Monday, May 25, 2009

Problems with Biblical Inerrancy for Protestants

Those who claim that the "modern Protestant creeds" (like the Westminster Confession) are consistent with an inerrant Biblical canon have a central problem that few of them recognize.

In essence, what they are saying is that the earliest Christians who articulated the creeds (the Apostles Creed, the Nicean Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, the Athanasian Creed, etc.) screwed up, so others tried again - and screwed up again, so others tried again and finally got it right. The most obvious problem is asserting that those who were closest to the actual events and early prophets somehow didn’t understand them and their teachings as well as those who came later. Using that logic, and that logic alone, Mormons must understand better than orthodox Protestants, since Mormons came later. That’s not the logic I would use, but it is exactly the logic many use to justify their adherence to the specific creeds they accept and their rejection of the earlier creeds.

These people claim the later creeds are more accurate; Mormons claim the earlier creeds are more accurate. The most ironic part of their argument is that Protestantism was founded on the idea that the Catholic Church had misconstrued the earlier creeds - that Protestantism was necessary to return to a more correct version of what the Gospel had meant prior to the changes over time - to “go back”, if you will, to the earlier, “correct” understanding. The problem is that this leaves people arguing both sides of this coin ("The later creeds are more accurate, because they better reflect the earlier understanding, but any creeds developed even later are inaccurate - because they came later.")

My suggestion for these people is simple: "Pick one stance and argue it; just make sure the one you pick doesn’t justify the Mormon position even more than your own."


Mike Tea said...

That is a very interesting post but a little too general perhaps. I probably hold the view you are questioning but don't really see myself in your remarks. Could you be more specific about what you mean by "earlier creeds" and "later creeds"?

Papa D said...

Sure, Mike - and thanks for stopping by. Please forgive the length of this response.

There are two established lines of thought that are identified as generally dominant in historical analysis: 1) what can be termed "Social Darwinism" (the idea that society is evolving linearly - that the later societies and ideas and understandings are, irrevocably, more advanced and "correct" than the earlier ones); 2) what can be termed "fundamentalism" (a bad name in some people's eyes given the use of "fundamentalist Islam", "FLDS", etc. - but really nothing more than the idea that modern, "advanced" societies and ideas have become corrupted over time - that the earlier ones were more "pure" and "correct" than the newer ones).

The issue for Protestants (generically) is that they fit in the middle of this discussion, in some important ways. Their theologies were developed after (and in response to) what they view as Catholicism's move away from earlier truth, so their modern creeds (like the Westminster Confession) are presented as a more advanced, enlightened view of God - but they also claim to be a return to a purer understanding of Biblical teaching. On one hand, the claim is that they are more evolved than those apostate Catholics, but, on the other hand, the claim is that the even earlier Christians (the ones who won the theological battles that led to the formation of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc.) were incorrect in their earlier understanding. SO, they claim "evolved" understanding while simultaneously claiming a return to an earlier understanding.

That has no tension in and of itself, when juxtaposed only with earlier Catholicism, but it becomes an issue when Mormonism (and Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses and other "later" movements) enters the picture. These movements came even later than mainstream Protestantism, so Protestants have to deny the claim of "evolved understanding" based on a time line. Likewise, these movements claim to be a purer return to the earliest teachings of Jesus, which cuts to the heart of the Protestant claim. In some ways, each of these movements can be seen as "just another Protestant movement (no matter how each of them frames it internally), but they are rejected by the Protestant mainstream - and it is this rejection that causes the major tension. By denying that these more modern movements are "Protestant", Protestantism actually diminishes its original claim to authority - which, essentially, is Bible-based and only Bible-based through inspired "more modern" leaders. It eliminates the "we are better because we are more evolved" argument and turns it into JUST a debate over who interprets the Bible correctly.

For Protestants who don't believe in an inerrant Bible, that tension is FAR less pronounced - since interpreting the Bible can be weighed and judged by individuals. Those who believe the Bible is inerrant, however, must let go of their reliance on creeds written by later theologians and argue strictly from the Bible in order to be consistent - and I believe strongly that such arguments are inherently unresolvable.

Mormons tend to emphasize the Gospels and the words of Jesus; many Protestants tend to emphasize the words of Paul. Mormons are free to accept or reject specific interpretations; inerrancy, otoh, almost forces absolutes for many Protestants - which, again, puts them in the situation of arguing for the "later" creeds but the "earlier" meaning of scripture.

The heart of my point is that inerrancy (and a closed canon) brings with it a set of difficulties that few proponents recognize - that arguing for the earliest possible meaning of scripture causes tension with simultaneously arguing for the later recitation of creeds, many of which aren't clear to others as faithful statements of Biblical teaching. It is the combination of inerrant scripture and "modern" creeds that is the heart of this post - and too many Protestants never tackle that tension directly.

Stephen said...

These people claim the later creeds are more accurate; Mormons claim the earlier creeds are more accurate. The most ironic part of their argument is that Protestantism was founded on the idea that the Catholic Church had misconstrued the earlier creeds - that Protestantism was necessary to return to a more correct version of what the Gospel had meant prior to the changes over time - to “go back”, if you will, to the earlier, “correct” understanding.Interesting thoughts, I'm glad you shared them. I've seen a lot of that myself in looking at things.

Not to mention, how do I confirm I'm really that much smarter than everyone else so that I'm right while 500 years of Catholics are wrong.

Or the early saints, whose Bible included The Pearl, The Shepherd of Hermes, and other texts, were somehow wrong, but those who have a Bible without those texts are right.

Or the Bibles with the Book of Enoch. It is easy when we are talking only English language Bibles to forget that there were a lot of canons, and still are.

Papa D said...

Yeah, Stephen, I didn't even address the issue of inerrancy and multiple versions of the canon - and multiple translations. That's a whole different post, and, frankly, I didn't address it because it seems so simple to me that I have a hard time believing some people don't understand that fundamental problem.

Seriously, there are people who claim the Bible is inerrant - while using different translations of it that actually change meanings subtly of some verses.

Mike Tea said...

Papa D

I think I understand better now what you are saying and I suggest that the problem you present only exists because your basic premise is wrong. Protestants do not create later “creeds” because they consider the earliest creeds were somehow flawed, indeed the earliest creeds, Nicaea in particular, that developed in the first few centuries of the church are universally accepted by Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Perhaps it would help if we better understand the difference between creeds and confessions and how and why each developed. Certainly confessions are not creeds and it is important to know this.

The creeds developed in the early church were theological statements designed to clarify biblical truth and to refute heretical teachings. They are carefully and meticulously argued from the Bible and are not, as some believe, the best attempt of the church to work out what they were supposed to believe because truth had been lost in apostasy.

They are universally subscribed to within the Christian community and form the basis of how we are to understand from Scripture the nature of the godhead and the purposes of God in Creation and Redemption.

The later Confessions are the product of the Reformation and it is a mistake to think that they are considered an improvement on the early creeds. Indeed, those people who drafted the Confessions looked back to both the Scripture and the Creeds to develop their Confessions.

Unlike the Creeds the Confessions are local rather than universal in their influence. The reason for this is that when the Creeds were developed there was one universal Church that was considered apostolic, orthodox and catholic and it was called the Great Church. It was not the Roman Catholic Church, as popularly believed, which came along some time later.

The Creeds were received universally because the church was one universal church. That is not to say that there were not dissenters, and counsels of the church were called from time to time to deal with dissent and heresy. But for the great majority of Christians the Creeds helped define and clarify what they believed.

The Confessions are local because they were drawn up to deal with local situations. After the Reformation different principalities in Europe followed different ways depending on whether their allegiance was to the pope and Rome or to the Prince and the Reformers. As each area chose its side those who followed the Reformers drafted Confessions that would answer questions that arose from the circumstances of Reformation and that were not dealt with in the Creeds or were considered as needing further clarification in light of changed circumstances.

They are called Confessions because those who chose a particular grouping confessed the tenets contained therein. When you read the Confessions they are remarkably similar and all draw on the Creeds that are received universally and are themselves drawn from the Bible. However the Confessions are not considered as universally binding as are the Creeds because they were not developed by the whole church.

The Protestant churches, then, do not fall between two stools as you suggest because their position is in line with the Bible and the Creeds, and the Confessions were drafted to deal with error in the church and bring believers back to those early creedal and biblical tenets.

Of course, there will always be as there have always been dissenters and aberrant groups but what I have described is where most Protestant believers stand.

Papa D said...

Mike, I understood everything you just said when I wrote the post. I've studied this as the only Mormon in a Divinity School comprised mainly of Protestants and Catholics (along with adherents of just about every "major" non-Christian religion on the planet).

In practical terms, there is no difference between the creeds and the confessions for those who articulated and accepted them. That's why I put "modern Protestant creeds" in quotation marks. They absolutely were articulated for the same reason - as you said to establish the baseline concepts to which those believers could point and say, "At the core, this is what we believe."

The central focus of the post is the effect of the belief in Biblical inerrancy on this issue (and the general idea of inerrancy itself) - NOT the simple existence of creeds or confessions.

In re-reading the post, I realized that I wasn't clear enough in one thing I said. The Protestant view of Catholicism "misconstruing" the earlier creeds was not meant to say that the Catholics had incorrectly written the creeds; it was meant to say that the Catholic Church had taken those creeds and misapplied them in practice - had gone beyond the doctrine of the creeds and established other doctrines and practices that were "apostate" or "corrupt" or "incorrect". Much, if not all, of the motivation to create and accept new creeds (confessions) was the result of this. It is indisputable fact, based on the words of the reformers themselves.

Finally, the core tension I addressed in one of my comments is that, from a strictly objective, analytical standpoint, Mormonism really is another Christian, Protestant denomination. It is the denial of that fact by Protestants that leads to the dilemma I addressed here - that not allowing the Mormon Articles of Faith, for example, to be seen as our own legitimate version of the modern Protestant confessions is a stark double standard that belies your claim that confessions are nothing more than localized statements of belief. After all, Calvin and Luther and Wesley were MILES apart (irreconcilably, in some cases) on some core things, but they still were accepted as Christian even with their serious theological differences.

The main reason that this is so while Joseph Smith is not accepted, at the most basic level, is that the Protestants of his day could not accept someone who did not accept the claims of expired prophetic authority and the closed canon - and the most vocal opponents were (and still are) those who believe in Biblical inerrancy (and the attendant creedal and confessional inerrancy). Joseph disagreed with their modern creeds/confessions, so he was rejected.

Semantics aside, it is that issue that is the heart of this post - and it really is a problem for the Protestant world. When it comes right down to it, if confessing the name of Christ is enough to be considered Christian, since there exist many serious doctrinal and theological disagreements among the Protestant denominations, why the double standard for Mormons who absolutely and obviously confess the name of Christ? The answer is a selective application of Biblical and creedal/confessional inerrancy - rejecting Mormonism for its different beliefs regarding the nature and meaning of scripture and for its different "confession", while not rejecting "mainstream Christian denominations" for their different beliefs and "confessions".

That really is a serious problem, and I have only heard a handful of Protestants admit it and try to address it directly. Most have tried to nuance it away or ignore it completely - and that only highlights how serious the issue really is.

Mike Tea said...

Papa D

Thanks for your answer. Mormonism is founded on the claim that all the creeds of Christendom are abominable and all who profess them corrupt.

It has been the mantra of the Mormon Church that it is neither Catholic nor Protestant but Restored.

More recently I find Mormons truly put out at the idea that these apostate churches with their “abominable creeds don’t accept Mormonism as another denomination of Christianity.

I appreciate of course that you put your point “in principle” but, frankly, I am surprised that in your study of the creeds of Christendom you should be so anxious that the Articles of faith should be seen as on a par with abominable creeds.

I understand that you see no significant difference between creeds and confessions but I believe the difference is there and is significant. As I have said before, the Creeds are considered fundamental and binding on all Christians.They are non-negotiable and fall into the category of dogma.

On that basis Joseph Smith is excluded from the Christian Commonwealth.

You emphasise the differences between different Christian leaders and denominations and I don’t wish to play those down but you need to understand the difference between the way the Christian Churches have traditionally approached doctrine as opposed to the way a fundamentalist (I am trying to avoid the world cult) might approach it.

The fundamentalist of any colour – Christian included – considers that all issues operate on the same level, from the nature of God to the organisational structure of the church, and if anyone disagrees then they are excluded.

Christian practice has been to divide issues into three categories: Dogma, Doctrine and Interpretation.

The Creeds fall into the category of Dogma and are, as I have said, universally accepted in Christendom. From the Cappadocian Fathers, through Augustine of Hippo, to Luther, Calvin, Wesley and Whitefield and beyond all accept the Creeds.

Joseph Smith specifically and comprehensively dismissed and condemned the universally accepted Creeds of the church and willingly excluded himself. It is a strange thing indeed to find Mormons seeking some sort of inclusion now.

The Confessions fall into the categories of doctrine and the difference is easily illustrated. A Baptist believes in believer’s baptism while an Episcopalian would subscribe to infant baptism. They disagree on the doctrine but can still call each other Christian because they both hold to the established dogmas explained in the Creeds.

They would disagree on aspects of church governance, with one holding to a Congregational system while the other subscribes to a magisterial system. Yet they are brothers insofar as they both hold to the Creeds.

Joseph Smith would disagree on dogma, doctrine and interpretation so it is difficult to understand where you expect him to fit in.

I appreciate and am familiar with the argument that “believing in Christ” may be considered a sort of lowest common denominator, a sort of dogma category item as explained above, but on the basis that all Christians subscribe to the dogma of the Creeds on this issue and Joseph Smith is about as distant as anyone could be from that position I see no common ground on which the respective parties can stand and share anything in common.

On the issue you mention in passing of dead prophetic leadership and a closed canon I put it to you that this is exactly the position of the Mormon Church. You work from a closed canon and your leaders show no evidence of filling the role of prophetic leadership.

I know they are called prophets and that you maintain that the canon is open. I am familiar with the accepted and unquestioned claim that the church is lead by prophecy but there is absolutely no evidence for it.

It seems to me, then, that it is not Protestants who have something to prove but Mormons. Why seek membership of a society that Joseph Smith roundly condemned? Why seek to associate with creeds that he declared abominable? It all seems a far cry from the Mormonism I knew.

Papa D said...

Mike, all I can say is:

1) Again, I understand what you are saying about how Protestants see the creeds and the confessions. I get it; I really do. I'm NOT talking about the theoretical view in this post; I'm talking about the practical application. There is a stark difference in my opinion between the two, and very few see it.

2) I am NOT trying to get mainstream Christianity to accept Mormonism as just another Protestant denomination. I'm talking about a very narrow, objective criteria for judging denominations - and one specific way in which an objective observer would say that Mormonism is a Protestant denomination. I don't want the Articles of Faith to "be seen as on par with the creeds"; I'm saying they are like the confessions in the common definition you have provided (statements of "local" belief by a particular denomination) - which, frankly, is objectively indisputable. I'm NOT comparing them qualitatively and saying they are "on par" in that regard - and I never even implied that in the actual words I used.

3) You said, "As I have said before, the Creeds are considered fundamental and binding on all Christians. They are non-negotiable and fall into the category of dogma." I disagree, as I have studied and spoken with many Christians who disagree STRONGLY with certain creeds - who accept certain creeds and not others. (I'm not talking of the later Protestant confessions here; I'm talking explicitly about the earlier Creeds.) Arguments and disagreements of historic proportion have occurred over BOTH the creeds and the confessions, so saying they are "binding on all Christians" is a massive stretch, imo. Sure, there are lots of Christians who would agree with you, but there are LOTS of others who would not.

4) Your generalization of fundamentalists in this conversation is humorous, to put it mildly and kindly. I am about as non-fundamentalist as it gets in religious terms - and Mormonism is a fascinating mix of fundamentalism and progressive liberalism.

5) Please, stop saying that I "must understand . . ." - then giving basic commentary I know backward and forward. I mean this sincerely: I literally understand everything you have written from an academic standpoint; I simply disagree on a practical level. That's all.

6) I believe there is solid evidence that Joseph had essentially no focus on Catholicism as a young man. Given the totality of his words, I believe when he said "their creeds" he was referring to the later Protestant confessions. Seriously, from the lack of writing about it, he seems to have ignored Catholicism almost completely.

7) Finally, Mormonism is in total harmony with the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed - so, according to what you have written, it should be viewed **by Protestants** exactly as they view each other.

That's the dilemma I address in this post - that Protestants have to change the rules when it comes to Mormonism. I'm NOT addressing here what Mormons say about their relationship; I'm only addressing what Protestants say about it.

Mike Tea said...

Papa D

I am sorry if I have appeared condescending in any way. It is my sad experience when speaking to Mormons that when they say they know they usually don’t and the level of ignorance of these things among Mormons is depressing so I cannot and do not assume anything even when it is insisted upon. No offense is intended and I hope none taken. Neither was I suggesting that you were a fundamentalist. I was drawing a distinction between how a fundamentalist approach (that of the typical Mormon) would differ from the typical and traditional approach within the Christian Church.

I take your point about the Articles of Faith being a Confession and have no difficulty in accepting that. They are a confession of Mormon beliefs but they are not a local confession of Christian beliefs as defined in both Scripture and the Creeds. To call them a Confession and on that basis posit the problem as you do is to bypass the insuperable problems they present to the Christian community.

The first Article of Faith alone is hugely problematic in that it sounds Trinitarian but is actually polytheistic, one of the heresies the Creeds were written to refute. Such a view of the godhead is problematic, not to mention the ambiguous way it is presented, i.e. it doesn’t sound like what it actually means to a Mormon.

Mormonism is not rejected on the basis of Confessions but of Scripture and Creeds. Using an example I have already discussed, Mormons believe in baptism by immersion and can be said to stand in the Baptist tradition in this respect. However, while an Anglican may accept a Baptist as a fellow Christian this can’t be true of Mormons, not on the basis of Mormonism’s Confession but on the basis of its utter rejection of the Dogmas of the Christian Church.

I have no doubt that there is evidence that not all Christians accept the Creeds but I am talking about what is overwhelmingly accepted in the Christian community and its various traditions and denominations not what some individuals here and there believe. There is anecdotal evidence that the Book of Mormon is rejected by Mormons as an historical document but I don’t look to this to understand Mormonism as believed by the majority and taught by Mormon leaders.

I mentioned Catholicism because it is popularly believed among Mormons that the Catholic Church presided over and dictated the Creeds. Of course Joseph Smith didn’t specifically reject Catholicism but then he didn’t any other church (perhaps the Presbyterians). However, given that he claimed that all the Creeds of all the churches were abominable then it seems reasonable to assume that the Catholics are in there somewhere.

If he did mean the Confessions the problem remains because the drafters of the Confessions looked to the Creeds as their base line along with the Bible. Whichever way you look at it the Creeds, based on careful interpretation of Scripture, are defining for Christians and I would like to see it proved as you suggest that Mormonism is in total harmony with the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. I have heard Mormons insist that since Mormons express their faith in the same language as Christians therefore they are Christians but I am sure you can’t mean that.

Perhaps you could unpack and illustrate what you are saying. Who disagrees with the Creeds? How does Mormonism sit in harmony with the Creeds?

Papa D said...

Mike, Here is the standard text for the Apostles Creed, with my commentary on each point in parentheses - parsing the words only for what they actually say, which I believe is the only fair and reasonable thing to do with statements this old:

1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. (The characteristics of the Father might be different, but this is totally consistent with Mormonism.)
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. (To avoid confusion, since there are numerous references in the Bible to the children of God and the sons of God, it would be clearer to say "only begotten Son" - but, characteristics aside, this also is Mormon to the core.)
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. (Yes, Mormon.)
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. (Absolutely)
5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. (Yes)
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. (We believe this literally.)
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. (Yes)
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit, (Again, characteristics aside, this absolutely is a Mormon teaching.)
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, (since "catholic" means "universal", there is no clash with Mormonism here - in the same way that Protestant denominations can claim to accept it.)
10. the forgiveness of sins, (No doubt)
11. the resurrection of the body, (Yes, again literally)
12. and the life everlasting. (Yes, even if the nature of that life is different than Protestant beliefs.)

So, when the words themselves are parsed strictly for what they say, this could be read in any Mormon meeting and be accepted as written. The only conflict comes when the words are interpreted to mean more than what they actually say when parsed.

Papa D said...

The Nicene Creed is interesting, since it was modified (and accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church) 56 years after it was first published by the Council of Nicea (in the version used by the Roman Catholic Church). There are at least four distinct versions of the Nicene Creed, with critical and obvious differences, which argues against an exact statement that is accepted by all Christians as normative and mandatory. It's one thing to say it is so, but when there are multiple, slightly different (in important ways) versions, it is not so in practical application - as I have said.

Here is the text from the first (325 AD) version, used by the Roman Catholic Church:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible." (Yes, this fits Mormonism - every bit as much as it fits Protestantism, given the wording ansd the way that the next sentence is worded.)

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;" (This also fits Mormonism, since parsing the words brings out the distinction between "one God" (the Father) and "one Lord" (the Son) who is "God of God" (which can be translated "God who came from God" just as I am Ray of Curtis - this standard usage has been applied to father/son combinations for millennia - and this construct is perfectly consistent with Mormon theology) - and "of one substance with the Father" (which also is what Mormonism teaches when you actually parse the meaning of the words - since we believe the Father and the Son share the same "genetic DNA", if you will - even as I know how strange that phrasing is to a Protestant, it is the literal parsed meaning of the words themselves).

"By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];" (Mormonism teaches this unequivocally.)

"He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;" (No conflict whatsoever here.)

"From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." (Yes)

"And in the Holy Ghost." (Yes)

Again, when the words are parsed carefully and only defined for what they actually say (not filterred through any interpretive lens), there is no problem or conflict with Mormon theology. There are MANY Mormons who don't understand this, and there are MANY Protetsants who insert interpretations into the text that create conflict with Mormonism, but there is no conlfict in the parsed words themselves.

Papa D said...

I need to add one more thing, since it strikes at the very heart of Mike's argument.

MANY evangelicals, especially, who hold to the belief in Biblical inerrancy and "sola scriptura" (meaning "by scripture alone") don't accept the Creeds as authoritative - since they are extra-scriptural. These Christians don't reject the creeds, necessarily (some do; some don't), but they don't view them as Mike has described - as authoritative and normative and the foundation of consensus belief.

Mike, I didn't ask this earlier, and I apologize for that:

What is your religious affiliation? Do you believe in Biblical inerrancy? Do you believe in "sola scriptura"?

If I had known before this, I might have worded my answers a little differently - or admitted that we might be talking past each other, since I might not have been addressing your own beliefs at all in this post.

Mike Tea said...

There is a lot in the last 3 posts so you will forgive me if I answer them piecemeal.

I believe the Bible we have is thoroughly reliable and sufficient to instruct us for salvation and equip us for every good work (2 Tim.3:16) I avoid the word 'inerrant' because people so frequently misunderstand it. It is the final authority regarding all issues of faith and the Christian life.

Sola Scriptura does not mean that it is the only authority but the final authority, i.e. all other authorities are tested by it. In this way all Christians recognise the Creeds, Confessions, other writings as authoritative in helping us better understand our faith but only as far as they follow the final authority of Scripture.

I challenge the notion that many Evangelicals disavow the Creeds and wonder where you get this idea from. Christians view sermons as authoritative, books by inspired Christians, theologies and commentaries but every Christian has the responsibility to test all by Scripture, to embrace the truth and refute the error. No authroity stands above or on a par with the Bible however.

Papa D said...

Mike, please forgive me - as I am going to be absolutely blunt in this comment. I also am going to CAPLOCK a bit - not to shout, but simply for emphasis.

In one of your comments, you said that Mormons don't really understand what they say they understand - and you have continued to say that subtly even in your last comment. There is one core problem with that assertion here - that you keep misreading my words and assuming into them what I am not saying.

For example, you said:

"I challenge the notion that many Evangelicals disavow the Creeds and wonder where you get this idea from."

I NEVER said that many evangelicals disavow the Creeds.

My exact words were:

"These Christians don't reject the creeds, necessarily (some do; some don't), but they don't view them as Mike has described - as authoritative and normative and the foundation of consensus belief." (and, BTW, I got that wording straight from their own mouths, in person, in very deep conversations)

You said:

"They are universally subscribed to within the Christian community and form the basis of how we are to understand from Scripture the nature of the godhead and the purposes of God in Creation and Redemption."

FROM A PRACTICAL STANDPOINT, you are saying that the Creeds are the lens through which scripture is interpreted by ALL Christians. That simply is false. There are many Christians, especially those who believe in "sola scriptura", for whom the Creeds absolutely are secondary to the scriptures themselves - NOT the lens through which scripture is interpreted.

That has been my point all along - that those who place the Bible above all else, believe the Bible is inerrant and use the Creeds as a secondary source have a real problem when it comes to the existence of modern confessions - including, again from a practical standpoint, the Mormon Articles of Faith. Apparently, that's not you, but it is some other Christians. I've talked directly with many of them (both in MA and in AL), so your assertion that they don't exist is refuted by my personal experience.

I can't carry on this conversation if you keep doing what you keep accusing me of doing - misreading my comments and not understanding the topic about which I am writing. You keep straying WAY outside the scope of what I actually wrote, and you keep misrepresenting what I actually wrote - and I simply refuse to argue about positions I neither take nor espouse nor accept.

PLEASE, try to read more carefully and address the points I am making as I am making them. I focus carefully on the words I choose; please parse them for what they actually say.

Mike Tea said...

I am sorry PD if we are misunderstanding each other but it was you who assserted that "Many evangelicals don't accept the Creeds as authoritative" and that is what I have responded to. I know "many evangelicals" and regard myself as someone who has applied himself to the faith sufficiently to know what "many evangelicals" believe.

The position you describe is the position I have explained in my post, i.e. that Evangelicals, indeed Christians of many stripes see the Creeds as authoritative not because they stand equal to Scripture but because they stand on Scripture when they describe the faith. Scripture alone is the final authority.

We do not see Scripture through the lens of the Creeds but judge the veracity of the Creeds by the test of Scripture. In this way the Creeds help us better understand Scripture without claiming parity with it, much as sermon helps us understand Scripture because of the careful and faithful exegesis of the preacher.

If the Mormon Creed were to be put to the test of the Bible in the same way then it would be found profoundly wanting and that is why it is rejected. Mormons place other texts, Creeds, Scriptures and so-called modern prophets above the bible and they are the final authority by which the Bible is tested.

I am profundly disappointed with the way you have attempted to harmonise the A of F with the Nicene Creed. You have done the very thing I felt sure a thoughtful man would not do, i.e. you have simply assumed that because both Creeds say, God, Jesus, salvation etc. they may be regarded as of equal worth. You are studying these things so surely you will know that what JS meant when he wrote the A of F is irreconcilably different to what was intended by those words in the Creed. I cannot find the words to express how disappointing it is to read that you think this is incosequential in the presnt discussion. It is making doctrine an incidental rather than a fundamental.

What have you acheived in making questions of doctrine a mere exercise in linguistics? Doctrine is not made by parsing words but mischief can be made and often is.

Papa D said...

Mike, since there obviously is a total lack of understanding occurring here (from your perspective by me and from my perspective by you), let's agree to disagree and let it end.

I think you are interpreting my words through your biased filter, and you think I am interpreting everything through mine. That's fine for each of us, but it isn't a good foundation for discussion of this particular topic.

I hope you keep reading my blog for other topics, since you are articulate and engaging, but let's drop this one - since I don't want it to go where it inevitably will go if it continues.

God bless you in all you do.

Papa D said...

Oh, and just as an aside, I think as much can be learned by what is NOT said as by what IS said. Maybe I'll write a separate post about that at some point.

Mike Tea said...

This is what I find about Mormons. They are so convinced of their own reasoning and arguments that it is intolerable that they should be challenged. That is why I find whenever I enage with Mormons I find them so - diseganging.

You asked me about my own affiliation and I, by honest oversight, didn't answer specifically. I was a Mormon for fourteen years and have been an Evangelical believer for twenty three years. I don't pretend to know everything but I have been around enough to know that the Mormon Creed cannot sit alongside the Creeds of Christendom on the flimsy basis you suggest. Here is a simple test.

You say you are studying the creeds. Look at all the Creeds and Confessions and find me two that are remotely as disparate in what they mean when they say what they say as are the A of F of the Mormon Church and the Christian Creeds. If the Christian Church can be shown to accept so disparate a set of Confessions then the A of F may be accepted alongside them.

Papa D said...

Mike, I suspected your affiliation, but I wasn't sure - and you are missing the ENTIRE point of this post.

You said:

"They are so convinced of their own reasoning and arguments that it is intolerable that they should be challenged. That is why I find whenever I enage with Mormons I find them so - diseganging."

As I said, that's your perspective - and you are welcome to it.

Disparage and insult me and all Mormons all you want; the fact is you have not understood and addressed the central point of this post at all - and I not going to engage and argue against a straw man argument with which I agree - an argument I have not made in the post or my comments. ***I agree 100% that, as to content, the Articles of Faith are radically different than the Protestant confessions - and I never said they were similar in content. In fact, I said explicitly that I wasn't talking about content - and yet you are obsessing about content.***

If you can't read what I have written and address ONLY what I actually said, I simply can't engage you - no matter how that might confirm your existing perception. I simply refuse to argue here about misrepresentations of what I've said. That's both pointless and never-ending, since you then can say anything you want and I'm left to bounce around addressing other things that have NO bearing whatsoever on this post.

This is the end of this discussion. I was totally sincere when I asked you to continue to comment on other threads - since most of them don't make the kind of very fine (as in narrow) point as this one does. You obviously are intelligent, and I'm sure you can identify and discuss the central points of most of my other posts, so I welcome your participation there.

Mike Tea said...

Papa D

I am truly sorry that it has come to such an abrupt and unsatisfactory end. And that you have felt agrieved about what I have written.

I think I understand what you are trying to say, i.e. that if you ignore the underlying purpose and meaning of each Creed then the A of F and the Nicene Creed can be perfectly harmonised and you have illustrated that. In doing so however you have blurred differences and refuse to talk about them. I think this is silly and even mischevious since people who don't know better will go away with the idea that all that fuss about Mormons not being Christians is a fuss about nothing and it isn't.

I had expected you to better understand, since you say you are studying the Creeds, that you cannot separate the underlying purpose and meaning of the Creeds from their wording and have them remain meaningful.

The Creeds were put together to combat the errors of subordinationism, which is what JWs teach, modalism, which Joseph Smith taught in his earliest days and polytheism, which Mormonism teaches today. To take the A of F and harmonise them with the Creeds of Christendom with no regard to meaning and content is positively misleading but you don't want to talk about that.

I understand that you want to talk about language alone and say, "Look, the Mormon Articles of faith sound remarkably close to the early Creeds! isn't it neat?" But it isn't because they don't mean the same thing. The first Article of Faith sounds Trinitarian to those unschooled in what Mormonism teaches and what Christians believe about God but can you say with your hand on your heart that it sits easily with the Trinitarian teaching intended in the Creeds?

Your "parsing" of words is a scandalous distortion of what the Creeds mean as opposed to what JS meant but you don't want to talk about that.

I am happy to leave it there if that is what you want but you have proved once again that when Mormons say they know they don't and I take no comfort from that. I am truly sorry that word games are more important to you than plain Christian truth.

Papa D said...

Mike, please understand how absolutely snotty you sound in the last paragraph - and let me illustrate one more time exactly why you are WAY off base - that you are being guilty of exactly what you accuse me and other Mormons of being

You said:

"I understand that you want to talk about language alone and say, "Look, the Mormon Articles of faith sound remarkably close to the early Creeds! isn't it neat?"

I have NEVER said that. In fact, that is NOWHERE close to ANY point I have made in the post or any of my comments. I have said more than once that the Articles of Faith are NOT similar in content to the Creeds and confessions - that, in fact, they do NOT "sound remarkably close to the early Creeds."

I am ending this discussion PURELY because you flat out refuse to (or are incapable of) understanding the points I am making. You continue to extrapolate your own central points from things I am not and have not said. Each time you make a summary statement, it is NOT what I have said - and I simply won't play that game. It's pointless.

Also, I did not say I am "studying the creeds". I said I have studied them intently, at one of the most famous Divinity Schools in the country. My professors included some of the most respected and well-known theologians in Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism and Buddhism. I'm ending this discussion specifically because it is the exact opposite of the conversations in which I was engaged there. Those discussions involved people who truly were listening intently to what the other person was saying, truly trying to understand, clarifying points of uncertainty and seeking mutual edification - even when ultimate agreement was impossible.

I have tried over and over again to clarify my point, since you obviously were not understanding it - and, in fact, were misunderstanding it greatly. You, however, can't see that - as each time you have responded, you simply have reiterated your original misunderstanding. This conversation is going nowhere principally because you can't understand and actively misrepresent what I am saying - and you refuse to consider that I might be right about that narrow point (that you don't understand what I'm saying).

It's MUCH easier to say, "See, all Mormons are close-minded, ignorant idiots - and it's impossible to engage them in conversation" than it is to consider that what I am saying about your assertions simply don't address my point in this post and my subsequent comments. I've quoted you directly and explained why your summaries are not accurate, but you haven't ONCE tried to adjust those statements; rather, you have stuck with your assertions and insisted that you were right and I am ignorant.

Hypocrisy is insidious, and most of us (myself included) are completely blind to our own hypocrisy. May I humbly submit in conclusion only one thing:

Consider carefully accusing someone else of an approach and action that is woven deeply into your own approach and action. You came here and read my post convinced of at least three things (1. that I am ignorant of this topic; 2. that I want Mormonism to be seen as like another Protestant religion; 3. that I am unwilling to engage disagreement) - and NOTHING I could say would be able to convince you otherwise. That is absolutely equivalent to what you are accusing of me when it comes to practice, and if you had read my extensive comments throughout the Bloggernacle and here you would understand how ludicrous each of those assumptions is. The ex-Mormon and inactive Mormon commenters with whom I interact regularly on at least two large sites would get a chuckle out of your assertions, to say the least.

I still invite you to comment here, but it must be with respect - and it must be focused on what I actually write, not what you assume before you even read my posts and comments. I have MANY heterodox views and MANY orthodox views - and I can guarantee you that what I say in many cases is NOT what you assume from all Mormons.

Papa D said...

I am closing comments on this thread - which I have never done before on this blog or any other blog on which I participate - as I have no desire to continue what has turned into a spat, complete with name-calling and insults. That approach doesn't interest me in the slightest - even if confirms someone else's distorted view of me.

It's not worth it.