Thursday, March 09, 2006

Monadic theology

There are two types of theological method: monadic and revelatory, corresponding to two schools of theology: monadology and revealed theology.

For a Protestant, the way to answer to question of which possible world God in fact instantiated is to look out the window—to actually study what God has said and done in his Word.

But for a Monadologist, looking out the window is just way too déclassé.

Instead, you stay inside your windowless room and introspect the best of all possible worlds.

You can see in mentality on display in the comments of Perry Robinson which Der Kimel has posted over at Pontifications:

I’ll just venture a few comments of my own:

1.The first thing to notice is that Perry’s entire case for Orthodoxy and against Protestantism is suspended on a consequentialist argument. He thinks that Protestant theological method yields a certain consequence: it cannot deliver irreformable dogma.

This he regards as an unacceptable consequence. Hence, he begins with the consequences of certain opposing traditions, then reasons backwards to his tradition of choice.

But there are several Grand Canyon scale gaps in his own reasoning:

2.Perry likes to play God. His whole methodology is tacitly prized on asking himself the following question: “If Perry Robinson were God, which possible world he would instantiate?”

Don’t answer the question by peering out the window to see what the real world is actually like.

No, start with the consequences of different possible worlds, then infer the actual world from best of all possible worlds.

He never bothers to consult the actual history of God’s dealings with his chosen people. For example, how did God guide and preserve the covenant community in OT times?

Of course, what’s best is, itself, a value-laden judgment which just so happens to dovetail the very latest in the long line of theological traditions which Perry has adopted only to discard.

3. He invents whatever criteria he needs on an ad hoc basis.

i)Take the following statement:

“They could respond with saying that the bible is normitively given to us, but I don’t see how they could justify that claim from any historical methodology. How exactly would one derive normativity from factual claims?”

But don’t the prophets and apostles and Jesus Christ himself quite frequently derive normativity from factual claims?

From the Exodus? From the Resurrection?

But Perry doesn’t take his cue from the actual practice of the prophets and apostles and the Lord Jesus Christ. To do that he’d have to look out the window. And even if he did, he doesn’t like what he sees outside the window.

ii)Or take this statement:

“As to the second metaphysical question, here are some criteria that I think help point the way. The summons for a general council must be either be open to all bishops, or if not, its acts assented to and ratified by other bishops, as was the case with 1st Constantinople. Second, no legitimate bishop who has not been excommunicated can be excluded from council. (Deacons and Presbyters were generally excluded from the deliberations of a council unless they served as representatives of some See.) Third, the Principle patriarchal Sees have to be represented either in person, delegate or by letter. Fourth, the proceedings of the council cannot be held in secret and they must be free of compulsion.

Councils are authoritative because they are the functioning of the one Apostolate in the one Episcopate.”

The problem is assertion that he pulls this out of thin air. Why should anyone believe it? Has God ever told us that this is the only way to get the job done?

Perry’s theology is stipulative rather than revelatory.

iii)You can also see this on display in his doctrine of God, of a Being beyond being and all that sort of thing.

Perry likes to draw all sorts of fine-spun distinctions which he’s in no possible position to know are so. Rarefied distinctions which go way beyond God’s self-revelation.

Perry’s creed is written on invisible paper in invisible ink.

And when you consider that there’s only one true answer to each of these questions, while the variations of error are infinite, what are the odds that Perry is right?

iv)Or take his statement about the church:

“If the Church in heaven is without error and the church on earth can be in error, then it seems that on your position we have two Churches. It is just because there is one and only one body of Christ that the properties of Christ’s humanity apply to both those in heaven and those on earth…”

Is this the quality of reasoning on which pins his salvation?

Consider a few parallel arguments from analogy:

If the Church in heaven is without sin and the church on earth can be sinful, then it seems that on your position we have two Churches.

If the Church in heaven is immortal and the church on earth can be in mortal, then it seems that on your position we have two Churches.

Perry does anticipate this line of objection, and he tries to block it by contriving a makeshift distinction:

“Death doesn’t individuate those in heaven from those on earth. Nor does sin, which is why Christ’s body is incapable of error.”

Notice that this restriction doesn’t follow from his guiding principle: indeed, it tugs in the opposing position.

For if the properties of our Lord’s humanity are communicated to the church, then if Christ is sinless, so is the church; if Christ is immortal, so is the church.

v)When Perry says that” For them, the Church just is a merely human organization of like-minded individuals,” This is a straw man argument.

We believe in the church as a divine institution. The question is how that institution is instantiated in time and place. By apostolic succession? No.

vi)Take the canon. He brings that up himself, several times.

If you want to know what the OT canon is, by all means don’t look to the Jews. Don’t consult the very people to whom the Lord actually revealed himself in OT times. No, that would be too obvious.

vii)Perry also makes this sound like a choice between two options: his canon and our canon.

But as he very well knows, it isn’t that simple. It isn’t merely that the Protestant canon differs from the Orthodox. The Roman Catholic canon also differs from the Orthodox. Likewise, the canons of Syrian and Abyssinian churches differ.

So appeal to prelacy or catholicity isn’t going to solve the problem.

viii)As far as Sproul is concerned, he is merely mouthing the claim of his mentor, John Gerstner. Gerstner was a church historian, so his answer makes some sense from the standpoint of historical theology.

But as I’ve argued elsewhere, the books of the bible are internally related in various ways, in terms of historical and narrative continuity, intertextuality, common authorship, and so on.

4.He takes for granted that the consequences generated by Protestant theological method are, indeed, unacceptable. Nowhere does he ever mount a supporting argument for his assumption, even though everything hinges on that tenuous assumption.

5.Perry also has a neat way of holding himself to one standard, and his opponent to another. Where we are concerned, he applies this yardstick:

“Protestants will hold that such doctrines are unrevisable because they are true. But can they be wrong about them being true? Sure and so we are right back to my point.”

But where he himself is concerned, out pops a reverse ruler from his back pocket:

“Just because I could be wrong, doesn’t mean that I *am* wrong. I can be fallible and know. If this weren’t the case we could be said to know very few things if anything at all, which strikes me as obviously false.”

6.It’s true, as Perry says, that the Bible is not organized like a creed or systematic theology. As such, it contains no “formal” doctrine.

That’s because the Bible is a historical revelation. And Perry doesn’t like that mode of revelation. It’s much too messy.

He wants something more compact and elegant.

The fact that the covenant community, from righteous Abel to John the Baptist, muddled through without bishops and councils and apostolic succession is irrelevant to him.

For he doesn’t take his cue from what God has actually done in redemptive history. Mustn’t look out the window! No, we must intuit God’s will for the church.

7.He says that for a Protestant, doctrine is perennially revisable. But this is very misleading.

To begin with, there is a sense in which Christianity is new to newer generation. Each generation must rediscover the Christian faith for itself.

It does not, however, have to do that from scratch. No need to reinvent the wheel each time. Take the Trinity. The arguments pro and con have already been entered into the public record. Just review what’s already been said.

8.And there’s no getting around the fact that there are many claimants to our intellectual allegiance.

If Perry were God, this wouldn’t be so. But there are a number of churches which claim to be the true church. A number of denominations and theological traditions in play. Any number of competing councils.

So, we will have to do some sorting, won’t we? Once the horse is out of the barn, you have to saddle up and organize a search party.

9.Perry always likes to leave divine providence out of the equation. Were the patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph bootstrapping their way through life because they had no bishop?

10.Perry tries to escape the epistemic limitations of his own position with the following convoluted line of reasoning:

“As to private judgment, I think any good Catholic or Orthodox (or Anglo-Catholic in their best days) can freely admit that in order to know what is the true church we employ our fallible reasoning. But this is because knowing doesn’t require certainty, psychological or epistemic. This is the first level. Could we be wrong in our own private judgment? Yes. But that only shows two things. First that I am not a necessary or sufficient ground to produce something like doctrine. Second, that what I think I know, I in fact might not know. The former is just a restatement of the position above and the latter is a harmless reference to my epistemic limitations. The second level is about what are the necessary and sufficient conditions to produce doctrine? Doctrine has a level of normativity or obligation attached to it that goes far beyond that of knowledge. If something is truely taught by God, one is obligated to believe it in some measure even if one does not fully understand it. But nothing produced by Protestant assemblies could ever produce something with this level of normativity, which again shows that Protestantism is a religion of reason, not a religion of revelation. It is a religion about what we discover and not about what is normatively given to us.”

But these contortions won’t save him: doctrine is normative if you know where to find doctrine; where—in turn—to find the true church; but since that is, by his own admission, a fallible quest, he doesn’t get to absolutize an end-result which outpaces the process. The product is no better than the process.

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