Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On Being a Reactionary Theologian: Part Two

In my last post, I talked a bit about the concept of being a reactionary theologian, one who establishes his doctrinal identity not based on the Truth, but in reaction to someone else's errors. To summarize my point in all of this: Don't be a reactionary theologian. It's bad.

That being said, that post concluded with a little parenthetical paragraph arguing that there is, in fact, a proper way to be a reactionary theologian - a good, right and salutary way to do your theology in response to someone else's silliness. So here we go.

As I said last time, some of our greatest theological treasures are works that have come as a response to error. Take, for example, Paul's letter to the Galatians. This epistle essentially came about because the Judaizers, a group of Jewish pseudo-Christians, wormed their way into the ears of those in Galatia, seeking to convince them that salvation came not merely through faith in Jesus Christ, but also through obedience to the Mosaic law. To put it simply, the doctrine of the Judaizers was that "he who believes and is baptized and is circumcised and refuses pork shall be saved but he who does not believe or have his foreskin removed or who eats a bacon cheeseburger shall be condemned."  (P.S. If you've ever wondered how desperate the sinner is to earn his own salvation, Galatians proves that he will even choose cutting off part of his penis over not cutting off part of his penis if cutting off part of his penis gives him the title of "co-savior" on the Day of Judgment.)

And in response to this, in reaction to this woeful false doctrine, Paul gives us one of the greatest meditations in all of Scripture concerning how salvation works - how it is only through the grace of Jesus Christ that the Kingdom of God becomes ours, how it is only through faith in Christ's death and resurrection for us that we receive the benefits of that death and resurrection, how "no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith," (Galatians 3:11).  In response to these false teachers, Paul paints for us in full, glorious detail the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In reaction to the theology of other men, Paul enables us to grasp in even more wondrous ways the comfort that comes from possessing the utterly free and eternal salvation of our Lord.

So does this undo everything I said before?  Does the fact that some of the most glorious theology in the Scriptures comes to us as reactionary theology mean that I ought to delete my last entry.

No!  Absolutely, positively not.  And why is this?  Let's return to the asking-out-the-pretty-girl analogy.

As I argued previously, when it comes to convincing the pretty girl that she ought to go out with you, that she ought to cling to your teachings and your confession of faith, you should be able to handle that conversation on your own.  You shouldn't need to point to some dumb frat guy a few yards away in order, by comparison, to establish how attractive you are.

But if that dumb frat guy comes over and butts into the conversation, you need to respond.  In particular, you need to respond in a way that essentially drives him out of the conversation, sends him running out of the room, and enables you to get back to wooing the lady who needs to be wooed.  And while the presence of said idiot may be a nuisance to you, when you have to respond to the intrusive presence of his lies and tomfoolery does, it does result in the nice benefit of explaining in greater detail the awesomeness of your confession of faith.

Getting back to Galatians, this is precisely what is going on there.  Clear from the early words of the epistle (1:6-8) is the fact that Paul had already begun the conversation, that he was already talking to this woman and had already made a solid confession of faith before the drunk moron Judaizers stumbled over and started slurring, "Hey, baby, is he talking to you about the Gospel?  That's cool and all, but he's not giving you the whole story...But you know what?  You should let me take you out some time and I'll  give you the whole scoop.  I'll tell you all about how Jesus isn't your savior until you disavow yourself of pork spare ribs forever."

And while the presence of this guy clearly drives Paul nuts, his pure confession of faith is amplified and expanded in even more glorious detail when he's able to point to that guy and say, "you know what?  This guy is telling you that God is only happy when you leave a pile of dead foreskins on His altar.  Let me tell you what has truly made God happy..." 

So to sum it up briefly, here's the right way to be a reactionary theologian: You confess the faith.  And when someone butts in and tries to hijack your confession in the wrong direction, you expand your confession of faith to reveal those lies for what they are and to drive the false teacher out of the conversation.  This is, I would argue, how the Church has always done this.  When the Gnostics tried to use the Gospel of Matthew to steal the divinity of Christ, John responded with his Gospel.  When Arius wormed his way beside the pretty girl after the Church confessed the Apostles' Creed, Christ's Bride shove him out of the conversation by confessing the Nicene Creed.  When the Crypto-Calvinists started yapping after the Lutherans recited the Small Catechism, we moved on to the Formula of Concord in an effort to stop the purveyors of lies from controlling the conversation.

And because no false doctrine has ever brought about greater truth than the pure doctrine, because no perversion of the Gospel has ever yielded greater comfort than the comfort yielded by the actual Gospel, you win.  Every time.  Maybe not in the eyes of the pretty girl at the party, but certainly in the eyes of the Lord who has poured out His Truth upon us.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

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