Sunday, May 22, 2005

Tektonic faultlines-2

<< Only a bigot would find it completely inconceivable that the church could not learn from its Jewish forebears; to those who say otherwise, we are reminded that (for example) Calvin had no objections to using Jewish commentators, and Piper himself appealed to Qumran texts. Nothing to learn? Baloney! Hays' bigoted anti-Semitism shines here like a movie studio light. >>

Yes, bigoted! That’s why I am—bigoted! Write it 500 times on the blackboard and that will make it true.

Actually, a trademark of bigotry is stereotyping. Holding is very fond of stereotyping the Jews—as if they had some monolith view of providence and block-logic.

But Neusner, for one, prefers to refer to Jewish thought in the plural, as in his book Judaisms and their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era.

Now who does Wilson serve up as his Jewish authorities on block-logic? Well, he cites Rabbi Sandmel. Who was Rabbi Sandmel? Rabbi Sandmel was a Reform Rabbi. As such, he doesn’t speak for all of Judaism, does he? He doesn’t speak for Conservative Judaism or Orthodox Judaism or Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. I’ll have more to say about Sandmel in a moment, but let’s move on.

Who else does he quote? Well, there’s Rabbi Lapide. Rabbi Lapide’s an Orthodox Rabbi and ecumenist who hobnobs with the likes of Hans Kung and the late Karl Rahner.

So this is a case of one ecumenist (Wilson) proving his point by quoting another ecumenist (Lapide). For Lapide, Jesus is just another human being. And that’s what you’d expect a non-Messianic Jew to say, right? So why does Holding happen to think that Lapide’s sub-Christian Christology should be normative for Christians reading the NT?

Who else does he quote? Rabbi Soloveitchik. Who’s he? Another Orthodox Rabbi.

BTW, notice that all three men are not our “Jewish forebears,” but our Jewish contemporaries. These are 20C Jews, not 1C Jews.

What else can we learn about Soloveitchik? Well, suppose we turn to the entry in the Dictionary of Philosophers. That’s right—he was a Jewish philosopher, very much in dialogue with modern German philosophy.


Early Years
Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik was born on February 27, 1903 in Pruzhan (which is now part of Belarus), Poland. He was educated in the traditional manner at a Talmud Torah, an elementary yeshiva, and by private tutors as his parents realized his great mental powers. At the age of 22, he moved to Berlin in Germany where he remained for almost a decade studying at the University of Berlin, simultaneously maintaining a rigorous schedule of intensive Talmud study.

In 1931 he wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the epistemology and metaphysics of the German philosopher Hermann Cohen. In that same year he married Tonya Lewit, who had earned a Ph.D. in education from Jena University. He studied the work of European Philosophers, and was a lifelong student of neo-Kantian thought.

During his years in Berlin, he made the acquaintance of two other young scholars pursuing similar paths to his own. One was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson who was destined to command the Chabad Lubavitch movement centered in Brooklyn, New York and the other was Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner who would become the Dean of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin also in Brooklyn, New York . Each developed a system of thought that bridged the Eastern European way of traditional scholarship with the new forces of modernity in the Western World. In 1932, after his 1931 marriage to Dr. Tonya Lewitt (1904-1967), he immigrated to the United States and settled in Boston.

Philosophy: Synthesis
During his tenure at Yeshiva University in addition to his Talmudic lectures, he deepened the system of "synthesis" whereby the best of religious Torah scholarship would be combined with the best secular scholarship in Western civilization. This has become known as the Torah Umadda - "Torah and Science" the motto of Yeshiva University.

He authored a number of essays and books offering a unique synthesis of Kantian existentialism and Jewish theology, the most well-known being The Lonely Man of Faith which deals with issues such as the willingness to stand alone in the face of monumental challenges, and Halakhic Man. (Needs expansion.)

Through public lectures, writings, and his policy decisions for the Modern Orthodox world, he strengthened the intellectual and ideological framework of Modern Orthodoxy.


O dear! What a singularly ill-chosen example of the dichtomy between Western philosophy and Hebrew thought! Of course, were you dependent on the likes of Holding and Wilson for your information, you’d never know any better.

What else is there? Let’s see—there’s a footnote on Josephus. Unlike the other three, Josephus is, indeed, one of our Jewish forebears. Alas, his example is even worse for Wilson’s thesis than Soloveitchik. As one scholar explains:


The flexibility of the Pharisees may also be seen in their approach to the problem of fate and freewill. As characterized by Josephus, the three principal “philosophical” schools among the Je3ws were distinguished on this issue in this way: the Essenes assigned everything to fate (heimarmene); the Sadducees assigned everything to human freedom; and the Pharisees believed in both fate and freewill (Ant. 13.5.9). Josephus was borrowing the Greek philosophical terminology: for fate one should understand God’s governance, or providence…As Rabbi Akiba expressed it, “all is foreseen but freedom is granted” (Aboth 3.16).

Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Eerdmans 2003), 516.


This delivers a double-barred coup de grace to Wilson’s thesis:

1.You have a 1C Jew using Greek philosophical categories to reclassify Jewish schools of thought. And even before Josephus we, of course, had Philonic Platonism.

2. You have the same Jewish historian distinguishing three different schools of thought on the relationship between divine and human agency. The Mishnaic quote, cited by Sandmel, and the Talmudic quote, cited by Wilson, codify the Pharisaic outlook—since Rabbinic Judaism is the lineal descendent of the Pharisees. Wilson even says so himself. Ibid. 77-78; 88.

Nothing like a dash selective evidence on Wilson’s part to make a bad case look good. And Holding, because he is too indolent and ill-motivated to do his own research on the subject, simply regurgitates whatever Wilson says.

It should be needless to say that Pharisaic theology takes quite a beating in the NT. So one wonders why Holding and Wilson elevate this to the gold standard by which the Bible is to be construed.

I said:
<< All that Scripture assumes is that man is able to entertain hypothetical situations, to grasp the moral and practical consequences of each action, and to take appropriate action if he is so inclined. A sinner was free to do the right thing had he wanted to do the right thing. But he was not free to choose what he wanted to do. He was, rather, in bondage to an evil heart. >>

Holding said:
<< So in other words, Hays says sinners can because they were free, but they can't, because they are in bondage. When he decides which he actually believes, perhaps he will advise. >>

What I would advise is that Holding bone up on the elementary distinctions between freedom defined in compatibilist and incompatibilist terms. Notice how Holding drops all the key qualifiers. I defined the sinner’s freedom in conditional terms: free to do otherwise had he wanted to do otherwise—but not free to want to do otherwise. This is a perfectly coherent distinction. If Holding is unfamiliar with the compatibilist/incompatibilist debate, then he is hardly competent to sit in judgment of Calvinism.

I said:
<< It is quite unscriptural to say that the deed is more important than the creed. What’s the difference between a good deed and a misdeed? You can only do the right thing if you know the difference between right and wrong in the first place. You can only do the truth if you know the truth. Certainly the Bible has no use for a deedless creed. But neither has it any use for a creedless deed. In fact, there is no such thing as a creedless deed. Behavior is belief in action. It is pretty pathetic when an Evangelical teacher like Wilson can indulge in such breezy and morally disreputable principles. >>

Holding said:
<< Excuse me? Hays has probably never learned about Semitic Totality (books that would assist in evidential apologetics being forbidden by the Inquisition), but it is the Jewish idea that agrees that "behavior is belief in action." That is where Wilson would stand, and it is also where Scripture stands: "Faith without works is dead." In other words, deed is indeed more important than creed, for a creed can be mouthed in vain, but works that come of belieiving that creed cannot be falsified. But in fact Hays is even more than misguided here, but also dishonest; he quotes a single line out of a huge section, in which the "deed more important than creed" statement is not about morals (as Hays would have twisted it for his unknowing reader) but with tension of ideas and statements, and with experiencing and walking in the truth versus knowing and rationally analyzing the truth. >>

1.I am commenting on Wilson, not Murdoch Dahl’s monograph of the glorified body in 1 Cor 15. Since Wilson never brought in Dahl’s book to bolster his case, that is irrelevant to Wilson’s argument.

2.Even on its own grounds, the idea of a "unitive notion of human personality” would not justify prioritizing deed over creed, for that move would be disunitive rather than unitive.

3.Holding then indulges in a bait-and-switch scam as if saying that “faith without works is dead” is equivalent to saying that “deed is more important than creed.” Wilson doesn’t quote James, so this is another instance of Holding’s attempt to shore up a weak argument; but even if James were in play, James never says that works are more important than faith. There is no prioritization one way or the other. Holding would rather falsify the witness of James than disagree with Wilson.

4.As to Holding’s further assertion that the statement is not about morals, Soloveitchik goes on to say: “We [Jews] are practical. We are more interested in discovering what God wants man to do than we are in describing God’s essence.” So it is about morals—about praxis, about doing.

<< Next Hays says it is "is misleading and quite inaccurate to set up a contrast between the divine and human perspectives in Scripture." How this works out with books like Psalms and Job, for example, is not explained. >>

Once again, I am commenting on Wilson. I don’t have to explain supposed counter-examples that Wilson never gave in support of block-logic. If Wilson felt those were germane to his case for block-logic, he could have introduced them all by himself—without Holding’s twitchy coaching from the prompter’s box. I’ve systematically commented on each of the illustrations which Wilson did give.

I said: “Wilson is confounding his subjective impression with the objective sense of Scripture.”

Holding said: “We're waiting for an example of Wilson allegedly ‘confounding’ anything, but none is presented yet.”

And the risk of stating the obvious, the examples in question are all the paradigm-cases of “block-logic” cited by Wilson, which represent his personal interpretation of block-logic.

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