The traditionalist dilemma: The golden age of output is the golden razor to cut down the contemporaries

If doctrine as a whole has been ignored in our day, the doctrine of justification has suffered a particular neglect. Written works on justification are noticeably missing from the corpus of recent evangelical literature. [2]  In his introduction to the 1961 reprint of James Buchanan’s landmark work, The Doctrine of Justification, J. I. Packer made note of this:

It is a fact of ominous significance that Buchanan’s classic volume, now a century old, is the most recent full-scale study of justification by faith that English-speaking Protestantism (to look no further) has produced. If we may judge by the size of its literary output, there has never been an age of such feverish theological activity as the past hundred years; yet amid all its multifarious theological concerns it did not produce a single book of any size on the doctrine of justification. If all we knew of the church during the past century was that it had neglected the subject of justification in this way, we should already be in a position to conclude that this has been a century of religious apostasy and decline. [3]

via: Jesus’ Perspective on Sola Fide

I’ve caught Pastor MacArthur a few times on the radio recently, and found his preaching encouraging and convicting. So I don’t mean anything malicious in commenting on the statement above. I am commenting because I think it exemplifies something that is rotten in the “Confessional” Reformed Tradition (scare quotes refer to the fact that I think much of it is, in fact, sub-confessional). And the example really comes not from MacArthur, but from someone else I respect: J. I. Packer.

The bottom line here is that

  1. The contemporary world is condemned for not matching the past “golden age” because it does not match its great”literary output” or continue that age’s level of “feverish theological activity”
  2. The contemporaries who actually do show great literary output and theological activity are regarded as unacceptable by the traditionalists for doing anything more than repeating verbatim the sacred phrases passed on to us from that same golden age.

You simply cannot win. And people who want to think for themselves and study the Reformed Protestant tradition, the Bible, or both, will find a place where they are not subjected to false accusations and attacks.

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