Friday, October 01, 2010

On the study of history, especially church history

I'm reproducing this post from some comments below, in case anybody missed it, and because I think some other folks who would like to discuss it. I think that sometimes we miss the "big picture" in the discussion of all the details that we tend to focus on.

My comments started here:
I would have loved to have attended college in the 50's or early 60's, when much of the older-style rigorous and classical kind of education was still part of the picture. By the time I got there in the 70's, basket weaving and women's studies were all the rage. I think technology over the last 30 years has changed things in ways that we still don't understand -- why might a computer science person need to understand German or Latin or Koine Greek? -- and of course, the economic gyrations of the 1999/2000 and the last few years have got people understandably nervous about just how to prepare themselves to make a living and maybe prepare for retirement.

Of course, I've been caught up in all of that like many people. And having as many kids as I do, I wonder what's coming next down the pike," especially in an economic sense. The "American Dream" was such that there was a constant opportunity to improve yourself. In the early day, land was cheap, and almost there for the taking. As people moved further west, a whole economic structure developed to help people to get there. From the railroads, and the coal and oil and steel industries that grew up to support all that - then the auto industry, and the wars of the early 20th century and the recoveries from those -- expansions of the 50's and 60's and even the development of the whole new areas of technology over the last 30 years -- all of these things in their own eras were tremendous drivers of economic growth.

But aside from some of the technology refinements like cell phones and iPad types of gizmos, the normalization of streaming video, it doesn't seem like technology can go too much further. The internet has as much bandwidth as it will ever need. Corporate computer networks are in great shape; just needing maintenance and tweaks. All of our homes are both "wired" and "wireless" to the point that they're not going to need to change much at all. There's not a "revolutionary new thing" on the horizon, as I see it. There's not an internet-style transformation of communication "out there". What there's going to be is a slow equilibrium. There will be pockets of growth as some other countries modernize, but we've maxed out technology as an economic driver, and reached "diminishing returns."

Instead, I look at my own home town, Pittsburgh, where we've fared well, in things like education and technology and medicine. Where's the "growth opportunity" here? UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) is now the largest employer, and we've got an aging population. My kids are going into the medical arena, because that's where there's a need, but that's not a thing that's going to drive hope, growth, and opportunity in the future.

But I do think there is a strong need, now, in the human person. The need to "understand it all," to put life into perspective. Where did we come from, where are we going? Those question, now that all of our physical and entertainment needs can constantly be met, are still going to be there, where they always are. And that's where blogs (and other sources) like this one are going to fill a tremendous need.

My purpose here is to write to fellow Protestants -- to share the Protestant heritage as I understand it (and with as much honesty and accuracy as I can bring to it). There were some rough moments, but Schaff is correct: on balance, the Reformation was one of the greatest "moments" in church history, and in fact, in human history. There is a richness in the study of the Reformation that you can't really get from other forms of study. I think that Protestants of all stripes -- Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans, Anabaptists, and all their descendants -- can gain a tremendous amount of perspective by just bringing these things to mind (much less, studying the period in detail). A rising tide will lift all boats.

Another, equally important goal of mine, though, is to specifically address the "buyer's remorse" that I know some of these "Catholic Converts" must be feeling. Some of them aren't dumb. So they have got to realize the "90% nonsense and self-deceiving foolishness" that they find themselves participating in. They're human like the rest of us.

Roman Catholicism has had a lot of great minds flow through its system [especially during the medieval years, when it was "the only game in town]. It has had much time to "get its story together." It promises a lot. As time goes on, people realize very many of its promises are false promises, based on untruths in many cases -- and when you're in search of answers to some of those basic questions that we all have, you don't want to have to admit that something foundational to you is an untruth. I'm sure that eats away at these guys, despite all the bravado that they lead with. Over time, the untruths will eat away at them like a cancer -- all of them, except for the most idiotic partisans. (I think this is why Steven Wedgeworth points to some of the more honest Catholic scholars -- individuals like Raymond Brown and Francis Sullivan an some of the others that he mentions. They're at least trying to look for ways to understand "the promise" of Catholicism in the light of the historical research that denies it.)

And as the internet facilitates the spread of knowledge and understanding, that process of cancerous untruth is going to come more and more into the light.

We may not have the largest numbers, in terms of conservative confessional Protestantism. But I believe this is where the truest of the "true truth" can be found. That's a body of knowledge that will continue to build, and it will be sought out by more and more people in a world that seems to have everything else but meaning.
In this regard, while I don't want to be uncritical of Protestantism, I'm less inclined to be critical of folks on the Protestant side even though I can see how all of this came about. I have this sort of unstated (now stated, I guess) version of Reagan's 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not say anything bad about a fellow Republican" (and in this case, a fellow Protestant).

There's not going to be any end to the "bad" types of Protestants out there -- the TBN types, the Socinians, the Remonstrants -- or those who will be misled to follow them -- but I do think that not only is "inoculation" possible, but that a grounding in the genuine history of the church will give Protestants a real sense of purpose and hope for the future.

It's a long road, and as Turretin noted, we must examine things point by point, doctrine by doctrine -- but such Biblical and foundational exercises have always been both necessary and fruitful.


Tim Enloe said...

John, the only place I'd register disagreement with you is on that "Reagan's 11th Commandment" bit. On the biblical principle that judgment begins in the house of God, I don't think we Protestants can afford NOT to be self-critical but to only be critical of others.

Protestantism has dramatically downgraded in many ways from what it was in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries at its highest points. This may be seen in many ways.

Take the so-called "R2K" theology emanating from Westminster Seminary, which Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante have well shown to be an inversion of historic Reformed civil thought. Yet it's widely held by graduates and supporters of that seminary to be "the" Reformed take on civil thought. Loud denunciations have been issuing forth from the pens of men like R. Scott Clark and Darryl Hart, yet they are demonstrably incorrect about what "the" Reformed position on this matter is.

Take the widespread theological confusion within "Fundamentalism" that allows people to think "sola" Scriptura means "me and Bible alone in the woods" and that "sola" fide means "say a prayer and be once saved, always saved," and so to become prey to reverse-Fundamentalist Catholic converts.

Take Van Tilian apologetics, which guts historic Reformed thought about nature and grace by making it conform to Kantian agnosticism / fideism, thus insulating its adherents from the corrective ability of reflecting upon our interpretations of the Word by means of reflecting upon the built-in knowability and comprehensibility of the created world. Yet how many Reformed people wrongly represent Van Tilianism as "the" Reformed way to do theology and apologetics?

Take historic Reformed sacramentology, which has been gutted by 19th century pietism and a militant variety of anti-Romanism that prefers to make sure nothing ever "looks like" something a Roman Catholic might say rather than refusing to let Rome set the standards for what real Reformed theology ought to be.

Or take the uneasy truce between Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians that has been forged by both sides agreeing to limit "Reformed Theology" to "the Five Solas." These days I am less screechy myself about Baptists than I used to be, but as the mere fact of ongoing formal debates between ministers and teachers from both sides well shows, it is a very much live issue that cannot be swept under the carpet.

These and more are, to be sure, matters of internal debate among brothers, not "different Gospels" that require withdrawn fellowship. Nevertheless, they DO need to be reflected upon and talked about more openly, and with less willingness to deploy the word "heresy" regarding issues that have always been permissible to debate within the Big Tent of the Reformed world.


Tim Enloe said...


To be un-self-critical, to imagine that we should avoid criticizing ourselves, has three major problems. The first problem is that it lets the Roman Catholic apologists set the standard for how we think about our own theology, so that we are always and ever reacting to them rather than setting forth our doctrines constructively, and whogivesarip what they say.

The second problem is that we ourselves pretending to "see no evil, hear no evil" on these kinds of issues fools no one outside our camp. Any well-read Catholic knows about all of these internal debates, so nothing constructive can occur by us pretending that internal self-criticism is some kind of disloyalty to truth.

The third problem is that it makes the same mistake all these converts make: taking our own prejudices for granted, and so never really becoming able to see where we are holding mere prejudices in place of truth. Calvin says the human heart generically speaking is an idol factory, not just the hearts of Roman Catholics and anyone else we Reformed happen to dislike. Scripture tells us to examine all things carefully and to hold fast to that which is good. It does not say to examine all things - save for what we ourselves believe - carefully.

On the contrary, to be self-critical is to show the world that we do not fear what is outside our camp, and that we are actually, and not merely in words, committed to seeking wisdom and articulating truth, wherever it may be found and in whatever guise. To be self-critical first and foremost before criticizing others is the only way to make sure that we ourselves are not just as deceived as those we attack.

John Bugay said...

Tim, I'm not suggesting to be unself-critical, but rather, this (public forum) is not the place for such discussions. It seems to me that holding these kinds of debates in public -- where "other gospels" do get espoused -- can be akin to casting our pearls before swine. The key is, as you noted, "These and more are, to be sure, matters of internal debate among brothers, not 'different Gospels'"

I know the internet is a very valuable tool for communication -- and we should leverage it in such a way to have such discussions "decently, and in order," maybe as parts of academic discussions or something like that. But I don't think that a place where we challenge "other gospels" is the proper venue to hold those "in-house" discussions.

That's the distinction I probably should have made in the first place.

Tim Enloe said...

Well, I do agree with that, John. Obviously this blog is not the place for Reformed people to hash out their internal disagreements, especially not with legions of converts waiting opportunistically to use such things as more "proof" that sola Scriptura only produces disunity.

Still, again, all these debates are a matter of public record, and some of them are necessarily going to show up here since you guys allow a wide variety of Protestants to post here.

Perhaps I should say for the record of the hostile folks here that I am not a "member" of the Beggar's All team, and just because I am a Protestant does not mean that anyone on the Beggar's All team agrees with any particular thing I say. Nor does my failure to see everything any Beggar's All team member says to anyone on any other thread imply that I approve of everything they say. James White and David King endorse this blog, but they do not endorse me, so again, one must take care to impute nothing I say to them and nothing they say to me.

It might be kind of confusing, but that's real life. I like to shamelessly rip off Chesterton's famous remark, "We Protestants agree on everything. It's everything else we disagree on."

John Bugay said...

Still, again, all these debates are a matter of public record, and some of them are necessarily going to show up here since you guys allow a wide variety of Protestants to post here.

A lot of unfortunate things have happened in the history of Christianity, and some of them happen to have been caused by Protestants.

I'm just more inclined to look for the hopeful things on the Protestant side, rather than rehash some of the unresolved issues at this point. I'm still with Steve Hays who recently noted that even though there are many disagreements, there is still one thing they all agreed on, and that is, it was worth getting out of Rome.

I think that still can be a unifying factor.

Tim Enloe said...

I don't disagree that we all can agree that it was "worth getting out of Rome." I just think that we need MORE than "it was worth getting out of Rome" to justify our existence and continued opposition to Rome. Have you not heard converts challenging Protestants, "What POSITIVE thing do you have to offer the world? All you ever do is cry about Romanism." They see it about us. We need to see it, too.

I also want to look for the hopeful things and the unifying things. A new and widespread interest in the classical Christian tradition is being birthed via the classical school movement (of which I am a part). Latin and Greek are making comebacks in primary, middle, and high school educational programs, most of them run by Protestants. Remastering these languages, particularly Latin, will open up to us a wealth of primary sources - a lot of them Reformed! - that are presently "locked up" because they have never been translated.

Scarcely 150 years ago, John Henry Thornwell, a staunch Presbyterian leader, wrote that he would get up in the morning to translate Cicero from Latin and then translate his Latin translation into Greek. Later, he said, he would study German and history and philosophy and literature. This was a major Protestant church leader, mind you, and he was talking about what was at that time the education of the ORDINARY man but which has since become the property of snobbish elites.

More Protestants are starting to become aware that the Middle Ages was not "the Dark Ages," but that the Reformation sprung from its fertile soil and both purged its errors and extended its good things. There's more to things Medieval than anti-Romanism, but for those of us who seem to live for anti-Romanism, the Medievals can only greatly aid that cause.

So I'm not really disagreeing with you, now that you've clarified your remarks. I'm hopefully just amplifying your remarks.

John Bugay said...

Tim -- Have you not heard converts challenging Protestants, "What POSITIVE thing do you have to offer the world?

But that's a false charge. The Reformation yielded a host of good things -- among them, a re-focus on the Gospel and freedom of conscience. It's unfortunate that Rome sought to tamp out the Reformation using (among other things) means such as war and persecution. I think a re-study of the Reformation in our day, when Rome does not have such means at its disposal (including the casuitical Jesuits of that day), more of those things that Schaff wrote about will become evident.

he was talking about what was at that time the education of the ORDINARY man

There's a whole lot more stuff you have to know today in order to be educated. And that forces different kinds of specialization. It's sad that this sort of thing got crowded out.

More Protestants are starting to become aware that the Middle Ages was not "the Dark Ages," but that the Reformation sprung from its fertile soil and both purged its errors and extended its good things.

You're right about this; there's such a steep learning curve, though. But the way I look at it, interest about the Reformation is only going to grow over the next 7 years and beyond.

So I'm not really disagreeing with you, now that you've clarified your remarks. I'm hopefully just amplifying your remarks.

This is working the way it's supposed to work -- you've studied these things in far more detail than I've been able to do, and I greatly value your contributions here.

Tim Enloe said...

Man, I have been mistyping things like nobody's business these last few days.

In the above, I meant JAMES Henry Thornwell, not John Henry Thornwell, the latter being a personage with whom I have no acquaintance at all.

I also meant to say that Thornwell translated Cicero out of Latin into English, and then translated his ENGLISH translation into Greek.

Good grief. Mea maxima culpa. (At least I'm getting my Latin right.)

Tim Enloe said...

I'm curious, John, why do you keep saying "7 years"? That's the second time I've seen you put that figure out.

John Bugay said...

I'm curious, John, why do you keep saying "7 years"? That's the second time I've seen you put that figure out.

It's 7 years till the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (Sort of). 1517-2017, if you want to start with Luther's 95 theses.

Tim Enloe said...

Well the fact that I didn't figure that one out immediately just proves I'm incompetent with history, and need peer-reviewed oversight for all my wild theories. :P

John Bugay said...


BBB said...

John and Tim,

You guys have some pretty sharp comments for Catholic converts. I'm one myself, coming from Reforemd Protestantism, around the age of 23 and still studying. I must say, Tim, your description of a spiritual shallow being desperately grabbing the nearest life preserver, has some remarkable similarities to my story, If I'm being honest.

Forgive me if this sounds like I'm looking for an easy way out. But what books would either of you guys recommend (or bibliographies, if you want to get that detailed) to help an interested layman with limited time escape this lack of historical and theological depth?

John Bugay said...

Hi BBB, welcome to Beggars All.

I haven't read it, but I understand Nick Needham's series on the history of Christianity is just simply excellent. Here's a link to a recent review.

David King's Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume 1 provides a tremendous picture of what the early church believed about the Scriptures, and it interacts at length with what Roman Catholic apologists of our day have said about the Scriptures.

For a fuller treatment of the early church, I'd recommend J.N.D. Kelly's "Early Christian Doctrines". I got a version of this from for $7.99, and it looks as if Amazon has some used volumes available for around that price.

I also benefitted a great deal from Alister McGrath's Christian Theology: An Introduction. He keeps rewriting and reissuing the thing; I see he has a new hardcover volume out in October 2010. (That will be the "Fifth" edition. I have not seen the "Fourth." The "Third" edition was fine for me. I read straight through it -- he'll give you a big picture view of the whole sweep of Christian history and theology.)

For something a bit more meaty, I've learned a great deal from Robert Reymond's Systematic Theology, and also (though it's a bit dated), Berkhof's Systematic (which Matthew Schultz has referenced in his post from last night). Both are one-volume treatments.

When I grow up (and get some money), I want to invest in Bavinck's four volume set, and also Richard Mueller's 4 volume work, "Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics". I've heard both are excellent.

If you don't have time to read necessarily (I'm blessed with an abundance of commuting time), there are some excellent seminary courses available through iTunesU: I've listened to a number of courses from both Covenant Seminary and RTS (Reformed seminaries), and Dallas Theological Seminary has actually posted some video lectures. I don't think I could recommend any of those highly enough. Much of this is absolutely free (except for the cost of the iPod or player).

If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask. My email address is simply "johnbugay" [at] gmail.

Tim Enloe said...


Well, thank you for being honest - it's very refreshing. I, too, once converted (in my case, from Evangelicalism to Reformed), and it took me a number of years to realize that although the conversion solved some very serious spiritual problems I felt I had at the time, it was done with a VERY shallow grasp of what I was converting into, and also with an unrealistically pessimistic view of what I was leaving. It's nice to speak to a fellow convert who recognizes this phenomenon, for once. Most just take offense at being told they were ignorant and should have spent a lot more time in trying to critically evaluate matters before upending their entire lives and then running out onto the Internet to pretend like they're experts on things they barely ever heard of 6 months prior.

In order to suggest some books for you to read, I would need to know what you are interested in. My main area of interest is the history and culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and their connections with the Reformation.

What I would recommend at this point, especially because you have honestly admitted the shallowness of your conversion experience, is stay away from Catholic apologetics websites. At this point, only 23 years old and recently converted, and aware of your intellectual and spiritual fragility, you do not need to be reading a bunch of people with chips on their shoulders who are trying to psychologically shore up both themselves and you by what the ancients called an "eristic" mode of approaching knowledge - that is, a strife-driven approach to knowledge.

What you need is to step back from that whole scene and spend the next few years (yes, years!) quietly working hard to expand your mental horizons and critically examine not only other people's beliefs, but your own newly-acquired ones as well. Don't buy into the "circle the wagons" mentality of apologists - truth is nowhere near as fragile as we are, and it is not at all infidelity to Christ to critically examine your own beliefs. In fact, it is the only way to avoid self-deception.

This is not necessarily going to be "fun," and it certainly won't be as thrilling as arguing on blogs and message boards, but if you commit yourself to it, you will find in the long run that you are a better person for your hard work.

I appreciate your honesty about your conversion so much. If you will tell me what subjects you are interested in, I might be able to suggest some reading.

BBB said...


Thanks for the welcome and the recommendations. I will definitely get some of those university courses on my ipod (I think I'll go to church history first), and I'll try to get to some of those books as time permits. I do have many questions, so I'll keep your email in mind. Thanks again.


Thank you for your kind words. Its always interesting to hear the insights of others who have converted in some way or another.

I was afraid that it would take that long (years, as you said). When things like salvation is considered, I want the truth (usually given in the form of “answers”) now. I have a need for certainty and a fear of hell that often blinds me to balanced research and causes me to rush for quick fixes. But I realize that, in some things, you need to take your time. I'll try to head your advice, be patient, and build up a better knowledge base over time.

As for what I'm interested in... it's tough to be specific. I want to build a better theological , historical, and epistemological foundation for further study. Epistemology, because of my personal issues with certainty, doubt, bias, etc. History because I need to actually see what being “deep in history” does to Christian theology. I suppose what I'm most looking for at the moment is good church history and historical theology. That's really broad... hopefully, after studying for a while, I'll be able to get more specific. Perhaps you could tell me some of the better introductions to history and theological development in the time periods in which you specialize?

Tim Enloe said...

BBB, I was not suggesting that you wait years to find security of salvation. In point of fact, regardless of what denomination you are a part of, there is only one way to have security of salvation, and that is trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Reading between the lines of what you have said (and recognizing that I know you not at all, so please correct me if I'm wrong), it sounds as if you had a serious spiritual crisis before you converted to Catholicism. I well understand that: my own conversion to the Reformed faith hung almost entirely on deep depression about security of salvation, which I could not find in any of my Evangelical experiences. It was Reformed writers who convinced me, from the Scriptures, that CHRIST, and not my personal experiences, was the ALONE source and guarantee of salvation, and that only by continually looking to Him could my conscience ever be quieted and I have any kind of assurance.

If I am reading your remarks right, and you had some sort of spiritual crisis prior to your conversion, and you felt that converting would solve that crisis, I will offer from my own similar experience words which you may take or leave as you please. Having converted to Catholicism in the grip of despair, you must now at all costs avoid swinging to the opposite extreme. Whatever pious deeds you now do as a Catholic, do not buy into the mentality that these deeds are what guarantees your security. Look to Christ, and Christ ALONE, regardless of what any apologist, priest, or bishop may tell you.

If you believe in Him, you ALREADY have everything that is His - righteousness, peace, security, wholeness - regardless of anything you do or don't do. Going to Mass, performing penances, believing all the "de fide" doctrines of the Church, even "giving your body to be burned" in apologetic frenzies on the Internet - none of this can save you or salve your conscience. Christ ALONE can do that, and regardless of what church you attend, pray fervently that you always be found trusting ONLY in Him for what you need.

I speak from experience. I converted to solve a spiritual crisis, and for a while it seemed to work. Then I started finding out how ugly the Reformed world can be, for all its grand posturing about "the Gospel," and I went through a period of several years of great emotional and spiritual "letdown" because I had swung the pendulum in the opposite direction and it suddenly came smacking back into the side of my head. By God's grace, I weathered some terrible storms for a few years, but by God's grace, I am through them and I have peace that comes only from trusting in Christ - NOT in Reformed Theology," NOT in the doctrine of justification, NOT in any righteous apologetics deeds I can do to defend "Truth" - but ONLY from Christ.

I exhort you to seek Him above all else, and do not heed anyone, whether Catholic or Protestant, who demands anything of you other than simple, childlike faith in Christ and His finished work FOR YOU.

Tim Enloe said...

As for good historical introductions in the time periods in which I specialize, I highly recommend two books - Marcia Colish's Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, and Steven Ozment's The Age of Reform: 1350-1550. The former is a broad, accessible survey of the cultural and theological backdrop of the Middle Ages. The latter is oriented more towards philosophical and political developments, but these are HIGHLY relevant to Medieval theology, particularly to claims about "development of doctrine" in the papacy. As well, Ozment demonstrates significant connections between Late Medieval thought and the flowering of the Reformation, and ends his book with a cautionary note that all Protestants would do well to heed in terms of over-idealizing the Reformation as if it was the centerpoint of all history.

These are two survey works I would recommend highly. A friend of mine recommends Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation as an excellent survey of that period. If you would at any time like to talk out of the light of these rough-and-tumble Internet fora, you can reach me at

John Bugay said...

Tim, thanks for sharing your experience here. I have not had nearly the experience you've had with Reformed people. Basically, I have experience with two Reformed churches. I would have become a member of the first, but they had a fire in the building and the congregation coalesced around several other local Reformed churches. I joined one of these and have not had any regrets.

One big factor for me is that I never hear anything there, from a theological perspective, that makes me cringe for the sake of my children. I always had problems with that at the RCC.

Also, Tim and BBB, I read Ozment's book a couple of years ago. The issues were pretty tough, because I was unfamiliar with that world; I think if I were to revisit it I'd have a much better undertanding of things these days.

Are you familiar with Alister McGrath's work, "Intellectual Origins of the Reformation"? I haven't read it, though it's on my list. Generally I like the way McGrath explains things. It seems as if this might be a better place to start.

McCullough's work is also excellent, but I think the historical part of it cut off too early -- it could have gone a bit farther, if I recall.

Tim Enloe said...

John, McGrath's book, which I have read (but a long, long time ago!), is in my opinion much more difficult than Ozment's. McGrath descends into the nitty-gritty of Medieval philosophical theology, and most of his footnotes are in Latin, German, and French. It can be a daunting work, though it is excellent for one who is prepared. Ozment was writing more for a non-specialist audience, which is the main virtue of his book. I haven't read MacCulloch myself; I was just reporting my friend's recommendation of it.

I don't hear things in my Reformed church that make me worry about my children, either. My only point was that it is very easy, because we Reformeds are so intellectually-oriented, to begin to subtly place our trust in our intellectual formulations of and defenses of "sound doctrine" rather than in the One to Whom all that doctrine points. We are justified by faith alone, not by believing in justification by faith alone. Doctrine, no matter how sound, does not save. It only points to the One who saves.

It's a highly individual thing, to be sure, and I do not fancy myself capable of judging another man's heart as to whether he is trusting in his doctrines or trusting in Christ. But I think it is a very salutory thing to examine oneself from time to time, to critically appraise one's own self rather than always critically appraising others. Once more, Scripture does not say examine all things unless you are Reformed, in which case you can be sure you have it Right, nor does it say that only the non-Reformed have problems looking into the mirror of the Word and straightway going away forgetting what manner of men they are. We who are so often so proud of our advocacy of "the doctrines of grace" need always to remember that it is "GRACE that has brought us safe thusfar, and GRACE will lead us home." We are not better than other men because we "get the Gospel right." Christ had harsh things to say about those who piled up burdens on others that they would not bother to lift themselves, and we had better not find ourselves in that position.

John Bugay said...

My only point was that it is very easy, because we Reformeds are so intellectually-oriented, to begin to subtly place our trust in our intellectual formulations of and defenses of "sound doctrine" rather than in the One to Whom all that doctrine points. We are justified by faith alone, not by believing in justification by faith alone. Doctrine, no matter how sound, does not save. It only points to the One who saves.

Tim, from the perspective of a layman, I think that the Reformed can benefit from this attitude in many ways. From the point of view of teachers, I do think that the effort to "get it right" is called for and worthwhile, although I do think if the teachers would step back for a moment and just reflect on the One they're teaching about, there would be somewhat less conflict.

BBB said...


You're exactly correct about my conversion. I was in a pit of despair before my conversion primarily because I had been approached by the LA international church of Christ, a small sect that believes that to be saved you must be baptized by immersion as an adult and believe that baptism by immersion is necessary for salvation (in addition to the usual: Resurrection, trinity, etc.). In other words, only their church (the church of christ) is going to heaven. I, being reformed at the time, took the faith alone position, but was troubled by their arguments for baptismal regeneration.

It was during this time of uncertainty and despair regarding the interpretation of scripture, understanding of the sacraments, and my salvation that I ran across Catholic apologetics. It seemed like a way to certainty and a better understanding of the biblical data on baptism (without having to say EVERYONE else is damned). Well, it turns out my certainty problems are more about my personal issues than anything else, cause I'm still plagued by uncertainty about Christianity, the Bible, and my salvation. Oh well.

I'll try not to fall into deeds based salvation. I suppose confession can come close to that at times, though confession usually fails to give me peace (I constantly worry about doing it “right”).

In any case, I thank you for sharing a bit of your own story. It seems that there are some similarities, even though we went in different directions. I'll keep your warnings in mind and try to focus on Christ, whatever else happens. It can be hard sometimes.

Tim Enloe said...


Yes, it can be hard at times, and that's why I greatly appreciate your frankness about your conversion. I only wish more converts (on both sides) would be so honest and humble. I wasn't, myself, for about the first 5 years I was Reformed. (Those who think I'm rhetorically over the top now better be glad they didn't know me then.)

Certainty isn't easy to find, and the search for it is often abused in our culture. Most seem to want epistemological certainty - rational arguments that cannot possibly be gainsaid by anyone. Such things do not exist, for we are all fallen reasoners, and, as Socrates showed the Athenians time and time again, the line between truth and mere appearance of truth is often very difficult to discern, being often clouded over by enormous numbers of unexamined prejudices that we superficially take as "clear" truth.

Myself, I take it that moral certainty - certainty of faith - is the best anyone can get in this life. Unfortunately, that makes religious certainty, as you implied, a very personal thing and not at all an "objective" thing that justifies us railing against others for supposedly denying "obvious truth." Religious faith is not like propositions out of Euclid: there are no Q.E.D. demonstrations that no rational person can fail to grasp. As Hebrews tells us, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Of course, that verse can be abused, too. Converts on both sides abuse it regularly, pretending that only by being Catholic or only by embracing sola Scriptura do you show that you really have "faith." A lot of it comes back to the false quest for epistemological certainty, and a lot more of it comes back to the simple, very human psychological and emotional need for self-justification, especially when one has endured some terrible crisis and has grabbed the only life preserver that seems to be available.

It's very difficult for all of us, and whatever happens to you, please don't let anyone, Catholic or Protestant, tell you that it really OUGHT to be "simple" and "plain" and "clear," and that if only you "love truth" you will agree with them. That's nonsense. Christ never promised us that the life of faith would be easy.