Towards a Christian Response to Jay Dyer, part 1

A few years ago Jay Dyer shocked the Catholic and Orthodox world by posting some Jewish objections to Christianity.  He took a lot of flack for it, and while I ultimately disagree with his conclusions, as he would mine, I think most of the responses to Jay failed to note something: Jay actually sought the truth of the matter, or at least he refused to accept easy, cliched answers.   I really appreciate that.   After spending a week debating the “Go Team” commenters at Orthodox Bridge, who simply repeat answers rather than think through the issues (and before you think I am being mean, count how many responses those guys made to “John,” whose critique of the VC fundamentally challenged their whole position.  Like I was saying…)

The title of this post is “Towards a response.”  There are a few objections Jay mentioned that I do have a fuller response for; time and energy simply preclude my giving it right now.

How is there one ontological will in God, while the Persons appear to do separate actions? For example, the Son does actions in His Incarnation the Father doesn’t do. The Spirit likewise. This seems to require separate willings, but will is not hypostatic, it’s a property of nature. This is why Damascene says there is one will and energy in God, inasmuch as there is one God acting.  Nahmanides makes this same objection, I came to find, that occurred to me.  So how is it the three act differently?  Similarly, is generation not an eternal act? If it’s an eternal action, then it must be of nature and of will. But the Nicene Fathers are adamant the Son is not a product of will in any sense. He is of the Father’s nature. But He and the Spirit share that nature, and thus he is auto-generated. But this makes no sense. Similarly, is spiration also an action? If so, it cannot be hypostatic, it must be of nature, but again, nature is common in the Godhead.  Also, if apophatic theology is true, in a hardcore sense, then there can be no Incarnation, since it is not an energy that became Incarnate, but the divine Son, with His divine nature, as Chalcedon says.

I don’t know if people are aware of it, but this is pretty much the same critique given by Karl Barth and Bruce McCormack.  Part of jay’s criticism receives strength simply because the Church had to use Hellenistic categories and language.  That’s not a criticism of the Church–it’s just the simple fact of the matter.  We use the language of the culture in which we are immersed.  Unfortunately, that means accepting both the strengths and weaknesses of that culture.  Basically, a Barthian response would move the whole conversation out of this arena, seeing the “persons” of the Trinity as three simultaneous moments (modes, huparkis tropos) of the divine being.

This leads to the next issue: the Neo-Platonic doctrine of trinity. A proto-trinitarian doctrine was already taught in Hellenism in Proclus, Plotinus, and others, including a kind of version in Philo. It is hard to accept that the Eastern Fathers were not Hellenistic as the Eastern apologists tell us, when they can’t even seem to figure out if God gave sex and human bodies as a *result of the fall. The threefold power clearly has antecedents in Hellenism and Platonism.  Did God really shift from Jewish monotheism to Greek Hellenism to give the true doctrine?  And if so, then why is it that Hellenism is the great enemy of the Maccabean period? Remember – the Maccabean books are in our canon. It is Philo from whence the Logos idea comes

Jay’s making two different claims here, and it would help to keep them separate: 1) sex is good but why does the early church practically think it is evil?  2) The Trinity is neo-Platonic.   We’ll deal with the first claim later.  Per (2) there are two responses:  a.  even the most neo-Platonic of all the fathers–Augustine–did not accept the neo-Platonic schematic en toto.  Augustine–and Gregory of Nazianzus as well–defined God as Being, not beyond being.  Ergo, no neo-Platonism.  Did they use neo-Platonic language?  Sure.  That was the lingua franca and it was inevitable.

Judaism always taught iconoclasm. The Law says not to make alliances with paganism and certainly God forbade paganism as part of His acceptable worship. Yet by the time we are into the second century, pagan basilicas have been converted and are now holy. In fact, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa and Pope Benedict recently, even go so far as to say that the Trinity reconciles Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism (emphasis). How far is this from the declarations that God is God alone, and to destroy pagan altars?

Again, Jay is trying to put too many objections into one objection.  Per the iconoclasm:  since I am a Protestant this technically doesn’t bother me.  But I think one can offer a line of response:  The second commandment forbade representation of the Father and his nature.   While Catholicism suffers heavily from Jay’s critique, I do not think Orthodoxy does.  The Orthodox claim that the representation is a representation of theenergiesof the Second person, which is an entirely different proposition.  How satisfying is this response?  I am not fully convinced.  There still seems to be a prima facie contradiction between Second Nicea and the Second Commandment.

The Law. The Law is said to be eternal. This cannot be typologized into some mystical meaning, inasmuch as God Himself even warned against such an approach (Dt. 13, 17, 18).  In fact, God even says that the Law is near you, even unto your hearts, and is not so mystical and impossible as to need to ascend heaven to grasp it. Yet somehow this is a prophecy of the ascension in St. Paul. God promised blessings and cursings based on how the Jews functioned in that covenant.  When they obeyed, they were blessed, and when they failed, they were cursed. How is it this is turned into a situation where God was for thousands of years “tricking” them, intending the Law to be an impossible task (as Peter says it was), when God said it wasn’t impossible, and it was never intended as a means to merit eternal life?

Was the covenant at Sinai enacted on the same promises as the covenant made with Abraham?  Modern Old Testament scholars are beginning to say “no.”  The fact remains they are two different covenants.  Even on Old Testament standards they are two different covenants.  The covenant of Abraham was not enacted on a works-principle; Sinaia, however, contained within it a works-principle.  I will flesh that out later.  Again, Jay is putting too many objections into one objection, for he is also critiquing St paul’s exegesis.  We shall deal with that later.

The covenant with Israel is said in several places to be eternal. When this is all spiritualized to mean the Church, it becomes a hermeneutical slippery slope, since the cursing passages are not spiritualized, and are only applied to “flesh Israel.” The hermeneutic appears inconsistent and arbitrary.

It would have helped if he would have quoted references, but I again ask, “Which covenant?  Sinai or Abrahamic?”  We can develop it further:  the Abrahamic covenant is unilateral per God’s promises;  Sinai is bilateral.  Of which covenant is the Davidic?  Jay is absolutely correct to point out the arbitrary application of the spiritual blessings applying to the church while Israel gets the literal curses.   This is where Amillennialism dies.

The LXX has flaws and problems and isn’t the original text. Are we to just trust that Origen is right when he says the evil Jews alterred their own prophets? But Origen was a heretic, and Justin Martyr didn’t even get the Trinity right, so is he any better when he makes this same charge against Trypho?

I agree with the first sentence 100%

How do we participate in divine nature and remain creatures? It’s a mystery. Yet we say it is pantheism when we deify creatures. If the divine nature is simple, then how do we participate in it and remain creatures? we participate in the energies, not the nature. Ok, do we participate in 7 energies, and not 4? 8 and not 3? And for Catholics, what is the difference between supernatural and natural gifts? Which was it the Spirit gave to Bezaleel to design the temple? At what point does a virtue become supernatural and not natural?

This is a problem for Eastern Orthodoxy, so I won’t deal with it here.  I actually have an answer for it but I don’t see his objections as applying to my position, so I won’t worry about it.

Did Moses experience the divine radiance? Yes. But the Incarnation had not happened yet. But theosis is supposed to occur only when the Incarnation occurs. If the response is that Moses was deified because it was Christ there, then the Incarnation wasn’t necessary.

See above.  A possible answer is that Moses wasn’t fully deified, but since theosis isn’t the focal point of my position, I will sit that one out.

If the only way eternal life is restored is through the resurrection of Christ, then why do angels have eternal life, since Hebrews says they do not share in redemption? This means God can grant eternal life without a human sacrifice. Indeed, Anselm’s theory of the Atonement is absurd, but the same objections can be applied to a Neo-platonic or patristic idea that death could not be overcome other than by the Incarnation. Why? God has always been immanent and present in the world as all the theophanies show, and if Moses saw the divine radiance, then why does there have to be an Incarnation or a human sacrifice?

I think we are equivocating on the term “eternal life.”

God commanded the extermination of the Canaanites. This is hard for 90% of Christians to accept, but denying this leads to absurdities. Acceptance of it means that God was racial. No Christian churches really teach race. In fact, most churches actively work to oppose race. But unless humans totally changed in the first century, men are still pretty much acting like they did 3,000 years ago.  90% of Christians feel the bizarre need to “spiritualize” the Canaanite conquest and extermination, or even outright reject that “God.” That would be Marcionism, of course, but acceptance of that God entails a God who told the Jews they could practice slavery as well as enact usury on Gentiles. So all you conspiracy chaps who bitch about the Jewish bankers have to admit they got this from God.  God also condones slavery. Now, God says over and over how just His law is, and if this is so, then slavery and usury must in some sense be just. So also must death for adultery, homosexuality, etc. But the only Christians who will say this are heretics (reconstructionists) and amount to nothing.  It also doesn’t work to say this was all temporary, since mankind still operates pretty much like he did then, and we are told in Dt. 4 that the wisdom of God’s law and it’s justice are a light to all nations. Did God’s social justice vanish in the New Testament?

Amen, brother!  A word about usury, though.  When God gave that command usury existed to protect the one who loans from potential loss.  Jewish bankers today do it to practically enslave economies.

If the Messiah has come, then why has the Church been full of wars, splits, conquests, and evil men, when the Messianic era is said to be one of peace? It’s a spiritual peace, you will say. The nations are supposed to no longer learn war. Do you notice how everything is constantly getting “spiritualized” when it doesn’t appear to match up? But aren’t we in the time of the reality, and not the type? This brings me to the next big one.

This is a devastating critique of hyper-covenant theology and amil-postmillennialism.   It’s essentially the same criticism premillennialists offer.  Since I am a premillennialist, I say, “Amen.”

If we are experiencing the realities in the New Testament, and the Law was the shadow, then why is it we are still in a state of shadow? The Church building and elements are still considered foreshadowings of heaven. Yet, the Temple was already heaven on earth. It was already the ‘real presence’ of God. So it appears we have moved from OT type –> NT type —> heaven. How many heavenly liturgies are there? There’s one in heaven, we know. But on earth there are a thousand different – some shitty, some pretty. If we read Leviticus, it is hard to see how we get from Nadab and Abihu to the Novus Ordo.  It can be responded that this was necessary as the covenant was opened to the Gentiles, but is the situation as dire as Lev. 10? Indeed, as the fathers argue, it’s far worse, since that’s the real presence. Well, if that’s the case, then we should see far more Uzzahs.

I’m actually going to use this in my next eschatology debate.

Why is the book of Esther in the Christian canon? It specifically condones post-Canaanite genocide and conversion to the supposedly “corrupted Babylonian Judaism.”  From a hardliner trad Catholic or Orthodox perspective, it is hard to see why this is in the canon, as well as the Maccabees. However, once again we will see that the justification will be something along the lines of how it is “spiritualized” or “allegorized.” Again the trend – when in doubt, allegorize it.

I’m not entirely sure why it’s in the canon since it doesn’t mention God, but the rest of his critique doesn’t bother me.  It is a problem for many Orthodox and Catholics, though.

We condemn “Pharisee tradition” but we rely on that tradition in many places, just like Protestants rely on Catholic tradition.

Specifics would help, but he’s actually critizing something else, so I’ll leave it be.

It is hard to see why any Jew would have been expected to convert to the Church of the first 2-3 centuries, since it was so full of bizarre and absurd teachings. For example, denying the death penalty was normative, as well as weird views of sexuality. Can you blame any Jew for not joining this group, when they had been warned in the Deuteronomy passages above to have a healthy skepticism about newly rising movements among them?

This is more true the later you get.  But as the commenter “John” pointed out at Orthodox Bridge (whose arguments have still yet to be answered!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), this critique is not a problem for those who try to tie the Vincentian Canon back into the Jerusalem Orbit.

God made man as a man, yet Catholicism and Orthodoxy want men to live like angels. But God reproved the angels who sought to change their habitation. Why should he expect man to become an angel?

This is a standard Protestant critique of hyper-ascetism.  Schaff makes the same argument in volume 2 of his Church History series.

David, and most of the fathers of the OT of necessity lived most of their lives in mortal sin, if the moral law is a reflection of Gods essence (as in Catholicism). This is because David had numerous wives, and such an action, if presently a mortal sin, must always have been one, since it is a reflection of God’s essence, which cannot change.

Indeed, this is embarrassing for Catholicism.

I’ll address part two, deo volente.


7 comments on “Towards a Christian Response to Jay Dyer, part 1

  1. jnorm says:

    In order for me to answer John and Jay Dyer fully, I would have to spend time reading jewish theological, philosophical, and historical works. Most of us converted from various forms of protestantism and so it’s easier for us to answer protestant objections.

    I plan on buying the Tosefta sometime next year, but answering Rabinnical Judaic objections isn’t high on my list at the moment. I have other things on my plate to deal with first. I also plan on buying a history book by Diarmaid MacCulloch that will be helpful in answering one of Jay’s questions about the issue of the Incarnation, and immutability among the Greeks and the Jews.

    It would be easier for jewish converts to answer these questions for they might be more familiar with the territory. But until then, most of us who came from a protestant back-ground will just have to spend years reading jewish works or works that deal with the issues.

    At present I am able to answer some of the things that John said, but I’m not able to answer everything he said for he was talking about alot of jewish stuff too!

    Like in regards to the vincention canon. He wanted to go back to the Apostle James, but the context of the canon wasn’t built for that. It was built to fight against some of the extremes of Saint Augustine, and so that is what it should primarily be used for (in my opinion).

    Also he seems to be into some form of Messianic Judaism for he(John) seemed to have a beef with the Apostle Paul, if this is the case then it’s not just a matter of vindicating the Vincention Canon, but also a case of defending huge portions of New Testament Scripture (The Apostle Paul) as well!

    • I guess the reason I focused on the fact that no one had answered John, was that John’s remark represented a fundamental attack on the VC as employed by Orthodox guys. I happened to actually agree with the VC as a general maxim. Yet, against whom did everyone focus their comments? Me. Against whom did every new commenter make some smart-@$$ remark (Not saying you did, Jnorm)? Me.

  2. I kind of wondered, also, if John was into Messianic Judaism. He said a lot of Orthodox-ish sounding things, but as you note, this sounds like a lot of guys with whom I talked who are Messianic Jews.

  3. Interesting stuff here…posting so I don’t miss. Yet it strikes me as a bit odd for OP to sensitively chaff when the Orthodox he opposes dare disagree with him, in a most pleasant way. Guess I missed the smart-@$$ remark…but readers can go see for themselves if OL’s injection of ill-will & his victims’-towell is legit…or if he’s been treated overwhelmingly with kindness. 🙂

  4. This is interesting…posting mostly to follow. Yet I do find it a tad odd for OP to chaff should any Orthodox he’s opposing/challenging disagree with him. And I’ve completely missed this “whom did every new commenter make some smart-@$$ remark”. Didn’t see it and don’t think Mr. Arakaki would tolerate it. But you can go look for yourself to see if OP victim’s-towell is legit…or if he overwhelmingly, has been treated with kindness 🙂

  5. (This is my 3rd try on this comment…1st time is didn’t post I tried again & it rebuked me saying it was a dupicate! Ah…but it’s still not “there”. Here goes #3)

    This is interesting…posting mostly to follow. Yet I do find it a tad odd for OP to chaff should any Orthodox he’s opposing/challenging disagrees with him. And I’ve completely missed this “whom did every new commenter make some smart-@$$ remark” at OrthodoxBridge. Don’t see it, and don’t believe Mr. Arakaki would tolerate it. But you can go look for yourself to see if OP victim’s-towell is legit…or if he’s overwhelmingly been treated with kindness 🙂

  6. Perhaps I did get a little frustrated. Let’s review what happened:

    My initial challenge was that the VC, while correct in the broadest of terms, needs to be qualified or it is plainly incorrect on historical grounds. That is the proposition in question.

    I mistakenly thought Pelikan agreed with me on this. Robert demonstrated I quoted him out of context (though Pelikan, eslewhere, admits the same thing). I retracted the Pelikan part.

    However, I reasserted my initial proposition, which does not depend on Pelikan: the VC needs to be qualified to be true. Then entered a slieu of comments which had nothing to do either with Robert’s initial post or my challenge. Hence, my frustration. At this point everyone started amen-ing the next post and asking me how Protestantism could possibly the the original faith. Perhaps not, but that is not the proposition.

    Then John came along and effectively destroyed the VC. I don’t know if anyone caught that. He was trying to be nice about it and didn’t openly say it, but John demonstrated at least ten major incidents where the VC either proves something besides Orthodoxy, or shows that Orthodoxy does not match the VC. How many in depth responses to John were there? None that dealt with the specifics.

    And yet everyone kept zoning in on what I said and not realizing that John had effectively challenged, if not refuted, their whole system. Which is ironic, since I actually agree with the VC.

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