Several different topics of Reformed Scholasticism along with the Jerry Bridges book I’m reading (Respectable Sins), made me consider one area of practical Christian humility: being humble in doctrinal matters. Someone here suggested that Bridges’ section on “Doctrinal Pride” – the sinful pride that we are superior because our doctrine is “superior” – showed that Bridges was a bit soft on this part. Basically, Bridges argues that we can and should hold our doctrinal convictions strongly, but with humility and love for those with whom we disagree (see pages 92-93). I’ve come to agree with Bridges, as I made some deductions from Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.
I’m thinking of these three areas of Reformed theology specifically. 1) The scope of Scripture (scopus Scripturae), 2) The fundamental articles of the faith (articuli fundamentales), and 3) The perspicuity of Scripture (perspicuitas Scripturae sacrae). Let me explain:
1) The scope or “bullseye” of Scripture is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Muller’s summary of the Reformers, “The center of Scripture…is the redemptive significance of Christ at the very heart of God’s saving revelation” (PRRD, II.208).
2) The fundamental articles of the faith are the main principles of the Christian faith which one must believe for salvation. In Reformed scholastic language, the fundamentals are the “primary rudiments of Christian Religion” (see Muller, PRRD, I.416). These are central teachings of the Christian faith: they are “drawn directly from Scripture and teach of salvation in Christ” (Muller, PRRD, I.419).
3) The perspicuity of Scripture means that the fundamental doctrines are stated clearly and plainly (Muller, PRRD, II.325). Or, in Trelcatius’ notes, though not all things in Scripture are equally clear to all people, the things that pertain to salvation are sufficiently clear (Ibid.). This, of course, overlaps with the sufficiency of Scripture.
What do these three have to do with doctrinal humility? Well, as Bridges notes, we do have to stand up for doctrinal and biblical convictions. Using Reformed terms, we have to fight for and uphold the perspicuous fundamentals of Scripture and the scope of Scripture: the biblical teaching of the gospel of salvation by faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for God’s glory alone. There is the overarching and undeniably clear scope of Scripture: God’s recorded redemptive plan is that Jesus saves his people from sin. We must, at all costs, uphold this essential truth of Scripture – we must hold it with what I call “strong and humble conviction.”
Also, on the non-fundamentals, the “non-scope,” and the non-perspicuous things we must show extra humility, if that makes sense. This also has to do with a previous post of mine on certainty – the “less certain” things in Scripture should induce all the more humility in us. One seminary professor of mine taught a non-fundamental/scope/perspicuous doctrine right out of Scripture passionately for a few hours; he had me convinced. At the end of his lecture, he – with genuine humility – said, “I could be wrong. See you tomorrow.” I was confused at first, but now I see that this is what “doctrinal humility” is about.
Come to think of it, our teaching of total depravity should also factor in here. As I heard from the time I was a kid, Calvinists should be the most humble people on the face of this earth.