Tony Jones: A Gobbledygook “Orthodoxy”

If Brian McLaren is the author of A Generous Orthodoxy, then Tony Jones is certainly the author of gobbledygook “orthodoxy.” And, yes, the scare quotes are necessary because, as you will soon see, Jones’ “orthodoxy” is anything but orthodox.

Tony Jones is the National Coordinator of Emergent Village (a network of emerging churches that constitutes the theological leftwing of the emerging church), and he is not so happy that his plenary address will be excluded from the published volume of essays from the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference. The conference theme was “Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future,” and the presenters examined among other things the contemporary church’s relation to the “Great Tradition” of Christian orthodoxy.

Tony Jones says that his paper was rejected for inclusion in the published volume not because of his scholarship, but because he was “off message.” I guess the meaning of “off message” is debatable, but at the very least it seems to me in this instance that “off message” means something like “off orthodoxy.” You’ll have to read the whole paper before making any definitive judgments, but here are some of the relevant lines from Jones’ presentation:

“While Vincent exhorts us to hold fast that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all, you’ll have about as much luck finding that elusive thing as you will be hunting Jackalope in South Dakota. No such universal, a-contextual orthodoxy exists” (p. 15).

“Orthodoxy is a happening, an occurrence, not a state of being or a state of mind or a state-ment” (p. 20).

“There is no orthodoxy out there somewhere, only here, in me and in you and in us when we gather in Christ’s name” (p. 23).

“There is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy. It doesn’t exist. People may talk about it, but they also talk about unicorns” (p. 24).

“There is no song until it’s sung—it’s just words and notes on paper. There is no strike until it’s called by the ump—’It ain’t nothing till I call it.’ And there is no orthodoxy until it’s lived. It is an event that happens when we gather to worship, when we change a diaper, when we read a book, when we present a paper” (p. 24).

“You have heard it said that the emergent church is run by relativists, but I say to you that we are all relativists” (p. 25).

Someone may object that I have taken these lines out of context, and it’s not fair to judge these statements out of context. I agree with that objection, and that is why I encourage you to read the entire paper. I feel quite certain that you will find that the context only makes matters worse, not better. Not only does Jones jettison the “cocksure certainties of conservatism” (p. 10), but he also “deconstructs” the Council of Chalcedon as the source of the church’s orthodox confession of the two natures of Christ (pp. 15-16).

No doubt Tony Jones and the Emergent Village belong to what has been called the “revisionist” wing of the emerging church. They are among those who are radically redefining what it means to be Christian, which for some is another way of saying that they are not Christian. When a movement or “Christian” community treats the seven ecumenical councils as if they were up for grabs (or otherwise as a plaything to be deconstructed), then that movement or community has crossed over from the ranks of the orthodox to join the JW’s, the Mormons and all the others who do not stand in the life-giving stream.

The danger of Emergent deconstruction is that in many cases its heterodoxy wears an evangelical garb. But this should not be surprising. We received fair warning that this is precisely how the wolves always work (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29-30).

73 Responses to Tony Jones: A Gobbledygook “Orthodoxy”

  1. Bryan L July 9, 2007 at 7:26 am #

    Did you email him your opinions or post them on his blog?

  2. Phil July 9, 2007 at 9:45 am #

    I can see some immediate problems with Jone’s assertions. A song is a song when still on paper. A Mozart symphony remains the same today as it did when he wrote it. We may slightly change the pitch of the instruments, the tempo of the movements, even use non-period instruments. We are still playing a musical piece which has objective existence outside of our choices of interpretation.

    The ump only knows how to call a strike because there is an objective standard by which to determine what is or is not a strike. That determination may be altered or changed within a certain narrow range throughout the years, but there is an objective standard.

    Jone’s view suggests any group which calls itself Christian, and identifies the Bible as its guiding document, is in fact Christian. No group, however idiosyncratic its views, is outside the fold, so long as it calls itself Christian.

  3. Svigel July 9, 2007 at 9:54 am #

    I had both a doctoral seminar in nineteenth and early twentieth century American evangelicalism—primarily the modernist/fundamentalist debate. We all know that today’s evangelicalism rose from the fundamentalist reaction to modernist liberalism in the late 19th/early 20th century. The pattern of liberalization primarily began with jettisoning the creeds, claiming to go back to the Bible, and emphasizing Jesus’s kingdom ethics (socially-oriented orthopraxy). . . and on “updating” the faith for a new era.

    Evangelicalism is today where American mainline churches were at the end of the nineteenth century. Those institutions, churches, and denominations didn’t survive the challenge intact, and by the 1920s, everything had changed.

    Bye bye, evangelicalism.

  4. Scott July 9, 2007 at 11:24 am #

    I don’t know much about the ecumenical councils, but I don’t know why they should be beyond deconstruction. I mean, I understand the the desire for conservative stability that the contemporary church seek to locate in notions of “orthodoxy,” but does this really line up with the Jesus of the Gospels? By this I mean to say: in espousing “orthodox” truth, aren’t we liable to end up more on the side of the Pharisees?

    I get the connection between Paul and orthodoxy, but not Jesus. But, then again, it seems that our churches, strangely, value Paul’s writings more than Jesus’s teachings.


  5. Scott July 9, 2007 at 12:12 pm #


    On another note, I think it may be worth rethinking your last two biblical references, which associate the Emergents or the ideas espoused by the Emergents with “wolves” and “false prophets.”

    To be perfectly frank, I’m someone who grew up in a non-denominational church, but who has since struggled with many of the notions that you would consider orthodox, even to the extent of no longer attending church on a regular basis, and I find a lot of what Jones and Mclaren say to make a lot of sense. In fact, it’s exciting for someone like me to hear people who claim to be Christian with a post-modern flair.

    I respect your right to disagree with these thinkers, but keep in mind that there are people like me who have honest questions and are really trying to seek the truth. You may wholeheartedly believe that Jones and Mclaren are indeed false prophets, but I would at least ask, respectfully, that you be a bit more careful in applying such Bible verses in instances where you certainly cannot claim to be infallible.


  6. Michael July 9, 2007 at 12:23 pm #

    Dr. Burk,

    I think your analysis of this branch of the EM is right on. My question is in regards to your statement concerning the seven ecumenical councils.

    The ecumenical creeds contain doctrines that the modern evangelicals, and especially Baptists, see as gravely compromising – or even denying – the faith. Baptismal regeneration (of infants none the less) and the use of icons being the most obvious problems.

    In other words, the argument that we (Baptists) use against the dangerously emergent is the same argument the Orthodox Church uses against us: we have departed from the ecumenical creeds and have redefined Christianity.

    How do you defend against the charge that conservative evangelicalism itself has placed the consensus of the ecumenical councils up for grabs, effectively beating the EM to the deconstructive punch?

  7. mike July 9, 2007 at 4:16 pm #


    Jones and Mclaren might have interesting ideas but that is beside the pointed question….are they right? If the answer is no, then however interesting they might be, thier ideas must be rejected. Struggling to trust the “orthodox” doctrines of the faith is struggling with either being a Christian or not. You cannot slap God’s name on your own idea of who he is and still hold a relationship with Him. Just like I can’t pretend my wife is someone other than I know she is and expect to have a fruitful relationship with her.

    There comes a point, conversion, when you must learn to accept God for who He is, when you redifine doctrine, you attempt to redifine Him. Worship the wrong God with the right name is still worshiping the wrong God.

  8. Bryan L July 9, 2007 at 7:08 pm #

    I’ll ask again Denny, have you contacted Tony with your criticisms? Have you told him personally that he’s “the author of gobbledygook “orthodoxy.””? I understand when people have criticisms of N.T. Wright and it’s not like it’s that easy to get in touch with him, but Tony is on the internet, runs a blog and responds to comments and questions. I’m sure you have contacted him already since that just seems like the kind of guy you are, so what did he say? What was his response to your charge?

    Who here has read the article instead of just Denny’s quotes? I’m not sure what there was to complain about it. It was actually a really good article and I was quite surprised at how much I agreed with it. Seriously if nothing else it seems like he’s just pointing out the elephant in the room. What anyone with eyes to see has noticed but hasn’t wanted to admit.

    I loved this part from his paper,
    “You have heard it said that the emergent church is run by relativists, but I say to
    you that we are all relativists. We walk into the Christian bookstore and choose a Bible
    off the shelf, one thatÂ’s been translated by a particular group of people with a particular
    theological bias. You choose that Bible relative to all the other choices in front of you.
    And you make a relative choice about where you go to church, what college you attend,
    and whom you marry. Like the umpire who has to call out “Ball!” or “Strike!” a split
    second after the ball hits the catcherÂ’s mitt, some calls are easy: right down the heart of
    the biblical plate. But others are tougher, painting the outside corner. We make the best
    call we can, and live with the consequences.”
    How true is that?

    I really enjoyed his play on the sermon on the mount.

    Bryan L

  9. Mason Beecroft July 9, 2007 at 8:12 pm #

    Michael makes a great point about the Seven Ecumenical Councils! Luther confessed the perpetual virginity of Mary based on them, refusing to speak against the Church (I would argue he was excommunicated for the same reason). Luther certainly understood the biblical arguments, which raises the fun questions about sola scriptura (Lutheran evangelicals) and nuda scriptura (American evangelicals). Anyway, Michael’s point raises important questions surround ecclesiology and authority. Of course I believe baptismal regeneration, icons, theotokos, etc. are biblical, evangelical, catholic teachings…

    You are right that Jones espouses theological “gobbledygook” because he fails to acknowledge the limited perspective of his radical perspectivism. But, I would argue, this is the problem with a weak ecclesiology in our highly-individualized and theologically-stunted context. Yet the emergent movement, in its various forms, all sound so pious and desirable when we look at the shape of contemporary N. American Christianity. The problem, however, is not orthodoxy, but the lack of it. Fidelity to the “Great Tradition” would truly be a novel idea…

    And, contrary to Bryan L’s suggestions, there is no need for you to contact him as his teaching was public. Athanasius was not compelled to pull Arius aside when he taught contrary to the faith.

    Hope all is well with you and your family. Warmly in Christ,

  10. Phil July 9, 2007 at 9:38 pm #

    Bryan, I read the article… although I’m not sure what relevance that has for you. I thought it was an interesting paper, not all that scholarly in the traditional sense, but thought-provoking nonetheless. I thought the underlying reasoning of the paper was flawed.

    Why the insistent questioning of whether or not Denny has talked to or communicated with Tony? I’m puzzled. It is now the standard that when an author publishes something in a public forum all who would critique it must be in direct contact with the author first? I’ve not heard of this critical standard before in publishing or academia.

  11. Mason Beecroft July 9, 2007 at 10:36 pm #


    Metanarrative is denied by the local and particular.
    Antiquity is denied by the voices of the oppressed.
    Consensus is denied by diversity of experience.

    Is this a post-modern starter kit argument?

    If only Victor had been a member of the LGBT lobby, then he would have not made such a crazy statement. But once it is in print… (That isn’t an ad hominem, is it?)

    Indeed, “how can Chalcedonian Christianity withstand the withering assault of postmodern deconstruction?”


    I think the resurrected and ascended Christ will somehow overcome. I think… I hope… maybe… just maybe…

    Perhaps we should further consult with Meister Eckhart, the most orthodox and Christ-centered of teachers. Isn’t it funny how the consensus of the political elites is easily dismissed for the wisdom of the theologically suspect? This PM recipe needs some other ingredients if the gag-reflex is going to be suppressed. Is suppressed a term of power? If so, then I am sorry.

    pax et bonum,

  12. dennyrburk July 9, 2007 at 10:39 pm #


    I love you, bro. You are the man! On the weight of the councils’ decisions I would probably agree with Schaff:

    “Theologians consider that the decisions of Ecumenical Councils, like all juridical decrees, must be construed strictly, and that only the point at issue must be looked upon as decided. The obiter dicta of so august a body are no doubt of the greatest weight, but yet they have no claim to be possessed of that supreme authority which belongs to the definition of the particular point under consideration” (Philip Schaff, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. xii).

    I’m not sure, however, if that helps me with respect to the iconoclast controversy.

    In any case, when I cited the seven ecumenical councils, I specifically had in mind what they affirmed and denied with respect to the Trinity and the two natures of Christ.


  13. dennyrburk July 9, 2007 at 10:42 pm #


    One more thing. You are a Great Tradition loving Lutheran. I am a Great Tradition loving reformed baptist. You and I have some significant theological differences. But the distance between you and me is nothing compared to the chasm the separates both of us from the likes of Jones.

    Thanks, bro.


  14. Bryan L July 10, 2007 at 6:29 am #

    I never said Denny had to contact Jones or he was violating some Biblical rule. I just said if you’re going to trash someone, a fellow believer (although I’m not sure Denny considers Tony to be), at least have the decency to do it to his face (or personally for that matter). If you can easily contact someone and make sure you are understanding them correctly and maybe even discuss with them some of your disagreements, then it seems a lot less slimy when you publicly blast them. Who knows maybe it can even help others if we can listen in on their discussion.
    Maybe I was just raised different, where if you had a problem with someone you told it to their face instead of talking bad about them around your friends.

    Phil, You said, “Bryan, I read the article… although I’m not sure what relevance that has for you. ”
    “What relevance that has for you”? Is that another way of saying it’s none of your business? I was just curious who actually read the article because it’s quite common for people to criticize a book or article without ever having actually read it. It’s happened before on this blog. Denny has even done it, approvingly linking to a book review that blasted the book and it’s ideas, and Denny hadn’t even read the book. So I was wondering if those criticizing the article (which I have no problem with people doing) or Tony had actually read what he had to say.

    I’m just confused why blogs like this seem to take pleasure in blasting others in the Christian faith and then congratulate each other on how different they are from them (“the distance between you and me is nothing compared to the chasm the separates both of us from the likes of Jones”)?

    Bryan L

  15. Luke Britt July 10, 2007 at 8:13 am #


    I appreciate your thoughts. It is good for us to be aware of our theological-self-righteous tendencies. But at the same time, we need to be thinking critically about issues like the ones brought up by Mr. Jones (I didn’t read the article and don’t really care to – I’ve had exposure to many in the Emergent Village and have not been exhorted to holiness, but rather, to a squishy foundation for some sort of new orthodoxy which is never defined).

    It seems the appeal that EV gives is that of a critical spirit towards the way Evangelicals think and practice. Good things come from them occasionally, but I agree with Denny that we should stay away from this mixture of “truth.”

  16. Phil July 10, 2007 at 10:37 am #

    Bryan, lighten-up brother. You asked if anyone had read Jones’ paper. I said I had, but wasn’t sure why/if that was relevant. I didn’t say, or imply it was none of your business.

    I would agree that civil discourse, certainly Christian discourse, ought to avoid ad hominems. I’m afraid though that many today think even disagreeing with someone’s views and arguments, and critiquing them rigourously, amounts to a personal attack. I hope you are not one of these.

    In any event, blessings to you. I meant no offense – & have taken none.

  17. Bryan L July 10, 2007 at 12:21 pm #

    I’m not upset but thanks for being concerned. I thought it was self evident when I asked who had read the paper instead of just the quotes that I was concerned that people were commenting about the paper without actually having read it. So when you say “I read the article… although I’m not sure what relevance that has for you.” It sounds almost like you are saying I shouldn’t be concerned with whether you have read it or not. I wasn’t sure if that’s what you were implying, that’s why I asked. Notice I said “Is that another way of saying it’s none of your business?” It’s not a rhetorical question.

    You said, “I’m afraid though that many today think even disagreeing with someone’s views and arguments, and critiquing them rigourously, amounts to a personal attack.”

    I am with you on that and I think its fine, as I said in my last post. I just think if we are going to disagree with their views and arguments let’s actually deal with them. The post was about one of his articles so let’s discuss the article. Let’s discuss things he said. Lets look at the wider context. Let’s look at the good and the bad. Instead some people hear Tones Jones or Emergent and they immediately write it of and their views without having actually examined what is being said.

    For instance Mason quotes Tony as saying ““how can Chalcedonian Christianity withstand the withering assault of postmodern deconstruction?””

    That’s an interesting line. Many people though probably won’t read that in context and realize Tony gives an answer to that question. Instead many will think Tony’s just saying that Chalcedion Christianity can’t withstand the assault so let’s give up the theological ideas they formulated.

    Instead he says in answer to that question, “Every thoughtful confessing Christian will agree: a robust pneumatology. That is, we will affirm that, regardless of the human nature of the proceedings at Chalcedon, God’s Spirit somehow guided and protected that meeting, as well as the other six ecumenical councils. Just as we assert that the Spirit guarded the canon during its formation over about 400 years.”

    That’s an interesting answer. I’d be interested in what others think of that answer and what kind of discussion ensues.

    In the case of Denny, I think if he’s going to publicly say Tony Jones is “the author of gobbledygook “orthodoxy.”” then at least he can tell him personally and engage him. I mean Tony runs a blog. How hard is it to contact him? Unless all we’re concerned with is shooting arrows from afar at those we disagree with, instead of actually getting up close and engaging them. I’d enjoy seeing Denny and Tony in a public conversation. I think both could have some interesting things to say.
    I guess it’s easier to publicly blast someone on a blog then actually try to contact them and better understand them.

    Anyway, blessings to you too. Have a good one.

    Bryan L

  18. john July 10, 2007 at 12:26 pm #

    Hey, Denny – isn’t this guy with “get in here ministries?”

  19. Mason Beecroft July 10, 2007 at 8:04 pm #

    You are quite correct that we are much closer than the emergent, growth evangelical, and even Spong-ish liberals. The bind that ties them together, of course, is the assumption that the Church must “change or die”. I didn’t mean to suggest that we are opposed necessarily, but wanted to emphasize the difficulties of appealing to the “Great Tradition.” None of us want to depart from “it”, but we have a heck of a time defining it… at least this is what I have found with my Orthodox and Catholic brethren.

    With respect to the decency argument about contacting someone personally before addressing an issue, I still side with Luther who argues that the teaching of Matthew 18 does not apply when a preacher of the faith publicly teaches. If there is something suspect in their words, then there is an obligation to correct it for the sake of Christ’s people. The real challenge in this is a fragmented ecclesial situation that evades authority, unity, and orthodoxy at every turn.


  20. Mason Beecroft July 10, 2007 at 8:29 pm #

    I read the paper and I certainly didn’t intend to be a-contextual, but was only working from his argument. He gives a dismissive nod to the work of the Holy Spirit and then continues with an argument that such formulations really have nothing to do with the “event” of faith. After all, once such formulations are deconstructed, they cannot really contribute to the journey. They are too static. The argument continues with the statement that nobody really achieves “orthodoxy”, but we just scratch forward.

    Quoting the author again, after your quotes-
    “This is the inherent aporia of orthodoxy, as it is traditionally conceived. Christian
    orthodoxy, when defined doctrinally, when seen as a set of beliefs, be it bounded or
    centered, is too easily deconstructable. We are left to rely upon logical-postivism and
    empiricism to take us as far as it can, then we invoke the Holy Spirit to take us the rest of the way. But how is this reliance on the Holy Spirit’s intervention not a theological copout? How do we not use the Spirit’s activity as a conversation-stopper when ourhallowed texts and histories are deconstructed?”

    The invocation of the Spirit is a copout and conversation stopper once the human power element is deconstructed. The irony, of course, is his thoroughly modernist assumption that he has the perception to deconstruct Chalcedon (a positivist claim?) and then send us out with the hope that we just try the best we can. My critique rests on his slavish subservience to the language and categories of the academy. It sounds heroic, but I think it is intellectually and theologically flacid. In no way do I doubt the contextual nature of theology, but the context for the past 2,000 years has been the ecclesial community established by the Triune God. There are historical, exegetical, and theological complexities that are not easily resolved. And I don’t deny that many honest questions are raised, but post-modern consumerist pick-and-choose spirituality apart from an informed ecclesiology will not provide catholic and orthodox answers.


  21. Steve Hayes July 10, 2007 at 11:55 pm #


    Our worship pastor and a few others from IBC went to this conference. They said Jones’ presentation was a joke. From what I hear, the entire room was shaking their heads at Jones’ assertions. Even those who come from denominations and who hold positions that are far less conservative than yours were frustrated by Jones’ views, and particularly the way he expressed them. Jones’ tone was appartently one of disunity and condescension.

    I don’t think Jones did the Emergent movement any favors.

  22. dennyrburk July 11, 2007 at 12:11 am #

    Dear Steve,

    I read another description of the reaction that was much the same as you described with your fellow pastors.

    One of the strange things about his presentation is that it wasn’t really scholarly. Jim Hamilton presented a paper at the 2005 Wheaton Theology conference, and his paper was chosen for the book that was published later. Take a look at Jim’s paper, and you’ll see that it was of a totally different quality than Jones’ (even though the subject matter was really different).


  23. Andy July 11, 2007 at 8:15 am #

    What’s exciting for me is how many people have downloaded the paper and are actually interacting with it. No doubt despite attempts to just “silence” it by excluding it from the Wheaton publication or chastising Tony for not being scholarly or simply calling him a heretic…this paper has created quite a stir because it raises important questions and points for emerging generations. As a leader that engages with this demographic across North America. I have already been distributing this paper amongst my fellow leaders and I must say that we are all excited about the possibilities this paper opens up for the gospel through the Spirit in this ever more so “post-christian” demographic.


  24. Matthew July 11, 2007 at 8:31 am #

    I was slow to read the paper and therefore slow to post.

    I am concerned about the relativism of emergents. I am not sure that the “s*x with animals” line is out of the question. What stops a community that practices such from declaring that they have found redemtive value in it? Further, I am too modern to ever be a disciple of Jones.

    But he makes some important points in this paper. I believe it is true that if you walk up and quiz growing, active Christian members in any given living church (by “living” I mean: spirit-led, dynamic, active, growing, etc.) you will find the range of responses Jones reports. This is true and it does not destroy the church. Why? Because the important aspect of their Christianity is their warm response to God in their life; it is not their ability to recite the statement of faith. This reminds me of James – faith without works is dead. What good is a dead faith?

    I think you can say that orthodoxy without orthopraxy is dead. This isn’t the same thing, but neither is it so far off of Jones’ statement that there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy. In reality, I believe I see emergents scorning orthodoxy and I don’t like it. I do believe we need to think rightly.

    Bottom line: if you have a shelf full of books and a brain full of right thinking, but you show more fruit of the flesh (say, anger, selfishness, pride) than fruit of the Spirit in how you treat others, then pshaw! Keep your “Christianity,” I don’t want it. If, however, in addition to your right thinking, you are changing and ever showing more love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, etc. in your dealings with others then I want what you’ve got.

    I know waaaay too many conservative Christians who are quick to draw lines and create enemies over doctine but are ungentle, proud, and selfish in how they treat others. (some of the worst ones are Bapt… never mind 🙂 )Such people could learn something from Jones’ pneumatology as stated in the paper.

  25. Steve Hayes July 11, 2007 at 10:25 am #


    I may have spoken out of turn a bit as to some of our staff’s reaction to the paper. Many of them felt that it was very thought provoking, but had a hard time with the general tenor of Jones’ presentation. For me to say that they thought it was a “joke” was dramatically overstating the case, and made me guilty of the same kind of out of place tone that many think Jones demonstrated in his presentation. For that I am sorry.

    All that to say that I think we have to take Jones’ paper and presentation for what it really is. I don’t think we should take it as gospel truth, but we should look at it as we would look at any other presentation, and that is with a critical eye and a gracious spirit. Jones tried to do something really different, and I don’t think it worked out well for him.

  26. Mason Beecroft July 11, 2007 at 11:50 pm #

    Does anyone find it troubling that all of this talk is about our “orthopraxy”, fruit, journey, search, feelings, warm response, upbringing, piety, graciousness, perspective, self-righteous dismissal of self-righteousness, etc.? Central to our faith is Jesus Christ and His person, merits and works, which has everything to do with the Seven Ecumenical Councils. These gatherings addressed serious biblical, soteriological issues like incarnation, person/nature, sacrament, grace, nature… Many of the Fathers understood the significance of a robust Christology apart from any contrived notion of a subversive power-play. Gregory of Naziansus, “Whatever has not been assumed, has not been healed”; Athanasius, “God became man in order that we might become (like) God.” These are trans-cultural/contextual beliefs for the Church. They took place in a particular time, but their grasp of truth transcends their political/linguistic/mysogynistic/hellenistic/homophobic (bowing to the enlightened… and the list could go on) limitations.

    Any attempt to deconstruct this Faith of the Church, reducing it to human machinations and winking at the Holy Spirit, threatens real, true, lively, and invigorating faith. In fact, the dismissal, denial or deconstruction of orthodoxy leaves us only with an ethical impulse divorced from Christ. Orthodoxy is Jesus Christ for us–The Jesus Christ confessed by the Apostles and the Church–who transforms us to be truly human that we might love God and neighbor! The second we pit orthodoxy against orthopraxy then we miss the new creation/8th day reality of the Gospel.

    Lutherans speak about two kinds of righteousness. There is passive righteousness, which is the gift of salvation that comes to us freely by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The sinner does nothing. Christ’s merits are applied to the sinner and he is redeemed and forgiven. Identity rests in Jesus. We are adopted by no merit or worthiness in us. Salvation is solely the work of God.

    Then there is active righteousness, which is the works righteousness of the Christian on behalf of the neighbor. These works contribute nothing to our salvation, but they benefit our neighbor. We act with charity, mercy, and humility so that our neighbor (co-worker, spouse, children, etc.) might benefit.

    Now if we confuse the vertical (passive) with the horizontal (active), then we risk losing the substance of the Gospel. The Gospel becomes about our piety and works. Christianity becomes about us rather than Christ. We start talking about things like perfection, holiness, journey, quiet times, search, upbringing, orthopraxy, good works, me, etc. and forget the centrality of Jesus and His forgiveness, life, and salvation for our daily faith and practice. Have you recently heard a sermon where Jesus barely got an honorable mention, but you received three principles or techniques for right living? I would argue that Jesus is largely absent from most of evangelical preaching and teaching. He is good to get us saved, but then we strike out on our own to muddle our way through our journey with our Christian music, t-shirts, trinkets, bauble, novelty, fad, movement, emerging….

    Enough screed for the evening.

  27. Phillip Bethancourt July 13, 2007 at 8:31 am #

    Dr. Russell Moore will interview Tony Jones about this paper tonight on the Albert Mohler radio program which broadcasts at 5 PM eastern time. You can listen to it online at Mohler’s website.

  28. jeff miller July 19, 2007 at 3:09 pm #

    Dear Denny,

    I don’t know what is going on in the emergent church movement, I did not read any of the comments or links under this post. I just had to race here and ask you to please tell me of your willingness to re-think your second to last paragraph (and your present way of determining what is legitimate)…The seven ecumenical councils???? Life giving stream [of THE CHURCH]????

    your friend in Christ,

  29. dennyrburk July 19, 2007 at 3:15 pm #

    Dear Jeff,

    All I meant was this. If a person rejects the trinitarian nature of God (Nicea) or the two natures of Christ (Chalcedon), that person is not a Christian. In other words, anyone who rejects that Jesus is fully God and fully man, is not a Christian. Anyone who denies that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not a Christian. They might call themselves “Christian,” but they are actually blasphemers and deniers of the Bible’s teaching about God and Christ.


  30. rafe July 19, 2007 at 3:46 pm #

    We taught Jesus’ parable on the wheat and the tares at VBS today. Salvation belongs to the Lord.

  31. jeff miller July 19, 2007 at 3:47 pm #


    I checked the “Great Tradition” link and In my
    judgement it is not good reason, nor the holy spirit, that moves men to hold this sort of definition of what is right before God.

  32. jeff miller July 19, 2007 at 9:28 pm #

    What about a person who says Jesus is fully God and fully man and says that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit but refuses to submit to the council of nicea and the council of chalcedon and does not think it is a particularly good idea for you to “submit” to them…is it possible for him to be a Christian?

  33. dennyrburk July 19, 2007 at 10:03 pm #

    Dear Jeff,

    You’re asking a question about authority. If you are a Roman Catholic or perhaps Eastern Orthodox, you are going to give authoritative weight to the church tradition. I believe the Bible is the word of God and as such has the sole authority to command belief and practice. Thus, the Council’s authority is not inherent, it’s derivative. In other words, it’s really the Bible that has authority, and Councils, preachers, etc. only have authority insofar as they faithfully proclaim the Bible’s teaching. They themselves are subject to the scrutiny of the authoritative scriptures.

    Much luf,

  34. rafe July 20, 2007 at 8:20 am #

    In other words, the “council” has no authority.

  35. Mason Beecroft July 20, 2007 at 10:55 pm #

    The issue of authority is certainly not an easy one. Interesting that Arianism (and other early heresies, both internal and external) engaged the Church in arguments over how to properly interpret the text.

    With respect to Nicea, Athanasius wins the day by using an exegetical method derived largely from Origen, which most evangelicals would consider foolish, at best. Yet orthodox Trinitarianism and Christology is the result. This is because the text could not be separated from the liturgical (baptismal, eucharistic, preaching) life of the Church. Christians worshiped Jesus from the beginning, thus to say that He was less than God was immediately suspect, although it seemed rational and even “biblical” in the minds of many.

    Isn’t this the problem with ETS? Everyone is “biblical”, but this does not necessarily guarantee orthodoxy. They had to plug in a statement on the Holy Trinity because inerrancy was not enough. The Bible divorced from The Great Tradition (yes, difficult to define and prone to good debate)usually ends up being a book about morality, financial management, how to be a better (insert your station in life), me, myself, and I, etc.

    I would love to hear how a person can hold an orthodox view of Christ and the Holy Trinity apart from submitting the the councils. It probably sounds like the Baptist Faith and Message, which reeks of modalism in its language (Disclaimer: I’m sure they have had to make revisions to the edition on my shelf- hopefully it sounds Nicene, without submitting to Nicea, of course).

  36. dennyrburk July 21, 2007 at 12:58 am #


    You wrote about ETS: “They had to plug in a statement on the Holy Trinity because inerrancy was not enough.”

    Interestingly enough, I presented a paper at the 2006 region ETS titled “Inerrancy Is Not Enough”!

    Great minds think alike!

    Much luf,

  37. Mason Beecroft July 22, 2007 at 7:23 pm #

    Yes… great minds! I’ll believe it if you do! Then we tell others. Of course I’ll tell others about you if you tell others about me! It only seems proper. I’m giddy!

    I appreciate your blog and will keep checking back so that my fingers remain in the American evangelical pie.

    I pray you had a blessed celebration of the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene! At least we have changed our lectionary Gospel text from Luke 7 to John 20…

  38. jeff miller July 24, 2007 at 8:13 pm #

    Do we think that Constantine was greatly concerned with fidelity to the cause of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in calling the council of Nicea. At this council it was determined that all those who did not gather with the “official” council were therby excluded from the Body of Christ and/or the emperor sanctioned para-church. A pretty haughty claim on the part of men.

    Do you find it at all disconcerting that in order to protect a claim to “the Great Tradition” catholicism you have taken up strange tools? Are you comfortable joining the bishops, Athanasius, Arius, or the others who were already down the path of compromise with the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (dominators of the people) and Balaam (lords of the people)W in their Great Tradition? These men were creating philosophical doctrines and definitions on their own authority to use as tools in a struggle for primacy…a struggle alien to the people of God.

    These philosophical constructs,in their exacting particulars, are not present in the New Testament. Would the woman in Luke ch.7 who came to Jesus at the Pharisees house, would she have passed the tests of the 7 councils? I hope not. Yet she loved Jesus, worshiped him and He said to her: “your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
    Denny, I am not saying there are no tests in any sense, just that the man-made tests of “the great tradition” are often extra-biblical and oddly at variance with those of Jesus and His Gospel. Would James have passed, or even been willing to take a philosophically speculative test on the true meaning of the word “trinity” or on the theologically precise definition of the word “person” or “nature?” James did not try to replace the “shema” with the works of men. He seems to be satisfied with Jesus as the fullfilment of all the Law and the Prophets especially as He came for, to be, and ultimately to define the Israel of God. Maybe the real way to pass “the test of the councils” for those who followed Messiah was to not be present or have anything to do with their arrogant claims of catholicity.

    Is it alright for men to use a religious authority-claim, scripture, rational argument, along with new words and usages to construct a new definition of God and then to exclude all those who do not submit to their organization from having official status? I guess it’s O.K. in some sense, but that does not mean that God is with them?

    But then mankind has always preferred the worship of their symbols along with an assumed favor of their god over and above any real relationship to the only living God in whom we live and move and have our being.

    The J.W.s, and Mormons make their own claims of catholicism…using a religious authority-claim, scripture, rational argument, along with new words and usages to construct a new definition of God and then to exclude all those who do not submit to their organization from having official status. Fidelity to their own “great (from their perspective) tradition catholicism” and their tendency toward a para-church structure from which they might exclude others is their sytematic downfall. This fidelity on their part displaces whole-hearted fidelity to Jesus, the messiah of Israel.

    In Revelation 17 there are some figurative expressions about a “Harlot” who rides on the back of a beast. This harlot is also named “The mother of Harlots.” Throughout scripture the term “harlot” is used to denote the compromised religion of those who would call themselves the people of God. These expressions, on their own, are probably not meant to define who or what the harlot and the harlots daughters are, but I think they are meant to give shape to the story line which we can expect to see unfold.

    When it comes to orthodoxy and orthopraxy, each congregation can be blessed by reading and acting on the warnings given to the seven congregations of asia minor found in the opening chapters of Revelation.

    Anyone who thinks that true orthodoxy or legitimateness came into existence through the the work of councils using anyone’s hermeneutic has fallen prey to several false (though widely recieved) presuppositions about what was actually at issue in the first years following the ascension of messiah.

  39. Mason Beecroft July 25, 2007 at 7:59 pm #

    What in the world?

    Who would be uncomfortable with Athanasius? There is, after all, a difference between him and Arius. Their debates were actually debates about the scripture. The JW/Mormon reference only emphasizes the importance of the Great Tradition. Really.

    This Harnackian/Bauer argument of hellenistic philosophical speculation tainting the purity of NT Christianity is dead, except among Spongish liberals and ahistorical evangelicals. Sorry, but the denial of orthodoxy based on appeals to “philosophical speculation”, political machinations, “true relationship” reveals a hermeneutic that has fallen prey to the presuppositions of historical positivism.

    Hurtado does a great job of explaining the issues at hand following the ascension of our Lord Jesus. And these issues are reflected in the Great Tradition.

  40. dennyrburk July 25, 2007 at 8:12 pm #

    Ditto Mason. 🙂

  41. jeff miller July 25, 2007 at 9:22 pm #

    Hello Mason,
    I believe that the catholic spirit can be embraced by people from a pretty broad theological and ecclesiastical spectrum though at some point the historical inconsistencies become glaring. Do you think there is a historical and at least temporary inconsistency in thinking of one’s self as at once “baptist” and submitted to “the great tradition”?

  42. rafe July 26, 2007 at 3:22 pm #

    Why stop with Mormons? I propose that every person in the country who supposes himself to be a follower of Christ line-up and appear before Mohler so that he can make that decision once for all. He’s got the tests of regeneration in his grasp so that we can just do the separating right now and clarify all this drama and confusion. It’ll be just like in the good ol’ days.

  43. dennyrburk July 26, 2007 at 3:37 pm #


    I’m afraid I’m not following you here. Are you suggesting that Mohler has set himself up as the one who determines the eternal destinies of people’s souls? Are you suggesting that Mohler has arrogated to himself the powers to separate the sheep from the goats?

    If that is how you interpreted him, then I think you have not understood him very well.


  44. rafe July 26, 2007 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m just keeping with the spirit of this thread. That said, Mohler does like to spend his time telling everybody who’s Christian and who’s not, isn’t eternal destiny the implication?

  45. rafe July 26, 2007 at 4:14 pm #

    The Councils of Orthodoxy are all about “power”, earthly power. It’s ironic in light of how Paul handled power struggles, especially with regards to “reputation” (man’s opinion).

    Sorry I’ve been somewhat terse, but I’m supposed to be writing a paper.

    Hope you guys are doing well.


  46. dennyrburk July 26, 2007 at 4:30 pm #

    Doesn’t the Bible tell us to warn people to flee from the wrath to come? Doesn’t the scripture teach us the kinds of people who will not have eternal life?

    For example,

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

    1 John 4:2-3: “1 John 4:2-3 every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”

    1 Timothy 1:18-20 “that by them you may fight the good fight, 19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.”

    These are just a few examples. The Bible is filled with instances in which is a matter of faithfulness to Jesus to point out error in order to reprove and correct the saints and to warn people against the damnation that follows false teaching.

    Mormonism is a damning heresy. A denial of the triune nature of God is a damning heresy. A rejection of the full humanity and deity of Christ is a damning heresy. Are you suggesting that Christians should not point out error that will lead people to judgment? If the scriptures say that certain kinds of errors will lead people to judgment, shouldn’t we say what the scriptures teach?


  47. rafe July 26, 2007 at 4:39 pm #

    I think it depends upon the context and platform. There is a huge difference between a personal exhortation, admonishment, or rebuke and a publicized power struggle. I also think we need to be extremely careful regarding presumption (especially about our own level of spirituality). There is a certain “spirit” we’d do well to avoid.

  48. dennyrburk July 26, 2007 at 4:46 pm #

    I write all of this as a person who goes to bed at night examining himself to see if he is still in the faith, lest I might fail the test.

  49. jeff miller July 26, 2007 at 6:01 pm #

    Did you say “damn heresy”? quit cussing!

    1)seriously Denny and Mason with regard to comments #40 and 41. Harnack,Baur,Spong, and “ahistorical evangelicals” aside, are you two telling me that in the great tradition I am supposed to ignore the doctrinal development?. Are there no doctrinal changes from what is set forth in scripture? You don’t think there is any philosophical speculation and/ or assertion taking place within the so-called Great Tradition (check your link) which the apostles would have been unfamiliar and uncomfortable…?

    2)And beyond what might be characterized inadequately as “doctrinal changes,” there is the much overlooked difference of method between the way of Christ (by which the passages quoted in Denny’s last comment are contextualized) and the way of catholicism.


  50. rafe July 26, 2007 at 9:48 pm #

    Yeah bro (Denny), I know you well. My point in all this is not to be contentious or cynical. I just want folks to think about the fact that we we go to bed at night–our Lord is our hope, not “our orthodoxy”. There will be plenty of orthodox people who might be disappointed in where they placed their trust. This is a subtle distinction, but there is a world of difference. Know what I mean?

    This is my intention in our discussion.

    bff and stay cute & sweet,


  51. dennyrburk July 26, 2007 at 10:30 pm #


    Well put.


  52. Mason Beecroft July 27, 2007 at 12:02 am #

    The phrase “doctrinal development” suggests something “extra-biblical”, which I am not willing to concede with the ecumenical councils. I think the apostles would me more uncomfortable with premillenial dispensationalism than anything from Nicea. And preaching in most evangelical churches would be anathema to the apostles. There is a huge difference between Paul and Peter and our timeless principles for ________.

    I believe it is destructive to pit the councils against scripture, as if they are working against each other. The idea that we can deconstruct the historical development and accurately construct the definite doctrine of Scripture from our vantage point is the height of hubris… thus the reference to Spong, etc.

    Yet I concur with Luther that the “Pope and councils can err.” The Great Tradition of the Church, however, does not vitiate scripure, but reflects it. We must recognize that we interpret the text within a lively tradition of Christian faith and practice. We need catholicity. Otherwise we risk being limited to our own concerns. Luther appealed repeatedly to the fathers as well as the Scripture because they did not work against each other. Rather, in his mind, they both pointed to Christ and Him crucified for sinners. If we detach ourselves from the catholic tradition (not Roman, but evangelical), then we risk novelty and creativity, which result in heresy and irrelevance (JW/Mormon/Moralism).

    Now it would be foolish to argue from any sense of patristic consensus, as the fathers are divergent on any number of issues, but there does seem to be an ecumenical consensus in the 7 councils. They exalt Christ and His work of salvation for sinners.

    I do not have the mind of the apostles, but Ignatius was closer than either of us and he presents teachings that are congruent with the ecumenical councils…

    Finally, “Do you think there is a historical and at least temporary inconsistency in thinking of one’s self as at once “baptist” and submitted to “the great tradition”?” Of course! This is why I am Lutheran! I don’t buy the “trail of blood” argument for one second. I became Lutheran because I believe it faithfully reflects the teaching of Scripture, the catholic faith. I think that Baptists have difficulty in areas of sacrament, liturgy, decision theology, etc. But my Baptist/Evangelical friends believe I have difficulty in the areas of sacrament, liturgy, decision theology, etc.

    Of course we share catholicity in the sense that we are dependent upon Christ’s work on our behalf. Jesus’ death and resurrection has redeemed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Thus, the salvific work of Jesus and orthodoxy cannot be divorced from one another. If there is a different Jesus, then it is not orthodoxy. If there is a different orthodoxy, then Jesus is not there. This is the way of Jesus and the way of catholicism. Ignatius defined catholic for us when he wrote at the turn of the 2nd century that where Jesus is, there is the catholic church.

    Enough rambling for now-

  53. jeff miller July 28, 2007 at 11:33 pm #


    Can we work through the language of this sentence so that I might better understand what you mean?

    “The phrase “doctrinal development” suggests something “extra-biblical”, which I am not willing to concede with the ecumenical councils.”


  54. Mason Beecroft July 29, 2007 at 8:40 pm #

    I intended to communicate that the phrase “doctrinal development” applied to the councils implies that what is stated in them does not reflect the teaching of Holy Scripture. Thus the phrase “extra biblical”. I would argue that the creeds/councils, not necessarily their canons, faithfully interpret the apostolic faith, recorded in Holy Scripture, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Also, the phrase “doctrinal development” reflects an impulse from 19th century German biblical studies that argues for a deterioration of true Jesus-faith due to the influence of hellenism and other philosophical schools. I reject that thesis, and it is rapidly deteriorating in biblical and patristic studies.

    Perhaps a discussion of what is “unbiblical”, “extra-biblical”, or “unacceptable” in the councils would give us a better opportunity for dialogue?
    pax et bonum,

  55. jeff miller July 29, 2007 at 10:38 pm #

    To begin with, I am interested in your thoughts on the canons of Nicea II, and what you might be willing to call unbiblical, extra-biblical, or unacceptable.
    And at some point could we think through the idea of a people claiming catholicity for themselves.
    Also, last week I asked a dear friend of mine (I will call him J.A.II)to read this post and comments, as he recently asked to be recieved by the Roman Catholic Organization. I wonder what his thoughts might be on the present subject.

  56. jeff miller July 30, 2007 at 4:31 pm #

    Here is the sort of thinking going on at Nicea II, the so-called seventh ecumenical council:

    “The things which we have decreed, being thus well supported, it is confessedly and beyond all question acceptable and well-pleasing before God, that the images our Lord Jesus Christ as man, and those of the undefiled Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, and of the honorable Angels and of all Saints, should be venerated and saluted. And if anyone does not so believe, but undertakes to debate the matter further and is evil affected with regard to the veneration due the sacred images, such an one our holy ecumenical council (fortified by the inward working of the Spirit of God, and by the traditions of the Fathers and the Church) anathematizes. Now anathema is nothing less than complete separation from God.”

    Beyond the mere possibility of councils erring we should not miss the fact that they all fundamentally err when they usurp Christ’s prerogative in claiming for themselves catholic authority.

  57. Mason Beecroft July 30, 2007 at 5:27 pm #

    Thank you for the post. I am just getting to my computer after a crazy weekend. I will respond as soon as I get home from my evening meetings.

    The iconoclasm controversy is where I thought we might end up!

  58. Mason Beecroft July 30, 2007 at 10:39 pm #

    I suspect that the issue of icons takes a backseat to the declaration of the council that Mary is Mother of God, ever-virgin. I may be wrong, but I debate this with my Lutheran brethren in the ministry from time to time. I’ll address both and let you hammer away.

    The iconoclasts argued that the Sacrament of the Altar was the only appropriate representation of our Lord Jesus. Anything else was a “graven image” and idolatry. Therefore, any visible image of Jesus or other biblical characters was destroyed. St. John Damascus was a vehement opponent of the iconoclasts, based on a Christological argument: “If we made an image of the invisible God, we would certainly be in error, but we do nothing of the sort, for we are not in error if we make the image of the incarnate God, who appeared on earth in the flesh, and who, in his ineffable goodness, lived with human beings and assumed the nature, quantity, shap and color of flesh.” Since Christ took on flesh, matter is not inherently evil. In becoming man, Christ has revealed God. John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The incarnation of Christ, fully God and fully man, is the icon of God. Thus, artistic renditions of Jesus or any other prophets and saints are allowed in that they direct our prayer life and guide us into a reality that is still unseen. These icons, or visual images, are windows into a biblical reality (cf. Revelation). These icons or artistic images are to receive reverence because they open up the Kingdom of God to our senses. In no way, however, do they receive worship because they are things made by human hands. Icons further reflect the biblical witness that God manifests Himself in physical, visible ways to His people (burning bush, pillar of fire, cloud, tabernacle, temple, incarnation, etc.). The icons open up the biblical world. They allow Christians to remember the memories of their predecessors and find comfort in the great cloud of witnesses. To deny the icons is to deny the larger reality of what is beyond our sense perception. Are the prophets and saints in glory? Did Christ become man, suffer and die, rise on the third day, and ascend into heaven? Yes. The icons are vehicles to understanding these biblical truths.

    The more damning argument to the iconoclasts is that they risk docetism or gnosticism, denying the incarnation of Christ and the goodness of creation. I don’t find anything unbiblical, extra-biblical, or unacceptable with respect to the use and veneration (not worship) of icons. Although I am sacramental as well… I believe that God still uses physical means to be present among His people and communicate His grace (cf. 1 Cor 10-11).

    Now with respect to Mary, the ever-virgin Mother of God, I am willing to concede to extra-biblical. Attributing the title “theotokos” to Mary is a Christological statement, reflecting the biblical witness that Jesus is fully God and Mary is His mother (cf. Council of Ephesus in 431). Saying Mary was ever-virgin, however, is extra-biblical, but not unbiblical or unacceptable. Luther held to this based on the decree of the council. Luther recognized that you cannot argue from Holy Scripture with any certainty that Jesus actually had brothers or sisters from the same mother. The greek text does not allow this and the NT witness lacks precision and clarity. Most arguments against this claim revolve around the use of “brother” with reference to James (word does not mean child of same mother), or our own oversexed assumptions that poor Joseph just had to have sex with Mary. Oh, poor Joseph! Sex is certainly a good thing, ordained by God for marriage, but celibacy is also a good thing according to Paul’s witness and even Jesus’ example. It is not entirely inconceivable that Joseph and Mary did not consummate their marriage because of the extraordinary circumstances of their calling. This argument from silence, however, is not convincing to many. It is extra-biblical. At the same time, the argument against it is also an argument from silence. It is extra-biblical. So who wins? Luther chose to stay with the Great Tradition of the councils, submitting himself to the wisdom of the fathers as they battled over this important Christological issue. If they came down on the right side with respect to incarnation, then Luther wasn’t going to jettison this statement about Mary. This is the difference between sola scriptura and nuda scriptura.

    Thank you for the opportunity to dialogue on this issue. It is good for me to consider these details.

  59. jeff miller July 31, 2007 at 5:05 pm #


    Before trying to determine which of the doctrines arising from “the great catholic tradition” might be acceptable and which might be unacceptable, we should ask if there is something more fundamental in the Catholic spirit which should be laid aside.

    If we could accomplish this we might be freed from asking what may men teach from the scriptures to embrace what God is actually teaching in them.

    Mason, we could probably agree to use the word “catholic” in a way that would lead me to say, “Jesus is the only true catholic” and the only “catholic congregation” is one which congregates spiritually at the feet of Jesus. (please drop the confusion about gnosticism for a moment) It is made up of those who are spiritually united to the Messiah.

    Am I wrong in thinking that If we would be obedient to the gospel, then we would necessarily recognize that the total company of those believing in Christ is grown and determined, on our part, through appeal and charitable assumption, NOT by decree and dispensation of entitlement?

    Christ is still personally active in determining the boundaries of His habitation as pictured in the letters to the seven congregations of Revelation. And God is still able to raise up Children to Abraham from the stones.

    Are these concerns about method directly related to doing the will of our Father in heaven?

    “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “So then, you will know them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
    (Matthew 7:15-21)


  60. Mason Beecroft July 31, 2007 at 7:40 pm #

    I am really not sure what you are driving at in the post. But I will respond nevertheless.

    I would agree with St. Ignatius that the catholic church exists where Christ is present. I can even use the “spiritual” word as long as it does not deny the physical, material, and created. Luther and his debate with Zwingli and company was over the use of this term. Luther argued that spiritual had to do with where the Spirit was at work drawing people to Christ. Zwingli contended that this could not involve anything material, physical, or created. Thus, if spiritual is used in an iconoclastic, gnostic, or docetic sense, then I would have a problem.

    The councils use the word “anathema” after the example of Paul in his letter to the Galatians. After all, to diminish or deny the importance of the incarnation amounted to a false gospel. I believe we have the freedom to use that word when people deny an orthodox Christology or introduce a false gospel. I don’t think this necessarily amounts to “decree and dispensation of entitlement.”

    Interestingly, I preached on Matthew 7 this past week. False teaching is recognized by its lack of focus on Christ. Christians are called to discern the fruit of teachers, what they proclaim. Paul echoed this warning as he departed from the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20. Moreover, I would contend that false followers are recognized by their insistence on their good works rather than doing the will of the Father, which is believing in the One He sent, our Lord Jesus Christ. Entrance into the Kingdom is not determined by our obedience, but rather the obedience and merits of Christ. The believer does not cry out at judgment, “Lord, Lord, didn’t I do…”, but rather issues the cry of faith, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

    I am really not concerned about method at all, but rather fidelity to Christ and His Church. In fact, I would contend that in the witness of Christian faith over the past 2,000 years there are any number of “methods” that result in a Christ-centered faith. I guess that is what I would contend about the Great Tradition. It is Great because it is concerned with Jesus and His work. The Great Tradition uses exegetical methods that I would not engage, but they are inevitably centered on faith and life in Christ. In all of these debates, those who attempt to diminish the Lord’s person and work through their reason or speculation are deemed heretics.

    I believe these concerns are related directly to doing the will of the Father. The will of the Father “is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Great Tradition wrestles with the biblical text in the face of heretical pressures in order to provide insight into the person and work of Jesus. If Jesus is less than fully God and fully man (this is biblical), then we remain in our sins. If our proclamation of Christ is diminished, then the Church ends up with boring moralisms and ethical impulses derived from textual principles taken from the Bible, but are, in all reality, less than biblical.

    Now I am not arguing that the history of Christianity offers a pristine, uncheckered witness to Christ. But the Ecumenical Creeds are not the problem.

    In Christ,

  61. jeff miller August 10, 2007 at 5:16 pm #


    It seems like your adjusting the content of matthew 7 just a bit, so that it fits onto the right side of the reformation debate.


  62. Mason Beecroft August 13, 2007 at 12:08 am #

    Would it be better to be on the wrong side of the reformation debate?

    What debate would that be? The debate between the RC “organization” (your designation) and Luther over justification? If so, then I confess that I agree with Luther.

    Would it be better to adjust the content to focus on our piety? Is entrance into the Kingdom dependent upon our good works?

    Should I have come up with some timeless principles for the people to follow? Or burden the people with stuff to do? I have found that the result is either self-righteousness or self-loathing, and neither are pretty.

    Your comment gets to the point of the entire discussion, which is context. I argue that context is ultimately theological, thus the importance of the ecumenical councils and the history of Christian thought.

    I would call the exegesis/eisegesis distinction from DTS sophomoric, but that would be an insult to…. The problem with the “gobbledygook” is that they think they can dismiss the Christian context of understanding the Scriptures and come up with something meaningful. The problem with those who think they can uncover the historical background and authorial intent is that they are not reflective on the philosophical and hermeneutical presuppositions that demands.

    Back to Matthew 7- Jesus is addressing false teachers and their fruits. What is the fruit of a teacher? I would think it is the message. If it is the person, then Donatism might become a problem. From a distance, the flowers of thornbushes might be mistaken for grapes and the flowers of a thistle might be mistaken for figs, but upon close inspection they are seen for what they are. Discernment is to be applied to the teaching (fruit) of teachers. What should be the fruit of Christian teachers and preachers? I would think it would be a focus on Jesus–repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name. Those who cry out to Jesus on the day of judgment with claims of what they have done, will not be known by the Lord. Why else would they be excluded? They have not made a personal decision to accept Jesus in their heart (please find that and its accompanying prayer for me in Holy Scripture)? I think my approach is thoroughly Christian.

    I don’t mean to be terse, but you really haven’t engaged any of the issues.

  63. jeff miller August 13, 2007 at 3:55 pm #

    I am not consciously evading what I think “The Issue” actually is. “How can a man be Legitimate in the sight of God,” is the question with which I am concerned. I think that both you and I would agree to the answer, “through faith in Jesus Christ(Messiah).” And I really have to pause with thanksgiving over this agreement. After that though,things get strange.

    I am interested in discussing fidelity to the gospel and the message of the prophetic scriptures.

    I think that can be done without engaging the writings of Luther or Zwingli or Ignatius.

    I think that can be done without having to work through determining and defining a plethora of “isms”: Maybeism, Maybenotism, Redherringism, Presumptionism, Excusefor dismissingsomeoneism.


  64. jeff miller August 13, 2007 at 4:23 pm #


    Some of your complaints miss me. I don’t think I am your target when you complain about people using the bible as a nice place to glean this weeks timeless principle. One that might stick involves what you seem to be calling “the Christian context of understanding the scriptures.” How would you define this? How does it parrallel Israel’s context of understanding scripture?

  65. Mason Beecroft August 13, 2007 at 11:05 pm #

    I don’t think Israel (nation?) did a good job of understanding the Scripture. Wasn’t this the point of debate between Jesus and the authorities? Jesus clearly testified that the Scriptures all pointed to Him. I agree. I would argue that all Scripture points to Jesus. The history of interpretation might make us uncomfortable in this regard, but I would rather get to Jesus and His merits through an OT narrative than any discussion of how we should…. Thus, my comments about people using the Bible apart from reference to Jesus. I haven’t heard you preach or teach so I wouldn’t presume anything. I do know, however, what I see in the CBD catalogs and hear in larger evangelical circles- moral principles and songs that any Mormon or JW would find orthodox.

    The references to those who have gone before us in the faith simply point to the reality that we do not interpret Scripture in a vacuum. The “-isms” cannot be easily dismissed. They arose out of issues over understanding Scripture. Arius, Athanasius, Joseph Smith, you and I would agree that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The question is, “What do you mean when you say Jesus Christ?” There the ecumenical councils help to form the framework for a proper biblical understanding of Jesus and His work.

    We are indebted to the fidelity of the defenders of the faith who have helped us in our proclamation of Christ. The Spirit was at work in the Body of Christ as they preserved the canon and articulated the biblical faith. We cannot leap over 2,000 years of Christian faith and practice into a magical “Bible land” (I steal this from Tillich and it may be the only decent thing he ever said).

  66. jeff miller August 15, 2007 at 1:19 am #

    You say that you don’t think Israel did a good job of understanding scripture. That makes sense as an observation, especially if we are using “Israel” as the designation for a majority of those who made a claim to being the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel did not stand under the prophetic scriptures very well and I think in that way we see a parallel to those claiming union with Christ through the great tradition. I especially have the message of Isaiah and its foundational relationship to the Gospel of Jesus in mind.

  67. jeff miller August 15, 2007 at 10:50 pm #


    Thinking of the JW and Mormon (as well as other catholic-claiming enthusiasts)my mission is not to wall individuals off from the salvation of Israel but rather to appeal to them with the announcement that God has opened a way in the desert,so to speak, for each of them to have immediate access to the salvation of Israel through the faith of Jesus, Messiah…not by exchanging one catholic claim for another one, but by recognizing with fidelity, Jesus, able and willing to meet their greatest need…and by doing this in a whole-hearted way, recognizable, and measusrable, by Jehovah himself, whose lovingkindness is forever, the only true God who is both good and severe.

  68. jeff miller August 16, 2007 at 6:46 pm #

    in other words,

    Israel had the prophetic scriptures and had plenty of debates about the interpretation of those scriptures yet their hearts where far from God and their claim to be the people of God was empty. There is no reason the same cannot be true of the great tradition, even of the council of Nicea.


    It is not my duty as a Christian to determine what kinds of people have no access to God through Christ but rather to make an appeal to all kinds (Including the Roman Catholic, the muslim catholic,the Mormon catholic, the Watchtower catholic and even the more loosely defined Great Tradition catholic) to breach the walls of their human loyalties and come to Jesus with whole-heart love and faith.

    What I mean when I say “Jesus” may not be finished. I am still a disciple and a maker of disciples and therefore I meet Jesus in his gospel and his teachings. By the way He actually is actually sovereign over these teachings and my access to them. And he must make himself accessible to me spiritually from Heaven or I will not know Him. I am at his mercy even today…, especially today.

    Again, Jesus is the ONE with universal authority. We should allow Him this position. Even if we agree about what Jesus did NOT mean in Matthew 23:6-10, we should allow him to mean something.

    “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”
    (Matthew 23:6-10)

    And the true congregation of the people of God is the one spiritually gathered to Christ and it is charitably assumed to be generally inclusive of those gathering in the various physical congregations(We should observe how the word congregation “ekklnsia” is used in N.T.). This is the congregation that is the pillar and support of the truth even as they are the salt and the light (note that in Matthew this status is contingent upon fidelity to Christ and His teachings, and in the context of 1 Timothy, Paul has a contrast and distinction in mind between those spiritually gathered to Christ over against the congregation physically gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feasts).

    For any physically gathered congregation to claim catholic authority is unseemly and a usurpation of Christ’s authority. Even the apostles in Acts 15 subjected their understanding to the prophetic scriptures and the spiritual action of God among strangers who where receiving Jesus as Israel’s Messiah…making them Israel add-ons. By the way, the letter sent from the council is a base-line, Gospel-ethic for a people not under the base-line ethic of Israel’s old Law. It is from Christ’s authoritative Gospel of self-sacrificial love, therefore it says, “keep yourselves from the stuff of Idolatry, from sexual immorality(literally- prostitution), from violence and from killing.”

    Back to Israel and authority,

    With the message thru Isaiah in mind,Jesus says in Mark 7:
    ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.(Mark 7:6-9)

    Of Heaven or Of Men?
    Do we think Israel had no traditions for which ancient authority might be claimed? They did, but these traditions were of men, not of Heaven.

    By the way the prophetic scriptures of the New covenant were copied and received among the congregations during the apostles ministry and recognized as prophetic scriptures as opposed to other writings long before the onset of the catholic spirit among a multitude. So, they were ubiquitously received in the congregations, they are self-defending in their quality, and they are superintended in their availability to the saints by God.

    Back to -of heaven or of men.
    This is an important distinction and a valid one. It is the distinction that Jesus asked the religiously powerful to make about John’s Baptism (Mark 11:30, Luke 20:4). Get it right and they will be moved to receiving Jesus, and thus to fruit bearing as the legitimate sons of Abraham (see John 8). Get it wrong and you will proceed blissfully and blindly down the path of the first Adam, ignoring the way of Christ, bearing fruit in keeping with that nature.

    If we are disciples of Jesus our knowledge will not be comprehensive, but our heart of love and personal fidelity toward him will prevail.

    Notice that John the Baptist’s authority was not about his making personal claims to it, but getting about doing God’s will. When asked if he was Elijah, John said no, but Jesus said that John did come in the power of Elijah.

    Will we do the will of God? Jesus said in John 7, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or I speak from myself.”

    There is a real, actual, spiritual connection and thats why Jesus said: “If you abide in My word, you are truly disciples of mine; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”


  69. Mason Beecroft August 16, 2007 at 10:02 pm #

    We live in very different worlds. This statement alone is enough to make me thankful that I no longer spend much time in your circles.

    “It is not my duty as a Christian to determine what kinds of people have no access to God through Christ but rather to make an appeal to all kinds (Including the Roman Catholic, the muslim catholic,the Mormon catholic, the Watchtower catholic and even the more loosely defined Great Tradition catholic) to breach the walls of their human loyalties and come to Jesus with whole-heart love and faith.”

    The arrogance of such a statement is beyond me. I’m glad that your loyalties are fully and whole-heartedly devoted to Jesus. Really? This may sound pious and such, but I doubt seriously that you or anyone else have come to Jesus with whole-heart love and faith. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has come to us with His love and the Holy Spirit has created faith in us that we believe in Jesus, in spite of ourselves.

    Your presentation of Christianity seems to be all about us and our discipleship, our bearing the right fruit, and our getting it right and our…. The catholic faith makes it all about Jesus–His incarnation, His life, His suffering and death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His coming for the final judgement–so that we might be redeemed purely by His grace. Hey, doesn’t that sound like the creeds? Or the NT witness? Now fruit and such certainly result from faith, but they are never the source of our comfort (cf. Eph 2:8-10).

    And whether you realize or not, you are a catholic Christian. There is no other type of Christian than a catholic one. Those who deny Jesus came in the flesh, God and man, to suffer and die for the sins of the world and secure redemption for those who believe place themselves outside of the catholic faith. Thus, there is no such thing as a catholic that denies this Jesus. In fact, John says this is how we know antichrist. But when you are participating in the Divine Liturgy of heaven for eternity, then your catholicity will be evident.

    I’ll just gloss over your “spiritual”/”physical” language with regard to church and faith and agree to disagree.

    Your dismissal of “catholic” spirit does not reflect the NT witness and those who received the traditions of the apostles.

    I agree that there is a real, actual, spiritual connection in abiding with Jesus through Word and Sacrament.

    I thank you for your engagement. I pray for Christ’s richest blessings on your ministry and your family life. I’ll shrink back into my Evangelical Catholic (Lutheran) ghetto…
    Pax et bonum,

  70. jeff miller August 30, 2007 at 4:44 pm #

    Dear Mason,

    It has been a couple of weeks; surely I can get the last comment now without you or anyone else noticing.

    I understand your skepticism about anyone (including myself) having whole-hearted loyalty to Christ, however, Jesus examples out, and calls us to follow with, nothing less. And where else can we go; He alone has the words of eternal life.

    I do not think we bring Jesus a whole (complete, perfect, unbroken) heart of whole (complete, perfect, unblemished) loyalty. And then say, “Jesus, look at what I brought you.”

    But, as we look to Him and grow in our knowledge of Him, we should find ourselves moved, with all of our heart, to Him, as the proper object of our full love and fidelity. Not a half love or split fidelity.

    You said that you agreed that there is a real, actual, spiritual connection in abiding with Jesus. But you added “through Word and Sacrament.”

    We should not think of “Word and Sacrament” as magical suppliers of legitimacy or favor before God. There is a reason the word “sacrament” is not used in Holy Scripture and there is a reason it very quickly begins to be found among the tradition.

    I think the sacramental teaching of the Great Tradition is an extra-biblical development which obscures Christ’s teaching. But again, that is not the most fundamental problem of the Great Tradition.

    By the way, I appreciate your prayerful attitude and any encouragement offered. I don’t understand how the paragraph you quoted was arrogant but I apologize if I was unduly offensive.

    Intent on staying in Christ’s circle, by his grace,


  1. Quick Hits :: 07.11.07 « Provocations & Pantings - July 11, 2007

    […] * Denny Burk gives some examples of Tony Jones’ “Gobbledygook Orthodoxy” and concludes with this word: When a movement or “Christian” community treats the seven ecumenical councils as if they were up for grabs (or otherwise as a plaything to be deconstructed), then that movement or community has crossed over from the ranks of the orthodox to join the JW’s, the Mormons and all the others who do not stand in the life-giving stream. […]

  2. Denny Burk » Are Mormons Christian? - July 26, 2007

    […] Dr. R. Albert Mohler finishes up his debate with Orson Scott Card over whether Mormons are Christians or not. Mohler’s last essay has words that relate to our earlier discussion about “the Great Tradtion.” Here’s how his summarizes his view that Mormons are in fact not Christian: […]

  3. Quick Quote » Quick Hits :: 07.11.07 - July 31, 2007

    […] * Denny Burk gives some examples of Tony Jones’ “Gobbledygook Orthodoxy” and concludes with this word: When a movement or “Christian” community treats the seven ecumenical councils as if they were up for grabs (or otherwise as a plaything to be deconstructed), then that movement or community has crossed over from the ranks of the orthodox to join the JW’s, the Mormons and all the others who do not stand in the life-giving stream. […]

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes