A literary detour

One of my projects is to read through Jane Austen’s major works.  I read a few in high school, but I really can’t remember what they were about except for some vague reference to a Keira Knightley film, I think.  I finished Pride and Prejudice a few weeks ago.   I am reading Peter Leithart’s Miniatures and Morals alongside it.  Sure enough, Leithart finds a way to bring chiasms into it!   I think it works.


A.  Mr and Mrs Bennet
B.  Bingley and Darcy arrive in Netherfield; hopes for Jane
C.  Collins;  hopes for Elizabeth
D.  Wickham
C’  Collins proposes; Dashes hopes for Elizabeth
B’   Bingley and Darcy leave; dashes hopes for Jane
A’ Mr and Mrs Bennet

(Leithart 52)

Someone could object, “He’s projecting that chiasm onto Austen.”   But the response is simple, “Is it there or not?”   Anyway, fun.

Continuing the Future Discussion

OB is at it again and they are actually referencing intelligent discussions.  If they would only manage to let contrary voices participate, we might get somewhere.  Before I continue I must make one clarification.  Whatever good points Leithart may have made, he missed the most important point:  if Rome and Constantinople’s claims are true on church unity, then we are all in damnable sin.  You can’t simply say, “Hey bro, let me play too.”

OB’s post revolves around the debate between Hauerwas and Mohler.  Hauerwas writes,

But I suspect it’s true in most places because basically a buyers’ market, that very description, reproduces the presumption that you live in a demand economy that says that the buyer is supreme and they get to buy what they want and therefore…

As a sociological description, this is probably the case and few can deny it.  OB comments,

Membership is a matter of individual choice; one is not bound to a particular church body.

But I have to ask, “Did you not make a choice to become Orthodox?  Why are choices a bad thing when Protestants do it but the right thing when you do it?”  They further note concerning the revival of doctrine among the Reformed wing,

 Their stress on covenant and disciplined church life can be seen as a reaction to libertarian individualism rife in popular Evangelicalism.

This is a very important admission.   He rightly contrasts Evangelical libertarianism with Reformed covenantalism.  Keep this in mind, for any charge of “individualism” against “Protestants” (a word he always leaves undefined) will not stand by his own admission.  They note in regard to Leithart’s position:

If Hauerwas’ metaphor of Evangelicalism being in a buyer’s market holds true then the question needs to be raised as to whether Peter Leithart’s Reformational Catholicism can ever expand beyond being a niche market.  Leithart’s call for “Pentecostals attuned to the Christian tradition” (20:14), “Baptists who love hierarchy” (20:17), “liturgical bible churches” (20:22) runs against the grain of specialization and niche marketing that underlie Protestant denominationalism.

Who cares if Haeurwas is correct?  What matter is if it is true.   Other than that it is a good expose of Leithart’s position.

But what is Orthodoxy’s role and challenge today?

 It can be expected that Orthodoxy will hold fast to Apostolic Tradition into the twenty second century and beyond, while Protestant denominationalism will continue to mutate and morph into forms barely recognizable to those living today.

Nikonian reforms.  Desponysii. New Calendarism.  Sergianism.  They won’t touch these issues with a ten foot pole.

Where Protestantism emphasized the individual, the catholic dimension emphasizes the Christian life in community.

But earlier he noted that the Reformed emphasize the covenant, which contradicts this statement.   It hinges on what we mean by “Protestant.”  Historically, the term preserved these values, give or take:  Reform of worship, papacy is the Antichrist, penultimately legal binding of Confessions, and the covenant.  It appears that he is using Protestant to mean slappy-clappy-baptist.  He is equivocating on the term.


OB ends with an analysis of Internet Monk.  That doesn’t concern me here, except on a humorous point:  Spencer was giving an Anabaptist critique of the worst elements of Baptist culture in America.  I couldn’t care less.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

To which Grumpy Cat says,

Remember, Protestant =/= Evangelical.


The comment that got me banned

On Ortho Bridge’s future of protestantism thread, the admin mentioned Nevin, particularly Leithart’s use of Nevin.  I was intrigued.  I’ve long read Nevin (and Leithart) and I knew that Leithart’s project depends on Nevin’s theology.   I made a comment along the lines of “The Trueman-Leithart debate is an exact replay of the Nevin-Hodge debate.”  I thought it was a commonsensical and brilliant comment.  I was warned not to derail the discussion.  Well, the comment I was about to make, and one pertaining directly to both Nevin’s and Orthodoxy’s anthropology was this:

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!

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.

A sort of autobiographical diagnosis

In good chiastic fashion I have come full circle with some older pre-FV writings.  When I left college I read anything I could get my hands on by Peter Leithart and James Jordan–and much of it really was quite good.   Without really knowing all the issues involved, I fell in love with a tangible, concrete biblical verbalist ontology.  And even today that is good.  Several issues made this a bad thing:   1) the FV was still mutating into the dangerous creature it is today, 2) rightly or wrongly (and a little of both) theonomy was tagged as FV’s meaner cousin, and 3) Protestant scholastic categories had fallen on hard times.   I think a good verbalist ontology is what we need, but not at the expense of justification.

Now that I’ve fought Anchoretism and truly understand (to the degree that I do) the philosophical issues involved in the debate, and since much of the FV has moved into the mainly CREC orbit (which has problems even beyond FV), FV writings do not tempt me anymore.  In other words, when FV writers use the biblical text to deconstruct Greek ontologies (and the religious traditions that hold to them), I cheerfully use them.  This isn’t all that different from what Mike Horton does.

Sanctuary Ontology

Leithart gives an overview.  I am not endorsing his larger project.  However, in a recent talk on Christology he suggested that a Christology that takes its start from a sanctuary typology avoids the pitfalls and tensions inherent in a substance ontology.   I think there is something to this.  One of the dangers is that Nestorius also used sanctuary as a model, but he did so in a crude, extrinsic fashion (and probably operated under the substance paradigm as well).

Review of Blessed are the Hungry

This book was before Leithart really went off the deep-end.  I accept all the criticisms NAPARC has made of the federal vision and I join in.  However, I doubt the narrative that says that the FV as we know it today began fully-formed in 2003.    The boundary is fluid.  The reason this book is helpful for discussions on the Lord’s Feast is it moves the focus away from introspective piety or an over-interest in what the “elements” do and focus more on what Yahweh-in-Christ has done.

The purpose of the book is to eventually show how the celebration of the Lord’s Supper leads to eschatological renewal and subsequently, the transformation of culture. This is the Epilogue of the book. The chapters (each about five pages or so) build up to this theme.

Leithart examines the many facets of the Supper in biblical history, starting with Adam and ending in The New Jerusalem. Leithart looks for the feasting theme in Scripture (Adam delighting and communing with God in Paradise–The Second Adam inagurating the Feast that will bring about the New Paradise. Daniel and his friends refuse the King’s food and so reconstitute the New Israel who will return from Captivity. The disciples eat the Supper as symbolic of the massive forgiveness that is about to come to the world via cross and resurrection; this forgiveness entailing the reversal of the Curse of the First Adam. In taking the Feast the disciples become the New Israel.).

As an example of Leithart’s excellent writing, consider the value of being drunk with Yahweh’s wine:

Zechariah 9:15, “The Lord of hosts will protect them,
and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones,
and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine,
and be full like a bowl,
drenched like the corners of the altar.

“But the passage pictures Israel drunk with another kind of wine: filled with the wine of Yahweh’s Spirit, Israel would be bold, wild, untamed, boisterous in battle. This suggests one dimension of the symbolism of wine in the Lord’s Supper: it loosens our inhibitions so that we wil fight the Lord’s battles in a kind of drunken frenzy. If this sounds impious, how much more Psalm 78:65, where the Divine Warrior himself is described as a mighty man overcome with wine? Yahweh fights like Samson, but far more ferociously than Samson: He fights like a drunken Samson!”

We are to be contrite over our sins but at the same time we are to rejoice that our sins are forgiven and the New Age–the Messianic Age, the Age to Come–has broken into the present evil age. Christ is becoming King over the World! Yes, from one perspective we are to mourn over our sins but at the same time, we are to take heart that our sins are forgiven. Weeping may tarry the night, but joy comes in the morning!

Narrative’s rewiring ontology

Second Corinthians 3
Paul makes a number of important parallels and contrasts (from Peter Leithart’s Deep Comedy, 23-24):

  • Old                                                                                                 New
  • Letter                                                                                            Spirit
  • Tablet of Stone                                                                            Tablet of human heart
  • Kills                                                                                               Gives Life
  • Ministry of condemnation                                                        ministry righteousness
  • Glory                                                                                            Surpassing Glory
  • Veil                                                                                                Veil Removed
  • Minds hardened                                                                          Minds softened
  • Slavery                                                                                         Liberty

Keeping in mind the Adam-Christ parallel from Romans 5 and 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is saying that from Adam to Christ “death reigned,” but with Christ life was, if you will, “pumped into the world.”  With the resurrection of Jesus eschatological life has entered the world.  Throughout the prophets the promise of the Spirit was always connected with a new humanity.

The gospel entered the world telling a new story about history.  For the pagan world, death was ultimate and tragic.   The gospel “re-wired” the laws of death and nature

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.


Blogging Through Comedy: The Hilarity of the Gospel

Weep, weep for all that is lost. Seven years ago I read Peter Leithart’s Deep Comedy.  I was amazed at its effortless weaving of Shakespeare, Greek ontology, and Christian eschatology into one tapestry.  It is easily his most important book–and that is what is tragic (no pun intended) about it.  He has gotten himself into a lot of needless trouble with the FV, and while it is funny to watch the PCA try to deal with it, the damage is irreversibly done.

Fast-forward seven years. I’ve since read about as much on the historical, theological, and philosophical issues of Trinitarianism as I suppose any lay reader could.  When I reread Leithart on this topic, it almost seemed like he neatly solved all of the problems created by our earlier borrowing from Hellenic categories.   It is a post-Platonic subversion of Plato.   I now think I can better appreciate more of his arguments.   Some of these blog posts will focus on key philosophical issues that shed light on Trinitarian and ontological problems.

Sadly, this does not mean I recommend his other works (well, I reject all of his specifically theological works).   His commentaries are fine and his expositions of literature are about as good as one can find anywhere.