If covenantal thinking forms the architecture of Reformed faith and practice, then the doctrine of the Trinity is its foundation. As seen throughout The Christian Faith, this doctrine is not merely one among many, but is proclaimed in the church’s message of salvation and structures all Christian theology, liturgy, prayer, and praise.
Biblical-Theological Development of the Doctrine
Just as faith in Yahweh and no other is the foundation of Old Testament faith and practice (e.g., Deut. 6:4), so New Testament believers affirmed and carried on this faith in the uniqueness of the God of Israel (e.g., Eph. 4:6). At the same time, Jesus called this one God his Father in an exclusive sense and claimed to bear the same divine character and authority. His followers confessed him as Lord and trusted him for salvation, all the while rejecting pagan polytheism. The Bible clearly testifies, in the context of strict monotheism, to both the full divinity and distinct personality of the Son (e.g., John 1:1–3) and the Spirit (e.g., Matt. 28:19; 2 Peter 1:21). Long before the biblical dogma of the Trinity was formally refined, then, believers were trusting in and praying to the triune God whom it describes. We know God as our Father in his one and only Son; the Father directs us to his Son as our Lord; Jesus is the way to the Father and sends his Spirit into our hearts; the Spirit enables us to call on the Father through the Son. Christian worship is Trinitarian as well, reflected in baptism into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and in the New Testament’s liturgical forms and benedictions (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:14).
Though Christian Trinitarianism arose in the context of Jewish monotheism, it’s elaboration and defense came amid encounters with Greek objections.
The Emergence of Christian Trinitarianism
The historical development of Trinitarian dogma is a primary illustration that Christian theology is always done within a specific context, yet with an overriding concern for Scripture as its source and norm. The main cultural problem Trinitarian doctrine encountered was a philosophical privileging of the one (unity) over the many (plurality). Some, like Origen, believed that all plurality is a “fall” from unity and confessed the Son and the Spirit as truly God, but essentially derivative of and inferior to the Father. Others, like Arius, felt that any distinction in properties and names denotes a distinction in natures, and separated the Son and the Spirit from the one God, the Father. Still others, like Sabellius, saw plurality in God as a temporary self-presentation for the purposes of creation and redemption—apart from and above the economy, God is not Trinity. Against each of these ways of privileging unity over plurality in God, teachers like Athanasius and especially the Cappadocians developed increasingly nuanced ways of speaking about the essential unity and the personal plurality in God, so that both may be affirmed according to the integrity of the biblical witness. God is one “essence” in three “persons.” The persons, or “hypostases,” are not simply roles that the one God takes on or aspects of his character, but they are each distinctly and all together the one God. This catholic consensus emerged with the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (Nicene) Creed (381). Differences between Eastern and Western Trinitarian formulations are frequently over exaggerated, but in so central a doctrine every nuance can be significant. The Western, Augustinian tradition has sometimes had trouble maintaining a robust account of the distinct characteristics of all three persons in their individual existence and mutually shared activity. In both traditions, the common Trinitarian faith was affirmed, but with different accents and conceptual frameworks, often leading to tension on important points (such as the filioque).
Essential Attributes and Personal Properties
Calvin and the Reformed tradition received and developed the Trinitarianism of their forebears, against rising neo-Arianism and Unitarianism from the sixteenth century. Reformed theologians, though indebted to Augustine’s emphasis on the divine persons’ essential unity, also emphasized with the Cappadocians the personal distinctions of the divine persons. In this vein, Calvin’s insistence on each person’s essential self-existence (each is “autotheos,” as the one self-existent God), while affirming the Father as the personal source of his only begotten Son and the Spirit who proceeds from both, navigated between tendencies toward subordinationism on one hand and modalism on the other. With some variation in language and explanation, the Reformed after Calvin continued this twofold emphasis on essential unity and personal distinction. Especially significant was Reformed insistence that in every outward activity of the one God (toward creatures), the persons operate in distinct ways to accomplish their unified work, in accord with their intrinsic personal characteristics.
- The beginning of all activity belongs to the Father.
- The counsel or pattern belongs to the Son.
- The efficacy belongs to the Spirit.
The Trinity in Modern Theology
Modern Enlightenment theology largely rejected or ignored classical Trinitarian theology until Hegel appealed to a radically recast view of the Trinity for his philosophy of “Spirit” realizing itself in the process of history. The twentieth century experienced a revival of Trinitarian theology in the wake of Karl Barth’s break with Protestant liberalism, and in many respects contemporary debates in Trinitarian theology still reflect the legacy of Barth and Hegel. Those following Barth’s trajectory tend to privilege the oneness of God, by so stressing the absolute subjectivity of God in self-revelation as Lord, that the genuine distinctiveness and mutuality of the three persons is undermined. Those following Hegel’s trajectory tend to privilege the plurality in God, by so distinguishing Father, Son, and Spirit in their identities, wills, and actions—sometimes even in essences—that the unity of God’s nature is endangered.
One and Many: Systematic-Theological Development: The following sections offer two guidelines for theological reflection on the Trinity.
We Should Recognize that All of Our Definitions of Person in Relation to the Godhead Are Analogies. If traditional analogies for the Trinity—such as Peter, James, and John sharing in humanity—are taken univocally, they lead to either tritheism or modalism. But classical Trinitarians were very careful to make clear the analogical nature of all our knowledge of God’s being and to counter the partial potentially misleading aspects of Trinitarian analogies by appealing to the fullness of the revealed character of the triune God. We should neither accept or reject such important Trinitarian concepts as “person” by directly applying to God any existing human definitions. We must avoid univocity of concepts and language, both between our notions and God’s being and between God as he has revealed himself and God in his hidden majesty.
Our Formulations Should Acknowledge that the Three Persons Are Not Simply Relations but Distinct Subsistences with Their Own Incommunicable Attributes. While the Father, the Son, and the Spirit do not differ with respect to the divine essence and attributes they share, they possess personal characteristics that they do not share. Only the Father is unbegotten; only the Son is begotten; only the Spirit is spirated (breathed). In every external work of the Godhead, the Father is always source, the Son always mediator, and the Spirit always perfecter. The divine persons are not merely relations but persons in relation. It is not simply that the relations of begetting, being begotten, and being spirated are essential to the personal identities of Father, Son, and Spirit but also that the persons themselves are essential to each other’s identity. Each is an unsubstitutable agent who lives, wills, and acts in a distinct way that is never separated from the others. The covenant of redemption is the primary illustration of these points.
The variation between the East and the West became a formal schism (in 1054) with a debate that started in the sixth century and still continues, over whether the Spirit proceeds only from the Father or from the Father “and the Son” (filioque), as the West inserted into the Nicene Creed. Advocates of the Western position argue for the filioque from such texts as John 14:16 and Romans 8:9, where the Spirit is identified as “the Spirit of God” and “of Christ,” sent by the Son as well as the Father. Eastern advocates say that the Spirit is only ever explicitly said to “proceed” from the Father (in John 15:26 ESV, wording that is echoed in the unaltered Nicene Creed). The Reformed tradition has historically followed the Western view. Though this controversy deals with significant questions of the character of God’s unity and the relationship between the immanent Trinity (God in himself) and the economic Trinity (God in relation to us), the filioque question does not of itself threaten the ecumenical consensus on the Trinity.
(HT: A summary of Michael Horton’s, The Christian Faith, Chapter Eight)
God’s communicable attributes are those that belong to God alone but are also predicable of creatures in an analogical sense.
I. Omniscience and Omnipotence: God’s Knowledge, Wisdom, and Power
God is all-knowing. Our knowledge is partial, ectypal, composite, and learned, but God’s is complete, archetypal, simple, and innate. God’s knowledge and wisdom are true (logically as well as ethically) because God is truth. God’s knowledge is consistent with all his other attributes; he knows independently, eternally, and unchangeably, in harmony with his wisdom, power, and faithfulness. God’s knowledge of creaturely existence and history is exhaustive because he has decreed all things from the beginning and works all things according to his will (Eph. 1:11).
A. Free Agents and the Infinite-Qualitative Distinction
Debates over divine and human freedom often share a problematic assumption that “freedom” is the same sort of reality for God and for humans. Hyper-Calvinists and Arminians (especially open theists) are both wrong in supposing there is only one “freedom pie” that must be apportioned between God and us. “Freedom” is analogically rather than univocally applied to God and humans: God has all the freedom appropriate to him as God, and we have all the freedom appropriate to us as (fallen) creatures who live and move and have our being in God and his sovereign, good purposes Just as in the paradigmatic examples of Joseph’s slavery in Egypt (Gen. 50:20) and the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23), God’s free decree does not take away human freedom or moral responsibility but establishes it.
B. Sovereignty and Omniscience
God knows our thoughts completely, but his are inaccessible to us apart from accommodated revelation—and his way of knowing transcends us entirely. On one hand, Scripture teaches that God has predestined the free acts of human beings; on the other hand, God manifests himself as a genuine partner in human history. God genuinely invites the whole world to salvation in his Son yet effectually calls and gives faith to all and only those whom he has elected from eternity. Though God’s revealed purposes are sometimes thwarted or changed, his unchanging purposes (the “secret things” of God, Deut. 29:29) cannot fail.
C. Sovereignty and Omnipresence
Because God is Trinity, he acts not only upon creation externally but also with and in it—not only causing but winning and effecting real creaturely willing and consent. A biblical view of God’s sovereignty must recognize the following three correlatives.
- Only when we see that God is qualitatively distinct from creation can we see that he is free to be the Creator and Redeemer, while we are free to be creatures and the redeemed.
- Only when we understand God’s sovereignty in light of his simplicity can we avoid the notion of divine despot, with an absolute will unconditioned by his intrinsic character.
- We must always bear in mind that in every exercise of will and power, God is not a solitary monad but Father, Son, and Spirit; sovereignty is not brute force or unmediated control.
II. Goodness, Love, and Mercy
God’s knowledge, wisdom, and power are inseparable from his goodness, love, and mercy. God is independent in his goodness and love and thus is free to be good to all he has made and to love even his enemies. We can never pit God’s love against his other attributes, idolizing “love” in a way that marginalizes God’s sovereignty or goodness (including his righteousness, holiness, and so on). The clearest witness to the complete consistency between all God’s attributes is the cross. If God’s love could trump his other moral attributes, the cross represents the cruelest waste. Rather, what makes God’s love so comforting is that it is unconditioned by anything in us, expressed out of satisfied abundance rather than lack or fear. While God is not free to be unmerciful, he is free to decide whether he will have mercy on some rather than others—this is, after all, the opposite of every sinner’s just deserts. Indeed, grace is not something (else) that God gives but God’s own redeeming favor shown to the undeserving on account of Christ.
III. Holiness, Righteousness, and Justice
At the same time that God is good, loving, and merciful, he is holy—distinct from all creatures in his being, majesty, and ethical purity. The merciful character of God’s holiness reveals his movement toward impure creatures in covenant love, setting apart a holy people for himself. In the Old Testament righteousness is both a forensic and relational term—a “right relationship.” Although God’s righteousness is intrinsically related to his mercy (since he is just and the justifier of the ungodly), his righteousness cannot be collapsed into his mercy. As the revelation of his moral will (law), God is perfectly righteous to condemn all as transgressors; as the revelation of his will to save (gospel), God is perfectly just to forgive and redeem through faith in Christ. In both cases, God upholds his righteousness.
IV. Jealousy and Wrath
Like his mercy and grace, God’s jealousy and wrath are displayed only in response to an offense. God does not need to show mercy or wrath in order to be who he is, but these are the responses we should expect from God who is good, holy, and just. The doctrine of analogy again proves fruitful in considering God’s jealousy and wrath, which carry almost entirely negative connotations in our human experience. Instead of denying these clearly biblical attributes of God, we must reinterpret our understanding of according to how God has described himself to us. God’s wrath always expresses his wisdom and love, which have been spurned and transgressed by those whom he created to love. God who is holy, righteous, and loving must exercise wrath against sin, injustice, and hate. The unique lordship of YHWH is a constant theme in Scripture, as is God’s jealousy for his name, his glory, and his people’s covenantal allegiance. God’s jealousy must be understood in light of his exclusivity: God is God alone. In us, jealousy is often a form of coveting that which is not really ours; in God, jealousy is a form of protecting his character and his people, which are both precious to him.
(HT: A summary of Michael Horton’s, The Christian Faith, Chapter Seven)
R.C. Sproul writes,
People get confused, however, when considering this alongside of God’s mercy and grace, because grace is not justice. Grace and mercy are outside the category of justice, but they are not inside the cate- gory of injustice. There is nothing wrong with God’s being merciful; there is nothing evil in His being gracious. In fact, in one sense, we have to extend this. Even though justice and mercy are not the same thing, justice is linked to righteousness, and righteousness may at times include mercy and grace. The reason we need to distinguish between them is that justice is necessary to righteousness, but mercy and grace are actions God takes freely. God is never required to be merciful or gracious. The moment we think that God owes us grace or mercy, we are no longer thinking about grace or mercy. Our minds tend to trip there so that we confuse mercy and grace with justice. Justice may be owed, but mercy and grace are always voluntary.
(HT: Everyone’s a Theologian)
God’s incommunicable attributes are most often criticized as being a philosophical or metaphysical corruption of the biblical understanding of God. But whenever such metaphysical claims have been rejected, they are replaced by others no less metaphysical. While we should never assume that the God of the Bible is identical with the “God” of classical philosophy, we must also recognize that every doctrinal account of God’s identity and character will include metaphysical claims. The question is not whether we have an ontology of God’s being and attributes but whether our ontology is biblically faithful.
God is noncomposite: he is simultaneously all that his attributes reveal. This does not mean that his attributes cannot be distinguished from one another, but that none of them are separable from God or carry a greater or lesser importance for his character. God is eternal even when he acts in time. He is not more holy than merciful, or more loving at some times than he is righteous at other times. He is holy even in showing mercy, and righteous in demonstrating his love. All that God is, is what he will always be; and in all his activity God is self-consistent.
B. Self-Existence (Aseity)
God exists and acts apart from any external dependence. While God is perfect without us, he freely and generously creates and relates this creation to himself. Creatures exist in constant dependence on our relation to him. Independent of creaturely limitations, he can be trusted to bring about his sovereign purposes on behalf of his people (Ex. 3:14–15). Some—like open theists—criticize this doctrine as a Stoic ideal of detached self-sufficiency, lacking the mutual drama between God and the world seen in the Bible. Many want to deny any difference between God in himself and God as he reveals himself to us. In such ontologies of “overcoming estrangement,” God and the world are inherently related and mutually dependent. Yet God’s freedom from creation does not preclude but undergirds the very possibility of his true freedom for creation. God’s aseity marks the fundamental divide between biblical faith and all forms of pan(en)theism. At the same time, the (Stoic) deism characteristic of an ontology of “the stranger we never meet” is overturned by God’s free decision to enter into relationship with the world he has made. While the Stoic sage desires to sever his dependence on the world of which he is necessarily a part, the independent God desires to bring dependent (and sinful) creatures into communion with himself.
God is unchangeable. Perfect and complete in himself from all eternity, he has no “potential” to be realized; any change would be toward imperfection. This does not mean God is static or inert; rather, he is wholly active in the fullness and completeness of his own being and cannot become more or less who he is. God is unchangeable, and so he is reliable in his judgments and promises. While his being and character do not change, his activity (energies) is manifold and freely determined. Many modern theologians who understand God’s being as “becoming” in history have challenged God’s immutability by appealing to the incarnation: “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). But the eternal Son’s assumption of human nature in the unity of his person in no way constitutes or diminishes the character of his divine nature. It is crucial to avoid two extremes: either that God is detached, unfeeling, unresponsive, or that he acts and feels and responds in the very same ways we do. Though God genuinely responds, he cannot be overwhelmed by surprise; though he truly experiences opposition, he is not overcome; and so on. The total witness of the Bible requires that we affirm both: there is real change, partnership, and conflict between God and human beings, but not within God’s inner being.
Unlike the caricature of much contemporary criticism, God’s impassibility is not unresponsiveness or emotional apathy but immunity to suffering. God’s emotional experience and responsiveness in free relation to the world are always analogical. On one hand, we must deny that God is untouched or unaffected by creaturely suffering, experiencing neither joy nor sorrow, love nor hate; on the other hand, we must affirm that God is Lord—never the passive victim, but always the free and active Judge and Justifier. To avoid the extremes of utter detachment and mutual dependence, we should keep in mind the following five points regarding God’s immunity to suffering.
- We must avoid a false choice between either God’s necessary relatedness to the world or the world’s unrelatedness to God.
- It is crucial that impassibility is an essential attribute of the triune God; though the persons engage in relationships with the world, their divine nature is not by itself the subject of action and response.
- We must recognize that God speaks to us analogically—in terms adequate to our understanding rather than adequate to his being.
- A Christian doctrine of God should supplement causal categories with (Trinitarian) communicative analogies; God is not simply Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, but the Father who speaks to us in his Son by the Spirit.
- We must beware of allowing a theology of the cross to become a theology of glory; a theology of “the suffering God” may inadvertently lead to a legitimization of suffering and evil, since these are said to be an integral part of God’s very being.
E. Eternity and Omnipresence
Eternity and omnipresence refer to God’s transcendence of time and space, respectively. God’s eternity is his existence above or beyond time, simultaneously possessing the fullness of his boundless life and eternally encompassing the whole of creaturely (temporal) life. Some hold that God is sempiternal, existing within time but without any beginning or end. Biblically, however, it seems time itself is a creaturely category—like space—attributable to God only in an analogical sense referring to his transcendence of it (e.g., Ps. 90:1–4). Properly understanding God’s eternity (and the limits of our understanding in the face of this mystery) is related to the meaning of his omnipresence: it is God’s transcendence of space that brings the deepest assurance of God’s presence in all places (e.g., Ps. 139:7–8). God’s presence with his people indicates, not his spatial absence somewhere else, but his covenantal commitment to be with us to save and to bless. God is “omnitemporal” in the same way; he comprehends all times and is active within time, because he is not contained by it.
(HT: A summary of Michael Horton’s, The Christian Faith, Chapter Six)
The puritans used special times for meditation, and there were five different times they commonly would refer too.
- When God does revive your spirit, spiritual vitality, when the mind is fertile use it to continue its growth.
- When you are cast into perplexities of mind and affliction, on the goodness of the Lord, he will be faithful to those that seek after him.
- When you’re ready to die, looking back on your life, spend the time in the Scriptures keeping constant reminder of the promises God has give to the Christian.
- When the heart is touched by a sermon or sacrament; as the puritans taught it is “best striking when the iron is hot” so that you continue to shape and mold ones mind around the truths of Scripture.
- Before solemn duties, the Lords’ supper, the Sabbath, or after humiliation.
Meditate until you’ve had some sensible communion with God, a sensible benefit conveyed to your soul. The Puritans would commonly use such an analogy; trying to make a fire with wet wood, only the persevering soul will win, first some sparks, and some smoke, but at the last a flame. What if the flame does not ascend? This might discourage if prolonged; if failed today, then try again tomorrow, keeping in mind that it should not become a burden and a bondage to the Christian. (HT: William Bates)
The Puritans stressed the need for christian meditation, what we commonly refer to as devotions. These reasons can be summarized easily in six points.
- Our God who commands us to believe the Scriptures, and it also commands us also to meditate on it, in that the Scripture is sufficient for doing it. Often the puritans would use biblical characters as examples to compel their church members to do this; Isaac, Moses, Paul, Timothy, Joshua, David, Mary. For example; Psalm 19:14 reads, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
- Meditate on the word, because it is God’s letter to us. Christian do not run over God’s letter in haste, but meditate on his love in sending it to us.
- One cannot be a mature Christian without meditation. Thomas Manton once said, “faith is lean and ready to starve without meditation.”
- Without meditation the preached word will fail to benefit us. Baxter said, “reading without meditation is like swallowing raw and undigested food, a man may eat too much, but cannot digest too well.” The sermon is not enough for the Christian’s weekly living, he must constantly be reading, and applying the truths of Scripture to his life.
- Without meditation our prayers will not be effective; this serves as a middle sort of duty between word and prayer. The Scripture feeds meditation, and meditation feeds prayer.
- Christians who fail to meditate are unable to defend the truth. Without proper meditation on the Scriptures, the Christian has no backbone, and no self-knowledge. Manton would teach, “man who is a stranger to meditation does not know himself. ”
As Thomas Watson preached, and we may need to ponder “tis meditation that makes a Christian.”
Many by now have heard of Joshua Harris’s Sunday Remarks at Covenant Life Church yesterday,
“My big news is that later this spring I’m going to step down from my role as lead pastor so that I can go to seminary.”
Three thoughts come to my mind, that I wish others, not only Joshua Harris, would begin to consider when pursuing full time ministry, the pastorate, and or theological education;
1. If such formal theological education is needed for the pastorate, and it is I strongly believe, why was it not prior to your pastoral calling? Not only for Joshua, but pastor’s in general, stop taking the easy route into a so called calling, and properly prepare yourselves for what you believe to be called to. I certainly would not seek a triple bypass surgery on my heart from a called doctor who has practically practiced such operation under his own care. No, I would rather seek medical attention from a doctor who has been formally trained, certified, with such knowledge that I can entrust my physical life to. How much more should we as laity consider our spiritual life, to consider who we entrust our own soul’s well being.
2. If such formal theological education is desired, why would you (let alone many) choose Regent College? I have learned these lessons, attending a college that you later regret in life can always create problems, especially on the resume. Why not Kings College, maybe Wheaton, or Boyce, Grove City, Hillsdale, or even Liberty online? Or better yet, any bachelor degree program within America. Perhaps when The Curious Case of Benjamin Button plays a role in how you came to such decision, then yes, by all means who cares where you study, when it is only “a year with a good possibility that I [he] will stay a second year to pursue a masters degree.” How much formal theological education can one possibly fix and finish in a year, maybe two? Seems a slap in the face to those who have went and studied seven plus years formal theological education before they would even consider applying for the pastorate.
3. If such formal theological education is planned, why can it not be planned to be completed while one continues to work? If already in the pastorate, and given the numerous opportunities in todays educational programs that one could obtain formal education while still in full time or part time employment, why step down, and why leave? I deal with similar situations on a semester basis at seminary. Pastor walks in, asks to speak with me, and realizes he should have completed his M.Div. before preaching through his tenth book with his congregation, and has what he believes made a number of errors will in the pastorate. My advice to them is this: one, I am glad you have noticed this, two, repent of any sin you have caused in this failure, and three, do not quit on them as you make this transition. Just because a pastor may have mistaken here does not mean that they can go fix themselves, without walking through such fixes with his congregation.
These concerns brought about by Joshua Harris’s recent decision, go to show us the state of apperception for formal theological education in the evangelical church today. I cannot count the Facebook friends that have recently made the switch after eight to ten years in an occupation, having come to Jesus Christ, that feel compelled to start a church, pastor a church, and or start a para-church ministry. Two, I cannot count the continual conversations with Baltimore pastors over the past four-years on how they wish they had went to seminary before taken up the call of a pastor. Three, I cannot count the number of pastors who have quiet their formal education, or put it on hold because they found (or was handed) a job in minstry that they were not formally prepared to obtain. I understand there are CH Spurgeon’s in this world, but I have yet to meet 20 year-olds like him, having already mastered the biblical languages, and as well read within Puritan thought and theology as he.
Yesterday I was able to give introductions to two courses I am instructing this 2105 spring semester; Theology Proper and Anthropology and Historical Books for the B.Th. students at Faith Theological Seminary. After giving two hours plus of introductory material to these courses, and hearing a number of moans and groans on why such material needed addressed I was reminded of one of FTS’s own M.Div. graduates, Francis A. Schaeffer’s who wrote on theological study,
It is naive to discuss the theological questions as theological questions until one has considered what truth means to the one who is making the theological statements.
After spending time explaining how God is describe within theology three ways; The via negationis: A via is a “road” or “way.” The word negationis simply means “negation,” which is a primary way we speak about God. In other words, we describe God by saying what He is not. The via eminentiae, “the way of eminence,” in which we take known human concepts or references to the ultimate degree, such as the terms omnipotence and omniscience. The via affirmationis, or “way of affirmation,” whereby we make specific statements about the character of God, such as “God is one,” “God is holy,” and “God is sovereign.” (HT: Summary Taken from Everyone’s a Theologian). I find it common within Baltimore that most of my students rather discuss what they think about theology then actually taking the time to learn what the Scriptures declare for them to know about theology. Maybe, if they, like most evangelical churches today took the time to study what they claim to believe than discussing unnecessary questions, they would have actually come to asking the right questions that they need to be addressing? Then again, why not waste your time and thoughts, for there is far worse things that you could be doing, or not. Maybe, just maybe presuppositionalism does has a place in theology.
Roman Catholicism has traditionally affirmed Scripture’s inspiration and inerrancy; arguments with Protestants during the Reformation developed around the relationship between Scripture and tradition. Roman Catholic teaching considers Sacred Scripture (the Bible, with the apocryphal books) and Sacred Tradition (originally unwritten traditions passed down by the apostles and their successors) to be two integral aspects of the one Word of God. While Roman Catholicism treats tradition as magisterial (tradition possesses normative authority together with Scripture), classical Protestantism treats tradition as ministerial (tradition, reason, experience, and culture are all under the authority of Scripture). Historically, Protestants have admitted that written Scripture and oral tradition were two aspects of God’s special revelation, but that time came to an end with the close of the apostolic era. While Roman Catholics believe the apostolic office still continues today in the church’s hierarchy, Protestants argue that the church’s preaching and teaching ministry no longer lays the foundation built once and for all by the prophets and apostles (Eph. 2:20). There is a qualitative difference between binding apostolic tradition (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15) and the fallible traditions of the covenant community—even its leadership (Mark 7:1–13).
Faithful tradition belongs to the Spirit’s illumination, not to inspiration. Thus, creeds and confessions carry a subordinate authority to Scripture, as faithful summaries of Scripture’s overarching scope (its testimony to the triune God and his ways, centering in the gospel of Christ). The witness of the church serves Scripture’s authority rather than establishes it. This includes the nature of the canon’s formation. The church did not create the canon through ecclesiastical power; it recognized these particular writings as the authoritative Word of God.
The sufficiency of Scripture is inseparable from its clarity. This does not mean that all parts of Scripture are equally plain or lack depth of meaning, nor does it deny past and present controversy over biblical interpretation within the church. Scripture is clear on its most important matters, when interpreted according to its own witness, within the broader community of faith, and in light of its scope. If such weighty matters of Scripture are not clear in their purity and simplicity, the teacher rather than the text is at fault. Sola Scriptura is not simply an affirmation of the unique authority of the Bible but a confession of the sovereignty of God’s grace—because God alone saves, God alone teaches and rules our faith and practice.
In modern and contemporary theology, Protestantism has had difficulty retaining its classical emphasis on the unique authority and sufficiency of Scripture, often folding God’s voice into that of the Christian community or the individual believer. Even those who hold a high view of biblical authority may inadvertently subordinate God’s Word by assimilating contemporary culture’s assumptions about reality, then attempting to address this reality with the Bible. We should rather interpret all of reality in light of God’s Word, allowing Scripture to address us as well as the world.
Definitions are particularly important here: The gospel is properly understood as the specific announcement of redemption from sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus in fulfillment of all God’s promises, while“culture” may be defined in this context as the common realm of social practices, vocations, beliefs, and assumptions shared by Christians and non-Christians in a given time and place. Like tradition, reason, and experience, culture is not inherently evil or opposed to faith, but none of these testify to God’s gracious and saving action in Christ. The church’s primary “cultural location” is in Christ, under the normative authority of Scripture. When culture is given an authoritative or normative role alongside Scripture in the church, the world cannot be judged or redeemed by the living voice of God from outside itself.
HT: Summary taken from chapter five of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith.
The formulation of B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge is perhaps the best articulation and development of the church’s historical doctrine and may be summarized as follows.
- A sound doctrine of inspiration requires a specifically Christian ontology; all misconceptions of or challenges to the historical view of inerrant inspiration ultimately rest on false suppositions regarding the relation between God and creatures.
- Scripture’s redemptive-historical progression and development must be highlighted; inspiration is organic rather than mechanical (as in the dictation theory).
- The question of apparent contradictions and errors must be squarely faced and addressed.
- It is the communication that is inspired, not the authors themselves; we should not imagine the prophets and apostles to be personally omniscient or infallible.
- The Bible is inspired and without error in all its “real affirmations”; the human authors’ recorded claims and affirmations, not their scientific or cultural assumptions and backgrounds, are the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
- Inerrancy is not the foundation of the doctrine of Scripture (much less of the Christian faith); Christianity is true not because it rests on an inspired and inerrant text, but vice versa.
The inerrancy debate in American evangelicalism is largely one between Old Princeton and Karl Barth. The former is often caricatured as fundamentalism, while the latter is equally caricatured as liberalism. Nonetheless, Barth’s view, like fundamentalism and liberalism, is quite different from that of Protestant orthodoxy here in America. Barth’s criticism of traditional inerrancy stems from his actualism—that is, his ontology of God as “being in act,” specifically applied to the free activity of revelation as identical with the very being of God. Revelation is always an event of God’s self-revelation in Christ, never an objective deposit. Scripture is the church’s normative witness to revelation, and as a creaturely witness it is not only fallible but (like Christ’s human nature) necessarily fallen. Barth also tends to collapse inspiration into illumination, since he seems to allow no qualitative distinction between revelation in and through the Bible and the church’s reception and interpretation of it. Some evangelicals have attempted to reconcile Barth’s views with the church’s traditional understanding, but these continue to employ the fundamentalist caricature rather than the truly classical view of inspiration and inerrancy.
HT: Summary taken from chapter four of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith.
The classical (and ecumenical) Christian view of verbal-plenary inspiration means that Scripture is inspired in its form as well as its content—in its words as well as its meaning, Scripture is the Word of God written. There are several misconceptions of this account of inspiration that need to be corrected.
- Verbal-plenary inspiration does not mean that everything the prophets and apostles personally believed, said, or did is inspired, but only their canonical writings.
- The biblical authors were not merely passive in the process of inspiration but active in and with the Spirit according to his purposes.
- Inspiration does not pertain simply to the intentions of the authors, who prophesied more than they themselves knew.
- This view of inspiration does not attempt to collapse the character of all inspiration into the prophetic mold.
While the original words of Scripture were given by God’s direct or indirect action in inspiration, the compiling, editing, and preserving of the text was superintended by his providence as well.
HT: Summary taken from chapter four in Dr. Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith.
Something to consider; Because of its authoritative source and saving content, Scripture is the very Word of the triune God.
- Scripture is from the Father’s utterance as its source.
- Scripture declares Christ’s person and work as its content and center.
- The source and content of Scripture attain their ends in the perfecting agency of the Spirit.
The unified work of the persons of the Trinity in Scripture’s inspired content and form may not be divided; accounts of inspiration are skewed or insufficient whenever the manner of one person’s working is given precedence over that of the other two.
HT: Dr. Michael Horton, Chapter Four in the The Christian Faith.
Faith Theological Seminary Fall Christ and Culture Seminar
Saturday, November 22, 2014, 9:00am-4:45pm (free and open to all)
A serious consideration of ancient, modern, and contemporary slavery the trafficking, buying, and selling of humans as it exists pervasively in our world.
- Ancient slavery and the Bible
- Stories from the Atlantic Slave trade and the Baltimore Harbor
- Inspiring stories of Christian efforts to outlaw the Atlantic slave trade
- Contemporary slavery today and the efforts to end human slavery
- Personal accounts, solutions, successes, and roadblocks will be discussed
Some questions that will be asked:
- What does the Bible have to say about human slavery? What have Christians done to contribute to, as well to abolish the slave trade?
- What were the conditions for slaves in the past and today in the USA?
- What are the means of obtaining and harboring slaves today?
- What is the US policy on trafficking and enslaving humans?
- What is now being done to prevent trafficking and enslavement?
- What aspects of faith-convictions have a bearing on this issue?
Location: 7308 York Road, Baltimore, MD 21204 (Central Presbyterian Church)
Food: coffee and light refreshment available (and many restaurants nearby)
More information: 410-323-6211
Human Oppression, Enslavement, & Liberation Seminar Posters for printing
Susan Wise Bauer coming to the Baltimore area on January 22, 2015, 7:30 pm at Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, 710 Ridgley Road, Annapolis, MD 21401. She will be speaking on the “Joy of Classical Education” and you can find more information here.
The purpose of Faith Theological Seminary is to train Christian leaders. This training is to be conducted on the highest possible academic level, including the mastery of the original languages of Scripture. This purpose (adapted from the Seminary Charter):
The said corporation is formed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a Theological Seminary of high educational efficiency and absolute loyalty to the Christian religion as taught in the Old and New Testaments, and for religious, educational, and charitable purposes, without profit to any of its members. Faith Theological Seminary is to train thoroughly furnished and consecrated leadership for the Church. In every phase of its work, the highest possible standards of scholarship are to be maintained. Its graduates are to be well-fitted to defend the full truthfulness of the Word of God against all modern unbelief, and to interpret it in the light of careful and accurate study of its words in the original languages.
FTS offers B.Th., M.Div., D.Min., and Th.D. programs accredited through Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), and is in need of a Student Recruiter to help work alongside me, their Director of Admissions.
Responsibilities include but are not limited to:
- Assisting in the design and implementation of recruitment strategies.
- Promoting programs to prospective populations and communities via various methods including giving presentations, face-to-face promotion, phone calling, and other social networks.
- Maintaining effective communication with perspective students.
- Supporting the Director of Admissions in helping to maintain an applicant management system to track new information on prospective students.
- Qualifying prospective students through program enrollment requirements and admissions.
- Working with the Director of Admissions on campus to assist them in designing, implementing, and recruiting students to their program. This may include travel to department specific recruiting events.
- Assisting the Director of Admissions and Director of Development in designing marketing materials such as mailers, fliers, posters, view-book, videos, etc.
Qualified candidates should:
- Hold a Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution in marketing, sales, psychology, counseling, social work, student affairs administration, or closely related field; although a Master’s is preferred.
- Have at least two years of college-level recruitment/marketing experience is the minimum requirement; experience in higher education and international education is highly desirable.
- Be possessive of excellent interpersonal communication skills.
- Have strong organizational and multitasking ability.
- Be experienced in designing fliers, posters, view-books, videos, or other such marketing materials.
- Have the ability to maintain a high degree of confidentiality and discretion.
- Be an American citizen.
- Be a fluent English speaker; and ability to speak additional languages is welcomed.
Special Instructions to Applicants:
Three (3) Part-time Recruiter positions available. You MUST include the following documents (doc or PDF format preferred) to be considered for this position; Cover Letter, and Resume to Director of Admissions Michael Dewalt at email@example.com. If any questions, please contact him at (410) 323-6211 ext. 114.
We ought to ask ourselves the questions suggested by Rev. G. Campbell Morgan, Pastor of New Court Congregational Church in Tollington Park, London. These questions should be asked regularly and always in the hour of loneliness with the Master.
- Am I in right relationship with the Teacher to-day? Do I still live at the Cross and know the power of its cleansing moment by moment, and so am I walking in the light, without which all the words of Jesus are dark sayings, and His testings crosses, burdens out of which I can only gather reasons for murmuring?
- If I am not in this place of maintained fellowship, where did I depart therefrom? What word of His have I disobeyed? To that point let me return, whether it be but an hour ago, or years, and there let me absolutely surrender, at whatever cost, and do what He requires, however small, or however irksome it appears to be.
- Am I content to wait when His voice does not speak—and I cannot find the reason in myself—until He has accomplished His present purpose in me, even though I understand it not just now? With matchless patience and pity, and tender love beyond all attempts at explanation, this Teacher waits, and stoops, and woos us, and ever for our highest good and deepest peace. Let us then, by consecrated watching, maintain the attitude of advancement, and so, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, as we are able to bear, He will lead us on, until we come to the perfect light and life and love of God.
*** Taken from Rev. G. Campbell Morgan, Discipleship. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1879, chapter three.
Every worldview must have correspondence and coherence. In questioning these we have the following tests:
First, there are three tests that a worldview must pass. It must be:
- Logically consistent – Its teachings cannot be self-contradictory.
- Empirically adequate – Its teachings must match what we see in reality.
- Existentially relevant – Its teachings must speak directly to how we actually live our lives.
Second, each worldview must address the following four ultimate questions:
- Origin – Where do the universe and human beings come from?
- Morality – How do we know what is right and what is wrong?
- Meaning – What is the meaning or purpose of life?
- Destiny – What happens to us after we die?
Third, there are five academic disciplines that must be employed to study a worldview:
- Theology – the study of God
- Metaphysics – the study of what is ultimately real
- Epistemology – the study of how we can know things
- Ethics – the study of moral right and wrong
- Anthropology – the study of what and who humans are
Is the worldview of biblical Christianity the best choice? Its teachings are logically consistent, they accurately describe reality as it is, and they speak directly to the human condition. In addition, Christianity provides compelling and powerful answers to the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Finally, the theology, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and anthropology of the Christian worldview are expansively rich and deeply profound – unsurpassed by any other worldview.
***Taken from Why Jesus? – Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality, by Ravi Zacharias, pp. 256, 257.
Parent Magazine recently posted an article with eight steps to a successful homeschool education. For those that may follow the blog, you may find this article helpful in preparation of educating your children at home. Working part time for a classical tutorial that aids families who choose to homeschool their children one of the common pitfalls I find is mentioned within the article. It reads,
Homeschoolers say there are three issues that often stymie beginners. First: feeling isolated. Make sure you’ve followed the advice in Step 3 and joined a support group. It’s not just for the kids, although socialization is critical for them. Homeschooling parents need to connect with likeminded adults too. Another potential problem is committing to a curriculum too early. Dobson notes that some new homeschoolers purchase an expensive packaged curriculum right away, only to find that it doesn’t suit their child’s learning style. Experiment for a while before you plunk down a lot of cash.
You can read the full eight steps to homeschool success here.
If there is one great problem (heresy) I have encountered during my four years in Baltimore Maryland it is modalism, or sometimes called sabellianism, modalistic monarchianism, modal monarchism, or as those who I have encountered claim to believe in the oneness of god. Another way of describing it (my way) is the non-trinitarian or better yet, anti-trinitarian belief that leads one to the worship of a false god. What exactly is modalism?
In the early Church a form of unorthodox teaching on the Trinity which denied the permanence of the three Persons and maintained that the distinctions in the Godhead were only transitory. Among its leading exponents were Praxeas, Noetus, and Sabellius. It was a form of Monarchianism and also known as Patripassianism. There is only one person in God who represents himself in the roles of three persons. Michael Horton simply defines it, “they believe there is only one person in God who represents himself in the roles of three persons.”
Acts 2:38 reads, And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Believing that there is only one person of the Godhead who manifests Himself in three ways as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Oneness Pentecostals appeal to this verse along with Acts 8:16, 19:5, and Mt 28:19 as support. In doing so they embrace modalism, an anti-Trinitarian heresy that was condemned by the Synod of Smyrna in a.d. 200. The Nicene and Athanasian creeds also condemn modalism. The Scriptures are full of references to the triune nature of God (see Mt 3:16–17; Lk 1:35; Jn 14:26). More than 60 NT verses mention the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same verse. The members of the Godhead are co-existent and co-equal, one in essence and yet three in person.
R.C. Sproul has written on modalism the following,
One of the first of these heretical movements that emerged in the third and fourth centuries was monarchianism. Few people are acquainted with this theological term, but the root word is quite familiar: monarch. When we think about a monarch, we think of a ruler of a nation, a king or a queen. If we break down the word monarch, we find that it consists of a prefix, mono, which means “one,” coupled with the word arch, which comes from the Greek arche. This word could mean “beginning”; for instance, it appears in the prologue of John’s gospel, when the apostle writes, “In the beginning was the Word.” But it also could mean “chief or ruler.” So, a monarch was a single ruler, and a monarchy was a system of rule by one. Monarchianism, then, was the attempt to preserve the unity of God, or monotheism. The first great heresy that the church had to confront with respect to monarchianism was called “modalistic monarchianism” or simply “modalism.” The idea behind modalism was that all three persons of the Trinity are the same person, but that they behave in unique “modes” at different times. Modalists held that God was initially the Creator, then became the Redeemer, then became the Spirit at Pentecost. The divine person who came to earth as the incarnate Jesus was the same person who had created all things. When He returned to heaven, He took up His role as the Father again, but then returned to earth as the Holy Spirit. As you can see, the idea here was that there is only one God, but that He acts in different modes, or different expressions, from time to time. The chief proponent of modalism was a man named Sabellius. According to one ancient writer, Sabellius illustrated modalism by comparing God to the sun. He noted that the sun has three modes: its form in the sky, its light, and its warmth. By way of analogy, he said, God has various modes: the form corresponds to the Father, the light is the Son, and the warmth is the Spirit.
A second form of monarchianism that appeared was called “dynamic monarchianism” or “adoptionism.” This school of thought was also committed to preserving monotheism, but its adherents wanted to give honor and central importance to the person of Christ. Those who propagated this view held that at the time of creation, the first thing God made was the Logos, after which the Logos created everything else. So the Logos is higher than human beings and even angels. He is the Creator, and He predates all things except God. But He is not eternal, because He Himself was created by God, so He is not equal with God. In time, according to adoptionism, the Logos became incarnate in the person of Jesus. In His human nature, the Logos was one with the Father in terms of carrying out the same mission and working toward the same goals. He was obedient to the Father, and because of His obedience, the Father “adopted” Him. Thus, it is proper to call the Logos the Son of God. However, He became the Son of God dynamically. There was a change. He was not always the Son of God, but His Sonship was something He earned. Those who defended this view cited such biblical statements as “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). They also argued that the New Testament’s descriptions of Christ as “begotten” carry the implication that He had a beginning in time, and anything that has a beginning in time is less than God, because God has no beginning. In short, they believed the Logos is like God, but He is not God. These views prompted the first of the ecumenical councils, the Council of Nicea, which met in AD 325. This council produced the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Christ is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds,” and that He was “begotten, not made.” It further declares that He is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God … being of one substance with the Father.” With these affirmations, the church said that scriptural terms such as firstborn and begotten have to do with Christ’s place of honor, not with His biological origin. The church declared that Christ is of the same substance, being, and essence as the Father. Thus, the idea was put forth that God, though three in person, is one in essence.
Maybe those that are so willing to allow such belief a part of their protestantism could address such understanding like that of the Athanasian Creed, Section 28—“He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity” (Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat). The error of modalistic monarchianism is in their (blind) focusing on the oneness of God, holding to a strict undefendable definition of oneness to the exclusion of the mass of Biblical proof of the distinction of God. United Pentecostals and Apostolic’s (like Sabellius did) focus solely on the oneness passages (Deut 6:4 & Jn 10:38) to the exclusion of the wealth of scripture that shows the oneness of God is best understood in terms of unity rather than a specific number.
In the distant past, it took so long for cultural concepts to spread that by the time they had reached other areas they had sometimes already changed at their place of origin. But today the world is small, and it is very possible to have a monolithic culture spreading rapidly and influencing great sections of mankind. No artificial barriers, such as the Iron Curtain, can keep out the flow of these ideas. As the world has shrunk, and as it has largely become post-Christian, both sides of the Iron Curtain have followed the same methodology and the same basic monolithic thought form—namely, the lack of absolutes and antithesis, leading to pragmatic relativism. In our modern forms of specialized education there is a tendency to lose the whole in the parts, and in this sense we can say that our generation produces few truly educated people. True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field, as a technician might be. I suppose no discipline has tended to think more in fragmented fashion than the orthodox or evangelical theology of today. Those standing in the stream of historic Christianity have been especially slow to understand the relationships between various areas of thought. When the apostle warned us to “keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world,” he was not talking of some abstraction. If the Christian is to apply this injunction to himself, he must understand what confronts him antagonistically in his own moment of history. Otherwise he simply becomes a useless museum piece and not a living warrior for Jesus Christ. The orthodox Christian has paid a very heavy price, both in the defense and communication of the gospel, for his failure to think and act as an educated person understanding and at war with the uniformity of our modern culture.
Four quick suggestions for parents with children in education, or parents in education. I presently teach at three different institutions: 7th, 8th, and 9th graders at a classical tutorial, 20-22 year old college students, and a wide range from 20-60 years of age at the seminary. That gives me enough interaction with parents during a week of work that one would need for a semester. It does not matter if I am dealing with the parent of a student, or a parent themselves in my class, the same issues occur. Maybe they will be of some help.
1. Be Diligent, not Demanding – Work from the beginning to the end of the year with your child and the teacher, and not only show up when you have something to complain or worry about. A harping parent, leads to a harping student.
2. Be Responsible, not Lackadaisical – Accept your role as the parent and make education a priority in your home, and stop expecting the teacher, tutor, or professor to do everything for your child’s growth. You the parent have to work too.
3. Be Attentive, not Absent – Stop your child immediately when bad behavior appears. Show him or her what to do and provide an opportunity
to do it correctly. Discipline should be appropriate and consistent. If there comes a time you take the day off from working with your child, they will understand they as well can take days off from their education.
4. Be Precise, not Vague – Provide clear, detailed, and direct instructions. I find parents expecting much from their child, yet failing to convey to them exactly what they expect for them in education.
If you neglect to instruct [children] in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No; if you will not teach them to pray, he will to curse, swear, and lie. If ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring.
The Puritans were a fascinating group of Protestants during the 16th and 17th Century intensely concerned with pious living. The seminary student of today can learn much from the Puritans. In the Puritans we see a people opposed with growing in the knowledge of God and the deep things of Christ. In thought and outlook they were radically God-centered. Their appreciation of God’s sovereign majesty was profound, and their reverence in handling his written word was deep and constant. They were patient, thorough, and methodical in searching the Scriptures. In them we see a great example for the modern seminary student to emulate. The Puritans were also immensely concerned with living out the truths of Scripture in their day to day lives. Puritan Richard Baxter wrote on this point
“Sound doctrine makes a sound judgment, a sound heart, a sound conversation [life] and a sound conscience.”
This shows just how closely related doctrine and practice were for the Puritans. This can be directly correlated to the seminary student of today, namely to live, love and apply the doctrinal truths learned in their studies to their daily lives. It is pointless in my opinion to enter seminary studies if this is not the student’s ultimate goal. The Puritans are one of the best examples of just how this is to be accomplished.The Puritans can also help the seminary student to read the Scripture through an Christological lens. A major principal of interpretation used by the Puritans was the idea, firmly rooted in Scripture, that all of God’s Word points to Christ. This can help the student immensely in their studies because once the student grasps this important hermeneutical principle they will see the bible in a deeper and fuller sense. Any student studying the Scriptures should desire this, namely to see Jesus Christ in all aspects of their theological studies.
The Puritans can teach the seminary student a great deal in the area of prayer and communion with God. The Puritans had a resolute prayer life and communion with God was of chief importance in their lives. The Puritan Thomas Goodwin described prayer in this manner;
“prayer is the soul’s breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly Father.”
We can see from this beautiful quote that the Puritans were zealous about prayer and took prayer seriously. They give a great example to follow and the seminary student can learn that even the most studious of students must obtain their education through thoughtful time spent in prayer. Lastly, the Puritans can teach the modern student a great deal in nearly every aspect of the Christian life and practice. I outlined in this paper a few examples of this, but the Puritans can teach us so much more. Whether its zeal for God, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in all things, the atrocious nature of sin, or the proper understanding of doctrine. The Puritans were great teachers from the past and the modern student would be wise to learn from such men.
 The Puritan Study, “The Delights and Pains of Puritan Study”, https://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2006/09/06/the-puritan-study-part-1-the-delights-and-pains-of-a-puritan-study.html (accessed March 27,2014).
 Peter Lewis, The Genius of Puritanism, (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo GloriaPublications, 1977), 12.
 Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine For Life. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) 31.
Just why is theological history important, because the study of history provides a classic mode of learning. Examinations of primary and secondary sources help students to think about their subject rigorously. They must learn to organize and assess evidence, analyze problems, interpret complex events, and finally to write with clarity and precision. In short, studying Church History helps students learn how to learn.
History is popular. History’s special appeal comes from its distinctive subject matter, the human past. Church History is interesting because it deals with real people and events, not with abstractions. The history of the Christian Church from the earliest times to the present offers a boundless variety for selecting favorite topics and pursuing personal interests.
Historical knowledge is important. Amnesia is devastating on the individual level. If I do not know who I am and where I have come from, then I cannot know where I am or should be headed. Studying Historical theology links seminary students to the Church’s past. Examining the history of Church doctrine down through the ages gives students a better understanding of their own beliefs and their origins. It gives the student a solid foundation of doctrine firmly established throughout the ages and gives depth to their own faith.
Studying Historical Theology helps distinguish orthodoxy from heresy. Knowing the past is important because those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it. The heresies of today are nothing new, they are old heresies resurfaced. A good understanding of church history gives one the ability to recognize heresy. For example the modern day cult known as the Jehovah Witnesses is actually a form of the ancient heresy of Arianism, which was dealt with at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This example shows just how essential it is to know the Church’s past. It gives the student another tool to defend the truths of Christian orthodoxy against all its opponents.
Studying Historical theology also helps with biblical interpretation. Looking at the development of Christian doctrine throughout the ages helps the student to contrast one’s own interpretation with that of the church’s past. Historical theology gives the student a proper lens through which to test their own orthodoxy. For example creeds from the early church such as the Apostles Creed and the Athanasius Creed are some of the earliest attestations of proper biblical interpretation. If a believers interpretation contradicts that of these ancient creeds it would be wise to reevaluate this interpretation. These are just a few reasons why studying Historical theology is important. It shows us that we are not alone in our Christian faith but that we stand on the shoulders of those great men who have gone before us, history matters.