Saturday, May 28, 2005

Newer is truer

In the continuing thread with Jason Cardona (see "Invincible ignorance," "The rise & fall of James White," "Extra ecclesiam," "Solus Christus?" both text and comments), I had said:
<< "It’s safer to be outside the church. The less you know the better. Ignorance is your best defense. By contrast, the most dangerous place in the world, spiritually speaking, is inside the Catholic church!">>

To which Jason said:
<< Please, don't misrepresent Catholic teaching. If you disagree with it, then disagree. But present it accurately.

"If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

--"Dominus Iesus", 2000 Declaration of the Holy See, #22 >>

Among other things, I then pointed out that Jason had only quoted the first half of paragraph 22, the rest of which reads:

<< 22. However, “all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be more severely judged.” >>

So, according to DI, the advantageous status of Roman Catholics is offset by a correlative disadvantage to which the invincibly ignorant are not liable.

Jason responded by reiterating his quote of DI #22 and adding that:

<< The Church does not today understand her own teaching in this way.

Don't claim she has a new understanding today when she specifically denies this proposed understanding.

Steve, I had only one point since the beginning of this...It was simply your factual misrepresentation of the Catholic Church's understanding of its own teaching today. >>

Now, one of the odd things about Jason’s accusation is that I was quoting from the very same document as he was. So it is strange to suggest that his interpretation is more up-to-date than mine.

What is more, I was quoting from the very same paragraph. So it is hard to see how his compartmentalized interpretation is more accurate than my holistic interpretation.

But let us play along with his principle of contemporeity and ecclesial self-understanding. Shortly after DI was issued, in the very same year, to be exact, Cardinal Ratzinger offered his own commentary on the Declaration. Among other things, he said the following:


The document affirms, with the Council, that God gives light to everyone. Those who seek the truth find themselves objectively on the path that leads to Christ, and thus also on the path to the community in which he remains present in history, that is, to the Church. To seek the truth, to listen to one's conscience, to purify one's interior hearing, these are the conditions of salvation for all. They have a profound, objective connection with Christ and the Church.


So even though DI says that those outside church are, objectively speaking, in a gravely deficient situation compared with those inside the church, Ratzinger says that those outside the church can enjoy a “profound, objective connection with Christ and the Church.”

I take it, then, that this represents the latest version of the church’s self-understanding.

Admittedly, though, this may be seriously out-of-date, for it was issued fully five years ago, which is an alarmingly Jurassic lapse of time in the alacritous development of doctrine. At most, then, it is only the newest new understanding, which may actually make it the newest old understanding, or perhaps the next to newest old understanding, depending on what Cardinal Kasper has been up to since then.

It would certainly be inaccurate to date this declaration as “today’s" self-understanding, since it wasn’t issued today. Much less can it postdated as tomorrow’s self-understanding—although that would get to the point a whole lot quicker. So, at the very latest, it can only be postmarked as yesterday’s understanding, Rome time.

Thus, it may be altogether premature to say just what represents the church’s self-understanding until Benedict XVI issues his paleo-ante-neo-post-modern understanding of the erstwhile Cardinal Ratzinger’s understanding of Dominus Iesus’s understanding of Vatican II’s understanding of Pius IX’s understanding of Trent’s understanding of Florence’s understanding of Boniface VIII’s understanding of Lateran IV’s understanding of Gregory the Great’s understanding of Cyprian’s understanding of extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

Thankfully, though, we can see at a glance how much it simplifies matters to have a divine teaching office, compared with those poor clueless Lutherans who’ve been using the Formula of Concord for over 400 years, or the equally addled Presbyterians who’ve been using the Westminster Confession for over 350 years.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Invincible ignorance

Jason has responded to my reply:

<< The Church receives it as canonical, evidenced by the citation. "Catholic Bible scholars" have nothing to do with anything. If evangelicals don't receive it as canonical, that's fine. But your views have nothing to do with the DI citation. Even conceding the possibility that it is not canonical, the citation itself indicates that DI is affirming what the passage communicates, regardless of its canonical status. >>

This is the statement in the DI that we’re talking about:

<< He [Christ] himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5). >>

The immediate question is not whether it’s canonical, but whether it’s true. The DI cites the long ending of Mark as a prooftext to justify its affirmation that Christ “himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism.”

This is more than affirming what the passage “indicates”—in terms of the necessity of faith and baptism. Rather, this is affirming that Christ himself, in his own person, and his own words, explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism. Their necessity may be true (or false) irrespective of a dominical assertion for that effect, or even in the absence of a dominical assertion to that effect. That’s not the issue.

The issue is whether Jesus ever said ir, as recorded in the long ending of Mark. Does this preserve the authentic ipsissima verba or at least the authentic ipsissima vox of Christ in his post-Resurrection appearance?

And the quality of our textual witness is certainly germane to the answer. Just as I don’t take my information about the life of Christ from apocryphal Gospels, I don’t take my information from a spurious postscript to the canonical Gospel of Mark.

So what is Jason really saying? That the DI can make a falsehood true? Or that the falsity of the prooftext is irrelevant to the claim--even though the claim is specifically grounded in to that prooftext (along with Jn 3:5)?

Frankly, this is a systemic problem in Catholicism. You have Roman Catholics who would never tolerate such loose views of the truth in their personal conduct or in other field of knowledge, but when it comes to theology, a very different standard, if you can even call it a standard, comes into play.

<< << Pagans who have never heard the Gospel have the moral law written on their hearts. While it is easily blinded by sin, it is there nonetheless. Christians have the moral law written on their hearts, but they also have it in the explict sources of divine revelation (Scripture and Tradition). >>

I assume that “the moral law written on their hearts” is an allusion to Rom 2:15 and Jer 31:33. If so, there are a couple of fundamental difficulties with Jason’s appeal:

1.The allusion is to the New Covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah. In context, then, both in terms of the original viewpoint as well as its NT fulfillment, it has reference, not to pagans, but to members of the New Covenant community.

This is inclusive of gentiles, but Christian gentiles rather than pagan gentiles. For the supporting arguments, see Feinberg, Harrison, and Thompson on Jeremiah, as well as Augustine, Cranfield, and Wright on Romans.

2.But assuming, for the sake of argument, that the reference is to the heathen, how does the law function in Romans? Can a man be saved by law-keeping? According to Paul, the role of the law is to mediate the knowledge of sin (3:20; 5:20; 7:7), not the knowledge of salvation. It supplies the standard of judgment (2:12-16), not of salvation.

<< "To whom much is given, much is expected." >>

I don’t deny that.

<< I did not respond to your wider questions on Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus, as my post was in response to one specific assertion you made, which was factually erroneous. The Church specifically denies what you proposed. >>

1.Even if the RCC specifically denies what I have proposed, that doesn’t solve the problem, for the issue is not merely what the RCC affirms or denies, but what it implies. Is the magisterium consistent in its teaching?

2.How was my specific assertion factually erroneous? This is the assertion you were responding to:

<< "It’s safer to be outside the church. The less you know the better. Ignorance is your best defense. By contrast, the most dangerous place in the world, spiritually speaking, is inside the Catholic church!">>

This assertion is generated by the interrelation between three different propositions:

I) Pagans can be in a state of invincible ignorance. This constitutes an exculpatory circumstance by rendering their unbelief in Catholic dogma inculpable.

ii) Pagans can be saved apart from faith in Catholic dogma or formal membership in the visible church.

iii) Catholics, due to their explicit knowledge of dogma and direct access to the means of grace, are liable to greater judgment. Their privileged situation is an aggravating circumstance should they resist the means of grace: “If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be more severely judged.”

iv) Ergo, a pagan can be a beneficiary of saving grace without incurring the added liability to which a Catholic is uniquely vulnerable and chargeable.

I’d add that a practical level, there is a high percentage of men and women who were baptized and brought up in the Catholic faith, but have since turned their back on the church and are now living in a state of mortal sin. So the risk is far from purely hypothetical.

Finally, since Steve Jackson has drawn our attention to a review of the DI, we might as well quote a few choice selections from that review (see below) inasmuch as it offers an independent commentary which happens to coincide with elements of my own interpretation


While DJ rightly rejects the hypothesis of a universal economy of salvation of the Holy Spirit, it puts forward the view that the Holy Spirit is sent forth upon all of mankind. The Scripture adduced in no way justifies that the Holy Spirit has been sent upon mankind since the beginning of history. The farewell discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John shows that Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit only to His disciples and the Church. He did not send the Holy Spirit to the world or to mankind as a whole, which, insofar as it does not believe, could not and cannot receive this Holy Spirit. As a result of the intimate bond between the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Holy Spirit, DJ deduces a twofold salvific operation of Christ with and through the Holy Spirit in the Father's plan of salvation (DJ§12): 1) The entire work of building the Church through its Head, Jesus Christ, in fellowship with the Holy Spirit down the centuries; 2)The salvific work of Jesus Christ with and through the Holy Spirit beyond the visible borders of the Church.

Thus, according to DJ, the Catholic Church's relation to non-Catholics is analogous to her relation to non-Christians: the Catholic Church's absolute claim is not to be understood as being exclusive and separating, but inclusive and uniting. There is a, full and a less full communion with the one Church of Christ. There is the fullness of truth and grace in the Catholic Church and an imperfect participation in it in the non-Catholic communities.

<< [t]his truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism....If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation. >>

That is why the Church is bound to proclaim Christ, in whom "men find the fullness of their religious life." So it is not a question of salvation versus perdition, but only of salvation versus the fullness of salvation. This chimerical alternative is erroneous in itself and a source of heresy.

According to DJ, other religions are genuine mediations of salvation. They point to Christ and lead to Him. This estimate of the non-Christian religions cannot be supported by Scripture nor tradition. The weakness in DJ is that the position of the partner-in-dialogue is not articulated according to the partner's self-understanding, but determined on the basis of the contemporary Church's position. The alleged salvific elements in other religions are not specified but merely declared to be "seeds of the Word" in some vague sense.

The view of the other religions in DJ is not true to historical reality. In reality these other religions are totalities, each possessing its own core of life and organization, on which all assertions are to be understood and interpreted. They are not oriented to Christ, but to their own cores. In all of DJ there is no presentation of a single non-Christian religion in its specific, historical form. Compare historical religions like Buddhism or Islam with the Catholic Faith and it is immediately clear that, seen as totalities, they contradict Catholicism and are not oriented to Christ through their supposed "semina Verbi."

DJ’s inter-religious dialogue is in reality a monologue. The dialogue-partner himself does not speak. DJ itself, in an entirely abstract way, pronounces its verdict on the quality of salvation offered by the non-Christian religions, and on the way they "anonymously" lead to Christ.

It is completely baffling that DJ, in its evaluation of the other religions, ignores mankind's original sin and inclination to sin, which, after all, are the very preconditions of redemption. Therefore, it is not in line with Scripture nor St. Paul, who, in both his speech at the Areopagus and Epistle to the Romans (Rom. l:l-9ff.), showed his negative estimate of the pagan religions around him.


The rise and fall of James White

The Evangelical world has been rocked from top to bottom these last few days by shocking revelations of Dr. White’s hitherto undisclosed background. This began when the legendary Art Sippo, of Hitmen-R-Us, broke the following story:

“Mr. White is an ignorant bigot who has no academic credentials. He was raised by bigots to be a bigot and would parade around in a white sheet burning crosses on people's lawns if there was any money in it.”

Still reeling from this exposé, Dr. White’s ministry faces yet another body blow, for Sippo has now been tipped off by an anonymous source (a regular informant for Newsweek and 60 Minutes II) that Dr. White has a cousin twice-removed who was once caught trying to sneak 16 items through the express checkout stand, although the sign clearly said "15 items or less"!

And as I write this, yet another sensational detail is just coming over the newswires. According to preliminary reports, Dr. White’s late great Aunt Sue-Ella (as reported by the AP, although Reuters gives her name as Ella-Sue) may have taken two peanut butter cookies (yes, you heard me right, that’s “two” cookies!) back in Sunday school when Teacher wasn’t looking, even though Teacher, when she passed the plate around, told the students in no uncertain terms that they were only allowed “one” cookie each.

Geraldo Rivera has been dispatched by Fox News to interview the surviving eyewitnesses—who were between 5-6 years old at the time, but currently reside in various nursing homes due to end-stage senile dementia.

Although Teacher is long since deceased, her estate is demanding reparations from Alpha & Omega ministries for the pilfered cookie, and Nancy Pelosi has called for a Congressional investigation to look into the escalating scandal of Cookiegate.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Extra ecclesiam

Among other things, I had said:
<< "It’s safer to be outside the church. The less you know the better. Ignorance is your best defense. By contrast, the most dangerous place in the world, spiritually speaking, is inside the Catholic church!">>

To which Jason said:
<< Please, don't misrepresent Catholic teaching. If you disagree with it, then disagree. But present it accurately.

"If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

--"Dominus Iesus", 2000 Declaration of the Holy See, #22 >>

By way of comment:

1.What theological weight does Jason assign to “Dominus Iesus”? For example, the Declaration makes the following claim:

<< 20. Above all else, it must be firmly believed that “the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”. 77 >>

Notice that it appeals to the long ending of Mark to prove that Jesus “explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism.” Yet is there any contemporary Catholic Bible scholar who would deny that the long ending of Mark is spurious? So the claim is demonstrably false.

2.Do you have to be a Christian to be saved? The Declaration says no:

<< 12. Furthermore, the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity. Speaking of the paschal mystery, in which Christ even now associates the believer to himself in a living manner in the Spirit and gives him the hope of resurrection, the Council states: “All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery”.37 >>

<< The Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation”,79 since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God's plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being.80 For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit”;81 it has a relationship with the Church, which “according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit”.82

(82) Second Vatican Council, Decree Ad gentes, 2. The famous formula extra Ecclesiam nullus omnino salvatur is to be interpreted in this sense (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, Cap. 1. De fide catholica: DS 802). Cf. also the Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston: DS 3866-3872. >>

How can this be squared with the exclusive ecclesiocentrism of Florence and Lateran IV? I’m aware of two strategies:

i) There is the strategy, deployed here, according to which “the Church is the universal sacrament of salvation.” This is explicated to mean that “for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation.”

So even though you’re not a “formal and visible” member of the church, yet it is still possible for you to be in the pipeline of grace by dint of a “mysterious relationship to the church.”

ii) The other strategy is to say that Florence and Lateran IV are not directed against “pagans and Jews” generally, but only those whose belief is culpable because they’ve been exposed to the Catholic faith, yet rejected it.

This is set off from a much larger class of pagans and Jews who may be invincibly ignorant, and thus, be blameless for their lack of faith in Christ since their unbelief is a historical accident, through no fault of their own.

According to this strategy, the pagan or Jew is in a state of diminished responsibility.

I’ll come back to this momentarily, but let’s consider the passage quoted by Jason:

<< 22. If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation. >>

i) What is the precise force of this statement? What is meant, for example, by the caveat that they are “objectively” in a gravely deficient situation? This is presumably in implicit contrast to their “subjective” situation.

So, “subjectively speaking,” are they still in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation?

ii) What is meant by “deficient”? Compare their situation with the following:

<< 17. “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.66 >>

What is the difference between “defective” and “deficient”? Does this mean that Evangelicals are in the boat as pagans and Jews? Or does the difference turn on the presence or absence of the adjective “gravely?”

iii) If, at the end of the day, Jews and pagans can still be saved, then in what respect is their spiritual situation “gravely deficient”?

If they can be saved, the distinction is not qualitative. So is it merely quantitative? Is the point that fewer Jews and pagans are saved in proportion to Roman Catholics or other Christians who enjoy valid sacraments?

But if pagans can be saved by faith in natural revelation, then in what sense does that place them in a disadvantageous position? Ditto: the Jews, who have the benefit of special revelation.

Finally, there is the part of the paragraph which Jason did not quote:

<< 22. However, “all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be more severely judged”.93 >>

Pay close attention to the contrast. On the one hand you have Jews and pagans who are in a condition of diminished responsibility due to their invincible ignorance of the Catholic faith.

On the other hand, you have Catholics who are in a condition of heightened responsibility due to their “exalted condition” in relation to the church.

And this, in turn, leaves them liable to an aggravated state of guilt to which the invincibly ignorant pagan or Jew is immune.

Hence, a Catholic is at greater risk of damnation than a pagan—especially when you compare the ratio of lapsed Catholics to ignorant Hindus and Buddhists and Mohammedans—to name a few.

So have I misrepresented Catholic teaching? Or have I presented Catholic teaching all the more accurately by following it through to its logical conclusions?

Solus Christus?

Paul Knitter has documented a shift in Catholic dogma from what he terms exclusive to inclusive ecclesiocentrism. The Catholic church has gone from saying that no one outside her communion can be saved to saying that ever so many men, women, and children outside her communion can be saved, whereas if anyone at all is damned, it is mostly likely to come from within rather than without—a heretic or apostate.

It’s safer to be outside the church. The less you know the better. Ignorance is your best defense. By contrast, the most dangerous place in the world, spiritually speaking, is inside the Catholic church!

Knitter goes on to trace out this trajectory a few steps further:


This most recent shift in Roman Catholic theology of religions incorporates a clearly theocentric perspective. It is both distinct from and yet continuous with the ecclesiocentrism and Christocentrism of earlier Catholic views. While continuing to affirm Jesus as a savior for all peoples of all times, together with the church as the community by which Jesus’ presence and message is embodied through time, these Third World theologians see all religions as partners in a salvific dialogue in which not the church or Jesus, but God, the "mystery of salvation", is the final ground and goal and norm.

In tracing the radical changes throughout the history of Catholic attitudes toward other religions, one detects a certain evolution from ecclesiocentrism to Christocentrism and, most recently, to theocentrism.

Knitter, P. "Roman Catholic Approaches to Other Religions: Developments and Tensions", International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 8 (1984).


But this paradigm shift or theological evolution is by no means limited to Catholicism, for it also infects Evangelicalism and Evangelical missiology. Consider the Manila Declaration, issued by the World Evangelical Fellowship


Against pluralism, we affirm that God has acted decisively, supremely, and normatively in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. In his person and work, Jesus is unique such that no one comes to the Father except through him. All salvation in the biblical sense…comes solely from the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In our modern pluralistic world, many Christians ask: “Is it not possible that there might be salvation in other religions?” The question is misleading because it implies that religions have the power to save us. This is not true. Only God saves…all salvation stems solely from the person and atoning work of Jesus Christ, and this salvation can be appropriated solely through trust in God’s mercy.

The question, therefore, should be rephrased as: “Can those who have never heard of Jesus Christ be saved?” OT saints, who did not know the name of Jesus, nevertheless found salvation. Is it possible that others also might find salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ although they do not consciously know the name of Jesus? We did not achieve a consensus on how to answer this question. More study is needed.

H. Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism (IVP 2001), 49.


This calls for several comments:

1.It may sound very pious and Christ-honoring to say that no one is saved apart from Christ, but that is a highly deceptive form of words, for the key question is whether anyone is saved apart from faith in Christ.

2.This general question can be answered without answering the particular question with reference to special case of the mentally incompetent. However we answer the second question, that turns on a set of conditions not in place in the first case.

3. In dropping the faith-condition, one unstated assumption is the presumption that disbelief in Christ is a necessary condition of damnation. But that is unscriptural.

Original sin as well as actual sin is a sufficient condition of damnation, irrespective of the aggravating circumstances of disbelief in Christ. Put another way, unbelief, not disbelief, is a sufficient condition.

4.Another unstated assumption is the presumption that it’s just a historical accident if some men and women are born outside the pale of the gospel. This fails to acknowledge the providence of God. It also fails to reckon with the consideration that to live and die outside the saving knowledge of God is, itself, a divine judgment. By withholding the knowledge of salvation from multiplied millions, God is already judging them for their sins. Their epistemic deprivation is not a historical accident, through no fault of their own, but a preemptory judgment of God against sinners.

5.How were OT Jews saved? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that they were not saved by faith in Christ. That still leaves open the question, were they saved by faith in general revelation, or special revelation? To say that Jews were saved is not to say that pagans were saved. The Jews were the chosen people, set apart from their pagan neighbors, and graced with special revelation. Hence, Jews would be held to the same standard as men and women living after the cross—which is faith in special revelation.

6.Inasmuch as revelation is progressive, an OT Jews need not believe as much as a Christian, but his faith must be commensurate with the stage of progressive revelation in which God has put him.

7.This is not limited to a contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. An OT Jew who lived in the time of the latter prophets was responsible for believing the latter prophets as well as the former prophets.

8.As a matter of fact, however, an OT Jew was saved by faith in Christ—by his faith in Messianic prophecy and typology. By covenants—Mosaic, Abrahamic, and Davidic--that fostered the Messianic hope and expectation.

9.Even we, who live on the other side of the cross, in the time of fulfillment, must still live by faith rather than by sight. If a Jew was saved by faith in OT oracles regarding the first coming of Christ, we are saved, in part, by faith in NT oracles regarding the second coming of Christ. So although our historical position is enhanced, our epistemic situation is not fundamentally different from an OT Jew.

10.Once you drop the faith-condition, you soon drop the Christ-condition, followed by the God-condition, and slide into practical atheism—moving from Christocentrism through theocentrism to androcentrism.

If faith in Christ is inessential to salvation, then, noetically speaking, Christ might as well be nonexistent as far as you’re concerned. And, really, God might as well be nonexistent. For what you know and believe no longer matters. It may still matter, in some metaphysical sense, whether there is a God, but whether you believe in him or not is irrelevant.

11.Someone may object that it does matter, for you must still live according to the light you have. Yet the very “light” in question would be the “light of nature.” But apart from the external check of a verbal revelation, we are unable to distinguish the light of God from the darkness of our fallen heart. We can’t live up to the light we have, even if we wanted to—which we don’t, left to our own devices (cf. Jn 3:19-20; Rom 1; Eph 4:18)--because we don’t know where the darkness ends and the light begins. Is what I take to be the light of nature the truth of God? Or my suppression of God’s truth for a lie? Inner light or inner darkness?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

From nulla salus to tota salus

Especially under the imposing influence of Augustine and his anti-Pelagian polemic, and then in the heat of battle against the "paganism” of Islam, the prevalent attitude toward other religions from the fifth century through the Middle Ages (even for Aquinas) was that "outside the church there is no salvation." The Council of Florence (1442) officially declared that "no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." 
What [later] took place was a significant shift in Catholic theology from an exclusive to an inc1usive understanding of the church as the sole channel of grace. In other words, Catholic belief moved from holding "outside the church no salvation” to "without the church no salvation." During the first half of the twentieth century, Catholic theologians came up with ingenious concepts to include within the church any trace of salvation outside it: saved non-Christians belonged to the "soul” of the church; they were "attached," "linked," "related” to the church; they were members "imperfectly," "tangentially," "potentially." 
Historians often forget that this positive shift in Catholic attitudes toward "pagans” did not include a more positive attitude toward pagan religions. Very few theologians ventured the assertion that universally available grace might be available through the religions. The experience of God’s grace, always an ecclesial affair for Catholics, was evidently a private affair for pagans.

Vatican Council II continued the inclusive ecclesiocentrism of the previous period. While the council fathers reaffirmed that the church is necessary for salvation, they also, as it were, extended the universal possibility of salvation--even atheists could be saved. Yet the council, as is well known, took a definitely new turn when, for the first time in the history of official church statements, it praised individual world religions for the way they reflect "that Truth which enlightens every person." 
The majority of Catholic thinkers interpret the conciliar statements to affirm, implicit~ but clearly, that the religions are ways of salvation. These theologians endorse the theology of religions elaborated by Karl Rahner, whose thought so strongly influenced the council's deliberations. In Rahner, and in his endorsers, we see another radical change in Catholic theology of religions. The main ingredients in Rahner's optimistic assessment of other religions are well known. They are two: God’s universal salvific will (grounding what Rahner terms a "salvific optimism" for all humanity) and humanity's essentially social nature. Combining the two ingredients: if God wills to grant grace to every person, this grace must take on a sociohistorical "body" in order to be really available; and among the most likely mediating bodies for grace are the religions. The religions therefore are or can be "grace-filled” ways of salvation and are "positively included in God’s plan of salvation."

What enables Rahner to draw this conclusion is his subtle but significant shift from ecclesiocentrism to Christocentrism. This shift is embodied in Rahner’s much-discussed model of anonymous Christianity (which, as his critics often forget, he intended only for Christian consumption, not for proclamation to outsiders). The model’s first intent is to remind Christians that God’s saving presence "is greater than man and the Church"; grace can, as it were, float free of the visible church and incarnate itself in other words and sacraments. But for Rahner, if grace is not bound to the church, it is bound to Christ. Jesus of Nazareth is the constitutive cause of all salvation. As the full and final manifestation of God’s saving presence in history, he is both the cause (final and the goal) of every experience of God. Grace, therefore, is always Christ’s, always oriented toward Christ and toward Christ’s continued embodiment in the church. (In this sense, Rahner continues to claim the "necessity” of the church.) In the final analysis, then, the religions are incomplete without Christ; they must be fulfilled in him and his church; they are a preparation for the gospel. The missionary mandate remains intact and is reinforced. Vatican II’s statements on other religions, as interpreted by Rahner, embody the mainline view of Roman Catholic theologians, even though they may not expressly use the model of anonymous Christianity. Edward Schillebeeckx, Pietro Rossano, Avery Dulles, Richard McBrien, even Pierre Teilhard de Chardin affirm the universality of Christ and his grace and the religions as mediators of that grace." Because these theologians continue to hold to Christ as the one Savior and constitutive cause of salvation, they view the religions are already partially containing Christ’s grace, but as incomplete until fully incorporated into Christ and his church.

Although most contemporary Roman Catholic theologians readily accept the basics of the mainline approach to other religions, many are uneasy with the way it seems to judge religions before really listening to them, especially by predefining them as anonymous Christians. This uneasiness has given rise to another realignment in Catholic attitudes toward religions; there is a shift beyond Vatican II and Rahner, toward a clearer recognition of the independent value and enduring mission of other faiths. The underlying, often implicit, theological foundation for this shift is a new understanding of Christ's (and the church's) salvific role. Hans Kung speaks for many in his criticism of the anonymous-Christianity model. For Kung, this theory is but a "theological fabrication,” intended to save the "infallible formula” of outside-the-church-no-salvation.

Knitter, P. "Roman Catholic Approaches to Other Religions: Developments and Tension," International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 8 (1984), pp. 50ff.

Calvinism & sacramentalism

Yes, I'm closer to the Reformed Baptist end of the spectrum on the sacraments. I agree with Zwingli and the RBs that the sacraments are only symbolic. My position on that is probably cast in bronze. My argument for that is found in my essay on "Sign or sacrament."

I'm softer on the question of who should be baptized. The relative importance of this second question is contingent on how you answer the first question.

If you don't regard the sacraments as a means of grace, then you are not depriving anyone of anything by not administering the sacraments to them--even if you're mistaken.

That is to say, suppose they are eligible? Even so, if they miss out, they haven't lost out on the grace of God.

Also, even from a Presbyterian standpoint, the Presbies don't believe that sacraments are necessary for salvation. Hence, even if the sacraments are a means of grace, they in some sense duplicate an extrasacramental grace.

Conversely, even if the Baptists are right, you aren't harming the child by baptizing it.

On another point--paedobaptism is not a Reformed distinctive. (Neither is credobaptism.) It doesn't distinguish Reformed theology from its rivals. Rather, it's a carryover from the Medieval church, like Christology, the Trinity, &c.

Compare the virgin birth with the 5-points of Calvinism. Calvinists affirm the virgin birth, but not because we're Calvinists. That doesn't make us Reformed. It just makes us Christian.

By contrast, something like the 5-points do make us Reformed.

There's no lower limit to how weak a view of the sacraments you can take and still be a Calvinist. In principle, you could be Calvinist, but agree with the Salvation Army on the status of the sacraments. That would be a mistake, of course, but it wouldn't implicate your Reformed theology.

Traditionally, the “weak” view would be the RB view.

By contrast, there is an upper limit on how strong a view of the sacraments one can have and still be a Calvinist. If the sacraments are held to be the exclusive channel of grace, then that conflicts with the sovereign character of grace, both because the grace is dispensed indiscriminately, and because it is, under those circumstances, resistible.

Calvin had a compromise position: the sacraments are a means of grace for the elect. And this is a consistent way of harmonizing sovereign grace with sacramental grace. If, however, you don't believe the sacraments are a means of grace, period, then you don't need this harmonistic device.

In addition, it generates the problem of duplicate grace. The sacraments are said to confer the grace they signify, yet you are not saved by the sacraments, and can be saved apart from them.

In my opinion, Calvin's compromise on this particular point is a solution to a pseudoproblem which generates a new problem.

Because there are no direct, knockdown arguments one way or the other, this becomes a burden of proof argument.

Now, the supporting argument for Reformed paedobaptism draws on covenant theology. This is a Reformed distinctive. And the supporting argument is extremely strong.

The question, though, is whether infant baptism is a special case of covenant theology. It is consistent with the general principle, but not actually entailed by the general principle.

Infant baptism is a live option, an honorable position. I’m not opposed to infant baptism. But I’m not persuaded, either.

I've discussed these issues in more depth in my essay on "One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism," as well as "The 4-Door Labyrinth."

The really big mistake to be avoided is not the mistake of administering the sacraments to the wrong person, or not administering the sacraments to the right person.

Rather, the really big mistake is to vest one's assurance of salvation in the sacraments. This is a specific form of a generic attitude that takes many different forms. People in the church look to many different things for the assurance of salvation. It may be the sacraments, or KJV-only, or speaking in tongues, or the Regulative Principle, or strict subscription, or apostolic succession, or the secret rapture, or the altar call, or what have you.

It really doesn't matter, because these are all functionally equivalent when they deputize for the assurance of salvation. Even a true doctrine can be put to a false use in this regard.

The common denominator is to eliminate the subjective dimension by observance of some external. And the mistake here, aside from false assurance itself, is to forget that God is Lord over our subjective life no less than our objective circumstances. Grace is both objective and subjective--something God does for to us and for us as well as with us and in us.

I've never understood people who take refuge in an illusion. It's like facing down a Hurricane with an umbrella.

Finally, because baptism is a practical issue, an issue on which we must act, even though the credo/paedo arguments are uncertain to varying degrees, we do need to come to a provisional policy.

Conservative Christians are nervous with the idea of uncertainty, and conscientious Christians tend to assume too much responsibility.

What we need to keep in mind is that if God wanted us to be more certain on some issues, he could have revealed himself accordingly. The measure of revelation is the measure of responsibility.

If God had willed us to all agree on the credo/paedobaptist issue, then his revealed will would have been more ample on this subject.

Put another way, one way of discerning God's will is in the ambiguity of his revealed will, or even his silence, on many issues. You can discern God's will, not merely in what he has said, but in what he has left unsaid, or half-said (as it were).

To be uncertain about some things is not to be uncertain about all things. And God has willed us to be uncertain about many things. That forces us to put our faith in him.

In other words, I'm not sure that it is God's will if we baptize infants or not. For had it been his will, he could have revealed himself without ambiguity.

My guess is that God's will lies elsewhere. If everything were equally clear in Scripture, then we wouldn't need to study the Bible. But ambiguity forces us to search the Scriptures. And in the process, we discover answers to questions we were not even asking. We stumble upon truths that are far more important than the truths we were seeking.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Skin-deep spirituality


Last but by no means least, Catholicism has the most sublime spirituality and devotional spirit, manifested in a thousand different ways, from the monastic ideal, to the heroic celibacy of the clergy and religious, the Catholic hospitals, the sheer holiness of a Thomas a Kempis or a St. Ignatius and their great devotional books, countless saints - both canonized and as yet unknown and unsung, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII, the early martyrs, St. Francis of Assisi, the events at Lourdes and Fatima, the dazzling intellect of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the wisdom and insight of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, St. John of the Cross, the sanctified wit of a Chesterton or a Muggeridge, elderly women doing the Stations of the Cross or the Rosary, Holy Hour, Benediction, kneeling - the list goes on and on. This devotional spirit is unmatched in its scope and deepness, despite many fine counterparts in Protestant and Orthodox spirituality.


Sounds pretty inspiring, right? Try this small experiment: merely graze the epidermis of Catholic piety--a minor scratch or pinprick will do--and watch what comes crawling out into the light!


Mr. White is an ignorant bigot who has no academic credentials. He was raised by bigots to be a bigot and would parade around in a white sheet burning crosses on people's lawns if there was any money in it.


The Crusades

Most folks get their information about the Crusades from hostile, third-hand sources. It is always good to go back to the primary sources.

Here’s an excerpt of the speech that got the whole ball rolling. Although this document is a product of its times, the causus belli is statable in modern terms: The Muslims waged a war of aggression, invading sovereign territory, committing war crimes and ethnic cleansing. The Crusaders came at the express invitation of Alexius I.


Urban II:
Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, according to Fulcher of Chartres

In 1094 or 1095, Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor, sent to the pope, Urban II, and asked for aid from the west against the Seljuq Turks, who taken nearly all of Asia Minor from him. At the council of Clermont Urban addressed a great crowd and urged all to go to the aid of the Greeks and to recover Palestine from the rule of the Muslims.


Then the pope said that in another part of the world Christianity was suffering from a state of affairs that was worse than the one just mentioned. He continued:

"Although, O sons of God, you have promised more firmly than ever to keep the peace among yourselves and to preserve the rights of the church, there remains still an important work for you to do. Freshly quickened by the divine correction, you must apply the strength of your righteousness to another matter which concerns you as well as God. For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it.


From Bongars, Gesta Dei per Francos, 1, pp. 382 f., trans in Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905), 513-17


In addition to Urban’s account of the Muslim invasion, we have independent confirmation from the daughter of Alexius.


Anna Comnena:
The Alexiad


[Alexiad 1:4]

The truth is that in this area the [E. Roman] empire was reduced to its last men. Turkish infiltration had scattered the eastern armies in all directions and the Turks were in almost complete control of all the districts between the Black Sea and the Hellespont, the Syrian and Aegean waters, the Saros and the other rivers, in particular those which flow along the borders of Pamphylia and Cilicia and empty themselves into the Egyptian Sea.

[Alexiad 3:11]

As I have said in a previous chapter, the godless Turks were in sight, living in the Propontis area, and Sulayman, who commanded all the east, was actually encamped in the vicinity of Nicaea. His sultanate was in that city (we would call it his palace). The whole countryside of Bithynia and Thynia was unceasingly exposed to Sulayman’s foragers; marauding parties on horseback and on foot were raiding as far as the town now called Damalis on the Bosphorous itself; they carried of much booty and all but tried to leap over the very sea. The Byzantines saw them living absolutely unafraid and unmolested in the little villages on the coast and in sacred buildings.

[Alexiad 11:5]

While these events were taking place at Antioch, the emperor was very much concerned to bring help personally to the Kelts, but the despoiling and utter destruction of the cities and districts by the sea held him back, however impatient. For Tzachas held Smyrna as though it were his own private property, and Tangripermes retained a city of the Ephesians near the sea, in which a church had once been built in honour of the apostle St. John the Divine. One after the other the satraps occupied fortified posts, treating the Christians like slaves and ravaging everything.



The Alexiad of Anna Comnena (Penguin Books 1969), 38, 129, 345-46.


For the Christian character of the Mideast and the Levant before the Islamic takeover, see the Pilgrimage of Etheria, available online at:

Selective ecumenism

Kevin Johnson has replied to my most recent comments on Enloe (“The good old days”):

<< Translation: I’m not a biblicist, I’m a fundamentalist in Reformed clothing. I don’t agree with Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for the Church to be unified, and I couldn’t care less about Psalm 133 where unity is a blessed thing among brothers. I’m sure the Psalms have no relevance for today’s churches whatsoever [is there a Klinean influence over at RTS?]! >>

1.To get a couple of red herrings out of the way as soon as possible, I don’t speak for RTS—only myself. Also, I’m more theonomic than Klinean.

2.Do I agree with Jn 17? The better question is, does Kevin agree with Jn 17? There’s a difference between quoting Scripture and knowing what it means.

3.The problem with Kevin’s appeal—and this is typical of those who take historical theology rather than exegetical theology as their point of reference—is that he makes no effort to interpret the passage in its original context. Instead, he plucks it out of its 1C setting, and transplants it to 21C soil. But you only know how Scripture applies to the present if you know what it meant in the past. To jump straight from the 1C to the 21C, under the unexamined assumption that this is applicable to your own situation, is a completely tendentious move.

4.Before we discuss my take on Jn 17, let’s play along with Kevin’s. Kevin believes that Jesus’ prayer has been a failure up until now. That it’s fulfillment remains in limbo.

Now, when you consider that this is our Lord’s High Priestly prayer for the salvation of the elect throughout church history, the suggestion that his prayer has received a negative answer for the first two-thousand years of church history—or the past five-hundred years, depending on when Kevin happens to think the wheels came off—then, in that case, we’re cooked.

I, by contrast, believe that the Father has answered the prayer of his Son, that the Father answers the prayer of his Son throughout the duration of the church age. So which of us truly believes Jn 17? Kevin? Or myself?

5.There are many forms of unity. What form of unity is in view in Jn 17? Doctrinal unity? Institutional unity?

Carson, in his commentary on John (p568), believes that the unitive imagery is an allusion to the parable of the vine in chapter 15. I find this a plausible interpretation.

If so, then every branch is united to every other branch by being united to the vine. Dropping the metaphor, every (true) Christian is already united to every other Christian by virtue of his union with Christ.

If so, then the fulfillment of Jn 17 was inaugurated in the 1C, and continues to be fulfilled throughout church history, until the consummation.
If so, then Jn 17 has absolutely no bearing on ecumenism.

Now, perhaps Kevin would take issue with Carson’s interpretation. If so, let him explain where Carson went wrong, and offer an alternative interpretation which arises out of the original text and context.

6.In addition, Morris, in his commentary (2nd ed., 644), points out that “the unity prayed for is a unity already given: Jesus does not pray that they may ‘become’ one, but that they may ‘continually be’ one”—based on the present subjunctive form of the verb.

That would be another strike against Kevin’s appropriation of the text. Again, Kevin may disagree with Morris at this juncture. If so, let him explain where Morris is going wrong.

7.As to Ps 133, Kevin’s appeal begs the question of who our “brothers” are. The Psalm was addressed to the covenant community. The “brothers” in view are already members of the covenant community. They shared a common history—the Exodus. A common creed and code of conduct—the Law of Moses.

So Kevin needs to explain the nature of the correspondence between Ps 133 and modern-day Christendom. Is this a one-to-one correspondence? A one-to-many correspondence? Who counts as a brother-in-Christ by Kevin’s criteria? What are Kevin’s criteria? Is he talking about fellow Evangelicals? Roman Catholics? The Greek Orthodox? Who and what, when and where?

Just to seize on a 10C BC phrase about brothers who live in unity and transport that to contemporary ecumenism begs the question of who, indeed, is a brother-in-Christ, and how one Christian is or is not united to another. Kevin needs to redeem the verbal voucher with a detailed explanation.

<< Oh yeah…and another thing…that whole history thing where like…the magisterial Reformers regretted unnecessary division. >>

1.We all regret “unnecessary” division. But this begs the question of what division are necessary or unnecessary. Like a gerbil on a wheel, Kevin is talking at a furious pace without advancing the argument one inch.

2.Division is not necessarily a bad thing. Division can also be a sign of vitality. The churches most active in the ecumenical movement are dead and dying churches. They go limping back to Rome because they can no longer make it on their own. Or they merge with one another by pooling their collective unbelief. Two sinking ships united by a common gangplank.

3.Does Kevin regard church history as a descriptive discipline or a normative discipline? What about the Reformers’ identification of Rome with the Antichrist? Does he agree with that? Apparently not. So church history is not, for him, a normative discipline. In that event, why is he invoking the Reformers against us when it serves his purpose, but exempting himself when it disserves his purpose?

He is not appealing to the “whole” history thing, but only “parts” of the history thing. What are his selection criteria? Not historical theology itself, since he is selecting out all the recalcitrant parts of historical theology that don’t fit into his catholicity scheme.

I’m selective too. And Scripture supplies my criterion. But Kevin can’t make that move since that would turn him into a dreaded Biblicist a.k.a. fundamentalist.

4.Part of taking church history seriously is making allowance of the difference between their historical position and ours. The Protestant Reformers were all ex-Catholics. They defined themselves in relation and reaction to Rome. For them, the break with Rome was a wrenching experience.

But we live hundreds of years later. There’s a lot of historical distance between us and Rome. The conflict with Rome is one way we continue to define ourselves, but not the only way. We’ve got a positive identity of our own.

In addition, the contemporary Catholic Church is very different from the Medieval Latin Church or Tridentine Catholicism. It is formally committed to Trent, but it has also become a very liberal institution. And that retrospective viewpoint needs to be brought to bear as well.

5.I’m all for working to remove unnecessary divisions. I’d like every believer to embrace the doctrines of grace. I’d like every unbeliever to embrace the doctrines of grace. That’s not going to happen, but I’m doing my little best to promote the gospel of grace.

<< Mr. Enloe has also dialogued extensively with certain ‘Reformed” critics at length. >>

Here’s a radical idea. Why doesn’t Enloe show his bona fides may not caricaturing the position of his critics. That would be a very promising start.

<< Our friend Mr. Enloe has constantly defended the Reformed faith in and amongst discussions and debates with Catholics. >>

1.And which “Reformed faith” might that be, exactly? After all, Kevin goes on to say that:
<< We are called to die to ourselves and live for Christ–not the Reformed faith, Reformed polity, or Reformed jurisprudence. All of those things are subject to Christ our King and unless and until they actually serve Christ our King in the working of the Church a true Reformer would do nothing but issue the clarion call of the Reformation, ’semper Reformanda’. >>

So the “Reformed faith” which he is defending seems to present a moving target.

2.And that brings us to the next question: What is the target? What is the goal? What do “Reformed Catholics” Like Kevin and Enloe believe that we should all believe? And what do we presently believe which we should cease to believe in the interests of catholicity?

Is there some historical statement of faith where this can be found? Is it the Westminster Confession? The London Baptist Confession? The Thirty-Nine Articles? The Formula of Concord? The Remonstrant Articles?

Of if there is no historical statement of faith which answer to the goal, then let Kevin or Enloe tell us, in their own words, what creed we should all unite around.

This is a reasonable question. What precisely are they aiming for? If the goal is to “put our churches back together,” then show us the street map. What’s the destination? How do we know we've arrived unless we know where we’re going?

If you’re really serious about this, you should be able to answer that question. You should be eager to answer the question. What do you want us to rally around?

<< I’ll tell you one thing. The above comment makes it plain that an attitude like that will keep things the way they are. >>

Well, that’s the crux of ecumenism, is it not? Ecumenism only works if you happen to be an ecumenist. One ecumenist can agree with another.

But that’s not the challenge of ecumenism, is it? If ecumenism is to succeed, it has to win over those who don’t believe in ecumenism—not only those who already do. Ecumenism is like pacifism: if it could work, it would work.

For Kevin to dismiss my attitude is an admission of defeat—a surrender of his own ideals. He is substituting the problem for the solution. That “one thing,” that one little bump is the road, that one innocuous pebble is the immovable boulder against which every ecumenical effort has come to grief. Catholicity is only for his kind of people.

<< But what this ‘NiceTryGuy’ fails to note is the life-giving power of the Spirit of God to accomplish his means through His Church throughout history. God gave us the Reformation and we should be thankful for what we have learned from it as well as what God has brought out of it. However, we know that God also could work to put our churches back together. >>

I don’t do theology on the basis of what God “could” do. I do theology on the basis of what God has done, and what he has promised to do.

It is possible for God to do any number of things which he has never done, and shall never do. Hence his potentia absoluta is no guide to his potentia ordinata. A well-founded faith is a faith in the revelatory record of what God has actually done in the past, and what he has promised to do in the future.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The good old days

Enloe strikes again! Here’s a sample of his latest missive:


Toward a Truly catholic Theory of Authority

One aspect of a Reformational contribution to catholicity (the goal of this site) is a workable and catholic theory of authority. One can go to a thousand Reformational websites and find ten thousand articles on the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and their accompanying polemics against “traditions of men,” but few are the Reformational websites that spend any significant time talking about the ministerial authority of the Church catholic, both in history and today. Typically the subject of sola Scriptura is treated as if Scripture is in an ultimate sense dichotomized from flesh-and-blood mediation in time–particularly mediation by a “the Church” which is bigger and more influential than a voluntary society of self-defined, self-regulating disciples.

For those who wish to present a truly Reformational contribution to catholicity this sort of view must be repudiated, and it must be repudiated on the basis of a deeper appreciation of the historical resources which we have at our command as Protestants

The question I want to ask in this post is what did Luther mean by that statement? Was this a prototypical statement of today’s “Protestant” theory of the absolute primacy of the individual to do his own thing against all authority so long as he can find “plain Scriptures” to back him up? Was this the practical outworking of “sola” Scriptura understood as an epistemological-hermeneutical blueprint for denying the mediating influence of external authorities, traditions, and sanctions upon the private soul communing alone with God via intellectual contemplation of a naked text that is “objectively” understood?

For if it is not enough to observe that in the above quote from Luther the stipulated reason why there should be no General Council convoked to handle the question at hand at that time is not “No one can tell my private soul, communing alone with God via contemplation of the Objective meaning of Scripture as plainly presented to my own mind without any intermediary factors.”

If we Protestants are to contribute significantly to catholicity in our age, it is very important that we stand for the full-bodied understanding of authority and reform that actually drove our 16th century fathers, and not merely the reductionistic program of “Five Solas” and “soteriology” which seems to characterize many sectors of Modern Protestantism. We must seek to articulate and defend anew the truly catholic theory of authority upon which the Reformation sought to base its call for repentance and reform.


By way of comment:

1.Speaking for myself, I have no particular interest in contributing to “catholicity.” I’m a Biblicist, not a lower case catholic--much less an upper case Catholic.

2.But suppose, for the sake of argument, that I did regard this as a spiritual priority. One way of impeding any progress towards the goal of catholicity is to caricature the opposing side.

<< Typically the subject of sola Scriptura is treated as if Scripture is in an ultimate sense dichotomized from flesh-and-blood mediation in time–particularly mediation by a “the Church” which is bigger and more influential than a voluntary society of self-defined, self-regulating disciples. >>

<< Was this a prototypical statement of today’s “Protestant” theory of the absolute primacy of the individual to do his own thing against all authority so long as he can find “plain Scriptures” to back him up? Was this the practical outworking of “sola” Scriptura understood as an epistemological-hermeneutical blueprint for denying the mediating influence of external authorities, traditions, and sanctions upon the private soul communing alone with God via intellectual contemplation of a naked text that is “objectively” understood? >>

<< Not “No one can tell my private soul, communing alone with God via contemplation of the Objective meaning of Scripture as plainly presented to my own mind without any intermediary factors.” >>

1.This is a classic straw man argument. For it presents the opposing position in its weakest possible form. There may be a few street preachers who think this way, but that’s hardly the only version or the best version of the opposing thesis.

Protestant scholars and theologians listen to the past. They listen to the history of interpretation. They study the cultural matrix in which the Scriptures were originally revealed.

What does Enroe hope to accomplish, assuming he hopes to accomplish anything at all, by starting off with a completely artificial description of the opposing position?

If his aim is to contribute to a growth of catholicity in Christendom, should he not make some good faith effort to reach out to the opposing side and bring them in rather than dispatch their position out of hand with this deliberate, simplistic distortion?

Enloe has a very one-sided idea of catholicity. Is his notion of catholicity to only enter into dialogue with those who already agree with him—more or less? To judge by this and other performances, his idea of “Reformed-Catholicism” is to snub the Reformed and embrace the Catholic. Hyphens aside, only one term of the compound is operative.

2.The real question is whether we define “ministerial” authority as something over and above the application of Scripture itself.

Unless you happen to be Plymouth Brethren, most Evangelicals will grant that God has given teachers to the church. They will grant that there is such a think as church office in the NT.

That’s not the issue. The issue, rather, is whether ministerial authority is a limited, conditional authority--contingent on its fidelity to the truth of Scripture,--or whether it’s something above and beyond a direct extension of Biblical authority. Is ministerial authority authorized by Scripture--authorized to that degree, and to that degree only, that it reproduces the teaching of Scripture itself? That’s the question.

Or is it a kind of implicit, proxy faith, in which the layman believes whatever the pastor believes? Is the pastor the official Christian? Is he deputized to believe on behalf of and instead of the layman, is the sense that the layman has delegated to the pastor the sole responsibility of interpreting God’s word? Can our spiritual duties be contracted out to a second party? Is Enloe recommending a return to blind ecclesiasticism? That’s the question.

3.The so-called right of private judgment, which is, after all, just a slogan, is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. Freedom is a power for good and evil alike. This right is not a moral absolute.

4.The point, though, is that the freedom to be right carries with it the freedom to be wrong. If you are not free to be wrong, then you are not free to be right.

5.Put another way, the Bible must be free to be heard, and we must be free to hear it. Scripture has its own authentic voice—to be heard on its own terms.

6.Such freedom can be abused. Such freedom will be abused. And it can be or will be abused by whoever may have the freedom to abuse it. It matters not where you locate this freedom. In the laity. In the pastorate. In the episcopate. In a hierarchy, the hierarchy has the freedom to abuse its power because the hierarchy has the power.

There is no mechanism which will save us from ourselves. Any review process can be abused by the reviewer.

7.The way a church council used to work in the past is that conciliar creeds, decrees, and canons had the force of law. That is how they achieved “catholicity.” It was through coercion, not consensus.

Unless Enloe would like to go back to the days of a legally imposed doctrinal conformity, then an evangelical ecumenical council would achieve nothing. It would be like one of the endless stream of forgettable interfaith statements issued with great fanfare by ecumenical commission of blue-ribbon clerics and theologians, which makes no dent on the life and faith of the laity.

I have no objection to church discipline, but if a man feels free to sin against God with impunity, then he has precious little to fear from the “ministerial authority” of his local pastor. If he’s prepared to defy the Judge of all mankind, he’s quite prepared to defy the judgment of the elders.

8.As it stands, we have confessional traditions already. It isn’t just me and my Bible. We wouldn’t have a variety of Evangelical traditions in the first place if Enloe’s caricature held true.

9.In addition, Evangelicals of various theological persuasions do come together to issue joint-statements on questions of common concern and common consent. But that’s the point. They already agree with each other on these particular issues.

10. At an informal level, Christendom is already about as “catholic” as it’s going to get. Informally, there already exists a fraternal comity among Bible-believing Christians of various stripes.

11. At a formal level, Christendom is already about as “catholic” as its going to get. The “Reformational” traditions are here to stay. There is, indeed, a remarkable degree of stability in Protestant theology, claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Within about a century of the Reformation, the three or four basal traditions—Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Anabaptist—had firmed up to resemble their classic and enduring contours right down to our own time.

Incidentally, if Enloe is going to appeal to “Reformational” theology, he cannot peremptorily disqualify the Anabaptist tradition from a seat at the table.

Since that time there have been a few offshoots, such as the Baptist tradition and the Wesleyan tradition.

Likewise, the congregational overlaps with the Baptist, except that congregationalism centers on polity while the Baptist tradition centers on theology.

Some tradition was bound to exemplify the Arminian outlook, for that’s a modification of the Pelagian heresy, and in every generation there is a constituency for a more androcentric belief-system. It’s just a question of who gets there first.

The Reformed tradition occasionally took up residence under the Anglican roof. Or it exemplified itself in a more exclusively Reformed association, such as the Presbyterians.

Reformed Baptists appropriate both the Reformed and Anabaptist wings of the Reformation.

The only innovative theological movements of any real consequence are fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. Fundamentalism is attracted to the Baptist tradition, while Pentecostalism is, in some respects, an offshoot of the Wesleyan tradition.

For it’s part, the Lutheran tradition is fairly fixed and self-contained. You have liberal Lutherans, but they are Lutheran in the same sense that a nominal Christian is Christian.

Denominations and independent churches come and go, but the theological traditions they exemplify are quite stable over time.

12.It is, in fact, striking how essentially unreceptive the Evangelical tradition is to radical change. Over the decades, a number of quite creative and intellectually impressive new syntheses have been proposed as offering a competitive alternative to the status quo, viz., Schleiermacher, Whitehead, Barth, Bultmann, Moltmann, Pannenberg. But none of these has caught fire—in part because they’re too liberal and pointy-headed to enjoy mass appeal. No new Luthers or Calvins or Cranmers.

Much as we may reshuffle the deck, we’re play with the same deck of cards dealt us at the Reformation. Different combinations have been tried. The more popular have survived. The existing options pretty much exhaust what Evangelical Christians are looking for.

13.You have the occasional personality-cult like Mormonism, which survived and prospered as a result of persecution and social isolation. Or a theological cult like the Watch Tower, which satisfies the marketing niche of a perennial heresy.

14. Lutherans are here to stay. Baptists are here to stay. Presbyterians are here to stay. And, for that matter, Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are here to stay. There are some defections either way. There’s some traffic across the bridge. But the riverbanks remain in place.

There’s nowhere to go, but in circles. Just make sure you choose the right circle.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Tektonic faultlines-3

I said:
<< For Sandmel to claim that a fixed future would contradict God’s omnipotence and mercy is not a claim which he derives from the teaching of Scripture—to judge by Wilson’s quote. No exegetical argument is offered in support of this claim. >>

Holding said:
<< Not that Hays actually shows that Scripture proves any such thing (so much for his hypocrisy in saying, "no exegetical argument...") >>

1.Since Holding has difficulty following the ball, let’s review the obvious. Wilson is advancing a thesis. That places the burden of proof on Wilson. Wilson’s thesis is that you find such a thing as block-logic in Scripture—“Let us turn, then, to some of the many examples of block logic found throughout Scripture” (150). Wilson quotes Sandmel in support of his thesis—with special reference to the hardening of Pharaoh. See p151. Sandmel, however, does not offer an exegetical argument for block-logic in Exod 4, 7-8.

Instead, Sandmel talks about “the Jewish view” of providence for which he gives all of one sentence from the Mishnah. And he doesn’t offer any exegetical argument for the “Jewish” view of providence, either.

So the burden of proof is on Wilson, not on me. You’d think that as a “Christian” apologist, if that is what Holding is--although you’d never know that from his fondness for profanity—he would know about the burden of proof.

2.Even if the burden of proof were on me, I’ve already referred Mr. Holding to Warfield’s essay on predestination. But Holding prefers sound-bite theology to serious research.

And while we’re on the subject, there’s quite a lot of exegetical material posted on Triablogue in defense of Calvinism, both by others and myself.

<< Not that Hays actually shows that Scripture proves any such thing (so much for his hypocrisy in saying, "no exegetical argument..."). Sandmel's quote actually says, not what Hays claims here in his summary, but what he quotes and misses, that what contradicts God's mercy and omnipotence is that a "totally unalterable future lay ahead" -- not a "fixed future". >>

Now he tries to contrive a distinction without a difference between a “fixed future” and a “totally unalterable future,” as if what’s totally unalterable is weaker than what is fixed. This is yet another example of where Holding is so eager to find fault that he lapses into nonsense.

<< Hays himself, we assume, does not deny God's omnipotence and does not think that God is powerless to change the future, even if it is fixed in His sovereignty. >>

Holding commits a category mistake. For this would not be a question of omnipotence, but elementary logical consistency. By definition, what is “fixed” or “totally unalterable” cannot be altered, otherwise it would not be unalterable, now would it?

God is free to foreordained a different future, had he so desired, but one cannot “fore-ordain” an alternative future after the fact. If Holding is this muddle-headed, then it’s no wonder he has problems with Calvinism.

The logical alternative would be to say that God can change the future because he does not fix it in his sovereignty, but leaves many details to be penciled in by the libertarian freedom of his creatures, which he is able to erase and write over, if he so wishes.

Up-to-a-point, that would at least be a logically coherent alternative, although it is exegetically indefensive and quickly runs into epistemic and ontological dead-ends or cul-de-sacs.

<< It does not require a "finite, fickle, and fallible God who is riddled by doubts and second thoughts about his plan for the world" but one in which counterfactuals could be proposed and considered, even if not enacted. Once again we wonder if Hays denies either God's omnipotence or omniscience. >>

This form of words amounts to nothing at all. The question is not whether God enjoys counterfactual knowledge. The question, rather, is what there is to ground his counterfactual knowledge. If Holding ever bestirred himself to read the philosophical objections to Molinism raised by such theologically diverse writers as Robert Adams, Paul Helm, William Hasker, and Alfred Freddoso, he could hopefully see how utterly inadequate this statement is at even sketching an alternative model of providence, much less a coherent model.

To state just one problem: if God is choosing which future to fix in response to what the creature would do, rather than the creature responding to what God would do, then the creature’s hypothetical choice is causally prior to the Creator’s hypothetical choice. Not only does this make the creature the creator of God’s choices, but it degenerates to circular causality inasmuch as a possible creature is nothing more than what God could possibly make of it.

It is Holding who flirts with heresy by denying the preconditions of divine omniscience.

I said:
<< Likewise, Sandmel’s claim that predestination and prayer are nonsensical is not something given in Scripture itself. There is nowhere in Scripture in which his claim is taught, either expressly or implicitly. >>

Holding said:
<< Let the falsehood speak for itself, since Sandmel makes no such statement either. What he actually says is, "Unless God's proposed destiny for man is subject to alteration, prayer to God to institute such alternation [sic] is nonsensical." >>

1.This is another one of Holding’s favorite lies. Like everyone else—Holding included—I sometimes summarize or paraphrase the opposing position. This would only be a falsehood had I claimed to give a verbatim quote, and then substituted my own form of words. But there is no inherent falsehood in offering a synonym or summary if you never said that you were reproducing your opponent word-for-word. Holding himself does the same thing all the time, but, of course, he’s a past master of the double standard.

2.I said that Sandmel treats the relation between predestination and providence as nonsensical. They can’t both be true. Holding then quotes Sandmel verbatim: “"Unless God's proposed destiny for man is subject to alteration, prayer to God to institute such alternation [sic] is nonsensical."

The two statements are conceptually equivalent. If Holding weren’t so blinded by personal antipathy, he could see that for himself; but he’s so desperate to find something to attack that when what I actually say doesn’t supply him with sufficient materials, he jury-rigs a nonexistent problem on which to hang his limp bromide.

<< As for finding it in Scripture, we suggest Hays look for a story about Hezekiah being given more time to live after prayer, and for another where Moses pled for relief from the destruction of he Jewish people. >>

1.As is his wont, Holding is inventing brand-new arguments where such arguments are lacking in Wilson and his authorities. Let Sandmel come up with his own arguments.

2.Holding is now resorting to the hermeneutics of open theism and Mormonism to justify his denial of predestination and providence. Does Holding believe that God really did change his mind? Entertain second-thoughts? If so, then Holding’s denial of divine omniscience is actual heresy, and not implicit, merely.

3. I’ve offered my own brief critique of open theist hermeneutics in my essay on “Open season on open theism.” I’ve also written a much longer essay on the subject for a festschrift in honor of the late Rousas John Rushdoony. When that’s published, I will, Lord willing, post it on Triablogue as well.

4.In the meantime, Paul Helm has written a number of fine articles on the subject.

<< Note carefully that Sandmel says proposed destiny -- not final destiny. Hays errs once again when it comes to simple reading. >>

Naturally he says “proposed” destiny since Sandmel denies predestination. That is perfectly consonant with my reading. In Sandmel’s androcentric creed, God proposes, but man disposes—whereas in Biblical Calvinism, man proposes, but God disposes (Prov 19:21). Holding is too blinkered by rage to see the clear consequences of Sandmel’s stated position

After quoting one of Wilson’s examples of block-logic: “The prophets teach that God is both wrathful and merciful (Isa 45:7; Hab 3:2),” I said:

<< This is only a paradox if you insist, in simple-minded fashion, that God is both wrathful and merciful at the same time with respect to the same object. But the Bible itself is guilty of no such simplistic reasoning. >>

To which Holding said:
<< We'll stop right there, because Hays has done one of his usual shell games. Wilson does not call this a "paradox" -- he calls it an example of block logic, which is an umbrella term for what is expressed, variably, in many forms, including paradox, for one, but also including antimony, contradiction, and polarity. This particular example would not be paradox, but polarity. >>

As is his penchant, Holding is putting words in the mouth of Wilson. This is what Wilson really said:

<< The Hebrews often made use of block logic…This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antinomy, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension—and often illogical relation—to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic. Ibid. 150). >>

“Paradox.” “Antinomy.” “Apparent contradiction.” “Tension.” “Illogical relation.” “Polarity of thought.” “Dialectic.” Wilson piles these terms on as interchangeable synonyms—ways of making the same point by expressing the same idea in different words.

Holding is the one to tries to find a semantic distinction between “paradox” and “polarity,” and then employ that to gloss Wilson’s statement about the prophets. But Wilson himself draws no such distinction, much less does he apply it to the case at hand.

Once more, Holding is doing damage control. Like a diner with an expired meter, he rushes out of the restaurant when he sees the meter maid coming down the street and feeds a few more quarters into the machine, then waxes indignant because I didn’t respond to objections that were never raised in the original.

And I add that Holding’s after-the-fact patch-up job fares no better, for I’ve taking down his objections one by one as well.

<< The remaining examples -- two through ten -- Hays mishandles and flubs the same way. He thinks Wilson identifies them as "illogical" but Wilson says no such thing. >>

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what Wilson says. “Illogical relation” is one of the definitions which Wilson gives for block logic. I’m apply his own definition to his own examples. Nothing could be fairer. Holding’s last-ditch effort to improve on the original is a back-door admission that the original is indefensible as it stands.

<< Thus Hays cannot, as before, even represent his opponents correctly. >>

Holding is the one in a made scramble to retrofit the original—like a rickety bridge that isn’t up to code. The fact that Holding constantly feels the need to reinforce the original shows how shaky it is.

After quoting Wilson: ““Hell is described as both ‘blackest darkness’ and the ‘fiery lake’ (Jude 13; Rev 19:20),” I said:

<< This is even more inept than #3. It commits the same fallacy as #3, but adds yet another blunder by juxtaposing one writer’s figurative usage with another writer’s. But if there were such a thing as block-logic, it could not be attested by taking two different authors who may be ignorant of each other’s usage. At most, it could only be attested by showing that the same author reasons in self-contained units of thought. >>

To which Holding said:
<< WHAT! Earlier in his diatribe, Hays had informed us in his wisdom, "It is misleading and quite inaccurate to set up a contrast between the divine and human perspectives in Scripture." But in this very complaint, he not only commits the same error as in the rest, as noted, but also speaks of "two different authors" -- as though denying that God is the author of both Jude and Revelation! So which is it, Mr. Hays? Is there a contrast between human and divine perspective in the Scipture (as you say) or not (as you say also)? Maybe Hays is trying to give us an example of "paradox" to figure out! More likely he is simply too insensate and too intent upon insulting Wilson to recognize his own patent contradictions. (But taking the "human" aspect: Jude and Revelation were written in the same Judeo-Christian thoughtworld, and the two descriptions, darkness and fire, are found from the mouth of one person, namely Jesus. Perhaps Hays forgot his New Testament.) >>

Regarding the first part, this was my full statement:

<< It is misleading and quite inaccurate to set up a contrast between the divine and human perspectives in Scripture. This is like setting up a contrast between a novelist and his storybook characters. Now the novel will, indeed, present the viewpoint of the characters. But it will do so from editorial viewpoint of the novelist himself. Scripture gives us the divine perspective, not only on God, but also on man. This is what God thinks of man. >>

1.Notice the bait-and-switch scam as Holding slithers from an editorial contrast between the divine perspective and the human perspectives of Scripture--which I deny--to a figurative contrast between one writer’s choice of metaphor and another’s--which I allow--as though these were convertible propositions--they’re not.

Since God is the primary author of Scripture, his perspective is the normative perspective. His editorial viewpoint controls the secondary viewpoint of the human authors. One can only set those two viewpoints in opposition—as Holding and Wilson do—by denying the inspiration of Scripture—by denying that divine intent controls human intent in the process of inscripturation.

2.On the other hand, there is, as I explained once before, no problem with mixed metaphors in Scripture since, as figures of speech, they were never meant to be taken literally, and hence, to be literally harmonious.

Is Holding really incapable of absorbing such elementary distinctions? All it requires is a capacity to hold three ideas in one’s head at one time, instead of one idea only. We’re dealing with the axial relation between divine and human, human and human, as well as literal and figurative.

3.Scripture itself distinguishes between different human authors (e.g. Rom 9:27; 10:5,19-20; 11:9). And inspiration doesn’t necessary make one Bible writer privy to the inner reasoning process of another Bible writer. Inspiration is not telepathy. It doesn’t make John a mind-reader of Jude. God knows what both are thinking, and God controls what both are thinking. But one writer’s usage does not control another writer’s usage.

4.I favor the organic theory of inspiration, championed by Warfield, which is the mainstream theory in conservative evangelical theology, e.g., The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

I’d add that the organic theory assumes a doctrine of absolute providence. There is God’s providential ordering of the events to be written up, as well as his providential ordering of a Bible writer’s nature and nurture.

5.The fact that both metaphors are used by Christ is irrelevant in commenting on Wilson’s theory of block logic, since that is no part of Wilson’s own argument.

6.Even if we waive (5), what I said under (2) covers this extraneous case as well.

7. Of course, I’m just a “mouth-foaming bibliolater” in Holding’s book. So I make allowance for the fact that he has a lower view of Scripture than I.

All said, Holding would do well to quit while he’s behind—lest he fall ever further behind. And that’s that.

Tektonic faultlines-2

<< Only a bigot would find it completely inconceivable that the church could not learn from its Jewish forebears; to those who say otherwise, we are reminded that (for example) Calvin had no objections to using Jewish commentators, and Piper himself appealed to Qumran texts. Nothing to learn? Baloney! Hays' bigoted anti-Semitism shines here like a movie studio light. >>

Yes, bigoted! That’s why I am—bigoted! Write it 500 times on the blackboard and that will make it true.

Actually, a trademark of bigotry is stereotyping. Holding is very fond of stereotyping the Jews—as if they had some monolith view of providence and block-logic.

But Neusner, for one, prefers to refer to Jewish thought in the plural, as in his book Judaisms and their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era.

Now who does Wilson serve up as his Jewish authorities on block-logic? Well, he cites Rabbi Sandmel. Who was Rabbi Sandmel? Rabbi Sandmel was a Reform Rabbi. As such, he doesn’t speak for all of Judaism, does he? He doesn’t speak for Conservative Judaism or Orthodox Judaism or Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. I’ll have more to say about Sandmel in a moment, but let’s move on.

Who else does he quote? Well, there’s Rabbi Lapide. Rabbi Lapide’s an Orthodox Rabbi and ecumenist who hobnobs with the likes of Hans Kung and the late Karl Rahner.

So this is a case of one ecumenist (Wilson) proving his point by quoting another ecumenist (Lapide). For Lapide, Jesus is just another human being. And that’s what you’d expect a non-Messianic Jew to say, right? So why does Holding happen to think that Lapide’s sub-Christian Christology should be normative for Christians reading the NT?

Who else does he quote? Rabbi Soloveitchik. Who’s he? Another Orthodox Rabbi.

BTW, notice that all three men are not our “Jewish forebears,” but our Jewish contemporaries. These are 20C Jews, not 1C Jews.

What else can we learn about Soloveitchik? Well, suppose we turn to the entry in the Dictionary of Philosophers. That’s right—he was a Jewish philosopher, very much in dialogue with modern German philosophy.


Early Years
Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik was born on February 27, 1903 in Pruzhan (which is now part of Belarus), Poland. He was educated in the traditional manner at a Talmud Torah, an elementary yeshiva, and by private tutors as his parents realized his great mental powers. At the age of 22, he moved to Berlin in Germany where he remained for almost a decade studying at the University of Berlin, simultaneously maintaining a rigorous schedule of intensive Talmud study.

In 1931 he wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the epistemology and metaphysics of the German philosopher Hermann Cohen. In that same year he married Tonya Lewit, who had earned a Ph.D. in education from Jena University. He studied the work of European Philosophers, and was a lifelong student of neo-Kantian thought.

During his years in Berlin, he made the acquaintance of two other young scholars pursuing similar paths to his own. One was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson who was destined to command the Chabad Lubavitch movement centered in Brooklyn, New York and the other was Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner who would become the Dean of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin also in Brooklyn, New York . Each developed a system of thought that bridged the Eastern European way of traditional scholarship with the new forces of modernity in the Western World. In 1932, after his 1931 marriage to Dr. Tonya Lewitt (1904-1967), he immigrated to the United States and settled in Boston.

Philosophy: Synthesis
During his tenure at Yeshiva University in addition to his Talmudic lectures, he deepened the system of "synthesis" whereby the best of religious Torah scholarship would be combined with the best secular scholarship in Western civilization. This has become known as the Torah Umadda - "Torah and Science" the motto of Yeshiva University.

He authored a number of essays and books offering a unique synthesis of Kantian existentialism and Jewish theology, the most well-known being The Lonely Man of Faith which deals with issues such as the willingness to stand alone in the face of monumental challenges, and Halakhic Man. (Needs expansion.)

Through public lectures, writings, and his policy decisions for the Modern Orthodox world, he strengthened the intellectual and ideological framework of Modern Orthodoxy.


O dear! What a singularly ill-chosen example of the dichtomy between Western philosophy and Hebrew thought! Of course, were you dependent on the likes of Holding and Wilson for your information, you’d never know any better.

What else is there? Let’s see—there’s a footnote on Josephus. Unlike the other three, Josephus is, indeed, one of our Jewish forebears. Alas, his example is even worse for Wilson’s thesis than Soloveitchik. As one scholar explains:


The flexibility of the Pharisees may also be seen in their approach to the problem of fate and freewill. As characterized by Josephus, the three principal “philosophical” schools among the Je3ws were distinguished on this issue in this way: the Essenes assigned everything to fate (heimarmene); the Sadducees assigned everything to human freedom; and the Pharisees believed in both fate and freewill (Ant. 13.5.9). Josephus was borrowing the Greek philosophical terminology: for fate one should understand God’s governance, or providence…As Rabbi Akiba expressed it, “all is foreseen but freedom is granted” (Aboth 3.16).

Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Eerdmans 2003), 516.


This delivers a double-barred coup de grace to Wilson’s thesis:

1.You have a 1C Jew using Greek philosophical categories to reclassify Jewish schools of thought. And even before Josephus we, of course, had Philonic Platonism.

2. You have the same Jewish historian distinguishing three different schools of thought on the relationship between divine and human agency. The Mishnaic quote, cited by Sandmel, and the Talmudic quote, cited by Wilson, codify the Pharisaic outlook—since Rabbinic Judaism is the lineal descendent of the Pharisees. Wilson even says so himself. Ibid. 77-78; 88.

Nothing like a dash selective evidence on Wilson’s part to make a bad case look good. And Holding, because he is too indolent and ill-motivated to do his own research on the subject, simply regurgitates whatever Wilson says.

It should be needless to say that Pharisaic theology takes quite a beating in the NT. So one wonders why Holding and Wilson elevate this to the gold standard by which the Bible is to be construed.

I said:
<< All that Scripture assumes is that man is able to entertain hypothetical situations, to grasp the moral and practical consequences of each action, and to take appropriate action if he is so inclined. A sinner was free to do the right thing had he wanted to do the right thing. But he was not free to choose what he wanted to do. He was, rather, in bondage to an evil heart. >>

Holding said:
<< So in other words, Hays says sinners can because they were free, but they can't, because they are in bondage. When he decides which he actually believes, perhaps he will advise. >>

What I would advise is that Holding bone up on the elementary distinctions between freedom defined in compatibilist and incompatibilist terms. Notice how Holding drops all the key qualifiers. I defined the sinner’s freedom in conditional terms: free to do otherwise had he wanted to do otherwise—but not free to want to do otherwise. This is a perfectly coherent distinction. If Holding is unfamiliar with the compatibilist/incompatibilist debate, then he is hardly competent to sit in judgment of Calvinism.

I said:
<< It is quite unscriptural to say that the deed is more important than the creed. What’s the difference between a good deed and a misdeed? You can only do the right thing if you know the difference between right and wrong in the first place. You can only do the truth if you know the truth. Certainly the Bible has no use for a deedless creed. But neither has it any use for a creedless deed. In fact, there is no such thing as a creedless deed. Behavior is belief in action. It is pretty pathetic when an Evangelical teacher like Wilson can indulge in such breezy and morally disreputable principles. >>

Holding said:
<< Excuse me? Hays has probably never learned about Semitic Totality (books that would assist in evidential apologetics being forbidden by the Inquisition), but it is the Jewish idea that agrees that "behavior is belief in action." That is where Wilson would stand, and it is also where Scripture stands: "Faith without works is dead." In other words, deed is indeed more important than creed, for a creed can be mouthed in vain, but works that come of belieiving that creed cannot be falsified. But in fact Hays is even more than misguided here, but also dishonest; he quotes a single line out of a huge section, in which the "deed more important than creed" statement is not about morals (as Hays would have twisted it for his unknowing reader) but with tension of ideas and statements, and with experiencing and walking in the truth versus knowing and rationally analyzing the truth. >>

1.I am commenting on Wilson, not Murdoch Dahl’s monograph of the glorified body in 1 Cor 15. Since Wilson never brought in Dahl’s book to bolster his case, that is irrelevant to Wilson’s argument.

2.Even on its own grounds, the idea of a "unitive notion of human personality” would not justify prioritizing deed over creed, for that move would be disunitive rather than unitive.

3.Holding then indulges in a bait-and-switch scam as if saying that “faith without works is dead” is equivalent to saying that “deed is more important than creed.” Wilson doesn’t quote James, so this is another instance of Holding’s attempt to shore up a weak argument; but even if James were in play, James never says that works are more important than faith. There is no prioritization one way or the other. Holding would rather falsify the witness of James than disagree with Wilson.

4.As to Holding’s further assertion that the statement is not about morals, Soloveitchik goes on to say: “We [Jews] are practical. We are more interested in discovering what God wants man to do than we are in describing God’s essence.” So it is about morals—about praxis, about doing.

<< Next Hays says it is "is misleading and quite inaccurate to set up a contrast between the divine and human perspectives in Scripture." How this works out with books like Psalms and Job, for example, is not explained. >>

Once again, I am commenting on Wilson. I don’t have to explain supposed counter-examples that Wilson never gave in support of block-logic. If Wilson felt those were germane to his case for block-logic, he could have introduced them all by himself—without Holding’s twitchy coaching from the prompter’s box. I’ve systematically commented on each of the illustrations which Wilson did give.

I said: “Wilson is confounding his subjective impression with the objective sense of Scripture.”

Holding said: “We're waiting for an example of Wilson allegedly ‘confounding’ anything, but none is presented yet.”

And the risk of stating the obvious, the examples in question are all the paradigm-cases of “block-logic” cited by Wilson, which represent his personal interpretation of block-logic.