Saturday, January 02, 2010

The thicket of exegesis

Al Kimel’s response to Jason Engwer, with my replies:

"In Luther’s eyes, the anti-sacramentarianism that you are espousing inevitably and necessarily generates works-righteousness of the worst sort, which is why Zwingli and the enthusiasts earned some of Luther’s most violent polemic."

i) Of course, he doesn't bother to explain how that "inevitably and necessarily generates works-righteousness of the worst sort."

My best guess is that he's thinking along the lines that unless we vest our assurance in the objective rite of the sacrament, then we look to ourselves, which generates works-righteousness. If so, that confuses the basis of justification (the merit of Christ) with the evidence for justification (saving faith).

ii) I'd add that his argument reminds me of the Jews whom John the Baptist upbraided in Mt 3. They vested their assurance in their objective status as sons of Abraham. False assurance.

"In any case, you got me curious about your denial of baptism as a work of God, so I followed up on the links where you supposedly present your argumentation. Perhaps I missed it, but I did not find a sustained argument against the catholic position that baptism is a work of God."

Why would you have to argue against that claim, as if the onus lies on you?

"So let me reiterate: if baptism is God’s work..."

Which begs the question.

"...if the risen Christ is the minister of the sacrament (as Catholics, Lutherans, most Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox believe and confess), then baptism is not, and cannot be, a work that we do to justify ourselves. This, I hope, you will at least concede, even if you are not persuaded that baptism is a work of God."

i) Why assume that Christ is the baptizer? Where's the argument? Is the presumptive argument that a priest takes the place of Christ, and when a priest administers baptism, Christ administers baptism through the instrumentality of the priest? Is that it?

If so, then the argument is bound up with many question-begging assumptions about NT sacerdotalism.

ii) If Christ is the baptizer, then why didn't he at least establish a dominical precedent by baptizing Jews and Gentiles during his earthly ministry?

"Our reading of Scripture is conditioned by our prior sacramental commitments and presuppositions."

That's often the case. However, we don't have to be conditioned by our presuppositions. We can be cognizant of our operating presuppositions, and test their explanatory power. Compare and contrast different presuppositions.

"I remember heated arguments in seminary on the sacramentality of baptism. How is it that two fine Protestant biblical scholars like G. R. Beasley-Murray and James D. G. Dunn can reach such contradictory conclusions about baptism? Beats me. In any case, if you aren’t persuaded by Beasley-Murray’s and Oscar Cullmann’s books on baptism, then there’s absolutely nothing I can say to persuade you that you are reading Scripture wrongly."

Beasley-Murray was unduly influenced by Continental scholarship (e.g. Bultmann). And Cullmann was an ecumenist.

"It’s so easy to get lost in the thicket of biblical exegesis. Clarity on justification is achieved when we think together three things things–the unconditionality of the love of God, the Church as the body of Christ, and salvation as participation in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

"Clarity on justification is achieved" when we shirk the nitty-gritty of exegesis and retreat into vague theological platitudes. In framing our doctrine of justification, let's leave out of consideration all the specific teaching that Paul brings to bear on this issue.

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