Reformers = NPP?

500 years ago the Reformers were considered “The New Perspective on Paul.”   Calvinists need to be more careful with their accusations.

Westminster’s Christology

Perry tipped me off to an interchange between Bruce McCormack and Scott Clark concerning Calvin’s Christology.  I can only find Clark’s reply to McCormack.  I’ve gathered that McCormack won the debate, but I can’t find his response at the moment.  In any case, I’ve pieced together the essence (no pun intended) of the debate.

  1. It seems that many Reformed scholars see Chalcedon’s Christology as inadequate and is later improved by Reformed confessions.
  2. Clark himself is “skeptical” of many of the criticisms brought against Calvin and the Reformers on Christology.  I think his skepticism is genuine, but naive.  Clark himself admits he is not a Patrologist, but can’t imagine Calvin abandoning the ancient councils on such major points (though Calvin’s descendants do it with wild glee).  No one is saying that the Reformers *want* to abandon and reject Chalcedon, but that they inevitably must, given their outlook.

    The Confession appears to be ambiguous on whether Christ’s two natures produce the one person.  This is heretical, but many defenders of the Confession argue that’s not what the Confession is saying.  Well, if it’s not what the Confession writers meant, they picked an odd way of presenting it!


While McCormack’s reply is still blocked, Perry had copied most of it in a previous blog post, so I got the essence of it from there.

Does corporeality in worship = paganism?

I had a friend repeatedly charge certain branches of Christendom with “bringing paganism into the Church.”  After repeatedly arguing for examples that would stand scholarly scrutiny (none were forthcoming), I had to wonder exactly how “pagan” the early church was.

It’s a fair question to ask, “Where do you see this physicality in worship in the early church?”  The problem is that you do see it, but if you have Enlightenment sunglasses on, you will miss it.

One encouraging sign from some Reformed communities is the return to (or movement towards) “Covenant Renewal Worship (CRW).” Like all young movements, it has its growing pains (of course; indeed, I was there), but it has a lot that is positive and with many roots in the ancient church. The best book on it is Jeff Meyers book by the same name: Covenant Renewal Worship.

When this movement was happening on the Presbyterian scene about ten years ago (and is showing fairly strong today; and fwiw I am sympathetic to the idea), a strange debate arose from both critics and defenders. The CRW was accused of “going back to temple worship” and the RPW (regulative principle) was accused of taking its cue, not from God but from 1st century Synagogue worship. Temple vs. Synagogue.
I then realized that the whole debate is wrong-headed. Neither charge is correct. First of all, we really don’t know what synagogue worship was truly like. You can’t seriously make the claim that First Pres Jackson is just like a 1st century synagogue, only with a new testament thrown in. And as much as you might not like the CRW guys, they aren’t sacrificing animals at the temple.
Secondly, in the 1st century Jewish world, would there even be an opposition between temple and synagogue? No, there wouldn’t. So it is wrong to say “we worship in the purity of synagogue style worship while you apostate to Temple worship.” No, this purity of synagogue worship had the exact same structure as the Temple, minus the dead cows and libations. Can I prove this? Well, I think there are some indicators.
The early church did spring from Old Testament Judaism (which is not the same as Judaism today). And among the legacy of OT Judaism it inherited was the “hours of the day” and the “liturgical calendar.” I am taking many of the following points from the guys at “our life in Christ” radio program.
  1. Acts 2:42 – continued in THE prayers (in the GreeK), were day by day IN THE TEMPLE…
  2. Acts 5:42, The apostles were continually in the Temple praying and teaching, 6:4 they appoint deacons so they can devote themselves to THE prayers (Greek) and ministry of the word
  3. Acts 10:2-3 Cornelius prayed continually, 9th hour., 10:9 Peter at the 6th hour went to the roof to pray. These were “liturgical hours of prayer”.
  4. Acts 13:2 While they were “ministering” to the Lord, literally in liturgy, the Holy Spirit spoke to them. The Spirit works in liturgy
  5. Acts 15:22, 18:8, 17: “leaders” of synagogue, ie., liturgical worship leaders.
  6. Acts 18:7 “Worshipper of God” house next to the synagogue.
  7. Acts 16:25 midnight praying and singing hymns of praise to God.
  8. Acts 20:6, 16 After the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost are mentioned. Paul says in I Cor. 16:8 that he will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. The early Church kept a liturgical “church calendar”.
  9. Hebrews 8:2 High Priest Jesus a “minister” (lit. “liturgist”) in the heavenly sanctuary
Whatever else early church worship was, and right now we are holding off judgment on icons, incense et al, it was structured. The CRW types (and when possible, I worship in a CRW church and like it) are absolutely right to point this out.
And as many know, structure is inevitable in worship. Even charismatic churches have a structure amidst the chaos (e.g., people start getting the spirit at the usual times, barking at the usual times, etc).
The RPW guy says that we must worship God the way God commanded. On one level that’s not bad advice. The problem is no one really holds to that. Very few commands to worship are given in the Bible: rarely in New Covenant worship does God say, “Thou shalt do x.” We simply don’t have a New Testament version of Leviticus.  And in any case, this principle would have been useless to the early church, since they didn’t have a complete canon for several centuries.  In fact, lacking that complete canon, and unable to know how to worship God as God commands, at any moment these people could have been guilty of offering “strange fire” unto God, yet no one seriously believes that.   Therefore, we have good reason to reject that principle.
God may not have given us explicit commands, but he has given us patterns. Exodus and Hebrews make clear (as does Revelation) that there is a heavenly pattern of worship.

And if we are to worship according to a heavenly patter per Revelation…

Presuppositions on the Church

  1. Christ established a physical, visible body of believers.  While there is a mystical element to it and perhaps even an “invisible” one (though it is best not to speak of that at all), it is primarily physical.
  2. While the Church is not a continuation of the Incarnation, per se, it cannot be separated from it.  To separate Church from Incarnation is to divide the Body of Christ, which is Nestorianism.
  3. Christ did not give a “Bible” to the Church when he founded it, but rather the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  4. If Christ only established the Church once, and all sides agree he gave order for its maintenance, which would be the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2), and if the Church is visible and physical (Premise 1), then there has to be a visible leadership and a visible continuation.
  5. Is the Church infallible?  This is almost always used as a late Western mode of thinking.  What is infallibility?  The ability to non-err in speaking and authority.  However, the locus of an institution/person/object’s infallibility is always outside that institution.  This is where infallibility arguments become self-eating.   To prove one’s highest authority one must reason only in terms of that highest authority (cf Wittengenstein, Greg Bahnsen).  For to prove one’s highest authority by something other than one’s highest authority is to create a new highest authority.

    On this line of reasoning, then, one immediately sees how difficult “proving the Bible” to be self-attesting et al really is.  You cannot prove the Bible, especially justifying its contents, simply by using the Bible (e.g., the canon of books).   Does this same line of reasoning hold true for the Church?  Many Roman Catholic apologists argue in precisely this way, and the same arguments would apply to them.

    Is there another way?  As one might have noticed, the above illustrates the difficulty with “Tradition vs. Scripture,” for both sides have an element of truth to them.   The Roman does elevate Tradition alongside Scripture and has a hard time explaining why the former doesn’t always trump the latter.   The Protestant can’t prove Scripture without tradition and thus has a hard time justifying his ultimate authority.

    But most the two be in tension with one another?   It is more helpful to see tradition as the ministry of the Holy Spirit within the Church, and to see the Bible as a subset of Tradition.  This puts the Bible where it should be:  as an icon of Christ pointing to Christ.  There is no longer a duality of Scripture and Tradition, but rather one harmonious whole.

Let’s assume the Tsar was not a good ruler

Most of academia assumes St Tsar Nicholas II was a horrible ruler.  Even if he wasn’t a draconian overlord busy censoring newspapers and drowning puppies (if we are to believe the slander), he was still a foolish ruler.

That’s what we are told.   How best to respond to it?  I have often responded to the current chaos of modern republicanism and pointed out factual errors in the reports on the Tsar.  To no avail.  I realize the Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov handled it best:

[Bulgakov] abandoned his republicanism and developed an intense devotion to the ideal of monarchy–indeed, to the person of the Tsar. He was, he says, fully aware of the corruption of the tsarist system and of the personal weakness and suicidal incompetence of Nicholas II; but he was at the same time struck by the sense of the tsar as carrying the cross for his people, of the tsar not as the presiding authority in a police state, but as the symbolic focus of Russia in all its pain and confusion. To be a tsarist in this context was, he says, to share in that pain and confusion.

Share in the pain and confusion.  Ultimately, given our fallen world (and due to the crisis of the times, it appears even more fallen), this is what “political imagination” is about.  Yes, I really do believe that holy monarchy is infinitely superior to anything Modernity has to offer.  That being said, I really don’t have all the answers.  There are many issues about theology and government that I simply can’t answer (though in hindsight, after dropping theonomy many difficult areas simply disappeared).  Theo-Political imagination sees the current confusion, realizes this is God’s creation, and “wonders” what is a Christic, healing alternative to the current chaos.  N. T. Wright said it best, “Monarchy is an angled mirror that lets us see around the corners to the next world.”  Monarchy is not ultimate, and monarchy itself does not save (though it often facilitates healing and salvation), but like the angled mirror, it can point us beyond the current crisis.

Critique of Reformation Christologies

This is taken from John Milbank’s essay “Alternative Protestantism.”  Aside from a few howlers, it is one of the best critiques of Calvinist Christology out there. I’ve had to read this over a dozen times in the past three years to really understand what he is saying. If I “jump” it has to be for substantial reasons. As nice as incense, icons, and beards are, that’s not sufficient. Christology and Triadology are the most important. I will offer my comments on each paragraph.   Also, Milbank is a Western Protestant theologian.  Keep that in mind before you “slam” the East.  Milbank writes,

Calvin’s failure to truly grasp a participatory ontology means that, in the place of Luther’s overmonophysite fusion…one has a somewhat Antiochean dynamic interaction between the divine and human natures of Christ, as if this were some kind of schizophrenic interplay of persons. It is for this reason that Calvin, like Scotus, refuses a necessary deification of Christ’s humanity as a result of the Incarnation (ICR 2.14.3)–a refusal that carries the possibly heretical implication of a quasipersonality in the humanity alone. For if Christ’s human nature is divinely personified, then this must imply that he has a godlike character inseperable from the substantive aspect of enhypostasization. If, to the contrary, he has such a character simply in his conjoined humanity, then this suggests some sort of personal totality, since he would then possess an ethos that is purely human and that merely imitates the divine without sharing in it.

It is becoming more common to throw the “Nestorian” charge at Calvin–yet it is difficult to prove right away. Part of the difficulty is that Calvin really doesn’t discuss Christology in detail (nor do Reformed seminaries seriously teach it; my Christology course lasted not even a week!). There are other parts of Calvin’s theology that have Nestorian implications (e.g., imputational theology).

I think what Milbank is trying to say is if you don’t allow for the “deifying” effect on Christ’ humanity, there can be no real union. Christ’s humanity and deity are sort of “glued” together. Conversely, if you do allow it–using the illustration of an iron made red by fire–then you preserve the difference between deity and humanity, but they are allowed to participate in one another.  Part of the difficulty is the rabid hostility most Reformed folk have to anything sounding Platonic, thus any participation is out.  This also explains why some Reformed theologians even dislike talk of union with Christ.

There is at bottom here a failure to grasp the difference between nature on the one hand and hypostasis…on the other. Calvin defines hypostatic union as “that which constitutes one person out of two natures” (ICR.14)–a formula that apparently fails to grasp that the union, like the personhood, derives strictly speaking from the divine side…Calvin does indeed, with the tradition, see that the predication of nature here serves to ensure that, even in the incarnate person, the distinctions of created and uncreated remain absolute. On the other hand, it is less clear that he grasps the notion of the specifically personal and unilateral divine union in Christ.

This union, expressed by Maximus the Confessor, means that the same substantive way or pattern or character or moral tropos of being can be shown in the human as well as the divine nature, such that the limited human power can somehow express the style of omnipotence and inversely that the divine strength can be exhibited precisely in weakness–which can have the true idiom of strength, when suffering is actively and willingly undergone.

Calvin’s definition isn’t wrong; it simply avoids any of the real issues and leaves itself open to later problems. What I think St Maximus is saying is that, later anticipating Sergei Bulgakov, is that there is a divine pattern imprinted already on human nature, thus can Christ’s human nature anticipate the divine hypostasis (see Sergei Bulgakov,The Lamb of God).

Liturgy and Memory

In my last post I pointed out how democratic governments almost always degenerate into some form of tyrannies, ironically becoming the thing they professed to oppose.  The U.S. Constitution, despite being a secularized Enlightenment document, cannot force belief, reign in tyrants, or change the ethos of a people.  Restoring the constitution does nothing to regenerate culture.

At this point in the discussion, a clever republican could point out, “You see, you are exactly like the Israelites of old.  They wanted a king to save their country.  You, too, want a king to save your country.”  (Actually, there are still some important differences, but I see the point).

If all I were arguing were that monarchy would save the fate of Western culture, then I would be guilty of the same thing as the liberal democrat and constitutionalist.  However, I am not arguing for restoring the monarchy (at least not immediately).  Before that, we should restore the liturgy.


This is an admittedly difficult point (but is part of the challenge of “Political Imagination.”  (Which liturgy should we restore?   My argument here is not to argue for any one particular liturgy, be it Eastern or Western.  I am not a cultural relativist, and I do not view all liturgies as equal.  I simply realize that others can give better discussions of this or that liturgy).  For the moment, I am simply pointing out the effect of liturgy upon society.

Liturgy and Land

At its broadest level, liturgy is how the Church embodies and acts out its faith.  Unlike the Constitution, liturgy is directly concerned with the worship of God.  Contra the Lockean project where men are simply billiard balls bouncing off of each other, liturgy demonstrates how men are interconnected (of course, this presupposes a Christian society).  Liturgy is both vertical and horizontal.

Western politicians at least since the age of King John of England have wrestled with the question of the limits of the king’s authority.  They sought to “bind the king to the law,” or something like that.  King’s could be bound to the law from time to time.

Liturgy, however, does not bind the king to an abstract “law,” but rather connects him via baptism to the people.  King and commoner are thus bound together before God.

Your paper god–the Constitution–cannot save you

After the initial shock of people hearing I am a monarchist, the next line is, “I don’t have a problem with monarchy provided it is a constitutional monarchy.”  In other words, as long as the Constitution is all that matters, then you can have a king.  One of the first complaints given against monarchy is an (out of context) appeal to 1 Samuel 8.  God condemns kings, so it is argued, because kings are necessarily absolutist and will be a substitute for God.

But is not the Constitution equally a temptation to replace God?   Listen carefully to the rhetoric of the Constitution Party and Ron Paul supporters.  These people honestly believe that if the “Constitution were restored” (except for amendments 14 and a few others, while keeping the 1st Amendment on probation), then America would see an age of peace and justice.   Besides the outright naivete of such a view (which will be discussed in detail below), how is this view not also idolatry?  Can a piece of paper save?

What would happen the next day if such a thing happened?  Nothing.  The culture would be just as decadent.   Corrupt judges and officials would continue to ignore the Constitution.  This god is found wanting.  Ironically, the game isn’t over yet.  As St Gregory Nazianzus noted in his Third Theological oration, democracy leads to anarchy.  I will add the next premise:  anarchy cannot exist in a vacuum.  It must see the accompaniment of a real absolutist ruler.   The mob is fickle and easily persuaded.  In hoping for a “republic” and “constitution,” divorced from the ancient liturgy, Constitutional man is (ironically) left with the form of government he most hated!  Actually, it is worse than he originally feared.  The monarchist interlocutor never argued for a tyrannical ruler, nor did he want to see the rights of man abolished (that was a later, post-Enlightenment view).   But instead of a just monarch, the constitutionalist is left with the tyranny of 50% + 1.

Was DeRegnon Debunked?

If you read enough of modern, intra-community Trinitarian (no pun intended) debates, you can anticipate a lot of moves.  One particular line of thinking, advanced by de Regnon a century ago, is that the West begins from the impersonal divine essence and then reasons to the three Persons, while the East begins with the Persons and then reasons to the essence.

A number of modern scholars have claimed to debunk that thesis, though.  They say that 1) even Eastern theologians began from the unity of the divine essence and 2) such a view is impossible to prove anyway.

My thoughts:  I wonder how many people have actually read de Regnon.  Even if his work has been translated from the French to English, I doubt it’s still in print.  I think people are quoting tertiary sources in saying de Regnon is debunked.

Is it true?  Do Westerners start from the divine essence and Easterners from the persons?  Well, kind of.  On one hand, and I speak as an Easterner, there is no problem starting from the unity of the divine essence, per se.  Papadakis does precisely that (Crisis in Byzantium).   Since we hold to equal ultimacy of essence and persons, it is not a problem to start from either.  That being said, the question is not where one begins one’s theological method, but to the primacy of it.  For example, St John of Damascus can talk about the unity of the divine essence (is there an Orthodox theologian who actually disagrees with that?), and note one power, one energy, one will (again, standard Christology), and from that one may not conclude that Damascene is a Thomist after all.

There is a difference in method in starting from the essence and then speaking about the persons, against reasoning from the essence to the persons, the former qualifying the latter.  That is what Lossky et al are saying.

Enough with all of that.  At the end of the day the West does prioritize the essence and it wasn’t de Regnon who came up with that.  St Augustine does precisely that in De Trinitate.  Has anyone read Western takes on St Augustine?  These essays are often very “essency.”  I really don’t know what to say at this point.  These guys in some way do give primacy to the essence.

And to sort of prove my point, look at the Carolignian Shield.


We’re all Federal Visionists Now

I actually disagree with the Federal Vision project in theology.  I’m simply noting that when you take away all the layers from both standard Reformed theology (if such a thing exists) and Federal Vision theology, both are doing the same thing.

The Federal Visionists were accused (and probably rightly so) of “changing the meaning” of terms in theology and more importantly, the confessions–justification is the most obvious one.  The Federal Visionists, the charge goes, affirm the same words of the Confession, but they do not mean what it originally means.

Well, standard Reformed folk do the exact same thing with the Nicene Creed.  Let’s look:

“he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate…etc.”  Reformed folk believe this.  They truly do.  How do they interpret this?  They usually argue along the lines that Christ kept all of the Law perfectly and upon his death transfered that perfect legal account to those who would later believe in him.

Is that how the 4th century Nicenes viewed the work of Christ?  No one can seriously argue it is so.  The writers of the Creed saw salvation as God taking on human nature and recapitulating humanity, bringing it up to God.  Those who are saved are those who participate in the body of Christ.

Let’s look at another phrase.

“I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

Reformed interpretations of this phrase are varied but they all agree on one point:  catholic doesn’t mean Catholic.  That might be true, but again, that’s probably not what the early church meant by the phrase.   It’s not so much what modern Calvinists say the line means, but what they do not say.

The early church saw it as a visible body that is not broken by schism and can be identified by apostolic succession.  (Ironically, the Anglicans can try to make this claim, but since they deny essentially every tenet of the faith, don’t bother).

Of course, the Reformed counter to all of this is, “We don’t accept creeds as the final authority, but only the word of God.”  True.  I seem to remember some Federal Visionists saying the  same thing.  What gives?