Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Response to Mercersburg as an Inoculation against Rome

Every now and then something really astounding is published on the web and one just has to comment on it. Mark Horne has done just that with his post about an inoculation against Rome. Rev. Horne claims that Philip Schaff’s Principle of Protestantism is just that, a way to fight against Rome. Horne rightly points out that Schaff provides a defense of Justification by Faith and also attacks William Pusey, but Horne does not address the main point of the book. Schaff and Nevin, which Horne recommends at the end of the post, are the furthermost thing from an inoculation against Rome, rather they are smaller doses of Romanism.

Here are some important things to remember about Mercersburg, Schaff, and Nevin that show Rev. Horne to be wrong.

1. Schaff defends justification by faith alone with one hand and takes it away with the other. Remember the point of his book is to show that the principle of Protestantism is not justification by faith alone, but rather a principle of development. In fact, he argues that the next step is a reunion with Rome where doctrines like justification by faith alone are merged with elements from Roman worship, like the altar, that implicitly deny that very doctrine. Thus, one can truly question whether or not Schaff defends justification by faith alone in that book, or whether he holds to justification by faith only until the next development is ready, which is a question that must be asked of Schaff when one follows his reasoning on theological development.
2. Nevin seriously considered converting to Roman Catholicism. This is something that is admitted by Schaff himself of his close friend. I find Nevin hard to believe as an antidote to Romanism if he almost went over to it himself. A point ignored by D.G. Hart in his whitewash of Nevin.
3. Many students that sat under Schaff and Nevin converted to Romanism and credited Schaff and Nevin for their conversion.
4. Nevin openly admits that his theological system is a different one from the 16th century pulpit based system and they are at odds with one another.
5. These men were considered unreformed by a large segment of the Reformed world during their own day. The Dutch Reformed broke communion with the Reformed Church in the United States because of the teachings of Nevin and Schaff. Hodge clearly held that Nevin was not reformed on the sacraments, and many within their own denomination accused them of being unreformed on a variety of topics. Take Benjamin Schneck’s work entitled Mercersburg Theology: Inconsistent with Protestant and Reformed Doctrine. Or you could listen to Joseph Berg claim that Nevin was a Nestorian, or the Philadelphia Classis accuse Schaff of holding to a Roman-type view on a Middle State between life and death (which by the way he held and taught at Mercersburg). One could go on for hours.

At the very least, Mercersburg Theology is not a inoculation. At best it is non-reformed attempt to merge two incompatible views. At worst it is a train that leads right to the Tiber river. Let me correct that. At worst it is a recipe to view theology as unimportant. See the result of Mercersburg Theology in the United Churches of Christ.