Saturday, May 12, 2007

A few questions for Touchstone

The following quotations from Touchstone have been culled from a recent post. I follow-up with questions.

Touchstone, addressing an anonymous commenter, said:
and please note that I am answering your questions directly, off topic or no -- keep this in mind when you look at how T-Bloggers generally (don't) respond.
Yes, let's please keep this mind.

Now, just a few direct questions for Touchstone please:

1. Touchstone said:
Don't know much about Gene, but you Patrick entertain a good number of God-dishonoring ideas and doctrines.
Would Touchstone care to cite which specific God-dishonoring doctrines he has in mind?

2. Touchstone said:
No. The Trinity has always been a Truth, even before the world was created, but it was not orthodox teaching until it was affirmed by the episcopate.
a. Let's take an example. Would Touchstone propose that the deity of Christ is "not orthodox," say c. 5 AD, prior to any credal or confessional affirmation of his deity by an episcopate?

b. If a truth does not become orthodox teaching until it is affirmed by an episcopate, then Touchstone is suggesting that the episcopate is the final arbiter of orthodoxy. My question is, which episcopate(s)? And why not others?

3. Touchstone said:
It [doctrine] isn't orthodox because of it's age or historical status, but, as I've said several times now, because it represents the formal consensus of the catholic episcopate.
a. What happens when various church councils let alone churches themselves (as Peter points out in the post) disagree on a particular doctrine? Which council would Touchstone say is the "orthodox" one? Based on what?

b. In Touchstone's view, is what the Council of Trent decided for Christendom orthodox? Why or why not?

Eastern Orthodox Acceptance Of The Hebrew Canon

We've repeatedly asked Orthodox to list his Old Testament canon for us and to tell us where Eastern Orthodoxy specifically gave him that canon infallibly. He's refused to do either. (See here, for example.) We've seen one of the reasons why he's refused to do so. Different sources over the centuries have accepted different Apocryphal books, and Eastern Orthodox disagree among themselves concerning which ones to include. Also worth noting is that some Eastern Orthodox support the Hebrew canon, a canon that Orthodox has criticized and (ineffectively) argued against at length:

"The controversy between Rome and the Reformers did not long escape the notice of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but the Orthodox were slow in taking sides. They knew both the broad and the narrow canon of the Fathers, and were concerned that the books of the broad canon, which they used in their liturgy, should continue to be esteemed. On the other hand, the belief that only the books of the Hebrew Bible are actually inspired has gradually gained ground among the Orthodox, at the expense of the Roman view, and it now looks as if a decision to this effect could be taken in the forseeable future by a pan-Orthodox synod....A draft statement which makes a firm distinction between the canonical books (those of the Hebrew Bible) and the books that are read (the Apocrypha) was prepared for the coming Great Council of the Orthodox Church, and though this topic has now been deferred until some future occasion, a similar statement has been agreed in the promising negotiations between the Orthodox and the Old Catholics. The first of these two statements is published in Towards the Great Council (London, SPCK, 1972), p. 3f., and the second in Episkepsis, no. 131 (23 September 1975), p. 10f. The Orthodox list of the books that are read, by comparison with the Apocrypha of the English Bible, adds 3 Maccabees, but finds no place for 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) or the prayer of Manasses. The 4 Maccabees of the LXX is not included either." (Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon Of The New Testament Church [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986], p. 2, n. 9 on p. 14)

"in 1642 and 1672 respectively Orthodox synods at Jassy (Iasi) and Jerusalem confirmed as 'genuine parts of scripture' the contents of the 'Septuagintal plus' (the canonicity of which had been taken for granted), specifically: 1 Esdras (= Vulgate 3 Esdras), Tobit, Judith, 1, 2 and 3 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ben Sira (Ecclesiastiscus), Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. The Septuagint remains the 'authorized version' of the Old Testament in Greek Orthodoxy, its deviations from the traditional Hebrew text being ascribed to divine inspiration. Most Orthodox scholars today, however, follow Athanasius and others in placing the books of the 'Septuagintal plus' on a lower level of authority than the 'proto-canonical' ecumenical milestone was reached in 1973 with the appearance of the Common Bible, an edition of the RSV with the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books printed between the Testaments in a form which received the blessing not only of Catholic and Protestant church leaders but also of the Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain, the leader of the Greek Orthodox community in Britain....The commendation of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop is the more telling because the OT part of the work is not based on the Septuagint, which is the authoritative text for the Orthodox Church" (F.F. Bruce, The Canon Of Scripture [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988], pp. 82, 113, n. 31 on p. 113)

For more on such issues from Eastern Orthodox sources, see Steve Hays' discussion here. One of the sources Steve cites, The Blackwell Dictionary Of Eastern Christianity (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004), Ken Parry, et al., ed., comments that "Protestant ideas infiltrated Russian theology in the eighteenth century, whence they spread to parts of the Greek-speaking churches." (p. 83)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Did The Apostles Require That All Churches Have A Monarchical Episcopate?

There's widespread agreement among modern scholars that not every early Christian church had a monarchical episcopate. But Orthodox, characteristic of what he often does, has taken contradictory positions on the issue. He writes:

"And even if it [the monarchical episcopate] wasn't the earliest practice, that wouldn't refute my actual proposition, which is that it was an apostolic command that the church should have a monarchial episcopate at a later date....Firstly I didn't claim they [the apostles] did it [commanded the monarchical episcopate] later, I said that had they done it later you are not off the hook. Why might they have done it later? Because the age of the monarchial rule by the apostles was ending....There is no solid evidence for anything other than the monarchial episcopate....I'm saying nobody knows exactly how it played out, but the church witnesses that the monarchial episcopate is an apostolic teaching. Exactly what when and how that came to be is something we may not know, but that it so is what we do know....Obviously, because it [the monarchical episcopate] is the Apostolic Tradition and it is a command. It was always done this way. James in Acts is the single leader of the Jerusalem church." (sources here and here)

As those who have read much of Orthodox's material should know, he's a poor communicator, he often contradicts himself, and he frequently makes assertions without any supporting argumentation. But part of what he's saying in the comments above seems to be that the monarchical episcopate is required in all post-apostolic churches and was the form of government that existed during the time of the apostles. Orthodox argues that the apostles could have commanded that every church have a monarchical episcopate after their (the apostles') death, even if the monarchical episcopate hadn't existed everywhere during apostolic times, but he seems to think that such a scenario isn't the most likely one.

In the first thread quoted above, Orthodox also makes the following claims about Jerome:

"Jerome doesn't 'attest' to anything other than a monarchial episcopate. He gives an opinion it wasn't always so, but he gives no reason to believe he has any inside knowledge that we don't have....I've seen no evidence cited against the monarchial episcopate apart from a theory Jerome had."

So, he acknowledges that Jerome referred to something other than the monarchical episcopate existing early on, but he dismisses that view as "a theory Jerome had" without "any inside knowledge that we don't have". Yet, in the second thread cited above, Orthodox contradicts himself:

"All Jerome comments on is the naming. It doesn't help you at all."

First Orthodox claims that Jerome did acknowledge an early form of church government other than the monarchical episcopate. Then he claims that Jerome didn't do so, but instead only comments on the terminology of "presbyter" and "bishop" ("the naming").

Why would Orthodox want to change his argument? Because, as I pointed out to him, he's argued that Jerome was Eastern Orthodox and that the ancient church accepted the monarchical episcopate as something required of every church. If Jerome refers to early churches as not having a monarchical episcopate, as Orthodox originally acknowledged he does, then that raises doubts about Orthodox's claim that the ancient church always required the monarchical episcopate as something commanded by the apostles.

Before I go on to address the evidence relevant to Jerome, I should note that Jerome isn't the only patristic source who acknowledged that presbyter and bishop were originally the same office. Roger Beckwith comments:

"Other fourth-century writers, besides Jerome, who continue to recognise that bishop and presbyter were originally one, include Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia." (Elders In Every City [Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Press, 2003], n. 13 on p. 24)

Let's first look at Jerome's Letter 146. In that letter, which addresses matters of church government and whether presbyters and bishops were originally the same, he writes:

"Do you ask for proof of what I say?" (Letter 146:1)

As the Eastern Orthodox patristic scholar John McGuckin notes (see here), Jerome was arguing for something that had been largely neglected in his day. He wasn't just addressing a matter of terminology that would have been relatively uncontroversial. That's why he thinks his audience might be so skeptical of what he's saying.

Jerome goes on to comment:

"When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing it to himself." (Letter 146:1)

Jerome tells us that what Orthodox has argued for was a "subsequent" development. And Jerome uses that reference to "subsequent" just after discussing the last apostle to die, John. He's referring to a change in church government that at least generally occurred after apostolic times.

Below are two other passages from Jerome that David King brought to my attention a number of years ago. I'm posting them as I received them from him:

"A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop, and before dissensions were introduced into religion by the instigation of the devil, and it was said among the peoples, ‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas,’ Churches were governed by a common council of presbyters; afterwards, when everyone thought that those whom he had baptised were his own, and not Christ’s, it was decreed in the whole world that one chosen out of the presbyters should be placed over the rest, and to whom all care of the Church should belong, that the seeds of schisms might be plucked up. Whosoever thinks that there is no proof from Scripture, but that this is my opinion, that a presbyter and bishop are the same, and that one is a title of age, the other of office, let him read the words of the apostle to the Philippians, saying, ‘Paul and Timotheus, servants of Christ to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.’" (Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:562-563)


"Therefore, as we have shown, among the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops; but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person. Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and ought to rule the Church in common, following the example of Moses, who, when he alone had power to preside over the people Israel, chose seventy, with the assistance of whom he might judge the people. We see therefore what kind of presbyter or bishop should be ordained." (Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:563)

Notice that Jerome tells us that the monarchical episcopate was a later development from "custom" and not a "Divine appointment". Notice, also, that above I've cited the Eastern Orthodox patristic scholar John McGuckin referring to the monarchical episcopate as a gradual development. If Eastern Orthodoxy has always recognized the monarchical episcopate as a requirement for every church by commandment of the apostles, then why would ancient sources like Jerome and modern Eastern Orthodox scholars, like John McGuckin, be unaware of that fact and even deny it?

Babel, Babble, & Babinski


I also noted while dipping into your Eastertide book that you had read John Walton's NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY on GENESIS. So have I. Did you note what he said about the way the ancient Hebrews views the shape of the cosmos according to Genesis chapter 1 and other verses? For instance, that the birds don't fly "in" the firmament" but upon its face. I recall Walton admitting that the writer(s) of Genesis most probably viewed/assumed the earth was flat.


Actually, he seems to take two different positions on that subject. On the one hand, he regards the description as an accommodation to ANE cosmic geography. On the other hand, he also regards the description as involving architectural metaphors that foreshadow the tabernacle.

It doesn’t appear to me that he’s expressed himself in a way that’s entirely coherent. However, one could harmonize the two interpretations without too much difficulty.

Moses used architectural metaphors to foreshadow the tabernacle. That would also fit with the literary unity and intertextuality of the Pentateuch. And in using architectural metaphors, ANE architecture supplied the point of reference.

On that view, the element of literary dependence is not on ANE cosmic geography, but ANE architecture.

At the same time, Walton also agrees with Seely. I do not. Poythress has a brief, but trenchant critique of Seely. Cf. Redeeming Science, 96n8.

“He also admits that "Satan" does not appear in Genesis chapter 2 at all, but instead a ‘wise serpent,’ understood to be an actual serpent. Walton also wrote a bit in that commentary about the relative lack of appearances of ‘Satan’ and ‘demons’ throughout the O.T., i.e., compared with the N.T.”

There’s nothing liberal about progressive revelation. Gen 1-3 lay down markers that are developed in later parts of the Pentateuch, including later parts of Genesis. You’re not going to a get a full-blown diabology in Gen 3. As regards the identity of the Serpent, there are several considerations:

i) What the text says.

ii) Intertextual links.

iii) The cultural preunderstanding.

Speaking for myself, I view in Serpent as an angelophany. There are many angelophanies in the Pentateuch. This would be a diabolical angelophany, in contrast to the theophanic angelophany in 2:7 and 3:3ff., or the cherubic angelophany in 3:24.

In translating Hebrew into English, we seek an English synonym whose semantic range intersects with the Hebrew noun. But while they intersect, they do not coincide, and the English word has different connotations than the Hebrew word.

As Hamilton points out in his commentary, the Hebrew word may well be a pun, to trigger associations with divinatory imprecations, viz. casting spells and hexes. This would, in turn, dovetail with ANE ophiolatry and ophiomancy. A good example is Pharaoh’s uraeus. The audience for Genesis is the same audience for Exodus. There are also parallels with the Balaam cycle.

Likewise, “we may see the snake as the embodiment of the commonest Egyptian word for ‘statement’, written as a serpent, a word that appears in Egyptian magical texts as a synonym for ‘spell’.”

So it’s a mistake for a modern reader to assume that the Serpent in Gen 3 must be a “snake” in the English sense of the word. We need to hear the text the way in which the original audience would hear the text.


Do you believe that the Noah's ark story is historically true? Have you read Moore's online piece, "The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark" that cites the works of a host of creationist Christian ark believers and simply asks rather obvious and logical questions? Woodmorappe attempted to "answer" Moore's question-packed little booklet, then Glenn Morton stepped in and easily batted down Woodmorappe's ad hoc "answers," with a host of additional questions that such "ad hoc" explanations raised. It's all on the web, just google their names and "Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark."

I've also compared the relative arrangement of fossils in the geological record with attempts by "Flood geologist" to explain such relative arrangements, and found their explanations wanting. Woodmorappe, ICR, and Answers in Genesis have all backed down over the years from their original assertions that "out of place" strata, and "out of place fossils," and "out of place artifacts" had been found and proven to exist. They backed down from the Paluxy "man prints," from Baugh's "hammer in stone," and even from "The Lewis Mountain" formation, which ICR's Ph.D. paleontologist, Kurt Wise and it's Ph.D. geologist, Steve Austin, agree is a genuine overthrust and the largest overthrust in the world. So the geological record is not all mixed up. As for Woodmorappe, last I read he's been arguing in typical ad hoc fashion that no "out of place" fossils or human artifacts are likely to ever be found, because (here's the ad hoc part), when the Bible speaks about the earth being full of sin and violence in the days of Noah it only referred to a relatively small portion of the earth, that only 30 or 40 thousand human beings were alive at that time, and they lived in only one small portion of the earth, and God took special care to bury their homes and artifacts and bones where no one will ever find them. Hence, there's no need for "Flood geologists" like Woodmorappe to even have to continue digging and looking for out of place fossils.

But the huge fact that young-earth "Flood geologists" ignore is the relative arrangement of strata around the world and the relative arrangement of the fossils of each representative geological period in those strata, right down to the relative arrangements of microfossils of single-celled organisms, and small minor bones of organisms, all sorted in ways no single "world wide Flood" of mere water could ever sort so finely and in such an "evolutionary-like" order without a host of countless additional miracles.


You have a habit of wanting me to comment on what other people have said. I’m more concerned with exegeting Scripture than exegeting Steve Austin.

To some extent, the modern-day, YEC reading of Genesis is constrained by the YEC reading of prophecy. Its premillennial literalism establishes the hermeneutical paradigm.

And apostates like you and Moore and Morton typically operate with the very same hermeneutic since you usually come out of the very same religious milieu. You haven’t changed the way you read the Bible. You continue to read it the way Tim LaHaye reads it. You’re Tweedledee to Austin’s Tweedledum. The only difference is that you no longer believe what you read.

At the same time, I don’t have to agree with Wise on all his theories or interpretations to find him useful. And Wise at his worst is better than Dawkins at his best. Dawkins’ just-so stories are ad hoc from start to finish.

That, however, is not the same thing as the grammatico-historical method, which is my own point of reference. I ask myself, “how would the original audience hear the text?” Sometimes the answer is literal, other times figurative.

The original audience wouldn’t register the geographical landmarks in the flood account the same way a modern audience is wont. We have a different sense of scale. The danger is to superimpose our modern mental picture of the globe back onto the ancient text, and then burden the text with a lot of logistical difficulties that are not, in fact, generated by the text itself, but by our own anachronisms.

But I assume the original audience would hear the text in light of ANE cartography, not satellite cartography. It is wrong to literally map our own atlas back onto Gen 7.

BTW, this doesn’t mean the narrator was committed to ANE cartography. He isn’t that specific. The imagery is quite generic. The question is how the original audience would visualize the account. These are the sorts of preliminary questions that a contemporary reader needs to ask himself before we ever get around to the scientific questions. Not, what does it mean to us? But, what did it mean to them?

And I’ve addressed “scientific” objections to the account on several other occasions, so I won’t repeat myself here.

As to the fossil record, what we’re generally getting, as Henry Gee has documented at length, is not a continuous sequence frozen in rock, but discontinuous data-points which are rearranged into a continuous sequence by a value-laden reconstruction of the record that is enormously underdetermined by the actual state of the evidence. A thousand theoretical interpolations to every isolated bone fragment.

Of course, Gee isn’t trying to undermine evolution. Rather, like so many others, he’s trying to retrofit the theory. But to clear the ground for cladistics, he must slash and burn phenetics, and it’s quite a spectacle to see how little is left over after his scorched earth policy. So now we have another outbreak of the Darwin Wars.

A disingenuous orthodoxy

Originally, I intended to post the following comment in the combox of Peter's latest post. But I thought it'd derail the discussion even more than it's already been derailed. So I'm publishing it as a new post instead.

Touchstone said:
But I would like to know what you use to determine what is "orthodox" and what is not.
1. Since it appears Touchstone missed it, here's what Gene said in his very first paragraph: "My standards are not at all arbitrary. I have exegetical reasons for holding to a confession of faith that includes Sola Fide..."

In the context of Gene's use of the words, what are "exegetical reasons" based on? Exegesis of the Bible.

And, in turn, good exegesis of the Bible is what good confessions of faith are themselves built on.

2. Now let's ask Touchstone the same question. What is Touchstone's own measure or standard for orthodoxy? Well, at this point it seems to be what he vaguely terms "catholic consensus." As Touchstone puts it, "I offered the 'catholic consensus' understanding, which, by my reading is completely uncontroversial among church historians."

a. First, what does Touchstone mean by "catholic consensus"? Is it the consensus of the entire or at least the majority of the church over a particular period of time? But, for example, as Gene has already noted, the Arians took over after Nicea. Does Touchstone consider the Arians orthodox?

b. Plus appealing to "catholic consensus" actually begs the question. Who or what determines "catholic consensus" in the first place? What is "catholic consensus" itself based on? Is it the "church historians" Touchstone writes about above? If so, which ones, and more to the point, from where do church historians derive authority to define orthodoxy?

3. Gene rightly points out: "The onus is on you [Touchstone] to show why the Ancient Creeds are the ones which are 'the' ones to hold in order for a person to make a credible profession of faith. I'm simply asking you to make good on your claim."

Indeed, that's the real issue. Earlier Touchstone mentions that he holds to the Nicene and Apostles' Creed and that these are what define him as orthodox. But why these creeds and why not others, as Gene has noted? (Let alone whether Touchstone actually does consistently hold to these creeds in his Christian profession.)

Again, and as Touchstone himself asks, what standard or measure does he use to determine what's orthodox from what's not? What is Touchstone's own basis for holding to certain creeds and confessions over others? "Catholic consensus"? Church historians? Bishops and councils? Will he join the chorus of voices which sing sola ecclesia (e.g. the RCC, the LDS)? Himself -- after all, he is a self-proclaimed touchstone? All of these? Some of these? Who/what/how much will he accommodate? Something else entirely?

(I suspect Touchstone is at least partly reluctant to answer with something along the lines of "a fair exegesis of the Scriptures" because he knows if that's the case, and if he has to exegete actual texts of Scripture to prove his point(s), he won't have as much wiggle room in his words as he might've otherwise.)

4. In any case, the more I read him, the more convinced I am that, even at best, Touchstone sadly exemplifies some of the most discouraging and in fact unorthodox aspects and trends of the Emergent Church movement rather than (what Touchstone presumably wants others to believe) its more positive ones. As Al Mohler has said, "Orthodoxy must be generous, but it cannot be so generous that it ceases to be orthodox."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The real me


“What do we get here? YEC from Steve Hays, militating against the whole of science itself.”

Sigh! T-stone is soooo naïve!

Truth is, the YEC business was part cover story, part wedge tactic.

When Paul Kurtz ushered me into his office a few years ago (I’m on the payroll, but it’s an off-the-books operation, you understand), he explained to me that I was recruited to be a secular plant. He already had Shermer to do public debates, but he needed a man on the inside.

So I’ve spent the last few years blogging on YEC, Calvinism, theonomy, &c., to build up street cred with the Blogdom of God. It was a softening up exercise so that when I began to post stuff steering the reader in the direction of strong atheism, I’d catch my constituency off guard and coax them over to the dark side unawares.

The YEC material was designed to force the issue by making middle-of-the-roadkill compromises like theistic evolution untenable, thereby paving the way for nominal believers like T-stone to emigrate to the greener pastures of moral nihilism.

Just between you and me, some of my teammates are also double agents. For example, “Paul Manata” is really Paula Zapata, Director of Womyn’s Studies at UC Berkeley, while “Patrick Chan” (not his real name) is actually Chuck Liddell’s personal trainer. Chan would be a contender in his own right if he didn’t have to spend so much of his spare time as Director of the Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften.

Thoughts on Modern Evangelicalism

The recent reversion of Francis Beckwith to Roman Catholicism brings to mind some practical issues regarding theology in Evangelicalism. Since Beckwith’s Christianity Today interview was basically subjective, I’ll likewise start with some subjective points.

First, I’ve been meeting off and on with a group of friends on Sundays (I say “off and on” because due to my work schedule and the lack of free-time during the week, I’ve had to use my Sundays to catch up a bit on other things and haven’t gone for a while). This group is composed of my brother and myself on the Reformed front, an Eastern Orthodox man in training for the priesthood, several Roman Catholics (indeed, the Catholics are recruiting everyone at the moment so there are more Catholics than anyone else), and several people who are disaffected with the modern state of Evangelicalism but who would still be considered Evangelicals. The result is a semi-ecumenical forum where we abide by certain rules to keep discussions civil and we discuss various issues, especially from Church history.

Speaking broadly, then, it is not at all surprising to me that Beckwith has abandoned Evangelicalism. There is very little appeal to Evangelicalism in its modern form. Indeed, the reason the group I am in formed in the first place was because one of my friends was so frustrated with the lack of thinking that goes on in Evangelical churches these days that he knew there must be something more out there.

Thankfully, I go to a good church that teaches Biblical doctrine every Sunday. It is intellectually satisfying. But there are many churches in America that have gone to the opposite extreme: pure emotionalism, and indeed a hostile spirit toward intellectual pursuits. As such, modern Evangelicalism can largely be defined today as anti-intellectual. Instead of teaching the Bible, we teach Rick Warren books. Instead of referring to Bible passages in our sermons, we quote 24 or Lost. Instead of focusing on God, we are anthropocentric.

In many ways, the Evangelical church is simply mirroring the anti-intellectual state of our culture as a whole. Thinking—true thinking—is not an easy thing. Wrestling with ideas, trying to defend a position logically, even reading up on opposing viewpoints—all these things take mental energy and stamina. It’s easier to watch American Idol and make fun of talentless singers than it is to think about what the doctrine of Justification means. And even if we pay lip service to doctrines such as this in our church services, how many people can think of an application of this doctrine on Sunday night or Monday morning?

Obviously, Beckwith was one person who could not find an application from the modern version of Evangelicalism. In many ways, though, Beckwith’s movement was not that much different from the movement of many of the apostates over at Debunking Christianity. Both were unsatisfied with the modern Evangelical church, and each picked a substitute philosophy to answer the questions they found problematic in Evangelicalism. While the Debunkers became atheists (thus “solving” the problem by pretending it was an artificial problem in the first place), Beckwith became a Catholic (thus “solving” the problem by substituting group-thought—the papacy—for the anti-intellectualism of modern Evangelicalism).

So the question for Evangelicals is a stark one. The question isn’t “Is there anything wrong with modern Evangelicalism?” The question is: “Since there is a problem with modern Evangelicalism, what is the solution?”

Hosea 4:6a says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Knowledge is vital for the Christian walk. When pastors speak to the Lowest Common Denominator in the audience, assuming that it is a pagan who has just walked in off the street, there can be no growth in the body. When a church is seeker-friendly (read: seeker-centered), those who believe and are not “seeking” will simply starve to death. Right now in Evangelicalism, there is no place for the flock to go to get fed.

The author of Hebrews chastises those who live on “milk” alone, saying: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Hebrews 5:12-13). He then implores the church to move on, saying: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

Ironically, in the above passages, the author of Hebrews called the very reason Beckwith left Evangelicalism to return to Rome, part of the “elementary doctrine of Christ.” Yet our modern Evangelical churches do not even teach this elementary, foundational doctrine of “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”

This is not taught because we live in an anti-intellectual age where teaching anything is considered pointless. But Hosea made it clear that without knowledge, the people of God are destroyed. Indeed, he was even more to the point for our modern church because he continues: “[B]ecause you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6b). It wasn’t just that people had no knowledge, it was that they rejected knowledge, exactly as the modern Evangelical church has done today.

If the rejection of knowledge is the cause of the problem, the cure is simple: gaining that knowledge. And while groups of laymen can gather and do things to promote the knowledge of God (such as occurs on Triablogue), what we really need is for the church as a whole to move on to the solid food. While our culture may be largely anti-intellectual, people cannot live anti-intellectually for very long. It is against our natures, and we will become dissatisfied with our lack of growth. Therefore, when a layman realizes he could preach all the sermons that a pastor who supposedly went through years of seminary can do, what is left for him in that church? Where will he go to be fed?

False religions that promise knowledge are tempting for that reason. If a starving man is offered rotten meat, he will eat it. The Evangelical church should be giving people steak so that they would never feel that starved in the first place. If Evangelicalism wishes to avoid more “embarrassments” like having the president of the Evangelical Theological Society reject Evangelicalism, it needs to start feeding the sheep in every church, abandoning the “seeker-centered” approaches that only serve to inoculate members against Christianity and instead focusing on the weighty theological issues of Scripture. If, instead of mimicking the anti-intellectualism or our culture, the church shone as the beacon of reason and rationality that it was for so long, the church would actually transform the culture instead of being transformed by the culture.

Unfortunately, I do not see much hope that Evangelicalism as a whole will change. Thankfully, these things are ultimately in God’s hands instead of mine.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Perspectives on the New Perspective

The Narrative of Scripture and Justification by Faith: A Still Fresher Reading of Paul by Mark Seifrid.

Francis Beckwith

Francis Beckwith has given an interview on his reversion to Roman Catholicism:

HT: Patrick Chan.

I’ll just comment on a few statements:

“The issue of justification was key for me. The Catholic Church frames the Christian life as one in which you must exercise virtue—not because virtue saves you, but because that's the way God's grace gets manifested. As an evangelical, even when I talked about sanctification and wanted to practice it, it seemed as if I didn't have a good enough incentive to do so. Now there's a kind of theological framework, and it doesn't say my salvation depends on me, but it says my virtue counts for something. It's important to allow the grace of God to be exercised through your actions. The evangelical emphasis on the moral life forms my Catholic practice with an added incentive. That was liberating to me.”

Notice what is missing from this statement. He doesn’t say: “I went back and reexamined Paul’s teaching on justification. I came to the conclusion that Trent has the better of the exegetical argument.”

Instead, he offers a subjective, impressionist, existential argument—if you can even call it an argument.


“Evangelicals kid themselves when they believe that they can re-invent the wheel with every generation, that you have to produce another spate of systematic theology textbooks to teach people the stuff that has already been articulated for generations.”

Given the number of years that Beckwith has been an evangelical, a well-connected evangelical, moving in a variety of evangelical circles, does he really think evangelicals believe that they need to reinvent the wheel each generation? Is that the issue?

No, the issue is that Christianity may be 2000 years old, but it’s new to each new generation, and it’s incumbent upon each new generation to double-check “the stuff that has already been articulated for generations.”


“Look, you're not going to come up with the Nicene Creed by just picking up the Bible.”

Why not? How did the Nicene fathers come up with the Nicene Creed, if not by picking up the Bible?

“Does the Bible contribute to our understanding? Absolutely it does; the Nicene Creed is consistent with Scripture. But you needed a church that had a self-understanding in order to articulate that in any clear way.”

And how did the church come to its self-understanding? From Scripture, or apart from Scripture? Is the church’s self-understanding consonant with the way the Bible understands the church?

“But we have to understand that the Reformation only makes sense against the backdrop of a tradition that was already there.”

No one denies this. But let’s also remember that it’s not as if there was a monolithic, pre-Reformation tradition. There was a lot of diversity. Trent narrowed and hardened tradition in reaction to the Reformation.

“Calvin and Luther did not go back and re-write Nicea. They took it for granted.”

To my knowledge, that’s inaccurate. Calvin rejected Nicene subordinationism in favor of the autotheos of each Person.

“Looking at tradition would also help evangelicals learn about Christian liturgical traditions, like Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, that evangelicals reject because they say liturgy is unbiblical.”

Do evangelicals reject liturgy per se as unbiblical? Or do they reject certain liturgical innovations as unbiblical? Or believe there’s a measure of freedom in our liturgical practice?

“It turns out many of them came to be very early on in church history when people were close historically to the apostles themselves. There must be something to these practices that the early Christians thought was perfectly consistent with what they had received from the apostles.”

Two or three obvious problems with this argument:

i) Apostolic practice is not automatically normative for the subapostolic church. For example, the apostles continued to attend the Temple services. Is that normative for Christians?

ii) Certain NT letters are already combating heresy in the NT church(es). Heresies were afoot during the apostolic era. So there’s no correlation between antiquity and orthodoxy.

iii) What about discontinuities between early church practice and the practice of the 21C Catholic church? Doesn’t the appeal to primitive tradition cut both ways? Does it undercut discontinuities between past and present?

“I think I underestimated the deep divisions that were still there, at least among lay evangelicals and Catholics more so than the academics who interact with each other more often.”

It’s true that elites tend to think alike. For example, the Episcopalian hierarchy is far more likely to agree with the secular elite on social issues than with the laity. Is that a good thing?

“Non-denominational Bible church folks are still reading stuff about Catholicism published in the 1950s.”

What is his evidence for this claim? No doubt it’s true in some cases, but does he have any statistical data to back up his sweeping generalization?

And why is it always that evangelicals don’t understand Catholics, but not vice versa? We live in the same country, you know.

“That's what led me to read the Joint Declaration on Justification.”

Were the Catholic participants official representatives of the Vatican? Do they speak for Rome? Were they papal delegates? Did the Vatican codify this Declaration?

“Then I began reading some Catholic authors who did a very nice job with explaining the Catholic views of grace and faith.”

Which Catholic authors?

“I thought to myself, ‘How come every evangelical book that I've read on Catholicism didn't get this right’?”

Which evangelical books?

“They both accept the same premise that the Enlightenment view of reason is the correct view of reason.”

This gets to be tedious. It’s the sort of thing we’re used to hearing from Bishop Wright. But we make allowance for the fact that he’s a NT scholar rather than a philosopher. Yet Beckwith is a philosopher.

So what evangelical theologians operate with an Enlightenment view of reason? Does that include pre-Enlightenment theologians like Calvin and Beza?

And what about the role of reason in Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, Suarez, Arnauld, Maréchal, Maritain, Rahner, and so on?

“At some point, there has to be some connection between the church and its role and the phenomenon of Scripture. There are a lot of evangelicals who believe that and aren't Catholic. But if you accept that particularly narrow view of Sola Scriptura, then it becomes almost impossible to understand the Catholic view.”

i) Did Luther, a Catholic professor theology, not understand the Catholic view? Did Vermingli, by turns an abbot and prior, not understand the Catholic view?

ii) And assuming, for the sake of argument, that sola Scriptura precludes a proper understanding of the Catholic view, how does that validate the Catholic view?

iii) Conversely, does the Catholic view make it almost impossible to understand sola Scriptura?

"And I think it's a kind of axiomatic rationalism that doesn't really capture why people convert, and why people believe things."

Even if that were true, how does the psychology of conversion validate the process of conversion? After all, an individual can convert to anything.

"That is what you often find in real strong Calvinist views of God's moral nature, that things ought to be obeyed because God says so, not because he's good."

Can he quote any Reformed creed or major Reformed theologian who takes that position?

Evolutionary mirror-reading

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays)

Below are some excerpts from Henry Gee’s book on cladistics. My transcription preserves the original emphases.

Many of the assumptions we make about evolution, especially concerning the history of life as understood from the fossil record, are, however, baseless. The reason for this lies with the fact of the scale of geological time that scientists are dealing with, which is so vast that it defies narrative. Fossils, such as the fossils of creatures we hail as our ancestors, constitute primary evidence for the history of life, but each fossil is an infinitesimal dot, lost in a fathomless sea of time, whose relationship with other fossils and organisms living in the present day is obscure. Any story we tell against the compass of geological time that links these fossils in sequences of cause and effect—or ancestry and descent—is, therefore, only ours to make. We invent these stories, after the fact, to justify the history of life according to our own prejudices.1

Fossils are never found with labels or certificates of authenticity. You can never know that the fossil bone you might dig up in Africa belonged to your direct ancestor, or anyone else’s. The attribution of ancestry does not come from the fossil; it can only come from us. Fossils are mute: their silence gives us unlimited licence to tell their stories for them, which usually takes the form of chains of ancestry and descent…Such tales are sustained more in our minds than in reality and are informed and conditioned by our own prejudices, which will tell us not what really happened, but what we think ought to have happened. If there are “missing links,” they exist only in our imaginations.2

Once we realize that Deep Time can never support narratives of evolution, we are forced to accept that virtually everything we thought we knew about evolution is wrong…If we can never know for certain that any fossil we unearth is our direct ancestor, it is similarly invalid to pluck a string of fossils from Deep Time, arrange these fossils in chronological order, and assert that this arrangement represents a sequence of evolutionary ancestry and descent. As Stephen Jay Gould has demonstrated, such misleading tales are part of popular iconography: everyone has seen pictures in which a sequence of fossil hominids—members of the human family of species—are arranged in an orderly procession from primitive forms up to modern Man.3

To complicate matters further, such sequences are justified after the fact by tales of inevitable, progressive improvement. For example, the evolution of Man is said to have been driven by improvements in posture, brain size, and the coordination between hand and eye, which led to technological achievements such a fire, the manufacture of tools, and the use of language. But such scenarios are subjective. They can never be tested by experiment, and so they are unscientific. They rely for their currency not on scientific test, but on assertion and the authority of the presentation.4

Whether you believe the conventional wisdom that our own species Homo sapiens descended in seamless continuity from the preexisting species Homo erectus depends not on the evidence (because the fossil evidence is moot) but on the deferment of your lack of knowledge to the authority of the presenter or whether the presentation of the evidence resonates with your prejudices.5

The story of human interaction with fossils represents an example of how experience and belief have a powerful effect on interpretation and demonstrates why scientific truths can only be temporary. Today, we see fossils as the remains of creatures that once lived. However, this nature is not inherent in the fossils. It is our immersion in a century and half of Darwinian thought, not the fossils themselves, that gives us the capacity to see fossils as kin to things that were once as alive as you or I.6

The intervals of time that separate the fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent.7

The conventional portrait of human evolution—and, indeed, of the history of life—tends to be one of lines of ancestors and descendants. We concentrate on the events leading to modern humanity, ignoring or playing down the evolution of other animals: we prune away all branches in the tree of life except the one leading to ourselves. The result, inevitably, is a tale of progressive improvement, culminating in modern humanity. From our privileged vantage point in the present day, we look back at human ancestry and pick out the features in fossil hominids that we see in our selves—a big brain, an upright stance, the use of tools, and so on. Naturally, we arrange fossil hominids in a series according to their resemblance to the human state.8

The conventional, linear view easily becomes a story in which the features of humanity are acquired in a sequence that can be discerned retrospectively—first an upright stance, then a bigger brain, then the invention of toolmaking, and so on, with ourselves as the inevitable consequence.9

New fossil discoveries are fitted into this preexisting story. We call these new discoveries “missing links,” as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to according with human prejudices. In reality…each fossil represents an isolated point, with no knowable connection to any other given fossil, and all float around in an overwhelming sea of gaps.10

Just because the unicorn looks something like a bull or a horse to us, this does not imply that a unicorn is a missing link between these two animals. Horses and bulls are contingent; they just happened to offer themselves as models because they are familiar and available. Perhaps in another part of the world, a unicorn would be seen as a mixture of a camel and a kudu, but a unicorn would not be a missing link between those animals either.11

This task had very little to do with what the fishes were like as living animals. All I had were fragments that I could link to larger and more certainly known fragments that were sufficiently informative to have a name. I might as well have been doing the same thing with stamps, or cigarette cards. The relationships that these fishes had with living animals is so distant that any attempt to clothe them in flesh, to make them swim, requires a leap of faith.12

However, this leap must in some degree be fuelled by comparison with the animals that live around us today. If this were not possible, we would not be able to make any sense of fossils at all. When we look at pteraspids now, we interpret them in terms of lampreys: that is how they “make sense” to us. But the model of a pteraspid in terms of a lamprey is as provisional as that which once linked pteraspids with squid.13

The quest to interpret fossils in terms of modern models rests on the assumption that all life on Earth has a common ancestry, because we can interpret past life only in terms of other living organisms. If this were not possible, we would not recognize the fossils of animals as animals at all. We’d just see them as rocks.14

Crucially, you should have a clear idea about the position of the organism in nature before speculating about the function of its various parts. Let me explain. Let’s say that you have discovered that unicorns use their horns to kill dragons. Using this information, you could spin a tale about the importance of the horn in unicorn evolution: unicorns evolved in dragon country, where possession of horns was an asset. Unicorns without horns would all be charred to ashes by the fire-breathing dragons. Only those unicorns with horns survived to perpetuate the species.15

This story sounds plausible, but like the story about the evolution of tetrapod limbs, it cannot be tested. What is more, if you use your prior (and untestable) assumption that the unicorn evolved its horn to kill dragons as a guide to the unicorn’s relationships, you cannot then use this information in any subsequent test of the function of the unicorn’s horn. Why? Because you have already assumed that you know the horn’s function, even before you run the test. You have loaded the dice to tell you what you want.16

Misinterpretations about “adaptive purpose” ignore the fact that natural selection is a blind and undirected consequence of the interaction between variation and the environment. Natural selection exists only in the continuous present of the natural world: it has no memory of its previous actions, no plans for the future, or underlying purpose. It is not a winnowing force with an independent existence that can b e personified, like Death, with his black cowl and scythe.17

Artificial selection is an imperfect metaphor for natural selection because breeders quite obviously do have intelligible reasons for why they select some traits and not others. Unlike natural selection, breeders have memories, plans, and purposes. They select for the same traits, generation after generation, to produce a discernible trend. Natural selection could hardly be more different18

To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a linage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story—amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific.19

Ornithologists, who study modern birds, regard Archaeopteryx as an ancestor and an icon. Given that they have already judged where Archaeopteryx fits into the history of life, they look at the fossil and see exactly what they expect to find—birdlike features…Archaeopteryx has feathers, so it is a bird by definition. Its archaisms are only to be expected, given the fossil’s great antiquity when compared with other bird fossils. Because they study modern birds, ornithologists will, naturally, tend to see bird evolution in terms of perceived adaptations to birds’ current, airborne niche.20

Palaeontologists, in contrast, come to Archaeopteryx with a different search image…To palaeontologists, Archaeopteryx looks very similar to members of a group of dinosaurs called theropods….In this light, palaeontologists tends to see the feathers of Archaeopteryx as intriguing decorations for the body of a theropod dinosaur, not as central, key features essential for explaining the course of evolution in birds.21

The finds are 4.4 million years old and come from a place called Aramis. “This is the earliest-known hominid,” says White, proudly, but with a touch of self-deprecating humour that demonstrates a sensitivity to the inevitably piecemeal nature of human fossil remains, in which all the evidence for the hominid lineage between about 10 and 5 million years ago—several thousand generations of living creatures—can be fitted into a small box.22

There is therefore nothing special, advanced, or progressive about bipedality—only the fact that it is we who are bipedal, and it is we who are writing the book, makes it so.23

To complicate matters, brain volume can vary enormously among individuals in a species, with no discernible connection to intelligence.24

1 In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life (Cornell 2001), 1-2.

2 Ibid. 2.

3 Ibid. 4-5.

4 Ibid. 5.

5 Ibid. 8.

6 Ibid. 9.

7 Ibid. 23.

8 Ibid. 32.

9 Ibid. 32.

10 Ibid. 32.

11 Ibid. 54.

12 Ibid. 61.

13 Ibid. 61.

14 Ibid. 82.

15 Ibid. 87-88.

16 Ibid. 88.

17 Ibid. 96.

18 Ibid. 96-97.

19 Ibid. 117-18.

20 Ibid. 180.

21 Ibid. 180-81.

22 Ibid. 201-02.

23 Ibid. 214.

24 Ibid. 214.

Unreasonable, Contradictory Eastern Orthodox Claims About Church History

Orthodox wrote the following in another thread. Keep these comments in mind whenever you see Orthodox claiming that the early church agreed with him on an issue or claiming that something is an apostolic tradition:

"There is no contradiction whatsoever between claiming that something is and always was an apostolic tradition and recognizing that the church fathers held a variety of views. I could in theory hold the position that say, only 10% of fathers held my view, and 90% didn't. It doesn't mean the 10% were wrong when the church was led to recognise the truth. I wouldn't generally argue this was the case, but it matters not if that's how it played out. You keep failing to recognize that I don't need all the early church to agree with me."

Here's what I wrote in response:

You keep ignoring some of the factors involved when addressing this issue, since explaining all of the factors wouldn't allow you to dismiss the evidence I've cited. In addition to claiming that the veneration of images is an apostolic tradition (a claim you've never proven), you've also said that the church always practiced it (citing sources like Clement of Alexandria and the catacombs, even though they're only relevant to the use of images, not their veneration), you contrasted your view with the view of other Eastern Orthodox who argue for a gradual development in understanding the concept, you argued that the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy would settle a misunderstanding of an apostolic tradition like the veneration of images once that misunderstanding arose, you argued that we should agree with any consensus the early church had on a doctrine (no later consensus can overturn an earlier one, according to you), you argued that all Christians of the first millennium were members of your denomination, and you contrasted their unity with the disunity of Protestants (defining even minor disagreements among Protestants as unacceptable). When we take all of those factors into account, your suggested scenario in which 90% of the fathers disagreed with you on the veneration of images doesn't make sense. Instead of selectively defending portions of what you've said while ignoring other portions, you need to defend the entirety of your previous claims. You can't do it. Your initial claims were false.

If 90% of Christians were opposed to the veneration of images, as in your scenario above, then wouldn't such a consensus prove that such opposition is correct, according to your standards? How could a later popularity of the veneration of images overturn a 90% agreement against the practice in earlier times?...

And why do Eastern Orthodox hold such contradictory views of church history? If one of you will argue that thousands of Christians around the world practiced the veneration of images in the earliest centuries, while another Eastern Orthodox will argue that these early Christians hadn't yet developed an understanding of veneration and in some cases even opposed the practice, those are two highly divergent, contradictory views of the nature of church history. That disagreement is relevant not only to "the details of history", but also to the nature of revelation, how the church leads its people, and other significant issues.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Misanthropic humanism

Children 'bad for planet'

The Beginning of the End for Life as We Know it on Planet Earth?

A Letter To Our Soldiers In Iraq

An open letter.

Loftistic duplicity


Have you yet reviewed Erik J. Wielenberg's book, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe? (Cambridge University Press, 2005). I don't think such simplisms, even if coming from my friend Copan, are worthy of what we in the opposition are actually saying.

1:46 PM, May 07, 2007, John W. Loftus said...

I don't think there is an eternal Platonic standard of morality. Some atheists like Wielenberg do.

Notice that having apparently endorsed Wielenberg’s book as presenting a cogent, secular alternative to Christian ethics, Loftus, in another thread, admits that he rejects Wielenberg’s solution.

1:48 PM, May 07, 2007, Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I do not believe in 'ultimate moral standards.' Since 'good' and 'evil' are judgments on specific actions of human beings, I believe that the terms are the responsibility of humans. However I also believe that communication, co-operation, ethics, and most particularly empathy are evolutionally 'programmed' into us because they are the most important survival traits we possess.

As I’ve pointed out on several occasions, there are several things wrong with evolutionary ethics. Just to name a few:

i)It commits the is-ought fallacy as well as the naturalistic fallacy.

ii)Assuming that evolution has programmed us to be altruistic, yet once we become aware of our programming, we are then in a position to see that our moral intuitions are illusory and repudiate our evolutionary conditioning.

iii)Notice how the appeal to evolutionary ethics is being used to underwrite the politically correct orthodoxy of 21C liberal Western values. Funny how our evolutionary programming happens to exactly correspond to the New York Times editorial page.

5:26 PM, May 07, 2007, Curiosis said...

Morality is a social construct. It exists only to allow humans to live and work together. Imagine that you were all alone on an island. Can you do anything immoral? No, because there is no victim for your immoral act. There is no objective morality because the rules are made by humans based on our desires. I once read that murder will be considered immoral so long humans dislike being murdered. We have morality for the same reason that sports have rules. Imagine a football game with no rules. It would be utter chaos, and likely nothing would ever be accomplished. The rules of the game only make sense in the context of a goal. The goal in football is an exciting game where no one is injured, and everyone has a fair chance. Any rule contrary to these goals is discarded.

This statement has the merit of intellectual candor. And how many of you would like to see such an admission enacting into law? Would you want the attending physician at the ER to operate with this philosophy?

The Unity And Clarity Brought About By The One True Church

In another thread, Orthodox writes:

"Our canon could have been always believed. It may not have been. It could be somewhere in between. I don't care I have an infallible church."

Isn't Eastern Orthodoxy supposed to always hold the same Traditions? Didn't Orthodox tell us that his denomination clarifies issues when a dispute arises? There have been disagreements about the Old Testament canon for many centuries. Where has Eastern Orthodoxy infallibly settled those disputes? List your Old Testament canon for us, Orthodox. And tell us where Eastern Orthodoxy has infallibly taught that canon.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Eastern Orthodox Teachings

A Biola Report.

Francis Beckwith's Reversion To Roman Catholicism

Francis Beckwith has done a lot of good work. Though his reversion to Roman Catholicism is a mistake, I'm grateful for the good work he did as an Evangelical, and I'm glad that he did the right thing by resigning from the Evangelical Theological Society. Much of what needs to be said about Beckwith's reversion has already been said by people like James White, at his blog, and Douglas Groothuis and Jeff Downs, at Beckwith's blog. I would add the following. Francis Beckwith probably would agree with some of what I'm going to say, but it's sometimes worthwhile to state something that people have been assuming without stating. Making these things explicit might be helpful to some people who are looking on.

1. There can be a large degree of agreement with Roman Catholic theology among the church fathers without the conclusion following that we ought to consider the fathers Roman Catholic or that we ought to consider Catholicism true. On some issues, such as the veneration of images or some Marian doctrines, what Catholicism teaches was widely absent or contradicted among the earliest patristic sources. I would argue that the earliest Christians, including the earliest church fathers, held views on a large number of issues that are far from what Roman Catholicism believes (church government, prayer, the veneration of images, the afterlife, Mary, etc.). The earliest post-apostolic Christians repeatedly put forward a view of the afterlife that didn't include Purgatory, they didn't pray to the deceased and angels, infant baptism was initially absent and only gradually became popular, etc. It's true that justification through works is more prominent in patristic sources than justification through faith alone, for example, but such a vague similarity to Roman Catholicism doesn't make the fathers Catholic or Catholicism true. Similarly, it could be said that the fathers generally held a higher view of Mary than Evangelicals do, but a higher view of Mary isn't equivalent to a Roman Catholic view, and patristic views of Mary are closer to that of Evangelicalism the earlier we go.

2. Justification through works can be defined in more than one way, and there were many views of justification among the church fathers. See, for example, Tertullian's treatise On Baptism and Augustine's description of the large variety of views of justification in his day in The City Of God 21:17-27. It could be said that Mormonism and Roman Catholicism both believe in some form of justification through works, but it doesn't therefore follow that they hold the same view of justification. There are significant differences. Similarly, the patristic sources who advocate some form of justification through works disagree among themselves widely as to which works are required and which sins allegedly cause the loss of justification, for example. One of the earliest fathers, Hermas of Rome (note the significance of his location), for instance, believed in the concept of limited forgiveness (The Shepherd, 1:2:2). Roman bishops living shortly after the time of Hermas would oppose the concept, illustrating the diversity of views that could exist even in one city within a relatively short period of time. The patristic sources who advocate some form of justification through works differ widely in how they define the concept.

3. The Biblical evidence pertaining to justification is more significant than many people suggest. The Biblical documents were written over a span of more than a thousand years, and they address thousands of years of human history. The fact that the last book of the Bible was written in the first century A.D. doesn't mean that the Bible is just one first century source written by one author, which people might easily misunderstand. It's not as if we can go to somebody like Justin Martyr or Irenaeus and get the clarification we need regarding what the entire Bible meant when it was written several decades earlier. The church fathers were far removed from the original context of the Old Testament, and some of them were far removed from the original context of the New Testament. And if we think that we need clarification on something in Paul, for example, why wouldn't we go to somebody like Luke or John for that clarification before going to somebody like Hermas or Augustine? The concept of having the fathers clarify Biblical teaching on justification for us requires not only that one source needs clarification, but also that a long series of other sources needs clarification as well (the other Biblical authors). If you can read dozens of Biblical authors, yet still think that you need later sources to clarify major elements of the doctrine of justification for you (not minor details scripture doesn't address much), then the problem might be more with you than with an alleged lack of clarity in the Biblical documents.

4. Justification through faith alone is Biblical. It's doubtful that Paul would have placed so much emphasis on Genesis 15:6 if he meant to argue for some form of justification through works. All that Abraham does in that passage is believe (sola fide). That's not the sort of passage one chooses to illustrate justification through baptism, giving to the poor, or any other work. Jesus repeatedly forgives people as soon as they believe, prior to baptism or any other work (Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, 17:19, 18:10-14), and that sort of justification at the time of faith is treated as normative elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 15:7-11, 19:2, Galatians 3:2-9, Ephesians 1:13-14). Paul's question in Acts 19:2 assumes that it's normative to receive the Spirit at the time of faith, not at the time of baptism or at the time of anything else other than faith. Paul repeats that theme elsewhere, such as in Galatians 3:2-9. It would be implausible to dismiss all of these Biblical examples of sola fide as exceptions to a rule, especially given that some of the passages in question are explicitly in a normative context. Much more can be said for the Biblical case for a Protestant understanding of justification. In addition to the passages I've just cited, a Protestant view of justification makes more sense of other Biblical themes, such as the substitutionary nature of Christ's righteousness and atonement, the concept of looking to Christ and His work alone (1 Corinthians 2:2, Galatians 6:14), the freeness of eternal life, etc.

5. As some patristic scholars have noted, justification through faith alone is found in some sources during the patristic era. Protestants in general have noted this fact from the time of the reformers onward. Some, such as Philip Schaff, have thought that the concept is only rarely found in the fathers, while others, such as Thomas Oden, have argued that it's widespread. I think it's more common than Schaff suggests, but not as common as Oden has suggested. As with other issues, some of the patristic sources in question seem to have been inconsistent on the matter. But the concept of justification through faith alone is found in the patristic era. For some examples of where various Protestants see sola fide in the patristic sources, see D.H. Williams, Evangelicals And Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005) and Bruce McCormack, Justification In Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006). The common Roman Catholic claim that nobody advocated justification through faith alone between the time of the apostles and the Reformation is false. The concept is found in some church fathers and in some other sources who lived during the patristic era.

6. In his article linked at the beginning of this post, Beckwith tells us that he began his reading of the church fathers and other sources relevant to his reversion this past January. And this is May. He seems to have made too quick a judgment.

7. His appeals to "the church" have to be reconciled with the fact that there have been disagreements about how to define that term since patristic times. And even some sources who advocated a view of the church significantly different from what a Protestant would be willing to accept also differed from a Roman Catholic definition in some ways. Similarly, the concept of apostolic succession can be defined in multiple ways and has some significant problems as it's commonly used in modern Roman Catholic circles.

Lights In A Dark World

Given some of the recent threads at this blog, some of you may be interested in a post I wrote last year regarding the moral standards of the earliest Christians. The post includes some examples of what the earliest enemies of Christianity said about Christian morality.