April 4, 2014 Broadcast

Everyone’s a Theologian, Part 2

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Today we will hear the second half of the discussion with host Lee Webb and Dr. R.C. Sproul about his new book Everyone's a Theologian. Many people react negatively to the word theology, believing that it involves dry, fruitless arguments about minute points of doctrine. Yet as Dr. R.C. Sproul argues, everyone is a theologian. Any time we think about a teaching of the Bible and strive to understand it, we are engaging in theology. Therefore, it is important that we put the Bible’s varied teachings together in a systematic fashion, using proper, time-tested methods of interpretation so as to arrive at a theology that is founded on truth.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    The Athanasian Creed

  2. article

    With Heart and Mind

  3. article

    Escaping the "Cage Stage"

The Athanasian Creed

R.C. Sproul

Quicumque vult— this phrase is the title attributed to what is popularly known as the Athanasian Creed. It was often called the Athanasian Creed because for centuries people attributed its authorship to Athanasius, the great champion of Trinitarian orthodoxy during the crisis of the heresy of Arianism that erupted in the fourth century. That theological crisis focused on the nature of Christ and culminated in the Nicene Creed in 325. At the Council of Nicea of that year the term homoousios was the controversial word that finally was linked to the church’s confession of the person of Christ. With this word the church declared that the second person of the Trinity has the same substance or essence as the Father, thereby affirming that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal in being and eternality. Though Athanasius did not write the Nicene Creed, he was its chief champion against the heretics who followed after Arius, who argued that Christ was an exalted creature but that He was less than God. 

Athanasius died in 373 a.d., and the epithet that appeared on his tombstone is now famous, as it captures the essence of his life and ministry. It read simply, “Athanasius contra mundum,” that is, “Athanasius against the world.” This great Christian leader suffered several exiles during the embittered Arian controversy because of the steadfast profession of faith he maintained in Trinitarian orthodoxy. 

Though the name “Athanasius” was given to the creed over the centuries, modern scholars are convinced that the Athanasian Creed was written after the death of Athanasius. Certainly, Athanasius’ theological influence is embedded in the creed, but in all likelihood he was not its author. The present title, Quicumque Vult, follows the custom in the Roman Catholic Church that is used for encyclicals and creedal statements. These ecclesiastical affirmations get their name from the first word or words of the Latin text. The Athanasian Creed begins with the words quicumque vult, which means “whoever wishes” or “whosoever wishes,” inasmuch as this phrase introduces the first assertion of the Athanasian Creed. That assertion is this: “Whosoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the catholic faith.” The Athanasian Creed seeks to set forth in summary version those essential doctrines for salvation affirmed by the church with specific reference to the Trinity. 

With respect to the history of the origins of the Athanasian Creed, it is generally thought now that the creed was first written in the fifth century — though the seventh century is also given its due, since the creed does not show up in the annals of history until 633 at the fourth council of Toledo. It was written in Latin and not in Greek. If written in the fifth century, several possible authors have been mentioned because of the influence of their thought including Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo, but it likely was the French saint, Vincent of Lérins.

The content of the Athanasian Creed stresses the affirmation of the Trinity in which all members of the Godhead are considered uncreated and co-eternal and of the same substance. In the affirmation of the Trinity the dual nature of Christ is given central importance. As the Athanasian Creed in one sense reaffirms the doctrines of the Trinity set forth in the fourth century at Nicea, in like manner the strong affirmations of the fifth-century council at Chalcedon in 451 are also recapitulated therein. As the church fought with the Arian heresy in the fourth century, the fifth century brought forth the heresies of monophysitism, which reduced the person of Christ to one nature, mono physis, a single theanthropic (God-man) nature that was neither purely divine or purely human. In the Monophysite heresy of Eutyches, the person of Christ was seen as being one person with one nature, which nature was neither truly divine nor truly human. In this view, the two natures of Christ were confused or co-mingled together. At the same time the church battled with the monophysite heresy, she also fought against the opposite view of Nestorianism, which sought not so much to blur and mix the two natures but to separate them, coming to the conclusion that Jesus had two natures and was therefore two persons, one human and one divine. Both the Monophysite heresy and the Nestorian heresy were clearly condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where the church, reaffirming its Trinitarian orthodoxy, stated their belief that Christ, or the second person of the Trinity was vere homo and vere Deus, truly human and truly God. It further declared that the two natures in their perfect unity coexisted in such a manner as to be without mixture, confusion, separation, or division, wherein each nature retained its own attributes. So with one creedal affirmation, both the heresy of Nestorianism and the heresy of Monophysitism were condemned.

The Athanasian Creed reaffirms the distinctions found at Chalcedon, where in the Athanasian statement Christ is called, “perfect God and perfect man.” All three members of the Trinity are deemed to be uncreated and therefore co-eternal. Also following earlier affirmations, the Holy Spirit is declared to have proceeded both from the Father “and the Son,” affirming the so-called filioque concept that was so controversial with Eastern Orthodoxy. Eastern Orthodoxy to this day has not embraced the filioque idea. 

Finally, the Athanasian standards examined the incarnation of Jesus and affirmed that in the mystery of the incarnation the divine nature did not mutate or change into a human nature, but rather the immutable divine nature took upon itself a human nature. That is, in the incarnation there was an assumption by the divine nature of a human nature and not the mutation of the divine nature into a human nature. 

The Athanasian Creed is considered one of the four authoritative creeds of the Roman Catholic Church, and again, it states in terse terms what is necessary to believe in order to be saved. Though the Athanasian Creed does not get as much publicity in Protestant churches, the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation are affirmed by virtually every historic Protestant church. 

With Heart and Mind

R.C. Sproul Jr.

Reformed folk have not earned a reputation for hearts overflowing with love. We tend to be the cerebral ones, very careful to dot our theological I’s and cross our philosophical T’s. Given our peculiar gift, it is no small wonder that we react to the charge of having cold hearts with carefully reasoned arguments. Sometimes we stack syllogism upon syllogism to prove our warmth; other times we stack syllogism upon syllogism to prove that warm hearts are a bad thing to begin with. But all too often, the charges against us are true. Instead of constructing another argument, the proper thing is to repent and beseech God to inflame our hearts.

Our brothers in the charismatic movement have different problems and strengths, but they are not often accused of being cold. Perhaps, then, we Reformed might learn something from them.

As we compare our strengths, we need to see that they are but strengths. Charismatics are not ignoramuses with hearts bursting with love. Reformed folk are not eggheads with hearts made of ice. But such doesn’t mean that these tendencies don’t exist. And that they exist is not an excuse for a happy relativism. The answer to having half an equation cannot be found by affirming that both answers are half right. In short, all Christians need to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths.

Sound theology doesn’t deaden the heart. Neither does great zeal fuzzy up the mind. This is not a zero-sum game we are playing. We study carefully the things of God so that we might better love Him with reckless abandon. And our love for Him should drive us to precision in our study of Him. The mind ought not to say to the heart, “What need have I of thee?” and the heart should not speak such to the mind.

It is our contention that when it comes to the sign gifts, our charismatic brothers have not been sufficiently careful in their thinking. But we want also to give credit where it is due. We do have much to learn from our friends. Together we live coram Deo, before the face of God. Such a truth ought to melt our hearts of ice. Such a truth ought to drive us to praise. But it also ought to drive us to care in handling His Word. May we all be whole Christians, giving Him all that we are, in grateful adoration.

Escaping the "Cage Stage"

R.C. Sproul

My friend Michael Horton often comments on the phenomenon of "cage-stage Calvinism," that strange malady that seems to afflict so many people who have just seen the truth of the Reformed doctrines of grace. We've all known one of these "cage-stage Calvinists." Many of us were even one of them when we were first convinced of God's sovereignty in salvation.

Cage-stage Calvinists are identifiable by their insistence on turning every discussion into an argument for limited atonement or for making it their personal mission to ensure everyone they know hears—often quite loudly—the truths of divine election. Now, having a zeal for the truth is always commendable. But a zeal for the truth that manifests itself in obnoxiousness won't convince anyone of the biblical truth of Reformed theology. As many of us can attest from personal experience, it will actually push them away.

Roger Nicole, the late Swiss Reformed theologian and colleague of mine for several decades, once remarked that all human beings are by nature semi-Pelagian, believing that they are not born as slaves to sin. In this country, particularly, we have been indoctrinated into a humanistic understanding of anthropology, especially with respect to our understanding of human freedom. This is the land of the free, after all. We don't want to believe that we are burdened by negative inclinations and outright enmity toward God, as the Bible teaches us (Rom. 3:9–20). We think that true freedom means having the ability to come to faith without the vanquishing power of saving grace. When we realize that this is not true, that Scripture paints a bleak picture of the human condition apart from grace, that it says it is impossible for us to choose rightly, we want to make sure that everybody else knows it as well. Sometimes we are even angry that no one told us about the true extent of our depravity and the majesty of God's sovereign grace before.

This gives birth to cage-stage Calvinists, those newly minted Reformed believers who are so aggressive and impatient that they should be locked in a cage for a little while so that they can cool down and mature a little in the faith. At times, someone who becomes convinced of the biblical doctrines of grace finds himself in conflict with friends and family because of his discovery of Reformed theology. More than once I've been asked how one should handle hostility from loved ones regarding Reformed theology. If Reformed convictions are causing problems, should one just drop the subject altogether? Are we responsible for convincing others of the truth of the doctrines of grace?

The answer is both yes and no. First let's consider the "no." Scripture says that "neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3:7). Paul is speaking primarily of evangelism in that verse, but I think we can apply it to growth in Christ even after conversion. The Holy Spirit convinces us of truth, and one's coming to embrace Reformed theology shows this quite clearly. Given our semi-Pelagian inclinations, it takes a tremendous amount of exposure to the Word of God to overcome that natural bias against the doctrines of grace. People hold tenaciously to a particular view of free will that is not taught in Scripture. Calvin once remarked that if you mean by free will a will that is unencumbered by the weight of sin, you've used a term that's far too exalted to apply to us. It takes a lot to overcome the exalted view that most sinners have of themselves. Only the Spirit can finally convince people of His truth.

Recognizing the Spirit's work, however, does not mean we are silent or stop believing the truth of Scripture. We don't give up the doctrines of grace to keep peace in the family or with friends. John Piper puts it well when he says that we not only have to believe the truth, that it's not enough even to defend the truth, but we must also contend for the truth. That does not mean, however, that we are to be contentious people by nature. So yes, we are to share what we have learned about God's sovereign grace with those around us.

However, if we really believe the doctrines of grace, we learn how to be gracious about it. When we remember how long it took us to get past the difficulties we once had with the full biblical picture of divine sovereignty and our enslavement to sin, we can view our non-Reformed friends and family more sympathetically and share the truth with them more graciously. One of the first things a person who is excited about his discovery of the doctrines of grace must learn quickly is to be patient with friends and family. God took time with us to convince us of His sovereignty in salvation. We can trust Him to do the same with those we love.

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