Extra Israel nulla salus

The question in the canon debate is not whether the Church approves–and hence creates–the canon, but whether Israel’s Scriptures approve the church (per Robert Jenson).

The second question is not whether am I saved because I am part of Institution x (which makes mutually exclusive claims from Institution y, both of which damn eternally members in the Set ~{xy} ), but rather “Am I ingrafted in Israel?”

That question gets tricky.  Paul specifically says the true church (leaving undefined at the moment, which he did) is en grafted into God’s olive tree, which identity is Israel.   But he says ethnic Israel has been (temporarily) cut off (sidenote:  regardless of millennial views, how someone can read Romans 11 and not see a future inbringing of Jews is simply amillennialism’s desperate last gasp).

This brings us back to the question of identity:   those who are saved are the in-grafted-into-Israel-ones.  I leave aside questions of eternal salvation at the moment.  Paul affirms a future inbringing of Jews–which will be the catalyst for life-for-the-world.

Corollary:  Communions which are anti-semitic are under a negative judgment per Paul’s comments circa ingrafting.

Corollary 1b: I do not agree with everything the modern nation state of Israel does.  I do not vote Republican.

Corollary 2: Is the Church the New Israel?  I know covenant theologians like to make that connection, and I am sympathetic to some of the conclusions (e.g., infant baptism), and I understand that New Testament writers use OT priestly language in reference to the church, but I hesitate saying that.  While the position isn’t fundamentally wrong, it clouds the discussion and turns attention away from the dialectical purpose of God in history (I know that was a very Hegelian sentence.  I don’t mean it that way): the church is a mystery revealed in these last times, of whom ethnic Israel is jealous, which jealously shall lead to their conversion; which conversion shall be life for the world.

That is the essence of New Testament eschatology.

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Something else the ring did not expect

A while back I did a post on Putin as something the New World Order did not expect to happen, effectively thwarting their plans of making Russia simply another cash-cow for the globalists.  I’ve always wondered if I can apply that to religion, particularly Christian theology.  I’m responding to the paradigm shift of the author of Giza Death Star.   It’s not too hard to figure out of whom I speak, but I don’t feel right “calling him out” online for a number of reasons:  it  just ain’t friendly, for one; he is a noted scholar–if you have a D.Phil from Oxford you deserve respect; and, I still stand in awe of his ability to synthesize numerous strands of very difficult information.

He is the author of God, History, and Dialectic, arguably the most influential book and project I have ever experienced.  His recent project, beginning with Giza Death Star and continuing through Grid of the Gods attempts to trace the aftermath of a great cosmic war.  In short, he compares different origin accounts from different cultures and religions across the world, noting a number of “early apocalyptic” scenarios, which all sound the same.

As it stands that is fine and good.  While I don’t accept Jim Marrs’ argument that we are the engineering by-product of ancient aliens as documented in Sumerian epics (although I do accept many of his conclusions), I must confess that the similarities across a wide geography and time-frame make a very strong case.  I don’t know what to make of this case.   I see no reason to suddenly think “The Genesis account,” and by extension Christian theology, is somehow false.  Is the Genesis account dependent on earlier creation narratives?  Probably, but does dependency = falsification?  Hardly.  But more on that later.   At the same time, I don’t necessarily feel compelled to accept the Sumerian reading on face value.  That will illustrate another problem.

Let’s see what we can make of his argument against Christian (textual) morality:

  1. Yahweh told Abraham to sacrifice his son (cf. the arguments originally brought forth by Friedrich Delitzsch).  I’ll admit.   Most of the justifications of this are weak, but I think there are responses.  Ultimately, my response to this will be tied up with my response to the reading of texts.
  2. The Caananite Genocide;  how does one justify the fact that Yahweh told the Israelites to kill everyone in Caanan? This leads to the conclusion that Yahweh is a bad guy.
  3. There are stupid Christians today.    I agree with him on this.    Not sure what it proves.

Sed contra,

~1.  I am tempted to let him have this point for several reasons.  I’m not entirely sure of what I think on this passage. I know that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with it for centuries long before Delitzsch.  Maybe they’ve given poor responses; many have (I think Kierkegaard is overrated as a philosopher). With regard to my own spirituality, I don’t feel threatened about one passage that I cannot understand.   Imploding worldviews is a lot like destroying spiderwebs.   You have to take out the heart of the web, which I don’t see this text as representative of.

~2.  One has to ask several questions here:  Were the Caananites nice people?   What did Molech worship entail?  Does that justify armed invasion?   Maybe, maybe not.  Another line of thought–and while this is speculation, I would hasten to add that much of his project, by his own admission, is speculation–is tracing the origin of the Anakim.   If the Anakim, and Caananites in general, were descendants of fallen angels, that would make them a form of demonic offspring.

I have some more to add, but it also involves the reading of texts.  One other thing to add:  C. S. Lewis had a fairly liberal German view of the Old Testament, even noting how mean God sounded at times, yet Lewis didn’t seem bothered by the overall affect to his own Christian worldview.

~3.  In listening to these radio interviews I get the impression he is lumping all Christians into the mold and representation of backwoods fundamentalists.   or baptists.   He would deny that, and charity demands I interpret him accordingly.   Still, he is not making those distinctions when he criticizes “the religious people.”   This, too, involves the reading of texts.  Further, he notes that his reading poses challenges to the traditional three monotheistic religions, but he spends all of his time focusing these challenges to Christians.

I sometimes wonder how hard-core ancient faith radio really is (yes, the programs are awesome), but surely these people aren’t mindlessly reading only their bibles.

As it stands, he originally said he wants Christians to think good and hard about these issues.  Great.  I am actually excited about it.  I agree with hip readings about ancient wars and space programs, but when I hear him call my Father a “murderer,” it’s hard for me to continue charitably (cf., the latest episode on Social Engineering).

Reading Texts

Is one warranted in reading ALL texts in a strict, literal fashion? For whatever their (often violent) disagreements, few major adherents of the three monotheisms read the texts in a 1:1 correspondence.  Now, if he wants his reading to function simply as a reductio against the wackiness of Fundamentalist hermeneutics, while still exploring the possibilities of a cosmic war hypothesis, then I think that is worthwhile.

Another thought: is this the way the Christian church has historically read the Bible?    He might object that is special pleading and not taking the text at its face-value. (But he’s also noted that it is difficult to explain the difference between allegory and typology; cf “Introduction,” Disputation with Pyrrhus).   Maybe.   While there is probably more to be said on hermeneutics, traditioned communities have the right to read their texts–which they formed and passed down–the way they want to read them.

Let’s Pretend We are Liberal

Here is where it gets interesting.   In GHD the author gives probably the most incredible refutation of liberal higher criticism ever accomplished.   He exposes the gnostic presuppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis.   But even if one wanted to go the liberal route, one could say, “Yeah, it seems from that account Yahweh did some unsavory things, but one has to consider the contrasting Priestly, Jahwist, Deuteronomist, and Elohist strands throughout the Old Testament.”

Granted, that is a high price to pay, and one will lose inerrancy in the process, but if he thinks he has offered a painful moral dilemma  to traditional readings, then these JEDP readings blunt that charge (although at a high price).

What if we cannot accept the German liberals’ reading of the Old Testament?  Is there still a truth behind their claim, and if so, can that truth respond to the above criticisms?   I think—maybe.   Walter Brueggemann has done a fantastic job in showing that the Old Testament is full of hard edges.  He has suggested ways to read the Old Testament and take its claims seriously, while at the same time .  While avoiding many of Lindbeck’s conclusions,  Brueggemann notes that the Old Testament is a communal book, shaped within–and sometimes a response to–the community’s life and practice.

Sacrificial Ontology

One word about the sacrifices:  he makes an interesting argument, beginning in Babylon’s Banksters, that this view of “god” which demands sacrifices presupposes a system where the worshipper is already “in debt.”   (This scores huge points against many models of Western theology).  Therefore, sacrifical religions are debt-based religions.  Therefore, big problems for Judaism and Christianity.  Okay:

  1. One can see in the Old Testament that the Temple is not the ideal for worshipping God.   God didn’t seem too thrilled about the idea before Solomon, and afterwards the Temple came for condemnation and not praise in the Prophets.   Christ’s own words foretelling his identification with, and subsequent marginalization of the Temple add to this counter-reading.
  2. Is he making a distinction between Wesern-based soteriology and an Eastern-based soteriology.  I know he is cognizant of such a distinction, yet he does not mention it.
  3. “For you do not desire sacrifice, else I would give it.  You are not pleased with burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken and a contrite spirit.  These, O God, you will not despise.”   To which he might reply, “The Old Testament is changing the rules as it is going along.”   But I point above to the hard edges of the Old Testament.

My goal here was not to powerfully refute his arguments, but actually to take him/them seriously:   while the alternative research community will never amount to much–and he is the most sane and serious scholar, with a few exceptions like Hoagland–he has raised some questions.  Fun questions.

Confessions of a Liturgical Inerrantist

EDIT:  I hold to inerrancy.  I have seen where denying it kills denominations and churches.  That said, a hyper-focus on inerrancy, instead of the person to whom it witnesses, also kills denominations.

In college I would have defended inerrancy to the death.  Literally.  I am not being dramatic. In college I was physically assaulted by charismatics and theological liberals for my take on Scripture. If you did not accept the doctrine of inerrancy, you were a liberal.   If you took the easy route and accepted only the infallibility of Scripture, then you were afraid of the hard reality of God’s revelation, and you were probably a liberal anyway.

To be fair to us Evangelicals in college, given our situation we really did not have a choice.   The liberalism in the Baptist world was rank and raw.  At Southern Seminary in the late 1970s (yes that was before my time), so the documentation goes, prayers were began with, “Our Mother, who art in heaven…”*  A hard, if wrong-headed, defense of inerrancy is certainly understandable.

Unfortunately, inerrancy is a dead-end.   The only way it can be salvaged is to immediately water-down its claims.  The prima facie problems with inerrancy are the discrepancies between different gospel accounts and different historical reconstructions in Kings/Chronicles.   I know many apologists have “harmonized” these accounts, but there are some problems with “harmonizations”:

  • harmonizations, especially in the gospels, take away the rough edges from the text and ultimately make the two (or three) texts say the same thing.   There are two problems with this:  the text you have “harmonized” originally wasn’t saying what you wanted it to say.   You’ve changed the text (so much for the inerrancy of Scripture).  Secondly, the “difference” in the text might be pointing to a theological or narratival truth.  Harmonizing that eliminates that truth.
  • Many harmonizations are quite strained.
  • In order to be successful at this, you have to read a whole lot, have an agile mind for smoothing over these problems, and have the necessary rhetorical skills for interpreting these problems.   Few people have this, which means few people can really defend inerrancy.
I’m familiar with the traditional (well, it’s not too traditional since inerrancy is a late arrival) defense that the original mss are inerrant, and not the translations itself.   Fine.   That doesn’t make the problem go away.  You have no inerrant texts with you and at the end of the day you are in the same practical boat as the one who denies inerrancy.
But does this make one a liberal?  Does the truth lie with Wellhausen?  Not for me, anyway.  Theological Liberalism is the most unexciting mentality imaginable.  Liberalism begins with the premise that our universe is a very closed, very Newtonian universe.   Liberals presuppose from the outset, with no evidence for their future claims, that miracles just can’t happen, that God just can’t speak, that ultimately the Author of the story cannot enter the story.  When asked how they know this, they can only reply, “Just because…”
My (metaphorical) war against liberalism is still on.
In this case my position is analogous to C. S. Lewis.  Lewis had a very exciting ontology in which animals talked, new horizons opened up, God became man, knights and shining castles, etc.   Yet Lewis denied the inerrancy of Scripture, and while I was previously critical of his reasons for doing so–and admittedly they aren’t the best–I think I understand that Lewis did not want to be straight-jacketed into a system that can be dismantled very easily.   I also think Lewis did not want to die on a hill which would have been unrecognizable to most of church history.
One of the problems with “affirming” inerrancy, as N. T. Wright pointed out to Gaffin, was that it necessarily commits one to certain ecclesiastical, cultural, and even political agendas.   Granted, this is mainly so in America, but that’s the culture in which I live (and frankly, I think that is the only culture today in which this is an issue).

*Given the doctrine of absolute simplicity, which Tillich says is the abyss of everything specific, one should not be surprised.

Canons and monkey-wrenches

The familiar Scripture norms the norm argument.

While it is more sophisticated and healthier than the chaos autonomy of the low-church evangelical, and it does slow the inherent mechanism for self-destruction and schism that is inherent in the evangelical mindset, it still comes up short.  If Scripture qualifies and subordinates human authorities and traditions, then it must qualify and determine the canon.  Yet this is the very thing that can’t be done.   You can’t know what is Scripture without presupposing a canon, yet a canon is a human tradition.

Do you see what is happening?  The Scripture is supposed to qualify and limit our traditions, but it is the canon–which is a human tradition–which qualifies and limits Scripture.

On losing your soul

One of the more powerful cultural idioms on the Devil is the Southern legend about the Negro guitar player who walks the crossroads at night and signs a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for musical ability (okay, that was a reference to “O Brother Where Art Thou?,” which you need to watch right now, whether or not you have already seen it).   While creating powerful cultural expressions (see Aaron Lewis’ incredibly awesome song “Country Boy“), the idiom is also misleading in how we speak of salvation and the devil.   While I certainly believe that individuals do sell their souls to the devil ( Kate Perry and Bob Dylan did exactly that), I think something insidious is at play.   Losing one’s soul isn’t simply signing on a dotted line to a pale man wearing a dark suit and a top hat (again, this is why the South has better culture than the North), it is becoming so in love with the world that one is simply unable to open himself or herself up to the love of God.  His or her heart is no longer capable of receiving the simple and loving revelation of God in Christ.

If the Devil came up to you and offered you riches in exchange for your soul, you would probably recognize the trap and say “No.”  But could you recognize the trap if you were given riches anyway (no strings necessarily attached),maybe not  knowing these would choke out the revelation of God to your heart?

I’m the worst of sinners, as this Great Lent seasons has already taught me.   While I’m not that smart, I’ve also seen how power has changed people.  I didn’t say “corrupted” people, though that’s possible, too (thus tipping my hat to Lord Acton).   The danger is not so much in corruption, but in the silent snare of affluence.  The ancient wisdom of the king is evident here–Lord, deliver me from both riches and poverty.

I’ll be honest here:  I sometimes wish for that million dollar check in the mail so I can buy more books (especially the horrendously overpriced books in the Oxford Early Church Studies series).   On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when people get just a little extra money.  Aww shucks, it ain’t even the money that’s bad–it’s the extra power and the desire for more power that’s bad.

Christ have mercy on me, for I see myself in the above picture.

The problem with self-authenticating claims

I saw this from a Protetant facebooker,

The early church merely did what the rabbis before them did – *recognize* God’s Word in the Scriptures. This comes down to the nature of the Scriptures in the first place. If they are truly God’s Word then they are undoubtedly self-authenticating. When my wife speaks to me I know she is talking to me and I have no need to ask my next door neighbor if those are really her words or not.

Several problems with this statement (and self-authenticating claims in general).

  1. St Athanasius, Origen*, and others recognized numerous books of the “Apocrypha” as authoritative Scripture.    If Scripture is so self-authenticating, then how did someone like St Athanasios, who is infinitely times more sensitive to the truth of God’s word than the Reformers, get it so wrong?
  2. The most obvious question is “Self-authenticating to whom?”   On these grounds how can we deny the Mormon his claim to his Scriptures, or the Muslim his claim to his?   Given the structure of the argument, all that the Mormon has to say–and Mormons have told me this in street evangelism–“You just have to accept the obvious truth that Joseph Smith is a conduit of God’s revelation.”  Obviously, he isn’t, but if we are to accept lines that “self-authenticating is valid,” then we really can’t deny the Mormon his claim.
  3. If the church “recognizes” God’s word, we must ask, “Which church?”   The Church that Protestants claim “recognized” God’s word also prayed to the Theotokos, believed that we eat the flesh of Christ, which is the medicine of immortality (St Ignatios), maintained apostolic succession, and the like.
  4. And the most glaring problem, “Why should we give a damn what the Christ-hating and Christ-killing rabbis say the standards for Scriptures should be?  And while we are on that topic, which rabbis:  Palestinian or Diaspora?  Since they didn’t accept the same canon we should be skeptical of “self-authenticating claims.”

*I realize Origen is neither saint nor church father, but Origen did a lot of intensive work on various manuscripts and was intimately familiar with the debates over “what was scripture.”

Triadic Truth Claims Trump All

A position should be accepted or rejected based on whether it is true or not.  While some do apply that dictum in overly simplistic ways and one should be aware of importing other categories into the discussion, there seems something intuitive about accepting or rejecting a position based on whether it is true or false.   To put it negatively:  the human brain is probably not wired to knowingly believe as true what one knows to be false.

This is applicable when one evaluates various theological positions.  To reject a position based on “cultural” reasons is inadequate, for example, especially if its own truth claims have not been tested.  The following issues are what I—and others to whom I have consulted for advice—call “dealbreakers.”  They function similarly to “defeaters”[1] in philosophy. If I can show that one system of beliefs (B1) is incompatible with another system of beliefs (B2; the conclusions reached by the church concerning the Trinity and Christology), then either B1 or B2 has to go.

Monergism

The early church reasoned that nature has a will and thus an energy.  Therefore, since Christ has two natures, Christ also has two wills and two energies.    The heresy of monotheletism, though, said Christ only had one will.  Taking it a step further, a more specific heresy said Christ only had one energy.  This heresy is known as…mono-energism, or monergism.

Someone could respond, “But that’s not how monergism is being used today.   All that this monergism connotes is that God is sovereign in salvation—we, too, believe that Christ has two wills and two energies.[2]”  However, as Demetrios Bathrellos notes in The Byzantine Christ, some adherents of mono-energism also held to two energies in Christ; they simply subsume Christ’s human energy under the work of the divine energy.   Does this sound familiar?  Does this not sound like the claim that “God makes my will willing to will God”?  Isn’t this a form of “effectual calling”?  In any case, there is no true synergism, not only in our salvation, but in Christ himself.

The Son Becomes the Father…or Arian

Triadic reasoning says that whatever is common to the divine essence is applicable to all.   Whatever is particular to the person is particular to that person.   The three persons of the Trinity do not share the divine essence, but rather each person fully possesses the divine essence.

In light of the above, we should briefly return to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Against Eunomius.  Eunomius had, in a move similar to Arius, identified causality and generation, not with the hypostasis of the Father, but with the divine essence.   This had several consequences:  the Son was not of the same essence as the Father since the Son does not generate a Son.[3] Modern day Filioquists reject that conclusion but accept the same form of reasoning. In this sense with regard to the Filioque we see a “transfer of hypostatic properties.”  In other words, the ancients had spoken of the Father’s properties as generation, but with the Filioque both Son and Father have the same hypostatic properties.

The Bond of the Church is the…Pope?

If the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, and if analogies between the eternal Trinity are valid in the temporal realm (which most defenders of the Filioque, both Protestant and Catholic, affirm), then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Holy Spirit and grace proceed from the Pope.  Of course, Protestants reject the claim that the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, but instead of one pope one often sees many popes from whom the Holy Spirit, as well as binding decisions on the church, proceed.

You Can’t Use the Referee to Score Points for Your Team…

(Unless you umpire freshman baseball games in high school).  I’ve dealt with the epistemological problems with sola scriptura elsewhere.   The argument runs along these lines:  One cannot know the contents of Scripture simply by using Scripture—there is no scriptural argument for the Table of Contents page.   Secondly, you cannot interpret “Scripture by the clearer parts of Scripture” because you cannot know which parts are the clearer parts of Scripture except by an arbitrary appeal to a certain passage.

Saying the argument another way:  if you and another believer disagree about a biblical passage, who (or what) is the referee?  It will not do to appeal to the Bible, for that is the very issue under contention.  Some might say the court of appeal is the methods of historical-grammatical interpretation.   The problem with this method is that the Bible itself uses other methods of interpretation[4], and that this knowledge is not acquired by “scripture alone.”  It is, if you will, a “tradition of men.”  It is a prestigious tradition, but simply that.

Conclusion

Simply saying that such and such group is ethnic and phyletist may be true in your particular experience (though it is funny how the most crass forms of American evangelical phyletism are perfectly acceptable), but that charge is utterly irrelevant concerning the truth claims at stake.  Saying that the Reformers were thinking new thoughts biblically is commendable for them, but if their particular thoughts contradict with what the church has concluded about Triad and Christ (see the point on defeaters above), too bad for them.  It does not matter what they get right.   Heresies tend to have deconstruct themselves along the dialectic.

To be fair, there are still some problems for me—problems I cannot yet address, but at least I am trying to pursue them along epistemological and truth-claim lines.


[1] A defeater is a belief (B1) that is held to be incompatible with another belief (B2), or it can be any form of evidence to undercut a position, if not outright refuting it.

[2] On the other hand, though, many Reformed are not affirming that.   They only pick and choose which councils they accept.  For example, they like the Third Council, except where it venerates the Theotokos.

[3] Unfortunately, Eunomius’ trap had thus been set.  Later theologians would indeed reason that if the Son did not cause another person he was not fully God.

[4] In fact, using a strict historical-grammatical method would rule out much of Galatians 4.