This post follows from a previous post I shared on the Common Grounds Online Forum on The Conversation on Denominational Renewal. I just finished listening to “Renewing Theology” (click to download) by Jeremy Jones and reading this week’s responses.
Some may be tempted to think, “Are they actually trying to renew theology?” The answer is yes and no. No in the sense that the Word of God stands forever and truth is timeless. But yes in the sense that we are semper reformanda (“always reforming”). Theology has unfolded through a process of historical development throughout the ages. No matter how complete we think our theology is we must also come to grips with the need for contextualization of theology so that it is accessible by all.
At one point in his talk, Jones quoted Herman Bavinck on this very great need of contextualization in our day. While what Bavinck says clearly applies to Presbyterian churches, I don’t see why it can’t apply to other churches in the tradition of the Reformation. I searched for this quote and found a lengthier version:
All the misery of the Presbyterian Churches is owing to their striving to consider the Reformation as completed, and to allow no further development of what has been begun by the labor of the Reformers . . . Calvinism wishes no cessation of progress and promotes multi-formity. It feels the impulse to penetrate ever more deeply into the mysteries of salvation and in feeling this honors every gift and different calling of the Churches.
What Jones was really seeking to discuss is the problem of sectarianism in the PCA (although I would apply these discussions to evangelicalism as a whole). As I listened, I was reminded of the problems of sectarianism I’ve seen in many different churches. Everyone’s got a finger pointed at somebody else for some sort of deviation in understanding from some minor doctrine. I am all for upholding truth, but I get sad when I see so many of us Christians ignorantly choose division over minor differences instead of seeking understanding and harmony with others who also share a essentially common faith in Christ’s person and work. I echo the words of John Frame on the forum when he says, “We need to give more attention to the biblical doctrine of the unity of the church, both spiritual and governmental . . . we need to see the present denominational differences in the church as an aberration, an anomaly.”
On a similar note, I’ve become a bit more conflicted as of late as to how we choose to define the word “evangelical.” Who does this apply to? Some say it applies only to those subscribe to the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. Others in recent years have applied it more broadly to any who will confess salvation in Christ alone. After my conversion from being a nominal Roman Catholic, I tended to be a little more outspoken about the first option, upholding Protestantism over and against the faith tradition of my youth. Since then I’ve become much more gracious towards Roman Catholics, understanding that we share much in common.
Here’s something I’d like to throw out there. Jones pointed out in his talk that Protestants stand on the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. Most Protestants deny this reality. We fail to acknowledge the fact that we’ve inherited a history of theology developed throughout the period of the early church up until the Reformation. Sure there were bumps along the way, but no one will argue that Martin Luther rediscovered the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation. That was the Catholics. Furthermore, our view of the sovereignty of God stems not only from Calvin, but Augustine (who, by the way, was a Roman Catholic). Most Protestants are ungrateful for the labors of the early church in establishing such core doctrines–doctrines which are more essential than views on salvation and hence should unite us more than more minor doctrines divide us.
In future posts, I look forward to being able to celebrate the many commonalities we Protestants have with Roman Catholics. Oh, and let me not forget the Eastern Orthodox church! Most of us (myself included) know very little about them.