Death in Second-Century Christian Thought [Biblical Trinitarian]

deathby Hiram R. Diaz III

Mutie, Jeremiah. Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 244pp.

Among proponents of the heresy of annihilationism, one often comes across two contradictory claims regarding the early church. On the one hand, those who seek to establish their view in the early church will claim that the earliest church fathers were all annihilationists/conditional immortalitists. The introduction of concepts like the immortality of the soul, the intermediate state, and hell as everlasting conscious torment, they will go on to claim, came after the church began to be influenced by pagan Greek philosophy. On the other hand, there are others who claim that the church fathers, even as early as Justin Martyr, corrupted the pure teaching of the Bible by mixing in ideas from pagan Greek philosophy.

While the reductionist approach to the church’s early post-apostolic days can support any view one likes — this is, after all, the approach taken by the Roman Catholic apologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and even the Mormons who share virtually nothing in common theologically — it does not withstand scrutiny. A reading of the texts from that time reveals that there was not only a diversity of beliefs regarding the immortality of the soul among the Greek philosophers, but nuances of articulation that set the Christian fathers apart from both the Orphic and Platonic immortalists and the Stoic and Epicurean annihilationists of their time. If one has the time to devote to doing their own detailed research of the writers of this time, in other words, it would be evident to him that the church fathers did not deny the immortality of the soul, nor did they believe in Plato’s version of the doctrine. Instead, they carefully selected philosophical terminology and concepts, reworking them to express what they believed the Scriptures clearly taught about death, salvation, resurrection, and damnation.

Since such a study requires time and resources many do not have, a scholarly but readable book on the subject is best suited to their needs. Among the few written exclusively about these issues, Jeremiah Mutie’s Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity is an invaluable resource. Mutie carefully examines the socio-historical context of the early church fathers, comparing their views of death and the afterlife to those articulated within the overarching culture in which they found themselves, thereby clarifying the relationship between the earlier and later church fathers examined whose language about death, the intermediate state, and resurrection may seem to be at odds, prima facie.

Mutie shows that the church did not immediately apostatize by mixing Plato and the Scriptures together, nor did the church gradually apostatize by mixing Plato and the Scriptures together, but she progressed over time in her understanding of death, the intermediate state, and the resurrection.

[Read the rest of my review here.]

Soli Deo Gloria


The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Summary and Reflection [Biblical Trinitarian]

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.

§ I. Summary

Wesleyanism consists of “the theology based upon the views of John Wesley (1703 — 1791), founder of Methodism.”[1] The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is an epistemological paradigm in which the derivation of theology is understood and the authority of its components ordered. The phrase itself was derived by Wesleyan theologian Albert Outler, who upon examining the corpus of Wesley, argued that the evangelist affirmed four valid sources of theology; Scripture, reason, tradition and experience.[2]

Upon its face, it would seem as though the utilization of the word “quadrilateral” would imply that the aforementioned components are on a par with one another. That is, the word seems to convey the idea that each of the components comprising the quadrilateral are equal in their ability and authority to provide theology. Outler later came to regret the phrase for that very reason. He stated, “The term ‘quadrilateral’ does not occur in Wesley—and more than once, I have regretted having coined it for contemporary use, since it has been so widely misconstrued.”3 Outler’s regret is well taken, as some contemporary critics seem to rely heavily upon the phrase, rather than the definition of the phrase.[3]

Wesleyanism affirms only the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon as theopneustos.[4] As such, Scripture is the first of the four sources of theology in the quadrilateral, and it is the most authoritative. The Scriptures are the “first” and “final” authority in the derivation of theology and thus all other sources are viewed as subservient to it.[5] The paradigm observes that it is the Scriptures that are sufficient to convey the totality of the gospel, but it simultaneously affirms that human reason, tradition, and experience are the “lenses through which we read Scripture.”[6] Hence there is a tension between these elements such that they are interwoven, not unlike how human beings are thought to actually receive theology. It is the text of the Bible that is “God’s self disclosure,” such that through reading the text faithfully will merit the reader with a portrayal of the “overflow of God’s heart.”[7] According to the quadrilateral, the Scriptures require faith before one can affirm the contents therein, including the miraculous.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is distinct from the “three legged stool” of the Roman Catholic faith. Within Catholicism “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God.”[8] Additionally, the Roman magisterium is viewed as the “successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.”[9] Thus, the magisterium, Scripture, and tradition are on equal footing within the Roman Catholic framework. Wesleyanism, like other Protestant traditions, are decisively contrary to the view expounded by the Roman tradition and its understanding of the derivation of theology. Moreover, while Protestantism is interested in the continuance of biblical orthodoxy over and against heresy, the Roman Catholic viewpoint is thought to be more concerned with unity.[10]

The second component of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is reason. Reason is defined as “the mental capacity or power to use the human mind in reaching and establishing truth.”[11]Within the quadrilateral, reason functions as a source of theology . . .

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