Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reformation Protestantism: faithfulness in little things; and a patient and humble reading of the text

I made some miscellaneous comments to several different Roman Catholics in the thread following Brandon Addison’s article, “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment”.

Brandon’s comments throughout are exceptional, and he’s even pushed some CTC writers into adopting the positions of writers like Raymond Brown and Francis Sullivan, whom they have decried in the past as liberals and CINOs. (John Thayer Jenson, below, says “the idea of some development in Church polity does not mean that Jesus didn’t foresee and intend the development. In particular, as you comment here, it does seem perfectly possible that the monarchical bishopric may have made little sense when the Apostles were alive – but that the Spirit-guided Church may have reacted to it by setting one presbyter/episkopos over the others in a city.” As it turns out, that is precisely what Brown and Sullivan say. I address this and other issues below.)

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Sean 69:

You complain …. You then accuse ….

I do neither. I simply make statements of fact, the first of which is descriptive of a well-known phenomenon for Protestant readers of this site, the second is an example right from a Magisterial document, which I’ve written about extensively elsewhere. I didn’t expect that either statement would be controversial.

However, Reformed theologians have their exegesis which interprets things in a Reformed way. Meanwhile, there exists an abundance of exegesis that contradicts Reformed exegesis in every imaginable way.

There are always going to be dissenters. The question is, whether the “abundance of exegesis” that you are talking about has any merit to it. How can you tell if the dissenters merit to be taken seriously?

In some cases it does, and there are legitimate questions; in other cases, it is clear to see why the Reformed have chosen certain meanings. The Reformed hermeneutic, at least, is clear.

Yet, Reformed Churches don’t turn around and change their dogmas to conform to the varying exegesis at every turn.

Reformed theology and confessions came about through very long, thoughtful, and prayerful chains of events.

But this is what you are asking the Catholic Church to do.

This assumes that the Roman Catholic Church is right about everything. But this article by Brandon is not simply talking about “biblical exegesis”, where there are questions. This article challenges the account of history that Roman Catholicism talked about for centuries (“Peter went to Rome, founded the church there, reigned as monarchical bishop there for 25 years, while still being the ontological head of the ontological church, with universal jurisdiction at that very time, and then handed that same authority on to the next guy, and the next guy, etc.)

A non-critical reading of Vatican I arrives at this conclusion and supports it. Over the last 50 years, as more and more is learned of the ancient Roman world (as well as a better understanding of the “second temple” world as espoused by some of the very writers you would cite in some instances), the “25 years” account that was taught for so long has been shown to be false.

You take comfort in the fact that the 25 years portion – the historical portion – wasn’t taught as an “infallible dogma”.

However, beginning with Damasus, Roman Bishops clearly based all of their prestige (worldly and ecclesiastical) on a re-writing of history that included inserting “the church of Rome” as a hero of the faith, as well as excluding other, legitimate history.

The Church of Christ ought to be very careful about being honest. However, in light of not only this article, but of many other sources, the Church of Rome seems to put maintaining its own authority above truth.

If we all did what you are asking, we’d be Universalist Unitarians in two weeks’ time.

If you are concerned about falling prey to UU teachings, you may want to immerse yourself in Turretin’s work. He addressed them quite thoroughly.

How do we get past this? Putting aside the option of becoming Unitarians we are left with two options.

1) We go on throwing each other’s exegesis at each other in a question begging manner like you do with 1 Tim 3:15
2) We find a way to address the differences in interpretation in a non-question begging way.

Option # 2 is what Called to Communion is all about.

That may be the stated goal, but what is or isn’t determined to be “question-begging” is not the ultimate standard. Learning what is true ought to be the ultimate standard, and presuppositions that are questionable ought to be challenged. However, anything that challenges the Roman Catholic presuppositions held here (and according to Brandon’s article above, these presuppositions are not even widely held among Roman Catholics), then it is dismissed and not addressed at all.

In summary, our approach is exactly the approach that Irenaues used and other early fathers used when fighting against the Gnostics.

No it’s not. See here:

Their answer to the Gnostic exegesis was not to embrace the Gnostic exegesis but to say, “No, we are the Church that Christ founded. We are the Church of the apostles. We have the succession of the apostles and the Church says that Gnosticism is false…”

This is not how it was. Brandon outlined this above, and I’ve written about it many times. The response was never “we are the Church that Christ founded”. The response was, “we have teaching of the Apostles”, and we can name the men from the beginning till now, who did not alter that teaching – who knew nothing of Newman’s “development” – men who have taught the same things from the beginning, who “taught or knew nothing of the sort [Gnostic teachings] that they madly imagine”… For they wanted those whom they left as successors … to be perfect and blameless in every respect.” (3.3.1). This is completely the opposite of what Augustine said to the Donatists. “If these men acted rightly it would be a great benefit, while if they failed it would be the greatest calamity”.

Yet you conveniently ignore that same text in the same section that you are otherwise willing to trot out so boldly.

We have the succession of the apostles and the Church says that Gnosticism is false…”

Not “we have the succession” but “we have men who have taught the same thing all along…” Your citation of Tertullian, also, was not “these men are right because they are in the succession” but “these men are in the succession because we can produce the original records of their churches” (the New Testament documents) “and these men have taught the same things.” “They are akin in doctrine”.

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Andrew Preslar #70:

In comment #38, I was drawing an analogy between God’s activity in the universe and His activity in the Church. In this way, Wallace’s comment about evangelical critical scholarship is apropos to Catholic critical scholarship. Like you said, Wallace’s methodological assumptions (or presuppositions) are probably more fine-tuned than a simple affirmation of theism; e.g., he probably would not accept any historical-critical conclusions that undermine the authority of Sacred Scripture. Again, the analogy with Catholicism, relative to tradition, is apparent.

The disanalogies are glaring. In the Evangelical hermeneutic that Wallace was discussing “exegesis begins with a patient and humble listening to the text, with the willingness to hear an alien word,” according to one writer. The text is “the boss”, and the exegetes are the servants of the text.

The Roman Catholic hermeneutical method, on the other hand – “the mind of the church” – is well described by popes and scholars. In this hermeneutic, “the Magisterium” is the master of the text. I know, the Magisterium claims to be the “servant” of the text. However, through its manipulation of the “authentic interpretation” (as I noted about 1 Tim 3:15 and Lumen Gentium 8), the “authentic interpretation” is something different from what the text actually says.

This is no accident. It is, in fact, and has been, the official policy to do that sort of thing. Pius IX’s articulated this method in his Letter, “Gravissimas inter,” to the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, Dec. 11, 1862. Pius XII cited and reiterated this in his statement in Humani Generis: “theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition.” Start first with Roman Catholic teaching, and then make the text fit the teaching.

This is further explained in a variety of sources. One Roman Catholic theologian wrote, “We think first of developed forms for which we need to find historical justification. The developed forms come first and the historical justification comes second.” (“Ways of Validating Ministry,” Kilian McDonnell, Journal of Ecumenical Studies (7), pg. 213, cited in Carlos Alfredo Steger, “Apostolic Succession in the Writings of Yves Congar and Oscar Cullmann, pg. 322.) Steger calls this type of historical revisionism “highly questionable if not inadmissible.”

Aiden Nichols, “The Shape of Catholic Theology” (253) notes that for the last several hundred years, according to these popes, “the theologian’s highest task lies in proving the present teachings of the magisterium from the evidence of the ancient sources.”

Clearly, it is not a “patient listening to the text”. It looks quite a bit like selective proof-texting.

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Cletus #60:

Do you think ANE scholars such as Dever and others who reject the historicity of the OT also are not just as thorough in their methods?

Just as ANE scholars do with OT analysis, or liberal scholars do with the same manuscripts conservatives also have. Analysis in the “soft” sciences is not just some standard black box input-output affair. We’re not dealing with deduction or science here. Analysis in the ever-shifting seas of so many fields – linguistics, hermeneutics, philology, history, sociology, textual analysis, archaeology – have erudite scholars on all sides who study same raw data and come to differing/opposing conclusions, who can differ on what data even should count as the raw data to study, and what proper methods should even be used to interpret and analyze that data, and how those methods should be applied, and who all have their own biases/presuppositions that will influence how they abductively reason about and filter the data to reach their tentative revisable conclusions. And all of that can change based on new evidences that were not discovered or considered before, as well as new analyses/ideas that are added to scholarship that had not been considered before.

The one thing you’ve left out here is “a patient and humble listening to the text”, which is the hallmark of the Evangelical hermeneutic. Neither the critical scholars, nor the keepers of the Roman Catholic “Tradition” (in the case of the New Testament) will “patiently and humbly” accept the text at what the author’s face-value intention is. (And again, I’d point you to the use of 1 Tim 3:15 in Lumen Gentium 8, as I’ve described it above).

If everyone held to the same methods and assumptions, they would all reach agreement and either all be part of the same denomination, or all not be Christian. Not only that, they would all reach the same conclusions regarding that particular field/discipline. A “historical-critical method of interpretation” as Wallace says doesn’t make people’s biases and presuppositions vanish (which he freely admits). GHM doesn’t make everyone interpret the OT/NT and reach conservative Protestant conclusions.

The one thing you continually miss is that “patient and humble listening to the text” as to the very Word of God, inspired, as Paul tells us, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

[By the way, where is the “infallible canon” by which these people whom Paul is talking about, are “without excuse”?]

Here is where the real dividing line is: respect the text, or be the master of it. One way or another.

And no, it does not make sense that “everyone would reach the same agreement”. You have Roman Catholics here reaching different conclusions on different things. The Reformers agreed on one thing: “Roman Catholicism is bad, we need to get out” – yet they differed not in that question, but rather, they differed in how far away they should go.

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John Thayer Jensen #89:

It has always seemed to me that the idea of some development in Church polity does not mean that Jesus didn’t foresee and intend the development. In particular, as you comment here, it does seem perfectly possible that the monarchical bishopric may have made little sense when the Apostles were alive – but that the Spirit-guided Church may have reacted to it by setting one presbyter/episkopos over the others in a city.

You had best be careful, because in saying this, you are very close to Raymond Brown and Francis Sullivan, who said “While most Catholic scholars agree that the episcopate is the fruit of a post-New Testament development, they maintain that this development was so evidently guided by the Holy Spirit that it must be recognized as corresponding to God’s plan for the structure of his Church”.

However, this “guidance by the Holy Spirit” is not so evident, especially in light of the way that “development” continued into the evils of the Medieval “structure of the church”.

There are two things to say about this:

For the Council of Trent, “development” was by no means “self-evident” – in fact, for Trent, both episcopacy and the priesthood were instituted by the hand of Christ – visibly (“no development required”).

And second, if we are to see it as a “development”, not only has Rome’s history changed about this, but are we not then free to reject these “developments” as being unfaithful in “little things” – that is, temporal things, and therefore, Rome is also to be seen as not faithful in “big things” – that is, doctrinal things?

After all, what did Jesus actually say? “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Rome has been unfaithful in history, and in the telling of its history. Why should we think its doctrinal accounts should be faithful?

1 comment:

  1. John ,

    Thanks very much for the recap and your support of Brandon's initiative. I have simply not had the time to do more than scan Brandon's piece, let alone interact at their site. But my initial impressions on these posts is that they are irenic in tone and productive in nature.

    Thanks for the recap!