Many different kinds of people have insisted on using only the biblical language for concepts, saying that to use other terms is to depart from biblical teaching and import concepts foreign to the Scriptures. In itself, such sloganeering makes no useful critique, because the accursed Arius also used it to protect his heretical doctrine. In today’s highly charged polemics, however, there is an important point to make. With the rise of ‘confessionalism’ against a long trend toward excessive tolerance, the girdle of orthodoxy’s being tightened, sometimes even against theological ideas that have long been accounted orthodox and have a respectable pedigree. Attempts to protect these narrowed orthodoxies impose uniform interpretation of confessional documents that never had such uniform readings even among their authors, and then holy Scripture is read through these lenses. The trend is more dangerous than what the ‘confessionalists’ allege themselves to combat.
It’s clear that the Scriptures are complex. By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in God’s sight; by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. It is the spirit that quickeneth, and the flesh profiteth nothing; baptism doth also now save us. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion; there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all. To resolve all this ‘yes and no’, we must continue to use something that precedes our knowledge of Scripture (contrary to what the theonomists claim): we need to use the gift of reason, which though corrupted by sin has nevertheless remained by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Using reason, we must rely on terms and definitions that Scripture itself doesn’t give. Using extrabiblical language that isn’t opposed to Scripture, we fight unbiblical doctrines and practices. In systematizing theology, however, we must not muzzle the biblical voices, claiming that they surely cannot mean what they say.
We do not ask that only biblical terms be used; we do require that biblical statements be affirmed without fear. What God affirms without fear, nothing gives us the right to write into nothing: ‘this is my body, except really this ordinance is just a symbol of my body’; ‘you are saved by grace through faith, and this not of yourselves, but you have to be really, really passionate for it to count’; ‘behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, but really dies for no one but the elect’. No authority allows us to use Scripture to overturn Scripture. We must confess every part of Scripture but reject doctrinal errors that deny the biblical truth. No other course is safe.