Tom Hervey

Misadventures in Retrieval: Further Readings in Credo and a Consideration of their Notions of Deification and the Beatific Vision in the Reformed Tradition

For my part I think it more likely that the WCF’s authors got their idea of the soul returning unto God directly from Scripture itself, and that neither Scripture nor their exegesis and systematization of it was formed in light of Neoplatonic tradition, be it knowingly or not.

Previously I discussed how Carl Mosser mistakenly implied that Rome-leaning Hans Boersma is Reformed in an article at Credo that purports to discuss Reformed notions of the beatific vision. I noted that such a blunder invites skepticism as to the rest of his claims, and one who considers those claims will find such skepticism justified. Mosser quotes Westminster Seminary professor R. Carlton Wynne’s suggestion that Boersma’s writings should be shunned “as harboring unbiblical Neoplatonic influences” and says that “these claims are curious since The Westminster Confession . . . alludes to the originally Neoplatonic notion that all things come from God (exitus) and return to him (reditus).” He quotes Westminster Confession (WCF) 32.1 as proof, which says that “[men’s] souls (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.” Mosser omits WCF 32.1’s Scripture proofs, however, which show that “immediately return to God who gave them” is a direct reference to Ecc. 12:7 (“the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”).  With that his argument falls apart, for it shows that Westminster’s notion of the intermediate state is derived directly from Scripture, not Neoplatonism.
Now in defense of Mosser one could say that Ecclesiastes itself was written late and under Platonic influences, though I think it highly unlikely that there is a convincing amount of evidence to support such a claim (it would take much) and doubt very strongly that such a thing was the view of most of the Westminster assemblymen, or even yet widely-heard in the pre-Enlightenment and pre-scriptural criticism era of the 1600s. But those are questions of canon and historical thought that are not quickly answered, and the burden should be on the one so inclined to make such a claim.
Alternatively, one could say that the WCF’s authors were recipients of a theology that had been influenced by Neoplatonism, and that, as such, they were recipients of Neoplatonic notions which they then confessed publicly. This seems to be Mosser’s point, as well as the view that Credo has been promoting as of late: there is a tradition – or rather, ‘Great Tradition’ – of common belief that permeates all of Christian history, and while it appeals to Scripture for proof of its doctrines, the tradition itself is often logically prior to its scriptural proofs. Hence Chapter Two of Boersma’s Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew is titled “No Plato, No Scripture,” and the ‘Great Tradition’ elsewhere lauds Platonism, which obviously exists apart from Scripture. On this view, in writing a confession the Westminster Assembly began with certain notions of the intermediate state that were derived from the Great Tradition that spanned back through the medievals and into the early Church, and they then turned to Scripture to buttress those notions and exegeted it in light of them.
Mosser asserts further that “the [Westminster] divines’ individual writings” show that they “confessed the hope of beatific vision in continuity with their patristic and medieval forbears,” and he appeals as proof to “many approving citations on the topic from the Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Aquinas, Bonaventure and other figures sometimes alleged to have been unduly influenced by Neoplatonism.” That last sentence throws a pall over his whole argument. He begins by confidently asserting Neoplatonic concepts in the Westminster Standards, only to turn and say that the earlier figures whom he asserts Westminster’s divines approvingly quoted were only “sometimes alleged to have been unduly influenced by Neoplatonism.” Well might a reader think with some exasperation: ‘So were they actually Neoplatonic or only allegedly so?’
In any event, Mosser does not provide any examples of such “approving citations” as he confidently asserts abound in the Westminster divines’ individual writings in such plenitude, and so I say we let Mosser and other eager-for-tradition contributors at Credo prove that the Westminster Assembly’s systematization of doctrine was formed under Neoplatonic influences if they can. For my part I think it more likely that the WCF’s authors got their idea of the soul returning unto God directly from Scripture itself, and that neither Scripture nor their exegesis and systematization of it was formed in light of Neoplatonic tradition, be it knowingly or not. And if any is inclined to differ I invite him to read the WCF itself, with its 4,000 Scripture references and precisely zero references to Platonism, and attempt to make the case.
Having made an unconvincing case that the Westminster Standards are Neoplatonic in their confession of the believer’s experience of God after death, Mosser then formulates a doctrine of the beatific vision that is centered upon the concept of deification. He does not clearly define deification, though in passing (and in accord with wider usage) he links it to the Eastern concept of theosis, which holds that it is the believer’s end “to become a god” and “to be like God Himself” by union with him and participation in his nature. It is noteworthy that Mosser regards deification as essential to the beatific vision: quoting Boersma, he says that “historically, the doctrine of the beatific vision went hand in hand with theologies of deification,” and he elsewhere argues that “Reformed theologians who eschewed deification tended to also neglect the beatific vision or, at most, affirm a minimalist version of the doctrine.” He is so bold as to say that “deification is – and always has been – an ecumenical doctrine of the universal church,” and he mentions several prominent reformers in claiming that it is a historic Reformed teaching.
Of these reformers he only attempts an explanation with two. He begins with Zwingli, and his suggestion that Zwingli taught deification is not convincing. The first paragraph simply describes a version of the beatific vision that does not in itself mention anything about deification, but which emphasizes rather the perfect and enduring satisfaction that the vision of God will entail. Mosser states that “Zwingli’s description of the eternal state probably reflects the influence of Gregory of Nyssa who referred to this idea as epectasis” (emphasis mine). Two sentences later he says that “Zwingli’s description of epectasis expounds a doctrine of deification that he earlier inscribed in the first formal statement of Reformed theology, the Sixty-Seven Articles (1523).” From “probably reflects” to a definite “description of epectasis” in two sentences, and that on the basis of an assumed identity between Nyssa’s notion of epektasis (as it is more commonly spelled) and Zwingli’s statement that “the good which we shall enjoy is infinite and the infinite cannot be exhausted.” Note that Zwingli’s statement does not mention us being deified or perpetually increased in our capacity for good, but rather emphasizes God’s goodness being infinite. That seems to be the opposite of what is in view in Gregory’s epektasis.
Mosser quotes Article XIII of Zwingli’s Sixty Seven Articles as a more direct proof of Zwingli’s doctrine of deification: “Where this (the head) is hearkened to one learns clearly and plainly the will of God, and man is attracted by his spirit to him and changed into him.” There is a complication, however, in that the phrase that purportedly teaches deification comes from a single translation of Zwingli’s works that was published in 1901. The OPC and Reformation Heritage Books have more recently translated Article XIII differently, with “changed into him” appearing as “converted to him” and “transformed into his likeness,” respectively.
As a general rule a single obscure statement is not a good ground to build a major doctrine upon, especially where its meaning is translated differently by others. Mosser therefore appeals to a monograph called The Defense of the Reformed Faith, in which we find Zwingli’s exposition of his Sixty Seven Articles and with it some explicit mention of deification (“that a person is drawn to God by God’s Spirit and deified, becomes quite clear from Scripture”). There are a few things to note here. One, The Defense translates Article XIII as ending “transformed into his likeness” – it is in fact the translation Reformation Heritage Books uses above. Two, here too we are at the mercy of a single translator, who says that Zwingli’s original German “implies deification,” but who does not further explain why. Three, the only German translations of the Sixty Seven Articles I was able to find online give different versions of the text of Article XIII than are mentioned in The Defense, thus suggesting there are multiple variations of the text of Article XIII extant. Four, Mosser himself references a German phrase (in inn verwandlet) when he discusses Zwingli’s exposition of Article XIII, and cites The Defense, page 57 as his source. That German phrase does not appear on page 57 of The Defense: no German phrase does, and the only allusion to the original German is in two footnotes on page 58, the second of which is irrelevant here, and the first of which contains a different German phrase (und in got verwandlet) than Mosser uses. It is not clear then where Mosser is getting his German text, for it is not from The Defense.
Lastly, the orthodoxy of the translator of The Defense, E.J. Furcha, is in question, for he contributed to a festschrift that included a piece titled “Comparing Dharmakaya Buddha and God: Not an Exercise in Emptiness.” Furcha’s own contribution (“The Paradoxon as Hermeneutical Principle: the Case of Sebastian Franck, 1499-1542”) also invites suspicion, for Furcha regards Franck positively (“Franck’s Paradoxa is a masterpiece”), and seems to do so for reasons that we would disapprove (Franck is an “independent thinker who seeks to integrate expressions of a living Christian faith with valid manifestations of such faith in non-Christian religions”). We might be forgiven for suspecting that someone who could write that last sentence is perhaps likely to interpret a somewhat obscure phrase in a more liberal manner.
Mosser also searches for support for deification in Calvin’s writings, and here too his case is unconvincing. Some of Calvin’s statements simply sound like descriptions of a beatific vision, not the deifying one that Mosser promotes (e.g. “[Calvin] says ‘participation in the glory of God’ will exalt the bodies of departed saints ‘above nature’”). Mosser substitutes his own meanings of French and Latin phrases for those of the original translators of some of the works he cites, and in so doing translates them more sympathetically to his own view than did the original translators (see his endnotes 26 and 28). Of his competence in Latin and French I know nothing; yet his method is odd, as it invites the question as to why we should prefer his translations over the originals.
Some idea of how he handles his material can be gained from his consideration of Calvin’ statement that “Christ took to Himself what was ours in order that He might transfer what was His to us,” which Mosser says is an example of “the patristic exchange formula” which shows “the deep influence patristic writers . . .  had on [Calvin’s] soteriology.” That seems reasonable, but when in the very next sentence Mosser says “in these patristic writers, the exchange formula ‘teaches deification without actually employing the word’” and then goes on to say that “there can be little doubt Calvin meant it the same way,” well might we object that his use of words is far more convenient for his cause than those words themselves justify. Even the one passage which uses the actual word deify does so timidly and with reservation (“the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us”). All of which is to say that anyone who wants to learn what the Reformed teach concerning the beatific vision will have to go somewhere other than Credo. For our state in glory, see Calvin’s Institutes III, ch. 25, a passage Mosser invokes only to mention Plato (in true Great Tradition fashion).[1]
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.
[1]Concerning deification, see Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. II, pp. 187-190.
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Confused Classifications at Credo: Or, Hans Boersma Is Not Reformed

No matter how that question is answered, someone who favors regarding Scripture and tradition as being our proper rule of faith (regula fidei) over Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is channeling the beliefs of Rome rather than the Reformation, and may not be justly termed either evangelical or Reformed – or for that matter, Protestant, his formal church affiliations (the Anglican Church in North America) notwithstanding. 

It is curious to find an outsider discussing one’s group and its tenets. The thing is often helpful, since the outsider brings a different perspective that can help those within a given group realize where their beliefs are lacking in consistency or clarity, or where they have too much exaggerated their presumed strengths or understated or ignored their weaknesses. It is not particularly curious to find an outsider defining the nature of one’s beliefs or purporting to determine who is and is not a part of one’s group, however. When someone who is not a Presbyterian says that we are too prone to squabbling amongst ourselves, mere justice to the truth often compels one to grimace in pained agreement. But when a member of another tradition or an unbeliever comes along and tells you what you believe or includes within your communion someone you consider an outsider, the result is not amusement or begrudging agreement.
So it is with some annoyance that we find a Lutheran interim pastor and former professor at two Baptist institutions (Eastern University and Gateway Seminary), Carl Mosser, discussing what he calls the Reformed reception of the beatific vision in Credo. Of particular interest are the following statements:
Convinced departure from traditional Christian teaching about humanity’s chief end is adverse to healthy spirituality, Boersma and Allen seek to retrieve the doctrine for the sake of renewal. They are especially concerned for its recovery within the Reformed tradition.
And:
When theologians like Hans Boersma and Michael Horton unpack humanity’s chief end in terms of the beatific vision and deification, they are not importing exotic doctrines into the garden of Reformed theology.
Michael Horton and Michael Allen are professors at Reformed institutions, but Hans Boersma is not Reformed in any meaningful sense of the term, contrary to what these statements seem to imply, and contrary to what is implied yet more strongly in one of the footnotes:
Though historically a minority position within the Reformed tradition, Allen and Boersma both incline toward a Christological understanding of the beatific vision indebted to John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. 
Boersma holds the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House, works especially in “patristic theology, twentieth-century Catholic thought, and spiritual interpretation of Scripture,” is motivated by his interest in what he calls “sacramental ontology,” and has published books like Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery about major trends in the Roman communion. He also quotes Pope Francis approvingly, refers to himself as a Christian Platonist, and is on record saying that the Reformation was a tragedy that should be lamented.
And while such things ought to suffice to dispel the mistaken notion that Boersma is somehow Reformed, the same issue affords material evidence that makes that fact yet more painfully obvious. Asked “who have been your most formative influences in theology and ministry?” Boersma replied:
I would say Henri de Lubac, the twentieth-century Jesuit patristic scholar, has been the most formative for me. His understanding of participation, his reading of the church fathers, and especially his reappropriation of spiritual exegesis is profound, and has deeply shaped my reading of Scripture and my entire metaphysical outlook. Beyond de Lubac, Yves Congar’s view of tradition (and its relation to Scripture) has also been important to me. It helped me leave behind a sola scriptura view and acknowledge the inescapable intertwining of Scripture and tradition—and as a result, I’ve come to have a much more receptive, appreciative attitude toward the Christian past.
Most Reformed people would answer that question with Calvin, Martyr, Bucer, Flavel, Sibbes, Watson, Rutherford, Owen, Chalmers, M’Cheyne, Hodge, Warfield, Lloyd Jones, Sproul, or some other reformer, Puritan, or later Reformed minister or theologian. With Boersma we get a Jesuit (!) and Yves Congar, a major and deeply controversial figure in the Roman communion who was heavily involved in Vatican II, as well as an unabashed admission that Boersma has abandoned sola scriptura because of what he regards as the “inescapable intertwining of Scripture and tradition.”
Now lay aside the thorny taxonomic question of the precise relationship of the Reformed and evangelical traditions of the Reformation, and whether they are utterly distinct (as R. Scott Clark would argue) or fundamentally intertwined, as many others would suggest (especially on the Presbyterian side of the wider Reformed tradition). No matter how that question is answered, someone who favors regarding Scripture and tradition as being our proper rule of faith (regula fidei) over Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is channeling the beliefs of Rome rather than the Reformation, and may not be justly termed either evangelical or Reformed – or for that matter, Protestant, his formal church affiliations (the Anglican Church in North America) notwithstanding.
And yet notwithstanding such a painfully obvious display of Romanist[1] inclinations as I have quoted above, Mosser on three occasions implies that Boersma is Reformed. You might be forgiven, dear reader, for thinking that such a blunder on his part and the part of Credo’s editors justifies being rather skeptical of everything else that Mosser writes when he purports to present the Reformed acceptance of the beatific vision. We shall consider that important matter in a subsequent article, but for now let it be noted that by such sloppiness in presentation Credo is unhelpfully skewing the lines of what qualifies as Reformed; and almost I begin to think that people who purport to “retrieve classical Christianity” from the medieval and early church, but who cannot accurately classify theologians in the here and now, are perhaps not fully to be trusted in the former endeavor either.
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.

[1] My use of Romanist rather than Catholic when referring to the beliefs of the papal communion is not intended as an epithet, but arises because on a consistent Protestant view Rome is a false church and therefore has no right to present itself as catholic, inherent in which is the suggestion that we, who are outside her communion, are therefore severed from the true church of Christ. We would say that we are the true heirs of the catholic faith, and that Rome’s peculiar doctrines are later accretions that frequently undermine the true faith. Hence in Animadversions Upon Fiat Lux Owen speaks of affairs “when once Romanism began to be enthroned, and had driven Catholicism out of the world” (p. 260). Again, the term is used for reasons of conscience, not to promote hatred.
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On Slander

In his law God has prescribed a state of harmony which ought to prevail in human society; slander breaks this harmony and thereby upsets human society itself, supplanting mutual respect and love with suspicion, hatred, and strife. Where it has occurred, amends are to be made, fault acknowledged and repented, and the proper harmony restored as quickly as possible, with the aid of external assistance or punishment by church or civil authorities if necessary (Matt. 18:16-17).

In its widest sense, slander refers to any speech that harms the reputation of another person. A distinction must be made between how the word is used in law and how it appears in considerations of ethics. In law defamation is the broad category of communications that do reputational harm, with slander and libel being its respective forms that are classified according to the means of defamation. Slander means statements that harm another’s reputation through the transitory medium of audible speech. Libel occurs through a lasting medium such as literature, visual art, or a recorded broadcast.[1]
In ethics slander often has the same meaning as defamation does in law: i.e., it is the generic term for the broad category of reputation-injuring communications. It is also used in narrower senses as well, the strictest of which is to refer to false claims that are willfully intended to harm another’s good name. Several distinctions are in order. Law takes cognizance of the medium in which defamation occurs because courts are obligated to determine not only if defamation has taken place, but also what damages are needed to remedy the offense. It recognizes that certain forms of defamation are likely to produce greater harm because of their longer duration and wider distribution, and thus makes the distinction between libel and slander, as well as between those offenses that are severe enough to merit civil damages and those that are not. It does this because its aim is to provide temporal order and justice in the public affairs of this life, not to morally renovate citizens as private individuals.
God’s law, however, is intended to provide its subjects with a manner of living that is pleasing to him and in accord with Man’s proper moral nature and relations. Aiming to set men in the most intimate relationship with God and to make them like him for all eternity, it has much higher demands and aims than merely human law. Where human law may punish slander lightly, if at all, even where it deems it has occurred, God’s law regards any speech that wrongly disparages another as a grievous offense. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:22).
Scripture therefore does not distinguish between transient and lasting forms of defamation, and for that reason we may discuss all of it as slander, distinguishing rather between its wider and narrower meanings than between its technical forms. Where human courts are prone to error and severely limited in what they can know and do, God’s perfect knowledge and justice mean that he will punish all sins of slander without partiality and will render them what they are due (Ecc. 12:14; Matt. 12:36; Rom. 2:16). His law does not refuse to admit any claim for lack of evidence, nor make a distinction between claims that are actionable and those that are not.
A word must also be stated about intentions and practical effects. In law speech may be considered defamatory if its actual effect is to defame someone else’s character, even where that was not the publisher’s intention. A distinction is made between what is defamatory per quod and what is defamatory per se. In the former case a statement is defamatory only when considered in light of facts that are external to the statement itself. An example is ‘A just birthed a son’ where it is public knowledge that A is unmarried. If something is defamatory per se it is explicitly, unambiguously harmful, as in the statement ‘A is a forger,’ since the felonious and dishonest activity of forging is always reprehensible.[2]
(It might seem that in the realm of moral behavior, God, knowing the thoughts of our hearts (1 Sam. 16:7; Jer. 17:10), would not be censorious of defamatory speech that was not intended to harm its victim. Yet Christ says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt. 12:36), and so in such matters we must take great care that we do not inadvertently slander someone.)
Continuing along ethical lines, slander is committed in the third person: a person is insulted or berated to his face, but he is slandered to other people. It may be direct or indirect, aimed either at its victim (‘Nadine is a liar’) or at her through a condemnation of her behavior (‘Nadine lied at yesterday’s gathering’). It may be precise (‘statement X was false’) or general (‘Nadine lies all the time’), and either explicit or implied.
Key to understanding the nature of slander is a consideration of its relation to the truth and to the circumstances in which it occurs. In its purest form slander involves making false claims about someone that the slanderer knows are false and that are specially calculated to destroy that person’s reputation. It is the malicious, intentional propagation of known falsehoods, or what is otherwise known as calumny. When slander is done surreptitiously it is known as backbiting (comp. Ps. 101:5; Prov. 25:23); when it involves revealing someone’s secrets or is part of a persistent campaign of defamation it is known as talebearing (Heb. rakil; comp. Lev. 19:16; Prov. 11:13; 20:19 in KJV). Yet slander also occurs where there is no good proof of a disparaging claim’s truth or falsity, when a slanderer ought to have known a claim was false and refused to attempt verification, or where true statements are presented in a false light, especially by being divorced from other, clarifying truths. In sum, slander occurs when someone either carelessly or intentionally makes misleading claims about another that expose that person to a lowered reputation.
There are two complications in cases of apparent or alleged slander. One is that humans, being sinners, do commonly engage in misbehavior that merits denunciation. There are false teachers, swindlers, thieves, etc., about, and others have not merely the right but also often the duty to condemn them and their behavior openly in the hope of bringing them to repentance and of warning others against them. It is wrong to bear false witness – but the corollary is that we are obliged to bear true witness (Zech. 8:16; Eph. 4:25); and if someone truly has a bad character that can only be done by acknowledging that bad character where the circumstances require it. The evil of slander is not that it portrays someone in a bad light as such, but that it does so unjustly. There are a great many people who deserve to be exposed (Jer. 29:8-9, 15; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Jn. 4:1; 2 Jn. 7-11; Rev. 2:2) and their reputations lowered so that their would-be victims might be spared their depredations.
The second complication in cases of possible slander is that of ambiguity. The same term sometimes means vastly different things to different people and in different circumstances. Consider the term redneck as applied to rural Southerners. There are circumstances in which this would be a real slander worthy of the name. If lawyer A from Donalds, South Carolina (population: approximately 320) applies at a prestigious New York firm and his current employer describes him to the recruiter as a ‘redneck’ – well, that will be the end of that, and poor A will be consigned to continuing his practice in South Carolina. But if one were to go to the local farmhands and day laborers and describe that same man as a redneck they would demur, probably on the grounds that his education and the nature of his employment make such a thing simply unthinkable. Indeed, some of them might be offended at the suggestion that he is worthy of such a term of high praise. In short, the same term will have a different meaning depending on the speaker, audience, and circumstances, and will range from making one an untouchable to being an enviable compliment.
These complications mean that it can be difficult to distinguish slander from just censure. Consider an example. Suppose that A says that B is a liar. There are a few possibilities in such a case:

It may be that A knows B is not a liar and is maliciously trying to destroy his reputation because of rivalry.
It may be that A has no idea whether or not B is a liar and that in his determination to do him harm he is latching on to an effective disparagement without regard for its veracity.
It may be that B was a liar, but that he has repented and made amends, and that A has not mentioned these mitigating factors because he wants to portray him as badly as possible.
It may be that B is a liar, but that this has no relevance to the matter at hand, and that A mentions it simply because he hates B and wants to avail himself of any opportunity to harm him.
It may be that A truly believes B is a liar, but that he has been deceived.
It may be that B is a liar and that A is bearing true testimony to his character that is beneficial to his audience and relevant to the matter at hand.

Scenarios 1 through 4 would be examples of culpable slander, with 5 representing a case of inadvertent slander and 6 being a case of justified denunciation.
In Scripture slander is regarded as a serious offense. The ninth commandment forbids bearing false witness against a neighbor (Ex. 20:16), and Lev. 19:16 forbids slander and connects it with behavior that threatens the neighbor’s very life. Ps. 101:5 says that whoever secretly slanders his neighbor will be destroyed, and slandering the saints is one of the essential activities of the evil one, who is called the devil on that account.[3] Christ states that wrongly disparaging anyone is liable to civil punishment and eternal condemnation (Matt. 5:22). Slander was one of the depravities to which pagans were given up by God (Rom. 1:30), and in some cases slander is even regarded as blasphemy and as a mark of the evils of the last days of difficulty (2 Tim. 3:2) and of false teachers (2 Pet. 2:10-11) – which is unsurprising when we consider that James says that those who speak evil of others thereby speak evil of God’s law and stand in judgment of it (Jas. 4:11-12). One of the prophetic denunciations of Israel was that she was a society in which people would “by a word make a man out to be an offender” (Isa. 29:21) and thereby unjustly destroy the reputations of the righteous. The Pharisees were notable for slandering Jesus (Matt. 9:34; 12:24), as did other Jews (Lk. 7:34; Jn. 8:48-52); it was by the false accusation of blasphemy that the Jewish leaders found a pretext for having Jesus crucified (Matt. 26:59-66).
In his law God has prescribed a state of harmony which ought to prevail in human society; slander breaks this harmony and thereby upsets human society itself, supplanting mutual respect and love with suspicion, hatred, and strife. Where it has occurred, amends are to be made, fault acknowledged and repented, and the proper harmony restored as quickly as possible, with the aid of external assistance or punishment by church or civil authorities if necessary (Matt. 18:16-17). Recognizing the damage it can cause, Scripture enjoins us to “put away . . . all slander” (1 Pet. 2:1; comp. Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8), thus indicating both a better way of conduct and the sad fact that this evil remains a temptation for the redeemed (2 Cor. 12:20). Let us pray that we are all given grace to keep ourselves above such wrongdoing, for in the heightened mood of the present time it is easy to lapse into it, and only God’s grace will suffice to keep us from stumbling so.
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.

[1] Comp. the South Carolina Court of Appeal’s opinion in Kim Parrish, Appellant, v. Earl Allison, Respondent
[2] Most of the information in this paragraph is reproduced from the South Carolina Supreme Court’s judgment in Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc.
[3] The Greek διάβολος, from which our devil is derived, means “a calumniator, false accuser, slanderer” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
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On Sadness In the PCA: A Response to TE LeCroy’s ‘Sad Day’

The answer for the church is not to allow its property to be used to celebrate and encourage such a destructive social phenomenon but to persist in telling the truth that God has ordained a definite order for human life, and that all things which run counter to that ensnare people in destructive falsehood and reduce their victims to earthly and eternal misery of body, mind, and spirit. It was no more loving for Memorial to allow its property to be used to promote such things than it was for Israel’s kings to allow the high places to be used for the worship of idols.

Tim Lecroy would have us put on mourning because of the recent departure of Memorial Presbyterian (St. Louis) from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). And to be sure, it is a sad affair when any individual or church leaves our communion. Yet there are different reasons for being sad, and it is one of the tragedies of the moment that the same event has saddened different people for different reasons. Lecroy is displeased because he believes that what he regards as a faithful church and ministers “have been bullied out of the denomination.” There are others, including the present author, who are saddened because a body of professing believers has fallen into error and willfully separated itself from the church rather than heed rebuke and repent of its waywardness. Let me state this plainly: I take no pleasure in Memorial’s departure and am grieved that affairs came to such a point. The scriptural witness (Prov. 24:17; comp. Obad. 12) compels me to regard this as a grim occasion for sobriety and self-appraisal (1 Cor. 10:12; Gal. 6:1; Phil. 3:18). But the tragedy of the moment would be increased if we were to misunderstand the true nature of the situation.
One, it is reported that 42 churches left our communion between 2012 and 2020. The casual observer might think it rather amiss that we are to lament Memorial’s departure when we have not been urged to lament the departure of these other 42 churches. Were such churches less worthy of our lament than Memorial? No indeed, and yet unless there is something of which I am unaware, there has been rather little public expression of sorrow at these things.
It so happens that I am not a casual observer in this matter. I have a fair bit of correspondence from people who have left the PCA, or whose churches have done so, and it portrays a situation in which the departed felt compelled to do so because they believed the PCA had serious issues and was not interested in resolving them. Lecroy asserts that we handled the Memorial matter poorly by allowing its leaders to be subjected to largely unjustified opposition and is saddened on that account; my more numerous correspondents assert the opposite, and believe that the PCA was feckless in opposing grievous wrong and that we should be ashamed and repent accordingly.  Such absolute difference in opinion raises an important question: whose understanding of the matter – and by extension, whose reasons for grief – is just and in accord with the truth? Whose sadness is what Paul calls a “godly grief” that “produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor. 7:10), and whose is a merely earthly grief that things have not gone as we wished?
In answer consider a few facts. Memorial allowed its property to be used for a series of plays celebrating transsexuality (“Transluminate”). Lecroy regards this as “unwise and unhelpful, but not worthy of censure or excommunication.” Scripture has a different view. When God’s people use their property that he has given them to worship him in order to promote debauchery that is heinous in his sight, he, being a jealous God, does not gloss over the matter. He testifies to the wrong by his Word, and then in due time punishes the faithless with temporal punishments that are meant to bring them to repentance and that are meant to serve as a testimony to others as to the depravity of the offense (e.g., Ezekiel 5:1-11:13, esp. 5:11, 7:2-4, 8:16-18). When people who should call the wayward and confused to repentance instead give them practical support in committing their sin, thus making repentance less likely, God says that those who have done so have done a great evil by their dereliction (Lk. 17:2; Eze. 3:18; 33:6,8; comp. Lk. 17:2).
And when men who purport to be ministers of a God whose eyes are too pure to behold evil (Hab. 1:13) yet talk about the “human propensity to [expletive] things up,” and in so doing use an obvious heretic’s alternative to the orthodox doctrine of sin, Scripture condemns their speech: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (Jas 1:26). “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude. 1:9). Also, “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” (Eph. 4:29); “now you must put . . . away . . . obscene talk from your mouth” (Col. 3:8); and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34; comp. 7:15-20); as well as sundry other passages that teach foul language is unholy (Isa. 6:5; Jas. 3:9-10; Ps. 10:7; 59:12).
Now one might fancy from my vehemence that I am a fundamentalist prude with little experience of how many people speak. Actually, I work in a field in which foul language is the norm – many of my coworkers struggle to express frustration without cursing – and it is a sin with which I am constantly tempted and to which, alas, I rather frequently succumb. It is a sin of which I am guilty, yes, but also one which I am trying to overcome. Now consider: am I more likely to mortify this sin in a church in which it is censured, or in one whose ministers believe it an example of culturally-sensitive, ‘nuanced’ ministry? One in which it is recognized as evil and forbidden; for this thing is common where it is acceptable, whereas it is rare or unheard where it is disapproved. My grandmother would promptly rebuke me on the spot for saying something like ‘darn’ – and I feel no inclination to curse in her presence. I have had coworkers who used certain four letter words as naturally and frequently as if they were conjunctions – and behold, I felt a strong urge to do the same. Funny how that works.
And yet that understanding of the nature of human speech and its morality – one which all of my school teachers and most of my other employers understood – is apparently not known by one of Memorial’s pastors. Imagine that: a thing which would have gotten soap in the mouth at home, detention in school, and a pink slip in many jobs, and yet it is put forth as Christian ministry to comfort the tempted! It seems to be forgotten that one cannot urge to holiness with unclean vulgarity, nor motivate resistance to temptation with actual sin.[1]
It is my own failures regarding cursing, and my own efforts to overcome it which motivate my opposition to it here, for I recognize that a church in which such evil is allowed to pass unrebuked is a church in which I will never be sanctified on this point. And the tendency of the leaven of sin being to further leaven everything it touches, I doubt that such a church will be free of failure on many other points.
As for sadness here, it is a grief that ministers would ever get to a point where they thought it acceptable to write in such a manner; and it is a further sadness that such a slip was either unnoticed or unrestrained. That is the proper ground of sadness here. It is not that the one who published such things left our denomination formally, but that long before his morals in speech had already done so, and that the fault was not meaningfully corrected.
And so it is with the other matter to which I alluded. Where it is unthinkable to publicly present oneself as having a sex that differs from one’s actual anatomy (sans surgical alteration), the phenomenon of sexual confusion is extremely rare. There are still very few who suffer it, and they deserve our pity and aid, for such an experience must surely be miserable. But they deserve our aid, not our indulgence; and the habit of affirming those with such afflictions has caused the frequency of that phenomenon to explode, particularly among the young and impressionable. When saying ‘I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body’ receives society’s disapproval, almost no one does it. When it is met with approval and all manner of practical, medical, legal, and political favor, it suddenly becomes in vogue.
The answer for the church is not to allow its property to be used to celebrate and encourage such a destructive social phenomenon but to persist in telling the truth that God has ordained a definite order for human life, and that all things which run counter to that ensnare people in destructive falsehood and reduce their victims to earthly and eternal misery of body, mind, and spirit. It was no more loving for Memorial to allow its property to be used to promote such things than it was for Israel’s kings to allow the high places to be used for the worship of idols. It was not reaching the lost; it was giving practical aid for them to commit a type of sin which is especially ensnaring and destructive of its victims. The sadness is not that Memorial has left, but that they ever got to a point of being so confused about what is right and wrong, as well as that they did not heed rebuke but attempted to justify their sin. There is still time for them to repent, and everyone in the PCA ought to pray that they do so, but our grief ought to be felt for the right reason.
And in conclusion let me state that there is one other point on which we all ought to be engaged in frequent, tearful prayer. Memorial is gone, yes, but there are many in our midst who still feel it was guiltless of serious wrongdoing and that its deeds were only “unwise” (as Lecroy put it). And the fact stands against the PCA that it failed to punish wrongdoing effectively. There is a great difference between a wrongdoer being named as a sinner and cast by the church from her offices and such a person leaving of his own volition. In the first case the church exercises its spiritual power to declare to the sinner and others his true nature and need to repent. In the latter he leaves unrebuked because he believes he has been wronged.
We should not allow wrongdoers to depart imagining themselves as victims rather than perpetrators. The whole point of discipline is to appraise and declare someone’s true nature on the basis of his deeds. We did not do that in any meaningful sense of the term, and the accused even seized that as an opportunity to publicly present himself as “exonerated” of wrong and thus imply his opponents are slanderers. Those responsible for this failure to administer discipline are still in office among us, and there is reason to think they persist in their original thinking. For the failure to do our duty and the probability that we will continue to fail in future there is much occasion for sadness, dear reader, and it is on that account that you should be grieved. Pray for discernment and mercy, for God observes our deeds and it may be that it is with us now as it was with Peter’s audience, and that it “is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.
[1] To be sure, Scripture uses some vivid terms, yet they are not unclean. There is a popular notion that the Gk. skubala in Phil. 3:8 is really a curse word for dung. Without getting into a detailed discussion, suffice it to say that such a claim betrays the eagerness of many for a pretext to justify their carnal speech, but that such evidence as is claimed for it is far from convincing and is rather heavy on assumptions and mere appeals to authority.
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On Dialogue in the Contemporary Presbyterian Church in America

Note, I do not say this about questions of worship style, apologetic method, manner of dress, whether or not one’s church has a Sunday evening service, views of the millennium, internal administrative arrangements, confessional subscription, or other such things about which there has been internal disagreement within the PCA, but rather about cases of flagrant, impenitent, public wrongdoing. There can and should be peaceful dialogue about those other matters, (though simple tolerance is preferable in some of them, Rom. 14). But there cannot and should not be dialogue where PCA ministers have committed sins before the whole world, as is the case at present.

Dialogue occurs when two or more parties discuss their differences under circumstances in which each party is afforded equal dignity and equal opportunity to express their views, and when they do so to reach a rapprochement (in cases of conflict) or for mutual edification (where conflict is not present). Probably most people will agree on such a definition, but the question of the function of dialogue in the present, controversy-ridden Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) merits a few further reflections.
Dialogue Has Been Attempted
In 2018 prominent members of the National Partnership (NP) and the Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) met to discuss differences. Some idea of the meeting’s temper may be gleaned from the title of the GRN article relating it (“Cultivating the Bonds of Peace in the PCA”). There have been other attempts, formal and informal, in both person and via written format. For example, at the 2021 General Assembly David Strain and David Cassidy discussed differences regarding confessional subscription, while Jon Payne and David Coffin contributed differing articles at ByFaith viz. Overtures 23 and 37 at the end of 2021.
Dialogue Does Not Appear To Have Worked
Judging by the tone of “Cultivating the Bonds of Peace,” its author, GRN head Jon Payne, thought that 2018 meeting went well. Skip forward to March, 2022 and a publicly-avowed member of the National Partnership accused him and the GRN ruling council of bearing false testimony for using labels too loosely. That 2018 meeting’s restoration of peace either did not last, or else it achieved peace only between some of the members of the respective parties. So also with other attempts at dialogue: judging by the continuing controversies, they have not ushered in an era of general peace and good will in the denomination. If they have had good effects they have been limited in extent, and it is not clear that dialogue has accomplished even such limited benefits in most cases.
Dialogue Is Not Possible Between Many In The PCA
Where presuppositions and perspectives differ, the respective parties are often unable to understand each other, thus making meaningful dialogue impossible. Consider the matter of the National Partnership. Its members assert that it is merely a private forum for like-minded elders to discuss denominational polity and voluntarily coordinate their efforts regarding it. Others say it is a secret organization that seeks to alter the denomination according to its own agenda, and which to that end is working to elevate its own men to key positions within the denomination and its presbyteries after the fashion of the old Presbyterian Church in the United States’ Fellowship of Saint James.[1] Between ‘innocent private club’ and ‘inexcusable subversive conspiracy’ is a difference of type, not merely degree. If dialogue is attempted between people whose understanding is so radically different, probably nothing will be accomplished except to create more misunderstanding and strife.
It Is Doubtful That Dialogue Is Truly Desired By Everyone
I do not accuse any of our public proponents of dialogue of such mendacity. But probably people of all opinions can agree that there are some people who simply want to argue – it is a fairly common Reformed failing, after all. In addition, I have correspondence from elders whose revelations about the inner workings of their courts and committees suggests that dialogue is certainly not always wanted under those circumstances, even in matters of great importance. And experience has often shown that when someone says he wants dialogue, what he really means is that he wants an occasion to force his views upon others: dialogue means ‘I’ll talk and you can nod your head in agreement,’ not ‘let’s chat it out together in a spirit of give and take.’
Dialogue Is Not Always Useful For Achieving Peace
As any parent (and many bosses and teachers) can attest, what is needed in many cases of conflict is not dialogue but silence, perhaps arranged and enforced by higher authority.
Dialogue Is Not Always A Duty Or Act Of Prudence And Obedience
Were Paul and Barnabas wrong to forgo gentle dialogue and instead engage in “no small dissension and debate” with the Judaizers (Acts 15:2)? No. Their opponents were wrong and were upsetting the faith of new believers by distorting the gospel (Gal. 2:4-5; 5:1-12). Dialogue would have been wrong, for dialogue implies that the respective views of the varying parties are worthy of equal audience and respect.[2] But heresy and the truth are not equally legitimate, and they do not deserve an equal audience or respect. Where a matter is one between truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly, light and dark, life and death, obedience to Christ or obedience to the flesh, the respective options are irreconcilable, and one must predominate to the exclusion of the other. “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:15a). In such cases the believer is not to engage in dialogue with the errant, but is to rebuke them and urge them to repentance (Gal. 2:11-14; 1 Tim. 5:20; Tit. 1:13; 2:15). If they persist in error the individual is to avoid them (Rom. 16:17; 2 Tim. 3:5; Tit. 3:10-11) and the church is to excommunicate them (Matt. 18:17; 1 Tim. 1:20).
Dialogue Is Not The Need Of The Hour In The PCA
Many people would likely agree with the last several sentences above. But many would probably disagree that they bear upon our present case. Many speak and act as though we are discussing nonessential matters of mere taste or form. I disagree. The very soul of the denomination is at stake. Consider the following example. In an article in 2021 Greg Johnson quoted approvingly a statement from Francis Spufford’s book Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, in which he refers to “the human propensity to [expletive excised].” With Spufford this phrase is a formal concept—he capitalizes the acronym—and he uses it as a substitute for the doctrine of sin.[3]
Now, one could say that this is just an example of nuanced, culturally-sensitive, and well-informed ministry. Johnson is providing comfort to the afflicted, and doing so in language that is understandable to people who have grown up outside of the church. The correct way of looking at it recognizes that this represents a severe offense against the holiness of God that brings the church and her ministry into disrepute (Jas. 1:26; comp. Eph. 4:29 & Col. 4:6); risks making the little ones stumble by commending bad sources and suggesting that foul language is acceptable (Lk. 17:1-2); and is evidence of an unclean heart (Matt. 12:33-37) and a bad character unfit for office (1 Tim. 3:2). Even many unbelievers would fire an employee who used such language – should the church not have a higher standard of holiness for its ministers?
In such a case what is needed is not dialogue. What is needed is for the officers of the PCA to take seriously their sworn duty to preserve the church’s purity and for Greg Johnson to be meaningfully disciplined and told that Christ’s judgment is fast-approaching and that such behavior does much harm to everyone, not least he himself. A failure to do so makes the denomination tolerant of wrongdoing, a thing which invites divine judgment (Rev. 2:20), even where an offense is hidden or has been committed by a single individual (Josh. 7:10-26).
Note, I do not say this about questions of worship style, apologetic method, manner of dress, whether or not one’s church has a Sunday evening service, views of the millennium, internal administrative arrangements, confessional subscription, or other such things about which there has been internal disagreement within the PCA, but rather about cases of flagrant, impenitent, public wrongdoing. There can and should be peaceful dialogue about those other matters, (though simple tolerance is preferable in some of them, Rom. 14). But there cannot and should not be dialogue where PCA ministers have committed sins before the whole world, as is the case at present. There is a pastor in Utah who committed obvious blasphemy; that situation does not call for dialogue, but for discipline. I know a man who was at a church with deaconesses. When he pried he was first told that they were ‘creatively complying’ with the BCO, but when he persisted he was told that they were in willful violation of it and he could either accept that or go elsewhere. Such men are rebels and oath-breaking liars; they should not be engaged in dialogue, but disciplined.
Examples could be multiplied, but the point holds true that what is needed is not high-sounding rhetoric and polite dialogue, but meaningful action. Many of us in the pews do not wish to dialogue with flagrant offenders, nor for our courts and officers to do so. Such a thing is not morally or spiritually safe (1 Cor. 15:33). We want our leaders to exercise their vows faithfully, which means punishing wrongdoing in our own midst.
Dialogue Can Only Occur When Heinous Offenses Are First Removed
The latest entry at ByFaith that calls for dialogue (as well as trust and appreciation of differences) comes from Tom Gibbs, president of Covenant Seminary. Covenant seminary employs a librarian who praises Allan Boesak, a pro-LGBT theologian who threatened to quit his church if it failed to interpret the Belhar Confession to also prohibit discrimination about sexual preferences; uses the Black Lives Matter hash tag (an organization with some concerning ideas about nuclear families);  approves Calvin University retaining faculty that disagree with the CRC’s recent disapproval of homosexual sin; and has no qualms whatsoever about using foul language in various ways.[4] Compare those last couple examples to Eph. 5:4&6: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking . . . for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
This is the face of (theological) liberalism and creeping infidelity.[5] It is here in the PCA at Pres. Gibbs’ institution, as well as elsewhere – check out what qualifies as holiness and pastoral humility and gentleness with the National Partnership’s founder[6] (comp. Christ: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Matt. 12:34) – and the question of the hour is this: what is going to be done about it? Because until the relevant parties begin to maintain holiness and discipline among those for whom they are responsible, they have no business lecturing the rest of us about trust, dialogue, and agreeing to disagree.
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.

[1] The Fellowship of Saint James was a secret group in that denomination that included major figures who worked to strategically place the group’s preferred men in pulpits and professorships at major churches and the seminaries. It resisted inquiries into its doings and membership and asserted it was an innocent club for mutual edification, so there is uncertainty as to how decisive of a role it played in the Presbyterian Church in the United States becoming faithless.
[2] There is a difference between dialogue and debate: the former seeks the unification of the parties; the latter, the identification and triumph of the truth.
[3]Spufford’s book, it must be noted, is full of vile content and heresy, and I strongly recommend against reading it.
[4] Note that I excised the profanity in those examples, and that the one provides a good reason why we should not get caught up in the ‘Elon Musk is great’ craze.
[5] The librarian in question is also a vocal Democrat: I do not criticize him for that, nor do I wish for the church and its agencies to do so.
[6] The video is of a sheep repeatedly getting stuck in a ditch after every rescue.
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Response to Letter from Memorial PCA Member

In the church the right of the denomination to legislate or enforce qualifications for office has been met with the notion that individuals who feel called to ministry have a de facto right to it and that the church may not deny them that without unjustly depriving them; office is regarded as the property of the person who wants or holds it, not the property of the church that invests it with authority.

My Dear Madam,
I read your recent letter with both interest and sadness. We have heard much from your leaders, but little from Memorial’s members, so your brief missive gives a fresh testimony upon our current controversies. I confess I feel a certain reluctance to respond, for communication is difficult where the respective parties’ perspectives differ, and I fear that is the case here. I bid you remember that disagreement does not equal hatred, and that Scripture teaches it is our duty to warn others if we believe they err. If you can accept it, this letter is motivated by the conviction that “better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov. 27:5). I doubt neither your sincerity nor your honesty, but only that your statements present a sufficient consideration of the matter. As it is our duty to examine all things (1 Thess. 5:21), you will, I hope, permit me to do so now.
One thing I note is that your claims are not necessarily decisive proofs of godly motivation. For example, you speak of your pastors “living out their faith and ministry with integrity and humility.” That might be proof of Christian virtue, yes, but we do not have a monopoly upon humility and integrity. They are also manifestations of God’s common grace, and it could be said of many of other faiths that they minister with humility and integrity (and piety, zeal, etc.) – yet they are not thereby saved, and their works are not thereby made pleasing to God. Describing his fellow Jews, Paul says:
For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:2-3).
Therein lays the essence of the question. Even if we grant your leaders’ humility and external integrity, many of us yet dispute that they are right in their teaching and actions.
Elsewhere you state your leaders “have made every effort to speak well of the brothers in the PCA who disagree.” That has not always been done: see here or Greg Johnson’s Aug. 16th tweet to potential attendees of Revoice 2022 (“Don’t let fear of the circumcision party hold you back”). I confess I am at a loss as to how accusing your critics of being in the same category as deniers of the gospel (Gal. 5:2-4; comp. 1:6-9; 3:10) is speaking well of them. But even if this were done reliably it would be no conclusive proof of Christian character. Some speak well of others, even privately, for reasons of self-advantage. One must then try to discern whether the motivation seems good or not, which can only be done by comparing the claim to more public statements. As above and elsewhere, such statements give occasion for concern.
Elsewhere you state “we also desire the peace and purity of the church.” Again, I don’t doubt your sincerity, but that statement could be made by any heretic as readily as by the pious. The real question is: what qualifies here as the peace and purity of the church? We seem to have very different notions of those concepts. From our standpoint it is a strange notion of desiring the peace and purity of the church that includes publishing books, articles, and interviews that attempt to normalize an abnormal experience and to make it acceptable to discuss publicly a matter Scripture says “must not even be named among you” (Eph. 5:3); to lend practical support to organizations (Revoice) that seek the same; to do the same with unbelievers who seek to glorify that which God abominates (“Transluminate 2020”); and to defend such practices vigorously at every turn. You desire peace and purity, but on your terms, not those of our constitution, Scripture, or much of the rest of the denomination.
We do the same, of course, but we think our terms are better, for they have the warrant of Scripture and the established practice of the church for two millennia. Those terms are, amongst others, that not merely errant behavior but also errant desires are sin, in that they are contrary to God’s preceptive will for human nature; that church officers must be above reproach (Titus 1:7) and examples of godly behavior (1 Pet. 5:3), known rather by their fidelity and good works (Titus 2:7) than by their public description of their private sexual desires; that perverse sexual desire in its various stripes does not occur in isolation, but appears in societies in which the reign and corruption of sin have proceeded far and issued as a rejection of God and many other heinous sins (Gen. 18:16-19:29; Eze. 16:49; Rom. 1:18-32); that giving intoxicating beverages to unbelievers who are using the Lord’s property for debauchery is not mercy or evangelism, but abetting revelry; that, subject to Scripture, the church has the right to determine whom it invests with office and on what grounds, and that it has a real right here against officers and candidates, who have no right to ordination by the church; and that responding to sincere concerns of wrongdoing with frequent, zealous, and emotional defenses and thus preoccupying the church with responding to faults rather than other matters is a strange notion of seeking her peace. (Please note I do not include the propriety of psychological counseling for those with perverse temptations in that list.)
I would gently remind you that such innovation of doctrine and practice and disruption of peace as has occurred in these matters has come from your party, who were under no obligation to host Revoice, publish articles at Living Out, etc. It is your party that has instigated this by attempting to import worldly notions (such as sexual desire being a result of an immutable, unwilled orientation rather than a matter of willful preference or a complex of hereditary and environmental causes); we but react in defense of the church’s traditional understanding.
Another thing I note in your letter is that your appeals are often highly emotional in nature. That is not objectionable as such—many of the New Testament epistles include strong emotional appeals—and it is understandable that, given your circumstances, you would feel strongly and speak in light of it. Let me reiterate: I do not doubt your sincerity or honesty, nor the strength of your feelings here, and I do not resent your sharing them. There are few things that are more reprehensible in our society than the tendency, common especially in politics, to exult at the suffering of our opponents. That is execrable and at odds with Scripture, and you will find none of that here.
But I do believe that you are mistaken on this point, and that your mistake lies in this: you make too much of emotion and put it in a central, commanding position rather than leaving it as a subordinate matter. Your letter is essentially a large emotional plea, and it is largely only an emotional plea. Again, it is not wrong, as such, to appeal from your feelings to ours; but in so doing you glide over the grave issues at hand and act as though your party has been needlessly and unjustly troubled. Again, that is historically doubtful—the initiative in stirring up the controversies lies with your leaders—and it gives insufficient space to revelation, which ought to guide all our considerations of such matters. You do allude to Eph. 4:4-5, but briefly and in the service of the emotional plea.
As near as I can tell, it is this preoccupation with emotion that characterizes much advocacy in matters of normalizing the experience of corrupt sexual desires. We are always hearing about the emotional experiences of those who have such temptations, and in both church and society it has often been implied that we who do not experience such desires are derelict in sympathizing with those that do, or that we have even injured them by not acknowledging, validating, and (in society at least) celebrating them in the midst of their emotional experiences. The formula has been the same in both church and society: elevate the autonomy, rights, and dignity of the individual self and of the individual person as representative of a minority group/distinctive class over those of the rights and authority of other groups and the institutions and larger bodies of which the individual is a part.
In civil society the duty and authority of the state to determine the qualifications for marriage was challenged by the plea that individuals’ rights to pursue happiness included the right to form sexual/social/familial relations according to their desires, not according to the needs or rules of the law, and that their rights on this point superseded those of the state and included the ‘right’ to have the state recognize and benefit those unions that they chose according to their personal dictates.
In the church the right of the denomination to legislate or enforce qualifications for office has been met with the notion that individuals who feel called to ministry have a de facto right to it and that the church may not deny them that without unjustly depriving them; office is regarded as the property of the person who wants or holds it, not the property of the church that invests it with authority. Central to every notion of the sacred, inviolable autonomy of the individual as a person or as a representative of a privileged class is the belief that happiness, emotional satisfaction, self-fulfillment, or whatever one wishes to call it, is the most important human need and right, and that it can only be had where that person is accepted and approved by the larger entity (society, church) and all its other members. In society, emotional experience and desire were elevated above nature and law; in the church, above Scripture and the authority of the church.
When you talk about “the toll [the controversy] has taken upon my leaders and the resources of our church—resources which should have been devoted to the care of the flock and the service of our community,” of how “the atmosphere in our church today is one of profound grief and fragility,” and of how the “charges against us feel unrelenting and disheartening,” you follow this same pattern. The emphasis is not upon how your leaders departed from sound doctrine and practice and troubled the church, but upon how those of us who have opposed their actions have made all of you feel. I admit my words here are pointed, but the truth is that your church’s present distress is attributable to your own leaders’ actions. They were under no obligation to host Revoice, etc., and could have desisted at any time—and still can now—but they persisted and now you find yourselves in your present plight. I take no pleasure in hearing of that plight, and I will not insult you by pretending that I personally or my party have been perfect in our demeanor in response; still, this is a bed of your own making, and it is not fair to the rest of us to imply it is our fault.
Third, I must politely demur from some of your practical suggestions. You say, “Those who criticize Memorial often do so from beyond our walls.” Yet as your errors have not been confined within your walls but have spread widely, it is permissible to criticize them from without, and practical considerations often mandate it. You say, “If we are in error, please come sit with us and help us understand our sin” and “please stop talking about us and come talk to us.” Time and again your leaders have been rebuked, and they have not listened but have hardened themselves, defended their actions, and suggested your critics were at fault.
You and some of your other congregants might desire dialogue, but I don’t see evidence that your leaders desire it or that it would lead to concord. Indeed, when you say that technology has allowed us “to distance ourselves from each other,” I fear you misdiagnose the reason for the distance. It is not the fault of the technology, but of your own leaders’ persistence in resisting rebuke.
Now in closing, I shall consider your final statements, but I must first warn you that they are, alas, quite somber, and that I write them with heaviness of heart. You bid us: “Remember that whether Memorial stays or leaves the PCA, we are still one body with one Lord” and that “You will still be our brothers and sisters in Christ.” We will of course not be one body in the visible sense of the church. You will have separated yourselves for reasons that we believe unjust (the avoidance of deserved discipline). As for the invisible church’s unity, it is a thing we have little ability to comment upon, its members being known only to God (1 Kgs. 8:39; comp. 1 Sam. 16:7; Prov. 16:2; 21:2; 2 Tim. 2:18-19); we humans must judge from external behavior.
And that behavior has not been good. Only one further example do I mention. Scripture says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (Jas. 1:26); and “The evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45b). A correspondent sent me an article where your senior pastor used foul language in quoting an obvious heretic (Francis Spufford)’s alternative to the doctrine of sin, “The human propensity to [expletive subtracted].” That is not being above reproach or acting in a manner worthy of our calling. It is writing in a manner that would get one fired by many unbelieving bosses. And yet this is what qualifies as Christian ministry among you! All of which is to say that many of us suspect that it might be said of at least some of you that:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (1 Jn. 2:19).
A grim prospect, surely, the writing of which is unpleasant. Yet Scripture can scarcely allow us to come to any other conclusion. When you then say that “we will still share the same table each Sunday,” I fear it might prove otherwise. Scripture is clear that not all that is meant to be communion truly is (1 Cor. 11:20), and it has been the long experience of the church that many retain the form without the right doctrine or the true relationship with Christ that sanctifies the form. In conclusion, whether Memorial stays or leaves you would do well to find a church whose leaders conduct themselves other than Memorial’s have; for “bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). Now may God grant you every grace in Christ and give you understanding in this and every matter, that you might discern his will aright and act in a manner pleasing to him.
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.
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An Alternative to Winsomeness

The irony is that it is only when our virtue is recognized as commendable by unbelievers that we stand to win them to our faith or compel them to regard us favorably. Aspiring to be winsome will not likely gain their approval or conversion; but demonstrated virtue sometimes does. That being so, why not strive for virtue, which is pleasing to God (2 Pet. 1:11) and good for our fellow man, and lay aside all concern about being regarded as winsome?

For some time now many among us have been extolling winsomeness as a trait to which we should all aspire. It is an understandable effort, as many in the Reformed world have a tendency to be contentious and ungracious. But winsomeness is not the proper response to their incivility; indeed, I daresay that what is needed in many cases is a dose of blunt rebuke. The problem with winsomeness, as I have tried to show elsewhere (here and here), is that it is not a scriptural concept but a cultural one, the state of being perceived by others as charming, likable, and pleasant. No one who is faithful in emulating Christ and declaring his truth is likely to be perceived as winsome by the world – in his words, “you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matt. 24:9) – and the danger is that we will compromise our message in the probably vain hope of being perceived as winsome by unbelievers.
There is an alternative ideal to which we might aspire, however, and unlike winsomeness it is reliably within our power to achieve. In addressing the conflict-troubled church at Philipi Paul instructs his audience about a way of living that is pleasing to God:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8, ESV)
Peter does similarly in his second epistle:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Pet. 1:3-7, ESV)
In each case several desirable traits are presented. In the interests of simplicity I shall sum them up with the term virtue. This is the word that many English translations use for the Greek ἀρετῇ/ἀρετήν (areté/aretén) in 2 Pet. 1:5, but it has a variety of meanings, and I use it here in its widest, most general sense to mean simply moral excellence. That broad category includes within it the various particulars mentioned by both Peter and Paul: virtue is the general principle and disposition of character that issues as such particular traits as purity and godliness.
The virtuous person is the one who has this principle of moral excellence implanted in his or her person, and who thinks, speaks, and acts in light of it. As the wicked and foolish act in accord with their basic natures (Prov. 10:14; Isa. 32:6), so also do the virtuous and the wise (Prov. 10:23; 14:5). It is this fact of having a basic character disposition and acting in light of it that is presupposed by verses such as Rev. 22:11 (“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”)
Virtue has its source in God, for it is he “who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:11). It arises because of our new nature in Christ. Having been born again (1 Jn. 2:29), we have a new life that is hostile to sin and which is characterized by the fear of the Lord (Eph. 4:17-24). This life is marked by union with Christ (2 Cor. 5:15; Gal. 2:20) and guidance by the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-17), and while it can never be lost or extinguished (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30), like our physical life it needs to be diligently guarded and nourished (2 Tim. 1:6-7, 14). It is because it can be developed and strengthened that Paul and Peter tell us to do so in the passages above.
Virtue is present also in the lives of many unbelievers. Experience attests that some of them attain to a high degree of moral uprightness. Yet there is a difference in that in believers virtue arises because of God’s saving grace that has been manifested in their new birth and sanctification (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 1:3-5, 23), while in unbelievers virtue is a result of God’s common grace. Where believers attain to a righteousness that is well-pleasing to God because they have been justified (Rom 3:22-28; 5:1) and their good works are God’s work within them (Eph. 2:10), the unbeliever attains to a merely civil righteousness. His uprightness is frequently marred by self-interest (such as the desire for praise) or is counteracted by other faults. Cicero’s honesty and courage are undermined by his arrogance; Cato’s opposition to the power hungry by his suicide at the end of the Roman Republic. God in his providence has been pleased to use virtue among unbelievers to restrain evil from fully dominating human affairs (as happened before the flood, Gen. 6:5), but their virtue does not reconcile them to God, nor release them from sin’s dominion (Rom. 3:9-19). Only faith in Christ suffices to do that (Gal. 5:5-6; Heb. 11:6).
There is a curious practical consequence of God causing virtue in unbelievers. It creates a state of affairs in which, because virtue is esteemed, the virtue of believers may impress unbelievers and commend our faith to them. This is far from certain or automatic, but it is a real possibility to which experience attests and which forms the basis of some of scripture’s practical injunctions (Matt. 5:16; Titus 2:7-8; 1 Pet. 2:12, 15; 3:1-2, 16). The irony is that it is only when our virtue is recognized as commendable by unbelievers that we stand to win them to our faith or compel them to regard us favorably. Aspiring to be winsome will not likely gain their approval or conversion; but demonstrated virtue sometimes does. That being so, why not strive for virtue, which is pleasing to God (2 Pet. 1:11) and good for our fellow man, and lay aside all concern about being regarded as winsome?
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

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Winsomeness Redux: Focusing on the Virtues Expected of Christ’s Followers

Given that history, we would be better served to abandon the desire for winsomeness and all attempts to repurpose it and make it our own, and to instead return to Scripture’s ideas and terms regarding the multi-faceted virtue which is to be exhibited by the followers of Christ. President Kruger is right in his aim and practice, but we could wish he finds a better theory and terminology in which to dress it. For the excellencies of the Spirit-filled life do not fit well in the rhetoric of contemporary American culture.

The debate over the desirability of winsomeness continues. In a recent entry no less eminent and praiseworthy a gentleman than President Kruger of Reformed Theological Seminary – Charlotte has come to the defense of winsomeness with a polite but unyielding article asserting that instilling winsomeness is a key part of his institution’s efforts. He maintains that character matters; that it affects how our message is likely to be received; and that the Reformed world is in need of much improvement on this point. Those three points are indisputably true, but it is not clear that they have the close relation to winsomeness that President Kruger maintains.
Central to his argument is his contention that being winsome is simply embodying the fruits of the Spirit in our own lives. Let it be stated very plainly that if to be winsome is to be kind, loving, patient, and all the other fruits of the Spirit, then we are indeed under obligation to be winsome. No believer is permitted to disparage the Spirit’s works or embody the works of the flesh (Rom. 8:13), and if President Kruger’s aim is only to inculcate a Spirit-directed life in his students and audience (comp. Gal. 5:25) it is wholly appropriate, and all Presbyterians ought to wish him Godspeed.
I disagree with his definition, however, and assert that while his ministerial efforts are laudable his scheme of classification is mistaken. The essence of winsomeness does not lie in the sundry fruits of the Spirit or being like Christ. The conception of winsomeness that Kruger and others praise regards winsomeness as something in the person who is deemed winsome. Indeed, Kruger uses winsome as a synonym for virtuous or Spirit-filled.
But winsomeness, like attractiveness, is in the eye of the beholder. Its essence does not lie so much in what one is, but in how he or she is perceived by others. We describe other people as winsome when we regard them as charming, likable, pleasant, polished, and generally enjoyable to listen to or keep company with. Such people tend to be many of the things that Kruger regards as essential, such as kind or peaceable, but their winsomeness does not lie in those things as such, but in how those things lead us to have a positive esteem of them. One can only be deemed likable or charming if his character has charmed others or made him likable to them.
If this be doubted, consider how people talk about others. How often have you heard someone say something like ‘He’s a good guy, nice and easy to get along with, but –‘ followed by some caveat that means that his kindness, peaceableness, gentleness, patience, and goodness notwithstanding, the person in question is not likely to be called winsome. In practice there are many people who are kind, good, pleasant, etc., whom we find only partly likable, at best, and who do not inspire that feeling of fondness and positive impression that leads us to praise them as winsome or to take their position in disputed matters.
Note also the contexts in which winsome appears. I have yet to see someone refer to himself as winsome – which is well, for it would be about the most unwinsome and revolting thing he could do. But I have read Robert Burns use it to praise his wife as a delight (“My Wife’s A Winsome Wee Thing”), and I have read many a book review or profile of a prominent figure whose subject was described as winsome by an admiring author.
The problem with the view of Kruger and others is that they have effectively enshrined winsomeness as the preeminent virtue, the one in which in principle all others are found and from which they flow. What arête was to the ancient Greeks or honor to the antebellum Southerner, so is winsomeness to the contemporary evangelical. Again, Kruger defines it as consisting of a conscious embodiment of the fruits of the Spirit and imitation of Christ.
There is an alternative to winsomeness which I will delineate in a subsequent article. For our purposes here I will mention only three more things. One, the worst people in the world can often be described as winsome. Any time you meet a winsome person you ought to tread carefully, for there is a good chance that person is a deceptive, manipulative fiend with bad intentions, an adulterer, con man, abuser, or some other form of blackguard who is compelled to hide his true nature to accomplish his foul aims (comp. 2 Cor. 11:13-15).
Two, my disagreement with President Kruger et. al., does not concern how we are to behave. We are all agreed that we are to imitate Christ, walk by the Spirit, and embody virtue in all that we are and do. The disagreement is merely over what terms and concepts we should use to describe such a manner of living. If anyone comes away from this article with a poor impression of President Kruger or imagining that we are to be curmudgeonly or uncivil, he has misunderstood me entirely.
Three, winsome is an ancient English word that fell out of use until it was revived by eighteenth century Scottish poets such as the aforementioned Robert Burns (Online Etymology Dictionary). Burns was a fierce critic of the Church of Scotland.[1] Consider the thick irony that we are all running about desperately trying to be winsome, ultimately, because an opponent of our Scottish forebears revived the word. For the whole history of the church people have been talking about the goodness of being merciful, just, loving, virtuous, etc. Only in the last generation or two has the emphasis shifted to being this one thing, winsome, and this has only been possible because a critic of the church re-popularized the term in previous generations.
Given that history, we would be better served to abandon the desire for winsomeness and all attempts to repurpose it and make it our own, and to instead return to Scripture’s ideas and terms regarding the multi-faceted virtue which is to be exhibited by the followers of Christ. President Kruger is right in his aim and practice, but we could wish he finds a better theory and terminology in which to dress it. For the excellencies of the Spirit-filled life do not fit well in the rhetoric of contemporary American culture.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.
[1] It must be noted that the Church of Scotland of Burns’ day was by most accounts unhealthy, however, and in need of reform.
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A Consideration of Craig Carter’s Recommended Return to Scholasticism, Part Two: Final Analysis and Rejoinder

No captain would knowingly go near submerged reefs and no farmer would permit space to be taken up by a fruitless tree. Yet that is precisely what the theological academy has been doing for some time now. It has been pointing us to Barth, the impenitent adulterer; to Yoder, the abuser of women; to a bevy of Germans who seem to have never met an orthodox doctrine they did not see fit to change; and now to Aquinas, the idolater. On behalf of many of the sheep in the pews permit me to say to this idea of returning to scholasticism and Aquinas – ‘no thank you.’

Previously we considered Craig Carter’s recommended revival of scholasticism. Now we finish our consideration of his claims and offer a rejoinder. He says “I am convinced that we need to recover and revitalize scholastic realism if we are to recover and revitalize classical orthodoxy after the disasters of the last two centuries.” He says this because he believes that in order to return Nicene Trinitarian and Chalcedonian Christological orthodoxy to “the forefront of Christian dogmatics again” means “we are going to need to go back to the last period in history when Enlightenment rationalism and naturalism had not yet corrupted Christian theology.” On his view that is “the period of post-Reformation scholasticism.” He believes one of the strengths of this period was its “catholicity, that is, its deep roots in the best of medieval scholasticism and the early church fathers.” He believes that the reformers anti-scholastic rhetoric “should be understood as directed against” “late medieval voluntarism and nominalism” and asserts that “many of the best Protestant theologians” employed Thomistic theology “extensively and with profit,” and, after some further elaboration on this point, says that this is where “we find the metaphysical and dogmatic foundations of Reformed scholasticism, or as one could also put it, classic reformed theology.”
One, “Reformed scholasticism” is not a synonym for “classic reformed theology.” There is much that is Reformed that is not scholastic: indeed, criticism of scholasticism was strong among some theologians of the period. Hence John Owen could say:
Some learn their Divinity out of the late, and Modern Schools, both in the Reformed and Papall Church; in both which a Science is proposed under that name, consisting in a farrago of Credible Propositions, asserted in termes suited unto that Philosophy that is variously predominant in them. What a kind of Theology this hath produced in the Papacy, Agricola, Erasmus, Vives, Jansenius, with innumerable other Learned men of your own, have sufficiently declared. And that it hath any better success in the Reformed Churches, many things which I shall not now instance in, give me cause to doubt.[1] 
Two, as for Protestant scholasticism’s catholicity consisting of its “deep roots” in the medieval scholastics and the early church fathers, consider what Owen says as he continues the section above:
Some boast they learn their divinity from the Fathers, and say they do not depart from their sense and idiom of expression in what they believe and profess . . . While men are thus pre-engaged, it will be very hard to prevail with them to think that the greatest part of their divinity is such that Christian religion, either as to the matter, or at least as to that mode wherein they have imbibed it, is little or not at all concerned in it; nor will it be easy to persuade them that it is a mystery laid up in the Scripture; and all true divinity a wisdom in the knowledge of that mystery.[2]
Modern paraphrase: ‘Some people are so enamored by their study of the early church fathers, some of whom made serious errors, that it is nearly impossible to get them to realize that a true knowledge and service of Christ has little if anything to do with their vain studies; true knowledge of Christ that is pleasing to him is found in understanding scripture’s testimony about him correctly (comp. Eph. 3:1-6).’ Such remarks, including as they do the ‘Reformed scholastics,’ do not seem limited to “late medieval voluntarism and nominalism.”
Three, on the Protestant view theology has been ruined by many others besides Enlightenment philosophers: Rome, various early heretics, and many of the scholastics have done so too. Hence Owen elsewhere says:
I could wish he [Fiat Lux’s author] would take a course to stop the mouths of some of his own Church, and those no small ones neither, who have declared them to the world, to be a pack of egregious Sophisters, neither good Philosophers, nor any Divines at all; men who seem not to have had the least reverence of God, nor much regard to the Truth in any of their Disputations, but were wholly influenced by a vain Re­putation of Subtility [cunning], desire of Conquest, of leading and denominating Parties, and that in a Barbarous Science, barbarously expressed, untill they had driven all Learning and Divinity almost out of the World.[3]
If that is a fair appraisal of scholasticism, then it seems Prof. Carter would have us discard Enlightenment rationalism by going back to something equally bad.
Four, why not return to non-scholastic Reformed theology, or better yet, to scripture? We confess that it is sufficient and perspicuous, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It will not suffice to combat aberrant theology on its own terms, for our own thought does not carry with it that power which scripture has. Consider its testimony of itself – “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12) – or what God says of it: “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29) and “it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isa. 55:11).
If we are serious about reforming theology we must recognize that such an undertaking cannot be performed by merely human learning, no matter how polished or extensive: God himself must work reformation in the study of the knowledge about him, and if he does so it will only be because we humbly submit ourselves to his word and look rather to it and to his mercy than to our own learning. In the words of Isaiah, “to the teaching and to the testimony!” (8:20) – naught else will suffice to impart a true knowledge of God, and any who attempts to renovate theological studies will find he is building upon a house of sand if he does not ground his efforts on God’s own revelation of himself.
Five, it is not scholasticism that we fear, but God, who will judge us if we yield to the excesses of any merely human school of thought. We do not wish to be like those people whom Paul would say “have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (1 Tim. 1:6-7). If a given school leads us into sin – as scholasticism does at sundry points, not least in Aquinas’ teaching that it is proper to worship the cross – then we ought to keep aloof from it.
Six, if scholasticism is the method of the schools, i.e., academic theological study, then it must be admitted that there already is a modern strain of it that predominates theology at present. This contemporary scholasticism operates by the same methods as secular research: it will study anything to find formative influences, not merely for cautionary or polemic purposes; it requires its proponents to participate in its system and receive doctorates by researching internal technical matters related to theology itself (e.g., “God’s Being-in-Reconciliation: The Theo-Ontological Basis of the Unity and Diversity of the Doctrine of the Atonement in the Theology of Karl Barth”[4]) rather than “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15); it discusses its materials in a detached, unemotional spirit utterly unlike the urgency and emotional fervor one finds in the prophets and our Lord; it makes inquiry its guiding principle rather than faith; it studies its own number with greater zeal than scripture, thus elevating secondary sources above primary; and by its love of esoteric terminology it has made theology a pursuit of an initiated few rather than a service to the church and her people.
The consequences of such an approach are apparent. Compare the following two passages.
[N]ot a few of the advocates of philosophic studies, when turning their minds recently to the practical reform of philosophy, aimed and aim at restoring the renowned teaching of Thomas Aquinas and winning it back to its ancient beauty.
And
Since they thought Thomas was one of the most brilliant theologians the church has produced, they did not hesitate to benefit from him in innumerable ways—from his epistemology to metaphysic, from his Christology to ethics.
One passage is from Credo’s Aquinas issue, the other from Aeterni Patris, the encyclical commending Thomism. If your ideas about whom it is appropriate to study put you in the same position as the pope – whose office Protestants have historically confessed to be antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3-4) – then you have adopted the wrong practical position. There are grounds of agreement between us and Rome, especially regarding Christology and theology proper; but the question of adopting one of her own number as a positive source of our own thinking is not one of them.
If it be objected that Rome advises studying sources that we also use let it be rejoined that though she uses them they are not properly her own as are those things that have arisen within her midst during the time of her corruption. Some things in the early fathers have parallels in Rome’s thought, such as Augustine’s ecclesiological ideas, but it is hard to see where any of the early fathers is Roman after the fashion of the medieval scholastics: their position before a long process of corruption, even one they in some cases inadvertently started, means that they are fundamentally different from those who arose later after that process had advanced very far.
In summary, we should not return to scholasticism. To do so would entail exposing ourselves to the bad as well as the good in it; and while theologians like Prof. Carter may be able to take an eclectic approach in which they keep certain teachings while discarding others, it must be remembered that most of the church’s members are not theologians. Members sometimes have much difficulty distinguishing between false and true doctrine. It is a predicament best avoided where possible.
Also, we already have a contemporary scholasticism by which we have been ill-served, not least since it has spread this idea among us, that there is something useful to be learned in practically everyone. That is contrary to scripture. It does not deal with false teaching in a detached manner as do our contemporary theologians. On its view false teaching arises because of the bad character of those that teach it. It does not take a nuanced approach to them, trying to retain the good while shedding the bad; rather it says that people who teach false doctrine constitute a class that is to be avoided. Jude 12-13 says that:
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
No captain would knowingly go near submerged reefs and no farmer would permit space to be taken up by a fruitless tree. Yet that is precisely what the theological academy has been doing for some time now. It has been pointing us to Barth, the impenitent adulterer; to Yoder, the abuser of women; to a bevy of Germans who seem to have never met an orthodox doctrine they did not see fit to change; and now to Aquinas, the idolater. On behalf of many of the sheep in the pews permit me to say to this idea of returning to scholasticism and Aquinas – ‘no thank you.’
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

[1] Vindication of Animadversions Upon Fiat Lux, 212-13
[2] Ibid., 213. Spelling, punctuation, and diction somewhat modernized. Original available here: https://ota.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repository/xmlui/handle/20.500.12024/A53737
[3] Animadversions Upon Fiat Lux, 122-23
[4] The Ph. D. thesis of Adam Johnson, professor at Biola.
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A Consideration of Craig Carter’s Recommended Return to Scholasticism, Part One

The suggestion that we should learn from the representatives of a communion that still binds men’s consciences and misleads them with false doctrine is highly objectionable. Such men are members of a communion that has spent most of the last 500 years saying that believing Protestant doctrine is damning sin, has regarded it as within its power and duty to curse Protestants for such ‘error’ by its anathemas, and that has readily abetted such spiritual coercion with physical persecution of the cruelest types when and where it has been within its power to do so.

There exists a certain method of argumentation in which someone who disputes a given position does not argue against it but instead implies that the position’s proponents are motivated by fear. Thus, for example, someone who thinks it imprudent to allow large numbers of immigrants into one’s nation is apt to be dismissed as a xenophobe, as if doubting the wisdom of allowing large numbers of foreigners to spontaneously immigrate without careful assimilation is some sort of clinical condition.
Craig Carter, in an article at Credo, does not go so far; though from a Christian perspective he arguably does worse by quoting Karl Barth’s statement that “fear of scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet.” Scripture gives certain criteria for how to identify false teachers. Some are methodological—false teachers are fond of “relying on their dreams,” Jude tells us (v.8)—while others have to do with their moral character, and with the nature and effects of their teaching (“you will recognize them by their fruits,” Matt. 7:20). Prof. Carter admits in his article that Barth’s teaching was sorely mistaken at sundry points and bore ill consequences. Indeed, he says that the last two centuries (which include Barth) were “disasters” and “among the most forgettable in the two-millennium history of Christian theology,” and that after them there is a need to “recover and revitalize classical orthodoxy”.
More importantly, by the standards of scripture Karl Barth was a false teacher himself. Such people are characterized by “sensuality” (2 Pet. 2:2) and “have eyes full of adultery” (v.14). It just so happens that Karl Barth maintained a long affair with his assistant, even having her move into his house over his wife’s protests and maintaining the relationship against the stern disapproval of his mother, her rebukes (“What’s the point of the very sharpest theology if it suffers shipwreck in your own home?”) going unheeded.[1] (Comp. Prov. 1:8; 6:20; 30:17; 31:1.) You may be forgiven, dear reader, if you are inclined to think that Barth’s opinions about the nature of false prophets are therefore about as authoritative and useful as a pronouncement from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on prudent monetary policies.
Turning to Prof. Carter’s essay we find a long analysis of Barth’s thought as it relates to various trends in theology after the Enlightenment, including concepts taken from Schleirmacher and Kant. I make no comment on the accuracy of this analysis as such. It may be a faultless exercise in historical and theological analysis that traces the development of Barth’s thought with perfect accuracy. That is an academic question which I do not presume to address here.
I must confess that the analysis seems somewhat oddly formed, however. The title of the section is, “Barth’s Rejection of the Scholastic Doctrine of Election,” yet in the second sentence we read that Barth “was particularly critical of the reformed doctrine of election” (emphasis mine), which suggests that “reformed” and “scholastic” are synonyms, when in fact they are not. Also, this section is not merely about Barth’s rejection of election (be it Reformed or scholastic), but about his fundamental metaphysical framework and its sources, and of how it lead him to a more apparently Christocentric but in fact still anthropocentric theology; and in fact discussion of his method, sources, etc. makes up the larger part of it, hence it seems somewhat misnamed. Something like “Barth’s Rejection of Common Scholastic Metaphysics” would seem a more accurate title given the actual content.
Elsewhere in the section Prof. Carter does speak of “the scholastic doctrine of election.” In one case he presents it as a question and follows it with a sentence about how, though Barth engaged “with Protestant scholastic theology, he never felt it was possible to take on board its metaphysical framework.” The second case is after he discusses the Thomistic proof for God’s existence and before he begins the next section with a discussion of a recent “Thomistic Ressourcement movement.” It is therefore unclear what he means by “the scholastic doctrine of election.” It would seem it means something along the lines of ‘Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of election as it was received and developed by the later Protestant Scholastics, especially those that were Reformed,’ but this is not certain given Prof. Carter’s failure to define it more clearly.
This notwithstanding, Prof. Carter is right in his broad assertions. The last couple of centuries in Protestant theology were not merely strained but, as he asserts, disastrous. Philosophy did indeed wreak havoc on theology in a variety of ways, the application of its concepts to divinity causing strange developments that came at the expense of historic orthodoxy. Barth too was sorely mistaken in his thinking and would have done far better to return to more reliable sources and to break free from the erroneous concepts which formed so much of his thought.
But where Prof. Carter is right in diagnosing the problem, we must differ in his suggested solution and in the argument he pursues. He begins the next section with the statement that we must “reject nineteenth century historicism and the flawed metaphysical assumptions on which it rests” and mentions four people in the Thomistic Ressourcement movement who “are providing the impetus for doing this.” All four authors are members of the papal communion, as was Thomas, yet Prof. Carter does not hesitate to say that “confessional Protestants need to learn from them,” as if there are not other sources that might give one good grounds to reject historicism.
The suggestion that we should learn from the representatives of a communion that still binds men’s consciences and misleads them with false doctrine is highly objectionable. Such men are members of a communion that has spent most of the last 500 years saying that believing Protestant doctrine is damning sin, has regarded it as within its power and duty to curse Protestants for such ‘error’ by its anathemas, and that has readily abetted such spiritual coercion with physical persecution of the cruelest types when and where it has been within its power to do so. Theirs is a communion that believes, further, that it is infallible in its official pronouncements, so that it can never confess it has erred in past or repent its sins, and which has in some ways taken a strange twist since about Vatican II and now asserts that, while all previous pronouncements declaring Protestant beliefs anathema still stand, nonetheless they can also be regarded as estranged brothers who are really members of Rome because of an implicit but unknown desire to be part of her. Contemporary Rome says that the canons of Trent, which curse us unambiguously, are still in force as infallible declarations of the truth about our beliefs; it also says that we (or at least some of us) are really members of itself, but that we are just ignorant of that fact and mistaken when we refuse formal participation with her.
It does this because on its view nothing – be it scripture, tradition, or previous church councils or papal pronouncements – means anything other than what the present church says it means. ‘The church is the official interpreter’ of all such things, so that Trent’s anathemas meant ‘those who believe thus are doomed to hell’ up until about Vatican II, but have since apparently come to mean something along the lines of ‘those poor, silly Protestants are mistaken, but we should pity them for they mean well and we hope for them to come to their senses.’ What anything means, in short, is what Rome finds it advantageous to mean at any given time, an obvious violation of “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37 NKJV). Such double-tongued tendencies are no less reprehensible in an institution than in an individual, and the discerning reader should recognize what they reveal about the Roman communion. And yet many Protestant theologians, as Prof. Carter here, have no qualms about commending members of such a communion as reliable teachers.[2]
Prof. Carter then moves quickly to his point: because of the failure of Barthianism “the time has come to re-visit scholasticism.” Prior to this he had just spent over 1,200 words describing how Barth had allowed philosophy to ruin his theology — and his response is to return to another movement that was conspicuous for allowing philosophy to dominate theology!
Perhaps it will be objected that the historic understanding of scholasticism as melding theology and philosophy is wrong. But why then did Pope Leo XIII, in an encyclical in which he declared Thomas’ excellence and recommended his restoration to a place of preeminence, speak of “that philosophy which the Scholastic teachers have been accustomed carefully and prudently to make use of even in theological disputations,” and say that “since it is the proper and special office of the Scholastic theologians to bind together by the fastest chain human and divine science, surely the theology in which they excelled would not have gained such honor . . .  if they had made use of a lame and imperfect or vain philosophy”?[3] Unless we wish to say that Leo did not understand the method of his own favored school, his testimony seems an accurate description of the nature of scholasticism, and it is abetted by John Owen, who described the scholastics as “the men, who out of a mixture of Philosophy, Traditions, and Scripture, all corrupted and perverted, have hammered that faith which was afterwards confirmed under so many Anathemaes at Trent.”[4]
For his part Prof. Carter asserts that the “rediscovery of the value of the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas does not necessarily lead back to Roman Catholic theology” and that it “can just as well lead us back to the post-Reformation, Protestant scholasticism.”  Perhaps; but in practice it often does lead to Rome, a road which even a president of the evangelical theological society has traveled.[5] Also, it is a somewhat strange method that would go to Thomas in order to wind up in the Protestant scholastics. Why not just read the Protestant scholastics themselves, especially if they are, as Prof. Carter asserts, “the sources of the classical expressions of the Reformed faith that would emerge over the next two centuries”?[6]
He asks “who is afraid of scholasticism?” but does not directly answer his own question, states “nobody should be afraid of it,” and answers with a strange disquisition on John Webster’s contribution to a book called The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or Wisdom of God. Note the movement. He starts with a question about a broad school of thought and transitions to a technical question about a single scholastic concept in a single recent theologian. An odd movement, surely.
There follows a brief account of the late career of the English theologian John Webster, the relevance of which to the question of evangelical readers embracing scholasticism is not at all clear. ‘Because a single Anglican theologian in recent memory moved in an opposite direction from Barth and ended by studying Protestant scholastics appreciatively, therefore evangelicals should read Aquinas seriously’ is a strange argument, but it seems to be the one Prof. Carter makes here. As for the rest of his suggestions, we will consider them and offer a rejoinder in the second and final part of this series.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

[1] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/scottish-journal-of-theology/article/when-karl-met-lollo-the-origins-and-consequences-of-karl-barths-relationship-with-charlotte-von-kirschbaum/CB5E82941743160C1BAE527870883C7A#fn26
[2] Any discussion of Rome’s beliefs is difficult owing to the wide array of beliefs and practices that exist within her. My statements here are an attempt to take Rome at its official word and at the practical consequences of the principles of her polity. They do not deny that in practice many individuals and groups within Rome might differ in their opinions: hence I recently found a Roman laywoman calling Pope Francis the antichrist, which is really impermissible by Rome’s belief that the laity form the ‘listening church’ whose duty it is to obey and uncritically assent to the clergy (or ‘teaching church’), at whose head is the pope.
[3] Aeterni Patris
[4] Animadversions on Fiat Lux, 122
[5] Francis Beckwith
[6] There are some practical difficulties, however, since many of them have not been translated out of Latin.
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