Rejoinder to Future Protestantism

OB begins,

I am writing this response from the viewpoint of a former insider who is both critical and sympathetic towards contemporary Evangelicalism.

I grant his viewpoint as a former “Evangelical insider.” I firmly deny he has sufficient knowledge of Magisterial Protestantism, as will be evident below.

OB then analyzes Leithart’s own presentation. It’s mostly accurate though I do want to call attention to his use of the Mercersberg school later on.

OB writes,

Many of the original Reformers would question whether present day Evangelicals are Protestants.

I heartily agree. The Reformers will ask where is mention of the covenant or theocracy or Psalm-singing.  In fact, even among Reformed circles the latter is an embarrassing point.  OB doesn’t bring this up, but an interesting suggestion would be that “convertskii” are seeking to be an army of psalm chanters (of course, I maintain they will get buyer’s remorse).

He writes,

If one takes a rigorous theological approach one could deny low church Evangelicals and their Pentecostal brethren are Protestant. Charity and intellectual flexibility are needed to classify modern Evangelicals as Protestant.

It’s not a matter of charity at all. By denying them to be Protestant, I make no judgment about their Christian profession. In fact, I heartily rejoice in their claim to rest on Jesus’s Blood and Righteousness. Will the EO make the same claim to resting only on Jesus’s Blood and Righteousness?

OB writes,

If Pastor Leithart is calling for Evangelicals to return to their Reformational roots one has to ask why they do not join up with the church bodies with the most direct ties with the original Reformation, the mainline denominations. The answer is: For the most part mainline Protestant denominations have become apostate. Many mainline liberals deny the divine inspiration of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, and even his bodily resurrection. One has to ask: Why have so many of the mainline Protestant denominations and seminaries succumbed to the anti-supernaturalistic rationalism of the European Enlightenment? In military terms it would be like an embattled battalion retreating to a position that has been taken over by enemy forces.

This is as effective a rebuttal of Leithart’s project as one can imagine. I need not add any more.

OB writes,

I expect that postmodernism will take its toll leaving only a few congregations and seminaries unscathed. I expect the Protestant brand will still be around by the year 2100, but the content of that future Protestant brand will have been redefined to the point that many of us today will not be able to recognize them as Protestants or even Evangelical!

At the risk of the committing the tu quo que fallacy, the changes in Orthodoxy are just as significant. Any Old Ritualists around? How about the Lavender Mafia in the OCA? And these are the conservative failings. We can get much worse.

My pessimism is rooted in what I call Protestantism’s fatal genetic flaw. Lacking a stable binding hermeneutical framework (Holy Tradition) sola scriptura gives rise to multiple readings of Scripture. This gives Protestant theology a fluid quality, one that results in theological incoherence. It also results in numerous church splits as evidenced in Protestantism’s fractured and decentered denominational landscape. Leithart’s failure to address the sociological consequences of sola scriptura constitutes a serious weakness in his presentation.

This would be a cogent critique if he could demonstrate an apostolic connection between traditions today (iconostasis, etc)and what the apostles actually practiced, using only apostolic documents. It can’t be done and they know it!

The implications for the future of Protestantism are troubling. The more conservative, classical Protestantism of Luther and Calvin has no future. It will continue on in declining isolated pockets, while the ahistoric low church Evangelicalism that Leithart deplores will increasingly dominate the Protestant landscape. Evangelicalism will continue to mutate and adapt to post-modern American/Western society while oblivious to its Reformation heritage. Pastor Leithart rightly waxes eloquent about the need for Christians to band together but there is little evidence of this becoming a broad trend among Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

In logic these are what we call “assertions.” Rarely does this website give logical arguments so I won’t belabor the point.

Pastor Leithart’s call for a Reformational Catholicism is fraught with practical difficulties. He failed to inform his audience how to get there from here. One, isn’t it likely that a Baptist pastor who institutes weekly communion services and accepts as valid infant baptism will be fired by the church board? Two, how many independent congregations would be willing to come under a higher church authority with the possibility that they might be forced to embrace foreign or exotic teachings and practices? Three, who will have the authority to determine doctrine and worship where Scripture is silent or ambiguous?

This is correct, though there is a healthy return to the Lord’s Feast in Reformed churches today.

This raises the question: Can Reformational Catholicism have a future if so many of its best and brightest are converting to Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy? The numbers may be small but the caliber of their intellect is impressive. We are talking here of pastors and theologians exiting Protestantism! I wish Peter Leithart had spoken on the irony and significance of Jason Stellman who sought to try Leithart on grounds of heresy only to soon after become Roman Catholic! Then there is Scott Hahn, a Gordon-Conwell Seminary graduate and Presbyterian seminary professor, who converted to Roman Catholicism. Francis Beckwith was president of the Evangelical Theological Society until he stepped down as a result of his conversion to Catholicism.

These exit numbers are wildly inflated. I’ve challenged these guys on Orthodoxy’s Own Revolving Door.  People aren’t leaving Protestantism in droves. It only seems like it because Protestants make the best converts because they employ Luther’s dictum of bible and reason. They are very loud on the internet but they are not the norm.  Further, I don’t see how anyone can take Hahn seriously (something about Gordon Conwell is floating around in my mind).   Are there really the best counter-examples one can bring up?

Then one has to wonder about Jarsolav Pelikan, a Lutheran pastor and eminent professor of church history, who late in life joined the Orthodox Church. The group of former Campus Crusade for Christ staff workers and their followers numbering two thousand joined the Orthodox Church in 1987. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the famous Francis Schaeffer, became disenchanted with Evangelicalism and became Orthodox.

Please continue that thought on Frank Schaeffer. How did Orthodoxy work out for Franky? Is he a fair representative of Orthodoxy? Is there perhaps a connection between Franky and the aforementioned Revolving Door?

Missing from the conversation were representatives from mainline Protestant denominations. I would suggest that Leithart and his fellow panelists ask their mainline Protestant brethren: What accounts for the theological collapse of the church bodies that have the most direct ties to the Reformation? And, what lessons does the mainline debacle have for Pastor Leithart’s vision of a Reformational Catholicism?

Believing in a real Jesus is probably a prerequisite, and since there wasn’t a motion about apologizing to feminists or using tax dollars to silence the middle class, I doubt the mainline are too interested. The writer seems to suggest a connection between Protestantism and mainline Christianity. He needs to logically demonstrate such a connection instead of asserting it.

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Some worldview consequences coming from the Patriarchy scandal

The comments immediately following this one, including the one related to Young Earth Creationist Kent Hovind, are worth reading from a legal perspective.   Backlash happens in anything.    Here are some of my predictions (not prophecies, notwithstanding my views on spiritual gifts!  LOL).   This won’t affect older theology students and pastors, but it will affect younger ones.  I have in mind those students are just beginning to explore the mature Evangelical faith in a scholarly manner.

  • All other things being equal, I expect a rise in conservative, Old-Earth creationism.  This will be a solid response to Peter Enns and a mature counterbalance to some of the extreme statements made by VF (and YEC is a huge part of their ministry).  I remember listening to a Doug Phillips lecture and he told anecdotal stories of people who lost their faith in college because the (conservative) Bible professor held to an Old Earth position.  I thought that was probably the silliest thing I ever heard.
  • A movement away from presuppositionalism.  There are good presuppositionalists like Scot Oliphant.  They are the Westminster types. I personally do not hold those views, but I respect them.  They are not the same “wavelength” as Vision Forum.  Sadly, Vision Forum, and I can say this from personal experience, was remarkably talented at communicating presuppositionalism.  I am sad to see Greg Bahnsen’s name tarnished with this (and for the record, Bahnsen voted for Bush I in the 1990s and not Howard Phillips.  That led to a break between him and Rushdoony).
  • There will be a massive PR spin on “complementarianism.”  The pendulum is going to swing back to Wayne Grudem.  Doug Wilson might scoff at such “squeamish” terms (and I Plan to do a response to his calling the victim in the VF scandal “Foxy Bubbles” and trying to give DP a free pass.  I’ve seen a number of “worldview wonks” do the same thing).  As a marketing term, “Patriarchy” is down for the count.
  • Apropos above point, I think we are going to see a muting of the “worldview talk.”  I grant that worldviews are inescapable to a degree, but so is breathing.  But nobody talks about how important it is to breathe.
  • Will there be healthy Christian alternatives to nouthetic counseling?   I don’t agree with Freud and “psychobabble” as such, but I can give several clear-cut arguments why nouthetic models are flawed.   Depression doesn’t have to be related to sin.   It can be something as simple as “lack of sleep.”  The Soviet KGB knew this for decades (which is why they would raid homes at 3 A.M., the time where the body’s circadian rhythm was lowest.   When the CIA created assassin-clones in its MK-ULTRA program, aside from the pornography, prostitution, and mind-altering drugs used on the victim, sleep deprivation was essential the process.  All of this goes to falsify the premise of nouthetic counseling at its most basic).

Theonomy Files: No. 6: Theological Studies and the Steroid Effect

One of the dangers in taking steroids while lifting weights is that despite all the gains, the level you reach is likely the highest you will ever reach.   Once you get off steroids, and even the biggest “user” won’t take them perpetually (No one does steroids, or even creatine, during the regular season for risk of dehydration), it is unlikely you will ever reach those levels naturally again.

We see something similar in theological studies.   Deciding which area to major in will determine how deep one’s theological knowledge can get.   Here was my (and many others; and for what it’s worth, throughout this post substitute any Federal Vision term in place of a theonomy term and the point is largely the same) problem in institutional learning:  I immediately jumped on how important apologetics was for the Christian life to the extent that I made apologetical concerns overwhelm theological concerns.  While I believe Greg Bahnsen died entirely orthodox, and I do not believe theonomy is a heresy (only an error), focusing on Bahnsen’s method to such an extent, both in apologetics and ethics, warped the rest of theology.   I essentially made theology proper (and soteriology and ecclesiology) subsets of apologetics/ethics, instead of the other way around.

I won’t deny:  I became very good at apologetics and ethics, but I didn’t know jack about theology outside of a basic outline of Berkhof.   Studying Reformed theology among sources, and worse, movements, who are only barely Reformed (Bahnsen excluded), limited how deep I could go in Reformed theology.

I’ll say it another way:  when I was taking covenant theology we had to read sections of Gisbertus Voetius and Cocceius in class.  I got frustrated thinking, “These guys are tying in the covenant of works with natural law.  Don’t they know how un-reformed natural law is?”  Problem was, I was wrong.  But if you read the standard theonomic (or FV; by the way, the FV fully adopts the Barthian, and now historically falsified, Calvin vs. Calvinist paradigm) historiography, there is no way to avoid such misreadings.  Even worse, said historiography fully prevents one from learning at the feet of these high Reformed masters.

By the grace of God I’ve repented of that misreading.  I spent this spring finding as many Richard Muller journal articles and taking copious notes.

My approach to Eastern Orthodoxy

Unlike many who have “looked into” Orthodoxy and for whatever reason decided not to join, I don’t have an axe to grind with that communion.  For the most part I am quite appreciative.  Further, many of the Protestant critiques of Orthodoxy are quite bad and do more to convince the seeker to join EOdox.

For my own part, my take is simply to relativize a lot of Orthodoxy’s claims and approaches.   The goal is not to show that EO is wrong.   I know I am quite stupid for the most part and in all probability, I am the one in error.   Stupid though I may be, some things I can see clearly.   I am more interested in showing difficulties that warrant justification against joining now.  In other words, in light of the difficulties below (and there are more to follow).  Let’s consider:

1.  Many traditionalist communities (Rome and EO) say we can’t “know” the bible “truly” unless we are part of that communion.  That’s not a far-fetched claim.   If the church “produced” the Bible, then the church, so the argument goes, has the right to interpret the Bible.

Sed contra,

~1.  If that’s the case, why do you quote the bible in apologetics against the non-Orthodox, since they can’t understand it anyway?

2.  People like myself who ask logical questions are accused of importing a Western, rationalistic framework onto theology instead of just “beholding the mystery.”

Sed contra,

~2.   Yet these same people will write very logical and cogent arguments.

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.

Audio dealing with limited atonement

Part of the problem with “refutations of Calvinism” is that said refutations usually focus on how mean it makes God look.   While that is a problem with the doctrine of God, and unhistorical, too, that isn’t really a logical refutation.

Calvinism is a strong, powerful system.   It withstands blows that would fell lesser systems (e.g, dispensationalism).   However, it is susceptible to internal critiques that can function as potent defeaters.      It’s better to deal with problems in Calvinist Christology than debate predestination with a Calvinist.  They live for debating that point.

I am not an Amryauldian.   However, there is a lot of audio distinguishing this system from Calvinism and why they reject Classic Calvinism.   It might be worth your time for these people have stood within the Reformed tradition, and thus their critique, whether they realize it or not, is an internal critique.

Audio here.

On why academic protestantism has no miracles

I am not talking about conservative Protestantism that actually believes the Bible. I am talking about mainline churches and “academic” Protestantism. (On the other hand, I have watched a conservative Federal Vision guy debunk the miracle stories of the holy fathers along similar lines).

Of course, there are always exceptions, but the general rule is that Protestantism is a religion of the word, not the miracle. Granted, the charismatics have abused (ruined?) the notion of miracles. And with our scientific hermeneutics (which Protestantism accepts, albeit inconsistently), there is no place for miracles.

Of course, the Protestant will retort that miracles do not prove the legitimacy of a movement and are often used by demons to deceive the faithful. Very true. However, if that standard is applied across the board, we have to rule out Jesus and the apostles.

Am I saying that Protestantism disbelieves in the miraculous? No (well, mainline Protestantism doesn’t believe in miracles, but that’s another story). I am saying that their worldview often does not have a place for them.

This is revealed in their scholarship. This morning I finished the biography of St Martin, written by Sulpicius Severus, a fantastic read full of the supernatural. The Protestant scholar who edited that volume (volume 11 of Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene series), no doubt an erudite man, was clearly embarrassed by Severus’s credulity (Severus, it must be noted, was very intelligent and classically trained in the Latin language). Now, to the passages in question.

In chapter 24 Severus relates how the devil appeared to St Martin in order to trick him. Martin resists the Devil and the Devil vanishes, leaving the smell of sulfur in the cell. Severus writes,

This event, as I have just related, took place in the way which I have stated, and my information regarding it was derived from the lips of Martin himself; therefore let no one regard it as fabulous.

Several things to note: 1) Severus was a very intelligent man and well-versed in classical and ecclesiastical literature, so he is likely one not easily fooled; 2) St Martin, as the editor admits, was a very godly and pious man, quite remarkable in many ways; godly people do not simply “make up stuff like this.” 3) While not eye-witness evidence on Severus’ part, it’s origin is clearly not “pious legend.” What does the editor, who claims the name of Christ (and I believe him), say of this?

In spite of the combined testimony of Martin and Sulpitius here referred to, few will have any doubts as to the real character of the narrative.

While this is definitely not normal happenings, it is clearly not uncommon if miracle stories have some truth. A similar remark is made at the end of the biography. Severus recounts, in a rather lucid manner, the level-headedness of St Martin, along with his piety. This clearly establishes St Martin as a credible witness. Severus writes (chapter 27),

I am conscious to myself that I have been induced by belief in the facts, and by the love of Christ, to write these things; and that, in doing so, I have set forth what is well known, and recorded what is true; and, as I trust, that man will have a reward prepared by God, not who shall read these things, but who shall believe them.

Indeed. What does the learned editor say?

It seems extremely difficult (to recur to the point once more), after reading this account of St. Martin by Sulpitius, to form any certain conclusion regarding it. The writer so frequently and solemnly assures us of his good faith, and there is such a verisimilitude about the style, that it appears impossible to accept the theory of willful deception on the part of the writer. And then, he was so intimately acquainted with the subject of his narrative, that he could hardly have accepted fictions for facts, or failed in his estimate of the friend he so much admired and loved. Altogether, thisLife of St. Martin seems to bring before us one of the puzzles of history. The saint himself must evidently have been a very extraordinary man, to impress one of the talents and learning of Sulpitius so remarkably as he did; but it is extremely hard to say how far the miraculous narratives, which enter so largely into the account before us, were due to pure invention, or unconscious hallucination. Milner remarks (Church History, II. 193), “I should be ashamed, as well as think the labor ill spent, to recite the stories at length which Sulpitius gives us.” See, on the other side, Cardinal Newman’s Essays on Miracles, p. 127, 209, &c.

Of course it seems difficult if you are stuck in Enlightenment Anglo-American hermeneutics. But if we apply this reasoning consistenly, will you be fair and disregard the miracle stories in the Bible? This is where Cardinal Henri de Lubac can help us out. How do we understand the interaction of the miraculous in history? De Lubac writes,

The supernatural is not a higher, more beautiful, or more fruitful nature…it is the irruption of a wholly different principle. The sudden opening of a kind of fourth dimension, without proportion of any kind to all the progress provided in the natural dimension (466).The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

For Medieval man, the cosmos was porous and the heavenly and created worlds interpenetrate one another. For Enlightenment modern, the cosmos and heaven are walled-off. They are not connected. Secularism rules the day. Miracles cannot happen because the Scientific and Academic Establishment says they cannot happen. Why are they correct? Because the Scientific and Academic Establishment says they are correct? (ad infinitum). Now, given the godly, consistent (and quite mentally respectable) life of St Martin and his awe-inspired reality over against Academic/Scientific Man, who is the more credible? I rest my case.