Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lutheran cartoons

Alan did a post over at Beggars All which generated a remarkable number of comments in short order. I’ll comment on the comments that are worth commenting on.

i) Before doing so I’ll make two general observations. In the Reformed version of the communicatio idiomatum (a la Turretin), the properties of the two natures are attributable to the person of Christ. By contrast, the properties of each nature are not attributable to the other nature. There is no transference of divine properties to the human nature, or human properties to the divine nature.

ii) This debate is frequently framed in relation to the creed of Chalcedon. The key statement is “We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter). The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”

Lutherans typically accuse Calvinists of violating Chalcedonian Christology by “dividing” or “separating” the two natures.

However, this objection is doubled-edged since Calvinists retort by accusing Lutheran’s of violating Chalcedonian Christology by “confusing” or “changing” the two natures.

The Lutheran appeal to Chalcedon is selective and lopsided.

Edward Reiss said...

“I was wondering what you think St. Paul meant when he said the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily. Do you see any implications from that?”

That’s a picturesque description of the Incarnation–using some allusive imagery from the OT motif of God indwelling the temple. Cf. D. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Eerdmans 2008), 193f.

Edward Reiss said...

“OK. Now I have another question. Since we all acknowledge God is infinite, how can that fullness fit inside a little baby? It would seem to violate the fact that a human bode, being finite, can contain the infinite, which might force us to say the fullness was not contained in Jesus Christ bodily.”

Reiss is implicitly defining God’s infinitude in spatial terms, as though God were a physical or material entity.

It’s odd how many professing Christians entertain a view of God which is scarcely distinguishable from a worshiper of Zeus.

So that’s like asking whether a supertanker can fit inside a matchbox. Well, if you put it that way, then the answer is “no.”

But, of course, the way in which Reiss poses the question involves a flawed assumption. Since divine infinitude is not a spatial property, the hypostatic union doesn’t involve God fitting inside the dimensions of a baby. The body of Jesus isn’t literally a “container” for God’s Son, as if the Son of God were made of subtle matter–which had to squeeze inside the confines of Mary’s womb.

Edward Reiss said...

“OK, fair enough. I would just like to know if you believe the fullness of the Godhead is in the little baby or not, as an objective fact. I will leave it at that.”

Reiss is treating a picturesque metaphor as if this were a literal description. But to properly answer the question, it’s necessary to unpack the metaphor.

A metaphor is not an objective fact. Rather, a metaphor stands for an objective fact. (At least in the case of an inspired metaphor.)

It’s an objective fact that Christ is God Incarnate.

Otherwise, we end up reading the Bible the way a Mormon does, where we make no allowance for figurative or anthropomorphic depictions of God.

L P said...

“From what I can understand on the Lutheran side, the communication of attributes is the way Luther/Lutherans explain what is happening when Jesus for example did things that only the divine could do, such as walk on water, appear at will in the disciples room after the resurrection, or vanish in their presence on the road to Emmaus etc. These things are found in Scripture and as such the examples you required, from Scripture.”

i) The obvious problem with that argument is that if you invoke the Lutheran communicatio idiomatum to explain some things involving God Incarnate, you must then, by parity of argument, apply the same principle in the case of comparable events involving mere mortals or subhuman creatures (e.g. the burning bush, floating axe head, Jonah surviving in the belly of the “whale,” Daniel’s friends surviving in the furnace). It’s odd that Lutherans are utterly oblivious to these counterexamples.

ii) Remember that in the account of Jesus walking on water we also have Peter walking on water–at Jesus’ behest. Why don’t Lutherans notice that?

Apparently they stopped reading the actual account. Instead, their knowledge of the account seems to come from a secondary source, where it’s deployed as a prooftext for Lutheran Christology.

But if Jesus walking on water was grounded in the hypostatic union and Lutheran communicatio idiomatum, then the same applies to Peter. So the argument either proves too much or too little.

Edward Reiss said...

“I think that your claims Re: Monophysitism are a little too broad, so I would like to ask a couple of questions to clarify what you believe is the relationship between Jesus' human and divine natures. These are ‘yes and no’ questions and can be easily answered by Chalcidonian Christians, and even most prots are Chalcidonian Christians.”

Of course, slick lawyers are fond of “yes or no” questions. They deliberately pose a trick question to compel a misleading answer.

Like asking a witness: “Yes or no–were the defendant’s fingerprints on the murder weapon?”

The damning insinuation is that if the defendant’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon, then that’s incriminating. They must have been there because he used the weapon to murder the decedent.

But, of course, that’s extremely misleading since it omits relevant contextual factors.

If the murder weapon belonged to the decedent, then it’s suspicions to find the defendant’s fingerprints on the murder weapon.

If, on the other hand, the murder weapon belonged to the defendant, then we’d expect to find his fingerprints on the weapon.

So beware of “yes or no” questions in apologetics. That’s generally a polemical ploy to oversimplify the issues and extract a bogus concession by arbitrarily excluding necessary qualifications.

“If you were to shake Jesus' hand during his earthly ministry, would you be shaking God's hand?”

i) That’s not a “yes or no” question since it could be either yes or no depending on the intended referent. Reiss is equivocating.

Did Jesus have a divine hand–like Thor? No. Jesus had a human hand. By shaking his hand qua hand, you’re shaking a human hand–attached to a human arm, attached to a human body.

But at another level, you’re shaking the hand of a person who has a divine nature as well as a human nature. So, in that indirect sense, yes, you’re shaking God’s hand.

The hand you shake isn’t composed of divine flesh. It doesn’t have a different composition from ordinary human flesh. Jesus didn’t have ichor flowing through his veins, rather than hemoglobin.

But it belongs to a person who is a theanthropic person.

ii) To illustrate Edward’s equivocation, let’s take a comparison. Celebrities sometimes travel incognito. They try to disguise themselves to avoid the paparazzi.

Suppose you caught sight of Catherine Deneuve when she was traveling incognito. What did you see? Is that a “yes or no” question? Not really.

i) In one respect, you didn’t actually see (i.e. perceive) Catherine Deneuve. All you saw was her disguise.

ii) But in another respect, you saw a person who is Catherine Deneuve.

The person whom you saw was Catherine Deneuve, but you didn’t see that she was Catherine Deneuve. You didn’t see her face. You only saw her disguise.

“Did Jesus' human body have less mass than the amount of water displaced by his feet?”

i) Of course, the question is speculative, but I’d say no.

Reiss is tacitly assuming that if Jesus didn’t sink, then that must be due to the fact that his body had different properties than a normal human body. Buoyant properties!

Keep in mind that even if this explanation were true, it’s not a Scriptural explanation. That explanation isn’t given in Scripture.

Rather, it’s a philosophical explanation. It makes philosophical assumptions about what physical or metaphysical conditions would have to obtain for Jesus to walk on water.

Reiss didn’t get that from Scripture. He didn’t get that from the Gospel narrative of Jesus walking on water. Rather, that’s an explanatory framework which he is bringing to the text.

So even though he accuses Calvin of intruding philosophical assumptions into the debate, Reiss is oblivious to his own philosophical assumptions.

ii) Moreover, I have no reason to assume that if Jesus can do something extraordinary in or with his body–or, conversely, if something extraordinary can happen to his body–then this must be due to something intrinsic about his body. To some inherent properties of his body.

Why should we make that assumption? Does Reiss make that assumption about Jonah in the “whale” or Daniel’s friends in the furnace?

Isn’t the issue how one physical substance ordinarily interacts with another physical substance? The normal relation between the two?

In situations where that relation does not obtain, why assume it’s due to a change in one of the substances?

Why not assume that God simply suspends the ordinary relation, or buffers the ordinary relation? God miraculously insulates or isolates their ordinary interaction.

iii) Put another way, Reiss is implicitly naturalizing miracles. He still views a miracle as the effect of a causal chain. What makes a miracle different from an ordinary effect is that God introduces different physical preconditions to yield a different effect.

But why should we naturalize a miracle in this fashion? Why assume that a miracle has to be mediated by some physical process? Why is it not possible (indeed, preferable) to view certain miracles as direct divine fiats?

I see no reason to accept his apparent model, according to which a miracle must always occur within some causal continuum or another.

iv) And we see this naturalistic framework in play when he insists that Jesus “passed through the doors” of the upper room.

Yet to ask “how” Jesus miraculously entered the upper room commits a category mistake. For a miracle requires no “how to”–in the sense of a facilitating mechanism. It only requires the agency of God–which may either be immediate or mediate–continuous or discontinuous causation.

Acolyte4236 said...

“Physical locative limitation may be true of the body, but not the soul. Your soul is not spatially circumscribed by your body and so can be present to more than one place (toes, head, hands) at a time. Or to put it more correctly, your soul can access and affect your body at many places without being limited to any of them. This is also part of human nature.”

I basically agree with this statement.

“Consequently, it seems possible for the human body, divinely empowered to be accessible and participatable to a plurality of locations without being spatially limited to any one of them.”

That doesn’t begin to follow from what Perry just said. How does he infer the bilocality of a body from the illocality of a soul?

A body is material whereas a soul is immaterial. Where’s the analogy?

“This brings us to Chalcedon and the communicatio idiomatum. This is an exchange of properties or specifically energies or activities from the divinity to the humanity of Christ”

And where do we find that in the actual text of the Chalcedonian creed?

“This involves no confusion of essences for the simple reason that energies are not the essence of which they are energies.”

Once again, where do we find that distinction in the actual text of the Chalcedonian creed?

“Consequently, your humanity unempowered by divine energies does not shine as Moses’ face did or Christ’s flesh did at the transfiguration with the divine glory.”

Well, that’s one conjectural paradigm which we could dream up to explain the luminosity of Moses and Christ. But other conjectural paradigms are available.

“I’d recommend reading Richard Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation to get a better grasp of Scholastic Christology.”

And isn’t Turretin’s version if the communicatio idiomatum similar to the Thomistic and Scotist models?

“If you do not think that divine properties can be and are conveyed to the humanity of Christ, perhaps you can offer an explanation of the Metamorphesis or Transfiguration where the disciples see the divine glory coming from Christ’s flesh.”

i) Well, that’s equivocal. What is more, that’s even equivocal on Orthodox grounds.

Since the divine energies aren’t identical to the divine essence, when they perceive the glorious manifestation of divine energies, they don’t perceive God’s glory in itself.

ii) Moreover, we’re dealing with a theophanic manifestation in which sensory properties signify God’s presence. That’s emblematic.

“I also do not believe that Reformed Christology is Chalcedonian either. They deny a transfer of divine properties…”

True. We’re not pantheistic. So sorry.

“So do you agree with say the WCF 8.2 that says that Jesus is a divine and human person?”

i) What, specifically, does Perry take issue with in the WCF definition?

ii) And, ultimately, shouldn’t we take our frame of reference from NT Christology?

“It then seams to me, supposing that Rome is monophysite and your position is Nestorian that you share fundamentally the same principle doctrine, namely that God cannot be intrinsically present in creation without replacing the essence of the creature.”

Of course, the Orthodox fudge on this by introducing the compromise expedient of divine "energies"–a tertium quid which isn’t essentially divine or properly mundane. It’s like the Neoplatonic “intelligences” which bridge and buffer the relation between divinity and mundanity.

“This then implies that for you, nature enjoys a kind of intrinsic autonomy in relation to God and can only be related to him by an extrinsic act of will.”

No. What this implies is that creatureliness is inherently limited.

“Moreover, Calvin, among other Reformed writers indicate that the value of the atonement was due to God’s willing it to be valuable whether or not it intrinsically was valuable.”

Well, that grossly oversimplifies the issue. For example, an estate may be intrinsically valuable, yet only the designated heirs acquire the estate.

“Regardless of what Rome does, the term Theotokos is Christologically appropriate since Mary bore a divine person.”

The title has a perfectly orthodox sense. At the same time, it’s an extrabiblical title, so there’s no obligation on the part of Christians to use that title.

“Is Jesus a divine and human person or not?”

According to the NT, Jesus is a complex person or theanthropic person.

“When you say that he is a person of the Trinity, is that person in question a divine hypostasis or a human hypostasis or a resulting composite of both? If both, what constitutes the union if not the hypostasis of the eternal Son? What unites them?”

i) Perry has many questions, but he doesn’t take his questions from Scripture, and so he doesn’t take his answers from Scripture.

Perry’s Christology is just a human construct, not a revelatory datum.

ii) As far as Scripture is concerned, a divine incarnation makes a difference in terms of how each nature is expressed–in contrast to how each nature would expressed apart from the Incarnation.

But Perry doesn’t care about revealed truth. He’s just a loyal, Orthodox apparatchik.

“Either the Son must not be a person prior to incarnation since the person is a product of the union and so the Son came into existence at the union, or there are two Sons, one subordinating the other.”

Of course, that’s a false dichotomy. We are hardly limited to such a simplistic choice.

L P said...

“My point is this...If one separates Jesus' humanity from his divinity then this is a Nestorian view. For you cannot separate the one person who has two natures.”

Of course, “separate” is a spatial metaphor. It’s not as if the two natures are glued together.

So before we can intelligently respond to his objection, LPC needs to translate his metaphors into literal propositions.

“Wherever his divinity is, his humanity is there and vice versa.”

Once again, “there” is a spatial marker. Bodies can be here or there. But God is not a physical being.

“This is again from the postulate that you cannot divide the person.”

“Division” is literally a spatial relation. So LPC needs to translate his metaphors into literal propositions before we can intelligently respond.

Lutherans don’t know picture language when they see it. Their theology is cartoonish.

Incidentally, the materialistic conception of divine ubiquity which we find in Lutheran theology has an ironic consequence. For if you define God’s ubiquity in physical terms, then a hypostatic union is superfluous to the Real Presence inasmuch as God can be physical present in the communion elements apart from any divine Incarnation. For you already defined a divine attribute in physical or materialistic terms in itself–prior to the Incarnation.

A Lutheran's unresponsive response

"UPDATE: Triablogue Responds. He basically recapitulates Calvin's critique. I will respond in another post."

In fact, I didn't nothing of the kind. I merely responded to Edward on his own terms. In a nutshell, he used a 3-step argument:

i) In Scripture, Jesus did various things which "violate" what a human body can normally do.

ii) This was possible because Jesus has a different kind of body than ordinary human beings.

iii) And this is grounded in the hypostatic union.

I responded by pointing out that (i) isn't limited to cases of Jesus doing extraordinary things. We have analogous cases in Scripture, both human (Moses, Jonah, Lazarus, Daniel's friends) and subhuman (burning bush, axe-head).

Given i(b), then:

ii) Moses, Jonah, Lazarus, and Daniel's friends had different kinds of bodies than normal human bodies. Likewise, the axe-head and burning bush were made of different stuff.

iii) Given i(b)-ii, then Moses, Jonah, Lazarus, Daniel's friends, the axe-head, and the burning bush were all instances of God Incarnate.

My response is simply a parallel argument to Edward's argument. It doesn't employ Calvin's framework. Rather, it confines itself to Edward's own logic and presuppositions.

It's odd that Reiss suffers from such chronic inability to follow someone else's argument–especially when my argument was merely following his argument. Is Reiss an only-child whom his evil step-dad locked away in the basement? Is that why he's unable to relate to what other people tell him? He missed out on that part of his formative socialization?

The Myth of Sisyphus

In his recent collection of essays, Thomas Nagel delineates the stark comparison and contrast between the religious outlook and the irreligious outlook. Nagel is, himself, an atheist. However, unlike some of his militant colleagues, he’s not ashamed to take religion seriously or explore the moral implications of atheism.

His exposition of the “religious temperament” suffers somewhat from attempting to employ a generic definition of religiosity. That inevitably leads to a highly diluted definition. Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see a prominent secular philosopher attempt a sympathetic exposition of the religious temperament. And it also instructive to see him then use that description as the benchmark against which he describes the atheistic alternative. For he’s not afraid to admit the grim consequences of atheism.

“The subject overlaps with that of the meaning of life, but it is not the same. It is a question of making sense not merely of our lives, but of everything. To better identify the question, we should start with the religious response…It is the idea that there is some kind of all-encompassing mind or spiritual principle in addition to the minds of individual human beings and other creatures–and that this mind or spirit is the foundation of the existence of the universe, of the natural order, of value, and of our existence, nature, and purpose. The aspect of religious belief I am talking about is belief in such a conception of the universe, and the incorporation of that belief into one’s conception of oneself and one’s life,” T. Nagel, Secular Philosophy and Religious Temperament (Oxford 2010), 4-5.

“The important thing for the present discussion is that if you have such a belief, you cannot think of yourself as leading a merely human life. Instead, it becomes a life in the sight of God, or an element in the life of the world soul. You must try to bring this conception of the universe and your relation to it into your life, as part of the point of view from which it is led. This is part of the answer to the question of who you are and what you are doing here. It may include a belief in the love of God for his creatures, belief in an afterlife, and other ideas about the connection of earthly existence with the totality of nature or the span of eternity. The details will differ, but in general a divine or universal mind supplies an answer to the question of how a human individual can live in harmony with the universe,” ibid. 5.

“The question I have in mind is a general one about the relation of individual human life to the universe as a whole. The question is pointed to by its religious answer: namely, that our lives are in some way expressions or parts of the spiritual sense of the universe as a whole, which is its deepest reality, and that we must try to live them in light of this, and not only from the point of view of our local purely individual nature,” ibid. 5.

“Without God, it is unclear what we should aspire to harmony with. But still, the aspiration can remain, to live not merely the life of the creature one is, but in some sense to participate through it in the life of the universe as a whole. To be gripped by this desire is what I mean by the religious temperament. Having, amazingly, burst into existence, one is a representative of existence itself–of the whole of it–not just because one is part of it but because it is present to one’s consciousness,” ibid. 6.

“Let me begin by discussing the dismissive response that probably fits most comfortably with the analytic tradition….This is certainly a possible secular stance: Take life as you find it, and try to play the hand you have been dealt by the contingencies of biology, culture, and history. It is possible to go far beyond these boundaries in the pursuit of pure understanding, but all such understanding will be essentially scientific,” ibid. 6-7.

“This important outlook, probably dominant among atheists, places physical science at the top of the hierarchy of understanding for the universe as a whole…But the universe revealed by chemistry and physics, however beautiful and awe-inspiring, is meaningless, in the radical sense that it is incapable of meaning. That is, natural science, as most commonly understood, presents the world and our existence as something to which the religious impulse has no application. All we can do, and this is a great deal, is extend our knowledge of what the universe contains and of the laws that govern it,” ibid. 7-8.

“This was not the outlook of religious scientists in the past, who saw themselves as uncovering the wonders of God’s creation. And some modern scientists, like Einstein, have taken a quasi-religious attitude toward the natural order and its intelligibility. But the most common secular attitude, I think, is that once we leave the human scale and move to the largest and most general theories, and ultimately perhaps to a theory of everything, we are in the realm of pure description,” ibid. 8.

“One major intellectual task is to describe how the universe generated creatures that find themselves with the need to make some kind of sense of their lives. But this description itself does not have to make sense in the same way. It can be a purely factual account of how sense-seeking creatures–creatures like us, whose lives are capable of significant senselessness–emerged at a certain level of complexity of organization,” ibid. 8.

“I want now to turn to less dismissive secular responses to the question. The minimalist response is that the universe has nothing to offer that we can use, and that we are thrown back on our own resources. This differs from hardheaded atheism because it doesn’t reject the question but tells us that we have to come to terms with our inability to answer it. We can’t make sense of our lives from the point of view of our place in the universe, and shouldn’t expect this to change even if we learn much more about the natural order. And that leaves a gap–the failure of a natural aspiration,” ibid. 9-10.

“At this point, we may respond with either existentialist despair or existentialist defiance. The latter is particularly well expressed by Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. It consists in making a virtue of the will to go on in spite of the complete indifference of the cosmos–without the kind of sense that religion could give to our lives. Not to be defeated by pointlessness is what gives our lives their point. That is as far as we can go toward living in light of our understanding of everything,” ibid. 10.

Evolutionary naturalism

Thomas Nagel is one of the leading philosophers of his generation. He is also an atheist. Here’s his candid evaluation of what evolutionary naturalism entails:

“As it is usually understood, evolutionary naturalism is radically antiteleological. This implies that it is not suited to supply any kind of sense to our existence, if it is taken on as the larger perspective from which life is lived. Instead, the evolutionary perspective probably makes human life, like all life, meaningless, since it makes life a more or less accidental consequence of physics,” T. Nagel, Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford 2010), 15.

“The profoundly nonteleological character of this modern form of naturalism is concealed by the functional explanations that fill evolutionary accounts of the characteristics of living organisms. But any reference to the function or survival value of an organ or other feature is shorthand for a long story of purposeless mutations followed, because of environmental contingencies, by differential reproductive fitness–survival of offspring or other relatives with the same genetic material. It is in the most straightforward sense false that we have eyes in order to see and a heart to pump the blood,” ibid. 15.

“That conception, far from offering us a sense of who we are, dissolves any sense of purpose or true nature that we may have begun with. The meaning of organic life vanishes in the meaninglessness of physics, of which it is one peculiar consequence. It is widely thought that, without knowing the details, we now have every reason to believe that life arose from a lifeless universe, in virtue of the basic laws of particle physics or string theory or something of the kind, which did not have life or us ‘in mind,’ ibid. 16.

“A genealogy of this kind gives us nothing to live by. As Daniel Dennett says, it is ‘universal acid: it eats through just about every traditional concept.’ To live, we must fall back on our contingently formed desires, reserving the scientific world picture for intellectual and instrumental purposes. If naturalism means that everything reduces to physics, then there is no naturalistic answer to the cosmic question [i.e. ‘How can one bring into one’s individual life a full recognition of one’s relation to the universe as a whole?],” ibid. 16.

Presuppositionalism is systematic self-consciousness

Thomas Nagel is one of the leading philosophers of his generation. He is also an atheist. Yet unlike Dawkins, Nagel is an intellectually dissatisfied atheist.

Here is his evaluation of what he calls “affectless atheism” or “hardheaded atheism.” What’s striking to me is the way in which his description of philosophy dovetails with Van Tilian apologetics, for what he says of philosophy could just as well be said of presuppositionalism: The most systematic form of self-consciousness:

“It [hardhead atheism] is a seductive position, and I do not doubt that many people find it comfortable, as well as intellectually resistible. To me, it has always seemed an evasion. It requires that we leave the largest question unanswered–in fact, that we lave it unasked, because there is no such question. But there is: It is the question ‘What am I doing here?’ and it doesn’t go away when science replaces the religious worldview,” T. Nagel, Secular Philosophy and the Religions Temperament (Oxford 2010), 8.

“The question results from one of those steppings back that constitute the essence of philosophy. We find the familiar unfamiliar by reflecting on features of our situation, or forms of thought and action, so central and pervasive that we are ordinarily submerged in them without paying any notice. Philosophy in general is the most systematic form of self-consciousness. It consists in bringing to consciousness for analysis and evaluation everything that in ordinary life is invisible because it underlies and pervades what we are consciously doing,” ibid. 9.

“So we wrench ourselves from the embedded familiarity of our surroundings and ask whether an understanding of the totality of which we are a part can in turn become part of the self-understanding by which we live. Can we to some extent encompass the universe that has produced us?” ibid. 9.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Real deal

Edward Reiss said:
We believe a sacrament is the word united with material objects according to Christ's command. This, e.g. Baptism isn't just a bath, but the water united with the word in according to Christ's command. And the word in both cases is the preached law and gospel. As long as you (and others here) insist in dividing sacraments from the word, you won't understand Lutheranism. This does not mean you have to agree with Lutheranism, it is just that we don't have a category of "sacramentalism" which means something which is not the gospel, which your remarks plainly imply.

For this reason I do not agree when you say "...your position seems to add more than what the LCMS has said here" because belief in the gospel is believing the gospel, whether it is verbal or verbal with material things according to Christ's command for the remission of sins.
If this is true, then wouldn't it go back to the question Steve asked in his post, "Was George Tiller saved"? In other words, if a Lutheran has received a valid baptism and is a faithful communicant receiving valid communion, then, if I understand you correctly, he'd be receiving the gospel as well. But what if this same Lutheran happened to be someone like George Tiller? It'd have to mean he was saved according to Lutheranism, wouldn't it? If this is so, then it'd seem to be a monumental injustice.
I have been speaking of subjective assurance. It has been acknowledged all around that the elect may not ever have subjective assurance, and the non-elect may believe they are assured. The touchstone is what you alluded to above: irresistible grace, and its cousin, perseverance of the saints. If one wants to know one is elect, one is pointed to "fruits". But the WCF itself allows for these fruits to be misinterpreted, and even allows for the elect to lose their assurance for a time, with the attendant advice to look for fruit to see if one is elect. In effect, the system is pointing one to one's self for proof to one's self--but that proof is not a solid as we would like.
1. I think your interpretation of the WCF is reductionistic. As I've said before, the WCF's advice on the assurance of salvation isn't reduced to merely looking to oneself or one's fruits. Again, there are three grounds of assurance. None of these is reducible to one of the other three grounds.
  1. To quote John Frame on the WCF:
    First, the Westminster Confession speaks of "the divine truth of the promises of salvation." Clearly, God promises eternal life to all who receive Christ (John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; etc.). His promises are absolutely infallible. . . .

    The second basis of assurance the Westminster Confession mentions is "the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made." This ground corresponds to the doctrine of sanctification. When we introspect in this way, we are asking if indeed the Lord is sanctifying us. . . . God has promised to make his people holy (1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Peter 1:4). So, as we observe what God is doing within us, as we observe our own progress in sanctification, we "make [our] calling and election sure," as Peter says (2 Peter 1:10-11). . . .

    The third ground of assurance, corresponding to the doctrine of adoption, is "the testimony of the Spirit to our adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are children of God." This confessional statement comes right out of Romans 8:16-17. This is to say that, in the end, our assurance is supernatural. Note in Romans 8 that it is not only the witness of our own Spirit but something over and above that, a witness of God's Spirit with our spirit that we are the children of God. Our scrutiny of God's promises and our own sanctification, in the end, is fallible. We make mistakes in our judgments. But the Spirit never makes a mistake. So, he persuades us that what we observe in God's Word and in our own lives is really true, really evidence of grace.
  2. What's more, Frame anticipates your objection that "the system is pointing one to one's self for proof to one's self":
    Many say that we should not look at ourselves but that we should look beyond ourselves, outward, at the work of Christ, at his word of promise. That was what we advised under the first ground of assurance, and certainly we should not look inward without looking outward at the same time. But it is important not only to look at God's promises but also to see how God is fulfilling those promises within us.
    So it's not as if the WCF advises us to look solely to ourselves. The WCF's advice is not reducible to this point.

  3. Btw, notice that the WCF bases these grounds of assurance in Scripture. For example, the third ground of assurance comes from Rom 8:16-17. In other words, there's an exegetical basis for what's said here. A little bit more on this in my next point.
2. If looking to ourselves is a road to nowhere in regard to the assurance of salvation, and if receiving the gospel in God's word and/or word-sacrament were sufficient for the assurance of salvation, then:
  1. Why does Paul command us to "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Cor 13:5)?

  2. Likewise, why does Peter in 2 Pet 1:5-11 list off qualities like "faith," "virtue," "knowledge," "self-control," "steadfastness," "godliness," "brotherly affection," and "love," and follow it with the exhortation, "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall," if looking for these qualities isn't in some way conducive to making our "calling and election sure"?

  3. And why would John say things like, "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3) or "If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him" (1 John 2:29)? After all, how can we know if we have kept God's commandments or if we are practicing righteousness without examining ourselves and/or having others examine us?

    Also, looking for the Holy Spirit to testify with our spirits that we are God's children, John writes: "Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself" (1 John 5:10).

    Now, John tells us precisely why he has written the letter of 1 John: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). Hence, from start to finish, 1 John is a letter dealing with the assurance of salvation. So that those who believe in Christ may know that they have eternal life.

    In this letter, John exhorts believers to do several things so that they may know they have eternal life, but one of them is to look for evidence of sanctification in one's own life. It's not the only thing John mentions but it is one of the things.
3. I think these three grounds of assurance of salvation are themselves built upon sound exegetical theology and relevant to all Christians struggling with doubts over whether they're saved.

It's practical, pastoral advice for any believer struggling over whether he's saved. These grounds of assurance aren't limited to the Reformed. We don't necessarily have to dispute over irresistible grace or perseverance of the saints in order to answer the question of how does one know if he is saved per se (although I can't see how God can save someone only to later lose that person, for e.g., but be that as it may for the moment).

A Christian struggling with whether he's saved can ask himself: (a) am I trusting in Christ, in the promises of Scripture; (b) do I see the fruit of the Spirit in my life (e.g. Gal 5:19-21 vs 22-24); and (c) does the Holy Spirit testify with my spirit that I'm a child of God, that is, do I cry "Abba! Father!" in my innermost being? Thus he can better determine if he's the real deal or a faker shaker.


The Exorcist has been subject to several sequels and prequels. As a rule, these are justly forgotten.

The original Exorcist (1973) is rerun on TV from time to time, though I admit that I’ve never seen it from start to finish. Put another way, it’s one of those things where I see just enough to know that I don’t care to see any more.

This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. From what I can tell, it’s a pretty good film of its kind. It was allegedly based on a real case of possession. I once saw a Catholic exorcist interviewed about the film. He said it was realistic insofar as things like that happened in cases of possession and exorcism, but unrealistic insofar as it was atypical to encounter all the stops and whistles in a single case.

Be that as it may, I recently saw two different versions of the same sequel. Their comparative interest lies in two different versions of the same sequel. The original director died, so Schrader was hired to take his place. However, the studio execs were displeased with his version, so they hired Harlin to reshoot it.

So these two versions give us different visions of two different directors working with the same basic plot. Mind you, I assume that Schrader had a freer hand than Harlin since Harlin was hired to make a more bankable version of the film. Schrader made the film to please himself whereas Harlin made the film to please the boss.

In general, Schrader’s version is much better than Harlin’s, although some of Harlin’s alternatives work in their own right.

The core of Schrader’s version involves a 4-way dynamic between an older priest (Merrin), a younger priest (Francis), a doctor (Rachel), and a demoniac (Cheche).

Dr. Rachel, Fr. Francis, and Cheche all push Merrin in different directions.

Merrin is a disillusioned priest. His faith was shattered during the Nazi occupation when he made a tragic choice. He now has recurrent nightmares in which his vision is blinded by bandages.

Francis is an idealistic priest who represents faith to Merrin’s doubt. Francis is part missionary, part Vatican minder. He was dispatched by the Vatican to keep in eye on Merrin.

During one tense moment, when Francis speaks to Merrin as “Christian to Christian, he says “Are you so arrogant that you involve the rest of the world in your crisis of faith? Would you deny to someone what you once cherished because you now doubt it?”

It’s one of the better moments in the film.

When he’s along side Cheche, Francis hears inner voices–which clues him to the fact that there’s more to Cheche than meets the eye.

Dr. Rachel is a holocaust survivor. She can sense in Merrin a kindred soul. She’s also a potential love interest.

The idea of finding rapport between one wounded soul and another is a bit of a cliché. However, it’s a valid storyline.

As for Cheche–when his possession becomes evident, that serves as a challenge and catalyst to Merrin’s backslidden condition. In the face of supernatural evil, he must rekindle his faith in God.

At least on paper, this 4-way dynamic gives the plot a fair amount of complexity and cohesion. Schrader’s version is essentially a tale about the loss and restoration of Christian faith. In that respect it’s one of those rare Hollywood films that takes the Christian faith seriously. No wonder the studio execs couldn’t stand it!

However, there’s a discrepancy between the idea and the execution. Stellan Skarsgard is well-cast as Merrin. At the same time, it’s a somewhat thankless role since Merrin is basically miserable from start to finish. Even when he regains his faith, it’s a grim, joyless affair. So there’s a gray, monochromatic tint to much of the performance, due to the way in which the role itself was written.

The actor (Gabriel Mann) who plays Francis in the Schrader version is adequate. However, he’s somewhat anemic. A rather weak actor in a strong role. No match for Skarsgard.

But Francis suffers a noble fate when he’s “martyred” by the demoniac. Indeed, the manner of his demise is a deliberate artistic allusion to the martyrdom of St. Sebastian–a theme much doted on by Renaissance painters.

(Incidentally, I’ve always felt that this betrays the homoerotic and sadomasochistic undercurrent in major streams of Catholic piety.)

The actress (Clara Bellar) who plays Rachel is also adequate. However, she’s a bit mousey and arch. Not the equal of Skarsgard. That also limits her appeal as a potential love interest.

In addition, she doesn’t seem to be sufficiently haunted by her experience as a holocaust survivor. She says a few things about her ordeal, and she as a serial number on her wrist, but if it weren’t for these overt indicators, there’s not much in her actual performance to suggest a holocaust survivor who made her own tragic choices in order to live–at the expense of her fellow captives.

Rachel has an enigmatic line about how God is best viewed from hell. This is left unexplained. In the context of the Schrader film, this may mean the ultimates in good and evil are most clearly seen in stark contrast.

Dramatically speaking, the characters of Merrin, Francis, and Rachel need to be coequals. He pushes them and they push back. This means the actors also need to compete on equal terms, which is not the case. You still get the idea, but that’s by mentally filling in the way it ought to be.

As for the actor (Billy Crawford) who plays Cheche, there are two problems. He’s all right as long as his character is in its timid, sickly phase. But when it morphs into a full-blown demoniac, it’s too much like a beagle cast as a Doberman.

Mind you, there are precious few actors who can play the Devil incarnate convincingly. Al Pacino was fun to watch, but that would be out of place in this film.

I have another problem with the choice of actor. I hesitate to use the term “racist,” inasmuch as that term is so overused in political discourse. However, in a movie in which all the other actors are either black or white, I think casting a Filipino in the role of the demoniac is a bit prejudicial. I assume that he was cast for the role because he looks “different.”

There are some other problems with the film. It lacks energy. Too slack. Motion without momentum.

Moreover, the film has a lengthy build-up to the predictable, indeed, inevitable confrontation between Merrin and the demoniac. Unfortunately, this climatic scene degenerates into the campyness of a stereotypical B-flick about possession, viz. fiery eyes, raspy voice, levitation. At one point the demoniac looks like Jim Carry in The Mask. Hardly the association you want at this juncture.

Here’s a case where less is more. The less you see the better.

Along the same lines, we’re treated to acidic affect of a crucifix or holy water when applied to the skin of a demoniac–which is a cliché of vampire films. Likewise, the action is punctuated by hyenas (in bargain-basement CGI), which are evidently the African equivalent of hellhounds–in a cinematic allusion to The Omen.

Even though this is badly executed, it has a convincing dramatic premise. The way in which the demoniac tempts Merrin is to give him a chance, in a daydream, to travel back in time and take the other fork in the road.

An implicit, underdeveloped subtheme is the way in which the indigenous witchcraft of the naives dovetails with the occultic presence of the demoniac. Evil synergism. They feed off each other.

The center of action is a pristine, Byzantine church, which was built and buried 1500 years ago to imprison the evil spirit. The church is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, who-, alone among God's creatures, is more than a match for Lucifer. And, not coincidentally, Merrin enlists the unseen support of Michael during the exorcism.

All in all, this film is an artistic failure. But in some ways a worthy failure.

By contrast, Harlin’s version is generally far inferior. It amps up the gross-out factor. And it lacks the narrative continuity.

However, it’s not all for the worse. Harlin has a more painterly eye. Majestic shots of the rocky wilderness in the rust-colored sunlight. Malevolent shadows lurking in the church.

Both Rachel (renamed Sarah) and Francis are very different characters. Because the area is cursed, the Vatican floated the rumor of a plague to keep the curious and unwary at bay–for their own safety.

Francis is dispatched by the Vatican as part of the cover-up. This, in turn, involves him in deceiving Merrin about the true nature of the mission–which is to conceal, rather than reveal, the truth.

In Harlin’s version, Fr. Francis isn’t the quite the pellucid idealist his counterpart was in Schrader’s version. Instead, Fr. Francis is now a double agent.

So he’s a more complex character. Yet even a double agent can be an idealist of sorts. His methods are devious, but his aims are noble.

James D’Arcy brings more intensity to his role than the rather wan Gabriel Mann. Unfortunately, he has a much smaller role to work with.

And in Harlin’s version, this role lacks the theological center that it had in Schrader’s version. But it’s still valid alternative.

In addition, the character of Rachel (renamed Sarah) is extensively rewritten. In this version, she is the demoniac, not Cheche.

Of course, this realigns a number of other relationships. Early on, when she meets Merrin for the first time, she questions him about his religious status. Although her true identity hasn’t been disclosed at this stage, it foreshadows her true identity. As a demoniac, she can “scent” the presence of a rival. He’s a threat. So she’s sizing him up at their first encounter. And there’s an undertone of dramatic irony to this scene, for she perceives something about him, while he remains in the dark about her.

It creates a point of tension, but only one character is tense, for only one character has the inside track.

Later in the film, Sarah repeats the same line as Rachel–about how the God is best viewed from hell. But on the lips of a demoniac, this acquires a very different connotation. A sarcastic connotation.

There’s one problem with the way the role is written. Misdirection is a common dramatic device. Point the audience away from the culprit by making the culprit initially seem innocent. Plant little clues that seem to implicate a different character.

That’s a way of sustaining the suspense. Like a whodunit. By process of elimination, the audience will eventually discover the culprit. Yet you can’t tip your hand to soon without spoiling the suspense.

But a common problem with this device is that it often makes the character act out of character. In this case, we have scenes in which Sarah acts scared of things that go bump in the night. And she does this even when she’s alone. When she’s not attempting to fool anyone about who she really is. But if, in fact, she were possessed, then we wouldn’t expect her to be afraid of things that go bump in the night since she herself is one of those things to go bump in the night!

In theory, there might be ways to harmonize this with her true character. One might treat possession like multiple-personality disorder. When one personality is in the foreground, the other is in the background. Or we might treat it like the episodic possession of Judas or King Saul. Intermittent visitations rather than full-blown possession.

Mind you, I’m sure that overinterprets the character. I expect this is a case in which consistency takes a backseat to dramatic conventions and facile scare tactics.

Not only is the role quite different, but the role is played by a different actress (Izabella Scorupco). Scorupco has a lot more pizzazz than Bellar. This is due in part to the fact that, in Harlin’s version, the doctor is a femme fatal–in more ways that one! Not doubt that’s a bit of a cliché. Nevertheless, Scorupco is a more compelling actress than Bellar. She can hold her on with Skarsgard in a way that a rather tame, demur actress like Ballar cannot. And that makes a big difference. They balance each other. The role has more panache, and so does the actress.

In Harlin’s version, Merrin is more clearly a whisky priest–like the protagonist in Graham Green's Brighton Rock. And there’s insufficient preparation for his abrupt spiritual turnabout near the end.

In this version, the church was built over the spot where Lucifer fell from heaven. Although that seems corny, it goes back to Dante.

The ending is just as bad as Schrader’s version. In some ways worse. At this stage, Sarah’s performance is a throwback to Linda Blair. Oscillating between a high-pitched cackle and a croaking basso profundo. However, that’s the point at which I made generous use of the fast-forward button, so I didn’t see the whole thing–except in a blur.

One thing that crosses my mind as a watch these films is how much harder it would be to be a celibate exorcist rather than a married exorcist. Imagine the harrowing ordeal of performing an exorcism, only to return to an empty house or empty apartment that evening. It takes so much out of you. What would be the emotional compensations if you had no wife or kids to come back to–to help you reenter a normal existence?

Incidentally, this is one area in which the Anglican tradition has certain advantages. If you were dealing with a situation which required the services of an exorcist, who would you go to?

For all its theological virtues, Presbyterianism isn’t the first place you’d normally turn to. Catholicism and Pentecostalism are both into exorcism, but they bring all their baggage along for the ride.

Unlike some other Protestant traditions, the Anglican tradition carries over the exorcismal tradition of the ancient church. But it also avoids some of the excesses of Catholicism and Pentecostalism in that regard.

The Styrofoam Jesus

According to Lutheran epologist Edward Reiss, “When the Reformed argue against the Real Presence they often say that since Jesus' body is a material body, just like ours, he cannot be bodily present in the bread and nor can his blood be present in the wine. Jesus' body and blood, being localized in space and time, cannot be in more than one place at a time as a body…This for Calvin the objective, local presence of Jesus' body and blood is an empirical question more or less answered by the properties of a human body. It is my purpose to show that this is not a very strong objection at all. All I have to do is show from Scripture that Jesus' body is not like ours in every respect…There are some miracles which seem to defy what a body can do, but which never the less Jesus Christ did. (All Bible citations ESV). First let us consider Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-20)… Human bodies sink when we try and walk on water without special equipment. This is because human bodies are subject to the physical laws of gravity as well as other physical laws--such as we cannot be in two places at one time. Human bodies have mass and three dimensions. If the displacement of the mass of water is less than the mass of the human body, the human body begins to sink. This behavior is called buoyancy.”

I think Ed is definitely onto something here. When Jesus walked on water, that wasn’t made possible because Jesus miraculously suspended the way in which deep water and human bodies naturally interact. No, it was actually cuz Jesus had a different kind of body than you and me. You see, Jesus had a Styrofoam body. So his body had the natural property of buoyancy. A such, there was nothing miraculous about his walking on water. It was a natural event, given the natural properties of his unique corporeal composition.

“Second, let us consider the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36)… Human bodies do not change their faces and cause their clothes to become ‘dazzling white.’”

Yes, Jesus could glow in the dark because his body was made of fluorescent material.

“However, seems to me that the physical quality of Jesus’ body is quite variable--especially if we are not limited by our experiences of what exactly human nature is, and what a human body can do.”

That’s right! Jesus had several different bodies-types which he hung in his closet. Depending on which kind of body he needed, he could reach into the closet and put on a different kind of body.

For example, when the Devil flew Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus donned his winged-body.

And it wasn’t just Jesus. Moses was luminous because Moses also had a body made of fluorescent material. Daniel’s friends could survive in the furnace cuz they had asbestos bodies. And Jonah could survive in the body of the “whale” cuz he had gills and rubber skin (to protect him from the stomach acid). Not to mention Lazarus. He returned from the dead because his body could spontaneously regenerate.

“All I have to do is show from Scripture that Jesus' body is not like ours in every respect. And Lutherans believe this is so because of the personal union, which is to say for instance that shaking Jesus' hand is the same thing as shaking God's hand. But that is a post for another day…However, is it true that when God assumed human flesh that the resulting God-Man has the same properties we do?”

That’s very insightful. Come to think of it, that also explains some other apparent miracles in Scripture. Take the floating axhead. It was able to float due to a hypostatic union between God and the axehead. This was no ordinary axhead. Rather, this was nothing less than the God-Axhead. Likewise, the burning bush was really the God-Bush.

And when the Holy Spirit descended in the “form of a dove,” that’s because he really transmogrified into a dove–just like Odo.

“In the two John passages [Jn 19:26-29; 20:19-23] Jesus appears to pass through locked doors.”

Yes, in this case Jesus vaporized into a puff of smoke and passed through the keyhole in a wisp of smoke. Or maybe he had a body like the Sandman in Spiderman. If your body has the right natural properties, you can do just about anything.

Lutherans not only worship the Pillsbury Doughboy, but they also worship Casper the Ghost!

“In the second case, one must re-interpret ‘the doors were locked’ to mean ‘the doors were unlocked’, based solely upon the propositions of what properties a human body must have.”

Of course, John doesn’t say that Jesus “passed through the doors.”

Moreover, why assume that Jesus had to pass through the wooden doors to enter the room? If it was a miracle, then there is no one particular way in which a miracle has to occur.

That’s the point. If something is a naturally occurring event, then it can only occur in a certain way–consistent with the “laws of nature.”

If, however, something is a miracle, then it’s occurrence needn’t be facilitated by any particular process or medium. As a miracle, there’s more than one possible pathway to yield the desired effect since, in fact, it requires no pathway to get there. So if Christ’s appearance in the upper room is a miracle, then there was no particular method he had to employ (e.g. passing through solid doors).

Indeed, miracles are frequently defined as immediate effects. There is no causal chain leading up to the miracle.

Mind you, that definition is overstated. For some miracles may employ natural forces. But that is not a precondition of a miracle.

“In both cases, an extraneous interpolation of philosophical commitments into the text to make them fit those commitments.”

Yes. In Lutheran hermeneutics, the God-Bush, the Styrofoam Jesus, and the asbestos Abednego derive from the plain sense of Scripture rather than an extraneous interpolation of philosophical commitments into the text to make them fit those commitments.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Retroactive first-strike

“But then, we have seen (in what I documented) that you freely questioned Catholic teachings about the nature of the Godhead, even while being a Catholic. So I seriously question whether you ever gave up private judgment totally, at any time.”

Catholics love to trumpet conversions from Evangelicalism to Catholicism. But, of course, that cuts both ways. So it puts them in a bit of the bind when a Catholic deconverts from Catholicism.

For example, David Waltz recently defected from Roman Catholicism. And this is more conspicuous since he had been a Catholic epologist.

So this creates a dilemma for some other Catholic epologists. Back when he was a loyal comrade, bashing evangelicalism in general and Calvinism in particular, he was a valued member of the brigade.

But when he defects, he then poses a threat. So Dave Armstrong tries to contain the damage by staging a preemptive strike. However, Armstrong’s tactic labors under the handicap of relative chronology, since his “preemptive strike” is ex post facto.

He therefore tries to sidestep the anachronism by backdating his preemptive strike. As it turns out, Waltz was never “really” a good Catholic. He was always a closet Protestant or Arian or whatever. A ticking timebomb just waiting to go off.

Of course, this would be a tad more convincing if Armstrong had made this discovery before Waltz flew the coop. As long as Waltz was a stalwart defender of Rome, his Catholic credentials were impeccable. But once he defected, Armstrong suddenly uncovers a hitherto unsuspected fault-line in the foundation of his erstwhile Catholicism.

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think the timing of Armstrong’s revelation is a little too convenient to be credible.

"Review of R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice"

John Frame reviews R. Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice.

"This is the Voice of the Mysterians..."

James Anderson responds to Bill Vallicella's "Negative and Positive Trinitarian Mysterianism."

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

"Abba! Father!"

There are better commentaries available on Rom 8:15-16 and Gal 4:6 but these might offer a good starting point:

1. Rom 8:15-16: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."

a. Here's Craig Keener on Rom 8:15-16 from The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament:

"Roman adoption—which could take place at any age—canceled all previous debts and relationships, defining the new son wholly in terms of his new relationship to his father, whose heir he thus became. . . . As a legal act, Roman adoption (cf. 8:15) had to be attested by witnesses; the Spirit is here the attesting witness that God adopts believers in Jesus as his own children."

b. Here's Douglas Moo on Rom 8:14-17 from The New Bible Commentary:

"The Spirit of adoption. As ‘life’ is the ruling idea in vs 1–13, so is sonship in vs 14–17. This brief paragraph, in addition to making its own contribution to the theme of the chapter by recounting the wonderful and comforting truth that Christians have been adopted into God’s own family, provides a transition between vs 1–13 and 18–30. Being a child of God explains both why God’s Spirit confers life on us (13–14) and why it can be said that we are heirs with a glorious prospect for the future (17–18).

"To be led by the Spirit of God (14) means not to be guided by the Spirit in decision-making, but to be under the dominating influence of the Spirit (Gal. 5:18). The clause sums up the various descriptions of life in the Spirit in vs 5–9. Paul can claim that those so led by the Spirit are sons of God and so destined for life (13) because sons of God is a biblical title for the people of God (see, e.g. Dt. 14:1; Is. 43:6; cf. Rom. 9:26). But we must also recognize in the title an allusion to the sonship of Jesus himself (see vs 3 and 29); as v 15 confirms, ‘Abba’ was Jesus’ own address to God (see Mk. 14:36), one that showed especial intimacy. This same address is now one that Christians spontaneously ‘cry out’ in their own approach to God. It is the Spirit, again, who implants in us that sense of intimacy (16) and abolishes, thereby, all bondage (to ‘the law of sin and death’, v 2) and all reason to fear (15a). The Spirit, thus, is the Spirit of sonship. Paul takes the word ‘sonship’ (which could also be translated ‘adoption’—hyiothesia) from the Greco-Roman world, where it denoted the legal institution whereby one could adopt a child and confer on that child all the rights and privileges that would accrue to a natural child. But the conception is rooted in the biblical picture of God as one who graciously chooses a people to be his very own (see 8:23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5)."

2. Here's Gal 4:6: "And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

a. Here's Craig Keener on Gal 4:6 from The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament: "Roman adoptions required a witness of the transaction: the Holy Spirit performs this function here. That the Spirit should testify is natural, because Judaism understood the Spirit especially as the one who inspired the prophets; the Spirit here inspires believers, speaking to them as he did to the prophets, to remind them of their calling as God’s children. 'Abba' is the Aramaic word for 'Papa,' a term of special intimacy rarely if ever used in Judaism to address God directly (see comment on Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15)."

b. Here's Moises Silva on Gal 4:6 from The New Bible Commentary: "At this point the apostle reintroduces the theme of the Spirit, with which he had initially appealed to the Galatians (3:3; cf. also 3:14 and possibly the reference to baptism in 3:27). Only now the significance of the Spirit is tied directly to the doctrine of sonship. Since we have received the Spirit of God’s Son, our hearts are conscious that God is our Father and that we are full heirs. Note carefully the expansion of these ideas in Rom. 8:14–17, 26–27."

Luther's assurances

Edward Reiss said: "Finally, it is not the Lutherans who look at their navel, but the TULIP Calvinists looking within themselves to prove they are really elect."

Also, in a previous comment, Reiss frowns upon looking for the Spirit's sanctifying work in our lives as well as the Spirit's testimony that we are children of God as possible grounds of assurance.

However, Martin Luther said (emphasis mine):
Next, the Holy Ghost is sent forth into the hearts of the believers, as here stated, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.” This sending is accomplished by the preaching of the Gospel through which the Holy Spirit inspires us with fervor and light, with new judgment, new desires, and new motives. This happy innovation is not a derivative of reason or personal development, but solely the gift and operation of the Holy Ghost.

This renewal by the Holy Spirit may not be conspicuous to the world, but it is patent to us by our better judgment, our improved speech, and our unashamed confession of Christ. Formerly we did not confess Christ to be our only merit, as we do now in the light of the Gospel. Why, then, should we feel bad if the world looks upon us as ravagers of religion and insurgents against constituted authority? We confess Christ and our conscience approves of it.

Then, too, we live in the fear of God. If we sin, we sin not on purpose, but unwittingly, and we are sorry for it. Sin sticks in our flesh, and the flesh gets us into sin even after we have been imbued by the Holy Ghost. Outwardly there is no great difference between a Christian and any honest man. The activities of a Christian are not sensational. He performs his duty according to his vocation. He takes good care of his family, and is kind and helpful to others. Such homely, everyday performances are not much admired. But the setting-up exercises of the monks draw great applause. Holy works, you know. Only the acts of a Christian are truly good and acceptable to God, because they are done in faith, with a cheerful heart, out of gratitude to Christ.

We ought to have no misgivings about whether the Holy Ghost dwells in us. We are “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (I Cor. 3:16). When we have a love for the Word of God, and gladly hear, talk, write, and think of Christ, we are to know that this inclination toward Christ is the gift and work of the Holy Ghost. Where you come across contempt for the Word of God, there is the devil. We meet with such contempt for the Word of God mostly among the common people. They act as though the Word of God does not concern them. Wherever you find a love for the Word, thank God for the Holy Spirit who infuses this love into the hearts of men. We never come by this love naturally, neither can it be enforced by laws. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Roman theologians teach that no man can know for a certainty whether he stands in the favor of God or not. This teaching forms one of the chief articles of their faith. With this teaching they tormented men’s consciences, excommunicated Christ from the Church, and limited the operations of the Holy Ghost.

St. Augustine observed that "every man is certain of his faith, if he has faith." This the Romanists deny. "God forbid," they exclaim piously, "that I should ever be so arrogant as to think that I stand in grace, that I am holy, or that I have the Holy Ghost."

We ought to feel sure that we stand in the grace of God, not in view of our own worthiness, but through the good services of Christ. As certain as we are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please God, because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our sins, yet as often as we sin, God’s mercy bends over us. Therefore sin cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our certainty is of Christ, that mighty Hero who overcame the Law, sin, death, and all evils. So long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have nothing to fear from the anger of God.

This inner assurance of the grace of God is accompanied by outward indications such as gladly to hear, preach, praise, and to confess Christ, to do one’s duty in the station in which God has placed us, to aid the needy, and to comfort the sorrowing. These are the affidavits of the Holy Spirit testifying to our favorable standing with God.

If we could be fully persuaded that we are in the good grace of God, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the Spirit of Christ, that we are the beloved children of God, we would be ever so happy and grateful to God. But because we often feel fear and doubt we cannot come to that happy certainty.

Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: “I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy. I gladly hear, read, sing, and write of Him. I would like nothing better than that Christ’s Gospel be known throughout the world and that many, many be brought to faith in Him.”

Verse 6. Crying, Abba, Father.

Paul might have written, “God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, calling Abba, Father.” Instead, he wrote, “Crying, Abba, Father.” In the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans the Apostle describes this crying of the Spirit as “groanings which cannot be uttered.” He writes in the 26th verse: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

The fact that the Spirit of Christ in our hearts cries unto God and makes intercession for us with groanings should reassure us greatly. However, there are many factors that prevent such full reassurance on our part. We are born in sin. To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil, our adversary, goeth about seeking to devour us by roaring: “God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever.” In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses. We cannot see Him. The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil, the agues of death, the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us. The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts: “Abba, Father.” And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God.

The Spirit cries in us because of our weakness. Because of our infirmity the Holy Ghost is sent forth into our hearts to pray for us according to the will of God and to assure us of the grace of God.

Let the Law, sin, and the devil cry out against us until their outcry fills heaven and earth. The Spirit of God outcries them all. Our feeble groans, “Abba, Father,” will be heard of God sooner than the combined racket of hell, sin, and the Law.

We do not think of our groanings as a crying. It is so faint we do not know we are groaning. “But he,” says Paul, “that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:27). To this Searcher of hearts our feeble groaning, as it seems to us, is a loud shout for help in comparison with which the howls of hell, the din of the devil, the yells of the Law, the shouts of sin are like so many whispers.

In the fourteenth chapter of Exodus the Lord addresses Moses at the Red Sea: “Wherefore criest thou unto me?” Moses had not cried unto the Lord. He trembled so he could hardly talk. His faith was at low ebb. He saw the people of Israel wedged between the Sea and the approaching armies of Pharaoh. How were they to escape? Moses did not know what to say. How then could God say that Moses was crying to Him? God heard the groaning heart of Moses and the groans to Him sounded like loud shouts for help. God is quick to catch the sigh of the heart.

Some have claimed that the saints are without infirmities. But Paul says: “The Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” We need the help of the Holy Spirit because we are weak and infirm. And the Holy Spirit never disappoints us. Confronted by the armies of Pharaoh, retreat cut off by the waters of the Red Sea, Moses was in a bad spot. He felt himself to blame. The devil accused him: “These people will all perish, for they cannot escape. And you are to blame because you led the people out of Egypt. You started all this.” And then the people started in on Moses. “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Ex. 14:11, 12). But the Holy Ghost was in Moses and made intercession for him with unutterable groanings, sighings unto the Lord: “O Lord, at Thy commandment have I led forth this people. So help me now.”

The Spirit intercedes for us not in many words or long prayers, but with groanings, with little sounds like “Abba.” Small as this word is, it says ever so much. It says: “My Father, I am in great trouble and you seem so far away. But I know I am your child, because you are my Father for Christ’s sake. I am loved by you because of the Beloved.” This one little word “Abba” surpasses the eloquence of a Demosthenes and a Cicero.
Contextually, Luther is dealing with the doubts of believers. So how does he deal with these doubts? It appears Luther pointed out (at a minimum - I don't see baptism or communion mentioned here for e.g.) the same three grounds which John Frame pointed out (taking his cue from the WCF): the promises of Scripture that if a person trusts Christ alone he is saved; the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the life of the believer; and the witness of the Spirit causing us to cry, "Abba, Father!".

That said, correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression from modern Lutherans is not only did Luther move on from Luther (e.g. I believe the Galatians commentary was one of Luther's earlier works, c. 1520), but modern Lutherans have moved on from Luther as well.

Of course, I'd hope the main reason they've moved on is because Lutherans believe there's better, more exegetically sound arguments in favor of their current position on the assurance of salvation.

In light of this, see the next post.

Do creeds mean anything?

“But hasn't this been more or less entirely discredited by the subsequent scholarship? Certainly, everyone admits that this was a possible interpretation, and even some of the bishops who voted for it thought that it was the correct interpretation. But they were factually wrong, because if that interpretation were in fact true, it would render the entire Creed self-contradictory. Obviously, the homoiousians didn't know that, and it's questionable whether even St. Basil did, but it's a fact nonetheless. For the Creed to be meaningful, it HAD to be interpreted as Constantinople interpreted it. That is essentially what the Cappadocian theology proved.”

The funny thing about Jonathan Prejean is that he never does more damage to Roman Catholicism than when he’s attempting to defend it.

i) According to him, even though some of the bishops who originally voted for the Nicene Creed thought they knew what it meant, they were wrong.

So, for Prejean, original intent is extraneous to the real meaning of a conciliar document. The framers may think they know what they mean by the language they chose, but they could be wrong. The delegates who voted to ratify the conciliar language may think they know what they are voting for, but they could be wrong.

ii) But in that event, how can a later council like Constantinople fix the meaning of an earlier council like Nicea? For appealing to a later council simply kicks the same problem down the block. If the original intent of the Nicene bishops is irrelevant, then the original intent of the Constantinopolitan bishops is irrelevant.

Same thing if you had a papal interpretation or “clarification” of a conciliar document.

iii) Also observe his appeal to the shifting sands of scholarship. What it seemed to mean 30 years ago has since been revised. So what it meant yesterday, today, or tomorrow may be three (or more) different things.

Mind you, I don’t object to scholarship which endeavors to ascertain the historical import of a document from the past. But it’s amusing to see a Catholic epologist resort to the vicissitudes of scholarship to prove his point.

iv) And what’s to prevent an uninspired creed from being self-contradictory? Notice his glaringly fallacious inference: their interpretation can’t be right, for if it were, then that would render the creed self-contradictory.

But how does the conclusion logically follow from the premise? Why can’t the creed be inconsistent? After all, this is a collaborative effort. A lot of horse-trading went into the formulations. Give up something here to get a vote there. So, yes, it’s quite possible to end up with a document which reflects the competing aims of rival parties. There could well be remaining internal tensions in the finalized language. For you have to compromise to get enough votes.

v) Of course, Prejean is a lawyer, and for Prejean, interpretation and truth are two different things. For Prejean, a law means whatever the last judge said it means. If a lower appellate court says it means white, then it means white. If a higher appellate court says it means black, then it means black. The sense instantly shifts from meaning white to meaning black–or pink or yellow or green.

And Prejean applies the same hermeneutical relativism to Biblical and conciliar documents alike.

Lutheran antinomianism

Notice the predictable progression (or should I say, regression?) from Lutheran disdain for self-examination to brazen antinomianism:


February 7th, 2010 at 09:34 | #1 Reply | Quote

Pr McCain, Thanks for this. I speak as an evangelical who recently started to explore Lutheran theology. I thank God for the clear understanding of our standing before God on the basis of Christ’s merits, not ours, that is at the heart of the Lutheran faith. But indeed I have frequently encountered examples of this undermining or ignoring of sanctification that you mention. I confess I have been shocked by the aversion to speaking in terms of sanctification that I have found. As you point out, certain exhortations of St Paul himself would be out of bounds in some modern Lutheran pulpits. You mention above the influence of certain theologians. Do you see this also as an overreaction to the (probably more serious) influence of pietism in Lutheran history?
Rev Allen Yount (CRSM)

February 7th, 2010 at 18:57 | #3 Reply | Quote

I think your on to somthing when you mention that there might be an overeaction to pietisism. I also think the influence of Forde and others helped fuel the fire of this, what I call semi-antinomism. Most confessional lutherans who are in this camp, are very strong on the 2nd use of the law, but very, very weak on the 3rd use. Many also in this camp will have no problem calling the “old” Missourians pietists and disliked the preaching of Walther and Maier for example. I had a conversation with a pastor awhile back and he thought Dr. Louis Brighton was a pietist, when I heard this, I knew I wasn’t going crazy on seeing this difference.
Fom what little research that I have done on this, this began with the liturgical renewal movement back in the 1940’s. Not that liturgical renewal was bad in of it self, but the theology that was imported from Germany that came with it. If you really what to see the stark contrast between the old and modern Missourians, take a look at Kretzmann’s Commentarys of the Bible. You can read it online here: I also think the new TLSB does a nice job going back closer to an old Missourian / Synodical Conference understanding of sanctification, thats’ reflected in the notes.
Pastor McCain,
I think we might be in the minority on this, but keep fighting the good fight and I’m glad we have you as a voice on this topic.
Matt P.

February 8th, 2010 at 09:35 | #5 Reply | Quote

Matt, it’s an interesting query you raise. I think the point here is that Luther is speaking directly to Christians who think that because they sit in Divine Service, hear sermons, and can wear the name tag: “I am a confessional Lutheran Christian” they are “free” to indulge themselves because, after all, we are baptized and take communion, etc.
First, Second, Third…call it whatever you will…some Lutherans have a problem discussing Christian living, as Luther does so powerfully and pointedly in this sermon.
Just last night I heard from a pastor who again told me, in no uncertain terms, that it is wrong to mention anything about our response to God’s grace at the end of the sermon, for that is Law, and the Law always accuses, therefore if we conclude a sermon that way we are just leading people to despair or to be hypocrites.
This is not a “made up” problem we face, it is a very real problem that has developed in our circles, and it deeply saddens me.

Upstate without a paddle


“I am happy you admit doubt is not assurance.”

As if I ever said otherwise.

“But you give away the game again when you say a Christian can pass from assurance to non-assurance. Flopping between assurance and non-assurance is not assuring at all.”

Is there some reason you habitually frame issues in the most simplistic terms possible? To be in a state of doubt is not assurance at the time of doubt, or for the particular individual who happens in a state of doubt.

That’s irrelevant to other cases where an individual was never in a state of doubt, or in cases where he recovered from a state of doubt.

Why are you unable to bring any degree of sophistication to the analysis? Why do you chronically disregard essential distinctions? You seem to be intelligent, so I’m puzzled by why you find it necessary to invariably revert to the most simple-minded discussion of a complex issue.

“That a Calvinist can lose his assurance and regain it (if he is elect) is something I have maintained all along. I am happy you are finally coming around to my way of seeing things.”

And, once again we’re back to your congenital dissembling. This is not a position which I “finally came around to,” as if you managed to back me down and wring some fatal concession from my dying lips.

I drew the same distinctions in my 1/28 post on “The witness of the Spirit,” and that, in turn, referred back to an earlier exchange in which I also drawing the same distinctions.

Why do you imagine that telling the truth about someone’s stated position is optional for you? Why do you imagine that you’re exempt from Christian ethics?

Is this a reflection of how Lutheran antinomianism conditions the Lutheran to cut corners on morality? How Lutheran theology deadens the conscience? Indeed, that’s a predictable consequence of rejecting self-examination.

“The next step is to admit you look within yourself for assurance you are elect.”

There is more than one basis for assurance, as I’ve explained repeatedly.

“Unfortunately for the Calvinist position, if one does not have psychological assurance there is a real chance there is no promise from God for the individual because experiencing rebirth etc. are in the theoretical realm unless one knows one is elect. So, how can the Calvinist see if God's promises apply to him, that he is elect?”

Why do you keep posing questions I’ve already answered? The promises are conditional. Therefore, the promises apply to every individual who complies with the terms of the promise.

One of your problems is that you begin with your idiosyncratic redefinition of a “promise,” impute that idiosyncratic definition to the Calvinist, then act as though this generates some internal tension for his position. You lack the critical detachment to examine the opposing position on its own terms. Instead, you keep viewing it through the lens of your Lutheran presuppositions.

“You know the answer--look into himself for ‘internal evidence’ as the WC says. No matter how many times you say otherwise, a Calvinist has to look into himself for evidence of his election. It is right in your own confessions.”

i) I was the one who discussed the Westminster doctrine of assurance in my 1/28 post (see above). Don’t pretend that you’re bringing something to my attention that I hadn’t already dealt with.

ii) And the WCF doesn’t limit itself to internal evidence. You act as if the Westminster Divines shared your eccentric definition of what constitutes a promise. Then, based on your extraneous construction, which you impute to them, you proceed to collapse the objective grounds into the subjective grounds. But that’s just an exercise in mirror-reading–as you glimpse your own reflection at the bottom of the well.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Lourdes & Fatima

“But in Lourdes I am theologically disturbed by the fact that Mary, Queen of Heaven, is presented alone, without her Son, distributing grace herself with both hands. So it is here that ‘the Lady’ who finally made herself known as ‘the Immaculate Conception’ is said to have appeared to the ignorant girl Bernadette Soubirous–interestingly enough, precisely four years after the proclamation of the controversial dogma by the ‘Marian pope’ Pius IX in 1854, who also promptly has the first statue in Lourdes crowned by his nuncio. There is always the same stature of Mary at the front of the square, in the center, up on the church, in the church, No room for the ‘solus Christus’ as mediator,” H. Küng, My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs (Eerdmans 2003), 154-55.

“Doubts increase when I think of the second famous case of appearances of Mary, Fatima. Later in Lucerne Dr Otto Karrer, a specialist in mysticism, and I are given through the mediation of Karl Rahner the possibility of reading a summary of the original protocol of the appearances of Mary to the children of shepherds in Fatima. For a long time these documents were unknown, and now have been rediscovered in Spain. They were composed by the Lisbon professor of theology Nunes Formigão and published in 1927 under the pseudonym Viconde del Montelo (414) pages of them!). It is immediately clear to me that I needn’t go there as well. With my ‘logistical’ help Otto Karrer sends this summary with a warning letter to various cardinals (including Montini) and bishops. For many indications (two different Madonnas at the same time, an appearance to other people as well, foreknowledge of what is revealed) convince that at least Fatima, though likewise confirmed by popes, is a pious and in some respects contradictory projection by the children (more precisely by the oldest of the three). It is all easy to explain: their mother had previously told them of other appearances in La Salette, where the Queen of Heaven had already appeared to shepherds’ children in 1846. Karrer’s critical analysis has completely convinced me. However, the pilgrim trade in Fatima continues as if there were no doubts. Indeed Paul VI (Montini) and John Paul II (Wojtyla) will enhance the place further by personal appearances. Since the nineteenth century, papalism and Marianism have gone hand in hand,” ibid. 155.

Baby Moses

Liberals typically contend that Exod 2 is unhistorical. This is because, so they claim, Exod 2 is based on some pagan myth or legend–although they can’t agree on which pagan myth or legend that would be. Some think it’s based on a story about Sargon, while others think it’s based on a story about Horus.

Of course, the fact that they’re sure it’s based on a fictional story, even though they can’t see eye-to-eye on which fictional story is the template, already shows you how suspect their reasoning is. However, I’m going to make three additional observations:

1.It’s well documented that the Bible sometimes makes ironic, polemical use of certain pagan motifs. So even if Exod 2 contained a literary allusion to Sargon or Horus or whoever, this wouldn’t create any presumption that Exod 2 is unhistorical. It would just be another case in which a Biblical writer or speaker is trying to trigger an association for polemical purposes.

That said, I was reading through John Oswalt’s recent commentary on Exodus (bound with a commentary on Genesis by Allen Ross, in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series). BTW, this seems to be a fine, midlevel commentary on Genesis and Exodus.

Among other things, Oswalt makes two points I’d like to highlight:

2.Like several other scholars, he draws attention to the fact that in Exod 2:3, the word “basket” is “the same word used of the boat that Noah built to save his family and the world’s animals from the Flood (Gen 6:14). The fact that the Bible only uses the word here and in the flood narrative (‘the ark of the covenant’ uses a different Hebrew word) strongly suggests that there is an intentional connection being made between two accounts,” J. Oswalt, Exodus (Tyndale House 2008), 292.

So there is, indeed, a literary allusion. It is not, however, an allusion to a pagan myth or legend. Rather, it’s an intertextual allusion to the flood account in Genesis.

3.In addition to that connection, which other scholars have drawn as well, Oswalt points out another parallel in the same verse: “The Hebrew word used for ‘reeds’ here is the Egyptian loan word sup, which is the same word used in 13:18 and elsewhere to identify the sea that God led his people across (28 occurrences; see also Jonah 2:5). This creates a strong impression that the narrator wanted the reader to make a connection between the two events,” ibid. 292-93.

So this would be a case of literary foreshadowing, where one story anticipates another.

i) In that event, we now have two strategically placed narrative clues. The proper way to interpret Exod 2 is not, in the first instance, to reach for extraneous parallels–but to notice the intertextual parallels which the narrator intended to trigger.

ii) I’d add that, in Scripture, foreshadowing is more than just a literary device. Undergirding this technique is the providence of God, whereby earlier events genuinely parallel or prefigure later events.

Of course, a liberal might reject that as special pleading. However, it’s only special pleading on the prior assumption that atheism is true–and that assumption would itself be special pleading.

Anti-Incarnational sacramentalism

Lutheranism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy, in their different ways, all stress the “Real Presence.” But a basic problem with the “Real Presence” is the way in which that dogma lays an ax to the root of the Incarnation–as well as the Resurrection. It’s a fundamentally anti-Incarnational view of the Eucharist.

Jesus had a body. A real body. A physical body. This is clear from the Gospels. He had a visible, tangible body. A body of normal height and weight, comparable to other human beings with whom he interacted.

This was true before his Resurrection, and this was equally true after his Resurrection. Indeed, both Luke (Lk 24) and John (Jn 20-21) go out of their way to accentuate the visible, tangible character of Christ’s glorified body. Although Christ could come and go at will, yet when he was present, he was present in a locally tangible, definable fashion. Locality, not ubiquity. His glorified body had empirical properties.

That’s essential to the Lukan theology of the Resurrection as well as the Johannine theology of the Resurrection. The body of the Risen Christ is something which it was possible for observers to see and feel.

But in order to defend the “Real Presence” in relation to the communion elements, one has to radically redefine a body. And, in the process, one has to radically redefine, both the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

The sacramental realist eviscerates the Incarnation and the Resurrection for the sake of his Eucharistic dogma. In order to save appearances, the corporality of the body is shorn of its corporal properties.

In effect, the sacramental realist reduces the body of Christ to an astral body or subtle matter. He must purchase a “high” sacramentology at the cost of a low Christology.

Secret body or secret decree?

Lutherans object to the “secret” decree of Calvinism. Because the decree is allegedly secret, the Calvinist has no “objective” basis for the assurance of salvation–unlike Lutherans who vest the assurance of salvation in the objectivity of the sacraments. But there are several problems with this objection, of which I’ll focus on just two:

1.The decree is “secret” in the same sense that the future is secret. In relation to the present, the future is secret. Likewise, in relation to the present, the decree is secret.

Put another way, the decree is secret in the way that the plans for D-Day were secret prior to D-Day. But this doesn’t mean the plans for D-Day remained a secret. The day after the Normandy Landings, the plans for D-Day were hardly a secret.

The decree is “secret” in relation to the future, but not in relation to the past. For God’s plan is a plan for time. By putting his plan into effect, his plan becomes evident over time.

Even if the planning stage is “secretive,” the implementation of the plan ceases to be secretive. For the decree has real-world effects. Effects in time and space.

2.However, another irony with the Lutheran position is the way in which Lutheranism replaces a secret decree with a secret body.

They complain about how God’s decree is allegedly hidden from human view. Yet the body of Christ is hidden in the bread and wine.

Unlike the decree, which has visible, tangible effects–the sacramental body of Christ is indiscernible.

They complain about how election is allegedly indetectible, yet they vest their assurance in the sacramental body of Christ, which is utterly indetectible. Although the communion elements are objective, the real presence is indistinguishable from the real absence at the empirical or phenomenological level.

All they have to fall back on is their subjective faith in the real presence. They believe it’s really there. So they put faith in their faith.



“Luther well recognized all enthusiasts and thereby theologies of glory function basically the same, be the Rome, Calvinist, Baptist or Islam – they fundamentally look inward for the work of God and not extra nos.”

i) A simpleminded caricature of Reformed theology

ii) What makes you think that Islam fundamentally looks inward for the work of God? I can think of few religions with a more externalistic piety than Islam.

Sufism tries to counteract that outward orientation, but Sufism flirts with pantheism, which is anathema to orthodox Islam (the sin of shirk).

“This they do for they see that ‘grace’ is this kind of infusa gratia (official roman terminology) or the ‘conversion/regeneration’ that is a ‘secret’ operation of the ‘spirit’ upon the soul with the Word (or sacrament) as nothing more than a kind of appendage.”

i) In Calvinism, saving grace has both an objective dimension (i.e. election, justification, adoption, redemption, propitiation) and a subjective dimension (i.e. regeneration, sanctification, perseverance, glorification).

ii) There is nothing secretive about regeneration. If the Spirit renews the soul, then the soul is aware of that fact–just as somebody who flatlines is conscious of a successful resuscitation. You can’t be revived by the Spirit without the resultant awareness of new life.

iii) Why do you place the name of the “spirit” in lower case? Do you deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit?

iv) As the Spirit is the source of faith, so the Word is the object of faith. Hardly an appendage. On the one hand, faith is the gift of the Spirit. On the other hand, the Word is what the faithful believe.

v) By contrast, the Word is just an appendage in Lutheranism since you get everything you need from the font, chalice, or wafer.

“Here we see that the Pope, heterodoxies of all colors, Islam, secular religion, etc… all function the same way. Restoration is ultimately unto the ‘law’ by some ‘infusion’ called ‘grace’ that now ‘enables’ one to ‘do’ or ‘believe’ (faith as a work or coin to merit salvation).”

i) Is it your position that saving faith is not the result of saving grace?

ii) If, according to Calvinism, faith is the necessary effect of monergistic regeneration, then that’s the polar opposite of faith as a “work” or “coin to merit salvation.”

“In the trio of theologies of glory (enthusiasm, god withinness) parading itself around as ‘christain’ – Rome, Arminianism, and Calvinism – this infused grace (by any other name) comes either ex opera operato via the sacraments as a kind of ‘means’ of ‘pouring it into you (Rome); or in the creation as the ‘grace’ to use ‘free will’ (arminianism); or by that secretive elective operation of the ‘Holy Spirit’ to rebirth/convert (calvinism).”

i) Those were three very different models of salvation. Hardly something you can intelligently lump under the same rubric.

ii) Why do you put the Holy Spirit in scare quotes? Is Lutheranism synonymous with unitarianism?

iii) Conversion isn’t “secretive.” Conversion is a conscious experience. A convert may be unaware of the cause, but he’s not unaware of the effect. For the effect of conversion is to reactivate his mind and heart in a Godward direction.

“Other religions adhere more closely to the arminian infusa. Thus we see all enthused religions, theologies of glory, display the same fallen religion namely that man’s problem is mostly a matter of needing to ‘improve’ himself via the law and its just a matter of how to get so called ‘grace’ (the infusa gratia) INTO that man so that the so called ‘gospel’ may now serve the so called ‘law’. This is opposed by orthodoxy, Luther, Lutheran confessions and true Christianity on every single point in which Christianity is NOT a repair job, rather the law serves the Gospel and man’s problem is not ‘needing grace’ to do or even believe, but a grace that is the utter forgiveness of his sins, real sin not just pretend sin.”

Original sin renders fallen man both culpable and corrupt. Therefore, saving grace must address both the objective consequences of original sin (i.e. culpability) as well the subjective consequences of original sin (i.e. corruption).

So your position is, at best, a half-truth. And heresies are typically half-truths.

“Herman Sasse was right in saying that if one gets the sacraments wrong, one will of necessity get the rest of scripture wrong, as well as Luther saying that Christianity is a tapestry of which if one removes one single thread the entirety is ruined.”

If that’s true, then of necessity, Lutheranism is systematically wrong inasmuch as Lutheranism got off to the wrong foot with the sacraments.

“This can be discovered by assessing where a religion sees its individual “pro me”, its either utterly objective in the Word and sacraments or some enthusiast concept (false christian or rank pagan) the ‘god withinness’, which also is the source of all gnostcism.”

i) The Word is objective, but the Word must be appropriated by faith, which is subjective. Or does Lutheranism now deny justification by faith?

ii) Likewise, is it your position that sacramental grace has no effect on the personal condition of the recipient?

“But if you or I win that same lottery then the general good news does in fact become GOOD NEWS TO and FOR me and you. I think we can all see the difference here as it is fairly obvious.”

And is it GOOD NEWS that in Lutheranism, you can win the lottery, but still lose? All those lottery winners roasting in hell.

“Thus it is critical where the ‘pro me’ is found. It is critical that the pro me be grounded objectively in something utterly, completely and entirely objective, sure and certain.”

i) No. It’s critical that assurance be grounded in the God-given grounds of assurance, revealed in Scripture.

ii) But this is a good example of Lutheran apriorism. The Lutheran begins, not with Scripture, but with his desired result–then contrives a theological system to yield the desired result.

Unfortunately, that leads to make-believe.

iii) Assurance cannot be grounded in something “utterly, c0mpletely and entirely” objective, for that squeezes out any role for faith in God.

Some Lutherans speak as though they don’t really care about God. They only care about assurance. They crave the gift, not the Giver.

iv) Notice the radical dualism in Lutheran assurance, whereby it restricts certainty to the purely objective realm. So, for Lutheranism, God is only Lord over the objective realm.

“For men seek God, so they think, by their works of one of three ways always; via fallen human reason (were Calvinist astray from the Word)…”

That fails to distinguish between regenerate and unregenerate reason.

“Although Arminianism arose in reaction against Calvinism, they share much in common. Both have a low view of the Holy Sacraments.”

Which begs the question.

“(In reality a non or false view) and emphasize subjectivity–personal election in the case of Calvinism.”

Either God chooses who will be saved or man chooses who will be saved.

“Both incline toward legalism–for the Calvinist, to ensure that he is persevering in his election.”

All assertion, no argument.

“Rather than in the sacraments where the Gospel comes to and for me personally, am really washed and forgiven of sin, really and truly receive that very body and very blood that was given for my forgiveness of sin for real not symbolically, the Calvinist and Arminian ‘pro me’, due to, I would say, NO view of the holy sacraments as opposed to a ‘low view’, goes and directs men’s souls elsewhere (as do all forms of theologies of glory that avoid the Cross).”

Notice that Lutheranism replaces Christianity with Waferanity. It directs men away from the Cross, and redirects them to the wafer. It bids them find Jesus, not in the Word, but in the wafer.

“Thus this theology of glory ‘pro me’ begets what it always begets a drudgery and slogging along of outward ‘good works’ to , to ensure that one is persevering in his election (Calvinistic).”

There is no salvation apart from perseverance. You must abide in the vine. He who endures to the end will be saved.

“If one insists on looking inward to one’s heart one will find eventually the truth of one’s heart and see in reality nothing but death, condemnation and hell…for that is the state of the fallen heart.”

Notice that Lutheran theology is functionally unitarian. It has no room for the Father’s elective grace or the Spirit’s regenerative grace and sanctifying grace.

And, frankly, it has no need for a living, Risen Savior. Instead, it reduces the Gospel to the font, wafer, and chalice.

“This sacrament (the Lord’s Supper) is the Gospel, said Luther. And so it is for it gives what it says and it gives it TO you/me and FOR you/me and the object for FAITH to cling to is what it says it is, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

In Lutheranism, Jesus ceases to be the object of faith. The wafer becomes the object of faith.

“Faith clings to NOTHING else than Christ alone.”

And Lutheran faith clings to nothing else than a wafer alone.

“Where the Word has been put in water, bread and wine…”

We don’t need Jesus anymore, for everything he had to offer has been transferred to a piece of bread. Once we cash in the lottery ticket, we no longer need the ticket. We can toss our ticket in the trashcan. It served its temporary purpose.

“And faith alone ‘sees, detects and knows’ salvation and Christ are for it, the senses of experience, affections or human reason are utterly blind to this thus they wrestle with the Word of God, think Him impossible attempt to ascend high into heaven as enthused gnostics tend to do and there seek out god in the nude bringing their works via reason, affections or experiences with them.”

Actually, nothing could be more Gnostic than the notion of an invisible, intangible body. A real body has empirical properties. A real body isn’t something you can only see by faith.’ Real blood isn’t something you can only see by faith.

Lutherans complain about the allegedly hidden, secretive character of election (which is misleading even on its own terms), but they replace secret election with secret blood. If election is hidden from human eyes, so is “true” body–hidden in the sacrament.

“All articles of faith ask us to believe an absurdity because via our fallen senses of reason, affections and experiences we have utterly lost the knowledge of God.”

I don’t find the articles of faith “absurd.” And, in any case, I don’t reject the Real Presence because it’s absurd. Rather, I reject the Real Presence, both because (i) it’s exegetically unsound and also because (ii) it lays an ax to the root of the Incarnation.

When Lutherans redefine a body in such insensible terms, they implicitly deny the Incarnation.

“The Word of God that commands us that they are so (e.g. ‘Take eat/drink this is My body/blood…given/shed…FOR YOU…for the forgiveness of sins).”

Calvinists also obey God’s command by celebrating the Eucharist.