Thursday, January 17, 2008

Error doesn't advertise itself

Some wisdom from Fowler White and Cal Beisner:
Historians of doctrine call justification by faith alone--sola fide--the "material principle of the Reformation." Today, that doctrine, which continues under official Roman Catholic anathema, is under reappraisal and attack within evangelical circles and even within distinctly Reformed communities.

Our saying so should not prompt you to look for articles in popular magazines or theological journals or on websites bearing titles like "Four Reasons Why I Renounce Sola Fide" or "A Biblical Critique of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone."

No, those who currently pose the greatest threat to sola fide do not explicitly reject the doctrine by name but affirm it while redefining its terms or, as the case may be, using traditional terms in non-traditional ways.
"Covenant, Inheritance and Typology: Understanding the Principles at Work in God's Covenants," in Johnson & Waters [eds.], By Faith Alone, p. 147

Theological errors are most plausible when they pose as biblical truth. I suppose the article or seminar would more likely have a title along the lines of "Has the Reformed Tradition misunderstood justification by faith?" or "The Biblical doctrine of justification."

That "biblical" wins hands down in our estimation, over "systematic theology" or "traditional view," is par for the course. By presupposition we would not consider a merely traditional view to warrant the kind of cognitive rest that receives doctrines as the very teaching of the Word of God. In fact we would reject such a view as a product of human imagination, the doctrines of men.

If we are Reformed we are programmed to filter out views that cannot be shown to rest on the authority of Scripture. But words like tradition, systematics, and biblical also function as slogans. Their very appearance in an article or sermon can reassure us, or carry us along, and at the same time stifle the use of our critical faculties. How else would we expect error to gain entry among those who by conviction hold to the absolute authority of Scripture?

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