Thursday, December 31, 2009

The retreating goal post

Perry Robinson:

If you want to see how a Protestant jumps around trying to avoid the obvious internal inconsistency…

I just think that when its obvious that your position is in error, and you can’t bring yourself to admit it but take months to make excuses…

What’s funny about this accusation is that Perry is the one who’s been changing the subject whereas I’ve had the same position, both in theory and practice, all along. Indeed, this isn’t the first time I’ve stated my position, so it’s not as if I’m making this up as I go along in reaction to Perry.

To set the record straight, here’s a summary paraphrase of just some of the various permutations which Perry has run through in reinventing his objection:

Objection 1.0

“Steve is a hypocrite because he pays lip-service to sola Scriptura even though he professes the unscriptural dogma of double procession!”

I respond by pointing out that I don’t, in fact, profess double procession.

Objection 2.0

“Scratch objection 1.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he professes the filioque!”

I respond by pointing out that the Nicene formulation is a paraphrase of Scripture (Jn 14:26; 15:26), so I can profess that formulation with a clear conscience.

Objection 3.0

“Scratch 2.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he professes the unscriptural formulation of the WCF!”

I respond by pointing out that the Nicene formulation is the only formulation I have occasion to profess in public worship.

Objection 4.0

“Scratch 3.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he professes the filioque in a sense at odds with original intent!”

I respond by pointing out that the original intent of an uninspired document is not obligatory.

Objection 5.0

“Scratch 4.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he disregards the fixed meaning of the text!”

I point out that meaning is assigned, and denominations reserve the right to redefine or reinterpret their own documents.

Objection 6.0

“Scratch 5.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because his position collapses into solo scriptura, in defiance of sola Scriptura!”

I respond by reminding Perry that I reject Mathison’s paradigm.

Objection 7.0

“Scratch 6.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he deceives his audience!”

I respond by pointing out that my audience is God. God knows exactly what I mean.

I also point out that privacy (i.e. private intent) is not the same thing as concealment. I’ve never made a secret of my position.

Objection 8.0

“Scratch 7.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he deceives his elders!”

I point out that strict subscription is not a condition of church membership.

Objection 9.0

“Scratch 8.0! But Steve is still a hypocrite because he tolerates false teaching!”

I point out that, in a fallen world, a certain amount of false teaching is inevitable in every local church and denomination–even those with infallibilist pretensions. As such, agreement with every jot and tittle of whatever you read or hear is not reasonable standard of Christian fellowship.

Objection 10.0

There were further permutations in Perry’s objection, but I have to switch from binoculars to a telescope to keep the goal post in view.

Life in the Son

In light of my recent exchange with Perry Robinson, I’ve been asked to expatiate on my view of the Trinity in relation to some features of Eastern and Latin triadology. I’ll use some statements by Andreas Köstenberger’s monograph on Johannine triadology as my foil.

Köstenberger is a fine Johannine scholar, and his monograph contains many fine insights. However, I think he’s a better scholar than logician. This is probably owing to modern specialization. It requires a combination of exegetical sophistication as well as philosophical sophistication to do justice to the issues. In my opinion, Köstenberger’s treatment, in the portions I quote, oscillates between truths, half-truths, equivocations, and other fallacies.

“According to the Augustinian tradition of exegesis, the triune missions reveal not only three distinct persons, but also how those three distinct persons eternally relate to one another. This view results from an interpretation of the following line of evidence. In John’s Gospel, the Father is sent by no one, but instead sends the Son (e.g. 3:17; 17:3 etc.) and the Spirit (14:26). The Son is sent by the Father and sends the Spirit (15:26; 16:7). The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son but himself sends no one,” A. Köstenberger, Father Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (IVP 2008), 179-80.

An accurate summary of the Biblical data, as far as it goes.

“To this evidence Augustine then applies the following theological principle, a principle he believes is exegetically justifiable. According to the Bishop of Hippo, the missions of the Son and the Spirit in history reveal something about the eternal, unchanging life of the Trinity” (180).

The economic Trinity undoubtedly reveals “something” about the immanent Trinity.

“Specifically, one can be sent in time only by someone from whom one eternally proceeds. Temporal missions reveal and are rooted in eternal processions “(180).

How does that follow?

i) If God sends a prophet, like Amos, does this mean that Amos eternally proceeds from God? If not, then the inference is fallacious. If so, then the inference is equivocal inasmuch as Amos hardly proceeds from God in the same sense as God’s Son–even on Köstenberger’s definition.

Likewise, is the temporal mission of Amos rooted in eternal procession?

Clearly this doesn’t work as a general principle. Therefore, it’s invalid to draw a specific conclusion from this general principle.

ii) Maybe Köstenberger was speaking in shorthand. Perhaps what he really meant is that temporal Trinitarian missions reveal and entail eternal processions. But, in that event, he can’t infer the conclusion from a general principle. At best, it’s a postulated analogy between a specific origin and a specific outcome.

And that amounts to an assertion rather than an argument. It doesn’t begin with a broad principle that all Christians accept, and then derives a specific conclusion.

“The fact that the Spirit is sent, ‘breathed,’ by the Father and the Son (Gen 2:7; Jn 20:22) reveals that he proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one originating principle (180).”

How does that follow?

i) To begin with, both “breathing” and “proceeding” are metaphors. One is a respiratory metaphor while the other is a locomotive metaphor. How can you infer one metaphor from another?

ii) Moreover, a metaphor is figurative rather than literal. As such, you can’t go straight from a metaphor to a literal truth (much less a logical deduction). Rather, you first need to unpack the metaphor in order to isolate and identify the literally true component(s) of the intended analogy.

iii) Why assume that Gen 2:7 refers to the Holy Spirit? This verse conjures up the image of a potter who animates a clay doll by breathing into it. Because the potter is a living, breathing agent, he can breathe life into the lifeless clay doll. To identify his breath with the Holy Spirit gets carried away with the picturesque illustration.

iv) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this has reference to the Holy Spirit, it’s describing a temporal process, not a timeless state of being. And the same is true in reference to Jn 20:22.

Perhaps Köstenberger would interject at this point that temporal relations mirror eternal relations. But that’s the very issue in dispute.

“The triune God, in other words, acts characteristically in the triune mission. And he does so because revealing his true character is internal to that mission” (181).

Well, yes and no.

i) The economic Trinity always acts in a manner consistent with the immanent Trinity. There’s no contradiction between the two.

ii) However, this doesn’t mean the two are identical. For one thing, there’s an element of contingency to the economic Trinity. It’s not as if God never had the freedom to do anything the least bit differently, had he so chosen. The immanent Trinity goes to the essential nature of God, whereas the economic Trinity reflects the will of God. God willed to work in that fashion in the economy of redemption. But that division of labor is not a metaphysical necessity.

iii) At the same time, the NT also treats the Incarnation and humiliation of the Son as something which is, in some respects, uncharacteristic or out-of-character. For the Creator to assume the role of a creature, submit himself to his law for man, and be punished as if he were a heinous sinner is, in some fairly obvious ways, the antithesis of his moral and metaphysical transcendence. It’s meant to be surprising–even incongruous.

“The main point affirmed in describing the Second Person of the Trinity as the ‘only-begotten Son’ is that the Son is God by nature, and not by adoption, and that the Son personally possesses what he possesses in the way of a son, i.e. from his Father” (181n75).

This bundles several issues into one:

i) Keep in mind that divine “sonship” is a metaphor, just like divine “fatherhood” is a metaphor. In scriptural usage, sonship is a polyvalent metaphor. That one rich metaphor triggers a number of significant connotations. And these, in turn, have literal analogues. Both exegetical and systematic theology need to unpack these metaphors to identify the literal attributes and/or prerogatives which are signified by the metaphor.

ii) It’s true that Christ’s sonship (i.e. “Son of God”) is frequently a divine title in NT usage. So that’s a status he has by nature.

iii) Is sonship also meant to signify his mode of origin? I don’t think so. Rather, a filial mode of origin is a figurative synonym for figurative sonship–and all that represents.

“Begetting” is a process. And it’s a different, but related way of expressing the same metaphor. It simply lays emphasis on the cause rather than the effect.

But even Christians who subscribe to the eternal generation of the Son don’t think a literal process is in view.

And, of course, we’re dealing with a sexual metaphor. As such, I don’t think the sexual metaphor, per se, has any literal analogue.

Rather, it’s a figurative synonym for sonship. Sonship is also a metaphor, but one with some literal analogues.

iv) Although Scripture repudiates an adoptionist Christology, we also need to distinguish between the status of the Son qua God and the status of the Son qua God incarnate. As God qua God, nothing can augment or diminish his status. But as God qua incarnate, the Son can, indeed, acquire a status. For example, Jesus really is the heir of the Davidic covenant. That isn’t metaphorical. That is something which happens in time.

“His filial mode of being belongs to his distinctive personal way of being God” (182).

True, but tautological.

“In other words, the economic Trinity is not other than the immanent Trinity: the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity personally engaged in the gracious act of becoming our Father, through the Son, by the Spirit…When Father, Son and Holy Spirit engage in the missio Dei, then do not stand above or behind that mission. When Father, Son and Holy Spirit engage in the missio Dei, they engage personally in that mission as they eternally are, that is, according to their characteristic interpersonal relationships” (182).

Here we have a fuller statement of the faulty Augustinian inference (one that Köstenberger endorses) which underwrites this entire chain of thought. The basic problem is that it represents a major overstatement.

i) On the one hand, it’s true that the economic Trinity is revelatory of the immanent Trinity. And it’s also true that the economic Trinity is grounded (as it were) in the immanent Trinity.

ii) On the other hand, this unqualified inference makes no allowance for the principle of divine accommodation in God’s self-disclosure. For example, God uses metaphors, idioms, and anthropomorphisms as a medium of self-disclosure. So we can’t treat these as literal descriptors of what God is like in himself.

Rather, we have to raise them to the appropriate level of abstraction. What does paternity stand for? What does sonship stand for? What’s the intended point of correspondence?

A metaphor is a figurative analogy. The analogy is literal, but the metaphor is figurative. You have to extract the literal metaphor from the figurative metaphor by eliminating the incidental aspects of the metaphor.

“Indeed, if the missions are truly missions of the triune God, then we may expect that the relational pattern which unfolds in the Spirit’s mission belongs not merely to his saving mission but to his very identity…After all, the point of the triune missions is that we might know ‘the only true God’ (17:3)” (183).

True, but misleading. Whatever God reveals about himself is true to what God is really like–in himself. But that doesn’t authorize us to prejudge the question of what God intends to reveal about himself.

“In Trinitarian theology, the means of revelation and the content of revelation ultimately cannot be divorced, because how God gives and reveals is tied to what God gives and reveals: himself” (183).

That has a grain of truth, but it’s hyperbolic. Köstenberger is forcing a false dichotomy on the reader. But the relationship between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity is not a choice between absolute identity and absolute alterity. Rather, there’s an analogy between the two. And every analogy has its share of disanalogies. For example, some things are true of God incarnate that are not true of God discarnate.

“The Father is the fons divinitas. All that the Son and the Spirit have, they receive personally from him. The consubstantial deity of the Son and the Spirit with the Father is in no way diminished by the receptive status of the Son and the Spirit, for the Father shares with them all things (5:26; 16:13-15; 17:7), except for the personal trait of being ‘Father’” (184).

i) His prooftexts have reference to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity.

ii) Whether or not their “receptive” status diminishes their consubstantial deity is something that needs to be argued for, and not merely posited, as a given.

“The whole point of the dispute in John 5 concerns Jesus’ equality with God as God’s Son. In other words, it is his personal identity as the Son of God, the one who has the right to receive all things from God and to do as God does, that constitutes the basis for his messianic investiture and activity” (184n91).

i) But that raises the question of whether coequality is compatible with derivation.

ii) There is a dialectical relationship in Johannine Christology: only a human being can receive divine prerogatives, but only divine being can receive divine prerogatives. It’s the Incarnation which harmonizes the dialectic.

“It should be added (also contra Reymond) that Calvin’s rigorous defence of the Son’s self-existence did not lead him to deny the Son’s eternal generation from the Father” (184n91).”

i) True. However, Warfield, for one, took it a step further.

ii) We also need to distinguish between eternal Sonship and eternal generation. Both are metaphors. However, “generation,” as a sexual metaphor, is purely figurative. Its only value is to serve as a synonym for sonship.

But since the metaphor of sonship has literal analogues, you can affirm eternal Sonship even though you disaffirm eternal generation.

iii) There is also a debate about the meaning of monogenes. Modern scholars generally reject the rendering of “only-begotten” in favor of “one-and-only,” based on Greek etymology.

I actually think this is questionable. For Scripture frequently employs “folk etymologies” based on homonymic similarities between one word and another. So a Greek speaker might well associate “monogenes” with “only-begotten.”

Since, however, we’re still dealing with a metaphor, I don’t think that settles the underlying issue. The question isn’t simply how to construe the Greek, but how to construe the metaphor.

“The point is not that the Father, as fons divinitatis, generates the divinity of the Son and the Spirit. Divinity, by definition (Exod 3:14!), cannot be generated” (184).

I agree. However, I don’t think you can infer divine aseity from Hebrew syntax (not to mention the syntactical ambiguities of this enigmatic phrase). I seriously doubt the divine name was meant to heave all that metaphysical freight.

“Nor do we claim that the unity of God is found only in the person of the Father. What sense, then, does it make to speak of the Father as fons divinitatis? Understanding this assertion requires a firm grasp of the dogmatic distinction between essence and person” (184).

I agree with this distinction. However, Köstenberger needs to exegete this distinction from his prooftexts.

“This distinction, we should add, is rooted in John’s twofold use of ‘God’ in 1:1. There John uses ‘God’ to refer to the person of the Father and to refer to the common nature shared by the Father and the Son” (184n92).

I think it would be more accurate to distinguish between the use of “God” as a common noun and a proper noun.

“The son and the Spirit, as concrete persons, are ‘from the Father.” The Father, in other words, is the ‘font’ of persons who are divine. However, those persons, with the Father, fully possess the identical, self-existent (underived, ungenerated) divine essence of the Father. In Johannine terms, Jesus has ‘life in himself’ (5:26) (He is the self-existent, ungenerated God) and is this God as the Son, who personally shares self-existence with the Father because he is the Son of the Father (5:26)” (184).

Several problems:

i) His Johannine prooftexts don’t distinguish between the ingenerate nature of the Son and the generate person of the Son. (Ditto: the Spirit.) Köstenberger is superimposing that distinction on his prooftexts.

ii) Apropos (i), this is where the figurative paternal/filial analogy breaks down. Literal sons are not ingenerate in any sense. And that, in turn, invalidates the facile, Augustinian inference from the economic Trinity to the immanent Trinity–as if whatever is true of the former is true of the latter.

iii) To refer 5:26 to the immanent Trinity is pantheistic. For the “life” in question is a communicable attribute (v21; 6:57). If the life which Jesus imparts to others is the same kind of life that the Father imparts to Jesus, then we have a pantheistic chain-of-being.

iv) I think 5:26 is making a different point. You can only give what you have. Because God is the living God, he can give life to others (6:57). That’s how he can be the Creator. And it also makes him the recreator of the dead–with a view to the resurrection of Jesus as well as the resurrection of the just.

In context, the type of life which God imparts to Jesus, and Jesus imparts to others, is resurrection life (5:21).

“The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father as ‘the gift’ who rests upon and indwells God’s beloved Son (1:32-34), the one whom the Father shares all things (3:34-35)” (185).

i) His prooftexts refer to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity.

ii) To define the Spirit as a “gift,” in reference to the immanent Trinity, reduces the Spirit to a contingent effect of Father’s will rather than his nature. On that view, the Spirit has no essential, intrinsic identity.

“But this must mean that the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Son as well (7:37-39; 15:26; 16:7; 20:22), just because the Father shares ‘all things’ with the Son except for the personal trait of being the Father of the Son (cf. 16:15)” (185).

His prooftexts don’t say that.

“ As the Spirit of the Son (cf. Gal 4:6), the Spirit eternally springs forth (cf. 7:38) in the fullness of the Son’s joy, the joy of being the beloved Son of the Father (15:11; 17:13; cf. Lk 10:21)” (185).

i) Jn 7:38 has reference to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity.

ii) It also denotes a communicable property (7:37-38). If we equate this with the essential being of God, then we’re back to pantheism (see above).

iii) This reduces the Spirit to the side-effect of a divine attribute. And one of God’s emotive attributes, at that. Does Köstenberger think that every divine attribute produces a corresponding hypostasis? That would result in far more than a Trinity of persons.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Burning heretics

William Watson Birch said...

"I swear, if Owen had the authority, he would have burned every Arminian in England."

Actually, I think the Arminian prelate Archbishop Laud would probably furnish a more viable candidate for burning all theological opponents if he could get away with it.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Plus ça change

William Watson Birch said...

"I was just like Owen when I was a Calvinist, and I'll tell you why: I was proud, arrogant, and utterly unloving to other believers with whom I disagreed, and so are those who act like that."

Plus c’est la même chose

William Watson Birch said...

"I don't mind zealots, but lying fanatics are another story altogether [emphasis mine]."

New Year's [ir]resolutions

[Billy Birch] I hate regrets. But as much I hate regrets, I also learn from them. For example, I think back over this year and remember how poorly I acted at times in debate toward other Christian brothers with whom I have disagreed. That has got to change. I cannot complain about others who act ungodly toward other Christians with whom they disagree and then behave in the same manner. I hate depravity.

As far as this blog is concerned for 2010, I intend on being more gracious with those who oppose my ideas and exegesis of Scripture...

Beginning Wednesday, December 30, 2009, I will be posting on John Owen's book, A Display of Arminianism. This contemptible and paltry book is a classic in Calvinistic literature as a tirade against Arminianism. The blurb on back of the book reads: "Some may ask, 'why another book exposing Arminianism?' A simple answer should suffice for all lovers of the truth ~ Arminianism is heresy!"

Though I have every intention on dialoguing with others in a manner that is becoming a Christian in the coming year, I have every intention of exposing Owen's puerile work for what it is ~ not a mere misrepresentation of Arminianism but a collection of servile lies [emphasis mine].

Yes, Dr. Sproul, I am equally frustrated ~ especially when liars such as John Owen vomit such excrement as is found in A Display of Arminianism, which is still in print, and which is still being promoted by Calvinists today as an accurate refutation of Classical Arminianism. And what is equally frustrating is when Calvinists tolerate such lies, caricatures, and misrepresentations, without correcting their colleagues with the truth [emphasis mine].

Thankfully he hasn't violated his New Year's resolution, having gotten these jabs in just under the wire.

Shucking corn


"Thanks to a good friend (it would be nice in the future if you would link to those you ‘tabloid’ on)"

That would deprive you of the wonderful incentive to read our blog every day. I'd never think to deny you so much spiritual edification.

“Hmmm…Dr. Hodge’s assessments are now a ‘pseudoresponse’…”

Yes, it’s a pseudoresponse.

i) On the one hand, Hodge wasn’t writing with Jason and me in mind. His stated position is irrelevant to the specific arguments that Jason and I brought forward.

ii) On the other hand, you’re also using Hodge as a shortcut to avoid interacting with the specific arguments of Jason and myself.

On all counts, then, your appeal to Hodge is a pseudoresponse.

The only reason you introduce him into the discussion is to pull rank, as if debates in Protestant theology are settled by merely citing the opinion of big-name theologian. But Hodge would never appeal to his own person as an argument.

“Me: False, Dr. Hodge deals directly with the initial issue raised by Jason.”

Which demonstrates, once again, your deficient reading skills. So many books–so little reading comprehension.

“Me: Perhaps your ad hominem attacks sooth your conscience, but to those who embrace objectivity, they are little more than childish rants.”

It’s very droll for a Catholic, who exalts the pope as the “Holy Father,” to accuse a Protestant of “childishness.” By definition, every Catholic is a perpetual child in relation to the pope. Roman Catholicism elevates arrested development to the status of dogma.

And the Catholic mindset is quite pertinent to the issue at hand. Catholic epologists like Waltz are trying to motivate evangelicals to convert to Rome. They appeal to their motives. They treat to cultivate spiritual insecurities in the mind of the evangelical. So motives matter.

Waltz converted from a paternalistic cult to a paternalistic denomination. He, like other Catholic converts and reverts, suffers from a juvenile need for parental approval. The pope is their surrogate father-figure.

“Me: Indeed—address his arguments Steve.”

Address the arguments of Thornwell, David.

And while you’re at it, go back and address the arguments of Jason and me, David.

“Me: Yep, and on slavery too!!!”

If you want to bring up Thornwell’s misguided defense of slavery, then is that the cue for me to bring up the Inquisition? What about the priestly abuse scandal?

From the “Annex” to the “Official Common Statement” of the “Joint Declaration” we read:

++C) Justification takes place "by grace alone“ (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified „apart from works“ (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25). "Grace creates faith not only when faith begins in a person but as long as faith lasts“ (Thomas Aquinas, S. Th.II/II 4, 4 ad 3).The working of God’s grace does not exclude human action: God effects everything, the willing and the achievement, therefore, we are called to strive (cf. Phil 2:12 ff). "As soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit...“ (The Formula of Concord, FC SD II,64f; BSLK 897,37ff).==

“Bad to worse”, oh yeah Steve, oh yeah…you are such an objective voice…

i) The Joint Declaration wasn’t issued by the Vatican. And even if it was, it's hardly an expression of the extraordinary Magisterium.

ii) Catholics don’t really believe that justification takes place by “faith alone.” Read the fine print. That joint affirmation will die the death of a thousand qualifications.

ii) Since I don’t think the Holy Spirit initiates regeneration through word and sacrament, all you’ve succeeded in doing at this point is to document a serious error in Catholic theology. Thanks for making my case.

iii) To say that “God’s grace does not exclude human action” is deliberately equivocal. A statement like that can be developed in either an acceptable or unacceptable direction.

iv) In what sense does the Holy Spirit merely “initiate” regeneration? Does this mean regeneration has stages, and the Holy Spirit is only responsible for the initial stage?

So what about Hodge?

“Does the Church of Rome retain truth enough to save the soul?”

i) That’s hardly a “direct,” “heads-on” response to what Jason and I were talking about. We weren’t discussing the question of whether there are isolated cases (few or many) in which an observant Catholic can be saved.

Rather, we were discussing the question of whether Catholic justification is sufficiently analogous to the position of the Judaizers to fall under the Pauline anathema.

ii) And as far as the salvation or damnation of individual Catholics is concerned–which is not the issue we were discussing–even if that were the issue at hand, the question wouldn’t be whether individual Catholics can be saved, but whether the Catholic belief-system in toto constitutes a credible profession of faith.

“They retain the doctrine of the Incarnation, which we know from the infallible word of God, is a life-giving doctrine. They retain the whole doctrine of the Trinity.”

One thing that has changed since the days of Hodge is that Catholics are now allowed to entertain a far more sceptical views on the historicity and authorship of Scripture. At that point, the Catholic prooftexts for the Incarnation and the Trinity lose their traditional footing.

“They teach the doctrine of atonement far more fully and accurately than multitudes of professedly orthodox Protestants.”

Catholicism teaches the insufficiency of the atonement. It must be supplemented by various gimmicks and expedients.

“They hold a much higher doctrine, as to the necessity of divine influence, than prevails among many whom we recognize as Christians.”

“Necessity” is not the issue. Sufficiency is the issue.

“They believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

So do Moonies, Mormons, and Muslims. A statement like this is just a cipher. It means next to nothing until a theological tradition defines the key terms. What specific doctrine of forgiveness is actually in view?

“These doctrines are in their creeds, and however they may be perverted and overlaid, still as general propositions they are affirmed.”

Of course, the interpretive overlay is the nub of the problem. How does one proceed to unpack these general propositions? What do they actually mean in Catholic theology? And what do they mean to the individual Catholic?

“And it must be remembered, that it is truth presented in general propositions, and not with subtle distinctions, that saves the soul.”

Assuming that the individual Catholic shucks the Catholic husk off the underlying cob, and gives the cob a Scriptural sense.

Justification by faith or baptism?

Back on December 17, Bryan Cross posted a reply to Jason Engwer and me (mainly in response to Jason). I already posted a rejoinder.

Bryan quickly dropped out of the discussion he initiated, leaving the remainder of the discussion to another commenters. And it seems as if they too have now vacated the field. I’ll post some observations I made in private email, in response to what two Catholic commenters said in reply to Jason:


Preslar isn't so overbearing or contradictory as Bryan. However...

"This is a really difficult position to be in, especially when it comes to interpreting Galatians 3.23-29 and Titus 3.4-7, where justification is explicitly linked to baptism."

i) Which assumes that Titus refers to baptism.

ii) I thought Fee offered a perfectly plausible, contextual explanation of Gal 3:27–not that Preslar has read it.

iii) There's a deeper problem, too. It never dawns on sacramentalists that the very nature of symbols and metaphors is such that whatever is said of the thing they stand for can be said of them–within the limits of the intended analogy. That's the point of a symbol or metaphor. For instance, Bible speakers and writers attribute spiritual cleansing to baptism since baptism is a watery rite, and therefore functions as a natural symbol or metaphor for cleansing. But, of course, that's figurative, not literal.

Sacramentalists don't even deal with that possibility, even though it's so obvious.

"On my reading of St. Paul, and Galatians 3 in particular, the ontological (union with Christ)..."

Are we in "ontological union" with Christ? What is that supposed to mean, exactly?

"I think that Bryan has made this point, and it is what I was referring to by the Spirit being given proleptically, in anticipation of baptism, wherein he is promised, and given (since God cannot break his promise)."

Of course, "proleptically given, in anticipation of baptism," is just a face-saving distinction.

"You seem to be assuming that if the Spirit is given before baptism, then he is not given in baptism."

He and Bryan keep playing this rhetorical shell-game. But if the Spirit wasn't given at the time of baptism, then, by definition, he wasn't given "in" baptism.

"...I will abide by the negative principle of not denying anything, least of all when it is only 'contradicted' by silence."

i) Of course, your argument has hardly been limited to the argument from silence.

ii) However, if it's a case of telling someone how to be saved, we wouldn't expect the speaker or writer to be silent on a key condition–without which the individual couldn't be saved. That would be like having an oncologist tell you that you can be cured of cancer by undergoing chemo, but neglecting to mention that unless you also undergo radiation, in addition to chemo, you'll die of cancer.

'If Our Lord intended a New Covenant context for his story of the tax collector, then we know, based upon our knowledge of the New Covenant, that the tax collector in Luke 18 would be expected to receive New Covenant baptism.'

That's hopelessly reductionistic. There are three difference audiences for a parable:

i) The fictional audience (i.e. characters who comprise the audience within the story).

ii) The historical audience (i.e. the audience whom Jesus was addressing at the time).

iii) The implied audience (i.e. the audience at whom the Gospel is directed).

In fact, it's wildly allegorical to read baptism into the parable.

"Baptism is explicitly included in Acts 10.44-48. Cornelius and his household received, in baptism, the same Spirit they had received before baptism."

They received the Spirit twice? Once before baptism, and a second time after (or during) baptism?

"Furthermore, based upon all that we know to be promised in baptism, identification with Christ (Romans 6), rebirth (John 3), forgiveness of sins/justification (Gal 3, Titus 3, Acts 2), salvation (1 Pet 3), we can conclude that the Spirit is given in baptism as a beginning of our identification with Christ in his mystical body, and all that this entails, which includes initial justification."

He's citing prooftexts without bothering to exegete them. Which begs the question every step of the way.

"You will of course want to say (or point to where you have said) some things about what the NT says about baptism, but it is important to begin by simply affirming whatever it says about baptism, as in just reading and saying “yes, Lord, I believe your testimony concerning baptism.” It seems to me that this action is fundamental to further exegetical endeavors. No good holding certain bits at arm’s length."

No, that's not a preliminary step inasmuch as he prejudges what they mean.

"...and the temporal sequence involved in repentance/faith/baptism is not sufficient reason to disassociate the gifts given in baptism from the salvific gifts given prior to baptism."

If the very same gifts are given both before and after, or "in" (i.e. during?) baptism, then how can he avoid saying that all these gifts can be given and sometimes are given apart from baptism?

And in that event, what does baptism add to the transaction?

T Ciatoris

"Your rhetoric here is a misdirection. I pointed out that Tertullian is arguing against a group who seems to have a view of baptism similar to yours, and that this means that you haven’t identified here an example of rejection of baptismal regeneration within Catholic tradition. You’ve interpreted this to mean that I am bound to agree with everything Tertullian says, thereby shifting the burden onto me with respect to Tertullian. That’s a non sequitur. You’ve already admitted that the most popular view of baptism was mine, so the onus is on you to produce counterexamples to show the acceptability of “alternative” views of baptism within the Church. Tertullian does not give you one."

This has strayed very far from what Bryan originally posted on. And it's strayed even further from the exchange over at Taylor's blog which got the ball rolling. Bryan took issue with your interpretation of Galatians because you failed to draw what Bryan then indicated was a key distinction between (bad) justification by keeping the ceremonial law and (good) justification by keeping the moral law. After challenged on that, Bryan fell back on other distinctions: between justification under the OT and justification under the NT, between initial justification and progressive justification.

Not surprisingly, the Catholic commenters are now trying to shift the debate to the patristic theory of justification. While there's nothing inherently wrong with debating that, that's hardly the central issue, much less the original issue.

"With respect to your arguments about 'normative' vs. 'exceptional' cases, you still haven’t produced patristic texts that show that baptism and justification are 'normatively' separate. So I’ll have to withhold judgment on that pending the appearance of such texts."

Red herring.

"I asked again for direct evidence that any of the Fathers didn’t interpret John 3:5, 1 Cor 12:13, or Titus 3:5 as referring to the sacrament of baptism."

A diversionary tactic.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gilt-leaf kennel

1.I see (albeit intermittently) that David Waltz has offered a pseudoresponse to Jason Engwer and me.

I almost never read his blog. For one thing, it’s only of those odd blogs that is only online between 2AM-3AM every leap year. You know the kind– “Can’t find server…can’t find server…can’t find…”

He reminds me a survivalist on his the ham radio in the hinterlands of Idaho.

2.After promising to address our objection “directly” or “head-on,” Waltz does nothing of the kind. Instead, he quotes a dated statement by Charles Hodge. Needless to say, that doesn’t begin to “directly” refute a single thing that Jason or I have said. That’s more like “tails-on” than “heads-on.”

3.Mind you, I’m gratified that Waltz finds theological inspiration in Chas Hodge. I’d encourage him to keep moving in that direction.

3.Unfortunately, Waltz still has the mindset of a cult member. Dear old Nipper…I mean…Waltz simply transferred his canine fealty from owner to another–“His Master’s Voice.” Transferred his tether from the Watch Tower to the Vatican. No doubt the Vatican has a better-appointed kennel, but a gilt leaf kennel is still a kennel.

And because he’s incapable of thinking outside his ecclesiolatrous paradigm, Waltz acts as though he’s played a trump card when he can cite Hodge’s opinion on 19C, pre-Vatican II Catholicism.

Well, Hodge is not my rule of faith. Hodge is not my pope. He’s certainly entitled to a respectful hearing. I own most of his writings. But it comes down to the argument, not the man.

4.I’d add that Hodge didn’t even speak for all American Calvinists on this score. There was a celebrated contretemps between Hodge and Thornwell on the validity of Catholic baptism:

5.Keep in mind, too, that Roman Catholicism is a denomination which keeps going from bad to worse.

Jerome Hines gives his testimony and sings

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

How Was John 3:5 Interpreted Prior To The Reformation?

Steve Hays and I have been having a discussion with Bryan Cross on some subjects related to justification, including the role of baptism. The original thread at Bryan's blog is here. Steve recently commented on the thread here and here.

One of the issues raised in the discussion was also brought up by a Catholic poster here in another recent thread. If passages like John 3:5 and Galatians 3:27 aren't teaching justification through baptism, then why were such passages always interpreted in support of baptismal justification prior to the Reformation? Often, the person raising such an objection will mention the church fathers in particular. Why didn't they interpret passages like John 3:5 as Evangelicals commonly do today?

Several points should be kept in mind:

- Appealing to later sources you agree with doesn’t explain earlier sources for whom evidence has been offered of their disagreement with you. You can't justify your view of a passage like John 3:5, Acts 2:38, or Galatians 3:27 solely by appealing to what people like Irenaeus, Cyprian, and Augustine believed.

- The Bible covers a far larger period of time than the patristic era does, and baptismal justification is highly inconsistent with the Biblical view. If I think I’ve misunderstood what a Biblical author says about justification, I can look for clarification elsewhere in his writings. If I think I’ve misunderstood that author, I can look to another Biblical author. Etc. Before we even get to the church fathers, we have multiple documents from multiple Biblical authors giving us information and clarification. For example, Galatians is widely thought to be the earliest New Testament document or one of the earliest. And Paul’s letters circulated widely early on and were highly regarded even before the apostolic generation came to a close (Colossians 4:16, 2 Peter 3:15-16, etc.). If somebody like Luke or John wrote fifteen, thirty, or more years after Galatians was written, then we can take what he wrote as an indication of how he interpreted Galatians or would have interpreted it if he’d read it (assuming apostolic unity, which conservative Catholics and Evangelicals do). It’s not as though we have to wait until the patristic era to get some idea of how a book like Galatians was being interpreted early on. A portion of the New Testament can be a line of evidence as to how another portion of the New Testament was being interpreted. What does Acts or the gospel of John, for example, suggest about how Galatians was interpreted early on? Or how do Paul's later letters suggest that an earlier letter, like Galatians, should be read?

- Advocates of baptismal justification often try to focus the discussion on post-apostolic sources by making the Biblical sources seem less relevant than they actually are. It's often asserted, for example, that justification apart from baptism in the Old Testament era is irrelevant, since baptism didn't become a requirement until later and, thus, there's some discontinuity between the Old and New Testament eras accordingly. But that conclusion needs to be argued, not just asserted. The New Testament authors suggest a high degree of continuity between the means of justification in the Old and New Testament eras. They cite Abraham and other Old Testament figures to illustrate how people are justified today. Bringing in baptism as a new means of receiving justification diminishes that continuity. Such a diminishing of continuity needs to be argued, not just asserted, since Biblical authors like Paul and James don't suggest such a qualified continuity when they discuss the subject.

- Similarly, John’s gospel emphasizes Jesus’ statements about salvation during His earthly ministry (John 3:16, 5:24, 11:25-26, etc.), and John tells us that he wrote his gospel to lead people to salvation (John 20:31), using language similar to Jesus’ language earlier in the gospel. Yet, advocates of baptismal justification often argue that baptism wasn’t added as a means of justification until after Jesus’ earthly ministry. Again, adding baptism diminishes the continuity suggested by the Biblical authors. A reason why many advocates of baptismal justification want to place the adding of baptism after Jesus’ earthly ministry is because that ministry was characterized by Jesus’ forgiving, pronouncing peace, and healing people upon their coming to faith, without baptism. See here. The discontinuity that advocates of baptismal justification want us to accept needs to be argued, not just asserted.

- Josephus tells us that John the Baptist’s baptism wasn't justificatory (Antiquities Of The Jews, 18:5:2). Given the close relationship between John's baptism and Christian baptism, the non-justificatory nature of John's baptism is a significant line of evidence for the non-justificatory nature of Christian baptism. And here we also see an example of the relevance of extra-Biblical sources other than the church fathers (Josephus in this case).

- Even if we limited ourselves to data postdating Jesus' earthly ministry and limited ourselves to Christian baptism, we're still told that justification occurs through believing response to the gospel, prior to baptism (Acts 10:44-46, 19:2, Galatians 3:2, etc.). And there's no reason to conclude that such passages represent exceptions to a rule.

- If the advocate of baptismal justification has to exempt the entire Old Testament era, exempt Jesus' earthly ministry, distance the non-justificatory nature of John's baptism from Christian baptism, and dismiss passages like Acts 10:44-46 as some sort of exception to the rule, then we're not in a situation in which we're looking to the church fathers and other later sources to clarify something that's unclear. Rather, the Biblical evidence heavily favors justification through faith alone. The reason why the advocate of baptismal justification wants to make a series of dubious exemptions (exempting the Old Testament era, etc.) and shift the focus to post-apostolic sources is because the earlier sources are so unfavorable to his position.

- We find a few views of baptism and justification, not just one view, in the patristic sources. The view that justification is normatively attained at the time of baptism was popular, and I consider that popularity the best argument for the doctrine. But we also find the view that justification occurs prior to baptism and views involving at least a beginning of justification prior to baptism. See here.

- When a source like Clement of Rome or Polycarp discusses justification without even mentioning baptism, any assumption that baptism was meant to be included must be argued, not merely asserted. Including baptism in such passages isn't the most natural way of reading the text. And it can't be assumed that such men must have agreed with other sources who advocated baptismal justification. Why not assume, instead, that they must have agreed with the rejection of baptismal justification that we see in other sources, including earlier ones? Clement of Rome could be read in light of Justin Martyr or Irenaeus, but he also could be read in light of Paul or Luke.

- We can know what people believed about baptismal justification by a variety of means, not just how they interpreted a passage like John 3:5 or Galatians 3:27. For example, if a Jehovah’s Witness were to interpret a passage in Isaiah in a manner that contradicts the deity of Christ, we wouldn’t need to have an extant document in which Athanasius comments on that passage in order to conclude that Athanasius probably didn’t view the passage as the Jehovah’s Witness does. Since Athanasius affirmed the deity of Christ, we would assume that he didn’t interpret the passage in Isaiah as the Jehovah’s Witness interprets it. Similarly, we wouldn’t judge whether a patristic source saw baptismal justification in Galatians 3:27 solely on the basis of what he said when commenting on that passage in particular. Since some Christian sources of the patristic era did reject baptismal justification, we can conclude that they probably didn’t see baptismal justification in Galatians 3 without having any documents from them in which they comment on that passage in particular.

- Much of what Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believe on other subjects was absent or widely contradicted in early church history. See here. There’s far better evidence for early belief in justification prior to baptism than there is for early belief in the papacy or the sinlessness of Mary, for example.

Byzantine intrigue


“Somehow I don’t think I’ll take you as an informative source for what the Orthodox teach on eschatology. For starters, you assume that Revelation is even part of Orthodox lectionaries. That’s a good reason to think that you aren’t a reliable source for Orthodox theology.”

I didn’t specify any particular liturgy of any particular church, whether Greek Orthodox or Coptic Orthodox or Roman Catholic. I simply used that example to illustrate a general principle. If a Catholic or Orthodox priest or bishop is preaching a homily on a book of the Bible which implicates the millennium, then he’ll have to teach his view of the millennium. But since he’s not infallible, since there’s more than one position, and since his church hasn’t taken an official position, then it’s quite possible that he will teach falsehood.

And, of course, I could illustrate the same principle using any number of other examples.

What you’re trying to do is deflect attention away from that problem since you yourself have no answer to the problem you pose for others.

“If we were moral legalists in terms of metaethics like Rome or Protestants by and large that worry might have some currency. Comparing us to Rome here just isn’t plausible. We don’t even subscribe to natural law theory.”

Which completely ducks the question of whether an Orthodox priest ever teaches falsehood when a parishioner comes to him for advice on some tricky moral decision. So, Perry, why don’t you “protest” this seedbed of error in the Orthodox church?

“Tell us the obvious doesn’t really move the ball down the argumentative field.”

To the contrary, it creates a direct parallel for what you allegedly find so objectionable in Protestantism. Since, however, you don’t find that objectionable in Orthodoxy, your complaint is duplicitous and disingenuous.

“It is so and when present shows that the person fails to take the term according to its established meaning.”

The important question is whether the worshipper conforms to the established meaning of Scripture.

“Now since the WCF and the LBC fix the meaning in those bodies for the creedal language one isn’t just putting aside the meaning of the Creed, but also that of the Confessions.”

No, they don’t fix the meaning. For the confessions are subject to the interpretation of the churches in question (e.g. the general assembly).

Take the recent debate, in the OPC and PCA over the days of Genesis in the Westminster Standards.

“Secondly, on Sola Scriptura, the original intent of uninspired writer doesn’t ultimately obligate the reader, but it doesn’t follow that it doesn’t obligate the reader at all in the context of their church’s teaching.”

Only insofar as their church’s teaching corresponds to the teaching of Scripture. We are never obligated to believe falsehood. Indeed, we’re obligated to disbelieve falsehood. We are only obligated to believe truth.

“Assuming a Protestant Ecclesiology that is true. Have Reformed Churches revised or redefined their Creeds and Confessions on the Filioque? No. So this is irrelevant and hand waving.”

To the contrary, it’s directly relevant to the way in which you chose to frame the issue. You made original intent the issue, then had a fit at the suggestion that Reformed churches could redefine Confessional usage. Now you’re shifting ground to the admission that, yes, they’re entitled to do so, but don’t. That’s a different objection. You’re not debating in good faith, Perry.

“If the authority of the Creeds and Confessions are derivative, then so is their ability to obligate.”

And how does that rebut what I said? It doesn’t.

“Moreover, dissenting from them in this case only concedes that Confessions are inconsistent since they violate their own principles regarding the doctrine of God.”

It “concedes” the fallibility of an uninspired creed. That was always in the cards.

“True, but I fail to see that it follows that it is dispensible on a whim either on that basis.”

“On a whim” is a malicious mischaracterization of what I said. Did I ever say or suggest that a worshipper is entitled to dissent from the creed (or confession) on a “whim”? No. I made Scripture the criterion. Once again, you’re not debating in good faith.

“The former remarks do not license dispensing with Confessional doctrines just on the basis of individual dissent.”

The authority of Scripture licenses Christians to dissent from anything contrary to Scripture. That’s a standing policy. We don’t need a special dispensation to do that.

“That is to say that the fact that such language is not sacrosanct or completely unrevisable doesn’t entail that dissenters are in a position to argue that the Confessions don’t have the meaning of their original intenders.”

You’re conflating distinct issues. Take, once again, the recent case regarding the days of Genesis.

It was admitted that the Westminster Divines probably meant calendar days. The general assembly then decided that their understanding isn’t binding on contemporary Presbyterians.

“Moreover, I find it not a bit amusing that you have to play the skeptical card about knowing what your Confessions teach in order to try to evade the criticism.”

Once again, I’m just answering you on your own grounds and, once again, you’re not debating in good faith.

You raised general issues regarding the relationship between meaning and intent, as well as the specific interpretation of Confessional language on double procession.

It isn’t “playing the sceptical card” for me to point out that the “meaning of meaning” is a very complicated issue in hermeneutics and philosophy of language. Unqualified appeal to “original intent” is simplistic.

“Is the Filioque language functioning different now in the way the WCF and LBC is taught and believed than centuries ago? No. This is a diversion.”

From what I can tell it’s functioning differently now since there are contemporary Reformed theologians who only defend economic procession.

For you to call that a “diversion” reflects your evident ignorant of the current theological landscape.

“Nor have you established that there has been such an alteration.”

I just did. However, I don’t have to establish an alteration since this is your hobbyhorse, not mine.

“But it is also true that they are pen-ultimately obligated by their Confessions on pain of Sola Scriptura reducing to ‘Solo” Scriptura’.”

Now you’re revisiting the issue of Mathison’s paradigm, which you debated over at Green Baggins.

I don’t operate with Mathison’s paradigm. And I responded at length to your comments at Green Baggins. So you’re barking up the wrong tree.

“A supreme authority doesn’t render all subsidiary authorities void as you well know.”

It’s subsidiary because it’s conditional. The obligation is contingent on its correspondence with revealed truth.

“What is to the point is whether you made your elders aware before your admission to membership and they permitted it or after your admission supposing your view changed some time in the past. If you haven’t done so, then the fact that you haven’t made a secret about this view isn’t really to the point.”

Once again, you’re assuming facts not in evidence.

“What it means or what he takes it to mean?”

In terms of what a worshipper mentally affirms in his profession of the creed, his understanding controls the affirmation.

“Perhaps if I bring something up again it s because your replies were unclear and I am seeking clarification rather than calling you stupid or asking you fallacious complex questions. Or perhaps I wasn’t persuaded that your reply actually addressed the issue and I wish to revisit it to highlight how utterly lame and hobbled it was. That too is possible.”

When you demand answers, and I give you detailed answers, then a few months later you pose the same questions all over again with no acknowledgement of the answers, then you’re not entitled to the benefit of the doubt. If you think my answers were unsatisfactory, then it’s up to you to spell out in what way they were deficient or unresponsive to your questions.

Instead, you simply repeat the same accusatorial questions to reinforce a false impression.

“If I made a mistake its not necessarily due to some deliberate attempt to deceive. It would be helpful to refrain from making personal attacks in this way and just point out a mistake.”

Try leading by example.

“Second, I’ll give you a chance to clarify in the interests of communication. Is it your position that the eternal hypostatic generation taught in the WCF and the LBF is either not in fact taught in those documents, or if it is, that it is in fact justifiable and derivable from Scripture alone?”

i) The framers probably meant to teach hypostatic procession. Having said that, I’d add that it’s a rather perfunctory, pro forma repetition of traditional Latin theology.

ii) IMO, it’s not justifiable/derivable from Scripture.

iii) However, you’re also trying to skew the question as if the really important issue is one of internal consistency. Wrong!

Every theological tradition is obligated to be scriptural, whether or not it acknowledges that obligation.

“If so, what principled difference on that point is there between your position and ‘Solo’ Scriptura?”

“Solo scriptura” is Mathison’s polemical caricature.

i) A Christian should take the history of interpretation into consideration when he interprets the Bible. He should give various representatives of various traditions a fair hearing.

ii) Ultimately, though, he should go with whoever has the best argument to support his interpretation (unless our Christian has an even better interpretation of his own, which is sometimes possible).

The appeal to authority, confessional or otherwise, is illegitimate to constrain our interpretation of Scripture. The only interpretations which enjoy that right-of-way are cases in which one Bible writer interprets another.

iii) A creed or minister has the authority of truth. If what he/it says is true, that’s authoritative by virtue of the truth. If what he/it says is false, then it has no authority.

iv) The clergy are not in a class apart from the laity. The clergy have, at most, the authority of an expert witness. I could say more, but I’ve already said more at other times, and I don’t care to repeat myself.

“Do you mean to say that it is not your view that you don’t bear some responsibility and your church likewise to protest false doctrines about God within it?”

i) To begin with, I don’t automatically view the church down the street as “my church” while the church up the street is not “my church.” I’m not that sectarian or partisan in my view of what constitutes the church or Christian fellowship.

ii) Apropos (i) I think the true church is distributed in a number of denominations, local churches, and independent churches.

iii) Likewise, I don’t confine the notion of Christian fellowship to a particular denomination or doctrinal unanimity.

iv) Finally, I never thought you had to be in total agreement with the theological posture of a denomination (to take one example) to belong to a church. That’s not a reasonable or realistic expectation.

It’s a very naïve or chauvinistic Christian who imagines that his church or denomination can do no wrong. Christians who labor under that childish misconception need to be disabused.

Belonging to a church does not, or should not, carry with it the assumption or expectation that their eyes and ears will be shielded from all possibility of error. We always need to be vigilant. We are not entitled to subcontract our Christian duties to the hired help, so that we can coast.

I’d add that a Christian’s duty varies with his aptitude and opportunities.

“If you dissent from your own Confession, were you received into that body with knowledge of the dissenting views and permission to be said member and to dissent?”

i) You’re assuming that, because I’m a Calvinist, I’d only consider affiliating with a Calvinist church. That’s a false assumption.

ii) You’re also making assumptions about my position on formal church membership.

iii) The Westminster Confession is not “my own Confession.” It’s not like a marriage certificate with my signature.

I’m a Calvinist because I’m a Biblicist–not vice versa.

“Even if this were true of all Reformed bodies as Gene wishes to inform me, it doesn’t follow that they aren’t a condition of ordination or membership, so more hand waving here.”

You’re equivocating. Strict subscription to the Confession (e.g. WCF, LBCF) is not a condition of membership. Not even a condition of ordination (to my knowledge).

“Perhaps I am forgetful. Perhaps not, but I fail to see how that licenses more insulting and rude remarks. Why are you so rude and disrespectful Steve?”

i) You make very presumptuous statements about Calvinism without, apparently, informing yourself.

ii) For years now, you’ve been doing your best to undermine Christian faith in the sufficiency and authority of God’s word so that Christians will put their faith in your denomination. That’s a very heinous thing to do.

“Now let’s take Helm. Did you show that Helm rejects the Filioque?”

He discusses the issue in Calvin’s Ideas as well as Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. This includes an exposition of Calvin’s position as well as Helm’s personal evaluation.

“Did you show that it isn’t just something he wrote as part of a philosophical discussion of a matter but was instead something that he brought up before his elders prior to or after his admission as a member or elder of his church? Not that I remember.”

I brought it up in the context of Reformed theology’s internal development and capacity for self-criticism. I didn’t bring in up in the context of church membership, which is your hobbyhorse, not mine.

“Perhaps if you did, you can copy paste it for me. The same goes for Kelly.”

i) No, I’m not going to manually transcribe pages of material. I have other responsibilities. And you’d reject anything out of hand that doesn’t play into your preconceived agenda.

ii) Kelly’s primary discussion is in the appendix to chap. 9 of his Systematic Theology, vol. 1.

“You admit then that the doctrine is inconsistent with Scripture itself.”

I also “admit” that the Orthodox alternative is inconsistent with Scripture itself. However, that’s an irreformable error whereas there are Reformed theologians who are making the necessary adjustments to our own position.

“My aim in pointing out that it can’t be derived from Scripture Alone was to first point out that it is inconsistent with a claim of Sola Scriptura and that both ideas are taught in the Confessions.”

No. Your aim was to suggest that lack of conformity to sola Scriptura discredits Calvinism while leaving Orthodoxy untouched.

“By the same reasoning, the Confessional upholding of Sola Scriptura and the Filioque makes the Confessions and their subscribers inconsistent and culpable.”

Inculpating the Westminster Divines on one arcane issue does nothing to exculpate Orthodoxy on a whole raft of other issues. It’s like the difference between a flesh wound and a mortal wound.

“If Scripture teaches Sola Scriptura, then doesn’t it follow that to be inconsistent with Sola Scriptura is to be inconsistent with Scripture?”

To be inconsistent with Scripture is bad however you arrive at your inconsistency.

“In any case the Confessional adherence to the filioque is inconsistent with the adherence to Sola Scriptura. Consequently the Confessions and their subscribers are in the wrong.”

You don’t make yourself look good by trying to make the other guy look bad. The Orthodox are also wrong on the filioque, but just in a different way. What is more, they are wrong on just about everything the WCF got right. So that’s a sorry consolation for you to clasp to your breast.

“True enough, but we already know that you think I fall into probably the latter and I don’t. Not very informative and not really relevant.”

You tried to skew the issues. I’m righting the scales.

“This is rather evasive.”

When you indulge in a hypothetical fishing-expedition, I refuse to take the bait.

“I’ve already shown that this isn’t a common default position between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.”

A failed attempt, as I demonstrated.

“Only God obligates you, but apparently not to reform your own Confession’s false doctrines about the divine nature.”

i) I’m flattered by your boundless confidence in my authority to unilaterally revise the Confession, but your confidence is misplaced.

ii) Moreover, something can simply become a dead letter through neglect.

“Moreover, your insults do not over turn what I claimed what is of primary importance. They fail to act as an argument demonstrating that the primary importance is something other than internal consistency with one’s theological tradition.”

i) You didn’t argue for your claim. You merely asserted that to be the case. Therefore, I don’t need to present a counterargument.

ii) And, in any case, I’ve argued for the authority of Scripture on numerous occasions. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel for your benefit.

“Furthermore, this concedes that the issue has not been consistency with Scripture, but within the Confessions and between their teachings Sola Scriptura and the Filioque.”

No, it corrects your attempt to skew the issue in a way that exempts Orthodoxy.

“Thirdly, certainly the primary issue isn’t less than the consistency of the Confessions.”

Now you’re equivocating.

“Secondly, if its principles are in fact that it is to be faithful to the word of God and also not faithful to it, then it becomes a primary issue.”

Once again, you’re reducing theology to a language game where the “primary issue” is to play by the rules–and the cardinal sin is to break the rule.

But, no, that’s not the primary issue. The primary issue is whether or not we play by God’s rules.

“This assumes that Sola Scripture can’t be rejected instead of rejecting the other doctrine that it is inconsistent with.”

Sola Scriptura isn’t just another doctrine. Rather, it represents the source and standard of doctrine. You’re committing a level-confusion.

“But that would seem to make the Confessions non-revisable and rather infallible with regard to SS.”

No. The proper comparison is not between sola Scriptura and other doctrines, but between one rule of faith and another rule of faith.

That is a preliminary question of theological method (or prolegomena). Once that is settled, other things flow from that principium.

“Right, and the Creedal and Confessional usage is unacceptable because its usage is contrary to Johanine usage. So saying that the language is justifiable was really hand waving…”

No it wasn’t “really hand-waving” since you and I had different referents. I was talking about the Nicene Creed whereas you were talking about the WCF or LBCF. Try to keep track of the argument. You keep imputing your own referents to me, then generating a specious inconsistency.

“You knew this as well as I did. For some reason it took you about 40-50 pages of text to say as much.”

You still have your wires crossed. I was talking about the recitation of the filioque in public worship. In my experience, that always takes the form of the Nicene Creed.

You then brought up the WCF in the context of candidacy for membership, as if strict subscription is a condition for membership. If anyone’s guilty of hand-waving, that would be you.

“As you instructed me, please do not apply your faulty theological assumptions to my own view. So I simply dismiss your claim about fallible Orthodox Creeds.”

Naturally you don’t accept that. But since you like to keep your thumb on the scales, I’ll continue to correct the imbalance.

“Now suppose we just eliminate the Filioque.”

And while we’re at it, suppose we just eliminate the Orthodox church.

“On the Reformed Confessional view, the persons are distinguished by real relations of opposition. The Father is ingenerate, the Son begotten and the Spirit proceeds. What then is the difference between being begotten and procession? How will the two persons be distinguished without the Filioqueist relation of opposition? I’d suggest that the only way out is to further reject the notion enshrined in the Confessions that the persons are distinguished by relations of opposition. So that’s another part of the Trinitarian theology that can’t be supported by Scripture Alone not to mention becomes irrational and arbitrary. So a rejection of the Filioque for this and other reasons I will eventually bring to bear isn’t as innocuous and easy to do as you suggest.”

i) We don’t need to postulate a principle of individuation. We can just accept the Trinity as a revealed truth.

ii) Moreover, these aren’t real principles of individuation. Terms like “paternity,” “filiation,” and “spiration” aren’t truly principles of individuation. Rather, they merely paraphrase the names of the three Trinitarian persons. Linguistic tautologies or disguised descriptions.

Likewise, terms such as “generation” and “procession” are metaphors. “Generation” is a sexual metaphor while “procession” is a locomotive metaphor. And ingenerate is just a negation of the sexual metaphor.

“As for playing dumb, blame Socrates. And no, the language is not Scriptural for the Scriptures never say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It isn’t a paraphrase. It’s a philosophical doctrine that went looking for a few biblical terms. The scripture says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and that the Son in the history of the world sends the Spirit. So I am not willing to concede that the language is scriptural.”

Jn 14:26 says the Father “sends” the Spirit. Jn 15:26 says the Son “sends” the Spirit while the Spirit “proceeds” (KJV) from the Father. So “sending” and “proceeding” are treated as synonymous actions.

In the Latinate diction of the KJV, “proceed” is simply an English derivative of the Latin word for “sent forth.”

This isn’t philosophical jargon. It’s ordinary language. And metaphorical language at that. Picturesque metaphors which depict the passage from one place to another.

“Now, if the meaning is the issue, then the wording doesn’t matter. Bringing it up is a red herring.”

You’ve made a big deal about the wording of Reformed confessions. If that’s a red herring, then you’re the fisherman.

“If the meaning is the issue then with respect to a reader it isn’t context dependent and variable relative to that reader. It has a meaning fixed regardless of how the reader takes it.”

Thanks for illustrating your crude, unscholarly grasp of the issues.

“And by protest I mean something along the lines of sitting down with your elders and arguing that it should be dropped from the Confessions, going to requisite meetings where such legislation can be drafted and proposed for a vote and then argue for it.”

Don’t be silly. Such piecemeal change would be next to worthless. To make a real difference, it would need to be top-down, not local.

“I didn’t know that your stated positions here amounted to the proper channels and contexts within your own church for airing such things.”

“Proper channels?” There is no divinely mandated process or procedure to follow. Hence, it’s not incumbent on me to follow “proper channels,” since that’s an imaginary construct on your part.

“Moreover, when you say “amen” at the end of the Creed it implies your belief in the statements made in the creed and a measure of loyalty to the teachings those statements express.”

That’s not a blank check.

“Confessing that one holds to the Creeds carries with it the implicit idea that one holds to the meanings given to those words at the formulation so it strikes me as a bit disingenuous to say that ‘Our church holds to the Creeds’ when in fact they hold to a new interpretation of the Creeds at various points.”

Since you’re putting words in my mouth which I’ve never used, I’ll just point out that the ventriloquist does a lousy job of lip-synching.

“If the ordinand has to state disagreements with the WCF then it seems that the WCF is a standard and requires some significant measure of subscription and obligation in order for ordination.”

i) It doesn’t require strict subscription.

ii) And there’s an obvious difference between voluntarily assuming an obligation, and having an obligation imposed on one unilaterally. In a contract, both parties voluntarily assume a mutual obligation.

“Actually this is false.”

Actually this is true.

“Actually this is false. It is false for a few reasons. First, generation on the Latin model is applied to both Son and Spirit, of which begotten and spiration are types. This is not so on the Orthodox model where each is sui generis. Second, its not so since on the Latin (Catholic and Protestant) the persons are distinguished by relations of opposition. This is not so on the Orthodox model. Third, the Latin model, (Catholic and Protestant) assume God is self subsisting being, which the Orthodox deny since God is huper ousia.”

That’s just a case of tweaking the same basic paradigm. Since you seem unable to recognize the paradigm, here it is:

One divine person originates another divine person.

Both the Greek church and the Latin church operate within that framework. Their respective positions represent minor variants on the same chassis. Thanks for proving my point.

“If Calvin made a correction, then its strange that Calvin teaches the Filioque or so it seems to me.”

Let’s compare your pseudoresponse with what I actually said. I said:

“I think Calvin made a significant midcourse correction with his insight on the autotheistic character of the Trinitarian persons, and I agree with subsequent Reformed theologians like Warfield, Frame, and Helm who’ve been developing a more thoroughgoing formulation of Calvin’s corrective.”

Notice my follow-up statement about other Reformed theologians developing a more thoroughgoing formulation of his corrective. Didn’t you read that far? Or is this another memory lapse on your part?

By implication, Calvin didn’t carry it through in a thoroughgoing fashion. But he redirected the discussion (as in “midcourse correction”). Others have followed his lead, and taken it a step further.

“The paradigm as you gloss it also would include Protestantism.”

So what? Protestant theology is not above correction. The difference is that Catholic/Orthodox traditions involve irreformable errors, whereas residual errors in Protestant theology are reformable.

“Second, the relative terms mean substantially different things between models. You’d need to show that they carry the same meaning between both, which you haven’t and can’t.”

Except that I can, and do so quite easily (see below).

“Latin model-One person acts to generate two others where generation can be applied to both subsequent others. Orthodox model-One person acts to generate another person and the first person processes a third person. There is no common notion of generation between the two on the Orthodox model. Your usage of ‘originates’ presupposes the Latin usage of procedit.”

Wrong. I’ve used several different synonyms. What both models have in common is the generic principle that one person is the source or cause of another person. Terms like ‘generation’ and ‘procession’ are metaphorical ways to gloss or narrow the generic notion of production, causality or source of origin.

And “originate” doesn’t presuppose the Latin “procedit.” Just study the range of usage.

“First, it is interesting that you have to appeal doctrinal development rather than straight up exegesis.”

i) That’s because we’re discussing historical theology rather than exegetical theology. Creeds and confessions. So, yes, historical theology is subject to development.

ii) And I didn’t “appeal” to doctrinal development to justify said development, now did I? You’re the one who wants to talk about historical Reformed theology in reference to the filioque. So, given how you cast the terms of the debate, then it’s relevant to compare past and present views on the filioque. Try to follow your own argument.

iii) Moreover, it’s quite possible for Protestant doctrinal development to converge on exegesis. Indeed, there’s nothing surprising or shocking about the idea that, as time goes on, Protestant theology refines its theological formulations to prune away any residual, unscriptural traditions which it may have inherited from the ancient or medieval church.

You know that, but pretend not to so that you can act surprised and scandalized at the fact.

“If so, then its an implication you have yet to present. If so, its an implication that not only Calvin, but plenty of past and present Reformed theologians have missed. That’s possible, but without a demonstration of how we get from the ascription of autotheos to a denial of the Filioque it seems to be merely an assertion.”

i) I don’t know what modern and/or contemporary Reformed theologians you have read. And there doesn’t need to be consensus on the issue to prove my point since I didn’t claim consensus. One rarely has consensus on anything in theology, as you yourself recently admitted.

ii) Moreover, since you yourself deny the filioque, why do you think it’s incumbent on me to disprove it?

iii) I don’t have to make a case one way or the other. That isn’t my cause in life. I’m simply responding to you. That doesn’t mean you set the agenda.

“As for your insults, again it strikes me that you simply can’t write without insulting others.”

No. It depends on the conduct of the disputant.

“Do you think this advances your argument in some way?”

You have no interest in advancing the argument. Your only interest is to advance your agenda.

So even though I specifically and explicitly qualified my statement, your comment ignored my qualifications so that you could play to the galleries.

“Do you prefer to be spoken to in an insulting manner rather than a civil and respectful way?”

You’re not a respectful opponent. You’re only looking for a gotcha moment.

“There is no generic notion of causality to be had here.”

i) Your distinction between procession and generation does nothing to salvage your argument since these are hairsplitting attempts to distinguish between different kinds of production, causation or origination (pick your synonym).

ii) Moreover, the fact that you use different words doesn’t amount to a conceptual difference. It’s just a rhetorical disguise.

“Sure, its possible, but its also quite possible for Protestant doctrinal development not to converge on exegesis, which is why I asked for an exegetical basis.”

I don’t have to provide an exegetical basis for something I’m not defending in the first place.

This is the silly game you play. You pretend that you’re maneuvering your opponent into a “shocking” admission. Then, when he makes the “shocking” admission, you claim victory.

But I was never playing by your rules in the first place. You’re just using other people as a mirror to see your own reflection.

“And given that the Protestant bodies are fallible, its quite possible that the “refining process” is actually an apostasy process.”

Yes, it’s possible for Protestant denominations to commit apostasy. Another one of the truisms you repackage as if that’s a shocking admission.

And the Orthodox church is hardly exempt from the same process. Indeed, it’s pretty far down the downward spiral.

God saves people, not denominations.

“As for pruning away residual unscriptural traditions which they inherited from the ancient or medieval church, lets take the Filioque. Its been five hundred years and no pruning from the Confessions.”

As for pruning away central unscriptural traditions which they inherited from the ancient or medieval church, lets take iconolatry. It’s been twelve hundred years since 2nd Nicea, and no pruning from the Orthodox gardener.

What’s worse, there’s not even progress in that direction.

“Moreover when I ask you or others what you’re doing about it, you just pass the buck with remarks to the effect that you’re not an elder…”

This is your last-ditch demagoguery, which you keep harping on. It’s not a principled argument.

Rather, it’s just an ad hominem attack, a veiled charge of hypocrisy–despite the fact that you fake adhorrence at ad hominem attacks.

It also reflects a your deficient grasp of ethics and ecclesiology alike.

i) Every prima facie obligation isn’t equally obligatory. There are more prima facie duties than it’s humanly possible for an individual to discharge. So we have to prioritize. In case of conflict, higher duties supersede lower obligations.

ii) Apropos (i), there’s a distinction between individual duties and corporate duties.

iii) Apropos (ii), the church has many different members. They don’t have interchangeable obligations (e.g. 1 Cor 12).

“I didn’t argue that you needed consensus but on any given issues there is usually in a given tradition a small number of theologians that dissent. They then have their followers over time, and often it never amounts to anything more than a handful of dissenters whereas the tradition as a whole remains unchanged.”

I’m not talking about Hans Küng-style dissenters. I’m talking about mainstream diversity among representative theologians.

“So you are saying that it isn’t incumbent upon you to disprove and argue against doctrines professed by other Christians that you belief are unscriptural?”

I guess I need to explain the obvious to you. By definition, someone who identifies with one theological tradition finds far less to object to in his own tradition than alternative traditions. By definition, a Calvinist will have far less (if anything) to criticize in Reformed theology than others traditions which are opposed to Reformed theology in one respect or another.

So you’re trying to trump up an absurd dilemma. If, on the one hand, a Calvinist is in lockstep with every jot and tittle of, say, the Westminster Confession, then you’ll accuse him of being a blind partisan. If, on the other hand, a Calvinist expresses any whiff of disagreement, then you act as though he’s leading a double life.

So you’re not attempting to debate in good faith. Rather, it’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition.

“I would think that doing so in your own backyard would be even more paramount.”

In the nature of the case, I’m pretty satisfied with my own backyard. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be my own backyard. If I wasn’t fairly content with my theological backyard, I’d adopt a theological tradition with a more agreeable backyard. Thanks for the tautology.

“But given your dodginess and apparent recalcitrance to do so...”

You’re just frustrated because I refuse to step into your silly little trap.

“If you don’t have to make a case one way or the other, then I suppose you think that members of the priesthood of all believers is somehow stratified.”

Doesn’t have to be stratified for different believers to have different duties according to their time and talents.

“Your pattern of dealing with people seems fairly consistent in being demeaning, belittling and insulting.”

Due to the kind of people I generally have to deal with.

“Perhaps it is the one type of argument I use. It has proven quite effective.”

Quite effective with unsophisticated opponents. This time you miscalculated.

“Let’s suppose you’re right for the moment…”

You’re making progress! By all means, continue in the same direction!

“Fine, it is still the case that Calvinists are practically inconsistent.”

That’s true of every Christian who ever lived. So your objection either proves too much or too little.

“Now if we carry through with the moral analogy it seems to be not a practical problem, but a moral problem since your churches are now morally culpable for teaching a false view of the Trinity.”

False teaching is morally culpable. And there’s no major theological tradition which comes close to avoiding its occurrence. At most, some traditions claim to restrict its occurrence in a few special cases (e.g. ecumenical councils).

And theological traditions which make infallibilist claims for themselves are morally culpable, not only for all their other errors, but for the error of their infallibilist claims.

“Further, the Confessions as putting forth a system of doctrine are inconsistent at the level of the system that they advance. The inclusion of the Filioque is as a conceptual matter inconsistent with another part of the system. In so far as the system says explicitly that all doctrines have to be justified on the basis of Scripture alone and also implicitly teaches that not all doctrines need to be, there is a logical problem.”

Sola Scriptura isn’t just another doctrine. It’s a rule of faith. It represents the source and standard of doctrine. You’re committing a level confusion.

As I said before, lack of consistency with a standard or criterion is not the same thing as internal consistency. No more so than ethical inconsistency in general. If an ethicist is personally inconsistent, does that mean his system of ethics is internally (i.e. logically) inconsistent? Hardly.

“So Protestants will need to pick between their traditional doctrine of God and the formal principle of the Reformation.”

i) That scarcely presents a dire dilemma for Protestants. Since our doctrine of God was always subject to Scripture, there’s not tension between these two commitments. If some aspect of our traditional formulation is defective, then it’s not a big deal to reformulate it accordingly.

ii) Keep in mind that the traditional formulation in Calvinism is already far more accurate than the Orthodox formulation.

“So even if everything Steve said was true regarding the one criteria I discussed for a council to be ecumenical I think his position is in far worse shape. At least I don’t have to admit that my Church teaches a false doctrine of the Trinity.”

i) So what if Perry doesn’t admit that his church teaches a false doctrine of the Trinity? Does the LDS church admit that it teaches a false doctrine of the Trinity?

ii) In fact, its far worse to have a defective doctrine of not, and not admit it, than have the freedom to admit a problem, if there is one, so that you can take steps to correct it.


Jason Engwer and I have been debating with some Catholics about baptismal justification and baptismal regeneration. The two primary sources of information about NT baptism are Luke and Paul. Catholic epologists try to fit the NT data into a Catholic paradigm. But the NT data, considered on its own terms, is quite resistant to Catholic domestication or homogenization:

“If one concentrates on certain parts of Acts (chs. 1-2,8-11,16,18-19,22), or rather on parts of these chapters, baptism seems to be the normal and universal way into the Christian church. What are we to do? ask the crowd on the Day of Pentecost. Repent, and let each of you be baptized, Peter replies (2:37-38). The converted Samaritans respond in the same way; Cornelius and his friends, the Philippian jailer and his household, many of the Corinthians, are baptized. If however we turn to the other chapters (and to parts of those listed above) there is silence. The Temple crowd are urged to repent and have their sins blotted out; they are not told to be baptized. There are no baptisms in Luke’s account of the ‘first missionary journey,’ though churches are established (14:23). Apart from Lydia and the Philippian jailer there are no baptisms in Macedonia or in the main account apart, that is, from 19:5) of Paul’s work in Ephesus. No baptisms take place after ch. 19, even in Malta, where Paul made so deep an impression. Again, if we ask, Does the gift of the Spirit precede, accompany, or follow the rite of water-baptism? we get different answers in different parts of Acts. If we ask, Must baptism be complemented by the laying on of hands? there is no consistent answer. What is mean by baptism in (or with) the Spirit? Is it a consequence of water-baptism or is it independent of water-baptism? Who are the proper recipients of water-baptism? Adult believers only, or infants also? None of these questions can be answered with any confidence on the basis of Acts. There is quite enough of baptism in Acts to make it clear that Luke was familiar with the practice; we can hardly fail to conclude that baptism was not, as is commonly supposed, a universal custom in the early church, or at least that some of Luke’s sources (such as that based on Antioch) were not interested in baptism, G.K. Barrett, The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction and Commentary on Acts XV-XXVIII (T&T Clark 1998), xci.

“At 2:38 it is not quite stated but it is implied that the gift of the Spirit follows upon baptism: Let each of you be baptized…and you will receive…The opposite order occurs in 10:44-48. The Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his friends and to this Peter’s response was, ‘Can we fail to baptize these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?’ There is further complication in ch. 8 (cf. 19:6) when Philip baptizes the Samaritans and it is not said that they received the Holy Spirit; Peter and John arrive, impose their hands and pray, and the Spirit is given. Is the imposition of hands necessary? It is not mentioned in the other stories we have considered. Is it a rite that only an apostle can execute? We do not know the answers to these questions; see the notes on the various passages. We cannot fail to conclude that Luke gives an unclear account of baptism. He has no fixed principles about its practice, or perhaps its meaning,” ibid. xci-xcii.

Several things stand out in this summary of baptism in Acts:

i) It’s a tribute to Luke’s honesty as a historian that he doesn’t try to shoehorn his diverse material into a preconceived pattern. He simply reports what he heard and saw.

ii) Because he doesn’t attempt to systematize the data into a stereotypical formula or streamline trajectory, what his history reveals is the lack of standardization in the baptismal practice of the NT church. The NT church isn’t McChurch. It isn’t a franchise in which, wherever you go, you find the same menu.

Catholics often complain that the Protestant rule of faith is a “blueprint for anarchy.” Yet Luke’s record of baptism in Acts is fairly…dare we say…chaotic.

iii) For Luke, baptism is clearly important–but just as clearly, baptism isn’t all-important. Why didn’t James and the remaining Apostles convene another council in Jerusalem to impose unity on all this ramshackle diversity? In this respect, among others, the priorities of the high-church tradition are at variance with the priorities of the NT church.

Catholics promote living tradition, but they demote the living church of the Apostolic era.