Monday, September 3, 2007

Mathison on the Church Fathers

Much has been written about Keith A. Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura (for example, one blogger wrote this). I previously noted that Mathison describes one of five theories I've heard of the canon rationale churches follow to reach a 66-book canon. Mathison expresses that the church was authoritatively (though not infallibly) reliable in identifying canon, but only until the fourth century, at which point it become corrupt. Thus the Reformation, properly understood, merely recaptured the early church's purity.

I am struck by the fact that his work has been so well received and highly praised within my Reformed circle. Indeed, the book was given to me by a Reformed pastor as an antidote to the confusion I experienced from the likes of Catholic apologists (I noted this in a recent comment). It is striking simply because his theory may not be in conformity with the Westminster Confession. The Confession notes that while "[w]e may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture," "our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit..." (Chapter 1, Section V). Contrariwise, Mathison relies on the true church abiding under the regula fidei to determine canon and articulate the doctrines relating thereunto.

Admittedly, it is difficult to sum up his book so briefly, and I've probably done a poor job of it. He covers a great deal of territory and makes many controversial claims (what isn't controversial within Christianity?). I do recommend that you read him before you accept any of my compliments or criticisms. That said, I'd like from time to time to post on his interpretation and analyses of certain Church Fathers, and will refer back to this as a prefatory post. If you have read it, I hope some subsequent posts can spark fruitful discussion on the merits of his analysis.

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