Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Rich Bledsoe is a retired PCA pastor living in Boulder, Colorado. He’s got quite the fascinating project going on in his life now, as he seeks to revitalize the city by specifically targeting the mainline churches within Boulder. This St. Anne’s Pub interview series is well worth your time and should give you a good introduction into what Rich is all about. He’s also a connoisseur of Barfield and Rosenstock-Huessy with some significant pastoral and missionary experience to help put those ideas into real life scenarios.

Rich gave some great commentary on the whole question of myth and history, and he gave me permission to post those thoughts here. These are not aimed at the contributors to this blog nor even our recent conversation in particular, though I was motivated by those conversations to ask for Rich’s thoughts. Rich is thinking of intellectuals that he’s encountered over the years who have contributed to this larger discussion. I found his thoughts worthy of consideration.

Rich Bledsoe writes:

It is true that “the ancients didn’t think this way.” A good deal of what we do call “modernity” is a gift of the Bible and Christianity.

Here is a homey story to illustrate: (more…)

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Although it is custom to not observe feast days that happen to fall within Holy Week, at least one bishop in Ireland has agreed to retain the observance today. I think the rationale is that apart from the mission of Patrick many of us (our family included) might not even know to observe Holy Week.

Could I have come to Ireland without thought of God, merely in my own interest? Who was it made me come? For here “I am a prisoner of the Spirit” so that I may not see any of my family. Can it be out of the kindness of my heart that I carry out such a labor of mercy on a people who once captured me when they wrecked my father’s house and carried off his servants? For by descent I was a freeman, born of a decurion father; yet I have sold this nobility of mine, I am not ashamed, nor do I regret that it might have meant some advantage to others. In short, I am a slave in Christ to this faraway people for the indescribable glory of “everlasting life which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Acts 20.22 Rom. 6.-23

– Bishop Saint Patrick of Ireland, Epistola to the Soldiers of Coroticus, 3.10.

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As a Protestant standing in the tradition of the magisterial Reformation, I take it as axiomatic that sola Scriptura is properly defined as “Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith.” This stands in contradistinction to solo Scriptura, which says “Scripture is the only rule of faith.” Now this means that sola Scriptura implies that there are other rules of faith, albeit, fallible ones. Here we would place such things as our Confessions of Faith, our catechisms, and the ministerial decrees of Councils.

But if sola Scriptura means that there are other rules of faith, albeit fallible ones, to what exactly does the word “faith” refer? We speak of “the faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3), and by this we surely mean such Scriptural teachings as creation, the Fall, the nature of the Godhead, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures, justification by faith, the Last Judgment, the recreation of the heavens and the earth, and so on. This much all catholic-orthodox Christians of whatever affiliation agree.


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I should have included these quotes from Cranmer in the previous post, and I probably would have if I was not in such a rush yesterday.  But at any rate, here is Thomas Cranmer writing to Melanchthon and Calvin in 1552, pleading with them to come to England for a general Protestant council in order to reach concord and unity, primarily on the doctrine of the Eucharist.

To Melanchthon:


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The following is from Martin Bucer, from his treatise, Concerning the True Care of Souls and Genuine Pastoral Ministry:

Those who call upon our Lord Jesus Christ in truth, whatever their outward customs and identity may be, we wish to acknowledge and love as our members in Christ the Lord. And they will also treat us in the same way, irrespective of the fact that we may not share the same ceremonies and church practices. For the fellowship of the Christian church consists not in ceremonies and outward practices, but in true faith, in obedience to the pure gospel, and in the right use of the sacraments as the Lord has ordained them. Everything else each church has to arrange as it finds best for itself. In any case this is something which the old holy fathers recognized and maintained.


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The citation from Calvin offered below follows on the heels of the discussion concerning Baptism, and specifically the teaching of Romans 6:3-4, in this thread.  I offer Calvin as witness that one may possibly have a claim to being (yes) “confessionally Reformed,” and still maintain that the holy Apostle had the entire rite of Baptism in mind when teaching the Roman Christians about their union with Christ in his death and resurrection in Baptism. 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

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History and Taxonomy

One of the points I also meant to make concerning the study of history is that it shapes the way one goes about his categorizations. It informs one where to draw the lines, and which figures to put into which groups.

I didn’t simply mean that a person, upon realizing that his local authorities (pastors and teachers) lack a firm grasp of tradition, freaks out and jumps ship. That can and does happen, I suppose, but more than just that, that sort of phenomena influences how you think of the various groups under question. If the Reformed are all basically sectarians and fundamentalists, then upon finding one who isn’t, you have a choice to make. Either the definition of “Reformed” broadens, or the person ceases to be Reformed.

This fuels a lot of the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” debates. The title is somewhat absurd. It was originally meant to be clever, and therefore more effective, but in overstating its case, it has actually opened the door for a similarly erroneous reaction- a denial of all discontinuity among Calvinists. The truth of the matter is that there has always been a decent amount of diversity within the all parts of the Christian tradition, and it is usually during controversies when these become battle-lines.


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Update 02/20: I should let everyone know that I inadvertently linked to an outdated file for the latter essay. This is corrected now. Please read at the conclusion of the essay to see the changes.

Alot of ones and zeros have been employed this week with regard to whether one or other person properly understands Calvin’s eucharistic theology. Some (as per usual) have radiated more heat than light. I certainly won’t claim to have exhausted the mystery by recourse to either of the two essays I have placed here, but I do set forth the development of my own thinking with regard to Calvin’s teaching. Given that I actually do interact a good bit with Calvin (in Latin), his sources, and his better expositors (Gerrish, Nevin, McDonnell, etc.) and given that I have been on both sides of the present conversation as a Presbyterian pastor and now an Anglican priest, I hope that these testimonia will help move things along.

For the record, Fr. Kimmel’s heuristic questions, distinguishing the differences between Reformed and Catholic/Anglo-Catholic/Orthodox theologies based on theopraxis, remains the best way of getting at the real points of divergence. The practical differences were ultimately what led me to abandon Calvin’s view as fundamentally unbiblical and pastorally unworkable–but that’s just one man’s considered opinion.

The Contemplative Shape of Calvin’s Eucharistic Thought (Fall 2000)

Left at the Altar by Monsieur Calvin (Spring 2007)

BTW–Neither of these has been edited and neither are ready for review in anything other than a blog setting. Please regard this and don’t cite them as scholarly sources.

Blessings to you all.


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History and Catholicity

One thing that is evident from the discussion going on over at Jeffrey Steel’s blog is that authentic Calvin scholarship has not yet penetrated the collective mindset of pastor-theologians. Steel and Al Kimel both serve as good examples. Both men are well educated and articulate. Both have a clear interest in the life of the Church. However, both also suffer from a distorted, albeit not uncommon, view of what it is that they have and are rejecting in Reformed/Protestant theology.

I have never met Jeff in person, however a good many congregants at the church I attend once sat under his leadership. I know many of his old pastor friends. I believe that I understand his trajectory, if I can say such a thing, and again, I think that much of it could have been improved, dare I say prevented, by a better understanding of history. (more…)

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I’ve been reading Bard Thompson’s Liturgies of the Western Church for class, and he uses Gregory Dix’s edition of The Treatise on The Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome. The use of “representation” and “sign” caught my attention:

And then let the oblation [at once] be brought by the deacons to the bishop, and he shall eucharistize [first] the bread into the representation [which the Greek calls the antitype] of the Flesh of Christ; [and] the cup mixed with wine for the antitype, [which the Greek calls the likeness] of the Blood which was shed for all who have believed in Him…


water also for an oblation for a sign of the laver, that the inner man also, which is psychic, may receive the same as the body. And the bishop shall give an explanation concerning all these things to them who receive.

~pg. 22

Admitting other difficulties in other places in church history, this would be one place where Calvin would be fairly justified in claiming the “Apostolic Tradition.” In his treatise against Tileman Hesushius, Calvin reluctantly takes up the task of exegeting the Church Fathers, but does a capable job, nonetheless. He’d prefer us go to Oecolampadius, Bullinger, and most of all Peter Martyr Vermigli, but he shows himself able when pressed.  As I find sources like Hipolytus, I understand Calvin all the better.

Access and translation still prove to be our biggest boundaries to the theology of the early church. It is little wonder that such widespread dissent among interpreters could crop up in a pre-digital age.

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 The following two quotes about the Reformation resonate deeply with me.  First is this, from Steven Ozment:

The great shortcoming of the Reformation was its naive expectation that the majority of people were capable of radical religious enlightenment and moral transformation, whether by persuasion or by coercion. Such expectation directly contradicted some of its fondest convictions and the original teaching of its founder. Having begun in protest against allegedly unnatural and unscriptural proscriptions of the medieval church and urged freedom in the place of coercion, the reformers brought a strange new burden to bear on the consciences of their followers when they instructed them to resolve the awesome problems of sin, death, and the devil by simple faith in the Bible and ethical service to their neighbors. The brave new man of Protestant faith, “subject to none [yet] subject to all” in Luther’s famous formulation, was expected to bear his finitude and sinfulness with anxiety resolved, secure in the knowledge of a gratuitous salvation, and fearful of neither man, God, or the devil. But how many were capable of such self-understanding?

…Late medieval and Protestant reformers attempted to fashion a religion more in accord with human nature as well as with divine decree. That the Reformation adopted its own repressive measures was not the reason it failed. Its failure rather lay in its original attempt to ennoble people beyond their capacities–not, as medieval theologians and Renaissance philosophers had done, by encouraging them to imitate saints and angels, but by demanding that they live simple, sober lives, prey not to presumption, superstition, or indulgence, but merely as human beings. This proved a truly impossible ideal; the Reformation foundered on man’s indomitable credulity. [Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), pp. 437-438]

Second is this, from David M. Mills’ The Emergent Church – Another Perspective: A Critical Response to D. A. Carson’s Staley Lectures:

While our histories of the Reformation tend to focus on Luther’s reading of Romans 1:17 and his call for the church to change, such a reading ignores the multiple cultural factors at work in this shift and the many other pleas for ecclesial reform which were heard even before Luther’s time. Changes in philosophy, science, politics, technology, art, education, and historiography were beginning to change the way that people thought about their religion, and Luther himself is an illustration of that shift. While this point can be overstated, there is a real sense in which Martin Luther’s “discovery” of justification by grace through faith would not have been possible in the same way at a different time in history. His plea for reform is itself enmeshed in a specific time and place within Western culture, and the changes he calls for are bound up with other changes taking place at the time. To ignore those factors is to misrepresent the nature of the Protestant Reformation.

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One of the key features of the Mercersburg theology is its opposition to theological abstraction.  Nevin and Schaff (but especially Nevin) contended that nineteenth century American Evangelical religion had become impoverished through viewing the incarnation, cross, and resurrection of Christ merely as events which occurred in the past but which are now over and done with.  Against this, the Mercersburg theologians contended that a proper conception of the Christian faith mandates that the realities of the redemption wrought by Christ in the world must be viewed as always remaining in force, the effects of which continue on here and now through the mediating body of Christ, the Church, in her ministry of Word and Sacrament.  

This opposition to theological abstraction comes out in full force in Nevin’s critique of the theological shallowness which he saw as forming the foundation of sectarianism in his 1848 work, Antichrist, or the Spirit of Sect and Schism: (more…)

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