Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Creepy stuff!


Ah, yes, the wonderfully reassuring Calvinist doctrine of God choosing some He created to roast in hell.

Ok, kids, now get out your decoder rings, we are going to read the Bible Calvinist style! we go.

"All" ... dial in the code and you will see that really that word is "some"

"World" ... dial in that code and you will see that word is really "some of the world."

You get the picture.

Creepy stuff indeed.

# posted by ptmccain : 1/17/2006 7:01 PM


Gene Bridges, in his excellent reply, hasn’t left much for me to say by way of responding to McCain’s latest salvo. So my own rejoinder will be a footnote to his—a mopping-up operation.

1.On a side note, I find it odd that McCain keeps trying to drag me into a fight over Lutheranism. While I have some definite disagreements with Lutheran theology, there's almost nothing I disagree with in Lutheran theology that I don't disagree with in a number of other theological traditions, while Lutheranism has a number of compensatory virtues which are absent from the other theological traditions. Indeed, it even has virtue lacking in the Reformed tradition—an unsurpassed musical legacy. Hence, until McCain came along, I've had next to nothing to say by way of explicit criticism of the Lutheran tradition.

McCain suffers from a deep-seated antipathy towards Calvinism which I just can't reciprocate towards Lutheranism. Indeed, when I was still living in California I used to attend a WELS church for the singing and preaching.

2.It’s striking to see how Mr. McCain simply blew past all the verses I cited in support of double predestination.

Now, I’ll grant you that citing a concatenation of prooftexts is not the same thing as proving your point. It’s not a substitute for exegesis. But Lutheranism needs to do something with all these passages as well.

Calvinism didn’t invent the doctrine of election whole cloth. And Calvinism didn’t invent the doctrine of reprobation whole cloth. This is not the implication of a belief-system. Rather, Calvinism taking its cue from the witness of Scripture.

3.It’s always funny to see so many critics of Calvinism appeal to the passages of Scripture which seem to speak of the atonement in cosmic or universal terms.

Our critics act as if they held the patent on these particular verses of Scripture. But if we were to interpret words like “world” and “all” the way McCain chooses to do, then the only theological tradition which could monopolize on these passages of Scripture is universalism.

And this is not just a hypothetical position. In our own time, writers like Thomas Talbott, Marilyn McCord Adams, and Jan Boda have penned book-length defenses of universalism.

4. Regarding the “universal” (“every,” “all”) passages, McCain doesn’t know the function of a universal quantifier. He doesn’t know the difference between sense and referent. If he’d doing any serious reading in Biblical semantics he’d know this.

5. Regarding the “cosmic” (“world) passages, McCain is like an old-time fundamentalist who assumes that a word has the same meaning for a contemporary reader that it had for the original author. As Vern Poythress put it:

“’Plain interpretation,’ let us say, is interpretation of a text by interpreters against the context of the interpreters’ tacit knowledge or their own worldview and historical situation. It minimizes the role of the original historical and cultural context. Grammatical-historical interpretation differs from plain interpretation precisely over the question of the primary historical and cultural context for interpretation. Plain interpretation reads everything as if it were written directly to oneself, in one’s own time and culture,” Understanding Dispensationalists (Zondervan 1987). I’d add that more astute fundamentalists are correcting for this mistake.

Now, when, as 21C reader, you come across a word like the “world,” what comes to mind? Doesn’t it conjure up a mental image of the globe, as seen from outer space by Apollo 11? Doesn’t it trigger a mental map of glowing cities and swarming multitudes scattered all across the face of the earth?

When we, as modern readers, come across this word, we bring a tacit geography to bear on the meaning. We prejudge the meaning based on our own experience and usage.

But to assume that this must be what John or Paul intended courts a gross anachronism.

If McCain were to spend a little time with the standard Greek lexicons and dictionaries (e.g., BAG, DNTT, EDNT, TLNT), he’d see that his assumption is quite unscholarly and simplistic.

Let’s take some concrete examples. In the most recent major commentary on John, this is how Andrew Lincoln interprets Jn 3:16:

“Some argue that the term ‘world’ here simply has neutral connotations—the created human world. But the characteristic use of “the world” (ho kosmos) elsewhere in the narrative is with negative overtones—the world in its alienation from and hostility to its creator’s purposes. It makes better sense in a soteriological context to see the latter notion as in view. God loves that which has become hostile to God. The force is not, then, that the world is so vast that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it, but rather that the world has become so alienated from God that it takes an exceedingly great kind of love to love it at all,” The Gospel According to St. John (Henrickson 2005), 154.

In other words, Jn 3:16 defines the love of God, not by the number of the people whom God loves, but by the kind of people whom God loves.

And if McCain were to consult a concordance of Johannine usage, he could see for himself that this is, in fact, characteristic of Johannine usage.

Or let’s consider the universal language of the Pastoral Epistles. This is how one scholar, in a standard commentary on the Pastorals, broaches the question. He begins with a discussion of the "Ephesian heresy”:

“Paul explicitly calls the teaching ‘Jewish’ (Titus 1:14) and speaks of ‘those of the circumcision” (Titus 1:10). The opponents want to be known as teachers of the law (1 Tim 1:7), and to apply its restrictive function to all people for both salvation and lifestyle…Repeatedly Paul calls the teaching ‘myths’ (1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 4:4; Titus 1:14). ‘Myths and genealogies’ (1 Tim 1:4; Titus 3:9) are probably haggadic Midrash: allegorical reinterpretations of the OT, perhaps as fanciful interpretations of the OT genealogies…along the order of those found in Jubilees and Pseudo-Philo Biblical Antiquities…The heresy appears to be sectarian and exclusive, or anti-Gentile (1 Tim 2:1-7), warranting Paul’s emphasis on the universal offer of salvation to all people (1 Tim 2:6; 4:10; cf. 1:15), including Gentiles (1 Tim 2:7),” W. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (T. Nelson, 2000), lxix-lxx.

Regarding 1 Tim 2:5 in particular, he then says:

“The only other place Paul speaks about a mediator is in Gal 3:19, where he identifies Moses as the mediator of the OT law…It is also possible that here Paul is contrasting Christ’s mediatorial work for all people with the Jewish concept of Moses as mediator for Jews along,” ibid. 88.

On this interpretation, Paul’s point in 1 Tim 2:5 is that Christ is the only mediator for Jews and Gentiles alike.

Another scholar approaches the same question from the same point of departure, but arrives at a somewhat different interpretation:

“Much remains uncertain about the false teachers in 1 Timothy since Paul dismisses their teaching instead of refuting it. It may be that they were consumed with genealogies because they restricted salvation along certain ethnic lines (1 Tim 1:4)…When Paul says that God desires all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and that Christ was the random for all (1 Tim 2:6), he may be responding to some who excluded Gentiles from salvation for genealogical reasons,” T. Schreiner, “Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (IVP 2001), 184-85.

“Tit 2:11 should be interpreted along similar lines…Paul counters Jewish teachers (Tit 12:10,14-15; 3:9) who construct genealogies to exclude some from salvation,” ibid. 185.

“Some object to the interpretation proposed here, arguing that ‘all’ must include all people without exception. Good reasons exist, however, to think that ‘all’ or ‘world’ must be interpreted carefully. For instance, the hymnic statement in 1 Tim 3:16 says that Christ ‘was believed by the world.” The word kosmos here cannot mean that every person without exception has trusted in Jesus Christ, for it was obvious to Paul that many in the world disbelieved. Paul almost certainly means that the whole world, comprising both Jews and Gentiles, believes. In other words, ‘world’ here denotes all without distinction and not all without exception,” ibid. 185-86.

“Such an interpretation is also a sensible reading of 2 Cor 5:14-15…The ‘all’ for whom Christ died are not all without exception but all without distinction, including both Jews and Gentiles. Such an interpretation would explain how ‘all died’ when Christ died for them…2 Cor 5:15 seems to support this view as well: ‘he died for all so that those living should no longer live for themselves but for the one who died and has been raised for them.’ When Paul uses the phrase ‘those living (hoi zontes)…[it] refers to those who are spiritually alive. Those who are spiritually alive are the ‘all’ for whom Christ died in 2 Cor 5:14. In dying to the power of sin in Christ, they also came to life in Christ,” 186.

Schreiner’s entire excursus is well worth reading.

Both Schreiner and Mounce begin by trying to isolate and identify the Ephesian heresy. In order to know what Paul is affirming, you need to know what Paul is opposing.

In addition to this general consideration, Schreiner and Mounce both construe the text before them on the basis of specific contextual delimiters.

This, Mr. McCain, is how to do exegesis. In a sense, you do have to decode the text of Scripture. You cannot simply use your own cultural code. Rather, you need to dial in the cultural code of the original author, audience, and opponent.

That’s what the grammatico-historical method is all about. McCain defends his own position by resorting to obscurantism. But although the Bible was written for us, it wasn’t written to us. So one must make some elementary effort to bridge the gap between now and then. It means what it meant.


  1. If I might jump in here, it might be well to explain a point which Calvinists often miss: ubiquitarianism is not, and never has been, a Lutheran dogma. Luther never insisted upon it, and the Confessions nowhere teach it.

    But one reason why Pr. McCain has not been more responsive to your arguments is that you're missing his point. He hasn't been necessarily arguing for ubiquitarianism- which, like a number of other philosophical positions (consubstantiation comes to mind), Calvinists often mistakenly characterize as Lutheran doctrine. That's what happens when one imposes one's own questions upon somebody else's answers!

    But ubiquitarianism is a side issue. For now, I'm going to assume, out of charity, that you were being facetious in your remark about the key. Obviously, in the absence of any mention of such a key in the text, the care with which John makes the point that the room was locked implicitly asserts that Christ's entry into the room was remarkable in view of that fact. A key wouldn't cut it. Rather than reflecting careful adherence to the historical-grammatical method, to go reaching for a naturalistic understanding of what the text describes would demonstrate an unwillingness to submit one's own, naturalistic dogmatic and philosophical presuppositions to the judgment of the text.

    If one does, indeed, faithfully interpret the text, Christ's entry into the room must at least be seen, as I mentioned, as remarkable in view of the fact that the door was locked. In fact, I would go so far as to say that to substitute the word "miraculous" for "remarkable" would not do violence to the apparent intention of the text.

    Now,the nature of the miracle is an interesting question. Could Jesus have made Himself invisible, been in the room all the time, and suddenly appeared to His disciples- a divine game of "peek-a-boo," as it were? Sure. He's God. He can do anything He wants with His human nature. Or yours or mine, for that matter. It would have been an easy thing for Him to have concealed His presence from them.

    Could He have simply walked through the door, without being ubiquitous?
    Of course. He's God. He can do anything He wants with His human nature. He once walked on water, didn't He? Would walking through a door or a wall be that much harder?

    Could He have created a key? Absolutely! He created the world! Why not a key?

    You're right: there are all sorts of things which might have happened. But we are limited by the text's clear implication that whatever happened was remarkable, in view of the fact that the doors were locked.

    So could He cause His own body and blood to be literally present in, with, and under the bread and wine every time the Sacrament is celebrated?

    Of course. He's God. He can do anything He wants with His human nature.

    Is it possible for His body and blood to be present in he Supper, but not physically? No- not because He can't do what He wants with His human nature, but because a non-physical presence of a body is an oxymoron. "Physical" is merely a synonym for "bodily," an adjectival equivalent of the very noun Jesus uses. And as we've seen, the Zwinglian position, which Calvin rightly rejected, has no possible basis- if it be conceded that Christ, being God, can do whatever He wants with His human nature.

    Could Jesus be present everywhere in the created universe according to His human nature, if He chose to be?
    Sure. He's God. He can do anything with His human nature He wants.


    Would it cease to be fully human if He willed it to be omnipresent? Only if one is limited by the terms of a single completely human and far from universally accepted philosophical system that is in no sense endorsed by Scripture.

    Would it the human and the divine thereby be conflated into a single nature? Not at all. Omnipresence could remain a proper attribute of the divine nature, while being communicated to His human nature not as its own proper attribute, but by means of the personal union. On the same basis, if He chose that I should be present simultaneously, though non-locally, throughout the universe, it would be so- and I would be no less human for it. Nor would it make the human nature of Jesus less than human if the person of Jesus, through the hypostatic union, were to access the perogatives of divinity with relation to a condition contrary to ordinary nature with regard to His human nature. What is true of His walking on water could be claimed, were one to assert it, of Ephesians 4:10.

    What, precisely, does it mean that He "ascended above all the heavens, that He might fill all things?" Sure sounds like ubiquitarianism to me! But the Confessions, following Luther's example, stop short of insisting on that. Could we? Well, if one confesses the sola Scriptura and in principle rejects human philosophy as a source of doctrine, it's hard to miss the point that Ephesians 4:10 is a stronger scriptural argument for ubiquitarianism than can be adduced against it!

    But we Lutherans, contrary to the conclusion to which Calvinists usually jump, just aren't interested
    in telling Jesus where He has to keep His human nature. And that's the point: He's God. He can do with His human nature whatever He wants. We, on the other hand, don't get to dictate to Him on this matter.

    I believe it was Beza who sought the unity of the human and the divine natures of Jesus in their common name. Luther saw it in the Person of Jesus. If it's to be found elsewhere... well, if you're ever burned at the stake, it won't be for Eutychianism! In fact, if it is to be found elsewhere, there never was an actual Incarnation, and we are yet in our sins.

    Key in his pocket, created key, walking through the door or the wall... macht nichts. The risen Christ is simply not limited by the puny presumption of human philosophy.

    Which is rather the point at which dialog between Lutherans and Calvinists has always generally tended to break down. Calvinism, after all, is heavily indebted to Platonism, just as Catholicism is to Aristotelian scholasticism; a key part of Luther's theology, though, was the rejection of any human philosophical system as a means to arrive at authoritative knowledge of a Being Whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and Who is simply not obligated to respect our philosophical restrictions upon Him.
    In fact, we understand the supplimentation of Scripture by philosophical deduction to be, ipso facto, to be a denial of the sola Scriptura and a descent into crass rationalism. That's why we take umbrage at imposing an alien philosophical explanation upon the words, "This is my body," and "This is my blood." After all, Jesus is God. He can do anything with His human nature He wants.

    But Calvinists and Catholics alike nevertheless insist on imposing an alien philosophical framework on Luther's thought. Ubiquitarianism arose less as a proposal of dogma than as a challenge to certain unsustainable assertions of Reformed dogma. If it is true that Christ's session at the right hand of God, for example, is to be understood literally and geographically, so as to preclude His bodily presence on the altar (as if God could not, after all, do whatever He wants with His own human nature), one is left with the task of explaining how one goes about getting to the geographical right of an omnipresent Being. And of course, the entire notion that heaven is a geographical location- a place itself is an assertion without much in either Scripture or logic to recommend it.

    So why can't God keep His human nature anywhere He wants? Rather than "ubquitarianism," the Lutheran position is more accurately described as "multivolipresence." Christ's human nature is whereever He jolly well wants it to be.
    He's God. He gets to do whatever He wants to with His human nature. Or yours. Or mine. Or any other part of His creation. That's a point this Lutheran has always been amazed that Calvinists, of all people, have so much trouble with!

    Parenthetically, though you haven't touched on this point, Lutherans don't teach "consubstantiation," either. We note that Christ says "this is My body," and that there is no objection to the literal understanding of those words which does not do violence to Scripture. We also note that in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul refers to the consecrated bread as bread. But we reject the notion that bread and body on one hand, and wine and blood on the other, are somehow combined to form a third thing. Rather, we suggest that the relationship between the earthly and the heavenly elements exist in the precisely the same relationship as exists between the human and the divine natures of Christ.

    What christology results when the same analogy is drawn between the person of Christ and the Calvinistic understanding of the Sacrament, BTW?

    But we're just not interested in defending philosophical positions. As much fun as it can be, philosophy simply can't trump the plain words of Scripture, or supplement it as a source of authority. And as the christological and sacramental trouble which Calvinistic Platonism lands the Reformed tradition demonstrates all too well, it can even put you in the awkward position of trying to invent contrived ways to shoehorn philosophically derived positions which contradict the plain sense of Scripture into a theology which means to affirm both the unique authority of Scripture and christological orthodoxy.

    I disagree with Pr. McCain in that I think it unjust to accuse Calvinists of crass Nestorianism. Like Calvinists who accuse Lutherans of Eutychianism, Lutherans who take their criticism that far are overplaying their hands. I accept that Calvinists intend in good faith to conform to the historical definitons of christological orthodoxy. But while you guys may not be full-blown Nestorians, that doesn't mean that your christology
    passes Chalcedonian muster:

    We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord,
    only-begotten -- in two natures; and we do this without confusing
    the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other,
    without dividing them into two separate categories, without con-
    trasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness
    of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the
    "properties" of each nature are conserved and both natures concur
    in one "person" and in one reality (hypostasis). They are not
    divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and
    only and only-begotten Word (Logos) of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus
    Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers (the Nicene
    Creed) has handed down to us.

    You shouldn't be fishing for red herrings like ubiquitarianism. You should be trying to explain why- as intent upon Christological orthodoxy as you are- you should have to go so far as to propose the separation of the human and the divine natures of Christ in order to defend the untenable philosophical conclusion that the verba of the Lord's Supper cannot be taken in their plain and natural sense, because a Man Who is Almighty God is philosophically precluded from doing with His own human nature what those words, taken in their natural and obvious sense, plainly propose.

    Sure, he could have created a key- though there is no reason why He would have had to. He could have played "peek-a-boo." He could have done all sorts of things. And He could have been illocally present throughout the universe.

    The troublesome question is why one would prefer some other explanation- any other explanation- to that last one. After all, He's God. He can do whatever He wants with His human nature.

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