People of the Promise – Buy Your Copy Today!

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many Protestants, whether in the pews, the pulpit, or the academy, are apt to feel a bit uncertain about just how enthusiastically they can celebrate the Protestant doctrine of the church. After all, isn’t this doctrine the weakest link in Protestant theology, as modern-day Catholic apologists charge, and insecure Protestant theologians self-flagellatingly repeat? In The Davenant Institute’s newest publication, People of the Promise: A Mere Protestant Ecclesiology, our contributors argue, on the contrary, that the Reformers’ radical re-thinking of the definition of the church is one of the Reformation’s greatest treasures. Not only is “mere Protestant” ecclesiology firmly in concert with the multifaceted biblical witness, but it is also manifestly in accord with natural reason and the lived experience of Christians throughout the ages. This volume seeks to honor the Protestant heritage and encourage Protestant Christians today by remembering, reclaiming, and critically reflecting upon the relationship between the gospel promise and the community which it calls into being.

The book has already received warm praise from leading evangelical theologians. Kevin Vanhoozer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School said of the book,

“I welcome this first installment of Davenant Retrievals for its fresh and often illuminating presentation of the magisterial Protestant position to these questions, particularly their insistence that the church is a people assembled by God’s Word and Spirit. The authors use exegesis, church history, and systematic theology to make a compelling case that the church is the people who trust the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the fellowship of all who, through the Spirit, live out their “in Christ” reality together.”

And Fred Sanders of Biola University praised it, saying,

Conventional wisdom holds that just as Protestantism supposedly fractured the church into churches, so it fractured ecclesiology into ecclesiologies. This spirited volume argues the opposite: that the magisterial reformers in fact advanced a single, powerful, coherent, and biblical account of the essence of the church focused on the gospel. With remarkable restraint, the authors of People of the Promise decline to be distracted as they retrieve Protestantism’s core ecclesiology. Readers may experience the shock of recognition to find that not only have they seen this ecclesiology before, they are inhabiting it. This retrieval should strengthen us to inhabit it more amply.

The book, the first volume in our new series, Davenant Retrievals, is edited by Joseph Minich and Bradford Littlejohn, and represents the culmination of our 2016-17 themed essays in our journal Ad Fontes, revised, expanded, and with new essays added. Buy your copy today and rediscovery the simple clarity and contemporary relevance of the Protestant doctrine of the church as the people of the promise!






Following the publication of Andrew Fulford’s Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Examination, Dr. Myles Werntz contacted Fulford with the proposal that the two of them undertake a correspondence on the subject. Dr. Werntz is the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University. A theologian in the evangelical pacifist tradition, he hoped for a critical and yet irenic engagement on relevant topics, and on the book, with a focus on identifying points of common ground. The editors are pleased to offer their correspondence in this special issue of Ad Fontes.




With respect to the content of the natural law, and what of it humans know independently of divine revelation, I agree that there’s some universal (though I’m hesitant to make too much of that term) knowledge of Creator by creature, at least in a negative sense. For example, in your citations from Romans, the examples Paul uses are in the negative: what is to be avoided, what is to not be done (idolatry, murder, hating one’s parents, etc.). Unless we’re going to say that the knowledge of God is attained solely through conscience and reason (apart from revelation), the natural law indicates that which is to be avoided, and some clarity about what is to be done.


I don’t want to get too far afield in the discussion of natural law, so let me turn it back toward our conversation in this way: what is approved of by natural law are precepts built largely upon what is to be avoided, not infallible knowledge of what is to be done. This is why Jesus’ teaching in Matthew in particular is so extraordinary: even in the face of what seems to be very clear teaching (the Law of Moses and the received rabbinical tradition), Jesus provides his followers with very different instruction, which at times amplifies and at other times sets aside even that Law which seems to be crystal clear! I take it that this is in fact one of the main arguments of Matthew – that as crazy as the teachings of Jesus are, he is the one who is superior to Moses and who is to be followed as such. Whether in refuting Satan by the Law, or going into the wilderness, or going up on the mountain to teach, or in Moses confirming Jesus’ ministry in the transfiguration, the whole of Matthew does not seem to be pointed toward seeing Jesus as a fine-tuning of certain legislative commendations of violence, but restricting them further than Moses had done.

Put differently, in light of Jesus we cannot go behind Jesus but only forward from Jesus, the Law having been our teacher and keeper but not our present guide on this point.






It seems to me that any negative moral knowledge we have, regardless of source, ipso facto implies positive knowledge. If we know, e.g., that it’s not good to be faithless, we know just by reflecting upon the meaning of those terms that it’s good to be faithful. I assume that this is what you’re getting at by the “some clarity” about positive obligations. Paul, anyway, suggests the Gentiles perceive some (positive) truths about God that have moral consequences, and are guilty because they contradict those moral consequences in their thought and behaviour. The issue of infallibility in means of knowledge is interesting, but I’m not sure it makes much of a difference here. That is, unless you’re implying that the infallibility of knowledge received through Jesus should overcome the fallible knowledge the Gentiles receive apart from special revelation (indeed, through conscience and reason, though we also receive special revelation through the operations of our minds). But that isn’t relevant when we already acknowledge that the Gentiles have real knowledge, regardless of the fallibility of the source of knowledge, since truth can’t contradict truth, and God won’t deny in his special revelation what he has revealed through the created order.


But, returning to the content of Jesus’ teaching, I think the dilemma that has been set up here is a false one, because I don’t see a convincing reason to think that Jesus gives commands that contradict the content of the natural law. Nor do I think that he gave commands that would contradict those of Moses that repeat the content of natural law. I tried to discuss the apparent counter-evidence to this claim in the book, including evidence from the Gospel of Matthew. But to sum it up, I think Jesus’ statement that he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets entails the truth of my perspective. The Mosaic covenant has been brought to its climax, but the the Torah in its descriptive force, including its record of what God did in fact command Israel through Moses, is as authoritative as ever. And insofar as the Law meant to protect the original created order, its commands still reflect the natural law, and are valid summaries of it. It’s for this reason that Jesus said “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”






I think it’s more accurate, in the case of Jesus’ teachings, to say that Christ perfects the natural law, to crib from Aquinas. This seems to be the force of Matthew, but not in the way that Aquinas argues. For in “perfecting” the natural law, Jesus teaches in a way which at times counters our sensibilities about what is “natural” to us. To be sure, Jesus does not come to destroy the Law, but to complete it—but we find that to complete the Law does not mean to maintain it! If the Law was meant to be a fence, a teacher, a guide, then to be sure it does not countermand the ordering of creation, but it also does not speak to the fullness of what it means to live well as God’s creature within creation either. This is what I meant in my opening statement with respect to Christ restoring to us our “natural” sensibilities, in ways which I think are obscured by recourse to certainty about natural law as our baseline: if Christ names what is truly natural, then some of our ways of thinking about natural requirements surely do not square with Christ’s teachings. There are any number of examples that we could name here (family obligations, financial prudence, Sabbatical practice), but at stake in our discussion particularly is the question of violence by followers of Christ.

To turn our discussion in a different direction: in your book, you specifically name John Howard Yoder and Richard Hays as pacifist exemplars. In Nigel Biggars’ In Defense of War, his opening chapter “Against Pacifism” takes the triumvirate of Yoder/Hays/Hauerwas as the stand-in for all Christian pacifist practice (I have criticized him on this very point in the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics in 2015). Do you take them to be exemplary of what you mean by Christian pacifism, and if so, what specifically do you find wanting in their arguments? The “neo-Anabaptist” trajectory is to be sure the most prominent stream of Christian pacifism, but not the only one which offers a cogent theological account.






Regarding the relation of Jesus’ teaching to natural law: this seems to me to bring us full circle back to my first reply. You (I believe, rightly) want to preserve the existence of natural law independent and prior to Jesus, but also contend that in effect, our knowledge of it is so unreliable that we have to know what Jesus teaches before we can rightly know much of its content. My original reply moves in the opposite direction: the NT teaches not only that there is a natural law, but that even unbelievers know it, at least in basic principles and general outline, though undoubtedly not perfectly in every application, prior to the revelation of Jesus. So there can be a baseline of naturally revealed ethical principles prior to someone coming to faith. Now, it’s possible that people can misunderstand the implications of nature, but then it’s also possible that they can misunderstand what Jesus meant (as our conversation itself shows, as one of us is by necessity incorrect about Jesus’ teaching in relation to pacifism). It further seems to me that in, e.g., Romans 1:32 Paul assumes people know they are worthy of punishment for their sins, so special revelation confirms not only the knowledge of natural law in general, but natural knowledge of the the moral licitness of retributive justice in particular.

That being said, dialectically we are unlikely to advance as interlocutors, or as representatives of longstanding traditions, without engaging with the other pole of the disagreement: i.e., the teachings of Jesus which are purported to correct our natural “sensibilities”. Of the three you allude to (familial obligations, financial prudence, and Sabbatical practice), I see nothing in what Jesus said that contradicts what could be discovered about morality from rational reflection upon human nature and the structure of the cosmos. Perhaps you could elaborate on why you think otherwise.

Regarding what represents pacifism: I do take that triumvirate as the strongest representatives of the most prominent stream, but I tried to be careful not to take the Yoderian position as the only possible one. This was the main reason I tried to talk about various possible rationales (I gave seven in the book), rather than specific thinkers, and this approach was motivated by Yoder’s own careful delineation of the various kinds of pacifisms that have appeared in history. Though my knowledge is less direct about what we could call “classic” peace Anabaptism, it seems to me that at least some of that tradition relies more heavily on what I would call a divine positive law rationale for non-violence. That is, it’s a tradition that (at least in some proponents?) accepts violence as morally legitimate, but believes that God has given an additional law to believers that says they may not participate in what is an intrinsically morally legitimate type of action. In other words, I tried to consider as many different kinds of reasons as could be given, though still in general types (as opposed to, say, engaging with every possible theological argument for pacifism). But perhaps I’m still missing a significant option, in which case I would certainly appreciate correction.


Myles Werntz is Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical eology at Logsdon Seminary, Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, TX, where he holds the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics. He is the author of Bodies of Peace: Non- violence, Ecclesiology, and Witness (Fortress, 2014) and the editor of four other volumes in theology and ethics.

Andrew Fulford is currently studying for a Ph.D. in Reformation history at McGill University. He is the author of Jesus and Pacifism and a contributor to the recently released Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy.



Following the publication of Andrew Fulford’s Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Examination, Dr. Myles Werntz contacted Fulford with the proposal that the two of them undertake a correspondence on the subject. Dr. Werntz is the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University. A theologian in the evangelical pacifist tradition, he hoped for a critical and yet irenic engagement on relevant topics, and on the book, with a focus on identifying points of common ground. The editors are pleased to offer their correspondence in this special issue of Ad Fontes.





Before we begin, I have to offer a word of appreciation for your book (and to Ad Fontes for the chance to have such an interesting kind of conversation!) While I don’t share all of its conclusions, it raises a number of important points concerning Christian reflection about war that I think are important to get out front. Most often when the “pacifism versus just war” conversation occurs, it’s forgotten that these positions share more than they don’t: the Scriptures, the presumption that God is at work in the world, respect for the role of prudential reason, commitment to care for the suffering, etc. To be honest, when the possibility of doing this came up, I was a bit reticent, as I’ve been on a number of panels as of late where the trope of divergence was assumed rather than critically engaged.

Read more…

Convivium West: Theology Among Friends

By Gayle Doornbos


From August 17-19, the Davenant Institute hosted its first National Convivium Irenicum West in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The theme of the gathering was the same as the National Convivium East held earlier this summer: “To All Generations: Teaching the Doctrine of God in the Life of the Church.” As with all Convivia hosted by the Davenant Institute, the Western national Convivium situated academic discussion and dialogue within a weekend of fellowship and community building punctuated by morning and evening worship, preparing and eating meals together, and having fun on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Read more…

PPPEP 2017 Report

By Alastair Roberts
Over the course of five days, eight students gathered together on the shores of the beautiful Lake Coeur D’Alene to explore the wisdom of the Protestant tradition on philosophical, ethical, and political issues. During this period of intense conversation, study, and fellowship, we delved deeply into the riches of writers such as John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus, Richard Hooker, C.S. Lewis, and Oliver O’Donovan, discovering in their voices compelling and powerful resources to bring to bear upon the challenges and possibilities that face us in the twenty-first century. Each day of study began and ended with prayer and was punctuated by lengthy mealtimes, where conversations spilled over from the four hours of lecture and discussion and further stimulating discussions arose. We also made the most of the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable surroundings, canoeing, swimming, and paddleboarding on the lake together. The value of PPPEP is found, not merely in an introduction and exposure to the treasures of the Protestant tradition, but also in the opportunity to spend a spiritually refreshing and intellectually stimulating few days with others who share a passion for deepening their knowledge and engagement with it. Anyone who attends should grow, not only in their understanding and appreciation of the tradition, but also in friendships that will encourage, support, and equip them in their further studies.

“Male and Female He Created Them: Genesis 1-3 and the Meaning of the Sexes” Lecture by Dr. Alastair Roberts

About the Lecture

Dr. Alastair Roberts argues for an understanding of male and female vocation within creation that mirrored the structure of God’s own creative work of first “forming” and then “filling” his world. In the Q&A, he particularly draws attention to the changed social and economic conditions of modernity which have rendered formerly intelligible distinctions of gender roles increasingly difficult to understand and apply.