But he said he was sorry

U. S. Attny General and drug lord/gun runner Eric Holder urged America to have “an honest talk about race.”  What he meant was, “Shut up and listen to me gripe.”  I doubt an honest conversation will ever happen because emotions run high on both sides.  Still, it’s worth a shot.

The Impossibility of an Honest Talk about Race

I saw on my Facebook feed a PCA thinker, who is a black man, complain about Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s creating a chair in Morton Smith’s honor.  He is angry because Smith created the PCA with the values of the Old South in mind (He seemed surprised.  I thought this was common knowledge years ago to anyone who read more than an hour’s worth of Southern Presbyterian history).   Of course, the situation today is somewhat amusing since the PCA is more likely a pale reflection of the SBC’s Worship Committee’s than a continuation of Dabney, but I digress.  I really don’t care one way or another that GPTS is doing this.  The Reformed seminary world has long been dead to me and I refuse to even look back.  However, it raised other questions.

Is the PCA still racist?

The aforementioned black gentleman is concerned that the PCA is still allowing racist things like this.   How does one respond?  Morton Smith’s actions simply aren’t representative of the PCA.  In fact, he is probably the minority (no pun intended). But the gentleman wanted to the PCa (and presumably by extension any white Presbyterian male) to really apologize for racism.   Here is where it becomes problematic.  How does one really apologize for racism?   Well, the PCA (and the Missouri Lutherans and the SBC) issued statements condemning the nebulous entity known as racism (the SBC does this on a yearly basis).  Is that good?

No.  It isn’t.  Presumably he wants “racist” ministers disciplined.  Fair enough, but keep in mind this is the PCa and no one ever gets disciplined.   A PCA pastor pointed that out to the gentleman.  Not good enough, but we need to remember if the PCA will publicly condemn the Federal Vision but refuse to discipline guys who write books promoting the Federal Vision, that should tell you something.

But all of this raises an even harder question that is at the heart of the problem.  Hating other colors is wrong (and not even Kinists advocate that).  Discriminating at the communion table is wrong (and maybe I missed something in the PCA during the 80s, but was even that a problem?).  Heck, I remember attending Auburn Avenue one Sunday during its Confederate Heritage Conference and I saw a number of black people in church “amen-ing” and “Oh glory-ing.”

So we’ve ruled out “discrimination” and “hating” so what else is left?  It wasn’t exactly said, but I think “racism” in this context means “continuing to love the Old South.”   That is a bit more concrete, but is still problematic.  Loving “what” about the Old South?   I highly doubt Morton Smith means sitting on the front porch of the Massa’s House drinking mint juleps while watching the slaves happily sing in the fields.   I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

But maybe he means “Loving the Confederacy.”  But even this is ambiguous.  Do I love the Confederacy?  Not really.  I think their political system was doomed from the start and the only way they really had a chance of winning the war was to let Stonewall and Forrest go nuts and do whatever they wanted.  That wasn’t going to happen.  The Confederate Establishment thought Virginia’s soil too sacred to be polluted by the foot of an invader. So maybe to prove to the world I am not “racist” (undefined Marxist term that it is), maybe they want me to “apologize” for the Confederacy.

Well, that’s problematic on several levels.

  1. The Confederacy doesn’t exist today.  You aren’t a slave.  I am not a Confederate soldier.  This is silly.
  2. 2/3 of my ancestors weren’t even in America at the time.
  3. The 5th commandment and Hebrews 13:7 demand I honor my superiors and those who brought me to the faith.  Stonewall Jackson is one of those.  To attack him is open sin.

In fact, all of this reminds me of Sheldon Cooper’s trying to apologize to Howard.

And the truth of the matter is I don’t really like the Southern Presbyterian ethos.  They were Baptistic on the sacraments and their descendants made it worse, if anything (this is one of the few areas where the Federal Vision guys legitimately nailed them).  If we are going to have an honest conversation about “race,” then the infractions must be concrete.  Saying, “They really mean otherwise” or “They really don’t like us” or “They really have their fingers crossed” isn’t helpful.  If they are saying things like “Coloreds and Whites should live in different neighborhoods or go to different churches,” then that’s entirely different.  The fact is, and I have read Smith’s Q & A and he is ethically wrong, but probably sociologically accurate, most people aren’t saying this.

If cultures are organic outgrowths, which thousands of years of human history have demonstrated beyond doubt, then they will inevitably reflect this.  Am I arguing for segregation?  Of course not. I would be against government-enforced segregation and government-enforced integration.  Why?  Because it isn’t the government’s business.  People want to live where people want to live.  (Of course, I’m the exception on this since I have many black neighbors around my street.  Which white liberal agitator can say that? None).

By all means attack racism, but attack concrete examples, like when Ice Cube talks about killing white girls.

On fighting politics with politics and why it is bad

I am settling on a thesis that Satan co-opted the Federal Vision right where it could have had constructive promise.   Note of course that I fully reject FV.   Still, many of their perspectives on liturgy (to the degree they can be squared with the RPW) and Old Testament theology allowed one to reject Modernity, avoid postmodernity, and begin to offer a constructive Protestantism.    And then everything went to Hades.  And I don’t think that is coincidental.

So, this leads me to begin my “Merry Protestantism” project.  One doesn’t need to accept Leithart’s “End of Protestantism” thesis, but he does have a point that we really haven’t seen a truly constructive Reformed theology.   Bucer came close.  We have lived off of previous negations–and theologies built upon negations and apophaticisms do not long last.

And this leads to the point of the post:  I do not think it is helpful to oppose various political systems merely by acknowledging them as “the bad guys.”  Most thinking conservative Christians have probably by now come to the realization that the Republican Party had been pimping them (and probably literally sometimes, given Washington sex scandals) for votes.   This leads to several (ultimately doomed) alternatives:   the Ron/Rand Paul movement and various 3rd parties.  Having drunk deeply of Reformation politics, both of these are dead-ends.

Some Orthodox friends of mine have suggested a return to monarchy.  I actually like that idea.  I’m not entirely sure how it will get off the ground in America, but it’s no less Quixotic than voting 3rd Party.

Liturgy as Political Theology

This is where the FV actually had real potential.  They saw that liturgy–and at its most basic that word simply means an order of worship–was the enacting of another narrative, one which proclaimed Yahweh-in-Messiah as Lord over the nations.   The Lord’s Feast could even be seen as a new economics:  it pointed (signs!) towards the ultimate Kingdom feast that broke down the barriers yet still retained otherness and difference.  And if this is all that the Moscow-Canon Press writers would have said, well and good.  Unfortunately, the FV is now plutonium and these themes really can’t be handled today.

Typology as Theology on the Attack

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As a premillennialist I am a bit wary of excessive typologies.  Normally they run something like, “Well, John is using figurative language and that is a typology so this means premillennialism is false.”   All that may well be true, but that’s a lazy argument (though it might get you tenure at a seminary).  Still, seeing literary patterns in Scripture allows one to do biblical theology on a new front.   Had David Dorsey’s book on the Old Testament been written 200 years earlier, the Documentary Hypothesis would have never gotten off the ground (maybe that accounts for some of the academy’s anger towards Dorsey’s work).

Terms of surrender for the Federal Vision

Not that I have any authority to issue these, but if any FV wants to know why no one likes them and takes them seriously (and even more:  on points perhaps where you guys actually get it right), this should help:

  1. Renounce all language that states or suggests temporal unions, elections, and justifications based on obedience.   At the end of the day, your theology must say that God justifies the ungodly.  How is it good news for me to hear that I have temporal salvation based on my obedience?
  2. Begin merging the CREC into accepted NAPARC denominations.   By all means keep the same structures in terms of Presbyterianism but submit to oversight.
  3. Fully endorse the Confession’s teaching on sacramental union.   These two words would solve 90% of the problems.

In doing so, NAPARC will hear you on:

  1. Literature and hermeneutics:  granted much of the stuff at Biblical Horizons borders on insanity, I fully grant that the chiastic hermeneutics is more “natural” to the text than the American “Three Points and a Poem.”  And it is far more interesting.
  2. We will tone down a lot of the “Baptistic” stuff in American Presbyterianism
  3. We acknowledge that it is hard to criticize you guys on “loose Confessionalism” when much of NAPARC compromises on the 2nd, 4th commandments and often gives more weight to parachurch ministries than to the local church.
  4. Given the coming collapse of the PCA, we will gladly accept the more robust (and biblical) expressions of the CREC re-formed around a Confessional framework.
  5. We acknowledge that Canon Press often produces challenging and incisive literature that can counter-balance the tendency to “theological inbreeding” in some Reformed publishing venues.

We will even let you name the location in which the surrender was signed.  We’ll call it something like Greyfriars.

On Leithart’s End of Protestantism article

This got him in trouble in the Reformed world, and its twin article got the Anchorites mad.    I do not come to praise Leithart but to bury him…but I think a lot of people are misreading what he is saying.

Like a Protestant, a Reformational catholic rejects papal claims, refuses to venerate the Host, and doesn’t pray to Mary or the saints; he insists that salvation is a sheer gift of God received by faith and confesses that all tradition must be judged by Scripture, the Spirit’s voice in the conversation that is the Church.

Everyone (Protestants) should agree to this.

Though it agrees with the original Protestant protest, Reformational catholicism is defined as much by the things it shares with Roman Catholicism as by its differences. Its existence is not bound up with finding flaws in Roman Catholicism. While he’s at it, the Reformational catholic might as well claim the upper-case “C.” Why should the Roman see have a monopoly on capitalization?

If all he is saying is we shouldn’t make our identity one of negating Roman Catholicism, then he is right–otherwise we are just Hegelians.

A Protestant believes (old-fashioned) Roman Catholic claims about its changeless stability. A Reformational Catholic knows that the Roman Catholicism has changed and is changing.

This is a very perceptive point I have noticed when reading knee-jerk Reformed apologetics.   It is not surprising that the Romanist and Anchorite has a field day.

A Protestant views the Church as an instrument for individual salvation. A Reformational Catholic believes salvation is inherently social.

There is a truth to this, but I am wary of letting it go at that.  What do you mean by “inherently social?”  There is a way this phrase can work.

A Reformational Catholic gratefully receives the history of the entire Church as his history, and, along with the Reformers, he honors Augustine and Gregory the Great and the Cappadocians, Alcuin and Rabanus Maurus, Thomas and Bonaventure, Dominic and Francis and Dante, Ignatius and Teresa of Avila,

This is horrible.  At least towards the end.  Ignatius started the Jesuits.  Jesuits take a vow to destroy Protestant nations by any means necessary.  The Scottish Parliament hanged Jesuits because it saw them as an existential threat.

Protestants are suspicious of a public, “Constantinian” church. While acknowledging the temptations of power, a Reformational Catholic views public witness as an expression of the Church’s mission to the nations.

There are problems with facile appeals to (or criticisms of) Constantianism, but I have no real problem with that statement.

A Protestant mocks patristic and medieval biblical interpretation and finds safety in grammatical-historical exegesis. A Reformational Catholic revels in the riches, even while he puzzles over the oddities, of Augustine and Origen, Bernard and Bede. He knows there are unplumbed depths in Scripture, never dreamt of by Luther and Calvin.

I’m sorry, but a lot of the exegesis simply strains credulity.   Read Maximus on Jonah for example.

Reformational Catholicism’s piety is communal and sacramental, and its worship follows historic liturgical patterns. A Protestant wears a jacket and tie, or a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, to lead worship; a Reformational Catholic is vested in cassock and stole. To a Protestant, a sacrament is an aid to memory. A Reformational Catholic believes that Jesus baptizes and gives himself as food to the faithful, and doesn’t avoid speaking of “Eucharist” or “Mass” just because Roman Catholics use those words.

I won’t say “Mass.”  I wonder if anyone caught the veiled slam against Mark Driscoll.   I’d like for him to explain what he means by “historic liturgical forms,” but I have no real problem with this.  As long as he isn’t introducing strange fire and binding consciences, what he proposes is superior to the lowest-common denominator American liturgies.

Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.

Technically, this  is true.  The problem is that when his people start filling in the details, we have huge problems like the FV.

 

Don’t let nobody take your joy!

The poor grammar is deliberate.  One of the most precious spiritual joys I have–have had–can have–is hearing the announcement extra nos that God reigns and that the finished work of Christ applies pro me, and that nothing can snatch me out of Jesus’s hands. Jesus really did something on the cross.  He really bought me back from the slave pens of Egypt.  He really gave me His Holy Spirit as a down-payment which guarantees future blessings.

That is literally the best pillow someone can have.  People think I have a bulldog mentality on Anchoretic traditions.  It’s not that I can’t change my mind and won’t change the subject.  If my life is any indicator–and please do not do as I did–I can attest to the loss of joy for almost five years.  Here’s how it happened.

I started studying the early church and Trinitarianism around 2007.  Even now it was a rewarding experience.  But some problems came up and I just couldn’t deal with them.  I came across sayings from Cyprian, “Outside the Church There is No Salvation” and numerous ones from Ignatius along the lines of “Stay close to the bishop” and “schismatics forfeit the kingdom of God” (sorry John of San Francisco).  I came to reason:  sh!+, I better make sure I am in the right church, because on these guys’ glosses, even if they don’t draw the inevitable logical conclusion, If I am in the wrong church I am going to roast in hell for all eternity.  I lost sleep for weeks, if not months, at a time.

SIDEBAR:  My focus of salvation at this point was more on “which organization am I in so that I can be saved” rather than the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Of course, God did not leave me without witnesses.  Ironically, it was N.T. Wright’s work on the Gospels that made me realize that even if Orthodoxy is true, N.T. Wright’s exegesis is just better.

And it does no good to say, “Oh, even though those saints said that, we don’t mean that.  Who knows who is going to be in heaven and hell?”  Well, the problem is that those statements by those men have to mean something and if you say no one can know, then Cyprian’s and Ignatius’s statements are simply pointless and devoid of all meaning.  If that’s the case, please stop quoting them since on your gloss they don’t mean anything.  I am not in his organization; therefore, I cannot be saved.  Being damned is the contrary of being saved. Q.E.D.

I’m skipping a lot of material, but one of the men that helped me get this straight is Michael Horton.   I didn’t want to read him earlier because as theonomists, we were taught to hate Horton because of his (admittedly) schizophrenic social ethics.  This was a shame, since Horton was one of the few Reformed writers who could actually mount a response to Anchoretism.    His response was in the way of ontology.   I’ve summarized these elsewhere.   It is simply unanswerable.

Concurrent with Horton’s project was Bruce McCormack’s lectures on Christology.  I would link to them but in a moment of failure of nerve, the Henry Center took them down.    Besides showing some fatal tensions in Cyril’s project, if McCormack’s reading is correct and the post-Damascene tradition relies on substance metaphysics, then the believer is fully warranted in rejecting that tradition.  Further, if that infallible tradition is indeed shown to be quite fallible, then they aren’t an infallible tradition after all.

But here are some thoughts on the Ignatian claim:

  1. Granted that Ignatius makes much of Christ at times, but to the extent that claims of “staying close to the bishop for salvation” take prominence, to that extent Christ has been eclipsed.
  2. Admitting that Ignatius was close to the apostle John, how are we epistemically warranted to project Ignatius’s vision onto the whole of the Roman Empire?
  3. Most basic of all questions, “Who died and made him king?”  Why should we privilege his statements more than any others?

This next line is more subjective, but here goes.  Why would God mislead Martyn Lloyd-Jones?   The better model is that God simply wanted to shed his love abroad in MLJ’s heart.  (I realize my example is quite problematic for Reformed Cessationists!)

Responding to Peter Leithart’s Tragedy Post on Conversions

Given that I’ve been so critical of Orthodoxy and that the Orthodox are taking Leithart to task, one would expect me to defend him.  I will do no such thing.  While he makes some good points, he largely brings this on himself.  Fortunately, the article isn’t that long so I will respond point-by-point.

He writes,

What I have in mind is the logic behind some conversions, namely, the quest of the true church. Protestants who get some taste for catholicity and unity, who begin actually to believe the Nicene Creed, naturally find the contemporary state of Protestantism agonizing (as I do). They begin looking for a church that has preserved its unity, that has preserved the original form of church, and they often arrive at Catholicism or Orthodoxy. – See more at:
That’s probably a fair sociological assessment of the situation.
Apart from all the detailed historical arguments, this quest makes an assumption about the nature of time, an assumption that I have labeled “tragic.” It’s the assumption that the old is always purer and better, and that if we want to regain life and health we need to go back to the beginning.
A lot of Orthodox got irked at that statement, but do they not consider themselves older and purer?  It’s a fairly straight-forward observation.  I think most people missed his “tragic” reference.  He wasn’t saying, “Aww, how sad.” He was drawing upon a certain line of thought in the interpretation of Greek drama (e.g., always going back to the golden age with the correlating inference that the future can never get better.  This effectively guts eschatology).  It’s a fairly genius point, but since no one in the world studies Greek drama, who cares?
That, I think, is a thoroughly un-Christian assumption. Truth is not just the Father; the Son – the supplement, the second, the one begotten – identifies Himself as Truth, and then comes a third, the Spirit, also Truth, the Spirit of Truth. Truth is not just in the Father; the fullness of Truth is not at the origin, but in the fullness of the divine life, which includes a double supplement to the origin.
Technically, I agree with what he just said, but few people really understood it.  If by it he means progressive epistemology of our knowing the divine life, and hence, truth, then it is a fairly incisive claim which can’t be gainsaid.  Unfortunately, not only did he not really develop that point, he failed to make the next application.  If God didn’t reveal all truth at once, which he didn’t especially concerning the Trinity, then why do we think that he will reveal  all at once in the life of the church?  Yes, I know what Jude 3 says, but no one seriously thinks that the church had all the knowledge deposited at once?  If so, then what was the point of Councils if the church already knew that?
My problem with all of this is that the Federal Vision/CREC company needs to own up that their own antics drive a lot of people to Orthodoxy.  You can’t write a slough of books and articles attacking the Reformed faith and arguing for high church sacramentalogy and not expect your acolytes to take you seriously.

Zwingli isn’t a bad guy anymore

The current fashion today, not only among the convertskii, but also among the Reformed, is to treat Huldrych Zwingli (pronounced Zv-ingli) as a gnostic whipping boy. Supposedly, he gutted the sacraments of any “enchanted” meaning (I was going to link to Orthodox Bridge, but I couldn’t establish a connection; I wonder if it is just down or they blocked my IP address).  While Zwingli could be criticized as having too intellectual an approach to the sacraments, I do not think people seriously interact with what he is saying.  As William Cunningham notes with much force,

Zwingle (sic) was deeply persuaded, that the right mode of investigating this subject was not to follow the example of the Fathers, in straining the imagination to devise unwarranted, extravagant, and unintelligible notions of the nature and effects of the sacraments, for the purpose of making them more awful and more influential, but to trace out plainly and simply what is taught and indicated in Scripture regarding them (229).

I can hear the responses, “But that’s just biblicism!   How do you know the Scripture is plainly teaching this?”  A short reply is twofold: which is easier to understand: Romans 4:11, teaching that circumcision was a sign and seal of righteousness by faith, or that in the Eucharist we participate in the Sophianic descent upon the world (I am not criticizing Bulgakov.  I really do enjoy reading him.  I understand he does not represent Orthodoxy, but simply asserting that does not equal a refutation of his concerns)?  And before someone tells me how wonderful Schmemann is, let me point out that many conservative Russo-Orthodox suspected him of Protestant sympathies.

But back to Zwingli.   There are shortcomings in his theology.  That is true.  What I have found interesting, though, and I am certainly open to correction on this, is that one can affirm Zwingli’s sacramental views and be in 100% accord with Westminster (though I grant that WCF probably went deeper than Zwingli).  This is an important point and one of which Federal Visionists are routinely guilty.  As wonderful as Calvin and the others are, and noting truly the broad array of peripheral differences among the Reformers, it is the Westminster Confession (if you are Anglo-American) and not the peripheral differences which are binding on the church.  This is where Doug Wilson errs. I freely grant that men at Westminster did not believe in the imputation of active obedience.  It is simply bad hermeneutics to interpret what was agreed upon as the norm and representative view by what was considered the fringe.

Cunningham, William.  The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation.  Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 1979.