The title of this post comes from George Hunsinger’s excellent collection of essays on the theology of Karl Barth. I do not intend to discuss Hunsinger’s book in this post; I merely thought that its title provides a helpful summary of the kinds of topics that I am interested in exploring here on Reformissio. This is not to say that I will only ever write within the confines of these three areas. However, they do represent, broadly speaking, the general themes that I hope to discuss on this blog in the days to come. Without further adieu, here they are:
The term ‘evangelical’ has unfortunately fallen on hard times in some quarters, suffering from ambiguity, abuse, or neglect. I am interested in reclaiming this term and retrieving its fundamental meaning as bound up with the evangel, that is the gospel. Christians are people of the gospel and should therefore be evangelical. It is true that we are saved by Christ, but as Calvin would remind us, Christ is never ‘bare’ but always comes to us ‘clothed in the gospel’. Without the gospel we have nothing; with the gospel we have everything. According to Acts 1:8, the disciples of Jesus are primarily his “witnesses”, and they can only fulfill this commission insofar as they remain faithful to the gospel. For this reason, I hope to discuss issues that are in some way related to our understanding of the gospel in the interest of ensuring that it is truly the gospel that we are proclaiming. This may involve some interaction with those who carry the label ‘evangelical’ yet whose conceptions of the gospel are perhaps somewhat deficient. While my ultimate goal is not to be critical or polemical, sometimes critique is necessary in order to be constructive. I am convinced that whatever may be the other connotations associated with the term, there can be no ‘evangelical’ without the evangel. Therefore, the driving force behind most, if not all of my posts here will be the desire to be faithful to the gospel. My aim is eminently practical: I am always asking “How will this preach?”
By ‘catholic’, I have in mind two applications of the term. First, I am interested in discussing topics related to the sphere that the word ‘catholic’ commonly denotes, namely Roman Catholicism. I live in a place that has been dominated for centuries by Roman Catholicism, where the Reformation made little lasting impact. As an evangelical Protestant (Reformed Baptist to be precise), I am confronted nearly every day with the challenge that Roman Catholicism continues to present to me in both positive and negative ways. I am one of those in the seeming minority that believes that while many encouraging changes have occurred in Rome, the fundamental disputes that initially gave birth to the Reformation have not been adequately resolved. I have a deeply personal interest, therefore, in discussing issues that relate to Roman Catholicism and how they interface with evangelical theology and practice. Again, my goal is not to be polemical or critical for its own sake. I love the church of Christ, and any critiques are ultimately intended for its upbuilding.
The second application of the term ‘catholic’ has to do with its proper meaning, that is ‘universal’. I admit that for much of my life I was ignorant of the treasury of theological riches that are to be found in the history of the church catholic, and I am just at the beginning of discovering them. It is a terrible misconstrual of ‘sola Scriptura’ the idea that ‘it is just myself and my Bible’, that we can read Scripture without preconceptions or biases, and that we therefore do not have need of listening to Scripture along with the rest of the church. Rarely, in fact, were the books of Scripture ever addressed simply to individuals; usually they were written to communities with the intention of being read and understood in the context of those communities. For this reason, I intend to quote and interact with a number of theologians on this blog. Currently (though this will always be subject to change) my primary interests are John Calvin, Karl Barth, T.F. Torrance, Irenaeus, Athanasius and the rest of the pro-Nicene tradition. I will not cite them as though they were some kind of magisterial authority on par with Scripture. Instead I will endeavour to listen along with them, correcting and being corrected, to the Word of God written in which the Word of God himself continues to authoritatively address his church. Stated succinctly, I am interested in theological retrieval that informs theological exegesis.
I mentioned above that I am a Reformed Baptist. I am Baptist because I believe in the confessional nature of the church, and I am Reformed because I locate myself in the theological stream that passes through the Reformation, particularly through the life and thought of John Calvin. This is not to say that I agree with everything that Calvin and the tradition that succeeded him taught. In fact there is much that I do not share. Nevertheless, it is the Reformed tradition at its best that always seeks to be semper reformanda, “always reforming”. Although not as well known, it is the still-developing strand of “evangelical Calvinism” (in contrast with the federal system of the Westminster Standards), mediated primarily through Calvin and Knox, the Scots Confession of 1560 and a number of Scottish divines up to and including T.F. Torrance, with which I most closely identify. It is my hope to be able to contribute on this blog to the ongoing conversation regarding this strand of Reformed theology and help to promote it on a wider scale. It is this version of Reformed thought that I find most compelling and ultimately most truly faithful to the gospel, which brings me full circle to the beginning.