My Personal Theology (updated October 2021)

Complinecandle

It should surprise absolutely no one who knows me well that I spend way too much time putting myself and others in boxes. In fact, I once wrote a post in which I confessed the sin that is sometimes present in doing just that. In any case, since my return to historically orthodox Christian theology in mid 2013 or so, I’ve wrestled with finding my people.

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis explains that one can’t actually be a mere Christian. Mere Christianity is just a hallway off of which distinct Christian traditions hang like rooms. You really shouldn’t just hang out in the hallway; for the sake of your spiritual formation, you need to enter a room. I’ve described elsewhere that I hail from the Churches of Christ. While there is quite a lot of good about the Churches of Christ (they sure love the Bible and affirm the centrality of Communion), there is also quite a bit amiss. The central issue I have had with the Churches of Christ as someone who cares about church history and historical theology is that the Churches of Christ, as a whole, are largely ahistorical. Among other things, this has meant that Churches of Christ are unbound by any kind of confession or even broader sense of basic orthodoxy.

If there is “no creed but the Bible,” then we are lost forever in the maze of pervasive interpretive pluralism. Of course, as a matter of practice, Churches of Christ have largely been unified in their readings of Scripture, but I have known folks (not many, of course, but it is telling that they were considered members in good standing) who denied the Trinity (the word is not in the Bible) or (more commonly) who insisted that since Sunday school, kitchens, and missionary boards (to name a few) are not authorized by Scripture, then they are forbidden. Aside from dangerous heresies (like denying the Trinity), this approach is a large exercise in missing the point. (Now, to be clear, I am allowed to critique the CoC since they are my patrimony; leave my family alone and I will leave your baptist/presbyterian/episcopalian/methodist family alone!)

So, when Amanda and I left the Churches of Christ and joined a non-denominational church, it might look like on the surface that we were not making such a big transition (well, we weren’t really; neither of us were committed heart and soul to the Restorationist project), but there is actually quite a bit of daylight between an average Church of Christ and an average non-denominational church. For starters, the non-denom usually has a confession of faith that binds the consciences of the members. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the non-denom usually understands itself as part of a much broader evangelical project that includes Christians from across the spectrum. Even in theologically moderate Churches of Christ, almost every aspect of identity is related to one’s CoC heritage. Our non-denominational church, while having a relatively robust statement of faith, nevertheless understands itself as a big-tent kind of place. It welcomes theological diversity on issues that it considers adiaphora. But it, at least, has clear theological boundaries.

However, I have been asked at least a few times in recent years why I’m not a Roman Catholic. The question usually follows me explaining my embrace of Catholic natural law ideas about sexuality or after I recount my personal spiritual practices (praying the canonical hours, making use of icons and candles, crossing myself, invoking the saints, etc). And, to be fair, it is a question I’ve asked myself over the years. That I have been on a spiritual journey, and that part of that journey has involved a discovery of ancient Christian liturgical practices is no secret to any reader of this blog (there was a period of a couple of years that I embraced a pretty liberal theology while cultivating ancient and liturgical spiritual practices–talk about cognitive dissonance!). You see, the aspect of historical liturgy I’ve found the most valuable have been resources for my (and my family’s) personal devotions as well as the simple order of service on which I can depend and on which I can graft my emotions. And thus it is no surprise that (finally!) we have ended up in an Anglican parish at Restoration Anglican Church. The sacramental and liturgical life has become deeply important to us and, though I have found myself theologically and liturgically drawn to Anglo-Catholicism, this (liturgically) low-church, orthodox Anglican parish has become an oasis. Indeed, Restoration happily accommodates (as Anglicanism does generally) a variety of theological orientations. For example, there are loads of ex-vangelicals who remain a bit averse to so-called catholic things, but the priests at Restoration are happy to accommodate those of us who pray to the saints, desire sacramental confession, make use of sacramentals, etc.

My post today is an attempt to set out, in general, where I find myself on matters of secondary importance within orthodox boundaries. This kind of post largely satisfies my need to categorize and label myself.

  1. I am a small “o” orthodox Christian
  2. I am a Protestant.
  3. I am an Anglo-Catholic.
  4. I affirm the normative and authoritative nature of scripture, especially for matters of theology and practice. The bible tells the truth according to the literary, cultural, and historical conventions of its time and place. However, “Church tradition has a valid standing along with Scripture. In any matters, except those necessary for salvation, what Scripture does not forbid may be allowed. In this lie life and liberty. Furthermore, the Bible, while not the source or origin of doctrine, has a most important function of being the test of doctrine. No doctrine can be taught as necessary to salvation unless it can be proved by Scripture. It is the safeguard against those additions to the faith such as Rome has made and can continue to make independent of Scriptural warrant.” (taken from this article).
  5. I am an arminian as regards soteriology, affirming that God genuinely calls all people to come to him and makes this possible via his prevenient grace. I further affirm that God pursues all people to such an extent that, though he does not override creaturely libertarian freedom, he does make use of his middle knowledge to effect the salvation of people. This makes me a Molinist.
  6. I affirm the vicarious atonement in which Christ serves as our substitute, though I reject penal substitution as a sub-biblical distortion of the way vicarious atonement works. It is an innovation of the Protestant Church at the hands of Luther, Calvin, et al in which God is overcome by his wrath at sin and takes it out on his innocent son. Rather, Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf thus overcoming our sin (Satisfaction Theory), gave his life to purchase our freedom from the Powers thus overcoming Satan (Ransom Theory), and stormed the barred gates of Hades thus overcoming death (Christus Victor Theory). Those who have gathered to his banner pledge their allegiance to him and pass into his family via an identification, in baptism, with his death, burial, and resurrection. His Spirit is sent to call all people to his cause, to indwell those who come, and to equip them for service in his kingdom.
  7. I am a moderate charismatic. I affirm that the ordinary charismatic gifts (tongues and prophesy, namely) are operative today, but I largely believe that the signs and wonders that authenticated the Gospel proclamation by the Apostles has ceased as the ordinary means of operation. They remain most active on the mission field.
  8. I reject dispensational theology outright (especially the distinction drawn between Israel and the church), though I do not correspondingly accept all aspects of Covenant Theology. Both systems engage in too much eisegesis.
  9. I am an amillenial partial-preterist who sees the prophecies in Daniel, Revelation, the Gospels, and elsewhere as having fulfillment during the first century, specifically in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Nevertheless, I am not on principal opposed to there being future fulfillments of these prophecies as well, specifically a future anti-christ (of which Nero was a type), a future apostasy of the Church, and a future Great Tribulation, all preceding the second coming of Christ. That is, I don’t think there will be future fulfillment of these–except for the second coming–(or at least a future fulfillment wasn’t the point of the various prophecies), but I wouldn’t be surprised if I am wrong. I reject “rapture” theology as an innovation and as built on poor exegesis.
  10. I am a complementary-egalitarian in gender roles for the church and the home, affirming that both men and women can be called as deacons, presbyters, and bishops in the church and that marriage ought to be ordered toward non-hierarchical mutual submission while simultaneously affirming the complementary ways that men and women relate to each other out of their essential gender characteristics. I’ve written about this here.
  11. I affirm the three-fold order of ministry (deacons, presbyters, and bishops) as accepted by nearly every christian since the first-century. Though Christ did not explicitly ordain such an order in scripture, and “the functions of each order may vary somewhat in different times and places, . . . the principle of delegated authority is not thereby violated. Whatever differing types of organization might be found in different localities, the principle of a commissioned ministry was maintained, and survived in the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons, while all others disappeared.” In this I see the guidance of the Holy Spirit.(taken from this article).
  12. I affirm the two dominical sacraments (rituals ordained by Christ that communicate grace to the recipients): Baptism and the Eucharist. In baptism we enter the life of the believing community and are sealed with the Holy Spirit by dying and then rising to new life in Christ. As a lifelong credo-baptist, paedo-baptism is foreign to me experientially, though I have no specific theological objection to the practice. And, indeed, I find it hard to argue with scriptures that seems to support infant baptism (Acts 2:39, Acts 10:48, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Col 2:11-12). Additionally, while accepting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I do not correspondingly accept transubstantiation as the explanation as to how the Real Presence of Christ is present in the Eucharist. I also affirm five minor sacraments: Confirmation (which is related to Baptism), Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation (Confession), and Unction (anointing the sick and the dying).