Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sinning that grace may abound

Tom McCall has lodged the following objection to John Piper’s theology:

Although Piper insists that we are not to draw it, he admits that the “logical inference” to be drawn from his view is that we might as well live lives of sin in order that grace may abound…And Piper is, of course, well aware that such an inference is in direct conflict with clear biblical teaching…Piper’s theological determinism leads him to what can only appear to be an outright contradiction at this point. Suppose that a Christian is convinced by Piper that theological determinism is true, and that all events that occur are determined by God to occur so that God might be glorified maximally.

Thomas H. McCall, “I Believe in God's Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper,” TrinJ 29.2 (Fall 2008): 243-44.

I’ll make a few comments:

i) Piper is a pastor, not a philosopher. Now Piper is a very influential pastor, so he’s fair game. Nevertheless, if McCall is attacking Calvinism, he needs to train his guns on the most sophisticated representatives of Calvinism. As a rule, we wouldn’t expect a pastor to be especially adept at fielding intellectual objections to his position. Why doesn’t McCall target a Reformed philosopher?

ii) McCall’s appeal to Scripture is one-sided. He alludes to Rom 6:1-2. But in the very same letter, Paul also says:

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom 5:20)
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure (Rom 7:13)
32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all (11:32).

And Paul elsewhere says:

22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe (Gal 3:22)

a) So McCall has oversimplified the issue. According to the passages I cited, there is a sense in which God wills sin. God makes things worse in the short term to make things better in the long term. Hence, our understanding of Rom 6:1-2 must be counterbalanced against these other Pauline passages.

b) And this isn’t a result of Piper’s “theological determinism.” Rather, this is Pauline theology. It doesn’t involve a prior commitment to “theological determinism.” Rather, we find this rationale in Romans and Galatians: the instrumental value of sin in God’s plan. Even though the magnification of sin isn’t God’s ultimate purpose, it does serve an interim purpose, as a means to a higher end.

iii) To say that sin glorifies God is not to say that only sin glorifies God. God is glorified by virtue as well as vice. So McCall is drawing a fallacious inference. Since sinning is not the only way to glorify God, it’s not as if Calvinism or Pauline theology entails antinomianism. Likewise, it’s not as if the Christian is motivated to sin. For sin is not the only means by which God is glorified. McCall is posing a false dilemma.

iv) Moreover, McCall’s proposed dilemma isn’t really consistent with “theological determinism.”  For if God has predestined a particular Christian not to sin that grace may abound, then that Christian isn’t caught in a hopeless dilemma: to sin or not to sin? For if God has predestined him not to sin that grace may abound, then either sinning or not sinning will not be two equally live options.   

Excerpts from Official Reports on Sex Abuse by Roman Catholic Clergy, 1.



The investigation did produce evidence that widespread sexual abuse of children was due to an institutional acceptance of abuse and a massive and pervasive failure of leadership.

A. Top Archdiocese officials knew of the extent of the abuse problem for many years before it became known to the public.

B. The Archdiocese's response to reports of the sexual abuse of children, including maintaining secrecy of reports, placed children at risk.

C. The Archdiocese did not notify law enforcement authorities of clergy sexual abuse allegations. Clergy were not mandated reporters until 2002. Archdiocese policy of 1993 did not require reporting.

D. Archdiocese officials did not provide all relevant information to law enforcement authorities during criminal investigations.

E. The Archdiocese failed to conduct thorough investigations of clergy sexual abuse allegations.

F. The Archdiocese placed children at risk by transferring abusive priests to other parishes.

G. The Archdiocese placed children at risk by accepting abusive priests from other dioceses.

PHILADELPHIA GRAND JURY I, 2003-2005, Report issued Sept. 15, 2005


This report contains the findings of the Grand Jury: how dozens of priests sexually abused hundreds of children; how Philadelphia Archdiocese officials -including Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Krol -excused and enabled the abuse; and how the law must be changed so that it doesn't happen again. Some may be tempted to describe these events as tragic. Tragedies such as tidal waves, however, are outside human control. What we found were not acts of God, but of men who acted in His name and defiled it.

But the biggest crime of all is this: it worked. The abuser priests, by choosing children as targets and trafficking on their trust, were able to prevent or delay reports of their sexual assaults, to the point where applicable statutes of limitations expired. And Archdiocese officials, by burying those reports they did receive and covering up the conduct, similarly managed to outlast any statutes of limitation. As a result, these priests and officials will necessarily escape criminal prosecution. We surely would have charged them if we could have done so. But the consequences are even worse than the avoidance of criminal penalties. Sexually abusive priests were either left quietly in place or "recycled" to unsuspecting new parishes -vastly expanding the number of children who were abused. It didn't have to be this way. Prompt action and a climate of compassion for the child victims could have significantly limited the damage done. But the Archdiocese chose a different path. (Introduction to the Grand Jury Report, p. 1)

The behavior of Archdiocese officials was perhaps not as lurid as that of the individual priest sex abusers. But in its callous, calculating manner, the Archdiocese's "handling" of the abuse scandal was at least as immoral as the abuse itself. The evidence before us established that Archdiocese officials at the highest levels received reports of abuse; that they chose not to conduct any meaningful investigation of those reports; that they left dangerous priests in place or transferred them to different parishes as a means of concealment; that they never alerted parents of the dangers posed by these offenders (who typically went out of their way to be friendly and helpful, especially with children); that they intimidated and retaliated against victims and witnesses who came forward about abuse; that they manipulated "treatment" efforts in order to create a false impression of action; and that they did many of these things in a conscious effort simply to avoid civil liability.

In short, as abuse reports grew, the Archdiocese chose to call in the lawyers rather than confront the abusers. Indeed Cardinal Bevilacqua himself was a lawyer, with degrees from both a canon law school and an American law school. Documents and testimony left us with no doubt that he and Cardinal Krol were personally informed of almost all of the allegations of sexual abuse by priests, and personally decided or approved of how to handle those allegations. (Overview of the cover-up by archdiocese officials, p. 3)

Sexual Abuse in Roman Catholic Clerical Practice and Policy

John Bugay, speaking of the pattern of the cover-up given by Bishops (acting in lockstep), said “In the Roman Catholic Church, it was not just a ‘cultural norm’ but written policy.” Evidently, however, the cultural norms created the need for the written policies, which also brought an adaptation of the culture to accommodate the written policies.

Philip Jude asked, “Which of the documents do you refer to, and in what way do they constitute a written policy of covering up sexual abuse? If you point one written prior to the last few decades, you only prove my point: institutional transparency regarding sexual offenses and our society's understanding of predatory behavior are recent innovations.”

Well, then, we agree. Here is a bit about Rome’s “policy of secrecy” being not simply cultural, but official, written, and well-documented policy:  

1. Confession of sins to a priest in a private, totally confidential setting has been the norm in the Catholic Church since the fifth century and possibly earlier.  It replaced the public confession of sins which had been common in the earliest Christian communities.  In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council required Catholics to confess their sins at least once a year.  With the advent of the private confession of sins came the abuse known as solicitation for sex in the act of sacramental confession.  Unscrupulous priests began to use the intimacy of confession as an opportunity to seduce the penitent into some form of sexual contact.  This abuse is particularly heinous because it takes advantage of a person when he or she is most vulnerable and susceptible to the abuse of priestly power. It is not known when the very first reports of solicitation became known, but by the 16th century the Church had begun to pass legislation to control and eradicate this vile form of abuse.

2. The Popes and various regional bishops issued a series of disciplinary laws against solicitation, beginning in 1561 and extending to 2001.  Papal laws were promulgated in 1561, 1622, 1741, 1869, 1917, 1922, 1962, 1983 and 2001.  In addition to the legislation itself, the church courts prosecuted individual cases in great numbers.  The most complete records have been found in the Spanish and Mexican tribunals and reveal a shockingly high volume of complaints from women and men, accusing priests of solicitation and sexual abuse in a variety of forms.

3. The first Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1917.  Solicitation was listed as a canonical crime (c. 2368).  The canon mentions several penalties including possible dismissal from the clerical state.  The second paragraph imposes on the person solicited a grave obligation of reporting or “denouncing” the priest.  Failure to do so within one month resulted in an automatic penalty of excommunication.  Thus, the one soliciting can be removed from the clerical state and consequently from the active priesthood but the victim or penitent faces an even more severe penalty which is exclusion from the Church itself.  The new Code contained as an appendix the apostolic constitution Sacramentum poenitentiae, issued by Pope Benedict XIV on June 1, 1741.  This was the most solemn pronouncement against solicitation issued to that time as well as the most complete treatment of the nature of solicitation as a crime.

4. The Congregation of the Holy Office issued a decree in the form of an instruction on June 9, 1922.  The decree was signed by Cardinal Merry del Val and issued under the authority and with the explicit approval of Pope Pius XI.  The formal name was “On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation.” The instruction was essentially a set of procedures to be followed by bishops for the investigation and prosecution of priests accused of solicitation.  These procedures replaced the penal procedures contained in the Code of Canon Law.

5. There are several aspects of this decree which are of particular importance.  They will be listed here and covered in greater detail later in this paper:

a. The document was sent to every bishop in the world

b. Absolute secrecy was imposed on the document itself.

c. Three other sexual crimes committed by clerics were also to be investigated and prosecuted according to the norms of the instruction:  same sex relations, sexual abuse of minors and bestiality.

d. The highest degree of secrecy, the Secret of the Holy Office, was imposed on everyone involved in the process from the time it started.  Violation meant immediate excommunication.

6. The 1922 instruction was replaced by a similar document, commonly referred to by its Latin title, Crimen Sollicitationis. It was issued by the Congregation of the Holy Office on March 16, 1962, under the signature of the Prefect, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, and with the approval of Pope John XXIII. This is the normal manner of receiving Papal approval for documents of this nature.  Like its predecessor, it was then sent to all the bishops in the world. The bishops were admonished to maintain strict confidentiality about the document and ordered not to allow it to be reproduced or commented upon.

[This text is] to be diligently stored in the secret archives of the Curia as strictly confidential. Nor is it to be published nor added to with any commentaries.

7. Crimen Sollicitationis remained in effect until 2001 when the Vatican published a new set of procedures for investigating and prosecuting especially grave canonical crimes, including certain sexual crimes committed by the clergy.

Later in the document: 35. On the other hand, there are too many authenticated reports of victims having been seriously intimidated into silence by church authorities to assert that such intimidation is the exception and not the norm.  It is quite possible that most of the bishops who have served during the past thirty years were not aware of the existence of the 1962 document until it was publicly acknowledged by the Vatican in 2001. The cover-up happened whether or not bishops were aware of the 1962 document.  This cover-up was grounded in a culture of secrecy, clericalism and institutional self-preservation.  The 1922 and 1962 documents did not create this culture. They arose out of it and gave canonical legal force to the pattern of secrecy. If the 1922 and 1962 documents have been used as a justification for any cover-up or intimidation then we possibly have what some of the more critical commentators have alleged, namely, the distinct appearance of a blueprint for a cover-up.

The reasons for the seemingly perennial problems of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up will not be found in Church documents alone.  One must delve deeper than the documents into the very nature of the ecclesial culture.  The documents may be indicators of the official Church’s awareness of sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable persons by the clergy, but these documents surely are not the cause of clergy sexual abuse nor are they the foundation of the official Church’s response to such abuse.  This foundation may influence both official church documents and laws or their interpretation and application.  Nevertheless one must look deeper into the nature of the institutional Church as expressed by the hierarchy.

Of course. Jesus said, “by their fruit you will recognize them”. Paul explicitly stated, “the overseer is to be above reproach” … and reminds Timothy, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” How then do we understand this “tree” by what is seen here as a thousand years-worth of this kind of “fruit”? 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Byl's dangerous idea


I'm going to comment on this

Before I get to the review of this book, let it be officially known at the outset that I am not a WSCal toadie, whatever that might mean.

I don’t assume Pastor Lane is a WSC toady either. On the other hand, I don’t see what this disclaimer is supposed to accomplish. After all, we wouldn’t expect a toady to call himself a toady. If anything, we’d expect a toady to vehemently deny that he’s a toady. “Take it from me–I’m not a toady!” Well, if you are a toady, then I don’t take your word for it–but if you’re not, then the disclaimer is superfluous.

But I deeply respect them, and was therefore disturbed when I read Frame’s book, which amounts, in my opinion, to little more than a hit piece written by what appears to me to be an embittered former colleague.

That’s how organizations typically attempt to discredit whistleblowers. I wonder if Pastor Lane feels the same way about Luther, or Peter Martyr. When Luther writes about his experience as a monk, should we dismiss his account as payback from a disgruntled former employee? Isn’t that a bit facile?

It is not gracious, irenic, fair, or collegial, unless you already agree with his conclusions, as George Grant seems to do (I was very disappointed that Grant, for whom I hold a great respect, would put his name on this book). It is full of caricature and extension of arguments (I mean this in the logical fallacy sense). It is an embarrassment to the entire Reformed world.

Even if (arguendo) that’s true, I’m puzzled by Pastor’s Lane’s one-sidedness. Does he think Darryl Hart is gracious, irenic, fair, or collegial? This suggests to me that Pastor Lane is blind to his own partisanship.

Only with this volume has a professor of one of the main Reformed seminaries descended to the level of attacking another entire seminary in the Reformed community. The gentleman’s agreement among the main Reformed seminaries has now been breached.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Pastor Lane that a “gentleman’s agreement” as morally invidious connotations.

I intend to get into specifics with a series of posts exposing the myriad slanders that Frame has leveled against the WSC folks.

Why is Pastor Lane oblivious to the possibility that Frame has been slandered by Hart, Clark et al.?

Moreover, let’s take the case of Meredith Kline. Frame has known Kline for decades. Not just known his writings, but doubtless had conversations and correspondence with Kline. Is Pastor Lane in a better position to say what Kline really stands for?

The second general issue I would like to address about this book is the inclusion of Frame’s personal history at WSC.

Actually, insider accounts of a movement are often quite insightful and revealing.

He will lose a great deal of respect for doing this, even among people who have serious reservations about WSC’s distinctives.

Loss of respect is a two-way street. 

The book is full of sin, and I call on Frame to repent of his sin. I have condemned this book in strong terms. The fact is, I am both angry for WSC’s sake (hoping that this expose of Frame’s book will prevent any lasting damage to WSC in the future), and deeply saddened that Frame would do this.

If you’re going to be angry, aren’t there more important things to be angry about? Why not redirect his anger at tax dollars funding Planned Parenthood, or the NEA indoctrinating public school students in ungodliness? Pastor Lane’s anger is seriously misplaced.

Which brings me to the next point: I have to question whether writing a multipart attack on Frame’s book represents the best stewardship of Pastor Lane’s time. Surely there are more productive or constructive things he can do with his time. Seems to me that Pastor Lane needs to seriously recalibrate his priorities.

Why spend so much time and effort savaging Frame’s book rather than presenting his own alternative? For starters, how would Pastor Lane answer the following questions:

1. What are the duties of the civil magistrate?

2. What are the civic duties of American citizens?

3. Should pastors preach on social ethics when social issues have been politicized?

On a final point, Green Baggins seems to be 99 parts theory to 1 part practice. Why doesn’t Pastor Lane do some blogging on the sorts of ethical questions that parishioners raise? For instance:

1. Suppose a young man asks Pastor Lane about a career in the military. What does Pastor Lane tell him, and why?

2. Suppose a young woman asks Pastor Lane about a career in the military? What does Pastor Lane tell her?

3. Suppose an infertile couple come sto Pastor Lane, asking about reproductive technologies? What does Pastor Lane tell them?

4. Suppose a fertile couple comes to Pastor Lane, asking about sterilization–because one spouse is at high-risk of transmitting a congenital illness (e.g. Huntington’s disease) to their offspring. What does Pastor Lane tell them?

5. Suppose a church member asks Pastor Lane if it’s ever permissible to lie. What does Pastor Lane tell him, and why?

6. What advice does he give about mothers working outside the home? What advice does he give about sending your kids to public school? 


The Appropriation of the Fathers in Church History: The Use of Augustine in Late Medieval and Reformation Studies

One of the planks of lay Catholic apologetics is the assumption that modern Catholic doctrine is the result of an unbroken tradition of theological reflection stretching back to the Apostles themselves.

Sometimes this view manifests in a simplistic objection to Protestant exegetical claims.1 For example, if a Protestant successfully demonstrates that a certain passage of Scripture cannot reasonably be reconciled with modern Catholic doctrine, the lay Catholic can immediately assert that the Protestant is really a nobody who isn't to be taken seriously. After all, his novel interpretation has no accord with 2,000 years of unbroken, serious reflection on the Scriptures and the fathers by learned, Spirit-filled Catholics.

This kind of response could only be given by someone who isn't aware of the history of the appropriation of the fathers.  The historical record shows that it is hardly such a clean affair; even assuming the implausible lay Catholic view of history--that the modern denomination currently located in Rome is all that existed before the Reformation until the great agitator Luther decided to interpret the Bible for himself--it is clear that the use of the fathers by the medieval church was plagued by problems that render their conclusions and use of these fathers problematic, if not erroneous.2  Given his role in post-patristic thought, the case of Augustine is sufficient to be representative of the general problems here.3  Catholics before and during the Reformation often failed to read Augustine in context, did not study the full extent of his corpus, and attributed to him dozens of spurious works.

Anthological Augustine

Augustine was known to those in the years leading up to the Reformation in several ways. While those wealthy and educated enough could afford both the leisure time and travel expenses (to say nothing of the right ecclesiastical connections) to gain access to and read hand-copied, Latin manuscripts (which could not be moved without threat of crumbling), or even printed copies, the general method was through education.  For those training to religious vocation, it seems Augustine was learned primarily through Peter Lombard's Sentences, the standard patristic anthology of the middle ages.

Lombard's work was problematic for at least a few reasons.  First, as a compilation of quotations from the fathers, they were given without broader context.  Second, these snippets were given without adequate reference or citation for those who wished to read the quote in a broader context.4  Third, Lombard "had no direct knowledge of more than a limited number of books by Augustine, four to be precise: the De doctrina christiana, the Enchiridion, the De diversis quaestionibus 83, the Retractationes.  He had no knowledge of other works by Augustine except through the Glossa ordinaria or the Expositio of Florus of Lyons."5

This lack of primary source documents included a failure to read important theological works, such as Augustine's anti-Pelagian texts.  Even the arrival of the printing press did not provide access to the whole of Augustine’s materials, as "[m]ost of the anti-Manichaean works...were unavailable in print until Amerbach's collected edition.  What is more, most anti-Pelagian works, concerned with human sinfulness and the nature of the divine grace in response to the followers of Pelagius, had never been printed before."6

Patristic Pseudepigrapha

Those who managed to read Augustine unmediated (a term used with appropriate qualification) at the monastery, library or other similar location, were not always achieving access to Augustine himself. Many of the works attributed to Augustine during this time were spurious.  For example, during the time of early printing, of "all incunables published under Augustine's name, in fact, almost two-thirds (116 out of 187) were spurious,"7  this itself being merely representative of the medieval growth of pseudo-Augustine works.

Sometimes nobody seemed to know that a work was spurious, as in the case of the Hypomnesticon, which, in at least one era, was seen to be authoritative by all those who argued over its use.  In other cases, the spurious works affected the development of doctrine, such as the rather Pelagian De vita Christiana.  This was particularly the case with De vera et falsa poenitentia, and the work came to play a significant role in Reformation debates over penance.8

(A caveat: while this would require its own post, it is important to remember that not all appropriation of the fathers was poor during this time period.  There were moments of renaissance (to say nothing of the Renaissance and the humanist, cultural shifts to ad fontes); for example, one 1345 compilation of Augustine's work was remarkably accurate, the author gave references were possible [and apologized when he could not!], and the material was based on Augustine's own list of works given in Retractationes, which perhaps inoculated it from spurious attributions.9  However, it was not until Amerbach's work during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries that the Augustinian canon was truly purged.)

To make matters worse, printers knew that certain "Augustine" works were spurious, but due to their function as "popular devotional treaties" and their use in "theological manuals, such as Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologia, or Gratian's Decretum," refused to remove them, even if they did tacitly acknowledge their questionable status.10  In fact, the foundational works of the Summa and Decretum "were full of references to pseudo-Augustinian writings."11  Sometimes these works were even known to be spurious by those who used them for theological purposes, and such behavior was defended as legitimate due to the usefulness of the works in question.12

Implications for Development Narratives

Given the reception of the sources in the medieval period, any extended theological reflection on Augustine would likely have been warped and distorted to at least some extent, and often corrupted, especially in important areas such as his theology of grace.  Far from an ever increasing, careful and reasoned development of theology and doctrine, medieval and even Reformation theological reflection often enough based its conclusions on falsely attributed works, with not all of the legitimate works readily available, and being screened through the editorial choices manifest in the available anthologies.

The Perspicuity of the Fathers in Debate

Studying the use of the fathers in history also suggests that they are not perspicuous--at least if we assume the current lay Catholic assumptions about how the meaning of texts cannot be discerned in light of interpretive conflict and division.  Not only was Augustine appropriated by both Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation, sometimes even the very same texts would be used and analyzed, with different interpretations applied to those texts.  This was, at least in part, due to the nature of quotations during the medieval and Reformation eras, as through their collection in anthologies, written or printed, "it was possible for one author to be used in support of strikingly different ideas."13  In fact, these "anthologies reveal...the fundamental instrumental nature of intellectual authority.  Their thematic organization, especially, exemplifies how Augustine was mined for proof texts about topical arguments, rather than as an independent source of intellectual inspiration."14

If the division of interpretation over a text demonstrates that it is unclear, as is asserted with Protestant interpretations over Scripture, then it follows that Augustine is unclear.15 So what purpose is there in citing Augustine in a debate with a Protestant?  And what hope does the lay Catholic have in properly interpreting Augustine for himself and successfully employing his texts against Protestants in polemical discourse?

As with many other Catholic assertions, a study of history does far from confirming Roman Catholicism as right and true; such a study overturns simplistic development narratives and even calls into question the coherence of the apologetic strategies used by its defenders.

Recommended Reading

Irena Backus, The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997).

Alister McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004).

Arnoud Vesser, Reading Augustine in the Reformation: The Flexibility of Intellectual Authority in Europe, 1500-1620 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).


1. This is the second stage of capitulation in the typical Roman Catholic apologetic.  Once the exegetical ground is lost, historical claims are made.  And, once those historical claims are shown for what they are, the final defense is to specious philosophical assumptions.

2. To say nothing of the fact that each generation must restudy the Scriptures.  It is likely that many good and important interpretive insights have been completely lost to the sands of time.

3. Concerning Augustine in the medieval period, the "influence of the patristic heritage, and supremely the thought of Augustine of Hippo, upon the development of Christian thought during the medieval period is beyond dispute.  Indeed, the theology of the medieval period may be regarded as thoroughly Augustinian to the extent that it was virtually a series of footnotes to Augustine...In every major sphere of theological debate, the point of departure appears to have been the views of Augustine." Alister McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 168.

4. Arnoud Vesser, Reading Augustine in the Reformation: The Flexibility of Intellectual Authority in Europe, 1500-1620 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 17.

5. Jacques-Guy Bougerol, "The Church Fathers and the Sentences of Peter Lombard," in The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West, ed., Irena Backus (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 115.

6. Arnoud Vesser, Reading Augustine in the Reformation, 15.

7. Ibid.

8. Alister McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation, 170.

9. Eric Saak, "Augustine in the Later Middle Ages," The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West, ed., Irena Backus (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 381-382.

10. Arnoud Vesser, Reading Augustine in the Reformation, 21-22, 24.

11. Ibid., 40.

12. Ibid., 91.

13. Ibid., 80.

14. Ibid., 91.

15. Technically, this would be limited only to those texts that had their meaning contested.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Skin for skin

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while (Rev 20:1-3
8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:8-12).
4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life” (2:4-6).

Job furnishes a striking example of how Satan can do a lot of damage to God’s people, yet act under very specific constraints. That’s a scriptural illustration and possible precedent for how the devil can still be quite active in church history, yet his sphere of action is under very definite divine restrictions. Harmful in some respects yet harmless in others. Precisely delimited by God. 

Silence is golden

How do we explain bad design?

Infant Salvation

Christopher Hitchens's Jewish Problem


Lane Keister has been doing a negative review of Frame’s new book. I haven't followed all the back-and-forth, but this comment (#412) stood out:

DJG said,
March 14, 2012 at 2:22 am

To use an “E2K” theologian’s own example: when talking about the concrete issue of abortion, VanDrunen (in Living in God’s Two Kingdoms) explains the honest discussions two Christians can have (who obviously agree on the sinfulness of taking life and the horror of abortion) when discussing how abortion is handled in the political arena. It becomes a wisdom issue over which sincere Christians can disagree. He hypothetically defends both sides, but since I doubt you need the other half of that conversation, one question he raises is whether or not legalizing abortions would cut down on unsafe practices like “back-alley abortions.” In any case, the takeaway of the discussion is this:
“…even when a moral issue may be quite clear biblically, individual Christians’ attempts to live consistently with biblical teaching in concrete areas of politics and public policy remain matters of discretion and wisdom for which there is no single Christian approach that the church can impose upon the conscience of believers.” LiG2K, pg. 202 

Are Hart and VanDrunen seriously suggesting that Christians can reasonably defend legalizing abortion to make it safe? That safety justifies legalizing abortion? Isn’t that the NARAL rationale? Coat hangers and back-alley abortions?

Safe for whom? Clearly not the unborn baby.

But if abortion is wrong, why is it the duty of gov’t to ensure the safety of the wrongdoer?

For instance, if a sniper wants to shoot schoolchildren, should we legalize his activity to make it safer for the sniper? Is this 2k statecraft taken to its logical conclusion?

I’m afraid the debate over 2K reminds me of the Kirchenkampf. On the one hand the position of John Frame, Scott Klusendorf, and the Bayly brothers is analogous to the Barmen Confession, the Confessing Church, and its members (e.g. Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rudolf Bultmann, Wilhelm Busch, Ernst Käsemann, Hermann Maas, Friedrich Niemöller), who resisted the Third Reich.

On the other hand the position of Hart is analogous to the Arierparagraph, the Reichskirche, and its members (e.g. Paul Althaus, Friedrich Gogarten, Walter Grundmann, Emanuel Hirsch, Gerhard Kittel, Georg Wunsch), who supported or capitulated to the Third Reich. 

The Fighting Sioux

Scripture, Inerrancy, & the Role of Reason

The audio for the above lecture that was presented at the 2012 GPTS Spring Theology Conference is online here

HT: Jeff Downs

Easter chronology

Another issue that some raise is how the resurrection account in John differs from the accounts in the Synoptics. A key figure, Mary Magdalene, leads those who inform the disciples of the empty tomb in the Synoptics after being told Jesus was raised. Luke 24:4 and John 23:13 have this announcement begin with two angels, Matthew 28:5 speaks about an angel, and Mark 16:5 has a young man tell them. Yet in John Mary is perplexed and does not know where the body is until Jesus appears to her, a scene described after John and Peter have run to the tomb.

So what is one to make of these differences? My own understanding is that part of the issue is resolved by seeing that John’s telling begins with how John and Peter experienced the event. John has Mary begin her report even though John and Peter do not wait for her to tell her whole story but run to check the empty tomb. Then John tells in detail what Mary experienced. John’s mention that the women did not know where the body was placed is where their report to him begins, but the report did not get as far as the messenger’s announcement of Jesus’s resurrection before Peter and John departed to see what had taken place. This is all collapsed in the Synoptics into the women’s report to the group about the announcement of an empty tomb. John often supplements the Synoptics with fresh details that overlap the accounts of the other evangelists. Likewise here, literary arrangement and choices are the keys to differences in sequencing.

D. Bock, “Precision and Accuracy: Making Distinctions in the Cultural Context,” J. Hoffmeier & D. Magary, eds. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Crossway 2012), 374-75.

40 Arabic Words vs. 33 Greek Words

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What does Ezekiel's temple mean?

To my knowledge, Ralph Alexander’s commentary in the revised EBC series (bound with Michael Brown’s new commentary on Jeremiah) is currently the standard dispensational commentary on Ezekiel. I’m going to quote from and comment on his arguments for the dispensational interpretation of the temple.

Geographical changes will be necessary prior to the fulfillment of chs. 45,47-48; therefore, one should not look to past or present fulfillments of these chapters but to the future, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah ~ Ezekiel (Zondervan, rev. ed., 210), 7:868.

This assumes that because it can’t be literally fulfilled under past or present conditions, fulfillment awaits a future time when topographical changes will take place.

i) Of course, that’s not something which Alexander is getting from the text of Ezekiel. The text itself says nothing about God changing the topography of Jerusalem.

ii) Moreover, we could just as well (or better) draw the converse conclusion: since, by his own admission, it can’t be literally fulfilled as is, it was never meant to be taken literally.

The apocalyptic genre incorporates symbols and figures that are normally interpreted by a divine interpreter. Otherwise the text should be understood normally as the actual events of the vision that they were observed (868).

But “actual” events within a visionary narrative aren’t ipso facto identical with actual events outside the visionary narrative. What Alexander himself calls a "dream vision format" (651).

Likewise, visionary revelation is inherently abnormal. It induces an altered state of consciousness to reveal things which aren’t normally accessible or normally presentable.

To interpret these chapters in any other manner contradicts the divine interpretive guide in the vision. This guide warns Ezekiel that he is to write down all them minute details concerning the plan for the temple and its regulations so that these details might be considered carefully and followed in every aspect (40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5; cf. Ezk 25:9; 1Ch 28:19). Thus, a figurative symbolic approach does not adequately treat the issues of Ezekiel 40-48 (869).

i) Other issues aside, Alexander is illicitly converting imperatives into indicatives. But even if we think God is commanding the Jews to build a temple according to these specifications, you can’t infer indicatives from imperatives-for sinners frequently disobey divine commands. The OT is replete with broken laws.

Even if (arguendo) God ordered the Jews to build this temple, a command is not a prediction. What if the Jews failed to comply? After all, weren’t the Jews covenant-breakers? That’s why they were exiled in the first place. And they later rejected their Messiah. 

ii) In context, the command isn’t addressed to endtime Jews. Rather, it’s addressed to Ezekiel’s contemporaries. Ezekiel is told in the vision that when he snaps out of his trance (or awakens from his dream), he’s supposed to write down what he heard and saw in the vision and relay that information to his fellow captives. 

iii) The exilic Jews are to meditate on the significance of the visionary depiction. That’s perfectly consistent with a symbolic vision.

For instance, in Ezk 36, Ezekiel uses the imagery of ceremonial cleaning as a metaphor for spiritual cleansing. Then there’s the figurative imagery in Ezk 37.

Alexander himself speaks of “picture-lessons” (876). But picture-lessons can just as well be picturesque metaphors.

iv) Alexander admits that “Floor plans are revealed. Any superstructure must be conjectured” (879). But how can Jews follow the details in every aspect when key details are missing? That’s not a realistic blueprint. 

A sudden reversion to some historical period, immediately following the captivity or during the time of Herod’s temple, seems out of place, as does an idealistic or symbolic temple (869).

Seems “out of place” in hindsight, but not from the perspective of the Babylonian captives.

It is first necessary to understand the prophetic perspective of the OT prophets. We must see the prophetic message from their viewpoint initially, not from our contemporary perspective in the light of the NT (869).

Let’s see if Alexander is faithful to that principle.

The OT prophets tended not to make distinctions within the period of discipline and judgment; rather, they portrayed near and far aspects of this time in the same passage. The discipline would begin with the Babylonian captivity and continue till the end of time. Some distinctions were observed, but chronological relations were seldom delineated.
Likewise, the prophets did not make distinctions between the millennium and the eternal state when describing the period of messianic blessing. Further distinctions are primarily the result of progressive revelation disclosed in the NT, especially Revelation, though some distinctions are implied in the OT prophets (e.g. Da 9-12).
Ezekiel, like his contemporizes, intermixes these various elements in his prophecies of judgment and the future kingdom. Undoubtedly this contributes to the difficulty in distinguishing the millennium and the eternal state in these chapters…One must look to the NT for any further clues for delineation whenever such are given (870).

i) Notice that Alexander is using the NT as an interpretive tool to interpolate distinctions that he can’t find in the text of Ezk 40-48. He’s assuming–indeed, stipulating–the presence of chronological ellipses in Ezekiel’s vision. But the vision itself doesn’t have those breaks or dislocations. 

That’s not a face-value, plain-sense reading of the text. And if he can use the NT as an interpretive tool, why can’t amillennial interpreters like Gregory Beale, Iain Duguid, and O. P. Robertson?

ii) He’s assuming at the outset that there is a distinction between the millennium and the eternal state, then superimposing that extraneous framework onto the text. But that’s retrojective. That’s not beginning with the OT text.

Both writers receive apocalyptic visions on a high mountain with an interpreting messenger present and holding a measuring rod to measure various structures (Eze 40:2-5; Rev 21:2,10,15). Both visions portray waters flowing forth toward the east, with trees alongside and leaves for healing (Eze 47:1-7,12; Rev 22:1-2). The names of Israel’s twelve tribes are written on the city’s twelve gates in both visions (Eze 48:31-34; Rev 21:12), and three gates each are found on the east, south, north, and western sides of the city respectively (Eze 48:30-34; Rev 21:13).
In addition, however, there are equally clear dissimilarities between the two passages…It seems, therefore, that Ezekiel 40-48 may be primarily describing the millennial temple… (871).

If the two visions are so closely parallel, yet different in some details, isn’t an obvious explanation for their complex interrelationship the fact that we’re dealing with variations on a common underlying metaphor? A type/token relation?

Ezekiel and John are combining and recombining archetypal motifs involving sacred space (e.g. the temple, Eden, Jerusalem). John is creatively adapting Ezekiel. Because symbolism isn’t literally descriptive, it can be reimagined in various ways. 

Roman Catholic Church Attacks Sex Abuse Victims

Or, “this is your infallible Magisterium in action”. But it’s ok, you Roman Catholics. They can be reprehensible, as a group, in real life, and still, God has committed to this reprehensible group, the charism of infallibility when speaking about doctrines and morals. Rest assured that, even when your doctrines rely on mistranslations or just completely changing the meaning of Scriptures, they are completely correct, and everything else is wrong. Never mind that Jesus said, “by their fruit you will recognize them”. Never mind that Paul explicitly stated, “the overseer is to be above reproach” … and reminds Timothy, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, came into existence in 1989, just five years after national attention was first focused on sexual molestation of minors by Catholic clergy. The founder, Barbara Blaine, is a survivor of abuse. The national director, David Clohessy, is also a survivor. SNAP came into existence because the institutional church, i.e., the bishops, could not and would not do anything to help the victims of the priests they were supposed to supervise.

Realizing that they would have to help themselves, Barbara and the original members started what has become the oldest and most effective advocacy and help group for the countless victims of clergy abuse throughout the United States and Europe as well.

Over the years since its existence, SNAP has done what the institutional church should have done: It offered understanding, support, solace and above all, hope for anyone who called upon it. SNAP is not a sophisticated organization with a well-oiled and financed bureaucracy. It has always been focused on providing support for victims, giving them the encouragement to begin to heal from the devastation of abuse and giving them hope, knowing they are not alone….

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States. On the plane coming over, he spoke to the media and said, "The victims will need healing and help and assistance and reconciliation: This is a big pastoral engagement and I know that the bishops and the priests and all Catholic people in the United States will do whatever possible to help, to assist, to heal."

But official Rome speaks out of both sides of its mouth. What it gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.

The pope was wrong on that one. The bishops as a group have certainly not helped the victims heal. They have said a lot of nice things, but their response has been hypocritical. While they feign sorrow and regret, make promises and lay on church floors at organized penance services, they are also waging a war against the survivors of the molestation and betrayed trust that they themselves have brought about. They continue to spend millions of the laypeople's dollars to try and bury any attempts at bringing civil legislation to protect victims into the 21st century and, most reprehensible, they continue to try to pound victims into the ground in the courts. The bottom line is that as with everything else, the response to the clergy abuse nightmare has to be their way or no way.

The latest and most convincing evidence of the bishops' collective failure following the present pope's admonitions is the organized attack on SNAP. This attack is being carried out by lawyers who represent two priests accused of abuse, but it's not about justice for the priests. It's about destroying an organization that represents not only a source of profound embarrassment to the bishops but a serious threat to their continued duplicity. On one hand, the demand for SNAP's files is sending a horrific message to all victims of clergy abuse and to all who try to help and support them. The message is clear: Although individual bishops might be truly sympathetic, the bishops as a group simply don't "get it." Nothing has changed since 1985, when this sordid issue first came to widespread public awareness. They are only concerned for themselves, their image, their control over the laity and their money. The National Review Board had it right when they pinpointed this in their 2004 report.

This continues to be today’s news story. As a group, this Roman Catholic hierarchy is no less reprehensible now than it was in the lowest days of the pornocracy