Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Cure and Keeping of Souls

This is an old post that I am putting up again for comment and consideration...

John "Rabbi" Duncan was a minister in Scotland and professor of Hebrew at New College, Edinburgh, in the 19th Century. There is an interesting anecdote about a conversation he had with Dr. Muir of Glasgow. They discussed the appropriateness of the title "Theotokos", Mother of God, for Mary. Duncan was in favour of it, Muir denounced it as "Popish blasphemy".

Moody Stuart comments that:

"Dr. Muir revered the Bible, but no authority besides, and he must have everything direct and clear, with no mystery about it".

After debating the matter for two hours Muir left. And John Duncan said:

"That man owes much to divine grace; except for grace Dr. Muir would have been a Socinian."

I take it that there was no complaint about having no authority beside the Bible. The problem is with the hidden assumption about how to read and interpret the Bible. In which case it is not really a commitment to sola scriptura at all. The appeal to sola scriptura is masking a mindset that doesn't really take God at his Word but assumes that he must speak and reveal himself in a particular way.

A few years back I gave some seminars on the Trinity at Word Alive. I chatted one afternoon with a student who believed that the Father and Son were both God, and distinct persons, but that the Spirit had no distinct personal nature. When we talked it over it became clear that he expected the Bible to explain God's triune nature in a set way (a bit like the creeds do). When he couldn't find those sorts of statements he wasn't convinced that the doctrine was really there. But he was mistaken. The Bible is a two part covenant book about the effected rescue plan of the triune God. He reveals his identity as he saves us, and in that rescue plan each person works together and distinctly as God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit.

It makes all the difference not only to submit to God's Word but to submit to it as God has given it to us without smuggling in our own assumptions about how he must reveal himself.

Or as the Westminster Confession I:vi puts it:

"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture"


Jon said...

So what do you think about the claim that Mary is Theotokos? Off topic maybe but Theotokos was declared "orthodox" by the Council of Chacedon in 451.

I guess I'm being frivolous but it makes me happy to think that a blog called "Against Heresies" might be run by a "heretic"... Not that I'm making a theological statement. Just a pedantic one.

Martin Downes said...

Hi Jon

I believe that you know the neck of the woods where I now live rather well.

No intention on my part to side with Muir or Duncan (I will leave you guessing).

Gary Brady said...

I wonder if Duncan's Socinian barb was simpler. Isn't he just complaining that Muir is one of those Christians who want all their theology spelled out and named in the Bible and fear using non-biblical words like 'Trinity' (and maybe Theotokos)? Your point is valid, however.

Gary Brady said...

PS Enjoyed the interview over at Guy's

Jon said...

Big brother is watching me! Or maybe my infamy procedes me. Yes I spent a good few years at Deeside - 10 - and enjoyed it very much as a congregation. Haven't been back in years though. I see you've changed the name! Not sure I'd be able to find it now... With a name like that I'd be looking for a spire!

I found my way here via Guy Davis. It's a good site. I like the layout a lot. Not sure if I agree with your definition of heresy mind. I'm sure I'll enjoy perusing in the future.


Martin Downes said...


I can confirm that your infamy precedes you. On the drive down to Queenferry (from the Wrexham direction) you will see a church with a spire. Unfortunately this is the new Mormon temple, advertised in the local press as "Ewloe Evangelical Church."

I've even had people contact me to see if we can supply them with a black gospel choir. For the sake of the gospel we dropped the word evangelical from the name of the church.

Jon said...

What happened to the black gospel choir that used to be at Deeside? ;-)

We used to live in Ewloe... How the times have changed.

It's ok. I forgive you for changing the name. Just as long as you don't join the catholic church... no wait... that's the Anglicans!

Highland Host said...

It all depends what you mean by 'Theotokos'. Do you mean it as a technical term, as Chalcedon meant it, declaring that the one born of Mary was truly God, as opposed to 'Nestorianism' (which Nestorius didn't believe) which radically divided the two natures of Christ so that statements about Christ always had to refer to one or other of his natures, or do you mean it as a title to elevate Mary the Mother of Our Lord into a semi-divine status?
Clearly affirming the unity of the person of Christ is important. That He was God from before His birth is a necessary part of any true Incarnation. However any attempt to give semi-divine honour to a mere creature is heretical.

I think Gary's right, by the way.

Highland Host said...

How meaningful is the word 'Evangelical' right now if the Mormons are using it? Not very!

Martin Downes said...


I'm maintaining the Deeside tradition of us being "deep-water presbyterians." ;-)

Highland Host,

It may have been a mistake made by the local press that the LDS were evangelical. But what is another Jewish sect to the Romans? That said even the neighbours living in the same street as our non-spired church building have asked if we are connected to that new church in Ewloe.