Saturday, January 13, 2018

Moral objections to the OT

The OT and Jesus

Diversity visa lottery

Buried in the feigned outrage over Trump's alleged comments, here's the substantive underlying issue:

"Majestic in simplicity"

William Cunningham was a great theologian. Always worth reading. So it's useful to examine his case for the regulative principle of worship (RPW). 

With regard to the Scripture evidence of the truth of the principle, we do not allege that it is very direct, explicit, and overwhelming.

That's a striking admission, although he doesn't regard it as a damaging concession for his position. 

The principle is in a sense a very wide and sweeping one. But it is purely prohibitory or exclusive; and the practical effect of it, if it were fully carried out, would just be to leave the Church in the condition in which it was left by the apostles, in so far as we have any means of information — a result, surely, which need not be very alarming, except to those who think that they themselves have very superior powers for improving and adorning the Church by their inventions...There is no force in the presumption, that, because so little in regard to the externals of the Church is fixed by Scriptural authority, therefore much was left to be regulated by human wisdom, as experience might suggest or as the varying condition of the Church might seem to require. For, on the contrary, every view suggested by Scripture of Christianity and the Church, indicates that Christ intended His Church to remain permanently in the condition of simplicity as to outward arrangements, in which His apostles were guided to leave it.

That's an interesting claim, but quite general. 1C Christians usually worshiped in private homes. Sometimes out of doors or in the Temple precincts. Does this mean we need to reproduce the socioeconomic conditions of the 1C church even when we have opportunities to do something more? 

For instance, private homes aren't designed for public worship, so if you construct a separate building that's specifically for worship, the question naturally arises, how should that be designed? Surely the design will differ in many respects from a private home. Cunningham himself worshipped in formal church buildings, did he not?–which departs from the condition of NT churches (e.g. Roman domus). Now he may say that's incidental, but that's where what seems to be a clear-cut principle in the abstract affords precious little guidance in practice.  

Of the innumerable inventions of men introduced into the government and worship of the Church, without any warrant from Scripture, but professedly as being indicated by the wisdom of experience, or by the Christian consciousness of a particular age or country, to be fitted to promote the great ends of the Church, not one can with any plausibility be shown to have had a tendency to contribute, or to have in fact contributed, to the end contemplated.

i) That depends in part on how we define Scriptural warrant. For instance, proponents of the RPW appeal to approved example. Likewise, is "Scriptural warrant" confined to NT worship? What about examples of OT worship? For instance, proponents of the RPW make psalm-singing a central component of worship, yet that's a carryover from OT worship. 

ii) What about edification as a goal of worship? Proponents of the RPW sound as though worship ought to be dutiful rather than enjoyable. But that's a false dichotomy. 

It is no doubt very gratifying to the pride of men to think that they, in the exercise of their wisdom, brought to bear upon the experience of the past history of the Church, or (to accommodate our statement to the prevalent views and phraseology of the present day) in the exercise of their own Christian consciousness, their own spiritual tact and discernment, can introduce improvements upon the nakedness and simplicity of the Church as it was left by the apostles. Perhaps the best mode of dealing with such persons, is to call upon them to exemplify their own general principle, by producing specific instances from among the innumerable innovations that have been introduced into the Church in past ages, by which they are prepared to maintain that the interests of religion have been benefited...We find plainly enough indicated in Scripture a great comprehensive principle, suited to the dignity and importance of the great subject to which it relates, the right administration of the Church of Christ — a principle ‘majestic in its own simplicity’. 

i) Depends on what is meant by "innovations". For instance, OT temple worship is very artistic. A strong audiovisual component. That includes architectural excellence. An impressive, tasteful sanctuary. That includes musical excellence. A professional choir with musical accompaniment. In addition, the temple and tabernacle were studded with Edenic and heavenly symbolism. Likewise, the Psalter has literary excellence. 

And in the NT we also have scenes of heavenly worship in Revelation. A feast for eyes and ears. So we have exemplars of public worship in both Testaments where there's a strong aesthetic component, as well as rich religious symbolism. And it's not distinguished by "naked simplicity".

ii) 2000 years of church history has produced aesthetic counterparts to those exemplars in church art, architecture, and music. These are variations on general aesthetic and emblematic principles we find in Scripture. 

iii) In addition, it's not as if worship must be aesthetically uniform. There's a place for plain, spare worship as well as something more elaborate. 

no limitation can be put to them unless the principle we maintain be adopted

i) What about artistic standards? What about edification? What about special applications of general principles? 

ii) Truth is another criterion. For instance, many customs in Roman Catholic worship (to take one example) are based on false theology. We can prune the effects by pruning the noxious theology that produces poison fruit (e.g. monstrance, Lady chapel). 

iii) Or take the role of light as a central metaphor in Scripture. Candlelight at night and stained-glass in daytime exemplify that metaphor.  

Because this principle has been often brought out in connection with the discussion of matters which, viewed in themselves, are very unimportant — such as rites and ceremonies, vestments and organs, crossings, kneelings, bowings, and other such ineptiae...

i) That depends on the examples, which need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Are these all of a kind? It's not as if all these traditions are logically interrelated, so that if you accept organs, that entails commitment to vestments or genuflections.  

ii) There's nothing wrong with beauty in worship. Musical, visual, and literary beauty. That goes back to OT worship. 

Many people, including many Christians, are strongly drawn to natural (as well as artistic) beauty. Scripture itself extols the natural world as a manifestation of God's greatness. Not to mention the Solomonic temple. Or descriptions of paradise and the heavenly temple in Revelation. 

It's a problem when Puritans dichotomize human experience so that we find beauty outside the church rather than inside the church. So that we associate church with drab effortful duty. 

Moreover, Christians raised in aesthetic deprivation can be suckers for beauty. When exposed to a Gothic cathedral or fine church music for the first time, they may become instant converts to that denomination or theological tradition, without regard to doctrinal soundless. By contrast, if Christians are already used to aesthetic excellence, they were never confronted with that false dilemma. 

iii) I'd add that there's a difference between beauty and ostentation. St. Peter's Basilica and the Asam Church (to take two examples) are vainglorious. Compare that to Sainte-Chapelle or King's College Chapel. 

Preparing for the Tough Times

Friday, January 12, 2018

Biblical fallibilists

A stock objection to biblical inerrancy is that inerrantists supposedly operate with a deductive, a priori theory of inspiration rather than an inductive approach that takes its cue from the phenomena.

Although that's a straw man, I'd point out that in many cases the situation is just the reverse. There are roughly two kinds of biblical fallibilists. Some reject inerrancy because they think Scripture is demonstrably wrong in a factual sense (e.g. history, science, contradictions).

However, there are other biblical fallibilists who reject inerrancy on philosophical grounds. Their objections are ethical. They think Scripture depicts God in ways unfitting for a morally perfect being. It may be "abhorrent" divine commands, the doctrine of hell, "homophobia", &c. 

For them, Scripture is erroneous because it runs counter to their moral intuitions. Ironically, their opposition to plenary inspiration is deductive and a priori. The mirror image of what some critics impute to inerrantists.  

Is open theism fibbing?

Can the God of open theism sincerely promise to save anyone? Since he doesn't know what free agents will do, a Christian could go to heaven, then lose his salvation. Eternity is a long time. If the saints have libertarian freedom, what's to prevent them from committing apostasy in heaven? According to freewill theism, Christians can lose their salvation in this life, and the lifespan of human mortals is dwarfed by eternity. If there's always an element of contingency, if there's always the possibility of falling, and you combine a possibility with infinite time, infinite opportunity, then is it not inevitable that the agent will sometimes choose to go one way rather than another? But in that event, since the open theist God can't know if the saints will persevere, how can he honestly promise everlasting life? 


I think there's some confusion on what is meant by "supersessionism", so I'm going to quote an exposition. Although the scholar in question clearly has a theological bias, my point in quoting him is not to take a position but to define the concept(s). Like other theological paradigms (e.g. Calvinism, Lutheranism, amillennialism), supersessionism is a wholesale reading strategy. Its appeal lies in the integrative power. But a corollary danger is to marginalize or delegitimate whatever can't be assimilated into the interpretive paradigm. 

The standard model is supersessionist simply by virtue of the story that it tells. According to the standard model, Israel and the church both depend exclusively upon Christ for their theological significance. But Israel corresponds to Christ in a merely prefigurative and carnal way, whereas the church corresponds to Jesus Christ in a definitive and spiritual way. Hence Christ's advent brings about the obsolescence of carnal Israel and inaugurates the age of the spiritual church. Everything that characterized the economy of salvation in its Israelite form becomes obsolete and is replaced by its ecclesial equivalent. The written law of Moses is replaced by the spiritual law of Christ, circumcision by baptism, natural descent by faith as criterion of membership in the people of God, and so forth. As a result, carnal Israel becomes obsolete. This understanding of supersessionism can be called economic because the ultimate obsolescence of carnal Israel is an essential feature of God's one overarching economy of redemption for the world. 

Economic supersessionism is often accompanied by a complementary narrative viewpoint that can be called punitive supersessionism. According to punitive supersessionism, God abrogates God's covenant with Israel (which is already in principle outmoded) on account of Israel's rejection of Christ and the gospel. Because the Jews obstinately reject God's action in Christ, God in turn angrily rejects and punishes the Jews. 

While economic supersessionism need not be overtly hostile toward the Jewish people, it logically entails the ontological, historical, and moral obsolescence of Israel's existence after Christ…Furthermore, economic supersessionism shapes the way Christians read great expanses of the biblical story (from Abraham to Christ and Pentecost), and is therefore deeply interwoven with the narrative and conceptual fabric of the standard model as a whole. 

In addition to these two explicit doctrinal perspectives, the standard model is also supersessionist in a structural sense, that is, by virtue of the manner in which it construes the narrative unity of the Christian Bible as a whole. The standard model is structurally supersessionist because it unifies the Christian canon in a manner that renders the Hebrew Scriptures largely indecisive for shaping conclusions about how God's purposes engage creation in universal and enduring ways. 

The standard canonical narrative turns on four key episodes: God's intention to consummate the fist parents whom God has created, the fall, Christ's incarnation and the inauguration of the church, and final consummation. These four episodes play a uniquely important role in the standard model because together they constitute the model's basic plot or storyline. They relate how God's works as Consummator and as Redeemer engage human creation in ways that have universal and lasting significance. In this way, the four episodes determine the basic narrative and conceptual structure of the standard model as a whole. 

First, the foreground portrays God's engagement with human creation in cosmic and universal terms. Christ figures in the story as the incarnation of the eternal Logos, humankind appears as descendants of the first parents and possessors of a common human nature, and so on. Second, the foreground completely neglects the Hebrew Scriptures, with the exception of Gen 1-3! The story tells how God engaged Adam and Eve as Consummator and how God's initial consummating plan was almost immediately disrupted by the fall. The foreground story then leaps immediately to the Apostolic Witness interpreted as God's deliverance of humankind from the fall through Jesus Christ. So conceived, God's purposes as Consummator and Redeemer engage human creation in a manner that simply outflank the greater part of the Hebrew Scriptures and, above all, their witness to God's history with the people of Israel.

What then becomes of the center of the Hebrew Scriptures, namely, the God of Israel's history with the Israel of God? Not surprisingly, it recedes into what I will call the background of the standard canonical narrative…God's history with Israel does not form an indispensable narrative element of either God's initial work as Consumator or God's work as Redeemer in its definitive form. Bracketed between these two decisive modes of God's engagement with creation, Israel's history is portrayed as nothing more than the economy of redemption in prefigurative form. So construed, Israel's story contributes little or nothing to understanding how God's consummating and redemptive purposes engage human creation in universal and enduring ways. Indeed, the background can be completely omitted from an account of Christian faith without thereby disturbing the overarching logic of elevation history. R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Augsburg Fortress), 29-32.

Demythologizing angels and demons

1. Here's a cautionary tale of what happens when inerrancy is denied, then taken to a logical conclusion:

It's like tugging on a loose thread of a knitted garment. The entire garment begins to unravel. 

2. I've critiqued the claim that Scripture operates with a three-story cosmography on numerous occasions, so I won't repeat myself here.

3. But beyond the general claim is the specific contention regarding angels and demons. Oddly enough, Rauser doesn't get around to explaining how biblical angels and demons are enmeshed in a three-story cosmography. 

I suspect many professing Christians visualize angels coming down from heaven or going up to heaven, like Mercury flying down from Mt. Olympus. Yet the Bible rarely uses that imagery. 

i) There are some examples in Revelation, but that's visionary material, and surreal things happen in visions. 

ii) Jn 1:51 is suggestive, but poetic.

iii) There's "Jacob's ladder" (Gen 28), but that's a dream. 

iii) Judges 13:20 has the angel merging with fire and rising with the flames. However, flames don't ordinarily rise all the way to the sky. Moreover, the depiction seems to suggest the angel transmuting into flame. 

iv) In Scripture, angels come from more than one direction (e.g. Judges 2:1; Rev 7:2).

v) In general, Scripture simply describes angels "appearing", "coming", or being "sent". 

vi) Perhaps the most explicit example in historical narrative is Mt 28:2. However, that's not a direct, eyewitness description, since the narrator wasn't present to see it happen. He may have gotten his information from one of the sentinels. So it may well be a stock idiom to paraphrase what he was told. 

vii) Finally, Rauser trots out the case of the demoniac, yet that has nothing to do with a three-story cosmography. Moreover, Rauser assumes that possession can't mimic symptoms of epilepsy. Yet cases of possession are hardly confined to ancient literary texts. There are well-documented examples by medical professionals. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Perspectives on inspiration

How we model inspiration depends on other aspects of our theology. Let's consider a Reformed paradigm:

Calvinism affirms predestination and meticulous providence. Everything happens because God planned it to happen that way. But there are different ways in which God can implement his plan. God orchestrates events to create apostles, prophets, and Bible writers. Providential preparation includes their social conditioning and formative influences. 

God operate in the human subconscious (e.g. Isa 10:5-11) as well as physical events. God doesn't bypass the personality of a prophet or Bible writer, for he created their personality. God is like a luthier and violinist all in one. He makes the instrument, then plays it (so to speak). It has the properties he gave it.

Projecting contradictions

An exchange I had on Facebook:

An example of this is the case of Jesus' anointing at Bethany. John clearly intends to communicate that it took place 6 days before Passover (John 12), whereas Mark clearly intends to communicate that it took place 2 days before the Passover (Mark 14). It is obviously the same event being described. I haven't to-date conceived of a way to harmonize those texts. So here are the options: (1) state that either John or Mark deliberately changed the day of the anointing for some purpose or other (a Licona-style method of harmonization) OR (2) entertain the idea that perhaps this is best explained by variation in eyewitness memory. Personally I opt for the second option. I think the gospel authors intended to communicate true history and that they are substantially trustworthy. I don't think they deliberately changed things or falsified episodes to suit an agenda.

i) I don't think commentators are very helpful on this example. 

ii) I think the impression of a chronological contradiction in this case (and some others) exists in the reader's mind rather than the text. Readers, especially modern readers, bring to the text an unspoken preconception of how books are written. In our experience, an author sits at a table or desk, by himself, and writes continuously until he's completed a section, or until he's tired of writing, or until he must get up to do something else. It's a methodical and solitary process. 

But I think that's an anachronistic model of ancient writing. I doubt we should visualize the Gospel authors seated at a desk, by themselves, with pen in hand, committing their memories or "sources" to parchment.

Rather, I suspect it was more of a social occasion, like story-telling at a family reunion. Assuming traditional authorship, John was present, so his account is based on his own recollection. 

According to Acts 12:12, Mark was a native of Jerusalem, so it's possible that he was present at the meal. Or else he may have interviewed somebody who was present. Since his home was one of the founding house-churches in Jerusalem, he had access to many eyewitnesses to the public ministry of Christ. 

iii) Mark doesn't actually say the anointing was 2 days before the Passover. Rather, there's a break between 14:1-2 and 3-9. The anointing is a different topic than 1-2. 

Suppose Mark was present at the dinner. Suppose Mark is dictating his Gospel to a scribe. This could well be a social gathering where other Christians are present. 

He could begin dictating "holy week" events from memory, then someone asks him a question, which gets him onto the subject of 3-9, then he resumes with 10ff. 

That kind of thing happens in oral history. Consider family get-togethers where younger relatives are questioning their grandmother or grandfather about events in their life.

It isn't linear. Their grandmother will begin talking about something from the past, then she may interject something else that happened before then. It isn't sequential. Whatever comes to mind. 

Or they may begin talking about something, and a younger relative will ask them a question, which leads to a digression. 

Or suppose Mark wasn't at the dinner. Suppose Mark is the scribe, and he's questioning one of the disciples who was there.

Again, though, consider all the TV interviews you've seen in which the interviewer is questioning a guest about events in his life. Consider how it skips about from one thing to another in no particular order. Free association, where a statement about one thing leads to a question about something else.

If that was then edited, it might leave out the questions, but it would still be somewhat jumpy.

Keep in mind, too, that handwritten MSS aren't like word processors where you an erase something or rearrange paragraphs. 

This is part of what makes it maddening for modern readers to read Puritans like John Owen. So many digressions. That's because those books weren't written on computer. They wrote down whatever they were thinking about at the moment. It isn't neatly arranged. 

I think modern readers perceive chronological contradictions in the Gospels because we imagine the process is more literary and controlled than it actually was. But assuming traditional authorship, the Gospels are transcribed oral histories. That's not planned out and structured in the way a modern historian writes. 

Walking in twilight

Waiting is an essential feature of Christian faith. But there are different kinds of waiting. There's waiting in despair. That's epitomized by Ps 88. Despite the sense of utter abandonment, he reaches out to God, not because he has any expectation that God will respond, but because God is the only one who can change the situation. A prayer of bottomless desperation. 

Until the moment of death, waiting is unavoidable because something is always bound to happen next, for better or worse. Time can feel like a trap. There's always another day to get through. You have no choice but to wait it out.  

The psalmist is walking in twilight–but what kind? There's two kinds of twilight: dawn and dusk. One faces into the rising sun while the other faces into the night. Is it the twilight before sunup or the twilight before sundown? Is he walking into the night or walking into the light? Is the darkness lifting or descending? He can't tell. That's his dilemma. What awaits him? 

Sometimes Christians are walking in twilight. Is the worst behind them or ahead of them? Is it night until they die? Or is sunrise just over the hill?

There's another kind of waiting. Take a long journey home on foot. Home lies just beyond a mountain range. When he sets out, a pilgrim has no idea how many miles the journey will be. For weeks and months, as far as the eye can see, the end is out of sight.

But one day, at long last, the mountain range comes into view. Home lies on the other side, through a mountain pass. 

That transforms the pilgrim's beleaguered mood. Now the end is finally in sight. 

Yet mountains, because they're so huge, seem closer than they really are. Even though the weary pilgrim can see the goal, he still doesn't know how long it will take to arrive at his destination. Due to the optical illusion, the distance may be far greater than appears to be the case. You can walk and walk towards a mountain range yet not seem to be getting any nearer. 

Yet it's a different kind of waiting, once the end comes into view. Waiting in hope, with mounting anticipation. 

The Jewish question

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Rom 2:28-29).

This is a prooftext for supersessionism. Here's one example:

My thesis is that the reference in Rom 11:26 to “all Israel” should be interpreted as a Pauline redefinition of the concept “Israel” in light of the great mystery that has been revealed in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Now part of Paul’s refutation of this sadly mistaken assurance involves a redefinition of the value of circumcision. He states, at the end of chapter two: “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” In fact, Paul waxes so bold as to ask a most radical question: “If therefore the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be reckoned as circumcision?” (v. 26). 

Do you see what Paul is doing here? He is upsetting traditional Jewish theology by asserting that it is not circumcision or membership in the community of Israel that determines salvation but law-keeping. “Not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified” (v. 12). If so, then it is theoretically possible that many Jews will be condemned and many Gentiles saved. A new criterion is being introduced to define those who are the legitimate heirs of the Abrahamic promises. A new definition of Israel is emerging.

I'll use that as a foil. There are some basic problems with saying Paul has redefined "Israel". 

i) One problem is the "Jewish question". Is God faithful to the promises he made to the patriarchs (e.g. Rom 3:4; 11:2)? If the recipient of a promise can be "redefined", after the fact, then in what respect has God made good on his promises? If God can swap out the original referent and swap in another referent, then the promise is equivocal and vacuous, since there's no continuity between promise and fulfillment. Transferring the promise from one party to another is a broken promise, is it not? I made you a promise, but I've kept my promise by doing that for someone else! Lee might say gentiles were always included in the promise to Abraham, but in that event, where's the "redefinition"? 

ii) There's nothing innovative about Paul's distinction. Distinguishing literal/physical from figurative/spiritual circumcision (or equivalent metaphors) goes straight back to the Law (Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; 30:6) and the prophets (Jer 4:4; 9:24-25; 31:33; Ezk 36:26-27; 44:7). 

Perhaps, though, what Lee means by "traditional" is Second Temple theology rather than OT theology. 

iii) Scholars often use the term "ethnic Israel" and "ethnic Jew," but contextually, a more accurate term might be "genealogical Jew," in the sense of a lineal descendent of Abraham. 

iv) Is Paul bifurcating Jewishness into two separate kinds of Jews? Rather than a stark dichotomy, Paul's contrast may concern two overlapping categories, where "inward" Jews are a subset of "outward' Jews". That involves an asymmetrical relation: while all "inward" Jews are "outward" Jews, not all "outward" Jews are "inward" Jews. Both groups are genealogical Jews. Both groups are Jews on the outside. That's the general category. But within that larger class are Jews on the inside. If so, that preserves the continuity of the promise inasmuch as faith an OT criterion no less than a NT criterion. 

v) But it doesn't eliminate all possible ambiguity. What's the status of gentile converts to Judaism? Would Paul classify them as Jews? What about intermarriage? If marriage between a Jew and a gentile issues in offspring who subscribe to Judaism, would Paul classify that generation as Jewish?

vi) A related ambiguity is the fact that the 1C marks a transitional phase. Before the advent of Jesus, a messianic Jew wasn't a Christian in particular, since he didn't know that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised messiah. But after the advent of Christ, to be a messianic Jew, from a Pauline perspective (and NT writers generally) is to be a Jewish believer in Jesus. So what qualifies one to be an "inward" Jew in OT and Intertestamental times is insufficient vis-a-vis what qualifies one to be an "inward" Jew in Christian times. Paul was living and writing in that transitional phase. 

Apropos (v-vi), there remain some ambiguities regarding Jewish identity, as Paul defines it. Can we tie up the loose ends? Are there borderline cases?  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ministering in Asian-American Cultures

The New Christian Zionism

How To Argue For Sola Scriptura

Something I recently wrote in response to a Facebook message:

In disputes over sola scriptura like the one you're referring to, it's helpful to start by considering the larger context. That way, we have a better idea of what's at stake, what our priorities should be, and so forth.

The two biggest critics of sola scriptura within professing Christianity are Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Given the lack of evidence for those groups and the evidence we have against their claims (, their authority structures aren't the most reasonable alternatives to sola scriptura. If we were to reject sola scriptura, it wouldn't make sense to become Catholic or Orthodox. Rather, the most reasonable alternative to sola scriptura would be to add material to scripture that's of a significantly different nature than what Catholicism and Orthodoxy add to scripture. If we were to conclude that some of the extrabiblical traditions of Papias and Irenaeus should be added to scripture, for example, that wouldn't be equivalent to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. If sola scriptura is false, the alternative would be far closer to Protestantism than to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Debates over sola scriptura are often framed in terms of choosing between Protestantism, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. But those aren't the only choices. And the most plausible alternatives to sola scriptura are much closer to Protestantism than they are to the two alternatives to Protestantism that are most often discussed. While there's a lot at stake in choosing between Protestantism and Catholicism, there wouldn't be so much at stake in choosing between Protestantism and a belief system in which all that's added to scripture is something like an extrabiblical tradition of Papias concerning premillennialism. We should keep in mind that accepting a Christian rule of faith that adds material to scripture isn't equivalent to accepting Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Having said that, the primary question here isn't what our rule of faith should have been in early church history, if we had been alive then. Rather, the central question is what our rule of faith should be today. The passage you cited from Robert Sungenis refers to how the meaning of scripture doesn't change over time. But the application does change. The fact that the Corinthians possessed the letter Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 5:9 doesn't prove that we possess it today. The fact that the Thessalonians heard Paul teach orally doesn't prove that we've heard Paul teach orally today.

People who were alive in Tertullian's day and shortly afterward would have had not only a canon of Tertullian's writings, but also would have heard Tertullian speak in some cases, would have had access to some reliable oral traditions about what Tertullian said, etc. But those of us who are alive today don't have access to all that people had access to in those earlier contexts. Few, if any, people today would go beyond the writings of Tertullian that are extant. The fact that people who lived around Tertullian's time had heard him speak and had reliable oral traditions about what he'd said doesn't prove that we today have those resources. We don't. What I'm saying about Tertullian is applicable to other historical figures as well. That includes Biblical figures, like Jesus and the apostles.

I don't think the Bible directly, explicitly teaches sola scriptura. Rather, I think sola scriptura is an implication of Biblical teaching. We limit ourselves to scripture for reasons similar to why we limit ourselves to the extant writings of Tertullian and other historical figures. I've discussed some of the evidence leading to the conclusion of sola scriptura at Triablogue. For example:

I don't think 2 Timothy 3:15-17 is saying that Timothy or anybody else at that time should have abided by sola scriptura. Rather, when we combine 2 Timothy 3 with what other sources tell us about scripture and what we know about other factors involved (e.g., ecclesiology), we arrive at the conclusion of sola scriptura. The fact that oral apostolic teaching, reliable oral traditions of what Jesus taught, and such existed at the time of 2 Timothy 3 doesn't tell us whether we have access to that material today. Similarly, Adam and Eve didn't have scripture, Abraham didn't have the Catholic magisterium, we today don't possess the letter Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 5:9, etc. There's no reason to think the rule of faith must be or has been the same throughout history or throughout church history in particular.

Since people often confuse categories when discussing these issues, keep in mind that sola scriptura is about how we should view scripture in a particular context. The sola applies in that context, not others. The fact that scripture should be alone in one context doesn't mean that it should be alone elsewhere. Sola scriptura is about the content of our rule of faith. It doesn't follow that if we use means outside of scripture to identify our rule of faith, interpret it, apply it, argue for it, etc., then we've violated sola scriptura. What the content of our rule of faith should be is a distinct issue from how we identify that rule, interpret it, and so on.

Puritan worship

This post will be an extensive analysis of the regulative principle of worship (RPW). I'm going to comment on two articles by William Young, as well as the Westminster Directory of Worship (i.e. The Directory for the Publick Worship of God). I've singled out Young because he's an exceptionally capable proponent of the position in question. When assessing a position, we should consider the best case for that position. 

I'm going to comment on the Westminster Directory of Worship (WDW) because it provides a classic, concrete illustration of the how the RPW was traditionally understood and implemented. The way this post is organized is that I will begin with some definitions, then compare them to the WDW, then go back to assess a more detailed exposition and defense of the RPW. Before doing that I'll make a few preliminary observations:

i) To my knowledge, the RPW was formulated in reaction to Anglican and Roman Catholic modes of worship. It was a root-and-branch solution. Because Catholic worship was so thoroughly corrupt, it was necessary to start from scratch. I don't object to that.

In the case of Anglicanism, I think that was more political than theological. The English crown attempted to subjugate the Scotland through religious uniformity. An expression of colonialism. The Scots rightly rebelled against that imperious imposition. 

ii) I've attended a wide variety of churches over the years. Since Anglicanism is one of Young's targets, I'll discuss that to illustrate. On occasions when I've attended Anglican services, I notice certain customs. Some parishioners, as well as clergy, make the sign of the cross. I don't think that's intrinsically wrong. But it can easily become mechanical or superstitious. 

After communion, some parishioners dip their fingers in the baptismal font ("holy water") and make the sign of the cross. That's rank superstition.

In addition, some parishioners, as well as clergy, genuflect before the altar. That's superstitious, but not rank superstition. Rather, that's based on belief in the real presence and reservation of the Host. I don't do any of these things. 

When I happened to be in town, I attended St. John's Shaughnessy, where J. I. Packer was a member. One time the communion hymn was Pange Lingua by Thomas Aquinas. A Corpus Christi hymn. Propaganda for Transubstantiation. Since I don't subscribe to that dogma, I didn't sing along. 

My point is that worship is that it's quite possible to be selective in one's participation. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The end is at hand!

So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates (Mt 24:33).  
The end of all things is at hand (1 Pet 4:7).

1. The Bible uses variations on this eschatological imagery. For modern readers, ir creates the impression that the Bible mispredicted the future. Let's consider that.

Both passages use metaphors. There are different kinds of metaphors. Let's consider three. 

i) Dead metaphors

That's a word or phrase which no longer evokes an image in the reader's mind. That can happen through popular repetition or because the origin of the metaphor has been forgotten. 

ii) Temporal metaphors

As a temporal metaphor, the nearness of the end denotes distance in time. It means time is running out (itself a metaphor!). The wait is almost over. 

In that sense, the end is inevitable. There's no stopping it. There's less and less time until there's no more time before the denouement. Like a countdown. 

iii) Spatial metaphors

A spatial metaphor can have temporal connotations. But let's consider a spatial metaphor in its own right. As a spatial metaphor, the nearness of the end denotes distance in space. For instance, a journey in which a traveler is approaching his destination. 

2. Sometimes these coincide. Suppose my destination is an hour's drive from the point of origin. Suppose my destination is 50 miles from the point of origin. Halfway through the journey, I now have half as much distance to cover, and half the time remaining. 

3. But sometimes these come apart. As a temporal metaphor, you keep on getting closer until you run out of time. But as a spatial metaphor, you may come near without closing the gap. As a spatial metaphor, moreover, nearness is repeatable. 

Take orbital motion, like periodic comets. Sometimes it's closer to earth, sometimes further away. It has a nearest point, and a farthest point (in relation to earth). Unlike linear motion, it doesn't get closer and closer until it reaches the end. Rather, it circles back around.

4. Mt 24:33 is an extended metaphor rather than a dead metaphor. The reader should try to visualize the implicit imagery. It suggests a traveler or conqueror approaching a fortified city. 

On the face of it, this is a spatial metaphor, although it might have temporal connotations. Unlike "end is near" temporal metaphors, where that's bound to happen, in exponentially decreasing increments, "end is near" spatial metaphors are not necessarily inevitable or unrepeatable. 

I already mentioned periodic comets, but let's take some other examples. I once rode a bus home across a bridge. However, after the driver got across the bridge, and let some passengers off that the bus stop, he made a wrong turn by taking the exit back onto the bridge. Instead of crossing the bridge once, we had to cross it three times! We were closer to home, then further away, then closer to home, as he circled back to rectify his mistake.

I once saw a special about the USS Enterprise. Not Star Trek but the aircraft carrier. In one episode, the admiral had his pilots practice landing in choppy seas. That makes for dangerous landing conditions because the deck is bobbing up and down. If you try to land when the stern is on the way down, you may crash into the deck, but if you try to land when the stern is on the way up, you may slam into the back of the carrier. Not surprisingly, none of the pilots tried to land the first time around. They'd come in close to gauge the conditions, then come back around until the angle of the deck was level enough with the jet to risk landing. Several times they were almost at the point of landing before they pulled away to try again. Timing is everything. There's no margin for error. 

Or take Westerns in which the good guy is pursuing the bad guy on horseback. The hero wants to get positioned to jump from his horse onto the villain's horse. But of course the villain doesn't want him on his back, so he tries to pull away. Sometimes the horses are closer together, sometimes further apart. The trick is when to make the jump. If you don't to it just right, you fall off your horse. Fall between the galloping horses. 

Or take a river you can cross during the dry season which is impassable during snowmelt. 

5. As a spatial metaphor, end-is-near imagery may suggest an opportunity. It might turn into a lost opportunity, but sometimes you get a second chance.

Take an army marching to a fortified city. How will the city respond? Will the army lay siege until the city surrenders? Will the city be able to repel the invader? Will the city pay tribute? 

6. A common theme in Scripture is threatened judgment. "Repent or else!" 

In some cases, judgment is not inevitable. Indeed, the purpose of the warning is to give sinners an opportunity to repent. 

Moreover, this is a cyclical process in Bible history and church history. Even if one nation or generation blows the opportunity, another nation or generation may take advantage of the opportunity. Even if that's a missed opportunity for one individual, the same opportunity may come back around for another individual. 

7. It's possible to overinterpret metaphors. Conversely, it's possible to pay insufficient attention to metaphors. My point is that I think we should make allowance for different connotations, depending on whether the metaphor is temporal or spatial (in the aforementioned examples). 

In all it affirms

Let's begin with some standard definitions of biblical inerrancy:

Nevertheless the historical faith of the Church has always been, that all the affirmations of Scripture of all kinds, whether of spiritual doctrine or duty, or of physical or historical fact, or of psychological or philosophical principle, are without any error, when the ipsissima verba of the original autographs are ascertained and interpreted in their natural and intended sense. There is a vast difference between exactness of statement, which includes an exhaustive rendering of details, an absolute literalness, which the Scriptures never profess, and accuracy, on the other hand, which secures a correct statement of facts or principles intended to be affirmed. It is this accuracy and this alone, as distinct from exactness, which the Church doctrine maintains of every affirmation in the original text of Scripture without exception. Every statement accurately corresponds to truth just as far forth as affirmed.

Inerrancy will then mean that at no point in what was originally given were the biblical writers allowed to make statements or endorse viewpoints which are not in conformity with objective truth. This applies at any level at which they make pronouncements (Roger Nicole). 

Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences (Paul Feinberg).

Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises (Chicago Statement on Inerrancy).

There are some problems with these definitions. Or perhaps I should say there are some limitations to these definitions:

i) Three of the four definitions include a key caveat: Scripture is true or inerrant in what it affirms. The reason for that qualification is indicated in the Hodge/Warfield article. Even when Scripture employs hyperbole or approximations, it is still true because the Bible writer didn't intend to be more precise. For instance, round numbers would be false if the author intended to be exact, but he didn't. It is true in regard to what he was aiming for. 

ii) In some respects that's a useful caveat, but not without problems or ambiguities. Does a Bible writer affirm (i.e. intend) all the logical implications of his statements? Bible writers can only intend what they consciously will, but Bible writers aren't aware of all the logical implications of their statements. In that sense, they do not and cannot affirm everything that their statements entail. 

But that qualification would have the ironic consequence that while whatever the Bible affirms is true, the logical implications of Biblical statements may be fallible and mistaken! Yet that's an unwittingly subversive definition of inerrancy. 

By the same token, Micah didn't affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. He didn't know who the Messiah would be. He knew some things about the Messiah, but he did not and could not intend for them to be about Jesus in particular, since he was ignorant of Jesus. 

It seems to follow from the caveat that Micah's messianic oracle might be fallible and erroneous in reference to Jesus. But once again, that definition sabotages the purpose of the definition! 

iii) This goes to another ambiguity in the definitions. What's the relationship between the Bible and Bible writers? Strictly speaking, a writing does not and cannot intend anything. Only a writer can intend something. Intent is a psychological state. 

On the other hand, a writing can imply something. So we might say Bible writers are inerrant in whatever they intend while the Bible is inerrant in whatever it implies. A distinction between what the prophet Micah intends and what the prophecy of Micah entails. And these are complementary.

BTW, when I say "intend", I don't mean that in terms of what a prophet was planning to say or planning to write, but what he meant to express by his actual words. 

Sometimes there's a gap between intent and performance, where an agent was planning to do something, but failed to realize his objective. But I'm not separating intent from performance.

iv) To say that a Bible writer didn't affirm all the logical implications of his statements, or that a Bible writer didn't affirm future referents of his oracles, doesn't mean he disaffirms their referents or entailments. His intentions are not at variance with the implications or outcomes. 

v) Another ambiguity concerns the truth-bearers of inerrancy, or the truth-bearers of what the Bible "affirms". The Bible contains different kinds of statements. Assertions, denials, questions, commands, prohibitions. Strictly speaking, truth or falsity is a property of propositions. 

But consider that restriction in regard to nonpropositional statements in Scripture. Take the binding of Isaac, which is a command. Or prescriptions and proscriptions in the Mosaic law. Or God interrogating Adam and Eve in the Garden. Technically, that falls outside the purview of the definition. 

Questions per se don't affirm or deny anything. Commands and prohibitions don't affirm or deny anything. Does this mean that since the genre of nonpropositional statements has no truth-value, an inerrantist needn't credit them? 

vi) A final omission is a failure to define "truth". Insofar as Scripture is propositional revelation, that might select for the coherence theory of truth:  

A coherence theory of truth states that the truth of any (true) proposition consists in its coherence with some specified set of propositions. The coherence theory differs from its principal competitor, the correspondence theory of truth, in two essential respects. The competing theories give conflicting accounts of the relation that propositions bear to their truth conditions. (In this article, ‘proposition’ is not used in any technical sense. It simply refers to the bearers of truth values, whatever they may be.) According to one, the relation is coherence, according to the other, it is correspondence. The two theories also give conflicting accounts of truth conditions. According to the coherence theory, the truth conditions of propositions consist in other propositions. The correspondence theory, in contrast, states that the truth conditions of propositions are not (in general) propositions, but rather objective features of the world. 

Yet the Bible constantly makes claims about the world. So that might select for a correspondence theory of truth. It may be best for a statement on inerrancy to define truth in reference to coherence and correspondence alike, where these are applicable. 

Mind you, that's deceptively simple. For instance, the correspondence theory involves vexed questions about the identity of the relevant truth-makers and truth-bearers.

vii) I don't think these deficiencies are a big problem, because definitions of inerrancy function to some degree as placeholders for creedal statements. In other words, abstract definitions, because they operate at such a high level of generality, are deficient at the level of particulars. But inerrantists have very specific things in mind when they formulate these definitions. The Bible is the concrete frame of reference. Inerrantists have specific kinds of things in mind which their definitions are designed to cover. In and of themselves, the definitions are not that discriminating. So they need to be supplemented by actual examples. The historicity of many Bible narratives. Predictive prophecy. And so on.