Thursday, January 12, 2006

And the McCain Saga Continues

Dr. McCain has responded to Steve Hays response to his latest jeremiad about Calvinism and Christ. Steve may respond in kind, and I know he can more than hold his own. I'm up late tonight and have time to respond, so I'll go for a round. For now, I'll make a few observations. I'm busy finishing a project this week, so I may or may not make it back. For now this will have to do.

The bottom line is that it remains quite disturbing that you Calvinist chaps can carry on conversations about "assurance of salvation" or "election" without mentioning Jesus.

Notice here that Steve pointed the Rev. McCain here: Election and Assurance

If Dr. McCain believes that is not Christocentric, then he needs to construct a case telling us why, when it clearly makes statements like this:

The opposite error would be to trust in your faith in Christ. Once again, the assurance of salvation comes, not from trusting in your faith, but trusting in Christ.

You don’t look to your faith; rather, your faith is looking to Christ.Faith looking at itself is a source of spiritual insecurity. Never look to your own faith. Don’t put faith in faith; rather, put your faith in Christ.

One wonders if he ever bothers to read and interact with that which he criticizes. Dr. McCain continues:

But that is pretty much par for the course from you sort of Calvinists, you love to listen to yourselves blather on with all sorts of arguments, but somehow, somewhere, you leave Jesus behind.

But that's also typical...since Jesus is stuck up in heaven now anyway, incapable of being present with us.

This gets us to the heart of the matter. The real problem here, for Dr. McCain, is that we don't locate Jesus in the sacraments. Jesus not being present with us is his stock euphemism for criticizing Reformed sacramentology, viz. the Lord's Supper. Fair enough. However, considering that, as Steve pointed out so well, in Lutheran theology one can have a valid baptism and regular communicant of the Eucharist and still be a nominal believer or eventual apostate, one has to wonder what kind of assurance that is? Why is this a better option than the Reformed doctrine or, for that matter, Antonio's view?

For the sake of argument let's stipulate to Lutheran sacramentology and Christology for a moment. What we then have here is a Christ that does not save and cannot assure anybody of salvation, for, if one can still receive the sacraments and the sacraments mediate grace, then Lutheranism's Christ is not a Christ who actually and fully saves His people, since one can partake of them and still be an apostate or nominal believer. If one is justified by faith alone, then why look to the sacraments for assurance?

From my perspective, that's a recipe for false assurance. It teaches communicants to look to the Eucharist for assurance. It is one thing to say "This is a visible reminder of what Christ has done for you," quite another to say "Get your assurance from this." The focus moves from Christ to the sacraments. That's a step away from focusing saving faith itself, viz. justification in particular, on bread and wine, not the Lord Jesus alone. Compare this to Reformed theology, where the Father elects, Christ redeems, the Spirit applies the benefits of election and redemption to the elect infallibly, they all have faith in Christ alone, and all the elect persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation.

In the past, Dr. McCain has mocked Calvin's view of the sacraments. For that discussion, look at Veritas Redux and follow the links Evan provides.

Dr. McCain can't seem to get it in his head that the old rivalries are over. Why doesn't he just go ahead and call us Nestorians, and we can call him a Monophysite. Now, does that make everybody happy? Shall we now draw poison pens?

While we're on this subject, we may as well take a quick look at what he had to say back then. Notice the common thread in Dr. McCain’s argument: He uses icons to tangibly remind him of Christ when worshipping. He needs not only the real presence but also a particular view of the real presence in order for Christ to be made tangible to him in communion and for the very assurance of salvation. Parse it as he may, Dr. McCain's faith for his assurance isn't in Christ, it is in a particular view of the sacraments. It's not in Christ alone, its in the elements at the Lord's Table. It's not in Christ, but an image of Christ. It's not in Christ, the God-man, but in the human nature of Christ divinized. Now, he may wish to argue for his sacramentology and the Christology it requires, but until he does, all he is doing is assuming those issues without benefit of argument.

By the way, in his mockery of Calvin’s views in the past, Dr. McCain forgets his own tradition’s theologians. Lutherans believe calling their view consubstantiation is a derogatory appellation made by their detractors. Fair enough. So how do they describe it? Let’s see:

Calvin believed in the real, spiritual presence of Christ at the Lord’s Table. Rev. McCain should look to the theologians of his own tradition who published under the name of the very publishing house Dr. McCain runs, Concordia. On p. 280 of Christian Dogmatics, John Muller says

“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

To quote Steve Hays

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

Dr. McCain also said:

“We are supposed to conjure some sort of “spiritual” communion with Christ, which is as about as imaginative and allegorical as you can get.”

If he would actually interact with Reformed theology itself, he would find that Christ is said to be spiritually present to the faith of believers. Unless he affirms baptismal regeneration and justification as such, his own tradition affirms baptism is a means of grace that engenders faith in an infant and it will die if not nourished and the child converted. Isn’t Christ spiritually present to the faith of the believers when they are baptized as adults if they come to you without a valid baptism? Isn’t Christ spiritually present to the faith of the church when infants are baptized? Isn't Christ spiritually present to the faith of the infant? So, on the one hand, Dr. McCain needs to affirm that Christ is spiritually present to the faith of believers and children receiving baptism when they are justified, baptized, and in daily living the Christian life through the Holy Spirit, but on the other he mocks the assertion that Christ is spiritually present to the faith of believers in the Lord’s Supper, yet it was Luther who said,
“Not only was Christ in heaven when He walked on earth, but the Apostles too, and all of us as well, who are mortals here on earth, insofar as we believe in Christ.”
Note the WCF on the Lord’s Supper says that Christ is spiritually present to the faith of believers. Exactly how is it that Christ, the Apostles, and we are ubiquitous in both heaven and earth "insofar as we believe in Christ” (Luther) any different that Christ being spiritually present to the faith of believers in communion? Uh-huh.

As for the view being “imaginative” he may wish to revisit church history. Zwingli argued the word meant “signified” not “exists as,” and is attributed to Zwingli’s rationalism, not his imagination. Which is more ambiguous, to say that the word “is” in that context in Scripture (Mark 14:22) means “signfiies” or that it means “exists as?” Christ also calls Himself a door and the true vine, are we to interpret that Christ is a door and a vine too? No. It’s the same logic Zwingli used, and, ironically, the same logic Protestants, including Lutherans, employ when discussing transubstantiation with Roman Catholics. If that's "imaginative" then does Dr. McCain accord ubiquity to his own humanity "insofar as he believes in Christ?" If so, why isn't that also "imaginative."

By the way is the cup the new covenant too? Jesus also said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” If we take the Lutheran or the Catholic view as correct, then why don’t they also affirm that the cup is the new covenant? He certainly did not mean it was actually the covenant, did He? Luther makes Jesus words mean “this accompanies my body.” Why take “is” one way for the elements and another for the cup? What is the exegetical warrant for that?

Which is more imaginative, to say “is” means “signifies” or to redefine the meaning of the word “body” and say, as Luther did,

“Not only was Christ in heaven when He walked on earth, but the Apostles too, and all of us as well, who are mortals here on earth, insofar as we believe in Christ?”
If body is something we do not normally mean it to be, then to say Christ is human and has a real body will no longer be as unambigous it would otherwise seem. If Christ’s body is ubiquitous, then it is hard to think of it as a human body, and thus it is difficult to conceive of his human nature. (Brown, Heresies, A History of Heresy and Orthodoxy in the Church). We are left with a Monophyistic Christ and a Docetic set of communion elements. They only seem to be bread and wine, but are really His body and blood. He, especially His body, only seems to be fully human, but has been divininzed. Notice also the implicit contradiction. Dr. McCain has to divinize Christ’s body in heaven in order to make Christ tangible in the communion elements.

If he would actually interact John Calvin and Reformed theology in a fair-minded manner, Dr. McCain would not misrepresent John Calvin on this issue. Calvin objected to Jesus being with him with respect to his humanity, not his divinity. Calvin did not say that Jesus is in heaven and not present elsewhere. Christ is fully God and fully man. He never ceases to be present in all of His being with respect to His divinity, and never has. He would not be fully God if that was the case. Otherwise you end up with a theology of kenosis that is unbiblical. If McCain actually paid attention, Calvin rejected the concept of ubiquity of Christ’s humanity on the basis that it made Christ human only in appearance, which is derivative of Monophysitism which is itself an echo of Docetism.

The classic charge by Lutherans is that Calvin was Nestorian. Read the Chalcedonian Creed and compare it to Nestorius own views. Calvin says nothing that the creed does not affirm. I direct you further here: Lessons on Historical Theology. There are a number of articles in that series that are most insightful, and they cover the rest of the territory. They are under the heading Historical Theology: Christological Controversies. When Calvin did modify those creeds, he did so to affirm that the Son and Spirit are autotheos and do not proceed in essence from the Father, because anti-trinitarians like Valentinus were using the creeds to affirm unitarianism. He saw the creeds needed more clarity. Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have not objected to this redefinition to any great extent, given the reason it was made.

If we say that the human nature of Christ shares in the omnipresence of Christ, then we have a single incarnate nature, not 2 natures in one person as Chaledon affirms. Dr. McCain has apparently forgotten that the old charge is that Lutherans are closet Monophysites. That’s what you get when you base your Christology and sacramentology theology on the scholasticism from the Latern Councils, not Scripture itself. Perhaps rather than allowing his sacramentology to inform Scripture, Dr. McCain would care to address Scripture itself on the matter. If he wishes to bring up the Iconoclast Controversies and rehash Chalcedon while we’re at it, then let’s go there and lay it all out again. After all, these discussions have a long and tattered history. Lutherans and Calvinists have learned to get along and have since the irenic centuries, but if Dr. McCain would like to push all that to the side, we certainly can. Do we really want to engage in those controversies again, or can we not just stick to the exegesis of Scripture?

I personally find Lutheranism a seaworthy vessel for getting God's people into the kingdom. Unlike Dr. McCain, I don't go around looking to attack other evangelical Protestants based on sacramentology. The last I checked the Reformed churches were seaworthy as well. Just yesterday I was commenting on a Southern Baptist blog defending Dr. McCain's church against the charge of salvation by works. I did this on the basis that they hold to Sola Fide and one cannot look to the sacraments or baptism for anything, including assurance, unless converted. I would hope I was correct in that assessment, but one begins to wonder when a Lutheran of his caliber says the Reformed are not Christocentric.

Can Dr. McCain construct an explanation regarding how exactly the human nature of Christ is present “with, under the bread and wine” of the Lord’s Supper and still be His human nature and fully human? After the Resurrection Christ is depicted as being glorified, able to appear and reappear mysteriously, have an incorruptible body, etc., but there is still continuity with the original body. “Illocality” is not depicted of Him in Scripture. When He is present in the room in His incarnate, resurrected body, He is truly bodily present. Nobody orthodox has ever disputed the notion He is always present in His divinity anyway.

One would have to divinize the human nature in order for his assertion about the elements to be valid. Glorfication is not “divinization.” That is classic Apollinarianism and Monophysitism and Greek piety, not Scripture speaking.

Where does Scripture affirm that Christ’s human nature is present in such a manner? To say that Christ’s humanity is present in the elements divinizes His human nature and further restricts it to the elements at the Lord’s Table, so His humanity shares ubiquity with His divinity with respect to the elements at the Table, yet omnipresence (ubiquity) means God (in all 3 Persons) is present everywhere. Think about that for a moment. How can His human nature be in two places at once, specifically in the elements injested at the Lord’s Table, and Christ be fully human? Approaching this from the other direction, how can His human nature share in the divine ubiquity, which means God is everywhere, and be localized only in the bread and wine? You have to create a special category of ubiquity for Christ’s humanity and the communication of attributes in order to accomodate such a view. I'm sorry Dr. McCain, but you need an exegetical warrant for that.

Lutheran theology tries to get around this by saying His human nature is “illocal” in the Eucharist. The problem is this: It’s not really illocal in this view, it is clearly localized in the elements and in heaven; that’s two specific places at a single time, a fly trapped in amber across two levels of existence. Thus, not only is Christ with respect to His human nature in heaven, He is present on earth in the elements in time when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. That makes his human nature subject to time as well as spatial constraints on earth as well as heaven. That’s one reason why Calvin rejected the notion of ubiquity of Christ’s body in the elements; it involves too many equivocations on the nature of time and space and what and does and does not constitute localization that necessitate extra-biblical ideas and doesn’t appear to be supportable from Scripture. Calvin stakes out a position between that of Luther and Zwingli. In Lutheran sacramentology, we have an illocal presence that is localized, a human nature that is not fully human, an omnipresence that is limited in presence, a divinization that makes Him tangible, and not a theophany, which is an altogether different manifestation. You end up with something other than 2 natures in one Person with ” the property of each nature being preserved.” (Chalcedon).

In Reformed theology, you have a Father that elects, a Son that redeems to the uttermost, and a Spirit that applies this infallibly, and a persevering faith engendered by that Spirit that connects you to the righteousness of Christ, indwells and fills you, empowers your life, and will bring you safely through from beginning to end. I don't need the sacraments for my assurance, Dr. McCain, I have Jesus, the Word of God, the promises thereof, and the work of the Spirit in me. My faith is looking to Christ alone, clinging to Him, not the bread and wine or my baptism. Given the choice I'd rather choose my Lord alone than water, wine, and bread.


  1. Mr Mccain awhile back woke up to the fact that Lutheranism is not the vital center of biblical doctrinal discussion and debate, and it has lit him afire, but he's just yet to formulate an effective strategy to do anything about it.

    Learning that he runs a Lutheran publishing house is disappointing because most likely his worldly ties to that job might hamper his independence and objectivity in these kinds of discussions.

  2. I'm appreciating very much everyone's kind efforts to let me know what I really mean and what I really think.

    One correction though.

    I'm not a "Dr." either a real one, with an earned degree from a legitimate institution of higher learning, or one of those types who get their "Doctorate" from Internet type schools and such.

    Maybe some day, I'll get an honorary doctorate, which is truly the most Christian doctorate of all since it is given entirely by grace alone, apart from any works, but until then, I'm not "Dr." McCain.

    But thanks for the kind assumption.

    Oh, K7, by the way, thanks for your charitable characterization of what is really animating me. There's been another one of your ilk who likes hiding behind a fake name in order to take pot shots. At least Steve and Evan don't do that! Thanks guys.

    And, I did appreciate much more the post you guys referred me to. Thanks for bringing Jesus into the discussion.

    Not to spoil all the fun, but my original point was simply responding to a post on this blog that talked about assurance of salvation without one word about Jesus...sure, you may have been responding to somebody's response to soembody's response, etc.

    But....still....I just always really appreciate putting Christ front and center as much as we possibly can, and it just seems that no matter how or why we are talking about assurance of salvation, we would surely want to make Jesus the star of that discussion.

    Sometime you guys are going to have to explain to me how it is that some "Calvinists" seem to believe in infant baptism, and others do not but they are still claiming they are Reformed but Baptists, but not Calvinists?

    Maybe you might take a stab at a post "Calvinism for Dummies" or something like that trying to make sense of all the various "confessions" and the various five-point, or four-point, or infant baptism, or not, etc. etc. etc.

    Sure would be nice if you guys could have one single book we could all take a look at, like we have:

  3. Mr. McCain said:
    Sometime you guys are going to have to explain to me how it is that some "Calvinists" seem to believe in infant baptism, and others do not but they are still claiming they are Reformed but Baptists, but not Calvinists?

    Sir, I believe you have several different categories here all balled up into one or two. I think I see how it could be made more clear to you.

    1. You have Calvinists who follow Calvin's theology past the doctrines of grace to the Sacraments and Ecclesiology (at least a bit). These are the Presbyterians.
    2. You have Calvinists who follow Calvin's theology to the Sacraments, but not to polity. These are the Congregational Churches.
    3. You have Calvinists who believe in the doctrines of grace, but who believe that the principle of sola scriptura leads to credobaptism and memorialism as well. It should be noted that a survey of Baptist history will show that this is how the Particular Baptists came about, not by tacking Calvinism onto credobaptism, but beginning with Calvinism and coming to credobaptist conclusions.
    4. Within the former category, you have two types of Calvinist Baptists: "Reformed Baptists," who tend to follow Covenant Theology more fully, and the rest of the Calvinist Baptists, who may formulate a less Presbyterian hermeneutic, some of whom go so far as to be Dispensationalists (that one always confused me).
    5. There are also Baptists who call themselves "Reformed" but are not Calvinists; their use of the word "Reformed" goes against the convention within Calvinist groups, but that's no reason not to use the word differently, I guess. I think the idea is that they believe that they are the church which has most purely preserved the Gospel (don't we all hope the same thing about our own churches?), and therefore they are "Reformed" in opposition to everyone else, who just uses the word to mean "Calvinist."
    6. I know of at least one hyper-Calvinist who refuses to use the word "Calvinist" because he believes Calvin was not a Christian. He's a man who himself desperately needs the Gospel preached to him.

    I just stumbled across this post, and I do not know anything about the context, so I won't pretend to know your inclinations, Mr. McCain, but in case your reply to this might be to denigrate Calvinism for producing so many variations, please note that the same can be said of any other theological tradition. One could say it of the whole Christian faith. If the presence of variation and deviation is a detractor from Calvinism, then it is a detractor from Lutheranism as well. If German liberalism is no indication that Lutheranism itself is flawed, then neither are the faults in those who have come out of the Calvinist tradition an indication that Calvinism is flawed. Does the fact that Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and other Christian denominations exist (not to mention the false churches) make the message of Christ less sure? Of course not. Neither, then, can the presence of so many groups with the name "Calvinist" be an argument against Calvinism.

    I don't think you would have responded in this way, since the truth or falsehood of our doctrine is always to be tested by the Scriptures rather than by how men have used, misused, or altered it, but I have heard the objection raised before, so I figured I'd sand bag it just in case.

  4. Aaron, thanks for taking the time to offer a useful primer on the various branches and versions of Calvinism. Very helpful. I admit I've always assumed "Calvinism" is somewhat as clearly delineated as "Lutheranism" so I appreciate understanding the important nuances and differences. Of course, for all of us, we have to realize that there is a "liberal" wing of all of our confessions, which is to say, they don't much give a hoot about historic confessions, since they have long lost confidence that God's Word is infallible and inerrant, so I never much bother trying to figure them out, and besides, after all, the liberal mainline versions of our various churches all in the end pretty much sounding alike anyway.

    I would much rather grapple and wrestle over truth, and for truth, with people who take their confessional commitments seriously.

    Thanks again.

  5. Thank you, sir, for your courtesy. I am sympathetic to historic Lutheranism, and I believe that we (Calvinists and Lutherans) have much to learn from one another. As for liberals in mainline churches, I know a bit about that... I'm an Episcopalian. I think we could all learn a bit about dealing with that problem from the Southern Baptists.

  6. "I would much rather grapple and wrestle over truth, and for truth, with people who take their confessional commitments seriously."

    Just because Calvinists have differing confessions doesn't mean they don't take them seriously.

  7. "I would much rather grapple and wrestle over truth, and for truth, with people who take their confessional commitments seriously."

    Just because Calvinists have differing confessions doesn't mean they don't take them seriously.

  8. Why did Calvin have such a hard time seeing that in the sacraments, matter does convay grace? What is wrong with this view? Jesus, when healing a blind man, used matter to convay grace -- after the man showed his faith, Jesus took some mud from the ground (MATTER), mixed it with his saliva (MATTER), and put it on the man's eyes. he was healed, through matter. Why can't y'all see this principle works in the Sacraments.

  9. Because it's not in the Scriptures, Hello. Furthermore, the mud did not save the blind man. You're equivocating physical healing and salvation. The Scriptures themselves do not even say that the mud conferred the healing.

    John 9:6 Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud
    John 9:7 and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

    There's nothing in the text here that indicates that the mud was anything more than... a sign. He was blind, but now he sees; he was dirty, but now he's washed. The funny thing to me about all this is that your view makes it difficult to see any sort of salvific implications to the mud and the washing. We become wrapped up in the mud, and attach some fetishistic power to it, instead of being able to see this, as all Christ's actions are, as a moment to teach us about our woeful position before God and the need of cleansing.

    In short, you can't justify (from the Scriptures) even the claim that "grace" was conferred through mud, much less that the "grace" conferred is equivalent in any way to what happens in the Supper.