There are 2 thoughts on “Protestant Ecclesiastical Anarchy and Dogmatic Diversity”.

  1. I think I’m a bit autistic! I say that because, while reading this article, I was acting very much like a friend’s son, who is autistic. Reading some of the interesting things that Bro. Midgley points out from the book “Protestantism”, I was literally laughing out loud and dancing in the room, and making funny noises in response to his comments. I know this sounds funny, but after having dealt with many people of protestant/evangelical/fundamentalist background, and having to endure their unwillingness to be, at all, “diversity” minded when it comes to Christian doctrine, and to have them condemn my faith for being unchristian and way-out, it’s almost unbearably impossible to sit still and not physically react to the irony of Mr. Noll’s and Bro. Midgley’s observations on the anarchic state of the Protestant movement. Thank you Bro. Midgley, for pointing these things out!

    • I very much appreciate Richard’s comments. I am gratified to see signs (in both public and private) that my efforts to understand the history of Christianity have been helpful for other Latter-day Saints.

      Since my intended audience is primarily composed of Latter-day Saints, I have been anxious to provide both what I consider new insights and also especially accurate information on what I call the anarchy of Protestantism. One reason, though perhaps not the primary one, is that the Saints are beset by an array of sometimes pugnacious Protestant preacher/apologists who often insist that they speak for historic, biblical, Trinitarian, creedal, orthodox Christianity, as they mock our faith. But without anything at all like the Roman Catholic magisterium (official teaching office), or the hoary tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism is not a single church but it is, instead, a assortment of often conflicting if not warring individuals, factions and movements. Mark Noll’s fine book demonstrates this to be the case.

      However, I also believe that the history of the diversity generated right from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, as well as that of the Roman Catholic Church and the old Eastern Orthodox family of churches is also, in at lease one important sense, our own history. How so? It is a past we share with other Christians and a history from which we can learn from and also appreciate. No one can come away from, for example, actually seeing Russian Orthodox monumental architecture and not be impressed with the vast effort to express genuine piety.

      I believe we should know this vast and complicated history as well and as accurately as possible, or we should not yield to the urge to comment on it. We should not do to other Christians what some of them continue to do to us. But what about apostasy?

      Despite our own sense that a great apostasy has taken place, we should also keep in mind that it was never complete or total. In addition, for at least two reasons we should avoid false stereotypes:
      First, despite whatever perverse or even demonic elements one finds in the larger history of Christianity, passionate and impressive faith, I believe, was also always present in one degree or another and especially among people out of the spotlight whose names we cannot now even recover such as illiterate peasants just doing the best they could in often miserable circumstances. Despite bouts of apostasy, I believe (or at least hope) that God was always busy manifesting his love for those who genuinely sought him, even if they only had shreds of light. We can, if we will only make the effort, find solid evidence of this. But we must do so by looking beneath the messy stuff taking place often at the intersection of bishops and princes, or preachers and politicians, or at where violent disputes over dogmatic or systematic theology were taking place or creeds and confession being hammered out, and so forth.
      Second, the quarrels, and the fruit of speculation and improvisation are perhaps there as a providential warning to Latter-day Saints to avoid going down those same dark paths. We should keep in mind that there is ultimately only one Way, and it is not merely the work of some clever and/or ambitious person.

      With these considerations in mind, I want to pont out that, in several essays and book reviews in the venerable old FARMS Review, I have attempted to draw the attention of Latter-day Saints to the wide variety of opinions, practices, worship styles, theological systems and speculation flowing from the Protestant Reformation, as well as the diversity of theological opinions (both dogmatic and systematic) found within the two older versions of Christian faith–that is, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

      For my views on this matter, please have a look my review essay entitled “Telling the Larger ‘Church History’ Story,” Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011): 157-171. And then, if curious, see my review (in same issue of the MSR) of Kenneth J. Stewart’s Ten Myths about Calvinism (IVP Academic, 2011), at pp. 177-179; and also my review of James P. Eckman’s Exploring Church History (Crossway, 2008), at pp. 184-186. And then, if you want more, have a look at my reviews of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (Penguin, 2009), at pp. 173-177 in the same issue of the MSR. This book is a massive, and impressive secular account of the vast variety of expressions of “Christian faith” from even the millennium prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, hence the seemingly odd title. And it supplements MacCulloch’s impressive The Reformation (Viking Penguin, 2004). See my “Protestant Ecclesiastical Anarchy and Dogmatic Diversity,” Interpreter 6 (2013): 17-21, for some of my opinions on this valuable study. And then have a look at my essay entitled “Evangelical Controversy: A Deeply Divided Movement,” Interpreter 3 ((2013): 63-84; as well as “Confronting Five-Point Calvinism, Interpreter 4 (2013): 85-92.

      And I cannot avoid seeing signs of the hand of God at work the truly stunning growth of Christian faith in China. This growth has taken place and despite, beginning with Mao, very intense persecution, and now it seems to be continuing despite (or even perhaps because of) the widespread worldliness generated by recent enormous economic growth. For some details, see my “Christian Faith in Contemporary China,” Interpreter 2 (2012): 35-39. Even a glance at some of the literature I cite in this essay will, I believe, show signs of the work of the Holy Spirit among the people of that marvelous land. For several reasons, the Saints should be pleased to see this taking place. While Christian faith is on the decline in Europe and perhaps in America, it is growing rapidly in other places, and thereby opening new doors for Latter-day Saints to open.

      Once again I must thank Richard for his kind remarks, but even more having reminded me of one of my obsessions.

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