The Unintended Reformation

May 12, 2015

Brad-Gregory

Brad S. Gregory

What has the Protestant Reformation wrought?

Brad Gregory is the Griffin Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Notre Dame. His book, The Unintended Reformation (Harvard University Press, 2012), has received a lot of attention and acclaim. I have not read it, but I have watched the lecture (below) a few times! You can consider this as a follow-up to a recent post of mine, “The Protestant desacralization of the West.” Both Professor Gregory and Professor Eire are doing Catholic apologetics at the highest level, which is technically not apologetics. They are tracing the Protestant influence on Western secularism, with scholarly rigor and peer accountability.

In the following lecture, Gregory offers a highly compressed presentation of his book. He moves very quickly through the material, so you have to pay attention.

There is a lot of good questions that can follow from this presentation. Can we really blame Protestantism for all of this? Was it not inevitable, based upon other (mostly secular) contingencies? I am sure that other folks can offer valuable push-back.

However, I think that Gregory makes an important contribution by focusing on theology (as does Professor Eire) and especially the Protestant doctrine of the Bible’s perspicuity. This is obviously a weakness in the Protestant position. Even if we agree that the gospel, however that is defined, is perspicuous, we still cannot agree on a myriad of other matters, like baptism, which continue to cause disunity. And this disunity invariably causes many to resort to their own subjective and private communication with the divine, where personal experience is the sole magisterium. When that happens, it is game over for Protestants.

49 Responses to “The Unintended Reformation”

  1. Bobby Grow said

    Kevin,

    Don’t you mostly think based upon the criteria you just suggested (and I agree) that for Protestant N America evangelicalism it is indeed “game over.” And if it is game over what does that really even mean?

    • Kevin Davis said

      It’s hard to know where to begin. First, it should be acknowledged that N. American evangelicalism is not doing terrible in demographic terms, especially as compared to mainline Protestantism. There is some decline, but American evangelicals have some traction still.

      See http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/may/pew-evangelicals-stay-strong-us-religious-landscape-study.html

      We’ll see how long that holds, however, as the millennials replace the baby boomers over the next thirty to forty years.

      My concern is multifaceted — the splintering of Protestantism (sometimes for good reasons, often for trivial reasons) and the inability to engage modernity responsibly. These are very much related. Simply put, I am troubled by the mainline’s drift to the left and evangelicalism’s drift further to the right — each in an increasingly consistent, predictable, and homogeneous way. The mainline problems are well-known, so evangelicalism may give the appearance of health by comparison. And indeed there are signs of health. For example, if we look at our favorite theologians, there is indeed a renaissance of theology (not apologetics-disguised-as-theology) from evangelicals like Kevin Vanhoozer. But on the ground, in our churches and denominations and parachurch ministries, things are a mess. The “New Calvinists” are by far the most significant movement for doctrinally-minded evangelicals, yet they are also the greatest force for a revived fundamentalism within evangelicalism. I hope I am wrong. On the other end of the evangelical spectrum, we have the charismatic movement which may overwhelm Protestantism as a whole. The problems here are too innumerable to account: doctrinal laxity or indifference, heretical teachings, capitulation to American consumerism, hyper-individualism, celebrity pastors, and so on.

      “Game over” is, of course, me being a bit hyperbolic. But this is very serious. I expect more evangelical students to find the relative sanity of Rome to be an attractive option. A handful will go to the mainline (like RHE). Many will simply opt-out of Christianity altogether, at least in any institutional form. As for myself, I am clearly attracted to how Rome has engaged with modernity for the past fifty-plus years — science, philosophy, sexuality, social theory, and the like — and how her theologians are in fact serving the church.

      But evangelicals do a lot of things right — namely, making the gospel alive and personal — and insofar as evangelicalism continues to return to this source of its freedom, then the above problems will not overwhelm it.

  2. The ‘democratization of Christianity’ in the early American republic identified the faith of the Bible with the ethos of the young society, yielding the ‘Christ of Culture’ in H. Richard Niebuhr’s typology. Among those who accept this identification, it pre-empts any critical or transformative role for religion by making it cognitively impossible to make faith the criterion of the rest of the web of social practice. In that night in which all cats are grey, the complacent do not disentangle their faith from their not-so-perfect way of life because they cannot. And since the critical cannot invoke religion against the bad habits of those who cannot tell the two apart, they disdain religion as a simulacrum of real values. This ‘democratized’ religion is dying before our eyes, inflaming those on both sides of the ‘Second Civil War’ as it does.

    • Yes, I agree. In its own way, Protestantism in America repeated the same problem of medieval Christendom, where the church’s politically-invested interest in civil society rendered it incapable of critiquing the same (and itself). And, indeed, this democratized religion is dying — at least in regard to “Christ of culture” — but a renewed evangelicalism, with a critical distance from nominal Christianity, could prove fruitful. And the latest Pew Study seems to indicate as much. The secret to evangelicalism’s continuing sustainability is its voluntarist ethos and counter-cultural stance. And if Rome can embrace the same mentality and spirituality (which it has ample capacity to do), then perhaps she can experience the same fruit.

  3. Robert F said

    Perspicuity is a real Protestant problem; but I wonder exactly where and who the magisterium was during the Western Schism?

    I think the unity of Rome is an illusion, based on top-down institutional control. In the pews of Roman Catholic churches throughout the Western word, and I daresay in many other places,too, you will find many, many spiritual Protestants, and even evangelicals.

    • In the pews of Roman Catholic churches throughout the Western word, and I daresay in many other places,too, you will find many, many spiritual Protestants, and even evangelicals.

      No doubt that is true. But there are things that you will not find: a gay marriage ceremony and a female priest, to name two hot-button issues. Therefore, at least in certain regards, Rome has real, concrete authority over the affairs of her member churches across the globe. And even on something like abortion (on which many high-profile Catholics dissent), you still have a vibrant pro-life movement, encouraged and sustained by the magisterium of Rome. I’ve visited several different Catholic churches over the years, and nearly every church had pro-life tracts in the narthex. And while there is dissent among many Catholic academics in the West, Rome was still able to have Hans Küng removed from his chair in Catholic theology at Tübingen (so the university created an ecumenical chair for Küng). That is rather significant, and more examples could be enumerated.

      Having said that, yes, I agree that you will find “spiritual Protestants” with an evangelical mindset about the gospel. I am, of course, very happy with that. Yet, as you know, there is also a bland imitation of mainline Protestant pluralism, of which I am not happy. However, once again, I think it makes a significant difference when the magisterium endorses and promotes something, in the way that the UCC, PCUSA, TEC, ELCA, etc., endorse and promote their liberal agendas. In the latter cases, the entire ethos and mentality of the denomination changes, with devastating consequences.

      To be sure, Rome is going through a “rough patch” in the West, to say the least, mimicking the mainline Protestant churches in terms of vitality or lack thereof. But there seems to be an evangelical core in Rome’s theo-ecclesiology, protecting her from demise.

      Perspicuity is a real Protestant problem; but I wonder exactly where and who the magisterium was during the Western Schism?

      Where indeed. As any student of the early church knows, Rome’s claim to universal jurisdiction is a late development (or “novelty” as the East would say). I do not have a strong defense for Rome on this point, not least because I am a Protestant. However, Balthasar’s book, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, is easily the most impressive defense of Rome’s authority that I have ever read, even though Balthasar prefaces the volume by claiming that it is not an apologetic but, rather, an intra-Catholic clarification of doctrine. Given the increasing expanse of the church and need for genuine catholicity, Petrine primacy necessarily developed into Petrine universal jurisdiction. That is not precisely what he says, but that is something that I got out of it (when I read it years ago). There is also Theo-Drama vol. 3, which is perhaps equally impressive and more comprehensive. Nobody has mastered spiritual typology, like Balthasar did, since the early church.

      I am not trying to minimize the differences between Protestants and Rome — and if we were talking about justification, my tone would be entirely different — but I am trying to conceive of Rome’s position in the best and most responsible light.

  4. Robert F said

    It’s true, you will find no gay marriages or female priests.

    But you will find Mary lifted up almost to the theological status of a demi-god (and this done by Popes speaking in their “infallible” office ex cathedra, not in the high middle-ages, but in late modernity!), despite the fact that her statues may, in some churches in the West, have been moved off the high altar to a little side alcove somewhere. I’m familiar with the Roman theological rationale for holding her in such high regard, but as I get older, I become more and more incredulous regarding that.

    • I can’t argue with that. As I have noted elsewhere, the most divisive mariological claims were not defined in the middle ages or at the Council of Trent but, rather, in 1854 and 1950! I have no problem with Irenaeus’ “new Eve” typology, as understood in the second century and immediately thereafter. But it is certainly a few steps removed from the dogmas of the last two centuries.

      However, I am increasingly open to understanding the rationale behind this mariological development, which has more to do with aesthetic intuition and “fittingness” (Latin:conveniens) than with logical deduction or even induction. As a Protestant and a de facto product of the Enlightenment, the former style of reasoning (conveniens) is entirely foreign and suspect.

      • Robert F said

        I wonder why aesthetic intuition and “fittingness” would require dogmatic definitions expressed in language that calls for the kind of notional assent that a logical proposition does?

      • Hmm, interesting — maybe that is why the East prefers to just keep these Marian doctrines within the liturgical and devotional life of the church.

  5. ‘Aesthetic intuition and fittingness’ better describes the original mariology that developed in the East from the Council of Chalcedon’s ‘Theotokos’ than it does Rome’s reframing of that mariology in terms of St Augustine’s construal of Romans 5:12 (compare 1 Corinthians 15:22) that the historical Adam transmitted original sin to his descendants.

    • Sure. I was thinking of, for example, Jaroslav Pelikan’s account of how the bodily assumption of Mary was argued, in part, because if special saints in the OT (like Enoch and Elijah) were transferred to heaven before death, then it is most fitting that the same be said of Mary. Indeed, that is quite different from the Augustinian logic of original sin = death/corruption, then applied to Mary (no original sin = no bodily corruption).

  6. The union with Christ theology that nearly everyone now finds in St Paul and elsewhere (Campbell, Macaskill) supposes believers with a rich awareness of the Resurrection and Ascension. So how is that working in the pews? Those without a “high regard” for Mary struggle to preach Christmas at all and too easily preach Good Friday on Easter. “There is no god but God, and his prophet was sacrificed for us.” Those with that high regard for the Theotokos preach the Incarnation on Christmas, the Atonement on Good Friday (PSA) and Easter (Christus Victor), the Incarnation on Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

    A high regard for the Theotokos enables believers to meditatively approach Christ, not just as a Work, but as the second Person. Approaching Christ as a Person enables the believer’s full participation in Him as described by Luther (cf Mannermaa, Cooper) and Calvin (cf Billings, Canlis, Ellis). Is it unreasonable to infer that, if we want to see anything in the pews like the reformers’ devotion to Christ, we should at the very least stop airbrushing St Mary out of Protestantism?

    Campbell & Macaskill

    http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199684298.do

    http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/academic/pdf/13/9780199684298_prelim.pdf

    Mannermaa & Cooper

    http://store.augsburgfortress.org/store/contributor/4744/Tuomo-Mannermaa

    http://wipfandstock.com/christification.html

    Billings, Canlis & Ellis

    http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/6449/calvin39s-ladder.aspx

    http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=4062

    Kelly Kapic on Ellis’ “Covenantal Union and Communion: Union with Christ as the Covenant of Grace”–

    “Brannon Ellis hopes to enrich conversations between sanctification and justification by considering the place of union of Christ in sanctification, especially in terms of communion of the saints. Ellis argues that to be made new by Christ is inextricably bound to being ‘in’ Christ, which in turn is inextricably bound to belonging to the church. In doing this, he does not collapse soteriology and ecclesiology into one another, but emphasizes the inseparability of the new covenant membership with the mystical union. In this respect, rather than seeing union with Christ as holding a particular place on the ordo salutis, it spans the ordo’s outworking of redemption from beginning to end.”

    Protestantism

    “O God, who hast taken to thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” — Collect for the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, The Book of Common Prayer (USA 1979), pp 192, 243.

    http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearABC/HolyDays/MaryVirg.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther%27s_Marian_theology

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calvin%27s_views_on_Mary

    http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/arcic/doc/e_arcic_mary_printable.html

    • Thanks for this, Bowman. I agree about how Protestantism has prioritized the work over the person of Christ, not least because of how a forensic model of imputation came to dominate Protestant theology. Perhaps a retrieval of Mariology, attenuated of course, is indeed the antidote Protestants need. But how likely is that? There have been attempts over the years (like Tim Perry’s book on Mary for evangelicals) which have fallen flat. There has to be a practical connection — a devotional raison d’etre — for the average pew-sitter, which at the very least must include prayer to Mary as an intercessor. We can tell people to think highly of Mary, but there has to be something concrete to include Mary in the devotional life of the Christian. And I do not see Protestantism (much less, evangelicalism) taking that step.

      The sanctification book (ed. Kapic) looks very interesting. I know Brannon Ellis from Aberdeen. He was starting his PhD when I was there — very bright guy. I still remember him toting around his copy of Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism!

      • The devotional steps for pew-sitters are to refrain from gratuitous anti-marianism, to sing the Magnificat, to praise God for the wonder of the Incarnation, and above all to faithfully participate in Christ. Anglican and Lutheran evangelicals have done this off and on for centuries. The point is not to be marian, but to lose anti-marian hindrance to ‘christification.’ Merely cultural evangelicals may not be up for it, but they are not the future of the Church. The rest of us have a duty to do what is right.

        Ellis’s contribution is among most consequential in a good collection. Some essays address union with Christ; others explore sanctification by grace through faith apart from the works of law; a few offer Reformed approaches to Wesley’s perfect love; a few more open new ground. Among the last, Oliver O’Donovan’s discussion of vocation is the most interesting.

  7. Joel said

    A few years back when I had a subscription to Books and Culture, they published this review. There was a follow-up exchange between the authors later, but can’t find it right now.
    http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2012/marapr/rotstarted.html?paging=off

    Anyway, I Watched part of the video and will finish it later.

    • Thanks, Joel. That’s an excellent review.

      That sola scriptura would not prove to be the epistemological polestar that the reformers hoped it would be is the understatement of several centuries. And who among the descendants of the “magisterial” Reformation, it might be candidly asked, does not also at times wish into existence some Protestant counterpart to a papal bull that would take Scripture out of the hands of the Left Behind kind or the theonomists in our midst?

      I’m glad that Kley acknowledges this as the strongest line of influence (to secularism) in Gregory’s account. However, I think it is worse than Kley recognizes here. The descendants of the magisterial Reformation are in fact the mainline Protestant denominations, which have departed drastically from the Reformers under the same principle of sola scriptura.

      And is it true, as Kley says, that “Gregory unduly amplifies the cacophony by insisting on the integral inclusion” of the radical Reformation? It seems to me that Gregory is correct to regard the relative stability of two schools in Protestantism (Lutheran and Reformed) as a temporary benefit of state sanction, the lingering remnant of Christendom assumptions about the need for a state religion. Once that was gone, the full force of Protestant individualism was able to be unleashed and the splintering continues unabated.

      I also question Kley’s comments on the “optical illusion of Catholic unity.” This is a routine Protestant refrain, often in reference to Dominican v. Jesuit differences as an historical example, just as Kley does. But the unity that Rome guarantees and maintains does not mean uniformity in all respects, including theological debates. Rome does not desire to attain the homogeneity of the OPC, and that’s a good thing.

      • Cal said

        But Kevin, another meta-question is whether Rome’s catholicity is what the Apostolic mission had in mind. Obviously the sterility of the OPC (despite Carl Trueman’s generous interpretations) is not. But can the catholic Church be beholdedn to an engraved institutional authority? Is the grasp for power (ultimately in the ascension of Hildebrandt and Papal history ever after) a mark and revelation that this is a false whore church from the Revelation to John?

        The Magisterial Protestants were baby Rome’s attempting the same project. In fact, I just realized, it’s sort of an alternative history. What if the Pope lost against the Emperor in the investiture controversy?

        I think the Magisterial move was ultimately shown to be a sham in Prussia’s Union of Reformed and Lutheran. If this is the essence of Protestantism, I’m already swimming the Tiber!!

        I’m with you Kevin, Protestantism proper is a shambling wreck. The decline of the Mainline is probably more from a cultural shift (tied to thrust of American destiny as it is) than any broad defection. The mood of Americana is Dionysian and Pagan, despite attempts by Moral Majority to reignite the traditional civil religion.

        At a couple points in my walk, Rome seems the only option. But my imagination has been unalterably fixed by understanding the Waldense. I can appreciate Rome and Constantinople, but I think it is a false catholicity. The Church is the Bride running in the Wilderness, being pursued by the Dragon. She is not the ascendant concubine, courting all the kings of men and riding the Beast victoriously (for a time atleast).

        Sadly, there is no public language to describe me. I am (broadly) Reformed but not Protestant? That doesn’t make any sense. The Anabaptist label is the new vogue, but even that is so incredibly insufficient. Plus, what Anabaptist grouping would take a predestinarian, paedobaptist?

        It’s all yikes.

        Cal

      • Cal said

        PS. While the Anabaptist emphasize a largely forgotten antithesis, they verge (many a time) to a quiestist and escapist mindset. Many a time, ignorance is prized as “Godly Wisdom”. This is a bad path to tread.

      • Cal said

        One last thought:

        Kley misunderstands the Waldense and the Lollard as mere protest movements against clerical corruption. To say this is to equate Luther’s protest as being only inspired by clerical manipulation of indulgence sales. There was a spark due to corruption, but the raison d’etre was more substantial than merely this.

        It was these groups that rejected as corruption the Donation of Constantine as an alliance of hell (before it was discovered a fraud). The rejection of Roman magisterial is much more complex and multi-faceted among these groups than he allows.

        And the “radical Reformation” was influenced by these underground groups, but not constitutive of them. The Anabaptist groups are Zwinglian defectors, which shapes much of their theology (anti-sacramentalism). Instead of being a proto-civic religion (ala. Huldrich), they became proto-culture conclaves. It’s not a wonder that their heirs (Hutterites, Amish, traditional Mennonites) embody very particular Germanic cultural expressions.

        cal

      • Kevin Davis said

        Thanks, Cal, I always enjoy the knowledge of the radical Reformation that you bring to the table. As for the big question, about whether Rome’s catholicity is what the apostolic mission had in mind, that’s very hard to answer. I think that the apostolic mission had visible, institutional unity in mind, not just spiritual and fraternal unity in the body of Christ. Without the former unity, the latter is damaged and a scandal — and that is where we are. Rome is obviously culpable, in great measure, for this disunity, but so is everyone else. The troubling question for Protestants is whether the “formal principle” of our theology (sola scriptura as a function of solus Christus) is necessarily incapable of yielding the unity which all Christians, for centuries, assumed was willed by God for his church. I have to say, the answer is Yes: we have no means for achieving unity, even a modest conciliarism, and the last two centuries have illustrated this defect to an egregious extent. By contrast, Rome does — in a way that the Eastern churches cannot achieve either.

        Is this a historical accident, through Rome’s advantageous moves and forgeries? Perhaps. Or perhaps Bernini’s baldacchino sits atop the tomb of Peter for a reason, as a sign and witness of God’s strange providence in a corrupt and rebellious world. Moreover, it seems to me that we are finally coming to a time when Rome’s alignment with the powers is ending, so that she may once again be the wilderness sojourner and virgin spouse.

        I know it sounds like I have already swam the Tiber, but I have not forgotten the other theological matters. It is easy to make a case for Rome when we are talking about Protestantism’s vulnerable points of doctrine, as I have been doing in these threads lately.

      • “Sadly, there is no public language to describe me. I am (broadly) Reformed but not Protestant? That doesn’t make any sense. The Anabaptist label is the new vogue, but even that is so incredibly insufficient. Plus, what Anabaptist grouping would take a predestinarian, paedobaptist?”

        Cal, I’ll describe you publicly as one of my favorite online voices. But in what way are you ‘not Protestant’ if you are a Reformed predestinarian?

      • Cal said

        Kevin:

        I make a distinction between visibility and engraved. I do believe in the reality of a visibility/invisibility distinction, but not collapsing the former into the latter (as many Baptists do). By engraved I mean a certain kind of grasping for surety through institutional foundations. This can be in the Vicar of Christ theology of a magisterium proper, or it can be in hard-nosed confessionalism.

        This comes down to questions of authority. You can’t dismiss the fact that every ex cathedra pronouncement is swirled with a mix of papal interpreters. The intellects and bright lights in Rome may damn liberational theology, syncretic paganism etc. but these ARE the Catholic church in S. America for most.

        There’s definitely a difference in allowing many voices in a choir and parts of the choir revolting and singing a different song altogether.

        No, Sola Scriptura will not yield a pure unity. We have multiple “bible churches” who reach completely different stances and point the finger at one another as being “unbiblical”. I’m not happy about denominations, but to chart out as “non-denominational” is only foolishness and ignorance.

        I’m rambling, but I guess where I end up is somewhere weird. I think “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit” ought to be the approach. Catholic and conciliar, but open to fresh renewals and expressions.

        I don’t know what this practically means, but my community is apart of a network of many churches committed to a very catholic and generous gospel. We’re Reformed (Presbyterian even), and yet we float with Anabaptists, Baptists, Anglicans, Pentecostals etc. ‘Network’ might be the better way forward, but we’ll see.

        I’m rambling at this point, but this topic is a rambling one. I guess I’m still wondering and wandering, more sure of what I’m not than what I am. I am certainly not a closet Hegelian like Leithart, who praises the possibility of synthesis. And I’m not an evolutionist (like many a Romanist) who believe the Church is still growing up. Call me Fundamentalist, but I’m not abandoning Acts as proscriptive for the life of the Church.

        Providence is good and weird. We need to live in the prophetic reality that God maintains evil powers, apostate churches, false prophets, yea, even the demons. Why? I don’t know.

      • Cal said

        Bowman:

        Thanks for your kindness. I somethings think I’m completely incoherent, so I’m glad someone appreciates my voice🙂

        What I mean by Reformed is that I think one of ‘the’ Biblical themes is covenant (which Rome, Constantinople, Wittenburg and Canterbury generally ignore), and I am a monergist and predestinarian in the best senses of those terms.

        However, none of these belong, properly, to the Reformers. Recapitulation, in the Irenaean sense, can be right in line with Covenantal theology. And a strong view of predestination, providence, and election (all different) existed among the medieval underground (who were many times well versed in Augustine) as apart of their critique of Papal/Roman authority.

        But when we say Protestant, what are we saying? Among even the big names, the methodology and temper of Luther and Calvin were wildly different.

        Please forgive me the now cliche trope, but the old Latin Church became Rome in the Constantinian Shift. This movement is not about Constantine, or the Roman Empire even, but an Establishment, Imperial mindset. There’s something different between Justin Martyr and Origin, and Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea. All of them were apologetic and sympathetic to the protection of the Roman Imperium, but there was a different mood.

        Augustine (as I understand him), inconsistent as he was, represented one of the last socially respected voices who questioned some of the deep imperial assumptions of the Church.

        I guess it breaks down this way: what is the Church in relation to the systems of the World. Theonomy (even in Papal forms) represents a misunderstanding of Christ, the New Testament, and the Triune God. But it gets the Church right.

        But Erastian thinking, which includes Lutheran 2 Kingdoms and two-swords theology, misunderstands the Church. Of the many different strains of Protestantism, this stands as a unifying belief. None of the Magisterial Protestants really much differed on this, being as they are all state-supported protests.

        For me, this is a constituent element of Protestantism, and one that I find apostate.

        I hope that explains a little of where I’m coming from.

        cal

      • First of all, thanks to Bowman and Cal (et al.) for the discussion. I very much enjoy discovering where other thoughtful Protestants are, in their thinking through these difficult matters.

        Cal, your distinction between “visibility” and “engraved” is helpful. I am clearly arguing for a particular type of visibility and unity, which is basically one where every church is in full communion with the other, sharing the same ministerial offices and confessions. As far as I can tell, this necessarily requires an “engraving” of some sort. So, yes, Protestants have tried to do this through a high confessionalism and/or (as with low-church evangelicals) a highly restrictive view of biblical inerrancy and a peculiar hermeneutic. Rome achieves it through the magisterium. Yes, interpretative differences abound within Rome’s jurisdiction, but the unity remains — and I think we overplay the differences. Even in the West, it is hard to find a Catholic who doesn’t believe that the last two Marian dogmas are binding, especially since they are woven into the liturgical life of the church.

        I will further quibble with another thing you write. As I see it, Liberation theology is an affair for the ecclesiastics and theologians of Latin America, not the people in general. Instead, the people have been generally disinterested or simply gone elsewhere. The popular quip in Latin America is that, “The Church opted for Liberation theology, and the people opted for the Pentecostals.”

        Out of curiosity, what church network do you belong to?

      • Cal said

        That’s fair to a point. Most Catholics would say the Marian doctrines are binding, but what exactly do they mean? For some Catholics Mary is the Queen of Heaven, co-redemptrix, co-mediator, who is equal to Christ. To others, Mary is merely a deep saint who, without sin, is able to hear our prayers and bring them more presentably to God. I’m probably butchering, but there’s still a lot of leeway.

        Another curiosity is that you find more Catholics who understand the teaching of the Magisterium and disagree with it. This is supposed to be Holy Spirit inspired right? But you don’t find too many Evangelicals (though perhaps in the Mainline) who just say “yea, the Bible is just wrong there”. The progressive ethic redemptive history hermeneutic can be close (pace Bill Webb).

        That’s fair about liberation theology. I didn’t think that was as true in S. America as it was for East and South Asia. I thought the Catholics had absorbed it differently than the freewheeling academic authorities in Korea or for India.

        My network is Ecclesia: http://ecclesianet.org/

        And no Bowman, as much as I appreciate the work of Leithart, I am most definitely not in CREC!!

        cal

      • Robert F said

        “Even in the West, it is hard to find a Catholic who doesn’t believe that the last two Marian dogmas are binding…”

        Although you can find plenty of Catholics who do not believe that the magisterium’s authoritative teaching on the use of artificial birth control is binding. it’s easy enough to understand: obedience to the canon law would be pesonally costly in the one case, but is not in the other. Whenever it is convenient, Catholics resort to the supremacy of personal conscience, and think and act very much like Protestants right in the midst of their Catholic parishes.

  8. Joel said

    Okay, I finished it.

    I don’t have much time right now, but I think one aspect Gregory is overlooking is that the unity of the Middle Ages (such as it was – antipope shenanigans and stuff aside) existed partly because it was an enforced unity – sometimes violently. It really pains me to be the guy saying “what about the inquisition?”, and it’s not like Protestants had their hands clean – but, well, the Medieval church did sometimes persecute and forcibly suppress dissent.

    There is of course much more to the Middle Ages than this, as I sometimes tell people. But it’s an element that can’t be ignored if you’re talking about the unity of the church, and Gregory does at least in this summarized version.

    • Kevin Davis said

      That’s a good point, and I’m interested to know if he engages with that in the book. It really does make for an excellent discussion, so I’m excited to read the book whenever I get a chance. Off the top of my head, I assume that Gregory would say that the enforced conformity and political alliances of the past are not essential to the church — but the magisterium is, in order to provide for the church’s unity. The Protestants erred, in his account, by rejecting the latter and assuming that sola scriptura could function in its place.

  9. Early in his Diary of a Country Priest, George Bernanos has a worldly-wise archpriest exhort a new priest to “Create order every day.” The shy young man looks up at his visitor incredulously, for he is not naturally gifted with influence. But his eminence grise goes on to speak pragmatically about the consequences for society of any failure to take Christ’s authority and use it for good. The recent seminarian would rather gaze lovingly into his crucifix, merging his own sufferings with those of the crucified Son. His mentor insists that he meet the local chevalier to seek support for a worthy project that will help many poor children.

  10. Robert F said

    To end up with a magisterium, and tradition, that claims the only authoritative ability to rightly interpret Scripture, don’t you have to start with someone, or several someones, clearly perceiving the import and meaning of the texts they are reading? Didn’t the Scriptures have to have the quality of perspicuity for those original readers and interpreters; otherwise, how would they (the Scriptures) reveal their meaning? And if it theoretically had to have that quality for them, why should their reading be privileged over other, later readers who make the claim that their own reading of Scripture leads to different interpretation? Why is it necessary to assume the earlier reading is more authoritative and true than the later, if both start from the perception of a clear meaning presenting itself to each of the interpreters?

    I ask this as a non-theologian. Pardon me if these are naive questions, and I’m overlooking something obvious to the educated and trained eye.

    • Robert F said

      And if first is most authoritative, how does one decide between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic versions of what was “first” (which, to my understanding, are different in significant ways) without becoming something of a Protestant in the process?

  11. Robert F said

    Kevin, You are arguing yourself into Roman Catholicism. I understand the appeal. I’m a former Catholic, and I vacillate between attraction and repulsion when thinking about the Roman Catholic Church.

    Alas, even if attraction should outbalance revulsion, they will not have me, since my wife was a divorcee when I married her. Protestantism allows me to be a full communicating member where Rome cannot. Insofar as there are many like me and my wife, there will always be Protestant churches.

    • Thanks, Robert, as always. I’ll briefly respond.

      First, this is just an exercise in understanding the other side with as much sensitivity and integrity as I am capable. On this particular issue, it is rather easy to see the glaring weaknesses in Protestantism, but this is far from the only issue or only consideration.

      Although you can find plenty of Catholics who do not believe that the magisterium’s authoritative teaching on the use of artificial birth control is binding. it’s easy enough to understand: obedience to the canon law would be pesonally costly in the one case, but is not in the other. Whenever it is convenient, Catholics resort to the supremacy of personal conscience, and think and act very much like Protestants right in the midst of their Catholic parishes.

      That’s a good observation, and you are surely right. Here is how I understand the issue: Liberals and moderates argue that the ban on artificial contraception is part of the ordinary magisterium, not yet receiving an extraordinary definition (whether conciliar or papal). Therefore, Catholics are free to disagree. On the other hand, conservatives argue that even teachings from the ordinary magisterium require obedience if not assent. Such teachings can be debated but not in advocacy of disobedience. More importantly, according to the conservatives, the ban is part of the universal ordinary magisterium (as defined by Vatican II), as something taught at all times from the beginning and therefore infallible. Now, it seems to me that the obvious thing that Rome would need to do is to finally define this teaching through the extraordinary magisterium, to settle the controversy. So, I suspect that pragmatic considerations are behind Rome’s decision not to.

      Why is it necessary to assume the earlier reading is more authoritative and true than the later, if both start from the perception of a clear meaning presenting itself to each of the interpreters?

      I suppose that Rome’s response would be twofold. (1) The earlier is not necessarily more authoritative, strictly speaking, but it is privileged. The 2nd century interpreters are privileged in a way that 16th or 20th century interpreters are not. The best-known example: Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John the Evangelist. (2) Whatever perspicuity may have existed in the beginning, it has proven incompatible with church unity; therefore, the need for a continuing magisterium was discerned, as early as Ignatius and Irenaeus in response to the divisions in their own time. I think the first of these two responses is the weakest.

      And if first is most authoritative, how does one decide between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic versions of what was “first” (which, to my understanding, are different in significant ways) without becoming something of a Protestant in the process?

      I don’t know. The attraction to Rome is, of course, the sort of unity and catholicity it can provide, compared to an Eastern Orthodoxy that appears all too parochial and divided. But the EO claims against Rome are very strong. More to the point, there is indeed a certain “Protestant” starting point for all of us who are evaluating these issues. Against Roman apologists, I would say that we are all in the same “epistemological boat,” as I like to say, which means that the problem of subjective interpretation cannot be magically wiped away. The convert to Rome is making a subjective interpretation of the objective data, as is the Protestant and the Eastern Orthodox.

      Kevin, You are arguing yourself into Roman Catholicism.

      Not quite, but I am playing “devil’s advocate,” so to speak. Maybe I will argue myself into Roman Catholicism, but it will not be on the basis of authority issues alone.

      my wife was a divorcee when I married her. Protestantism allows me to be a full communicating member where Rome cannot.

      I’ll admit that I cannot defend Rome on this. A few years ago, I dated a young woman who was married for five years. Her husband started cheating on her and finally abandoned her. It ended with a divorce. Obviously, I have a hard time believing that she should not be allowed to remarry, much less that such an action should bar her from receiving communion. According to canon law, if she remained unmarried then she could receive communion (because the civil divorce was not her fault), but if she remarried then she could not receive communion. Fortunately, she is a life-long Methodist, so none of this mattered.

  12. Kevin et al, although I have not read the book, I can see that it goes well beyond the naked double causal model–

    Reformation—> Sola scriptura —-> Myriad churches.

    Nevertheless, that model has become central to our thread, and if by ‘sola scriptura’ we mean that ‘all things necessary to be believed for salvation are perspicuous in scripture,’ I do not see why others here find it persuasive.

    The model seems to postdict that, from 1500-2000 all groups of churches in which ‘sola scriptura’ was present were equally likely to divide at least once within, say, 50 years. Yet we know that, for example, German Lutherans in America have divided notably less often than ‘Westminster’ Presbyterians in America. Why? Both tribes affirm ‘sola scriptura’ with equal ardor.

    The model also postdicts that all ‘sola scriptura’ churches should be equally unlikely to unite with others to form larger churches. But again, the German Lutherans here proved to be as eager to merge as their Presbyterian neighbors were to refine their continuing disagreements. ‘Sola scriptura’ cannot explain this difference either.

    Restated in terms of effect sizes, the model above posits a disintegration effect of belief in ‘sola scriptura’ that is too strong for the communion effect of belief in visible unity. Among fissiparous Protestant churches 1500-2000, we should find at least some who had a robust belief in the visible unity of the Church, but were nevertheless visibly pulled apart by their other belief that ‘all things necessary to be believed for salvation are perspicuous in scripture.’ How many such churches actually exist?

    Indeed, of ‘all things necessary to be believed for salvation,’ surely the faith in ‘unio Christi’ which all branches of the Reformation shared was both ‘perspicuous in scripture,’ and promoted visible communion. Yet, as many reading this will know, later divines (eg Westminster) repurposed that doctrine to distinguish real Christians from the unreal in a way that undercut belief in the visibility of unity. I look forward to critique of the following alternate model–

    Anti-universalism—> Disbelief in visible unity —> Disunity.

    If it should turn out that some scriptural doctrines found among some Protestant churches have the effect of immunizing them against the disintegrative effect of belief in ‘sola scriptura,’ if any, then Reformation catholics ought simply to acknowledge this reality and stand under the banners of those doctrines. Meanwhile, papal authority, despite its many contributions to the Western sort of civil order, appears to be unnecessary to the visible unity of Protestants who want to be visibly united in Christ himself.

    Hypothetical universalism—> Belief in visible unity—> Unity.

    Postscript– Anabaptist Protestants (eg Amish Mennonites) support this hypothesis insofar as their ‘districts’ practice visible unity with others. Of course, as Cal might note, they are suspicious of ‘baby Romes’ entangled with worldly power. The question that their tradition of suspicion poses is– when, and in what ways, does visible unity in Christ warrant dissociation from, even invisibility to, the world? That question, presupposing as it does the common Protestant determination to get the Church back to sola Christus, is a welcome, if complicating, contribution to us all.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Mergers have often been to the detriment of doctrine, as with the formation of the UCC, which included the German Reformed of Schaff and Nevin, and is now about as watered-down doctrinally as it gets.

      Anyway, that’s an interesting proposal — that visible unity is correlated to one’s doctrine of atonement. There may be something to that. But the Lutherans are now rather divided: ELCA, LCMS, WELS, AALC, NALC, and LCMC. The last two are recent formations in response to the ELCA, which was a merger that (invariably again) has resulted in doctrinal weakness.

      • Thank you, Kevin, for a quick response to a complex comment. Since you have moved on to new posts, I will be briefer here.

        Dilution? I cannot find the argument in your examples, perhaps because I see them differently. Mercersburg theology seems not to have been the majority position among the C20 German Reformed who merged with the Congregationalists. And if the ELCA was a dilution, then where was the prior concentration– the AELC, the ALC, or the LCA? Generally, the long history of Lutheran unification is interesting because, as the outliers (LCMS, WELS) remind us, their wide diversity of settlement, language, nationality, and churchmanship posed such formidable obstacles to unity.

        But as you point out, disagreement over That Topic has delivered votes to many who had long wanted to break away from their denominations (eg NALC and LCMC from ELCA, ECO from PCUSA, Diocese of South Carolina from TEC, ACNA from TEC and ACC, etc). Some of these have impressive leaders, but their corporate manifestos never impress me with a mature vision of ecumenical unity. If the figure of the unity of Christ and the Church is marriage, these often sound like the fidgety words of someone who is relieved that her date has finally made a mistake bad enough to let her break things off with him from some sort of dignified high ground.

        But I also look at where these churches are, and see how their hometowns vote. In defense of the fidgets, their secessions are a reminder that, although American religion is regional to the bone, our denominations are mostly national or international abstractions that only interest groups truly love. It makes much more sense than it should that Episcopalians in South Carolina are much less comfortable with liberal bishops from the Pacific Northwest than with being overseen from across the pond as an extra-provincial diocese of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Was the idea that our churches should stretch from sea to shining sea yet another mistake in the ‘democratization of Christianity’ in America? Maybe South Carolina sees what Missouri and Wisconsin saw.

      • Dilution? I cannot find the argument in your examples, perhaps because I see them differently. Mercersburg theology seems not to have been the majority position among the C20 German Reformed who merged with the Congregationalists. And if the ELCA was a dilution, then where was the prior concentration– the AELC, the ALC, or the LCA

        True, I wasn’t making an argument — not much of one at least — just an observation. I do not know enough about either the UCC or the ELCA. But it is interesting to observe how Mercersburg did not, I agree, have much of an influence on C20 German Reformed in America. But is that not always the case? Whether it’s Newman and Keble, Shaff and Nevin, Wilson and Leithart, Milbank and Ward — attempts at a Reformational Catholicism seem to be the domain of an intellectual elite within Protestantism, with little to show for itself on the ground. It is idealist — a flight from reality. I am not committed to that criticism, but it is a criticism worth making.

        As for the mergers, I know nearly nothing about the constituent bodies that formed the ELCA or UCC — but I suspect that they were far less diluted and rather more committed to confessional orthodoxy. I know the Presbyterian tradition the best, of course. When the Northern Presbyterians (the UPCUSA) and the Southern Presbyterians (the PCUS) merged in 1983 to form the PCUSA, several Southern Presbyterians warned about the cost for doctrinal integrity. Prior to the merger, the Southern PCUS was committed to the Westminster Standards alone, albeit with a slightly more moderate interpretation than the current PCA. As in my Presbyterian church here in Charlotte, everyone over the age of 60 can fondly recall learning their Shorter Catechism in the PCUS in the South, regardless of which church they attended. Those days are long gone for the PCUSA.

        Some of these have impressive leaders, but their corporate manifestos never impress me with a mature vision of ecumenical unity.

        Yep. I’ve complained about that to my pastor — in regard to ECO, which otherwise has an impressive statement of faith.

        If the figure of the unity of Christ and the Church is marriage, these often sound like the fidgety words of someone who is relieved that her date has finally made a mistake bad enough to let her break things off with him from some sort of dignified high ground.

        Hilarious! I’ll have to remember this.

        In regard to the Episcopalians in South Carolina, our church in Charlotte has some strong connections. The retired bishop of the SC diocese (C. FitzSimons Allison) is friends of our church, Westminster Pres, because his son is a member of our church — a very active and respected member. The retired bishop gave a sermon here last year, and it was fantastic! Straight-up evangelical doctrine, with a rare confidence.

      • Thank you again, Kevin, for your prompt and thoughtful reply. I too recall old-timers lamenting that the young no longer learn man’s chief end. And also the evangelical brilliance, homiletical and otherwise, of “Fitz” Allison, the presiding bishop of Pawley’s Island. I’ve even seen the Gettysburg students of Eric Gritsch and Robert Jenson introducing Reformational Catholicism to the good Lutherans of central Pennsylvania, many of whose Reformed forebears must have been puzzled by similar arguments from the Mercersburg students of Nevin and Schaff. And seeing ECO’s juxtaposition of sane corporate discipline with agnosticism about the wider Corpus Christi prompted some of my current reflections on the next big thing. Your post on what Baptists do right is not far from them. I have further thoughts on all of this, but alas cannot post them here before Friday. Meetings…

      • I’ll look forward to those further thoughts. Thanks again.

  13. […] Illusion? (Baker Academic, 2003). As my faithful readers know, I have recently been looking hard at weaknesses in Protestant theology, especially ecclesiology. This is also nothing new, as I’ve been doing this off-and-on […]

  14. “Whether it’s Newman and Keble, Shaff and Nevin, Wilson and Leithart, Milbank and Ward — attempts at a Reformational Catholicism seem to be the domain of an intellectual elite within Protestantism, with little to show for itself on the ground. It is idealist — a flight from reality. I am not committed to that criticism, but it is a criticism worth making.”

    And answering.

    (1) What protest movements stop is as important as what they start. For example, Newman and Keble did not break parliamentary control of the Church of England, but they did brake it, and that enabled the relatively autonomous CoE of today. Without them, there could never have been a William Temple framing the character of postwar English social institutions, nor would Justin Welby be moderating debate on the future of England as successfully as he is.

    (2) What “idealist movements” have to show for themselves is often their influence on much larger churches. Quakers are nearing extinction today, but in the C20 their influence on liberal Christians in the mainline was vast. Similarly, the catholic tendency in the Episcopal Church has greatly influenced the polity, liturgy, spirituality, and post-confessional identities of far larger denominations of Lutherans, Methodists, and now maybe Presbyterians.

    (3) Insofar as Reformation Catholic movements have an agenda for spirituality, small institutions, not vast denominations are their logical vehicle. Distracted by their smells and bells, we can forget their primary emphasis on discipline, meditation, and theological exegesis learned in retreats and monasteries. Anglican catholicism will last in America for as long as there are Cowley brothers on the left bank of the Charles, and seminarians braving the winter at Nashotah House.

    So, no, I do not see a “flight from reality”– the gritty urban missions of Anglican catholics were hardly in flight from anything– but I do see Stark’s Law in action. What matters is– as you say so well in your last post on the Baptists– transmission of the faith from generation to generation so that the ripples spread across the pond.

    • Excellent response, Bowman. I appreciate this a lot. Since I don’t really disagree with any of your three points, I don’t have anything to add. I do remember reading about the Anglo-Catholic missions to the urban poor (and Newman’s Birmingham must have been quite a difference from his beloved and glorious Oxford!), and I was impressed.

    • Cal said

      I think the future of any theology (good or bad) lies in the ability to liturgize it and employ it as a reality. This can be only found in language and textualized action (to sound Derridan, sorta). A PCA urban church planter put it this way: if average Muslims can learn the Koran in Arabic, Christians can learn to use words like justification. He was speaking about living in rough, inner-city, central Jersey. He didn’t buy the seeker sensitive crap for a minute. And he speaks as a minority, one who is also irritated with the PCA’s latent token racism (in the Mid-Atlantic at least).

      But how many take the “revolution” into the heart? I’ve really appreciated Jamie Smith’s work in this regard. We think according to our imagination, which is the potent reasoning of the heart. If we are not starting there, then of course we go nowhere. It’s why, in my opinion, Barth has not really made a dent among most people, except in academia and in personal libraries.

      Secular Pagans, however, have overwhelming received Jung, Tillich etc. and that language is very persuasive. Oprah has disseminated such a vocabulary to a wide and popular audience. It’s amazing how the post-modern mood and language of most millenials is dripping in Kant. They never have to read him, the man has become an atmosphere.

      Bowman’s right, it’s about generational transfer, but only because it’s about person to person transfer. Why sacramental thinking is hard is because the Church in America has little intellegient antithesis. For most bodies, it seems to be go with the flow, or be reactionary. I’m hoping Jamie Smith’s work gains traction, if not directly, then indirectly. Strangely, I think he’s the theologian of the future (for either good or ill).

      cal

      • It’s why, in my opinion, Barth has not really made a dent among most people, except in academia and in personal libraries.

        Point taken. I actually agree, and this is why I have to supplement Barth with Balthasar. There is a discussion that needs to be had (and has happened in bits and pieces in various publications) about Barth’s place in the church catholic. His only “home” has been the mainline Reformed, but even there the reception has been very mixed — lots of people in both the PCUSA and the C of S believed that Barth was too reactionary, too out of touch, and so they opted for a method of correlation, of one sort or another. Moreover, the problem is worse now, because of where the mainline Reformed bodies have drifted. The average student of Barth today, if they are coming out of a mainline seminary, is rather comfortable with the zeitgeist of the mainline.

        It’s amazing how the post-modern mood and language of most millenials is dripping in Kant. They never have to read him, the man has become an atmosphere.

        I hammered that over and over to my adult Sunday school class last year, where they allowed me to teach them about modernism and postmodernism! I spent a lot of time on Kant and Hegel, because all of the categories I needed were there in order to explain the present — except perhaps for some additional terms from critical theory, like “power,” which is just taken over from 19th century Left Hegelianism.

        I’m interested to see where Jamie Smith’s denomination, the CRC, goes in the near future. There are strong forces that want to see the CRC (and RCA) as part of the mainline.

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