Irenaeus in the Hands of Soteriological Inclusivists: Validation or Tendentious Historiography? -- By: Todd L. Miles

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 12:2 (Summer 2008)
Article: Irenaeus in the Hands of Soteriological Inclusivists: Validation or Tendentious Historiography?
Author: Todd L. Miles

Irenaeus in the Hands of Soteriological Inclusivists: Validation or Tendentious Historiography?

Todd L. Miles*

*Todd L. Miles is Assistant Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Miles received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has published articles in theological journals and is the author of Son and Spirit: A Christian Theology of Religions (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, forthcoming).


Defending orthodox Christian doctrines does not allow for much creativity. After all, the church has been commanded to contend for, not amend or alter, “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Faithful contending certainly demands discernment, wisdom, and knowledge, an ability to listen and detect a challenge to the gospel that is often concealed in a pastiche of modern sensibilities and fallen philosophies. Faithful contending also requires a Christ-like character united with a commitment to the Lord; a Spirit-enabled co-mingling of grace and truth that is so beautifully and remarkably exemplified and personified in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful defending may require creativity in articulation; the ability to present a defense of the gospel that communicates to those governed by differing worldviews. But because the faith was “once for all delivered,” that “creativity in articulation” is limited to expressing truths that have been previously revealed. Though often difficult to discern, creating new ways to say the same thing is altogether different than creating new things to say.

The faithful defense of the gospel comes with boundaries that have historically been governed by systematic theology, developed throughout the history of the church. Faithful systematic theology must be built upon solid biblical theology, which must be rooted in faithful exegesis of God’s inspired word, Holy Scripture. Admittedly, these are broad boundaries, but they are boundaries nonetheless and the gospel-defender is faced with the reality that there are only so many ways of saying the same thing. Of course, those who choose to ignore the boundaries do not face this dilemma. When historical and systematic theology are ignored, all bets are off, as it were, and the theologian is limited only by conscience and imagination (a troubling thought given the fallen nature of humanity). Further, new ideas sell well. Sadly, there is not as much interest in saying the same thing as there is in saying something new. What is the faithful contender to do? A critical tool in the gospel-defender’s arsenal is appeal to church history. If it can be demonstrated that an idea runs contrary to the historical doctrines of the church, then one has gone a long way towards dem...

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