T.K. Jaros recently posted an article entitled “Total Depravity: Theological Finesse Needed, Part 1.” As the title implies, it’s obviously merely the first of a series. What struck me, and practically everyone else who I’ve linked the article to, is that immediately after saying “finesse is needed” in the title, the definition he gives of the doctrine is not from a theologian, but from… Wikipedia. Obviously, his posts are not especially thorough, and despite his MA in Systematic Theology, not especially theological, on the whole. As with most of modern evangelicals, his primary interest seems to be philosophy. What utterly fascinated me, when trying to get an inkling of what systematic he *does* adhere to, was this statement, found here: “I get annoyed by the poor Systematic Theology that is done by the Reformed camp.” A quick look at the King’s College Systematic Theology department has some real interesting insights into what would engender such an amazing statement. For instance; Prof. Paul Janz, who teaches the “Revelation and Reason” core course for their MA program, has the following to describe his work. “A primary motivating concern as such is to refocus theological grounding and self-understanding beyond the confines of the analytically self-guaranteeing resolutions offered by grammatical, doctrinal or metaphysically speculative orientations; and back onto the open contingency and often intractable non-resolution of embodied human life and action in the causal dynamics of empirical history, which remains the unsurpassable and transformative site of any divine-human relationality.” His studies were in Philosophical Theology, and par that course, you see in his writing precisely what you’d expect from that path. Another professor from that track is Oliver Davies – a Romanist scholar.
What has struck me when both listening to Jaros as well as reading his material, oddly enough, is his lack of clarity and finesse. This is made more poignant by the title of his website, which purports to offer “Real Clear Apologetics” – not to mention the title of his latest post. While stressing a need for finesse, he has shown very little of the kind thus far in his dealings with Reformed theology. What he has offered, instead, is ham-fisted entreaties to consider other possibilities, or chiding “reminders” that others need to show more finesse, or subtlety. What doesn’t show, however, is his own finesse, subtlety, or grasp of the system he is attempting to respond to – something far less than should be expected from a scholar of Systematic. It is exceedingly difficult, as we heard on the Unbelievable program, to get a position from him in a positive sense. Even more unfortunate is his proclivity toward citing non-Christian groups are exemplars of his own views – as well as dismissing terms long used to describe the positions he clearly holds to, on the few occasions he does make any positive statement at all. When speaking to a Presbyterian, one would think that someone studied in theology would recognize that his opponent does not consider Romanists to be Christian – yet that was an appeal he made on the Unbelievable radio broadcast. He says on RCA that perhaps his position (“Natural Free Will”) might be better expressed as Eastern Orthodox, not Semi-Pelagian. He said in a recent post; “I affirm what the Eastern Orthodox call Ancestral Sin.” When responding to Date on the subject of Hell, he says; “I side with the Eastern Orthodox Church on this issue.” I specifically asked him on Twitter whether he was himself Eastern Ortodox, but have not received a reply. What is strongly evident, however, is his intentional “buffet” style theology. Is this even remotely systematic? How can one claim to be a systematic theologian when one’s own theological system is anything but systematic? Eastern Orthodoxy’s response to the West has largely been to decry the systematization of doctrine; How, then, does it make sense to “borrow” bits and pieces of their theological tenets for a systematic theology? Chiding others for their lack of consideration of other views on an international radio broadcast – especially a professor of Systematic Theology such as Dr. Oliphint, was quite an amazing piece of work. Did Mr. Jaros stop to consider that perhaps we have considered them, and found them wanting on a variety of levels?
Take, even, his insistence on “natural theology” as the title of his apologetic approach. Historically, this has been called the “Classical” approach, and I’ve seen nothing from Mr. Jaros to even explain, let alone differentiate his position from that of the Classicalist. He opines: ““[Natural theology] deals with how we view the nature of man. [If] people have ability or not to understand these arguments and change beliefs. And based on my understanding that’s why I think there is value in giving positive arguments in favor of Christianity in the traditional, classical sense.” So, even in his own definition, there is a reference to classicalism. How much clarity does such multiplication of terminology provide, if there is no new content provided with it? The only post on “Natural Theology” on RCA is not even by Mr. Jaros. What he proposed on Unbelievable is practically identical to that espoused by William Lane Craig, R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner, or Norman Geisler. His treatment of Total Depravity lacked much in accuracy, as well as in meaningful interaction. How do you introduce the subject meaningfully and fail to bring up synergism and monergism? What sort of “finesse” is that?
The frequent and consistent need for correction by Dr. Oliphint on basic issues, throughout the show, was also indicative of Mr. Jaros’ lack of clarity and finesse. Mr. Jaros repeatedly mischaracterized Reformed Theology, Covenantal Apologetics, and presented very little positive material whatsoever. In my experience, such a lack of positive presentation, coupled with the frequent necessity for correction is a sign of ignorance of the topic in question. Perhaps Mr. Jaros should not be writing about clarity or finesse in apologetics, or theology, but learning the subtleties he himself insists upon others recognizing. His education did him a disservice in dealing with Protestants of a historic stripe. A smorgasbord of theological positions does not a systematic, clear, or subtle apologetic make. It lacks finesse, it lacks cohesion, and most of all, it lacks any objective basis from which to argue. His frequent insistence on “your reading” when dealing with the positions of others, while offering no substantive response to the same issue points out what we’ve said here all along. If you don’t frequently elucidate what you believe, and study it for that purpose, you have no hope of being able to communicate the necessity of believing the Scriptural witness over and against the position of your opponent. You likewise have no basis for others to take you seriously. If you are the perpetual jello cup of theological understanding, you certainly cannot nail any other position to the wall. You do resist such efforts yourself – but that isn’t much of a recommendation.
Update: Mr. Jaros responded to my tweet of two days ago about two hours after this post went up.
@RazorsKiss , thanks for your interest. I don’t consider myself EO. I’m not a member, nor affiliated with their denomination. Cheers.
4:24pm · 21 Jul 13
While that is interesting, it merely underscores my point, while answering my question. This buffet style “systematic” is anything but systematic.