A Lordship Preface
Some time ago, John MacArthur, a somewhat popular evangelical preacher took a swipe at Hank Hanegraaff. I say swipe because in all fairness, that is what it was. MacArthur really doesn’t even try to be charitable. For example he designates the priestly cloth that is placed over the recipient’s head during the chrismation rite as a “rag” and derides it as infused with divine grace. That is of course a rather cheap shot. One has to wonder what Mr. MacArthur makes of Acts 19:12 after all.
MacArthur then goes on to cite the Confession of Dositheus, Decree 13, which I have referenced previously concerning Hank’s seeming inability to articulate a non-Protestant view of justification and disavow the Reformation teaching. The Decree is fairly clear in its denial of Sola Fide, so MacArthur is quite right to cite it on that score. I have no doubt though that MacArthur would be at great pains to explain what the view of justification expressed in it. MacArthur goes on to say that the Orthodox, like Rome do not have the gospel and that they teach a false gospel. Perhaps he thought this would have significant shock value, but frankly that Protestants think so really isn’t news. Anyone shocked by it either hasn’t been paying attention or is completely ignorant of the Reformation.
The irony here is that in the early 1990’s MacArthur was involved in the Lordship Salvation controversy which centered around the question of whether one could have Jesus as their savior but not their lord. That is roughly, were works absolutely necessary for salvation or not. The somewhat denying position was articulated if memory serves by Zane Hodges out of Dallas Theological Seminary. His position in sum if memory serves was that it was possible to be saved, given the Arminian doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved, even if one fell into gross sin and had no good works (Yes that is an Arminian doctrine). The affirming position came in a variety of shades, with the Lutherans and the Reformed staking out their confessional positions.
This group also includes John MacArthur to some degree, though he could hardly be classed as confessionally Reformed given his Dispensationalism and other theological idiosyncrasies. Here is where we get to the irony part. During the early 1990’s I was something of a toady for Michael Horton’s group CURE (Christians United for Reformation) in southern California. After an evenings lecture very often we would go to Mike’s house for pizza and socialization into the wee hours of Friday nights. Now to be honest, I never got into the Lordship debate much, but I do recall a conversation with Horton and others regarding MacArthur. When the latter came up, both the Lutherans and the Reformed were quite uncomfortable with MacArthur’s inclusion into the current issue of Modern Reformation which was covering the Lordship Salvation debate.
I inquired why, since I had never been enamored with or followed MacArthur. They pointed out that MacArthur’s view of faith as entailing an act of obedience amounted to the Tridentine Catholic position of “formed faith.” And sure enough, after reading through his article and a few other things of his, this certainly seemed to be the case. And it certainly seems to continue to be the case with MacArthur. So as Romaphobic as MacArthur is and as loud as his denunciations of Orthodoxy are, his position falls under the same condemnations of the Reformers as theirs, and yet he seems not to even know it. So it is quite ironic for MacArthur to call out Hanegraaff for denying Sola Fide when he himself in fact does not profess it, but rather something incompatible with it. Is it wrong that I find this funny?
A Hankadox Dodge
Now MacArthur, aging as he is, still has a sizable following, especially in the Christian Mecca of southern California. Unlike Hank, MacArthur has his own seminary. (Hank tried to acquire Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte in a deal with Norman Geisler with an honorary doctorate, and apparently a promised position to head the seminary but the deal eventually fell through it seems and Hank was stuck, with the honorary degree as a consolation prize and no where to go after relocating to Charlotte, NC.) Because MacArthur is calling Hank out for heresy, Hank has to respond, and respond he did last night.
So Hanegraaff plays the relevant pieces of MacArthur’s speech and then tells the audience that he is going to make some “clarifications.” So after we suffer under listening to MacArthur, Hank is going to make it all clear for us. Now by all means, watch the video for yourself. And while you are watching, just ask yourself the following questions. Is it clear that Hank affirms or denies the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide? Does Hank ever engage the point at issue directly?
Going through the video, the first thing to notice is that Hank never addresses the claim made by MacArthur that we Orthodox have the same doctrine on this point as Rome. Rather, he asserts that MacArthur misunderstands. Now, I fully believe MacArthur has no idea what, say Augustine or Chrysostom means by justification and so has no idea what Decree 13 of the Synod expresses. That said, I think MacArthur is sufficiently clear that the Orthodox do not believe in Sola Fide. He figured out that much. And nothing Hank provides in the video shows that to be false.
Next Hank goes through a list of doctrines that the Orthodox do not adhere to but that Catholicism professes trying to stress that they are different theologically. The problem is none of these doctrines (Immaculate Conception, Papal infallibility, etc. ) is the doctrine under discussion. And of course between Rome and the Orthodox there is no substantial disagreement on justification here or in their mutual denials of Sola Fide. So this is just a dodge on Hank’s part. It is entirely irrelevant. As an added bonus Hank speaks of “dogmas” that the Orthodox do not have such as “limbo” and “celibacy.” Uhm, last I checked celibacy is a rule for Latin rite Catholics and not for the many other liturgical rites within Rome. And what is more, Limbo is not a Catholic dogma. It is a theological opinion that waxed and waned in adherence over time. How Hank who is supposedly a “leading apologist” after twenty five years doesn’t know this pretty basic stuff is beyond me.
Next Hank talks of the Confession of Dositheus as an “Orthodox writing.” Well, its more than just a “writing.” It is a synodally affirmed document and one that anathematizes Protestantism, to which Hank must adhere. So here it seems Hank is trying to play down its significance. Maybe he missed its synodal standing when he read Bp. Ware’s book, The Orthodox Church? It is sufficiently well covered there and plenty of other places. Ole well, maybe he didn’t read that book after all. (Is that like Ghost reading?)
Hank notes that it is what the Patriarchate of Jerusalem wrote against the alleged Calvinism of Patriarch Cyril Lukaris. (I say alleged because it seems disputable whether Lukaris even wrote the documents attributed to him. Either way it would make no difference as he wouldn’t be the first patriarch to fall into heterodoxy.) This also seems to play down the document’s fairly regular normative standing for Orthodox Christians. (I am sure Hank has yet to find out that it teaches transubstantiation as well, which he also explicitly denies.) That it was written by Dositheus against Calvinistic errors pretty much makes MacArthur’s point for him, namely that the Orthodox deny Sola Fide, since that is one of the errors picked out for rejection. Decree 13 is pretty clear. So what does Hank affirm or deny again? Yeah, we don’t know that.
So then Hank starts talking about the Confession as directed against Calvinistic determinism. It was so directed but also against wider Protestant distinctives. That said, when Hank brings this up, it is entirely irrelevant. First, not all advocates of Sola Fide, which is the doctrine on the table, are Calvinists or affirm theological determinism in a Calvinistic sense or otherwise. Second, plenty of Augustinians deny Sola Fide and affirm a form of theological determinism and they are not Calvinists either. So this is just a smack at John MacArthur. Look at what nasty things John MacArthur believes! Oh my! It fails to engage the point on the table which is why it is a red herring. Does Hank believe in Sola Fide or not?
And to be fair, Hank futzes up the general Reformed view on Divine ordination. Calvin is quite clear that God not only foresees the fall but also ordains it. That much is true as Hank reports. But Calvin doesn’t, nor the wider Reformed tradition to my knowledge takes this to mean that God causes the fall. Moreover, that God ordains all things for his own pleasure is quite a different than God taking pleasure in the act of the fall per se. And it seems to me it is exactly here that Hanegraaff creates a straw man. And this is why his citation of Ezekiel 18:32 really does no work for him. It just doesn’t speak to that point. This is not to say that I don’t think the Reformed view is false. I do, but what Hank offers here pretty much leaves their position untouched.
Then Hank recites James 2, as if this does some actual argumentative work. First, confessional protestants affirm the necessity of good works. That is simply not disputable. Anyone who doesn’t know this simply doesn’t know much of anything about Reformation theology. Second, the prevailing line among the Reformed is that good works are contiguous with a genuine faith but they do not participate in our justification. (Some Reformed authors place faith in a causal position in relation to works but this seems to be a minority view.) That is, good works are necessary but not meritorious. So, a genuine faith will always be accompanied by good works. That is a fairly standard gloss among Protestants. This is how they read James 2 and why an appeal to James 2 without any exegesis showing that their position fails to comport with the passage does not engage their position. And of course, Hank offers none. It is all a bunch of hand waving.
So what Hank must offer is an argument as to why James 2 is incompatible with the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide and hence why Sola Fide is false. But notice, Hank never does this. He never says Sola Fide is false and he never denies adherence to it. If he did so a couple of things would happen.
The first thing that would happen would be that his claim of “Mere Christianity” would fall apart for the simple reason that confessional Protestants take Sola Fide to be an essential Christian doctrine and hence part of any account of “Mere Christianity” and Rome and the Orthodox don’t. It would become very clear, very quickly that there is no agreed upon group of essential doctrines between Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox, let alone between Protestants themselves. Second, Hank would have to argue that Sola Fide is in fact false and not part of those essential Christian doctrines. But this is a problem for Hank, as CRI’s own doctrinal statement (article 6), which he is required to assent to in writing, affirms Sola Fide. Note well the irony that MacArthur should agree with the Synod’s view of justification given his view that is essentially that of formed faith. I’ve laid out what an Orthodox view of justification and James 2 would look like. Third thing that would happen is that Hank would likely lose what is left of his evangelical donor base and well, he can’t let that happen, because he’s staked everything on Orthodoxy…cough.
Next Hank talks of Protestantism and Rome’s “dichotomization of faith and works.” HUH? Protestantism ok, maybe, but Rome?! Cough! Second, just saying that Protestantism “dichotomizes” faith and works, well what does that actually prove? Nothing. It is just empty rhetoric. We’d need to know beforehand that that is bad, distorting and the like. Does Hank give us a reason for thinking so? No. And he then notes that the debate over justification could not have been imagined in the Orthodox tradition, but Hank doesn’t explain why. (Hint: He’d have to grasp Orthodox Christology to do it. ) And without that explanation, there is nothing here being offered that is exculpatory against MacArthur’s charge.
Mark the Ascetic Makes It All OK…Not Really.
Next Hank brings in Mark the Ascetic’s work, On Those Who Think They Are Made Righteous By Works. Now Mark the Ascetic’s remarks on justification are just fine. The problem for Hank and for Protestants is that Mark’s views are consistent with Trent and the Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem in 1672. Second, Mark seems to take the notion of merit he rejects as merits apart from grace, which is why it is not consistent with Reformation teaching because that teaching excludes even works born of grace as being a ground for justification. In fact, the material Hank cites from Mark expresses the idea found in other figures like Augustine that our good works born of grace, please God, but not in the sense of strict justice. That is, God is not justifying out of a sense of proportional obligation. As Augustine writes,
“If, then, your good merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts. On Grace and Free Will 6. 15.
So Mark’s view, along with Augustine’s implies a denial of Sola Fide. (And of course there is nothing in Mark that expresses Sola Fide either.) So nothing Hank cites from Mark can help him fend off MacArthur’s charge.
Hank seems to read and represent Mark’s position just as the Protestant position that good works born of grace always accompany saving faith rather than good works contributing to our being declared just. So it is far from clear if Hank even understands the Reformation view he is supposed to be denying or that he is supposed to be denying it as required of him as an Orthodox Christian.
Hank ends with reciting Ephesians 2, which of course everyone believes but interprets differently. Shocking, I know. Just because Hank cites Ephesians 2 doesn’t answer the question on the table. Is Sola Fide true or false? Is Sola Fide an essential Christian doctrine or not? Perhaps Hank should go read his own organization’s doctrinal statement before he responds to MacArthur.
More Unbelievable Footsies with Frederica
Coming to his defense on social media is Frederica Matthews-Green. Apparently the shellacking James White gave her a while back wasn’t sufficient. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to him later.) To be sure, she means well, but if this is what constitutes helping, I am just letting my friends know in advance, please, don’t ever “help” me like this. In responding to MacArthur’s citation of the Synod of Jerusalem, she writes,
“Also, the idea that there is any list of “decrees,” or that we have an official written statement of “dogma,” ascribes to Orthodoxy a lot more organizational ability than we actually have. There is no list of dogmas in no decree # 13.”
Now when John MacArthur seems to be more familiar with Orthodox doctrinal sources than Frederica, we have a serious problem. She seems unfamiliar or unaware of the synod, which most certainly has such a decree. As readers of Bp. Ware’s ever popular The Orthodox Church will recall, as will readers of Energetic Procession, the council’s decree formally condemns the Protestant view of Sola Fide. I have no doubt she is not one of the many well informed and regular readers of Energetic Procession, but maybe she didn’t read Bp. Ware’s book or maybe it just has been too long? Oops.
Then she writes what she takes to be the correct and presumably Orthodox view on the relation between faith and works,
“The relationship of faith and works–I liked the way that a professor at my Episcopal seminary put it, many years ago: “We are not saved by works, but we will not be saved without works.” Doing God’s will is the natural fruit of a tree planted in faith and trust in Jesus Christ. It is not what saves us; it is a grateful response to being saved.”
Well the first thing to note is, it might not be a good idea to get Orthodox doctrine from your days at an Episcopal seminary. Ya think? The second thing to note is that what she expresses from her seminary professor just IS the classical Protestant view. So yeah, that just is the Protestant view that Frederica is expressing without seemingly being aware of it. Uhm, yeah, so there is that.
Now to add even more irony here, Hank spends a fair amount of time harping on James 2, without providing any reason for thinking it contradicts Sola Fide, which is what MacArthur is taking him to task about. In any case, given our recent personal meeting at my parish and subsequent telephone conversations, Hank refuses to comply with Scripture and meet with representatives of the Martin Family and the former employees to resolve our dispute. So I suppose, Hank’s refusal to follow scripture shows you his faith by his works, whatever “faith” that is. I suppose that’s what being Hankadox is all about-never having to say you’re sorry.
So, to recapitulate for everyone. We have John MacArthur who teaches a Catholic view of justification, but doesn’t know it and so anathematizes Rome and Orthodoxy. We have Hank, who has no idea what it is he believes (or won’t say directly), and we have no idea either, because after all, as he says “my views have not changed.” And then we have Frederica, teaching a Protestant view of the relation of faith and works to Orthodox Christians without knowing it after how many years of being Orthodox. How any of these people are teaching publicly is beyond me.
One thing is for sure, I am definitely going to need a lot more popcorn. Snort.