No.115: July 8, 2022
Wow, Brian! May your tribes increase.
What a great line by Bono. Reminds me of the admonition... "do not say to yourself, why were former times better than these? It is not from wisdom that you ask this."
I’m missing your problem with the “super added gift”. Thomas accepted original sin and we need grace because of it, aren’t you just saying the same thing in different ways?
As far as the bottom up (reason) vs. top down, why not both? People respond in different ways to different evidences. I find Thomas very appealing.
Thank you for raising concern regarding modern "Reformed Scholasticism's" "love affair" with Thomas. We need more dialogue among those who hold concerns, and also among the concerned and the unconcerned as to the uncritical use of Thomas. I would like to start with a discussion with you.
I believe romanticism makes its own contribution to a lot of all our errors, but for me the deeper problem among modern scholastics is the problem that Reformed scholars like Calvin, Owen, Bavinck, Sinclair Ferguson, Vern Poythress, and Michael Reeves see with Scholasticism on the one side and Mysticism on the other. They each use the term "abstraction" to evaluate the inevitable reduction of God in each extreme and to provide the necessary biblical instrument to evaluate degrees by which we as "orthodox Reformed" people do the same. To reveal who God is, his covenantal relationship to his people, and the purpose of a covenantal relationship, each of the before mentioned grasp that the distinct and indissoluble relationship of word and Spirit is the broadest biblical-theological construct. Abstract or separate word from Spirit and we reduce God to what can be known rationally. Hence faith and love are abstracted because the Triune God himself becomes impersonal and non-communal and faith takes upon it the characteristic of passive assent to doctrine rather than the instrumental means by which we receive God himself and all his benefits through our union and communion with him. Abstract or separate Spirit from word and we reduce God to impersonal experience etc. No Reformed orthodox person is a pure rationalist, nor a pure mystic, but without any grasp of the indissoluble nature of the Triune God himself being statedly revealed in the indissoluble relationship of word and Spirit (Isa. 59:21), we cannot even know to what extent we reduce God. We reduce God similarly along the lines of abstractions of law and gospel and justification and sanctification. When we do, it seems impossible to grasp that these too are given to us with the stated end and purpose of life in communion with the Triune God and all his covenant people (Rom. 3:19-8:13). And it's clear to those who have eyes to see, the tendencies in one direction or the other also produce unnecessary divisions in Reformed circles and beyond, and hinder the progress of the gospel the way Jesus describes in John 17:20-24. A quick LOGOS search of any of the pastoral-theologians mentioned above shows their clear understanding of the indissoluble biblical-theological constructs of Scripture and the problem of abstractions in reducing God himself in some way. A similar search among modern "Reformed scholastics" shows a telling absence of the use, even of the term abstraction, let alone the use of the terms indissoluble or inseparable when it applies to theology. Hence, it seems that orthodoxy, not God-in-covenant with his people to reveal his glory becomes the sole end. How to get the Reformed Community to discuss these issues perplexes! Would anyone concerned like to try?
Thoughtfully and prayerfully,
Murray Brett, a concerned reformed and reforming pastor
I think your thoughts are shrewd. Glad to know others trying to find that middle-line in all this.
Brian, thank you for sharing this stream of consciousness on this issue. As one who has mostly remained on the sidelines with popcorn in hand throughout this theological retrieval kerfuffle, I’m thankful for this perspective. I, too, am curious why so much hullabaloo is being expended for one 13th century churchman?
Well, uffda, Brian. Now you have me intrigued regarding your utterances on the fighter aircraft currently only operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Sadly. I feel too impoverished to subscribe at this time.