Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Peter Leithart's Principle of Protestantism

I cannot pass up this latest article by Peter Leithart in the First Things blog/magazine entitled the End of Protestantism.  Leithart argues that Protestantism needs to end and is ending, but the Reformation goes on.  He spends some time making the case that Protestants just knee jerk react to Romanism and think history begins with Calvin and Zwingli and that it is a bad attitude to have.  I don’t really want to interact with any of that.  What I think is more interesting is the emphasis on Historical Doctrinal Development that I have argued was a main plank of the Federal Vision movement from the beginning. 

Leithart advocates at Reformed Catholicism, which used to be the name of a blog that agreed with the FV and promoted Mercersburg Theology.  Leithart sets this whole article in terms of dialectical opposition without using the phrase.  Phillip Schaff would be proud.  Protestantism is simply the antithesis to the thesis of Romanism.  Do not miss that vital point.  Each has doctrines that will need to be jettisoned such as forensic justification in favor of salvation that is intrinsically “social” and the Romanist will need to jettison the papism, but in the end both sides are wrong.  The Thesis and Antithesis are both the wrong answers.  Leithart does admit the serve a purpose or as he puts it, “Protestantism has had a good run”.    Now however is the time for the synthesis. 

And Leithart does call for that synthesis.  He states,

"Reformed Catholicism meets George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism coming from the direction of Rome and gives it a hearty handshake."

He concludes by saying “It’s time to turn the protest on Protestantism and look for a new way to be heirs of the Reformation”.  A new way.  Doctrinal Development.  A new way that is meeting in the middle with Roman Catholicism.  This is exactly what Phillip Schaff envisioned in his Principle of Protestantism: a reunion of Romanism with the worship and objectivism with the Protestant subjectivism and rejection of a pope. 

You will note Doug Wilson is already coming to his defense while claiming to be Protestant through and through.  Wilson favors doctrinal development as can be seen in Reformed is Not Enough.  The only thing he really disagrees with in Leithart’s article is the labels.  See his attack on R. Scott Clark and his response to Leithart.  After all these years I still doctrinal and historical development is a motivating factor for the Federal Vision and a real danger in our denominations.  And despite all the papers condemning FV, it is seldom mentioned.  Schaff’s Principle of Protestantism is still the principle at work in the Federal Vision and Leithart just as it was the principle at work in Mercersburg. 


Tony Phelps said...

Thanks for this. FV fans also like to co-opt the slogan, “Reformed and always reforming” to justify the false idea of doctrinal development. In fact, we must be “Reformed and always reforming” because of the church’s tendency to drift FROM the Gospel – as seen in the FV itself. The faith has been “once-for-all delivered” – and it is our duty to defend it from heretics like Leithart. Sadly, the PCA has fumbled on this.

Jeremy said...

Great post, thanks Lee

James said...

I'm late to the conversation, but just stumbled upon this blog reading about Mercersburg theology. In fact, I'm reading Schaff's "Principle of Protestantism" now, and so I found your remarks regarding Leithart's dialectical approach very insightful. For what it's worthy, here's my two cents on the issue: