Saturday, September 10, 2005

Mystifications on Mormonism


I view no unbaptized person as a Christian (which is not to say that God is not free to do so).


For Paul Owen, the criterion is not a credible profession of faith, but baptism.

One striking implication is that, for Dr. Owen, the prerequisite for baptism is that a baptismal candidate not be a Christian. After all, he can only be viewed as a Christian as a result of baptism.

By his own benchmark, Dr. Owen was not a Christian at the time he was baptized. If so, that would explain a lot.


I do not believe that the argument, sure they believe in a Jesus, but not the Jesus, applies to the Mormons. The accusation of preaching “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4) is directed at false teachers who knowingly deny the authority of the apostle Paul, and who intentionally proclaim a different Jesus from the one Paul claimed to have met on the Damascus Road. The Mormons do not intend to worship a Jesus who differs from the apostolic testimony, as Paul’s opponents did. Their intention is to worship the Jesus who spoke through all the apostles. Christian apologists, in their zeal to latch onto a prooftext, have misapplied Paul’s strong words here, and wrongly applied them to Mormons, who intend to affirm what Paul, and all the apostles taught pertaining to Christ, but who misunderstand some of those teachings. That, in itself, is not damnable. I take their claim to have faith in Jesus at face value.


Now he’s equivocating. The false teachers intended to teach a different Jesus than the Jesus taught by Paul, but they didn’t intend to teach a different Jesus from the real Jesus, because they thought they were right and Paul was wrong. They are not denying Jesus, as they understood him, but Paul.

False teachers are either deceivers or self-deceived. And it matters not which is which. For self-deception is just as culpable as deception.

No, most Mormons probably do not intend to worship a false God. Most Baal-worshipers did not intend to worship a false God. But sincerity in error is not exculpatory. To be a faithful Satanist is not equivalent to being a faithful Christian.

In Scripture, idolatry is a cardinal sin. Dr. Owen simply waves that aside. But idolatry presents a mental block and spiritual impediment to true worship precisely because the idol leaves no room for the true God in the devotion of the idolater.

In Mormonism, their commitment to the Mormon canon and the Mormon pantheon takes precedence over the Christian canon and Christian theology. The later is radically reinterpreted in light of the former.

You don’t have to disbelieve in Jesus to be damned. Mere unbelief will suffice.


I do not accept Joseph Smith as a true Prophet. I do not believe that Joseph had the authority to pen Scripture, as did the prophets and apostles of old. I do believe that Joseph can be viewed as a prophet of sorts (something along the lines of Balaam in Numbers 22-24), who experienced a taste of the charismata, and who may have been used to speak a true word of rebuke upon a wordly, divisive church which was gripped by the spirit of revivalism. God used Joseph to speak to the churches, and to expose their shallow versions of the Christian religion. Out of the fragmented confusion of frontier revivalism and evangelism arose a new religion, which took revivalism to its logical conclusion, and implemented the popular primitivist, Anabaptist, Radical Reformation vision in such a manner as to decisively break from the historic fold. When the Church does not bear witness to its Catholicity, when the Faith becomes more of a mechanism of producing converts than maintaining the unity and identity of the visible body, God raises up men and movements to rebuke the worldly church. The Rechabites (Jer. 35) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) provide us with comparable models in which to understand God’s purpose in raising up Joseph Smith and the Mormons.


So Dr. Owen doesn’t believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet on par with the canonical prophets, but he does regard him as a prophet sent by God to speak a true word to the church.

That's a transparent example of Dr. Owen’s rampant syncretism.

In addition, Dr. Owen never misses a chance to demonize the Anabaptists. Notice how charitable he is towards the Mormons, making every possible allowance for their good intentions; and how uncharitable he is towards the Anabaptists, making no allowance for their good intentions.

If Dr. Svendsen is Enloe’s great white whale, then the Amish play Moby-Dick to Owen’s Ahab.

Now, we may disagree with some of their answers, but the Anabaptists were asking the right questions. Take Calvin’s position on the Eucharist. This was a classic mediating position. And it suffers from the instability of an intellectual compromise. Even Dabney, Cunningham, and Bavinck regard his position as incoherent.

And that's because Calvin, instead of questioning the traditional framework, was trying to modify it.

By contrast, the Anabaptist didn’t want tradition to prejudge the answer. They were asking themselves, if we’d never heard of Catholicism, and were taking a fresh look at Scripture, how would it appear to us?

That’s a good question. That’s a question we should ask ourselves all the time.

Let’s take another example. One of the traditional dividing-lines between Lutheran and Calvinist iss over the regulative principle; should the presumption be that whatever is not commanded is forbidden? Or whatever is not forbidden is permitted?

Originally, Calvinism took the more restrictive position. And that held until about the 20C. But when a Reformed denomination liberalizes, the faithful will break away and form a new denomination. And when they form a new denomination, that reopens all of the old debates because the new denomination must draft a new set of bylaws.

And you only have to attend an OPC or PCA church to see that, on this issue, most of the Presbos came around to Luther’s view.

And this, I submit, is a sign of maturation. With the advantage of time and hindsight we can reprioritize and put things in perspective. We can see that the Puritan view of worship was rather reactionary.

In his way, Dr. Owen is just as selective, but he’s far more arbitrary. He and Enloe are incapable of such reflection, for they both suffer from the Moby-Dick fixation: “All that most maddens and torments and cakes the brain, all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, Enloe, and Owen, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable, in Moby-Amish-Dick-Svendsen. They piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all their general rage and hate.”


BYU has produced a host of highly skilled Hebraists, NT scholars, Near Eastern specialists, and experts in pertinent fields of ancient history (especially in the study of Gnosticism and Egyptian Christianity).


We’d expect Mormons to focus on early Christian heresies. For that plays into their conspiratorial theory of church history, according to which the primitive Christian kerygma was suppressed and rival “scriptures” were “lost” or destroyed. This is the same line so often peddled by fruit-loops from the Jesus Seminar like Pagels, Crossan, and Ehrman. And it paves the way for Joseph Smith to “restore” the true faith.

The Word became flesh

Prejean posted a comment on my blog, then deleted it. The PP summarized the comment in the form of a questionnaire for Prejean to answer. I’ll reproduce the questionnaire and the response before offering my own reply:


Pedantic Protestant said...

John 1:14 [my quick translation]:

And the word became flesh and tented among us, and we beheld His glory --- glory as of the-only-begotten-of the Father, full of grace and truth.

(1) Are you saying that Hays doesn't believe that God the Son became flesh?

(2) Are you claiming that Hays denies that the Word-who-became-flesh did not come from the Father?

(3) Are you asserting that Hays denies that the Word-who-became-flesh is not full of grace and truth?

II Peter 1:3-4 [my quick translation]:

As all [things of] His divine power which issue unto life and godliness have been bestowed upon you through the knowledge of the one who called you by his own glory and goodness, through which things the valuable and greatest promises have been bestowed upon you, so that through these you might be partakers of the divine nature, fleeing the corrupted things of the world that are produced by evil desires.

(4) Are you claiming that Hays denies that God's agency has bestowed on Christians what is necessary for life and godliness?

(5) Are you claiming that Hays denies that Christians will be partakers of "the divine nature”?

Hopefully Hays can speak for himself here.

Friday, September 09, 2005 5:45:50 PM

Pedantic Protestant said...

Jonathan removed his comment, it seems [?].

Friday, September 09, 2005 5:46:50 PM
CrimsonCatholic said...

Hays and Svendsen are Nestorians, so they don't believe the premise in (1). Autotheos is an outright denial of the premise in (2), unless you accept Warfield's incoherent account of divine economy. Re: (3), I'm not sure how Hays could say anything meaningful about the Word-Who-became-flesh, because He doesn't believe the Word became flesh.

Re: (4), I don't know what "agency" means in this context; I do not believe that he thinks they were bestowed "by His glory and goodness." And yes, he denies (5).

So, yeah, pretty much, I think his Christology makes a mockery of Scripture. But I don't even see any benefit in wasting further time on it. That he's a sham artist who name-drops in lieu of argument has been exposed; that his Christology is anti-Nicene has been exposed; that Nicene Christology and the condemnation of Nestorianism is clearly taught in Scripture should be obvious to anyone who cares (and most Evangelicals who aren't in the nutbar anti-Catholic fringe agree).

Good victorious, evil punished, yada yada. No matter what they say at this point, their credibility is shot among anyone who accepts the Nicene creed as the standard of orthodoxy and who has the least bit of respect for historical theology. I was just going to say that y'all can have your "me and my Bible" fraternity, and good luck with all that.

Got nothing to do with intellectual superiority, BTW; it's got to do with basic scholastic honesty and me being able to read carefully enough to catch them when they're faking it. They are trying to appear as if they fit within "conservative Evangelicalism," as if they are somehow normal, and I'm just pointing out that they are an extreme fringe that is rejected by most of conservative Evangelicalism. Nestorianism and anti-Nicene Christology are not cool, even for Protestants. But hey, if you want to stick with it, fine by me. My work is done; the quacks are unveiled.

Friday, September 09, 2005 6:29:53 PM


i) Prejean’s allusion to Jn 1:14 is presumably to the clause, “and the word became flesh.” Sarx has a wide semantic domain in LXX and NT usage. In the context of Jn 1:14, it means, at a minimum, that the Logos became human—possibly with an added overtone of the infirmities of the flesh.

ii) However, Prejean’s contention is that unless you subscribe to his Cyrillene Christology, you deny Jn 1:14. But this isn’t exegesis. It is placing a far more specific construction on the text than the text itself will bear.

Even if his Christology were correct, it doesn’t follow that the Johannine clause means that the Logos became flesh in the Cyrillene sense.

The problem lies with Prejean’s childish insistence that if he can’t get everything he wants out of a verse of Scripture, then he will simply make it mean more than it actually says by extorting a surplus sense through semantic coercion.

Again, even if his Christology were correct, that doesn’t make his exegesis correct. His Cyrillene gloss goes well beyond what the verse either says or means or even implies.

This is a distinction which a Catholic commentator on John, such as Brown or Schnackenburg, would have no difficulty observing. It betrays the intellectual insecurity of his faith that Prejean cannot allow the text of Scripture speak for itself.

If I deny that Winnie the Pooh teaches quantum mechanics, I am not rendering a value-judgment on quantum mechanics.

iii) The image of the Son coming from the Father is a complex image in Johannine usage. It signifies his divinity, divine mission and commission, as well as his Incarnation.

Prejean fails to explain what is incoherent in Warfield’s analysis. As applied to the Godhead, “sonship” is a metaphor. After all, no one is contending that Christ is the physical progeny of God. So the question is what the metaphor signifies.

In Johannine usage, and NT usage generally, it is a divine title. Hence, it implies the divinity of Christ. As such, it further entails an eternal relationship, grounded in the intramundane Trinity.

Likewise, divine paternity is also a metaphor, and one correlative with the sonship of Christ. Fatherhood and sonship answer to each other.

But to turn these figures of speech into a causal model whereby the action of the Father is constitutive of the Son is crudely anthropomorphic and gets wholly carried away with the incidental connotations a mere metaphor.

And to take the further step of exchanging this image for the role of the Father as the fons deitatis or fons trinitatis is yet another wrong turn; metaphors are not interchangeable, and it is illicit to swap one theological metaphor for another.

iv) As to 2 Peter, I assume his allusion is to 1:4 (“partakers of the divine nature”), which is the classic prooftext for theosis.

It should be needless to point out that theosis is a classically Greek orthodox soteric category, not a Roman Catholic soteric category. So if Prejean’s position is that anyone who does not subscribe to the Greek Orthodox gloss on 2 Pet 1:4 is a heretic, then his fellow Roman Catholics are equally heretical.

I’d add that theosis makes use of Neoplatonic ontology to flesh out its soteriology. But Neoplatonism postdates 2 Peter. So even if it were a valid framework in its own right, it would still be anachronistic to reinterpret 2 Pet 1:4 in light of Neoplatonism—much less the late Medieval development of hesychasm.

For a philological analysis of 1 Pet 1:4, cf. J. Starr, Sharers in Divine Nature: 2 Peter 1:4 in Its Hellenistic Context (Stockholm 2000).

Starr arrives at the conclusion that what the verse in fact denotes is not deification, but participation in the moral character of Christ.

What Prejean subscribes to is not, in fact, a hypostatic union, but rather, an anhypostatic union. He charges anyone who disagrees with him with being a Nestorian, but by depersonalizing the human nature of Christ, one could, with equal logic, classify Mr. Prejean as a Monophysite.

As David Wells has put it, “it is not entirely clear how a human nature devoid of its ego is still human nature; without its prosopon, Jesus’ ousia would be merely homoiousion with ours and not homoousion,” The Person of Christ (Crossway Books 1984), 109.

In the same series is Gerald Bray’s book on The Doctrine of God, in which he raises the same sorts of objections to Nicene subordinationism that I do.

BTW, the series editor for this book was Peter Toon, an Evangelical Anglican and high churchman, as well as a diligent and devout student of historical theology. And Roger Nicole was one of the peer reviewers. So this is scarcely the “nutbar anti-Catholic fringe.”

Prejean has yet to explain how a “rational soul” can be impersonal. How does he square his own position with the Athanasian creed? What’s an anhypostatic union if not Docetism by another name?

The point here is not to either accept a Nestorian Christology or reject a Cyrillene Christology. The point, rather, is to resist the temptation to be more specific than Scripture and dogmatize beyond the bounds of revelation.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Pious fiction

There are many different ways of distinguishing Catholicism from Evangelicalism, but a basic distinction revolves around the interrrelation between belief and knowledge. How much do we know, and how do we know it?

Now, concerning such doctrines as the Trinity and the Incarnation, our only source of information is revelation. The Trinity is not an empirical datum, and it is not a truth of reason. The hypostatic union is not an empirical datum, and it is not a truth of reason.

If our faith should transgress the reach of revelation, then at that point our faith no longer coheres with the object of faith.

Prejean would saddle the conscience of Christendom with a whole raft of theological fairy tales. Prejean tries to shame evangelicals into believing Roman dogma through abuse and invective. This is why a Reformation was necessary. And this is why reunion with Rome is out of the question. We cannot have the religious establishment damning Christians to hell who refuse to bow before its parade of pious fictions and superstitious fables. Whatever is not revealed is simply a figment of the imagination. To elevate apocryphal dogma to articles of the faith is, quite literally, idolatry—by divinizing an idol of the mind.

God has revealed exactly how much we need to know and exactly how much we are duty-bound to believe. Had he intended for us to know more or believe more, it was within his power to broaden the scope of revelation. Human duty and divine disclosure are conterminous.

What is Prejean’s alternative? He takes refuge in allegorical exegesis. But other criticisms aside, allegorical exegesis does not select for Nicene Orthodoxy or Cyrillene Christology. Allegory is inherently open-textured. Allegory cuts both ways. If the Cappadocian Fathers can use allegory to score points, so can Arius or Apollinarius or Valentinus.

The hypostatic union is sui generis. We should not expect to have preexisting categories that exactly capture this relation.

Prejean assumes that if you’re not a Cyrillene, then you must be Nestorian, or something equally definite. This misses the point.

The point, rather, is that we need not be any more or less exacting or exhaustive than revelation. Where God is silent, we ought to honor his silence, and not put words in his mouth.

Likewise, the inner life of the Godhead is hardly something we can divine or deduce.

When answering rational objections to the faith, we can answer in kind. We can rebut reason with reason. And we can explore logical possibilities. But this is opinion, not dogma.

Far from being liberal, this is the essence of conservatism—of a pious and prudent conservatism. It draws a line of sanity between fact and fantasy, piety and presumption. Quackery in vestments is quackery all the same.

Pork-barrel spending

Money Flowed to Questionable Projects

State Leads in Army Corps Spending, but Millions Had Nothing to Do With Floods

By Michael Grunwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005; Page A01

Before Hurricane Katrina breached a levee on the New Orleans Industrial Canal, the Army Corps of Engineers had already launched a $748 million construction project at that very location. But the project had nothing to do with flood control. The Corps was building a huge new lock for the canal, an effort to accommodate steadily increasing barge traffic.

Except that barge traffic on the canal has been steadily decreasing.

In Katrina's wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state's congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana's representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.

For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations. The Corps also spends tens of millions of dollars a year dredging little-used waterways such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Atchafalaya River and the Red River -- now known as the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, in honor of the project's congressional godfather -- for barge traffic that is less than forecast.

The Industrial Canal lock is one of the agency's most controversial projects, sued by residents of a New Orleans low-income black neighborhood and cited by an alliance of environmentalists and taxpayer advocates as the fifth-worst current Corps boondoggle. In 1998, the Corps justified its plan to build a new lock -- rather than fix the old lock for a tiny fraction of the cost -- by predicting huge increases in use by barges traveling between the Port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River.

In fact, barge traffic on the canal had been plummeting since 1994, but the Corps left that data out of its study. And barges have continued to avoid the canal since the study was finished, even though they are visiting the port in increased numbers.

Pam Dashiell, president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, remembers holding a protest against the lock four years ago -- right where the levee broke Aug. 30. Now she's holed up with her family in a St. Louis hotel, and her neighborhood is underwater. "Our politicians never cared half as much about protecting us as they cared about pork," Dashiell said.

Yesterday, congressional defenders of the Corps said they hoped the fallout from Hurricane Katrina would pave the way for billions of dollars of additional spending on water projects. Steve Ellis, a Corps critic with Taxpayers for Common Sense, called their push "the legislative equivalent of looting."

But overall, the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of the Corps, has said that in any event, more money would not have prevented the drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed projects. Strock has also said that the marsh-restoration project would not have done much to diminish Katrina's storm surge, which passed east of the coastal wetlands.

The Corps had been studying the possibility of upgrading the New Orleans levees for a higher level of protection before Katrina hit, but Woodley said that study would not have been finished for years. Still, liberal bloggers, Democratic politicians and some GOP defenders of the Corps have linked the catastrophe to the underfunding of the agency.

"We've been hollering about funding for years, but everyone would say: There goes Louisiana again, asking for more money," said former Democratic senator John Breaux. "We've had some powerful people in powerful places, but we never got what we needed."

That may be true. But those powerful people -- including former senators Breaux, Johnston and Russell Long, as well as former House committee chairmen Robert Livingston and W.J. "Billy" Tauzin -- did get quite a bit of what they wanted. And the current delegation -- led by Landrieu and GOP Sen. David Vitter -- has continued that tradition.

The Senate's latest budget bill for the Corps included 107 Louisiana projects worth $596 million, including $15 million for the Industrial Canal lock, for which the Bush administration had proposed no funding. Landrieu said the bill would "accelerate our flood control, navigation and coastal protection programs." Vitter said he was "grateful that my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee were persuaded of the importance of these projects."

Louisiana not only leads the nation in overall Corps funding, it places second in new construction -- just behind Florida, home of an $8 billion project to restore the Everglades. Several controversial projects were improvements for the Port of New Orleans, an economic linchpin at the mouth of the Mississippi. There were also several efforts to deepen channel for oil and gas tankers, a priority for petroleum companies that drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We thought all the projects were important -- not just levees," Breaux said. "Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but navigation projects were critical to our economic survival."

Overall, Army Corps funding has remained relatively constant for decades, despite the "Program Growth Initiative" launched by agency generals in 1999 without telling their civilian bosses in the Clinton administration. The Bush administration has proposed cuts in the Corps budget, and has tried to shift the agency's emphasis from new construction to overdue maintenance. But most of those proposals have died quietly on Capitol Hill, and the administration has not fought too hard to revive them.

In fact, more than any other federal agency, the Corps is controlled by Congress; its $4.7 billion civil works budget consists almost entirely of "earmarks" inserted by individual legislators. The Corps must determine that the economic benefits of its projects exceed the costs, but marginal projects such as the Port of Iberia deepening -- which squeaked by with a 1.03 benefit-cost ratio -- are as eligible for funding as the New Orleans levees.

"It has been explicit national policy not to set priorities, but instead to build any flood control or barge project if the Corps decides the benefits exceed the costs by 1 cent," said Tim Searchinger, a senior attorney at Environmental Defense. "Saving New Orleans gets no more emphasis than draining wetlands to grow corn and soybeans."

Worst case scenario

New Orleans Levees Not Built for Worst Case Events
Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
September 2, 2005

New Orleans is surrounded by water—Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Resting an average of six feet (two meters) below sea level, the city's safety has long depended on one of the world's most extensive levee systems.

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials briefed reporters on the status of that levee system, even as much of the city remained flooded and crews worked to repair breeches along city canals.

The bowl-like shape of New Orleans prevents water from draining away, as broken levees continue to allow water to flow into city streets. No one is sure how long it will take to pump out floodwaters once the levees are repaired.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the Corps, dismissed suggestions that recent federal funding decreases or delayed contracts had any impact on levee performance in the face of Katrina's overwhelming force.

Instead he pointed to a danger that many public officials had warned about for years: The system was never designed to withstand a storm of Katrina's strength.

"It was fully recognized by officials that we had Category Three [hurricane] level of protection," Strock said. "As projections of Category Four and Five were made, [officials] began plans to evacuate the city.

"We were just caught by a storm whose intensity exceeded the protection that we had in place."

What Price Protection?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been building levees along the Mississippi River since the late 1800s. The artificial, reenforced soil embankments are designed to curb periodic and destructive floods.

But determining the level of protection needed versus what Congress and the public are willing to pay for isn't often easy.

Acceptable risks must be weighed, including the statistical likelihood of catastrophic events and the possible consequences if they do occur, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials.

The costs of protection against extreme natural disasters are juggled with other public priorities. Environmental considerations are debated. Stakeholders from all levels of government and the private sector weigh in.

Ultimately, congressional funding levels largely determine just how high the embankments will reach and what levels of risk will be accepted.

The current system in New Orleans was designed decades ago and has been shaped over time by past storms.

An unnamed hurricane on September 1947 flooded Jefferson Parish, which includes metropolitan New Orleans, to depths of about three feet (one meter). The storm caused 100 million dollars (U.S.) worth of damage.

After the storm, hurricane protection levees were built along Lake Pontchartrain's south shore.

Hurricane Betsy made landfall some 50 miles east of New Orleans on September 10, 1965. Winds in the city reached 125 miles per hour (200 kilometers an hour) and the storm surge neared 10 feet (3 meters). After extensive flooding, the Orleans Levee Board raised existing levees to a height of 12 feet (4 meters).

In 1998 Hurricane Georges triggered a mandatory evacuation of the Crescent City. The storm devastated much of the Caribbean but largely spared New Orleans.

Still, traffic snarls illustrated the difficulty and danger that would accompany evacuation in the face of a more direct hit—like the one delivered by Hurricane Katrina.

Levee Upgrade

Until the day before Katrina's arrival, New Orleans's 350 miles (560 kilometers) of levees were undergoing a feasibility study to examine the possibility of upgrading them to withstand a Category Four or Five storm.

Corps officials say the study, which began in 2000, will take several years to complete.

Upgrading the system would take as long as 20 to 25 years, according to Al Naomi, the Corps' senior project manager for the New Orleans District.

Martin McCann, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University in California, warns that long-term planning may not account for changes to the risk equation.

"As further development goes on behind levees, over decades you need to revisit the question and say, Are those levees providing us the protection that we wanted?" he said.

"The answer is probably no, because the exposure is probably greater. The number of people and the [amount of] valuable property [behind the levees] is greater."


Hat-tip to Chris Jenkins for drawing my attention to this article.

Nicene subordinationism


I tend to think that what is not Nicene Christianity is simply not Christianity from a dogmatic standpoint at all. Doctrinally, I have no more in common with such a view than I do with Islam or Judaism. It seems to me that this is the line in the sand between the types of Christians. Those willing to accept the "Old Princeton" school of theology simply aren't Christians in a historical sense and cannot be. They've declared war against orthodoxy for anyone who believes in the binding nature of councils.

I think the move made by Reformed Catholics would be to argue that Calvin was simply inconsistent on this point, that he himself was being speculative with his notion of "autotheos" and that since the Westminster Confession was silent on the point (or outright contradicted it with the "eternally begotten" language), it would be foolish to elevate Calvin's speculation against the historical authority of the Church. But in that case, ISTM that it is hopeless to expect any sort of reconciliation between the two sides; they must almost certainly divide as they don't even believe in the same God (if Warfield's notion of "God" can even be properly be called by that name).

My question is whether we ought not, despite the credibility of its claim to continuity with Calvin, properly label this brand of theology something alien to historical Christianity, as we would with Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses or Christadelphians. I say this because there is little doubt in my mind that the "Trinity" they worship is only nominally equivalent to that worshipped by the Catholic Church. The validity of their baptisms may be preserved by their intent to "do what the Church does" in the Catholic sense, but in terms of doctrine, there seems to be almost no point at which any meaningful agreement can be had.

I find this question seriously troublesome in light of some Reformed apologists (e.g., Steve Hays) openly repudiating the Nicene dogma, citing Calvin, Warfield, John Murray, John Frame, and Paul Helm. If the Trinity really is up for grabs in conservative Evangelical scholarship, then isn't it really just another religion entirely?

Edited by: JPrejean at: 9/8/05 5:40 pm


As I’ve said before, Catholics and Evangelicals define heresy differently. For a Catholic, a heresy is whatever the church says is heretical. The case is closed. A Catholic is precommitted to dub as heretical whatever his church has so dubbed. So the definition is essentially technical and mechanical, extrapolating from a past “heresy” to a modern counterpart.

For an Evangelical, by contrast, a heresy is whatever the Bible implies is heretical—not according to the formal pronouncement of the word, but operative concepts, from which we can extrapolate to past and present counterparts. This involves an element of discretion as we ascertain the sense of Scripture and extend it to analogous cases.

In formulating the Trinity, two opposing errors are to be avoided: tritheism and unitarianism. Nicene subordinationism is a harmonistic device to avoid tritheism by making the Father the primary God. Standing behind the phrases God “of” God, light “of” light, and true God “of” true God is the imagery of the Father as the fons deitatis or fons trinitatis. And this is a form of modalism. It preserves monotheism by treating the Son as a secondary or second-grade divinity, and the Spirit as a tertiary or third-grade divinity. What you have is a continuity rather than identity of essence. Categories of generation and procession serve the same function.

Nicene subordinationism represents a compromise position, swapping one heresy for another. A Catholic is not a liberty to question dogmatic formulations or reopen an old debate.

Let us be clear on just what I and other such are guilty of. We resist a modalistic formula. We resist a reductionistic doctrine of the Trinity. We refuse to say that the Son and the Spirit constitute a lower grade of divinity than the Father. We affirm a higher Christology and a higher pneumatology than the Catholics and the Orthodox.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Standing by


Hume: Standing by, ready. Why didn't FEMA send The Red Cross into New Orleans when we had all of the people there on that bridge overpass and elsewhere. Why not?

Garrett: First of all, no jurisdiction. FEMA works with The Red Cross, The Salvation Army and other organizations but it has no control to order them to go one place or the other. Secondarily, The Red Cross was ready. I got off the phone with one of their officials. They had a vanguard, Brit, of trucks with water, food, hygiene equipment, all sorts of things ready to go where? To the Superdome and convention center. Why weren't they there? The Louisiana Department of Homeland Security told them they could not go.

Hume: This is isn't the Louisiana branch of the federal Homeland Security? This is --

Garrett: The state's own agency devoted to the state's homeland security. They told them you cannot go there. Why? The Red Cross tells me that state agency in Louisiana said, look, we do not want to create a magnet for more people to come to the Superdome or convention center, we want to get them out. So at the same time local officials were screaming where is the food, where is the water? The Red Cross was standing by ready, the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security said you can't go.

Hume: FEMA does, presumably at some point, have some jurisdiction over some military forces. Of course, the first responders there are the National Guard. Why didn't FEMA send the National Guard in? You heard that cry from many people.

Garrett: FEMA does not have jurisdictional control over any state's National Guard, only the governor does. The governor in this case, Kathleen Blanco, A democrat, did use the Louisiana National Guard for some purposes, did not deploy them in massive numbers initially and they were not used to move any of these relief organizations in and they could have been for the very same reason I talked about earlier, the state decided they didn't want the relief organizations where the people needed it most because they wanted those people to get out.


Greens v. Levees

Greens vs. Levees
Destructive river-management philosophy.

By John Berlau

With all that has happened in the state, it’s understandable that the Louisiana chapter of the Sierra Club may not have updated its website. But when its members get around to it, they may want to change the wording of one item in particular. The site brags that the group is “working to keep the Atchafalaya Basin,” which adjoins the Mississippi River not far from New Orleans, “wet and wild.”
These words may seem especially inappropriate after the breaking of the levee that caused the tragic events in New Orleans last week. But “wet and wild” has a larger significance in light of those events, and so does the group using the phrase. The national Sierra Club was one of several environmental groups who sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop a 1996 plan to raise and fortify Mississippi River levees.

The Army Corps was planning to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the river in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This was needed, a Corps spokesman told the Baton Rouge, La., newspaper The Advocate, because “a failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming, if they overcame them at all.”

But a suit filed by environmental groups at the U.S. District Court in New Orleans claimed the Corps had not looked at “the impact on bottomland hardwood wetlands.” The lawsuit stated, “Bottomland hardwood forests must be protected and restored if the Louisiana black bear is to survive as a species, and if we are to ensure continued support for source population of all birds breeding in the lower Mississippi River valley.” In addition to the Sierra Club, other parties to the suit were the group American Rivers, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and the Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi Wildlife Federations.

The lawsuit was settled in 1997 with the Corps agreeing to hold off on some work while doing an additional two-year environmental impact study. Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain.

But it is just one illustration of a destructive river-management philosophy that took hold in the ‘90s, influenced the Clinton administration, and had serious policy consequences. Put simply, it’s impossible to understand the delays in building levees without being aware of the opposition of the environmental groups to dams, levees, and anything that interfered with the “natural” river flow. The group American Rivers, which leads coalitions of eco-groups on river policy, has for years actually called its campaign, “Rivers Unplugged.”

Over the past few years, levees came to occupy the same status for environmental groups as roads in forests — an artificial barrier to nature. They frequently campaigned against levees being built and shored up on the nation’s rivers, including on the Mississippi.

In 2000, American Rivers’ Mississippi River Regional Representative Jeffrey Stein complained in a congressional hearing that the river’s “levees that temporarily protect floodplain farms have reduced the frequency, extent and magnitude of high flows, robbing the river of its ability … to sustain itself.” Similarly, the National Audubon Society, referring specifically to Louisiana, has this statement slamming levees on its website, “Levees have cut off freshwater flows, harming fishing and creating salt water intrusion.” The left-leaning Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, in describing a grant it gave to Environmental Defense, blasted “the numerous levees and canals built on the lower Mississippi River” because “such structures disrupt the natural flows of the Mississippi River’s sediments.”

Some went beyond opposition to building or repairing levees. At an Army Corps of Engineers meeting concerning the Mississippi River in 2002, Audubon official Dan McGuiness even recommended “looking at opportunities to lower or remove levees [emphasis added]” from the river.

The groups argued that the “natural” way would lead to better river management, but it was clear they had other agendas in mind besides flood control. They were concerned because levees were allegedly threatening their beloved exotic animals and plants. In his testimony, American Rivers’s Stein noted that the Mississippi River was home to “double-crested cormorant, rare orchids, and many other species,” which he implied were put at risk by man-made levees.

So far the environmental movement’s role in the events leading to the flooding has been little discussed. One exception is former Rep. Bob Livingston (R., La.), who told Fox News on Saturday that environmentalists were one of the major reasons levee projects were held up.

At this point, there are still questions about the particular levees that broke in New Orleans. Care should be taken about drawing direct conclusions about the causes until there are more facts. But there are some important points that are clear that should put in perspective about levee funding and flood control.

Nearly all flood-control projects — even relatively small ones — are subject to a variety of assessments for effects on wetlands, endangered species, and other environmental concerns. These reviews can be costly and delay projects by years. In the ‘90s, for instance, the Clinton administration’s Environmental Protection Agency required a comprehensive environmental impact statement just to repair a few Colorado River levees that had been destroyed in the floods of 1993.

The Clinton administration would frequently side with environmentalists on flood-control projects, even against local Democrats. The Army Corps of Engineers under Clinton began implementing a planned “spring rise” of the Missouri River that would raise water levels on the Missouri River during part of the year. This was supported by eco-groups, who argued that this restored the river’s natural flows and protected a bird called the piping plover. But farm groups and others said that combined with the ice melting from winter, the project could increase the risk of flooding in river communities and affect more than 1 million acres of productive farmland. Nearly all the Republicans and Democrats in Missouri’s congressional delegation opposed the plan, as did Missouri’s late Democratic governor, Mel Carnahan. But the Clinton administration refused to budge, and this was a major factor in Bush’s carrying of Missouri in 2000.

The Bush administration’s flood-control efforts were often relentlessly opposed by environmental groups, and this opposition was frequently echoed by liberal activists and in the press. Bush kept his promise, and his appointees at the Corps of Engineers have stopped the “spring rise” plan that concerned so many about flooding. Environmentalists launched a barrage of criticism and a series of lawsuits. This was also the case with Bush’s moves to stop the Clinton administration’s plans to breach the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the northwest. Even though the dams greatly help to control flooding in the region, American Rivers blasted the administration for failing to do enough to save the sockeye salmon native to the region.

Ironically, among those criticizing Bush for his actions to prevent flooding of the Missouri River was the ever-present anti-Bush environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He chastised Bush in 2004 for “managing the flow of the Missouri River.” If, before Katrina, Bush had proceeded full-speed ahead and fortified the levees of the Mississippi for a Category 5 hurricane, Kennedy and others of his ilk would very likely have criticized Bush for trying to manage the natural flow of the Mississippi. And it’s a good bet that many of the lefty bloggers now critical of Bush for not reinforcing the levees would have cited Bush’s levee fortification as another way he was despoiling the natural environment.

— John Berlau is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Three Mouseketeers

Paul Owen has set out to delineate the differences between Reformed Baptists and “Reformed Catholics”:


1. Reformed Catholics have an understanding of the unity of the church as the family of the faithful over the entire history of the church. Rather than tracing our spiritual pedigree through some sort of elitest remnant theory, we understand the fact that church history is family history. And family history includes not only those relatives who have brought honor to the family name, but also those who have brought disgrace as well.


i) This disregards the fact that remnant theology is a Biblical doctrine common to both Testaments.

ii) Apropos (i), it ignores the distinction between true and nominal believers.

However, I’m more than happy to concede that if we ran a paternity test, the three mouseketeers would share the same pedigree as Tetzel, Pighius, Cardinal Law, Alexander VI, and Julius II.


2. Reformed Catholics are able to distinguish between the defining doctrines of the faith, and those subjects which can and ought to be argued in a spirit of good fun and good will. The defining doctrines of the faith are derived from Holy Scripture, and authoritatively defined in the Nicene Creed and like statements of the collective mind of the Church. Other subjects, such as predestination, the possibility of falling from grace, the definition of free will, the nature of God’s providence in relation to human decisions, the mode of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, the meaning of baptismal regeneration, the legitimacy of the distinct office of bishop in the Church, the relationship between justification and sanctification, the precise definition of the role of works in justification, the Marian dogmas, the place of images in worship, addressing the saints in prayer, and other such topics, are not worth persecuting and killing people over.


i) I agree that defining doctrines of the faith are derived from Scripture. This is logically distinct from the Nicene Creed or the “collective mind of the Church”—whatever that means.

ii) Apparently, Dr. Owen believes that it’s okay to persecute and murder people over matters “authoritative defined in the Nicene Creed and like statements of the collective mind of the church”, but just not for “other” subjects.


3. Reformed Catholics have a meaningful doctrine of the sacraments. Unlike most modern Baptists, and the majority of Presbyterians in our day, we understand that the sacraments are means of salvation (according to Calvin and the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 153-154, 161), and not merely outward visible signs which only speak to the senses and confirm our possession of things we already have without the sacraments. Though we affirm that justification is by faith alone, we can also affirm that God imparts his saving grace to the soul of the believer through the instrumentality of the word AND the sacraments. The saving grace of God is initially applied through the sacrament of baptism, working in conjunction with the preached word, and it is reapplied to the benefit of the soul through the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper.


i) Since the Nicene Creed does not enunciate baptismal regeneration or the real presence, then, by Dr. Owen’s own standard, these must not be “defining doctrines of the faith.”

ii) Also, is he excluding many Presbyterians as well as most Baptists from the collective mind of the church? What about liberal Lutherans and Anglicans?

iii) Why is he quoting the Westminster Standards on the sacraments, but not on predestination, providence, perseverance, sola fide, iconography, or the cult of the saints?


4. Here is where we get two very different answers. The Reformed Catholic (with Calvin and all the major Reformational voices) says that the Church has the authority to define and in a real sense determine what God has set forth in his word. The Anabaptist/Evangelical says that the Church does not possess such authority. According to (a popular abuse of) the analogy of faith, Scripture interprets Scripture itself, and so in essence, the only authority the Church really has is the authority to repeat what Scripture has said. The task of interpretation is now left to the individual. Armed with his Strong’s Concordance, his seminary level education, and an arsenal of woodenly applied Greek grammatical rules, the job of the preacher is just to “exegete” the text, without the constraints of the Fathers, tradition, creeds, and the judgments of church councils.


i) The church is a Biblical category. The nature of the church is defined by Scripture. Hence, the church is authorized by Scripture.

ii) The church is not inspired. The church is not a beneficiary of continuing revelation. Hence, the church has no oracular insight into the sense of Scripture.

iii) The church is not an institution over and above the men and women who compose it. So it still comes down to individual judgment. A church council is simply 51 individual votes. Church councils preselect for the delegates, and even then there’s a fair amount of horse-trading to arrive at a majority.

iv) Tradition is the voice of the past. It has no greater or lesser wisdom than the voice of the present or the future. What is more, tradition doesn’t speak with one voice, but many.

v) Dr. Owen is actually making the Reformed Baptist case for them. He wouldn’t be deriding sola Scriptura and the grammatico-historical method if he could exegete his “Reformed Catholicism” from the pages of Scripture.

He plays up human authority because he lacks divine authority for what he believes.


5. Usually this mindset goes hand in hand with a flawed ecclesiology, which declares the local church to be the only existent form of the church in the world today. Since there is no such thing as the universal body of Christ on earth (viewed as the visible church through the ages and throughout the world), there is no way for a church council to authoritatively define the doctrines of our faith in a manner which would be binding upon all local congregations. You might call it the “anarchy” model of church government. Once you move beyond either an Episcopal or Prebyterian form of church goverment, it becomes very difficult to maintain a Reformational view of the authority of Scripture, tied as it is to the recognition of earthly levels of ecclesial accountability and authority which extend beyond the local church.


i) Since the Nicene creed doesn’t enunciate a prelatial or Presbyterial polity, then by Dr. Owen’s own standard, this must not be a “defining doctrine of the faith.”

The very fact that he regards each of these models as live options goes to show, by his own lights, that there is no normative model of church government in Scripture.

So if God has not disclosed a normative polity, then this should be a point of liberty.

ii) Bishops and elders are sinners too. They can be corrupted. If their authority is binding, then their corruptions are binding.

iii) In a topdown polity, accountability is a one-way street.


We locate our spiritual pedigree in the historic Catholic church rather than a string of kooky sects whose confused trail can be dimly followed through the ages. We do not spend a lot of time urging people to flee from the deadly errors of Arminianism and Romanism. (And we are not afraid to admit that the rhetoric of Calvin and the Puritans, though understandable given the political climate of the time, sometimes went beyond the limits of Christian charity.)


So if “radical Baptists” break with Calvin over the sacraments, then they must belong to a kooky sect; but if the three mouseketeers break with Calvin or Dordt or the Westminster Divines over the regulative principle, predestination, providence, perseverance, sola fide, iconography, or the cult of the saints, then they must be then true heirs of the Reformation.

At the end of the day, Dr. Owen has neither tradition nor revelation on his side. He and his cobelligerents form a three-man cult.

Omnipotence & evil

Tony Campolo has weighed in on Katrina:


Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God’s great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see "all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28)


And why is Rom 8:28 a bad answer? It seems directly responsive to the question.

Whenever we talk about the will of God, we need to draw a distinction between the part in relation to the whole, and the means in relation to the end.

Does God will to kill people? Depends on what you mean.

He doesn’t will to kill them for the sake of killing them. But he does will to kill them for the furtherance of some higher end. And the reasons vary. He kills some people for the sake of justice (Gen 7; 19). He kills other people to spare them a greater injustice (Isa 57:1-2). He kills still others for the sake of the elect (Deut 7:1-8).


I don’t doubt that God can bring good out of tragedies, but the Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil! (James 1:15) Statements like that dishonor God, and are responsible for driving more people away from Christianity than all the arguments that atheistic philosophers could ever muster. When the floods swept into the Gulf Coast, God was the first one who wept.


I assume that this is a misquotation. He’s really thinking of Jas 1:13. It goes to show how sloppy he is that he doesn’t even get the verse right.

In any event, Jas 1:13 doesn’t say that God is not the author of evil. James does not employ that metaphor. As I’ve said elsewhere, that’s a highly ambiguous metaphor, with a lot of excess baggage behind it.

Campolo is importing a metaphor into the verse, then appealing to the verse to prove his point. This is fallacious.

Scripture doesn’t say that God weeps with us. Jesus weeps with us, for Jesus is God Incarnate, but weeping is a human attribute, not a divine attribute.

The notion of a weepy, chin-quivering deity has become popular in some Evangelical circles.

One of the popular charges leveled against Calvinism is that the God of Calvinism is not a God of love. He’s a God of power, but not a God of love.

That, however, is not where the distinction lies. Rather, what we have is a paradigm-shift from father-love to mother-love. This is nothing new. Roman Catholicism made that shift centuries ago when Mary became the center of gravity for popular Catholic piety.

In Bible times, the father was an authority-figure. A good father was a loving father, but he was no less a disciplinarian. An indulgent father was not a loving father. In that respect, Eli and David are cautionary role-models.

Mother-love is indispensable, but mother-love is not the standard paradigm of divine love in Scripture.

When I’m in pain I go to a doctor. I don’t need a doctor who can feel my pain. I don’t need a doctor who can break out the Kleenex and have a group cry-fest with me. What I need is a doctor who can administer a painkiller.

Surgeons do not perform operations on their own family members. They have too much of an emotional investment in the outcome. A surgeon needs a steady hand, not a bleeding heart.


There are still other religionists who take the opportunity to tell us that God is punishing America for its many sins… Furthermore, there are Christians who, in the weeks to come, can be counted on to thunder from their pulpits that Katrina is God’s wrath against the immorality of this nation, pointing out that New Orleans is the epitome of our national degradation and debauchery. To all of this I say, "Wrong."


There is nothing intrinsically wrong with relating some natural disasters to divine judgment. The flood, the plagues of Egypt the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as the destruction of Korah are cases in point.

What is wrong is the presumption that we can speak for God when God has not spoken.


The God revealed in Jesus did not come into the world "to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:17)


To cite Jn 3:17 and leave it at that is a half-truth, for the redeemer is also the judge (Jn 5:22; 9:39; cf. Mt 25:31ff.; Acts 17:31; 2 Thes 1:7-10; Rev 6:16).


Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible.


A Greek concept? Was Zeus omnipotent? No.

If Campolo is saying that God did not avert Katrina because he had not the power to do so, then this is an implicit denial of the many nature miracles in Scripture.

Indeed, a God who is unable to stop a hurricane is unable to make the world.


Personally, I contend that the best thing for us to do in the aftermath of Katrina is to remain silent, and not try to explain this tragedy.


Campolo would do well to heed his own advice. He is not remaining silent. He is attempting to explain the tragedy by a denial of divine omnipotence.

Campolo was right to say that there are a lot of bad answers to the problem of evil. And finite theism is one of the worst answers you can offer.


Instead of looking for God in the earthquake or the tsunami, in the roaring forest fires blazing in the western states, or in the mighty winds of Katrina, it would be best to seek out a quiet place and heed the promptings of God’s still small voice.


What would be best is to seek God’s voice in Scripture.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Big Easy

The Big Easy rocked, but didn't roll
By Mark Steyn
(Filed: 06/09/2005)

Readers may recall my words from a week ago on the approaching Katrina: "We relish the opportunity to rise to the occasion. And on the whole we do. Oh, to be sure, there are always folks who panic or loot. But most people don't, and many are capable of extraordinary acts of hastily improvised heroism."

What the hell was I thinking? I should be fired for that. Well, someone should be fired. I say that in the spirit of the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, the Anti-Giuliani, a Mayor Culpa who always knows where to point the finger.

For some reason, I failed to consider the possibility that the panickers would include Hizzoner the Mayor and the looters would include significant numbers of the police department, though in fairness I wasn't the only one. As General Blum said at Saturday's Defence Department briefing: "No one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans."

Indeed, they eroded faster than the levees. Several hundred cops are reported to have walked off the job. To give the city credit, it has a lovely "Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan" for hurricanes. The only flaw in the plan is that the person charged with putting it into effect is the mayor. And he didn't.

But I don't want to blame any single figure: the anti-Bush crowd have that act pretty much sewn up. I'd say New Orleans's political failure is symptomatic of a broader failure.

I got an e-mail over the weekend from a US Army surgeon just back in Afghanistan after his wedding. Changing planes in Kuwait for the final leg to Bagram and confronted by yet another charity box for Katrina relief, he decided that this time he'd pass. "I'd had it up to here," he wrote, "with the passivity, the whining, and the when-are-they-going-to-do-something blame game."

Let it be said that no one should die in a 100F windowless attic because he fled upstairs when the flood waters rose and now can't get out. But, in his general characterisation of "the Big Easy", my correspondent is not wrong. The point is, what are you like when it's not so easy?

Congressman Billy Tauzin once said of his state: "One half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment." Last week, four fifths of New Orleans was under water and the other four fifths should be under indictment - which is the kind of arithmetic the state's deeply entrenched kleptocrat political culture will have no trouble making add up.

Consider the signature image of the flood: an aerial shot of 255 school buses neatly parked at one city lot, their fuel tanks leaking gasoline into the urban lake. An enterprising blogger, Bryan Preston, worked out that each bus had 66 seats, which meant that the vehicles at just that one lot could have ferried out 16,830 people. Instead of entrusting its most vulnerable citizens to the gang-infested faecal hell of the Superdome, New Orleans had more than enough municipal transport on hand to have got almost everyone out in a couple of runs last Sunday.

Why didn't they? Well, the mayor didn't give the order. OK, but how about school board officials, or the fellows with the public schools transportation department, or the guy who runs that motor pool, or the individual bus drivers? If it ever occurred to any of them that these were potentially useful evacuation assets, they kept it to themselves.

So the first school bus to escape New Orleans and make it to safety in Texas was one that had been abandoned on a city street. A party of sodden citizens, ranging from the elderly to an eight-day-old baby, were desperate to get out, hopped aboard and got teenager Jabbor Gibson to drive them 13 hours non-stop to Houston. He'd never driven a bus before, and the authorities back in New Orleans may yet prosecute him. For rescuing people without a permit?

My mistake was to think that the citizenry of the Big Easy would rise to the great rallying cry of Todd Beamer: "Are you ready, guys? Let's roll!" Instead, the spirit of the week was summed up by a gentleman called Mike Franklin, taking time out of his hectic schedule of looting to speak to the Associated Press: "People who are oppressed all their lives, man, it's an opportunity to get back at society."

Unlike 9/11, when the cult of victimhood was temporarily suspended in honour of the many real, actual victims under the rubble, in New Orleans everyone claimed the mantle of victim, from the incompetent mayor to the "oppressed" guys wading through the water with new DVD players under each arm.

Welfare culture is bad not just because, as in Europe, it's bankrupting the state, but because it enfeebles the citizenry, it erodes self-reliance and resourcefulness.

New Orleans is a party town in the middle of a welfare swamp and, like many parties, it doesn't look so good when someone puts the lights up. I'll always be grateful to a burg that gave us Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima, and I'll always love Satch's great record of Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? But, after this last week, I'm not sure I would.

It's Party Time!

City to Offer Free Trips to Las Vegas for Officers

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 4 - A day after two police suicides and the abrupt resignations or desertions of up to 200 police officers, defiant city officials on Sunday began offering five-day vacations - and even trips to Las Vegas - to the police, firefighters and city emergency workers and their families.

The idea of paid vacations was raised by both Mayor C. Ray Nagin and senior police officials who said that their forces were exhausted and traumatized and that the arrival of the National Guard had made way for the officers to be relieved.

"I'm very concerned about individuals who have been here, particularly since the first few days, and have been through a lot of hardship," Mr. Nagin said in an interview.

He said most of the police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers "are starting to show signs of very, very serious stress, and this is a way to give them time to reunite with their families."

Mr. Nagin, who has been demanding more federal assistance for days as his city struggled with despair, death and flooding, said he had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for the trips but the agency said it could not. He said the city, therefore, would pay the costs.

He said he believed there were now enough National Guard members in the city to allow the police to take a break and still keep the city secure, and he brushed off questions about whether such a trip might look like a dereliction of duty.

"I'll take the heat on that," Mr. Nagin said. "We want to cater to them."

His words were seconded by the police superintendent, P. Edwin Compass III, in a separate interview. "When you go through something this devastating and traumatic," Mr. Compass said, "you've got to do something dramatic to jump-start the healing process."

The officials were planning to send 1,500 workers out in two shifts for five days each. They are sending them to Las Vegas because of the availability of hotel rooms and to Atlanta because many of them had relatives there.

They said that they were trying to get the first officers on their way on Monday and that the first stop would be Baton Rouge, about 75 miles from here.

There the officers will be given physical examinations and inoculations against possible infection from the polluted floodwaters, said Col. Terry Ebbert, the director of homeland security for the city, who has authority over the police and fire departments and other emergency services.

Then, Colonel Ebbert and other officials said, those who want to go to Las Vegas or Atlanta will be given air transportation and a hotel room. The city is reserving hotel rooms in Baton Rouge, they said, adding that the officers and firefighters may also be given the choice of flying to other cities.

Colonel Ebbert, the senior official running the recovery and rescue operation, and Mr. Compass both said that they planned to take a break as well, but probably for less than five days, and that they would continue to direct the recovery by telephone.

Officials said they expected the military, with much greater resources, to expand rescue work, begin cleaning up the city and take the first steps toward reconstruction.

W. J. Riley, the deputy superintendent of police, said that by late Sunday afternoon more than 2,900 National Guard members and law enforcement officers from around the country were operating in New Orleans. By early evening, Mr. Riley said, the advance units of a 2,200-person force from the 82nd Airborne Division had landed.

Several thousand more soldiers were expected, including members of the First Cavalry Division.

Reinforcements are also expected for the fire department. Senior firefighters, who have been forced to ignore some fires and to try merely to keep the worst blazes from spreading, said that several hundred firefighters with fire engines and radio equipment were heading for New Orleans from departments around the country.

New Orleans officials said they would remain in charge. Mr. Riley, who has been on the police force for 24 years, will oversee the police department in the superintendent's absence.

"We haven't turned over control of the city," Colonel Ebbert said.

Mr. Riley said that 40 percent of the city's force of about 1,200 officers would remain at their posts while the others were on leave. When the first group returns, Mr. Riley said, those who stayed behind will get a break.

Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Matthews, who is also the director of the city's Office of Emergency Preparedness, said officials viewed the time off for their security forces as essential. "We've been at this six days and we need to give our people a break," he said.

You're on your own!


This is from a story we just filed for tomorrow's Daily News.

"You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," local Red Cross executive director Kay Wilkins explained to the Times-Picayune just six weeks ago. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you. But we don't have the transportation.”

Ironically, the Red Cross has run a network of shelters in New Orleans in the event of hurricane warnings. But it decided several years ago not to open them for a Category 3 or stronger storm that it was more important to get people out of the below-sea-level area - despite the lack of any organized system for transporting them.

Indeed, as Katrina bore down on New Orleans last weekend, Mayor Ray Nagin marshalled a fleet of city buses - not to take the city’s poor out of town but to the large shelter at the Superdome, where civil order would fall apart as the week progressed.

“Keep in mind, a hurricane, a Cat 5, with high winds, is most likely will knock out all electricity in the city, and, therefore, the Superdome is not going to be a very comfortable place at some point in time,” Nagin warned on Sunday. “So we're encouraging everyone to leave.”

“It’s almost as if the planning stopped at the flooding,” said Craig E. Colton, a geography professor at Louisiana State University, wondering as many have at the lack of foresight.

By the way, here (from Nexis -- no link) is more of the Times-Picayune story from July 24 this year about the city's DVD warning. The story begins: "City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own."

It says lower down:

Their message will be distributed on hundreds of DVDs across the city. The DVDs' basic get-out-of-town message applies to all audiences, but the it is especially targeted to scores of churches and other groups heavily concentrated in Central City and other vulnerable, low-income neighborhoods, said the Rev. Marshall Truehill, head of Total Community Action.

"The primary message is that each person is primarily responsible for themselves, for their own family and friends," Truehill said.

In addition to the plea from Nagin, Thomas and Wilkins, video exhortations to make evacuation plans come from representatives of State Police and the National Weather Service, and from local officials such as Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, and State Rep. Arthur Morrell, D-New Orleans, said Allan Katz, whose advertising company is coordinating officials' scripts and doing the recording.

The speakers explain what to bring and what to leave behind. They advise viewers to bring personal medicines and critical legal documents, and tell them how to create a family communication plan. Even a representative of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals weighs in with a message on how to make the best arrangements for pets left behind.


Angry Left Alert

Have you ever noticed that liberals are always in a rage? They've been this way at least since the Zippergate.

Now they're all lathered up because Thomas Nelson is donating free Bibles to flood victims.

Just as a matter of electoral demographics, believers outnumber unbelievers by a fair margin, so the liberals continue to write their own political obituary:

Communio Cockalorum

Paul Owen levels yet another salvo at Baptist theology:

By way of comment:

i) For the most part, all that Dr. Owen has done here is to illustrate the tautology that Baptists aren’t Presbyterians.

This tautology could be extended to other comparisons as well. Baptists aren’t Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims or Mormons or Aztecs.

To merely set up a contrast between Group A and Group B does nothing whatsoever to establish which group is right, and which is wrong.

ii) Dr. Owen, intellectual slob that he is, fails to distinguish between Reformed Baptists and fundamentalists. This leads him to frequently say that, for Baptists, baptism is contingent on a “decision” for Christ.

It should be needless to point out that this is an inaccurate and frankly dishonest description of Reformed Baptist theology. A voluntarist definition of faith and conversion is typical of the fundamentalist wing of Baptist theology, popularized by Billy Graham and others.

iii) By making the assurance of salvation contingent on the sacraments, Dr. Owen merely shifts the source of doubt, for all the same uncertainties resurface over how we can be sure that we have satisfied the conditions of valid baptism and communion.

iv) As a matter of fact, the promises of the gospel are conditional. Grace is unconditional, but gospel promises are general and conditional. God did not make a personal promise to Judas Iscariot or Simon Magus.

They are contingent on faith, repentance, and perseverance. From a Reformed standpoint, these conditions are met by the grace of God in the lives of the elect.

An apostate was truly promised something—but the promises are conditional. The promises are for believers, not unbelievers. Even Dr. Owen has to admit that God’s promises are indexed to those who “profess the true religion.”

v) Assurance is, in the nature of the case, a state of mind. That makes it subjective. The grounds of assurance are objective, but the psychological state is necessarily subjective.

vi) Doubt takes different objects. Doubting God. Self-doubt.

vii) A Reformed Baptist doesn’t look to his own election. Rather, it’s a question of faith. Do I have faith in Christ? There’s no way around this.

Looking to one’s baptism for the assurance of salvation is a source of false assurance for the obvious reason that not every baptized church member is heaven-bound. Many are hell-bound.

viii) There is objective certainty and subjective certainty or uncertainty. God’s grace is objectively certain. Faith and hope are subjective. They may be certain or uncertain to varying degrees. It depends on the individual. We might like it to be otherwise, but that’s a fact of life.

Indeed, it’s a fact of Scripture. As you study the lives of various OT and NT saints, you can see the variations from one person to the next, or even the same person at different times and circumstances.

There is no magic formula which will eliminate the individual element. There is no magic formula which will eliminate the subjective element.

Keep in mind, though, that God is sovereign over our subjectivities no less our objectivities. God is the Lord of faith as well as grace.

ix) There is no promise to the “entire visible church.” Whole denominations apostatize and die over time.

Dr. Owen cites the Westminster Directory. Although he does so in connection with baptism, this raises an rather incriminating question. Does Dr. Owen also follow the Directory in matters of worship? Is he a strict Puritan in the public worship of God?

You know what I mean. No organs. No choirs. No hymnals. No crosses. No robes. No stained glass. No Christmas. No Easter.

If he is not, in fact, a faithful adherent of the Westminster Standards, which include the Westminster Directory, then he should drop the double-dealing pose of wrapping himself in the mantle of Presbyterian tradition and reading every Reformed Baptist out of the Calvinist camp when he exempts himself from his own confessional tradition.

x) As a reductio ad absurdum of his own position, he goes so far as to claim that a reprobate can enjoy the “infallible assurance of salvation.”

He then tries to make sense of nonsense by claiming that the preservation of assurance is contingent on faith and fidelity.

And that, of course, is true. But that happens to be the Reformed Baptist position. Dr. Owen tries ever so hard to camouflage the difference with circumlocutions, but when you read the fine print, assurance comes back to faith and perseverance.

He may say the promise is made to “the church,” but the promise is appropriated by personal faith. He may say that the promise is made to me in baptism, but I must “improve” on my baptism.

In the end, then, his position reduces to a tautology: God will save everyone in a state of grace, and every believer, whether nominal or genuine, enjoys a “present” assurance of salvation.

On the other, hand, an “infallible” assurance cannot be suspended on an unrealized condition.

xi) In what sense did God promise his grace to the baptismal candidate? The offer of the gospel is not a promise of the grace to believe and persevere, but a promise of gracious acquittal on condition of faith and perseverance.

The bottom-line is that when Dr. Owen is being consistent, he stakes out the very same terrain as a Reformed Baptist.

But he then muddies the water by indexing assurance to baptism or the church. And he extends “infallible” assurance to the hell-bound.

It’s always hard to tell from reading Paul Owen what he is: an addlebrained Catholic, addlebrained Lutheran, addlebrained Calvinist, addlebrained Presbyterian, addlebrained Baptist, or addlebrained Mormon? All of the above? Other?

Actually, I think I know the answer. Paul Owen is a member of Communio Sanctorum, a worldwide fellowship numbering upwards of three individuals.

Running a close second is Societas Christiana, with a combined membership of one.

Then there’s Coffee Conversations, whose membership rolls fluctuate wildly between one and zero, depending on whether or not Kevin Johnson is in a blue funk.

Just compare this solid front of Catholicity with a piddling little sect like the SBC.

With such a groundswell of popular support, it’s only a matter of time before their movement sweeps the globe and thereby dissolves all the schismatical divisions hitherto rending the Body of Christ.

Rebuilding New Orleans -- and America

From a conservative black economist:


Rebuilding New Orleans -- and America
Thomas Sowell

September 6, 2005

The physical devastation caused by hurricane Katrina has painfully revealed the moral devastation of our times that has led to mass looting in New Orleans, assaults on people in shelters, the raping of girls, and shots being fired at helicopters that are trying to rescue people.

Forty years ago, an electric grid failure plunged New York and other northeastern cities into a long blackout. But law and order prevailed. Ordinary citizens went to intersections to direct traffic. People helped each other. After the blackout was over, this experience left many people with an upbeat spirit about their fellow human beings.

Another blackout in New York, years later, was much uglier. And what has been happening now in New Orleans is uglier still. Is there a trend here?

Fear, grief, desperation or despair would be understandable in people whose lives have been devastated by events beyond their control. Regret might be understandable among those who were warned to evacuate before the hurricane hit but who chose to stay. Yet the word being heard from those on the scene is "angry."

That may be a clue, not only to the breakdown of decency in New Orleans, but to a wider degeneration in American society in recent decades.

Why are people angry? And at whom?

Apparently they are angry at government officials for not having rescued them sooner, or taken care of them better, or for letting law and order break down.

No doubt the inevitable post mortems on this tragic episode will turn up many cases where things could have been done better. But who can look back honestly at his own life without seeing many things that could have been done better?

Just thinking about all the mistakes you have made over a lifetime can be an experience that is humbling, if not humiliating.

When all is said and done, government is ultimately just human beings -- politicians, judges, bureaucrats. Maybe the reason we are so often disappointed with them is that they have over-promised and we have been gullible enough to believe them.

Government cannot solve all our problems, even in normal times, much less during a catastrophe of nature that reminds man how little he is, despite all his big talk.

The most basic function of government, maintaining law and order, breaks down when floods or blackouts paralyze the system.

During good times or bad, the police cannot police everybody. They can at best control a small segment of society. The vast majority of people have to control themselves.

That is where the great moral traditions of a society come in -- those moral traditions that it is so hip to sneer at, so cute to violate, and that our very schools undermine among the young, telling them that they have to evolve their own standards, rather than following what old fuddy duddies like their parents tell them.

Now we see what those do-it-yourself standards amount to in the ugliness and anarchy of New Orleans.

In a world where people flaunt their "independence," their "right" to disregard moral authority, and sometimes legal authority as well, the tragedy of New Orleans reminds us how utterly dependent each one of us is for our very lives on millions of other people we don't even see.

Thousands of people in New Orleans will be saved because millions of other people they don't even know are moved by moral obligations to come to their rescue from all corners of this country. The things our clever sophisticates sneer at are ultimately all that stand between any of us and utter devastation.

Any of us could have been in New Orleans. And what could we have depended on to save us? Situational ethics? Postmodern philosophy? The media? The lawyers? The rhetoric of the intelligentsia?

No, what we would have to depend on are the very things that are going to save the survivors of hurricane Katrina, the very things that clever people are undermining.

New Orleans can be rebuilt and the levees around it shored up. But can the moral levees be shored up, not only in New Orleans but across America?


The dating game

The PP has asked me to plug a new positing of his.

I do so, but with a reader's advisory:

1. Those who have already been emotionally scarred and traumatized for life by Phil Johnson's positively "shocking" and "grief"-inducing mock-magazine cover may have to pop a few Prozac to get through the "horrific" ordeal of yet another satire.

2. According to Kevin Johnson, a satire is redolent with moral complicity, whereby the satirist is guilty of tacit approval of the object he satirizes.

Pastor's Library Fund for Hurricane Victims

From Tom Ascol of Grace Baptist Church, FL and Director of Founders Ministries ( ) :

A specific relief project that we are working on is putting together packages of books for pastors who lost their libraries in the storm. If you know of publishers who would be willing to contribute selected titles to this effort, or if you would like to contribute directly to help with the expense of this effort, use the above address and mark your check--"pastors' library fund." (Gene's edit: This address is below).

Our church had the privilege of sending several such literature packages to pastors who lost their books to Hurricane Andrew years ago. Some of the men who received those selected books were very appreciative.

As more information becomes available regarding needs and opportunities, I will do my best to let you know.

You may contact:

Founders Ministries
PO Box 150931
Cape Coral, Florida
ATTN: Hurricane Relief

You can reach Tom directly here:

or here:

Grace Baptist Church
204 SW 11th Place
Cape Coral, FL 33991
Tom Ascol


Hat-tip to Gene Bridges for passing this info along.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Straight talk on Katrina

For some more no-nonsense info on Katrina, check this out:

Shocking beyond words

Kevin Johnson has emerged from self-imposed retirement to comment on a truly “shocking,” “disgusting,” “grief”-inducing and “horror”-provoking spectacle.

Now, you ask yourself, what could trigger such a reaction? Was it the looting and shooting in New Orleans? Was it a California court awarding child custody to lesbians? Was it a Pope’s seek diplomatic immunity in the sex scandal? Was it the acquittal of Michael Jackson? Was it the Bill Frist reversal on stem cell research? Was it the London bombings? Was it a US senator who compared our troops to the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, and the Stalinist gulags?

No. Nada. None of the above.

Rather, it was a satirical magazine cover.

Yep, that’s right. Phil Johnson doctored an old magazine cover to produce a spoof. And that, my friends, was the tipping-point. Like Marshall Kane, that is what forced Kevin Johnson out of early retirement to confront this moral outrage.

Honestly now, does anyone suppose for a moment that Kevin Johnson is really grief-stricken over this? I mean, where did he grow up—in a broom closet?

This is simply his way of trying to get even while retaining the moral high ground. He saw an opening, and he went for it.

If he’s so worried about what a poor witness it makes, why is he drawing attention to it? Why is he publicizing the “scandal” for more eyes to see?

The liberal establishment has made a cottage industry of taking offense. The offense-mongers have cultivated the fine art of taking offense to the highest pitch of overbreeding. They are constantly on the lookout for something to be offended by. It isn’t enough to wait and see if something offensive just happens to catch their eye. No, they send out their squad cars to police the neighborhood and ferret out anything that anyone, anywhere, at anytime, might possibly construe as offensive and hurtful and constitutive of a “hostile” work and play environment—especially Christmas trees, yes, those hateful Christmas trees.

Not only do they take personal offense, but they take offense for the benefit of others, on behalf of others, in the place of others. They take offense for the sake of the offended party even when the offended party isn’t offended. They take offense for the sake of blacks and Latinos and American Indians and women and poor folk and jihadis and cross-dressers and chickens—yes, especially all those helpless, harmless chickens who end up in a bucket of KFC.

These are the professional offense-mongers. They have advanced degrees in offense-taking from all the Ivy League universities.

Phil Johnson’s problem is that he’s an unreconstructed male. An evolutionary throwback to the stone age of early manhood. It’s hard to think that far back in time, I know, but according to Richard Dawkins it dates to the Eisenhower era, when men and dinosaurs still roamed the globe. This was before the Pepperland meteor struck the earth and extinguished the caveman once and for all.

Well, almost. There are still stragglers and survivors in fundamentalist pockets around the world. And they’re breeding, you know. That’s the very worst part of it. They’re churning out their Neanderthal spawn in the gross, old-fashioned way, and not according to the antiseptic methods of artificial insemination.

And if that’s not bad enough, they look just like you and me. But if you listen closely, the troglodyte will betray his true ancestry.

For example, if you want proof positive of what a sexist male chauvinist pig Phil Johnson truly is, he actually thinks that women are capable of speaking for themselves. That women don’t need an air-brushed, PC-sensitized male—if “male” is the operative word here—to rush in with the smelling salts in case some fainting violet were to swoon at the sight of an old comic book cover.

You see, Bro. Phil is of the patriarchal view that women are just as capable as men of reading Jonathan Swift and understanding the satirical genre all by themselves. He doesn’t feel the need to trivialize their intelligence by talking down to them like five-year-olds.

I daresay he even imagines that some women are actually brave enough to see a John Wayne movie—you know, the kind in which men are abusing other men—without holding their hand the whole way through.

According to unconfirmed reports, there are even a few especially sturdy members of the opposite sex who can read a Bible containing the generic male pronoun without bursting into tears and seeking psychiatric help.

I realize that this may be a real eye-opener for the clientele of Coffee Stains, or whatever it’s called, and I assure you that the combined forces of government, the media, and the education establishment are taking coercive measures to weed these Troglodytes out of the general population. But they keep popping up between the cracks like so many dandelions.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Turf war

Why haven't the feds done more for New Orleans?


Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.

A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.

Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."

Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.


WORTH READING [Jonah Goldberg]

Interesting email, from my new Tank-truck guy:
Mr. Goldberg: I'm sick and tired of the media's treatment of the Katrina relief efforts. I run a trade association of tank truck carriers trying to assist in the relief efforts by transporting food and potable water. I'm in regular contact with many of the companies, and here are some "on the ground" facts:

1) Large trucks (80,000 lbs. gross weight) almost always have to use the Interstates. For trucks attempting to come in from outside the area, most of those roads (approaching the disaster area) are either closed or have bridges out. The so-called secondary roads may be somewhat passable, but their bridges (over rivers and streams) are not built to sustain such loads. Simply stated, you can't get there from here.

2) Trucks domicled in those areas (because that's where the companies traditionally serve customers) are still underwater, thus the equipment is not accessible;

3) Nobody in their right mind is going to take loads of gasoline and fuel oil into a city controlled by unfriendly folks carrying automatic weapons. A tank truck loaded with 8,000 gallons of gasoline can produce a very impressive fire;

4) Those local trucking companies can't contact their drivers. There's no power, thus (even) cellular is unavailable, and many of the drivers homes (in places like Kenner, Slidel, Metarie, etc) have been destroyed and families dispersed. I have one member with about 120 drivers and mechanics in that immediate area. To date, management has been able to contact 12. Those in the National Guard have been mobilized and are not available to drive.

5) Pumps -- needed to load the vehicles -- don't work because there's no power;

Finally, it's very interesting to see the media not-so-subtly inferred racism. NO's neighboring communities, noted above, and others are mostly composed of middle-class white neighborhoods. They too were flooded with the same level of devastation and face the same food/water shortages. So far, they've been "off camera". I'm genuinely puzzled by this.

If only George Bush could join the Governor in a photo-op "cry-a-thon" all of these problems would go away.


Extra ecclesiam illfay inway ethay ankblay

Back in May I posted a review of an essay by Shawn McElhinney (hereafter SH). He replied in June, but with the rider that he might want to revise it at a future date. He reposted his reply towards the end of July. In the meantime I’ve been preoccupied with a book review as well as extended debates over scripturalism, civic duty, and the grammatico-historical method.

Now that I’ve had a chance to come up for air, however briefly, I’ll polish off some unfinished business. To avoid overtaxing the patience of the reader, I’ll only quote and comment on what I think is especially germane.


Notice the fallacy involved in this kind of argumentation my friends: it is the assumption that any text can be properly understood apart from its sitz im leben.


I have an even better example: notice the of a fallacy involved in merely using a catch-phrase like “sitz-im-leben” over and over again as a substitute for actually reconstructing the sitz-im-leben.


The reason there are references in these situations to someone below the magisterium is because the magisterium operates under certain presuppositions and those who are so quick to assert that there are "errors" are uniformly unfamiliar with them.


Notice the fallacy of using a buzzword like “presupposition” over and over again as a substitute for actually documenting the presence of a certain presupposition in the document at hand.


No, my intention was to point out that a truth can be stated using language that is not necessarily the best way to assert it. Times and circumstances often dictate the approach taken in explaining something and the reunion of the Churches at Florence involved some pretty strong and (what would appear to be) uncompromising language. For those who do not read what was written with an understanding of the times, circumstances, and assumptions of the time period, there is bound to be misunderstandings of the inner dynamics involved -particularly when one fails to understand general norms of theological interpretation as this person cannot help but do.


In other words, the Florentine Fathers didn’t say what they mean or mean what they said. They didn’t choose the best words to express their intentions.

They use uncompromising language, but don’t be so silly as to take them at their word. “Uncompromising” is actually synonymous with “compromising.” Didn’t you know that?

This is how a Catholic epologist like SM harmonizes Catholic teaching. Relativize away the offending expressions.

If, by SM’s own admission, the Florentine Fathers use strong, uncompromising language—remember, this is his characterization, not mine--then, at the very least, that creates a prima facie presumption that the Florentine Fathers were using strong, uncompromising language because they wanted to stake out a strong, uncompromising position. So the onus is on SM, and not on me, to overcome that presumption.


What is infallible is the definition itself, not necessarily the exposition involved to arrive at the definition. It is solemn dogma that outside the church there is no salvation.


But compare this with what he says further down the line:


There is also the fact that after years of study, I am very near concluding with certainty that the magisterium cannot even err in an ordinary capacity -to say nothing of an extraordinary one.


So what becomes of his disjunction between infallible definitions and fallible expositions?


The problem is, when one does not understand the context in which that expression was understood from time immemorial, they are not understanding the dogma properly. The expression was always understood in a Christocentric sense not an Ecclesiocentric one. Those who do not take this into account are inexorably going to have serious misunderstandings on the issue as a result.


Not according to Paul Knitter. Knitter has documented a zigzag oscillation between inclusivism and exclusivism, along with a shift, over time, from exclusive ecclesiocentrism to inclusive ecclesiocentrism to Christocentrism to theocentrism in Catholic historical theology. I’ve already posted some of his material:

Does Knitter, who’s a theology prof. at Xavier U, having received a Licentiate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, simply not know the history of the expression? To the contrary, he’s made this an area of specialization.


Furthermore, there is the entire subject of infallibility which is frankly too advanced for those who do not understand more basic principles of ecclesiology. Infallibility is not the criterion for the truth or irreformability of a given teaching. It is more an exercise for theologians since infallibility is more broadly based than most people would casually presume.


So the identification of an infallible utterance is the provenance of fallible theologians. Remember that the next time a Catholic apologist brags about his rule of faith.


Again, this is an exercise for theologians primarily. There are certain principles of interpretation which are followed but to discuss that kind of "theological calculus" with those who do not know basic "theological algebra" will not get us anywhere.


In other words, what counts is not what the magisterium says theology, but what the theologian says about the magisterium, for the theologians is the gatekeeper of the magisterium. He tells you what it all really means.

So, for SM, it is not the magisterium, but its submagisterial handlers and spin-doctors who have the final say. You can’t directly appeal to the wording of a magisterial text. No, you must go through the commentators. If so, then it does come down to a Rahner or Knitter or Grillmeier.

That’s how SM does apologetics, Catholic-style. But other papal polemicists do just the opposite. They tell me that what a mere theologian says can be discounted: he’s only voicing his private opinion; all that really matters is the magisterium.


For those who accept the authority of the Church's magisterium, you find [the mind of the church] there.


But this only pushes the question back a step. Where do you find the magisterium? SM has just barricaded the entrance and posted a theologian at the check-point. So which theologian speaks for the magisterium?


We can see shades of a kind of sola scriptura principle being misapplied here in the idea that Florence must be interpreted solely by what they say and nothing if words themselves can be understood in a vacuum apart from (i) the particular circumstances that occasioned their drafting, (ii) the presuppositions that were behind said words, (iii) the time which they were written with, and (iv) the accompanying conventions of the age. Failing to take these matters into account is to engage in the logical fallacy of anachronism.


i) This merely betrays his ignorance of sola Scriptura. Both in principle and practice, sola Scriptura does not mean that you interpret Scripture in a vacuum. Evidently, SM has never read any of the standard Protestant commentaries on various books of the Bible.

By “presupposition,” I assume he’s alluding to the escape clause of invincible ignorance. But as we’ve seen, Knitter, for one, denies that presupposition. And Knitter is better credential than SM to speak to this issue.

ii) Again, the life-setting is, indeed, germane, but as I’ve said before, MS commits the sense/reference fallacy.

The problem with SM is that he’s wrong on text and context alike. He disregards the actual wording of the text, and he misinterprets the text in light of semantic fallacies and specious presuppositions.


---Is there any reasonable premise from which we can assume that every ecumenical council says everything perfectly or in language that always retains the exact same meaning in every time and place when many aspects that impact said words undergo changes (sometimes rapidly so) over time???

Ecumenical councils are believed to be protected from error by the Holy Spirit but that does not mean that their pronouncements are always said in the best possible way.


Now his harmonistic device is to impute deficiencies to the original wording. Remember that the next time a Catholic apologist brags about his rule of faith.


Once again, the person I am interacting with ignores a key presupposition that informs Catholic thinking on these matters: the principle of formal and material error. As the Catholic tradition has always distinguished between formal and material error, the reader then needs to ask if in the context of this pronouncement (i.e the reunion of an individual Church with the Roman Church) the circumstances point to a condemnation of those materially in error or formally so. But to do this is to turn over another presuppositional stone which the person I am interacting with does not acknowledge: the subject of freewill.


A complete non-sequitur. The question at issue is not whether magisterial teaching is consistent with my theological presuppositions, but whether it is self-consistent with its own presuppositions.


The interpretation that this person offers can only be arrived at by (i) not interpreting Florence in the context of the entirety of Catholic tradition -including certain key presuppositions that are imperative for right understanding and (ii) imposing without warrant one's own interpretation onto the words or concepts in question rather than seeking to find out what the magisterium -in light of the entirety of the Catholic tradition- means by such expressions.


Observe how he’s abandoned the sitz-im-leben. Recall that he was very insistent on that point. But it should be needless to say that the sitz-im-leben of a document does not include the entirety of a theological tradition—both before and after the document. He is stretching this out of all recognizable proportion.


Simple, the exposition was directed at a particular church and not the universal church. The core doctrine of the pronouncement ("no salvation outside the church") was already defined so reiteration of it in this decree would also be infallible in its essential import. But that does not necessarily mean that any additional expository statements on the matter in said decree would be infallible -the inability of many people to properly understand them notwithstanding of course. Infallibility applies to the universal church not necessarily to particular churches. And because this decree was to a particular church, its injunctions apply to that particular church and not to all churches indiscriminately.


i) Except that we’ve seen him play both sides of the fence. Sometimes he distinguishes between the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium, but elsewhere denies that this is even relevant.

ii) Although he’s inconsistent, there’s a reason for his inconsistency. He’s following a two-pronged stratagem:

a) The first prong is to deny that Florence means what it says and says what it means. He tries to blunt the force of Florence by appeal to hidden presuppositions and the life-setting.

b) But, failing that, he has a fallback position: it doesn’t matter, for even if Florence did mean what it said and said what it meant, its wording may be defective.

So you see that his appeal to (a) is duplicitous since, when push comes to shove, he can always jettison (a) for (b).

iii) Yet again, he’s committing the sense/reference fallacy. Take the book of Romans. Romans was addressed to a particular church.

But the theology of Romans is hardly limited to the house-churches of 1C Rome. Romans is about much more than its immediate audience.

Even though Romans was addressed to a local church at a particular time and place, Romans is normative for the universal church.


Now we get more questions. Hopefully the reader can see why it is always easier to ask questions than to answer them. And by asking for "the criteria" when this person has evinced no familiarity with what we have covered so far, hopefully the reader will excuse me for not spilling more type on this subject.


Is MS really that simple-minded? There is more than one possible reason to pose a question. One purpose is to find out how your opponent comprehends his own belief-system.


It settles the issue for those who understand the passages correctly. This person seems to forget that ecumenical councils always involve Council Fathers and also theologians (sometimes they are one and the same) and that these people utilize general principles in formulating the statements made and do so in line with the realities of the time. But even in doing this, there are a lot of presuppositions within the broader tradition that are assumed a priori by said theologians and Council Fathers which inform the manifested intention of a given statement viz. how it is properly understood.


Yes, and how do you identify these presuppositions?


Again, they do not understand the sitz im leben. The Copts were living in an area which was dominated by Muslims and which had a very large (and influential) Jewish population. The Muslims were capable to influencing them militarily to apostasize and the Alexandrian Jews were capable of influencing them to apostasize through their high degree of intelligence and erudition. The Fathers still present at Florence{7} wanted to place the strongest possible stamp on the reunion decree by reminding them that those who apostasized into either Islam or Judaism could not be saved nor could schismatics. (In doing this, the council placed very stringent disciplines on the Coptic and Armenian churches.) With regards to the subject of schismatics, it helps to remember that the Copts were recognized as formal schismatics prior to the attempted reunion.

The long and short of it is that none of those statements were intended to apply to every Muslim, every Jew, or every schismatic irrespective of particular circumstances.{8} Notice again what happens when the person in question focuses only on the words themselves and not on the various other factors which set the proper presuppositional base in place to properly interpret the words. This is another functional application of the person's overriding sola scriptura approach to the Catholic magisterium's statements.


This is one of the very few times that MS descends from the safety of his empty abstractions to actually reconstruct a bit of the sitz-im-leben.

Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t square with the actual wording of the text: “It [Florence] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life.”

i) The statement has several categories, but no category for apostates—except for heretics and schismatics in contradiction to pagans and Muslims and Jews. So MS is trying to interpose a distinction that is simply not in the text and, what is more, for which there is no conceptual space in the text.

ii) His gloss might make some sense on its own terms, even if not in terms of the text, if this were a group contemplating a break with Rome in order to make peace with Islam or Judaism. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” But that’s precisely the opposite of the sitz-im-leben.

These are groups which are already in a state of schism; are already hell-bound if left to their own devices—but making overtures to Rome rather than to the Jews or the Muslims.

If schismatics are already hell-bound, they have nothing to lose by committing apostasy.

And, in any event, they are not contemplating apostasy, but reunion with Rome. That’s the sitz-im-leben.

Finally, SM chooses, once more, to ignore the syntax. The logic of appealing to aggravating or extenuating circumstances would that that those who know the most are most culpable while those who know the least are least culpable.

Yet the phrasing is just the opposite: it is taken for granted that those who know the least—the pagans are lost. Jews know more than pagans, but they are also lost. Heretics and schismatics know more than Jews, but they are also lost. Not only those who know the least, but those who know the most, cannot be saved outside the church.

So both in terms of text and context, his reinterpretation falls to the ground.


This is speculation. The text according to the KJV tells us that [t]here was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian [band], [A] devout [man], and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. [Acts x,1-2]

Who is really placing an interpretation onto the Cornelius situation to attempt to "salvage their [theology]" I wonder??? ;-) One could fear God adequately without being one of the Gentile God-fearers this person refers to. Peter certainly had a broader view on this than they do:

The principle behind the Church's understanding of such things as "invincible ignorance" is what St. Paul notes in Romans ii about those who though they have not the law being justified if they do what the law prescribed.

That is the essence of Catholic teaching on no salvation outside the church in a nutshell...and Florence must be interpreted in that sense to be properly understood.{10}

Again, with those involved in a reunion synod who know what is expected of them there is no excuse. The same is not the case with those who do not have this understanding. It is not an issue of them being excused for [not] know[ing] better" but instead it is properly understood in light of what St. Paul noted in Romans ii.


This is a common problem when dealing with Roman Catholics. Catholicism favors historical theology over exegetical theology. As a result, many Catholics like SM simply don’t’ know their way around the Bible. They don’t even read Catholic commentators. An Evangelical like me is more likely to read a Catholic commentator than a Catholic like SM.

In Biblical usage, “God-fearer” doesn’t mean “one who fears God” in some generic sense. Rather, it’s a specialized term. Here’s what Fitzmyer has to say, who has penned the standard Catholic commentary on Acts:


As semi-technical phrases, both seem to have been employed to denote “Godfearers,” non-Jews sympathetic to Judaism, those who did not submit to circumcision or observe the Torah in its entirety, but who did agree with the ethical monotheism of the Jews and attended their synagogue services (449-50).


As to Romans, on which Fitzmyer has, again, penned the standard Catholic commentary, You can read what he has to say regarding “Paul’s argument about the inexcusable situation of pagan humanity” (272); how “those who sin apart from the Mosaic law will also perish apart from the Mosaic law” (308); the way in which “Paul seeks to explain how it will be that Gentiles who do not have the Mosaic law will yet be judged as if they had some sort of law” (312); as well as how those Gentiles who keep the law (=conscience) will simply be judged, not saved, on the same basis as the Jews (320).

Catholic dogma on invincible ignorance may well derive from a traditional reading of Rom 2, but the traditional reading is exegetically unsustainable.


The Second Vatican Council explained it in the following words.


Vatican II does not supply the sitz-im-leben for Florence. The 15C is not the 20C. SM’s calendar is seriously out of date.


The Catholic Church does not give any definites in this area. Instead, she recognizes that grace is not confined to the visible church only. As a Reformed Protestant, this person should be pleased with such an admission. But they seem to want it both ways: to have the Catholic Church declare that non-Catholic Christians without a corporate connection to the visible church can benefit from God's grace but non-Christians without a corporate connection to the visible church cannot.


Do we want to have it both ways? I don’t know of anyone in the Reformed blogosphere to whom this applies.

The Protestants who care about this sort of thing are the liberal weenies who burst into tears whenever they hear the Tridentine anathemas read aloud and cry themselves to sleep unless and until Mother Church comes upstairs to tuck them into bed and give them a good night kiss.


And as Catholics believe that the ministerial priesthood{13} is essential for the application of the fruits of the Passion and death of Christ to all people, it is not possible for the ministerial priesthood to become superfluous on this side of the eschaton.


If it is possible to be saved apart from the valid administration of the sacraments, then the priesthood is, indeed, superfluous.


My point in the above statements is that there has been development on these matters since the time of Florence. That is to be expected. Likewise, these matters were better understood at the time of Florence than they were in the late first millennium. St. Augustine understood them better than St. Cyprian did. And so on and so forth.

This is spoken by someone who (quite evidently) does not understand the principle of doctrinal development. This is hardly surprising because it is another subject which requires a bit of study to grasp the principles involved. In order to understand why what appears to be contradictory between Florence and Vatican II is actually not contradictory at all requires that not only the period prior to Florence be looked at but also the period between Florence and Vatican II. And contingent upon this approach is also the recognition that things understood or expressed in a partial or more nebulous fashion in earlier times can later on be understood or expressed in a fuller and more precise fashion.


What I understand is that I have a logical mind, while SM does not. Sure, you can have you principle of development. Or you can have your sitz-im-leben. What you cannot have is both—unless, that is, you choose to be self-contradictory.

And if a Catholic chooses to be self-contradictory, that’s fine with me since it spares me the effort of his disproving his belief-system--for he has beaten me to the punch.


I remind the readers that people do the exact same thing with Bible texts: assert that there are "errors and contradictions" in the text. Again, talk is cheap and anyone can do it. This person would probably not be so critical of those who sought to demonstrate that there were not contradictions and errors in the biblical text.


A flawed comparison on two grounds:

i) If I had the same reasons for believing in the magisterium as I do the Bible, then I’d extend it the same line of credit. But I don’t.

ii) Evangelicals field objections to the inerrancy of Scripture, not by concocting a makeshift theory of development, but by sticking to the sitz-im-leben and interpreting the text consistent with the narrative viewpoint.