Saturday, June 18, 2005

Gordon Clark-2


If you deny sense knowledge, then you must deny special revelation, for the Bible cannot be a source of knowledge unless the Bible is an object of knowledge, and the Bible cannot be an object of knowledge if sense knowledge is denied. This holds at several levels:

i) A Bible is a concrete object, consisting of paper and ink or some other material medium, be it audio, electronic, Braille, &c.

ii) Although the Bible consists of thousands of abstract propositions, these propositions are encoded in the medium of concrete linguistic tokens.

iii) Our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, or the receptor language (e.g., Latin, English) is acquired by empirical means—reading, speaking, hearing.

iv) The Bible refers to the world. Unless the sensible, external world is an object of knowledge, we cannot know what the Bible is referring to.

v) The Bible is saturated with sensory verbs and nouns and imagery. Yef we deny the possibility of sense knowledge, then these must be stripped of their sensory content. But after they're drained of their sensory associations, what do they continue to mean or describe?

vi) Likewise, one mode of revelation consists of visions and auditions. While these may not entail an external simulus, the visions and auditions simulate actual sensory perception. But if sense knowledge is denied, we, once again, lose our frame of reference.

To deny that Scripture is a sensible object, both in form and content, logically commits Clark to some form of natural or general revelation as opposed to special revelation. He oscillates between the two:


Christian dogmatism therefore must be realistic. The real object of knowledge is itself present to the mind. One need not (one cannot) pass from an image to the truth. One knows the truth itself.

There are of course other thoughts, objects, or realities. Every Biblical proposition is one. These never change nor go out of existence, for they are constituents of God’s mind. Knowing them we know God. To know God, we do not pass from an unreal concept abstracted from sensory experience to a different reality. We know God directly for in him we live and move and have our being.

Three Types of Religious Philosophy, 123.


The problem here is that the Bible is an extramental object. The relation between the reader and the text is a subject/object relation. So we do have to pass from the image on the page or vocables in the air to the abstract concept. Once the concept is present in the mind, we know God, but the question is how the concept comes to be present in the mind. Given the concept, our knowledge is immediate, but the given is, itself, mediated by sensory information processing.

The only alternative is some form of ontologism or direct illumination. If that is what Clark has in mind in his allusion to Acts 17:28, this might work on its own level, but it would work as an alternative mode of knowledge--to the exclusion of sola Scriptura. This has always been a problem for Christian Platonism, from Clement, Origen, and Augustine through the Cambridge Platonists to Gordon Clark and other suchlike.

I’d at that this is not at all how Acts 17:28 functions in context. It is not a prooftext for a particular theory of knowledge. It is, rather, a paraphrase of Isa 42:5 on the subject of divine creation and providence.

Clark appears to shifting from epistemology to ontology, where the subject/object duality is dissolved by pantheistic idealism. Back to (1).

Even in this heretical sense, it is unclear how that solves the problem. For in that event, we would not know God. Rather, this would be a form of divine self-knowledge. God, as the subject of knowledge, would be taking himself as the object of knowledge—in a manner analogous to human introspection.

Clark has another strategy for dealing with common sense objections to his position:


When a nonempirical apologetic is present to them, they almost always reply with the boldest and most naïve petitio principii: “Don’t you read the Bible?”

A serious apologist cannot ask this question until after he has defined sensation and explained its relation to perception. Apologetics or Christian philosophy has the task of formulating a complete and consistent theory from beginning to—if not end, at least as far as one can go. But it must start at the beginning. When someone asks, “Don’t you read your Bible?” he is assuming that a Bible is certain sensations of black and white without combination, arrangement, or intellectual interpretation. Now, this is clearly not the case. The perception of a bible is somehow ordered and interpreted. The apologist must explain how.

Language & Theology, 131.


There are a number of quite serious problems with this reply:

i) In the course of his chapter, Clark rehearses a number of standard objections to empiricism. Now, whatever their independent value, he is going outside the Bible for his arguments. He is, therefore, invoking extra-Biblical objections to undercut sola Scriptura. And since Clark was a professed adherent of sola Scriptura, he is not entitled to use arguments which subvert his own stated rule of faith.

ii) It is simply not true that when we say the Bible is an object of sense knowledge, we are assuming that the Bible is an object of raw sensations, without combination, arrangement, or intellectual interpretation.

This is just a straw man argument. Belief in sense knowledge does not commit one to radical empiricism--to the belief that the senses are the only source and standard of knowledge. Neither does it commit one to a bundle theory of perception or personal identity.

Rather, from a Christian standpoint, it only assumes that God has created the subject of knowledge and the object of knowledge in a state of mutual adaptation. God, in creation, providence, revelation, and inspiration, has set up a meaningful correspondence between the spoken or written word and our linguistic equipment, as well as a meaningful correspondence between the outward sign (linguistic token) and the abstract significate (extralinguistic type).

iii) Clark is also dead wrong to insist that we don’t know what we’re talking about unless we can define our terms or exclude every borderline case. The act of formal definition presupposes tacit knowledge, just as reflective knowledge presupposes prereflective knowledge. Otherwise, we’re at the mercy of a vicious regress. As Peter Geach points out:


This is not a demand that can always legitimately be made. If a definition is given in words, the demand might again be made that these words to defined—and there would be no end to it, or rather the discussion could never begin, never get under way.

It would really have served him right if one of his victims had retorted: “Come now, Socrates, please define ‘definition’!”

I certainly could not define either “oak-tree” or “elephant”; but this does not destroy my right to assert that no oak-tree is an elephant, nor will my readers find this thesis hard to understand or be likely to challenge it.

Reason & Argument (U of California 1976), 38-39.


We certainly do not need a complete theory of perception before we come to Scripture, before we can listen to the witness of Scripture.

Clark then offers an alternative to empiricism by saying that:


St. Augustine’s solution was, briefly, not that two minds had the same sensation, but that two minds have the same ideas. The ideas are common because Christ is the Logos that lighteth every man that comes into the world. “In him we live and move and have our being.” Malebranche…used the figurative phrase, “we see all things in God.”

Language & Theology, 142.


Several problems:

i) Once more, Clark manages to miss the point. How do two minds share the same idea? How does the idea find its way into the mind in the first place?

ii) The ideas in question are not universal truths of reason, but particular truths of fact regarding historical revelation and historical redemption. This isn’t instinctual know-how.

iii) Clark lifts Acts 17:28 out of context (see above).

iv) He also lifts Jn 1:9 out of context, where the setting is soteriological rather than cosmological. At this stage of redemptive history, saving revelation has now been extended to the Gentiles in the person of the Christ. What we have here is a literary allusion to the consummation of messianic hope and prophecy (Isa 9:2-6; 42:6-7; 60:1-11).

Clark then compares Jn 1:1 with 1 Jn 1:1 and asks, rhetorically:


This second person of the Trinity is the subject of John’s declaration. Can this eternal Wisdom be heard with the ears, seen with the eyes, and handled with the hands? Is the second person of the Trinity an object of sense?

Ibid., 145.


He returns to this same objection on p148.

It should be unnecessary to point out that John’s appeal is not to God qua God, but to God Incarnate--and to the communication of attributes, so that while what he saw and heard and handled was “flesh,” it was God-in-the-flesh. In that transitive sense God is, indeed, a “physical object” which could be “literally seen and handled.”

It’s amazing that Clark can cite 1 Jn 1:1 without registering the patent allusion to the Incarnational event. It’s amazing that C lark can cite Jn 1:1 without seeing how this pans into vv14 and 18.

You begin to wonder, when Clark writes a book on The Incarnation, if he’s using Scriptural and dogmatic terms as a code language to channel his idealistic ontology and epistemology--much as Bishop Berkeley explains away the witness of Scripture: “This, I am sure, is agreeable to Holy Scripture…I see no difficulty in conceiving a change of state, such as is vulgarly called death…”

Clark also runs through some figurative verses of Scripture in which “clearly the verb ‘to see’ does not always, perhaps not even usually, refer to sensation” (147). This is, of course, nothing to the point. It only shows that sensory verbs are sometimes used with a more abstract import--of intellectual apprehension--which no one denies. It has absolute no bearing on the occurrences in which the same verbs are used in their literal and concrete sense.

Clark forces the Christian to operate with a double-truth theory: there's what the Bible says, then there's what the Bible means. What the Bible says must be filtered through the interpretive grid of Clark's idealist epistemology, to find out what it really means. But what comes out the other end, after the screening process is complete, is anyone's guess.

5. Divine omniscience

There are yet other heretical consequences of Clark’s epistemology, such as his assertion that “if the theorems are infinite in number, neither God nor man could know them all, for with respect to infinity there is no ‘all’ to be known. Infinite has no last germ, and God’s knowledge would be as incomplete as man’s,” The Incarnation, 62.

This suffers from a pre-Cantorian definition of the infinite, according to which what is infinite is incomplete while what is complete is finite.

Clark simply disregards the arguments for an actual infinite as a given totality. Clark is letting himself get carried away with the picturesque and incidental implications of a numerical series. But numbers are not literally linear. The order is logical, not linear. The fact that we count from 1-100 says nothing about the ontology of an abstract object. An infinite set is a system of internal relations--inwhich each number is implicit in the others.

6. Divine omnipotence

Not only does Clark limit the knowledge of God, but the power of God as well:


It is not true that the Father could choose to create or choose not to create. God did not have, from eternity, a blank mind, undecided as to whether to create or not. God’s mind is, or better, includes the idea of this particular cosmos, with Abraham, David, and Jesus at particular points.

This is not the “best of all possible worlds,” Leibniz claimed: It is the only possible world, As Spinoza claimed. Since God’s mind is immutable, since his decree is eternal, it follows that no other world than this is possible or imaginable.

The Trinity, 111,118-119.


There are several problems with this claim:

i) The Bible is full of hypotheticals. Hence, a wide variety of possible alternatives is at least conceivable. And not all possibilities are compossible.

ii) Given, then a number of hypothetical scenarios, didn’t God have to make a choice? And didn’t God have the power to enact one or another—or none at all?

iii) The Spinozistic view also destroys the gratuity of grace. Mercy becomes mandatory. But that, too, is unscriptural.

iv) Clark gives two supporting reasons for his view. One wonders why he gives two? Is it that neither is sufficient of itself?

v) The first is that God did not have a blank mind. His mind included the idea of this particular world.

That is true, but it hardly yields the desired result. The question is whether his mind only included the idea of this particular world? Can God only have one idea of one world? Is his imagination so very narrow? Notice, once again, how this imposes a severe restriction on divine omniscience. And does the actual world exhaust all that God is capable of doing?

The doctrine of possible world does not posit a blank mind, but--to the contrary--a full mind.

vi) In addition, Clark claims that the Leibnizian view is incompatible with divine immutability. But this either proves too much or too little.

For if a timeless agent cannot choose to create or not to create, or choose what to create, from an array of bare possibilities, then a timeless agent cannot even create or not create.

Clark says that:


We are apt to think or subconsciously suppose that God makes decisions. He willed to create, he willed, after some deliberation, to save some, and so on…[It] pictures him as indecisive on the prior points, and assigns to him a relatively momentary act of choice. This makes God a temporal creature, or if not a creature, at least a temporal being.

The Atonement, 129.


But if that’s how he is going to frame the issue, then it would apply with equal force to the creative fiat. There was an instant before the Lord made the world--maybe an eternity before he made the world.

Yet if we reject the interjection of a temporal series into the mental act of making the world, we should likewise reject the interjection of a temporal series into the mental act of choosing the world.

The correct way of framing the issue is to say that just as there was never a time when God hadn’t made the world, there was never a time when God hadn’t chosen to make the world, or chosen to make this world rather than another.

Whenever we talk about God, we must make some allowance for the difference between a divine and a human mode of existence. In speaking of God, we need to bracket the incidental conditions of our finite existence. Ironically, Clark is concrete when he needs to be abstract, and abstract when he needs to be concrete.

6. Divine justice

In trying to exculpate God from the problem of evil, Clark says that:


Whatever God does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that he does it…God is “Ex-lex.”

Religion, Reason & Revelation (Trinity 1986), 239-240.


It is true that whatever God does is just and right. But it hardly follows from this that whatever God didn’t do, but could have done, would be just and right simply in virtue of the counterfactual consideration that he could have done it.

The will of God is not a sheer, free-floating will, detached from his own nature or the nature of his creatures. God’s will is a wise will and a just will. God punishes the wicked, not the innocent.

And God’s laws are adapted to the nature of his creatures. For example, sodomy is sinful, not by arbitrary fiat, but by the way he has designed our sexual constitution. God could not merely make sodomy to be virtuous--by a sheer willpower. Rather, he could only change the nature of the moral law by changing the nature of the lawful object. God can do both, but only by doing both--in tandem.

Clark is isolated the will of God from the doctrine of creation as well as the doctrine of the fall. But these are also expressions of the divine will.

Clark wrote some very useful books: Ancient Philosophy; Thales to Dewey, God’s Hammer; Predestination; A Christian View of Men & Things; Historiography: Secular & Religious, but his later writings are increasing eccentric and unorthodox. These are best consigned to the flames.

Gordon Clark-1

Because the late Gordon Clark was a Reformed philosopher and apologist, he has something of a following--to what extent I do not know--in the Reformed community. Since the issue of Gordon Clark has come up at Triablogue, I’ll take the occasion to explain some of my disagreements with Clark.

Was Clark an idealist? There are at least a couple of lines of evidence to indicate that Clark was an absolute idealist. To begin with, he was an archenemy of empiricism. Take the following snippet, where he is summarizing some Berkeleyan and Humean objections to Lockean-style empiricism:


From Berkeley Hume accepts the conclusion that material or so-called external bodies do not exisst; and that, if they did, we could know nothing about them…How can the sensation hard resemble something invisible? Note that the alleged external objects are not perceptions. Therefore they are non-perceptible. Only perceptions are perceptible. No one has ever seen a material body. Colors are only mental events.

No one has ever seen extension or motion unless it is a colored extension. Experience never gives us extension or motion. One never sees anything but color.

If perhaps this argument does not complete disprove the existence of non-sensory bodies, extended in space, and if someone insists that there still might be such bodies even though we have no expeience of them, Berkeley and Hume reply, even so in that case no one has the remotest idea of what such bodies could be like. In particular we could never know that they are like our ideas of red and sweet. To know that one thing is like or unlikek another, we must see them both and so compare them. But since no one has seen an external body, no one can compare it with the red he has seen or the heard he has touched. Empiricism therefore furnishes no knowledge of an external world, finds no evidence for its existence, and confines the mind to the mind, i.e., its sensations.

Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1989), 76-77.


Now, does Clark agree with this analysis? There are several reasons for supposing that he does. Although he is summarizing the position of others here, and not his own, yet he is summarizing this material to present an argumentum ad impossible against empiricism. Hume and Berkeley, representing the tradition of British empiricism, are, at the same time, delivering the coup de grace to empiricism. Empiricism cuts its own throat.

Further confirmation for this interpretation comes from the fact that this particular summary occurs in a chapter, the entirety of which is a frontal attack on empiricism. So the Berkeleyan-Humean material functions to further that larger argument.

Finally, Clark recycles these stock objections to empiricism in the chapter, tellingly entitled “A Christian Construction, of another book, in which, “to prepare for a positive formulation of a Christian theory of language, the first thing is to clear the ground of empiricism,” Language & Theology (P&R 1980), 131.

Consider, for example, his question, “Where, then, did the knowledge of space come from? Has anyone seen, smelled, or touched it?” (134). The next sentence continues with Hume and Kant.

Another line of evidence concerns his definition of personhood as well as his principle of individuation:


Therefore, since God is Truth, we shall define person, not as a composite of sensory impressions, as Hume did, but rejecting with him the meaningless term substance, we shall define person as a composite of truths. A bit more exactly…the definition must be a composite of propositions. As a man thinketh in his (figurative)_ heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks.

I am referring to the complex of truths that form the Three Persons [of the Trinity]. Though they are equally omniscience, they do not all know the same truths. Neither the complex of truths we call the Father nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, “I was incarnated.” This proposition occurs only in the Son’s complex. Other examples are implied. The Father cannot say, “I walked from Jerusalem to Jericho.”…If this be so, no difficulty can arise as to the distinctiveness of human persons. Each one is an individual complex. Each one is his mind or soul. Whether the propositions be true or false, a person is the propositions he thinks.

The Incarnation (Trinity 1988), 54-55.


And again:


Like Locke they posit a material substance and a spiritual substance, to no avail…What modern Christian academics needs need therefore, among other things, is a theory of individuation…The Scripture itself reminds us that “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. Cannot we then infer that a man is what he thinks?

Accordingly the proposal is that a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration of miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination.

The Trinity (Trinity 1985), 104-106.


So it seems that Gordon Clark was an absolute idealist. Negatively, he seems to believe that we have no good warrant for affirming the existence of bodies or an external world. Even if such things really exist, they are underdetermined by the available evidence. Hence, we are not justified in affirming their existence.

Likewise, he apparently rejects substance dualism. So he resolves the mind-body problem in favor of the mind.

Positively, he offers a purely mentalistic definition of personal identity--not only for God, but also for man. He doesn’t just say that a person has a mind. Rather, a person is his mind. The soul is not merely the seat of personality--it is identical with the human subject.

So far I’m offering an exposition, not a critique. But there are a number of heretical consequences which either must follow or may follow from the above:


It is profoundly unclear whether Clark has any room for a doctrine of creation. On the traditional Reformed view, God has a complete concept for the world (the decree) which he instantiates in time and space. Time and space are limits. That is what makes us finite creatures. But time and space have no place in Clark’s epistemology:


To compose a tree, one must make use of time and space. But time and space cannot be seen, smelled, or touched. They are not simple impressions such as green and hard. For this reason both Berkeley and Hume account for these ideas as ideas of relatives [relations?] between things. But if so, one must have the things before he can produce the idea of relation; and the trouble is that he must have the relations before he can produce the things. Empiricism fails at the very start.

With Hume’s disaster before us, it is unnecessary to say much about space and time. Let us merely quote two of Kant’s sentences. “Space is a necessary representation a priori which serves for the foundation of all external intuitions…Space is not discussion or…general concept6ion of the relations of tings, but pure intuition.”

The Incarnation, 35-36.


For Kant, and apparently for Clark, time and space are mental rather than extramental categories. But in that case, a man is consubstantial with God, for a man is merely a set of propositions, which are, in turn, a subset of divine propositions. We are God thinking us, just like dream characters are the direct product of the dreamer's imagination and thought-process.

If that is not what Clark means, then I don’t know what he does mean. Given what he has taken off the table, I can’t see what alternative he has left.


Notice that Clark individuates the persons of the Godhead by reference to the economic Trinity. In so doing, he collapses the intramundane Trinity into the economic Trinity. That’s classic modalism. Instead of three eternal and ontologically distinct persons, you have one person in three historical manifestations.

Now perhaps he can salvage some remnant of the intramundane Trinity by recourse to eternal generation and eternal process. Indeed, in his book on The Incarnation, he just touches upon that, but he does so in contrast to his principle of individuation: “I am not at the moment referring only to the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit,” and he then goes on to say what I already quoted from p55.

So it would seem, at most, that the persons of the Trinity are partly individuated by eternal generation and eternal procession, as well as partly by their economic relations. But that hybrid solution is still modalistic inasmuch as it leaves the Trinity incomplete until it is fully individuated by the historical process. So this looks like process theology or Neoplatonic emanationism.

There is also a fundamental tension between (1) and (2). For if one denies the objectivity of spatiotemporal relations, then there is no economic Trinity, for there is no external world to redeem. There is no place for historical redemption.


If (1) is a correct interpretation and logical consequence of Clark’s doctrine of creation, or the absence thereof, then certain other heresies follow in due course.

i) There was no Incarnation. The Word did not become flesh.

ii) There was no hypostatic union, for under pantheism you have a relation of identity rather than unity. So Clark’s position reduces to a variant of the monophysite heresy--as well as the monothelite heresy.

iii) Likewise, you can have no physical death or bodily resurrection or literal return of Christ. And there can be no blood atonement.

So bedrock principles of Christology and eschatology regarding the person and work of Christ must be jettisoned.

iv) By this same token, there can be no original sin insofar as original sin entails physical death—among other things. Likewise, there can be no general resurrection or resurrection of the just.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Break out the Kleenex

For months now, liberals have been crying into their collective pillow over our mistreatment of the detainees at Gitmo. It’s been a real three-hanky. Sen. Kyl, one of those mean old Republicans, tries to inject a dose of sanity into the debate.


From Sen. Jon Kyl: Guantanamo Bay and the War on Terror

It's important what the rest of the world thinks of the United States.
But it's more important that we defend ourselves against terrorists who seek our annihilation. Much of the criticism of our efforts, both international and domestic, is factually wrong and appears to be driven by a partisan hostility to President Bush.

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military base where a $150 million facility has been built to house detainees in the war on terrorism, individuals who might better be described as "people who will kill Americans if given half a chance."

At the hearing, Democrats criticized the Bush Administration, alleging that the 520 prisoners are in "legal limbo," that "there is no plan exactly how they're going to be handled," that their "rights under the Geneva Conventions have been violated," and that they deserve some sort of a "trial" or they should be released. A big problem if true, but none of it is.

The detainees at Guantanamo are not in a legal limbo any more than any other prisoners in any other war were in limbo when they were captured. International law allows any nation the right to detain enemy combatants for the duration of a conflict. The primary reason is to prevent them from killing more Americans, and, secondarily, to gather useful intelligence. That's why we are holding these men - they are enemy combatants who were shooting at our troops or otherwise involved in terrorism, and many have information that could help prevent further attacks. We certainly never "tried" captured Nazis or Japanese POWs in World War II (with the exception of a few leaders charged with war crimes) although many were held for years.

The Supreme Court has since ruled that because Guantanamo is under U.S. control, some traditional American legal procedures apply, including the right of each detainee to have his status reviewed. After that ruling, a special commission was established to determine whether, in fact, all of the detainees were enemy combatants, and a number of them were released. We know that at least a dozen went right back to fighting us, because they were subsequently captured again on the battlefield.

Those who remain in detention - a tiny fraction of the 10,000 enemy combatants we have picked up over the past few years - are terrorist trainers, bomb makers, extremist recruiters and financers, bodyguards of Osama bin Laden, would-be suicide bombers, and so forth. Because they indiscriminately target civilians and are not fighting for another particular country, among other reasons, these individuals do not qualify for the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Nonetheless, official U.S. policy is to apply Geneva standards, including access to lawyers, Red Cross visits, and so forth. Every single detainee receives a new review every year to determine whether he still poses a risk. That would seem to be a reasonable standard for a country at war, and surely a credible "plan" for "handling" their cases.

The recent flurry of partisan and international criticism of the handling of Islamic sensibilities at Guantanamo, sparked by a
discredited Newsweek report that a copy of the Koran was flushed down a toilet, must have Osama bin Laden rolling with laughter. None of the critics had previously displayed much concern over the abuse of Muslims by other Muslims, as occurs every day in Iraq. The reality is that virtually all prisoners are better fed and cared for at Guantanamo than they have ever been in their lives. They are certainly treated well in comparison to those Westerners taken captive by terrorists in Iraq, who are typically beheaded.

A handful of politicians have even raised the idea of shutting down Guantanamo, because of its "negative symbolism." But as even vociferous critic Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) has conceded, "The question isn't Guantanamo by itself. Obviously, if we're holding people, we're going to hold them somewhere."

Exactly. Attacking the United States should bring serious consequences, including imprisonment, if we can catch you.

Read the online version:


The Schiavo Post-Mortem


The results of the autopsy of Terri Schiavo are being taken as a vindication for the successful campaign to dehydrate her to death and a rebuke to those who unsuccessfully resisted this campaign. They should not be.

A great many claims and counter-claims were made in the course of the contentious debate over Mrs. Schiavo’s fate, and the autopsy sheds light on some of them. No evidence was found that Schiavo’s 1990 collapse was caused by abuse at the hands of her husband. Her brain damage was found to be irreversible. And she was found to have been blind. (News accounts of the autopsy leave it unclear whether it was determined when blindness set in and when the brain damage became irreversible.)

These are the three main findings that are held to retrospectively validate one side of the argument. But no responsible critic of Mrs. Schiavo’s dehydration rested his case on an allegation of abuse. (NR explicitly urged opponents of the dehydration not to make such reckless allegations.) While many people held out the hope that treatment might improve Schiavo’s condition, very few people thought it at all likely that she would recover to the point, for example, of being able to hold a conversation.

About the main arguments against killing Terri Schiavo, the autopsy had nothing to say. Many people believed that it is wrong deliberately to bring about the death of innocent human beings, whatever their condition; that it is especially wrong when there is doubt about what that person wanted, and when her family members are willing to provide care for her; that Mr. Schiavo was too compromised to make this decision; that a law enabling the killing of people in a “persistent vegetative state” should not be stretched to cover people who might be “minimally conscious”; and that the Supreme Court should not have established the current lax standards for denying incapacitated people food and water. Nobody who believed these things has any reason to change his mind based on this week’s evidence.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Loony Left alert

The liberals continue their steady slide into moral oblivion:


Best of the Web Today - June 16, 2005

Durbin Digs In

Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, is refusing to apologize for likening U.S. servicemen to Nazis, comments we noted yesterday . Instead, as the State Journal-Register of Springfield reports, Durbin issued a statement that said, "This administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions."

In truth, it isn't the Bush administration that is abandoning the Geneva Conventions. It is the critics, such as Amnesty International , who insist that terrorists should be protected under the conventions as if they were legitimate soldiers or civilians. The purpose of the Geneva Conventions is not to protect combatants' "human rights" but to spell out the rules of war, rules that impose reciprocal obligations on both sides of a conflict.

A central reason for those rules is to protect civilians by declaring that they are not legitimate targets of military action. Combatants who pose as civilians (i.e., do not wear uniforms) or who target civilians are spies and terrorists respectively and are not entitled to protection as prisoners of war. Indeed, Durbin acknowledged in his Senate speech that "the Geneva Conventions do not give POW status to terrorists."

But he went on to insist that the conventions "protect everyone captured during wartime." He bases this on the "official commentary on the convention," which states that "nobody in enemy hands can fall outside the law." Durbin is unclear as to just what protection he thinks al Qaeda terrorists should get. And little wonder, because the implication of his comments is that terrorists are entitled to protection as civilians.

As the Amnesty International report linked above notes, the source of the commentary Durbin quoted is the International Committee on the Red Cross, and it refers to Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention , which protects civilians captured during wartime. Yet the actual text of Article 4 says something quite different:

*** QUOTE ***

Nationals of a neutral State who find themselves in the territory of a belligerent State, and nationals of a co-belligerent State, shall not be regarded as protected persons while the State of which they are nationals has normal diplomatic representation in the State in whose hands they are.

*** END QUOTE ***

This would exclude someone like Mohammed al-Qahtani, the Saudi national whose "torture" at the lungs of Christina Aguilera made the cover of Time this week. As a matter of international law, his fate has nothing to do with the Geneva Conventions but is a matter between Washington and Riyadh.

In any case, if Dick Durbin thinks terrorists are the moral or legal equivalent of civilians, let him say so directly. And even if this is a legitimate point of view, it doesn't excuse his smearing American soldiers as Nazi-like.


The evaluation of “Reformed-Catholicism” is in some measure bound up with the evaluation of postmodernism, which is, in turn, bound up with the identity of postmodernism.

Postmodernism is, in the nature of the case, resistant to a clear-cut definition. Below is a thumbnail sketch from Sam Storms, in his review of Carson’s new book on the emergent church. Dr. Storms teaches a course on “Christian Thought” at Wheaton College.

This is more of a compass than a roadmap, but if you’ve lost your bearings, knowing the cardinal points will still help to orient you to postmodernism.

I’d add that any intellectual movement which is elusive of definition isn’t worth our while in the first place. If it’s that bashful, then it is best left to its preferred obscurity.


Alister McGrath has defined postmodernism as “the general intellectual outlook arising after the collapse of modernism” (Historical Theology, 244). Aside from the fact that some would question whether modernism has indeed collapsed, while others would argue that postmodernism is itself passé, we should probably begin by trying to identify some prominent characteristics in so-called modernism before we look at that which has allegedly succeeded it.

(1) The “modern” or “enlightenment” mind assumes the objectivity of reality. Reality is “out there”, as it were, independent of our beliefs and assertions concerning it. This objective world is ordered by the laws of nature, and is thus discernable and predictable by the autonomous self (i.e., the knowing subject). Human reason can discern this order and manipulate it for the good of the human race. This viewpoint is known as “realism.” Stanley Grenz identifies two interrelated assumptions that are at the heart of realism: “the objectivity of the world, and the epistemological prowess of human reason” (Renewing the Center [Baker, 2000], 169). Thus, in sum,

“modern realism assumes that the world is a given reality existing outside the human mind. This objective world is permeated by order which is intrinsic to it, is displayed by it, and functions quite independently of human knowing activity. In addition, realism assumes that human reason has the capacity of discerning this objective order . . . That is, the human mind is capable of more or less accurately mirroring the external, objective nonhuman reality. As the product of the human mind, language provides an adequate means of declaring what the world is like” (169).

John Stackhouse puts it this way:

“What is characteristic of modernity . . . is the guiding hope that, given enough time and energy, human beings could experience the world, think hard, and come up with reliable answers – correct answers – regarding the nature of things. Here was a powerful confidence that all persons of goodwill, sufficient gifts (whether in intelligence, aesthetic sensibility, and so on), and appropriate skill can examine the pertinent data and come to the same true conclusions” (Humble Apologetics, 24).

Postmodernism, on the other hand, reflects the loss of confidence in the power of human reason and scientific inquiry to understand the nature of true reality. Says Grenz,

“The Enlightenment principle of reason . . . presumed a human ability to gain cognition of the foundational order of the whole universe. It was their belief in the objective rationality of the universe that gave the intellectuals of the Age of Reason confidence that the laws of nature are intelligible and that the world is capable of being transformed and subdued by human activity” (A Primer on Postmodernism, 68).

(2) One assumption of modernist thinkers, now widely challenged by postmodernists, concerns the very notion of “reason”. Reason, says the postmodernist, is not a-temporal, transcendental, or universal. “Reason,” so they argue, indeed, the very concept of what constitutes “rational” thought, changes with time. No form of intellectual discourse is disinterested or pure.

Postmodern thinkers, notes Adam, contend that “science and reason are inevitably constituted by the intellectual traditions in which they stand, are implicated in (personal and) political struggles, and are inevitably subject to ‘subjective’ biases in countless ways. In fact, we may confidently suppose that whenever people sit down to establish a single theoretical system that would have a privileged relation to the Truth, they will contaminate the purity of their theory with decisions we can attribute to personal interests, unscientific interests, unresolved psychological determinations, or any of dozens of impure, non-universal motivations” (What is Postmodern Biblical Criticism? 15).

(3) At the heart of the “modern” or “Enlightenment” worldview is the correspondence view of truth. According to the latter, all assertions are either true or false, and we can determine whether they are true or false by comparing them with the world. An assertion is true if it “corresponds” to, i.e., accurately represents or correctly describes, objective reality. It is false if it does not. Thus truth is the correspondence between our assertions and the objective world about which those assertions are made. [The postmodernist will argue that we do not simply encounter an objective world that is “out there” but that through the arbitrary use of language we construct that world using the concepts we bring to it.]

Such being the modern or Enlightenment perspective, what does it mean to be postmodern? Perhaps the best way to unpack postmodernism is simply by listing a number of its characteristic features.

[Before we begin, I should point out that there are a variety of perspectives on the nature of postmodernism. Indeed, as A. K. M. Adam has noted, “there are as many varieties of postmodernism as there are people who want to talk about the subject” (What is Postmodern Biblical Criticism, 1). Some in the evangelical community view it as a negative challenge while others see in it a positive opportunity. The problem is that often the “it” to which they are responding is not the same. The analysis which follows tends to focus more on the radical expression of postmodernism as found in such thinkers as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Stanley Fish, and Richard Rorty. Be it noted, however, that there are significant differences even among these men. There is also a growing number of evangelicals or moderately conservative theologians who have embraced the term “postmodern” to describe their work, yet would strongly resist the more extreme form it takes in the aforementioned thinkers.]

We will look at the postmodern ethos in terms of 10 characteristic emphases:

(1) “The postmodern era was born out of the loss of the modern idea of the ‘universe.’ Postmoderns no longer accept the validity of the vision of a single integral world. In connection with this, the postmodern intellectual ethos resists explanations that are held to be all-encompassing and universally valid. Postmoderns are inclined to prize difference over uniformity and to respect the local and particular more than the universal” (Grenz, Primer, 49). In other words, postmodernism is anti-totalizing insofar as it “suspects that any theory that claims to account for everything is suppressing counterexamples, or is applying warped criteria so that it can include recalcitrant cases” (Adam, 5).

(2) According to postmodernism, there is no objective, “God’s-eye-view” of the world from which you can see and interpret it comprehensively. There is no privileged vantage point that enables you to explain it from the perspective of one all-inclusive, overarching interpretation or transcendent principle. The latter is commonly referred to as a metanarrative, i.e., a model or principle or motif under which all of reality is subsumed, explained, unified and justified. Postmodernism may be defined simply as “incredulity towards metanarratives” (Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition [Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1984]). Postmodernism thus “entails the end of the appeal to any central legitimating myth whatsoever. Not only have all the reigning master narratives lost their credibility, but the idea of a grand narrative is itself no longer credible” (Grenz, Primer, 45). There are only local narratives, no metanarratives.

(3) Postmodernism argues, instead, for fragmentation. The search for a unified apprehension of an objective reality is abandoned. Postmodernists point to the “centerlessness” of life and the world. There are only a multitude of differing perspectives. What we now lack are any universal standards or moral criteria by which people can make definitive value judgments on ideas, opinions, or lifestyle choices. Thus “postmodern critics characteristically problematize legitimation, the means by which claims about truth or justice or reality are validated or rejected” (Adam, 5).

(4) The postmodernist resists the notion of an all-encompassing worldview. He insists there is no hope of discovering “one absolute and universal truth” that unites all of humanity at a deeper level than that of our apparent differences. Our world is one with multiple realities or a wide diversity of worldviews. Everyone encounters the world differently, through an interpretive framework shaped and fashioned by the social context and community in which they live. They construct different stories that facilitate their experience of life. Thus there are as many equally different and valid views of the world as there are people or communities. [Of course, that claim is itself a worldview!]

There is no unified worldview or transcendent center to reality as a whole. Any attempt to define a single unifying world behind the flux and fragmentation of human experience is merely a power play, a creation of the human mind to control and influence others. Thus, no single explanation (certainly not the Christian one) can account for the differences we encounter globally on a daily basis.

(5) Likewise, there is no center or transcendent perspective to serve as a standard or plumbline by which to make objective judgments; there is only a multiplicity of perspectives each of which is as true and right as the other. There are no universally applicable and necessary criteria that determine truth. Postmodernism thus rejects the correspondence theory of truth and adopts a “dynamic” view of truth. The point is not, “is the proposition or idea true or correct?” but “is it helpful? What does it do? What is its outcome?” This is known as epistemic pragmatism.

(6) To put it in other terms, postmodernism insists that “all human perception and thought is necessarily perspectival, that is, a matter of point of view” (Stackhouse, 26). This is seen in two ways: (1) All human knowledge is conditioned by and restricted to a particular place, time, or viewpoint. (2) All human knowledge is conditioned by and shaped in accordance with the knowing subject (or the community of knowing subjects). In other words, “there is no neutral, disinterested thinking. There are simply angles of vision on things that offer various approximations of the way things are” (Stackhouse, 27).

(7) Postmodernism emerged with the explosion of information and the realization that we are a global village. Because of the immense cultural diversity of our planet, we cannot merely tolerate others: we must acknowledge their view to be no less true than our own. Postmodernism thus celebrates diversity. The idea of finding one unifying, universal truth in the midst of the multiplicity and diversity of the age of the Internet must be abandoned. Postmodernists thus celebrate religious pluralism. All religion is the fruit of cultural dynamics and therefore all religions are equally valid. “All religions are created equal. It is their varied cultural contexts that cause them to develop apparently competing claims to truth” (Richard Lints, Fabric, 246). Postmodernism affirms the “cultural rootedness” of all religions. The postmodernist opposes what he/she perceives as the elitism of the west and thus opposes all exclusivism.

(8) In the postmodern vision there are no overarching goals according to which God moves. Divine providence is non-existent. The horror of the 20th century, (emphasis is often placed on the holocaust) proves “that there is no thread of extrinsic or even intrinsic purpose holding history together” (Richard Lints, Fabric, 216).

(9) Theology must be constructed from the ground up, from human experience, not divine revelation. There is no overarching authority that determines the shape of theological vision.

(10) The modernist belief in progress through scientific inquiry has failed. Technical mastery of the world has produced only war, fear, death, and oppression. Postmodernists oppose scientific authority. Science and technology are simply tools “used to serve the interests of dominant cultural prejudices” (Lints, Fabric, 211).


Shoot first, question later


Schiavo Autopsy Leaves Most Important Questions Unanswered

Forest Park, IL, June 15, 2005 -- Today's release of findings in the autopsy of Terri Schiavo leave the central issues in her life and death unanswered, says a national disability rights group.

For example, contrary to articles stating the autopsy report "supported" the diagnosis of "persistent vegetative state (PVS)," a neuropathology expert today was careful to say that PVS is a clinical diagnosis rather than a pathological one. He added that nothing in the autopsy was "inconsistent" with a PVS diagnosis.

The real elephant in the living room, of course, is whether or not we can really know how conscious anyone labeled "PVS" really is. Several studies have revealed high misdiagnosis rates, with conscious people being mistakenly regarded as totally and irrevocably unaware.

The autopsy also documented significant brain atrophy, and the medical panel called the damage "irreversible."

This is not the same as saying she had no cognitive ability.

"It's always seemed to us that PVS isn't really a diagnosis; it's a value judgment masquerading as a diagnosis," said Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group that filed three amicus briefs in the case. "When it comes to the hard science, no qualified pathologist went on the record saying she couldn't think or couldn't experience her own death through dehydration."

Diane Coleman, president and founder of Not Dead Yet, agreed. "The core issues remain the same. Protection of the life and dignity of people under guardianship, and a high standard of proof in removing food and water from a person who can not express their own wishes. These are issues of great concern to the disability community - evidenced by the 26 national disability groups that spoke out in favor of saving Terri Schiavo's life over the past few years."


I’d add that the case for keeping Terri alive rather than killing her was never that she had a chance to make a full recovery. At most, the question was whether she could improve with therapy.

In addition, the question of whether she could improve with therapy was secondary to the question of whether she should be kept alive rather than executed by the state.

Finally, an autopsy is a belated substitute for PET scan.

To suppose that her autopsy vindicates her judicial execution is predicated on a series of straw man arguments.

A credible profession of faith

Some folks over at Dave Armstrong’s outfit are confused my distinction between a saving profession of faith and a credible profession of faith. I already explained my usage back in April in another exchange with Armstrong:


Armstrong asked me, before he decided that he didn't want to hear the answer, if I “accept the Catholic Church as a fully Christian institution, so that one can be saved if one accepts all its teachings, as opposed to only being able to be saved (if indeed it is possible at all for a Catholic) despite its teachings?”

I've already answered the first clause. As for the rest, that is not how I would pose the question.

To be a Christian is to be, among other things, a Christian believer. One must believe certain things, and not believe certain other, contrary things. On the one hand, some dogmas are damnable dogmas. On the other hand, the Bible lays out certain saving articles of faith.

This is God's criterion, not mine. I didn't invent it. By the same token, how God applies that criterion in any individual case is up to God, not to me. I'm not the judge, God is the Judge.

To take a concrete example, Scripture teaches sola fide (Romans; Galatians). I'm saved by faith in Christ. And I'm saved by the sole and sufficient merit of Christ.

But in Catholic dogma, one is saved by the merit of Christ plus the merit of the saints plus one's own congruent merit. And this results in a divided faith.

Now, in Reformed theology, we draw a distinction between a credible profession of faith and a saving profession of faith. For purposes of church membership, since we cannot know of a certainty who is or isn't saved, we only require a credible profession of faith.

A Catholic qua Catholic cannot offer a credible profession of faith. But whether a Catholic can offer a saving profession of faith is a different question. The answer varies on a case-by-case basis. It is easier to say who isn't saved than to say who is.


A “credible profession of faith” is a traditional term of art in Reformed circles. For an example, check out the following link:

To illustrate my point, any of the following creeds could supply the basis for a credible profession of faith:

1. The Thirty-Nine Articles
2. The Formula of Concord
3. The Baptist Faith & Message (
4. The C&MA statement of faith (
5. The JFJ statement of faith (
6. The EFCA statement of faith (
7. The Campus Crusade statement of faith (
8. The AG statement of faith (

These are all broadly evangelical affirmations of faith. By contrast, Trent or Vatican II does not supply the basis for a credible profession of faith.

Remember, too, that Trent anathematizes my own faith, so it’s not as though Trent is being any more tolerant or charitable than I am.

Still, it is possible for a Catholic to be saved, unlike a Muslim or Mormon or other suchlike. Hence, it is possible for a Catholic to make a saving profession of faith even if he can’t make a credible profession of faith.

As a friend of mine recently expressed the distinction, with reference to evangelical Arminians:
<< We have to keep in mind that there is a distinction to be drawn between *how* one is actually saved, and *how one accounts* for how one is saved. You never see anyone in the Bible saved on the basis of his (or her) articulation of how saving faith came, or how they understood the doctrine of election as part of the gospel message. Rather, you see people believing in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, coming to Christ, following Christ, etc. My explanation of *how* God accomplished my doing these things is conceptually distinct from *my doing them* as a saving response to the kerygma. >>

For example, as a Calvinist I’d say that every Christian is saved by sovereign grace, even though every Christian does not affirm sovereign grace. I don't doubt that John and Charles Wesley were saved, or Dwight Moody, or Fanny Crosby. I don't doubt that Billy Graham is saved.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Gitmo divertimento

As I’ve said before, liberals are never happy unless they have something to be unhappy about. They are utopians, and since the real world is a fallen world, they are perpetual malcontents, constantly on the lookout for something new to be bitch about and meddle with.

They have always been unhappy with the so-called war on terror, and are forever casting about for some “scandal” or “outrage” to derail our efforts.

At the moment, Gitmo is their target. Now, in principle, one can oppose the Iraq war, in whole or in part, yet that is logically separate from Gitmo. If Gitmo didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.

If we relocated the detainees, all the same gripes and complaints would resurface, for what is bugging the liberals is the fact that we’re treating this as a counterintelligence issue rather than a judicial issue. The detainees are not there primarily to be put on trial. Rather, they are there so that we can find out what they know.

But this is in direct tension with liberal orthodoxy. The liberal wants them to be Mirandized and lawyered up so that they don’t have to talk to our interrogators, whereas we want to extract actionable intelligence from them in order to intercept future attacks.

The liberals have succeeding in framing the debate in terms of torture. But that is not how the debate ought to be framed. Rather, the question we should be asking is what are the most effective and efficient methods of sifting the high-value informants from the know-nothings, and then extracting their information.

The liberals also want to have the Geneva Conventions extended to terrorists. There are several things wrong with this. Just as a legal matter, a terrorist is deliberately and specifically excluded from such coverage. The whole point of the Conventions is to make war more humane by rewarding those who abide by the laws of warfare. To extend such coverage to those who violate the laws of warfare would defeat the very purpose of having the Conventions.

Moreover, it would violate the terms of the treaty. The US doesn’t have the legal right to unilaterally amend the Geneva Conventions in order to cover unlawful combatants. It just goes to show that those who play up the rule of international law are talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Critics complain that Gitmo has a bad reputation around the world. That’s true. And it’s true because the critics lie about Gitmo, and then appeal to their own lies and the poisonous effect of their lies on world opinion to justify shutting it down.

The deeper problem is that liberals have a Gnostic-Marxist worldview. For them, evil is the result of ignorance and poverty. So the way to win the war on terror is to educate Americans so that we understand what a tolerant, peace-loving faith Islam really is, and to ingratiate ourselves with the Muslim world by enriching poor Muslims with a steady flow of American tax dollars.

Whenever the Bush administration tries to meet its critics halfway, its overtures backfire. For when you seek an accommodation, you implicitly admit that you have a duty to be more accommodating, and you can never be accommodating enough.

So, for example, we give the detainees free Koran’s, with the American taxpayer footing the bill. Why are we giving jihadis free Korans? Should we be confiscating their Korans? The Koran is, after all, the inspiration of the jihadist ethic to begin with.

And then, having given them free Korans, our guards are instructed to wear gloves whenever they handle the Koran since we are filthy infidels who’s touch would defile their holy book. Why in the world are we pandering to our enemies?

Mind you, I’m all for being culturally sensitive. When the British occupied Afghanistan in the 19C, they once executed a band of Muslim militants; but before they lined them up against the wall and shot them dead, they sprayed them with pig urine to render them ritually unclean and thereby debar their entrance into Paradise. No Seventy-two virgins for them! Now that’s my idea of cultural sensitivity!

Wacko Jacko or wacky judiciary?

I’ve tried my best to avoid coverage of the Jackson trial. Still, a certain amount of this is inescapable.

It would be easy to blame the Jackson acquittal on the jury. And, indeed, they share some of the blame. For example, there were the jurors who exonerated Jackson because they were personally offended by the mother of the victim. This evinces a willful moral blindness.

Mind you, the witnesses were pretty seamy and seedy. But that tells you something about Michael himself. You can judge a man by the company he keeps. That’s how we judge a Mafia Don.

But the problem runs much deeper. The problem lies with the standard of evidence. As currently constituted, a juror is supposed to perform a self-lobotomy.

What would be the natural reaction? On the one hand, Jackson has zero interest in women. This is a man who could have his pick of women. Even now, he has his coterie of clueless, slavish groupies. To judge by what one reads and hears, he is either unable or unwilling to even “perform” with a member of the opposite sex.

On the other hand, he has a very active and avid interest in boys. He’s turned Neverland into an amusement park to lure unsuspecting boys. He has them for sleepovers. He has them in his bedroom. He has them in his bed. He has an appetite for homosexual pornography.

Now, the natural reaction would be—what more do you need to know? That’s all the evidence—more than enough—to figure out what’s going on here. Even if you didn’t have any specific evidence of a specific crime against a specific victim—indeed, even if he didn’t commit the specific crime of which he’s accused—you might as well convict him while you’ve got the chance for all the other stuff he’s gotten away with.

But, of course, that would be a big no-no under our judicial system. The judge would declare a mistrial if he found out that poor Mr. Jackson had been convicted on such utterly common sense grounds.

So the Jackson jurors did their job in the sense that they played the role assigned to them as dutiful little wind-up toy soldiers who follow orders, however inane and unjust. They acquitted a man they all thought was guilty because the highly technical burden of proof had not been met.

And to this I’d just say that the time is long past due for the general public to reclaim the principle of popular sovereignty. To remember that judges “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” in the words of the Declaration of Independence.

We don’t need another revolution. We just need to exercise the rights we already have.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005



Why is N.T. Wright so consistently misrepresented by writers in the Reformed world? Surely if Wright's theology were orthodox such criticisms would be less common. Does the widespread nature of such claims imply that there is some substance to the claims made against Wright? Are these misrepresentations indicative of a failure to communicate on Wright's part?

I have been asked these questions on many occasions. I think that there are good reasons why Wright has been consistently misrepresented by certain writers in the Reformed camp. Here are just a few:—

Wright's Reformed critics are not sufficiently immersed in Wright's own theology to be able to treat it on its own terms. Frequently, by placing Wright's theology within the conceptual frameworks provided by their own theologies (or by the confessions) problems result that are seen to be easily reconciled and dissolved when one approaches these statements in terms of Wright's own theology (imputation is a classic example here).

Many of the Reformed authors who criticize Wright make some clearly counter-factual claims concerning Wright’s theology that can be easily exposed by anyone who has read Wright in much depth. Some of these claims are nothing but supposed implications of the position put forward in What St Paul Really Said. The inner logic of Wright’s theology has not been understood and when Wright’s statements are explored in terms of the critic’s own theological logic, bizarre heresies emerge.

We should also recognize that many of the traditional dichotomies that have decisively shaped traditional forms of theology are rejected by post-modernist (in distinction to 'postmodernist') theologians. Subjective/objective, ecclesiology/soteriology, forensic/participatory, declarative/transformative, internal/external, individual/corporate are all dichotomies that have been complicated, problematized or rejected.

When one is accustomed to framing one's theology in terms of these dichotomies one will find it difficult to understand the work of someone who does not. When so many of these dichotomies have traditionally framed a particular doctrine, the result of a rejection of these dichotomies may look remarkably like a total rejection of the doctrine itself, although the new epistemological environment may provide for its working in remarkably analogous ways.

Traditional Reformed doctrines of justification have been decisively shaped by all of the dichotomies listed above and more besides. Wright frames his doctrine of justification in a significantly different way, as would many in the so-called (and largely mythological) ‘FV movement’.

It seems to me that many of Wright’s Reformed critics lack the epistemological teeth and juices necessary to break down and digest a system of theology as anti-modernistic as Wright’s. It would be like trying to understand Einstein without moving beyond the framework of Newtonian physics in any way at all.

People are pressed to reach conclusions as soon as possible and not given the time to properly apprehend and mentally process Wright on his own terms. Understanding Wright properly is a matter of delayed gratification; it can take many hours of study. One will probably not understand Wright by reading a quick potted treatment in someone like Waters (or myself). One has to be disciplined and focused. One also has to be open-minded for quite some time before one is qualified to make up one’s mind. Keeping one’s mind open really is quite an achievement in the Reformed world at the moment, where one is expected to be able to jump to a pro or anti position after a quick skim of What St Paul Really Said.


In order to take the measure of Alastair Roberts’s argument, let’s see if we can break it down:

a) Roberts knows what Wright is talking about.
b) Reformed critics don’t know what Wright is talking about.
c) They make some clearly counterfactual claims about Wright.
d) They don’t know what he’s talking about because they transplant him into their own conceptual scheme.
e) Or because they’ve read too little of him.
f) Or because they’ve read him too hastily.
g) Their conceptual scheme consists of such modernistic dichotomies as Subjective/objective, ecclesiology/soteriology, forensic/participatory, declarative/transformative, internal/external, individual/corporate.
h) These dichotomies are rejected by postmodern theology.
i) Rejecting the modernistic dichotomies in which the doctrine has traditionally been framed looks like one is rejecting the doctrine itself. But that is not necessarily the case.

Now, is there anything missing from Roberts’ argument? The only thing missing is an actual argument. For the only thing that Robert’s has offered the reader is a string of threadbare assertions without a single supporting argument to back up any of his claims.

And all this is done in a tone of smug superiority without any hard reasoning to justify the superior airs.

To turn this string of question-begging assertions into a serious argument, Roberts would need to present a stepwise argument—something along the following lines:

a) Identify some representative Reformed critics.
b) Compare and contrast their reading of Wright with Roberts’ own reading.
c) Expose their clearly counterfactual claims.
d) Document how little they’ve read of Wright.
e) Document how superficially they’ve read him.
f) Document how they transplant him into their own conceptual scheme.
g) Show that the only reason they reject Wright is because they don’t understand him, and not because they do understand him, but disagree.
h) Demonstrate that all these traditional dichotomies are indeed modernistic rather than Scriptural.
i) Demonstrate how these modernistic dichotomies are epistemically inadequate.
j) Demonstrate an epistemically superior alternative to each and every one of these modernistic dichotomies.
k) Demonstrate that the doctrines are themselves distinguishable and divisible from these modernistic dichotomies.

Societas Schizophrenia


As one whose own work with Roman Catholic apologists has benefited tremendously from Eric Svendsen’s, I eagerly looked forward to this book from the moment I heard of its inception. With a delightful wit, obvious reversals, and simple applications of logic all informed by extensive experience with Roman Catholic apologists, Svendsen demonstrates conclusively that the most popular and entrenched arguments of those apologists fail to meet their own criteria of truth and verifiability. Svendsen enables average Protestant laymen—especially those who have no formal apologetic or theological training—to understand the crucial issues clearly. Particularly helpful are the analyses of the flawed comparison of Roman ‘unity’ to Protestant ‘anarchy’ (Chapter 2), and the fallacious nature of the common ’25,000 denominations’ argument (Chapter 9).

“This book is a must-read for anyone wishing to have a solid foundation from which to engage in the double responsibility of casting down Roman Catholic imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God [note Tim’s allusion to the Antichrist, 2 Thes 2:4, which he here applies to Rome] and building a positive case for God’s ongoing work of reforming His Church in our day and beyond.

Tim Enloe, forward to E. Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock (Calvary Press 2002).



Most of the loudest, angriest individuals denouncing FVism are essentially Radical Baptists (including many who pretend to be Presbyterians) whose "Reformed" Faith is little more than an unbalanced attachment to TULIP (i.e., "unbalanced" as if that was the sum total of biblical teaching on salvation), some half-understood, Christologically-contextless slogans about monergism, and, really the most important thing, an absolutely fanatical obsession with demonizing "Romanism" and pretending to see a creeping slide toward it under every mode of thinking that requires them to do a little bit of hard thinking outside the restrictive boxes they learned in seminary.

Tim Enloe



This is a little something aimed at a certain sub-group of Semi-Augustinian Particular Baptists (sometimes erroneously called "Reformed Baptists"), who are this week complaining across several blogs about how others treat them when all they really want to do is constantly yell about how much more faithful to The Plain Meaning of Scripture they are than anyone else. Why do people have to persecute them so? Is it some kind of crime to so obviously love Truth and the Gospel more than the next guy? They really don't get where all this unreasonable opposition to their program is coming from, it seems.

Fortunately, not all Baptists are like these loud, charity-challenged war-mongers--indeed, most Baptists that I have known in real life (especially those closest to me, such as my mother and grandmother) have been fairly well-adjusted individuals who have shown far more Christlikeness than I could ever hope to have myself. Thankfully, amongst our Baptist brethren the real below-the-belt troublemakers are few and far between. But, because these self-willed few and inordinately proud members are so loud, I felt that this tale from the Synod of Arras in the year of the Lord's incarnation 1025 would be a nice counterpoint. It goes to show that sometimes the divisive and unstable people actually learn something and repent and help the unity and peace of the Body to be restored.

One word of clarification: obviously not every position attributed to these eleventh century malcontents is attributable to the aforementioned sub-group of Semi-Augustinian Particular Baptists, but there are enough similarities to make the account interesting nonetheless. Some of these folks today have serious (but quite unrecognized by them) historical roots in Medieval-era Marcionite, Manichaean, and Pelagian tendencies, so this makes their screechy perfectionistic ranting about everyone else's "compromises" more than a little bit "speck / log"-like.

In the following account, note especially the running themes of (1) denial of physical means of grace, (2) denial of authority outside of their own sect's understanding of Scripture, (3) a rigorist-perfectionism that results in tolerance only for people who think exactly like they do about a very narrow set of issues, (4) the radical dichotomizing of Scripture, and (5) the quite plainly works-righteousness mentality that excludes children from the sign and seal of baptism.

Tim Enloe


Turkish Delight

David Armstrong said:

<< Here's what I posted on my blog:

Hays' latest reply is posted below. This guy is breathtakingly dense: matched in this regard in my experience only by Frank Turk ("centuri0n"). >>

<< In Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him thus.

Othello, V,ii.338. >>

Imagine mah flush-faced shame to be mentioned in the very same breath as Frank Turk. Oh the pain! Oh the humiliation!

Ah never had me much book-larnin’, and now mah worldly reputation was all in tatters. How could ah ever agin hold mah head up high in poh-lite company?

Why, I was a-plannin’ to take mah high school sweetheart, Ella-Mae, to the local cock-fight this Saturday, seein’ as that was a swell spot ta pop the question.

But now, to be compare with Frank Turk! Yah know Frank Turk, don’t cha? He’s one a-them thar hell-fahr, snake-handlin,’ predestinashun-preachin’, solar scriptoora-teachin,’ RADICAL bra-burning Ba-yub-tists.

First thing ah did was ta rifle through all mah cupboards and drawers just in case ah had me one a-them pairs a-black plastic wrap around dark glasses like seniors wear over their double-thick trifocals. But I couldn’t find me none.

Then I got me out a pair a-scissors and a white paper bag, and cut two eye-holes in the front and pointyed up the top-end so as ah’d blend right in with the way Howard Dean thinks all us red-staters dress.

And ah went outside and drove mah pick-up truck--yah know, the kind with the gun-rack and the Confederate decal--down to the liquor store ta stock up on mah moonshine; but it was kinda hard to see--what with that sack on over mah head, so that ah was a-swervin’ all over which ways and near ‘about flattened a momma coon and her litter at the coon crossin’ when ah was pulled over bah the poh-lice.

And she--it was one a-them lady cops--asks me fer mah driver’s license. But it was tough to match up the picher with the driver cuz ah had that paper bag on and all. So she asks me ta take it off.

I took me a real deep breath. And when ah pulled it off…well…she looks at the license, and then she looks back at me, and her face got all scrunchyed up, suspicious-like, and she sez, “Ah yew really Mr. Steve Hays? You look right familiar—like that preacher-man Frank Turk, more'n likely!”

And for a moment thar ah was just plum speechless. Then ah sez, “No ma’am. If ya truly must know, ah'm…ah'm Dave, Dave Armstrong.”

It was a lie, but a white lie.

And all of a sudden her face went all soft and motherly, and she sez, in a pitiful tone a-voice, “Ah understand, chil’. Put the bag back over yo head!”

Monday, June 13, 2005

Catholics in collective denial

There are a number of different and often mutually exclusive strategies which Roman Catholics resort to to defend their faith. This is illustrated by a current thread over at Dave Armstrong’s outfit

First out of the gate is the flat denial:

1.Where did the church ever say that?


The Inquisitor:

Where does it say that Moses authored Genesis? That is an unproven assumption with no basis in fact. On Evolution, the Church is neutral, but if it ever definitively dismissed Evolutionary theory(as I believe it will), it will be a more nuanced position, like that of William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes trial. And as for Higher Criticism, I don't know what "Willie Mays"Hays is smoking, but it ain't all that good for him. So that dog won't hunt.


BTW, notice that the Inquisitor doesn’t even grasp the true nature of the issue. The issue is not whether Moses, in fact, authored the Pentateuch. As far is my argument is concerned, Daffy Duck could have authored the Pentateuch.

No, the immediate issue is whether, rightly or wrongly, the Catholic church has ever committed itself to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Speaking for myself, there is, indeed, a basis in fact for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. I myself have summarized some of the evidence in my essay on “Bible or Babel?”

But I’m not speaking for myself. Rather, I’m judging Roman Catholicism by its own rules.

Having posed this question, which he then answers in the negative (“that’s an unproven assumption with no basis in fact”), the Inquisitor receives an unwelcome reply to his rhetorical question:


Ben Douglass:

Where does it say that Moses authored Genesis? That is an unproven assumption with no basis in fact.

On the Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch
June 27, 1906 (ASS 39 [1906-07] 377f; EB 174ff; Dz 1997ff)
I: Are the arguments gathered by critics to impugn the Mosaic authorship of the sacred hooks designated by the name of the Pentateuch of such weight in spite of the cumulative evidence of many passages of both Testaments, the unbroken unanimity of the Jewish people, and furthermore of the constant tradition of the Church besides the internal indications furnished by the text itself, as to justify the statement that these books are not of Mosaic authorship but were put together from sources mostly of post-Mosaic date?
Answer: In the negative.
II: Does the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch necessarily imply a production of the whole work of such a character as to impose the belief that each and every word was written by Moses’ own hand or was by him dictated to secretaries ; or is it a legitimate hypothesis that he conceived the work himself under the guidance of divine inspiration and then entrusted the writing of it to one or more persons, with the understanding that they reproduced his thoughts with fidelity and neither wrote nor omitted anything contrary to his will, and that finally the work composed after this fashion was approved by Moses, its principal and inspired author, and was published under his name?
Answer: In the negative to the first and in the affirmative to the second part.
III: Without prejudice to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, may it be granted that in the composition of his work Moses used sources, written documents namely or oral traditions, from which in accordance with the special aim he entertained and under the guidance of divine inspiration he borrowed material and inserted it in his work either word for word or in substance, either abbreviated or amplified?
Answer: In the affirmative.
IV: Subject to the Mosaic authorship and the integrity of the Pentateuch being substantially safeguarded, may it be admitted that in the protracted course of centuries certain modifications befell it, such as : additions made after the death of Moses by an inspired writer, or glosses and explanations inserted in the text, certain words and forms changed from archaic into more recent speech, finally incorrect readings due to the fault of scribes which may be the subject of inquiry and judgement according to the laws of textual criticism?
Answer In the affirmative, saving the judgement of the Church.

For the authority of the pre-Paul VI PBC, see Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio Praestantia Scripturae, 18 Nov. 1907 (ASS [1907] 724ff; EB nn. 278f; Dz 2113f): “We now declare and expressly enjoin that all Without exception are bound by an obligation of conscience to submit to the decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, whether already issued or to be issued hereafter, exactly as to the decrees of the Sacred Congregations which are on matters of doctrine and approved by the Pope; nor can anyone who by word or writing attacks the said decrees avoid the note both of disobedience and of rashness or be therefore without grave fault.”

Sal Ciresi does a good job of demonstrating that the documentary hypothesis is bad historical criticism qua historical criticism. You can get the proceedings of the second annual conference of CDBI from Catholic treasures, where he lays out his case.


Having given this ample and authoritative reply to the Inquisitor’s question, Patrick comes swooping in with Plan B, otherwise known as:

2. Who cares what the church said?



The point to make to Ben, I believe, is that these decisions of the PBC were never meant to be irreformable. At the time the PBC issued its above proclamation (and until we had solid reason to think the situation had changed: which we now do), it would have been "disobedient" and/or "rash" to reject its teachings: not heretical. In short, the PBC document has very little, if any, weight now.


Notice how totally unresponsive this is to the stated reasoning of the PBC:

i) Ben quotes Pius X as saying that the findings of the PBC were binding, not only at the time they were issued, but also extending into the future.

ii) In addition, the PBC appeals to “the cumulative evidence of many passages of both Testaments, the unbroken unanimity of the Jewish people, and the internal indications furnished by the text itself.”

How has that situation changed? The witness of Scripture is the same today as it was in 1906, is it not? The internal evidence is the same today as it was in 1906, is it not? Jewish tradition is the same today as it was in 1906, is it not?

iii)) What is more, the PBC appeals to “the constant tradition of the Church.”

Keep in mind that, according to Trent, and reaffirmed at Vatican I, Sacred Tradition is identified with the unanimous consent of the church fathers. By general reckoning, the last Latin Father was Isidore of Seville (6C) while the last of the Eastern Fathers was John of Damascus (8C).

So the cut off point would be the 8C. Even if our situation has changed, it is not our situation, here and now, but their situation, way back then, which is supposed to supply the benchmark.

Or take this statement:


Jordan Potter:

Yes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have not, to my knowledge, explicitly stated that Moses had nothing to do with the composition of the books of the Pentateuch. In any case, I think it's self evident that, whatever his exact role was in their composition, Moses was not the sole author of the Pentateuch. I mean, there's a passage in Exodus, I believe, that says it was written by Ithamar, Moses' nephew. I think there is plenty of leeway for exploring the processes by which the Pentateuch was written and compiled and edited without having to reject the tradition that the Penteteuch is in a real sense the work of Moses.


Observe how the orientation of the PBC has been turned on its head, as if the question of whether Moses had everything to do with the composition of the Pentateuch is equivalent to the question of whether he had nothing to do with it.

Oh, and don't you just love that reference to "Ithamar" as the ghostwriter of the Pentateuch?

Now we transition to yet another argument:

3.Original intent doesn’t count:



If Hays thinks that the Church "has changed its position on Biblical inerrancy as a result of Vatican II", then Hays doesn't know what he's talking about because no document of Vatican II does any such thing.

It might be argued, I suppose, that various theologically liberal factions within the Church have used the occasion of the Council as an excuse for ejecting inerrancy, but neither Vatican II nor the Catechism countenances any such thing.

He writes: "But when we get to Vatican II, certain caveats are introduced. Inspiration is limited to what the Bible writers are said to 'assert' or 'affirm,' while inerrancy is limited to the saving articles of the faith."

He asks, "Has Vatican II traded plenary inspiration for partial inspiration?"

He answers his own question: "If you study, not only the wording of the text itself, but also the conciliar deliberations which were going on behind-the-scenes, and even in open session, you will find that this is exactly what the bishops had in mind."

In the first place, what matters is the officially promulgated text of Dei Verbum, not the deliberations of the Council Fathers. To pretend otherwise is to misunderstand how the Magisterium works, which is more than adequately explained in Lumen Gentium - if Hays has ever bothered to read either one.

And what does Dei Verbum say? "For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)" (DV 11).

Got that? "…in their entirety, with all their parts, … because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,…consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted."

And more: "Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation."

So does this mean what Hays is pretending - that inerrancy is only "partial" in the eyes of VII? Only if the same may be said of Protestants as well. Because it is a standard Protestant view to say that the Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms! The doctrine of inerrancy doesn't extend, for example, to the veracity of statements made by Satan; "all" that is inerrant in his case is the fact that Satan said those things, not that what he said was itself true (like, for instance, what he had to say to God about the likelihood of Job sinning).

In short: The official post-Vatican II position of the Catholic Church is the same as what was promulgated by Vatican II, which is the same as what the Church has always believed. For more, see the Catechism, #'s 105ff.

Oh, and by the way: Herbert Vorgrimler (whom Hays uses as a source) was a disciple of Rahner the liberal. Hardly one likely to faithfully represent the orthodox teaching of the Church.

Or would Hays approve if we quoted Clark Pinnock as representative of modern Protestant "orthodoxy"?

I suggest that Hays's time would be better spent reading the official documents of the Church, rather than what liberals say about those documents. It would also be more representative of what the Church believes today.


Where does one begin?

i) Actually, Vorgrimler didn’t pen the section of the commentary on Dei Verbum. That was written by Aloys Grillmeier. Vorgrimler was merely the editor. If Fred had bothered to do his own homework, he could have spared himself this basic blunder. Yet I’m the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Uh-huh.

ii) But to play along with his argument, yes—Rahner was a liberal. Rahner was also a peritus to Vatican II. So why should we distrust a liberal like Rahner, but trust the institution which promoted him to the rank of an official consultant to the Council? The compartmentalized faith of a devout Roman Catholic is a wonder to behold.

iii) I'd add that one of the members of the editorial committee was a guy by the name of Joseph Ratzinger. Does Fred regard him as a liberal as well?

iv) Again, the issue is not whether Grillmeier is representative of what the church believes. Grillmeier is reporting on the words and actions of the bishops. These are the minutes of Vatican II.

v) Then you have the silly comparison with Clark Pinnock, as if Pinnock enjoyed the equivalent of magisterial standing in Evangelicalism when Evangelicalism has no magisterium to begin with.

vi) Fred is also misrepresenting the state of the debate. The point at issue was not whether every speaker within the sacred narrative is inspired or veracious. The issue, rather, is whether the authors of the sacred narrative were inspired and veracious when they turned their pen to the very broad category of secular rather than sacred matters of fact--the veritates profanae.

Likewise, as I’ve said on more then one occasion, if you want to know how the church interprets its own magisterial statements about the scope of Biblical inerrancy, just see how members of the magisterium in fact write about the historical claims of Scripture. See how Walter Kasper, now a top cardinal, treats the miracles of Jesus. See how Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, treats the authorship of Daniel.

But Catholics like Fred prefer to assume this simian see-no-evil, hear-no-evil pose.

vii) And if that were not enough, we are treated to the following quote from De Verbum: “"For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16).”

Fred somehow supposes that this undergirds his case, when, in fact, it undermines his case. For post-Vatican II Bible scholars routinely deny the apostolic authorship of all three parenthetical prooftexts.

viii) Yet these are just the appetizers. We haven’t even gotten to the main course, which is his delicious claim that “In the first place, what matters is the officially promulgated text of Dei Verbum, not the deliberations of the Council Fathers. To pretend otherwise is to misunderstand how the Magisterium works.”

Actually, the whole point of the classic, multi-volume commentary edited by Vorgrimler, which Fred has never evidently bothered to read, is to document how the Magisterium works.

What matters, in understanding the text of Vatican II, is not merely the bare text itself, but the context in which it arose. What did the bishops intend to exclude as well include in what they promulgated? What supplies the backdrop? What is the thing being opposed? Every affirmation is a denial of its contrary. This is especially germane in the case of a consensus document like Vatican II where various competing proposals were on the table.

As we know, from the actual floor debate, the precise point at issue was the veritates profanae. And that is where, at the instigation of Cardinal Koenig, the Coucil backed away from the position staked out by Trent and reaffirmed by Vatican I.

Then we come to the next argument:

4.Original intent is all that counts:




I do find it amazing how some Catholics argue from one little phrase in an Ecumenical Council, "for the sake of our salvation", the Church has repudiated 2000 years of Catholic doctrine.

It's almost as bad as radical Traditionalists who cite one passage from Florence ("…will depart into eternal fire") to "prove" that Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. And at least the radical Traditionalists can produce a few more quotes…


i) As an aside, there has been a good deal more to my argument than one little phrase. And the traditionalist wing brings a lot more evidence to bear than one little phrase. Perhaps, though, Jason, like the Inquisitor, gets his information spoon-fed to him from Dave’s spin-machine.

ii) But moving on to the larger point, the funny thing is that Jason thinks he is actually seconding the sentiments of Fred. He hasn’t caught on to the fact that his own position is flat contrary to Fred’s. Remember that, for Fred, all that matters is the naked text, not the context, or original intent.

But when Jason brings up the case of Florence to illustrate his point, he ends up making the very opposite point. For the way in which Catholics like, say, McElhinney counter the traditionalist appeal to Florence is to say that you cannot take the words in isolation to the target-audience, or such unspoken assumptions as an informal tradition of the incorrigibly ignorant—who are exempt from the necessity of baptism.

Finally, when all else fails, we have the grand old stand-by:

5. Bigotry!



Any rationalization as to the justification of anti-Catholic comments made by Hays and Christian is nonsense. It is simple bigotry and hate and is sinful. Period.


Here the Romanist absolves himself of any moral or intellectual responsibility to answer a critic of the church, even if the critic is basing his case on official Catholic conduits, on the subjective grounds that the critic is a hateful sinful bigot, plain and simple. Period. Full stop. End of story.

This, of course, betrays the hidebound herd-instinct of a suicidal cult-member. Whether the object of faith is Mother Church or the Mother Ship, heaven or Heaven’s Gate, the Pope or little Bo-Peep, the chalice or the Kool-Aid, is simply an accident of birth and breeding.

In defending their faith, they are all over the map. They say that Rome is the way to go, yet their finger posts are pointing in every direction of the compass--save heavenward.

What's the Federal Vision?

This question came up in my recent exchange with Enloe. For a good little post on the subject, go to:

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Defending Romanism

The Pedantic Protestant, over at, is running a fine little thread on RC apologetics. Check it out.

Also, the Pedantic Protestant is a much nicer guy than I am, so he can't be faulted for my tonal asperities.