Saturday, January 02, 2010

Meet the Editorial Board

To: Dept. Editors
From: Executive Editor
Re: Editorial Board

Fellow team-members,

I confess that I’m envious of the faux-official titles which the bloggers over at Called to Communion have awarded themselves.

Cross and Judisch have conferred on themselves the hifalutin’ title of “Academic Editor(s),” while Troutman is “Editor in Chief,” and so on.

Why, it’s just about the most impressive thing I’ve seen since comrade Fidel used to pin those shiny medals on his chest. If you didn’t know better, you’d almost forget that CTC is just a do-it-yourself blog.

Anyway, we’re falling behind the competition. If team members of CTC can make up fancy faux-official titles for themselves, why can’t we? So here’s a draft proposal:

Hays: Executive Editor
Chan: Managing Editor
Engwer: Editorial Page Editor
Pike: Science Editor
Manata: Editor-at-Large
Bridges: Senior Editor
May: Deputy Editor

The authority of the Nicene creed

Bryan Cross:

“[#650] Easily, by using the Creed as a handy guide that can be tossed aside (or modified at will) if and to the degree that one finds it to be in disagreement with one’s interpretation of Scripture. Many people hear the Creed and assume it is authoritative, but don’t stop to think about the basis for its authority. Protestants who treat the Creed as authoritative have not realized that given sola scriptura, there is no basis (in their theological system) for the Creed’s authority. They are free to disagree with it or modify it or make up their own, because given the denial of apostolic succession, the Nicene Council has no more authority than the individual reading the Bible at his kitchen table.”

“We’re up to 650+ comments. I suggest that you take a break from commenting, step back and spend some time reflecting carefully on the article and all the comments. What I wrote in #650 sums up the flaw we have argued in our article is intrinsic to sola scriptura.”

So that sums on the intrinsic flaw in sola Scriptura. Very well then.

It’s pretty hilarious that a convert to Catholicism would presume to invoke the authority of the Nicene creed as a cudgel to bonk Protestants over the head.

After all, one of the primary objections which Eastern Orthodox have to the filioque is how the church of Rome treated the Nicene creed as a handy guide to be “modified at will” when it intruded the filioque clause into the text after the fact.

So after 600+ comments on his thread, Bryan’s parting shot against the Protestant rule of faith is to deploy an argument which ricochets right back on his own rule of faith. Nice going, Bryan!

How do be a card-carrying member of the Truly Reformed

I've been giving a correspondent (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) some tips on how to join the exclusive club of the Truly Reformed. Here's a transcript of our little exchange:

Novitiate: And I don't know if I'm "TR" now, for that matter. Depends who's asking I suppose.

Hays: To be TR, you must receive Chrismation at the hands of James White or one of his anointed deputies on a full moon at Cathedral St-Pierre in Geneva.

Reservations are generally booked about 10 yrs. in advance. But I might be able to use my connections with the Privy Council to get you up bumped up the list.

There's a small surcharge. Just bring a suitcase containing non-sequentially numbered, large denomination bills.

Novitiate: Doesn't one also have to recite the entire WCF by memory?

Hays: Not quite. You have to recite the entire WCF backwards by memory.

Novitiate: And commit to drinking wine at least once a day?

Hays: As long as it's Klingon blood wine, although you're allowed to substitute Romulan ale on Calvin's birthday.

Novitiate: Whoa, you actually talk to White? I assume you genuflect no less than 5 times beforehand...

Hays: And cross myself.

The thicket of exegesis

Al Kimel’s response to Jason Engwer, with my replies:

"In Luther’s eyes, the anti-sacramentarianism that you are espousing inevitably and necessarily generates works-righteousness of the worst sort, which is why Zwingli and the enthusiasts earned some of Luther’s most violent polemic."

i) Of course, he doesn't bother to explain how that "inevitably and necessarily generates works-righteousness of the worst sort."

My best guess is that he's thinking along the lines that unless we vest our assurance in the objective rite of the sacrament, then we look to ourselves, which generates works-righteousness. If so, that confuses the basis of justification (the merit of Christ) with the evidence for justification (saving faith).

ii) I'd add that his argument reminds me of the Jews whom John the Baptist upbraided in Mt 3. They vested their assurance in their objective status as sons of Abraham. False assurance.

"In any case, you got me curious about your denial of baptism as a work of God, so I followed up on the links where you supposedly present your argumentation. Perhaps I missed it, but I did not find a sustained argument against the catholic position that baptism is a work of God."

Why would you have to argue against that claim, as if the onus lies on you?

"So let me reiterate: if baptism is God’s work..."

Which begs the question.

"...if the risen Christ is the minister of the sacrament (as Catholics, Lutherans, most Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox believe and confess), then baptism is not, and cannot be, a work that we do to justify ourselves. This, I hope, you will at least concede, even if you are not persuaded that baptism is a work of God."

i) Why assume that Christ is the baptizer? Where's the argument? Is the presumptive argument that a priest takes the place of Christ, and when a priest administers baptism, Christ administers baptism through the instrumentality of the priest? Is that it?

If so, then the argument is bound up with many question-begging assumptions about NT sacerdotalism.

ii) If Christ is the baptizer, then why didn't he at least establish a dominical precedent by baptizing Jews and Gentiles during his earthly ministry?

"Our reading of Scripture is conditioned by our prior sacramental commitments and presuppositions."

That's often the case. However, we don't have to be conditioned by our presuppositions. We can be cognizant of our operating presuppositions, and test their explanatory power. Compare and contrast different presuppositions.

"I remember heated arguments in seminary on the sacramentality of baptism. How is it that two fine Protestant biblical scholars like G. R. Beasley-Murray and James D. G. Dunn can reach such contradictory conclusions about baptism? Beats me. In any case, if you aren’t persuaded by Beasley-Murray’s and Oscar Cullmann’s books on baptism, then there’s absolutely nothing I can say to persuade you that you are reading Scripture wrongly."

Beasley-Murray was unduly influenced by Continental scholarship (e.g. Bultmann). And Cullmann was an ecumenist.

"It’s so easy to get lost in the thicket of biblical exegesis. Clarity on justification is achieved when we think together three things things–the unconditionality of the love of God, the Church as the body of Christ, and salvation as participation in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

"Clarity on justification is achieved" when we shirk the nitty-gritty of exegesis and retreat into vague theological platitudes. In framing our doctrine of justification, let's leave out of consideration all the specific teaching that Paul brings to bear on this issue.

Creationist "Kooks" Offer Debate Challenge

Creation Ministries International-Australia (hereafter "CMI") has issued a debate challenge to representatives of the "New Atheism" who will be speaking at the upcoming Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia March 12-14, 2010. The conference organizers told CMI representatives that they would have to contact the atheist representatives themselves if they wanted to debate, and so they did. Here was Dr. P.Z. Myers' response: A reply to Carl Wieland. Dr. Myers response reminds me that "a picture is worth a thousand words"; simply scrolling down to the bottom of his response for his calculated and offensive ad hominem will help you see what I mean. That fact being set aside for the moment, he says that "to organize a debate for a bunch of grandstanding kooks . . . would be an exercise in futility . . . they have no evidence to debate . . .". CMI also wanted Dr. Richard Dawkins to be part of this panel debate since he'll be preaching at the atheist conference, but as usual, no response has been forthcoming. Given Dr. Myer's response to the creationist "kooks" and in light of Dawkins' history of being unwilling to debate creationists in moderated, public debate, the following quote from his book The God Delusion is quite interesting since he approves of it so much that he "never tire[s] of sharing" it,
Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made in Cambridge shortly before his death, that I never tire of sharing his words: "Religion . . . has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allwoed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? - because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on Saturday', you say, 'I respect that'. Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows - but to have an opinion about how the universe began, about who created the Universe . . . no, that's holy? . . . We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be." [Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 20-21. Bold mine for emphasis - DSS]
Dawkins is quoted on the homepage of the Global Atheist Convention as saying,
The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science … We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organized ignorance . . .
One of Dawkins' godless co-presenters at the conference, Catherine Deveny, is quoted on the homepage right under Dawkins reporting this,
The number of churchgoers in Australia is about 9% and dwindling, the diversity of spiritual belief is flourishing and atheism is going off like a frog in a sock.
O.k., so if the creationists are such "kooks", that are undermining "reason", "truth", and "science" why not take the opportunity to put up your intellectual dukes and "[defend] it from deliberate attack from organized ignorance" via public, moderated debate with equal time and multiple atheologists? Why not wipe the floor with these creationist "lackwits", especially wiping the floor extra squeaky clean with this participating Ph.D. level scientist? It ought to be easy, especially since these are "grandstanding kooks" that have "no evidence to debate".

But you also don't want to give them a platform to present their "kook" ideas? But Dr. Dawkins, you quoted approvingly that when it comes to the ideas of religious dullards "there is not reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other," and again, "We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organized ignorance . . .". So, why not take a few hours to show the rest of the world just how silly these "lackwits" really are? Remember, they have "no evidence to debate", and not only that, but you'll have the rights to freely distribute the DVDs at your leisure (i.e., YouTube,, etc.)! This would greatly promote the specific agenda of the conference (The Rise of Atheism) because you could then actually record the floor wiping and then promote your efforts to get rid of the supposed vestigial remains of the 9% of Australian "lackwits" that still foolishly believe that the universe didn't make itself out of nothing!

Seriously, I contend that the "New Atheists" need to put their ideas to the test against those "kooks" who think otherwise and they need to do it in multiple, moderated public debates instead of continually writing books that ignore the best that Christian apologetics has to offer and hiding behind their keyboards writing ad hominem responses. We encourage the former and are sick of the latter. The more you ignore our best scholarship, the more ridiculous you make yourselves look. This is neither good science, nor is it being intellectually honest. It actually reeks of close-minded fundamentalism, the very thing you proclaim to detest. While Australia may indeed have meager church attendance statistics, there are plenty of Americans that still believe that God created the universe ex nihilo. So hear me well when I lay down this gauntlet for you:

Show us where we are wrong and stop ignoring our best scholars and best arguments. Many in the Christian world want to see your supposed intellectual goods if the evidence so heavily favors naturalism. This means that you must stop turning down debates with Ph.D. level creation scientists that can hang on your level intellectually. Your refusal to debate such people reeks of cowardice and insecurity and shows that you are unwilling to test, refine, and rethink your own presuppositions because you have an a priori agenda to protect them, just like any other close-minded, religious fundamentalist.

The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)

Skeptical Floundering On The Infancy Narratives

Last Saturday's Unbelievable? radio program featured a discussion of the historicity of the infancy narratives. Robert Stovold, an atheist who has written against the traditional Christian view of Christmas, argued against two Christian guests, Charles Foster and Anthony McRoy. The Christian guests made some good points, but their case was much weaker than it could have been.

Regarding the concept that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, see here. If a rock is thrown into water, we don't expect the water to take on the properties of the rock. Rather, we expect the water to react to the rock in accordance with its properties as water. A supernatural event in nature would be perceived by natural means, such as eyesight and hearing. The concept that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is vague, would result in an infinite regress if it's defined in a particular way, and, as it's commonly used, assumes without argument that the evidence we have isn't extraordinary.

Stovold suggests that Matthew "lied" about Old Testament prophecy fulfillment, but the sort of appeal to typology, paraphrasing, and rephrasing for emphasis that we see in Matthew's handling of Old Testament texts was neither dishonest nor innovative. Such practices were common in ancient Judaism, and Matthew's audience had access to and familiarity with the Old Testament independent of Matthew. They weren't dependent on Matthew for their knowledge of what was written in a source like Isaiah or Hosea. If Matthew's intention had been to lie, it would have been quite an incompetent and ineffective form of lying. It's more likely that Matthew was honestly doing what other Jews of his day honestly did. Yes, typological prophecy fulfillment has less evidential significance than non-typological prophecy fulfillment, and a paraphrasing or rephrasing of a prophetic text in order to emphasize a point doesn't tell us the evidential value of the original text, but Matthew's material doesn't have to have the highest evidential value possible in order to be honest. To accuse him of lying is unreasonable.

Stovold spent a lot of time addressing alleged parallels to the infancy narratives in non-Christian sources, and the Christians on the program discussed some of the differences between the Christian accounts and those other sources. But we should also remember that such background issues are just one line of evidence among many that would need to be considered. Many unhistorical accounts do involve unusual or supernatural events surrounding an individual's birth. But if God were to act in the world through the life of an individual, He might have something unusual or supernatural occur in the context of his birth. Birth is a major event in human life. It's major in fiction, but it's also major in non-fiction. Even if we thought that the prominence of unusual births in fictional accounts casts doubt on the New Testament infancy narratives, we'd still have to go on to consider other factors, such as the earliness of the sources, their general credibility, and how other sources responded to the claims. The sort of background issue Stovold kept pointing to, regarding the general credibility of accounts of unusual births, is just one factor among others, and we have good reason to trust Matthew and Luke with regard to the other factors involved.

Concerning the virgin birth, see here.

On the census, see here.

On the Slaughter of the Innocents, go here.

Regarding the Bethlehem birthplace, see here.

For material on the infancy narratives in general, go here.

One of the highlights of the discussion was Stovold's floundering on the issue of alleged parallels to the virgin birth. Listen to minute twenty-seven of the program. Notice that Stovold changes the subject to the Slaughter of the Innocents, then, after being reminded that the topic was the virgin birth, once again changes the subject by shifting to miraculous births. Skeptics often approach the virgin birth and the infancy narratives in general in such a manner. They keep moving from one topic to another after their previous objection was shown to be inadequate, redefining their argument along the way. But Stovold does it so explicitly and in so short a period of time. If you don't listen to the whole program, at least listen to minute twenty-seven. It's representative of what so many skeptics do.

There is power in the blood

From In His Image by Dr. Paul Brand:
A fly is a nobler creature than the sun, because a fly hath life, and the sun hath not. - St. Augustine
My entire career in medicine traces back to one dreary night at Connaught Hospital in East London. Before that night I had stubbornly resisted all pressures to enter medical school. For some time my family had tried to influence me toward medicine, even to the extent of an uncle offering to pay all school expenses. And just before I left high school my mother's return from India gave us an opportunity for a serious talk about my future.

We sat together before a hissing gas fire in her bedroom. After a separation of six years, I was struck by her changed appearance. Twenty years in rural India had worn away the soft facade of British gentility and etched an unmistakable resolve in the lines of her face. Grief covered her face like a mask - my father had died of blackwater fever that same year. She had come home a desperately broken person, seeking a place of refuge.

It seemed strange for me to be abruptly planning my future with someone I had not seen in six years. "You know how much your father loved the medical work in the mountains," she began gently. "He always wished he had become a doctor with a proper degree instead of having to rely on a short training course at Livingston College. If he had . . . who knows, he might still be with us. He would have known how to treat the fever."

Her eyes filled up and she paused a few minutes, swallowing repeatedly. She went on to tell me of new laws in India that would prohibit all but qualified doctors from practicing medicine. Then she looked directly into my eyes and said gravely, "Paul, your father always dreamed that you could take up where he left off and return as a real doctor -"

"No, Mother!" I stopped her in mid-sentence. "I don't want to be a doctor. I don't like medical work. I'd rather be a builder. I could build houses and schools and even hospitals. Anyhow, I don't want to be a doctor."

Although she did not argue, I could sense a barrier had arisen between us. I mumbled some excuse and left, with a gnawing awareness that I was disappointing her as well as my father and my generous uncle by not studying medicine. I could not tell my mother, and probably did not even admit to myself at the time, the real reason: a visceral reaction against blood and pus. Memories had sickened me ever since childhood. . . .

* * *

Five years after my awkward conversation with Mother, I found myself unavoidably working at Connaught, a small hospital on London's East Side. I had kept my promise of learning the building trade, having apprenticed as a carpenter, a mason, a painter, and a bricklayer. I loved it. Evening classes in civil engineering had also exposed me to the theories behind construction. I chafed to return to India to practice my trade. The mission advised enrolling in the same Livingston College course in hygiene and tropical medicine that my father had taken. I was assigned to a local hospital to do dressings in the wards and to learn basic principles of diagnosis and treatment.

It was during one evening of my stint at Connaught that my whole view of medicine - and of blood - permanently shifted. That night hospital orderlies wheeled a beautiful young accident victim into my ward. Loss of blood had given her skin an unearthly paleness, and her brownish hair seemed jet-black in contrast. Oxygen starvation had shut down her brain into a state of unconsciousness.

The hospital staff lurched into their controlled-panic response to a trauma patient. A nurse dashed down a corridor for a bottle of blood while a doctor fumbled with the transfusion apparatus. Another doctor, glancing at my white coat, thrust a blood pressure cuff at me. Fortunately, I had already learned to read pulses and blood pressure. I could not detect the faintest flicker of a pulse on the woman's cold, damp wrist.

In the glare of hospital lights she looked like a waxwork Madonna or an alabaster saint from a cathedral. Even her lips were pallid, and as the doctor searched her chest with his stethoscope I noticed whitened nipples on her small breasts. Only a few freckles stood out against the pallor. She did not seem to be breathing. I felt sure she was dead.

The nurse arrived with a bottle of blood and buckled it into a metal stand as the doctor punctured the woman's vein with a large needle. They fastened the bottle high and used an extra-long tube so that the increase in pressure would push the blood into her body faster. The staff told me to keep watch over the emptying bottle while they scurried off for more blood.

Nothing in my memory can compare to the excitement of what happened next. Certainly the details of that scene come to me even now with a start. As the others all left, I nervously held the woman's wrist. Suddenly I could feel the faintest press of a pulse. Or was it my own finger's pulse? I searched again - it was there, a tremor barely perceptible, but regular. The next bottle of blood arrived and was quickly connected. A spot of pink appeared like a drop of watercolor on her cheek. It began to spread into a beautiful flush. Her lips darkened pink, then red, and her body quivered with a kind of sighing breath.

Then her eyelids fluttered lightly and parted. She squinted at first, and her pupils constricted, reacting to the bright lights of the room. At last she looked directly at me. To my enormous surprise, she spoke, asking for water.

That young woman entered my life for only an hour or so, but the experience left me utterly changed. I had seen a miracle: a corpse resurrected, the creation of Eve when breath entered into and animated her body. If medicine, if blood could do this. . . .

I picked up the empty glass bottle, streaks of blood still smearing its side, and read the label. Who had given these pints of life? I wanted some mental picture of the donor who had made the miracle possible. In our registry I discovered the donor lived in Seven Kings, Essex, a town where I had worked for a building construction firm. With eyes closed I envisioned one of the burly workmen from that blue-collar neighborhood. At that moment he could have been out climbing ladders or laying bricks, exuding strength and vigor, oblivious to the frail young woman revived by his own blood cells miles away.

By the time I finished my year at Livingston College I was incurably in love with medicine. A short time later, feeling some shame at my vacillation, but compelled by an inner sense, I turned back and accepted my uncle's offer of support for medical school. The memory of shed blood had kept me out of medicine; the power of shared blood ultimately brought me to it.

* * *

For most of us, the organ of blood, if one can think of this fluid mass as an organ, comes to consciousness mainly when we begin to lose it. Then, the sight of it in tinted urine, a nosebleed, or a weeping wound provokes alarm. We miss the dramatic sense of blood's power that I saw demonstrated in the Connaught patient - the power that sustains our lives at every moment.

"What does my blood do all day?" a five-year-old child asked, peering dubiously at his scraped knee. Whereas the ancients would have responded with elegant references to ethers and humours borne in that "pure clear lovely and amiable juice," perhaps a technological metaphor would serve best today. Imagine an enormous tube snaking southward from Canada through the Amazon delta, plunging into oceans only to surface at every inhabited island, shooting out eastward through every jungle, plain, and desert in Africa, forking near Egypt to join all of Europe and Russia as well as the entire Middle East and Asia - a pipeline so global and pervasive that it links every person worldwide. Inside that tube an endless plenitude of treasures floats along on rafts: mangoes, coconuts, asparagus, and produce from every continent; watches, calculators, and cameras; gems and minerals; forty-nine brands of cereals; all styles and sizes of clothing; the contents of entire shopping centers. Six billion people have access: at a moment of need or want, they simply reach into the tube and seize whatever product suits them. Somewhere far down the pipeline a replacement is manufactured and inserted.

Such a pipeline exists inside each one of us, servicing not six billion but one hundred trillion cells in the human body. An endless supply of oxygen, amino acids, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sugars, lipids, cholesterols, and hormones surges past our cells, carried on blood cell rafts or suspended in the fluid. Each cell has special withdrawal privileges to gather the resources needed to fuel a tiny engine for its complex chemical reactions.

In addition, that same pipeline ferries away refuse, exhaust gases, and worn-out chemicals. In the interest of economical transport, the body dissolves its vital substances into a liquid (much as coal is shipped more efficiently through a slurry pipeline than by truck or train). Five or six quarts of this all-purpose fluid suffice for the body's hundred trillion cells.

When blood spills, it appears as a uniform, syrupy substance ranging in color from bright red to dark purple. . . .

A simple experiment confirms the composite nature of blood. Pour a quantity of red blood into any clear glass and simply wait. Horizontal bands of color will appear as various cells settle by weight, until the final multilayered result resembles an exotic cocktail. The deepest reds, comprising clumps of red cells, sink to the bottom; plasma, a thin yellow fluid, fills the top part of the flask; platelets and white cells congregate in a pale gray band in between.

What the telescope does to nearby galaxies, the microscope does to a drop of blood: it unveils the staggering reality. A speck of blood the size of this letter "o" contains 5,000,000 red cells, 300,000 platelets and 7,000 white cells. The fluid is actually an ocean stocked with living matter. Red cells alone, if removed from a single person and laid side by side, would carpet an area of 3,500 square yards. . . .

When a blood vessel is cut, the fluid that sustains life begins to leak away. In response, tiny platelets melt, like snowflakes, spinning out a gossamer web of fibrinogen. Red blood cells collect in this web, like autos crashing into each other when the road is blocked. Soon the tenuous wall of red blood cells thickens enough to stanch the flow of blood.

Platelets have a very small margin of error. Any clot that extends beyond the vessel wall and threatens to obstruct the vessel itself will stop the flow of blood through the vessel and perhaps lead to a stroke or coronary thrombosis and possibly death. On the other hand, people whose blood has no ability to clot live short lives: even a tooth extraction may prove fatal. The body cannily gauges when a clot is large enough to stop the loss of blood but not so large as to impede the flow within the vessel itself. 1

* * *

A view through a microscope clarifies the various components of blood but gives no picture of the daily frenzy encountered by each cell. Red cells, for example, never sit motionless. From their first entrance into the bloodstream they are pushed and shoved through rush hour traffic. Beginning the cycle at the heart, they take a short jaunt to the lungs to pick up a heavy load of oxygen. Immediately they return to the heart, which propels them violently over the Niagara Falls of the aortic arch. From there, highways crowded with billions of red cells branch out to the brain, the limbs, and vital internal organs.

Sixty thousand miles of blood vessels link every living cell; even the blood vessels themselves are fed by blood vessels. Highways narrow down to one-lane roads, then bike paths, then footpaths, until finally the red cell must bow sideways and edge through a capillary one-tenth in diameter of a human hair. In such narrow confines the cells are stripped of food and oxygen and loaded down with carbon dioxide and urea. If shrunken down to their size, we would see red cells as bloated bags of jelly and iron drifting along in a river until they reach the smallest capillary, where gases fizz and wheeze in and out of surface membranes. From there red cells rush to the kidneys for a thorough scrubbing, then back to the lungs for a refill. And the journey begins anew.

A person can live a day or two without water and several weeks without food, but only a few minutes without oxygen, the main fuel for our hundred trillion cells. Heavy exercise may increase the demand for oxygen from the normal four gallons up to seventy-five gallons an hour, prompting the heart to double or even triple its rate to speed red cells to the heaving lungs. If the lungs alone cannot overcome the oxygen shortage, the red cells call up reinforcements. Instead of five million red cells in a speck of blood, seven or eight million will gradually appear. After a person spends a few months in the rarefied atmosphere of Colorado's mountains, for example, up to ten million red cells will fill each drop of blood, compensating for the thinner air.

The pell-mell journey, even to the extremity of the big toe, lasts a mere twenty seconds. An average red cell endures the cycle of loading, unloading, and jostling through the body for a half million round trips over four months. In one final journey, to the spleen, the battered cell is stripped bare by scavenger cells and recycled into new cells. Three hundred billion such red cells die and are replaced every day, leaving behind various parts to reincarnate in a hair follicle or a taste bud. 2

The components of this circulatory system cooperate to accomplish a simple goal: nourishing and cleansing each living cell. If any part of the network breaks down - the heart takes an unscheduled rest, a clot overgrows and blocks an artery, a defect diminishes the red cells' oxygen capacity - life ebbs away. The brain, master of the body, can survive intact only five minutes without replenishment.

Blood once repulsed me. I saw it as the most distasteful part of medical treatment. Now . . . I feel like assembling all my blood cells and singing them a hymn of praise. The drama of resurrection enacted before me in Connaught Hospital takes place without fanfare in each heartbeat of a healthy human being. Every cell in every body lives at the mercy of blood.

1 India has a very feared species of snake, the "eleven-step adder," so named because its toxic bite is said to allow the victim time for just eleven more steps. Like all vipers, it kills with a clotting toxin. If its fang penetrates a major vein, say, in the leg, all the blood in the channel between the heart and leg clots at once. If the toxin merely reaches a minor vessel, an amazing thing happens. The poison draws platelets to the tissue like a magnet. Elsewhere in the body platelets simply vanish so that the blood cannot clot anywhere. Then, the smallest scratch will kill the victim or he may bleed internally in the brain or intestine. Bleeding cannot be stopped. Thus a viper's toxin can kill in two opposite ways: a devastating clot or an equally devastating inability to clot. The Haffkeine Institute in Bombay (Mumbai) milks these adders and uses minute amounts of the dried toxin to treat excess bleeding in patients.

2 The body provides the energy for the red cells' travels by employing the heart, an organ that deserves a book exclusively devoted to it. Primitive artificial hearts are now available, but I would like to see a government design specification sheet for a truly adequate replacement.

  • Fluid pump with 75-year life expectancy (2,500,000,000 cycles).
  • No maintenance or lubrication required.
  • Output: must vary between .025 horsepower at rest and short bursts of 1 horsepower determined by such factors as stress and exercise.
  • Weight: not to exceed 10.5 ounces (300 grams).
  • Capacity: 2,000 gallons per day.
  • Valves: each to operate 4,000-5,000 times per hour.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Why Kimel is not the guide to Himmel

Fr Alvin Kimel:

“First, regarding the alleged conflict between baptism and justification by faith advanced by Mr. Engwer, I would simply like to point out that Engwer’s problem is not just with the Catholic Church, but it is also with Martin Luther and the Reformation he initiated. I refer everyone specifically to Luther’s Large Catechism and his discussion of Holy Baptism. Baptism, Luther writes, is not our work but God’s work.”

i) Since Jason is not a Lutheran, it’s unclear how Luther’s position is a problem for Jason. This way of framing the issue suggests that Luther sets the standard. But why should Jason concede that point? Why not say that Jason’s position is a problem for Luther?

After all, Kimel is an Anglican convert to Catholicism, so it’s not as though Kimel ever regarded Luther as his own standard-bearer.

ii) Perhaps Kimel’s unspoken assumption is that Luther is, in some sense, the founding father of Protestant tradition, such that later Protestants must measure themselves against his examplar.

However, this assumes that Protestant identity is defined by continuity with Protestant tradition rather than continuity with the Protestant rule of faith (i.e. sola scriptura).

Protestant theology isn’t like an estate which Jason can only inherit if he pleases the old man and abides by the terms of the will. It’s not as if Luther (or Calvin, for that matter) is the custodian of this tradition.

Kimel is apparently superimposing his high-church paradigm on Jason.

iii) Of course, this doesn’t mean we can dismiss Luther’s position without a fair hearing. But his position isn’t entitled to special deference just because he said it.

Jason isn’t answerable to Luther. Luther isn’t the gatekeeper of the pearly gates. (Or Calvin. Or the pope.) Jason doesn’t need to whisper a Lutheran password to get inside.

Whether or not baptism is a work in relation to justification isn’t a question to be settled by Luther’s ipse dixit. Rather, that’s an exegetical question.

“But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation.”

Actually, that’s inaccurate:

i) Good works are a condition of salvation. But they are not a condition of justification.

ii) Moreover, good works are a condition of salvation in the same sense that sanctification is a condition of salvation, which is just another way of saying that no one can be saved without the Holy Spirit working in him to renew him and preserve him in the faith.

“Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended.”

i) The second sentence is basically true, although we have to make allowance for those who are saved before the age of discretion.

ii) However, the validity of the second sentence does nothing to validate the first sentence. The first sentence is just a tendentious claim.

“For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation.”

i) Baptism may well be a blessing to the faithful. But this doesn’t mean that baptism is a salvific ordinance.

ii) Perhaps Luther is alluding to certain baptismal verses that promise salvation to baptized Christians. That, however, is hardly a sufficient argument.

a) For one thing, it fails to take into account the nature of symbols and metaphors. If baptism were purely symbolic, the relationship between the rite and the promise would likewise be symbolic. Luther needs an independent argument to show that baptism is not a purely symbolic rite.

b) He also needs to square baptismal passages with other passages in which forgiveness or salvation is conferred apart from baptism.

c) In addition, he needs to harmonize his position with Paul’s argument in Rom 4, as well as his sustained argument in Galatians.

“Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it. Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith.”

That would follow on the assumption that baptism is a divine work. Unfortunately, Luther is running in circles. We await a sound argument for the key premise.

“Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.”

i) To say that faith is a condition of baptism doesn’t begin to show that baptism is a condition of salvation. It’s a complete non sequitur.

ii) Since, moreover, infant baptism is the norm in Lutheran praxis (as well as Catholic praxis), his condition is at war with his practice.

Mind you, I’ve read that Lutherans subscribe to “infant faith.” That, however, is a stopgap.

“Luther rightly understood that to posit a conflict between justification by faith and the sacramental order of the Church would utterly destroy the gospel.”

i) That doesn’t follow from the passage Kimel quoted.

ii) And it isn’t compelling in its own right. It simply begs the very issue in dispute.

“Faith requires an embodied word to which to cling.”

By “embodied word” I guess that Kimel means the sacraments.

Well, Scripture certainly enjoins the faithful to put their faith in God’s word. I don’t see where Scripture enjoins a comparable faith in the font or communion wafer.

Indeed, that’s a good example of false assurance. Of shifting your faith from Christ alone, in the self-revelation of Scripture, to a mechanical rite.

“For this reason Luther saw that the anti-sacramental views of the Swiss ‘reformers’ and enthusiasts were even more dangerous than the Catholic views he was more than willing to attack.”

I take it that this is a historical allusion to Zwingli and the Anabaptists. However, Kimel has failed to lay a foundation for either charge. He’s merely flaunting his prejudice.

Even if he’s right, he hasn’t given us a compelling or plausible reason to think so.

“Second, at this point in my life I confess that the relationship between justification, Church, baptism, and union with Christ is so obvious to me that I do not know quite how to respond to exegetical arguments like the ones offered by Mr. Engwer.”

Well, that’s quite possible. Somebody can get to the point in life where he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s changed trains and planes and busses and taxis so many times that he can’t retrace his steps.

Of course, that’s rather like a hiker who’s lost in the woods. He doesn’t remember how to get back because he doesn’t remember how he got there in the first place. Lost his bearings along the way. The landmarks are gone. And it’s getting dark. And wet. And cold.

But a mentally competent Christian should never put the Bible so far behind him that he can no longer find the trail leading back to Scripture. We’re accountable to God for what we believe about him. And his self-revelation in Scripture is the yardstick.

“Why does incorporation into the Church justify? Because the Church is the Body of Christ. Why does incorporation into the Body of Christ justify? Because to be united to the Body of Christ is to be united to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and to share in the divine life–and one can’t get any more justified than that!”

Of course, a chain of reasoning is only as strong as its weakest link. And in this case, every link is a weak link.

Which church is the body of Christ? If he means the church of Rome, where’s the argument?

And if he means the church of Rome, does this also mean that non-Catholics are not united with Christ? Does this also mean that non-Catholics are not justified?

The “body” of Christ is a metaphor. How does Kimel unpack that metaphor and relate it to Pauline justification?

Where does Paul say that we’re justified by incorporation into “the Church”? If that’s the case, then why didn’t he use that argument with the Judaizers?

Stop and ask yourself what the letter of Galatians would look like if a Catholic like Al Kimel wrote it.

“Until one grasps the profound unity of these divine realities, one will never exegete Scripture properly.”

Well, that’s a very revealing admission. (I'm tempted to say "damning" admission.) So, before you can exegete Scripture properly, you must already have a thoroughgoing soteriology sacramentology, ecclesiology, and triadology.

And, of course, you’d have to acquire that understanding apart from Scripture since you use that as a lens to interpret Scripture. But if you can do all that without Scripture, then what’s left for Scripture to do? In that event, who needs the word of God?

It’s remarkable how little of Kimel’s core theology is founded on divine revelation. It’s nice to see that so out in the open.

Jesus Taught Justification Through Foot Washing In John 3:5

See, also, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:26, Titus 3:5, Hebrews 10:22, etc.

Catholic Judaizers

I'm posting some email comments I may about Andrew Preslar's response to Jason Engwer. The anachronistic orientation of Catholic theology turns historical narratives like Jn 3 into fictitious allegories about Catholic church history:


Andrew Preslar

“(1) We variously evaluate the significance of the fact that the gift of the Spirit in justification can precede the reception of baptism. (2) This (among other things) leads to different readings of ‘faith’ passages that do not say anything about baptism.”

That’s one reason, but not the only reason. It’s an indirect reason.

It is, however, true that if we have specific cases of prebaptismal justification, then there’s no obvious link between baptism and justification. In that event, baptism seems to be superfluous to justification–although it might still have a rationale apart from justification.

“You read them as excluding baptism. I see no logical reason to do so…”

There are at least five logical reasons to do so–of which I’ll mention three, and save the rest for later:

i) Besides the phenomenon of prebaptismal justification, we also have:

ii) Paul’s argument in Galatians. Paul classifies circumcision as a work. He says Abraham was justified apart from the work of circumcision. And he’s mounting an argument from analogy between OT justification and NT justification. So, by parity of argument, it would be inconsistent of him to turn around and say that Christians are justified by baptism (cf. Col 2:11-12).

iii) This is reinforced by the fact that if baptism were justificatory, then Paul could have dispatched the Judaizers in one crisp sentence: “No, Christians aren’t justified by circumcision; rather, Christians are justified by baptism!”

Let’s put it this way: If Paul were Roman Catholic, isn’t that how we’d expect him to make his case in Galatians?

“Given what Sacred Scripture says about baptism, in particular, baptism in relation to faith and the gifts of initial salvation.”

i) Which fails to take into account the nature of symbols and metaphors. If baptism were a symbol or metaphor of salvation, then saving properties would be symbolically attributed to baptism. Preslar needs to explain why that interpretation is untenable.

ii) Notice how he implicitly distinguishes between “initial” salvation and (I guess) “final” salvation. But is that distinction given in any of his prooftexts?

iii) And not just a distinction, but a potential dichotomy between initial and final salvation, where someone can be initially saved/justified, but fail to be finally saved/justified.

iv) Catholics don’t believe you have to be baptized to be saved. In fact, they don’t even believe you have to be Christian to be saved. So their actual paradigm for salvation is inconsistent with either justification by faith or justification by baptism.

It reminds me of something Feynman said about physics. He said it was very difficult to introduce a new theory into physics since any new theory had to fit in with all of the established theories.

And that’s a problem when Catholics appeal to Scripture. For their interpretations have to find a place within the preexisting cubicles of Catholic theology. Each interpretation has to be consistent with everything else in Catholic theology.

“(3) I recommend a synthetic reading of both (a) the justification by faith and benefits of baptism passages and (b) the Spirit & forgiveness of sins given before baptism and the Spirit & forgiveness of sins given in baptism passages.”

One of the problems with his “synthetic” approach is that he’s not simply combining different kinds of passages. He’s also introducing harmonistic devices like “proleptic“ gift and “initial” justification to make them go together. And his harmonistic devices are not something he directly adduces from any of his prooftexts. Rather, that’s something he introduces from the outside.

“In my approach, the ‘faith’ passages are not automatic pretexts for interpreting the ‘baptism’ passages as merely symbolizing indwelling/forgiveness/union/justification, rather than actually conferring the same.”

That’s not the only reason to treat the baptismal passages as “merely” emblematic of the spiritual benefits in question. Given the nature of symbol and metaphor, he needs an independent argument for why we should take these ascriptions literally.

That’s actually a preliminary question, even before we get to other data which are difficult to reconcile with baptismal justification.

“Without this premise, you would, I think, interpret the baptism passages differently, and more naturally, in accordance with their respective contexts. You would also feel less pressure to exclude the actual sacrament of baptism from those passages that ascribe some spiritual efficacy to ‘baptism.’”

That begs the question of whether it’s unnatural to construe these passages symbolically and/or metaphorically.

Is it unnatural to construe Jesus’ statement about the vine and the branches figuratively?

If, for the sake of argument, baptism were merely symbolic of certain blessings, like forgiveness, then it would be quite natural to ascribe spiritual efficacy to baptism. It would be quite natural to describe forgiveness in the figurative imagery of “washing away” sin.

“I think that if you were convinced that the faith passages do not automatically exclude baptism then you would read the baptism passages differently.”

He takes for granted that there’s a standing presumption in favor of sacramental realism, and it takes some strong counterevidence to override that default understanding.

Speaking for myself, I don’t agree. The Bible is studded with symbols and metaphors. Sometimes these are purely literary metaphors. At other times they are concrete metaphors, in the sense of symbolic actions or objects. As such, I don’t think there’s any reason to assume sacramental realism unless proven otherwise.

“I have tried to facilitate such a reading on your part in a variety of ways, including invoking the principle of not judging the nature / efficacy of something based upon passages that do not mention that thing.”

But he himself does that very thing with his extraneous harmonistic principles.

“Rather, we should form our views about baptism based upon what Scripture says about baptism.”

The question is not what is “says,” but what it “means” by what it says. What does Jn 15 say about the “spiritual efficacy” of the vine? Doesn’t the vine “confer” life on the branches? Yet Catholics haven’t added a sacramental vineyard to their list of sacraments.

“A related issue is that you seem tempted to read certain ‘baptism’ passages, including the ‘born of water’ and ‘washing of regeneration’, as excluding the sacrament–which would be a really strange way to teach rebirth/justification by faith sans baptism, especially since the sacrament figures so prominently in Christian initiation in the NT and beyond.”

i) To begin with, Christian baptism wasn’t prominent for Nicodemus. Indeed, it didn’t exist at that time. Catholics simply deactivate the historical context.

ii) As for Tit 3:5, if the “washing of rebirth” denotes baptismal regeneration/justification, then what does “renewal by the Holy Spirit” denote? It’s strange that Paul would use two phrases rather than one if only one stands for baptismal regeneration/justification. And it’s equally strange that he’d use both phrases for baptismal generation/justification when only one phrase employs aquatic imagery.

Catholics quote these prooftexts, but they don’t pay close attention to the actual wording or historical setting.

“I have given some reasons for not doing that, e.g., it is an argument from silence, such an approach seems to be pretty clearly falsified in the case of, e.g., repentance…”

That doesn’t falsify it at all.

i) To begin with, “justification by faith” (and verbal variants thereof) is a Pauline idiom. I wouldn’t expect other NT speakers or writers to reproduce a Pauline idiom. And, indeed, James is the only other NT writer who uses that phraseology. Yet that’s actually a study in contrast since he means something very different by that form of words.

ii) Repentance and faith are not two fundamentally different emotions. It’s just a difference in emphasis. Both reflect a change of heart and mind.

iii) Moreover, I doubt the NT always intends to draw a conceptual or psychological distinction between the two. I expect that much of the time these function as stock terms and stylistic synonyms.

“And, yes, the most straightforward reading of the baptism passages seems to indicate that they really are about baptism…”

If he’s still referring to Jn 3:5 and Tit 3:5, that begs the question.

What’s apparent is that he can’t take the opposing position seriously even for the sake of argument.

“And that the effects of this sacrament are truly foundational to life in Christ, in terms of both inward changes and new relationships.”

i) How is baptism “truly foundational” if, by his own admission, there are many cases of prebaptismal justification?

ii) And, of course, he doesn’t take the baptismal passages straightforwardly, since they generally make faith a precondition of baptism, whereas infant baptism is the norm in Roman Catholicism.

“Now, to revert to the timing issue: My position here is the result of my synthetic reading of the passages in question, in which there is no need to pick one or another passages as ‘normative.’”

But if he just told us that baptism is “truly foundational,” then that makes baptism normative. And he introduces harmonistic devices to square the other types of passages with the baptismal passages. That’s another mark of what he views as normative.

“In any event, questions about the timing of the effects of the sacrament of baptism and the moment of a conscious act of faith depend greatly upon the subject of baptism, such as whether the subject is an older child/adult or an infant, or, in cases of the former, whether or not the sacrament is received with the right disposition.”

And where do his baptismal prooftexts draw those distinctions?

“If Scripture does not make a major issue of the timing of the gift of the Spirit/justification and the reception of baptism, then neither should we, at least, not in the interpretation of those scriptures. There are passages in which the timing of justification is central to an argument, but these are not addressing baptism. For instance, St. Paul makes a big deal of the timing of Abraham’s justification viz circumcision.”

And isn’t baptism the counterpart to circumcision? Both are covenant signs of covenant membership.

“One reason that this is not parallel to the timing of justification and the (non)efficacy of baptism is that faith and baptism both belong to the New Covenant…whereas circumcision did not belong to the covenant that God made with Abraham when he was initially justified.”

Circumcision did belong to the Abrahamic covenant. But it was separable from his justification.

“Baptism, however, does belong to the covenant in which we are justified, the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. So faith and circumcision, in the covenantal theology of Romans 4, can be temporally distinguished in a way that faith and baptism cannot.”

i) Faith and baptism are temporally distinguished in Acts, since there is no fixed sequence.

ii) Moreover, he’s blurring two different issues:

a) Are faith and baptism temporally distinguished?

b) Are faith and justification temporally distinguished?

“According to St. Paul, baptism is the means by which we are identified with Christ, the foundation of our new life in the Spirit (Romans 6–8).”

Which sidesteps the question of whether that connection is symbolic or constitutive.

“Paul simply says that we are identified with Christ by baptism.”

And if Paul were a Baptist or Zwinglian, he’d simply say the same thing. That’s in the nature of symbolism. What is said of the significate can be said of the sign, and vice versa. What is said of Christ can be said of the vine, and vice versa–within the limits of the intended analogy.

Preslar never gets inside the logic of symbolic reference or emblematic denotation. So all he ends up doing is to repeat himself by paraphrasing his question-begging claims time and again.

“When an event is bound up with something eternal, its efficacy need not be in every way bounded by its temporal placement.”

In theory, no. But Paul makes a big deal about the timing of justification in relation to a covenant sign.

“There is also a sense in which the full effects of initial salvation await the actual reception of baptism…”

And his prooftext for that is what?

“…without which one is not, for example, inwardly configured to participate in the Eucharist.”

Was Ted Kenney inwardly configured to participate in the Eucharist whereas William Booth was not?

“This is a further claim, but it indicates one of the reasons that Catholics can hold that there is a distinct and foundational effect in the actual conferral baptism, even when spiritual life has already begun prior to baptism, in anticipation thereof.”

But if baptism confers regeneration, then how does regeneration precede its sacramental cause?

A tremendous free gift

From Alan Jacobs:
One of the most extraordinary figures of the British theater in the last century was Kenneth Tynan, a flamboyant, irrepressibly gifted man who electrified almost everything he touched. He was perhaps too gifted: he excelled as a dramatist, a screenwriter, a critic, an essayist, a director, and a theatrical impresario, and he flitted all his life among these varying roles. . . .

He was devoted to the pushing of boundaries, from pointedly saying words that were not supposed to be said on BBC television to directing the first all-nude musical, Oh Calcutta! (At age sixteen he had announced his plan to write, not a morality play, but an amorality play: "The whole point of it, I feel, is that the Devil is horrified by the goodness of God and considers him immoral.")

His college at Oxford, to which he came up in 1945, was Magdalen; his tutor was C.S. Lewis. Though it might seem highly unlikely that so plainly traditional a figure as Lewis and so peacockish an undergraduate as Tynan would get along, they did. . . .

Writing in his diary on the first of October, 1974, Tynan recalled a crucial moment in his life:
Yesterday a bald, deaf, elderly Canadian came to interview me on C.S. Lewis, about whom he is writing a book. Into his hearing aid I bellowed reminiscences of the great man, whose mind was Johnsonian without the bullying and Chestertonian without the facetiousness. If I were ever to stray into the Christian camp, it would be because of Lewis's arguments as expressed in books like Miracles. (He never intruded them into tutorials.) Because I stammered, he kindly undertook to read my weekly essays aloud for me, and the prospect of hearing my words pronounced in that wonderfully juicy and judicious voice had a permanently discipling effect on my prose style.

He was a deeply kind and charitable man, too. Once in the summer of 1948 I came to him in despair: Jill Rowe-Dutton had jilted me on the eve of what was to have been our marriage, and I had spent most of the term in and out of bed with bronchial diseases that I was sure would soon culminate in TB. I brought my troubles to Lewis, asking him whether I could postpone my final examinations until Christmas. To this he at once agreed: after which he got on with the Christian business of consolation. [In an interview Tynan added that he had told Lewis that he saw no reason to go on living.] He reminded me how I had once told him about the parachuted landmine which, dropping from a German bomber during an air-raid in 1940, so narrowly missed our house in Birmingham that next morning we recovered some of the parachute silk from our chimney. (The mine destroyed six houses across the road and blew out all our windows.) But for that hair's-breadth - a matter of inches only - I would already (Lewis gently pointed out) have been dead for eight years. Every moment of life since then had been a bonus, a tremendous free gift, a present that only the blackest ingratitude could refuse. As I listened to him, my problems began to dwindle to their proper proportions; I had entered the room suicidal, and I left it exhilarated.

Justification Through Foot Washing

The following are comments I recently posted in a Called To Communion thread. Some of what's below may be difficult to understand without the larger context, but I think even those who haven't been reading that thread should understand at least most of what I've written.

Andrew Preslar wrote:

"I thought, quite understandably, that this rather idiosyncratic manner of referring to baptism might have been part of an effort to exclude baptism from salvation/justification on a 'not by works' basis. It now looks like you do not want to pursue that line, so, progress made."

I do object to baptismal justification on the basis that baptism is an excluded work. I said earlier that my argument against baptismal justification isn't dependent on an appeal to the exclusion of works from the gospel. But the exclusion of works is one line of evidence I've cited among others. And I agreed with you that faith can be considered a work and can be considered obedience in some contexts. I linked you to the thread here, where I discuss the subject in more depth.

As I explain in that thread, work is sometimes defined so broadly by scripture as to include anything we do. That sort of definition would include both faith and baptism, so it wouldn't be reasonable to deny that baptism is a work at least in that sense. You would have to argue, instead, that it's not a work under some definitions, particularly the ones relevant to our discussion here. Elsewhere, scripture seems to define work as outward manifestations of faith. Baptism would be a work in that sense. In Romans 3-4, Paul contrasts faith with work (Romans 3:27), and he refers to those who believe without working (Romans 4:5-6), so he isn't defining faith as a work in that context. Do we have any comparable reason to exempt baptism? Not that I'm aware of. There are no passages comparable to Romans 3:27, 4:5-6, or James 2:14-26, where baptism is distinguished from working as faith is so distinguished....

You write:

"The thing is, 'repentance' is not part of the definition of 'faith,' but you would not on that basis exclude it from the believing reception of justification."

I responded to that argument in comment 23. You didn't address much of what I said there. Instead, you replied by saying that baptism could also be included in passages that only mention faith, since repentance is included, and you assumed your reading of the baptismal passages (John 3:5, etc.) to justify an inclusion of baptism. But assuming your reading of those passages doesn't interact with my contrary arguments. And it fails to address the distinctions between repentance and baptism that I discussed in comment 23. Saying that repentance and baptism are both different than faith doesn't address the differences between repentance and baptism that I mentioned.

The fact that a hand is different than a body, yet we assume the inclusion of a hand when a body is mentioned, doesn't justify the conclusion that references to a body are also referring to a table. A body implies the inclusion of a hand, but it doesn't imply the inclusion of a table. Merely saying that a hand and a table are both different than a body doesn't justify placing both in the same category. You would need an additional line of evidence in order to assume the inclusion of a table when a body is mentioned. You assert that you have such evidence in passages like John 3:5 and Acts 2:38, but without interacting with my contrary arguments.

You write:

"If we have independent reasons to think that foot-washing might be an essential aspect of receiving initial salvation, then we might consider the question of whether such an act could be implicitly included in a statement about believing unto salvation."

Which is why you need to address my arguments regarding the baptismal passages you've been appealing to. I could assume a justificatory interpretation of John 13:8 and apply the sort of argumentation you've applied to baptism. I could claim that the far larger number of passages that mention faith without mentioning foot washing aren't thereby excluding foot washing. After all, some passages don't mention repentance either. And I could argue that examples of people being justified before or without foot washing prior to Jesus' resurrection are irrelevant, since foot washing wasn't required during that era. I could dismiss later examples of justification apart from foot washing by claiming that people were justified in anticipation of a later foot washing. I could appeal to a foot washing of desire and foot washing by blood. I could claim that foot washing isn't a work, so that passages excluding works aren't relevant.

What would be wrong with such an approach? For one thing, there are reasonable alternatives to a justificatory interpretation of John 13:8, even though Jesus does use strong language there and a justificatory interpretation would make sense if we had no other evidence to go by. Secondly, maintaining such a reading of that passage requires accepting a less natural reading of a large number of other passages. We have to assume that multiple authors who had access to words that would explicitly convey foot washing chose not to use that language, but instead to only refer to faith in the vast majority of relevant passages. We have to assume a discontinuity between how people were justified in the past and how they're justified today, even though the Biblical authors tell us that we're justified by the same means by which Abraham and others of the past were justified. We have to assume that people justified prior to foot washing, including people who could easily have had their feet washed, were justified in anticipation of foot washing. We have to assume that foot washing isn't excluded as a work, even though it so much resembles other entities defined as work and even though scripture nowhere exempts it from being classified as a work. We have to assume that John 13:8 was referring to justification through foot washing, even though foot washing wasn't required yet when Jesus spoke with Peter. The Biblical passages about being justified through a means in the heart are inconsistent with justification through an outward means, like foot washing. Etc.

You keep claiming that your reading of the baptismal passages is the most natural way to take those passages. But accepting your reading of those passages requires us to accept a long series of less natural readings of a far larger number of other passages. You seem to be so focused on the alleged advantages of your reading of a small handful of passages, that you're overlooking a series of far weightier disadvantages your view brings to a much larger number of other passages. And the small handful of passages you're focused on are problematic even when considered in their own context. You have Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be justified through baptism before baptism became a means of justification.

Early in this thread, I cited Ronald Fung's comments on how little baptism is even mentioned in Galatians. The relevance of his point seems to have been largely missed or underestimated in this thread. We shouldn't just ask what the most natural reading of Galatians 3:27 is. We should also ask what the most natural reading is of the fifteen prior references to faith without any mention of baptism, some of which imply the exclusion of baptism by more than just not mentioning it (for reasons I explained earlier). To focus on how unnatural my interpretation of Galatians 3:27 allegedly is, while assigning so little weight to the problems your reading of that passage creates for so many other passages, is drastically unbalanced.

You write:

"It seems like you are saying that Abraham was justified in the exact same way that (e.g.) Paul was justified, such that anything that was essential to receiving justification for Paul was essential for Abraham. But that seems obviously wrong. For one thing, the objective content of saving faith was not the same thing for each man."

No, I'm saying that Abraham and Paul have in common what Paul says they have in common: faith. The object of faith isn't the same as faith. Paul says that we're justified through faith, as Abraham was. Is it more natural to conclude that Paul means we're justified through faith, though with a different object to that faith? Or is it more natural to conclude that Paul means we're justified through faith, though with a different object to that faith and with baptism accompanying the faith? You're suggesting an additional kind of discontinuity. A discontinuity between the objects of faith still leaves faith as the means of justification. But adding baptism as a means of justification adds a further discontinuity that the passages in question don't imply.

You write:

"I think you mentioned some arguments from non-silence for the non-efficacy of baptism in initial salvation. Have I missed one that does not depend upon the notions that I have been addressing hitherto?"

Yes, you haven't addressed my appeal to the normalcy of justification apart from baptism. Cornelius, the Galatians, and others justified prior to baptism are described as if their means of justification was normative. And I've argued that Catholicism treats such a means of justification as exceptional, not normative, which is the opposite of how scripture approaches the issue. See my discussion of Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism Of The Catholic Church in comment 36 above. As I said earlier, justification through faith alone makes better sense of the normativity of justification prior to or without baptism.

Even if you were to argue that such cases are the minority rather than the majority, you'd still have to address the nature of those minority cases. Why were people justified prior to or without baptism when baptism was easily available to them? As I noted earlier, most of the Biblical examples of justification prior to or without baptism don't involve circumstances like those of the thief on the cross. You can speculate about how every one of those cases might involve exceptional circumstances that we're not aware of, but justification through faith alone explains all of those passages consistently, without the need to multiply speculative qualifications and make so many exemptions.

You're also not addressing what I said about how baptism is defined in a non-justificatory manner in 1 Peter 3:21.

You're not addressing what I said about the non-justificatory nature of Jesus' baptism during His earthly ministry (John 4:1-2). You could argue that the nature of His baptism changed later, but adding yet another discontinuity to your view would make it even more problematic.

And while you appeal to Bryan's posts on some of the issues we're discussing, an appeal to those posts doesn't explain how you would respond to what I said in response to Bryan. It's not as though I haven't provided a counterargument.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The retreating goal post

Perry Robinson:

If you want to see how a Protestant jumps around trying to avoid the obvious internal inconsistency…

I just think that when its obvious that your position is in error, and you can’t bring yourself to admit it but take months to make excuses…

What’s funny about this accusation is that Perry is the one who’s been changing the subject whereas I’ve had the same position, both in theory and practice, all along. Indeed, this isn’t the first time I’ve stated my position, so it’s not as if I’m making this up as I go along in reaction to Perry.

To set the record straight, here’s a summary paraphrase of just some of the various permutations which Perry has run through in reinventing his objection:

Objection 1.0

“Steve is a hypocrite because he pays lip-service to sola Scriptura even though he professes the unscriptural dogma of double procession!”

I respond by pointing out that I don’t, in fact, profess double procession.

Objection 2.0

“Scratch objection 1.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he professes the filioque!”

I respond by pointing out that the Nicene formulation is a paraphrase of Scripture (Jn 14:26; 15:26), so I can profess that formulation with a clear conscience.

Objection 3.0

“Scratch 2.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he professes the unscriptural formulation of the WCF!”

I respond by pointing out that the Nicene formulation is the only formulation I have occasion to profess in public worship.

Objection 4.0

“Scratch 3.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he professes the filioque in a sense at odds with original intent!”

I respond by pointing out that the original intent of an uninspired document is not obligatory.

Objection 5.0

“Scratch 4.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he disregards the fixed meaning of the text!”

I point out that meaning is assigned, and denominations reserve the right to redefine or reinterpret their own documents.

Objection 6.0

“Scratch 5.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because his position collapses into solo scriptura, in defiance of sola Scriptura!”

I respond by reminding Perry that I reject Mathison’s paradigm.

Objection 7.0

“Scratch 6.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he deceives his audience!”

I respond by pointing out that my audience is God. God knows exactly what I mean.

I also point out that privacy (i.e. private intent) is not the same thing as concealment. I’ve never made a secret of my position.

Objection 8.0

“Scratch 7.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he deceives his elders!”

I point out that strict subscription is not a condition of church membership.

Objection 9.0

“Scratch 8.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he tolerates false teaching!”

I point out that, in a fallen world, a certain amount of false teaching is inevitable in every local church and denomination–even those with infallibilist pretensions. As such, agreement with every jot and tittle of whatever you read or hear is not reasonable standard of Christian fellowship.

Objection 10.0

There were further permutations in Perry’s objection, but I have to switch from binoculars to a telescope to keep the goal post in view.

Life in the Son

In light of my recent exchange with Perry Robinson, I’ve been asked to expatiate on my view of the Trinity in relation to some features of Eastern and Latin triadology. I’ll use some statements by Andreas Köstenberger’s monograph on Johannine triadology as my foil.

Köstenberger is a fine Johannine scholar, and his monograph contains many fine insights. However, I think he’s a better scholar than logician. This is probably owing to modern specialization. It requires a combination of exegetical sophistication as well as philosophical sophistication to do justice to the issues. In my opinion, Köstenberger’s treatment, in the portions I quote, oscillates between truths, half-truths, equivocations, and other fallacies.

“According to the Augustinian tradition of exegesis, the triune missions reveal not only three distinct persons, but also how those three distinct persons eternally relate to one another. This view results from an interpretation of the following line of evidence. In John’s Gospel, the Father is sent by no one, but instead sends the Son (e.g. 3:17; 17:3 etc.) and the Spirit (14:26). The Son is sent by the Father and sends the Spirit (15:26; 16:7). The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son but himself sends no one,” A. Köstenberger, Father Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (IVP 2008), 179-80.

An accurate summary of the Biblical data, as far as it goes.

“To this evidence Augustine then applies the following theological principle, a principle he believes is exegetically justifiable. According to the Bishop of Hippo, the missions of the Son and the Spirit in history reveal something about the eternal, unchanging life of the Trinity” (180).

The economic Trinity undoubtedly reveals “something” about the immanent Trinity.

“Specifically, one can be sent in time only by someone from whom one eternally proceeds. Temporal missions reveal and are rooted in eternal processions “(180).

How does that follow?

i) If God sends a prophet, like Amos, does this mean that Amos eternally proceeds from God? If not, then the inference is fallacious. If so, then the inference is equivocal inasmuch as Amos hardly proceeds from God in the same sense as God’s Son–even on Köstenberger’s definition.

Likewise, is the temporal mission of Amos rooted in eternal procession?

Clearly this doesn’t work as a general principle. Therefore, it’s invalid to draw a specific conclusion from this general principle.

ii) Maybe Köstenberger was speaking in shorthand. Perhaps what he really meant is that temporal Trinitarian missions reveal and entail eternal processions. But, in that event, he can’t infer the conclusion from a general principle. At best, it’s a postulated analogy between a specific origin and a specific outcome.

And that amounts to an assertion rather than an argument. It doesn’t begin with a broad principle that all Christians accept, and then derives a specific conclusion.

“The fact that the Spirit is sent, ‘breathed,’ by the Father and the Son (Gen 2:7; Jn 20:22) reveals that he proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one originating principle (180).”

How does that follow?

i) To begin with, both “breathing” and “proceeding” are metaphors. One is a respiratory metaphor while the other is a locomotive metaphor. How can you infer one metaphor from another?

ii) Moreover, a metaphor is figurative rather than literal. As such, you can’t go straight from a metaphor to a literal truth (much less a logical deduction). Rather, you first need to unpack the metaphor in order to isolate and identify the literally true component(s) of the intended analogy.

iii) Why assume that Gen 2:7 refers to the Holy Spirit? This verse conjures up the image of a potter who animates a clay doll by breathing into it. Because the potter is a living, breathing agent, he can breathe life into the lifeless clay doll. To identify his breath with the Holy Spirit gets carried away with the picturesque illustration.

iv) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this has reference to the Holy Spirit, it’s describing a temporal process, not a timeless state of being. And the same is true in reference to Jn 20:22.

Perhaps Köstenberger would interject at this point that temporal relations mirror eternal relations. But that’s the very issue in dispute.

“The triune God, in other words, acts characteristically in the triune mission. And he does so because revealing his true character is internal to that mission” (181).

Well, yes and no.

i) The economic Trinity always acts in a manner consistent with the immanent Trinity. There’s no contradiction between the two.

ii) However, this doesn’t mean the two are identical. For one thing, there’s an element of contingency to the economic Trinity. It’s not as if God never had the freedom to do anything the least bit differently, had he so chosen. The immanent Trinity goes to the essential nature of God, whereas the economic Trinity reflects the will of God. God willed to work in that fashion in the economy of redemption. But that division of labor is not a metaphysical necessity.

iii) At the same time, the NT also treats the Incarnation and humiliation of the Son as something which is, in some respects, uncharacteristic or out-of-character. For the Creator to assume the role of a creature, submit himself to his law for man, and be punished as if he were a heinous sinner is, in some fairly obvious ways, the antithesis of his moral and metaphysical transcendence. It’s meant to be surprising–even incongruous.

“The main point affirmed in describing the Second Person of the Trinity as the ‘only-begotten Son’ is that the Son is God by nature, and not by adoption, and that the Son personally possesses what he possesses in the way of a son, i.e. from his Father” (181n75).

This bundles several issues into one:

i) Keep in mind that divine “sonship” is a metaphor, just like divine “fatherhood” is a metaphor. In scriptural usage, sonship is a polyvalent metaphor. That one rich metaphor triggers a number of significant connotations. And these, in turn, have literal analogues. Both exegetical and systematic theology need to unpack these metaphors to identify the literal attributes and/or prerogatives which are signified by the metaphor.

ii) It’s true that Christ’s sonship (i.e. “Son of God”) is frequently a divine title in NT usage. So that’s a status he has by nature.

iii) Is sonship also meant to signify his mode of origin? I don’t think so. Rather, a filial mode of origin is a figurative synonym for figurative sonship–and all that represents.

“Begetting” is a process. And it’s a different, but related way of expressing the same metaphor. It simply lays emphasis on the cause rather than the effect.

But even Christians who subscribe to the eternal generation of the Son don’t think a literal process is in view.

And, of course, we’re dealing with a sexual metaphor. As such, I don’t think the sexual metaphor, per se, has any literal analogue.

Rather, it’s a figurative synonym for sonship. Sonship is also a metaphor, but one with some literal analogues.

iv) Although Scripture repudiates an adoptionist Christology, we also need to distinguish between the status of the Son qua God and the status of the Son qua God incarnate. As God qua God, nothing can augment or diminish his status. But as God qua incarnate, the Son can, indeed, acquire a status. For example, Jesus really is the heir of the Davidic covenant. That isn’t metaphorical. That is something which happens in time.

“His filial mode of being belongs to his distinctive personal way of being God” (182).

True, but tautological.

“In other words, the economic Trinity is not other than the immanent Trinity: the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity personally engaged in the gracious act of becoming our Father, through the Son, by the Spirit…When Father, Son and Holy Spirit engage in the missio Dei, then do not stand above or behind that mission. When Father, Son and Holy Spirit engage in the missio Dei, they engage personally in that mission as they eternally are, that is, according to their characteristic interpersonal relationships” (182).

Here we have a fuller statement of the faulty Augustinian inference (one that Köstenberger endorses) which underwrites this entire chain of thought. The basic problem is that it represents a major overstatement.

i) On the one hand, it’s true that the economic Trinity is revelatory of the immanent Trinity. And it’s also true that the economic Trinity is grounded (as it were) in the immanent Trinity.

ii) On the other hand, this unqualified inference makes no allowance for the principle of divine accommodation in God’s self-disclosure. For example, God uses metaphors, idioms, and anthropomorphisms as a medium of self-disclosure. So we can’t treat these as literal descriptors of what God is like in himself.

Rather, we have to raise them to the appropriate level of abstraction. What does paternity stand for? What does sonship stand for? What’s the intended point of correspondence?

A metaphor is a figurative analogy. The analogy is literal, but the metaphor is figurative. You have to extract the literal metaphor from the figurative metaphor by eliminating the incidental aspects of the metaphor.

“Indeed, if the missions are truly missions of the triune God, then we may expect that the relational pattern which unfolds in the Spirit’s mission belongs not merely to his saving mission but to his very identity…After all, the point of the triune missions is that we might know ‘the only true God’ (17:3)” (183).

True, but misleading. Whatever God reveals about himself is true to what God is really like–in himself. But that doesn’t authorize us to prejudge the question of what God intends to reveal about himself.

“In Trinitarian theology, the means of revelation and the content of revelation ultimately cannot be divorced, because how God gives and reveals is tied to what God gives and reveals: himself” (183).

That has a grain of truth, but it’s hyperbolic. Köstenberger is forcing a false dichotomy on the reader. But the relationship between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity is not a choice between absolute identity and absolute alterity. Rather, there’s an analogy between the two. And every analogy has its share of disanalogies. For example, some things are true of God incarnate that are not true of God discarnate.

“The Father is the fons divinitas. All that the Son and the Spirit have, they receive personally from him. The consubstantial deity of the Son and the Spirit with the Father is in no way diminished by the receptive status of the Son and the Spirit, for the Father shares with them all things (5:26; 16:13-15; 17:7), except for the personal trait of being ‘Father’” (184).

i) His prooftexts have reference to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity.

ii) Whether or not their “receptive” status diminishes their consubstantial deity is something that needs to be argued for, and not merely posited, as a given.

“The whole point of the dispute in John 5 concerns Jesus’ equality with God as God’s Son. In other words, it is his personal identity as the Son of God, the one who has the right to receive all things from God and to do as God does, that constitutes the basis for his messianic investiture and activity” (184n91).

i) But that raises the question of whether coequality is compatible with derivation.

ii) There is a dialectical relationship in Johannine Christology: only a human being can receive divine prerogatives, but only divine being can receive divine prerogatives. It’s the Incarnation which harmonizes the dialectic.

“It should be added (also contra Reymond) that Calvin’s rigorous defence of the Son’s self-existence did not lead him to deny the Son’s eternal generation from the Father” (184n91).”

i) True. However, Warfield, for one, took it a step further.

ii) We also need to distinguish between eternal Sonship and eternal generation. Both are metaphors. However, “generation,” as a sexual metaphor, is purely figurative. Its only value is to serve as a synonym for sonship.

But since the metaphor of sonship has literal analogues, you can affirm eternal Sonship even though you disaffirm eternal generation.

iii) There is also a debate about the meaning of monogenes. Modern scholars generally reject the rendering of “only-begotten” in favor of “one-and-only,” based on Greek etymology.

I actually think this is questionable. For Scripture frequently employs “folk etymologies” based on homonymic similarities between one word and another. So a Greek speaker might well associate “monogenes” with “only-begotten.”

Since, however, we’re still dealing with a metaphor, I don’t think that settles the underlying issue. The question isn’t simply how to construe the Greek, but how to construe the metaphor.

“The point is not that the Father, as fons divinitatis, generates the divinity of the Son and the Spirit. Divinity, by definition (Exod 3:14!), cannot be generated” (184).

I agree. However, I don’t think you can infer divine aseity from Hebrew syntax (not to mention the syntactical ambiguities of this enigmatic phrase). I seriously doubt the divine name was meant to heave all that metaphysical freight.

“Nor do we claim that the unity of God is found only in the person of the Father. What sense, then, does it make to speak of the Father as fons divinitatis? Understanding this assertion requires a firm grasp of the dogmatic distinction between essence and person” (184).

I agree with this distinction. However, Köstenberger needs to exegete this distinction from his prooftexts.

“This distinction, we should add, is rooted in John’s twofold use of ‘God’ in 1:1. There John uses ‘God’ to refer to the person of the Father and to refer to the common nature shared by the Father and the Son” (184n92).

I think it would be more accurate to distinguish between the use of “God” as a common noun and a proper noun.

“The son and the Spirit, as concrete persons, are ‘from the Father.” The Father, in other words, is the ‘font’ of persons who are divine. However, those persons, with the Father, fully possess the identical, self-existent (underived, ungenerated) divine essence of the Father. In Johannine terms, Jesus has ‘life in himself’ (5:26) (He is the self-existent, ungenerated God) and is this God as the Son, who personally shares self-existence with the Father because he is the Son of the Father (5:26)” (184).

Several problems:

i) His Johannine prooftexts don’t distinguish between the ingenerate nature of the Son and the generate person of the Son. (Ditto: the Spirit.) Köstenberger is superimposing that distinction on his prooftexts.

ii) Apropos (i), this is where the figurative paternal/filial analogy breaks down. Literal sons are not ingenerate in any sense. And that, in turn, invalidates the facile, Augustinian inference from the economic Trinity to the immanent Trinity–as if whatever is true of the former is true of the latter.

iii) To refer 5:26 to the immanent Trinity is pantheistic. For the “life” in question is a communicable attribute (v21; 6:57). If the life which Jesus imparts to others is the same kind of life that the Father imparts to Jesus, then we have a pantheistic chain-of-being.

iv) I think 5:26 is making a different point. You can only give what you have. Because God is the living God, he can give life to others (6:57). That’s how he can be the Creator. And it also makes him the recreator of the dead–with a view to the resurrection of Jesus as well as the resurrection of the just.

In context, the type of life which God imparts to Jesus, and Jesus imparts to others, is resurrection life (5:21).

“The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father as ‘the gift’ who rests upon and indwells God’s beloved Son (1:32-34), the one whom the Father shares all things (3:34-35)” (185).

i) His prooftexts refer to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity.

ii) To define the Spirit as a “gift,” in reference to the immanent Trinity, reduces the Spirit to a contingent effect of Father’s will rather than his nature. On that view, the Spirit has no essential, intrinsic identity.

“But this must mean that the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Son as well (7:37-39; 15:26; 16:7; 20:22), just because the Father shares ‘all things’ with the Son except for the personal trait of being the Father of the Son (cf. 16:15)” (185).

His prooftexts don’t say that.

“ As the Spirit of the Son (cf. Gal 4:6), the Spirit eternally springs forth (cf. 7:38) in the fullness of the Son’s joy, the joy of being the beloved Son of the Father (15:11; 17:13; cf. Lk 10:21)” (185).

i) Jn 7:38 has reference to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity.

ii) It also denotes a communicable property (7:37-38). If we equate this with the essential being of God, then we’re back to pantheism (see above).

iii) This reduces the Spirit to the side-effect of a divine attribute. And one of God’s emotive attributes, at that. Does Köstenberger think that every divine attribute produces a corresponding hypostasis? That would result in far more than a Trinity of persons.