Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dual-covenant theology

Culture warrior and Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro recently interviewed Bishop Barron:

Barron is the Fulton Sheen of his generation, although they have different skill sets. Barron is a smooth, smart, articulate, winsome evangelist and apologist for mainstream Catholic theology. Protestant apologists ignore him at their peril.

Barron is a teamplayer, a member of the hierarchy, so he refuses to criticize Pope Francis-either because he's onboard with Francis or because he'd be sacked if he became a public critic of Francis. As a result, he ducked some of Ben's questions when the answer would be impolitic. In that regard he sometimes sounds like a member of the cabinet on a Sunday morning talk show who deflects questions critical of the president. In general, though, it was a very impressive performance-especially for listeners unaware of the historical revisionism reflected in many of his theological answers.

1. Between about 45-56 min. he discusses the relationship between Judaism and modern Catholicism. And some of what he said between 16-20 min. feeds into that as well. In response to Ben's question about replacement theology/supersessionism, Barron says Catholic worship is unintelligible apart from the temple or Jewish worship. When Barron celebrates Mass, he dons the robs of a temple priest, with a mitre. There's an altar, incense, and sacrifice. So that, according to him, reflects the Jewish roots of Catholicism. However, that comparison raises some questions:

i) The heathen world had its own temples, priests, and sacrificial offerings. So does the Mass have its antecedents in Mosaic sacerdotalism-or is this a syncretistic version of pagan sacerdotalism?

ii) Even assuming it has Jewish antecedents, wouldn't most Jews regard the Catholic appropriation as an expropriation of Judaism? A usurpation of Judaism by putting a Catholic stamp on Jewish practice? Rebranding Judaism. Isn't that supersessionism through the backdoor? It still replaces Judaism with Catholicism.

iii) In addition, Barron equivocates over the meaning of "fulfillment". But that can mean either of two different things:

a) To abrogate

For instance, if I'm on a one-way road trip and I cross a bridge, I put the bridge behind me. I don't look back. It served its purpose. It has now outlived its usefulness to me. The bridge was just a temporary means to an end. It has no continuing value.

b) To perfect

For instance, some musical pieces build to a crescendo or climax. But this doesn't mean that once you reach the climax, you can dispense with the lead-up to the climax. It's not like after you hear the entire composition for the first time, you only listen to the final bar on repeated hearings. The climax only works in the context of the entire composition. Each time you need to listen to the music from start to finish. Likewise, the objective in reading a story isn't get to the end. If it's a good story, the entire story is enjoyable.

iv) Modern Catholicism has adopted dual-covenant theology, where the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant run on parallel tracks leading to the same destination. But even if the Mosaic covenant is essential for understanding the new covenant, that doesn't entail the permanence of the Mosaic covenant. That confounds the epistemological role of the Mosaic covenant with its ontological role. Like confounding the purpose of a bridge with the purpose of a roadmap.

2. Baron said that in many parts of Protestantism there's a desire to de-Judaize Christianity. We've overcome that and left that behind.

i) But as I noted, his Catholic alternative is a bait-n-switch.

ii) Protestant positions on the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant range along a continuum. For instance, Lutheranism and Anabaptism are closer to the discontinuity end of the spectrum while Anglicanism and Presbyterianism are closer to the continuity end of the spectrum. Dispensationalism reflects both ends of the spectrum.

Within modern Judaism itself, there's a spectrum of views, due in part to the question of Judaic identity in a post-temple world. Priesthood and sacrifice were central to OT Judaism and Second Temple Judaism. But the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD abolished that in practice, precipitating a Jewish identity crisis. To some degree that had a counterpart in the Babylonian exile, when priesthood and sacrifice were in abeyance. So Jews after 70 AD must also take the Mosaic covenant apart and isolate the essential elements. Different Jewish schools of thought give different answers.

iii) Speaking for myself, ancient Israel was two-sided: a political state as well as a religious state. On the one hand, many Mosaic laws are necessary for a political state. A political state requires a penal code. And I think some of its civil and criminal laws exemplify enduring moral principles.

On the other hand, the purity codes, priesthood and sacrificial system are keyed to Israel as a religious state. That side of Israel had a symbolic role that's abrogated under the new covenant.

3. Barron appealed to the Incarnation as the fusion of Israel with the church. The God of Israel meeting with his people. But that confuses metaphysical union and spiritual communion. The alienation between sinners and their God isn't metaphysical but moral. The question is how to restore fellowship between a holy God and sinners. That requires the cross, not the Incarnation-although the Incarnation is a necessary underpinning to the Cross.

4. Barron said the Logos made flesh is the divine mind/reason made flesh, and when I follow my conscience I'm following Christ. That builds on one false premise after another. It's quite dubious to construe the Logos in Jn 1 in Philonic categories. Rather, the narrator identifies the Son as the Creator God in Genesis. To deify conscience as the voice of Christ ("aboriginal vicar of Christ") in the soul is diabolical.

5. Ben asked him about the common distinction between Christianity as faith-based and Judaism as act-based. However, I think that's more of a dichotomy between OT Judaism and rabbinic Judaism. OT Judaism had a vertical dimension as well as a horizontal dimension. But rabbinic Judaism shears off the vertical dimension, reducing piety to law and social ethics. The role of God is primarily a presupposition for morality-in contrast to fellowship with God as the goal of life. In both OT and NT theism, life with the life-giving God lies at the center.


  1. A criticism I'd have for Barron's presentation is he kept rocking back and forth on his chair throughout the interview. That was mildly distracting, but maybe it's just me.

  2. A few years ago I read an article that said the Vatican and certain Jewish groups had come to an agreement that there should be no prostelytism of Jews. It seems to be clear that Muslims wants the same. Well, hopefully evangelical Protestantism will be getting stronger in this area.

  3. I listened to the part in question. I recall the late Charles Krauthammer who, on FOX after listening to Trump, saying "I haven't heard such a stream of consciousness since I stopped practicing psychiatry."

    But does Bishop Barron think that Jews (orthodox, secular, somewhere in the middle) are or aren't in the same boat as I, a nominal Lutheran as was I, etc.?

  4. Sorry for the grammar.

    Does he believe that the Jew is in need of Jesus just as much as the next guy?

    Since Barron believes that Hans urs Von Balthasar's belief in optimist universalism is the teaching of the Catholic Church, how can he give a Jew, Muslim, lapsed Catholic, etc. the Good News which, for better or for worse, means salvation from the fires of Hell.

  5. Here is a catholic answers "apologist" claim that Barron doesn't believe what he said (starts at around 49 mins, before the time stamp on the question).