Sunday, February 20, 2005

Holding v. Hays-3

"Since I did not say Augustine in particular did not know of patronage, this retort is a red herring. As for Calvin and his "patroness" one could properly use the term of her, but only in the same sense that Constantine became a "patron" for Christianity. The relation of d'Albret to Calvin is nothing like the relationship between the Father, Christ, and the believer as this model sees it. There was certainly nothing in the relationship to inform Calvin of the nature of Biblical patronage."

i) Since the Augustinian tradition is a cornerstone of Calvinism, Augustine's personal experience with the patronage system is directly germane to the charge that Reformed theology has been superceded and falsified in light of sociorhetorical models of patronage, of which Reformed theology was sadly ignorant.

ii) Indeed, until the late 18C, every European culture was structured by a patronage system, for these were all aristocratic, monarchial, hierarchical societies. It was subject to various incidental refinements, such as feudalism, but it was a ubiquitous feature of social life, from Augustine through Anselm and Aquinas to Calvin and Reformed Scholasticism.

"The relation of d'Albret to Calvin is nothing like the relationship between the Father, Christ, and the believer as this model sees it. There was certainly nothing in the relationship to inform Calvin of the nature of Biblical patronage."

This commits a level-confusion. Holding is not beginning with the Trinity. Holding is beginning with Greco-Roman examples and extrapolating from that sociological phenomenon to a more abstract model, thus derived, which he then applies to the Trinity in relation to the believer.

"Neither Calvin nor Arminius, as far as may be seen, knew anything of Hebrew block logic."

Since Calvin knew his way around the Hebrew Bible, if he new nothing of Hebrew block logic, then that's only because there was nothing there to know.

I said: "And what is sociorhetorical criticism if not an extended exercise in block-logic? It treats people, not as individuals, but as social units."

He said: "What we have here is little more than an exercise in linguistic trickery as Hays attempts to equate treatment of people as social blocks with rhetorical presentation of ideas in the form of blocks."

Really, let the reader judge if this isn't a complete about-face from what he said before:

"This is a remarkably idiotic comment, since psychology is what produced the texts to begin with. More than that, I am not "extrapolating from one genre to psychology"; Hays has merely confused order of presentation for steps in argumentative progression. No, psychology is at the root; wisdom literature is merely the most clear expression of the block logic format that could be used for illustration purposes. This has nothing to do with genres per se. It remains that psychology is at the root, and thus the expression indeed would not be limited to genre, but appear in ALL genres, even epistles like Romans. Hays is once again badly misdirected. Moreover, ability to leap between genres is no pointer for being able to escape mental pathways."

Which is it? Is block-logic a merely "rhetorical presentation of ideas in the form of blocks." Or is block-logic the psychological root of which the rhetorical expression or presentation is merely the end-result?

"Hays mistakes objective investigation for 'on the fly' simply because I didn't deign to close my mind and pigeonhole myself into a Calvinist or Arminian straitjacket before presenting my findings."

This is simply a non sequitur with reference to his original claim that Holding has "the discipline to wait until he's finished with all his research before posting his findings."

Holding chose to launch an attack on Calvinism. Now, middle knowledge is discussed in such old Reformed standbys as Turretin (Institutes), Dabney (Systematic Theology), Chas Hodge (Systematic Theology), Bavinck (The Doctrine of God), and Berkhof (Systematic Theology), as well as such recent entries into the standard literature as Frame (Doctrine of God), Helm (The Providence of God), Grudem (Systematic Theology), and Reymond (New Systematic Theology). These vary in their quantity and quality of coverage, but they all discuss middle knowledge.

Far from waiting to completed his research before posting his "findings," it is now evident for all to see in light of his admitted ignorance, that Holding didn't conduct any serious research into the standard literature before posting his "findings." "Findings" of what? Imagine an astronomer announcing the discovery of a new star by gazing into a telescope with his eyes closed. Apparently Mr. Holding was just winging it all along--hoping that no one would notice.

Instead of research, what we see is a hectic game of catch-up, like a tardy Christmas shopper who shows up at the store five minutes before closing time.

And this is not the only point at which he has shifted his original ground. And far from keeping an open mind, he assumed an adversarial stance towards Calvinism despite his studied ignorance of Calvinism. This is not an open mind. To the contrary, that's the very definition of prejudice in action.

"This sounds so much like Farrell Till that it ought to frighten Hays, as it perhaps would if he knew who Till was. Like Hays, Till merely appeals to the spectre of diversity while missing the point: That the support of scholars demands that the position be taken seriously, not merely waved off with one-liners or blog paragraphs or namecalling ("that guy is a liberal"). Yet this is indeed all the likes of Hays and White are capable of when confronted with matters beyond their ken: Such it is that the buzzwords like "liberal" become grasped like security blankets as they suck on the thumbs of "exegesis" and rest in the comfort of their benighted ignorance, oblivious to the closing of the casket over their heads as the rest of the Christian world moves on beyond their stultified fundamentalism which does more harm than good, and aids and abets only the likes of KJV Onlyists and fundamentalist atheists."

Notice the extremely high ratio of invective in direct proportion to the extremely low ratio of reasoned argument. Indeed, it would be quite a challenge for a reader to salvage any reasoned argument from Holding's reply.

What I had said was: "Holding makes repeated appeal to 'credentialed scholars.' Now, since Holding is an intelligent man, I don't see the point of such a patently fallacious appeal. You can find credentialed representative for almost every position and opposing position. Reformed theology certainly has its share of credentialed scholars. So this appeal, which Holding reiterates ad nauseum, like a verbal talisman, is bereft of probative force."

How is the KVJ-only-cum-Farrell Till tirade the least bit responsive to my observation? Swearing like a sissy is no rebuttal to an honest counterargument.

"Hays is out of touch with the conception of fictive kinship in the ancient world, upon which all covenant and patronage relationships were grounded. There is no confusion except by Hays, in his ignorance of the social world of the NT: Note that my words come from a scholarly source, with which Hays once again does not deal seriously. "Compassion" DOES "select for" kin in the ancient world -- there is always a kinship relationship of some sort, whether Hays likes it or not. If he thinks not, let him provide examples to show otherwise. It ought to be worth some yuks, since being unfamiliar with ancient principles of kinship he will no doubt unwittingly pick examples that only prove my point."

i) Notice how Holding takes the Biblical category of "covenant," and stretches it out of all recognition to apply, without distinction, to social bonding throughout the ancient world. This is not inductive exegesis.

ii) Oh, his words come from a "scholarly source." Notice that this is an argument from authority, which Holding elsewhere derides as a logical fallacy.

Unlike Holding, I distinguish between scholarly opinion and scholarly argument. Quoting the opinion of a scholar is not at all the same thing as mounting a reasoned argument. Holding offers assertions in place of arguments: proof by quotation.

What I know to know is the process of reasoning by which a scholar arrived at his conclusions. What evidence does he offer? What were his supporting arguments? That's the only intelligent way to sift through the welter of competing opinions.

Is it not striking that Holding defers so blindly to the logic of the sociorhetorical commentators while refusing to defer to the inspired logic of the book on which they comment? Says a lot about his priorities.

In any event, a bare argument from a fallible authority is of no use to adjudicate competing claims, for if we were conscience-bound to believe the last thing we read in some scholar or another, we'd change our creed every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

iii) Holding seems not to have absorbed my distinction. So I guess we need to move back a few paces. A century ago, Frege drew a distinction between sense and reference. In his textbook example, the morning star and the evening star share a common referent (the planet Venus), but "the morning star" and the "evening star" don't mean the same thing. The bare meaning of the word "compassion," however we define it, does not pick out its denotae. The meaning functions like an abstract universal. The referent must be supplied by the concrete context. That is why you can plug different content into the same nouns and verbs.

"Being a member of a covenant community makes one fictive kin within that community. Hays is essentially saying that 'all relatives may be part of a family, but it hardly follows that all family members are relatives.' It is only ribald ignorance of the collectivist nature of the ancient world that enables such mouth-foaming blindness."

i) Note the gratuitous invective--"ribald ignorance"; "mouth-foaming blindness."
Yikes! I guess I better get a tetanus shot!

ii) And notice the patent equivocation, as if "collectivism" is interchangeable with a "covenant community." Holding has secularized the notion of covenant community.

It has been over forty years now since James Barr published his seminal work on The Semantics of Biblical Language, yet Holding continues to repristinate the old world=concept fallacy.

"Notice how Hays runs around the field of dirt looking for the perfectly level patch of sand to stick his head into… As for 'circular reasoning' that is yet another Tillism: It is the hapless plea of one incapable of addressing the scholastics on their own terms, such that they are constrained to denigrate and insult their intellectual betters and accuse them of fallacy, without having any knowledge of their scholarship or methodology. This will work well for the dazed and gullible who want only pious confirmation and Praise the Lord' shouted in the ears, but for those who actually want to understand the text in its contexts, it is merely a joke, and a bad one at that."

Observe, once more, how a parade of personal slurs does all the heavy-lifting in the absence of a single reasoned rebuttal. This is combined with another argument from authority--"their intellectual betters." Like a little dog behind the safety of a chain-link fence, Holding tries mightily to scare off the critic with a snarling barrage of lip-curling invective.

All I said was: "This, however, begs the very question at issue. Is sociorhetorical criticism the only prism through which we ought to read the Bible? He quotes sociorhetorical scholars to prove the primacy of sociorhetorical criticism. What a thoroughly vicious specimen of circular reasoning!"

I'll leave it to the reader to judge whether anything in Holding's reply is the least bit responsive to my precise objection.

For the record, I actually own a number of commentaries by sociorhetorical scholars--Kee, Keener, Malina, Witherington, as well as Wayne Meeks' inaugural monograph: The First Urban Christians.

I said: "Holding is sure that he is right, and White is wrong. How very dualistic of Mr. Holding! Doesn't Mr. Holding realize that he is in bondage to that ancient binary logic whereby either he is right or Dr. White is right? Isn't the time past due for Mr. Holding to emancipate himself from the quaint old law of bivalence? From these moldering old "polarities" of primitive thought?"

He said: "All of this is likewise a pretense for inserting a red herring into the pond: That I somehow argue by this that binary logic does not exist today when in fact the point is, and has been, that expression of dualism was much more pronounced in the ancient world, and among the Jews more particularly, than it is today among Western thinkers."

Once again, how is this responsive to the charge? Holding has been telling us that we are not bound by the logic of Scripture because this reflects a culture-bound "block-logic." Now he tries to reduce this qualitative distinction to a quantitative distinction between what was more common back then. But that skirts the real question. If binary reasoning is to be taken seriously whenever Holding uses it in an effort to disprove his opponents, then why is it not to be discounted as soon as Paul uses it to disprove his opponents?

Holding said: "White must show one of any of these things: Paul was not Hebrew or subject to Hebrew thought patterns; that he was one or both, but these passages are to be taken as exceptions for X reason."

I said: "But this is tendentious. Dr. White would only have to do so on the prior assumption that Paul's neuropathways moved in the groove of "Hebrew thought patterns." But why should Dr. White assume that Paul in particular, or Jews in general, were so intellectually inflexible?"

He said: "This ranks as truly one of the most idiotic questions of the age. Psyhcological [sic] science itself tells us that 'neuropathways' learned in childhood are extremely inflexible; however, that matter of psychology aside, it would remain that it would be the burden of the critic to show that a Paul diverged from a normal pathway for his background. My thesis works within what would be the normal pathways for a Paul. Calvinism does not, but insists upon meanings for words and concepts that a person like Paul would have had to change his mindset over in order to adopt."

I had accused Holding of begging the question. What is Holding's response? To beg the question all over again, as though, if you continue to beg the question, sooner or later that will escape the gravitational pull of your fallacious methodology.

Notice that Holding is still assuming that Paul was controlled by "Hebrew thought patterns," even though he has had to grant, under pressure, that he knows nothing specific about Paul's formative linguistic exposure.

But, what is doubly tendentious, Holding continues to make this assumption on behalf of Dr. White, and then put Dr. White into the dilemma of having to carve out an exception for Paul, as though this were a dilemma of White's own making, when anyone can see this is a set-up of Holding's sheer contrivance. In legal circles, this is known as framing the accused by planting evidence.

I said: "Sociorhetorical criticism, being a subdivision of sociology, shares the same bias as sociology. In the perennial nature/nurture debate, the so-called social sciences (sociology; anthropology) come down heavily on the nature side of the debate, treating the human mind as a blank slate which is pencilled in by culture. And, like any half-truth, there's some evidence for that."

He said: "Not much needs be said here; this is yet another imitation of the worst sort of atheists, who, when confronted with material they cannot refute, resort to charges of 'bias'"

If Holding is really that naïve, then it may go a long way in explaining why he's so star-struck by sociorhetorical criticism. All I did was make the elementary, but important observation, that sociology--inclusive of sociorhetorical criticism--is not a neutral discipline which follows the evidence wherever it leads, but rather, comes to the table with certain presuppositions regarding human nature. This carries with it the danger of skewing the evidence to support a foregone conclusion, or ignoring contrary evidence. You shoehorn the evidence to squeeze into your preconceived notions. Remember Margaret Mead?

"Beyond this there is nothing of worth; this is yet more vague claptrap and well-poisoning, with no effort made to apply the statement to a specific claim of my own. Vague blatter about "essential generic mental attributes" may impress others, but it will not impress the informed."

i) Well, since Holding regards it as impertinent to ever question our sociorhetorical "betters," I wouldn't expect him to cultivate the critical thinking skills necessary to see the point of application. However, it goes directly to the central question of which is prior--thoughi or language? Now, if you let sociology do your thinking for you, then that commits you to the nurture side of the nature/nurture debate, in which case you treat language as prior to thought. If, however, you don't come to the table with that prior commitment, then you don't assume that the human mind is a blank slate, to be pencilled in by culture. And, barring that, you are then open to the possibility that language is a tool kit rather than permanent pair of tinted contact lens.

It is especially ironic that Holding attributes such godlike powers to sociolinguistic conditioning when Chomsky, the founding father of modern linguistics, is an essentialist rather than a nominalist.

Let us remember, too, that Holding always exempts himself from his own rule. He is the shining exception who can think outside the linguistic box our otherwise culture-bound existence.

ii) Since Holding subjugates the authority of Scripture to the latest academic fad in Bible criticism, I can see why he would be unimpressed by my comment on "essential generic mental attributes."

Scripture does not, however, treat the human mind as a tabula rasa to be inscribed by the general culture. Social conditioning has a role to play, but in directing rather than implanting our native predispositions. Indeed, the only reason you have certain cultural universals in the first place is due to certain essential generic mental attributes which reproduce themselves in every culture.

"Hays purposely confuses the issue, which is not that an argument from authority is valid or invalid, but that it is not logical, which was what White was indeed trying to claim. Here the appeal is to the authority of God; and that appeal, by its nature, is not logical, but it does transcend logic; much as any statement of fact ("that ball is red") isn't 'logical' Meanwhile Hays quietly dodges the real point, which he admits by his own explanation lacking defense: That indeed, Romans 9 is NOT a 'logical' argument in any sense of the word."

What a hopeless muddle! Validity and invalidity are logical categories. For Holding to drive a wedge between what is logical and what is valid betrays a pretty cloudy grasp of elementary logic.

How is an appeal to the authority of God "by its nature" not logical? How does it transcend logic? Does Holding think that God is irrational? If so, that might explain a lot about Holding's theology.

I, for myself, regard the God of the Bible as the exemplar of logic (e.g., Prov 3:19; Eph 3:10). And the Bible, as the word of God, is an inspired exemplum of God's logic.

I said: "In addition, Paul's reply is not limited to an argument from authority. In addition to that, he also invokes a theodicean rationale for election and reprobation (9:17,22-23; 11:32)."

He said: "That 'rationale' is fine but it remains that it is not a "logical" argument."

One of the problems here is that Holding fails to define his terms. I'd define a logical argument as a relation between two (or more) propositions in which one is offered as a supporting rationale for the truth of the other, or another. In general, logical arguments can either be inductive or deductive. To give a reason for an assertion is to mount an argument. The argument may or may not be sound, but that is the abstract form of a logical argument.

BTW, if any Christian is laboring under the misimpression that Scripture is unconcerned with logical reasoning, he should read "Jesus the Logician" by Dallas Willard:


And since Dr. Willard happens to be a highly "credentialed" philosophy, I trust that Mr. Holding will be duly obsequious to his social "betters" in this regard.

"Hays was made aware of White's use of his material, and had some further comments we now address, except for some which he directed towards one of our consults, a seminarian noted above (though he did not pay close enough attention to see that it came from someone else, not from me)."

"Hays wrote more, though in reply to comments by a seminary student (which he mistakenly attributes to me)."

This is this a verbatim reproduction of my original quote:

"As one observer on TWeb -- a seminary student, as it happens -- puts it:

How is it that we appeal to Calvin over against the ECFs, who unambiguously took this to refer to man's ability to go against God's will? How about Origen (a native Greek speaker) who understood 20ff as being the part of an interlocuter [sic] and not being Paul's argument since it seemingly contradicts chapter 8."

As any halfway careful reader can see, I am quoting Holding quoting the seminary student. Holding's original attribution to the seminarian is embedded in the very snippet I quoted. Holding cites this, with evident approval, as a supporting argument for his own contention. It is, therefore, fair game.

Once again, I'm not the one who should have to reconnect Holding's own dots for him. If he's that easily confused he needs to slow down. Indeed, his entire reply would benefit from a less hectic response time--especially from one who is so ungenerous towards the dreaded bloggers.


  1. Your discussion with Holding is interesting. Though perhaps Holding could have at least read my "Primer For Young Calvinists"
    before diving into the subject. *smile*

    Though not a Christian myself, I am at least aware that all Calvinists are far from being KJV-onlyists. And the famed Calvinist, B. B. Warfield, whose works on Biblical verbal inspiration are still held highly in esteem by conservative Calvinists, did not necessarily rule out the theory of evolution, neither did he rule out that the Bible's ancient Hebrew authors might even have believed the world to be flat.

    Edward T. Babinski

  2. Hello, just visited your bible blog, I also have a bible related website, it's about some books which is helpful to understand the God's Words