About the Blog
This BLOG is called “Soul Device” because it sounds wicked cool, but it’s really just me, Doug Beaumont, and my thoughts on theology, philosophy, apologetics, and other fun things like guns and computers.
About the Blogger
I am an existing material/immaterial hylomorphic substance with growth, reproductive, mobility, sensory, and rational intellectual capacities. I work as a low-level IT guy and an adjunct professor (here is my CV) and am pursuing a Ph.D. in Theology at North-West University. I am a writer, speaker, ordained minister, armchair philosopher, back seat theologian, and all around righteous dude. I have a wonderful family, great friends, and some quality enemies.
. . . And Even More About the Blogger
Since you are still reading I feel I can safely assume that you find me fascinating and want to know even more (and, really, who can blame you?). So I will continue with a few thousand word essay on my beliefs. What follows is no grand theological treatise – it’s just about me and my thoughts, so feel free to stop reading if that’s not interesting to you (I won’t be offended).
With all due respect to C. S. Lewis, and although it is an attractive position, I do not claim to be a “mere Christian” or “just someone who loves Jesus.” While true in many ways, the connotations of such statements are problematic. No one “just loves Jesus” without having some idea of who Jesus is and what it means to love him; further (pace Lewis), even those on the “mere Christian” fence have at least made their best guess as to where to balance. Perhaps “mere orthodoxy” is more appropriate (“Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.”) – for what I am is a Christian who is committed to the historic Christian faith as communicated in the biblical canon and defined by the united Church in the ecumenical creeds.
This does not, of course, solve all theological difficulties. I have heard the proposal of Lancelot Andrewes that Christian unity is found in “One Bible, Two Testaments, Three Creeds, Four Councils, and Five Centuries.” The problem with this formulation is that the Church had seven ecumenical councils and remained united for nearly ten centuries. This “consensual ecumenism” or “paleo-orthodoxy” (as Thomas Oden calls it) is perhaps best (and most idealistically) expressed by Vincent of Lerins: ”that which has been believed in every place, in every time, by everyone” (the quote in Latin above). The issue then becomes one of discovering who counts as “everyone.”
For most of my Christian life I have called myself “an evangelical” in order to indicate my fidelity to conservative, non-denominational Christianity. I owe a lot to previous churches, para-church ministries, and I am extremely grateful for what I have learned at my Evangelical seminary. At the same time, for well over a decade I have also been fairly critical of the Evangelical movement as a whole. I won’t rehearse the various issues that prompted these criticisms – you can find them scatted around this BLOG if you are interested.
Concerning viewpoints, whenever suffixes like “ist” or “ism” are appended to a term, it often reflects an alteration of the root word’s meaning. For example, “rationalism” is not simply the state of being rational; rather, it is a philosophical stance that elevates human intellectual activity to the point of being the sole authority in matters of truth. A rationalist is one who affirms rationalism. So one can be rational without being a rationalist or a follower of rationalism. I think the term “Evangelicalism” represents another case where the root term is not necessarily reflected very well in the movement. While “evangelical” could simply mean “pertaining to the gospel,” the word “Evangelicalism” usually refers (in the West, at least) to a popular, quasi-Protestant movement that usually mimics Baptist theology but wants to avoid any icky Fundamentalist overtones. I argue that one can be evangelical without being “an Evangelical” (i.e., a member of Evangelicalism).
The problem, then, is how to speak of those within the popular movement as distinct from those who simply hold to whatever set of Evangelicalism’s definitive marks one adopts. I have suggested that since we use the word “Evangelicalism” we should also use the term “Evangelicalist.” For, just as a rational person is not necessarily a rationalist (i.e., a follower of rationalism), an evangelical Christian is not necessarily an Evangelicalist. (Interestingly, Baptists have the exact opposite problem as Evangelicals – being “a Baptist” does not make one part of a movement known as “Baptism”!)
But even if we adopt the term “Evangelicalist,” the issue is not easily solved. The “Evangelical Movement” is, in reality, very difficult to pin down. Bebbington famously lists four marks of Evangelicalism: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism; but this seems too broad – for many mainline Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox could be said to fall into those categories, although most Evangelicals would not agree to their inclusion. Further, Evangelicalism is rarely referenced (outside of the more precision-oriented literature) according to these criteria. Often it is Evangelicalism’s political, social, and cultural features that set it apart from not only the unbelieving world, but also from other Christians.
The same considerations that make Evangelicalism difficult to define also makes “evangelicals” difficult to define. I, for example, do not partake of much that cultural Evangelicalism has to offer. The Christian entertainment industry (e.g., “Christian music,” “Christian movies,” or much of anything sold in “Christian Bookstores”) has little effect on my life. I do not attend a “non-denominational” church. I do not think that witnessing is limited to confrontational gospel preaching. These sorts of things remove me from membership in popular Evangelicalism, but not from being evangelical (which I am, per Bebbington’s criteria). The same considerations would apply, mutatis mutandis, to other groups to the degree that they imitate or descend from Evangelicalism – such as those within the Charismatic Movement such as Pentecostalism, Four Square, Assemblies of God, etc.
Thus, depending on the terminology adopted, I am / am not an evangelical / Evangelicalist. (Sorry for the confusion – but it’s not my fault that the term hasn’t caught on yet!).
Closely related to (and often indistinguishable from) Evangelicalism is the Baptist movement. My Christian upbringing has been primarily Baptist (depending on the acceptable usage range of that term between “Fundamentalist” and “Evangelical”). I was saved in a non-denominational Evangelical ministry, and spent most of the first two decades of my Christian life at either non-denominational Evangelical churches like Calvary Chapel (which is, ironically, far more “denominational” than most denominational churches!), or with various Baptist churches and para-church ministries. In fact, I am an ordained Baptist minister.
Baptists in general, primarily because they are pretty simplistic when it comes to dogma, allow for a wide latitude for personal beliefs. The Baptist emphasis on individual ability and responsibility with regard to doctrine (“soul sufficiency”), distrust of universally binding creeds, and their firm commitment to avoiding ecclesiastical hierarchy above the local church level, there is quite a bit of variety among Baptists. The wide theological path that Baptists may walk is generally limited, however, to Baptists–in –General. Once one enters a particular Baptist Church (pun intended), it is a different story. This is why there can be a Baptist Church on every block of a given city – the real distinctions between them are many.
One reason I cannot be a good Baptist is that I do not hold to adult-believer-only baptism (“credo-baptism”). I explain why elsewhere, but suffice it to say that I see baptism as the act by which one enters the New Covenant Church (much like how circumcision functioned in Old Covenant Israel). Thus, baptism need not be restricted to the professing Christian faithful (much like how circumcision was not limited to professing and faithful Israelites). Now, along with Baptists, I do not believe that baptism guarantees salvation any more than circumcision did apart from faith. I think that baptism ought to be denied to those who refuse to believe; however, I do not think that the corollary is that baptism should be denied to those who cannot believe (e.g., babies or the mentally disabled). So, while I may agree with the Baptist affirmation of adult-believer baptism, I do not agree with its limit.
Other disagreements I have over church hierarchy and worship styles could fall into the “willing to agreeably disagree” category (and Baptists do not necessarily agree on the details of these issues either), but, since the Baptist view of baptism is practically the only unique doctrinal requirement to be a good Baptist, this alone would keep me from being able to minister or work as a member of most Baptist churches.
I have never actually been a Protestant. A Protestant is, technically, one of the continental groups that protested the corruptions of the medieval Catholic Church in the 16th Century. So Lutherans, Presbyterians, and some Reformed groups are most properly classified as Protestants, while groups coming from the “Radical Reformation” (i.e., Anabaptist) are not really Protestant, because they did not have their origin in the Reformation proper (in fact, many Protestants actually persecuted the Anabaptists). This also applies to the “English Reformation” which birthed Anglicanism (which, in turn, gave rise to Methodism). It began in England due to more personal and political reasons than doctrinal.
Protestantism arose, as many Catholics admit, for legitimate reasons and produced some fine theologians, preachers, and teachers. But, as many Protestants admit, the Reformation principles that was started to heal the Church’s wounds, ended up causing even more of them. The Protestant principle produced the tens of thousands of denominations that we see today. Thus, the first problem with “becoming Protestant” is that there is no Protestant Church – only churches grouped into denominations within the Protestant category. So, to be Protestant one must not only grapple with all the issues that distinguish the major denominations, but the ones that sub-divide every major Protestant denomination into various groups split across the conservative-liberal spectrum. These sub-denominations often share little more between them than their title or governing principles. So being Protestant is not as easy as one might think!
A related issue is that these Protestant denominations usually require agreement with detailed theological statements for membership. My issue here is that if I am going to be held to some dogmatic statement of faith or creed, I would need it to be trustworthy to a very high degree. This seems more easily argued in the case of the early ecumenical creeds than post-15th Century confessions, because if the Reformation was about getting the Church back to its truest expression (i.e., its state prior to the errors of the medieval period), why not just fall back on the creeds of the early, united Church? The answer seems to be that these individual Protestant denominations not only wish to correct medieval Catholicism, but also to add to / change the dogmas of the ecumenical Church. To do so seems to me to introduce some difficulties (that I have written on elsewhere) which are made all the more difficult by the fact that these individual denominations do not agree among themselves on which changes are “truest.”
The solutions to the above issues that are offered by many Protestant groups often only seem to reintroduce the issues inherent in a Catholic or Orthodox system – but without an ecclesiology that can support them a (hence the denominational splits). The problems with Protestantism are basically the same problems within Evangelicalism simply backed up a step – which does not seem worth the energy to attempt to embrace or fix. But even if these objective obstacles were removed, both my philosophical and theological backgrounds would keep me from being able to affirm the details of most Protestant theological systems. Theologically I do not fit neatly into typical presentations of Calvinism, Arminianism, or Covenant Theology, for example. And the philosophy that undergirds my theology is Aristotelian and Thomistic. This would not work well with most Protestant denominations which tend toward Nominalism and Kantianism.
The word “Episcopalian” used to simply indicate the “American Anglican” denomination. Today, however, many communities have sought to dissociate themselves from Episcopalianism due to moral and doctrinal disagreements. Many churches have thus adopted the more generic label of “Anglican” to indicate both their separation from the liberal Episcopal churches and their communion with world-wide Anglicanism. That is how I am using the word here.
While often Reformed in its doctrine, Anglicanism gives a lot of latitude with regard to the Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox spectrum. Yes, it has the 39 Articles and the Prayer Book – but these are usually seen more as helpful guides than established dogma. It’s a nice idea, but there are serious problems caused by this openness. In seeking their admirable goal of unity, Anglicanism has basically institutionalized the very problems that divide most other Christian groups. While such a system can work out for the good, doctrinal and moral orthodoxy has, unfortunately, become accidental to being Anglican in many circles. The alleged essential (holding to the orthodox creeds and councils) cannot guarantee a position on many other issues, whether theological or moral.
Despite Anglicanism’s goal of unity, Anglicanism has no way – even theoretically – to guarantee that these issues can ever be firmly resolved. Further, while the Anglicanism family tree is nearly as complex as Protestantism in general, Anglican churches can divide along virtually any line and still remain “in communion” with one another. The result is that to say, “I am Anglican,” is not to say much. One may be Anglican and be either extremely conservative (doctrinally and/or morally) or extremely liberal (doctrinally and/or morally).
The word “orthodox” refers to a belief or person who is in line with the standard of some group. In Christianity, this standard has generally been understood to be the Nicene Creed. When the great schism occurred near the beginning of the second millennium, the Church (which, at the time, was both catholic and orthodox) split into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Thus, one can be orthodox without being Orthodox. [I am just going to use capital-O “Orthodox” instead of typing “Eastern” (or “Oriental,” or “Armenian,” or “Coptic,” etc.) every time.]
For one who embraces the teachings of the orthodox historic Christian faith, but is concerned over developments in later traditions, Eastern Orthodoxy would seem to be a good fit. Not only are the doctrinal requirements to become Orthodox less detailed, the Orthodox do not have to answer for the Crusades, the Inquisition, problematic Popes, or the divisions resulting from the Reformation. Plus, Orthodoxy has not succumbed to the modernistic trends plaguing the western church, and the liturgical worship is undeniably beautiful. But this beautiful conservativism masks some troublesome aspects of Orthodoxy.
First, Orthodoxy has only the seven ecumenical councils as their source for defined dogma. The good news is that there is a wider array of belief options available to the Orthodox believer, but it also means that new issues are more difficult to deal with definitively. Thus, while Orthodoxy does not suffer from many problematic developments, it can also seem to suffer from being under-developed.
Second, lack of agreement among the Orthodox hierarchy cannot be resolved by a higher principle of unity. Although the Orthodox respond that this also makes it more difficult to fall into error, the fact is that the Church has to be able to make these kinds of definitive statements of the faith and Orthodoxy, by its own admission, cannot do so.
Third, there is a serious (and generally acknowledged) lack of western cultural involvement within Orthodoxy. Being a recent transplant to the USA, most Orthodox communities remain bound up in the culture from which they came (e.g., while the worship in a Russian Orthodox Church and a Greek Orthodox Church may not differ formally, it will differ materially – at least in language). Since there is not much of an “American Orthodoxy” yet, it is often simply seen as “odd” that an American would even want to become Orthodox, because each Greek/Russian/fill-in-the-geographic-blank Orthodox Church is so culturally locked. All of this makes Orthodoxy a tough sell.
The word “catholic” means something like “universal.” This is why traditional Protestants can recite the Nicene Creed which affirms “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” without feeling dishonest. So, to be a member of the “catholic church” could simply refer to one who is a member of the body of Christ, regardless of where the individual has church membership. Often today, however, when someone hears “catholic” they consider it shorthand for “Roman Catholic.” A similar issue results from the difference between being “orthodox” and being [Eastern] “Orthodox.” So keep in mind that a claim to be [small-c] catholic or [small-o] orthodox is not to claim membership in Catholicism or Orthodoxy. [NOTE: from now on I am just going to use capital-C “Catholic” instead of typing “Roman” every time.]
In my experience, this distinction can be a problem for both Evangelicals and Catholics. Most Evangelicals are quite clear that they are non-Catholic, but often seem to forget that they are also non-Orthodox, non-Anglican, and in some senses non-Protestant (see above). Thus, when an issue like infant baptism arises, they cannot see past the fact that Catholics baptize infants, and end up considering the two as equivalent. Many Catholics, too, do not see past these commonly accepted positions either, and so see any support for them as support for their own views. But again, while affirmation of infant baptism does indirectly affirm Catholicism (just as affirmation of the Trinity does), it also indirectly supports the majority view of Christianity throughout history and today.
Now, I have made no secret of the fact that I have embraced some of the positions held by the early Church which are not often held within Evangelicalism. Some of them are, of course, held by Catholics as well. But one does not become a good Catholic by picking and choosing from among Rome’s dogmas like food in a cafeteria. Although one can affirm all the dogmas of the traditional church which Roman Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy, and the majority of Protestantism) also affirms, until one also affirms those dogmas that only Roman Catholicism teaches, one can be “catholic” only in the creedal sense of “universal.”