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.
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 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.
 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.