LATEST REMARKS

Conclusion: Nathan A. Finn

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Nathan A. Finn serves provost/dean of the university faculty and professor of Christian studies and history at North Greenville University

Conclusion

Today’s theology is tomorrow’s historical theology. Should the Lord tarry his return, the insights of contemporary theologians will shape the future of what is sometimes called the “Great Tradition” or the “Christian intellectual tradition”—the best of Christian theological and ethical reflection from the second century to the present day.1 Our prayer is that we will be found faithful as theologians, and that Historical Theology for the Church will be a means the Lord uses to contribute to equip pastors, theologians, and other ministry leaders “to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (Jude 3). To that end, we want to close this book by offering a few final thoughts about the ministerial value of historical theology.

  1. First, historical theology should inform the devotional lives of believers and the liturgical lives of churches.
  2. Second, historical theology should inform the preaching of the Word.
  3. Third, historical theology should inform systematic theology.
  4. Finally, historical theology should inform ongoing debates about faith
    and practice.

Historical theology is no mere academic discipline but is a gift to the body of Christ. May we receive this gift from the Lord, from whom every good and perfect gift comes (Jas 1:17). And may we use this gift for his glory, for the health of his church, and for the sake of those who do not yet worship him.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Modern Era: Malcom B. Yarnell III on Eschatology

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Malcom B. Yarnell III serves as research professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

Eschatology literally means “the doctrine of the last.” In the modern era, however, eschatology has become known as the doctrine of “last things.” This is unfortunate, for Scripture never uses that terminology. Scripture speaks rather of God or Christ as the One who is “the last” (Hebrew ’acharon; Greek eschatos), just as he is also “the first” (Isa 44:6; 48:12; Rev 1:17; 2:8;22:13.) With a similar focus on God in Christ, the New Testament refers to the “last day” or “last days” as beginning with the first coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:17; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:2; Jas 5:3) and concluding with Christ’s resurrection of the dead and final judgment of unbelievers and scoffers(John 6:39–40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48; 1 Pet 1:5, 20; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 18). As we shall see, the shift from an emphasis on God in Christ to an emphasis on the things of this world has resulted in significant controversy regarding the order of events that accompany Christ’s second coming.

Historical Overview

Eschatology has become a subject of intense interest to modern Christians across the theological spectrum, from liberal to conservative. This intensity has manifested itself in various controversies, some of which have detracted from the primary aspects of eschatology. Nevertheless, eschatology is not the preserve of modernity but can be found throughout Christian history. One may find important eschatological themes within the writings of the early church fathers, within the ruminations of the medieval theologians, and within the Reformation.

The development of eschatology among modern Protestant theologians must take into account that it was downplayed to a great extent after the initial excitement that accompanied the genesis of the Reformation. For instance, the leading second-generation Reformer, John Calvin, only cursorily treated the doctrine within his highly influential Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin included a chapter on eschatology titled “Meditation on the Future Life” in book 3 of that influential work. However, it was a very short chapter and was primarily concerned with advancing the individual’s thoughtful existence within contemporary life. Although Calvin famously issued extensive commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of John is notable in its absence from his published body of works.

In spite of the confessional and systematic diminution of eschatology, there were signs at the popular level of continuing concern for the biblical picture of the future.

There were positive and negative aspects to the recovery of eschatology in the British Isles. In the late seventeenth century, both independent and Baptist theologians, among others, concerned themselves with eschatology.

After the restoration of the British monarchy, the leading eighteenth century Baptist theologian John Gill (1697–1771) encouraged Baptists and evangelicals in general to recover a more detailed eschatology. Gill has been labeled a High Calvinist, but he diverged from Calvin’s legacy of diminished eschatology. Unlike Calvin, Gill wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation. And unlike many Calvinist theologians, Gill included a fairly comprehensive eschatology in his systematic theology. For example, in the seventh, final, and lengthy book of his Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Gill affirmed that “Christ will have a special, peculiar, glorious, and visible kingdom, in which he will reign personally on earth.” This personal reign of Christ will be “with the saints” and for “a thousand years.” Gill’s recovery of a robust eschatology foreshadowed an eschatological renaissance. Gill did not remain alone, for Jonathan Edwards added his influential voice (see Case Study 1).

Case Studies

1. Jonathan Edwards – Three Eschatological Tendencies within Protestant Liberalism – The Destructive Legacy of Historical Criticism

2. Albert Schweitzer – Mainline Contributions to the Revival of Eschatology – The Origin of Modern Millennialism

3. Three Classic Dispensationalists  – Premillennial Dispensationalism – Other Forms of Modern Millennialism

4. George Eldon Ladd – Positive Developments in Contemporary Eschatology

5. Jürgen Moltmann – Negative Developments in Contemporary Eschatology

For the Church

Christian attitudes to eschatology can err in two directions. On the one hand, some exhibit an “eschatomania,” where they become entirely consumed with creating charts, setting dates, or judging others through their own imposed paradigm. On the other hand, often in reaction to the previous error, some develop an “eschatophobia,” preferring to live in the here and now, focusing exclusively on the Christian mission, and neglecting to teach the Bible’s many important teachings regarding eschatology. The best attitude may be found in a third stance, that of “eschatophilia,” which expresses an appreciation for the doctrine of “the Last” as it remembers its proper Christological center and Trinitarian end.

Although discussions regarding the millennium remain important, for it is an explicit biblical teaching, it is not the only aspect of eschatology worth discussing. Next to the recovery of Christ as “the Last” and the beatific vision of the triune God as the goal of redeemed humanity, Christians should also be careful to affirm the severity of death, the certainty of the bodily resurrection, the intermediate state, the second coming of Jesus Christ, the final judgment, the new creation, and the eternal states of heaven and hell. We have much to learn about what God has done, is doing, and will do. May God build up an undiminishing hope within you as you hear his promises.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Modern Era: Jeremy M. Kimble on The Church

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Jeremy M. Kimble serves as associate professor of theology and as Director for the Center for Biblical Integration.

Introduction

The Reformation brought about great doctrinal changes in the church, especially as it related to the doctrine of Scripture. God’s Word was now seen as our ultimate authority and not merely equal to tradition, and the doctrine of salvation was emphasized, particularly justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Reformation churches established their own identity by becoming strongly united around the solas of the Reformation and in their continued distancing from the Roman Catholic Church.

Beginning in the Reformation period, and becoming even more distinct in the modern era (1750–), ecclesiological differences became more pronounced, while unity around the doctrines of grace was evident. Variances among the Reformers regarding church life became entrenched doctrinal convictions and ecclesial distinctives, which brought about agreement in certain core theological areas (e.g., justification by faith alone) but disagreement over other matters (e.g., baptism, Lord’s Supper, church government forms of church worship). As a result, the modern era is a critical period in the history of the church regarding church doctrine. In many ways it called into question how the church was to cooperate and work together while also maintaining doctrinal distinctives often dealing with matters of ecclesiological importance.

Historical Overview

By the mid-eighteenth century, Christianity—particularly in the West—found itself in the throes of particular ideologies, such as the Enlightenment (emphasis on the individual, objective reality, and reason) and Romanticism (emphasis on the subjective and emotions). Each of these philosophies would have their effect on culture at large and call into question many of the major tenets of Christianity, such as the possibility of miracles, original sin, status of Scripture, and identity of Jesus.

By the late eighteenth century, the beginnings of the modern missions movement became evident. This movement came to fruition in large measure thanks to the work of William Carey (1761–1834), a missionary to India, particularly through his work Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen (1791). Carey was deeply influenced by the theology of Andrew Fuller; both stood in opposition to hyper-Calvinistic tendencies that made their way, especially, into Baptist churches.

The Second Great Awakening (1800–1840s), a movement seen mainly in the United States, brought an increased emphasis on the new birth, spiritual awakening, and evangelism. The methods by which these things were accomplished were often done outside of local church contexts in various revival meetings. This posed potential threats to a robust doctrine of the church and allowed parachurch organizations to increase in importance, even as an ecclesial reality for some. Nevertheless, the Awakening certainly has had an influence on the life of the church and the approach to such matters. In many ways, church worship itself became primarily concerned with evangelism, baptism, and membership. By the mid-twentieth century, many evangelical churches had shifted in viewing themselves preeminently as baptized, covenanted, local assemblies, to functioning primarily as outreach centers and corporate worship services as catalysts for revival. This perspective made the process for joining a church generally much quicker and more accessible.

In recent years, it is likely that no ministry has thought and produced more and had greater effect on the topic of ecclesiology than 9MarksMinistries. Founded in 1998 by Mark Dever (1960–), pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, 9Marks is a ministry dedicated to helping pastors and church members understand the components needed to become a healthy, biblical church. They do so through an e-journal, website, books, curriculum, and conferences. Although Baptist by conviction, 9Marks has had an impact across denominational lines as people continue to think about topics such as conversion, church membership, church discipline, expositional preaching, discipleship, and church leadership. Ministries such as 9Marks,along with the continued concentration of books and conferences dedicated in some way to the doctrine of the church, ensure that this is a theological topic that will continue to gain attention.

Case Studies

1. Nature and Polity of the Church

2. The Ordinances of the Church

3. The Mission of the Church

4. The Worship of the Church

For the Church

Ecclesiology has often taken a back seat as a doctrine to theological topics such as the Trinity, atonement, and the person of Christ. This is understandable, but it does not render the doctrine as unimportant. The triune God by means of redemption is gathering a people dedicated to glorifying his name. And God has called these people to live as a kingdom of priests set apart for his purposes. As such, the more recent move toward a “mere ecclesiology” does not do justice to all that God wants the church to be. Instead, the church must hold to convictions in every doctrinal area, including the nature and functionality of the church.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Modern Era: Owen Strachan on The Holy Spirit and Salvation

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Owen Strachan serves as associate professor of Christian theology, Director of the Center for Public Theology, and as Director of the Residency Ph.D. Program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

Religious groups sometimes get the reputation of being dry and dusty, stale and fusty. In truth, the opposite is often the case. The modern era was a wild and rollicking time, a period of great  upheaval that left the church and world changed through developments in the church’s conception of salvation, revival, and the work of the Spirit (1700–2000). Much that was settled became unsettled; much that was established was uprooted; much that was believed was rethought. In what follows, we will examine the doctrines of salvation and the Spirit in three distinct contexts: the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, respectively. In the interest of concision, we will, in several cases, track the thinking of a key thinker and leader (or two), which will allow us to understand how different paradigms developed in these periods. By undertaking this ambitious survey, we shall see twists and turns, recoveries and confusion, and explosive growth and splintering factions as we observe the passing of these eras

Historical Overview

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is known for many reasons: ranking as a masterly theologian, serving as a president of present-day Princeton University, and being very tall. Among Edwards’s other significant accomplishments, he served at the burning center of the First Great Awakening. Edwards and George Whitefield (1714–1770) believed in preaching for conversions and turned New England upside down as they did so. When Edwards preached on justification by faith alone in Northampton, Massachusetts, (in colonial form) in 1734, God opened blind eyes to the glory of the gospel. Edwards was no shy pulpiteer; he preached long, dense, intricate sermons chock-full of rich biblical doctrine. He did not dumb things down; he did not seek to entertain anyone; his pulpit presence was minimalist, yet Edwards’s congregation listened to him nonetheless. The Spirit quickened hearts.

Whitefield did not hold back, either. He also loved to preach on justification by faith alone, the doctrine of doctrines for the Protestant Reformers(one superintended, guarded, and promoted by sola scriptura). Whitefield, like Edwards, was a doctrinal preacher. These great revivalists did not execute extreme psychological maneuvers; they did not harass their hearers or use tricks to produce results. They preached stout and staunch biblical doctrine, and they preached to both the mind and the heart.

Many of these leaders differed from the First Great Awakening’s strongly providentialist view of salvation. In the 1820s, a lawyer named Charles Finney (1792–1875) drew considerable attention for his strength as an awakening preacher. Though ordained as a Presbyterian, Finney had little sympathy for reformational doctrine. He did, however, have great zeal for the revivalist cause, and he threw himself into the work with a passion that left a permanent mark on American evangelicalism. Finney offered no glancing challenge to the idea that God had to move for mass conversion to happen. The fiery orator argued to the contrary that revival depended on human effort.

Many pastors and Christians with a heart for evangelism would commend the evident desire for the saving of sinners in Finney’s outline of his methods. His otherworldly directness, his uncompromising boldness, and his zeal for the kingdom of heaven were conspicuous. Yet his innovations matter as well. The “anxious bench” ensured that those under conviction felt great pressure in a public setting to convert to Christ. They came under the fierce gaze of the revivalist preacher, who used psychological pressure to try to edge them to renunciation of sin. It is noteworthy that Finney mentioned Christ here, for his view of the atonement centered in the balancing of the moral government of the universe by Jesus’s death. In other words, Jesus died to demonstrate the righteousness and benevolence of God. His atonement does not cleanse us, nor does it take the wrath of the Father that we deserve to bear. Rather, Christ’s crucifixion draws us back to God as God shows his displeasure with sin while calling us to receive his love.

Case Studies (Included Above)

For the Church

The Machen-Fosdick battle reminds us of the importance of two things: first, we need to champion sound doctrine because it is true and glorifying to God, and second, we should remember just how much unsound thinking has come into Christ’s church due to a missiological or evangelistic motive. Fosdick’s stated concern was the lack of the “best” men of the world. Although Christians should want all men to be saved, we must never allow our missiology to rework our theology. Our theology, by contrast, is our missiology. Just because we have a good motive—wanting the salvation of sinners—does not mean that we have a blank check to draw people by any means we see fit. Our methods and models of ministry must be biblical.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Modern Era: Matthew J. Hall on The Trinity and Jesus Christ

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Matthew J. Hall serves as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

On the other side of the Enlightenment, trinitarian orthodoxy in general, and Chalcedonian formulations about the person and work of Christ in particular, came under intense fire.

As already noted in the previous chapter covering the modern era, these challenges were rooted in a preceding epistemological crisis. If human beings have limited access to the supernatural or, as Immanuel Kant put it, the noumenal, how can we really make theological propositions about the nature of Jesus Christ?

Over the course of several centuries, this Kantian question was answered in a variety of ways, resulting in a myriad of deviations from classical Christological formulations. But at the center of these debates, the question remained for the church in every age, just as it does today: Does sinful humanity stand in need of a Redeemer? And if so, how does Jesus Christ function as that Redeemer?

Historical Overview

At the Enlightenment’s peak, many observers assumed that the future of Christianity would entail a rejection of trinitarian orthodoxy, presuming the latter had been rendered inherently irrational. Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) captured this sentiment in his own prediction in 1822: “I rejoice that in this blessed country of free enquiry and belief, which has surrendered it’s[sic] creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die a Unitarian.”

Ultimately, Jefferson’s prediction proved to be far from true. Although Unitarianism would retain some prominence among corners of elite American culture in the nineteenth century, and is still present in the contemporary Unitarian Universalist Association, it is particularly small. What Jefferson, along with many others, seemingly never anticipated was the resurgence of evangelical Christianity in North America that would soon come in the form of a series of nineteenth-century awakenings.

Ever since the Enlightenment, a growing bifurcation between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith remained remarkably conspicuous. Different theologians and different traditions might use their own terminology, but underlying all of these was the fundamental epistemological doubt that modern people could trust the portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament Gospels as historically reliable and accurate. Although evangelical scholars have defended a confessional Christology that presumes the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scripture, and therefore the reliability of the Gospels, they have had to do so amid hostile intellectual headwinds.

In general, liberal Protestantism remained increasingly uninterested in the doctrine of the Trinity and effectively redefined Christology in ethical or functional terms.

Thankfully, the onslaught of theological revisions to historic Christology and trinitarian orthodoxy did not go without evangelical responses. Not only did evangelical scholars offer rigorous defenses of historic doctrine, but they often also worked to further clarify what those classical formulations meant. At the close of the nineteenth century and the dawn of the twentieth, this vision was perhaps nowhere more evident than at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Case Studies

1. Kenotic Christology

2. Ritschl and Christology

3. Princeton Theology

For the Church

If creatures are to know anything of their Creator, it is only by means of his condescension to reveal himself. And if those creatures are fallen in sin, as we most clearly are, divine self-revelation is all the more astonishing, gracious, and vital. Without God’s special revelation in the form of his inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word, there can be no hope of knowledge of God. And this certainly applies to knowledge of the ontological realities of the triune Godhead.

In our time, as it will be until Christ returns, the call must be for churches to proclaim the whole counsel of God and to do so with absolute confidence that the Bible is without error, that the truths that it proclaims to the world are absolutely essential to any real knowledge of the triune God who made us and who calls us to repent and believe in Jesus’s atoning work for sinners and promises the gift of the Spirit to all who are united to the Son by faith.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Modern Era: John Mark Yeats on Creation and Humanity

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

John Mark Yeats serves as Vice President of Student Services, Dean of Student and Student Success, and as professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

Although there have always been attacks on the claims of Scripture about human dignity, worth, and value, the modern era experienced a greater, more pointed attack than in any period prior. The parallels with the denigration of the authority of Scripture cannot be avoided. As critics, theologians, and cultures moved away from embracing the authority of Scripture, a corollary demise of the literal understanding of Scripture related to creation and humanity during the same period naturally followed. Additionally, a robust theological anthropology touches nearly every loci of systematic theology.

This chapter provides a historical overview of the changes relating to the broad topics of anthropology and the doctrine of creation that become increasingly intertwined in our period. By looking at the broad contours of the Enlightenment and modern era, we will see an overemphasis on the autonomy of humanity derived from an increasingly mechanistic view of the universe.

Historical Overview

Established in creation, codified in biblical narrative, ethics, and theology, the imago Dei is a foundational understanding of humanity’s essence. It is essential in understanding the incarnation and the redeeming work of Christ. It undergirds our moral and ethical approaches to life that advocate for a high value of every human. Consequently, during the modern era, questions surrounding the image of God in humanity came under intense scrutiny.

Case Studies

1. Slavery in the United States

2. Missions and Evangelism Movement

3. Abortion

For the Church

The conversation relating to the fundamental nature of humanity cannot be held without the corollary discussion relating to creation. As the Creator, God wove into the fabric of the universe the design equations that result in human flourishing. These design equations lead to conclusions about the authority of biblical morals and what is best personally, culturally, and structurally for all people. Those same principles also imbue humanity with purpose and value as beings made in the image of God himself. Biblical ideas about creation and humanity in Scripture may run counter to philosophies and ideas put forward by individuals in any given era, but since God’s Word is his revelation to humanity as our Creator, we are always at our cultural best when we adhere to his design. “In the beginning God created . . .” (Gen 1:1). In the twenty-first century, the ascendency of self is being revealed like never before. The ultimate claims placed by culture over sexuality and even self-directed understandings of gender confront the biblical understanding of God as Creator. The church’s claim of submission to God in the areas of sexuality, God’s gift of gender, and God’s design of the universe continue to stand in opposition to cultural forces that demand subservience to their claims. The church will need to be attentive to its anthropology to avoid theological drift while lovingly introducing people to a loving God who made a way of redemption available through Jesus Christ.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Modern Era: Nathan A. Finn on Scripture and Authority

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Nathan A. Finn serves as Provost and Dean of the University Faculty as North Greenville University.

Introduction

Arguably, no single doctrine was subject to greater revision during the modern era than bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture). At the very least, revisionist views of Scripture were uniquely important; one’s view of the inspiration, authority, and interpretation of the Bible necessarily affects how one conceives every other doctrine. When it comes to Scripture (and many other topics), one could even interpret modernity as an ever-evolving crisis of authority and the various responses to that crisis. This chapter will focus on developments related to biblical inspiration, authority, and interpretation during the past three centuries.

Historical Overview

The eighteenth century is often referred to as the Age of Reason, or the Enlightenment, because of the advent of new philosophical assumptions that dramatically influenced the transatlantic intellectual world. In reality, though the Enlightenment dates to the seventeenth century, there was no single Enlightenment—and scholars do not agree in their interpretations of various versions of the Enlightenment. Furthermore, contrary to popular understanding, not all theologians (even the more conservative)perceived the Enlightenment as a threat to the faith. Many Christian thinkers embraced certain Enlightenment emphases to help buttress their understandings of orthodoxy.

During the premodern era, theologians practiced a variety of strategies of biblical interpretation, many of which you have read about in previous chapters. What these approaches had in common was a belief that the Bible is God’s inspired written Word. As such, Scripture is authoritative and trustworthy, reflecting God’s own character. This changed with the advent of modernity and its revisionist views of the Bible. Many theologians now believed the Bible to be a thoroughly human book, that it should be interpreted like any other book, and that its historical and scientific truthfulness should not be assumed.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Protestant theologians were divided between traditionalists, progressives, and mediating theologians who tried to find a middle way. The traditionalists took on the name “fundamentalists” following the publication of a twelve-volume series of pamphlets titled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to Truth (1910–1915). Though they were divided by denominational differences and classical debates over matters such as election and baptism, fundamentalists saw themselves as a loose knit movement that argued for traditional views on the very fundamental doctrines that had become contested in the modern era.

By the latter years of the twentieth century, scholars across the theological spectrum evidenced renewed interest in premodern approaches to biblical interpretation that were overtly theological in their orientation. In particular, scholars gave renewed emphasis to the genre of biblical narrative, the presumed thought world of the biblical authors, the unity of the final form of the canon, exegetical strategies such as allegory and typology, and the conviction that the Bible animates the life of the church. The “Theological Interpretation of Scripture” proved to be a truly ecumenical movement, resonating with both conservatives and liberals, and systematic theologians and biblical scholars, among Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. Nevertheless, critics across the theological spectrum raised questions about its methodology and boundaries.

Case Studies

1. The Princeton Tradition

2. Karl Barth and Barthianism

3. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

4. The Southern Baptist Inerrancy Controversy

For the Church

Scripture offers a trustworthy word. Though the modern era raised doubts in the minds of many, the consensus of the church for two millennia has been that the Bible represents God’s trustworthy written words to humanity. This is because Scripture attests to its own truthfulness (2 Tim 3:14–17;2 Pet 1:19–21) and the trustworthiness of the God who inspired it (2 Sam 7:28; Ps 33:4; 111:7; John 17:17). The health of the church is intricately connected to the soundness of her doctrine—and sound doctrine depends on a trustworthy Scripture.

The battle for the Bible is perennial. This chapter has recounted some modern battles over the Bible, in particular its divine inspiration and truthfulness. But this is not a modern phenomenon. In fact, the battle for the Bible is an ancient war that began in the garden of Eden when the diabolical serpent first raised doubts about the trustworthiness of God’s words: “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1). It all went downhill from there.

When challenges to the doctrine of Scripture arise, whether from inside or outside the visible church, pastors and other leaders must be ready to defend sound doctrine and equip others to do the same (1 Tim 3:1–2; Titus1:9). To let down our guard is to invite the disaster of doctrinal and eventually moral drift. And to be clear, we only drift in one direction: away from biblical faithfulness.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Reformation Era: Jason G. Duesing on The Church

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Jason G. Duesing serves as professor of historical theology and as Provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

In the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) advocated for a “mere” Christianity in the main, but the notion of mereness also washed upon the shores of his doctrine of the church. In his Letters to Malcolm, Lewis, an Anglican Protestant, followed the workings out of the English Reformation as he suggested a simplified liturgy, one in which the priest minimized the distractions, the pomp, and the obstacles for the people of God. The sentiment here of a mere ecclesiology captures well the initial spirit of the Reformers in the sixteenth century. Their reforms were driven by doctrinal change and motived by a simplicity that pulled back layers of Roman complexity, especially in terms of the definition and practice of the church. Yet, as the Reformers focused on establishing their core solas in the church, over the ensuing decades their reforms of the doctrine of the church would vary in emphasis and thoroughness and lead to increased variance among their movements. As all Protestant and Free Church traditions trace their origins to the Reformation, this era serves as ground zero for the historical formation of ecclesiology and thus serves as a helpful era of study.

Historical Overview

As previous chapters have presented, with the advent of the Reformation era, the conciliarists and curialists represented competing definitions for the doctrine of the church. From Constantine to the fifteenth century, the conciliarists sought authority for the church from Scripture and the church councils and held influence and power over the curialists. However, following the Great Schism of the fourteenth century, the curialists came to power with Pope Pius II (1405–1464) and viewed authority as emanating from the pope. Thus, when Martin Luther (1483–1546) arrived, even in his early Ninety-Five Theses (1517) he called for reform of doctrine in the understanding of how man relates to God, and the error of indulgences as “nets ”with which one fishes for wealth (Thesis 66). Pope Leo X (1475–1521) permitted the sale of indulgences, which gave assurance to the masses that their purchase would aid their loved ones to see a quick release from purgatory. While at first Luther sought a reformation of the church’s understanding of the doctrine of salvation, those in power interpreted Luther as calling for reform of church authority. Such notice came as the result of the translation into the common language of Luther’s persuasive theses. To question doctrine is to question the church, and a call for a reformation of the doctrine of salvation is a call for a reformation of the doctrine of the church.

Case Studies

1. Pilgram Marpeck’s Correct Baptism

2. The Lord’s Supper

For the Church

The Reformers’ pursuit of a simplified doctrine of the church followed their initial decisions to pursue a reform movement that returned to the sources of authoritative Scriptures for the establishment of a biblical understanding of the doctrine of salvation. This resulted in a mere ecclesiology centered on notae ecclesiae that affirmed the church as an invisible collection of all believers and a visible gathering that upheld the centrality of the preached Word of God and the gospel and the regular practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the ordinances instituted by Christ. Yet ecclesiological variances of practice and specific understanding of church doctrines abounded by geographic region, political influence from the state, and pressure from surrounding movements. With this variance, what is sometimes lost is the larger picture that the recovery of churches built around the gospel ensured that future generations received the same gospel. Had the Reformers not wrestled with the doctrine of the church, the recovery of the solas might not have lasted more than a generation. Therefore, in our own day, church reform needs to continue, not only for the quest of seeking to follow the Scriptures, but also to ensure there remain future visible communions of saints who will treasure and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ until he returns.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Reformation Era: Stephen Brett Eccher on Salvation

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Stephen Bret Eccher serves as associate professor of church history and Reformation studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

The Protestant Reformers generally agreed that the gospel had been veiled over the centuries and needed to be recovered if the church were to remain in the apostolic tradition. This recovery centered on two main ideas:(a) the proclamation of the gospel, especially articulated through the phrase “justification by grace through faith alone,” and (b) a reinstitution of the two biblical sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—tangible word pictures of the gospel. Although the Reformers were by no means in agreement on the precise definition or understanding of these ideas, they spoke with one unanimous voice corroborating the veracity of one confessional heritage: salvation was at stake.

Given that debates over the nature of faith served as the principle issue identifying who maintained a true, biblical church, the purpose of this chapter is to explore the doctrine of salvation during the Reformation. Special attention is given to the developmental nature of this doctrine among the Reformers, the divergent hermeneutical commitments that undergirded their soteriologies, and the unique historical contexts that shaped the differing understandings of salvation offered during the period.

Historical Overview (Very Varied)

Martin Luther (1483–1546) was born into a superstitious world consumed with death and riddled with guilt. Against this unique backdrop, the Roman Catholic Church posited that healing and salvation were realized through the church’s sacramental system. Late-medieval sacramental theology argued that the church had been established by God as the sole dispenser of the salvific medicine of divine, saving grace. The clergy stood as heaven’s gatekeepers, administering the sacramental medicine of immortality to humanity plagued by sin.

Luther languished in this sacramental system, especially during his time as an Augustinian monk. He was a man caught between God and the devil, a medieval viator moving from heaven to hell and back again with every sacramental act of righteousness, followed by more sinful deeds of his flesh. According to Luther’s 1545 Preface to the Latin Writings, this changed once
he began searching the Scriptures for answers to the questions that vexed him. He finally came to see salvation through the lens of the cross instead of the sacraments. Salvation was not something to be realized by human effort but a gift from God based on the work of the Son, Jesus Christ. Faith in the accomplished work of Jesus, itself a gift of God, became the means of finding a right standing before the Lord.

Case Studies

1. Martin Luther and Justification

2. From Calvin to Tulips

3. British Conviction and Confession

For the Church

One of the modern misnomers about the Reformation is that it caused the church’s division. To be sure, the fracture with Rome and the subsequent splintering of Protestantism into a myriad of confessional heritages was a regrettable inheritance bequeathed to modernity. Nevertheless, the church was already divided before the sixteenth century, as evidenced by pre Reformation figures John Wycliffe (1330–1384) and Jan Hus (1369–1415)or movements such as conciliarism. Given that divided past, what remains striking about the Reformation was the all-too-often-forgotten unity that was realized among most of the Reformers. Following a time when the gospel was either misunderstood or veiled by rampant moral abuses of the church and the sacramental theology of the late-medieval era, the Reformers came to a general accord regarding salvation. Gospel clarity came through an embrace of justification by grace through faith and a rejection of the Roman Mass.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021

Theology in the Reformation Era: Matthew Barrett on Scripture

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Matthew Barrett serves associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine.

Introduction

The sixteenth-century Reformation was a soteriological movement at its core. Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) conflict with the Catholic Church over the indulgence system can be traced back to the existential crisis within his own soul. Young Martin, haunted by the sinfulness of sin, could not escape God as judge. Faithful as he was to follow the penance system, Martin found no relief. Grace seemed an impossibility when one’s works, even works driven by faith, fell short. As a result, his conscience was plagued by the incessant insecurity of his salvation, incapable of achieving a peace that guaranteed God would acquit him on the last day.

In time, young Martin’s eyes were also opened to what kind of gratuitous righteousness God extended to the ungodly. It is none other than the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, imputed to all who believe. No longer did Martin see Christ as his implacable judge, but as his sacrificial lamb, laying down his own life out of love for the ungodly.

Although soteriology might have been the spark that started the fire, authority was the gas that fueled that spark into a blazing flame. For when Luther was told to recant, he was faced with the ultimate decision: who should be obeyed, Scripture or Rome’s popes and councils?

Historical Overview with Case Studies

This question, Who has final authority to decide this debate? Uprooted Germany and all of Europe as well when the Reformers answered with as much clarity as they did bravado: Scripture alone. Church councils and popes are to be followed and obeyed where they align with Scripture, but where they depart from Scripture, they can no longer be followed. For Scripture alone is inspired by God, and on that basis Scripture alone is impeccable, sufficient, and the church’s final authority. The Reformers had a high place for tradition—many of them were experts in patristic and medieval exegesis and theology. They also held ecclesiastical authority in high esteem, as their own polity revealed in due time. Nevertheless, only Scripture is revelatory, breathed out by God himself. For that reason only, Scripture is the church’s ultimate court of appeal, a court that can sit in judgment of the church itself when necessary

1. Sola Scriptura and the Reformation’s Claim to Catholicity

2. Tradition versus Tradition

3. The Rise of Curialism

4. Captive to the Word: Luther versus Prierias, Cajetan, and Eck

5. A New View of Scripture and Tradition: Radical Reformers

6. The Formal Principle in the Reformed Churches

For the Church

At the start of the Reformation, Rome predicted sola scriptura would result in chaos, in which every man was his own interpreter, and, for that reason, the Reformation would be short-lived. In some cases, this prediction proved true, but sometimes it was not sola scriptura that caused dissemination, but nuda scriptura, due to the latter’s elevation of individual experience, the Spirit, or reason above the Scriptures. Historians have been slow to recognize that sola scriptura was not an Enlightenment call to the autonomous individual, a sixteenth-century precursor to Immanuel Kant or René Descartes. Such a reading falls prey to a Roman Catholic hermeneutic of the Reformation along with its aggressive propaganda, calling the match before it can begin. By contrast, the Reformers submitted themselves to the Scriptures, exercising a hermeneutic of humility. If they were subversive, it was not because they desired to divide the church—an interpretation as misguided as it is common. The Reformation’s subversive nature was due to the gospel Rome found offensive, and to the divinely authorized book that gave birth to that gospel. The Reformers elevated this book above all else, a maneuver Rome said was insubordinate to their infallible magisterium.

Century after century, sola scriptura has been the idée fixe of the Protestant mind, its foundational premise on which all its doctrines are built and established. Where it has not, Protestants have misaligned themselves with their own heritage, their own tradition. Where it has, the gospel can be heard with clarity and authority, with sufficiency and life-giving power.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021