Monday, June 06, 2005

Tradition: Popish and Protestant

To his credit, Tim Enloe has made some effort towards actually responding to my questions. That’s progress. By way of reply, I’d say the following:

i) It is still left hanging in mid-air what his detailed position on inerrancy amounts to. Remember, what he said in the past is that while he continues to affirm inerrancy, he does not affirm the “form” of inerrancy espoused in the Chicago Statement.
From what I can tell, to judge by his latest statement, he doesn’t really have a considered position on the Chicago Statement because it’s been too long since he’s reviewed that question. So he can’t offer us his informed judgment. Very well. He’ll have to take a rain-check on that one. Since, however, he was the one who originally brought it up, he needs to revisit this issue and nail down the particulars of his position.

ii) He has clarified his position on Rom 11 and ecclesiastical reunion. From what I can tell, his claim is not as strong as Wilson’s.

iii) In answer to a related question, he doesn’t seem to have a theological benchmark against which progress towards catholicity (or declensions therefrom) would be measured. That answer clarifies one aspect of his position, but leaves another aspect in the dark--for without such a yardstick to supply the standard of comparison, catholicity is a goal without a goal-post.

iv) He offers a partial answer to the question of ministerial authority, but doesn’t address the fundamental question of the extent to which a layman should or should not submit to ministerial authority. Everything turns on the details.

v) With regard to “objective reality,” he says that I should define my terms. To the contrary, since this is Enloe’s usage, it is incumbent upon him to define his own terms.

But to meet him halfway, and refine my own question, I think we both agree on the existence of an extramental reality, viz., the sensible world (i.e. spacetime continuum) as well as the spiritual world (i.e., discarnate spirits). The general question, though, is how, in our subjectivity, we enjoy cognitive access to “objective” reality.

However, in the context of this particular debate, I’m less interested in his answer to that general question than in his answer to the more specific question of how, in his view, we enjoy cognitive access to propositional revelation. Tim plainly thinks there’s a wrong way to go about this, to judge by his attacks on the way in which some of us in the Reformed community prooftext Scripture for abstract theological propositions.

So the question is, what, then, is Tim’s alternative? What detailed epistemic model does he offer to solve the problem which he has posed for himself of the subject/object dichotomy in relation to our appropriation of divine revelation?

Finally, Kevin Johnson has chosen to pipe in. Enloe is not responsible for Kevin’s comments, so my remarks are directed to Kevin.

i) Kevin once again showcases his customary inattention to the actual record of my exchange with Enloe. I am not the one who introduced the Chicago statement as the point of reference. Tim did. I am simply framing my questions within the very framework provided by Tim. This is not the first time I’ve had to explain this point. Is Kevin really too dense to get it?

ii) Did I ever say that Tim ought to adhere to the Chicago Statement. We never got to that point. I simply asked him to clarify the extent to which he did or did not adhere to the Chicago statement. Again, is Kevin too lazy to go back and review the material on which he presumes to comment, or does he suffer from some mental block which hinders him from grasping what was actually said?

iii) Kevin has a blinkered view of tradition. The Chicago Statement is, itself, a part of theological tradition. Theological tradition isn’t frozen in the 17C. The old Princeton theology is a theological tradition. Old School Presbyterianism is a theological tradition. For better or worse, Vatican II is a part of theological tradition (in the very act of revising Sacred Tradition). The whole of historical theology is tradition.

This is different from Trent and Vatican I, where tradition is equated with the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

The real question is not what is tradition, but what traditions do we identify as our own tradition, and what selection-criteria to we apply?

iv) No, Kevin, the Westminster Confession does not afford an adequate statement on the inerrancy of Scripture. The major players in the conflict with Rome did not disagree on the inerrancy of Scripture. That issue had not assumed its present proportions.

Whenever you have a statement of faith, the liberals will figure out a new strategy to get around the old formulation. The very wording of a creed gives the liberal a new way to play semantic games and trump up fine-spun distinctions that escape the exact wording.

For example, if a clever liberal wants to deny the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth, he will not say that the Bible was in error. He could say that, and that’s what he really believes, but that would be way too tactless. Instead, he’ll say that Scripture never “intended” to teach a literal Resurrection or a literal Virgin Birth.

That’s why it is necessary for the community of faith to update its statement of faith. The Westminster Divines didn’t need to deal with 19-20C higher criticism. We do. That’s what the Chicago Statement is targeting.

If you spent less of your time laughing, and more of your time thinking, you would be in a better position to appreciate these practical and pastoral necessities.

9 comments:

  1. Steve --

    Your point (iv) is on the money. You'll get accused of being enslaved by modernity for making it, but if there's a synod in ROme and a Synod in Geneva, and they make contradictory statements, which one do I, the faithful guy in a pew someplace between, decide to follow one or the other.

    Good STuff. Keep it up.

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  2. Steve:

    You're asking the question about ministerial authority the wrong way. Ministerial authority (even when in an ancient document) is personal, not abstract, and we don't deal with persons like we deal with geometry textbooks. There is no way to give you a "detailed theory" of when a person should heed and when a person should reject ministerial authority. There are, to be sure, historical examples from which we can draw instruction, as e.g., Athanasius vs. the Arians, Luther vs. the popes of his day, and Machen vs. Liberalism. But all of these things were personal conflicts dealing with incarnated reality, not abstract propositions residing in books. Flesh-and-blood reality cannot be reduced to propositions, much less to axioms, so your question is misconceived. Submission is more of a wisdom issue than a logic issue.

    I continue to deny your demand that I provide some kind of explanation or alternative theory to the 1982 Chicago Statement. That Statement is simply not the necessary benchmark for orthodoxy that you seem to take it to be, so it's not incumbent on me to provide you with a detailed counter-theory. Christians were faithfully confessing the inerrancy of the Scriptures for many centuries before the rise of 19th century Presbyterian Baconianism that, through many twists and turns, gave birth to some of the categories that ultimately informed the Chicago Statement. Why can't I simply rest content in the corporate confession, without having a mechanical theory? The burden of proof is actually on you to explain why I OUGHT to have a mechanical theory.

    As for how we subjectively enjoy access to "objective" reality, my basic answer is that we only enjoy that access subjectively. We are creatures. We cannot transcend created finitude and see things the way God does (i.e., timelessly). Our access to "objective" reality is always conditioned by our incarnated situation. Some sloppy thinkers like to claim that this makes "truth" impossible, but really all it does is uphold a facet of the Creator / creature distinction by reminding us of who and what we are. It doesn't make epistemology relativistic; it just makes epistemology messy.

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  3. Steve to Kevin Johnson: "If you spent less of your time laughing, and more of your time thinking, you would be in a better position. . ."

    Touche.

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://www.coffeeconversations.com/?p=88

    ReplyDelete
  5. Steve, I wrote on the Thinkling's blog a description of some of these people (types) you're currently engaged with about how they have descended to the usual Alice-In-Wonderland level (and lack of shame or lack of holding to any standards of honesty or truth) in their debating because they simply are in untenable positions and have pretty much ALL their vanity and worldly pride wrapped up in their current stances (why they do that particular part of it God knows), and I immediately got deleted and banned from the Thinkling's site.

    They called me a mean Calvinist and all the usual.

    So, you really have to adopt a strong and steady good humor and easy-going diplomacy towards the Enloe and Johnson types (and especially the Johnson fellow) or they will provoke you like muslims like to provoke Christians on and on forever until you snap and call for nuclear strikes on Mecca.

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  6. Threat? :)

    Heh. Tim was bored and I was just coming to the defense of a friend.

    But you're right about this blog not being a threat. I mean, that would require Mr. NiceTry and others like yourself to actually deal with the issues at hand rather than all of these personal swipes.

    ReplyDelete
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