Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: C. S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

The volume in question is compiled of papers that C. S. Lewis wrote, but never published during his lifetime. The compilation was done by Walter Hooper. They include texts written in the domain of textual criticism, and discuss, among others, works by Spenser, Dante, Tasso, and Malory.

In the first article, ‘De Audiendis Poetis’, Lewis argues that in order to truly understand the writers of a by-gone age, we must adopt their beliefs and understanding of the world. That is, we actually have to take, as true their view of the world and their beliefs about the world---we have to experience their world from their perspective. This is to be distinguished from “Perspectivism”, which claims that there are many different perspectives on the world, and that none of these perspectives can be shown to be demonstrably false or true. Rather, Lewis is arguing that in order to understand a perspective we must analyse it from within, not from without. We see a similar claim proposed in Mere Christianity when he states that you can’t truly understand Christianity by observing it from without, rather, you must first accept it as true, and then by it see the world. Lewis’s basic claim is that one may discover that a given perspective is false or true, but, one cannot understand that perspective until one has entertained it as true. These claims are applied to medieval poetic literature. Lewis analyses different approaches to interpretation (the theological approach, the anthropological approach), and different ways of reading (reading as a lover of poetry, and reading as a historian seeking truth), showing the advantages and disadvantages (for truly understanding the text in question) of each approach. This article contains many important comments about how to properly interpret any text, and about which error one should avoid in interpretation.

In the second article, ‘The Genesis of a Medieval Book’, C. S. Lewis proposes to consider the process by which two medieval works of literature came into being, and, in this way, to explain the medieval approach to writing. The two works of literature that he considers are LaƷamon’s ‘Brut’, and ‘Sawles Warde’. Based upon his analysis of the genesis of these two works Lewis draws some conclusions about Medieval literature which are very important for the proper interpretation of just about anything written in the medieval period. In discussing LaƷamon’s ‘Brut’ he notes that the main source for the contents of this work was Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and Wace’s Geste. Lewis shows that though most think that LaƷamon was primarily inspired by Wace, it can be shown that LaƷamon was just as dependent on Geoffrey as on Wace, but, also, that he either relied on other sources or invented elements. He notes that “Who, or how many people, or in what proportions each, made it what it is, is a question I cannot answer. This inability of course frustrates our curiosity as scholars.”[1] This fact, notes Lewis, renders the modern approach to Literary criticism impuissant, for, “If criticism cannot do without the clear separation of one work from another and the clear unity of the individual author with the individual text, then criticism of medieval literature is impossible.”[2] Lewis goes on to consider the metre of LaƷamon’s ‘Brut’, its poetic style, and to provide the reader with a comparison of LaƷamon’s ‘Brut’ with Wace’s Geste. Here he notes how LaƷamon’s ‘Brut’ uses “similes of the Homeric or ‘long-tailed’ type”[3] Lewis turns to the Sawles Warde, and notes its use of a certain New Testament quote. This allows Lewis to bring up an important point about Medieval use of quotations, “It is unbelievable that the Latin author misunderstood or forgot or did not reverence the sense of the original. He obviously feels perfectly free to transform it in any way that suits his purpose, provided that, thus transformed, it is still orthodox and edifying. Very possibly he regarded himself as choosing one, instead of another, from among its multiple senses.”[4] He also mentions the very “human” description of God’s actions (sitting and standing), and notes, concerning the author of the Sawles Warde, that “If he had met a real anthropomorphist, I expect he would have been quite able to explain that God was incorporeal and therefore would not really sit down or stand up. It would not, of course, follow that in the heat of composition he consciously attended to this.”[5] Having attended to these two different texts Lewis now draws an important characteristic concerning the genesis of these books: Though we know who were the authors of these books, we also have difficulty saying that they were really the authors of these works in the same sense as a modern author. That is, most of the ideas did not originate with these authors, yet they made the ideas their own. Lewis notes that the common practice, among medieval authors, was to modify, and hopefully improve, some work of literature or story that was already known. This, however, adds a certain level of difficulty to the interpretation of these works, for, though the stories are certainly quite similar to the earlier works that they modify, they cannot be interpreted in the same way as these earlier works, but must be accepted as entirely different pieces of literature which must be read and appreciated for themselves.

The third article (which is actually composed of two lectures that Lewis presented on the subject), ‘Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages’, is probably one of the most important articles in this short compilation, especially for anybody who reads medieval literature. In this article, C. S. Lewis examines the medieval model of the universe (from many different perspectives: Its size, its nature, its compositions and constituents, its inner workings, etc.), and compares this model with the modern model of the universe. He invites the reader to put aside “scientific” considerations about the actual makeup of the universe, in order to look at the medieval model from an “imaginative, creative, and artistic” perspective. He notes that though the medieval authors may have gotten many, if not most, of the facts wrong, their imagery and imaginative approach to the universe is not (for all that) wrong. It is rather, just a different way of describing (creatively) the way the universe presents itself to us, and that the modern descriptions (turning around laws of nature, etc.) are not accurate scientific descriptions about how the universe runs, but imaginative descriptions of scientific facts which show more the modern mindset than an accurate description of the scientific facts. I would submit, indeed, that some aspects of the medieval model of the universe, taken as a creative or artistic descriptions of the universe, may even be adopted, with some modifications, today. One might submit that this article is less of an exposition of the Medieval approach to the universe (though it is at least this), and more of a throwing down of the gauntlet—a challenge to modernity—as Lewis concludes this article by asking the audience to consider the possibility that, in a sense, the modern model of the universe is just as bad off as the medieval model. Lewis says, “I suppose most people would now admit that no picture of the universe we can form is ‘true’ in quite the sense our grandfathers hoped. We would rather speak of ‘models’. And since all are only models, we should be prepared to find in each something of the nature of the artist as well as something of the object. From that point of view, too, a study of the various models has its interest. I think the medieval and Newtonian models—the one so ordered, so sublime, and so festive, the other so trackless, so incapable of form—reflect the older, more formal and intellectual world and the later enthusiastic, romantic world pretty well. What our own models—if you continue to allow us models at all—will reflect, posterity may judge.”[6]

The fourth article, “Dante’s Similes”, is a consideration of how Dante develops his different similes in the Divine Comedy. Lewis notes three regular classes of simile and notes that all of these are found in Dante. He notes, however, that there is a fourth class of simile that is peculiar to Dante. He claims that Dante’s peculiar use of simile is such that the reader feels that Dante is accurately describing the world of his Divine Comedy. This is due, says Lewis, to how Dante integrates Aristotelian philosophy, and medieval biology and physics, into his similes.

The fifth article, “Imagery in Dante’s ‘Comedy’”, is, essentially, a catalogue, with brief commentary, of the various types of Metaphorical images that Dante uses in the last 11 canto’s of his Divine Comedy. Lewis draws some tentative conclusions, from these observations, about the way that Dante uses imagery in the rest of the Divine Comedy. In “Dante’s Statius”, the sixth article in this book, Lewis considers what is was about the works of Statius, as known by Dante, that had Dante thinking that Statius was (or at least portraying him as) a Christian author. The seventh article, “The ‘Morte DArthur’”, is a short critique (positive and negative) of the positions of Professor Vinaver concerning his views of Malory’s Arthurian legends, as published in Vinaver’s edition. Lewis provides many very interesting comments about the Arthurian Legends.

In “Tasso”, the eighth article in the book, C. S. Lewis looks at the main work of Tasso, and notes that in spite of having received much applause, an having influenced many authors, it remains true that Tasso has not been imitated nearly as much as other authors who are not so frequently applauded. This article, which might seem of little value to any except either a C. S. Lewis fanatic or an expert in medieval and renaissance literature, does contain some very interesting comments about Beauty and evil, and about the medieval mind. Lewis notes that in medieval and renaissance literature it was not unheard of to encounter an evil being that was beautiful beyond description, but that the modern imagination seems to have difficulty believing that beauty and evil can go hand in hand. Lewis says, “Perhaps in the world built by industrialism beauty has become so rare and evil so undisguisedly ugly that we can no longer believe ill of beauty. With the old poets it was not so. They believed that a thing might be perfectly beautiful, might be of a beauty to break the heart, and yet be evil.”[7]

The ninth chapter, “Edmund Spenser, 1552-99”, is an introduction to the life and works of Edmund Spenser that is well worth reading for anybody who is interested in Late-Medieval Protestant literature. In this chapter Lewis notes some of the modern attitudes that may prevent a modern person from actually enjoying and understanding the Faerie Queene. The most interesting of the obstacles is, that “the picture-language of allecgory is ultimately derived, as I have said, from the unconscious. But by Spenser’s time allegory (both literary and pictorial) had been practised so long that certain symbols had an agreed meaning which everyone could understand directly, without plunging into the depths. Many of these are lost on the modern reader who does not know the Bible, the classics, astrology, or the old emblem books.”[8]

The tenth chapter, “On Reading ‘The Faerie Queene’” is a brief introduction to the Faerie Queene, providing some tips on how to read it. The eleventh chapter, “Neoplatonism in the poetry of Spenser”, is a book review of Dr. Robert Ellrodt’s book with the same title. The twelfth chapter, “Spenser’s Cruel Cupid”, is a discussion of Spenser’s portrayal of Cupid in the Faerie Queen, III, xi, 48. The Thirteenth chapter, “Genius and Genius”, is an interesting discussion of the different meanings the word “Genius” has been given by different authors in ancient and medieval writings. The book finishes with a short article, “A Note on ‘Comus’”, which discusses some technical details about the history of the manuscript of the short work known as Comus.

[1]C. S. Lewis, “The Genesis of a Medieval Book”, in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, ed. Walter Hooper (1966; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 22.


[3]Ibid., 31.

[4]Ibid., 34.

[5]Ibid., 36.

[6]C. S. Lewis, “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages”, in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, ed. Walter Hooper (1966; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 62-63.

[7]C. S. Lewis, “Tasso”, in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, ed. Walter Hooper (1966; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 116.

[8]C. S. Lewis, “Edmund Spenser, 1552-99”, in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, ed. Walter Hooper (1966; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 141.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016



            One of the big questions that Christian theologians of all generations have had to deal with is the question of spiritual, exegetical, and theological authority. I have already written about these subjects in other blogposts (see here, here, and here), but, have recently been thinking about the notion of authority in and of itself. Authority can appear to be a very nebulous term, for there are many different types of “authority”, and, one might say (in jest), they don’t all possess the same authority.

            If Socrates were asking the question, “what is authority?”, and he received the response, “there is church authority, and government authority, and parental authority, and academic authority, etc.”, he would certainly respond something like, “I am not wondering about the different types of authority, but wish to know what is common to all the types of authority.” In order to know what is common to each, we might begin by examining, and drawing out the characteristics of, some of the different types of authority. As usual, my blogposts are not to be taken as my final word on the subject, but, rather, as the expression of my thoughts at the moment, and as the building blocks for deeper and more developed thoughts on the subject. For my own purposes, I will begin by noting what the Bible has to say about the different types of authority (such as Ecclesial or Church Authority, Governmental Authority, Parental Authority, and Marital authority). We will begin our study with a post concerning Ecclesial Authority.

Ecclesial or Church Authorities

            In the Bible there are a number of different types of authority that are presented and characterized. We see, for example, what we might call Ecclesial or Church authorities. The New Testament explicitly discusses Ecclesial authority at a number of places, including Hebrew 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-5, 1 Timothy 3:1-8, and Titus 1:3-8. We can also distinguish, based upon the New Testament, three forms of Ecclesial Authority: Scriptural (including the writings of the Prophets and the Apostles), Apostolic, and Pastoral. These thoughts will be necessarily brief.

Pastoral Ecclesial Authority

Their Character

            In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 Paul provides us with a list of characteristics, the possession of which allow us to identify those who are qualified to be considered true Ecclesial, or Local Church, Authorities. I have already commented on these notions elsewhere, so I will limit myself to a simple enumeration and summary of the characteristics. Paul says that in order to qualify as an Ecclesial authority one must be characterized as “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive…He must not be a recent convert…he must be well thought of by outsiders.”[1] Titus provides some qualifications of these qualifications, “above reproach, the husband of one wife [literally, “a one woman man”], and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination…he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”[2]

Their Attitude, Approach to Leading, and Authority

In 1 Peter 5:1-5 we are told that the elders are the spiritual leaders (spiritual authorities) in the local church, and that they are to lead the local church as a shepherd leads a flock. The image is important. Flocks do not choose their shepherds. Flocks are in total submission to their shepherds and follow their shepherds wherever their shepherds lead them. Shepherds look out for the safety and proper nourishment of their flocks, and are sometimes required to lead, forcefully, the flock (especially some of the more headstrong sheep). In this text Peter warns the local church authorities that they should take care of the flock that God has put in their care. Peter speaks to the motivation of the church authorities, saying that they should not lead in order to make money, but, rather, willingly and lovingly. Peter also speaks to the manner of leading, when he notes that church authorities should not lead as dictators, but, rather, as models.

In Hebrews 13:17 we are told that church members are to obey and submit themselves to the leaders that are in place in their church communities. The author to the Hebrews notes that those who are in a position of authority in the local church are responsible, before God, for taking care of those who are in their church community. These local church authorities will be judged by God.

How to become an Pastoral Ecclesial Authority

            The New Testament does not speak to this question as much as we would like, and I have already addressed this subject in another blog post (see here, and here. Both are written in French.). I will, therefore, keep this brief. The New Testament shows the first Pastor/Elders being put in place by the joint action of Paul and the Holy Spirit (Compare Acts 14:23 with Acts 20:28). Paul commissioned Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-8) and Titus (Titus 1:5) so that they would put Pastor/Elders in place in Ephesus and in Crete. The basis upon which Elders were chosen were the qualifications mentioned above. Finally, Paul notes that it is a good thing to desire to be an Elder (1 Timothy 3:1). To become an elder one must, of course, be characterized according to the list of qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. There is no explanation as to how the elders of the Jerusalem church became elders, only that there were enough of them that they could be mentioned in the plural (Acts 15:6, 22, etc.). One final comment, Paul seems to provide us, in 1 Timothy 3:1-8, with what we might call “apostolic authority”, for the future “installation or naming” of Ecclesial authorities (“Elder/Pastors”). Paul, after listing the qualifications, tells Timothy that he has provided these instructions so that “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”[3] Conclusion? Ecclesial/Pastoral Church Authorities are not put in place by a vote of the assembly, but, rather, they are put in place by those who are already qualified as Elders, and because they aspire to the post and they are characterized by the list of qualifications that are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9.

Some “Negative” comments

            Based upon the verses that we have already seen, and 1 Timothy 5:19-25, those who are Pastoral Ecclesial Authorities are not free from sin, nor are they inerrant in their teachings. Rather, they are fellow sinners-saved-by-grace. It is entirely possible for a Pastoral Ecclesial Authority to sin such that he must be placed under church discipline (1 Timothy 5:19-25), and it is possible for a Pastoral Ecclesial Authority to become disqualified (if, for example, during the the course of their lives they become characterized by something that is expressly forbidden by 1 Timothy 3:1-8 or Titus 1:5-9).

The character of Pastoral Ecclesial Authority

            Let us summarize what we have seen here. A Pastoral Ecclesial Authority is a fallible man who is a sinner-saved-by-grace. His authority to lead the members of his local church is given to him based upon his character (1 Tim. 3:1-8, Tit. 1:5-9) as recognized by already existing Pastoral Ecclesial Authorities (Acts 14:23). This authority is also given to him by the Holy Spirit who has placed him in that role of authority (Acts 20:28), and by Jesus-Christ who has put the Elder/Pastor in charge of a local flock (1 Pet. 5:1-5). The authority of the Pastor/Elder is to be exercised with Grace and unfailing love (1 Pet. 5:2-5), but also with firmness and theological rigidity based upon a proper theological training (Tit. 1:9). Members of the local church are to be fully submitted to his leadership in both spiritual and doctrinal matters (Heb. 13:17), not blindly (Acts 17:11), but joyfully (Heb. 13:17). A Pastoral Ecclesial Authority may err, but, his authority is to be recognized by church members, who are to gracefully, supportively, and prayerfully, follow his lead.

Apostolic Authority

            Precious little is said, in the New Testament, about Apostolic Authority. The notion is, however, clearly present. In Galatians 1-2, for example, Paul defends his apostolic authority against those who were questioning it. These chapters are, in fact, important for helping us understand Apostolic Authority, as are Matthew 16:17-20, John 21:15-24, Acts 1:21-22, Acts 6: 1-7, Ephesians 2:19-21, Ephesians 3:1-9, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Peter 5:1, 2 Peter 3:15-16, and many others. Some of what I will say below is debatable, and it is best to not base a fundamental distinguishing doctrine on a debatable interpretation of Holy Scriptures. In what follow I will offer a couple comments on each of the verses that I have mentioned above.

New Testament Teachings

Catholics will probably complain about my interpretation of Matthew 16:17-20 that it is too “Protestant”. That may be true, however, if I am to be entirely open about how I interpret this verse, I have to admit that when I eventually came to struggle with the meaning of this verse I was actually somewhat inclined to honestly consider whether or not I should become Catholic. At this time in my spiritual journey I studied these verses and concluded that these verses clearly teach that Peter had correctly concluded that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God (Mt. 16:17), but that it was God the Father who had made Peter aware of this fact, and not Peter’s intellectual brilliance (Mt. 16:17). The “rock” (petra, GR; petram, LT) to which Jesus refers is not Peter (Petros, GR; Petrus, LT), but, rather, the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God (Mt. 16:18). This is the interpretation that makes the best sense of the context, both of this chapter and of the larger context of the New Testament, and the Apostolic mission to proclaim Jesus the Son of God. As for the “Keys of the Kingdom”, which were given to Peter, to bind or to loose (Mt. 16:19). These same abilities seem to be promised, in Matthew 18:18-20, to all believers through prayer, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  I know that this passage is highly debated, but, as I said above, it seems unwise to base a key divisive doctrine on a passage that is so open to exegetical debate. I conclude that these verses provide us with no information concerning Apostolic Authority.

            John 21:15-24 is the final verses of the Gospel of John. In these verses Jesus takes Peter aside and tells him to take care of the flock of God (John 21:15-19). These verses need to be read in the context of 1 Peter 5:1 where Peter says “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.” John 21 does not show Jesus placing Peter in a special position over the other leaders of the church, but, rather, commissioning Peter for the Pastoral mission that he was to accomplish. Indeed, the final verses of John 21, as well as the commissioning of Paul to the apostolate, reinforces the notion that though Jesus had called 12 apostles, to whom he gave his authority to preach the gospel in all the world (Mt. 28:19-20), Jesus did not place one of the apostles in charge of the others.

Acts 1:21-22 seems to teach that in order to be considered as an authoritative apostle, one must have been an eyewitness of the life, teaching, and resurrection of Jesus-Christ. This is not contradicted by the apostolate of Paul, who was a witness of the resurrection of Jesus-Christ, quite possibly taught by Jesus himself for a period of 3 years, and who was explicitly commissioned by Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 1).

Acts 6: 1-7 shows that though the primary role of the Apostles was to pray and teach, they also engaged, periodically, in tasks that are related to the physical well-being of the church. Deacons were elected in order to allow the Apostles to dedicate their time to prayer and teaching.

 Galatians 1-2 provides a defense of the apostolate and message of the Apostle Paul. Here we learn that he was specifically chosen by Jesus-Christ, and commissioned to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. His apostolate and his message come directly come God and not from men (Gal. 1:1, 12). Apostolic Authority is not given by other men, it is not based upon qualifications, it is given by Jesus-Christ himself. Galatians 1 is important because Paul notes that Apostle’s are not necessarily, by virtue of being Apostles and possessing Apostolic Authority, doctrinally inerrant, rather, he warns that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”[4] Galatians 2 is important for our understanding of Apostolic Authority, as it shows: (1) That Apostle’s are not, as Apostles, infallible, inerrant, or above reproach. Paul explains who Peter erred publicly concerning a moral question (Gal. 2:11-12), and led other believers into the same error (Gal. 2:13). (2) That Peter did not possess an authority that was superior to that of the other apostles. Indeed, Paul rebuked Peter publicly for his grievous moral failing (Gal. 2:11, 14-16). So, Apostolic Authority is not, by nature, free from either doctrinal or moral error. Apostle’s could err,[5] and those who verified their teachings where declared more honorable than those who didn’t (Acts 17:11).

Ephesians 2:19-21 teaches that God specifically built the church on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The image of a building is of the utmost important. Apostles, and their apostolic authority, are found only in the foundation; not in the walls, not in the roof, nor in the doors or windows. The building (the rest of believers) is founded upon, built upon, the apostles and prophets. This verse is also important because we are again reminded of the source of apostolic authority—God. Ephesians 4:11 teaches the same truths.

In Ephesians 3:1-9 Paul explains that God specifically commissioned himself, and the other Apostles, to spread the gospel, and to make known the mystery which is the church. It is to the Apostles that God revealed the mystery of the church (Eph. 3:3, 5), and it is God that commissioned the Apostles to teach it (Eph. 3:7-11).

2 Peter 3:15-16 tells us, from the pen of one apostle, that the writings of Paul are inspired by God and, therefore, authoritative. But, they are not easy to understand, and our interpretations of them are not inspired. Rather, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction as they do the other scriptures.”[6]

Some Concluding Remarks

First of all, only those who were apostles possessed apostolic authority. Secondly, the apostles are the foundation of the church, and the foundation was laid in the first century. Thirdly, Apostle’s, in virtue of being Apostle’s, were not, therefore, doctrinally inerrant or morally infallible. They could both err and sin, and did so. Their word, however, was authoritative over all church polity, doctrine, and practice; unless it explicitly contradicted the gospel of Jesus-Christ (Gal. 1:8). In spite of their authority over the church, they did not present themselves as dictators in a hierarchical kingdom, but as fellow workers with the elders (cf. Acts 15, 1 Peter 5:1).

There are no clear and undeniable statements that imply that apostolic authority can be transferred from the Apostles to their disciples. Rather, though Paul frequently recommends that the churches listen to, and respect the word of, Timothy,[7] he never once states that Timothy is an apostle, or has the same calling as himself. Timothy did not receive any apostolic authority from Paul, nor in virtue of being the disciple of Paul. Rather, Apostolic authority is bestowed upon a person by direct mediation of Jesus-Christ himself, and, there is no scriptural justification for the idea that it can be transferred to another. The only words that we still possess from the apostles are their written works. As such, the only things that could be said to possess “apostolic authority” today are their written works—the New Testament.

Scriptural Authority

            We need not say too much in this section. The Scriptures clearly teach that they are the authoritative, inspired, words of God (2 Tim. 3:15-17, 2 Pet. 1:20-21); and that, as such, they are the final authority for the church on matters pertaining to personal sanctification, and those truths about God, man, and man’s relationship with God, that can only be known through divine revelation. The authority of scriptures passes to he who teaches the scriptures if and only if the teacher or preacher properly interprets scriptures. Fidelity to the clear teachings of scriptures, and the capacity to teach and defend their clear teachings, is a required qualification in order to be considered an Ecclesial Pastoral Authority (Tit. 1:9). The scriptures include the Old Testament and the writings of the Apostles (2 Peter 3:15-16). Finally, the written words of scripture are more trustworthy and authoritative than even the very words of God from heaven, or some revelation (by dream, vision, or thoughts) that purports to be from God (2 Peter 1:18-19).

Concluding Remarks on Ecclesial Authority

            There are three forms of Ecclesial Authority that are discussed in Scriptures: Apostolic/Prophetic, Scriptural, and Pastoral. All three still exist today, though one of them (Apostolic) is only available in the Scriptures. As such, Apostolic/Prophetic and Scriptural Authority may, today, be conflated into one category.

            It is to be noted that only one of these three forms of Ecclesial authority can be said to be inerrant or infallible: Scriptural authority. Apostolic and Pastoral forms of authority were both inclined towards both theological and moral error. As such, though Christians are consistently encouraged to follow joyfully, willfully, and confidently, those men who are endowed with Ecclesial Authority; Christians are also warned that all men err, and that even their Elders/Pastors may err in theology or in morality. This fact is not, however, supposed to incline church members to lose confidence in their Ecclesial Authorities, but, rather, to incline them towards grace, truth, love, respect, and willing submission towards those men who have earned the right, by the quality of their Godly character, to exercise authority over the church of God. Those men are called elders, pastors, shepherds of the flock of God. No one human person rules them; rather, they are submitted to Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5), the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), and the Word of God (Tit. 1:9). Those who are not submitted to Christ (by either leading poorly, 1 Pet. 5:2-5; or by being disqualified, 1 Tim. 5:19-25) are to be disciplined by the other Elders of the local church, and removed from their position of leadership.

            What is it, that in each of these cases, makes someone an authority? Is it infallibility? Inerrancy? Sinless perfection? No. None of these can be claimed of any but Jesus-Christ, and the written Word of God. What then? One might also think that we cannot draw upon apostolic authority, either, in order to learn what is meant by “authority” in general; for apostolic authority is given by Christ. There is, however, something that is common to each of these types of Ecclesial authority. We learn, from our brief study, that a person (or their writing) is considered authoritative when they are seen, in general, to be trustworthy in relation to that about which they claim to be an authority.

This is true of the Pastoral Ecclesial Authority. That is, Elders are authorities in the Local church for both Christian Doctrine and Christian Practice because (1) they demonstrate both the theological knowledge necessary (gained through the proper, and appropriate amount of, theological training) to be deemed trustworthy when they explain the scriptures, and (2) their lives, on the moral level, manifest a continual progression of personal sanctification such that they are characterized by the list of qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9. If either 1 or 2 cannot be said of a man, then he should not be considered as an Ecclesial authority. This is true of Apostolic Authority. That is, though Apostolic Authority was endowed by Jesus-Christ on certain men (an extra qualification), the maintaining of that Authority was contingent on their continual teaching of truth (Gal. 1:8), and their continual demonstration of a continual progression of personal sanctification (Gal. 2). This is evidently true of the Scriptural Authority of Holy scriptures which (1) cannot err doctrinally, and (2) teach perfect morality. Exceeding the qualifications for authority means only that Holy Scriptures qualify as the highest authority for church doctrine and practice.

[1]1 Tim. 3:2-7.

[2]Tit. 1:6-9.

[3]1 Tim. 3:15.

[4]Gal. 1:8. Italics and bold are mine.

[5]Indeed, Paul’s constant prayer was that he be preserved from falling, and be allowed to finish the race (Phil. 3:7-16).

[6]2 Pet. 3:16.

[7]Cf. 1 Cor. 4:17, 16:10, Phil. 2:22, 1 Thess. 3:2-3

Sunday, July 17, 2016



            In this blog post I have done my best to keep my own opinions to a minimum, but, rather, to present the opinions of theologians who are said to be (by Reformed people the world around) some of the greatest theologians and authorities for Reformed Theology. There is much talk of theological orthodoxy, but those who talk about it the most are often the same who take the least amount of time to define it. The general notion of orthodoxy could be summarized as follows: A thinker is orthodox when they adhere to an official list of authoritative doctrines, and unorthodox when they deny do not adhere to that official list. We might also talk about “partial orthodoxy”, which is what happens when someone could be said to adhere to most, or the majority, of the doctrines in the list, and denies a minority of the doctrines in that authoritative list. Thus we can say that a person is, for the most part, orthodox, but unorthodox in relation to some one (or a few) doctrine (s). Is there any authoritative list of doctrines for Protestants? Some might immediately respond that there can be no authoritative list of doctrines, as such a list would be an extra-biblical creation of man, and, thus, goes against the Protestant principles (Of course, talk of “protestant principles” certainly sounds like an authoritative list of doctrines…). I do not want to get into any debates about which, if any, particular list should be considered authoritative for Protestantism (i.e., the Constantinople-Nicean Creed, TULIP, the SOLAS, the “fundamentals”, or the many different confessions that have been created over time). As I am interested primarily with the orthodoxy of Presuppositionalism (and, primarily, it’s fundamental claim that fallen, unregenerate, humans are incapable of coming to knowledge of the True God of the Bible via their unaided observations of the Universe; and, thus, that there is no common ground between the regenerate and the unregenerate), it seems proper to hold it up against those doctrines that are held to be the fundamental doctrines of the Calvinist churches of the Reform. To do so, we will consider the opinions of three important Reformed Theologians: John Calvin, Francis Turretin, and J. Gresham Machen. We will then look at the Westminster Confession, followed by a brief consideration of Romans 1:19-20. We will not draw any conclusions, but will let the reader arrive at their own conclusions. The question is: Is Presuppositionalism faithful (and thus orthodox) to traditional Reformed teaching concerning whether or not unregenerate human-beings are able, without the aid of divine revelation or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to come to some knowledge of the one true God?

John Calvin

            John Calvin states, concerning human knowledge of God, first of all, that “By knowledge of God, I understand that by which we not only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is for our interest, and conducive to his glory, what, in short, it is befitting to know concerning him.”[1] The question that we must now ask is, Can man attain to knowledge of God? To this Calvin’s answer is a resounding “Yes!”  Not only can the regenerated man attain to knowledge of God, but the unregenerate man can also attain some knowledge of God.[2] Indeed, as is well known and attested, Calvin claims that all men, regenerate or unregenerate, have within them the sensus divinitatus (the sense of deity). He states, for example, “That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.”[3]

Finally, Calvin states that God reveals himself to man in nature, in three ways: (1) through creation itself, (2) through man’s nature & man’s history, and (3) through Gods providential control of the creation and man. Take, for example, this statement, “He [God] has been pleased, in order that none might be excluded from the means of obtaining felicity [“the perfection of blessedness [felicity] consists in the knowledge of God”], not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken [the sensus divinitatus], but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraved in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse.”[4] Here Calvin states that God has not only given, to all men (regenerate and unregenerate) the sensus divinitatus, but, on top of that, He also gives to all men, in nature (in all the things He has created), the proof of his existence and glory. This knowledge of God, attained through the contemplation of creation, is available to all men, everywhere, regenerate or not.

Concerning the notion of Common Ground between the regenerate and the unregenerate, let us look at the very words of John Calvin, who, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, states that the fact that humankind (regenerate and unregenerate) can know God through his creation just is common ground between the regenerate and the non-regenerate. Calvin explicitly states, “I just wanted to note here that there is a way to seek God that is common to pagans and to believers of the church, by following in his footsteps, as they are outlined in the heavens and on earth, as paintings of his image.”[5] So, Presuppositionalism, by claiming that there is NO common ground between believers and unbelievers, and by claiming that unbelievers are unable to come to some knowledge of the true God through their observations of nature, explicitly rejects a biblical teaching that John Calvin himself explicitly held to be true. For more on John Calvin's approach to Natural Theology follow this link.

Francis Turretin

            Turning to one who is, without a doubt, one of the greatest reformed theologians, Francis Turretin, we discover that Presuppositionalism should be considered as Unorthodox by all Reformed thinkers. Why is this? Turretin, in the first couple pages of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, writes (in opposition to the heresies of the Socinians, who denied that the unregenerate people could acquire some knowledge of God from nature with the unaided reason and “who deny the existence of any such natural theology or knowledge of God.”[6]) that “The orthodox, on the contrary, uniformly teach that there is a natural theology, partly innate (derived from the book of conscience by means of common notions [koinas ennoias]) and partly acquired (drawn from the book of creatures discursively).”[7] It seems, then, that in so much as Presuppositionalism denies that the unregenerate can actually know something of the true God from their observations of nature, it is heretical. Indeed, Turretin explicitly refutes, in the name of orthodoxy, Van Til’s claim that prior to the Fall human’s could know something of the true God from their unaided observations of the universe, but that after the Fall they could not.[8] Turretin explicitly states that natural theology does not concern knowledge of God that man had prior to the fall, “Nor does it concern this as it was in Adam before the fall”.[9] “rather”, Turretin goes on, “it concerns this as it remained after the fall.”[10] Therefore, for Turretin, Natural Theology is knowledge of God that can be obtained by fallen humans, even in their fallen, unregenerate, state. For more on Francis Turretin's view of Natural Theology see this link.

J. Gresham Machen

            What about the very school where Van Til (the undisputed founder of Presuppositionalism) taught for almost his entire teaching career? We find that the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, in Pennsylvania, J. Gresham Machen, disagreed entirely with Van Til on the possibility of demonstrating the existence of God. In his well-known book, The Christian Faith in the Modern World, Machen explicitly states that the first place where God reveals himself to man in the universe that He created.[11] He explains that God’s self-testimony in the universe that He created comes to different people in different ways, by: 1) the natural sciences and the complexity and order that they discover in the natural world, (2) philosophy and ontological arguments which begin with the very existence of the universe, and (3) the existential experience of transcendence.[12] Machen, indeed, thinks that the many philosophical arguments that demonstrate the existence of God provide good evidence, and that the Christian man, whether he has a detailed knowledge of them or not, should never devalue or regard them as being of no importance in the debate concerning the existence of God.[13] We could continue but the interested reader can go read the rest for themselves.

The Westminster Confession

            We will finish by noting one last source of authority for Reformed theology: The Westminster Confession. The very first line of the very first article of the very first chapter states, “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.” Without a doubt the “men” who are “unexcusable” are the unregenerate who, confronted with the knowledge of “the goodness, wisdom and power of God” which is “manifest” through “the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence”, reject this knowledge. How, we might ask, could men be held unexcusable if this knowledge was not actually attainable by them? This brings us back to what Turretin said above. Though confessions are easily interpretable in different ways, it certainly seems that Presuppositionalism is forced to twist and distort the evident meaning of this line in order to lay (doubtful) claim to orthodoxy…

Romans 1:18-21

            Cornelius Van Til, the father of Presuppositionalism, says, concerning Romans 1:19-20, “Accordingly, it must now be added, as Calvin points out so fully on the basis of Paul’s words, that God is displayed before men in the works of his hands. This means that God, not some sort of God or some higher principle, but God, the true God, is displayed before men. That is the fact of the matter, whether men recognize it or not. Paul does mention the power of God in particular as the attribute that comes most prominently to the foreground, but he also says that men have the divinity (Theiotes) displayed before them. This does not mean that God is as fully displayed in nature as he is in the gospel of Christ…All too often it has been argued that on the basis of nature or by natural theology man should be able to establish the existence of a God, while it is only by Christ and through grace that we can know anything more fully about the nature of this God. Now it is true that we have the fullest revelation of the nature of God in Christ. On the other hand, it is also true that when man was created in paradise [by paradise Van Til means the Garden of Eden], he knew not merely of the existence of God, but he knew the nature of God as far as it had been revealed to him. It is for the loss of this actual knowledge of the nature of God that man, when he became a sinner, must be held responsible. If this is not done, men will be looked upon merely as unfortunates who have not had the good fortune of having had the right information about God.”[14] For Van Til, the rejection of the knowledge of God to which Romans 1:18-21 refers, for which men are held responsible, happened at the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Is this the traditional interpretation of Romans 1:18-21?

            Note, first of all, that for John Calvin these verses apply to all mankind, and are true of all men (regenerate and unregenerate) of all time.[15] John Calvin says, for example, “When he says that God made it [His own existence, power and eternal nature] manifest to them: the meaning is, that mankind was created to this end, that he be the contemplator of this excellent work, the world: that his eyes were given to him in order that seeing such a beautiful image, he would be brought to know the author himself that made it.”[16] Calvin goes on to say that “But he [humankind] does not deduce, by himself, all the things that can be considered in God, but he shows that we come to know his power and eternal divinity. For it is of necessity that he who is the author of all things, be without beginning and consist of himself. ”[17] He goes on to state that though such knowledge should bring us to worship the one true God, due to our blindness it does not. Rather, though we come to know of the existence and power of the one true God (in spite of our blindness), we cannot come to know this true God so as to worship him (because of our blindness).[18] Thus, humans are guilty. But which humans? One final quote from Calvin’s commentary on Romans should suffice to make this point quite clear, “Because they knew God. He declares here, quite obviously, that God made a knowledge of his majesty run [the French word descouler gives the notion of a river running down a mountain] down into the spirits of all men: which is to say that he has shown himself so much, by his works, that they are forced to see that which they do not seek by themselves, that is, that there is a God.”[19] There can be no doubt as to how John Calvin though these verses should be interpreted. But perhaps some would not consider him “up-to-date”? Let us consider, in closing, the thoughts of one of the most well-known contemporary reformed commentators, Douglas Moo, thinks about the proper interpretation of Romans 1:18-21.

            Douglas Moo answers the very question that we are asking here by noting the traditional answer, “Whose experience does Paul describe in these verses? Traditionally, it has been assumed almost without argument that Paul is depicting the situation of Gentiles.”[20] He notes that some recent scholarship has attempted to argue that Paul was talking about Adam and Eve, and the experience of the Fall, but states that the evidence falls overwhelmingly in favour of the traditional interpretation,[21] with the qualification that these verses my also include the Jews (and, thus, be referring to all humanity).[22] Moo notes that there are some important elements in this text that force us to accept the interpretation by which these verses apply to all humans of all times: first of all, the Greek terms are in the aorist tense, and, “Scholars have long recognized that the Greek aorist tense does not, in itself, indicate ‘one-time’ action; it can depict action of all kinds, including continuous and repeated action. Some grammarians would go even further and claim that the aorist (even in the indicative mood) has, in itself, no indication of time of action either.”[23] Therefore, it is better to understand this passage as being the experience of all men of all time. Secondly, “this view [the view espoused by Van Til: that these verses apply only to Adam and Eve] fails to explain the heart of this passage: the characterization of all those upon whom the wrath of God falls as those who possessed the truth of God but turned from it.”[24] Moo concludes that, “Paul says more than that all people experienced the consequences of an original turning away from God, or even that all people shared such an original turning away. He insists that those who turned were also those who knew better, and who are consequently deserving of God's wrath. This, coupled with the obviously universal thrust of vv. 18 and 32, makes clear that this foolish and culpable rejection of the knowledge of God is repeated in every generation, by every individual.”[25]

            It seems, then, that one of the first Reformed theologians and Bible commentators (John Calvin), and at least one contemporary Reformed Bible commentator (Douglas Moo), agree, against Van Til, that Romans 1:18-21 is the experience of all humans of all times—that is, that God’s existence, power and divine nature is so manifest in the universe that all men know (at least in potency, if not in actuality) that God exists; but, because they reject this knowledge of God, they are reprehensible before God.

Concluding Thoughts

            Based upon our preliminary thoughts on Orthodoxy, and based upon our consideration of the thoughts of some reformed thinkers (we tried to choose those whom we thought would be taken as “most authoritative”, at least in relation to Presuppositionalism: John Calvin, Francis Turretin, J. Gresham Machen,[26] the Westminster Confession, and the properly interpreted divinely inspired scriptures), the question begs asking: Is Presuppositionalism, at least in part (specifically in its denial of the very first line of the very first article of the very first chapter of the Westminster confession) Unorthodox?

[1]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (2007; repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012), 7.

[2]Ibid., 4.

[3]Ibid., 9. Cf. Ibid., 10.

[4]Ibid., 16.

[5]Calvin, IRC, t.1, c.5, s. 6. My translation. Italics are mine. In French we read, « Je voulais seulement observer ici qu’il y a une voie commune aux païens et aux croyants de l’église de rechercher Dieu, en suivant ses traces, comme ils sont esquissés dans le firmament et sur la terre, comme les peintures de son image. » Beveridge translates this line as: “I only wish to observe here that this method of investigating the divine perfections, by tracing the lineament of his countenance as shadowed forth in the firmament and on the earth, is common both to those within and to those without the pale of the church. (Calvin, IRC, trans. Beveridge, 20.)”

[6]Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elentic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing: 1992-97), 1:6.


[8]Cf. Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, vol. 5 of In Defense of the Faith (1974; repr., Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1982), 100.

[9]Turretin, IET, 6.

[10]Turretin, IET, 6.

[11]J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1965.), 15.

[12]Ibid., 17.

[13]Ibid., 16.

[14]Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, vol. 5 of In Defense of the Faith (1974; repr., Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1982), 100.

[15]Jean Calvin, Commentaires sur l’épîstre aux Romains, dans Commentaires de Jehan Calvin sur le Nouveau Testament (Paris : Librairie de Ch. Meyrueis et co., 1855), 3 : 25-27.

[16]Ibid., 26. My translation. In French we read, “Quand il dit que Dieu le leur a manifesté : le sens est, que l'homme a esté créé à ceste fin qu'il fust contemplateur de cest excellent ouvrage du monde : que les yeux luy ont esté donnez afin qu'en regardant une si belle image, il soit amené à cognoistre l'autheur mesme qui l'a faite.”

[17]Ibid. My Translation. In French we read, “Or il ne déduit pas par le menu toutes les choses qui peuvent
estre considérées en Dieu, mais il monstre qu'on parvient jusques à cognoistre sa puissance et Divinité éternelle. Car il faut nécessairement que celuy qui est autheur de toutes choses, soit sans commencement, et consiste de soy-mesme. »


[19]Ibid. My Translation. In French we read, “Pource qu'ayons cognu Dieu. Il déclare yci apertement, que Dieu a fait descouler dedans les esprits de tous hommes une cognoissance de sa majesté : c'est-à-dire qu'il s'est tellement démonstre par ses oeuvres, qu'il leur est force de veoir ce qu'ils ne cherchent pas d'euxmesmes, asçavoir qu'il y a quelque Dieu. »

[20]Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 96.

[21]Ibid., 96-98.

[22]Ibid., 97.

[23]Ibid., 98fn21.

[24]Ibid., 98.


[26]To this list could also be added the names of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Chrysostome, B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and many others.