Reforming or Conforming?
- Thursday, November 06, 2008
Briggs grew to dislike what he called “the scholastic” element in Reformed theology. He wrote:
“The scholastic spirit seeks union and communion with God by means of well-ordered forms. It searches the Bible for well-defined systems of law and doctrine by which to rule the Church and control the world. It arises from an intellectual nature, and grows into a more or less acute logical sense, and a taste for systems of order. This spirit exists in all ages and in most religions, but it was especially dominant in the middle age of the Church and in Latin Christianity. It is distinguished by an intense legality and by too exclusive attention to the works of the law, and a disproportionate consideration of the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man, and the satisfaction to be rendered to God for sin. In biblical studies it is distinguished by the legal, analytic method of interpretation, carried on at times with such hair-splitting distinction and subtlety of reasoning that Holy Scripture becomes, as it were, a magician’s book. Through the device of the manifold sense the Bible is made as effectual to the purpose of the dogmatician for proof texts as are the sacraments to the priests in their magical operation. The doctrinal element prevails over the religious and ethical. Dogma and institution alike work ex opera operato.”28
Briggs may have lost the battle with Warfield and Old Princeton, but in the space of a generation his theological distinctives gained ascendancy in the Presbyterian church when the Auburn Affirmation ratified his views in 1924, especially on the doctrine of inerrancy:
“There is no assertion in the Scriptures that their writers were kept “from error.” The Confession of Faith does not make this assertion; and it is significant that this assertion is not to be found in the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed or in any of the great Reformation confessions. The doctrine of inerrancy, intended to enhance the authority of the Scriptures, in fact impairs their supreme authority for faith and life, and weakens the testimony of the church to the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ. We hold that the General Assembly of 1923, in asserting that “the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and movie the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error,” spoke without warrant of the Scriptures or of the Confession of Faith. We hold rather to the words of the Confession of Faith, that the Scriptures “are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” (Conf. I, ii)
Not content to stop there, it went on to make the following assertion:
“Furthermore, this opinion of the General Assembly attempts to commit our church to certain theories concerning the inspiration of the Bible, and the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Continuing Life and Supernatural Power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hold most earnestly to these great facts and doctrines; we all believe from our hearts that the writers of the Bible were inspired of God; that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh; that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and through Him we have our redemption; that having died for our sins He rose from the dead and is our everliving Saviour; that in His earthly ministry He wrought many mighty works, and by His vicarious death and unfailing presence He is able to save to the uttermost. Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship.” (conf. IV, ii)29
This sounds remarkably like the things that having been coming from those involved in the emergent conversation. Some seventy years ago, Gordon Clark’s response sounded as if he were writing in light of the post-conservative proposals:
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