Covenant —-> Canon

Here is an interesting argument for the canon.  It came from Meredith Kline, a man with whom I made it a point to disagree fervently.   Kline’s theology, specifically his ethics, had a deleterious effect on American Presbyterianism.    Still, this argument bears some thought.   I think most will agree with Kline that ANE covenants resembled suzereignty treaties.   Besides the stipulations of these covenants, there were also canons (written documentation) included within the covenant.  Applied to God, something like this appears:

  • If there is a covenant, there is a canon.
  • Whoever authorizes the covenant, authorizes the canon.
  • God authorizes the covenant; God authorizes the canon.
  • Therefore, the canon’s authority depends on God, not the church (if you accept the first three premises, which OT scholarship makes abundantly clear, you have to accept this conclusion).

The above is a fairly straight-foward, non-controversial take on OT canonization.  Can it also be applied to the New Testament?   I think it can.   Jesus makes the new covenant (diatheke) in his blood.   His death ratifies the diatheke.   As Sutton clearly argues, the New Testament itself resembles a diatheke.  But does the New Testament canon depend on human ratification?  Peter didn’t think so, since he called Paul’s writings Scripture.  While we don’t know which writings he referred, the point remains that Paul’s writings were self-evidently Scripture.  Further, Paul says he got his revelation from God, not man (Galatians 1).

I don’t deny that there was disagreement about what constituted the canon in the early church.  I just don’t see how that is only a problem for Protestants and not one for EOs and Catholics.  For the latter, the Fathers are reliable and necessary  guides to the faith, yet they can’t even give us matching lists of what is in the canon.

But what about the Apocrypha?   Big deal.  If you want to include it within the binding of your bible, it doesn’t matter.   I have no problem calling them Apocrypha “deutero-canonicals.”  Here is why it doesn’t add anything to the EO and RCC argument (keep in mind those two traditions differ on what is actually in the Apocrypha):  neither tradition reads these books aloud in liturgy, and only in Maccabees is a key point of doctrine at stake, and even then it is a highly strained reading.  Say it another way:  if the EO took the Apocrypha out of their bibles, nothing would change for them in terms of liturgy and doctrine.



Speed-bump questions for my EO friends

As I must constantly reiterate, this post is not an attack upon Eastern Orthodoxy.  If someone honestly studies the historical questions and the lives of the Holy Fathers, particularly Fr. Seraphim Rose, and decides, “Yes, I need to become Orthodox.”  To such a person I say, “Praise God and more power to you.”  If on the other hand, someone says, “I just don’t know what to believe.  I don’t trust my thinking.  I need an authoritative church to decide matters of the faith for me,” then that person is not only naive, but dishonest.  Orthodoxy loves to stress the person-hood of individuals.  Good.  One of the things constituting personhood is that you have a brain.   Secondly, if you reasoned your way to Orthodoxy (if only by making logical arguments on why Protestantism is wrong), then your reason was temporarily sufficient enough to make at least one doctrinal claim.  Now to the questions,

To the fathers or to the Bible?

I was told recently that Protestants must “fearfully defer to one’s individualist reading” of Scripture over against the Church and the fathers.  Presumably the argument is saying that we should frame our reading around the Fathers’ reading of Scripture.   But what do we do when St John Chrysostom tells us “If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian” (NPNF Series 1, vol.  11: 211).  Wow, it kind of re-writes ecclesiology, too.  Chrysostom goes on to answer objections, “Well, the other guy seems to read the Bible, too.  So how do I know who is correct?”  Chrysostom delivers the hammer-blow:  “Have you no understanding?  Have you no judgment?”

St Cyril of Jerusalem urges his readers to judge Cyril’s words by Scripture.  This places a heavy strain on the Orthodox understanding of tradition, which places the fathers in that nexus.  Presumably, one interprets the Scriptures by tradition, which tradition includes the writings of the Fathers.  But the writings of the Fathers say to interpret themselves by Scripture!  So which is it?

Athanasius on Person-attribute

The Romanides/Farrell guys in Orthodoxy love to distinguish between person, nature, and attribute–and it’s a fair distinction.   They tried to hammer me on this at Arakaki’s blog the other day, but I didn’t take the bait.  I didn’t because answering their questions would also implicate St Athanasius.    Athanasius often says the Son is the will (which is an attribute) of the Father.  Does this not confuse person and nature?  Someone could reply, “C’mon, you know what he means.   Yes, I probably do, but in any case stop with the Maximus questions on the Son assuming a fallen will.  Thomas Torrance was a Calvinist and he didn’t seem bothered by it.

But show me the tradition

Here’s the toughest part.  When I’m mocked for my “individualist” reading of Scripture, it is opposed to a vaunted tradition.  Hey, maybe the tradition is right, but I got some questions.   How do I know that practice x is really the tradition, since there is no corroborating evidence?  Evidence for an early church iconostasis is slim and when it did get on the scene, it was simply a fence around the altar to keep dogs from peeing on it.  In any case, answering the question is reasoning in a circle.

Review of Fr Seraphim Rose: His Life and Work

And before any Reformed folk get mad, the evangelical apologist Philip Johnson endorsed this book.

This biography read like a “page-turner novel.” Most novels aren’t this exciting. It is a combination of St Augustine’s *Confessions* along with a touch of Louis L’Amour. But most importantly, it is the story of a man’s passionate and desperate search for Christ. It is the excitement of a philosopher who spends his life for “truth” only to find Truth as a Person. Fr Seraphim’s life can be summarized along several major segments: The Search for Truth, The Religion of AntiChrist, Acquiring the Mind of the Fathers, and the Resurrection of Holy Russia.

Truth as a Person
Fr Seraphim, not unlike St Augustine, was philosophically-minded and spent much of his youth vainly looking for “truth.” He rejected the vapid form of Protestantism held by his nice, neat American suburb community, but soon drifted in and out of nihilism. After many bouts of anger and depression and binge-alcoholic drinking, he was to discover that Truth is “traditioned” and communities that had continuity with ancient traditions were more valid than more modern expressions of truth (64).

After his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, Rose began to analyze the modern world. He followed Nietszche’s trajectory of nihilism as the negation of truth (140ff). Nihilism in the modern age was to prepare man for the reign of Antichrist and the arrival of the New World Order. Rose outlined four stages of nihilism: liberalism, realism, vitalism, and Nihilism

The religion of Antichrist
For Rose, Antichrist was an “ape of Christ.” He represented the forces of Satan opposing Christ. He will appear “good” to the world and solve the problems of the world (88). His religion will be a “demonic pentecost.” The more fringe elements of society will become more mainstream (cf CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 281). There will be a frightening unity behind the disparate world religions. He noticed a common theme behind various religious phenomena: Charismatic Christianity centered on pagan forms of initiation; the ecumenical movement seeks to outdo each other in abandoning all forms of Christianity for the sake of “unity.” And then UFOs: There is actually something behind the UFO encounters. They are clearly something of the paraphysical and occult realm. The aliens seem to be a strange mingling of physic and psychic matter–just like demons. The matter in them is of such subtlety it cannot be perceived except by saints. The message of the UFOs is to prepare for the reign of Antichrist. St Ignatius Brianchanninov said that the miracles of Antichrist will be in the aerial realm, where Satan has chief dominion.

Acquiring the Mind of the Fathers
The Mind of the Fathers is the Living understanding of Holy Tradition (416ff). They are the links between ancient texts and today’s reality. The fathers are the most capable preservers of the Truth because of the sanctity of their lives. Rose learned that he had to “acquire their mind–” he had to learn, think, and feel the way they did. He had to conform his consciousness to that of the Fathers. Acquiring the mind of the fathers is to acquire the mind of the church, which is the mind of Christ, who is the head of the Church. How do we acquire their minds (465)? 1. Constancy: Rose worked out a spiritual regimen based on wisdom from the Holy Fathers. Regular reading of the fathersl 2. Pain of Heart.

The Resurrection of Holy Russia
Fr Seraphim noted that Holy Russia would be resurrected from the ashes of Communism before the end of the world (653). The return of a Tsarist and pious leader is the half-hour silence in heaven spoken of in the Apocalypse, immediately before the reign of Antichrist. Rose saw Russia as a “blood-covered martyric land.” The Tsar-martyr Nicholas II was the restrainer of Antichrist (2 Thess. 2). The patricidal murder of the Tsar is a sign we are living in pre-Antichrist times (192). This idea can be connected with the horror of the 20th century, the rise of globalist institutions, global credit, and secular ideologies.

Of particular interest here are the prophecies of St Seraphim of Sarov, who gave four prophecies pertaining to the resurrection of Holy Russia (he spoke in the 19th century), three of which have already happened.

Fr Seraphim’s message to us:
It is later than you think. We live in an age where secular leaders openly call for world governance based on the bloody ideologies of the 20th century. While many ages think they are in the last generation, and Fr Seraphim would not want us wasting time predicting “times,” the New Testament does call for us to be awake and alert. When the leaders of countries call for a one-world government and one-world market, and when we take note of the “demonic pentecost” (spoken above), we can’t pretend we are “just living in normal times.” Rose had a particularly painful chapter called, “Today in Russia; tomorrow in America.” He meant that the Communist GULAG would soon come to America. With Obama’s cabinet and FEMA, can anyone seriously doubt this?

In any case, Hieromonk Damascene did a wonderful job in writing this book.


Sometimes Orthodox will say that Protestantism is necessarily seen as wrong because of the common slide towards liberalism.  I would reply, “Hold your horses.”  While SCOBA might not be denying the virgin birth or the supernatural, if you want to see if someone is inching towards “mainline-ism,” mention Fr Seraphim Rose’s name and watch his reaction.

Baptists and Racial Issues

For some reason a lot of Baptists are “expecting” an uproar over the likely election of African-American pastor Fred Luter to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention.   While I don’t get all gushy on racial issues–and I think the very broaching of the topic today is often nothing more than a pseudo-marmy piety that dodges real issues, however I don’t expect an uproar.  Sure.  There are racists in the SBC.   Those churches are only about 30-member size.  It won’t be that much of a backlash.

For the record I hope Dr Luter gets it.  It would be kind of funny if he did, considering the origins of the SBC.

One must note, however, there are also other facets of the race and slavery issue.  Before I start I need to say that man-stealing is wrong (how come no one ever talks about how evil the African tribesmen were for man-stealing the kindred?   Slavery would have been impossible if not for that).

  • Defining church membership around race is a sin.  If nothing else, the New Perspective on Paul provides insight in that field.
  • However, denying that race exists, or that race is evil, or that blood and kin is evil, is also a sin for the simple fact that God created all of those things.  If, however, one retorts, that race doesn’t exist then why are you spending all of this time talking about it?
  • Manstealing is wrong.
  • Southern slavery as it was practiced was unbiblical and should have been abolished by legal and political means.
  • Slavery, however, is not for the simple fact that St Paul never said what American Evangelicals want him to have said.  Yes, we can say that the Christian gospel slowly and thoroughly eradicated slavery.  Wonderful.  That is an inference from Christian ethics.  It is not, however, exegesis.
  • If we are going to talk about racial issues, let’s consider the fact that if a group of African-americans thugs attack whites, the media will largely cover it up.  If the roles are reversed it will be the biggest story in the country.  I’m all for racial justice.  Now let’s make sure it is applied fairly.

Doctrine of Corporate Person Defended

One of the newer weapons in the arsenal of some convert apologists is the “person-nature” distinction.  It basically argues that the person is the “who” that does the action.  The nature is the “what.”  On the most basic level it is a fine distinction.  One has to use it in Trinitarian theology.  Person isn’t nature, otherwise the Trinity falls apart.  Many Easterners, however, use this distinction as an architectonic template for all of theology.  Admittedly, it is quite attractive.  The most cogent defense of it is by Joseph Farrell (see the one on Babylon’s Banksters, Part Six–roughly 25 minutes into it).  In short, it goes like this:

  • The doctrine of the corporate person (by that he means something akin what the West teaches about all of man’s representation in Adam) confuses the person nature distinction.  It is defined by a group of persons who unite into one larger group of “person” by their respectivefunctions.
  • Obviously, this is the foundation for the medieval notion of the corporation.
  • Directly tied to Western conception of original sin.
  • The cash-value aspect of this is that I can’t be responsible for what another person does.

There is much wisdom in the above and the West certainly took the idea of the corporate person in extremely deleterious ways.  However, to say that it isn’t “biblical” or that it is “unfair” goes too far.  Let’s look at some texts.  I am deliberately leaving off Romans 5:12.  In 2 Samuel 21 David is being punished for Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites.  On a surface level at least, this is the clearest rebuttal to the idea that Federal Representation is unbiblical and unjust.  In 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, we see something akin to the body being defined by the functions of the members.  Granted, it’s not a 1:1 correlation of the corporate person.

While those who reject Federal Headship in Romans 5:12 can still do so on some exegetical grounds, I hope the above texts remove the objection that the idea of Federal Headship is unjust.  One man’s actions, so we see, can represent another’s.

Premillennial connections…?

C. Marvin Pate writes,

“A spiritual resurrection can hardly explain the compensation provided for the martyrs in verse 4. From John’s perspective they are physically dead but spiritually alive. What they need is a bodily resurrection. (b) The best understanding of the verb esezan (they lived) in verse 4 is that it refers to a bodily resurrection” (Pate, “A Progressive Dispensationalist View of Revelation” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation).

Carl F Henry writes,

The case for a millennial kingdom rests on three arguments: 1)The Old Testament prophets speak so emphatically of a coming universal age of earthly peace and justice that to transfer this vision wholly to a transcendnet superterrestial kingdom is unjustifiable; 2) because the historical fall of Adam involves all human history in its consequences it requires an historical redemption that extends ‘far as the curse is found’ to complete Christ’s victory over sin; 3) the most natural interpretation of Revelation 20 seems to suggest an earthly, millennial reign prior to the inauguration of God’s eternal kingdom” (Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 6 volumes. [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983; reprint, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999], 6: 504).

The real “replacement” theology

Thesis: The church doesn’t replace Israel; Jesus does.

Every spiritual blessing was won by Christ. The new testament says these blessings are “in him,” and if we are in Christ, then they belong to us. All the promises of the Old Testament now apply and are fulfilled in Christ. Therefore, if we are united to Christ, then they are ours! The kingdom that God promised his people in the Old Testament is not some fuzzy, spiritual reality now-called the church. No, the kingdom is given to Christ and we, the church, experience it through him! (Moore, 119). And what does the resurrected Jesus inherit? He inherits the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Acts 13:32-33)

The NT applies to Jesus language previously applied to Israel (Ex. 4.22; Matthew 2.15). So Jesus replaces Israel, not the church.

So it’s not the church that replaces Israel, but Jesus that replaces Israel–and the church by union in Christ share and inherit these blessings (heirs with God, fellow heirs with Jesus Christ).

I’m a peeping premillennialist

Covenant theologians have been pointing out problems with premillennialism for decades, usually of the dispensationalist variety.   There are difficulties in the premillennial system.  Fair enough, but there are also strengths as well.  Anyway, I still hold to covenant theology and the implications thereof.  My tentative premillennialism would be of a historic premil variety.  My very short non-fleshed out reasons for the position are this:
Amillennialism takes the two resurrections to be that the first resurrection in Revelation 20 is “spiritual” (e.g., new birth, etc) and the second resurrection is “physical” (stuff at the end of time, great judgment, etc).  The problem, as all premillennialists have pointed out, is that the greek word for resurrection used NEVER means spiritual.  And it is quite arbitrary to say this is spiritual but that is physical.  Even Vern Poythress admitted premils nailed amil on that point and others.

The weakness of the premil system is that after a while it seems you are positing 2 or 3 resurrections.


Scottish Reformation and Religious Liberty–not really

Religious liberty is the holy grail among public theologians today.   If you can convince your audience that your position provides for religious liberty defined by the canons of liberal democracy (which presumably, your opponent’s does not) then you win.  Calvinists have picked up on this and a flood of books on John Calvin’s creation of liberal democracy etc have appeared.  One sees it in a smaller degree in the works on John Knox and the Scottish Covenanters.  But is this really the case that these positions provide the framework for liberal democracy?  The answer is a clear and obvious “no.”

It is true that all of these positions posit a (rightful) negation of the Romanist doctrine of papal political universality.   The negation of this point, though, does not entail liberal democracy.  Here’s why:

  • In Book IV chapter 20 Calvin says the magistrate must further the true religion in the land.   This is probably the most anti-American thing one can say.
  • John Knox believed the magistrate should use some Old Testament laws as his judicial base (and of course, he held to the above point).
  • The Scottish covenanters had no problem with the magistrate, for example, putting witches to death.  (It is true the Covenanters were anti-monarchist, but I think this is so primarily because the Stuart monarchy saw themselves as head of the Church.)