Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Literal Interpretations of the Scriptures

I was reading "The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation" which Dr. Tighe graciously supplied to me. The book is really good, but I want to focus for a moment on one particular aspect of the book. It is the different ways the Reformed and Lutherans approached Scripture in a literal way.

For the early Reformed, the literal sense was, more or less, the bare words themselves. But the words themselves carried a deeper spiritual meaning. So, for instance, the account of the Lord's Supper is first and foremost a description of the events of the Lord's Supper, and this account tells of the spiritual truth of what Jesus was accomplishing there--our salvation, forgiveness of sins etc.

For Luther, after he more or less abandoned the fourfold interpretation of Scripture, he settled on the moral interpretation of Scripture as the "literal" sense. By this he meant that when Scripture is describing what God does the literal sense is what God is doing "for me". Thus, when we read the account of the Last Supper, it is an account of what Jesus is doing for me. He is giving me his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

I think these differences, while subtle, explain why the two traditions' interpretation of the Lord's Supper differ so much. For the early Reformed (Calvin had his own system which to me seems unrelated to Zwingli or Luther) the spiritual truth behind the Lord's Supper is almost precisely what e.g. Baptists argue today. The bare words of Christ--"This is my body" don't point to the bread being his body but to the deeper spiritual truth behind "this is my body". By way of contrast, for Lutherans unless "this is my body" means it is his body, it becomes more difficult to to show what Christ is doing "for me", because the "for me" happens later on the cross and not by the sharing of his body and blood.

I think we see this elsewhere, too. For TULIP Calvinists, when the Scriptures say that God wants the world to be saved he reads it as God's elect. Not because of some devilish desire to twist the Scriptures (though I think their interpretation is wrong), but because the bare words point to a deeper spiritual truth behind themselves. The words "save the world world" point to God's plan of salvation.

A Lutheran, however, will reason that since he is part of the world the words are meant for him, or "for me" if you will.

I have not worked this systematically, but I have been thinking about it and it seems workable so far. Not as an iron rule, but as a way to understand why the Reformed come to the conclusions they come to.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Very Ingenius Sophistry

Via National Review

Please see the penciled in comment from this scanned copy of "The Grammar of Assent".

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Insulting your opponent's intelligence

I see this a lot, and I suppose I have been guilty of it too. I am not talking about generic insults, but the one that goes something like this:

The reason you don't agree and become Lutheran/Orthodox/RC/Buddhist is because you are too dense to see the awesome subtlety of why I believe like I do. If only you were as intelligent and sensitive to nuance as my coreligionists and me, you would see the light immediately.

This takes many forms, and these kinds of arguments are rarely if ever persuasive. What usually happened is not that your opponent didn't understand the subtlety of your argument, but that for him it passed by being subtile a while ago and has morphed into sophistry.

Here are some examples that people have used against me:

RC annulments really mean that no marriage occurred but any children born into the non-marriage aren't bastard children.

EOs are apophatic, and yet they speak of God having an ousia.

Baptists insist on Scripture alone, and yet have no problem asserting that no matter what Christ and the Apostles say, Jesus cannot have meant the bread is his body because he just cannot do that--we know this from science.

We are the church, you are not. So why don't you join the real church?

Is it really the best argument to say that your opponent is too dumb to understand what he s supposed to believe? Sharp disagreement is OK and even to be expected. But there is a lot of sophistry and posturing which passes for argument.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The teachings of men....

Quite often when discussing the liturgy and whether or not we need to discard it or modify it, I am told it is just the "teaching of men..." and an adiaphoron, in any case, so why not just get rid of all that so we can bring in more people?

The problem is that I do not see a reason to discard the "teaching of men..." over the centuries and replace it with the teaching of a couple of men in the here and now--without Scriptural warrant. In other words, there is a burden to be overcome, it is not enough to show that a particular practice isn't commanded in the Scriptures so we can do whatever we want. We have to at least respect what was handed down to us and not just discard it--because in many ways what is handed down to us is what "works" for Gospel proclamation.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, when we celebrate our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and is proclamation by the people as King. While prayerfully thinking about this event, it occurred to me that Jesus Himself knew that some, perhaps most, of those cheering him as King today would want him to be crucified by Friday. Since he was aware of his fate, and he is also fully human, it definitely adds to the "drama" if you will: Despite the support he was receiving, despite all he had done in his ministry, despite the fact that as Son of God he had an "out" from anything he wanted to avoid, he went flint faced to his death on the cross even though he knew the costs. I think this is why this holiday is sort of bitter-sweet, The Cross will always cast a shadow over all the hosannas.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On unity

If you are not in fellowship with a Church, any talk of theological unity is pretty meaningless.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Missing organic relationships between Reformation churches

I keep hearing about Luther spawning new churches. The problem is that I cannot find an organic relationship between Lutherans and e.f. the Anabaptists, except on the most tendentious grounds. For instance, it is not at all clear to me that the Zwinglians and Calvinists broke off from the Lutherans.

Any information or sources about this?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Atheists acting like Children

Sometimes atheists critiques of Christianity (or religion in general) amount to a child sayng "poo poo" and waiting for the adults to react. It is, in fact, one of the reasons it is difficult, if not impossible, to have any useful dialogue with an atheist. (HT Extra Nos) Consider this:

"When I'm accused, 'Why are you going after easy targets, the fundamentalist nutbags, why don't you take on the real theologians?', well, the real theologians like Pope Nazi [that would be the current occupant of the chair of St. Peter ed.] believe in miracles.'

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, was conscripted into Hitler Youth, as were all German boys, when he turned 14.

'It's just surreal and completely gives the lie to the claim that the sophisticated theologians should look down on fundamentalist wingnuts. They are all the same."

"I can give you a devastating argument against religion in two words," Williams said in his introduction. 

'Senator Fielding.' Richard Dawkins said his IQ is lower than an earthworm, but I think earthworms are useful."

Har dee har har har. So, to critique religion Mr. Dawkins is allowed to dehumanize another man who happens to believe in Creationism. All par for the course for the morally and intellectually "superior" atheist--Stalin--a famous atheist--would approve I am sure. Just snuff the useless worm out as he just gets in the way.

And this from one of his acolytes:
"Broadcaster Phillip Adams and Melbourne ethicist Leslie Cannold urged atheists not to be too strident or fundamentalist as it could alienate moderate believers who shared their aims for a more secular society."
Ah yes, the rationalist/fundamentalist atheists. From the article it is clear that most speakers just mocked religion. As i said, this is th ebiggest tool in the atheist toolbag. Mockery has a place, but when it predominates it more or ess shows that there is really not too much of an argument behind it.

There was one commenter who said something which rang a bell:

"Melbourne atheist philosopher Tamas Pataki attracted little applause for suggesting the organised atheist movement was taking on the appearance of a religion 'with its priests, apostles and disciples, and this is the worst that could happen'."

Yup, just another religion, only this one asserts there is no god and the universe is ruled by heredity and necessity instead.

I wonder if Mr. Dawkins (and his most vociferous friends) has the stones to critique a Muslim theologian, say in Iran, the same way he does pope Benedict. After all, all believers in miracles are the same, right? I mean, he is so much smarter than all us rubes, and Muslims believe in a host of miracles. So when will he bring his mockumentary to someplace where Christianity is not the default religion and have a go? I think I know why. And I ask this because of his childish "critique" of Christianity. If all you can do is act like a child, then you are only going to preach to the choir, aren't you?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Calvin's theology is radically different from Luther's even if they sound the same

The more I read of Calvin, the more I see that it is really a different animal from Lutheranism--even of some concepts overlap. I don't mean to simply condemn Calvin and Calvinists, of course. It is just that the difference is plain every time I read his writings. For one, he is far more likely to say that something cannot be true because it offends reason than Luther was or than Lutherans in general are. Having said that, he is not as rigorously rational as I have believed. I don't get the sense that his rigorous logic gives way to mysticism or symply not resolving paradoxes, I mean that he is rigorously logical when it suits his philosophical axioms but he is quite willing to abandon strict logic when his axioms call for it. An example was his claim that the stone at the tomb rolled away when Jesus walked out, and then rolled back after he left, only to roll away again to show the empty tomb. (Calvin Institutes IV 17:29)

In any case, to my knowledge Lutherans have always taught that the Son, i.e. the eternal second person of the Trinity, is eternally begotten by the father throughout all time, not as a sort of one-time event before time. In this Lutherans more or less what historic Christianity teaches. However, Calvin has his doubts:

I hope the pious reader will admit that I have now disposed of all the calumnies by which Satan has hitherto attempted to pervert or obscure the pure doctrine of faith. The whole substance of the doctrine has, I trust, been faithfully expounded, if my readers will set bounds to their curiosity, and not long more eagerly than they ought for perplexing disputation. I did not undertake to satisfy those who delight in speculate views, but I have not designedly omitted anything which I thought adverse to me. At the same time, studying the edification of the Church, I have thought it better not to touch on various topics, which could have yielded little profit, while they must have needlessly burdened and fatigued the reader. For instance, what avails it to discuss, as Lombard does at length, (lib. 1 dist. 9,) Whether or not the Father always generates? This idea of continual generation becomes an absurd fiction from the moment it is seen, that from eternity there were three persons in one God.
(Calvin, Institutes I 13.29) [emph. added]

The eternal generation is not questioned so much because it is unbiblical as because it is absurd.

In my opinion, Calvin's admittedly uneven application of reason leads him down some theological dead ends, such as making Christ a person out of two natures, double predestination and his denial of the Real Presence, or the effacasy of Baptism. He is a little fuzzy on assurance--i.e. can or will a believer know he is elect, but even when he does speak of assurance he has a tendency to emphasize the quality of one's faith.

On all these points he differs from Lutheranism.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My son is reading...

Green Eggs and Ham, all by himself!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On the Lack of Context in Luther Quotes

Misquoting Luther actually has a long history in RC polemics, as James Swan has amply documented. In the previous thread on Luther, there was a lot of Sturm und Drang but little if any interaction with the context of Dave Armstrong's Luther citations. I asked him several times to explain if his citations of Luther support his comments about how Luther felt, and he responded by citing completely different sources to support his contentions. Not only that, but one of his readers, Adomnan, cited by him in that thread, stated this:

You, Dave, accurately quote Luther saying A. Swan digs up the texts where Luther said A (or some other text he sees as related), and notes that he also said B, C, D and E, the "context" of A. Swan then claims that because Luther said B, C, D and E, none of which contradict A, it follows that he didn't say, or didn't mean, A.
This is false on the face of it and, in my opinion, deserves no response other than perhaps a curt dismissal.
Keep in mind this was quoted approvingly by Dave Armstrong.  According to Adoman, only "A" matters. Nothing else is context if Mr. Swan thinks it is related. Indeed it cannot be related because according to Admonan, context can never make "A" mean "Not A".  That is a childish and naive view of how language works. We do not understand verbal communication by having a dictionary handy, nor do we ignore rhetorical devices such as irony, exaggeration etc. By ignoring context we only increase the likelihood that we will get something wrong.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Does Calvin teach infant faith is impossible?

Interestingly, Calvin does not deny infants can have faith. At first blush, it appears Calvin has it in mind that faith=knowledge of the will of God. This would be normally impossible fo ran infant. But like a green shoot coming up through the asphalt, Calvin seems to abandon his rationalism when he argues against the Anabaptists:

But how, they ask, are infants regenerated, when not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. (Institutes IV 16.17)

While in this particular section he goes on about the elect, as he is wont to do, none the less he states that an infant can have faith not based upon the understanding of the infant (Compare Institutes II 2.16-17) but as a sort of mystery. Indeed, he states that John the Baptist leaping in the womb is proof not of a special dispensation of God, but that God himself has shown infants can have faith.

Given this, can a reformed Baptist really be Calvinist?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Calvin on temporary, deep in the heart faith

This passage seems a little odd, given the Reformed doctrine that one can know that one will persevere, that one is elect. In this passage from Calvin's Institutes he states that even those who will fall away--i.e. they do not have the gift of perseverance, will have what is preached take deep root in their hearts:

There will be no ambiguity in it [Mt. 22:14], if we attend to what our former remarks ought to have made clear--viz. that there are two species of calling: for there is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savor of death, and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. Sometimes, however, he communicates it also to those whom he enlightens only for a time, and whom afterwards, in just punishment for their ingratitude, he abandons and smites with greater blindness. (Calvin Institutes III 24.8)
It seems to me there can be no assurance at all if it is possible for God to enlighten us so that the word takes deep root, but then later he abandons and consignes to even deeper darkness due to ingratitude. Indeed, the passage above even implies this is God's plan. This goes far, far deeper than even the temporary faith I blogged about before because at least temporary faith was described as a sort of false faith. Here Calvin says one can have true faith for a time and yet have this gift taken away. He postulates two species of calling, but there can be no assurance that one is effectually called at any given time--God could remove what he has placed in one's heart just like he can implant it there. That this is just like the faith of the effectually called is brought out by his statement that "for the most part" God only grants deep faith in the heart on believers.

The more I read of Calvin, the more I see that what he purportedly gives for assurance he takes away due to implanting doubt in those who want to know they are elect. The pastoral difficulties are readily apparent: if Christ died only for the elect and if the faith deep in my heart today can be taken away tomorrow due to ingratitude, where is the assurance?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Taking Luther out of Context

Over at Beggars All  James Swan has been going through Dave Armstrong's book, Protestantism Critical Reflections of an Ecumenical Catholic. I have not done anywhere near the work James has done on Luther's works, but on the occasions I have responded to outrageous Luther quotes I have found that he is taken out of context more often than not. It seems to me that James' context makes Dave's claims rather difficult to believe. It seems to me that if one has to take Luther out of context to "prove" something about "protestantism", that perhaps one's own position is a bit weaker than one would like.

Finally, this does not mean that one has to agree with Luther, but one should disagree with him based on what he actually believed and said, and not because of quotations taken out of context.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Temporary Faith

Could a Calvinist tell me how the teaching of "Temporary Faith" doesn't undermine assurance?

From Turretin Fan's blog post:

There is a temporary faith, that goes beyond all the former, and is effected by the common operation of the Spirit of God: nor is it merely taken up with the truth of the gospel, but also hath some relish of the goodness and sweetness of it; and hence the stonyground hearers are said to receive the word with joy, Matthew xiii. 20.; yet this belief hath no root, no abiding principle: it is not the faith of the promise that takes place in the children of promise.—Here is the most subtile deceit in the matter of faith: some people may take hold of Christ, as it were, and really get some sap and virtue from him, for their refreshment, and yet never get in to him. They are like the ivy, that grows up by the tree, and clasps about the tree, and draws sap from the tree, and yet grows upon its own root, and is never one and the same with the tree: so here, some professors may receive Christ, in the promise, by a temporary faith, they clasp about him closely, and draw some sap and virtue from him; but still they are never rooted in Christ, but rooted in the old Adam; still rooted in the old covenant, were never cut off from the old root, and ingrafted into Christ, but only draw virtue from Christ to maintain their old-covenant fruit.

Why I bring this up is not to convince the Reformed that the Calvinist system does not actually offer assurance, but to show that what I was saying about Calvinist assurance is true from within Calvinism itself.

If one can have "temporary faith" and believe one is elect when one is not, how does any Calvinist show to himself that his faith is "true" faith?

If a Calvinist points to the Gospel that begs the question, for even Ralph Erskine points his readers to the quality of their faith to differentiate "temporaary faith" from "true" faith:

Temporary faith may say, From the Lord I have righteousness and strength; but true faith says, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength."—Temporary faith may get many things from him, but true faith gets all things in him, and is complete in him.

So how does one know aside from a sematic shift wheter "In the Lord I have righteousness.." (true faith) or "From the Lord I have righteousness..." for example?

I suspect it is by looking at the quality of one's faith, because if the right quality is not there one does not have "true" faith and the promises to not pertain.

Which is what I have been saying all along.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Here we stand

More than one time, I have been asked why I argue about certain things. Here is an example from the comments:

"Is the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom predicated on the relevance of this unsettled argument?"

This is in regards to the Christological arguments which have been going on between several Reformed interlocutors and me. The "unsettled argument" is exactly how to interpret Chalcedon. A Reformed theologian more or less conceded that the Lutheran understanding of the person of Christ as a divine person who assumed human nature is the older "Chalcedonian" view as compared to the Reformed view which is more like Christ is out of two natures, i.e. when the Logos assumed flesh he became a new person who is God and man . As the article says:

The Reformed placed the emphasis upon the formula “two natures unimpaired in their original integrity subsequent to their union.”  As Calvin put it, “For we affirm his divinity so joined and united with his humanity that each retains its distinctive nature unimpaired, and yet these two natures constitute one Christ” (Institutes II.xiv.1).1  This was said in order to lay a foundation for the rejection of the Lutheran doctrine of a direct communion or inter-penetration of the natures.  The properties of each nature, the Reformed said, are rightly ascribed to the “person” but not to each other.   God remains God, the human remains human – precisely in the hypostatic union. 

Needless to say, I reject the Reformed doctrine of the Lord's Supper and its underpinning, the Reformed doctrine of Christ where the uniting of the two natures makes the person Jesus Christ "out of two natures", as Calvin said. Lutherans believe the person Jesus Christ is the divine Logos who has assumed human nature. So for us, it is not an "unsettled matter" that the Logos is the person of Jesus Christ, but a correct interpretation of Scripture as described in the Definition of Chalcedon. Reformed Christology is, therefore, not something I can lightly ignore for the sake of Gospel proclamation as it is a key difference between the two communions, and it is the basis for Reformed denial of key doctrines such as that of the doctrine of the Real Presence.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The sport of curling is hilarious and interesting at the same time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jesus Christ--a divinized man

This is more or less in response to Turretin Fan's post, which can be found here.

When I say Jesus' human nature is divinized, what do I mean? I do not mean that the divine nature is mixed with the human nature, what I mean is that the union of the two natures in the one person of Jesus Christ makes his human nature divinized such that it participates in divinity to a degree no one else can. Examples of this were in some of my other posts: Peter walked on water because of faith in Jesus, while Jesus walked on water because he was Jesus. So I don't think it is enough to say that Jesus is one person with two natures, one must give an account of how his humanity relates to his divinity apart from just stating they are both there in one person. Orthodox christology states not that two natures come together and we have Jesus Christ, but that the divine Son assumed human nature by "taking the form of a servant", he "became flesh" etc. Humanity was added to the divine person such that the man Jesus Christ is the divine Son--it is thus wrong to say one shakes a normal hand if one shakes Christ's hand, as it is God's hand one shakes. Jesus Christ is a divine person.

Turretin Fan said that Jesus' unique authority does not suggest his humanity is any different than ours. But that depends on what we mean by "different". How does Jesus' human nature participate meaningfully in any miracles? To be consistent, Turretin Fan would have to say that because our human nature cannot perform miracles, it was only Jesus' divinity which performed miracles. But how is that done without falling into some species of Nestorianism?

Turretin fan said "Jesus' unique authority, even when that is expressed according to his humanity, does not suggest a difference in Christ's human nature as compared to our human nature". It is not that Christ's human nature itself is different in kind but, as I said above, the hypostatic union means that Jesus' humanity's participation in divine power is unique and has no parallel because he is God in the flesh, and no one else is or ever was or ever will be. Is it really possible for a non-divinized humanity to exercise all authority? I don't think so, but I don't think a Reformed Christology can say that Jesus' humanity participates in any meaningful way in upholding all things, it is more or less just there as if it is a coat with a divine person within it. Anything god-like is usually explained as being "spiritual" or as something the divine nature does. But if the divine nature "does" something apart from Jesus' human nature that immediately implies a divine person and a human person--which I am sure the Reformed would like to avoid.

So, I would like to ask Turretin (or any one else) in what sense does the person Jesus Christ hold together all things, and in what way does his humanity participate in this without dividing the person?

Note: Added the following clause "give an account of how his humanity relates to his divinity apart from just stating they are both there in one person"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Answering a question with a question

Answering the question with a question is not answering the question.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

If St. Peter can do it, Jesus' miracles don't tell us anything special about Jesus as a man...

What a good topic for Transfiguration Sunday!

This argument is used to show that, in particular instances, what Jesus did, e.g. walk on water, was done by others, e.g. St. Peter, so this is no proof Jesus' flesh is divinized.

The problem goes back to the question of "what" instead of "whom". My reformed interlocutors insist that the "who" has little to do with anything the "what" can do. In the example of walking on water, Jesus did it because of who he is while Peter did it because of Jesus. It is not like a force or energy outside of Jesus kept him walking on water, he did himself based on his own power as God in the flesh. Peter was able to walk on water because his faith in Jesus sustained him--until he doubted. If Jesus walked on water because of a different "whom" then per force we have two persons in Jesus Christ, as opposed to two natures. The difference between the "who" of St. Peter and the "who" of Jesus Christ can be shown by Jesus' statements about himself, such as "...You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world." (John 8:23), "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." (John 6:55). I could supply more examples, but suffice it to say there is something intrinsic in Jesus that makes his miracles of a different kind from those done for e.g. Daniel or St. Peter. Now, if the miracles of e.g. Daniel and those of Jesus Christ really are the same, I would ask who sustained Jesus Christ on the water? I don't want to hear about a "nature" because a nature doesn't do anything--a nature is not a personal actor while a person is.

Is there any indication in Scripture that the "who" of Jesus Christ makes a difference as to his humanity as compared to others?

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper." (John 13:3-4)

Since as the divine Son, the Word already had all godhead, it is evident that St. John here is speaking of giving all things into Jesus' hands according to his human nature. Thus as the God-Man, Jesus has all that God has as per his nature. (q.v. Matt 11:27, Matt 28:18)

"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)

As above, as the divine Son, the Word already was entitled to be worshipped as God. But when God became man, it is now appropriate to worship a man as God. The worship rightly given to God as Spirit is also rightly given to the flesh and bone man, Jesus Christ, which means what is God's by right also belongs to the man Jesus Christ by right. Put another way, the man Jesus Christ is capable and welcomed into the full communion of the trinity.

"And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed." (John 17:5)

As above, this pertains to his human nature not his divine nature; so Jesus Christ, the Man, has all the glory he had before he became incarnate. And part of this glory is omnipresence.

Unless one wishes to assert that omnipresence is not part of God's glory.

Related post:

Cathapol makes some similar points:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jesus as a "Spiritual reality"

From the Comments on "Calvin's framing of the question about the Incarnation--i.e. Jesus' body, is flawed" post:
Yes, it's a metaphor and I think that is pretty obvious. Yet it is also a descriptor of a SPIRITUAL reality. Jesus dwells in us SPIRITUALLY. Surely you wouldn't argue that the spiritual is not real, would you? 
But that's not what y'all say about the Eucharist - you in fact get all upset when we say it's spiritual b/c you insist it's more real than that, and say that the spiritual is not the "real presence". It's disingenuous on YOUR part, not ours.I think pretty much everyone would agree that a "spiritual" presence is a real one. Bit it seems that at every turn Jesus' body is banned from any presence among us at all. This does seem to be a genuine legacy of Calvin's theology.
Now to be honest, I thought the charges against Calvinism that it is Nestorian were over blown, and I still think that most Calvinists are basically Chalcidonian Christians. But it also seems that the Reformed as well as the have a very strong tendency to deny even the possibility of Jesus' humanity being present at all. Everything is "spiritual", nothing is material. Besides what I believe is a view of the Incarnation which allows the Son to be present in his divinity without his humanity, I think an over emphasis on a "spiritual" presence leaves our own physical persons with little if anything to grasp. This is, in fact, an advantage of sacraments--that they are spiritual AND material.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Calvin's framing of the question about the Incarnation--i.e. Jesus' body, is flawed

Calvin’s philosophical commitment to his view of the Incarnation--that the God-Man's body is like ours in all respects--leads him, and by extension his theological descendants, down some Incarnational dead-ends. To wit, when confronted with an action by Jesus Christ which does not fit this philosophical paradigm, he merely argues from assertion because to not do so would mean he would have to abandon his philosophical commitment. In my previous post, I pointed to Scriptural examples of Jesus disappearing, going through doors, walking on water, glowing etc. Calvin in his writings has answers for these, of course, but we will see if they hold up.

Calvin's view can be summarized with this: "But it has been demonstrated by strong and clear passages of Scripture, first, that it is bounded by the dimensions of the human body; and, secondly, that its ascension into heaven made it plain that it is not in all places, but on passing to a new one, leaves the one formerly occupied."

As stated, Calvin's claim above is true of our human bodies. But let us rephrase it and see if it still rings quite as true if we speak of the God-Man in like terms:

"But it has been demonstrated by strong and clear passages of Scripture, first, that [the person Jesus Christ] is bounded by the dimensions of the human body; and, secondly, that [the person Jesus Christ's] ascension into heaven made it plain that [he] is not in all places, but on passing to a new one, leaves the one formerly occupied."

I think even Calvinists would have issues with this claim. The reason I made it is because "a human body", a "nature" don't do things, persons do things. My body does not fight off infection, I do, my body does not walk down the street, I do. A typical human being cannot heal sickness and cast our demons, but the person Jesus Christ can--asking if his nature is what is doing this is to attribute personal properties to nature, which is a category error. We read in Scripture "The Word became flesh"--the Word being the second person of the Trinity--"I and the Father are one"--the "I" referring to the person making the claim and not the divine nature--"For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily"--the fullness dwells in a person, Jesus Christ. Calvin’s framing of the question as "what is omnipresent" as opposed to "who is omnipresent" is the wrong question. So instead of asking "how can human nature be everywhere?" we should ask "When a human nature is divinized, how many of our pre-conceived notions of human limitations must we give up?" Can a human being raise the dead on his own authority? Yes, if that human being is also God. Can a human being create food out of nothing? Yes if that human being is also God.

When discussing Jesus Christ, his body is not an "it" but "who". In other words, Jesus Christ is a person with two natures, which means that what the person does includes both natures. So it is not proper to ask "did Jesus' human body walk on water?", instead we should ask "did Jesus Christ walk on water?" When we answer in the affirmative the questions about Jesus' body become less important because of whom Jesus is--he is God in the flesh so normal rules don't apply so it will not do to simply look at the properties of a human body and limit the glorified, deified body of Jesus to the same properties. It is not wrong, though, to discuss Jesus' body, it is just that we should not speak of it as if it has no connection to his person, as Calvin does in places when he treats it like a coat he can put on or take off, depending if we are talking about his local presence or his divine presence. For instance he writes "But it is clearly gathered from Scripture that the one person of Christ is composed of two natures, but so that each has its peculiar properties unimpaired." (Calvin Institutes IV 17:30). So far so good. Unfortunately Calvin makes the right statements but paints a non-chalcidonian picture even though he formally agrees with Chalcedon when things would go against his adopted philosophy. For instance he wrote "Although the whole Christ is everywhere, yet everything which is in him is not everywhere." (Calvin Institutes IV 19:30) To preserve his claim regarding Jesus' body, he has to assert that the whole Christ, though being omnipresent, is not wholly omnipresent. (Did you get that?) By this claim he says that the human nature of Christ, though it is of the whole Christ is not part of the whole Christ but is "in" him. And he does this based on his philosophical commitments to the nature of a human body, and not even considering that Jesus Christ's divinity has anything to tell us about his body.

And this is why he has to reinterpret "the doors were locked" into "the doors were opened (somehow)", and "the stone at the tomb was rolled away, and rolled back again" (Calvin Institutes IV 17:29) Yes, he actually wrote that the stone was rolled away, and then rolled back--all because Jesus' human body has to be exactly like ours! In other words, any explanation, no matter how strained or ridiculous, is OK for Calvin so long as he can maintain his doctrine that Jesus' body is exactly like ours. Jesus is omnipresent? Of course, but though the whole Christ is omnipresent, part of him is not. Scripture says the tomb was sealed? Of course, it must have been moved away and then back, because Calvin's philosophy cannot be wrong. Locked doors? Any explanation is OK, so long as Calvin can maintain his doctrine Jesus divinized body is just like ours.

This is in large part due to his misframing of the question, along with a too high view of philosophy which he uses to interpret Scripture.

Update: This post was inspired in part by Rhology's thread at Beggars All.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Jesus' body--even before the resurrection, is not "Just like ours".

When the Reformed argue against the Real Presence they often say that since Jesus' body is a material body, just like ours, he cannot be bodily present in the bread and nor can his blood be present in the wine. Jesus' body and blood, being localized in space and time, cannot be in more than one place at a time as a body. This can be traced back to John Calvin. Calvin wrote:

As we cannot at all doubt that it [Jesus' human body] is bounded according to the invariable rule in the human body, and is contained in heaven, where it was once received, and will remain till it return to judgement, so we deem it altogether unlawful to bring it back under these corruptible elements, or to imagine it everywhere present. (Calvin Institutes IV, 17:17)

For Calvin, there is an "invariable rule" of a human body--it is in a single place at a time, to which Jesus' body is as subject as ours. Also, to bring Jesus' body down again from heaven is unlawful, even repugnant of Christ's human nature and glory. (Calvin Institutes IV, 17:19) As a matter of dogma, it cannot be that Jesus' body is anywhere other than seated at the right hand of the Father in glory etc. for those who follow Calvin. He uses the term "absurdity' frequently to describe his opponents' views of Jesus' body, or that his views avoid absurdity. (Institutes IV 17:12, 17, 19). They are absurd not because they contradict Scripture, but because they contradict the properties a human body has. So for Calvin, discussions of Jesus' body start and end with the properties our bodies have. This for Calvin the objective, local presence of Jesus' body and blood is an empirical question more or less answered by the properties of a human body. It is my purpose to show that this is not a very strong objection at all. All I have to do is show from Scripture that Jesus' body is not like ours in every respect. And Lutherans believe this is so because of the personal union, which is to say for instance that shaking Jesus' hand is the same thing as shaking God's hand. But that is a post for another day.

Calvin is not completely wrong; the Son assumed a real human body, not a "phantasm". However, is it true that when God assumed human flesh that the resulting God-Man has the same properties we do? Is there a way to understand "human body" congruent with the Scriptures which is greater than the doctrine Calvin teaches?

There are some miracles which seem to defy what a body can do, but which never the less Jesus Christ did. (All Bible citations ESV)

First let us consider Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-20):
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
Human bodies sink when we try and walk on water without special equipment. This is because human bodies are subject to the physical laws of gravity as well as other physical laws--such as we cannot be in two places at one time. Human bodies have mass and three dimensions. If the displacement of the mass of water is less than the mass of the human body, the human body begins to sink. This behavior is called buoyancy. This law is as immutable as any other and is routinely used in shipbuilding. While this example does not show that Jesus can be in more than one place at one time, it does show that the God-Man Jesus Christ can violate the laws of physics because at least one attribute of divinity carried along the "mundane" body of Jesus Christ. God's mastery of his creation was exercised through Jesus' body. One might say it is absurd to claim a human body walked on water so we should discard the account.

Second, let us consider the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36):

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"— not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

Human bodies do not change their faces and cause their clothes to become "dazzling white". As with the previous example, this does not show Jesus could be in more than one place at one time, but it does show how the God-Man's body does not exactly behave like ours.

Finally, let us consider the accounts of Jesus after his resurrection. Please see the following passages for reference:

(Luke 24:28-31)
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.
(Luke 24:36-43)
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
(John 20:19-23)
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."
(John 19:26-29)
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
In the two Luke passages above, Jesus does things which a typical human body cannot do. In the first passage he simply disappears right after breaking bread, in the second he simply appears and the disciples are frightened, even thinking he is a ghost! He allays their fears by showing them he does indeed have a body, and even eats some food. In the two John passages Jesus appears to pass through locked doors. In all three cases Jesus ' body does things which a typical human body cannot do. If we follow Calvin, we should say this is absurd to believe Jesus passed through locked doors, disappeared or otherwise behaved in a way not consistent with a typical human body. Indeed his theological descendants say it is absurd because it violates Calvin's teaching of "the invariable rule in the human body". However, seems to me that the physical quality of Jesus’ body is quite variable--especially if we are not limited by our experiences of what exactly human nature is, and what a human body can do. Apparently Jesus' human body can pass through material objects and disappear from sight. If this is part of normal human nature I am sure the Special Forces would like to hear about it as I am sure they would find it useful.

Now, some may object that Jesus vanishing was nothing more than his walking or travelling away. And that he either opened the doors, created a key to open them or otherwise passed through the doors in a basically typical manner. In the first case I would just point out that using the word "vanished" or "afantos" (related to phantasma, whence our phantom!) in this context does not imply picking up one's things and moving along--it implies a disappearance. Indeed, the passage states they recognized him and he vanished.

In the second case, one must re-interpret "the doors were locked" to mean "the doors were unlocked", based solely upon the propositions of what properties a human body must have. In both cases, an extraneous interpolation of philosophical commitments into the text to make them fit those commitments. And this is the problem with Calvin's approach, and also with those who are his theological descendants. It does not seem that Calvin's teaching can explain various Scripture passages which clearly show that Jesus' body, being fully human and material, could never the less, because he is God, perform various acts which violate what a human body can strictly do.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

If your critique of Lutheranism sound like this.... don't really have an argument:

No other topic is more important and explains better the demise of our society than the saga of Lutheranism. To start, Lutheranism writes a lot of long statements that mean practically nothing. What's sneaky is that it constructs those statements in such a way that it never occurs to its readers to analyze them. Analysis would almost certainly indicate that Lutheranism used to complain about being persecuted. Now it is our primary persecutor. This reversal of roles reminds me that now that I've been exposed to Lutheranism's snow jobs I must admit that I don't completely understand them. Perhaps I need to get out more. Or perhaps Lutheranism is completely versipellous. When it's among plebeians, Lutheranism warms the cockles of their hearts by remonstrating against nonrepresentationalism. But when Lutheranism is safely surrounded by its torchbearers, it instructs them to further political and social goals wholly or in part through activities that involve force or violence and a violation of criminal law. That type of cunning two-sidedness tells us that infantile crackpots like Lutheranism are not born—they are excreted. However unsavory that metaphor may be, I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people. I can therefore assure you that someone has been giving Lutheranism's brain a very thorough washing, and now Lutheranism is trying to do the same to us.

It will not be easy to denounce those who claim that granting Lutheranism complete control over our lives is as important as breathing air. Nevertheless, we must attempt to do exactly that for the overriding reason that its assault on free speech was not mounted in a few weeks. Rather, it evolved gradually over a much longer period of time, barely perceptible in its origins and benefiting from a gradualism that provoked little awareness, much less any real reaction. That's why it is now the time to bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to the current debate.

Lutheranism is locked into its present course of destruction. It does not have the interest or the will to change its fundamentally temperamental prophecies. If some people are offended by my mentioning that Lutheranism flaunts its personal histrionics and attitudes in front of everyone else, then so be it. Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors. Likewise, Lutheranism may put increased disruptive powers in the hands of the worst kinds of disaffected slaves to fashion there are right after it reads this letter. Let it. Sooner or later, I will tell it like it is. Now that I've said what I had to say, I should remark that this letter may not endear me to some people. Indeed, it may even cost me a friend or two. However, friends do not let friends get trampled by ugly protestors like Lutheranism. The truth is the truth and we pay a steep price whenever we ignore it.

They are so easy to write a machine can do it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Arguing about Arguing

Once you are arguing about arguing, the argument is over.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A simple analogy for the Eucharist being the Gospel itself

I have been re-reading my Sr. Hermann Sasse materials lately. While doing that I realize why I liked reading him so much. While discussing Communion, its place in worship and the real Presence, he used a very clever and useful analogy.

When discussing what is the Gospel he stated

..."This is my body" and "This is my blood" are true and must be taken as they stand...With this understanding of the Sacrament the relationship between Word and sacrament is no longer a problem. They go together. The sacrament is the verbum visibile (visible word); the Word is the sacramentum audibile, the audible and heard sacrament. The spoken and heard word is of itself a thing of nature, soundwaves that come from the voice box and are received by the ear. And yet we hear "in, with and under" these sound waves, the Word of the eternal God himself. The natural word becomes the Word of God, is the word of God.
("We Confess the Sacraments" Hermann Sasse p. 24)

He goes on to use examples such as God's word and human writing--the Scriptures, and how God is veiled from us, the divinity of Christ is cloaked in his humanity, if you will.

Similarly, when the words of Institution are spoken, and we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the body and blood and the promises are cloaked in bread and wine. In fact, God never comes to us "naked"--he is always wrapped, hidden, obscured. And it is by this body and blood cloaked in bread and wine is the very proclamation of the Lord's death--the Gospel of forgiveness, new life etc. as he himself said when we do this in remembrance of him.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What is a promise for a Christian?

I was thinking about this yesterday. When I say something is a promise for a Christian, I mean you can bank on it. So, when God promises grace in baptism, we can bank on the fact it is there. When God says "This is my body..given for you..." we can bank on receiving his body given for us. When Christ says through the pastor "I forgive you all your sins" it is as real as the air we breathe and the ground we walk upon.

So, what kinds of things are not promises for the Christian? That we will be happy, healthy, wealthy or powerful. That there will be little or no strife in the Church or in our families. That we will see peace in our day. Nor is it assurance we will be saved on the last day no matter what. The former things I mentioned are what we receive from Christ, while the latter are what we receive here on earth. God does not promise us a rose garden, but he does promise eternal life for all who believe.

And you can bank on that.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On lying about Calvinism

Steve Hays at Triablogue writes "At this point it’s very hard to credit Reiss with even a modicum of honesty. He habitually misrepresents the Reformed position by setting up a dichotomy between God’s promises and self-examination–even though Calvinism explicitly treats these in tandem.

Why do Lutherans like Reiss think it’s permissible to chronically lie about a position they disagree with? Is mendacity a moral imperative in Lutheran ethics?"

What did I lie about? Apparently I set up a "dichotomy" because subjective assurance is a guarantee. I wrote “There is no promise we will know we have eternal life.”

Steve responded "Is he speaking for Lutheranism or Calvinism? In Calvinism, there are such promises."

I suggest he read Reformed confessions, as this will show I did not lie about Calvinism. Brett, a reformed Baptist pastor, also agreed with me that the elect may be decieved as to their status. I wonder if Steve believes Brett lies too?


Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.

I. Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probably persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.

III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith but that a true believer may wait long and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

From the WCF. Notice the bolded parts. The word "may" appears in section I, while Steve says there is such a promise in Calvinism. This means that not all will, but some may receive assurance by looking within themselves. As I have said a few times, I don't know why this is even controversial, this self examination to prove to one's self one is elect is baked right into Calvinism. But the writers of the WCF disagree with Steve, so I suppose the writers of the WCF lie about Calvinism, too.

Also see the bolded part of section II. Notice there is "inward evidence". Now, inward evidence is by definition not "extra nos", outside of us. So once again the Calvinist is pointed to himself for assurance he is one of the elect.

Notice the bolded part of section III. The Christian is called to make his election sure to himself by dilligence. And how does one know one is diligent? By looking for the "inward evidence" plus the outward works of a true believer.

What about his contention that there is a difference between the elect and the non-elect? Please see the bolded part of section IV. Since the subjective assurance may be revived, by definition the subjective assurance was lost.

I didn't make any of this up, I just read the Calvinist confessional documents.

Steve Hays seems to argue by vigorous assertion, along with taking what his opponent says and extrapolating it to a point his opponent never meant. But it seems his accusations that I "lie" about Calvinism are quite off the mark, and mine is an internal critique of his claims. Perhaps if Steve wiped the foam off his monitor before posting his arguments would strike closer to home, instead of missing the mark and making him look uninformed about his own tradition.


Triablogue replies:

Unfortunately, it consists largely of speculations as to my motivations, and does not prove I lied, which was his claim.

Steve claimed the elect will have subjective assurance--as he stated there is a promise--and the WCF does not say that there is such a promise by the cunning use of the word "may", as is shown in my citation above. When caught, he changes the subject and brings in a lot of other information, such as what the confessions "do not" say, his interpretations of my motivation and tendentious alternate interpretations of rather clear statements such as "by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light...." to mean the elect do not walk in darkness. Apparently for Steve, an elect person who has no light still has assurance, which is frankly bizarre.

He also claims the document does not say the elect should look to themselves for their assurance--despite the fact the confession states just that as I cited above. If "inward evidence" is not looking into one's self, well words fail me as to how to see that as an honest interpretation of "inward evidence".

The confession I cited plainly says the elect may experience a loss of assurance, which directly contradicts Steve's claims.

Remember, all along it was my claim that the typical Protestant approach to these things is to reflect on the quality of his or her faith. The "retort" from Triablogue is to claim this is not true, and to deny the plain meaning of respected and widely believed Reformed confessions.


Steve interestingly mentioned "nuance" in his latest post. Well, if he wants his claims to be treated with nuance he should practice what he preaches and not make each of his new posts sound like they have no relationship to what was discussed before and force a conversation which has stretched over more than a week into an un-nuanced side show. It is quite interesting how I went from being "...Edward Reiss, an adroit and thoughtful Lutheran apologist" to a liar while maintaining the same argument all along. I have been saying pretty much the same thing all along so I didn't change at all.

To the point, if Steve now wants to claim that even the elect may not know they are elect he has wasted a lot of bandwidth because I have been saying that all along. And if even the elect cannot be 100% sure he has quite simply lost the argument.


This will be my last upodate, as Steve just proved my point with his latest post.

From the article Steve cites: "Note the difference from the Heidelberg: the Westminster statement says that assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith as to preclude periods of doubt."(Emph. Added)

If the faithful (who for Calvinists can never loose their salvation) have doubt, they do not have assurance. And to regain their assurance the very confession cited by Dr. Frame says to look for inward evidence.

Well, that is what I have been saying all along. This issue has never been whether in a Calvinist system one can loose his faith, I know they don't believe that is possible. The point all along is that the Calvinist system encourages and also claims we need to look into our inner evidence to prove our election, while in Lutheranism every time we hear the Gospel and believe it we are justified. And by "we" I mean everyone who believes at any time has possession of the gifts of God when he believes. Whether is believes tomorrow is tomorrow's problem.

Calvinists and Lutherans mean different things when we say "Assurance"

I think a lot of the difficulty the Calvinists are having with what I have been saying boils down to a definition of terms, because I don't think the underlying point is seriously disputed.

Calvinist assurance: You are assured of eternal salvation and under no circumstances will you lose it.

Lutheran assurance: You are assured that here, today, now, when you believe you are truly justified.

In my opinion, this is why when I say baptism is effective, real grace etc., a Calvinist will reply that this cannot be because some people who are baptized go to hell. I am using "assurance" with the Lutheran definition in mind, while the Calvinist is using assurance with the Calvinist definition in mind. Thus, Brett asks me about 1 John 2 and how this fits into my theology. When Brett sees "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments" he assumes that this knowledge means eternal assurance, while we see it as assurance that we have repented today, now and that we are Christ's today and now.

Now, I still think "Lutheran" assurance is far superior partly because by looking into one's self one cannot ever really have any assurance, as several Reformed confessions testify. Ours is a concrete event, and objective fact in history, while the Calvinist's is more of a psychological event which must be teased out, or worse, a mere feeling.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Triablogue says Lutherans are on the run....

I have been particiapting in a couple of threads on "TRIABLOGUE". Things seemed pretty cordial in the first thread, Lutherans on the Run. Then a new thread was created, Witness of the Spirit where things became heated. A poster claimed he was worried that he had comitted an unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit, which he knows would mean damnation. After the Reformed offered their confort I stated he should look to Christ:

The best thing I can say to you is that Jesus Christ died for you, and I can say that unreservedly.

In fact, it is on this issue that the argument turnes.

It is the second statement which apparently set Steve off--that the argument I was having with Steve (and others) turns on whether or not Christ died for all. Steve interpreted this as my using Rach's tormented conscience as "canon fodder" in my argument--which was not my purpose at all.

After some discussion as to whether or not we can know if someone is reprobate--to which Stece answered in the affirmative--a lot of chest thumping and accusations followed, including that I behaved despicably, that Lutheranism is callous and that somehow Lutheran theology made me sociopathic. This was stated after I pointed out "My remarks to RACH were to comfort him/her. If he/she believes I was using him/her, I apologize." Apparently this clarification/apology is not enough to sate the anger of Steve Hays who has been spitting bile for a few posts. Now there is a new post on Triablogue dedicated to Steve's misunderstanding of my point, at least as far as I can see.


Steve from Triablogue responds here:

I will leave it to the reader to decide if I lie about Calvinism.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

How an apologetic mindset can distort the Gospel

So, what kind of problems can we encounter when our faith is founded upon reason? I mean this post to deal with apologetics - i.e. rational arguments for the faith. In my experience an excessive reliance intellectual arguments can lead to theological problems, and even the loss of faith altogether.

In the early Church, one apologist was Justin Martyr. I believe that he was just a little too fond of philosophy. In some ways, this philosophy laid the foundation of the Arian heresy. St. Justin's ultimate error, in my opinion, was his claim that the Logos was emitted/begotten as an act of will by the Father. The Arian tendencies in this should be readily apparent--the Arians said that there was a time when the Son was not even though they also stated he "began" before time--though Justin's Logos Christology is not really Arian.

If we follow St. Justin's reasoning we can see he is reasoning like a Stoic, who had all kinds of logos theories. Basically, St. Justin does believe the Logos is eternal, but he was not always distinct. The stoics had an odd view of "logos". They believed in an imminent logos which did not become distinct until the thought goes out as a word. This is the intellectual framework Justin used for his apologetics - i.e. his attempt to argue with the intellectuals of his day for the truth of Christianity--which he considered the best philosophy. Basically, Justin postulated an imminent logos within God who became distinct when God, as an act of will, began to create. This is the "Logos Christology" which was ultimately abandoned by the Church. In my opinion, St. Justin's Logos Christology was a product of his intellectual environment and not Apostolic Doctrine.

One of Justin's predecessors was Theophilus:

Theophilus to Autolycus II.X

For he that is created is also needy; but he that is uncreated stands in need of nothing. God, then, having His own Word internal within His own bowels, begat Him, emitting Him along with His own wisdom before all things. He had this Word as a helper in the things that were created by Him, and by Him He made all things.

The logos is not distinct when the logos is internal, the Logos is in the bowels of God. The Logos is not dynamic unless and until the Father emits the Logos along with wisdom and begins to create "all things".

Being dynamic and distinct is a key component of personhood in orthodox triadology, so this doctrine at least implies there was a time when the person of the Logos was not. Now, it is possible that Theolophilus didn't actually believe that the Logos is not a person, but by using the philosophical categories of Stoicism he claimed what I believe is a heretical doctrine of the Logos.

If we allow the Logos is eternal as Justin does, but attempt to describe what kind of eternality the Logos has, we can begin to see how Justin could maintain both an emitted Logos and an eternal Logos. When God began to create, he spoke--the Logos became distinct where before the Logos was not distinct. This is the temporal generation the Catholic Encyclopedia found "unfortunate"
It is, of course, to Christian revelation that Justin owes his concept of the distinct personality of the Word, His Divinity and Incarnation; but philosophic speculation is responsible for his unfortunate concepts of the temporal and voluntary generation of the Word, and for the subordinationism of Justin's theology. It must be recognized, moreover, that the latter ideas stand out more boldly in the "Apology" than in the "Dialogue."

Here St. Justin spells out this Stoic doctrine of the Logos. For the Stoics, the Logos of God was the Logos endiatheos until God speaks, when the Logos is the Logos Spermatikos.

Trypho 61

For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word. When we utter a thought, the utterance of it does not diminish the power of thought in us, though in one sense the thought has gone away from us. [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled.

And here we see St. Justin on the subordination of the Logos to the Father, in part due to his Logos Christology:

Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew 56

Then I replied, “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things—above whom there is no other God—wishes to announce to them.” And quoting once more the previous passage, I asked Trypho, “Do you think that God appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre, as the Scripture asserts?

Temporal generation leads to an Arian sounding heresy all because of the requirements of a philosophical school. As I stated, St. Justin is using a Stoic doctrine of the Logos to describe how the Son was generated. It is an act of volition for the Logos to be generated--as St. Justin says, we do it the same way more or less. This is so because unless God speaks, the Logos is not distinct. Furthermore, being the Logos is generated; he is in a sense "another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things". Stated another way, there was a time the person of the Logos was not--not the way Arius stated things, but consistent with St. Justin's reasoning as a stoic, and when the person of the Logos is, he is a distinct and subordinate God.

Trypho 128

And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.

Here "numerically distinct" is not meant in the orthodox Trinitarian sense, but in the stoic sense of an imminent logos becoming an external, distinct Logos. As I pointed out, this means a temporal generation of the Son, which I think is a heresy.

Now, in my opinion St. Justin was using the scientific language of his time and place--philosophy. He called himself an apologist, and so he attempted to use reason to show the truth of Christianity. Unfortunately, by philosophizing the deposit if faith he fell into errors--the Logos being indistinct within God just like our own logoi are, the Son as a numerically distinct subordinate God. These ideas answer questions which arise in philosophy and not so much in the life of the Christian.

Now that I have given a quick outline of my reading of St. Justin (and I will accept correction if I am shown to be wrong...) here is how I would apply it to our situation today regarding apologetics. Since apologetic arguments are by their nature based upon reason, it is rather easy to substitute our reason and philosophy for what the Apostles actually teach. It is easy, for instance, to have "systematic theology" replace the preaching of the cross, or to have a philosophical notion, such as divine simplicity or essence/energies begin to rule over the rest of our theology instead of starting with the Christ and him crucified. There are a lot of arguments on the web which turn almost completely on abstract notions and have a tangential relationship with apostolic teaching and pastoral concerns. For examples, see: