Reflections on Jenson’s Second Volume

I sang the praises of volume 1, for it was truly brilliant and beautiful.  It is with much regret that I say volume 2 is not the same.  First, the good.

Good

  1. His theme is the identity of God in the narrative of Israel.  It’s a strong theme and more often than not, he is successful in anchoring his loci in this theme.
  2. While the chapter on Scripture was weak, his narrative-theme does provide the ground for helpful reflection on the nature of canonization.
  3. Humor:  He is savagely funny.   He never fails to ridicule the NRSV translation, as all of us are morally obligated to do.
  4. Great chapter on sexual ethics and the nature of polity.
  5. Fairly decent chapter on anthropology.  He notes the inherent problems in Rome, the East, and in some inadequate Reformed responses.

Bad

  1. He adopts Barth’s view of election.  That is not my specific critique.  Others have given better critiques of Barth on that point, so I refer you to them (e.g., Horton).  My problem is that his chapter on anthropology (where he basically summarizes Luther’s Bondage of the Will) seems inconsistent with his chapter on Election.
  2. He had a good section on the canon, but a weak chapter on Scripture.  He points out that the true honoring of Scripture is not in the churches that give it honorific titles (e.g., infallible) but in those who hear and obey (meaning mainline churches).   I call bullsh*t.  The PCUSA struck down a motion to save post-born infants from botched abortions.   Mainline churches openly advocate after-born murder.  They don’t care what scripture says.
  3. The chapter on justification was plain bad.   It was so bad it seemed like a good chapter on sanctification.   I am less optimistic that the Finnish Interpretation of Luther really works.
  4. The chapter on church government, while helpful in pointing out to the East where they evolved on some points, basically argues that we need a monarchical patriarch to establish unity.  He is aware that V1 made papal infallibility a condition for individual salvation (or damnation), and he admits he is uncomfortable with this language (!), but like other ecumenicists, he does not realize that Rome–even with the liberal pope today–will never budge on this point.   This is why Ecumenicism always falls to the Pope’s Jesuit Shock Army Troops.
  5. Flirts with universalism.  To be fair, he doesn’t affirm it but you can tell he really wants to.

Horton has given other critiques of Jenson on these points, so I refer you to them (cf Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology and Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ, esp. pp. 153ff, 174-176,

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Reflections on 3 Views: EO/Evangelicalism

As far as the Zondervan Counterpoints go, this is a better volume.   I will forgo a thorough review, since expositing some essays would take many, many pages (and I plan to do that in my book on EO).  So here is a short overview, with strengths and weaknesses:

Thesis:  Are Evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy compatible?  Notice that the thesis is not whether one position is true or not (though that inevitably comes up).  The answers:

Yes:  Bradley Nassif.  My favorite of the EO writers today.  While I enjoyed his essay, sadly he does not represent most Orthodox. He criteria of compatibility, as dissenter Berzonsky noted, were drawn from Evangelical, not Orthodox sources.

No:  Michael Horton and Vladimir Berzonsky.  Horton notes that Orthodoxy’s own criteria precludes any real “compatibility.” He then does  explicates the NT teaching on justification and compares it with EO sources.  If Evangelicals cannot budge on this point–and they cannot–and if EO cannot incorporate it into their own theology, instead of making sublating everything into theosis, then there isn’t much possibility of compatibility, much less union.

Berzonsky’s essay does little more than offer numerous assertions on why Evangelicals should reject their sinful identity and become Orthodox.   At least he is honest.   He thinks everyone is a radical Anabaptist and doesn’t make any attempt to interact with Horton’s arguments.   In the final reflections, he is quite silent on Horton’s specific rebuttals.

Maybe:  George Hancock-Stefan and Edward Rommel, Romanian Baptist and American orthodox respectively.  Stefan gives a very interesting, but anecdotal essay of his life as a convert in Romania.  He explains how the Romanian Orthodox elite silenced and stifled evangelical voices.  I sympathized with his essay but it isn’t much in the way of logical argument.  However, he did point out that in Orthodoxy the church mediates everything through the priest.  This is the theology of False Dionysius.

Conclusion:  Horton and Berzonsky are correct.   Per the latter, if Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith, then what precisely does Evangelicalism have to offer?  On the other hand, if Orthodoxy is indeed the fulfillment, then please deal with Horton’s arguments.

Review of Hodge’s 3 Volumes

Charles Hodge is the highpoint of American theology. While Dabney searched deeper into the issues, Hodge’s position (if only because the North won) allowed him a wider influence. Thornwell was the more brilliant orator and Palmer the greater preacher, but Hodge was the teacher and systematician. Of the Princetonians Hodge is supreme. His writing style is smoother than Warfield’s and he is deeper than his predecessors.

We rejoice that Hendrickson Publishing is issuing these three volumes at $30. Even with the page-length quotations in Latin, Hodge is strong where American Christianity is weak. A renaissance in Hodge would reinvigorate discussions about epistemology, the doctrine of God and God’s knowledge, justification, and God’s law. We will look at Hodge’s discussion of epistemology, doctrine of God, human nature (including both sin and free volition), soteriology, and ethics.

Common Sense Realism
Far from stultifying the gospel, Hodge’s position safeguards the reliability of “truth-speak” and if taken seriously today, adds another angle to the “convert” phenomenon. A properly basic belief is one that doesn’t need another belief for justification. I’m not so sure if Hodge is making that claim. However, he does anticipate some of Plantinga’s positions by saying that God so constituted our nature to believe x, y, and z. My aim is to show from Hodge’s own words that our cognitive faculties are (1) reliable and (2) made so by God. I will advance upon Hodge’s conclusions: a commoner can read the Bible and get the general “gist” of it apart from an infallible interpreting body. Secondly, to deny the above point attacks the image of God. Thirdly, to deny the above point is to reduce all to irrationality. The practical application: Those who deny this position often find themselves looking for “absolute” and infallible arbiters of the faith. Such a position denies a key aspect of our imago dei.

“Any doctrine [and Hodge is using this word in the technical sense of philosophic and/or scientific beliefs], therefore, which contradicts the facts of consciousness, or the laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature, must be false” (I: 215).

“Our knowledge of mind, therefore, as a thinking substance, is the first and most certain, and the most indestructible of all forms of knowledge; because it is involved in self-knowledge…which is the indispensable condition of all knowledge” (I: 277).

It is interesting to note his reference to self-knowledge. One is reminded of Calvin’s duplex cognito dei.

Doctrine of God

…[S]tart with the revelation that God has made of himself in the constitution of our own nature and in his holy word. This method leads to the conclusion that God can think and act, that in him essence and attributes are not identical (I: 564).

It’s also interesting to note Hodge’s comment about God constituting our nature in a certain way. Shades of Thomas Reid.

“To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the divine attributes differ only in name, or in our conceptions, or in their effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God…If in God knowledge is identical with eternity, knowledge with power, power with ubiquity, and ubiquity with holiness, then we are using words without meaning (I: 371-372).

The attributes of God, therefore, are not merely different conceptions in our minds, but different modes in which God reveals himself to his creatures…just as our several faculties are different modes in which the inscrutable substance self reveals itself in our consciousness and acts (I: 374).

So what do we mean by simplicity? Rome has a thorough, if ultimately chaotic, answer to this question. Orthodoxy has an outstanding response to Rome, but nothing in terms of a constructive view of Simplicity. Following Turretin, Hodge writes,

The attributes are to be distinguished not realiter, but;”virtualiter, that is, there is a real foundation in the divine nature for the several attributes attributed to him (I: 370).

What does virtualiter mean?
Richard Muller defines it as “literally, i.e., with virtue or power” (Muller 371).

It’s interesting that Muller mentioned “power.” This corresponds with Radde-Galwitz’s interpretation of Gregory of Nyssa. Alluding to Michel Barnes he notes that divine power is the causal capacity rooted in the divine nature; inseparable from the divine nature and gives rise to the divine energies (Barnes 183). Further, each “Good” (or attribute, in our case) entails another.

Human Nature
Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this: does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty? He answers no. Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304). Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents. He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms. He lists the three options: necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism). My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion: God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one. It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options. He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.” Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.” Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples. God is a most perfect being. This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged. Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue: many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.” Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem? Is their belief any less certain? If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action? It’s hard to see how they can say no. If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.” Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily. Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss: the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen). Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally: man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).

Imputation

One of the objections to the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that the transfer of guilt (ours/Adam’s) and/or the transfer of righteousness (Christ’s) is morally and legally impossible. Hodge answers:

“The transfer of guilt or righteousness, as states of consciousness or forms of moral character, is indeed impossible. But the real transfer of guilt as”a responsibility to justice, and as righteousness which satisfies that justice,’ is no more impossible than that one man should pay the debt of another. All that the bible teaches on the subject is that Christ paid as a substitute our debt to the justice of God” (II: 540-541).

Justification
Vol. 3: 114ff

Hodge gives a wonderful and penetrating treatment on justification. He notes that The nature of the act of justification Does not produce subjective change. It is an Act of God not in his character of sovereign but in character of judge (speech-act?)

Includes both pardon and declaration that believer is just in the sight of the law. It is not saying that the believer is morally just in terms of character. The believer is just in relation to the law–guilt is expiated (120). It is not mere pardon: sinner’s guilt is expiated (125). Mere Pardon does not produce reconciliation (128).

Scriptural usage:
Dt 25:1. Judge pronounces a judgment. He does not effect a character change. Condemnation is the opposite of justify. A sentence of condemnation does not effect an evil character change. Thus, if sentence of condemnation is judicial act, so is justification (123).

Romanist Views
Infusion of righteousness does nothing for guilt (though possibly they would say the guilt is washed away in baptism). Accordingly, justification does nothing for the satisfaction of justice. Even if the Romanist claim that justification makes me holy were true, I would still be liable to justice (133).

Satisfaction of Justice
An adequate theory of justification must account for satisfying justice (130). Nothing “within” me can do that.

Works of the Law
Scripture never designates specifically “what kind of works” (137). The word “law” is used in a comprehensive sense. Nomos binds the heart–law of nature. Not ceremonial. Paul says “thou shalt not covet” as the law that condemns me (Romans 7). Not ceremonial. Grace and works are antithetical. It doesn’t make sense to subdivide works (138).

Ground
The Ground of justification is always what is done for us, not what is in us

  • justified by his blood (Romans 5:19)
  • by his righteousness (5:18)
  • If just means “morally good,” then it would be absurd to say that one man is just because of another (141).
  • We say that the claims against him are satisfied.
  • When God justifies the ungodly, he does not declare him morally godly, but that his sins are expiated.

Hypothetical Objections Proves Protestant View
Why object over possible antinomianism if faith alone not true (Romans 6; p. 140)?

The Law of God
Like older Reformed systematics, Hodge has a treatment of the Decalogue. Much of it is common fare. What is interesting is the way he handled it. By reading his arguments we see a commentary on problematic cultural issues. Of particular importance, which I won’t develop here, are his expositions of the 4th and 7th commandment. In the latter he specifically deals with Romanist tyranny in marriage.

Throughout the whole discussion he is combating Jesuitism. We do not see that today. Modern systematics, even conservative ones, are scared of appearing “conspiratorial.” Hodge’s age was a manlier age. They called it for what it was. They knew that Jesuits swear an oath to destroy Protestant nations by any means necessary. And they knew that only the Law of God provides spiritual and political liberty.  This is why God doesn’t take conservative, political evangelicalism seriously today.

Hodge is not entirely clear, though. When he wants to prove the Levitical prohibitions as binding today on sanguinuity and close-kin marriage, he argues like Greg Bahnsen. Almost word for word. If he did that today he would be fired. But when he wants to argue against more theocratic penalties, he sounds like a dispensationalist.

Sacraments
Keith Mathison’s book on Calvin’s view of the Supper is now something of a classic, and deservedly so. I am in large agreement with most of the book. I certainly lean towards Calvin. That said, I think one of the unintended consequences of the book is a slighting of Charles Hodge among the “Young Turk Calvinists.” It’s not that I disagree with Mathison or Calvin, but I am concerned about the new interest in Nevin. I used to be a hard-core Hegelian for 3 years. Nevin was also an Hegelian. Granted, Nevin pulled back from the worst of Hegel. I am not so sure Nevin’s modern interpreters fully understand that. I hope to give something of a modified defense of Hodge on the Supper:

“really conveying to the believing recipient, Christ, and all the benefits of his redemption…There must be a sense, therefore, in which believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (III: 622).

However,

Anything is said to be present when it operates duly on our perceiving senses” (637). I am not so sure Hodge is able to dodge Mathison’s charge. I agree with Hodge’s common sense realism, but I don’t think Hodge’s next point follows: “In like manner Christ is present when he thus fills the mind, sheds abroad his love into our hearts…” (638). I suppose the question at issue is this: we grant that Christ fills the mind. We grant that sensory operations also fill the mind, but it does not necessarily follow that Christ is present in the Supper in a sensory manner. In some sense I think all Reformed would agree with that.

Hodge makes the common Reformed point that “what is affirmed to be present is not the body and blood of Christ absolutely, but his body as broken and his blood as shed” (641). This is a decisive point against High Church traditions: when they insist upon a literal reading, “This is my body,” the Reformed can point that Christ’s wasn’t sacrificed yet, so the “body” at issue can’t be the sacrificial body.

Hodge concludes his exposition of the Reformed teaching with “There is therefore a presence of Christ’s body in the Lord’s Supper; not local but spiritual; not to the senses, but to the mind and to faith; and not of nearness, but of efficacy” (643).

The Problem with Nevin
Throughout the work is a running attack on Nevin’s theology. Hodge makes a point that isn’t always grasped by Nevin’s defenders today: if we accept Nevin’s platonic essentialism, especially with regard to the Eucharist and Christology, then we run into huge problems. If Christ assumed the universal humanity, then he also assumed the rules of predicating of genus: the more universal a genus, the less specific it is. If Christ is the universal humanity, then there is nothing specifically human about him!

Evaluation
It is superfluous to sing of Hodge’s greatness. That is a given. I do have some issues with his treatment. Hodge routinely appeals to the “received consensus of the church” for many of his doctrines. There are several problems with this. Aside from the most general teachings from the Creeds, appeals to the Patrum Consensus are problematic and question-begging. Further, the Eastern Orthodox Church, to which Hodge sometimes appeals, would not share his assumptions about Adam’s imputed guilt, for example.

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.

McGrath on Iustitia

This is from Old Jamestown Church.

The history of the development of the Christian doctrine of justification lends support to such a suspicion. In particular, it can be shown that thwi major distortions were introduced into the corpus of traditional belief within the eastern church at a very early stage, and were subsequently transferred to the emerging western theological tradition. These are:

1. The introduction of the non-biblical, secular Stoic concept of autoexousia or liberum arbitrium in the articulation of the human response to the divine initiative in justification.

2. The implicit equation of tsedaqa, dikaiosune and iustitia, linked with the particular association of the Latin meritum noted earlier (p.15), inevitably suggested a correlation between human moral effort and justification within the western church.

McGrath further notes,

The subsequent development of the western theological tradition, particularly since the time of Augustine, has shown a reaction against both these earlier distortions, and may be regarded as an attempt to recover a more biblically orientated approach to the question of justification. . . .

The emerging patristic understanding of such matters as predestination, grace and free will is somewhat confused, and would remain so until controversy forced full discussion of the issue upon the church. Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil. . . . (Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, Vol. I, pp.18-19. Emphases mine.)

It’s claimed that the Protestant view of justification is foreign to the historical church and even Augustine held to a transformational view (truer of the earlier Augustine).  So, what of it?  At the end of the day words have to mean what words mean, otherwise are in a most vicious form of nominalism.  Romans says that God justifies the “ungodly.” If people are insistent on the “legal fiction” charge, then please direct it at Paul, for that is where it is most crass.  If justification equals transformation or theosis (and I affirm those categories have a place), then Paul has no business saying God justifies the ungodly.  Rather, he ought to have said, “God justifies the godly,” which is completely tautologous.

Revisiting an old “kingdom-gospel” argument of mine

Years ago I was fairly hard-core New Perspective on Paul.  I don’t think several forms of NPP necessarily led to Tridentine Catholicism, but it is certainly a move away from some Reformation teachings.  Obviously, I’m in the Reformation camp now.   What is interesting is that I am reading through some old study bibles of mine.  I have the ESV Journaling bible which allows for copious notetaking in the margins.

http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Bible-Standard-Journaling-Original/dp/158134838X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392549044&sr=1-2&keywords=esv+journaling+bible

I was reading parts of Isaiah yesterday (which, aside from the gospel of Matthew is really the only piece of literature I would take with me to a desert island) and came across 52:7

Blessed are the feet of those who proclaim good news,
who publish tidings of salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

That is my favorite verse in the Bible.  Look at the underlined sections:  Gospel, salvation, Reigns.  Following the structure of Hebrew poetry, we can easily see that “salvation” and “reigns” expand the idea of “good news,” or gospel.  In the margins I have written “Cf. Romans 1:3-4,” which says,

concerning his Son, who was descended from David[b] according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord

The word “concerning” is referring back to the subject of the sentence in verse 1, which is “gospel.”  Here we see that the Gospel is that the Davidic king, Jesus of Nazareth, is raised from the dead and is Lord of the world.

In my NPP days I asked, “What does that mean for justification?”  I won’t bother with my answer now, but I realized: it does nothing to the Reformed understanding of justification.  It simply empowers it.  Let’s go back to the motion of Isaiah 52.  It is a proclamation.  Whatever else the gospel and salvation are, they are a “proclamation” of what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth  Everything WSC 33 says about justification is absolutely true and we shouldn’t budge from that one iota.   This above understanding further strengthens the case by realizing that justification is not transformation, it is not sanctification, it is not union with Christ, it is not theosis, however important those topics are in their own right.  It is above all an extra-nos announcement of what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth.

Preserving theological values

It was suggested that I was too subjective in theology and disagreed with everybody.  Obviously, such a claim is false.  I think I know why people say it, though.  I don’t walk lock-step with any one man.  God expects us to be big boys and big girls.   John said that we have an anointing from the Holy Spirit and don’t need to be overly dependent on teachers.  I had originally invited anchorites to point out my disagreements with the Confession. That invitation is still open.   In the following is a list of theological “values.”  Values are what are important to our identity as Christians standing in the Reformed catholic tradition.  They must be preserved.   That does not mean, however, that the philosophical presuppositions and currency of the 5th or 16th century are on the same level of Scripture.  Nor does this mean shying away from actual difficulties in a position.

Unfortunately, when anyone in a Reformed setting tries this, it often looks like he is attacking the Reformed faith.  I intend no such attack.  Whatever weaknesses I might perceive in the Reformed tradition, I don’t see any better alternatives. I write this as someone who is happily in the Reformed tradition, loves the best of the Reformed tradition, and will gladly defend that tradition from perceived defective views.  Now, on to the values…

  • Election:  My questions about election are different than most.  I fully affirm, contra all forms of semi-Pelagianism, that God doesn’t need our permission to be God.   I do believe God chooses who will be saved.  However, there are some problems the way it is usually set up.  If the identity of the Logos is fully-formed in eternal generation before the Pactum Salutis where the Father elects to save those into the Logos, then it’s hard to see how Nestorianism of some sort doesn’t follow.  Better yet, however, is to see Jesus of Nazareth as the subject and object of election, and election as the event that distinguished God’s modes of being (hyparchos tropos).  In any case, election must be affirmed as to allow the “offense of God’s actuality” (a phrase attributed to Robert W. Jenson).
  • Assurance: Assurance represents a problem.  How do I know that I am really assured?  The problem is not that I with my fallible human knowledge can know infallibly.  The real problem is that I exist in time yet God has promised that he will be God to me and that nothing can take me out of Jesus’s hands.   To attack assurance on these grounds is simply to preach a doctrine straight from hell.  That’s not to say that all tensions are gone, though.   But that’s the key issue:  tensions.  Instead of viewing assurance in a metaphysical construct where I find myself against a metaphysical doctrine of election to which I do not often hear a response, I suggest, following Michael Horton’s project, to see assurance in an eschatological context.  On a practical level, we can’t form our doctrine of assurance in such a way that ignores the most basic of Christian categories:  simple faith and trust.  Do you believe that Jesus did what he said he did?  Do you trust that he cut a covenant which we see in the bread and the wine?
  • Justification:  I fully agree with WSC 33.  Any deviation from that is fraught with huge problems.   This is where I part company with N.T. Wright.   Wright’s conclusions are bad.  His historical framework and questions are quite good, and quite frankly, won’t go away.  Further, and many critics of the Reformed faith don’t realize this, but Wright fully affirms the forensic, extra-nos aspect of justification against attempts to read it as theosis or transformation.
  • Sola Scriptura:  It’s fairly obvious that few know what this phrase really means, and that most certainly includes the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd.  It does not mean “The Bible Alone.”  It does not mean the bible is our only authority.  It means that the Bible is the norm that norms our norms.  If you don’t know what that phrase means, you need to go read some more.  The Bible is the norm–let’s call it Holy Scripture, actually–that creates and legitimizes subordinate norms.  This not only means we may look to the Church and history, but that we must look.   It protects us from silly positions like “The Bible is way too subjective, but for some reason, dozens of canons from councils, dozens of statements from fathers in different cultural milieus, those are objective.”  As I tell people at Orthodox Bridge, I will gladly look to the church for advice and for theological grammar.  It simply doesn’t follow, however, that the church suddenly has ipso facto infallible authority in everything over my soul.

    On a more important note, and here is where my formulation is different, it is better to see Holy Scripture as the witness to God’s narrative:  God’s actions in (ultimately) raising the Israelite from the dead.  I prefer to see Holy Scripture in ultimately narratival terms as opposed to what I call “The Divine Database Model.”  The latter is too platonic and plays into the hands of traditionalists who can then start asking difficult questions about the canon.   My position, however, does an end-run around that by anchoring back into the Hebrew narrative, to which the New Testament documents witness, for the Hebrew canon was largely fixed prior to the existence of the Church (yes, I am aware of Stephen’s hinting of an OT church in Acts 7.  I don’t think it is warranted to read too much into that one phrase).