Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

Westminster Conference 2010 01

It was good to be at the Westminster Conference today at the American Church in Tottenham Court Road. Our first session, chaired by Phil Arthur, was taken by Garry Williams from the John Owen Centre on the subject The English Reformation - Revise, reverse or revert1 Revise




Historians like Christopher Haigh (english Reformations) want to revise our view of the Reformation. They say that
1. People were less anticlerical and pro-reformation than has been thought
2. People were slower to embrace change than has been thought
3. Mary was more successful than has been thought
There is no biblical reason for rejecting this reasoning. Haigh points out that the Reformation came in by the merest whisker and there is something in that. At a number of points the revisionists misrepresent previous views to enhance their own position. They do make some good points nevertheless.

1. The revisionists argue that there were pockets of anticlericalism in England but not universally so as was more so the case on the continent. It is also important to note that anti-clericalism is not the same as Protestantism. We cannot dismiss either the enthusiasm for Romanism outlined by Eamon Duffy (The stripping of the altars). He probably exaggerates but he has good evidence. The truth is that there was a mixed scene.

2. As for the speed with which the Reformation came about, there are a number of things to say. A lot of conclusions have been drawn from wills. Christopher Haigh has argued that this gives a distorted view as it focuses on the older and richer citizens. However, this would suggest rather that the Reformation was stronger with younger people.
The impact of the Bible in English is also overlooked as David Daniell has pointed out. Exposure to the Bible is not the same as conversion but now for the first time the Bible itself was available to people. Daniell does overstate his case (England did not become Protestant under Henry VIII) but his points stand.
We must not underestimate the impact of preaching either. The numbers of graduate preachers significantly grew. Certain colleges became Puritan seminaries.
The lack of opposition, the increasingly Protestant character of the nation, the later resistance to Romanising to the point of beheading the king also points in the same direction.

3. Eamon Duffy has written a revisionist account of Mary and Pole and others defending them from charges of incompetence. It may well be that there was greater efficiency. However, the book appears to downplay the fact that all this opposition was against something not nothing. Duffy does not defend the killings although he points out that the idea was widely accepted. He does recognise the uniqueness of it, however - including the fact that it was very different to what happened in Elizabeth's reign. In fact the more one learns about Mary the more horrifying and disturbing she appears. Duffy's revision makes things worse rather than better.
The underlying theological issue is that what Mary did is not only unattractive but wrong. Elizabeth was not perfect bt she did not take the stand against the truth that Mary did.
To sum up, the revisionists are right and helpful in some respects but they do not lessen the horror of Mary's acivity.

2 Reverse
Is the Reformation over? by Noll and Lystrom suggests that Rome has changed and that opposition is not what we need now. The book is quite descriptive. It does seem to have in mind the red neck approach rather than any traditional Protestant approach. They are aware of many differences and seem to think that fraternal relations are possible. They basically say that we can agree with two thirds of the 1994 Catechism and try to work on the positives. However, theology cannot be done in this atomisitic way.
On the crucial issue of justification they point out that we agree that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ through God's grace. Notice the lack of 'alones'. Unlike some they do not suppose we will agree on such matters but follow Jim Packer's idea that "what brings salvation is not any theory ... but faith itself and Christ himself". But this is to confuse things. Just because people can believe one thing and say something else does not mean that we can take an ecumenical approach to doctrinal issues. We must remember that we cannot map what we may believe about an individual onto what we say about Romanism and the truth.
Noll and Nystrom acknowledge that what they say is not new. What has made it relevant is the advance of secularism and the need for (what Timothy George calls) "an ecumenism of the trenches". We need to hold our nerve rather, however few we may be.
One final note - Noll and Nystrom see the mass as irrelevant rather than the idolatry that it is.


3. Reversion
To revert to the Reformation is no easy task. We must bear in mind that it was
1. Established by Parliament
2. An authoritarian movement that allowed little room for manouevre
3. It was only a partial Reformation anyway. It is Elizabeth's opposition that froze it where it was.
4. In the 16th century England was still "Christianised" - not the situation today.
5. We must not be antiquarian either
Positively, we must learn to be pro-active in identifying and training up preachers of the Word of God. This is a challenge to us today.

A decent discusion followed. 

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