Friday, January 22, 2010

Scaer's Presentation at the Ft. Wayne Conference.

Overall, the Ft. Wayne conference was good. It was very nice to meet some of you in person or see others of you after a few years.

After listening to Dr. Scaer's lecture yesterday on "God as a Secondary Fundamental Doctrine" I felt I had to make a response. Now, though I am critical of what Dr. Scaer said, bear in mind that I have up most respect for him and think he's one of the greatest living Lutheran theologians.

Nevertheless, a couple of things need to be said in response.

1. Scaer's understanding of Sedes Doctrinae is not accurate or correct. It does not marginalize certain parts of the Bible or say that they do not matter. The entire point of the concept of Sedes Doctrinae is that there are certain passages that have a greater ability to illuminate other passages by way of the analogy of faith. It is not that they don't matter. I frankly don't see how you can get around this! Certain passages are simply clearer than others- how do you argue with this? Furthermore, if you believe in plenary inspiration, you necessarily hold that if God is the author of both, and that logically implies that the clearer passes have the ability to illuminate the less clear.

2. Homelogena vs. Antilogena. Scaer wanted to eliminate the use of this distinction and exegetical practice of orthodoxy of stating that doctrines cannot be established by the Antilogena and that the Homologena must have interpretive priority.

Again, unless you follow the Reformed and chalk up all knowledge of the cannon to the inner testimony of the Spirit (something Scaer would no doubt criticize) then you're stuck with the distinction. I would also note that it's very helpful in dealing with issues like Millennialism (i.e. in Revelation) and post-baptismal sin (in Hebrews).

Not only that, there is a catholicity to this approach in that it was the practice of the ancient Church, revived under the Reformers.

3. Now here's my main beef: His treatment of fundamental and secondary fundamental doctrines.

Scaer's main problem (as I noticed in Ziegler's presentation, this appears to be a difficulty with the other members of the faculty) is that he works from the paradigm of "central doctrines" as a way of understanding dogmatics.

The "Central Doctrines" paradigms of studying dogmatics came out of the 19th century and assumes that different theologians of Protestant orthodoxy can be understood by identifying the "central doctrine" in their theology and adducing each part of dogmatics from that principle. For Lutherans, justification, for Reformed, election.

This is of course how people did dogmatics in the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, but it's not how the Lutheran or Reformed Scholastics did theology.

In Protestant orthodoxy, as Richard Muller has demonstrated, the two "princples" were the Triune God and his Word. This makes sense as the "principle" of theology because if there is a Word of God, then there is a God. Furthermore, if there is a God, and if we know something about him, then he must have a Word. So each principle is mutually supporting. Without said principles, there is no theology. It would be like trying to do math without numbers (Gerhard uses this analogy in the prolegomena).

Dogmatics was then divided up into Loci each of which was independantly of each. In each dogmatic section, the principles was investigated. In other words, a central doctrine was not identified and then a whole system was then created. Rather, each represents a separate investigation of an individual doctrine found in the Bible.

Scaer's difficulty is that since he interprets Lutheran scholasticism's methodology from the perspective of "Central Doctrines."

This leads him to wrongly conflate the "principle of theology" with theology's "fundamental doctrine."

A word on "fundamental" and "secondary fundament" doctrines. This is a distinction from early in the period of orthodoxy by Nicolaus Huinnius. It is not meant to identify the "principle" of theology. The goal is rather the question who can be identified as Christian and who the Lutheran Church can be in fellowship with.

Huinnius concludes that the most fundamental doctrines are Justification by Faith and also, Christ, the Trinity, the Law and the knowledge of sin. If you don't believe in these, then you're not a Christian. There are then secondary fundamental doctrines, namely Biblical authority, and the sacramentals.

If a person doesn't hold to or distorts the secondary doctrines, they can still be Christians (by the skin of their teeth!), but the Lutheran Church cannot be in fellowship with them. The Church cannot tolerate distortions of the means of grace, the things that create faith in the fundamental doctrines in the first place. Therefore, says Huinnius, Lutherans can say that the Reformed are technically still Christians, but we can't be in fellowship with them.

As you can observe, Huinnius' distinction doesn't have anything to do with the principle of theology or the starting point of theology. What it has to do with is the basis of being a Christian (Christ alone) and what basis Confessional Lutheran can enter into fellowship with other Christians (Lutheran or otherwise).

Therefore, Scaer, believing in the central doctrine theory of understanding Lutheran Scholasticism has distorted this principle by wrongly identifying the "principles of theology" with "fundamental doctrines." These are not the same thing and neither do they do not pretend to be.

Of course Gerhard and the rest of them think that everything centers on Christ and the goal of theology is to expound Christ. That what Gerhard says in both the first and fourth sections of his systematic theology. He says that Christ is the center and goal of the Scriptures.

Even what he says about the principles of theology is Christological because he says that the principles of theology are God and his written Word.

Jesus is the eternal Word and present as God's Word in the form of his humanity and in Scriptures. He is the principle which unites the two principles of theology. This was never in doubt.

This being said, I am of course grateful to Scaer for his presentation and enjoyed much of what he had to say.


  1. Jack writes:Jesus is the eternal Word and present as God's Word in the form of his humanity and in Scriptures. He is the principle which unites the two principles of theology. This was never in doubt!!!!
    Does this mean we can say that Jesus is the Word made flesh and the Bible is the Word made text?

  2. I think that there is an analogy between Christ and the Bible. This was a major theme in the theology of orthodoxy. Obvious the Bible is God's Word in human words. Not only this, the Scriptures are the presence of God through human words.

  3. Thank you for your helpful discussion. I heard the lecture and was mulling over the distinctions which Dr. Scaer criticized, including as I'm just getting into Hunnius for other purposes...thus your discussion was very timely for me. Thanks again!