Saturday, October 29, 2005

Election & assurance

Last month, Perry Robinson made the following statement:


For example, when I was Reformed I knew many people who were sure that they were elect. They were quite dogmatic on the point. Most of them ended up falling away and/or dying in unbelief to my knowledge. They thought that had confirming evidence of their own election. They thought that they had the self attesting witness of the Spirit. Now can someone be wrong and think that they have the self attesting witness of the Spirit and not actually have it? I see no reason to think that this isn’t possible.


Perry proceeds to tie this into a general objection to Reformed theology. I responded in kind.

However, I’ve also wanted to discuss his example on its own terms, for it raises an issue of pastoral theology.

It would be a grave mistake for any Calvinist to directly vest his assurance of salvation in election, per se, or special redemption, or other suchlike.

At a first-order level, the Reformed basis for the assurance of salvation is no different from any other Evangelical tradition: faith in Christ.

If you don’t have faith in Christ, everything else counts for nothing at all. Indeed, without faith in Christ, everything else counts against you.

Christ is the door. Faith in Christ is the port of entry.

Now, given faith in Christ, certain other doctrines and blessings click into place. For there are various promises attendant to faith in Christ.

If I believe in Christ, then I have reason to believe that I’m elect, that God will preserve me in faith unto death.

So, at this second-order level, the various doctrines of grace, such as election, special redemption, sola fide, and perseverance, do afford a secondary ground of assurance.

But all these promises are promises to Christians. They are attached to our faith in Christ.

What a Calvinist should say is not: “I know I’m a Christian because I’m elect,” but, “I know I’m elect because I’m a Christian.”

So our reason for believing that we are elect is no weaker or stronger than our reason for believing that we are Christians. Our blessings in Christ are contingent on our being in Christ.

At an ontological level, it is true to say that I “am” a Christian because I “am” elect.

But, at an epistemic level, it is wrong to say that I “know” I’m a Christian because I’m elect.

The order of being is: election>faith
The order of knowing is: faith>election

The assurance of salvation properly follows the order of knowing, and only indirectly, the order of being. So the evidence for our ontological status is still a matter of faith. If you are elect, then you will have the grace of faith. But faith is the sign of grace.

It’s the grace of God which engenders our faith in God, but it’s our faith in God which is the sign of his grace.

The opposite error would be to trust in your faith in Christ. Once again, the assurance of salvation comes, not from trusting in your faith, but trusting in Christ. You don’t look to your faith; rather, your faith is looking to Christ.

Faith looking at itself is a source of spiritual insecurity. Never look to your own faith. Don’t put faith in faith; rather, put your faith in Christ.

By the same token, there are theological traditions which deny the assurance of salvation because they treat the grace of God as resistible, or treat justification as a process, or intrude human merit into the transaction.

Such traditions cannot benefit from a secondary level of assurance. They rob the believer of the assurance of salvation.

You can see this with Wesley and Luther before they rediscovered the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith. I don’t doubt that they were already children of God. But their defective theology prevented them from laying claiming all the riches of Christ.

In addition, there are Christians who fret over whether they have enough faith, or the right kind of faith. For now, I’d just say two things:

1.This is really out of our hands. If there’s nothing more you can do about it, then there’s no point in working yourself into a frenzy. Leave the rest to God and wait upon the Lord.

2. These sorts of anxieties are a petty good sign of the presence, rather than the absence, of grace. It is the nominal Christian, the man dead in sin, who is insensible to self-doubt. Dead men suffer no scruples or inner struggles. Their conscience is clear because their conscience is seared.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A peace-loving faith


The big story on the Brussels Journal this week has been the troubles at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Here's how the trouble started:

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten is being protected by security guards and several cartoonists have gone into hiding after the newspaper published a series of twelve cartoons (view them here) about the prophet Muhammad. According to Islam it is blasphemous to make images of the prophet. Muslim fundamentalists have threatened to bomb the paper's offices and kill the cartoonists. . . .

The publication led to outrage among the Muslim immigrants living in Denmark. 5,000 of them took to the streets to protest. Muslim organisations have demanded an apology, but Juste rejects this idea: "We live in a democracy. That's why we can use all the journalistic methods we want to. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures," he said. The Danish imam Raed Hlayhel reacted with the statement: "This type of democracy is worthless for Muslims. Muslims will never accept this kind of humiliation. The article has insulted every Muslim in the world." . . .

The affair, however, has also led to a diplomatic incident. On Thursday the ambassadors of eleven Muslim countries, including Indonesia, a number of Arab states, Pakistan, Iran, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, complained about the cartoons in a letter to Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. They say the publication of the cartoons is a "provocation" and demand apologies from the newspaper.

Jyllands-Posten was also included on an al-Qaeda website listing possible terrorist targets. An organisation which calls itself "The Glorious Brigades in Northern Europe" is circulating pictures on the internet which show bombs exploding over pictures of the newspaper and blood flowing over the national flag of Denmark. "The Mujahedeen have numerous targets in Denmark--very soon you all will regret this," the website says.

In this one example we see nearly the whole of the problem presented by the collision between Islam and Western liberalism. But amidst the many difficulties, two stand out. First, is the statement from imam Raed Hlayhel, "This type of democracy is worthless for Muslims." Certainly Hlayhel does not speak for all of Islam. But the worry is that if he speaks for even a tiny minority--say, 5 percent of the world's Muslims--that's still a lot of people.

The second shock is the support of 11 Muslim states for this bullying of the Danish press. It is one thing for a lone imam to try to mau-mau a newspaper. It is another to see him standing, arms linked, with foreign governments.

To highlight the true nature of this impasse, the Brussels Journal's Paul Belien notes a situation in Belgium:

Meanwhile in Brussels a young Muslim immigrant published a poster depicting the Virgin Mary [unclothed]. Though the picture has drawn some protest from Catholics (though not from Western embassies, nor from the bishops), this artist need not fear being murdered in the street. On the contrary, he is being subsidised by the Ministry for Culture. [note: I changed the wording here in order to prevent the email from being caught up in everyone's spam filters]

But of course.

Jonathan V. Last


The sad state of Catholic anti-intellectualism

Jonathan Prejean has now sallied forth once more from his on-again/off-again retirement to wage war on no fewer than four different fronts: Jason Engwer, the Pedantic Protestant, D. T. King, and yours truly.

1.Prejean takes issue with the PP’s charge that the Catholics he has known have an amateurish grasp of Scripture.

The problem here is that you have two kinds of Catholics. On the one hand, there are those with a very competent command of exegesis. These are scholars like Ray Brown, Murphy-O’Connor, Joseph Fitzmyer, and L. T. Johnson, to name a few.

They’re liberal by evangelical standards, but they ask the right questions of the text and they often give the right answers.

Problem is: what they say doesn’t make a dent in Catholic theology. It doesn’t feed into Catholic theology. Catholic dogma is driven by historical theology rather than exegetical theology. Catholicism committed itself to certain positions a long time ago, and these are not subject to revision in light of better exegesis. The Catholic church only turns to Scripture to legitimate a preexisting practice or belief. It doesn’t derive its practice or belief from direct interaction with the text of Scripture. And even if it did, a dogmatic misinterpretation is irreformable.

The other kind of Catholics follow from the first kind. Because they know that tradition is the steam engine and Scripture is the caboose, they don’t bother to have a competent grasp of Scripture. They have no incentive to ask the right questions. They simply go through the motions of appealing to Scripture.

As Kung said of Rahner:
“A second fundamental defect in Rahner’s theology also becomes evident to me: the lack of historical-critical exegesis. Rahner once laughingly advised a student known to me that it was enough to go to lectures on exegesis for one or two semesters; but in the end dogmatics was decisive,” My Struggle With Freedom (Eerdmans 2003), 252.

2.Prejean also brings up St. Jerome in this connection. That’s an ill-chosen choice to illustrate his position. Evangelicals have great respect for Jerome. Because he lived in the Holy Land, because he studied with rabbis there, he’s a useful source of information.

Evangelicals agree with Jerome’s argument for the Jewish canon of the OT. Evangelicals also agree with Jerome’s exegetical defense of Daniel’s prophecies (I own a copy of his commentary), whereas Benedict XVI has sided with Porphyry, the great pagan opponent of the Christian faith. The only reason to agree with Porphyry is if you share his worldview.

So I appreciate Prejean’s high regard for Jerome, and if he happens to have the Pope’s email address, perhaps he could encourage Benedict XVI to recover that same measure of respect for Jerome’s exegesis.

3.Prejean then levels the accusation that “These people aren't capable of questioning Scriptural authority, and that's an intellectual weakness.”

i) This is a very simplistic allegation. To begin with, it is a fact of life, and a very striking fact indeed, that many men and women come to the faith by merely reading the Bible. That’s it. Nothing more. Just reading the Bible is sufficient for many to engender faith in the Bible. The Bible, all by its little lonesome, has that kind of persuasive power.

And if, in fact, the Bible is the word of God, then one would expect it to have that inherent power to persuade.

And, as a practical matter, it could hardly be otherwise. Most Christians are not intellectuals.

So what are we to do with all these Christians, and they’re not all Protestant, by any means, who find that they can’t help believing in the Bible? That they have this spontaneous and irrepressible faith in Scripture? They cannot not believe in Scripture. They simply find it compelling and convincing as is, period.

And there’s nothing all that unusual about this. Belief is essentially involuntary. We don’t will ourselves to believe or disbelieve. Belief is not a sheer act of the will. Rather, we are predisposed to believe certain things when presented with suitable evidence. The combination of the evidence with the predisposition automatically triggers a believing state of mind. And the same evidence presented to a jaundiced observer will trigger disbelief.

ii) Which brings us to the next point. For other Christians it isn’t all that simple. They come to the Bible with certain preconceptions which form an intellectual impediment to faith. Until the impediment is removed, this is a mental block to faith in Scripture.

These individuals need explicit reasons, corroborative evidence, and answers to their objections. This is all the more so given the cottage industry we’ve had since the Enlightenment to discredit the claims of Scripture at every turn.

iii) In addition, some people are temperamentally prone to self-doubt, which spills over in religious doubts of one degree or another. They also benefit from supporting arguments and supporting evidence. Feelings are feeble, fickle things, but reasons have a certain tenacity to them.

4.Prejean next takes aim at the doctrine of inerrancy:
“That's why I consider the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy so incredibly implausible; I can't imagine how I could credit the truth of propositional content based solely on authority.”

This totally misses the point. The Chicago Statement was never intended to make a case for inerrancy. It was framed at a time when various Evangelical institutions like Fuller Seminary, the SBC, and the LCMS were mainstreaming and liberalizing.

The purpose of the Chicago Statement was to clarify the boundaries of inerrancy, of what inerrancy allows and disallows. It was designed to eliminate certain loopholes and rebut certain red-herrings.

The Chicago Statement presupposes the inerrancy of Scripture rather than proving it. By definition, only Bible-believing Christians would ever subscribe to the Chicago Statement. In these respects it has the same functions and limitations as any other creed.

If you’re looking for an argument as to why we should subscribe to the doctrine of Scripture formulated in the Chicago Statement, you will have to look elsewhere.

BTW, I don’t see that Pius IX or Leo XIII would have had any great difficulty being signatories to the Chicago Statement. The fact that Prejean doesn’t like it is symptomatic of the triumph of modernism in the Catholic church today.

5.Finaly, Prejean says:
“This whole "damned if you do; damned if you don't" matter of anti-Catholic stereotyping is pretty incredible. If I'm intellectually curious, then I'm "speculating beyond the bounds of Biblical authority," and yet, I'm simultaneously supposed to be so incurious that I accept whatever the Magisterium tells me.”

Actually, the arguments that Jason and I and the PP (I can’t speak for King) have had with Jonathan have next to nothing to do with the authority of Scripture.

For the most part our debates were over the proper hermeneutic to use when interpreting a document from the past. A guy like James Barr, who has zero respect for the authority of Scripture, employs the grammatico-historical method no less than does the Evangelical inerrantist.

Again, Prejean is free to speak for himself, but in my many exchanges with Roman Catholics on the Internet, it’s just like talking to a Mormon or J-Dub. They give me their reasons for what they believe. I critique their reasons, on their own grounds. They then reply by simply repeating their original reasons—like a prerecorded message.

But even this is a cut above Prejean, who gives no reasons at all, but spends all his time prepositioning himself for the perfect playoff, which—conveniently enough--never comes.

What does God feel?

Divine Impassibility: Why Is It Suffering?

By Paul Helm Emeritus Professor, University of London

The doctrine of God's impassibility has fallen on hard times. In the era of the Suffering God and of “Holocaust theology” scarcely anyone has a good word to say for it.[1] This in itself is a striking fact, given the Christian church's eras-long commitment to the doctrine. These days nearly everyone sees the eclipse of divine impassibility as an unqualified blessing. For them the idea is totally unscriptural, a case of “baptised paganism,” an object lesson in what happens when theology takes its lead not from divine revelation but from Neo-Platonism.

The modest aim here is to say a word or two in favour of the doctrine before it finally slips from the Christian consciousness. The words may even help, in some small way, to arrest its eclipse. I hope so. I shall try to show why impassibility is suffering, then to try to show a little of what impassibility, properly understood, means, to offer some scriptural support for it and finally to reflect a little on what divine impassibility commits us to.

The Problem of Language

I suggest two sets of reasons each having to do with language. One set has to do with the accidents of the English language (and perhaps for all I know, of other languages. I have not gone into this). The other is more fundamental.

There is, I believe, at least for Anglophones, often a basic confusion between three English words: impassivity,(the English form of impassitas), impassability, and impassibility. The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines “impassive” as “deficient or void of mental feeling or emotion; unimpressionable, apathetic.” (And it also notes a “good sense,” “imperturbable.”) It goes without saying that Christians do not wish to worship and serve an apathetic God; a God who, like a human psychotic, is unconcerned by the needs of human beings. Nor even a God who, like a Stoic philosopher, is imperturbable no matter what happens. But then to suppose that the doctrine of divine impassibility commits one to such a view is based upon simple linguistic confusion, between impassivity and impassibility—of which more in a moment. But first, what about impassability? If the road is blocked by ice or mud then it is impassable. There is no way through. Such an idea, applied to God, makes matters worse. For if God is not only apathetic, if he is also impassable, then there is no way open to get through to him. He must forever remain in a state of apathy; perhaps, to make matters even worse, of blissful apathy.

Let's turn finally to impassibility. Unfortunately, among the senses the Oxford Dictionary gives of “impassible” is this: incapable of feeling or emotion; impassive. However the main sense is “incapable of suffering injury or detriment” along with “incapable of suffering; not subject to pain.” I believe it is possible to provide an understanding of “impassible” which does justice to Scripture and church teaching, but it is clear from this glance at the dictionary that it is an uphill struggle. A word, such as “impassible,” that continually needs guarding against confusion and misunderstanding is not a good tool for theological discourse.

There is a second reason having to do with language why impassibility is suffering an eclipse. “Impassibility” is a negative term. Even when properly understood, and then applied to God, it tells us what God is not, or what God cannot do, rather that what he is like and can do. Such a negative approach to thinking about God is nowadays regarded as being too vague and insubstantial for the modern Christian church. For the modern church is impatient with learning what God is not like, she wants to know what God is like, and in particular she desperately seeks reassurance that God is like us—that he is accessible to our imagination, and especially in need of reassurance that he is our emotional peer. This is one reason for the current stress on biblical narrative, on the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language of Scripture, and on Christology “from below,” as is evidenced (in different ways) by the prevalent social trinitarianism, and by the appeal of “open theism.” Put in conventional theological terms, in the modern Christian mind the language of divine immanence swamps the language of divine transcendence. And impassibility is part of the language—part of the “grammar”—of divine transcendence. I shall return to this point shortly and develop it.

This contemporary craving for a human-like God is heightened by modern approaches to suffering and evil. Bonhoeffer's phrase, “Only a suffering God can help,” is repeated like a mantra. There is of course a perfectly good sense to these words. God in Christ suffers in taking our sin, and so helping us in a way that nothing else can. But a suffering God who endures suffering in the same way that we suffer may help by comforting us, but he is helpless to deliver us from evil.

The grammar of God

The key idea for any appreciation of the idea of divine impassibility, and of its reappropriation and defense, must be the Creator-creature distinction, and the biblical idea of divine fullness. In the case of emotions, we must focus on the idea of a divine life of unimaginable richness and constancy, not of fitfulness and spasm. In this connection it is unfair as well as unbalanced to separate the divine impassibility from all other divine characteristics and to single it out for special treatment. Divine impassibility is part of a web of ideas which constitute a “grammar,” a canonical way of talking about God, a way of articulating the reality of the divine fullness. In this respect, impassibility is an aspect of divine immutability (God cannot change or be changed), of divine simplicity (the sovereign God does not depend for this existence on 'parts' which are more fundamental than he is) of divine necessity (God exists non-dependently), and of divine eternity (God is not bound by time, with part of his life in the past, as all his creatures are). God’s immutability covers his will, his decrees, his promises and counsel, and of course, his emotional life. Its biblical basis is found in such passages as Jas. 1.17, Ps. 102.29, Is. 14.24, Rom. 11,.29, Heb. 6. 17: 13. 8, Is 46. 10, 2 Cor. 1 18-20.

But none of this means that God is devoid of (what we call) feelings. He loves his creation, he cares for his people, he hates unrighteousness, and so on—he is pure goodness. The trouble is that we are in something of a bind when we attempt to articulate this further. When we think of constancy, steadiness, and dependability at the human level we think of people possessing dispositions that are virtuous. So a person who dashes into the icy water to save the child expresses courage, a courageous disposition. He may never have to act in this way again. But in God these dispositions are never latent, for there is no “slack” in God, but he is utterly engaged. So what are we to make of the expressions of divine anger, or of compassion, in Scripture? We are to understand them in terms of the “big picture” or (in more academic language) a “pattern of judgment'”[2] about God, and thus to see them as expressions of the divine fullness accommodated to the real-time situations of his people, their characters and needs, and of God's purposes for them. For instance, to draw out their faith, (as with Hezekiah) or their obedience, (as with Moses) or their patience (as with Job).

So divine immutability does not signal total inaction or immobility, like the face of the Moon, a state incapable of personal relationship. Rather, it speaks of firmness, faithfulness, covenantal constancy, grounded in who God essentially is. Likewise divine impassibility is not impassivity, but constant goodness, variously expressed (according to God's will and to the specifics of human history) as (for example) love, or wrath, or mercy. Such expressions are rooted in the immutability of the divine nature, the fact that God is unchangeable in goodness and perfection, and cannot be deterred or deflected by outside forces. Of course God’s immutable relation to his creation is not perceived as such by it, but what is perceived is a function of the situation or condition of the creaturely recipient. Just as (we say) the Sun is now setting, now rising, so God is now wise, now just, now loving etc. depending on the human circumstances in which he is “encountered” and on God's purposes in these circumstances.

By contrast human emotion is affected by ignorance and moral weakness, by surprise, fear, partiality and physical distance. (This reminds us that a range of emotions is necessarily connected with human physical embodiment.) For instance, while all of us know that at this very moment there are hundreds of children dying in Darfur this fact fails to move us, whereas if children were dying in a similar fashion on our doorstep we would be moved to grief and compassion and action. These outbreaks of emotion would not be unrelated to our own self-interests, of course, and to what follows from the fact of our physical embodiment.

So emotion in humans is not an unmixed good. Emotion is better than no emotion, but its expression is often the result of selfishness and ignorance. With God it is otherwise. He has an emotional life— he cares and loves and judges and has compassion on his sinful world. But his life—unlike our own emotional lives—is not spasmodic and moody. God does not have a temper. He cannot be cowardly or vain. Rather his “emotional life” is an expression of his perfect goodness and knowledge. The life of God is not first passive and then reactive, as ours is, but it is wholly active.

Is divine impassibility Scriptural?

This, for Christians, is of course the chief question, and we have already begun to offer an answer to it. But it is currently taken for granted by many Christians that the question is easily answered. Many are quick to say that divine impassibility is not and could not be Scriptural. For does not Scripture assert that God suffers, that he is angry, that he expresses surprise, that he fears, and laughs, and repents? Did not Christ, the Son of God, suffer? How could such a God be impassible? Then quickly—all too quickly—it is concluded that the idea of divine impassibility is the result of imposition of Scripture rather than exposition of it, of eisegesis rather than exegesis. It's part of an attempted theological takeover by Greek ideas. But now, it is proudly claimed, we have learned to “take the Bible seriously!”

There are a number of reasons why we should be cautious about this all too common reaction. One is historical. The anthropopathisms of the Bible are not new, nor newly discovered, any more than its anthropomorphisms are. They loom large. Those who affirmed divine impassibility—the theological mainstream from (say) Augustine to Jonathan Edwards—were aware of them. Yet the presence of these data in Scripture was not a sufficient reason for them to deny impassibility. Did they not take the Bible seriously? Why then did they come to the view that God is impassible?

Secondly, this approach to Scripture, if carried out consistently, has rather embarrassing consequences. For Scripture also says that God has eyes, ears, a backside—anthropomorphic language, as we quickly say. And we say that God uses such language in Scripture not because he in fact has eyes, ears and a backside but because by the use of such terms he adapts himself vividly to our way of thinking. There is something in God that corresponds to this language, which it draws attention to, even though it is not literally descriptive of God. God sees—what does this mean? That he has eyes? And if he eyes, does he have eyelashes and eyebrows? How many eyes does he have? Does he have 20/20 vision? None of this is appropriate. Talking in this way about God would be absurd. In saying that God sees, Scripture means (something like) God has immediate, unimpaired knowledge of what he allegedly sees. A child will readily understand this.

Why not something similar with the language about God's emotions? Are we really to believe that God gets angry, that he is overcome with anger? That he is incapacitated by suffering? That he is paralysed with fear? Can we allow that such expressions of anger or suffering carry the connotations of surprise and ignorance and apprehension and impatience and selfish vengefulness that human emotion typically does?

What does affirming divine impassibility commit us to?

As already noted, in the thinking of the classical Christian theologians, the Fathers, the medievals, Reformers such as Calvin, the Reformed Scholastics, Jonathan Edwards, impassibility is an aspect or consequence of divine immutability. Immutability is in turn rooted in divine simplicity. But divine simplicity has been frequently misunderstood, or caricatured.

For though God is simple, without parts, without division, there is nevertheless a complexity in the mind of God, but this complexity does not depend on something other than himself. The classical Christian tradition readily recognises this. So—to take one historical example—in discussing the question “Does God know things other than himself?” [3] Aquinas asserts that God's essence contains the likeness of things other than himself, and since there are many kinds of things other than himself there are presumably many likeness of things contained in the divine essence. However, Aquinas wishes to deny that God knows things other than himself by learning about them, because then the divine intellect would depend on them, and (Aquinas thinks) God's sovereignty or aseity or Creatorhood would be compromised.

So God knows “many things” and we may think of God's “feelings” as simply his attitudes to what he knows. What he knows—the details of everything that comes to pass—is present to the divine mind, even though that mind is itself simple, without parts or divisions, immutable and impassible. What could be more complex than the universe, with its unparalleled variety? God the Father takes pleasure, no doubt in the goodness of the various aspects of the creation, and in the Incarnation, being well pleased with his beloved Son. And we find in Scripture that among the many things that God knows that he has delight in are: a just weight (Prov. 11.1); the upright in their way (Prov. 11.20); those that deal truly (Prov. 12.22); the prayer of the upright (Prov. 15.8) and so on; among those things which he has ordained which he hates are a proud look (Prov. 6.16), Esau (Mal. 1.3), all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5.3) and so on.

How are we to understand these attitudes of God? I suggest that it is improper to strongly model these on human feelings, to think of these as passions. Although undoubtedly as God has accommodated himself to our human condition in this way he represents himself as passionate, God cannot really be passionate because of the suggestion, in the use of the word “passion,” that the one who is passionate is overtaken or derailed or blinded by the passion. The passion is an irrational response. Though even here we must be careful, for a person may speak with full control of himself, yet in an impassioned way. His passion may be a way of speaking of the strength of his commitment. Because of it he may speak and act with greater care than otherwise. This is unlikely with us, but if God is to be said to be passionate then this is how it must be with him. So perhaps we would not be far astray if we thought of God not as 'having passions' but as utterly impassioned in all that he does.

Does God have feelings, then? We may, influenced by our touchy-feely culture, think that the answer is obvious. Of course he has. But here again some caution is called for. For we use the term “feeling” to cover not merely mental states, feelings of sympathy or compassion, or of betrayal or alienation, but also feeling arising from changes in our bodies, or event the fact of being embodied. We feel tired, we have aches and pains, scratches and itches, sexual pleasure, we experience cold and heat. Is this how it is the God? Clearly not. And our mental states, our feelings or emotions, are frequently the result of selfishness and ignorance. If in saying that God feels, or even that God has emotions, we are simply (and carefully) speaking of God's impassioned attitudes of delighting in, and hating, and loving in the manner sketched above, then clearly the answer is yes.

But what of the Incarnation? For many, anxieties about divine impassibility are at their highest in the case of Jesus. They say: Jesus is God, and Jesus suffered, therefore God suffered. The conclusion seems inescapable. But is it? Is it then equally valid that: Jesus sat on the side of the well, Jesus is God, therefore God sat on the side of the well......Are we not at such points as these faced with the mystery of the incarnation, of the union of the human nature with the person of the Son of God? But must we not say, to avoid absurdity, something like: Jesus Christ, being God incarnate, the Mediator, sat on the side of the well, and suffered for our salvation?

How are we to understand the emotional life of our Lord? Are episodes in the life of our Lord—his reaction to the Temple money-changers, or to the death of Lazarus, for example—cases of God's emotion made flesh? In a way they are, but not in any way which involves the transmutation of the divine emotion into something else. It is God expressing his impassioned love (along with much else he expresses) through the vehicle of assumed human nature. So the emotional life of our Lord is what you get when the second person of the impassible God assumes is embodied in human nature. It is an inevitable expression of the divine character in a way conditioned by the necessities of being united to what is human and so localised in time and space.

When Jesus was angry then - no doubt - this is expressive of God's impassioned anger. But the predicate anger is not univocal in each case. It is rather like the different ways in which a French horn and a cello sound out middle C; their sounds have the same value, but they sound somewhat different. The predicates “Jesus is angry,” “God is angry” express emotion which has moral parity, but its human expression is conditioned in a way in which the unincarnate divine reality is not.


Perhaps we need a new word, or a new family of words, to express the constancy and fullness of God's emotional life, his feelings.[4] But perhaps more than this, we need to allow ourselves the time to re-think our way into the older way of thinking about God. Part of this process will involve resisting the pattern of thought which says; either God is simple and impassible, uncaring and unfeeling or he is an all-too-human God who reacts with human-like passion to what he learns about his creation. There is a “third way,” to recall God's settled attitudes to what he has ordained to come to pass, the varied ways in which the fullness and goodness of God is refracted in the varied life of his creation, and to see this fullness and goodness supremely refracted in the Incarnation, under the all too familiar conditions of time and space.

[1] Though see the excellent treatment in Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer? (Edinburgh, T and T Clark, 1999)

[2] See Stephen E Fowl, (ed.) The Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Oxford, Blackwell, 1997).

[3] Summa Theologiae 1a 14, 5.

[4] I once suggested the term of art 'themotion' ( in 'The Impossibility of Divine Passibility' in The Power and Weakness of God, ed. Nigel B Cameron (Edinburgh, Rutherford House, 1990), but obviously it has not caught on!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What's a Christian?

In the minutiae of apologetics, it is possible to lose sight of the basics. In answering this question, I’ll adapt the WSC, 14:2.

A Christian is someone who believes in the truth of whatever is revealed in the Bible, on the authority of God himself speaking in Scripture. A Christian obeys the commands of Scripture, trembles before its warnings, and embraces the promises of God for this life and the life to come. But a Christian is especially someone who believes in and puts his trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Thanks for the email.

You have a way of reifying or personifying "tradition." This talismanic use of the term amounts to the deification of a word.

As you surely know, "tradition" is a highly selective historical and theological construct. It isn't just "out there," like Mt. Everest, with a sign on it.

The Orthodox Church favors the Greek Fathers over the Latin Fathers, while the Catholic church favors the Latin Fathers over the Greek Fathers. To some extent it's a matter of emphasis or degree, but the point remains that "Tradition" cannot adjudicate that preference.

Some damnable heresies like docetism and Arianism are just as "traditional," in terms of antiquity and proximity, as the orthodox version of the doctrines in question.

Jesus has a claim on you personally. You owe him your intellectual allegiance. You are answerable to him. As Christians, you and I don't have the right to farm that out to a second party.

To do so is an act of insubordination to our Lord. To do so is to deny his direct authority over our lives by passing the buck to an intermediary.

Our intellectual superiors and predecessors in the faith don't always agree with each other, do they? And not just on the incidentals.

If they're so smart, which some of them are, then what you do is to listen to their arguments. That's what smart men are good at, right? Giving reasons? Articulating the faith. What counts is not opinion, but the argument which undergirds the opinion.

To whom much is given, much is required. To whom less is given, less is required. God doesn't require you to be infallible. He's not going to judge you by the same standard as those you regard as your intellectual superiors.

Why do you believe it stretches back to Jesus and the Apostles? What do you mean by "the faith."

Like "tradition," "the faith" is another highly selective historical and theological construct. What is your specific historical evidence that specific elements of the faith stretch back to the NT church?

BTW, who cares? Why do you think we have to be able to trace this back by some historical chain-of-custody? That's a very ambitious claim. Why start at the end and try to work your way back to the beginning? Why not start at the beginning?

Why do you have to document that a present-day belief reaches back to the NT church? If you want to know if something is dominical or apostolic, why not go straight to the Bible?

There's a difference between saying: "I don't understand if certain parts of the faith are revealed in Scripture" and saying: "I don't understand certain parts of the faith revealed in Scripture."

It is sufficient to understand that something is a revealed truth, whether or not you fully understand the revealed truth in question. It is insufficient not to understand if something is even revealed in Scripture, but believe it anyway.

How do you know that the saints understood it better than you unless you have a standard of comparison other than the saints? Unless you can understand the Bible for yourself, by what yardstick do you know that they understand the Bible better than you?

How is it that can you understand the saints, but you can't understand the Scriptures? Aren't you dependent on your interpretation of the saints?

No one is "assuming" that those who went before us are wrong. Rather, we give them a respectful hearing. But unless they give reasons for what they believe, we have no reason to believe them. And if they do give reasons for what they believe, then their reasons are subject to rational scrutiny.

In addition, there is an advantage to living at a later phase of church history. We have the benefit of biblical archeology. We have the benefit of hindsight.

It's a little vague to say that my way of thinking derives from the Reformation.

Depending on our historical position, we have different intellectual options. One reason I opt for the Protestant rule of faith and the grammatico-historical method is because that option is out there. Now, if I hadn't been born at a certain period in history, I might not be smart enough to think of that for myself.

But this, of itself, doesn't mean that because the immediate derivation for my belief is historically conditioned, that I cannot then derive the same belief from a more principial source.

Suppose I'm an atheist. As an atheist I believe in naturalistic evolution. Then I become a Bible-believing Christian. I now disbelieve in evolution because I think that evolution is unscriptural.

Because I believe it's unscriptural, I start boning up on the antievolutionary literature. I didn't read this when I was an atheist. Instead, I read Dawkins, Gould, and so on.

Now I have an incentive to read Behe, Dembski, and so on.

As a result, I now have a scientific reason for disbelieving in evolution, in addition to my theological reason.

How do you know it's always been taught? Newman went down this path before. He found that he couldn't document a historical chain-of-custody.

Calvinism didn't just pop into the space-time continuum from a subspatial vacuum. It has historical antecedents as well. It's on its own historical trajectory.

But even if it did, so what?

Suppose a commuter plane crashes on a desert island. An atheist is the only survivor. He has zero religious background. He discovers a Bible on the plane. In his boredom, he begins to read it.

Is it not possible for him to come to a saving knowledge of the faith?

Put another way, what is the source of tradition? If you say it's Scripture, then it's possible to go back to the source, is it not? After all, you have to start sometime, somewhere. If the church fathers could make the first move, so can you.

Unless we can compare tradition to Scripture, how do we know that tradition is scriptural?

What's so great about a corrupt visible unity?

Inconsistency is not necessarily a bad thing. Inconsistency is inevitable when someone is in a transitional phase, where he regards his current situation as unsatisfactory. Some strands of what were once his central beliefs are still central. Other stands are moving out to the periphery, while still other strands which used to be peripheral are moving towards the center. But he's not clear, as yet, on how the web of belief will look after all the readjustments are in place. A capacity for self-criticism is a spiritual and intellectual virtue.

Don't be so apprehensive. We're Christians, not deists. God isn't like a snake who abandons her young as soon as they're born. God didn't slap a parachute on our back and toss us out the airlock to fend for ourselves on a desert island. This isn't one of those survivor-type "reality" shows.

Trust in the providence of God. There is no safer place to be than to take refuge in the Bible. It is scary to jump out of a burning skyscraper. It feels safer to be on firm footing. Yet if you stay there you'll burn to death. But if you know there's a big fat airbag waiting for you down below, the only safe thing to do is to let go of your illusory security and taking a flying leap. What normally feels like the safest course of action is the most hazardous, while what normally seems like the most hazardous course of action is the safest.

It would be disastrous to be equally uncertain about every belief, but we don't need to be equally certain about every belief. We don't have to make up our mind about everything. And our certainties or uncertainties may rearrange themselves over a lifetime of faith. It's a threshing process, winnowing the wheat from the chaff.

Dodo Bird theology


I believe that gaining a decent understanding the reformation of the eleventh century is essential for several reasons. At the very least, it has the potential of making our grasp of our own cherished reformation, four and a half centuries later, so much more comprehensible by helping us to understand more deeply the type of world that one set of reformers created for the next set to live in. It might cause a salutary re-thinking and re-formulating of apologetic categories that have for too long been allowed to stand as a kind of "Sacred Tradition" which, standing above everything like a set of Platonic Forms, is snobbishly dismissive of numerous relevant "worldly" things.


Tim Enloe has a problem. He has a product to peddle. Problem is: nobody cares.

Tim’s ignorance of exegetical theology is equaled only by his incompetence in the field of epistemology.

The only thing he apparently knows quite a bit about is Medieval conciliarism.

Of course, that’s about as useful as a skiboat in the Sahara.

So he’s stuck with this Edsel of Medieval conciliarism. He’s gotta make a living somehow. He’s gotta work up his sales pitch. He’s gotta convince us that we can’t rightly survive without an Edsel repairman. He’s gotta convince us that we need a crash course in Edsel mechanics, followed by a graduate course in Edsel mechanics, followed by a post-grad course in Edsel mechanics.

He’s got this Edsel to sell, and when that’s you’re product, salesmanship is everything.

Somehow we can’t be true-blue Calvinists, or even bona fide Protestants unless we’re deeply versed in the intricacies of Medieval conciliarism, just as we can’t find our way around New York City in 2005 unless we’ve memorized a 1950 roadmap of the Big Apple. Makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Now, church history is a worthwhile subject of study, but to pretend that a knowledge of Medieval conciliarism is the magic key to unlock the forgotten treasures of Reformed theology is just a whole lot of hype from a guy who stumbled into Dodo Bird theology and chose to take up lifetime residence on a desert island.

Tim is welcome to become the world authority on the history of nothingless, but forgive us if we don’t join him in his self-imposed exile to the Land That Time Forgot.

The second coming of Charles Chauncy


Some of you may be familiar with Donald Macleod. Recently, he made some remarks in a newspaper column in Scotland which caught my attention, in light of what I have been saying around here for some time now, about the need for the Presbyterian church to flee from the Evangelical Babylon. After noting that Evangelicals are admittedly good at filling churches, Prof. Macleod warns:

“But we Presbyterians are not Evangelicals. We are Protestants, whose roots lie not in the Great Awakening, but in the Reformation.

Two things haunt me. One is a remark made by a speaker at a recent theological conference. Protestantism, he said, now has no institutional representation in America. The myriad Evangelical churches are not Protestant. The mainline Presbyterian churches are not Protestant. The great seminaries are not Protestant.

Our identity must lie in our Protestantism, with the caveat that can never mean mere anti-Catholicism. Even less can it mean sectarian bigotry. Any true Protestantism will deplore and denounce bigotry, as it will all other forms of hatred of our neighbor.”

Conservative Presbyterians and Anglicans (Reformed Catholics) should come out and be separate from the Evangelical Babylon. We need to reclaim our Protestant roots, and in so doing, we will also restore our rightful Catholic heritage.


This is very revealing for the realignment that Paul Owen is proposing. His roots supposedly lie in the Reformation rather than the Great Awakening. The great American seminaries aren’t Protestant. We have no Protestant denominations either.

Instead, “conservative” Presbyterians & Anglicans should separate from Evangelical “Babylon.”

So Dr. Owen has sided with Charles Chauncy. For Dr. Owen, Rome isn’t the Scarlet Woman--or even the LDS.

No, the Scarlet Woman consists of such wanton whoremongers as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Daniel Rowland, William Pantycelyn, John MacArthur, the late James Boice, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the OPC, the PCA, the SBC, RTS, Westminster/Philly, SBTS, DTS, and the Old Princeton theology. (Remember, Princeton was a New Light seminary.)

BTW, Anglicans don’t generally regard themselves as Protestant, do they? That’s why they leave Anglicanism for the Catholic church or the Orthodox church rather than a Lutheran church like the LCMS or WELS.

The Squire of Gothos

Jonathan Prejean has responded to what I and others have said in the latest thread:

“Sure. Apply epistemic charity, assume that I am a thinking and rational person, and interpret what I say accordingly.”

“Epistemic charity”? Yeah, right. Here’s a sample of Prejean’s legendary epistemic charity from the very same day:

“…how ignorant he is, a la Engwer. He isn't actually capable of understanding, as far as I can tell. Just doesn't have the chops to read scholarly material and follow the arguments. I don't know whether that's lack of training (he has a mere bachelor's degree in English, which is hardly an analytical field anyway) or whether he's just stupid.”

Yes, Prejean is Mr. Epistemic Charity incarnate.

Moving along:


In context, it was quite obvious that I was speaking of God revealing Himself ENTIRELY through text. Which means that the following:
"Then he says that God *does* reveal himself through text, as long as that revelation is in combination with other things."

And, BTW, notice that Hays did exactly the same thing:
"So what we needed was a whole different model of revelation. A form of revelation which is ontologically of a piece with the Incarnation.

This would be opposed to textual revelation. Not a supplement to textual revelation. But a whole different genus of divine revelation."

Did I say this? No.


This is, alas, where we have to repeat ourselves:


On Oct 22, Prejean said:


As such, I consider it highly improbable, considering Who is revealed, that God would reveal Himself through text. He could do so, no doubt, but it would be a bit perverse from a presuppositional standpoint to reveal something by a method that by definition is inadequate to the task, rather like Picasso attempting to convey his artistic vision in a typed page. Requiring that much direct intervention, that much identification between the individual's volition and the Holy Spirit, strikes me as little better than appealing to private revelation. Rather than positing such a thoroughly inadequate means of revelation supplemented by such drastic intervention, I would think that it would be far more aesthetic to conclude that God did not Incarnate Himself meaninglessly, and that His ongoing revelation is (ontologically) of one kind with His Incarnation. This leads to a fundamentally Christological and Eucharistic hermeneutic, unique to Scripture. Hence, the distaste for "private judgment," which more or less presumes a presuppositionally inadequate form of revelation that must be supplemented by God's direct personal revelation of Himself.


Oct 24, said:

No. It's a case of God revealing Himself through a combination of text, faith, natural theology, mystagogy, community, subsequent historical development, and a host of other factors. Why that is so difficult to comprehend, I have no idea. It's only people who claim epistemic reliability based on a single source who have to worry about vicious circularity. It's that whole (solely) or (independently) that gets read into "through text" that I find objectionable. I can't discern any good reason to think that (solely) or (independently) is warranted. Certainly, the fact that it is the only written record of apostolic teaching doesn't cut it.

Quite a few problems to sort out:

1.The implication of his 10/22 statement is that the principle of textual revelation was “thoroughly inadequate.” It necessitated too much direct divine intervention to supplement its deficiencies.

Textual revelation was inadequate, not merely as a matter of degree, but a matter of kind. It’s like trying to communicate what was distinctive to one medium (painting) to another medium (the written word).

So what we needed was a whole different model of revelation. A form of revelation which is ontologically of a piece with the Incarnation.

This would be opposed to textual revelation. Not a supplement to textual revelation. But a whole different genus of divine revelation.

Now, we can certainly classify the Incarnation as a revelatory event, but by that same token, it would belong to the category of event-media rather than word media.

And one would suppose, given Prejean’s theological commitments, that an extension along the same lines would be related to the Mass and sacramental grace. Presumably, too, this has something to do with the Incarnational dimension of Byzantine epistemology.

One source of unclarity lies in Prejean's effort to fuse two divergent theological traditions--each with its own history of internal development.

For Prejean, this has more aesthetic appeal, which he treats as a theological criterion of truth. So much for his 10/22 statement.

2.But in his 10/4 statement, he substitutes a multiple-source theory of revelation, which includes textual revelation, but in combination with a host of other sources and criteria.

a) Prejean is shifting ground. He now is supplementing textual revelation with a host of other factors.


Notice, once again, that I built my interpretation directly on his own words and the way that he set up the original contrast.

What he now does is to simply deny my interpretation without explaining his own words, without explaining why he set up the contrast in the first place if that is not what he meant.

I didn’t merely assert an interpretation of his words. I presented an argument for my interpretation based on the logical ramifications of what he said. He has done nothing here to reconcile his own logic. How does his Incarnational model of revelation, which he originally opposed to textual revelation, what with its excessive interventionism and all, now harmonize with his multiple-source theory of revelation?

Moving along:


My point, which is the same as it has been all along, is that text as an exclusive medium is absurdly counter-intuitive. In fact, Hays even owns up to how ridiculous it is when he says:
"A multiple-source theory of revelation would have less aesthetic appeal that a single-source theory. A multiple-source theory is messy, cumbersome, complicated, and inelegant. How do you prioritize the various factors?

Conversely, a single-source model of revelation would be more elegant than a multiple-source theory of revelation. Hence, Prejean’s aesthetic criterion ought to favor the Protestant rule of faith."

This is completely irrational; he's saying that more information is a bad thing from an aesthetic standpoint. The beauty of simplicity owes itself to the COMPLEXITY of what it explains, not the SIMPLICITY of what it explains. If Hays had actually studied a hard science, maybe he'd realize how incredibly stupid anyone with scientific training ought to find this statement. If things weren't hard to explain, simplicity wouldn't be a virtue; it would be a consequence!


Prejean stumbles quite a few times in the course of this reply:

i) He’s introducing a new concept—the concept of complexity. He didn’t discuss this before, and the concept was not implicit in what he did say.

Prejean is now having to shore up the deficiencies in his previous statement while screaming into a megaphone to cover up the screeching sound of spinning wheels and burning rubber as he slams his car into reverse.

We comment on what people say at the time. We are hardly responsible for his hasty patch-up job when his attempts to shift the blame because we didn’t take into consideration various addenda which he is now trying to backdate.

ii) Theology is not one of the hard sciences, so the analogy is flawed.

iii) How many of the Popes have advanced degrees in a hard science? Does that disqualify them from office?

iv) It’s not as though Prejean is another Penrose or Witten or Feynman.

v) Yes, more information is a good thing. But to say that does nothing to harmonize a multiple-source theory of revelation with the superior economy of an Incarnational model of revelation.

vi) This also assumes that “mystagogy, community, subsequent historical development,” do, indeed, supply us with addition, pertinent information—an appeal which merely begs the question in his favor.

vii) Having more potential sources of information also generates more potential sources of conflict. By what criterion/criteria do you distinguish information from misinformation? Hence, a multiple-source theory of revelation necessitates a priority-structure in a way that a single-source theory of revelation does not.

This is a problem of Prejean’s own making, which he dodges instead of facing head-on.

viii) We have yet to get to Prejean’s biggest blunder, where he confounds the complexity of the source of knowledge with the complexity of the object of knowledge, as if these were interchangeable.

Remember, the original issue as he himself chose to frame the original issue was the superior economy of an Incarnational model of revelation as over against the interventionist model of textual revelation.

The issue here was not the object of knowledge—not the internal complexity of the object—but the source and standard of knowledge.

The question at issue was not the simplicity/complexity of what it explains, but the simplicity/complexity of what does the explaining. This is Prejean’s trademark bait-and-switch tactic when he gets himself snagged in a self-contradiction.

Moving along:


What's incredible is that Hays even actually ADMITTED that he hadn't made an argument here:
"It is, rather, predicated on the fact that Sola Scriptura is simply the only rule of faith which God has assigned to the church. Whether it affords certainty or degrees of high probability is not the basis of the claim."

I interpret Scripture with Scripture because Scripture is the only rule of faith which God provided to the Church, according to Scripture, which is the rule of faith...

Single-source revelation is viciously circular. There's no way around it.


i) Prejean is evidently hoping that the reader will forget the original context of the comment. Prejean misrepresented the argument for sola Scriptura. What he said was: “It's only people who claim epistemic reliability based on a single source.”

That is not how sola Scriptura is grounded. I don’t need to make an argument for sola Scriptura to correct a misstatement of what the argument consists in. All I was doing, and needed to do at this preliminary juncture, was to rectify Prejean’s misstatement of the opposing position. Argument presupposes accurate definitions.

Moving along:


See Hays's "argument" here:
"Whether they’re highly reliable or fraught with uncertainty, the senses are the only possible source of sense knowledge. That’s the claim."

This actually proves exactly the OPPOSITE of what Hays claims; if you lack a REASON to believe sense information counts as "knowledge," the fact of sensing can't give it to you. All this proves is that Hays isn't even thinking about the grounds of knowledge, which once again, is not an argument.


And what reason would that be? An empirical reason or non-empirical reason?

Prejean is simply proving my point. If we lack a reason for believing that sense information counts as knowledge, then we have no alternative to the senses to acquire knowledge of sensibilia. At that point the sensible world would not be an object of knowledge. It’s either this or nothing—at least for purposes of the immediate illustration.

Moving along: “My point was actually exactly the OPPOSITE of what you are saying; it should have been quite obvious that I MEANT "solely" or "independently" in my original statement, at least if the reader wasn't either malevolent or stupid.”

“Malevolent.” “Stupid.” “Nitwits” (see below). “Doesn’t have the chops.”

It’s difficult to have a halfway intelligent conversation with a man who throws a cosmic temper tantrum every time you subject his claims to rational scrutiny. Prejean keeps behaving like Trelane in that old Star Trek episode.

It makes me feel for the poor old house-servants who had to tend to the whims of the aristocracy. The little princeling wants strawberry shortcake for desert. “What! How dare you tell me that strawberries are out of season! Off with your head!”

Moving along:


My point is the same that I have been meaning all along: the notion that Scripture can interpret Scripture is ridiculously counter-intuitive, the sort of absurd nonsense that no one would believe without an absolutely compelling argument. Ordinarily, one would not assume such a thing, so it is the extremely high burden of anyone making such an implausible claim that it is even possible. Thus, anyone who believes in "letting revelation define revelation" is unreasonable by default absent making such an argument, because it is practically the definition of vicious circularity. My point is that anyone who believes something that ridiculous without an argument is beyond reason, because they obviously don't have the critical thinking capacity to question the ridiculous.


More confusion worse confounded.

i) Neither I nor JD nor Jason has ever said that the interpretation of Scripture is limited to Scripture. Prejean has a pretty short memory. Remember how Jason and I argued ad nauseum for the grammatico-historical method? Extra-scriptural sources are relevant to the interpretation of Scripture as long as they’re from the relevant time and place. How many times did we go over this ground with Jonathan? But he’s so blinkered by his ideological blinders that he’s incapable of registering basic information no matter how often we stick it right under his nose.

ii) At the same time, Josephus is not our rule of faith. The fact that Josephus and other period historians or archeological data supplies useful background material in interpreting the Bible doesn’t elevate the background material to a rule of faith.

The minutes of the Westminster Assembly are useful for interpreting the Westminster Confession. But the Confession, and not the minutes, is the doctrinal standard (for Presbos).

iii) However, it is Prejean’s own position which is “ridiculously counterintuitive.” The Bible is, among other things, the record of a literary tradition. It is perfectly proper to interpret a literary tradition within the tradition itself. That, indeed, is the natural point of departure. Likewise, it is perfectly proper to interpret Dante or James Joyce or Henry James by a comparative study of their very own writings.

What is more logical, if you want to know how Joyce uses a word, than to do a concordance search of all the occurrences of that word in Joyce’s oeuvres?

iv) This isn’t a vicious circle, but virtuous circule. Poor little Prejean doesn’t know the difference between a circular argument and a definition or description.

A definition or description is supposed to be circular. It is supposed to reproduce, in summary form, the object under review. It is not supposed to be independent of the subject-matter. It if were, it would be inaccurate.

iv) Scholars like Warfield have documented at length the Bible’s own claim to be a verbal revelation from God. That is nothing more or less than an inductive summary of what the Bible has to say about itself. If you want to know what the Bible has to say about itself, you consult the Bible. Nothing viciously circular about that procedure. If you want to understand the Shakespearean character of Othello, the first place to go is Shakespeare’s play by that very name.

v) What would be viciously circular is to argue that Scripture is verbally inspired simply because it claims to be verbally inspired. You need more than the claim to prove the claim. But without the claim, you have nothing to prove in the first place. So, yes, an Evangelical gets his doctrine of Scripture from Scripture, rather than getting his doctrine of Scripture from Spiderman or Bikini magazine.

vi) But while we’re on the subject of informal fallacies, all that Prejean has done, in his appeal to tradition and community and development and so on, is to substitute a vicious regress for vicious circularity.

Moving along:


It's like astrology or any other ridiculously counter-intuitive premise that one has no reason to believe. Now, if you can come up with some compelling argument for WHY you let Scripture interpret Scripture, I might give you a pass, but I've certainly never seen one. But the fact that you don't even have sufficient epistemic charity to have a reasonable discussion means I'm not flailing around with you anymore. And since, as usual, new Triablogue nitwits who interact with me have proved to be just as irrational as Hays, that's all for me. I've gotta say that you and Hays have reached new depths before; now an admission of irrationality actually somehow turns into a virtue. You've got the cult mentality down pat; you'd be good Gnostics.


This is vintage Prejean. Like a losing poker player, he overturns the card table and stomps out of the room.

What Prejean needs at this point is not a compelling argument but a pacifier—a silver-plated pacifier to go with his silver spoon.

Moving along to another critic:


Are you all actually really arguing that you know what Prejean meant by his own words better than he himself does? It appears to me that you are arguing with the author of a text and claiming that your analysis of that text provides you with a better knowledge of his original intent than he himself has. You then have to allege dishonesty or inconsistancy on his part when it turns out the meaning you believed to be most probable is not what the author himself claims he intended to communicate.

Wouldn't it be more sensible to just acknowledge that words at best give an estimate of a persons thoughts and that through dialouge you know realise that you misinterpreted his words? You can then criticize what he actually believes rather than the words he used to communicate that belief.

I thought it was quite obvious that the statement he made on October 22 was criticizing the idea that God would reveal himself solely through text, but maybe I'm wrong. If you thought otherwise, you now have the author himself there to correct you. Allege all the ambiguity you want of the original statement, but to go beyond that suggests to me that you value the form of language over and above its substance.

If you appear incapable of intepreting a text written in your own native language and in your own historical period, with the author himself there to assist you on its meaning, are you expecting others to believe that you're any more capable of interpreting a 1800+ year old text, written in two foreign lanuages, authored by God himself?

Perhaps that's why he doesn't take you seriously?


i) As to choosing between dishonesty and inconsistency, these are not mutually exclusive explanations.

ii) Be that as it may, you are trying to impose on me a restriction which I don’t find you imposing on Prejean. People are quite capable of being logically inconsistent, and the charge of logical inconsistency is perfectly legit long as it’s backed up by direct quotes and analysis of what those quotes entail.

iii) Yes, Prejean is in a very good position to explain himself. What he has chosen to do, however, is not to explain his own words, but to simply deny my interpretation. He did nothing to interact with my specific argument. He did nothing to harmonize his various statements.

All he did was to repeat himself—and to repeat only one part of what he said without attempting to reconcile that with the rest of what he said.

So if he, as the world authority on his own meaning, shows himself incapable of harmonizing his various statements on the subject, then that serves to confirm rather than disconfirm my original interpretation.

iv) I did not allege ambiguity, but contradiction. The problem with Prejean is not that he was unclear, but that he clearly articulated two clearly contradictory views of revelation.

v) BTW, this is not my first run-in with Prejean. So I’m quite accustomed to his modus operandi.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Penultimate thoughts on Miers

At this point it seems quite possible that the Miers’ nomination may go down in flames. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

There have, however, been some bad things about the conservative backlash to her nomination. Conservative pundits were caught off guard. This is a little odd since her name was one of the names floated by the White House before Bush’s formal announcement. So it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Apparently, pundits didn’t take that seriously, which was a mistake.

When Gonzales’ name was floated, they shot it down. That’s much better than having a public brawl after-the-fact. One reason the White House leaks a name is to test the political waters.

And because the pundits were caught off guard, they didn’t have a prepared statement. So their immediate reaction was to cast about and cobble together any stray objection that first came to mind. This took on a rather opportunistic appearance—seizing on a whole host of miscellaneous criticisms which were not especially conservative or consistent. Moreover, the attack took a form which is almost sure to make a man like Bush dig in his heels.

And one is still puzzled by the intensity of the opposition. My pet theory is that while there are valid reservations regarding the Miers’ nomination, this is, in some measure, a proxy for pent-up frustrations over other deficiencies of White House policy.

The right-wing is prepared, after a certain amount of grumbling under-its-breath, to give Bush a pass on some issues it cares about—such as vouchers, border control, and deficient spending—as long as it gets something in return. But when he fails to deliver on an issue like high court nominees, then not only does that particular issue rankle the base, but they no longer have that consolation prize to offset all their other resentments. So they snap under the cumulative weight of their many pet peeves.

This is understandable and, to some extent, justifiable, but given the befuddlement of the White House at the insurrection within party ranks, it wouldn’t hurt to send a clearer signal. Otherwise, the overreaction to Miers seems out of proportion to the provocation, and leaves the White House without clear guidance.

The fuzzification of faith

On Oct 22, Prejean said:


As such, I consider it highly improbable, considering Who is revealed, that God would reveal Himself through text. He could do so, no doubt, but it would be a bit perverse from a presuppositional standpoint to reveal something by a method that by definition is inadequate to the task, rather like Picasso attempting to convey his artistic vision in a typed page. Requiring that much direct intervention, that much identification between the individual's volition and the Holy Spirit, strikes me as little better than appealing to private revelation. Rather than positing such a thoroughly inadequate means of revelation supplemented by such drastic intervention, I would think that it would be far more aesthetic to conclude that God did not Incarnate Himself meaninglessly, and that His ongoing revelation is (ontologically) of one kind with His Incarnation. This leads to a fundamentally Christological and Eucharistic hermeneutic, unique to Scripture. Hence, the distaste for "private judgment," which more or less presumes a presuppositionally inadequate form of revelation that must be supplemented by God's direct personal revelation of Himself.


Oct 24, said:

No. It's a case of God revealing Himself through a combination of text, faith, natural theology, mystagogy, community, subsequent historical development, and a host of other factors. Why that is so difficult to comprehend, I have no idea. It's only people who claim epistemic reliability based on a single source who have to worry about vicious circularity. It's that whole (solely) or (independently) that gets read into "through text" that I find objectionable. I can't discern any good reason to think that (solely) or (independently) is warranted. Certainly, the fact that it is the only written record of apostolic teaching doesn't cut it.

Quite a few problems to sort out:

1.The implication of his 10/22 statement is that the principle of textual revelation was “thoroughly inadequate.” It necessitated too much direct divine intervention to supplement its deficiencies.

Textual revelation was inadequate, not merely as a matter of degree, but a matter of kind. It’s like trying to communicate what was distinctive to one medium (painting) to another medium (the written word).

So what we needed was a whole different model of revelation. A form of revelation which is ontologically of a piece with the Incarnation.

This would be opposed to textual revelation. Not a supplement to textual revelation. But a whole different genus of divine revelation.

Now, we can certainly classify the Incarnation as a revelatory event, but by that same token, it would belong to the category of event-media rather than word media.

And one would suppose, given Prejean’s theological commitments, that an extension along the same lines would be related to the Mass and sacramental grace. Presumably, too, this has something to do with the Incarnational dimension of Byzantine epistemology.

One source of unclarity lies in Prejean's effort to fuse two divergent theological traditions--each with its own history of internal development.

For Prejean, this has more aesthetic appeal, which he treats as a theological criterion of truth. So much for his 10/22 statement.

2.But in his 10/4 statement, he substitutes a multiple-source theory of revelation, which includes textual revelation, but in combination with a host of other sources and criteria.

a) Prejean is shifting ground. He now is supplementing textual revelation with a host of other factors.

b) A multiple-source theory of revelation would have less aesthetic appeal that a single-source theory. A multiple-source theory is messy, cumbersome, complicated, and inelegant. How do you prioritize the various factors?

Conversely, a single-source model of revelation would be more elegant than a multiple-source theory of revelation. Hence, Prejean’s aesthetic criterion ought to favor the Protestant rule of faith.

b) Not only does Scripture talk about itself, not only does it contain self-referential statements about its divine identity and process of inspiration, but it comments other sources of information, such as the senses and natural revelation.

It would, therefore, be quite possible for God to direct his people to a multiple-source theory of revelation, including mystagogy, community, subsequent historical development, and so on.

Since, however, Scripture does not redirect the people of God to these supplementary sources of revelation, their revelatory identity lacks divine warrant. Rather, God directs his people to the written record of his words. Others revelatory candidates (save for natural revelation), lack divine authorization.

c) As has been repeatedly pointed out to Prejean, but he’s slow on the uptake, the argument for sola Scriptura isn’t predicated on the superior epistemic certainty afforded by the rule of faith.

It is, rather, predicated on the fact that Sola Scripture is simply the only rule of faith which God has assigned to the church. Whether it affords certainty or degrees of high probability is not the basis of the claim.

Conservative Evangelicals do go on to argue that Scripture is a source of certainty in relation to its particular function, but that claim, while important in its own right, is not the basis for sola Scriptura.

For example, to say that the senses are the only source of sense knowledge is not to quantify the degree of epistemic reliability of the senses. Whether they’re highly reliable or fraught with uncertainty, the senses are the only possible source of sense knowledge. That’s the claim.

d) As has also been pointed out to Prejean on more than one occasion, but he’s a slow learner, sola Scriptura doesn’t exist in a Deistic voice. It functions in conjunction with divine providence. Scripture not only has a doctrine of revelation, but a doctrine of providence as well. These work in tandem. Hence, the charge of vicious circularity is off-the-mark.

Sola Scriptura is, indeed, derived from the self-witness of Scripture, but the claims of Scripture are hardly limited to its self-referential claims.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Self-hating Jew-2

In a message dated 10/24/05 12:13:50 PM, writes:

Pastor Rev. Dr. Hays, Personal Assistant to Jesus, etc.

Why do you hate Jewish people?
(You don't need to answer as I will not be reading any more of your long
analytical discourses).

For the record, I legally changed my name to Akiva. Got it?

A few years ago I rec'd a perserve email from Prager in which he called
Rachel Corrie a Marxist terrorist and dupe supporter of Hamas and Al Aqsa.

"Rabbi" Lapin is a joke. He's allied with the anti-Semitic convert the
Jews churches you love.

Thus he's allied with the same church groups that fund the Jews for Jesus
hate organization.

JfJ is recognized as a hate group by the ADL. And by me, but I don't have
the clout that they do so you probably won't bother to send your long
winded analytical, full of contempt and satire letters to Abraham Foxman,
altho you sure enjoy spending a great deal of time doing this with me.

Why not use the time to help some in your own community? You could become
a prison volunteer, for example, and teach some Christian background
inmates how to read and write.

(And you work on converting some Jews you love to spit on with your
supremacist, racist theological views,s hey!)

I'm sure you can find some find at least one other Jew or Muslim or
Buddhist or Hindu to "dialogue" with for sport and fun.

I asked both of the conservative Christian DJ's who contacted me last
Tuesday (with requests, respectively, for me to interview last Tuesday) if
they support conversion campaigns targeting Jewish (and other non
Christian) children and youth for conservion).

Neither one replied. As you're so close to these sorts, perhaps you can
explain why they hate Jews? But I won't hold my breath waiting for a non
dogmatic reply.

So I declined the interviews. A cantor I know said I made the right
choice, as he described these guys as bigots (as he would about you).

But he, like me, are non Orthodox Jews so we don't count for you.

Lastly, a Jew of ANY denomination (Orthodox, Conservative,
Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal et al) does not have or need to believe
in God to lead a Jewish life, to attend synagogue, to be acepted by his or
her rabbi and clerical and educational leaders,  etc.

That's a big difference between you and Jews, one which you fail yet to

Hi Ken,

Rachel Corrie? Wasn't she the young woman helping Arab terrorists build tunnels to smuggle explosives into Israel--the better to blow up busses in downtown Jerusalem and Jewish teenagers in pizzerias?

Ken, why are you siding with the suicide bombers? Didn't Hitler kill enough Jews already? Are you a donor to Hamas? Are you going to start painting wings on the Muslim "martyrs" who maim and murder Jews to get their 72 virgins? What's wrong with you, Ken?

The ADL? Isn't that the organization which tried to organize a boycott of Mel Gibson's movie for fear it would incite Christians to persecute Jews?

Funny, that never happened, did it? I don't recall the ADL issuing a public apology for its alarmist rhetoric and smear campaign.

In the meantime, Muslims continue to kill Jews at every available opportunity.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

The sad saga of a self-hating Jew

I see that Dr. Mohler has a piece on Ken Segan. Ah, what a small world. I happen to know Ken. He and I were coworkers back when I was working at the Seattle Public Library many years ago.

Ken is a secular Jew of Polish extraction. Ken used to invite me down to his studio in Pioneer Square to comment on his art. His art was on the myopic theme of the Holocaust.

He knew I was a Christian, and the real reason he was soliciting my views had nothing to do with art criticism, per se. Rather, he was trying to feel me out on my theology and where the Jews fitted into my theology.

He’d ask me questions, then get all huffy at the answers. He’d say that Christianity was anti-Semitic. I’d ask him to define what Jew was. That always left him speechless. I’d point out that if he couldn’t define what a Jew was, how could he define what a Jew-hater was?

I’d then point out that the NT was written by Jews. That being the case, how could he justify his anti-Semitic prejudice against a historic Jewish document? That left him speechless as well.

I’d follow that up by asking what his warrant was for being so moralistic. Did he believe in moral absolutes? Where did his morality come from?

We went round and round on this on several different occasions before he banished me from his studio. Ken is a completely irrational man.

Below is a letter I emailed to Ken about his column.


Hi Ken,

It’s Steve Hays. Remember me?

I just read your PI piece about “Keeping intolerance out of public places.”

You say, “It is troublesome that the University of Washington allows publicly funded facilities for religious rallies that are considered hateful, racist and demeaning to non-Christians, including myself and many of my friends and co-workers.”

Interesting choice of words. “Considered” hateful, racist, and demeaning to non-Christians. Not actually hateful, racist, and demeaning. Merely perceived to be.

Heidegger and other Nazi academics applied the same standard in expelling Jewish professors and Jewish students from German universities. The mere presence of Jews was offensive to the Aryan faculty and student body. Striking to see you intoning the creed of old Jew-haters.

You say, “While Pastor Judah Smith is entitled to believe in religious supremacism, why must racist theology be presented on public school property?”

To begin with, Ken, you’re very free with the word “racist.” There are Christians of every race. Christianity is especially well represented in the Southern Hemisphere. Why, Ken, do you indulge in these hateful, racist and demeaning caricatures of so many people of color?

Moreover, Christians pay taxes to. Their tax dollars support the UW. So why shouldn’t they have access to an institution when they’re footing so much of the bill?

Ken, what do you think the word “public” means, anyway? “Public” means that it belongs to everyone, not just the flag-burners and bra-burners. That’s the difference between the public square and the private sector.

Furthermore, why do you want to shut down public discourse on a college campus, anyway? I thought you were a veteran of the free speech movement? Of course, it’s not uncommon for young radicals to become old fascists. Is that what’s happened to you?

Finally, the very first right enunciated in the very first amendment to the Constitution is the freedom of religious expression.

“U.S. students, faculty and staff have never been as diverse in background and faith as today.”

To begin with, what you’re describing is a coercive diversity.

In addition, you’re idea of religious diversity is limited to the far left end of the religious spectrum.

You say, “Yet religious supremacists not only fail to recognize that bestowal, which some say is God given, they seek to extinguish others' beliefs.”

Ken, last time I checked, you were a militant atheist. So why don’t you speak for yourself instead of mouthing stuff you don’t believe in? If you don’t believe in what you’re saying, why should anyone else?

You say, “During supremacist presentations to high school students in Issaquah and elsewhere, the power of peer pressure is beyond enormous. These rallies provide a serious and harmful threat to non-Christian students and their families, especially immigrants.”

What immigrants are you talking about, Ken? Mexicans? Do they feel harmed or threatened by the Christian faith?

Or are you talking about some other immigrant group? Is this code language for Muslims?

You say, “In the United States, students attending publicly funded schools should be entitled to practice the faith of their families without facing peer pressure to convert.”

By what authority? Who confers this entitlement? Everything is not a right just because you say so.

Why shouldn’t students be subject to peer pressure? Notice what you’re saying. You’re saying that a gag order should be put on student speech.

Ken, when did you go over to the side of the book burners? When did you decide that the “firemen” in Fahrenheit 451 were the good guys, and Oscar Werner was the bad guy? When did you take the side of the Establishment in 1984?

When did you become such a reactionary lobbyist for censorship and prior restraint?

You say, “Rallies on public campuses are un-American and run counter to the spirit of tolerance that our nation's founders and generations of public school teachers and political leaders have led us to believe is our right.”

“Have led us believe is our right”? Really, Ken, are you such an intellectual lemming that you can no longer think for yourself? “Teacher says” and you believe?

Is that your idea of public education? To mass-produce an army of wind-up toy-soldiers who march in place wherever Teacher tells they to go?

“Rallies on public campuses are un-American”? Ken, you lived through the Sixties, like I did. Remember the anti-war protesters? Remember the civil rights movement? Remember the Constitutional right of free speech and freedom of assembly?

Ken, are you a pod person? Did the body-snatchers get to you? Have you been invaded by an extra-terrestrial biological organism? Did you go to bed a radical and wake up a fascist?

Why are you afraid of free speech on college campus? Why shouldn’t college students acquire critical thinking skills? Be free to debate opposing positions?

Why do you think the government should put its iron-boot on the neck of dissenting opinion?

BTW, Ken, the antidote to peer pressure is ideological diversity.

The “tolerance” that our founding fathers wrote into the Constitution is freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to bear arms, states’ rights, and freedom from federal government interference with these (and other) freedoms.

Ken, why do you want to treat government as the grownup, and growups as children needing to be protected from “threatening” speech? Why do you demote adult men and women to the status of minors under the curfew of the Nannystate?

Ken, when did you become an apparatchik for the almighty state? A quisling for the status quo?

You said, “Post-proselytizing Christians and church institutions-of-conscience no longer engage in conversion campaigns as they frequently recognize four tenets unrecognized by Smith.”

You’re talking about nominal Christians and dead churches.

You said, “Our need for constructive interfaith dialogue between Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and followers of other faiths to create a working methodology for non-violent conflict resolution.”

Just for starters, there are observant Jews like Michael Medved, Rabbi Lapin, and Dennis Prager who recognize that Evangelicals are the best friends that Jews have—practically the only friends that Jews have. It is we, the Evangelicals, who are standing in-between the Jews and the Jew-haters—the jihadis and their Eurocratic allies.

And there’s a younger generation of Jews like Ben Shapiro who are not so eager to sell themselves back into the bondage of a totalitarian state.

Ken, a people (Jews) who can’t tell their friends (Christians) from their enemies (Muslims) is a people with a death-wish.

You said, “Telling a child, youth or young adult that the faith of his or her parents and grandparents has been "superseded" by a "newer, better" faith is immoral, unethical and just plain wrong.”

Sez who? You? What’s your moral authority? Your bare say-so? Who are you to impose your narrow-minded views on everyone else?

What about young Muslims whose hereditary faith instructs the to be a Jew-haters and suicide bomber? Whose hereditary faith preaches the extermination of the Jewish people?

What about a member of the Hitler Youth? It is immoral to talk a skinhead out of his neo-Nazi philosophy?

Why do you think it’s right to use coercion (speech codes, hate-speech) in matters of ideology, but wrong to use persuasion in matters of theology? Can you offer a principled distinction? Does self-determination only apply in politics, but not in religion?

Why do you deny men and women the freedom of opportunity to choose their faith? Why should their grandparents choose their faith for them? Why should geography and ethnicity dictate one’s religion?

Why shouldn't people have a good reason for what they believe. And if they don't have a good reason, why should they be forced to believe it? Why should they not be allowed to have some options?

Do you think that a woman raised in Islam should have no say in the matter? Do you believe that a woman should be subjected to such Islamic customs as child-marriage, honor-killings, and genital mutilation?

What about the Hindu custom of suttee or widow-burning? Would you hold the woman down on the funeral pyre out of deference to her culture? If she ran away, would you return her to her masters?

Why kind of person have you become, Ken? When did you cross over and become the enemy?

Ken, do you have any answer to these questions? Or are you going to persist in what you say and do even though you have no rational justification for what you say and do? If you’re immune to reason and evidence, then how are you in any position to denounce the Nazi?

You then insinuate that Smith is a hypocrite because he opposes abortion while supporting the death penalty, right to bear arms, and preemptive warfare.

This is a facile comparison which disregards elementary moral distinctions between guilt and innocence, aggression and self-defense.

If you’re so devoid of moral discrimination that you can’t tell the difference, then the Warsaw uprising is on the same plane as the gas chambers.

Ken, why do you make a virtue of being unintelligent?

You said, “In Parade magazine on Nov. 14, 1996, Elie Wiesel, the U.S. immigrant, author, teenage concentration camp survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote, ‘No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.’"

Why do you constantly assert a moral equivalence between race and religion? There is no one-to-one correspondence between the two.

How can you claim any moral authority for you position when you peddle such palpable falsehoods?

No religion is inferior to another? In Aztec piety, POWs supplied the raw material for human sacrifice. They were strapped alive to the altar as their throbbing heart was carved from their breast.

You think that’s on the same plain as Jewish ethical monotheism, do you?

You are pronouncing a collective judgment on Evangelicalism, are you not? Why the double-standard?

Ken, I sorry to see you degenerate into the classic self-hating Jew. In your fanatical hatred of all things Christian you hate the Jewish scriptures, you hate the Jewish Messiah, you hate the only people on earth who love the Jews and stand between them and hundreds of millions of genocidal, Jew-hating Muslims and their political syncophants in the secularized capitals of post-Christian Europe.

What a travesty to find you gathering firewood for the next Krystallnacht.

Sign & seal

This morning my PCA pastor gave an exposition and defense of the classic Presbyterian view of the sacraments as efficacious for the elect.

BTW, within certain boundaries of Evangelical orthodoxy, I’m pretty free about where I fellowship. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between what I believe and the church I happen to be attending at the time.

Back to the main point: it occurred to me, in listening to him, that there’s a common confusion over the nature of symbolism and how that cashes out in debate over the sacraments.

To say that what distinguishes a Baptist from a non-Baptist is that a Baptist regards a sacrament as “merely” symbolic whereas a non-Baptist believes there to be something over and above the symbol, is frankly oxymoronic.

In the nature of the case, a symbol entails a relation. A symbol is a symbol “of” something else. It stands for something other than itself.

There is no such thing as a “mere” symbol or a “nude sign.” Even Zwingli would be the first to admit that there is something beyond or behind the symbol itself—to which the symbol is a pointer, to which it corresponds.

So the nature of symbolism, per se, is not what differentiates a Baptist from a non-Baptist. Both sides agree that a sacrament implies a relation between the sign and the significate. Every symbol has its correlative.

The point at issue is not the existence of the relation, but the identity of the relation. The controversy is not whether a sacrament is a symbol “of” something, but whether it “does” something. Is it efficacious? Is it a means of salvation? That’s the bone of contention.

"This is my body"


88. Nathan Daniels Says:
October 22nd, 2005 at 3:19 am

Not that I’m into proof-texting, but the most emphatic example in Scripture to me regarding Christ’s presence comes from I Corinthians 11:20-34.

The context is Paul chastizing certain members of the Corinthian church for treating the Lord’s Supper like a common meal. After taking care to quote Christ as declaring the bread and wine to be His Body and Blood, he continues: (v29)…”For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, NOT DISCERNING THE LORD’S BODY”.

I suppose one could make the argument that he’s talking about the church but that’s a stretch considering the correction came because men were getting drunk .

Moreover, how can one person (Steve) deny the consensus of the early Church Fathers, whose writings inform us greatly as to precisely what the Apostles taught the Church as to the meaning of the Scriptures pre-Bible?


This raises some valid issues which merit a serious reply.

1.There are two boundaries which frame the Pauline discussion: (i) the Passover and (ii) the abuse of Christian fellowship.

2.The reference to the blood of the covenant is an allusion to the shedding of blood by which the Mosaic covenant was ratified (Exod 24:8). Likewise, the New Covenant will be ratified by the shedding of blood—the blood of Christ (Isa 53:12; Jer 31:31). What is in view, then, is not the composition of the communion elements, but the cross, for which they stand.

3.The Last Supper is a modification of the Seder, where you had the bread, the lamb, the wine, and the bitter herbs.

i) The Passover was, of itself, a symbolic reenactment of the Exodus. As Keener observes, in his commentary on Matthew,
“We should interpret his words here no more literally than the disciples would have taken the normal words of the Passover liturgy, related to Deut 16:3: ‘This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt.’ (By no stretch of the imagination did anyone suppose that they were re-eating the very bread the Israelites had eaten in the wilderness.) Those who ate of this bread participated by commemoration in Jesus’ affliction in the same manner that those who ate the Passover commemorated in the deliverance of their ancestors. The language of Passover celeb ration assumed the participation of current generations in the exodus event. That Jesus was also in his body at the time he uttered the words further militates against interpreting the bread as literally equivalent to his body,” A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 631-632.

ii) The point of comparison and contrast lies in the fact that the sacrifice of Christ now takes the place of the Seder elements. Instead of saying, “This is the bread of affliction,” Christ says, “This is my body.” He substitutes himself for the traditional elements. As C. F. Evans observes, in his commentary on Luke:
“This (is: in Aramaic there would be no verb as a copula) my body—could also correspond to the Passover ritual, this (is) being a formula in the Passover haggadah for the replies made by the head of the household to the questions asked about the peculiar features of the feast (unleavened bread, bitter herbs &c.). ‘What is this?”” Saint Luke, 789.

iii) At the Last Supper, Jesus would have spoken in Aramaic, not Greek. To infer a whole theology of the Eucharist from the presence of a verb which is only the artifact of an idiomatic Greek translation, with no corresponding verb in the Aramaic, gives us a skyscraper without a foundation.

iv) Again, this has nothing to do with the composition of the communion elements, but rather, the Crucifixion as the fulfillment of the Passover.

Paul was a Messianic Jew, and one needs to read 1 Cor 11 through the eyes of a Messianic Jew. The catholic interpretation is a classic and cautionary reminder of how seriously and swiftly the church can lose her moorings as soon as she loses touch with original intent.

4.The crisis which occasioned 1 Cor 11 was a dissention in the Corinthian fellowship. This has reference to a socioeconomic division (11:22). On the one hand, you had a rich Christian patron whose house-church sponsored the Agape feast. On the other hand were the poorer members of the congregation. The patron was discriminating against the poorer members in favor of his wealthy friends and house guests. That’s what lies in the background.

The Eucharist is a token of Christian unity (10:17). But the affluent church members were turning it into a token of Christian disunity.

5.There are three different ways of interpreting 11:29.

i) On the Catholic interpretation, failure to discern the body has reference to failure to discern the Real Presence. But there are problems with this interpretation:

a) It’s extrinsic to the context. At issue is not the doctrine of the Eucharist or orthodoxy, but the behavior of the Corinthians or orthopraxy.

Failure to discern the Real Presence is irrelevant to the economic discrimination in view. Even assuming that the Real Presence is true , the Corinthians could be orthodox and still discriminate.

b) According to catholic doctrine, the true body and blood subsists under the species of bread and wine. So the Real Presence is intangible and invisible. On the catholic interpretation, the Corinthians are culpable for failing to discern the indiscernible.

c) As I’ve argued under (2)-(3), what is in view is not the composition of the elements, but their significance.

ii) Another interpretation takes the reference to the “body” to denote the church. In favor of this interpretation:

a) It is consistent with the socioeconomic context of the passage.

b) It is consistent with Pauline usage (10:16-17).

c) When Paul says that Jesus is the rock (10:4), Roman Catholic theologians don’t infer the literal petrifaction of Christ, do they?

Such an interpretation automatically rules out the Catholic gloss.

Why Nathan supposes that inebriation makes this interpretation a “stretch” is not self-explanatory.

iii) Yet another interpretation takes the reference to the “body” to be a shorthand expression for “body and blood” in v27. This would give it a Eucharistic reference.

Both (ii)-(iii) are reasonable interpretations. There is not much functional difference between (ii) and (iii).

Assuming (iii), the failure in view is the failure to perceive the socioeconomic significance of the Eucharist as a token of Christian unity rather than disunity. A Eucharistic reference alone does not implicate the Real Presence.

6.This is not an issue of one person (me) as over against the church fathers. I’m not the only individual who denies the catholic interpretation of 1 Cor 11.

i) Nathan is acting as though the Apostles bequeathed to the church fathers a verse-by-verse commentary on the NT.

What the Apostles bequeathed to the sub-Apostolic church was not a commentary on the NT, but the NT itself: the NT writings.

ii) I’d add that the church fathers were contemporaries of various heresiarchs and heretical sects. Temporal proximity to the apostles does nothing to broker competing theological claims.

iii) Paul had to address no fewer than four different letters to the Corinthian church to clear up persistent misinterpretations of his own teaching.

If Christians who had the benefit of face-to-face instruction from Paul—as well as Peter—could still distort his teaching, then, yes, it’s quite easy to believe that church fathers could get it wrong as well.

As Luke Timothy Johnson, a leading Catholic commentator, candidly admits,
“It is obvious, first of all, that Christian liturgical practice is not based directly on this text [Lk 22:14-23] but rather on a complex development of ritual traditions that look back to the Gospels only for legitimation after the fact,” Sacra Pagina Series, 3:340-41.