A few weeks ago, some men commented here, offended at my characterization of the reformed, seeing it as having been disrespectful of a multitude of historic Christian figures, giants of theology and ministry. I borrowed a biblical metaphor by classifying them as children only in the sense that I was writing in that post. The parallel in my mind was Hebrews 5, when the author was warning Hebrews to leave the first principles to go on to perfection. He said they had stayed babes in their understanding, when they should have been teachers. Another could be 1 John where John wrote about levels of growth with children, young men, and fathers. In my description, I said that the reformed were like children showing their scribble-scrabbles to their mother, and her being impressed. Maybe another metaphor would be that they were still riding with their training wheels, when they could have been up on two wheels.
When the author of Hebrews wrote the audience of Hebrews, he was writing to people who could have been just as offended at being called babes, who could only drink milk when they should have been eating meat. Many would have considered themselves to have been meat eaters. Perhaps for their sensitivities, he should have used less offensive descriptions, and they would have been more likely to consider what he was saying to them. If someone says he’s offended with a biblical characterization, a sacred one, would we do better with a secular one? How could someone go wrong using a biblical metaphor?
For sake of argument, I want to say that it wasn’t the metaphor itself that was offensive but the people for which I was using it. I think the idea would be that the people I was characterizing are giants that are well beyond myself. In other words, compared to them, I’m the one on training wheels and they are well past the bicycle into some celestial form of transportation compared to me. In other words, it is the height of arrogance to elevate myself above these heroes, such as John Owen and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I get the offense, I do, but let’s keep going with this, because anyone reading here knows that I didn’t back down on my metaphor.
In one sense, the author of Hebrews, was pointing to the understanding that Moses had of Jesus in Hebrews 5:11-14. In other words, the author could have been said to have elevated himself above Moses and the prophets. I recognize that the Jews of New Testament times, second temple Judaism, had not moved on, even though they had revelation that Moses and Daniel and Isaiah never possessed. However, easily the audience of offense, like they would have thought of Jesus and the Apostles, could have considered this “babes” portrayal to be directed toward its giants, its spiritual heroes. The metaphor though was still true. If Moses and Daniel had lived in their day, a believer would have expected them to have been different than the unbelieving Hebrews.
Unless we can see the problem, we’re not going to have a solution, and as long as a modern audience finds its trajectory back to the reformation, it will continue with theological scribble-scrabbles. Men can huff and puff over this, but it is a problem. The one offended is God, but that doesn’t seem to matter so much, because the modern men are busy being offended for dead men, who now know they were doing scribble-scrabbles, even as they are known by God.
Who am I to say that scripture is clear in its ecclesiology and eschatology and hermeneutic or system of theology? I say ecclesiology and eschatology, but neither do I see the reformers as so clear in their soteriology either. Today’s reformed treat Luther like a hero of “the faith,” and you see his children, the Lutherans, with a gospel that does not save. The reformed kept remnants of Roman Catholicism, dogmatics originating long after the completion of the New Testament. Much of the apostasy today can be traced to not continuing to reform, but even better to have separated completely with a blank slate and then a totally biblical theology.
Does writing what I’m writing dismiss the contributions of Owen and Spurgeon? Does writing what the author of Hebrews wrote dismiss the contributions of Moses and Daniel? No. I see the offense as a form of theological correctness akin to political correctness. If people would be released from a Roman Catholic influenced system, they must open their minds to the reality of its corruption of their beliefs.
I enjoy reading Spurgeon. He was a master in so many ways, worthy of emulation. I’m not saying I could preach like him. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to preach like him. I believe preachers should preach passages as their habit, exposing scripture. Spurgeon was too allegorical in his hermeneutic, seeing things in the text that were not there, putting them in to get them out. Does respecting Spurgeon require just swallowing all of him whole and not moving on. Do we keep the training wheels on? He was post-millennial. Because of that, he gets at least 20 percent of scripture wrong. How does that sound? “I have decided to get at least 20 percent or more of the Bible wrong so as not to disrespect Spurgeon.” That is not a literal, grammatical-historical approach to scripture.
Because of his ecclesiology, Spurgeon didn’t understand biblical separation. People break down his down-grade controversy, but his church missed out on the protection that scripture teaches, because he didn’t understand how to practice separation according to the Bible. He did the best he could with a less full perspective, an incorrect one, due to the influence of the reformed, the leftovers of Roman Catholicism.
An easy shot right now is to say something like, “So you’re so proud that you know more than Spurgeon?” Or, “You think you’re smarter than Spurgeon.” The audience of Hebrews could say to its human author, “You think you’re smarter than the Old Testament prophets?” This is not a matter of intellect. I don’t want to say that it is sincerity. Spurgeon was under wrong influences that affected him in a detrimental way, and John Owen even more so. I’m just using these two as examples, to go straight to the top of the heap in my analysis here. It’s not intellectually honest, with all that I am writing, to say that I’m doing any of that. It’s also a way to keep people from moving on to what they should understand.
After having written all that I have written above, much more could be said about what should be done, and why that would be right in comparison to the wrong of Owen and Spurgeon. One major, helpful theme would be a view of or an interpretation of history. People should not take their trajectory through the reformation. They should appreciate and enjoy the reformation for what it is. However, the trajectory should not go through the reformers, and, therefore, through Rome. It should move straight to Jerusalem, back to Jesus and the Apostles.
When people look for a reformed heritage, they will be messed up to a certain degree, and what I’ve witnessed is a large degree. God is One and His truth is One. When people get a big chunk of it wrong, it will only have an effect on all the other truths as well. The error must be corrected or it will naturally seep into everything else and corrupt that too.
In one way, I’m happy if I stop into a church on vacation, and I see the five solas displayed proudly over the front of the auditorium. At least that church is anchored into something that will keep them from sliding as fast as I have seen many pragmatists, who have a finger in the sky to check which way the wind is blowing. I see the value of confessions. I mention them fairly often here. However, any church that traces itself back to the solas, I know, is involved in scribble-scrabbling. Refer to the confessions and look at the historic theology, but open the Bible and start with a clean slate. Skip Rome. Go back to Jerusalem.