Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Sectarian Gnosticism of "Reformed" Catholicism Dot Com

. . . Or rather the sectarian gnosticism of one of its founders--and by implication the rest of that group.

Recently, I’ve been having an exchange with Tim Enloe at Jonathan Prejean’s blog, discussing his usual anti-baptist rantings. See this link, and this one as well to get up to speed with the discussion so far.

During the course of that discussion, I reminded Tim of his anti-baptist history by pointing him back to an earlier dialogue we had with him at the NTRMin Forum. During that discussion, Tim clearly showed himself to hold a glaringly inconsistent view. Here are the relevant links to that dialogue.

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Anyone reading the entire dialogue will soon discover that Tim contradicts both himself and his denomination’s confederation (Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals or CRE), which includes Baptists. I have in my most recent dialogue with him continued to remind Tim of that contradiction. Here is how he responded on Jonathan’s blog:

The problem is that what describes your unity is nothing more than a single radicalized piece of the biblical revelation--that is, a piece removed from organic connection with the rest, abstracted out of space and time and placed in some airy-fairy mental land called "Soteriology"
The only thing thing that has been “abstracted out of space and time” is Tim’s ability to communicate to a twenty-first century audience. His woven metaphors sound so lofty until you realize that they don’t actually make any sense because they have no basis in reality. No one is “abstracting” or parcelling out the biblical revelation. And since no one is doing that, I won’t need to comment on it here.

and made into a stark dichotomizing principle that is far less about "exegesis" than it is about what Calvin called "immoderate severity" that causes people to fancy themselves departing from the assembly of the wicked whilst really they are turning traitor to Christ by leaving the lawful Church because it swarms with errors.
No, it’s exegesis. When Paul devotes an entire letter to the issue, that means he thinks it’s an important issue and that there are dangers to avoid. When Tim Enloe minimizes those dangers, we can rest assured that Tim Enloe does not share Paul’s mind.

Your description of Paul's Gospel as being a couple of propositions about not adding any works to faith, which you then so ruthlessly apply to the world that it causes you to hive off from everyone who even remotely appears to be "compromising" the dualism of your view, is a rather shallow way of reading Paul. I don't care how good you are at manipulating Greek symbols; you are NOT in the head of the original author with that sort of view.
I suppose if you mischaracterize your opponent long enough you’ll start to believe those mischaracterizations yourself. And there is a difference between someone who spends hours daily poring over the Scriptures, and someone who just talks about them in general terms but doesn’t actually get his feet wet. When Tim speaks of “shallow readings” of Paul, keep in mind this is a man who has never actually done exegesis, and does not see importance in dedicating one’s life, energy and time to the study of Scripture. How does he know mine is a “shallow reading” of Paul? Does he have first-hand knowledge of the right reading of Paul? Of course not. No one who deemphasizes the import of Scripture in ascertaining truth the way Tim Enloe does can speak about “right readings” or “shallow readings” of the Scriptures and hope to be taken seriously, simply because no one who avoids Scripture as much as he does can possibly know what the differences between those two things are. He thinks one can discover the mind of Paul simply by reading Mark Noll. That’s the extent of the “Bible study” Tim does.

At any rate, in the paradigm you hold, of course, I am "sectarian" because I divide up the precious unity of the sixteen or seventeen people who properly understand "the Gospel". Mea culpa, you got me there.
No, I think Tim is sectarian because of his deep-seated hatred of all things Baptist, who are, in his mind, nothing more than radical sectarian gnostics enslaved by the enlightenment. That’s a far cry from what I find in CRE, which embraces Baptists. Hence, even by their standards Tim is indeed sectarian.

As for the "tripe" about the failed Baptist experiment, well, you're remark seems to indicate you didn't even read the article I pointed you to. How you could say it's "tripe" is thus quite an interesting question.
Tim, of course, missed my point entirely. When the title of a work one is pushing on people is “The Baptist Failure,” and he accompanies that recommendation with his usual Baptist-hate-fest rhetoric, then it is clear to all that his sectarian mindset is out of step with his denomination’s mindset to include Baptists in their fold as members in good standing.

And of course, since you don't read historical books by Roman Catholics because Roman Catholics don't have the spiritual insight to properly interpret history, you miss out on some very compelling exegesis of the historical decline of Protestantism throughout the 19th century
And since Tim doesn’t read exegetical works by Evangelicals and other NT scholars, he misses out on actually knowing what real exegesis is. Once again, Tim merely presumes to know what I have and have not read, and that’s gotten him into trouble in the past. My entire doctoral dissertation is nothing if not constant interaction with the exegetical and historical works of major Roman Catholic scholars, both NT and patristic. And if Tim had bothered to look at my book on Mary—which I know he has because I sent it to him—he would know that.

The CREC contains Leithart. Leithart argues that baptist theology is secularism. The CREC does not explode over such things, but stays together and patiently works through difficult issues, trusting that one day God will bring unanimity.
Well, that’s my entire point. They don’t explode, but Tim clearly does (as everyone who has witnessed Tim's degeneration can readily testify). They stay together, but Tim clearly doesn’t—he’d rather separate from Baptists. They patiently work through difficult issues, but Tim clearly does not. He’d rather engage in Baptist bashing. Tim just keeps proving my point that he is a sectarian in this regard.

Now, what does CRE actually stand for? Here are some excepts from their Constitution:

The name of this confederation of churches is the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals (CRE). As a confederation, we intend to form a broad connection between churches which, with respect to polity, is representative, being neither hierarchical nor autonomous. By reformed, we call to mind the need to restore the church from many contemporary abuses, as well as testify that we stand in the stream of historic Protestant orthodoxy. As evangelicals, we desire to confess the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in both love and doctrinal integrity. Our gathering of churches is not intended as a separation from other orthodox believers who confess the name of Christ, but rather as a gathering within that broader church, in order to work together effectively for reformation.
Two points here. First, the members of CRE call themselves “evangelicals.” Tim, as we all know, has renounced that term and expressly states that he is not an evangelical. In fact, he has posted an article in which he explicitly states that he "hates evangelicalism." Hence, Tim is a sectarian by the standards of his own denomination’s confederation. The other glaring difference is CRE’s use of the phrase “doctrinal integrity.” That sounds an awful lot like another phrase Tim has mocked in the past. You see, Tim doesn’t believe “doctrinal integrity” should be the measure of anything precisely because “doctrinal integrity” is so subjective and one of those "catch phrases" that easily marks us “Gnostic sectarians.” Recall Tim’s love for mockingly placing the phrase “doctrinal purity” in quotation marks when characterizing us. The phrase “doctrinal integrity” comes awfully close to that dreaded “doctrinal purity” that Tim so despises. Are they close? Let’s find out. The Constitution continues:

Our desire is simply to acknowledge, preserve and manifest unity, preserve purity, and advance Christ’s kingdom in orderly and reasonable way, resulting in mutual edification, accountability, and spiritual discipline.
Hmmm . . . it sure sounds as though the CRE is at least bordering on being radical sectarian Gnostics. Ah, who am I kidding . . . that is far too kind. If we use Tim Enloe's standard, then it is absolutely clear by their pursuit of “doctrinal purity” that the members of CRE are indeed nothing more than "RADICAL SECTARIAN GNOSTICS who just want to FLEE FROM THE MATERIAL WORLD"! As soon as he sees this, I’ll expect Tim to be looking for another denomination in which he can comfortably extol the virtues of throwing off this brand of "modernistic nonsense." I’ll also be watching his blog closely for his “coming out” letter in which he decries the "modernistic thinking" of the members of CRE. The constitution continues:

Consequently, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we charge you, the generations who will follow us in this confederation, to submit to the Scriptures with sincere and honest hearts, and to the standards of this confederation as consistent with the teaching of Scripture. When a portion of our order and confession is found to be out of conformity to Scripture, we charge you to amend it honestly, openly, and constitutionally, as men who must give an account to the God who searches the hearts of men.
Here again we find a much different mindset than we see in Tim Enloe. The members of CRE expect to be judged by and conformed by the Scriptures, not by some confession, which they expect future generations to evaluate and change as needed. That’s not at all the mindset of Tim Enloe, who would lose his breath at the idea that the historic confessions he holds could somehow be "amended" by later generations who may understand the Scriptures a bit better than their forerunners. The enlovian fear of such a departure from "historic orthodoxy" is that we would then be operating in our "modernist culture" without submitting to the “historic church.” But that’s not the attitude of the CRE men, who expect to be corrected by a later generation’s understanding of Scripture. CRE is open to correction from the Scriptures; Tim Enloe is not.

Article I. Authority of Scripture
The Scriptures are always the ultimate and inerrant court of appeal. . . . Because this is a constitutional document, a certain emphasis must be placed on creeds and confessions in what follows. . . . However, in no way is it our intention to set such confessions of faith above or alongside the Scriptures. Our expectation is that all our churches will routinely teach and preach the whole counsel of God as expressed in Scripture (Acts 20:27; Matt. 4:4), and in all matters of doctrinal discussion and debate, an appeal to Scripture will always be the first resort. In accordance with our creedal and confessional standards, we acknowledge the preeminence of Scripture.
I think this one is evident on its face. CRE upholds the Scriptures to be the final authority—by which they necessarily mean our understanding of Scripture, of course. Tim Enloe does not. He thinks rather that ancient creeds and confessions stand over our understanding of Scripture, much the same way that Roman Catholics believe councils and magisterium stand over our understanding of Scripture. And in any case, Tim Enloe's "appeal to Scripture" in "doctrinal discussions and debate" is never a "first resort." Nor is is a second, third, fourth--or even last--resort. Once again, we see Tim’s departure from a constitution to which his denomination most certainly subscribes.

Article II. Local Congregations
Controversies within a local congregation regarding matters arising from differences between our various confessions will not be adjudicated beyond the local church level. All churches agree to work cheerfully and carefully in their study of doctrinal differences, and to strive for like-mindedness with one another.
“Work cheerfully and carefully” in doctrinal differences and “strive for like-mindedness with one another”? I don’t think anyone can accuse Tim Enloe of doing that; otherwise, he’d be one of those “Bapterians” he has ridiculed in the past. Once again, the mindset and approach of Tim Enloe and those of CRE are worlds apart.

Article VI. Ministerial Calling
The CRE affirms the need for spiritually-disciplined, well-educated pastors, qualified in their households, grounded in rigorous and wise handling of the Scriptures, and exhibiting a thorough understanding of the biblical world and life view.
“Rigorous and wise handling of the Scriptures”? “Exhibiting a thorough understanding of the biblical world and life view”? Hasn’t Tim Enloe gone on record stating that this kind of thing can’t be done? Sounds like exegesis to me; and we all know that’s not something Tim Enloe would be caught dead doing.

Any candidate for pastor, minister, or teacher within the CRE will be examined by a local session of elders with regard to his manner of life, knowledge of Scripture, and doctrinal understanding. The presbytery will also examine him with regard to his manner of life, knowledge of Scripture, and doctrinal understanding.
Wow; there’s certainly a lot of emphasis placed on “knowledge of Scripture” and “doctrinal understanding.” Don’t they know, via Tim Enloe’s articles, that this is not the really important thing; and that you can’t attain it even if it were important?

Oh, and look what else the CRE Constitution includes:

An Evangelical Statement (Adapted from the National Association of Evangelicals)
1. We believe the Bible to be the only inerrant Word of God. It is our only ultimate and infallible authority for faith and practice.

2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three Persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is omnipotent, that is, He is all-powerful. He is omnipresent, that
is, He is present throughout all Creation but not limited by it. He is omniscient, that is, nothing is hidden from His sight. In all things He is limited by nothing other than His own nature and character.

3. We believe the God we serve is holy, righteous, good, severe, loving and full of mercy. He created the heavens and earth, and everything in them, in the space of six ordinary days, and all very good. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of everything that has been made.

4. We believe in the true deity and full humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father and in His personal return in power and glory.

5. We believe in the full deity of the Holy Spirit, acknowledging Him together with the Father and the Son in the works of creation and redemption.

6. We believe that because of Adam’s sin all mankind is in rebellion against God. For the salvation of such lost and sinful men, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary.

7. We believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and that faith without works is dead.

8. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

9. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and lost; those who are saved to the resurrection of life, and those who are lost to the resurrection of damnation.

10. We believe in the spiritual unity of all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Imagine that: a “set of propositions” that CRE and Tim’s denomination thinks is important. That's an awful lot of "we believes." Does Tim believe they are important as well? Well, fortunately we don’t have to guess; we have Tim’s past writings to guide us. Tim has written enough on how much he despises “theological propositions” over the years to fill a warehouse. Moreover, this is a doctrinal statement created by the National Association of Evangelicals. Tim has denied he is an evangelical. He despises evangelicalism. I wonder, does he agree with the NAE statement of faith? Perhaps he's an evangelical after all and just doesn't know it because he doesn't really know what it means. Does he approve of CRE’s use of it? Does he find his views and mindset--indeed, his faith confession--to be consistent with those of the members of CRE and his own denomination? Oh, and notice statement number seven: “We believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and that faith without works is dead.” Imagine that. A “couple of propositions” that CRE and Tim’s denomination thinks are essential to the faith. Does Tim think they are essential as well? Again, we know by his voluminous writings on this issue that he does not.

Here is how one CRE member church characterizes the “Classic reformed works” that Tim thinks are the sine qua non of Christianity:

That “Classic Reformed works” should form the foundation of theological study requires qualification. . . . [It] can result in two dangers. (1) It potentially stifles fresh and creative thought as respects the biblical text; it is a practical denial that new light is always breaking forth from the Word of God and a denial of several of the Reformation’s most vital principles: ad fontes (“to the sources”), sola scriptura (Scripture alone), and ecclesia reformata ecclesia semper reformanda est (“the Reformed church is always reforming itself”). (2) Church historical issues are too often allowed to set the agenda of exegesis. In other words, we are told beforehand what conclusions must be avoided at all costs (this could be termed “peer pressure hermeneutics”).
In my past dialogue with Tim, it became clear that he views the word “Reformed” as something like “holding to the same doctrine of the Reformers” (which is the same mistake made by all those at reformed catholicism dot com, even though none of them holds to the same doctrine of the Reformers in all respects, and in fact cannot do so since the Reformers themselves held mutually exclusive views on things), rather than “holding to the same principles of the Reformers,” including ad fontes, sola scriptura, semper reformanda. These are things that neither Enloe nor any of his cohorts hold. They don’t believe we should go to the sources—that was solely the prerogative of the Reformers. They don’t believe we should uphold Scripture alone—sola scriptura to them is something like “scripture only as interpreted by the “historic church” (whatever that means—the “historic church” also found a pope and purgatory in the Bible), which principle we have already seen is denied not only by the CRE statements on the authority of Scripture but also by the views of this particular member church ("Church historical issues are too often allowed to set the agenda of exegesis. In other words, we are told beforehand what conclusions must be avoided at all costs"). And they certainly do not believe that the church should always be reforming itself (in conformity to the Scriptures). In fact, believe it or not, Tim Enloe specifically intimated this to me in my early discussions with him on this issue. He actually proposed that only the Reformers had the right to reform, and we don’t. He could give me no basis for that assertion, of course, but that’s what he believes.

The CRE member-church article continues:

In all this, are we setting aside Systematic theology as illegitimate? No. There will always be a place for topical study of the Bible, along with a reply to the various non-biblical answers to life’s basic questions. If we believe that the Word of God abides forever, then we believe that it must address the burning issues of every age. However, we are warning against an overestimation of its importance. Systematic theology, at least in my view, is not the crowing achievement of all theological endeavour, to which the other departments of theology contribute. It must itself be informed and disciplined by exegesis and Biblical theology. Systematic theology and the church’s confessions are useful tools for teaching, but they must remain as flexible as our growing understanding of the purposes of God in the history of salvation. The danger of an undue emphasis on Systematic theology is that it becomes the hermeneutical control over subsequent study, thereby occupying an unwarranted place in the hermeneutical circle.
The entire article can be found here. The bold text is obviously juxtaposed to what Tim Enloe believes on these things; in fact, he violates every one of those principles. He doesn't think we can "overestimate the importance" of Classical Reformed works. He doesn't believe that our agreement with the Reformers "must itself be informed and disciplined by exegesis and Biblical theology." He doesn't believe historical confessions are mere "useful tools for teaching." And he certainly does not believe those confessions are subject to our "growing understanding of the purposes of God in the history of salvation."

Which leads me to my conclusion (stated throughout this entry): Tim Enloe’s view is incompatible with the views of his own denomination, with their CRE Constitution, and with the views of the CRE member churches. Tim stands alone. He is a sectarian (and presumably a Gnostic one since he seems to have some "enlightened" condition that none of the other members of his denomination has—and, unlike Tim and his cohorts, I’m using the word "Gnostic" in its historically accurate sense). His views, approach, attitude and mindset stand in stark contradiction to those of his own denomination. I hope they are able to call him back to his senses, as the rest of us have been unsuccessful at that.

Oh, and by the way; through all this Tim Enloe has still not told us in just what way he is accountable to his leaders. If he does not submit to their purposes in CRE--making their purpose his, their burden his, their goal his, their attitude and mindset his, their emphasis on the preeminence and authority of Scripture his, their emphasis on the "integrity and purity of doctrine" his--then just how and in what way does he think he's submitted to them and is therefore accountable to them? We'll never know, of course, because he'll never answer this. Indeed, he can't answer it because to answer it will mean betraying the inherent contradictions of his own views.