Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Inklings and the Synoptic problem

The two source hypothesis goes basically like this: Matthew and Luke made use of Mark, which they supplemented with additional sources. 

There's certainly some truth to that, but it can be misleading. It's frequently presented as a vertical model of literary or conceptual information-sharing, based on order of publication. If Mark was published first, while Matthew and Luke show familiarity with Mark, then they were literarily or conceptually dependent on Mark.

But the question of literary or conceptual dependence can be more intricate and intractable. Consider the Inklings. Tolkien and Lewis both took a keen interest in Nordic/Teutonic mythology. Likewise, Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield all took a keen interest in the Arthurian mythos. And there were primary sources from which they drew. 

Conversely, there was horizontal information-sharing as they bounced ideas off each other, and shared drafts with each other. They influenced one another.

But that raises a tricky question: when you find Arthurian or Nordic/Teutonic motifs in their writings, what's the source? It is primary source material? Or did one Inkling get this from another Inkling? If two Inklings have the same motif, what's the direction of borrowing?

The order of publication is inconclusive. One Inkling might be the first to publish a story using that motif, followed by another Inkling publishing a story with a parallel motif. But even if we find "synoptic parallels" in writings of the Inklings, publication order faults to demonstrate that the author of the later writing borrowed from the author of the earlier writing. On the one hand, there's the possibility that both used a common source. On the other hand, there's the possibility that the author who published first borrowed the idea from an unpublished source. That is to say, that might reflect horizontal information-sharing rather than vertical information-sharing if he originally got the idea from a fellow Inkling during informal conversation. In some cases there may be letters or diaries that enable us to retrace the genesis of the idea, but in many cases, it isn't possible to reconstruct the creative process. 

In application to the Synoptic problem, in some cases it could be due to independent access to a common source. In other cases, an earlier publication might be indebted to the author of a later publication. 

Although Matthew's writing can't be a source for Mark, Matthew the writer might possibly be a source. A writer preexists his writings. The writer of a later writing can be a source of information for an earlier writing by a different author. 

Again, consider the Inklings. Even where there's evidence of borrowing, publication dates are not a reliable indicator of the direction in which that took place. 

Shooting a werewolf

I recently watched a dialogue between Bishop Barron and W. L. Craig. It was moderated by two philosophers. It was all very chummy. Nowadays, most Catholic apologists are laymen, usually evangelical converts to Rome, so Barron is quite exceptional in that regard. 

1. I don't object to Catholics and Protestants sharing the same stage. The problem is that Craig only agreed to participate with the understanding that this wasn't a debate over Catholicism/Protestantism. Instead, Craig and Barron both gave answers to the same questions, as if they share the same basic theological vision. For instance, they answered questions about evangelism, but Catholicism and evangelicalism have divergent views regarding the nature of salvation. So it gave the misimpression that they were sharing different tips on how to evangelize, as if it's just a question of technique, while disregarding the fact that in some fundamental ways, Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism are two different religions. There was a running equivocation throughout most of the dialogue as though Craig and Barron are spokesmen for the same basic position.  

Likewise, Barron said Catholics and evangelicals should join forces to oppose the primary threat: the secular progressive agenda. Yet contemporary Catholicism has undergone extensive secularization, and that process continues apace. Likewise, the contemporary church of Rome is sometimes on the wrong side of the culture wars these days. In many respects, it's view of "social justice" overlaps with the Democrat platform. 

What is Catholic evangelism winning them to? What does Catholicism stand for anymore? Hard to say. It's clear what Tridentine Catholicism represents. It's clear what the anti-modernism of Pius IX and Leo XIII represents. But post-Vatican II theology is like a scene in a horror flick where a lycanthrope is shot in the process of transitioning from human to werewolf. Because it dies at that point, it's frozen in a transitional stage: half human and half werewolf. 

Likewise, contemporary Catholicism increasingly resembles a mainline denomination. Contemporary Catholicism is highly eclectic and pluralistic. At present, what does it even mean to be Catholic? 

2. Craig's apathy or even hostility towards Catholic/Protestant debate is odd. He's a professional Christian apologist. Well, what does a Christian apologist defend? Presumably, he defends his own understanding of the Christian faith. Christian apologetics should defend the content of systematic theology. And that varies depending on your theological tradition. A Christian apologist can't avoid defending his own viewpoint. And that viewpoint will conflict with opposing theological perspectives. 

Even C. S. Lewis wasn't really defending "mere Christianity". Rather, he was defending his low Anglican theology. Making a case for what he believed to be essential.  

3. Barron made some telling observations about the state of Catholicism in America. Six lapsed Catholics for every one convert. Likewise, 55% of cradle Catholics now identify as Nones. 

4. Around the 44-47 min. mark, Craig said there are textual indications that Gen 1 was not intended to be "a literal consecutive 24-hour day week." From this he inferred that Gen 1 "really doesn't tell you anything about how God created lifeforms on this planet." Once you reject a literal 24-hour day creation week, then "all bets are off on how God brought about biological complexity". His reservations about evolution are scientific rather than theological.

i) That certainly explains his nonchalance regarding the creation/evolution debate. Nevertheless:

ii) He blurs chronology with literality, as if these are equivalent or mutually inclusive. But how does it follow that an account which isn't "consecutive" isn't literal? Those are two different things. 

iii) Apropos (ii), I'm struck by Craig's non sequitur. How does his conclusion derive from the premise? How would it follow from the assumption that Gen 1 isn't strictly sequential that it really doesn't tell you anything about how God created lifeforms on this planet?

To take a comparison, the narratives of Matthew and Luke aren't strictly sequential. For instance, they clump some of Christ's teaching material topically rather than chronologically. Does it follow that since their narratives aren't consistently sequential, they really don't tell you anything about the historical Jesus? Does it follow that if Gospel pericopes aren't necessarily in consecutive order, the Gospels aren't to be taken literally? How does Craig's premise yield his conclusion? 

iv) And what about Gen 2? Does he think that has any bearing on the debate about human evolution? Evidently not, although he doesn't explain why.

v) In addition, he fails to even register prima facie tensions between evolution and Christian theism. One point of conflict, which crops up in David Raup, William Provine, Stephen Jay Gould et al., is the aimless nature of the evolutionary process. The existence of man is an unintended byproduct of biological evolution. And the fortuity of man's existence is reinforced by the phenomenon of mass extinction, due to haphazard conditions. 

On this interpretation, the existence of the human race is not the goal of the evolutionary process, but an unplanned outcome of hit-or-miss developments. Every time you roll the dice, you're likely to get a different result. Natural selection is utterly indifferent to the human existence, survival, and flourishing. 

Perhaps Craig has a response, but as it stands, he acts as though he's completely unaware of the theological problems which evolution poses. 

Moreover, even if the development of humans was inevitable (a la Simon Conway-Morris), that doesn't mean the end-result was divinely intended. If you experiment with enough combinations, you can open a safe through dumb luck. Given sufficient time, you will randomly hit on the right combination. But that process didn't have man in mind. 

5. In fairness, Craig did make a number of good points along the way. Even Barron made some good points along the way. But the dialogue exposes Craig's tunnel vision. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trumpian axis mundi

I don't know what the end-game will be, but as it stands, when Trump's enemies freak out over everything he says and does, when "news" coverage is all about Trump all the time, they unwittingly empower him by making him set the agenda. He acts, they react. 

Now, perhaps the negative coverage of Trump will damage the Republican name-brand in the long run. That remains to be seen. But it's a risky strategy for Trump's enemies in the liberal establishment to make him the centerpiece of every news cycle, because that means he dictates the issues and the terms of debate. They make him the center of the universe. They are satellites, whizzing around him. 


The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise—science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives. The attainment of wisdom in a full life requires extensive attention to both domains—for a great book tells us that the truth can make us free and that we will live in optimal harmony with our fellows when we learn to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. 
Religion is too important to too many people for any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents a sop to our fears, a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.

That's a classic statement of the no-conflict thesis regarding the relationship between science and religion. They cannot directly compete with each other because they make claims about different domains. The scope of science is the physical real whereas the scope of religion is moral and spiritual realm–assuming such a realm exists.

Not surprisingly, Gould's position has been attacked as an ad hoc compromise by Christians and atheists alike. But ironically, Gould is taking the same position as proponents of methodological atheism, who insist on the same compartmentalization. They typically defend methodological atheism on three grounds: by definition, scientific method disallows supernatural or teleological explanations; supernatural are explanations are untestable; and making room for supernatural explanations would bring science to a grinding halt.

Atheists invoke the same strictures in reference to historiography. It's not that reported miracles are false; rather, reported miracles aren't even false. They fall outside the purview of what historians can take into consideration. So historians and scientists must be neutral on the supernatural. That's not something they're in a position to affirm or deny, for supernatural claims are both unverifiable and unfalsifiable–at least by scientific and historiographical criteria. 

But that generates an acute dilemma for atheists. Methodological naturalism commits them to the no-conflict thesis. 

In addition, W. V. Quine, high priest of scientism, had some radical concessions regarding the limitations of scientific knowledge:

It would address the question of how we, physical denizens of the physical world, can have projected our scientific theory of that whole world from our meager contacts with it; from the mere impacts of rays and particles on our surfaces and a few odds and ends such as the strain of walking uphill, From Stimulus to Science(Harvard 1999), 16. 
There is a puzzle here. Global stimuli are private: each is a temporally ordered set of some one individual’s receptors. Their perceptual similarity, in part innate and in part modeled by experience, is private as well. Whence then this coordination of behavior across the tribe? (20). 
The sensory atomist was motivated, I say, by his appreciation that any information about the world is channeled to us through the sensory surfaces of our bodies; but this motivation remained obscure to him. It was obscured by his concern to justify our knowledge of the external world. The justification would be vitiated by circularity if sensory surfaces and external impacts on nerve endings had to be appealed to at the outset of the justification,”Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionist and Other Essays (Harvard 2008), 328. 
There is much clarity to be gained by dropping the project of justifying our knowledge of the external world but continuing to investigate the relation of that knowledge to its sensory evidence. Obscurity about the nature of the given, or epistemic priority, is then dissipated by talking frankly of the triggering of nerve endings. We then find ourselves engaged in an internal question within the framework of natural science. There are these impacts of molecules and light rays upon our sensory receptors, and there is all this output on our part of scientific discourse about sticks, stones, planets, numbers, molecules, light rays, and, indeed, sensory receptors; and then we pose the problem of linking that input causally and logically to that output (328).  
Much as I admire [David] Lewis’s reduction, however, it is not for me. My own line is a yet more sweeping structuralism, applying to concrete and abstract objects indiscriminately. I base it, paradoxically as this may seem, on a naturalistic approach to epistemology. Natural science tells us that our ongoing cognitive access to the world around us is limited to meager channels. There is the triggering of our sensory receptors by the impact of molecules and light rays. Also there is the difference in muscular effort sensed in walking up or down hill. What more? Even the notion of a cat, let alone a class or number, is a human artifact, rooted in innate predisposition and cultural tradition. The very notion of an object at all, concrete or abstract, is a human contribution, a feature of our inherited apparatus for organizing the amorphous welter of neural input (402-03). 
The conclusion is that there can be no evidence for one ontology as over against another, so long anyway as we can express a one-to-one correlation between them. Save the structure and you save all. Certainly we are dependent on a familiar ontology of middle-sized bodies for the inception of reification, on the part both of the individual and of the race; but once we have an ontology, we can change it with impunity (405). 
This global ontological structuralism may seem abruptly at odds with realism, let alone naturalism. It would seem even to undermine the ground on which I rested it: my talk of impacts of light rays and molecules on nerve endings. Are these rays, molecules, and nerve endings themselves not disqualified now as mere figments of an empty structure? (405). 
Naturalism itself is what saves the situation. Naturalism looks only to natural science, however, fallible, for an account of what there is and what what there is does. Science ventures its tentative answers in man-made concepts, perforce, couched in man-made language, but we can ask no better. The very notion of object, or of one and many, is indeed as parochially human as the parts of speech; to ask what reality is really like, however, apart from human categories, is self-stultifying. It is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from parochial matters of miles or meters. Positivists were right in branding such metaphysics as meaningless (405). 
So far as evidence goes, then, our ontology is neutral. Nor let us imagine beyond it some inaccessible reality. The very terms ‘thing’ and ‘exist’ and ‘real,’ after all, make no sense apart from human conceptualization. Asking after the thing in itself apart from human conceptualization, is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from our parochial miles or kilometers (416). 
So it seems best for present purposes to construe the subject’s stimulus on a given occasion simply as his global neural intake on that occasion. But I shall refer to it only as neural intake, not stimulus, for other notions of stimulus are wanted in other studies, particularly where different subjects are to get the same stimulus. Neural intake is private, for subjects do not share receptors (463-64). 
But in contrast to the privacy of neural intakes, and the privacy of their perceptual similarity, observation sentences and their semantics are a public matter, since the child has to learn these from her elders. Her learning then depends indeed both on the public currency of the observation sentences and on a preestablished harmony of people’s private scales of perceptual similarity (464). 
These reflections on ontology are a salutary reminder that the ultimate data of science are limited to our neural intake, and that the very notion of object, concrete or abstract, is of our own making, along with the rest of natural science and mathematics (471).

On Quine's view, it's appearances all the way down. Not in the metaphysical sense that there's no bedrock reality which underlies appearances, but in the epistemological sense that bedrock reality is undetectable. Scientific observation, experimentation, and theorizing can never get behind perception to describe what the world is really like apart from perception. 

This, however, might have the ironic consequence that theological explanations, unlike scientific explanations, do have the potential to describe ultimate reality. In principle, there are two ways that could be the case:

i) Some theological explanations appeal to modal intuitions. They aren't filtered through sensory perception.

ii) If Scripture is divine revelation, then God's knowledge circumvents appearances. He doesn't know the world via sensory perception. Rather, he knows the world because it corresponds to his plan or idea for the world. And he can share his creative ideas with humans. 

It's analogous to the difference between seeing a movie and hearing to a director explain what he had in mind. That enables the viewer to get in back of the film. To access it from the privileged viewpoint of the film's creator. 

This upends the way many people relate faith and science: instead of science getting to the bottom of things while theology is about airy-fairy stuff and wishful thinking, it's theology that gets to the bottom of things.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hart failure

Catholic tropes

I was reading a critic of a recent book on Roman Catholicism. He recycled standard Catholic tropes. 

I think the problem mostly exists and subsists in the more individualist...forms of Protestantism to be frank.

i) Individualism is neutral. Individualism isn't inherently good or bad. Depends on the example. For instance, I remember reading an anecdote by David Marshall, a Christian apologist. He was teaching Chinese students English when the issue of a potential war between China and some other country came up. The students automatically sided with China. Marshall then asked, "What if China is wrong?"

It never occurred to his students to question the wisdom of their government officials. If China went to war, then China must be right. 

Yet that kind of unquestioning groupthink is dangerous. It gets you killed. Sometimes individualism is a good thing. Sometimes it's important to question orders.

Take someone born into a Protestant denomination. Catholic apologists think they should convert to Rome. But it takes an individualistic mindset to question your religious upbringing. 

It is not proper for Christians to be able to say mutually conflicting concepts (i.e. whether or not infants should be baptised and whether or not baptism is salvific or not) be allowed to "agree to disagree". Christians cannot say X is Christian and also Y is Christian when Y is contradictory, not supplementary, to X.

Even if that's improper, Catholicism is just one more opinion. You still have two sides on these issues. Catholicism lines up behind one side. Catholicism doesn't eliminate conflicting opinions. Rather, it represents one side of the conflict. 

A Catholic apologist will say that's different! Catholicism is on the right side!

But everyone says their side is the right side to be on. 

A Catholic apologist will say that if we just agreed with Rome, we wouldn't have these conflicts. Of course, that's true in the circular, tautological sense that if everyone takes the same side, then there won't be any conflict. But that doesn't tell you which side you should take.

And if you side with Rome, you're still part of the same competitive dynamic. You just picked the Catholic team to root for.  

But is it true that the Church is infallible? Yes. One cannot state that the Church purports to tell the Truth when the authenticity of the Church is in question. This is why a staunchly "inclusivist" ecumenism is outright utter heresy to be repudiated, not celebrated. For this strongly contends the image that there is a divided body of Christians. So in as much as the Church purports to tell the Truth, I do not see any way someone can be claiming the name of Christ while coming up short of the glorious image that the Church is his Body on Earth which he has instituted to speak the Truth to the nations. Does it do it imperfectly? Yes. Jesus is one body, he is not a severed body nor a body with two heads, two arms, and two legs which contradict each other.

i) This illustrates the blinding power of a selective metaphor. But one question we have to ask is what the metaphor is intended to illustrate. 

In addition, Scripture uses multiple metaphors for the church. Take the metaphor of the vine (Jn 10). But in that metaphor, branches can be severed from the vine. It's a pruning process. That's what the metaphor is all about.

Or take the metaphor of the flock (Jn 10; 21:15-17; Acts 2:28-29). But in that metaphor, individual sheep are separable from the flock or the shepherd. Some sheep stray. Some sheep are picked off by wolves. 

Moreover, sheep are notoriously wayward. So two or more sheep might go in opposite directions. 

Or take the image of Jesus removing lamps from churches (Rev 1-3). 

ii) But suppose we stay with the body metaphor. Even if that's a "glorious image" of the church, that doesn't mean Rome matches the image. You can't just take a theological metaphor for the church, then assume that it must correspond to Rome. 

Catholics don't begin with theological metaphors as their standard of comparison, then ask if Rome matches up. Rather, they begin with Rome as their standard of comparison, then adjust the metaphors to apply to Rome. They trim the metaphor as necessary to make it fit over their own denomination.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Umbilicus terrae

From what I've read, the basic contention of Christian Zionism is that OT promises ostensibly made to and for Israelites are just what they appear to be. They are, in fact, about the stated referent rather than a cipher for the church (i.e. Jewish and gentile Christians). On that view, Israel continues to have a special future, distinct from the gentiles. 

We might compare this to Augustinian amillennialism,  where OT prophecies and promises ostensibly about Israelites and Eretz Israel are stripped away and transferred to the church. 

A basic problem with the Augustinian interpretation is that we have many OT passages which distinguish Israel from the gentiles ("nations", "peoples", "coastlands", "ends of the earth"), predicting/promising that the gentiles will some day share Israel's faith in Yahweh and the Davidic Messiah, the gentiles will bring tribute to Israel, viz. Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4,24; 27:29; 28:14; 1 Kgs 8:43,60; 1 Chron 16:8,24,26,28,31; Pss 2:8; 22:27; 45:17; 47:1,9; 67:2-5; 72:11,17; 86:9; 102:15; 117:1; Isa 2:2-4; 5:26; 9:1; 11:10-12; 19:18-25; 24:15; 25:6-7; 42:1-12; 45:22-25; 49:1,6,22; 51:4-5; 52:10,15; 56:1-8; 60:1-16; 66:18-20; Jer 1:5; 3:17; 4:2; Ezk 37:28; 38:23; 39:7; Hos 2:23; Amos 9:12; Micah 4:2-3; Zeph 3:8-9; Haggai 2:7; Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; 9:10; 14:16; Mal 1:11.

But on that view, Israel and the Church, or Jews and gentiles, can't be blended into a single entity. A point of contrast remains. 

Assuming that's correct, does it prove Christian Zionism? That's consistent with Christian Zionism, but is it consistent with other schemes as well?

For instance, when OT prophecies address the future of Israel, that's future at the time of writing, when the oracle was delivered. Future in relation to OT prophecy. But in what future will they be fulfilled? The Intertestamental period? The church age? During a temporary millennium at the tail-end of the church age? During the final state (new Eden/new Jerusalem) after Christ returns? 

In addition to when they will be fulfilled, there's the question of how and where. Does this mean Messiah will literally reign in and from Jerusalem? Does this mean gentile Christians will literally bring tribute (or the equivalent) to Jerusalem? That gentile Christians will make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, under Jewish control?

That's one interpretive option. Here's another possibility. There's a substantive sense in which a Bible-centered faith is centered on Israel. Not in terms of physical geography, but in terms of gentiles who frame their life and thought according to a Jewish Messiah, revealed in a Jewish revelation. When, throughout the globe, gentiles make Bible history the focal point of their lives, they are tributary to Israel. Indebted to God's redemptive and revelatory activities in Palestine. 

It's striking to see gentile churches all around the world whose guiding orientation is a Jewish book about Jewish history and a Jewish Messiah. It's striking to see gentile OT and NT scholars master Greek and Hebrew to study a Jewish revelation in the original languages. It's striking to see gentile OT and NT textual critics labor to establish the most authentic text of a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile archeologists labor in the Middle East to recover background information about a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile philosophers and theologians expound the theology and ethics of a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile hymnodists compose music and lyrics about a Jewish Messiah. 

In that sense, gentile Christians pay tribute to Israel. In that sense, gentile Christians make a daily pilgrimage to Israel. We are intellectual pilgrims and tributaries to Israel because the Bible is our frame of reference for what we think and do. For how we live and what we hope for. We worship a Jewish Messiah. He rules in the Jerusalem of our hearts and minds (as it were). 

On the face of it, this is more realistic in the sense that it's hard to isolate "ethnic Israel", when so many professing Jews are not lineal decedents of Abraham. Do OT promises to Israel only apply to a core group who can trace their lineage back to Abraham? Even on Jewish terms, is Abrahamic pedigree essential to Jewish identity? What about gentile converts to Judaism? On a Zionist scheme, will they live in Israel? 

Moreover, it would be a core of a core. Within the core group of "ethnic Jews" is a subset of messianic Jews. And not messianic Jews in general, but only those with a genealogical connection to Abraham. 

In sum:

i) One possibility is that the modern state of Israel represents a stage in OT prophetic fulfillment. While that can't be ruled out, it's too early to make that identification. Clearly the modern state of Israel, c. 2018, doesn't correspond to those golden age oracles.

ii) Another possibility is a millennial fulfillment. A problem with that identification is that the only explicit text on the millennium (Rev 20) doesn't quote or allude to Zionist oracles.

iii) Yet another possibility is that in the world to come, ethnic Jews will have an everlasting homeland in territorial Israel. If so, that prospect doesn't bother me. I don't have a personal stake in that. I'm not Jewish. None of my relatives are Jewish. I have no emotional attachment to the Middle East. There are more scenic parts of the world. I wouldn't feel cheated if that's the case. 

However, that identification raises some puzzling questions. If ethnic purity is a necessary criterion to live there, that disqualifies many messianic Jews, who lack Abrahamic ancestry. 

Also, wouldn't living in one part of the world for all eternity get to be tedious? Don't we need some variety?

iv) Finally, it could mean Israel is instrumental to the salvation of the gentiles. That's our lodestar. Figuratively speaking, we worship facing Jerusalem because, in God's providence, Palestine is the historical source of our theology. In that sense, Christians are spiritual Zionists whether or not Zionism is literally true. Jerusalem remains the "navel of the earth" (umbilicus terrae). 

In the OT, there are salvific prophecies and promises about the gentiles, distinct from prophecies and promises about the house of Israel and Judah. These extend salvation to every ethnic group without merging them into a single unified referent. 

By the same token, gentiles don't need to appropriate promises to Israel given many OT prophecies specific to gentiles that extend salvation to gentiles. I'd add that just because so many OT passages have Israel as the immediate referent doesn't make them irrelevant to gentile Christians. The challenges facing gentile Christians are often analogous to the challenges facing OT Jews. 

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