This Is Not What the Sheep Need: Reflections on Credo Magazine’s Book Awards

This Is Not What the Sheep Need: Reflections on Credo Magazine’s Book Awards

Our scholars should not, as such, be commending Roman academics with awards. They should be calling them to repent of their communion’s notions which twist and deny Scripture, and to use their talents and devotion to promote sound doctrine. For Christ said “if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (Jn. 8:31), and Rome still does not abide in his word as it ought. And well might we fear that, ignoring Ps. 1:1 and 1 Cor. 15:33, our own theologians are at risk of being ensnared by that communion’s sins (Gal. 6:1b).

Carl Trueman caused consternation recently when, fresh from delivering the inaugural lecture of the Center for Classical Theology (CCT), he suggested Protestants need to “go back to basics.” It was not entirely clear what all this entailed, and as if to oblige an answer, Credo Magazine, CCT’s popular outlet, has revealed in what direction it imagines we should turn with its 2023 book awards.

There is a category called “Thomas Aquinas,” whose winner is a book by a Romanist professor who “invites all traditions – including the Reformed tradition – to retrieve Thomism so that together we can answer the modern challenges that have crippled biblical scholarship,” as Credo puts it. The question of Thomism’s usefulness aside – and with it, the cumbersome question of whether “expanding on Thomas’s Christological typologies today will equip biblical theologians with the ontology they need to defend typology in the first place” – it must never be forgotten that Aquinas was an idolater (see here), who sometimes butchered scriptural exegesis because of philosophy and tradition (see here), and who has been a stumbling block to many by means of his elevation to the center of a cult of personality (see here).  Scripture commands us to avoid idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14: “my beloved, flee from idolatry”) and idolaters (5:11: “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is . . . an idolater”), not to take them as our teachers (comp. also Deut. 13), and it says that idolatry is a “work of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-20) whose offenders “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21), but “whose portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Having an award for studies in such a person’s thought (thus encouraging more such studies) is about as far from obeying God’s command “not to associate” with such people as one can get.

The winner of the “Translated Work of Theology—Patristic and Medieval” award is a recent edition of John of Damascus (or Damascene)’s On the Orthodox Faith (De Fide Orthodoxa). This is the same work from which Aquinas derived the notions by which he promoted idolatry, saying “Damascene (De Fide Orth. iv, 16) quotes Basil as saying: ‘The honor given to an image reaches to the prototype,’ i.e. the exemplar” and concluding that “the exemplar itself – namely, Christ – is to be adored with the adoration of ‘latria’; therefore also His image.”[1] In other words, the worship given to an image passes through it to the person whom it purports to represent, so it is therefore appropriate to worship images of Christ since the worship passes through them to him. (This absurd notion makes idolatry impossible, provided one’s intentions are good, and openly contradicts Scripture’s representation of the evil and folly of idolatry consisting in worshiping objects in passages such as Psalm 135:15-18, Isaiah 44, and Jeremiah 10.)

Elsewhere Aquinas quotes Damascene saying “the precious wood, as having been sanctified by the contact of His holy body and blood, should be meetly worshiped; as also His nails, His lance, and His sacred dwelling-places, such as the manger, the cave and so forth.”[2] Yet Credo commends Damascene’s work, saying “readers would do well to receive this gift from Christianity’s Great Tradition with gratitude.” There is something awry when Protestants such as the contest judges commend Tradition (which they regularly capitalize), rather than defending Scripture against tradition’s tendency to undermine it (Matt. 15:1-9).

Winning the award for “Natural Theology” is Plato’s Moral Realism, published by a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto. The book description begins:

Plato’s moral realism rests on the Idea of the Good, the unhypothetical first principle of all. It is this, as Plato says, that makes just things useful and beneficial.

And continues:

This fact has been occluded by later Christian Platonists who tried to identify the Good with the God of scripture. But for Plato, theology, though important, is subordinate to metaphysics. For this reason, ethics is independent of theology and attached to metaphysics.

The actual text says, “I am content to classify Plato’s theory as robust realism with the proviso that his realism be distinguished from moral theology” (pp. 10-11) and “in the matter of ethics, Plato draws his principles from metaphysics, not from theology” (p. 54). It is strange to give a theology book award to a philosophy book which explicitly denies a theological character to the moral conceptions of the philosopher whose thought it relates. One might as soon give an award for best electronic dance music to a string band or a classical orchestra.

The award for “Theological Retrieval” went to Hans Boersma’s Pierced by Love: Divine Reading with the Christian Tradition, which is the inspiration for Credo’s latest edition on lectio divina (literally, divine reading), being mentioned nine times in that issue about this approach to reading scripture. Credo commends it here because it is “what spiritually serious Christians have always done” (emphasis mine), which claim is curious, since its own edition on lectio says “Lectio Divina originates in the twelfth century with Guigo the Second, an Italian monk,” or, maybe, “as far back as St. Benedict of the sixth century” (all emphases mine). Also, there is arguably an implicit insult that believers who do not use lectio are therefore not “spiritually serious.”

Winning the award for “Systematic Theology and Dogmatics” is Christ the Logos of Creation: An Essay in Analogical Metaphysics by Notre Dame professor John R. Betz. It features what appears to be an image of Christ on the cover, in which offense against the Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4) it is joined by two other awarded books. Alongside the edge of the front cover is a series title that reads “Renewal within Tradition.” This series is produced by a Romanist press and edited by the same professor, Matthew Levering, who won the “Thomas Aquinas” category. The series summary, available here, states that “Catholic theology reflects upon the content of divine revelation as interpreted and handed down in the Church” and that the series “undertakes to reform and reinvigorate contemporary theology from within the tradition, with St. Thomas Aquinas as a central exemplar.” It continues, “the Series [sic] reunites the streams of Catholic theology that, prior to the [Second Vatican] Council, separated into neo-scholastic and nouvelle théologie modes” and that “the biblical, historical-critical, patristic, liturgical, and ecumenical emphases of the Ressourcement movement need the dogmatic, philosophical, scientific, and traditioned enquiries of Thomism, and vice versa.”

That is thoroughly and unabashedly Roman, and yet it did not prevent Credo’s Protestants from commending Betz’s book. When they then weakly complain the author “would benefit from a wider engagement with the Protestant tradition,” one feels compelled to cry aloud in mixed pathos and exasperation: ‘Just what did you think you were going to find in a Romanist work of renewal and ressourcement, if not Roman tradition, ideas, and thinkers?’ One does not go to Bob Jones University to find the arts of winemaking and dancing; and one does not go to Rome to find the Reformation and its protest against those things which make Rome distinctively Roman.

There is an irony here as well, for in Trueman’s post-CCT lecture appeal to ‘go back to basics’ he bewailed evangelicals who assert divine suffering by denying impassibility, and praised some Romans (the Dominicans) by contrast for their theology proper. And now the CCT has just recognized this book, which also commends Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Roman theologian who . . . . . . asserted divine suffering.[3] Granting Trueman’s appeal was at First Things, not Credo, this inconsistency suggests that the larger classical crowd is apparently not as discomfited by people who seem to deny impassibility as Prof. Trueman (albeit still regarding it as mistaken). And the approval of Balthasar by Romanists committed to Thomism-inspired renewal suggests that, Trueman’s wistful gazes upon members of that communion notwithstanding, the grass is not greener on the other side of the Tiber. (Or, keeping with the context of his original statement, that it is not so on the other side of the accreditation agency conference room.)

Of the nine awards given, only three were given to Protestants (Petrus van Mastricht, Phillip Cary, and Karen Swallow Prior). There are concerns about the last, who endorsed Revoice and published a book with contributions from a normalizer of immorality (see here), and the second, author of the “Book of the Year,” teaches at a university that has normalized that same strand of immorality, and makes some curious claims.[4] One award was given to an author of unknown affiliation, while three were given to Romans, and another to a member of an Eastern communion (Damascene, whose translator is also an Easterner). Boersma is officially an Anglican, but his views are so thoroughly Romanist as to be accounted with the members of that communion (see here or footnote).[5]

All this matters because Rome still retains most of those things against which we have been protesting for 500 years. It still has purgatory, pilgrimages, penance, and indulgences – the Pope has even offered them via Twitter – as well as intercession of the saints and prayer to angels. It has a full-orbed system of false ideas about Mary: perpetual virginity, immaculate conception, bodily assumption into heaven, and regarding her as “exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (Roman Catechism, 966), to whom prayers and devotion ought to be given, and who is “invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (969). In Scripture our Helper is the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), and our Advocate is Christ himself (1 Jn. 2:1), the relevant Greek term (paraklétos) only being used of them, never of any other person. And Scripture plainly says that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5); Mary is nowhere referred to as a mediator.

Rome also maintains the same mistaken notions of justification[6], and of scriptural interpretation[7] and authority[8] as in the past. It forbids its clergy to marry, which 1 Tim. 4:1-5 says is a teaching of demons and a mark of people who have “seared consciences” and “depart from the faith.” Scripture also says that marriage is God’s ordained means for preventing immorality (1 Cor. 7:2: “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife”). Having rejected this, Rome has become the scene of gross, widespread corruption, 33 of its 194 American dioceses being involved in or having completed bankruptcy proceedings, many because of payments to sexual abuse victims. It openly rebels against Christ’s command to “call no man your father on earth” (Matt. 23:9) by using this as the official title of all its clergy, but especially of the Pope, who is styled “Holy Father,” pope itself coming through Latin from the Greek for ‘papa, father.’

Now God says to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15), that “Satan comes disguised as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), and that his “servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (v. 15). He says of such people that we will “recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). Who can deny that the widespread sexual abuse and errant doctrine of the current Roman communion are rotten fruits?

Our scholars should not, as such, be commending Roman academics with awards. They should be calling them to repent of their communion’s notions which twist and deny Scripture, and to use their talents and devotion to promote sound doctrine. For Christ said “if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (Jn. 8:31), and Rome still does not abide in his word as it ought. And well might we fear that, ignoring Ps. 1:1 and 1 Cor. 15:33, our own theologians are at risk of being ensnared by that communion’s sins (Gal. 6:1b).

Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Five Forks (Simpsonville), SC. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not of necessity reflect those of his church or its leadership or other members. He welcomes comments at the email address provided with his name. He is also author of Reflections on the Word: Essays in Protestant Scriptural Contemplation

[1] Summa Theologiae III, Q. 25, A.3

[2] Summa Theologiae III, Q. 25, A.4

[3] How Balthasar’s ideas of divine suffering comport with historic notions of God’s immutability and impassibility is disputed within the Roman communion, as evidenced by one of the other books in the “Renewal within Tradition” series being devoted to a consideration of his ideas on this point (One of the Trinity Has Suffered: Balthasar’s Theology of Divine Suffering in Dialogue by Joshua Brotherton), and works such as The Immutability of God in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar by Gerard O’Hanlon.

[4] E.g., he says he “feels quite comfortable in a high-church Anglican congregation,” as well as that it is not “a tragedy when Protestants become Catholic” (here at about 7:55).

[5] He quotes Pope Francis approvingly, regards the Reformation as a lamentable tragedy, and denies sola scriptura as the authority for faith in favor of Rome’s scripture and tradition, doing so, by his own admission at Credo, because of the teaching of important Roman theologians. He also thinks “the Reformation doctrine of justification sola fide needs a significant overhaul in light of [N.T.] Wright’s reading of the New Testament,” and that Wright’s views “are more or less compatible with standard Catholic and Orthodox understandings of justification theology” (Exile, ed. James M. Scott, p. 257).

[6] “Justification includes . . . sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man” and “is granted us through Baptism.” (Roman Catechism 2019-20)

[7] “The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the Bishops in communion with him.” (Roman Catechism 100)

[8] The Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” (Roman Catechism 82)

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