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Did The Galatian Judiazers Love The Lord?

This And Other Embarassing Questions That Polemics Raises

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Odium theologium is a rather ugly sounding Latin expression that was used in days gone by to refer to the bitter doctrinal rivalries that were fairly common among theologians of all stripes. These ardent polemical debates did at times degenerate into acrimonious personal attacks. Because of this we are prone-living as we like to assume in a kinder and gentler time-to dismiss the need for polemics simply because the language used in such clashes strikes us as so offensive. Unfortunately, as Robert D. Preus points out, some people mistakenly conclude that there is some inevitable connection between orthodoxy and bitter invective and plain belligerence. (1) The heated exchange, for example, that took place between the highly acclaimed Arminian John Wesley and his equally celebrated Calvinistic opponent Augustus Toplady quickly comes to mind. Both men were stalwart evangelicals. Both had the courage of their convictions, and each man did his best to articulate and defend his position. One cannot read their diatribes without being impressed with their rhetorical, literary and even satirical skills. But their exchange is nonetheless so marred by its acidity of language as to rightly be considered scandalous and a glaring blemish on both men's careers. (2)

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1 [ Back ] Robert D. Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism: A Study of Theological Prolegomena I (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1970), p. 33. Preus provides us with some cautionary words on how polemical theology is to be conducted.
2 [ Back ] Cf. George Lawton, Within the Rock of Ages: The Life and Work of Augustus Montague Toplady (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1983). This is an excellent piece of historical research on the controversy between Wesley and Toplady.
3 [ Back ] J. I. Packer, "Calvin the Theologian," John Calvin: A Collection of Distinguished Essays, ed. G. E. Duffield (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), p. 154.
4 [ Back ] Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield II, ed. John E. Meeter (Nutley: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973), p. 216. In the Reflections: classic and contemporary excerpts session of Christianity Today (June 17, 1996) the nineteenth-century Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte was quoted to re-enforce this mentality. "Eschew controversy, my brethren, as you would eschew the entrance to hell itself! Let them have it their own way. Let them talk, let them write, let them correct you, let them traduce you. Let them judge and condemn you, let them slay you. Rather let the truth of God itself suffer than that love suffer. You have not enough of the Divine nature in you to be a controversialist." The Apostle Paul, thankfully, did not share this perspective.
5 [ Back ] Jacques Ellul, "Theological Pluralism and the Unity of the Spirit," Church, Word, & Spirit: Historical and Theological Essays in Honor of Geoffrey A. Bromiley, ed. J. E. Bradley and R. A. Muller (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 216.
6 [ Back ] I have sought to analyze this indifference in my chapter "Does Theology Still Matter?" ed. John H. Armstrong, in The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Chicago: Moody, 1996), pp. 57-73.
7 [ Back ] David F. Wells, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 135.
8 [ Back ] This is how Colin E. Gunton defines the term in his The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 39.
9 [ Back ] David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 29.
10 [ Back ] Marvin Olasky, "Remarkable Providences: Where have you gone?" World (May 11/18, 1996, Vol. 11, No. 7), p. 30.
11 [ Back ] John F. MacArthur, Jr., Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994), p. 22.
12 [ Back ] William A. Donohue has captured the essence of this pervasive perspective in his book The New Freedom: Individualism and Collectivism in the Social Lives of Americans (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1990). He has put his finger on the pulse of neutralism when he writes," The pro-choice movement is as emblematic of the new freedom as any contemporary social current. It definitively represents the quest for autonomy, perfectly expresses the belief in rights without responsibilities, and vividly illustrates the meaning of moral neutrality" (p. 61).
13 [ Back ] The burgeoning men's movement known as Promise Keepers has openly declared war on what it sees as one of the great dangers facing the church in the twentieth century: denominationalism. One of the promises a Promise Keeper makes is to actively seek to break down denominational barriers in order to demonstrate visible unity (promise No. 6). These denominational barriers turn out to be doctrinal distinctives-and not secondary ones, but major theological differences that separate Protestants from Roman Catholics. The Promise Keepers are decidedly anti-creedal. Everything revolves around the vague notion of "loving Jesus" and "being born of the Spirit." But what does all of this mean? Cannot Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses claim affinity on these two points? Did the Galatian Judaizers "love Jesus"? If so, then why did the Apostle Paul thunder in apostolic anathema against them? If all that matters is some subjective, considered notion of how one feels about Jesus and the Spirit, who are we to question the sincerity of such groups? Promise Keepers are striving for ecclesiastical unity based on such things as common experiences or group dynamics rather than a common theological confession. Cf. Steve Rabey, "Where Is the Christians Men's Movement Headed?" Christianity Today, April 29, 1996, p. 46ff.
14 [ Back ] Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney II (rpt. Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), p. 218.
15 [ Back ] William G. T. Shedd, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (rpt. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1981), pp. 247-253.
16 [ Back ] Christianity Today, Dec. 12, 1994, pp. 36-37. For an extended treatment of the issues surrounding ECT, see R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995). Sproul addresses Packer's article in some detail (pp. 183-192).
17 [ Back ] Christianity Today, Nov. 14, 1994, p. 136.
18 [ Back ] Roman Catholicism does not merely reject the Reformation's understanding of sola fide, she pronounces it anathema; cf. "Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: Latin text with English translation" in The Creeds of Christendom II, ed. Philip Schaff (rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), pp. 77-206. I wonder how charismatics like Pat Robertson, Paul Crouch, and Jack Hayford, who have warmly embraced the Roman Catholic-Charismatic renewal, would react if the Council of Trent had pronounced an anathema on tongues speaking. Richard John Neuhaus has recently attempted to salvage (and defend) the role Trent played in the ongoing debate by contending that the whole thing is simply traceable to a misunderstanding. His argument is forced and disingenuous and very unconvincing. See his article "The Catholic Difference" in Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, eds. Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus (Dallas: Word, 1995).

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Issue: "Polemics: A Defense of Defending" Sept./Oct. 1996 Vol. 5 No. 5 Page number(s): 16-19

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