Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ecclesiastical elitism

How did the Anglican Communion get to be in such a mess, anyway? This is, after, a denomination which, on paper, at least, has an evangelical creed. Indeed, it’s technically a Reformed denomination.

It if were to actually adhere to the 39 Articles it would be in pretty good shape. So what went wrong?

Ironically, the thing that attracts Paul Owen to the Anglican tradition is one if the main things that has taken it over the cliff.

Dr. Owen things that individualism is the ruination of the church. He wants something more conciliar, more Catholic, more authoritarian.

There’s a word for that: elitism. Now there are two related ways in which ecclesiastic elitism will kill a church over time.

1.To begin with, elites tend to be more liberal than the rank-and-file. They get swept up in the latest academic fad. They are prey to intellectual pride and the academic shame-culture. They take their cue for the secular opinion-makers. They lead lives more sheltered from the dire consequences of liberal social policies.

The whole dynamic is self-reinforcing. They live and move within their own elite subculture of life-minded elites who read the same writers and share the same lifestyle.

By contrast, church polities in which the clergy sit closer to the ground are more resistant to cultural alienation between the clerical class and the laity. They stay in touch with the rank-and-file because they are literally in constant contact with their flock, enjoy the same lifestyle, and so on.

2.In addition, a top-down polity is irreformable. Once the hierarchy is corrupted or secularized, there is no higher court of appeal. They are answerable to no one below them. And this lack of accountability is another self-reinforcing factor.

The Anglican tradition will survive this current crisis, and be better for it. This is a refining process. Realignment is under way.

But it will only survive in spite of its polity and ecclesiology. It will survive by casting off the shackles of apostolic succession. It will survive by holding fast to sola Scriptura. It will survive by embracing a nomadic ecclesiology (Heb 11), by living in a portable tent rather than a monolithic Temple (Acts 7). It will survive by being more Protestant and less Catholic. It will survive by following the example set by the Lutherans and Presbyterians and, yes, by the Baptists as well.

Bottleneck theology

It’s very striking to juxtapose these two statements:

“After all, in their system, this same God is the one who, despite telling everyone through His Son that He loves the whole world and that the atoning sacrifice of His Son was for the sins of the whole world, turns right around and decides to create some people just so He can send them off to roast in Hell, while others, He determines to be in Heaven.”

“This blog discussion and debate over images and commandments has really helped me realize what a stark contrast there is between Biblical Christianity, and Calvinism and all derivations, or reactions, to it. To whatever extent Calvinism does teach and cling to the revealed Gospel in Sacred Scripture, I thank God, but to the extent that it does not, I, with Luther must say, ’They have a different spirit. They can expect no fellowship from me.’ Amen and Amen.”

On paper, McCain denies election and reprobation. Indeed, he reviles them as contrary to the universal love of God.

But, in practice, McCain has a functional version of election and reprobation. God loves everyone, but McCain only loves Lutherans. His creed consists in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Lutherans. Christ dies for everyone, but McCain will only fellowship with his own kind.

This is both broader and narrower than Calvinism. Unlimited atonement grafted onto a painfully provincial ecclesiology—a one-family church.

Apostolic schismatic succession


Comments: lack of criticism from this blog.

But, your claim is inaccurate. Paul joined the Anglican Province of America which is not the same as ECUSA to which Spong, Robinson, and whoever else you mentioned. I would ask you to correct your statements to accurately reflect the truth.

The Anglican Province of America ( enjoys communion with the Nigerian Church as well as the Reformed Episcopal Church.

I'm personally happy for Dr. Owen and glad he's found a home in that particular communion of the Church of Christ...and as long as he's a member of a Christian church, what really is the problem here?

# posted by Kevin D. Johnson : 12/03/2005 11:10 AM

Surely it should be 'bottom of the see'? Indeed, Mr. Johnson is correct, the APA is not the ECUSA, and is a more conservative (though pretty high church, at least according to their website) episcopalian denomination. I can think of no-where where Dr. Owen would feel more at home (note banner on APA homepage: 'Traditional episcopal, evangelical and catholic'. The confusion of APA with ECUSA is even worse than confusing the Free Church of Scotland (don't ordain women) with the United Free Church of Scotland (do ordain women).
The fact that 'convinced presbyterian' Dr. Owen is now an episcopalian still stands, however. Apparently he wasn't so convinced after all.

# posted by Highland Host : 12/03/2005 11:53 AM

Ummm...okay..."Highland Host".

I guess you and Mr. NiceTry need to tell us how moving from one denomination to another within orthodox Christianity is a "defection" and/or something that is inappropriate or bad.

Secondly, what is the problem with changing your opinion on certain theological matters as a matter of growth in one's life--especially when these changes do not reflect any sort of abandonment of what it means to be an orthodox, creedal Christian? Are we not free as Christians to think and believe differently than one another? Why the need to ridicule others who understand what are certainly secondary doctrines (such as elder rule and the use of images in church)?

I mean, it would be one thing if Dr. Owen was denying the resurrection and joining hands in a prayer circle with Bishop Spong, but as it is he's a part of a very conservative Anglican church that would do no such thing.

I guess maybe you folks can point us to the actual problem here in switching denominations (as if none of you ever went from say, Southern Baptist to Reformed Baptist or Presbyterian!).

# posted by Kevin D. Johnson : 12/03/2005 12:12 PM

PS. Having read all the 'Parish information' on the APA website, and being a former Anglican myself, I can uncategorically affirm that the APA is, at least in the main, 'Anglo-Catholic'. The use of the 1928 Prayer Book, and the pushing of 'altars' (a term not found in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662) against the wall is a dead giveaway to those of us in the know about Anglicanism.

Welcome home, Dr. Paul Owen. You are at last where you belong.

# posted by Highland Host : 12/03/2005 12:12 PM

PPS. Otherwise the APA looks pretty traditional. They're laughing with glee at Robinson's antics, and looking forward to an influx of Anglo-catholics from the ECUSA. While no doubt the Reformed Episcopal Church are looking forward to the non-Anglo-catholics flocking into their communion.
Between them, they are hoping to get ALL the non-liberal Anglicans in the US. Here's to hoping!
Oh, and to hoping that the rest of the 'Reformed Catholics' pile off and become Anglicans as well.

# posted by Highland Host : 12/03/2005 12:16 PM

This second statement about the Anglo-Catholic nature of the APA is just ridiculous. For crying out loud, they are in communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church, a body which can hardly be called Anglican Catholic. Not only that but this sort of statement ignores the width and the breadth of freedom within the Anglican communions on these issues and as a former Anglican you ought to know better than to say "welcome home" as if Dr. Owen has stopped one step short of Roman Catholicism.

# posted by Kevin D. Johnson : 12/03/2005 12:17 PM

According to the post, he has joined the "Anglican church." The ECUSA has some sort of ties to that body.

# posted by Steve Jackson : 12/03/2005 12:55 PM

Ummm...okay...I suppose truth is only important when its convenient for your cause.

# posted by Kevin D. Johnson : 12/03/2005 12:58 PM


Wow, I sure hit a sore nerve!

1.To begin with, I never said that Owen joined the ECUSA. There is still such a thing as the Anglican Communion. The ECUSA has not been excommunicated from the Anglican Communion.

The stopgap measure of “flying bishops,” whereby a group of disgruntled American Anglicans can unilaterally delink from their local Diocesan bishop as well as the presiding bishop of the ECUSA and then link up with a bishop or primate from another country half way around the world raises some very sticky questions of episcopal jurisdiction in Anglican canon law, does it not?

As long as the ECUSA is still in communion with Canterbury, and the APA is still in communion with Canterbury, via the province of Nigeria (which is in communion with Canterbury), then it’s all one church, right?

Otherwise, the APA is a schismatic splitter-group, which is the antithesis of catholicity and apostolic succession. And in that event, Owen’s ecclesiology is no more high church than the Baptist policy he regularly reviles. To bring in the REP only serves to further muddy the waters.

2.This is not a general question of whether it’s ever okay to switch from one denomination to another.

Rather, this is a specific question of whether Dr. Owen has been talking out of both sides of his mouth at the very same time—indeed, is still doing so.

Voyage to the bottom of the sea

For a long time, critics of “Reformed Catholicism said this was an unstable compromise, transitional to something else. Paul Owen has now made it official.

Having originally styled himself a “convinced Presbyterian,” from which position he first lambasted Reformed Baptists, and then lambasted his fellow Presbyterians, Dr. Owen has now become a member of the noble church of John Spong, Joseph Fletcher, and Vicki Gene Robinson.

Dr. Owen has a great sense of timing, does he not? Nothing like coming aboard a burning and sinking ship at the same time the rats are jumping ship.

Three cheers for catholicity! See you at the bottom of the sea.

N.B. Not a peep out of Kevin Johnson or Tim Enloe regarding his defection.

Whatever happened to Jesus?


It's all about priorities and emphases, isn’t it? That is really what marks confessions as unique from one another. Lutheranism is all about a razor-sharp focus on Christ Jesus our Lord. We know there’s none other God. If we want to talk about God, we are quickly going to be talking about Jesus. Calvin seems to take some time to get to Jesus, when it does. Calvinism gets there ... eventually. But it sure seems to me that a lot of Calvinists are spending just a whole lot of time on God's glory and sovereignty and so forth.


Here’s the table of contents for the Formula of Concord:

1. Summary
2. Rule and Norm
3. Original Sin
4. Free Will
5. The Righteousness of Faith
6. Good Works
7. Law and Gospel
8. The Third Use of the Law
9. The Holy Supper
10. The Person of Christ

Notice that you have to wade through nine preliminary loci before you get around to Christology.

Here’s the table of contents for Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics:

Volume one:


The Nature & Character of Theology (§§1-21)
Holy Scripture (§§1-16)
The Doctrine of God (§§1-8)
The Creation of the World and of Man (§§1-5)
Divine Providence (§1-5)
Angelology (§1-7)
The Doctrine of Man (§§1-7; 1-5; 1-5; 1-5)

Volume two:

The Saving Grace of God (§§1-4)
The Doctrine of Christ

It is not until you get to the second section of the second volume of Pieper’s Dogmatics that you arrive at the locus of Christology.

So, by McCain’s own yardstick, Jesus is just an afterthought in Lutheran theology.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Parochial thoughts on Calvinism & Lutheranism

Paul McCain has written a piece highly critical of Calvinism.

Before I delve into the details, a few general comments are in order.

1.The Lutheran tradition has much to commend it. Lutheranism is a Christ-centered, cross-centered, Bible-based tradition. It has far and away the best musical tradition within Protestantism. More recently, it has been strong on Christian ethics, Biblical creation, and the inerrancy of Scripture.

2. Lutheranism has produced a number of formidable theologians like Chemnitz and Quenstendt. In our own time, John Warwick Montgomery is a walking encyclopedia and one-man university, while Eric Vestrup brings to his apologetic pieces the same mathematical clarity and crystalline logic that he does in his professional work. We welcome a keen-edged critic who can sharpen our own blade. Unfortunately, McCain is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

“It has come clear to me that for Calvinism, starting from the premise that the chief characteristic of God is his ‘ Sovereignty’…"

Where does McCain get the idea that Calvinism is an axiomatic system in which you rank the divine attributes, then infer your theology from God’s “chief” characteristic?

If he spent any time with the standard literature (e.g., Berkhof, Calvin, Hodge, Owen, Turretin), he would know, first, that Calvinism is not an axiomatic system, and second, that Calvinism doesn’t rank the sovereignty of God above other divine attributes. Although some Reformed doctrines are deducible from others, they also enjoy direct exegetical support.

It’s not so much that Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God, but that rival traditions deemphasize or deny the sovereignty of God. Calvinism is distinguished by its belief in the sovereignty of God, not because we believe that this is God’s “chief” characteristic, as if God had to have a “chief” characteristic, but because that’s what sets us apart from the others. Yet to say that it differentiates us from others is not to say that it takes precedence in our self-identity.

“…it makes perfect sense that the Sovereign God would lay down hard and fast rules and laws for all eternity but then turn right around and order his people to break them by putting, for example images in the house constructed for His worship.”

i) I guess the insinuation here is that Reformed theology has a voluntarist version of divine command ethics according to which right and wrong are simply a matter of God’s arbitrary fiat.

Actually, Calvin went out of his way to deny such a view, and mainstream Reformed theology has followed his lead. Cf. P. Helm, Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford 2004), chapter 11.

ii) McCain’s example is also very odd. Is McCain saying that there’s an actual contradiction between the Second Commandment and God’s instructions to Moses concerning the furnishings of the tabernacle?

What does that allegation, which attributes falsehood to Scripture, have to do with Calvinism per se?

“After all, in their system, this same God is the one who, despite telling everyone through His Son that He loves the whole world and that the atoning sacrifice of His Son was for the sins of the whole world, turns right around and decides to create some people just so He can send them off to roast in Hell, while others, He determines to be in Heaven.”

i) The allusion to Jn 3:16 and 1 Jn 2:2 simply ignores Reformed exegesis, as if we’d never said anything on this subject.

ii) Can McCain cite any Reformed theologian who says that God “creates some people just so He can send them off to roast in hell?”

iii) What is McCain’s own position? He doesn’t believe that God foreordains anyone to hell. But he presumably believes that God creates some people foreknowing that they will end up in hell. So he must create them with that destiny in view. Even if he didn’t predestine them to hell, he created them knowing full well that hell was their final destination.

“You don't really need the atoning sacrifice of Christ in this system. You see the Sovereign God simply is Sovereign. That settles it. I'm not really sure what point there was for Him to send His Son anyway, but I guess that too is just to be chalked up to the Sovereign God.”

This follows from McCain’s initial strawman argument about Calvinism as an axiomatic system that absolutizes the sovereignty of God to the exclusion of all else.

“And this Sovereign God is also so remote and ‘other’ from His creation, that we can not possibly suggest that this infinite God is capable of associating Himself with the finite.”

This description of the Reformed position is demonstrably false.

“In fact, it is an affront to this Sovereign Other in Calvinistic thinking to suggest that the actual humanity of a human being is so closely united to Divinity that He is now truly, actually present in, with and under bread and wine of the Holy Supper, even as he was in, with and under the assumed humanity from the God-bearer, the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin. Jesus is God, in the flesh, in the womb of the Virgin Mother. Christ, is God, in the flesh, on the cross, crucified, died and buried, risen again for our salvation.”

This is what McCain is really after. Again, the assumption here is that Reformed sacramentology is just another inference—in this case from the transcendence of God. But if you actually read Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian theologians, they will argue for their respective positions on exegetical grounds.

“And so it then is necessary for Calvinists to speak of a "spiritual presence" of Christ, but in such a way as to avoid at all costs actually regarding him as truly present where He promised to locate Himself: under bread and wine, with His actual body and blood, given from the hand of the pastor, into the mouth of the communicant. His Glory dwelt between the Seraphim, but it seems for Calvinism, that can't be truly said of the Man Jesus Christ, now and into all eternity as our Ascended Lord and King.”

McCain mocks the notion of a “spiritual presence,” but if you go over to a Lutheran dogmatician like John Muller, you are told that Lutheran theologians “explain the omnipresence of Christ’s human nature not by way of local extension, but by way of His illocal, supernatural mode of presence,” Christian Dogmatics (Concordia 1955), 280.

Uh-huh. And what, exactly, is the difference between a “spiritual” presence and an “illocal, supernatural mode” of presence?

“All this has come very clear to me and frankly the way my Calvinist friends over at Dave and Tim's place are handling images, is perfectly, rationally consistent with their theology. Rather than starting in the Mercy and Grace of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus, Calvinism proceeds first from speculations about the Sovereign Lord and then works itself out from there.”

Once again, McCain does nothing to document this allegation from the standard Reformed literature. Reformed theology proceeds, not from speculation, but revelation, and there’s no particular order in which Reformed theology proceeds. What is the order in which John Murray proceeds? What in the order in which John Owen proceeds?

“When a theological tradition holds out the message that there is finally no way to know if one is saved, or damned, other than to throw oneself into the arms of a Sovereign God’s whims, is it any wonder that the response to this will be emotionalism and revivalism, trying desperately to work up in the human psyche some assurance of salvation?”

i) Calvinism affirms, rather than denies, that a Christian can know he is saved—on the same grounds that a Christian can know he’s a Christian.

ii) McCain’s statement is illogical. If salvation or damnation were a matter of God’s mere whim, then we could not know our spiritual status by throwing ourselves into the arms of God.

iii) Can McCain cite one Reformed theologian who says that we are saved or damned by God’s mere “whim”? Calvinism consistently says that election is a demonstration of God’s sheer grace while reprobation is a demonstration of God’s justice and holiness. And reprobation further serves to underscore the gratuity of grace.

“When Calvinism holds out empty sacraments that are mere legal requirements to be obeyed, rather than actual saving actions of a merciful, loving Christ, present among His people as He has promised to be, is it any wonder people run from such "Sacraments" and the "Sovereign God" and throw themselves down at the feet of false prophets like Joel Osteen and other wolves in sheep's clothing like him?”

i) This is the nub of McCain’s argument. You need a certain Christology (the communication of attributes, resulting in the ubiquity of Christ’s humanity) to ground a certain sacramentology (the real presence), and you need a certain sacramentology to ground the assurance of salvation. The aim is to objectify the grace of God via the means of grace so that every communicant has an unmistakable, verifiable basis for the assurance of salvation.

That’s the logic of the argument. The problem, of course, is that it breaks down in practice since every communicant is not heaven-bound. Lutheran theology doesn’t believe that everyone who receives communion is heaven-bound. Indeed, Lutheran theology would readily admit than many communicants are hell-bound.

So McCain’s own logic doesn’t hold up under rational scrutiny. And notice, incidentally, that his own theological method is axiomatic rather than exegetical. He is beginning with the assurance of salvation, and then working by from that priority to its speculative preconditions.

ii) Does McCain have any polling data to justify his claim that people turn to the Joel Osteens of the world in reaction to Reformed sacramentology? Has a sociologist like Rodney Stark done a study on this? Where are the stats? Or is this just another example of McCain’s speculative theology?

“Let this point be clear and may God grant it for Jesus sake . . . The differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism, and all those churches that are spiritual heirs of Zwingli and Calvin, or reactions against it: Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopalianism, Methodism, Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-Denominational, and all the rest – these differences are every bit as harmful, serious and threatening to the truth of God’s Word as the differences between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.”

This is a remarkably partisan statement. Couldn’t we at least distinguish between theological traditions that afford a credible profession of faith, and those that don’t?

“This blog discussion and debate over images and commandments has really helped me realize what a stark contrast there is between Biblical Christianity, and Calvinism and all derivations, or reactions, to it. To whatever extent Calvinism does teach and cling to the revealed Gospel in Sacred Scripture, I thank God, but to the extent that it does not, I, with Luther must say, ’They have a different spirit. They can expect no fellowship from me.’ Amen and Amen.”

This is a classic example of a vicious hermeneutical circle. He doesn’t fellowship with non-Lutherans because they’re non-Lutheran. Hence, all he really knows is Lutheran theology. He’s a Lutheran by default. He is able to maintain his prejudice intact by limiting his contact to a self-reinforcing community of the like-minded.

It’s just a geographical accident that McCain happens to be Lutheran. Change the time and place of birth and he’d be a Buddhist or Maoist or Hindu or jihadi.

Needless to say, not all Lutherans are that provincial. No one is more cosmopolitan than John Warwick Montgomery.

Drilling a dry hole


Here's one of the funniest quotes I have found in a long time: very appropriate today:

"For a guy who prides himself on being such a satirist, Armstrong’s reservoir of humor runs dry as soon as he is the one being spoofed. There was even the veiled threat of legal action."

(Steve Hays: "Me, myself, and I," 7-4-05)
( and-i.html)

Not one rational argument yet from all my critics. It's all personal attack.

Do you have any rational response Scott: that actually interacts with what I wrote? C'mon, be the first critic on this topic to do something besides ad hominem nonsense. I know you have it in you . . .


Dave Armstrong is trying his level-best to get oil out of a dry hole. He is also trying to rewrite history.

Just to recap:

1.In my reply, entitled “Jesuitry” (, I began by referring Dave to a distinction I had drawn before the email hoax—one which he himself cited.

2.On the basis of that distinction, I then generated a sixfold taxonomy of hoaxes:

i) Someone impersonates a real person in a self-evidently satirical hoax.

ii) Someone invents a fictitious satirical character in order to lampoon the theology or ideology represented by the fictitious character. People may or may not be taken in by the hoax, but the blogger did not impersonate a real person, so there is no libel or defamation of character.

iii) Someone impersonates a real person with no intent to deceive, but his impersonation has that unwitting effect.

iv) Someone impersonates a real person with the intent to deceive, defame, or defraud.

v) Someone satirizes an individual or ideology in which his caricature has a factual basis.

vi) Someone satirizes an individual or ideology in which his caricature has no basis in fact.

3.I then applied that to the case at hand. The email hoax appeared to be a type-4 hoax, although it was actually a type-3 hoax. There is a morally profound difference between the two.

Frank was responding to what he initially though was a type-4 hoax when it was really a type-3 hoax. He threatened legal action on the basis of a type-4. As soon as discovered that that this was an innocent type-3 hoax, he relented.

4.As to the hoaxing of Armstrong, this falls under type-1 and/or type-5.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Conference - Cults, the Occult and World Religions

Please plan to attend our conference (and please announce it) on the
theme "No Other Gods" A Conference on Cults, the Occult and World
Religions, to be held at Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church,
Middletown PA, July 21-22, 2006. For further information, check the
conference Website .

Speakers include:

Jeff Harshberger (former satanist), Refuge Ministries
Winfried Corduan, Taylor University, Taylor University
Marcia Montenegro (former sstrologer), Christian Answers for A New Age
J.P. Holding, Tektonics Apologetic Ministry
R. K. McGregor Wright, Aquila and Priscilla Study Center
Keith Gibson, Apologetics Research Ministries
Kerry Gilliard,
Dustin Segers, Shepherd's Fellowship of Greensboro
John Ferrer, Intelligent Faith
William Honsberger, Haven Ministry
Steve Morrison, Christian Debater
among others...

Topics to be addressed: Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Satanism,
Witchcraft, Hinduism, Da Vinci Code, The Kabbalah, Goth, Oneness
Pentecostalism, Scientology, The Baha'i Faith, Atheism, and more.

Jeff Downs
Countercult Apologetics Journal,

Is Calvinism mean?

It’s quite common to hear critics of Calvinism, especially within the blogosphere, say that Calvinism has a mean-streak.

One question I have is what supplies the frame of reference? Mean compared with what? Were the Catholic Conquistadors mean? Was Torquemada mean?

The Waldenses felt the Catholics were mean. The Greek Orthodox also thought the Catholics were pretty mean during the Fourth Crusade. The Copts and the Armenians felt the Greek Orthodox were pretty mean.

The Puritans felt that Bloody Mary was mean. They also thought that Bishop Laud was mean. The Huguenots thought Catherine de Medici was mean. The Baptists and Anabaptists felt that the Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians were all a bunch of meanies. The Hutterites felt the Münsterites were mean.

Modern-day liberals feel that “fundamentalists” in the SBC are mean. Liberal Lutherans felt that Jack Preus was mean. Liberals also think that charismatics like Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart are mean. Liberals even think that our Methodist President is mean.

Nowadays, traditional Anglicans think that liberal Anglicans are mean, while liberal Anglicans think that traditional Anglicans are mean.

The only common denominator is that those out of power think those in positions of power are mean-spirited and abusive. And sometimes they are. But when the party out of power comes to power, they can be just as mean-spirited and abusive. Meanness has no creed--excepting Islam.

Coptic Christians

Here's an interesting website:

Pinocchio Armstrong


Steve Hays said it was only me who has been subject to such spoofs. But James White has been compoaring Catholic Answers, Karl Keating, Jimmy Akin, Pat Madrid and others to Jack Chick's level of "argument" for many years now. White did a caricature of Pat Madrid in which he was being stoned as an idolater. Examples are legion. I've documented many of them myself.


No, that’s not what Steve Hays said. What Steve Hays said was:


As to his allegation that these hoaxes are inspired by the “usual anti-Catholicism,” I think this charge is demonstrably false, for were it true, “anti-Catholic” hoaxers would be hoaxing every major Catholic epologist as Narcissistic.


I’m waiting for Dave to document the "legion" examples in which every major Catholic epologist is satirized as Narcissistic. So far he hasn’t come up with a single counterexample to my original claim--much less a pattern.

Back to the canon


"What would be the point of having a fallible list of infallible dogmas?"

But don't Protestants regard the canon as a fallible list of infallible books? How can we rely on such a canon?

# posted by NumbaOne22 : 12/01/2005 11:02 AM


This is a perfectly valid question. By way of answer I’d say the following:

1.I’m answering Dave on his own grounds. Even if “NumbaOne’s” objection against my own position were valid, that does nothing to invalidate my objection to Dave’s position.

So his question, while legit in its one right, is diverting attention from the original burden of proof which Armstrong set for himself. Even if my position were wrong, that wouldn’t make Armstrong's position right

2.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that “NumbaOne’s” objection were sound, it would, at best, reduce the Catholic rule of faith and the Protestant rule of faith to epistemic parity.

But it isn’t enough for Dave to show that Papists and Protestants are in the same boat. He needs to show that Papists are in a leak-proof boat while Protestants are in a leaky boat. He needs to show the superiority of the Catholic rule of faith.

3.As for the basis of the Protestant canon, see my argument below:

Coming home to Mother Church

Papal Residence
Pope Pius XIII

The Pope's Residence

As the Vatican is now under the control of the non-Catholic Vatican II sect, Pope Pius XIII will maintain residence at an as-yet undisclosed location.

Catholics worldwide pray for the day when the forces of evil who presently control the Vatican will be overthrown and the Vatican be given back to the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, Catholics know that it is not the place where the pope resides that matters, but the fact that the pope is the Vicar of Christ, wherever the pope may be.

You may send your prayers and support for the Pope to the Papal Office at the following address:

Papal Office of the tCC
P.O. Box
133 Springdale, WA 99173

Note that the acronym tCC stands for "true Catholic Church" and the lower/upper case notation is correct as shown above. This is to distinguish the pope of the true Catholic Church.from the imposter "pope" who presently occupies the Vatican.

A fallible list of infallible dogmas

Last month, Armstrong tried to answer the question, “Where can one find a list of infallible Catholic doctrines?”

However, that way of posing the question misses the point. The real question is, ”Where can one find an infallible list of infallible Catholics doctrines?”

What would be the point of having a fallible list of infallible dogmas? A fallible list might well be a list of fallible dogmas. So referring the reader to Ott or Denziger is no solution to the problem.



This may be one of the most striking anti-Catholic double standards (in a long, long list), that I've ever seen.

When I did a little detective search, merely for fun (as I stated several times), the anti-Catholics had a field day mocking me and making out how I am obsessed and "narcissistic" and so forth. It seemed unimaginable to them why anyone would have the slightest concern that someone had imitated them in a cynical, lying, ridiculous attempt to besmirch their character.

In any event, none of the major Internet anti-Catholic luminaries who took up the matter and wrote about it showed the slightest sympathy at all or understanding that perhaps (just maybe . . . ) doing a fake blog would be unethical, and a species of lying and defamation of character.

So here it is mocking condescension all around, simply because I made a mostly fun attempt to track down the hoaxster-blogger. No one voiced the slightest concern that the lying blogger made all sorts of false insinuations about me, including supposed hatred of my theological opponents and the most infantile self-absorption. They simply believe these things out of the usual anti-Catholic bigotry.

It's hard to believe that this is how folks with doctorates (Vestrup) and (I believe), masters' degrees (Hays: he has some academic position at a seminary and uses lots of impressive big words; he is clearly a thinker) would actually "think," but in this case, prejudice overcomes any sense of reason and fair play and consistent ethics.

So far, the anti-Catholics seem to be taking the whole thing in jolly good humor (just like I did regarding my "impersonator"). Well, most of them, anyway. Turk friend PP is having fun with it. Compatriot Hays has already said that hoax-blogging is merely a form of accepted satire a la Swift, so clearly he could voice no consistent objection.

Tsk, tsk, tsk. So humor-challenged, these anti-Catholics are . . . don't they know that this is all innocent and perfectly proper and kosher (according to Steve Hays: no different from Jonathan Swift's allegories in Gulliver's Travels)? Why, then, is Phil apologizing? And why can't dear old Frank take a joke? By contrast, I had a lot of fun with my opponent, and his anti-Catholic rationalizers. How different it is when the table is turned and the shoe is on the other foot. How revealing. How plain flat-out funny.

Stay tuned. It'll be equally illuminating to see further reactions all around. I'll be following it. But you can bet good money that no one will recognize the blatant, glaring double standard that I have pinpointed. Miracles still happen, though, and there is always a first time for things.

If you anti-Catholic clowns would stop making such utter fools of yourselves, we could all get back to much more important things. But - since that continues to be the case - there was no way I could possibly resist chronicling this absolute silliness:

Amazing (and Hilarious) Anti-Catholic Double Standards on Fake Blogging & E-Mails (Frank Turk Ready to Press Federal Charges)


How will dear old Frank's bizarre behavior be rationalized away, in light of how y'all treated me for simply having fun trying to find the fake hoaxter? I can't wait to see you guys spin this. LOL Federal charges for the harmless joke of a friend??!! LOL

# posted by Dave : 11/30/2005 9:52 PM


1.Notice Armstrong’s double-tongued challenge: he can’t wait to see our reaction, but he preemptively brands our reaction as “spin.”

2.To begin with, Armstrong actually quotes me drawing a distinction, before the Fide-O kerfuffle, that is directly applicable to the Fide-O kerfuffle. What I said was: “As long as a hoax is obviously a hoax, no deception is involved.”

Notice the key qualifiers: “obviously,” “deception.” It is not a rationalization or exercise in spin-control for me to invoke my own distinction, drawn before the Fide-O kerfuffle, in application to the Fide-O kerfuffle.

I didn’t contrive this distinction after the fact for purposes of damage-control. In addition, I’m not a party to this kerfuffle, so even if the parties in question were guilty of hypocrisy, that would not implicate me. Hence, I have no motive to indulge in special pleading. This isn’t my fight.

Now, since dear old Dave has moral blinders on, we’ll have to spell out for him how my prior distinction applies to the case at hand. Hoaxes come in many different flavors:

i) Someone impersonates a real person in a self-evidently satirical hoax.

ii) Someone invents a fictitious satirical character in order to lampoon the theology or ideology represented by the fictitious character. People may or may not be taken in by the hoax, but the blogger did not impersonate a real person, so there is no libel or defamation of character.

iii) Someone impersonates a real person with no intent to deceive, but his impersonation has that unwitting effect.

iv) Someone impersonates a real person with the intent to deceive, defame, or defraud.

v) Someone satirizes an individual or ideology in which his caricature has a factual basis.

vi) Someone satirizes an individual or ideology in which his caricature has no basis in fact.

(iv) & (vi) are illicit. (i), (ii), & (v) are licit. (iii) is also illicit, but it is careless rather than malicious.

The Fide-O kerfuffle is a case of (iii). It was a mistake, and as soon as the mistake was discovered, there was a candid admission of error.

The hoaxes that Dave is complaining about fall under (i) & (v).

Of course, he doesn’t see it that way. He thinks they fall under (v). Naturally he has a more favorable self-image than the caricaturist. Assuming that he really is a Narcissist, you’d expect him to have a favorable self-image. That’s a presupposition of the satire.

3.As to his allegation that these hoaxes are inspired by the “usual anti-Catholicism,” I think this charge is demonstrably false, for were it true, “anti-Catholic” hoaxers would be hoaxing every major Catholic epologist as Narcissistic. No, Dave, this is personal.

4.If Dave sees a double standard, that’s only because Dave is seeing double. He needs to get a new pair of prescription lenses. His current pair of glasses has “Dave” etched into the lens. Everywhere he looks, he sees himself.

5.Now, if you want a real example of spin-control and after-the-fact rationalizing, I had said: “the fact that dear old Dave devoted six months (!) to tracking down the culprit is yet another unwitting and damning evidence of his monumental self-obsession.”

To which Armstrong now says (12/1):

“Of course this is asinine and absurd. I wrote a few posts at the time it happened (May); made a few comments of speculation on PP's blog in September, and then did the recent post and interacted with PP's objections. That is hardly a "devoted six months" of "tracking." Quite the contrary: it is hardly anything at all.”

However, this is what he said a week before (11/25):

“It became a hobby of sorts of mine to try to discover the person who did this. You know: the old detective routine. It took about six months (probably roughly what I would have predicted at the time).”

6.Finally, I’d like to end on a more general note. Recently I ran across a blogger who was criticizing other bloggers for “locker-room” humor” or “frat-boy” humor.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s nothing wrong with people acting their age. Maturity comes with…maturity.

Young men tend to be cocky and brash—given to high jinks and practical joking. That’s a natural part of being a normal, healthy young man. There’s a certain sense of humor that is distinctive to a particular sex and age-group.

To some extent men need to outgrow this—though not totally. I hope that middle-aged men don’t lose all their boyish sense of fun and games and horseplay. Some of the schoolmarmish, starched-collar finger-wagging I’ve been reading of late is way too serious to take seriously.

We shouldn’t expect a teenager or twenty-something bachelor to act like a middle-aged family man. And the transition is not overnight.

The liberal establishment tries to turn men into boys, and boys into girls. To throw around words like “locker-room” and “frat-boy” as pejoratives begs some important cultural questions.

By the same token, it can be a mistaken when young men are promoted to a prime-time slot before they’re ready for the big time.

Being a blogger is like living in a fish bowl. More than that, you can’t see your audience, but your audience can see you. So there’s no predicting the reaction you’re going to get. The feedback comes after the fact, at which point it’s too late to take back your words.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fictional Dialogue on Sola Ecclesia

Bilis ad bilis loquitur.

"Gallbladder speaks to gallbladder" - John Henry Endocardium Newman


Protestants accept Biblical authority, whereas Catholics "pick and choose" which traditions to accept according to their own particular denominational taste. This is arbitrary in two ways:

1) There is really no cogent, non-arbitrary method for Catholics to determine which tradition is authentic and which is inauthentic;

2) The notion of "authority” in Catholic ecclesiology is inadequate for the task of proclaiming "authoritatively" which tradition is authentic, and the grounds will be circular in any event.


Dave (D): Sacred Tradition is authentic tradition because it’s traditional.

Calvin (C): According to which denominational tradition?

D: Mine.

C: How do you know your Catholic traditions are true, while others which contradict them are false?

D: Cuz our traditions are the most traditional.

C: How do you know yours are the most traditional?

D: Because our traditional dogmas are true to the clear teaching of tradition.

C: But the other venerable traditions (e.g. Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Copts) claim the same superiority . . .

D: I am compelled to say they have a faulty tradition of tradition, and I must stand firm for traditional tradition.

C: How do you know they have a faulty tradition of tradition?

D: By Catholic tradition and allegorical exegesis, and especially because Marm Davestrong says so.

C: But again, the others claim the same prerogative and abilities.

D: Then if they are wrong, they must be blinded by their presuppositional biases, or else by venial and mortal sin.

C: How do you know that?

D: Because they come to the wrong conclusions about the perspicuity of tradition.

C: Frankly, I would say that that is circular reasoning. But, even granting your contention for the sake of argument, how does an uneducated seeker of Christian truth choose which denomination’s tradition is true to Sacred Tradition?

D: The one which is most traditional . . .

C: Now, don't start that again [smiling]. They all claim that.

D: Yes, I suppose so [frowning].

C: But what if it’s found that the great majority of Fathers have a traditional opinion of tradition contrary to yours?

D: Then they are wrong on that point.

C: How do you know that?

D: By studying tradition. Not all traditions count as Sacred Tradition.

C: How do you know which traditions count as Sacred Tradition?

D: The sacred ones.

C: So when all is said and done it is irrelevant what the early Church, or the Fathers, or the Church from 500 to 1500 believed?

D: Yes, the doctrine of development has mooted that quaint old appeal.

C: Therefore you are - in the final analysis - the ultimate arbiter of true Sacred Tradition?

D: Well, if you must put it in those blunt terms, yes.

C: Isn't that a bit arrogant?

D: Not as much as Luther and Calvin telling me what I should believe [scowling].

C: You make yourself the arbiter of the true church, yet you object to the right of private judgment!!!! Most remarkable and ironic! I say you are obviously a Super-Pope, then.

D: You can say what you like. I like what I say.

C: So you think that your own individual opinion of what’s the true church is superior to the Copts and Armenians and Greek Orthodox?

D: Yes, for if a tradition is traditional, then I must denounce any rival tradition that opposes traditional tradition.

C: For that matter, how do you know what Sacred Tradition is?

D: Cuz Catholic tradition tells me so:

C: That seems intrinsically unreasonable. Yet you've attempted to give me reasons and logic throughout this whole conversation!

D: Faith requires no reasons. The Holy Father knows best.

C: Well, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. But I would say that you would not know what Sacred Tradition was for sure unless you knew which church was the true church, and which pontiff was a Pope and not an Anti-Pope. Your criterion is essentially no different than the Mormons' "burning in the bosom" as a justification for their beliefs.

Besides, on what grounds do you trust Roman Catholicism when it contradicts the Copts and Armenians and Greek Orthodox? Tradition is not self-authenticating, in the sense of its determining the extent and parameters of itself. This is clearly shown in divergences between Copts, Catholics, Armenians, and Greek Orthodox, to name a few. There is more than enough difference to require an authoritative decree by the true church to put the matter to rest.

D: That’s why God guided my own denomination.

C: But God didn’t guide the Protestant Reformers?

D: That’s right.

C: How do you know that?

D: Because their traditions clearly aren't traditional enough.

C: According to which "clear" denominational tradition?

D: Mine . . .

C: [smacks forehead, then throws hands up and gazes toward the heavens, wincing in despair]


And so on and so forth. Yet Catholics claim we are the ones with an epistemological problem!

The death of William Cowper

The "Highland Host" has posted a sequel to my post on William Cowper.

Thank A Soldier Week

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Seven sevens

Frank Turk has tagged me to play the “Seven sevens” game. I’m not sure that I really welcome this intrusion into my zone of privacy, but I’ll try to be a good sport about it.

I don’t like surveys. They don’t ask the questions I’d ask the way I’d ask them, so I’ve done what any self-respecting respondent would to: I’ve cheated by making some changes of my own. Made a few substitutions. Cut back on the hyperbole. Generated multiples of seven.


1.Write a devotional

2.Revisit my old stomping-grounds

3.Attend a high school reunion.

4.See my remaining parent safely into glory

5.Compose more music

6.Explore crystallography

7.See Naples


1.Do nothing

2.Make small-talk



5.Abide contemporary Christian music

6.Do computer graphics

7.Be a better person



2.A nice speaking voice (high-pitched nasal twangs need not apply!)

3.A nice singing voice (e.g., Caballé, Milanov, Ponselle, Price, Sutherland).

4.A capacity to beautify her surroundings by her prismatic personality.

5.A gentle spirit

6.An ability to write like Anne Bradstreet & Christina Rossetti

7.Botticellian locks


1.The Bible

2.Pilgrim’s Progress

3.Four Quartets (Eliot)

4.Praeterita (Ruskin)

5.Perelandra/Voyage of Dawn Treader

6.Mithradates (Racine)

7.Norstrilla/Quest of the Three Worlds (Cordwainer Smith)

8.The Temple (Herbert)

9.Death Comes for the Archbishop (Cather)

10.The Song of Roland

11.The Tempest

12.Silex Scintillans (Vaughan)

13.The Waves (Woolf)

14. Diary of a Country Priest (Bernanos)

15.The Last Puritan (Santayana)

17.Letters of Samuel Rutherford

18.To Be Near Unto God (Kuyper)

19.Pensées (Pascal)

20.Three Dialogues between Hylas & Philonous (Berkeley)

21.The City of God


1.Garden of the Finzi-Continis

2.Twin Peaks

3.La Femme Nikita

4.Last of the Mohicans

5.Ship of Fools

6.The Third Man

7.Donkey Skin (Deneuve)

8.The Garden of Allah (Dietrich)

9.In this House of Brede

10.Monsignor Quixote

11.Our Man in Havana

12.The Avengers


14.Orpheus (Cocteau)

15.Touch of Evil

16.Dark City

17.To End All Wars

18.Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy/Smiley’s People

19.The Village


21.Due South








8. Albinoni








16.Ravel (songs)

17.Berlioz (songs)

18. Gilbert & Sullivan

19.S. S. Wesley

20.C.P.E. Bach

21. Hymnwriters (Watts, Wesley, Williams)


1.Da Vinci


3.El Greco





William Cowper


Indeed, he had been a thoughtless, wild young man. But suddenly in the heyday of his youth, in the midst of his gaiety, something terrible had happened. There lurked beneath that levity and perhaps inspired it a morbidity that sprang from some defect of person, a dread which made action, which made marriage, which made any public exhibition of himself insupportable. If goaded to it, and he was now committed to a public career in the House of Lords, he must fly, even into the jaws of death. Rather than take up his appointment he would drown himself. But a man sat on the qua when he came to the water’s edge; some invisible hand mysteriously forced the laudanum from his lips when he tried to drink it; the knife which he pressed to his heart broke; and the garter with which he tried to hand himself from the bedpost let him fall. Cowper was condemned to life.

When, therefore, that July morning he looked out of the window at the ladies shopping, he had come through gulfs of despair, but he had reached at last not only the haven of a quiet country town, but a settled state of mind, a settled way of life. He was domesticated with Mrs. Unwin, a widow of six years his elder. By letting him talk, and listening to his terrors and understanding them, she had brought him very wisely, like a mother, to something like peace of mind. They lived side by side for many years in methodical monotony. They began the day by reading the Scriptures together; they then went to church; they parted to read or walk; they met after dinner to converse on religious topics or to sin hymns together, then again they walked if it were fine, or read and talked as if it were wet, and at last the day ended with more hymns and more prayers. Such for many years had been the routine of Cowper’s life with Mary Unwin. When his fingers found their way to pen they traced the lines of a hymn, or if they wrote a letter it was to urge some misguided mortal, his brother John, for instance, at Cambridge, to seek salvation before it was too late.

Yet this urgency was akin perhaps to the old levity; it, too, was an attempt to ward off some terror, to propitiate some deep unrest that lurked at the bottom of his soul. Suddenly the peace was broken. One night in February 1773 the enemy rose; it smote once and forever. An awful voice called out to Cowper in a dream. It proclaimed that he was damned, that he was outcast, and he fell prostrate before it.

After that he could not pray. When the others said grace at table, he took up his knife and fork as a sign that he had no right to join in their prayers. Nobody, not even Mrs. Unwin, understood the terrific import of the dream. Nobody realized why he was unique; why he was singled out from mall mankind and stood alone in his damnation.

But that loneliness had a strange effect—since he was no longer capable of help or direction he was free. The Rev. John Newton could no longer guide his pen or inspire his muse. Since doom had been pronounced and damnation was inevitable, he might sport with hare, cultivate cucumbers, listen to village gossip, weave nets, make tables; all that could be hoped was too while away the dreadful years without the ability to enlighten others or to be helped himself.

Never had Cowper written more enchantingly, more gaily, to his friends than now that he knew himself condemned. It was only at moments, when he wrote to Newton or to Unwin, that terror raised its horrid head above the surface and that he cried aloud: “My days are spent in vanity…Nature revives again; but a soul once slain lives no more.

For the most part, as he idled his time away in pleasant pastimes, as he looked with amusement at what passed in the street below, one might think him the happiest of men.

Virginia Woolf, “Cowper & Lady Austen,” The Second Common Reader (Harncourt, Brace & Co., 1932), 127-29.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Parting thoughts and parting shots

There seem to be two or three groups on the other side of this controversy:

1. Most of Frank's critics have chosen to feign indignation. This is an opportunistic ploy to capture the moral high ground so that they can continue to retail false doctrine (e.g., Barthian views of Scripture) or ungodly language under the smokescreen of calculated moral outrage over the martyrdom of the Monk by mean old Frank and his mean old allies among the Truly Reformed.

We see this all the time in politics. Democrats constantly change the subject by pretending that any criticism of their geostrategic views is a personal attack on their honor and patriotism. This is just a ruse to divert attention from the real issues.

2. Then you have the afternoon talk-show types. This takes the form of absolution by Kleenex. No matter what a guest has said or done, if he breaks down in tears, then all is forgiven, and anyone who continues to comment on his rap sheet is being mean and uncharitable. The wrong-doer becomes the victim, and the DA becomes the wrong-doer.

The Ophrafication and effeminization of public discourse becomes, in turn, the standard of civil discourse which some are trying to impose on the blogdom of God—although a number of them have one set of rules for themselves (free fire zone), and another set of rules (unilateral disarmament) for the rest of us.

Actually, Spencer is pulled the rug out from this defense by his duplicitous, ex post facto disclaimer regarding the confessional essays as a literary device, in which he assumes a quasi-fictitious persona.

3. Then you have the nice guys. Unlike (1), they are quite sincere. By constitutional temperament and national character, they always wince and cringe and shudder at any public display of discord or raised voices. To them, this is sub-Christian, contrary to the Sermon on the Mount, and tantamount to sipping Earl Grey without a clean pair of white gloves.

The problem with their advice is that those who sincerely dish out this sort of counsel are not the source of the problem. If the church had more #3-types, and fewer #1-types, we wouldn't have this problem to begin with, but since they are not the bomb-throwers, their advice is simply useless. Those who need to hear it aren't listening, and those who listen don't need to hear it since they already agree with it.

4. Another problem with #3 is that it turns a blind-eye to genuine misconduct. It deems the real problem to be tonal, or the scandal of public exposure, and not the underlying problem itself.

For example, aside from whatever the iMonk has said, he is also the moderator of the BHT, and in that capacity he is responsible for what his cobloggers say as well. The issue is larger than the iMonk.

As Jus Divinum has pointed out (
the whole iMonk/BHT syndicate has been a runaway train for quite some time now. It was overripe for a plainspoken man like Frank Turk to cut it down to size and put in its place. Kudos to the Turkoman.

Chicken hawks

Dave Armstrong is on the warpath once again. As usual, he feels that his honor has been slighted.

Once upon a time there was a way of dealing, once and for all, with real or imagined affronts to one’s person—you challenged your opponent to a duel. This custom had the advantage of quickly winnowing the hawks from the chicken hawks.

However, out of deference to his already bruised and besmirched sense of honor, I decline to press the comparison any further seeing as that might further affront his tender sense of injured honor.

Dave has a thing about hoax-blogging. He acts as if this is deeply unethical. I don’t know if he deems it to be unethical by the calculus of probabilism, probabiliorism, or equiprobabilism.

For my own part, I don’t see that hoax-blogging is any different from political cartooning, a la Herblock.

As long as a hoax is obviously a hoax, no deception is involved. It simply belongs to the genre of satire, a la Swift.

Another one of Armstong’s grievances is that I supposedly think it’s “beneath the dignity of an anti-Catholic to talk civilly to a lowly Catholic ‘narcissist.’”

There are two things amiss with this charge:

i) In context, he had accused Vestrup and me of “cowardice” or words to that effect because we didn’t specify him as the narcissist” of Vestrup’s anonymous, satirical post.

Of course we didn’t. No comedian would explain his own joke since that would spoil the joke. If you have to explain the punch line, it kills the joke. You might as well complain that Swift was a “coward” because he didn’t annotate his political allegory (Gulliver’s Travels).

The whole point of the gag is that everyone knows who we’re talking about without anyone having to say who we’re talking about.

ii) There is a larger context as well. Dave has a standing policy of not debating “anti-Catholics.” Then he turns around and whines about how “anti-Catholics” won’t enter into a serious dialogue with him. The complaint is a direct effect of his own circular rationalization

Then you have him making claims like the following: “they attack me precisely because I defend and thus represent that Church. Can't you see that they think that a discrediting of the apologists for Catholicism as fools and ‘morons’ and self-absorbed idiots helps them to establish in the minds of gullible people that the thing itself (which the ‘moron’ defends) is equally absurd and laughable?”

As usual, Dave has his pants on backwards. As the public record will show, what Vestrup and I have repeatedly done is to attack Armstrong not because he represents the church of Rome, but because he misrepresents the church of Rome. Dave’s prettified and petrified version of Roman Catholicism is a cosmetic simulacrum which paints over the real institution.

BTW, I have never said that Dave is an “idiot” or a “moron,” although he is very free with derogatory epithets where his own opponents are concerned.

Finally, there’s the matter of Armstrong fingering the wrong man for the high crime of a hoaxing his incurable egomania.

Dave’s misstep was not in suspecting Vestrup. No, the problem with his failed exercise in source criticism is that there are so many suspects to choose from.

You see, if you really do suffer from a Narcissus-complex, then other people—many other people—will see you for what you are.

It’s like the dilemma of a homicide detective who has to narrow the field for the killer of the most hated man in town. The murder victim has so many enemies that everyone is a person of interest.

BTW, the fact that dear old Dave devoted six months (!) to tracking down the culprit is yet another unwitting and damning evidence of his monumental self-obsession.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The face at the bottom of the well

When Mel Gibson’s movie generated so much controversy, Dennis Prager observed that Jews and Christians were seeing two different movies. Jews saw Jews. They saw hook-nosed Jews. Shylocks. Villains. Pogroms. Gas chambers.

Christians also saw Jews. They saw a Jewish Jesus, a Jewish Madonna, a Jewish apostolate. They also saw villains, but the villains were, by turns, Jewish and Roman alike. Except for Jesus, they saw sinners of every stripe in every frame.

In what has been called the “blog war” between the Tavernistas and their critics, the Tavernistas see their critics as mean-spirited, while their critics see the Tavernistas as means-spirited. Some spectators see both sides as mean-spirited.

Some bloggers justify their polemical tone by citing the polemical passages of Scripture, while other bloggers condemn the polemical tone by citing the peaceable passages of Scripture.

Ecumenical bloggers see all public divisions within the blogdom of God as painful and shameful while sectarian bloggers see such divisions as a threshing process, winnowing the wheat from the chaff.

It’s no mystery which side I come down on, so I won’t pretend to be impartial. But I will say a few things.

I’m one of those writers whose style is a transcript of his personality. As such, my character flaws on public display whenever I blog.

I’m aware that I often say the right thing for the wrong reason. If I were a better person I’d say the right thing for the right reason. However, I wouldn’t say what I said unless I thought it was the right thing to say at the time, and the right way to say it.

There are some people who avoid “scandal” at any cost. To take a rather extreme example, the irony of the Catholic sex scandal is that it became a scandal precisely because the bishops were trying to avoid any whiff of scandal. The scandal lay in the cover-up. In the complicit code of silence.

The blogosphere is unregulated. Every Christian blogger is a self-appointed pundit. Under the circumstances, I don’t see that silence is the best policy. I don’t see that we should always sweep everything under the rug.

In the blogdom of God, we need to police each other. And that’s a two-way street.

There’s no doubt that some issues would be much better handled in private. However, some bloggers choose to use their blog as a public diary. When that happens, it’s no longer possible to take a purely pastoral approach to the problem. You cannot err in public, and repent in private.

Tilting at windmills-3

“Notice the total lack of discussion of the predestination of the wicked here. Ephesians does not depict election as that which divides the human race, but rather as that which unites it in Christ” (269, n55).

i) It’s true that Eph 1 doesn’t expressly teach double predestination. So what? Even if reprobation were nowhere explicitly taught in Scripture, it would still be implicit in Scripture. As Geerhardus Vos has said:
“No more is necessary than to combine the two single truths, that all saving race, inclusive of faith, is the supernatural gift of God, and that not all men are made recipients of this grace,” Redemptive History & Biblical Interpretation (P&R 1980), 412.

ii) As a matter of fact, there are passages of Scripture in which reprobation or double predestination are more clearly enunciated (e.g. Mt 11:25-26; Lk 2:34; Jn 12:39-40; Rom 9-11; 1 Pet 2:6-8; Jude 4).

iii) Witherington is not a Barthian universalist. He believes that election is contingent on foreseen faith, and he denies that everyone is a believer. Hence, even on his own grounds, he cannot believe that election unites the entire human race. Is Witherington unable to connect the dots of his own belief-system?

“Paul does not operate with an ‘invisible elect’ amidst the people of God concept. The Israelites or Christians who are true are all to visible and evident” (87).

i) To begin with, it is arguable that Paul does operate with such a concept. A true Jew is inwardly Jewish, not only outwardly Jewish—through a circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:28-29). The faithful remnant was invisible to Elijah (11:2-5). So you can’t tell by appearances alone.

ii) But Witherington’s objection also suffers from equivocation. The Reformed position is not that God’s elect are invisible, but that God’s election is invisible. A man with a bum ticker is visible even if his heart condition is invisible to the naked eye.

An off-duty policeman is still a policeman, but out of uniform you can’t tell, just by looking at him, that he’s a policeman.

“Paul believes that Christians are under a new covenant, not any administrations of the older ones. He does see the new covenant as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic one…Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, are no longer under the Mosaic Law. They are rather under the Law of Christ” (87).

i) Covenant theology is an intricate theological construct. This is not something that one can intelligently discuss, much less dispatch, in a three-sentence paragraph. And there is more than one version of covenant theology.

No one is claiming that the new covenant is a different administration of the old covenant. To say this evinces Witherington’s chronic ignorance of the relevant literature.

The general principle is that God saves sinners by grace alone. And he does so through a covenant mediator in a one-to-many relationship. There is, in addition, a degree of progressivity as the older covenants culminate in person and work of Christ.

This general principle is exemplified in a variety of concrete covenants, viz., Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the new covenant.

When covenant theologians talk about one covenant under a variety of administrations, the relationship is not between one specific covenant and another, but between the general principle (the covenant of grace) and its concrete exempla.

“Paul also does not operate with a concept of imputed righteousness, as if by that phrase one means Christ’s righteousness is counted in place of ours. A careful reading of Gal 3 and Rom 4 will show that what Paul says on the basis of Gen 12-15 is that Abraham’s faith was reckoned or counted as righteousness. His faith was reckoned as his righteousness. This is a very different matter than Christ’s righteousness counting in the place of that of the believers” (87).

i) Witherington simply ignores the Reformed argument for imputed righteousness. One example would be John Piper’s recent book: Counted Righteous in Christ (Crossway 2003).

ii) There may be some truth to what Witherington says about Rom 4. How he gets that out of Gal 3 is beyond me—not to mention its relation to Gal 2. In any event, it is highly ironic that someone who repeatedly tells the reader that he must never interpret a verse in isolation has chosen to isolate Rom 4 from the larger flow of the argument. The Book of Romans doesn’t consist of Rom 4 alone, with nothing before or after.

To be justified by faith alone is just a shorthand expression. We are justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Faith is a placeholder.” Faith” stands in opposition to “works.” The voucher of faith is redeemed by the blood of Christ.

“Righteousness needs to be imparted by the Spirit, not merely imputed…It is not the case that when God looks at the believer he simply sees the righteousness of Christ” (87-88).

Calvinism doesn’t deny the necessity of sanctification. In Reformed theology, the work of the Spirit operates in tandem with the work of the Son.

The question, though, is whether the work of Christ is incomplete. Are we justified by imparted righteousness? How does God see the Christian for purposes of justification? That’s the question.

Since we are still sinners, imparted righteousness is, at best, partial righteousness. Are we justified by partial righteousness? Not according to Paul (e.g. Gal 3:10).

ii) Witherington’s position is also incoherent on its own grounds. To bring in imparted righteousness must mean that we are justified, at least in part, by our sanctified works. Yet he just said that our “faith” is reckoned to us as righteousness.

iii) Incidentally, since the word “righteousness” is so closely associated with justification in Pauline theology, it would be preferable not to use the same word with reference to sanctification. Reserve “righteousness” for justification, and “holiness” for sanctification.

“God desires all persons to be saved (so also Jn 3:16), and Christ gave himself as a ransom for all sinners. This means that it must be human beings in their response to God in Christ, not God through some process of choosing individuals, who limit the atonement” (88).

This is, of course, a stock summary of the case for unlimited atonement. The problem here is that Witherington simply disregards the Reformed counterargument. The Calvinist is well acquainted with Jn 3:16 and the like.

He skirts the whole question of whether John’s “cosmic” language has an ethical import: not the “world” qua world, but world qua fallen world. Christ died for members of the evil world order. In general Johannine usage, to be of the world is an antonym for Christian identity (e.g. Jn 12:31; 14:17,27,30; 15:18-19; 16:8,11,33; 17:14; 18:36; 2 Jn 2:15-17; 4:5; 5:4,19). Witherington also cites Jn 3:16 in isolation to Jn 3:19-20, 9:39, 10:11; 13:1; 15:13,22; 17:6,&c.

“Since numerous NT authors, including Paul and the author of Hebrews, not to mention Jesus himself, warn against the problem of apostasy, this in turn must mean that God’s saving grace is both resistible at the outset and rejectable later” (88).

i) It is important to observe that this is not, in fact, an exegetical argument. The Bible never says that saving grace is resistible. And it never says that saving grace is resistible given the phenomenon of apostasy, and warnings thereof.

Rather, this is an inference from Scripture. And it turns on a key assumption which is not supplied by Scripture. Witherington is simply assuming that libertarian freedom is a necessary precondition to make sense of these admonitions. But freewill is not an actual teaching of Scripture. Scripture doesn’t ground apostasy in the freedom of the will.

By contrast, there is a good deal of implicit and explicit teaching in Scripture which runs diametrically at odds with Witherington’s presumptive or presuppositional indeterminism.

ii) Moreover, Witherington’s inference is, as I’ve said before, philosophically naïve.

iii) Furthermore, Witherington’s position is incoherent. For he himself is committed to his own set of hypotheticals and counterfactuals. He believes in “sufficient” grace. He believes in a “potentially” universal atonement. So he believes that unrealized possibilities are meaningful.

“The character of God as a God of holy love and also a God of freedom is such that he expects these same qualities to be reflected in his creatures…Love cannot be coerced, manipulated, or predetermined” (88).

i) Is every divine attribute a communicable attribute? Is omniscience a communicable attribute? Is omnipotence a communicable attribute? Is aseity a communicable attribute?

ii) Note how often he treats coercion, manipulation, and predeterminism as synonyms? But this is a piece of intellectual slackness.

Predeterminism is not the same thing as coercion. In coercion, we are forced to do something against our will. We do it unwillingly. There is a sense of resistance between our will and the will of the agent who is imposing his will upon us.

Incidentally, coercion isn’t always a bad thing. We employ coercive measures to restrain the criminal element in society.

But predeterminism goes behind the will and directs the will. An illustration would be hypnotic suggestion. Under hypnotism, an idea is planted in the mind of the subject. When he snaps out of his trance, he acts on that idea as if it were his own.

As far as love is concerned, don’t our genes and hormones “manipulate” our love-life on a regular basis? In many instances, men and woman have no control over whom they fall in love with. They are predisposed to fall in love with a certain type of person, and whenever they meet that type of person, the attraction and infatuation are automatic. In matters of the heart we are, to a large extent, creatures of our chemistry.

And, of course, the same is true in reverse. We can lose our sense of spontaneous affection, and we have precious little control over that process as well.

In brief, we have a fair measure of control over how or whether we act on our feelings, but very little control over what feelings we have.

Arminians talk about love as if they came out of a test tube and grew to maturity inside germ-free bubble that was sealed off from direct contact with other members of the human species. Nothing is more artificial or inhuman than the way in which an Arminian defines true love. Arminian love is something that only exists in a petri dish or sci-fi film. It is completely divorced from universal human experience in the real world of love and longing, rejection and jealousy. Thank God Racine was a Jansenist rather than a Wesleyan!

In chapter 7, Witherington opposes a Reformed reading of Rom 9-11. He does this, in part, by arguing for a premil (postmil?) reading of Rom 11:26, which, according to him, has reference to a mass endtime conversion of the Jews.

But there are several problems with this line of argument:

i) Calvinism has no official position on the millennium. A Calvinist can be an amil, historical premil, or postmil. Hence, there is no tension between a Reformed reading of Rom 9-11 and a pre/postmil reading of Rom 9-11, viz. John Murray, Tom Schreiner, S. Lewis Johnson.

ii) At the same time, Witherington also ignores Reformed writers who argue for an amil reading of Rom 9-11, viz., Hoekema, O. P. Robertson, Lee Irons.

iii) In addition, one doesn’t have to be a Calvinist to oppose a pre/postmil reading of Rom 9-11. N. T. Wright, in his recent commentary on Romans, presents a preterist interpretation.

iv) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Witherington’s interpretation is sound, it would in no way blunt the damnatory or double-predestinarian force of judicial hardening. For the spiritual restoration of the Jews would only extend to the endtime generation. Hence, all unbelieving Jews before the millennium would die in a hardened state and suffer the eternal consequences. And they would be unbelieving Jews due to divine hardening.

God’s process of hardening would only be lifted for one generation—at the end of the church age. Hence, election and hardening do not have the same individuals in view. They do not represent successive stages of divine agency, terminating on the very same subject.

“Hardening does not mean damning. It involves a temporal action of limited duration” (145).

That may well be true. But a human lifespan is of limited duration too. If you die in a hardened state, you die a lost sinner. And if the process extends over several generations, then it racks up quite a toll of hell-bound casualties. Paul penned this letter 2000 years ago.

“Paul is referring to the hardening of some, he is not talking about their eternal damnation. He is talking bout a process in history that is temporal and temporary. In their words e are going to see that what Paul is talking about in vv22-23 is not those saved or damned from before the foundation of the world, but rather as Cranfield says, those vessels that are currently positively related to God, and those vessels which currently are not” (142).

i) Cranfield is a Barthian universalist. He believes in universal election, whereby all men are elect, while Christ is both elect and reprobate. Cranfield’s position is consistent—though consistently wrong. Witherington is no Barthian—or is he?

ii) If we’re going to bring in the historical process, then that includes the past as well as the future. So does Witherington believe that Christ died for the damned? For those who were already burning in hell at the time he went to Calvary? Or does Witherington shore up his case with postmortem evangelism?

“The quoted verse [Mal 1:2-3] then may speak of God’s elective purposes, but the discussion is about a role these people were to play in history, not their personal eternal destiny” (143).

It is true that the historical fate of the Edomites does not precisely correspond to their eternal fate, just as the adoption of Israel does not precisely correspond to eternal election.

However, to say that they do not coincide is not to say that they do not intersect. Not every member of the covenant community was saved—most, indeed, were not—but whoever was saved was either a member of the covenant community or a neighbor who came to a saving knowledge of the true God by virtue of his proximity to the Chosen People. In general, not to be party to the covenant is to be excluded from the revelation of God, without which saving faith is impossible. The remnant is a remnant of the covenant community.

For all his talk of the historical process, Witherington acts as if men are saved or damned irrespective of their position in redemptive history.

“Israel’s or anyone else’s salvation is not finally completed until the eschaton. Until then, there can be assurance of what is hoped for, but this assurance always stands under the proviso that one must persevere until the end of life” (143-144).

But the eschaton and the end of life are not the same thing. Can’t Witherington tell the difference? So when are we saved or damned? At the time we die? Or is our postmortem status indeterminate until the final judgment?

“Being chosen for historical purposes and being saved are not one and the same thing. Salvation for individuals is by grace and through faith. Election, insofar as the creation of a people is involved, is largely a corporate thing: it is ‘in Israel,’ or it is ‘in Christ,’ but the means of getting in is by faith. Israel as a nation was chosen to be a light to other nations. This is election for a historical purpose, and it says nothing about the eternal salvation of individual Jews” (144).

Several problems here:

i) Notice how he fudges on whether election is individual or corporate. If faith is the differential factor, then he can’t very well play corporate election off against individual election. What he’s really saying is that God chooses believers on the basis of foreseen faith. In that case, election is primarily individual and only secondarily corporate. The corporate dimension would not be constitutive of election, but a side-effect of individual election.

He tries to slide this by the reader in a hurried little paragraph so that we don’t notice that he’s just shot the bottom out of his Arminian dingy.

ii) To claim that the adoption of Israel “says nothing” about the eternal fate of individual Jews is a sizable overstatement. There was a considerable redemptive benefit to being a Jew rather than a pagan. Being a Jew didn’t guarantee you a nonrefundable ticket to heaven, but being a pagan pretty well guaranteed you a nonrefundable ticket to hell.

God doesn’t save people in a historical vacuum. The grace of God is coordinated with the means of grace. You can have the means of grace without the grace of God, but rare can you have the grace of God without the means of grace. Covenants make a difference. They don’t make all the difference, but they are a necessary, if insufficient, condition to being in a state of grace.

Saving faith demands a suitable object. If God chooses to save someone, God will, at some point in life, place that individual in a spiritually advantageous position. Heaven-bound Jews were a subset of Jews generally. Heaven-bound Gentiles came to a saving knowledge of God through contact with the covenant community—as in-laws or proselytes or God-fearers.

iii) There is also a tendency on Witherington’s part to confound the ontology of election with the epistemology of election. We don’t know which Jews were saved as a result of Israel’s adoption. But we do know that some Jews were saved as a result of Israel’s adoption.

“Barrett is right on target: ‘election does not take place…arbitrarily or fortuitously; it takes place always and only in Christ. They are elect who are in him… (Gal 3:29),’” (144).

Really, you don’t know if you should laugh or cry. What does Witherington think he’s opposing, here? What Calvinist believes that election is fortuitous—like the luck of the draw? Election is purposeful, not haphazard.

Witherington’s treatment of Calvinism is so frivolous and dilettantish that it wouldn’t be worth the effort were he not a big name who commands a ready audience.

Yes, the elect are elect in Christ. But everyone is not elect. That’s the point. If you are not elect in Christ, then you are not in Christ, and if you are not in Christ, then you are lost.

“It should be noted that the quote in v15 from Exod 33:19 says nothing about ‘I will judge those whom I will judge’” (144).

Now Withering must resort to semantic hair-splitting:

i) To begin with, there’s the historical context of the Exodus itself—which represents the judgment of God upon a pagan nation.

ii) To withhold mercy implies the opposite of mercy, which is wrath and judgment.

iii) In case some readers can’t figure this out, Paul makes the point explicit in v18, where mercy is shown to some while others are hardened.

iv) Likewise the business about vessels “prepared for destruction” (v22) in direct contrast to vessels “prepared for glory” (v23).

If Witherington is going to indulge in special pleading, I’d much rather than he split hares than split hairs since I could at least get a bowl of rabbit stew out of the exercise.

“Election is not some abstract or inscrutable will of God that lurks behind the revealed will of God, for God’s will and heart are truly revealed in Christ. Whatever is not known about God must comport with what God has revealed to the world in Christ. Thus it is not helpful to talk about pretemporal eternal decrees by God, unless one is talking about what God decreed about and for his Son, the chosen and destined One” (145).

i) This savors of Barth’s Christomonism. Is Witherington a closet Barthian?

ii) We have another helping of Witherington’s inept appeal to Eph 1:4.

iii) A Calvinist would readily agree that God’s decretive will does not lurk behind his revealed will, for God has revealed the existence of his decretive will.

iv) It is illicit to invoke the revelation of God in Christ as a general blocking maneuver to set aside the more specific teaching of Scripture on the scope and nature of election.

v) For that matter, Jesus himself had a fair amount to say about election and reprobation in the Gospel of John (chapters 6, 9-12, 17).

“As Eph 2:3-4 makes quite evident, someone can start out as a vessel of wrath and later become a child of God by grace through faith” (147).

i) No, this is quite inevident. “Vessel” and “child” are not interchangeable metaphors. In Romans, this figures in the potter/clay clay imagery, where God is depicted as being the Creator under the metaphor of a potter.

In Eph 2:3,by contrast, it is not our relation to God, but Adam which is primarily in view. The phrase (“by nature children of wrath”) is an allusion to original sin and the fall of man in Adam, just as we find in Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15.

The text is not talking about a temporal transition from wrath to grace. Christians don’t cease to be Adamites, but not all Adamites are Christians. The contrast lies between what we all are in Adam, and what some of us are in Christ. In Adam we are deserving of wrath and judgment. Indeed, as Christians we are still deserving of wrath and judgment. But as Christians we are judged by what we are in Christ, and not in Adam.

ii) And even if there were a temporal transition from wrath to grace, that is not the same thing as a transition from reprobation to election. There is nothing in Eph 1-2 where we find the reprobate crossing over into a state of grace over or vice versa. What you have, in Eph 1-2 is a conversion process as well as the ulterior explanation for the conversion process. We become Christians in time because we were already in Christ before time.

Witherington is a very capable scholar. And he teaches at the flagship of Arminian seminaries, where he has the benefit of like-minded conversation partners such as Jerry Walls and Joel Green. If this is the best he can do, then he has rendered the cause of Calvinism a distinct service by documenting in great detail the vast inadequacy of its Arminian rival.

Tilting at windmills-2

“The fact that final salvation is a gift that must be received when Christ returns does not in any way relativize the importance of believers here and now persevering in the faith so that they might “be in that number when the saints go marching in.” Nothing in 1 or 2 Thessalonians suggests otherwise, and indeed much suggests that persevering is something that Christians must actively purpose and engage in, for it is possible for them to fall or commit apostasy” (66).

i) This is littered with more confusions and straw man. How is the claim that perseverance is essential to salvation inconsistent with Calvinism when one of the five-points of Calvinism is the perseverance of the saints? Where does Witherington get his information about Calvinism? From Dave Hunt?

ii) It is possible for a Christian to commit apostasy if he doesn’t persevere. It is not possible for a Christian not to persevere. That’s the point of the doctrine. God, by the inner grace of the Holy Spirit and the outward means of grace (e.g. preaching, prayer, Christian fellowship), preserves the elect so that they will, indeed, endure to the end.

iii) Calvinism aside, what does Witherington mean by saying that “final salvation” must be received at the Parousia? Is he saying that a Christian’s salvation is still up in the air when he dies? That unless he receives the gift of final salvation at the Parousia, he is damned? According to Witherington, what happens to a Christian when he dies? Does Witherington subscribe to conditional immortality?

He then appeals to 2 Peter 3:9. But Bauckham, though no Calvinist himself, has pointed out that this has reference, not to humanity in general, but to the covenant community. Cf. Jude, 2 Peter (Word 1983), 312-313. So this verse doesn’t prove that “God desires one thing, the outcome is another,” Witherington’s assertion notwithstanding.

“It may be asked whether Gundry Volf really wants to argue that God infallibly and inevitably appointed some for wrath from before the foundation of the world. Come what may and do what they will” (66)?

i) I have no idea what Volf really wants. But Calvinism does affirm “that God infallibly and inevitably appointed some for wrath from before the foundation of the world.” We call that reprobation.

ii) But then he throws in this business about “come what may and do what they will.” Yet another nescient straw man argument. Although sin is not a sufficient condition of reprobation, it is a necessary condition.

Witherington could have found out about this by consulting any standard Reformed writer on the subject, viz., Bavinck, Berkhof, Frame, Hodge, Turretin, &c.

It’s really rather embarrassing for a man of Witherington’s reputation to raise one know-nothing objection after another. Worse then embarrassing—dishonest. To publish such an uninformed critique of Calvinism is to publicly attack a position without having acquainted oneself with the particulars of that position. The inevitable result is to misrepresent the position in question. This is defamatory and libelous. As an Arminian, Witherington is big on personal responsibility. It would be nice to see him lead by example.

“The issue for this discussion is whether calling means ‘effectual calling’” (66).

Yet another illustration of Witherington’s inability to distinguish words from concepts. Calvinism doesn’t infer effectual calling from the mere use of the verb. It all depends on context.

“When Paul does talk about holiness and progressive sanctification during this lifetime he includes remarks like we find in 1 Thes 4:3-5 where human actions are involved, and not solely divine ones…” (67).

One more example of Witherington’s pig-ignorance. Calvinism doesn’t deny, but rather affirms, a cooperative aspect to sanctification:
“The soul after regeneration continues dependent upon the constant gracious operations of the Holy Spirit, but is, through grace, able to cooperate with them,” “Sanctification,” Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, J. Meeter, ed. (P&R 1980), 2:327.

Not everything in Calvinism is monergistic. Election, regeneration, and justification are monergistic, but that’s not the case with respect to sanctification.

Now Witherington might find that illogical, but the problem is that before you can fault a position, you need to understand it. And Witherington consistently fails on both counts. He misstates the position, then waves it aside without benefit of argument.

As a classic Arminian, Witherington simply assumes that anything done by God negates the human factor, and anything done by man negates the divine factor. Divine and human agency are in a state of fundamental opposition, where one necessarily limits the other.

This is not, of course, the Reformed conception. From the Reformed standpoint, it is God’s unlimited control over all things which makes possible our limited self-control. I can only type this sentence because a software engineer designed a program which makes it possible. The program both constrains and empowers my action. Without the program, I would not be at liberty to type this sentence. I am free to type it thanks to the program, but, by the same token, I am not free to use the program and to resist the program at the same time.

For Witherington, any element of cooperation would introduce an element of uncertainty into the outcome. But that, again, is due to his particular version of action theory.

Take the inspiration of Scripture. This is a cooperative endeavor. God makes full use of a Bible writer’s personality—his knowledge, temperament, faculties, and so on. Yet God is able to secure the outcome of this process. Indeed, God is providentially responsible for the Bible writer’s personality in the first place.

A secondary effect can be contingent on the human agent, but that secondary effect is, in turn, contingent on the divine agent. A second-order outcome of a first-order impetus.

“God accepts all kinds of limitations in order to have a relationship with human beings…God treats his people as persons who will be held responsible for their life choices. A loving response to God cannot be coerced or predetermined, if it is to be personal and free. Indeed, it is also the case that for any behavior to be truly virtuous or loving, it must involve the power of contrary choice” (268-269, n53).

This is, of course, the classic Arminian objection to Calvinism. And there are several things to take note of:

i) This is not an exegetical objection. Witherington has done nothing to show from Scripture itself that any of these assertions is true. He hasn’t shown from Scripture that divine self-limitation is a prerequisite of entering into a personal relationship with man. He hasn’t shown from Scripture that a loving response cannot be predetermined. He hasn’t shown from Scripture that libertarian freedom is a precondition of virtue.

Calvinism begins with the radical idea that if you want to know what God is like, you don’t speculate about God, but listen to God. If you want to know what God has done, you don’t speculate about God, but listen to God. God has told us what he’s like. God has told us what he’s done. We take God’s self-revelation as the source of our knowledge of God.

By contrast, Witherington’s modus operandi is to interpret the Bible in light of what he deems to be the necessary and sufficient conditions of moral responsibility. He doesn’t derive these preconditions from the witness of Scripture itself. Rather, these are extra-Biblical assumptions which control his reading of Scripture.

ii) Not only has Witherington failed to make an exegetical case for his position, but he has failed to mount any sort of argument at all. Apparently, Witherington doesn’t feel the need to argue his position since it is obviously true to him.

But this is hopelessly jejune. I have before me The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. This is a hefty volume, 9.6 inches high by 6.8 inches wide, 638 pages long, with a series of heavily footnoted essays and a 40-page bibliography. The volume includes a variety of highly sophisticated essays defending soft and hard determinism—in addition to essays in favor of libertarian freewill. To my knowledge, none of the critics of libertarian freewill in this volume are Reformed, or even Christian.

The time is long overdue for Arminians like Witherington to get beyond this seat-of-the pants appeal to their pretheoretical intuitions regarding moral responsibility. Amateur night is no substitute for academic rigor.

“In Rom 8:38-39 we have a similar promise for believers bout no external force or factor separating them from the love of God. However, the one thing not listed in that list is, of course, the individual himself” (68).

“Paul will go on to stress that no outside power, circumstance, degree of suffering, or temptation can rip them out of the firm grip that God has on their lives” (75).

“He means all that is necessary for salvation, all that is necessary to protect believers from spiritual danger in all sorts of difficult and dangerous circumstances…no third party or power or force or circumstance or lesser supernatural being will be able to separate the believer from the love of God in Christ” (78).

“His point is to stress that no other forces, powers, experiences, or events external to the believer’s own heart or mind can do so” (81).

This is a very arbitrary distinction. Is “temptation” internal or external to our heart and mind? Is “suffering” internal or external to our heart and mind?

Why would a professing believer feel tempted to fall away? Why would he succumb to temptation? Oftentimes it is under duress and pressure from outside incentives to leave the faith and/or disincentives to remain faithful.

In fact, Witherington has Rom 8:28-39 exactly backwards by making it say what it doesn’t say, and by denying what it does say. Rom 8:28-39 takes for granted the existence of these external threats in the life of the believer. God will not shield the believer from exposure to these hostile situations. So what is left? If Christians are outwardly at the mercy of such circumstances, then the only thing which keeps them from falling is the inner grip of God.

By his own account, Witherington clearly believes that God does not do all that’s necessary for salvation, God does not do all that’s necessary to protect believers from spiritual danger, since Witherington also believes that a true child of God can be lost.

“Paul addresses the entire Thessalonian audience in this fashion throughout this letter” (70).

Naturally. This is a public letter, not a private letter. It is a medium of mass communication. Since Paul is not in Thessalonica at the time of writing, he can’t individualize. So he writes a letter. It’s a one-to-many means of communication. This doesn’t mean that everything he says is equally true of everyone to whom the letter is addressed.

“The language of election, appointing, destining is used in a variety of ways in Paul, and indeed in the NT, and in no case is it used in a fashion that suggests that humans are predetermined for salvation or wrath regardless of their own volitions or desires, as if only God’s will was involved in such crucial matters, or as if only God’s will determines the outcome of these things” (70).

Like clockwork, we’re treated to yet another one of Witherington’s simplistic caricatures of the opposing position. Notice how he jumbles distinct concepts and categories. God is the only agent who determines the outcome. God is not the only agent involved in the outcome. Election and reprobation presuppose sin, so election and reprobation are not irrespective of our sinful volitions and desires. But election is not contingent on how we would response since, left to our own devices, we are rebels and fugitives.

Again, salvation does involve the human will, for regeneration renews the fallen will, but by that very same token, regeneration enjoys causal priority over faith and repentance. The Christian is an active participant in some, but not all phases, of salvation. But he is activated or reactivated by God, and his subsequent activity is not autonomous.

“There is a synergistic nature to perseverance as God works in the person or persons to will and do to, but they also must work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The human part is not optional or otiose” (72).

“There is more than one will in operation in the universe. There is God’s will and human wills, not to mention the willing of angels and demons and the devil” (74).

No Calvinist denies this. But does God thereby cede some of his authority to the devil? Is this a power-sharing arrangement? Why would Witherington rather be at the mercy of the Devil than at the mercy of the Lord?

“Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and other ancient Greek commentators knew Paul’s’ Greek far better than we do” (74).

That may well be so, but excepting for Origen, who is accounted a heretic, the Greek Fathers didn’t know their way around the Hebrew OT, which is key to understanding NT theology.

“Rom 8:29 must be red in light of v28…Paul is not discussing some mass of unredeemed humanity out of which God chose some to be among the elect” (75).

So we should read Rom 8:29 in light of Rom 8:28, but we shouldn’t read Rom 8:29 in light of what Paul has to say about the mass of unredeemed humanity in Rom 1-6 or the common lump in Rom 9. Don’t you just love contextual exegesis?

Quoting Achtemeier:
“As Paul uses [the terms foreknow and predestine], they do not refer in the first instance to some limitation on our freedom, nor do they refer to some arbitrary decision by God that some creatures are to be denied all chance at salvation” (75).

This characterization could scarcely be more prejudicial. It begins by initially positing the fact of human freedom which Calvinism then proceeds to “limit.” It describes election and reprobation as “arbitrary.” It describes salvation as giving everyone a “chance.” The insinuation here is that God has to make a special effort to prevent sinners from being saved. Reading Witherington write about Calvinism is like reading a Klansman write a biography of Lincoln.

“Paul will make clear in Rom 10:8-15 that the basis of that response is faith and confession” (76).

And what is the source of faith or its absence? Paul attributes faith to the gift of God while he attributes unbelief to the hardening of God. Witherington’s answer only pushes the question back a step. And when we take a step back, the answer is found in God’s will, not in man’s.

“Knowing and willing are not one and the same with God. The proof, of course, is that God knows very will about human sin, but he does not will it or destine it to happen” (76).

Remember that Witherington is supposed to be writing a critique of Calvinism. But instead of arguing for his own position, all he does here is to assume what he needs to prove. His illustration only proves his point if he takes Arminian theology as the frame of reference.

Needless to say, Calvinism affirms the very thing he breezily denies: God did foreordain the Fall. Indeed, the Bible expressly says so (Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22).

Witherington is incapable of thinking outside his Arminian box even for the sake of argument. Throughout his chapters on Calvinism he simply takes Arminian theology as the standard of reference. That isn’t dialogue. That isn’t argument.

Witherington reminds me of multiculturalism. The beauty of multiculturalism is that you don't actually have to know a thing about another culture. You can see this in the way the multiculturalist makes excuses for militant Islam. The multiculturalist doesn’t listen to what Muslims in the Muslim world have to say about Islam. Instead, the multiculturalist has his preconceived sociological theories about what motivates a Muslim.

Witherington is the same way. Don’t be a listener. Don’t be a learner. Talk about the Calvinist, but never talk to the Calvinist.

One of Witherington’s problems is that he can only think in terms of coordinate relationships (cofactors) rather than subordinate relationships (cause and effect). This so conditions his outlook that he is blind to what the text of Scripture actually says. Take his allusion to Phil 2:12-13. Paul doesn’t lay the divine and human factors side-by-side, as if these were independent of each other or opposed to each other.

As Moisés Silva observes,
“Our dependence on divine activity for sanctification is nowhere made as explicit as here. To begin with, God’s work is viewed as having a causal relation to our working (gar, ‘for’); our activity is possible only because of divine grace. Second, the syntax is emphatic: Paul says not merely ‘God works’ (ho theos energei) but ‘the one who works the working is God’ (theos…estin ho energon…to energein). Third, the divine influence is said to extend not only to our activity but to our very wills—a unique statement, though the idea is implied in other passages (e.g., Jn 1:13; Rom 9:16),” Philippians (Baker 2005), 122.

Moving along:

“Paul speaks only of him as the God who reveals himself, not as the hidden God whose will and ways are inscrutable, and whose hidden counsels might actually be the opposite of his revealed Word” (78).

After a while you don’t expect Witherington to know what he’s talking about or fairly depict the opposing position. As a rule, there’s no correlation between what truly is and what he says. But at the risk of stating the obvious, Calvinism subscribes to predestination precisely because predestination is a revealed truth of Scripture.

“Since vv29-30 must be linked to v28…Paul makes perfectly clear that he is talking bout Christians here. The statement bout them loving God precedes and determines how e should read both the ous in these verses, and the chain of verbs. God knew something in advance b out these persons, namely that they would respond to the call of God” (268, n.44).

This analysis is simply incompetent: no other way of putting it:

i) It confounds a literary sequence (vv28-30) with a causal-temporal sequence as though, if vv29-30 are subsequent to v28, then God’s action must be subsequent to v28. You can hardly get more disoriented than this: confounding the literary level of discourse with its extra-textual referent.

ii) Even at the literary level, his analysis misses the point. VV29-30 do, indeed, refer back to v28. But the causal-temporal sequence is in reverse: vv29-30 explain how the Christians in v28 came to be believers, and the destiny that awaits them.

“Election is a corporate concept, and individuals can opt in or out of the elect group” (81-82).

Here we have Witherington trying, once again, to play both sides of the fence. You can’t say that election is a corporate concept, and then immediately proceeds to make exceptions.

Witherington appeals to corporate election to oppose the Reformed doctrine of individual election. But this would only work if election were exclusively corporate. Once you talk about individuals opting in and out of election, you are now talking about elect individuals. To be sure, you are doing so in a way scarcely coherent, but that’s part of the problem.

“Beginning at Eph 1:4, Paul talks about the concept of election. The key phrase to understanding what he means by this concept is ‘in him’ or ‘in Christ’…By God’s choosing of him (who is the Elect One), and those who would come to be in him were chosen in the person of their agent or redeemer” (83-84).

Witherington frequently appeals to Eph 1:4 to prove corporate election. This is merely his fullest statement.

But his Barthian interpretation is clearly fallacious:

i) Eph 1:4 doesn’t say that God chose Christ. Christ is not the object of the verb. Rather, God chose “us.” “Hemas” is the object of the verb. To say that God chose us “in Christ” is not syntactically equivalent to saying that God chose Christ. Doesn’t Witherington know basic Greek grammar?

There is nothing necessarily wrong with saying that Christ is the chosen one (cf. Isa 42:1, LXX), but that is not what Paul says here, and for Witherington to tell his readers otherwise, most of whom don’t read Ephesians in the original, is simply dishonest.

And even if Christ were the chosen one, that’s a very different concept than the idea of elect sinners.

ii) A Calvinist doesn’t deny the corporate dimension of election. God is saving a people—a people comprising his church. But this also doesn’t authorize you to drive a wedge between corporate and individual election, playing the former off against the latter.

Election has means as well as ends. To be chosen in union with Christ is to be appointed to salvation, not apart from Christ, but through Christ, as our Redeemer.

iii) When Paul goes on to say of the elect that they believed the gospel and received the seal of salvation (1:13-14), the effect of election terminates on elect individuals.

iv) Paul uses the plural (“us”) because he is writing to the church of Ephesus. He is addressing his letter to a congregation. But, needless to say, a congregation is made up of individual members.

v) Paul doesn’t talk about those who “come to be in him,” but those who were and are in him by virtue of eternal election—“chosen before the foundation of the world.” Once again we see Witherington defy the actual wording of the text. Can’t he read Greek?

You’d think a Greek scholar could do a better job of it. And Witherington is a very able scholar. But he’s blinded by the very thing he is quick to criticize in others—agenda-driven exegesis.

“Paul is not talking about the pretemporal electing or choosing of individual humans outside of Christ to be in Christ…” (84).

Once more, you wonder if Witherington has any grasp of the position he is opposing. He writes this as though he were setting this over against the Reformed doctrine of election. But Calvinism doesn’t deny that Christians are elect in Christ. To the contrary, Calvinism emphatically affirms the internal relation between the work of the Father in election, and the work of the Son in redemption—as well as the work of the Spirit in the renewal of the elect and redeemed.

“The concept here is not radically different than the conception of the election of Israel in Rom 9-11. During the OT era, if one was in Israel, one was part of God’s chosen people; if one had no such connection, one was not elect. Individual persons within Israel could opt out by means of apostasy, and others could be grafted in” (84).

i) I agree with Witherington that the concept of election in Eph 1 is essentially the same as the concept of election in Rom 9-11, but I disagree with his interpretation of Rom 9-11.

ii) Witherington completely fails to take into account the progressive character of redemptive history. The national adoption of Israel is not at all interchangeable with the eternal election of the church. What we have in Israel is an elect remnant within the national as a whole (Rom 2:28-29; 9:6-8; 11:1-10). Although the nation of Israel was set apart by God in contrast to the surrounding nations, that is not the same thing as the remnant. There’s a difference between ritual purity and a pure heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4).

The proper analogy here would be the invisible church within the visible church. Not all members of the visible church are elect, and not all the elect are members of the visible church.