Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My heart belongs to daddy

“Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy,
So I simply couldn't be bad!
Yes I'm gonna marry daddy,
Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, DAAAAD!”


The man-child has responded to my recent piece:

“I recently I saw a fellow on the internet argue that what makes Protestantism “mature” is its willingness to ignore and set aside the wisdom of the Church Fathers.”


That, of course, is not what I said. I merely made the point that grown men should starting act like…well…like grown men.

“ Wow. If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice, what will? For schismatic Evangelicals, the ultimate arbiter of truth is the wisdom and conscience of the autonomous self. “

i) And for schismatic Anglo-Catholics like the man-child, the ultimate arbiter of truth is the wisdom and conscience of their bishop.

ii) Moreover, schismatic Anglo-Catholics like the man-child are very choosey about which bishops they submit to. Not, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA.

The man-child is a schismatic twice over. The only way in which the Anglican communion could be in communion with Rome is if it could trace it’s orders by unbroken succession back through Augustine of Canterbury.

But Leo XIII declared Anglican orders null in void, so Canterbury cannot be in communion with Rome, while the man-child’s splinter-group is not even in communion with Canterbury.

iii) Unlike the man-child, I don’t regard schism as intrinsically evil. Schism is evil when Christians form a breakaway sect without due cause. But there are times when separation is a moral mandate.

By contrast, the man-child regards schism as a sin even though he himself is a schismatic.

I reject his standard, whereas he stands self-condemned by his own standard.

iv) We also need to draw some elementary distinctions about “autonomy.” As John Frame has put it:

“The self is the ‘proximate,’ but not the ‘ultimate’ starting point…the self makes its decisions both in thought and practical life: every judgment we made, we make because we, ourselves, think it is right. But this fact does not entail that the self is its own ultimate criterion of truth. We are regularly faced with the decision as to whether we should trust our own unaided judgment, or rely on someone else.

Therefore, there are two questions to be resolved: (1) the metaphysical (actually tautological!) question of whether all decisions are decisions of the self, and (2) the epistemological-ethical question of what standard the self ought to use in coming to its decisions,” Apologetics to the Glory of God (P&R 1994), 224-25.

Or, as Greg Bahnsen has put it more succinctly,

“In the process of knowing anything, man begins with his own experience and questions—the ‘immediate’ starting point. However, that which man knows metaphysically begins with God (who reinterprets, creates, and governs everything man could know), and God’s mind is epistemologically the standard of truth—thus being the ‘ultimate’ starting point,” Van Til’s Apologetic (P&R 1998), 100, n33.

A Protestant relies, not on his own unaided judgment, but upon the judgment of Scripture. He also consults commentators and theologians.

Ultimately, he, and he alone, must decide where the truth lies, but in that respect he’s in the same boat as the Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, and Orthodox.

“There is no higher bar of authority.”

As I’ve just explain, there is, indeed, a higher bar of authority. But the church fathers don’t set the bar. They are men of like passions. They have no paternal authority over us. As grown men, we treat them as our peers, not as our superiors. We give them a respectful hearing, just as we would solicit the advice of a trusted friend.

“To think otherwise is to be like a grown man who continues to act like a child, looking to his father for direction, and submitting to his authority. Of course, such a mindset is entirely foreign to the New Testament and Catholic Christianity.”

i) To the contrary, study how the prophets and the apostles and Jesus Christ himself so often bypass the religious establishment and direct their audience to the immediate word and authority of Scripture.

ii) I agree with the man-child that my mindset is entirely foreign to “Catholic Christianity.”

That’s because, in the piece to which he refers, I was opposing that very position. By appealing to “Catholic Christianity,” the man-child merely begs the question in his favor. He’s incapable of thinking outside of his spray-painted box.

“ Anyone who has read even a small sample of the Reformers’ polemics will recognize that it is foreign to them as well. (Calvin and the like constantly appeal to the testimony of the Church Fathers in support of their teachings.)”

i) Yes, I’m opposed to any argument from merely human authority. That’s precisely the point.

As for Calvin, I’d say two additional things:

a) Since his Catholic opponents appeal to tradition, he opposes them on their own ground by appealing to tradition as well.

b) Calvin doesn’t merely cite patristic opinion. Calvin is primarily interested in the quality of the argumentation.

“Rather, it expresses the spirit of the Radical Reformation.”

i) Once again, all the man-child does is to assert his ecclesiastical prejudice.

ii) It’s worth noting, in this connection, that John Murray, a staunch Scottish Presbyterian, wrote a very respectful review of a Mennonite theologian. Cf. Collected Writings of John Murray, 4:292-296.

Murray naturally took the occasion to express his areas of disagreement, but there was nothing of this wholesale chauvinism.

iii) It’s quite true that the magisterial wing of the Reformation was very hostile to Anabaptism.

Indeed, in the grand tradition of “Catholic Christianity,” Anabaptists were massacred for their faith. Does Owen wax nostalgic for that aspect of Catholic Christianity? After all, to go against Catholic tradition would exalt his autonomous conscience to the ultimate arbiter of truth, right? So let’s go back to burning and drowning Anabaptists and their Baptist progeny.

“ It’s simply the way that heretics always express their right to dissent from orthodox teaching.”

No, it’s simply the way that schismatic Anglo-Catholics always express their right to dissent from primatial authority of Scripture.

“Notice what Paul told Timothy (the bishop of Ephesus) in 1 Timothy 6:3: “’If anyone teaches differently and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the doctrine that is consistent with true piety, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.’”

Notice the patent anachronism, as if a “bishop” in the NT sense of the word were the same thing as the monarchical episcopate.

“This is an important statement. How do we determine whether or not a person’s doctrine is ‘consistent with true piety’?”

Good question. Here’s another question:

How do we determine whether or not a bishop’s doctrine is “consistent with true piety”?

And how do we determine whether a church father’s doctrine is “consistent with true piety”?

“How do we determine whether we are dealing with a sound teacher, or a schismatic heretic?”

A schismatic like Paul Owen, perchance?

“The Evangelical answer is: ‘Read your Bible, and see if what is being taught agrees with your interpretation of Scripture.’”

No, the Evangelical answer is: Read your Bible, as well as the best commentators and theologians. Give every side a fair hearing. Then judge for yourself which side has the better of the argument.

“But that is not the New Testament answer. Who are these words addressed to? They are addressed to Timothy, the bishop of Ephesus.”

Timothy was not the “bishop” of Ephesus. Once more, the man-child is using a loaded word—a word freighted with anachronistic overtones, and tacitly mapping all those Catholic connotations back to a time and place wherein they were nonexistent.

Timothy was an itinerate pastor, not a Diocesan Bishop.

BTW, I’m not the one with a hang-up over fine points of polity. I’m not opposed to episcopacy, per se.

Polity is, in the nature of the case, a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Which mode of administration we would favor is a purely pragmatic question, and the answer will vary according to the immediate circumstances.

“And what was his responsibility as a bishop of the church? It was “to charge certain persons not to teach differently” (1 Tim. 1:3). Differently than what? Differently than “the words of the faith and the good doctrine you have followed” (4:6). Notice that he speaks here, not simply of accordance with the Bible, but of accordance with “the words of the faith.” The “faith” is clearly a traditional way of understanding the teaching of Scripture which has been passed on to Timothy. It is a body of truth, an ecclesial testimony and collective witness which is passed on through the mechanisms of the Church, from the apostles to bishops like Timothy, and from Timothy to other bishops and presbyters: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).”

Observe the man-child’s inability to distinguish between then and now. Word-of-mouth is fine when it comes straight from the lips of an Apostle. But that is not the epistemic situation in which we find ourselves to day, or even if we were living in the subapostolic era.

What the man-child has done is to rip this passage out of its historical setting and overextend it far beyond its concrete truth-conditions.

“If you want to know whether what a person is teaching is heretical or not, you must not simply open up your Bible and ask the Holy Ghost to show you the way.”

This is a straw-man argument.

“You must inquire of those to whom “the words of the faith” have been entrusted–namely the bishops of the Church.”

Which bishops of which church?

“This is why Paul says that the Church–not the Bible by itself, and not the wisdom of the individual Christian who thinks he is “mature”–is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).”

Whose church?

“The Church is the guardian of Scripture (Rom. 3:2).”

Assuming that we equate the Jewish establishment with the church, then, by the man-child’s criterion, the Christians were schismatical heretics. They were excommunicated by Pope Caiaphas for following a Messianic pretender.

"The Reformers saw themselves as restoring the historic witness of the Church, as it was preserved in her collective memory in the early Creeds and Fathers, which had been obscured through the introduction of novelties by a Papal hierarchy which had lost its own sense of accountability to the “words of the faith.'”

And just what do you suppose John Knox or John Calvin would make of Paul Owen's Anglo-Catholicism?


  1. I agree strongly with the content of your argument, but I think its force is diminished by calling Paul Owen "the man-child".

  2. People are in a quandary as to how to approach Mr. Owen. If you approach him diplomatically and evenly in terms of tone and so forth he exploits that and plays you for a mark. On the other hand if you approach him with some degree of satire and what not he reacts like this:

    "Recently I saw a fellow on the internet argue that what makes Protestantism “mature” is its willingness to ignore and set aside the wisdom of the Church Fathers. Wow."

    He knows that is not what was stated by the "fellow" he refers to; but he's all apoplectic to defend himself by any means, however superficial.

    His problem is it's literally impossible to take him seriously. When he's not mocking people he's making ridiculous, unserious statements even he doesn't expect anybody to take seriously. I guess he gets attention because of his degree and teaching position. Maybe the focus should be on the worth of the degree and the institution and program that handed it out.

  3. Forgive my Paul Owen comment. I remember him from the first incarnation of ReformedCatholism.com, and I have little patience for the default respect that is afforded to anybody writing on the subject of theology or particular doctrines simply because they hold a degree. My goodness, don't we all know how devalued most university educations have become, especially regarding theology? In Europe if you show up, monitor a lecture, sign out, pay your fees, you graduate. Just cobble together a thesis, the more unserious and unorthodox a topic you can think of the more respect it will be given. "Historic Mormon Influence Via Islamic Sharia Traditions, 1868 to 1876, In Light of Recent Research in Mormon Feminist Polygamy Journals, by Hey, Mom, I'm in Scotland!"