Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dismissing Disciples of the Apostles While Following Medieval Theologians

In a recent thread on the NTRM boards, Ronnie Brown has quoted some comments made by Tim Enloe. The comments were made in response to Art Sippo in another forum.

Tim is wrong in some of his claims about what "radical credobaptists" believe, such as in his claims about how they view matter, if he's defining terms like "radical credobaptists" as I've seen him define those terms in the past. Despite his misrepresentations of what such Evangelicals believe, Tim repeatedly tells us to be careful in believing what these Evangelicals say, because they might be misrepresenting people. For example, Tim recommends caution in believing what these Evangelicals say about Mary. He says that he has no objection to some of the non-Roman-Catholic Marian doctrines, apparently a reference to concepts that aren't just taught by Roman Catholicism, such as the perpetual virginity of Mary. Some of Tim's colleagues at Communio Sanctorum, namely Paul Owen and Kevin Johnson, have written in defense of the perpetual virginity doctrine.

But compare their arguments to what we see in Eric Svendsen's book on Mary, for example, which discusses the church fathers and interacts at length with Roman Catholic scholarship. Compare Kevin Johnson's weak arguments for a higher view of Mary in his recent exchanges with me on this blog. Or look at William Webster's material on Mary, which repeatedly cites Roman Catholic scholarship and credible non-Catholic scholarship. Are we to believe that the sort of arguments put forward by somebody like Kevin Johnson, or the lack of arguments put forward by Tim, is a more reasonable approach?

What Tim often does, and the same thing is done by apologists for Catholicism and Orthodoxy, for example (as well as Anglicans who are opposed to Evangelicalism, for instance), is make vague references to how a particular concept became popular in professing Christian circles sometime in the past, suggesting that it therefore must be treated with more respect and should be considered more credible than Evangelicals think it is. (Some apologists for a group like Catholicism or Orthodoxy will even go as far as to suggest that the popularity of the doctrine proves its correctness.) But we're often not told why the doctrine's popularity is so significant. If you took a poll of professing Christians today, how many of them do you think would correctly define the Trinity, correctly explain how a Christian should view non-Christian religions, etc.? Should future generations consider today's popular opinion to be a credible and respectable position to take, just because it became popular at some point in church history or remained popular for a while? The people who are putting these arguments forward need to do more to prove the correctness of popular doctrines rather than assuming it.

It seems that Tim and others often think that Evangelicals don't have enough respect for past generations and aren't taking the arguments of past generations into account when, in fact, the problem is with the critics of Evangelicalism, not with Evangelicals. I don't know of any Evangelical scholar who argues against the perpetual virginity of Mary, for example, who doesn't respect people of the past who defended the doctrine or hasn't taken their opinions into account. But if we're confident about the fact that those people in the past were wrong, then we ought to say so. The fact that we're confident about their wrongness isn't inherently unacceptable, nor does it suggest that we don't respect them or don't take their views into account.

In a recent post on Greg Krehbiel's theology board, Tim mentioned premillennialism as one of my beliefs that he disagrees with. For those who don't know, premillennialism was popular among the earliest church fathers. It was held by Papias, who probably was a disciple of the apostle John, and Irenaeus was a premillennialist, and he associates his eschatology with disciples of the apostles. So, it seems that premillennialism was not only the popular eschatology of the earliest church fathers, but also was held by multiple disciples of the apostles, including John himself (the author of Revelation). Why is it that Tim (and many Catholics, Orthodox, etc.) are so dismissive of premillennialism, yet a concept that doesn't become popular until later in church history - such as the concept of a permanent primacy of Rome or the concept of the perpetual virginity of Mary - is not only not dismissed, but is even held up as a historically deep doctrine to be highly respected? I would say that people who think so little of the eschatology of the apostles' disciples, yet think so highly of later doctrines that are much further removed from the apostles, shouldn't be speaking so much about their own historical depth and the alleged disrespect that other people have for past generations.