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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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  • « Studies in John (Lesson 7: The Feast of Tabernacles) | Main | THE CHRIST OF ROMANS: A Devotional Overview of Paul's Letter to the Romans- Rev. Charles R. Biggs »

    A Good Response

    I loved reading Phil Johnson's recent response to a questioner at his Pyromaniacs blog site who asked...

    Your identity as a "Baptist"; your endless quotations from Charles Spurgeon; your faithful devotion to John MacArthur; and especially your willingness to call yourself a "Calvinist" are all huge red flags that tell me something is seriously wrong with your theology. Why do you teach a system of doctrine that is named after a mere man? Why are you following human teachers instead of going to the Bible alone? After all, 1 John 2:27 says, "The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you." We ought to go to Scripture alone to establish our doctrine! The truth is in God's Holy word, not in any theological system or theology textbook developed by mere men. Isn't that principle what the Reformation was originally about? Sola Scriptura? Didn't even Calvin himself go to Scripture for the truth instead of reading other men? I believe that if Calvin himself wrote for this blog, he would point people to the truth in God's Holy word, not to a theology developed by some other man.

    Phil's reply:
    You have seriously misunderstood sola Sriptura if you really imagine that it rules out human teachers or eliminates systematic theology. The Reformers (including Calvin) often cited the works of Augustine, Tertullian, Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, and others-ranging from the early church fathers through Aquinas. They didn't follow any of them slavishly, of course, but they certainly took them seriously. Not one of the major Reformers would have tolerated the claim that because the Church Fathers were mere men they were therefore irrelevant or incapable of shedding any helpful light on tough theological questions.

    Sola Scriptura means that Scripture alone is the final court of appeal in all matters of faith and practice. It is an affirmation that "the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture" and that "nothing at any time is to be added [to the Bible], whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men." It recognizes that there is ultimately no higher spiritual authority than God's Word, so "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture . . . it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."

    But none of that means we're obliged to discard the wisdom of godly men from ages past and require each man to try to discern truth from scratch by reading nothing but Scripture by himself.

    As for Calvin, he certainly did "point people to the truth in God's Holy Word"-but one thing he did not do was steer people away from the important theologians of the past. In fact, Calvin's works are filled with references to the Church Fathers-Augustine in particular. Calvin knew it was important to demonstrate that he was proposing nothing wholly novel and that his theology was in the doctrinal lineage of the greatest theologians of the church. He regarded himself as Augustinian, in precisely the same way many today think of themselves as "Calvinists."

    If Calvin wrote for this blog and someone responded to one of his posts by refusing to read what Augustine wrote, Calvin would probably write that person off as arrogant and unteachable.

    Incidentally, 1 John 2:20, 27 is the apostle John's response to an early outbreak of gnostic-flavored spiritual elitism. He was refuting some false teachers (he called them "antichrists") who insisted that real truth is a deep secret, different from the apostolic message, into which people must be initiated by some anointed swami. The Holy Spirit indwells and anoints each believer, and He is the One who truly enlightens and enables us to understand truth. But He also gifts certain people with a particular ability to teach others (Romans 12:6-7; Ephesians 4:11). So while John was condemning the notion of enlightened masters in the style of Freemasonry and gnosticism, he was not making a blanket condemnation of teachers. He himself was a teacher.

    Bonus (from Phil):
    A follow-up message asks if I am suggesting it's wrong for someone to abandon all books and human teachers and rely only on what he can glean from the Bible for himself. Answer: yes, I think that's wrong because it's arrogant and reflects a sinful kind of unteachability. This is my whole point: sola Scriptura doesn't rule out the valid role of teaching in the church.

    Furthermore, it is simply not the case that any common, unskilled, unschooled individual, sitting down with his Bible and no other tools, can expect to come to a full and mature understanding of Scripture without any help from godly teachers who understand some things better than he will ever get it on his own. Here's Bernard Ramm's famous response to the arrogance reflected in such a perversion of sola Scriptura::

    It is often asserted by devout people that they can know the Bible completely without helps. They preface their interpretations with a remark like this: "Dear friends, I have read no man's book. I have consulted no man-made commentaries. I have gone right to the Bible to see what it had to say for itself." This sounds very spiritual, and usually is seconded with amens from the audience.

    But is this the pathway of wisdom? Does any man have either the right or the learning to by-pass all the godly learning of the church? We think not.

    First, although the claim to by-pass mere human books and go right to the Bible itself sounds devout and spiritual it is a veiled egotism. It is a subtle affirmation that a man can adequately know the Bible apart from the untiring, godly, consecrated scholarship of men like [Athanasius,] Calvin, Bengel, Alford, Lange, Ellicott, or Moule. . . .

    Secondly, such a claim is the old confusion of the inspiration of the Spirit with the illumination of the Spirit. The function of the Spirit is not to communicate new truth or to instruct in matters unknown, but to illuminate what is revealed in Scripture. Suppose we select a list of words from Isaiah and ask a man who claims he can by-pass the godly learning of Christian scholarship if he can out of his own soul or prayer give their meaning or significance: Tyre, Zidon, Chittim, Sihor, Moab, Mahershalalhashbas, Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Aiath, Migron, Michmash, Geba, Anathoth, Laish, Nob, and Gallim. He will find the only light he can get on these words is from a commentary or a Bible dictionary. [from Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), pp. 17-18 (emphasis in original).]

    Posted by John Samson on January 24, 2007 04:48 PM

    Comments

    Since Phil's a big Spurgeon promoter, there's a great quote attributed to Spurgeon in the Banner of Truth book called, "The Forgotten Spurgeon." In it, he said, about the type which Phil was responding to, "I would not see by another man's candle, I would sooner remain in the dark!"

    John

    With Sola Scriptura I offer some verses to point to BOOKS and helps to understand Scriptura:

    from your post first:::>''But none of that means we're obliged to discard the wisdom of godly men from ages past and require each man to try to discern truth from scratch by reading nothing but Scripture by himself.''

    Here's Philip's encounter:

    Act 8:26 And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.
    Act 8:27 And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,
    Act 8:28 Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Isaiah the prophet.
    Act 8:29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.
    Act 8:30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaiah, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
    Act 8:31 And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

    You don't get to this level of service for a Queen without being a man of intelligence. Even with his intelligence he needed help to understand Scripture.

    Here's Paul's request:

    2Ti 4:9 Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me:
    2Ti 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
    2Ti 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
    2Ti 4:12 And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.
    2Ti 4:13 The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.

    Books were expensive even during the mighty Paul's day. Clearly he read books and the Bible.

    How in the world did Calvin afford so much literature to read too? He certainly had the time and means to read books.

    Excellent post! Sadly, this negative attitude toward teachers, both past and present, is far too common among professing believers today. They do not realize that they are in fact despising that which God Himself has ordained(Romans 12:6-7, Ephesians 4:11), as already noted.

    Spiritual discernment is very much needed in the church to detect doctrinal error when it arises, but spiritual discernment also acknowledges sound biblical exposition by God ordained and gifted teachers.

    I am grateful that such article is posted in this blog, i hope that both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals could read this article. it sheds light to our beloved doctrine of Scripture for us evangelicals not to misrepresent it.

    This C.H. Spurgeon quote speaks volumes: "I am amazed that those who think so much of what the Holy Spirit can teach them often think so little of what the Holy Spirit has taught others" I am very thankful to our Lord who has sent teachers, present and past, into my life!!

    Excellent Response!!

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