Friday, September 03, 2010

Trueman, Newman, and Discernment

Somehow, in the flurry of comments and emails, amidst this discussion of how inconsistent it is to appreciate some part of the works of a particular theologian, without accepting the whole of his works (or even his "presuppositions") as divinely inspired, or not, Pilgrimsarbour had the presence of mind to post this link to this Carl Trueman article (and to send me an email reminder of it) which outlines how to do that very thing. (For those of you who don't know, Carl Trueman is a Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.)

Of course, broadly speaking, there have been historically, and are still, at least two approaches to discerning and understanding the truth within in Christianity. The first, of course, as evidenced by Dr. Trueman's fine appreciation for a broad range of Christian heroes:

Luther is a hero of mine, along with Nazianzus, Augustine, Aquinas, Owen, and Newman. It does not mean I agree with him (or them) on all points or even in some cases many points; it does not mean he would even have regarded me as a Christian; but it does mean he is an exceptional person from whom I have learned an enormous amount; and in reading him (and them) my own theology has been sharpened, and my understanding of the grace and beauty of God in Christ has been deepened. There is a heroic quality to the thought of men who are willing to tackle the greatest themes relating to God, creation, salvation, and the church: even when they make mistakes, they make magnificent mistakes from which we can all learn. In a day of small men and small minds, we should be grateful that the Lord is truly good, and has provided such brilliant men to inform the great traditions of the church and to provide us with immense resources of theology and devotion...
Dr. Trueman, of course is adhering to the advice of such like St. Paul ("Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" and "test everything; hold fast what is good") and Francis Turretin ("examination of faith and knowledge ought to precede the knowledge of the church" -- that is, examine the Scriptures to discern the doctrines, and locate the church where such doctrines are held and practiced). We've heard this called "the pick-and-choose" approach, but, we'd rather go with Paul's thoughts and advice on these things.

The second, we’ll call it a philosophy or mindset, is one of something like swallowing the whole pig.* This method may or may not be unique to Roman Catholicism. But for Roman Catholics, it is an article of faith for them. Roman Catholics must receive with docility everything that the Roman Church teaches them. Mark Shea describes this second method in a particularly striking way. JB note: my comments are set below in [square brackets], whereas that which is (in parenthesis) is an original Mark Shea comment within the text:
For no part of Sacred Tradition, written or unwritten, can be set above (or below) the authority of the Church with which it is seamlessly woven together, or else the whole Tradition (and therefore the written Tradition which is the Bible – and therefore all Christianity) unravels. The authority of his Church, like Christ’s robe, is seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

This is not to say that all aspects of Catholic Tradition are equally important. The Church itself acknowledges the reality of the hierarchy of truth and is quite matter-of-fact in saying that some Tradition (such as the Trinity) is irreformable big “T” Tradition, while other tradition (for example, the Friday abstinence from meat or some other delectable) is small “t” tradition. The latter can be altered or even set aside by the Church and has been on occasion, for it is a mere discipline and not a cornerstone of what must be believed always, everywhere, and by all. But the big “T” stuff cannot be altered without striking at the very heart of the Faith.

Which left me (as it leaves you, good reader) with a challenge. [A footnote here says that this is “A challenge which, if you wish to take it up, can be pursued with the help of some of the handy materials offered in the appendix.”] According to Catholic belief, the very doctrines which irk most Protestant believers (such as Purgatory, the Assumption of Mary, the infallibility of the Pope, and so forth) are doctrines which cannot be set aside since they are squarely located under the Big "T" heading by the Catholic Church and are therefore immovable features of Sacred Tradition -- the very same Tradition which tells us what is and is not in our Bible and does so in a coherent voice of authority sounding down to the centuries through a line of bishops leading inexorably back to Jesus Christ himself. In other words, I was (and you by extension, good reader, are) obliged to either:

1. Find out if the whole Catholic Tradition was truly coherent; or,

2. Arbitrarily reject the bits I was [and therefore you are] uncomfortable with, but simultaneously exploit Catholic Tradition's authority (where it was useful against modernism)--all the while hoping that both Evangelicals and modernist (not to mention the Holy Spirit) would not laugh at my [i.e., your] inconsistency. [Mark Shea, By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1996, pgs 174-175.]
So you can be Roman Catholic and swallow the whole pig, or you can be Protestant, and be discerning, and use the faculty of discernment, as Paul has suggested that we do.

Of course, where the outside edges of this “Big ‘T’ Tradition” lie, now that's a different question, and the “living Magisterium,” will, uh, “pick-and-choose” for you, what it is that you are to hold and not to hold as a binding doctrine of the faith. They "discern" the difference between what's irreformable and what's merely "small 't' tradition" for you. The important thing is that you listen to them about what the pig is and only swallow that. So long as you hold to the definitions themselves, then the discussions of where those edges are is very much open to question.

As an example of this, the Blessed Newman himself rejected the concept that there was ever a time when something might be “believed always, everywhere, and by all.” He said:
It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem.
So we can see that, while it is not possible for Roman Catholics to be good Catholics and not swallow the whole pig, it is possible to disagree about what defines the edges of that pig, as Roman apologist Scott Windsor so ably describes here.

So the difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants comes down to whether you hold that you must swallow the whole pig, or that you just eat the bacon and ribs and throw away the rest of it. Be that as it may, I’m going to follow the path of Dr. Trueman and continue to affirm that I deeply appreciate the thorough work of Peter Lampe in providing a very clear analysis of the church at Rome in the first two centuries. Whether or not he believes that Paul actually wrote the letters to Timothy.

* Note: This video is shown here merely to illustrate the process of "accepting the whole cloth of Roman Catholic authority." We would not have the whole "Tradition" to unravel. But the author does not wish to imply that Mark Shea could be adequately illustrated by a Komodo dragon, nor that the whole of Roman Catholic dogma could be illustrated as “a whole pig.” We, here, at Beggars All, do not attempt to “bind the conscience,” and we advise that the dear reader should form his or her own opinions on such matters.

11 comments:

Dozie said...

"...or you can be Protestant, and be discerning, and use the faculty of discernment, as Paul has suggested that we do."

Or you can be a Protestant pastor and an atheist at the same time: “Two regional church authorities in the Netherlands are reported to have decided to take no disciplinary action against a self-proclaimed atheist pastor”

Or you can be a Protestant minister and a Muslim at the same time: “Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she's ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she's also been a Muslim”.

Now of course, we will be lectured on who is and is not a true Protestant. Does Protestantism make any demands regarding what must be believed?

BTW, glad to see a happy face on this site for a change.

John Bugay said...

Dozie, in the same way, you can find pro-abortion nuns who genuinely believe they're doing the Lord's work, and any number of other aberrations of which you would say, "these are not real Catholics."

BTW, glad to see a happy face on this site for a change.

And what gives here? I smile every time my photograph appears.

natamllc said...

Dozie, "....or you can be a donkey and speak to a delusional prophet riding out for a buck"! :)

Now, too, Newman though: "It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem.So we can see that, while it is not possible for Roman Catholics to be good Catholics and not swallow the whole pig, it is possible to disagree about what defines the edges of that pig,..."

This is nothing new. Let me explain with verses:

Heb 9:8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing
Heb 9:9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,
Heb 9:10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
Heb 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)
Heb 9:12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.


Pay especial note of the word "reformation".

You see, so Newman wants to use the animal of pig for his analogy. I will use the animal of lamb, sincerely.

What was it then after so many years having passed that was "reiterated" but that reformation discussed there at Hebrews 9:10?

It amazes me that there are so many deluded souls within the RCC. It remains just that! Amazement. I do not lose much sleep over it though.

Why?

Well the very fact that the work of the Holy Spirit continues to be accomplished no matter how many pigs are swallowed!

The Lamb of God is the feast. He is and shall always be the main course. Brother Martin Luther and those that came after him just reiterated that reformation and we are still reiterating it today!

Good thread, sound in doctrine and advice!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"So you can be Roman Catholic and swallow the whole pig, or you can be Protestant, and be discerning, and use the faculty of discernment, as Paul has suggested that we do."

I prefer to follow Apostle Paul's suggestion.

As far as Roman Catholics swallowing the whole pig, well, many of them say they do, but then they really don't.

Sizable numbers of Catholics:

- Don't believe in the Real Presence.

- Use contraceptives

- Masturbate

etc.... contrary to official Church teaching and dogma.

steve said...

Of course, the real basis of Walz's objection is that he wants to hedge his bets. Like corporations that donate to both the Democrat nominee and the Republican nominee.

EA said...

"Or you can be a Protestant pastor and an atheist at the same time..."

Or you can be a RC priest and a pedophile at the same time or a bishop and an enabler of pedophiles at the same time or a pope and incestuous at the same time.

Your turn.

EA said...

"...or you can be Protestant, and be discerning, and use the faculty of discernment, as Paul has suggested that we do."

The only thing I would disagree with about this is that Paul is not making a "suggestion", but rather a prescription or admonition.

Other than that, spot on.

Thanks

Ken said...

Good article John - I also answered with more at David Waltz' site:

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=3771009444113723863&postID=3090196506815179792&isPopup=true

comments # 26, 27, and 28 - that may become a new post here, later.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Perhaps someone "in the know," especially a Catholic friend, can comment on this. Catholics who have departed from some of the teachings of the RCC--do they refer to themselves as "liberal" or "progressive" in the context of their Catholicism? Or are those labels that conservative or traditionalist Catholics apply to them?

I ask this because I'm quite sure liberal Protestants (whom Machen argued follow a false religion entirely different from Christianity) would never call themselves "conservative" or "traditional," though they fancy themselves the inheritors of the Reformation.

Doesn't baptism into the RCC make one a Catholic for life in spite of theological errors or personal "rebellions" (if there has been no excommunication)? And since it was brought up above, what is the status of the abusive priest? Is he still a Catholic? Should he be, or has he been, excommunicated? Any thoughts?

Mark | hereiblog said...

John,

If one is a Protestant who utilizes the bacon and ribs they may need to be careful who they are serving it to. I don't believe many are discerning enough to separate what is seen as wisdom from someone like, say, Chesterton, while not giving some validity to his Romanism.

Jae said...

Still until now can't even distinguished between people who freely choose to be disobedient to proclaimed and declared truth (viz. Catholic Church says artificial contraception, gay-marriage etc are against the Will of God and whoever wishes to act upon them would be guilty of grave sin). Same as with the Catholic doctrines of Truine God, Jesus as both God and man, Incarnation etc. irregardless of 50% of Catholics who disagree with these doctrines doesn't necessarily make them FALSE - AS - contrast with protestantism there exist NO authority to make binding teaching to all protestants to say that artficial contraception, gay-marriage, abortion etc are unnatural, unbiblical and thus against the Will of God.

So it doesn't really matter if one protestant church disagree with another protestant church because between them there exists NO teaching authority to begin with to say if an act is immoral and unbiblical.

If one can't even distinguish between day and night, between one and two, What is the point? What you're doing here guys is just plain DENIAL.

Sad.