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The Church Fathers and Two Books Theology: Introduction

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November 8, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
The Church Fathers and Two Books Theology: Introduction

Today's entry was written by Mark H. Mann. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

I have recently read with great interest a series of blogs on this site by Sujin Pak regarding “Pre-modern Readings of Genesis 1,” which demonstrate, among other things, the great variety of ways that Christians have read and interpreted Scripture over the ages. They are a reminder to all of us engaged in the great science-and-theology debates of our day that we should be careful to assert our own readings of Scripture with some humility. I think it also calls us not to be myopic—to realize that the great minds of the Church from past eras have the potential to inform our faith and our thinking about faith today as well. We are, as Hebrews 12:1 affirms, surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses,” to whom Christians today should listen with careful attention.

Claiming our inheritance from the historical Church is the purpose of this blog series as well: to mine the rich depths of the Christian tradition as a source of wisdom in engaging the contemporary theology and science discussion. But, rather than looking at the different ways Christians throughout history have understood God to speak in and through Scripture, I want to explore what many of the great Christian theologians (and saints!) of the Church have said about how God speaks in and through God’s other great book: Nature, or Creation.

Last winter I wrote a series of blogs on this forum making the claim that Christians make a serious mistake when they consider science to be a purely secular enterprise that Christians need to "integrate" with Christian faith. The end result of such thinking, unfortunately, is a kind of Gnosticism that pits science and faith against one another, leading many devout Christians to mistrust science; moreover, they may needlessly feel threatened by the claims of the contemporary scientific community regarding theories as wide-ranging as human evolution, global warming, and the Big Bang.

What I have proposed is recovery of the ancient Christian "two book" theory, which affirms that God's self-revelation is given to us, albeit in different ways, in both Scripture and Creation (the “two” books), and that Christians need to “read” Scripture and Creation together in order to understand the fullness of God's Word and truth for us today. For this reason I prefer to think of scientific methods as God-given tools for us to understand Creation and, therefore, the glory and majesty of its Creator.

Indeed, I want to affirm that the scientific enterprise is in many ways sacred work, for it is the attempt to understand more fully the handiwork of God, and is in this way not unlike disciplined reading and discerning the Word of God in Holy Scripture. This is not to say that all scientists understand their task to be sacred. As we know, many are atheists or agnostics, and with their hearts closed to God, they lack the capacity to see fully the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of that which they study. In this respect, they are similar to many secular scholars of religion who teach in universities today who view the Bible as nothing more than one more collection of ancient stories or wisdom literature. Even without faith, such scholars can make significant contributions to their fields and to our understanding of the historical context of the Scriptures and of the work of God in His Creation; in this way they may unwittingly be part of as well as witnesses to God’s Word and Truth. But that kind of dispassionate approach is not the way that Christians read the world, much less Scripture. Reading Scripture is a sacred task for us, for through Scripture and by the Holy Spirit, God's living Word, Jesus Christ, is made alive in our hearts. Likewise, by the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us through Creation, and science is a tool that helps us to understand what God has to say.

In this series I wish to build on these claims by looking at a number of important figures in the history of the Church as resources for addressing the same concerns. In particular, I wish to demonstrate that many of the great figures of the Church held views commensurate to my own, and therefore provide further substance to my claim that Christians do not need to fear science as a threat to the truth of Christian faith or the viability of the biblical witness. Indeed, as we will see, many of the great theologians and leaders of the Church—including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Origen of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley—in various ways believed that Creation bears witness to the glory and truth of its Creator and that this witness is fully compatible with the witness of Scripture.

However, before we begin, I need to make several points. First, I have chosen these eight figures because they are all extremely important in the history and development of Christianity, but also because they are considered standards of orthodoxy for Christian faith. In other words, they are not marginal figures in Christian history regarding their fidelity to Scripture or the fundamental teachings of the Church. The only possible exception to this is Origen of Alexandria, as some of his views came under suspicion by the Church in subsequent centuries. However, the concerns raised about Origen reflect developments in creedal orthodoxy of later centuries and not his own time when, in fact, his work was so influential as to have served as a kind of standard of orthodoxy. Besides, Origen is simply too important a figure in the development of Christian theology to ignore. Indeed, any short list of the greatest teachers in Church history should include Origen, as well as Justin, Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley.

Likewise, among these eight figures we have included a wide range of thinkers who, among their variety, are all considered important in the development of the various branches of the Christian Church today. So, we have three of the great Protestant Reformers (Luther, Calvin, and Wesley), the single most important Roman Catholic theologian (Aquinas), one theologian of particular importance for Eastern Orthodoxy (Irenaeus), and three who have each cast long shadows in all three great branches of the Christian Church (Justin, Origen, and Augustine). We also have some cultural and national breadth in this group. It includes two theologians originating from the Greco-Roman Middle East (Justin and Irenaeus), two Africans (Origen and Augustine), and one each from Italy (Aquinas), Germany (Luther), France (Calvin) and Great Britain (Wesley). In other words, these theologians as a group represent both the depth and breadth of the wisdom of the entire Church through its first eighteen centuries.

Secondly, we must recognize that all of these theologians were persons of their time and not of ours, and that their concerns were not exactly ours. So, we cannot expect them to be addressing science in the proper sense (except Wesley and, to a lesser extent, Calvin) because science as we think of it (that is, using the scientific method of developing and testing hypotheses) is a fairly recent development. Also, none of them was dealing with issues such the challenges brought to traditional Christian thinking about Creation by, for instance, Darwinism or Big Bang theory. In fact, it’s impossible for us to know what any of them would affirm were we somehow to extract them from their own era and then drop them into our own. But, in the thought of each, they do give us some clues as to how they might think of such matters today, and I am not afraid of providing a little conjecture, so long as it is understood as such.

So to put things plainly, I am not particularly interested in investigating whether any of our figures were Young Earth Creationists. In fact, we can dispel with that issue right away: they all WERE, in one form or another. But, then, so were ALL Christians in the pre-modern era. Likewise, Christians before the era of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler believed that the earth was the center of the universe. Rather, in the essays that follow we will be concerned with the ways in which each of our theologians conceived of the relationship between God's revelation in Scripture and revelation in Creation, and therefore, what they have to say about how Christians today might consider science as a tool of faith rather than its enemy. This is not to say that they all will agree. Some are in greater agreement with me (Justin, Wesley, Aquinas) than others (Luther). But even such disagreement is important, for it shows that Christians throughout all ages have disagreed on many important matters, while maintaining unity regarding the MOST important matters.

Next week, we’ll begin the series with the most ancient of our figures (Justin), and begin to move through history to the most recent (Wesley) in subsequent weeks. I hope you enjoy learning about them all as much as I have in preparing for this series.

Mark H. Mann is the director of the Wesleyan Center, Point Loma Press, and Honors Program at Point Loma Nazarene University. Mark received his bachelor's degree from Eastern Nazarene College and went on to earn both an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Religious and Theological Studies (2004) from Boston University. Mann previously served at Colgate University where he was both chaplain and professor. Mann has previous experience in editing, student development and staff ministry at the local church level.

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Skl - #74241

November 8th 2012

To Mark Mann,

You wrote that Irenaeus is “one theologian of particular importance for Eastern Orthodoxy”. While that, and the fact that he’s recognized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church, may be true, it is also true that Irenaeus was a member and Bishop of only one Church, the Roman Catholic Church.

You include Luther, Calvin, and Wesley in a group which you say are “standards of orthodoxy for Christian faith …maintaining unity regarding the MOST important matters.”

That depends on whether anyone and everyone can decide what is orthodox and what are the “MOST important matters”.

The privilege of authoritatively determining Christian orthodoxy rests only with the original Christian Church. This is the Catholic Church - the only Church to which Justin, Irenaeus, Augustine, and Aquinas swore allegiance.

I’m not an expert on any of these individuals, but I was wondering what was the single greatest contribution of Luther or Calvin or Wesley? And how was this contribution both “new” and in accord with orthodoxy?

Jon Garvey - #74245

November 9th 2012


Your approach is doomed to get tied in knots: the Orthodox claim Irenaeus as a member of the original Orthodox Church long before Rome engaged in schism and the Filioque heresy and put themselves outside the body of the faithful… and they’d have a point because at one stage not long after Irenaeus the Roman Church became officially Arian and had to be resued by the Orthodox Athanasius - or was he the Catholic Athanasius rescuing the Orthodoxy of Rome…

In any case, I can say that one contribution of Wesley, or at least his brother Charles, was to contribute hymns that I have sung in Catholic churches over here. So Vatican 2 didn’t go completely unheeded.

Jon Garvey - #74248

November 9th 2012

Nevertheless, I want to raise a similar caveat to Skl’s over Irenaeus and his “particular importance” in Eastern Orthodoxy.

My reading suggests that he’s only been of particular importance in the East since a very 20th century re-writing of Church History by John Romanides. This marginalises other equally important figures in Orthodoxy like Augustine on the dubious grounds that Orthodoxy has been in theological captivity to Western Catholicism for 1500 years or more, thus exaggerating the east-west schism which, in actuality, was never as deep as that, despite its bitterness and even its theological importance.

Here for example is an Eastern Orthodox defence of Augustine as an Orthodox, as well as a Catholic, saint. Does it matter, other than to Orthodox fans of Augustine? Yes, because I’ve noticed in science-faith circles (not this article) a tendency to dislike Augustine and laud Irenaeus as more congenial to evolution, and to justify that by some romanticised idea that the Eastern Churches had Augustine sussed all along. It seems to come via John Hick’s influential Evil and the God of Love which is widely interpreted as pitching the two Fathers into a rivalry that never actually existed - both were Catholic, and Orthodox. And both influenced Protestantism deeply, too.


Jw Farquhar - #74263

November 9th 2012

To Mark Mann,

You wrote that “disagreement is important, for it shows that Christians throughout all ages have disagreed on many important matters, while maintaining unity regarding the MOST important matters.” I believe that the MOST important matter is identity of the God of the Bible, who Irenaeus wrote was 4-ways in his “Against Heresies” manifesto.

Some how this MOST important view of God has been forgotten.

As I have read, Irenaeus was instrumental for canonization of four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to represent his revelation of God.  The Torah and Jesus witnessed to this 4-way God many, many times, not the least of which was, He died on a 4-way cross.

Mark H. Mann - #74876

November 30th 2012


I fully agree with your point here. Indeed, I do not want to make too much of the difference between these theologians. Indeed, my main point is only to say that I am drawing upon some marginal figures in Christianity, but significant individuals representing the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition.

And, to answer Skl’s initial question, I would define orthodoxy primarily in terms of the Nicene Creed, and therefore would include within the umbrella of orthodoxy the Eastern Orthodoy, Roman Catholicism, and most churches that define themselves as Protestant. (So, while I would be comfortable calling Mormons Christian, I would say that they are heterodox because they deny the doctrine of the Trinity, etc.).

To find out about the contributions of Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, you will just have read my later blogs. But that does not mean, necessarily, that they have made significant contributions to Catholicism or Orthodoxy, per se (though, they have…many contemporary Orthodox theologians read Wesleyan with great interest, and Roman Catholic theologians have begun to re-engage Luther especially in recent years, leading to considerable rapproachment between Lutherans and Catholics, even a common statement affirming justification by faith). They certainly have not in the way, for instance, that earlier figures like Irenaeus and Justin have, and for obvious reasons. My inclusion of these figures is to show (especially since my chief audience is evangelicals) that the Two Book theory has had important exponents within the development of Protestant Evangelicalism as well.

Thanks for reading, but the way, and taking the time to comment. I am always humbled that really bright and engaging folks like y’all take the time to engage me!


Skl - #74278

November 9th 2012

To Jon Garvey,

Regarding your response #74245, if anything is “tied in knots”, I don’t think it’s me or my approach.

“Rome engaged in schism”? I never heard the matter put this way. Would you also say that Abraham Lincoln and the Union engaged in schism in 1860?

“not long after Irenaeus the Roman Church became officially Arian”? Again, this is news to me. Would you also say that after the Last Supper the apostles became officially anti-Christ (i.e. Judas Iscariot.)?


I don’t think you’ve said anything against my statement that Christian orthodoxy is determined by the original Christian Church. You appear to disagree only with my contention that this Church is the Catholic Church, and opt instead for the Eastern Orthodox church.

Assuming you believe orthodoxy is critical (and heterodoxy is heresy), one might assume you are consequently a member of the Eastern Orthodox church. Are you? If not, why not?



Regarding the single greatest contribution of Luther or Calvin or Wesley and how the contribution was both “new” and in accord with orthodoxy, all you can come up with are some Wesley hymns?

Eddie - #74285

November 10th 2012

“I don’t think you’ve said anything against my statement that Christian orthodoxy is determined by the original Christian Church. You appear to disagree only with my contention that this Church is the Catholic Church, and opt instead for the Eastern Orthodox church.”

The point is that “the original Christian Church” was neither “Roman Catholic,” as we now understand the term, nor “Eastern Orthodox,” as we now understand the term.  Your whole discussion hinges on an equivocation between “Catholic” and “catholic”:  you are appealing to the need for the church to remain “catholic” in the original sense in such as way as to justify the current Catholic (i.e., Roman) doctrines and practices.  Jon’s point is that it is possible to be “catholic” in the original sense without being “Catholic” in the modern sense.  As an orthodox Protestant in the tradition of Calvin, he certainly sees his own doctrine as consistent with, and continuous with, all that is best in the “catholic” Church—the Creeds, the teaching of the Fathers, etc.  He’s simply resisting the directive, implied in all your recent posts, “If ya wanna be truly catholic, ya gotta be a Roman Catholic.”

And rightly so.  Like Jon, I have a deep respect for the Roman Church, and I find many of its emphases in both theology and spiritual practice to be a welcome corrective to what goes on in much of the Protestant sectarian world, but I don’t intend to be bullied into prostrating before Rome by someone who blurs the distinction between the post-Tridentine religious institution we know today and the “Church catholic” to which all true Christians belong.  

Jon Garvey - #74286

November 10th 2012

“Rome engaged in schism”? I never heard the matter put this way.

Well, I guess you have now. Wikipedia’s article on the Great Schism is, for once, pretty even-handed. Warring parties will usually say the other fired the first shot - those standing somewhat outside will often seem blame on both sides. In terms of who actually excommunicated whom first, it was was Rome. My point, of course, was to show that you’re unlikely to find agreement with the thesis that Rome is the only original and true Church on an Evangelical website, making your words simply unhelpfully  provocative.

Evangelicals will, coming from the west centuries after the schism, tend to side against the east until they read the history (and tend to say, rather unjustly, “a plague on both your houses”). But as you suggest our (Evangelicals’) contention is that the “original Church” is to be found in the orthodoxy of the New Testament writers and, to a lesser extent, the “catholick and orthodox” Church that was close to that tradition, and did their theology based on it, as Irenaeus argued against the 2nd century heretics. The true Church is to be found wherever that doctrine is upheld, which is why I’ve had fellowship both with Catholic and Orthodox brethren and been at odds with those bearing the label “Evangelical” falsely.

As for Arianism and the Church’s sad official lapse, check out why Jerome said “The world awoke with a groan to find itself Arian”.

The best way to gauge the contributions of Luther, Calvin or Wesley is to read them. A blog response is really not adequate as a grounding in theological history, and we’re all just a mouse-click away from free education nowadays.

But in terms of my description of orthodoxy above, and at sound-byte level, Luther’s contribution was largely to return to an orthodox understanding of faith and the Bible against the deviations of mediaeval Catholicism (which necessitated the reforms of the Council of Trent, incomplete though they were); Calvin’s was to systematise Biblical doctrine into a coherent whole; Wesley’s was to restore an orthodox religion of the heart to the common people against the intellectualist and deistic tendencies of European and American post-Puritan Protestantism.

Skl - #74290

November 10th 2012

Eddie, who on October 4 wrote he would never respond to me further, here contends that the original Christian Church was not Roman Catholic in the current sense, with its doctrines and practices.

If anyone besides Eddie feels that way, would you care to show how this would be substantially true for both

- The Church in the time of the Apostles, and

- The Church in the time of Irenaeus, Augustine, and Aquinas, who were ordained priests in one particular Church?

Eddie - #74294

November 10th 2012

The Church in the time of the Apostles (ca. AD 27 - AD 65 or 75) was not the current Roman Catholic church.  It differed immensely in doctrine and practice.  It did not even have a fixed Bible, for starters.  The doctrine of Trinity was still in formation.  So were most of the other classical Christian doctrines.  There was no requirement of clerical celibacy. There is no historical evidence of Mary-devotion in that period.  There was no systematization of seven sacraments.  There were no confessional booths, no Cardinals, no monasteries, no nuns, no castrati singing in the Italian churches.  As far as we can tell from the sketchy records, baptism (which initially was adult), confirmation and first communion all took place at once, not on different occasions.  Communion was in both kinds.  The Church was much more Jewish in character.  The distinction between clergy and laity was much more fluid than it later became.  Etc.  All of this can be learned from any good source in Church history, even Catholic sources.

Even later on, Irenaeus, Augustine, etc. were not ordained in “the Roman Catholic Church” as we understand it today.  They would have found a contemporary Roman Catholic service in New York City or Rome just as puzzling as they would find a contemporary Greek Orthodox service in Athens or Chicago.  The different branches of Christianity had barely begun to diverge in their day.  All of this again, can be learned from history books.  It cannot be learned from studying Catholic catechisms and works of Catholic apologetics.     

I would suggest that you start learning Christian history as it is studied outside of apologetic contexts, i.e., in the cosmopolitan, non-sectarian world of Church history scholars.  A good little starter book would be Henry Chadwick’s The Early Church in the Penguin series.  At a more advanced level, something like Jaroslav Pelikan’s history of the development of doctrine (5 volumes) gives a much more nuanced picture of what “Catholic teaching” has “always” (cough!) been than the monolithic, ahistorical notion of doctrinal truth that you are presenting.  History has a way of upsetting dogmatic applecarts.  

Skl - #74291

November 10th 2012

To Jon Garvey,

You wrote “My point, of course, was to show that you’re unlikely to find agreement with the thesis that Rome is the only original and true Church on an Evangelical website, making your words simply unhelpfully provocative.”

I think my point may be that I find provocative, on an Evangelical website, the frequent use of, and apparent fondness for, the term “orthodox” and Roman Catholic figures such as Saints Irenaeus, Jerome, Augustine and Aquinas. I find this provocative because Evangelicals are in fact selective on which parts they consider orthodox in the orthodoxy of these Saints.

I should think this subject of orthodoxy might provoke at least a smaller version of the literally hundreds of thousands of words posted on theistic evolution and intelligent design at BioLogos. After all, this site is about harmonizing evolution and faith, but not just any faith – an orthodox Christian faith. At least I thought that’s what this site is about.


Eddie - #74293

November 10th 2012

The point, Skl, is that if you want to discuss the relationship between the theory of evolution and the theology of the current Roman Catholic faith, there are any number of websites where you can go and do that.  But if you choose—and you have chosen, since no one is holding a gun at your head to keep you here—to spend your time conversing, on a web site funded and managed by evangelical Protestants, with evangelical Protestants, about evolution and Christian faith, you should expect that the version of “Christian faith” that they hold will be an evangelical Protestant one, not a Roman Catholic one.  And if you use the cover of a “science and faith” conversation as an excuse for trying to promote Roman Catholic religion here, you are going to get some pushback from Protestants who feel as strongly about the correctness of their fomulation of Christianity as you do about the correctness of yours, and who don’t want this site turned into a Protestant vs. Catholic discussion group.  This is all a matter of pure common sense—something I find a number of internet debaters entirely lack.

Yes, I fell off the wagon by addressing you, but I am getting tired of your using this site to promote a partisan (and particularly narrow) form of Roman Catholicism.  If you want to be an evangelist for Roman Catholicism, please do it somewhere else.  I (and I suspect many others) are getting weary of the sales pitch.  But they aren’t going to take the bait and be drawn into a Catholic/Protestant argument with you, which is why you get so few replies to your comments.  

What would be more constructive would be for you to champion a particular theological orientation to nature and science questions, one which might well be popular among Roman Catholics (though not restricted to them), e.g., Thomism.  This would enable you  to write posts which focus on theoretical questions about evolution, nature, creation, divine action, and so on, instead of constantly slyly or directly raising the question of which Church is the “right” one.  You might find you would get more support from people, including myself, if you took such an approach.

You can take my advice or leave it; I don’t really care.  But I do know that the effect of your posts on me is the opposite of the effect of my usual intercourse with Roman Catholics.  Most of the time, after speaking with Catholics, I admire features of their religion and character that I do not see in Protestantism and Protestants, and I think that maybe I should become Catholic myself.  Your posts, on the other hand, present Catholicism as a religion without any humility (intellectual or institutional), and hence as a religion for dogmatic know-it-alls.  I have the same visceral reaction against such a Catholicism as I have against the Protestant fundamentalism of someone like Ken Ham.  So you are bringing the Roman Catholic faith into disrepute by the attitude you are projecting.  Thus, even granting the legitimacy—which I don’t—of hijacking this site for the purpose of promoting Rome as the source of true Christianity—your actions are not serving your own intended purpose.  Think about that, my friend.  Pax tecum. 

Skl - #74296

November 10th 2012

To Eddie,

 “The Church in the time of the Apostles (ca. AD 27 - AD 65 or 75) was not the current Roman Catholic church… It did not even have a fixed Bible, for starters.”

This goes without saying and is irrelevant. Everyone knows the Church existed long before most of the New Testament was even written. Any everyone knows, or should know, that the Bible comes courtesy of the Roman Catholic Church, which authoritatively defined the 73-book canon of Scripture centuries after Christ.

“The doctrine of Trinity was still in formation. So were most of the other classical Christian doctrines.”

Yes, just as the Bible wasn’t yet “formed”. But again, it was the Roman Catholic Church which eventually defined and dogmatized our notion of the Trinity. And the intimations for clerical celibacy (which is not a Catholic doctrine, but rather a Catholic discipline, something which can be subject to change), Marian devotion, the seven sacraments, and any number of other Catholic things, are in the New Testament for all to see.

Some truths take time to be revealed and to develop (cf. John 14:26; John 16:12-13). Your line of argument is like saying that John Doe as a young teenager was not John Doe because he had a lot of formation to go through to be the John Doe of today.

Who ordained Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, etc.? Was it a bishop? In what Church were these ordaining bishops?

“I would suggest that you start learning Christian history …”

I would suggest you abide by your word when you publicly give it. (Again, you wrote here several times, most recently on October 4, that you would not be responding to me further.)



Of course everyone and every website is pretty much free to believe and propose whatever they choose. But they’re not entitled to their own “facts”, at least not without pushback from those who believe those “facts” are not factual. So, for example, when evangelical Protestants claim the cover of orthodoxy, I feel bound to speak up.

Eddie - #74299

November 10th 2012


What you wrote about the Apostolic church was as follows:

“Eddie ... here contends that the original Christian Church was not Roman Catholic in the current sense, with its doctrines and practices ... would you care to show how this would be substantially true for the Church in the time of the Apostles ...”

And that is exactly what I showed, that the Church, in the time of the Apostles, was so different from the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church, that it would be absurd to equate it with “the Catholic Church” as modern people understand the term.

As for your last sentence, evangelical Protestant TEs have never claimed the cover of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, so your “correction” of their unorthodoxy is pointless—subject to one qualification which I will come to momentarily.  On the other hand, TE leaders do pay lip service to traditional evangelical Protestant orthodoxy, so they have to face questions coming from such quarters.  Thus, Jon Garvey, Chip, etc. have offered points which clearly sting some TEs in a way that your position does not.

I now come to the qualification I mentioned above.  You fail to see, in your partisan zeal, that on some points regarding creation, nature, divine action, etc., the Roman Catholic and the traditional Protestant positions agree.  This means that you could join hands with many of us and say: “from either a Catholic or a Protestant point of view, this is heretical.”  But you don’t seem interested in that kind of alliance.  You seem interested only in indicating that everyone here will think wrongly about theology until they think as Roman Catholics.  And that is a non-starter in this part of the country.  You’d have as much success opening up a liquor store in Saudi Arabia.  Your failure to influence anyone here follows inevitably from your failure to perceive this.  Jon has told you this, and now I have, too.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Jw Farquhar - #74309

November 11th 2012


This disagreement between the Catholic and Protestant point of view reminds me of the curse from the Apostle Paul; never to mix two gospels—the works Gospel of the Kingdom of God for the Jews only that the Son of Man already fulfilled, and the Gospel of Grace for the Gentiles. During the battle of the Apostles, Paul twice cursed anyone who would mix these two gospels, since works and grace are philosophically opposed.

We should know that the Catholic faith is based on the rock of Peter who preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God defined by the Son of Man’s 25 tenants of truly, truly doctrine, and that the Church Father Luther introduced the Gospel of Grace defined by the Apostle to the Son of God, Paul.

So how do we fix this curse? I suggest we adopt the Church Father Ireneaus’ 4-way God of the cross that structures the beginning of the New Testament with 4 gospels, who introduced Himself, not once, but 7 times to structure the foundational Creation as the missing foundation for Christianity so we can return to the “one mind” concept written in Acts.

I am not an expert on any of these Church Fathers, and so I look forward to learning about their contributions to the Catholic and protestant beliefs. I also hope to learn how Ireneaus lost the battle for his 4-way God. In that vein I do miss Tertullian in the list of Church Fathers. I have read that the Church Father Tertullian originated the word “trinitas”, from which the English word Trinity comes. As I understand it, he was a notable apologist often described as “The Father of Latin Christianity”. 

Skl - #74310

November 11th 2012

To Jw Farquhar,

Here’s a short video on why Tertullian is not considered a Church Father by the Catholic Church.


Jw Farquhar - #74324

November 12th 2012


Thanks for the link. I see now that Tertullian was excommunicated as a heretic, because he violated orthodox doctrine. It is interesting to note that a heretic invented the word, Trinity, not written in any Bible—ever.

Skl - #74311

November 11th 2012

To Eddie,

“As for your last sentence, evangelical Protestant TEs have never claimed the cover of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, so your “correction” of their unorthodoxy is pointless… On the other hand, TE leaders do pay lip service to traditional evangelical Protestant orthodoxy”

Then, in the context of “Christianity”, the term “orthodoxy” probably loses all of its meaning. One must forever add qualifiers (e.g. “modern liberal Protestant” orthodoxy, “traditional non-evangelical Protestant” orthodoxy, “Calvinist” orthodoxy.)  Orthodoxy means nothing apart from its necessary modifiers. Its naked use strikes me as quite disingenuous.

Why not just excise the term “orthodoxy” altogether? Why not use instead something like “beliefs” or “current beliefs, subject to change”?



I think I do hope you’ll consider renewing your vows, regarding not responding to me.

Eddie - #74312

November 11th 2012


For once, you have made a good point.  There are two ways of answering it.

One way is the way that Jon Garvey is taking:  there is a common ground of basic orthodoxy between the more intellectually serious forms of Protestantism and the Roman and Eastern churches.  The key is to find that common ground, and regard all the rest—the things that are peculiarly Roman, or Eastern or Protestant, as not necessary to basic, orthodox Christianity.  Note that this does not mean that things peculiar to Roman Catholicism are wrong —it means only that they should not be insisted upon as truths known by the Church (explicitly or in germ) from the beginning; they may well express legitimate ways of being Christian, but are not binding on any outside the RC communion, and not holding to them does not make one a heretic.

The other way, more radical, is to argue—as many serious scholars have argued—that Christian doctrine is always changing, always subject to history, and hence that one cannot isolate a set of unchanging, core doctrines that the church “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” has always and everywhere believed.  Proponents of this view will tend to argue, via historical documents, that there were always dissenters from every position which claims to be holy, catholic and apostolic, and that there was never a Golden Age when the Church held one clear, unified, worked-out theology that was internally self-consistent; they will also tend to argue that such homogeneity as was achieved by the church was achieved politically, i.e., by the use of force—threats of excommunication and of violence from Emperors, Kings, Popes, Inquisitions, etc.; and they will tend to argue that the winners write the history, so that what “orthodox” Christianity is, is simply the view of the winners.  

Note that whichever of these approaches is taken, your belief, i.e., that current Roman Catholic “truth” is identical with what the Church has always and everywhere believed, and that Eastern, Anglican, Reformed, etc. thought represent various deviations from that truth (i.e., errors), cannot be maintained.  Under approach 1, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox will argue that Rome has added unnecessary doctrines and made them mandatory; under approach 2, historicist scholars will argue that Christianity’s unity is and always has been fictitious, and therefore that the Roman notion of unbroken continuity justifying the power of the Papacy is a romantic vision which hard-boiled historical research can easily explode.

I have often thought of turning to Rome.  There is much in it that is admirable, and superior to much that is in Protestantism, especially in American Protestant sectarianism, in which Christian thought reaches its sub-intellectual nadir.  I could even accept, in certain respects, the authority of the Pope.  But the Roman Church maintains too many doctrines, and too many beliefs about its own history, that to my mind are unnecessary to Christian faith and/or in contradiction with honest historical investigation.  Until Rome puts historical truth above all else, even to the point of putting its own reputation and grandeur at risk (which all Christians should be willing to do), integrity prevents me from signing on.  In the meantime, I continue to respect all that is good and wise in the Roman tradition, and to listen with care to the current Pope, who in my mind surpasses the previous one in critical acumen and philosophical ability.  But I will not be bullied by partisan Roman arguments such as have been advanced here by autodidacts who lack the historical and theological training to defend their claims.    

Skl - #74316

November 11th 2012

To Eddie,

Regarding your #74312,

1) Which of the “two ways of answering” do you espouse?


2) You wrote “your belief, i.e., that current Roman Catholic “truth” is identical with what the Church has always and everywhere believed, and that Eastern, Anglican, Reformed, etc. thought represent various deviations from that truth (i.e., errors), cannot be maintained.”

“Identical”? I don’t think I said or implied that. I said “If anyone besides Eddie feels that way, would you care to show how this would be substantially true”. That is, in substance, or in essence, or in the most important ways. I also said that at a minimum the Bible contains “intimations” of Catholic doctrines and disciplines which would be defined and formalized over time, and that “Some truths take time to be revealed and to develop (cf. John 14:26; John 16:12-13)”. (And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, just to be clear: None of the doctrines which are developed can ever be in conflict with prior doctrines or with Scripture or with Sacred Tradition.)

You might consider reading, or re-reading, “An Essay On Development Of Christian Doctrine”, one of the great works of a notable convert to Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman. (I just thought of another great work by another notable convert to Catholicism, G.K. Chesterton. The title: “Orthodoxy”.)


3) “But the Roman Church maintains too many doctrines, and too many beliefs about its own history, that to my mind are unnecessary to Christian faith and/or in contradiction with honest historical investigation.”

Would you please give just one prime example of a Catholic Church doctrine which is in contradiction with honest historical investigation?



You’ve twice now complained of being “bullied”. I assume you mean that you think I am bullying you. I don’t see the situation that way at all. One would think you were an elementary school child running to his teacher to escape what, from mass media accounts, is apparently a new and dangerous sociological phenomenon worthy of national attention. Do you think BioLogos’ civility guidelines should be enhanced with something like school anti-bullying legislation?



I hope and pray you continue in your “thought of turning to Rome.” It’s there for you and everyone. It’s indeed catholic.

Eddie - #74319

November 11th 2012


Yes, there are some truths that take time to develop, and then there are some “truths” that aren’t truths at all, but falsehoods (like Papal infallibility), or wild speculations that are indemonstrable and in any case irrelevant to Christian faith (the Immaculate Conception).  There are also numerous falsehoods historically promulgated by Rome which, though they never made it to the level of “doctrine required for salvation” represented the official teaching and policy (in Papal bulls, etc.) of Rome for centuries—e.g., Papal monarchy, with its associated fabrications, e.g., the Donation of Constantine.  But my point is not to lecture on the historical faults of the Roman Church.  And my complaint is not that you adhere to Catholicism—I wholly respect you for that—but that you continue to try to push Catholicism in so many conversations here.  For you, the current Roman Church has a monopoly on defining what is “catholic”—for most of the Christians reading the posts here, that is not so.

You have of course every right to argue that the Roman position on this or that is more true to the small-c catholic tradition than the Lutheran position, the Baptist position, etc.  But to argue for something is one thing, to assume it—as you do in all your posts—is another.  

In case I did not make it clear enough above, I think your point about orthodoxy was very good, and a serious one that needs to be considered, not only by evangelical Protestants but by all Christians.  I certainly agree with you—as should be obvious from my postings here—that some formulations of TE appear to be based on a radical departure from orthodox Christian theology, and this raises the question whether the TEs in question are taking the historical Christian tradition seriously enough.  In my view, many (I don’t say all) TEs simply pick and choose whatever they like out of historical Christianity, and reject or ignore all the rest.  I am sure you agree with that. My objection to your response is not that you uphold tradition against novelty, but that your attitude tends to be authoritarian—that the Roman position is the only truly orthodox one, because—well, because Rome says so, and all good Catholics must take what Mother Church says on authority.  

I agree with you that Chesterton is an interesting guy.  I’m sorry I can’t agree with you about Newman.  I read his book on the idea of a Christian university—the whole thing, 300 or 400 pages—and found it to be a string of big, broad generalizations, all decked out in fine Oxford prose, but essentially nearly vacuous as far as detailed practical proposals for education are concerned.  Oratory crowded out substance.  I had the distinct impression that Newman liked to see himself as a grand leader writing in a grand manner on behalf of a grand tradition.  I much prefer an earthier style of writing, like that of C. S. Lewis.  I don’t think much of Newman’s attack on natural theology, either (which is actually inconsistent with the Catholic tradition he adopted, but that’s neither here nor there).  So you won’t score many points with me by mentioning Newman.  

wesseldawn - #74318

November 11th 2012

Regarding the scriptures, intepretation cannot be a guess (with or without humility) it must be precise…an all-powerful God would not make any mistakes - if there are discrepancies then it’s due to human error and not because God has failed to be concise.

Many Christians don’t say that the inconsistencies are related to God but instead explain it away as “we’re just human”. In so doing, make God look like a “can’t make up his mind” and turns hot and cold depending upon the perception of the one explaining his character at any given moment.

Some of you are trying to find God in creation and as beautiful as some things are, a good deal of the time it’s cruel and unkind to its own. The Bible clearly states in Genesis that this world is fallen, certainly not a model of perfection! God ahead and study it, but don’t equate the cruelty and unfairness of it all with God!

The “pie in the sky” Christian God is a phoney. I don’t mean that God is not real for most certainly He is but of the true God I expect impartiality, consistency - and perfection. The ground (earth) is cursed (“cursed is the ground”) this is “not our home”.

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Paradise/Garden of Eden/the New Jerusalem is God’s perfect creation and the destiny and true home of all those that love Him and are called according to His purpose.


Skl - #74321

November 12th 2012

To Eddie,

You never answered my number 1:

Regarding your #74312, 1) Which of the “two ways of answering” do you espouse?


You wrote “there are some “truths” that aren’t truths at all, but falsehoods (like Papal infallibility)”

I think Papal infallibility makes sense logically and Scripturally. But I’d like to rephrase your statement: You are saying that it is infallibly true that Papal infallibility is false.



“wild speculations that are indemonstrable … (the Immaculate Conception)”

You mean speculative and indemonstrable like evolution? Unlike evolution, the dogma (higher even than doctrine) of the Immaculate Conception has wonderful Scriptural (and I think logical) support. You can read up on it.


“that the Roman position is the only truly orthodox one, because—well, because Rome says so, and all good Catholics must take what Mother Church says on authority”

Longer story short, that’s exactly right. I think that perhaps no other word repels people in general, and Protestants in particular, more than this one: Authority. The Apostles spoke of their authority, and of rebellious reactions to it (e.g. 2 Peter 2:10; 3 John 1:9). The unimpeachable authority of the Church is the ultimate and only satisfying answer to any number of issues and questions. Again, it makes perfect sense logically and Scripturally. This short essay explores this further: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/proving-inspiration



For those interested in the development of doctrine:  http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/

Eddie - #74322

November 12th 2012


My working belief is the expressed in the first option.  But academic honesty compels me to admit that the second option is logically possible, and that there is some historical evidence for it.  

I get the impression from your remarks that you have little close personal contact with serious Protestants.  Serious Protestants don’t fear authority—but they place the locus of ultimate authority in the Bible alone, rather than the Bible plus tradition.  And even there, most Protestants vest some practical authority (not regarding doctrine, but regarding such things as liturgy and Christian morals) in tradition and in institutional structures.  For example, in Calvin’s church at Geneva (and in the Reformed tradition afterward) people could be denied fellowship—including being cut off from the Lord’s Supper—for immoral living.  And I’ve known many Protestants from Gospel, Brethren, Baptist, etc. backgrounds who grew up complying with church authority when they were told not to dance, drink, go to theatres, play cards on Sunday, etc.  Indeed, in some of the stricter Protestant denominations there is more intrusion of Church authority upon one’s daily life than in Catholicism.  So the claim that Protestants don’t acknowledge authority is just not factual.

Of course, the typical liberal mainstream Protestant churches have little respect for authority in either doctrine or morals, and hardly any for liturgical or other traditions.  But mainstream Protestantism today represents the degeneracy of the original Reformation Protestantism, which was more authoritarian in matters of morals and some church practices than the Roman Catholicism of the time.  As a pious boy from the provinces, Luther was shocked when he saw the worldly manners and morals of the clergy in cosmopolitan Rome.  The Reformers saw their task as not merely the reform of theology, but of Christian life as well.  And they did not hesitate to put authoritarian measures in place in their churches as an aid to that end.    

As for the Catholic doctrines you mentioned, this is not the place to argue them.  But it’s an indication of the priorities of certain Catholics that they would make a dogma out of the conception of Mary, a figure of minor importance in the New Testament, but not make a dogma out of things that are much more morally and theologically important, e.g., the ban on abortion, or the insistence that if God used evolution to create, he did it with full control over the process, not by letting nature freely wheel along.  If Christian conscience is going to be bound, and the intellect anesthetized, at least the Church should do the binding and anesthetizing for the sake of truths that really matter, not for the equivalent of a spiritual factoid about the “original sin level” of Mary, which is about as important for Christians to know as the mass of ice in Antarctica.

Jw Farquhar - #74345

November 12th 2012

Authority? The idea that humans have authority over scripture is preposterous to me. Humans have no authority to interpret scripture. Only scripture has authority to interpret scripture. I have found only three authorities for inquiry and interpretation that reside in the Creation’s House of Understanding:

  1. Holy Trifecta (EVEning Morning, DAY)—The image of God, who consistently acts in the order of material, spiritual, and time.
  2. Seven tenets of divine ordered reason—The likeness of God for man’s reason to find the God of the Bible with.
  3. God-breathed numbers that emanate from the Creation that bind the realms of material, spiritual and time.

All scripture is consistently structured from these three authorities. Without access to an understanding of these authorities there is no foundation for the Bible, or any man-made religion. The House of Understanding has combination locks on front and rear doors. Revelation 13:18 reveals the combination numbers that unlock the front door. Daniel’s Secret vision of evenings and mornings for the End Times reveals the numbers that unlock the rear door—Daniel 8:14.

GJDS - #74323

November 12th 2012

The birth of Christ as discussed in the Gospel is probably the central doctrine/truth of Christianity - I do not think his mother Mary is such a minor subject; these discussions border on the absurd.

Eddie - #74334

November 12th 2012

The birth of Christ is discussed only in Matthew and Luke.  The Incarnation, of course, is a central doctrine in many NT books, but the birth was not deemed important enough even to warrant a mention in Mark or John, or for that matter Paul.

As for Mary, she
appears only in the Gospels and Acts, in Acts she is found only once, in a mere list of associates of Jesus.  She is never mentioned by Paul, and the other main “systematic” theologian of the New Testament, John, hardly notes her existence.  The earliest Gospel, Mark, also almost completely ignores her.  And outside of the Gospel of Luke, she is a rather colorless character— “the mother of Jesus”—who does or says very little. 
Despite the omission or near-snub of Mary by all the New Testament writers except Luke and Matthew, the theologians of the Church found it profitable to engage in a protracted debate (lasting about 600 years) about the metaphysical properties of Mary with respect to original sin.  Of course, it is not surprising that theologians waste time on speculative questions which God never asked them to consider, which Jesus never discussed, and which are neither necessary nor even helpful to the life of the Church; what is surprising, no, stunning, is that a Pope should give a “bit player” like Mary a dogma of her own, binding upon the intellects and consciences of Christians.  It would be as if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave a posthumous Best Actress Oscar to the actress who played one of the housemaids in Mary Poppins.  And the irony is that Thomas Aquinas, whom the Catholics usually exalt as someone who can do no wrong, opposed the doctrine!  The whole affair borders on black comedy.  That, if anything, is what is “absurd” here.
Skl - #74332

November 12th 2012

To Eddie,

“As for the Catholic doctrines you mentioned, this is not the place to argue them.”

Perhaps. But we don’t need to engage in a long-winded debate over one of the things you broached and I asked you about. Don’t need a thousand words or even a hundred. Just one word: “yes” or “no”.

 I’ll repost what I’m talking about:

You wrote “there are some “truths” that aren’t truths at all, but falsehoods (like Papal infallibility)”

I’ll rephrase your statement: You are saying that it is infallibly true that Papal infallibility is false.

“Yes” or “No” ?



“a spiritual factoid about the “original sin level” of Mary, which is about as important for Christians to know as the mass of ice in Antarctica”. Coincidentally, the mass of ice in Antarctica was a news item today. I posted it under the blog for “Katharine Hayhoe: Evangelical Christian, Climate Scientist”. Apparently, BioLogos considers the subject of global warming/climate change to be fit for this site.

Eddie - #74335

November 12th 2012


I don’t make infallible pronouncements.  I make fallible, but generally intelligent, judgments.  And my fallible, but likely intelligent, judgment is that Papal infallibility is political hokum, motivated by the same domineering spirit that gave the world “The Donation of Constantine.”  And no, I don’t intend to justify that statement here.  But it’s like E = mc2; you likely don’t understand the arguments by which Einstein proved that statement true; but it’s true nonetheless.

It’s been fun, but now it’s time to stop.  I’ve done my best to urge you to reconsider your ill-advised policy of talking down to all the Protestants here, like a schoolteacher correcting students who have done bad sums.  If you won’t listen, there is nothing more I can do.  ‘Bye.     

Skl - #74333

November 12th 2012


I agree.

And “absurd” may indeed be apropos here. Or maybe “awful”.

GJDS - #74343

November 12th 2012

Whar a revealing statement:

The birth of Christ is discussed only in Matthew and Luke.” Only discussed in Mathew and Luke! Did I say absurd?

You are now the ultimate authority on the Bible and can decide just how much discussion is needed/given by whom and where - and presto, we have finally arrived at….... what? I think you are self-deluded.

Eddie - #74350

November 12th 2012

I claimed no ultimate authority regarding the Bible.  I made an empirical statement about its contents.  If my empirical statement is erroneous, i.e., if the birth of Christ is discussed in places other than the ones I specified, it should be easy enough for you to show me the error.  Cite me some passages!  Otherwise, yield the point, as a dialogue partner in a civilized discussion should do.

GJDS - #74351

November 12th 2012

This is not a dialogue nor a debate - it is a startled response to someone who treats the birth of Christ and Mary as inconsequential matters because of the number of times these matters may be discussed in the Bible—- please note the terms are—absurd, self-deluded—- these terms are not invitations for dialogue but a repudiation of such statements. Perhaps a civilised response is to express pity for a person who makes such statements and claims to be a Christian—please do not see this as another avenue for dialogue—IT IS NOT.

Eddie - #74356

November 12th 2012


You tell me that your somewhat snarky comments are not an avenue for dialogue, as if I am obligated to listen to your views, but not permitted to respond.  Well, I choose to disregard your “instructions” to me, because I sense that there are gaps in your theological education (which is not an uncommon situation among scientists who write about theological matters), and I’m well-enough trained in the subject to fill in some of those gaps for you.  You don’t have to read what I write, but others who are viewing the exchange might benefit.

First, reading carefully is helpful.  I did not say that the birth of Christ was “inconsequential.”  Obviously the birth of Christ had momentous consequences later on; but what I said was that the birth, as such, was not much emphasized in the New Testament.  We have one brief pericope in Matthew, and a longer section in Luke, and that is all.  Mark and John and Paul are entirely uninterested in the circumstances of Jesus’s birth.  You have been unable to refute this statement.

I also said that Mary was a minor figure in the New Testament.  Read that again:  in the New Testament.  This means that (a) she does not appear very much in the New Testament; and (b) in those books in which she does appear, her role is ancillary, not central, to the main themes of the books in question, i.e., the Gospels.  Point (a) is irrefutable fact, and point (b) is, I believe, a correct judgment; but if it is not, you are at liberty to show why it is incorrect.  You have not done so.  

I did not say that Mary was of no importance in the New Testament, and I certainly did not say that Mary was of no importance in historical Christianity.  She obviously is very important in Roman Catholicism, and I believe (though I cannot speak with an insider’s knowledge) that she has some importance in Eastern Orthodoxy as well.  

My point was that there was very little textual basis for speculations about her metaphysical status with regard to original sin, and that is what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is about.  [Though why you should even care about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which to my knowledge is not a required item of faith in the Orthodox tradition (to which you intimate that you belong), I have no idea.]  

One thing you, as an Orthodox person, need to understand about Protestants, is that they take the Bible very seriously, and more than seriously:  they like to see all Christian doctrines (especially those that are declared “dogmas” with all the authority of Papal infallibility!) grounded in the Bible, rather than in the speculations of theologians.  If you do not understand this about Protestants, you will be crippled in all your attempts at inter-religious dialogue.  I have great respect for the Orthodox tradition, from the little I know about it, but you need also to learn respect for the Protestant, Bible-focused tradition, if you hope to learn from discussions with people in the mainly Protestant-evangelical ethos here.  You might also consider—if I may put on my professional hat for a moment—showing a certain scholarly respect for those who have studied theology at the graduate and post-doctoral level for as many years as you have studied the natural sciences; such respect would counsel you to think twice before sharply rejecting what such trained individuals have to say.     

Jw Farquhar - #74360

November 13th 2012


In #74322 you wrote: Serious Protestants don’t fear authority—but they place the locus of ultimate authority in the Bible alone, rather than the Bible plus tradition.

I agree emphatically. As I said before in #74305, the idea that humans have authority over Bible interpretation is preposterous. The biggest problem that Jesus had was with traditional Pharisees and Sadducees. It seems that you are having the same problem.

In defense of the Catholic holy view of Mary, I recognize her as a double holy mother—EVEning (mother of all living) incarnate together with the Most High Mother Holy Spirit of Light, who God the Father (Day) separated from darkness in the beginning and called her to Himself to be one.

On the other hand, it seems that I have the same problem as you when I argue with a Protestant fundamentalist who believes that the Creation is all about 6 solar days, instead of a foundational spiritual message from God. I read before in this forum that there is such a thing as “theological captivity”.

PNG - #74417

November 15th 2012

Perhaps relevant to this post is a book review over at the Puffington Host:

Evolution and the Catholic Church: Still Unresolved?


wesseldawn - #74505

November 18th 2012

We are, as Hebrews 12:1 affirms, surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses,” to whom Christians today should listen with careful attention.

It’s always been assumed that the “great cloud of witnesses” are human ones but when you look at it the following it reveals a different picture:

And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. (Rev. 14:14)

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30)

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (Matt. 16:27)

Therefore, clouds are angels! 

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