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!!