Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Death in Second-Century Christian Thought [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Mutie, Jeremiah. Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity(Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 244pp.
Among proponents of the heresy of annihilationism, one often comes across two contradictory claims regarding the early church. On the one hand, those who seek to establish their view in the early church will claim that the earliest church fathers were all annihilationists/conditional immortalitists. The introduction of concepts like the immortality of the soul, the intermediate state, and hell as everlasting conscious torment, they will go on to claim, came after the church began to be influenced by pagan Greek philosophy. On the other hand, there are others who claim that the church fathers, even as early as Justin Martyr, corrupted the pure teaching of the Bible by mixing in ideas from pagan Greek philosophy.
While the reductionist approach to the church’s early post-apostolic days can support any view one likes — this is, after all, the approach taken by the Roman Catholic apologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and even the Mormons who share virtually nothing in common theologically — it does not withstand scrutiny. A reading of the texts from that time reveals that there was not only a diversity of beliefs regarding the immortality of the soul among the Greek philosophers, but nuances of articulation that set the Christian fathers apart from both the Orphic and Platonic immortalists and the Stoic and Epicurean annihilationists of their time. If one has the time to devote to doing their own detailed research of the writers of this time, in other words, it would be evident to him that the church fathers did not deny the immortality of the soul, nor did they believe in Plato’s version of the doctrine. Instead, they carefully selected philosophical terminology and concepts, reworking them to express what they believed the Scriptures clearly taught about death, salvation, resurrection, and damnation.
Since such a study requires time and resources many do not have, a scholarly but readable book on the subject is best suited to their needs. Among the few written exclusively about these issues, Jeremiah Mutie’s Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity is an invaluable resource. Mutie carefully examines the socio-historical context of the early church fathers, comparing their views of death and the afterlife to those articulated within the overarching culture in which they found themselves, thereby clarifying the relationship between the earlier and later church fathers examined whose language about death, the intermediate state, and resurrection may seem to be at odds, prima facie.
Mutie shows that the church did not immediately apostatize by mixing Plato and the Scriptures together, nor did the church gradually apostatize by mixing Plato and the Scriptures together, but she progressed over time in her understanding of death, the intermediate state, and the resurrection. As socio-historical environments changed, so too did the circumstances, attendant necessary emphases in theological/apologetical and pastoral needs, and time requisite to articulating the teaching of the Scriptures regarding these subjects. What others have explained to be a complete surrender to Plato, or a complete rejection of any ideas even vaguely similar to those of Plato is shown to be neither. The church fathers were not pagan Greek philosophers; they were devoted Christian brothers who sought to be biblically faithful in doctrine and practice, the latter concern often leading them to employ terminology and concepts in a uniquely Christian way.
Death in Second-Century Christian Thought is a substantial study demonstrating that although the church fathers were terminologically influenced by their Greek philosopher-neighbors, and although they sometimes employed concepts from their surrounding cultures in uniquely Christian ways, their ultimate authority in matters of doctrine and practice was the Word of God. Thus, their beliefs surrounding personal and general eschatology, under which headings are subsumed questions regarding the soul’s mortality or immortality, find their roots in careful study of the Scriptures articulated through culturally pregnant terminology repurposed for the purposes of apologetics, preaching, and pastoral care.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Summary and Reflection

by Michael R. Burgos Jr. 

§ I. Summary 

Wesleyanism consists of "the theology based upon the views of John Wesley (1703 — 1791), founder of Methodism."[1] The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is an epistemological paradigm in which the derivation of theology is understood and the authority of its components ordered. The phrase itself was derived by Wesleyan theologian Albert Outler, who upon examining the corpus of Wesley, argued that the evangelist affirmed four valid sources of theology; Scripture, reason, tradition and experience.[2]

Upon its face, it would seem as though the utilization of the word "quadrilateral" would imply that the aforementioned components are on a par with one another. That is, the word seems to convey the idea that each of the components comprising the quadrilateral are equal in their ability and authority to provide theology. Outler later came to regret the phrase for that very reason. He stated, "The term 'quadrilateral' does not occur in Wesley—and more than once, I have regretted having coined it for contemporary use, since it has been so widely misconstrued."3 Outler's regret is well taken, as some contemporary critics seem to rely heavily upon the phrase, rather than the definition of the phrase.[3]

Wesleyanism affirms only the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon as theopneustos.[4] As such, Scripture is the first of the four sources of theology in the quadrilateral, and it is the most authoritative. The Scriptures are the "first" and "final" authority in the derivation of theology and thus all other sources are viewed as subservient to it.[5] The paradigm observes that it is the Scriptures that are sufficient to convey the totality of the gospel, but it simultaneously affirms that human reason, tradition, and experience are the "lenses through which we read Scripture."[6] Hence there is a tension between these elements such that they are interwoven, not unlike how human beings are thought to actually receive theology. It is the text of the Bible that is "God's self disclosure," such that through reading the text faithfully will merit the reader with a portrayal of the "overflow of God's heart."[7] According to the quadrilateral, the Scriptures require faith before one can affirm the contents therein, including the miraculous. 

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is distinct from the "three legged stool" of the Roman Catholic faith. Within Catholicism "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God."[8] Additionally, the Roman magisterium is viewed as the "successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."[9] Thus, the magisterium, Scripture, and tradition are on equal footing within the Roman Catholic framework. Wesleyanism, like other Protestant traditions, are decisively contrary to the view expounded by the Roman tradition and its understanding of the derivation of theology. Moreover, while Protestantism is interested in the continuance of biblical orthodoxy over and against heresy, the Roman Catholic viewpoint is thought to be more concerned with unity.[10]

The second component of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is reason. Reason is defined as "the mental capacity or power to use the human mind in reaching and establishing truth."[11]Within the quadrilateral, reason functions as a source of theology but presupposes the ability of God to communicate sufficiently such that the faithful mind can apprehend revealed truth.[12] Thus, because God is eminently reasonable, and because the faculty of human reason is part of the imago Dei, it is thought that human reason "is not a foe to the theological task."[13] Outler, in his attempt to substantiate the quadrilateral from the corpus of Wesley has stated, 
"Scripture and tradition would not suffice without the good offices (positive and negative) of critical reason. Thus, he [Wesley] insisted on logical coherence and as an authorized referee in any contest between contrary propositions or arguments."
Within the context of the quadrilateral, reason is viewed as complementary to Scripture, tradition, and experience in the reception of theological truth. Although the eternality and excellency of God surpasses the human faculty to reason, it remains "faith seeking understanding" in acknowledgement of the existence of paradox and the otherness of the God.[14] Moreover, the modernist assertion of the supremacy of human reason over Scripture is rejected, in keeping with historic Christian orthodoxy.[15]

The third component of the quadrilateral is tradition. That is, "The transmission of received teaching or practice."[16] Tradition is viewed as both a "vital" and "essential" means of communicating the faith to subsequent generations.[17] Ritual practices such as the recognized ordinances of the Lord's Supper and water baptism, and in some denominations, the practice of foot-washing, are received as "living traditions" which are means of spiritual renewal and even a component of sanctification.[18] Interestingly, tradition is also viewed as the exact reason why churches are built and Sunday services are attended.[19] Outler has described the role of tradition within the quadrilateral as a valuable compliment to Scripture.[20] Therefore, the patristic literature is conceived as an effective source of theological truth in conjunction with the Scriptures. Outler has noted,
"For Wesley, the Christian tradition was more than a curiosity or a source for illustrative material. It was a living spring of Christian insight. Reading Wesley against his sources amounts to an eccentric excursion through the length and breadth of the history of Christ thought."[21]
While there is certainly theological value in the Christian tradition, the quadrilateral paradigm acknowledges the propensity for some traditions to mitigate theological truth, subsequently substituting human traditions for the command of God. Adherents to the quadrilateral are cognizant of those traditions which make null the Word of God,[22] and it is those traditions which are rejected.  

The final component of the quadrilateral is experience. Mercer has defined experience within the Wesleyan context as, "the ordinary understanding of something that happens to or within one, about which we can think and discuss- heart religion."[23] Christian experience is viewed as the acknowledgment and participation of the salvific power of God in accordance with the testimony of the Scriptures.[24]

Within the Wesleyan-Pentecostal context, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is analogous to the events of Pentecost and even the advent of the Son of God as Christian experience is seen as personal encounter with God. Similar to other Pentecostal traditions, Wesleyan-Pentecostalism views the relevant experiential depictions present in the Acts as normative for Christians today.[25] Therefore, within the framework of the quadrilateral there is a historical consistency sought within the theological revelation that the people of God receive through experience.[26]

§ II. Reflection

In my estimation there is much to be appreciative of in the theological method depicted above. For example, there is a robust view of the text of Scripture and its applicability in apprehending true theology. So too, while I am not a Pentecostal, I am an Evangelical and therefore I appreciate the consideration of personal experience as an important and profound element in the Christian life. As someone who has extensively examined the origins of Pentecostalism and its development, I can see how the Wesleyan nod to both authentic Christian experience and personal piety led to the formation of the "heart religion" that is Pentecostalism and the broader charismatic movement.[27] Additionally, I appreciate the rejection of reason as the supreme arbiter of truth- theological and otherwise. Such a view presupposes the non-existence of the supernatural and is subsequently fallacious.

It would seem then that the Wesleyan paradigm finds value in human reason like our God[28] and hence rejects anti-intellectualism.[29] However, while I appreciate the above aspects, there are also various areas wherein I hold substantial disagreements with the quadrilateral. 

Within the Reformed tradition of which I affirm, Scripture is viewed as the sole infallible rule of Christian faith and practice. It is also viewed as completely sufficient to provide theology. Although it is worth noting that the Reformed acknowledge that the knowledge of God's

existence is apparent in the creation and is therefore an intrinsic feature of the human condition.[30] Scripture is sufficient and necessary for the knowledge of the gospel[31] and the revealed will of God.[32] Not only are human reason and experience wholly subservient to Scripture, they are not in and of themselves a valid source of theology since both human reason and experience can err. Human reason is particularly prone to error in so far as it must cope with the noetic effects of sin. 

Tradition finds its value only insofar as it finds itself in accord with Scripture. In this there is substantial agreement, with the caveat that from my tradition's perspective, tradition is a channel for biblical theology rather than a source of it. Subsequently, tradition (i.e., traditions not revealed in the biblical text itself) and even experience are not a means of theology but rather a response to the theology revealed in Scripture. That is not to suggest that there is not value to tradition. For example, we greatly value the historic creeds and our confession of faith. But these documents are only authoritative because they comprise a summarized articulation of biblical truth. Indeed, I can appreciate the Wesleyan appeal to tradition in an effort to support one's understanding of the biblical text. However, it would seem problematic at best to suppose that tradition is a source of theology since while it may safeguard the believer from new heresies, it does little to prevent the affirmation of heresies present in primitive Christianity. Furthermore, while tradition may be the reason for the building of churches and their attendance within the Wesleyan context,[33] Reformed Christians view the purpose of church as nothing less than the exaltation of the Triune God in song, sacrament, and in the proclamation of Scripture.

While I respect my Wesleyan-Pentecostal brothers and sisters, I personally feel it is unnecessary and indeed unhelpful to suppose that reason, tradition, and experience are a "sources of theology." Even though Outler lamented over his construct being misconstrued, I think there is some legitimacy in some of the criticism as the whole paradigm seems at times to undermine the supreme epistemic authority of Scripture. As Grudem has noted, 
"The Bible contains all the words of God we need for trusting and obeying him perfectly."[34]

[1] McKim, WDTT, 377.
[2] See Outler, “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in Wesley,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 20.1, Spring-1985, 7-18. 3 ibid, 16. 
[3] E.g., Anderson, The Myth of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral
[4] See 2 Timothy 3:16.
[5] See, Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 3. 
[6] ibid. 
[7] ibid, 4.
[8] Catechism of the RCC,
[9] ibid, 
[10] Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 4. 
[11] McKim, WDTT, 295.
[12] The Wesleyan framework assumes faith is the necessary antecedent to reason as a source of theology. See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 6.
[13] Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 5. 15 Outler, 9. 
[14] Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 7. 
[15] See ibid.
[16] McKim, WDTT, 355.
[17] See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 8. 
[18] See ibid, 9. The statement, "We must remember where we came from, that keeps us abiding in our "first love,' and keeps our walk fresh and alive," implies that tradition is a means unto perseverance (in the Arminian sense) and sanctification. 
[19] ibid.
[20] See Oulter, 9. 
[21] ibid, 14.
[22] See Mark 7:8-13. 
[23] Mercer, 85.
[24] See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 10.
[25] See ibid, 12. 
[26] See ibid, 11.
[27] That is, Wesleyanism and its value of experience was a considerable contributor to Pentecostalism, but one cannot ground the formation of Pentecostalism purely in Wesleyanism. Movements like that of the Keswick revival, the Millerite fad, the Great Awakening, and a virulent reaction against theological liberalism were all within the vorlage of the formation of Pentecostalism.
[28] See Isaiah 1:18.
[29] In light of its Wesleyan roots, it is curious that there are some streams within Pentecostalism that downplay the value of reason and have what many both inside and outside of the movement consider a kind of anti-intellectualism. 
[30] See Romans1:18ff.
[31] See Romans 10:13-17.
[32] See Deuteronomy 29:29.
[33] See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 9.
[34] Grudem, 132.

Works Cited

Anderson, Jonathan. "The Myth of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral." Jonathan Andersen: A Young Pastor in an Old Denomination. 3 May 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2015

"Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church." Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1 Jan. 1993. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
McKim, Donald. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms [WDTT]. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.  
Mercer, Jerry, "Toward a Wesleyan Understanding of Christian Experience." Wesleyan Theological Journal 20.1. Web. 13 Jan 2015.
Outler, Albert. "The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in Wesley." Wesleyan Theological Journal 20.1, Spring-1985, 7-18.
Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Theological Method. Lecture courtesy of Prof. Burleson, Lee University. PDF.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Reflection on Biblical Interpretation

by Hiram R. Diaz III
In 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, Paul reveals that
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Here Paul uses several keywords to underscore that “the Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”[1] Firstly, the word all (πᾶς, pas) identifies which Scriptures (γραφή, graphē) are God-breathed and profitable for doctrine. As Gordon H. Clark notes, the text reveals “that every scripture, distributively every verse, has been breathed out by God.”[2] 
Secondly, the word complete/perfect (ἄρτιος, artios) reveals the intended purpose for which God has breathed out his Word, the completion and furnishment of the man of God for every good work. Commenting on the relationship of “complete” to “equipped” (resp., artios to exeertismenos), E.W. Bullinger writes —
The words “perfect” [ESV, complete] and “throughly furnished” [ESV, equipped] are cognate in the Greek, and should be similarly rendered. […] If the former άρτιος (artios) is rendered “perfect,” the latter ξηρτισμένος (exeertismenos) should be “perfected” (as in the margin). If the former is translated fitted, the latter should be fitted out-and-out. If the latter is rendered “furnished completely,” then the former should be furnished. Perhaps the best rendering would be “fitted, fitted out,” ie., “that the man of God may be fitted, fitted out unto all good works.”[3]
Thus, thirdly, Paul uses the word every (πᾶς, pas) to express the range of good works expounded upon by the entirety of the Scriptures. There is no good work that is not addressed by the Word of God. In a word, Paul is teaching us that there is no Scriptural content that does not teach us doctrine, and there is no good work that is excluded from the doctrines contained in Scripture. To assert that the Scriptures must be supplemented by any other a-theopneustos (i.e. non-Godbreathed) source of doctrine is to contradict what is plainly taught by Paul. All of Scripture teaches doctrine. All doctrine addresses the entire range of activities of a man’s life comprising what can be called “good works,” and aims at making him perfect in whatever situation he faces. Clark’s commentary is to the point —
Because God breathed out the words through Paul’s mind onto the manuscript, Timothy knows what he is obliged to teach, refute, correct, and instruct. Otherwise, neither Timothy nor any other minister down to the present day could provide his parishioners with anything better than his own personal prejudices.[4]
Phillip H. Towner, likewise, notes that the phrase “every good work” is “a general characterization that can be concretized with any number of activities.”[5] Thus, it can be said “that he who studies God's word, will be a ‘man of God,’ fitted out and provided for all the circumstances and emergencies of life.”[6]
Two Ways in Which Sola Scriptura is Rejected by Heretics