Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Life in the fast lane

Last week, Der Kimel posted a link to a rejoinder in which Perry Robinson “demolishes” my recent “screed” entitled “Monadic Theology.”

I’ve been preoccupied with other blogorrific demands since then, as you can see from my numerous postings, but now that I have a bit of spare time, I’ll return to Robinson’s lengthy rejoinder.

BTW, do make of point of reading Jason Engwer’s trenchant replies to Robinson in Der Kimel’s combox.

Kimel introduces the rejoinder by stating:

“Exegesis is not a neutral activity, which is why the critical-historical method has turned out to be such a bust. It’s one thing to read Paul’s Letter to the Romans in literal-historical fashion; it’s quite another thing to read it as one chapter in a large book authored by God, whose every page witnesses to Jesus Christ. Theological disputes between differing interpretive traditions are rarely resolved by exegesis alone. Just try talking to a Jehovah’s Witness.”

i) I never said that exegesis was a neutral activity. Kimel is getting this, not from a direct reading of what I actually said, but from Robinson’s polemical gloss.

ii) Is the critical-historical method a “bust”? This is the method employed by premier Catholic scholars like Ray Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer. It’s also a method sanctioned by the PBC, with the blessing of Benedict XVI and the late John-Paul II:

iii) As to the false dichotomy or either reading Paul’s letter to the Romans in literal-historical fashion, or reading it as a book authored by God, Robinson is the one whose historiography operates according to the naturalistic principle of Lessing’s ditch.

iv) What makes Kimel suppose that a book authored by God cannot be historical or literally true? I should think divine authorship would be a primary reason to treat such a book as historical or literally true.

v) As to the J-Dubs, Kimel is confounding proof with persuasion. Surely he doesn’t suppose the exegesis of a J-Dub is on a par with, let us say, Ray Brown’s article entitled “Does the New Testament Call Jesus God?”

We have no control over how people respond to the evidence. Convincing them is not our responsibility. If a J-Dub refuses to admit that Brown or Metzger has the better of the argument, that’s their problem, not ours.

I don’t think of myself as someone who ordinarily lives on the edge, but reading Perry Robinson at full tilt is such an exhilarating experience, like one of those holodeck programs with the safety protocols off. Will that scary looking dude with a bare skull for a head and the spiky club get the better of Lt. Worf?

For the full text of Perry’s reply, cf.

It’s often difficult to recognize what I wrote in Perry’s reply.

“Hays’ framing of the issue is dismissive. He doesn’t really know Orthodox theology, so he has to discuss it on his own terms. Because he doesn’t know it, he can’t perform a genuine internal critique of it. This is because Hays lives in the intellectual ghetto of American Calvinism, which doesn’t read outside its own circles except for polemical purposes and then only by snippets.

The way Hays frames the two methodologies is dismissive because it assumes that the Orthodox don’t read the Bible. As if the reason for the differences between the Orthodox and Protestants was just due to a lack of Bible reading on the part of the Orthodox theologians but this is just false. Orthodox theologians have been composing and writing commentaries on Scripture long before Protestants ever existed (and they continue to do so though most todday aren't in English because most Orthodox theologians are not nature English speakers). And many of my own views are based on their exegesis. Hays may not agree with the exegesis of say John Chrysostom or Maximus the Confessor, but that is beside the point. The point is that the way that Hays frames the Orthodox position is just false.”

i) To begin with, my essay was not directed at Orthodoxy per se. It was not a general attack on Orthodoxy.

Rather, it was a specific critique of Perry’s reasoning. In particular, Perry faulted Protestant theology because it cannot yield irreformable dogma, and it cannot do so because it lacks the ecclesiastical apparatus for generating formal dogma.

My essay was directed against Perry’s aprioristic theological criterion.

ii) Whether, as a general proposition, Orthodox theologians are good exegetes or bad exegetes is beside the point. The immediate point at issue is the source of this theological criterion.

iii) It is true that my characterization of Perry’s position is dismissive. That’s because his characterization of the Protestant position is dismissive. Consider the following thread:

I generally answer people at their own level.

Perry has his own blog. And Perry has thought long and hard about Protestant theological method.

Hence, there is nothing to prevent him from mounting a systematic attack on the Protestant faith.

Instead, he chooses to loiter over at Der Kimel’s blog and snipe at Evangelicalism from the combox.

He could do better, but for whatever reason, he chooses not to.

“In a lot of my own casual writing on the internet I don’t cite chapter and verse. This is because I don’t think that there is any theory neutral exegetical practice to engage in that is commensurable across theological paradigms. To toss passages back and forth is akin to a theist and an atheist tossing brute facts back and forth, where each interprets them according to his own philosophical commitments. What is sufficient to defeat a specific exegesis which is relative to core commitments is an internal critique and not some rival exegesis. Any model can admit any contrary fact, it just depends on how much one wishes to give up or modify the model. Consequently I am not a fan of the “See-Jesus-Run” hermeneutic that Hays seems to adhere to. I don’t think you have to have an explicit reference or a clear and necessary inference in the case of implicit passages.”

i) This bears out my point. He doesn’t feel the need to ground his theological criterion in divine revelation. So his theological method is monadic.

ii) Sure, you can say there’s no such thing as value-free exegesis, but what’s the source of our theological paradigms? Is the paradigm entirely prior to act of exegesis? What is the source of our core commitments? Is it revelation? Or something else?

iii) Again, this is not a dispute over some incidental point of exegesis, but a theological criterion which predetermines a systemic commitment to one major theological tradition over against another.

iv) He also overworks the Kuhnian mantra. If he spent any quality time with the major commentaries, he'd see that commentators of all theological stripes regularly interact with one another. They aren’t sealed away in airtight compartments.

But to find that out, Perry would need to open a window and let some natural light inside his modular monadic cubicle.

“Many of the messianic prophecies for example won’t yield an Orthodox interpretation on the basis of grammatical considerations and logical inferences alone. This is why the singular emphasis on “exegesis” by Hays is wrongheaded. And when Hays uses “exegesis” he has in mind, or at least seems to, a specific tradition of exegesis. But so far, I haven’t seen a good reason from him as to why I am bound by his traditions.”

I don’t agree with his counter-example of Messianic prophecy. It is true that the atomistic practice of citing isolated prooftexts won’t get you there.

But scholars like Alec Motyer, John Sailhamer, and Desmond Alexander have shown how it’s possible to apply the grammatico-historical method to the progressive unfolding of Messianic motifs in the OT. This thematic development does, indeed, yield a Christian interpretation.

“Furthermore, I don’t cite chapter and verse and then attempt an exegesis because I presume that my readers are intelligent enough to carry off a few simple tasks. I think that they can recognize the phrases that I employ from various scriptural passages. And I presume that they can take my systematic approach and see how I would interpret various passages and then trace out an exegetical argument. It seems with Hays that I was presuming far too much in the way of intellectual ability.”

Presuming far too much in the way of intellectual ability? Gee, if I didn’t know any better I’d almost suspect that Perry is being dismissive and condescending.

Beyond that, he’s trying to make a virtue of his negligence. No, is not my job to make his argument for him.

Perry spends an awful lot of time bellyaching because I never responded to arguments he never made. How dare I fail to anticipate his nonexistent argument for x, y, and z!

Having lost the first time around, he moves the goal-post and then declares retroactive victory.

Well, I plead guilty. It’s quite true that I confined my remarks to things he’s actually said, and not to things he never said. My bad.

However, to make amends for my horrible sin of omission, if he’s not up to the job, then I’d happy to put words in his mouth and knock them down at the same time. No doubt that’s the most efficient procedure all around.

“The claim that scriptural passages function as facts in a conceptual scheme and are interpreted in light of the over all scheme can be substantiated by considering the exegesis of 2 Pet 2:1. Now on its face, this is a difficult passage for the Reformed. How can it be that Christ redeems apostates if Christ only dies for the elect? Pick up any of the standard Reformed works, such as Owen’s Death of Death, or any Reformed commentator on the subject. I think you will find that their “exegesis” is strained at best. That aside, what usually happens is that while the practice of “exegesis” begins with the assumption that the text should be interpreted primarily on its own merits this gets shoved aside at the end of the process. What we get is an appeal to “what Scripture says in other places.” This is code for “I interpret this according to the rest of my system.” Clearly then, it is the systematic theology functioning as background beliefs that is doing the “exegetical” work, and not primarily any concentration on lexigraphical or syntactical facts. The reason is simple, the lexigraphical facts won’t yield a Calvinistic interpretation and many Reformed commentators, both in the past and contemporary admit this fact.”

i) I agree that John Owen’s exegesis is strained. But, then, I don’t think we should look to the Puritan’s for exegesis.

This isn’t limited to Calvinism. This is true of every theological tradition.

A Catholic commentator like Ray Brown or Joseph Fitzmyer is a better exegete than Aquinas or Bellarmine.

Witherington is a better exegete than Wesley.

Moo is a better exegete than Luther.

Lincoln or Nolland is a better exegete than Ryle.

ii) As far as my own practice is concerned, Perry’s objection is a straw man argument since I don’t shove a text aside on its own merits and appeal to what Scripture says in other places.

I interpret a verse in context, consistent with the flow of argument, the writer’s own usage, and his own frame of reference. I don’t use one writer to interpret another.

iii) There is also a big difference between saying that we will not interpret a particular verse contrary to a well-established exegetical framework, and saying that we will reinterpret the verse accordingly, so that our belief-system supplies the interpretation in any particular instance.

We should never force a verse to say something it doesn’t, but this also doesn’t mean that we force it into a collision course with the overall teaching of Scripture.

iv) As to the immediate point at issue, 2 Pet 2:1 is a pseudoproblem for Reformed theology.

It only creates an apparent tension with Reformed theology when both sides fall into the unconscious anachronism of mapping dogmatic usage back on to Scriptural usage.

The fact that various theological traditions uses words like “redemption” or “atonement” to designate a particular theological construct, and the further fact that you can find roughly synonymous usage in Scripture, doesn’t imply that a NT writer is using a given word to denote the same concept as the nomenclature of historical theology.

The problem is not that Reformed theology is foisting an extraneous sense on 2 Pet 2:1. Quite the contrary: the problem is that Arminians are foisting an extraneous sense on 2 Pet 2:1 by giving the word a more specialized import than Peter intended.

The Petrine usage is just a slave-market metaphor (carried on in 2:19). The word is innocent of later debates over the extent of the atonement.

“The same can be said for exegetical practices that rely solely on grammatical considerations. Natural languages just don’t work in such a way as to permit grammatical methods to mine the full semantic content of words or sentences. Translation is indeterminate.“

Now he’s gone Quinean on me. Two points:

i) If we accept his Quinean strictures, then this undercuts the exegesis, not only of Scripture, but the church fathers, the ecumenical councils, as well as contemporaries like Meyendorff.

If translation is indeterminate, then that renders the meaning of any text indeterminate, including the text of Perry’s attempted rebuttal.

ii) This also depends on your philosophy of language and larger epistemology.

In my opinion, semantic content is not identical with its linguistic tokens. Language is simply a medium, a storage and retrieval system. Meaning is instantiated in words without its being identical with words. Words are ways of encoding thought.

This is why we’re often able to understand what someone means even when he fails to say what he means. Despite his defective communication skills, his words give us just enough of a clue to his meaning that we get the point despite the inadequate mode of expression.

I’m reminded in this connection of what George Steiner says about Heidegger:

“It is a fact that many native speakers of German, even when they possess a fair measure of philosophical literacy, find much in Heidegger incomprehensible. They quite literally cannot make out what Heidegger is saying and whether, indeed, he is really saying anything…Yet I can testify that much of Heidegger does ‘get through,’ though in ways not readily identifiable with the usual modes of understanding as ‘re-statability’…These says compare with our gradual comprehension, or ‘sufferance,’ of great poetry…And they compare perhaps crucially, with the way sin which we grasp and make our own meanings of music,” Martin Heidegger, (University of Chicago 1991), 10-12.

A sentence doesn’t convey any new ideas. Rather, it either conveys a new combination of ideas, and/or confirms the veracity of certain ideas.

Moving along:

“The appeal to “what Scripture says in other places” or to “what the rest of Scripture teaches” is fallacious for a number of reasons. First, because if we are to interpret any given passage in light of what Scripture says everywhere else, then we will never know what Scripture says in any one passage for the simple reason that the process could never begin, except by an arbitrary brute text. But there are no such texts in the Bible.”

i) Perry continues to measure me by a yardstick I don’t use.

ii) Beyond that, his statement is clearly an overstatement. Sure, if we never interpret any verse on its own terms, but only in reference to other verses that we never interpret on their own terms, then the procedure is viciously circular.

But this is a straw man argument. Some verses are clearer than others. And some relations are clearer than others.

“Furthermore, such an appeal to “the rest of Scripture” is an admission that the text on its own merits doesn’t yield a Calvinistic interpretation.”

Which text? There are many Reformed prooftexts which to yield a Calvinistic interpretation on their own merits, viz. Exod 4-14; Isa 40-48; Jn 6, 9-12, 17; Rom 1-11, Eph 1-2, and Gal 1-4 as a framing device.

We do not refer those verses to still other verses. So this is yet another straw man argument.

And Perry, for one, knows enough about Reformed theology to know that he’s burning one straw man after another. To what end?

I guess the reason is that if he can’t win on the particulars, then he can try to win by raising the debate to a level of fact-free abstraction where he can generate these ersatz circularities.

“And, appeals to what we “know” Scripture says in other places is question begging, because if 2 Pet 2:1 isn’t compatible with limited atonement, then the other passages of Scripture don’t teach limited atonement either.”

It’s true that if 2 Pet 2:1 is incompatible with special redemption, then other passages can’t teach special redemption either.

But the logic is reversible.

Every Bible-based belief-system has its problem passages. And that raises the question of the harmonistic principle.

But it’s a fallacy to say that I cannot know what any verse of Scripture means unless I know what every verse of Scripture means.

The superiority of a given theological tradition lies in its ability to integrate the most data.

In Calvinism there is a built-in harmonistic principle inasmuch as we appeal to passages of Scripture in which the phenomenology of faith and infidelity are expressly traced back to the ulterior will of God.

Such verses of Scripture chart the direction in which we are to relate time and eternity, the human will with the divine will.

“In any case, this is why in my casual conversations on the internet, I don’t generally write exegetical pieces. What is at issue is not how we interpret this or that passage, but our core theological and philosophical commitments. This is why I focus on key areas of theology like Christology where I know an opponent is committed. By an internal critique I can bring out internal contradictions between his or her Christological commitments and their tradition’s distinctive theological views. I have done this with Calvinists, but also with Catholics, Lutherans and Open Theists. Just google, and you’ll find them.”

Yes, well, if I were being “uncharitable” I’d suspect that his motive is somewhat otherwise: Perry tries to maneuver every theological debate back around to Christology or divine simplicity or the Trinity because he can’t win on fine points of exegesis, but if he can make Christological debates and other suchlike sufficiently abstract and philosophical, then he can bypass the exegetical defeaters.

What is more, like any prudent debater, Perry likes to shift the argument to his own area of expertise. Since he knows more about the esoteric crannies of Byzantine theology than the average opponent, he lures the opponent into an area where Perry enjoys a tactical advantage.

That’s if I were being uncharitable. Needless to say, I’m far too charitable to ever suggest such a thing.

Sorry to block your play, Perry, but your game isn’t my game. I’m a Protestant. Even a Biblicist, if you will. Sola scriptura is my rule of faith. Exegesis is king.

“Clearly Hays hasn’t started thinking yet, because he can’t engage my position in anything more than a condescending and dismissive manner. It is indicative of people who don’t actually grasp a position that they have to dismiss their opponent on the basis of a “mentality.” Reformed polemicists are notorious for this. People who become Catholic have some supposed deep seated ‘need’ for ‘certainty.’”

Aside from the fact that Perry has a fluid command of condescending and dismissive rhetoric at the ready wherever Evangelicals are concerned, the suggestion that people convert to Catholicism in a quest for certainty isn’t merely an outsider’s polemical characterization. Many converts explicitly volunteer that inducement. We are simply taking them at their own word.

“People who convert to Orthodoxy have some psychological appettite for aesthetically pleasing things found in smells and bells.”

Again, many converts volunteer that very inducement.

“Even if this were true, it is irrelevant given for the reasons people give for their beliefs.”

How is it irrelevant if these are the reasons which they themselves give, and their reasoning is flawed?

“In any case, the ad hominem cuts both ways. Calvinists are psychologically insecure which is why they "need" to believe in a world where everything is predestined.”

It is hardly ad hominem when someone says that he converted to Orthodoxy for the following reasons, and that you should convert for the very same reasons.

You’re not arguing the man, but the reasons.

“As an anecdotal aside, a number of years ago I was present at a conference for SCCCS on Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. (I wasn’t Orthodox at the time.) Roger Wagner was claiming that Catholic exegetes have never produced an exegesis of Romans 4 and have not addressed Reformed arguments. Then a friend of mine from the audience showed him a text produced five years or so earlier that not only did so, but devoted a number of pages to Wager’s exegesis. Unspurisingly, Wagner never heard of the book or read it, even though it was well known, even in Reformed circles.”

Here’s a link to the course catalogue of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

Do you think the average graduate would know much about alternative theological traditions to judge by the course offerings? Looks like an Orthodox ghetto to me.

“Then there was the time Robert Godfrey was giving a lecture for the then CURE Academy in So. California on “Trent and Justification.” I brought up to him a text by Francis de Sales and asked his opinion of it. Not only had he never read this rather famous counter reformation text, but he had never even heard of De Sales.”

Yes, it’s surprising that a church historian has never heard of De Sales.

Of course, since De Sales was not one of the Tridentine Fathers, having, indeed, been born after the Council of Trent, it’s also hard to see how this does anything to overturn Godfrey’s interpretation of Tridentine theology.

“Or take a fairly recent exchange with Hays. Hays referred me to a book on 2 pet 1:4, a favorite text of mine, alleging that the text didn’t teach that we didn’t actually become what God was, but rather we take on similar moral qualities. (The book in question was James Starr’s Sharers in Divine Nature: 2 Peter 1:4 in Its Hellenistic Context. Well I went and read the book. It seems that Hays either didn’t read the book and hence lied about what he claimed or has poor reading comprehension skills. The author actually sides with me, arguing that the text does not imply that we partake of God’s “ousia”, but his dynamic activities, such as his “glory, power and immortality”, and notice that none of those are created “moral qualities.”

Either lied or has poor reading comprehension skills? Gee, if I didn’t know any better I’d almost suspect that Perry is being uncharitable.

i) Of course, in a ten-chapter, 300+ page published version of a doctoral dissertation on a single phrase of a single verse of Scripture, Starr says quite a few things. Starr is, after all, tracing the usage back in time to an “ancient teleological moral tradition reflected in the OT, Josephus, Philo, Plutarch, the Stoics, and Paul” (p238).

ii) Perry paraphrases me rather than quotes me verbatim. I believe that he’s alluding to the following statement of mine:

“Starr arrives at the conclusion that what the verse in fact denotes is not deification, but participation in the moral character of Christ.”

iii) Since my reading comprehension skills are at issue, let’s compare my interpretation of Starr with Richard Bauckham’s. Bauckham has written the standard critical commentary on 2 Peter. He’s also written a recent review of Starr’s book. Among other things, Bauckham says the following:

“Starr argues that 2 Pet 1:4 does not refer to the divinization of the Christian, but to the acquisition of specific divine qualities. The divine nature is that of Christ, whom believers come to resemble in the two closely connected qualifies of moral excellence and immortality…Starr finds in most of the texts he studies an understanding of the nature of God as both virtuous and immortal (together with other attributes not shared by humans) and an association of virtue and immortality in humans who in these respects come to be like God. Knowledge of God makes it possible to share in the moral excellence of God and thereby also in the incorruption of God,” Journal of Theological Studies, 53/1 (April 2002), 279-80.

So if I’m a “liar,” then that makes Bauckham a liar as well, and I’d rather be in his company than in Perry’s, all things considered.

iii) Finally, there’s no little irony in the fact that, having made so much of incommensurable paradigms, Perry disregards the fact that while Peter and the Middle Platonists share some of the same vocabulary, they disagree on the nature of knowledge, God, and morality. So Perry’s the one who’s acting as if you can map one interpretative grid atop another.

“Besides, he has yet to answer me on Conditional Analysis which he choked on months ago.”

Yet to answer? I believe I answered him five months ago.

Not only I, but see also the trenchant remarks by Aquascum in the combox.

“And it is just false that Protestants just “look out the window” garnering their beliefs by some direct and undistorting access to the semantic content of Scripture.”

Once again he’s imputing to me a position I’ve never taken. I never said that exegesis was a value-free enterprise.

“If Hays were right one wonders where they get various teachings from from. A hypostatic generation of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. Where is that in the Bible? That God is a simple essence. Where is that in the Bible? The divine persons of the Trinity are relations. Where is that in the Bible? All relations to God are extrinsic relations? Where is that in the Bible? Just “look out the window eh?” Uhm..I don’t think so.”

Not all Protestant subscribe to the eternal generation (procession) of the Spirit. I don’t.

I believe the persons of the Trinity to be coeternal, but the business of procession and generation is figurative speech.

Generation is a biological metaphor. Procession is a spatial or kinematic metaphor. Spiration is a physical metaphor.

By the same token, I don’t infer the petrogenic constitution of God from the fact that God is called a “rock.”

Not all Protestants subscribe to divine simplicity and the extrinsicality of all relations to God.

I deny that the persons of the Trinity are relations. They are relata, not relations.

They are only relations if you posit a causal relation in which the Father generates the Son, while the Spirit hypostatically proceeds from Father and Son alike.

Perry tells us that his standing policy is to mount an internal critique of the opposing position. Well, he’s done anything but where I’m concerned.

“Hays’ typical condescending disposition renders him unable to even grasp, let alone fairly represent my position. Over at Pontifications, ( I never argued based on some pre-biblical conceived notions that Protestants are inconsistent. Rather I argued on the basis of two beliefs Protestants usually have, namely that there are formal theological statements that are unrevisable and that there are no infallible interpretations of Scripture. The former is rooted in an intuition that I think the vast majority of Christians have shared over time, that is, that what is taught by God is not revisable (I also think this is warranted Biblically). Since there are no infallible interpreters of Scripture, ex hypothesi, then there can’t be an equivalence between what is taught by God and formal theological statements produced by Protestant individuals or bodies. The former is unrevisable and more robustly, infallible, and the latter is not nor ever could be. Consequently, Protestants have to give up one of the two beleifs on pain of inconsistency or find a tertium quid.”

Protestants have always drawn a distinction between inspired, infallible Scripture, and uninspired, fallible creeds. Since both beliefs are compatible, there’s nothing to surrender.

This is like one of those polling questions where the answer you get all depends on how the question is phrased. You control the answers by controlling the questions.

By manipulative definitions, Perry may be able to generate an inconsistency, but this is linguistic legerdemain.

“Hays mischaracterizes my argument. I don’t think Protestantism is wrong simply because it can’t deliver irreformable dogma, but because it is inconsistent with other beliefs that I and I think Protestant largely hold. I am just eliciting the inconsistency in their thinking, forcing them to become more epistemologically self conscious.

Consequently, Hays’ characterization of me as “playing God”, imagining which circumstances are best and then reasoning from there is false. I begin with beliefs, one of which I think is well grounded in the Bible-what God teaches is not revisable by men and the other, a pretty standard belief among Protestants, that no one, either individually or collectively is infallible, save God or those endowed with divine power such as prophets. Perhaps Hays thinks I need a proof text for this but I don’t.”

i) Perry needs a prooftext if he’s going to turn irreformability into a theological criterion. Otherwise, he’s playing God, monadic style.

ii) Again, all Perry does is to reiterate his trick question. At one level, if Protestant theology were revisable beyond a certain point, it would cease to be Protestant theology. So his contradiction is a tautology.

Revisable in what respect? Revisable under what conditions?

“It doesn’t take someone exceedingly intelligent to see that my argument can work just as well in the NT or OT. So bringing up the question, as Hays does, of if and how God guides his people in the OT is irrelevant. God does guide his people. Does he do so in such a way that what he teaches them to believe is revisable by them? Obviously not.”

This continues the ploy of tendentious question-framing. The proper formulation would be something along the following lines:

i) God’s teaching is infallible.

ii) Our grasp of God’s teaching is fallible.

iii) God guides his people through his teaching.

iv) Ergo, infallible interpretation is not a necessary condition of divine guidance.

Now, Perry wants to corner the Protestant by casting the question in terms of “revisable” or “unrevisable” teaching.

But what should we submit to his formulation?

i) Whether or not Protestant theology (or Reformed theology) is revisable is not my problem. I’m only responsible for what God holds me to.

ii) The question of whether Protestant theology is revisable is unanswerable because the question is inherently open-ended.

It’s like those conspiratorial theories about how there’s a “lost” book of the Bible in the subbasement of the Vatican library which the authorities have kept under wraps because it would falsify a central tenet of the Christian faith.

If Christianity were false, would you still believe it?

Well, since I am a Christian, I don’t take the hypothetical seriously. Why should I?

To ask whether Protestant doctrine is revisable is a question with more than one answer depending on what conjectures underwrite the question.

It is God’s will that his people come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and God, in his providence, will see to it that they believe whatever they need to believe whenever they need to believe it to be saved. Every article of saving faith is unrevisable, as well as certain articles that need be believed in order to be saved, but need to be true for the Christian faith to be true.

Brain-in-vat hypotheticals are fun to toy with, but no one believes in them. Indeed, the reason we dream up certain hypotheticals is because we don’t find them in the real world, so if we want to entertain that possibility, we will have to get very creative.

“And the question that he poses, begs the question, since it supposes that the OT contains formal theological statements. If Hays can find one, I’d like to see it.”

I beg no such question since I make no such assumption. Perry is the one who continually begs the question be continually insisting that we have to pose the question the way he poses the question.

“Formality” is not a biblical category. Why should I feel the need to put Scripture in that straightjacket? This is irrelevant to the authority of Scripture, for God has guided his people in the past without the ecclesiastical structures which Perry deems to be indispensable.

“I have been Orthodox for about six years. If Hays were charitable, he might have thought that I read a lot (50-60 books a year), which is why I have changed my views over time. Ya think?”

I never said anything about Perry’s reading habits, so his wounded sense of honneur propre is egotistical and unprovoked.

As far as that goes, Rushdoony read 365 books a year.

“I wasn’t inventing a criteria at all. I was applying a well known principle (and problem) in historiography. I don’t see how probabilistic methods of arriving at the conclusion that the Bible was given normatively first amount to anything other than a fact and second are sufficient to ground a kind normativity in question. And second, I don't see how one could arrive at the idea from history alone that the bible was normatively given. Lessing's ditch comes to mind.”

Ah, yes, Lessing’s ditch. What Perry is doing is to tacitly define historical knowledge according to the canons of uniformity and methodological naturalism.

If there is no God, then values are extrinsic to facts. If there is a God, the God of Scripture, then values are intrinsic to facts, for every fact is a purposeful fact.

Unless you believe in divine providence, there is no principled basis for historiography, for, absent providence, there is no principled basis for induction. Hence, divine providence is a necessary truth-condition. (Epistemic) probability presupposes (metaphysical) providence.

“Second, it was meant to highlight the fact that Protestants would be inconsistent, since the canon isn’t formally speaking, given to us normatively, not with unrevisable normativity in any case. No list of the canon on Protestant principles is normative in the sense I was referring to in context. That is, the canon on Protestant principles is in principle revisable.”

Revisable in what sense? As I’ve argued elsewhere, you can make a case for the canon based on internal evidence, consistent in a system of cross-references. The internal evidence is not revisable.

And even if it were revisable “in principle,” so what? It is always possible to posit some contingency beyond our control. What makes imponderables imponderable is…well…their imponderability.

But this is a purely imaginative exercise. Hypotheticals neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns.

Perry’s theological criterion of unrevisability is just a disguised tautology:

“Suppose there were some contingency beyond your control? Would that force you to revise Protestant doctrine?”

Well, if it’s beyond my control, then, by definition, I can’t very well control the outcome.

But these are make-believe possibilities. They have the same fictive consequences as a fairy tale. If the knight on the white horse arrives a minute late, the damsel will be eaten by the dragon.

You get certain results depending on which variables you program into the mental experiment. Plug in a different set of variables and you get a different result.

“Third, if Jesus, the prophets and the apostles frequently derived normativity from factual claims, then Hays needs to give examples and show that that is what they are doing.”

I already gave examples with respect to the Exodus and the Resurrection. OT writers regularly derive normative claims from the events surrounding the Exodus, just as NT writers regularly derive normative claims from events surrounding the Resurrection.

If that transgresses Lessing’s ditch, then so much the worse for Lessing.

“And Protestants are not Jesus, the prophets and the apostles in any case. Assuming for the sake of argument that they actually did so, it no way follows that Protestants can do so either generally or in this case, which is the point. All the judgments of Protestants are in principle revisable. This highlights the fact that such persons did so, if they did so, this was the product of their being in the special position to do so by either being deity or aided by deity. Do Protestants think that the church is divinely guided so as to produce infallible judgments? I don't think so.”

No, this is not a product of Perry’s ecclesiastical deus ex machina.

“Furthermore, for God there is no fact/value dichotomy.”


“Lastly, Hays claim in the form of an interrogative is question begging, since what he knows of such persons doing so is derived from texts, the epistemological status and function in his theology is revisable.”

This objection either proves too much or too little. For Perry’s faith is also a textually-oriented faith.

“As to councils, I don’t pull the criteria out of thin air. They are derived from apostolic practice as well as other biblical principles and theological positions that I take to be biblically justified.”

This is an orphaned assertion in search of a fatherly supporting argument.

“Here again we run into the “See-Jesus-Run” hermeneutic. Where does God ever tell us to do it this way?…This is not to imply that I can’t give Biblical warrant for the principles regarding how councils are to be run. I think I can, but that warrant need not be explicit in any case and Hays is wrong to think so.”

I never made “explicit” warrant a necessary condition. Implications are fine.

“In any case, my notion of God as hyper-ousia I think is biblically grounded. (Ex, 33:23, Jn 1:18, Jn 5:37 1 Tim 6:16, 1 Jn 4:12).”

Let’s see now. We have a claim on one side, and a few citations on the other side. All we’re missing is the exegesis to build a bridge from one to the other. A pile of bricks does not a house make.

“Add to this the belief that God is a “mind.” According to Scripture, God is a spirit, a rational spirit. That makes God a mind.

“God’s glory is a mere created effect (one wonders how that is going to fit with Ex. 33 cf. w/John 17:5).”

Not every reference to God’s glory is a reference to a visible phenomenon. Does Perry suppose the same word always has the same meaning and/or referent?

In Exodus, the Shekinah is an extramental sensible object. It is something “out there” in time and space to be seen by a human percipient with physical eyes. So it belongs to the natural order, as a natural effect and emblem of a supernatural cause and being.

“Or that omnipotence and omniscience are “attributes.”

You wonder what Perry’s problem is. Is it a problem with words, or concepts? Does the Bible use “words” like “relation” or “attribute”? No.

But that’s beside the point. The words needn’t come from Scripture as long as we use extra-biblical words to capture Biblical concepts.

“As to the odds I am right? Well that frames the question in a fallacious way. If I had all of the possible positions on a large graph and were rolling some markers, then it would be relevant. But since I at least trying to proceed by using logic as one of my tools, it isn’t a question of “odds” but of the legitimacy of the inferences I draw.”

A logical conclusion is only as good as the premise.

“What are the “odds” Hays is right?”

I don’t play the odds. I only bet on a sure thing. That’s why I take my cue from revelation.

“Moreover, given the historical novelty of many of Hays’ beliefs, what are the odds Hays is right? Aren’t the odds better than the whole Church, functioning via the episcopate, as it did with Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, & Chalcedon, both East and West condemning Protestant innovations is right and Hays and Protestants are wrong?”

i) This assumes that I have a problem with Nicea, &c.

ii) The whole church was not functioning at those councils. The laity and the lower clergy were out of the picture. You have to agree with Perry’s ecclesiology to agree with his conclusion.

iii) As far as the “whole church functioning,” a more participatory form of polity would better subserve that particular argument.

iv) In addition, knowledge is incremental. Experience is cumulative. We are in a more epistemically advantageous position than those living, say, in the 5C AD.

“As to my argument about the unity of the church, it is based on an identity claim and hence the availability of properties to members of the church to instantiate, both here and in heaven. Hays’ attempts to construct parallel arguments to show the mistake in my thinking. Hays’ attempts to construct parallel arguments to show the mistake in my thinking. The problem is that the arguments don’t go through for the simple reason that I was talking about properties that humans can instantiate being qua human.”

The problem with his counterargument is the artificial restriction on his reasoning from analogy. Naturally he would like to limit it to the precise point he wishes to make, and then slam the door shut on analogies injurious to his position. I’d expect no less.

“The deification of Christ’s humanity is the link that licits the idea that these are properties that can be instantiated in human nature and are not alien to it. Sin doesn’t characterize humans with reference to nature, unless Hays wishes to endorse some version of Manicheanism. His first stab doesn’t work in any case.”

Actually, the logic of his position cuts in the opposite direction. Since sin is not an essential feature of human nature qua human, and Christ is sinless (indeed, impeccable), then if the hypostatic union has the transitive effect which he imputes to it, the “identity claim” would instantiate a sinless human nature in the church militant as well as the church triumphant.

“Just being without sin doesn't capture the state of the blessed in the eschaton. Fixity in virtue or moral impeccability isn’t a property only accessible to those in heaven in any case, which is what Hays is assuming. The process was completed for those in the eschaton and hasn’t been for those here, which is why there is a difference, but it is not a difference in nature, but personal activity.”

This doesn’t follow from the “identity claim” and the hypostatic union. Once again, it pulls in the opposing direction.

“The church qua church is sinless, because Christ is the head of the body. If the body acts as the head directs, then either the body and head are sinful or the body and head are sinless. I prefer to think that the body and the head are sinless and Scripture tells me so to boot. (Heb 9:28, Eph 1:3, 23, 5:27, 2 pet 3:14) Part of the problem here is that Hays is still thinking of the church as an aggregate of like minded individuals so that the church is a group of persons and persons sin, therefore the church sins. But this is a prime example of the fallacy of division and composition. Something true of the whole isn’t necessarily true of its parts and vice versa. The church can be sinless while the parts are sinful. Hays hasn't showed how it follows that because certain members of the church sins, that the church sins.”

i) Every argument from division or composition is not a fallacy. To say that if a car weighs two tons, every car part weighs two tons is fallacious. To say that if a car is made (entirely) of metal, every part is made of metal, is not a fallacy.

ii) Perry is trying to use an organic metaphor to prove that the church, inclusive of the head and the body, is sinless even though various members are sinful. But this is an artificial restriction. If the church is inclusive of the body parts or members, and some members are sinful, then, of course, it’s illogical to say that the church, inclusively considered, is sinless.

iii) My objection isn’t based on my polity. It isn’t based on like-minded members, but on Perry’s organic principle.

“Furthermore, if the body doesn’t do what the head directs and does sin, one wonders where Hays’ Calvinism has gone. Aren’t all things which come to pass caused and/or determined by God? Either Christ causes/determines the parts to sin, making Christ the author of sin or the body has libertarian freedom, and poof! no more Calvinism. If Christ doesn’t sin and he directs his church unfailingly, then the church doesn’t sin either.”

This is a diversionary tactic. I’ve discussion the authorship of sin elsewhere.

“Death in its fullest sense is annihilation, a cessation of existence (Acts 2:27, 13:35, 1 Cor 15:8).”

Does Perry believe in soul-sleep? Is his a materialist?

“And death before the crucifixion is different than after…Death after the work of Christ has been transformed.”

This is a pathetic reply. Yes, there are discontinuities, which Perry uses as a smoke screen to make us forget the continuities.

Perry needs more than points of discontinuity to make good on his identity claim. An identity claim should generate strict alterity between BC and AD.

“All men die now because Christ died and so all men will be raised because Christ was raised. (Jn 5:29, Jn 6:39, 1 Cor 15:20-22, Rom 5:18, Heb 9: 27, Rev 20).”

Here he’s conflating passages that teach the general resurrection with passages which teach the resurrection of the just.

“If Christ doesn't die for all, then some men won't die.”

What a remarkably inverted theology.

“All receive eternal existence or a measure of immortality with respect to nature and those of the church receive it abundantly. (John 10:10) (If not, then we need an explanation as to why the wicked exist eternally and why they are raised. God doesn’t need wicked people to be just or exemplify his justice-Origenism).”

It is needed to exemplify the gratuity of grace, which, in turn, goes to show that no one is deserving of salvation since some are, indeed, damned. Hence, it would be just of God to have damned everyone.

“This is why Christ is the savior of all men, but especially of those who believe. (1 Tim 4:10) This is why even apostates are said to be redeemed by Christ (2 pet 2:1) and why Christ is said to taste death for every man. (Heb 2:9) All are drawn to Christ and Christ loses nothing. (Jn 6:39, 12:32) And this is why we are baptized into the death of Christ. (Rom 6:3-9) and why death cannot separate us from Christ. (Rom 8:38, 1 Cor 3:22) And this is why we are not to fear death. The seed is immortal, which is why when it is planted through death, it grows into that which is immortal. (1 Pet 1:23, 1 Cor 15:42-44) What is paramount to keep in mind is the distinction between person and nature. All receive eternal life from Christ their Lord with respect to nature, otherwise they would not exist eternally, but not all receive it personally, which is why they do not have it abundantly because they will not to by rejecting God’s purpose for them. (Lk 7:30, Jn 5:50, 10:10)”

These are standard “Arminian” prooftexts which have standard Calvinistic rebuttals.

Unfortunately for Perry, they do not draw a nature/person distinction to slam the brakes on Orthodoxy before it hurtles off the cliff of full-blown universalism. Indeed, Orthodoxy is quite congenial to universalism.

Perry is importing and interposing that distinction from who knows where. Is this a philosophical interpolation? Or is this taken from “what the Bible says elsewhere”—contrary to his stated strictures?

“Hays equivocates when he writes,

Is the church divinely instituted/established, or is it a divine institution? If it is the latter, how can it be divine, if by Hays’ lights it sins and is fallible? What does its divinity consist in? If the former, then it fits with what I claimed. The question isn’t primarily how it is instituted, but what its divinity consists in.”

No equivocation. I don’t operate with Perry’s ontologizing categories, that’s all.

The church consists of the elect in union with Christ, along with certain covenant signs, which vary from age to age. The NT church also has a minimal ministry and polity, while the Mosaic church had a more elaborate ministry and polity, and the pre-Mosaic church co-opted the social roles of the natural family.

The “divinity” of the church consists in the various levels of divine involvement in the life and destiny of his people.

“I think the Orthodox Church is the true Church.”

So is Rome a false church? Maybe Perry and I have something in common after all!

“Secondly, looking to the Jews, as Hays’ suggests isn’t going to be the help that he thinks it is. Which Jews and in which period should we look? Whatever Jamniah was, why should we accept the judgment of Jews who rejected Jesus as messiah, rejected the NT and add a curse on Christians to the daily prayers?”

i) They stand condemned by their own canon.

ii) The attitude of the Jews towards the church is irrelevant to the value of their historical witness regarding the OT canon.

“And before and during the life of Christ, again, which Jews? The Pharisees? Sadducees? Essenes? Zealots? They certainly didn’t all have the same canon. Even the Pharisees didn’t all agree on the canon. Hence the cliché, two Jews, ten opinions. Jewish opinion isn’t sufficient to fix the canon and hence is a red herring. Hays offers us no criteria by which to differentiate Jewish opinions. And I see no reason why Jewish opinion isn't revisable as well.”

i) As far as the external witness to the OT canon is concerned, read Beckwith. I don’t need to do all the spadework myself.

ii) I don’t believe that the case for the canon is limited to external testimony. There is also internal testimony.

iii) Even if we were limited to external testimony, and even if that admitted a measure of uncertainty, so what?

We go with the best evidence that God, in his providence, has preserved for us. If God didn’t like the result, then he was free to preserve a different sampling of the evidence.

I’m not responsible for circumstances outside my control. One of the errors of Catholicism and Orthodoxy alike is the Titanic need to control things over which they have no real control, as a result of which they resort to rearguard actions.

iv) Is the canon revisable? That, again, is one of those unanswerable questions, or questions admitting more than one answer depending on what other postulates you wish to stuff into the intake valve. What comes out one end of the manifold depends on what goes in the other end..

a) The external evidence for the canon has been pretty stable over time. We’ve made a few new discoveries in the past few centuries, but none of these has run contrary to the preexisting record and, as such, the canon remains intact.

b) Or is Perry thinking of some Da Vinci Code scenario which would blow the lid off of Christendom?

But if we’re going to resort to hypothetical defeaters of that variety, then it’s trivially easy to come up with a defeater for the Orthodox Church.

What if we discovered some long suppressed evidence of a fatal breach in apostolic succession? Wouldn’t Perry have to revise his theology in light of this counter-evidence? Hypotheticals are a doubled-edged sword.

c) Or take the old conundrum of what we’d do if we discovered a lost letter of Paul.

Well, there are different ways of broaching the question. Perhaps it strikes us as antecedently unlikely that God, in his providence, would withhold an authentic letter of Paul’s only to let it surface 2000 years down the pike. In that case we’ll reject the assumption.

d) But suppose we really did discover such a letter, duly authenticated.

Well, then, the canon would be revisable.

e) Notice, once more, that these sorts of hypotheticals can press up against the competition with equal force. For we could pose the very same hypothetical of the Orthodox Church.

Is the canon of the Orthodox church unrevisable? Would it spurn a genuine letter of Paul’s?

If so, on what grounds? Is Orthodox tradition more authoritative than St. Paul?

If no, then its own canon is revisable as well.

That’s the treacherous thing about hypotheticals. You can pose a hypothetical defeater for any conceivable position. It’s an equal opportunity executioner.

“Hays begins by claiming that the books of the bible are internally related in various ways. Well, this is question begging since it presumes the truth of the Protestant position and the Protestant canon.”

No, it makes no such presumption. It doesn’t prejudge which set of books are internally related.

“Moreover, inter textual relation doesn’t amount to a hedge against possible revision since it isn’t sufficient to show inspiration. The Bible quotes, references, depends on and is continuous with many books, some of which we have, but that in no way implies that these other works are inspired.”

That depends on the nature of the citation formulae, or the way a reference figures in the argument, and so on.

“Hays’ is attempting to block the claim that the canon is revisable by interlocking all of the books together, so that they all hang together. But if they all hang together, they can all be revised together. Hays is supposing that the entire canon can’t be scraped and that without argument. If the collection is fallible, why can’t the entire canon be revised? Instead of securing the canon against revision, he has only widened the scope of possible revision.”

i) Perry is now confounding the evidence for canonicity with the evidence for inspiration. These are distinct issues.

As a first-order claim, cross-referencing is simply a matter of testimonial evidence. Whether that evidence is authoritative depends on the second-order claim of inspiration.

ii) As regards the second-level claim, it isn’t necessary that every book enjoy the same direct warrant. If one book is well-warranted in its own right, and if it warrants another book, then that will suffice for the other book.

“If for example we found out that Genesis wasn’t inspired, how on earth will Isaiah or Matthew survive?”

If we “found out” (however that’s supposed to happen) that Genesis wasn’t inspired, then that would be a very good reason to leave the faith.

“Moreover, Hays ignores the fact that Protestants historically have themselves revised the canon in piecemeal fashion.”

i) Perry needs to illustrate this claim.

ii) I’m not concerned with Protestant practice. I’m offering a principial and not a pragmatic answer to his question.

“And Hays is supposing that Protestant thinking will inerrantly track those texts which are inspired.”

No, I don’t ascribe inerrancy to Protestant thinking.

Our warrant is no more and no less than whatever God has given us reason to believe. I resign myself to the providence of God. I don’t stipulate to an a priori standard of evidence.

“Given given a Calvinistic view of Total Depravity I don't see a good reason to think that this is so.”

This is an irrelevancy for reasons already stated, but beyond that, Reformed doctrine distinguishes between the regenerate and unregenerate. The noetic effects of sin are not the same for the regenerate, as Perry well knows.

“Even if all of the texts are related in the way that Hays claims, it doesn't follow that Protestants will always and without fail always recognize them to be so or in the way that Hays thinks that they are. They could make a mistake.”

Even if I look both ways before I cross the street, it doesn’t follow that I will always and without fail avoid being run over by an oncoming car. I could make a mistake.

Perry is like one of those triskaidekaphobiacs who is afraid to leave his bedroom for fear he’ll see the number 13 while he’s out walking the dog.

As a result, Perry is a communicate member of the Anti-Triskaidekaphobia Kirk. Anti-triskaidekophobian amulets have been handed down in unbroken succession from Archbishop Triskaidekaphobe I to ward of the evil spell of the number 13 popping up in unexpected places to hex unsuspecting triskaidekaphobiacs like Brother Robinson.

I don’t need your Byzantine charms and talismans, Perry. I don’t need to be sure of everything. I only need to be sure of God. For God, and God alone, is absolutely sure of absolutely everything, and if I’m sure of God, then all rest will take care of itself, thank you.

Life is fraught with uncertainty. And that’s what makes our Christian discipleship the walk of faith. But a blind man need not depend on his own eyes to see. His brother will be his eyes, and guide his steps. We only need to be certain about the things we need to be certain about.

“I actually do give reasons for thinking that the consequences generated by Protestant theological method are unacceptable, namely that it is inconsistent with the idea that the teaching of God is revisable. If God teaches it, it ain’t up for grabs. If something taught is up for possible revision, it isn’t taught by God.”

This is such an obvious non sequitur that there’s nothing I can say to make it more obvious than it already is. My hearing and God speaking are two different things.

“Since something taught by God, doctrine, isn’t revisable, then if something is revisable it isn’t something taught by God. So, if something I think I know is possibly revisable, then it isn’t doctrine, it isn’t taught by God as God teaches it. If I think I know (2nd order relation here) but could be wrong, this implies that the truth condition on the belief in question might not in fact have been met. Even if it has been, it is still logically possible that it might not have or that I make a mistake concerning it. But this is impossible for something taught by God, namely to be false or possibly be false. Possible revision in epistemology, the possibility of the truth condition not obtaining, implies then that the proposition/statement in question isn’t something taught by God. So I freely admit, Protestants could know something taught by God and put it in formal theological statements. But since it is always possible for the truth condition in fact not to be met, it could in fact count as knowledge, but the resulting formal theological statements could never in principle amount to doctrine, something taught by God, because they are revisable. The skeptical possibility in the case of knowledge implies a metaphysical difference with respect to the kinds of propositions. Another way of making the same point would be to write that the conditions for some proposition to count as knowledge and the conditions for something to be taught by God are different.”

You could hardly have a better illustration of Perry’s monadic methodology.

1.Begin with an axiomatic definition of doctrine.

2.Write down the conditions which make this necessary.

N.B. Use a pen, not a pencil. Only indelible ink will do. A pencil is cheating since that gives you a chance to erase a mistake.

3.Then devise a matching religious epistemology.

4.Then devise a “true church” which will meet these conditions.

It’s like one of those erector sets we used to buy as boys, only Perry has a “church kit,” complete with wingnuts and screws and stainless steel girders and…and don’t forget the instructions. Christianity by numbers.

Unlike Perry, I prefer to begin with the biblical record of how God has actually guided his people in the past, from the OT church to the NT church.

“Well actually, Adam, along with his sons, were extra-ordinarily commissioned by God. So were Abraham and his descendents, being testified to by miracles and prophecy passing it along via oral tradition. Moses and Aaron too were extra-ordinarily commissioned by God and they in turn commissioned lower priests and levitical servers. The extraordinary divine commission was carried through by ordination, making its recipients ordinarily commissioned by God, such that those who lacked it were not considered priests. (Ezra 2:62, Neh 7:2, 64.) The ordinarily commissioned priestly line formed councils by which to rule and judge (Matt 5:22) and the NT continues this practice. (Luke 10:1, Acts 15) And then we have the prophets who were directly commissioned by God and testified to by miracles and prophecy. So actually there were “bishops”, “councils” and “apostolic succession” in the OT. My view is quite at home in such a context, whereas Hays has to posit a radical dichotomy. What? A Manichea...I mean Baptist, posit a radical dichotomy between the Old and New Covenant?! (The Reformers-neither ordinarily nor extraordinarily commissioned.)”

i) The problem with this nutshell summary is what it conveniently leaves out of account.

In the pre-Mosaic era, you have no church government; just the natural family.

In the NT era, you have bare bones polity. House churches. A simple, primitive form of church office. No formal ordination. A couple of sacraments. A classically low-church ecclesiology.

In the Mosaic era you had a lot of government. That’s due, in large part, to the fact that we’re dealing with a theocratic state, and not merely a religious community.

ii) There was nothing equivalent to an ecumenical council in the OT.

The Levitical priesthood, which is a true dynasty, based on genealogical continuity, is not at all the same thing as apostolic succession.

iii) The prophets were often opposed to the religious establishment, as well as opposed by the religious establishment.

iv) Acts 15 is your best shot at a church council. Unfortunately for you, this was headed by the Apostolate. That’s a calling, not an office.

v) I don’t object to the idea of councils. Just what you make of them.

“If there are no infallible interpretations of scripture, every interpretation is fallible and hence open to possible future revision. Are there some beliefs that Protestants hold about which it is impossible that we should ever find out that they were wrong? Are any of their theological beliefs beyond possible revision? If so, which ones and what makes them so? Hays doesn't address this crucial point.”

If there are no infallible interpretations of conciliar documents, every interpretation is fallible and hence open to possible future revision…Perry doesn’t address this crucial point.

In a subsequent exchange with Jason Engwer, Perry ha s drawn the following distinction:

“Furthermore, my concern is not over the fallibility of individuals, but over revision in what church bodies formally profess. This is why I have formulated my question in reference to doctrine.”

But there are several problems with this distinction:

i) It assumes that a collection of individuals (an ecumenical council) is something over and above the individuals who compose the set. Why should we assume that?

ii) How does a fallible individual know whether or when his church is infallible?

iii) How does institutional infallibility improve our epistemic situation if we only enjoy fallible access to infallible doctrine?

Moving along:

“God can providentially order and predetermine (these are not the same mind you) people to get things wrong on the Calvinist model, and in fact did so. On such a theory, it is possible that God has predestined Calvinists to get certain things wrong which in turn will be revised in the future.”

i) Using Reformed theology to contradict Reformed theology is, itself, a contradiction in terms. God doesn’t deceive the elect.

ii) Assuming, for the same of argument, that God could and would delude us, then no combination of bishops and councils and other high church paraphernalia can save us from our fate. Since it’s out of our hands, we might as well retire to Tahiti and savor the good life. Tennis, anyone?

“Hays thinks that I fall victim to my own problem. Let’s suppose that is true. Then this is an implicit admission that it is a problem for Protestantism as well. And then my argument is a good one, it is just that I was mistaken about its scope of application.”

No, there’s no implicit admission. I’m merely answering Perry on his own turf.

“And if the teaching of Protestant Churches is revisable, how can it ever be considered the teaching of God rather than the teachings of men?”

It is the teaching of God to the extent that it’s true to the teaching of God. To the extent that it’s true to the teaching of God, it’s unrevisable.

Perry will shun this answer as an unclean thing because Perry has his preconceived idea of the best possible world, and like a man who never gets married because he can never find a girl who perfectly measures up to his feminine ideal, Perry is too wedded to a fantasy to tie the knot with reality.

“The texts that are inspired will always be so no matter what people end up believing. I agree, and the same is true for an infallible church, which is why my fallibility is irrelevant for their being such a thing. But by Protestant lights, the church could judge something that is inspired to not be inspired and vice versa and be wrong the entire time. Hays gives us no reason to think why this isn’t possible. My process of knowing doesn’t affect or contribute to the normative status of unrevisable propositions. But since all the Protestant has is the normativity at the level of knowledge, which leaves open the possibility of revision, Hays is left with a revisable faith.”

How is Perry’s position any advantage over mine? At best, Perry, with his fallible faith, might accidentally believe in the true church. And for every individual who accidentally stumbles into the truth, there are a hundred who fallibly believe in a false church.

At worst, which is most of the time, Perry’s position boils down to a revisable faith in unrevisable propositions.

Just to wrap up, Jonathan Prejean says:

“The Triablowhards also think Perry denies revealed theology (evidently not having read his piece on Augustine). They don’t evidently know much about much…Waste of time, guys. It’s hopeless when someone isn’t even going to invest the cognitive effort to have a reasonable discussion. Shake the dust from your sandals, and move on.”

Note the nugatory cognitive content of Prejean’s own remarks. Like a rodeo clown who rushes into the arena to divert the bull’s attention from the fallen rider, Prejean waves his big red hanky at the reader to distract him from the carnage of a lost cause.

Finally, it’s all to easy, in a debate like this, to lose one’s way in a maze of high-lying theory. But let’s look at the business end of Orthodoxy. What’s the cash value of a check cut from the bank of Orthodoxy?

As I recently documented, this is a tradition in which you can be excommunicated for “mispronouncing” the name of Jesus or crossing yourself with two fingers instead of three.

That, my friends, is the brass tacks. At the end of the day, that’s what Orthodoxy amounts to, adjusted for inflation.

Is that really where a prudent investor would deposit his eternal life savings? Buyer beware!


  1. Steve made some good points about the canon, and I want to add some comments of my own. He wrote:

    "We go with the best evidence that God, in his providence, has preserved for us. If God didn’t like the result, then he was free to preserve a different sampling of the evidence. I’m not responsible for circumstances outside my control. One of the errors of Catholicism and Orthodoxy alike is the Titanic need to control things over which they have no real control, as a result of which they resort to rearguard actions."

    Yes, if we have no sufficient reason to trust the canonical judgments of groups like Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, then I don't see how it could be denied that the Jewish consensus on the Old Testament canon is the best standard we have to go by. Why should we look to Eastern Orthodoxy for an Old Testament canon? Or look to the Council of Trent? Whatever disagreements about the canon existed among some ancient Jews, the absence of arguments over the canon in the New Testament and the exaggerated claim of universal agreement about the canon in Josephus seem to be best explained by the existence of a canonical consensus among the Jews. Some elements of the canon were disputed by some Jews, but it seems that Jesus and the apostles accepted a canon that was popular among the Jews of their day. Our best estimation of what that canon was is the canon of today's Jews and Protestants.

    Even if we were to conclude that there was no canon accepted by a majority of the Jews at the time of Jesus and the apostles, it seems to me that following a post-apostolic Jewish consensus would still be better than looking to a group like the Eastern Orthodox, the Copts, or Roman Catholicism. There isn't anything about these groups that makes their canonical claims as credible as those of the ancient Jews, whether apostolic Jews or post-apostolic Jews. If a group like Roman Catholicism had the authority it claims to have, then the Council of Trent would be more significant, but there isn't any good reason to think that the Roman Catholic Church does have that authority.

    The first church father to list an Old Testament canon was Melito of Sardis in the second century, and his canon is almost the same as the Protestant canon. Melito tells us how he went about finding out what canon to follow. It wasn't through seeking to hold an ecumenical council on the subject or seeking an infallible ruling from a Pope. He traveled to Israel to look into the traditions relevant to the Old Testament canon (Eusebius' Church History, 4:26:14). Apparently, Melito didn't think he needed something like an ecumenical council or a papal decree to be confident about his canon of scripture.

  2. Thanks, Jason.

    Since Perry wrote a long rejoinder, I wrote a long surrejoinder, but I think the short answer to his question is that our beliefs are revisable if we have good reason to revise our beliefs, but absent that, our beliefs are not revisable.

    Is my belief in the Trinity revisable? Since I have no good reason to question the exegetical argument for the Trinity, which is pretty massive, the answer is no.

    Give me a good reason to think otherwise. But to say that Protestant doctrine is revisable, not for any particular reason, but just out of the abstract, indefinable possibility that something sometime might pop up to undermine it, is not a serious theological criterion.

  3. Perry is correct in saying that Protestant doctrinal affirmations aren't equivalent to God's doctrinal affirmations in every conceivable way. But they don't have to be equivalent in every way in order to be equivalent in some ways. The question is what significance the differences have. Perry thinks that the differences have more significance than we believe they have.

    Furthermore, although the doctrinal affirmations of Perry's church are the same as the doctrinal affirmations of God in terms of their alleged unrevisability, the two are different in other ways. If our churches' doctrinal affirmations have to be identical to God's doctrinal affirmations in every conceivable way, then Perry's church fails to meet that standard. If he wants to argue that the equivalence only needs to be partial, not complete, then why didn't he say so earlier, and how does he know what elements have to be equivalent?

    Christianity is a historically revealed religion. Christian apologetics involves philosophy, but it also involves a lot of history. Modern Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic apologists tend to give too much attention to philosophy and too little to history, because they don't have much to work with on the historical end. Yet, these two groups have claimed to be so deep in history. When we examine the historical record and see their beliefs largely absent or contradicted, we're then directed to arguments of a more philosophical nature.