Epistol. ad Armenos), that of Trent under Paul III (sess. 4), and pope Gelasius with a council of seventy bishops. Of fathers, they cite Innocent I., who was also a pope, in his third Epistle to Exuperius of Tholouse; Augustine, Lib II. c. 8. De Doctrina Christiana; Isidore of Seville, Etymolog., Lib. VI. c. I. So that the argument of our opponents runs thus: these councils and these fathers affirm these books to belong to the sacred canon; therefore, these books are canonical (p. 39).

Whitaker rejects the evidence of the councils of Florence and the council of Trent on the basis of their late date (p. 40). That Trent was not a general council is proven by the fact that all who were in attendance made about 50, almost all of them Italians and Spaniards, hardly a general council of all bishops throughout Christendom.

The council of Carthage, says Whitaker, was merely provincial, despite Catholic objections. He says it was composed of only a few bishops. Furthermore, canon 26 of that council says the following: the bishop of the chief see shall not be called high priest, or chief of the priests, or by any such title (aut ejusmodi aliquid). Whitaker argues that these kinds of titles are exactly what the Roman Catholic church claims for the pope, and that therefore, if part of this council be rejected, then the rest of the council cannot have the kind of authority required. Further, if the Trullan council approved the Carthaginian council, then it approved all of the Carthaginian council, and therefore such titles cannot be given to the pope. Whitaker acknowledges that the Trullan synod was fully ecumenical. He argues that it proves too much. Furthermore, there are things in the Trullan council that the Romanists cannot accept, either. For instance, in canon 36, the see of Constantinople is equal to that of Rome (and by extension, the bishop of Constantinople is equal to the bishop of Rome). Canon 13 forbids the current Roman practice of forbidding wives to priests. Whitaker notes that several Romanists rejected Trullo, such as Pighius and Melchior Cano (p. 41). Therefore, Trullo cannot be used to legitimate Carthage. We will get to the other evidences in a later post.

Amos As Preacher, Contrasted With Modern Social “Preaching”

I found Old’s discussion of Amos as preacher to be very engaging and helpful, especially as it focused on a book that we do not study very much, although it is a book that has undergone exceedingly extensive analysis since the 1960’s (60 commentaries have been written on this book in just the three decades of the 1960’s-1980’s).

Amos is generally regarded as the first of the writing prophets, the first whose words are recorded in literary form (p. 47). Old notes that “For the prophets, the word that they preached was as much the Word of God as the word that Moses preached.” In Amos’ case, it is clear from the opening words, wherein the prophecy is introduced as “the words of Amos,” but then immediately go on to say “The Lord roars from Zion” (p. 48).

Amos was not the “bubba” type sheep-herder that many have thought he was. Instead, the evidence of his own writing points to someone who was sophisticated, cultured, and wise (pp. 48-49). Maybe he was one of the elders in the gate (49). He could express himself clearly and with power, indicating some measure of practice with public speaking. And some of the book that bears his name records for us his public speaking, which can be labeled sermons.

Incidentally, we are treated to a helpful distinction between the Law and the Prophets, when Old writes, “The Law, the Decalogue, was understood as the Word of God in the most direct sense, too, but the Law, or at least the Decalogue, was apodictic. It applied to any place or time; regular pronouncement of it was sufficient. The prophetic oracle generally was understood to be the Word of God in every bit as direct a way, but it was sharpened and pointed to be shot like an arrow into a particular situation” (p. 49).

Another incidental discussion Old gives us is on the nature of the Word of God as preached, which, as the Reformers all stated, IS the Word of God. Muller has a very helpful distinction that helps us here (pp. 204-205 of volue 2 of PRRD) of immediate and mediate Word of God. What comes from God’s own mouth is immediate, and what comes from the preacher’s mouth is mediate. Nevertheless, both are said to be the Word of God (inasmuch as the preacher’s words agree with the text, of course).

Old notes that the targets of Amos’s preaching in the cows of Bashan has direct relevance to pampered women today (which is, of course, only one subset of all women), who tend enjoy the cosmetic luxuries of the culture, but care nothing for justice and righteousness. Amos’s thundering against them could very easily be applied to today’s Hollywood women.

Amos warns against syncretistic (read here “postmodern, inclusivistic, ecumenical”) worship in chapter 4. Old makes the very interesting observation that Amos 5-6 is a literary dirge for the whole Northern Kingdom, which at that time was prospering and well (p. 55)!

To close, Old has some choice comments for so-called “social” preachers, in his contrast to Amos:

In the strictest sense of the word, the Church has neither prophets nor apostles today; the canon of Scripture is closed. In a larger sense, however, both the word “prophet” and the word “apostle” are used today. Surely today’s ministers are called to be prophets as well as apostles, and surely the Church of today, as always, needs prophetic preachers. During the last half of the twentieth century, Americans have heard plenty of preaching that claims to be prophetic. We have had a whole generation of amateur social critics in our pulpits who thought they were following the example of Amos by denouncing everything from the Vietnam War to smoking marijuana. By a sort of typology they imagined that President Johnson or President Nixon, or President Reagan or President Clinton, was the contemporary Jeroboam. Few of these sermons even came close to those of Amos. Their social criticism may or may not have been justified, but that is not the point. The problem was that they imagined that one line of social criticism or another was the Word of God for our time. They used the prophets to justify some economic program or social ideology and thought they had done their job (pp. 58-59).

Some Great Resources On Scripture

I have already mentioned Whitaker, Muller, and Warfield. I recently called up Rev. David T. King (he’s been graciously commenting on my blog under the name D.T. King), in order to find out more about his volumes, and also what he would recommend for me to read. He is an OPC pastor in Elkton, MD. I just received his books in the mail today, and to say that I am impressed would be an understatement. I would highly recommend these volumes as the finest modern Protestant treatment of the subject. Volume 1 is a biblical argument for Sola Scriptura. Volume 2 is an historical argument for Sola Scriptura. Volume 3 is a catena of quotations from the early church fathers supporting Sola Scriptura. The importance of this set is in its response to modern Roman Catholic apologists on the issue of Scripture (especially the material and formal principles of Sola Scriptura), especially to the volume Not By Scripture Alone, edited by Robert Sungenis. At the very least, King/Webster’s set gives a complete lie to the notion that Protestants reject or ignore tradition.

When I was on the phone with Rev. King, he recommended three main sources: Muller and Whitaker, which we are going through right now, but he also highly recommended William Goode’s The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice. This set was written in the middle of the nineteenth century against the Tractarians at Oxford (Romanizers). According to Rev. King, it is one of the finest treatments of Sola Scriptura available anywhere. Fortunately for us, the volumes are available on the internet. Volume 1, volume 2, and volume 3 (this is the 1853, second enlarged edition). I will be reading all six of these recommended volumes.

The Medieval Scholastic Doctrine of Scripture, Part 2

The all-important question of the relationship of the doctrine of Scripture to that of theological encyclopedia is well-noticed by many theologians. Perhaps Kuyper has the best statements on this. The doctrine of Scripture underlies and binds together all of the theological disciplines. Scripture is the only reason why exegesis, systematics, church history, and pastoral theology are unified at all. In the Medieval times, the question primarily revolved around the issue of whether theology was a science or not. This was an emerging question in the Medieval times. Muller states:

The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture stood, in the systems of the great thirteenth-century scholastics, Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas, in a profound and crucial relationship to the emerging concept of theology as a science. Inasmuch as a science consists in a knowledge of first principles and of the conclusions that can be drawn from them, the issue of certainty in theology is crucial to the conduct of the discipline. Logically derived conclusions, no matter how expert and precise the logic, cannot be endowed with certainty unless certainty is known to reside in the principles from which they have been drawn. But theology, as Aquinas in particular recognized, is a subalternate science, the first principles of which are not self-evident but are derived from a higher science-the scientia Dei-that is not immediately known to us (fn referencing Aquinas, ST Ia, q. 1, art. 2). If theology is to have the certainty that must belong to any legitimate or genuine scientia, that certainty must be inherent in its first principles and in the source of those principles. If theology is to be a divine scientia, it must rest on revelation (pp. 42-43).

Muller goes on to add that “This intimate relationship between the doctrine of inspiration, the problem of authority, the definition of theology as scientia, and the insufficienty of reason to deal with divine mysteries brought about, as Callan as noted of Thomas Aquinas, an enormous emphasis on Scripture in medieval theology system” (p. 44).

A great deal of medieval doctrine on Scripture can be expressed as an expansion of Aquinas’ maxim that God is the principal author of Scripture, and man is His instrument (Deus est auctor principalis Scripturae, homo autem instrumentum).

The direction that Henry of Ghent took this is instructive in regard to Protestant-Catholic debates, in that Henry of Ghent “adumbrates what Oberman calls ‘Tradition I’ by indicating the priority of Scripture over church, if there were to be a disagreement” (p. 46). Muller argues that Henry of Ghent “can argue that the truth of Scripture-like the ultimate authority of Scripture-does not rest entirely upon the efforts of the human authors who wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit” (ibid.). This is evidenced by Henry’s use of the metaphor of the artist and the apprentice (see Henry of Ghent’s Summa Questionum Ordinariarum Theologi, Lib. I, art. 9, q. 11).

Newer entries »