Saturday, September 05, 2009

Apostolic recession

Perry Robinson has been busy these days plugging away over at the combox of Green Baggins. His basic objection to the Protestant rule of faith, which he reiterates ad nauseum, is that Protestant church structures can’t render “normative” judgments. And in the absence of “normative” judgments, Protestant theology is inherently unstable. Everything we dearly believe is provisional, revisable, and up-for-grabs.

A precondition for a church to render normative judgments is apostolic succession. The Orthodox church has it, but we, unfortunately, do not. So goes the argument.

But what happens when the ground shifts from underneath the principle of stability? What happens when the principle of stability is unstable? What happens when the bedrock turns to quicksand?

Recently, Robinson had a very public and very acrimonious falling out with his longtime co-blogger, Daniel Jones. According to Perry’s version of events, this was the nub of the dispute:

Mixed in with the charges that the canonical churches were “pseudo-churches,” were charges of “institutional apostasy,” found among Old Calenderists…

I have no idea exactly where Daniel will go as far as church but it seems entirely ironic given the rhetoric that one would flee the canonical bodies for groups focused around a handful of bishops, most of whom trace their orders back to vigante bishops from the Nestorians or other heterodox groups.

I suspect Daniel will need to spend some time in whatever group he ends up in, long enough for the honeymoon to wear off so he can begin to see things as they are and not according to some ideology. I know how this goes. I have been there before when I was in the Continuing Anglican churches. It takes a few schisms and power struggles for you to realize that you three heart attacks and a bad cough away from having no “bishops” at all and somehow that can’t be anything more than a sect.

Now Daniel and Perry are both sophisticated, well-educated Orthodox laymen. As I recall, each of them is or was in a doctoral program. And Energetic Procession is a top Orthodox blog.

Yet, at the end of the day, they couldn’t agree on the identity of the apostolic successors. They couldn’t agree on who speaks for Orthodoxy (at least, if you read Perry’s side of the altercation). Where can we find the viva voce of the apostles?

Give directions to living tradition. Is it here? There? Anywhere? What's the right map?

Yet the identity of a normative judgment is no better than the identity of the normative judges. So what does the Orthodox alternative to the Protestant rule of faith really amount to, anyway? Just another game of hide-n-seek. Now you see it–now you don't.

Totemic headship

Catholic apologists contend that the church requires a visible head, which they identify as the pope, based on sheep/shepherd, head/body type metaphors. There are, however, many problems with that argument.

1.Most Protestants don’t have any objection to church office, per se. For them, churches have elders. The elders exercise visible headship over the life of the congregation.

2.But, of course, the Catholic church is far more bureaucratic. Many layers of middle management. So when a Catholic says the church requires a visible “head,” what he really means is visible “heads.”

So, instead of having a one-to-many relation, which allegedly supplies the unifying principle of one head to many members, Catholics actually substitute a many-to-many relation: heads of heads of heads of heads. Totemic headship–like a totem pole.

Instead of the simple, picturesque metaphor of a shepherd who tends his flock, what the Catholic really means is more like this: every flock needs a shepherd, who needs an overshepherd, who needs a supershepherd, who needs an archshepherd, who needs a superoverarchshepherd.

I’d add that there’s nothing terribly unitive about bureaucracy. Ironically, too much organization fosters disorganization. Duplication. Rivalry. Turf-wars. Pencil-pushers working at cross-purposes with other pencil-pushers.

3.There is also the question of what “visible” headship amounts to in NT ecclesiology. Take churches planted by apostles like Paul. Paul oversaw their congregational life.

Yet what if you asked a member of the First Church of Corinth who was the “visible” head of his church? Would he say St. Paul? There was certainly a sense in which Paul headed the church of Corinth. But how visible was he?

He was absent much of the time. Off on the mission field. Incommunicado. No cellphone. No videophone.

So how did Paul preside over the church of Corinth? By remote control. By writing letters.

Likewise, how did Jesus exercise headship over the churches of Asia Minor? Did he appear to them? Did he come down from heaven and preach ever Sunday?

Remember that Jesus is quite capable of appearing to people, both individually and collectively. He does that after the Resurrection. And he does that after Pentecost. He appeared to Paul and he appeared to John–long after the Ascension.

If the church requires a visible head, that doesn’t entail the papacy. For Jesus is fully able to visibly head his church.

Remember, too, that in Catholic theology, Jesus can be physical present in several different places at once. That supposedly happens all the time when Mass is celebrated around the world. And when the Host is reserved in different chapels around the world. For that matter, Catholics also believe that Jesus has appeared to pious Catholics over the centuries–especially the saints.

So Jesus could personally pastor every Catholic parish on earth. The fact that he doesn’t tell us something about the necessity, or not, of having a visible head of the church. If it were necessary, he could to it himself. And, needless to say, he could do it far better than the papacy.

So how did Jesus exercise headship over the churches of Asia Minor? He dictated letters to John. He remained offsite, and directed the churches through the written word rather than the spoken word. How very Protestant!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Over-da-hill champ

“In an attempt to argue against the papacy this ‘scholar’, Steve Hays from Triablogue has invented a new ecclesial typology as to how the church is composed. He now has compared the Church to a flock of birds, or a school of fish! Just when you think you have heard it all. I guess this guy has never read the Scriptures where Jesus refers to the flock as being sheep, which need a shepherd? If this is the best argument against the papacy as being the visible head of the Church, Catholics have nothing to fear. Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, not swim like a school of fish or fly as a formation of birds. While movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish are fascinating, the analogy is not a Biblical one. What he is trying to accomplish here is a mystery indeed.”

Clearly da “champ” who penned dis reply is past his pwime.

My post consisted of two back-to-back quotes. The first quote was a stock argument for the “necessity” of the papacy. It didn’t quote Scripture.

Instead, it tried to mount an argument from analogy, appealing to human experience, viz. “The Church without a supreme Ruler would be like an army without a general, a navy without an admiral, a sheepfold without a shepherd, or like a human body without a head,” &c.

It went on to claim that without a visible leader, “anarchy” is “inevitable.”

Since the argument appealed to natural phenomena and human institutions to prove its point, that criterion cuts both ways. So I cited the example of teamwork in the absence of a visible leader: the formation flight of birds (and schools of fish).

Although they have no visible leader, they move in unison with military precision.

This is sufficient to disprove the facile argument that unless Christians have a visible leader (i.e. the pope), they will degenerate into anarchy.

Did I say that’s the best argument against the papacy? Irrelevant. It was a counterargument against a popular argument for the papacy. It only has to rebut the opposing argument on its own terms.

If a Catholic apologist is going use nature as a frame of reference to prove the papacy, then I can do the same thing in return to disprove the papacy. The standard is a double-edged sword.

Sorry if dat’s too subtle for da “champ.” Perhaps he’s been bonked one too many times on da noggin.

"Ad hominem is a fallacy"

There is an a way of arguing from Calvinism to atheism. If the Bible is true, we have no libertarian free will (based on Calvinist arguments), but that means that God could have created us in such a way that everyone free does what is right, and everyone goes to heaven, but didn't. But a God who not only allowed sin, but also damnation, when God could just as easily have chosen their salvation is not a God worthy of worship. Hence, if the the God of the Bible exists, he is not worthy of worship (is not omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good), and hence there is no being in existence that satisfies this requirement. Therefore, atheism is true.

The closest I ever came to atheism was when I first encountered the biblical case for Calvinism. (I realize that someone will probably use this as the basis for an ad hominem argument against me. Remember, ad hominem is a fallacy.)

Reppert's attack on the God of Calvinism is an ad hominem attack. He's trying to discredit the God of Calvinism by impeaching his character. Therefore, Reppert's attack on Reformed theism is a fallacy.

Pop goes the weasel


Steve Hays has responded to me on Triablogue, with his usual tone and his usual tendency to read into the text all sorts of things I didn't say. I won't comment on his tone, except to say that no matter how strong his case is, he certainly makes Calvinism unattractive by the way he argues. But I am far more concerned with his eisegesis of my arguments than with whatever names he might call me.

Before you start name-calling, you might want to be a little more careful in "exegeting" what your opponent has said. What I was defending was the doctrine of divine compassion for all persons, including those alienated from God..I was also very explicit in saying that, up to this point, I am not claiming a proof that Calvinism is false…In short I am doing the same thing that you are here, I am showing what would ordinarily be thought of as "Arminian" interpretations of these texts are in fact held by Calvinists. So let's get the issue right. The issue is the doctrine of universal compassion, not Calvinism itself. Are we clear on this?

Reppert wants me to act shortsighted and pretend that I can’t imagine where he’s going with this argument. I mustn’t anticipate the next move and take preemptive measures. Instead, I’m supposed to step into a hole in the beach while he packs the sand around my sides and pads it down good and firm, up to my neck, then leaves the scene–waiting for high tide to do the rest.

Sorry that I can’t be more a accommodating, Victor, but if you try that on me, you’re tootin’ the wrong ringer.

And, in fact, he even admits his ulterior motives:

Passages like John 3:16 are used not to refute Calvinism directly, but to show the Doctrine of Universal Compassion.

Of course, the fact that Calvinists sometimes agree that God loves all persons, and that this issues in a desire for the salvation of all persons, doesn't mean that these claims are really consistent with the Calvinistic view of reprobation. However, arguing that is the second step in my argument, not the first.

So much for “eisegesis.”

But this is a nice refutation of a claim I never made. I didn't say that disagreeing with Carson is special pleading. And of course I've got some differences with him. That's not the point. I'm not appointing him the Calvinist pope. I am simply asking Calvinists to indicate whether or not they agree with him. Do you agree with Carson or not, Steve?

It should be obvious from what I wrote that I’m not in total agreement or total disagreement. And it’s a refutation of what, by Reppert’s own admission, is another step in his argument. But he doesn’t like it when I head him off at the proverbial pass.

I hold that since I find Calvinism to be morally repugnance, you need an overwhelming biblical argument to persuade me of it. That means, when it comes to the Calvinist proof texts, there has to be no logical way for the passage to be understood as teaching anything but Calvinism, and the anti-Calvinist texts have to provide no evidence whatsoever against Calvinism.

Of course, this is textbook special pleading. Set the bar impossibly high for the opposing position to reach–while you lower the bar for your own team.

Imagine Erich von Däniken using the same argument: “I hold that since I find skyhook to be morally repugnant, you need an overwhelming biblical argument to convince me that Ezekiel wasn’t referring to flying saucers. That means, when it comes to the theophanic prooftexts, there has to be no logical way for the passage to be understood as teaching anything but a theophany, and the anti-ufological texts have to provide no evidence whatsoever against ufology.”

Reppert’s position has absolutely nothing to do with sound hermeneutics or the grammatico-historical method.

Rather, he wants every story to have a happy ending, so he’ll creatively reinterpret a story to make it come out the way he likes. In his reinterpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf becomes a vegan.

I need more evidence to convince me that something is moral which I am initially inclined to think is immoral, especially if it is attributed to God.

Of course, he’s already rigged the game.

Consider what kind of evidence you would need to convince you that God had broken a covenant.

The wording of the covenant specifies the terms of compliance or noncompliance.

First, Scripture is partially responsible for how I got my intuitions in the first place. Scripture taught me that I ought to love everyone, that I ought to be like Jesus, that Jesus was God, so it looks like I ought to expect that God will love everyone.

I’m unclear on which Jesus he has in mind. Is it this Jesus?

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left… 41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Or this Jesus?

God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

Or this Jesus?

12When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

Now you're telling me that I care a lot more about my non-Christian friend's salvation than God does??

Why does Reppert act as though it’s self-evident that God must love somebody as much or more than we do? If Charles Manson’s groupies love him, does this mean God must love Manson even more than his “family” did?

If you love your child, will you punish that child severely when he or she goes wrong? Of course. Are you satisfied to leave it with the punishment? No.

I’m sure that Tony Soprano would do anything for his kids. But I wouldn’t use that to illustrate divine love.

Second, my moral beliefs are part of why I believe Christianity to be true. As I understand Christianity, God's consistently loving character gives me a moral reason, as opposed to a merely prudential reason, to worship and obey him. I don't worship him because he's bigger than I am and can beat me up (the logic of the schoolyard bully) I worship him because I know that he pursues my good and the good of all whom I love.

Actually, Reppert is giving a prudential reason to love God. It’s a quid pro quo. I’ll worship God if and only if God looks out for the best interests of my loved ones.

Fourth, when you use the word "intuitions" it seems always implied that these are gut feelings of some kind, when in point of fact as I understand it there is a kind of "intuition" that permits me to rationally perceive that 2 + 2 = 4. On my view, our knowledge of right and wrong is rational, not emotional.

What about the moral intuitions of a suicide bomber?

My point has to do with whether Calvinists can successfully deal with passages that suggest that God loves every person. John 3:16 is an example. In dealing with this biblical theme, there are two Calvinist responses...He needs to provide evidence that Scripture passages like John 3:16 are neutral with respect to Calvinism. There are two strategies for doing this, and I suggest that he pick one.

False dichotomy. I didn’t offer a “Calvinist” response. I cited a non-Calvinist.

In response to the first of these solutions, the "indexing" solution, I'm simply going to defer to the authority of Calvinist exegetes like Carson and theologians like Piper that there is a problem with the indexing response.

Quoting a theologian or commentator is not an argument from authority. It depends on how well they defend their interpretation.

It doesn't seem that I need to move any goal posts here.

To the contrary, he’s moved the goalposts completely out of range. Indeed, he’s erected invisible goalposts (“When it comes to the Calvinist proof texts, there has to be no logical way for the passage to be understood as teaching anything but Calvinism, and the anti-Calvinist texts have to provide no evidence whatsoever against Calvinism.”).

I can't in my present state of mind, see how such a God would be worthy of worship, but all God would have to do to remedy that would be to pour out a little more of that irresistible grace.

The gospel is divisive. It has a polarizing effect. And God intended it to have that impact: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."” (Jn 3:19-21).

I never said you had to interpret "world" as every person. However, it seems to mean everyone who is alienated from God, and we know already that God loves those in fellowship with him, so who does that leave whom God does not love?

And if we apply Arminian semantics to 1 Jn 2:15, then God forbids Christians to love any “worldly” person. God forbids Christians to love anyone who is in the world or of the world.

Nobody has come forward and said "OK, I'm a Calvinist and I do think God loves all persons" or "OK, I'm a Calvinist and I think God does not love all persons."

I made my own position quite explicit when that topic came up before on Reppert’s blog. I referred him to Helm’s article, as well as the OPC minority report (in the Clark Controversy). And I took sides. Is Reppert’s memory failing him?

I wish people who debate theology would study the philosophy of science.

I have.

From Reppert to atheism

“There is an a way of arguing from Calvinism to atheism. If the Bible is true, we have no libertarian free will (based on Calvinist arguments), but that means that God could have created us in such a way that everyone free does what is right, and everyone goes to heaven, but didn't. But a God who not only allowed sin, but also damnation, when God could just as easily have chosen their salvation is not a God worthy of worship. Hence, if the the God of the Bible exists, he is not worthy of worship (is not omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good), and hence there is no being in existence that satisfies this requirement. Therefore, atheism is true.”

Several problems with this argument:

1.As I’ve already pointed out, this is fatally equivocal. In Calvinism, God could choose to create a world in which “everyone” is sinless.

But the “everyone” in that possible world is not the same “everyone” in a fallen world.

Everyone who is born in a fallen world is a link in a chain of moral and natural evils. To have a sinless world, you’d have to uproot the family tree of fallen humanity, and replace it with a completely different family tree.

Would that be a better world? Better for whom? It wouldn’t be better for Christians or OT saints. They wouldn’t exist in such a world.

2.Likewise, if God made a world in which everyone was regenerate from the womb, that would also change the human genealogy. Eliminate many moral evils at the cost of also culling many men and women who are the direct or indirect result of moral evils. Many of us would never make the cut.

Would that be a better world? Better for whom? Not for the causalities.

In such a world, everyone is heavenbound. But everyone who is heavenbound is not the same person or set of persons as the heavenbound persons in a world where some men are heavenbound while other men are hellbound.

3.Each scenario has its own tradeoffs. Alternate scenarios capture incommensurable goods. No single scenario combines all the goods of every other scenario.

4.A fallen world is, in some ways, a tragic world. But it’s not a purely tragic world. If it were pure loss, it would be purely tragic. But certain losses deepen our appreciation of what remains and what we had. We don’t take it for granted.

5.Reppert also acts as if his own position is immune to the objection he levels at Calvinism. But does that follow?

i) If human beings have the freedom to do otherwise, then there’s a possible world in which everyone freely does good. So, on Reppert’s assumptions, why didn’t God instantiate that combination of free choices?

ii) Perhaps he’d invoke transworld depravity. But why is that a plausible postulate? It seems to me that transworld depravity represents an ad hoc restriction on libertarian freedom.

iii) There is also a Manichean quality to transworld depravity. On this view, evil is embedded in the nature of things. A metaphysical necessity.

But in that case, good can never triumph over evil. At best, you have a stalemate.

iv) Another problem with this move is that if there’s no possible world in which everyone does right, then there’s no possible world in which everyone goes to heaven. No possible world in which everyone stays in heaven.

That’s not a problem for me, but as long as Reppert wants to reserve universalism as a live option, then this move eliminates that fallback position.

iv) Or perhaps Reppert would say there is a possible world in which everyone free does good, but God can’t know which possible world that is. God can’t foreknow the counterfactuals of freedom.

But, in that case, creation is a cosmic raffle. God reached into the rotating basket and happened to pull out this particular ticket. Which possible world becomes real is a matter of chance.

v) A further consequence of (iv) is that even if there’s a possible world in which everyone freely goes to heaven, God can’t know which world that is. Hence, God can’t knowingly instantiate a world in which everyone freely goes to heaven. God can only roll the dice and hope the possible world he creates is one of the better worlds, rather than one of the worse worlds. For, given the randomness of the selection process, the actual world might just as well be an irremediably evil world.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Devil's advocate

I was reading the aomin blog today when I ran across this email, which someone sent to James White:

“I'm sure you know how much the occult is impacting our culture these days and people in Wicca and other witch cults, and occult organizations like Freemasonry read the Bible. Being a person from a High School with several practicing witches in it, I can honestly tell you that one of these neo pagans scoffingly, said directly to me that the bible was translated from pagan sources. I quickly answered them and said, ‘Maybe if you read the NIV’. This guy was usually argumentative, but, he had nothing to say back. Don't you see this as being a huge problem with our younger Christian people? How will they defend themselves?”

At the risk of stating the obvious, if the Bible were ghostwritten by the devil, it would be a very different book. It would have a very different ending. Likewise, the heroes and villains would trade places. Satan would wear the white hat, God would wear the black hat, and so on.


I was reading the aomin blog today when I ran across this email, which someone sent to James White:

“I've been doing a lot of research about the occult recently and I must say that the newer versions give lots of breathing room for the Isaiah 14:12 debate. Here's a link to a pro HP Blavatsky page. As you're probably well aware, HP Blavatsky is one of the HUGE names of the occult. Notice how she connects Jesus with Lucifer as being the same person. Remember that Satan said in his heart that he will ascend into heaven. Why is it that 99% of the versions drop Lucifer, son of the morning and replace it with ‘morning star’ like the NIV or the ‘bright morning star’ in the CEV or ‘daystar’ in the Amplified Bible, which is one of Jesus' titles in 2 Peter 1:19, and in Rev 22:16.”

A few quick comments:

i) This is a classic example of assuming that if a word as the same meaning, it has the same referent. That semantic fallacy is the major basis for limited atonement (e.g. “all means all”).

It should go without saying that the same proper name can denote more than one person. Just open the white pages to “Jones” or “Baker” or “Smith.” Same name, different referents.

ii) ”Lucifer” comes from a Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate). The church fathers took Isa 14:12 to be describing the angelic fall of the being we now know as Satan or the Devil.

Even if that were the correct interpretation, which is debatable, the same name can name different individuals. Same thing with titles, viz. successive kings.

iii) So “Lucifer” is just a traditional name for the devil, based on a Latin translation of Scripture.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using that name. We can’t refer to things unless we name them, which is why Adam gave names to the animals in the garden–before naming his wife.

“Lucifer” is useful because it gives us a way of denoting this creature before he fell. “Satan” or the “Devil” inevitable connotes the creature after he fell. So it’s useful to have different names which distinguish his prelapsarian identity (heavenly angel) from his postlapsarian identity (fallen angel).

But that’s merely for convenience, for ease of reference. And this point it’s nothing more than a linguistic convention.

Why will you die, O house of Israel?

According to Reppert,

“The debate about Calvinism is hinges heavily, of course, on Scripture passages. To me, one of the most fundamental themes of Scripture is the universality of God's love, which is manifested in acts intended for our salvation.”…John 3:16 is only the tip of the iceberg. Passages like Ezekiel 18:23, I Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 can be advanced.”

Reppert also interjected Ezk 33:11 into the debate via Carson’s citation of that passage.

I’ve already addressed Jn 3:16, 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. In each case, I quoted non-Calvinist commentators.

Let’s see what a non-Calvinist commentator has to say about the verses in Ezekiel. (To my knowledge, Allen is not a Calvinist.)

In his introductory comments on 18:21-24, Leslie Allen identifies the historical setting by reference to “the present generation of the exiles” as well as stating that, “for the prophet, the survivors of the 587 catastrophe were a bad lot…nor were the 597 hostages any better,” 1:277-78.

Regarding 33:11, he says “33:10-11 are related to portions of chap. 18, viz. 18:23…Chap. 18 does seem to belong to a post-587 BC period, and so to the second part of Ezekiel’s twofold ministry. Hence parallels with it have a not unreasonable role in chap. 33, which serves to introduce the prophet’s new words of hope,” 2:144.

So the two parallel passages have are framed within Ezekiel’s ministry to the exilic Jewish community.

As such, they don’t address humanity in general. Rather, the chosen people constitute the target-audience. They say nothing about the universality of God’s love. Rather, they say something about God’s love for Israel. And in the OT, God’s love for Israel typically stands in contrast to his view of the heathen world.

I’d add that even in the portion of Ezk 33:11 which Reppert cites via Carson, the “house of Israel” is the specific and explicit referent.

Continuing with Reppert:

“Jesus wept over Jerusalem. What would there be to weep about if Jesus had the power to hit everyone in Jerusalem over the head with irresistible grace and bring them to repentance, which after all is how anybody comes to repentance, on the Calvinistic scheme.”

That’s an allusion to Lk 19:41ff. But as Arminian commentator I. H. Marshall explains, this has reference to the sack of Jerusalem by the Roman armies (717-719).

Does Reppert think that Jesus was impotent to protect the Jews from the Romans?

I have now shown that all of Reppert’s major prooftexts are consistent with Calvinism even if I confined myself to non-Calvinist commentators. Moreover, these are major commentaries by major scholars. I’m not digging around for anything I can find.

Reppert is, of course, at liberty to take issue with their interpretations, and offer a better interpretation–if he can.

Carson on cosmos


All genuine love seeks a good end for the beloved. My claim is it's not love if there is no good end for the beloved involved.

Here's D. A. Carson on John 3: 16 (HT: Paul Manata).

"…God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). I know that some try to take kosmos ("world") here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John's Gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John's vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God's love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of "the whole world" (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God's love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect. The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture. However much God stands in judgment over the world, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He orders his people to carry the Gospel to the farthest corner of the world, proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels the sovereign Lord calls out, As surely as I live ... I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? - Ezek. 33:11

Now, is Carson wrong about this? He's a Calvinist, so so far we haven't gotten out of Calvinism yet. But I question whether it makes sense to say that a reprobated person is loved by God, not because that is sloppy agape, but because I don't think the idea of love makes sense if it is not directed toward a good end for that person.


Several issues to sort out:

1.Reppert seems to be insinuating that if I (or other Calvinists) were to differ with something Carson said, that would be special pleading. However, I’ve said for years on end that I don’t treat Reformed commentators as authority-figures. When I quote them, that’s not an appeal to authority. I quote them for their exegetical arguments. I go with the best argument. I’ve also said for years that I don’t limit myself to Reformed commentators.

Therefore, even if I were to disagree with Carson, that would scarcely be special pleading on my part.

2.Reppert himself is only in partial agreement with Carson. Reppert agrees with some of what Carson has to say about God’s love for the kosmos.

However, Reppert also takes the position that “it's not love if there is no good end for the beloved involved…the idea of love makes sense if it is not directed toward a good end for that person.”

That, however, is not the position which Carson is defending in the excerpt which Reppert quoted. Therefore, it’s illicit for Reppert to quote Carson in support of that position.

And, as a matter of fact, Carson, in The Gagging of God, defends the traditional doctrine of hell. Therefore, from Carson’s perspective, God’s love for the “world” is consonant with a bad end for the lost.

So this presents a dilemma for Reppert. If he says it’s special pleading for me to disagree with Carson, then it’s special pleading for him to disagree with Carson. If he can be in partial agreement with Carson, so can I.

3.Let’s also remember what I was responding to. Reppert cited Jn 3:16 as a prooftext for his own position. He cited that in opposition to Calvinism. That’s what I was responding to.

In reply, I quoted a non-Calvinist (Lincoln) on Jn 3:16, and asked Reppert if that interpretation was incompatible with Calvinism.

And, from what I can tell, Carson agrees with Lincoln on the meaning of Jn 3:16.

Reppert didn’t cite 1 Jn 2:2. We can always discuss that passage, but he didn’t include that as a prooftext for his position, over against Calvinism.

Carson’s interpretation of Jn 3:16 makes the same basic point as Lincoln. So that corroborates my argument, not Reppert’s.

4.Before we proceed any further, let’s say a little more about kosmos in Johannine usage. Why does John use that word? What does he mean by that word? What does it stand for?

To answer that question, the modern reader needs to take a few steps back from the text and ask himself the sort of question which Reppert never bothers to ask. We need to ask a question about the identity of the speaker. Who was John? What was his viewpoint?

A key is found in the prologue of John. The prologue is programmatic for various Johannine themes and catchphrases.

In the prologue, we have a comparison and contrast between 1:10 & 1:11. As (non-Calvinist) Craig Keener explains:

“The prologue compares the responses of the world and of Jesus’ own, Israel, in 1:10-11. The world created through Jesus (1:3) did not know him (1:10), and even became hostile to him (15:18-19); in light of the rest of the Gospel, this world included the initially ignorant Gentiles (cf. 4:42) but remained an object of Christ’s loving mission (3:16-17; 4:42; 6:33,51),” The Gospel of John, 1:395.

“Jewish views of Gentiles varied widely, from more positive Diaspora to less positive sectarian Palestinian ideas. Given Israel’s sufferings at the hands of foreign empires, it seems natural that Jewish texts often reflect mistrust of Gentiles, viewing them as oppressors of God’s people and violators of God’s laws,” ibid. 396.

So John is writing from a Jewish outlook. From that narrow perspective, he uses kosmos in v10 as a general term to cover the Gentiles. And this, in turn, stands in contrast to the chosen people in v11.

This also explains the negative nuance of kosmos in Johannine usage. The gentiles were pagans. Idolaters. Lawbreakers. Enemies of the chosen people.

At the same time, the new covenant will extend to the Gentiles. It’s not a covenant with the Jewish people, per se.

5.That, in turn, helps to explain 1 Jn 2:2. Unlike Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 2:2 also says something about the scope of God’s love. God’s love extends to the gentiles.

Remember that this is a Jewish writer living under Roman subjugation. Up till now, the default position in Judaism viewed the gentiles as doomed. Accursed.

A striking example is found in Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:22). The Samaritans don’t know the true God, for salvation comes from the Jews.

Now, when you consider the fact that the Samaritans had more in common with the Jews than pagans did, you can only imagine what this would mean for the fate of Gentiles.

However, John is now speaking from the standpoint of the new covenant. The “bigness” of God’s love lies in the fact that salvation is even available to the gentiles–if they turn to Jesus.

6.However, 1 Jn 2:2 has an antithetical parallel in 1 Jn 5:19. In both cases, the same phrase is used: “the whole world.” Bigness and badness.

But in 5:19, the “whole world” stands in contrast to Christian identity. Here the phrase is exclusive of Christians, not inclusive of everyone.

In Johannine usage, the scope of God’s love is not about every individual, but about two subsets of humanity: Jews and gentiles. God’s redemptive loves extends to the gentile class.

That’s the point. For John, writing as a Jew, God’s exclusive love for the Jews, under the old covenant, supplied the frame of reference.

Now, however, we have a reversal of fortunes. In general, the chosen people reject their messiah while the gospel is brought to the gentiles.

7.One other point: in 1 Jn 2:2, John uses the language of penal substitution. This is at odds with the non-forensic soteriology of C. S. Lewis, whose views Victor Reppert usually espouses. It’s also takes retributive punishment as the underlying framework, in contrast to Reppert’s remedial alternative.

8.As for Ezk 33:11, in its historical setting this is directed at Jewish sinners. They were exiled to Babylon because they were covenant-breakers. To “repent,” in this context, takes the Mosaic covenant as the frame of reference.

It’s not an invitation to OT pagans. Pagans lack the necessary frame of reference. OT pagans were ignorant of the true God. They had no standard in relation to which they could repent.

For example, that’s why God must send a Jewish prophet to Nineveh.

The OT does contain the seminal theme of gentile salvation. That goes back to the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:3). And that theme is revisited in Isaiah and some of the Psalms. But at the time of writing, that lies over the horizon.

Moreover, the theme of gentile salvation doesn’t obviate the theme of gentile judgment, or Jewish judgment–for that matter. Salvation doesn’t take the place of punishment. Some are judged while others are delivered from judgment.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"A Blueprint for Anarchy"

Every well-regulated civil government has an acknowledged head. The President in the head of the United States Government. Queen Victoria is the ruler of Great Britain. The Sultan sways the Turkish Empire. If these nations had no authorized leader to govern them they would be reduced to the condition of a mere mob, and anarchy, confusion and civil war would inevitably follow, as recently happened to France after the fall of Napoleon III.

In like manner the Church, besides an invisible Head in heaven, must have a visible head on earth. The body and members of the Church are visible; why not also the Head? The Church without a supreme Ruler would be like an army without a general, a navy without an admiral, a sheepfold without a shepherd, or like a human body without a head.

From the very fact, then, of the existence of a supreme Head in the Jewish Church; from the fact that a Head is always necessary for civil government, for families and corporations; from the fact, especially, that a visible Head is essential to the maintenance of unity in the Church, while the absence of a Head necessarily leads to anarchy, we are forced to conclude, even though positive evidence were wanting, that, in the establishment of His Church, it must have entered into the mind of the Divine Lawgiver to place over it a primate invested with supreme judicial powers.

The highly coordinated movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish are among the most fascinating phenomena to be found in nature. The group seems to turn and maneuver as a single unit, changing direction almost instantaneously, leading some researchers to hypothesize that electromagnetic communication or even "thought transference" must be involved. In reality this behavior results from far less mysterious causes. Such movements are a prime example of emergent behavior: the behavior is not a property of any individual bird, but rather emerges as a property of the group itself. There is no leader, no overall control; instead the flock's movements are determined by the moment-by-moment decisions of individual birds, following simple rules in response to interactions with their neighbors in the flock.

Observation shows that there are no leaders (at least not for more than a few seconds at a time), since different birds will be at the front of the flock every time it changes direction. Research by Wayne Potts, published in the journal Nature in 1984, helped explain how flock movements are initiated and coordinated. Potts, through a frame-by-frame analysis of high-speed film of sandpiper flocks, found that any individual can initiate a flock movement, which then propagates through the flock in a wave radiating out from the initiation site. These "maneuver waves" could move in any direction through the flock, including from back to front. However, the flock usually only responded to birds that banked into the flock, rather than away from it. Since birds turning away from the flock run the risk of being separated from it and getting picked off by the predator, others will not follow them. Besides its obvious benefits for individuals, this rule helps prevent indecision by the flock and permits it to respond rapidly to attack.

Once one of these waves began, Potts found that it spread through the flock far more rapidly than could be explained by the reaction times of individual birds. A bird's mean startle reaction time to a light flash as measured in the laboratory was 38 milliseconds, but maneuver waves spread through the flock between birds at a mean speed of less than 15 milliseconds. However, the first birds to respond to an initiator took 67 milliseconds to react. Potts proposed that birds farther away from the initiation site were able to see the wave approaching them, and could "get set" to respond before it actually reached them. He dubbed this the "chorus line hypothesis," in analogy to Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall who can see and anticipate an approaching high leg kick when it is still well down the line. Films of human chorus lines show that rehearsed maneuvers, initiated without warning, propagate down the line at less than 108 milliseconds, almost twice as fast as the human visual reaction time of 194 milliseconds.

Better to love and lose than never love at all

Gresham Machen never married. Apparently, this is the reason:

“Machen did have a brief romance with Mildred B. Stearns that blossomed in the summer of 1920. He met her at Seal Harbor, where she also vacationed with her family. The major obstacle to their marriage was religion. Stearns was Unitarian…Machen corresponded with her throughout his life and visited her whenever in Boston. Members of Machen’s family say she traveled alone from Boston to Baltimore to attend Machen’s burial service at Greenmount Cemetery,” D. Hart, Defending the Faith (P&R 2003), 130.

“There was however one real romance in his life, though unhappily it was not destined to blossom into marriage…He identified the lady by name, as a resident of Boston, and as ‘intelligent, beautiful, exquisite.’ He further stated that apparently they were utterly devoted to each other for a time, but that the devotion never developed into an engagement to be married because she was a Unitarian. [She] made a real effort to believe, but could not bring her mind and heart to the point where she could share his faith,” N. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen (Banner of Truth 1987), 318.

Evidently, Machen found himself in a dilemma which some other men have also confronted throughout the centuries: What if the right woman is the wrong woman?

(No doubt some woman have confronted the same dilemma in reverse.)

Of course, Machen could have married another woman. But maybe he felt that would be unfair to his wife. It’s wrong to live with one woman, but long for another.

That’s one of the ways in which the cost of discipleship may manifest itself. In a conflict between love and duty, he put duty above love.

But while he suffered a profound deprivation, it wasn’t a total loss by any means. He met the love of his life. He never got over her. And, evidently, the feeling was mutual.

He knew what it was like to fall in love, be in love, and stay in love. Many men and women have settled for less.

So even in a fallen world, there may, by God’s grace, be rainbows after the storm. Things which make life both bearable and enjoyable, despite the hardships and heartaches here-below. Machen and Stearns were star-crossed lovers. Yet their lives were enriched by that stellar conjunction–when their stars aligned in the summer sky.

Abortion in case of rape

I've been asked to comment on an argument for abortion in case of rape. I'm told the speaker is a student of Alvin Plantinga. Here's his argument:

It seems to me that there are three key issues in the abortion debate.

(1) What is the moral status of the fetus?
(2) What kind of moral obligations does a pregnant women have toward the fetus?
(3) If the pregnant woman does have moral obligations toward the fetus, which, if any, of those moral obligations are legitimately enforceable?

Those of us in the prolife community spend almost all of our time on (1) and very little of our time on (2) and (3). I think that’s because many people (on both sides) simply take it as a given that if the fetus has the moral status of a person, then abortion is morally equivalent to murder. But that inference is too quick. The philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson points this out in her article “A Defense of Abortion”. And even though I disagree with her final conclusions, I think this point is well taken.

The fetus is dependent for its survival on the bodily resources of the mother. And, in general, we have the right to withhold our bodily resources from a person even if that person will die without them. I’m not obligated to give a stranger my kidney, for example, even if that stranger will die if I don’t. Or, it seems to me, if one were to maintain that I have an obligation to give the stranger my kidney, it would be all that much more difficult to maintain that this is a properly enforceable obligation.

So it seems to me that to argue that abortion is morally impermissible, it is not enough to argue that the fetus has the moral status of a person or that the fetus is the sort of being that it is prima facie wrong to kill. One also has to argue that a relationship exists between the mother and the fetus that grounds a moral obligation the part of the mother to offer up her bodily resources to sustain the fetus. I think that in typical cases of pregnancy, that can be done. I think, in typical cases, the mother is morally responsible for the fetus’s having become dependent on her. And I also think (though this is something that a strict libertarian would deny) that the biological relationship that exists between a mother and child grounds certain prima facie obligations (I think that anyone who denies that shouldn’t be so hard on deadbeat dads). And it seems plausible enough that these obligations are enforceable (again, anyone who denies this shouldn’t want the government to make deadbeat dads pay up – but it seems plausible enough that it is legitimate for the government to make deadbeat dads pay up.)

But in rape cases, the situation is much different. In such cases, the mother is not morally responsible for the fetus’s being dependent on her. And even though there is the same biological relationship between the mother and the child, the fact that the pregnancy resulted from such a violation of the mother’s person, I think, is enough to defeat whatever prima facie obligations that that relationship confers. In such cases, the mother, it seems to me, doesn’t owe the fetus her bodily resources anymore than I owe a stranger my kidney. And it seems to me that even if, at the end of the day, one wanted to maintain that the mother had an obligation to provide the fetus with her bodily resources, it would still be at least highly doubtful that it is a legitimately enforceable obligation.

By way of reply:

1.I don’t know why he acts as though no one in the prolife community has ever responded to Judith Jarvis.

2.He’s resorting to euphemisms about a “pregnant woman” and her “fetus,” instead of a “mother” and her “baby.”

3.He artificially isolates the obligation as if prolifers think a mother has sole responsibility for the care of her child.

4.Comparing the “bodily resources” of a mother with a donated kidney is disanalogous. I don’t have any objection to organ donation, but it’s not as if our organs were designed to be donated to a third party. That’s not their purpose. They exist for the sake of the host.

By contrast, the “bodily resources” of a mother were designed to provide for a child. Moreover, they were designed by God for that very purpose.

5.Finally, let’s go to the key contention. He’s argument apparently takes something like the following form:

Party A is only responsible for the needs of Party B if Party A took some voluntary action which made Party B dependent on Party A.

Let’s consider some counterexamples:

i) Are grown children obligated to care for their elderly parents in case their parents are too enfeebled to care for themselves? After all, the children did nothing voluntary to make their parents dependent on them.

ii) My brother and I share the same rare blood type. Due to an accident, my brother needs an immediate blood transfusion. Am I obligated to donate my blood to save my brother’s life?

a) I did nothing voluntary to make him dependent on me. I had nothing to do with the life-threatening accident.

b) For that matter, I did nothing voluntary to make him my brother. I had no say in the matter. I didn’t choose him to be my brother.

iii) Parents leave their 6-year-old son in the care of their 16-year-old son while they go to a concert. I did nothing to make my kid brother dependent on me.

Am I obligated to keep my kid brother from harm, or am I free to leave him alone while I go visit my girlfriend?

iv) Two parents are killed in a traffic accident, leaving their 6-year-old son and 16-year old son orphaned. It isn’t fair to the 16-year-old to be forced to take over their responsibilities for the care of his kid brother.

Under the circumstances, is the older brother at liberty to abandon his kid brother?

v) A devoted wife and mother is diagnosed with MS. As the disease progresses, she’s no longer able to care for her family. Instead, she becomes increasingly dependent on her husband and older children to care for her.

Since they did nothing voluntary to make her dependent on them, are they at liberty to desert her?

vi) I’m running late to catch a plane. at the airport, a stranger ahead of me suffers an asthma attack. He points to his backpack, where he keeps an inhaler. If I take time to find his inhaler and deliver a dose, I’ll miss my flight.

Since I did nothing voluntary to make the stranger dependent on me, am I free to let him die so that I can catch my plane?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Exsurge Domine

Bryan Cross said,

"Speaking of me in the third-person, when I am a participant in the conversation, is impolite and uncharitable. Let’s lift the level of conversation up, and be respectful, even if we disagree with each other."

All because I merely refer to him in the third-person? I think it's time for a refresher course in church history. Consider the way in which the head of Bryan's denomination used to treat theological opponents. And, of course, Bryan would like to turn the clock back to pre-Reformation status quo ante. So consider, for a moment, what it would be like to live under the papacy if folks like Bryan had their way. If there never had been a Protestant Reformation.


Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod. When you were about to ascend to your Father, you committed the care, rule, and administration of the vineyard, an image of the triumphant church, to Peter, as the head and your vicar and his successors. The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it.

Rise, Peter, and fulfill this pastoral office divinely entrusted to you as mentioned above. Give heed to the cause of the holy Roman Church, mother of all churches and teacher of the faith, whom you by the order of God, have consecrated by your blood. Against the Roman Church, you warned, lying teachers are rising, introducing ruinous sects, and drawing upon themselves speedy doom. Their tongues are fire, a restless evil, full of deadly poison. They have bitter zeal, contention in their hearts, and boast and lie against the truth.

We beseech you also, Paul, to arise. It was you that enlightened and illuminated the Church by your doctrine and by a martyrdom like Peter's. For now a new Porphyry rises who, as the old once wrongfully assailed the holy apostles, now assails the holy pontiffs, our predecessors.

Rebuking them, in violation of your teaching, instead of imploring them, he is not ashamed to assail them, to tear at them, and when he despairs of his cause, to stoop to insults. He is like the heretics "whose last defense," as Jerome says, "is to start spewing out a serpent's venom with their tongue when they see that their causes are about to be condemned, and spring to insults when they see they are vanquished." For although you have said that there must be heresies to test the faithful, still they must be destroyed at their very birth by your intercession and help, so they do not grow or wax strong like your wolves. Finally, let the whole church of the saints and the rest of the universal church arise. Some, putting aside her true interpretation of Sacred Scripture, are blinded in mind by the father of lies. Wise in their own eyes, according to the ancient practice of heretics, they interpret these same Scriptures otherwise than the Holy Spirit demands, inspired only by their own sense of ambition, and for the sake of popular acclaim, as the Apostle declares. In fact, they twist and adulterate the Scriptures. As a result, according to Jerome, "It is no longer the Gospel of Christ, but a man's, or what is worse, the devil's."

Let all this holy Church of God, I say, arise, and with the blessed apostles intercede with almighty God to purge the errors of His sheep, to banish all heresies from the lands of the faithful, and be pleased to maintain the peace and unity of His holy Church.

For we can scarcely express, from distress and grief of mind, what has reached our ears for some time by the report of reliable men and general rumor; alas, we have even seen with our eyes and read the many diverse errors. Some of these have already been condemned by councils and the constitutions of our predecessors, and expressly contain even the heresy of the Greeks and Bohemians. Other errors are either heretical, false, scandalous, or offensive to pious ears, as seductive of simple minds, originating with false exponents of the faith who in their proud curiosity yearn for the world's glory, and contrary to the Apostle's teaching, wish to be wiser than they should be. Their talkativeness, unsupported by the authority of the Scriptures, as Jerome says, would not win credence unless they appeared to support their perverse doctrine even with divine testimonies however badly interpreted. From their sight fear of God has now passed.

These errors have, at the suggestion of the human race, been revived and recently propagated among the more frivolous and the illustrious German nation. We grieve the more that this happened there because we and our predecessors have always held this nation in the bosom of our affection. For after the empire had been transferred by the Roman Church from the Greeks to these same Germans, our predecessors and we always took the Church's advocates and defenders from among them. Indeed it is certain that these Germans, truly germane to the Catholic faith, have always been the bitterest opponents of heresies, as witnessed by those commendable constitutions of the German emperors in behalf of the Church's independence, freedom, and the expulsion and extermination of all heretics from Germany. Those constitutions formerly issued, and then confirmed by our predecessors, were issued under the greatest penalties even of loss of lands and dominions against anyone sheltering or not expelling them. If they were observed today both we and they would obviously be free of this disturbance. Witness to this is the condemnation and punishment in the Council of Constance of the infidelity of the Hussites and Wyclifites as well as Jerome of Prague.

Some of these errors we have decided to include in the present document; their substance is as follows:

33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

No one of sound mind is ignorant how destructive, pernicious, scandalous, and seductive to pious and simple minds these various errors are, how opposed they are to all charity and reverence for the holy Roman Church who is the mother of all the faithful and teacher of the faith; how destructive they are of the vigor of ecclesiastical discipline, namely obedience.

Moreover, because the preceding errors and many others are contained in the books or writings of Martin Luther, we likewise condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful of either sex, in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties to be incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them. They will incur these penalties if they presume to uphold them in any way, personally or through another or others, directly or indirectly, tacitly or explicitly, publicly or occultly, either in their own homes or in other public or private places. Indeed immediately after the publication of this letter these works, wherever they may be, shall be sought out carefully by the ordinaries and others [ecclesiastics and regulars], and under each and every one of the above penalties shall be burned publicly and solemnly in the presence of the clerics and people.

Debating a weasel

Victor Reppert has started a new series on Calvinism:

It’s striking that Calvinism is the only theological tradition Reppert attacks.

Before I comment on the specifics, I’ll make two preliminary observations:

i) If Report’s past performance is any guide, this is how the debate will go. I (and possibly some other Reformed commenters) will present specific counterarguments to Reppert’s allegations.

Reppert will weasel out of my response by ignoring most of what I say, repeating himself, and retreating into the citadel of his godlike intuitions.

Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet, who tells us he’s too busy to spend much time on the internet, will suddenly find time to post long, repetitious comments. He will also deplore the tone of Reformed apologists while, at the same time, lacing his comments with defamatory aspersions about Calvinist and Calvinism.

ii) To make an exegetical case for Calvinism, two, and only two, conditions must be met:

a) Calvinists must furnish prooftexts which, on the best interpretation, positively teach Calvinism.

b) Calvinists must show that other passages are neutral on Calvinism.

For example, it’s unnecessary to show that Jn 3:16 is inconsistent with Arminianism. Rather, it’s sufficient to show that Jn 3:16 is consistent with Calvinism. An interpretation of Jn 3:16 which is consistent with either Arminian or Calvinism is sufficient to permit Calvinism.

Moving on to Reppert:

“The debate about Calvinism is hinges heavily, of course, on Scripture passages. To me, one of the most fundamental themes of Scripture is the universality of God's love, which is manifested in acts intended for our salvation.”

The Biblical theme of salvation is no more or less fundamental than the Biblical theme of judgment. Both historical judgments and eschatology judgment are pervasive themes in the OT and NT alike. So Reppert his already skewing the evidence by his selective and lopsided appeal to the thematic emphasis of Scripture.

“John 3:16 is only the tip of the iceberg. Passages like Ezekiel 18:23, I Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 can be advanced.”

Notice that all we’re getting from Reppert is some perfunctory prooftexting. No exegesis. Let’s briefly run through these passages.

Ezekiel 18:23

This is what the passage says: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord God. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

i) In context, that has reference, not to humanity in general, but to the exilic Jewish community.

ii) Moreover, the Babylonian exile was, itself, a divine punishment. A divine punishment resulting in many fatalities when Jerusalem was razed and the inhabitants deported. God willed that outcome.

John 3:16

To my knowledge, Andrew Lincoln is not a Calvinist. Here is how he interprets Jn 3:16:

“Some argue that the term ‘world’ here simply has neutral connotations—the created human world. But the characteristic use of ‘the world’ (ho kosmos) elsewhere in the narrative is with negative overtones—the world in its alienation from and hostility to its creator’s purposes. It makes better sense in a soteriological context to see the latter notion as in view. God loves that which has become hostile to God. The force is not, then, that the world is so vast that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it, but rather that the world has become so alienated from God that it takes an exceedingly great kind of love to love it at all,” The Gospel According to St. John (Henrickson 2005), 154.

Question for Reppert: how is Lincoln’s interpretation incompatible with Calvinism?

1 Tim 2:4

To my knowledge, Philip Towner is not a Calvinist. Here is his interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4:

“The purpose of the reference to ‘all people,” which continues the theme of universality in this passage, is sometimes misconstrued. The reference is made mainly with the Pauline mission to the Gentiles in mind (v7). But the reason behind Paul’s justification of this universal mission is almost certainly the false teaching, with its Torah-centered approach to life that included either an exclusivist bent or a downplaying of the Gentile mission,” The Letters to Timothy & Titus (Eerdmans 2006), 177.

“Paul’s focus is on building a people of God who incorporate all people regardless of ethnic, social, or economic backgrounds,” ibid. 178.

Question for Reppert: How is Towner’s interpretation incompatible with Calvinism?

2 Peter 3:9

To my knowledge, Richard Bauckham is not a Calvinist. Here is his interpretation of 2 Pet 3:9:

“God’s patience with his own people delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay…The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish though it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment,” Jude, 2 Peter (Word 1983), 312-13.

Question for Reppert: how is Bauckham’s interpretation incompatible with Calvinism?

Continuing with Reppert:

“And there's more. I mean, there is joy amongst the angels when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). But why, if God made the sovereign choice to bring about the repentance before the foundation of the world?”

i) How is that incompatible with Calvinism? Can’t the angels rejoice when the elect repent?

ii) Angels have no say in who is saved and who is damned.

iii) The only reason angels are in a position to rejoice over the salvation of a sinner is because some angels are elect angels (1 Tim 5:21). Their own heavenly status depends on God’s election.

“Jesus wept over Jerusalem. What would there be to weep about if Jesus had the power to hit everyone in Jerusalem over the head with irresistible grace and bring them to repentance, which after all is how anybody comes to repentance, on the Calvinistic scheme.”

i) Jesus also ate, slept, suffered fatigue, got angry, had second thoughts (Mt; 26:39; Jn 7:1-10), and so on. Does Reppert think that whatever is true of God Incarnate is also true of God qua God?

ii) Lk 19:41-44 anticipates the bloody sack of Jerusalem by the Roman army.

As far as Jesus’ power is concerned, is it Reppert’s position that when he ascended and sat at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus didn’t have the power to prevent the Roman army from laying siege to Jerusalem and massacring the inhabitants?

“Ephesians 4:30 talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. How can you grieve someone who is unilaterally causing you to do everything you do?”

Of course, that’s a straw man argument. Calvinism doesn’t teach unilateral divine causation. Rather, Calvinism teaches both primary and secondary causation. And Calvinism also teaches that sanctification, unlike regeneration, involves human cooperation in the means of grace.

“The attempt to provide ‘Calvinist’ interpretations of these passages which index God's love and compassion to the elect and only the elect strike me as just plain desperate.”

i) On Jn 3:16, 1 Tim 2:4, and 2 Pet 3:9, I quoted commentators who, to my knowledge, aren’t even Calvinists.

Likewise, the fact that Lk 19:41-44 anticipates the sack of Jerusalem is not a Calvinist interpretation. Consult any standard commentary.

Likewise, the Exilic setting of Ezk 18:23 is hardly a “Calvinist” interpretation.

ii) Moreover, claiming that “Calvinist” interpretations are “desperate” is not an argument, but just a tendentious assertion. And it’s not as if Reppert even bothered to exegete his prooftexts.

“In the exegesis of John 3: 16, for example, it is argued that the most impressive thing about God's love for the world is God's loving that world in spite of its rebelliousness. The idea is that if we are sufficiently impressed by the fact that God loves humans even though they are sinners, we can somehow limit the scope of God's love to the elect only and still accept the sense of the text.”

i) Who said a Calvinist has to limit the scope of Jn 3:16? That misses the point. Jn 3:16 is neutral on the scope of the atonement. Doesn’t say one way or the other.

ii) Moreover, suppose we interpret “kosmos” in Arminian terms. Let’s say that “komos” is a synonym for “everyone.” Suppose we plug that denotation into another Johannine passage–like 1 Jn 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

The ironic upshot of that denotation is that if a Calvinist were to interpret 1 Jn 2:15 according to Arminian semantics, then this would mean that God forbids Christians from loving everyone. Indeed, if we love everyone, that goes to show that we aren’t even Christians. If you love everyone, then God doesn’t love you.

“Apparently God wants us to preach the gospel to every living creature.”

He does? To take one example: until the advent of modern pharmaceuticals, it wasn’t possible to evangelize sub-Saharan Africa. White missionaries had no resistance to the tropical diseases.

So did God want us to preach the Gospel to sub-Saharan Africans for all those centuries before it was medically feasible to do so?

“Why? Is the offer made in good faith? How can it be if the people to whom it was made were reprobated by a sovereign choice before the foundation of the world?”

i) If God foreknows who will accept the offer and who will reject the offer, is the offer made in good faith to those whose rejection is logically certain?

ii) If, on the other hand, Reppert disallows divine foreknowledge, because that’s incompatible with our libertarian freedom, then how can God promise to save anyone when we can always thwart his will? How can he make good on his promise if the human party to the transaction is free to do otherwise?

“Yes, it's a formidable project. But the Calvinist claim that Calvinism has the full support of Scripture hinges on the success of this project.”

Calvinism has the same burden of proof as every other Protestant tradition.

Catholic abstemiousness

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

According to Catholic epologist Bryan Cross, "Ecclesial consumerism manifests itself more explicitly in certain sorts of doctrines. Health and Wealth is one of them; nobody wants suffering."

To illustrate his point, let's consider a few examples of Catholic abstemiousness, in contrast to the excesses of the prosperity gospel which you find in some benighted Protestant circles:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

High-church cults and heresies

Catholic and Orthodox apologists sometimes attack sola scriptura by pointing to sola scriptural cults like the Watchtower. This is what sola scriptura leads to, so they say.

But the problem with that comparison is that we have high-churchly cults as well as sola scriptural cults. The Mormon church is a high-churchly cult.

In a fallen world, the god of this world will counterfeit the truth. And the counterfeit will imitate whatever form the truth takes.

Chicago overcoat

Perry Robinson has been posting a lot of long comments over at Green Baggins. Since it’s a high volume blog by a confessional Calvinist, he presumably thinks this is a forum which will give higher visibility to his own position.

I’ll comment on his major arguments. There’s a tremendous amount of redundancy in this thread. So I won’t respond to every repetitious comments. But will preserve some redundancy to illustrate the degree to which Perry repeats the same question-begging claims.

Scripture passages are not non-theory laden facts that one can just happen upon and interpret so as to build up a model incrementally. The question is then how do we figure out which lens is the correct one since we cannot appeal to theory or model neutral facts to discriminate? Facts underdetermine or fail to select for a model or lens. To put the matter another way, no exegetical methodology is Christologically neutral. From the get go a given exegetical method selects for a specific Christology, So how do we find out which Christology is the correct one is there is no Christology neutral exegetical methodology that we can use?

Three problems:

i) He poses this question without bothering to answer his own question. He leaves the question hanging out there to flap in the wind.

ii) He says your exegetical method selects for a specific Christology, but he doesn’t offer any supporting evidence to validate that claim. Bible scholars representing very different theological persuasions employ the grammatico-historical method. So what is the specific Christology which they all share in common? What specific Christology does the grammatico-historical method select for, exactly?

iii) He also fails to explain why the interpretation of every verse should be filtered through Christology–much less Eastern Orthodox Christology.

Calvin’s citation of and at times rejection of the fathers on his own judgment is indicative of the problem and point at issue, Calvin has set himself up as a father and their judge.

So what? Either the church fathers stand in judgment of us, or we stand in judgment of them.

If the judgment of councils is subordinate to scripture how does one make ones own judgment subordinate to scripture when it is ones own power of judgment that is doing the judging about what scripture in fact means?

We see variants on this theme throughout Perry’s remarks. It fails to distinguish between the source of judgment and the standard of judgment.

If I use a dictionary to define words, the dictionary is my standard. Still, I’m the one who has to understand what it says and apply what it says.

We all make value judgments in the sense that what we believe comes down to what seems to be correct to you and me as individuals. You cannot eliminate that indexical element from the way we process and appropriate information.

Perry himself has run through a series of conversions, based on which one seemed to be right to him at the time. At present, he judges the Orthodox church to be the true church. So is he subordinating his judgment to the Orthodox Church? Or is he really subordinating the Orthodox church to his judgment? He’ll introduce some distinctions which I’ll address as the occasion presents itself.

As for solo scriptura, how is it not the case at the end of the day? If no church judgments are infallible, then no church judgments can’t be revised by an individual. Doctrine is a reconstruction, a purely human product, and so a provisional approximation. Therefore no judgment of the church can bind the conscience as God can. Only the judgment of the individual can be normative for that individual and no one else.

Several problems:

i) Perry states this as if it were an unacceptable consequence. But he needs to explain why that consequence is unacceptable.

Otherwise, Perry is like a Holocaust-denier who refuses to believe the Holocaust ever happened because that would just be too terrible to contemplate.

But in a fallen world, we’re used to dire consequences, so to merely posit a dire consequence if sola Scriptura were true, even if the postulate were true, does nothing to disprove sola Scriptura.

ii) It’s fallacious to say that if X is fallible, then X is provisional. If X is fallible, then X could either be true or false. But only if X is false is X revisable. If X is true, then X is not revisable.

What is fallible can still be true. Something can be true without necessarily being true. While fallibility creates the possibility of error, it doesn’t create the actuality of error, or even the probability of error.

So Perry has to do a lot better than raise the abstract possibility of error. That is not a rational basis to doubt what we believe. It’s not as if Perry applies that skepticism to his value-judgments regarding the various religious options.

Plenty of texts of the synodal horos speak of the councils as “spirit inspired” “indefectible” and “infallible.”

Of course, Mormons make comparable claims for their “church.”

The issue isn’t so much about the inability to understand a text correctly, but rather to teach it normatively. It is one thing to have the correct interpretation amongst a group of debators. It is quite another thing to be able to give an interpretation that is normative that brings a halt to the debate as say in Acts 15. Was the authority of the council in Acts 15 merely that of being inerrant? I don’t think so and I don’t think you do either.

This is another one of his favorite tropes. He states this as if it were self-evident. Who needs a supporting argument?

Why does he detach truth from normativity? If something is true, then don’t we have an obligation to believe it and act accordingly? Does he think truth is not a norm?

What about Acts 15? Why is it insufficient to say that Peter, Paul, and James were right while the Judaizers were wrong? If, in fact, God doesn’t require you to be circumcised or have a kosher diet to be a Christian, then why is that truth insufficient to resolve the dispute?

Scripture also indicates that the spirit is given to ministers through the laying on of hands to teach, correct and reuke.

Ironically, this is a case of what Perry calls spooftexting. He alludes to a prooftext for his position. But that’s all he does. Just a perfunctory allusion to Scripture. No exegesis to support his interpretation or application. Let’s address a few issues:

i) I believe he’s alluding to 1 Tim 4:14 & 2 Tim 1:6. Remember, though, that Perry rejects the grammatico-historical method. So what’s his alternative? Does he employ the allegorical method?

But in that case, what do the “hands” stand for? Perhaps ordination is conferred, not by the imposition of hands, but by the ordinand hopping up and down on a pogo stick while he recites the “The Hunting of the Snark”?

Or maybe the Pauline passages are an allegory for Presbyterian ordination. Or Arian ordination. With allegorical exegesis, all things are possible.

ii) And if he takes the verses literally, then there are a number of problems with assuming they refer to ordination, much less transferring the charism of church office from one minister to his successor:

a) As many commentators point out, 2 Tim 1:6 probably refers to a different event than 1 Tim 4:14.

b) In 1 Tim 4:14, we have the conjunction of prophecy with the imposition of hands. The logical way in which these cofactors are related is if one or more Christian prophets flagged Timothy as a spiritually gifted individual who was qualify to exercise Christian service in this capacity (whatever that may be). In that event, the imposition of hands doesn’t convey the charism. Rather, it’s because Timothy already has the charism that he undergoes this public ceremony.

c) This interpretation is reinforced by a parallel passage in Acts 13:2-3 where, once again, we have the conjunction of prophecy with the imposition of hands in the context of Christian service. Yet both Barnabas and Paul were already involved in Christian service. Indeed, it’s because they were spiritual gifted and seasoned individuals that they are singled out for this mission. And, needless to say, Paul was even an apostle at the time.

And they were “sent” in the sense of being sent away (from the church of Antioch to the mission field) rather than ordained.

d) The prophetic factor also distinctions this ceremony from ordination, since it’s not as if Orthodox ordinands must be identified by Christian prophets as suitable candidates for Christian ministery.

e) There is also no reason to think that Timothy was a pastor or church officer. Rather, Paul uses him as an itinerate trouble-shooter to deal with problem churches, among other things.

You make much hay about findings of fact that ring contrary to official statements, and perhaps rightly so, but what if the shoe is on the other foot? I routinely find not only Protestant exegetical arguments for the Filioque either non-existent and self admittedly bad. Yet the tradition enshrines the doctrine at a confessional level, practically mouthing the words as Mother Rome pulls the strings, and everyone springs automatically to defend it prior to any investigation of the facts. They are a priori set to defend it. So if dikiao doesn’t mean to vindicate in a transformative sense for Rome and that is a problem I’d posit that Protestants have the same kind of problem with Sola Scriptura and the Filioque.

i) But Perry’s accusation is two-faced. If, on the one hand, the Reformed rubberstamp tradition, then he accuses them of playing false to sola Scriptura. If, on the other hand, someone like me doesn’t rubberstamp tradition, then I don’t count. The very fact that I don’t follow suit means that I don’t speak for the Reformed.

ii) In addition, this does nothing to disprove sola Scriptura. At most, it would mean that Calvinists are sometimes inconsistent in practice. Yet Perry admits the Orthodox are sometimes inconsistent, too. But Perry doesn’t conclude that the Orthodox rule of faith is false.

It would also help to get clear on what “development” means exactly. Usually theories of development depend on a form of idealism, where the earlier source contains in nascent form and is made explicit later.

Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, one potential reason for doctrinal development is the fact that new questions or challenges arise which earlier generations didn’t have to contemplate. For example, bioethics is raising possibilities which didn’t exist a century ago. That, in turn, forces Evangelical Christians to ask questions of Scripture were hadn’t been asked before.

The Reformation may have been an attempt to reassess the theology of the church in light of scripture, but there is no non-theory laden exegetical method to be had to do this in a theory neutral way. To wax Van Tillian, Scriptural passages aren’t some theologically neutral facts by which one can incrementally build a case.

Perry keeps raising this abstract objection, but he never develops the objection in a specific direction. To merely say the grammatico-historical method is not a “neutral” method, even if that were true, is hardly a sufficient objection to the method in question. To say it’s “theory-laden” doesn’t mean it’s mistaken. Assuming it’s theory-laden, it would only be mistaken if its theoretical orientation were mistaken. Where’s the argument?

After all, Perry’s alternative is no less theory-laden. So should we dismiss his alternative out of hand because it’s equally “theory-laden”?

Turretin seems mistaken for the simple fact that the church isn’t merely an announcer but is apostolic, is sent and hence duly authorized. So the first question is, not what do you teach, but who sent you?

i) Unfortunately, that’s more of an assertion than an argument. Perry needs to explain why and in what sense a minister must be “sent.” There’s a sense in which prophets and apostles are “sent.” They have an immediate calling from God. But by the same token, they are not ordained to church office. Their extraordinary vocation is, itself, a divine commission.

ii) By the same token, Perry has to do better than simply quote some verses which use the word “send.” That commits the word=concept fallacy. It’s a semantic fallacy for Perry to equate the use of the word to “send” with the Orthodox doctrine of ordination.

Perhaps, though, Perry has some other argument. The problem, though, is that this is all we are getting from him. Perry has a habit of using catchphrases as a substitute for argument.

Perspecuity is not the issue. Judgment is. Make the bible is perspicuous as you like and it won’t matter for two reasons. First, what matters is the perspicuity of the mind of the person reading it and second the normativity of their judgment.

i) The problem with the first objection is that it’s hardly limited to sola Scriptura. If the mind of the reader is not perspicuous, then this will impede his understanding of any text, whether Scripture or the church fathers or the ecumenical councils or the liturgy, &c.

ii) The problem with the second objection is that Perry is merely asserting this to be “what matters.”

If Rome puts he church above the Scriptures because it says that the church has the right to give normative interpretations, do Protestants put the individual above the Scriptures since they assert that only the individual can be bound by his own judgments of what scripture means?

There’s nothing sacrosanct about individual judgment, per se. Some judgments are warranted and some judgments are unwarranted. This isn’t carte blanche for individual judgment regardless of how an individual arrives at his position.

If we don’t let the church’s teaching flavor the historical-grammatical method, doesn’t this assume that the methodology is non-theory laden and carries with it no metaphysical or Christological implications? The fifth council condemns something very much like it on that basis. So I doubt that it functions as a neutral method to start with.

Notice that Perry never gets beyond the abstract objection. “X is theory-laden!” So what?

And what about the grammatico-historical method? This method doesn’t predict for what a Bible writer will teach. It’s quite wide-open. The concern of the grammatico-historical method is to discover or recover what the Bible writer meant to say. You don’t know in advance what the correct answer will be. The method isn’t skewed to yield a particular result. The only methodological bias is to remain faithful to the authorial bias of the Bible writer.

I don’t think the church is a merely human thing because of what I believe about Christology. You and I do not share the same Christology which is why we do not share the same view of the church.

What does Perry think he achieves with statements like this? I can understand why he’d make statements like that on his own blog, where he has a sympathetic audience. But why post comments on a Reformed blog unless he’s trying to win converts to his cause? If so, he needs to engage in persuasion. To simply make statements about how Orthodoxy is different and better than Calvinism or Evangelicalism is hardly convincing.

I don’t take theology to be a “field of knowledge” in terms of a science. That is a point upon which Catholics and Protestants are alike and quite different from the Orthodox. I don’t take the church’s teaching to have or be capable of development as posited by either Catholics or Protestants so I reject the idea of it having the kind of provisional standing of given hypothesis that is capable of one judgment and then another through time.

Among other things, this assumes that “development” is equivalent to a provisional hypothesis which is modified over time. But in some cases, what he dubs “development” involves the discussion of an issue for which there is no preexisting answer. And if Orthodoxy is unable to address modern controversies, then, to that extent, Orthodoxy is irrelevant to life in the modern world.

As I noted, the Reformers did not wholesale accept the Christology and Triadology of Nicea and Chalcedon. As ably documented by say Muller, they modified it and rejected key parts of it. And yes, as Orthodox, sure I think the Orthodox got it right and kept it so. IN the 880 council, it was agreed by both sides and then 120 years later the Franks take over the papacy and scrap it. They broke communion by innovation. The funny thing is that the Protestants accept the very doctrine which justified papal prerogatives since Gregory 7ths insertion of the Filioque was grounded in the doctrine itself. That is, if the person of the Spirit is produced jointly by the Father and the Son as from one principle and the pope is the vicar of Christ, then the Spirit proceeds economically into the church from the Pope. This is why the papacy and the filioque stand or fall together, which is ironic that Protestants still retain it, even though it isn’t supportable by any serious exegesis of Scripure. Why Trent? Why not 2nd Nicea? Or how about even better Reformed monoenergism in light of 3rd Constantinople’s Dyoenergism? Or Nicea’s teaching that the Father alone is autotheos against Calvin’s innovation that all the persons are autotheos?

This is a good example of Perry’s duplicity. On the one hand, he faults Calvinists for (in his view) rubberstamping certain traditions of the Latin theology. On the other hand, he also faults Calvinism for its independence in respect to tradition.

Perry faults Calvinism because it is too tradition-bound. According to him, it uncritically transmits certain traditions which it inherited from Latin theology. On the other hand, Perry also faults Calvinism because it’s too “provisional.” In principle, everything is open to revision.

Of course, there is an underlying pattern to Perry’s attack. If Calvinism breaks with Eastern traditions, that’s bad. That’s heretical. But if Calvinism adheres to Western traditions, that’s bad. That’s heretical.

If Jerusalem can be infallible, then the issue is not a principled one. Protestants must endorse then some kind of cessationist view with respect to apostolic ministry, authority, etc. But then who sends ministers if the apostolic commisisoning has expired?

But Perry is, himself, a cessationist. Just a different sort of cessationist. So is his cessionism principled or ad hoc?

Part of the problem on judging the matter from my perspective is that you are presuming a place of an ecclesiastical judge. I am not sure how such a position is justified. Part of the problem is the assumption that councils of the church are not divinely guided and are merely human entities. This means that we are starting with different ecclesiologies and in fact, different Christologies. This argument is really misplaced.

Well, since Perry is an Orthodox layman, posting comments at a Reformed blog, what did he expect? Once again, what does he think it will accomplish to fault a Calvinist on a Calvinist blog for thinking like a Calvinist? It’s not as if Perry is giving the Calvinist any reason to think otherwise.

Why would you take the decisions of Acts 15 council as infallible simply on the judgment of the church centuries later that Acts was inspired? The fact that it was widely accepted doesn’t imply that it was inspired or that most people thought that it was.

Well, that’s a loaded question. Why assume our only reason or primary reason for believing the Book of Acts is the judgment of the church? There are many lines of internal and external evidence for Acts.

And no real work is done by appealing to self authentication since one can be duped into thinking that something is self authenticating when its not.

i) True, but that cuts both ways. That undercuts everything Perry believes as well. It seems to Perry that the Orthodox church is the true church, but maybe he’s self-deluded. And if he were self-deluded, he’d be the last person to know it. So why does Perry resort to this Kamikaze tactic? Even if crashing his fighter-jet into the battleship succeeds in sinking the enemy ship, he goes up in smoke along with the ship. So how does that advance the case for Orthodoxy?

ii) Moreover, can he really be so dismissive of self-authentication? Eastern Orthodoxy appeals to the mystical experience of the saints. Would he say that no real work is done by appealing to mystical experience since the mystic can be duped into thinking that something is veridical when it’s really delusive?

iii) Likewise, on Perry’s dismissive view, why would Jews have any reason to believe a prophet like Amos? On the one hand, he wasn’t commissioned by the religious establishment. On the other hand, he performed no miracles. Issued no predictions which his audience could confirm. Unless there’s something self-authenticating about his words, why would Perry believe them? Surely he won’t appeal to a church council. It’s not as if the words of Amos had to wait for a church council to validate his mission and message. At that point, the original audience to whom his words were directed would be dust and ashes.

So the formal canon is a product of centuries later theological reflection. Do you think the formal canon is revisable and subject to human judgment too?

There are different ways of answering that question:

i) The Orthodox canon is subject to human judgment. Perry swears by the Orthodox canon because it appears to him to be the canon of the one true church. But that’s only as good as his own perception of the truth.

ii) The Protestant canon is revisable if the Protestant canon is incorrect. If the Protestant canon is correct then there’s no reason to revise it.

If you want to say the Protestant canon is hypothetically revisable, then you can also say Orthodox theology is hypothetically revisable. It’s child’s play to dream up hypothetical defeaters for every position under the sun.

So given the thread topic, in light of the Reformed lenses, how can the doctrine of the Filioque be justified by Scripture alone and what if it turns out that its not? What goes, the doctrine or the lens? And this again gets us back to the question of how we can know which lens is correct, given the fact that scripture is not some bare self interpreting fact, but is interpreted through a lens? The lens cannot be derived from Scripture without the lens in the first place since there is no non-theory laden exegetical methodology to be had. Or to put it in Van Tillian terms, there are no neutral facts.

i) Let’s not get carried away with a metaphor. The “lens” is just a metaphor. Perry himself has gone through a number of religious conversions. Depending on which religious tradition he espoused at the time, he was reading the Bible through that particular lens. Yet it’s not as if he had a permanent contact lens which made it impossible to read the Bible any other way.

ii) By the same token, it’s simplistic to say our lens is either a Scriptural lens or an extrascriptural lens. Yes, readers bring a lens to Scripture. But readers have also been known to change their mind after reading Scripture. It’s not as if their lens was all-controlling. Perry knows that to be the case.

Likewise, there are many monographs on apostolic exegesis. Here a scholar studies the hermeneutical techniques of a Bible writer. In the case of a liberal scholar, he may not even agree with the hermeneutical techniques of the Bible writer. He is able to distinguish his lens from the lens of the Bible writer. You can use a provisional lens to learn more about the lens of Scripture. And at that point you can exchange your provisional lens for the lens of Scripture.

iii) What lens did Perry use to convert from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy? If he can only view Orthodoxy through an Orthodox lens, then how can he tell if Orthodoxy corrects his vision or distorts his vision?

Second, the issue is not whether one can come to a correct interpretation on their own, but whether one can come to a normative one on their own and whether only the individual can be normatively bound by their own judgment or whether they can be bound by the church’s judgment.

He says that’s the issue, but that’s just another one of his assertions which he likes to repeat ad nauseum without bothering to defend his assertion. And it’s not as if his claim is self-evident.

If one interpretation is correct, while another interpretation is incorrect, don’t we have a moral obligation to believe the correct interpretation and disbelieve the incorrect interpretation?

Likewise, what is correct for one is correct for all. If that is the correct interpretation, then everyone is obligated to believe it because it is true.

Can one’ individual conscience trump that of the church? And if so, why? What is it about my own conscience and judgment that the church supposedly lacks? And why suppose that the church is somehow a collection of equally normative (perhaps not equally good) judges? Why do Protestants get to simply assume this kind of egalitarianism about normativity here?

i) When Perry opposes the individual to the “church,” what does the “church” stand for, exactly? Take Athanasius in his famous stand against the Arian bishops. In that celebrated contest, which party represents the individual, and which party represents the “church.” Is Athanasius the voice of the church? If so, how does that distinguish Athanasius from Calvin or Luther?

ii) Likewise, why does Perry assume the right of private judgment is “egalitarian”? Some individuals are more qualified to teach than others. That’s why Calvinism has an educated clergy. Perry’s objection might have some traction in reference to the certain traditions which disdain formal preparation, but that’s hardly relevant to Calvinism.

iii) Perry, himself, is just an Orthodox layman, lecturing the rest of us on “normative judgments.” Who is he to be so dogmatic? And if he can be dogmatic, why not you and me?

On your reading no doctrine is stable. All doctrines, including the canon are revisable, provisional and capable of being over turned formally speaking. All doctrines are human reconstruction projects That looks a lot like humanism and not very much like early Christianity. What seems preferable is teaching that isn’t human, that is divine and hence binds the conscience whether I agree with it or not, for that is how God teaches.

i) All this amounts to is the claim that if sola Scriptura is true, then it has potentially bad consequences; therefore, sola Scriptura is false.

What kind of argument is that? Does Perry apply that same objection to his belief in libertarian freewill? If human beings are free, some of them may become heretics, molesters, murderers, &c. Since heresy is bad, we can avoid that unacceptable consequence by denying that human beings are free.

ii) There is also a failure to discuss how God works in and through the human mind. The church fathers taught what they did because it seemed to be true to them. Perry believes the consensus patrum because it seems to be true to him. You can’t eliminate the indexical factor in this process. Ecumenical councils are the product of what the participants perceive to be true.

But if Perry thinks that God is working through that process, then God can also work through the Protestant Reformers. You can’t avoid the human construct. The question is what, if anything, lies behind the human construct. Does the Protestant canon represent God’s will for the faithful? That’s the question.

iii) As to what early Christianity looked like, it doesn’t look like any one thing in particular–from what I can tell.

None of that though touches the question, if the Reformed interpret Scripture through a lens, and it is not possible to interpret Scripture apart from a lens, how does one find out that the lens one has is correct? It can’t be by reference to Scripture anymore than an atheist can check the veridicality of his experience by more experience or that there are causes in the world by giving more examples of events.

Of course, that question isn’t limited to what lens we use in reference to Scripture. What about the lens we use in reference to church history? There’s a Catholic lens. Eastern Orthodox lens. Oriental Orthodox lens. Anabaptist lens. Reformed lens. Anglican lens. And so on and so forth. Perry needs to explain what makes his lens the right one.

Well its complicated but let me give you a sketch. Our view of infallibility is different because we endorse a different view of God and Christology than either Rome or Protestantism. Infallibility is an energy or divine activity. It isn’t limited to the clergy as the church has designated specific writings of some laymen as representing infallibly the teaching of the church, such as Maxims the Confessor.

Stop and think about this for a moment. Perry makes hay about the Reformed clergy. About the fact that Calvin was a layman.

Yet Maximus the Confessor was a layman. So what qualifies him to be a teacher–much less an infallible teacher? Who “sent” him?

I am not sure what it means to say that the bible is its own lens. Do you mean that the reader doesn’t interpret it from a presuppositional frame of reference? Or that the text can trump the presuppositional interpretative grid of the reader? If the latter, then doesn’t that mean that the bible is a self interprting fact? I am not sure how that squares with Van Til’s apologetic since no sensory data is self interpreting.

That’s a false dichotomy. On the one hand, the world is a lens through which we view the Bible. On the other hand, the Bible is a lens through which we view the world. They work in tandem.

As for how the bible is written I think depends on how one views inspiration. Since I reject the Reformed view of the relation of the Spirit to the humanity of Christ, I also reject the Reformed view of inspiration from which it is derived.

Inspiration is Christological or theanthropic which is why methods like the grammatical-historical methods are inadequate and lead to heterodox Christology-see Theodore of Mopsuestia for example-

That begs the question of how he derives his Christological lens. Is Perry’s Christology scriptural or unscriptural? If he uses Scriptural Christology as a lens to read Scripture, then how does he derive his Christology in the first place? Unless he already has the Christological lens, how does he discover the Christology of Scripture? With or without the lens?

Or does he derive his Christology from extrascriptural sources? But in that event, his Christology is underdetermined by revelation. It’s just a “human reconstruction project.”

I don’t think one could get Paul’s allegorical interpretaiton in Gal 4 by just reading the OT text. to think that a natural methodology can just read off the meaning of a divine text like any other assumes that either the divine and human aren’t essentially different or a kind of naturalism.

i) Well, that raises an interesting conundrum for Perry. How does he know that Paul is interpreting Gen 16 allegorically? Is Perry using the allegorical method to interpret Paul? But if Perry is using the allegorical method, what would an allegorical interpretation of an allegorical interpretation look like? How could one allegorical interpretation identify another interpretation as allegorical?

Even if Paul is construing the OT text allegorically, the only way to ascertain that fact is by using the grammatico-historical method. So Perry’s appeal is self-refuting.

ii) I also hope that Perry doesn’t base his classification on Paul’s use of the Greek word for “allegory.” That would commit the word=concept fallacy.

iii) And, of course, Perry doesn’t actually exegete his prooftext. Instead, he contents himself with spooftexting. A perfunctory allusion to a text which allegedly proves his point, absent the necessary exegesis. So what about this passage?

a) To begin with, the “allegorical” portion is sandwiched in-between a historical exposition of the patriarchal narrative. So Paul is alert to, and faithful to, the historical context.

b) Paul also prefaces his remarks with the disclaimer in 4:24a. So this section doesn’t represent an “interpretation” of Gen 16. Rather, it’s an argument from analogy. And possibly typology.

c) Let’s also recall the identity of Paul’s opponents in Galatians. In this brief section of Galatians, he may be using rabbinical methods to beat the Judaizers at their own game. A tu quoque argument.

For more detail on the correct exegesis of this passage, Gordon Fee has a helpful discussion in his commentary on Galatians, pp179-82. Moisés Silva also has a helpful discussion in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, pp807-09.

But, for two reasons you’re never going to get serious exegesis from Perry. For one thing, you can’t invest all that time in historical theology and still have time left over for exegetical theology. Something has to give. For another thing, Perry wouldn’t deign to consult evangelical Bible scholars since he has already concluded that they have nothing to teach him. They’re using the wrong lens.

And the quesiton isn’t whether the bible is clear or not, the question is how does one arrive at a normative interpretation. This point you seemed to ignore when I posed it above.

So he says. For me, the question is how does one arrive at the correct interpretation.

I do think that the Reformed confessions are in fact wrong in key areas, which is just to say that I am Orthodox and not Reformed. But even on Reformed principles, the Reformed confessions are not infallible and are always open to revision. Its certainly possible that the Reformers were in fact in error at any given point.

Here we see his lazy fallback on abstract possibilities. Well, many things are abstractly possible. It’s abstractly possible that Perry’s knowledge of historical theology consists of false memories implanted by aliens from outer space. There is no Orthodox church. There is no church history. “Realty” is the alien laboratory.

My point was that the perspicuity of the text is not really germane. What is germane is the perspicuity of the mind who is making a judgment about the text and the normativity of the judgment made by the individual. Why should Calvin’s judgment be any more binding on my conscience than the pope’s?

If Calvin is right and the pope is wrong, then who got it right ought to be binding on Perry’s conscience.

I let the Reformers be what they were, fallible men and not some once for all illumined individuals who gave some unrevisable interpretation. Doctrine on Reformed principles is a reconstruction process and given sin and error, it is not implausible to think that the confessions are in fact in error. It’s entailed by the Nominalistic humanism of Reformation.

Once again, that’s a perfectly worthless comment to post over at a Reformed blog–since a Calvinist would also let the church fathers and “saints” and councils be what they were, fallible men and not some once for all illumined individuals who gave some unrevisable interpretation. A human “reconstruction process.”

Why does Perry even bother to make these tendentious, self-serving comments? He might as well be a Mormon missionary.

And I don’t have to show that the Reformed confessions are in fact in error, for given the lens of Reformed confessions as a presuppositional grid by which the bible is interpreted, that would be impossible from within the system. The grid will come up with alternative interpretations for any scriptural exegesis I would proffer. Bare facts don’t overturn or discriminate between models. Any system is capable of admitting contrary evidence, it just depends on how much one wishes to give up or how one wishes to re-interpret the data in light of the system a la Quine and Van Til.

i) Is Perry a relativist? Does he reduce religious conviction to a raffle? What you happen to believe in the fortuitous result of which ticket you happen to pluck from the rotating basket?

ii) He also resorts to these empty-headed abstractions about “bare facts” over against your interpretive grid. But the Bible is not a bare fact, like a smooth, solid obelisk.

It consists of propositions. And it’s not as if you need hack the access codes to break into a secure system.

To take one example, some Muslims convert to Christianity by reading the Bible. Their preliminary grid consists of true beliefs as well as false beliefs. But they bring some real world knowledge to their encounter. That’s a port of entry. Once inside, the Bible can begin correct their false beliefs.

This is despite the fact that Muslims bring a very prejudicial “lens” to their reading of Scripture. But in spite of that, God, in his overruling providence, uses the Bible to convert some Muslims.

Let’s not get carried away with catchy metaphors like a “lens” or “grid.” Up to a point, these are useful illustrations. But like any metaphor, becomes misleading when taken too far. A well-chosen metaphor can illuminate an issue, but if you misuse it, it can also blind you to the truth.

Even if all the interpretations of the text by the Reformed confessions were correct in fact, it wouldn’t give us a reason to think that the lens was the right one, anymore than the fact that modern science proposes in fact working models confirms that the models are right and work for the reasons that the scientific models proffer. Something can work, but not for the reasons you think it does.

That's all hypothetical.

So we need a reason for thinking that the lens gets us to the right interpretation even if the interpretations were to be assumed correct, so we are right back to the question of how we are to know that the Reformed confessions are the right lens?

Which cuts both ways. How does he know that Orthodoxy is the right lens?

If the exegetical method isn’t theory neutral, then it will select a priori and interpret data according to a specific theological model. It still seems to me that you are positing an incrementalist apporach to building up a theological model. I am not sure how that is possible if exegetical methodologies aren’t theory neutral.

Perry constantly takes refuge in these airy-fairy abstractions. But the grammatico-historical method is employed by scholars and commentators of very different persuasions. Arminians and Calvinists. Catholics and Anglicans. Pentecostals and Anabaptists.

Perry suffers from self-reinforcing ignorance. On the one hand, he can only makes these breezy statements in studied ignorance of the way in which Bible scholars actually proceed. On the other hand, he never puts himself in a position to be corrected since he assumes his a priori is true, so it would be a waste of time to crack the books.

How would he know if, in fact, the grammatico-historical method will select a priori and interpret the data according to a specific theological model? Only if he studies the exegetical literature. But he would only study the exegetical literature if he considers that a worthwhile expenditure of time. Yet his a priori assures him that it’s futile.

If I thought doctrine was a human re-construction, I might agree to a scriptural competition. Of course, the question is, who is the judge of such a competition? You or me? Who is the judge that applies the rule or standard?

But that’s misleading. Either you’re the judge, or you appoint the judge, or you let someone else appoint the judge. But each alternative involves a personal value-judgment on your part. When Perry defaults to the Orthodox church, he is rendering a value-judgment regarding the judicial qualifications of the Orthodox judge. He submits his judgment to a handpicked judge. Perry packs the court with his own appointees, then goes through the motions of submission to their judgment.

If a false attribution of authorship is sufficient to discount a work as authentic, then by your own argument, Hebrews should be removed from the canon.

That’s misleading. There’s a difference between anonymity and pseudonymity.

I understand that clarity and truth are not co-extensive. Things can be clear and yet people not see them for whatever reason. For example it seems fairly clear that sola fide is an artifact of late medieval scholasticism, specifically Okhamism wedded to Augustinian pre-emption.

This is another one of Perry’s intellectual shortcuts. Don’t bother to study the exegetical literature. Just pull a label from the history of ideas and act as if that’s the only source or primary source for the belief in question.

Not only is this indolent, but it’s inaccurate. For example, the reason someone currently believes something may have nothing to do with his original reasons. He may have come to believe something for one reason. That, in turn, caused him to study the issue in greater depth. And the result can be twofold. Upon further reflection, he may question his original reason. Yet, in the course of his studies he’s discovered additional and better reasons for what he now believes. These may take the place of his original reason. And I daresay that process happens fairly often.

I am sure that Andrew thinks its clear and he probably has epistemic justification for thinking so. That doesn’t mean its true or that he has in fact met the conditions on knowledge. I recognize that people like Bryan are quite intelligent. i have sat in graduate seminars with Bryan and I can say from experience that I don’t take arguing with him lightly. Andyet Ithink he is wrong, just like I think you are wrong. I recognize that Bryan thinks he has good reasons for thinking what he does. That doesn’t make him dishonest, just human and limited, like you or me.

Needless to say, a statement like that applies, mutatis mutandi, to Perry’s own self-confidence.

When I say that one has placed oneself as a judge of the church I had an idea in mind and a distinction between that and another concept. So let me try to clarify. It seems to me it is on kind of thing to try and find out the truth about something and to in fact come to know it. That everyone does. It also seems true that in doing so, one doesn’t have to be infallible to know things, at least in general. So to know that Jesus is messiah or that this or that is the society he founded or that this or that is the right interpretation doesn’t require infallibility. That is one kind of judgmental positional.

Another kind of position is that of making judgments that are normative beyond those of simply knowing. So take for example the council in Acts 15. Were they doing the first or the second? In part there’s was a fact finding mission, but on top of that they were doing something more. Their decision first settled a matter definitively. Second, it promulgated something as divine teaching, which made it obligatory on others regardless whether those so obligated met the conditions on knowledge or not. Here the normativity is beyond that of just getting the right answer.

How does that go beyond getting the right answer? Isn’t the right answer “definitive”? And if it’s the right answer, then isn’t there a general obligation to believe it?

A math text may be inerrant but not infallible and can’t bind one’s conscience to assent to it unless the person knows that the answers that it gives are correct. Such is not the case with God. I am obligated to believe God even if I don’t know what God says is true or not.

This is a little different than what he’s been saying all along. So, to that extent, it advances his argument. Kicks the ball down the road a pace.

But is this a good argument? What does it mean for Perry to say we’re obligated to believe God even if we don’t know what he says is true or false? Here are two interpretations:

i) I don’t know if God said it

ii) Even if I know God said it, I don’t know that it’s true

I don’t see how either interpretation makes sense from a Christian standpoint. If, on the one hand, he doesn’t know that God said it, then how is the statement normative? How is he duty-bound to believe it?

If, on the other hand, he doesn’t think a statement is true just because God said it, then why is he obligated to believe a dubious statement?

Perhaps what Perry means is that if God says it, then he is obligated to believe it even though he has no independent corroboration. He believes it on divine authority.

But even that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Except for self-presenting states, where the subject of knowledge is the immediate source of his own source of information, all our other justified true beliefs are mediated by sources external to ourselves.

So even Perry did have independent confirmation, his source of information would be just as indirect as the word of God. He’d still be dependent on a source.

So, assuming the word of God is infallibly true, why would something God said not count as an object of knowledge?

Put another way, yes, he’s taking it on authority. But what makes God an authority? It’s more than brute force. You can take his word for it because his word is true.

Knowledge by acquaintance is not the only mode of knowledge. Knowledge by description also counts as knowledge.

When I make judgments as to which is the true church and such I am only trying to meet the conditions on knowledge and not to meet the conditions on making theologically normative statements. So there is a two tier model here of judgment.

But one problem with his two-tiered model is that he treats normative judgment as more authoritative even though it is founded on inferior epistemic grounds. When he merely makes judgments about the true church, that satisfies the conditions of knowledge. He knows it to be true.

But when the church makes judgments, that falls short of knowledge. He doesn’t know whether or not it’s true. Yet he’s obliged to believe it.

For that matter, if it’s not an object of knowledge, then how can he regard it as unrevisable?

I am familiar with Reformation history and the preceding Scholastic period. I used to be Reformed. In any case to speak of “two branches” borders at best on question begging. I am not convinced that some priests and a mess of laymen challenging the church constitute a “branch.” And the reason why is that the Father sends the Son and the Son sends the Apostles and so forth. Sending precedes the message. Sending doesn’t come from the people, but from the apostolic ministry. You may not agree, but when I read the Bible, that is the way it seems to me and I can only report on the way things seem to me.

But that’s equivocal. Does God “send” the ordinand in the same sense that God “sent” the prophets and apostles? That analogy, if there is an analogy, undermines Perry’s position since prophets and apostles were not ordained by man. They received a direct calling from God. Direct inspiration.

And what does it mean to say “when I read the Bible, that is the way it seems to me and I can only report on the way things seem to me.” Does he mean that he can’t even present an argument for his interpretation? He can only report his psychological states? What if a Calvinist said, “You may not agree, but when I read the Bible, that is the way it seems to me and I can only report on the way things seem to me”?

Granted, there are different levels of divine guidance so we would need to flesh out the respective reasons for thinking it was this or that level. One of my reasons for thinking that the divine guidance is greater than what you take to be the case is that the canon is not revisable, which seems so on Protestant principles.

Well, if the Orthodox canon is unrevisable, then perhaps Perry can tell us where to find the Orthodox canon. Where’s the official, infallible, normative, definitive statement on the Orthodox canon? From my reading, the Orthodox Church is fuzzy on the outer boundaries of the canon.

Another we can tease out by a thought experiment. Suppose that there is some possible world that God could have created and most of the history up till the time of Christ is relevantly similar or identical. But then after the establishment of the church, things go terribly wrong. So much so that at a given point and for a significant period of time due to massive persecution and gross pervasive heterodoxy there is only one true Christian left with the gospel. So is it possible, putting questions of perseverance aside for the moment, for that person to have a false gospel? If not, why not?

Suppose there’s a possible world in the church fathers are possessed by the devil. But their state of possession is indetectable to the faithful. So it’s possible that every Orthodox believer is hopelessly deluded. If not, why not?

Here I am not being speculative but giving a thought experiment to pump your biblically informed inuitions.

Here I am not being speculative but giving a thought-experiment to pump your Orthodox intuitions.

And taking decisions of councils as infallible doesn’t amount to the claim that they are materially inspired. The councils make a sufficiently clear distinction between the biblical writings and infallible decrees.

Such as?

You’d think that after 500 years of using the same text there’d be theological convergence on baptism, the eucharist and church gov’t.

Why would we think that? After the formative period there is generally a period of consolidation in which the views of the founder are standardized. Creeds. Catechisms. Systematic theology. Polemical theology. The distinctives are deepened. Taken to a logical extreme. Inculcated. And defended.

Over time, different sides are likely to dig into their positions. Fortify their positions. That becomes a locus of social life and social identity. Just look at how insular Eastern Orthodoxy became over the centuries.

For the first option, this would mean that our methodologies for exegeting scripture would seem to be theory neutral with respect to Jesus, indicating that there are some facts that have meaning apart form Jesus. That seems problematic.

To the contrary, the grammatico-historical method is faithful to Jesus by honoring the intent of the Gospel writers who record his words and deeds, as well honoring the intent of Jesus.

If the writers of the confessions were very much in tune with what God has made clear in the Scriptures, why in some cases would political power be needed to remove those who disagreed?

That’s a highly ironic statement on the lips of an Orthodox churchman. Just look at all the power politics in Orthodox church history.

It wasn’t just that Rome edited the Creed unilaterally, but that Rome changed the doctrine of the Trinity. You’d think of all the things to protest, changing the doctrine of the Trinity in a major way would be something Protestants would be up in arms about, but they aren’t. They simply lap up Roman arguments with little or no serious exegesis. Why is that?

i) But when it comes to Calvin on the autotheistic identity of each Trinitarian person, Perry faults Calvin for breaking with Rome. Likewise, when a Reformed theologian like Grudem says it’s time to strike the “descensus ad inferos” from the creed, you don’t find the Orthodox applauding his fidelity to sola Scriptura.

ii) Moreover, even if Calvinists were sometimes guilty of lapping up Catholic arguments with little or no serious exegesis, is the preferable to lap up Orthodox arguments with little or no serious exegesis?

So the filioque is theological speculation? If so, why do the Reformed profess and require their ministers to profess and teach “theological speculation” at the level of dogma? You’d think that after five hundred years of biblical exegesis that they’d figure this out. But they ignore it and just keep on teaching it. Why? Because its their tradition, unbiblical as it is.

So Perry’s argument amounts to this: Calvinists are too tradition-bound. Therefore, they should leave Calvinism for an even more tradition-bound alternative!

You seem to think that the Catholic or in my case Orthodox position is incapable of falsification based on our own premises. No matter what facts you throw at us we either will not accept them as facts or interpret them differently according to our presuppositions. This I think betrays a fundamental misunderstanding on your part since you think that there are neutral facts one can appeal to ascertained by neutral methodologies and build up one’s theology from there in an incrementalist fashion. The facts will discriminate between models showing which one is true and which is false.

This is a mistake. There are no neutral facts out there to be interpreted, linguistic or otherwise. And there are no theological models built up from disparate verses via an exegetical method that doesn’t presuppose the view it arrives it. This is why even the Reformed view is incapable of falsification in this way. Consequently the problem you pose for Catholics or Orthodox like myself, is actually a problem for your position. Unless of course you think Kuyper, Van Til and Bahnsen are wrong.

i) First of all, it’s demonstrably false to say a Reformed Bible scholar uses an exegetical method which presupposes the view it arrives at. The grammatico-historical method is not a Reformed distinctive. Why does Perry keep making statements like this? Is he willfully ignorant?

ii) Perry’s framework is less Van Tilian than Kuhnian. He treats different theological traditions as incommensurable paradigms. One paradigm can’t prove or disprove the other. There’s no intersubjectival standard of comparison.

But Van Til hardly regarded Calvinism as unverifiable, or rival positions as unfalsifiable.

iii) Furthermore, I have yet to see how that tactic is an argument for preferring Orthodoxy to Calvinism. At best, it’s a defensive weapon which disarms him of any offensive weaponry.

White claims the Bible teaches something and he isn’t held to account because I supposedly don’t deserve an answer? Do only fellow Calvinists deserve an answer?

White has to define his own terms. What he meant by his usage. I can’t do that for him.

Moreover, I’ve answered Perry. And I plan to write a follow-up. However, it’s disingenuous for Perry to attack us on several different fronts, then complain that we don’t respond all at once.

History, linguistic scholarship, et al aren’t theory neutral an so won’t give us the reasons independent of the system to tell us if the lens we are using is correct, even if the conclusions are. No more so than history and more scientific study will tell us if something works for the reasons we think it does. False models can work quite well, que Newton’s physics.

He keeps repeating himself as if that does him any good. But even if this overstatement were true, it immunizes the Orthodox belief-system by simultaneously immunizing the Reformed belief-system, as well as every other belief-system. Is this what Perry’s position amounts to? Is he just a turtle who can withdraw into his shell? While that may be a way to play it safe, it wins you no converts.

As for Hays’ question, all authoritative interpretations, and here I am supposing those made by God are correct, but not all correct ones are authoritative. The former can bind my conscience in a way the latter doesn’t. As I pointed out above, the difference is normative. Is it the Reformed contention that truth and authority are identical?

At the divine level, veracity and authority are identical. At the human level, they are often and unfortunately at odds. In a fallen world, tyrants try, with varying degrees of success, to subjugate us to their authoritarian falsehoods.

While truth is intrinsically authoritative, authority is not intrinsically truthful. Authority can be a brute force that tramples on the truth and idolizes falsehood.

Or that there is no difference between a situation where in I hear a truth uttered by God and one found in a Math text? Am I obligated to believe both with the same degree of normativity? That seems awfully reductionistic and naturalistic.

The reply depends on how we qualify the statement. As Perry himself said: “A math text may be inerrant but not infallible and can’t bind one’s conscience to assent to it unless the person knows that the answers that it gives are correct.”

We are obliged to believe the answers in a math text if we know they are true. As long as the “conditions of knowledge” have been met, then we’re obligated to believe the answers. Under those circumstances, there are no degrees of obligation.

Where degrees of “normativity” come into play is where the answers are not objects of knowledge. That introduces probabilities. At least on paper, probabilities introduce degrees of obligation which correspond to degrees of certainty.

At the same time, it’s psychologically artificial to think that we can precisely calibrate our degree of belief to the corresponding odds. We lack that degree of voluntary control over our beliefs. But we can also avoid the extremes of blind faith and petulant skepticism.

We also have to distinguish between reflective and prereflective knowledge. It’s possible to know something at a tacit level, and be obliged to believe it, even if you can’t prove it (assuming, however, that it’s a genuine object of tacit knowledge).

What are we to do when 100% of the archaeological community says the Bible is wrong and such and so civilization didn’t exist? Are we to appeal to some mysterious sense of inspiration and an infallible authority that says “nu uh, because we say so.?”

What is Perry to do when 100% of the archeological community says the Council of Chalcedon never happened? Will he appeal to some mysterious sense of inspiration and an infallible authority that says “nu uh, because we say so.?”

If we aren’t neutral, then what lens do we bring to scripture? And won’t we interpet the scriptural data according to that lens or does scripture constitute a brute fact?

Notice that Perry has about two or three arguments which he constantly paraphrases and reiterates ad nauseum. There’s nothing in reserve. What would he do without his 3x5 flash cards?

To say that they were acting “as the church” presupposes that one can have a church without ministers who are commissioned or sent by God, either mediately or immediately. That strikes me as question begging.

If that’s question-begging, then why is it not equally question-begging for Perry to stipulate that ministers must be commissioned or sent by God in his specialized sense of the term, for which he offers no argument?

I am sure that Protestants will wish to affirm some kind of cessation of the apostolic ministry in that respect. But for my part given the biblical material on the Spirit’s work through the laying on of hands in ordination of bishops, presbyters and deacons there is a good basis to start thinking that the Spirits working councils didn’t cease.

i) That’s another example of Perry’s spooftexting. He needs to exegete his prooftext, not merely allude to a verse here or a verse there which allegedly supports his position.

ii) Moreover, even if we accepted his interpretation, all he’s done is to create elbowroom for the bare possibility that ecumenical councils are inspired. But that extrapolation also requires a supporting argument.

For example, Perry thinks that ecumenical councils are inspired. Yet he doesn’t think that every Orthodox priest or bishop is automatically inspired. So how can he reason from the case of Timothy’s “ordination” to the inspiration of church councils? For that matter, he doesn’t even think every church council is inspired.

iii) Couldn’t Tertullian use Perry’s inference to justify Montanism? Yet Perry regards Montanism as a heresy.

Perry takes way too many intellectual shortcuts.

You ask, how we would know if they were infallible and I would answer that depends on what the conditions for infallibility are supposed to be. To start thinking about this, what are the conditions on infallibility in general, then for the Scriptures, and then what makes a synod legitimate or “ecumenical?”

That ducks the question of why we’d even expect some synods to be infallible.

So yes, you do think that God left it up to fallible men to see that it came together correctly. This was the principled basis why the Protestants corrected the canon in removing books at the Reformation. It matters not that since the Reformation, Protestants haven’t in fact altered the canon. They did so at the Reformation, and could do so again in principle. At best you could claim that the canon is fixed on a pragmatic basis, but not on a principled one.

That’s hardly the best we can claim. Protestant scholars offer principled arguments for the canonicity of this book or that book, as well as principled arguments for the apocryphal status of other books. There’s a range of evidence, based on different lines of internal and external evidence.

And the fact that no Protestant denomination hasn’t done so has more to do with tradition than with it being immutable.

Noticed that having criticized Protestant denominations for allegedly upholding the Protestant canon on pragmatic grounds, Perry resorts to a pragmatic attack. He assails their motives. But that’s not a principled attack. At best, it’s a comment on group psychology. And it’s not as if you don’t have groupthink in excelsis in the Orthodox church.

People just accept books that are given to them at their conversion and then get attached to them.

Which people? Laymen? That may be true in many cases. But evangelical commentators generally discuss the canonicity of the book they exegete. They review the pros and cons. The Orthodox laity just accept the books which are given to them as well.

But if you spread the books on the table and asked them to decide, I doubt if books like Ruth would make it.

Well, that’s a very revealing objection. Ruth is one of the books of the OT. It was written by, to, and for OT Jews. The date is probably preexilic.

Is Perry seriously telling us that it would take a church council to establish the canonicity of Ruth? And where would that leave the original audience, which lived and died centuries before the Christian era? OT Jews never knew if Ruth was the word of God?

This illustrates the anachronistic and ahistorical outlook of an Orthodoxy churchman.

If you are all part of Christ’s church then why isn’t there full communion?

i) First of all, many evangelical denominations do observe full communion.

ii) Beyond that, this is just a case of Perry trying to show that Protestant practice is sometimes inconsistent. How does that disprove sola Scriptura? For the Orthodox can also be inconsistent in practice. Does that disprove the Orthodox rule of faith?

To say that we can try on lenses, well that presupposes that we can interpret facts apart from epistemological assumptions. That’s fine if you wish to reject a presuppositional outlook, but I am not sure that you wish to do so. To say that you can see if they make sense of the data or not, assumes that the data have meaning apart from a model in the first place. How would you know that such is the case? Can you compare the meaning a fact has apart from a worldview and then what meaning a fact has when placed in that worldview? I don’t think this is possible.

Didn’t Perry try on different lenses throughout his checkered religious career? He went from one theological tradition to another and another before he landed in Orthodoxy. Was he using the very same lens the whole time?

Again, I would point you to McGuckin’s work, Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, which corrects a number of mistakes from Loofs and Grillmeier, which is why his work has superseded theirs. This is confirmed in the work of a good number of other scholars on the subject as well.

Pelikan’s work depends on the older scholarship of Grillmeier and Loofs. (Pelikan’s work is a survey in any case and is nearly 30 years old.) This has been largely overturned as exemplified in MCGuckin’s work and the last 10 plus years of ensuing scholarship which has now become the dominant position among patristic scholars.

So Orthodox church history is provisional and revisable. There is no definitive interpretation of the historical record. It’s up for grabs depending on the latest historical monograph, which may overturn the prior consensus.

I agree that God instills reasoning faculties and such, but how does it follow that they interpret the data apart from some worldview? This sounds like evidentialism to me. Perhaps you are an evidentialist and that is part of where our disagreement lies, but I don’t take reason and the ability to communicate to be anymore indicative of the existence of theory neutral facts than when an atheist or Mormons claims as much.

Perry constantly retails a caricature of Van Tilian antithesis.

i) According to Van Til, believers and unbelievers share total common ground at the metaphysical level. That’s because unbelievers live in God’s world, and rely on their God-given faculties.

ii) At the epistemic level, Van Til distinguishes between theory and practice. In principle, unbelievers are totally opposed to Christianity. In practice, they are inconsistent. They can’t avoid some reliance on the Christian worldview.

iii) And, of course, the antithesis is most extreme between believers and unbelievers. The differences between Wesley and Whitefield are hardly comparable to the differences between Hume and Whitfield–to take one example.

I am not sure how self reflective gets us to interpreting texts apart from a worldview? And won’t that worldview have theological content? And I simply deny that many points of exegesis are not philosophically loaded. The entire methodology is philosophically loaded and relative to some worldview.

Perry is tacitly admitting that his own worldview is unscriptural. He doesn’t think you can get your worldview from a text. Therefore, you’d have to bring an extrascriptural worldview to Scripture. So his “lens” or worldview is not derived from Scripture.

However, the so-called hermeneutical circle is something of a fallacy. The Bible is referential. It refers to real world situations. And we bring our real world experience to the interpretation of Scripture.

Therefore, Perry is setting up a false dilemma when he forces us to choose between a worldview which is entirely intrinsic to Scripture and a worldview which is entirely extrinsic to Scripture. For the worldview of Scripture describes the world which the reader inhabits. And the world we inhabit is not a world apart from the world which Scripture describes. It’s the same world.

Hence, it’s quite possible to bring your preconceptions to Scripture, some of which are true, and some of which are false, and have your preconceptions undergo correction at the foot of Scripture. For the true preconceptions may be sufficient to kick-start the interpretive process. In a fallen world, the corrective is never complete–but it’s sufficient for God to accomplish his purpose.

I agree that God has the ability to communicate, but sensory facts like those gotten from reading a text along with conceptual content are interpreted according to a worldview. There are no worldview neutral facts to appeal to in interpretation. Our understanding is a function of our worldview. Following Van Til, the epistemic reason why the unbeliever doesn’t think that say the facts given for the resurrection imply the resurrection is because he presupposes a naturalistic worldview whereby he interprets those facts and the Christian interprets the facts according to his worldview.

But fellow Christians presumably have more in common with each other than they do with unbelievers.

Secondly, no one is claiming that for communication to be possible that one has to be infallible. The question is about the normativity of that communication and if it can be accessed from some worldviewless or perspectiveless position.

The access point is not, in the first instance, our worldview, but our world. The real world we all inhabit. As well as our God-given faculties. Our worldview is inescapably implicated in our world. There are varying degrees of discontinuity, but there are degrees of continuity as well. That’s how even unbelievers can function in the world.

You asked Bryan if a given statement of his about the church was falsifiable. Well that presupposes a kind of falsificationism, which I know I reject and I suppose Bryan does as well. I’d also wager that most Van Tillians reject it as well. In order for a proposition to be true it doesn’t require that it be capable of falsification. Is God infallible? Is that capable of falsification? No.

That’s a deadly concession for Perry to make. He keeps attacking Protestant theology because it’s supposedly provisional and revisable. But it’s only revisable in the counterfactual sense that if it’s wrong, it’s revisable. So Perry has to go beyond bare hypotheticals to even make a dent in Protestant theology, or Calvinism in particular. He has to show that Calvinism is actually wrong, not possibly wrong. Unless Calvinism is actually wrong, it’s unrevisable.

Secondly, following Quine and Van Til, it is impossible to isolate a given proposition from all others in a given conceptual scheme, rendering falsification impossible. This is why Popper’s falsificationism died over thirty years ago.

Again, though, that cuts both ways. Perry tries to attack Calvinism in toto by attacking what he takes to be chinks in Calvinism, like the Filioque, or divine simplicity. But even if such an attack hit the mark, the web of belief is flexible. You can’t bring down the entire web by snipping one or two threads. The web has inner and outer radials. Not every thread supports the web. And even if you snip a supporting thread, the web has a redundant support structure. Therefore, Perry’s model backfires, since he can’t bring down Calvinism by staging a few guerilla strikes.

If this was the case, why have a system of judges in the OT to interpret and apply the Law? Second, the same goes for the council in Acts 15.

i) OT judges were not infallible. And the Sanhedrin was not infallible. Remember the kangaroo court which convicted Jesus?

ii) The OT had judges because the OT had a law code for a nation-state. So you needed judges to hear cases. Sentence offenders. That doesn’t mean OT judges were infallible.

iii) When Jesus spoke to the crowds, who does Perry think were the official interpreters at the time he spoke? The Pharisees? The Sadducees? Wasn’t the religious establishment was opposed to the mission and message of Jesus?

I do not think that you have ministers commissioned by God. Some of the Reformers were laymen all their lives, like Calvin.

The basic qualifications for pastoral ministry are laid out in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Tit 1:5-9. Succession is not a prerequisite.

Second those that were ordained renounced their Catholic ordination vows.

So what?

Third, among the Presbyterians, they prohibited ordination by the laying on of hands for over a century just to weed out the idea of any spiritual life or power giving through ordination. Any presbyterial tactual succession they could have possibly had was lost. They were ordained by mere voting, quite contrary to the biblical model I might add.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the imposition of hands is a prerequisite for valid ordination, that would only invalidate the ordination of those who failed to meet that condition.

So there’s a suppressed premise in Perry’s argument. He must believe that in order to be validly ordained, you have to occupy a place within a continuous series of ordinations. Where is the supporting argument?

Fourth, none of the Reformers works were attended to by miracle and prophecy to authenticate an extraordinary commissioning by God as is the case in the Bible with Moses or anyone else directly commissioned.

How many Orthodox clergymen enjoy miraculous or prophetic attestation?

So given that they lacked both mediate/ordinary and immediate/extraordinary sending, I can’t see what constitutes them as legitimate ministers commissioned by God in the Scriptures.

How does he define “sending”? What are his prooftexts?

All I tried to appeal to was the biblical material about commissioning and sending. On that basis alone, it seems the Reformers failed to be legitimate ministers however right they may have been about protesting abuses…I was also suggesting that one look at the biblical material on what constitutes ordination to pump our thinking on the matter in this discussion.

It’s not enough to “suggest” that one look at the biblical material. Perry needs to specify what biblical materials he thinks are germane, and then exegete them.

Even if one could refute the Eunomians, Rome etc. with Scripture alone, won’t that be our judgment? Any argument is only as good as its premises. So why would our judgment as to a successful refutation be normative? It can’t be merely because it is logically valid since one can always reject various premises, which the Arians did and I assume Rome will too in a number of cases. Normativity out runs inerrancy. Jesus taught more than the right ideas, he taught with normativity.

Does this mean we can safety discount Perry’s arguments for Orthodoxy, as well as his arguments against Calvinism? Even if we thought his arguments were successful, our private judgment would fall short of normativity. Notice how often Perry takes a chainsaw to his own perch.

The Church did not decide the material canon, but that everyone grants. But everyone also grants that the church decided the formal canon too.

Did the Orthodox church decide the formal canon? What is the formal canon of the Orthodox church? Exactly what set of books comprises the formal canon of the Orthodox church? Where can we find the official list?

And if you think your church is fallible, there is no reason to think that the Protestants could have or can in the future make a mistake either by including books that don’t belong or by excluding those that do. Why think that the church’s recognition and specifically Protestants recognition is without the possibility of error? If rome can be wrong for 1000 plus years, why not the Reformers for 500?

And if you think Perry is fallible, there is no reason to think that Perry may not be mistaken about his faith in the Orthodox church.

It is one thing for the bible to be infallible of itself materially speaking, it is quite another thing to think that my recognition of any given book relative to inspiration of that book is infallible. Do you think the church’s recognition of the books was infallible? Don’t you think the church got it wrong and included some books that weren’t inspired?

Is Perry’s recognition of the Orthodox church as the true church fallible or infallible?

And your requirement of unanimity on the papal perogatives isn’t exactly fair. The early Church hardly presents a unanimous affirmation of the deity of Christ.

Which illustrates the limitations of tradition.

It may be that Jezebel ursurped the authority of the king, but Protestants seem to fall under the rubric of the rebellion of Korah, where they appointed their own ministers out of the succession. (Num 16)

The Levitical priesthood was successive because it was dynastic. That’s hardly analogous to NT ministry.

You ask the reader to judge, but what does Jesus say to do with those who won’t listen to the judgment of the church?

Well, it’s not quite that simple.

i) Perry is committing the word=concept fallacy. It’s not enough to seize on a NT verse which uses the word “church,” then transfer that word to Orthodox ecclesiology.

ii) There are rival claimants to the title of the true church.

iii) Rev 2-3 warns about dying churches. And a number of churches to which the NT epistles were addressed were in a state of moral or doctrinal disarray.

As for the canon, if the Jews were fallible, isn’t it possible that they made a mistake?

But what about the Jewish canon? Is Perry telling us that Jews didn’t know where to find the word of God? That it took a church council to settle the OT canon? And where does that leave OT Jews and Intertestamental Jews who lived and died long before the Orthodox church came on the scene?

Furthermore, not all Jews at the time of Christ agreed on the canon. The Sadducees for example did not recognize anything after the Law of Moses.

This is one of those oft-repeated clichés, but is it true? According to F. F. Bruce, “The idea that the Sadducees (like the Samaritans) acknowledge the Pentateuch only as holy scripture is based on a misunderstanding: when Josephus, for example, says that the Sadducees ‘admit no observance at all apart from the law,’ he means not the Pentateuch to the exclusion of the Prophets and the Writings but the written law (of the Pentateuch) to the exclusion of the oral law (the Pharisaic interpretation and application of the written law, which like the written law itself, was held in theory to have been received and handed down by Moses),” The Canon of Scripture, 40-41. Cf. R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, 86-91; 103-04.

This also exposes a basic deficiency in Perry’s theological orientation. Because his field of research is centered on church history, he has to neglect the literature related to Biblical scholarship.

Plenty of fathers were using the apocrypha or parts of it as scripture long before the council of Rome in 382. And even at that time, everything from Hebrews to Revelation was still in doubt in large sections in the church.

Which means we have to sift the evidence. Perry has to do the same thing.

Furthermore, not all scholars agree that the NT doesn’t cite the apocrypha. And even if it didn’t, are we to exclude Ruth now since the NT doesn’t cite it either? The criteria of NT citation is clearly inadequate-its is neither a necessary condition nor a sufficient condition.

That’s simpleminded. On the one hand, it depends on how a book is cited, as well as its preexisting reputation. On the other hand, the NT doesn’t have to cite everything to be an inspired witness to the books it does cite (depending on how the books are cited). So Perry is creating a false dilemma.

As for the ChalcedonianChristology, I’d suggest that this isn’t the case with the Reformed. Just pick up Muller’s Christ and the Decree, which is sufficiently clear that the Reformed (happily I might ad) dissent from Chalcedon. And Muller is no Orthodox toady. Just notice Calvin’s remarks in the Inst, bk 2, chap 14, sec 5,

In which case Perry can’t attack Calvinism for being too tradition-bound.

So the deacons in Acts 6 weren’t laboring in the ministry of the apostles but some newly founded ministry? And Timothy and Titus, were they continuing in the Apostle’s ministry or some other?

Of course, that’s fatally equivocal. Even Perry allows for discontinuities as well as continuities between the ministry of Paul and the ministry of his deputies.

And that was exactly the point. If it were a matter of mere understanding why the judges in the OT…

Someone has to enforce the law.

And the system of councils in the NT?

We have a “system of councils” in the NT? Where do we have that? Is Acts 15 a “system of councils”? Does Perry have something additional in mind?

When Luther for example was making his protest, there was no Protestant ecclesiastical structure to appeal to. It was his judgment that trumped that of Catholic teaching authority. Subsequent, all Protestant bodies were formed around the representational and collective judgment of individuals. This is why protestant ministers are on their own principles laymen elevated y other laymen to a functional status.

The Orthodox church was also formed around the representational and collective judgment of individuals. The Orthodox church is not a democracy. Some individuals are more equal than others.

Consequently, no one’s conscience on Protestant principles is absolutely obligated or bound by any doctrinal formulation because all such formulations are a human reconstruction and fallible. They are therefore by their very nature unable to absolutely bind the conscience since qua formulation they are the doctrines of men.

That’s because our conscience is bound by the word of God. But to the degree that a doctrinal formulation accurately captures the sense of Scripture, then that formulation is binding on the conscience of the believer.

Divine statements are normative not merely because God is without error. The Scriptures are not merely without error, it is impossible for them to be in error, indicating that the root question here is one of normativity and not merely arriving at the correct understanding.

How does that follow? The key category is truth. Scripture is inerrant because Scripture is infallible. Infallible because Scripture is inspired. In order to secure and insure an inerrant text, it’s necessary that the text also be infallible. The greater is needed to accomplish the lesser. But the goal of all this is truth. True statements. Truth is normative.

On the protestant position, it seems to me, that divine teaching should be able to bind my conscience, to obligate me to believe it even if I fail to meet the conditions on knowledge regarding it.

If divine teaching is not an object of knowledge, then why is it obligatory to believe it? Perry seems to be using authority as a makeweight in the absence of truth or knowledge. That’s quite fideistic.

But this isn’t true in principle of any Protestant theological formulation since they are all fallible and revisable and hence no Protestant theological formulae could rise to the level of divine teaching.

We have divine teaching in the Scriptures.

And it seems even if we appeal to general revelation here that this still leaves the point untouched, namely that all exegetical models will presuppose and select for theological content.

He never gets beyond that bare assertion. He never demonstrates his claim.

My point is this. If exegetical methods are not neutral and if the proper exegetical method is necessary for arriving at the correct understanding of major scriptural doctrines, then it will be impossible to derive these doctrines without having the correct exegetical method, and hence theology in place first.

So does Perry derive his theology in toto from extrabiblical sources? Talk about a “human reconstruction project”!

Its true that any document will be required to be exegetes, just as any appeal to facts will require a presupposed worldview and the case of both, the former cannot be justified without the latter. But all that requires is a transcendental type of argument to select for the necessary preconditions for a proper interpretation of the text, not that such a view implies an infinite regress of sorts. So here I think you draw the wrong conclusion.

And where does he present his transcendental argument for Orthodox hermeneutics?

Regarding the mapping analogy, you ask if an incrementalist approach won’t work, how are we to compare models with say the text to discriminate between models. At least that is what I think you are asking. I think I indicated that that kind of comparison is not possible in a theory neutral way. We’d first need to find a way to acquire the right model to get to the right interpretation and only in that context would a comparison be possible. It is analogous to the way we have to find the right worldview to interpret the facts regarding the death of Jesus and only then will we come to the conclusion that Christ rose from the grave. On atheistic presuppositions such a conclusion will never be drawn.

Notice that he never gets beyond the programmatic statement. When is he going to answer his own question? Redeem all these IOUs?

Perry is like a compulsive gambler who keeps promising his bookie that he’ll pay him back after he wins big in the next game. At this rate he’s overdue for a Chicago overcoat.

You ask what kind of reasoning process one would have to go through to reach my position. Here is a sketch. This in part will entail finding serious internal inconsistencies and also digging out what the necessary and perhaps in some cases, the sufficient preconditions are for certain theological dotrines. For example, I don’t think one can consistently adhere to Chalcedonian Christology and Calvinistic Predestination or Sola Scriptura and absolute divine simplicity or the FIlioque. It is only because the system adheres to both ends that I can generate an internal critique.

But if he’s going to adopt the Quine-Duhem thesis (see above), then Reformed theology can always “save the theory” through auxiliary hypotheses.

Likewise, if divine teaching can obligate me beyond the conditions on knowledge, then if there is divine teaching, then in principle no Protestant teaching can rise to the level of divine teaching since no Protestant formulae meets the necessary or sufficient preconditions to do so. They are in principle ruled out on a transcendental basis.

i) To begin with, his stated position up till now is not that divine teaching can obligate us above and beyond the conditions of knowledge, but below the conditions of knowledge.

ii) Moreover, he’s failed to demonstrate that truth falls short of normativity. Truth is a norm. Therefore, truth is normative.

iii) Likewise, he’s failed to demonstrate that God requires extrabiblical formulae to warrant this degree of assent.

Since I already noted that Apostolic Succession includes right teaching and that tactual succession as a part of it is a necessary condition for both of the former, it should be clear that a mere line of succession isn’t a sufficient condition for a body to be Christian. But it is a necessary condition. If Protestantism lacks a necessary condition to be a church then that precludes it from being a viable option all by itself, papacy or no papacy.

Of course, to say that apostolic succession includes right teaching is just a hypothetical claim.

Certain matters are beyond revision. Debates in fact get settled. It is not like we are going to have another Unitarian crises along the lines of Arianism. But the Reformed did. Why? Because on their own principles their theology is revisable.

The apostasy in question has nothing to do with revisable theology. Rather, some nominal Calvinists lost their faith. Became rationalists. The liberals of their day. That can happen in any tradition. For example, how many contemporary Greek citizens are devout churchgoers?

Its quite true that some bishops have been bad. The Orthodox surely have our share of them. That said, I fail to see how it implies that succession is not a necessary condition. Judas was morally horrible, yet he was an apostle and worked miracles nonetheless with the others.

Is there any direct evidence that Judas performed miracles? It’s also a bit anachronistic to dub him an apostle. He was one of the Twelve. But an “apostle” is a post-Pentecostal role.

When I speak of the biblical model, I mean things like ordination by the laying on of hands, that a real spiritual gift was given through such action, etc.

What he’s pleased to call the “biblical model” consists of vague allusions to prooftexts which he makes no effort to exegete in context.

A monarchial episcopate entails rather that the bishop alone is the source of ordination and the gift received, just as the Father alone is the source of the other persons of the Trinity. Mon-arche=one source.

Both highly debatable assumptions.

I don’t know of any biblical data or any case in church history that indicates where presbyters and deacons could ordain by themselves.

That depends on what ordination is supposed to signify. In the Pastoral Epistles, the imposition of hands (which isn’t equivalent to ordination, in any case) is not what qualifies the candidate for ministry. Rather, the minister must meet certain preliminary qualifications. The imposition of hands is just a public witness.

To think that presbyters can ordain in my mind confuses Trinitarian theology since it posits the Son as the hypostatic source as well as conflating the Persons of the Father and the Son.

Notice the question-begging assumptions which underlie this objection. He begins with a subordinationist Triadology. And he then treats that as the template for Christian ministry.

So Perry’s case for the Orthodox alternative involves many different steps, which require supporting arguments every step of the way. All we’re getting from him are tendentious assertions followed by conspicuous gaps where all the supporting arguments needs to be.

Given that the Presbyterians forbade ordination by the laying on of hands for a century, I can’t see how they either preserved the form of biblical ordination or any succession even if it came through the presyterate.

We can debate whether or not the Presbyterian practice was defective at that juncture in church history. But even if the imposition of hands is a prerequisite for valid ordination, what makes “succession” another requirement?

We would only know that God was working to select for these books if we already knew which books he selected and which model of providence was right, which is question begging.

As a general maxim, that’s false. Indeed, providence is easier to recognize in retrospect.

Second, obviously God didn’t select for all the books Protestants take to be inspired since not all of the Jewish leadership took them to be inspired and in some cases included more.

Another assertion in search of an argument.

Likewise on the same principle the church took many books to be inspired that Protestants reject. If providence was guiding the church, then God guided it to accept works Protestants reject.

A misleading way to state the argument from providence. It would be more accurate to say we judge matters on the best available evidence–which God has put at our disposal. What evidence has God, in his providence, chosen to preserve for the benefit of posterity? That’s a better way to broach the question.

And let’s also not forget that Scripture, as the word of God, also contains internal indicia of divine inspiration.

If it is sufficient to get the correct understanding, why posit an infallible text instead of an inerrant one?

It takes a greater cause (inspiration) to yield a lesser effect (inerrancy). It’s like the redundancy of nature. A fruit tree produces many seeds, of which just a few take root. But if it produced just a few seeds, then none would survive.

And in the last century Presbyterian scholars for example argued and tried to have 3rd John removed from the canon given its strong implicit support for episcopacy. (Diotrephes is lower than an apostle but superior to presbyters).

Does Perry think they made a good case? Had the better of the argument? If so, why doesn’t he agree with them? If not, then this confirms the essential soundness of Protestant theological method.

And secondly, they did so at the Reformation by removing the apocrypha. And thirdly, it wouldn’t mater if they did so or not, if the canon is in principle revisable, then it is revisable even if it has not yet been revised.

Well, that’s quite equivocal. To say the Catholic (or Orthodox canon) is revisable per Protestant criteria hardly means the Protestant canon is equally revisable per Protestant criteria. Perry is resorting to a bait-and-switch tactic. A Catholic (or Orthodox) canon will be based on Catholic (or Orthodox) criteria. In the nature of the case, that’s potentially revisable per Protestant criteria.

Perry might as well say that if we removed the Mormon apocrypha from the canon, that would make the canon revisable. But you obviously need to distinguish between Mormon criteria and Protestant criteria.

And even though the inspiration of Scripture is done with, since not all apostles wrote inspired scripture it in no way follows that if the former is terminated that everything of the latter is, anymore than the cessation of OT prophets with John the Baptist implied the cessation of inspired Scripture.

Well, there is, in fact, a debate over cessationism in the evangelical church. And it’s not as if the cessationists simply fall back on tradition. They argue for their position. Cf. O. P. Robertson, The Final Word; N. Weeks, The Sufficiency of Scripture.

Perry may think these debates introduce an unstable element into theology, but, of course, there were raging debates in 1C Judaism over various issues as well. We can’t predict or proscribe what God is willing to allow.

Luke and Mark were dependent on the Apostles as their source of truth.

That’s an overstatement. Since Jerusalem was Mark’s hometown, he may well have had many sources of information, including his own observations. Likewise, Luke probably had a wide range of informants. No doubt both of them got some of their information from the apostles. But there’s no reason to assume they were limited to that conduit. There were many living eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Christ at the time they wrote.

You concede the point on the issue being one of right understanding, namely it isn’t. The matter required in the OT and the NT a judge. Notice that in Acts 15 they appeal to Scripture but it took a judgment to resolve the matter.

That’s deceptive on several counts:

i) OT judges were not infallible.

ii) Naturally right understanding is insufficient in law enforcement. It’s not as though criminals would be law-abiding citizens if only they knew they were breaking the law! Criminals knowingly break the law. They must be punished. The law is coercive.

iii) Likewise, church disciplines goes beyond right understanding since the offender may be defiant. But that doesn’t mean we need more truth. That doesn’t mean the truth is not a norm. The offender is still obligated to “do the truth” (in John’s striking phrase).

iv) The council of Jerusalem took place during the era of public revelation. You can’t automatically extrapolate from that situation to our own.

v) Moreover, all the parties did not exhibit right understanding of the issue before the council was convened. Certainly the Judaizers misunderstood the issues.

On the contrary, the matter of religion is not of trust but of truth, since one can have misplaced trust. And If I can’t trust church fathers, councils and such, so much the more reason not to trust you or the Reformers.

Once again, that’s quite deceptive. Perry himself is very selective in whom he puts his faith in. Very selective about tradition. Has no truck with schismatics and heretics. Shuns everyone his adopted church classifies as schismatic and heretics. In his way, he’s just as discriminating as the Reformers.

And to private judgment, this is not historically speaking the idea of each person judging the truth of the matter. It picks out a normative judgment on the conscience. On Protestant principles no ultimate normative judgment by the church can bind the conscience.

For which we can be eternally grateful as we review the tawdry history of Roman Catholicism–to take one example. Likewise, consider the “normative judgment” which the Sanhedrin rendered in the trial of Christ.

The only thing that can do so is the conscience of the individual. This is why on Protestant principles every judgment of a Protestant church is capable of being overthrown by the individual…

i) Orthodoxy merely substitutes an individualistic oligarchy for an individualistic democracy. In Orthodoxy, some individuals are more equal than others. Their individual judgment can bind the conscience of other individuals. Consider what Perry said about Maximus the Confessor.

ii) Freedom of conscience is not a norm in Protestant theology. Scripture is the norm. For better or worse, freedom of conscience leaves us answerable to the word of God. We must be free of ecclesiastical tyranny, not because our freedom is an end it itself, but to keep us accountable to God.

So we have judgment at the level of meeting the conditions on knowledge, which everyone does. Then we have a judgment that entails a greater degree of normativity. Protestants ground that in the individual, Orthodox, Catholics and some Anglicans ground it in the church.

There is no norm above and beyond God’s truth. The conscience is not a norm. But the mind of the individual is the medium by which we process and assess truth-claims and rival claims. That is unavoidable. That is how God designed us. And that is under God’s pervasive providence.

This is why if Orthodox, Anglicans and Catholics do the first, they aren’t engaging in private judgment since they aren’t proposing something as ultimately normative on themselves and others.

That’s an exercise in self-deception.

You remarks about OT covenant authorities being corrupt. When that was the case, when all those through ordinary commissioning, that by God via other men through sucession, how were extraordinary ministers brought about? By divine direct commissioning attested to by miracle and/or prophecy. This seems to exclude the Reformers.

To say that “ordinary commissioning” requires succession assumes what Perry needs to prove.

Second, Christ, Peter, John, Paul etc did miracles, wrote inspired Scripture and gave prophecy to confirm their message as did the prophets and Moses before them.

That’s misleading. Not all Bible writers performed miracles–or if they did, we have no record of their doing so. Moreover, prophecies are only confirmatory after the fact. Is Perry claiming that all NT prophecies have been fulfilled?

The sadduccess clearlydid not accept anything beyond the Law of moses as canonical, hence there was no unanimity on the canon. And besides, why reject the fallible tradition of believing Christians for the fallible tradition of unbelieving Jews?

This seems to be another case where Perry suffers from self-reinforcing ignorance. He hasn’t kept up with evangelical scholarship.

As Peter notes, we become partakers of the divine nature, the problem is that you accept unscriptural doctrines like absolute divine simplicity that equat energy with essence so it is not possible to believe the scriptural teaching since to participate in the divine nature would be to become God by essence. The problem is your Platonism, not Orthodox teaching.

Of course, 2 Pet 1:4 needs to be exegeted in context before Perry is entitled to claim that as a prooftext of his position.

I don’t use private judgment to choose a church. The concept of private judgment is not just any judgment that an individual makes. It is the idea that the conscience of an individual alone can bind the conscience on theological questions and propose normative doctrinal formulae. Consequently, no church council can trump bind the conscience of the individual without their assent. Consequently, I don’t engage in private judgment as to what constitutes church doctrine since I am not making judgments for the church. I agree that the church can bind my conscience even if I dissent from it, contrary to Luther for example. Making judgments as to which church is the true society founded by Christ isn’t private judgment, since it only seeks to meet the conditions on knowledge, and not to meet the conditions on producing normative judgments binding on others.

This is special pleading. Perry’s face-saving redefinition of “private judgment” to exempt himself from the charge. But at the time he’s deciding which church is the true church, or even assuming there’s just one true church to choose from, he’s not making that choice on the authority of the church in question. For his identification of the true church is a conclusion, and not a presupposition, of his spiritual quest. He can’t very well use the true church as a standard to pick out the true church before he’s identified which contender represents the true church. For only the true church can furnish a true standard.

Moreover, you implicitly concede my point, namely that Luther and the Reformers placed their own judgment as to what constituted the doctrine of the church above everyone elses by employing a tu quo que argument.

No, not above “everyone else’s.” They simply refused to concede that a pope’s judgment was inherently superior to theirs. This doesn’t mean they regarded their judgment as inherently superior to everyone else’s, or inherently superior to anyone else’s. To say your judgment isn’t inherently superior to mine doesn’t mean your judgment is inherently inferior to mine.

The only form of biblical commissioning open to the Reformers then is ordinary commissioning through a succession, but they either never had it, as in the case of Calvin, or they rejected it as was the case with Luther, Zwingli, etc.

Perry hasn’t begun to show that apostolic succession is a necessary condition of valid ministry. That’s just another orphaned assertion.

Its true that the Orthodox think that the Apostles and Fathers of the Church enjoy and participate to a greater degree in the divine energies and hence are deified, (not all Fathers are ordained btw)…

In other words, the Orthodox version of individualism. Oligarchic individualism, where some individuals are more equal than others. So Perry doesn’t avoid individualism. He’s just selective about which individuals he puts on a pedestal.

Even if the Sadducees were a minority, they were a minority of Jews and that is sufficient to show that not all Jews agreed on the canon.

Bruce and Beckwith say otherwise. Where is Perry’s counterargument?

Second, the Essenes and the Zealots weren’t all of one mind either.

Highlighting the doctrinal diversity in 2nd temple Judaism is hardly helpful to Perry’s case. It means there was no institution in Judaism which could exercise “normative authority.” If that arrangement was good enough for the OT covenant community, for so many centuries, then why assume that God had to introduce such an institution for Christians? Was it impossible for OT Jews or Intertestamental Jews to be faithful to God?

Furthermore, not all of the Pharisees agreed on the canon either so that isn’t any help here.

Such as?