Friday, November 19, 2004

Three views of eastern orthodoxy-3

"Most Protestant Evangelicals with their generally dualistic--if not epistemologically Nestorian--methodology inherited from the Scholastic heritage, which starts not with a person but with a written text, the Bible, telling us about the person of Jesus Christ...," (60).

"The differences are reminiscent of the contests between ‘personal’ (Christ himself) and propositional (Scripture) forms of revelation within the evangelical community in its reaction to Karl Barth. It would be an overstatement to label Orthodox theology as ‘Barthian,’ but the similarities are clearly there...The problem itself derives from making a disjunction between personal and propositional revelation, which itself is but a further instance of the false dichotomy set up by the Protestant Scholastics and others between Scripture and tradition, a dichotomy that implies an adversarial relationship between the two...God’s primary revelation of himself being personal through Jesus Christ...yet which is also propositional through the written Word which tells us about the personal Word," 61.

By way of reply:

i) One wonders if Barthian influence is what accounts for the resistance of Nassif and other Orthodox contemporaries to directly equating Scripture with divine revelation. Do they believe, a la Barth, that Scripture becomes, at best, a secondary witness to revelation?

ii) The reason that evangelical conservatives rejected the Barthian reconstruction of Scripture is owing to the fact that it ran counter to the self-witness of Scripture, period.

iii) One also wonders if Nassif and others find affinities between Barthian universalism and Orthodox universalism.

iv) Nassif fails to draw an elementary distinction between ontological priority and epistemic priority. Christ is prior in the order of being, but not of knowing.

v) This confusion causes Nassif in turn to misalign personal and propositional revelation. The person is ontologically prior to the proposition; but, for most of us--excepting the Apostles--our only access to the personal revelation of Christ is via the propositional revelation of Christ.

vi) Even this oversimplifies the relation. For the spoken word is another port of entry in getting to know the person. Even for the Apostles, their personal knowledge of Christ came largely through the teaching ministry of Christ.

vii) We need to guard against exaggerating the analogies and disanalogies between the personal Word and the written word. The "logos" is an economic title for Christ--one of many titles. It is a figurative title. It has its primary antecedents in the OT word of the Lord, which had written as well as spoken modes of transmission.

viii) The whole Scholastic etiology is based on a single article by Thomas Torrance, a Barthian, and hotly contested by the likes of Roger Nicole, Paul Helm, John Woodbridge, and Richard Muller. Muller, for one, is the world authority on Reformed Scholasticism. Nassif would be well advised to steer clear of issues far outside his area of expertise unless he’s going to bone up on the standard literature, which is not in evidence.

"In the area of biblical exegesis, Orthodoxy consistently manifests and tolerates a hermeneutical pluralism that generally falls within the third and fourth-century Alexandrian school or allegorical exegesis or the Antiochene school of literal exegesis," 61.

By way of reply:

i) For the umpteenth time, Nassif advertises the Orthodox incapacity for self-criticism. The central question is not, "What do the Orthodox believe?" but "Whether the Orthodox are right?"

ii) Is it coherent to affirm both literal and allegorical exegesis? Does this have any basis in the self-understanding of Scripture?

iii) Couldn’t allegorical exegesis be used with equal ease to prooftext heresy?

Quoting from a couple of Orthodox sources, Nassif cites the following:

"They [the Scriptures] are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation of such, they express the Word of God in human language," 62.

"Inspiration is the operation of the Holy Spirit in the authors of the holy scripture so that they may bear witness to the revelation (Jn 5:39) without erring about God and God’s ways and means for the salvation of humankind. Expressions and concepts of biblical authors about God are inspired because they are unerring guides to communion with God...Authentic interpreters of the holy scripture are persons who have had the same experience of revelation and inspiration within the body of Christ as the biblical writers had. Therefore, it is necessary for authentic understanding that anybody who reads or hears the Bible be inspired by the Holy Spirit," 64.

Then, adding his own commentary, Nassif says that "in Orthodoxy one can be an inerrantist, as were some of the Fathers," 65.

By way of reply:

i) What we have here is a classic restatement of limited inerrancy or partial inspiration.

ii) In addition, we have a doctrine of continuing revelation, which amounts to an open canon.

iii) One can be an Orthodox churchman is good standing without adhering to the plenary inspiration of Scripture.

There’s a lot that one could say about all this, but I’ll confine myself to a few remarks:

i) We might dub this the "fits-and-starts" school of inspiration. According to Orthodox pneumatology, the Holy Spirit would evidently run out of steam if he tried to inspire the entire Bible. So inspiration must be strictly rationed.

The first job of an Orthodox commentator is to go through the Bible with a pencil in one hand and a highlighter in the other. He highlights every sentence that tells us how to get to heaven, but draws a line through every sentence that doesn’t.

At this point, my only question is, Why even pretend to uphold the inspiration Scripture? Why go through this charade of affirming the first sentence, disaffirming the second sentence, affirming the second clause of the first sentence while denying the first clause of the second sentence, and so on?

This makes a mockery of inspiration, the purpose of which is to confer certainty on the message.

ii) Some one-time evangelicals convert to Orthodoxy under the misimpression that the Orthodox Church is the last bastion of conservative values. Take a long hard look at what Nassif has just said. What we have here is just another one of the infinite permutations of liberal theology.

iii) Nassif never bothers to ask himself if his doctrine of Scripture is Scriptural. Does this comport with the self-witness of Scripture? A good place to find an answer to would be the classic essays of Benjamin Warfield on the subject.

iv) Likewise, where does the Bible ever make an inspired audience a condition of understanding? Indeed, if everyone were inspired, then no one would need to listen to the Apostles and prophets, for they could hear God directly.

v) Imagine how easy it would be for a heretic to claim inspiration on Nassif’s open-ended view?

vi) Nassif denies a dichotomy between Scripture and tradition, but affirms a dichotomy between one part of Scripture and other part, between witness and revelation, between the Word of God and human language.

vii) Yes, divine revelation is expressed in human language. But what is the source of human language? God, as Adam’s Creator, is the source of human language (Gen 2). And linguistic diversity falls under the sovereign providence of God as well (Gen 11).

viii) Ordinary language is perfectly adequate to describe historical events--as well as the divine intent driving historical events.

ix) Appeal to the ineffable is a double-edge sword. For there are things which the liberal theologian and the Orthodox theologian wish to affirm as much as the evangelical theologian. But they cannot invoke ineffability against evangelical theology without dismounting their own hobbyhorse in the process.

"Chronologically [speaking], tradition is anterior to Scripture because it transmitted the gospel within the liturgical community of the church...the church later decided which texts constituted the canon of Scripture by ‘recognizing’ their apostolic origins, content, and usage within the worshipping community...the church was inseparably united with its sacred texts as the mediating authority," 66-67.

"Whether they are aware of it or not, when evangelicals give assent to the canonical texts, they are simultaneously validating the church’s tradition as an authoritative norm of canonicity, just as it has actually functioned within the life of the Orthodox church itself...the irony of this disdain is that evangelicals rely on the church’s authoritative charismatic judgment on the colossal issue of canonicity but not on its consensual agreement on fundamental matters of historic interpretation, such as the sacramental meaning of baptism and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist," 67.

By way of reply:

i) This is a classic, High-Church objection to the Protestant faith. But one problem with such an objection is that it classic to more than one High-Church tradition. Both an Orthodox apologist and a Catholic polemicist deploy this argument.

But if two opposing communions can use the same generic argument, then how is that an argument for one or another communion in particular?

ii) Why do high churchman constantly leave the OT canon out of account when they talk about the priority of oral tradition or the priority of the NT church? The prooftexting for the apostolic kerygma came from the OT.

It is also striking that when God constituted the nation of Israel, he did so by means of a written constitution (the Mosaic Covenant), just as, when he constituted the NT church, he did so by means of a written constitution (the NT).

iii) It wasn’t the church which wrote the NT, but chosen individuals over and above the church. The transmission of the message is no more charismatic than the scribal activity of the Jews who copied the OT text.

iv) When Nassif talks about an "authoritative charismatic judgment," he is imputing his own criterion to the evangelical, then accusing the him of inconsistency for failing to carry that criterion over to hermeneutics.

But this is an instance of mirror-reading. To the extent that the evangelical appeals to external attestation, this does not commit him to the idea of an "authoritative norm" or "charismatic judgment." He is simply treating the early church fathers as a historical witness to the origin of the canonical books. But an appeal to historical testimony in no sense assumes or necessitates an authoritative norm or charismatic judgment. Why does Nassif apply a totally different standard to canonicity than he ever would to archeology or historiography?

It should go without saying that a man can be a competent historical witness without being an especially competent exegete. The son of Albert Einstein may be highly qualified to write a biography about his father, and utterly unqualified to write an exposition of general and special relativity. Evangelicals don’t treat canonics and hermeneutics the same way for the simple reason that they’re not relevantly the same.

v) Perhaps Nassif would say that nothing short of an authoritative church will yield an authoritative canon. However, the Calvinist regards the historical process as under the sovereign providence of God. I also deny that the case for the canon is limited to external attestation.

vi) Did the church decide at a later date which books constituted the canon? This represents a very canned view of the process--one which is endlessly regurgitated by writer after writer. But it’s not as though Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, James and Jude, Peter and Paul, or the author of Hebrews simply stuffed a scroll into a bottle and cast it upon the waves to go wherever the currents happened to take it.

To say so betrays very little historical imagination, as well as specific data to the contrary. Luke, for one, tells us that he had a specific audience for his gospel (Lk 1:1-4). John says the same thing (Jn 20:31). Same thing with the Book of Acts.

And you have only to read the beginning and ending of a NT letter to see that it had a specific recipient. Indeed, that’s in the nature of a letter. A letter is sent to someone. The NT church was a small, tight-knit association in which everyone knew everyone else. It operated very much like an extended family, and--in no small measure--really was an extended family.

There was a preexisting constituency for the NT. All of the NT writings are either by first or second generation Christians. Many of the NT writers are affiliated with the mother church in Jerusalem, either as members or via members.

The NT authors share a number of documented contacts and go-betweens. Mark is an associate of both Peter and Paul (Acts 13:5; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24; 1 Pet 5:13). Timothy is an associate of both Paul and the author of Hebrews (Acts 16-20; 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10; 2 Cor 1:19; Col 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Thes 1:1; 3:2,6; 2 Thes 1:1; 1-2 Tim; Heb 13:23). Luke is an acquaintance and/or associate of Paul, Mark, Mnason, Philip, and James (Acts 21:8,16,18; Col 4:10,14; 2 Tim 4:11). Barnabas is an associate of both Paul and the Jerusalemite apostles (Acts 4:36; 9:27; 11-15; 1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1,9, 13; Col 4:10). Silas/Silvanus is an associate of both Peter and Paul (Acts 15-18; 2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thes 1:1; 2 Thes 1:1; 1 Pet 5:12). And for every documented associate who is mentioned in passing, you can sure bet there are many more whom the author had no occasion to mention.

vii) Nassif is setting up a very wooden two-stage process between the phase of composition and the phase of canonization. But the process was much more organic than that. It has more to do with diffusion in time and place from a local church to the church-at-large. Geography and chronology distinguish one phase from another.

viii) Even when it comes to the church at large, it is not as though the church sat down with a random pile of books, and sorted them out book-by-book. For the books of the NT fall into several natural groupings, based on various levels of literary dependence. For example, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are synoptic. 2 Peter and Jude are synoptic.

In addition, there would also be preexisting blocks of material based on common authorship: This would include the Lucan corpus (Luke-Acts), the Pauline corpus (Romans—Philemon), the Petrine corpus (1-2 Peter), and the Johannine corpus (John; 1-3 John; Revelation).

So the NT canon consists of several literary units and cross-references to form a larger, interlocking corpus.

"In this liturgical setting the evangelical theology of the Orthodox Church is very vividly confessed...the necessity of personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is made absolutely clear through the direct questions that are powerfully addressed to the candidate no less than three times by the priest, along with the candidate’s public declaration of Jesus as his/her personal King and God and a solemn confession of the Nicene faith," 70.

By way of reply:

i) Given that, to my knowledge, infant baptism is the rule in the Orthodox Church, I can only marvel at how precocious are the offspring of Orthodox parents. Whether or not this is a recommendation for Orthodox theology, it is certainly a recommendation for enrolling your young children in an Orthodox daycare in case some of this precociousness were to rub off.

ii) As Nassif has to admit on the next page, the necessity of personal faith is not, in fact, expressed by the baptismal candidate, but by the child’s parents or godparents.

Now, whatever you may make of paedobaptism, per se, if personal faith is a necessity, then that condition cannot be exercised on behalf of the candidate, and in his place, by a sponsor, for whatever the merits of a sponsor, proxy faith is the antonym of personal faith.

On either count, the theology of the Orthodox church is sub-evangelical: either the exercise of personal faith is not necessary after all--or else it is necessary, but that condition is not satisfied by the terms of the baptismal ceremony.

Again, I’m not commenting on whether infant baptism is a good or bad thing, or whether evangelical theology is a good or bad thing. I am simply pointing out that Nassif has, himself, stated the condition which must be met, only to fail in its fulfillment.

This is reinforced by yet another condition of his:

"Baptism does not and indeed cannot ‘depend’ for its reality (e.g., for truly being our death, our resurrection with Christ) on personal faith. this is not because of any deficiencies or imitations of that personal faith, but only because baptism depends--totally and exclusively on Christ’s faith," 72.

By way of reply:

i) If the reality of baptism "depends totally and exclusively on Christ’s faith," then personal faith cannot even be a necessary condition, for the faith of Christ, which is a proxy faith, is a sufficient condition.

ii) Where does Scripture ever say that the faith of Christ is a necessary, much less a sufficient, condition for the reality of baptism?

Once again, Orthodox theology seems to think that truth is a matter of sheer stipulation: if we say it’s so, then it must be so! If we say the moon is made of green cheese, then the moon is made of green cheese!

"The Orthodox understanding of freewill rejects the need for a special act of God’s prevenient grace, which includes the freedom of choice given to humans in creation and remaining within them in a dysfunctional condition even after the fall. Our basic orientation, or compass, toward God and the freedom to choose him remains intact, yet we fail to see that compass clearly or to exercise that freedom to believe and obey properly, because our will is now wayward and because sin has dramatically blurred our ability to see God and know ourselves.

For the Greek church fathers, sin was understood not primarily as a deliberate act of willful disobedience (which it is) as much as the inability to see and know God and ourselves clearly," 74.

By way of reply:

i) One more time: where is the supporting argument? The Orthodox theologian has it pretty easy. He never has to prove a thing. He has only to quote a church father or two. How do I know that such-and-such is thus-and-so? Because tradition says so. How do I know that what tradition says is thus-and-so? Don’t ask!

ii) Now, the imago Dei is a Scriptural category. Since, therefore, he is appealing to a Scriptural category to begin with, you just might suppose that it would be important to actually exegete his version of freewill from the imago motif in Scripture. And to do so by responsible methods.

But, no. Like an astronaut, he floats about in an evidentiary vacuum, unencumbered by any burden of proof. In this weightless environment, he has no onus to discharge. Like God’s verbal fiat, he can speak reality into existence.

iii) Note, the question here is not whether freewill in general or some particular version thereof is true, possibly true, or false. The question is not abstract, but concrete. How do we convert this hypothetical to an object of knowledge?

Assume, for the sake of argument, that it is the case. How does Nassif or anyone else happen to know it to be so? How is the reader in a position to judge the claim?

iv) On the face of it, though, his claim is incoherent. If an ability to clearly discern the will of God is a precondition for choosing to obey his will, then an inability to discern his will renders it impossible to do his will. And in that event we would need a special act of prevenient grace to choose between good and evil.

Why is it that Nassif cannot connect his own dots? Presumably because he is reciting rather than reasoning. He is faithfully reproducing his tradition instead of asking whether his tradition makes any sense on its own or is faithful to the Scriptures.

There is nothing wrong with commitment to a theological tradition. But there is something very wrong with blind commitment--with a commitment which is not answerable to the word of God.

I could comment on some additional things, but why bother? At one level, it’s entertaining to poke fun at this, but there’s a deadly serious side to it. On my deathbed, as I look over my life and the lives of those I’ve taught, and as I stare into eternity, should it not be a matter of no little concern whether I founded my faith on solid ground rather than quick-sand? Rommen, Nassif, and Berzonsky are too wrapped up in the part they’re playing to step outside their role and see how much they’ve taken for granted.

The Orthodox do not have a monopoly on groupthink. One can find this in the Reformed community as well. But because the Reformed tradition is also a polemical tradition, used to debating its claims with the Romanist, the Remonstrant, the Lutheran, the Socinian, and a host of others, it has a capacity for criticism and self-criticism alike--whereas the Orthodox, who boast of never having had a Reformation, are so used to seeing the world through their Orthodox window that they cannot see either the window or the world apart from the window. This renders them unteachable.

Three views of eastern orthodoxy-2

"Protestants themselves are selective with regard to the contents of the Bible, which Martin Luther demonstrated by rejecting, as a ‘book of straw,’ the epistle of James...This selectivity proves that the Bible is neither self-sufficient nor self-evident...," 175.

By way of reply:

i) Yes, both sides are selective. So how does that observation weigh in favor of Berzonsky’s side? What are Berzonsky’s own selection-criteria? Why does he privilege some traditions, but not others?

ii) I have argued elsewhere that a case for the canon can be made based on the internal evidence of cross-attestation.

iii) Whether or not the Bible is self-sufficient is an ambiguous question. The Calvinist, for one, combines a high doctrine of Scripture with a high doctrine of providence--a doctrine which is, itself, Scriptural.

Is the church self-sufficient? Does the church exist in an air-lock? By what standard does Berzonsky deem his church to be the true church?

No criterion is self-adhesive. Someone must apply a general norm to a specific case. The human element cannot be eliminated.

It is, however, Orthodox theology that looses a randomizing element of radical uncertainty into the application by its commitment to libertarian freewill.

Something can be self-evident or inevident in different ways. For example, Reformed theology has never said that content of Scripture is self-evident to the reprobate or unregenerate.

Again, the divine authority of Scripture can be self-evident even if everything said in Scripture is not self-evident. Likewise, some Scriptural teachings may be more evident than others.

The larger point is that Scripture serves the purpose which God has assigned to it. It is as clear as God intended it to be, at any particular time and place, to any particular person. To impose some uniform condition of clarity or sufficiency is an artificial exercise. It is equally sufficient for mine needs and yours, but my needs are not the same as yours, so that what is sufficient for me may not be sufficient for you. When God uses his word to harden and darken some hearers, that acquits the purpose of Scripture no less than when God uses his word to illumine and liberate other listeners.

"The Bible is, in Orthodox terms, an image, or icon, of truth, but is not truth itself in the same way Christ is truth. To say it is so is to limit Christ to the Bible and deprive the church of his continuing presence in history. To set the Bible as an abstract criterion of truth is to harness the freedom of the church to utilize its wisdom garnered from centuries of witnessing the gospel through countless thousands of Christians," 175.

By way of reply:

i) To say that the Bible is an icon of truth is to suggest that the Bible is neither true nor false, but is only symbolic of something else which is true. This seems to deny the identity of Scripture as propositional revelation. However, the propositional character of the Bible is conspicuous and pervasive. So either Scriptural propositions are true or false. To compare it to an icon is disanalogous, for an icon is a nonverbal mode of communication.

ii) To accuse the Protestant position of limiting Christ to the Bible is, even if true, a description, not a disproof. What if God has indeed chosen to delimit his disclosures to certain authorized and identifiable channels of revelation?

iii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it is a bad thing for God to restrict his revealed will to the Bible, why is it not equally bad for God to restrict his revealed will to the Orthodox Church? Why can’t Evangelical churches share in his wisdom and presence?

iv) When we read the NT, we don’t find Christ and the Apostles appealing to the Sanhedrin. Rather, we find them appealing to the OT. But by Orthodox logic, they ought to refer all exegetical questions to the Sanhedrin as the official spokesmen of the Jewish church.

"To proclaim the Bible to be self-sufficient is to open it to subjective, arbitrary interpretation," 176.

By way of reply:

i) To proclaim the Bible to be insufficient is to open it to the subjective, arbitrary interpretations of the church fathers.

ii) To proclaim the Bible to be self-sufficient is to open it to public, verifiable methods of exegesis.

"The church has an oral tradition before the gospels were written," 176.

i) So what? You may say that oral tradition antedates the Gospels. Then again, you may say that the OT antedates the NT church.

ii) We don’t know for a fact that orality preceded literality. Jews were not illiterate. Greco-Roman civilization was not preliterate. The spoken word was one method of communication, but so was the written word. As we know from the NT letters, a formal written gospel was not the only literary means of communication. There is also the epistolary genre.

"All the senses share in the earnest of the heavenly banquet feast breaking into a moment of time: the aroma of incense, the icons of grace-filled saints, the sounds of chanted psalms and hymns...," 177.

By way of reply:

i) The debate between Evangelical and Orthodox is not primarily a debate over the style of worship. Even within the Reformed tradition, there is diversity on this issue. The Westminster Directory of Worship represents one point of view, but the Dutch Reformed were patrons of Christian art, while the Reformed Anglican tradition is quite open to a wide variety of artistic media in worship.

ii) The issue turns on the relation between a specific form of art as an illustration of a specific point of dogma. For example, sacred images are one thing, but when an icon is elevated to a sacramental status as a means of grace, or when the fine arts are deployed to facilitate the veneration of the saints, then that is quite another thing.

"To properly understand the Orthodox approach to the Fathers, one must first of all understand the mystical characteristic of Orthodoxy theology and the tradition of the apophatic approach to understanding--if ‘understanding’ is indeed the proper word--of what the hidden God in Trinity reveals to us...This makes the requirement for gaining of true knowledge (gnosis) the abandoning of all hope of the conventional subject-object approach to discovery," 178.

By way of reply:

i) This claim entails yet another denial of propositional revelation.

ii) The position is self-refuting. Berzonsky’s essay consists in a string of theological assertions. But if Berzonsky cannot say what God is, if he is unable to distinguish between the object of knowledge (God) and the subject of knowledge (the Christian), then what he says bears no relation to the truth. He cannot affirm anything to be true. What he says is neither true nor false, for it has no referential force. All his positive claims carry this nugatory disclaimer.

iii) If God is not an object of knowledge, then God is not an object of worship. If God is opaque to human reason, then there is no distinction between truth and false worship.

"The doctrine of the kenotic Son of God (Phil 2:6-11) offers insight into the greatness of God’s love," 180.

Does Berzonsky subscribe to the Kenotic heresy? He would do well to read the standard commentaries (Bockmuehl, Fee, O’Brien, Silva).

"What followed? Descent into Hades...," 180.

Did our Lord descend into Hades? That is what the creed may say, but is the creed correct? For my money, Grudem has much the better of that argument.

Elements of Berzonsky’s position can also be gleaned from his reply to other essays:

"Evangelical Christians must take into account the period following the era of the apostles, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in every generation, reexamining what may be a presupposition too easily held, namely, that the Holy Spirit went to sleep and awoke in the 16C with the Reformers," 268.

By way of reply:

i) Orthodox Christians must take into account the period following the Renaissance, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in every generation, reexamining what may be a presupposition too easily held, namely, that the Holy Spirit went to sleep after the death of John of Damascus or Gregory Palamas, and never woke up.

ii) Berzonsky goes on to quote Florovsy about an ecumenism of time as well as space, but he himself seems to believe that the working of the Holy Spirit is coincident with the geography of the Eastern Orthodox communion.

"The call at the midpoint of the sacred service to imitate the cherubim...and lay aside all earthly cares is impossible for one who is held in bondage to his reason and immersed in negative thoughts of criticism and judgment. Christianity, like Judaism, is a religion of revelation. It is God who acts, and he does so despite the limits of the human being’s ability to comprehend what he is doing for the life of the world...We all worship a God Unknown. Serious theologians understand that speaking of God is better done apophatically, that is, by telling what God is not rather than by trying to describe who he is...We come to know the Unknowable One not by thinking or by understanding but by progressive unions," 225.

By way of reply:

i) Of course, an Evangelical could say that it is Berzonsky who is enslaved to reason, and at several levels of bondage:

a) Tradition is human tradition. It codifies the reason of the church fathers.

b) Berzonsky has swallowed Neoplatonic epistemology hook, line, and sinker.

c) For Berzonsky, divine revelation is a revelation of nothing. Revelation is a revelation from God, but not a revelation of God. We know as little about God after revelation as before.

ii) It is clear that Berzonsky has no use for the Bible, because the knowledge of God is not obtainable by propositional revelation, but by mystical experience.

iii) Berzonsky fails to draw an elementary distinction between what reason can know apart from revelation, and what reason can know in light of revelation. To say that God is unknowable apart from revelation--even if we were to credit such an extreme thesis, which denies any natural knowledge of God--does not imply that God’s sovereign self-disclosure is unknowable as well.

"The heresy of Anabaptism begins with rejecting all traditional authority...When, therefore, the anathemas are read on Orthodoxy it any wonder that the Reformationists are included along with Arius and others?...It is imperative to continue telling the truth (Eph 4:15), 226.

By way of reply:

i) Needless to say, Evangelicalism is not conterminous with radical Anabaptism.

ii) But there is a far deeper flaw in Berzonsky’s indictment: how can a commitment to apophatic theology sustain a distinction between orthodoxy and heresy, truth and error? If God is unknowable--except in some noncognitive encounter--if the truth cannot be captured in propositional form, then in assenting to the creed, we affirm absolutely nothing. And if there is nothing we can affirm, then we cannot deny its contrary or contradictory. There is nothing to be believed or disbelieved. Berzonsky worships at the feet of the Great Sphinx.

The longest and strongest essay in support of Orthodoxy is by Nassif. This may be, in part, because he is the most ecumenical of the three, and has therefore made the most effort to get inside the opposing position.

He says that the classic evangelical view of the atonement has its roots in Anselm. This may true, although it is important that we not equate the two. Anselm marked a turning point in dogmatic reflections on the atonement, but the Protestant Reformers at most took Anselm as a cue to go even further back in time to St. Paul. If, for example, you consult the index of the Institutes (in the classic edition by McNeill & Battles), there are all of two footnotes on Anselm, neither of which referring to Cur Deus Homo, whereas the entries under Augustine go on for pages and pages. So this is a question of exegetical rather than historical theology.

"The Orthodox view baptism as both a justifying event and the beginning of theosis. As long as justification is proclaimed in terms of the ‘union with Christ’ model for imputed righteousness from Christ’s divinized humanity, without the basic assumption of an Augustinian anthropology of inherited guilt, it comports well with today’s emphasis on...sanctification...Unfortunately, Orthodox theologians...have at times viewed justification in an exclusively forensic sense and wrongly rejected it chiefly on that basis.

Justification cannot be interpreted in any sense apart from the incarnation, from which it derives its benefits. Justification derives its forensic sense of imputed righteousness from the hypostatic union," 39.

By way of reply:

i) This assumes, without benefit of argument, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. That is something the Orthodox have in common with Lutherans and Anglo-Catholics, but not with other Evangelicals in the main--who have argued to the contrary.

ii) Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, by what internal logic does regeneration entail justification? Where’s the supporting argument to fill the gap?

iii) To make baptism the justifying event, especially in conjunction with infant baptism, which is the norm in Orthodox circles, is hardly harmonious with justification by faith.

iv) Baptismal regeneration is traditionally associated with infused merit rather than imputed merit.

v) Although the incarnation is a necessary precondition of imputation, the grounds of our justification are directly indexed to the cross, and not the incarnation.

Indeed, it is unclear from Nassif’s incarnational soteriology that the cross figures at all in our justification. Rather, the moral transfer seems to be an automatic consequence of the hypostatic union. We are righteous because of what Christ is, rather than what he does.

Christ is righteous apart from the cross, and if we are righteous by virtue of our union with Christ via the deification of humanity, then the cross is rendered superfluous. And by the very same token, faith is rendered superfluous.

vi) You can’t have imputed righteousness without inherited guilt. Vicarious atonement assumes federal headship with respect to Adam and Christ alike.

vii) Likewise, guilt and righteousness are correlative. The merit of Christ answers to the demerit of the sinner.

viii) Both Reformed and Lutheran theology insist that justification is exclusively forensic. And they have made an exegetical case for that very position.

Nassif refers to the "new quest for Luther’s theology," but these are liberal Lutherans, suffering from an identity crisis and searching for foster parents to have mercy on their orphaned status and adopt them.

ix) This assumes, without benefit of argument, that Augustinian anthropology is false. It also disregards the case to the contrary.

x) This assumes, without benefit of argument, that theosis is true.

Although Nassif is a more conscientious writer than either Rommen or Berzonsky, he seems to illustrate a common pattern in Orthodoxy reasoning: they appear to be oblivious to the sheer number of individual claims into which their position factors out, not to mention the evidentiary gap between so many claims outpacing so few supporting arguments. Is there something about Orthodox theology itself that breeds this persistent lack of mental discipline?

Nassif invokes the Nicene Creed to explain the Trinitarian structure of salvation in Orthodox soteriology. However, the Nicene Creed doesn’t give us a Trinitarian soteriology. It describes the role of the Father in relation to creation rather than redemption, and in relation to the person of Christ rather than the work of Christ. It describes the part played by the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of Scripture, as well as the vague phrase about his role as the giver of life--which could allude to natural life instead of spiritual life.

By contrast, Calvinism does have a Trinitarian soteriology: those chosen by the Father are redeemed by the Son and renewed by the Spirit. Again, the redeemed are adopted and justified by the Father on account of Christ’s redemptive work, and are kept to the day of their death by the Holy Spirit.

Here we have what is at once a clear division and coordination of labor in the economy of salvation. This is something you get in Calvinism, and Calvinism alone.

Commenting on the seminal slogan by Athanasius, "God became man so that man might become divine," Nassif goes on to claim that this tradition goes all the way back to,

"the NT documents themselves that contain Pauline teachings on adoption, sonship, and the indwelling Spirit (Rom 8; Gal 4); and John’s promise of the gift of divine glory (Jn 17:5,22-24). It assumes that the starting point of the fallen human predicament is death from sin, not guilt, and so life through Christ is the only appropriate redemption (Rom 5:21-21)," 45.

By way of reply:

Once again, you can only wonder what the Orthodox see when they read the Bible. Because they deny sola Scriptura, they have no incentive to do painstaking exegesis.

How could anyone read Romans or Galatians and decouple sin from guilt? To be a sinner is to be guilty of sin. And the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). It was the sin of Adam that sentenced the human race to death (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15). Sin and guilt are inseparable, and the root-cause of death is sin. In Paul, adoption and sonship are forensic categories, not ontological categories.

"On that basis [the incarnation], Christ’s self-offering in death was a sacrifice in which he acted to pay the debts ‘on behalf of all’ (hyper panton) and ‘in the place of all’ (anti panton)--an apparently clear reference to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement," 46.

By way of reply:

i) Penal substitution presupposes a guilty party or parties: the guilt of Adam imputed to his posterity; the guilt of Adam imputed to Christ. By refusing to cast redemption within the forensic framework of guilt and acquittal, Nassif is rejecting a presupposition of penal substitution.

ii) If Christ died to pay the debt of all, on behalf of all, and in lieu of all, then why are all men not saved? If some of the redeemed are damned, for what are they damned if they are accounted innocent by virtue of universal penal substitution?

"The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist are ways in which the incarnate Christ communicates his divine life to believers in the church...One of Cyril’s favorite Biblical texts...came from [Jn 6:53,55]," 49.

By way of reply:

This appeal takes for granted the sacramental reading of Jn 6. Where is the supporting argument? As usual, Nassif is assuming what he needs to prove. Is there any other way in which the Orthodox reason?

I realize that each contributor may not have space enough to defend all his contentions, but when we find a systematic omission of evidence, when every step of the argument is suspended in thin-air, then the conclusion will carry no conviction for the outsider, and, frankly, you wonder what reason the insider has for believing it.

Even if space constraints prevent the contributor from bolstering his case, he could at least refer the reader to polemical literature where supporting arguments are to be found. Absent even that, one begins to suspect that there are no supporting arguments--that the tradition is self-reinforcing.

"It is difficult to avoid observing a major theological inconsistency in evangelicals who give verbal allegiance to historic Christianity as represented by Cyril and the Chalcedonian Definition, while at the same denying the equally strong witness of the church’s eucharistic doctrine of the real presence of Christ maintained by those same church fathers as a corollary to orthodoxy Christology and soteriology," 51-50.

By way of reply:

i) I think the explanation ought to be pretty transparent: Evangelicals believe that Orthodox Christology is more firmly founded in Scripture than Orthodox sacramentology.

ii) As a matter of fact, Calvin and Calvinists such as Benjamin Warfield, Paul Helm, and John Frame are critical of Nicene Orthodoxy when it comes to the subordination of the Son.

"The christological maximalism of the Orthodox Church in its Trinitarian framework takes the implications of the incarnation light-years beyond the christological minimalism of the evangelical movement," 54.

By way of reply:

i) There’s a tension between christomonism and a Trinitarian framework. To the extent that our soteriology is Trinitarian, it cannot also be so lopsidedly Christocentric.

ii) Nassif is assuming that the Incarnation ought to supply the focal-point and reference-point for soteriology. That, however, is not maximal, but minimal inasmuch as this selective reductionism collapses salvation into one particular event in the life of Christ. How is it maximal to orient the atonement around the Incarnation, but minimal to orient the atonement around the cross?

iii) What is more, the Bible itself is cross-centered when it comes to the atonement. The Incarnation is a prerequisite of redemption, but the Incarnation is not, of itself, a redemptive event. No only is Pauline theology cross-centered, but so is Johannine theology. All four Gospels essentially consist in a biographical prologue leading up to the Passion, followed by an Easter epilogue.

"In what became known as the famous ‘essence/energies’ distinction in the Trinity, Palamas clarified the difference between God’s unknowable essence and his knowable energies...It was Palamas’ defense of the knowability of God through participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and the monastic practice of hesychasm (stillness), with its psychosomatic methods of prayer (not to be confused with yoga), that gave to Orthodoxy its personalist emphasis on Christian spirituality," 57.

By way of reply:

Once more, the reader strains in vain to see any trace-evidence of a supporting argument. Why should we dichotomize the divine nature into a knowable energy and an unknowable essence? Why should we believe that God is made known by means of sacramental participation and psychosomatic prayer?

What’s the difference, if any, between Orthodox theological method and creative writing? We might as well get our theology from Ray Bradbury and The Martian Chronicles.

Reading Orthodox theology is like going to the movies. It may be fun to watch, but at the end of the movie you must to go back out into the real world.

Three views of eastern orthodoxy-1

The Evangelical assessment of Eastern Orthodox theology is underdeveloped. That is only natural, for Evangelicalism has framed its position in relation to the conflict with Rome, in relation to varieties of Protestant faith, and in relation to religious and secular humanism in the West.

Three Views of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, J. Stamoolis, ed. (Zondervan 2004), is therefore a useful exercise in interfaith dialogue. The chief value of the book, for me, is in the case made for Orthodox theology by Nassif, Berzonsky, and Rommen. In this review I will therefore concentrate my comments on their essays. I will not comment on the evangelical contributors because I can speak for myself with regard to that position.

Rommen and Berzonsky are the two hard-liners. Their essays are the least irenic and ecumenical in tone and substance. They therefore present the contrast between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism in its starkest terms. Let us commence with Rommen:

"From an Orthodox perspective, biblical texts must be interpreted with the help of historical-grammatical exegesis and the rules of hermeneutics within the context of the church, i.e., in light of what has been passed down from generation to generation from the apostles. The basic assumption here is that not everything our Lord and the apostles did and said is contained in the written canon," 237.

By way of reply:

i) But how does one verify that assumption? In the nature of the case, oral tradition is resistant to verification. For it requires a written record to document the existence of oral tradition in the first place.

ii) What exactly is the process of transmission? Is this open to public inspection? One constantly runs across the claim, but I’ve never seen any evidence of how we have a continuous transmission of oral tradition from century to century. Is this learned word-of-mouth in some secret induction ceremony or hazing ritual--a la the FreeMasons? Is there some apostolic shibboleth or blood-pact or secret handshake which identifies those in the know?

iii) How distant in time and place can tradition be to be a historical witness? If Symeon the New Theologian (11C) or Gregory Palamas (14C) are considered to be authentic trustees of apostolic tradition, why not Huss or Luther or Wycliffe?

iv) In the absence of any positive evidence of apostolicity, why should we assume that a church father knows more about certain parts of the Bible than a modern-day Egyptologist or Assyriologist? Is Gregory Palamas an authority on the Bronze Age or the Iron Age?

"One of the difficult things about the discussion at hand is that we are dealing with two very distinct mind-sets, two cultures and conceptual frameworks...(1) the East tends to be more interested in relationships, whereas the West concentrates on propositions; (2) the East emphasizes the person; the West focuses on the nature...." 239.

By way of reply:

i) Can we really generalize about national character when different ethnicities and nationalities are in view, viz. Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Slaves, Persians, Rumanians, &c.?

ii) The fountainhead of Eastern Orthodox theology is Greek Orthodox theology. Is the Greek mind really such a stranger to abstract analysis, viz., Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Euclid, Archimedes, Philoponus?

If anything, we could turn this around and say that Roman character was more sociological in orientation, viz. patriotism, filial duty.

"Thus, it might be said that the evangelical doctrine is a subset of Orthodox soteriology," 244.

Is it? We shall see.

"What is this God-intended goal of humanity? Scripture teaches that God created man in his own image and in his own likeness (Gen 1:26-27). In Orthodox theology the terms ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ are considered to be distinct, and this distinction provides an important element in the context in which soteriology is developed.

Image is a static term and ‘signifies a realized state, which in the present context constitutes the starting point for the attainment of the likeness.’ Likeness, though, is a dynamic term that points to a potential [for deification]...’Likeness to God, while it constitutes the goal of human existence, is not imposed on man, but is left ox his own freewill,’" 245-46.

By way of reply:

i) Rommen appeals to the creation account, but it should go without saying that there is nothing in either the original account or later canonical reflections on the imago Dei motif to draw a conceptual distinction between the two terms, to further invest "image" with a static import and "likeness" with a dynamic, teleological import, or to further introduce the concepts of freewill and deification.

At this point the church father is simply making up his own theology on the fly, fabricating whatever distinctions he needs out of thin air, to serve his immediate purposes. That's no different from the theological method of the cult leader, be it Basilides, Boehme, Blatsky, Mani, Paracelsus, Swedenborg, or Joseph Smith--to name a few.

ii) Even if we deny the principle of sola Scriptura, yet when explicit appeal is made to Scripture to ground a given dogma, then such an appeal must be exegetically sustainable.

"Rather than seeing the sacrifice [of Christ] as an attempt to assuage the offended honor of God or to silence his anger, the sacrifice is aimed at the root problem, which is the corruption of man’s very nature and the inevitable result--death. Using the curse of death itself to defeat that which held humanity in its grip, Christ atones for our sins--but not by providing a payment of human debt owed to God but by assuming the consequence of our sin, namely, death itself," 247.

By way of reply:

i) On p244, Rommen told the reader that the evangelical doctrine of salvation is a subset of Orthodox soteriology. But it ought to be obvious from what he says here, on 247, that what we in fact have is a completely different conceptual scheme. Why does Rommen say one thing on p244 only to contradict himself three pages later?

ii) What Rommen offers the reader is a description of the Orthodox model rather than a defense of the Orthodox model. But this leaves dangling in mid-air the entire question of why we should affirm his model over against the Evangelical model. How is this any way to treat rival truth-claims?

iii) Rommen makes not the slightest effort to engage any of the standard exegetical literature for the evangelical position as offered by the likes of Leon Morris, John Murray, Roger Nicole, Thomas Schreiner, and Anthony Hoekema--to name a few. This utter neglect of the opposing literature betrays a want of moral earnestness and intellectual seriousness on his part.

One is tempted to suspect that this is why he was a convert to Orthodoxy in the first place. He had lacked an elementary knowledge and grasp of his original position. But theology is not for day-trippers.

iv) Even on its own terms, his chosen framework is scarcely coherent. The orientation is lopsidedly androcentric rather than theocentric. But are death and depravity the "root-problem?" If Christ atones for our sin, then sin is the root-problem. And sin entails a relation between God and man. Death is a penal sanction for sin. This is why forensic categories such as redemption, justification, and propitiation cannot be sidelined, but must be kept front-and-center.

v) Elsewhere, Rommen writes that "the Orthodox, taking the gravity of sin seriously, regularly emphasize themes such as sacrifice, atonement, propitiation, and justification...How is it that my evangelical colleague refuses to accept my expression of commitment ox these biblical themes?" 155-56.

The answer is simple: he is confounding words with concepts. He uses all the right words, from time-to-time, but empties them of their conceptual content and then makes them synonymous with his adopted theology.

It isn’t a question of what words we use, but what our words denote. A word is just a cipher. For example, both a Catholic and a Calvinist use the word "justification" to denote a particular locus of theology, but they don’t share the same doctrine of justification. Likewise, cult-leaders pirate Christian terminology, but they use the same wording to flag a very different belief-system.

"For most of the Protestant world, salvation is the immediate change in a person’s status before the Judge of all things...Due to the extremely individualistic approach and the judicial understanding of salvation, a person is either saved or not saved. There can be no other state, no progress, no spiritual journey, and no loss of that status.

However, the New Testament clearly speaks of salvation in the past, the present, and the future tenses, indicating that it is a process that has a clear beginning and a definite goal," 248.

By way of reply:

i) Once again, this rather jumbled summary reflects an elementary ignorance of Evangelical theology in general and Reformed theology in particular. For one thing, it fails to distinguish between the static categories (e.g., redemption, justification, adoption, propitiation), and the dynamic categories (e.g., sanctification, glorification).

ii) And this, in turn, sets up a false antithesis between the static and dynamic categories. It is precisely because the static and dynamic categories are different modes of grace that the objects of grace are progressing towards a foregone conclusion. Their destiny is assured. They were redeemed and justified in order to be sanctified and glorified. Where’s the tension?

"If the church has formally declared a particular teaching to be unorthodox...any further discussion becomes useless and counterproductive...There is in these statements no room for discussion, no compatibility possible other than submission to the teaching of the church," 249.

By way of reply:

i) The problem with this move is that Rommen has done absolutely nothing to justify his rule of faith. Had he justified his rule of faith, then the rule of faith could, in turn, justify the essentials and distinctives of Orthodox theology. But his appeal to the church comes out of nowhere. Where has he laid the groundwork to establish this appeal?

ii) If this is the best he can do, then the opposing side wins by default, for Rommen has surrendered the argument to the opposing side and retreated from the field of battle.

iii) One wonders why he even bothered to contribute to the Counterpoint series if he is unwilling to make a case for his own position.

One final point from his reply to Horton:

"He [Horton] cannot see the difference between the diverse work of the Fathers and the councils, which defeated heretics and preserved the unity of the church for centuries, and the schismatic aftermath of the Reformation, which dissolved into countless theological interest groups," 156.

By way of reply:

i) It wasn’t the church fathers and church councils that preserved the unity of the church, but the Byzantine emperors who enforced the party line. This is a coercive, conformist unity, and not a conscientious, confessional unity--which is precisely why it began to unravel with the rise of nation-states and the loss of the church's temporal authority.

ii) There may be countless theological interest groups, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, the superficial diversity all boils down to how one answers four basic questions: (a) Is the Bible the only rule of faith? (b) Is there freewill? (c) How is the OT fulfilled in the NT? (d) Are the sacraments a means of grace?

iii) There were plenty of theological interest groups in the ancient church as well. It’s just that one of the theological interest groups was more successful at suppressing its rivals. That does not, of itself, make it purer or truer than the others. For example, I happen to believe that in the Donatist and Novatianist controversies, the Catholic party was not entirely in the right or the opposing party all in the wrong.

iv) The relation between his high ecclesiology and low soteriology exposes other arbitrary tensions. For Rommen, the Christian is defectible, but the Christian church is indefectible. Saving grace is amissible, but the grace of holy orders is inamissible.

Moving on to Berzonsky’s essay--in tracing the roots of Evangelicalism, he offers a historical analysis:

"Here is a religion of the Spirit setting itself in opposition to all authority. Not accidentally emerging in the era of the Age of Reason and the Age of the Enlightenment, it announces and champions the rights of the individual to know and accept what he or she believes, without help from outside," 171.

By way of reply:

i) It is anachronistic to unpack the Reformation with reference to the Enlightenment.

ii) At issue in the Reformation was not individualism as over against authority, but the locus of authority. Was authority situated in the Scriptures or in the church?

iii) Scripture is no less an external authority than the church.

"It is not a mere abstract theory, but the core of Protestantism...Grace comes from God alone, not via anything earthly or man-made. There is nothing a person can do to accomplish his salvation. Even to say that he or she cooperates with the grace that saves is to be in error. God’s power is manifested in human weakness.

To understand that relationship in this way, namely, that God is Judge and the Christian is a forgiven sinner who has done nothing to deserve the grace that saves him or her, is from the Orthodox Church’s point of view to limit both God and the human, the One as little more than Judge, the other as no more than a sinner," 171-172.

By way of reply:

i) Notice how, on the one hand, Berzonsky endorses an authoritarian view of the church while, on the other hand, his doctrine of salvation is more synergistic and humanistic. Where the church is concerned, he denies individualism; but where salvation is concerned, he affirms individualism.

ii) Also observe the implication, on his view, that fallen man is actually deserving of divine grace. So salvation is, on the Orthodox view, something of a human meritocracy.

iii) To say that on the Evangelical view, grace can never come by means of anything earthly is an overstatement. We believe that grace came in Christ, who became incarnate, lived among us, died on the cross, and rose from the dead.

"When Scripture says that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on human nature in the incarnation, it means that all human beings are given the possibility to receive the very uncreated energy of God by opening themselves to union with the Holy Trinity through incorporation into the God-Man, Christ. Here we find the meaning of the mysteries of baptism and Eucharist. Here we grasp the sense of Jesus’ claim: ‘I am the vine...’ (Jn 15:5-6)," 172.

By way of reply:

The problem with this paragraph is that Berzonsky presents the reader with an assertion instead of an argument. Why should we believe it? Where is the exegesis to support this stupendous claim?

Notice how many separate claims are packed into this brief paragraph:
a) when Scripture says such-and-such, it means this-and-that
b) all human beings are given something
c) this something is a possibility, not an actuality
d) they are given the possibility of receiving the uncreated energy of God
e) to realize this possibility, they must open themselves up to something
f) this something is union with another.
g) to wit: union with the Trinity
h) union is effected through incorporation with Christ
i) herein lies the meaning of baptism and communion
j) herein lies the meaning of the True Vine discourse

So Berzonsky’s sweeping assertion breaks down into at least ten distinct, connected claims. To make good on his blanket assertion, he would need to offer ten separate and interlocking supporting arguments.

What the reader gets instead are ten barefaced assertions without a single argument to back up any of his specific contentions. We don’t even get an outline of what form such an argument would take. One wonders who Berzonsky thinks he’s writing for. Is he writing to persuade the reader?

"Adam was to have united the entire world to God; now the second Christ has come to earth to complete the recapitulation. Human nature discovers itself joined to the nature, or hypostasis, of Christ. This is the specific and unique work of the God-Man," 172.

By way of reply:

i) Once again the reader is treated to an empty claim. Berzonsky is better at making a claim than making a case.

ii) Adam’s relation to humanity and Christ’s relation to humanity are clearly disanalogous. Adam’s relation is genealogical as the forefather of the entire human race, whereas Christ receives his human nature from Mary.

iii) Although Berzonsky is too indolent or arrogant to turn his assertion into an argument, it may be useful if we do it for him to assess the quality of the argument. The implicit argument seems to run something like this:

a) Every man has a human nature
b) Christ has a human nature
c) Ergo: every man is related to Christ

There’s a general sense in which this is true, but the relation is too generic, in and of itself, to support the specific work of Christ. The fact that I am related to you at a generic level doesn’t imply that what I am or what I do has any effect on what you are or your situation.

To make this argument work, what we would need is not an exemplum/exemplum relation, but an exemplar/exemplum relation, like the oak/acorn relation. If the human nature of Christ were an abstract universal in which all men and women participate, then the relation between Christ and humanity might support a transitive relation.

But the human nature of Christ is just another property-instance--a concrete particular among many. Humanly speaking, Christ was a clone of Mary, like identical male/female twins. Mary is both his mother and his sister. Such is the miracle of the Virgin Birth.

This supplies a necessary condition for a more specific relationship, but it does not supply a sufficient condition all by itself. So the implicit argument in Berzonsky’s position falters on a level-confusion.

"When the Lord appeared among his apostles in the upper room (Jn 20:22-23), he breathed on them, conferring the Holy Spirit, giving them power to bind and set free the sins of human beings. This is the gift of the Spirit to the church as the body of Christ," 173.

By way of reply:

Observe the leap of logic: from the Apostolate to the sub-Apostolic church. There is nothing in the text to justify this transference. At the very least we’d need a subsidiary argument to warrant the extension. Once again, no such reason is forthcoming. All we have are Berzonsky’s dogmatic dicta.

"The second gift of the Holy Spirit is from the Father on Pentecost (Acts 2). Here is grace poured out on persons--not any arbitrary men but on the college of apostles," 173.

By way of reply:

i) Talk about blinkered exegesis! If you turn to the account in Acts, you will see that the promise of the Spirit was by no means limited to the Apostolate (2:17-18,33,38-39). And the rest of Acts illustrates the further fulfillment of this prophecy.

ii) Berzonsky’s restriction runs counter to his doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

"Protestants hold in greatest esteem the personal quest for truth. Unfathomable to them is the need for submitting their own subjective comprehension to the objectivity of the church. To test one’s private opinion by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit at work through the body of Christ does not compute," 175.

By way of reply:

i) In what sense is the church "objective," but the Bible is not?

ii) Don’t the Orthodox merely codify one set of private opinions over against another? The private opinion of Cyril trumps the private opinion of Nestorius.

iii) For Berzonsky to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church begs the question of how we identify the true church. In which church is the Holy Spirit to be found? What are Berzonsky's criteria?

iv) Why assume that the Holy Spirit cannot be at work in Evangelical communions as well?

"The Bible requires interpretation. St. Hilary wrote, Scriptura est non in legendo, sed in intelligendo (Scripture is not in the reading but in the understanding)," 175.

By way of reply:

This statement is true, even a truism, but such a truism amounts to an empty norm. It doesn’t adjudicate between one church and another. Every side can lay claim to this truism.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Perspective on a Marine shooting in Iraq.

Power Line: A Marine Writes Home:
"This is one most don't hear:
A young Marine and his cover man cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with Ak-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insurgent can be heard saying, 'Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!' He is badly wounded, lying in a pool of his own blood. The Marine and his cover man slowly walk toward the injured man, scanning to make sure no enemies come from behind. In a split second, the pressure in the room greatly exceeds that of the outside, and the concussion seems to be felt before the blast is heard. Marines outside rush to the room, and look in horror as the dust gradually settles. The result is a room filled with the barely recognizable remains of the deceased, caused by an insurgent setting off several pounds of explosives.
The Marines' remains are gathered by teary eyed comrades, brothers in arms, and shipped home in a box. The families can only mourn over a casket and a picture of their loved one, a life cut short by someone who hid behind a white flag.
But no one hears these stories, except those who have lived to carry remains of a friend, and the families who loved the dead. No one hears this, so no one cares."