I can now sort of understand the Patristic angelic celibacy thing

I posted my Musings on Methodius on Puritanboard.   They didn’t like my dichotomy of Hebrew vs Hellenic thought.  I’ve spent almost a decade reading Greek (pagan and Christian) sources.  What I say is beyond dispute.  I’m also (not) surprised they didn’t take up the line of Methodius’s neo-Galatian two-class Christianity, but enough of that.

I’m fairly harsh on the Fathers for the idealization of angelic celibacy.  But as I reflect upon it, I can kind of get where they were coming from. They lived in a decaying, overly sexualized debauched culture of the late Roman Empire (nominally Christian or not).  The appeal to monasteries fairly obvious:  faced with starving poverty, unfulfilled sexuality, and lack or order, monasteries offered a stable alternative.  Does that justify later monastic trends?  Of course not, but it’s worth remembering.  If the Fathers were over-reacting to what is below, then I can understand, even if I do not approve.

(Wisdom prevailed and I didn’t post any pictures)

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Retractare: Theologia Viator

I now accept the model of “pilgrimage” as a valid hermeneutical framework for theology.  This doesn’t mean the “fetishism” of medieval pilgrimages to go worship a skeleton, but rather affirms doing theology in this life as a midway point to the Age to Come.

My initial problem was with how I saw it applied and also with my own priorities in life.   I could not see how a Pilgrim Theology could square with “winnin’ da gummint back for Jee-Zus.”

My priorities were in the wrong place.  A theologia viator is ideal for life in the church.  It has a necessarily eschatological thrust to it.

 

Retractare: Israel, the promise and problem

If you ask an amillennialist (or some historic premils) how he reconciles two truths from biblical eschatology that are in tension between the already/not yet.   That’s okay though the problem is getting them to affirm anything specific about eschatology.  I see the same thing with respect to Israel.  In many ways the New Testament shows Israel as an enemy to the people of God.  Paul even says as much (Romans 9-11).    Further, we need to be careful in advocating a parallel covenants in the New Testament.   So this is one anchor in our hermeneutics.

Another anchor is that Paul also says they are ” concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Romans 11:28).  He also says in Romans 9:3-4 that to them belong (present tense) the oracles and the covenants.

If an amillennialist can chant “already/not yet” every time a tension arises, then why can one not posit a tension when dealing with actual biblical truths?  When I dialogued with the Russian nationalists and True Orthodox for several years, there was a lot of angry Jew-bashing.   Jews were accused of promoting all kinds of international banking corporatism and immorality.  And in a large sense that is true.   And we can apply the “they are enemies” anchor in this sense.  But the True Orthodox stop there.  They should have read the rest of Romans 11.  God has a future for them.

This is a forward-looking eschatology.   Whatever else one may think about the millennium or the Davidic Throne, positing a future plan for Israel (on the Messiah’s terms) gears both ethics and eschatology.  It keeps theology from circling the wagons and getting static.  It lets one draw a firm line in the sand with respect to the Jews (e.g., the Messiah commands repentance and faith and we must reject your immorality [Hollywood]), but understanding that the biblical time-line is moving forward.

And without getting too conspiratorial, this makes happenings in the Middle East very relevant.

And for my fellow Reformed, everything I have said would have been endorsed by John Murray, Horatio Bonar, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Retractare: R. Scott Clark and Natural Law

I used to be a firm critic of Scott Clark’s natural law theory, but the more I read of natural law, the more I realize that they have as many variations as do theonomists. The more I read of his understanding of natural law, the closer I realize I am to his position. The following link from his blog shows just how close I am to his position, but there are still a few differences.  As I’ve suggested elsewhere, I think the real reasons that theonomist reacted unfairly to natural law is: 1) they didn’t understand the position, 2) then-current scholarship advocating natural law was terrible (think Norman Geisler’s dispensationalism and Roman Catholicism’s pop-Thomism), and 3) many of the critics didn’t have any coherent ethical position, which led Gary North to (unwisely) call it “natural law,” thus poisoning the well.  If you read North’s Westminster’s Confession, he labels all of his critics as natural law adherents.  Of the 16 chapters in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, maybe a mere handful advocated natural law (remember this is in the late 80s/early 90s where Reformed thought hadn’t yet rediscovered Reformed natural law sources).

There are other issues involved which I do not plan to deal with right now.  RSC is a Van Tillian; I am not (not in the apologetic sense anyway.  If Reformed scholasticism is true, and Turretin and Co., held to a principia form of epistemology which sort of coincides with the Common Sense Realism of Thomas Reid, then wouldn’t it be more consistent to go with principia over TAG?  Just thinking out loud.)   Further, there are other disagreements on ethics.  I am still nervous about the Klinean intrusion ethic.  While I’ve come to appreciate more and more of Kline’s system, I just don’t think intrusionism is logically or biblically coherent.

Back to Clark’s post.

He writes,

The Bible is not intended to be used as a textbook for civil policy any more than it is intended as a “playbook” for sports. That does not mean that God’s law does not apply to contemporary social and civil issues but it is not faithful to Scripture to use it in a way that it does not intend to be used. That is one of the great differences between the confessional Reformed appropriation of Scripture and the non-confessional.

I can agree with this on surface level.   Whether the Bible is to be used as such or not, any application thereof has to take in account of current situations which suggest how the Bible is to be applied.  In any case, I would certainly agree with him that facile applications aren’t helpful.   Applying God’s law takes wisdom, even kingly wisdom, and the average Christian America evangelical does not have this.

The law obligates civil authorities to preserve and pursue civil justice as God’s ministers but Scripture does not spell out exactly how that is to be done. The Apostle Paul did not prescribe civil policy to those civil rulers with whom he spoke but he did preach the gospel of the resurrection. Nowhere does the NT advocate a particular form of civil polity nor does it advocate specific civil policies.

I mostly agree. I think a lot of American Reformed need to realize that the Bible, outside of a few suggestions in 1 Samuel, does not mandate a Constitutional Republic.   That’s why Calvin and Rutherford were fine with limited monarchies.

I did write, “that some of us really do take the Scriptures as a guide to civil government and moral renewal for American society and not chiefly as the infallible and inerrant revelation of God’s saving work and Word in history. This episode is an example of the attempt to achieve epistemic and moral certainty on questions that are properly matters of liberty.”

I agree, but I want to add something else, and this might be my conspiratorial vein:  Simply quoting 2 Chron. 7:14 is not enough.  If you want to reform America, then you need to begin with what is wrong at the systematic, foundational level:  Trilateral Commission, IRS, Council on Foreign Relations, and the list goes on.  This suggests another problem with the Christian America folk:  there are problems in American government and simply electing Reagan II without addressing these problems is putting a band-aid on a tumor.

Let’s make matters worse:  America is too big.  I realize these points aren’t germane to Clark’s article, but they point out how woefully under-thought out the average right-wing Kuyperian vision is (and I hasten to remind readers that a leading Kuyperian, Ralph Reed, speaks at Bilderberg Conferences).

I have no confidence that, after the death of Christ, God has any specific, special relationship with any nation or civil entity. Your letter seems to assume that if a nation will obey God’s law, he will bless it materially etc.

This is perhaps where I offer mild dissent.   Isaiah 19 does say that nations will covenant with God.   Is there a 1:1 causal relation on material blessings?  Kind of.  Calvin in his sermons on Deuteronomy 27 held out the possibility that God will bless, but also reminded believers that we are mature in the New Covenant and sometimes God sends us difficulties as well.  It is a fact, I think, that the land rebels when covenant-breakers reign and sin against the land (we can probably even offer a natural law argument to the effect!).  If natural law is better known as the Creation Ordinance, with its own built-in teleology, the breaking of which is sin, then it stands to reason that sinful rulers will see a cursed land.

In conclusion I think I am largely in agreement with Professor Clark.  It must be admitted that the Reformers were natural law adherents and not merely in an incidental way, as Gary North maintains.  They worked it in their system (think of all the times that the Confession refers to the light of nature).

Retractare: Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics

It’s fashionable in Reformed circles to chant “already-not yet” and say that Jesus fulfills scripture.  It’s highly dangerous to deny it.   And on a certain level, I agree.  Jesus is the telos of the law.  Well and good.   But when you read these RH-BT (Biblical Theology) guys deal with the Old testament, it’s like they take a crayon and write “Jesus” or “Church” all over the page (HT to Chris Poe for the wonderful illustration).  Maybe that’s true sometimes, but that’s…cheating?

I settle, rather, with old-fashioned Grammatical-Historical (the same kind of hermeneutics with which you read this page, church fathers, papal bulls, etc).  I realize the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but still.

Semi-Retractare on Cromwell

In seminary I was a defender of Cromwell and the idea of a specifically Christian republic.  In the past five years I backed off that idea.  Cromwell is best seen as a good idea gone horribly wrong.  He is to be credited with recognizing Roman Catholicism as a political power and doing his best in England to negate it.  Still, as a Presbyterian and a descendant of Scottish Presbyterianism, it’s hard for me to like him.   It is easy to demonize Cromwell.   I won’t do that.  I will just lay out the facts as best I can.  Pros and Cons.

Pros

  1. In a strange sense, despite his invasion of Presbyterian Scotland, Cromwell shared the same view as the “Protesters” vis-a-vis Charles Stuart II.  Cromwell, like Rutherford, saw Charles Stuart II as a degenerate who would butcher Protestants if given the chance.  We can say that his invasion of Scotland was wrong, but we cannot deny Cromwell was prescient on this matter.
  2. It has since come to light that Charles I hired an Army of Irish pagans to butcher Protestants in England.  On this point anyway, Cromwell was entirely in the right to resist him.
  3. Romanists and Royalists on Facebook like to bitch about how evil Cromwell is and how good it would have been to be a Royalist cavalier.  Okay.  Explain why Cromwell’s New Model Army kicked your ass every time.  Cromwell was a military genius.
  4. Despite his heavy-handed measures, even some Covenanters admit that Scotland had more peace (if also more austerity) under Cromwell.
  5. Cromwell has been demonized for his Irish invasion.  It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for the Irish when they had previously slaughtered between 50,000 to 200,000 Protestants, thus calling for a response by Cromwell.   A recent book by an Irish Catholic, Cromwell, Honorable Enemy, vindicates Cromwell on this point.

Cons

  1. It’s hard to justify king-killing.  Resistance to the king?  Absolutely.   Killing him?  That’s an awful burden of proof.
  2. His religious toleration suffered the same problems as all pluralistic governments.
  3. His policy towards the Jew opened England back to Usury.

Retractare: NPP and “Works of the Law”

Even when I was in seminary I held to the New Perspective thesis that the phrase “works of the law” means simply “Jewish identity markers.”  A superficial reading of Galatians and how the Jews react to non-Jews getting saved in the New Testament lends support to that thesis.  Further, it functions well as a sociological commentary for today:  it illustrates modern Judaism’s violent hostility to the rest of mankind.    Further, for non-Evangelical traditions it offers a neat harmony between Paul and James:  these traditions get to affirm the Pauline warning against works (simply by defining them as Jewish rituals) yet base the rest of it on works, pace James.

Unfortunately, this thesis suffers from a number of problems:

  1. The New Testament never defines works of the law as such.
  2. Galatians 3:10 does deal with “works of the law” by referencing Deuteronomy 27:26.  At the end of chapter 27 it says “cursed is everyone who fails to do all these things.”  Yet not one of “these things” is a Jewish identity marker; they are all moral and political laws.   This is the inverse of the above point:  The New Testament does define works of the law and it is the opposite definition of the NPP thesis.
  3. If works of the law is Jewish identity markers, and Paul preached we were free from works of the law, then no one would have accused him or antinomianism and moral license  (Romans 6).
  4. If works of the law is Jewish identity markers, and the gospel is simply the freedom from such, then the gospel has no meaning to anyone who isn’t a Jew.