Priority of Theology Proper over Soteriology

I would like to add one Bible-order reflection to this thread, or perhaps better put, an apostolic order.

Consider the gospel pattern of the book of Romans. The overall order of the book is: 1) the bad news, 2) the good news, 3) implications of the good news. This has every appearance of gospel- or salvation-priority.

Drilling down, yet we find there are other priorities, some of which come before others in logic or time, which thus may be said to be properly more significant.

Consider the place of election. Paul does not start with election; but when he gets to it, clearly it is essential, even fundamental to the gospel. Paul's basic gospel investigation is like walking into a grand house for sale, and having the real estate agent point out all the fantastic things right from the front door. The centerpiece of the house--it's reason for existence we could say--is a focal gathering point for family/friends, everything seems to be oriented thence and for the comfort of those present. At some point, the agent invites the visitors into the cellar, and there he points to the signs of a firm foundation to this edifice. This house is built on a rock, and without that security none of the above amenities would stand firm.

So, the purposes designed for them who came in the front door and who spend all their time on the upper levels--are these of "more importance" than the foundation? In one sense, yes. But in another vital sense the doctrine of election does have a kind of "priority." In his letter, Paul hints at other hidden priorities, such as the doctrine of One True God versus all the wrong ideas about God to which the Gentiles are committed. There's a sense in which he can begin his gospel presentation, as he did in Athens, not by directly challenging the foolishness of idolatry and polytheism, but by proclaiming the God of gods, the Living God, who is bound to bring everything into judgment.

It is this God--and no other, for there is no other--which is responsible not only for the world's existence, but also for its redemption if it is to be redeemed. Persisting in false conception of who this God is will invariably result--if not in one generation, then in the next--in loss of the gospel entire, for which the One True God is the author. Jupiter cannot be plugged into the divine concept of Romans 1-2, let alone the God of our salvation who is behind the whole letter to Rome. Neither can the god of the Arians, or the Pelagians fulfill the hope of believers in some form of salvation from on high. If one speaks of "God" and "Christ," but has turned like Marcion to a two-fold conception of the God(s) of OT/NT revelation, he does not really understand God or Christ. And lacking real knowledge of God-in-Christ, all these continue to be lost even when they think themselves found and safe.

I suspect Trueman would gladly say he believes in a "salvation priority," in the Book of Romans sense. I think he can say this in all honesty, even while he urgently points to a different kind of priority concerning Who God Is. The early church desperately saw the importance of "getting God right," which concern nowadays large portions of the church seem amazingly indifferent to. Still, there are people who agree now on the importance of the right foundation, but who try to build vastly different superstructures on it. We are arguing with them about which blueprint is correct, and biblical.

We are arguing with the indifferent others about blueprints as well, as they claim to be building what we are building, with the front door in the same place and a very similar layout; all the while they ignore the foundation.
 
In Carl Trueman's article, "Protestants Need to Go Back to Basics", he states:


Are disagreements on theology proper -- like the ones mentioned on simplicity, impassability, eternal generation and God's foreknowledge -- more serious than disagreements on soteriology, such as justification?
The Westminster Confession of Faith does not compromise on the entire system of classical theology, proper, whether it be the theology of God or the theology of salvation. The whole system fits together in a logical and propositional system that is in perfect harmony. This goes back to the Evangelicals and Catholics Together controversy as well. However, you are correct that the doctrine of the Trinity is an essential of the Reformed and confessional view. In fact, if you consider the Westminster Confession as prioritizing the earlier chapters with the later ones, then it would appear that the Trinity is the second most important doctrine, preceded only by Sola Scriptura in chapter one, and followed closely by the doctrine of double predestination in chapter 3. Justification does not get a mention until you get to chapter 11. Even particular atonement gets more attention in chapter 8. And lets not forget that creation, ch. 4 and providence, ch. 5 rank higher than justification.

I just had another epiphany: those of us who prioritize theology are also generally stronger on soteriology as well.

Reason: Because we hold to the classical and historic view of God, that means we are also closer to the confessions, and being closer to the confessions, we are confessional in our view of things.

Proof: Back in the 2000s when FV was the rage, Trueman was among those who stood against it, remaining sound on soteriology. Perhaps not accidentally, those who are weak on the doctrine of God (e.g., Doug Wilson) are also weak on soteriology.

Counter: But doesn't that make you a Thomist and they were Catholics!

Sed contra: Not really. For one, you don't really know what Thomas taught, having never read him (or any Thomist for that matter). Moreover, we know Hebrew and Thomas didn't. We are generally sounder on the names of God and the covenants.

Second counter: Wayne Grudem is sound on soteriology.

Sed contra: true. He is infinitely preferable to Wilson, but since he doesn't hold to covenant baptism, any real fellowship, even by both sides, would be limited.
I disagree that Trueman is strong on the doctrine of God. I reject Thomist theology because of the two-fold view of truth that Thomas advocated for. If there is no single point where God's knowledge and man's knowledge coincide, then even ectypal knowledge is not special revelation from God, making God totally transcendent and totally unknowable. The result would be neo-orthodoxy.

Of course, I would say that because I follow the apologetics of Gordon H. Clark.
 
RamisThomist said:

“I just had another epiphany: those of us who prioritize theology are also generally stronger on soteriology as well.

Reason: Because we hold to the classical and historic view of God, that means we are also closer to the confessions, and being closer to the confessions, we are confessional in our view of things.”

This actually highlights the issue so many have when talking to some “Classical Theists.” They would be disturbed that this statement doesn't say, “Because we hold to the Scriptural view of God, that means we are more Scriptural in our view of things.” They are sincerely concerned that, although confessions are important, confessionalism is a real danger. Such confessionalism might not be the intent of the above statement, but you would get further with brethren who struggle to accept some of your views if you focused more on Scripture first and foremost.
 
Is Trueman choosing between parties who only differ in their doctrine of God? I asked my original question because it seemed like he leans towards those aligned on the doctrine of God rather than on the nature of justification.



To clarify the original question. Are disagreements on eternal generation and God's simplicity and impassability, more serious than disagreements on the nature of justification?
I don't think it's a matter of being more "serious" but noting that you can't be a Church that is drifting on the doctrine of God and maintain a proper soteriology.

I was reminded the other day when thinking about this when I was at the 2012 PCA General Assembly. I listened to some of the Elders and the arguments being made and told a couple of Elders a week later that the PCA would split within 10 years over homosexuality. The issue at hand at the Assembly had nothing to do with homosexuality. It simply corresponded to the time when Obama "evolved" on gay marriage and the cultural forces of acceptance of homosexuality were coming like a tidal wave.

Because I heard so little theological coherence from some Elders, I predicted (somewhat accurately) that the PCA would be vulnerable to heterodox notions about sexuality as the culture pressed in. Revoice occurred within 6 years, and though we did not split, we did lose some of those Elders who were adrift theologically.

Was Andy Stanley solid on Soteriology in 2012? How about now?

@RamistThomist sort of alludes to this in his prior post. Again, I want to make it crystal clear that I'm not arguing for some unreasonable precision among the average person. I'm simply noting that the Evangelical world is adrift on basic, creedal ideas that used to be one of the few things that everyone agreed upon. If you can allow your doctrine of God to go adrift, then everything floats freely.

As I told one Elder in the progressive wing of the PCA years ago (in effect): "You have no idea what your grandchildren will confess two generations hence because you deprioritize the Confession."
 
I disagree that Trueman is strong on the doctrine of God. I reject Thomist theology because of the two-fold view of truth that Thomas advocated for. If there is no single point where God's knowledge and man's knowledge coincide, then even ectypal knowledge is not special revelation from God, making God totally transcendent and totally unknowable. The result would be neo-orthodoxy.

Of course, I would say that because I follow the apologetics of Gordon H. Clark.
A rejection of the archeytpal/ectypal distinction doesn't make you stronger on the doctrine of God; it makes you idiosyncratic. The dogmatic of all the Reformed confessions include this as part of the prolegomena of theology.
 
Such confessionalism might not be the intent of the above statement, but you would get further with brethren who struggle to accept some of your views if you focused more on Scripture first and foremost.

But which Scriptural statements about God? The ones where he acts like he doesn't know things? The ones where he changes? The one where he gets David to sin? Of course, we also know Scripture verses that say the contrary, but why prioritize those over the ones I just mentioned? I can answer that question because I hold to the traditional view of God. God is pure act. Therefore, those passages aren't meant to be taken in a wooden fashion.

Or even take the book of Isaiah. At the beginning of the book God is in his throne room, presumably seated on a throne and in one spatial location. By the end of the book he seems to have transcended such limitations.
 
The Bible cannot be isolated from its Greek culture. BDAG, one of the leading Greek lexicons, notes the following for energia (cf. Eph. 1:19, passim). Of course, that does not mean Paul copied Aristotle, nor does it mean, though I think a good case could be made, that Aristotle's meaning is determinative for Paul. One could even argue that energein had a somewhat plastic application in Greek philosophy, though its usage in Paul and Aristotle is close enough.

1707694879152.png
 
But which Scriptural statements about God? The ones where he acts like he doesn't know things? The ones where he changes? The one where he gets David to sin? Of course, we also know Scripture verses that say the contrary, but why prioritize those over the ones I just mentioned? I can answer that question because I hold to the traditional view of God. God is pure act. Therefore, those passages aren't meant to be taken in a wooden fashion.
This is really illuminating. Although it is outside the scope of the original question, could you elaborate more on how we determine which Scripture verses have priority? I'd be happy to start a new thread if required.
 
This is really illuminating. Although it is outside the scope of the original question, could you elaborate more on how we determine which Scripture verses have priority? I'd be happy to start a new thread if required.
I'd say it's less about priority and more about harmony. I don't think that Jacob was arguing that because he holds to the traditional view of God he knows which statements are more important, but rather that such a views best harmonizes each statement with the others by clarifying the nature and intent of each.
 
I'd say it's less about priority and more about harmony. I don't think that Jacob was arguing that because he holds to the traditional view of God he knows which statements are more important, but rather that such a views best harmonizes each statement with the others by clarifying the nature and intent of each.

That's part of it. It comes down to who or what God is. It comes down to Pure Act. If God is mutable or semi-eternal or something like that, then he is being acted upon by some other agent. It also means he has always had some potential lack. That means there must be something above God giving him actuality. Repeat process. That is why I privilege those verses.
 
That's part of it. It comes down to who or what God is. It comes down to Pure Act. If God is mutable or semi-eternal or something like that, then he is being acted upon by some other agent. It also means he has always had some potential lack. That means there must be something above God giving him actuality. Repeat process. That is why I privilege those verses.
Sure, but in the end, every word of God proves true, and no word is any more or less true, or more or less important. It's a matter of how each statement is true. I don't necessarily have a problem with the language of "privileging" those passages that are more directly/literally true, but it could cause some confusion.
 
Back
Top