Old Dead Guys– Notes #1

John Wiers, PhD 2020

Introduction

  1. A study of a selected number of key theologians in the Christian tradition
  • This approach has been utilized by a number of historians of Christian thought.
  • Various ways the history of Christian theology can be studied.

          a. Chronologically by eras.

          b.  Chronologically by key doctrines

          c. By key thinkers

  1.  Studying all of the contributions of a key thinker
  2. Studying 1-2 key contributions of a key thinker– we will be using this and end up focusing on a number of theological issues, but focusing on those theologians that made key contributions to defining that doctrine

I. Why studying this is important

  1. Analyze this statement:  “The Bible must be the guide to all doctrinal formulations.  Words not found in it should not be used to express doctrine.”
  • Theological reflection is necessary and inevitable.  The only question is which theologians we will follow.
  •  If this doesn’t convince, C. S. Lewis was steeped in early church and medieval theology.


II. Objections that evangelical Protestants often have to studying historical theology,

  1.  Some claim that all we need is the Bible.  This actually can be an arrogant statement because it assumes that we have nothing to learn from earlier eras.
  • Many earlier centuries were not biblical– this is easily disproven when we see how much scripture they often quoted, commented on, interacted with, etc.
  • Many assume that if we study the early church, especially, we’ll end up as Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox.  This overlooks the incredible knowledge of the early church fathers that the Reformers had.
  • There was a “fall” away from pristine Christianity very early and only a latter era– i.e. the Reformation, the Evangelical Revival, the Restoration Movement, the Plymouth Brethren, Pentecostalism are just some of the movements that have been suggested to fix that fall.  However, this idea of a “fall’ is rather mythical and we discover that virtual every doctrine supposedly “recovered” had been debated earlier.
  • It’s just tradition and tradition is bad
    • This is a simplistic notion of tradition.  There are really 4 different views of tradition in the history of Christianity.
      • The Reformers were not against tradition per se.  They were against tradition being placed above the Bible.
  • 4 historic views of tradition
    • Tradition 1—the view of the Reformers and what they meant by sola scriptura— “although Scripture is the sole infallible authority, it must be interpreted by the Church within the boundaries of the ancient rule of faith or regula fidei“—from Keith Mathison, R C Sproul’s right hand man at Ligonier and the author of The Shape of Sola Scriptura, the best book on the topic by an evangelical author.  Tradition is in subordination to Scripture and it must coincide with Scripture but is not to be despised and is often useful to interpret scripture.

The “rule of faith” was a summary of the gospel regularly discussed in the early church.  It was summarized in a number of places and was somewhat like a primitive version of the Apostles’ Creed.  A good example is that of Ignatius in the 2nd century: “from Jesus Christ, who is of the stock of David who is of Mary, was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of the beings of heaven, of earth and the underworld, who was truly raised from the dead.”

  • Tradition 2—Scripture and tradition are equally authoritative—the basic position of Eastern Orthodoxy, which sees tradition through about the 8th century as binding—and Roman Catholicism before the 1st Vatican Council which takes tradition later into the Middle Ages.
  • Tradition 3—Roman Catholicism since Vatican 1 which says that whatever the Pope and the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic church says is authentic tradition must be accepted as true.
  • Tradition 0—me and my Bible—Solo Scriptura, the view of many evangelicals, the Radical Reformers, most Restorationists  and the breeding ground for most cults that have sprung out of the Christian tradition.

II. What we can expect from this study.

1. Some of our understanding of some doctrines could be challenged and all of us might find that some of our beliefs owe more to our evangelical subculture’s understanding of a biblical text than what the church historically has held.

2. Hopefully, all of us will be enriched in our understanding of a number of doctrines.

3. We can use earlier theologians, not as undisputed authorities who never could be wrong, but as helpful guides to formulate biblically based doctrine as we see how they interpret scripture and use their interpretations to ask ourselves if we have been beholden to interpretations simply because a well-loved pastor or modern theologian taught us that POV.

4.  It can help us know when to be dogmatic on an issue and when to allow for some flexibility– cf. an example of the discussion of the mode of baptism in the early church.  

From the Didache, one of the very earliest Christian writings past the New Testament, usually dated a little before 100 and our oldest description of Christian baptism:  

“1. Concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first rehearsed all these things, “immerse in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, in running water;

2. But if thou hast no running water, immerse in other water, and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm.

3. But if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head “in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

4. And before the baptism let the baptizer and him who is to be baptized fast, and any others who are able. And thou shalt bid him who is to be baptized to fast one or two days before. “

The Didache also said this about the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper:

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs.’”