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Archive for June, 2008

For those who might be interested (and I’m not sure that it is all that many), I am doing a survey of Reformed Orthodoxy’s implementation of future justification(s) over at my own blog. So far I have Diodati and Pictet, both ministers associated with Geneva, posted. I’ll be adding selections from John Preston, James Ussher, Gataker-Gouge-and Downame’s Annotations, Edward Polhill, and perhaps Turretin and Witsius.

Essentially these authors fall into two positions.

The first asserts that there are two distinct types of justification: one justification of the sinner as sinner, in which he receives Christ by faith alone, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him, thus justifying him before God, and the other as the “justification of the righteous man” in which he is justified by works, though judged by a gracious standard, that of the evangelical law.

The second position asserts that the apostle James’ use of “works” is a synonym for “working faith,” and that working faith displays the truth of one’s faith. Thus all types of justification are one and the same: by a working faith.

These positions are an attempt to harmonize Paul and James, as well as explain how we will be judged on the last day. Their existence is important for current controversies, but also, perhaps more importantly,  for opening up ecumenical dialog between traditions that too often misunderstand one another on a fundamental point of religion.

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While thinking about Tim’s latest post, the belligerent angel on my left shoulder gave me a few ideas. Obviously the best case for theological discussion is for both sides to enter into conversation with the possibility of being wrong, and thus with something of an open mind and a kind tongue. This is ideal. I think it was Wolterstorff who said that it is only a discussion if you accept the possibility of being changed.

However, if this is too much to ask, the goal of catholicity can also be accomplished by challenging the other party to actually do his homework, read carefully, and get it right. This will actually work with some TRs because they pride themselves on being the “real deal.” So, simply show them all of the guys whom they profess allegiance to saying crazy stuff that doesn’t fit the paradigm.

Then challenge them to figure out why the guy said what he did. What questions was he seeking to answer? What paradigm was he working in? Who were his sources?

That’s really how you understand a thinker. If you find more than one or two weirds that don’t fit the model, then you need to change the model. This isn’t hip and trendy catholicity talk here. This is just basic academic advice.

Thankfully, we have a strong history with diverse thinkers upon which we can rely.

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Pop-Protestantism

Does anyone else here ever try to deal with popular Protestantism? By that term I mean the broad, somewhat informal coalition of Baptists, Presbyterians, and some Lutherans who think such things as that (1) the Reformation is reducible to “the Five Solas,” (2) Calvinism is reducible to “the Five Points,” (3) the Gospel is reducible to a scientific explanation of the mechanics of faith and works in justification, and (4) the purpose of being Reformed is to defend all these reductionized things and to rail continuously against all the “compromise” outside the camp.

I confess to being like a moth drawn to a flame in terms of popular Protestantism, and particularly toward trying to bring some clarity into their very muddled understanding of apologetics. Alas, very rarely does anything truly constructive occur. If you question these guys with scholarship, they typically claim you are an arrogant jerk or a kid who’s in out of his depth or that you’re simply babbling nonsense that has no relevance to “Truth.” If you question their exegetical methods, they claim you don’t like “Truth” and fear engaging “the plain meaning” of Scripture. If you question their interpretation of the Reformation, they accuse you of wanting to overthrow the Gospel and make eyes at Romanist idolators. If you question their unreflective commitment to Cartesian foundationalism, they blast you for being a “postmodern relativist,” or worse.

Asinine, yes. A waste of time and energy? So it seems. And yet…..these are brothers in Christ, for whom He shed His blood and to whom we are bound in covenant. Are they to be ignored and vilified and cast out of the project of Evangelical catholicity? Are they to be repudiated on the grounds that they excommunicate themselves from everyone else? I’m really floundering here as to how to deal with these brothers. Anyone else have the same problems and have any words of wisdom?

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Gaffin on Enns

Richard Gaffin has posted a critique of Pete Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation, as well as Enns’ overall methodology. While many of my friends are Enns’ supporters, and while Gaffin has perhaps not been as friendly to some of my friends (and their friends), I still think his criticisms are right on. You can read Dr. Gaffin’s paper here.

My concerns with Enns’ work had to do with his use of ANE materials to contextualize the Bible, his use of myth, and his use of the “Incarnational analogy.” In short, 1) I think the Bible provides its own context, specifically that of the Temple. 2) Myth and history are not incompatible, and both may or may not match up with “fact.” In the Bible’s case, whatever the genre, it always does. Weird stuff can really happen. If you had an ancient camera, then yes, you could have taken the sea monsters’ picture. 3) The Incarnational Analogy is limited in usefulness, and cannot really be pressed to prove a particular view of inerrancy.

Gaffin has his own critiques, but I found three statements to be very helpful. (more…)

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I just listened to Dr. William Barker’s talk on the Reformation and Puritan backgrounds to the Westminster Assembly on the Sacraments which he gave at the PCA GA colloquium on the efficacy of the sacraments .  Since this is one of those things I actually kind of know something about, I thought I’d make a few comments.

Let me say at the outset that I thought Dr. Barker did a fine job addressing an extremely extensive topic and highlighting the important features for discussion in about 30 minutes.  How anyone could condense such a huge subject into the length of a sitcom is beyond me.  It certainly takes the skill of an experienced orator to perform.  Also, I thought the concluding few minutes of Dr. Barker’s talk were just excellent.  If for no other reason than his concluding remarks alone, I commend his brief talk to all.

There are few historical points, however, which I feel constrained to make in response: one minor, and a couple which I think are pretty important. (more…)

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I have a question for the contributors and anyone else wanting to weigh in.

Let’s say gay marriage becomes permanently endorsed by more states and/or the whole U.S.  What should the Church’s official response be?

 Our offenses against marriage have already degraded the institution with the introduction of no-fault divorce (in some states) and the legitimization of bastardy.  Mariage is no longer widely considered to be a sacred  and inviolable bond.  Fatherhood and male headship are dishonored, and being a stay-at-home mother viewed with contempt. 

For secular government to take upon itself the prerogative to change the definition of marriage is the last straw. 

Therefore, I propose that the Church convene a disciplinary  regional council (in the United States and Canada) for the following purposes:

1)  To declare civil marriages performed after a certain date (i.e., after gay marriage came into effect) unlawful (contrary to natural and ecclesiastical law), and therefore null and void in the eyes of God.

2) To decree that no persons civilly “married” after said date are to be admitted to church membership and/or communion.

3) To decree that all such persons may be admitted to membership and communion only after their unions have been blessed by a minister of the Gospel.

Well, dear contributors, what do you think about the idea and possibility of such a Church assembly? 

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I’ve been regaining my former appreciation for the puritans somewhat lately.  It seems that the natural course of things when we undergo a paradigm shift is that we tend to look upon our previous views and those who hold them with disdain.  This in effect caricatures our perception of reality and of people.  I think that something like this happened to me when I underwent a shift from what is often described as a more “puritannical” understanding of Christianity to a more sacramental one.  Thus, I went through a stage when I didn’t like the puritans very much at all.  They were to me just too dry and bland.  Perhaps reading so much Nevin had something to do with this.  (Alhough, his problem was more with ninteteenth century revivalism–which he unfortunately labelled puritanism–than with the seventeenth and eitheenth century puritans.  See, for instance, his glowing estimation of men such Edwards, Whitfield, and Baxter in the “Anxious Bench,” as well as his looking to men such a John Owen for support in the “Mystical Presence.”)  

However, as time passes and we have time for more self-conscious and objective reflection (if we are the reflective type), we can tend to become a bit more balanced in our thinking.  This is what I think has happened with me over the past year or so in my estimation of the Puritans (and Reformed Christianity in general, which I feel myself more confirmed in now than ever).  While I still see in them some things I’d like to leave behind, I think there is much in them to appreciate and admire, especially if one is willing to read and understand them on their own terms and not buy into many of the common misrepresentations.

So, along those lines, I have decided to offer up some exerpts from Stephen Charnock’s reflections on the goodness of God in instituting the Lord’s Supper, from volume two of his Existence and Attributes of God (Baker, 2000).  I’ve ommitted Scripture references in order to save some time.  (I find few things more tedious than transcribing lengthy quotations from books.) (more…)

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As in the previous discussion of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, my link to this article should not be taken to imply an official endorsement of Senator Obama’s candidacy.  I am, however, concerned that the single issue of abortion, with its near-automatic ability to command the votes of (rightly) devout pro-life Christians, has turned evangelicals and Catholics into Republican lap-dogs, who can no longer speak to other important components of a Christian worldview.  As I have written to several friends, since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 we have had a combined 23 years of Republican presidency.  Does the progress made during those 23 years outweigh the comparative indignities, injustices, and innocent deaths that have occurred since then? Let the debate begin, but let’s actually have the debate without artificially constructed barriers…

Yes you can: Why Catholics Don’t Have to Vote Republican

Republicans often use overheated and oversimplified rhetoric regarding the affinity between Catholic teaching and their platform. As a result, many people mistakenly assume that a Catholic must vote Republican. David Carlin, former Democratic Rhode Island senator, seems to have fallen prey to this fallacy (“Two Cheers for John McCain,” Commonweal, May 9).

Like many other well-meaning Catholics, Carlin argues that “there is no logical way to vote for the presidential candidate of a party committed to the preservation and extension of abortion rights.” He maligns “Catholic in name only” types who resort to intellectual chicanery to justify voting for candidates who support “the slaughter of innocents.” In this context, it is interesting to ponder why so many distinguished Catholic public servants, activists, and theologians have endorsed Barack Obama, a Democrat, for the presidency.

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The following is a review of G.R. Evans’ book, Problems of Authority in the Reformation DebatesI chose to post a review of Evans’ work on this blog because it deals with many of the subjects which interest most of the contributors/readers here, and because I feel it is an important work (though it has it’s shortcomings, which I discuss below).  The review begins with a brief overview of the contents of the book (which will probably bore most of you to teers), followed by my attempt to offer an assessment of the work by highlighting what I see as the most glaring strengths and weaknesses of Evans’ thesis.

Summary

In her work, Problems of Authority in the Reformation Debates,[1] G.R. Evans—professor of history at the University of Cambridge—provides an analysis of the issues concerning authority which were prevalent in the sixteenth century Reformation debates.  Evans’ main thesis is that the discussions and debates of the sixteenth century were greatly influenced, and in many ways greatly hindered, by divergent conceptions of ecclesial authority.  Evans’ work is organized into five main parts: 1. Authority for the truth of the Faith; 2. Saving Authority; 3. Authority in the Church to reconcile; 4. Authority in the visible community; and 5. The authority of common sense. (more…)

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Writing on the late medieval thought regarding Eucharistic sacrifice, Nicholas Thompson points out the diversity of positions held. No council had ruled on what sort of “sacrifice” was made in the Eucharist, nor in what manner it was done. There was diversity even among those who advocated what would later be seen as a Romanist viewpoint. The two major points of view here were Thomist and Scotist. Of the Scotist view Thompson writes:

The virtue of this gift [Christ’s sacrifice] was infinite and it was always acceptable to God the Father. However, a sacrifice was said to be acceptable not just because of the value of the gift, but because of the disposition (or ‘merit’) of the offerer. Because of his perfect disposition, Christ’s immediate offering was completely acceptable to the Father. However, Christ had also commanded the apostles to offer his body and blood in his memory. This mediate opus operatum of the church was always in some measure pleasing and acceptable to God, because the church, as Christ’s spouse, would never entirely cease to be holy. However the holiness of the church varied and fluctuated across time. Thus the benefits gathered by the church, through the offering of an infinitely valuable gift, varied in accordance with its merit. In addition to this limitation on the mediate opus operatum, the availability of the fruits of the sacrifice was limited by the faith and devotion with which the celebrant and the church (i.e. the opus operatum,) received them. If this were not so, said Biel, ‘just one Mass would be sufficient for the redemption of all souls from all purgatorial punishments and for the conveyance of gifts.’

~ Nicolas Thompson Eucharist Sacrifice and Patristic Tradition in the Theology of Martin Bucer pg. 57

Thompson mentions the famed J. Eck as one of the advocates of this view.

This was the sort of “sacrifice” that the Reformation so strongly rejected, and at the forefront of the opposition was concern over the disastrous pastoral implications such a view was capable of causing. And lest you think that it was primarily the Sacramentarians who opposed such a notion, we should point out that Luther and Melanchthon led the charge. Martin Bucer, something of a Reformed theologian, attempted concord through the various definitions of “sacrifice,” but he always held that the patristic tradition supported the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving on behalf of the people toward God and not a sacrifice of expiation on behalf of the priest toward God.

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Since the last thread on the matter and form of the eucharistic celebration has taken a side road, now working on the subject of eucharist as a sacrifice, I thought I would post the relevant section of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry that Mike referenced in one of his posts. As he has written, I think this manner of speaking about the eucharist as sacrifice in relation to the term anamnesis has come to represent something of an ecumenical consensus among Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and magisterial Protestant communions. I would be interested to know how satisfied our readership is with it and whether all are agreed that it fairly represents their own thinking…

B. The Eucharist as Anamnesis or Memorial of Christ

5. The eucharist is the memorial of the crucified and risen Christ, i.e. the living and effective sign of his sacrifice, accomplished once and for all on the cross and still operative on behalf of all humankind. The biblical idea of memorial as applied to the eucharist refers to this present efficacy of God’s work when it is celebrated by God’s people in a liturgy.

6. Christ himself with all that he has accomplished for us and for all creation (in his incarnation, servant-hood, ministry, teaching, suffering, sacrifice, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit) is present in this anamnesis, granting us communion with him—self. The eucharist is also the foretaste of his parousia and of the final kingdom.

7. The anamnesis in which Christ acts through the joyful celebration of his Church is thus both representation and anticipation. It is not only a calling to mind of what is past and of its significance. It is the Church’s effective proclamation of God’s mighty acts and promises.

8. Representation and anticipation are expressed in thanksgiving and intercession. The Church, gratefully recalling God’s mighty acts of redemption, beseeches God to give the benefits of these acts to every human being. In thanksgiving and intercession, the Church is united with the Son, its great High Priest and Intercessor (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). The eucharist is the sacrament of the unique sacrifice of Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us. It is the memorial of all that God has done for the salvation of the world. What it was God’s will to accomplish in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, God does not repeat. These events are unique and can neither be repeated nor prolonged. In the memorial of the eucharist, however, the Church offers its intercession in communion with Christ, our great High Priest.

COMMENTARY[8]

It is in the light of the significance of the eucharist as intercession that references to the eucharist in Catholic theology as “propitiatory sacrifice” may be understood. The understanding is that there is only one expiation, that of the unique sacrifice of the cross, made actual in the eucharist and presented before the Father in the intercession of Christ and of the Church for all humanity.

In the light of the biblical conception of memorial, all churches might want to review the old controversies about “sacrifice” and deepen their understanding of the reasons why other traditions than their own have either used or rejected this term.

9. The anamnesis of Christ is the basis and source of all Christian prayer. So our prayer relies upon and is united with the continual intercession of the risen Lord. In the eucharist, Christ empowers us to live with him, to suffer with him and to pray through him as justified sinners, joyfully and freely fulfilling his will.

10. In Christ we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice in our daily lives (Rom. 12:1; I Peter 2:5); this spiritual worship, acceptable to God, is nourished in the eucharist, in which we are sanctified and reconciled in love, in order to be servants of reconciliation in the world.

11. United to our Lord and in communion with all the saints and martyrs, we are renewed in the covenant sealed by the blood of Christ.

12. Since the anamnesis of Christ is the very content of the preached Word as it is of the eucharistic meal, each reinforces the other. The celebration of the eucharist properly includes the proclamation of the Word.

13. The words and acts of Christ at the institution of the eucharist stand at the heart of the celebration; the eucharistic meal is the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, the sacrament of his real presence. Christ fulfills in a variety of ways his promise to be always with his own even to the end of the world. But Christ’s mode of presence in the eucharist is unique. Jesus said over the bread and wine of the eucharist: “This is my body … this is my blood …” What Christ declared is true, and this truth is fulfilled every time the eucharist is celebrated. The Church confesses Christ’s real, living and active presence in the eucharist. While Christ’s real presence in the eucharist does not depend on the faith of the individual, all agree that to discern the body and blood of Christ, faith is required.

COMMENTARY [13]

Many churches believe that by the words of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine of the eucharist become, in a real though mysterious manner, the body and blood of the risen Christ, i.e., of the living Christ present in all his fullness. Under the signs of bread and wine, the deepest reality is the total being of Christ who comes to us in order to feed us and transform our entire being. Some other churches, while affirming a real presence of Christ at the eucharist, do not link that presence so definitely with the signs of bread and wine. The decision remains for the churches whether this difference can be accommodated within the convergence formulated in the text itself

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In a recent thread, there was sufficient enough discussion of “grape juice in thimbles” vs. “wine in a common chalice” to merit bringing it into a fresh thread. Here are some humble thoughts…

Personally, I’m not convinced that there is one “biblical” method of partaking of the Sacrament. Indeed, the evidence we have from the early Christian period suggests that there was quite a bit of diversity among professing Christians. John’s Gospel may reference vestiges of a “bread and fish” Eucharist in the feeding of the five thousand and Andrew McGowan has an entire three hundred page monograph citing evidence for varied practices. See his, Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals, Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. If we cannot really count on a dominical consolidation of these varied sacramental practices before the forth century, I have trouble defending appeals to an original apostolic meal or an original apostolic mode of communion. One risks the conclusion that significant communities of the baptized functioned for significant periods of time without a valid eucharist. There just isn’t enough data to otherwise describe the hypothetical original or universal practice in any detail.

That being said, we do have the canonical New Testament and especially the early description of the eucharistic meal in 1 Corinthians 11. In that setting, we do seem to have something like a single cup and a single loaf. Artos and poterion are in the singular throughout. The same is true in the synoptic accounts of the last supper.

More importantly, the singleness of the bread at least seems to suggest an important ecclesiological symbolism. St. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. [1 Corinthians 10:16-17]

Although we ought to be careful in making claims for its universal or representative scope, it is important to note that the Didache picks up on this very theme and offers expanded commentary in the proto-anaphora of chapter nine:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

Also interesting in this light is the refraction of the Johannine theology of Jesus as the single vine: “We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever.” It is not clear that this leads to a single chalice, but the continuities certainly suggest it.

I, of course, tend toward a more Catholic understanding of the mode of Christ’s eucharistic presence (defended elsewhere), but the many Reformed types frequenting this site would do well to note how the Anaphora of the Reformed Church (RCA/ CRC) reflects and expands on the Didache. Note the following:

And as this grain has been gathered from many fields into one loaf,
and as these grapes from many hills into one cup,
grant, O Lord that your whole Church may soon be gathered
from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Sadly, the majority praxis in this communion contradicts the very prayer used to frame its eucharist. This kind of discrepancy in eucharistic praxis is the main reason why I left the Reformed church(es) for the Anglican Communion.  This single instance wasn’t sufficient, but other and more serious differences piled up.

(But I digress…)

The use of wine is likewise different than mere grape juice. Wine is especially associated in the scriptures with celebration and is thus appropriate to the sacrament as an anticipatory participation in the eschatological feast of the Lamb. Wine is also a product of nature transformed by human culture. As such, it is again especially appropriate to the sociocultural dimension of the church as a community of resurrection.

Liturgical rites perform a ministerial function where they are performed clearly and are endowed with significance by the community participating in them (in this case, the Church universal). One really needs to ask, then, whether grape juice in thimbles serves to ornament the theological significance of the rite. It is my opinion that the function is wholly an accommodation to a-theological and modern hygienic phobias and that they are without ground in lived experience. Consider that Catholc, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican priests all consume the remaining wine in the chalice after the congregation communes and before the purification of the paten and chalice. Given that there is no historical record of an epidemic among clergy in the entirety of human history, it would seem that concerns over sanitation border on irrational hysteria.

Is Christ present in a eucharist celebrated with grape juice in thimbles? I could conclude “yes” for the same reason that I believe in the possibility of his presence in an ascetic eucharist celebrated without wine or in a eucharist with a rice flour host prepared to accommodate those with Celiac disease. Put differently (and in older theological terminology), the validity of “matter” is governed by the validity of “form” and “intention.” The three hang together and must be contemplated as a theological whole. Insisting, as does the Roman communion, on the stability of matter is a means to guarantee validity for a large Christian communion. Where one departs from that stability in either matter or form, one really needs to question theologically the relation of matter and form to intention. Can we intend theologically the full significance of the eucharist where matter and form are not in proper alignment? The answer could be “yes” but we are not automatically entitled to such assurance.

MJGP+

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