Talks with Talmudist Tom

Probably should change the name to “Midrash Moishe,” since “Tom” has Christian overtones.  In any case, a rather popular theoblogger has not actually converted to Judaism, but is intensely studying it.   That’s not all that remarkable, except for his continual shots across the bow of Christian theology.   I’ve avoided the debate for the most part, since internet debates rarely end well.

While I disagree with his conclusions, and quite frankly find much of his reasoning tenuous, he has illustrated a problem with Protestant polemics, particularly sola scriptura.   In fact, many of his posts are quite valuable for they show on Protestant grounds the Protestant must always concede the epistemological debate to the Jew.  In short, the argument is something like this (he has around a dozen variants on this theme):

  • If God gave the law forever, which the Bible says, and pronounces a curse on whoever changes it, on what grounds can you say that Christ “fulfills” (which often means in Christian theology modifies) the law?
  • Secondly, if the Word gave the law, and the law is a reflection of his eternal character, and we are operating on a sola texta basis (think sola scriptura, but since that nomenclature would not be applicable to Jews, I think sola texta captures the same point), on what basis can we say things like circumcision and the feasts are no longer binding?
  • Finally, if you answer that question by saying Christ as the lawgiver has the right to “expand/modify/alter” the law, and we only know this through further revelations, and these revelations only be appeals to “texts,” how can you now deny progress/process in God?  How can you oppose modernism and “expansions/modifications/alterations” of the faith?

He’s absolutely right.  Of course, there are logical and textual problems with the above arguments, and to foreshadow future posts, I think N. T. Wright has done a good job in dealing with these issues.    That said, the Protestant polemicist is now in a tough dilemma.

Horn 1:   Maintain the sola scriptura position, assuming also the early Jews and later apostles operated on the same premise:  the law says circumcision is to abide forever (and similar things about the feasts).  The New Testament was not yet written by the time of Acts 15.  On what grounds did the apostles have the right to say circumcision is not binding on the Church?

Horn 2: deny the sola scriptura position.

Of course, accepting “Horn 2” means subordinating the “texta” mentality to that of the Church (or “interpretive community;” see, I can throw out the postmodern lingo, too!).   As St Ignatius warned of getting to caught up in textual issues with Jews, we can say with him, “Jesus is my canon.”

There are other versions of this argument.   Genesis 12 says God will curse anyone who curses Israel.   Yet, all of the prophets offered judgment on Israel in God’s name (effectively functioning as curses).   So which is it?  This is also why the Talmud says the prophet Isaiah is justly executed and burning in hell.

Of course, I reject Talmudism with all my heart and stand with the church.   On the other hand, the fellow above has done a great job, if unwittingly, of showing the dialectic within Protestantism:   Protestantism reduces back to Judaism.

Penultimate Thoughts on the Creation Debate

I say this as one who has no definite conclusions on the matter.  The following are some fairly solid points, though:

  1. When Christians simply “latch” on to the latest scientific paradigm (per evolution), they look silly.  These paradigms have short life spans.  As Chesterton said, when men marry the spirit of the age, they soon become widows.
  2. Likewise, when Christians (who have no scientific training) spout evidence to support Intelligent Design, they look silly and convince no one.
  3. Simply coming to a 6,000 year old earth conclusion, and missing the fuller picture of creation, is to miss the whole story.
  4. Time is fluid.  I don’t know enough about relativity theory to say more than that, but I am hesitant to die on hills of years.
  5. If you say man is monkey, you will have a hard time with Christ as the Second Adam.
  6. I can’t get past the suspicion that many of the theistic evolutionists are simply throwing unbeliving atheism a bone, but does anyone seriously think the atheists will respect Christians more for this?  No, these are the people who hate Christ and some respected thinkers suggest Christians should be prosecuted in some sense on this matter.
  7. The holy fathers accurately passed down the faith, and the holy fathers all held to non evolutionary views.  Further, it puts you in a bad light when you use modern atheistic scientists to debunk the holy fathers.   The burden of proof is on you, and when you are opposing 1,900 years of Church teaching….well, that’s a big burden.
  8. If I really wanted to throw a monkey (no pun intended) wrench into the equation, I would bring up the works of Joseph Farrell.  Good luck!

So Jesus Recapitulates this?

Review of *The Everlasting Man*

Chesterton, G.K., The Everlasting Man, Ignatius Press

Part of the difficulty in reviewing this book is the vague way in which Chesterton assumes you know his thesis.  He states something like an outline of the thesis early on (e.g., Jesus is not the same as other religious teachers for the following reasons, whose contraries entail reductios), but only tangentially advances the thesis at unexpected places in the book.  The book is actually quite difficult to follow, as are many of Chesterton’s works.   It is only Chesterton’s heavenly use of prose and wit that keep the reader reading.

Several things come to mind in this book:  Christianity is unique because it actually combines story and philosophy.  Chesterton sees a dialectic in the ancient world between philosopher and priest.  The priest’s stories were irrational and the philosopher did not understand the philosophy of stories (247).  Christ united both.

We often think there is something in the heart of man that yearns for the wild freedoom and beauty of the ancient European pagan, and this supposition is not far off the mark.  It is often said that Christianity fulfilled paganism, or that paganism was the glorious (if failed) prequel to Christianity, and this is certainly true.  (Sadly, this is not true of the American evangelical scene.  Ancient Roman and German paganism is far more glorious than the current megachurch scene, and the latter can in no way be said to fulfill paganism).

The fact is, the ancient pagan world was fading away by the time of Christ.  Chesterton describes it as “too old to die.”  The death of Christ also brought about the death of the old pagan order (David Bentley Hart makes the same point in The Christian Revolution).  Chesterton takes the most glorious civilization—Rome—and shows how even Rome had to die.   But in Rome’s death—like with all men—Christ was about to bring life to the world, and even Rome would be resurrected.

Chesterton’s point is that seeing Christ as a sage, guru, or a mere wise man does not explain his actions before Pilate nor his death on the Cross.   For the first time Greco-Roman philosophers and politicians looked “Truth” in the eye without intermediaries.   Could Pilate do anything else but wash his hands?

Concerning Christ’s burial Chesterton writes,

There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars.  For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we all call antiquity was gathered p and covered over; and in that placec it was buried.  It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human.  The mythologies and philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages…

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away.  In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night.  What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in the semblance of a gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn” (212-213).

The world died with Christ and was resurrected.  (Per the last pararaph the reader is encouraged to go to www.ntwrightpage.com and listen to Bishop Wright’s lecture on “Christ the World’s True Light.”