Monday, November 19, 2007

Meet the Ancestors part 1: the 17th century roots of 21st century errors

Even though there appears to be a bewildering and endless variety of errors in the Church in actual fact many of them are revived forms of past theological deviancies. Furthermore, once you reject orthodoxy there is in fact a limited number of places where you can go in forming innovative ideas. Chances are that someone else has been there before and beaten you to it. By good and necessary consequence this also pays testimony to the stability of orthodoxy over that same period.

Even allowing for differences of time and place, and variances in sociological, philosophical and cultural influences, there is a remarkable consistency in the similarity of errors in Church history. I think that an obvious explanation for this is the presence of the same biblical text and the same theological truths that were the cause of reaction, aversion and innovation. If you don't like the truth you have got to go somewhere. As the late Harold O. J. Brown observed it really was the same truths producing the same reactions again and again.

This has happened with open theism and with the current attacks upon penal substitution within evangelicalism. My thesis is not that ideas from the past have been transfered directly from the seventeenth century writings of the Socinians but that the affinity between their views and the fresh contemporary attacks upon God's exhaustive foreknowledge and the atonement that one finds in open theist writings and in the emerging church movement, for example, have been indirectly produced by the same flight from orthodoxy.

Over the next few months I will be researching and writing a chapter for a book that Crossway will be publishing with the provisional title "Christless Christianity: The shadow of Socinianism falls on Western Evangelicalism." My contention is that the same hermeneutical and theological moves are afoot today, in the doctrinal aberrations that afflict the cause of the gospel, that troubled churches in the past.

Once revived these ideas find their ways into books with shiny new covers, sermons, seminars, songs, prayers, minds and hearts. Like Socinianism they too become international movements that stray from the gospel and take more and more people with them.

As an example of this Robert Strimple, in his 1996 essay "What does God know?" noted that open theism is a direct descendent of Socinianism:
Against the Arminians, the Socinians insisted that logically the Calvinists were quite correct in insisting that the only real basis for believing that God knows what you are going to do next is to believe that he has foreordained what you are going to do next. How else could God know ahead of time what your decision will be?

Like the Arminians, however, the Socinians insisted that it was a contradiction of human freedom to believe in the sovereign foreordination of God. So they went "all the way" (logically) and denied not only that God has foreordained the free decisions of free agents but also that God foreknows what those decisions will be.

That is precisely the teaching of the "free will theism" of Pinnock, Rice, and other like-minded "new model evangelicals." They want their doctrine of God to sound very "new," very modern...But it is just the old Socinian heresy rejected by the church centuries ago.
Rober Strimple, "What Does God Know?" in John H. Armstrong [ed.], The Coming Evangelical Crisis, p. 140-1

I'll take up this point over the next few days with examples from John Owen's critique of Socinian views in general, and John Biddle in particular. Biddle had written of God "not knowing the things that are future and which shall be done by the sons of men" (Owen, Vindicae Evangelicae, p. 86).