Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reformation: A return to the apostles and prophets

If the Church is founded on the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, by which believers are enjoined to place their salvation in Christ alone, then if that doctrine is destroyed, how can the Church continue to stand? The Church must necessarily fall whenever that sum of religion which alone can sustain it has given way." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 1v. Chap II.)

What does it mean to be reformed? Does it mean to change the teachings of the apostles into something new or does it mean to return to apostolic teaching? Does it mean to throw overboard even the biblical view of a personal God, to declare that, “There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world.”?

What does reformation mean when one looks at the person of Jesus Christ? Does it mean returning to the clear Christology of the Bible and the Confessions, that Jesus who is truly human is very God of very God, one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, or does it mean that, “We should give Jesus a demotion,” and that “It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine.”?

Does reformation mean that we rejoice once again in the salvation given to us by a compassionate Lord who lived with us, died because of our sinfulness and was resurrected for our eternal salvation or do we instead insist as does Robert W. Funk that:
“The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.”?

It was a misrepresentation of many of these very doctrines and the need to return to the more biblical view that prompted the reformers to return to the biblical text, to the teachings of the apostles. Reformation for the Church is recovery of what is lost, or disparaged, or scorned. It is the upholding of the faith.

The person who puts his or her person in direct opposition to a personal God, the divinity of Jesus Christ and the atoning death of the Incarnate One is in apostasy. The Church officials, be they a Presbytery or a Synod or higher, who allow such teaching to continue are like the hired hands in the Gospel of John who run away because they do not care for the sheep.

Jesus tells his Church:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.” (John 10: 11-13)

May God deliver his Church from the wolf that scatters and the hired hand that doesn’t care. Going further may God deliver the wolf back into the fold as a lamb who at last hears the Savior’s voice and follows only him. And may God deliver the hired hand back into his fold as a good servant who cares for the sheep.


Adel Thalos said...


This is nothing new for Mr. Shuck. He has been a proponent of extreme liberal theology for many years. The Presbyteries of which he is a member obviously have no problem with him, promulgating every kind of heresy imaginable.

The problem as I see it is the Presbyteries, who either agree, don't care, or think that this part of being a 'big tent' denomination filled with every possible theology.

As I have stated in the don't judge a denomination by it's official statements of faith, but rather by the enforcement and discipline of those who blatantly reject those statements.

Viola Larson said...

I agree with your comment, I would just call it progressive rather than liberal.

Anonymous said...

But it isn't really "progressive," is it? It's actually regressive--regressing to the ancient heresies of Gnosticism, Arianism, Pelagianism, etc.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Viola Larson said...

David, I am so sorry to be late I thought I had published it. I was on someone elses computer in Medford--but now it is up and yes,yes and yes!

Adel Thalos said...


What do you see as the distinct differences between progressive and liberal theology?

The ancient heresies are evident in both, so what is the difference?

Are those differences as you see them clearly laid out somewhere?

Viola Larson said...

Adel, I just got back from a trip and will at some point write more on this although I have in the past. But my main thought here is that although many liberals in the past and now deny the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, etc. they still retain a theistic view of a personal God.

Progressives on the other hand tend to be panentheist and even sometimes do not believe in a personal God at all. If they are panentheists that means they believe humanity and/or creation is the body of God. That means that God is more than humanity but humanity is a part of God. It changes all of theology.

Adel Thalos said...


According to Lewis & Demarest, "Integrative Theology vol.1" liberalism in large portion is pan/en/theist, while not as overt as modern day "progressives".
It was Schleiermacher who spoke of a pantheistic God, the infinite spirit that undergirds the movement for social progress.

Maybe it has more to do with the level of openness?

Thank you Viola.

Viola Larson said...

Adel, you are right about Schleiermacher. He does hold a panenteistic view of God. He calls God living rather than personal. But as John W. Cooper in his book Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers points out humanity does not affect his version of God

Perhaps this is part of the problem with modern progressives as process theology has evolved positing a god that is affected by humanity it has affected/infected those with an inclination toward panentheism.

Pastor Bob said...


I wonder if we don't need to be clearer about what "affected by humanity" means. Certainly the Son was and in some ways still is affected by humanity. How does one be human and die for the sins of humans without being affected by humanity? Further there are passages in the Bible that say out and out that God is angry at some or all humans.

These statements however talk of a very personal God different from pantheism, panentheism and Schleiermacher.

I am sure that process theologians mean something very different from what I just said. I would suggest that the real problem may be a combination of God being both transendent and immanent and also the meanings of both those words.

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

Viola Larson said...

Bob, a lot of interesting thoughts and yes you are right we should be a lot clearer. But first a different clarity, and these are my thoughts, although human actions make God angry that does not change God’s ontological being. God is angry because he is good, because he is holy, because he is pure, etc. He is always angry with sin and he is always compassionate and forgiving toward his children because of the Son.

But your statement, “I would suggest that the real problem may be a combination of God being both transcendent and immanent and also the meanings of both those words.” I think is right on track.

For the orthodox theist, God, because he is transcendent, is other. We are not God at all. For the panentheist we are a part of God. Not that his son has taken on human flesh but all are a part of God. So God is not totally other. On the other hand the panentheist equates God’s immanence with the understanding that we are God’s body. In that manner God is in all of creation.

But for the theist God is present to all of creation and as Paul says, quoting the Greek poets, in “Him we live and move and exist,” but He does not share his being with humanity; he is still separate from humanity.

Starting with, I think, Whitehead, many panentheists or process theologians see a dipolar aspect in God. Basically it works out to God not knowing, in his ontological being, the events to come, not even, according to some panentheists, ethical absolutes. As humanity, using some of God’s knowledge, work out some aspects of ethics and the future God accepts this and adds humanities knowledge to God’s and so the future and morality change. This becomes a continual process. This is a very simplistic description of complex theological views but yes it is very different from the way humanity affects God from a biblical perspective.

Tillich uses some of the same ideas and many do not realize that his “ground of being” is a form of panentheism. All of this changes how one sees the movement of the Spirit, the Incarnation, and the second coming of Christ.